Most colorful Fall on the farm ever!

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It has been an amazing Fall. We are used to more subtle colors since we do not have Maples, but this year it’s been incredible. It was awesome that family came to visit right when the colors were best!

What’s going on at this point is all about transitions from Fall to Winter. It’s that time of year when there is a lot of clean up. Clean out all the gardens and put them to bed, clean out all the coops, clean out the old tomato cages wrapped in knotted tomato vines and clean through the last of the veggies, storing what can be, dried, frozen, canned or eaten. Oh and of course what goes to the pigs and chickens.

Hubby has been working very hard on fencing, trying to get every last bit done before the snow flies this year, actually not every last bit but everything he hoped for his goal this year. The cattle are systematically eating through every pasture we have and so it’s supplement with hay time. The pigs also are getting down to their last bits of pasture but they will be going to the locker soon and so we will just make it, pasture wise.

Speaking of pigs here is the the whole pig story…

Last year, as mentioned, we had loading issues with our pigs. The issue? We couldn’t load them, due to not having a proper enough loading out facility. Instead they were shot on farm by the local locker who came out and did it, then we loaded them with the loader into his truck and off he went to the locker where they were butchered in a USDA facility. We liked the “on farm kill” method so much we wanted to do it again this year, but it is like swimming upstream. We can not get anyone to do it so far, well, not true exactly. The locker from last year said they would but this is the “last year”, however, they don’t seem pleased about the arrangement, and I feel like they really would rather wash their hands of the whole thing. This means Monday I will be going for a field trip  to see a new facility. They also won’t do on farm kill, but they do have a facility and a way to do it where it will be lower stress on the pigs, lower stress means better meat. See, they prefer to load them the afternoon before and then bed them down overnight, so they relax. Then in the morning they only have to walk 20 feet. I would rather go somewhere that understands our feelings about low stress and although the people at the first market are very nice folks, both we and they have a different philosophy on the process. We don’t want to compromise their philosophy any more than we want to compromise ours. Updates to follow on how things go, at this point I have an appointment at both lockers and will cancel one after the field trip. The consequence of this is that we (hubby) WILL have to build a loading out facility since they will end up being loaded live. Since there are consequences to everything, here is another. If we do have a loading facility we could in the future, if we wanted to sell meat by the piece, and get full price for pastured bacon and the expensive cuts like roasts and chops. This will be something to revisit next year.

Pigs for profit or food for us? Cattle for land management or beef?

All of this said, it created another bigger conversation, we are not surprised anymore when this happens. Where are we going with the pigs and the cattle? What is our goal, both short, and long term? Are we raising cattle for a beef business or for cleaning out the woods (land management) and feeding ourselves? My feeling about the animals is that they have to earn their keep on the farm.  The pigs earn their keep in 7 months on the farm. Next year with proper licensing one pig will provide us with meat and the other two will be sold in halves or wholes and cover the cost of raising the pigs as well as our own pig specifically. It’s a win-win, in 7 months! My opinion is that it’s remarkably easy to raise good pork. Healthy balanced organic food in, healthy rotated pastures, low stress life, the edge of the woods where they have access to acorns, and walnuts, add in wild apples and garden scraps, pumpkins etc. This is all very easy to do. Good in, good product out. Raising grass fed, grass finished cattle, in my opinion, is far more complicated! Learning about grasses alone is a whole education and the type of grasses, the availability of them, the time of year, the weather, the breed of cattle, the environment and many other things play into how that meat will taste. Grass fed cattle also take twice as long to get to market (one of the reasons grass fed beef is so expensive) and are very hard on our weakest link which is pasture space. This all weighs in when asking if they are earning their keep?  Is  their presence here financially sensible? These are some of the scenarios that we talked through… If we continue breeding we will be harder on our pastures. Do we take the bull to market and have our first beef, and not replace him? This would put us to 8 head of cattle. We also have another steer that could go in at the same time putting us at 7. Then the next year we will have two steer ready to go in leaving us at 5 which would be far more appropriate for our pasture, additionally at this point we should have substantially more pasture and could consider getting a bull then. The following year we still would have one more steer to go in and then we would be down to 4 cows, possibly with a new bull, of course, then there is the potential of 4 more calves, but maybe we would be ready by then. What this plan would do is keep us in beef through the end of 2017. This plan proves the cattle can earn their keep in beef, as well as by restoring our wooded areas, also known as land management, which they are great at doing. A question that popped up out of this discussion was, “can you let a cow go two years without breeding”, and so the research continues…and the greenhorns keep reading.

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This was our chicken hoop that we were moving the chickens in all summer long. Now that the chickens have been butchered, here it is transformed into a…

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…mini high tunnel, or “tiny tunnel”.  We removed the green tarp over the old hoop coop and put on clear plastic so we can use it to extend the season. I planted: scallions, spinach, lettuce, radishes, peas (for the pea shoots), and transplanted a small kale plant into it. So far everything is coming up and the little green sprouts showing up are beautiful. I hope this experiment works!!

This is what it looked like before we lowered the hoop on top of the bales…

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and now it looks like this in there…

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Now for some picture fun…

How pretty is this amazing red cabbage?

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The Delawares are starting to lay, not consistently but we are getting there!

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This picture just looks like cattle on the side of the driveway. Ahhhh but it is so much more than that! This is a scene I marvel at each time, because it took years of fencing, on hubby’s part, to get them across the driveway! It’s a beautiful thing. Check out the fencing techniques below…our posts are all Black Locust, which had to be cut down, retrieved, and de-barked before they were ready for the project. Now that is a project all by itself!

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The picture above is from chicken butchering day… look at all the eggs that were in the butchered hens?! You may ask why did we butcher such seemingly great laying hens? Answer….because the hatchery gave us more females than we wanted. The picture below had to go next to the the one above because they are the peas and carrots of breakfast, they just go together…

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JOWL bacon. Nothing else needs to be said…

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This was taken the night we picked the last of the pears and apples. It’s been a wonderful Fall season!

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