Okay, so I grew up in the city and did not learn all the ways of farm life. Like farm jargon, every job or career has jargon. I was listening to my nephews who are Marines at Easter. One is deploying while the other has already served a tour. I stopped asking what they were saying after about five minutes. Nothing had a name they spoke acronyms interspersed with articles and prepositions.
Being no exception farming has its share of jargon. So steers, bull, calf, heifer, weaning, culled, dressed etc., was jargon I’m still getting use to. I learned farm etiquette mostly from Joel Salatin but he didn’t say anything about asking to milk a farmer’s cow.
Let me save you time, embarrassment and maybe a little anger directed towards you. If you are on a dairy farm and the farmer asks you if you’d like to milk a cow, by all means. Milk the cow. If you are on a dairy farm and you ask to milk a cow you might get the treat of being able to do it. However, with health code related reasons you might not get that chance.
Now if you are on a beef farm and the farmer has a milking cow and that cow happens to be from a prized blood line of Guernsey’s think twice. Think, how much do you truly know this farmer? Ask yourself, how much does he or she truly know me? Have you been dealing with each other for awhile or is this a new relationship? How often do you visit the farm and once there how long do you stay? These are all questions you want to ask yourself before even remotely thinking of uttering the question.
There is a bond between a farmer and his dairy cow particularly if it is his only one and she happens to be pregnant. There is a ritual that takes place at least once a day if not twice and that is milking her. Guernsey’s are known for their golden, nutrient rich milk. Some will say there is no better tasting milk then a Guernsey. I can’t judge I do know it makes great ice-cream because I’ve made it.
I’d have to say Dan is one of most genial, pleasant, honest, willing to help others and accommodating as much as possible. But I learned that there are some things that push his buttons. I’m comfortable with my ignorance around Dan. He knows I am from the city so he takes his jabs now and then but he is helpful. We were out in his field and he was showing me the new baby cow his Guernsey Lexus had. There is some jargon word for baby cow, I’ll have to look it up.
We are standing out in the field it’s a hot summer day and I hear water running. Dan's talking and this flowing water is distracting me. He's talking about the baby and finally I said “Dan, it sounds like you have water just gushing out from the feeder”. He looks at me instead of where the sound was coming from. He just grinned and said, “You ain’t seen a cow pee before have ya?”
Well, no I had not seen a cow pee before but, I didn’t really have to answer him. The answer was in the last statement I had just made. I shrugged my shoulders, put my arms up and said “well what can I say.” I mean if you haven’t seen one when you do you don’t believe that; a. that much water is coming out and b. the duration is as long as it is. I swear learning is great.
Well I got pretty comfortable with Dan and I can ask him any question and he being a farmer his whole life he gives me a straight answer. He puts up a lot with my questions so I try not to impinge on his time and whenever he calls for help I answer. Course him being an old farmer he doesn't call.
So last year I got it in my head that I’d like to try and milk a cow. I’d never done it before and figured it would be part of my learning experience. I have to admit, I didn’t take into account the man’s bond with his prized Guernsey. We were on the phone making arrangements, I was coming over for chicken feed and I had asked how the cow and her 3 month old calf were, and if he had milked the mother. “No,” he said. So I just threw the question out there and asked if I could milk the cow. Dead silence on the phone. “Oh, okay” he said followed by “I gotta go. I'll let you know” I didn’t see Dan for about three weeks after we hung up.
When we went to pick up the layer mash, Harvey, the farm hand, was there to collect the check. The next time I did see Dan not a word was spoken about Lexus or her milk, or her calf. I figured I crossed the line and left it at that. There was awkwardness between us for quite awhile. I guess he is still afraid I might ask him if I can milk her again. I’m not, I understand now, the non-verbal queue was not that hard to pick up.
So before you ask a farmer if you can milk his or her cow, make sure you know how they feel about other people touching their prized possession.
Buy Local – From some one who is treating the earth kindly while growing
I’ve heard people can’t change and a leopard doesn’t change his spots. But you do change, your personality, values, prejudices, pre-conceived notions, abilities, confidence and tolerances change. I am a very confident, self reliant individual but I’ve been humbled in so many ways that that confidence sometimes gets second guessed. Sustainable farm life is hard and making a profit is challenging. We haven’t seen that yet but it can be done. I know people who do make a profit and I marvel at their tenacity.
Having spent over twnety-five years in the city, I have what is known as street smarts. I understand urban life. I mean how life is lived and what it entails. Because of friends, still there, I'm close to the pulse of the city. They are by no means boring people, there is no shortage of things to do but I do like getting back to the farm. Yet when I was younger I’d run from bugs, didn’t like touching worms and wasn’t into wildlife. I thought that a garden was a sterile environment; I don’t remember my father or father in-law ever talking about pests other then the neighbor’s cat or maybe deer.
Yet here I am today, picking bugs up and looking at them under magnification. Researching predacious versus parasitic species and learning how to identify bug types in general. We rely on beneficial insects and nematodes as part of our integrated pest management practices. Another metamorphous was my idea of a flower garden. I always thought flower gardens were a waste of time on a farm. (I said that once during a presentation that had Master Gardeners in it and you’d thought I dropped the “F” bomb.) You have to put labor into a flower garden yet you’d never get revenue from it. So each year I’d fight the notion of planting flowers. We tried it a couple of times but we ended up giving more flowers away then selling so we stopped. Then I read about an insectary and how it is supposed to help overwinter your beneficial’s. The insectary is made up of different flowers, bushes, weeds and grass. The beneficial’s live off of the roots and plants until both their prey and they become adults. So we’ve had a flower garden for the past four years.
I’ve met farming’s elite like Joel Salatin and Temple Grandin and heared them speak with a passion that I recognize. The struggles we face today are different from our predecessors but they are struggles all the same. The person I was leaving the city is not the same person today. I still can’t process chickens but I’ve put some down due to illness. It was the hardest thing I’ve done so far and emotionally draining but I got through it and I know I helped them escape their own suffering. People can and do change. I just hope more people learn about safe, fresh local foods before we can no longer afford to sustain this little mission we are on.
Buy Local- From a farmer near you. Their effort is well worth yours.
Planning the garden, is something that we really enjoy, emotions get involved, words might be said and past experiences brought up and used as salvos. Each person pushing to have their favorite fruit or vegetable planted. It is all done in good fun and eventually we find ways to add a vegetable here or more fruit plants there.
We'll be using field two which the chickens are now on and tearing the grasses to shreds and dropping their fertilizer. We've used them as weeders and feeders and will start to move them off to the next resting field. We started out with six Rhode Island Reds that were seventeen weeks old. They weren’t organic but they were being raised organic.
Layers are supposed to start laying eggs when they get to about twenty one weeks of age. So at the twenty week mark I started looking for eggs. Each day I would go out check the egg door only to be disappointed. This went on for fourteen straight days. Each evening after work I’d check for an egg. Here we are going in week twenty-two and I’m not seeing anything.
So, I thought what if I give them an inspirational speech? Show them what they are here for and hopefully get them thinking about their true calling in life. We had gotten carry out from the local Chinese restaurant the night before when I got this brain storm. The next day I took my materials out to the hen house and put one object on the edge of the pen and the other at the opposite end.
