Why Instagram

FullSizeRender.jpg

I prefer Instagram over other social media platforms because I see more of the accounts I follow and less clutter. The farm account follows local businesses, cooks and small farms like ours. My personal account is filled with wonderful pictures of dear friends and family. I love scrolling through images to track progress on projects and to catch the details that the poster may not think to mention. Our small place has few permanent structures so seeing how other farms manage their systems is very helpful. Following hashtags has expanded the list of like-minded small farms and local businesses I follow. The relatively small number of ads that I scroll through are a small price to “pay” for the pleasure of my own virtual small farm picture book. I don’t follow celebrities, but if I did,  I might create a third account to cut down on clutter in my farm and personal accounts.

I believe that pictures of the farm are the best way to share Lilac Hill. When I need to explain how or why we do something and an image is not enough, the farm blog gives me plenty of room to develop my ideas.

As we go forward, I will focus more of my social media efforts on the farm’s Instagram page. I hope you will check out lilachillfarm on Instagram.

French Potato and Green Bean Salad

While hovering over the pot of cooking potatoes for this dish (hovering because potatoes go from perfect to mushy in seconds), I thought about a comment from a recent conversation. What I understood from the speaker was that she  passed by the farmers’ market because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to buy without a recipe in hand. When we have company, I plan carefully and shop with menus in hand so I can enjoy our visitors. For everyday? I tend to just wing it. When it works, winging it can be delicious, but when it doesn’t, I am glad we are eating late because the patio table is dimly lit and we are just too hungry to fuss.

For this home cook inspiration comes from: food magazines, blogs and shows; restaurant menus; tradition or “my mother made this when...”; community, as in,”will you share this recipe with me?”; whatever is fresh at the farm stand and my children’s shared kitchen endeavors.

IMG_5931.JPG

I do have some basic tools in the kitchen so that “winging it” works out more often than not.

A well stocked pantry allows me to have flexibility. Our short list includes vinegars, salts, citrus, spices, capers, anchovy/anchovy paste, tomato paste, hard cheese, home canned broths, ginger, curry paste, hot sauces, fish sauce, garlic, and tamari.

The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg is a wonderful reference where you can search for flavors compatabile your particular ingredients, regional flavor profiles and recipe suggestions.

Good equipment. Although I am often reluctant to buy new things for the kitchen, I have added an Instapot, a spiralizer attachment for my mixer and a thin slicing blade for my food processor. I have used all but the blade at least once a week since I purchased them so they have earned their places on the shelf. Included on the usual list of kitchen tools, parchment paper and pans, is a drawer full of “food towels”  for drying just washed vegetables and fruits.

And last but not least, I have a family and group of friends willing to be adventurous, appreciative and kind when eating at our table. 

Farm economy

A dictionary tells me that one definition of economy is “careful management of available resources.”  Here at Lilac Hill there is a sort of dance between the management of the different animals and plants that optimizes my efforts to produce food sustainably.

Manure and the straw, shavings, or wood chips that catch it, are valuable because it improves soil fertility and tilth.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Yesterday I cleaned out the wood chip bedding that the geese and goslings lived on in the barn. 

FullSizeRender.jpg

I used the wood chips to mulch the vegetables and the new blueberry bushes and blackberry canes.

FullSizeRender.jpg

The ewes are grazing this barn side paddock and they are clipping the greens to the perfect height for the geese. Both the sheep and geese are grazers, getting most of their nutrition from the mix of grass, legumes and “weeds” and they leave behind manure to fertilize the plants for the next round of grazing.

Summer 2018

From our website: At Lilac Hill Farm we raise grass-fed lamb, goose, and organic-grain fed chicken. Our meat, eggs, and honey are delicious thanks to the time our animals live on our central Pennsylvania pastures.

In the summer of 2018, our goals remain the same, but how we manage the farm is evolving as our family life and interests change. 

KATAHDIN SHEEP

To better fit our schedule, we are transitioning to fall lambing. Katahdins can naturally lamb in the fall so we will select ewes that are successful fall mothers to build our flock. With fall lambing we hope to serve the December and spring holiday markets. Our home tastings of garlic and hot Italian sausage and lightly smoked ham are delicious so we will be offering both, as well as the regular cuts of meat.

