Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fall is upon us..

With the advent of the fall season things have begun to slow down a bit on the farm.  It has given me a great opportunity to reflect on a whole summer of learning!  I can't hardly wait until the start of spring!

All the meat birds, pigs and sheep have been processed and Joel wont be doing any more until next spring..The only meat birds left are turkeys.  We will be processing them very soon.

The egg layers have begun to wind down their egg laying due to the decrease in sunlight and heat. 

Right now our focus is to finish splitting fire wood for the winter.

My focus is on renovating my house and putting it on the market!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hey, it's hay!

I showed up to find Joel leaning on a pickup truck which was tethered to a trailer full of hay.  The trailer got detached and after a few nods and a wave the guys in the truck took off.  Joel who looked a little heated proceeded to tell me some story about him haying a field and lending some hay out to one of the guys in the truck who in turn had promised to pay Joel back and it's been three years but, he finally got the hay..blah blah blah...anyways, Joel looked at the trailer and said most of it looked alright but he wasn't sure yet till he could get a better look at it.  Better look?  At what I'm thinking?  It's just hay isn't it?  Noooooo. I got a good 45 minute education in hay.  I will never look at a field the same again.....

What Joel tells me is this:  There is mulch hay and feed hay.  I did not know this.  To me it all looked like a square of dried grass with maybe some vague distinctions..dunno but, I definitely know now.  The farmer pulled out piece after piece of different bails and picked out individual parts like timothy, orchard grass, clover and vetch which I'm told is indicative to good feed hay.  He also pulled out golden rod, Queen Anne's lace in a few bails and explained to me how these plants were not so good for feeding.  Well, being the good student, I asked why some fields have good feed hay and some are garbage..It all comes down to soil health.  If you constantly take take take from the field and never give back by way of nutrients then you will end up with a field full of mulch quality hay not good for feeding the cows. Good bedding for the chickens but, not good cow feed.

The field is Just like the garden by being able to tell a a lot about it's nutrient content by the types of weeds that grow in it.

Over all I suppose the bails met Joel's approval.

The house list..

In order for me to realize my dream of farming I must first sell our current residence and move out of the city!  Sounds easier then it is considering my house is 125 years old and needs some work.  I figure if I keep a list and pick away at it one item at a time I can maintain some sense of organization while keeping my eye on the brass ring..

"the house list" as I will refer to it going forward will be a comprehensive list of all the "to do" items that must first be finished before I can put the house on the market.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fresh eggs...

The farmers wife slid me a dozen eggs today.  I have never tried fresh eggs and am very anxious to get home.  Besides the nutritional difference Joel said there is a noticeable difference in look,taste and texture.  He said his yolk would be darker due to the higher nutrient value.

You should have seen the look on their faces when I said I had never eaten an egg NOT bought at a supermarket.  From their reaction you would of thought that I asked for a peanut butter and testicle sandwich....priceless.

I have been doing some reading about the difference in nutritional content between store bought eggs and eggs from pastured layers.  My findings have been pretty intuitive.  The pastured chickens are at an advantage diet wise and health wise due to the fact that they are free to roam and have a wider variety of edibles to choose from, such as worms, bugs, wild veggies and whatever else they encounter walking about unlike their caged counterparts who are fed only what the farmer gives them.  Check out the pic below.  I took a store bought egg and one of Joel's and cracked them side by side in a pan.  Notice the yolk on the left is darker?  That is Joel's egg.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

the city life...

FYI you cannot keep chickens (or any other type of farm animals) in the urban areas of my city...not even a couple egg's illegal to feed your family, I guess.

the green egg laying nonconformist!

Walking up the road towards the back pasture this morning I noticed an egg layer had gotten out and was about 40 yards away hanging out with the turkeys..I sent a text message to the farmer asking if he wanted me to catch it.  He called me shortly after and told me I could try and catch it but it probably wasn't going to happen.  He said he'd been trying to catch it for over a year and a half!  My untrained eyes had mistaken the egg layer for one of the Golden comets Joel has laying eggs for him.

However, this bird was an Araucana

now I know your asking yourself how I got the two confused..well from 40 yards away at 5 in the morning I swear they looked similar...

The Araucana is the free spirit of the farm.  She usually can be found inside the pig pen waiting patiently for the pigs to do some rooting and then she moves in to grab the worms.  Joel showed me where she lays her eggs and if I didn't see it with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed it but, she lays green eggs and nitrate-free ham anyone?

the cows..

