We’ve noticed of late that we can go out earlier in the evening to put the chickens to bed and the sun is coming up later in the morning. Being someone that really has his clock aligned with the sun cycle, it means a bit more sleep (Don’t fool yourself, I’m still starting to wake up before 4 am.).
But with the change of season (Today is 91. What change of season? – oh ya, the season we used to have before we screwed everything up), it is time to look back on the farm and assess the damage. More and more we are becoming creatures of farm routine instead of construction engineers. We declared an end to the expansion of the farm and have found that we are really at the limits of what two old farts can expect to accomplish (especially when one is only here half the week and needs to re-coup from the week at the “money and health care job”). Every fall, we take a step back and survey all that we can survey and assess how things went and where we are headed.
The first assessment is owning up to our physical limits. While we can still work most city folk under the hay bunk who are half our age, since adding quite a bit of livestock to the mix, it is an unrelenting schedule. My back is doing great, but I have to watch how I bend (which makes hay stacking an adventure). While the pain is gone from the spinal issues, they didn’t put me back together according to the factory specs. I am never not stiff and sore. From my neck to my calves, I have to stretch out every day and give myself a bit of time to get it all moving in one direction. Zina has increasing responsibilities at work, so there has to be something of a balance between doing some chores, but also being able to simply “be” with the critters (Something we have come to call, Farm TV). What we have learned this past season, is that the most important farm implements, the humans, have been tested to their limits and adding anything more would probably become something of a health hazard. After all, if you consider that pre-civil war homesteaders lived about 50 years we are pretty long in the tooth. We STARTED this place at 50. Of course, we were urban farmers long before this, but the farm started on 12/4 of 2012. We are coming up on 7 years of an unbelievable amount of work, both in its building and production. If we do say so ourselves, we are some tough old birds.
So with that admission, the adding of anything new to the place that expands beyond what we are doing, won’t happen. We had considered other livestock and such, but we already raise about 85% of all we consume. There isn’t a lot left to consider unless we wanted some giraffes and kangaroos! Any new projects will be enhancements of what we already have; Things that come up that make you say, “You know what would really make this work well…..” For instance, now that we have jumped into the dairy goat world, we discovered that we don’t really have a good place to milk. The barn has a dirt floor and is pretty dusty. So we may get another shed, just like the one we just got for the bucks, to use as a milking parlor. We don’t milk the old fashioned way by squeezing. We use a hand held milker. That does keep the milk cleaner, but having the ladies in a dedicated area, along with our goat gear, makes a lot of sense. So those kinds of enhancement things will continue.
The farm is a multi-faceted operation. It is simply not possible to keep the schedule of “have to’s” in one’s head and hope to remain sane. We have, and are, developing a yearly calendar that has all the reoccurring tasks in it; from goat vaccines, to coop cleaning, house cleaning, animal feeding, etc. We’ve found that if we don’t do that, our minds stack everything up in front of us like a mountain and it is easy to get discouraged. I suffer from Complex PTSD and anxiety ramps up pretty quickly when things look overwhelming. We need to eat this elephant one bite at a time. If our time is managed well, the anxiety is reduced significantly.
So then, How’d we do. Overall 2019 GPA: A (Last year would have been a C)
The first goal was to have enough of the build out done so that we could focus on our gardens in ways we hadn’t been able to do before. We were constantly splitting our time between making and building things and trying to stay ahead of the weeds in the old garden. This year was a splendid success. The move away from the hilled gardens to the boxed raised beds around the greenhouse was just the ticket. While we weren’t able to really be intentional about it’s tending like we’d hoped, it was certainly better than in years past (surgery years not withstanding). I worked like a madman to get the remaining 9 raised beds, hail guards and shade cloth covers up (I will be making 5 more this winter to finish them all off). Last September around this time, we had water hydrants attached to the well and run to the greenhouse and to the barn. This overcame yet another drought this year. The high pressure was able to bring drip irrigation and provide hand watering to all 40 raised beds. The spring started off cold and wet, which set things back about a month, then it all dried out. Our temperatures were easily as hot as the drought from last year, but the shade cloth kept the plants from getting scalded in the mile-hi plains. The hail guards did their job as well. So unless we move into the 100’s for temperatures next year (a definite possibility), we have the vegetable gardens in a pretty good place. I have planted Broccoli, Cauliflower, lettuce and spinach for the fall planting and once the tomatoes give it up in the greenhouse when we get our first freeze, I will be getting the cooler weather loving things going out there. Shameless self-adulation: I’m a damned good gardener.
