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Archive for April, 2015

The price of cow-raised dairy heifers is not knowing how many pounds will be in the bucket from day to day.  Cool days little Rosa takes extra; she fits her skin like she’s upholstered.

A little rain would be appreciated; the mid-month paddocks are already velvety-green, but the short grass grazed in the last week or so is slow to green up, even when you can see it has gotten higher.  It has caught our eye; there is regrowth, but it lacks that emerald color that means plenty of nitrogen was available for those roots.

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new grass

Thirteen steers, heifers and dry cows came up from the back of the monastery farm to graze some new pasture on the road, grass on a neighbor’s land that we’ve never used before.  It’s a great thing to see land coming back into agricultural use after so many years under the brush hog.  All those rumens full to bursting, so when we open gates the cows are almost blase’ about coming up.  The new calves look like something made by Gund.

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In the darkest, coldest months, when the cow is only putting a few pounds in the bucket and the low tunnels are full of spinach that freezes despite two layers of cover, we go on milking and sweeping the snow off the tunnels, not for six pounds of milk and some mushy leaves, but for the promise, dim and watery, that when spring comes (will it ever come?), and the sun shines again, the cow’s production will treble (or more) and those frozen green rosettes will rise up from the soil and give us six more weeks of salad greens.

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The layers who are getting our five-grain mix — barley, wheat, oats, black oil sunflower seeds and millet — are laying about seventeen eggs a day, from nineteen hens including the dark leghorn with spurs who crows like a rooster but still lays — the only white egger in the bunch.

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spring sleet

At this time of year the livestock moves over the pastures very quickly, and paddocks are consequently large, which means they take a long time to set up, so when the sleet started yesterday afternoon it caught us in the field and there was no getting away until the fence was up and the cows set for the night.  Sleet bouncing off the back of our necks and a strong wind which wasn’t warm even if it was southerly, and the cows trying to make a sneak into the woods while the fence was down, and who can blame them?  By the time the lactating cows were milked and put in their own little paddock by the run-in shed we were saturated, and there was rain puddling in our boots.  Still — we wouldn’t trade this for anything.

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spring food

In the dry cellar there are only four cheeses, three ropes of onions and a couple of bundles of garlic.  The green spring grass will be our food now; with the lactating cows giving more milk, we can start again to fill the cheese cave with our signature cheeses, Appalachia, Franciscan and Paysano.  Now there will be milk for mozzarella and ricotta; the hens are laying and there is spinach in the garden, so spanakopita will be back on the menu, and quiche with good pork sausage, or bacon —

There are only three hundred pounds of potatoes in the root cellar, half of which has immediately to be used for seed.  We will fire up the oven and eat more pizza and less hash for a few months, until July at least —

and if the nettles at the bottom of the pasture will grow, we can have cooked greens and ramps.

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We have spent the last Tuesday nights in a refresher course on rotational grazing, offered, as was our first seminar, by the Eastern Ohio Grazing Council.  One of the biggest blessings of farming in eastern Ohio is the presence of this institution, and I will never be able to vilify the gubment with quite the same degree of vim because of these people.

Not that they are really the Gubment.  These are farmers with insight and vision, most of them young, all of them with something at stake, who really care, and really know, about sustainable farming.  We hope more groups like this one will be spawned all over the country, because this is an important message to get out, an important skill to be fostered.

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