More sheep needed

This has been a challenging year, animal-wise. The weather was cool and wet, then hot and dry, then wet again, which puts stress on the grass and the animals. Unfortunately, we’ve lost several due to that stress, including 2 of the Corriedale sheep (one being the ram). As much as I love the Corries, they just aren’t turning out to be the right breed for our farm, for various reasons. One of the other breeds I had looked at were Shetland sheep, a smaller and hardier breed from the Shetland Islands, Scotland.

Did some searching to find breeders in my area, and was surprised to find at least 4 within a reasonable driving distance. Made an appointment at the closest one, and now have a new fiber friend and 3 Shetland sheep!

One of the reasons I was wanting to have Corriedales is that they come in colors – the most common one around here is the cream, but there are also shades of brown and black. I discovered that the Shetlands come in those colors as well – white, and 10 registered shades of brown and black. Plus the lambs can be any of those colors and not necessarily the colors of the parents. The rams are typically horned, but they are curved horns – the pointy end is not toward the human! The ewes are usually polled (no horns).

I’m keeping the 2 Corriedales (Vicky and Sydney), and have found that Shetland/Corriedale crosses are not a bad thing, wool-wise. Hopefully next spring we will have some examples to show!

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Lily
ruby
Ruby
sven
Sven

 

 

Taming a tangled wilderness

We’re unusually free with sharing our successes and failures here at Innisfree on the Stillwater, a fact that is intentional and purposeful rather than naive and dramatic. You see, our desire, along with giving people access to quality, sustainably grown … Continue reading

We’re unusually free with sharing our successes and failures here at Innisfree on the Stillwater, a fact that is intentional and purposeful rather than naive and dramatic. You see, our desire, along with giving people access to quality, sustainably grown food is also to help educate the vast majority of people who don’t understand what it takes to grow their food exactly what it takes to grow their food.

In addition to some thinking we’re arrogant for having such a goal, one of the classic responses we get, especially to failures, is that we don’t know what we’re doing. The irony, to a point, is that these critics are right, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

As it turns out, we don’t know what we’re doing because the knowledge of what we’re trying to do, in many cases, has been almost entirely lost, sometimes intentionally. Over the past several decades, there has been a radical revolution in agriculture almost unheard of since the invention of agriculture itself, and often not always for the better. This revolution has happened so quickly that the knowledge got lost before it got written down.

The result has been tragic, from loss of crop diversity so severe that entire annual crops are now entirely clones to animals so closely bred for specific genetics that they die from eating food they’re supposed to be able to eat, along with a population now so far removed from the realities of what it actually takes to feed them that this all seems normal to them.

We don’t know what we’re doing because we’re on the frontier trying to create a bulwark against the threats these kinds of changes represent. We understand we’re not going to overturn or replace those realities, but we also know some level of that knowledge must be salvaged or rediscovered or the potential for disaster is real and imminent.

So yes, we admit our ignorance, not as a condemnation of ourselves, but as a bellwether of the risks we all face. We do this because we desperately want to learn before it’s too late and for others to understand the risks we all face.

Perhaps that makes us arrogant, but the fact is that explorers and discoverers have always had to be to succeed at what they’re trying to do. We accept that aspersion and the challenge it represents because the task must be done.

DLH

What we do when it’s 102 (degrees, that is)

Our part of the world has been dealing with some serious heat recently, which, as animal farmers, is worrisome. All of our animals have free access to shade all day, every day. Most of the time, they actually take advantage of that shade – the cows and horses will be in the barn until mid-afternoon, the chickens stay in their coop or hunker down under a piece of equipment, the sheep and goats go in their hoop hut or under a tree.

With the heat index in the 90s or over 100 degrees F (Friday was 110F according to my weather app, and it’s projected to be around 107F today), it’s even more important for us to keep an eye on all of our critters, so I will make the rounds every few hours to make sure no one is in distress and that all the water buckets are filled up.

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The cows and horses are the easiest, since they have access to fresh running water. For everyone else, it’s a matter of moving a hose around to fill up buckets or waterers. We do this in stages – water to the sheep and goats, take a break; water to the egg chickens and pigs, take a break, etc, etc. We can’t take care of them unless we’re also making sure to be hydrated and alert.

As far as farm work goes, it gets done before 9 or 10am, or after 7pm. Being prone to overheat anyway, I’m not interested in being taken to the emergency room due to heat exhaustion. The rest of the time, I do like the animals – stay in a cool place and keep hydrated.

Thankfully, this type of weather doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it takes an extra level of watchfulness of the animals and of us.

