Thursday, December 29, 2011

Warm Weather means Work!

Usually we are busy shoveling/plowing snow at this time of year, however this winter the ground is still brown and the roads completely clear of any white stuff. Instead of trudging through a foot or two of snow for chores and then cuddling inside with the farm books and family games, we are seeing lots of projects getting done. Bob is thrilled with how much work he has done this week while home on vacation from his full-time job.

The Grainery Cabin project is launched! After talking about this for a few years and collecting free windows (think recycle!), the cabin received its first phase face-lift. On Monday, Dec. 26th, it was so warm and sunny that Bob figured it was a good day to get two windows installed. The dark, claustrophobic inside was transformed to visions of all sorts of cozy, rustic possibilities. I'm thinking (hoping) much could be done before my skilled, strong husband is busy with the planting season. Then I can do the cleaning, painting kind of work. He's the heavy; I'm the light-weight.
Frankly, we aren't exactly sure what the goal is for the Grainery other than a rustic cabin retreat. Crazy ideas include compost toilet? Solar hand sink? Electricity for fan, light, radio? Comfy chairs for reading and writing. Does it pique your interest?

So, that was Monday. Then Tuesday Bob butchered his first-ever lamb. This guy was a May lamb grown to about 50 or 60#. Bob spent the night before on you-tube watching experienced guys, then used our stainless steel table and other equipment from the summer chicken project, the meat grinder, and made quick and easy work of it. Well, he wouldn't say it was quick, but I definitely would say he made it look easy. I am highly impressed. Two more to go. . .

Wednesday Bob started taking out a kitchen cupboard to make room for a dishwasher. What a guy! This isn't exactly a farm project, but it sure makes this farmwife happy. I already unloaded my first batch of clean dishes today. After finishing that, Bob headed outside to clean out the barn and haul out manure piles. The warm weather means no frozen manure mounds building up hence much fewer spring/summer days spent hauling said piles out to the field. We could get used to this kind of climate.

Not sure what Friday holds, but I'm sure Bob has a list. He LOVES being on his own farm working with his own cows, sheep, chickens, etc. It is very satisfying work for him. One day he'll come home full time but until then he also enjoys his full-time job with great guys to work along side, and still growing good, wholesome food for local customers.

After writing all that, sorta makes me feel like a slacker. Hmmm. Maybe I'll go make a delicious, nutritious, home-grown supper for that hard-working man of mine.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

This is how the cows enjoyed todays sunny, warm, unusual Christmas day weather.

Merry Christmas from GrassStain Farm

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Trees on my mind.

Trees are such a thing of beauty. And of service, too. Full of variety, color, shape, smell, and texture. At GrassStain Farm they add much to the look of our farm in all the seasons. Right now the evergreens bordering the south slow the wind a little. Last year they kept out lots of snow (not an issue yet this winter), and small animals and birds find their shelter among the branches.

In the summer our trees add protection from the sun and rainstorms when needed. In the Fall some of the trees provide fruit and leaves for compost to nourish the ground. Finally, let us not forget to mention oxygen pouring out all year round.

I do not understand why people continue to rip out rows of trees to add a few more acres to their large fields. Short-term economics is my guess. On paper those few more acres can return $XX to make that bottom line look better. But I think those dollars come at a high price if one would consider the long-term effect on the environment, the atmosphere, and even the landscape.

We will be ordering new trees soon at the Conservation Office to be planted in the Spring. Its good to be planting a few new trees every year to replace the old ones or wind-damaged ones that we lose. Remember the tree guy who came out last June and told me the plum trees are on their way out? We'll be replacing those also, not with plums but maybe more apple trees. The orchard already has two new cherry bushes and a growing raspberry patch.

And so I have trees on my mind. Today I can drink my tea and admire them out the window, but next summer I will be sitting among the trees, listening to the leaves rustle, the birds chirp, and drinking in the fresh oxygen. Aaah. Now that's medicine for the soul; a real stress-reliever.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sustainable Farmer Joel Salatin

We had the privilege of hearing Joel Salatin speak a few weeks ago. What a Farmer! We have almost all of his books in which he is not only knowledgeable and successful with farming methods but also witty and clear in how he passes it on to us. We love his books and his speaking.

