Welcome!

Welcome to HighTail Farms, LLC! We're a small farm located in Hammond, Louisiana. We are dedicated to providing people with ethically raised and humanely processed pastured poultry and sheep, fresh eggs, and raw meat for pet food.

Please follow the links in the top bar for more information on our products and their availability. Continue reading below for our blog where we detail the adventures of raisin' animals and whatnot.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

From Fruit, Wine


“Give me wine to wash me clean of the weather-stains of cares” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson


We've already posted about the number of fruit bearing trees and bushes on the property, and we may have talked a bit about how we used some of that fruit. One thing I've been meaning to do with our surplus is something that man has been doing for a long, long time: make some wine.

The first time I fermented anything was right after Hurricane Katrina had hit New Orleans and I had some time on my hands waiting to return to the city. I bought a beer kit from this fantastic shop in Philadelphia, Home Sweet Homebrew, and it was the best investment I've ever made. The owners there are great, and spent a lot of time answering my questions and helping me through the process. Even after returning to New Orleans I continued to order from them since there was no local brew shop open.

Fermenting alcohol is a very simple process. You take water and sugars, expose it to yeast, and allow the yeast to convert those sugars into alcohol. You can do this with almost any sugar: malted grains, honey, molasses, and especially fruit. This happens in nature quite frequently: fallen fruits become exposed to natural yeasts (or bacteria!) and begin to ferment. Every once in awhile you may seem some birds or other animals eating these fruits and behaving ... strangely. Alcohol's effects on a body are the same be it human, bird, or rodent.

We were thrilled to see these vines growing on the property once spring came around. Muscadine! We watched them grow and waited, and waited. The only muscadine I had ever seen or tasted was a dark, dark red, so I was waiting for the color to change. On a whim I gave one of the blush colored ones a bite and, sure enough, it was sweet and ripe! What we were growing was a variety of muscadine called scuppernong.

Hurricane Isaac was approaching quickly and we knew that heavy winds would probably shake free most of the fruit. Rather than hand pick all the fruit from this somewhat wildish vine that has no real structure to it, we decided to shake them free. We took a sheet and held it up under the vines, then shook them out. The fruit tumbled down the sheet to a tarp. (Sadly, no pictures, but let's just say it was fun.)

This is about 3 lbs. of grapes. Our bushel was half full when done!
Our final yield was 18 lbs. of ripe scuppernong grapes. I followed a recipe on Jack Keller's winemaking site which called for 6 lbs. of grapes per gallon of wine. Three gallons is a fine amount of wine in my book!
Crushed and mixed with water and sugar
The only yeast I had on hand was a champagne yeast, but I was glad that I did. I thought it would be important to use this kind of yeast because it's extremely aggressive (converts a lot of sugar very fast) and, in my unfounded theory, would work fast enough to prevent any bacteria from forming. Bacteria can ruin a wine quickly and turn it into vinegar (not a bad thing, but not the desired result). We probably weren't as "sterile" as you really should be in making wine. I come from a beer brewing background so I'm used to making sure everything is clean, but since wine ages for much longer there is little room for effort. My starting specific gravity (SG, a measurement for the amount of sugars/solids in the wine) was 1.100. That's pretty high!



After awhile I let it ferment down. I checked the SG again: 0.995. This calculates out to almost 14% ABV (alcohol by volume) -- even for a wine this is pretty high! It also means this will be a pretty dry wine, which was what I was hoping for in the end result. I racked it off of the lees (the grape skins, etc) and into a glass fermenter (referred to as a "secondary"). This will sit for another week or so for the sediment to clear before I transfer to another fermenter. I'm considering topping up with water to 4 or 5 gallons (which would dilute it down to around 9% ABV), but I'll wait and taste it then. More updates will certainly follow in the coming months!

