Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How to run in place at 70 m.p.h.

Today was one of those days.  The list of things to do is getting longer and longer.  This morning, I started the day by updating my task log.  There is something satisfying about listing everything that needs doing and providing a little box after each entry, where I can place a bold check mark when a task is completed.

The list is exorbitantly long, but it all needs doing.  First I prioritize by importance, A through D.  Then I number the A's, B's, C's and D's and let Excel tell me what I am going to be doing today.

Okay, got that done, then remembered that I needed to schedule getting some hay delivered for the cows.  What I thought would be a 15 minute phone call turned into three calls, totaling nearly two hours.  But it had to be done - cows have to eat.  Then I turned back to my list to see what I should be doing first.  I glanced out the window and saw one of the yearling heifers in my garden.  Dolly was munching on my lettuce.  Smarty Pants and Lucky, the other two heifers, were in the walkway, not in the paddock with the other animals.  What happened?

I got Dolly back into the pasture, albeit not the right one, but at least she wasn't eating the lettuce anymore.  I went to the barn for the fence checker.  No electricity in the fence.  I followed the arrows on the checker.  It is a dandy little device that shows me the direction of the fault.  It is a real time saver, but still, I have a lot of fencing.  I followed the arrows, climbing over fences and going from paddock to paddock.  At last!  There was a tree down on the fence in Paddock #5.  We've had quite a bit of wind in the past few days and it took out a good sized tree.  The tree had knocked down the fence, which was lying against a metal pole.  An electric fence on grounded metal meant the whole fence was shorted out.  Source of problem revealed, but not solved.  The tree was obviously not rotten - far too heavy to pull off the fence - and I couldn't find my chain saw.  The deer hunters cleaned out the barn so that they had a clear path to get the tractor out of the barn to mow paths in the woods.  While I appreciate their efforts, if a piece of equipment isn't where I last left it, I am totally helpless at finding it.

I will not bore with details.  Two hours later, fence was fixed.  Heifers were inside fencing again.  By then it was time to start picking for deliveries of vegetables tonight to the Purple Porch CSA.  And of course I had to get out to the barn to give Rosie shot number 3.  At least that went smoothly.

I accomplished very little today.  My legs are sore from running after heifers.  There are only three check marks on my list.  My kitchen looks like a tornado went through it.  I am far too exhausted to be witty or clever tonight. 

On a positive note, there are 15 chickens, three calves, three heifers inside the fence and one small white cat, all accounted for.  Peace.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I didn't wanna do it, I didn't wanna do it . . .

Rosie, the cow who obviously needs Vitamin C given her voracious appetite for kale, is getting Vitamin C shots each day for five days, 12 ml, which is a lot.  One good thing about Vitamin C is that you can't overdose.  Your body just disposes of it through the kidneys, no harm done.  Many dairy farmers give their cows Vitamin C as a matter of course, especially after freshening.  Let me back up a bit and explain what freshening means.  Dairy farmers have these weird names for things.  When a cow gets pregnant, she is "settled."  So a good bull is one who "settles" all the cows.  Isn't this a bit sexist?  I think maybe it is, as if it takes a bull to settle a cow down!  Just doesn't sound like a term any self-respecting woman would use.  Anyway, after a cow is settled, she is pregnant for about nine months, just like us, and that time is her gestation, same as us.  But when she has her baby, she "freshens."  I don't know, having babies didn't make me feel very fresh.  My guess is that this term was not coined by a woman either.

So anyway, our cows are bred to freshen in the spring.  Rosie has some signs of low Vitamin C levels.  She is ten years old now, and our best cow.  But she has slipped a little getting bred the past two years, and I'm hoping getting her Vitamin C levels back up will help her to get bred in that three month window after freshening.  She was the last cow to have her calf this year, most of the herd on time in April, one in May, one in June.  But Rosie waited until July, and since we dry up the whole herd on February 15, no matter when they freshen, that is just lost milk.

I don't want to give cows shots.  I have been putting off getting this done for more than a month.  First I ordered the wrong needles.  Freudian slip?  Then I had too many appointments late in the afternoon to be here to administer the shots on five consecutive days.  Did they need to be consecutive?  I didn't check with our vet, Mat.  I was afraid he would say it didn't matter, and then I might have to do it right away.  Tonight was my Waterloo.  I have the right needles.  I do not have any late afternoon appointments all week, which means I will be here to give the shot while the milker has her in the barn.

I have had a stomach ache most of the day.  I searched my mind for an excuse not to do this.  I drew a blank.

Rosie is always first in line, which is where she would need to be for me to get to the spot on her neck where Mat said the shot should be given.  I went into the milking parlor.  Rosie was second in line.  I stood there dumbly with the syringe in one hand, the bottle of Vitamin C in the other.  Finally I said, "But I need Rosie to be first in line!"

The milker, Jennifer, said, "Oh, no problem.  I'll move Blackie out when I'm done milking, and then Rosie will be first in line."  Okay, that problem was solved.  Darn!

Then I said, "I'm not sure how to open this bottle.  Have you ever done it?"

"Sure," said Jennifer.  "Just pull out the little metal thing in the middle and stick the needle into the exposed spot."

The little metal circle popped right out, exposing the obvious spot where I would stick the needle to withdraw the liquid Vitamin C.  Double darn!!

No more excuses.  It was time.  Rosie butted at me as I approached, needle in hand.  She is getting a little testy in her old age.  Jennifer said she would distract her.  She and her daughter Ren brought handfuls of hay to feed Rosie while I jabbed the needle home.

No sweat!  Piece of cake!  That was easy!  Only four nights to go - there is nothing to this.  :~)

Florence Nightingale signing off now.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Stirring preps

In the fall of 2008, several hardy souls walked out to the pastures with old soup spoons and a dozen cow horns.  The sun was shining and the air was crisp.  We marched along with eyes down looking for the perfect cow pie.  "Here's one!" I cried.  Everyone gathered round, each with a horn in one hand, spoon in the other.

In about a half hour, all twelve horns were packed full of manure and carried back to the appointed spot near the barn.  We dug a nice, deep hole, and the horns were packed in the bottom in a circle, then covered with the sandy soil.  My dog Tashi immediately started to dig them up, so we found some chicken wire, laid it over the newly turned earth and held it down with several large rocks.  Tashi made a half-hearted effort to move the wire and then directed her attention to easier ways to make mischief. 

The horns lay in the ground through the fierce winter and the first warming rays of spring sun.  Finally in mid-May, we dug up the horns and found that most of the manure had composted to a friable black dirt.  We carefully measured out this dirt, one fourth cup at a time, into buckets that had each been filled with about three gallons of well water.  We stirred the water and horn manure, creating a series of clockwise and counterclockwise vortices, for one full hour. 

