Planning for 2014: Part 1

   Over the winter we evaluated some of our long and short term goals for the farm.      Each farm enterprise must improve the soil on the farm, to increase the future carrying capacity of the land and provide nourishing food which we can profitably sell.      The most difficult decision I have made is to move the Belted Galloways off the farm so the increasing Katahdin sheep flock has access to more pasture and purchased winter hay.  To retain the important benefit of breaking the sheep’s parasite cycle, a neighbor’s beef will visit our fields and  rotate over the grazing paddocks. Blair will move to a nearby farm, Harper will head to the butcher this summer and I am looking for a farm interested in purchasing Josie, our Belted Galloway heifer. Formulating the grazing plan should be more straightforward with only ewes, meat lambs and the occasional beef visit; managing water, shelter,manure and breeding should be less complex with just sheep; and transporting animals off farm is achievable with our own trailer and old Subaru Outback.       Grazeable land, money for infrastructure and human energy are finite resources that I need to manage well as we develop into a financially sustainable farm. Electing to move beef off the farm, in spite of my affection for them, is just one of those “pull on your Muck boots”  choices that will hopefully lead to our success.     

Over the winter we evaluated some of our long and short term goals for the farm.

Each farm enterprise must improve the soil on the farm, to increase the future carrying capacity of the land and provide nourishing food which we can profitably sell.

The most difficult decision I have made is to move the Belted Galloways off the farm so the increasing Katahdin sheep flock has access to more pasture and purchased winter hay.  To retain the important benefit of breaking the sheep’s parasite cycle, a neighbor’s beef will visit our fields and  rotate over the grazing paddocks. Blair will move to a nearby farm, Harper will head to the butcher this summer and I am looking for a farm interested in purchasing Josie, our Belted Galloway heifer. Formulating the grazing plan should be more straightforward with only ewes, meat lambs and the occasional beef visit; managing water, shelter,manure and breeding should be less complex with just sheep; and transporting animals off farm is achievable with our own trailer and old Subaru Outback.

Grazeable land, money for infrastructure and human energy are finite resources that I need to manage well as we develop into a financially sustainable farm. Electing to move beef off the farm, in spite of my affection for them, is just one of those “pull on your Muck boots”  choices that will hopefully lead to our success.

 

Easy beef vegetable soup

 

 

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With cold weather here, a pot of beef vegetable soup was on the menu.

To start I sautéed half a chopped onion, 3 stalks of chopped celery and and 3 peeled and diced carrots. To that I added 4 chopped mushrooms and 5 chopped cabbage leaves and gave the vegetables a sprinkle of salt . For soup I like the diced vegetables to be small enough so that each spoonful of soup will have more than one vegetable piece. I tend to reach for a bit of lard for sauteing when the flavor of my olive oil will be masked by the stronger flavors of the soup. Unlike other fats or oils, this lard is from a nearby farm, a valuable byproduct of the effort of that farmer and rendered at the local butcher shop.

Once the onion was soft I added three handfuls of diced chuck roast. I trimmed the roast of fat, saving the bigger pieces of fat for when I grind some lean top round for burgers. This chuck roast, from a grass-raised, grass-finished beef is beautifully marbled and is very tender when simmered or slow cooked.

I stirred the beef around, making sure the pieces were separated then added enough water to cover the vegetable beef saute and scraped up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Then I poured in the juices from a quart of tomatoes. (I find that the liquid in my home canned tomatoes is thinner than store bought so adjust with water when necessary.) I usually just squeeze the tomatoes to break them up rather than chopping the juicy tomatoes on the cutting board. I simmered the soup for 20 minutes . About twenty minutes before I served the soup I added some diced potatoes and cupcake pack of corn.

In the summer I always cook a couple more ears of corn than we will eat. Once it is cool, usually the next morning if I have not used it for fritters or eaten cold for breakfast, I cut it off the cob and wrap it up in little packages that fit in my cupcake pan and pop it in the freezer. Once frozen, those wrapped corn cupcakes go into a gallon sized zip bag, making room for the next leftover corn. 

 I thinned the mixture with some water since I wanted a soup and not a stew and served. This is not fancy fare, even though I added a handful of chopped parsley at the end, just a basic soup. It is the kind of soup that my mother made to warm to feed six squirmy children. Like many soups, it will probably taste even better tomorrow.

Galloways in winter, pigs in spring.

