CLEAR MORNING PROVISIONS was born of one woman's determination to grow and preserve the lion's share of her family's food. Once her garden was flourishing, she purchased a few American Guinea Hogs. Before long, her primary focus was raising an assortment of livestock breeds in order to supply meat and eggs for the family's table and acquire fiber from the sheep to further her spinning, knitting, weaving hobbies.
All breeds raised on the farm must be
able to naturally reproduce and raise offspring, and
perfectly-sized for the small homestead or farm.
Furlough Driven Gardening
Our family of four had been "playing" at gardening, on our three-acre lot in suburbia, for over nine years. However, the 2013 Department of Defense furloughs went into effect and we, out of sheer necessity, finally got serious about growing our own food, trimming our budget, and simplifying our lives. We found a local Mennonite family from which to purchase fresh milk.
From a garden perspective, we made good progress.
The raspberries were planted and gave us a tasty but small crop.
We decided to double our efforts at growing tree fruits so we planted a small orchard that included 1 apricot, 1 pear, 3 apples, 2 peaches, 3 cherries, and 2 plums.
Three filbert trees were planted between the vegetable garden and the woods.
We canned salsa, chili sauce, barbeque sauce, green beans, chicken soup, chili con carne, pickled jalapenos, applesauce, and apple jelly.
We froze copious amounts of strawberries, broccoli, green beans, and herbs.
We ate carrots from the garden until January.
We lived through the 2013 summer with almost no air conditioning.
The furloughs of 2013 turned out to be a blessing rather than a curse. William James Dawson was correct when he wrote:
Give man a difficulty to overcome,
and he at once puts forth his strength…
impose on him no need of exertion, and he will rot out.
We had big plans for the 2014 season.
A Cooperative Arrangement
In 2013 the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus, or PEDv, arrived in the US and proceeded to kill millions of pigs. As more hogs died, pork prices skyrocketed as a good portion of US pork was being imported from China. This prompted us to start researching pig breeds and searching for a local source of pork that was raised outdoors rather than in confinement. In April of 2014, we purchased our first American Guinea Hogs and placed them with our Mennonite friends for raising. The arrangement was mutually beneficial. We made the initial cash investment and agreed to do the marketing while our friends raised them. Each family would be supplied with pork. The hogs grew well on alfalfa pasture and the first litter was farrowed in August. We were thrilled to have our own source of delicious, humanely-raised pork. Clear Morning Provisions was incorporated and we solidified our commitment to consuming locally grown foods.
A New Farm and a New Focus
In the fall of 2015, we purchased a nine-acre parcel of land just minutes from our home base. We decided to take a break from raising produce (by purchasing produce from the local produce auction) so we could focus on raising hardy, homestead livestock. We were busy fence-building and tree cutting. The Guinea Hogs came home to our farm (we left a few behind with our friends) and new bloodlines (including a rare, blue-colored boar), along with geese, goats, ducks, Texan Pioneer Pigeons, and fiber rabbits were added to the farmyard.
A Year of Growth and Adjustment
2016 was a year of growth, adjustment, and joy. Shetland and Miniature Cheviot lambs arrived mid year and immediately became a family favorite. Farm improvements continued to be made, the livestock were bred, and their offspring evaluated and selected with the goal of improving their hardiness, reproductive abilities, and biological efficiency while still retaining agreeable, easy-to-manage temperaments.
2017 came and went while we tried to focus on clearing and fencing the wooded portions of the farm. As the land was cleared, we worked hard to carve out paths wide enough to accommodate our truck. By strategically placing these small roads throughout the property, we had hoped each area would be more accessible on a year-round basis. Our sheep were sheared for the first time, fleeces were washed, and their fiber was spun into yarn. We had our fingers crossed for spring lambs from the Shetlands and one or two miniature dairy goat kids.
New Land and Never-Ending Rain
2018 started off well with the new farm purchase. The old property was just too steep to efficiently rotate the stock and some of the land was just impossible to access no matter how much clearing was done. A new, 10-acre piece of land was purchased in April and everyone was eager to get the fencing in and the animals moved. The new parcel is half wooded, half open and 100% flat. There is electric on site, water, and a road which bisects the property. We were excited to find old, heaving-bearing pear trees, and even an old blueberry bush.
Then the rain came....and never stopped. It rained 3-4 out of every seven days all year long! Everything was under water and we struggled to keep on top of the mud.
