Friday, February 28, 2014

work gloves

I almost always wear gloves. There are plenty of things here I'd kinda prefer no to get on me.

We buy these gloves by the 12 pack. Try are reinforced on the hand side and knit on the back of the hand.

We have them in a variety of colors and fabrics. They are our go to glove, wash, dry, reuse.

On days like this...chores done at a temperature of 7, the big gloves come out. Since extremities are at risk in such low temperatures we use these triple layer super insulated (but still washable!) versions.

If it gets colder than zero for an extended period here in south central PA we are going to rethink this whole farming thing...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

preparing for August

The laying hens have a cycle of production. They prefer to lay eggs when the days are filled with sunshine. As fall approaches egg production decreases.

So these gals arrived on the farm last week. A couple hundred day old chicks, sorted to just females. They are in the brooder and have doubled in size in a week.

On the field are 200 hens we received as day old chicks last fall. They are likely to begin laying in March or April. Markets and egg CSA shares start in May and we will need plenty of eggs. 

Also ready to start are the mix of hens from last year: a pen that has arucanas and Silver Lace Wyandottes. 

The plan is that in August these little ones will commence production. And make up for some of the ones that slack back in the fall.

Already we are getting many eggs every day. There is daylight but not warmth. Predictions are for 2 degrees overnight tonight. So hold on girls warmer days are on the way.

And still the farm looks like this.

Imagine walking to your car over unplowed snow. And then multiply times at least 10, because of distance and number of trips. Add in the wind factor and its a flannel kind of day.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

after the enlightenment

I am reminded, watching this video from earlier today, of a phrase I once heard. "After the enlightenment, the laundry".

A reminder that no matter what there is regular and routine work that needs doing. And the dogs are performing a task that last year was not done on our farm. We lost many egg layers and broilers early last year. As the weather warmed the losses just kept happening. Even when the days were getting sunnier but were still so cold last year we became the killing fields. Keeping our poultry alive and producing is what keeps us able to farm. Without them we go out of business.

And amazing support from such lovely people. Sunday a generous offer to offset a major expenditure for the farm, one that will greatly reduce operating costs. Today an update on our big vision, the Farmhouse Of The Future and an outreach program that can impact many. We are both impatient and want things yesterday and yet good things take time. We know this and yet...ach. Must do the laundry. Big ideas. Big visions. And yet we still need our egg makers able to produce and protected from predation. These dogs lying in the sun are the difference between big doings and jobs at the gas station. Good to remember. And good to have clean clothes too.

Monday, February 24, 2014

a few days of warmth

And this happens

The garlic wakes up.

It is cold again. Predictions of snow again. But the spinach could be harvested yesterday. Hens are producing eggs every day. Sun is out many hours. The brunt of winter is behind us.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

chipping away

The big thaw revealed plenty of branches down. Quite a mess. The front yard, the little yard by the driveway, the back yard.

Some we will burn when it dries out. The biggest drops I could not move and some trees still have chunks hanging in them. We will get that cleaned up later.

For now, neighbors loaned us a chipper. Putting branches into it had me remember a couple of times in NY life when loud equipment was used.

My dad died when I was 14. The summer before he passed we visited our families in Missouri. At the time his brother lived in a huge house on 20 or so acres. There was work that needed to be done with trees and branches, and my dad asked me to take up a chain saw and make cuts with it. My uncle was there too. I remember asking why...why would I ever need this knowledge?! And I remember being a bit outraged. My father told me he might not always be around to do that sort of work and that it would be a good thing for me to know how to do. My uncle agreed. So chain saw I did.

I had friends who had an agreement for years. They lived on an oversized lot, filled with old trees. Branches fell or were trimmed out on a regular basis. After their son was born, whenever she was feeding the baby, he was outside feeding the other baby: the chipper. He would jump up and say "must feed baby" and run out the back door.

Funny how memories from doing a simple task are dusted off and shaken up over the roar of a machine.

And now we have our own little bit of mulch. And a bigger pile started for a burning. Which brings up an entire different set of memories, burning things that need it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

what thawing reveals

Across 13 acres there is a good amount of storm damage. It has been hidden by the frequent snows we keep getting. Two more are predicted for next week.

Yesterday and today have been warm. The snow is still here but receding. As it goes the tree branches are revealed. And plenty of clean up work to do!

From little piles.

To big branches

And even the beautiful beech tree lost a section

Will be borrowing or renting a chipper to make our own mulch.

Friday, February 21, 2014

memory fades

When I was in Florida in January it was all like this.

And this

And we had meetings too. And formal and informal gatherings.

And while there I forgot cold and snow. Got comfortable with seeing my arms again.

Because since then it is nothing but 

I visited an Amish farm. Had trouble locating the farmer. The kids were in the house, waving from windows.

The thermometer by the front door read 18 degrees. With the sun shining.

