winter conferences

Like NOFA/Mass, a conference we are very much looking forward to.  Sarah Flack will be there to present on intensive grazing (see her excellent book from CGP, The Art and Science of Grazing), and Darryl Benjamin will be examining the addition of nanoparticles into the food system (yes, really!), and a class on draft oxen by Sophie Courser, to mention only three interesting offerings.  Not to mention yours truly, on decreasing the feed bill and feeding the farm from the farm.  Check out course offerings at http://www.nofamass.org/content/2017-workshops-time .

springtank2Here is our recipe.  Enrollment requirements:  beg, steal or borrow a couple of acres of waste land:

  • Day one
    • Buy or beg a goat, 50 ft. of airline cable, 2 swivels, a cinder block, and a bucket
      • Tether the goat in your worst briars and scrub; give her a bucket of water
      • Milk her, drink the milk
    • Cost: $100 or the sky’s the limit, depending on the goat
  • Day two,
    • Build a 4′ x 8’compost bin, put a dog carrier at one end, and install six pullets
    • Fill the other end of the bin with at least twelve inches of organic matter: wood chips, grass clippings, leaves, sawdust, even shredded paper
    • Add all your kitchen and table scraps, and let the chickens go at it.
    • Milk the goat, move her tether
    • Cost: $50 for the chickens, $30 for a roll of woven wire, scrounge the posts and dog carrier
  • Day three
    • Use a garden fork and shovel to dig a 4 x 8 garden bed
    • Plant four tomato plants, two squash, a row of bean plants, six feet of lettuce, and three of your favorite herbs. Mulch between the rows
    • Milk the goat, move her tether
    • Have a beer and a good stretch
    • Cost: < $10 for seeds and seedlings
  • Day four
    •  Put a barrel under your gutter spout. Better yet, an IBC
    • Layer wet cardboard and grass clippings in three places you plan to put a future garden
    • Build more compost piles. Scrounge organic matter wherever you can:
      • Tree trimmers
      • Alley ways and neighbors
      • Rake your own leaves
      • Shredded paper
      • Collect from local sources
    • Milk the goat, move her tether
    • Throw food scraps to the chickens, collect eggs
    • Go sit in the shade and draw maps of your land; sketch in where you imagine future improvements should be: fruit trees, possibly a shed, gardens, etc.
    • Cost: scrounging a barrel or IBC
  • Day five
    • Use whatever goat milk you haven’t drunk in the past three days to make a feta or mozz
    • Make omelets for dinner
    • Milk the goat, move her tether
    • Throw kitchen scraps to the chickens, collect eggs
    • Cost: nothing
  • Day six
    • Cleanup day. Pick up the trash the goat has uncovered.  Pile bricks and cinder blocks.
    • Burn what should be burned
    • Sort trash and take things to the recycling center.
    • Hit some garage sales and buy second-hand tools
    • Milk the goat and move her tether
    • Chickens/ scraps/ eggs
    • Cost: recycling money minus garage sale purchases
  • Day seven
    • Rest
    • Have someone over for breakfast. Feed him or her fresh eggs and goats’ milk.
    • Take note of, and give thanks for, all the beauty that is already emerging from the land you have taken pity on, and are in the process of serving.
    • Give thanks for the way it is already serving you back
    • Milk the goat and move her tether
    • Chickens/ scraps/ eggs
    • Profit: look around you and see that you are already a farmer

Doesn’t it sound beautiful?  and possible?

weather shift

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Saturday winter gave notice that she is still on the way, despite the long indian summer that has left the apple trees still green and the hollyhocks that border the driveway sending up new spires of buds.  Friday afternoon had been spent in the pleasure of delivering some breeding fowl to the local small animal auction, where the lovely Appleyards, Pekins and Cayugas drew admiring interest from the early-comers, followed by dinner at our favorite little Mexican dive and a browse through the local thrift store; a pleasant evening, but utterly disregardful of the storm front advancing on us from the southeast.

By six-thirty a.m. Saturday the front was dragging its leading edge over Flushing and bearing down on us at about 25 mph.  We had people in the garden before breakfast hammering in anchors for the high tunnel and dropping more sandbags on the cover margins.  As we hammered in the next to the last anchor the wind got up with the sound of surf over the ridge, and a sudden migration of leaves enough to fill the whole valley.  We parceled out winterizing chores over the eggs and potatoes.  It was 54 degrees on the front porch at seven thirty-five.

