Merry Christmas from Woven Meadows

Hope you’re relaxing and enjoying those you love and cherish on this day where we’re thankful for our family, farm community (that’s you!), and our animals.

We loved seeing our children’s lit up faces at stocking surprises on their beds and presents tucked under the tree and then slipping out to the barn where cows warm breath made puffs of white appear and the chickens eagerly greeted us hopeful for scratch and the gilt snorted in greeting and the calves moo’ed heartily for a hay refill and the piglets who are growing quickly nibbled at our calves through our pants and anxiously sucked down whatever treats we had to offer. Then with our arms weighted with a little more than two gallons of fresh milk and at least a dozen eggs, we quickly washed the milk can before entering the warm and welcoming house. Then the debate of a yummy breakfast of eggnog french toast first or present opening first …

Happy Solstice!

It’s snowing, snowing, snowing and it’s grey and dark. Josh has just come in from doing chores (after I slept in this morning! I’m really thinking of campaigning for human hibernation in winter) and the snow is picking up even more. We love this cozy time of year. We’re spending a lot of time inside with each other, working on plans for next year, snuggling with our kids, and staying toasty next to the wood stove.

We’ll start looking at seed catalogs soon! From tomorrow on out it just gets brighter :)

Weaving a Farm {Part 5}: Farming Philosophy 102: Farming (at) Woven Meadows

So there is something Good in grazing. Which animals to graze? Cattle, sheep, and goats each have their merits, in terms of feed efficiency (yield of meat and milk in relation to amount of feed consumed), choice of forage (grasses, forbs, and browse), and effects on the pasture (post-grazing height, impacts of hoofs and manure deposits). I’m not sure one is any better than the other in respects to grazing. Having grown up with cows, that it what I know and like.

There is something to be said for milk over (just) meat, I think. For a dairy animal, you can get both: raise a female ruminant to breeding age, and she will then produce milk throughout her life. The feed maintenance requirements for a full-grown, mature animal are relatively low, and a grazing dairy breed—with a big efficient gut—can well turn plants into milk. A Jersey cow, for instance, can take 30 to 40 pounds of plant “dry matter” a day and turn it into 4 to 6 gallons of milk. Factor in the 2 or 3 months where a cows is dry (not producing milk) along with the feed for that time, and a cow comes close to producing one pound of milk for each pound of dry matter eaten! That, in turn, could become high-protein, nutrient-dense cheese, for a rough conversion of 10 pounds of plant dry matter becoming one pound of cheese (which is suitable for the majority of the human population who does not continue to digest lactose past childhood).

Because cows, sheep, and goats each prefer overlapping but different types of food, combinations of two or all of these on the same pasture increases both animal and pasture productivity overall. We’re just getting started with sheep and goats, but long-term we may see more of these alongside our cattle.

In addition to milk and meat, cows make something else of value—poop and pee. These animal outputs are however valuable plant inputs, high in nitrogen and phosphorus. Manure is also a food itself, namely for flies and other bugs. These of course can become a nuisance to people and animals alike. But such grubs are cherished by chickens. Here is where poultry enters the picture. Laying hens love to scratch in cow pies, looking for bugs and grubs, and by hanging out with the cows, they help reduce the number of flies that mature, while at the same time turning those bugs into food for us (eggs and meat). The action of spreading out cow-pies also helps distribute that fertility, helps grass recover faster, and encourages the cows to graze more evenly when returning to the same pasture later in the year. They scratch at the thatch as well, quickening decomposition and letting more sunlight hit the soil. Chickens also pick up and pick out other bugs and seeds in the pasture, and do forage from plants as well. Other poultry are better foragers, like turkeys and ducks; ducks are also excellent slug-and-snail hunters. Ducks do a garden good.

Chickens would need quite a bit of land to find all the food they need and still produce eggs, so they do receive a supplement of organic grain feed. But there is a logic here as well. Like the cows, chickens also poop a nitrogen-rich, pasture-rejuvenating fertilizer. Much of our meadows are in rough shape after years of neglect, with a heavy thatch mat, low plant density, and spindly growth. The pasture following a span of meat chickens, however, looks 10 times (or more!) better—the grass is coming in greener and thicker, the product of poop and of the action of scratching. Moreover, whenever we humans eat some meat or milk from pasture-fed animals, there are nutrients that were consumed from the pasture which do not return. Long-term, this would create a deficiency in certain nutrients, like phosphorus and potassium. One way to keep things in balance would be to add rock-powders, compost, or other fertilizers. Another, more indirect route, however, is to in essence feed the nutrients to the chickens, feed people from the chickens, and still feed the soil in turn.

