The Farm Report: Déjà Vu All Over Again

“It’s like déjà vu all over again” may be the best-known Yogi Berra line, but my favorite is still his comment on a popular restaurant:  “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.”

Anyway, the farm work over the weekend was largely like déjà vu all over again because we were constructing the second chicken yard, otherwise known as Flock A in Chareva’s grand design:

I’ll start with the end:  we’re almost done with the chicken yard, but had to stop for what the Pentagon would call an operational pause because of rain.

The young chickens will live in the yard in the foreground, and the older chickens will be moved to the the yard in the background.  (The really old chickens will be moved to a stew pot.)

The first job we had to tackle on the second chicken yard was stretching the fencing across the posts.  With our hilly, uneven terrain, it’s difficult to pull the fence into a nice, straight line.  I tried using a come-along, as a reader or two suggested.  It would be the perfect tool if we were stretching the fencing between heavy posts sunk into the ground.  But these are mere t-posts and, as I feared, the come-along starting pulling the-posts out of the ground long before the fence was straight.  So we accepted the bends and wobbles in the fence.

Well, almost.  There was one spot where the top of the fenced bowed in more than I could ignore.  Purely an aesthetic issue, you understand.  The chickens will be just as safe either way.  But after trying and failing to convince myself the bowed-in fence didn’t bother me, I finally pounded in an extra t-post to straighten it … a little.

Now, of course, the sight of that extra t-post bugs me.  But I can live with it.

We are able to secure the fencing to the posts much quicker than last time.  That’s because this time we had the good sense to buy aluminum fence-ties.  Last time we used steel ties.  Those are fine for fencing with large gaps, because you can wrap the tie around the wires using pliers and a screwdriver.

But with this fencing, the gaps are only 1″ x 2″.  Good luck sticking a pair of pliers or a screwdriver through those.  With the steel ties, we ended up pushing them through the gaps with our fingers, yanking them with pliers, rotating them around the wire with a small bolt, grabbing them again with pliers, lather, rinse, repeat, four times for each post … oh, and try not to become unreasonably grumpy with the innocent person on the other side of fence.

The aluminum ties were a breeze.  Chareva would clamp one end, bend the tie around the post and pass it through to me, then I’d wrap it around the wire with my gloved fingers.

This chicken yard, like the other, will open into a chicken moat that runs alongside the gardens.  The gate is for closing off the moat at night.

Thanks to the dog kennel we re-purposed, this chicken yard will also feature a human-sized entryway.  Since the yard and thus the net slope downhill from here, we also had to build another cattle-panel arch to elevate the net well above the door.

I pounded in two rows of t-posts to set the outer edge of the new hoop house, and then we bent cattle-panels (Chareva’s new favorite construction material) inside the posts to form the hoops.

I’m pretty much just the hired labor for hoop houses.  Chareva’s the architect and engineer.  She’s getting pretty good at building these things.  As you can see in the picture below, the four cattle-panels all start out having different opinions of where to meet.

So after they’re lined up, she clamps them together with something called hog rings.  (Don’t ask; I don’t know.)

We had a bit of excitement on Saturday.  As we were working on the hoop-house, the dogs started barking like crazy.  Chareva speaks a bit of canine and understood they were yelling at the hogs.  (Their exact words, according to Chareva, were “Hey, hogs!  Hey! Hey, stop that!   HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY!!”)

She ran off to investigate, then yelled back to me.  (Her exact words were “Hey, Tom!  Hey!  HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY-HEY!! GRAB A T-POST AND GET OVER HERE, NOW!)

Turns out the female hog was trying to push her way under the fence at the back of the hog-house — and doing quite a good job of it.  Her head was outside the fence and she was sniffing freedom.

Chareva scared the hog away from the fence, then I pounded a t-post deep into the ground.  We connected the fence to the post, which was enough to convince the hog there would be no great escape. (That’s the male in the picture below.  The female was off sulking.)

When we covered the first new chicken yard with a 50′ x 50′ net, we used up our existing net-lifting poles, so I had to make three more.  Before the weekend work got started, we picked up three cheap buckets, three galvanized steel pipes and a sack of Quikrete at Home Depot.  I used the front stairs and some Velcro strips to hold the pipes in the center of the buckets.

After adding water to the Quikrete, I hired a cement-mixer who was willing to work for less than union scale if she could make a hand-print in the cement.

I still have to bury the buckets in the ground to keep the poles from tipping over.  I was just about to start that job when the rain showed up.

Sounds like a busy weekend, eh?  Heh-heh … heck, that’s just part of it.  Last year, this chunk of our land was still a jungle with chest-high weeds.   I knocked down the weeds with the brush mower I call The Beast, then we spread grass seed.  It’s nice to have grass everywhere, except for one annoying feature:  the stuff keeps growing.

So in addition to helping with the construction, I got to mow all this …

and this …

and this …

and this …

and some other parts I didn’t shoot.  That took five hours.  Thank goodness the new chicken yards took part of the side hill out of the equation, or it could have taken five hours and twenty minutes.

I’m not complaining, mind you.  I never liked mowing lawns before, but this doesn’t feel like mowing a lawn.  It feels like maintaining my land.  It’s not a chore; it’s a chance to go out and get Dog-Tired Satisfied.

