September 2017

Where have I been?

Working.  When I started this year, my goal was to figure out how to have it be more sustainable.  Not in the ecological context, but in the my-life-is-too-crazy context.  Why am I beating myself over the head about all of this?

Mama and one of our 2017 calves

Back in May I made the decision to really simplify things.  Not an easy call for sure, but it was something that had to be done.  We are getting out of the cattle business.

So now we are down to laying hens only, plus a few freezers full of meat to sell.

Once the meat sells we will simplify to ‘projects’ only.  A few pigs sometimes.  A group of meat chickens on occasion.  Maybe some sheep again?  I will graze other peoples cattle on our pasture twice a year for 1-2 months each.

Not an easy decision to make.  But over time I have learned that the farm breaks even financially, my income comes from my brewery work, and the farm prevents us from living the kind of life we want.  For instance being able to do overnight camping trips.  So rather than fight it, I will focus on my brewery work and enjoy a less hectic lifestyle.

What do I do for breweries?  I work from home as a consultant and equipment provider.  My specific niche is the wastewater side of brewing.  Depending on where they’re located, wastewater can range from a non-issue to a deal breaker.  Or somewhere in between.  Or they might not even be in a town and they need to dispose of all wastewater on site?  That just barely scratches the surface, but it can be a big deal.  And being what it is, they don’t want to deal with it.  And I have a lot of experience in this field.  I like helping people.  I don’t like being my own accountant:)

At this point I still own our cattle but will be selling them this fall to a local pasture based rancher.  Ahhhh, relief.

I will remain heavily involved in the Montrose Farmers’ Market.  I am currently board president and will probably remain in that position for awhile.  2017 will be my last year as a vendor however.

Cool picture

In the summer of 2016 we planted a bunch of Mammoth sunflowers from seed.  They are a very cool plant, they are really big!  But one thing I wasn’t expecting was the habitat they provided.  All summer long these plants were a swarming scene of life and death.  They were infested by aphids but remained healthy all summer.  The aphids attracted lady bugs, praying mantis, and wasps.  Here is a pretty cool picture of a typical scene of just one leaf, click on the picture for the full size version:

I’m not sure exactly what is going on here besides a feast.  I think the small white critters are larval praying mantis.  We have a ton of mantis’s on our farm, it looks to me like the ladybug is eating the mantis’s instead of the aphids.

Seasonal calving

I don’t consider myself to be a cattle expert.  Not by a long shot!  However one of the things I wanted to do before buying our first calf was get in to seasonal calving.  When do the local deer and elk have their babies?  That’s when I want to have our calves.

But is that right?  Everyone else around here calves in winter or early spring.  Am I making a mistake?

The basic idea is you want the calving in late May/early June to provide the cow with a month of good grass ahead of calving.  She will regain any weight lost over the winter and get good nutrients to the calf during the last month of growth.  The calf is born in to warm weather, so there is no weather stress.  The pasture provides great nutrients to the cow through the summer for milk production, and the green grass is helpful to the calf for rumen development.  It all makes so much sense!  Read more about all of this on this short web page.

Drawbacks to seasonal calving?  Flies are potentially one of them.  However we’ve read that fly exposure to the pregnant cow in late spring passes on fly resistance to the newborn calf.  We’ll see about that.  Another is the animal is potentially younger & smaller at market time.  At this point I plan to finish my butcher animals in May and June each year, with a butcher date of about July 1 when the animals is a full 2 yrs old.  Is 25 months old enough time to fully grow and express themselves?

Anyway, lots of learning as always.  But I thought you might appreciate this.

 

February 2016

We have some live in help for a few months.  His name is Evan, I wish I had a picture to put up here.  He is helping do chores on the farm so we can travel to see family.  He’s also a chef, and is cooking most of our food for us:)  Quite nice.  He recently moved here from Baltimore, but he has lived in Montrose before.  He’s big and hairy, that’s a good enough mental picture for you for now.

It’s lambing season!

So far we have 3 lambs on the ground and healthy, more on the way.  I purchased these ewes with an unknown lambing date.  The previous owners had a ram get loose and who knows when they bred.

Of course, these lambs were born while Emily and I were in Tucson visiting my dad.  To top that off, Evan had plans to have friends over for a nice dinner that he was preparing.  The ewe went in to labor at 4 PM the day he was having all of these people over for dinner!  Nice timing.  Nevertheless, twins were born in to good weather and with no assistance required.  2 days later another ewe gave birth to a single healthy lamb.