What on earth is this all about?  Witchcraft?  Insanity?  A Halloween prank?  No, we were making BD-500, the most widely used of the eight biodynamic preps.  Rudolph Steiner was the father of biodynamic organic farming.  Lectures he made to a farming conference in Austria in 1924 are the basis of this organic movement.  Farmers had gathered because of concern with deteriorating land, land which no longer grew good food.  In those lectures, Dr. Steiner laid out what he felt was needed to save the soil.  The premise of BD-500 is that by stirring a fourth cup of horn manure (the stuff we were making) into about three gallons of water for an hour, cosmic energy, and most especially energy from the other planets, is drawn into the water.  At the end of the stirring time, the manure is of no consequence.  It is the water that is now permeated with this energy derived from the manure and the cosmos.  When sprinkled over one acre of ground, the enhanced water brings new life and energy to the soil.

Biodynamics is often referred to as homeopathy for the soil.  That is a pretty good description.  We start with a fourth cup of this horn manure, stir it into the water, and then use it to fertilize one acre of land!  That is pretty incredible.  Does it work?  I am pretty sure it does.  I've been doing it here on my farm for about seven years now.  There were no worms when I bought this place.  After the icy chill of liquid nitrogen (anhydrous ammonia) being applied here for so many years, which was needed to grow corn and beans on this sand pile of a farm, the worms were silent.  The first year, I saw only one or two in my garden.  Each year the worm population has grown.  Now I can say that there is not a shovelful of dirt turned that doesn't contain at least one worm.  They are such great little workhorses, converting this sandy soil to rich humus, each worm depositing about 12 grams of it each day.  It all adds up.  In some parts of my garden, the soil has gone from sifting through my fingers like the sand in an hourglass to holding together when a handful is squeezed in my palm.  My gardens have gone from pitiful to good to pretty great.  I credit BD-500 for most of that improvement.

Another accolade comes from a surprising source.  We did the preps on the two pastures our cows used when they were on Steve's farm.  Steve told me on a recent visit, "You remember that stuff you guys walked around sprinkling on those two pastures?  One of them was a pretty terrible pasture, the other one was only fair.  They are both great pastures now."  That is a pretty good commendation from someone who thought we were all crazy when we were doing it.

Spreading the BD-500 prep takes place spring and fall.  Some of the horns were not quite ready last spring, so those went back into the ground to compost until today, when we dug them up and repeated our task, stirring to create vortex / chaos / vortex, over and over again, for one full hour, until we had extracted the energy from the manure and mixed it with the cosmic forces that our stirring invited.  Then off to the paddocks, women, men and children, buckets in one hand and pine boughs in the other, tossing this priceless liquid onto the sandy soil.

Tonight there are 15 chicken, 3 calves and one cat.  More about Tashi the dog later.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Chicken Merry-Go-Round

I had market today.  Thanks to Annemarie's help, I can get to market a little late.  She has the booth next to mine and opens up for me when I don't get there on time (which happens quite frequently, by the way). So I waited for the first light of day to open the Moop and let the chickens out into their yard. Then off to market.

My customers were glad to buy the last of my tomatoes, which are starting to look pretty forlorn at season's end.  They know that soon it will be over, so they savor the last of the fall tomatoes, even if they are a bit spotted and scarred.

I headed home feeling pretty good and was delighted to find in my mailbox an Alice Waters book that I had ordered.  Yay!  I'd hunker down on the couch with the book and with the help of Alice plot a fantastic meal using fresh vegetables from my garden.  But first I needed to check out some pastures so that I could tell the milker where to put the cows after milking tonight.

Well, the best laid plans, etc. etc. etc.  When I headed for the east pastures, there was a chicken out.  I am usually able to get the occasional stray chicken back inside by propping the gate open a few inches and guiding her in that direction, walking slowly behind her as she works her way around the perimeter of their yard.  Not tonight.  I have presumed that it is always the same chicken that gets out.  I do believe that tonight it was her not-so-sharp sister.  We went around the pen.  She tried to go through the fencing, instead of through the opening I had provided.  As I walked towards her to guide her to the opening, she decided to fly over an old fence and sneak through a pile of barbed wire - the very same wire that caused the demise of one of the chickens a couple of weeks ago.

She began a clockwise circuit around the yard again.  The old fence prevented me from following her - too high for me to climb over, and I don't fly.   I went the other way and veered out into a cow pasture so that I could get on the other side of her.  Hopefully she would continue going clockwise.  She didn't.  She reversed course, went back through the barbed wire and flew over the fence, ran right by the opening and into the woods.  Using much hand clapping and yelling (I even barked a few times) to scare her out of the woods, I finally succeeded in chasing her out.  She resumed her clockwise circuit around the fence.  But it was only to repeat the same pattern again and again - past the opening, through the barbed wire, reverse, then into the woods!  How many times did we ride that merry-go-round?  I lost count.

I finally opened the gate all the way and filled both of the feeders so that the other (and obviously more intelligent) chickens would stay in their yard.  Then I moved back under a tree on the opposite side.  After several false starts, she finally found the SIX FOOT OPENING and joined the others at the feeders.  I closed the gate and called it a day.  I will go back at sunset to do a count and close up the Moop.  I can only hope that she is not running around the outside of the pen again.

I will peruse my new book a little later.  For now, I'm just going to make some low carb pasta, add a little cream and some grated cheese and call it a day.  The fancy meal with garden fresh veggies from the Alice Waters book will have to wait for tomorrow.

Tonight's count is three calves, one cat, 15 chickens, and one exhausted farmer.

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's so dark!

Even though the temperatures remain mild, the morning darkness is a reminder of winter's approach.   It's after 7 a.m. and still pitch dark!  I don't want to let the chickens out until the sun is up.  We are still 13 weeks from our shortest day, and I am wondering how I am going to handle getting to market on Saturdays and let the chickens out before I leave, without danger to them.  I have found a way to protect them from the daytime predator - the hawk.  See my blog Flies, Chickens and Hawks.  But if I let them out too early, there are nighttime visitors that might find them and have them for an early breakfast.  I still haven't bought the electric fence, but morning's darkness may push me to get it soon, expense be damned!

This is my first year to have chickens.  If you've been following this blog, you know that keeping them alive is a bit of a challenge, living as I do in the country.  It is pretty wild out here.  The farm is surrounded on two sides by heavy woods.  There is a small river running through the back, and a pond along my lane.  All of these things support wildlife.  That is good news and bad news.  The good news, of course, is that this place provides a haven to many wild animals.  They can find food, water and shelter here.  But much of the wildlife that hang around this place look on chickens as a tasty meal.

