Tiny Forest Hermitage

Tiny Farm. Boundless Compassion.

   Apr 16

Sustaining Atapi Sustainably

Sustainability is often in my thoughts but lately arising from my homestead landscape, tiny pieces of the puzzling picture are irritating me.

Atapi has been very sick. She had been going down hill for a month, slowly at first. Two days in a row I expected to find her dead in the morning. The reasons are complex and have been difficult to see, especially given most of the knowledge I have about goats is informed by my own experience or the experience of others in different situations. All winter long I fed the Tiny Forest herd a fermented alfalfa product that is harvested and packaged in Texas: Chaffhaye. I travel 75 minutes each way to buy the 50 pound bags at over $16.00 each. Together the herd and Suki went through a bag a week. There is no waste with it. They all did so well. When winter ended, I didn’t go for more. It is not in my feed budget for year round. By this time Atapi had freshened and she was eating quite a bit of commercial goat feed. This photo shows Atapi when her kids were one week old.

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Atapi started to lose condition as her lactation increased. When I read about feeding amounts of grain for a strong producer like Atapi, I was startled to learn that up to 3 pounds of grain was recommended! I thought that was too much for a goat but I obediently increased her grain. She started to eat less of it, not more, and she continued to lose weight and condition. No amount of tweaking or adding supplements helped her. The more I tweaked her nutrition, the skinnier she became. She refused anything new including sunflower seeds and alfalfa pellets (the whole herd refused them). I purchased different types of hay including packaged alfalfa and and oat, alfalfa, timothy blend they have liked before. She refused them. Then she started to scour and the loss of condition and weight accelerated. She went from a body score of 6 on freshening to a body score of 1.5 in eight weeks. Next thing I knew I was trying to help her with B complex, kaopectate, probiotics, a calcium drench, herbal dewormers and copper. Nothing helped her. She took a turn for the worse on Easter weekend and I thought she would die before Monday. On Monday she had no warmth in her mouth. Her breathing was shallow. She had stopped ruminating. I couldn’t hear her gut moving. On Tuesday morning I took the cart with me when I went to feed them. I thought I would find her dead. Imagine my surprise when I found her standing and looking at me. I took her to Dr. Bell. He couldn’t find anything to account for the scouring or her emaciated condition. Here is Atapi, a week ago.

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She was hydrated he told me, much to my surprise. Her rumen was still working. She had no parasites or coccidia ( I knew that already). Her temperature was normal but she had a cough. We were sent home with a B-12 injection, an antibiotic, which she would not take and a steroid to give her energy. The steroid was injected in the muscle and for this reason, I could give it to her. She would no longer accept me drenching her and I didn’t blame her. She resisted it so fiercely that some of the drench she was given was aspirated into her lungs, hence the raspy coughing. A week after visiting Dr. Bell, she had exhausted her reserves. She was a walking shriveled skeleton and I saw death in her eyes. Yet still, she had milk for her buckling even though she was living on air, not ruminating, not eating and with persistent watery scours.

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Everyday I cut down branches of different trees and took them to her. Sometimes she would sniff and take a nibble. Sometimes she would sniff and refuse. I gave up giving her any medicines because I honestly felt horrible doing it. It was obvious that she resisted firmly. The administration of medicines and maybe the medicines themselves bothered her and aggravated her condition.

On a visit to H and H Dairy in Saltillo, I told Joe Hehe about Atapi. He gave me a bale of his farm grown alfalfa and a good chunk of an alfalfa hay he had purchased with 20% protein. The kindness and generosity of H and H Dairy was a balm on my tired mind. When I got home I offered Atapi a fistful of Joe’s farm grown alfalfa and to my surprise she took it. She took a whole mouthful and chewed and chewed but she was so weak she couldn’t chew enough. She swallowed some and the rest fell out of her mouth. I offered her the leaves of the 20% alfalfa and she took it. She could chew it and swallow. Fast forward two days and she was ruminating again though still scouring. I kept to my promise and did not do anything for the scours which was mucousy and almost clear that day. The next day her scouring was yellow and thicker.

