A spectacular winter sunrise that my iPhone can’t capture – just trust me. Our sunsets and sunrises have been beautiful of late, and reminds us why we are breaking our backs working our land.
This is the year that our farm will likely reach peak capacity. At this point we reckon that to be a regular flock of 150 laying hens, 150 broilers annually, 10-20 laying ducks, thirty turkeys, our herd of a dozen goats, and eight hogs. We could expand more later on, but that will depend on our learning how to run hogs in our oak woods, of which we have about thirteen acres.
But in our efforts to reach that goal this year – imminently “do-able” – means that all of January we have been in the thick of a good many projects, including ordering a variety of birds to replace existing ones (layers are good for a year or two but then go into the stew pot) and experimenting with different breeds of turkey; up until now we have only raised Bronze Broad Breasted, but this year will also be getting some Midget Whites, Naraggansets, Royal Palms, Blue Slates, and Bourbon Reds. We are also reworking the infrastructure in terms of how they are kept, so we are in the process of building a new model chicken tractor so we can keep most of our layers permanently out on pasture as we expand. That means six tractors and lots of construction.
It takes a lot of cold hands fueled by hard cider to build one of these in the damp of a northwest winter! I got the idea for the design from the University of Kentucky Extension website.
All the broilers will be for our customers, while we will probably process one of our older flocks of layers this fall to have stewing chicken for ourselves. We also at last had a concrete slab poured in our goat barn to make mucking easier, and had the roof shored up and repaired (new shingles and no leaks! Hooray!) Our tractor finally got serviced and some desperately needed repairs done to it, and we also purchased a set of forks to attach to the bucket. We should have gotten the forks a long time ago, but file this under “who knew” – we had no idea such things existed until I was chatting with Bob’s brother-in-law John in southern Oregon – he worked construction for years, and was the first to ever tell me about the existence of such a tool! It will make loading and unloading feed, hay, and straw much easier for us.
Thanks for the intro to the forks John! This is going to be a life-saver!
Our neighbor Greg tractos in gravel fill before the concrete floor goes into our barn.
The gravel is in . . .
. . . and now the concrete.
We had never seen concrete poured and smoothed out – it was actually a pretty cool experience! Now just imagine the Romans doing this on their lofty domes without the use of hydraulics!
January was also taken up with pruning fruit trees and spraying them (this time of year with copper – don’t panic! – it’s considered an organic compound), but I don’t spray them much and don’t even bother with the larger older trees; my main concern is for the peach and apricot trees in this region which can become vulnerable to disease due to the damp. I’ve been worried this year because the weather has been mild but wet, making it essential to spray but causing some difficulties in terms of the timing of it. In fact, we did not even have leaf fall from many if not most trees until December 15 this year – that’s how mild it’s been. I have to say I now fancy myself something of an expert at pruning and training fruit trees – OSU offered a fabulous two-hour workshop on how to prune fruit trees by a renowned orchardist who was an outstanding teacher. He actually increased apple production in one of the central Asian “-stans” by 14%, convincing to give up their ancient methods of cultivation in favor of a more productive method. It was one of my best spent two hours in a long time!
In addition, we had to rewire and reconfigure our paddocks this month. This week we put the first two tractors out on pasture, each with 25 gold sex link chickens (brown egg layers). I had to put poultry netting around each coop (otherwise, I promise, all 50 birds would go into one coop!), and then run a wire to keep the goats (who have access to the same paddock) off of the coops (the chicken feed is secure from the goats, but the tarps which cover the tractors offer enticing possibilities for caprine mischief!), so the paddock is divided into two equal portions for chickens and goats at the moment. Then the three of us wrangled the chickens into carriers and put them finally on grass (after 8 weeks or so in our poultry shed).
But there is no rest, so I had to head out a couple of mornings these past two weeks well before dawn to pick up, one morning, about a dozen ducklings at the post office, and then repeat the ritual a few days later when I picked up another laying flock of Rhode Island Reds from the post office. Poultry management entails, of course, a lot more than all of this; in addition to getting the orders set for the year (our broilers will come from a local hatchery this year which makes us happy), the cleaning of tanks where the chicks will live until they hit ground in our shed, the cleaning of waterers and feeders, the checking and set up of heat lamps, all of this takes lots of time and energy.
