And then life happened…

A blog post on why I didn’t write a blog post.

When I began this blog, I made a commitment to writing posts twice a week posting on Mondays and Thursdays. This seemed reasonable and doable. Enough consistency on my end, but not an overwhelming burden to create content.

And then life happened.

Life happens a lot on the farm. In this case it was Sunday. I had a plan for a post to write Sunday and to be published Monday.

While Sunday should be a day of rest and reflection – an ideal time for me to write – this Sunday had me bustling to prepare soil in my newly (almost) finished hoop house.

My broccoli seedlings were bursting at the seams, another storm front was heading our way, and life was telling me I needed to get them planted now.

I happily worked in the hoop house, taking pictures along the way, knowing I could relax Sunday evening and write my post about the work I was doing in the garden.

And then life happened.

You see our cows escaped again a month ago. It was soul crushing. We got Helen back the first weekend, but Panda was proving to be a challenge. “Roguish” was what one experienced farmer called her. The type of cow you send to the butcher. We are not quite there yet; we want to work with Panda more first. Besides it was largely our fault the cows escaped again. While the fencing was complete, the gates were not up, and the girls were able to run right through the openings.

Little Panda hanging out with our neighbor’s Angus cows.

After about a week Panda showed up at our neighbor’s field. We were able to get her fenced in their pasture with their herd of cows. That’s a start. Getting her out was the problem. The ground around the feed lot where the cows get loaded into their trailer was muddy and nearly impossible to walk in. Especially if you are a heavy cow.

Every evening for two weeks, Mr. J visited Panda at our neighbor’s field. He would bring a bucket of feed and get her to come to him. He went the same time every night to build trust and develop a routine. During this time, we were waiting for the ground to dry enough for Panda to navigate her way through the feed lot to the barn.

With another storm heading our way, this past weekend was our last chance for a while. Panda would anticipate Mr. J’s arrival with the feed bucket and for the last few days would wait close to the feed lot anticipating his arrival.

Mr. J headed out the door around 5pm Sunday evening as I began making dinner. I still had plenty of time to write my post that evening.

And then life happened.

Mr. J calls, “I got her in the feed lot with the gate closed. Can you come help me get her in the barn?”

I drop what I am doing and dash out the door. Arriving at the field, a mile down the road, I find an agitated Panda, not happy with being closed in. At points she looks like she is going to break her way through the fencing. My presence is not making Panda feel better. O.K. Let’s rethink this.

“How ‘bout I go get a bale of hay. We can put it in the barn and see if that will lure her in.” I suggest.

I dash home, get the hay, and a jacket for Mr. J, because he will be playing a waiting game, it is dark, and the temperature is starting to dip.

After dropping these off, I have to head into town to get our son from his job. Driving back, we get a text from Mr. J.

“I got her in the barn.”

Good. Weeks of worry, fret, patience, and coaxing is paying off.

We head to the field and find Mr. J connecting our neighbor’s trailer to his truck. In the dark. I head home to get flashlights to help with the wrangling.

Then I get a call. “We got her in the trailer.” Magic! They no longer need me and I can get started on dinner.

It is 8pm. There will be no writing from me tonight. Dinner is on the table by 9pm. We pour some Prosecco to toast the return of Panda. Bone tired we climb upstairs and are soon fast asleep.

That’s o.k. I can write my post tomorrow.

And then life happened.

Monday, anticipating the storm’s arrival later that day we move from chore to chore trying to get everything done. More broccoli gets planted, the Jerusalem artichokes get a spot in the yard, all in anticipation of the rain. At 2pm I remember that I had promised a visit to an elderly couple from our church. My afternoon is spent finding their hilltop home and having a good chat. I head home at 5pm to make dinner and help get animals tucked in for the night. By 8:30, we have finished our prayers and find ourselves too tired to move. I can write my post tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be stormy, the perfect day for writing.

Tomorrow is today.

And life happens.

The wind, torrential rain, and thunderstorms make for a restless sleep. We wake to a power outage and a baby lamb demanding her morning bottle. Baaaaaa! Morning starts quickly on the farm.

