Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hey everybody!!!

Wow, how long has it been? Too much time has passed, I know, since I last updated anyone on our blog. The year that has passed since I finished graduate work has been filled with activity, productivity, and wonder. Not only on the farm, but in the lives of our whole family. Jenn is working on becoming a midwife, the children are all doing well with school, and Emma’s writing gets better and better. Of course, this is the farm blog, so I’ll stick to that subject, and leave the rest for later inquiry.

I don’t remember where I left off last season. I know nearly filled our projected share bounty, only falling a little short on pork, by delivering 36 pounds instead of forty. But all the chickens were delivered, all the turkeys drew rave reviews, and the eggs are always favorites. Everything went well for the season, with our only rough spot being the processing of the turkeys. Our work schedules interfered with our ability to harvest in a timely matter, so they were huge, and it became quite a struggle to lift a fifty pound bird out of a chicken tractor. We’ll do things a little differently this season. A little more planning perhaps?

Winter successes included the maturation of our second layer flock. We now have eggs taking over our fridge and counter space much of the time. We anticipated this, and are selling les expensive chicken and egg only shares. We should also have plenty of extras that will be sold pay for feed. We always give some away, or as we prefer to say, share.

Our new flock, or should I say, Rosa’s “pet” project, has been the sheep. We move the ewe’s over to a neighbors barn for the winter, and they were successfully mated. One lamb has been birthed already, without any problems. The lamb took to mom as our creator intended, and they can be seen in our front pasture together. Our other ewe looks as though she will lamb at anytime. Births on a farm are always special, whether it’s chicks or lambs.

Speaking of chicks, we averted disaster with the broilers. The day we received them, less than 24 hours old, we moved them directly to the brooder with heat lamps, in the garage and well protected from the wind. As we left for the farm store, all was right with the world. However, when we returned less than an hour later, every chick was near dead. In fact, they seemed about as dead as Lazarus. It seems that they had all decided to swim in the waterer I had provided, which was too large for chicks. Their down was soaked, and they lost body temperature. Against all hope, we piled the chicks into a box (it seemed kind of useless to be gentle), and brought them into the kitchen. We tired to towel dry them, but it was not working – at least not fast enough. So I drove to the dollar store because we have no hair dryer, and brought one home. And – it worked; perfectly. Out of seventy chicks, all but eight not only survived, but acted as though nothing had ever happened. They are all doing very well. Science may explain this event fairly easily, but only the language of miracles can provide an appropriate meaning. These are the life events that allow us to experience God, and incorporate such events into an ongoing narrative of faith as the major informant of day-to-day living.

I almost forgot, Micah, a Methodist preacher, and I, all drove to Sheridan and purchased to ram lambs. We will be turning those into meat, but have not decided if we will butcher in November, when the meat is tenderer, or in spring, when we can harvest more wool and just ground all of the lamb. We are also thinking of culling our breeding Ram, as he is eight years old, and we are not sure how much longer he will be able to sire. This, of course, means we will be looking for a new Corriedale ram over the summer.

We are slaughtering a yearling bull, hopefully this week, and will replace it with another dairy bull calf. We were going to give the bull a lot more time, but the castration band had broke without our knowing, and, well, the little guy is now a bull, and I am the only one who will go into the pen. I have a big stick!
Pigs will be here on June first, and who knows what else will come our way. I do know, that, only a month ago things seemed to be moving slow, and I was not eager for the season to begin. Yet, once we got started adding to the life of the farm, there is much more to take in, more to enjoy, and more relationships to be developed with those special creatures that do more than bring us comfort, they provide sustenance. We value this cycle, and that is why we treat our animals the best we can, even if everything gets pretty dirty, or, nasty sometimes, especially during the winter.

