Wednesday, October 21, 2015


       Do you know that feeling, when you step into the gym in the first week of January or the third week of September, and you haven't been in forever and so you don't really know how to start? I mean, your whole body is completely out of shape, so where do you even begin?

                   That's how I feel with this blog.

       I started this blog out of a love of farming and of writing, and as the first semester of college took off so did the blog. I wrote about all the things I loved; Sookie the pig and sunrises and hard work. Then, life started moving faster, some amazing opportunities came my way and I took them all. Because apparently, I never say no to a great opportunity.
        So the role of Hallie the Wide-eyed and Pensive Freshman is now being passed along to New Hallie, the two part-time  jobber, the half-time college student and the middle school ag teacher.
       I love New Hallie--she is tired all the time but she is challenging me and stretching me in ways my lazy, sleepy self never would have imagined. I love every second of the things that fill my day. But New Hallie lives out of her car and doesn't even have time to pack a lunch in the mornings so she spends way too much of her Chick-fil-A paycheck on eating Chick-fil-A. She scrimps time for sleep and treadmill runs at the gym and is often late for one job because she is preparing for the other. Does New Hallie have time to farm, much less to write about farming? No way.

        In the sticky, mopey months of July, August, and September, it is easy to keep away from the farm. There are bugs and summer humidity and enough grass that no animal needs much tending to. I would easily leave home in the morning and duck in long after dark, and I was fine. The blog could wait, the farm could wait, I could put my farm-y passions on hold.

             Cue October.
        To you, October may mean scarves and lattes and pumpkin and the most memorable cancer fundraisers ever, but to me it means a lot of other things, too. October means piles of hay and breezy days and chilly morning feedings with hot chocolate as the sun comes up.

             It also means babies.
        If there is nothing that will pull you headfirst into the work of a farm, it's the babies. Our breeding season for our cows schedules them to birth in October, and so the calves are hitting the ground in a flurry. And there is nothing like the sweet eyes of a week-old calf. I could sit out all day and laugh at their wobbly little gait as they play in the field. I admire their mothers for their keen instincts in taking care of their new babies.

        The other day, as the busyness of the semester had me in a whirlwind and I was everywhere all at once, I got a text from my mom that one of our first-time mothers, Audrey, was in labor. We were going to have a calf! We expected trouble since this was her first time in labor, but by the time I got home and we tried to check on her in the dark, we could hear the tiny mooing of her new baby. For the first time in a long time, I jumped willingly out of bed in the morning and went out to take my first good look at our gorgeous red calf. I had forgotten how great it was to be this happy and this proud of the living things we own.

       If that wasn't enough cuteness for a day, my Ag class (more on that later) is on the tail end of our hatching project. What was once just a line of half-baked chicken eggs in a machine that sounds like Darth Vader now all at once seems like the cradle of life that it is. Today we were holding each egg up to a lamp and we were able to see the tiny feet kicking as they gear up to push out of their little eggy homes. And I have never liked chickens much, but to see a simple egg, which I'd usually crack open and eat for breakfast without a thought, turn into this space-age baby pod is just too cool. So at the first little peep of the first chick breaking through the first layer of shell, I rolled out the mattress and set up camp around the incubator. 

       Because the truth is, I've missed this. I have tried not to admit to myself that I have longed to spend my endless hours here, sweating in the sun and basking in this place that is teeming with wild and beautiful life. Somewhere in my race to make this my life's path I took real farming out of my life and replaced it with low fuel lights and meals from a paper bag. I don't want to miss this anymore.
       I'm not quitting. I'm not going to just flake out on the amazing things I've been doing the past few months. So maybe I can't spend all day fixing fences and flying kites and watching the rain clouds roll in, but I can hurry home a little faster and help my mom fix Juan up in his new costumes and sleep right here by the fireplace waiting for these chicks to hatch. 
           Because this is what I'm made for and I will never let that go.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Pig Appreciation Day


         I'm super good at missing obscure holidays. Which stinks, because I love them. International pancake day? Pie day? Sibling day? Love them, but miss them all by at least a day.
             But I missed a big one.
                                 I missed Pig Appreciation day.

         Facebook failed to tell me until today that yesterday (March 1st) was Pig Appreciation day. Usually I would be okay with that but this year I actually have a pig to appreciate. Also we had two pounds of bacon in the fridge we could have eaten.
                    So with the earnest affection of a gas station card on Valentine's day, I will proceed to appreciate my pig, Sookie.

                            Because she's awesome. She barks like a dog when she's hungry and she doesn't break things and she is really good looking. So pretty much she is everything you want in a pig, right?

                         She also does this adorable tail wiggle that is better than anything anyone's stupid cat does so I will show you the video shamelessly.

