Thursday, January 30, 2014

the dog that bites

We are serial dog adopters. Not puppies. Dogs that have been determined to no longer be needed.

Sandi is a dog that literally bites the hand that feeds her. She has also been an astonishingly effective rodent killer, so we try and take her high alert, quicker than lightening responses in stride. She has a job to do and does it.

But. She is almost 12 years old. That is multiplied by 7 to get her equivalent human age.

Today I had to help her up onto the sunny bench. Never had to do that before. Its been really cold for weeks and she shivers violently when she gets chilled, so sunny spots and blankets are needed for her.

I was told recently that 12 is about it for most dogs. It is out of the ordinary for dogs to make it much longer. Even little ones.

Amazing how a gal who will snap at me when I've annoyed her saddens me to see her slow down. She is nice to me if my husband is not around but if he is here she is all his.

I have lived most of my life with a dog. With kids in the house and work and businesses there was a time without any dogs. Now we have 3, all different, and it is hard to imagine not having any. Really love dogs. Even our stinky, roll around in and eat...anything...dogs.

And this little mean one is going to make me cry. She is a fun companion (sometimes) and was an easy addition to our household. She broke the dog threshold in our house wide open.

Increasingly she has days where she needs assistance. And we assist her. And today she let me without biting me. Tomorrow I'm likely to get snapped at. Aging is not all that easy. 

steals from pigs

We get pig food from a variety of places. Restaurants and food service.

Sometimes we get dairy products that are out of date by a minute. We give this sparingly and mix with lots of other things.

Chaz has figured out that he loves milk. Especially when it is frozen.

He's had protracted opportunity to indulge his love of frozen milk. I've discovered him burying the small cartons. And at other times digging them up gnawing thru the carton and to the solid brick of milk. 

We are hopeful he locates every hidden carton before temperatures climb to the 80's. Milk at the opposite end of temperature spectrum is a stinky mess. Right now it is working as tartar removal. Milk in a crunchy form. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

pig dinner

We gather food for the pigs from a few places. Things that have gone stale, or out of date, or the ends of celery, broccoli along with melon rinds and egg shells.

We are battling the extreme cold temperatures. Everything, including water and farmers are frozen. 

Vegetables in this form give the pigs a bit to keep busy as they gnaw through the frozen mass. Counts for water in the solid form. 

Later this week we should get above freezing. We will all get big drinks of water when that relative heat wave hits. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

germinating in winter

All year we plant and grow food.  In the cold of winter many greens will grow: leaf lettuce, kale, spinach, collards. And there is something to the exposure to the cold that makes them taste even more delicious.

Cold temperatures can be a challenge for germination. Vegetable seeds like sunshine and a little warmth and moisture to crack open and send out a shoot.

Using materials left over from other projects Homer built this in about 10 minutes.

Over a planted bed inside the hoophouse it will help seeds germinate quicker. 

And the box behind is made from salvaged pallet wood. Flowers go in there. That provides the pollinators a spot to visit. And those parasitic wasps too, our favorite bugs of all.

Friday, January 24, 2014

how hens stay warm

A chicken is a flock animal. They are happiest with a group of chickens and don't do as well alone.

Our laying hens are in mobile pens that hold about 50 hens. There are no roosters. the dimensions of the pens allow a couple of square feet per bird. Most of the year we move the pens daily. When there is snow on the ground the pens stay put until the snow melts, as it is difficult to get them moving.

The hens tend to stay on their roosts when it is bitter cold. Every year we have a couple weeks of truly life challenging temperatures and we are in the midst of that time. Right now it is 4 degrees. Water is ice.

The girls arrange themselves on the roost so that they can snug into each other. They are going the opposite direction: head to tail each one. Feathers are all fluffed out on mornings like this, as they use every layer of feather for capturing heat. 

The roosts are made of wood and not metal so the birds can get a nice tight grip without fear of sticking to metal. 

And they stay out of the snow and the wind. The roosts are protected. When the temperature warms up they hop right back down and get to scratching in the earth. 

It is the flock and the snugging in that keeps the hens warm. They do it as day old chicks and they do it in the coldest part of winter. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

it looks pretty

The snow is beautiful. And the tracks in the snow provide insight as to the creatures of the night that visit. At 4-7 degrees it is too cold for the dogs to be out, but not too cold for poultry hungry critters.

The laying hens stay on their roost. This flock hates walking in the snow. 

The last few broilers are well under cover. 

The snow sparkles in the sunrise. This will happen for another week at least, as the temperatures are not going beyond freezing anytime soon. 

