AJ and I picked 8 cubic yards of pumpkins last night. They came from the Mast family farm, the folks whose maple syrup and honey we’ve recently added to our store. We picked up the obviously unsaleable ones this time, then we’ll go back after Halloween to clear the rest of the field.
Pumpkins are an interesting crop, being a food item that is now grown almost entirely for non-food uses. Since decorative concerns outweigh all other considerations, nobody wants to buy them unless they are in great cosmetic condition. So besides the obvious rejections due to green skin (unripe), cracks, or rot, many others are rejected because they are misshapen or have short/missing stems. Pumpkins are a sharply seasonal product. They sell from mid September to a few days before Halloween, but after Halloween they are commercially worthless no matter their condition.
Gleaning this crop turns out to be a win-win. It saves the Masts the extra effort of discing the field to bust up the pumpkins before plowing. And it provides our pigs with a few weeks of vegetables. Feeding produce to pigs is hard to justify economically in terms of weight gain, but I value the less tangible benefits of vitamins (especially carotene in the case of pumpkins) and plant fibers in creating a more digestible and natural diet for the pigs, as compared to the standard all-grain diet fed to most pigs.
I’ve heard for years that pumpkin seeds help livestock eliminate internal parasites. Like most non-medicated interventions, I can’t find any studies to validate this use. I did find one small study on goats that demonstrated no improvement. If anyone knows of any related research, I’d be interested in reading more. [Edit 22 Oct 2016: I found one study demonstrating that pumpkin seeds and calamus root were each more effective than Ivermectin at reducing Oesophagostomum nematodes. Tansy was almost as effective. Interestingly, garlic wasn’t nearly as effective as the other natural cures, despite its popularity among many organic farmers. Those particular parasites aren’t endemic here, but the possibilities are encouraging.]
This morning the dispatcher at a milk bottling plant asked to stop by with a 4,000 gallon load. Based on previous conversations I was expecting to get a tanker of near expiration milk, but instead I got a load of 40% Heavy Cream.
Most folks who’ve been to the farm know that cheese whey is a cornerstone to our pig program, for a few reasons. It is a locally available and free food source, so it makes good sense environmentally in terms of carbon and nitrogen cycling and it makes sense economically. It provides the protein boost to allow us to remove soy from the grain ration, to reduce overall grain requirements, and to increase the pigs’ pasture and hay intake (think paleo pigs). And, of course I should mention that pigs love anything dairy. We’ve been feeding whey since 2011, but occasionally we’ve scored bonus loads of milk or cream. Whey is pretty dilute stuff, with about 1/4-1/2 the feed value of skim milk, so we’re always glad to get a batch of milk in the tanks.
Our pigs regularly drink 2,000+ gallons of whey each week, but heavy cream is a different thing entirely because it is so calorically dense. 4,000 gallons of cream works out to 52.5 million kcals. Technically that’s enough energy to bring a liter of water from absolute zero to a temperature 3x hotter than the core of the sun (how’s that for a good example of a bad use of high school physics?). For reference, that’s also equivalent to 17 tons of feed corn, 600,000 bananas, or 23,000 pounds of Doritos. Roughly enough calories to bring about 45 pigs from weaning to market weight.
Now I’ve got to figure out how to use this stuff. It is so thick that I can only dispense it using a 2″ trash pump. Even 4″ pipes plug up under gravity flow. I’m going to have to feed this out over some time. My plan is to continue feeding whey, using it as a carrier for the cream by circulating whey through the cream tanks. Whether or not I can do this and avoid having the cream set up as a solid brick of butter remains to be seen.
It’s here! The first of what we hope will become a lineup of Wrong Direction Farm charcuterie products.
We’re excited to offer an authentic dry cured salami from the Spanish Catalan tradition. Fuet is a simple, rustic salami in the larger chorizo family. Fuet doesn’t depend on heavy-handed spice blends, instead it focuses primarily on the pork. Fermented and dried for eight weeks in a sequence of carefully controlled drying chambers until half the weight is lost to evaporation, the result is an intense pork flavor.
This was produced for us by the Espuña Company in nearby Gloversville NY using Wrong Direction Farm pork we provided. Espuña started making salchichón sausage and jamón serrano in the 1960’s in Olot, Spain, so they bring decades of experience.