Lot’s of shares left to sell, and many more pictures that we will have to share. Hope that you will stop by and see us, scot and jenn and family.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sometimes, a farm grows justice

So often, it seems my heroes are Black women. When I think of Jesus, and Quakerism, I prefer to see my Truth claims lived out through the actions of real people, as opposed to relying simply upon the Beloved text. The salvation that I believe comes from Jesus is made known through those people who sacrifice themselves voluntarily and step out of their comfort zone in order to do justice. At this point, you might be asking now what this has to do with farming at Sandhill.
Family farming had a lot to do with Shirley Miller Sherrod’s life, even though I have read in statement’s attributed to her that she hated the work. Whether or not she hated the work, her experience of family farming in the Southeastern United States made an impact on her, as did the institutionalized racism of the South. Her father was shot to death for being “uppity.” She faced all sorts of obstacles to voting while living in the South. Basically, it is my understanding that she is a product of the South, and her life has become an example of what I call a commitment to narrative as the expression of the truth of salvation through the life of Jesus.
Sherrod went off to college to earn her undergraduate and graduate degrees. In my opinion, she exemplifies the old school Antioch student, who was intent on changing the world by making herself available to others. With her education, she returned to the South, laboring against injustice. And, as her life went forth, she returned to the farms of the South, intent on helping African-American farmers hold on to their land. And, as we now know, she overcame her moments of personal prejudice to help a white family keep their farm. In her speech to the NAACP, which was delivered some time ago, she spoke about how she overcame this initial prejudice and experienced a kind of redemption while engaged in the process of helping this family overcome their problems.
Of course, we know the story of Sherrod’s speech and how one piece of her presentation was taken out of context and presented to the general public as an example of reverse racism. And, we now know that Sherrod has been vindicated. Yet, what I find salvific in this event, is not Sherrod’s vindication through the media, or apologies on behalf of the government officials who threw her under the bus while responding emotionally to charges of reverse-racism. What I find salvific in this media event is that I now know the story of Sherrod’s life, and how she has chosen to respond to institutionalized racism, injustices, and being suddenly thrust into the middle of a media race-baiting frenzy. It seems to me that Jesus is made known by Sherrod’s commitment to responding in a positive way to the murder of her father by maintaining her own dignity, refusing to publically lay blame upon anyone, and taking action against those enemies that would have kept her “in her place.”
She pursued education so that she might level the intellectual playing field, and returned to help her own. I define her own as farmers, as opposed to African-Americans, because she herself came to identify the plight of the poor and marginalized of all races and ethnicities as part of a greater failed system that often had its claws clutched more firmly around the necks of Blacks. And, in recognizing this, she overcame her moment of prejudice by realizing the greater Truth that humanity is broken, and all need redemption. Now, her family still owns the farm, and she is said to have purchased thirty additional acres by a CNN story. And, while CNN states that Shirley Sherrod is vindicated now that we all know the truth of the context of her “racist” statement, I believe she is vindicated by the life that she has lived, and it amazes me how evident the life of Jesus is in relation to this event, and especially in the life of Sherrod.
Still, what does this have to do with Sandhill. One night at a Quaker book study, I was tired from a long day at work, and graduate classes, and I was in a particularly angry state of being. I got to complaining about how nobody ever took action against brokenness, but simply complained about it and engaged in shouting matches. I was challenged by someone at the study. What are you doing Friend, and why don’t you take action. My response was to overcome my anxiety about failure, and my family started our own farm. As opposed to being negative and pointing out the flaws in a collective response to the brokenness of relationships between rural and urban residents, our family worked to bring two cultures together to experience the joy of farming and food, and how it is provided. As such, we have also been able to live out our faith in Jesus in a manner that makes us feel like we are doing our part in contributing to the ongoing narrative of Jesus.
I don’t believe that farming is the vindicating factor in the story of Sherrod. I do believe that her participation in the ongoing story of her life as an African-American from the rural South, and maintaining her identity through a continuity of place and history, has made, not only her working with a white family to obtain justice, but her whole life, a commitment to justice that is intelligible to all because of its continuity. Ultimately, it will be the story of Sherrod’s life that will be a vindicating factor, just as Jesus’ life is salvific. Shirley Sherrod’s life makes the story of Jesus’ salvific life understandable. That is the kind of story that Sandhill wants to draw folks into. We hope to be a story-formed community of folks that invest in a project that hopes to build relationships through a commitment to place and history. We hope that someday, with a little dedication, people will be drawn into community and live a life of justice and non-violence together, with Jesus and farming at the center.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Windy Whizbang Weekend

