Saturday, February 1, 2014

year at a glance 2013

Happy New Year!

It's that time again.  Well actually, it's past that time again, time for the holiday family photo and letter. I'm begging off being so late this year due to a) we weren't with our daughter until Christmas Day, making a pre-Christmas photo card pretty impossible; and b) right after Christmas we left on two holidays. I'm home now, so no more excuses.

Let's start at the beginning.  I know I have missed a lot of posts this year, and I am aiming to try to catch up and fill the gaping holes by posting backwards in time (kind of like Dr. Who, but without a Tardis). But until I get everything posted, here's an outline of what kept us busy this year. 

It all started with the Winter that Refused to End.  The critters seemed to stay toasty enough inside the Cheep Shed.

Boo & Monet looking for summer

Hens roosting in the Cheep Shed

Hunny, our Velveteen Lop, tried to kick-start our kitchen remodeling project by chewing up the old linoleum. She went out to live in the barn when we ran out of bricks to put on top of the numerous chewed areas.

A visit to our friends at Nordic Hills in early Feb. brought us joy watching their new baby lambs romping about.
Lambs in the barn at Nordic Hills

What better way to endure the Winter That Refused to End but bottle up some home-brewed pear cider (perry) from our very own pear tree? 

{Note: it was nom!  Perfect with a bowl of popcorn and a movie on a cold night}

Bottles ready for perry cider

The end of March brought yet more snow but also our first attempt at tapping our tiny maple stand (4 whole trees).  Then one of our four trees blew down in a bad wind in late spring.  But before that happened, we managed to salvage 8 gallons of sap which turned into a couple pints of syrup.

Tapping maple trees

{Tip: Don't boil down 8 gallons of sap in your kitchen.  You'll have a maple-scented house for ages (not a bad thing) but that much moisture in a small area will wreak havoc.  We had varnish-maple-sludge hanging off the cabinets and dripping down the walls.  Not good.  Boil it up outside.}

boiling down maple sap into syrup

In April the cats started venturing outside on a more regular basis.  They found the wood pile to be a nice vantage point to scan the hay fields for rodents or scary-things-that-might-be-approaching.

Zoey & Mojo on the wood pile

Early April brought an ice and wind storm that took down several large branches from the white pines near the house, and also the aforementioned maple tree.

April ice storm

But April also heralded the arrival of our very first turkey hatchlings, their gangly legs and tiny peeping lifting my late-winter-waiting-for-spring spirits. 

newly hatched Blue Slate turkey poult

We also welcomed a hatch of 11 of our own chickens, 10 of which turned out to be roosters!

Ameraucana cross chicks

Work took me away from the farm for the last two weeks in April, a change I welcomed, even though I only got as far south as Danville, IL.  Still, there was no snow, temps were mild, and I got to wander through Heron County Park and Wetland area several times over the two weeks I was in the area.

Trumpeter Swans in Heron County Park, Danville, IL

Highlights included a Blue Heron rookery, eagles, geese and swans and many other water-loving birds.

Mother's Day found a rare, spare minute with C-baby at the MN Landscape Arboretum. The hothouse orchids and flowering trees reminded us that spring was indeed just around the corner now.

C-baby at the MN Landscape Arboretum

espaliered at the MN Landscape Arboretum

May 15th brought one of my very favorite days of the entire year - the arrival of our Cornish Cross Broiler chicks from Cackle Hatchery!

Plus a small handful of Broad Breasted White turkeys, a commercial breed (your typical Butterball turkey), which we thought we would try raising on pasture this year along with our heritage turkeys.  BBW's have been raised for generations to grow very fast and put on a lot of breast meat.  We hoped they would also thrive on our pastures like our meat chickens have been.

Broad-breasted white turkey poults

{They did!  Our hens were 26# and our toms 36# at harvest!}

Two days after the broilers arrived we picked up our order of 200 saplings - maples, domestic apple, plum, cherry, walnut, spruce, elderberry, and serviceberry - and began the task of planting.  This tedious task was greatly aided by the purchase of a bulb drill, and Papa Bear seemed to enjoy using his new gadget to drill all of the planting holes.  

I'm hoping we have a crew living here by the time these trees have their first (and subsequent) harvests!

