"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, October 19, 2013

State of the Farm (Mid-Autumn)

Last week we enjoyed a long stretch of beautiful fall weather. Temperatures reached the low sixties on a couple of days, and it was dry enough that the fallen leaves were crisp and crackly. Blue skies and light breezes tempted everybody outside to get the last of the outdoor chores done before the curtain of rain descended again, as we all knew it must. From our hilltop, we could see several thin columns of smoke, neighbors burning leaves and the accumulated detritus of the old year.

Homero built an add-on to the field shelter for the new baby cow. Our small three-sided field shelter was not really much of a shelter, being open to the north. The prevailing winds here are generally from the southwest, but during the deeps of winter we get strong, freezing north winds that sweep across the valley from Canada. The field shelter was adequate for a couple of shaggy shetland ponies, but not for a delicate baby dairy calf. Homero added two more walls, on the east and the north sides, leaving the west side open, and roofed it with corrugated plastic sheets. I hope those sheets can stand up to our winter winds; we'll find out.

Meanwhile, I staked out the ponies and let out the goats to graze on the last of the green grass before the frost. There hasn't been a freeze yet, but there surely will be soon. After the first frost, the grass loses most of it's nutrition and becomes fairly useless as fodder. I had to take advantage of the good weather to graze the animals as often as possible before that happens. The goats attacked the blackberry vines, which still have green leaves, and stood on their hind legs to eat the brown leaves off of the pear tree, the dogwood, and the copper beech. I drove them away from the cherry trees: I read that the leaves of the cherry are toxic right at this time of year - after they lose their green color but before they are completely dry. I have never seen any evidence of that, but why take chances?

It's goat breeding season, and the buck is still rank, but I think all the does must be pregnant already, because he has lost interest in them and now grazes peacefully alongside without harassing them. Some neighbors are bringing a couple of does this weekend to be bred. They are farmers, and I would trade with them for pumpkins or something, but money is tight right now and I need the $50 to pay the electric bill.

Rowan's garden is still producing. We did a late planting of inside the greenhouse, and so now we are enjoying spicy mustard greens and small red radishes. Outside, there are still carrots, spinach, and brussels sprouts. A late planting of various brassicas are tiny, but surviving. I don't think they will grow much over the winter, and I am predicting Rowan will have to tear them out next spring, but who knows, I might be wrong. When she tore out the old tomato vines she threw them to the goats, who loved the hard green tomatoes. I was worried the vines might be poisonous, but it doesn't seem so.

The chickens aren't laying much, but then again they never did. I don't know what I am doing wrong with chickens, but I never seem to get the egg production that others do. The five layers that my neighbor gave me were producing an egg a day each when she gave them to me; since I've had them they are producing about an egg a week. Chickens hate me. I don't know what to do - we are going through chicken food like crazy and getting nothing like as many eggs as we need.

The turkeys have grown up. They are really very big now; I have no idea what they weigh but I'm pretty sure one of them will suffice for the entire Thanksgiving crowd. One of them was injured - stepped on by a horse, I think - and is limping around. Maybe I will use that one as a practice turkey before the holiday. Pasture raised birds need a slightly different treatment than your standard supermarket turkey. Last time I cooked one, I brined it for a day beforehand and I think that worked well.

I think we are ready for winter. There are no major outstanding chores to be done. The propane tank is two-thirds full. There is hay in the barn and beef in the freezer. The year's butchering is done. I have made the rounds of the thrift shops and everyone has a winter coat and socks and boots. Bring it on, winter! Bring it on.


Ruth Dixon said...

Hmmm... how old are the hens you got? And how long has it been that they've been with you? Sometimes they get a little "shocked" by a move, or pushed into molt. I understand the needing cash thing... Part of life, but main it stinks sometimes. I'd much rather trade. Sounds like you are getting things taken care of. We are raising heritage turkeys and hoping that they will grow up to raise babies of their own for next years holiday dinners.

The Idiot said...

Everyone should have a practice turkey!

I had a buy a practice side of pork for Christmas Ham!

Aimee said...

Good luck with your ham, Idiot! Are you really curing your own ham? I'd love some details on that.

Ruth....The chickens are a mix of ages, but none of them is elderly. The funny thing is, they LOOK like layers - bright red combs, big fluffy butts.... maybe something is stealing eggs. Also, the turkeys harass them terribly, that might be affecting the output.