This year, during the coldest days and nights of winter, the Galloways will be sequestered in a deeply bedded paddock, out of the wind and facing what little bit of sunshine is available. We plan to add layers of corn to the fresh layers of carbon rich bedding.
Per Joel Salatin's example, the cows should eat through fewer round bales in an effort to stay warm and the Barn Field should sustain less winter damage from too heavy hooves on mostly frozen ground.
Once the beef are turned out to pasture, the corn should be fermenting. The rooting action of pig snouts in search of corn will turn the manured bedding into compost for the gardens and fields.
In a future post I will talk about the other tasks I have planned for the pigs.

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Settling in for winter

With the wind starting to blow, the water tote near empty and the North Field grazed down, it was time to move the cows into the Barn Field with the sheep. The two shelters, hay ring, unfinished hay from the ram pen and troughs were also dragged into the field. After a bit of jostling for position, the sheep, donkey and cows are content. The Barn Field is protected from the wind and quite lovely, especially on this sunny day.

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Butchering day

Today one of the heifers went to the butcher.

We eat meat and we sell meat.

Rotational grazing of ruminants is a key component  of returning fertility and productivity to our farm.

Today was one of those bittersweet, wrenching days on a small farmstead.

Our cows are not  loaded and transported to the butcher in a strange trailer, away from the security of herd and pasture. For our Belties, the end is quick and like their birth and life, takes place within the herd, on pasture and on my watch.

 

Blair should calve near the end of the month

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During our week away Blair noticeably increased in girth as she entered her last month of pregnancy. My records note 10/15-10/16 for a possible breeding date and  the added P.S. to watch her again in November did not have any other information so I am assuming that she "took" in October.As you can see Belties ignore prevailing  fashion advice, "any dark color is slimming when it’s placed next to a color that is lighter...It doesn’t matter what color you choose, as long as the darker shade is worn where you are the heaviest you will look slimmer in that area." 

Managing the early spring pasture

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Our Belties spend the winter outside in my sacrifice pasture, with access to run in shelters and close enough to the barn to fill the heated trough. Through the winter I move the location of the round bale feeder to spread out the waste hay and manure. Later in the season this well fenced pasture will be where the lambs learn about electric pulses, where rambunctious animals are pastured when I am away from the farm and where the bull will visit Blair. In an effort to limit the damage casued by heavy hooves and insatiable mouths on spring pasture I set temporary posts in the ground last fall.  With warmer temperatures predicted I unrolled the electric twine today closing off the lower section of the barn pasture. Once hay feeding is done and the water fowl pens are moved I will spread out the remaining hay litter and see what comes up.

January 11th, A Beautiful Barnyard Morning

The following post is not an effort to call out Murphy, not our donkey, and his fatalistic "Law" but to note my appreciation for a morning spent doing barnyard chores.

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On a windless morning with choretime temperatures in the midthirties, I was hatless as I feed and watered the livestock. The long black hose, that reaches all the way to the goose trough, unrolled easily without its usual frozen stiffness. With a few days of temperatures above freezing and nights not far below, the barnyard is neither an unforgiving, frozen tract nor a sucking, muddy mess making the transfer of waste hay stems to slick or muddy spots easy. While moving forkfuls of the fluffy waste I had time to watch the animals, especially the Belties and Murphy as they investigated my work and the vacated sheep pens. Today I released the wedding sheep from the goat yard. I want them to get more exercise and get accustomed to the ram because they will be penned together when the ewes go into the lambing barn. Murphy hopped into the empty goat stall through its small, barnside door and snuffled around in search of stray grain. Each of the Belties took turns watching longingly with ony room for a black curly head through the hatch. While the cattle and donkey nosed around the barnyard the wedding sheep blended easily to the flock  clustered around the hay filled round bale feeder.Hopefully without the intereference of the often present Murphy's Law, I will be able to sort the wedding sheep during evening chores and get them back in their pen for their supplement of grain.

Winter Hay Feeding

Once colder nights arrived I stopped carrying forkfuls of hay twice daily and put a round bale into the feeder.The Belties have 24 hour access to the hay. At first, the Belties and Murphy the donkey were very territorial about the hay feeder, pushing and shoving for position.  

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As the Katahdins trekked to the feeder Murphy would stand guard and a flick of his ear could dissuade the line of sheep from feeding.Now that there are mutiple circles of trampled hay waste dotting the field and the animals have accustomed themselves to eachother, the sheep eat their fill and head back to the barn for a rest.