Sheep? Why not!

Way back when I was in 4H, one of the main things I did was show Corriedale sheep at the Miami County fair. After I aged out of 4H, the sheep were sold and that was the end of that.

Fast forward to me learning how to knit. How to knit socks, in particular. That’s really all I wanted to do, is make socks…until that got boring.

Then I went to Wool Gathering with my Mom. Buy a spinning wheel, she said. Mom, I don’t know how to spin. You’ll learn, she said. Happy Birth-Annivers-mas. Um. Now I had a spinning wheel and spinning accessories. I learned how to spin (thank you Fiberworks!).

To spin, you need wool. Lots of it. Good quality prepared wool is expensive to buy, especially those to-die-for hand-painted braids….mmmm…..

I had a though. THE thought, that usually means an outlay of money, effort, and time. I CAN DO THAT.

It started with “I can dye plain wool that I’ve purchased somewhere. There are lots of books and tutorials on natural plant dyes (because we certainly have a lot of plants around here)” and ended with “I can grow my own wool”. Sigh.

Skipping a bit, I talked to a guy at the Darke County fair who ended up being the son of the guy we got the Corriedales from when I was in 4H, and he would love to work with us to get some good fleece lambs whenever we wanted them.

We picked them up yesterday.

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In no particular order – Bruce (the ram), and his 3 ladies Victoria, Sydney, and Matilda. Corriedales are from Australia, so Aussie names just seemed the right thing to do!

(The green line marks them as the ones Scott thought had the best fleece – there were 20+ lambs in that area of the barn, so he did this to be able to pick them out of the crowd! It’s water soluble and will wear off.)

Corriedale’s are a dual-purpose breed – wool and meat. I’ve read that they can be milked as well, so will be trying that next year when the ladies have lambed. Sheep cheese is good stuff!

The gang will be staying in the barn for a while to get acclimated to our farm, then will be introduced to the goats and the Pyrs. As with all things around here, time and patience are the keys.

More whole grain success

Too darn cold to work outside, except to feed the critters, so why not play with some more whole grain recipes?

I’ve (re)discovered that the longer you soak the grain flour, the better the finished product will be. 12-24 hours seems to be the conventional wisdom.

Yesterday morning I started a batch of tortillas, pancakes, and bread. I left the bread dough to soak all day, and the tortillas and pancakes soaked overnight.

Results?

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Whole grain pancakes

 

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Whole grain tortillas

Thus far, we are pleased with the pancakes, tortillas, pita, and pizza crust. I did a batch of whole grain buttermilk biscuits with a longer soak, and they turned out much better.

The bread is a work in progress – maybe I’m soaking it too long, maybe the yeast is not active enough, maybe it’s in too warm/too cold of a place to soak, maybe… It’s rising, but this past batch only came out around 3″ high – better than the first batch, but not quite sandwich bread yet!

I still need to tweak the hamburger buns recipe with a longer soak to see if that lightens them up a bit – they were pretty dense.

Nothing has been inedible (yet!), which is reassuring!

 

Swinging for the fences

The one part of our farming adventure at Innisfree on the Stillwater that has dogged us since the beginning is the fact that we have continued to lease our 100 acres of tillage ground, mostly for the sake of the … Continue reading

The one part of our farming adventure at Innisfree on the Stillwater that has dogged us since the beginning is the fact that we have continued to lease our 100 acres of tillage ground, mostly for the sake of the cash rent. Of course, that lease meant a compromise in the form the use of herbicides and pesticides on that ground every year, but the money was hard to turn down.

Taking back over that ground has always been a part of our plan, and with the upcoming end of the current lease, it has been a regular topic of conversation for us.

This year, as the result of the advent of glyphosate-resistant weeds, the ante got upped with the application of 2,4-D to the entire 100 acres, which fact proved to be a bridge too far for my wife and me. As a result, we’ve decided not to renew the lease and to start working that ground ourselves.

This is a significant step for us, mostly in that it involves a loss of about a third of the farm’s cash income over at least the next couple of years as we transition to new endeavors. Irrespective of the cost, we plan to follow through on this because it is the right thing to do.

Sure, maybe we’re radical and idealistic, but we actually want to leave our little part of planet earth better than we found it for future generations. And so, we will take that ground back over and farm it the way we believe is right.

For us, that means planting about 40 acres of it in grass hay and about another 30 acres of it in fast-growing hardwood trees we plan to sustainably lumber for a variety of farm uses, especially for fence posts for our animal operations. The remainder will function as both a prairie area and for small food plots.