Papa Bear showing off the bulb drill, used for sapling holes

Mowing around all of these trees all summer long would prove to be one of the most time-consuming tasks on the farm every weekend.  Thank goodness for the riding lawn mower!

mowing for the spruce tree windblock

{Thanks mom & dad!}

As if mid-May wasn't busy enough already, we also had to squeeze in alpaca shearing. Shearing alpacas is fun, if your version of "fun" includes full body wrestling, dodging spit and cleaning up piddle & poo.

{And if your version of fun DOES include the above, please come over when we shear in the spring!}

Monet's gorgeous fleece coming off

My naked girls, Brigid (back) and Grace (front).

naked alpacas!

Last year there was new grass growing in March and temps in the 70's.  This year we had to wait until mid-May to put anyone out on pasture.  But oh what a beautiful time of year it is on our little farm!

spring on the little farm!

Bleeding hearts at the Little Farm

Last year we spent most of June running back and forth to our multiple storage units in Mayer retrieving our belongings one, 16' flatbed trailer load at a time.  Needless to say, there was no time to put in a garden, which happily ran rampant with weeds galore.

This year however I was determined to tame the dragon.  The entire, 26'x110' dragon.

I started by weeding the two rows of garlic I hastily put in late fall.  This task alone took me about two weeks of back-breaking labor.  Thankfully our friends took pity on us and one day dropped off their rototiller.  Now I'm a fan of doing whatever I can without a machine.  We own no tractor, no skid steer, no equipment larger than a lawn mower and old ATV.

However, I could have cried when that rototiller showed up unexpectedly.  In a couple of hours the entire garden was done.  After which we put the chickens on it, to scratch up anything else they could find (pests!) and give it a little nitrogen boost.

chickens in the garden

Alas my lofty garden plans fell by the wayside when animal chores and work tasks took priority of my time.  I did however manage to get a small plot of Indian corn planted (which was supposed to be a plot of 3 sisters) along with about 16 tomato plants, a packet of Dragon carrots and over 500 Black Valentine black bean plants, which did supremely well despite my neglect, 1/3# of seeds yielding over 8# of black beans at harvest.

The rains that came in May didn't let up until the very end of June, which meant no making hay until the beginning of July, which meant the critters could not go out to graze on the hayfields until after the 4th of July.  We did graze the alpacas around the orchard, carefully avoiding each row of baby trees.

Alpacas grazing in the orchard

The end of May brought my favorite delivery of all - even more precious than the baby broiler chicks - the arrival of 17 heritage turkey poults from Porters Turkeys.

I hadn't realized heritage baby turkeys were such a hot commodity.  I wanted to receive my poults in April, but they had already sold out until July, unless I was willing to take a "grab bag" of leftovers from their earlier hatches. So I ordered the minimum - 15 birds - and hoped we'd get some breeds we liked.

What we ended up with were 17 bundles of peeping adorableness.  6 Sweetgrass (a breathtakingly gorgeous breed which we've kept for our permanent breeding flock); 4 Tiger bronze (we kept 2 females); 3 Pencilled Palm and 4 Jersey Buff.

Heritage turkey poults from Porters Turkeys

I had forgotten how crazy busy May was until looking back at everything we crammed into this month. Especially given Papa Bear is only around 3 days/week to work on farm stuff with me.  And I was also going through a massive certification program for my job, which required at least 20 hours/week just to study for each of the 22, 2-hour tests I needed to pass to complete my certification.  How we survived May I still don't know.

The broilers all went out on pasture between 2-3 weeks of age, where they will spend their remaining six weeks chasing bugs, eating grass and of course getting big.

broiler meat chickens on pasture

This year I left the door to the pen open so the chickens could wander more of the paddock, although they rarely went more than a few feet from their large feeders!  I still moved their pens every day, since the manure builds up wherever the pen is (wherever they rest).  And despite a pair of Red-tailed Hawks on the property, we've not lost a single bird (or any critter) inside our electric fences from Premiere1 and Kencove.

Everything on our farm runs on grass.  From the broiler meat chickens to the heritage turkeys to the rabbits, we (or rather, Papa Bear) has devised mobile pens that we move around the fields surrounded by protective electric nets (solar powered), moving the animals as their supply of fresh grass runs low.

This does several things - it breaks the parasite cycle, it gives the pasture grasses enough rest (grazing too soon is the fastest way to kill off your pasture), and it forces the animals to eat everything in the pasture - not just the "candy" (clover, alfalfa).  They have to eat their vegetables, too.  It promotes a "polyculture," and that is exactly what we want in our pastures.