Pigs play a similar role. Pigs can forage, browse, and root for a good deal of food, though most still need some form of supplement to grow healthily at a reasonable rate (a mature boar or sow, however, I’ve read can get all they need by foraging alone). Like the work of chickens on pasture, pigs work the soil, and the pigs here are currently at work reclaiming land that has become overgrown with bushes and briars. Pigs also work like two-step composters, as we can feed waste foods to them, from which they get energy and nutrition, and make manure in the process. Similarly, by rotating pigs through the woods, they add back some fertility which is removed whenever we harvest wood.

Pigs for us will really shine in connection with a cheese-making creamery. Only about 10% of milk makes it into cheese, the rest is whey. Whey is mostly water, along with about 20% of the original milk protein, a bit of butterfat, some mineral salts and other solids, and some lactose sugars and lactic acid. Whey can be consumed by people, straight up, or through pretty energy-intensive processes to heat it further, producing a small amount of ricotta, or, as is commercially done, dried to make whey powder. Or, more simply, whey can be fed to animals, like pigs. Pigs make great use of the remaining protein in whey for their protein needs, and with some extra roughage and energy foods, make some nice pork for us.

I’ve mentioned that the grain we feed the pigs and poultry is certified organic. The reasons for this are many. First, recalling points from the brief history that brought our family here, one was a concern with the nutrition of our food and health of our bodies. We don’t relish eating food laced with chemical pesticides and preservatives. While pesticide residues in non-organic grains tend to be low (most of it goes into the leaves and plant, which we don’t eat), “safe” limits aside, so much the better for not passing any of it onto the animals and their meat, and in turn to ourselves.

Second, just like purchasing “certified organic” food from the grocery store is currently your best bet (though not a guarantee) that the food was produced in a sustainable, responsible manner, so too the organic food we feed our animals. A big factor here is pollution and contamination. On our farm, we don’t want to pollute the soil and water—and in turn, other plant and animal life—with chemicals, and we don’t want the products we use to have done so either. That is all part of our holistic outlook—everything and everyone “woven” together.

Third, we prefer not support the breeding of super-pests and super-weeds, resistant to the pesticides used to “control” them, nor the growth of seemingly productive yet nutrient-poor crops. The use of chemical pesticides and petroleum fertilizers do both. The practices of cover cropping, compost, and crop rotation are the preferred methods, well used in organic agriculture, with just as much mechanical tillage and weeding as necessary.

So here is the raison d’etre of the bulk of our farm and farming here at, and on our, Woven Meadows. Not least of which is the social, community element: growing Good Food for Good People. Food which is healthy, humanely grown, and environmentally sound, for the sake of everyone involved, everyone woven together now and later, here and there. We will continue to weave in other strands of farming, like fruits, vegetables, and honey, and continue to improve our practices wherever possible, whenever it seems a Good Thing to do.

Weaving a Farm {Part 4}: Farming Philosophy 101: Why we do what we do (Graze!)

Our farming activities and decisions are driven by the questions “What ought we do?” and “How ought we do it?” This is an ethical, moral “ought,” not just an economic “ought,” one which reaches beyond ourselves and our self-interest to wider and wider circles of community. It is the very “ought” which brought me back to farming. The holistic perspective which informs this “ought,” is, I think, the foundation for a broad sustainability and ethical agriculture.

What this encompasses might be called sustainability or perpetual productivity. Farming practices are sustainable when they maintain, and ideally improve, the fertility and productivity of the land in the long term. Environmentally, this would mean that topsoil and organic matter increase rather than decrease, that water quality and supply improve rather than deteriorate, and that land and water (and in turn living things) are not polluted by toxic chemicals. There also has to be a net energy sustainability, by not using more non-renewable energy (namely, petroleum) than could or is actually be produced by that activity. And the tallies must be broad and holistic—that is, we ought not simply offload the problems with our agriculture onto somebody else’s backyard or nation.

