Getting Caught Up

It’s been a wild year.  I apologize for going so long without updating the blog but it has been a tough summer.  I’ve been going through, lets just say, an illness, and I haven’t felt much like blogging.  We managed to bring the garden in and the food processed and the pigs processed, but between that and the hell that I call work, I have been somewhat reclusive. 2017 looks like it has the potential to destabilize our world in a way that we thought was behind us and that we were better than.  I’m having to kind of start all over mentally and physically.  While some folks don’t always show scars and can put on a happy and professional face, it doesn’t mean the problems aren’ t there.  Let’s just say that 2017 will bring many changes.  But in the meantime, lets show you what has been going on.

The Garden:

We were plagued by grasshoppers this year.  They really made the plants have to work hard to grow.  Some did well, some didn’t.  We lost most of our hard bean crop, the potatoes produced but were very small and many of the herbs were feasted upon.  The Squash and the melons got attacked as well but they did quite well anyway.  The onions, beets, carrots, peppers, green beans, tomatoes, tomatillos and the Blackberries did pretty well and the canners ran for days and days as we worked to get things preserved.

We Canned dozens of pints of tomato saucecanning-2016-1

Because we had so many tomatoes we made lots of Salsacanning-2016-2

The onion harvest was crazy.  However, not all of them were storage quality, so we made quarts and quarts of canned French Onion soup.  The quarts up on the counter are chicken soup and chilicanning-2016-3

The Tomatillos lost their minds. They really like to grow here.  So we made Tortilla soup.canning-2016-4

The potatoes struggled because of the grasshoppers.  They weren’t a good enough quality to store in the cellar so we canned as many of them as we could.  They work great as pan fried, mashed, and in soups or stews.canning-2016-5

We found some strains of onions that do well here (and love Chicken Manure fertilizer).  We found some mesh bags and we tied them up and hanged them in the basement.  These should keep for several months.  Considering how many recipes use onions we will likely go through them with no trouble.hanging-onion-1onion-hanging-2

Where the Deer and Antelope playantelope-2016

I have really burned out mentally.  I brought on a partner at work to help relieve some of the strain.  After training him and introducing him to my clients I am thrilled to know that I will be able to take the entire planting season and summer off from work.  I haven’t had a real vacation in 30 years and if my clients want me to stick around, they’d best understand why I’m doing this.  I love em all but I refuse to die because of someone else’s financial whoas.  I desperately need to “Live Like a Hobbit” for a few months.  Either that or I need to quit altogether.  At this point, both are on the table.hobbit

We contacted the Dumb Friends League this year and picked up a couple of “working cats” or what ranchers and farmers call Barn Cats.  Their job is to hunt and eat mice.  We think they are doing their jobs.  They are quite feral so they are not looking for human companionship.  This is allegedly where they sleep.  We know they are around because the food and water disappears.  But this picture shows how much we know about them and what they look like.

barn-cats

One of the funniest things that happened this fall was washing a chicken in the kitchen!  Yes you read that right.  We had taken the pigs to freezer camp the week before.  However, their wallow was still sloppy and muddy.  The chickens love to go into the pig pen and scratch around and eat any remnants of food left behind.  One evening Zina was out rounding the hens up to put them to bed and she noticed one was still in the pig pen.  When she got closer she saw that it had gotten into the wallow and was stuck up to her wings in mud.  The rescue attempt involved putting a plank out onto the mud, pull the chicken out and bring her into the house to rinse her off.  She was amazingly docile and is now doing well, but now we can honestly say we gave a chicken a bath in our kitchen.  I feel so fulfilled!