Atapi is not yet out of the woods. She has lost her reserves but she is defecating normally. No more scours. Everyday, she gets a little stronger. I add molasses to 4 cups of warm water each morning and she slurps down the whole thing without coaxing. She now walks out to the wooded area of her pasture with me – she had stayed in the loafing shed all this time. I lower the branches that are too high for her to take on her own. She is eating with more gusto. Both of her kids get a small drink of milk when they seek her out. She has refused grain this whole time. The herd, in general, has been refusing grain.

Here I sit at the fork of sustainability and the carrying capacity of the land and the symbiosis of the land and the herd. Thinking about this is helpful for planning but experience is the teacher. I looked for hay all winter and encountered a couple of problems. The first problem is more of an annoyance, a 50 bale load of sericea hay that was promised to me was sold out from under me. Secondly, the goats refused even premium horse quality bermuda hay. I was removing it from the hay rack and leaving it for bedding. They wouldn’t touch it. I think at least toward some of the hay I offered, they were just being picky. I couldn’t find a steady supply of the same hay and had to keep switching. But often enough they were just being picky because they could, because they were otherwise getting Chaffhaye and commercial goat feed. That story has ended.

I currently have three large bales of locally-grown mixed grass hay that is lovely. Suki loves it. The kids love it too and Atapi and Khanti have no excuse. For their nutritional well-being however they are also getting the 20% alfalfa hay that was referred to me by Joe Hehe and by Megan Huls Patrick. I picked up an 860 pound square bale that I’ve no way to take off of my trailer. It sits covered on the utility trailer which is still hitched to the car. I’ve no way to move it and so can’t unhitch the trailer either. They are being offered 4 cups (1.3 lbs.) of commercial goat feed per day, for the entire herd, until it runs out. Most of the time, I throw it all out and the ants and hens clean it up but I think Khanti has been eating some. She is due to freshen soon. To our benefit the woods are greening and their favorite food, the natural scape in their pasture is increasing. I hope to have the second pasture fenced by the end of April. Suki and the herd will spend summer in the new pasture and return to the present pasture in fall. It is too early to think about next winter but I have a valuable lesson to help me plan.

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The possibility of losing Atapi to a nutritionally-related complex of causes is a sustainability issue. Purchasing commercial feed or a packaged product, even a very good one like Chaffhaye, was never my intention when I set out to create a sustainable forest farm. The intention was to allow the land to heal and to begin to carry a small herd of animals in symbiotic relationships with each other and with the land. The land is not there yet; still much work to be done. Neither is the fencing. Yet there are already animals here and so hay is necessary year round. But to depend entirely on one or two products for their health and maintenance is a disaster in the making. Winter of course is a challenge even in Tennessee but we have three seasons here that provide a ruminant buffet when the herd numbers and fencing are poised for rotational grazing.

I don’t think Atapi would have made it had this happened in winter or if she did not have such a strong bond to her buckling. Fortunately for her, her kids and Hannah and me (because we are all in this together) she had a strong support network to match her strong resilience. I have seen how the best intentions can still lead to catastrophe, how good products that work very well can still be unsustainable and how the Earth evolved for her creatures is still the best way for her creatures. Mother knows best. I’m sticking with that.


   Mar 29

Cabrito Ready for Summer Solstice

Custom orders for cabrito (young goat) being accepted. 40 – 60 pounds x $3.00/lb. live weight. The USDA processor is $55.00 additional which includes cut and wrap.

These kids were born on a local dairy and have been raised together on whole milk. No antibiotics, no growth hormones, pasture-raised in a group setting: never through a sale barn, no disbudding, no tattoos, no ear tags, no castration, no branding ever.

They are also available for adoption at above rate (minus USDA processing fee). Buck goats do not make good pets but they can be neutered by a veterinarian, if you would like to adopt one as a cart wether or garden companion. They will have horns. Any animal at Tiny Forest is available for adoption at anytime for an adoption fee that equals market price.

Cabrito will be ready on June 21st, 2015. Whole or half orders taken by email or phone. Pick up in Olive Hill, TN or at Tiny Forest. Please give 2 -3 weeks notice of pick up. That is the time required by the processor so they can be first that morning.