In spite of this, the pigs produced some top flight offspring which, traveled to farms in Florida, Pennsylvania, Virgina, and West Virginia.
The first Mini-Mancha kids finally arrived - just as we were considering keeping only one or two goats for milk and selling the rest so we could focus on our Shetland Sheep.
Speaking of sheep, fencing challenges at the old place kept the rams separate from ewes for the entire breeding season so there were no spring lambs in 2018.
More New Hampshire chickens and a few Delawares were added. We lost the New Hampshires to foxes. The Delaware roosters proved to be savage with their hens. We decided not to keep them. The Saddleback Pomerian geese were sold to make room for the addition of Cotton Patch geese!
Recover and Refocus
2019 was a year to recover and refocus. We worked hard to recover from the constant rain, flooding, and mud of 2018 and we experimented with different species and breeds in order to find out what really works on our little homestead.
THE LAND: We are still getting acquainted with the new land and were thrilled to find hickory and wild plums producing well along with wild roses and honesuckle wihich filled the air with their intoxicating fragrance.
HOGS: It was a good year for the pigs. In addition to the feeders, several registered breeders went to farms in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia. Dancer and her piglets were a big hit at the Frederick, MD, Mother Earth News Fair.
GOATS: The decision to liquidate the goat herd was difficult, but sound. This will give us better grazing for the sheep we love.
SHEEP: The ram was put with the ewes very late in the breeding season, so our lamb crop arrived in the middle of a summer heat wave. Five rams and one ewe ram. We processed our first Shetland rams for meat in 2019 and were delighted with the sweet, succulent meat they produced. We will definitely breed more sheep in 2020, but we will put the ram in earlier so that lambing occurs during the cooler spring weather.
CHICKENS: We decided to give two old-time chicken breeds, Barred Plymouth Rock and Speckled Sussex a try. The Mottled English Orpington trio produced a respectable number of eggs. We will see how they do with brooding and hatching in 2020.
GEESE: The Cotton Patch geese had an unremarkable breeding season and only managed to hatch and raise three goslings. They will be managed a bit differently during the 2020 breeding season and we hope for better results. The mixed-breed geese hatched ten and managed to raise six goslings. They are a permanent fixture here.
DUCKS: The Silver Appleyards sat on several nests of eggs, but did not manage to hatch anything. We like their size and temperament so they will get another chance to naturally reproduce next year. The Anconas did manage to hatch goslings, but the males are so aggressive with the females that we are considering liquidating our little flock.
TURKEYS: The Beltsville Small White Turkeys arrived in July. They proved themselves to be wonderful birds - curious, friendly and easily managed. The two Toms that we harvested for Thanksgiving were just the right size, and their meat was delicious. We planned to test their brooding/rearing talents in 2020.
Pneumonia, Covid, and Quarantines
2020 was a challenging year. Tori came down with a bad case of pneumonia from which it took months to recover. Family members pitched in, but the year as a whole was a source of constant challenges. The rains of 2018 returned and everything was under water a good deal of the time.
THE LAND & INFRASTRUCTURE: The big accomplishment for 2020 was the perimeter fencing. The entire 10-acre property was fenced and cross fenced. What a big help this was. The pears produced a bumber crop. Two mulberry trees were planted and they actually produced a few edible berries. A small pump was purchased to help drain off standing water from the heavy/constant rains. The big goal for 2021? A nice barn.
HOGS: It was a good year for the pigs. In addition to the feeders, several registered breeders went to new farm homes. Several mature boars and sows were sold in order to make room for the next generation.
SHEEP: Lambing season was a resounding success with twins all around. One ewe rejected one of her twins, but we were lucky to have another ewe who willingly adopted the rejected lamb. Hopefully, 2021 will see us milking at least one of the Shetlands.
CATTLE: Dexter cattle were added to the farm and did well. By the end of 2020, there were three heifers and one bull grazing in our fields.
CHICKENS: The Barred Plymouth Rock and Speckled Sussex proved themselves to be very good foragers and mothers. Not one was lost to a fox. The Mottled English Orpington trio continued to produce a respectable number of eggs - even though they are on their third year.
DUCKS & GEESE: Illness prevented us from separating any of the waterfowl into breeding pens. As a result, all the hatchlings were mixed breed. They will be part of the family meat supply.
TURKEYS: The Beltsville Small Whites were a complete failure at both laying and hatching. Hopefully, they will have matured enough to perform better in 2021.