Thank God for family.  Temperatures dropped steadily; the wind kept rising.  Thin rain just pearled our jackets at first, then, gradually shifting to snow, left our hands cold and awkward.  Nevertheless, we got’er done by ten-fifteen with everyone helping.  (Full disclosure:  there are seven us home right now).  Eleven rain tanks emptied — total volume:  3600 gallons — and hoses drained.  Large stock tanks set up in four paddocks/pens for daily refilling.  Bell waterers and nipple bars for the poultry switched out for water pans that won’t break if they freeze.  Three paddocks reconfigured to include access to the treeline.  Extra bedding forked to the pigs in the barn. img_0218

We suppose it is natural that last minute winterizing should always happen at, well, the last minute.  Up through about eight-thirty on Saturday morning the weather was smiling, temperatures moderate; Friday’s high was over seventy degrees.  Who wants to hunker down until the last minute?

Even the fourteen goldfish which spent the summer eating mosquito larvae in our IBC’s are now in winter quarters in the duck pond, where, if they can evade the fond intimacies of eight Appleyards, they will grow fat by spring and  tempt passing herons to pause here on their way to northern nesting grounds.



A very well-known advocate of the small, grass-based farm who will go unnamed, but we owe him a lot, tells us he is line-breeding his large flock of multi-breed chickens for a landrace that will thrive on his land, under his methods.  Bravo!  Where a large number of livestock are kept, the selection for breeding of individuals of whatever genotypes which perform well in that place seems the way to go.

For us tiny-farm people, where a very limited number of individuals can be used in any breeding program, maybe it helps to start with a narrower range of genotypes already selected to perform well under conditions similar to our own.  Like, one breed.

Pursuant of that object:  Today we culled the Pekins and Cayuga ducks from our flock, which is now pure Silver Appleyard.  Likewise, we are limiting our flock to only Buckeye chickens for breeding purposes, only Pilgrim geese ditto.  img_2835

And the farm cats?  With the death of Samson, our aged and raggedy black tom, we are now the only farm we know of to specialize in felinus domesticus var. Holsteinus.

pigs and chickens

The complementarity of ruminants and poultry is, thank goodness, becoming more generally known, but what of the complementarity between pigs and chickens?  The way nutrients move back and forth between them makes a Virginia reel look like a cakewalk.  The chickens’ breakfast squash provides them with seeds and flesh rich in vitamin B and protein, not to mention that it’s a natural de-wormer, and when the birds are done with it the rind, and whatever flesh the chickens didn’t eat, goes into the pig pen.  Likewise, when the pig trough needs cleaning out, the scrapings go over the fence into the barnyard, and the chickens, ducks, geese and guineas have an unexpected snack.  Chicken bones, when long boiling has rendered out a rich broth for the humans, are crunchy hors-doeuvres in the pig pen; pig organs, ground, frozen and cut into appropriate-size chunks, provide animal protein in the hen diet when winter cuts off the birds’ supply of bugs and worms.  Pig bedding composts into beautiful black earth full of pink, wriggly worms, delightful to chickens; chicken guts, heads and feet, if not used in the people food, cook up to a lovely pig-pottage.  And the list goes on.chicken-4


Toss a half-burned stick in the pigpen and watch them chomp on it.  Amazing; books of animal husbandry written before 1940 take it for granted that everyone knows to feed pigs charcoal.  System cleanser and GI tract detox, and maybe other unidentified benefits.

Assuming that we understand natural systems and can therefore develop artificial replacements is like a two-year-old who watches Mama take notes during a phone conversation.  When she leaves the room, he lifts the receiver, babbles into the mouthpiece, and smears marker over his mother’s careful script.  No telling how important the information was, but it’s gone now.  Hopefully nature’s redundancy will give us a follow-up call.he home pigs

Registration is open for NOFA-NY’s 35th annual Winter Conference “Long Live the Farmer: Diversity & Biodiversity,” January 20-22, 2017. We’re excited to be presenting on Multi-species Grazingbook cover at this year’s conference, which also includes the first annual Northeast Organic Seed Conference.  We hope to see many of you there. Early bird registration runs through December 13, and pre-registration through January 13. Details and registration are here: https://www.nofany.org/events-news/events/winter-conference.