7/12, hay mess and rabbits

face in hands

Well, we really f**cked that up. Most of our hay is ruined, despite our racing around in the 3AM pitch dark, illuminated by lightning. Add some pandamonium-inducing high winds for good dramatic effect. We did not cover up the hay last night, looking at the 40% chance of rain. I am trying to not let it get me down. It’s just hay. 412 bales of the most beautiful hay I’d ever smelt and seen. Sooooooooooo bummed. Writing about it will make me feel better, and process my frustration.

I really shouldn’t have excuses, but let me explain that yesterday was the hottest day I have ever felt in my life. We spent the morning picking and packing our CSA boxes up, and the the rest of the day we just worked on keeping everyone here alive and safe in the heat. Then I’d go strip off my soaking clothes and sit in the basement to cool down for a minute. I mean, even my freekin’ eyebrows were dripping sweat.

Andrew began working on hay unloading in the later afternoon. I wanted to make him stop, he looked like he might keel over,but he worked smart and at his pace. That’s alot of hay to deal with in the heat. The hot air was thick, like you opened an oven door and that waft of heat followed you everywhere. Incredible. So it was 4:30pm and I decided if he could work on it, I’d work on it. I picked the hay wagon (there 3 of them FULL of hay bales!) in the shade (I know, what a wuss!) and started tossing the 45-55lb monsters out onto the ground, and then one by one, stacking them in a tetris grid on top of pallets. I started to fall down clumsily after an hour of this, and I had to milk soon, so I stopped. Looked at the clear skies and fleetingly thought about covering the 5 different spots of hay in various stages of being unloaded. But I was so hot, and the sky was clear. And there was only a 40% chance of rain. Usually this means we’ll not get a drop. Unless, of course, we have something in the works which cannot get rained on.

The goats will need about a bale a day for probably 6 months out of the year. We’re working on a plan to have much more grazing space for them, but they need additional hay to keep their bellies and udders full for now. I’d gotten about 2 months worth of hay stacked near their goat shed. Andrew had gotten about 4 months worth stacked over by the ducks. If only we had just covered those neat piles right away. If only…..

Well, the gardens will be very happy, as we really needed this rain. We did manage to get our neatly stacked piles mostly covered in time before the rain came pouring out of the bright for a second night sky. As soon as the rain came, the winds stopped, so the hay tarps that we were struggling with at 3 in the morning quit their blowing about. Shouldn’t I just stop being so sad over the hay in the wagons, now drenched, that we’ve lost? Things could be much worse. We could have had a tornado, and then I wouldn’t even have the luxury of sitting in the house on the laptop, writing about my sadness over the lost hay.

The last thing I want to say about this big mistake of ours is that financially, this stings. We still have to pay our neighbor for cutting our 8 acre field, raking the cut grass into piles, baling it all into those gorgeous rectangles, and driving the loaded wagons up to our farm yard. Live and learn. Inevitably hay making takes place on the hottest days of the year, so next time we need to face the fact that we’re gonna suffera bit while unloading hay bales. We just should have been proactive about covering our investment. Well- at least we have a nice supply of organic mulch for a while. And there could always be a 2nd cutting of hay later in the fall, if we can afford it.

the new rabbits

Andrew said he wanted to FB today’s rabbit expansion, but I can’t help myself. I am in LOVE.

These babes are Champange d’Argent, an heirloom breed of rabbit first recorded in 1631. WHAT!? I’m totally enamoured with them, and excited that they’ve joined our rabbitry project. Ok, it is actually Andrew’s rabbitry project, but I can’t help claiming a part. We’ll be up to 8 breeding does as soon as these 4 gorgeous girls mature a bit and are old enough to kindle kits with the New Zealand buck we keep. This breed is born jet-black, and as their adult fur comes in they turn a silver blue. As you can see, these little ladies are in the transition stage.

Rabbit is a fascinating concept for us, because they are a grass-based small scale livestock, and one we’re extremely excited to introduce as one of the offerings from our farm. We’ve got a bunch of kits at various stages, and happy healthy moimmas who enjoy shade, fans, and ice water bottles to curl up with when it is hot. They get cherry & apple branches and grass delivered to them daily where they are comfortable, and their youngsters move out to the rabbit tractors once they are weaned off their momma’s milk at about 4-5 weeks of age. It’s a grand situation for everybody.

July 2012 ex-vegan

bubsters

Yesterday. Wow. It went really well, even though it was SUPER hot, we processed 48 chickens with our customers. At the end of the afternoon, we finally weighed one of our gorgeous birds, a smaller one. Over 8lbs. Schnikes!

I did the calculations and we started with 61 chicks and brought 55 of them to harvest, which is extraordinary. I’m feeling so grateful to those bubs, our customers and am so happy with our setup for raising them. They really were happy and healthy birds, and will taste amazing because they lived in the great outdoors in the sun, rain, & wind on pasture. We used electronet for their paddock, and put them into their chicken tractors at night. They got lots of exercise and had strong legs until the end. Their breasts were not a cake of matted on crap, like most broilers. We fed them on the other side of the paddock from where their night shelter was, so they actually ran over to eat. We fed them kale and other greens as chicks so they knew how to forage once they went into their paddock, and in their gizzards was plenty of grass as proof. And I’ll add that cooing and loving on these birds helps too. They started on 22% protein feed, certified organic from Cashton. Then they went onto an 18% certified organic grower feed also from cashton. Very expensive, but totally worth it as having such a high survival rate is unusual.

