A Christmas Story at Dogwood Hills

We have been so blessed here on the farm this year. Things have been moving forward with our plans for agritourism and life on the farm has become very busy. A few years ago we were introduced to this wonderful couple who had moved out here from South Carolina. Danny and Sandra first came here to help us by building the barn. After the structure was up they headed back east. In the meantime, we proceeded with our farm stay here in Arkansas. Things have grown to where we will be opening for group tours in the spring. However, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done first. We are putting in a teaching/ catering kitchen in the barn loft. As we got closer to seeing this project become possible, the rest of life became busier. I called Danny and Sandra out east and told them I was desperately in need of help. They packed up and moved back out here! They live with us on the farm now and are as much a part of what is happening here as my very breath. Now this team of five is moving forward with the same goal ~be a blessing to those in need. Needs show up here in many different forms, but the most common is fellowship. Many days our plans change as at a moments notice when the top gate swings open and someone pulls down the driveway. Sometimes to pick up milk (and chat a bit) or stop in for a cup of coffee. Sometimes to see the animals, or stay for supper. It doesn’t really matter, we are pleased that they have chosen this place to rest a moment. We are blessed to have our friends and family. We are purposed by God to be right here, right now in this very place. We are anxiously waiting to see what is on the next page.

Jim Dailey

 This is what Christmas is all about … Sharing, Giving, Loving

And it happens every day at Dogwood Hills Guest Farm near Marshall, Arkansas.  Just check out this quote from Ruth Pepler who, along with husband Thomas and daughter Grace demonstrated the true meaning of the Spirit of Christmas:

Christmas was unexpectedly wonderful.  We have a potluck supper in the barn loft every 2nd and 4th Sunday.  Everyone had said they had plans for Christmas, so we canceled it.  Saturday night, one of the ladies posted on Facebook that they were looking for a place to eat in Marshall on Christmas and mentioned about it being hard not having family in the area.  My husband had to work Christmas at the Hospice House in Harrison, so it was going to be a quiet day here.  I called the lady and asked her to come for dinner. She started crying…

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Birth on the Farm

waiting, waiting, waiting…

My daughter Grace is a very motivated fourteen year old 4-H kid.  At the age of twelve she took out a youth loan, bought three heifers, a show cow and a hydroponic fodder system to feed her dairy herd.  I have a mid-mini Jersey bull.  Her plan was not to raise replacement heifers that would sell real well and go to a big dairy farm and produce lots of milk.  She is much more community minded.  She wanted to breed her heifers to the mid- mini bull and sell them to homestead farmers who would want a smaller cow that could be managed by a family.  She has her big show cow and breeds her to show stock.  That’s wise, it’s how she’s paying back the loan.   So far the Jersey bull has given her two heifers. Very nice. These heifers will be having babies before she goes to college and help pay for room and board. It’s a very good plan and her dad and I are very supportive. Very.

Having babies on the farm is always exciting when it finally happens.  The waiting on the other hand, not so much.  We had Molly in with the bull and witnessed some activity that would have set a due date of late August.  It’s not August!  We have been patiently ( well maybe not) waiting ever since.  Since this is Molly’s first, we weren’t quite sure how it would go.  Molly’s friend Dew Drop has coached her along the whole time.  Every so often Dew would go rest her head on Molly’s belly and “listen” to the baby.  As the time got closer this occurred

at more frequent intervals. A few days ago, Dew Drop started giving Molly a bath, not just her face.  I figured she was getting closer.  Yesterday Dew would not leave her side.  This morning the dogs were barking -at three am. I went out to check and Molly was laying down, but so was Dew, so I went back to bed.  In a few minutes, Jack , the lab mix started to cry and make a really strange noise.  I went back downstairs and they all started barking.  I ran up and told Grace she was having a calf.  Grace shot up and was out in a flash.  We got out there to find Molly trying to push the calf out up against a log.  Silly cow.  We moved the log and checked the head.  I kid you not, this calf must have been wanting to get out. She hooked her hoof around a sapling and pulled herself out!  Grace and I just shook our heads and laughed.  She’ll be a feisty one!