Economic and social sustainability matter too. The wages must be fair, the lives of workers and farmers respected, and the integrity of communities, small and large, considered and furthered.

Back to the farm. Now, probably 99% of other dairy farmers would scoff at my self-ascription. We’re currently milking a whopping 2 cows, and hope to bring that number up to (only) 6 or 8 in the coming year. In contrast, the average herd size in New York is 113 cows, and the range of course goes from much smaller to much, much bigger.

The fact that we decided to go with—or stay with—dairy cattle at all goes back to that encounter I had with Heifer International, and learning about rotational grazing and grass-fed food, and the overarching ethical impetus to my farming.

A dense, lush pasture sward is an extremely efficient solar harvester, capturing sunlight and transforming it into plant energy, and in turn animal and then human energy. And because there’s a lot of sun-powered plant growth, perennial pastures sequester high amounts of carbon from the atmosphere (rotationally managed pasture is even more carbon-productive than forests!). A meadow is like a huge solar array. But this solar panel can feed people. In terms of productivity, rotationally managed and grazed pasture can compete with row-crops, in such terms as carbon sequestration, human food potential, and economic returns.

Ruminants, in turn, are highly efficient converters of that plant matter. With a special stomach (the rumen) to digest cellulose, grazers like cattle, sheep, goats, and deer can gain energy from plant matter which monogastric (single-stomach) animals like humans, pigs, and poultry cannot. This means grazers or “grass farmers” can produce food (high-protein food), and in term income, from pastureland. They can do this on land that is not suitable for tillage (for growing row crops like beans or grains, for instance), and/or for less energy use (and in some cases, less erosion, chemical use, and fertility wash-off).

Some of the reasons that managed grazing is so productive is because animals are given access to pasture growth when it is in optimal condition (high in energy and protein), grazed down to a height which leaves the plants growth points as well as some leaf residue. The remaining leaves as well as the plant’s root reserves of carbohydrates allow the plant to reestablish itself, providing new growth and thus new food for grazers in a few weeks to a few months. The mechanics of grazing—biting the higher growth of grass—also encourages more tillering, producing side-shoots and extra leaves to capture more light and carbon. In the long term this creates a full solar pasture-array on the soil surface. Grazing animals also offer the benefit of fertilizing their own food source, by dropping nitrogen-rich urine and manure onto the land they have just grazed from. Furthermore, the mechanical action of their hoofs serves to work plant debris into the soil, for soil life to decompose and increase the organic matter and fertility of the land.

Neither non-rotational-grazing nor mechanical harvesting is as optimal and beneficial. When animals continuously graze pasture (in a non-rotational setting), they are constantly biting off new plant growth, so plants are basically always struggling to survive and are less productive. Moreover, animals will generally eat favored plants and leave less-desirable ones, so overall pasture composition can shift towards less than ideal types and balances of growth patterns, making for less productive pasture overall. Relatedly, when mechanically harvesting grassland (as hay, for instance), not only is non-animal energy and input required, the land is not as productive. The economics generally require that hay is harvested when there is a balance between quality and yield, usually meaning more mature grass is harvested, which is both less nutritious for producing animals, and also that the pasture or sod production has declined as those plants reached maturity. Harvested grass fields also tend to be less dense, and also require more heavy doze fertilizer applications which are more likely to leach into surface water runoff and enter waterways.

All this is to say it seems a Good Thing to graze animals. Managed grazing of ruminants does good for the health of soil, water, and air, and converts sunlight and carbon into animal food which in turn becomes people food. Healthy people food: I mentioned earlier that grass-fed milk, meat, and eggs are healthier than their conventional, more grain-fed counterparts. The fats in these foods are less saturated, with less cholesterol (and more of the good kind), and with more omega-3 fatty acids in the optimum balanced with Omega-6s. Grass-fed foods also contain more vitamins like A and E, and nutrients conjugated-linoleic acids and beta-carotene—the latter to which the yellow-golden color of grass-fed milk, fat in meats, and egg yolks testifies. Feeding people Good Food grown in a Good Way: what better use of our lands? Hence the foundation in pasture of our farming, the meadows around which all is woven.

