turkey love, fall garden starts (july 2012)

turkey love

The 45 Thanksgiving turkey babies moved to the big pasture today. A week ago, their heads were still fuzzy, they looked just like little chickens and would easily have been able to scoot right through the big pasture fence. But today they were ready. Their heads and necks were about to become naked, and that is a good sign for “big enough to be out in the great outdoors.”

The turkey babies have been living outdoors for about a month in chicken tractors which we moved to fresh grass each day. The success with their early training about greens-eating was very apparent, as they raced to the new turf with excited peep whistles each morning, preferring the greens even over their organic grain mix. Suddenly the tractors with the baby turkeys inside, needed to be moved twice a day! We even rolled the tractors into the brushy under growth around the oak tree and they ate every morsel of green. Voracious little veloci-raptors!

Sometimes with all the stuff going on here, it’s easy to forget the simple enjoyments. And that’s no good! I find immense joy in hanging out with our animals, watching them exploring & interacting with each other. After the turkey babes were moved, I went in there and just sat with the turkeys for awhile. They’d merged with the 8 Summer turkeys, who were not so keen on these youngsters raining on their parade of a private, giant, lush woodland pasture. However, after the initiation period, the group acted like family. Turkeys are not vindictive jerks like chickens are. The giant summer turkeys are now peacefully wandering the area with the tinies underfoot, like it’s just yesterday’s news.

What do I love about turkeys? What’s not to love?! They make wonderful calls, are so in-tune with what you are doing, they are serene, beautiful, so efficient in their growth. Domestic turkeys are also more closer to the native turkeys than one might think- and naturally hardy. And they have such a joy and love for foraging. Right before I left the peaceful shady browsing spot, I watched a youngster racing through the brambles with a giant dandelion leaf in his beak- with one of the big Summer turkeys on his tail. Turkeys do suffer from the “what you have is mine” syndrome. But this little peeper ran to me and hid under my leg, gulping down his leaf like a penguin chick swallowing a whole fish. Absolutely adorable.

the animal

Feeling a little shee-rah. I tackled the broccoli bed and I won. Each mongoid plant had to be pulled out, and all the weeds and grass encroaching, so the tiller can wizz down the soil and fluff it up for the next round of fall garden fun. I want more rutabagas, daikon radish, winter radishes and i still have baby cabbages ready to transplant as well. So I pulled, hauled and dragged all that stuff out of the bed. The ducks were most pleased to be given broccoli trunks, as were the goats! I wonder if the milk tonight will taste slightly sulfuric?

Then, after clearing the bed, I started hauling compost over. I dreaded this part. Doing everything by hand is tiring! And the compost pile Andrew had moved from the goat shed clean out this spring was loaded with massive healthy weeds. But I did it, forking black gold into wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow.

Andrew and his Dad worked on the sheetrocking of our new official “egg handling” room. Woot woot!

Lunch was absolutely delicious -BLTs with purchased bread, (no way are we baking bread these hot days!) our own lettuce, tomatoes and home grown and cured and smoked bacon from Rosie the magnificent pig.

After a slug of coffee, I tackled blanching and freezing over 20 gallons worth of veggies. Kale, broccoli florets and green beans. Broccoli had a tough time this year, with the super hot days it just responded with bolting and not making nice fat heads. All our CSA shares got some, and in between those deliveries, I picked the side shoots for our own use. This helped the plants respond with more side shoots, aka bite-sized broccoli.

For about 4 hours I cut, colandered, blanched, chilled and bagged veggies. Bringing 21 quart sized bags of veggies down into the basement cube freezer: priceless.

july 2012, garden bounty

graveyard shift

I was sent to bed last night at 7. It was good and necessary, as I was being a total crabby-patty and there was no light at the end of that tunnel. Andrew made delicious pad thai, then for dessert he calmly said “I’ll give Valentine her bottle and I’ll go water the transplants. Go to bed.” I typically fall asleep like a dead frog, and that is exactly what happened. But then of course, I woke up at 1am. Went to check on the baby Bubsters in the pitch dark, then made some coffee, and got to work.