The farmer appeared. She had been in the outhouse. OUTSIDE. In 18 degrees.

My 52 degree house? Its all relative isn't it?!

Thursday, February 20, 2014


We use our livestock trailer infrequently. Sometimes it is used for bringing livestock here, or for transporting livestock for amorous meetups and sometimes to be processed. None of these happens often.

A month or so ago it was used to transport pigs. Load them in, pull off the farm. Done.

Last week cattle needed to be transported. In the intervening weeks it had snowed every few days. Ridiculous amounts of snow for this area. And the temperatures had stayed below freezing day and night.

The trailer was snowed, sleeted and iced in. Just snow is easy: shovel it out of the way and off you go.

The trailer was entombed. Encased in solid ice. And the pathway out was all ice too.

We use wood chips for a variety of jobs on farm. In walkways for mulch. Under baby chickens to absorb litter. And in this circumstance, to provide traction for the 4 wheel drive truck to pull the livestock trailer out. After breaking ice around it with a pickaxe.

Nothing can handle ice. At this time of year temperatures warm during the day and snow melts. It freezes at night and ice forms. Might be time for wood chips in the back of every truck.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

wintery mix

A few observations from the farm:

When it is 34 degrees the eggs do not freeze in the nest. It has to be well below freezing, as it has been for weeks, to have frozen eggs. The pigs and dogs will be disappointed at all intact eggs coming out of the nests. Not so many for them now.

There is a stage at accumulated snowfall where the electric fence holding pigs where they are supposed to be ceases to conduct electricity. We have reached that stage.

The melting part? Can't get here soon enough. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

eating local. 15 degrees edition

There are days in the fall when we are completely overwhelmed. The vegetables are ripening as fast as we can pick them. And some we miss because it is hot and we are exhausted.

We like to can stuff to preserve. But some days it is just too hot to crank everything up. And still the vegetables are coming in. Letting things rot is just not an option.

There is plenty of freezer space. We own two upright freezers for our personal use and two chest freezers for farm use.

Whole ripe tomatoes go into bags and into the freezer. Fresh green beans, ends snapped and strings pulled also get bagged and frozen.

When last years turkeys ended up at 40+ pounds, we cut portions and bagged and froze that too.

On a 15 degree day we combine all 3 things, along with a little bit of water, salt and pepper, into a dutch oven. Each component is frozen solid. And it stays on the stove until the delicious odor overwhelms, and we add a few fresh greens and herbs and then have a bowlful of delicious dinner. The hoophouse helps to have the fresh greens available, and the ease of the freezer really makes eating from the farm a possibility all year long.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

we had not planned on it...

We started farming with geese for protection. And they did an outstanding job. Until they didn't anymore.

And then we lost a lot of poultry. Like put a farmer out of business lot of poultry.

And we purchased a dog from a local animal rescue. A beautiful, territorial, protective, big dog. With a growl that makes the earth rumble. Happy in the house, the porch, the field, the truck, the garage. He does not like strangers, but once he lets everyone know that everything is good.

And then, in a parking lot in Lancaster, I handed a woman 2 chickens and a dozen eggs. And she handed me a thin small dog. She had told me the dog was a Jack Russell but this dog is a small shepherd. Like a heeler. Spotted. Very alert. Fast. On anything like a duck on a June bug. Loves everyone. Has doubled in size and is still a small dog. She does not enjoy the truck. Everywhere else she goes her tail wags and she has a smile on her face. Except in the truck. She stays on the farm most days.

And then, a friend posted a few photos of a beautiful dog. A dog that has had a bit of a hard way. Pulled from a high kill shelter. Landed in a rescue. There for several months without being selected for a home. Picked by a kind hearted, sweet souled woman, has kids, has many responsibilities. Who saw this beautiful dog and wanted to rescue her. But really. Who can take an agile, active hound dog? A good sized dog who wants to be outside all day, nose to the ground, chasing all kinds of critters?

And my friend posted again. Dog needs a home. The first posting I had shown the photo to my husband. We had both remarked that she looked like a lovely dog. The second posting promoted me to write.

Sweet? Spayed? Housebroken? Needing of 12 fenced acres?

Sweet. Not yet spayed. Not housebroken. Needing 12 fenced acres.

Another friend had asked us last year. Do you need metal sort of cages/collapsible fencing things. Sure. We will take them.

And today this sweet dog shows up. Poops on the floor without asking to go out. Is sweet and beautiful and confused. And just spayed. Wearing her cone of shame that almost shatters it is so cold outside.

She has the softest fur and sweetest eyes. Right now she is sequestered in a confined space in the other building, using the fency things brought to us last summer. Her stitches need to heal before she can romp and run with the other dogs. And to help her keep her area clean it is small. She will run about again tomorrow. Today she was out until she walked. Twice. While the other dogs watched with curiosity and later sniffed where she had been.

