When does it slow down?

I was asked a very interesting question yesterday – which is the slowest season on the farm? It took me a few seconds to think about it, and the answer is, there really isn’t a “slow” season, at least on our farm. Because we raise animals, every season is focused on their care and well-being.

Right now (fall), we are making sure things are ready for winter – hay in the barn, waterers ready to go, moving manure out of buildings, as well as putting up the garden items and machinery. Beef sides will be ready for processing in December, so there is the paperwork side of things to maintain.

Winter – keep the animals fed and watered, watch for new calves, work on outdoor projects as weather allows, mostly focus on indoor projects (indoor veg growing, household maintenance, etc), check the beehives every week or so and add food patties as needed. I’m hoping to experiment with dyeing my hand-spun yarn, and will spend more time in the pottery studio.

Spring – watch the ground to see when the grass starts growing and we can stop feeding hay, plan and plant the garden,  shear the sheep, plant the new hay field, make the list of things that need fixed/maintained this year, order meat chickens.

Summer – watch the weather and watch the grass grow, mow and bale hay, get the hay into the barn for winter, work on all those projects (they never end – finish one, find two more that need done), tend the garden, harvest honey as needed, process the meat chickens, mow  the few areas that need it (mostly clearing paths – the sheep and goats do the majority of the mowing around here!)

This is by no means a complete list – some things happen every season, like moving the sheep and goats around the farm for them to eat the grass and brush, or putting up/repairing fences (now that is a never-ending job…), checking the beehives, tending the animals, etc. Add in the daily household tasks (cooking, dishes, laundry, sweeping, etc.), and the hours fill up quickly.

Is it easy? No. Do we always *want* to go out in the heat/cold/rain/snow and do the job? No. I’m pretty sure just about everything on a farm is heavy or difficult, but it’s always interesting, and it always is engaging (physically, mentally, or both!).

I don’t know who originally said it, but the quote “Build a life you don’t need a vacation from” fits. I don’t think I could enjoy a “vacation” away from the farm – I’d be thinking about how everything is going. Did the old cow die, do the sheep have enough grass, on and on.

There you have it – there is no “slow” season on our farm, and every season focuses around caring for the grass, so we can care for the animals.123

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

Non-industrial farming as a vow of poverty

I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day that included the idea that the other person would be interested in farming as a career except for the vow of poverty. At the time, I laughed, and I still … Continue reading

I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day that included the idea that the other person would be interested in farming as a career except for the vow of poverty. At the time, I laughed, and I still am, but the idea has had me thinking since then.

In a lot of ways, non-industrial farming is never going to be a cash laden business. In fact, as far as I can tell, it never has been. One of the popular mantras among the industrial tycoons and capitalists of the 1880s and after was that America was a poor nation because so many people farmed, and if one limited one’s view to cash on-hand, they were right.

But, they were really so wrong.

Sure, non-industrial farming is not a cash laden undertaking, but that does not mean the business nor the people doing it are poor. Instead, such farming is very much a lifestyle choice that runs against the grain of the industrial-capitalist mindset that dominated much of the last 100 years.

Further, there was plenty of money in farming before consumerism came along. Just take a drive through the cities of old small town America and you will see the money farming provided in the form of stately houses and downtown businesses built by retired farmers after they handed their farms off to their kids and moved to town.

No, what makes non-industrial farming seem like a vow of poverty is the reality that one cannot have two-thirds of ones budget go out in the form of consumption if one wants to make it.

So, instead of being a vow of poverty, non-industrial farming is a vow not to be a wanton consumer. Most of the people I know in this business, myself included, who are not working second and third jobs to fund consumption go without most of the things most people think of as modern life. We don’t have mortgages. We pay with cash. We don’t have cable or TVs. Not a small number of people go without cell phones and internet service.

Instead of having those things, we invest in our farms. We grow our own food. Some of produce our own lumber. A few even make their own fuel. We fix up old stuff and use it instead of buying new. We buy functional clothes instead of fashionable ones. We shop at Goodwill.

And in doing so, we have adopted a life that is just different from what most people know. Sure we think it’s better, but that’s because it suits us.