As fall is in full swing, we harvested our pears and are looking forward to later in the year enjoying the fruits of the citrus trees in the yard. While I doubt we would make some citrus wine, we do love making limoncello (or orangecello, or grapefruitcello, or limecello!) since it allows a little bit of fruit to go a long way. Plus we can save the juice so that we always have citrus juice or homemade sour mix on hand!

The pears have been ripening in the fridge. Let's see what we can do with those next!

Gimme those pears, dammit!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Horny Toad

 Our little Gwen's horns are growing in nicely. 

What's really cool is the girl has two different colors coming in. One horn is plain black, the other is striped half white and half black. I have no idea if the color when stay when she grows up, but I really hope so. I'm also hoping that she will have her mother's lovely back/side swept horns.

I know a lot of people have strong feeling about disbudding young goats before their horns grow in, but I cannot imaging putting this little one through that kind of pain. Not to mention the potential for damaging their brain in the process! Josie, despite all her spit and vinegar personality, is extremely cautious with her horns even when she pissed off and bowling her way thru the sheep or knocking an errant turkey out of the way.

Photographic evidence that Gwen's ear nibbling is not limited to feline ears

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fencing the Pasture

Thank goodness for the Grizz!
Currently, we're only making use of about half of our property. In the "back pasture," as we call it, we have another 5-6 acres and a couple of small ponds. However it's all partially fenced, so we're hesitant to put any stock out there.

The north side of the pasture is creek; the west side is half fenced, with posts already up along the rest of it; the south side was fenced by the state; the east side was completely lacking fencing.

I had been pricing fencing for awhile, but we had a lot of other more immediate concerns on the half of the farm that we were using. I suspected in a few months we'd be able to afford what we needed and would eventually get some time to get everything up.

Lo and behold, a friend of ours told us of his grandfather's old dairy farm. Apparently he had recently passed away and our friend found a shed on the property absolutely full of rolls of fencing, posts, and barbed wire. He said we were welcome to whatever we needed.

We also had a roll and a bunch of barbed wire in the back of the Element!
It took us awhile to get it out of the shed and loaded up on the trailer. Many thanks to our friend and his father who helped us with this rather daunting task! We sadly didn't get any photos while we were there, but you can definitely take a look at how loaded up the trailer was. And, of course, it had to rain cats and dogs on our drive home. I won't bore you with too many details on how fencing is put up, mostly because I can in no way claim to be an expert. There's a variety of sources out there to learn how to install field fencing. We're big fans of Google when it comes to research, and if you're a new farmer you might want to do the same.  Properly installed fence should require little maintenance for some years, so I'd rather do it right from the start.

First off, our neighbor was kind enough to bush hog our field for nothing. I offered him a turkey and he refused. He did it just to be nice! How awesome is that? It's good to make friends with your neighbors. I hope we can return the favor one day soon. Clearing that whole field saved us from a whole lot of extra work!

Now came the fun part of actually putting up the fence. We decided to make use of t-posts. While we have an excess of 4x4s from the southern property line we had no auger and not enough manpower or time to dig those holes by hand. The t-posts had already been purchased months ago in preparation for fencing, so it was just a matter of hammering them in ... which sounds easier than it looks.

Using a "mother-in-law" to drive in the posts
We decided to space them fifteen feet apart, and to leave a twelve-foot opening where we'd like to add a gate. While we want it closed off, we do want to make sure we have access from either side, especially since we're not sure if the small bridge that crosses a drainage ditch would actually hold the weight of a car, truck, or tractor.

For the H-braces we used Wedge Loc, a system that lets you build the whole fence with t-posts, as normally you'd need wood for the braces. This way we didn't need to dig any holes and save us some time. Wedge Loc doesn't seem to have a huge reputation (I'm surprised I even found it) but we'll see how they hold up. In theory it should work well, but only time will tell.

Since the fencing we got from our friend was only about four-feet high, we'll be stringing a strand of barbed wire across the top. Sheep don't typically climb things, but this will help more with keeping the goats in and some potential predators out.


