Category Archives: Farm Doings

Little stories about how we do things here at Eddy Ridge Grassland

Busy Times on the Ridge

Yesterday was a bit of a blur.

I got news that there was a shearer in town, and he might be able to fit me in this week. I’ve now got an appointment, and have to rush some of my spring cleaning to ease that process.

I got another call out of the blue from a hay guy I’d tried to contract last fall. He’s got more hay customers and more equipment than he had last year, so he’s now more interested. We are both hoping to get hay harvested sooner than was done last two years, which increases its nutritional profile, and puts us another step towards a 100% grass fed operation. He is also willing to till and reseed rather than spray and reseed, so we can rapidly improve the field. (I’d rather improve with 3 cuttings, but he’s the one burning the gas and you get less hay per cutting that way although more in the whole season.)

Meanwhile, I’m on a 13 hour shift at work…

My husband finds the poor feral cat dead on the road. At least now I know what color it was, before I only ever saw a blur (black and grey tabby).

When I finally got home after 11 PM, did regular barn chores and then started cleaning and rearranging for the upcoming shearing day. The big deal there was that Hoppo and Rigel finally got to meet. Rams that don’t know each other can be a bit touch and go. We put them in one of the smaller stalls, and dumped a bunch of hay bales inside to make it harder to charge across it. Rigel is being pushy, Hoppo is hovering behind Rigel’s shoulder out of the main line of fire. They’ll take breaks from wrestling to grab a snack together. If I see them get too aggressive I’ll put halters on them and clip them together so they can’t back up and get a running start at each other. As rocky as the introduction period can be, in the long run it will be good for the rams to be buddies instead of being alone. In a couple months when the grass comes in we’ll put them out on one of the ram pastures together.

2 AM and I was finally able to hit the sack for a few hours before getting up to go to the city job again. Thank God for caffeine and flex time, I’ll be getting off a bit early today to pick up plywood for a shearing floor and do some barn cleaning and mapling before dark.

Tomorrow is shearing day. Shouldn’t take the pro long to do my little flock, but I need to work from home while waiting for him to show, and afterwards I’ll have 8 fleeces to skirt, sort, and put up for sale. …and then back to town to make a late meeting at work…

The Opossum Must Die (not for the faint of heart)

Academically I knew, I would eventually have to face a predator after my chickens, but I still don’t own a gun, a crossbow, or a trap of significant size.

Last night I saw a possum in the barn. He was much bolder than your average wild animal, but did move to some partial shelter from which to watch me do my chores. I moved around the barn nervously, not knowing how close I could pass by without him reacting violently since escape didn’t seem to be on his mind. He stayed in his corner while I did all my chores, sometimes having to pass within 4 feet of him, and I left the barn without incident.

When I got inside hubby and I started researching possums. Apparently the American animal is an Opossum, and the Australian one Possum. Ours was most likely a Virginia Opossum given his coloration, size, and location. They rarely transmit disease to humans, are resistant to rabies, eat snakes, mice and insects, and lyme disease carrying ticks generally die after biting an opossum. Small animals may be at risk, but we keep baby chickens in a cage to protect them from cats anyway, and a lamb would be bigger than the opossum. We’d have to keep an eye out to see if it could get into nests and steal eggs or if it would just discourage the hens from laying on the ground. So far so good.

But then I specifically started researching opossums on a site dedicated to farming. Sometimes opossums develop a taste for chicken. If they do, they tear the heads off and leave bodies behind, over and over again.

Was this opossum to be an ally or enemy? Which side should I err on? I decided to wait and see if we might be able to peacefully co-exist and got a good night’s sleep.

I was wrong.

In the morning I went to do regular barn chores, and there was a dead, headless chicken. The rooster repeatedly attacked me as I removed his dead lady friend. I protested to him that it was not my fault, but deep inside I thought, yes, it is my fault. I keep free range chickens, I don’t even coop them up at night, and I didn’t kill the predator I could see lurking in their barn.

We raise meat animals, death is a natural part of that cycle, but each death fulfills a purpose. That chicken died for nothing. The opossum wasn’t hungry enough to eat that much meat, they probably tussled over rights to roosting locations or eggs. The meat was ruined so that I didn’t want it for my own table. The ground is still frozen so I can’t even bury her and fertilize my garden. She died for no purpose.

Relocation is a tempting option, but relocated animals have a low survival rate, often starving to death or falling prey in an area where they don’t know the available shelters, if they survive they likely displace the local members of their species, or cause a nuisance to a different human than myself. As kind as it sounds, relocation is avoiding the issues of indirect damage I might cause.

Now with a heavy heart I realize the opossum must die. I hear they make good eating, maybe it can at least have a final purpose…

GooTurkEn?

By now you have probably heard of Turducken, the roast with a chicken inside of a duck, inside of a turkey. What you might not know was that Turducken was not just a brief obsession of John Madden, but a sucessor of a long line of multi bird roasts. The turducken is a rather grand three bird roast, but the royalty of yore had 5, 7, 12… one cookbook from the 1800s even included a 17 bird roast “Rôti Sans Pareil” (roast without equal) going from Great Bustard down to Warbler. A modern farmer though decided to one-up that with a roast of 48 birds of 12 species (serves 125). You can even buy one if you live near her farm.