So baby is out and Molly is just laying there wide eyed on her side with her legs straight out.  She was sort of wedged between some small trees and needed some coaxing.  Grace started fussing with her and I went to get Reluctant Farmer.  I told him we might need some help getting the cow up.  Moaned, groaned and crawled out of bed.  What a good dad!

Back outside the air is cool, baby is being rubbed down with towels and Molly is still looking wide eyed.  Dew comes over and licks her face. Grace takes her by the halter and Reluctant Farmer helps her upright.  The wide eyed look goes away and she turns to see the source of the fuss.  Then there is a soft coo as she lays eyes on her beautiful baby girl.

The Reluctant Farmer and the Housewife

“Honey, could you give me a hand?  It will take just a sec.”, Housewife asks.  Reluctant Farmer groans, mutters something about it never really being just a sec, and grabs his shoes.

You see it’s like this; Housewife used to be Superwoman, until about a month or so ago.  One day while stacking hay she was struck by a bale of Kryptonite and rendered completely useless.  All the farm work, and the housework (very little of that actually gets done when you have a farm), needed to be done by someone else.  She has Sidekick, but Sidekick already has a list a mile long, so Housewife turns to Reluctant Farmer.  Now Reluctant Farmer has an alias, Hospice Nurse By Day, and he already works really hard at a really hard job, so Housewife explains that this kind of hard work is actually really good for him.  Reluctant Farmer isn’t really buying it, but he sees the pressing need before him and decides that Sidekick could burn out easily if she keeps up the current pace.  Then what??  In the last month Reluctant Farmer has discovered he can do amazing things.  He makes repairs, feeds horses, stacks hay, installs ceiling fans and propane heaters, puts up insulation, hosts farm events, and even rolls mega hay round bales by hand!  Side kick is quite impressed as is Housewife. While all wait patiently for Housewife to mend, the routine continues.  A storm is rolling in and we’ll see how he is with calving~ you know the heifers wait for a good storm to calve…10616252_10204869601961671_4011053295569094549_n

A tub of chicken and the road trip

“We’ll be up for the week of the State Fair?!”  My daughter was thrilled and the thoughts running through her mind were evident by the sparkle in their eyes.  NJ State Fair meant great 4H memories with her friends and a terrific poultry show.  Immediately she is thinking show birds.  Confession,  so was I.   We packed the truck and headed out on our 1200 mile trek.  After visiting family and friends,  we then spent a day at the fair.  We headed straight to the chicken barn.  Well, we were momentarily waylaid by this beautiful chocolate-brown alpaca.  Not on the shopping list this time.  The chicken barn was full, as usual and the entries were beautiful.  The variety of birds was incredible, but we were focused.  Straight to the Poultry Association table.  We asked if there were any breeders there with Silkies.  John Finnigan was there with quite a representation.  He had most of the blue ribbons and rosettes this year!  And, he had a beautiful black rooster for Grace.  We talked about chicks and hashed out color options then discussed the wisdom of transporting babies on such a haul.  It had rained across the country all week.  It was finally determined that we would bring the black rooster and a dozen hatching eggs home.  The eggs would travel safely packed in a cooler.  The rooster was another story.  Well, it was Wednesday, and I had until Friday early am to figure it out. Mean while, my brother and sister-in – law had a beautiful 1890’s claw foot cast iron tub on their front porch.  You can see where this is going…  I have always loved cast iron tubs.  My grandma had one when I was a kid and I have wanted one like it ever since.  Those of you who have been following the pictures on http://www.Facebook.com/dogwoodhillsbb  have seen the barn that has been going up on our farm.  We are putting in a full bath on the second floor and I REALLY wanted a claw foot tub in it.  I had been shot down on the previous vote, but this, this was sitting there. almost level with the truck bed!  What’s a girl to do?  I pouted.  I know , you thought I had too much spit and vinegar for that.  Most days that’s true, but these were desperate times.  With the sweetest grin, my hubby conceded ~if I could figure out how to get it home.  No problem!  I’m the packing queen!!

