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Archive for the ‘Changing seasons’ Category

first-snow_anne-wants-more-hay

Of course, Winter here at the farm didn’t follow close on the heels of Spring, as the time gap between my last posting and this one might suggest.  Nor did I fall off the edge of the earth, or give up farming, or run away to the big city.  I just got a bit submerged is all, in the work and projects and animal husbandry as the growing season progressed, and lost the thread of storytelling here on the blog.  The convenience and simplicity of Facebook updates turned into a lazy habit, and the discipline of composing anything longer than a paragraph simply vanished.  Faded away like fog in morning sunlight.

Along with so many other people, I hope to use the New Year as a springboard for getting back to doing things I love, but have let slip out of my regular routine.  Like writing here.  So let’s get on with the story…

It took awhile for winter to arrive this year.  Seemed like Fall just didn’t want to give up and let go; the temps stayed unseasonably warm through most of November, with very little rain.  It was great weather for Bear’s usual visit, he doesn’t really like cold and stormy, it interferes with his projects out in the shop.  This year he wore short sleeves until the last few days he was here, and never had to hole up inside by the fire with sniffles or a cold as has happened in the past.

And I was very grateful for every extra day of good working weather, using them to catch up on winter prep like filling the woodshed and stuffing another load of horse hay into the hay shelter.  Glad I did, too, because this last week, Old Man Winter arrived with a crash and a bang, bringing freezing temps and icy rain and the first snowfall to south-central Kentucky.

Now the focus is on keeping livestock fed and watered, and trying not to fall behind on maintenance chores like removing manure in the horse yards, and spreading it on the pastures.  Keeping a good supply of split wood in the shed.  Catching up on office work and farm business.  Staying healthy, positive and motivated.

It’s hard to say if this winter will be a rough one with lots of snow and cold.  The old-timers around here talk a lot about winters being much more rugged when they were young – deep snows, more frequent storms, bitter cold temperatures.   I’ve lived and worked in northern Colorado, so I’m no stranger to wintry weather, but it does make everything a little harder, especially on a farm.

And a little harder every year I get older, too.  Though I am learning a thing or two every year that makes things go easier, that’s gotta help balance out the aging factor, right?

So let’s see if I can keep the story going this time, because there’s an awful lot of good stuff happening here at the farm and this blog is a great way to journal our progress.

Until next time, then.

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suddenly green

Well that was fast.

Plenty of rain and several weeks of May-like temps have turned the switch on early, it seems.  We’re told to expect some cold nights and snow flurries before March is behind us but there’s really no stopping what’s going on out there in the woods and fields, ponds and streams, soil and sky.  It’s all awake now.

This verdant green pasture isn’t ready to graze, it’s mostly just a carpet of inch-high new clover leaves, but it sure looks yummy.  The promise of delicious meals to come, and sooner than last year, they were covered with snow at this time a year ago.  We normally don’t start rotating the cowherd through the pattern until late April; it’ll probably happen a couple of weeks earlier than that this time around.

Once again the sap run blew right past me, if it happened at all.  Buds on the maple trees mean sugaring season is over; oh well there’s always next year.  And the next.  It’s scramble time now, to stay ahead of the bunch grasses in the garden rows that didn’t get seeded to cover crops, get the mowers and trimmers ready for action, finish setting up paddocks for horse grazing, and on and on.

Ready, set, go!

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Early March feeding hay still

Now that I don’t work at a “real” job and don’t have to show up to work at a prescribed time, these pesky seasonal time changes are not as much bother as they used to be.  The livestock wake up when the sky lightens and settle down for the night when dusk falls, no matter what time my wristwatch says it is.  Same goes for their eating habits, they are accustomed to a regular schedule and there’s no reason to shift it an hour one way or another just because the clocks changed.

