Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Barn With A View

Before we even moved into this farm we bought three large double-pane windows we found on Craigslist, thinking they would be useful someday for a greenhouse.

Today Rog got all ambitious and installed them in the south wall of the barn. We have been mulling over the idea of someday transforming that corner of the barn into a greenhouse, but for now the wall of glass will provide some nice solar gain and natural light.
Sara and Cadence provided muscle power.
As soon as the windows were in, the cows gathered around to check out the improvements (they usually don't seem to like change.) Lariat was intrigued by her reflection in the window, staring for a long time and mooing at it.
Reuben and Lasso watched as Rog cleaned the inside of the windows and then smudged their wet noses against the outside he had just cleaned.

I am so amazed by Rog's handyman talents! The new windows are magical. I dragged an old overstuffed chair next to the windows - I envision it will be a good spot to settle in this winter with a mug of hot tea(probably in my warm jacket and boots), soak up a little sunshine and watch the cows in the snowy pasture.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tom Foolery

We were overjoyed Saturday morning to have brilliant sunshine melting Friday's snow. It was a warm enough weekend that we were able to accomplish a significant portion of our Autumn To-Do List.
First on the list was cutting up that big limb that blocked our driveway.
We cleaned out the west end of the barn for a big load of hay to feed the cows this winter. (A friend happened by at precisely the right time to help unload the hay--thanks Phil!) We cleared out miscellaneous construction materials from the north side of the barn in order to protect a load of straw and corn and create a winter shelter for poultry. A couple of turkeys were mesmerized by their reflections in some old windows leaning against a tree.
The turkeys are getting a bit feisty now. We were surprised to discover the females seem to spat more than the males. Here are two females in the act of neck-wrestling. Sometimes one will get overly vicious and the other hen will tuck her head under a male turkey's wing for protection.
This tom is at the top of our flock's pecking order --he can turn his head SO vividly blue and red, and irresistably attractive. The turkeys would probably be mortified for us to tell you this, but on occasion have seen a tom accidently bite his own snood when gobbling. They also sometimes trip on their own wing-tips when they are struttng their stuff.
The toms look huge when they fluff and puff themselves up. Male bronze-breasted turkeys can reach up to 40 pounds with a 6-foot wingspan --we think ours are about 30 pounds now.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Little Taste of What's To Come

On Friday we were forecast to get a few snow flurries, but I don't think anybody anticipated the 4 inches of heavy, wet snow we actually got. Yes, it was pretty, but at the same time a bit dismaying, since we have only had a few nice fall days so far this year.
Most of the trees haven't dropped their leaves yet, and the combined weight of the leaves and all that snow was too much for many of them. A large limb broke off a huge silver maple by the barn, totally blocking our driveway. Sara was out feeding her pigs and heard the crack and the crash.
If you didn't notice them in the previous photo, the turkeys were enjoying shelter from the snow in the fallen foliage. They were funny--cocking their heads and looking up to the sky as if trying to figure out where this cold white stuff was coming from.
Snow falling on the chicken coop, hens cozily inside.
Snow sifted upon the open barn door.
I walked out to the woods for a few wintery photos, followed by the turkeys.
The big rock in the snow. I could hear branches snapping and falling throughout the woods and decided it might not be the safest place for a photo session just then.
At first the pigs weren't sure they wanted to climb out of their nice dry pile of straw inside the pig shed, but they came out to check out the snow.
They followed me as I walked the perimeter of their fenced yard knocking the snow off the wires. Snow had weighted the electric wires down to the ground and the pigs could have easily walked over them and out if they wanted to.
Lasso, the Dexter steer calf, hung out inside the loafing shed rather than get all wet in the snow.
By late Saturday afternoon the snow ended and was already beginning to melt. The first chore on our weekend To Do List was to cut up and remove this bough Saturday morning. Happily, by Saturday afternoon the snow was gone.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Big Pig Day is Set

Our second big moment of truth as farmers is coming next week - we will harvest the pigs. Our first moment of truth was harvesting the chickens. But it is not nearly as easy to know and become fond of 200 roosters as individuals as it is two sweet sows. Of course this is all part of the cycle of farm life, and we did get these pigs knowing that they would be food, and we certainly can't afford to keep them as pets - but still, it will be hard.

