By Maria Dampman
Welcome to my home, Smiling Cat Farm, located on the outskirts of Purcellville in Western Loudoun County. We are a small enterprise of a little less than 11 acres of barns, pastures and lots of critters. Throughout the years, my husband and I have become unofficial “ambassadors” of small homestead living and the rewards of moving from city slicker to rural resident.
Seven years ago, we decided it was time to move west. As we both have exceptionally busy careers, we dreamed about finding a quiet place where we could unwind and relax after a long day at work. My husband longed for a deck where he could look up at the stars at night and see them clearly without the distraction of streetlights. I wanted a home where I could have my horses live with me, raise a few chickens, and hopefully have a nice large garden to grow my own vegetables in the summer.
We moved in with two dogs, three cats, and no farm animals. Here we are, seven years into our farm owning journey, and we now are the proud owners of three horses, two Mammoth American Jackstock, a breeding pair of peacocks, somewhere around 25 chickens, three Miniature Silky Fainting Goats, three cats, two dogs, and three fish. Looking back at the evolution of how our farm has grown and changed through the years never fails to astound me.
Things that were initially very important to us, like planting a huge garden, have fallen by the wayside as we found that we are just too busy to weed, prune and harvest. Instead, we now buy our fresh food and vegetables at the local farmer’s market, and have turned that large fenced section into a peafowl yard for our two India Blue peas. When they are older, they will provide additional income for the farm when we breed them, and then raise and sell the peachicks.
Other endeavors, like raising two Mammoth American Jackstock, which are draft horse size donkeys, were never on our initial farm plan. After losing a number of chickens to wildlife predators in a short period of time, we realized we needed some form of protection for our egg layers aside from our rooster. Mammoth Jacks are very territorial, and have the ability to kick through a 4X4 piece of lumber, so can be quite lethal to a fox or coyote looking for an easy chicken dinner. Since their addition, we have had only a handful of chicken losses from only the most determined of predators.
Living on a farm, even a small one like ours, gives you such an appreciation for nature and for life. We look forward to the newborn fawns that wander through our fields every year. The wild turkeys that make an occasional appearance are always a source of excitement for us, as is the harvesting of a perfect heirloom tomato.
Through the years, my husband and I feel like Smiling Cat Farm has made a difference in this world, one person, or one animal at a time. My two current competition horses were adopted as babies from a rescue in Fredricksburg. Our dog, Zoey, was adopted after she was found abandoned in a dumpster with her littermates when she was just three weeks old. The other day, we found a newborn fawn “parked” in one of our stalls, so we spent the day tiptoeing around it until its momma returned to pick it up in the evening. Every person who has come to our farm leaves with a new appreciation of the work that goes into raising happy, healthy animals and the labor that goes into the food we eat.
But not all things on a farm have happy endings. Some of my favorite chickens have disappeared from the farm leaving behind only a pile of feathers and our memory of them. Last year’s tomato harvest was decimated by some sort of tomato blight, and the birds ate every last cherry off our trees before we harvested them. But like the farmers before us, you learn from your losses, and go forward.
Seven years into our newfound lifestyle, I can’t remember the days where I didn’t have morning and evening chores – feeding all the critters, cleaning stalls, collecting eggs, and exercising the horses. My calendar at home has deworming schedules and veterinary exams written in it next to our own doctor’s appointments and reminders of friends’ birthdays and events. Our life is so entwined with the lives of our equines, fowl, goats, plants and trees that we now barely know where our needs stop and theirs begin.
Almost always, the needs of the farm take precedence over ours. If I have a busy day planned of showing homes to a client, I wake up earlier than usual to take care of the critters before I have to leave. I have cleaned stalls and fed animals with a 102 degree fever when my husband was away on business. When I had knee surgery after a skiing accident, my husband had to do everything for months until I healed. I have slept in the barn with a sick horse on several occasions. Luckily, we have phenomenal neighbors who also pitch in during emergencies, and who know that we would always do the same for them.
Our lifestyle is not for everyone. We spend many hours dirty, sweaty and sore from working the farm after a full day at the office. We are often exhausted at night, and go to sleep early to start again when the rooster crows at dawn. But we love our life, and it has led us to the secret answer of the often asked question of why the farm cat smiles. He smiles because life, on the farm, is beautiful.
Maria Dampman is a Realtor and Accredited Buyer’s Representative with Century 21 Redwood in Leesburg Virginia. Contact her at 571.643.1663 or at Maria@C21Redwood.com for any of your Western Loudoun real estate needs.