Due to the heavy rains during May and June, our order of honeybees was delayed until the end of June.  We installed a nucleus colony into each of our two new top bar beehives and crossed our fingers we could keep them alive all summer.

Nucleus colony box sitting on top of top bar beehives

Using this type of hive does not produce the biggest harvests of honey, but we were more concerned with the ability of the honeybees to build combs to their own specifications (which helps them reduce the population of varroa mites which kill thousands of colonies every year) and having them around to help pollinate our own gardens.

installing nucleus colony frames into top bar hive

The bees were pretty active the day we installed them, but thankfully nobody got stung in the process.

A small group of Amish market lambs arrived the end of June, thanks to our cobbled-together "redneck livestock trailer," i.e., cattle panels and some tie-down straps.  Unlike last summer, this year we never had to trim a hoof or treat for foot rot, weepy eyes or the runs.  These lambs were vigorous and healthy.

redneck stock trailer

Lambs in the haybunk.

lamb in the haybunk at the Little Farm

July saw the arrival of Grace's first cria, a black female we named Bella Noche. Despite their giraffe-like gangly legs, these little critters are usually up and walking around within a couple of hours.

Grace's first cria, Bella Noche

This month we also moved the baby turkeys into the cheep shed (out of their stock tank brooders).  Turkeys are more fragile than chickens and require a longer period of time out of the elements.  Here a pair of pint-sized toms strut their stuff.

baby tom turkeys (jakes) strutting in the Cheep Shed

Our hay was finally cut and baled the beginning of July, which meant spending the entire 4-day holiday weekend picking up bales and stack the haymow.

Blue Slate tom turkeys discussing the hay crop

Our haymow holds about 500 small square bales.

full haymow

Our first New Zealand White meat rabbits arrived and went out on pasture in mobile pens Papa Bear created.  Rabbits eat a lot of grass when given the chance.  This makes them healthier and happier than rabbits fed pellets alone.

New Zealand White rabbits on pasture in mobile rabbit tractors

At 8 weeks of age, I piled all 48 of our broiler chickens in the back of the Envoy SUV, cranked the A/C and headed 100 miles to the nearest USDA processor. They all dressed out around 4#, a perfect roasting size.

7-week old Jumbo Cross broiler chicken on pasture

In late July we snuck in a quick camping trip with extended family to Whiteface Reservoir in northern MN.  Here Papa Bear creates a s'more that to me looks like a pig snout!

s'mores are the best when camping

The end of July Brigid had a dark brown male we named Cocoapelli - cocoa for his color, and the rest a play on words for the trixster character of the southwest.

Brigid's Cocoapelli

I also began learning how to spin this month.  Some of the women in my knitting group also spin, so I asked one of them to teach me how.  She has a Louet wheel that even a novice can learn to spin on.

learning how to spin

My first skeins of spun yarn.  First attempt is the ivory one in the middle. The grey one on the left was my second attempt.

Handspun wool yarns

By August we had mostly settled into a routine.  Move the sheep and alpaca paddocks twice a week.  Move the turkey paddock once a week.  Move the rabbit paddock every few days (and the pens twice a day). Haul 8 x 4 gallon buckets of water (over 250# of water) daily to the various paddocks (via ATV and cart).  Haul 50# bags of feed to the poultry paddocks every few days.  Try not to melt in the summer heat.

Boo watches me while Monet relaxes

After Cocoapelli was born, we waited a couple weeks then sheared both crias. Doing so helps their coats grow in better by removing the "cria tips" that were present en utero and which get very brittle and also cling to all sorts of vegetable matter.  A sheared cria will have a much nicer first clip.

Bella Noche gets shorn

We also picked up a few more rabbits this month, when a friend was leaving the area and had to find homes for his two does, one of which came with a litter of black and white kits.  They too went out on pasture of course.

adopted baby bunnies

Mid-August was time to harvest garlic.  I can't wait to use our very own garlic all winter long.

garlic harvest!

Our commercial turkeys grew exceptionally well on pasture this year, our tom topping out at 36# and our hens around 26#.  Granted we were a month late getting them to the processor.  We have learned our lesson and will plan our processing dates more carefully in 2014.

broad breasted white turkey getting ready to be weighed

Late August found us out in Sheridan, WY for the Elk's Youth Rodeo. I really enjoyed watching all of the events and admiring the skills these kids have, many of whom have been on horses since they were toddlers.

Ribbon race at Sheridan Elk's Youth Rodeo 2013

By fall I am ready for things to start winding down. The physical labor of the summer is starting to wear on me, as well as the heat.