washing-a-chicken-3washing-a-chicken-2016-1washing-a-chicken-2016-2

We have commenced work decommissioning the gardens in the city.  We have decided to sell that house because the equity in the place will pay off the farm.  Zina and Aaron will maintain an apartment instead and I will pretty much live full time at the farm.  I lugged the boards we used for the raised beds to construct compost bins for the garden waste and chicken litter.  This past year we spread the composted chicken litter on the garden beds.  While it was terrific as fertilizer it was also full of herbicide resistant Amaranth seeds that sprouted the second we applied water to the beds.  This is an attempt to try to keep those down.  There were thousands of those infernal plants.

compost-bin

Our newest members of the flock started producing in October and even with the shortening of the days into the winter we have never had a shortage of breakfast food.

eggs

chickens-2016

I never thought I’d see the day when our country could become so divided.  This was the unfortunate discovery of the fall.  We have a militia training facility about 7 miles from the farm.  These folks are pretty “out there” and I hope they have sense enough to leave well enough alone.  That mound of dirt running along the upper third of the picture is actually a big horseshoe shape containing a very large shooting range.  I fear our country has lost it’s mind and could be considered clinically insane.

militia

So as the farm progresses we have decided to start breeding pigs ourselves instead of buying piglets to raise.  We have some fences and pens to complete but if all goes right we will have a Hampshire Sow and Boar to raise in the next year.  If successful, the sale of the piglets we don’t want to keep should pay for the feed and thus allow us to have our meat for free (minus the physical exertion of raising them and processing them).  A lot of folks do that out here and between eggs, chicken, and pork, we see a way to completely offset our grocery bill.  That would make us, food bill, electric bill, water bill, house payment and car payment free.  Someone in this household is one hell of a financial planner!

pig-shed-2016-2pig-shed-2016

I thought this shirt was cool so I ordered it!

t-shirt

The puppies had a ball this Christmas.  They could smell that there were treats amongst the gifts and when Christmas morning arrived they couldn’t wait to join in!

christmas-dogs-2016christmas-dogs

So there you have it y’all!  The JAZ Farm has progressed despite our silence.  Not only are we looking forward to the growing season in 2017, the new pigs, and ordering our new meat chickens for the year, we will be hatching some of our new layers with our incubator, moving from the city, paying off the farm, taking the summer off, building a livestock barn, fencing in a pasture and perhaps, if the timing works, buying some pet goats to help with the lawn mowing.  If there is one thing that can be said for our homesteading/prepping project its this:  It Is Always An Adventure!  Happy New Year everyone!

 

The Last Week of May The First Week of June

 

HAIL article 2016

It is unbelievable how spring works around here.  The melt off in the Rockies turns to some of the most violent storms I have ever witnessed… EVERY YEAR!  This past Thursday I was off to pick up my mother from the airport.  As per usual the severe storm warnings came up.  We had a bit of a hail storm and I thought not much of it.  However, the memo’s being issued from Denver International Airport had multitudes of flight delays.  They weren’t allowing planes to land and were re-routing them either above the storm or way north into Wyoming to avoid the golf ball sized hail we were being hammered with down on Terra Firma.  I left to pick up mom and didn’t get 3 miles down the road and had to hide out under an over pass to keep from having my truck destroyed by hail.  It was like being in a 55 gallon drum while someone shot a 12 gauge shotgun at me repeatedly.  I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear, I was in 4 wheel drive in a big old pickup, and it wasn’t enough.  The hail was golf-ball sized and was coming down horizontally and breaking itself into pieces on the side of my truck.  Springtime in the Rockies… no matter how romantic…. completely sucks!!

This is what exhausted looks like if you are a Lab:

Even the dog is wiped out

This was from today (May 31st):

However, we have been weeding and manure spreading and tilling and planting like there is no tomorrow.  In fact, tomorrow, the root garden gets planted, the drippers pressurized and tested, and the meat chickens go outside (which will be a blessing considering our house now smells a lot like chicken shit).  Here is a “so far” update on the big garden:

 

We had a day or so with a sick piggy but all seems to be ok.  He was throwing up but the day before he was just fine.  My suspicion is that he ate some of the weeds we had pulled up and something didn’t sit quite right.  As of today he is up and running so all is good.

