Wednesday, March 25, the Annunciation:
All winter we’ve held the lactating cows up front on the better forage, while the dry cows, heifers and yearlings cleaned up out back on the paddocks farthest from the dairy, and therefore the longest walk for the milkers. Monday morning we ran all the cows up to the front of the farm and put them in one paddock, where the the sixteen of them actually look like a respectable herd. They are pastured now on what we would call a sacrifice paddock, an area where we are going to create a lot of impact, more than we would want in a regular rotation. There are two reasons for this choice: one is so that the last of the stockpiled forage will be held in abeyance until green-up, so that the first spring paddocks will still contain some brown, high-carbon stuff to slow down the passage of new green grass through the cows’ gut. The second reason for hitting this paddock hard is that this corner of the front pasture is only lately reclaimed from the jungle. Last fall when we ran the cows over that paddock there was a lot of good grass they missed under the briars and cane, because they wouldn’t shove their faces in among the thorns to graze. Feeding hay on that paddock now, with four-times-sixteen that’s sixty-four hooves cutting into the soil, we’ll disadvantage the cane before green-up, as well as adding lots of good organic matter, some biological activity, and whatever grass seeds spills from the hay or makes it unscathed through the cows’ digestive systems. Coming up on calving we don’t want too much protein in the dry cows, anyway, so this is a win-win: good nutrition now, better grazing later.
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A twelve cc veterinary syringe with the end cut off seems to substitute fairly for a half-inch soil blocker, if you don’t mind that it only makes one at a time. We started about two hundred peppers and tomatoes this evening, and the small plug size means we can germinate on the table in the hall, more reliably warm than the greenhouse even with the heater on.
The hens in the coupe at the monastery are tearing into those winter cow pies. Scratching birds are nature’s answer to trash pickup. Tonight we hitched up the coupe and moved it to the large garden, where many cowpies, dropped here when the cows were brought up during the sub-zero weather, are waiting to be spread.
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Topping the hill to the monastery — about fifteen bronze turkeys stark against the yellow rags of the Barnes meadow, five toms fanning and thumping and strutting while their wives, oblivious, poked and peered like women in the produce aisle. Proof of spring coming, just when we had despaired of seeing anything springlike before April.
If your cow gets ringworm, and they do, try mustard on the lesions. She’ll lick it off, of course, but try anyway; it worked on D1, and it seems to have worked on Sweetheart, too — or maybe it was the homeopathic tullerian, or both.
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We had a good group for our presentation, Grass, the Dairy Cow, and the Integrated Sustainable Smallholding last weekend at the OEFFA conference in Granville, Ohio. Fifteen or twenty people joined in the animated discussion of food and fertility on the grassfed farm, especially on the virtues of the dairy cow for converting daily sunlight into high-quality, daily fresh proteins, fats and sugars. Our May and June grazing workshops are filling up; see the CLASSES page of this blog for more information or to sign up.
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We are doing so much writing on our book, The Grassfed Homestead, that we have done very little writing of posts. Winter is not uneventful, but long, cold nights and short, cold, overcast days leave us saturated with snow, and keeping livestock warm and fed, and the never-ending struggle to keep stockwater unfrozen. Sometimes a ‘possum gets a hen and eats it slily, head first, in the brush behind the henhouse. JohnPaul shot one on a nighttime raid on the hen coupe at the monastery, where fourteen — less one — hens shiver of a night, waiting for the spring to come. Five spotted feeder pigs eat mangel-wurzels and hog mash in the bottom of the white barn, burrowing in straw bedding and likewise waiting for the year to turn. Up by the garden, four lactating Jerseys are eating good green grass hay until the ice melts in the lane and we can turn them out again on the stockpiled forage beyond the shrine. The dry cows in the very back pasture are getting hay, too, because the ground is frozen so hard that we would have to use a hammer and spike to make new holes for step-in posts, and the cold is so bitter the last two weeks that we sleep better knowing everyone has hay in her belly. The yearling calves are most comfortable of all, bedded in hay down in the run-in shed that backs to the north against the woods in the corner of the paddock behind the garden.
Sunrise comes earlier now, but the cold’s grip is tightening.
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Our book, The Grassfed Homestead, has been accepted by our number one favorite publisher, Chelsea Green! Now we just have to get it all written. Look for it some time in the second half of 2016!
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Sunday, January 25:
I don’t think we’ve seen the sun more than a dozen days this winter. That’s about par for this area, which receives about as much sunshine yearly as Seattle, WA. Even so, the grass grows and fuels the whole farm via rotationally grazed dairy and beef cows, a small flock of sheep, a pair of breeding pigs and their offspring, and our pastured poultry. Not that we’re not all looking forward to spring!
We forgot to run up to the monastery and shut the chickens’ coupe the other night, and in the morning there was a headless hen on the wire mesh floor. So that evening we went up after dark with a .22. Mr. ‘Possum was just thinking about fresh eggs and chicken heads when we showed up and spoiled his party. Everybody has to eat; just not in our hen house.
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