The wee early morning is not a sane time to begin working, but after high school I worked overnights one summer at a telecom place and really enjoyed it. Watching the sun set, then rise. And then napping all day. That part doesn’t work with farming very well. But blanching broccoli in the cool quiet of the uninterrupted kitchen does!

I’d spent nearly all of yesterday transplanting in our fall crop of brassicas- Napa Cabbage, all kinds of baby cabbages, brussel sprouts, and my very favorite- Romanesco, which is like a perfect combo of Broccoli and cauliflower. We’d excavated the bed the onions were in, got all the onions setup curing in the pavillion, added rabbit poop and tilled the bed. As all the little baby plants were tucked in I told them they are going to love their new home, what a fine job Andrew had done fluffing the soil for their roots to grow big and strong. These crops will all mature in the cool of fall, and I think they are going to be amazing.What doesn’t go into our last shares in October, will be hoarded for our winter share box around Thanksgiving time.

500 or so plants later, I was exhausted. We don’t have a transplanter attachment on a tractor. We choose to garden by hand, to keep our garden small and biointensive, our footprint light on the soil. All afternoon Andrew was preoccupied with the well and water guy, who’d finally arrived to finish getting our well hooked up to the waterline running to the duck barn. Andrew had been nervous about it all day. Our well is old, the pump is fragile, and here are 2 strangers messing with it. Luckily they are professionals, so nothing happened. Just imagine if we’d tried to tackle that kind of a project ourselves! It would have been a disaster.

The other thing that sent me over the crabby edge yesterday was the overwhelming inundation of vegetables needing attention. I knew this would happen, you freaking reap what you sow when you have fertile soil! Cucumbers, zucchini, beets, green beans, kale, cabbage and carrots all needing to get harvested PRONTO and dealt with appropriately. Somethings will be just fine to hang onto for Tuesday’s CSA shares, but broccoli, green beans, leg-sized zucchinis, and the loads of cucumbers need to be preserved now. They will keep on coming too.

On my graveyard shift this morning, I’ve been planning my attack for the day, getting all the canning recipes in order, and lists of spices needed that I’m almost out of for the relishes and pickles I’ll make today. After milking time and a nap.

what NOT to do on a hot day, must it must be done! 15 qrts of green beans blanched and bagged, now in the freezer!

what NOT to do on a hot day, but it must be done! Waste not want not! 15 qrts of green beans blanched and bagged, now in the freezer!

2012 advice for new farmers and DIY “drunken goat”

wanna farm?

Seems to me that there are a lot of people who want to start farming. I think this is absolutely AWESOME! However, there is no one who can lay out a masterplan for someone else, whether it is for starting a farm, or becoming a basketball player. If it is in your heart, if it’s your calling, you will find a way, and you will do it.

Open your mind through education. Look locally for educational opportunities, open houses & field days on farms, internship or volunteer day possibilities, Ag Extension office programs and presentations. Read, read, read books from the library, buy the ones you love, and dive into anything farmy on the internet. Take notes and begin a farm-to-be journal.

Start something. Don’t be afraid! I call it “homesteading homeschooling.” Because in my mind, a homestead often can lead to a farmstead. I did this for 7 years before making the leap to fulltime farming!! It does take time. Be patient while you figure out what your likes are in life and in each day, and grow from there. This can be really hard when the golden light at the end of the tunnel beckons you, but you have practicing to do! Plant a garden, start canning, dig out some heirloom family recipes, or get some rabbits or chickens, teach community ed classes, take photographs, order half a hog from a small farm and butcher up the meat yourself, begin writing, begin making your own recipes. You don’t need the stress of a burgeoning farmstead to do any of these things. While you are playing around finding your niche and your passion, you can support those who have made the farming leap by purchasing goods they grew. It’s good karma.