Putting up the actual fence requires anchoring one end of the roll, unrolling it, standing it up, then pulling it taut before attaching it to the posts. I fashioned a fence puller out of a 2x4 and some hooks and we used the winch on the Grizzly to do the pulling for us. It got it pretty tight, but a tractor would probably have worked better. At one point I put the Grizz in reverse to give it some extra tension and snapped the 2x4 fence puller in half. Oops.

A week ago I finished the fencing on the western side, save for the barbed wire. This past Monday was my birthday and to celebrate I took off work to try and get as much fencing done as possible (don't worry, I took plenty of time to relax as well). We brought Thea and Gwen out with us. They keep us so very productive.


We ended up running out of t-posts and sunlight that day but we're very close to finishing. Hopefully in the next couple weeks we can get the last bit of fence, barbed wire, and gates up and put all of our land to use. We have plans on building some large, mobile chicken tractors. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the field dotted with sheep, goats, and chickens. For now, I'm certainly content just being out there and admiring the view.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Growing chickens


  Our little chicks that hatched from The Great Incubation are slowly and steadily growing up. We moved them outside about a week ago they are having a great time scratching for bugs and munching on grass.



They all came from our giant white cornish rooster, Fernando, and a mix of ameraucana and wyandotte hens. It's amazing to see the different colors that resulted from this cross. We had planned on just raising this batch for meat, but now we are pretty tempted to keep some of the prettier girls as egg layers. We are hoping to get enough chicken eggs to be able to sell to local restaurants. We just don't know if the cornish half of these guys will keep them from being good layers.



This guy is NOT a keeper. 

We aren't sure if this is the results of a birth defect or a freak accident then he was young, but aside from looking derpy and slightly hilarious, this little guy does just fine. He is always the first to the feeder and on the day we took this pic, he actually flew up onto Big Onion's shoulder looking for food!



Monday, September 17, 2012

Gwen and Hunter BFFs 4ever

We've had an interesting and adorable inter-species relationship developing here on the farm in the last few weeks. Our Gwendolyn the goat and Hunter, our new barn cat, have become the best of friends.

When Gwen is out of her pen, Hunter is always with her. I suspect they originally bonded over a love of milk. When I put Thea up on the milk stand, Gwen gets to nurse her fill then Hunter gets a few squirts into his bowl then the two would hang around together while I finished the milking. Now one is hardly found without the other. If Gwen starts crying out for any reason, Hunter will come running, even braving a backyard full of dogs to be with his buddy.

Yesterday, I watched him follower her around the pasture while she grazed on grass and he hunted bugs and field mice. One day I got home from work to find Hunter IN the pen with Gwen and Thea, and I have no idea how he got in there!

 Mostly the two just like to lounge around and nibble on each other. Gwen chews on his tail...

 Hunter attacks her tail....

... and a particular favorite for both cat and goat is when Gwen nibbles on Hunter's ears. I swear one day we are going to go out to find a one eared cat, they do it all day long!

Here's a little video I got today of the two buddies bonding.

Could you just die of cute?!


Monday, September 10, 2012

Saying goodbye to Mawmaw


On Saturday, we attended the funeral of one the most important people in my life, my Mawmaw. Mawmaw died a couple weeks ago after bravely battling cancer, but the storm delayed her funeral until today. I don't usually talk much about the goings on in my personal life on this blog, but Mawmaw was such a huge influence in my life growing up that I feel like I should share a little bit about who she was here.


Mawmaw was the most caring and giving person I have ever known. She loved taking care of people and animals. Mawmaw had the ability to calm crying babies just by taking them into her arms and holding them close. The family tells stories about her sleeping on the bathroom floor with an alarm clock and tiny, sick puppy and waking every few hours to give food and medication that kept the little creature alive. Once she babysat a duckling for us while we went on vacation. She kept little Sedrick in the house and delighted in hand feeding him peas and letting him follow her around.


