I've been loathe to write this... it's been a challenging week. Farming is not for the faint hearted! Besides the somewhat normal, if not to the max this year, challenges with insect and animal pests in the gardens, we had a very disappointing death this week.
I found this baby inexplicably dead on Monday. After much research, investigation, and consultation, I believe I know what the main cause of death was, but it doesn't really matter. The end result is the same. You wait for almost a year to see those new calves arrive and to have it taken so quickly when it was initially so healthy is disappointing - to put it mildly.
I believe the calf was stricken down by a condition called fly strike. When weather conditions are just right (hot and humid, which it was horribly so with a bit of rain on top of it), fly pressure can be heavy and if the hair is moist or the naval isn't dry they can lay their eggs so quickly on a new calf that it actually overwhelms them very quickly, in as little as 24 hours. This is something I had always heard about but never seen. Having spent most of my livestocking years in the arid West, I had never come across it first hand.
There may have been confounding factors, and I won't bore you with all the details, but suffice to say, I'm very disappointed about the loss. It's funny, when we first started having calves on the place, when I didn't see a calf at least once a day, I was beside myself, and then I started chastising myself for being silly. Well, I guess when I didn't see that calf at all Sunday, I wish I'd been a little silly and gone looking for it. Hind sight is 20/20, I suppose.
Thank goodness the elk calf seems healthy so far! I didn't get to see it today, despite my efforts - the elk calves hide really well - and the mamas are not quite so magnanimous with me in there looking for them (i.e. they'd run me down me if given the chance!), but I did have proof of life yesterday and it looked very healthy, running around and appearing quite strong.
Today, I gave the yak some grass around lunch time and I was a bit concerned that Goldie (the golden colored cow) wasn't around. She's kind of a loner, often hanging off just a bit from everyone else, but when I didn't see her this evening either, I figured I'd best go looking for her. She can be a bit aggressive, so I thought I'd get the four wheeler to check on her. On my way back to the house to get it, I saw her through the trees... and... what was that black thing trotting along beside her!?! Goldie had her calf! It's our first black calf - a "trim" as they call it because it has white on the face, leg(s), and tail. I haven't had a chance to get close, so I don't know the gender yet. It was moving around pretty good and nursing though, so that's a good sign.
As you might imagine, I'm a bit nervous. When you can lose a healthy calf in the blink of an eye, suddenly they seem very fragile. But, the weather is much nicer; it's supposed to be very mild tonight, so I think s/he will be all right until morning. I'll bring them in to the corrals tomorrow and get a better look at the baby and give it a once over... and maybe apply some fly prevention.
Despite the loss this week, a new calf always makes things seem a bit brighter. I think #7 is on deck next, but I'm not sure exactly how soon. Hopefully, she will bring us another wonderful surprise soon!
It's really my favorite way for it to happen... I like to go out and be surprised, surprised by a healthy calf that just suddenly is there. Nature did what it was supposed to and all went well. After last year's lost calf, I find I've become a bit of a nervous nelly.
Obviously, I knew they were getting close, but when I went out to move the yak today, I was surprised to hear that unmistakable quiet pig squeak yak babies make. Let me show you what I mean:
I just love baby yak! They're like an interesting combination of cow and pig in the first week or two. Their little yak grunt is more like a pig grunt and they even kind of look piglet like, with their big pink noses (they don't all have pink noses, but when the muzzle is white, the nose is pink!).
I love that I can go right in there and say hi to the calf... well, as long as mama is otherwise occupied! ;-) In this case, mama had already left the pasture with the group as I was moving them I had already closed the gate before we all realized what had happened. This is a little girl and though she's a bit knock kneed, I think she'll probably grow out of it. This is 100's new calf - she was the one who had the live calf last year - and she seems quite a bit more robust than last year's wee one was in the first week. This one tried to head butt me three times already!!!
100 is such a good mama, so I know that little one is in good hands. After I left there, I went to feed the elk and noticed that 603 hadn't come to eat with everyone else, so I went hunting for her. Figures I didn't have my good camera with me, so this was my first peek at the new calf. Don't know the gender yet, but the coloration is a bit different than the calves we've had so far. S/he is more taupe colored than ruddy. It's very pretty!
After getting my big camera, I realized they had moved and baby crawled through a hole in the fence to another pasture leaving mama behind. I was a bit worried when I saw two of the other cows come over and paw at her/him. I probably don't need to worry, but in the wild, the cows go off by themselves to have their calves, so this is a bit of an artificial environment for calving. I went to get a bit more grain and everyone left the little one alone and 603 managed to get in the same pasture with baby and all the others. Then the ladies went back to check on the calf, but mama was there to make sure they behaved themselves. I've seen this with every new calf on the place: the other mamas have to come and check them out!
