Four Country Gals

  (Beryl, Utah)
Certified Organic Garden, Custom-raised lambs, hogs, goats, Mom's Farm-Fresh Eggs
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Summer update, making cheese, garden growing, market time coming

Tons of things have gone on in the past three months...

I've learned to make cheese, and we're all enjoying my Short-Cut Mozzarella on homemade pizza. Yes, Mom makes a really good pizza crust. Just as soon as some veggies are ready, I can envision making the traditional Margaurite pizza with fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and our fresh mozzarella. The rest of the family thinks pizza has only mushrooms and pepperoni, and it certainly doesn't have fresh tomatoes on it... They're in for a surprise!

After 2 months, we got rain.

There's something about rain falling on plants that nourishes them in a way no fertilizer, well water, or even tender loving care can duplicate. You can almost see the Spaghetti Squash, Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbage gowing.

Our greenhouse (the small 12 x 20 one) is slowly but surely being converted to Cindy's Aquaponics project. She's got ton's of stuff growing, including strawberries, Utah celery, and hot peppers, things we couldn't dream of growing outside.

 Also in the greenhouse are the herbs... 7 different kinds of mint (grown in large barrels), 5 kinds of basil, 2 kinds of chives, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, curly parsley, and cilantro. Most of it is ready to go for the opening day of the Cedar City Downtown Farmer's Market on Wednesday, July 25 at 4 pm.

 Ok, time to go milk the goats, and see what kind of cheese Mom want's me to make today. I know she's baking potato bread.



 
 

Snow storm...

Sigh,

Here it is, the middle of April and we're getting snowed upon. Forecast is for 2-4 inches today and tonight. 

It kind of screws things up. We've sold our cow and the people want to come pick her up. It's totally clear at their house 17 miles south of us. Bev and Cindy were just in town to pick up the trailer, but decided not to, after they slipped and slid better than 10 miles while in 4WD.

This mornings chores were a treat. Our goats don't like rain or snow or wet feed. They were most unhappy, especially when I asked Posey to come up on the stanchion to get milked. I was willing to get wet while milking her, but she wanted no part of the snow on the stanchion floor,

 We ended up pinning her against the hay stack and letting the little lambs suck on her until they were satisfied. She'll be alright until tonight.

I planted the first planting of broccoli and all the cauliflower in the greenhouse into pots yesterday. At least we can keep that on schedule.

I'm falling behind with pen cleaning, berm building, and compost pile building. Around here, because of erosion, if  the wind is blowing more than about 7 mph, I don't run the tractor.

This is supposed to pass by tomorrow, and then temps will climb back into the 60's by Monday, and I can get back to work. Such is life on a high desert.


 
 

Bummer lambs love goat milk

Around here, nothing  goes to waste. Also nothing goes for want. 

Sunday night, we picked up 3 little bummers (aka, dogies) from a neighboring sheep farm. They often have "extra" lambs, either from quads, or with black spots on them.

The first night they stayed in the house in a dog crate, needing to be fed every two hours or so... yes, straight through the night. Our Finnish Spitz had the overnight watch. Every time they yelled, she'd wake us with her whining and barking.

The little girls, (got luck on this) have been moved to their own pen and now walk with us to the milking stanchion. The goat we've been milking for ourselves is now doing double  duty. Each of the little lambs get's their fill from her, as she munches on sweet feed. She also supplements her own little doe lamb.

It's funny, too, because this doe is the one who was totally clueless about what she had done... kidded two little ones, a boy and a girl. We had personally dried them, and put them on the other goat for their colostrum.

It's quite a sight to see one of us walking along from the lamb pen to the goat pen with three little lambs and a Border Collie trotting along behind us. And then to see the little ones hop on the stanchion to get their milk, we've got the "black and white look". Posey is a black goat, and  the lambs are almost snow white.

My only complaint is that it screws up my cheese making plans.


 
 

Sad day yesterday

Shortly after 11AM yesterday, we got a frantic phone call from of our neighbors to the north. All Cindy could understand was "fire". Quite quickly, she settled Leroy down enough to know it wasn't his house.

Turned out, he'd looked out his south porch and saw smoke to the southeast. He knew it was bad, but couldn't tell exactly where it was. Cindy and  I were almost out the door when we saw the smoke to the northeast of us.

OMG it's Torry and  Joe's place!

