Saturday, April 26, 2014

Rain Day, Date Night

We woke up this morning to the sound of rain. We'd expected it, but were under the illusion that it was supposed to pass through and leave a wake of warm spring sunshine. But, we do not control the weather, and throughout the morning there have been cool showers, causing pigs to remain indoors and ducks to splash happily. That's just fine with us. After a rough start to the week, we caught up a little bit as the days progressed but pulled some rather long hours and are in no rush.

Tentatively, the pigs are doing much better on the electric fence. They were released from the barn prison yesterday, after taking a few days to settle in and realize that food comes from a bucket, and we mean them no harm. We'll see how they do as their curiosity progresses, but they got in a few shocks yesterday and didn't hit the bricks- so that's progress.

The big news on farm yesterday was that the quail have started laying again! After a very long hiatus for winter, we got two tiny eggs yesterday afternoon. You could easily fit a half dozen in a palm of your hand, but we were excited to see even two. They were promptly fried and placed over top of last night's pork burger dinner, and we once again were reminded of how farming can make you feel like royalty.

Given the weather, we've decided to huddle inside for the day, catching up on some office work. We certainly could work outside, it's not all that bad out but it seems like a good opportunity to stay dry. There are so many moments where you have no choice but to be drenched, muddy, or cold- that if it's not urgent- it's just not necessary.

This evening, as a reward for completing most of the to-do list, we're headed to a movie and dinner. Neither of us can remember that last time we indulged in such a thing, so it seems to be the time. There is a theater nearby with movie tickets for $5, so it's a budget friendly evening as well.

The rain will bring greener pastures, and those pastures will bring happy animals munching their way through the summer season. We've much ahead, and since the spring as moved so slowly, it seems like any moment the weight of warm weather work will fall at our feet. The hours will grow even longer. But after a winter like we've just had, we'll welcome it all. The first batch of meat chickens are already out on pasture, and almost ready to move to new fresh grass, having picked their way efficiently through the early spring field. The post-rain field will have more lush growth, and those young birds will really be able to savor the grasses at length.

It's a strange season for us, in the midst of transitioning our business to focus only on livestock. We're still planting, and we do not have any less work- but it seems that finally, after 3 years, we're starting to figure out what works best for us. We're making more sense of the land, and still making a ton of wrong turns, but maybe finding our way a little quicker. But this transition is also frightening, to be honest. We depend on customers to keep our farm running, and we know that there is a demand for our previous offerings. We are working so hard to make sure that we can run on what works best for the land (only livestock) and still make ends meet. We hope that the work will be enough, that the demand is there for our so-carefully raised meats. That's one of the things about farming- you can figure out how to grow something- but if it doesn't sell, then that work, while rewarding- isn't sustainable. We're doing just fine, but these thoughts always lurk in the shadows, push us to try more marketing, run numbers weekly. It's an angle to farming not always discussed- everyone wants to know what feed we use, if we are organic, etc... but folks don't always talk spread sheets and taxes. A blog post on marketing and share payments would be a bit dreary in comparison to a pig chase! Alas, it's all part of the bigger picture of being a small farmer, and equally as important.

Today, we're listening to the rain, and taking the rare moment this evening to take a break from physical work. We'll catch up on the office end of things, and then call it quits. Dinner and a movie, what a novel concept!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Defeat vs set backs

We've had a heck of a week here on the farm.

There's been a mile long list of things to do, including some major projects like running new electric fencing for the meat chicks (now in a NEW upcycled pallet coop), re-configuring the barn for piglets, moving the quail down to the rabbit barn, cleaning out the hen house from winter bedding (hens are out on pasture for the summer),setting up the hen house to be the turkey house, moving the turkey chicks... we won't bore you with the rest. Or the list of things that have not been done yet, which is arguably longer.

We're making progress, and feeling really good about our decision to focus on the livestock. We have a beautiful crop of garlic coming up, and seedlings for our home garden popping through the soil in the greenhouse turned poultry brooder. It's given us a chance to build better infrastructure, analyze finances and feel less stressed about the weather (only slightly, though).

