Friday, July 19, 2013

Summer on the Farm

Our normal summers are so short that I keep thinking fall is just about here, but we are only mid-July!  We have been very warm and dry for the past 10 weeks and my garden shows it.  The pole beans are at least four weeks ahead of last year and the corn as well.  We grow a very short season corn, usually planting it about June 1st, and it matures late September.  This year we planted it mid-May and it’s already in silk.  Probably have sweet corn in two or three weeks.

Our garden with wild flowers

Our little farm was on the South Whidbey Tilth Farm Tour last week and Pam and I worked our butts off weeding everything – which we should have done anyway.  We grow using the Bio-intensive method, which uses 20 to 30 foot long raised (mounded) beds five feet wide.  You never walk on the growing beds so they don’t get compacted.  Every fall after we clean out all of the debris, we put about 12 inches of fresh goat manure (mixed with straw) over all of the beds except where we will be growing carrots.  They use to say that it was okay to use raw manure if you were not going to harvest for eight months, but latest studies show e-coli up to a year, so carrots, which we eat raw, don’t get the raw manure, just finished compost.  We have been doing this now for over 10 years and the soil, which was only about six inches deep when we began 10 years ago, is now about 18 inches deep.  Our plants are thriving in this environment.  Because our growing beds are so rich we can plant very close together and once the plants mature, we have very little weeding to do as the large plants shade out the soil, keeping weeds out and requiring less water.

Corn is doing well
At the end of the tour several of us were standing by the gate absorbing the colors and textures of the plants, and I commented on how quiet it was.  Just then a humming bird flew in, hovered in front of us, and greeted us (we have a family of four humming birds living in and around our garden) with a humming bird chirp.  We have never used anything but organic approved pesticides, and very little of those on our garden.  Our worst pest has been Canada thistle.  This is a nasty weed in the garden as it spreads by its root system.  I have been fighting it for 10 plus years and I’m finally getting it under control.

Canada thistle is an interesting plant.  It’s considered a noxious weed because it’s not native, invasive and cattle and horses won’t eat it.  Because they won’t eat this thistle it spreads like a wild fire in the pasture.  My goats love it so we have none where they live.  The positives are many: the flowers have a wonderful fragrance that attracts my honey bees and they make a very fine honey from it, aphids are attracted to it and along with the aphids come masses of lady beetles, and the seeds are loved by the goldfinch.  Unless you are willing to use heavy duty pesticides you have little chance of getting it out of your fields – which is fine by me.  Our garden is in the mist of wild pastures and forests allowing beneficial insects and birds a place to live, and when our plants need help defending themselves it’s easy for them to call in help.

I over wintered two honeybee hives.  One was very strong and one was week.  I bought a package of bees to make the third hive and it was struggling and lost its queen, so I re-queened it and our large hive, then found out the other week hive lost its queen.  Rather than re-queen that hive I combined it with the new hive so we now have two large hives.  This morning I compacted the new hive down to two deep supers and one honey supper (which is 70% full of honey), and removed a super of honey from the large hive and they have the second supper about 50% full.  Looks like I’m going to have a supper honey year, probably getting 90 lbs., vs. 30 lbs. last year.  I need about 30 lbs. for myself and as gifts, so I should be able to sell honey this year.
11 goats with three in milk

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Daisy Mae Kids!

Daisy Mae was bred early this past January to a Boer buck at the Stonebrier Farm in Oak Harbor.  Daisy is 50% Nubian/Boer, her mother being our best milker Surely.  She was almost a year old when we bred her but very large.  The rule is 9 months or 90 lbs. and you can breed her.  Daisy was over nine months and probably 110 lbs.