We jumped into the truck without even hanging up the phone,  peeled out of our driveway and bounced down the road to their place. We were the third one's there.

Jeff and Patty, neighbors due north of us got there first. Jeff had already broken windows and doors looking for life. He also turned off the propane. What an  awesome neighbor!

Pretty soon, we saw Joe coming in from the south. Turns out he'd seen the fire from his sister's place due south. He came home to see what was burning and what he could do... no cell phone in hand, he raced back to his sister's to call 911. Jeff had seen a white pickup leaving  really, really fast and had attempted to chase him down, only to see him driving into the next drive.

He told us that Torry and the dog had gone to  St. George. What a relief. No one was in the house.

Knowing that, we turned our attention to fire defense. Cindy and I left to get our tractor, while another neighbor (Clyde) put his on standby. Two other neighbors with tractors weren't home, so if needed, we'd call the big guys in. They'd come if called, no questions asked.

As the wind was blowing from the NE, we feared a tree line would burn and spread the fire to the tumbleweed, causing a range fire. That's where the tractors would come in handy,

About 45 minutes later, the Fire Departments began showing up. It's not that they are slow, it is that we are so rural. All three area departments are staffed by volunteers who work up to 30 miles from the stations. So, it takes a while to staff a truck and get it rolling. Along with the trucks were the sheriff's, the BLM fire guys,  and the DNR trucks.

 With full fire crews, we saved the tree line and prevented a range fire. Quite a feat considering water is provided by tanker trucks and they had  to shuttle either one mile north or two miles south for water.

 While the house is a total loss, the livestock are all safe as are Torry and Joe. They have a roof over their head as they are staying at the next farm down (Joe's sister's place).

The fifth guy on site before the trucks  was the LDS Fifth Ward Bishop. He's organizing a Relief Team. They will assess the needs, provide vouchers for clothes, medical needs, and other supplies. The neighbors are  supplying food as needed.

Once the investigation is complete, that same team will clean the property (with all our help) and  re-build a house for them. That's the way things get done here on  the desert.

We spoke with Torry this morning and she's ever so grateful for all the assistance. She had even felt that we should keep the goat milk for the little kid goats. We assured her that she would still get the milk, and that we also had plenty of home-raised  ground beef to share.




 
 

Systems make the farm go 'round

Systems are what allow us four gals to work our little farm.

Here's why they are so important. Bev is a double cancer survivor and  doesn't always have the most get up and go. Cindy is disabled with stenosis of the  back. I've had open  heart surgery and have moderate osteoarthritis in several joints. Mom is 83 and has had multiple medical issues. So,  we depend on systems, leverage, and teamwork to get things done.

When we decided to raise some animals, we contacted a local alfalfa grower. He now delivers our alfalfa annually right from the field. We generally order about 9 blocks (80 bales) to get us through the year. He puts it exactly where we want it. All we have to do is knock it down block by block and move  it to the animals.

For that, we bought a small John Deere tractor. John works for about $50 a month in fuel, and our payments are less than  $150. In another year, it will  be paid for.  I think it's one of the best investments we've made, as we use it to clean all the animal pens, keep the sand dunes down, move bales of hay, and haul feed, keep our farm paths clean,  and  our road groomed.

Last year, we bought a 40' storage container, and then  built shelving in it. That is where we store all our feed, any lumber for projects, our tools, and  all our farmers' market stuff. We have a work bench, and can  run electricity to it with a long extension cord.

 After the nightly freezes are over, we'll hook up the automatic water systems for the animals. Using PVC and small float valves, we can water the sheep, cows and most of the goats without having to drag a hose around.

With fuel being so expensive, we travel to Cedar City once a month and buy all the feed and supplies we need. We make a day of it, with either breakfast or lunch out. We go to IFA, Walmart, and anyplace else that Mom want's to go. With Cedar City being a 90 mile round trip, it makes sense to only go once a month. Mom goes a second time on  the Senior bus.

Someone generally has a doctor's appointment in  St George, so if one has an appointment, at least one  more of makes an appointment, too. Depending  upon the time of year, we may send two, three or all four of us. That is a several hour trip with St George being about a 120 mile round trip.

Bev drives school bus for the Enterprise elementary and high school, so  she's able to bring basic groceries and Rx's home from town as needed. That means our vehicles don't run very often.

During Farmers' Market season, we harvest in the morning and  go to market  in the afternoon. If there's anything we need, we get it before or after market, depending upon the load on truck. We've been going to only one market a week, but next year, will probably go to two markets, one on Saturday and one on Wednesday.

