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The early cold spell caught us by surprise.  Nine degrees fahrenheit on 18 November is on the chilly side; a week of low temperatures is unusual.  God knows what the winter will be like; we don’t.  The turnips are still in the ground, and there are pintos still to be pulled before really cold weather makes the bean pods split and curl, dropping the beans we want for winter soups and refrieds where they will do no good.  We are supposed to see some warmer weather over the next week, and we will have to scramble.

The six-months heifer with the cough is recovered now.  We put her in a quiet pen with green grass, a straw-lined loose box, and no competition, and within a few days the spring was back in her step.  We’ll take her back to the dry cows’ paddock as soon as we fix the tailgate on the pickup truck.

Finally, the last of the heifers is bred.  She was standing last night, and again this morning she stood to be mounted (and mounted, and mounted); we had fetched the nitrogen tank from our most helpful and obliging friends the Powleys, so we were able to get her done this morning at five-thirty.  Tonight she went back in with the dry cows and steers who are out on the north pasture, leaving the front pasture, which is a more convenient distance from the dairy, for the lactating cows.  Whether she settles to the breeding or not is irrelevant, since she is only a yearling; if she doesn’t take this year, she gets another chance in 2015.   For the rest of the herd, pregnancy check day is a week away.  Any of the older animals not gravid will get one more chance — a trip to the Powleys’ Hereford bull — and if that doesn’t settle them, they’re history.  We’re short of beef anyway.

In a house with no screens except those on our laptops, Bobby Mcferrin singing the itsy bitsy spider on utube brings everything to a screeching halt while five assorted people stand behind papa’s chair and laugh.  Butter making is forgotten; the fruitless search for a small yellow ship under the cabinet piano becomes less angst-ridden.  Latin translation gives way to Bobby M. and an audience singing the Ave Maria.  Beautiful man.

In a spirit of great daring — or foolhardiness — we gave an interview to a local newspaper.  May God have mercy on our souls.  The conviction that real food is worth taking risks for fueled our intrepidity.

Today’s farm tour was much less stressful; the proprietors of Penn Forest Cemetery are adding a farm component to their green (read: ecologically sound) cemetery, and are interested in how rotational grazing can fit into the operation.  Take a look at their web-site; here is woodland interment without toxic embalming fluids or concrete vaults.  We spent several pleasant hours walking the pastures with Pete and Nancy, showing them our natural water systems and demonstrating rotational grazing patterns for our sheep and cows.

garlic

The garlic is in the ground, thank God.

Once again we made our pre-winter laying hen cull, to eliminate free-loaders from the gravy train.  Two dozen hens — part of a flock we inherited from another farm — were removed from roll call, and of these only one had an egg in her innards.  This in not, however, evidence of how skillfully we read the signs when we cull chickens — yellow feet and eye rings, small, dry vents and narrow pubic gap indicating hens that are not laying — it is instead a sign that something is wrong with the chickens, has been wrong for several years.  Severely depressed laying numbers in second-year flocks are the present norm, but they have not always been.  Are GMO’s making our hens sterile?  Send us a comment and let us know how your hens are laying, with their age, feed type and feed allowance; we are looking for clues.

pig gestation

Porca’s seven piglets justified the pig farmer’s maxim for porcine gestation:  ‘three months, three weeks, three days and three o’clock in the morning’ — it was just about three o’clock Tuesday morning that we pulled our sore bones out of the shower — we’d been sitting in the pig pen since eleven — and climbed into bed.  Seven piglets, with one casualty, stepped on before we got there.  Beautiful, vigorous spotted babies anxious for nourishment.

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