Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Longest Month

For well over a week, I really…REALLY...thought we were almost done with February.  I know I mentioned March in a blog post and I informed our Winter customers that our special February lamb sale was coming to an end.

Do you have ANY idea how bummed I was to find that there was more than a week left of the longest/shortest month?

I know I am not alone in my dislike of what is actually the shortest month on our calendar.  There have been many posts in cyber-world about how to deal with the dark, cold, depressing and distressing month.  But, honestly, it doesn’t help to know that  everyone else is struggling, too.

I’ve written about mid-winter before.

Cold temperatures mean all the tiny seedlings must be covered and heated
By the time February rolls around, we’ve placed (and received) all our seed orders for the upcoming season.  It’s really hard to wait to get going on starting all the tiny seedlings that we will need for the year.  However, experience has taught us that there is absolutely NO reason to get too excited…that frost-free date comes fairly late in the Spring here on the hill.  Only the most hardy of crops can be started now. If we go crazy starting seedlings, we will have long, leggy, overgrown seedlings to plant out that will never produce like sturdy, healthy, smaller seedlings will.

Any excitement of the sheep shed has become routine and maintenance.  Oh, I’m not complaining.  Routine and maintenance are a very good thing…particularly in the barn.  Any type of “excitement” also means there are problems. Problems are definitely NOT good.  I’ll take the seemingly boring routine any day!

The plants and soil are planting or weeding

I would love to be able to put in some long hours in the hoophouses.  Really!  The hoophouse is my favorite place to spend some quality time in mid-winter. But, with the frigid overnight temperatures and the gloomy/grey days, this is difficult at best.  Overnight, everything in the hoophouses will freeze solid.  SOLID. If it is sunny, everything will thaw by noon and I can harvest, remove spent crops and even plant things. On cold/grey days this never happens...and I find myself feeling like I am wasting time doing other things elsewhere.

The weather has been fairly uncooperative this season, so I feel like I am really running behind.

This February has been complicated by a number of unique situations.  We have never had two bottle lambs at once.  While the whole “pet lamb” thing always takes an amazing amount of time…two babies create twice as much mess and can be doubly concerning. But, at present, they are thriving.  Then there is the Boss’ recovery.  When just one person is responsible for most of the chores, it honestly seems like NOTHING else gets done. But…we’re getting by…really.

Icicles forming on the wisteria on the front porch

Then, there has been the weather…while any weather complaints I might have would pale in comparison to THREE snowstorms in a row both in the Mid-West and the Northeast (our agricultural brethren have my deepest sympathies), ugh…the little bits of snow/sleet/wintry mix have not been pleasant at all. All the precipitation has added to the already somewhat overwhelming MUD issue.

 As I write, we are under a Winter weather advisory that is bringing freezing rain and wind to our hill.  Icicles make for great photo ops…but, combined with wind can mean serious power outages.  Oh, did I mention that I bought CHICKS yesterday?  Chicks that must be kept warm?   That means that we are spending serious time praying that the power stays on! Living on the the end of the power the wind...and the ice...yes, electricity is ALWAYS a concern.

Thankfully, there are only a couple days left of February.  That small flip of the calendar page will have no bearing on the weather, but let me tell you…it will DEFINITELY have an effect on the outlook here on the hill.

                 …oh…wait…that means that the Market starts in just…37 days...

                                                   …(I am seriously NOT ready!)

 OH…MY….GOODNESS….maybe February isn’t so bad after all!   

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What a Load of...

Today’s title and subject matter would probably cause my dearly departed grandmother to faint.

Never one to discuss the “unmentionable” topics, she would generally just murmur quietly that she needed a sack of “mahn-yer” to the fella at the hardware store.  She was always so genteel and discreet. Heaven forbid if he didn’t hear her and then proceeded to shout the order to someone else!  That happened once and it was so mortifying to her that we never shopped at that particular store again.

I know that our farming lifestyle with its preoccupation and running conversations about procreation, reproduction and defecation would give her a major case of the “heebie-jeebies”.  The worst part is that our discussions generally happen at the supper table.  Oooh, such bad manners!  So,...dearest Granny...I apologize...

But, such is the life of a farmer…

The Spring growing season is bearing down on us.  Tractor Supply will be starting their “chick days” very soon.  Every Spring, the store gets in thousands of day-old chicks and sells them to the community.  All sorts of chicks are available, and we usually get our first batch of broiler chicks this way.    We generally buy from a hatchery in PA, but since the weather can be so unpredictable in February, it is easier to buy them locally than have them shipped. This means we can have a new crop of chicken for the Market in May.

But, the brooder was still a mess from the time the layer chicks lived there prior to moving in with the hens.

Check out the awesome footwear!

Since the Boss is incapacitated, most of the fun of the job fell to me.

