Archive for Country Living

Field Trip to Virginia Dairies

We have guests/friends who are dairy farmers (Valter and Lida Medeiros) visiting this week from Bermuda and they wanted to see a dairy farm while they are here. We chose Cub Run Dairy owned by Gerald and Anita Heatwole of McGaheysville, VA for our field trip on Saturday.

 

The new dairy facility is complete with observation decks and conference rooms welcoming people and tour groups to visit.

The Heatwoles along with their son, Monte, milk over 600 cows and in the past several years have done extensive upgrades to their operation. It was a fascinating and amazing experience. I am a farm girl; raised on a dairy farm and married a dairy farmer. I know all about milking and feeding cows, bottle feeding baby calves, scraping the barnyard, computer monitoring and all the other too many to name chores on a farm. And yet I was absolutely stunned, fascinated and amazed at the advances in technology and the vast management requirements for such a large dairy. The most Gene ever milked was about 100 cows in a double four herringbone parlor which was “modern” in our time.  We went out of the dairy business in the mid-nineties.

Just a few pictures from our day.

 

A double-24 which means they milk 48 at a time. If I remember correctly, Gerald said it takes three persons about 1-1/2 hours. They milk three times a day.

This is the backside of the previous picture.

 

A neat view underneath the cows being milked. The cows and facilities were very clean.

Milking meters record the amount of milk each cow gives and the information is sent to an onsite computer.

Each cow wears a pedometer that records their steps. Increased activity signifies the cow is in heat and sends the information to a computer which alerts them that she is ready to be bred. Decreased activity can mean a cow is sick or injured.

Feeding time.

Cows have access to pastures when the weather permits. The cows were very contented, chewing their cud and enjoying the warm sunshine, all within view of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains.

 

 

We were especially pleased to see they feed Purina Milk Replacer!

 

Combine coming in from harvesting soybeans.

 

 

 

Anita took us down the road about three miles to the second largest dairy in Virginia, Stoney Run Farm. They milk 2400 cows on a carousel, stopping only long enough each day to clean and disinfect the facility. Incredible. Here again the dairy was very clean and the cows were very contented.

The cows get on this ride without being forced. In fact, they were standing in line, on their own, and as soon as a cow got off, the next one was ready, anxious and pushing to get on.  Very few cows dropped manure on the ride which was amazing to us. Those of us who know cows, know how often they drop their piles of manure!! They just chewed their cud, looked around and smiled as they enjoyed the ride.

The technology used in farming is amazing and the management skills and capital needed, staggering.  Most people have no idea what it takes for food to get from the farm to the table. If you ever get a chance to visit a farm, do so. I suspect it will increase your admiration for our hardworking men and women who love their animals and occupation with a passion. The Heatwoles’ are a true working farm with three generations; grandparents, parents and grandkids all working together and loving it.

 

Bald Eagles

The last two days Gene has been seeing a pair of bald eagles flying around the farm. This is so exciting and we are hoping that they are calling this home.

Yesterday afternoon Gene called me as he was feeding cows and said he was pretty sure he was seeing Bald Eagles. They were perched in a tree down along the woods and wondered if I could see them from the house.  I couldn’t, so I grabbed my shoes, coat and camera and drove the car down the driveway towards “the back 40” to get a closer view. By the time I got there, they had circled and were gone.

This morning while he was feeding the cows he spied them again. This time they were in the field directly behind the house, about halfway to the feed bunk. I was able to pull them in with my camera and get some pictures. I discovered they were eating something dead. It looked like a small calf or deer. Since what they were eating was already dead and there was nothing he could do about that, he let them be while he got ready for church.  Before leaving for church,  he drove down to see what it was. It was a Red Fox! We wonder if they nabbed him trying to cross the field or if he died as he was crossing.

I don’t know if there is a down side to having them hanging around but right now if feels very special.

I hope I can get some clearer and closer pictures of these majestic birds. (This was a shot of about 500 ft. which is amazing for a camera).

A google search revealed some interesting facts on Bald Eagles. They nest in the winter. Their nest can be 5-9 feet wide and 15 feet deep weighing up to 2 tons!  Wow. We should be able to spot that nest in a tree if they choose to call this home.

11 Interesting facts on Bald Eagles in Virginia.

American Bald Eagles

Fall-2017

I love the beauty of fall; the smell of wood smoke in the air, the crisp, damp evening air, geese honking as they fly in V formation overhead, swarms of starlings flying in a haphazard but well orchestrated pattern, the musty smell of colorful, falling leaves, beautiful spider webs that pop up overnight, colorful sunsets, and the list could go on and on.

This post is just some pictures I have taken, trying to catch autumn’s beauty even though the leaves are not as colorful this year.

Morning dew on an overnight spider web built on my golf cart.

The James River

 

 

 

 

Spider webs in an unused portion of the chicken house. They formed almost overnight!