PILGRIM GEESE

I like geese. I still like geese in spite of a less than stellar breeding season. This winter, overnighting the geese in that barn has kept them safe and their nests accessible. Next year I need to gather eggs daily, buy an incubator better suited to hatching goose eggs and allow the geese to set near the end of the season when they become “aggressively” protective and broody.

Late this spring I bought 6 more Pilgrims and 10 Toulouse goslings. Our geese did hatch five goslings. My plan is to keep them in the barn on wood chips until they are mostly feathered and then to house them in our move-able pasture pens. Once grown they will graze in our fenced pasture. This fall I will select the Pilgrims to keep and the rest will be available for your table. Contact the farm if you want to preorder a holiday goose.

MEAT CHICKENS

Except for extending the chicks’ time in the protection of the barn, our husbandry remained the same this year. The 10 week grow out of Red Rangers, finishing the third week of June on local organic feed and pasture works well. We will keep the same pattern next year and will take preorders of meat in late winter.

DOMINIQUE CHICKENS

Eventhough egg sales are a small part of the farm’s financial picture, the hens’ value as compost turners and manure makers and the incredible flavor of their eggs at our table, keep them on the farm. The late fall 2017 hatch worked well and our pullets were ready to lay as daylength increased this spring. The Dominique breed is calm, wintered well, and thrifty so we will repeat fall hatching to raise our own replacement hens. I would like to selectively breed to improve this heritage chicken, but need to keep winter housing simple so I’m looking for unrelated roosters and maybe some local people interested in keeping a few Dominiques. Contact the farm for eggs and we can arrange delivery.

HONEY

After loosing all our hives in the winter, we have restarted two hives. I will delay any hoped for honey harvesting until fall. Let me know if you want pints or quarts of honey and I will let you know when it is available.

SOAP

I still make soap and have added lemongrass and lavender scents to our offerings. Our citrus-y farm soap is still my favorite. If you would like some soap or want to recommend a new scent, let me know.

Meat Birds 2018, Part 1

IMG_5580.JPG

Unhappy with the way most chicken was raised, I started growing out our own meat birds for the freezer. Our birds have more than a square foot of living space (organic regulations, which are more generous than standard, are 1-5#/sq.ft. indoors and 2-5#/sq.ft. outdoors). Once feathered and out from under heat lamps, our birds are in open-bottomed pens that are moved at least once a day to produce a clean, well exercised bird; a lightly fertilized field without manure run off concerns; and delicious meat. 

 

IMG_5532.JPG

 Every year I tweak our system. A few years ago I switched to a Freedom Ranger hybrid, which extended our grow out period by 2 weeks. The following year I ordered all males so the birds finished the same week. The longer grow out forced me to get our chicks even earlier so they can finish on the lush May/June pasture. After reading a study linking feed freshness and consumption, I started picking up my feed weekly instead of every other week. Our local , organic feed mills are small so I know the feed is fresh. 

This year I added a bowl of starter sized Gran-i-Grit. I feed GG to our egg birds to make sure their crops have a good supply of grit for grinding grain, so it made sense that the meat birds chicks would benefit too.

 

IMG_5527.JPG

Starting the chicks in the barn is another change this year. Inclement weather and strong predation put my birds at risk last spring. The sheep are In the field already, so I have room to let the chicks feather out in the barn. Because they do not have greens underfoot, I have been bringing them weeded greens from the garden. Last year I moved our donkey into the field with the chicken pens to help guard against predators. I may encircle the pens with electrified net fencing to deter predators too.

So far our biggest change this year, brooding the chicks in the barn, is working well. Last night’s torrential rain and strong winds didn’t harm the chicks and neither this past week’s higher temperatures. 

I’ll keep you updated as the season progresses. 

 

Fall Chick Hatching

Why hatch chicks in the fall? 