As usual, we came away from this farm conference with a list of inspired ideas to talk through. One of the top new thoughts was checking into a small sawmill to utilize all the wood available around here (so much is just burned up!). Its been fun to search the internet and throw out the topic for conversation. One party came back to my husband a few days later and asked, "Does she know how dangerous they are?!"

Hmmm. Now that's food for thought. Which is exactly why I spend many weeks just collecting facts and whatnot before even deciding if its a good idea or not. Haven't crossed the sawmill off the list, but neither is it at the top anymore.

Another farm option that is not new but for some reason has been simmering on the back burner too long is hogs. We had two last year but have not replaced them. I think that may very well happen in 2012. More than two and they will be busy rooting around in the woods cleaning up the forest floor and aerating the soil as they grub for food. Perhaps what was lacking was a clear vision of where and why. Joel gave us the correct vision and the right time.

We sold Bubba the ram and two bred ewes. Remaining is two original bred ewes and 4 spring lambs. Bob's new adventure is to butcher the lambs himself. I suppose we'll do one at a time with a small crew of smart friends. There is so much help available in both print and people. Plus, did you know you can learn how to butcher on you-tube? All that along with our experience and equipment from the broiler chickens, I think Bob will do a great job.

Speaking of the broiler chickens and all that....we processed the few turkeys that the summer fox did not get. One would think that if the chicken thing went nice and smooth, the turkey thing couldn't be too hard? Right? WRONG! Wow. They are definitely a bird of a different feather. A few facts that made it a once-in-a-lifetime adventure not to be repeated: way bigger, heavier, outdoor temps colder, waterhose freezing, pin feathers unremoveable, bags too small, etc. The end result was a bird that didn't look very nice -- not like the broiler chickens. So we are eating them ourselves because that end result is still the same: DELICIOUS! Lots of good dark meat as well as white. Just roast it, take the skin off and slice and its the same great flavor one expects from a free range heirloom turkey.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Vocabulary Lesson: Dairy Definitions

I'm always learning new facts about the dairy cows that is common knowledge to Bob. This summer has been no exception. So, I thought you might want to expand your dairy vocabulary to impress your friends. ( let me know if it really works!)

You read about Milky and her new calf. Milky is our heifer.
Heifer: a female calf. She's actually called a heifer until some undefined time before her 2nd calf. That way she is differentiated from the old cows. Around her second calving she'll be called a cow.
Bull Calf: this is Jerry, the Jersey who came from Milky. He will be a bull calf for several months until Bob turns him into a steer to grow for two happy, grass-fed years at which time he will be moved to the freezer. (if you know what I mean...)

Static: this was my new word of the year. Bob labeled Ghiradelli static after she had been dried up to finish growing her calf. Well, it turns out she wasn't with calf like we had thought when we purchased her. And, she had not been cycling to clue us in that she was not bred. So....we have a dairy cow that's not producing milk and not cycling so we can breed her. Hmmmm. That's not a good thing. She was destined for the freezer.

But wait! What's this? One morning Bob was out early checking the paddock grass and heard a bunch of commotion in the corner. There was the steer trying to jump Ghiradelli. This is a sure sign that she is in heat. Fortunately, we had supplies on hand for Bob to AI here the next morning; we'll be watching to see is she settled.

Settled: another term that means the AI (artificial insemination) was effective and 9 months later we'll have a calf.

Well, that's enough dairy and reproduction talk for today. There is a lot to know on the animal farm. I'm thankful Bob has a headful of knowledge to take care of these wonderful cows.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Marveling at the new calf

Our Calf is here!

On a beautiful, still, moonlit night this little bull calf was born to Milky Way. Bob was out watching the birthing process....first one hoof coming out, then two, then a tongue (really!), the head and then the whole calf. Mama soon popped up and started licking and mooing so Baby would know her sound.

He is already jumping around and running, and then curls up in the grass and naps. His hooves are very soft. I wonder how long before they harden.