Fortunately, baby was along a fence line that I had access to, so I went to see if I could get a better look and maybe a few good pictures. Success! But as I got closer, it became apparent to me that 603 is bonded with her calf. No worries with this first time mom that she won't be taking care of her calf. She made it very clear that I was close enough with my camera. This is a mama who would be more than willing to stomp the tar out of me if that fence wasn't there!
At this point, I decided it was time to high tail it out of there and let her just get used to being a mom. Love that close up I got of the calf though (top photo on this post). And you know what!?! I think there might be another yak calf making an appearance tonight! We'll see what the morning brings! What a wonderfully surprising afternoon!
Last year, I happened to notice an oriole in my apple tree while it was blooming, so I ordered an oriole feeder to see if I could entice them to hang around. It worked! And then some!
Not only did they stick around all summer last year, but they came back this year and appear to have brought all their friends and family. I have so many orioles visiting my yard, it's amazing!
The original feeder I purchased was nothing special. I think it was twelve bucks or something, but they love the fruit and jelly I put out there... and as a jam/jelly producer, I always have partial jars in the fridge looking for a mouth!
Interestingly enough, the orioles aren't the only ones that enjoy the jam. It took me two years to identify the nondescript gray bird shown here with the oriole. I would hear him singing non-stop in the trees with the most elaborate songs! He was initially very shy, which is why it took me so long to identify him. For months, I could hear him but never see him. They're not shy at all anymore! He's called a cat bird because in addition to beautiful songs, he makes a call that sounds like a cat meowing!
I just love these visitors. I have feeders out most of my windows, and they use them all! I'm pretty sure I have at least four different pairs of orioles... maybe more. I think the cat birds are territorial, so I'm guessing I only have the one pair of them, but they love to sing! The orioles are no slouch either in the singing category. I love listening to them all serenading me while I work. I can't think of a better soundtrack to accompany a long day of weeding or pruning! Welcome, back, my friends!
I love winter. I love snow. It's one of the reasons I pushed for moving to New Hampshire. But I also love spring, summer, and fall. Every season in its time. The great thing about four distinct seasons is that right about the time you start getting tired of one, it's about time to start moving into another. It's just been the last week or so that I've started catching myself longing for spring. It first happened while spending an hour excavating a gate so I could move Piggy into a different pasture. And then there was today.
It's been much warmer the last two weeks with plenty of days in the forties. And then - suddenly - we're back in the single digits... with a wind. Don't let that bright blue sky fool you. It was miserable out this morning. The moaning of the wind through the cracks of the windows in the house was epic and I was NOT looking forward to going out to feed this morning.
I put it off as long as I could, but we were still registering near zero wind chills mid-morning, so out I went. This is my DANG it's bright and cold scowl-y face. Wowza! The wind was howling!
As usual, the critters didn't seem to even notice, but they were awfully happy to see me. The only good thing about the cold was that after a week of slugging through deep, heavy, slushy snow, it had frozen back solid and I could walk on top of it again. Yay!
The ice in a few areas was getting a bit silly though. This patch almost got me yesterday and I practically pulled a muscle to keep from going down, but today I realized I had yak poop stepping stones and made good use of them coming and going. Thanks, yak. :-)
Speaking of yak... that wee one is now in a pasture with a hay feeder that she can't crawl under, so she's staying a lot cleaner! Look how fluffy she is! I just love to pet her.
Of course, that does come with a slight occupational hazard. They say yak fiber rivals Merino wool. Perhaps a yak wool sweater is in my future!!
Temperatures are headed back up to the forties tomorrow. Come on, Spring. I'm ready!!
2021 CSA Shares Available!
I've come to the realization that I simply cannot grow less produce! I always have way more than I need for my small family but not nearly enough to go to a farmers' market. So, this year I have decided to offer a "micro-CSA." Not micro as in small shares but micro as in only a few shares. I'm planning to offer three shares this year. If you are local to our farm here in Milford, NH, consider signing up for a weekly share of our bounty!
As a micro-CSA, you can expect benefits from us that you just can't get from the big guys. Because I'll only be preparing shares for a few families, I can tailor them to your preferences. Can't stand radishes? No problem! Like yellow squash but not zucchini, you got it! Want extra basil to make some pesto? We've got you covered. When you sign up, I'll send you a survey to get a feel for what you want out of your share and what you really don't want! We will do our best to give you a basket that suits you based on what we have available that week.
Our shares will run approximately 20 weeks, from roughly early May to the end of September, depending on what Mother Nature give us. While the shares in the beginning and end will be lighter as things ramp up and trail off, you can expect up to a full bushel of delicious farm fresh produce per week (about two grocery sacks worth). Most weeks will also include a bouquet of beautiful flowers. Pick up will be at the farm and days and pick up times will be decided on a case by case basis closer to the season.
