Thursday, July 27, 2017

Scary Night Shift Findings

I don't always sleep well. Too many years as a night nurse. First as a floor nurse working 11pm -7 am, then as a hospice nurse who took call and got awakened in the middle of night for needed home visits, and then again as staff nurse who was home all week and worked 12 hr nights on the weekends.

My circadian rhythm never did recover. Here on The Poor Farm, I generally sleep better than in the decades prior. This is especially true in the summer as I am physically busy a good part of the day but, every few weeks, I find myself pulling an all nighter again.

Last night was one of those nights. Worried about the new barn build, an upcoming car repair bill, the issue of rebuilding parts of our rocket mass stove before winter etc. etc. I found myself wide awake at 0300. Remembering I had forgotten to lock our chickens in their coop the evening before, I ventured outside and ran smack into this other night shift worker.

Building a huge web between the old icky house on our property and the cow's milking shed, this big fellow looked even better in the light of my cell phone torch. Even blinded by my light, and later by the flash of my cell phone camera, he didn't slow his work at all.

I like spiders, but my daughter-in-law Tab hates them, so please don't tell her about this post!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Breaking Ground on the New Barn

The new barn will sit approximately where the
big white dog is strolling
Finally, we broke ground yesterday and four post holes were dug for the new barn. We are thrilled. Rain, work schedules, sorting through all the broken pieces of the barn and the search for a hefty post hole digger (THANK YOU Mare and John!) delayed the start of our biggest project on the Poor Farm. But, we're on our way.

After taking count of the good and bad pieces we estimate we have enough good material to build the walls of a 40 by 51 foot barn. Due to the destruction of the roof steel and trusses, when the building was dismantled, we'll be purchasing all of those components.

The county inspector came out last week and gave us the thumbs up on the size and location of the new structure. Keith then leveled out the north side of the building site and deposited the soil around our little well house, which has needed fill since it was revised last year. He also scooped up the area where our three steer had their winter shelter, and deposited that well rotted manure and straw, into our compost bin. Three birds, one stone.

We then measured and re-measured and measured again,  the location of all the posts, marking them with flags.

Attaching the post hole digger to our Kubota tractor took some time and a phone call to the fellow loaning it to us, but once attached, it worked like a huge metal charm on the end of a PTO shaft.

Until we hit brick.
I'm telling you, the people who owned this farm before us loved to bury garbage here, there, and everywhere. Fortunately it was only six bricks and...a fork.

Apparently they also liked to have picnics at their dump sites.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Yes Virginia, Hogs Do Eat Grass

Image result for hogs on pasture white huts

In the late 60's when my father took us out and about in our green Chevy Van, a drive in the country meant livestock. We saw cows, sheep, horses, chickens (which is just annoying because they are always crossing the road for no good reason) and pigs; we saw lots of pigs. Black, white, red and any combination thereof dotted the countryside. Within their pastures little huts made of metal or wood.

Today, hogs in the US have virtually disappeared from the landscape; they've gone undercover, hidden away in long metal buildings with concrete slats under their feet and cesspools of their own waste under the concrete slats. These concentrated animal feed operations or CAFO's (often pronounced "Kay-fo" are most commonly known as factory farms.

Image result for CAFO for hogsImage result for CAFO for hogs

They are efficient, take up less space, and use fewer employees. Food and water is automated, temperatures are controlled year round and natural predators are barred by steel roofs, walls and doors. The administration of regular low-dose antibiotics is commonplace, and yet every year millions of piglets die from one bacterial infection or another because their immune systems never develop. Why?

Because they have been taken off the land, off the earth, off the dirt and grass and pastures that make for a happy, healthy and YUMMY tasting hog. The yummy part relates right back to the healthy part. Hogs raised in confinement, where they are not exposed to sunshine and must reside for months, years if they are breeding sows, over the noxious fumes of their own urine and manure, in overcrowded conditions makes for one unhappy animal. Studies have proven the extreme aggressiveness of these creatures living in such inhumane conditions. I'd be pretty ticked myself.

If you don't believe me, buy some CAFO pork chops at the grocery store, (98% of all pork in the US is raised that way) then buy some chops from a local farmer who raises his hogs on pasture. Prepare them the same, invite some friends over and do a taste test. Chances are you'll find it difficult to buy CAFO raised pork again.

Recently we moved our hogs off the smaller pasture they've had since they were 8 weeks old, onto a much bigger pasture they share with three steers. The combination of these two species on one pasture benefits everyone. Cows like to eat the tops of the grasses. Hogs will eat the lower grass stems and then dig up roots looking for grubs and mice.

Cows leave wet piles of manure pies and pigs root through them, spread them around and thus distribute nutrients to the soil. Cows eat the leaves off the lower tree branches while hogs will plow up the earth, loosening it for seed planting this fall and next spring. Both the steers and the hogs are social animals and it's not unusual for one to play with the other; tag is a favorite game as well as hide and go seek. No one cares for Jeopardy or Russian  Roulette.

In another ten weeks or so the hogs will be big enough to go to the locker. We'll have wonderful pork for our freezer and sell the extra, providing us with a little extra income. Next spring we'll buy more Red Wattle piglets and do it all over again.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

So Long Mucca the Milk Cow

Our primary milk producing cow has been for the last year, a lovely bovine named Liz. We brought her up from our old farm last July. Her companion for some time was a heifer (young cow who has never calved) named Mucca.

