Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ramping Up


We've been busy bees lately.  On top of the explosion of spring planting, milking 2x a day, catching several swarms, classes and chores, we have expanded our hen operation.  Two rounds of chicks we recently raised are mature and beginning to lay.  We also adopted a large group of Brown Isos from an animal rescue.  These ladies are between 7-11 months old, prime production brown egg layers.  Their dwellings are three mobile chicken tractors built from scrap materials we had here on the farm.  As we are moving them across the hillside, they will eat all the bugs and grass while preparing and fertilizing new beds for us to plant.


Using the chicken tractor is nothing new to us.  About half of our beds were initially prepared by our original lightweight tractor made from PVC pipe. What's different about this set up is that these structures are sturdier and  predator proof.  The other big difference is that we are feeding the hens compost, or at least mostly.  Each day we dump into the tractors a load of manure, greens, straw and spent brewer's grain.  The hens eat, scratch, peck and break down the goods into a most lovely and fertile end product for us to plant right into. 


We were totally inspired by Geoff Lawton's Chicken Tractor on Steroids video and decided to try out the concept but wanted to tweak it to make it easier for us. (We are leaving the hens on the beds for 2-3 weeks. Instead of turning compost, we let them do the work for us).  


So far, a month into the experiment, we reached down under the straw bedding to test out the soil and it is loose, moist and full of worms!  Just what we are aiming for.  The true test will be seeing how our tomatoes do in the first bed.  


The hens have taken well to their new environment.  They have had a big adjustment to make as we have changed their diet drastically from layer pellet to compost.  We are trying to boost their immune systems with a splash of apple cider vinegar in their drinking H2O and giving them fermented milk with all the beneficial probiotic bacteria. Plus the spent grain they are getting contains hops which has bitter acids know to be potent anti-microbials. These anti-microbials control the pathogenic bacteria Clostridium in the hens' intestines.  

So all in all, these ladies are having to work a bit harder but they are looking healthy.  This coming week we will set up the electric fencing to give them a little wiggle room and allow them to forage through the tall grass a bit too.  They will be some pretty happy pastured chickens!

Check out this clip on the ramped up chicken tractor, well worth watching his whole video...Many spring blessings!



Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Colors of Spring


"When the soul lies down in that grass, 
the world is too full to talk about."- Rumi


Onions blooming, artichokes reaching and stretching out their long leaves, technicolor poppies scattered over the hillside, a splash of chartreuse chalkboard paint on the milk fridge, kale-collards-mustard greens-broccoli-potatoes, grapes leaves unfurling, bees buzzing to and fro over the borage flowers, and a green grassy hillside that calms the mind and soul.  Spring has sprung, beauty hangs on every dew drop. All around us life is anew. 


Eight little bronze turkey poults entertain us while our chicks in the brooder get bigger by the minute.  Spring planting, lots of new laying hens, lazy pregnant goats and milk coming out of our ears.  The farm is bustling with activity keeping us sore, tired and so busy we can barely take a breath.  But somehow it's all worth it!  These times are unforgettable...the best times of our lives!

Happy Spring!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Start to Finish

Thank you Cocoa!


From May 2013 to February 2014, a cycle is complete.  Ginger's first calf, little Cocoa, was born here and lived an easy life.  He was able to grow fat on his mom's milk for six months then enjoy any array of alfalfa, vegis, pumpkins, and grain.  He was able to run and jump, sniff and investigate like any calf should. He slept most of the day like babies do and enjoyed many a scratch behind the ears.  


Then when he started to grow up he was even able to express some of his manhood and bully us around a bit.  (The poor goats got bullied around alot!) And at a certain point when he was eating the same amount as his mom and when he was getting just too big to handle safely (with those horns of his), it was time for him to go.


We knew from the start that Cocoa's destiny would be to fill the freezer.  Since we don't eat meat it would not be ours. And when all was said and done the whole scenario could not have worked out better. A friend purchased him, picked him up in her trailer, brought him to the slaughter house and then the butcher.


