Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking Back

It’s the end of another year.

I realize I am not alone in my mixed feelings of nostalgia and anticipation when faced with the knowledge that 2011 is ending and 2012 is about to begin. My feelings have been intensified by the fact that part of today was devoted to our review of the past growing season and our planning of the next.

Overall, 2011 has been a good year. Most of our crops did well, the family is happy and healthy,

and we are still enjoying farming our little plot of earth. Those things count for success…no matter what else may have occurred.

The cycle of life on the farm continues ad infinitum. The predictability of farming is somewhat monotonous, but also incredibly comforting. The planning that we did today will enable us to grow the crops that we enjoy eating and selling. The successes and failures of the past year grant us understanding for the upcoming years.

In 2011, we had the best lambchop crop so far. We’ve got some beautiful cuts of meat in the freezer that should satisfy sales until the 2012 lambs are ready to process.
That in and of itself marks some sort of progress. There is a definitely a learning curve to growing and selling any type of product; I think we finally figured out the lamb thing.

This was the first “normal” year that it’s just been the Boss and me workin’ the farm. …and you know what? We did a good job. A real good job! Sometimes I think we forget that it’s really okay to be more than a little impressed with ourselves. We make a real good team! (and…YES, I know my grammar is abysmal in this paragraph)

Our onion crop was amazing!
After a complete failure last year, it was most gratifying to see all those beautiful onions drying in the sun back in July. It is even more gratifying to know that they are safely chilling in the reefer and can be offered for sale all winter!

We finally figured out the problem with the laying hens last winter. The Boss built a new henhouse with metal nestboxes (no places for nasty mites to hide) and an automatic door! (no more going out in the cold and dark of night!)

We got the reefer up the hill safely and have it up and running. This enables us to grow more, store more and ultimately SELL MORE!

We processed (and SOLD) 5 times the number of broilers than we have ever processed before. While I love chicken in all its various presentations, this fact truly boggles my mind. …and…we are NOT going to increase our numbers.

We’ve been able to offer bagged lettuce…and other greens…every single week. This has been a challenge, and there is room for improvement, but it was a success nonetheless!

I was able to meet a personal goal of blogging on a “regular” basis. I truly hope that this grants some insight and appreciation to any readers. Farming is a great adventure…thanks for sharing it with me!

October 29, 2011 was the first Market day that measurable SNOW threatened Market traffic. When it was all said and done, those 4 inches of the white stuff really didn’t impact the Market as negatively as we had feared. We have yet another reason to be thankful.

The failures were kept to a minimum this year. For this we are truly grateful!

In order to note the failures, I must state that ALL the winter squash died prior to any production. This was a complete failure and utter bummer. But, it granted some amusement to another Market vendor when I had to buy from him! (Can I count that as a success? Haha) Some of the winter lettuce bolted (went to seed) because of the warm fall weather. That problem was solved by planting more lettuce of another variety. The losses were definitely outweighed by our successes.

When we look back over the successes (and failures), we know what areas need attention in the coming year. We can adjust and carry on. We are thankful for what we have learned and the challenges that have strengthened us. We are especially thankful for our customer-friends who make this thing work!

Looking back, 2011 was a good year. It definitely goes in the “success” column.

Now, it’s time to LOOK FORWARD!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Fun Trip

Yesterday, Jed was scheduled for his yearly appointment with the vet. Loading one hundred pounds of fur and drool in the back of my vehicle always makes for a “fun” morning.

Wonder of wonders…all the barn kitties were present and accounted for when I did chores. Haha! Before they had time to finish their breakfast, I scooped them all up into the cat cage and decided to make it a group vet trip.

The cats set up a very vocal demonstration at being locked in the cage in the back of my vehicle. I began to wonder if this was such a good idea. Jed hopped right up beside them and settled in for a roadtrip. I have no idea why…but, he seems to enjoy riding in the car. He does, however, attempt to ride in the front seat. Once we worked out the seating arrangements, we were off. Everything is fine unless he stands up…then, I’m driving with absolutely no way to see out the back window or rearview mirror. This trip to the vet involved lots of radio volume adjustment (LOUD to drown out the caterwauling) and lots of “down, Jed!”

The receptionist looked rather strained when I asked if they could add all the cats into the visit, but she was pleasant about fitting the whole crew into the schedule. I must say, it was weird to hear them call “the Womack family” as I hauled 100 pounds of dog and 25 pounds of cat into the exam room.