Daisy Mae on her 152 day of Gestation with the Goat Herd
The average time for a goat’ gestation is 150 days, so we really start paying attention about 148 days.  Daisy’s mother is always 152 days and yesterday was 152 days for Daisy.  We usually have births in the evening keeping us up way past our normal bedtime of 9 pm, but Daisy kidded about 3:30 pm yesterday.  I checked on her at 2:30 pm and she was normal, and then went in the house to get a nap thinking I might be up most of the night with her and her kids.  When I approached the barn at 4 pm I heard a different cry and Daisy had twin boy and girl on the ground.  What an easy birth for me.  By the time I got Daisy and her kids in the birthing room (which they will occupy for the next three weeks) the little boy was already nursing on his own.  This is very odd as I usually bottle feed them for the first hour and then work to get them on the mother’s teat.  The little girl worried me as she wouldn’t drink the bottle or nurse on her mother.

It was a warm day with the barn temperature about 72 degrees but I still turned on the heat lamp and used the blow dryer to get the kids warm.  I gave the kids their two shots and a dose of pro-biotics then went on to my other chores (gathering eggs, feeding the chickens, milking goats).  I tried to get the little girl to eat again but she would not.

The little boy the next morning
About 7 pm I went back to the barn with a bottle and the little girl was hungry, so I put her on the teat once again and this time she latched on and ate.  Again at 9 pm and then I got up at 1 am to be sure she fed once more.  She latches on well but I need to show her where the teat is.  She’ll probably figure this all out by this evening.

The little girl finally latching on to her mother's teat
Tomorrow morning we’ll be getting another shipment of baby chicks so I just scrubbed out the chick brooder house with hydrogen peroxide and water, along with the feeder and waterier.  Once the floor dries I’ll put down fresh straw and hang everything, check the heat lamp and lock it up.  Tomorrow about 8 am I’ll get a call from the Greenbank post office that my chicks are in.  Fun!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

It Sure Feels Like Summer

Here on an island in Puget Sound north of Seattle we have a saying that summer starts July 5th.  This year May was wonderful (but wet at times) and June is like summer.  Most days in the 70's and some reaching 80 or more.  We have not had any rain this month at all.

My job away from the farm is selling real estate and as most of you know the market has picked up.  This has kept me busy and put me behind on my farm work.  I took the day off from most of my real estate duties and finally got the duck yard fixed.  Last year the little ducklings kept escaping from the yard so I built a new fence between the duckling yard and the goat (buck) pasture.  The goats living in there destroyed the last fence so I beefed it up and put hardware cloth along the bottom to keep the ducklings in.  I don’t mind them going into the buck area but then they go under the gate into where the does live – and where our dog that lives with the goats also resides.  He likes to eat ducklings, so that is not good.

Momma Duck and her 24 Ducklings in their new house
We had two ducks hatch 24 eggs last month.  The first batch I moved into our chick brooder room, and then 10 days later when the second batch hatched I also move them in.  The two mother ducks fought and I had to remove one of them (the one with blood on her).  The remaining duck had no problem raising all 24, so that worked out.  Today I moved them all to the duckling yard where they can feast on bugs and weeds and get sunshine.  They will stay there until they feather out and then be moved into the regular chicken/ duck yard.  Late fall I’ll butcher all but three of the girls who we’ll keep for next year’s crop.  The Muscovy duck is very low in fat and we love the breasts marinated and then grilled.  Most of the meat on the Muscovy duck is on the breasts so I have been just cutting out the breasts, skinning them and disposing the other parts.  Kind of wasteful but I can butcher 20 ducks in an afternoon, vs. spending an hour on each one skinning them.  Forget trying to pluck them, I’ve tried that and it is nearly impossible.

The new fence separating the duckling yard from the buck yard
We had five goats kid this winter/spring.  Surely, my favorite goat of all time, kidded in January, one doeling and one buckling.  They are 50% Nubian (Surely is Nubian) and 50% Boer.  The Boer bucks are from South Africa and are raised for meat.  I have been told that a 50%’er will hang at 20% more than a pure Nubian, which is considered a “dual purpose” goat (meat and/or milk).   We sold Surely’s doeling (for $200) to a person wanting to raise meat goats.  More and more goat meat producers are going to this hybrid and then breeding the 50% Nubian/Boer doe back to a full blooded Boer buck.  The results are a good tasting goat that grows fast due to the rich Nubian milk.  Surely’s boy we have kept and will have butchered next spring.  His name is Icy – as he was born in a frigid night in January.  When he was born he seemed fine, then crashed.  We had to take him in the house, stomach feed him twice and let him sleep by the wood stove.  The next morning his mother rejected him and I had to bottle feed him for three months.  My mistake was not getting him dry enough, fast.  I now use a hair blow dryer to get them worm and dry.