This year I want to raise my own replacement egg layers. Laying hens usually start laying eggs when they are about 6 months old. We anticipate that the fall hatched chicks will reach maturity in the lengthening days of spring. Chicks hatched in March, mature in the September; shorter day length results in hormonal changes which limits egg production. Even though I extend the egg laying season with artificial lighting in the coop, I would rather have a whole summer season to select my best layers for overwintering.

Until now I have purchased hybrid layer pullets (a young hen, ready to lay) from a nearby supplier. The hybrid pullets arrive with trimmed beaks; this keeps the birds from pecking each other in crowded conditions. Although hybrids have managed well, our hens have plenty of space so beak trimming is unnecessary. The hybrid pullets also have larger combs and are subject to frostbite in the winter, which can limit the hen’s vigor. The Dominique chicks we are hatching have smaller combs, more suitable for a Pennsylvania winter.

Another reason to raise my own replacement hens is more “observational”. The livestock that thrives here is livestock that I have raised or is from farms utilizing similar management practices. High quality feed, plenty of space to move and the company of the flock, selected for calm temperament, builds a foundation for productivity and thriftiness.

 

Fall Lambing

IMG_5050.JPG

Lambing in the fall instead of spring fits our household calendar, our sometimes drought prone summer pastures and our desire to market Easter lamb.

Into middle age, with adult children living out of town and with interests that take us adventuring, the flock must be “leave-able”.  Lambing season, when I stay close to the barn, dovetails well with projects that we tackle during our mild fall weather.

On our thin soil, our pasture regrowth usually slows in mid-summer, especially in dry years. By breeding the ewes in early summer, when the grass is lush and finishing the ewes’ pregnancies on the more robust fall regrowth, we can take advantage of the growing cycles of our pasture plants.

And finally, lamb is a traditional meat for spring holidays. As a seller, I have more options for marketing if I am prepared to sell finished lamb in early spring.

With flock management practices in place to boost our success, we begin our first fall lambing season. 

 

 

Grape jelly

IMG_4963.JPG

Grape Jelly: unsprayed Concord grapes, sugar and pectin

The Concord grape vines were here when we moved to the farm. They have survived droughty summers, hungry birds and my rookie mismanagement. Delicious for eating right off the vine and baking into a crumble or crisp, I thought it was time to try jelly this year. Our Concord grape jelly was made in a local, commercial kitchen, operated by two dear sisters. The jelly has a full grape-y flavor without being cloyingly sweet and the texture is smooth, not rubbery like a gum eraser. Each 8 oz. jar costs $3.

Breeding for fall lambing

Raising lamb for the spring market takes advantage of our lusher spring and fall pastures and increased market demand. Historically, our pastures bounce back after the heat of summer; this regrowth coincides with the ewes' increased nutritional demands in late gestation. The warmer ground in the fall also extends our lambing area beyond the enclosed barn to the surrounding barnyard, which allows us to increase the ewe flock if we wish.

One of the drawbacks to fall lambing is lower conception rates, even with sheep like our Katahdins that will breed out of season. To bring our ewes into heat in early summer we are employing a teaser, a vasectomized ram. Exposure to the teaser ram's hormones brings the ewe flock into a synchronized heat cycle. After we remove the teaser ram and introduce our active ram, the flock should breed successfully. I am not sure how all of this will work in reality, especially in this first year. To increase our chances for success, our spring lambing season was a little earlier than usual to allow the ewes to recover and our new secure fencing enforced weaning of the spring lambs. As always, I am hopeful and look forward to a second 2017 lambing season.

 Duncan is handsome but his offspring were not so he stays on the farm as a "teaser" ram.

Duncan is handsome but his offspring were not so he stays on the farm as a "teaser" ram.

Lambing 2017

IMG_4208.JPG

Lambing began in the dark nights of the new moon; now, two weeks into lambing, a full moon lights my way to the barn.

 

IMG_4100.JPG

During my regular barn checks, I watch the ewes for signs of lambing. Ewes may become restless, dig in the bedding, yawn excessively, stare at the ceiling with heads thrown back, and lick their lips. I also watch the ewes that move away from the flock to be alone.

