Posts Tagged ‘pasture’

We’re pretty happy with how our cows thrive on stockpiled forage, and these pictures show why.  Thick coats, well-padded hip bones, calm, contented demeanor — these are happy cows.  Note that these animals have spent the entire winter out in the pasture, with no supplementation except minerals, eating standing forage saved since last July/August, the only exception being a few days when there was so much ice on the snow that we fed square bales in the pasture.

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Sunday, September 16:

The maple tree at Kenny’s is always the first to turn in the fall.  Today the top of it is washed in shades of peach.  Mossors’ place closes the bottom of the Jeddo’s run hollow like a cork in a bottle, the hills rising an abrupt hundred feet plus trees to the north and south; from there the run flows almost level across a mile of ground that, when Kenny was young, was cornfield, arrowhead-hunting ground.  Now it is cut by state route seven, the cornfield replaced with our village’s one grocery store.  The trees along the river have taken on a jaundiced look, not truly yellow, but with their vibrant summer green gone army drab, announcing their irrevocable judgment that autumn will come.  Goldenrod still froths in ditches and on hillside, more cheerful, but the meaning is the same.

The carrot beds are at the top of the big garden.  That high up the flow from the creek hose is only a trickle; if you lift the hose a foot the water stops completely.  With so little pressure it takes a long time to water the carrot beds, and we have not been as assiduous as we should be, we who have last year’s experience to tell us that carrots need to be watered often.  Yesterday we did what we have known for two weeks we should do.  We took a hose from the collection of damaged garden hoses hanging on the board fence along the drive, closed on end with a fixture, and hooked it up to the creek hose.  Laying it out along the top of the garden, we began drilling holes with a one-sixteenth inch bit and a cordless drill starting at the very end of the hose and working our way back.  At first we spaced the holes about a foot apart; when we reached a point forty feet back, we started over and drilled again, between the first holes.  Crude but effective, it makes a drip hose when laid out along the highest beds, and a sprinkler hose lower in the garden.  We shift it every few hours and finally the carrots are getting properly watered.  We hope they will respond with better germination.

Why didn’t we do this two weeks ago?

Two young pigs are on pasture at the top of West hill, enclosed with sixty feet of polynetting and watered by a hose from the spring a hundred yards further back in the woods, a hose ending in a pig nipple welded to an iron stake.  There was some doubt in the beginning whether these particular pigs were going to settle in well.  They began their lives as confinement pigs and their terror at finding themselves enclosed not by bars and a floor of rubber-coated expanded steel, but by the wooden walls of our infirmary pen on a wood floor strewn with hay, caused some of us to wonder they would be able to make the transition to woodland foragers.  Happily, they have adjusted themselves nicely, turning over a bed of soft forest mould under the side of a fallen tree and snipping leaves from the young sassafrass.  We hope they will thrive.

We have said before that trying to build a farm and learn to farm at the same time, and with no instructor, is like trying to build, without benefit of blueprint, a Boeing 747, at the same time one is taking it on one’s first transatlantic flight – solo.  Now we think a better analogy would be trying to do the above while manufacturing the parts.

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Wednesday, March 14:

Spring is here.  The calendar may lack a week until the seasons officially change, but the grass and the trees know already, and the robins, who are always the first to hear, are so ubiquitous as almost to be underfoot.  The soft, wet ground is prime hunting ground for worms, leaving aside only our compost bins, which yield dozens of red, squirmy worms in each forkful of decaying plant matter.  Cardinals and chickadees no longer provide our primary bird companionship; song sparrows visit the feeder outside the kitchen window, or sit in the small cherry tree, vibrating to their own song.  The late quarter moon illuminates the early morning as we go down to milk, while in the cleft of our valley Mars glows pink.  Our weather has been in the sixties and seventies for two days, and the four-year-old, S-6, announced the news in glad treble:  Spring is here.  Out come the water pistols.

Only two or three weeks ago we were feeding the bees pollen patties; today when we got into the hives, many of the disturbed insects had full pollen baskets on their legs.  Almost certainly tree pollen; the only flowers to be seen are the tiny white ones of rock cress , the pure blue of speedwell, and a few purple crocuses.  But the late afternoon sun illuminates clouds of particulate around the maple trees on the hill, which we assume is windborne pollen.  Don’t quote us.  The bees seem to be doing well.  They still have lots of honey from their winter stores, and there is quite a bit of capped brood in each hive.  The pattern, which should be almost solid, is a little spotty, which could indicate an old queen, but there is a great deal of younger brood, and we are not sure how long ago the mother bees will have started laying again after the winter hiatus.  We made sure there were plenty of empty cells around the brood cluster so that the mamas wouldn’t start thinking about leaving, and put a queen excluder and a super on each hive.

The pruning gets done in stages.  This morning we took on the three overgrown, ancient trees in the south pasture, unpruned in human memory until last year.  Drastic pruning is supposed, we read, to be done over a period of several years – three is the number we have seen most often – so we contented ourselves with removing all the dead and damaged wood we could reach, ditto suckers, and all the ingrowing branches under about three quarters of an inch in diameter.  Two of the trees have substantial branches at the top broken a year ago, when a tulip tree the men were dropping deviated from the line chosen for it and glanced off the apple trees.  Removing these was beyond the tools we had taken up with us, and we will have to go back and finish the job.

