Finally, I find myself ready to tackle trying to get our status updated on all the web sites having to do with the ranch. Regretfully, the 4B is no more. Dan and I have moved, and are now living in Florida, in town. All our lovely critters have been re-homed except Maily the beagle, she is still with us.
This past year has been a wild ride. Kind of like trying to hang on to one of our bucking bred cattle. We lasted the 8 seconds though and now have landed, and we're trying to get a bead on our new surroundings. My head is still spinning though. For anyone else dealing with the cattle market, farm sales, short sales, and Fannie Mae- you have my sympathy.
I am learning what grows in my new climate and experimenting on a small scale with hydroponics and aeroponics. It is amazing to be growing peppers and chard outside still at this time of the year. We should have Michigan maple syrup- B grade again for sale in a few more months.
We are thinking about getting calves from some of our cattle and in a year or so setting up with just a couple head down south here. We both really miss the cattle, chores, the chickens, cats and donkeys and our big garden. But, we are also enjoying being able to travel together after being so tied down the last many years with the ranch.
I am writing, working on the sequel to Funny Farm and a murder mystery. Hope to start making some real progress now that we are getting situated. for those of you who follow my blog, I will try to be more faithful about posting news. Thanks for your attention! My biggest news is that Red Baroness just delivered a beautiful white heifer calf with brown freckles. She and Cali Rae, and White Lightning are now at Hanging Tree Bucking Bulls in North Carolina.
This entry will start with a disclaimer. It is about the daily dog-rooster battles that occur at our ranch. Please do not contact us to complain that this is cruel to the animals. Neither the dog or the rooster has ever seriously injured the other and this battle has been going on for at least six months now. We do not pit them against each other.
Each day either the blue heeler- Babe, or the Buckeye rooster- Fidel will lie in wait for their foe, behind the woodpile, on the other side of the chicken coop, around a bale of hay until the other competitor comes along and then pow! The fray begins.
Each round lasts about 3-5 minutes and both rooster and heeler sometimes win depending on the day- which means the other backs off from the fight and seeks shelter. We have many roosters but only Fidel goes at it with Babe. And she does not antagonize the other roosters, just Fidel.
This year's calving season is running later than usual. Most of the time, all our babies have arrived before the leaves start to turn. We bred back more heifers this year though, which makes for a less predictable calving schedule as the young mothers do not re-impregnate as readily after calving.
There are several things we could do to make this less of an issue. We could more carefully insert and remove the bull so that we would have a more specific idea of when our cows conceive. We could also remove the calves sooner from their mothers. With the market so far off productive this year though, we have actually been just as happy not to have the females breed back, so thus far we have kept our herd all together in one pasture- bull, cows, yearling calves, and now new babies.
This has given us the chance to see what natural herd behavior looks like. We find our big herd sire- Time Bandit runs a tight ship. While there is plenty of horsing around and rough-housing, there is no fighting. And we have two two year old bulls in that pasture also. They have grown up there and for the brief time we seperated them, these two were unhappy and started fence jumping to get back into the main pasture.
Everyone defers to Big Daddy and Africa, his herd queen. I have been amazed at how much Time Bandit has to do with the calves. They usually stay fairly close to him- frequently laying up on him, he grooms them regularly, and at the sign of any threat, the youngsters all flock to him. At this point he has more to do with them than their mothers do.
If we pen the calves to work them, Bandit paces about outside the arena, bellowing and fussing until we give him his kids back. He checks each one over to make sure it is unhurt. This degree of paternal care has surprised me. So much of our animal handing is disruptive to the normal behavior for the species concerned.
Watching this bull-calf interaction has made me contemplate other aspects of our animal handling to look for ways we unnecessarily disrupt natural relationships. Our animals are happiest and easiest to work when we follow natural herd dynamics as much as possible. So this has become the 4B way.