Our shares will include a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers. Please be aware that the amount of fruit will be somewhat limited as our production of many of those items is still developing. A list of the expected varieties is listed below as is a gallery of images of some of the produce you can expect to receive. Please remember, that as a CSA, I cannot guarantee that every single one of these items will make it into your basket, as there is always the chance of crop failure for one reason or another, but I am growing enough of a variety that there will be plenty of bounty!
Here is what we are planning to offer as far as varieties this year:
If you are interested in subscribing, the cost for a share is $950, which is less than $50 per week. To reserve your share, a deposit of $50 is required and then you can pay all at once or as you can until May 1, when the total amount is due. You can reserve your spot online with a credit card for the deposit. We can accept cash or check for the remainder of the share price. If you would like to reserve your share, you can do so here. If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch!
Bringing the Elk Home
It's been a while since the elk have been up by the house. I put them in the back forty late last summer as the drought was making feed a bit scarce in our main pastures by the house. I've sure missed seeing them out the window!
We're getting close to Big Guy's antler shedding time, and I certainly don't want to have to search for them in the ten acre heavily wooded pasture that they been in. I had to do that the year before last, and it was really hard to spot that one missing antler among all the deadfall!
The good news is that the elk have learned in the last three years that when I shake the bucket and ask them to follow me, there is usually good stuff waiting for them on the other side. I always feel like the Pied Piper!
As usual, Big Guy tries to keep them from following me, but there's only one of him and as soon as one cow slips by and starts running after me, it's all over!
Everything went splendidly... right up until the elk saw the yak standing next to the gate I wanted them to go through! I finally decided to go up to the house and figured I could go out and close gates after they got up the courage to walk through the gate. I knew it wouldn't take them too long; they were hungry and there was a fresh bale of hay waiting for them!!
After seeing they made it into the target pasture, I closed gates but decided that moving the elk was enough for one day. The yak and Piggy still needed to be rearranged, but we were scheduled to get a bit of snow, so I went back and cozied up at the house. What fun to look out my window and see the yak and elk at the same time again... at least for a little bit.
He Ain't No Rooster
That Big Guy... he sure ain't no rooster. What do I mean by that? Well, when you look at this picture, you are seeing the exact pecking order of this little herd. Big Guy always pushes the girls out of the way so he can get the first bucket and then they sort themselves out down the line. If they don't move fast enough, he "helps" them along with a prod of his antler. He's fairly gentle about it compared to Piggy, but he's still clearly saying, "Get out of my way, girl."
One of the things I miss about having chickens (I'm hoping to add them to the menagerie this year) is the rooster. You don't need a rooster to have laying hens, but there are some benefits to having one. Generally, they are such gentlemen! When they find some choice morsel, they call their ladies over with a chortle and stand by proudly as they eat it. What a man! Here is my last rooster. He was such a nice fellow and always made sure he found the best treats for his ladies.
Isn't he a handsome fellow? Hard to believe it has been almost 14 years since I last had chickens! But I digress...
I have thought, perhaps, that I should cut Big Guy a little slack; I mean, he is getting to be an older gentleman. I have seen him be very generous and polite to the ladies (unlike a certain young whippersnapper I know. Cough. Piggy. Cough.). Here he let the ladies enjoy their grain while he stood watch.
Of course, I suppose it is a lot easier to be magnanimous during the summer when the grass is green and the weather balmy. We've been sitting in the single digits at night lately, so I imagine he's using a lot of resources to keep warm, so, it's OK, Big Guy. I get it. I won't hold it against you that you ain't no rooster. Cockadoodledoo!
A Lucky Day
The first batch of maple syrup for the year is in the bag, which is good because I was plumb out. It's hard to sell a breakfast box without any maple syrup in it! Our winter has been very mild so far which has allowed this brief bit of production, but I'm hearing rumor of a polar vortex shift that may be changing that very soon. As a result, I've decided not to go all out with putting taps in and am just taking what little I can get in this early run to help me make it through to the main season.
Because COVID has royally messed up everything, supply chains are getting tricky for all kinds of stuff. Maple syrup bottles are one of those things! I knew this was going to be the case but procrastinated calling the maple supply house until this weekend and they only had eleven cases of bottles left, which was about half of what I wanted to purchase. The rest were backordered and would supposedly not be available for another month. I figured eleven was better than nothing, and they said they'd hold them for me. So, my boy and I went on a road trip today to pick them up.
Now, I know I'm a small producer. Really small. I put in less than one hundred taps a year. I know there are big producers out there. I know that they use plastic tubing and vacuum systems to collect those thousands of gallons of sap they process. I just hadn't ever actually seen it before. The woods up there were like spider webs! No, more like those heist movies where there are laser beams protecting the valuable whatever thing. The woods were crawling with tubing! I'd never seen the like of it before!