When it comes to the garden systems, we have a large tiller we use to turn the ground in  the spring. This year will be the last time we till the whole thing in the spring, as  we will be installing two hoop houses over the big garden. That means we'll  till in the fall and  plant a cover crop. In the spring, we'll use our little Mantis to open only the row space for planting. If we have to, we'll use the big tiller to turn the hairy vetch under first, but only where we're planting. We'll leave the rest of the vetch for our pathways, using our mower if necessary.

We use drip irrigation  systems, supplemented by overhead watering. The wind blows a lot here, so when that happens, we use exclusively drip. The plants really appreciate it when we can overhead water. It's like a drink of rain.

Cindy is building another aquaponics system where we'll grow a number of things. Not sure exactly what yet, but it will be exciting.  We have goldfish in  the feed tank, and  their waste feeds the plants, with the plant waste feeding the fish. We have that in our small hoop house, which will eventually be all aquaponics.

Since  we're Certified Organic, we operate our produce garden according to our Organic System Plan. That keeps on on track through our paperwork. We record all plantings, all watering, all pests and pest control, all soil input, all harvests, and all sales.

Bev takes care  of all the accounting, and tracks the animals using a software program called Ranch Manager. I take care of reviewing all the plans, updating them as necessary, and also I am the "digger". I clean the pens, and move sand, etc. Cindy is an all around helper.

We build most everything  we need. Bev was a draftsman  in  a past life and  can draw plans, estimate lumber, etc. She and Cindy are also good carpenters. I'm the gopher,  and the "stand on this - hold this " person.

Mom controls the kitchen,  even to the point of making sure we have our morning coffee. She wouldn't have it  any other way. We tease her a lot about her chickens... we care for them, we buy the feed, we gather the eggs, we sell the eggs... and she  gets all  the money.

So, as you can see... we use a number of systems to keep us on  track. 


 
 

Busy week, shearing, more kidding, aquaponics, and soon time to plant

What a week! With great spring weather,  we've been outside working on projects.  You know  the old adage, work on the farm is never done. Bev built some more feeders for the sheep, and we got those installed. Today we built a creep area for the lambs using pallets to separate it from the general feed area. 

The shearer was here yesterday, and confirmed that we still have 5 more first time ewes to lamb. Looks like we could be lambing into late May. He took all the fleece from the white faced ewes, and we kept the rest.  We're learning that wool buyers don't want any fleece from black faced sheep as they could have spare black hairs running anywhere in the pelt.

 We're replacing our ram (black face) with a white face this year. He  was going to be replaced anyway because we're not totally happy with his performance.

The two first-time goats  chose to go  into to labor simultaneously Thursday night. They presented us with a pair of twins each. Annie, our multicolored doe was clueless on her first, but cleaned and cared for her second while I helped the first get a full belly of colostrum. She had her two early in the evening just an hour apart.

Posey  (our black doe) was the slowpoke.We had figured she'd kid first, but surprise... She waited until about 1am to have her first one. She was totally clueless, and  uninterested in what she had done. Same thing  with her second kid.

Good news was  that Cindy and I were there. We knew better than to leave these two alone. Now, our goat shed is about 8 x 10 feet and slopes from 4 feet to 5 feet roof line. We have to crawl through the door, and then stay on our hands and knees  all the time.  Even after spending the night in there  with the goats, we have no plans to  raise the roofs. The lower line helps conserve heat in the winter.

Cindy has also been working on Phase II of her aquaponics system. She purchased a 275 gal IBC and has cut it into a couple of pieces. It as a real  test to get the pieces into the  greenhouse.  (Note:  the next  hoop houses will have much larger doors.) We had to dismantle the original blue barrel system, and this new one sits in the same place. The barrels will sit on  top of the south side garden box once this year's seedlings are out of there.

Give me a day or two and I'll have some new stories and pictures up on our main web site, http://fourcountrygals.com.

 
 

Got lambs, kids, and a NRCS grant

What a week! 

First our ISP gets a little goofy, then our web host does the same... moves us to a new server, and fails to have us change the IP's at the domain registrar. Add to that, one desktop's wireless card fails, as our wireless modem gets a little flaky. 

All that aside, we've got four of the cutest little kids, birthed by a Pygmy who was bred to a Nubian/Boer. Thankfully, she did it all unassisted and is happily raising all four kids.