This spring we plan to be off the easy pickings list for fox, skunk, weasel, possum, cat, dog and all the rest that like chicken and turkey. New egg layer peeps, 200 of them, arrive this week. And we are fortified to protect them.

Meanwhile Sandi still says no other dogs come near me. That remains unchanged.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

no stopping

It's snowing. And not just a dusting. The snow has been falling heavy for 5 hours. And we have at least 5 more hours of steady snow to go.

The snow is deep enough that the clothesline, normally overhead, has to be ducked under to miss.

And the ducklings we were given a month ago are ready to go outside. They have full feathers. But they are white ducks and we would lose them!
Really they can't go out because we don't have a structure for them. And just getting the chores done...walking the enough.

Friday, February 14, 2014

footwear and spinach

We own many pairs of boots. In summer we wear lighter, ankle high boots. In winter we wear higher, heavier, insulated boots.

And in the past few days boots get soaked in a few hours of work time. The snow is so thick that feet get cold while at the same time sweating.

Pairs are switched out through the day. The snow is deep. And more here tomorrow!

Meanwhile The spinach is neither growing nor stopping. In this low amount of light and below freezing temperatures both day and night the spinach is not growing. It will as soon as the sunshines or the temperatures increase.

The amount of snow we have received here is evident if you look at the walls of the hoophouse behind the spinach. We have knocked it off the roof and it keeps coming.

Only 4 weeks left of this. We hope.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


January is busy with conferences for agriculture. First week of February is PASA, which ends our conference season.

Homer brought samples and photos of farm hacks. The room filled with people and we had a great time showing what we do here to make things work.

And back to it. One of the ideas we heard was to plant the tiny garlic to use as garlic chives. So in the ground they went. Leeks are going in too. Its going to snow a foot in the next 24 hours but its not too early to get started!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

without power

Not as cold and yet, damaging.

Our power went out this morning. We have the generator hooked up for an oil filled radiator to warm up one room. All water has been drained from our pipes inside the house.

It is on the back porch, away from the house. It is important to keep the fumes away from the house.

Also outside, there is this.

While Homer made use of the LED headlights my brother gave us for Christmas.

And I'm making use of the ridiculous fake fur hat, usually seen at raves. Or on farm trying to stay warm. Coffee had to happen too.

We might not have power. But we still have plenty of options.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

in just a few days

A few days ago this dog was wearing a collar. A collar she has worn for months.

When she was first bartered for: a couple of chickens and a dozen eggs in a parking lot in Lancaster, she was wearing a tiny, thin pink collar. 

Within a few weeks it did not fit her. Jasmine probably weighs twice what she did when we made the trade for her. 

So she had a new, wider, bigger collar. And has worn it ever since. Until a couple if days ago. She was exploring our fenced in property and returned to the house naked. Her collar is out there somewhere. But where to begin the search?

Almost 13 acres is fenced. The collar is somewhere out there. 

And then this happened. 

Which means it could be weeks until we see her collar again. Jasmine is not a wandering off kinda dog. She is happy to stay here and we don't walk her on a leash. Our dogs are more run themselves around the farm as we do kinda pets. If you have a collar for a dog in the 20 pound size range that you might not be using, she would be happy to put it to use. Until hers reappears. Which at the rate we are going will be the end of April!

She's pretty content without it. But accessories make the dog. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

its back

Yesterday we could see green. Lots of green. Today it is a totally different story.

The laying hen pens and the one last pen of chickens finally moved yesterday. The pens have been frozen/snowed/iced in for a while, during the time of subzero temperatures. 

The sky and the forecast tell us to expect another 6-8 inches of snow today. With more later this week. 

We planted spinach in the hoophouse last fall. It needs sunshine to grow. Not really happening this year. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

wintertime learning

In the winter we still produce, but its slower. The low light and the cold temperatures slow things down. The number of cattle and pigs on farm are reduced dramatically. Vegetables grow but at a much slower pace. We have some eggs and chicken but no where near as much as in spring, summer and fall.

Time is taken in planning, scheduling, budgeting. Orders are placed with suppliers for chicks, seeds, polts, tubers, ground cover, backup irrigation parts and stocker calves. We plan the rotation of where vegetables will go. Annual business meetings with the accountant and board members happen.

And we attend conferences and meetings for agricultural policies and practices. One thing we saw recently was this display on the feed mix that goes to livestock.

The two in front surprised us. Pasta. Why go thru the process of making grains something else? Why not just feed the cattle the grain itself?

And candy meal. Not certain what that is. 

Prompted a conversation with our feed supplier. Reassurances about what is in our poultry feed and why it is so expensive. Lots of whole grains, gmo free, cracked and a few trace minerals. 

We hear from people that our eggs, chicken, turkey, pork and beef don't taste like any other. This might be a part of it. 


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