My bedtime reading the past week has been "The Compassionate Carnivore," by Catherine Friend (a sheep farmer from nearby Zumbrota) and it has been the perfect preparation for this aspect of farming. The book is fascinating, compelling and not preachy. Friend's four steps to being a more compassionate carnivore are:
1. Pay attention! Know where your meat comes from.
2. Waste less meat (Friend estimates that the amount of meat Americans throw away every day = 7500 cattle, 18,000 hogs and 1 million chickens. How can anyone, even a carnivore, think it is ok for this many animals to be slaughtered, then wasted?)
3.Replace factory meat with meat from animals raised humanely.
4. Choose meatless meals over meat from animals raised in factories.

This issue is much broader than just providing animals with a good life. Eating as a compassionate carnivore supports local farmers and strengthens farmer-community relationships. Raising animals on small-scale, sustainable farms is also much easier on the environment than concentrating them in huge feedlots on factory farms.
There is no question that Sara's pigs have led a most pleasant life -- exploring a quarter acre of woods; wallowing in a huge mud puddle of their own construction; feasting on 3 meals a day of antibiotic-free grain, garden produce, and fresh milk from the neighbor's dairy; hobnobbing with a flock of friendly chickens who chose to reside with them, and enjoying daily conversations and belly-rubs from Sara.

Our much-more experienced farmer-hunter-neighbor will assist us with the slaughter, right here on the farm. The pigs won't be herded onto a truck, scared and stressed. Their lives will be idyllic up to the very last minute. We will thank them for the great enjoyment they have given us as farmers and for the sustenance they are about to provide (and I know I will cry anyway.)

These pigs have been Sara's project from the very beginning,and she is being very professional and matter-of-fact about everything. She is now taking orders. If you are interested, here are the details she sent out:

I will be harvesting my two pigs at the end of the month, and am offering half and whole hogs for sale for $2/lb hanging weight. This is an economical way to stock your freezer: I expect each pig to have a hanging weight somewhere around 215 lbs, and to yield around 170 lbs. of meat, so a half hog (around 85 lbs. of meat) will cost around $215, and the per-pound price for the meat would work out to around $2.50-2.60, not including the cost of processing.

The pigs will be processed at Burt's Meats in Eyota. Burt's charges $0.37/lb hanging weight for custom butchering, plus $0.25/lb for any meat you want ground, and $0.85 for any meat you want smoked. They have a huge variety of sausage seasonings and curing options. You would pay Burt's directly for the processing, and they'll do it to your specifications. (As an example, if you buy a 108 lb. half-hog, the butchering will cost you $40. If you want to smoke 30 lbs. of ham and bacon, add $25.50, and if you want to grind 10 lbs. for sausage, add $2.50, for a total processing fee of $68).

Just to give you an idea of the kinds and proportion of cuts that a hog yields, my pig book says a pig with a hanging weight of 180 lbs will yield about 44 lbs of ham, 36 lbs of loin chops, 12 lbs of picnic roasts, 13 lbs Boston butt roasts, 28 lbs bacon, and 7lbs spare ribs. (My pigs are a bit bigger than this).

The pigs have been raised on grain, milk, vegetable scraps, and forage, and have spent their lives in a large wooded enclosure with their own shed and swimming pool (although they usually preferred to dump it out and wallow in the mud). For pictures, check out the blog:

If you have any questions or would like to place an order, give a call.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Berry Bad Dilemma