We put the new layer girls out into the “grow out coop” – a coop that allows them to grow up to the size of the existing hens so they can defend themselves once the new pecking order ensues.  I have had to dispatch a couple of our 3 year olds because the flock was pecking them to death and while it might be part of nature, it is painful to watch.

Here are the new little ones:

babies on the roost 2016Babies in the grow out coop 2016

The piggies are all healthy again.  Which is fortunate.  I had to give our last ladies Penicillin shots for a week and there is nothing more deafening than a screaming piglet!

Baby sized wallow

So during the “holiday” we all weeded, spread poop, roto-tilled, flame weeded and got the garden ready for the summer.

Aaron with the flame thrower with dad hoping he doesn’t start a wildfire!

Flame Weeding

Grandma has been a weeding machine!  She seems to love it so I’m not going to look a gift horse…..

Grandma the weeding machine!

Because we couldn’t put the beds to bed properly last fall, here is what we had to contend with…. metric tons of the nastiest taprootiest, grassiest crap mother nature ever invented!

The Zombie apocalypse of Weeds

Once we could find the soil again then came the job of spreading composted chicken crap on it for fertilizer…. guess who got THAT job?

composting

Then out came the tractor and the tiller to flatten it out and make it plantable.

Tilled beds 2016

Tomorrow the meaties go out in the chicken tractor, the drippers get pressurized, the onions get planted, the beans get seeded and we are off to the races to get it all in before the end of the week.  Vacation?  What stinking vacation?  I stop doing my real job for a day or so and this stuff happens….. why am I doing this?  I must be neurotic.  Time will tell.

 

We Had A Very Productive Day

The big push to get caught up and get the gardens in has commenced.  This is when Zina and I take time off of work as a spring break and spend the time many people take to go to some pretty beach, digging in the dirt.  Today began that effort.

We discovered that big pigs aren’t as willing to do what you want as little ones.  Our most recent freezer dwellers were about 270 lbs when we took them to the processor.  As I had mentioned previously, we discovered that we are not ready with the right infrastructure to breed pigs yet.  We will be, but not yet.  There are a couple of pens we need to build and we need to have some way of getting electricity to at least one of the huts to run a heat lamp when the babies are born.  One of my pig gurus also said that our girls are likely too big to be bred as first timers.  Ideal I guess, is under 300 lbs.  Ruby is closer to 400 and a force to be reckoned with. As a result, we decided to make them additions to the freezer.  Well folks, not only are we not really set up for breeding, until today, we weren’t set up for getting a small VW Beetle replica on the horse trailer either!  Yesterday was quite a site.  I’m a big lineman looking sorta dude and I was physically bested by these ladies.

IMG_3958

We didn’t really care which of the big girls got to go for a ride.  Whomever got on the trailer first was the winner!  But there were no winners.  They decided that getting on that trailer, even if there were tasty treats, was not on their agenda.  We chased them around the pen until both we and they were exhausted and panting.  You can’t just get in their way and hope to turn these beasties.  They have a low center of gravity and when Ada decided that going between my legs was a good escape route she damned near upended me!

So we called the processor and made our apologies and off I went to the stockman supply store to consult about a loading pen.  A bruised ego, pulled groin muscle, and $450.00 later I am back on the road home with ranch panels and a plan.  This morning I got up and assembled the whole caboodle and now we have a fair idea how to get this done at our next attempt next month.  As you can see from the photos below, it is a “sub-pen”  The pigs come in to get their food and the first gate is closed behind them.  They stay there for about a day without food so their bellies get grumbling.  The trailer is backed up to the second gate and the doors opened revealing…. food!  The theory is they should simply self-load onto the trailer.  They can’t escape back into the larger pen because gate one is closed behind them, so while it can get a bit dangerous with half a ton of pork dancing around, it becomes a more manageable feat.  My old fart of a man ticker can’t handle all of that football preseason drilling anymore!  The direction changes and doubling back on us would have made Barry Sanders very proud!  I remember doing this with cows up in Walden a hundred years ago.  Worked on cows.  Should work on pigs.  If not, thats what rifles are for.  I’ve cleaned deer and elk… why not pork beasts!

