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Spring Lapse

Whoops, I was going to post here more often!  The last month has been a busy, happy blur.  I moved the first batch of 140 broilers out of the shed and on to pasture early this morning.  It is so much easier to handle birds during darkness-either very late or very early.  No chasing, no stressful capture, just sleepy birds (and sleepy me!)  They are out in their pasture pens now.  I lost 9 birds in the brooder: 2 to leg problems and the other 7 to ? I am not at all happy about that mortality rate, but it was very cold (30’s) their first few days and I am sure some of those 7 deaths were caused by cold birds piling on top of each other.  I also see that I have some coccidia issues as evidenced by some droppings with red mucous.  The chicks were in the brooder too long!  (3 1/2 weeks) It got crowded and I had wet bedding which allows the coccidia oocysts to sporulate more quickly.  The stress of moving will make things worse for a while but getting them on pasture will be the biggest benefit.  

We have 9 little dairy heifers grazing at our place now, more to come.  They will hang out here all summer eating, fertilizing, and growing until they go back to the dairy in the fall.  No piglets for a while but I am tilling and planting their pasture in advance of their July arrival.  I hope to have nice stands of peas/oats/turnip/rape for them to hog down.

I have broken a gardening vow already.  I told my self that last fall would be the last time i used the rototiller on my vegetable garden.  Liar!  The broad fork is a wonderful tool, but I couldn’t keep up with the sudden warm and wet spring.  The first 4 rows were broadforked and planted, but the rest of the garden was rapidly filling with baby lambsquarters and quack.  I was getting discouraged.  Rototiller to the rescue.  Next year maybe I will make it.  I am putting down cardboard + moldy hay in between the wide beds, I will continue to layer on the mulch material on the pathways, which means their will be less area to weed.  I am realizing that I am a bit or maybe a lot OCD (thanks mom).  I don’t function well with big messy things (like my kitchen)(or my garden) but if I can establish a bit (or a  lot) of order I will happily work all day down the (neatly mulched) garden row.  

The orchard almost has a fence to keep out the deer.  We got all the posts in and wire up except for the last 15 feet.  Uh oh, miscalculation.  Just another unfinished project.   I did get my blueberry and raspberry plants in and mulched.  They go all the way around the perimeter of the orchard.  I placed soaker hoses under the mulch with the idea that we would use the rainwater tanks to irrigate the berries.

I **promise** to post some pictures once we have a bit of sunshine, but I think we are in for a couple dreary rainy days.

Today I have to play housewife, dishes to wash (like ALL of them- our dishwasher is broken), toilets to scrub, groceries to procure.  GRRR… I would much rather clean out the chicken coop.


Orchard Realized

My fruit trees arrived on Friday!  6 apples, 2 pie cherries, 2 pears, 2 plums and 2 apricots.  All trees are from St. Lawrence Nursery in zone three NY.  These are all tree which should do just fine with our winters.  It was snowing when the trees came, but yesterday was a little bit of spring.  We got all 14 trees in the ground and watered in.  It is snowing again today.  I am so very happy our nice day happened on a weekend.  I have spent YEARS looking at those garden catalogs and circling trees for my wish list.  Finally dream realized!

Spring = My Christmas!

My first gift to myself is 10# of worms.  I bought them online yesterday in the hopes that I can eventually feed horse poo to chickens, producing all kinds of nice worm castings and worm tea for my gardens.  The worms will eat the organic matter (and boy are we up to our barn boots in organic matter!) and do what worms do -doodoo. They should double in numbers every 60 days and digest their body weight of organic matter every other day.  Under optimum conditions that means 35# of waste turned into fertility every week.  Yippee, that is really cool (to a farm geek)!  I have done under-the-sink vermicompost before but this is such a larger scale and really just a fraction of what I would need to make a serious dent in my chicken feeding.  But we have a lot of poo and the space to make it work so let the great worm experiment begin!  

The other gift to myself are garden tools.  My husband is forever telling me that I should use the right tool for the job (love you honey).  He is right (but ssshh, don’t tell him!).   I bought a broadfork and a collinear hoe from Johnny’s.  I really do not want to EVER run the rototiller through the garden again.  I hate how it pulverizes everything, destroys the soil structure and creates a tiller ‘hardpan’.  But I didn’t know what else was available, that was how it was done as I was growing up.  I also have to say I loved how the garden looked afterwards, all fluffy and tidy-ready to go, right?  I didn’t realize that underneath that tidy exterior was mass destruction!  The broadfork should work great to get the garden ready for planting and give me a workout.  See how this works: one stone- two birds?  I also realized that my garden weeding consisted of hacking out big weeks (last year I had a lambs quarter forest- couldn’t even hack ’em down with a machete!).  I made a huge deposit into my garden’s weed seed bank last year and I need to get them when they are just sprouts.  I think this type of ‘weeding’ may be another leftover from my childhood.  I recall being recruited to ‘weed the garden’ — get on your knees and pull out the big stuff–type of work.  I probably just wasn’t trusted with the hoe to pick out the differences between baby quack and baby carrots!  The collinear hoe looks very cool- a sharp blade that you can run with precision just under the soil surface while standing upright.  Between that and the larger stirrup hoe I am hoping I have the right tools for the job!

Green Grass Dreams


I am having vivid dreams of walking through knee high green pastures.  They are so vivid.  I can feel the stems on my bare legs, smell the crushed green of broken leaves.  The sun is warm on my back and the breeze ruffles my hair. Cerulean blue sky, brown calf eyes, green so bright it hurts your eyes.