Maybe instead of a vow of poverty, then, it’s a vow of contentment. I’ll take that any day.

DLH

Day 271

It occurs to me that I should be paying more attention to this blog!  With my laptop gone, I have to remember to use the “big screen” because my tablet makes it a little convoluted to post.  Here’s to good intentions! Things have definitely picked up around here – my two classes are taking their […]

It occurs to me that I should be paying more attention to this blog!  With my laptop gone, I have to remember to use the “big screen” because my tablet makes it a little convoluted to post.  Here’s to good intentions!

Things have definitely picked up around here – my two classes are taking their amount of time, and it doesn’t help matters that I’m creating everything for my humanities class. But that also means that when I teach it again, I will have much more time to tweak things and not worry about having to make a presentation for the next class.  Good news there.

The barn is filled with hay – next step is to go back out and mow the second cutting. For that, we all need to be healthy and able to sit on a tractor for hours. We’re working on that. It may be a touch of the flu, it’s definitely allergies, and all the bean/corn dust in the air from harvesting isn’t helping one bit. If you’re driving down the road in the morning and notice what looks like smoke hanging over a harvested field – that’s probably dust still hanging in the air from the combine harvesting the day before. And it is horrible for breathing!

Remember these cute, fuzzy things?

IMG_0370

They now look like almost proper chickens, just smaller:

2013-09-28 08.26.46They still have the fuzzy chick head, but the rest of them look like proper Barred Rocks. I didn’t know this, but their legs have black bands on them.

Lovely harvest moon the other evening – hope you had a chance to see it. Yes, those are geese!

2013-09-18 19.27.31

 

We have a couple large stands of pampas grass (a tall, decorative grass) that the dogs love to hide in. You’ll be walking around and hear “swish swish” as they move through. I found Prince hanging out in here the other day:

2013-09-18 14.00.12He’s such a silly dog.

Interwebz shopping is just about awesome. Click, click, and here comes the UPS or FedEx truck with your goodies. I don’t remember ordering this though:

2013-09-19 14.32.27

 

The garden is finished – we got a lot more tomatoes of the vines, harvested the potatoes, and pulled the last cabbages. Now for the clean-up crew.

2013-09-28 08.25.34They’ve done (as always) an amazing job of eating, and they haven’t even been in here a week. After they’re finished, we’ll put them back in the “test garden” to work in there some more, then start our soil amending in this garden – cow/horse manure, straw, and green manure (a seed mixture that fixes nitrogen and other good stuff in the soil). After the green manure has a chance to get started, we’ll probably open the gate for the chickens to scratch around and do their thing. It’s going to be a lot of work (well, what isn’t around here!!), and a lot of poo to move, but in the end, we’ll have better soil for food growing.

If your garden didn’t perform “up to snuff” this year, chances are you may be missing something in the soil. Our corn was pretty lack-luster – small stalks, small ears that weren’t all filled out – so that was our clue that the ground needs some TLC. You can buy soil analysis kits at home improvement stores – try one and see what your soil is telling you.

 

 

 

Day 271

It occurs to me that I should be paying more attention to this blog!  With my laptop gone, I have to remember to use the “big screen” because my tablet makes it a little convoluted to post.  Here’s to good intentions!

Things have definitely picked up around here – my two classes are taking their amount of time, and it doesn’t help matters that I’m creating everything for my humanities class. But that also means that when I teach it again, I will have much more time to tweak things and not worry about having to make a presentation for the next class.  Good news there.

The barn is filled with hay – next step is to go back out and mow the second cutting. For that, we all need to be healthy and able to sit on a tractor for hours. We’re working on that. It may be a touch of the flu, it’s definitely allergies, and all the bean/corn dust in the air from harvesting isn’t helping one bit. If you’re driving down the road in the morning and notice what looks like smoke hanging over a harvested field – that’s probably dust still hanging in the air from the combine harvesting the day before. And it is horrible for breathing!

Remember these cute, fuzzy things?

IMG_0370

They now look like almost proper chickens, just smaller:

2013-09-28 08.26.46They still have the fuzzy chick head, but the rest of them look like proper Barred Rocks. I didn’t know this, but their legs have black bands on them.

