August is rapidly coming to an end and with it the whispers of the upcoming fall with crisp evenings, apple cider and pumpkin spice drinks, bonfires, crunchy leaves, and sweaters. And yet, with temperatures still hovering in the 90’s, fall seems a fair bit of distance away. Normally I long for the changing of seasons and fall will be a welcomed relief from the heat but there’s still much to be enjoyed on Iron Side Ranch during these last few days of the heat.
Homeschooling is in full swing and the kids are seeming to enjoy working at their own pace. The days start off almost identical with the necessary care of our animals. Feeding, watering and checking on their general well-being. They’re always happy to see us in the morning and come running over to be let out of their pens to free-range and eat. The goats need scratching and petting, very similar to our dogs. The chickens flutter out of their chicken tractor with a squawk. The pigs waddle over grunting and ready for food. The dogs bark their morning greeting and jump in anticipation of food bowls being delivered with tails wagging furiously. The kids look for eggs hoping to find enough for breakfast. The sun is out in full force but not so hot that we can’t breath. There is joy in anticipation of a good day with sleepy yawns, big hugs, coffee and smiles.
Child number three, affectionately nick-named Gator, is 23 or 24 weeks along still in utero making demands of his own. He is strong enough now to be felt and seen moving and responding to our voices. He has his own rhythm of life and demands a morning breakfast of protein. And yes, I really do mean demands a protein breakfast. The protein seems to help keep morning sickness at bay until at least lunch. Hannah has enjoyed learning how to cook eggs in a cast iron skillet and if you’ve ever cooked much with cast iron, you know just how much of a feat this is! She is becoming quite accomplished with learning the basics of cooking at the tender age of 8.
We just had several days of summer storms and everything is now a deep lush green. Dragon flies are out and to me, this has always been one sign of the nearing the end of summer. They’re furiously mating before the end of their short lives. Cicadas and frogs croak in the evenings singing their summer lullaby and mating calls. Several of our hens have adopted the goat pen as their evening roost space in order to evade the amorous advances of our two roosters. (Not that I can blame them, those roosters have huge talons that can do damage to their back feathers!) Muscadines are in season and the pear trees have just about given all their fruit (much to the chagrin of our pigs who can’t get enough of them).
Afternoon is now upon us and the heat is almost suffocating because of the humidity. The goats are chewing their cud in the shade and the chickens are hiding somewhere under the trees on the hillside. The pigs go for a quick dip in their water and then nap lazily under the pear trees. Even our dogs have calmed down for a bit to rest. I completely understand why people used to sit on their front porches for the shade and to sip iced tea - anything to beat the heat. Thankfully we have air conditioning and I do everything possible to avoid going out in the blazing heat. Being pregnant, my body is already on the toasty side naturally and I have to force myself to drink enough water to keep from getting dehydrated. There is a lull before the evening cool arrives with a gentle stir of activity. Now is the perfect time to send the kids outside to play in the sprinkler or to find a book to escape into. I may have to try and sneak a quick nap as Gator quiets down from his afternoon gymnastics from lunch and before his evening marathon. Although there is still much to be done between cleaning, laundry and grading the morning tests, I cannot complain. Life is pregnant with possibilities!
Never in a million years would I have thought that pigs could be so cute and unique with their own interesting personality. Yes, that’s correct, interesting personality! We have two more additions to our ranch family - Michelle and Hillary, purebred KuneKune pigs and they are a delight! KuneKune pigs in and of themselves have a fascinating history. They are originally from New Zealand and were on the brink of extinction. After careful breeding and exportation world-wide, it’s safe to say, these pigs are here to stay!
KuneKune pigs may not be as well known as the pot-bellied pig but are fast becoming family pets as well as tasty pork chops and sides of bacon. They are known for being friendly and easily bribable with a tasty pear or apple. Michelle and Hillary free-range for about 70% of their diet which means they LOVE grass, fresh fruits and nuts; all of which are found naturally in our fields! Unlike a lot of pigs, they are content at eating whatever they can find out in the fields which means it takes a bit longer for them to reach butcher weight. Even so, it’s a lot easier to help them be organic and costs less to feed in the long run. (Feeder pigs can take about 4-6 months to achieve full butcher weight whereas KuneKune pigs need about a year to 18 months to reach optimal weight.) Livestock raised on organic, natural diets tend to have a richer, earthier taste with slightly less marbling. They aren’t fed corn supplements to artificially increase their body fat quickly. We only have to supplement their feed with organic protein feed for the remaining 20-30% of their daily required nutrients. We have their pen surrounding our orchard because they’re gentle with the trees themselves but do a fantastic job of eating the fallen fruit and keeping the orchard ground clean while fertilizing the soil for the trees.
Michelle and Hillary will not become bacon for the Barr family. These two girls are lucky and will soon have their very own stud. Their offspring will hopefully become a source of income and food on our plates. We have a family rule that the livestock that is to become food does not get named affectionate names however, all breeding livestock can be named and befriended. Hillary and Michelle are warming up to us now and seem to enjoy a good back-scratch or ear scratch. For me, I found it surprising at how hairy they are! They have course hair all over their bodies and I had always assumed pigs were smooth without hair. Their grunts are unique and can actually communicate a lot about how they’re feeling. Their sounds are different when they’re communicating with us vs with each other and it’s fascinating to listen to them and try to imagine what they’re saying.