 

2012 goat plans and mayhem

farming together

Andrew’s helping a friend of ours out on a construction project for a couple days. This leaves me to tend to things. Previously, in other months of the year, I’d be unfazed, but now I can tell you that it is not easy to deal with a farm on your own. At least not this farm.

When he left this very hot and humid afternoon, I felt in control. Making kimchi in the house, bottling up beer, checking on the animals. But then 6pm came. Milking time is usually a joint affair. Not that Andrew is milking with me, but he takes care of all the other things that need tending, while I milk. Suddenly, it was all up to me. Got May on the milkstand, she’s my best milker so she gets to eat the longest time. Dash over towards the hoophouse and try to herd in the ducks for night. These are the youngsters and they are not interested in tucking in for bedtime, just like any tween-ager. Then I notice a whole bunch of them took today to figure out they could indeed squeeze their svelte duckling bodies through the 4×4 fence holes and are racing away from me with the other ducks, but they are on the outside of the fence. The scary, wild side of the fence, where the predators come from. ACK! I am supposed to be milking right now, peacefully dealing with fluid white gold. The dogs are trying to follow me as I run through the shoulder height grass around the back side of the duck paddock. Telling Blue and Belle to stay, they some how obey. Herding dogs, but not good at it. They haven’t been trained to herd. Gotta get on that. May is hollering from the milkstand on the other side of the yard. I run ahead of the ducks on the outside of the fence and coax them around the backside of the hoophouse, while they frantically try to figure out how to get away from me, back in through the fence. How do they get out if they can’t squeeze back in??

Back to milking after washing my hands. All goes well, except I am sweating buckets in the still air while huddled up close to goat after goat, who’s body/teat/udder temperature seems to be nearly 200 degrees. I dart back and forth from the milk area to the house, straining and putting away the milk as it is given. Trying to multitask all the while. It’s Blue’s turn to be tied out near the ducks over night. He doesn’t want to go. Belle and Javier cajole him as I drag him over to his dog house. Back to milking, after a quick run in to wash my hands. Segway is YELLING for her turn on the milk stand. She’s just an exceptionally vocal goat, and being the last one of the 6 milkers, I get to hear quite an earful twice a day. Tonight though, I really don’t need to hear it Segway. You try dealing with all this!

After milking and a little homebrew to chill out, it’s time to put the Bubsters (our monster broilers) into their chicken tractors for the night. As I turn off the electro net so I can hop in their paddock, it hits me that this is almost the last night doing this with these chubby lovelies. They make funny coo-purr-growls and coming running towards me. Yes, our broilers, even though they are sized like turkeys, have strong and healthy legs upon which to run/waddle over to me. They are super super hungry, as they’ve been getting a limited breakfast and dinner in this last week. My toes get bit, my legs pecked, they have me surrounded. This might be getting dangerous….no one would be here to save me if they took me down! They are just at that point where they are hungry and not going to take it anymore, so I make a quick bee-line to the left and run over to their feed tub and settle them down with dinner, which is served in their tractors, so i don’t have to pick up each and every bird and put him inside. Waterers are filled, the electronet is reconnected, and I’m off to the next task. Hay.

Our neighbor let us know he’d cut some hay nearby that promptly was rained on over and over and over. After the wet week, it had since dried out, as he hadn’t baled it yet. If hay is in a bale and it gets wet, then it is ruined for feed purposes. This hay he spoke of had basically turned from nutritious dried grass to more like straw, which he wasn’t even going to bother baling up, unless we wanted it. He offered it to us for $1/bale. A bargain for mulching and duck bedding, and this way we won’t have to use our really nice grassy hay coming off our own organic field for those two applications. We’ll be able to keep our nice feed-quality hay aside for feeding the goats and rabbits over winter. But at $1/bale, we had work to do. Specifically unloading and stacking all those bales.

The giant hay wagon was sitting up by our field garden, filled 3/4 way with maybe 150 bales, just waiting for someone to unload it. I was tired, but I trudged out here and began. That’s when it hit me how much Andrew and I need each other here! A busy homestead can typically be tended by just one person, but a bustling farmstead really needs at least two to do all the work. I struggled with maybe 20 bales, and then called it a night. There is always tomorrow for some of these tasks.

goat genetics

We’ve hatched a plan. I think this is due to the fact that we’re sitting here twiddling our thumbs waiting for our latest big project to be completed- the duck barn. We’ve had a really hard time finding someone to do the water work portion of our duck upgrade. Finally we got a written quote that was sort of inline with our budget, and the work is scheduled to begin next week. Yes! A line will be tapped off our existing well head, trenched 6 feet down heading over towards the duck barn. A frost free hydrant will be installed in the yard, and also IN THE DUCK BARN! The quote was around $2500, and we had budgeted $1000. This is not the type of project we could attempt ourselves, and it is much much cheaper than drilling a new well for the duck barn, so we just had to accept the cost. We did save $1000 on the amount we expected to pay for our recent used car purchase, so….

Anyhow- our new plan. After the duck barn, after several years have gone by, we are planning to construct a really real goat dairy. A Micro-dairy! And make really real goat cheese from our herd. There are a gazillion complications and steps before this can ever happen, but it’s our plan. Let the dreams and planning begin.