About our Whizbang chicken’ pickin’experience! Sandhill CSA finally got around to processing our first round of broilers for the season, and the week or two we waited to do the job was well worth it. We finally made good on our intention to implement a mechanical chicken plucker into our processing regimen. Of course, we were not going to spend the $1200 to $1400 to buy a store-bought one. We have forever been seeing ads for a do-it-yourself model called the Whizbang Chicken Plucker, whose plans were drawn and the model developed by Herrick Kimball, a long-time backyard chicken farmer. Indeed, the whizbang model plucks two chickens in less than 20 seconds, and makes the whole processing event go along more smoothly, with a significant reduction in arthritic manual feather picking.

We only lost one chicken in this round of 50, and we don’t know why it didn’t make it. The other birds, considering the additional time we fed them out, weighed in mostly between 5 ½ and 6 ½ pounds, and were all very nice looking chickens. We were very pleased. The extra costs of feeding 50 six pound birds, however, was significant. At any rate, we wanted to wait until the plucker was built.
The plucker, in fact, could not be built by Jenn and I - not reasonably. While it says anyone can put it together, there is a need for familiarity with a number of skills, such as pulley and v-belt applications, electric wiring, and extreme attention to detail. Fortunately, our neighbor Jack has all the skills necessary to build chicken pikers, and a lot of other mechanical interests. So, he being retired, was happy to tackle the project just to see if the crazy thing would work. Jack spent about four or five days putting it together, with a number of trips to the store being found necessary, and a little more waiting for special ordered parts. While Jenn and I might have gotten the thing together, it would have taken quite a while longer just to catch up with the mechanical learning curve. Jack has been a Godsend to our family and farm. And, the plucker works, with perhaps only a few modifications necessary.

We would have finished all of the birds in two days, only needing the extra day because Jenn had to work at the library. However, as Jack predicted Saturday morning, weather got in our way. With four chickens waiting to be processed, and five more left to cull and pluck, I noticed the darkest clouds I have seen in a while coming on pretty quickly, and I directed Micah and Rosa to shut in the layer hens while I attended to the broody hen and her chicks. Just as I had walked about halfway across the pasture, the wind picked up more, and Jenn came out to tell me the power was out. Then came the noise, and the top of the tree-line was swirling in circles, as were piles of leaves that had flown over from the woods. I started yelling very loudly to everyone outside, “go downstairs and take cover now!”

Everyone ran into the house, and I anchored down the tractor that contained the Ms. Broody and her chicks. This took some time, because the wind kept blowing the tarp off. At the same time, I heard that noise in the air to the south of us that suggested something more than a strong wind was developing. I was going to head downstairs, when I saw the chicken tractor that held the last five broilers, a test model I had made from PVC and tarp, was actually blowing away! I ran over, put it back in place, and then went to the garage to find more anchors. I actually ended up dragging old used tires out of the garage to hold the tractor down, and sat out there with the chix tractor for a few more seconds to make sure it would work. At some point, I decided there was nothing more that I could do, and ran into the house to go downstairs. However, I found one more thing needed to be done. There were four, plucked and nearly butchered, chickens sitting out in the heat of the chicken. I had to bag them up, and put them into the freezer outside in hopes that they would all stay fresh while the power was out.

Then I was ready to go downstairs, but a torrential rain began to fall, and I had to make another trip around the house to shut all of the windows. I did so, and then finally went downstairs to tell Jenn and the kids that everything was taken care of, and I would stay upstairs to monitor the sky. When I returned upstairs, everything was clear. It seemed like it had taken most of an hour to get through everything, but it had probably taken less than 10 minutes. Everyone came upstairs, candles were brought out, and we sat together in the living room eating melted ice cream and waited for the power to come back on. It didn’t until after bedtime, at 11:30, when seemingly every light in the house snapped on. Fortunately, it was only out for four hours, and all of the chicken in the fridge and freezer stayed fresh, and all of the broilers out in the pen kept their feet on the ground. At least for one more day.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Finally, a Farm Update

Wow, it has been a long time since I’ve updated the blog. We received an email from a Friend in Washington State, and she wondered if we were busy with the farm since we had not been blogging for a while. Well, we have been very busy with the farm, and there are a lot of updates.