The chickens were out and curious as to what was sitting on top of their pen. So I started my speech. I told them how we were a small farm and they were here to help and that we were helping their species by ordering and using them in our system. Then I pointed to the left and explained to them that this was an egg carton. I explained what they needed to do in order to fill the egg carton so we could make money to help with their costs. Then I pointed to the right hand side and explained that the object sitting on the corner was a Chinese take out container and it could contain General Tzu’s Chicken, or Broccoli and Chicken and so on. I gave them a choice they could fill one box or the other. I explained that it was up to them as to what choice they made but that we needed to make money somehow.
I left both boxes there so as to continue the intimidation. This was all in good fun but our records show that they started laying a few days after that. I know deep down that I had nothing to do with there productivity but I love the coincidence none the less.
Buy – Local – From a farmer you know and trust, not a chain profiting off the word
We had started year three of our growing in a good position. We were using crop rotation and still figuring out the irrigation system but we felt good about our knowledge. The deer were still beating us on the blue berries but the strawberries were coming on strong and sweet. The barn was holding up but was showing its age. It was built in the 1950's as a dairy barn. We didn't have the money or the experience to do anything major with it so we kept an eye on it, making it water tight and let it go until the future.
I am not a handyman or a “mister fix it” by any standard. If fixing means tearing down or destroying then I’m great at it. One of the first successes I had as a handyman came when we were able to open the barn doors in the back of the building, that the previous owner had boarded up. The second success came when I built new doors and was able to hang and close the barn back up, mostly. My first mistake in the project came when we closed the doors for the first time. We had measured the opening and made the doors from plywood and wood trimming. Once hung and closed we realized the doors weren't wide enough to cover the entire opening of the barn. You know, I measured twice but I was not the only one doing the construction. However, pointing fingers never moves you in the right direction so why dwell about fault.
I added wings to the doors and sure enough there was no opening to allow small critters inside. So that success started me thinking about other small projects. Like a moveable, self contained, floorless chicken house and pen, one large enough to hold twenty-five birds.
It has since been referred to as both the Spruce Goose and the Titanic, neither names invoking any thing other then abject failure. But I digress. I've never been good with building things as a matter of fact I excel at the complete opposite. I learned earlier on that destruction was my forte. I've put holes in cinderblock walls with a sledge hammer in order to place in a doorway. I’ve torn down shacks with crow bars and sledge hammers. I can tear things apart with the ease of an expert. Putting things back together though I'm the kind of person that has spare parts when everything is completed. I'm much more comfortable bringing down a dead thirty foot oak tree than I am cutting a forty-five degree angle for chair molding. Even though I knew I was not a handyman I tried to build the moveable pen.
We started out with six birds and bought our first hen house. It is a great little moveable house and pen. It is completely self sufficient. It has water, food, nesting boxes, roosts, bare floor and a small enclosed yard. It is called a Henspa. It was more than we wanted to spend but we bit the dust and placed the order.
The house was small and would hold up to twelve hens though nine is more hospitable. With green manures and winter cover cropping we had plenty of fresh grass for the hens to eat. We could put the house in our gardens and move it every other day. The hens got fresh grass and the garden got nutrients for the coming growing season. For the first year this worked well but we had more orders for eggs then we had capacity. It was nice having a waiting list but we needed to add to the hen population.
I started drawing the new, bigger portable pen a year before we started building. It would have everything that the other house had but this would hold twenty-five birds, comfortably. So I took the dimensions of the real house and scaled it up to handle the increase in hens. Most of you are already getting the picture. I think the only thing I can say is that I didn't rush into things. I drew up the plans with measurements from all sides, heights, widths, lengths, floor plans, nesting boxes and roosting poles, egg door and outside pen. I had all my drawings (14 different views with measurements of various sections) and a materials list before purchasing a single screw. I was on top of the project.
We cut all the pieces of wood and started assembling them. Adding sides to other sides it started taking shape. We got the nesting box and egg door in, the second floor and roosts, wheels and pulley system and feed box. We pulled it out of the barn to put the roof on. I can't begin to document all the failures and in what order they took place. All I remember is that I would fix one thing and another thing would break. But, being one that doesn't give up easily, I would fix the next problem only to encounter another. So on its maiden voyage it hit ground and a support pole broke on the wheel mechanism and it sank into the ground (think Titanic). I then heaved up the wheels and support beams that would carry the whole box. I fortified pullys, cables and support hooks.
On its second maiden voyage we pushed the lever down to lift the box up off the ground, and on its wheels, but we couldn't get enough clearance to move the box off the ground (think Spruce Goose). After two years and five hundred dollars in materials (at least that is what my accountant says, and if I wasn't married to her I would've questioned her book keeping skills) I've somewhat given up on it. When asked about it I joke that it was designed by the "Three Stooges" and built by "Fred Flinstone".
It sits out by the barn mostly built, no roof, no pen, no handles on the egg door; it just sits there and mocks me. I may have stopped tinkering with it and often think about accidentally setting it on fire when weeding but I'm not just ready yet to give up on it. Besides, it’s been holding up pretty well these past few years.
Buy Local - From a farmer you know and trust not a chain selling the concept
We found that Roaster was ill this past Saturday. She is one of the first six chickens and is a prolific egg layer. My wife noticed that she was not herself. She was listless, wasn't eating and or drinking and had yellow diarrhea. We pulled her from the flock and put her in the hospital pen.
We started to give her an examination. Everything was fine except her belly area. It was inflamed and hard. We thought for sure we hade a stuck egg so we prepared to do an exam of the vent and cloaca to get the egg out. We got rubber surgical gloves and lubricant. We gently felt around and she didn't move, squawk or anything. To me this was a terrible indication that and the fact that we could not find an egg stuck or otherwise.
That night we spent most of the night tracking down her combination of symptoms. Something this difficult was hard to find on the net and at any of the university sites we had. We poured over books and eventually sent an email to a poultry professor at NC State. We explained all the symptoms and what we had felt in the cloaca.
What we got back hit us square on. It was the Monday before Thanksgiving and her prognosis was dismal. He told us that it was possible she had one of two things, ovarian cancer or e-coli poisoning. The line that sent chills and made us fold was that either way she was in severe pain. He went on to say that even though she would be in extreme pain she would not exhibit signs of distress. I understood what he meant and that we needed to consider her quality of life.
In the mean time the battery on the tractor went dead and we still had to get the newly delivered water tanks moved and up righted and the big chicken house moved. I had charged the battery only to find it did not hold a charge. I took Wednesday before Thanksgiving off so I could get a battery and keep an eye on Roaster. We had started her on anti-biotic the night before in hopes of it being sepsis and getting her well.
I was feeding her medicated water by syringe and she seemed to be drinking as much as I could give her. I had read that boiled egg was good for a chicken that was not eating. I know it sounds bad but we tried it. She wasn't eating but that was secondary to drinking. She kept drinking so we kept feeding her the anti-biotic water. The next day I went and purchased a new battery for the tractor.
