North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

  (Hayward, Wisconsin)
Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
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Horse Apple Holler

The livestock are hungry this morning—always hungry.  The chickens line up at the door, the sheep crowd the gate, the tilapia splash at the surface of their tanks, and the pigs squeal and grunt in complaint.  Obviously, we’re taking too long to feed them, lugging 50-pound sacks from our stash in the garage on the trusty orange sled.  And then there’s at least three bales of hay to lug in the mornings as well, with wooly pushing and shoving, and Belle the guard donkey is more than a little vocal about wanting her share.

The 120 or so laying hens plus 11 ducks snug in the coop eat a bag of feed every day.  Just them!  Through these really cold snaps, the sheep have even eaten their straw bedding, so more must be drug in and scattered.  And then there’s all the water to be hauled about for thirsty lips and beaks and snoots.  Ah for a day when I can convince the animals to haul water for themselves!  But alas, I doubt that’s coming anytime soon.

But all this feed and bedding and water isn’t a one-way trip on the farm.  Oh no, it has to mount to something.  So our menagerie of two and four-legged composting units have been doing their best to make great gardening material for spring.  Ah yes, some folks make a study of wildlife scat, tracing the tracks of bobcat and raccoon, but here are some musings on the qualities of barnyard manures.  Given it’s March, let’s try them in limericks.

It was down in horse apple holler,

Much too cold to have any waller.

The donkey did bray,

For she wanted more hay,

To make her pack rise even taller.

 

The farmer went in with the scoop,

For to shovel out some of the poop.

It rolled and it tumbled,

And the farmer she mumbled,

For it threw her back for a loop.

 

The sheep were all bunched like a herd,

They‘re so good at making their turds.

The dog thinks they’re kibbles,

She loved to get nibbles,

But the goat says that that’s for the birds.

 

The chickens are known for their droppings,

It coats all the bedding like toppings.

Please watch your head,

Or you’ll grimace with dread,

When you hear that next sound of ploppings.

 

The ducks they just love to make messes,

With icicles stuck to their tresses.

They can make you a lake,

With just one ducky shake,

And leave the technique to your guesses.

 

The pigs wander out with a totter,

They really would like some more fodder.

But their pile is so high,

They’ll look you in the eye,

And it steams away since it’s hotter.

 

We’ve a pile outside of the barn,

We thought it would do much less harm.

But the fragrance is clear,

If you’re anywhere near,

Though the garden will think it’s a charm.

 

And it’s down in horse apple holler,

I’ll lead the way, you can foller.

As the bedding piles deep,

Mucking work is a heap,

And the volume makes you feel much smaller!

Well, guess I’ll have to wrap this up somewhere and bundle up for chores.  Our little friendly manure makers are going to be hungry and thirsty again.  If you’re on a farm (or grew up on one), I suspect you remember those mucking days well!  It’s certainly nobody’s favorite, though a clean coop filled with fresh wood shavings is a lovely sight (and smell, in comparison with what came before).

And how do we notice the first signs of spring on the farm?  Well, the bedding pack thawing out is a good one, and the barnyard becoming a slippery, muddy mess.  But for now, let’s hope it stays frozen just a little longer.  I’ve got snow to shovel first!  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com
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Chickens Got Cabin Fever!

This morning, the chicken watering vessels were torn apart and scattered across the floor, with extension cords barely attached.  The feeders were flipped over, feathers and dust lay everywhere, and on each little red face was a perfect expression of exasperation.  My chickens are in the grips of late winter Cabin Fever!

The turkeys with their long, scaly legs smash down the fresh snow each morning without a care, while the chickens glare at the rising snowdrift just outside their little door with their beady orange-rimmed eyes.  It’s just not fair.  Chickens weren’t made with long enough legs, and they’re not as immune to the cold as their knobby-necked neighbors.

The days are growing longer—but the progress is not fast enough for the chickens.  Each morning, they wait for me to open their door, hoping…hoping…hoping…  Nope, it’s still white out there.  Buggers.  These descendents of subtropical birds huff in disgust and fly up to their roots to grumble amongst themselves over their lot.

Meanwhile, I have those disassembled waterers to pick up, thaw under hot water, reassemble, and return filled with only a little grudging thanks as my reward.  Oh, well, the other reward might be a half frozen egg in the corner (if I’m lucky) or a clutch of warm ones beneath an armed and dangerous lady who puffs up three times her size as I draw near (if I dare). 

