Archive for November, 2016

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.



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farm breeds conservancy

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.

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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

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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

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NOFA-NY Winter Conference

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.

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Lots of such maxims recur often to our minds when we are farming.  This one is a reminder to build in redundancy when it comes to necessary tools, but it could also, it occurred to us recently, be applied to other things as well.  One spouse seems to us an adequate number, but how about lactating dairy animals?  Some people wonder why we keep multiple low-production cows instead of one higher-producing animal.  After all, it is reasonable to suppose that three or four cows require more in the way of maintenance ration than would a single big, say, Holstein.  Forget for the moment that to get such high production numbers you would have to feed quantities of grain, something that should, at best, form only a small part of a ruminant’s daily intake.  Even if we could find a single cow to produce all the milk we want on less grass than multiple cows require, would we be better off?  Lately we’ve been more than usually aware that such ain’t necessarily so.  We can think of several reasons:

Size:  A single high-production cow would need to have a larger body weight than her lower-producing sisters.  Bigger cow means greater soil compaction, as, no matter how big or small she is, all a cow’s weight is supported on just four relatively small hooves.  Better on our steep acres to spread the load out on eight, twelve or even more hooves.

Impact:  With just one cow there’s no herd effect, no shoving, stomping, or carelessness.  Bossy can take her sweet time going around the paddock and eat just those plants that most appeal to her.  She’ll never feel a sense of urgency about getting hers while the getting’s good, because it’s all hers, and she knows it will wait until she has time to give it her attention.  Consequently, favorite forages may be grazed heavily, and less-preferred plants go untouched.  More cows means more haste, more indiscriminate gobbling, more plants stomped, and more (and more spread out) cow pies.

Numbers:  More cows means more calves.

Diversity:  And consequently greater genetic variation, which translates into more chances you’ll get an exceptional individual, one which does particularly well on your land, under your methods.

Security:  We are particularly aware of this one when somebody is in heat, or goes lame, or does anything else that causes a drop in milk production or otherwise makes us worry.  Where there are three cows producing your eight gallons a day (or what have you), one lame foot, or one case of mastitis, or one imminent calving, does not jeopardize your whole milk supply.

We might have titled this one “Less is More”; or perhaps “Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket”.



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