Jed was whisked off for a weight and blood test. The cats waited anxiously for their rabies shots.

Once the cats were given their shots, we had to wait for the results of Jed’s test.

The cats all snuggled down for a little cat nap. If it hadn’t been for Jed’s incessant nervous panting, I could have dozed off as well.

Vet exam done, I hauled everyone back out to my waiting vehicle.

Back inside, the bill made me involuntarily gasp “wow!” (and not in a good way). But, now they’re vaccinated and medicated and we’re good to go until next year. The trip home was pleasantly uneventful.

Next week, Ellie goes for her vet check. Ellie doesn’t like travelling, the vet, or shots…that promises to be even more fun than this trip.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Heart of the Farm

Iconic in rural American landscape, a barn identifies a farm. While most immediately think of a red barn with white trim and a gambrel roof line, there are all sorts of barns. There are dairy barns, hay barns, poultry barns, and multi-use barns. The styles abound; there are bank barns, pole barns, big barns, and little barns. Barns for horses are called stables. For every type of farming, there is specific barn style.

In some ways, a barn is almost a living organism. Over the years, it grows and changes, somehow taking on new subtleties of character. The history of a farm can be traced by observing the changes in the barn structure and design.

Barns are fascinating places. Old barns have a character and “personality” that newer structures do not. It as if you can sense the history, smell the hay and grains, and hear the long gone inhabitants. Certain places are worn from much use: the haymow where cows often ate, the gate where the farmer’s glove rubbed as he opened it, the post that was “just right” for itchy animals to scratch. It is only wishful thinking but, if the walls could talk…

Back in ’97, our barn was just a brand-new, red, rectangular building. We hadn’t even decided exactly how we wanted to utilize the space. Gates were installed, walls erected, animals housed. We were in business. Ours was definitely going to be a “multi-use” barn.

After a very short time, the need for an addition was obvious...then another, and another. Like a crazy quilt, the different materials were stitched together, making the barn we have today. Since we have no level ground here on the hill, the barn is different levels as well as different building styles. Over the years, it has developed character and atmosphere. It’s hard to remember the days of the brand-new barn.

Our barn has seen more living and dying than anywhere else on the farm. Deep philosophical subjects have been debated, hilarious stories told, and tears shed while sitting on hay bales and overturned buckets. Life lessons have been learned in unforgettable ways. Patience was tested and strengthened while waiting for the vet. Learning biology and animal husbandry through the “hands-on” approach has been invaluable.
The barn has seen all sorts of animal inhabitants, visitors from other countries and the routines of daily farm chores. It stores the feedstuffs, provides shelter for the animals, and allows us a place to compose ourselves when the stresses of everyday life get a little much.

In short, the barn is the heart of the farm.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A New Use for an Old Greenhouse

When we built the house in ’97, we had specific plans to attach a greenhouse at some point. The builder looked askance when we told him NOT to put a window on the back side of one room because we were going to build a greenhouse. Actually, the builder looked askance fairly frequently at some of our strange requests…

In 1999, the Boss finally got around to building that greenhouse. We have used it constantly ever since. Without it we couldn’t start our seedlings for planting and would be forced to buy starts. This would get incredibly expensive. By starting our own seedlings, we are also able to have a diversity of plants and varieties that would otherwise be impossible.

We have used it for all sorts of other projects, too. Drying things, painting things, you name it, the greenhouse has probably seen that kind of use.

However, we never intended to use it as easy access to the roof. Never even thought of that one!

The back porch is fairly close to the greenhouse. The curved shape makes it accessible to the cats. One of the cats found that by jumping from the porch to the greenhouse, the roof is an easy climb. What a vantage point for bird “watching”!

One cat had an ongoing “issue” with a mockingbird who would sit on the roof and mock her. She took matters into her own paws and began stalking the bird while it sat on the roof! There are little claw marks up one side of the plastic where cat traffic has been repeatedly.

We hadn’t had a cat on the roof for a long time…until yesterday.

The Boss and I were in the office when we heard a BOING…or was it a THUMP?... outside. “WHAT was THAT?” The sound reminded me of…reminded me of…oh, yeah…a cat on the greenhouse!

When I walked out back, there he was…scaling the roof. The Indiana Jones of the cat world.

