Here is a brief (maybe) overview of all that’s happening around the farm.
I know I’m not alone in thinking this but the end of daylight saving time, for lack of a better word, sucks. Adjusting to the perception of losing an hour of daylight is always a shock to the system. As a farmer, the lack of daylight in the winter months makes everything more difficult. Evening chores require additional lighting, field work becomes a weekend only job, and forget about tackling any larger outdoor projects, there just isn’t enough time to get it done without dragging out a bunch of extension cords and flood lights.
On the Monday following the changing of clocks, I was doing my normal evening chore routine. After milking our goats I filled up the feed and water pails for the pigs and opened the door to a pitch black abyss. Where did the the pig pasture go? I know that sounds kind of stupid, but when you move them every week it becomes an actual question, especially on a cloudy night after DLS. Being only slightly smarter than a 2x4, I elected not to trudge back to the workshop to find a head lamp, and proceeded to wander in the general direction I last remembered seeing our pigs. Pupils dilated to the extreme, my relatively good vision (for a human) discerned the vague outline of the feed trough. I dumped the feed in, poured the water over the top feeling pretty satisfied that I’d done a good job. Then the feed trough grunted and shook violently and my self satisfaction evaporated as quickly as it came. I had fed and watered the back of a pig, which looks remarkably like a half barrel style feeder in the damn dark!
I know the loss of daylight is inevitable this time of year in this part of the hemisphere but I’m not a fan of the sudden jolt experienced at the end of daylight saving.
Breeding season is on in goat world. Stinky bucks borrowed from our farmer friends have been visiting our girls and...tending to their needs. It’s really funny to watch the boys blubber all over themselves when they catch the sweet scent of a doe in heat. The downside to the rut season, besides the smell, is that soon we will be drying up our girls’ milk supply so they’ll be well rested and ready to feed their babies in early spring. Having access to our own fresh milk has really been an asset. We, and by we I mean Krista, have made many varieties of goat cheeses, ice cream, yogurt, kefir, and milk heavy desserts. The fresh milk will be sorely missed for a couple months. Next year we’ll have more girls in milk and we should be able to freeze enough to hold us over the dry period.
Our meat chicken season officially wrapped up last weekend totalling 75 beautiful broilers in the freezer. For the first time in three years I was able to use a mechanized plucker and had an experienced hand to help me. A big thank you to Jared at Foxfire Farm for all his help and for the use of his hand-made plucker; it really did a great job and took away the most tedious part of the butchering process. The plan for next year is to expand our broiler operation to match the growing demand. If you’re interested in purchasing chickens from us in the future, please contact us soon to get on the list. We do have a limited production capacity in order to ensure the finest quality chicken. In addition, check out our Farm Report for a detailed cost breakdown, one of the ways of offering you complete transparency in everything we do.
Our laying flock consists of between 15-20 hens. They are free range so it’s difficult to do a head count. Did you know that “free range” actually means poop everywhere and eggs anywhere? It does. All of our feathered animals have taken a liking to the goats and despite having their own coop with nice roosts and nest boxes they choose to roost on the cross beams of the goat shelter (poop everywhere) and nest in the goats hay feeders and sleeping stalls (eggs anywhere). All of this means more work to clean up after them and time spent trying to find hidden eggs. The solution? I’ve decided that an addition is needed to the existing coop and the whole thing could use a remodel to entice the chickens to roost in one place, lay eggs in another, and get out of the quickly approaching cold of winter. We’ll see how this all plays out in the next few weeks.
We currently have eight ducks; 1 Pekin, 3 Runner/Pekin crosses, and four Muscovies. I don’t really have plans for them right now, they are just kind of fun to have around and they do a great job eating slugs and many other insects while fertilizing the property. I’m hoping to have some natural breeding in spring and looking forward to having hilarious ducklings running around again. Eventually we’d like to put a pond on the property and the ducks will have a great place to hang out and just be ducks.
The phrase “breeding like rabbits” and all of its variants is dead wrong according to our breeding trio of Silver Fox Rabbits. We’ve had very little success in getting our does pregnant despite repeated attempts. Next year there will be big changes to the rabbit setup. First and foremost we want to have them in a moveable pastured system. This will allow them to forage a larger variety of plants, get more exercise, and have increased exposure to sunlight that isn’t shining in from a window. All of these things should help them regain their mojo. Also, I think we’ll bring in at least one more buck and doe in case the issue is physiological rather than environmental. We’ve had quite a bit of interest from folks wanting to buy their own breeding rabbits so I’d like to get a better handle on the rabbit situation in 2016. If nothing else, our rabbits provide tons of excellent manure for our gardens. Most animal manure is considered “hot”, meaning it has high levels of nitrogen that can burn young plants. Therefore, it must be composted for a year before it can be used in the gardens. Not the case with rabbit manure. It’s gardening gold because it’s “cool” enough to be used immediately. It boosts soil fertility while diversifying the soil’s microbiology.
We only have two left and they’re getting a bit mean. Guinea’s are notoriously bad mothers and it’s difficult to keep the offspring alive with aggressive males harassing them. They do an exceptional job consuming many insects and are thought to eat ticks by the thousands. Not sure at this point if we’ll add more in the future or not.
Anybody who has signed up for this year’s hogs has good reason to smile. The pigs are developing really nicely. Great muscling in the haunches, back, and shoulders; these are some impressive looking animals. I’ve been moving them onto fresh pasture every week lately as they continue to turn the soil for next year’s garden space while rooting around and having a blast. I can’t explain it, but these pigs are a pleasure to work with and I always look forward to spending some time in the pig paddock. Again, if you’re interested in getting on next year’s pig list, please contact us as soon as you can to ensure your share of 2016 pastured pork.
This week we’ll be visiting with local restaurants and grocers about buying locally grown products and, specifically, our microgreens. We would really love to start developing relationships with local businesses to incorporate more locally produced items on their menu or on their shelves. There’s nothing out there that’s more fresh or has higher quality than what we can produce and deliver right here in our own community. We feel this is an underserved market in this area and as all the stories of mass-produced-food nightmares continue to unfold we are confident people will be demanding better options for themselves and their families. It is our hope that restaurant owners and grocers share the same sentiments and will jump at the chance to serve locally produced, highly nutritious, fantastic tasting, organically raised food to everyone in the community.
The 2016 CSA planting and planning has officially begun. A few weeks ago I planted out our spring crop of garlic and mulched it heavily. Although the pigs are doing a great job turning soil for us, I think the area we need worked is a bit too large for the pigs to manage on their own. We are working on getting someone in here with a tractor and harrow to work up some ground for next year’s market garden. The boys and I have been picking stones and raking up the old pig pastures to prepare them for next year’s plantings. More information on the 2016 CSA shares will be coming soon. Look for us to be participating in next year’s Tomahawk farmers market and possibly other markets in Merrill, Rhinelander, and/or Wausau.