October 2014

Biggest news of the month is my hand is healing up pretty good. I’m impressed with how well it’s doing, considering 4 weeks ago the bone was in 5 pieces or something like that. And I never had a cast. Very happy about that.

Anyway, this is a family farm blog, not a medical blog…

We butchered some chickens this past week, with help from John’s dad Paul and his wife Judy. These were 18 month old laying hens and it was the first time butchering anything for the hired help. We still don’t have a plucker, so they got the job of plucking. Maybe Santa will bring a plucker?

Sunflowers did a little too well this year.

Sunflowers did a little too well this year.

We have a pretty cool and unique for around here plan for hay feeding this winter. Making hay around here usually consists of cutting the plants, letting them dry in the sun, then baling the hay, hauling it to a pile, then hauling it to the animals all winter long. We don’t have hay making equipment, so we hire this service. Baling the hay is the expensive part. So, we got a book about getting away from hay altogether. ‘Kick the Hay Habit’ by Jim Gerrish.

During the growing season we do what’s called management intensive grazing (MIG). Basically the cows are in a fairly small area and they eat everything in a day, then they get moved to completely fresh pasture for another day. They utilize the pasture plants effectively, and they get nice fresh greens every day. Equally important, the plants get to completely recover before they are grazed again (about 4 weeks later). Not one bite. Anyway, now that we’re out of the grazing season we do strip grazing. Same idea, but there is no fence behind them. The fence in front of them moves everyday, so they still get completely fresh pasture every day- but the space behind them gets bigger. And that’s OK, the plants are dormant now and don’t really need to recover. We’ll probably do strip grazing until the end of January. But the kicker is they’ll be eating hay in December and January.

The cattle will be eating standing pasture through November. We had hay cut in early October on part of the pasture, then had the hay raked in to windrows, combining 3 swather paths in to 1 windrow. Long, narrow piles of hay. The key thing to everything we do here is electric fence. We rely on it more than any other thing for everything we do. Imagine a bunch of long rows of loose hay laying in the pasture. Electric fence will surround it so the cattle can’t get in. On one edge we move the fence about 10 ft per day. So the cattle get fresh hay all winter long. Since we live in a dry environment this works (hopefully). If we lived in a wet environment the hay would rot.

One key thing we have to do is get the cattle to learn where those rows of hay are before we get a good snow. Once they know its there they’ll dig it up if its buried in snow. They’ll also lay where the hay was, the ground won’t be frozen under there. Cows are good at being cows.

Last winter we ran some pigs in an area with bad soil. In 1 winter they changed the soil to our best on the whole farm. Read some of our posts from early 2014 for pictures. Anyway, we planted corn, winter squash, pumpkins, potatoes, oats and millet in there. The whole thing was an experiment. It all performed amazingly well. We didn’t weigh our squash/pumpkin harvest, but my guess is at least 500 lbs total. We eat the good ones, pigs and chickens get the rest. Awesome.

Thanks pigs!

Thanks pigs!

Winter squash and heritage ensilage dent corn.

Winter squash and heritage ensilage dent corn.

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