But today, it was just one of those days where everything we touched turned too... well... shit. We picked up four piglets today from a local farmer, and made arrangements to get a few more down the road in a few weeks. The four will be our big heavies for the early fall, we'll raise more for later in the season. The ride home was noisy and rather pungent. One piglet, named Mad Eye for his one blue eye decided he strongly disliked motorized vehicles and squealed, at the top of his tiny pig lungs for the entire 40 minutes. It was a heroic, but highly irritating effort on his part.

Once we returned home from the pig journey, we set about getting the porcine accommodations in order. We had worked late last night, running fencing and mucking out a pen in lower barn. We hauled the pig filled dog crate from the back of the van into, the (we believed) well secured electric fencing and let the little beasts out.

Within moments, they had it set in their minds that no amount of electric would hold them and sped off in 4 different directions. Cue the farmers, in full sprints, trying to remain calm, without yelling or chasing, rounding them back into their preferred location. We did it, fed them some corn and quietly went about lowering the fencing and checking the charge. It was running hotter than a July sun, so we waited a few moments for them to test it out, give up and just eat their snacks in peace.

No luck. Mad Eye, unlike other pigs we've had, decided that it would be better to keep moving forward rather than back up at the shock of the fence- hit those horrible high notes again and just kept running, taking a good section of the fence (which we set up with step-in posts so we can keep it on fresh grass) with him. That damn pig got it in his head he was under siege, and terrified (still screaming, mind you) he bolted high to the top of the next door hay field, then back through the pasture, down across the road and into the bramble, 4 acres or so down. While I tried to track him through the nasty wild rose bushes, Kim managed to get the remaining three piglets, now worked up, into the main barn and safe. Meanwhile, I trekked through streams, rocks, thorns, trying to keep sights on Mad Eye. I lost him.

I walked back up to the farm, deflated. Kim joined me on a pig hunt, and we searched high and low for about an hour. Realizing it was just hopeless, we dragged back up to the house, figuring we could at least get the other three locked into their pen (they were currently just loose in the barn, but too short to rattle the rabbits) to calm down while we re-accessed our fencing options to prevent another disaster.  We figured we'd drink a bottle of water, and head back to look for Mad Eye again with a better plan, and maybe some hedge clippers. Suddenly, we saw Mad Eye, trucking across the road back towards the farm like he knew exactly where he was headed. This isn't uncommon, pigs don't like to be alone, and almost always return, but we had only let him out for moments before the episode and we thought for sure he had lost his bearings in his terror.

We both broke out into an all out run, knowing we really only had one more shot at this. Sweating, thoroughly shamed and thorn ridden, we raced back up to the barn. With me on one side and Kim on the other we finally herded little Mad Eye back into the safety of the barn, where he happily greeted his associates.

Farming. It will make you realize that nature, even livestock, always wins. We do our best, but there is always something new to learn. It's certainly not our first pig escape, but it's our first of this magnitude where the fence was running hot but the pig went forward rather than backward. So now, we've got the crew in their barn pen, calming down and realizing this is where the food comes from and it's really not so bad. The place where we picked them up didn't work them a whole lot, so we have to establish a relationship and then try to teach them the electric fence again. This time, with more posts.

Last I checked, Mad Eye and the crew were grunting through a pile of hay and sopping up water, seemingly enjoying refreshments after their jog through the farm. I made sure the gates outside were locked up tight though, just in case.

You'd think that'd be enough for a day, but even after all this, we still had afternoon chores to do. The tractor had been running poorly all day, and we had hooked it up to the batter charger (think it had a poor draw on it yesterday) all morning. I went to go check on it, and she fired up with no issues. Grateful, I rode down to the barn to pick up feed for the masses.

Naturally, my hope that the charger was all the tractor needed was dashed when it stalled, in the middle of the road, with a wagon attached to the back. Figuring it just needed a jump, Kim pulled the van up. She started, then stalled. Again. Three times. Despite our pig-cardio that morning, we had no choice but to detach the wagon, pull it into the side of the road, then push the tractor in neutral across as well. The battery is now charging again, we're hoping that's the only issue but may have to make a call to get it serviced.

We finished out chores by hand, not terrible on a usual day, but with a little more drag in our step after the mornings work.