As I was doing clean-up duty in the brooder, I got to thinking about what a load of you-know-what we deal with on a constant basis around here.  All animals do is eat, sleep and well, poop.  Day in and day out.  Every. Single. Day.   Yeah, I know.....EWWWWWW!

The quantities can be astounding.  I have new respect for the Boss and his brooder cleaning task.

 …and I cannot imagine how those big producers manage the poultry houses that are so large that heavy equipment will fit inside.  Oh, for the record…those big producers...are held to high standards by the EPA and DEQ when it comes to cleaning out the poultry houses and disposing of the waste.  It must be contained and composted and only then can it be utilized on the fields or transported to facilities where it becomes the basis for organic fertilizers for the home gardener.

Back to the farm…

When we get those little balls of yellow fluff and down and tuck them into the brooder where they will be safe and warm while they grow, it never seems that they could make the amazing amount of stinky mess that they do prior to moving to the henhouse or pasture (in the case of broilers).  But, believe you me…they do.

But, you know what? That stinky mess is perhaps the very best fertilizer that can be had.

The old-timers refer to the stench of “fertilizer” spreading as the smell of moneyIt's true!

All that "waste" can be spread on the fields, providing nutrients for the next season’s crop of hay or corn or delicious vegetables. Handled correctly, that load of you-know-what is of great value to the farm. By recycling the waste, we are able to keep the soil fertility high and continue to produce nutritious, delicious vegetables.  The same goes for all our neighbors who will be spreading "fertilizer" on the fields as we get a little closer to the Spring growing season. Our neighbors produce hay, soybeans and corn...and lots and lots of beef.

The clean brooder...waiting for fresh bedding and inhabitants 
So, while I cannot say I truly enjoyed cleaning the brooder (I’ll be glad when the Boss returns to his regular duties) I do truly appreciate the fertilization that the load of… provided.

Next time you hear someone say “what a load of…”

Remember that load is what keeps things growing...producing...and providing food, clothing and shelter for us all.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Every time there is some sort of food recall or outbreak of food poisoning involving conventional production, someone in the sustainable/alternative/organic sector cheers…”I TOLD YOU SO!” the comments following this article.

When Stanford released its study stating that organic produce is not necessarily more nutritious or has less pesticide residue…it’s just more expensive…I read countless articles from the conventional wing of Ag saying…”I TOLD YOU SO!”

Prop 37 in California had anti-GMO folks nationwide vocally supporting labeling, while saying nasty and un-true things about “the other side”.

Mark Lynas’ lecture at the Oxford Farming Conference had the supporters of GMO crops pointing out that most of the “information” about GMO’s had absolutely no basis in science. That one really got people talking.

The LOCAL FOOD crowd wants to demand/legislate/dictate that schools, food banks…everybody…feel it necessary to get their food from small, family farms within 50 to 300 miles.

But, our global community has global tastes…there are folks who desire strawberries in January and don’t mind that they came from a country they’ve never heard of...  They will fight for that right.

There is the whole crowd who has to shop “within a budget”…versus…those for whom “money is no object when it comes to feeding my family”.

Then, there is the bunch that thinks that EVERYTHING should be “chemical-free” and “hormone-free”.
These folks seem to miss the fact that without chemicals and hormones…we would have NO life! (more on that one another time)

The list could go on and on.

It seems there is no middle ground. Rather than attempt to understand a different viewpoint, it seems that a lot of folks would rather make rude comments and false accusations. The  constant bickering among the factions keeps any real progress from happening.

While it is true that the average consumer knows little about farm production and the animal rights groups are making things more and more difficult for farmers by spreading false seems that there is growing dissension within the various factions of Agriculture. Those who would identify themselves as “foodies” or “food activists” further muddy the waters.   The inability to recognize that there is actually room for all types of farm practices, farms of every size and the need for folks committed to farming may be far more harmful than any future regulations.  There is absolutely no reason to make disparaging remarks about any other type of farming…they all have their place.

We live in a country that prides itself on choice.  I applaud that choice.  I want that choice! I know other that people want that choice as well.

Yes, we are a small operation…producing and selling our farm products locally. But, we completely support our bigger, older Agricultural “brothers and sisters” whose farm models are nothing like ours. I would hope that they would support us as well. We know that there is no way we could supply everyone that would care to eat by following the model that works so very well on our small farm.  Part of the reason that it does work for us is the fact that our operation is so small. For us to demand that our model is the best...perfect...the ONLY way...and that everyone should follow our ways would be ridiculous. But, it works for us.

We have some customers that feel it absolutely necessary to have some sort of connection with the person who produced their food.  I am glad that there is FOOD to answer that need.

I know folks who shop strictly by what is the cheapest way to feed their family.  I am glad there is FOOD to answer that need.

There are people for whom food is nothing more than a way to stop that ache in the pit of their stomach.  I am glad there is FOOD to answer that need.