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Our hen and pig cohabitation project is still going well.  Which means the pigs haven’t figured out that chicken tastes good.  The hens will be moved on to pasture in mid-March so the pigs can dig under the eggmobile.

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Pigs spend a lot of time snoozing, and there were more laying in the dirt area before I walked up. Looking for a snack no doubt.

5 of the 8 pigs will be butchered around April 1.  The remaining 3 need another month to get big.

This area will be part of our vegetable garden this summer, the animals provide lots of manure all winter long and then dig it in to the soil along with tree leaves and wasted hay from the sheep.  Fun stuff.

Eggs.  Egg prices are going back up to $5 beginning April 1.  At $4 per dozen I don’t quite break even, even when just looking at feed costs.  Add in oyster shell, housing needs (see that plastic cover in the picture?), labor, etc. and eggs are a losing game for us.  People sell them for less around town; if you want cheap eggs get them from someone else.  If you want high quality eggs from birds raised on pasture and fed non-GMO feed, get them from me.

The cattle are doing great.  We’re approaching the patience time of year.  Our pasture is just starting to grow, but we can’t let the animals eat this new grass- we’re robbing the plant the early season energy and nutrients needed to get started.  So the cattle are held in to a smallish area for 4-8 weeks while the pasture grows back.  Once the grass gets to 6″ tall, we can start grazing, hopefully in mid-April.

October 2015

He’s still here; the bull that is.

What a pain. And of course a nice school of hard knocks lesson for us. I didn’t grow up with cows, everything I learn I get by reading. But there comes a time when experience is better. For that I turn to my local cowgirl, Helen Rutherford. We bought our cows from her in 2014, and we want to buy more calves from her. But we have to get rid of this bull first. We might just buy the bull and happily butcher him in 2016 if we can’t get rid of him.

Helen brought us her stock trailer, it’s sitting in our pasture now. Her advice is to get the animals used to going in there, feed them in there, let them rub on the sides and get used to it’s metallic noises. When the bull goes in shut the door and he’s trapped. Guess what. He knows it’s a trap. Our cows and steer go in there no problem, even if I’m already in there. He seems to know better, again, what a pain! He was supposed to be gone in mid-Sept.

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Small bull, big pain. But I do think he was successful in breeding the cows.

The change in the seasons is here. Gardens are being put to bed, and since it’s not as hot and the grass is going dormant things stay muddy for longer. So our eggmobile is stuck in the mud. The joys of farming! I might need to move it with my pickup truck to get it where I need it to be.  On a side note, we do have lots of eggs for sale.

We did a 5-day family trip to Bend, OR! Friends of ours got married and we went for the reception. All of our friends got to meet Jemma for the first time. Our neighbors took care of the farm while we were away and did a great job.

Right before this trip to Bend I butchered all of the turkeys. Turkeys were much better for us this year than in years previous, but still we had 33% mortality. Is that a success? This is our third year raising turkeys, in the first 2 years we had a total of 20 birds and wound up with 2 in the freezer. The issue was predators, mink and fox. Mink!? This year we started with 15 and wound up with 10 in the freezer. 4 died in the brooder when they were little, 1 died outside from some sort of illness. But no predators! Again, is that a success? Turkeys are pretty simple once they go outside, but they’re much more fragile when they’re young. At least that’s their reputation- and it’s mostly true if they behave. The first 2 yrs what happened was the birds would fly outside their enclosure at sunset and couldn’t figure out how to get back in. Fox bait.

The summer farmers market is winding down, transitioning in to the indoor winter market.  This was our first season at the Montrose Farmers Market, and it was pretty good.  However my goal has always been to not do any farmers market.  It ties up every Saturday morning which makes things like camping difficult.  But I like it, talking with new people all of the time and telling our story.  I will be at the farmers market through 2015, taking the winter off, and will be back at it in May 2016.  I will have eggs for sale direct off the farm all winter long, hopefully I get enough traffic this winter to keep up with the egg supply!

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Anyway, farming like anything in life, is full of lessons.

July 2014

Sort of a mellow month here this month. Hay is done, chickens are butchered… Now we’re just moving the cattle & chickens every day and feeding the pigs. And irrigating. We got some family time in at Ouray, and John got in some good hikes in the Silverton area with his buddy Brad.