When I milk, I keep my journal with me in the milking shed, so I can write down thoughts that come as I wait for certain goats to finish up their snacks. Sitting in the milk shed occupies at least two hours of my day, giving me plenty of thinking time. I frequently ponder goat genetics, since the reality of my herd-who is giving what and how each goat is doing overall is right in my face during these two hours a day. Since the beginning of my goat keeping adventures, I have resisted the typical chemical treatments used by most goat keepers. I have been striving to keep only the best, most hardy genetics using a combination of good TLC but also Survival of the Fittest. Some goats have to go on to a new home or have become part of the food chain.

We currently have 10 goats, down from 13, since we just culled three yearlings. There are 5 (what I would call) stellar does in the herd. They each have faults of their own, as do you and I, but these are the girls who I HOPE will have doelings next spring. In my goat geneticist role, I want to be building up a bank of the best moms to produce our own dairy herd when the time comes.

Goats are a one year circle- meaning they are having their own baby when they are one year old. It wouldn’t take long to build a great herd from the best of our best goats. In fact it looks like it’d take 3 years to build a herd of 20 milking goats from my 5 stellar does. Goats seem to be on a 50% yearly increase. Averages are half and half girl/boys, and twins are the norm.

2013: 5 does give birth to 10 kids=15. – 5 for bucklings = 10 does (5 milking)

2014: 10 does give birth to 20 kids= 30. – 10 for bucklings= 20 does (10 milking)

2015: 20 does give birth to 40 kids= 60. – 20 for bucklings= 40 does (20 milking)

But that is getting ahead of myself and our plans. We don’t need that many milkers yet. As soon as we do, I’m all over it. And of course there are so many variables out of our control. We could potentially have a year with alot more boy kids born, or lots of single births, or tragedy striking, or, or, or…

Meanwhile my “best 5” goats will also be under scrutiny. It’s not just about keeping the highest milk producers, it’s not about pedigrees or looks. Our foundation herd will be continually selected for being: the most hardy without chemicals, the least trouble making, best at converting grass (vs the grain junkies who only give alot of milk when they eat alot of grain,) most naturally healthy, a good momma, and an easy kidder. As I wait for the go ahead, I’ll keep paring down the herd to the very best of the very best.

So, when we talk about our micro-dairy plans, this is where I go in my head. When I try to talk to Andrew about it, his eyes gloss over. That’s ok, he’ll be heading up the construction side of the plan! Meanwhile I’m eyeing up our land, siting the new barn, pastures, cheesemaking facility, and contemplating goat genetics on LTD Farm.

a few of Pippin’s giant litter of 9 (!!!!) kits

a few of Pippin’s giant litter of 9 (!!!!) kits

tomato lessons

tomato lessons

Last summer I received a bounty of early tomatoes from a lovely lady in exchange for coming to my yogurt-making class. In the cardboard box I found a mind-blowing assortment of wildly colored, deliciously flavored and differently shaped fruits of all sizes. Being frugal and curious, I saved seeds from many of these tomatoes. I did get the seed saving method right -let chunks of tomato pulp ferment in a jar with the seeds to mimic the fruit rotting in the wild, then lay out on a piece of paper to dry before storing in an envelope in a cool, dry location. We are growing 100’s of plants from these saved seeds! But I learned some really good lessons for next year.

1) Descriptions. Always describe the tomato varieties you are going to save seeds from better than this: “green stripey medium.” How will I know when this one is ripe? Was it a Green tomato with green stripes? Or a chocolate colored one with green stripes, or red with green…..

2) Labels. When you pot up sproutlings into bigger pots, LABEL EVERY SINGLE POT! I thought I’d recognize the different leaf shapes, but alas, they all looked the same as the plants grew. I also thought I’d remember which group was what. Not that it really matters, but I’d really like those purple cherry tomatoes to be planted together in a solid line in the garden, not willy nilly throughout the planting with big beefy types that don’t need to be picked as often.

3) Suckers. Stay on top of sucker pinching. I am proud to say this one has been done pretty well this year, but there is always room for improvement. My sucker experiment this year is to leave the tomatoes in the hoophouse mostly un-suckered. They are all indeterminates and will keep ripening fruits past the frost date, so why not let them get enormous? I’m trellising them upwards with baling twine from the purlins. In the garden, I’ve been on sucker patrol weekly. The plants don’t know summer is not eternal, and so you must help them focus.Their stalks are fat and healthy, and having the leaves off the soil hopefully will help prevent any blight coming upwards. It’s hard to follow your ideas week to week though, and I’ll find plants I pinched back WAY too much. (Like I took off ALL the leaders….whoops!) This year I’d like to think I’m refining my technique so I remember what I am doing next year.

4) Water. We really need to do drip irrigation next year, and set it up right after we plant, not think it’s a good idea after we plant everything. So far it’s been ok, but if we get into drought conditions, it’d be such a shame to lose fruit due to lack of an easy way to water the plants. The mulching of semi-composted goat poop hay seems to be keeping the plants happy and moist below the soil so far.

5) Value-added. Can way more salsa and pizza sauce. Stick sprigs of basil in more quart jars of plain pureed tomatoes. Be prepared to try selling a the farmer’s market under the new Pickle Bill Law now in effect in WI.

6) Control. Don’t start SO many tomato seeds so early. Yes, I fell for the spring fever routine and started way too many plants way too early. Again. I always do! I’d like to curb my enthusiasm a bit next year and limit my early seedlings to the cool-tolerant varieties and the ones we’ll put in the hoophouse. But the plants destined for the outside garden can wait until April to be started. We just don’t have room for 2 foot tall tropical babies in the house, taking up space we need for starting all the other things. Some of those early early plants gave up and died before I even could put them out.