IMG_4172.JPG

With few exceptions, the ewes manage the birthing process with little interference. It is those few exceptions that keep me on guard. One ewe needed help with a lamb presenting with only one foot forward and a twin pushing from behind. Another ewe, needed her first twin lamb protected from an over zealous ewe that wanted to claim her baby. (That overly hormonal ewe did have her own lamb in 5 hours, within the confines of a secure pen.)

IMG_4110.JPG

For those who do not have a Facebook account, you can still see our updates on our public FB page by searching for LilacHillFarmPA at www.facebook.com.

Grape Filling for Pie, crumble or cobbler

When we bought our place here in the Muncy Hills, it did not have running water or other modern amenities, but it did have an apple orchard and two Concord grape vines. The hardy grape cultivars endured my how-to-take-care-of-grapes learning curve and now are reliable producers. Compelled by roadside signs advertising "Grape Pie" in the Finger Lakes and our family's love of fruit pies, my internet search for a recipe led me to a blog post by Chism Heritage Farm. I love reading the story of Aunt Marian and with adjustments made to her pie filling recipe to accommodate for our preferences, we enjoy all of the fragrant grapes from our sturdy vines.

Grape Pie, with notes outlining my adjustments.
5 1/3 c Concord Grapes
1 1/3 c Sugar (I usually add about 1/3c. less of sugar since the grapes are usually sweet enough)
4 T Flour (because of the celiacs and my preference for a clear fruit pie filling, I use instant tapioca to thicken my filling. I measure the amount of filling and follow the directions on the side of the box for blueberry fruit pies.)
1 1/2 t lemon juice
Dash of salt
1 1/3T Butter
Remove and save the skins from the grapes.
 I squeeze the pulp right into a small saucepan.
Put pulp into a saucepan without water and bring to a rolling boil.
While hot, put through a strainer to remove seeds.
 I usually put the strained pulp right into the bowl with the skins.
Mix strained pulp with skins.
Mix with sugar mixture (and flour, salt and lemon juice) and put in crust in 9" pie pan.Dot with butter
 Instead of the flour, I add the correct amount of instant tapioca. I stir it and let it sit for 15 minutes, per the instructions on the tapioca box.
Bake at 400'. At this point, the filling can go into a pie crust or under a cobbler or crumble topping.
For a crumble I butter the baking dish before adding the filling and top with a nut/oatmeal/butter/sugar topping. I do not add spices to the crumble topping but I sometimes toast the nuts before chopping them. 
If the filling is for a cobbler, I stir my final  grape mixture in my cast iron skillet. When spooned on top of hot filling, cobbler dough doesn't seem to get "gummy" on the underside when it bakes in a hot oven.

The prepared filling freezes well.

Why Geese?

image.jpg

Why geese?

What value can geese add to a small homestead or farm?

  • Geese are quick growing and can produce a large bird for the table.
  • Geese are vegetarians and love grass and clover.
  • Carcass quality is improved with some additional feed according to Dave Holderread, but geese can be raise will little additional feed.
  • Geese produce more than meat for the table. Their livers are the primary ingredient in foie gras, down can fill a pillow or provide insulation for winter mittens, quills are valued by historic reenactors, and goosefat, with its high smoke point, makes beautiful oven fried potatoes.
  • Geese are excellent guardians. When traveling along a bike path I once saw a goose in a freshly bedded pen next to the door of a rural homestead. As we rode by the dooryard, the goose "honked" our presence--a perfect alarm.
  • With their large feet, flocking behavior and vegetarian diet, geese are an excellent livestock choice for small places that want to start and benefit from small-scale mob grazing.

2016 is not the first time we have tried raising geese. With some changes in management, I hoped to overcome some of the challenges I faced when raising these affable barn yard creatures in the past..

 

Interested in cutting your own meat?

A few months ago I culled some lambs that had not grown well. The $65/lamb-slaughter, cut and wrap fee, seemed too high for the amount of available meat. Instead, I paid the $25/lamb, slaughter fee, brought the carcass home, searched youtube, followed along with an online video and cut, wrapped and froze our own lamb. In addition to the usual chops and roasts, I saved every bit of meat for  winter stews and had bones to make rich lamb broth. With a bit of seasoning and a quick saute, slices from the boned legs have been the perfect addition to summer dinner salads.