Happy Day-After-Pig-Appreciation-Day Day! I hope all of you take a second to appreciate the pig in your life, be it book, beast, or bacon.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Truth About Chickens

    Everyone knows that every farm can't be a farm until it has chickens. They are a vital part of 'Old McDonald' and the sight of them leisurely pecking around in the barnyard compliments any dusty ranch painting. So, of course, we have chickens and, of course, they are a favorite among people who visit us.
        "Oh my goodness, you have chickens?! Can I pet them?"
        "Can I catch one?"
        "Can I feed them?"
        "Can I collect their eggs?"
        "Can I just sit here and stare at them?"

         But wanna know a secret?

                    I hate chickens.


         Okay, so they're cool and the chicks are cute and they produce great eggs. But they are psychotic and stinky and have mites and also don't produce eggs. 
          Yes, here's a bigger secret: our chickens never produce eggs.
           What kind of farmers are we? What do I mean, our chickens don't lay eggs? Why do we have chickens if they don't even lay eggs?!?

                                I have no idea.

         Here's how the chicken cycle happens at our house:
                                   1) We buy chicks. They're supposed to be all girls.
                                   2) They're not.
                                   3) Some mysteriously disappear.
                                   4) They go through a horrible preteen ugly phase and behave badly
                                   5) They reach adulthood
                                   6) We wait for eggs
                                   7) No eggs come
                                   8) My mom hopes some 'free range grazing' will help them lay eggs and lets                                              them out into the yard.
                                   9)Our blue heeler eats some, and others run away
                                   10) They obviously do not feel any less tense.
                                   11) They die of old age and the last one is carried off by a bald eagle--almost                                               always.
                                   12) Store-bought egg prices increase, my mom is outraged!
                                   13) Rinse and repeat.

You know how they say that no good deed goes unpunished? Well not good deeds do go unpunished; like my procrastination problem (it's very bad and I have a 4.0, knock on wood). It's like just before you should learn the hard way and change your bad habits, you're rewarded. Me with an A+ that I don't deserve, bad professors with tenure, and my mother with...

                                                                    You guessed it.


    We got eggs! We are actually farmers who eat farm-fresh eggs! Mind you, it was only two on the first day and we have whittled our flock (herd? gaggle? pride?) of chickens down to five, but we have EGGS!
                   Over the past few weeks we have managed to coax at least a dozen eggs from our chickens and for breakfast we have been eating a product from our own chickens. Are we proud farmers? Yes. Are those some very lucky chickens? Yes.

...So my mom is looking at getting new chicks.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Juan Ciervo!

        Time for Juan.

   Those of you who already know me probably know about our mounted deer head. Those of you who do not, get ready.
       For starters, my family is not the seasonal decorating type, with the exception of Christmas. And one time we left our Three Wisemen wall quilt on the wall for three straight years. Compared to the droves of southern belles that can be found around here with their abundance of wreaths, flags, centerpieces, doormats, bath linens, table settings, and china vases filled with real flowers, we are slacking.
        That was, until Juan.
    When we moved to the farm, my Granny was quick to pack up all that was hers to make room for us, leaving only a few things. One thing that she left behind was the mounted deer head that my brother begged her for. She got it at a flea market for $20.
    My family also doesn't hunt a lot. Which is crazy, because we could make a museum of all the watermelons we've lost to deer. We just never seem to find the time.
      I know, we are a shame to the southern name.
      So you could say that this deer was a proud possession of ours--our one hunting trophy we didn't have to sleep in a tree stand for. My mom, of course, didn't like him (darn yankee!), but she got her white mantle by the fireplace and we got Juan. His name is the Spanish version of John Deere.
Me and Juan when we first moved in...I... I have no idea what this is.

      Juan graced our mantle for a good two years with his noble and realistic taxidermy work.( Like, seriously, some mounted deer heads I've seen look more like cartoon characters.)

      Then one Christmas, in our frenzy of decking the halls, we started wrapping Juan in some festive garlands. Then a Santa hat. Then, for some reason, he ended up with a Willie Robertson wig and aviators. We got such a kick out of his look that we kept it up all through the holidays.

       After that Christmas, Juan just didn't look right without some kind of costume. For the Sochi Olympics, he sported a ski hat and a neck full of medals. For Easter he wore bunny ears and giant teeth, and for graduation he wore a cap and stole. He was a pirate, robin hood (Robin Horns), and a white girl in the fall (stereotypical White Tail... get it?). Pretty soon my whole family got into it. The season would change and my mom, who always wished Juan would meet the same fate as a famous leg lamp, would march into the dining room and say, "Okay, what's Juan wearing next?"
        Suddenly, we were seasonally decorating!
       It was crazy how easily this southern homemaker skill came to us when deer puns became involved. Now Juan is not just a beloved part of our home, he is a little celebrity among our friends. Because who doesn't love a decorated deer?

            And he's got a hashtag.
              That's right, this guy is #alexfromtarget status. Just type in #themanyfacesofjuanciervo on instagram and you'll find him.

             I hope y'all find this deer as entertaining as we do, and there will be many more posts on him to come. Happy seasonal decorating, folks! It's easier than you think.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


    I have an Instagram!
        I've had a personal Instagram before, but since it's private not everyone could see my farm posts,and the seasonally decorated deer I've been wanting so badly to tell all of you about. But now I have a special Instagram made just for this lovely blog and all its fantastic readers! 

