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Billet-Doux Farm...
in the Beautiful Foothills of North Carolina

A billet-doux is a “love letter”... it’s pronounced “billy-doo”, and it's the name we've picked for our farm. This labor of love is dedicated to the memory of my maternal grand-parents, William Dossy Todd and Louisa Shermer Todd, who started the farm; to the memory of my mother, Peggy Todd Spillman, who enjoyed hearing about our desire to continue it; to my son, Chase, the best and truest right-hand anyone could ask for, and to our community, whose legacy it will be.

We hope that our little farm, once complete, will reconnect our visiting friends with the land that nutures & sustains them. It's a work-in-progress.

The vision includes:

...renovation of the farmhouse using as many energy-saving methods as possible (metal roof, under-floor radiant heat, tankless water heater and recycled materials wherever we can use them) and water-saving methods (an in-ground cistern and rain barrels)...

...an educational demonstration garden accessible to all ages and disabled persons, using either raised beds or "straw-bale gardening" methods...

...edible, mostly native landscaping around the farmhouse, and trials of other fruits elsewhere on the farm for visitors to sample at the farmers' market...

...the introduction of an EBT (food-stamp benefit) program to the farmers' market, which will allow these customers access to the freshest local food...

...booty-friendly bikes to rent, for a ride through the countyside or to visit the waterfall...

...BEEHIVES, an outdoor wood-fired oven and a RED DEVON MILK COW...

...classes! Spinning, felting, blacksmithing, quilting, Appalachian music, vermiculture, native plants, gardening, et cetera, et cetera...

...a pavilion made from the old silo (who knows? Maybe we could have a weekly old-time radio show, broadcasting from there during the summer, or dances, or outdoor movies)...

...acquisition & renovation of the big barn...

...a "BILLET-DOUX FARM CAMP" for kids, with activities like tending the garden (learning about seeds, beneficial insects and composting), caring for the animals (grooming & petting, feeding & watering. learning about goats, sheep and chickens, gathering eggs) and farm craft (using wool and plant materials)...

...Christmas with Saint Nick & the animals and perhaps a Chistmas Tree stand...

Please contact me (Marti Utter) if you've any questions or comments (use the "Contact Us" page).

 

Our "Heritage" Animals...

We keep several "heritage" breeds of domesticated animals. These are traditional, proven breeds which are known for their utility and beauty. In this age of factory farming and bio-terrorism, it is becoming increasingly important to preserve the genetic diversity (and the resulting safety and strength) that these breeds represent. Visit the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy's site to learn about all the animals that are on the priority list for preservation.

Navajo-Churro Sheep

"Their faces will be dawn, their eyes will be rock crystal, their ears will be plants, their wool will be white fog." (Dine' Creation Story)

ALBC Status: Threatened

Navajo-Churro sheep are descended from the Churra, an ancient Iberian breed. Although secondary to the Merino, the Churra (later corrupted to "Churro" by American frontiersmen) was prized by the Spanish for its remarkable hardiness & adaptability. The Churra was the very first breed of domesticated sheep in the New World. Its importation to New Spain by the Spanish dates to the 16th century; it was used to feed and clothe the armies of the conquistadors and Spanish settlers.

By the 17th century Native Indians acquired flocks of Churro for food and fiber through raids and trading. Within a century, herding and weaving had become a major economic asset for the Navajo. It was from Churro wool that the early Rio Grande, Pueblo, and Navajo textiles were woven.  This was a fleece admired by collectors for its luster, silky hand, variety of natural color and durability.

As early as 1789, the Spanish controlled the export of ewes from the provinces of New Mexico to maintain breeding stock. But in the 1850's thousands of Churro were trailed west to supply the California Gold Rush. Most of the remaining Churro of the Hispanic ranches were crossed with fine wool rams to supply the demand of garment wool caused by the increased population and the Civil War. Concurrently, in 1863, the U.S. Army decimated the Navajo flocks in retribution for continued Indian depredations.  In the 1900's further "improvements" and stock reductions were imposed by U.S. agencies upon the Navajo flocks. True survivors were to be found only in isolated villages in Northern New Mexico and in remote canyons of the Navajo Indian Reservation.