Being so cooped up with such fuss and feathers means the notorious dust produced by chickens has collected in the corners, on the cobwebs, and along fencing partitions in the coop until it dangles like Spanish Moss from the limbs of live oak trees.  So, to keep the ladies from thinking that they live in little more than a pig sty, today I brought out the shop-vac.

Yes, you know you’re on a farm run by women when they vacuum out the chicken coop!  Up on the ladder and armed with the black and red nozzled device, I was determined to conquer the dust, but the sudden varooooom sent the whole flock into convulsions of fear—pelting into corners or nesting boxes and staring with wide-eyed terror, their tails smashed flat against the back wall.  It’s a monster!  It’s going to pull off all my feathers!  The sky is falling!

But no, only the dust was falling, and after a while the ladies calmed their fears and watched my shop-vac antics with half amusement.  At least it was a bit of entertainment for the day, which was more than they had to occupy themselves with most wintery afternoons.  These days, even a chunk of suet gets boring.

Sometimes, as I approach the chicken coop in the morning, I can hear a tap-a-tap sound like an army of miniature hammers at the walls of the chicken coop.  Now in unison, now tapping askew of each other.  Are the chickens trying to escape—breaking down the walls of the Bastille?  I open the creaky door to find fluffy golden hens all in a row pecking heartily at the frost that has built up on the insides of the walls from the cold—frozen condensed chicken breath.  Only, to them, it seems more like chicken ice-cream.  Eventually, the peck indentations will circumference the coop, reaching as high as the feathery neck can stretch.

We have too many laying hens to house them all in one coop for the winter, so part of the crew holds over in our smaller hoop house, which stands close behind our home.  During the day, the solar energy keeps them warm as they luxuriate in their sauna dust baths—leaving the floor a virtual moonscape of miniature craters filled with lazy-eyed featherballs.  But the greenhouse has trouble staying warm at night, so I run a few heat lamps to give the ladies a break from the chill.

Dusk falls, and the high tunnel glows a soft golden-orange.  But wait, it’s now the chicken shadow show!  Our cat Pumpkin perches by the window, watching gargantuan black chicken shadows strut across the screen like an exotic paper puppet show.  Do the chickens know they are on parade?  Do the chickens notice their own shadows as well? 

And then the Silver-laced Wyandotte rooster starts crowing at 2:00 in the morning, and we wonder why we thought it was such a grand idea to keep the chickens so close to the house…

Admittedly, it was in part to help ease the burden of chores during the dark phase of the year.  While there are not as many chores to accomplish during the winter months as there is in the summertime, what chores are still necessary are often made harder by winter’s temperament.  The ground heaves and doors no longer want to shut or stay shut.  Water faucets freeze.  Paths must be either trounces or shoveled across the barnyard.  Door knobs and locks are coated with ice and won’t turn or unlock.  And a sudden thaw sends a chicken coop from being a nice, frozen pack of bedding to a veritable swamp in need of immediate cleaning.

But the ice is the worst.  I recall one day of slipping and sliding about with feed and water, chipping away ice from door sills and thawing out of the unplugged turkey waterer.  My hands were freezing, and my feet were numb.  The chickens huddled on their roosts as puffy balls of fluff without any toes to be seen.  Finally, I had my ice-cream bucket full of eggs, and I was heading back to the house!  Enough of this cold, I was ready to curl up by the wood stove and thaw myself out!  As I went teetering along the path down the gentle slope to our house, the ice had the last laugh. 

Falling can be something you don’t notice until it’s too late.  I remember looking up as my arms flew skyward, and there was the bucket going up…and up…and up…  The eggs were spreading outward like a multi-colored firework display in slow motions.  And then I hit the ice with a great bump on my rump and tried desperately to cover myself as the sounds of percussive splat-splat-splat pelted down all around me.

The poor ladies.  They would have surely read me the poultry riot act if they had known the fate of their day’s labors.  We took out our scoop shovels and cleaned up as much of the runny yellow mess as we could, much to the delight of the pigs (and the dogs, who cleaned up the rest quite happily).  It was a sore moment, in more ways than one.

But there was no falling on the ice today as I wrapped up the cord on the shop-vac and climbed down from the ladder.  A black-and-white rooster pranced for a hen, with one wing fanned and tail plumed.  A lady from her nest crooned softly and re-arranged the pile of eggs beneath her, while a second looked impatient for her turn to have a nesting spot.  Still, despite the return of normal chicken routine, I could sense the chicken cabin fever lurking beneath the surface.  I can only imagine that at night they dream of grass and slugs and the deliciousness of summer…for a chicken.

