Tuesday, February 28, 2012


After the long, slow rains of Sunday and Monday all the greening cherry and plum trees were almost blindingly verdant.  I can see the summer grasses just starting to grow.  They were knocked back a bit by the frost a couple weeks ago.  And the cactus has begun to stand up, making us realize just how much there is out there, since it shows up so well against the soft brown grasses of last year.

We are excited to see how things grow this year and how the grazing lines will change things.  This is the first spring since we started grazing the lines.  We just put in an order with Midwestern Bio-Ag for minerals and  fertilizer.  Last summer we had gotten a soil test done, and we are only just now getting ready to improve the first two grazing lines.  This is something we've wanted to do since we first started.

  Hopefully it won't be too early for it to start making a difference this spring, as Ward's just ran out of hay last week, and they will be out until next season when it is cut again.  We were driving out to High Springs to the Midweast Feed store to get bales, but they told us they're a week away from being out, and the next bales are going to be $80-$90 each.  That's double what they were.  The heat and drought in Texas means that all the hay is going to them.

  We're trying to get rid of Richard the bull as fast as possible (this weekend?).  He eats so much hay, it's just incredible.  They've gone through hay twice as fast with him around.  I had thought AI was expensive, but it would be like nothing compared to keeping the bull for 6 weeks, and paying for his services.  Our neighbor has some square bales we can buy for slightly less expensive than the store, but it's still going to be more than before.  We moved the goats to the wooded lot where Fred was last year.  There is a lot of underbrush that they'll love to clear out, so they should be happy for awhile.  The calves don't eat much, it's just a matter of feeding the four girls.

Grow grass, grow!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Spring Broilers

Last year we only did two batches of broilers.  They were both called "Black Broilers" at the hatchery.  Ethan got excited about them, because we had been doing batches of the Cornish X Rocks, which we didn't like for several reasons, the chief ones being that if the food and water wasn't far enough apart they would eat themselves to death and have heart attacks and the way they would get so large and immobile that they ended up lounging on the cactus and blackberries and get really gross cactus-spine pimples that ruined the carcass.

The first batch of "Black Broilers" turned out great.  They grew well and were extremely vigorous, to the point of being hard to catch.  Unfortunately, the next batch we got (from the same hatchery--I won't say any names) were just awful.  We gave them the same food and the same care and it was about the same conditions, but it was like they had sold us a batch of reject black sex-linked laying hens.  There were maybe six roosters who got to be a decent size, but the rest stayed like laying hens.  We even grew them out for an extra month, hoping to get something out of them, but alas.  A good 1/4 of them were only the size of pigeons--literally, I have to cook three of them to feed our family.  But the most disturbing thing was that when we processed them we found one of them was deformed and had been born with no wing on one side.  It wasn't like it got ripped off or anything.  The skin was perfectly smooth, it just didn't have a breast or wing on one side.  When I wrote to the hatchery and told them about the deformed bird they sold us, they sent back this completely inadequate reply:

We appreciate the information and will keep this information for our records.  All breeds can grow differently from year to year depending on external conditions.  We appreciate your business and look forward to your future orders.  Thanks again for the information.

It's really too bad, but there will be no future orders!
We did get some really nice batches of laying birds from them.  Our Araucanas and Barred Rocks are great chickens and they came from that same hatchery.  However, the last batch of laying hens we got from there we lost a bunch when they first arrived, and they just don't seem as good as the other birds.  I wonder what changed.

Anyway, I'm really excited about this new batch of broilers.  My uncle in Maryland suggested we try the Freedom Rangers.  He had already grown several batches with great results.  They seem to be what we were hoping for with the black broilers--a good meat bird that is also suited to an outdoor, small-scale production model.

An interesting story:  when Ethan picked up the chicks at the post office, they had two batches of chicks for pick up that day, so he had to give them our address so they could tell the right one.  The other batch was from the same hatchery that had sold us the bad batch of "Black Broilers."  Ethan said our chicks from the Freedom Ranger  hatchery were peeping like mad, but the other batch sounded very weak.  The woman at the post office told him, "I don't know what's wrong with these other chicks.  They don't seem to be doing as well.  They didn't even have any air holes in the box when they got here."

So far they are growing well and thriving.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ed Sherwood

While this is old news at this point for the community, our friend Ed Sherwood was killed suddenly in a head-on car crash 15 days ago.  This is a huge tragedy, not only for his family, but also for the community.

I started getting milk from Karen and Ed's farm eight years ago.  They were the ones who told us about ACRES and got us started on farming the way we are.  Right after we were married, we farm-sat for them for a weekend and got to milk the cows.  They have been so helpful and inspiring to us.  Generally, when I have a problem with the goats or cows I first look it up in Pat Coleby, then I'll Google it, and then I call Karen and Ed.  The only reason I don't call them first is because I don't want to bother them for something that would be easily looked up.  Just a few months ago, Ed came out and showed us how to castrate Meat-head, something that we really needed to see done to do it right.  The gift of this skill will be useful the whole time we are involved in farming.

Their farm and their cows are beautiful.  So many babies and families in the community have been nourished by their hard work.  At his service this past Saturday, I was honored with the privilege to read a poem by Wendell Berry.  It speaks to me so much of Ed and of the farm and the life that he and Karen built, that I am repeating it here, in honor of Ed Sherwood:

The Man Born to Farming

The Grower of Trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout
to him the soil is a divine drug.  He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing.  He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
That the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
Like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
Descending in the dark?


Well, we tried milking Geranium.  We weaned Meat-head (her July surprise calf) when we moved all the girls in the garden to be with Dennis's bull Richard.  We were excited to milk Geranium, since she's supposed to be from a milking line of Devons, and at the ACRES conference we went to years ago, Sarah Flack had said all sorts of nice things about Devons and high butterfat.  But not so for Geranium.  At the very most she made about 1/2 gallon of milk, with hardly any cream compared to Matilda, which might have still be worth it if it weren't for her personality.
After we bought her she quickly became known as "Geranium Insanium" around here, which has morphed into "Derangium."  She's not really mean, just crazy.  For example, about a week and a half into milking her, I had just petted her neck, scratched her head,  and fed her a treat of peanut hay after milking and I opened the gate so she could go back to her friends, saying kindly, "There you go, Geranium."
And Geranium bugged her eyes out, shook her head and charged through the gate, trying to kick me on the way out.
I recently looked over her papers again and realized that she had been sold from four other farms.  I think I might know why.

And her teats were really strange, almost more like a goat udder than a cow's.  You can't tell from looking at them at all.  So I had had to milk her like I would milk a goat.  And she would kick.  There's a cow-hoof impression on the milking bucket these days.
Her milk, although it wasn't as creamy as the Jersey milk, was very sweet and tasty.  My children preferred it.  We were speculating that perhaps it was because she might be an A2 cow, and Ethan said that for Geranium, A2 means Angry squared.
Not worth the half gallon.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Cat Warmer

The seedlings for the summer garden seem to have gotten a good start so far.  I feel much more relaxed about the whole thing this year.  I had a rough start as a beginning gardener, what with our very sandy soil, no rabbits or cows for lots of manure and limited knowledge.  I'm embarrassed that it took me two years to figure out that the seedlings need heat and light.

Teasel has made it very clear that the cold frame is actually her personal cat warmer.  And that it needs a cat-door.  She keeps getting stuck between the double layers of plastic on the sides, although maybe she's not really stuck, because she's always mad after I pull her out.  It can be hard to tell with cats.