Toward the end, when she was so sick and bedridden, she insisted that I bring baby Gwen to meet her. Gwen hopped all over her bed and even all over her, and she thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world. I remember her telling the little goat that now she was one of the family, one of our babies. That we would always protect, take care of, and love her.

Mawmaw taught me to love and appreciate food. We even referred to the creations of her kitchen as "Mawmaw food." She was the kind of wife and mother that would cook for her family from scratch at every meal, often times using ingredients she had grown and preserved herself. I remember as a kid helping to can vast amounts of tomatoes that Mawmaw would eventually turn into her amazing chicken spaghetti, "mawmaw soup," and jambalaya.


She was a huge supporter of our farm. She was the very first to put in orders for ducks, chickens and even a rabbit. She insisted on paying us for the dozens of duck and chicken eggs that be brought her no matter how many times we refused payment. Mawmaw was never able to visit the farm. She just was not healthy enough in the last 8 months to make the trip. She always talked about the day she could come here and sit and play with all the baby animals.

After the funeral, we all gathered at her house to celebrate her life with friends and lots of food. After a lifetime of enjoying "Mawmaw food" I felt like I should do something special honor all those delicious meals. The Big Onion and I put together a few dishes that came almost exclusively from the farm: egg salad from our duck's eggs, chicken salad using one of our chickens and chicken eggs, and goat cheese courtesy of Josie and Thea with blackberry sauce from our wild bushes.

Just before we were leaving and I thought I had finally run out of tears, my mother took me aside and handed me a photo album with this written in the cover...


It was an album of pictures of me growing up. There were only a couple with both me and Mawmaw together...



What struck me about these pictures is that she is not looking at the camera. She is smiling at me. That's exactly how Mawmaw lived her life, worrying about, caring for, and putting the needs of others before herself.


No matter what I write here, I feel like I cannot do justice to what an amazing woman she was. So many of my life's choices were guided and influenced by her strength and her gentleness. I just hope I can someday become half the woman she was.


A note from Big Onion: Kaela was worried about whether or not this post belonged here on the farm blog. I don't think there's any better place for it. Mawmaw's love for life, for animals, and for good food is something that was passed on to Kaela, instilled in her from a young age. This love for animals and for the food they provide is what I think led her to want this farm so much. To raise animals in a way where they are seen as more than just a food source is something that Mawmaw was always happy to hear about. When we knew she could not make it out to the farm we took some videos to show to her -- I wish I could have recorded how happy and proud she looked to see what we had accomplished in such a short time. She appreciated all of the work we had done and continue to do, more than anyone else we know.

We love our animals no matter what their ultimate purpose may be, and knowing that we raised our animals in such a way always made Mawmaw happy. Without her encouragement there would likely be no farm. We here at HighTail Farms owe her a lot for that, and for that reason she most certainly deserves her own post on this site.

People always say that their family are their biggest fans, but it's rare that family can be their biggest inspiration as well. Thank you, Mawmaw, for believing in our dream and encouraging us in the amazing way that you did and continue to do.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Meet Amalthea a.k.a. Gwen's new bottle

 We made the decision early on to separate Gwen from her CAE positive mother, but since Josie had just one single kid, we started looking for a companion goat for our Gwenny soon after she was born.

We decided to find another kid around Gwen's age since a single goat is a sad goat. At first we had very little luck. Most people in our area raise Boers, which are meat goats. Since we keep our goats for milking, we really wanted to find a dairy breed. We were also constrained by cost. We just couldn't afford hundreds and hundreds of dollars on a champion bloodline show goat when all we wanted was a nice goat that we could milk and who would be Gwen's friend.

We found someone online looking to sell a young Saanen in Alabama. That goat sold before we could get her, but her owner referred us to a friend who had another Saanen for sale, an adult doe, and this one was in milk! The goat had just had her first kid and since the owner wanted to keep her buck for breeding, she decided to sell the mother when it was time to wean. She told us her name was Sugar, and she was very laid back and sweet. She sounded like she would make a great companion to our little girl. Plus, since Sugar was in milk it would mean no more pasteurizing Josie's milk to make it safe for Gwen! We hoped Sugar might even adopt Gwen and let her nurse like a normal goat. No more bottle feeding 4 times a day!