I put the battery in the tractor and the tractor would not crank over. I left it to check on Roaster. When I saw her I thought she was already dead. She opened her eyes when she heard me come into the stall and started to vomit blood. It was time. I could no longer let my inadequacies continue only to let her suffer. I will spare myself the re-telling of the events that happened next but she is out of pain now and I am not.
This experience only reenforced our earlier thoughts about caring for animals on a farm. There are people like myself that have a very hard time dealing with the mortality. I've heard that there is no mercy on a farm but there is. There is just no mercy for the farmer when the hits just keep coming.
We do a lot of research in order to learn what we are doing be it right or wrong. Farming is one of the few professions that I know of that is backed by University researchers, extension services and educational knowledge resources. We do contact and communicate with subject matter experts from around the world and are currently doing some field research with a local University.
One of the things that I like about what we do is that there are many variables in determining how to handle a situation or problem. My thought is to keep an open mind and run through them as best I can. I always have in the back of my mind "what if"?
I look to the future 200, 300 or more years from now; people will still be writing books, songs, movies, plays and doing farm research. My next question is what will they be studying? What will they be writing or singing about? How will layers and broilers evolve? What will organic standards be and materials used? So I read and try to become as knowledgeable as possible on the topic at hand, but I don't constrain myself to what I've learned.
I don't mean to imply I re-invent the wheel every time we have a problem or a situation arises but I always question if there is a different way to the same outcome. The hens would be my best example of what I mean. Who's to say that we can not communicate with the birds and in turn they communicate to us?
You can find the minimum square footage of space for the bird (inside and out) roosting and nesting space, feed and water space and optimal temperatures. You can find out about bird behavior and characteristics. All that goes out the window with us, mainly because we exceed all maximums when it comes to housing, feeding, watering and foraging. We touch our hens often, picking them up, moving them, inspecting them or just stroke their backs. Some run, most once they know you are after them just kind of squat, push their wings out some and wait to be picked up.
Behavior is another thing, we know there is a pecking order and we try to discourage pecking. We don't de-beak so it takes extra attention to make sure all are calm. If there is no compition for resources they usually don't have a reason to enforce the pecking order. Happy is a human emotion that at the begining we never associated with our hens. We just thought there was healthy and unhealthy. But we have learned that the hens are indeed happy. We talk to our chickens and they respond.
Just by walking towards the pen the flock comes to us and it is one of the funniest things I've seen. All of a sudden one bird will see us and come running, wings flapping dust flying, and then another and another until you got the flock running flopping wings and all. Some get about two feet off the ground others kind of skip and fly. It always brings a grin to whomever is watching. It is not just us either; I've noticed customers walking over to one of the flocks to watch. They can be at the other end of the pen but when they see someone they dash to inspect the voyeur. The Pavlovian crowd will say it is a learned response because of us bringing food and water. Maybe, but we go there more often empty handed getting eggs than we do with food and water.
We replenish stores every other day, however there is enough water and food for four days (in case of emergency like we get caught at work). Can the hens associate food with us even though they have a constant supply? I don't know the answer, all I know is we can call them and they come. We talk to them and they calm down, even during the most stressed of times. When we had the dog attack we had two badly wounded hens and we had to clean and dress the wounds, frequently. There was some agitation as would be expected but we kept shushing them and they would calm down. I could feel it as their body relaxed and hear it when the squaking stopped.
Then there are the times that a hen will go to far and loose her way back to the hen house. At dusk it is in their instinct to get to the highest point and roost there, much like wild turkeys. When the hen count doesn't add up we'll start to walk the grounds and talk. Inevitably the hen will respond back with a low gurgling clucking. We'll keep talking until we find what tree and what branch she occupies. We'll then just pluck her off the branch, she'll squawk but when we say shish, in that soothing tone and cadance, she calms down and goes along for the ride. Once back at the house we place her inside and close the door. Of all the research that I've done I haven't come across all the behavior we observe with our flocks.
But, we talk to our hens from day one. You spend a lot of time with them at the beginning making sure their food and water supply is clean and they are warm. I keep from anthropomorphizing but by observation I know they have decision making capacity and can tell the difference in voice, tone and timber. Broody decided to stay with flock one, cognitively or not she made a choice to stay instead of going back to the barn and being alone or going to her own flock which was stressful. She apparently was less stressed with a new flock than she was with her own and went there.
As I've written before we are a humane farm and that philosophy transfers to the animals themselves. Fights are not allowed and are mostly stopped by me yelling. The tone, timber and reflection in the voice are enough to break their attention which in turn settles them down (see: My Neighbors Must Think ...). Most of the time that works, then there are times that I need to just get in between them. I've actually taken to placing the most aggressive, of the birds outside of the pen and let them forage. This in turn has helped a lot on flock behavior.
For the most part there is harmony among the flocks and they are healthy, energetic specimens. But, the time is coming for the first six. They will stop laying and we will have to process them in order to cut costs in an attempt to be profitable. Yes, profit, we are making a decision based on the profit motive. But, it is not at the expense or safety of our customer’s health.
As has been written on these pages before this is a very personal, agonizing decision for us. We keep putting the decision off because the birds keep laying two to three eggs a day. There will be decisions made that monetarily and emotionally will be hard but not now, that is still in the future.
Buy Local - From a local farmer not a chain hard selling the word.
There were hundreds of little experiences with my grandparents, parents. aunts, uncles and in-laws, that when taken as a whole, have led me to where I am today. My father liked to grow tomatoes and camp. On those camping trips we somehow always ended up at a farm. One of my earliest recollections was with my father stopping to buy eggs, I remember him talking about the freshness of the eggs coming right from the farm. He would buy fresh corn, tomatoes and whatever else they had. That night my mom would make dinner with what was purchased.
My grandfather owned a restuarant for awhile and then sold fruits and vegetables in the city. I can remember the smells the fast driving as he was picking up or delivering cases of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Then there was my father-in-law who put a garden in every year and every year it seemed to get a little bigger. He had perfect rows and would tend them daily often imparting bits of wisdom. I love to cook but at the time I was still in college and didn't have a thought of growing anything. But I loved his daughter and I wanted him to like me, so I helped and listened to him all the same.
There is this paradox with what we do. It is incredibly hard physically, mentally, emotionally and fiscally. by the end of the growing season we are drained in every aspect of being. Yet each year as winter turns to spring I start to get anxious. I can't wait to hook the tiller up to the tractor and turn that years production garden under. I'll hook up the water tanks to collect the spring rains and torture some poor plant by planting it early and trying to keep it warm in the frigid air. Always testing ways to get things planted earlier then planned.
I'll dream of the corn and tomatoes to come while testing the soil temperature and waiting for the slightest change in weather. But there are the long, hot, humid, sweaty days that will come with all this anticipation and the back breaking labor of planting, weeding and re-weeding. I'll look back at what we earned last year, what pains we went through, how much time we spent and logically tell myself it just is not worth it.
Then a small voice inside will say, "This is the year. This year will be the year that we really make a profit. Our name will get out and people will come to the farm and purchase". I think of all the little simple acts that have taken place in my life and I know I'm where I'm supposed to be doing the things we do. Besides who is to say, maybe this will be the year.