Before this kitchen experiment, I had no experience cutting meat but with sharp knives, the youtube video and the knowledge that all my mistakes were going into sausage- I was able to tackle the job. My greatest fear was that the process would somehow be disgusting or bloody; it wasn't. Breaking down the carcass and dealing with each section, kept the whole job manageable. Honestly, I liked the work.

The second week of August we have two sheep going to the butcher which provides another opportunity to hone my butchering skills. If you would like to try your hand at preparing your own meat, you could join me in the kitchen.

So what's it going to cost?
---$5.25/pound x the hanging weight   
---$25 slaughter fee

Because the meat will come from a pasture raised sheep over a year old, the meat is "mutton". Our mutton has not been greasy or strong-flavored, but because it is mutton, the price per pound is less than lamb. 

If you are interested or have questions, contact me.

 

 

 

Grit

image.jpg

Birds do not have teeth or rumens to break down grain or greens for digestion.

A gizzard is an organ found in the digestive tract of some animals, including birds, made of thick muscular walls. With the help of previously swallowed stones, the gizzard grinds food.

 

This year I added Gran-i-grit to all our birds' diets to make sure they can utilize all the nutritional value from their grains and pasture.

image.jpg

Murphy, Flock Guardian

image.jpg

After a week of rain, it was time to tag Mab's lambs (born 4/30) and transition them into the pasture with the flock. Because I inadvertently left a gate open, the transition from lambing jug to flock was very accelerated. Mab brought her lambs up through the yard and towards the grazing flock. Once the electric fence lines were moved, Mab took her lambs into the paddock.

For Murphy, flock guardian, the lambs, especially the ram-lamb, were intruders and he got to work.  With a calculated race around the paddock, he moved his flock to the far end of the field, then with nose and hoof, shoved the ram-lamb away from Mab and her ewe-lamb. Ears back, hide quivering, Murphy looked fierce, especially next to the week old lamb. 

As the flock moved to welcome Mab back to the flock, I moved to calm Murphy. If you drove by that day, you would have seen me waving my coat to get Murphy's attention, pushing the ram-lamb towards his mother and positioning my body between lamb and donkey. (I'd like to think I was a calm, quiet shepherd; honestly, there was a wide gap between my aspirations and reality that afternoon.)

With my hand on Murphy's back, we followed the newest members of the flock around the paddock. Mab contentedly grazed, ewe-lamb by her side while Murphy followed the ram-lamb, as he wandered though the flock and occasionally sprinted away from the shock of the electric fence.

I stepped back when Murphy settled: ears turning at every sound. not pinned back; eyes following the lambs, not wide and wild; nostrils sniffing in the lambs' direction, not wide open and snorting; and hide smooth, not twitching. Murphy walked up to the ever calm Mab, sniffed her and the ewe-lamb and then followed the wandering ram-lamb into the middle of the flock. Now that the ram-lamb was not an intruder, Murphy nudged the lamb towards its ewe, and kept the flock away from the trio as they got accustomed to grazing together. 

Until dark, I saw Murphy circling the trio, repeatedly nosing that meandering ram-lamb back to Mab's side. The next day the flock was a seamless unit and Murphy's new adversaries were a few stray Guineas that appeared in our fields.

 

 

The middle of lambing season

image.jpg

At the beginning of lambing, the barn was a quiet place with the ewes eating and resting. Watching for restless behavior and counting heads was pretty straightforward during my regular barn checks. Now that about half of the ewes have lambed, the barnyard is busy place. 

After the lambs and their mothers leave the lambing jugs they are moved to a barn stall with its own paddock. In the small paddock and with a few other lamb/ewe families, the lamb-ewe bond is strengthened. The lambs and their dams learn to find each other in this temporary small flock. The transition is not always smooth and I occasionally have to go to the barn to move a  bleating lamb around a corner to her frantically calling mother.