Mucca is simply Italian for cow. Una bella mucca!

Several months ago she became impregnated by our bull (God rest his soul, he died very suddenly shortly after the encounter. Insert rude jokes here) . She calved and consequently began to produce milk. It took a few days for her to catch on to us stealing milk from her, it's a loud machine, but she learned her new job well and for the last two months we've had an abundance of milk.

But, we knew this could not last as we did not need that much milk, and feeding two cows was not in our feed budget, plus Liz produces enough to sustain us and Mucca's calf who was separated from her mother weeks ago. It wasn't an easy decision since both cows are gentle, healthy and good producers. I  left it mostly up to Keith says he milks more than I do.  He's the dairy guy whereas I specialize in the bacon side of our tiny operation.

I do like our Red Wattle pigs.

He finally decided to sell Mucca as we've owned Liz much longer and feel especially loyal to her. In addition Mucca's calf is female and if we need to replace Liz in a couple years (she is nearly 8) we'll have a ready replacement. If Liz stays strong and healthy, Mucca's calf gets in line at the locker.

So Mucca was listed on Craigs list and the local Facebook pages.  Within a couple days a gentleman with nine children came to see her. He liked her. He bought her and off she went to her new home but not without a few shenanigans.

While loading her into  the livestock trailer she suddenly decided it would be easier to eat the hay placed in there for her,  in the prone position.

No, she did not fall or slip and she certainly wasn't pushed. She just decided to rest while eating. Gives all new meaning to the phrase, "You Lazy Cow!"

Eventually she righted herself , with Keith's help, and arrived at her destination. Her new family fell in love with her and reports she is doing well.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mow is Me

This is an old title. I've used it before on my previous blog, The Midlife Farmwife courtesy of my friend Stacey who tired of my complaining all the time about the mowing I used to have to do on our Chatsworth farm.

It was about four acres. Twice a week in May and June and once a week thereafter.

We owned a large zero turn mower, a couple of weed wackers and one or two push mowers at any given time. I mowed around the big farmhouse, up and down both lanes which were 1/4 mile each, all about the farm store, the machine shed and on and on ad nauseum. Grass was carelessly tossed about the yard since we had nearly fifty acres for our livestock to graze. We mowed to keep up appearances. I shamefully admit it.

Not anymore. Thank heaven. The stress of our  farm and barn always looking its best,was nerve wearing, especially on Keith since I was the one harping on him to clean up, put away, organize. I still harp but he's better at ignoring me. And without the organic inspectors, milk inspectors and daily customers making visits, the need to clean and organize is purely my own problem.

Mowing on The Poor Farm is very different. We own one one small push mower. The primary area we care about is a small rectangle, about twenty foot by fifty foot, where we have our fire pit and outside seating just outside the grain bin. When we mow it we ALWAYS use the mower's bagger and the grass is fed to the horse, the cows, the steers. whoever is closest or neediest at that moment.

Outside of our immediate outdoor lounge area, are other regions we mow periodically , again for livestock feed value or merely to control weeds, Overall though, our tolerance for weeds here is about as high as they are.  Rather than constantly fighting nature we have learned to work with it. High grasses, weeds, and wildflowers  benefit us because it increases the pollen for our bees, offers shade and hiding places (from hawks) for our poultry, grants living space to beneficial insects and saves on mower gas and homesteader energies.

This limited mowing also gives bull snakes a nice place to hide. These snakes are farmers friends as they do an excellent job of consuming rats or mice but when I come across one unexpectedly, I still jump.

Our poultry keep the extra bugs: ticks, flies, spiders, mosquitoes, in check.  Not that we don't have those insects, it's just not a big problem, at least not for us. Visiting relatives might scoff. The additional wildlife, with the exception of the rabbits, we do enjoy. We have a large variety of birds here we never saw (or heard) on our old farm.

We do from time to time, use our push mower to tackle weeds in our four vegetable gardens. With weeds cut short, we can  easily mulch with old hay/straw.  I'll do just a garden specific post soon.

Back to mowing. In addition to the occasional push mowing we also allow the horse to graze about our main work areas. We just string a few faux hot wires across areas we don't want her in and she free ranges between  buildings, and up and down the driveway. She does an excellent job of eating-exactly what she wants-and then leaving us to mow down her rejected greens, but still, it provides food for her and limits our mowing energies.

Area to left of drive usually grazed by "Free Range" horse, but sometimes we mow it
to provide feed for her on days we keep her in her lot.

When Ennis is out of her penned area, she roams past us working in a garden or visits the calf in her hutch. She's very social. She also deposits all her deposits alongside our outhouse, not randomly across the yard. it's just one more reason I love her.

If we are mowing something we know isn't good for the livestock, like weeds mixed with partially decayed bark mulch for example, it is used to mulch plants in the garden.

True, we do work in circles it seems, but this way no good grass is wasted, thus saving on feed bills and providing needed exercise to this homesteader. I hate seeing all the ditches mowed around our county and the grass just left to rot, when it could be baled and fed to local livestock. Below on left is the ditch in front of our property and on the right is the ditch in front of the neighbors field, directly across the road from us.

Because of our miserly ways with mowing, The Poor Farm isn't as pretty and tidy as our old farm, but every day it is more sustainable and who ever said self sufficiency had to be pretty?

Damn. I think I did.