   Mar 22

Spring is nonGMO

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I have been a firm believer that genetically-modified organisms (GMO) have a positive and beneficial use in humanitarian efforts. What I have been seeing and reading however are more about the evils of large greedy corporations usurping farmland and spreading invasive organisms in our fields (Monsanto Company Genetically-Engineered Wheat Litigation, MDL No. 2473). We know very little about the consequences of GMO on our natural scapes and despite this lack of knowledge we are becoming a GMO nation. Many groups are calling for labeling in the U.S., many countries have banned U.S. GMO harvests and many of us in the U.S. are left awash in a sea of misinformation so that we adhere to one side or the other of the debate without any solid factual evidence to support our allegiance.

Though it may be more prudent to call for a boycott until science proves safety for certain, a boycott is not realistic. There are billions of dollars invested in our GMO agriculture and it will be the farmer who is worst hit. Externalities however lack person commitment. Using our own gauge of health, our own investigations and our own intuitive wisdom, we can come up with our own path to food and wellness. In other words, my sense tells me to stay away from what makes me sick, regardless of whether it grows is this harsh soil or not. Sustainability is not defined by yield but by a whole approach toward wellness of the soil and the body. It is a sense also of natural well-beingness, not harming the waters or the native life in any way.

Safety testing will have to be actuality based rather than computer-based: detailed laboratory testing and field testing on each GM organism. One series of tests on one organism can’t be taken for general safety of all, as seen with the Soft Wheat settlement cited above. Some of the original GM corn hybrids, which have been in use for decades, have probably met the criteria for safety already.

For some things we have to take the slow road.

Last year my vegetable garden was all nonGMO and no plant lived to fruit in this harsh soil. My neighbor Frank says nothing grows here. Erosion has left this gravelly clay soil on the sloping shores of the Tennessee River, acidic and nutrient starved. The peach, pear and plum trees have had a very hard time. I’ve lost half of the fruit trees planted. The ones still alive are flowering right now. They were treated with copper last week, to prevent a black mildew that nearly wiped them all out last year.

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This soil, which is representative of natural circumstances (sloping, near a major waterway, clay and gravel) with some human intervention (paved road, water lines at roadside, utility poles and utility work and construction) is a good example of soil which needs to be replenished and healed. This takes time. In a year and a half, the front fields and the soil surrounding the house have improved considerably. I mowed the fields of blackberry bramble and broom grass to let the sun shine on the soil. With composting hay and straw turned by the hens, and manure directly and indirectly applied, the soil has improved a little. It has a neutral ph in some areas now and it is more absorbent of rain, which would run right off forming rivulets and gullies, at first. It takes time and though I would like to grow my own foods here, I am not starving because the land is not ready. This is not the case in some countries facing massive soil erosion either through their own negligence and abuse or through climate change.

There are places on Earth facing formidable challenges to their local food supplies and for these places, humanitarian GMOs could mean the difference between health or starvation. I am not so naive as to think that no beneficial GMO has been developed but not pursued because it is not a money-maker. Staple crops such as bananas, rice and potatoes that can grow in nutrient challenged soils or survive monsoon floods in poor countries can be life-giving to many. For this reason I am not anti GMO. But my garden this year will remain nonGMO and as I am able to, I will be switching all of the residents here to nonGMO foods.


   Mar 09

Winning the Battle, Losing the War: A Spiritual Perspective

In the comment section someone replied about not sharing this otherwise wonderful post due to the mention of just one political leader and then mentions another political leader…. A good example of not understanding, not looking inward at our own biased frame -working. The Buddha said that a mighty river moved a massive amount of water silently while a creek made a noisy mess with just a little volume of water.The wise speak little, the fool speaks a lot.

Winning the Battle, Losing the War: A Spiritual Perspective.


   Mar 02

Tiny Forest is Now Pick TN Approved!

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The “Pick Tennessee Products” (PTP) is a Tennessee Department of Agriculture program helping consumers identify and choose high quality agricultural products produced and processed in Tennessee

I’m so happy and honored to show off this label. Tennessee rocks for the tiny farmer :)


   Mar 01

Peeling Eggs Meditation

Farm fresh eggs come with a caveat, they are hard to peel. The easiest way to have hard-boiled eggs that are not shredded or mashed (unless you want them that way) is to leave them in the refrigerator for 2 weeks before boiling. Eggs that are safely refrigerated can last fresh 4 weeks or more. If you want deviled eggs the day they were laid however, there is a technique to avoid shredded and mashed hard-boiled eggs.