In the 1970's several individuals began acquiring Churro phenotypes with the purpose of preserving the breed and revitalizing Navajo and Hispanic flocks. Criteria for the breed had been established from data collected for three decades (1936 - 1966) by the Southwestern Range and Sheep Breeding Laboratory at Fort Wingate, New Mexico. Several flocks have developed, and the Navajo Sheep Project has introduced cooperative breeding programs in some Navajo and Hispanic flocks.

With their long staple of protective top coat and soft undercoat, these sheep are well suited to extremes of climate. Some rams have four fully developed horns, a trait shared by few other breeds of the world. The Navajo-Churro is highly resistant to disease, and although it responds to individual attention, it needs no pampering to survive and prosper. The ewes lamb easily and are fiercely protective. Twins and triplets are not uncommon. The flavor of the meat is incomparably superior, with a surprisingly low fat content.

Our flock: Pilar and her sons Jefe, Inigo & Domingo; E'e'aahdee'go and her children Tah-zhuni, Hastiin Dagha (aka Wolfie) and Yil Deezh'áázh (aka Badger), and E'e'aahdee'go's brother, Bííh Ashkii.


Speckled Sussex Chickens

ALBC Status: Threatened

The South East of England was noted for its chickens - Old Sussex, Kentish, Surrey and Dorking.  The Surrey and Kentish birds disappeared, but the Dorking, and particularly the Sussex, thrived.  The Sussex was highly prized as a utility bird, and a commercial industry was founded around the areas of “Tunbridge Wells” and “East Bourne” to supply fresh eggs and meat to London on a daily basis.

The original Sussex was the Speckled. When the Sussex Club was formed in 1903, there were three varieties, the Red and Light (developed from the Brahma, Cochin and Dorking) and Brown. The Buff form appeared about 1920 followed by White, and Silver. The Sussex was used with the Rhode Island Red, Indian Game and Leghorn to develop today's industry of battery and broiler hybrids.

Sussex are bright, active, docile birds. They have a long, broad and flat back and a broad, deep chest. The head has a single comb. Legs are short and strong with stout thighs. They are good sitters but do not go broody as often as more heavily feathered breeds. They are very good layers, producing up to 260 eggs a year and equaled only by the Rhode Island Red.

Albert is our Sussex rooster... he has seven wives, presently.

Brahma Chickens

ALBC Status: Watch

Brahmas are an Asiatic breed of chicken. The real origin of the Brahma is not absolutely certain, though they probably come from the Chittagong region of India via Luckipoor on the mouth of the Brahmaputra River. They arrived in New York from China in September 1846 and were taken to Connecticut. Here they were bred before being shown for the first time in Boston in 1850, where they were described as ‘Grey Chittagongs’. The Americans established the name Brahma-Pootra, which was shortened to Brahma. Nowadays, it is believed that they were the result of crossing the Shanghai (Cochin) with the Malay bird in India to make the Grey Chittagong.

In 1853, they made their way to England where Queen Victoria was presented with a quill pen made from a Brahma feather and several of the birds. The large, feather-legged breed caused a sensation and set off great rivalry amongst breeders.  By the 1870s they were admitted into the American Poultry Association's Standard of Perfection.

Brahmas are large, tall and stately birds, docile but active. They are tall with a broad back, deep body, short tail and feathered legs. Some of the earliest imports to the U.S. reached weights of nearly 14 pounds, but rarely is such massive size seen today: standard weight for a cock is 11 pounds; hens are 8.5 pounds.  In the past, they were used as a utility fowl for meat and generous egg laying (even during the winter months). We keep several Light Brahma hens, and hope to add a rooster soon.