Last weekend Cadence and I tackled cleaning up the garden for winter. While Cadence harvested the remaining potatoes, beets, and herbs (coriander, in this photo) I pulled out the 98 spent tomato plants, which can be seen in the background.
In addition to pulling out the vegetation, I removed the wooden stakes by each plant, untangled and wound up the red cords that I had woven through the plants as they grew to support them, pulled out the tall metal stakes, and rolled up the soaker hoses I had embedded in the mulch for watering but only used once. Seems like undoing the garden is more work than putting it in, but I guess that is because it is all in one big effort, not in stages.
The vines still held a lot of big tomatoes that had frozen, which I threw over the fence to the appreciative chickens, turkeys and geese. It was evident that if there had been even one more week of nice weather before the unseasonable cold, snow and endless rain set in, we would have harvested a lot more tomatoes--we surely would have surpassed 1000 lb. Our total tomato harvest this year was just over 900 lb.
We piled up all the vegetation from the nightshade family -tomatoes peppers, eggplants,potatoes and tomatillos - to be burned instead of composted, to avoid spreading disease to next year's crop. Today I burned the pile--but that was easier said than done. There was still a lot of moisture in the vegetation. BUt, we are forecast to have more rain so now seemed better than later.
Although our first year garden was a great success, one of the things I was a bit disappointed in not accomplishing was getting a raspberry patch started. But then, on Sunday I noticed an ad on Craigslist (the farmer's most valuable resource) from a woman who was overrun by raspberries and would give the plants away for the digging. Yesterday Sara and Cadence drove over and dug two baskets full. They are this summer's canes, which should bear fruit next year.
Today I planted 65 raspberry plants in three rows, six feet apart. They look beautiful! I had concluded that the best place to site them was in the former tomato bed, since none of the nightshade family can be planted there again for several years. However, this evening I pulled out my various resource books and looked up raspberries to find out what they would prefer for mulching and was dismayed to read that raspberries are susceptible to many of the same soil-borne diseses that tomatoes are... They should not be planted where tomatoes have grown in the previous 3 years (one book said 5 years.) Now what?!!?

If you have any raspberry-growing experience, I would love to hear your advice! Although my book advises not to plant raspberries where tomatoes have been, it also states that red raspberries are not as susceptible to verticillium wilt as black rasperries and blackberries are. The woman who gave us the plants assured us they are very healthy and productive, but unfortunately, I do not know what variety of berry it is and whether it is a resistant strain. On the optimistic side, we did not see any evidence of wilt in our tomatoes this year -- it was a totally new garden space that had never seen tomatoes before and we started all of our tomatoes from seed, not nursery stock, if that makes a difference. Although I really do not have time or energy to dig up and replant 65 raspberry plants, I would do it if the risk of disease is great. What do you think?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Here Comes the Sun!

We have scarcely seen any sun for a month. It was so heartening see the promise of sunshine burning through the fog this morning.
The cows were out greeting the morning, but frisked over for breakfast when they noticed me.
Dew hung on the electric fence wire.
Red maple leaves scattered on the groud were still outlined with frost.

The geese gave a sun salutation.
Perhaps the sunshine brought out the feistiness of the turkeys. I have never seen this before: Three toms engaged in a neck-wrestling contest! The object seemed to be the same as in thumb-wrestling: to wrap around and push the opponent down. It may have been all in good fun, but the mom in me thought, "it's fun until somebody gets hurt," and I distracted them with more breakfast. One thing about turkeys, they have very short attention spans.

We are supposed to have a pleasant fall weekend--a good thing because we have SO MUCH to do:
1. Clean up the garden; add layers of newspaper, manure, leaves, compost
2. Transplant raspberry and rhubarb bushes
3. Fall beehive maintenance(should have been done weeks ago but it was snowing!)
4. Aerate yard
5. Get loads of hay and straw
6. Clean chicken coop -expand coop area?
7. Fix Pig fencer
8. Clean, fill, hang birdfeeders
9. Organize barn and garage (haul load of construction scraps to demo landfill)
10. Install woodstove in granary & finish walls & insulation
...just to list a few tasks awaiting us...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chicken Carnage

This week we experienced our worst farming disaster so far. Monday morning, I was working in my office and suddenly heard frantic chicken squawking. I looked out the window to see a big black dog tearing a rooster apart. I hollered at the girls and we ran out and chased the dog away. It was too late for that chicken.

I was pretty sure the dog belonged to our neighors across the highway, so I went over and learned that, yes, it was their dog. The owner was very apologetic, paid for the chicken, and assured me she would keep her dog tied.

