A Cheese Is Coming, My Precious

The last livestock project that we have been learning about has to do with dairy. We could never use all of the milk that would come from a family cow, like a Jersey. At peak production they can give two or more gallons of milk per day! As we are not really milk drinkers, except for cream in our coffee or Zina’s occasional pancakes, it didn’t make much sense to pursue. I have been around cows a lot in my years and I must say that if a bovine were to take up residency here it would be for beef. That being said, however, we do eat a fair amount of cheese. Not mountains of course, but if you have been following along for any length of time, you know that if it is something we can make ourselves, that is what is going to happen. Our goats are little Nigerian Dwarf Goats. They are sweet, easy to handle, and have milk with a very high fat content. In their peak production we get between a quart and half a gallon a day per goat. So to insure that the babies get what they need, we never take them away from the mommas except at night. Over time the mothers will self wean. They can be milked for about 8 months and throughout that time the milk output begins to slowly decline. She gets to rest for a year and then can go again. It also allows us to only milk once a day instead of twice and avoids all the bottle feeding nonsense.

With the recent births from Ginger and Paprika, we have gotten into full milking swing. Yogurt will be happening soon and we have also made Chèvre (kind of a tart cream cheese). The next one to master is going to be Mozzarella. It is fairly simple to do and it is also the next one I thought was interesting in my cheese making book. Once I get that down, it will be on to the hard cheeses. The press arrived yesterday and now our little dairy operation is staffed, geared up, and making milk.

As with any new venture, there are always some pitfalls. The grumpy old farmer doesn’t always take those in stride. There are two things that can drive me to hysterics: techno – gizmos that think I need to be a computer nerd to make them work and unforeseen hassles where the solution isn’t readily available. Zina and I have both agreed that being raised by perfectionists have set the bars for success at unattainable heights. Ginger is producing a huge amount of milk, but Paprika is not producing much of anything and hates the whole milking process. Well….. why? Why are you doing this to ME!? Stupidity at it’s finest. Poor thing. So back once again to the Google gods to ask for the answers to all of life’s pressing questions.

Paprika is the lowest lady in the flock. She has always been something of a reject by the rest of the girls. Head-butting may look playful, but there is a real dominance, submission thing happening. Of all the flock, she was also the most slender and petite. In fact, we were never really sure that she was pregnant. We probably should have gotten a clue prior to breeding as she was always the one almost desperate to get the treats when we would feed them. She was hungry because she wasn’t getting her fair share of hay.

The Google gods informed us thusly: If a goat is too skinny and doesn’t have much in the way of fat reserves, she will have difficulty making milk. It can cause issues with calcium deficiencies and make it difficult to even make enough milk for her babies. BINGO! It seems that she simply doesn’t have the internal energy for production. With us trying to milk her, it was also depriving her baby of necessary nutrients (Poppy is doing fine, fortunately). So we have taken her out of the milking rotation and will be isolating her at feeding time to make sure she is getting enough to eat and try to fatten her up a bit. I may be a big, surly, grumpy, old dude, but I have a soft spot for the critters even when they piss me off to the point of a stroke. I will be going out to pet Paprika this evening, smooch on her and ask forgiveness of not seeing the signs sooner and, well, just being a dick. Animals are insanely forgiving. We could learn a great deal from them.

Paprika and the kids.

Perhaps if we breed her again after having gotten her the food she needs, things will be different. Next up for breeding, Cumin, Cinnamon and Clover…. Dozer is going to have SO much fun! P.S. The new electric milker is awesome!

Spring Is Actually Arriving!

Spring is actually coming. Of course we are expecting a snowstorm today, but it is the week here to start planting seedling in the basement grow room! Soon the big lights will be running and the new plants will begin their journey to the gardens. The annual garden grid is up and, of course, I do most of it in pencil because it always changes. This year we are moving all of the tomatoes (as usual) and the peppers, into the greenhouse. Some reading up on peppers indicated that they should do much better here under the cover of the greenhouse and the shade cloth. We usually have quite a large pepper harvest but the fruit always look like they fought a bit of a battle. It will be interesting to see if the protection and elevated humidity (versus none) help them out. One gardener said they saw a 500% increase. Doubt we will see that, but if the peppers are larger it would be fun.

But, before the hot weather plants go outside, the cool weather crops get to perform first. As we aren’t even to March yet, there are 3 months until our big plant in dates (usually around Memorial Day). Given the wild weather swings because we broke the Jet Stream, even if it looks like the temperatures are clear, buyer beware. Last year we put things out about 10 days too soon and we ended up scrambling with row covers to keep things from freezing to death before they even had a chance. In the next couple of weeks the Broccoli and Cauliflower and Spinach will get planted into the greenhouse. We still may need to use row covers (I have no doubt), but these three plants do pretty well in cold weather. Next up will be planting out onions and shallots, but that is still a ways off. Once it is time to plant in the peppers and tomatoes, the Broccoli and Cauliflower will be out and frozen and the same with the Spinach.

The newest addition to the main garden space will be the creation of a Blackberry hedge. This will be along the fence that Aaron and I put in last spring. There will be 24 bushes along the south side and will use the fence as a trellis. The irrigation will simply come from an extension of the hoses used to water the apple trees. More plowing, hole drilling, drip irrigation and composting will ensue. We should see those plants arrive sometime around the end of April. They come bare root, so initially they will go into pots and then, when the plot is ready, be planted in then.

In planning the garden we always have to assess what we actually need. If you have enough of something that you might never go through, why plant it, etc. I had planned on using one of our 50 foot beds to plant sweet corn. Out here that can be hit or miss, and we have a great source for sweet corn in Boulder. I have been doing the low carb thing lately so the sweet corn would likely just sit in the freezer and maybe end up getting fed to the chickens. So it was with that thought to feeding the animals that caused a shift in plans. Between that and the enormous potato harvest we had this past year, it was actually getting a little difficult to come up with enough plants to fill up all the beds. Enter the critters. American Guinea Hogs are walking scrap eaters. When we got them all the literature said how great they are as you can feed them on mostly grass and table scraps. Unfortunately, we are lacking in both so we have been feeding them store bought alfalfa pellets and pig feed. That isn ‘t too much of a problem but it is still having to turn dollars into pork. I read an article that talked about planting animal plots. They include vegetables that can be used by both humans and animals so nothing really gets wasted. While raw potatoes can be toxic to pigs, boiled ones are not. Pigs are natural rooters, so things like beets and turnips can be fed to them as well. This way we have ready potential pork to feed extra potatoes to and we can store both those and the beets and turnips I am going to plant in the corn bed, in burlap sacks. While this won’t eliminate the need for purchased feed, I can plant hundreds of root vegetables for a few bucks whereas pig feed is 15 bucks for a 50 pound sack. They will eat the roots, greens and all. Brilliant!