To me, they are farm animals and future eggs, and I do not want to share them with hawks, foxes and raccoons.  I also happen to like them.  They are such sociable little things!  I love to listen to their chatter.  No mind that they might eat one another under the wrong circumstances - they are quite chatty with each other on an ordinary day.  There is something very calming about listening to them.

It is a nice way to start the morning, opening the door to the Moop and watching them clamber out to greet the day.  It is always quiet when I go out to the Moop, but as soon as the door is open, they seem to have much to discuss.   Buster, the one remaining rooster, begins his greeting to welcome the day.  He doesn't have a normal crow.  Instead of Cock-a-Doodle-Do, he sings out do-Cock-a-Doo!  My neighbors, Mayme and Verle, tell me that different breeds have different calls, and Buster's song is not going to mature into the normal Cock-a-Doodle-Do.  They say that  more than likely this is it, and he is singing out the particular call of his breed.  This is news to me, this variation in rooster calls among chicken breeds.

There is so much to learn.  I am thankful for my neighbors, who love to share their knowledge with me.  They also told me that the hawks would get the chickens if I let them run free.  They were sure right about that!  But they learned something from me, too.  They lose a chicken now and then to the hawks in spite of the trees around their chicken yard.  They were entranced by my fish line cobweb over the yard, and they are going to try it at their place.

Last night, the count was 15 chickens, 3 calves and 1 cat, and all is well here on the farm.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Food and health

In the United States we enjoy the cheapest food in the world.  Is that good?  Not necessarily.  We also have the highest medical costs in the world.  I agree that part of the reason for those high costs is our broken health care system, but there is another reason for it.  We need medical care more often than we would if we ate better food, in my opinion.  I do not think it is an accident that countries paying more for their food also pay a lot less for their health care.  I dug out statistics and put together a chart.  Write me at for a copy of the whole thing, which includes data for 28 countries.  In the meantime, I will provide three data points:  US 9.3% of income on food, $6,100 per capita health care costs / France 15.34% of income on food, $3,000 per capita for health care / Italy 25.7% for food, $2,400 per capita for health care.  Do you see this trend?  Pay more for your food, pay less for your health care. 

I will argue what comprises a healthy diet in more detail later.  For now, I will state the obvious.  In our desire for cheap food, we have gotten what we asked for - cheap food!  We eat manufactured food in the form of textured vegetable protein (TVP), for instance.  Real food is out there, but we opt for textured vegetable protein!  The next time you are in the store, read the labels on canned tuna.  You will find that soybeans are contained in most brands - not soybean oil, but soybeans!  Yup, there it is again, TVP in your tuna.  Soy beans, which are heavily subsidized by the federal government, are cheaper than fish.  And when you read "heavily subsidized by the federal government," understand that taxes pay for those subsidies.

What's wrong with this picture?

I will tell you what is wrong with it.  Not only is it a fiscal fairy tale, since your taxes paid to subsidize the soybean industry so that your tuna is a few pennies cheaper, but soybeans are not good for us.  Please do not tell me about Asian diets.  Their diets contain a small fraction of the amount of soy we eat - on average a tablespoon or two a day - and it's not genetically modified soy.  Most of the soy in their diets is made the right way, using slow fermentation, resulting in products like soy sauce and natto.  Even the tofu in the US is made using "hurry up" methods, not the slow fermentation that was traditionally used in Asia.  So we are eating unfermented soy, and here is what that means to your health.  Unfermented soy blocks the absorption of many minerals, but in particular calcium for our bones, zinc for our nervous systems and our brain, and iron for our blood.  Think about that the next time you eat that soy burger.  Your brain, your bones and your blood are not thanking you.  If you insist on forgoing meat in your diet, do not replace it with soy! 

Unfortunately, we cannot avoid soy if we do not cook everything from scratch.  Read labels when you shop.  Look for TVP, HVP, natural flavor, vegetable oil, and vegetable broth. Almost without exception these terms mean soy.  Yes, chicken broth has soy in it.  Processed meats such as hot dogs and bacon nearly always have soy in them.  The list goes on.

The best way to lower your medical costs is to improve your health, and the best way to do that is to avoid supermarkets when at all possible.  They are meccas of manufactured food.  Find a farmers market.  Better yet, find a farmer!  Buy in bulk when the harvest is heavy and prices are low.  Then can, freeze or dry your own food.  Buy meat and dairy from grass fed animals.  If you shop the supermarkets, stay in the outside isles, where you will find the fresh vegetables and fruits.  Ask the butcher for grass fed beef.  They never have it in mine, but I persist in asking about once a month.  I figure that one of these days, they will say yes.  In the meantime, I buy beef by the quarter from a nearby farmer who feeds absolutely no grain.

Sometimes we can't get it perfect, but we can usually do a little better this year than we did last year.  We vote with our food dollars, and eventually the market will get it.  If we demand good food, it will come.

Happy eating, and good health to you!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Just an ordinary day

There are no interesting little stories to tell today.  It was just this side of boring here on the farm, and it is good to have some days like that from time to time.

This seems like a good time to tell a little history.  Why do I have all of these dairy cows here?  Good question.  I started drinking raw milk about seven years ago.  Whether you agree or disagree with the premise that raw milk is better for our health than pasteurized milk, I will attest to the fact that I enjoy extraordinarily good health.  I could not always say that.  Other things have happened in those seven years, including getting out of a high pressure corporate sales job, so I can hardly credit raw milk with ALL of the improvements in my health.  But I will say that I do feel better, rarely get sick, and never get the sinus infections that plagued me in the past.  Yes, it is true that dairy causes some stuffiness, but it is easily combated by drinking more water, and even when I forget the extra water I am not bothered with infections.  I get stuffy, but I don't get sick.

Based on my personal experience, I am a strong proponent of raw milk.  But you have no idea what one has to go through to get it in Indiana - and most states in this country.  We let teenagers drive.  We sell cigarettes and alcohol.  We sell SUGAR!  As if sugar isn't bad enough, we now douse everything with high fructose corn syrup.  Hey, the industry has to do something with the waste products from corn production, right?  But we cannot buy raw milk.  Apparently it is far too dangerous!