Weather permitting, we hope to wrap up Chareva’s spring project in the next 12 days or so, and with good reason.  I didn’t want to announce this until the schedule was set, but now it is: Australian celebrity chef Pete Evans will be coming to the Fat Head farm at the end of this month to film an episode.  Some of you fans Down Under had mentioned in comments that I should meet this guy some day. Perhaps you put that thought into the universe, because he ended up emailing me to ask about doing an interview.

He at first suggested flying me to New York for the interview.  I said sure, but mentioned that since making Fat Head, we’ve moved to a small farm with chickens, two hogs, gardens, etc.  He wrote back to say in that case, he’d rather come to the farm for a cooking episode plus the interview.

So the farm should probably look nice when he gets here.


36 thoughts on “The Farm Report: Déjà Vu All Over Again

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Other than the occasional escape attempt, we’re happy our hogs are rooting. They’ve torn up the roots of some nasty jungle vines.

  1. Tammy

    Beautiful and not a neighbor in sight. You are truly blessed.
    Although, without eating 300 grams of carbs a day, I have no idea where you get the energy to do all that work. 🙂

  2. Bruce

    Regarding the hog(s) trying to escape. Reminds me of trying to squirrel proof my bird feeders. You think that you can outsmart the stupid rodents. But, they have 24 hours in the day to outsmart you.

  3. Jeanne

    Am looking forward to the cooking show video.
    Just a suggestion, but ponies would help keep the grass down…

  4. June

    You know those arches are just begging for something to be planted on them? Something climbing? Maybe something pretty?

  5. tony

    Tom, you have done one hell of a job in your farm. You are doing everything right. Very important, you have an awesome family to support you in your endeavors. It’s about time you show case it as preferred farming to the veganomaniacs. More like you, we shall overcome.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Thank you, Tony. This whole “let’s live on a little farm” thing was Chareva’s idea, and I’m forever grateful she nudged me into it. I had no idea I’d enjoy working on the land this much.

  6. Lynda

    I met Pete Evans when he did his recent seminar in Auckland (New Zealand) and I’m privileged to say that I gave one of the four testimonies in his latest book, “The Paleo Way”. It was you Tom who first influenced the way I eat, way back in 2009. Since then I’ve gone through the low carb then paleo way of eating and now find myself back to real, whole food low carb. While I think Pete Evans is doing a great job he does promote dairy free and alcohol free… two things I don’t adhere to.

    Please give a full report of his visit! I think coming to your farm is perfect for his show. He has two girls too and also lives on a farm so I’m sure there will be lots more in common for you to talk about.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I’m looking forward to meeting him. Based on our email exchanges, he seems like a good guy. He even asked me if Chareva would prefer to supply a recipe for him to cook. Since he’s a professional chef, she found that idea a bit intimidating, so he’s going to cook using as many of our farm foods as he can.

      1. Lynda

        I’m with Chareva on that one!! He’s such a fancy chef, I’d be totally intimidated. Sit back and enjoy him cooking – I bet it will be sensational.

          1. Rae Ford

            Whatever he does choose to make, it would be very hard to mess up when at his disposal he will have fresh-from-Chareva’s-garden vegetables, herbs and possibly a chicken that was still alive the previous day. Makes me wish I could be there and taste-test. For quality assurance purposes of course.

            1. Tom Naughton Post author

              We’re hoping the vegetables in her garden have a sudden growth spurt. It’s still kind of early in the season for most of them.

  7. Becky

    My childhood memories are sprinkled with escaped-pig escapades. We chased our clever pigs all over the county, it seemed like, in the pickup truck, like stormspotters or something. My dad was an engineer, but those pigs could escape just about any pen he designed. Eventually. When it was most inopportune to go chasing them, such as in darkness. Smart buggers.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I don’t relish the idea of having to chase down the pigs. They’re big now and very strong.

      1. Vic

        Ah,yes the great escape. When we raised pigs we found they would work together to escape, one would work his head under the fence and push up, while the other would wiggle under and presto! Running pigs! I found if I could get in front of one of them and shove a big bucket over it’s head, I could steer it like a wheel barrow. Of course it would be squealing like crazy and the free pig would follow along grunting concern. I could steer them into the barn and lock them up, fill in the escape route… until the next time. Our pigs were not very intimidating, since we fermented the grains we fed them, they were in fact, pretty mellow.

            1. Tom Naughton Post author

              Unless he’s hiding something (two somethings, actually), the male isn’t capable of making bacon. But I don’t want him trying with my leg, either.

  8. SamWizeGanji

    I have been pushing permaculture and going out of my way to share bill mullison’s permaculture handbook, hoping people would grow their ken veggies. We can raise meat, it just feels crewel because of instinct that have been lost, persay…

    I hope we can find a healthy mind and community. The poor don’t have to have lousy resources, and role models. Bully’s are A Problem

  9. Elenor

    “I don’t relish the idea of having to chase down the pigs.”

    Isn’t having to chase them down outside the pen Mother Nature’s signal that it’s time for bacon?

  10. Jim Butler

    I used PVC pipe…I think 1/2″ or maybe 3/4″ coupled together to make hoops for supporting my netting. That worked well, as the netting could easily slide up over the hoop supports, and they were cheap and reusable.
    For securing my fencing, I used tie-wraps. They were cheap and easy to work with.

    You definitely need some heritage turkeys 🙂 Some bourbons and/or blue slates 😉

    Place is looking great.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup, although it takes more than just humans wanting to eat an animal to keep it from going extinct. It also takes private ownership of the flocks/herds/whatever. Otherwise, the Tragedy of the Commons effect kicks in.


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