Buy Local - from a farmer not a chain hard selling the word.
The first few years in the house were very trying while at the same time we were transitioning from small gardener to large gardener. We quickly learned that the experiences we had in a smaller plot of land did not particularly prepare us for large scale production.Problems are magnified on a scale that was larger than we anticipated. So, in the beginning crop failures were more frequent than successes and weeds, insects and poor nutrient management seemed to have center stage. We started small and increased slowly when we thought we had a handle on the growing aspect of a particular fruit or vegetable.At the time we were just starting to learn about field rotation, cover cropping, green manure and other soil management techniques. It took us close to three years to get comfortable with our ability to replenish the soil nutrients and minerals naturally without the need for doses of organic fertilizer. Among the volumes of research we read every book Joel Salatin wrote, we studied the Rodale Institutes literature and course offerings and talked to as many farmers as possible.
The more we learned the more we learned that chickens would be needed to augment our soil fertility practices. So we took the plunge and bought six seventeen week old Rhode Island Reds. It did take us some time to come to that decision but the type of hen we would purchase was easier. Rhode Island Reds are on the recovering species list and they are a heritage breed that is a dual bird. They are dual purpose for their meat and egg laying capabilities. Because chickens were cross bred for one purpose or the other (eggs or meat) RIR fell out of favor with farmers. When you can get a chicken to reach five pounds in ten weeks and it takes a RIR thirteen weeks the decision is made for you.
Since we've added chickens to our soil conservation effort we have been able to cut down on the amount of organic fertilizer we purchase. I should do a cost analysis on purchasing feed, chickens and time versus purchasing fertilizer. My guess is that just purchasing fertilizer might be less expensive and less time consuming but then again we wouldn't be getting those wonderful eggs.
My wife and I were sitting down to lunch when my phone buzzed. I answered it and it was the local organic market calling about our eggs. Afterward, my wife said I turned white as a sheet. I can tell you when I said hello and the voice on the other end said "Hi, this is Sheila from the Market" my appetite dropped and my mind went into a spin. It seemed like minutes as she told me why she was calling. I heard "A customer called about your eggs the other day," My mind is racing, ok I'm thinking what went wrong, what aren't they happy about"? What did they complain about did we short the count again by mistake (it has happened before)? Did we send an egg out that had started to incubate (this is impossible, we collect, wash and refrigerate the eggs on a daily basis) but that doesn't stop the thought. It couldn't be freshness, they can not get fresher eggs unless they catch them coming out of the chicken. My pessimism is running rampant as a go through each scenario.
All of this is going through my mind, as well as, possible solutions and what fix is needed. Sheila goes on to say that the customer really likes the eggs and wants to know if they can buy direct from us. Talk about a hundred and eighty degree turn, my heart beat and mind started to slow as I absorbed the meaning of the conversation. "You can give them our number and have them call us," I managed to eek out. We talked a bit more and then the conversation was over.
My wife looked at me smiling and I relayed the information. She just started laughing, "are you hungry anymore?" "No," I replied, she said she could practically see the mental gymnastics I just performed. I let out a deep breath and we both just laughed. I am an optimist covered with a heavy cloak of pessimism. We've gotten other comments on the taste of the eggs and have a following that is growing. So we have established a symbiotic relationship with our hens. We give them fresh rye and hairy vetch; they weed, eat bugs and leave naturally organic fertilizer. So far things are still heading in the right direction,
Buy Local - From a local farmer, not from a chain hard selling the fact
The first year on the farm had its perils, like the time the phone company changed our phone number, without us initiating the task or them asking us if it was okay. To top that off they wouldn't give us the new number because they said it was unlisted.
One Friday evening my mother-in-law called us on the cell-phone. "What is your new number?" "What new number" my wife asked? "I just called your house and the message said that your number has been changed to an unpublished number". There were so many new situations that we were facing that this seemed par for the course. But thinking back, when has the phone company ever changed your phone number without you asking for it and then they wouldn't give you the new number. I mean we really have had off the wall occurrences to deal with.
We had already been through the "take an analog phone out side and plug it into the telephone poll" routine. I kid you not; we had a problem with the line and called the phone company. As part of the troubleshooting they wanted us to take an analog phone out and plug it into the network interface device or NID.
We found it on the telephone poll, plugged the phone in and got a dial tone. "Ok,” the technician said "the problem is with the line in the house". They scheduled an appointment the coming week. In the mean time if there was an emergency we could take the phone outside and plug it into the NID and call 911. Does anyone remember Oliver climbing the telephone poll to make a call? What a hoot, with the phone connected to the telephone poll I couldn't help but start to call family and friends and tell them I was using a phone outside plugged into the telephone poll.
My wife hangs up with her mother and we call our home phone number. "The number you have dialed has been changed to an unlisted number." We hear the automated voice telling us. So we called the phone company. Yes the phone number was changed this afternoon. "Okay, great," I say "can you tell us what the new number is?" I'm getting ready to write the number down and I hear him say, "I'm sorry" Sorry? For what? "The number is unlisted". "Yes, that is what the message told us, but you know we are calling from our home and you can see our number, right"? It didn't matter what argument we used they weren't going to give us the new number.
We're thinking you can't make this stuff up. Being resourceful is a great trait to have when working on the farm. Things come up that you've never experienced and there is a need to deal with it or overcome it. This was just another example of a problem that we hadn't anticipated or thought of. The answer to this problem was simple. All we did was call my wife's cell phone and presto, we had our phone number. So much for paying an extra fee for an unlisted phone number.
So we got our new phone number and my wife says "Man, do you get the impression that Green Acres was a prep course for us?" I had to laugh and simply agree.
Buy Local- from a farmer not from a chain pushing the word.
After the persons surprise that often accompanies the answer, that yes we indeed do farm, we get asked about vacations. "When do you take vacations," or "Now that summer is over what do you do?" Work never stops, in the winter we are about as busy as during the growing season. I'm just doing different work. Work that takes a back seat during the growing season. We still have it easier than the folks with big animals.
You still have to take care of the chickens. You have pre-winter activites like taking down the rain-water collection system. Winterizing the water tanks and putting everything away. You get the winter setup for the chicken houses out and ready for bitter weather and cover the strawberries with burlap. Winter is the time to work on the tractor and tune up the small engines to get them ready for next year. Fields need to be cleared of fallen trees. Dead trees need to be harvested and cut into firewood.
We will go through about four thousand pounds of firewood (two cords)and three thousand pounds of wood pellets in the house. It is all brought in a little at a time but it is almost a daily chore. We heat the upstairs with the pellet stove and the first floor with a woodstove that is in the kitchen. The wood stove sits in the original cooking fire place. The fire place hearth is eight feet wide by six feet deep, the opening of the hearth at its peak is almost five feet five inches tall. I've been told that I can not cook in it as much as I ask!