Business & Money has to be addressed for any newbie farmer. Money is not evil- we all need it to pay bills and buy essentials. Look at how much money you need to live. Seriously, I cannot over emphasize this enough. When I was lusting after fulltime farming, a farmer friend gave me this advice, and it is so true. How little money can you live on, or how much would you need to produce on your farm to make what you think is a reasonable living? And how much do you think it will take to care for your crops, animals, etc on the farm? Start messing around with a business plan of some sort, put the date on it, and keep it for some good chuckles later on. The thing is, when you are selling your time for money at a day job, you don’t know yet how hard it is to earn every dollar when you are farming. Unless you get big and you get big fast, which is not the goal I think most have in mind. Successful small-scale farming takes some major creativity, and laying a solid base of practicing first will give you some idea of what you can do. While you are practicing, keep tabs on the ins and outs financially. Selling eggs from your backyard flock is great, but what did it cost you to raise them? And if you scale it up, what might that look like?

I have lots of advice, which will no doubt continue to be spewed forth here!

 

drunken goat

Start with some of this:

Make some of this:

Press it into a wheel, air dry for a week, then soak in it red wine in a bag, flipping over every 12 hours so the wheel soaks it in evenly:

After 3 days:

Yum! Then back out it comes to air dry for several days:

I saved the red wine infiltrated with cheese aroma to marinate a goat shoulder from last fall. The goat, despite being a buck, was tender and luscious after a low and slow session in the crockpot.

We had it for lunch with a cucumber, green pepper & garlic salad, over white rice.

July 2012, new chicks, filling the pantry

lilliputian

I miss the Bubsters. When I’m out in the garden, picking bucket loads of zucchini, I’ll glance over to where they were this spring and summer, and my lower lip curls down into a literal sad face. There’s an empty space there, where once my Bubsters roamed, quickly returning to the native prairie.

So I called the feed store yesterday on my drive into town. “Hey, so, if you guys have any orders of chicks that get abandoned, we’d be interested.” I hadn’t consulted my farming partner about this. But I had a hole in my heart. I love Bubsters, I love raising them and giving them such a good life. I want people to eat chickens from our farm. If we don’t have any, then what will they eat? Not such good chicken, is what.

I was delivering duck eggs to the co-ops, as well as our new Sampler Shares. Since I’ve mastered the stick shift, I can now make the deliveries and get out in the wonderful world a bit. Getting the chance to talk with and give hugs to our customers, brings all our work full circle for me. This interaction with the people we feed from our farm is so very bolstering. Sampler Shares were delivered after meeting up with our amazing supporters.

These Shares brought in some much needed income for the farm. Then I proceeded to spend it all, on what the farm needs to grow and thrive. Some investments into the rabbitry setup were made, and I needed canning supplies. My phone rang. The feedstore. Hmmmm, what do they want?

Oh what do you know, they had an order of 150 broiler chicks that the lady who’d ordered them didn’t want anymore. 150 chicks. How can you place an order for that many little lives, and then change your mind? I don’t get it. We could not take all of them, and after some texting back and forth with my husband, I told them we’d take half of the chicks. Oh boy, dreams do come true! After my mad shopping spree, I drove to the feedstore on my way home and picked up the box of chicks. They’d just been hatched that morning, tiny little fluffkins of delight.

They were settled into their brooder, and immediately demonstrated why I love them so much- the vivaciousness of these little eensy-weensy chicks blows my mind. They raced about with glee, like bumblebees on chunky legs. I tiptoed through the baby bubsters, making sure they all were doing ok after receiving their first food and water. Fearless and curious about everything, like the Lilliputians in Gulliver’s Travels, they clambered over my barefeet and attentively watched my fingers sprinkling out feed.

blogging in the basement

Someday I’ll have one of those underground homes if I’m lucky and we’re smart energy-wise. I’m not lusting after a hobbit style cavern, rather, a clean, spacious and long home, facing the south and bermed on the north, east and west. I’d like one of these modern “earth ship” style homes especially to deal with the heat of summer. Our current basement works pretty well to cool off, but we have an old, old home….it’s not really a nice place to hang out, but I have my laptop down here so I can at least do a little writing.

