The livestock have the run of the place at the Green Finned Hippy Farm near Pocahontas.
Chickens cluck, strut, scratch and eat in the front yard. Baby goats wiggle through wood slats to invade the back deck of the house. The hogs are in heaven snacking on clover and rooting through pasture, while bluegill swim in tubs underneath tomato plants by the big greenhouse.
Three years ago, newly minted farmers Alicia and Josh Davis, both 27, bought the 10-acre property. They moved from Millstadt to the red brick ranch surrounded by mature trees, lots of pasture, an empty silo and a couple of outbuildings.
“We have full-time jobs, but this is what we do every day,” said Alicia of creating a sustainable farm where livestock like chickens and goats roam the pastures and are rotated on the land. No pesticides, hormones, antibiotics or chemicals are used. Captured rain is the main source of water for the hogs. Heritage chickens and endangered hogs are raised. Heirloom fruit trees include persimmon, pear, plum, apple and peach.
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Both are engineers who met at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Josh grew up in Troy and Alicia in Alton. They have been married for five years. He works for the Department of Defense at Scott Air Force Base; Alicia prefers not to reveal her employer.
It’s handy to know how things work, said Josh, who has a master’s in electrical engineering.
Standing in the driveway, he pointed to the Eggmobile parked in the fenced front yard. That’s his name for the contraption. He pulls it with his 1980s tractor.
“It was a hay wagon,” he explained. He turned it into a traveling chicken caravan so the birds — it can hold up to 300 — can graze during the day, sit in the shade underneath, have a safe coop at night and benefit the ground beneath their feet with just the right amount of natural fertilizer before moving on to a new location.
“Every time we move it, we clean it. We move it once every week, depending on the destruction. ... You want to move them before they kill the grass and before you can smell them,” Josh said, grinning. “Rotational grazing is essential.”
A year of change
A year ago, their focus was almost entirely raising tilapia, bluegill, some dairy cattle and 1,500 broiler chickens for a St. Louis restaurant. Now, they have laying hens, goats, pasture-raised hogs and two female and one male critically endangered Mulefoot hogs.
The population on the farm keeps increasing.
One Mulefoot gave birth to a litter of four females Monday and another is pregnant. (The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has fewer than 200 Mulefoots in its annual registration.)
Three peppy Nigerian Dwarf goats were born last month, another on Monday and one more is expected in July. That brings the mixed herd to 15.
“They’re a dairy breed,” Josh said, adding that they get about a quart of milk daily from each of the mama goats, Blackberry and Licorice, while they’re nursing.
“I make feta and ice cream and cheese” with their milk, which is a big seller, he said.
Ryan Garett, his wife Christina Smerick and daughter Sylvie Smerick-Garrett, 5, are frequent customers. The Davises took the Greenville family out to the goat area so Sylvie could pet one of the newcomers.
“We buy goat’s milk and most of our meat from here,” said Ryan. “We like coming out and seeing the animals we’re consuming.”
They also took home eggs, and Alicia reminded Christina to return the glass jars after they had used up the milk.
Ryan took Sylvie to the front yard to see the chickens. She didn’t want to get too close.
“Daddy, they might bite me!”
“There’s a fence, see? They don’t have teeth.”
“But they have beaks.”
A fish story
It was fish that brought the couple to Pocahontas and are partially responsible for the farm’s name. Or rather it was Alicia’s determination to have a home that didn’t “smell like an aquarium,” she said with a laugh. “I was up for moving so he could have his own place (for the fish). I wanted a house that was a house.”
Josh nodded as they walked toward the greenhouse. “The spare room has a breeder tank in it.”
He started dabbling in aquaponics in 2010, purchasing 50 tilapia online.
“We ended up having a ton of baby fish with no place to go. So we registered with the state to become a hatchery.”
Aquaponics combines hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aquaculture. The fish swimming in the tubs by the greenhouse are not only themselves future food, but they produce a nutrient-rich fertilizer that is siphoned from their solid wastes to feed the plants. There is virtually no waste in this process.
On Josh’s to-do list is digging a pond so the bluegill can overwinter outside. The state says the tilapia have to be raised indoors.
Piled in a small mountain near the greenhouse are wood chips. “A guy who is in the tree-trimming business drops them here and I give him eggs,” Josh said.
The chips go in the goat enclosures and the greenhouse under the the tomato and pepper plants. They add carbon to absorb the nitrogen produced from the chicken and goat manure. In the winter, dividers go up in the greenhouse and it becomes a duplex for the goats and the chickens.
“The chicken manure is absorbed into the chips and doesn’t smell,” he explained. The goats will do their part and gladly eat the leftover vegetables.
Josh said one of their goals is to be environmentally efficient on the farm.
“You don’t want to move the manure. You want to move the animals.”
Life on a farm has meant a lot of on-the-job training. In January, Alicia and Josh slaughtered chickens, along with the help of some volunteers. They send the hogs out for processing.
When a fox got into the Eggmobile and killed 25 chickens, Josh took it down with his .22. He sets traps for other predators as well.
Need your own portable chicken coop? Josh will build you one and give you four laying hens to go with it.
Visitors are welcome from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays to tour the farm and buy what’s available. Besides eggs and milk, they sell chops, ham hocks and other pork cuts, plus offer customers a share in a whole hog. Grass-fed beef is sold, too, as are whole broiler chickens. You can also purchase live laying hens. Produce in season will be sold, too.
Everything comes in limited quantities.
“We’re always running out of eggs,” Josh said as more customers started to arrive.
It’s a good problem to have, he admitted. They’ve even had to segregate a pair of rust-colored Red Ranger chickens to the back yard away from the rest of the flock.
“We don’t feed them,” Alicia said. When they do, they produce big double-yolk eggs. “And we can’t fit them in the cartons.”
Green Finned Hippy Farm
Where: 256 Hickory Road, Pocahontas
Directions: From Belleville, take Interstate 70 east to the Highway 40 exit. Turn right onto Illinois 40, then left at the intersection with Illinois 143. Travel 6 miles until you see Millersburg General Store on your left. Turn left immediately after the store onto Hickory Road (the sign is very faded) and go straight up the road and into the driveway to the farm.
Store/tour hours: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Check recent posts at www.facebook.com/gfhfarms for schedule updates.
Farm tours: Can be offered on others day by appointment in advance for groups such as home schoolers and Scouts.
Information: 618-669-2897, www.greenfinnedhippy.com and on Facebook