7) Peppers. When it’s January and you can’t wait- focus on peppers. Peppers can be started SUPER early, and once they are about 2 months of age and put through the annoying routine of being lugged into the basement each and every night for a month- you will get early, early peppers this way! It makes the pepper plants believe they are in their homeland, going through the cool desert evenings. I am here to tell you that it worked.

8) Space. There is always room for those last plants. Much to my husband’s chagrin, I have stuck tomatoes way too close together, and made more and more tomato beds. Finally they are all in the ground, but it got kind nutty there at the end. Maybe not focus on getting every last seed started? We have probably over 300 plants this year, dear god. Am I covering my bases, or was it just too many plants to have started?

turkey walk

A month ago, when we were starting to put the roof on the duck barn, a wild turkey showed up in the yard out of nowhere. As we keep a flock of domestic turkeys, the first response was “how did she get out?” Then we noticed how this turkey’s serpentine neck stretched taller than usual above the grass. The streamlined, enlongated shape of her body was obviously different than our little butterball Broad Breasteds, who literally waddle about, their breast muscles getting in their own way. This wild turkey strolled past us nonchalantly, under the ancient oak tree, and over to visit our little turkey poults. We’d just situated them outdoors in their giant, over grown pasture. She made the turkey hen click-beep noises to them, decided they were not what she thought they’d be and began heading up towards the house, where my mother-in-law was sketching. Arly is not a fan of turkeys, having had a traumatic turkey incident in her childhood. All three of us working on the barn shouted to her- LOOK A TURKEY!- like it’s some kind of magical and once-in-a-lifetime event. The wild hen briskly strode towards where Arly stood, then darted under the rose bush. Arly and the turkey didn’t see each other yet, so when Arly looked under the roses for the turkey, the wild hen bolted into the air and FLEW across the yard, over the goat pasture, over the low spot and down into the road. It was a nature moment if ever I saw one. Beautiful. And startling!

While the majesty of a giant wild bird flying through the farm is a show stopper, I love our little butterballs. The four hens we raised last summer and overwintered have just finally stopped laying eggs. I wanted to put them into the bigger pasture until we try breeding turkeys again next year. I have read 2 year old hens have better chances of laying successfully hatched out eggs, so we’ll keep these sweeties over winter again. I’m a bit worried that they might get mixed up with the other turkeys we are raising to harvest this year, so I made a little paddock next to the big pasture until we decide what to do, like make leg bands or something.

How do you move a turkey a short distance? No way could you hold onto a 40 lb solid muscle machine, so a slow paced guided walk is the best turkey transportation method. Well cared for domestic turkeys are really easy to herd along to where you’d like them to go. Just use two long sticks as extensions of your arms, keeping the ends of the sticks near the turkeys’ eye level, on either side of the bird or the group of birds. Think Edward Scissorhands!

Dinner on the Farm in 2012

dinner on the farm

The tents are up, the field is mowed, the gigantic grill is here and 2 goats are in the cooler. Dinner on the Farm happens tomorrow! This company organizes local chefs to come out and cook a fabulous meal on the farm, using as many of the farm’s products as possible. There will be live music, local brews and a bonfire to cap off the evening. Even the fireflies are in “bloom” for this special event! Monica is a go-getter, putting together these events all summer and fall long. We’re really excited to see how it goes and enjoy ourselves as well.

We’ve been doing all our other tasks, but have made an extra effort to have everything look super awesome. Out in the field garden, where the dinner will be held, we’ve mulched the massive potato plants to beautious proportions, hoed and weeded the pinto beans, onions and leeks, and even littered the squash seedlings with rabbit poop for some flair, not that anyone would notice….

Honestly we haven’t done anything differently to prepare our farm for tomorrow. Just doing our best. The farm shines as it is, a well tended, well-oiled machine now. We’re surrounded by the majesty of rural Wisconsin, on 39 acres of unspoiled LTD farm land. It’s bound to be a wonderful experience for everyone attending.

 

ham and the dinner

There’s a delicious smell coming from the oven. We’re slow roasting a Lance ham. He was our Tamworth boar who (luckily) did not get us into the pig-raising business last summer. This ham weighs about 30 lbs, we brined it in sea salt for 30 days, then smoked it with apple wood for 12 hours. Then it was stashed in the freezer til a couple days ago. We will be feasting on amazing ham sandwiches for quite sometime. Farmers get some awesome perks.

Let me also tell you that Dinner on the Farm last night went PERFECTLY. We had a whole lot of company coming, and we made sure the farm looked great. The animals were all beautiful and healthy, cooperative and well behaved. Andrew even mowed the paths for walking, instead of the deer trail type paths we had winding around to our various chore spots. Andrew’s mom made a very sweet display highlighting our farm products, featuring beautiful farm sketches and silhouettes she made. Arly is the bomb!

We were very nervous things would not work out well. I mean we were hosting it, not setting it up at all. There is always the risk of being guilty by association, and a poorly organized event being held on our farm could have had dire consequences for our reputation. There were a few episodes leading up to the evening that could have been indicating a potential fail. But nope, it was choreographed beautifully by Monica. She cut us a check right away too, which was another thing we’d worried about. Basically we rented the farm to her for the event, and they bought various ingredients from the farm for the meal.

The slow roasted goat, boneless and rolled up with cider-caraway kraut inside was tender and delicious. Knowing our two kid goats lived very good lives before they were harvested, and telling everyone about the circle of life on a farm made the meal even more special. Everyone was happy and drinking beer and enjoying themselves. The farm tour was crazy since there were quite a few people. Everyone meandered along as we pointed out various things, we talked about our farm and the garden and how we and the animals provide so much food for so many, while nourishing our soil.