And of course, this does not include the preparation for the arrival of goat kids starting the middle of February. Goats need boosters before giving birth, and we need to have our ducks in a row concerning birthing and kidding supplies – thankfully Lori and Nancy are in charge of that. On top of that, organizing the slaughter and sale of three hogs required no small degree of planning. But our four girls were harvested on the 29th, and we were quite pleased with their hang weights, which came in at 202, 225, 240.5, and 254.5. We hope the pork will make some people as happy as it makes us. And no sooner did we process them than we acquired our first set of Berkshire hogs to see how they do for us; and in March we will be getting a half dozen hogs of mixed breed from a local supplier. We are now at maximum capacity with our goats, so this year do not plan on keeping any kids; instead one of our farmer friends will be taking all the males but one, to clear blackberries, and we may well end up selling the does, but it depends on their temperament.
Our biggest girl was harvested on Thursday and weighed in at a hefty 254.5 lbs. hanging weight.
Pinky and Rosey are our newest arrivals – pure bred Berkshires that will marble out better than other breeds.
As far as our garden goes, I have somehow managed to trim and mulch the asparagus in a timely manner this year. We still have some meager lettuce, but plenty of leeks and squash stored up, as well as pumpkins and potatoes not to mention sweet potatoes. The leeks are particularly good, but I planted way too many of them last year (three 3 x 6 boxes), and I think even if we eat them nightly (which we virtually do!) just one box would have been enough. The garden is going to be expanded this year to include a “salsa” section – the OSU extension has an awesome recipe for tomato paste salsa made with paste tomatoes, various peppers, onions, and garlic, and we want to can and sell it as a value added product – it is delicious!
We will also be partnering up with Beth Rankin who will take and process our extra fruits and veggies under our label, so we look forward to selling some preserves and anything else she comes up with this year. I also got a great idea from composting from Bob’s brother-in-law John – he embedded worm bins in his straw and manure pile (which is not too big so as to not get too hot) in order to work down the pile into a nice rich mix of carbon, nitrogen, and plenty of worm castings; so last week saw me moving our worm bins into our compost heap in our garden (oof, yet another kick-butt task!) and we will see how it goes.
All of this has taken something of a toll on our bodies, and there have been days when we have had to simply say No. No, we can’t lay on the cold concrete today, injure our shoulder, and build yet another chicken tractor. No, we can’t unload the truck tonight – put a tarp on it and we will do it tomorrow. No, we’re too tired to cook tonight, we’re going to Mac for sushi. At one point I took several days off to work on a pet project of mine, a sub-linear translation of some of the more important speeches in Thucydides (I got drawn into Thucydides, whom I’d not read in Greek since 2001, while teaching Greek history this fall – the narrative in his history is generally easy, but the Greek in his speeches, as Cicero noted, is nearly unintelligible and needs to be carefully unpacked).
In sum, we have a great deal on our plate this year, and the year started off busy from the get go and it will stay that way as we look ahead: the fruit trees I mentioned, now that we have over 40 to tend, have taken on a life of their own; we need to build a woodshed and a carport; we need to manage and rotate our pasture and paddocks; and we need to fence in our backyard to keep the dogs on property and off our road; in the midst of this, animals and a garden need to be tended and managed. So there has been no rest, no break, and there won’t be one until next November. In between there is a garden to plant, more pigs to raise, goats to birth and milk, compost to manage, 150 broilers to take to Mineral Springs, fruit to harvest, cider to press, and about 20 markets to attend in Mac. Somewhere in the midst of that, in a couple of small classrooms at Linfield, the Romans will once again gain and loose an empire, and the Greeks will fight amongst themselves for centuries until a youthful Alexander puts a stop to it. Something tells me Thanksgiving is going to come fast.