Animals get fed, generator gets set up, water is boiled for coffee in the French press, and we finally sit down for a cup at 8:30am. I chat with Mr. J and contemplate what I can get done today.

At 9am I get a call that the tractor we purchased will be delivered in an hour. The power comes back on, and I quickly throw together breakfast before the tractor comes.

The truck and trailer arrive. I direct the driver to our driveway loop where he can turn his rig around and unload the tractor at the barn. Navigating the loop, his truck starts to slide, downhill, in the mud. The torrential rain from last night takes its toll.

An easy, straightforward delivery ends up taking all morning. I try my hand at pulling the delivery truck out of the mud with Mr. J’s truck. No luck. The driver must call in reinforcements. Lamb wants to be fed again. Then Hope and I watch as another truck with a crane arrives to tackle the problem.

11:30am. My morning is gone.

This is life. It happens. And it is Good.

Homestead Happenings – January 2022

Our life in pictures.

The Return of Helen Reddy and Panda

After two weeks hanging out with our neighbor Travis’ herd of Angus we finally have our heifers back on the homestead. The recent rain and snow made the ground too muddy for us to retrieve them until two days ago when we had enough of a gap between wet weather to give it a go. Our neighbors across the road lent us their livestock trailer and Travis was a life saver in separating our girls from his. He even used his tractor to pull our truck out of the mud.

Fencing, Fencing, Fencing


Helen and Panda’s escapades made it clear that our fencing was sorely lacking. While they were safely contained in the neighbor’s pasture, we put all our energy and time into fencing one of our pastures. Thankfully, we had some extra help from visiting friends, extended family, and our two grown sons visiting for the holiday.

Mr. J quickly educated himself on how to install durable perimeter fencing – H-braces, 5 strands of tensioned barb wire, woven wire, and gates. Our brother-in-law suggested we rent an auger instead of digging the post holes manually. Genius! As of this post we are more than halfway done. Lessons learned here will be applied to fencing the rest of the property.


The pigs have been much easier to work with than the cows, but fencing is still a focus. We currently use hog panels and t-posts to set up temporary paddocks in my garden. The pigs happily root up the soil each day and I rotate them to a new space weekly. I will need to invest in some electric fencing for the pigs so that when they finish with my garden, we can easily move them to other areas of the farm to be worked. They are already trained to the electric wire, but I would feel better if they were surrounded by electric hog netting.

Our weather has been cold and wet. To keep the pigs warm and dry we bring them into the barn each night. I am training them to follow me from the barn to the garden in the morning and from the garden to the barn at night with voice commands and food rewards. Every time I go down to feed the pigs I call “Piiiiiig, pig, pig, pig, pig” and they squeal in anticipation. When we open their fencing to relocate them, I continue my call while shaking a container with some food. They either follow right behind or run ahead because they know where to go.  My hope is that this association with my voice and food will make it possible for me to herd them farther distances. So far so good. Plus, it makes me laugh.


I have a confession. Our Great Pyrenees is a chicken chaser. He will walk towards the birds and if they start to move away, he will give chase. The faster they move, the more excited he gets. For him it is a game, but it may not turn out well for the chickens. So, I decided to enlarge the chicken run to give the birds more space. This meant in addition to everything else, we quickly put up a run with welded wire fencing and t-posts. It was completed yesterday, and the girls were let out of their smaller enclosure. What happy chickens!

As I write this, snow is falling, and our fires are burning as we anticipate 6-10 inches of snow.




Fiat Farm

Meeting Neighbors and Finding Cows

In all things God’s Grace abounds.

In my previous post I relate how our two new heifers escaped. Let’s continue the story with how they get found.

It is 1pm, Friday. The cows that arrived earlier in the week have disappeared into the dense woods of our property line. I need to leave to go pick up our oldest son and his new bride from the airport. That leaves Mr. J and 2 boys to handle the cow search. They form a search line and spend the next two hours looking for cows until eventually Mr. J and the boys lose each other. Still no cows.