In Indiana, you may drink milk from your own cow.  However, you may not sell it.  There are many "cow share" programs around.  You buy a share in a herd and pay board on your cow directionally proportional to how many gallons of milk you pick up.  One could argue that this is just a loophole, but it seems to work for many people, and it is how I initially got my raw milk.  The first place where I had a cow share had trouble with freshness.  The second place packaged in plastic and fed grain.  The third place used glass jars, but again, the farmer fed grain.  So what is the big deal with that?  Because cows are ruminants.  They are not meant to eat grain.  It changes the pH of their stomachs so that they will grow E coli O157:57.  That's the bad stuff.  But the biggest reason for insisting on grass fed is the increase in CLAs in grass fed animals - up to five times as many!  We need CLAs to boost our immune systems, in particular to help us fight the big three - diabetes, chronic heart disease and cancer.  Your store bought milk is from factory farm cows that are fed grain and never get outside.  Sad, but true.

If grain is so bad, why do farmers feed it?  Production, that's why.  Grass fed cows give 30% less milk than the same breed of cow raised under the same conditions save the grain in their diets.  No dairy pays a premium for milk with high CLAs, unfortunately, so it is hard to find a farmer who has grass fed cows.

Much to my surprise, I found that my neighbor had exactly what I was looking for - grass fed, heritage breeds (we will discuss why that is important later), AND certified organic to boot!  He wouldn't sell me a cow share.  He told me he would, however, sell me a cow and let me rent his equipment to milk her.  He probably didn't think I would do that.  A short time later, I was at his door with the money for not one, but two cows, having sold shares to 14 families.  Yes, one cow produces enough milk to feed seven families, even when they are grass fed heritage breed cows that are only milked once a day.

Our arrangement with the neighbor lasted less than a year.  We got in his hair, disrupted his routine, which frankly was NO routine.  He milked one day at 2 pm, another at 5 pm, so it was pretty hard to stay out of his way.  He gave us 30 days to find another home.

We checked here and there, but nobody wanted us.  My farm had lain fallow for five years and organic certification would be no problem.  Obvious answer was that I should bring them here.  I didn't really want to, but it was that or disband.  We had several meetings.  Given that I would have to build a barn, get organic certification, and at least break even, we had to raise our maintenance fee by quite a bit.  I was sure that we would lose shareholders.  Quite the opposite happened - we had to buy a couple more cows to accommodate all of the new shareholders.

This was the first step in my journey from hobby farm to real farm, and it truly was an accident, precipitated by my desire for organic raw milk from grass fed cows.  It's the farmer in my blood.  If you can't get what you want, then you build it yourself.  So I did.  My father would be proud!

Tonight, there are 15 chickens, 3 calves and 1 cat.  :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Not the day I was expecting . . .

Sometimes things just don't work out the way we planned.  Not much farming today.  I did my regular morning chores - moving the cows to their daytime pasture, letting the chickens out of the Moop and making sure they had feed and water, feeding the calves.  Then I decided to go to Indy spur of the moment to visit my daughter and her family.  It was a good trip.  We needed to see one another. 

There will be plenty of time for farming tomorrow.

I'm not sure of the chicken count, since Clay buttoned them up and it was too late to call him when I got home.  I am assuming there are still three calves, since I am sure I would have heard from the milker if there had been a problem.  And I know for sure that there is one white cat.  I shall assume that all is well.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sex and the Country

I am back from my weekend in the woods.  We had a wonderful time - lots of walking, even more talking, good food, good friends.  I am already looking forward to next fall's trip.  Alayna and Mary are both good photographers, so many of our memories are captured. 

The first leg of our vacation was the journey to the cabin, packed in a van with coolers, sleeping bags and overnight cases.  No matter that it was a tight fit; the drive was lovely.  Last year it rained the whole time.  This year was pay back.  It was beautiful, sunny, just warm enough, nice breeze, and the trip included lunch on a Lake Michigan beach. 

On Saturday, we took a long walk to a small river where the salmon were running upstream.  Last year we saw a few big salmon floating in the small pools that line the shore.  This year, the salmon are coming upstream earlier due to the cooler weather so there was plenty of action.  While we were hanging over the bridge rail hoping to spot one, suddenly there were three!  And then three more!!  We following them to the other side of the bridge where we noticed another three or four.  They were hard to count - they move fast - but there must have been at least ten of them.

I expected them to be on their way shortly, but they had found THE place.  We got a running commentary from our host Glenda, who has learned much about the mating habits of salmon in her many years of visiting the cabin and fishing the stream.  While her account differs a bit from my search for more information on the internet, what she told us was perfectly in sync with what we saw, so I'm betting on Glenda.

We were fortunate to be there at the magic moment.  The females (and there appeared to be only two in the whole group) quit swimming upstream and each began looking for a place to lay her eggs.  One went to the edge of a shallow pool that was heavily shaded by overhanging branches.  She was hard to see, so our attention turned to the other.  She focused on a shallow, sunny area with lots of small rocks in the sand.  Can you see her in the picture?  Maybe the rocks hold the eggs in place?  Don't know.  But that is the spot she chose and our view was spectacular!  We were all mesmerized, hanging over the rail to watch as she swished her tail around to make her nest. 

The males were vying with one another to be the one to spread his sperm on the eggs.  The desire to reproduce is extremely strong, and it was quite evident as we watched them fighting for the privilege.  There was one in particular on whom I was putting my money.  He repeatedly chased away the other males, then quickly swam back to the female's nest.  He was young, as evidenced by his solid dark gray color.  Glenda says that as the fish get older, they develop white spots, until eventually, if they live long enough, they are completely silver.

To have some idea of just how important reproduction is to them, this is a dance of death for all except the resulting babies (called fry), and only about two percent of the fry will survive to adulthood.  The female lays her eggs; the male fertilizes them; they both die.  That is it.  But before they die, they assure the continuity of their species by making their last act that of procreation.  I read that Atlantic salmon will cycle back to the ocean and come back a second time on rare occasion.  But almost always, it is one trip and that is it.  They are two to four years old when they make what is most likely their one and only journey upstream.

After their reproductive cycle, a  few of them will be caught by salmon fishermen and become food for humans.  Those that are not caught will die and become fodder for other fish, wildlife that forage along the shores of these north woods streams, and the soil.  We often forget, or do not know, that the soil too is a living thing, and it must be fed or it will die.  And so the flesh and bones of dead salmon sink into the soil, feeding the microbes and becoming part of the rich black humus that supports life.

So that is sex in the country - wild, beautiful, awe-inspiring and often deadly.

On another note, count is still 15 chickens and 3 calves.  The cat, Holly Berry, was nowhere to be found when I got home, but she showed up at bedtime.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Now or never . . .

I am going away for a couple of days, at last making some time for myself.  The house sitter is lined up, so that is a big load off, but I'm a bit stressed.  I realized this morning that I am out of cat food.  The big light bulb is out in the milking parlor and there are no spares on the shelf.  Found a note from the milker saying we are about out of filters.  One of the deer hunters is coming out to mow pastures tomorrow and I just remembered I have to get gas for the big Farmall tractor.  No compromising on any of this stuff - it HAS to get done before I leave. 