Some folks find great pleasure in the whole dining experience.  For them, there is a great delight in the rare food, the unusual source, the uncommon taste.  I am glad there is a FOOD to answer that need.

Whether it is eating a strawberry in January while living in an area with 2 feet of snow on the ground, making do with beans or mac and cheese, indulging in a little candy bar snack washed down with a diet MountainDew, or dining on the very finest organic produce and pasture-raised meat and eggs…the choice should be YOURS…and yours alone.

The same holds true for farming practices.  There are myriad reasons that a farming operation chooses one practice over another.  What works for one farm in a particular location may not be appropriate for any other operation. Farming practices do not come in a "one size fits all" package.

I am pretty sure that it will make someone…somewhere...mad for me to say that EVERY single farm and EVERY single farming practice has a place in feeding the world’s population. But, consider this… there are 7 billion people on the planet.  For any of us to assume that everyone should be “just like ME” is ludicrous.  It would also make the world a pretty boring place.

So, let’s revel in the fact that we DO have a food choice….a farming practice choice…and support each other in that privilege.

I have no idea how to finish this one, except to say...

Can't we all just get along?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Week on the Hill

Here are a few photos from our week here on the hill.
Just last week this looked GREEN

It seemed to snow every day

Weather conditions kept the crops in the hoophouses frozen solid
The broccoli seedlings are getting their second set of leaves
A view of the farm from the ram paddock
"Santa Lamb"
Greenhouse icicles
Sugarloaf mountain at sunset
The lambs have finally figured out the creep feeder
Lettuce starts ready for planting in the hoophouse (if it ever thaws)
Scallion seedlings
Snowy lamb
Waylon (the ram) 
Pullets waiting to join the hen flock

Hens in the snow
Looking forward to the new week…

                Happy Sunday!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

ESPN...Take Notice

The all-sports networks should pay attention to this one.  There is an activity in the barnyard that could easily become a televised sport…if it only got some attention. Action, excitement, amazing athletic ability, the occasional mishap, the roar of the crowd...this one has it all.

We are privy to these amazing feats of athletic prowess on a daily basis. Often, the spontaneous event occurs multiple times a day. This is part race, part gymnastic competition…and mostly just “joi de vivre”.  

Surely you have heard of motocross... I introduce you to what we call…

               “EL LAMBO-CROSS”

In order to appreciate the name, you need to read


When the ewes are “otherwise occupied” (read…eating), the lambs run the course…over and over and over.  The event usually ends when they are all panting and exhausted.  Once they regain their ability to breathe…they are off again.

...and again...

"El Lambo-Cross" season is fairly short.  The lambs start racing when they are about a week to ten days old.  By the time they are six months old, the wild and raucous racing comes to an end.  I'm not sure if they are too "mature" at that point or if the weather is just too warm.  But, it's an amazing and amusing sight to see during the late winter and early spring.

The sports channels are really missing out...                                

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Good News-Bad News Kind of Thing

“I got some good news…and I got some bad news…”  the Boss was heard to say as he walked into the house with a “short pneumatic walker” (you know---one of those “moon-boot” things) in one hand and a handful of “doctor-type” papers and a prescription in the other.

“Which one ya want first?”


I guess I should really back up and start this story at the beginning. 

The Boss has been complaining of heel pain, pretty major heel pain, for quite some time.  He’d tried treating it with ibuprofen, ice and “taking it easy”.  Nothing seemed to be working, so he finally headed to a foot specialist.

The Boss had been impressed with the doctor’s care and concern. They x-rayed his foot and found a bone spur on the back of his heel. That explained the pain.  He was glad that it was only “Achilles tendonitis” complicated by said bone spur.  

There seemed to be a very real possibility of complete recovery.

However, he cautioned me”…that means that I have to wear THIS THING (here he held up the boot-thingy for me to see) all the time for TWO weeks.  If it feels better after that, I wear it another week and I should be good to go…”

At that point, we did not discuss what would happen if…for some reason…it was not better in the given time.  I don’t think either of us wanted to consider any other possibilities at the time. (we have had that discussion since…and we are both doing some serious praying for full recovery)

So, today…one week after his doctor visit, the Boss is trying to follow doctor’s orders of immobilization.  That means no driving, no chore-doing, and no extra walking…pretty much doing nothing.  We did run a few errands yesterday and he actually got outside and did some "farm stuff" for the first time today.

Personally, I am thankful we made it through one week (and counting down).  I’m glad his pain level seems to be better.  But, I am really, really thankful it’s not summertime.  You see, I can do the chores and the dump run, the feedstore pick-up and stack the wood…but, at least I don’t have to run the roto-tillers,tractor with the bush-hog or drive the truck with the Market trailer. Some jobs and challenges are just best left to the Boss.  I am definitely thankful I don’t have to attempt anything new…any time soon.