We pulled and raked weeds from the raised beds in the kitchen gardens, and raked compost into the asparagus bed.  In the afternoon the men brought hay from Neighbor B’s.  We cut and bale his south pasture on shares, and his horses have not needed all he got of last summer’s harvest; so he, with typical generosity, gave us permission to use it.  That is a savings for us, who will have another month at least before the cattle can go out on pasture.  In the meantime they are fenced into the barnyard, which is as muddy as a sacrifice paddock usually is this time of year.  For relief they go into the barn, which is relatively dry and solid, but they look wistfully through the fence at the thin greenup, and the young cow finds devious ways to escape.  Makes us wish for a heavy-duty fence charger to give her a good jolt.

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Tuesday, December 13:

   In the Roman calender this day is the feast of Sta. Lucia, an early Christian martyr.  The young Franciscan priest who said mass at seven fifteen was vested in red, and we broke meditation to whisper anticipation of our morning cinnamon rolls, which turned into afternoon ones because the morning was so full.  Normal things, mostly:  laundry and dishes and the daily chore of lighting a fire under the big copper kettle outside and cooking ten gallons of swill for the pigs and chickens.  A trip to the recycle bins, a stop at the library, another to post Christmas cards, and it was almost eleven, and just time enough to roll out the dough, spread it with soft butter, cover that with a thick layer of brown sugar and cinnamon, roll it, slice it, and set it to rise, before the wolves were howling for their lunches. 

   In Europe there is a traditional sweet roll called, we believe, a luciakattern — ? – prepared for the breakfast of this day.  Twenty-some years ago we found a recipe for it, along with a description of the ceremony for its distribution, which includes girls with wreaths of lighted candles on their heads.  Having no girls at the time, we did not have to make up our minds whether to risk burning their hair off, and by the time we had daughters we had already come up with our own traditions.  We are not by nature adventurous about foreign foods, so it was easy to substitute cinnamon rolls for the luciakattern, and we keep the candles on the table, where we can enjoy them without risk to the girls’ coiffures.  Our traditions, festive though we find them, have to fit into the rhythm of seasonal work and the comfort zone of a mother who sees her children taking enough risks to life and limb in the course of our daily farm work without absolutely tempting fate.

   Demands of the university are beginning to wind down and the men were outside for several hours today making room in the big garage for two of the three deep freezers presently lodged in the basement.  Lumber and scrap metal were shifted down the hill, and equipment shoved around.  Electrical bills have been outrageous, and, always slow to respond to stimulous, we are, after hosting furnace/freezer duels in the basement every winter for twenty years, taking advantage of the low temperatures to help ice down the masses of beef and pork we are putting up.  The second of three steers is hanging in Barry’s barn, almost ready to cut and wrap, and if Nature can help freeze it, more power to Her.

   The buck S-4 brought down a week ago is now marinating in a witches’ brew of every spice and sauce in the kitchen, and will go into the dehydrator in small batches over the next few days.  We sorted the winter squash and pumpkins, sadly few because of last summer’s plague of squash bugs, and brought up one that was compromised to cook for dinner.  A single pumpkin, deceptively round and bright orange, was found to be in an advanced stage of decomposition, and the boys launched it off the back of the hill as a sort of wet pinata for the chickens’ pleasure.  Large-scale, long-term food storage requires regular quality checks to prevent spoilage from spreading. 

   The spring tank on the back of the barn is running at a good rate, and the floating thermometer reads just at forty degrees.  S-3 and 4 plumbed the new pig nipple through the back barn wall, only to find that the instructions for theuse of the three-foot length of pipe heater we bought to keep it from freezing warn against flexing the element or wrapping it around the pipe.  As the extension for the nipple is only eight inches long, this leaves us with almost two and a half feet of element we have to find something to do with.  We have had no experience with electric pipe heaters, but are pretty sure that if we don’t use one on the galvanized metal extender it will freeze.  We are also thinking of floating a stock tank de-icer in the spring tank if it looks like freezing in January or February.  The use of these gadgets will be worth the compromise with technology if they help keep running water in the pig pen for the bulk of the winter.

   The moon is past full, standing out brightly against a slate-blue early morning sky and setting two hours after sunrise when no one is looking any more.  At five o’clock this morning it poured over our frosted fields in a silver wash like snow.  Isabel steps painfully over the barnyard where the pocked mud is frozen hard as iron, and we could use a few inches of snow to cushion her footing.  The sliding manger, really just a roofed hay-rack on skis, is pushed around the pasture to ensure even distribution of waste hay and manure; it too will be much easier to move once we have a base layer of snow on the ground.  The hens don’t like snow, and put themselves to bed early in this cold weather; eggs are getting scarcer.  It’s about time to eliminate the remaining three-year-olds, and put up some canned chicken and broth for hot soup on cold days.