Then there is the worry of emergencies while I am away.  I will be where my cell cannot get reception.  When I went to my class reunion, I was a few miles from the hall where we were meeting when I got a call from the milker.  She asked, "Are you about home?"

"Yes," I said, smiling with anticipation at seeing my old classmates.

"Good.  One of the cows bolted into the equipment area and broke a couple of pipes.  The vacuum pump is down!"  Then I realized she didn't mean "back home," but home to the farm. Oh, dear!  She had called a couple of repairmen, but no one was available.  I told her to get out the Duck Tape.  Works every time!  But this is just the sort of thing I worry about when I am not there.  I can only hope that last weekend was not a warm up for what will go wrong this weekend. 

We will be staying in a very rustic cabin buried in the woods in Michigan.  We don't spend much time indoors during daylight hours.  At night it is eat, play cards, do tai chi, and talk-talk-talk.  It is definitely a decompression weekend, and that means no schedule.  Also, no hot water!  But there is a stove and a nice big stock pot to heat water in, and we get by. 

Well, I must get on with tonight's tasks.  Probably should start to lay out what I am going to take along.  I'm leaving from market tomorrow, gone for two nights, so I will not be here for the nightly count.  But tonight, there are 15 chickens and 3 calves.  So all is well on the farm, at least for now.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Collards, Broccoli, Cabbage and Kale revisited . . .

Collards, Broccoli, Cabbage and Kale

Oh, my garden, my darling garden,
How doth thou grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells?
I must say no.
They are nowhere to be found.

Oh, my garden, my darling garden,
What groweth with zest?
Prickly cukes and dark green zukes?
They're not the best.
Their harvest doth not abound.

Oh, my garden, my darling garden,
What is so green?
Collards, broccoli, cabbage and kale,
Their leaves agleam.
Four fantastic vegetables found.

September 2009

Tonight's head count - 15 chickens, 3 calves. All is well. :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cleaning the Moop

Today the neighbor boy, Clay, came down to do some more weeding in my flower garden in front of the atrium windows.  I never did get around to planting anything in there, but it has provided quite a few flowers this year, some purple coneflowers, several different kinds of rudbeckia, and one mum that persists in blooming every year since I planted it in 2002.  He came to the door and told me he was done.   "What do you want me to do next?" he asked.  He should have said, "Well, I'm leaving."

We went to the Moop, short for the Movable Chicken Coop for those just joining this blog, to give it a thorough cleaning.  If you've ever cleaned out a chicken coop, you know that he should have left when he had the chance.  It is in the back of an old panel truck, wheel wells sticking out of the walls, a trough down the middle of the floor, and very close quarters - lots of nooks and crannies to clean in and around.  A half hour with a small broom rake, a snow shovel and a spade, and it was as clean as it was going to get.  Next, we spread fresh wood shavings inside the Moop, cleaned up the waterers, refilled the feeders, sprinkled some grit in a pie pan, and then were off to the compost pile with a wheelbarrow full of feathers, old wood shavings and chicken manure.

Clay still had a little time to work before he had to leave, so we headed for the herb garden.  I went out with him, since he is not always sure of the difference between a weed and an herb.  It is companionable working with Clay.  Our conversations are interesting.  Clay tends to take everything literally and frequently wants to know why I ask him to do something a certain way.  I have learned that I must be very careful when I give him instructions.  Tonight as we weeded together, he asked, "Is this the herb garden?"

"Yes," I said.

"I thought it was, but the other night you said you wanted me to work in the herb garden, but then when I got here, you pointed to the flower bed by the house, so I thought that was the herb garden." 

"Well, I changed my mind," I answered.

"How do you decide what I am going to do each night?" Clay asked.

"I walk out of the house and whatever bothers me the most is what I ask you to work on."

"I see," he said.  "So that is why we did the chicken coop tonight, because it bothered you.  How often do we have to do that?"

"About every two weeks," I said.  "It's nasty work, but it's so nice and clean now, and smells so fresh."

"It still smells like a chicken house."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Chickens and cheese & an update on Jack

No, this is not about making chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and rosemary.   Today I made a large batch of Gouda cheese.  So what do chickens have to do with making cheese?  Stay with me and I will explain.

Using nearly five gallons of milk leaves a lot of whey in the pan by the time the cheese is in the press. The yield for Gouda cheese, according to my cheese book, is only about 12% for whole milk. Given that our raw milk has about twice the cream that grocery store whole milk has - 3% vs. 6% - yield may be as high as 15%.   The cheese making pan was a quart shy of five gallons, which is about 40 lbs. of milk, with a yield somewhere between five and six pounds of cheese.  All the rest is whey, a milky liquid that is packed with protein.  This is what gets dehydrated and packed into little envelopes so you can pay big bucks for whey protein powder in the health food store.  That's okay - it's good stuff.  Better to make something with the leftovers than to throw them away, don't you think?  But it's good to know where your food is coming from, and now you know about whey drinks.

We lived near a cheese factory when I was a kid, and my dad had this truck that had an over-sized wooden barrel in place of the box.  He went to the cheese factory two or three times a week for whey.  The pigs loved it!  They fattened up much faster on all of that tasty protein!  Pigs thrive on concentrated protein.  They  are not ruminants, like cows, and they can't live on grass.  They are omnivores and will also eat meat, given the opportunity.

Okay, I am finally getting to the chickens.  My chickens love whey, too.  I filled a pie plate with some of it this afternoon, and soon 15 chickens were fighting for their place at the plate!  It was shiny clean when I looked in the pen a few minutes ago.  Chickens are omnivores, too.  A lot of people don't know that.  They think that chickens will thrive on grain.  Not so.  You know those store bought eggs with the pale yolks?  Those are "grain eggs."  Look for nice, deep yellow yolks, and you know that you are getting an egg that is packed with nutrition.  The chicken has had the diet that it was designed for, eating grass and weeds and many meaty bugs.  When I was growing up, I remember my mom throwing a bone from a blade roast over the fence to the chickens every now and again.  They polished it clean!  In addition to leftover roasts and bugs, they will eat each other.  Not only are chickens omnivores, they are also cannibals, which is why I removed the runt from the flock.  They are merciless!  If there is a chicken with an injury, she too needs to be moved away from the flock before she becomes the evening meal. 