BIRDS EVERYWHERE!

Yesterday was the early spring cleaning of the chicken coops. This is probably the nastiest job on the farm. Unfortunately it is a job one can’t ignore if you grow food without fertilizer. Chicken crap is pure gold. It goes from chicken feed to eggs to poop to tomatoes (Both the humans and the pigs eat the eggs). We have never added commercial fertilizer of any kind to the beds since we bought the place. The animals make all we need. However, that cleaning job is a real butt buster. Not only is it simply no fun (it is after all just cleaning out an enormous bird cage) it is insanely dusty. In my case, and Zina’s too, being a bit asthmatic, that dust just locks up your lungs. As it is also quite a bit of exertion, the choice is made whether to inhale the dust and not be able to breath that night, or wear a bandana and pass out from lack of oxygen. It usually winds up being a combination of the two. Truly, if my locked up lungs last night are any indication of what a bad case of the Roney Virus is like, I am not going out into the world ever again.

However, the birds are all cleaned up, the new compost from it is over in the garden area waiting to be used, the coops smell nice again, and I like eggs and fresh chicken….. things could be worse.

As I had posted previously, we put an outdoor brooder in the barn this year. We did it because we were wanting to eliminate the need to have to start baby chicks in the house. They need to stay in a warm environment for about 4 weeks while they feather out and then they go out into a grow out coop before either going in with the flock or to the freezer camp resort hotel (You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave). We have 52 roasters coming next week (52 because that is where there is a price break). Of course, weather being unpredictable like it is now, we are expecting the first part of March to be too cold for them to be out in the new brooder (even with the heat lamps). We lost a bunch last year for the same reason….. live and learn. Soooooooo, back in the house comes the big tank, heat lamps, wood chips, and feed in anticipation of many small cheepers taking up residence in the basement. Fortunately though, after about 10 days to 2 weeks (instead of 4 weeks) we will be able to move them out to the new cage as they will be partially feathered and the lamps out there will be ample. The last week of a 4 week stint is pretty nasty. The whole house starts to smell like chickens and there gets to be a thin layer of dust settling over everything. This way shouldn’t be all bad. By the time they go out into the grow out pen, it will be April and they will have their adult feathers. Besides, you have never eaten chicken until you have had one raised right outside your door. This is a bit of a hassle (processing is a big job) but we never complain at dinner time.

THE GOATS HAVE EXPLODED!

We have posted about our new goat babies. I don’t think there are many animals as cute as baby goats. By now they are about 3 weeks and are hopping about playing dodge the donkeys. It is always so entertaining to see them learning howt to use their springy legs and seeing the wide open world under momma’s supervision. After 2 weeks the milking begins. This is Ginger’s second round of babies so milking her is pretty simple. Because she had 5 kids she is pretty full and I imagine having some of the milk removed in the morning is a welcome relief. That little lady is producing about 1/3 of a gallon in a morning! Momma Paprika is a completely different story. She is petite to begin with and doesn’t seem to understand this whole milking thing (“What are YOU DOING back there!!??”). To be fair, it is her first time, I am human, and neither one of us is known for our patience. When she doesn’t want to be touched she simply kicks at you and lays down. I pick her up by her tail, she kicks and lays down. Oh well, it will come around. But not all goats are great milkers by volume either. While Ginger has opened up the flood gates, Paprika is a bit of a trickle. As milking is why we have them, one needs to evaluate. I won’t breed her again (as we are only getting about a pint from her) so she might have a date with our local community sale barn to be sold as a pet (Nigerians are sweet little kid friendly buggers and Paprika is very cute).

The one thing that makes things a bit of a challenge while milking, is the way it is done. Me milking a little Nigerian Dwarf Goat by hand would be akin to Andre the Giant milking a Hummingbird. No way that is happening. The milker we had been using is a good one, but it was simply a hand pumped device. If you have a skittish goat like Paprika, all that additional pumping commotion doesn’t help matters. So, UPGRADE! We have gone all modern and got an electric milker that doesn’t require pumping. Once it is on and in place the little motor does the rest. The thing, of course, has a fitting name: The Udderly EZ milker. Yep…..

If I could convince Zina that we should have a Jersey Cow, it would work on her as well…….. but for the goats, especially when I am out in cold weather, this thing is awesome. So for those thinking I am some kind of Luddite, think again. This, plus the new filter for processing, is going to save me so much time. By the sound of the dogs barking their fool heads off as I write this, it sounds as though the new cheese press has arrived as well. Time to start making some righteous Cheddar.

So this was kind of a mish-mash of things. It is typically what happens as spring starts to appear. Last year at this time I was finishing the last of our raised beds and hail guards. This year, I am going to finishing our last needed fence. My goal, weather not withstanding, is to have that fence done by the end of March. The gas driven post pounder has come back repaired so, hopefully, I won’t be driving t-posts by hand like I did for the most recent pasture fencing. My shoulders can’t handle that impact much anymore and there are over 100 to do. So far this year I have thrashed my shoulders, popped my right knee again, broken the middle finger of my left hand and sprained the one on the right. I always thought that the old farmers in Iowa, hobbling around in their overalls, must be some really ancient old codgers who have been around the block a few times….. I really need to not look in the mirror. As POGO said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I are one. Maybe I just need a shiny new pair of overalls and I will be all fixed. Add some Bondo, a few bearing and U joint repairs and I’ll be all set to go. Or not. As my t-shirt says, “Everything will kill you so choose something fun”. Peace.