 

As our 3 baby goats bounced on the hay bales and played with the kids there, I milked the goats for a big audience! Then it poured. Monica had a tent rented just in case, so grateful for that! Thankfully, the sun came out, the accordion band started to play & chevre cheesecake was served for dessert, baked in individual 1/2 pint jars- adorable. We’d totally do it again- but there were a few not so cool things that happened which I’ll leave out. If you are thinking of doing an event like this, I can let you know what they were and how you can avoid them- just message me.

6/2012

a barn

I have always wanted a picturesque little barn, you know the kind. Red wooden boards make up the body of it, white trim around the edges, where a fuzzy horse nickers at you as you wander down the straw filled lane to his stall. Back in my hobby farming days, I had a metal sided version built at my old place, but at 10 by 20 it wasn’t big enough for a horse. That was ok, I was beginning my farming career and usually a horse is not something you need for this career. Instead it housed my growing herd of goats, and they don’t pleasantly nicker. They yell and push and knock stuff down as they bully each other and all try to cram out the door as soon as you open it.

Time for a re-do. We’re building a barn. It is NOT the typical cutie farmstead barn. Although I think it is very, very cute. I have to admit I absolutely love the color and sheen of galvanized metal. It is modern looking, and this structure has been specifically designed for our ducks. Today I realized it actually is not their barn. It is going to be their bedroom. A big bedroom. We’re building a 20 by 48 duck bedroom.

A bedroom instead of a barn because the ducks won’t be in there most of the time, especially in the spring/summer/fall when they can be out grazing on pasture. It’s where they’ll come in for the night, and it’s gonna be a solid, safe night place for them. We learned the hard way that ducks need extreme night protection. Rural Wisconsin is just swimming with little carnivorous mammals of all sorts which need to eat, and they’d love to feast on our ducks. So we’re building this “duck bedroom” to the highest researched safety standards. Solid metal walls, non-rusting mesh flashing extending around the perimeter up into the walls, which will be covered with lots of gravel to prevent the predators from burying inside.

We’ve been working on this project, as well as tending everybody, gardening, weeding and packing up our duck eggs and CSA shares for deliveries each week. It is quite the full, exhausting and wonderful life. Summer temps are here, so we finally upgraded the homemade walk-in cooler into a really real refrigerated cooler with the investment in a Cool-Bot. This little tiny expensive device hooks on to an air conditioner and makes it run to the temp you set. We have it going at 40 degrees. Just curious how our electric bill will look next month…. solar might be a good idea to invest in to run this system.

farmer stalking

I was 28 when my mom died. Shortly after, I knew I had to grab my chance at life as quick as I could and do what I wanted to do, before my life ended. She had just turned 50. You really never can predict your ending, but I am sure as shit gonna make sure I enjoy and make the most of all my days, pursue all my dreams, revel in my attempts to succeed, and laugh at my failures.

I decided I would be a full-fledged farmer by 30. I did not grow up farming. I’d been practicing for a few years, homesteading they call it. But I wanted out of my day job and into the big time. How do you start? I stalked farmers.

There are a number of very patient farmers who induldged me, some of which have now become close and awesome friends. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to stalk them. I don’t mean the creepy kind of stalking, I wasn’t taking photos, tapping phone lines, sitting in a car with binoculars….but I visited them, researched their websites, visited their farms, talked with them and asked as many questions as I could. I gleaned encouragement from them, and without that interface I wouldn’t be where I am today. That and my wonderful husband who jumped headfirst into our new beginning together. Now contemplating my past and my present, I have some advice for the farmer stalkers of the world.

Farmers like beer. I guess most do anyhow. Offer to bring over beer and new doors will open. And farmers are usually pretty broke and or frugal, so good beer is an added plus. I wish I had had the balls to think of this back in the day. Farmers wait 8 months of the year for the 4 most precious growing months – May, June, July and August. September is harvesting and preserving time. These are not the best times to ask for a visit during the daytime. You may feel all footloose and fancyfree-like, it being summer and all, but farmers are in the thick of their most essential months to make a living. If you ask to come, offer to come after chores and bring that beer. Expect an exhausted farmer who may become rather lubricated and chatty after your beer offering, but promptly ready to crash at 8pm or earlier.

Don’t think of a farm as a vacation day trip, unless they are having an open house. You can offer to come and help, but don’t be offended if they say no. For us, our work is precious and geared towards the two farmers who live here. If we have someone come out to help, we have to worry about everything that is geared towards how we work, and then have to babysit to make sure nothing is done wrong. So we don’t get much done. Successful and well-run farms may be a different story. We’re still learning about everything.

There’s one instance when we said no to a visit. A woman wanted to come and visit us in the winter to see how we raise ducks. She said flat out she wanted to do what we were doing. We were like, uh huh…I don’t think we will give you a tour in the depths of winter and show you exactly how and why we do things here to raise our ducks, so you can copy us. She was very casual, like we knew her, and then became rather demanding. This is NOT the way to approach a farmer. While I was experimenting with duck-raising, I knew there was a farm raising ducks for eggs sort of near by. But no way would I ask to visit them! I wanted to figure it out on my own, in my scenario, with my own beliefs intact. Plus I would have felt like I was spying, and I wouldn’t want someone coming to my farm to spy and copy what I had figured out so far.