The good news is, it's all fine. It was just a really rough day. It's always tough to make every mistake, call every play wrong, and have no one to blame but yourselves. But, it happens. We dust ourselves off and regroup. We try again. Because, well- there's no other choice. No one else is going to fix it. And that's the difference between being actually defeated, and just having a set back. You're only defeated if you don't come back, if you don't keep searching for the piglet, or try to fix the tractor.

Too often, I think we get this beautiful but idealized notions of farming. Truth is, sometimes it's scraped up skin, being out smarted by a pig and broken tractors. It's struggling to get into a farmer's market, forgetting to order feed, and to-do lists that never end. That's beautiful too, in it's way. You just have to squint a little to see it. And indulge in a brownie to soothe your wounds. Or two. Probably two.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Help us with this project!

Hi folks,

We've been working for several months to help re-open our local market. The market is the only place to buy food for miles, and we've been trying to integrate more farmers into the re-opening.

But this vision is about more than our small town. It's about changing the way rural communities see food access, supporting small agriculture, and ending food deserts.

If you have $10 to spare, consider sending it to this (below) campaign, and if you can't- please, please help us share it!

Check out more details (and watch our video) here!! 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spring Streams

Well, it was a beautiful day yesterday. The sun was shining, we had our favorite little farm helpers on farm for spring break, and a to-do list a mile long. First on that list was expanding the meat-duck pen. We have them in an a-frame hut, situated across a spring stream. The pasture floods for 3-4 months during this time of year, creating a vibrant above ground stream where an underground spring runs yearly. We are raising some meat ducks for our use, and as a test-batch for future enterprises. We've had ducks for a year, first keeping them for eggs and entertainment. We like them, though they sure are messy.

The set up we have now is fairly ideal. We've fenced in a section of pasture directly through the stream, so the ducks have free access to water all the time, with space to waddle about. They're growing like weeds. We've been keeping them locked in a fence we used last season for small batches of chickens, but since they've gotten so big we took time yesterday to bump out their space. This video is the result.. pardon the sound of the blustery wind.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Why the hiatus?

It's been awhile since we have had a minute to sit down and write about the farm. This certainly not because it's been so boring around here.

Spring is finally here. We won't lie, the farmers trudged through the end of winter, weary, chilled and remarkably grouchy. We slogged through cutting wood, stoking the stove and breaking ice. Finally, spring has begun to shyly peek around winter's corners, brushing us with more light, the sound of peepers and (slightly) warmer temperatures.

Around the time of winter's last gasps, we fell sick again. We had more flus/cold etc this season then usual and the last round was substantial. It was the kind of thing that had us dragging ourselves through chores, only to pour ourselves back into bed for the rest of the day. For 5 days we laid in a haze, in between hacking and nose blowing. Thankfully, in the midst of our mountains of tissues, relatives stopped by with food to make sure we had quick and easy meals. That simple act of kindness really made a world of difference. Who would of thought a package of roast beef could feel like a life preserver.

All of this set us behind, with the spring to-do list usually well on it's way by now, we're just starting to get through it. With the cold early spring, there is still much to do. Broken limbs and debris are still scattered about, fences need repairing- and infrastructure changes for our season of livestock abound. In the midst of playing catch up, we sent our 5 winter pigs to the butcher. As always, the outfit we use was professional and remarkably efficient. And, the pork is delicious. 

Which reminds us- meat shares are still available- check the links on the right!

So here we are, well into our spring madness. We've been constructing new moveable pens out of recycled pallets, tired of last season's wind destruction of our previous pens built with pvc pipe. We're weaning our lambs, who struggled a bit through the winter and reminded us that the long term goal of our own breeding flock is crucial. Our tiny bottle babies are well cared for, but lambs raised by sturdy ewes are much less effort for farmers. Care for the mothers, keep the babies close to them, and your work is halved.

So here we are, and we will get back on track with sharing our little world for those of you who need a little sliver of farm view in your life. We're so grateful that it's time to begin the work of longer days, and certainly aren't sad to see our wood stove get a rest. She's certainly earned the right to cool off for a bit.