A sliced roast
Hen-Hen?

We’re only a family of two, so although I have dreams of a grand feast for 30, I started learning about this dish with a more modest Engastration. A deboned chicken, lined with bacon, then inside a cornish hen, then onion, apple, cornmeal and egg stuffing. Overall not bad for a first try! Husband definitely approves of my new hobby, even though I did spend a couple hours making dinner. (It should go faster as I learn how to debone correctly. Jacques Pepin says it should only take a couple minutes to debone a chicken.)

So what does cooking have to do with farming? Everything. Everything you eat has to be grown by somebody, and I’d like to have an increasing role in that growing. I’ve challenged myself to grow a larger percentage of my Christmas dinner next year, and I hope to have some surplus to share with all of you as well.

I’ve also become rather interested in geese. They have a lot of advantages being decent guardian animals, able to live primarily on grass (chicken and turkey must have a protein source), fairly dependable weeders, and also decent eaters of garden pests like slugs. From a business perspective, the grocery store price to duck is a more reasonable goal for my poultry sale price than the (unprofitable at small scale) grocery store price for chicken, and the initial outlay is considerably less than getting into beef or pork.

If I’m serving a bird for Christmas, it needs to go into this year’s farm plan. And that farm plan is shaping up rapidly considering my first indoor seeds are going in trays next month.

So what do you think we should have for dinner this year? Turducken? Goturken? Gooducken? Gooturducken? Would you want to give it a try yourself? What if we found a butcher to debone and roll the roasts for you?

Hand Woolcombing

I highly recommend the book Hand Woolcombing and Spinning by Peter Teal.  I’m still reading it, but even the introduction section is very interesting.  Mr. Teal believes that when spinning was revived as a leisure art in the mid 1800, it was believed that  women were too fragile to handle wool combing, and therefore worsted spinning never revived the way woolen spinning did.  He expounds on the virtues of worsted spinning, and the ability of a highly skilled spinner to produce customized threads for a task.

I will soon be referring to the directions in chapter 1 to build a comb set in the lighter range.

Long Wool Project

As mentioned in my earlier post, I’ve been contemplating that the path the textile industry took during the industrial revolution may be responsible for the downfall of the Cotswold. I think we can change that with new technologies that help all the long wool breeds.

I’m no genius, I’m not smarter than the 250 years of engineers who have worked on the problem of wool processing before me, but I have a different focus, a different goal, and therefore may come to very different results.

I’ve since been doing my reading. It seems that there are not enough Cotswolds in the world to keep a single industrial sized carding machine busy, so even if we revolutionized the technology there would likely be no large commercial buyer of our machine. I have since turned to look at small hobby scale machines, something that would work for the same market that buys motorized drum carders, but is better suited to processing long wool.

I attended the Rochester Makerspace open community night (every Thursday night) and brought my wool processing tools. The interested parties were quite taken with the manual processes, and we had an impromptu combing/flicking/spinning class. No engineering was performed.

I got a chance to spend an afternoon with an interested engineer, and we played with some sketches, but I’d not brought the manual tools which might have been helpful in demonstrating the combing concept.

Simple tools I’m considering making:

  • An extra long blending board
  • 2 and 4 rank comb sets
  • Blending hackle

More complex tools I’m considering inventing:

  • Motorized flicker
  • Automated combs

I still have a lot of reading to do, I have to study up on the wool, cotton, and flax industries, and the machines that run them.  I’m hoping the long fiber problem has already been solved for flax and we don’t need to re-invent the wheel.

If you like to tinker or design, we could use your help. Give me a buz and I’ll keep you updated on which nights we will be at the Makerspace.  If you like to tinker or design but don’t want to help, I might recommend the Makerspace anyway.

Fodder Beet Harvest

Fodder Beet Our fodder test garden has survived my inexperience and produced some pretty awesome beets!  This is the “Mammoth Red Mangels” variety, and we’re quite pleased with the results.

Your milage may vary, at one time Marion was the one of the nation’s top producers for root vegetables, we have awesome soil for this, although it’s been a bit farmed out over time and is loving the addition of manure we’re giving it now.

New Ram!

This is a very exciting day for Eddy Ridge Grassland. We have acquired our first pure bred Cotswold Ram with ACRA registration. With his help we hope to have ACRA and CBA register-able lambs next spring!

IMG_1246

His grand-sire is an English Ram (Oakhill Ouzel M61), and we hope he can strengthen the English influence we have from some of our ewes’ English grand-sire (Tingewick Pimm C6913).

We are very grateful to Orion Acres for producing and showing such a fine ram. Under Linda Schauwecker of Orion Acres, our ram has competed well, even bringing home Supreme Champion Ram from Topsfield Fair.

Naming contest!  Post a suggestion for a name for this fellow!  (Winner gets personal pride.)