…oh, and I am thankful…so VERY thankful…that his internet connection hasn’t failed him during this trying time.
(Don't think for one minute that I am kidding!)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Not Your Typical Tuesday

When I wrote about quixotic Valley weather, I didn’t realize that we would experience it again quite so soon.

Tuesday dawned in a dull sort of way.  Before I could capture the sliver of red beneath the clouds, it was gone.  You know the saying “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning”…

By the time I reached the barn, the sleet and snow had struck with a vengeance. It was hard to convince the ewes that they really needed to leave the barn in order to eat.  After inhaling their grain, they returned to the barn to snarf down hay while complaining loudly about the weather.

Even the dogs seemed more than a little reluctant to follow me on my morning rounds. I really couldn't blame them, the sleet stung as it hit my face, the wind was blowing so hard that it was difficult to balance the load of hay and buckets on my trek from the barn to the henhouse and ram paddock

Waylon looked like the beginning of a snowball as the white stuff piled up on the wool on his back. He seemed to eat even faster than he usually does as the snow and sleet swirled in the cold, brisk wind.

When the henhouse door was opened, the hens just gazed out the opening as if to say, “uh uh…nope, ain’t doin’ that again!”  They were finally convinced to go outside where the feed and water waited for them. But, it must be so cold on those little, naked chicken feet in the snow.

Despite the wintry start, by noon the snow had stopped and the sun was making a feeble attempt at shining. The snow melted as quickly as it had fallen.

Walking down to the Post Office in town was actually rather pleasant, although the wind was beginning to pick up again.  I had to laugh out loud when I spied the “town goats” in a new location. This time they were mowing the lawn at a rental property. While the goats had absolutely NO bearing on the weather...their wandering around town is more than a little amusing...and the grass is turning green.

I hurried back up the hill as the skies blackened.  Sure enough, the heavens opened and a downpour ensued right after I got home.


When the rain/snow rolled through again, there was even a rainbow in the midst of the clouds and precipitation.

Wow!  We’ve seen all sorts of weather today.

The wind continues to blow…the temperature continues to drop…it feels rather like MARCH. 

While today was anything but means we are one day closer to the end of  Winter.

                         ...and it’s only 28 days ‘til  SPRING!  

Monday, February 18, 2013

Don't Like the Weather?

Surely you’ve heard the old expression…”ya don’t like the weather?…just wait five minutes!”  It seems especially true here in our Valley of the Shenandoah.

The weather in the Valley is nothing if not quixotic.  It’s also incredibly localized.  We have watched it rain on the fields on the other side of Mish Barn Road, while we sweltered and worried during desperate drought. Our daughters live in other small towns not too far away and seldom have the same weather as the old homeplace…or each other.

Last week, Spring seemed imminent.  The angle of the light was slightly different…those fields across the way seemed greener than the day before. I posted a picture to Facebook to document the change.  The wintry precipitation had been removed from the forecast. It seemed only right to feel optimistic about an early Spring.  But…it is February…

Saturday dawned in a dull sort of way.The sunrise wasn't much.  Was there a sense of change in the air?  It was very still and almost warm.  I clung to my hopes for an early spring, albeit with a sense of foreboding.

By noon, the temperature had dropped dramatically.  There were reports of snow in the mountains of the Carolinas.  When I walked to the mailbox around three o’clock, very small snowflakes were drifting gently from a darkened sky.  A check of the weather indicated FLURRIES.

Waylon is out there...somewhere
By the time I started afternoon chores just a half an hour later…it looked like a blizzard.  The flakes were huge…the wind was blowing…suddenly it was snowing sideways.  A glance across the small valley that I had photographed on Thursday revealed a far different view.  For the record, that is NOT a bad photo…it was actually snowing that hard.

The snow piled up rapidly and by suppertime, there were at least two inches, probably three.  It was impossible to tell…the wind was blowing SO hard! …and then, it was over.  The sky cleared in time for a beautiful sunset. Many of the surrounding localities missed out on any of the white stuff.  Friends as close as 10 or 15 miles away wondered what in the world we were talking about!

Overnight, the temperature dropped into the teens.  Sunday, we never saw 25*.  Coupled with a brisk wind, the hill has not been the most pleasant of places on this Sunday.  Tonight, I am guessing that it will feel like the single digits…what with the combination of the leftover snow, the clear…clear sky and the continuing breeze. 

But…tomorrow is a new day.  …and the forecast is that the temperatures should at least flirt with 45*...maybe 50.  So, let the spring planning resume.  Hoophouses…here I come.

Oh…wait…look at the forecast for Tuesday!  

…oh, yikes…check out FRIDAY...the first of MARCH.

…but, you know what they say about March...

                                                        ..."in like a lion...
                                                          ...out like a LAMB!"

Let's hope that old adage is true this year.

Spring is just around the corner!  If you don't believe me...just wait five minutes...