Checking out the tracks in the snow, hoping that most belong to humans and our own dogs. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

delivery of slightly smaller pen

Last week we attended the Future Harvest/CASA conference. It was held at the conference center at University of Maryland, a beautiful facility. And the window of time for the meeting managed to escape snow and subzero temperatures.

Homer conducted a workshop. He assembled a smaller than the size we use on our farm poultry pen. Because it was built to order for a near by farm, it was built out as a laying hen pen. With a few changes a pen like this could hold pigs, broilers or serve as a wintertime shelter for vegetables.

Sandi helped with initial assembly in the shop here on farm. 

Then the pen was disassembled and loaded into the back of the truck. Every tool needed was also transported to the conference center. 

When we arrived there was a little wandering about to figure out the exact location of where Homer's workshop would take place. All of the materials had to be transported to the second floor, so we located the freight elevator and an oversized dolly. And moved all the parts through the kitchen. 

The pen was reassembled in the classroom, where we tried to protect the carpet from flying wood chips. 

With a tarp beneath the work area.

Lots of tools were used.

And a group of about 22 spent a few hours watching and helping with the assembly. 

Then the pen had to be dismantled and removed from the room quickly. Other sessions took place in that room. This week the pen will be delivered and hens will go in. And eggs from pasture raised hens: strong yolks, whites that whip will be had at another farm.

On our farm we use about 25 pens for layers, pigs, turkeys and broilers. We use a larger size for maximum use of space. For this pen that has to be hauled around assembled and disassembled the size works much better in the back of our truck.  

The family that ordered the pen will keep 30-35 hens. At 2 square feet per bird per day protected from weather and predators, the hens will be living the life in here. 

For full protection dogs are needed. Because everything loves chicken and will be at work to eat this flock. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

winter continues

I swear I was in Florida just last week. And it was the arm enough for bare head, arms and legs.

With the reality of weather here the trip to a warmer spot is a quickly fading memory. Right now blizzard like conditions are going on. Predicted high temperatures for the next 7 days are ridiculous lows.

We had meetings this afternoon and tonight we wanted to attend. Both were canceled.

Really, it is a good thing the meetings did not happen. We needed to get water out to the herd.

And reports from the roadways are full of rolled over tractor trailers and other vehicles on fire.  

So the efforts required to supply liquid water to the livestock when the temperature is 14 degrees are enough for a day like this. Another half foot of snow today. Enough to keep us busy for next few days. 7 days from now the temperature might go above freezing, but between now and then is strategic timing and careful avoidance of liquid water. 

Monday, January 20, 2014


Yesterday, while dropping off eggs, picking up pig food and stocking up on coffee and chocolate for the farmers this week, I ran into a couple I have not seen in a while.

Jonathon and his wife operate a lovely cafe in Baltimore. Years ago Homer did some work for them: a display case to hold the truffles that fit right into the available spot, tables that fit their dimensions exactly, signs made of just what they wanted.

Their cafe is just around the corner from Johns Hopkins University. Many types of tea, all sorts of coffee and hot cocoa, meals and truffles. Easy gluten free for a gal like me.

And there they are, at Belvedere Square, operating a pop up dumpling spot in a place vacant for a couple of months. Why not? they say to me. "Where's Homer?" they ask me. I tell them he is home, working on the farm. They tell me he should take some time off, not work so hard. "Like the two of you?" I ask them. And we all laugh, because as two people running their own business they never take time off either.

I tell Homer they asked about him, and ask that he stop in next week and see them. They they asked about time off. He laughed too. And told me to pass on his message to them: "we will take time off and go on vacation with you.". They work just as hard and as often as we do...they will get the joke behind that!

Friday, January 17, 2014


Barely on farm, we turn around for another conference. Future Harvest/CASA starts this morning. Today Homer conducts a workshop on pen construction.

He brought along the needed tools.

And a tarp to keep the rug clean. 

I'll give a talk on finances and how we keep the wheels on the cart. 

Tomorrow Homer is on a panel. 

Thankful for folks watching and taking care of the farm. Hopeful the dogs behave. We brought the Jack Russell with us because that dog just tips the edge of friendship over. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

while I was away

Before I accepted the invitation/scholarship to attend the National Farmers Union Women's Conference in Clearwater, FL, I asked my husband if he would be mad if I traveled to florida for 6 days in January without him. "I'd be mad if you did not go." Was his response.

As the departure date got closer, there were small indications that something was up with our septic. No more detail is needed.

I took the shortest shower of my life before we climbed in the van for the trip south. "I'll take care of it" he told me.