Phase One Of The JAZ Farm Oasis Project

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the next evolution of the farm is to work to regenerate the land and try to create something of an oasis in a sea of dry grass that is on it’s way, according to climate models, to becoming the Sahara. The first piece is putting in the necessary earth works. It will include swales and other water catchment systems as we progress, but the first piece is to allow for better rotational grazing of animals. It’s important to be able to move the grazing animals around so that any one pasture doesn’t get over grazed thus killing the vegetation that is there. Today I finished the new north pasture. I hand pounded 140 posts, drilled in and cemented in H braces and Corner braces and tied on and pulled 1750 feet of horse fence. Actually, I have a last 100 feet to do tomorrow but in essence, it’s done. Using portable fence netting we will be able to direct which paddock the animals have access to. Between the 4 pastures I figure we can block out 8 different paddocks thus rotating the goats, pigs, chickens and turkeys from field to field so they can graze and peck and actually help to heal the land. I do have one last humdinger of a fence to build so that in case of a possible escape by said creatures, they run into a back stop. It will also give the dogs about 4 acres of their own to run around on without us having to wonder where their dumb Lab butts ran off to. After having to pause to throw a bunch of hay into storage (about 60 bales – gasp), I will start on the second fence. The goal being to have all this infernal fence torture done by planting season (Memorial Day). After that, the fun jobs start…. I actually can’t wait for that. Being the gardener and Permaculturist will be so much more enjoyable than pulling galvanized steel fencing around (It weighs about a pound a foot and they come in 200 ft rolls). Pretty tired of construction, but it comes with the territory I guess.

Because Of Course She Did!

150 days ago we put two of our does in with our bucks because none of our goats were in milk. Ginger is always a willing participant but we didn’t know about Paprika as she has never been bred. Nigerian Dwarf Goats come into heat roughly monthly. Sometimes it is painfully obvious when that is, other times it is a bit of a mystery. Paprika never really showed. Ginger…. well, ya know….. So to make sure one has the best chance of a pregnancy the bucks and does go together in breeding pens for 2 months, or until seen engaged. Paprika had a most diligent and dedicated buck (Tank), but it was never clear that she was willing…. kinda thought she was a Nun. Ginger…. well, it must have happened the day we put them together. Gestation is roughly 150 days. Yesterday was day 152. It also appears that Paprika is due as well, but as she is pretty petite, she isn’t showing as much as we have seen with previous does.

Ginger…. my god she was HUGE! About a month ago we started calling her Mother Waddles. Someone blew her up like a balloon! This past week we were very aware of the tell tale signs of impending birth. We don’t need to go into it all but she was set to pop!

Yesterday (Saturday thank goodness!) I was making breakfast for me and the human doe while she was out doing chores. I get a text from the barn, “She did it!!! 4!!!! OMG! Four babies. Twins and triplets are pretty common but 4! All I could think was, there are only two faucets on a momma, a couple of these are going to have to come in the house and be bottle fed. 10 weeks! Aaaaaggggghhhhh! We only keep females now as 2 bucks is almost 2 too many. So there was that to contend with. Evidently, Dozer (the buck) was a very good aim!!

So as one does in these farm-life circumstances, I threw on the overalls and muck shoes and off I went to see the happenings. Zina has come in the house a couple of times but I should have brought a cot with me for her. This is the first time she has been around for the immediate doings. In fact, when I got out there they were only minutes old and still being licked off by Ginger (She is an awesome momma).

So while we were observing all the doings of nature and watching momma do her thing and Zina help towel them off (It is winter after all), we came upon another wrinkle. What we thought was just the usual gooey birth stuff turned out to be another baby! QUINTS!!! Unfortnately, this little pup was still born. Good lord! Ginger only weighs about 60 pounds and she had 5!!!!!!!! Babies!!! No wonder she was Mother Waddles!! She was packed about as tight as a little momma goat could be. 5!!!!! She deserves a medal!!

In the photo above you can see Ginger, Zina the midwife, and the 4 that made it. Now here is some farm stuff. Nigerian Dwarf Goats are the sweetest things around, especially the does. Bucks? Well, they are sweet and the father of this litter is quite the gentleman and one of my favorites here on the farm, but when they are in the rut (Breeding season) they are doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They turn into absolute alien entities. If you have raised a teenage son, just amplify that by about 10X. It is the most ridiculous and stinky thing you can imagine. As they say, “Any port in a storm.” They get absolutely insane. So with that bit of background here is what we had: 5 total births, 1 still born (down to 4), 1 buck (no way we are having more bucks, so down to 3), 3 does (one full size, one a bit smaller, and one that almost looked a bit deformed – after all they were packed two to a bunk in there). So we were hopeful that two would make it and we didn’t hold out much hope for the little Chamois colored one. Yesterday was goat watch from dawn to past dusk. It is really important that the babies start nursing within about 6 hours. The first milk from the momma is called Colostrum. It has all sorts of goodies in it to help jump start immune systems, probiotics, vitamins, etc., to get the young-ns off to a good start.

Two of the babies are black with white spots. One is a bit larger, but both seem to be fine. The little Chamois baby couldn’t hold her head up and seemingly couldn’t figure out how to lay down. She spent several nap periods sleeping while standing up. I spent a few sessions trying to introduce her to the milk stations and it only worked if I helped her. She also wouldn’t take a bottle. As this was concerning, we had to decide whether or not to bring her indoors and start the whole bottle baby thing. We didn’t really want goats that weren’t productive and it seemed likely that she might have a tough life, so we decided to just let nature take it’s course. Off to bed and see what happens in the morning.

This morning, Zina went out to check on things. Low and behold, the little poop made it through the night and was actually nursing. She definitely has some issues, but it may go away as she unfolds a bit from such cramped quarters. She was up and nursing. The remarkable part to watch was goat motherhood. Ginger evidently knew her baby was having issues and was nuzzling her back to the milk shop. It will be a few days until we know if she is out of the woods, but this has been a very cool experience. Last night even the other two siblings were licking her and talking to her and helping her get through things. We could learn a lot from the critters just here on the farm. So now, in about a month, we expect Paprika to deliver as well….. hopefully not quints! It is doubtful as she just isn’t that robust! As we know when Cumin, Cinnamon and Clover come into heat, we will likely be breeding them around Valentine’s Day. For 2 weeks Dozer will get a Harem! Stay tuned.