This friend of ours happens to be extremely particular about where her meat comes from and feels it's important to face the animals she will eat.  So she sat with Cocoa to the end and watched the complete process to make sure it was as humane a possible. She was even kind enough to bring us back some of the innards for our compost pile so a part of Cocoa could be incorporated into the soil where he was born.


We saved Cocoa's beautiful hide for salting and preserving as well.  We say farewell to Cocoa who gave us our first amazing experiences with calf rearing. He was sweet, gentle and of course very stubborn. We are all grateful for the gifts he has given us.


Every part of Cocoa was used.  He was split between four families, meaning he will feed and nourish fifteen people.  Just in case any of you are considering buying a whole animal for meat to share or just for your own family, here is a cost comparison analysis of the beef purchase from the buyer, I thought it was interesting to see the breakdown.  Cocoa was eight months old and approximately 700 lbs.  


Compared to a 6 month subscription from Marin Sun Farms
 (adjusted for weight differences)
more steak--102%
less roasts--32%
less hamburger--15%
more bones--100%
more offal--100%


cost savings of meat per pound (excluding offal and bones)--36%
total cost savings--33%
final cost per pound of meat (excluding offal and bones)--$5.20

pounds of meat each + 1/4 of the bones and various cuts of offal--46.26

And now, all is quiet here on the farm.  Are you are curious about Ginger??  We have been watching her closely. She seems to have had her few days of wondering and most likely mourning but with all the green grass coming up it's business as usual. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

THE CSA: WINTER

The coldness and darkness of winter urges us to slow down.  This is the time of year to reflect on our health, replenish our energy, and conserve our strength.  Eating warm heart soups, whole grains, and roasted nuts help warm the body's core and keep us nourished...


 

The first seasonal CSA baskets have been delivered.  Our winter share includes a green forest salt soak and scrub, herbal vapor rub, fire cider, adaptogen elixir, redwood chai, and a potent osha-black seed honey. The focus for winter is boosting immunity, with six medicinal creations that offer prophylactic defense, as well as promoting healthy circulation and warming the system.  Advice for winter wellness; sleep early, rest well, stay warm, expend a minimum quantity of energy. We had so much fun making all these goodies! 
Spring shares are available for order now.  Check out more info here. Many winter blessings and praying for more rain!


Friday, February 7, 2014

Growing the Staples


Now that we are finally receiving the long awaited rain (hurray!!), the race is on to get winter chores done.  We've been amending beds with manure, heavily mulching, building compost piles everywhere, and transplanting lots of starts from the green houses to the beds.  After going at this small farming business for almost four years now, we are honing in and getting organized.  Our seed list has narrowed as we have learned a thing or two about what we like to eat and preserve, what types of plants grow well here, and what we can plant that will give us a large yield with little energy input/water.  



The changing climate and weather patterns are forcing us to rethink everything.  For us that means starting to establish our food forests and for annuals, keeping it simple.  Growing the staples (beans, potatoes, squash, brassicas, and eggs) can keep us well fed all year long. Of course we'll plant some of our other favorites, but the bulk will be these five.  



Since runners beans are hardy, produce a large harvest that can be eaten fresh or dried, and can become perennials, there are big hopes to plant them all over the garden this year. Scarlet runners, painted ladies and many more varieties to climb the fences.  


Yukon Gold is our preferred variety
Potatoes are probably the biggest crop we want to grow.  Our family consumes masses of them and with growing boys it's always good to have some around as a base for a meal, especially when we are trying to cut back on wheat.  Plus they thrive here, our big dilemma is that the gophers love them as much as we do.  We're still searching for a solution to that problem.  



Eggs are versatile, reliable, don't need refrigeration, and can be grown off the compost, extra vegis and waste products from our farm.  They are our main source of protein given half of us don't eat meat.  Every breakfast around here includes eggs with a variation of avocado and toast, porridge, or potatoes.  

winter squash grows exceptionally well in our garden
A list of other crops that are easy and grow well for us in our soil and climate are zucchini, tomatoes, pumpkins, winter squash (Oregon Sweet Meat is our favorite), red and yellow onions, garlic, quinoa, amaranth, and artichokes.  Planting vegis that need more hydration near the grey water is key and we'll be dry farming tomatoes again this year. These rainy days are perfect for planning and dreaming of the garden to come....