Fuet is ideal for tapas platters; try it sliced thin with some crusty bread and a tangy sheep cheese. Diced into small cubes it makes a special addition to scrambled eggs or omelettes. And of course it shines in a paella or any rice dish.
No added sodium nitrate. Ingredients: Wrong Direction Farm Pork, Salt, Celery Extract, Black Pepper, Turbinado Sugar, Lactic Acid Starter Culture.
I enjoyed photographing our latest addition to our online store: quarts and gallons of maple syrup. The timing was serendipitous as this week our maple trees have transitioned to their fall colors. The three big sugar maples by the road are a mottle of yellow and green and the smaller maple near the greenhouse is a potent red. All along the hedgerows the same color scheme is alternating in contrast with the other hardwood trees that haven’t quite given up on their late-summer green. I love it.
Our customers have been asking us for a while about buying maple syrup and raw honey. These aren’t items that we produce on the farm but we know people who do, so we’re glad to be able to start offering some of these items on our farm store.
The syrup is made by the Mast family nearby in Fultonville, NY. The Masts are an Amish family who, like most Amish folks, are involved in all sorts of enterprises. During the winter they make maple syrup, using horse drawn sledges to haul the sap to their sugar house. But they have so many other enterprises going on their place is always crackling with activity. They tend to field crops, a pumpkin patch, beef cattle, honey bees on the farm. They also run a fascinating off-the-grid machine shop complete with lathes and milling machines all driven by overhead belts and pulleys.
They will be bottling the raw honey next week, so expect to see 2 lb and 5 lb jars of honey soon.
Last week we turned the cattle in to the pasture where I seeded millet in July. For reference you might also want to read Edmund Brown’s recent blog post as we both try to figure how to make this work on our Upstate NY grazing farms. I realize that this topic has limited interest, but I’ve got to keep harping on it because I’m convinced there are big dividends awaiting if we can figure out a way to grow annuals without over-investing in equipment and without diminishing our soil and water resources.
Last month I did a writeup describing the project as a failure, but interestingly about a week after I wrote it I noticed small millet shoots popping up all over the field. I’m going to revise my hypothesis to blame the failure on the design of the no till drill, and I’ll accept my share of the blame for being inexperienced with this piece of equipment. The long-delayed germination and subsequent inability to outgrow the perennial cool-season canopy was caused largely not properly slicing through the plant thatch.
The Haybuster drill has a set of double disc (or double coulter depending on who’s describing them) openers in front of the seed drop tubes and press wheels. Other drills have a better design: a single coulter in front to cut through the stubble, followed by double disc openers, the drop tubes, and the press wheels. I think my problem was that because I focused on getting a shallow planting depth (1/4″-1/2″ depth), I wasn’t able to get enough slicing action from the openers. The leading coulter design used by other manufacturers would allow for a deep cut through all the live plants and thatch, followed by a very shallow skimming pass with the openers. In retrospect, the Polyface video I referenced in my last post included a little side discussion by Daniel Salatin about the need for the extra coulter, but somehow I missed that the first time around.
I don’t think I could justify the purchase cost outright, and I certainly don’t have that money in my pocket right now, so I’m going to have to (1) quit trying, (2) figure out a way to make the Haybuster drill work, or (3) find some other rental drill. Obviously #3 is the my preferred choice, so I’ve started looking around. Healthy perennial pastures are always going to be the backbone of our grassfed beef system, but I think the wise use of no-till practices and annual crops can increase our forage production, improve our soil biology, and strengthen our drought resiliency, all because more species of plants will be active for a greater portion of the year.
Good news for other annuals: the oats and rape planting in the pig pasture is doing well. I think the cultipacker was critical to boosting germination beyond what I’ve seen before. If my four wheeler had been working at the time I could have used my broadcaster to get more consistent coverage, but I think the results are great considering the kids were helping me broadcast the seed by hand, so there was extra chaos in the process. After all the planting failures, when I pass by this field each day on my trip to feed the pigs whey, I get a deep sense of satisfaction looking at how well the oats are growing. As of today they are up to the middle of my calf, so I expect them to be knee high or better when the cattle are turned in.
Finally, here is another pasture cropping video, this time from Greg Judy. He’s making it work in a hard drought and only grazing the pasture down to six inches. A big difference is that he’s working with Kentucky 31 Fescue, a grass we don’t deal with much around here (for better and for worse).