Lily returns, Wallace departs

With no signs of Blair having a heat cycle in 4 weeks, dry weather for firm footing for the truck and stock trailer, and three open schedules, we transported Wallace to his home farm yesterday. With a bucket of treats and a few loud,"Hi-ahs!", Wallace lumbered through the chute and onto the trailer.Once at his home farm he bounded off the trailer into his own field, head held high, sniffing the air in search of his ladies. Lily suprisingly raced into the trailer for the return trip. Unfortunately once she entered our large pasture and greeted Blair and Harper, Murphy viewed her as a threat and chased her, ears pinned back and a hunk of her hide in his mouth. With an embarassing amount of chasing and scolding, the "stampede" ceased and I was able to herd the beef and donkey to the barnyard where I separated out Murphy and sent the Belties into the pasture to bond over a few forkfuls of hay. Murphy overnighted with the sheep and goats in the small barnyard.

Today under my watchful surveillance, I will reintroduce Murphy to the herd. I will also mark my 2013 calendar in anticipation of a middle to late July calving. Hopefully my observations are correct.

Introducing the boys

Last Saturday we moved Wallace the bull and Burgess the ram in with their ladies.

Wallace, calf of Penny,was born last year on Lilac Hill Farm. Because he was sold to a nearby farm, I still see him regularly.With the help of a farmer with a trailer, we moved Wallace into the barn field while Blair, this year's calf Harper and Lily the heifer who is not being bred were in the fenced goat yard.  The goat yard has the loading chute and the gate that opens to the driveway. Murphy was in the barnyard, close enough to keep the Belties calm, but not near enough to nip if he felt his girls were  threatened. Lily loaded effortlessly, striding up into the trailer to be transported to Wallace's farm. Harper, due to her young age should be safe from breeding, but to be sure, Wallace will only stay on the farm until the beginning of December. The timing of all this moving is tricky. I want Harper to nurse through the winter and I need Wallace in with Blair long enough to assure breeding.

Burgess joined the ewes on Saturday as well. When his pasture buddy died, I decided to move up the breeding dates. I did not want Burgess to live alone in the bachelor field since he is a herd animal and needs to company of other sheep. Thanks to his calm disposition we were able to fit hi for his breeding harness. The harness has a block of crayon on the front so that when he breeds a ewe we can note the date. This should help date our lambing for next February/March.

Another successful cattle drive

The Belties and Murphy are now grazing across the road.  This Sunday morning, light traffic day,move was the easiest ever.  After "sheshing" the cows up from the bottom of the barn field and only one detour into the barnyard, the girls and Murphy took to the road.  Murphy was in the lead and Blair was last to reach the fresh pasture. Even with only a chocolate colored minidonkey and three Belties in the drive, it is quite a sight to follow down the road.Watching the girls lumber past mailboxes and garden fence adds a new perspective to their stature.

Penny to the butcher

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Yesterday was a bittersweet farm day. It was a perfect weather day, mild without a hint of humidity. Thanks to a new farm skill, the headgate was repaired and the frame of the shade shelter was completed. The Buckeyes were moved to a new paddock in the orchard and the temporary fencing surrounding the orchard was tightened up in anticipation of moving the sheep and cows in for clean up duty. Yesterday was also the day that Penny was picked by our butcher. The goat paddock has the chute that we use for loading and with long gates from around the farm we can build a smaller paddock. We were able to move Penny into the loading area without incident. When it came time for loading, our never the leader cow was very reluctant to go up the chute. It was strange for her, especially with Murphy (mini-donkey in charge of the cows) running around frantically. The usually mild Penny banged  the gates and finally followed me to the trailer with out butcher following her up the chute.

By definition having a farm with animals, not a preserve, means that butchering day must come. I am responsible for deciding when that day comes. During their time on my farm, I plan for the health and contentment of my animals. Following the advice of an experienced farmer, I watch my animals every day, looking for any changes in behavior that would indicate a need to change my managment of the herd and flocks. These two seemingly contradictory roles shadow an otherwise perfect day.

What do I do with my summer days, and nights?

The middle of the summer does not have the urgency of lambing season or the cold edge of winter watering and feeding. With the rains of the last few weeks, I am not forced to create a sacrifice paddock and feed hay, while waiting for the pasture to recover. Since Penny did not calve I was able to combine the sheep flock and beef herd without incident. Murphy, our chocolate colored mini-donkey, seems to have settled into his role as guardian not bully. Rotating the animals though the pastures does not take too much time. Pounding fenceposts nearby gives me the opportunity to observe my stock.