This wonderful lady was willing to drive part of the way from Alabama to meet us with the goat so we packed up my trusty Honda Element with Gwen, her crate,  an ex-pen, a tarp and lots of shavings and hay and headed east.

 Gwenny checking out the setup.

We decided to meet at a gas station just across the state border. Let me tell you, we garnered quite a few odd looks as we moved a very large white goat from the back of a minivan to the back of our small SUV. 

 Sugar traveled like a champ even munching on hay then settling down for a rest on the way home.

 After much discussion, we decided to change Sugar's name to Amalthea after the goat who suckled the greek god Zeus (would ya look at that udder!). We call her Thea for short. She was thin as a rail so our first order of business was to fatten up the girl. The second order of business was to see if Gwen could nurse from her. The first night Gwen wanted nothing to do with the nipple, so the next morning I made sure she was good and hungry before taking Thea out to the milk stand. I cleaned her udder then squirted a little milk around the nipple and lo and behold our bottle baby started suckling like a champ!!


Thea for her part was just happy to have food. She was hardly concerned at all about Gwen's nursing.

Since then Thea and Gwen have become fast friends. I think I suffered more than Gwen did when we finally felt comfortable enough to let her sleep outside with Thea. Thea still won't let Gwen nurse unless she is on the milk stand or chowing down on something particularly tasty, but she is very gentle and simply walks away or gives Gwen a light head bump to move her away from the udder. I now understand why people call Saanens the marshmallow goats.

I don't this came as a surprise to anyone, but unfortunately Thea and Josie (Gwen's bio mom) do not get along. Thea is very laid back and has tried on numerous occasions to meet Josie over the fence. Josie meets her advances with hackles up and horns down. I wish we could let them work it out on their own, but since Josie has CAE, a bite from her puts Thea at serious risk of catching the virus. Keeping the goats separated is kind of a pain in the rear for us but totally worth it to keep our two newest girls safe.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Gwen can fly!

Still playing catch up on posting. Here are some pics I took of Gwendolyn a few weeks ago. They were just too cute not to share....

 Gwenny's first bath. 

 Wet and pathetic baby goat. 
It was not nearly as bad as she makes it look.

 And of course there were after bath zoomies.

Gwen can fly!

Whee!

 Zoom!

 She can also do serious.

I just love that little pink nose! 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Weathering Isaac - Pt 2


I woke with the dawn on Thursday morning and looked out our bedroom window. I didn't even recognize what I saw at first. Our bridge was under about 4ft of water, the creek that runs just behind the 1st pasture had topped its banks during the night and flooded our pasture! Even more alarming was realizing that the waters had reached our poultry pens. I shook Big Onion awake and we quickly threw on clothes and headed out back.


There was a good 1.5-2 ft of water flooding our pens closest to the creek. Big Onion came out of the silky pen with all four new chicks drowned. Bianca was such a good mother that she was trying to keep them warm even as the waters came up. Our poor little bantam chickens were barely able to keep their heads above water. We quickly bundled all three chickens in towels, dried them as best we could, and set them up in a raised cage in the poultry house.


The quail pen had some water, but I gave them some plastic pallets to climb on to get up out of the water and they seemed ok. When I went back to check on them later, the water had risen again and one quail had drowned. This was prompting enough for us to scoop up all 40+ birds and tuck them into another raised cage to dry off. Again there were a couple birds that seemed stiff and cold, but were soon back to normal once they got warm and dry. I have to hand it to those tiny birds, they never missed a stride through the whole thing. They stayed very calm, and many of the girls actually laid eggs while crammed into a rather tight space.