                                         Follow me @orangeblossomsissy 

                         Now excuse me as I  go and post a year's worth of deer photos :)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Farm Girl Spirit

       Missing: 20-year old farm girl, blond hair, always wears boots. Last seen moving into an apartment that's three hours away.

      Yesterday my family packed up all of my sister's stuff and moved her up to the University of Florida. This is the next step in her journey into a life in the cattle business, and I'm so excited for her! But at the same time, I am short a sister. The era in our life where we shared a room and most of our lives is coming to and end and the chapter of adulthood and long-distance phone calls has begun.

our toast goodbye on our last night as roomies

       But as much as I miss my sister living here, I know I can call her whenever I want and she is just a short road trip away. I am not the one who misses her the most.

                          These guys are.

Photo credits Lisaset Photography. Check her out! 

          Nearly every single animal on this farm was passionately loved and cared for by Katie. The horses, cows, cats, and dogs began and ended their day when Katie came out to feed them. In fact, there is a worn path between our house and the barn that Katie walked every day. There are fences that she tacked up, mother cows who she gentled enough to trust us, tack she sorted and maintained, stalls she mucked, breezeways she swept clean, energetic blue heeler puppies she played with, and bales and bales of hay she fed over the winters. 
                You can't replace that by a phone call.

         This morning after I came in from the barn after feeding animals, I looked at the back door and saw this: 

                        Our border collie Eli was just sitting there, waiting for Katie. 
                    Seeing the hole she left in this farm by leaving, all the animals who miss her and all the tasks that might get left undone makes me wonder...what does it take to make an impact on a farm like that?
                     I believe that it's the Farm Girl Spirit. 
            Through the modernization and the urbanization of our country, the idea of a farm girl has become blurred and morphed. Some are so far removed from a rural zip code they picture a little pig-tailed and innocent Fern Arable, naive and obedient. Others, through the media's portrayal of what it looks like to live in the rural south (I'm looking at you, Party Down South!), picture a skinny brunette with bad highlights and dark eyeliner, who gets in bar fights and wears nothing but cutoffs and Jack Daniels tshirts. And obviously only uses hay lofts for...other things. 
              (Honestly, I need a whole other article to give my two cents on that image.)

           But through living on a farm, I know that the Farm Girl Spirit is not just about saying "y'all" and going mudding. Nor is it about wearing overalls and knowing nothing except for feeding pigs and saying "yes, Pa!" It's about being what it takes to do one of the hardest jobs you'll ever love.

             The Farm Girl Spirit is compassion. I see a lot of articles of critics shaming farmers for their mistreatment of animals. While I don't pretend to know everything about large, corporate farming, I do know that there  are countless small farms with girls like Katie on them. Girls who pay attention to every little detail, treating sores and cuts and feeding extra to a bullied cow. They aren't afraid to love something wholeheartedly even if they can't love it forever. 
              The Farm Girl Spirit is patience. Animals aren't smart, and plants don't grow in time-lapse mode. But a true farm girl is willing to wait on good things and to keep her cool in frustration. That plant that keeps withering, that cow who refuses to budge (there's one in every herd!)-- a farm girl keeps her head level and is willing to wait.

              The Farm Girl Spirit is dedication. Wake up every morning with the sun and get to work, no questions asked. A farm girl knows she can't and won't just give up when she doesn't 'feel like it' any more.

             The Farm Girl Spirit is stewardship and responsibility. Growing up my Granny left notes all over the farm, "Shut the gate," "Put it back where you found it." A farm girl understands the value of the tools and equipment she works with and takes good care of them. She knows what it means to have to answer for her mistakes, so she tries not to make them.

             The Farm Girl Spirit is determination an ingenuity. Feminism is trendy talk these days, and there have been times when farm women have made an easy target. Did you know that farm women in Wyoming and Utah were some of the first women to get the vote in America? They earned the respect of the men in the area because of their ability to rise up and meet the mental and physical demands of settling the West. Because the truth is, when it comes to manual labor men have a leg up. On average they are taller and stronger, whereas women are tiny and delicate. But that does not in any way mean that a farm girl cannot accept a challenge. A farm girl knows her weaknesses and works around them, building her body and using her head. Because she doesn't take 'no' for an answer.

              Lastly, The Farm Girl Spirit is pursuit of knowledge. Whether that knowledge comes from proven tradition passed down for generations or the latest research, farm girls do what they can to learn more. They are not satisfied with doing what they're told; they want to know the how and the why. They read books on grass production and stay up late prying knowledge out of parents and mentors. They drive four hours on their own accord to attend workshops and have a cow's hormonal cycle on display in their bedroom. That's Katie. And that pursuit of knowledge has whisked her away.

              Now that she's gone, I'm the farm girl. I'm the one the cows holler at and the horses nudge. And now I have to ask myself: can I do it?
                                    Can I capture the Farm Girl Spirit?

                                                          I hope I can.