He doesn't have a name yet. Any suggestions?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Heifer TMI

Anticipation is building for Milky, the heifer, to freshen this week. She is about 2 years old and this is, of course, her first calf. We've been watching the signs progress and grooming her for the milking parlor. Here's what's been happening:

A month or more ago, Milky was put in with the milk cows to familiare her with the twice/daily milk routine. Since Hershey was dried up until she freshens monthend, its only been Sylvia and Milky. Sylvia is miked first, and then we run Milky in the stall, give her some blue corn as a treat and brush her down so she gets used to standing there, being handled, and feeling overall good in this place.

This past week signs of approaching calving are increasing. At first we saw her udder grow, now its getting tighter. That's the term Bob uses; I assume it means its filling with milk. Her back end is swelling more each day and I'm told soon it will have a slimy discharge. This week we are to check on her at least twice a day to mark any changes and recognize delivery time.

TMI? (too much information?) Its a regular part of our farm life, and it makes this week pretty exciting for us. New life is always exciting.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Turkey Soccer

The BlueSlate Turkey team is practicing for their next soccer game.

As usual, the turkeys are providing us with much entertainment. When we walk outside or drive up, they come running to 'greet' us. Karl plays his fiddle outside and they 'sing' along.

Sorry, no video of the soccer practice, but they were at it quite awhile.

Soccer, anyone? :)

Tomato Harvest

Bright, shiny, red, Delicious.

Juicy, meaty, and good.

Tomatoes are ready for picking. I am both thrilled and overwhelmed. Two big batches of ripe fruit have been gathered and more is coming. In fact, if I looked I'd be picking another dozen or two.

So, what to do with all those tomatoes. For some of my friends, this is easy and in one easy day they put up jars and jars of sauce or salsa or whatever tomato concoction they do. Me? I go to those friends looking for help and comfort.

I've put my analytical skills to use and managed the situation. Here we go: 1. I don't want to waste the tomatoes. 2. Canning is possible but takes all my mental energies for two days just getting ready plus the day to can. 3. I have a freezer. 4. It is more blessed to give than to receive

That's what I did; I froze the fruit and I gave away several bags. The first batch was cut into chunks and froze in ziploc bags ready to go into stews/hotdishes this winter. The second batch didn't even get cut up; I just threw the whole tomatoes into the freezer in bags. Then when I want one, I put it under warm water and the skin just peels right off, tomato thaws quickly and it goes into whatever is for supper. Very easy.

I've got more tomatoes. I've got more friends. I need another freezer! :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

What's for Dinner?

Delicious, Nutritious, Fresh, Farm-raised Food.

The chicken couldn't get any fresher! I roasted one in the oven and gathered veggies from the garden. Steemed beets, green beans, and sauted swiss chard and onions. One plate has goat cheese sprinkled on top (not from our farm); the other parmesan cheese.

This is why we are building a sustainable farm. It is fully satisfying for us to sit down to a complete meal from our farm. Of course, a glass of milk topped it all off.

Poultry Project in the bag!

What a tremendous day we had on Saturday. All the research, running around, list-making, and set-up beforehand paid off in a smooth moving assembly line as we processed our first batch of broiler chickens.

We set up the equipment along the east side of the shop and rigged an awning overhead to keep the hot sun off. As it turned out, it kept the short rain shower off! There is gravel underneath, running water via garden hose to the table, and trough for runoff and pails for entrails.

A gentle breeze and no bugs added to our day. The fresh air was all we had; there was no smell to deal with.

Cones were set up around the corner on the north side. From there chickens went to the scalder which was a turkey frier purchased at Fleet Farm. Then to the whizbang chicken plucker borrowed from generous friends who had made it. Then the birds were put in the icewater cooling station until a spot opened on the eviscerating table, a stainless steel table we bartered for bluegrass music. Then to the final checkpoint and into more cold icewater. All birds were done to this point before any bagging was done.

A team of 2 - 3 cleaned the birds. Next time we'll move one man around the corner for a little more elbow room.

The final chilling station was in the shade in the shed (old garage) with the large door open for plenty of ventilation. We made a peg rack to dry the birds a couple of minutes before bagging. We used hog rings and shrink wrap bags for a nice, tight package.

