"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Farmhand Frustration



My oldest daughter, Rowan, moved out last December. She was twenty-two at the time, so I can't really blame her, but we miss her around here. Not only is she simply fun to be around, funny, cheerful, and smart as a whip, but she chucked in a good deal of the hard physical labor around here, and we miss her muscle as well as her wit.

A few years ago, Rowan used to have a boyfriend who I called "P." on the blog. For a while, he lived here, and he paid us rent in labor. P. was (and is) a quality young man, friendly, hardworking, and kind. We all liked him, and we still do, but alas, he is no longer around to be our farmhand. I have to say, I could really get used to having a strong young man in his twenties, with seemingly boundless energy, at my beck and call. It's a good thing for my daughters that the days of selling them to a suitor for a few years of hard labor are over, because I would be SORELY tempted.

Today, Rowan came back for a visit, and she helped us get some work done. It has been raining non-stop, seemingly for months. I know that I am constantly bitching about the weather this time of year (okay, really, when am I not?) but it has, in fact, been an unusually late, wet spring. I've just spent ten minutes trying to add an image, a chart showing triple normal precipitation for February and nearly double for March, but my computer is not being cooperative. See here if you don't believe me.

The farm is more or less underwater. A constant shallow river is pouring out of the driveway and into the roadside ditches. The pastures are more puddle than grass. And the sacrifice area - where all the animals still are - is a disgusting swamp of mud and poop. My poor goats are so desperately unhappy. Goats hate the wet. I finally told Homero that he simply HAD to muck out the barn (recently vacated by the pigs, who have been processed) so the goats can get out of the mud and slime. They are pregnant, poor things. This afternoon, he and Rowan spent a few hours mucking, laying down lime, and then spreading a bed of straw in the barn. The goats have been transferred. They look very happy to be dry. They are going to have to live in the barn itself, however, because we have not yet been able to fix the gate that closes in the main pasture. We need to set a new post in cement, and we can't do that until it dries out a bit.

Remaining in the sacrifice area are Rosy Pony and Nettles the Cow. There is not enough room for them in the barn with the goats, so they are going to have to deal with it a while longer. They have a field shelter, which keeps the rain from falling on their heads, but which does nothing to keep the wet from seeping in from underneath. Even under the roof of the shelter, the ground is soggy and poopy and gross. It needed bedding.

We do, in fact, have a ton of hog fuel, thanks to my brother-in-law and his tree service. Whenever he has a job nearby, he will stop here and dump the chips. Maybe fifteen yards are piled up alongside the fence.  But there is no good way to move to around. Homero's Case loader is broken (it's normal state of being; the Case has basically replaced the Murray lawnmower as his personal mechanical nemesis). We have a big, deep black rubber wheelbarrow, but its tires are flat and it is in the playroom full of a bunch of Homero's heavy power tools. No good way to spread any hog fuel, other than plain old fashioned elbow grease.

Rowan and I spent a half hour or so in the driving rain this afternoon, expending aforementioned elbow-grease laying down a layer of chips in the field shelter. I filled five gallon buckets with chips and passed them over the fence, and she trudged through the mud to the field shelter and dumped the chips inside, kicking them around to cover the space evenly. It was a stop---gap measure, to be sure, but at least the cow and pony will sleep dry tonight.

I need to find a farmhand. I was never very strong, but nowadays I can not even make a pretense of being able to do things like muck out deep litter. Last week, Homero and I cut apart the old calf--hutch that was ruined and ripped by windstorms, and I was at least able to help him drag the big awkward pieces of plastic through the field. That was tough. I cannot spread fifteen yards of hogfuel, or turn the compost pile, or mix cement. We need regular, if sporadic, help for that sort of thing, as well as for placing cattle panels, turning the compost pile, making dump runs, planting trees, et cetera.

Yesterday I placed a plea for help in a Facebook farmer's group. I gave a description of what I needed, and offered $15/hour plus transportation, tools, and lunch. I have had several responses, and a couple of them even come recommended. Here's hoping one of these young people works out.






Saturday, March 18, 2017

Rerun (Spring Work List)



I've been re-reading the blog, something I haven't done in several years, and this evening I was amused to read the following list of work that needed to be done in March of 2015. The list is virtually identical to the lost I would write if I were to write a list about the work that needs to be done right now - so please enjoy this throwback.

March 23, 2015


There is so much work piled up around the farm that I figured I had better make a list. Not that I'm likely to forget what needs doing, since it's mostly all of the variety that you SEE when you LOOK AROUND, but even so. Lists are helpful. Helpful in putting off the actual work.

Since the weather turned about two weeks ago, we seem to have regressed back into late winter. After a sunny, dry February, we have been not-so-much enjoying a cold, wet March. It's back to mud boots and puddles, and I am feeling smugly superior to all those people who gave into temptation and planted their garden a month ago, only to watch it all rot in the ground. I can afford to feel superior, because I have been those people, every year except this one.