1) Boil water sufficient to cover the eggs in a pot they can move around in. For one dozen that would be 2 quarts of water in a 4 quart pot.
2) Once the water is at a rolling boil, place the eggs gently on the bottom of the pan with a slotted spoon. Be careful to avoid dropping them in to the water or letting them hit the bottom of the pan hard enough to crack.
3) Continue boiling for 15 minutes.
4) Remove from heat and drain water (which will be scalding so please, please, please be careful with it).
5 Fill pot with very cold tap water. If your tap water comes out lukewarm add ice to it to make it very cold.
6) Leave the eggs in the cold water until the heat is withdrawn from them. The water should be room temperature or only slightly warm.
7) Break egg and peel. The egg should be neither warm nor cool. It should be comfortable for your hands to peel.
8) Be there as you peel.
9) If you drift away to the future, come back to peeling the egg.
10) If you drift away to the past, come back to peeling the egg.
11) If irritation arises, come back to peeling the egg.
12) Whatever arises, let it go and just peel the egg without any internal speaking.
13) This is your food and your nourishment. It came by way of healthy hens doing what they love to do. It came by a way of a beautiful roo. There is a cycle nourishing everything: mind actions, physical actions and verbal actions too.
14) There is a membrane that protects the egg and it can be tough to break but not impossible.

Easy. Of course not all eggs cooperate. Out of the dozen fresh eggs collected today, one looks rough and two wouldn’t release the yolk when I sliced them to make deviled eggs. I ate those :)

Commercial eggs in the U.S. are washed and therefore must be refrigerated. I don’t wash the eggs from my hens. I keep their bedding clean and dry when possible and the eggs are clean when collected. Even though the eggs are still protected and can be safely stored at room temperature, I refrigerate them.

There will be a small circle visible on the yolk when you crack open a fresh egg. It is similar to a bull’s eye. This shows the egg is fertile and under proper conditions would have developed and hatched. My hens go broody and build nests and hatch chicks. Last year a Buff Orpington hen hatched 18 chicks and raised each one of them until they were 7 weeks old at which time she was emaciated and needed to recover so she sent her chicks packing. One day she pecked at them all and fussed and a couple of days later they all went their separate ways.

It is important for me that a good rooster be present in a flock of hens though I don’t believe in old folk tales about flocks of hens without a roo. Hens do fine without a rooster. I think it is important as someone who can theoretically have a rooster, to have one… allowing this small gesture to a rooster. Most male chicks hatched in hatcheries are killed. The roos hatched here have shorter lives than the hens. I do not cull hens from the flock. They are here until they die. Roosters can’t be self-sustaining that way. Tiny Forest eggs are all fertile and if you have a mind to, you can also incubate them.

The hatch rate for the hens is very high but once eggs are refrigerated, and transported, the rate decreases. If you would like eggs specifically for hatching, please let me know. I gather them and store them differently for hatching. I keep a barnyard assortment and eggs will be mixed egg laying breeds.


   Feb 26

In my pockets right now…

bits of timothy, alfalfa, oats, and bits of straw ….


   Feb 26

Tennessee Rocks for the Tiny Farmer

So Proud of my Adopted State…

I feel as if my heart has been freed, as if I have been let out of a prison or given a clean bill of health after a long illness. Free as in freedom… is a happy state of mind, even if I am learning of the groundbreaking, historic opinion almost three years later.

On January 13, 2012, the TN Attorney General’s office  issued an opinion stating that raw milk products can now be legally obtained by partial owners of cows through the TN Cow Share Law.”