First, the pigs are now hogs, and they are eating a lot. I think we might change the feed over to a 12 percent protein, as they are close to weight and the lower protein feed casts less. All six hogs are weighing close to 200 pounds, I’d guess, and butchering day is set for July 29. This year’s pork is far surpassing the harvest from last season, as we purchased far better quality feeders.

Our layers are laying just fine, and our new Australorps are growing just great. Hopefully, they will begin laying at the end of August, so that we will have some eggs for sale over the winter. As for the first batch of fifty broilers, they should be ready for butchering in a week or two. We could butcher next weekend, but we could let them grow another week to add a few pounds. We might even have some extra for sale, unless we sell the rest of our five shares soon.

We added bull calves this spring, and had a few problems. We purchased some Jersey calves for $25 a piece, and brought them home, where they promptly came down with a bad case of the scours. We had to do some nursing, but both came through with the use of a home remedy that rehydrated them, and a little extra warmth from some heat lamps. The health of these bull calves became a real point of interest for a couple of neighbors, both of whom raise Jerseys and have had multiple problems with the calves because they tend to be weaker than other breeds. We found this out first hand, as one of them, right after being rid of the scours, came down with a joint disease. I held off giving penicillin in hopes of the calf improving, as it was eating very well, and getting itself up to stand with relative ease, even though it was having trouble with its front legs. However, when I went out the next morning, the calf could not get itself up at all, and could not eat. I administered some penicillin, but it was too late. The calf passed on after two hours. The other one, which the kids named Eros (I know, I know), is doing great, and will be eating grass in no time. We still hope to get another bull calf so that we can offer beef next season.

As expected, we were able to pick up our yearling ewes, which Rosa has been waiting patiently for for more than a year. We picked them up, had a pleasant visit, and brought the animals home without any problem. I had just finished putting up the electric fencing in the pouring rain the day before, and during the morning, and felt comfortable that it could hold most anything. When it came time to unload the sheep, I lifted the biggest one out and placed it in the shelter, just barely latching the fence. As I went to get the other one, the first burst out of the pen and into the pasture. This does not seem to bad, but of course, the story continues.

Being told by the breeder that the sheep should spend a few days penned before letting them out into pasture, I became intent on rounding the ewe up and back into the pen. Now, she did not know me from Adam, and was naturally very scared. I should have known from previous experience with animals that, you simply cannot control an animal that you do not have some sort of relationship established with, if at all, when they set their mind to something else. After about ten minutes of trying to keep away from Micah and I in the pasture, the ewe went right through the electric fence, and I followed, right through the electric fence. I chased the animal for about 15 minutes in the pouring rain, and then Jenn came home during the chase, and her and Rosa began to help, We tried for about an hour, in the continuing rain, but could not catch that ewe, who finally ran across an open field, and far away from us. Jenn and Rosa were crushed, and I was simply distraught. I had no idea what would become of the ewe, but it was now out of our hands. We put the other animal into the pen without incident.

The next morning, one neighbor stopped by and told us that someone spotted a ewe in their back yard, and figured it was probably ours. (I wonder why?) At least we knew it was in the area. Another neighbor stopped by to help Jenn and Rosa look for the animal, but I did not go, as I did not think we would be able to catch the animal even if we saw it. On First Day, Jenn and Rosa made flyers offering a reward for the lost sheep. When they left to post the flyers, Micah suggested out of the blue that they stop at a house around the corner of our section and ask the neighbor if they had seen our ewe. Jenn stopped, at least to let them know we were missing an animal. When she spoke to the neighbor, he indicated that he found a ewe eating grass right outside of his goat pasture, and when he invited the girl in, she walked right in and began socializing with the goats. Jenn brought the ewe home without incident, and we unloaded her from Jenn’s van into the pasture.