Papa Bear devised these ingenious mobile shade shelters for the ruminants this year, and they worked splendidly.  We're able to hang their mineral buckets inside to keep the minerals from getting wet, and the critters use them throughout the hottest parts of the day.

shade shelter out on pasture

At the end of September, on our annual trek to the Bayfield, WI area, we officially began our permanent breeding flock of ewes when we purchased three purebred Icelandic ewes from Whippoorwill Farm in Iron River, WI.

Icelandics were the only dairy animal in Iceland before large haying equipment became available in the 40's.  In addition to being used for dairy, Icelandics have a dual-coated wool (the Tog is the outer, courser and the Þel is the inner, finer wool)  that can be used for many purposes, and they are also a meat breed of sheep.  They are naturally short-tailed (requires no docking) and are excellent foragers.

Icelandic ewes Elli, Finn and Berrit

In October we finally had our very own first litter of rabbits.  They were left in the mobile pens on pasture, being careful to make sure they were in the nest box before moving the pen each time. We found kits raised this way are extremely vigorous and healthy, as the babies will nibble on grasses even while still nursing, slowly acclimating themselves to life on pasture and giving themselves the health benefits of different greens in their diets.  Conversely, kits suddenly exposed to pasture at an older age will often get diarrhea and die.

5-day old New Zealand White kit

In mid-October we were invited to bring some animals into Kendall for their annual fall festival, Colors of Kendall. Once again we utilized our redneck stock trailer for the transport.

redneck stock trailer strikes again

The festival visitors really seemed to enjoy the animals.  We also brought down some of our rabbits for kids to have something to touch.  My spinning instructor Pat was there with her Louet giving a demonstration.

Pat demonstrating how to spin at the Colors of Kendall

The next day, we sheared all of our Icelandic ewes.  They grow wool so quickly they actually need shearing twice a year.  We've shorn and assisted shearing hundreds of alpacas in our time on various farms, but these little ladies put up quite a fight for us.  We were all pretty worn out at the end of the day!

shorn Icelandic ewes

White, grey and black Icelandic wool.

baa baa black sheep have you any wool?

October was also when we finally got around to pressing all the pears we had harvested earlier.  The device Papa Bear is using can be made from these instructions here.

pressing pears

pear juice!

All of our Broad-breasted whites and a fair number of our heritage turkeys all went to customers for the holidays.  We kept our 6 Sweetgrass turkeys for a permanent breeding flock.  We already have orders for 40 more turkeys in 2014.  Looks like we'll be in the turkey business for awhile!

6-month old Sweetgrass tom

While researching meat rabbits I had read about raising them in "colonies," rather than individual cages.  So in one section of the cheep shed we set it up this way and allowed our two mama does and four female offspring to remain together, running around loose.  They are separated from the poultry.  The cement floors keep them from digging out. They really seem to be enjoying the freedom of this arrangement, and can often be seen running and kicking up their heels.

boys will be boys

Snow and cold came extremely early this year, plunging us into temps well below zero in early December.  I am grateful for our large crop of hay which should have no trouble getting us through the exceptionally cold season.

Happy 2014!

And that, my friends, concludes our year at a glance for 2013.  Thank you for visiting my blog, and please do come for a farm visit soon!

And if you're in the market for any of our grass-fed meats, please visit our websites:  Litengård (our farm site, still under construction) and Meadowfed Meats, LLC (our CSA meat share service). 

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl blog


Beth said...

I have checked back here, often, waiting on pins and needles for your next post. And, I will admit, have gotten irritated with you for not putting up a new post:) But, after r eading this you are forgiven... Wow, is all I can say! Y'all are so flippin cute and the farm looks great!I wish you were near us so I could take my sons for a visit! Loved it!

jenlarson said...

Wow - you guys have been busy!! As always, I love your posts and pictures! Your icelandic ewes are beautiful! If there is a weekend this spring that you could use a few extra hands - we'd love to come out and visit your farm and help out with anything, to get a bit of farm experience :)

Victoria Strauser said...

Thank you Beth! I know I've been so far behind in posting. You'll be happy to know I cut back my hours of off-farm work so that I will have more time to photograph and write! Thanks for sticking with me during this transition!

Victoria Strauser said...

Jen we'd love to have you and the kids visit. Would you like to be here for shearing, or something else? We could use the kids to bag fleece and things like that. Any time you'd like to come is great with us!

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