Calving started in early May this year when a new-to-us cow calved two months earlier than the vet who preg-checked the seller’s herd anticipated. And we wrapped up this weekend with a heifer calving her first calf about two months later than I hoped (I’m looking for first calf at 24 months, but 26 months is OK).
Two cows failed to calve. They were both due to have their second calves this year, and that particular calving is a good test of a productive cow. Most drama comes from heifers calving, but second calving tends to weed out the poorer-performing cows because that pregnancy is a triple challenge: the cow needs to finish filling out her frame, feed a calf, and gestate a fetal calf. One of the cows came into heat this July, the other may be bred but if so, she is barely showing.
I screwed up.
Our flock of 200 laying hens was starting into a seasonal decline in production due to their age and to the general tendency of chickens to lay fewer eggs as daylight shortens. So I added 50 pullets (young female chickens not yet at laying age) to the flock to smooth out our fall/winter egg production.
Poof! Egg production went from a tolerable 60% to 10% within days. At first I thought that the hens were going into a molt, but it was a little too early and much too abrupt. Talking to other farmers and reading some poultry reference material brings me to the conclusion that I messed up their social order (a.k.a., the pecking order) and that until the hens get it all sorted out they’re on strike. I started dabbling in chickens before we bought the farm, so I thought I pretty much knew what to expect with laying hens. But this one blindsided me because we’ve introduced new hens to flocks before without problems. I think the scale of the disruption to the hens is different this time, so that’s probably the cause of the abrupt egg decline. Alas, another lesson hard-learned and unlikely to be forgotten soon.
Right now I have enough of our own eggs to supply our subscription orders, but for all other eggs I’m going to need to buy some from Oliver’s Eggs. I may need to cap egg orders if I can’t get enough. I’ve updated the description for our eggs on our store to make it clear that some of our eggs may not be our own but that they should be equivalent for all intents. Oliver Aeschlimann’s farm is NOFA-certified organic and he feeds his flock an organic, soy-free ration just like ours. His chickens are legitimately pasture raised, an important distinction when many farms give very little attention to actually maintaining a pasture on which their chickens can roam. While we are always partial to our own products, I am confident that Oliver’s Eggs are the best alternative out of many farms in our region.
Question for you Raw Feeders or BARFers or however you self-identify… For folks who are feeding raw meat and bones to your dogs or cats, what are you looking for? We’ve started grinding chicken heads and feet for our farm cats. They are pleased with it.
Please send us a note or leave a comment if you are currently raw feeding your pets and let us know what you look for in your pet food. We’ve been raw feeding pets for many years, but we only know what we do. What types of products are you feeding? What size containers make sense for you (1 lb/1 pint or 2 lb/1 quart)? Thanks!
I’m always amused by farm and fence glossy advertisements showcasing products held in perfectly clean hands. Anyone building high tensile fence has dirty hands; there’s no way around it. Besides all the dirt from fence posts, shovels, augers, hydraulic oil from post pounders, gas and oil from chainsaws, there’s always a lot of zinc or zinc-aluminum dust from the wire coating. Even if you wear work gloves for the grunt work, all the fiddly staples and crimp connectors require the tactility of bare fingers.
So imagine my surprise seeing the Kencove advertisement for their Spiralator fence repair insulator. It depicts hands that have actually been working with galvanized fence wire.
I ordered a box of 100. After having used a bunch of them, I’m thoroughly impressed. Whenever I need to drop a new post into an existing fenceline, or whenever I realize that I’ve threaded too few insulators onto my wire, these little guys are the solution. They are too expensive to use as generic line insulators, but they are perfect for retrofit situations.
I had to do a double take passing by a pen of weaned piglets. One of the pigs was entirely off the ground climbing the fence. Pigs are not good climbers and this one was no exception. He only made it an inch off the ground before his back feet slipped from the fence. But he was determined to get as high as he could, because there was food to be had. All exertions, struggles, and risks are worthwhile to a pig if there is a chance to get better food. This time the sought-after food was wild grape leaves.
During the course of the summer, grape vines had overgrown the cattle panel fence. The piglets stripped the lower courses bare and now they were setting their sights on the vines tangled four feet above them.
I stepped in and tore the vines free so the piglets could get at them. At first I figured they would be more interested in eating the grapes, but they ignored the fruit and instead went for the leaves. They ate the grapes later, but only after stripping all the greenery.