Weaving a Farm {Part 3}: Working it All Out (or Not)

So we were going to farm.

So we made plans. Plans about how to shift the dairying, gradually, to more and more a pasture-based operation. Plans to introduce some other farming enterprises, like pastured poultry and a market garden, and to direct-market for fair prices. Plans to, eventually, wean ourselves off wholesale milk and onto grass-fed farmstead cheese and dairy products. The farm had the wholesale milk market, so we could introduce some changes gradually. Sarah had the photography business, and I could adjunct classes, to cushion our own financial needs while we built up some “sweat equity.” We didn’t have a place of our own to live, but were welcomed into my parent’s home. We all were willing to make some sacrifices; something would work out.

But it didn’t. Our immediate community—many the selfsame subscribers to the virtue of Cheapness—in large part scoffed and balked at our fair prices for conscientiously grown and raised products. Over the year, we at times clashed over farming philosophy and ideology with my father (largely along the lines of conventional vs. organic). These probably would have been manageable, had there not also been an issue with ownership, financial responsibility, and transfer and transition of the farm—not between my parents and Sarah and I, but between and among the previous generation. Transition was not going as anticipated, and ultimately it seemed folly for us to remain with the family farm when the future of its “family” status was uncertain. The short of the matter is that farmland generally is more valuable on the books than it is for the farm business, and lifelong family labor has an often unrecognized value that may not in the long term be actually or fairly compensated.

We felt trapped. Sarah had left a good job and good friends, and the photography business lulled with our relocation. I was making little progress finishing my dissertation, and now felt out of the academic loop. Plus, we still felt we could and should farm. But where? How? As many a young or new farmer knows, and those familiar with their plight, access to land and capital is a huge stumbling block.

When we moved, or returned, to Vermont, Sarah’s mother Joanna (her family had lived in Massachusetts, not too far from us in Rhode Island) obtained a tenure-track teaching job in Plattsburgh (not too far from my family in Vermont). Joanna spent the fall semester living in an apartment, while Sarah’s father Donnie remained at his job in Mass, staying with their house which was on the market; when it sold, he was already approved to telecommute, and the ‘rents would find a place near Plattsburgh.

Things fell into place. Could we—Sarah, myself, our kids, and her parents—find a place together? We had actually long talked about and considered multi-generational co-habiting. A few good farm-friendly real estate options presented themselves, and one of them, in Saranac, New York, outshone the rest. The home in Massachusetts sold after the turn of the year, and an offer was accepted on the farmstead in New York. So now, after a hectic move and home renovations, we find ourselves living and farming together, here in a welcoming community is Saranac.

And now I find myself a dairy farmer, again. Doing, I hope, “Good” Things (which I’ll talk about in Parts 4 and 5).

Weaving a Farm {Part 2}: The High Costs of Cheap Food

Happenstance brought another glimpse into the ethics of both farming and eating. My younger brother, in his first year of college, was assigned and had read Fast Food Nation, and shared the book with Sarah and I. Reading this clarified for us how our food-buying and -eating decisions have implications beyond our own wallets and bodies, back through an extended and complex kind of food chain that goes right back to the farmers. I think after that reading, we swore off most fast-food.

But we would not yet become farmers. Concurrent with our time in Alabama, and the inklings about bringing something fair and sustainable to the family farm, I had applied to graduate school, and was later accepted. Not wanting to pass up on the opportunity, we headed off to Providence, Rhode Island where I began studies and research at Brown.

We also gave birth to our two children while in Providence. We cloth-diapered and breastfed (well, not me, exactly, literally…but anyway), initially at my request. The reason was probably economics—it was cheapest. I grew up in a household of coupon-clipping and sales shopping. Cheapness was a valued necessity for many things, especially food. It remained so for me, the grocery shopper, proud of finding a good deal and stocking up on a sale. Some of Noah’s first foods were homemade oatmeal and frozen meatballs. Eventually, the oatmeal would stay, but the meatballs were out.