The New JAZ Farm Oasis Project (The Re-Greening of Part of the Prairie)

Every year, it seems, there is another addition to the farm. Another task arises because of a discovery or an adaptation to surroundings and events. Of course, 2020 was a spectacular shit show for so many people. It put many in danger and it exposed how completely inept people are at governance. It also showed how resistant folks can be to being resilient in the face of adversity and change. My whole life has been something of a fight. This hasn’t been difficult. In fact, I found it pretty interesting. I will post a bit more about how it all affected me in a different post, but suffice it to say that I have been affirmed in all that we do and all that we’ve done to get to this point in our JAZ Farm life. Last year tested the farm and her inhabitants’ mettle. From a major power outage around this time last year, to coming home from school and work and having to work and study at home, to a farmer man who tried to keep all these cats herded when it affected the returnees pretty badly for awhile (Perhaps a more precise phrase would be “disoriented them for awhile.). A crisis will expose the cracks in one’s character pretty explicitly and ours were no different. However, We are all here. We are all still alive. We are all much smarter for the experience; and I must say that if this Bat Bug were to go away, my life wouldn’t change much. We are so fortunate to have had foresight into the fragility of our society – from a medical stand point, a failed economic standpoint, and from an environmental one as well. We were able to not only feed ourselves, but carry on with our lives and also provide for some time down the road (which by the looks of things will be needed). The JAZ Farm homestead and farm did it’s job and we know that we can continue on pretty much indefinitely if we keep on tweaking the issues we find simply from the experience of living it.

The Bat Bug and Economic crisis not withstanding (which we have yet to fully experience), one of the real lessons learned, which is becoming more and more urgent here, is the use of water and how to acquire it. As well as the fires in California, thousands of acres burned here in Colorado this year because of a most severe drought (which continues currently and, of which, climate models show could turn much of the Southwest and Mid-West into a Sahara). This was particularly sad because most of the fire damage was in my old backcountry stomping grounds when I was still able to be a modern Jeremiah Johnson. The devastation is unreal. It will be decades before those scars (if they ever will be – we could see it again this summer) can be healed. We had almost no snow this past winter, virtually no rain this past summer (which included the first recorded “Haboob” dust storm in Colorado and decided to go straight through our place) and so far this winter has only seen dustings of snow. Every footstep here makes a dust poof and larger winds now brown the skies out because of the bare dry topsoil blowing away. All this means that industrial farmers will have to pump more and more water from the aquifers and with all the new homes going up in Colorado, wells are now having to be dug down to 900 feet. On top of the drought, the heat has been climbing with 2020 being the hottest year on record and I mean to tell you, weeks at a time in heat north of 100 degrees F is no picnic if you are out every day trying to keep your food source (garden) productive. As I read in one of my desert agriculture books, a farmer in New Mexico said, “The rain is dying”.

The cloud in this picture is all smoke coming from the fire in and around Rocky Mountain National Park.

So that is where the title for this posting came from. The Corona crisis instilled it even further for me. It is a realistic understanding and a coming to grips with the fact that all has changed permanently. Nothing is ever going to “go back to normal” so that everyone can continue on with Walmart TV’s and plastic crap, consuming as though it was the only real reason to exist. You either adapt or you suffer and I pity those (which seem to be most) who cannot see it, will not see it, or choose to ignore it. Mother Earth is in charge and I think that only those involved with trying to heal her have any hope for longevity (Understanding full well that it might be way too late). The world is in hospice and living with a species with no Erete (Greek for Virtue) or Wisdom, seems pretty much destined to continue to become an orbiting cinder. Now some may agree with this idea or not, but despite it all, one needs to live. Evidently, the energy vibrating this dream state into existence seems to have me be doing this farm project to the exclusion of much else. So that is what I do. In the end, it might all end up being but one scene in a cosmic play, but if that is what I have to do that is what I have to do. I guess I will continue on until all of me is used up. At least I will be able to say unequivocally, that I tried. That might not matter either, but it gets me up in the morning when not much else can.

So the wake up of 2020 had to do with awakening to the desert dogging my heels (as Derrick Jensen said). According to many, many desert dwellers I have researched and read about, it is all about basically two things: Earthworks (the shaping of the land being used) and, of course, water. The earthworks are designed to slow down water flow and keep it on the property in useful form for as long as possible. Every drop of water should be caught as high up on the property as possible (in our case mostly roofs), diverted to the growing areas and then infused into the soil through the use of swales and waffle pattern gardens all using mulch, cover crops, trees and grasses to hold the water in place. Catching the water involves plumbing. This means water catchment systems to hold water until needed that come off of the roofs of the Garage, Barn and House, as well as the horse run-in shed that will be built in the future. All of this gets plumbed to ponds, large water barrels, as well as simply into the swales where the actual vegetation is planted. Through a combination of earthworks, water catchment, proper “guilding” of plant groups to utilize the shade from trees and bushes and the water retention of leafy ground cover, a veritable “Food Forest” to coin a Permaculture term can be built in a semi-arid climate. By using perennial plants as much as possible, as long as moisture can be used efficiently, the land can be healed not only to produce food for the homestead inhabitants, it will also create habitat for the non-human species that are being displaced as we continue to destroy our only living planet. So if the universe is saying that this is the rock that I must break myself upon…. at least I’m not in Bermuda Shorts on an electric tricycle at some human Romper Room or wearing a pink polo shirt with Khaki’s riding around on a golf cart while white pebble smacking myself into oblivion. In other words, trying not to add to the problem, even if there is no real fix. You have to draw your line in the sand somewhere and mine is in real sand. The picture posted at the beginning of this blog is the area where we will be working. This is just east of the conventional vegetable garden and greenhouse and on the south side of the house. It is a bit over an acre, dry as a popcorn fart, and has the perfect slight slope to aid in water flow. As this is now the Permaculture/Regenerative Agriculture part of the endeavor and we are pretty self-sufficient in most other respects, this will be the painting I hope to create on the canvas that all of the other farm structure building created. It is now time to be able to do what I was born for – biology, husbandry, growth, and being in nature – even if I have to get her to accept the invitation. Trust me when I tell all you easterners, you gotta really turn on the charm to get anything to grow here. Mother Nature needs to be enticed. I gotta be on my best flirtatious behavior otherwise all we will have is weeds and thorns. The ultimate ambition is to go from hell-scape to Oasis, then sit and watch the bees. While not knowing the future of course, this is likely to be the last project of my life. I say that because there is literally no end to it and as I see it, there is no other real reason for me to do anything else. I could spend all my time hand wringing about the collective insanity that everyone sees on those infernal techno-devices, but, in the end, what does that actually accomplish other than allowing sociopaths to invade your psyche and ultimately your peace and your life? Go do something. Don’t let them steal your life. You see, JK Rowling knew this: Dementors exist and they will steal your soul.