Time for a new approach.


The sun will be setting soon. We decide the best plan is to reach out to our neighbors. We have been so busy working the farm that we have been unable to introduce ourselves to the farms around us. Now is the perfect time. Mr. J. drives the truck to nearby properties handing out cards with our number and asking for a phone call if someone sees our heifers. He gets much sympathy and understanding nods as he describes our plight. Evidently, we are not the first people to have cows break loose.

The sun sets. The cows are still out there on their own. We are worried. Our only consolation is that the weather is mild and there has been plenty of rain so there will be water out there for our girls.

After dark Mr. J walks out to our woods with a flashlight to have a final look. Shining the light into the trees he sees two sets of beady eyes peering back. Then the eyes close, the heads turn, and the two cows all but disappear into the night. Stinkers! But at least we know they are close.

With the arrival of our oldest son and his new wife for a holiday visit we now have more hands to add to the task.

The next morning is Saturday, and as the guys head out again to search the woods, Mr. J gets a call on his cell phone. It is a 911 dispatcher asking if we had lost two cows.

(Can I just say, I love the fact that 911 is instrumental in connecting the threads of our little drama and that the deputies are looking out for all the creatures in their county not just the people. I’m sure we also gave them a good chuckle.)

A sheriff’s deputy had seen the two cows and reached out to a nearby farmer to try to track down the owners. Fortunately, it was one of the neighbors we had given our number to the night before. The deputy worked through 911 to track us down. We identified the girls by their tag numbers and the dispatcher gave us their latest location.

The guys leap into action. As they throw on their boots, I gather water and protein bars to keep them going. We learned from yesterday that this cattle wrangling is neither quick nor easy.

Mr. J and the three boys meet the deputy and two concerned neighbors on a country road about 2 miles away from or homestead and get an update on the girls. Helen Reddy and Panda have moved off the road up the hillside into trees and brambles. Not optimal, but it could be worse.

At the top of the hill another neighbor on his ATV is keeping an eye on the cows and waiting for my guys to arrive so he can help. Dylan and his ATV prove to be lifesavers in this story.

But we have a problem. A big problem. Suppose we can get the girls; we have no way to contain them. It’s not like they will allow themselves to be herded. We don’t have a cattle trailer and our property is over two miles away by country road. We can’t think about that now. First, get the girls.

So, it’s all hands on deck with Dylan on the ATV and my four guys spread out at strategic points in the trees and brambles. Eventually, they get Helen down the hill to the country road. This is ideal. The road, fenced on both sides, creates a chute. And off that road is a gate to a well-fenced pasture holding a small herd of Angus cattle. The perfect place is placed right before us. Using our truck, the ATV, and three boys they are able to get Helen herded close to the gate. Mr. J and the boys keep Helen in place while Dylan calls the pasture’s owner, Travis, asking if we could get his gate unlocked and herd our cow in with his. He sends someone over to unlock the gate. Before long, Helen is contained.

Trying to lure Helen with a treat.

But Panda is out of sight, she zigged when Helen zagged. We got one girl secure, but the other is still out there, and we don’t know where. We think Helen will call out to her from the paddock and Panda will wander back to be close to her friend, but that will take time. Not much else can be done at the moment, so my guys head home and wait.

Back at the house, us girls are regaled with their adventure. The chasing through brambles. The running to prevent Helen’s escape. The helplessness as Panda heads off in the opposite direction. The helpfulness of Dylan and his ATV. The boys are animated in their storytelling and united in the experience.

Listening to them, I recall all the times as my boys were growing up, I planned vacations and activities with the goal of creating family memories and shared experiences. I felt I had to orchestrate moments like this for them to treasure. On this day, through no efforts of mine, a significant memory was created; an exciting day was lived. This homestead life we chose certainly makes life interesting and I am thankful that, at this moment, all my boys are along for the ride.

Around 4:30 that afternoon, I suggest to Mr. J that they hop in the truck and search for Panda one more time before it gets dark. Hopefully, she will have wandered back to Helen who is secure in the paddock. Mr. J, youngest son, and our new daughter-in-law, head out to have a final look for the day.