Our land is perched on hard shale so pounding fence posts can be debilitating. To make rotating the animals easier, we have decided to purchase the extra posts and keep them in the ground for the whole season, moving the polywire when necessary. Having the temporary fences in place will help us decide where the permanent fencing will eventually be located.

When not gardening and preserving, I scrub buckets and troughs, check for parasites and trim sheep feet, put fertile eggs under broodies and move pens and paddocks.

Last night I woke to the bellows of the cows in the orchard. Grabbing the lantern I walked out and discovered that Harper had escaped to the first paddock, beyond the reach of the cows in the second paddock. A short walk to the bottom of the barn to turn off the electric fence, walk to the orchard to remove the paddock line, and then the dance of trying to herd Harper to her waiting herd. Fortunately the older cows came to my call at the paddock opening to draw Harper to them. Once the Murphy and the fence line were back in place, I turned on the electric and headed back to bed. A benefit of these occasionaly late night field visits is a chance to see how beautiful the night sky is.

Cattle drive back to the barn field

After a month grazing the hill pasture the Belties were ready to move back across the road to the barn field. We looped polywire on fiberglass posts, creating a path for the girls and Murphy to follow. With only two people to manage the move, the golf cart held the SE wire that crossed the road and acted as a visual barrier to the beef and oncoming traffic. With another person tending the W line, I was able to lead, then follow the herd with no complications. The Belties are sharing the field with the sheep until the orchard and upper fields are ready to graze again.

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Penny has yet to calve.  Noting the bull's depture date, she has until the end of the month  (plus one week for an overdue calf) to give birth. The absence of an observed heat cycle since last summer and an overall look of robust health are the only indications that she is pregnant. Unlike Blair, her girth  and udders have not dramatically increased in size. The wait continues.

Cattle Drive

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Today we moved the Belties across the road to the hill field. I ran non-electrified polywire along both sides of the road, creating an alley from the barn field, up the road with a sharp left, across a corner of the neighbor's yard into the overgrown field.

Blair 6/12

This is only the second year of grazing this weedy, hill pasture. Along the top of the field are pine trees for shade. Our moveable shelter is also in the field for protection. Without a hydrant across the road, I pull a hose from the house to the trough. Storing hoses on both sides of the road lessens the amount of daily hose pulling. After filling I am sure to remove the hose end from the uphill trough so all the water does not siphon out. (Experience is a strict teacher). Without the help of family and friends, and cautious country drivers this would all be impossible.

Harper 6/12
Lily '11
Hill field 6/12

Penny looks pregnant, sort of

Penny

Penny is our roughest looking Galloway. She was purchased from a local herd used for pasture decoration and not managed for meat. She usually looks harsh with protruding bones and a rough coat.  Like last year, the ony indications that she is bred are that she has not exhibited signs of a heat cycle and she has more rounded sides. We hope that like last year, she will have an unassisted calving and will be a protective and attentive mother.

Galloways in the orchard again

Blair and Harper

Harper moved well with the herd to the orchard for fresh pasture.  She already grazes the new grass.Once in the new enclosure she walked along the two strand fence as if looking for an escape route.  Hopefully the electric current will dissuade her.

Harper our new Beltie

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Blair has sucessfully given us a new heifer,Harper.  Her namesake, Harper Lee,  author of To Kill A Mockingbird  is a favorite of my daughter and farm caretaker when I am away. After being on imminent "calf alert" for the last few weeks, Harper was calved on May 19th,when we were away. Like our other calves, Harper spends alot of time sleeping at the egde of the field.  I have moved the cows to the big pasture in an effort to teach her to stay inside electric fence. Lack of a heat cycle and an improvement in her outward appearance are the only signs that indicate that Penny is pregnant. 

Beef & Sheep on pasture

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The Belites are in the blooming, apple orchard. The sound of the ripping grass is the only sound above the bees. Almost one year old Lily is in the foreground, her mother, Blair in the middle and Penny in the back. They are contained by one strand of electric fence. Hopefully calves will arrive in the next few weeks.

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The sheep are in the large field, enclosed with 5 strands of hi-tensile wire. Queen Mab's ewe lambs were born on 2/15. Marilla's ewe lambs were born on 3/5. The sheep are eating the multiflora rose, probably in search of whatever minerals the deeper roots of the shrub mine.

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Maude is still awaiting her lambs. Veronica, Marilla's lamb, poses in front.

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Violet, 2 months old, loves to have her chin scratched.