More often than not, you’ll find these two girls down in the orchard area munching happily away under the cool of the shade of the trees. They may or may not acknowledge you as you walk over to them depending on if they think you’re bringing them a tasty treat or not. Their lives are simple and relatively stress-free. Bathing as desired in their own spa or resting comfortably under the arms of the trees. The goats tend to stay fairly close but seem relatively uninterested in their hairy pig friends. Two of our dogs would love nothing more than to chase them around and play while our German Shephard Freyja would love to herd them around. The chickens live in harmony with the pigs, keeping bugs at a minimum for everyone. One of the girls (Hannah assures me it’s Michelle) has become particularly attached to Mackay and will climb up in his lap looking for a snack and belly rub.
One of the side benefits of having all these animals are the unexpected family bonding moments. The other day all four of us were in with the pigs and Joshua and Hannah were able to practice with their pocket knives cutting pears slices. It was just before dusk and we could start relaxing together and simply talk. They listened attentively as their daddy patiently explained how to best use the blades to slice small hunks of fruit. They each had a pear to practice on, a slice for the pigs and one for us. They’re learning how to safely handle their pocket knives under supervision, learning a practical skill they’ll need for the rest of their lives. They’re learning how to care for the animals, to interact with them and love on them and provide for them in practical ways. And yet, this time goes even deeper than caring for the animals, it’s family time together. Time we can be ourselves, learn, laugh, eat and fellowship together. These are moments that while they may not specifically remember in detail when they are all grown up, but helps build a lifetime of happy memories and positive feelings they can draw upon when they need it later. Simple teaching moments that help build trust and open lines of communication, sitting together as a family talking; enjoying the here and now together…
*article written in early spring, much to catch up on!
Spring has arrived on Iron Side Ranch! One of my favorite times of the year! In all honesty, the beginning of every season becomes my favorite. Love living in a state that has four distinct seasons… But I digress. The flowers are popping out and yesterday I was driving down our driveway and noticed one side was covered in wild flowers and various weeds. I immediately started thinking of how I could get our goats over to eat everything and enjoy the springtime delicacies. (Which made me want to laugh, who sees flowers and weeds and thinks goat food?) But I absolutely love wildflowers and hope to be able to plant a lot of wildflowers near our bees later this year or early next spring. Their purpose may be to give food and shelter to insects and bees but they sure are beautiful, bright and colorful! Can you imagine a life without flowers? I once heard flowers described as expensive weeds and was aghast. I personally think they are God’s way of clothing our world in beauty, almost like little smiles from God just to say hi.
The kids don’t know it yet, but I have full intentions of taking them with me to clip a bunch of them to give to the goats - not all, but several hand-fulls. We will stop and smell them knowing my kids and they’ll think they are fragrant although these particular wildflowers don’t have a smell to me. But we will smell the fresh dirt and stop to talk and enjoy the sunshine together. Later in the heat of the summer, we’ll do everything we can to avoid to avoid the direct sunlight but for now, I feel like a chameleon. Cannot get enough of sun. Yes, I religiously put on sunscreen everyday on my face and should wear more hats but alas. Come spring, I’m craving for some attention from the sun. As a blond hair, blue eyed fair skin gal, I must admit that I’m at times jealous at how easily Joshua and Hannah tan. They can play for hours in the sun with sunscreen and not get burned and come away with sun kissed hair and a golden tan.
The dogs and baby goats have the right idea - they take lazy naps in the sun. I love to go over to them after they’ve been sunning for a bit and rub my hands through their fur. They’re pleasantly warm and smell a bit dusty. They might even give a little lick or tail wag but are generally happy to lay there and enjoy a little loving. Milk Dud and Snickers still have softer fur compared to their momma and it’s relaxing to pet them and whisper sweet nothings to them. Funny how our farm animals know when to stop eating and working and enjoy the moment.
As of the writing of this blog, we are 4.5 weeks pregnant and we are thrilled! What a blessing to have another little Barr coming in December. Normally, life is very busy and it’s hard to find moments to myself but being pregnant and having morning sickness already, I’ve had to slow down. Yes, I knew I was pregnant at 3 weeks because of morning sickness but I will never complain about how I’m feeling because this baby is a gift! I’ll write later about how wonderful Mackay has been at helping me and how Joshua and Hannah are already trying more to help out but this pregnancy is forcing me to relax a bit, even if it’s for 10 or 15 min’s to sit with the dogs or goats and get some sunshine. Sometimes I imagine the frogs croaking and cicadas singing in the distance are really singing to my unborn baby telling of things to come and the joys found in nature that only comes from listening.
Spring has indeed come to Iron Side Ranch. New life is forming all around, the ground and trees are vibrant in greens with flowers dancing in the breeze. The bees are busy, the goats are growing, chickens are crowing, dogs are barking and kids are running barefoot once again in the grass. And… once again… peace has settled over us as we welcome the new day’s challenges.
I'm a wife, mom of 3 wonderful children, homeschool teacher and loving ranching. After Mackay and I married, we've been steadily pursing our goals of having a self sufficient life and teaching others along the way.