The next lesson that was learned had to do with proper land management; the positive and negative effects of grazing livestock. Our donkeys and female goats have about a 3 acre pasture to roam around on and munch on. The goats love to go after the weeds and the donkeys are primarily grass eaters. So it makes for a good combination. Over the past few years that worked out fine. They would keep the field from being overgrown and the prairie plants and weeds would come back strong in the spring. This past year that was not the case. The pasture went brown almost immediately in the spring. Donkeys and goats graze virtually all day. The result this past summer was a pasture that was grazed down practically to dirt. In a regenerative model this is pretty bad. For instance, the roots of grass only go as deep as the plant is tall. If it is grazed down to a nub the plant gets very weak and, in many cases, can’t recover. I fear that this is the case here. Because we don’t have a huge flock of critters out there it didn’t seem that it would be an issue. Then of course, we plunged into drought and smoke filled skies and voila….. something new to deal with. What we need to do is to be able to “rotationally graze” the animals (Oh ya, our boy goats have another pasture that was originally our old vegetable garden – about an acre or acre and a half – and it is on it’s way as well). Rotational grazing means only allowing the animals onto single divided paddocks and then moving them to other paddocks so the previous ones can grow back. The animals graze and poop. They are often followed by poultry that scratches the poop about, and the paddock provides food and fertilization thus helping to improve the overall health of the land.

I am afraid that this year, that whole pasture is going to have to be reseeded in order for it to not become a thistle field. That means buying seed, borrowing a friend’s seeder and then keeping the animals off of the pasture for most of next summer. There-in lies the rub. We don’t have another pasture to run them on. We have plenty of land to accommodate them, but not the fencing to hold them. Sooooooooooo, this winter’s project (again) has been, you guessed it, fencing. I have set to task of fencing in another 4 acre pasture on our north field. It will look really cool when completed and provide all sorts of room for grazing (It won’t have a barn in the middle of it.). But it is still 1500 feet of wooden posts, metal T-posts, H and Corner Braces, fence pulling, blisters, exhaustion, and yes…. cussing the likes of which navy sailors haven’t heard. Of course I am having to hand pound the posts in because the fancy gas powered pounder I got for Christmas destroyed itself after 6 posts. So it remains to be seen if I get the rest of the posts in before it gets back from whence it came for repairs. I make really nice fences but I can’t say there is anything more that I hate doing. It is painful, time consuming drudgery…. and yes, it is all apart of that whole “This seems to be what the universe is telling me to do” rot. So fences be going up. I am now just seeing it as part of the whole Oasis project. The fences need to exist so the land can stop being degraded. But damn does it hurt.

Check out the dry dusty ground in front of the posts….. this is January.

There it is. Discovery and necessity become the mother of construction. Improvise, adapt, overcome and even when you think you will wind up in a wheelchair, revel in the accomplishments and don’t be afraid to feel proud. I think we will name this the Sam Todaro memorial fence. Zina’s dad passed on this last week just while I was getting the fence project underway. We will miss you Sam…. the old Sicilian farmer would have loved this place. “That Jonathan…..”

Let the last great project of my life commence. If anything, I don’t have to go to the city – Too much to do, too many idiots. I think I am quite ready for the painting to finally begin. Nothing could be any weirder than 2020 right? 2021 said, “Oh ya….. hold my beer.”

Go plant something.

Happy 8th Anniversary!

It’s a few days late, but as of December 4th, JAZ Farm turned 8 years old! Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but it was pretty fortuitous to have spent all of these years building our Shire here on the high eastern plains. Given the disease of the undercooked bat, we have been so fortunate to have our place and be able to really live pretty much unchanged from normal. Personally, my life hasn’t changed much. Before the Bat Bug I was here full time anyway, usually venturing off the farm simply to get groceries, animal feed and construction items. As with so many people, Zina and Aaron have been here as well, since about March. This has been something of an adjustment. Zina was used to at least having her co-workers and professional organizations to satisfy her more social needs (something I don’t really suffer from), but after a rough patch, everyone is pretty well settled in. Aaron still takes his engineering classes on line and mostly just disappears into cyber-world for his entertainment. I have, however, had him out working on my small engines and generators, and that has given him some hands on experience. After all, a Mechanical Engineer ought to have at least been introduced to a carburetor even if they don’t much use them anymore. Farmer Jon is Doby the house elf. I cook and repair and shop for the bits of food we need and generally keep the place running while the two new full time residents stare at their screens for work and school. We have found that we are really pretty self-sufficient for food. Most of the food stuffs we need to shop for are things like beverages snacks and lunch meat. Most everything else is ordered in bulk or grown here. Because we are transitioning to breeding our own pigs we got low on pork. To make up for the shortfall we ordered a quarter steer from a ranch near here. While the world freaked about wiping their behinds, we stocked up on tons of animal feed and hay so that we have a cushion. After all, they will keep feeding us if we feed and care for them.