We have a list of fine-tuning items which include more coolers and ice, smaller hog rings and pliers, better running water system at table, and several other small but important details. These birds were cockerells of various breeds. Not one reached 4# but they had to go as the hybrid broilers are ready to move into the pasture pen. The hybrids will grow faster and bigger. We ended up with 45 bagged birds in 4 hours and can easily see that getting shorter.

In 6 weeks we'll do it again and then again 3 wks after that. This year is dubbed the learning year for us to work out the kinks and such so that next year we can do several more batches.....or bigger batches? We'll see. For now, we are praising God for his blessings on the poultry project thus far.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hot and Humid! Chickens on deck.

Things are sure growing furiously in this hot and humid weather! Green, LUSH lawn. Tall, sturdy weeds. Prolific, energetic mosquitos. What more could a farmer want?!! You can envision our to-do list as its not very long: mow, mow, weed, weed, and then mow some more. Be sure to wear long-sleeved shirt and long pants. When the heat breaks, we'll be busy.

This Saturday will be our first chicken processing day. I'm excited. And a little anxious. Lots of details (and there are lots) have been worked out, but a few big ones still are pending. It will be good to just give it our best shot at preparing well, gathering our team, and then getting the job done to the best of our ability. Then we'll celebrate, eat good, nutritious chicken dinner, and analyze how it all went to improve for next time.

Next time? Yes, that's right. Next processing date will be in about 6 weeks. We're in this for the long haul and by next year want to have a good, efficient, healthy system down to produce nutritious pasture poultry. Its definately an adventure full of ups and downs.

But then all of life is an adventure. We're thankful to be on GrassStain Farm growing food, enjoying life with friends and family, and knowing the blessings of our Creator.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


The turkeys and chickens are safe once again. We took care of their main predator this morning after losing approximately 11 poults (turkey chicks), the mean rooster, and several laying hens. I saw the fox a couple mornings ago so we had a visual on the enemy. Bob posted the next morning but he did not show. This morning we were both up at 4:30. Finally, at 6:00 from the hayloft window the enemy was eliminated.

This is such a relief for me. Our farm took a big loss due to that varmit. But that's part of the farming adventure with animals afoot. Now we'll move on nurturing the remaining livestock and enjoying the beautiful green summer season.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mid-June Update

It is a very rainy day in June and a good day to update you on our farm happenings.

The Turkeys are running around the farm enjoying whatever they grub up in the lawn/barnyard. That's the good news. The bad news is we must obviously have a predator. We came home Sunday afternoon to find about 7 poults missing. First on our suspect list is fox, however we've since added coyote after talking to a few people. This loss leaves us quite short for the demand.

The lambs don't look like cute little lambs anymore, just little sheep. Our bottle lamb will still come when called and lets us pet her. Other than that, they do what you expect them to do: graze our lucious green paddocks.

The garden got planted on May 4th thanks to industrious Elizabeth. All was planted on the same day, more or less, due to our wet, snowy, late spring. No early plants this year! Karl and I are now left to keep it weeded; this is not the best plan but we're getting better.

Our big news this year is the addition of an intern, Alex. What a great help he is! He needs to get in a set number of hours of interning on a sustainable farm in order to complete his diploma requirements, and we get him. He and Karl used the tractor and chain to clear out a LOT of dead trees in a new area we are developing into a pasture. When a huge pile of trunks, etc, were dragged into the middle of the meadow, Bob borrowed the backhoe and bucket for a day of cleaning up all the winter manure piles and keeping the bonfire pushed together for a good burn. End result: a small pile of ashes and plenty of piles of manure around this new area.

Several weeks later, Bob borrowed a tractor bigger than ours and worked all those dried manure piles into the meadow. We'll work it one more time and plant grass/legume mixture there (not sure exactly what yet) to get a good grazing pasture. This new area is dubbed Monarchy because of all the butterflies that landed there last year.

The orchard is seeing some work this summer. The MN State berry guy (official title??), Thaddeus, came to help me with our orchard trees. Boy, what an education! Very helpful. Now I know my plum trees are old and I can start replacing them, if that's what I want. Many trees have had the root stock take over, crowding out the scion. Therefore, I don't get fruit anymore. This was with plums and apples alike. In one sense, that could be bad news. On the other hand, now I know I can freely remove particular trees with no remorse and plant new ones that will grow and bear fruit. Knowledge is power, I guess.