Evaluation of the gardens: Excellent. Only the Tomatillos failed, but they have been particularly difficult to raise here for years (The grasshoppers love ’em) . Everything has produced extremely well. We had our first bout of white flies and tomato horned worms in the greenhouse, but we won the battle (tomato worms are disgusting creatures). The garden has done so well that we are crying uncle. Next year: No hard beans. We have mountains of them and the beds can be put to better use. You have to grow huge amounts of black beans to get enough to care about. Probably going to punt on the Tomatillos. We’ll rotate the tomatoes to the outdoor beds. We need to get the cool season stuff in earlier in the spring and start the warm weather stuff later. Try some melons. Create cattle panel arches for the vining plants. Foot long beans look interesting. Grow more Shallots, they are great. Keep doing celery. Trust the seeder when planting carrots. The carrots did great but they are way overcrowded. Stay on the weeding to the neglect of everything else except the animals. I cannot believe how prolific the bindweed is here. They strangle everything. More sunflowers. Put in a long raised bed for potatoes and create a dedicated asparagus patch.
Construction to enhance: Build the permanent fence around the gardens, string drip lines to the apple trees, finish the remaining hail guards, and build the potato, corn and asparagus beds.
Livestock: We are officially turkey and dairy goat ranchers. They were the new additions here. On the bird side, we have begun hatching all of our own chickens and turkeys. If you have never had a home raised turkey, boy oh boy are you missing out; Absolutely incredible taste. We are also hatching and raising Jersey Giants as our meat chicken flock as well as a smaller bunch of Cornish cross “Frankenbirds” in the spring. We added grow out coops this year and moved the brooders to the barn so we don’t have to have the dust that baby chicks create, inside our home anymore. All of this has gone great. The only issue we have had to contend with is that turkeys are Stooooooooooopid!! Chickens put themselves to bed at night, turkeys couldn’t find their tail feathers with a detailed map. They like to roost up high so even clipping their flight feathers isn’t completely helpful. The teenagers have figured out how to jump over to the breeder stock coop and that finds themselves getting their asses kicked by the adults. I mean KICKED! Like dead. I guess, if we had to evaluate the turkey flock as a meat source, it would be to hatch a bit fewer and process them sooner. It is certainly worth the time, but as we speak I’d love to just take my shotgun and ……. Turkeys is dumb, Mkay?
We bred our little Ginger (Nigerian Dwarf Goat) this year. That has been so much fun. There is nothing cuter than baby farm animals. As I write, it appears that one of our other does, Cumin, is pregnant. We put her in with Tank, one of our bucks, and it was quite the courtship. All of about 5 minutes. I think we timed things correctly.
Ginger gave birth to Switch and Neo. We have been using Matrix names for the boys. Our intact bucks are Tank and Dozer (Also, Switch, because we first thought he was a she… nope…. two boys). Now as sad as it is, bucks, like roosters, are not needed in quantity. We have absolutely no need for two more stinky, crazy, breed-able boys. So instead of simply doing away with them (They are our firsts, so of course we couldn’t just drown them), we will be turning them into Wethers (castrated males) and they will spend their lives with the girls.
Which leads me to the next point: Enough having to download more cranial software. You’ve heard the canard, “It’s all a learning experience”, or “Learning is a life long process….” all that New Age tripe. I am tired of having to download new software into my head! We are virtually all self-taught! I want to have life be kind of routine for awhile. Once those babies were born, it was a flurry of activity in trying to figure out what needed to be done. Sure, as usual, we read everything there was, but its a whole ‘nuther thing to have them in your midst. When do you de-horn? What’s the best way to vaccinate? Is momma supposed to be milked once or twice a day? What do you do with the milk? If I drink it will I die? Whew! The babies are still alive this morning, must not have screwed up too badly….. Enough! Now that they are going on 3 weeks old, we’ve pretty much got this wired, and, of course, if you just shut up and observe, you find out that momma goat has already got a lot of this figured out. Observation breeds answers in most cases.
Evaluation of Livestock: Raising goats is way fun. Like being a first time parent, the unknowns are becoming known. Considering that we have been raising other livestock for years and that I have experience being around cattle, we probably should have cut ourselves some slack. We are looking forward to goat’s milk soap, and tasty cheese, and milk for our coffee.
The turkeys are a great success. They aren’t my favorite animal, but considering that we don’t eat a lot of beef, ground turkey for meat and sausage does the trick (and they don’t weigh 1200 lbs). Not to mention the fact that a roasted, home hatched and home grown Tom is about the best thing around.
We will be reducing our chicken egg laying flock. We are giving dozens of eggs away and it simply isn’t necessary. We will hatch any replacements as the older hens get beyond their laying years (and the elders will become soup). Also, the Jersey Giants are a heritage breed so they will also be laying eggs (and turkey eggs are huge and taste just like chicken eggs). We apparently have the butt nugget area covered pretty well
Meat birds. Between the Jerseys and the Cornish Crosses we will proceed as usual. We’ve got that wired too.