The Animals:

Because of the lockdowns this year, as well as simply a fear of going out, there have been many shortages of things we homesteaders have taken for granted over the years. The biggest shortage has been canning supplies; lids and quart jars in particular. Fortunately, we have quite a stock of both because we have been at it for so many years. But, unlike the newbie gardener wannabes, we have been getting out ahead of things for years. The motto, “Two is one and one is none” is something we tend to follow for most everything. As with this past spring, seeds were also in short supply, so mid-summer I ordered all of my seeds that I will need for spring of 2021 to avoid shortages (plus, we save as many of our own seeds as we can)

Chicks! Whodah thunk there would be a shortage of CHICKS! We usually order a passel of meat chicks each year to raise up and put in the freezer. This year we waited MONTHS to get them. Thank goodness we hatch most of our own (both chickens and turkeys). So this year I have an order in for over 50 of them. They are due in the first week off March of 2021. We had some issues with our meat birds this year including, heat, a different breed that didn’t seem to be suited for altitude, and some health problems. We also raise stewing hens, and we had hatched 20 of them. Unfortunately when we put them out into the grow out coop, a skunk discovered them and had a smorgasbord. By the time we got it trapped, it had killed 8 of them. That problem will be remedied by next spring. Our other coops are fortresses, so I need to dig a trench and get the sub-surface concrete put down to prevent burrowing.

As if we didn’t have enough bird cages, we got sick of brooding out the chicks in the house and in a cattle watering tank. It is dusty, smelly and awkward. Because we raise so many chickens, we decided to dedicate some space in the barn for an enclosed, walk-in brooder. I ordered some construction site fencing panels, laid down some rubber stall mats and walled it all off with OSB panels. This thing could easily brood out 200 birds, but the best feature is the ability to clean it easily, not have to get on one’s knees in the water tank to clean it, and just generally create a more efficient environment.

Pigs:

One change we made had do with the pigs. Heritage (traditional) pigs can grow to be enormous animals. Many that we have taken to the processor have weighed over 400 pounds. Most are very friendly, but they are immensely strong and even if they don’t intend to hurt you, they can without even knowing they did it. So with that in mind we discovered American Guinea Hogs. Guineas were actually the pig of choice in the early Appalachian homesteads of the 1800’s. They eat mostly grass, fatten up pretty easily, are docile like dogs, and don’t get to be as big as the traditional Iowa hogs that folks are used to seeing at the State Fair. We are now raising up three and are on the list for a couple of more from a breeder in Colorado Springs. If this works well, just like our chickens producing breakfast every day, these little guys will keep us in bacon and ham. We have 2 males (Pedro and Pablo Pigcasso) and a female (Petunia). They are just now getting to breeding age so we have been building a farrowing pen in the anticipation of little squeakers.

Goats:

We just got done getting the dairy running again. We bred two of our girls to Tank and Dozer – the bucks. We are certain that one is pregnant as she has turned into mother waddles. The other, Paprika, we don’t know yet. She wasn’t really thrilled with spending a couple of months with Tank. She would have had to have gone through 2 cycles and Tank, shall we say, is very devoted to his purpose in life, so it seems unlikely that she wouldn’t be pregnant but she isn’t shown nearly has obviously as Ginger. Both should be due in February or March so we will see. At that same time in the spring we will breed the other 3. This way we will have milk, yogurt and cheese all through 2021. Goats will try every inch of your patience, but they are very sweet and just riot to watch. They have grown on me and I really enjoy having them around.

The donkeys:

The two Gurus of the farm continue to simply live in the moment. Give them hay, treats and petting and they are as content as they can be. Donovan honks at us around sunrise as if to tell us that we are slacking off and not feeding him on the schedule that HE thinks we should be on. I am working on fencing in another 3 acres of pasture though. Those guys graze all day…. every day. We have been in a severe drought and they actually ate their current pasture down to the nubs. We don’t have haying equipment (very expensive). So in order to feed them fresh pasture we decided that we should fence in another section of grass and bring THEM to IT! It is another huge job, but once done, I can do some proper rotational grazing to help take some of the pressure off of the land. A friend has a ground powered seeder, so I may borrow it next year to reseed the original pasture to heal it back up. Being able to move them around will also help save some on hay expenses. If this drought continues, hay will be hard to come by and be expensive. The goats, donkeys, pigs, and sometimes the chickens all eat it, so staying stocked is important.

The Gardens:

Despite the drought, our gardens lost their minds this past summer. We harvested so many potatoes that I am still processing them. It is December and I have yet to get the carrots in. Our new Asparagus patch did very well in getting established and I am looking to a light harvest next spring. Because of the canning supply shortage, I bought a second dehydrator and went to town. We have dozens of half gallon ball jars just filled with produce (In addition to all the canning we have done). The freezers are full as well. Growing food is something I do well.

It is a challenge to grow greens in our environment. The heat makes everything bolt. I ran across a book that described a system of growing greens indoors year round. That is my latest project so that we can eliminate the need to have to buy them in the stores. Mine won’t have eColi!

In addition to all of the issues that we have faced because of the saga of 2020 was a wildfire season for the record books. California usually gets all the press, but it saddened me to no end to watch my old mountain stomping grounds go up in flames. I have hiked all over the Northern Rockies and lived for a time up where the fires have now devastated. We live about 2 hours from there now but the massive smoke plumes still managed to cause some pretty awful breathing issues and very smokey skies. Climate Change is devastating the west with fire and drought. Hurricanes seem to be sexier and happen where more people seem to be living, but forest fires are an experience. We have been in our fair share and hope that we see some moisture sometime in the not too distant future. It has really put a burr in my saddle to get the swales and ponds dug and the water catchment system up and functional. If we are going to see more anniversaries here, water management needs to be the cornerstone of what we do here. A mini-dust bowl is already here. We need to get the core of the permaculture forests done so that we can help tie the dirt down and not have to go through too many more of these awful dust storms.

Smoke

So I posted this blog just to celebrate the 8th anniversary of the farm and how admirably it has performed for us during this ridiculous year. I am officially declaring homesteaders and preppers off limits for ridicule. Ya’ll are all trying to become us now. Learn from those who have gone before you. This is going to do nothing but get worse. The escaped virus might be brought under control at some point, but the economic depression is just starting. While there is time, get out and get stocked up. I wish I could tell myself that I am over-reacting, but the signs simply don’t lend themselves to that. It is one thing to make sure you can wipe your butt, it is entirely another to ensure that you have food, especially if the supply lines continue to fail. I held off here on the absolute rant that I wanted to include in this…. we’ll save it for another time. Happy Anniversary JAZ Farm, ya done us proud.