Then he sent this photo.

And this one:

And all is right in our world again. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

farm women

The last few days have been a swirl of activity. A trip in a 15 passenger van with 10 women, all farmers. From an 84 year old farm owner who grew up on the same land she lives on now; a 40 something who has traveled a lot but really has lived her entire life on farm with 5 generations over her lifetime; a three generation representation from another farm; a 20 something who started her own farm just a few years ago; a couple of interns who have been on their respective farms for a few weeks and a few months respectively; a farmer who propagates more varieties of bearded irises than most and me.

Collective knowledge? Massive. Conference learnings are all over the map with both formal and informal. We met the deputy Secretary of the USDA. One in our party was formally the deputy Secretary of agriculture for Pennsylvania. A tax attorney. Formal sessions on managing transitions from one generation to the next. Farmland conservation. An executive from NFU. Milk co-ops in India.

And after presentations the informal conversations that happen. The commonalities between a multi thousand acre ranch and a 5 acre vegetable farmer and everyone in between. Family and how keeping that working while keeping the business working.

It has been awesome. So grateful for the opportunity. I was awarded a scholarship, and would have never been able to attend without it  I am honored to be asked to attend and soak up all this knowledge. A gift.

And I'm ready to be home. I miss my husband. I don't want hotel or restaurant food. Our farm food at our table with my husband is truly my favorite, and I have enjoyed my trip and all that has been gifted to me, home is calling.

I am a lucky woman. From one great thing to another.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

gonna need a bigger tub

Ducks are amazing. It seems like they almost double in size daily. Its the dead of winter so we are not going to turn ducklings without full feathers onto the field. They need to feather out: grow out full size feathers as well as the small, insulative bits of down that keep them warm.

Just a couple of weeks ago they were little babies. A few days ago they were gathered up at a local farm, placed in a cardboard box and transported the few miles to our farm. 

And then turned out into a plastic tub upon arrival at our farm. 

Because that cardboard box was funky. In the hour or so it took to box, load, drive, chat, unload and unpack. 

Early the next morning the ducklings went into the brooder. 

Where it looks like in just 10 hours the ducklings have grown. 

It looks like they double in size daily. Probably an exaggeration. Very quickly they will fill out and be moved outside, where they will be trained to go into a shelter each night for predator protection. 

And during the day, once full sized, they will roam the farm (not the vegetable garden area, but the rest of the farm) and find slugs, mosquito larva and flying gnats and then eat them all up. 

And we will fill and emptylow tubs of water so they can climb in and out and bathe. At the same time a small, low sided container can be hosed out and relocated to a clean spot. The ducks make a mess daily and by emptying and moving the container we can keep a bit clean. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

do you have room?

Occasionally we hear from people, asking if we have room on the farm for something. It can be alive or inatimate.

Over the summer, there were several truckloads of bamboo poles. Always a use for those on a farm!

Dogs have joined us, when people say "that dog went to a farm", sometimes that means our farm. 

The sweet dog that we traded 2 chickens and a dozen eggs to get. 

And the pot bellied pig that the cops found in Steelton ended up with us. 

And in our own version of duck dynasty, a box full of Pekin dogs arrived on farm yesterday. Before we moved onto our farm we leased land. The owners of that property kept a few Pekin ducks...they grow to be very big, solid white ducks...and they roamed loose during the day and were boxed up at night. They are so fun as they waddle, honk to each other and eat endless amounts of gnats and mosquitoes. We have lost ducks we had in years past to things in the night. This batch will get a shelter that locks up solid at night, and will be trained to go in there at the end of each day. 

There was another cardboard box of chicks. The kind that grow up to be broilers. 

The ducklings and the chicks will have to go into the brooders until they have full feathers. Their downy coverings will not keep them warm enough in January in Pennsylvania. The feathers grow in quick so it will not be long before they are outdoors. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

taking time

Scholarship. A wonderful word. Encompasses so much.

I'm off the farm for a few days. To have some time for learning, thinking, conversations, writing. About agriculture. And women in farming. And the state of the Farm Bill. And food distribution. And more.

I'm on a scholarship, and appreciate the opportunity to be here. Had the best glass of orange juice this morning. This does not happen easily where I live.

And there are these too. 

So difficult to believe that is alive and not plastic. 

There is a bit of time before the conference sessions commence. I'll be watching pelicans, those grace and beauty defying birds, dine with friends and enjoy sunshine on skin. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

country vs. city

Or rural vs. non rural. What's the real difference? Besides a population density of 2 per 13 acres?