Of course, by this time, the other ewe had found her way out of the pen, and was lonely. I can’t believe how sociable sheep are. She was attracted the company that would be offered to her by the hogs, and the taller grass, and went right through my so called impenetrable fence. When we got the lost ewe into the pasture, she saw her partner, and then she jumped through the fence, and that is where the two of them have remained. And they spend as much time next to the hogs as they can. Naturally, we borrowed money for a more powerful fencer (I am not working yet) and cut all the overgrown grass, which should have been done weeks ago. Learn as you go, that’s our motto. All the animals are doing fine now, and so are we. We feel blessed by each of them, except for one of the roosters.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Another great day, and more progress toward meeting our goals

Great day of work today. Micah really contributed a lot while we worked on fixing a chicken tractor and finishing up the fencing around the new hen house. Farming is a great way to spend time with your children and enjoy an abundance of teaching and learning opportunities as well. The layers are really starting to grow, and we are moving them closer each day to the hen house so that they will be able to run cage free very soon. As one of our shareholders and fellow Quakers reminded me, when chickens get to eat naturally by picking through the grasses and other natural edibles, they produce eggs that are incredibly high in Omega 3. By September, we will have two grown layer flocks, and will have a lot of eggs for next season’s shareholders.
I said we were working on hen house fencing, and perhaps I should explain. We use portable tarp shelters for our layer hens, and they are easy for predators to get into by digging underneath the bottom edge of the tarp. To prevent this, we erect a welded wire fence around the outside of the shelter, and then lay chicken wire on the ground extending out from the welded wire. We zip-tie the chicken wire to the welded wire, then use tent stakes to keep the chicken wire tight to the ground. This has been effective in preventing raccoons from digging through into the hen house, unless you forget to shut the welded wire fence gate.
An interesting thing happened about a week and a half ago, and I didn’t write about it because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. We lost a chicken from our layer flock, most likely because I didn’t feel like closing up the hen house (AS STATED ABOVE). Predators always return to the scene of their kill the very next night, so, as usual, I waited outside to hunt the predator. What I suspected would be a coyote (you can tell by the manner of the kill) turned out to be something entirely different. It was a huge fox! I was unable to raise my shotgun in time to shoot it cleanly, and so the fox went its own way. It did not return, but I got to thinking. It is one thing to kill a raccoon or a skunk, or a coyote. It is entirely another manner to shoot a beautiful animal like this fox that I saw in our pasture. Also, I think that many of our shareholders would feel the same way had they saw this animal. At any rate, the fox did not return, but I had to admit that this might pose a problem later in the season, and I can’t have predators circling the farm and helping themselves to chickens and who knows what else. So, I decided to make a significant investment in hopes of eliminating the need to kill predators.
I invested in a solar powered blinked LED light that guarantees to keep predators away from the area surrounding it. One light will not work, you need one every hundred feet or so, at least that is what is recommended. So we now own six of these lights at a cost of $34 each. This was a significant expense for our farm, but in the end, I hope that it eliminates any shareholder concerns about the need to eradicate predators. I also hope it will allow me to get to sleep at night during the summer, as raccoons and such don’t come out until 1 or 2AM.
Broilers come this Wednesday, and should be ready for pickup in eight weeks. We have a lot of fencing decisions to make before the sheep come, and we are going to feed out Jersey bull calves for beef for next year. We anticipated getting beef steers, but the prices for stock were nearly $600 more than we had budgeted for. We will need to save for breeding stock if we want to get any steers bred for beef. At any rate, the Jerseys are very pretty to look at, and they do well on grass, though they can be somewhat small, Hope to see you soon at Sandhill, bye for now.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Pigs Are Here!