The chickens are a daily task that cannot be skipped. Some are kept in houses that have no floors so they can be moved onto new grass without having to let them out. Others are in converted horse trailers and have to be let out every day. This means they have to be closed up for the night too. Then you have to make sure the water is not freezing and more importantly the chickens are not freezing. They will eat more as a way of staying warm so restocking cycles pick up. The Rhode Island Red comes from the north (Rhode Island coincedently) so they are pretty cold tolerant but they to are suseptable to the frigid cold.
There is dragging the crusher-run driveway to smooth out the ruts and redistribute the stone bed. Next up would be fixing doors, windows and any structural repairs that crop up.
Of course winter is also when the Italian Cooking Classes really start to take off. We'll teach bread making, pasta making and tomato based sauces. We get to cook dishes we love to eat and do taste tests with the students. Usually class will start off with a homemade dish for everyone to sample. Then depending on the interest we'll go into knife safety, food borne illnesses or a range of food saftey topics. From there it is into the thick of hands on cooking.
From a vegetable/fruit growers point of view, I think vacation is a good thought but is a misnomer. Your work and responsibilities do not end they just shift and change a little.
Buy Local - From a farmer not a chain that hard sells the word
Frederick County held its Annual Family Fun on the Farm Festival this past weekend. This is a time for people to come to different farms and learn what the farm is all about. What sustainalbe practises are in place along with free range techniques and you get to taste actual food provided from the farm. On Saturday it was cold and raining torrents but people showed up. A lot of people showed up. We partnered with Nick's Organic again this year. I cooked on a cherrywood fire and Nick provided his organically raised beef.
I cooked mostly hamburgers and beef sausages. Nick brought out three new varieties of sausage this year and for the life of me I could not keep them straight. Talk about embarrassing, but we did have fun with it. We gave samples out and I asked the person what it tasted like; was it sweet, did you taste garlic, or sage? He had Italian, Kielbasa, Bratwurst and Sage. Three of the four looked the same. Cut open I could tell one of the three was Italian because it had red peppers in it. The sage and kielbasa was a toss-up. The bratwurst looked differently so it was easier. As the day wore on some suggested marking the sausages to keep track.
I jumped on it and started marking the kielbasa with a slash down the length and the sage a slash across. But as they cooked they split and slashes look like lines and lines looked like slashes. Tasting the sausage to tell the difference was alright when it was a free sample. But it was tought when people ordered one or another type of sausage. Now they were paying for the sausage and roll. To their credit most people settled for what they got. Others said "Don't worry about it. It is all is good. Give me what's ready." Nick has a very hardcore group of followers, people that really "get" local, organically-raised, grass-fed beef, chicken and turkeys.
Along with Nick's meat we were selling our certified organic fall vegetables: kale, red ancho peppers and green peppers,our honey and jam and promoting the cooking classes. Saturday was a long cold day, and even though I was next to the fire and under cover I was freezing. By the end of the day I was whining and wanted nothing but a hot bath. I felt bad for Nick, Dave and Harvey as they were out in the worst of it and away from any heat.
Then there was feeding the help. I really have to apologize to Harvey. He only wanted a well done burger and I can really cook a burger well done, he just didn't get any of them. Harvey was driving the tractor for the hay-rides. One of the problems with cooking with wood is I use the flame not the coals. So you have to get used to moving meat close to and then away from the heat. Poor Harvey. Out of all the burgers he got during the two days one might have been medium well done. His preference was well. I tried I really did. I'll make it up to him next year though.
To all the hardy souls that came out thank you.
Buy Local - From a farmer not a chain hard selling the fact.
As Nietzsche said, "that which does not kill us makes us stronger." No truer words describe the attitude needed to raise and grow food for human consumption. Coming from the city there were a lot of adjustments we needed to make in order to transition to rural life on a farm. We thought having lived in a rural area for thirteen years prior would have prepared us some what. The first five years tested us mentally, physically and spiritually.
When you compare learning how to live in the city versus living in rural America there are some glaring differences and then there are the subtle ones. Like critters - in the city you have squirrels, cats, dogs, rats, mice, insects and the occasional raccoon, deer and opossum. In the country there are the same plus skunks, fox, bear, coyote and the rest of the wildlife Western Maryland has.
Animals are animals, no matter where you are. You need to be careful around all of them. In the city you’re more likely to be bitten by a stray dog as being sprayed by a skunk in the country. If asked five years ago would I be within five inches of a live skunk, I would have responded, "No way, no how." Not only have I been that close to one skunk I've had three close encounters. We had set traps to catch groundhogs, only to find skunks like sweet corn too. I also learned how to let the skunks out without alarming them and without having to sleep in the barn for a week.
I think the most glaring difference when comparing and contrasting the two environments would be snakes. Snakes have such a negative association that most people cringe at the mere mention of the word. Then actually seeing one sends chills through the spine. As bad as rats are in the city, I think snakes create a stronger reaction when seen. Not only are snakes prevalent on a farm they tend to gravitate towards existing structures. Unless you have pigs or so I’ve been told. When I was talking to the farmer down the road about snakes he told me that if I got pigs, I’d find that the snakes would disappear.
When we found snake skins in the basement of the house we said, "if we find them on the first floor then thats it". When we found them in the first floor bathroom we said, "if we find them in the living room then thats it". When we found them in the living room we said "if we find them in the bedroom then thats it". Then BC found one in the master bedroom (see: Where Else Would Rather Be)
We found that our tolerance changed that nature and the environment helps ease you into those transitions before you are aware. I guess some people would have moved out after the bedroom horror but we had a Godsend in BC. I know I write about how hard things are and what difficulties we often face as well as point out how things are not easy. But I count my blessings every day and I appreciate the life I have. We've been given an incredible opportunity here and we are trying our best to make it work.
I've learned that life is precious, that things can be taken from you in an instant and tomorrow is nothing but a possibility. I've learned patience and that I am mentally and physically stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. I've been given a chance that not many people are given and for that I am immensely grateful. I've met some incredible people that have a real passion for what we do and they are an inspiration.
Things don't always go as planned and life is hard and that doesn't change just because you've moved from the city or you live on a farm. I've seen the beauty that nature brings, like a night sky so crystal clear you feel like you could reach out and touch a piece of it. I brought my wife outside to view. As driven as you have to be in order to do something so hard, I'm as much humbled by a simple act of thanks or expression of gratitude from our supporters and customers.
Life on a farm is hard and there is no way around it. You sacrifice yourself, your time, sometimes your well being and your vacations. But God love all the people that have chosen to rise above all the negative in an effort to strive for something better for our local communities, environment and animals.
Buy Local - from a farmer not a chain advertising "Local"
So we moved onto an old farm. Six generation of families have lived here before us. Six generations of buying tools and loosing them to the outdoors. Working on a tractor you get done and the crow bar was left on the side. As you read on I know I am not going to look good. But in the interest of true life I've decided to be fourth coming about some of the more boneheaded things I've done while mowing and tilling.
I have no one to blame but myself, yet I don't. You know the part about making mistakes and not repeating them. All that goes out the window when I talk about sitting on the mower or the tractor.