Until now I have had no previous experience with cows.  Besides at some local fair I never really even touched a cow.  Once or twice as a kid I remember visiting a dairy farm owned by some friends of my mothers.  Those cows spent most of their lives in stalls standing in their own feces. Of course I have seen many cows driving around the back roads of this state, after all, I do live in MAINE.

I showed up at the farm one morning recently and Joel was waiting for me.  It isn't unusual for him to meet me down front, but lately I don't usually see him till my chores are done; it to me said something was up.  So I got out of the car and he tells me we need to get the cows some water.  I was excited!  I had not yet seen the cows but had heard all about them.  The weather this summer has been pretty dry and all of the resources that Joel usually takes from which consist of about 3 farm ponds have all but dried up.  Normally the cows have pasture pumps, but since the ponds are pretty much dry we are reduced to manually trucking up water to them by means of portable water storage tanks.  We fill the tanks and truck them out into the pasture then fill up portable water bins from which they drink.

From what Joel tells me his cows are some of the best examples of grass fed animals around.  I can't argue since I know jack squat about cows and what healthy indicators to look for.  I can tell you this.  I have seen cows, mostly dairy cows and to me they always seem to either be in stalls or walking around slowly in some pasture.  I can't tell if they are happy or not.

When we got to the pasture I was immediately stunned into silence (unusual for me).  Before me stood a heard of beautiful Devon cows standing in at least 100 acres of wide open was one of those reaffirmation moments when I knew farming was what I wanted to do.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

the pig herder..

Pretty exciting morning on the farm today!

After an hour or so of trying to convince 8 pigs that a small trailer is much more desirable then an open pasture, they are trailered and off to be processed! 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Planting dreams...

I have been planting all kinds of vegetables and pulling out some REALLY healthy weeds.   The farmer tells me you can learn a lot about your soil from the weeds that grown in it.  He grows just about anything you can think of.  The planting isn't quite as foreign to me.  I have had my own garden for a couple years now however, this is a much larger scale and it is all done by hand.  Joel stops by usually around the end of the morning after his morning farm chores to chat.  That is when the education really begins!

The farmer is a little behind this year.  This is due to some serious illness in the family so the planting is way behind schedule.  He has three large fields and from what he tells me has nurtured and transformed these lots from a rocky desolate wasteland to what looks to me to be like dark velvet.  I don't think I have ever had my hands in finer soil.

When I am done planting for the day I slide my hands together and the soil comes together and rolls off in the shape of a cigar.  It is dark and full of organic life unlike the dry, lifeless dirt in my garden.  Soil structure, I'm learning, is everything to a farmer like Joel.  A healthy well balanced soil- he tells me- grows nutritious food; food that doesn't need to be sprayed with pesticides because, it grows on healthy plants and healthy plants are not sought after by insects.  Insects cannot digest healthy plant material.  Is this true?  I don't know.  I will do more research and certainly get back to you.  I can tell you this:  Joel had some Japanese something or other that looked like lettuce growing in some seedling trays.  These plants were chewed but, Joel planted them anyways (because he is the farmer and he is the plant whisperer) I would of chucked them in the compost bin.  After two weeks they had completely recovered and the new growth had no insect damage at all and man these things were just screaming with healthy life!...that's why he's the farmer and I'm the idiot apprentice.  Seriously, though, you be the judge.  I'm starting to believe in good soil.

I would guess 90% of the farmers in my state- for one aren't diversified farmers and two know jack squat about soil structure.  You would think living in such a rural state this wouldn't be the case.  This is why I feel very fortunate to apprentice for Joel.

Joel lent me a book to read called The Biological Farmer written by Gary Zimmer.  Hopefully after reading this I will know why my garden soil sucks and why Joel's soil is incredible.

Not bad though a teacher who provides the books!  Anyone who has had to buy their books for classes or visited a university book store can appreciate that!

diversified farmer

I have mentioned the term "diversified farmer" a couple of times.  A diversified farmer is pretty rare today where I live.  Normally you run into dairy farmers or corn farmers or sheep farmers etc.  A diversified farmer is a farmer who has a wide variety of animals or crops or both all on one farm. 

First few weeks..

For the first few weeks my farm duties were limited pretty much to planting and weeding.  Occasionally I got a break because the pigs would get out or some other emergency arose.  "That's Farming" Joel would say.  "You never know what's gonna happen when your farming".  So I would get a break from the planting to help round them up(another first for me: pigs!)...again, Joel mentioned to me the importance of good fences...also, move the pigs more often so they have fresh pasture to root and graze on.

