November 2016

Fall and winter on the farm are pretty mellow compared to spring and summer.  And I’d imagine just about any farmer will tell you the same thing.

We have pigs again!  I bought 7 weaner pigs from a small farm in Hotchkiss.  This family had 3 daughters, 2 are of 4-H age- so they are used to pampering their hogs as they would their competition pigs.  I bought them at 2 months old and coming to our farm was the first time they have been outdoors; ever!  They were a very nice family, but we didn’t see eye to eye on pig raising.  These pigs were pampered and spoiled, not confined.  They even had heat and air conditioning!  But still, they were on a concrete floor with about 6″ of wood shavings; not much opportunity for a pig to be a pig.  A few more will arrive in December.

I am officially out of the sheep business, and that is OK with me.  I liked having them around, but as I mentioned earlier, I don’t have enough pasture for both sheep and cattle.  It’s surprising how much sheep eat.  Roughly 6 full grown ewes = 1 full grown cow with regards to weight, or Animal Units (1 animal unit = 1000 lbs).  When planning feed like hay or pasture, we think in terms of AU’s.  The idea is ten 100 lb animals will eat the same amount of forage as one 1000 lb animal.  But I don’t think it’s true, at least not with sheep.  It’s surprising how much they eat.  We sold 3 lambs and we kept a ewe for ourselves (technically mutton).  Of all the animals we raise, I think this will be my favorite with regards to flavor; chicken, pork, and beef is very mild flavored compared to lamb or mutton.

At this point, let’s just call it end of November, we have about 65 hens, 6 cattle, and 7 pigs.  In a month we’ll be up to 9-10 pigs total and we’ll hang with those numbers until more birds start showing up next year.

Laying hen/chick wise, I’m going to do things a little different next year.  I am going to get chicks as early as possible.  I might make a special trip to Junction just for chicks?  I’d like them to start laying in early June.  This will give me lots of eggs through the farmers market season.  One thing I’ve learned selling at a farmers market is variety is key!  Eggs, chickens, beef, and pork all on the same day leads to very good sales.  Having just 1 item can still be OK but no nearly as high in sales.  Makes sense, but some of us need a 2×4 across the head until we get it.  Brooding chicks in the dead of winter will not be easy.  They’ll spend the first few weeks in our house (cringe (very dusty)), then move them to a brooder barn for a few weeks before going out with the rest of the hens.  I don’t know, it sounds like a good idea right now…

Winter is also a time for business planning and reflection.  Things have to change.  But how?  We’ll see, there is joy in the journey.  I took a Holistic Whole Farm and Ranch Business Planning class a few years ago.  Highly recommended and it really changed how I run our farm.  This class is like a business class for farmers with a little bit of hippy thrown in.  Anyway, each fall I do financial planning for the coming year.  It starts out sounding great on paper, the trick is to manage things well enough when things get busy so you can utilize the solar energy to the fullest and not wear yourself out.

For me most of my income comes from brewery consulting.  My joy comes from farming.  I need to balance those two.  Ask yourself, which would you pick?  Oh, I’d pick the joy- but I’d be broke within a year!  As much as I hate to say it, cash is king and cash is good.  Farming will never equal brewery consulting for income; I make more in 2 weeks of consulting than I do in a year of farming- and it’s a lot less work.  But it’s staring at a computer all day.  Still, long term where should I focus my efforts?  Right.  Change is constant…

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.

20160229_160809 (Medium) 20160227_165717 (Medium) 20160222_065553 (Medium)

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.

20160225_090620 (Medium)

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.

December 2015

I really like winter on the farm.  Summer is a lot of work.

Chores that about 20 minutes every morning and evening.  In the summer it’s about an hour every morning and evening.  I love it, it’s good exercise and it’s great spending time with the animals.

We also get to eat our bountiful harvests.  We have too much meat, and we also have a freezer full of all sorts of our veggies, and a pantry full of home canned sauces, jams, and fruits.

I have to be better about lunches, maybe that should be my new years resolution?  Even though I work from home, I rarely have time to cook lunch, eat it, then do the dishes.

We have one ewe who is very pregnant.  Hopefully the rest are pregnant and due when it’s a little warmer.  All of the ewe’s have ear tags, but I don’t like calling them 18, 19, 20, etc.  So their names are the last number on the tag- with a Y on the end.  3y (pronouned like ‘belly’) is the one due within a week or two.

All of the cattle are doing great.

20151212_074024 (Medium)

All 5 of them sharing the feeder. The 2 big cows (brown) kind of beat up on the small calves of the left, sometimes the calves have to wait until the cows are done eating to get their share.