Most folks are going to be inclined to buy "free range" or "pasture raised" chicken or eggs, if they are available and reasonably priced. I think customers want their food animals to have good lives and humane care. We have had our chickens loose since we got our first flock. This is not as easy as it sounds to accomplish, though.
Our main problem has been keeping our birds safe from predators. They can be killed in an instant by everything from a visiting friend's dog to area coyotes, raccoon and fox. We have found a number of things help but we still have to start new flocks constantly to replace birds lost to predation.
Fencing has not been much help for us because we have the birds to eat fly and other insect pests and keep that population from pestering our cattle. We close up the birds that will go into the coops at night. Auracanas like to live in the trees though as long as it isn't snowing.
We have a blue heeler that will not leave our property but chases off predators. We also have donkeys in the cattle pastures as predator guards and they seem to keep the coyotes away from the farm in general pretty well.
We keep an old battery run transistor radio playing at night in the chicken coop, or all the time if attacks have been occurring during the day. We have owl and crow decoy birds up on fence posts.
The breeds that seem to stand up the best are the Auracana's becasue they fly well and are very smart, and the Heritage Breed Buckeyes. We have found keeping roosters with the flocks helps too. We have had several roosters killed defending their flocks including one gorgeous Golden Polish.
If you completely enclose your bird yard and then monitor it for fence holes and dig in areas you should be able to have the best of both worlds. This just doesn't work for us because we use the birds for integrated pest control.
Free range also means they range into my salad beds and into the garage to look for things like styrofoam- one of their favorite things to eat for some reason. So while I would never keep birds in boxes, some days it does seem like it would be a heck of a lot easier.
This is certainly proving to be an interesting summer here in northern Michigan. We had a warm start, variable amounts of rain and now cool temperatures in the heart of when it is usually hot. Our tomatoes are having a hard time figuring out what to do. We've got lush green plants with loads of blossoms but them seem to have stalled. The early crops all seemed to come in a rush with the early hot weather and were over before we knew it.
We raise a small amount of non certified organic produce here for our own table. We vend anything extra cooperatively at the local farmer's market in Traverse City, and at a neighbor's roadside stand. We are grateful for the network of relationships that allows this all to happen.
We borrow a neighbor's tractor to push our manure piles. He comes and loads some of the aged compost and uses it to grow the vegetables he sells. Dan contributes repairs to the tractor to help keep it running. We sell eggs, and other surplus at his stand, and he sends some of his produce to market in Traverse City with us.
This is especially important in how we conduct our large animal operation. Small though this is, we do go through a huge amount of hay. We do not hay ourselves however. We find it more cost effective to buy our hay from producers who already have the large, expensive harvesting equipment to bring it in.
In the five years we have been ranching, we have formed a wide network of interlocked endeavor with our neighbors. Each strand that gets woven between us makes each of us stronger. And we have met some wonderful people in the process. The main commonality is that we all love working the land, and tending our animals. I am very grateful for this experience. Many of the people are getting up there in years though. I wonder about what will happen when they all retire. Who will take their places?
Whew! We just had the last calf of the season arrive on Saturday. We had eight this year and that is a big jump from two. That bumps our herd to twenty-three head of cattle. We had three bulls and five heifers. All are healthy and playful and settling in well.
We are most pleased with our bull Time Bandit's performance as a herd sire. Not only are his calves beautiful but he has been the most gentle, devoted partner and daddy as each was born. We could tell when each cow was in labor as he deferred eating to stay by her side through labor. Then he helped lick and get the calves up to standing and nursing. Come nightfall he makes sure the whole group of new babies is at his side when time to lay down for the night. Amazing to watch.
All this and he bucks too! We held our annual Buckin' Buckley event on June 20th and Bandit was the feature. He bucked well and even had a pretty nice spin before his eight seconds were up. The star of the day was Little Miss Fancy Pants. She had an event winning out showing her double bred Mossy Oak Mudslinger bloodlines through and through.
