Monday, January 5, 2015

Winter Farm Update 2014-2015

Winter Farm Update

It's been another unusually mild winter in Michigan, much like the winter we had two years ago. We had a snow storm around Thanksgiving, then it melted and we didn't see snow until New Years! But now we're locked in and in the single digits on the thermometer. 

We were very glad for the mild winter, because it made keeping the pigs longer much easier. The pigs took longer to finish this year, we had 3 males and 1 runty female. Our female, Penny, didn't reach her target weight (250 lbs) until right before Christmas! So we were very glad for the mild winter because it made loading them in the trailer much, much easier on dry ground rather than snow. 

To the left is a picture of our runt Penny, eating breakfast with some of our laying hens. You can see how we fence our hogs, we use plastic step in posts with fi-shock polywire rope and a portable solar energizer. Next year we're planning on having the pigs in the woods more, and we're hoping to find a breed with a shorter snout that doesn't root up the pasture as much. Otherwise it means we have to reseed our pasture every year. 

New this year, we build a run-in shelter! Most of the wood for the siding we got very cheap from an Amish sawmill north of us. We built this with Pippin in mind because even though he's almost a year old, he still can't get enough of his mother's milk! We still have to keep them separated if we want milk from Rosie, so Pippin has his own shelter and about 1/3 of an acre to himself. We milked Rosie this year in the Once-A-Day Milking Style, where you milk once a day and the calf takes care of the other milking. 

This worked wonderfully for us, less work, don't have to be on the farm all the time, and we can get away for a short vacation if we want and Rosie won't stop producing milk. Only one problem. We did it a tad too long. We should have separated them completely and weened him off before he was 9 months old, to help him kick the habit. Instead we kept on with the Once a Day milking and then tried weening him after he was 10 months old. He mooed and bucked and moaned for him mother for a solid week, then quieted down. Farmer Figgins left for a short vacation over the holidays, and we let the cows spend that time together, to see how he'd do, and if he'd drink her milk and keeping her producing while the farmer was away. Turns out, he wasn't done with milk yet. 

In a way it worked out for us, Farmer Figgins was able to take a vacation and Rosie kept producing milk when she got back, but, it means we also have to keep them separated all winter if we want milk for ourselves. Another negative we found to Once-A-Day Milking is that the cow often holds back quite a lot of her cream from us and saves it for the calf, which makes making butter and ice cream much harder. 

In the greenhouse we planted some cool season crops and have been enjoying fresh salads all winter, here it is January 5th and we can still get fresh greens from the greenhouse! We planted arugula, kale, lettuce heads, carrots, spinach, green onions, radishes, kohlrabi, and turnips. The carrots, green onions and kohlrabi are still not harvestable yet, but we've been enjoying the rest for some time now! To give them added protection from cold winter nights we put a row cover of agribon over the crops. 

Meanwhile in the barn, Rosie has a new set up for her stall. Using pallets again, we've built it so that she has a run-in stall from her outside pasture, which is about 1/3 of an acre. 

 We built Rosie a milking stanchion this fall too, Farmer Donnie based it off of a stanchion found online here and we adapted it to work for us. It's been working wonderfully, milking has never been easier! Then again, during the summer Farmer Figgins would milk Rosie in the pasture, not tied up to anything, so most anything is easier than that! 

As you can see, simply lead the cow in, close the boards next to her neck so she can't back up, lock them in place, then start milking! We had her A.I.ed with Swedish Red semen from Northstar Collective last week. We'll see in a few weeks if it took! We were hoping to inseminate her with Dexter semen, but had trouble finding a local source. Luckily, the Swedish Red is a similar dual purpose breed, though not a miniature cow. If it took, she'll be due in September, around when Pippin will be leaving us! We will only be keeping a 1/2 for ourselves, so if your interested in a 1/4 or a 1/2 of grass and milk fed, pasture raised beef, let us know! 

Now some of the older laying hens have been hanging around the barn at milking time to eat any grain Rosie drops. 

Or to steal any milk that the barn cats leave. 

 Last, but not least, we started a new layer flock in October. They are fully feathered out now and taking the cold well. We're trying out some new breeds this go around--Australorp, Buff Orpington, Speckled Sussex, Rhode Island Reds and more Ameraucanas this year! 

We'll be releasing our 2015 CSA information soon, check with us on the blog and facebook! 

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