Friday morning, really early,  Grace and I head up to the fairgrounds to meet John and pick out a rooster.  Grace chooses one that has a beautiful tail and full feathering.  We stop one last time to see the beautiful chocolate-brown alpaca and drool a bit and head next to the diner in Augusta, NJ to meet some girlfriends for a final cup of coffee before heading back to Arkansas.  The rooster is secured in the back seat for the time being.  After coffee and long good byes I head to my friend’s house to pick up a crate for Mr. Rooster( he has no name yet).  She had a great chicken cage and a big rabbit cage that I could visualize fitting perfectly in the tub.  Imagine that!  After another good-bye we were headed back down county to his moms.  Now to pack everything.  Clothes, travel bags, food in the cooler, etcetera, and there is still room.  We head to his grams for dinner.  Discussion of the possibility of the tub fitting in the back is underway.  The guys are banking on it being too big.  My sister-in – law and I are rooting for a perfect fit.  Remember, I’m the packing queen, and I know my truck bed pretty well.   The wild card is the length of the tub.   The good news, I’m going with them to get the tub.  I will make it fit.  I really want to bring home the tub.

The project was easier than I thought.  The porch was just the right height and the tub slipped right in the bed.  Ok~ the guys were a big help with the very heavy tub!  Thank you guys!!!  So now the tub is  strapped in, the chicken is situated in the tub and the rabbit cage is turned over on top of it and a few things packed around it to keep everything from shifting and as dry as possible.  We then head to my moms who lives on a very busy corner, in a very suburban area.  Mr. Rooster spends the night in the tub, under the rabbit crate, in the driveway, in the suburbs  and feels quite compelled to crow many times just before the crack of dawn.  My mom gets a kick out of this, since she is an early riser and was up to appreciate his morning serenade.

A little later than the crack of dawn and after saying goodbye to my mom, we were headed to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia to visit friends and spend the night.  Mr. Rooster was the recipient of many curious glances and enjoyed being taken out to let folks touch his soft, fluffy feathers.  He did not like spending the night in the room right next to the smoker house and was very glad to see us the next morning! He was, however, safe from the dog and other critters that might not require him being smoked to be considered edible.  The next leg of the trip took us to Nashville to meet friends for coffee.  This was the only time in the trip I thought I might worry just a bit about Mr. Rooster. Or maybe it was the 1896 tub in the back… Any way, I could not see the truck from where we were meeting our friends and they can attest to the fact that Mr. Rooster and / or the tub were checked on several times.  I guess it shows that I really enjoy living in my small town.  A little later we were on our way to Jackson, where we would spend the last night of our trip.  We met up with friends again and had a lovely dinner.  Don’t worry, the concierge at the HI Express had a great view of Mr. Rooster who was backed into the spot facing the entry door of the hotel.  Before retiring for the night, we moved the truck to the spot right outside our first floor window.  Backed in toward the window, we were able to check on him with just a glance.  Perfect!  About six more hours and we will be home.  Without any mishaps, Mr. Rooster and the tub are delivered to Dogwood Hills Farm.  Mr. Rooster is introduced to the rest of the silkies and life settles back to a normal rhythm – until the fair.

Fair week arrives, and Mr. Rooster and the silkies make their way to the fairgrounds along with the cow, sheep, goats and rabbits.  The silkies are quite a hit with the kids as well as the adults.  Grace and I take turns taking out these puff balls so people can feel them. Folks that wouldn’t normally pet a chicken feel compelled to touch these because they are just amazed at how soft they appear.  The judge liked Mr. Rooster too.  He was named Grand Champion Bantam!  He has been given the name Edmund and Grace is quite proud of her choice of poultry that early, rainy morning.  Now Edmund will go to the Northwest Arkansas District Fair in Harrison on Sunday.  Well see how he does there.  He and the silkies will be there through Tuesday.  Verdi, our Ameraucana rooster, will also be there.  He is from the same line as my old rooster Emeril.  We look forward to seeing how they do.