Our chickens and pigs are cohabitating for the winter.  So far so good, the pigs haven’t figured out that chicken tastes good.  But they do know their eggs are tasty.

20151217_145804 (Medium)

The hen house is the upper part, the pigs live in the straw bale portion under it. Pretty weater proof and toasty warm on a sunny day. The pigs body heat might give the chickens a little warmth on those cold nights. Might.

 

20151217_145821 (Medium)

This whole thing is parked on part of our garden. There is plenty of fertilizer being applied now, and when the pigs get bigger the digging will really start. There are lots and lots of leaves and hay on the ground where it looks like dirt, that will get worked in to the soil this spring from a combination of pig feet, pig noses, and chicken feet.

Stay warm everyone!

July 2015

Summer! It’s been good so far.

We brought out cattle to the processor on July 1. Finally! These cattle were bottle raised by Emily and I back in the summer of 2013, our first summer on this farm. We bought them from James Ranch near Durango. Are we sad? No. We’re finally getting some significant cash coming in to the farm! Sorry cows, that’s the way the ball game works;)

Chicory in the pasture.

Chicory in the pasture.

The cattle were processed at Homestead Meats in Delta, the only USDA inspected processor in the area. I owe a big thanks to our neighbor Terry for loaning us his trailer and hauling these cattle to Delta. The cattle hung in the cooler for 2 weeks, then were cut according to our instructions. I am a roast fan, not so much for ground beef. So we have a lot of roasts. Hopefully farmers market customers have similar preferences. But it’s not quite roast season yet.

Here is our cattle price list and we still have a nice selection of just about all cuts. I’m hoping to sell out of this beef by Nov 1 or so. The prices are a little high, but please don’t think we’re getting rich off of this. The money goes to buy more cattle and minerals.

Another exciting thing for the month is we have a bull! We were able to lease a bull from a rancher in Fruita. We have 2 cows that need a bull. Finding a bull proved to be a challenge. Most of the cattle around here go to the high country for the summer. Artificial insemination was an option, but not something I wanted to do. Late in the game I found the bull in Fruita. Kind of a haul, but I think it worked out well. He’s a lowline Angus bull. Our cows are Hereford. So we should get black calves with white faces. Our biggest concern is this bull is small. 18 months old, our cows are 26 months old. But lowline cattle are just small. We’re hoping he can ‘reach’ the cows to do his job. We’re hoping for calves in June 2016.

Bull on the left, cow on the right...

Bull on the left, cow on the right…

Chickens have kept us busy all summer. We started chicks in the brooder in April, and finally kicked the last chicks out of the brooder at the end of July. Brooding is a lot of work and the closest things come to traditional confinement houses on our farm. We generally move chicks out on the pasture at 3 weeks old, turkeys at 4 weeks.

The Eggmobile!  Hens are under it finding noontime shade.

The Eggmobile! Hens are under it finding noontime shade.  Lots more eggs coming Oct 1!

Our first batch of meat chickens were butchered in early June, and they were a huge disappointment for us. Our second batch turned out nice and big, but they were about 3 weeks late for butchering, which means 3 more weeks of feeding large hungry birds and 3 more weeks of work. We have 1 more batch of meat chickens out on pasture now, ready for butchering in mid-late August. Thanks for Russell Evans and the students of Transition Lab for helping with chicken processing!

Meat chickens finding afternoon shade.

Meat chickens finding afternoon shade.

We also have some turkeys out there. We started with 15, we’re down to 11 now. 3 died in the brooder when they were little, 1 died in the pasture over a chilly, wet night. We have had rough luck with turkeys here over the years. Turkeys are great, but when they get bigger they are really susceptible to foxes and dogs. Fingers crossed, if these turkeys don’t work out for us we probably won’t do turkeys again.

Turkeys, ready for some grasshoppers.

Turkeys, ready for some grasshoppers.

Our garden is like a jungle! Pigs dig the gardens for us over the winter and till in heaps of organic material as they go.  Compare this picture to last months picture.

20150804_111934 (Medium)

I’m selling at the local Montrose Farmers Market every week, primarily chicken and beef. It’s been a lot of fun, I like meeting people and sharing stories.

Piglets are coming, want one?

We have several piglets coming on June 15.  These are Berkshire pigs, a heritage breed with the reputation of having the best tasting pork.  We raised these pigs last summer and really enjoyed them.  They ate grass, didn’t dig to much, and were very friendly and strong.

Interested in some fall pork?  Let us know.  The cost should be about $1.30 per pound on the hoof.  Meaning a 230 lb pig will sell for about $300.  Processing costs will be in addition to this.