Pilgrim Geese

ALBC Status: Critical

Although it is appealing to think that Pilgrim geese arrived in America with our forefathers, most waterfowl historians believe the Pilgrim originated in the U.S. at a much later date. Oscar Grow is credited with the doing the most to establish the breed; his wife is credited with providing the moniker ‘Pilgrim’, referring to her family’s pilgrimage across the state of Missouri.

Pilgrim geese are unique in that they are the only domestic breed of geese that is sexually dimorphic both as goslings and as adults. That is, in both young and mature birds, the two sexes have a distinct coloration and pattern that easily identities them. The gosling males are silvery yellow with light beaks. The young females are olive gray with darker bills. Adult ganders are mostly white with some gray on the rump and wings, while females are mostly gray with some white on their head and neck.

Pilgrim geese are medium sized, quiet and docile. They are less aggressive than most other breeds of geese. They are very hardy & are very good foragers. They make excellent natural parents and will frequently hatch and raise their own young.

May 2009: We got Fanny & Alexander as goslings...pictures soon.

Rouen Ducks

ALBC Status: Watch

The Mallard duck is the ancestor of almost all domestic breeds of ducks and clearly that of the Rouen. Though marked with the same color pattern as the Mallard, with drakes having green heads, white collars, claret breast and a blue patch on the wing, the Rouen is even brighter in color and larger in size than the Mallard.

The breed was first raised in France, but it was not until it reached England in the 1800s that it was refined into the breed recognized as the Rouen today. The French version resembled a larger than an average Mallard, but by selective breeding the British managed to double the size of the bird, improve its colouration, and add bulk, giving it a more "boat-like" aspect.

The origin of the name is not known. When they arrived in England, they were variously called 'Rhône', after the region in southwest-central France; 'Rohan', after the cardinal of that name; 'Roan', for the mixture of colours; and 'Rouen' after the northern French town, with 'Rouen' eventually being adopted in both England and France.  In France they are called 'Rouen Foncé' (dark Rouen).

In 1850, the first Rouens were introduced to the USA by D. W. Lincoln of Worcester, Massachusetts, where they were used as general farm ducks until becoming popular as show birds. They were included in the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection in 1874.  Since then, they have won many titles, often having the most entries in the heavyweight class and doing well in competition with other breeds.

These ducks are excellent foragers, calm in disposition and unlikely to fly. Drakes mature at about 8 pounds and ducks at about 7 pounds. They are still considered the superior meat bird in Europe, where much more duck is consumed than in America.

The four Rouen drakes, who we adopted, are collectively known as "the boys".

 

FARM PROGRESS NOTES

December 23, 2007: Tah-zhuni ( "smoky star" in Navajo), our Navajo-Churro ewe, gave birth today. Unfortunately, the combination of Tah-zhuni's being a first-time mother and the baby's prematurity (she didn't have a strong nursing instinct) led Tah-zhuni to abandon her. Chase came to the rescue and brought the lamb inside, where we're successfully raising her. Her name is Deh-noz-zhi, meaning "mountain sheep" in Navajo.

December 29, 2007: E'e'aahdee'go (she is "from the west" in New Mexico) had a male lamb today, which we named Hastiin Dagha ("man with the whiskers"). They're both doing fine.

1/22/2008: a major project has the green light. Prather & Ruth Eddleman's circa-1937 bungalow will be moved from a location four miles away, to its new home in Shacktown within two weeks!

2/3/2008: The Eddleman house was successfully moved from the Speer Bridge Road Exit (that's one exit east of Shacktown). The movers used US421, and the entire "trip" took about one-and-a-half hours. I think that the Eddlemans would be proud that their home is destined to survive for many years to come. There'll be a nice view of the farmers' market from the front porch. We're dismantling one of the sheet-metal farm buildings to make more "market room".

July 14,2008: Updates have been suspended indefinitely.

May, 2009: We are still here. Please check back soon for updates.

 

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