Not my plans…

So many days farm life is full of rewarding treasures.  We get up and head out each morning to bring nourishment to our families, to care for the creatures God has entrusted to us, to learn a new skill and to come in at the end of the day with a job well done.  Most days. Then there are those days where you sit wondering, “what am I doing wrong?”  One of those weeks popped up about a month ago.  We had a rash of crazy events happen way too close together for common understanding to grasp.  We have been building a barn, putting up fencing and putting in water lines to the barn.  All these tasks have required a lot of makeshift pens, close quarters, and odd combinations of animals in pastures.  Lessons learned the hard way would tell you that these are not the best practices.  We had a couple of accidents, goat v. horse etc.  I sat in the barn one morning just crying out to the Lord, asking Him if I have been moving in the wrong direction  with our farm plans. During this time, Elsie, Trenton and Buttercup had been down in the back forty for a few days.  I walked down to coax her up to the barn because I was running low on milk.  She got the hint and was waiting at the barn for me the next morning.  I put Trenton in the barn for the day with plans to milk her in the evening.  We headed down to town for a meeting and Elsie was standing on the other side of the fence by the barn.  My last thought on that was, ” great, she be ready when I get home.”  Only, that’s not how it went.  I got home and was walking around the barn to find Elsie on her belly, head down the hill and her left leg straight out behind her.  My cow friends are thinking “oh no” huh?  I ran over to her to find she had stepped too close to the edge of the bank and the ground gave way due to the bounty of rain we have had lately.  She had also gotten tangled in a piece of fencing that was under the edge of the bank.   My daughter ran and got the bolt cutters as I tried to figure out where to start.  My husband was on his way home, so I called my neighbor.  Within about twenty minutes we had a team of six working to get the cow back up the hill.  One four by eight piece of plywood, multiple tie down straps, a couple of lassoes, a track hoe, six bodies and five hours later we at least had her up on the ledge.  We put up cow panels behind her so she wouldn’t slip down the hill.  All night we watched her.  By ten pm she was sitting upright and seemed comfortable.  We had some hope that she might get up.  The next morning more helped arrived and five hours later we had her up to the barn.  It had rained the whole time and we were covered with mud and soaked to the skin.  No one complained.  We sure did look like a sorry bunch of drowned rats though.  Elsie, we thought , might actually get up.  And she did try.  She moved back and forth from one side of the barn to the other, but she could never get both of her back legs under her.  Days, then weeks later she tried.  Then she just stopped.  She didn’t even shift sides.  She didn’t call out to Trenton, then she didn’t eat.  Then we had a long talk.  Elsie was used to this, since I would chat with her in the morning as I would wash her up and milk her. This was usually followed with a sloppy nozzle of Chafhaye and grain in complete agreement with the chosen topic.   Now she just looked at me with those huge Jersey eyes and I cried, not just a little, I bawled.  She was done.  She didn’t have any more try left and all the begging or prodding wasn’t going to change that.  I felt like such a failure.  I didn’t want to give up.  But it was not fair to keep pushing.  So I told her to either get up or go on.  Again those big sad eyes.  An hour later she was gone.   And I cried “Lord, I just don’t get this one.”  I don’t know the why on this one, on this crazy year we’ve had, on the multiple losses on the farm.  But this I do know~ The Lord knows the plans He has for me, for my family, for our farm. Plans for a hope and a future. I’ll wait on Him for the next step.

Cow pies

The cows have been out in the back woods for a few days now and I was a bit concerned about their access to water. The tanks at the top of the hill by the barn were full and, while they can come back up to them to drink, there was no evidence that they had. I went down the first day to see where they were and make sure that they weren’t stuck somewhere. Everyone was fine and happily munching chest high in foliage. The next day I went back down and observed that they had relocated their bodies and their demeanor was the same. There was no interest in following me back to the top, not even for a drink. The third day I went down and there was no sign of them except a few cow pies. I went back up and got my husband, Thomas, and we headed back down in search of the now missing cows. He went one way and I headed out the other. Following the trail of fresh cow pies I wound around the bottom of the holler. I met back up with Thomas and we continued on the trail. At this point we have come across a couple of dogs and a few goats. No cows. The dogs however, have joined in the search and were quite happy to follow the cow pie trail. We saw many different ones and I explained to Thomas the difference between a fresh, hot on the trail pie versus ones that were one and two days old. As I got one of those” I can’t believe were having this conversation” looks, we kept walking. The dogs have figured out that we are looking for the cows and take off ahead. About twenty minutes later, tails wagging they are headed into a deep patch of brush. Thomas and I considered the tick factor and decided we trust the dogs judgement, decide the cows have been located, walked up a bit to see that the spring was coming up right about there and headed back to the house to put our feet up. The dogs didn’t care about the ticks and went for a dip in the spring. Good dogs.