After losing one of the quail, we decided to just move all the rest of the birds out of the flooded pens. I think the chickens were happy to be on dry ground, but less than pleased that all 8 of them had to share one cage. They were also inexplicably terrified of the young Buff chicks in the next pen, all cowering in one corner of the cage behind their giant white rooster protector.



The adult turkeys and guineas were muddy and soggy, but their pens still had dry ground so they stayed put.



While all the other birds were doing their best to stay dry, the ducks and geese were pleased as punch with the pond we installed in their pen. They had 2 ft of water and were going to town splashing and playing in their new lake/pen.


In the morning, we tossed a wooden pallet in the pen just so they could get up and out of the water if they wanted. By afternoon when the waters just kept rising, we decided to move them to the relatively dry ground of the goat pen. Neither the ducks nor the goats were pleased with this decision.


Meanwhile, the wind kept blowing and the rain kept falling in waves. All day Wednesday we saw the poor sheep rushing out of their enclosed area whenever there was a break in the weather to get as much grazing as they could before the pouring rain would drive them back under cover. Thursday morning, their normal cover was under water so Big Onion walked them up near into goat pen, and we gave them some grain to eat.

 Well, after we moved the ducks up, we had to close the goat pen off to the sheep and just as we were headed back inside, it started to pour again. Pepper, our friendliest sheep, rain straight to us for help with the rest of the flock close at her heels. I did some fast thinking and with a call of "Sheep sheep!" led the girls into the nearby covered area where we keep the 4 wheeler. I was so amazed they followed me, even more amazed that they thought to turn to us for help in a time of crisis.



 Our second pasture beyond the trees under about 5-6ft of water. We would need a boat to get to the rest of our property.



You can actually see the current of water flowing into our pasture in some of these pictures.



One of the scariest things we saw checking out the flooding were these floating islands of red ants. They were also swarming all over the buildings. The surface of the water was also swarming with tiny little floating spiders. Big Onion and I came away with more insect bites than we could count every time we went out to check on everyone. We both ended up with angry red rings around our calves just at the point where our boots end.

Early in the afternoon we started hearing reports of a possible dam break in a major river that runs just a few miles from our house.  We had already spent the day plucking sodden distressed birds from the water and watching the water level in our pens go up and up. The radio was talking about mandatory evacuations and 17 ft of water. I'm not ashamed to admit I had more than one moment of panic that day. Big Onion and I talked about what we would do if we were forced to leave. Do we just open cages and pens and leave the birds and rabbits to fend for themselves? We talked about packing all the dogs and cats in his car and the goats into mine, moving the sheep to the higher ground of the backyard and just hoping we would have something to come back to.

I sat down with the handy deck of cards and started playing solitaire to keep myself busy while Big Onion tried to catch a little sleep. I kept telling myself if I could just win one game, just one game, everything would be ok. The power would come back and the water would go down. It took about 5 or 6 games, but I finally won one. I actually woke poor Big Onion up to say I had won at solitaire, everything would be ok! I kid you not, the words had barely come out of my mouth went the power blinked on! (Note from Big Onion: This is true. Creepy, but true!) We turned on the news and learned that we were too far away from the river for a dam break to effect us. Not long after that, the water levels started very slowly going down again.

By Friday morning, the creek was back within its banks and the bridge was miraculously still in place. We were left with a muddy, soggy mess of a barnyard. I actually had to go to work down in New Orleans, so poor Big Onion was left by himself to put new bedding down in all the pens and relocate the birds back where they belong. The last and biggest duck pen is still a mud pit so the waterfowl will be double bunking it for a while. We also have a lot of debris and fallen branches to clean up and some fences to repair. Unfortunately, my garden was all but destroyed. The corn, for sure, has seen much better days...


This picture was taken well after the storm had passed.

All in all I feel like we were extremely lucky. We lost a few young birds, but overall there was no major building damage, our house did not flood, and we came through unharmed with almost all of our animals healthy and safe. There is still a lot of work to do to get things back to normal, but I think we'll be ok.