I just hope that they haven’t knocked over all their waterers again by morning.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.  northstarhomestead.com

 
 

New Year's Resolution

Almost everyone takes a moment at this time of year to commit themselves to personal improvement in the coming 12-month.  Many of the more traditional commitments are well known—losing weight, exercising more, quitting smoking, or spending more time with loved ones.  And if any of these are your goals, by all means go for them!  They are part of a cultural heritage that reaches back to the ancient Babylonians, who annually renewed vows to their gods that they would return borrowed items to their neighbors and pay off debts in the New Year.  During the Great Depression, statistics relate that about 25% of American residents made a New Year’s resolution, in 2000 that number was approximately 40%.

Yet, as I look outside across the snow-encrusted barnyard, I cannot help but muse over how a quintessential agrarian New Year’s resolution might appear.  Winter is an apt time for imaginative play, so enjoy the detour.

An Agrarian’s New Year’s Resolution

Dear New Year:

I resolve to finish most (well, at least many) of those projects I’ve always been meaning to get back to.  It’s not that I’m lazy…it’s just that there are so many of them!  To make an entire list would rival Santa Clause’s wishes from children, so instead I’ll focus on a particular project.

I resolve to finish stringing up the hog fences for summer paddocks.  I know I didn’t get it all the way finished, but then the ground froze, and I couldn’t dig any more post holes.  Come to think of it, that’s not quite accurate.  I couldn’t dig any more post holes because the auger attachment for my tractor’s three-point hitch broke off its tip, so there was no digging any further at that point.  …Well, that’s not really the end of the story, either New Year, because I did try to dig a few more by hand, which bent the post-hole digger’s blades.  But at least we got by.

So maybe my resolution really is to fix the post-hole auger.  Only, it’s not mine…it’s the  neighbor’s.  So, yes, it really should get fixed, which probably means that I need to take it over to my other neighbor who has a machine shop and welding gear and…  But wait, his shop is currently full because they’re rebuilding the engine on my tractor, which broke down this fall.  So I don’t want to slow that down because it’s our only tractor with a scoop on the front, and…

This is getting a long ways away from the pig pen.  Maybe I need a different New Year’s resolution.

Ok, how about this.  I resolve to have fewer weeds in my garden this year.  Yes, I know, we got off to a very good start this last year, but by August things were getting a bit ahead of themselves and…well…there’s still patches I didn’t get ripped out before the ground froze solid.  So, I’m sorry New Year, I’m not planning to go out there with charcoal and thaw things out just to weed quite yet, so we’ll get back to that in the spring.  I’m sure the weeds will still be patiently waiting for me.

The only problem with that, New Year, is that I have the early symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, which makes weeding and other forms of pulling, pinching, and ripping at times very painful.  So, what I really need is more folks around to help me get that job done instead of do more of it myself and consequently get myself checked into surgery sooner than I’d like.

So, New Year, maybe my resolution in this regard really is that I need to work harder at finding more interns to help us out on the farm this summer.  Eager, friendly, dedicated, and hard-working young folks who want to mentor in the methods and theory of sustainable agriculture.  New Year, if you know anyone like that, send them my way!

Ok, ok, ok, maybe I do need a better New Year’s resolution than that.  Maybe I need to look at the real root of the problem behind the last two ideas, a good, hard, honest look.

How about this—I really need to stop being so lazy.  Think of the time I’m wasting!  This getting up at 4:00 in the morning is silliness, what with milking and all.  If I got up at 3:00 instead, I’d have another whole hour to get things done!  Aha, that’s it, that’s my new resolution!

Sincerely,

Your Humble Steward

***

Maybe you’re hoping to clean out the garage, get a new roof on the shed, bring in more firewood for wintertime, or just learn how to say thank you more often—whatever your hopes for the coming year, I wish you all the best of success.  Take each day at a time, as a new gift, and find the good that lies in each opportunity.  Maybe fixing the post-hole auger is a moment to learn a few finer points to soldering and sharpening tools.  Maybe finding more folks to help out on the farm is a chance to engender learning opportunities that expand greater appreciation for the efforts behind growing and raising food.  And maybe getting up a little earlier to experience the summer sunrise will inspire our awe of the elegant beauty of nature.

As you ponder your New Year’s Resolution, light a candle in hope for the coming 12-month, make a wish for peace and contentment, and give thanks for the precious gifts we already share with one another.  A Happy New Year to you!  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.  northstarhomestead.com

 

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