Starshine at three months
Alure had one kid, a little girl that I named Starshine.  She was born in March on a very cold, clear, star-filled night.  Last year Alure had three kids and we thought she would again this year as she was huge.  Starshine was interesting as she wouldn’t eat.  For 10 days I had to hold her and pry her mouth open to get the bottle in.  Once it was in her mouth she would eat.  Then we had to train her to nurse on her mother as I hate bottle feeding goats.  That took another week of prying open her mouth.  After getting her fill of milk she would tuck her head under my arm and go to sleep.  She is the sweetest kid I’ve ever raised.  We now have her for sale for $200.  She’ll make an excellent pet as she is so friendly.

I have a love/hate reaction to bottle feeding goats?  The first three days (and nights) I go up to the barn every TWO hours to feed them.  By the end of the week I'm a wreck and usually come down with a cold.  What I love is holding them when they are young, watching them nurse on the bottle and they look up at me with their big eyes and you can see and feel their love.
We bought a new Nubian goat last winter – Spots-a-Glow, who we call Glowy.  Glowy kidded in March, one boy and one girl.  The girl went back to the breeder that we got Glowy from as part of the deal and we kept her boy and are raising him to be our Nubian buck.  I’m not happy with Glowy – she doesn’t give a lot of milk and her teats are small, so I now have her for sale for $200.  If you know anyone who wants to buy a cull have them contact me.  The problem with buying an adult goat is “why are they selling her?”  Farmers don’t sell their prize animals and I only want prized animals.
The way to buy a good goat is to buy from a top breeder, usually a kid as they are in the business of producing prize kids.  You take the risk that she’ll grow into a fine animal but if the breeder has a good track record, the risk is worth it.  After my experience with Glowy we went to a local breeder (the one we got Surely from six years ago) and bought a doeling from her.  Actually paid for her before she was born, and we paid top price ($600).  We named her Willow Rose and so far we are really pleased.

We have one more goat to kid, Daisy Mae is due this Saturday the 15th.  Her mother is Surely and she is a 50%’er.  We bred her to a Boer buck last winter so I’ll find out if the theory is correct.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Can a Farner Take a Vacation?

With all of the things we have to do on our little farm how do we get away?  My daily work schedule starts at 5:30 am about the same time my wife leaves for work.  She commutes off the Island to a school in South Everett, I go up to the barn to start my daily chores.  I let the ducks, geese and chickens out, change the water for them and then milk and feed the goats.  In the afternoon, I change the bird water, collect eggs, put more feed out for the chickens and again milk and feed the goats.  Evenings after we walk our dogs, I lock up the chickens, ducks and geese.  We are lucky enough to have some neighbors that are very down to earth and have chickens and in the past raised goats.  When we travel (twice a year) we hire them to do all of the chores.  We pay them $50 per day plus they get all of the goat milk and as many eggs as they wish.  Our goats are giving me about 1.5 gallons of milk a day, and we were gone four days on this last trip.  The black market price for goat milk is $12 per gallon, and we charge $5 per dozen for our chicken eggs, so milk and eggs are worth another $80 or so.  It’s a good thing for our friends and allows us to take a break.  Our animals come first and there is no comprise there.  They give us a wonderful product and we give them the care they need to thrive.

One of the trails we hiked (this one 15 miles) in Eastern Washington

Each spring, mid-May, Pam and I travel to Eastern Washington where the chances are much greater than here in Western Washington to have sunny and warm weather.  Pam and I were both born in May and our wedding anniversary is also mid-May, and then we do a late-July family camping trip.  Pam and I love to hike in the back country.

The first evening back when I was up with the goats, waiting for Surely to finish eating, I thought vacations are nice but this is where I belong.  I really love our little farm.