Ambient ground temperatures do not fluctuate wildly, so it stays between 45-60 degrees down here year round. So perfectly cool that I can store feta in brine jars down here all year! In our cool basement, we actually have several 3/4 gallon jars of kraut and kimchi, fermented pickles and green beans too. The pickles are still crisp, as crisp as dills can be when naturally fermented with salt, water, wild grape and cherry leaves. Delicious.

On the shelves Andrew constructed for my canning, there is evidence of last year’s season as well….canned quarts of honey applesauce, canned apple juice and cider, tomatoes, salsa, jellies, pickled peppers, dilly beans, pickled beets. We used alot of it, and now the preservation cycle begins again. All the 2011 jars are moved to one side, to give space for the hundreds of jars that will be brought down here over the next couple months. I love canning and putting things up, enabling us to eat from our farm year round. Soon I’ll get into pressure canning so we can pare down the freezer useage by putting up meat in jars. Sounds gross, but think of tuna in cans. Tender and ready to use.

Things have been crazy in the garden. Almost overwhelming. I went from the delight of harvesting loads and loads and loads of green beans & zucchini, garlic to cure, the peppers are beginning now, and tomatoes about to go nutty. Today I upped the ante and actually filled 2 wheelbarrows with onions. They still have their tops on, and were curing in the field, but rain was threatening, so into the hoophouse they went, parked in wheelbarrows.

All this bounty, besides what goes out in our CSA boxes, has to be put up somehow. I’ve been canning, but this heat streak has put a clincher on my plans. Today I’m trying out dehydrator zucchini chips, but that’s only dealt with 2 big ones. It’s so hot in the house I put the dehydrator on the sunporch. Don’t get after me about using this electric device please- I do sun dry stuff alot, but it’s hot, humid AND overcast today. It’s my first time trying out the dehydrator, since Andrew’s Aunt handed it down to us. We’ll see if these zucchini chips are any good.

Yesterday I made a pickled green bean salad to can up. It was supposed to be a 3 Bean Salad, but we don’t have shelling beans just yet. It took me like 4 hours with all those beans! Despite being hot and bothered in the kitchen, dealing with cauldrons of boiling water, the mixture looked and smelled amazing, and was entirely from the garden. As I jarred up, the brine amount from the recipe looked rather small, and indeed it was. My temper flared, as everything was hot and ready and I ran out of brine! Stupid recipe! Hot and humid and pissed. After I made more brine (apple cider and white vinegar, honey, salt, celery and mustard seeds) I fillled up the remaining jars, capped them, and into the canner they went. I heard a loud THUNK. NOOOOOOOO! One of the jars burst along the bottom seam. I cannot tell you how extremely infuriating this is. Perhaps I had the water in the canner too hot. I watched all those carefully prepared pieces of greenbeans, red onion, celery begin to float to the surface. Now, a normal person would have air conditioning. And a normal person would PROBABLY empty the pot and begin to can again with fresh clean water. Not me. I was so pissed.

After their water bath time, all 6 quart jars and 2 pints sealed, but they were a bit sticky. I left them sitting there, the jars and me cooling off. I wrote down my notes on my “canning legend” for 2012, I’ll just write a number on the lids, and write down their particulars on my legend list. Then I don’t have to write out the description on each lid, which when you are caning gobs and gobs of salsa or applesauce, gets to be a bit tedious.

This morning I took off the rings and carefully washed the outsides of the jars. The “salad” looks marvelous. This winter we’ll drain off a bit of the brine, and toss the salad with olive oil and freshly cracked pepper. Cradling the jars full of summer in my arms, I brought them down into the cool basement, on the new 2012 side of the shelving.

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.

 

 

 

 

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