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.

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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.

November 2015

Regular readers, if there are any of you, are probably getting sick and tired of me saying ‘It’s been a mellow month around here’.  Happy to oblige.

He’s gone!  The bull is gone.  What a relief.  After 2 months of cajolling him twice a day with grain, I finally got him to voluntarily go where I wanted him to go.

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It’s hard to see, but he’s in there.  We borrowed the trailer from our friend Helen, it took him 3 weeks, but he finally went in.  Once he was comfortable going in and out, on the right day I shut that big door and he was locked in!  What a relief.  Our cows were in there with him and they were all nervous with the door shut, but I was able to sort them myself and his owner came and picked him up a few hours later.  What a relief.

With him gone, that means I don’t need to buy him (and butcher him next summer).  So I bought 2 calves from Helen:

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And we also bought 6 pregnant ewes:

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All of these purchases were waiting on that bull leaving.

The calves are about 7 months old, one is ours for 2017 and one is for the farmers market.  The sheep are Katahdin hair sheep.  No shearing and no tail docking required.

What a relief.  Did I already say that?  You have no idea.

Speaking of no idea.  I have no idea about sheep.  Never really been around them.  But I’ve wanted them on the farm since we bought it (spring 2013 for the curious).  They eat grass and they taste good.  Good combo.  They’re supposedly all pregnant, don’t know exact due dates, the farm we got them from had a ram get loose.  One is very pregnant now and due within a month.  The others will get there.

One interesting thing about sheep is the first 80% of the gestation the embryo hardly grows at all.  Then in that final 20% the little guys really start growing.  Since I don’t know anything about sheep, what I’ve read is this last 20% (the last month) you should give them some grain since the lambs are growing so fast it’s hard to get the ewe the nutrition she needs without it.  We’ll see how that winds up shaking up as time passes.

Anyway, not a mellow month around here.  A very fun month!  We have pigs again soon, but they came in December so you’ll have to wait until next month for that story.