We hear gunfire regularly. Helicopters fly over us too. We have a library, a place to stop in for a cup of coffee, paved roads, schools and even snow plows. We have wifi, cable tv, cell phones. Friends visit. We travel off farm for a dinner burrito. 

The real difference? We perform our own municipal services. 

Well. Except trash. We did not set our trash out on Monday night because the projected temperature was -some horrible thing for Tuesday morning. And we don't make enough to fill a garbage can. And it is so cold the trash doesn't stink. And it just didn't seem right to ask another human to be out in that weather to get our trash. So we kept it for a week. 

So the real thing that separates rural from no rural? What happens to your waste. The other type. Where does it go, and what are your expectations when things don't work perfectly.

When one of these is essential. Not because the pipes from the well burst. Or he supply lines to the sink, tub or washing machine. 

No, the wet dry vac is needed because the small section of drain that is inside the house, but not all the way to the septic system, gets frozen. And the drain can't empty into the septic system. But comes back in the house.

Not the toilets. We will use those again when temperatures are above freezing for a bit. For now we are using this.

To heat up the area. No matter what happens, we know it is all on us. We can't call our local municipality and expect them to do...anything. As things thaw, we spend the time figuring out the causes and making the repairs. 

Right now? It's time for a run to the local gas station. Just cause the toilets worked yesterday does not mean they will today. Enjoy your morning shower. And constitutional. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

the temperatures test us all

Yesterday the high temperature was somewhere around 2. Or maybe 5. With a wind chill in the minus. Coldest weather in at least 20 years.

We did not set out our trash or recycling. It can stay here for another week. We don't make that much so the cans are not full. And the trash collectors should not be risking losing extremities for an activity that is not essential. Drive right on by.

The livestock still need food and liquid water. Rounds were made slowly and carefully and using the 4 wheel drive truck for frequent farmer warming breaks. The cattle, pigs and chickens all moved around easily. The dogs too. Except for Sandi, the almost 12 year old Jack Russell. She shivered if not under a blanket. But gets mad when we put a coat on her. She is like a cat...

The unheated sunporch warmed up quickly in the all day sun. It also demonstrated different types of glass. The one side is thin panes of glass w/argon glass in between. The side with ice crystals is thicker, heavier glass and is double paned. There is enough heat transfer to cause the crystal formation on one and not the other.

It was never warm enough to remove the hat and coat. High inside was about 65, at least 10 degrees warmer than the house. Sunshine making it tolerable. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

just keep moving

We visited Calvin yesterday for 2 truckloads of hay. The barn is a beauty.

Others get hay from Calvin. He said a guy got a load yesterday to pack around the foundation of his house. And a good bit goes to the Farm Show. 

We stacked walls and added much more than usual to every enclosure. 

These piglets were completely buried in their hay. They emerged to see if we were dropping food. This was at the end of the day, as the sun was setting: a water run for that last liquid drink before all froze over.

The heat pump ran all night. The temperature in the house warrants hats, gloves, extra socks and full on winter coats. It should be sunny today so everything will warm up. 

We will work in shifts and not rush anything. Back inside to warm up. Checking extremities for circulation. Roasting a chicken for a hot meal. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

stacking hay bales

Every weather prediction is calling for dangerous temperatures in the next few days.

As farmers we keep livestock outdoors. We don't have a barn on this property. And wind chills of -20 are not anything we know.

The farmer has layers.

We own thin hats that go under fleece lined wool hats...3 layers over head AND ears. Lots of neck scarves. A face mask. 

And thermal legs, flannel lined jeans and boots made for snow mobile riding. A wide assortment of down filled coats so they fit one over another. Glove liners and heavy duty gloves. 

Our livestock have layers too: fat, fur, feathers, down...but they will still need help to survive these brutal conditions.

We will visit our local hay guy: 80 something year old Calvin and will load up on hay.

The weather will be above freezing on Monday. We will spend the day adding stacks of hay in L shaped patterns for the cattle and pigs to use for shelter from the wind. If the winds shift there will be enough space for all to move to the protected side. The little pigs will get their pens moved and then hay inside for burying into and outside for wind protection. 

There are 2 pens of broilers left. They will get shifted for wind protection and get additional hay on the ground, anothey tarp on top/sides and big drinks of water before temperatures plummet. 

There are 10 pens of egg layers. They will each get extra protection too. 

The dogs will all be in well protected spots too. 