At least with tilling I have a very good excuse. I mean the stuff is underground, at least 99.9 precent has been anyway. When I hit something with the tiller I stop, dig it up and place it in my "stuff I've tilled" pile. It is just like my "stuff I've mowed" pile but it's a much smaller pile defying all logic. Although the area I till is greater than the area I mow I somehow seem to do more damage with the five foot mower deck than the six foot tiller. Actually, I do more damage to the five foot mower deck.
Yet of all the things I've run over I do not think I'm actually all that responsible, completely. really. I mean, I am driving the mower each time and I can honestly say I have never run over anything on purpose. I mean who purposely hits an iron cap to the clean-out pipe? And then its plastic replacement.
The land around our house has a lot of stone out-croppings. I've taken a sledge hammer to the ones that where deceptively low or I guess their deceptively high. You only have to hit a rock once to remember where it was. But, then again there was three acres of lawn.
I've estimated that I've spent eight hours on my back untwisting things stuck in the mower blades. Things that other people have left on the ground or have not put away, well mostly others. I've spent six hours replacing blades and five hours replacing belts. The mower itself has only 233 total hours of run time. I know the numbers are not in my favor but what can I say. I try not to cut the lawn but sometimes we can't find the barn and I don't have a choice.
So I begrudgingly get on the mower and start mowing around the gardens, orchards, water tanks, trellises and out-buildings. While this is happening I'm looking up front to see if there is anything in the way. Grant it I'm looking for chickens, rabbits, frogs, cats, stones, boulders, wood or any of the myriad of other things in the grass. I can be candid and say I’ve never run over a chicken, baby rabbit or any living creater. So in the interest of full discloser below is a list of things that I've found with the lawn mower;
metal wire 3/8th inch 59 ft long with tensioner;
Three strand electric fence 60 ft long
6 ft wide black landscape fabric 10 ft; long
Chicken wire - 6 feet by 10 feet I was quick on stopping the PTO that time.
1 light post; 1 garden hose 25 ft long
Various wood planks, pallet edges and boulders
Steel drain pipe cap; plastic drain pipe cap (different years though)
Black walnuts, ok, they are on purpose how else can you get the meat out of them?
Does top soil count?
Tilling the ground has its own perils but I can't take credit for any of it with the exception of the chicken wire. When we put our first garden in I encased it in chicken wire. I buried about a foot and had five feet sticking out of the ground. It works great for keeping the critters out and protecting the vegetables. We had the fence up for three years. Each end was open so I could get the tiller in and closed once we were done.
One fall day I was preparing the bed for its winter cover and got too close to the side of the fence. Before I knew it the tiller got a piece of the fence and the fence starting coming at me like a rocket. Before I could kill the PTO, the tiller tines had wrapped about fifty feet of the fence around themselves. As it was wrapping around the tines the fence was compacting. Six feet by five feet compressed into about three inches wide. Getting that out took about five hours but knock on wood it was the first and only time.
So, I make mistakes but I really try not to run over things, especially those that wrap around the blades and spindles. Getting them out is not easy and serves to be the greatest motivator when avoiding trouble. My advice to all, keep your lawns short.
Buy Local - From a farmer not a chain hard selling the fact.
The farm house we live in was built in 1837 by David and Richard Specht. David was the original owner. He bought the land from Charles Caroll a signer of the Declartion of Independance. They built the house with clay bricks they made by hand from materials dug on the property.
The floor joists are solid trees with the bark still attached. On the second floor one room has the ceiling exposed to the roof. When you look up you see they used wooden dowls to secure the wood in place for the attic floor joists. The wood itself has hand honed marks on it where you can see they smoothed it out.
Each room has its own fireplace which are very shallow. We were told that's how coal fireplaces were designed. The rooms themselves have ten foot ceilings. The walls are covered in horse hair plaster, no lattice work just plaster slapped up against the brick interieror of the house. The house exterior itself is made three bricks deep and has widows sills that are almost a foot and a half deep.
My wife started researching the history behind the house and found that among other things that the brothers Specht had a run in with Union soldiers. It seems when the Union was getting ready to attack the Confederate Army at Point of Rocks, Maryland they tour down fences in case they needed to retreat. Well the Specht brothers didn't like having their fences down and their cows running free so they built them up.
As it turned out the Union did have to beat a retreat from Point of Rocks and when they came upon the Specht property they did not like that the fences were restored. In his book The History of Carrollton Manor, 1928, William Jarboe Grove surmizes that had the Union had any ammunition left the brothers would not have lived to tell about it.
Another little bit of written history was the demise of David Specht himself. It was written that he went out during a bad storm to check on the house when a brick fell and hit him in the head. Since Mr. Specht there have only been six owners of the farm house.
So when it came time to renovate the house we were advised that the cheapest and quickest way to accomplish what we wanted to do was to tear the house down and build it from scratch. Knowing what we knew about the house we just could not bring ourselves to make that decision. It did cost more and it did take longer to fix. But, you can't replace history, you can't replace the kind of hand craftsmanship that was put into this house and you'll never replace the hopes and dreams that first built this house.
We are mere stewards, keeping the place up so that hopefully generations from now, someone else will read the history and decide that the house is to precious to tear down and build from scratch and will want to preserve it for as yet unknown generations.
Buy local - from a farmer not from a chain advertising "Local"
We were talking about getting goats, milk goats specifically. At least my wife was. I can only see the negative with goats so it was pretty much a one sided conversation. I'm sure she's right; she was right about the farm, the chickens, the fruits, the eggs, the marriage....
I don't want to offend anyone, I know goat people and I respect people that have goats. But I've heard goat people talk about goats and it usually ends with a story about one of the goats getting out and eating everything in sight. Or goats getting out, roaming and eating the neighbor's expensive plants out of their yard. Or goats getting out and you can't find them and when you do, you can't get them in the truck. Or goats getting out and eating the neighbor's Harley Davidson. Let's just say my issue is goats getting out.
I know a lot of people with goats, they are great people but they tell me stories and inevetably one will be about their goat getting out. I've been to seminars and presentations where other farmers are talking about how great goats are, but someone will have a story about the time their goat got out So I asked the question, how do you keep goats in? Strong fences I’m told. Strong fences!
Problem is I've asked the person that has told me the story of their goat getting out. So, the answer is a strong fence, that’s the recommendation I’ve gotten from the extension office, from farmers and from goat herding friends. Does anyone see a problem here? The same people that have told me about goats getting out are the ones recommending strong fences. Hummmm. Was the escape before or after they installed strong fences?
I have found that there is a special electric fence for goats, sheep and chickens. I read the website It is designed specifically for goats and sheep. The advertisement reads "Keeps your goats and sheep in and predators out." Yeah, but I don't believe it.
Once you buy the fence and then get the goat you’re done. The gig is up, there is no turning back. The goat will get out, they always do. I'll end up having to give my neighbor free vegetables for a season. Or worse while trying to corral the goat it kicks me in an area not meant to be kicked. To me, goats are Mother Nature’s way of teaching us that ruminants are suppose to roam.
Then I start to think of the benefits: they can clear brush and eat grass. I learned of a type of pygmy goat that I found to be quite comical. There is a goat called a Fainting Goat, and as its name implies when this thing gets scared it faints. I saw a video of it, and all most spit my milk out from laughing. So I waited for the right time and told my wife if she gets a milk goat then I wanted to get a fainting goat. "What's a fainting goat?" she asks. "A pygmy goat," I respond.