 

Deer 50 feet from the house.

 

 

 

Sunrise from my kitchen window.

Sunset from my front door.

Pecans from our trees.

 

Years ago I ordered a dogwood tree, thinking I was getting our state tree. It turned out to be similar but different.  In the spring the flowers have a greenish hue to them and in the fall the tree is loaded with soft red balls. I have recently discovered it is the Kousa Dogwood and the fruit is edible!!! I have not tried it but I do enjoy the uniqueness of it’s beauty.

Fall decorations and communion service at church.

 

 

Eclipse of the Sun-2017

Today I joined millions of other curious gazers staring at the once in a lifetime opportunity to see a unique eclipse of the sun. Everyone was looking up-heavenward to see a marvelous wonder of God’s creation. Did you just see the eclipse or did you also acknowledge the awesomeness of the Creator?

Several facts about the eclipse: (taken from Richmond Times Dispatch, August 20, 2017)

  • Here in the Richmond area we experienced an 86% solar eclipse today. The next partial solar eclipse will be April 8, 2024.
  • The last total eclipse for the Richmond area was July 20, 1506. The next time we will be in the path for a total eclipse will be September 14, 2099.
  • The last time a total eclipse swept from coast-to-coast was in 1918.

We put on “eclipse glasses” and I also looked through a welding helmet. The welding helmet had the sun looking orange and the glasses had it looking white.

There were lots of clouds today but I still was able to get several really neat pictures of the eclipse.

The moon is the little blue sliver.

The picture below does not show the eclipse but I loved  how it turned out.

This evening the sun went down as a stunning great ball of fire.

 

“O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth. You have set your glory above the heavens.”

Psalms 8:1

“The heavens declare the glory of God and the heavens show His handiwork.”

Psalms 19:1

 

A Mulberry Tree

I have never had any interest in mulberry trees. None. I have never seen, tasted a mulberry or even thought about one until today. Well, actually the “seed” (of thought) was planted last week. Today that tree burst onto my horizon and I tasted of its sweetness.

Let me tell you a story….

Last week a well-known Powhatan local, previous business owner, (Flatrock Hardware) Jack May, stopped in the store and we started chatting. I could have listened to him for hours. You see, Jack used to live on our farm way back in the 40’s. Jack has a bank full of memories and stories about our farm.

One such story is the about a huge 5-foot diameter (according to Jack’s tale) mulberry tree that was beside a pig pen just down the hill from the house behind one of our house trailers.  A tree that big had to have heard Indian tales. He recalled climbing the tree and eating the sweet berries.

His grandpa, Henry May, owned the farm but Donald May, Jack’s dad, lived here and cleared/tilled the land. Grandpa Henry owned a prized Hereford breeding bull for which he paid a lot of money. The bull was not mean, but he had developed an intense dislike for Jack who was a young lad. For Jack to go to the barn he had to go around the mulberry tree and through the pig pen to stay out of the area the bull was kept.

One day when Jack was home alone, he decided to go to the barn. As he headed for the mulberry tree he skirted too close to where the bull was chained and found himself in a dangerous situation. To defend himself, he picked up a softball size rock and hurled it at the charging bull. The rock hit the bull in the center of the forehead, right between the eyes, dropping him instantly to the ground. Jack says he learned to pray that day!!! He thought he had killed grandpa’s bull and he was scared to death of the repercussions!

The bull finally started shaking his head and eventually got back up on his feet.

The mulberry tree eventually met its demise.  After hearing Jack’s story, I found myself thinking about that huge tree and wishing I could have enjoyed it’s beauty and sweetness.

This morning brought with an unexpected wonder.  The past several weeks we have been cleaning up the brush and weeds that have grown up behind and around the house trailer which just happens to be the area where the mulberry tree was.  There are now several big stately oak trees growing there but also a dense jungle of scrub bushes, poison ivy and other trees: Rose of Sharon, gum, maple, etc. I told the guy doing the cleanup to take out all the little sapplings except for one nicely formed tree that was getting some size to it.  I was standing under the tree when I happened to look up and to my wonder, my eyes suddenly fixed on red and black berries that looked like elongated blackberries. Mulberries? This had to be a mulberry tree! (If it hadn’t been for Jack’s story the previous week I would never have given a second thought about what it was).

A quick internet search confirmed that it was indeed mulberries.  The berries were almost gone but I was able to feast on a few deliciously sweet berries. The deep dark red, blood colored juice stains your fingers purple.

I am not aware of any other mulberry trees growing on the farm. It makes me wonder, could this sapling by chance, after all these years, be a descendant of the original mulberry tree? It is in the right area.  Coincidental-maybe.  By chance-perhaps. Does it matter? Not really, but I am going to speculate on the wonder that it just might have some Powhatan history in its DNA.