But the clocks have changed.  Which throws me off a little in my daily routine.  Instead of heading up the hill at 6:30 am this morning, for example, we went up at 7:30, according to the clocks.  Mid-day rounds usually happen at 1 pm, that’ll be 2 pm now.  Until I get used to the new time, I have to do a little clock math throughout the day just to keep on schedule.  So I leave my wristwatch on what I call “Cow Time” or, more accurately, Eastern Standard Cow Time, which gives me that nice solid reference for when the important stuff, like tossing hay to cows and horses, needs to happen around here.

In a week or so my brain will have adjusted, this little trick just gets me through until it does.

 

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Dragging West Pasture

I had hoped to be posting regularly by now but that habit is taking a little longer to reestablish, no surprise here.  I won’t give up though.  The truth is I’ve not yet built it into my routine; many things, much less enjoyable tasks, get done every week simply because I place them on the map of what I will do and remove any roadblocks to doing them.  And so it must be, will be, with blogging.

We are moving very quickly into Spring this year.  Seems like just last week I was bringing in firewood and starting to think about cutting more, now the stove stands cold in the sunny front room, although it may need to heat the house once or twice more before it’s all said and done.   There are cool mornings still expected.  But the daily dance with firewood is pretty much over for the season, and that’s a good thing.

Up on the hill, the pastures not used for winter feeding are greening, not really growing yet but the carpet of first clover leaves and grass tips starting to produce chlorophyll again make it look positively yummy.  It’ll be awhile before grazing season is officially open, at least on this farm – I let everything get pretty tall before starting the rotation, so the grazers tired of eating hay don’t get ahead of the growth curve.  So the cowherd is still in winter feeding mode, on small sections of pasture eating hay, moving toward the corral so the 2015 calves can be sorted out for their trailer ride to the vet, leaving a nice blanket of trampled hay and manure in their wake.

Just the other morning I accidentally ran over the chain harrow with the gator, which reminded me to hitch it up and drag the West Pasture before the rains hit.  The herd spent most of the winter on those three acres, moving slowly from back to front, adding tons of carbon and nutrients; dragging spreads all that out a little more evenly, fills in hoof prints a little and lifts any large chunks that would smother growth below.  The picture above shows the job about half done.  It’s a beautiful thing to see all the good stuff laid on top, ready to be eaten by the little creatures and incorporated into the soil, boosting vigor and growth of the sward all summer long.

It’s going to be a busy Spring, I have a lot planned this year and the snowstorms set me back a bit on some stuff.  The garden, for instance, still sits just like it did after I dug the sweet potatoes, last crop harvested – tomato stakes still up, nothing pulled out and burned, a mess.  Haven’t started seedlings yet either, which I hope to remedy this weekend.  Last year my veggie starts were early, this year they will be late.  Oh well.

It’s also time to plant a little orchard.  Bare-root trees arrive in April.

And bees, I’m starting a beehive this Spring.  Bees arrive in May.

Then there are the big red horses to train.  With any luck I’ll have one or more of them hooked to some kind of training sled this summer, perhaps a stick of firewood this Fall.  That project goes slowly but steadily, we make progress every day on manners and communication and connection, this is the year to build on that and get them thinking and acting more like workhorses.  No rush to pull anything heavy but lots of opportunity to build skills for both horse and human.

So here we go.  Winter is behind us, the farm is waking up, it’s a beautiful place to live and the work is hard but fun.  I will figure out how to wedge the storytelling into the story doing somehow, it is important and not as difficult as all that.  Just need to work it in like I do everything else.

 

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Moon over pond christmas eve

The story continued from where it left off here two years ago, of course; the storyteller just lost her muse, then her voice, and then too much time passed and she lost the writing habit.  It happens.  Facebook made it easy to post pictures and quick updates for friends and family, and the longer thoughts and observations suited for blog posts fell by the wayside.  Wow, two years.  That’s a long time not to write.

Getting back to the story gets harder the longer you go without writing anything, it’s tough to know where or how to start – do I just jump back in or play catch up?  I guess if I’d lapsed a couple of months, I could do a quick synopsis and move on.  But two years?  If I tried to capture even a quick screenshot of all that’s happened since December 2013 I’d never get past the edit screen, which is why it’s taken this long to return.  So we’ll just step back in the road and start walking, and I’ll backfill any big holes as necessary to keep moving forward.

