Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Fall on the Farm

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Fall on the farm is our busiest season.  Most farmers are “buttoning up” their vegetable operations, or continuing on with their milking duties/operations, or completely finished with raising crops such as hay and straw, but we are gearing up.  There are preparations for winter that we are still making – getting the last of the hay put away, getting winter housing arranged (as it changes every year depending on which animals are which age), confirming the turkey orders, and defending the animals from predation.

Predation from wild animals has taken a pretty significant toll this year – that of lives of three piglets, and one turkey (recently) and a huge impact on the mental state of the farmers here on the farm.  We have re-figured our pasturing on a “moments notice” (really within 24 hours) to get the most vulnerable animals out of the pastures so that the coyotes didn’t continue to feast at night, and we have taken turns sleeping extremely lightly, if at all, ready to defend the critters should we find coyotes in the field with them.  My brother-in-law spent a night in the pasture with the sheep to make sure that they were okay.  It really is a pretty low-tech way of doing things, and I wish that there was a different way to deal with predation.  But predation is so simple and basic a thing.  The wild things are hungry, and we have roosters, piglets, turkeys, and other little two and four legged dinners running around everywhere.  It seems pretty simple.  Just because there are about three layers of fencing (both electrified and not) between “the outside world” and the animals that belong on the farm, means nothing to the wild animals.  I understand that.  It is just an awful realization that you lost your farmed animals to wild ones for dinner. To look at it financially, which a small farmer cannot help but do, we lost just under four hundred dollars worth of animals that one night. And that was their current value. (If we had raised the piglets up to a year old, the value would have risen to considerably more.) On that note, I am abandoning this thought…

The two sheep, as mentioned above, are in the pasture, and grazing what is left of summer grass.  They are enjoying the locally harvested hay that we supplement them with daily.

Noelle is the white Border Leicester sheep. She is joined in the pasture by Violette, the Romney (she is “colored” ).

Sometime very soon, they will be joined in pasture by a white Romney Ram who will be attempting to breed them.  We are looking forward to having Spring   lambs, but in order to have them, we need to get the eager young ram here to do his “rammy thing.”

In other Farm News:

We have a few new additions to the animal families.  Olive the Berkshire Pig had her piglets and they are safe and healthy, and awfully adorable with the black spots on a red field (the Tamworth boar part of the parentage.) Gringot, one of the milking jersey cows, calved earlier than we expected with a very robust bull.  The vet said that she was due to calve at the end of December (which would make the sire of the calf a Jersey) — but, she calved with what looks all the world like a Belted Galloway with a “broken belt” (the white does not go all the way around) — so, I would say that the pastured Belted Galloway bull did his thing. And then we just bought a Critically Endangered (according to the National Heritage Breeds Conservancy Conservation Status) Canadienne cow.  She is just under four years old, and in milk.  She comes with Canadian registration papers and has been named Uma.  She is used to people speaking English, which is good — as my French is terrible, but passable to read the registration.  I took three years of high school French and Latin in high school and in College.  The Latin has helped me in more ways than the French, so far. Uma, the cow,  is not however, used to people leading her around on a lead, or being tied up, so our farm will be a bit different for her until she settles in.  I was very close to being dragged on my stomach across the yard today, just unloading her from the trailer.

Products:  Everybody wants to know what we have for products.  We have some of our own eggs, and Enterprise Farm in Whately sells our eggs as well.  There is meat available, and we have a few turkeys left for the holiday.  They are Heritage birds — more flavorful — not injected with hormones, steroids, not fed candy, not injected with basting solutions, etc. Just the real, natural deal.  This year they will be freshly frozen for the holiday, as the processor is “processing” for us the second week of November.  We have a quarter of the number that we raised last year, so if I have to tell you that we are out, I am very sorry, and please understand that we raised more than 100 last year to sell 80, and this year we LOST 200 eggs, and the hens stopped laying, and we have about 25 or so.  We will have some for your Washington’s Birthday Celebrations, groundhog Day, St. Patrick’s day and other Spring celebrations  — they just won’t be up to size for November 25 this year.

What A Week.

In Chickens, General Farm News, Heritage Turkeys, Pigs on October 9, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Or maybe it should read: What?! A Week?