Yea, the pigs are here! Jenn’s brother Dan and I drove to Bellevue, MI to pick up the six pigs we purchased with share money. They are awfully cute, and very excited to be moved from a more confined space to our expanded pen. For the comfort of the swine, I doubled the size of the pen. As it turns out, there is a dearth of feeders available this season, and everything we checked out was going at 4-H prices, which is about $75-$100 per pig. We purchased Sandhill’s pigs for $75 each. As we did in Ohio, we decided to buy pigs that were in confinement. Last year, we took rejects from a corporate farm, but they proved to be much less healthy than we bargained for, and did not feed out at a very good rate. That means we wasted a lot of feed.
I also have another pig story for you, one that is favored by Jenn and Emma. One year in Ohio, Micah received a toy train, and when you pushed a button on the toy, it made a train whistle sound and a chugging sound, and the front end lit up like a train light. One night, we had some problems in the barn where the hogs were, and I had to hustle out to see what was going on. As it turned out, we were woefully underprepared in the flashlight department, and it was very dark. So, I had to grab Micah’s toy train, and then continuously push the button on it so that the light would turn on and I could see where I was going. Of course, every time I pushed the button, the train whistle would go off and the toy train would make a little chugging sound. Jenn and Emma were laughing uncontrollably. In fact, the hogs even stopped whatever it was they were doing and stared at me with interested smiles. Thank goodness for rural seclusion.
Sometimes, however, we are not as secluded as we might like to be. Last fall, when we were feeding out the final batch of broilers, we had a problem with a skunk stealing chicks. The first morning, our son Dylan was waiting for the bus when the skunk came, and he scared it away by throwing something at it. The second morning, I heard the chicks making a ruckus (they were right outside our bedroom window). I leapt out of bed, and grabbed a hunting gun. I didn’t want to take too long and let the skunk get away, so I simply ran outside in my boxer shorts and knee boots. I was not paying any attention to time, but I knew I had made a mistake when I heard Dylan shout, “Dad, get back in the house!” As luck would have it, his school bus was just pulling up to pick him up for school. I’m sure every kid on the bus easily identified me as the crazy “militia man” running around in his underwear looking for the black helicopters of the “One World Government.”
More farm news – we are scheduled to pick up the yearling ewes on the weekend of fifth month the 21, in Alma, MI. We pick up our first batch of broilers on the 14th of this month. Our egg production is right around 20 to 24 eggs per day. We are still looking for bull calves to feed out for beef, and as of now, we have about eight shares left to sell.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Brooder Works

The Brooder works, and our first batch of chicks are healthy as can be! I apologize for taking so long to post. Jenn and I are very busy with studies and internships and work schedules, but the farm will not suffer – only our blog. Anyway, we picked up the Black Australorp chicks that Jenn chose for layers this year. They may begin to lay as soon as 8th month, but more likely in 9th month. This means that we can predict more eggs per share next season, and have some extra for sale. But, to paraphrase an old adage, don’t count your eggs before they are laid.
We ordered a second shelter that was needed, this one came through ebay. We have been able to save significantly by using Craigslist and ebay, but be careful, at least of Craigslist. Some things are not always advertised as they should be, or are as they are advertised.
I mentioned chicks above, but one of the great things about kids and spring, and farming, and farm stores, is that the first shipment of chicks marks the beginning of the season. Micah and Rosa had been saving up for chicks of their own, apart from the regular layers. After meeting for worship on the 8th of this month, we had to stop at the farm store to pick up a few incidentals for the brooder. Jenn and I surprised the kids with the announcement that they could be the first to give the brooder a try, and they picked out five chicks of their own. Naturally, those first peepers ended up spending their first night in the house with the kids. That is a more pleasurable experience than brooding 50 broilers in a bedroom. (Yes, that has been done.)
We have also talked with sheep farmer Cary from Alma, and are getting ready to begin that purchase. First, we need to erect one of the new shelters and prepare it for livestock. We then need to erect new fencing. We have already seeded that pasture, and are now praying that God will water and grow what we have planted. However, the simple exchange of emails makes us feel like time is wasting away. The next few months are exciting times of the season, because we are getting new animals and building new projects, and there is always something to do or plan. Drudgery begins immediately in 5th month ; ).
As for shareholder news, we have been able to provide eggs already to those who have become early shareholders. Hopefully, this is a motivator for those who have not yet purchases. We hope to write again sooner next time, blessings, Scot and Jenn and the family.