I get a quizzical look but I avoid her eyes and quickly change the subject. I ask what kind of food would we need to feed the goat. She starts to rattle off the list of things she has learned that a goat will eat and by the end of the list I'm thinking she missed our next door neighbor's roses and the Harley. I know she is holding back.
I can tell she is pleased that I've started to ask questions about the goats. "Ya know," I say "we'll have to think about this whole goat thing".
BUY LOCAL- from a farmer, not a chain advertising "LOCAL"
We like more than 90 percent of small farmers across the nation have full time jobs. We've been working every weekend since March 21st, non-stop. We've had some good times, great successes and huge failures. We are physically and mentally tired and looking forward to the colder days and slower pace.
Yet there is melancholy to the coming days. Putting the green grass covers on the gardens, getting the chickens on next years production beds and covering the strawberries. We are exhausted yet we do these choirs with a heavy heart. We need and want the break but there is something sad to the fact that we won't be outside for long periods of time tending to growing vegetables, fruits, herbs and watching the chickens frolic.
We'll get into canning mode so we have vegetables over the winter. The irrigation will be pulled and plants mowed from this years production fields I'll do a shallow till and cover the fields with winter rye and hairy vetch. Once that is done the place has been put to bed for the winter.
We then turn our attention to making Italian and French breads, the Italian cooking classes and keeping the chickens comfortable if the weather gets to extreme. I do lament the passing of summer, as hard as the work is, the sun hot and atmosphere moist, I like eating fresh vegetables out of the garden. I eat more vegetables now knowing there the freshest, safest money can buy and they are from our hands and our efforts. I'll miss the weekly interactions with our customers and talking about how to prepare a vegetable or certain dish. Our customers have been supportive, rejuvenating, focused, motivating and most importantly there.
Keep eating fresh and local, David did beat Goliath and we will again this time. Eat local, find a farmer that is growing healthy food. Tell your friends, your family and your colleagues about him or her. The more we speak out the safer our food supply should become.
Don't be complacent, there are some people like my wife and I who do extraordinary things in order to bring safe fresh foods to our community and there are people in your community doing the same thing for you. We all know of parents that have a child or children that have food allergies? Let me ask, how many friends did you have growing up with food allergies? I didn't have any; except for me I hated Brussels sprouts. Proportionally more humans are suffering from food born illnesses now then ever before, despite taking into account the increase in surface population. Haven't enough people given their lives just because they wanted a simple meal with maybe spinach or a hamburger with lettuce, or peanut butter treat?
Please don't underestimate the fight that we are in. Food is our energy, our fuel and a life sustaining force. Don't let the big Agra-businesses jam GMO foods down our throats, they've been killing us for profit and will continue to do so unless we the consumer stand up and say "I'm mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more" (from the movie "Network"). Demand more with your dollars, choose with your wallet. Money and the lack there of will make them notice. Choose to live healthy. Choose to stop playing Russian roulette with your food choices. Pass the word on it is too important to leave to the media and our officials. Start with your family and work out from there.
Buy Local - from a farmer not a chain advertising "Local"
We have been at this farmer's market for about six weeks. There is a mix of vegetable growers and other stands that make up the total market. Foot traffic is good, not great but good. There is a grower a couple of stalls down that is young and sells mainly corn, tomatoes and melons. I don't pay much attention to the other vendors because I read my insect book or am taking care of customers.
The day was beautiful, sunshine, light breeze, low humidity and we were seeing more and more repeat customers. One told us that the jam she purchased last week was the best she had ever tasted. At the same time another repeat customer was buying two more jars of jam based on his last purchase. We said thank you and I slowly patted my wife on her back. It was her idea. labor and her mom's recipe. It was turning out to be a good day.
We were selling organic eggs, our carrots had started to come in, the string beans bounced back and our raspberry plants started producing. So our offerings were diversified and plentiful. At one point in time I spotted a customer coming back to us with a box of our eggs. My stomach dropped because the look on her face was not pleasant. I was dealing with a customer so I got my wife’s attention and motioned for her to check out and see what the customer wanted. She had gone home, went to put the eggs away and realized she had only received nine. Of all the mistakes we make and have made, this one was the most embarrassing. Once I realized what had happened I excused myself from the other customer and immediately started asking her what she liked that we had. At the same time my wife was getting her more eggs. I asked about a couple vegetables and got to the potatoes. She said she didn't have potatoes so I gave her a pound of the German Butter Ball and apologized profusely. She left, hopefully satisfied and maybe to return.
Then at closing the young farmer from a couple stalls down came up to look at what we had. He asked about the German Queen tomatoes, we were selling. These things are huge weighing between 1.25-1.75 lbs each. They are by far the biggest we've grown. The skin is thin, seed pod small and flesh is sweet. As I'm telling him this I'm looking into his eyes and seeing sadness. We all look tired and worn down, that is part of the job. It is physically and mentally challenging. Your mind is always ready to give up before your body is but you know this and go on to the next chore.
I use the term heart-wrenching a lot when describing things on the farm because those words invoke a visceral reaction. We all know what heart break is in all its forms. But to use those words makes one understand the physical and emotional toll taking place within the person. What I was seeing and hearing from this young man was heart-wrenching.
He is at his cross roads. He works full time on a dairy farm; he grows five acres of vegetables in his spare time. He is having trouble making ends meet. He doesn't know if he'll be able to pay off all his bills by the end of the growing season. As he was standing there telling me his young wife came up and put her arm around him. I asked, "How’d it go today?" He started to grouse but his wife pulled his arm and he shifted some and kicked the dirt and said "not that bad". A customer came up to their stand and his wife went to take care of them.
I had stopped tearing down and was just talking to him. I could tell he was in despair and was looking for some sort of guidance or a kind word or words of encouragement. He told me that other people he talked to told him to stay in it that things would change. I didn't tell him they were right or wrong. I just said that this is an incredibly hard thing to do and not many people really understand the sacrifice and toll it takes on us. That he wasn't alone in his doubt and his struggles. The last time I stopped breaking down and talked to someone my wife got livid, at least at that time we had help. This time it was just her and I was torn. Should I cut him off and help her or should I do what many have done for me in the past and that was to lend a sympathetic ear and maybe some advice and encouragement.
She could hear the conversation and knew the plight of the young vegetable farmer. I empathized with him and told him about the MD Small Farm Co-op. I told him by joining he would meet people like us who pull our resources and are able to buy in bulk thus cutting down on overall costs. I gave him my name and number and told him if he had any questions to call. This all seemed woefully inadequate but it was the best I could do. For my wife's part she continued breaking down and when he left I helped finish up. She didn't say a word. We packed up and headed home. What should have been a pleasant trip after a good day selling was just silent. It seemed both of us were thinking about the young man and his wife.
It was a good day for us but when you see the pain, self-doubt and struggle that someone like you is going through you can't help but question why is this so hard and why doesn't everyone else know?