When we talk about the food "chain," it implies a linear chain, with most people believing that humans are at the top of it.  I am reading a very good (and sometimes disturbing) book right now in which the author points out that it is not a chain, but a circle, and that every living thing is at one time or another the prey and the predator.  Farming - and I am referring to an integrated farm with crops and animals - brings that to our attention often.  It is hard for me to lose a chicken or a cow.  The hawks who attacked my chickens have to eat, too.  If it had not been my chickens, then it would have been ground squirrels or mice or rabbits.  When I thought Jack might die yesterday, I was very disturbed.  But he will die at some point, for some reason, and then he will be the prey of the tiny bacteria that will turn what is left into carbon, which in turn will feed the soil, which grows the crops that feed us.  And so the circle is complete and never ending.

Enough on this subject.  I will move to another and end on a happy note.  Tonight there are 15 chickens and three calves.  Those are both good numbers.  Jack is doing fine, and the vet didn't have to come out.  Based on my description of Jack's manure and his behavior, he believes it was a bit of constipation, which might have caused some intestinal cramping.  Jack got a cocktail of molasses, warm water, electrolytes, and castor oil for breakfast.  Yum!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Zelda, Essie and Jack

This morning I hurried back from Illinois, where I had stayed with my friend Marilyn after our class reunion. No time to dawdle over morning coffee.  We had said our good-byes the night before.  The cows needed to be moved to their daytime paddock and the calves fed a few flakes of good alfalfa hay, so I hit the road in the dark and the fog about 5:30 am.

When I went out to the calf paddock, two of the calves, Zelda and Essie, came running.  Jack was nowhere to be found.  He's the little guy in the picture, taken the day he was born, April 7, 2009.  I finally saw that Jack was lying in a corner at the far west end of the paddock.  I threw down the hay for the other two and went over to check on him.  He wouldn't get up.  I prodded him until he rose and headed across the pen towards the hay.  About 20 feet from the hay, he fell to his front knees, then onto his side where he lay with his head on the ground.

I ran to the house to call Mat, a great vet but also a busy one.  He was not available to come out until tomorrow, but I had a calf down!  What should I do?  He told me to take his temp (no thermometer, have to add that to my list of things to buy).  Okay, in the absence of the thermometer, he said to give him four aspirins and electrolytes.  I called Kathy, who is always there in an emergency, and asked her to bring electrolytes.  She said she would be there in 15 minutes.

I ran back to the pen with a sticky concoction of four aspirins, Para-Tack (an organic parasite concoction, just in case) and organic molasses.  By the time I got out there, I was relieved to see that he was holding his head up.  But he refused my sweet offering.  Hydrating him seemed like a good idea, so I put two ounces of organic molasses into a nipple pail of warm water and took it to him.  To my delight, he immediately stood up and began drinking hungrily.  One of the other calves, Zelda, took over the bucket.  I managed to separate Jack from the other two calves by luring Jack and Zelda to the nursing pen with the nipple bucket, then luring Zelda back to the paddock with the bucket sans Jack, since she was the more aggressive of the two.  Now Jack was alone in the nursing pen, where I gave him the last of the molasses water.  He was a bit unsteady on his feet, but he munched on grass once the bucket was empty.  I brought him some hay smeared with the aspirin, Para-Tack, molasses concoction, but he was having none of it.

About that time, Kathy arrived.  She is so good at details!  She read the label on the molasses and discovered it was probably the best thing I could have given him.  One tablespoon provides about 20% of daily potassium for an adult.  Jack weighs between 150 and 200 pounds.  So we gave him another helping of molasses in water.  He was no longer wobbling.  He drank down the bucket of molasses water with its precious potassium, then went over to the hay and began devouring that as well.

All seems to be well.  I will check on him from time to time throughout the day, and I have a call in to Mat.  He'll come out tomorrow if we have any doubts about Jack's health.

Here is another count for you - 3 calves.

As of Sunday morning, there are 15 chickens and 3 calves.  I don't know how to make a "wobbly smile" emoticon, which is the only kind of smile I can muster right now.  I am still worried about Jack.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Moving manure

Our milk production started to drop off during a dry spell.  My neighbor Steve was down for a visit to discuss a sick cow.  He is the farmer we bought our first three cows from, and the cow in question was one we got from him.  We do rotational grazing, and I was complaining that it is hard to keep up rotation when you know you are going to have to put them on bad paddocks.  Bad paddocks mean lower milk production.  However, I need their manure on the bad paddocks or they will never be GOOD paddocks!

He gave me some good advice.  He pointed out that cows pee and poop a lot during the night, but they don't eat much.  Now that was news to me!  I never went out and watched.  Following Steve's reasoning, since they are not filling up the alimentary tract during the night, they pee and poop less during the day.  To sum up - nighttime, not much grazing, lots of manure; daytime, lots of grazing (given enough fodder, a cow eats about six to nine hours a day), not much manure.

Here is how you put these fascinating facts to your advantage.  Put them on bad paddocks at night, good paddocks during the day. That daytime munching on a good paddock means that they will ingest good grass with plenty of minerals and vitamins.  Then when they are moved to the poor paddock at night, they will carry that nutrition to the nighttime paddock, where they will very efficiently deposit some it on the ground.  Now isn't that clever?  I love grass feeding.  Manure is being moved around the farm without using one drop of fossil fuel!

Friday, September 11, 2009

This morning in the garden

The weather has been spectacular!  It was great to be in the garden early this morning.  I picked several bunches of Russian kale for a customer who dries it in her dehydrator.  I've never heard of doing that, but she says she would rather dry it than freeze or can it.   I picked a little extra for the cows.  Kale is loaded with Vitamin C.  It is interesting to see which cows go for it.  Rosie is always first in line.  Sometimes she bellows as she runs across the paddock when she sees me with the kale.  Others won't have a thing to do with it.  In general, animals will self dose, so I'm pretty sure that Rosie needs Vitamin C.

While I was in the garden, I checked my cabbages.  They are the best I have ever grown.  One of them is about ripe for the picking.  It's huge, and I'm thinking I can get at least two quarts of kraut out of it, maybe more.  For those who have never made kraut, two quarts may not sound like a very big cabbage, but after the cabbage is shredded (I like mine shredded, not chopped), then it's put into a large container and pounded down to a small fraction of its size, with a hefty sprinkling of salt thrown in from time to time.  Then it must be packed tightly into the fermenting jar so that the natural juices cover the fresh cabbage.  Pretty soon, that huge container of fluffy shredded cabbage is reduced to a quart or two of goodness.  In less than a week, it is great sauerkraut.  I've kept it in the fridge for more than a year, and it just gets better with age.