   Some chores are full of satisfaction.  The Rube Goldberg chicken house door closer — sixty foot of string through a series of staples and eyebolts, with a  wooden handle at the end on the woodshed — gives a most satisfying thump when you yank it.  This, we consider, is an appropriate application of technology.

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Friday, October 21:

   Picking green beans in the cold they snap off crisply in your fingers like they do when they come out of the refrigerator.  I stopped before I got to the end of the first row, but I think I have enough to give to the TOR’s tomorrow when the boys serve for Bishop Zubik.  There must be about fifteen sisters living in the big house, so it takes a lot of green beans to go around.

   The weather has been overcast and drizzly for a couple of days now, and the cold has soaked into the bones of the house.  The fire we lit this morning had to be nursed through the day; whenever it was let to die to coals, the house cooled off too much.  Armloads of firewood have to be carried in from the woodshed out back and stacked in the iron-pipe woodrack in the basement to dry and warm before tomorrow morning when the fire will be relit.  One chunk is curly maple, shimmering under the basement’s incandescent bulb like tiger’s eye.

   All this wood was gathered, split, and stacked a year ago in a long rick at the bottom of the driveway, where now is the new woodshed the men built this summer.  When the new woodshed was undertaken, the cured firewood was brought up in the back of the pickup, and ferried around the house in wheelbarrows.  It has to go through three gates to the old woodshed out back, but then it will be only ten steps from the basement door, close for the morning’s fire.   Seven feet high and nine deep, and twenty-three feet from end to end, the old shed holds about a winter’s wood.  A full woodshed is like a wall between the family and the cold, each log stored heat to be released slowly; all except the occaisional chunk of curly maple which will instead be given to knife and sawblade.  On the rosary shelf in the living room is a bent wood box made of maple rescued from the woodpile; and another box, small, square, and carefully joined in dovetail, is in the study.  When opened, it plays Pachelbel’s Cannon in D, thinly.

   Early as we go down to move the cow’s paddock it is already getting to be dusk, because of the cloud cover and our position under the hills that close our valley the south and west.  We stop at the chicken house.  For fifteen years this was a simple shed-roofed structure of scrap materials, fourteen feet by twenty, soggy with mud in wet weather; this summer it was replaced with a warm, dry pole-barn, small but with sawdust litter on the wooden floor and ample roosts for the laying hens.  Pausing here we trip the string that unhooks the chicken door and allows it to swing closed.  The luxury of that string is still fresh on us, as it was last Tuesday when I was reminded at eleven o’clock at night that the hens hadn’t been shut up yet.  Dangling from the last post at the back of the bread oven shed, only twelve steps from the back door, is the wooden handle S-5 whittled for his creation.  A single tug against slight resistance, then a give, and the comforting thump of the hen door swinging down and wedging shut.  All the hens, and two arrogant roosters, are shut in for the night, away from the curiosity of fox and raccoon and ‘possum. 

   We shift the cow’s paddock daily to new grass, striving always to enclose with her in her corral of electrified twine just as much sward as she will make good use of in a day, no more.  Best results to be obtained if the cow will eat, step on, defecate on, or urinate on, every step of each paddock.  Grazing this way imitates the movement of large herds of wild ruminants.  Isabel is about as far from a herd of wild ruminants as you can imagine, but grazing her this way is having a remarkable effect of our five acre pasture.

   This hillside is about the worst land you can imagine for grazing anything, short of a Walmart parking lot.  It is steep and rocky.  Six years ago the previous owner had the hillside above it logged by people who were no doubt driven out of central America for their barbaric logging practices, and these people, in addition to leaving the woods an impenetrable tangle of lopped branches and wild grapevine, made concrete out of the clay and shale of the pasture.  When they left, the regrowth consisted largely of tough, hard-stemmed weed varieties unpalatable to livestock:  ironweed, ragweed, milkweed.  We grazed our animals there in spring and fall, when the growth was young and tender enough to interest them, but winter and summer we had to supplement with hay.

   Now, one year into our rotational grazing, the bare ground is almost completely covered, much of the growth being clover, timothy, and orchard grass.  We have not planted these varieties.  Joel Salatin discourages tilling and planting pasture in favor of allowing the native species to come into balance under the influence of rotational grazing; Gene Logsdon points out that in Ohio Dutch white clover will come without planting. Such has been the case here.  Some of the grass seed has been imported from our hay meadows via the hay we bring home every summer.  Fed out over the winter in our sliding manger, it passes through our animals and leaves seed spread over the pasture.

   Tonight S-5 and I only have to pull half the fiberglass posts and leapfrog over the lower half of Isabel’s fence.  We unhook the polywire and reel it up, then flip back the ratchet so the line will feed out, fasten it to a new section of fence, and stretch the new paddock.  With two people working, it takes about five minutes, including pulling the water tank down the necessary twenty-five feet so it will be included in the new paddock.  Moving paddock must be done every day, but every time the cow is rotated across the pature, the forage is being improved:  manure and urine are spread over the entire field, and the cow is grazing forage varieties evenly, not over grazing her favorite forages and leaving others to grow until the preferred varieties are crowded out.  How many things can you do in a day that you are absolutely sure are good for the world?  The man who rotates his cattle leaves the world a better place.

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