Farm report

  • The older kids (Chris, Maggie, and Matthew) have really done an impressive job of taking charge of this year’s garden. Which is no small task, since we are not only growing a goodly amount of food for ourselves but also some crops for market (garlic, acorn squash, cherry tomatoes, mesclun). Neither Debbie nor I are very much involved in the day-by-day care of the garden. Today, for example, the three of them spent most of the weeding, followed by dressing some of the plants with compost. This afternoon Chris and Matthew spread compost on a 1/8 acre plot that we are preparing for use soon, and then Chris took the tractor and sickle-bar cutter up to the top of the hill to make paths through the grass in the wild blackberry thicket, where Maggie and Matthew will pick berries tomorrow while Chris spends the day helping out over at Jerome Lange’s farm.

    I’ll be getting a bit more involved in a couple of days when we start harvesting and curing the garlic, something we haven’t done before. But if we get that under control and it is within their abilities, I’ll turn that over too. This is not just a character-building exercise (although it is certainly that as well); Debbie and I are busy with other things, and an important part of what makes that possible is the work that the kids are doing.

  • We have a good start on this year’s chicken flocks. We’re raising 75 Dark Cornish birds for broilers, and 25 barred rocks to add to the layers. Those birds will go out onto pasture soon, following the cows in hope that they will sanitize the ground. We also ordered a few banties for fun, and in a few weeks we’ll be receiving thirty guineas that we hope will combat the ticks around here, which have been really bad so far this year. Meanwhile our small flock of layers is still supplying us with 5-6 eggs per day, and one of the hens went broody a month ago and just hatched six of the sixteen eggs she was setting on, in a brooding contraption that Matthew built from plans found in the Small Farmers Journal.

  • The milk supply has been become quite unreliable as the two new calves have grown. We’re not ready to keep the calves separate from their mothers as long as it would take to get them off mother’s milk, and we don’t really need three calves for the meat, so we’ve decided to sell one of the nursing ones. With only one calf nursing, there should be more than enough milk from two cows left over for us.

  • Saturday was a red-letter day: Chris and Maggie finally completed the perimeter fence. They celebrated by taking down the electrified netting one last time and releasing the cows into the whole pasture. At some point we will put up electric cross fencing and start to strip graze the pasture, but for now they are contained and have plenty of food and area to roam, and we have more pressing matters to deal with.

  • As mentioned above, we now have a 5′ sickle bar cutter for the BCS tractor. I was nervous about buying it, since it isn’t cheap and there are lower-tech solutions to the problem of tall grass (i.e. scythes), but I was even more nervous about how quickly our eight acres of grass was getting out of control. And last year when Chris cut the pasture with the bush hog attachment it took far, far too much time and effort to do all eight acres. But the sickle bar looks like it will work well for us. Being five feet wide, it cuts a much wider swath than the rotary mower and thus reduces mowing time greatly. Even better, it slices the grass at the base without needing to chew it up, making mowing a quicker and more peaceful job. Right now we’ll mostly be working to get the tall grass under control so that the cows can graze it comfortably. Eventually we’d like to create and manage grazing paddocks so that some of the grass can be left to grow, then cut and gathered as loose hay.

  • Water is much on our mind these days, as the dry weather continues. Not just because of the dryness, but because right now our only source of water for animals and garden is the county water connection (and, until we put a faucet down by the road, it has to be fed through hundreds of feet of hose beginning up at the house). County water is not cheap, especially in the quantities that even a small garden like ours can use. I’ve been told on several occasions that deep wells are rarely successful in this little valley. There are some good spots where ponds might go in the pasture, but I know so little about having a pond dug that I’m reluctant to get started on that. I’m told that a shallow well dug next to the creek has a good chance of succeeding. And more than one person has suggested that I just toss a pump into a deep spot in the creek.

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2 thoughts on “Farm report

  1. Rick,

    I have heard that when creating a pond, if it doesn’t hold water, then put several pigs in it for several weeks. Afterword, it should hold water.

  2. Hi, I’ve lurked around your website for a several months…while I’ve never posted before I really enjoy your take on various issues (particularly homesteading and folk economics). To the point, I was wondering how your experience with the Dark Cornish chickens turned out. I have owned several flocks of chickens throughout my life, but they were primarily mixed breed stock that I utilized for family egg production. I’ve been considering purchasing a pasture-based meat flock as of late, however. I’m primarily interested in raising chickens for use by my extended family and myself, but I also appreciate the pasture improvement potential that chickens offer. That said, I would appreciate any info you could give me about weeks until slaughter, foraging ability, supplemental feed usage, ect.

    Thanks for sharing the info on your site, and for providing an informative, interesting look into your lifestyle.

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