Probably having Noah most fostered the growing concern about what went into our family’s bodies. I remember one early trip to the farmers’ market in Providence, where I probably bought nothing because prices there could not compare to the supermarket sales. Relatedly, a year later when another student in my department sent an email soliciting people to go halves on a CSA (organic) vegetable share, I quickly concluded the value was sub-par. Two years later, however, we would buy a share ourselves, after concluding that, indeed, I did not want to be eating or feeding food with various amounts of pesticide and chemical residues and contaminants, nor grown in energy-intense, polluting, poor-paying manners. We also read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I think somewhat late on our journey, but it did help cement our decisions, followed shortly by a viewing of Food, Inc. Thus Noah went from eating $1.99 per pound frozen meatballs, to eating $1.99 per pound organic tofu. (After all, money is money, and money was still tight.)

Growing up, cheap food, in fact the best cheap food, came from our garden, or from “retired” dairy cows, or from a hunt in the woods. I picked up an interest in gardening early on. Halfway through our time in Providence, we moved into a duplex with, of all things, a yard, and were able to do a bit of urban gardening and backyard-chickening. This both held-off yet fed-into our farming aspirations. As we continued to raise our growing family in the city, we did however yearn more for the agrarian lifestyle. (Not just a “rural” lifestyle though, but one actively farming to a significant extent—otherwise urban living is probably the most sustainable option to take.)

As my studies neared an end, and job prospects seeming pretty much dismal in my area of studies, we decided we would, indeed, farm. It wasn’t what we had to do, though. Sarah had a good paying social work job, not to mention a growing photography business just hitting the 3-year mark. We did think it would be good for our family, but not necessarily much or any better than what we, or our kids, already had.

For me, a return to the family farm would be a Good Thing. It was an act hued with ethics and morals and values.

To try and make the family dairy farm as ecologically sustainable as possible was a Good Thing. To work on the economics and make it financially viable for my family seemed a Good Thing. To preserve the family farm as a family farm (I would be the fourth generation, with no one else vying for position) seemed also a Good Thing. And to produce Good Food from Good Land through Good Work—all a Good Thing.

Weaving a Farm {Part 1}: All Work and No Play (or Pay!) Makes Josh a Dull Boy

I grew up on a dairy farm, and I did not want to be dairy farmer. Yet that now (though in different ways) is what I’m setting out to do.

My predominant childhood experience of dairy farming was of my father working long hours (he’d start the work day at 4:30am and end it at 8:30pm, with just a few too-short breaks for breakfast and lunch), seven days a week (he’d occasionally get off Sunday morning to sleep in), for too-little pay (his salary was pretty much in line with a 40-hour week minimum wage job, plus housing, for a give-or-take 80 hour workweek—in a good year). Never mind the back aches, the hurt shoulder, the leg pains, and the loss of hearing. A big part of the pay issue is that we would get too-little money for our milk, because in large part the market was saturated. Why grow and produce something that is not wanted or needed? Something that took a lot of time, energy, fuel, and chemicals to produce?

So I went off to college, intending to become a science teacher. Four years later, I graduated with a BA in Religious Studies and Philosophy (yes, you read that right) and was married to a pretty swell gal named Sarah. Of note, when she first found out I lived on a farm, she thought that was great. I thought she didn’t know the half of it, simply a naïve non-farmer with romantic and idyllic perceptions of a farm. Together we set of for Selma, Alabama to volunteer for a year with an Americorps-type program, the Edmundite Missions Corps.

Part of my duties in the program involved working with a small non-profit farm connected with Heifer International. That is when I first learned of Something Good about farming. The mission of Heifer Int’l “is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth,” which is done by providing communities with livestock, teaching sustainable methods of farming, and connecting these farmers with markets. In Heifer’s words, “By giving families a hand-up, not just a handout, we empower them to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity, but our approach is more than that. By bringing communities together and linking them with markets in their area, we help bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty.”

I saw, then, that farming was not, or rather need not be, simply a job of some sort, but could be and do something good for people.