Once I am sure of the lamb-ewe bond, I move the families in with the larger flock. Fortunately the first ewe to lamb, Mauve, is also my fiercest mother and under her protection, her lamb moved safely within the flock. The first night Mauve and her lamb were in the barn, most of the flock slept outside to avoid Mauve's protective foot stomping.

Last night there were three lambs in with the larger flock. Each ewe staked out her own area of the barn for her lamb. The still expecting ewes were resting together with only a few outside. 

Watching the widening, expectant ewes; the just born lambs stand so quickly to suckle after birth; the lamb/ewe families as they bond and the flock as it integrates new members, is fascinating. For me it just does not get tiresome, even as slip into my Muck boots for another barn check.

 

Lambing jugs

 First lamb in the new lambing jug.

First lamb in the new lambing jug.

As our flock has grown, so has our need for more lambing jugs. A lambing "jug" is a small pen that a ewe and her lamb/lambs are housed in after lambing. In this small space, separate but still near the flock, the mother and lamb bond. The lamb learns the sound of its mother's nicker and how to nurse away from the jostling of the flock. The ewe/lamb bond is very important for the  success of the lamb, especially when the flock is turned out onto pasture.

We cut panels from our local ag' supply store with 4"x4" openings to length then "stitched" them together with spiral posts from Premier. The backbone of the jug pens is an uncut 16' panel. The spirals make a perfect hinge for the front of the jug and a clip latches the front door closed.

A bucket hook holds the water safely off the ground, away from the curious lamb. The welded wire hay feeder was an add on item I ordered from D-S livestock when we bought our handling system last November. It hooks over the wire panel (or a wood board). 

If all goes well, ewes get two days in the jug; new mothers and groups of twins or triplets get a few extra days before they rejoin the flock.

 

Watching the ewes

image.jpg

It is in the last few weeks of gestation that lambs do most of their growing. By watching the sheep for changes in behavior, I can sometimes ward off lambing complications.

So when I go out to check the ewe flock, what am I looking for?

  • First thing I do when I leave the house is to listen. Generally the sheep are quiet; if the sheep are noisy, I need to find out what has them upset.
  • As I approach the flock I look at it as a whole. I want to see that all the girls are near to each other. Stragglers may be sick or out of sorts. If the stragglers do not join the flock as I approach, I need to get closer to check for signs of discomfort.
  • I count the sheep to make sure no ewe has wandered away.
  • I observe the ewes' ears. Katahdin ears usually stick out to the side and move to better hear my approach. Drooping ears can be a sign of illness or pain.
  • When the sheep stand first thing in the morning, I like to see them give a big stretch, almost like a cat, which signals good health.
  • When I can get a hand on the girls, I wiggle my fingers through their hair feeling for prominent bones. Too much bone and a ewe needs more feed.
  • I watch the back ends of my ewes. When the ewes are lying down, I check for early signs of prolapse. I look at the girls' udders to make sure they are filling evenly. I also watch for any discharge that can be a sign of impending labor.
  • Before lambing, hollows sometimes appear in front of some ewes' hipbones.
  • Feeling for signs of labor I check the fullness of udders and the loosness of the ligaments at the top of the tail head. 

With less than two weeks until lambing, I check the flock a few times during the day and once after dark. Next week I will start the late night and early morning barn checks.

Maude

image.jpg

Maude is one of our original Katahdin ewes. She has given us 6 lambs and raised 8, accepting a set of 8 day old twins when their mother died. This is her fifth breeding season and I believe she is bred. She is calm and very maternal, "un-weaning" lambs as they move through our summer grazing paddocks. Last year, a day before her own lamb arrived, Maude tried to "steal" new lambs from their mothers-herding the lambs into a corner and pushing the actual mothers away. Until I moved Maude  and her equally maternal flockmate Mab, into their own pen, the usually quiet flock was unsettled-ewes running in circles and lambs crying for their mothers.

A ewe that steals lambs puts her own soon-to-arrive lambs in danger by feeding the first milk, colostrum, to another lamb, leaving her own lambs at risk. Without the nutrient dense, antibody rich colostrum, a lamb's survival rate is decreased.

This year I am keeping an eye out for overly maternal behaviors and will pen Maude or Mab with a companion before the flock is upset.