Man Cave During The Pandemic

I imagine that everyone is dealing with life changes during the “Pandemic”. Watching the panic buying, the stocking up of everything, including guns and ammo, has to be taking it’s toll on folks… especially if you live in an urban area.

Out here, things are a bit different. Sure we have a closet full of beer and pretzels for long term food storage and my BB gun ammo chest is full, but it can’t be anywhere near the fear that suburbanites are feeling right now.

Our issue is simply living, in spite the wider society’s psychosis. We are well stocked. Much of our food is still on the foot and hoof. The issue here is simply admission. What do I mean? Admission is an understanding of the dire situation in which we find ourselves. It is the idea that most of the rest of the country has lost it’s mind and that we need to defend against just such mental illness. I am sure that those with young folks having to go to school on-line and are wondering how work will play itself out, is beyond crazy making. I am in no way trying to belittle that point.

What I am saying, is that it didn’t have to be this way. Had we locked down hard, like eastern countries, and not been so infantile to think that a global pandemic was somehow an impediment to our freedumbs, we could have been well past this by now (witness New Zealand).

What I am referring to is the west’s infantile notion of rights and freedumbs. More to the point, the severe and catastrophic mental health issues we will need to deal with because of a world view destroyed. We introverts are weathering this storm very handily. Personally, I am overjoyed that I can use this crisis as a way to make friends and family keep their distance. BUT! For those who have been raised their entire lives to be social and extra-social beings, I am empathetic to the fact that your level of suffering could be monumental. To that end, I wish you all my best.

However, in this situation, life is a bit different. For many years now, I have been pretty much isolated (very well appreciated as I am the quintessential introvert). I LOVE my family, but as a result of the pandemic, I am now in a house with 2 other people and those 2 other people have their own agenda and it DOES NOT include playing Grandma Walton with me. One works full time and the other is a college student taking pandemic classes on line.

So what I have been doing is creating a campground at the far end of the property. I didn’t want to spend the money on building a new cabin out back. We have had this 5th Wheel since 1999. It has served us well on many an adventure. However, it doesn’t seem likely that we will really ever take it out on the road again. After all, farmers don’t really get vacations. So a few weeks back, I pulled it out to the back end of the property. The intension is now to create a campsite on the property where we can go to relax. I will be building a deck on the tree side and a Chiminea for evening campfires. It’s whole purpose is simply to cut the cord on occasion and detach from the world. I truly believe that happiness comes from building a life you don’t need to escape from. While this life is tough, and homesteading can drop you to your knees, I firmly believe that the urbanites have it far worse. We feel very fortunate, not from some blessings from a false god, but from foresight and a lot of determination. JAZFarm is performing admirably. Stay tough ya’ll. This ain’t going away any time soon.

Stay safe. Don’t be stupid. Think about someone other than yourselves for maybe the first time in your lives. Nothing is ever going back to normal. You can either let the corporatists dictate what the new normal is, or you can define it for yourselves. Personally, I know where I stand.

Homesteading Is Tasty, m’Kay?

So mini-winter is but a memory. This week and next temperatures will all be up around 90 degrees with no moisture in sight. Working outside today was like working around a camp fire. There is yet another fire, this time up in Wyoming north of where I used to live. It is about 14,000 acres and it seems that a good chunk of the smoke made it’s way here. The air quality is quite bad and for we asthmatics, that limits outdoor time. But, while mini-winter was a very strange blip in the weather world, we are now back to getting the gardens harvested and processed at a more reasonable pace.

Probably the most back breaking task involved with gardening is harvesting potatoes. There is no real easy way to go about it, so down on your hands and knees you go trying to dig them up without skewering them in the process. This is not a perfect science, so any potato that got poked scraped or sliced will get canned or dehydrated as they don’t store well with wounds. Zina did the hand digging part and I followed behind her with a shovel to dig down deeper and seek out the stragglers. It worked out pretty well. The trench I dug needs to be done anyway in order to plant next spring. Once done we will line the ditch with peat moss and composted chicken manure and we will be ready to go in 2021. I have always ordered our seed stock; I am currently investigating the best way to store our own for next year as we might be facing the same over-demand for them that we had this year. Worse, I fear. Fortunately, our previous predictions about the yield are proving true. We have gotten through 1/4 of the planted rows and we are already over 100 lbs. This means we have recouped the seed potatoes by weight and are 50 lbs. to the good. The total should be in the ball park of 400 lbs. So if one is looking to stock a pantry, not only to make sure bellies stay filled, but to also have things that taste good, our main preserved staples should do the trick. We still have yet to check out the sweet potatoes, but I fear that that will be our lost crop due to the freak snow.

It seems that from the core of our food stuffs, Green Beans, Corn (from a local organic grower) Onions, Garlic, Canned Tomatoes, Carrots, Potatoes, Peppers, Celery, Sauerkraut and Pickles, we should be able to keep the eating interesting. This will all go along with our Eggs, Turkey, Chicken, Pork, and the Beef that will be arriving in about a month. I am pretty sure we will have at least one pregnant goat, possibly two by November, with three more set to go in the spring. This will keep us in milk, yogurt and cheese. We will also be growing all of our own lettuce during the winter in our basement growing facilities.

So folks, it might not be on this kind of scale, but it can be done. Just be creative. “Oh Jon, you are just bragging.” Well, after all of the work over the last almost 8 years, you bet your ass I am bragging. I am (We are) as proud as we have ever been about anything. And, more bragging, we were right about it all. Makes you angry? Move along. This one is ours to puff up over. Also folks, jealousy (and I am talking to specific folks who have said this), doesn’t accomplish anything. We have never had any real consistent offers of help that have actually panned out (which is a typical refrain among small scale farmers). Mom did help and a couple others very sporadically and we did higher a part time farm hand, but as luck would have it, she crunched herself up in a car wreck. Guys, once you get the hang of it, it really isn’t that tough. Plus! You get exercise. Digging that trench is as aerobic as pretty much anything, unless you are a runner. Given that my legs are pretty deteriorated, using my upper body to dig with works out pretty well for me. All that lacks, in most cases, like setting any goal, is vision and desire.

So from my family to yours, stock up, stay awake, and become as self-sufficient as possible.

All that green has yet to be harvested.

Mucho spuds.