Pig Corral 2Pig Corral

Next on the agenda was getting the “chicken tractor” built for the meat chickens.  The process we were using for them in previous years was pretty messy.  After being in the brooder for about 4 weeks they go outside into some kind of pen and are grown out to adulthood – which is about another 5 weeks.  Then we process them and they become freezer dwellers.  The problem we had was that these fast growing little critters are eating and pooping machines!  Cleaning up after them was quite a chore and if one doesn’t keep up on it they can get sick.  Because they grow so fast they don’t move around much.  So in order to give them fresh pasture, keep them from sitting in their own poop, and also being able to supplement their food by letting them have bugs and grass and weeds, the chicken tractor was invented.  There are zillions of plans for them on the internet but schedules being what they are having the farmers both working full time jobs, we ordered a pre-fabricated one.  Aaron volunteered to come out and assemble the thing and we are one step closer to much easier broiler raising.  The thing is fairly light weight aluminum so it can be moved easily every day to new grass.  It has a built in feeder.  The only thing we need to add is a waterer and we are set to go.  Because we have predators both from above (hawks, falcons, owls, eagles) and from below (coyotes, foxes, skunks, snakes and raccoons) this will keep them protected.  As a double insurance we will be enclosing it in a 40×40 electric net.  This will give us pasture raised chicken and if it is anything like the ones we have raised before, there is never a reason to go out to eat!  This will hold thirty birds pretty comfortably so we will probably put a couple of runs of them through it every year.

Aaron building the Chicken TractorAaron Building the Chicken Tractor 2

Now remember, this is all one day’s work.  In addition, I needed a bunch more dirt in order to fill in the raised bed boxes I made around the greenhouse.  The 35 yards of that also arrived today and as of this writing they are filled.  Tomorrow starts the assembly of the drip irrigation and using what is left of the semi-load of dirt to fill in the gaps inside the greenhouse.  Anything left after that will go out into the big garden along with the chicken compost.  Nothing ever seems to happen spread out evenly over time, nor does it ever seem to exist on a small scale.  Construction and planting….. the ever consuming activities that render us with very little free time to navel gaze.  We are getting there though. My mother arrives next Thursday to join in the fray and my sister arrives about a week and a half after that.  Let the planting party begin!!

Dirt 2016 BDirt 2016 A

All Livestocked Up For Spring!

The first batch of broiler chicks arrived today.  We decided to do them in batches of 30 this year as having to process them all at once is WAY too much work.  This way they will be raised in the cooler temperatures of the spring and fall weather.  So in the past 2 weeks we have acquired 25 new chicks to replace the older ladies of the layer flock, 2 piglets to replenish the bacon and ham in November, and the first 30 broilers.  Next week one of the big girls goes off to the processor.  Of course, if you like, you can always go get factory farmed meat like substances they call chicken and pork wrapped in cellophane at your local “grocery store”.  Ick.

In the next several weeks we will begin planting.  Potatoes, carrots, onions and beets can go out most any time now as they grow underground.  The melons, cukes, Zukes, squash, melons, tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and other above ground plants need to wait until after Memorial Day so they 1. Don’t get destroyed by the hail that comes with the mountain run off and 2. To lessen the chance of them being exposed to a hard freeze.

May is pretty busy.  This year more than most.  We are all proud parents right now as well. My son turned 21 this past weekend and he just found out he aced his Calculus class.  The kid seems to think in numbers.  It was a great confidence builder for him.  Hopefully there will be a good job waiting for him somewhere down the line.

Run Piggy RUN!!