PLEASE-buy local, find a farmer around you, go visit them, try what they have for sale. If you don't like what you got tell them that and tell them why. Vegetable farmers live on feedback. If there is something you'd like them to grow, tell them. It can only help with their future plans. The more sustainable farmers we keep in business the healthier the environment and all of us will be in the long run.
We have a hen that has taken to, let me see, how to say this so I keep a "G" rating. We have a hen that has taken to being the rooster. I kid you not. She has taken on the roll of the fertilizer or pretend fertilizer. I've said before we've only been raisng hens for three years going on four. So I might think I've seen it all, but apperantly that's not true. My wife read a book that said hens can change gender but we never took it seriously.
We thought it was one of those things, except we have this chicken that doesn't really fight the other hens as much as she gets on their backs. A rooster when he is in procreation mode will grab a hen by the back of her neck holding her down so he can do what a rooster does. My wife said she thought she saw this behavior in one of our hens, but me being me, I wouldn't believe it until I saw the event for myself.
We were all eating lunch one day sitting outside in the shade and enjoying a slight breeze. I was facing the pen of the second generation hens. Their numbers have dwindled due to a neighbor's errent dog, but the ones that survived have rebounded and they are pretty good layers. It was a Saturday and we had picked corn for taste testing. We feed our help most times and its always a good time when breaking bread with them. No matter what I cook they always seem to like it. Of course when you work on an organic vegetable farm you tend to work up a big appetite. Male or female they can all put food away. So I cooked the corn for everyone and we were sitting there enjoying the sweet taste and the respite.
If the hens start fighting or going crazy I usually yell at them which startles them and is enought to return the flock to some sort of harmony. I heard a commotion and looked up to see a hen on top of another hen biting and holding her down while seemingly girating like the rooster does. I looked at my wife; she gave me a look and just shrugged. I yelled, then got up to get closer and yelled again. That broke the hovering hen's concentration and her captive scurried away. So, once again I think I've seen it all.
We kid ourselves by thinking we've got a handle on things. Then we discover that the learning curve just seems to keep bending upward. But, these are things that nature brings.
Buy Local - from a farmer, not from a chain that advertises "Local"
For the first three years of selling we were at a farmers market that was trying to rebound. It was located in a stayed community of old houses and income levels. We didn't learn this until later but it didn't matter. I liked being part of nostalgia by trying to bring back the old farmers market.
We were learning how to grow organic on a large scale and also learning about farmers markets. Each market has its own personality, procedures and clientel. Our enthusiasm and drive were not lacking, but week after week foot traffic was minimal and we often wondered if we were in the right place. It certainly was not making copious amounts of money. Slowly we started to build up a clientel and we were bringing in fruits and vegetables that were coming into season.
For six years my wife and I were the only ones doing the work. As with most small farmers we too had full-time jobs. We both gave up our weekends and evenings. In the off season we would plow through insect, plant identification, pasture management and animal husbandry books. We attended lectures and classes on small farming and other specialties. We belong to the Maryland Small Farm Co-op, the Pastured Poultry Association, CASA-Future Harvest and the Maryland Organic Food and Farmers Association.
Each of these groups have specific functions but all are setup to gather, trade and disseminate information with most of the emphasis on providing education to there members. These groups are great for getting started and networking. It doesn't matter who you are or what you know, or if you've been farming for years there is value to joining and participating in the events.
It is in these groups were you find kindred spirits, market stories, working knowledge and moral support. The first three years selling was hard for us, we were putting in maximum effort but were getting little if any return on our investment and time.
We kept hearing one phrase over and over again at the market. There was a point where we could identify the person that was going to say it. We heard the phrase in English, Spanish and German. We couldn't tell what they were saying but the body language of some of the Asian customers spoke loud enough.
It was always the same thing, different languages but the same facial expressions, "Is this all there is?". We tried not to take it personally but weekend after weekend it did wear on us. I would often engage the people and ask sincerely what they would like to see. Mostly the answer was more vendors. We would pass this information on to the market manager.
What struck me as odd was we had plenty of a variety of fruits and vegetables, we were transitional organic and our prices were a dollar. We joked that we were the other dollar store. Cucumbers 4 for a dollar, tomatoes dollar a pound, onions same thing, berries they sold at a premium. Everything else went for a buck. Because there wasn't a big vendor presence most people just turned and left. There were days when we ended up giving more food to our local soup kitchen then what we sold. Giving to the soup kitchen had its own intrinsic reward and helped us gain perspective with the days events.
It was hard but we made the best of it and made some really good friends that we still have to this day. The market provided us with a way to sell our vegetables and have fun. Besides, without the market how would we learn?
Buy Local - from a farmer not a chain advertising "Local"
We are learning, we have learned and we will continue to learn. Our knowledge comes from reading, talking to others, working and observing. Like on Saturday we observed that Broody was back sitting in her nesting box. Then we observed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday the same thing.
This is a natural occurance for chickens sometimes they go broody. We've only been raising hens for three years so we don't have a lot of experience. However, we have faced broodiness before so we sorta know what we are doing. In all the books that we've read I don't remember if they talked about a broody hen going broody twice in the same year.
I did observe something I hadn't noticed before. When a chicken is broody the last thing you want to do is let her sit on an egg. Everything that we've read says to take eggs from her. You don't want to encourage the behavior so taking the eggs gives her nothing to hatch.
Chickens will lay one egg every 25 hours, give or take, on Sunday we took the egg from under her. Monday when we checked she was in the same nesting box but there were two eggs. I took them, my glimer of hope was the two eggs in the box. She had laid one (broody chickens do not) and she was out of the box long enough for another chicken to lay her egg.
Getting a broody chicken out of our nesting box is pretty hard due to the design of the nest and access to it. So, we put off getting her out until we were sure she really was broody. Tuesday when we checked she had three eggs under her and we took them. She was still in the same box though. Wednesday morning I looked in the box for eggs and saw two under Broody and one in the middle box. Broody was still nesting in the third box farthest from the opening. I thought once again she had laid, gotten out of the box and another hen laid her own egg. I went about the day's chores and kept the chicken pen within site. The day progressed with no sight of Broody. By late afternoon I had decided to check the nesting boxes again.
I looked in and Broody was still in the third nest facing the back. Yet, she had another two eggs under her and it dawned on me. She wasn't laying and she wasn't getting out of the nest. The other chickens must know she is broody. They are nesting in her box and laying their eggs for her to hatch. Four eggs on Wednesday and three the day before that. She hadn't left the nest at all and she wasn't laying. There is no way a chicken can move an egg in our nesting boxes. The floor is on a decline from front to back, with a back wall high enough to let the egg roll underneath and in a holding area. These were all under her front wings.
We decided that it was time to get her out of the nesting box and into the barn. This is not a stress free process for the bird or us. I eventualy got her out and headed for the barn. While we were walking I took the liberty to feel her abdomen and lower fluff by the vent. No hard object or abnormal feeling of the large intenstines. She was just broody again. Broody is in he barn digging holes for nests and sitting on non-existant eggs. She's got plenty of fresh water and mash to eat. So far she's still in the barn, day seven and counting. We'll let you know how it goes.
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