The house and all of our plumbing fittings will need care. The kitchen sink cabinet will have the doors hanging open and we will cut off the water to outsiide. We read that houses in this part of the country are usually built to withstand temperatures of 13 degrees. It is predicted to be 1-2 degrees. That's a big difference when it comes to burst pipes and such. Since our outdoor "frost free" faucets were just replaced we will make certain and drain them out too. Don't want that job anytime soon. 

The regular chores need to be completed first. Every animal needs moved, watered and fed. On Tuesday and possibly Wednesday they might not be able to get liquid water. There is still snow on the ground, but at very cold temperatures water freezes quite quickly. Tuesday will certainly be a day where the animals and the farmers hunker down and stay as warm as possible. 

No brass monkeys here. But we would bring them in if we had them. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

PA Farm Show

We had the chance to steal away to the Pennsylvania Farm Show. The Farm Show takes place in early January evey year in Harrisburg. It is such a bargain! $10 to park no matter how many are in the car! No ticket cost to get in. Fill up every seat in the ride and visit.

January is great for us because we can get there. We can't attend summertime fairs because we are too busy. At this time of year we can take our leisurely time.

The first sight we saw as we entered was a long line for the Turkey Hill ice cream. Every day Turkey Hill gives away dixie cups of ice cream and coupons for purchasing more at their stores. People que right up for this.

We circled around just as the ribbons were handed out for best chocolate cake. The blue ribbon went to a young man. 

And the cakes were cut up and handed out too. Apples were sampled. 

Boer gots were being judged...this is the variety usually grown for meat. Goat...the number one animal protein consumed on earth. 

And every goat owner had received the memo to wear a plaid shirt.

There is an amazing number of poultry and waterfowl at this fair. Chickens of so many sizes, shapes and colors. Geese and ducks too. 

Time for a bite to eat. Baked sweet potato for the farmers. 

There were displays of conventional farms, including stacked cages of egg layers. 

So different from our girls. No toes in the grass here. There were examples of other methods that we don't use. And of feed we don't use either. 

There were pieces of equipment that cost twice as much as my first house. And solar panels, toys, plants, horses, bunnies tiny to huge, pink cow girl boots, pigs of all colors, cattle you could sit on for a photo opportunity...

Bull riding, tractor races, fleece judging. 

Everyday is something different. We have seen races of ponies pulling 4 wheel carts, draft horse teams pulling stacks of cement blocks, the sheep to shawl competition, little kids on tiny ponies, grown women riding at break neck speed around barrels...for $10 a carload we have to make it. We might even be there twice this year. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

working dog

Our dogs are kinda pets. Not like the dogs I had when I lived in apartments and houses with regular size yards. Those dogs hung out with us and sometimes chased squirrels. Our farm dogs are usually close to us, but at the same time working.

Jasmine, the dog I traded two chickens and a dozen eggs in a parking lot in Lancaster to get, is a great little farm dog. She is a very alert dog who patrols the whole farm while not chasing poultry or other livestock.

It was obvious the other night that something had gotten into the pen that holds our youngest laying hens. There was a hole in the wire and the remains of a dead bird. The pen was still full of little hens, so we knew losses were kept to a minimum by the dogs.

When we were close to Jasmine the smell of skunk was overwhelming. If you had asked me 10 years ago if a skunk would go after a chicken...and would break up a pen to do so...I'd have been to uncertain in my answer. Now I have no doubt that we have lost chickens to skunks and many others.

For a dog like Jasmine, she lives for the protection of her herd. Our 12+ acres are fenced so the dogs can move all over. She patrols all day and night. When the flocks start to make noise she hears it first and runs at jet speed to investigate. She chases anything that does not belong here and knows well the difference. We are certain she stopped a skunk from killing a pen full of hens a few nights ago. 

She has parts of the farm she will not travel. Jasmine will go up over the hill past the hoop house and then down near the bee hives but that is it. She does not go into the woods and always goes back up by the apple trees to wait. Meanwhile, Sandi is covering every inch of the woods, digging things out and doing what a Jack Russell does. And Chaz is near the front fence and checking out anything else going on. 

As we have more dogs we better understand different breeds and why they were developed. And why as farmers we need a mix of them. Different jobs require different dogs. 

who called it?!

A couple of local weather prediction professionals missed this snow. And the last one too. I've started following a few one line that do a better job reading the maps and letting a farmer's wife be prepared.

All pens were moved yesterday to a bit higher spots. Liquid water a couple of tines, because today there is nothing but snow and really really cold temperatures. Single digits.

The dogs are happy on the sun porch.

The eggs. They were fine when taken from the nest. Left in the basket on top of one of the pens while chores were completed they froze and cracked. Farmers breakfast tomorrow.


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