Lovely harvest moon the other evening – hope you had a chance to see it. Yes, those are geese!

2013-09-18 19.27.31

 

We have a couple large stands of pampas grass (a tall, decorative grass) that the dogs love to hide in. You’ll be walking around and hear “swish swish” as they move through. I found Prince hanging out in here the other day:

2013-09-18 14.00.12He’s such a silly dog.

Interwebz shopping is just about awesome. Click, click, and here comes the UPS or FedEx truck with your goodies. I don’t remember ordering this though:

2013-09-19 14.32.27

 

The garden is finished – we got a lot more tomatoes of the vines, harvested the potatoes, and pulled the last cabbages. Now for the clean-up crew.

2013-09-28 08.25.34They’ve done (as always) an amazing job of eating, and they haven’t even been in here a week. After they’re finished, we’ll put them back in the “test garden” to work in there some more, then start our soil amending in this garden – cow/horse manure, straw, and green manure (a seed mixture that fixes nitrogen and other good stuff in the soil). After the green manure has a chance to get started, we’ll probably open the gate for the chickens to scratch around and do their thing. It’s going to be a lot of work (well, what isn’t around here!!), and a lot of poo to move, but in the end, we’ll have better soil for food growing.

If your garden didn’t perform “up to snuff” this year, chances are you may be missing something in the soil. Our corn was pretty lack-luster – small stalks, small ears that weren’t all filled out – so that was our clue that the ground needs some TLC. You can buy soil analysis kits at home improvement stores – try one and see what your soil is telling you.

 

 

 

Day 186 – round up

IMG_0119

Cows look so nice, grazing in their pasture or loafing around inside the barn.  The picture of bucolic country life.  Ahhh.

But Mr. Hyde typically emerges when you need to sort them for any reason.

Sorting cattle is stressful for the humans who are in with the herd, trying to get this one to go that way, and that one to go this way, and also for the cattle, who know something is up, but can’t quite figure out what to do besides mill around and froth.

But this time something happened.  Maybe it’s because we’ve been working with the herd more – not intentionally, but calves being sold here, a few steers to the butcher there.  Maybe it’s because the half-crazy cow left (to return as tasty hamburger in the freezer) and the herd calmed down.  Or maybe because we had fantastic help and/or didn’t try to rush the sorting process.  Whatever it was, the momma cows filed out with only a few cases of pushing and shoving, and the bull and the steers trotted into the pen easier than in a long time.  The younger calves were running around, but ended up running in the opposite direction of the bull & steers, so no one got penned up who shouldn’t have (let my husband tell you how much fun that is – trying to sort out a frantic calf from frantic steers, all with momma cow bellowing on the other side of the gate).

Saturday, the bull will be on his way to his “other home” for 6 months, and Monday, one steer has a date with the butcher.  We’ll turn the other two (a steer and a yearling bull) back out, then re-collect them in the fall for processing.  And do the process all over again.

Day 177 – baling days

177If you want it to rain, make hay.  At least that’s how it seems around here.  Denny got this field mowed and raked. Then it rained.  Next day (or was it 2 days later?) I went out with the tedder, spread out the hay, then re-raked it.  He finished raking so I could go to Troy and started baling.  About 5 rows from being finished with baling, the skies opened. It’s not fun baling wet hay, although this isn’t the first time we’ve done so – sometimes you just need to finish the job.

As they dry, we’ll keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t start molding or getting funky.  Then off to the barn they’ll go, to be stored for winter.  It’s interesting to watch the bales dry if they’ve been rained on – by watching the ends of the bales, we can see the progression of green changing to yellow/brown when dry, kind of like a bulls-eye.  We make them loose enough that they will dry all the way through to the center.

Without good grass (and hay), we don’t have good animals, so this pictures really sums up what Innisfree is about – grass farming!

 

Day 141 – tomato plants

141Our little porch is filling up with food!  This is less than half of the tomato plants we have growing – they are on the porch to “harden off” before we put them in the garden.  This is a middle stage between growing shelves and garden, and gives the plants a chance to toughen up in the face of sun, wind and weather, without being full-force exposed to the elements.  We leave them on the porch for a week or so, then transplant them to their garden home.