More specifically, the Heifer project with which I was working was focused primarily on pastured poultry and rotational grazing. Small-scale pastured poultry, with relatively low start-up costs and fair income potential through direct-markets, offered something to struggling farmers or could-be farmers in the area. Rotational and management-intensive grazing could optimize the use of (often marginal) grassland through the controlled application of ruminants like cows, goats, and sheep. Pasture under managed grazing, I learned, could be one of the most productive agricultural systems, in terms of carbon-sequestration, solar-harvesting, and in turn protein production, with little infrastructure and energy needs (basically some electric fencing and watering tanks), and with much less fuel use (no machine tillage, fertilizing, and harvesting, since the animals do all the work). I learned also, at a timely conference in Montgomery, “Grazefest,”that grass-fed meat, milk, and eggs were much healthier than their conventional, non-pastured counterparts. I quickly got to thinking about the potential applications of these systems to my family’s farm back in Vermont, in terms of economics, environment, and work. Turns out I was actually late in the game, as many other Vermont (and elsewhere) farmers were also in various stages of implementing such practices. Might I actually wind up back in Vermont, farming for Good?

My work with Heifer aside, Sarah’s and my other volunteer work simply did not seem needed, and thus unrewarding. So we ended our time in Alabama early, and headed back to Vermont. This timing was perfect for my family, as my father was going in for shoulder surgery (remember those 80-hour workweeks?) and would be unable to farm for 12 weeks. So I filled in best I could, a grueling 12 weeks that sobered our thoughts of farming for a living. How easy it is for those romantic images to filter into your imagination when you’re not actually farming.

Animal Update {part2}

This is part 2 that includes the animal updates on the sheep, goat, pigs, rabbit and dogs. If you’re interested in the poultry and cows see the previous post.

This spring my mom was gushing over lambs. I explained that lambs grow up. And then they were sheep. She argued all the positive attributes she could think of. Cute. Sheep milk. Cute. Fiber. Cute. And cute.
But they grow up, I reminded her again.
And then there was that fateful day when I mentioned this lamb lust to a fellow-farmer when we crossed paths at the local gas station. He said the lamb lust solution was babydolls – sheep that only grow to be 26″ at their max. This could have remained a useful bit of general knowledge and gone no further.
But my mom was in the car.
So she also knew.
Within a week we were on our way in a rented cargo to pick up babydoll southdown sheep 2.5 hours away.
An enjoyable journey where my mom talked of her plans of putting in a vineyard where the babydolls in their short stature could clear the weeds, but not hurt the vines.

We brought home three pre-named sheep: Sweet Thing, Sydney (Sweet Thing’s mom), and Zeus (the ram).

Sweet Thing is a yearling and the most friendly out of the bunch. She loves munching on carrots and also getting into the turkey grain. Her camera-shy momma, Sydney (you can see her in Sweet Thing’s picture, above Sweet Thing’s head), spends her time all over their pasture munching on grass and providing warmth to any young turkey or any guinea who chooses to perch on her thick wool.

Zeus is much more nervous and is happy to stomp his hoof to let you know he means business. We were advised early on to NEVER turn our back on a ram and we have taken that advice to heart. Zeus and “the girls” are separated for now, but the fence between their paddocks will be opened up this weekend in anticipation of spring lambing.

With Zeus separated from the girls, he was pretty miserable. After researching a fair amount my mom said that Zeus needed a friend … and the calves wouldn’t count. He needed a goat. So she scoured craigslist and found our new friend (who thinks he’s a dog), Alfalfa. He wags his tail when you pet him, calls out to you when he hears you nearby, and is naturally a proficient escape artist. Zeus quickly showed Alfalfa who was boss and Zeus’s smile became more genuine after he had a friend.

Sometimes Alfalfa is confused and thinks he’s also a turkey. He’s very talented in his animal impressions: this moment a wall-scaling-goat, the next moment a quiet turkey munching down turkey food, and from time to time a sheep who prefers the woodier weedier plants growing in the pasture.

Midsummer we also picked up two rabbits to raise for meat. It was something Josh was more interested in doing than I was, but I tried to be supportive. We have two mommas who had been with a buck … but no babies, no babies, and no babies. I asked everyone I could think of about rabbits, scoured the internet, and bought The Private Life of Rabbits. I learned that rabbits take a break from their prolific rabbity ways from July – October. So now we have two momma rabbits that have opened bottom crates they live in and are moved daily to fresh grass. Over the winter we plan to house them in the barn above the chickens, who will LOVE scratching at their droppings. Then in the spring we’ll find them a suitable buck.

You might remember our tiny one-week-old piglets we bought last spring, Cedar, Aspen, and Poplar? They are growing fat and happy in the woods near the beehive. They are super friendly (a little too friendly, in fact, when it’s feeding time!) and are completely devoted to each other, snuggling up in their nest. They will be ready for processing late in December.