This transition is going to be risky and stressful, but neither of us have any doubt it is the right thing to do. We firmly believe Innisfree represents the future of agriculture, and that fact alone makes what we have decided worth it.

Here’s to hoping and to swinging for the fences.

DLH

[UPDATE: Edited for content]

And so much more…

I’ve discovered over the past five years that people have huge preconceptions about what being a farmer means. I know, coming in, I had all sorts of them, and I know I am surrounded by fellow farmers who have deeply … Continue reading

I’ve discovered over the past five years that people have huge preconceptions about what being a farmer means. I know, coming in, I had all sorts of them, and I know I am surrounded by fellow farmers who have deeply held ideas about their profession. One of my first posts on this site dealt with one of them, and dredged up the almost predictable responses (I’m not linking to it simply because I want to talk about something else).

One of the preconceptions I had coming in was the nature of what farm work meant in the first place. Many people, including my onetime self, have the idea that farming is as simple as growing and harvesting a crop or raising and selling an animal. I’m here to tell you firsthand that, whatever kind of farming one does, that could not be further from the truth.

Even at its most monoculture, farming is a polyculture because it cannot be anything else. Farming demands knowledge of everything from agriculture to zoology and demands the farmer be everything from an accountant to a zoo keeper.

It’s not an accident, then, that history notes the rise of farming intertwined with the rise of what we think of as civilization. Domesticating, planting, raising, harvesting, and slaughtering plants and animals for food in more effective and efficient ways is the necessary mother that gave rise to everything we take for granted today, either by inventing the things we have or by enabling the things we have to be invented.

And so, in the end, I can think of few other undertakings as intensive and broad as that of the farmer. Granted, the hurdles are tall and the valleys are deep, but if anyone wants to fully challenge himself in the pursuit of life, the vocation of farmer is a place to do it.

DLH

Five years on: First, a request

As part of our effort to advance our cause at Innisfree, we have started a GoFundMe Campaign to support our coppicing effort. If you are interested, go check out the GoFundMe page to find out more.
DLH

As part of our effort to advance our cause at Innisfree, we have started a GoFundMe Campaign to support our coppicing effort. If you are interested, go check out the GoFundMe page to find out more.

DLH

Fanaticism

There’s something about the sustainable food movement in all its various incarnations that brings out the fanatic in people, both pro and con. I admit that I am just as bad as anyone. Yet, there is an underlying problem with … Continue reading

There’s something about the sustainable food movement in all its various incarnations that brings out the fanatic in people, both pro and con. I admit that I am just as bad as anyone.

Yet, there is an underlying problem with that fanaticism that undermines the whole attempt to improve the way we feed ourselves, and it finds its voice in purity tests voiced by some that demand things that are unrealistic or downright impossible.

Among the worst of these tests are calls for laws that threaten the livelihoods of the very kinds of people trying to make change happen. For example, there are those who want to pass laws that would require sustainable farmers and vegetable producers to get licensed before they could produce.

I understand the motives that drive such calls because I experience them first hand. I also know they only serve to threaten the very undertaking we’re all supposed to be working together to achieve by making it harder to do what we are doing.

Perhaps, instead of calling for laws, boycotts, and bans, if we see a problem, we should be working extra hard to solve it and let the chips fall where they may. All that effort spent trashing others could be used in a far more productive way, and in the end, that properly applied effort might just produce something better than what we already have.

DLH

A breakthrough

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Yes, that is Lucy. Outside. Without a leash.

Lucy loves to be outside, preferably in an area that has no fences around it to impede her progress. With a road, river, neighbors, and coyotes, this was a problem – she would bolt through the door and be on her merry way, with us slogging after her. She would eventually come back, but it wasn’t a good situation.

After a visit to Skyview K9, we learned a few things to help calm her down, and added those to our own things that were working. And since it’s warming up out, and we are outside working, it was the best time to start the experiment.

One morning, I let her out, went about the morning chores, started doing some other work. She was tearing around the fields, and I noticed she would stop and look for me, or even come up to where I was working – just checking to see if I was still there.

We’ve been doing this almost every time we are outside and it’s been going great. She’s getting to run around, we don’t have to chase her down – winning on all sides. I keep a pocket full of little dog biscuits (yes, homemade!) as an occasional reward, as well.

She’s still hyper, but we’ve noticed a definite increase in calmness – she knows she’ll be able to go outside and run around.

Dogs can learn. Even hyper, baggage-laden ones like Lucy.