They even had tubing going over the road so that the sap from the trees on the far side of the road could go into the tank too. And the tank! Look at the size of that thing! Well, needless to say, it made me feel like a pretty small fish... but it also made the woods look weird and not very natural.
I'm happy with the way I'm doing it, and I also believe I can make better syrup than they can. There is a reason I stick with producing small batch, gently boiled syrup. I think it just tastes better. Way better!
The first batch was pretty small, so, for now, I am only offering our syrup as part of our breakfast boxes. I'm using a new fuel set up and I accidentally cooked the first batch a bit harder than usual and it ended up missing the golden cut off by a few points, but it sure does taste good! I can't wait for more sap to start flowing!
And the lucky part I mentioned?
We got there and were about to check out and a delivery arrived with those back ordered bottles! I ended up getting all twenty cases that I'd hoped for. Now I just need to have the right weather to fill them. Stay tuned!
I don't know. I think I might be starting to get the hang of this skunk thing. This summer, I caught one by accident. Needless to say, it was an education and I learned a lot... like dealing with skunks is an aerobic activity!!! This cracked me up. Last July, when I dealt with my first skunk, I had to laugh when I looked at my heart rate chart for the day. Can you tell when I was doing skunk removal!?!
This time, experience made it a little less stressful. I must have caught the granddaddy (grandmammy?) of them all... this skunk was HUGE! Obviously, I don't know if it was male or female as I was NOT interested in encouraging it to show me its private parts. Ha!
The skunks (please be the last one!!!) have been really rough on our yard every fall. They know those grubs are under there somewhere!
I went out first thing to check the trap this morning. That tuna fish is powerful stuff! First night with the trap out and I catch the rascal.
The initial covering of the trap is the heart wrenching part. I use a large piece of black acrylic fabric. Last time I tried a piece of black plastic tarping first, but it was so noisy, that skunk was ready to let me have it! The black fabric works great. And you know what always happens next? The darn skunk curls up and goes to sleep. I kid you not! I tie the blanket on to be sure I don't have any uncomfortable surprises when I get to the drop off location, and load it up in my truck.
And away we go! I drive as far out in the woods away from other houses as I can and let them go. Not that I have a huge sampling to go by, but this skunk behaved exactly like the last one. I get there, open the cage, and nothing happens. I have to pull the blanket off and start making some noise to wake them up. You make them think they're in a burrow and - by golly - they curl right up and go to sleep!
Come on, skunky! Time to wake up and go! When I saw him/her starting to come to, I took the following video. What a big, fat, waddling bunch of fur! I hope it's my last skunk relocation, but if it's not, I guess I've got the hang of it now. Easy peasy... what could ever go wrong?
We woke up to snow this morning. It wasn't a surprise or anything as they've been forecasting it all week, but it still is a bit odd waking up the day before Halloween to measurable snow.
The first thing I had to do was go out and put some hay out for the yak. I've been wanting to get around to it for a few days, but it was quite cold and rainy the last few, so I figured I'd wait for the precipitation to turn to snow. I have no issues working in the snow!
The yak were pretty excited for the hay! I also turned the newly made two steers in with the herd. There was some tussling. Okay, there was a fair bit of tussling! Interestingly, a lot of it was between the steers and the cows! Multiple times I saw Mr. Bull come and break them up because he apparently thought it was getting too intense. Herd mechanics are fascinating!
In this video, you can see Mr. Bull breaking up the fight between 93 and 418, our golden bull... err, steer. It's interesting to me for two reasons: first, 93 and 418 were very close before I separated the herd upon the arrival of the new group, and second, it was 93 who seemed to be instigating and actively seeking battle. You can clearly see Mr. Bull separating the two and standing between them, keeping them from going at it again.
Again, I find it interesting that 93 was so adamant about picking a fight with 418. They always hung out previously. In fact, I often wondered if 418 was her calf from a few years ago. Here they were the day 93 was in labor this June. It almost seemed like she was laying her head on his shoulder!
Anyway. Hard saying what all the fighting was about today, but Mr. Bull was having none of it!
After I hayed the yak, I went to go check on the elk. They were all grouped up in the upper reaches of the pasture and seemed pretty happy to see me. 603 let me pet her multiple times and that included parts of her face, too! Previously, she only let me touch her nose, but I almost was able to touch all the way up to between her eyes! Of course, she was grinding her teeth at me the whole time, which is an aggressive gesture for elk, so I'll only be trusting her so far. I still never go in the pasture on foot when they are near.
I missed catching a video of it, but while I was there, 604 stood up to nibble on some tips of the hemlock trees and managed to dump a ton of snow on herself! She wears it well, wouldn't you say?
The wee ones are experiencing their first cold weather, but they have thick furry coats and didn't seem bothered at all! Just another day being an elk, I guess!
And, of course, Big Guy was there, watching with his deep, penetrating stare the whole time I was out there. Always watching. Man, I like that critter!