Whew.  There it is, I’ve done it, I’m back.

Tomorrow is Boxing Day.  It is supposed to rain some more, with record-high temps here – 74 degrees.  The solitary bat hunting mosquitoes at sundown tonight got me thinking there might be some hungry fish in the pond, brought to the surface by the unseasonable warmth.  I missed a lot of good fishing days this Fall, I might take a break from chores and chill out for a few minutes with a pole and a bucket tomorrow, see what hits the hook.  My freezer needs some fish.

 

 

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Fall grazing

That title phrase is borrowed from a recent Gene Logsdon blog post, in which he talks about bringing in firewood for the winter ahead, and how the onset of winter makes some of us uneasy, whether we know why or not.

I know why the coming months of dormant grass, saturated soils, and frigid temperatures make me uneasy.  Because I’m not ready for it, that’s why.

It feels like we went hurtling through the heat of August just last week.  But of course, August was two – nearly three – months ago.  Back then, I was mapping out all the things to get done by October, and though the list was ambitious, it seemed doable.  Now October is heaving its last breath, and the bottom half of my list just rolls to the right.  November.  We’ll get it all done in November, then.

Meanwhile, the leaves are changing color and falling, and the cows are on their last rotation through paddocks just recovered enough to provide good grazing – most are 8″ at the tallest and some areas much sparser.  Quite the difference from the lushness of May and June.  Regrowth slowed in September and after this time through, will be just enough to regenerate root reserves before growth stops.

It is sobering to see the end of the grazing season fast approaching, knowing that soon I’ll have to serve up hay to hungry animals in all sorts of weather.  Glad to have the hay stockpile; not thrilled with the work ahead to feed it out.

The things that did get done should make me feel very contented, and in any other season than this, they would.  For example, in just two weeks I tracked down 80 rolls of grass hay for the cowherd, hauled them up to the top of the hill, set them on pallets along the hay storage lane, and covered them with plastic.  That was huge.  A lot of work, and a load off my shoulders to finally get it done.  Having enough hay to feed a mixed herd of cows, steers, heifers and calves through the winter is no laughing matter, even here in balmy Kentucky.

The garden harvest has gone very well, too; my shelves are literally groaning with quart jars of tomatoes, green beans, and three kinds of pickles.  There are pounds of chard and edamame in the freezer, bags of dehydrated herbs and cherry tomatoes in the cupboard, piles of winter squash in the spare room, and an overflow fridge out in the shop stuffed with potatoes, beets and carrots.  The abundance makes all the work worth it, and I’m glad to have homegrown food for the winter and beyond.

Still, I am uneasy.  My firewood pile is very small.  I’ve just enough split and stacked on the back porch for the next few weeks, then I’ll have to devote a couple of days to harvesting some standing dead trees, cutting them to length and splitting a mix of large, medium and small for the woodstove.  I wish I’d have had time to get ahead of this resource but I didn’t.  I won’t run out and I won’t freeze, but it’s work that should have been done by now.

Then there’s the horse hay storage structure, still sitting in the palletized box it shipped in, waiting for site prep, footer holes dug and poured, and assembly of the 24′ x 20′ steel tubing frame that’ll be covered by the heavy-duty custom-sewn covering, warrantied to last 15 years.  Once erected, it’ll hold 600 bales of hay for the horses.  Sitting in the box, it’s a long way from being able to hold 600 bales of hay.  Might as well be a box of rocket ship parts out there, as useful as it is to me right now.

Barn doors need built and hung to finish the stall so I can wean the little colt; cows need run through the corral and chute again for annual shots; calves must be captured and hauled to the vet for castration and vaccinations, the yearling colt needs a vet visit for his gelding ceremony; the list goes on, and the weeks fly by, and it is getting cold already.

I shake off the uneasiness but it’s the season for that sort of thing, and it returns.  Maybe I’ll get used to it in a couple of years.

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