Floppy is one of our two new gilts. Toppy looks very similar to Floppy, just much bigger! They are sisters, but one apparently was more food-centric as a piglet ;) Both are hanging out with Templeton, a borrowed boar. The assumption (on our part) is that there will be spring piglets from Floppy and Toppy who will be ready to be bacon, and other stuff, *grumble* and other delicious pastured pork goodness next fall as halves and wholes. These three pigs are in another paddock (they chose not to socialize with Aspen, Cedar, and Poplar) in the woods and clearing out all kinds of brush for us … but mostly lounging in the dappled sun that is coming through the trees more and more.

To round out the pig fun we also recently purchased 5 piglets. They are becoming more and more friendly as they realize we are the hand that holds the grain, maybe? They are adorable and once again I’m surprised at how small piglets are! We’re planning to raise these guys over the winter to be ready for a spring processing at a USDA inspected facility so we have them on hand when the summer market starts again next summer! Always planning ahead. They’ve made quick work of a piece we put them in near the sheep. We’re hesitant to move them because we were told that they aren’t very respectful of electric fence … and chasing piglets who are not people-friendly yet is no fun. Ask us how we know.

Throughout the summer we were having predator problems with our meat chickens. Then we found these two farm dogs:

This is Wesley, a 3 year old Great Pyrenees. He is excellent at what he does, making sure the animals are not taken off by a walking or flying predator. As he’s become more comfortable on our farm his range has grown. He is now just as likely to be walking down the middle of the road as he is to be out in the pasture. So we’ve been leashing him with a 50ft line. We don’t have heavy traffic on Chazy Lake Rd, but we do have fast traffic and we’d be devastated to lose Wesley. So he is unable to range so far, but he’s still mighty effective!

Evie came with Wesley and is an attention hog love bug. Her job is also to guard the farm animals … she mostly guards our house and her food. She has a certain line that varies little and she will NEVER cross it, no matter what temptation you might offer. Her range is limited, for sure. She is very enthusiastic with visitors (LOUD bark upon arrival, LOTS of requests of pets).

We also of course, have Eden, our inside Great Pyrenees; Molly, our smaller indoor dog; Maggie, our 17 year old indoor cat; Harry and William, and Brynn, our other 3 indoor cats; and Tiger, our outdoor cat who we inherited from the farm’s previous owners and their inherited before us, back several owners of the farm.

And based on interest we’ve had in Eden and Wesley we may have Great Pyr puppies one day … one thing at a time!

Which animal are you coming to the farm to visit?

Animal update {part 1}

I used to say we have everything but goats and horses …. now we have everything but horses (crossing my fingers on that one but not holding my breath ;) ).

So who are all these animals and what are they up to?

Hope, you might remember from the auction, continues to enjoy Shadow’s company, munches down any sweet grass you give her, and is generally gentle and easy going. She had her calves in early summer and she’s been part of the milking fun ever since. She tends to kick about once a week, most recently my hand was the point of contact, another time is was my calf (which was much more impressive with broken skin and an impressive bruise). When we first got Hope we wondered why she was already dried off (not being milked) when she was still about 5mos from calving (in a typical conventional farm cows are dried off 2mos before calving, on an organic farm it’s 3mos). Now we know. Hope’s milk supply quickly depleted and we’ve moved to milking her just once a day (in the morning). She has shown know signs of heat (ovulating – when she could be bred again) and we guess that she’s at least 7yrs old. Our plan for Hope is to continue to milk her until spring (if she keeps producing) and then dry her off to finish her on spring grass and then she’ll be hamburger. We’ve had several people ask about beef. Hope will be the first available beef option from Woven Meadows, and all of her meat will be hamburger as she is a retired dairy cow and any other cut would not be advisable (ask us how we know ;) ).

Shadow came with Hope back in March and we’ve enjoyed milking her by hand to start, and then her transition to the milk pump after Hope calved and we were moved to milking two cows (justifying the use of the machine, in our minds). We weaned Shadow off milking about a month ago in preparation for her upcoming calving, expected at the end of December. She was confused a bit at first because she knew her routine was to go up with Hope to the milking parlor area … but after a couple of weeks she has learned that she can stay with the calves in the pasture.