All the animals we bucked looked great. We will be bucking the bulls again shortly so they get more practice in. We are getting ready to move the three bulls into breeding positions. Time Bandit will breed back his same herd. Sirocco will go in with Little Miss Fancy Pants, Tink, and Dream Girl.
Buster will take on Red Baroness, Red Contessa and Cali Rae along with White Lightening. We will AI Nessa to Fandango and Cali Rae to Ricky Simmons Ozzy so Buster will be clean up pasture bull for them. This all means next calving season will be even busier yet. Ya Hoo!
The recent deaths of elite polo horses due to medication error makes all of us that work with animals cringe. If you work with livestock, you typically use medications and supplements in the course of caring for your beloved animals and we all worry about this kind of mistake occurring. There are practices that can help make sure that this never happens at your farm.
We ask our vetrinarian about any supplement or medication we consider for our herd. She is not always familiar with alternative therapies but this is a good place to start. We verify dosages and potential side effects with her. We then do a review of the agricultural literature for information about the practices again looking for evidence for and against the intervention and about the use protocols.
Everything we administer systemically we get either from the vet or a commercial preparer. We calculate the dosages of all medications for the animals based upon prescribing guidelines even if they have been prepared by the vet or pharmacy to try to make sure no error has been made.
We do most all of our own administration but we have two people verify dosage, drawup and then have a system of placing anything to be given to an animal in a bag with it's name on it when we head to the pasture. All syringes are marked with the medication contained.
Prior to administration again, dosage, administration recommendations, animal are all reviewed for match. Then we give the vaccine or medication. Now, on a larger scale, this is not all practical if using a dosing gun, but we do recommend a review of the supplement, routes to be given, side effects, etc prior to use by two people, then verification of dose for each animal, usually based upon weight or age before administration. When mass immunizing or medicating we do one medication at a time.
It does take a bit more time to do the double checking, but better safe then sorry. We do use a slapshot for our parenteral medications and vaccines and that makes shots even for our high strung cattle less stressful for all of us. Our hearts go out to the players, owners and fans who lost thse beautiful horses this week.
I'm jumping back on here fairly close to our last listing because I didn't want to leave the negative, down and depressing entry as the last thing we'd posted for very long. Though times are hard, we are keeping on, keeping on.
Dan had word of a marine mechanic's opeing and so a job possibility is in the works. We are moving forward with getting ready for the opening of Farm Market season up our way Mother's Day weekend. You wil find us at the Sarah Hardy Traverse City Market on Saturdays across from Richard and Diana from Spring Hollow Dairy.
We expect to have composted manure, eggs, maple syrup, starts for some early plantings including table greens buckets planted with snow peas and mescalun mix, bok choi and cressy greens, and swiss chard. We may have some picked greens also.
We have tincture of thyme, and dried mullien as far as medicinals go and homemade oat bran english muffins and whole grain bread. You can pickup an autographed copy of Funny Farm if you need a a good read.
We have been having good luck with our mortgage company and credit card companies as far adjusting payments and interest rates so we can stay afloat. Anyone else in our situation call you company and most all are willing to work things our right now. Just not Kia Motor Finance Company.
We are sharing this story even though it reflects somewhat
poorly on us here at the 4B Ranch, but I think that there are many of you out
there that are in exactly the same situation and if we discuss this, it is
healthier for all of us.We racked up
another first this week, here at the ranch- our first visit from the Repo Man.
I spend a lot of time smiling and pretending that our
financial footing is solid, but that is make believe.The rest of you that have been scratching along
trying to make ends meet, know that we do this so as not to put off customers,
make friends and family worry, and to keep our own sanity.But times are hard for many of us.
We had been doing great since I was forced to retire due to
illness and we began our endeavor, originally as my therapy project.Dan was working a real job and we were on a
five year plan for the ranch to move from hobby to full business and become
self sustaining.Then, layoff followed
by termination came last August, like for so many of our fellow
Michiganders.Since then we have been
trying to cut a year off our time frame and move into the black this year.