My three searchers wander about looking all the places Panda is not, while at the same time Dylan and his wife spy her from their farm and get her going toward the paddock with Helen. My crew falls in on the efforts. Panda heads to the gate, daughter-in-law opens it up, and Panda walks right in.

Hanging out with the big girls.

With the help of our neighbors, both cows have been found, corralled, and secured. We can breathe easy tonight.

Dylan, and his ATV, spent several hours that Saturday afternoon helping us. Time sacrificed for strangers who had lost their cows. We are humbly grateful.

The girls are tucked safely into Travis’ pasture with his cattle. When Mr. J offers to pay for their feed, Travis replies, “They don’t each much. You don’t owe me nuthin’.” When we worry that weather is preventing us from getting them in a timely manner, he replies, “They ain’t causin’ no trouble.” His hospitality is more than we could ask.

Our struggle with these two cows has brought to life in a tangible way the second of the two great commandments:

…”You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mark 12:31 (NAB, St. Joseph’s Ed.)

At the end of this Gospel passage Jesus says that if you love God with all you heart and love your neighbor as yourself “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34) I certainly feel as though I have experienced a little bit of heaven here on earth.

In small town Tennessee, 911 calls you about your lost cows and your neighbors go out of their way to help you find them.

And amid all the struggle God’s Grace abounds.

I Don’t Hate This

On getting cows, loosing cows, and embracing your vocation.

A month ago, while walking the property with Magnus I had a talk with God. If we are going to do this thing, I said, we will need livestock. For me it is not just any livestock. I am looking for local, hearty, heritage breeds that will thrive on our pasture. This quest is not impossible, it’s just not easy. And at the time I was chatting with God I was struggling to get animals. Any animals.

Talking to God about livestock.

With a little internet research, I was able to track down a farm with heritage cattle and hogs. Located an hour away, this farm raising heritage breeds was an answer to prayer. The farmer is a woman who began her dream about 10 years ago. She let us visit her property. She answered my questions, nodded knowingly at my vision, and agreed to sell me some of her stock. She also said she had made every mistake you can make when starting her farm journey. This is a common theme when I reach out to farmers that start this journey later in life. Farmers will chuckle and say, “I have made every mistake you can think of.” I smile and think that, surely, I won’t make every mistake.

Before we received any animals, we need a secure place for them on the farm. Fencing, my friends, is essential and we are quickly learning that it is also expensive, time-consuming, and never-ending.

I left her farm with the task of making a paddock for the pigs. We would let her know when we were ready to get them. Over the next few days, I tackled the pig paddock. I made a trip to the feed store – purchased hog panels, t-posts, straw for bedding, and some hog food. With a little help from the youngest son, I was able to make a home for our large blacks. We went back to the farm the next week and got the pigs. Success!

Look at us. We are farmers.

I had such immediate success with the pigs that I just knew we could handle cows. After all, the description of their breed labels them as “docile” and their breeder says they “respect the fence.” Docile is a term bandied about to make breeds appealing to the new homesteader. Every animal that doesn’t charge you and eat you alive is “docile.” Electric fencing is used in pasture and livestock management. A zap or two from a hot electric wire convinces animals to stay in their paddock. A 700-pound cow that “respects the fence” will stay put. Or so they say.

We got electric netting and I convinced Mr. J that we were ready to take on cows. After all, you can only learn so much from watching videos on the internet. You must get animals so you can figure it all out. If we waited until everything was perfect, we would never get animals.

I called the farmer and told her we were ready for the cows. We had water, pasture, extra hay, and fencing. We were good to go.

A few days later the girls arrived. Two lovely year-old heifers. They were unloaded from the trailer to their fenced paddock with ease. We were now true homesteaders. We had actual cattle on our land. And they respected the fence – for two days.