Pigs. We will either keep buying gilts and barrows in the spring, or we may switch to breeds like Kunekunes or American Guinea Hogs. If we want to breed them instead of relying on someone else to do it, I cannot handle an 800 lb. boar and a mad momma of comparable size any more. Pigs are awesome. They are smart, playful and friendly. However, they are the size of a Buick and even if they didn’t intend to hurt you they certainly can. We’ve taken to taking a cattle prod out with us when we interact with them. They love to come and rub on you. They are currently as big as me and can upend you for no reason and then accidentally stomp on you while they run out of the way (I’ve seen them do it to each other…. not conducive to a human chassis). Pound for pound a hog is probably the strongest animal you can have on a farm. With the other breeds mentioned above, they are about half the size and a lot more docile. So it remains to be seen which direction we head. Again, we already have the infrastructure. Its not a project that will “add to” the farm. More, its how best to move forward given all the above and what makes sense. Stay tuned.
Goats: I’m all in. Now that we know how to handle the husbandry issues, these little folk are about as sweet as they get. And wow! We eliminate another couple of staple items from the store: Soap and cheese.
Donkeys: What can I say? They are the Zen masters of the farm. We love them to pieces. I’d have a whole ranch full of them if we could swing it. They are very old, wise, souls.
Our number one goal is to live with the place and just putz and have a routine. This is a tough way to live, but now that the construction is on a “want to” instead of “have to” level, we can putz around as we choose. Putting the gardens and the livestock at the forefront, as well as our personal enjoyment, is goal number one.
What would I like to work on?
- Put the permanent fence around the gardens and get the remaining hail guards and beds built.
- If there is anything I would go into debt for (we don’t have any), it would be a solar hot water heater, a wood burning stove and a metal roof. I hate the idea that we are dependent upon a guy and a truck to bring in propane. Hail reduces 30 year shingles to 7. While we are technically considered “off grid” I could virtually eliminate our propane bill just by heating water with the sun.
- I am looking into a gizmo called a “Cool-Bot”. It takes a regular window mounted air conditioner and lets you use it as the cooling unit for a walk-in refrigerated room. While we don’t need it to be refrigerator level cold, our “root-cellar”/ pantry in the basement still gets too warm in these scorching summers. If I can insulate the room and use this gizmo, it will further our food storage capacity immensely.
- New shed for a milking parlor.
- Weave more. Because of the farm schedule, I’ve not done much this summer. Also, I was planning on having a booth at a local craft show for Christmas this year. There is no way I’ll be ready for that. Next year. That is my art. I’d love to see Zina get back at her quilting and needlepoint as well. Oh ya, get my telescope out. I miss my stars.
- Get the water catchment system up and running. Almost there, just need to finish it up.
- Keep doing the vermi-composting and get the bio-char burners built so we can further develop our on site fertilizer operations
The only expansion (that’s not an expansion):
We operate this place roughly via Permaculture principles. Everything is based on zones and everything eventually is supposed to bring in or create more than it cost. So there are two areas that will be addressed (one will take years).
The first is to plant more trees. We have locust trees down our southern border. I’m going to be taking some of the seed pods and grow a bunch and plant them down our drive way and other places to serve as wind and snow breaks.
The second is to create a “food forest”. For details do a search engine for it, but suffice it to say that it will be put into the old garden. It will be a combination of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and vines, ground covers and pollinator plants, all designed to create a huge area that keeps producing food annually, increases wildlife, supports bees, and feeds us, all in balance with itself.
I have a line on some roofing steel and will begin to create a “roof” or lean-to that will allow me to divert water from that structure (about 1000 square feet) into ponds and irrigation drains that will feed some of the water needs of this food forest creation. This will kind of be my canvas to paint on. I’ve seen some in Colorado and it can indeed be done. However, given the decrepitude of my old farmer butt, it will be a long term work in progress….. I guess, as it should be.
My ultimate goal anymore, is that no matter what the coming climate catastrophe may bring, it is to work according to what I see as “right action”. I want this forty acres to know that I tried my damnedest to heal it and live with it. It will ultimately fail, but that is what I know to be right and the only thing I really care about. When the universe folds up on this minuscule part of itself, I’ll be damned if I go down with a legacy that I was just smacking a white pebble down green grass in stupid clothes consuming everything and serving no purpose.
So the JAZ Farm flourished this year; partly because the weather was more cooperative, but mostly because we improvised, adapted and overcame. It’s always an adventure and I would suspect there are surprises lurking in the shadows as well as we progress into our 7th year. What a long strange trip it has been. Stay tuned.