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The New Flock and Spent Grain Update


The poultry run has been pretty quiet for the last several months.  In autumn we processed all the old birds who were no longer laying.  The one long day we spent processing was an unwelcome chore but what a relief when it was all over and the freezer was full of chicken and duck for the winter stock.  Last August we bought twenty five laying chicks and our new flock has grown fabulously.  Raised on a soured milk diet, they are now almost five months and we expect them to begin laying soon.  We are ecstatic to have reached our goal of completely cutting off store bought feed! For about four months we have been feeding a combination of spent grain (fermented non-gmo barley that we get for free from a local brewery), vegis from the garden, organic green bin waste, our kitchen scraps-including fish and meat, and clabbored milk.  After doing a bunch of reading and combing the internet for recipes/ratios of homemade feed made with spent grain we really didn't find much useful information so we have been experimenting with trial and error.  What we learned is that our birds all love the spent grain but when fed to the younger pullets they had bloody stool within a day.  So we kept to the sour milk diet while they were growing with a supplement of organic grower crumble. Once they reached 6-8 weeks they transitioned from the brooder to the run and started on spent grain combined with vegis, etc.  They are all looking happy and healthy.  It will be exciting to find out how well they will lay on this diet.  Since we especially chose high production breeds this time around we are hoping for lots of yummy eggs.  I have to admit, I miss all the colors of the old flock.  The three breeds we chose are not as bright; white leghorns, red and black sexlinks, as well as our one random Americauna who gives us her periodic green egg.


We have big plans for the run to be an experimental food forest with apple, olive, fig and mulberry trees, Siberian pea shrubs, bamboo, comfrey and several nitrogen fixing cover crops to support the trees and give the poultry a little forage.  Everything is so dry, the chickens and ducks will be happy to be surrounded by more greenery.  In the meantime we will build a massive compost pile in the run for the chickens to scratch, turn, and feed off of then they will be pastured through our small orchard while we transform their habitat. 

Check out this clip of a very cool, inspiring video about feeding chickens without grain. 


Other ideas...we're thinking of ordering Bourban Red turkeys and geese in a couple of months.  It will be so fun to have a bustling poultry yard again!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

January

The horizon leans forward, 
offering you space to place new steps of change.
-Maya Angelou

 

The new year has arrived and it's hard to believe we are almost through January.  It has been feeling more like May around these parts.  The weather is alarmingly warm and with no rain the land is becoming arid.  We are so grateful  for the grey water system that filters and steadily drips our wash water down to our garden beds. There is nothing else for us to do other than pray for rain and embrace this warm spell.  The starts are overflowing in their flats and so the planting has begun.  All the vegis in the mini green houses are slowly going into the ground; collards, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, artichokes, and lettuce.  I am hoping that this will be the year of growing massive quantities, especially of beans (runners, pole, and bush), squash, greens, and potatoes, as well as some drought resistant edibles like quinoa.  However, this is also the year for us to begin transitioning our property into food forests and perennials.  We are bursting at the seems waiting to implement our plans and ideas--little by little--and patience.



It has been amazingly quiet around here lately.  With systems in place and no baby animals to tend, there has been very little drama.  The days flow in and out with family, chores, and visitors.  Ginger's steady supply of milk keeps us creatively conjuring up different kinds of cheese and ice cream.  



We have been hosting our old friend Ellis, the Oberhasli buck we have used for the past three years to breed our does.  He has been an extremely well behaved guy and is quite content with his harem of ladies.  



He passes his day following one to the next, usually with his nose in someone's behind. Goats!!  Fortunately May Daisy doesn't mind too much and seems to welcome the affection.  



The kids who were born in May are now eight months old, cute and naughty as can be. Sigh...no fence seems to be able to hold them. Yes, that's the nature of goats, they are true free spirits!  This is the year of giving: giving to others and giving our all...taking impeccable care of ourselves and being the best we can be.


Happy January everyone!  May all your positive new year intentions come to fruition.  Peace and blessings!