That may be the best way to describe the last seven days.  We have spent hours in the barn(s):  fall cleaning, pen rebuilding, poultry reorganization, and all types of general fix-it work done.  Sometimes fox-it work turns bad, and turns into another category of task  – one that involves money that we don’t have and skill sets that we haven’t yet learned — that is the “major projects” category.  We have many fix-it tasks that have suddenly decomposed into “major tasks”.

Two weeks ago I ordered up fifty Kosher King day old chicks to raise for one specific customer of ours.  That meant that we had two weeks to prepare for the arrival of the chicks.  So the day of arrival came, I went up to the post office to get the box, and husband Myles and two year old Peter were scrambling to get the pen to finished.  It isn’t really that complicated to clean out and make sure that all of the chicken wire is intact. You also have to hang the heat lights, get the kiddie pool and pine shavings arranged just so, and fill the water and feed.

Additionally, this Kosher King pen was in need of a window fix. First, let me briefly explain our barn. This is what we affectionately call “The Old Barn” — to differentiate it from our ‘New Barn” which is a late 1980’s cinderblock built , gambrel roofed dairy milking barn — the “Old Barn” is a late 18th century, early 19th century four story wooden barn, with a Dutch Lap slate roof desperately in in need of repair. But the roof is not today’s focus.  The windows are not original to the structure, but most are probably dated back to the 1950’s.  The glass is not safety glass, and the wood is punky.  Last year we had some problems with poultry flying at the windows and hitting the glass with such force, that the glass would break.  Birds would escape, and glass around animals is really bad.  So for a temporary fix, we covered some windows with plastic, some with woven grain bags, to keep the birds from hitting the glass so forcefully.  We figured that plexiglass would be the perfect fix to install on the inside of the windows… until we visited the store and discovered how expensive plexiglass in the size that we need, is.  Forget that idea!

Instead, we picked up that wavy plexiglass that is used in roofing and greenhouses. It was much more affordable, and I figured that we could make it work. Well, it would only work for us, I soon learned, if we could cut it.  Note to self: If attempting to cut a panel of that stuff, you need a small, really fast spinning saw blade with a wicked number of little teeth.  We learned that a shop knife and scoring does not work.

So we got The Kosher Kings window replaced and that baby chick pen is a really comfortable temperature, even outside the heat lamp area.  I am pleased with that.

A few nights ago, I roused Myles from a sound sleep to go check on the piglets in the pasture, as I was hearing growling. He was gone a long time, and said that he didn’t find anything unusual out there. The next morning, we were missing two piglets, and one turkey had been killed. We were extra aware and looked for prints, and found nothing amiss for a night, then two.

Now, two days later, I just got the phone call that we lost another piglet last night. Not disappeared like the others, but this one was half-eaten and stuck in a fence.  I am horrified.  Today, after the farmer’s market, and after I get out of work, we will be weaning the piglets early to a barn pen. Locked away and safe from the hungry coyotes.  First it means moving roosters, then moving turkeys, and then piglets… but it’ll get done because we can’t afford to lose the animals.  It is terrible to think of them getting hunted down like that.

In between these things, we have met new customers, delivered eggs to Enterprise Farm in Whately, delivered a few turkeys for (USDA) processing in Westminster Vermont, and provided first-hand farming testimony to the The Farm Technology Review Commission, a committee of the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. (The role of the Commission is to study and recommend options for updating farming technology including, but not limited to ways to promote energy conservation, collaborative purchasing, purchasing and selling of energy and energy saving technology. In addition, the Commission will also recommend alternative options for agricultural sustainability and growth, and analyze regulations and statutes to ensure that they are not impediments to the adoption of farming technology.)

Additionally, we visited a farm in Connecticut, and a farm in New Hampshire, in search of a milking cow, and/or milking goats.  Neither of the farms had the right animals for us.  It is because of this crazy schedule that we keep, that we ask customers to call first before stopping in for meat!  Thank you.  And remember, if you don’t see the little, little piglets in the pasture anymore, it is because we have taken steps to preserve their lives. Perhaps when we can determine exactly what the predator is that took the lives of a turkey and three piglets, and we can protect everything accordingly, the little piglets will go back in the pasture. Until then, it will only be the big pigs.