I know sharing what we know and have learned is essential for small scale farming to move forward. But I dislike copy-cats, especially with a niche product. I do want to give back, as the farmers I “stalked” gave me great insight into their lives and ways of doing things. Not a one of them is doing what we are now doing. Our farm is kind of crazy, super diversified and a highly desired model. When we figure it all out, we’ll write books about it, meanwhile we blog and website post and facebook all our adventures. That’s sharing the experience of starting this up. Once we are total pros, we can try to be mentors.

 

 

 

 

building the barn May 2012

what doesn’t kill you…

Makes you stronger. We’re building our duck barn right now, in between rain days. We now have 23 of the 32 posts in! It’s been a project, and of course it has only begun. Posts are the anchors in a pole building, then you have to put up the supports for the walls, the rafters and such for the roof, and THEN you get to put on the siding! Hopefully we’ll have something looking barn-like for our open house on May 26th. Hopefully.

Andrew and I have struggled working on this project together, it is not easy work wrangling the gas-powered auger. There’s lots of cussing and short tempers flying off the handle. Today we hit a rock 3 feet down that was bigger than the hole we had drilled, now that’s an interesting situation. Luckily we’re getting better at working through these hardships, and Andrew emerged triumphant over the rock.

Tomorrow’s my birthday, and was reflecting that I reached my goal of being a farmer by the age of thirty. It took alot of guts and goals since that milestone three years ago, but we’re in the thick of actually farming! How wonderful to realize. It is no piece of cake, this idealized lifestyle. You have to be self-directed, you have to be able to live poor as dirt, you have to be able to handle stress, trauma and insanely heavy lifting. But you get total freedom and can use every ounce of your creativity to make a go of it. Pros and cons: No boss, no healthcare plans, no 401k, no timeclock, no vacations, no cubicle, no casual friday, nobody telling you that pajamas are not appropriate for the workplace. I also experience clear open skies, fresh air, working in the garden for hours, great food, lots of animal schnanigans, as many breaks as I need, and 14 hour work days each and every day of the week. It’s the life I dreamed of reaching, now we have to keep it up and keep at it so we can continue being here, living the dream.

April 2012, building momentum

grass

We ( I mean I) had these grand plans of converting a horse trailer we bartered with a friend for, into a milking parlour for the goats. It didn’t happen, and there is a good reason. As I showed Andrew my tentative, totally unskilled building plans for the platform inside the parlour, he said, and I quote ” you know, that trailer is kind of valuable for hauling things. Like what if we need to bring home a cow?”

A cow?!? I’ve been lusting after a milk cow for a while after tasting my first real, raw, grassfed butter from our friends’ Jerseys. I don’t care about the milk, it’s the CREAM to make into butter that I crave. Goats’ milk doesn’t separate into cream and milk, like cows’ milk, because the fat molecules are smaller and sort of naturally homogenized in that way. To get cream to separate from goats’ milk, you need an electric separator- I tried doing it once by letting milk sit for weeks in the fridge, painstakingly skimming the tiny bit of cream that had come to the surface finally. Did the whole shake in a jar method and all I got was frothy milk, no butter. Oh well. But I still dream of cows and butter.

Milking has been a constant in my life for the last 8 years. It’s is crazy to realize it’s been this many years. When it’s milking season, 9 months of the year, I have to decline most social events. Nevermind we’re an hour away and more from most of these engagements, and can’t really afford luxurious random trips into town at $25 per trip in gas money. As I’ve been getting into the swing of milking in the new set up, which is a step up from before, I kind of like the control milking has over my life. I also sometimes loathe it. Mostly if the goats are being particularly cantankerous and causing the ole’ 4 letter words to come flying out of my mouth. When I come back in and avoid eye contact with Andrew, he knows it’s been a tough session. “How’d they milk?”  he’ll cautiously whisper. “Not so good,” or “FINE, but I’ve had it” or the infamous “ f*&ing GOATS! ”

 

I love them, but my dear oh my do they drive me crazzzzzzzzzzzy. Goats embody many things I dislike in some humans. Greedy, jealous, not happy with what they have, bully-ish, mean to each other, not sensible, willey, rash and insane. I don’t ever for a second think a cow would be any different. She’d just be ten times as big of a potential problem, actually. But cows just appear to be so much more docile in their bigness. Maybe a bit less smart? Believe me that’d be just fine. But I also can’t help but look at the math for milk production- goats give so much more milk for their body weight. Another thing goats have going for them is their very tidy pelleted poops, compared to massive cow pies. But it all comes back to grass. They can both live on grass as food. The goats get a little grain at milking, and many cows do as well. It’s their candy, their treat, as well as providing extra calories to fund their milk production. But milk from mostly grass is just an amazing thing. We shall see how this all shakes out.

April momentum

This morning as I chugged coffee, I admired the sound of 11 roosters hitting puberty. They’ve been trying to cockadoodledoo for a few days now, their hoarse voices managing to croak out half crows. It’s so hilarious, they are now practicing all day long. Urr-uuuuuuur….(clears throat and tries again) Urr urrr uur oooooo!

Life is crazy right now, just the way I like it. Broiler chicks growing at a rapid pace, seedlings turning into jungle plants, greens sprouting in the garden and 100’s of feet of spring crops seeded and sprouting, ducklings morphing into ‘tweens overnight, our duck barn construction has begun, little turkey babies are totally feathered out and nearly at the age where they begin to get their naked heads, rabbit kits being born and more due this week, one more goat due to kid, lettuce and china choy forming heads in the hoophouse, our CSA begins in just a week, eggs-o-rama from the October ducklings and the older ducks, apples blossoming all over the farm, a new herd of chickens for eggs and our foraging meat-bird experiment wandering all over the place, goats being zapped by their newly installed electric fence (yeah!!)