Finally, the broiler movable pen was constructed and filled with 50 broilers. The chicks are growing well and we are setting up our processing equipment for the end of the month. Several people have offered to help, for which we are extremely grateful. This could prove to be a good venture; many people are looking for a source of good, pasture-raised, healthy chicken. We just might become that source.

So, that's some of our highlights here at GrassStain Farm. Its a good life.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Lambs on the Leap!

Leapin' Lambs. What an enjoyable sight to watch and to inspire cheer and light-heartedness. This is a welcome change during this cold, gray spring.

These are three of our eight lambs.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Green Acres is the place to be.

Farm living is the life for me! It is a joy to be outside doing spring cleanup. The water has subsided enough to allow us access to most of our land. We have taken a few walks around the woodlands scoping out areas for this year's new grazing paddocks. If you followed us last year, you'll remember we were developing Paddocks #1-4 just south of the barn and also Green Acres that received a complete 'remodel'. As we work our way north, our next area is what we call the Fire Lane/the Monarchy (name yet to be decided but both fitting due to past events at this place). Any new paddocks starting here and throughout the woodlands/pasture will require a bit of labor in dead tree/debris removal and fencing. Although this will be a bit taxing on our muscles, I look forward to getting the woods cleaned out. It seems best to designate a few areas to do this year and not view the whole project at once as it is a huge project and cannot possibly be done in one or even two years. Another sign of spring is the wonderful green grass! Green never looked so good. A walk around the orchard was both inspiring and challenging. I was reminded of how little I know about nurturing my fruit trees. So I did something I should have done two years ago; I emailed a fruit tree specialist whom I have met at other farm events/conferences and invited him to come to our farm to consult with us. I hope he is able to come this summer. On the to-d0 list is fencing that didn't get finished last fall; barn cleaning, garden prep. Oh, Karl ordered hedges to plant in hopes it stops the big snow drift in the driveway. I like his foresight. I hope you are enjoying your green, green grass at your home.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Eggciting News!

Layer Hens have returned to GrassStain Farm, and we are excited to welcome them. Our previous flock had been aging and diminishing so our current supply of eggs had been from our wonderful neighbors. The neighbors decided to get out of the egg business and offered us their hens. We, of course, jumped at the idea as we like our country fresh eggs.

Bob readied the sw pen in the barn by adding chicken wire up high so the hens wouldn't fly out. This is to appease Karl who really hates the mess roosting chickens make in the barn. :) As it warms and drys up, the chickens will be let out of the pen late morning (after laying eggs) to roam around. Its a good enterprise to add to our small farm. Pictures forthcoming.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Look Ahead into 2011

Here's some inspiration for 2011 Farm Planning!
As we look ahead, here's some of our TO-DO List:
-order broilers and turkeys (today!)
-buy/organize fencing supplies (mainly staples)
-organize file system; make new files for each enterprise
-Finish blueprint drawing of entire farm
-Review/Develop short term and long term goals
-Go to Farm Conferences in February :)
-plan garden
-try cheese again
-get two hogs to eat the whey from above-mentioned cheese
(After the snow is gone....)
-put up hog panels between paddocks 2 & 3
-build cattle feeding headgates (terminology???)
-move burn pile of old trees
-enlarge garden to the west where burn pile was
-plant extra grass in paddocks (early in Spring)
(Before May Graduation Reception....)
-paint front of barn and shed where red paint is peeling
-plant new trees by Cottonwood Pasture
-get ready for turkeys and broiler to arrive
Well, that should be enough for now. I think I'll go look at the garden catalogs or read our new farm books and get inspired as I look ahead to Spring.....

Signs of Winter

Yup, its Winter! These were taken after the 3-day blizzard around New Years. I think it makes the barn look old and tired. I feel old and tired with the growing snow levels and cold temps. However, its a necessary rest to get us all ready for Spring and growing, working, and outdoor playing again. Until then, we'll snuggle inside, do what we must outside, and count our blessings.

Winter Fun on the Farm

Should I go for it?

Will it hold?

Is he dead?

Soft landing with all that snow.
He went for another ride.