I had been questioning the inconsistencies in what I read online about dairy laws in Tennessee. Having given up on raw milk herd shares in 2009 when to me there was shadiness to it. I had a sense of guilt providing butter or cheese even if that was what the member wanted. Products like raw butter and cheese from raw milk were not explicitly written into the Tennessee Cow Share law the owner of a cow share or herd share could only receive the raw milk from his or her cow/ herd. Our Attorney General gave the opinion that an owner or partial owner can also receive raw milk products. I’m so happy, even if it shows a glaring lack of knowledge on my part about current Tennessee Law. Grade A Dairy, my unreachable goal, has very different laws protecting the consumer in what is a less intimate commercial market. It is only natural that a different standard of law guide raw milk dairying, which on a small, local scale allows a more personal connection between farmer and herd share member in a fresher, more direct route.


   Feb 18

Veganism and Anger

I don’t know how anyone can think that spewing angry, hateful comments is a sign of a peaceful way of life but maybe veganism isn’t about peace. In a campaign that could possibly educate people on the cruelty, pollution and questionable health effects of factory farmed dairy, the vegan response comes with meanness and denigration. Some vegans have zero tolerance for anyone with a different point of view- about 99.5% of us in a discussion on dairy. I’ve spent half of my life as a vegetarian and some of that time, vegan. I eat meat now only occasionally and try to raise the animals with compassion and with biologically appropriate food and diversion. It is out of compassion that I enter the hell realms of livestock auctions and live as a pauper so these animals can also live decent lives. To hear some vegans, you would think they are more compassionate than Jesus (who was not a vegetarian) or the Buddha (who declined to establish a vegetarian sangha). They might have you thinking that vegans are more compassionate than Nature who chose carnivores to prey on herbivores in a grand evolutionary scheme.

Nature in fact can be considered cruel too if you have seen a beautiful wolf killing a newborn foal in a pasture or a coyotes take down a deer. The prey is not killed instantly. It is bitten and torn and chewed while alive. Yet, we love nature. We want to preserve nature. We flock to National Parks and Forests while simultaneously supporting companies polluting our rivers and strip mining and clear cutting. Humanity is like this: generous and greedy, hateful and loving, foolish and wise. Factory farming on the other hand is just cruel and most Americans agree yet continue to support. In a discussion on dairy, I was called “worse than a murderer or a rapist…” In a discussion that I entered championing animal welfare, compassionate rearing and a common ground to advance animal welfare (and indeed animal rights) I was flagged and chased by two vegans who spewed angry and hateful remarks that were not only misdirected , they were misinformed. Anger and hatred does not bring one closer to inner peace. They are not an approach toward compassion; they are movements away, a rejection of compassion. It is understandable to an extent. The cruelty is horrifying and the newborns calves are defenseless; it is maddening. Industrial dairy has very little to feel proud about. Yet, dairy is part of our national food supply. It is not going to disappear so what benefit does isolating animal welfare advocates have? Is vegan about compassion or about hatred?

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says “There is no way to peace. Peace is the Way.” If we put peace as an objective in the future, then for the two vegans who attacked me, the end justifies the means. This means that violent tactics (like ones used by animal rights extremists) are sanctioned for a non-violent goal. Said like this, it sure appears ludicrous. And it happens in this way because there is no inner peace, not because we like or support animal cruelty. I feel physical pain when I see an animal hurt. This is a natural sympathetic response that is common in most humans and even in animals. When peace is within, we still feel pain sympathetically but we don’t lash out or shut down. We try to understand what is happening and we make a concerted effort not to repeat, not to support, not to condone. We can harness our energy to bring about positive change. We can work in the trenches without becoming “one of them”. The movement toward peace is peace itself. We respond with understanding and we create a more peaceful world moment by moment.

The Zen tradition also has a rather quirky expression: everything is perfect. Hard to understand if one’s idea of perfection is an unattainable ideal. What it means is that everything is the way it is and can not be otherwise in this moment. It does not mean we are complacent. It does not imply surrender. It is what it is, right now. To fight with what is, is a sign of insanity. Our choice in the moment will move us toward compassion and a better world for all beings or it will continue or even escalate the suffering. When we choose anger and hatred, we perpetuate suffering. We are creating more anger and more hatred in a world that is already brimming…. we are not actually helping alleviate suffering.


   Feb 16

How to Build a Straw Bale Garden – Modern Farmer

An alternative I would like to try this year since the soil here is so poor that last year it supported nothing.

How to Build a Straw Bale Garden – Modern Farmer.

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