Lambing is coming along. We've got 12 on the ground now, with one coming in the house every night.  She's been rejected by her Mom, but is in the pen during the day on nice days. At night, she's sleeping in a crate by someone's (usually mine) bed. If I hear a "maaa" I wake up and give her bottle.

We still have at least two goats to kid.They're in their pen moaning and groaning. They're first timers so I suppose we'll be cradling  their heads through the labor process.

On the rest of the farm front, we have signed the contract with the NRCS for our high tunnel  grant.  They're paying about 75% of our costs for two 20x54 ft hoop houses, drip irrigation system, soil management, cover crop and tuition for one of us to complete the Master Gardner course. This has been a two year process.

Depending up getting all our ducks in a row, we could install the hoop houses before May 10 or after September 15. No  way will we sacrifice part of our already short growing season.

With the hoop houses in place, we'll be able to plant in late February to early March, and take advantage of several long season crops. It also eliminates the need to plant seeds into pots and then transplant. That's gotta be better for our garden.

Cindy's working on a much larger aquaponics system, as our tests were good enough for her to proceed. Eventually, our original hoop house (12x20) will contain strictly aquaponics. Those systems are "closed" with fish in a tank, where the water is pumped to the plants and the gravity fed back to the fish. The fish feed the plants, and the plants feed the fish. Any inputs are made by feeding the fish. She's also planning to have red worm beds and feed the worms to the fish.


 
 

This week was a whirlwind... or was it a roller coaster?

The week began with lambs on the ground. The bad news is that after nearly round-the-clock efforts, we lost both twins. Mama ewe (named Charcoal) never dropped her milk, even though her bag was about to burst.

First thing Monday, Bev and Cindy had to take Mom to the ER, for fear she had pneumonia. Thankfully it is bronchitis. At nearly 83 each little thing sets her on her butt for weeks. She's on the road to recovery, and by the end of the week, was nearly back to herself, except for wearing before noon. She's up at 5, so that's a pretty good day.

We received news that we have been pre approved for the NRCS EQUIP Grant. That will help us build 2 20x54ft high tunnels. Looks like we are getting about a 70% funding which is pretty good. We'll still have to come up with another $4K to complete the job. We'll get these built after this year's growing season.

Once these are installed, we'll be able to extend our market to Certified Organic seedlings in the spring as well as all the summer veggies for Farmers' Market, and into the late veggies, too. Not sure we can get to a true 4-season operation for a few more years.

 With this grant, we'll be required to take the Master Gardener's course. Sure hope they tailor it to our needs here in SW Utah, where the wind blows daily and we get less than 10 inches of precipitation per year.

By the end of the week, we had 3 live lambs out of 7 born... a really poor start, but considering we had a snow storm, 3 days of wind at better than 30 mph with gusts over 60mph, we were happy to have the 3 we got.

 Now we're waiting on more ewes this week (5 total), and 4 goats, including a pygmy that's broader than she is long.

We need to move more than 80 bales of hay, but want the wind to die down a bit, maybe tomorrow morning. With the three of us, and the tractor, the job goes quite smoothly. Cindy goes up on the stack and drops the bales down. Bev and I arrange the bales for pickup and then one of us (my turn) uses the front-end loader to move 2 bales at a time to the feeding areas, one for the sheep ( who go through about a bale a day) and the cows and goats (who also go through about a bale a day).

 By moving 80 bales one day, we don't have to do that job again for at least a month or so. Two more moving sessions and it will be time to have this year's crop delivered.



 
 

First lambs on the ground

The first ewes have presented us with a single boy and a pair of twins (boy and girl). I had to assist a little with the twins, as they were quite large and the second one was in a hurry. The head and one foot/leg was out, but stuck, so I gently pulled from the back of the head and held steady whenever Mama had contractions. The little boy weighed 9.5# and the girl came in at 10#. The other single hasn't been weighed, but he's a big healthy lamb.

 The twins Mama hasn't dropped her milk even though her bag is full, and the teats have been stripped (we did that), so we've been bottle feeding every couple hours during the day, right up until almost midnight. They seem to do ok through the night.

 Wouldn't you know 2 out of 3 of us active gals have to be off the farm today, tomorrow and Wednesday, leaving each of us by ourselves. It can be a bit stressful.

 Back for another round of milk for the twins...

