Archive for August, 2016

farm smells

This post might just as well be titled ‘farmers smell’ (both connotations), or even ‘farmer’s smells’.

Fermentation.  In the compost pile — mostly piggy bedding — belligerent in the beginning,  beguilingly sweet at the conclusion.  In the sauerkraut crock: increasingly assertive over the course of six weeks or so, until you’ll go to some lengths to keep visitors out of the basement.  Poultry feed, mixed whole and crimped grains, a complicated ferment, sprouting as well as acidifying, the smell of which drives our bibulous hens wild.  Windfall apples with yellow jackets mining the holes in the white flesh; moldy grapes under the leaves on the arbor, forgotten by the humans but most appreciated by the fruit flies.

Late honeysuckle blooms over the yard gate which surprise you as you come through in the dark after closing the poultry up for the night.  Chocolate mint underfoot where the old herb bed used to be, now a holding yard for spent round bales we’ll use to mulch next year’s winter squash patch.  The intoxicating smells of tomato leaf and marigold bloom; sharp smells of hot pepper and sweet pepper; carroty Queen Anne’s lace foliage crushed under the hoofs of a passing cow.  Hot machine oil under the tractor hood; parched, cracked soil beneath much-needed rain; second cutting clover hay, sweetest of sweet smells.

Dairy fermentation:  yogurt, at once both sweet and sour; buttermilk, what John Seymour called “noblest of drinks”, with two natures, first sweet and then sour; kefir, sharply alcoholic.  Warm yellow smells of cheese; sweet whey and sour; complicated smells in the cheese cave, where geotrichum candidum and pennecilium roquefortii argue with dirt mold, wood mold, and just plain ordinary mold.

Loving dog breath on your cheek as you share the porch swing for a nighttime meditation.  Ruminant urine, with its messages of health, of openness or gestation.  Musky goat smells, and the unpleasant rankness of chicken manure where there is inadequate litter to absorb it. Boots; wet socks; damp basement walls. Sweat, of horse, or cow, or human; and clothing that no hot water or detergent can ever make innocent of its hours of labor.


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still wondering

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, and maybe it isn’t.

Of the ten or a dozen dairy cows we have owned, two stand out as difficult to milk, not for any deficiency in teat size or location (we’ve experienced both of those, more than once or twice) but for inadequate let-down reflex.  These two make plenty of milk, lovely, yellow high-fat content milk; but instead of pushing it out, as any good cow does, when you help her along with some scientific squeezing action, these two make you wring it out of them.  Takes twice as long as milking any other cow, or maybe longer yet.  Maybe there’s no connection, but these two also happen to be the only two in the bunch which were once-upon-a-time milked with machines.  Is there something about the compressor-produced suction of the milking machine that makes let-down reflex unnecessary, and, supposing there is, would an unnecessary reflex diminish over time?

We don’t know, but you won’t catch us buying a machine milked cow again in a hurry.

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starting calves

Real milk or calf milk replacer?  The latter is the equivalent of baby formula, and you might think the difference would be slight, but no, and this year’s experience is a case in pointcalf2:  the extra bulls we picked up for beef (between our families and the monastery we need a lot of beef) are doing beautifully on surplus milk, but the three we picked up for our neighbors, people with experience in raising calves, never thrived, and at around six weeks they were all dead, yes, doornail dead.  Same batch of calves, same pickup dates, same protocols for rearing — only the milk was different.  Such a high mortality rate is, we admit, not the norm, but fifty percent wouldn’t have surprised us much.  Replacer and real milk are not the same.

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iron weed

weedy paddock  This one is tall, with red stems and clusters of flowers of a purple Caesar would envy.  As fast as we see improvement in pastures we are beginning to graze intensively, a glance at the fields in July and August is always a little discouraging; iron weed can grow to as much as ten feet , and it self-sows generously.  Neither the cows nor the sheep will browse it significantly.  Additionally, according to Ohio State, “research showed that 9 successive years of mowing on two dates during the year caused no significant stand reduction of tall ironweed. Herbicides controlled top growth of tall ironweed in the season of application but had little effect on regrowth from surviving roots.”

Good news:  intensive grazing seems to be much more effective than that.  After six years, where once the iron weed grew thick and tall, our home pastures now show only a few scattered plants.   Why should intensive grazing work when mowing does not (after all, the animals aren’t grazing the iron weed, just its companion plants), and why might the process take a few years to show its effectiveness?  We’re not experts, but we speculate that individual plants already established continue to push through the pasture grasses for several years until either their viability is sufficiently compromised by competition, or until they have completed their natural life cycle, while new plants can’t get established through the improved ground cover that goes with intensive grazing.


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book cover   We heard today that we will have a starred review in the September issue of Library Journal.  Can you beat that!

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bug repellent

So, we can’t absolutely say that this one works, but then again we can’t say it doesn’t, either.  In a world where bugs the size of pinheads can destroy an entire patch of winter squash, turn cucumber vine leaves to brown lace, or eat potato plants down to mushy green stems, we’re willing to do a lot to discourage bugs, even if a lot of a lot doesn’t really work.

This method was recommended to us by a friend from Wisconsin, who remembers it as a trick her grandmother, born in the early decades of the last century, used to repel cabbage loopers, those little green caterpillars that leave caterpillar poo all over your cabbages.  It seems the good lady saved the water in which she had defrosted meat, or the (let’s call it what it is) blood on the meat platter, diluted it in a couple of gallons of water, and let it get good and stinky.  Then she poured it on the vegetables she was trying to save from the bugs.  The idea, as our friend understands it, was to make the plant smell like something other than what it was; smell like carrion, in fact.  We’ve tried it.  Just a little meat juice in water can get remarkably foul-smelling if left to sit a couple of days in hot weather.   Don’t know if it really fools the loopers, but we’ve never had such beautiful cabbages.  We sprayed it on our winter squash, too, half of which had already succumbed to bacterial wilt, and the wilt seems to have run its course, but since it’s supposed to take a couple of weeks for bacterial wilt to kill a plant, such results are totally inconclusive.  We like the idea, though.  We don’t suppose it can hurt; it might even be a homeopathic dose of foliar fertilizer, as well.


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cow warts

cowsWhen one of the three heifers that spent the winter on another farm came home with warts all over her face, we did a computer search and found multiple sites that said 1) that warts are caused by a viral infection (we knew that); 2) that cows often get them, and they are infectious; 3) that after a couple of months the cow develops an immunity and they go away again.  In short hand, that means that if you aren’t wanting to sell that cow right away, don’t worry about it.  We are now in a position to add our own little bit to the online wisdom, to whit:  the warts did not go away in a couple of months, it has been more like six months, but yes, after spreading over much of her face and even onto one shoulder, they are finally receding.  No one else showed up with warts, which are supposed to be spread by cows using the same rubbing posts or trees as the affected cow, but in an intensive grazing system paddocks change so often that maybe there’s no opportunity for repeated visits to the same tree.

May this be some help if your cow turns up with facial warts.


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