Our bills have been geared towards our income while Dan was
working for Four Winns and though we certainly did not live extravagantly, we
made all our payments.Not anymore!We cut fluff like eating out and satellite TV
a long time ago.I stopped taking my
M.S. drug because even having Medicare, the $500 a month co pay was more than
we could afford.But with my high
medical bills we have not been able to meet all our payments, including the car
note for the KIA Rio we bought several years ago for Dan to use to commute to
This week, KIA decided to repossess the car though we are
only about $400 in arrears at this point.This is certainly their right.And we are certainly in the wrong, not making the obligation we
committed ourselves to.But neither the
animals nor we can eat the Rio, and we are not living in it, or burning it for heat,
so that payment did not rank at the top of our list.Neither Dan nor I have ever faced the Repo
Man before.What a humiliating
experience.And the fellow, who called
here, was very nice.
It has taken us both a week of positive self talk, and pep
rallying for each other to keep slogging along, trying to get ready for our
Farm Market season, calving and all the other forward looking things happening
here.We tell ourselves that we are not
alone.We try not to feel too pitiful
but looking for others that have it worse than we do sure doesn’t make us feel
any better, though we know we still have so much to be grateful for.
If you have had a visit from the Repo Man, or anticipate he
will turn up soon at your place, keep your chin up.It is only “stuff.”Things will get better.We hold hands with you and keep walking
forward along this spring’s furrows.
Today we have more open ground than snow covered turf and the chickens are out of the coop and back at work. Reddy was out in the front pasture before it was even fully light this morning. I don't think she trusts that the snow won't come back and so she isn't missing any opportunity to get out and scratch and dig.
The hens are all working and turning the ground, doing an excellent job of de-thatching the lawn after its been packed down under the snow and ice for the last five months. We have ten acres that run deep from the frontage on the road to the back cattle pasture and my flock cover every inch of it. The Rhode Island Reds take the prize for being the widest ranging so far of all the breeds we've tried.
This year's new flock will be Buckeyes and we have not had them before. They will be going into the mobile coop that will be stationed inside the back fenced pasture with the cattle. They will have a fence around them to keep the cows out of their coop but I expect they will range well beyond it's confines once they mature. We had Ebony Star constantly climbing into the chicken coop or removing the stairs last year so we will put up a fence to keep miss cat-like-cow out of the in pasture chicken year this season.
We decided to try Buckeyes this year because they are on the threatened list and need to have breeding flocks established and so I am going to try to do that this year. They are heavy feathered, brown egg layers and good at mousing and foraging by report so I think they should be perfect for our climate and scenario. We shall see. They are also the one breed of American chicken started by a woman.
Our wild birds are back too and I can't wait till it is warm enough to start opening the windows in the morning because our acreage is alive with sound again. It is such a contrast to the quiet of winter. The chickens are constantly calling to each other about each worm they find, and the pine tree tops each sport a red winged blackbird setting up territory for the season. There are grackles and chickadees and downy and hairy woodpeckers too. Ahh, it is spring!
We have been providing hospice pig care to our 15 year-old pot bellied pig Jordan Hamlet for the past year. He seemed to have cancer with spread to his liver and we had constructed a special pen for him in our garage with heat so he could get outside on sunny days without encountering stairs. Jordie lived to be told that he was a "fine pig", and a "good boy" by his Daddy-Momma. Those words would make his straight tail spin in a circle.
He was only eating veggie stew with good fixings from our CSA crop box, apples and oatmeal here towards the end. He always loved cats and this past year has shared his garage and heat lamp with our litter of Hemingway snow cats. Sometimes they'd snuggle under the blankets with him in his straw pile. Sometimes they'd tuck in on top of him.