Chance and Libby (the two pictures above) are Hope’s calves. They are now 4mos old and have been off their momma’s milk for about a month. A few weeks ago, around the time we were working on the final weaning steps for Shadow, we moved the calves in with Hope and Shadow. These two munch on grass, stay out of Hope and (especially) Shadow’s way, and rest in the grass while chewing their cud. Libby has not learned to respect the electric fence and regularly chooses to duck underneath the one line, to hang out in the pasture with lusher grass that has not yet been opened to to the cows. Both calves have surprised us so much with their darkening color, what we assume is their winter coat.

Jersey and Yorkey are both calves from a friendly neighbor farmer who is moving out of the country. Both of these calves seem a little more shy of us than Libby or Chance, but the four have bonded together which is fun to see.

All of the calves are around the same age and will be ready for processing in the summer of 2014 (all those looking for grassfed beef – mark your calendars!). We may be adding new calves next summer in anticipation of the grass fed beef demand for summer/fall of 2015.

Chance, Jersey, Yorkey, and Shadow are all enjoying the end of the vibrant fall foliage (Hope is to the right of the frame, waiting to be let up the lane for milking … and Libby is off even further to the right of the frame … on the other side of the fence).

We also have ducks, lots and lots of ducks. We raised Pekin ducks this summer (I think we have one left in the freezer … if you want it, let us know now!). Pekin is the breed Americans think of when we order duck from a menu or get duck from a grocery store.
We have also acquired Muscovy ducks. We’ve been told by awesome customers at the farmer’s market that Muscovy is the breed French culture expects when they purchase duck. The Muscovy tend to be seasonal layers, so this spring we had several duck eggs. The Muscovy hens then went broody … and now we have lots and lots of ducks (see picture above) … I’m guessing there are 30-40 that hatched and are still living now. One hen hatched 19 young! We plan on catching the bigger of these “ducklings” for processing next Thursday. These ducks will have a different flavor and we’re excited to taste the difference. These ducks spend their days wandering around the farm, swimming in the pond, slurping in puddles, and hissing at any passerby that gets too close.

We’re debating duck breeds for next year. The Pekin ducks were delicious and the Muscovies do not lay all year. We’re debating whether to use the Muscovies or the Pekins for meat ducks and purchasing more prolific egg laying ducks in the spring for egg laying and also for garden cleanup. Any thoughts/advice/anecdotes welcome!

We also have guineas that are squawking and flying and running among the turkeys they have grown up with. They love to perch on the split rail fence by the barn, yelling at anyone who goes by, or on chillier days they like to perch on the sheep’s backs. They will be processed next Thursday along with the big-enough ducks.

The turkeys are so tame and are happy to follow us around as we do chores in their area of the farm (until we feed them, anyway). They are getting so HUGE. The tom’s are up to my chest, at least. They like to make some noise (but not as often as the guineas or roosters). There are some Thanksgiving pre-orders available and we’re considering saving some to keep growing for Christmas too!

Our 18 mos old hens are currently molting … which is why lately your dozen eggs has been sparse in the blue egg department. Our 5mos old hens (no blue egg layers) are laying like champs … in the fence row, underneath a hedge, by the hose spigot, and in their nest box. We’ve been finding random nests with many many eggs (30+) in random places. Having no idea how old the eggs are, they go to the pigs (remember bacon?). I keep telling myself that when we move the chickens to the barn for the winter, we’ll make up for it … in that they may be easier to find … maybe. The younger chickens and older chickens each have their own “coop” (the younger in the a-frame shelter you can see in the pasture and the older birds in the camper in the pasture). Both shelters are surrounded by electric netting to protect the birds from predators. Both fences are opened when we go out to do chores in the morning. The flocks have been intermingling some and we’re hopeful for a relatively smooth integration once everyone is in the barn.

In the world of poultry, the only other bird type we’ve had on our farm this summer is meat chickens. The last official set was processed in September and we’re already looking forward to our first spring batch to come! We love seeing these guys forage for bugs and nibble on grassy shoots.

Am I forgetting anyone? Pigs, sheep, goat (singular!), and dogs to come