Mud boots and slickers; gloves and hats are once again required gear for venturing out. So, most of the outdoor work has to wait for a dry spell, but here we go, in no particular order:

1. muck out the barn. The animals don't like the rain, so they spend all day in the barn, which means it quickly gets disgusting. I ran out of straw a week ago (subheading

                 a) get more straw

    and so the barn floor is a thick compressed four inches of poop and old straw. It will soon be too                 compacted for me to move, so either I do it soon, or add it to Homero's list of chores, which is far longer than my own.

2.  Repair chicken coop. This is actually a fairly small job, although difficult for me as it involves climbing onto a roof. We just need to pick up the shattered remains of the plastic corrugated roofing (blew apart in a windstorm) and replace with corrugated tin roofing - already bought and stored right in the coop itself. Without a roof, the coop is just a swamp and the chickens have been roosting in the hayloft. Which means I have to convince a child to climb the ladder into the loft to gather eggs about once a week. I no longer climb into the loft. Not until we get a better ladder, anyway.

3. Dump run of historic proportions.  Homero recently cleaned out his shop. In a big way. In addition to removing the enormous stack of wood and building materials that are all that is left of our cute little cabin (story for another day), he also removed approximately 7,000 hefty bags worth of trash and assorted refuse, much of which is stuff we stored in the shop when we lived in Mexico a couple years ago (NewtoMexicanLife.blogspot.com) and never brought back into the house. Mostly books and clothes, but more than likely a few valuable items like photos and journals are also now mouldering in the rain alongside the fence, which is where the 7,000 hefty bags are resting, awaiting their final transport to that great refuse heap in the sky. Or, you know, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 
   
       
4. Strawberry Patch - as mentioned above, I have done almost nothing in the garden this year so far. I have some starts going in the greenhouse, but no work has been done outside. A few days ago, a good friend gave me a trash-bag full of strawberry starts, and I would like to get them into the ground soon.  My garden space is slowly undergoing a transformation from a regular mostly-annuals kitchen garden into a perennial garden, full of raspberry canes, rhubarb, artichokes, asparagus beds (soon), and strawberries. Hopefully the rain will let up soon and we can get the strawberries into the ground.

5. Hoof trimming. Seems like it's always hoof-trimming time.

6. House projects - this is really Homero's purview, but my part of this work is to keep a running tab on what needs to be done; to budget for it; to gently remonstrate with Homero, and to prioritize. I'm not even going to go into that list here (plumbing projects, rot-repair, weatherstripping repair, etc) but just say that this list takes a psychic toll on me because I usually eventually have to threaten to call professionals and try to balance the relative importance of marital harmony against, oh, say, a working shower.

7. Fencing. I still have most of the cattle panels I bought last fall when we had some cash. We did the cheap and dirty thing by just using some of them to patch droopy spots in the field fencing. One of the larger projects that awaits drier days in actually removing and re-positioning all the cattle panels so as to make a real, continuous fenceline.

That's enough for now. Right at the moment, my regular daily work awaits - I need to move the ponies, milk the goat, and make dinner.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Meat Math 2017



This year's horrible pigs (all pigs are horrible but this year's were worse than most) have been converted into meat, and the meat sold, except for what we wanted to keep for ourselves. It's time for this year's edition of MEAT MATH (Meat Math).

The pigs were pretty small. We killed them earlier than we maybe should have because they were so evil, and also because in the cold and wet, they weren't gaining weight very quickly. It's better to get piglets in the spring than in the fall, but of course everybody knows that, and so spring piglets are more expensive than fall piglets. The boy had a hanging weight of 132lbs, and the gilt 110lbs.

The larger pig we sold off in halves. One half went to our neighbor, the D. family, from whom we have actually bought pork in years past. But they decided (being quicker learners than we are, apparently) that they don't want to raise pigs anymore, so now they are buying from us. That half weighed 67lbs. The other half went to a Facebook friend, and weighed 65lbs.

We asked $3/lb, which is on the cheap side. I started out at $3.50/lb, which seems to be the going rate for pork without fancy qualifiers like Organic or Pastured, but it so happened that there was a lot of pork for sale at the same time I was trying to sell, at least according to Craigslist. I didn't get any response at $3.50/lb.

If I'd had an empty freezer, I might have held out. But I'd already made the date with the butcher, and our freezer was stuffed nigh to bursting with beef, salmon, and lamb. We have two eminently butcher-able animals (a sheep and a goat) that we have let live for the sole reason that we were saving room in the freezer for the pork. Faced with that severe space shortage, I lowered the price, and quickly sold off the bigger pig.

Okay, so 132 x $3 = $396. Rounding to $400.

The piglets themselves cost us $100 each. That leaves $200.

Feed was negligible, thanks to unlimited bread and produce from the Gleaner's Pantry ( What Wrong With this Avocado?). We did buy three or four bags of conventional pig feed - let's say that was $60. Now we have $140 left.

Unfortunately, I lost my receipt from the butcher, so I can't break it down into categories, but we paid them $178 for our 110lbs, which includes the kill fee, the cut and wrap, and the fee for smoking the hams, bacon, and hocks. Take 178 from 140 and we are 38 dollars in the hole. Divide 38 by 110 and you get homestead pork for $0.35/lb. Not, obviously, counting labor.

Even if I am forgetting a couple bags of feed, that's some pretty cheap, quality protein. The first meal I made was BBQ spareribs. Delicious.