This past weekend, Jordie went downhill and he passed away early in the morning on Monday. We cremated him in a Viking funeral pyre Monday. In these parts Jordie was well known for his acting career and school appearances. He did the Pig Skin Picks at the Grand Traverse Band Casino some years ago and did better at picking NFL winners than the pundits. He especially loved children with autism, and elders.
We are still reconfiguring our lives around the big space left now that he has moved on. I found myself making his oatmeal yesterday morning. As Dan said as we watched his funeral pyre burn, the pain of loss is the price we pay for these friendships and well worth the joy and blessings we recieve. We were centainly blessed to have known this fine pig. He was a very good boy!
Though it was still below zero last night, today is it a screaming sunny day and all the cows and bulls are less interested in eating today, than they are in sun bathing. There is a frenzy of grooming going on out in the pasture. I helped by brushing everyone who wanted brushing this morning, and got lots of mud off some of those big round bellies. the ice shells have even melted off the donkeys.
If we have too many more days like this, I will start to believe that spring really is on its way. Dan has been mooning around saying that he is ready for new calves to come. Last years babies are so big they are not really calves anymore. They are looking more and more like yearlings. One of the farm catalogues arrived with a picture of a red Mom and newborn on the cover and that had us cooing and getting all nostalgic for calving.
We have a bit to wait this year because we bred a bit later to try to assure that the last of the ice and snow would be gone by the time the calves started to drop. That means we have to be patient though and it won't be till May instead of April for our first ones to arrive. So two more months, instead of one at this point. Ah, well, we can make it.
We will have chicks, ducklings and baby turkeys very soon so we will have some little one to help mark the arrival of early spring. As far as chickens go, we are going to start Buckeye's this season as well as Auracanas and Buff Orphingtons. I am going to try to breed the Buckeyes as they are endangered.
We have not had a breeding flock before so that will be a new endeavor for us. They will go in the trailer and out in the enclosed back pasture, so we hope they will be a bit more protected from predators. They will have the cows and Time Bandit to defend them. And my gun is cleaned and ready.
Tax time! Time to look at we do and how we do it. We are in the state with the highest unemployment in the country and the county within Michigan with the worst figures. We doubt that Dan will be getting called back to his "other" job at the boat plant any time soon, so we are looking at diversifying a bit more this year.
So far we have kept a pretty tight focus on raising bucking bred cattle and our few other offerings have been byproducts of that operation. Our eggs come from pastured chickens that provide pest control for example. I think we are going to branch out just a bit this year and offer a few more items.
We are going to start another flock of chickens and are going to try the heritage breed from Ohio, the Buckeyes in addition to the Auracanas we have had good luck with. We will have some chicken for sale periodically as they stop laying and are going to try some ducks- Khaki Campbells, and turkeys- Narragansetts also. We hope to be able to offer some duck eggs for local bakers.
We are going to expand our small fresh herb business and offer more fresh cut meal sized portions and plants for folks to keep themselves. We are relocating our raised beds to a sunnier location as the tree next to the old site has grown so much that it is now throwing too much shade on the old location. We are excited to see how our asparagus comes up if spring ever arrives.
Our biggest task as we look at these things is to figure out how to do things so that we use recycled materials, and human labor versus mechanization, since at our place human labor is in long supply right now. We may experiment with using the donkeys and cattle for energy production though. Dan is going to see if he can engineer a charging mechanism for the fence batteries that can be powereded as the animals walk inside a wheel device. We shall see. I remember something like this set up in North Africa when we lived there as a child so we should be able to make it work here.
The exterior wood burning device Dan built has saved us two tanks of propane this winter though we have not been able to efficiently burn cow pies yet. Back to the drawing board on that and we will need to lay in a stock of wood for next winter so we are not cutting it in the snow.
We are becoming much more frugal and doing away with extravagances but I would not say we are suffering. We are eating well. We are warm. Everyone is healthy. We are occupied and entertained with an assortment of good books and NPR. Forward we go.