"Those pigs are so strong that they can uproot boulders that I need to use my excavator to move" Joel told me.

"So why don't they just get out right now?" I asked.

"Cause there is food in there to satisfy them at the moment but, they will when the food runs out"  Joel said.

Joel's pigs are pastured (meaning they graze on open ground). He has a portable set up and moves it every week or two depending on the resources available (stuff for the pigs to eat).  The pigs are so strong that they pretty much can leave whenever they want just by uprooting the fencing with their snouts.  If Joel get's busy with something else the pigs will quietly remind him it's time to move by escaping to greener pasture!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Farming is heartache..

I first met Joel (the farmer I work for) on a sunny morning in June 2010.   I was accompanied by a fella I work with, who set up the meeting and has known Joel for many years.  

Farmer Joel was waiting for us out front when we pulled up to the farm.  Joel I'm guessing is in his late forties, he is average height with a white beard.  About five minutes after meeting Joel I knew I had made the right decision.  He gave me quite an education just in the first 30 minutes of walking around the farm.  He talked about diversified farming, soil structure and biological farming most of which just flew way over my head.   This guy seemed different than any farmer I had met before.  Normally when I talk to farmers they just do what their fathers did.  This guy understood farming on a molecular level!

The most important lesson came on our first stop on the tour when we visited the chicken house.  This chicken house is a hoop structure with dirt floors covered in hay with two sides separated by a plastic mesh wall in the middle.  One side is Golden comets (egg layers that lay brown eggs) and the other side is meat birds and pullets (barred rock and some araucana).  It probably houses a couple hundred chickens.  

It was immediately apparent to me that something was wrong when Joel looked at the massive hoop house and quickly started  heading that way.  Apparently, the egg layers (breed: Golden comets) had found a way through the barrier that separates them from the meat birds (birds just raised for their meat value often called broilers) and young pullets (young egg layers).  Of course to me I just saw a bunch of different colored-different sized chickens walking around.  

We entered the house through the meat bird side and it was obvious why Joe was so worried.  About 20-25 small meat birds and pullets laid dead on the ground as a result of being smothered by the older egg layers.  First lesson in farming:  Establish good fences!

What happens, I'm told, is that the egg layers want the resources on the other side of the house and so they try to find a way to get them.  Once they are in as a consequence(maybe out of fear?) the younger birds huddle together in the corners unaware (meat birds are pretty stupid anyways and young pullets are..well..young) that their behavior is going to cause mass carnage.  Kind of like a stampede at a rock concert, I guess.  I witnessed how- when theses young birds are in the corner -the older egg layers walk over in groups and just smother the young ones...pretty gruesome to see, but definitely part of farming and a great lesson to learn on my first day.  

Of course while I am "learning" Joel is thinking about the couple hundred dollars he just lost...

We immediately started grabbing egg layers and putting them back on their side of the house.  This, to be honest with you, was the first time I had ever held a full grown chicken.  A couple of times as a young child I held the little yellow chicks- so this was quite a treat!  At first I was a little apprehensive about grabbing them because I didn't know how chickens took to being grabbed.  I was afraid they would scratch at me or try to gouge my eyes out..of course to you reading this who are familiar with chickens probably think that is ridiculous but, I told you I know nothing about farming.

After all of the egg layers had been put back on their side we stepped outside and Joel lifted his hat a little,put both hands on his hips and pointed to the hoop house.  "I'm glad you got to see this" he said turning to me.  "This is the reality of farming.  If your going to farm you need to be able to deal with heartache" he said.  "Farming is heartache."......

From parking lots to pasture...

Anyone who knows me would affirm that my knowledge base doesn't include anything remotely close to what you would need to run a farm however, I have decided that my true calling in life is not an urban desk jockey but rather a diversified organic farmer.  Some say that I am crazy (some including my wife who I'm quite sure is still hoping that this is a fad I'm going through) others will applaud the dream...
I have always been interested in farming, but never had the opportunity to do it until now.  In June 2010 I was introduced, by a friend of mine, to a local farmer who specializes in organic vegetables, grass fed beef, pastured poultry, pigs and sheep.  This farmer was looking for some help and I was more than eager to offer up my services.  

The deal: I will show up in the morning for a few hours to help around the farm before I head into my office job.  I will do this as close to 7 days a week as my current schedule will allow.  My pay?:  knowledge.  Now, for someone who has spent tens of thousands on college I am aware of the cost of a good education so, I am more than willing to offer up my services a few hours in the morning in return for a good hands on education in farming.... 

This blog will chronicle my journey...I hope you will follow along with me.