It’s a good, full, exhausting life. We try to remember these first years are the first years….this time in the farm is hard. We have growing pains, but once we get to where we think we are going, it’s going to be magnificent. It already is.

cheesemaking and spring

the home dairy -march 2012

I’ve got a bunch of got themed workshops lined up this spring, summer and fall. What I really want to do next year is have an all-day “Home Dairy” Workshop and even possibly a “Goat Camping” experience, where we’d go and camp up in the hay field with the goats and make campfire cheese! All things in good time, but for now I am up to my eyeballs in milk, glorious goatmilk and am making cheese like a fiend.

This is what I wanted and planned for, introducing all the goats to the buck Walter last fall, enabling them to get it on and thus become pregnant. There’s no need to suggest to them what is supposed to happen- the horny ladies flirt and twirl with the buck when they smell him, and totally ask for a good lay. Sorry to be crude, if I have any prudish readers, but animals are very clear on procreation. They want to do it. And after kids are born, they make so much milk beyond what their kids need, thanks to the selective breeding involved with domestication, that I get to make lots and lots of cheese. I knew it was getting crazy when I had to bring 4 1/2 gallon jars out with me at each milking. That’s almost 4 gallons of milk a day! It won’t be this heavy for long- goats tend to peak with their production in time with the age of their kids- so after 4-5 months of making milk, they begin to drop off in production a bit. This heavy milking time is the time to stockpile cheese. I have been culturing my glorious feta, platters of it lie on every available surface in the house, sometimes in the sunporch when it is not freezing out. My feta process is top secret, unless of course, you come to my cheesemaking course, where I will attempt to tell you how to make your own. The thing is, my hands, my breath, our house, the air, my goats, how I milk, what they eat, how I treat them….these little things all add to the terroir of my own cheese. And I got a good thing going on, apparently. I can brag a bit, right? Yes, it is a divine cheese. Closing my eyes to inhale the potent creamy aroma after slicing open the slabs, rubbing them with salt and arrange them just so on the salted platters. Carefully I break off a piece and plop it into my mouth- it’s astoundingly good cheese.

I didn’t always appreciate my feta though, it terrified me at first. I was a Velveeta-fed child and the only cheddar I had tasted before becoming a vegan in my teens was the artificially powdered version found in a box of mac and cheese. My friend Heidi was my first Feta guinea pig. She said it was incredible. I thought it was too strong tasting. She told me to keep at it, and soon I was converted to loving my own cheese. How odd to be making cheese and not even know if it was good, or if THAT was supposed to taste good! That’s what you get, being a vegan and starting to milk goats & make cheese. That was 7 years ago….and here I am, with 9 gallons of milk to transform into cheese today.

Goats are one of the most incredible homestead animals. They give so much goodness, have such funny and smart personalities, are gentle and most efficient in converting hay and a bit of grain into milk. One cow weighs 1,000 lbs or more and gives 4-8 gallons of milk a day. One goat weighs around 130 lbs and gives around a gallon- can you see the difference in feed conversion? Goatmilk is also much better suited to make really naturally flavorful cheeses, as it has many more short-chain fatty acids than cows milk. These fatty acids give goat cheese that tang that cow cheese can never achieve.

We get alot of requests for raw milk for drinking, but in Wisconsin this is illegal. Simple as that. We cannot risk our farm and go to jail for raw milk. I’d encourage anyone looking for raw milk to check out realmilk.org, and if possible- just get some goats! We’ll be hosting a workshop at the end of April called “Getting your Goat” where you can come learn all about them and see if they might be a good match for your life.

spring has sprung

It is SO awesome to have peas sprouting in March, to be tilling the new garden area in March, to be wearing Tshirts in March. The question is- can we rely on this new warm weather?

Nope. Forecast of snow tonight, after weeks of absolutely astoundingly May-like weather, here comes Debbie Downer, princess Snow. We’ve been lucky to gain this extra time. We’re knees deep in major farm projects now that my husband is done with his off-farm winter gig. Taking down fences erroneously placed and fencing new areas that should have been fenced in the first place. So glad we invested in good hardcore fence that can handle all the transferring, and lots and lots of fence posts to take out….we finally got one of those fence post puller-outer things and it’s a godsend. A giant new turkey paddock has been built, the 4 hens are now beginning to lay eggs, and we’re about to get our hands on a heritage Bourbon Red Tom to be their boyfriend and make those eggs into fertile ones for hatching out our own poults. A new goat paddock is being put up, about 3 times the size of their current one. Much better, and their new area is out of the way so they can’t watch me making coffee and yell for me to come milk at 5:45am! We have the materials for their new shed (8×16) set up, where I will also have a “fancy” mini-milk parlor set up so I can bring the goats to me, instead of walking them individually to the milkstand. That goat barn building was going to begin tomorrow, but with snow…I don’t know.

After the goats are moved to their new setup, we begin the very very exciting DUCK BARN project. I can’t wait for this, neither can the ducks! We needed financial help getting this structure up and have all our Kickstarter contributors to thank who made this dream come true. Being a rather odd farm compared to the standard conventional soybean/corn farms around here, the USDA Farm Services Agency nearly laughed at us when we asked if we’d qualify for a loan. They showed us their commodity product prices list and asked which category we’d fit in. And the answer was, well, not a single one. Kickstarter to the rescue!!! Our first batch of baby ducklings arrived early March and the next group arrives in less than a week. So far, we’re doing fine using the hoophouse for brooding them, but once they grow, they’ll need a big girl house.