And speaking of getting better with age, tomorrow night is my 50th high school class reunion.  This evening I was going to do another batch of tomato sauce, but I decided to take it easy.  I haven't seen most of my classmates since we got together 15 years ago.  I'm a little nervous about my rough hands and the freckles on my face and arms from all the sun.  I don't pay much attention to how I look anymore, but this reunion has brought me up short.  I was going to lose ten pounds, instead I put on a couple.  All things considered, I figure the best thing I can do for my looks is to get a good night's sleep.  So no tomato sauce tonight -- I'm off to bed early.

The chicken count is still at 15.  :)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The end product

It has been a busy night.  Three days ago, I noticed there was a quart of raw cream in the fridge that was getting a bit old.  I stirred about a third cup of yogurt with live cultures into the cream, then let it sit in a bowl on my granite counter top right over the dishwasher, which provides some heat to speed up the fermenting process.  The next day it had thickened nicely.  Then I refrigerated it until I had time to make the butter. 

Cultured cream gets REALLY thick.  I used a big soup ladle to ladle it into my food processor.  Then I turned it on and kept my ears peeled while doing other kitchen stuff.  When you do this all the time, you can hear when you have butter.  It can take a minute or five minutes or anything in between.  When I heard the "butter sound," I poured the contents of the processor bowl into a metal strainer, catching the butter in the strainer and the buttermilk in a two cup measure.  The buttermilk went into the fridge for buttermilk biscuits.  Then the butter went back into the processor with some ice water.  I processed it for about a minute to wash the butter, then strained it again and put the washed butter into a chilled bowl.  I used a wooden paddle to push out all of the water.  This is the boring part.  I also worked a little salt into it because it lasts a little longer with some salt, not that butter ever lasts very long around here.  So now some cream that was past making ice cream and definitely couldn't be used in coffee is fantastic cultured butter.  It is unbelievable good, very rich flavor, much better than sweet cream butter.   Talk about makeovers, this has got to win first prize!

Farming is not just milking the cows; it is also making good use of the end product.  And it isn't just growing tomatoes; it's making good things with them too.  Tonight I started making tomato sauce as soon as the butter was done.  I use a nifty tool that makes it very easy to prep the tomatoes - did 20 lbs. of tomatoes while I watched Jeopardy.  I cook it down to about a third.  I was left with six pints to can.  Next batch, I will pick 25 lbs. so that I have seven pints so the canner is full.  This is a just-in-time project.  I used my last pint of tomato sauce from last year's crop on Monday.

Today's farming took place mainly in the kitchen.  What better place?

Oh, and by the way, there are still 15 chickens.  :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Good news, bad news.

Last night I stayed in town after market to attend a meeting.  I looked at the clock and figured that the hour and a half round trip did not justify a half hour at home.  That's not even enough time to skin a peck of tomatoes!  So I caught a quick bite and sat in the parking lot at the library, listening to the last of an excellent audio book while I munched on my carry-out supper.  By then, it was time to go into the meeting.

Good meeting!  I'm on the board of the Michiana Organic Growers Cooperative (MOGC, affectionately nicknamed Moxie) and we were working on the structure of committees.  Afterward we got into a lively discussion about grass farming and renewing the soil.  We were all pretty much agreeing with one another at high volume.  All of a sudden I realized it was dark.  The chickens!

I hurried to my car and sped home.  Of course they were already roosting in the Moop, so I did a count.  If you are following this blog, then you know the magic number is 16.  There were 14.  I couldn't even write about it last night.  Too upset.  I just hoped that they had escaped and were roosting safely outside the pen.

When I got up this morning it was still pitch dark.  I had plenty to do before the sun was up, but as soon as I saw daylight, I rushed outside to see if there were two chickens waiting to get back in the pen.  There was one girl!  Cause for celebration!!  I called for the other, looked in some bushes, and finally resigned myself to the fact that now there are 15.  I thought I had stopped up their escape route, but obviously I hadn't.  When I checked the spot I had fixed, I saw most of a chicken wing.  Poor little thing did herself in escaping.  There is an old rusty roll of barbed wire just outside the pen there, and she must have gotten caught up in it.  Some critter helped himself or herself to the remains, I'm sure.  That is as it should be.  She didn't go to waste.

I piled a bunch of firewood over the place where she escaped.  Time to order the electric netting.  It is just so expensive, and I was hoping that my makeshift pen would do.  But I don't want to lose any more of the chicks.  If you want to see a picture of a Golden Campine, go here.  They are beautiful birds!  Wish I still had 26 of them.  Sigh . . .

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Collards, broccoli, cabbage and kale

A few of my customers buy market baskets each week. Eric buys a $40 basket of certified organic vegetables, my choice of items, although I do know what he likes and try to accommodate him. Today he got 20 lbs. of tomatoes since I know he is canning, Russian kale, collards, about a dozen hot peppers of various kinds, zucchini, lots of patty pan squash (one of his favorites) and some leeks. I should have a cabbage or two for him next week so he can make more sauerkraut.

It took me about a half hour to pick and put his basket together. Nice to earn $40 in a half hour. It is easy to forget what went into that harvest at this time of year, when the garden is overflowing and the heavy mulch is keeping the weeds down.

  1. In the spring, bending over seedling trays dropping individual seeds in each cell.  Not so bad for flat seeds like tomatoes and peppers.  I have a handy little gizzy-whiz that allows me to drop one seed at a time into each cell.  However, those round seeds are a pain!  That would be collards, broccoli, cabbage and kale.  The gizzy-whiz has a little shoot that the seeds travel down on their way to the seedling tray, and the round seeds go flying down the shoot like a kid on a water slide!  There is nothing to do but to shake a few seeds into my palm and pick them up one at a time to plant.
  2. Tending the greenhouse plants.  Watering is the big thing, and my little greenhouse doesn't have an automatic watering system.  Too much water will kill 'em.  Too little water will kill 'em.  I do the best I can and try not to mourn too long over the ones that don't make it. 
  3. Transplanting.  Popping those little seedlings out of the trays to "pot up" into 2" pots can only be characterized as a pain in the neck - literally.  Sometimes I even wear a neck brace while I am potting up seedlings.  However, here is where the round seeds win.  All of those collard, broccoli, cabbage and kale seedlings can be planted directly into the garden from the seedling trays.  No intermediate growing season in 2" pots in the greenhouse.  They can withstand spring's chill and a little abuse while handling, even when they are very small.
  4. Planting in the garden.  I use heavy mulch, and there is plenty left over the following spring.  I pull back last year's mulch to plant the seedlings, then tuck the mulch back around them.  Now all there is to do is to take out any weeds that grow up close to the plant and keep the mulch coming.  I use grass clippings, old hay out of the barn, and straw.  The neighbor boy comes down for about an hour most mornings during the summer and helps with that.
  5. Picking.  Not really as easy as it sounds - especially if it is something like green beans.  $15 a pound is not enough for those things!  It takes a long time to pick a pound of beans.  The hardest thing with the tomatoes - all delicate heirloom strains with thin skin - is being careful not to damage them while harvesting.  But of course here is where the collards, broccoli, cabbage and kale shine yet again.  One whack with a butcher knife and a head of cabbage is lying on the ground.  Ten snapped leaves and a rubber band from my wrist to secure them make a nice bunch of collards or kale.  Snapping off heads of broccoli and dropping them into a cellophane bag as I dance down the row isn't exactly work. 
  6. Watching plants die.  :(  Squash, melon and pumpkin plants are notorious for dying before their time, while they are still heavy with fruit.  There is some kind of worm that gets into the stems and does them in.  I hear that you can slice open the stem, pull out the worm and tape the stem back together -- the plant MAY survive.  I just simply do not have time for that.  A bug that kills a plant?  That never happens with collards, broccoli, cabbage and kale.  There may be some worm holes in the leaves here and there, but I figure if it is good enough for the worms to eat, then it is good enough for me!
Okay, I'm convinced.  Next year my whole garden is going to be collards, broccoli, cabbage and kale.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Flies, chickens and hawks