 

A resource: Mulberries- Sweet but Beware Their Dark Side

A memory: When we were kids we used to sing and act out the nursery rhyme “Here We Go Around the Mulberry Bush”.

Blog post about the history of this farm:  “Once Upon A Time”.  I now have to change the history of this blog to reflect the Mays!

Whimsical Spring

What a spring!  Officially spring is just around the corner, but it pretended to start way back in February or was it January? Now that it is mid-March, I gave in to my spring fever bug and today I planted lettuce, broccoli, radishes, spinach and onion sets. Well…… confession time, I did “try an experiment” and planted some lettuce and radishes back during those 80 degree days in February just to see if they would make it. The radishes never came up and the lettuce only sparsely. The Red Sails lettuce slips look good but I have had them covered with milk jugs.

With the frigid teen temperatures we had this week, I am watching to see what will happen to the trees, bushes and flowers that have burst into bud.  March is one of my favorite months. Maybe, because it is my birthday month, or it could be because new life is bursting at the seams. Surely it is a relief to wave good-bye to the blustery, wintery cold, and just maybe, it is that burst of new energy and joyous anticipation of summer fun and activities. There is one thing I do NOT like about March. MARCH WINDS! Maybe it would be better to say I have a very strong dislike for March winds and all the millions of twigs I have to pick up from my birch trees.  It is amazing that the trees are not limbless by now!

In the spring everything is a picture; every blossom, sunset, billowery cloud, bird, baby calf,  rain storm, snow squalls, etc. I am posting below some pictures I have taken in February and March.

Morning sunrise from my kitchen window.

 

Sunday afternoon fun.

 

Coyotes crossing the pasture in the middle of the day!

 

One of my mother’s beautiful African Violets

Repair job on the farm

March ice storm.

Ice on the tree tops and trees pushing bud.

This evening…..a rain shower this evening put water droplets on the sunporch window screen.

The sky was dark and stormy and the sun was brilliant as it dropped below the clouds.

The sky was so dark and stormy and the setting sun cast a warm, yellow glow over the homestead.

The cows contently grazing in the pasture.

 

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Spring in February

I am loving this sunny, warm, spring-like weather in central Virginia. I have been hit with spring fever; cleaning up flower beds, trimming roses and bushes, and even though I know better, planted some lettuce and radishes in one of my raised beds. The only thing I have to lose is less than a dollar’s worth of seed.

But, this really it is not good.  It should be cold, snowy and wintery.  A mild winter has its down side.  We need cold to freeze and thaw the ground to make is soft, kill bugs and snow to add nitrogen and moisture to the soil.

I noticed on Friday that the maple trees are bursting forth a reddish hue of buds.

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The dandelions and daffodils are blooming.

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The pastures and lawn have stayed green all winter. This morning the warm sun was shining and the birds were singing their hearts out. The cows are grazing more and eating less hay. It was hard to decide what to wear to church this morning: stay with my winter clothes or bring out a spring dress. I opted to stick with winter. My granddaughter came over this afternoon and she was skipping spring and stepping right into summer!

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Later in the afternoon we went over to Keith’s place; they were riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes.

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Noah

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Yep! That is fearless Keith up in the air!

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Emily

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I was given a ride around the trail at “grandma pace”!!!

On the way home, we stopped by one of our fields to check on the trical (hay) growth and a farmer neighbor stopped and chatted a few minutes. It is so fun to watch the guys posturing while they are chatting.

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Gene has been watching the extended forecast and the weather through March looks mild.  However, Easter is late this year (third weekend in April) and I always say it does not get warm to stay until after Easter.  That should mean a late spring. The fruit trees will soon start pushing bud if we continue to have 60-70 degree weather. As much as I love the warmth and early spring-like weather it truly is NOT good.  Is this what they call global warming?

Redneck Girl!

So. I sent Summer on a delivery to Chesterfield and she also needed to make some stops to pick up some supplies. She came back to the store carrying her tennis shoes and said, “People in Chesterfield must not know what boots are! They look at you like you are weird”.  It was rainy and I can understand the boots for where she was going on the delivery.  But…

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I said, “You didn’t go into Lowes and Sams looking like that???!!!”

I am sure you can guess her answer…. “Of course!”

I started laughing. The redneck girl went to town to buy, of all things, a chandelier for one of our customers in Bermuda.

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Looking like this!

Maybe sometimes it is just better not to know!!!

Like they say, “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl”.

 

Brown Eggs Versus White

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There is a big misconception in people’s minds that brown eggs are better than white eggs. Let me explain.

There is no difference between a brown and white egg. It is simply a difference in the color of the shell.  The difference comes in what a hen eats.

