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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.