Booooyyy was checking out the chimney, talking to himself. By the time he got over the ridge and down to the front porch, he had apparently decided this adventure thing wasn’t such a good idea, and he started to cry. (look close, he's under the dormer) The dogs were cavorting around, trying to figure out how to get their furry immenseness up there and have a little fun. The more he cried, the more they cavorted. I called them all from the backyard.

The thrill of adventure behind him, Booooyyy went back over the house to begin the descent.
Hmmm, looks like it’s a long way down!

Mama? Help me Mama!

Oh, wait….what’s this interesting thing? Hmm, something to eat?

Finally, he decided to hop off the side of the greenhouse.

With that adventure over, he’s off looking for something to eat elsewhere.

With interruptions like this one being regular's no wonder I don't get anything done!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Benefits of Barn Kitties

Most every barn I’ve ever been in has had at least one resident cat.

When a barn is used for grain storage, it is like issuing an open invitation to rodents and critters from near and far. All too easily these visitors can get way out of hand. Enter the BARN CAT!

Years ago, Miss Kitty showed up on the farm. Hugely pregnant and incredibly hungry, she was first seen swiping a piece of buttered bread from the chicken bucket on the back porch. Over time, she had her kittens, became tame enough to pet, and eventually made her way inside. It’s been well over 13 years since our first meeting, and she’s still part of farm life here on the hill. She’s moving way slower these days, but she still does her fair share on the rodent patrol in the barn. She has also moved back to the barn and seems to favor the warmth of the hoophouse.

About two years ago Squeekie showed up. She was just a timid kitten when we first began seeing her. She, too, had a litter of kittens. (Since then, ALL the cats have been “fixed”) Despite our continued interaction with her, she is just not as friendly as “Mert” (Miss Kitty doesn’t MEOW…she usually just says “mert”…hence, the nickname.) She is a nice cat and a tireless hunter, nonetheless.

Squeekie chose the hayloft to have her kittens. There was the cutest little nest of four kitties. One did not survive. Somehow, the survivors ended up staying. Correction, two stayed, one moved in with A & T and continued the family line elsewhere. The kittens are grown cats now; “Booooyyy” has even gotten his own blog entries, while Sissie is the kittie beauty queen.

With all these cats, there are no rodents chewing through feedsacks, and no birds bringing with them the possibility of coccidiosis. Voles and shrews, and even moles are quickly dispatched. There’s not too much chance of any type of pest staying in the barn for long. This is fine by us!

The cats’ antics provide some much appreciated amusement along the way, too. It is not unusual to see them catapult into the loft or race through the barn in hot pursuit of each other, or sleeping together in a fuzzy kitty pile. Their interaction with the dogs create some funny moments as well. They are all somewhat friendly and funny and allow a warm cuddle now and then.

But, quite possibly their best quality….they LOVE to eat GRASSHOPPERS! As a matter of fact, the horrible pests seems to be a preferred summer delicacy.

Considering the amount of damage grasshoppers cause us, we're glad for all the help we can get.

Yay, Barn Kitties!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Moving, Night

After the new henhouse was completed, it was time to re-locate the hens. It is best to move chickens after dark when they are somewhat drowsy. Otherwise, it just becomes an aggravating chase with lots of squawking and cussing.

To keep the chaos to a minimum, Jed and Ellie were relegated to the barn. Poor dogs…they miss out on ALL the "fun"!

The Boss moved the old henhouse (with the hens inside) out of the way of the new one.

Feed was placed in the new henhouse, as the hens will have to stay inside for a day to get acclimated to their new digs.

Then the hens were caught and rather unceremoniously moved to the new house.

Look at their spacious new dwelling! They should be impressed…

Nah, they squawked a little, found comfortable sleeping arrangements (one decided to sleep ON the feeder) and went back to sleep, snoring their little chicken snores.

The electric net fence was replaced. Job complete!

After a day, the Boss will let them out to forage once more. At this point, he will also add the second nest box to the house. It had to stay during construction of the new house so the girls would have someplace to lay their eggs…and THEN he will find out just how well his automatic chicken door closer works!

In the meantime, since Jed and Ellie were released from the barn, they are intent on investigating the old chicken house that is now parked in the backyard.

It is just a matter of time until it morphs into something else. Just a matter of time…