Commercial growers use White Leghorn hens.  They are smaller in size,  have the best feed to egg conversion, and lay white eggs. They are a flighty, more high-strung bird. Backyard and producers of free range eggs prefer more colorful, docile breeds such as Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red, Red Sex Link, Buff Orpington, etc. that lay brown eggs.  The more grass a hen eats, the richer and darker the yolk.

People think brown eggs are better. That is often true simply because of what the hen eats.  Because hens grown commercially aren’t fed grass, their yolks are lighter in color. White Leghorns that free-range or are fed grass have the same rich color of yolk.

Some frequently asked questions:

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  1. Are blue and green eggs cholesterol free? There is no scientific proof that this is the case. Again, it is simply the color of the shell. Americana and Aracauna hens lay colored eggs. The quality of egg is determined by the diet of the hen. Hens fed Omega enriched feed, have added omega health benefits.
  2. What determines the size of egg? The amino acid balance in the feed helps determine the size of egg. Some hens, such as bantams,  naturally lay smaller eggs. I feed Purina Layena. It is formulated for extra large, jumbo eggs. However, I have found that you do not want to feed it to Bantams or Leghorns or you will have trouble with “blow out”.  I recommend you use Purina’s Country Acres or Homegrown formulas for these birds.
  3. How do I know what color of egg my hen will lay?  A hen will only lay one color of egg. Most hens are brown egg layers.  White egg layers have white ears.
  4. Why are fresh hardboiled eggs hard to peel? Fresh eggs are almost impossible to peel. An egg has to be about one week old before it peels easily.  If you need to hardboil fresh eggs, put 1 tsp. baking soda in the water and tap the egg on the side of the pan to put a crack in the shell before cooking. They will peel much easier.
  5. How many eggs will a hen lay each day? At the most, a hen will only lay one egg a day. They go through cycles and a hen will not average an egg every day.
  6. Why do they quit laying in the winter?  A hen has a light-sensitive gland in its eye that determines their laying cycle. When the day length shortens, they stop laying and molt. And yes, this is in the winter. As the day starts lengthening, they feather out again and start laying.  You can prevent this by putting a light on a timer and lengthening their day to 18 hours. Do not leave it on all night as they need time to rest and sleep.
  7. How can I get a double-yolk egg?  The first several weeks a hen lays what we call a “pullet” egg.  It is very small and helps to get the hen adjusted to laying eggs. As she starts to lay larger eggs you will find some double-yokers.  Once she is adjusted to laying, the eggs are more consistent in size. As the hen ages, you may again see some double-yokes. I actually have had some triple yolks and several times I have had a complete egg, including the shell, inside of an egg. That was exciting!
  8. What is the best white egg layer?  White Leghorn.
  9. What is the best brown egg layer? Golden Comet or Red Sex Link. They are the same hen, just called different names. They are a cross between a White Leghorn and Rhode Island Red. You get the egg production of the Leghorn with the disposition and brown eggs of the Rhode Island.
  10. Why are the beaks clipped on some ready-to-lay hens?  They do it to prevent cannibalism. That is a very bad problem with hens.  If they see a hint of blood or sometimes for seemingly no reason, they will attack and degut one of their own. This is an awful problem. I personally will not buy ready-to-lay hens that aren’t debeaked. It does not hurt the chicken nor does it hamper their eating. Animal rights activists will disagree but I prefer a nipped beak to having a hen that is literally degutted live by another hen. With free-range or only a few hens this is not a big problem.

 

Little Things or the Big Picture

The warmth of the December sun beckoned me outdoors this afternoon for a ride on my golf cart. I wanted some holly and cedar branches for my Christmas decorations and I knew just the spot on the farm to go looking.

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Only the female Holly trees produce fruit and they are loaded with bright red berries. The boughs of the female Eastern Red Cedar trees were hanging heavy with dark blue berries. I had forgotten that they also produce berries.  These are technically juniper trees.  The male trees have small tan colored pine cones. Click on this link for a very interesting read on these trees.

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As I was nipping branches to bring home, I suddenly became aware of the “little things” in the woods.  It is December but it was a beautiful, warm, sunny, peaceful day.  I heard them first and then saw two squirrels scampering over a log laying on the ground in the woods.  I watched as they frolicked in the leaves and chased each other over the log, up a tree and down again.

I continued to notice “little things”.

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A small tree with one little leaf left at the top of it’s two tallest branches.

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Another tree with brilliant red leaves at the top like a tuff of hair on a bald head.

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The beauty of nasty gum balls.

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There were 3 sets of paw prints in the soft dirt.

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Pine Cones

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Milk Weed

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Killdeer

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A squirrel’s nest high in the pecan tree.  He certainly built where his food source was!

Depending on the day and time, the big picture can be drab, barren, discouraging…….

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or it can be stunning, breath-taking and beautiful……

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When we look at just the big picture, we miss the simple beauty of the “little things”.

If we focus only on the “little things” we miss the scoop of the big picture.

 

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