Then I wake up.  To palate of cold grey.  Grey ski, grey snow, grey trees.  Grey me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love winter!  But not in April.

I have baby chicks coming in 2 1/2 weeks.  140 of them.  They will be homeless unless winter releases its grip.  I have one shed, it is a 10×16 storage shed and currently serves all my poultry needs.  It is a winter coop for my 25 laying hens and usually in April the hens move out and go out to the pasture.  Then it is time for spring hen-house cleaning.  The 2+ feet of partially composted shavings/chicken poo which has accumulated over the winter is shoveled out and moved to the compost pile next to the garden.  The shed is swept, sprayed and scrubbed out.  Once dry we are ready for the peeping yellow fuzzballs.  Reading this I can see that I need to postpone my chick delivery!

This has not been a great winter for me.  I usually enjoy the time to sort of regroup and work on projects I don’t have time for during the summer madness.  This year was different.  Darker somehow.  I had a hard time self-motivating and instead allowed inertia to take over.  What is worse is that I am the family ‘activity director’  and if I don’t initiate something, it ain’t gonna happen.  So we all just sat on the couch.  Puke!  Tom and I have completely forgot how to have fun, how to belly laugh.

Next winter I need a plan for physical activity and FUN.  Maybe some snowshoeing (fun races?), we are also considering an ATV (or 2? cuz who wants to go alone?) which would be dual purpose farm/fun.  Maybe I can find an art show to enter for spring on 2014.  I need deadlines to function and I need fun the thrive.

Reset this Blog

This blog has been stale, bland and uninspiring for me so I have stayed away, how about you?  I used to blog prolifically at my Blogspot page- it was rambling, personal, emotional and FUN!  It was also semi-anonymous.  The farm blog at WordPress was to be a ‘professional marketing tool’.  Gag, boo, hiss!!  It sucks, it’s not real, it’s not who I really am!   There is to be a change in format around here.  It’s a little scary because it’s not anonymous anymore.  But it will be real:  real mud and blood, death and birth, rants and unrealistic goals.  There is a Miranda Lambert song out about hiding your crazy-well, no more I’ll put it all down here 🙂  Enjoy the show.


This weekend I was inspired, met some very interesting people and my enthusiasm for grass farming is renewed at the Grass Works annual grazing conference.  Two interesting tidbits:  Soil with 1-2% organic matter (OM) only holds 1/4 of the moisture as soil with an OM of 4-5%.  The best estimates for our Wisconsin climate include a 4-9 degree F increased temp in the next 50 yrs.  Check out this interactive map:  .  Just click your WI location and it will give you an idea of what/where your weather will be like based on different models.  One of those models had our northern WI location feeling more like Oklahoma in 100 yrs, with a +19 degree temp change (ugh time to move to Cananda!)   The averages were closer to Rockford IL.  That is something think about.  More trees to shade livestock, different species of apple trees to consider, more warm season grasses…that is all decades away.

Now is the time to make plans for the coming season.  Some things on the agenda: what should I inter-seed my pastures with this spring to increased soil OM, create diversity and drought resistance?  Determine a grazing plan for the pigs, they will arriving later this year-what can I grow for them to reduce our reliance on expensive grain?  How many beef stockers can our pastures support if/when it is dry this summer?  Since Erin will be a farm employee this summer, will the market support more broilers?  Rabbits, ducks, layers, garden, starting our apple orchard and berry patch.  I have to admit to feeling pretty bah-humbug earlier this winter but now i am getting excited about the spring!

Chewing the Fat

Thanks Carolyn, for keeping me company while we rendered lard!  Us ladies got to ‘chew the fat’ while the crock pot, Nesco and stovetop did all the work melting the fat.  This was my first experience rendering lard and I thought it would be more difficult than it actually was.  I guess that is true of most new things!  We started with approx 2.5 lbs of frozen ground leaf lard from the pigs which were butchered this fall.  I allowed them overnight in the fridge to soften up a bit and then put one in the crock pot on high, the other in the Nesco at 250, and the third into a heavy bottomed kettle and the lowest  possible flame and the smallest burner of the stove.  Each method also received a small amount of water to prevent scorching before the first bit of fat melts.  All three methods worked very well.  The stove had to be watched and stirred the most, but it was also the quickest!  The goal is to melt the fat, evaporate any water and allow any non-fat bits to settle out onto the bottom.  The key is to NOT allow those bits to scorch on the bottom of the pan.  Once they settle out the moisture is gone and the cooking/melting is over.  The resulting liquid is poured through a cheese cloth lined collander and then into a glass jar.  Keep one jar in your fridge and store the rest in the freezer!  

Lard made from leaf fat should be snow white and have NO piggy flavor or smell.  Leaf fat comes from inside the abdomen of the pig, while back fat is the stuff -well from the back.  Back fat will have more pig flavor.  

The leaf lard can be used in place of Crisco (icky nasty stuff!) for baking or used to saute.   We will be making an apple pie this weekend from our new stash!  Pastured lard is a nice source of Vitamin D.

From Rodale News:  ” The main fat in lard—oleic acid—is a monounsaturated fat linked to decreased risk of depression, says Drew Ramsey, MD, coauthor of The Happiness Diet (Rodale, 2010). Those same monounsaturated fats, which make up 45 percent of the fat in lard, are responsible for lowering LDL levels while leaving HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels alone.”

Its Real Food people!!