Chores take about an hour in the morning, and 10 minutes in the evening. In the AM we feed the pigs, move the cattle, move & feed the chickens, and refill everyone’s water. In the evening we feed the pigs, feed the chickens again and collect eggs.

100 cattle are easier than 20 chickens… 100 chickens isn’t any harder than 20. Cattle are the easiest on the ranch, then pigs, and chickens are the most difficult. At least in our world. The chickens wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t have so many foxes around. Let your guard down and birds will disappear. Grrr. The cattle are kept where they need to be with 1 flimsy piece of electric string. Very easy to move every day and they walk their themselves. The chickens are enclosed with electric netting, to keep the birds in and the predators out. Usually this works fine. Sometimes a chicken will fly or crawl out of the netting looking for something tasty and that’s when the fox comes and takes them.

We lost all of our turkeys, mostly to fox. Turkeys are much more difficult than chickens, at least until we get a system figured out.

Here’s our turkey story. Last year (2013) we started with 15 turkey poults (chicks). We ended up with 2 in the freezer. We lost a bunch in 1 night to a fox. Not sure what happened, but I think the fox scared a bunch of turkeys and chickens out of their enclosure. They would have been fine if they stayed in there. We had about 20 dead chickens and turkeys that morning. Not a good way to start the day if you’re a farmer. We slowly lost the rest of the turkeys to fox through the summer and fall.

This year we did our turkeys a little different. We started with 5 poults. Long story short, after 2.5 months we lost one overnight, probably to an owl. A few weeks later we lost 3 to a fox. The last remaining turkey was wounded in that fox attack and we had to butcher it. It had some big claw marks on its back, but we were able to salvage most of the bird.

When the birds are small we raise chickens and turkeys together. The chickens are ‘teachers’ for the turkeys. The chickens show them where the food and water is. Not that difficult, but mom isn’t around to teach them. At about 7 weeks it’s time to separate the turkeys from the chickens. The turkeys are getting big and the beat up on the chickens. The problem is when we take the turkeys away they do everything they can to get back to those chickens. They miss their flock. Last year we raised the turkeys with laying hen pullets, the chickens were pecking at the toms tail creating a lot of blood which caused them to peck there even more. This year we raised the turkeys with meat chickens and it worked great. But meat chickens don’t roost at night. So the turkeys were never taught to roost at night, they slept on the ground. An easy target for a fox.

Nothing is cheap in the livestock world. Sometimes we can buy chicks on sale for $1 each, but then we have to feed them and that’s where the money comes in. Of course, feed stores know this. Anyway, John didn’t want to do turkeys this year after last years fiasco. Emily talked him in to it at $10 each. So, for $50 plus probably $50 in feed we have one 12 lb turkey in the freezer.

Anyway, life on a farm. Lots of work, lots to learn, and patience is the name of the game.

Fried grasshopper

When we were traveling through Asia we came across a lot of cooked insect sellers.  Here is one market we came across on a remote border between Thailand and Cambodia.  The unique thing about what this person was selling was the size of the insects.  They’re huge!

P1110237 (Large)Most of the people All of the people at this border crossing are Thai’s going into a casino on the Cambodian side.  It was connected to the border through a sidewalk that was surrounded on both sides and the top with chain link fence.  No doors on the casino except the entrance.

Anyway, today I came across fried grashopper of a different sort.  I was in the house doing brewery work and suddenly I heard loud snapping from the electric fence.  Always the curious sort, I went out to look to see what happened.

20140725_131627 (Large)I always tell visitors “Don’t touch the electric fence”.

 

Organic lawn care

Well this isn’t directly related to our farm, but just about all of us Americans have a bit of lawn to tend.  Interested in doing the same thing but differently?  Check out this page.

This site is affiliated with permies.com, a permaculture website.  What’s permaculture?  Good question, it’s kind of hard to define- like sustainability.  Think of it as companion planting, letting animals do work for you, and designing your yard/farm/village the way nature would want you to- all rolled in to one.  Interested?  Maybe the best way to describe it is hugelculture.  I first read about this in early spring 2013.  Immediately I thought “Duh, of course!”.  So I built one.

Here is the page where I first learned of hugelculture.  I also have a post on this website about hugelculture, but it’s mostly copied and pasted from that page.