Early the next morning, Cadence woke us up urgently--the dog was back and was killing poultry. We jumped in our boots and coats, chased the dog off. We found feathers everywhere and five dead chickens scattered around the property. A few minutes later the owner drove in, searching for her dog, and saw the destruction herself. She was somber and sorry and promised to come back and settle up.
Cadence was very upset and especially worried about her beloved turkeys. The dog must have chased the turkeys--some were missing parts of their impressive tail spread. However, despite seeming vulnerable and ungainly, they are surprisingly strong (as I discovered the other night; when I picked up a female to remove her from the garden she whopped me in the face with a wing--I saw stars.) We were relieved that the turkeys were able to fend for themselves.

Last night the dog owner stopped back and paid for the dead chickens. Cadence accepted the payment, then offered the woman a chicken. She hesitated (perhaps thinking Cadence meant one of the chickens her dog had killed) but said yes, and Cadence gave her a processed bird from our freezer. This was not really the way we wanted to meet our neighbors! We hope they realize we won't harbor a grudge.

Our family is conflicted about whether we should have even accepted payment for the chickens. After all, it was an accident that the dog got out. On the other hand, now the neighbors know that we are trying to raise chickens for a profit and there is a financial incentive for them to be more vigilant about their dog. Granted, we have also lost many chickens to an owl, but at least the owl snatches one chicken in the night and does not terrorize the entire flock, killing birds just for fun. If our dogs killed a neighbor's livestock, I would insist on paying for it--although if our dogs just even chased our dairy farmer neighbor's cattle, I think he would have no qualms about shooting our dogs, even though he is our friend.

One of the moral dilemmas of being a farmer.

Monday, October 12, 2009

October Snow!!

Living in Minnesota, waking up to snow falling in October is not unheard of--but it usually waits until Halloween. I truly love snow, but geez, we haven't even had fall yet! I hope this is just one of Mother Nature's quirky pranks and we will still get some sunny autumn days so we can prepare for winter properly.
Today's snow was wet and sleetlike. The cows have sprouted a thick, fuzzy winter coat over the past few weeks, and they didn't seem to mind the snow much. They did demand extra hay, though.
The turkeys were rather soggy and bedraggled, which made them look a little cranky.
After feeding all the animals breakfast I walked out through the woods to admire our weekend's brush-clearing accomplishments.
I hope we still have a few nice days coming so I can transplant some native plants and scatter wildflower seeds around the big rock.

Buckthorn & Bonfires

Chilly fall weekends are perfect for...bonfires! Rog and I warmed up over the cold weekend by gathering up all the piles of buckthorn that we have weed-wrenched since last spring and setting them ablaze.
On Saturday, our industrious weekend couch-surfer, A., helped weed-wrench the grove of buckthorn that surrounded an amazing, huge rock at the edge of the woods.(Thanks, A!) Rog cut down the biggest specimens with the chainsaw.

Yesterday, Rog and I dismantled a huge pile of brush and demolition debris that came on our property and burned the burnable stuff - we got about 2/3 of the way through the pile. Now we have an unobstructed view of this impressive boulder, a glacial erratic rock that came down from the Canadian Shield According to our geologist friend Katherine, our erratic boulders are from a long ago (>300,000 years, perhaps as much as a million years ago) glaciation that came to the region from the northwest. [The latest glaciation, the Wisconsin Lobe -a mere 10,000 years ago - did not make it this far south and west in SE Minnesota.] It is a pretty magical rock --and now will provide a great vantage point for watching sunsets.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pumpkin Season

After two weeks of rain, rain, rain we finally got a couple days with sun. Sara and I have been feverishly harvesting the remaining veggies in the garden - eggplants, peppers, herbs, chard, winter squash and - mostly - sugar pie pumpkins.
We only planted about 6 hills, but they produced 147 perfect little pumpkins!
The range in size from 3/4 pound to 2 pounds, the smallest the size of a softball and the biggest about the size of a slightly deflated volleyball.
Last night, Sara spread them all out in the dining room to cure. My FB friend Sue, who is an expert farmer, spreads her pumpkins and squash out on newspapers in the sun to harden up --covering them with a sleeping bag at night if there is risk of frost. With so much rain -and snow forecast tomorrow - we decided to bring them in the house instead. I'll have a fan gently blowing on them for a couple days.
The pumpkins and a few squash and gourds now cover the table and outline the dining room floor. Can't wait to make these babies into pies and soups and roasted veggies...
Last night we got a hard frost, so we can finally be totally done with tomatoes!