Later,

Shari

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Monthly Shopping trip to the feed co-op

Wisest decision we've made this year is to join our local IFA co-op. We buy enough feed and supplies there to qualify for the annual dividend paid to co-op members at the end of the year.

We always comparative shop with Premier1 (on line), Cal Ranch (another local farm store), and our local "big farm stuff" store, the John Deere store at Crossroads.

It's a rare day when IFA is beaten on prices for animal supplies, feed, tools, equipment, etc. Cal Ranch tends to have better deals on boots, but that's because they're bigger and have a much larger western wear section. We also purchase any weapons or ammunition either there or at the local WalMart, unless we find a good deal at a pawn shop (used weapons).

Since all these shopping spots are a 100 mile round trip, we make lists all month long, and then spend several hours loading the truck. We have a 2001 Avalanche and really don't like to take the tonneau panels off. If only 2 of us go, we purchase lumber and OBS as it fits into the bed real well. Otherwise we tend to leave the back seat up, and work only with the short bed.

 I used to think of the Avalanche as a "city farmer's" SUV. In the six years I've been here, I have come to respect it. We can haul a decent sized trailer with it. That gets our animals to auction if necessary. We can haul full sheets of OBS and other lumber. As long as it's less than about 16 feet, and not more than 3.5 feet wide, we generally find a way. It's 4WD with and "auto" feature, so that makes it very sure-footed going across the mountains. Never know when we'll have snow and ice from October to May.

 This shopping trip we'll be buying 8 bags of layer pellets, 1 bag rabbit pellets, 3-50# bags of dog food , a 25# box dog biscuits, 50# of lamb and kid milk, as well as some other lambing supplies for our vet box. This year, we're also marking the lambs as they're born using the Shro-Mark fluid and branding irons. More on that later.

Because we've begun lambing, one of us has to stay home at all times. We are also doing 4 watches during the day, and will soon go to 4 hour during the night. Right now, we're getting by with 6 hour watches. Maybe all our gals will cooperate and have their babies during the day.


 
 

Pullet Eggs!

For the past week, we've been getting eggs from our new hens. This is significant as these hens are naturally hatched and raised from our older purebred stock.

We had a couple of Buff Orpingtons that insisted on going broody. Not a bad thing since we got a Black Austrolorp rooster from a neighbor. We put them together for a couple of weeks, and then moved the hens and their eggs to a "maternity" coop. They hatched 13 out of 21 eggs, and have raised 11 of those 13. From those 11 we got 6 hens.

As we're in the "egg business" rather than the meat business, we're going to be repeating the procedure this year. But, this year, we're going to try for a couple of batches. If we can get one batched hatched in June and another in September, that will pretty much take care of replacing our old gals, with no extra work or expense.


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What's with this weather? It's lambing and kidding time...

All winter long, the temperature has been above normal, the precipitation below level, and even the wind hasn't been too bad. 

Now that it's kidding and lambing time, Mother Nature is having her way.  Our sheep are quite pregnant and it's time to shear. Another two weeks and it will be past time to shear.

We've had several discussions with out shearer, and he's been pushed way behind schedule by a series of late winter snow storms, beginning the end of January.

What's the forecast?

Snow tomorrow (Monday), maybe snow again Friday, and the same thing about every 4 to 5 days for the next 21 days. Sigh.

Last year the sheep were sheared just before lambing (like about 3 days) and it's terribly risky. We lost a set of trips that we think was the result of the ewe struggling so much.

This is our first year with goats, having helped the neighbors for a couple of years. Our pygmy dam is wider than she is long, and can barely get through her shelter door. We'll be moving her this week into an unused pig pen, with a bigger door. Don't want to take any chances of chilled kids.

The two Nubians won't be far behind with their first kids. They can still get through the shelter door, so no problem there. Same thing with the French Alpine. In fact, we're not totally sure she's preggie, unless she's having a single kid.

This year, we're a bit more prepared, even having a couple of lamb coats for anyone that may be chilled. We've rebuilt the "teat bucket" in hopes of not having to use it. We really prefer the lambs all nurse from a ewe.

Beginning March 1, we'll be on "kid watch". That means four hour goat checks around the clock, even during snow storms, wind storms, etc. Right after that, it's "lamb watch" for the next 3 weeks.

 Of course, once there are babies, it's all hands to the pens for as long as it takes, whenever it happens. No more rest for us...


 


 
 
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