There are few ways to deter flies in an organic dairy herd.  I decided to get some chickens so that they could follow the cows from paddock to paddock and take care of the fly eggs in the cow poop.  And I'd have eggs to boot!  With the help of members of our milk association, we converted an old mail truck to a moving chicken coop so that the Moving Coop, or The Moop for short, and the chickens could go wherever the cows did.  There are ten nests in The Moop and roosts for at least 100 chickens.  I bought 25 chicks - all supposed to be pullets.  (Pullets are girls, the future laying hens - and no, you do not need a rooster to make a hen lay an egg.)  They sent one extra chick, so being a hopeless optimist, I thought I would be getting eggs from 26 hens come November.  Hah!

First, the runt got beat up by the others and died.  Then one got caught in some tape we used to tape together two furniture boxes for our brooder, and a third just simply disappeared!  Never found the remains.  So now there were 23, and of course when one runt was gone, there was another.  They were doing a number on her - she wasn't going to last long - so I scooped her up and took her to my bedroom closet, where she lived in a box for the next two months.  I named her Peep.  Peep was lonely - she missed the flock even though they were bent on killing her.  She loved being held and made many little contented noises while she nestled against my chest each evening.  Then I got the idea to get a mirror for her.  The good news was that she was no longer lonely.  The bad news was that so far as our evening lovefests were concerned, she was having none of it anymore.
I moved the big chicks from the greenhouse brooding box to The Moop and moved it to a pasture.  Success!  I moved Peep to the brooder box the flock had just vacated. I discovered that two of the pullets were roosters, evidenced by their large combs.  Okay, 21 hens including Peep - that is a fair number!  These Golden Campines are supposed to lay five eggs a week, so that is 105 eggs each week.  Did I mention that I am an optimist?

I devised a plan to re-integrate Peep into the flock.  Instead of putting her into The Moop with the other chicks, where I feared they would kill her, I moved the smallest chick from the flock into her brooder box in the greenhouse.  Within a couple of days, they had adjusted well to one another. So I brought another chick to the brooder.  Then after three more days, I took all three back to The Moop.  Did you know that chickens that scatter madly at your approach in the daylight hours will let you pet them and hold them after dark?  That made chicken transport an easy job.  Peep became one of the flock again.

The chicks were loving the freedom in the pasture.  But then I saw a hawk circling.  That night, the count was 22 chicks – one gone.  Each night I would count and my heart would be in my throat as I hoped for the same number that had roosted in The Moop the previous night.

Then one night, there were 21.  Three days later there were 20.  But Peep was still there.  Then I was down to 19, and this time it was my little Peep.  I was angry.  I borrowed my neighbor's 20 gage Remington, which I fired two or three times a day, and for three days, the number remained at 19.  Then there were 18.  The hawk had it figured out - just wait until that woman drives away and then lunch is served!  Last Tuesday I lost two, one of the roosters and another pullet.  That did it.

So much for chickens running free and cleaning up the fly population in the pastures.  I know when a plan needs to be abandoned!  Off to Tractor Supply for T-posts and 7' deer netting.  With the chickens still inside, I moved The Moop to my side yard and constructed a fence around it.  Then I took fishing line and wove it back and forth from post to post, creating a cobweb of line overhead.  I read that the line will deter hawks because they will not dive into an area from which they fear then cannot make a quick and easy escape.  And then finally, with the pen done and the line overhead, I let the chicks back out, all 16 of them.  I heard a hawk screeching a short time later.  I saw two circling and screeching Saturday night.  Obviously their excellent vision is not just a rumor.  They see the fish line and they are leaving the flock alone.  Fresh chick has been removed from the menu.

The new pen was constructed last Wednesday morning.  Tonight, when I buttoned up the little critters and did the head count, there were still 16.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I'm a newbie at blogging, but here goes . . .

How to go from the corporate world (Sales Manager, Aerospace) to farmer in six easy steps:
  1. Got an opportunity for early retirement and a chance to spend more time on my 82 acre lot.
  2. A spreadsheet says I can get by on $800 a month in addition to retirement benefits.
  3. A booth at a farmers market will provide that $800 a month.
  4. Wouldn't a greenhouse be fun?  And I could sell the plants at the farmers market.
  5. The raw milk people needed a new place for their cows (organic).  I can do that!
  6. Chickens.  Gotta have chickens.
At that point, my accountant told me that I would have to start filing income tax as a farmer - it is no longer a hobby.  Okay, so I'm a farmer.  I could have told you that about three years ago - or maybe 60 years ago.
I was born and raised on a farm, married a farmer.  My husband Ed and I had one of the top ten dairy herds in Illinois, beautiful Guernseys. It was a hard life, but I loved it.  Unfortunately, for reasons having absolutely nothing to do with farming, the marriage didn't survive.  
Fast forward to 2003 - early retirement, dawdling around on this 82 acre piece of land.  I had let it go fallow, had a small garden and was mostly raising weeds and ticks.  Boredom set in.  First the greenhouse, then expanding the booth at the farmers market, then bringing two cows here when we lost our lease at the neighbor's farm.  I had to get organic certification to have them here, so I certified the whole farm, even the woods.  And the greenhouse.  And built a certified organic barn - yes, the building materials must be different!  No treated lumber anywhere the cows can get their tongues.
That's enough history.  From now on, this blog will tell a daily story about what goes on here on this 82 acre piece of paradise.