Ever try to catch a piglet when it doesn’t want to be caught and there are no fences to stop it? Better have a good cardiovascular system!! I got quite a workout today. I brought the two new little guys home in the horse trailer. When I opened the door to unload them one tumbled out onto the ground. No big deal, pigs are tough and it was only about a foot drop;  but before I could grab him, he got up and headed for open country and freedom!!

He ran down the road, across the road, through wheat fields, grass fields, through barbed wire, through a tree thicket, met the neighbors, frolicked in the muddy road ditches and then back to the chicken coop! Damn can those little shits run! Keep in mind he is only about 25 lbs, his legs are only about 8 inches long, and he had his little butt takin’ him around the countryside leaving me panting!  Finally, the neighbor dog came out and saw him and decided he wanted to play with it and ran that little porker until it was exhausted. It went to lay by a tree and I snagged him!!  I’m sure we covered over two miles.

Then, because I was so concerned about catching the one that took off, I forgot to securely close the trailer door and the second one got out too!!! It did the same thing but not as far. It heard his brother screaming and came back and hid under the trailer. I got him to come out and he ran into the chicken run! I finally got him cornered and tackled him. What a freaking morning! Just about lost $400.00 worth of pigs and gave myself a heart attack trying to catch them.

We were concerned that the big girls would bully them, but so far they are just being big mommies.  Looks like things ought to be ok.  I’ll be babysitting throughout the weekend just to be sure.  Whew!

Spring Rains and New Babies

April and May are certainly entertaining in Colorado.  While Kansas and Oklahoma are getting pummeled with hail and tornados we have snow!  April 29th and a foot of snow!  Fortunately it is relatively warm out and a lot of it is melting on contact.  Ya Ya I’ve heard it a million times – we need the moisture.  Bah humbug.  I have a water tank to plumb to the greenhouse, a chicken tractor to build, chickens and pigs to care for, and a garden to get ready to plant.  I will be complaining in August of the heat so I guess I should just chill and let nature take her course.

 

New Pets

 

So I got a message from a woman I met at our vet.  She is one of the assistants there and I discovered while they were working on Basil, our dog, that she raises pigs.  It turns out that she is going to be switching her stock over to a new breed.  The message was asking if we were still interested in breeding pigs, would we be interested in buying her two young sows.  Now this was NOT what we were expecting to be doing on short notice – or at all this year, but Zina and I had decided when we got our first pigs last year, that keeping them was something we wanted to do.  Because pigs can have 10 – 13 pigs in a litter, it makes sense to sell some of them and keep a couple to raise for the freezer. The sale of the others pays for your own food.  Brilliant.

So we told the vet lady that yes we wanted them.  Oh YAY!, she replied.  She was very happy that they didn’t have to go to the processor.  Our trailer at the time was trapped behind a snow drift so they offered to bring them by. We set to the task of getting everything in order.  Cleaned the hut, got the water tank set back up, brought in fresh straw, ordered a ton of organic feed, fixed the feeder, and re-dug out the wallow.

So this morning, JAZ Farm got more livestock.  They are Hampshire crosses and are very docile and friendly.  While we were talking about them it was pretty clear that mom and the little daughter were pretty attached to them.  In fact, the husband had to tell them “no crying”.  I don’t think it worked.

Anywho, the little girl had named one of them “Sparkles”.  She is spotted so, who knows, maybe it looked like sparkles.  However, I was not going to be calling a 350 lb sow “Sparkles” for the next 8 years.  Zina said, that she had gotten a song from the movie, Cold Mountain, stuck in her head.  In the movie, the characters Ruby Thewz and Ada Monroe, live together on a homestead in the hills.  Ruby’s father shows up and sings a song called “Ruby with the eyes that Sparkle”.  So the names just appeared – Ruby (instead of Sparkles) and Ada.  It’s one of my favorite movies and the names will work fine for us.

So here are the latest girls.  They are our future Bacon Puppy manufacturers.  Welcome ladies!