"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, May 21, 2017

State of the Farm, Late Spring 2017

Nettles in the weeds

The long, horrible, wet "spring" of 2017 is finally giving way to some warmer and drier weather. I read in the paper that this past wet season (the period of time between October 1st and May 1st) has broken the all-time record for precipitation in western Washington - a record set just last year. Even with my week long break to Arizona, back at the beginning of April, I was going slowly crazy from sun deprivation and from the constant rain. I hate the mud, and still dealing with it in May has been dispiriting. 

More important than my mood, however, is that fact we haven't been able to get much work done around the place. Anything that needs dry weather - setting new fence posts in cement, planting trees, tilling the garden - has had to wait. Then when the weather is good, we all feel a sudden urgency to do everything at once. Luckily, I have found a new farm hand. He comes recommended by a neighbor farmer, and he lives very nearby. Although only 17, he has proved a hard worker and can handle a shovel with the best of them. Hereinafter referred to as "Farmboy." Today he planted three trees and made a temporary pen for the cow. 

The other day I walked the pasture and was disappointed with the state of it. In a normal year, the grass ought to be well over knee high by now. But what with the cool weather, the lack of lumens, and the number of animals on it, the back pasture's grass is only ankle height. This is despite the fact that I kept the cow and the pony in the sacrifice area for much longer than usual. We went through twice the normal amount of hay last year, due to that and due to the multiple prolonged cold spells and feet of snow. I have been moving the animals around, trying to maximize use of all the grass growing areas one the property. I bring the goats out into the front yard to graze anytime I am home and it isn't raining, but that's only half an hour here and there, and I don't think it takes much pressure off the pasture. The pony and the cow have been in the orchard for a couple of weeks, which was great until I noticed that the cow is eating the smaller trees. I didn't want to put the cow back into the main pasture with the goats both because of the grass situation and because she has become a terrible bully since her horns grew and she has actually injured one of my goats. Have I mentioned that I hate cows? 

There is one area where the grass is doing well - a boggy area about 60 x 200 feet behind the blackberries and adjacent to the small pasture. We have never made use of this area because it is wet, and also because there is a lot of debris and metal and concrete pieces in the ground left over from when the previous owners demolished their dairy barn. The grass growing there is lush, bright green, and shoulder height - but it is Canary grass. Canary grass is a non-native species that flourishes in our cool, wet climate. It has mixed reputation - most people (and certainly the noxious weed board) consider it an invasive nuisance that crowds out better forage species. Canary grass hay is the lowest, cheapest variety of hay, and lots of people won't use its at all. Other people, however, especially people with low,wet pastures, actually plant Canary grass on purpose. In general, the literature tends to say that it is tolerable forage, although most other species of pasture grass are preferable, and most animals will ignore it if better forage is available. 

Myself, I wouldn't buy any hay that had much Canary grass in it, no matter how cheap. I will, however, try to encourage my animals to eat it when it is abundant and other forage is not. To that end, I had Farmboy use T-posts and cattle panels to make an enclosure 32x32 feet. That will keep the cow busy for a few days and when she runs out we can just pound two more posts and move the cattle panels to close in another, similarly sized area. This will keep the cow fed and away from my goats. For a little while. 

The trees that Farmboy planted today were two lovely little Asian pear trees that Homero gave me for mother's day, and last year's Christmas tree, which has been sitting in it's pot on the porch since New Year's. I am not very fond of Asian pears for eating, myself, but both Homero and the girls love them, and I like them because they can be pressed for cider like apples (and unlike European pears). 

Other new developments: we bought six turkey chicks from a neighbor farmer, and Haku immediately killed two of them so now we have four turkey chicks. We also bought six golden sex-link pullets from another local farmer who said she just got over-enthusiastic at the farm store and realized, after raising them for a few weeks, that she didn't actually need thirty of them. It's nice to find pullets instead of chicks, that doesn't happen too often. Now we need to make repairs to the chicken coop. 

I'm not putting in a garden this year, expect for a handful of snap peas. It was too cold and wet to plant anything until last week, anyway. 

Overall, things are fairly copacetic around here. The baby goats are growing like weeds. I have plenty of milk and cheese season is in full swing. It's a gorgeous sunny afternoon and I think I will grab a book and go let the goats out.