Cuz It All Happens At Once

I had mentioned at the close of last year that it felt like the Twenty Teens was going to be the last normal decade that we humans, in this set of living arrangements we call civilization, would have. Whodah thunk that all the crap would be crammed into the very next year!

In addition to all of the bat bug issues, the greatest depression ever experienced, and a populace that seems hell bent on experiencing the horrors that accompany shooting fellow citizens, we here in Colorado and huge swathes of the west are on fire. My favorite places in the world up north of us are burning. East of our property in Montana burned 8000 acres and none of it looks to be abating any time soon. So we are enduring smokey air, burning eyes, heavy breathing and the most amazing skies ever. Even during straight up noon the skies are hazy and the air glows yellow and orange. Sunrises and sunsets are blood red and we still keep breaking heat records. Over 90% of Colorado is in a moderate to severe drought. Fort Collins, a town north of us about 90 minutes has begun water restrictions. How much more adventure can people take? I guess we are set to find out.

So then the big surprise happened. Because of a broken Jet Stream due to irreversible and abrupt climate change, we experienced a temperature swing that tied an old record. We also broke the record for the number of consecutive days above 90 degrees (76). Then, because of this vortex coming down from the Arctic, we experienced over a 60 degree temperature swing between September 8th and 9th. During the day it was in the high nineties. That night it plunged to 37. The next day it snowed 4 inches with the mountains getting over a foot and half. Fortunately, because it had been so hot, the snow melted right off, however, it was a this year’s garden killer.

The next couple of days saw highs in the 40’s. Knowing this was coming set us into a harvesting frenzy. We picked and brought in anything and everything we could from the garden. The greenhouse fared pretty well and a great deal of it was already done for the season, but BEANS, tons and tons of BEANS!! Peppers! Eggplant! Celery! Cabbages! Tomatoes! Cucumbers! Carrots! Bushels and bushels of things. The kitchen was stacked with buckets. We looked at it and realized just what a processing job was ahead of us. We canned close to 100 quarts of green beans, 26 pints of carrots, made over 40 lbs. of Sauerkraut, put cucumbers in the pickling crocks, canned Tomato Salsa, pickled Jalapeños, Green Tomato Salsa, Pasta Sauce, Diced Tomatoes, Canned Carrots and dehydrated mountains of various peppers and eggplant. It’s a good thing that we have been canning for years. We have lots of canning supplies. Because of the surge in gardening this year because of the stay at home orders, canning supplies are pretty scarce. Had we been in that boat, we would have had lots of wasted produce.

Another homestead staple that has been in short supply are baby chicks from the hatcheries. We hatch our own Turkeys, Layer Hens and Stewing Chickens, but because the fast growing meat chickens are a cross, they can’t be bred. Usually we can get them in a month. We got skunked this year and after placing an order for 40 from a second choice breeder, we finally got them the first week of September. Since building our barn, we have been able to brood them out to being fully feathered out there under heat lamps. It was a relief because we had been doing it in our basement which made things stinky and dusty. But, of course, with the onset of this storm, we didn’t take the chance of having 40 chicken nugget popsicles so back into the basement they came. As of today though, they are outside doing fine. After this stooooopid 2 days of winter in the first 10 days of SEPTEMBER (Save me the platitudes about “Ah well that’s Colorado” – no it isn’t. The last time this happened was 20 years ago.). it is back up to 90 and looks to stay that way until October. We done screwed up our environment.

So the delay in putting up more posts here was because we had been running the canners non-stop for a week after the scramble to get it all in, disconnecting watering systems, taking down shade covers and making sure the critters were all hunkered in. Everything looks good again, in fact a lot of the garden survived. Our big loss looks to be the sweet potatoes. They were in one of our new big beds, and they just can’t handle cold. We covered our Habanero peppers as the are the last to ripen of all the peppers. They look like they might have survived….. time will tell. 2020, the year they let the freaks out to run the show. I’m afraid 2021 will be the deeper, darker, sequel. So if you are still not prepping up for potential food supply disruptions, dahell is wrong with you? Quit reading this and go get stuff. This doesn’t look to be getting any better any time soon…. if ever.

Homestead Sex

It is fall and breeding has commenced. In order to have a dairy, small or large, babies have to be made. In order to raise pork without having to buy babies from somewhere else, breeding has to happen. In order to maintain a healthy flock of chickens for meat and eggs, babies have to be made. This past week we put our lady goats in with the gentlemen. I must say, while bucks are the horniest things on 4 legs, they have been remarkably chivalrous with their girls. Sometimes it is difficult to determine when a doe is in heat. Nigerians come into their cycle monthly, but sometimes it is hard to determine when. Sooooooo, to solve that problem, the girls and boys get put together for 2 months. This pretty much ensures that at some point they will get it right.

On the other hand, it is pretty wise to put the bucks with the does well a part from each other. A couple of years back we put a doe and one of the bucks together and left the other buck out of the fun. Had we not had a chain link fence between them somebody would have gotten hurt. The outrage was impressive

Tank and Paprika
Dozer and Ginger

Last year we acquired a threesome of American Guinea hogs. They are smaller than the pigs you see going to the factory farms. They can also survive virtually on nothing but vegetable scraps and grass. They are now of age, but we have yet to see any signs of romantic flirtation. It isn’t that it might not have happened because we can’t watch every hour either. We will likely wake up later this year to a bunch of piglets hopping around.

Here is Petuia (on the right) and Pablo Pigcasso on the left, lounging in the mud looking cute. These are as friendly as dogs. They can’t get enough of tummy rubs.

And lastly, of course we are always hatching chickens and turkeys. In a month or so the 2020 turkey flock will go to freezer camp. These below are Jersey Giants (chickens). We use these for stew and crock pot meat. In 2 days we are expecting 40 Cornish Crosses. They are the larger meat chickens and will be raised up and processed sometime around November 1st. They grow incredibly fast and are a great and economical way to keep the freezer well stocked.

So there you have it. Farm procreation at it’s finest. No folks, your food does not all come wrapped in cellophane at your huge grocer. You gain a much greater appreciation for your food when you get down and dirty and raise it yourself. The next evolution may include meat goats or even raising a couple of steers. Shhhhhhhh don’t tell Zina.