We’ve also been preparing for the small farming conference we helped instigate, which is in just two days. Yikes! A bit nervous, but this will be fun. Rehashing the details of beginning our farm is a good reminder of how far we’ve come, and pretty fun for us. Sharing our experiences with a bunch of farming entrepreneurs will be hopefully encouraging for them too.

This rush of spring is very tiring. All our focus has been outside, hence the lack of posts. We’ve gone from cabin fever to body-blowing non-stop work. It’s wonderful! Feeling very grateful for the year, excited to be farming for some new CSA members and elated to have our core members signing up again. THANK YOU!

 

goats, goats, goats

goat breath

Just in from hoof trimming, and sheesch does my back ache. Let’s just say if the goats were on facebook, they would not “like” a newly created “2012 Hoof Trimming” page.

I don’t know how professional horse farriers bend over hooves all day, it’s such an akward angle, and the struggle attached to the hoof has alot of get and go. Goats, luckily, are smaller and have less weight to throw around than a horse. But goats still have alot of force and alot of will to resist.

Today was a perfect day to trim, as the huge amount of snow we got yesterday is melting and all the hooves have softened with the moisture. Attacking mature goat hoofs after a dry spell is only asking for trouble and struggle. It’s quite insane how thickly the hoof walls get as a goat ages. May’s hooves remind me of my Mom’s disgusting “corns” that developed on her big toes. This solid keratin hoof wall means I have to use both hands to cut through with the hoof shears. And you know how many hooves a goat has? 4. And each foot actually has two separate toes which need sharp attention. By my simple calculation, each goat has 8 points needing work, and I have 10 goats, which means I have 80 individual hooves to trim. I won’t brag, because I didn’t do all of them today. Two of the youngsters are most likely not pregnant and two of the new goats came with nice trim hooves- so I got to put those four goats off til next month. Pheeeew!

For some reason, goats absolutely love to smell your breath. I really haven’t a clue why, unless they are comparing notes on what was for lunch. This breath huffing happens whenever they can get their face close to mine, and hoof trimming day is a great chance for them to get their fix, the little weirdos. I don’t care, I mean, if they don’t mind I forgot to brush my teeth this morning….but it’s terribly frustrating when I can’t see what I’m doing due to my hair falling in my face as I bend over nearly upside down with a goat leg between my knees, the leg and the goat yanking, twisting and bucking to get away, while I hold very sharp pointy shears and attempt to complete my objective. But this breathing my breath thing while I do this? Come on! Then the goats start taking liberties. My hair gets nibbled, then chewed and then tugged on, Metallika rubs her face on mine, proceeding to burp and then cough up fermented-cud-breath right in my face. I appreciate the snuggliness of what they want to do, but it’s just bad timing for me. They are such opportunists, those goats, taking advantage of me in my compromised scenario!

beautiful milking

After a perfect morning with the animals (have to enjoy, these don’t come often) we headed off to the east to go visit a local dairy farm I’ve been in touch with on Facebook for some diversion and perspective. Getting out and seeing how others do their thing is mighty refreshing. Heidi & John of A Wise Choice Dairy and Farmstay graciously gave us an in-depth tour of their farm, milking parlour, barn and lovely lovely cows. These two are totally new farmers, like us, and they jumped whole hog in dairy farming from scratch. I so admire their honesty, dedication and good work. I especially love their honesty and sharing, it’s been a rough road for them to learn milking cows at their new farm, but they are doing it. It’s heartening to know other newbies are trying to make a go of farming, in a time when so many farmers are nearing retirement, or pulling out of the business because it is such a hard business to make a profit (a living) in. They took part in Farm Beginnings through the Land Stewardship Project back in the early 2000’s, and now in 2012, they own and operate their own dairy farm—it’s just so exciting to know these dreams can come true, but also very real to see it can take YEARS for it those dreams to come to fruition.

When we came home, it was nearly my own milking time. We had an exceptionally warm day today, and the snow is melting big time. I had a cup of homebrew in hand after chores, wandering around and observing our space. Little Valentine, Metallika’s daughter who’s our bottle baby, ran around in the softening snow with Belle, who mobbed her with wet puppy mouth at every chance. They are quite a pair, and no doubt Valentine will soon be headbutting Belle into the ground when she grows bigger than her puppy playmate. The sun is up so much later than a month ago, how very wonderful! As I washed and dried udders and teats, I thought about the cow dairy setup we saw today, which was far more advanced than me and my lean-to milkstand, one-at-a-time goatmilking setup. I feel grateful for our simplicity here, and I love the close personal interaction with each goat. They do drive me crazy sometimes, but we are getting into the swing of things nowadays. It feels good. I don’t ever want to be milking so many goats I don’t have this time and attention to detail, even though lately I’ve been conspiring to someday have a professional goat dairy and cheesemaking operation. I love sitting on my oak stump next to my goat as I milk, hearing the chorus of ducks in the background, and smelling dinner cooking through the walls. As Brenna came up to the milkstand, I heard some curious honking noises, and scanned the horizon. From the East came two pristine white silhouettes and the noise of clowns honking their buggle horns, or something similar to that. It was a pair of trumpeter swans flying low over our farm, and I felt that rush of goosebumps to see and hear them so close. What magic can be absorbed in my outdoor milking parlour!!

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