The days are getting shorter. The mornings are beautifully crisp. Warm woollen things are almost out and I’m letting myself believe that this year there will be a ‘coffee and cards’ season.
This is our calving time. It’s still warm enough for the calves to not get chills, and the calves will be little enough during the winter (the most expensive season to feed pastured animals), to only need their mother’s milk. We make sure the mamas have high quality feed, of course.
With every pair of twins born, it seems, we have a new challenge to solve or job to see to. A week ago, one of the twin calves born didn’t stand for fourteen hours after the birth. Calves need to stand to drink, so a calf with a leg or a vitality issue is at risk of dying if it isn’t caught or found quickly enough. By the time this little one did stand, his mama was no longer interested in him. Luckily, P. saw this little bull calf (and his sad plight) and ended up thawing some of the colostrum that he had saved from Ursula’s last birth. Bottle feeding calves is a super cute job, but it’s also pretty time consuming. One of the ways to lighten the load was to try to get another cow, a dairy cow this time, to adopt him as her own. Of course, milking dairy cows is also a lot of work (arguably more work than bottle feeding calves), but we opted for this option since Ursula hasn’t been giving us much milk, and because our biggest grocery store expense at this point in time is unquestionably dairy.
The good news is that after just two days of being together, Jo Petra (the new dairy cow, an Ayrshire) adopted baby bull calf George. He’s been drinking to his heart’s content. The only downside to this is that George no longer gallops to us humans, as we are no longer the (perceived) source of milk.
The addition of Jo Petra to our farm mix has meant some late night fresh cheese making to empty the evening milk jugs before the morning milking. It’s work, of course, but delicious. It hasn’t gotten old yet.
In other news, the hens are doing well and the egg CSA sold out quick. There is little money to be made with laying hens at this scale, but it’s a really solid learning for me. There is great satisfaction in having the fruits of ones labour be a good, an actual product. And to provide a humane alternative to run of the mill eggs feels important. My vegan penchant makes this a very fraught enterprise for me, but so many people eat the eggs and meat of very miserable and mistreated animals. I know this is better.
We also turned our second farm house into a rentable airbnb. It’s been interesting. Sometimes I think we should open a full on bed and breakfast because it’s so fun, and sometimes I want to subdivide the house and sell it just to stop thinking about all of the different options (and to save on laundry time and scheduling frustrations).
The kids astound me daily with their ability to be both fascinated and entertaining with miscellaneous farm props (here they are ‘fixing’ the old A-frame chicken tractor together). The garden is producing despite little to no weeding effort (next year, I say, next year the garden will be immaculate). And autumn is here.
Blessed be the equinox. Three cheers for fall.
An emotional day.
As I was feeding the cats and old hens (that I no longer call laying hens because they don’t lay), I noticed a hen following me. When I headed back to the house, I noticed two hens under the apple tree. For a total of one too many free ranging hens, which meant one of them was a new laying hen, and that it had broken out of the enclosure. I grabbed the wagon to plop my youngest in (to avoid crawling under severely unpruned apple trees with him on my back in a carrier), grab one of the hens and return her to the enclosure. I follow the other one to the barn and when the old hen sees her, she pecks. I realize my mistake. I had just put the second old hen in with the new layers in the enclosure.
I feel more distress here than I care to admit to. I’ve thought long and hard about whether it made sense to put the two old hens in with the new layers. While it certainly saves on feeding and coop care time to have all the hens bunk together, I decided that I wanted them to live out their lives free ranging on the farm, these two old gals. Joining me in the garden, following the kids in the wagons, pecking at the spilled grain in the shop and leftovers in the compost. I love having those two free hens around, they make this place feel like a quaint farm. And here I had just scooped one up and doomed her to a life of pecking orders and not hanging out on the stoop with us ever again.
I went into the 50 laying hens’ enclosure, trying to see if I could spot her. I thought I had, so I run to unhook the electric fence to grab her, but I notice that another hen just made a run for it, under the fence (which can’t have been very electrified).
In that moment, as I’m trying to tear out massive weeds that are keeping the fencing from being effective, with an unhappy and slightly ill 22 pound 1 year old on my back, I wonder why oh why did I get into the livestock (albeit very small livestock) business? These things wouldn’t happen on radish farm.
It doesn’t make sense to keep one out of the enclosure as I imagine she’ll be lonely and she’d freeze solo in the winter.
I’m really sad I’ve lost these house hen pals. Et notre bonne entente.
Here they were last year, eating insects during the great potato harvest.
I haven’t seen Olga, the (newly sterilized!) barn cat, in two days. I have, however, seen about half a dozen new kittens. It’s very disheartening.
P. spent his day trying to get the two 250lb boars separated and into a pen to be taken to slaughter tomorrow. He managed to get one in a crate and the animal jumped four feet into the air, over a plywood wall, into the unknown and to freedom. P. proceeded to (re)bruise his rib by tackling it to get it back into a fenced area. (I am flabberghasted at how worlds apart our instincts are).
Meanwhile, it’s starting to wear on me that I can’t finish most tasks (given kid(s) in tow). I finish cleaning up from the day and washing eggs at 9:30pm, exhausted and not wanting to keep preserving for fear of waking up kids, the littlest of which has been feverish and sleeping poorly these past few nights. I know that all gardeners are faced with too much being ripe and ready for harvest at once. That the season is exhausting if you’re canning and blanching and freezing your year’s worth of food. But seeing so much of it slip into overdone, for a third year, just makes me angry.
the season of plenty.
I’m especially proud of how reasonably sized the zucchini are this year. And of the self-imposed « do not harvest more than you can process » rule (because rotting bins of produce in the house don’t help with the fly problem, turns out).
And because photography lends meaning to the mundane, (especially to those things of the domestic and/or ‘female’ sphere), here is a photo of this week’s indoor toys needing to be washed after falling in manure.