Regenerative farming has a livestock grazing technique called “mob and mow.” It mimics the movement of wild herd animals across native savannahs. The herd huddles close together and grazes aggressively on the available grasses. Each day the herd seeks new land as they instinctively move to avoid predators and find fresh pasture. This mob and mow method regenerates the land and keeps the animals healthy. It is a method popularized by Joel Salatin and Greg Judy – icons in regenerative practices. We have been watching their videos. These guys make it look easy. This is our plan.

Then you get cows of your own. With minds of their own.

And chaos ensues.

After two days in the same paddock, we decided it was time to move the cows. Basically, we open the fencing to a new paddock, and they walk into it on their own because they are curious and want new grass. Our middle son, home for a few weeks, provides an extra set of hands. Dad and son set out to move the electric netted fence and set up a new paddock. But we didn’t have enough netting to both contain the cows in their current paddock and mark off a new one. To solve this, the guys string up some electric wire with plastic poles to keep the girls contained. After all, they are trained to respect the fence. Half of the netting is removed, and a thin wire is all that stands between the girls and open space. This works in the videos. Surely it will work for us.

Helen Reddy and Panda looking docile before the jail break.

Helen Reddy, the bolder of the two, tests the wire with her chest. Zap. She brushes it again. Zap. She brushes it a third time and walks right over it. The hot wire is now laying on the grass. Helen’s partner in crime, Panda, walks right over it to follow her buddy.

They do not respect the fence.

It is 9am. The cows are loose. Any plan for the day has been thrown out the window.  For the next four hours four grown adults try to wrangle two “docile” cows. Unsuccessfully.

We run across pastures. We sprint up hills. We make loud noises and wave our arms to look big. Everything we can to get them moving in the direction we want them to go.

No luck.

A few hours in, as I am trudging once again across a pasture to try to intercept the girls, I think how difficult this is. I think of the potential significant financial loss, our responsibility to the girls, and how we have absolutely no control over the situation. And then I think:

I don’t hate this.

This thing we are doing is hard. It requires patience, endurance, communication, observation, sacrifice, humility, and a deep and profound letting go of self. (I’m not just talking about looking for cows.)

But I don’t hate it. I embrace it. This life we have chosen is real and substantial. It is all-encompassing and like motherhood it is quickly becoming a vocation.

The moment of reflection is gone as we try once again to herd the cows. Our middle son takes the lead coordinating our efforts. We crash through trees, we run uphill, we crouch down to hide then get big to guide. Together we get some momentum, the girls are moving, just get them over this hill…NOOOOO! They turn around and trot right past us, down the hill, and out of sight. We lose them. Helen Reddy and Panda duck under the barbed wire of our property line and head into the thick woods behind us. They stop moving. We can’t hear them. We can’t see them. And four adults stomping through the woods for an hour can’t find them.

Heck, we couldn’t even find each other.

I haul myself back to the house to get water and food for the gang. It is past noon. We need to stop, eat something, and reassess. I return to the furthest pasture, near the trees the girls escaped into. I sit down and wait. Mr. J sees me and walks over. Youngest son pops out of the woods and heads our way. I hand out water and protein bars while we wait for the middle son to find us. We are sitting on a slope facing our furthest pond and the trees that hide our cows. The sun is shining, the weather is perfect, and the scene is beyond picturesque. Middle son comes out of the trees, and we watch complacently while he makes his way towards us. I hand him water and food as he sits down. Here we are. Together. Working through something big. Something real. Something hard. Together.

I’d like to think we all sat there quietly for a few moments just pondering the awesomeness of it all. But the boys were probably just too tired to talk.

However, I am pondering, and marveling and I think: real farmers don’t just have animals. Real farmers struggle. They drop everything to save their livestock. They work together.

Real farmers make mistakes. Every mistake.

And in the failure and struggle and challenge there is a deep, profound satisfaction.

++++++Don’t worry about Helen and Panda. They had their adventure and are currently safe. I will let you know how that goes in my next post.

++++++As I am finishing this story my youngest son asks what I am writing about and then comments that this life really gives meaning to the parable of the lost sheep. This livestock hunting is no easy task.

…and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.”

I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

Luke 15:6-7 (NAB, St Joseph’s Ed.)