Saturday, April 17, 2010

Busy Weekend

The last couple of weeks have been pretty hectic trying to get a couple of projects completed. I few weeks ago I started a chicken coop inside of our barn. We need a place for Kaden to keep his bantam chickens for the fair and wanted a winter home for some laying hens that we could then build an outdoor access area for them. It took a little while, but finally this evening we moved the chickens into their new home. Our Buckeye chicks are almost two weeks old and they are now occupying the big area in the coop. I will get a picture as soon as I can. Their wings are almost in and they are already looking much bigger.

We finally gave up on our initial attempt at a portable hoophouse because the wind kept knocking it done. We finally decided to build some permanent structures and spend a little more and do it right. So far I have pretty much completed 2 hoop houses, 1 is 9'X24' and the other is 11'X24', I have to enclose one end still and eventually will enclose the other end and put it a door so they can be sealed off, although they will work for right now. We used 2" PVC pipe and attached them to 2"X4"'s so they would be secure and then put on greenhouse plastic and attached that with lath strips so the plastic cannot go anywhere. Again, I will get pictures shortly. I want to build at least 1 more and may add 2 more at some point. I am also just starting to build some small 4'X8' hoophouses that are more portable. I am using my PVC pipe from our failed hoophouse so it does not go to waste.

I also got our electric fence installed in our field over the last 2 days. I was hoping to do a daily rotation of the animals, but at the moment that is not going to be feasible. I realized that you have to clear a strip for the fence because our grass is about 3 feet high at the moment and I have to weed eat a border and then put up the fence, it would take forever to do every day so I am going to move them every week or 2 depending on how quickly they eat the grass. Right now the grass is so high that they get lost in there, but the good news is they have lots of great food to eat.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Baby Chicks

Our first batch of Buckeye Chickens arrived on Wednesday. We ordered 25, they sent 26 and 4 did not survive the trip so we have 22 chicks on our make shift brooder. I am currently building a chicken coop in the barn and we will move them into that when it is done in a few days.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Those darn varmints

I mentioned previously that we got our first goose egg. I went out there the next day and it was gone. I could not figure out what had happened and exchanged emails with the person we got the geese from originally. They thought it might be a rat or something like that, but we do not really have any rats around here. They then did not lay any eggs until yesterday they built a nice nest, of course in a place where it should not have been. I moved the egg into their section of the barn where they spend the night. Kelly went out this morning to milk the goat and there was a possum roaming around not far from the goose egg. Let's just say there is now one less possum in the world. Our goose laid another egg this morning and hopefully we do not have to worry about varmints getting hold of them.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hoop Houses

I spent considerable time over the last few weeks trying to get hoop houses up so we can get a head start on vegetables. To buy a production hoop house is a lot of money, which we do not have at the moment, so the exercise has been to try to create one that works for a minimal investment. Last summer we built 2 of them over the tomatoes for a couple of weeks to try to increase the heat available for them to grow. During August, however, the wind is not as big a factor and they did fine last year, but not during March. Our hoop houses are 25 feet long and about 11 feet wide. I used PVC pipe which I spaced at 5 foot intervals and then have a spine going down the middle with 2 pipes extending out every five feet. The end of the PVC pipe is placed over a 2 ft rebar stake that we have in the ground to provide support. We then put plastic over the top to trap the heat. At first I used some bricks to secure the plastic, but that did not work so I moved to cement blocks. That helped a little bit, but a strong wind still blew down the structure. The third attempt was creating a wind barrier at the south facing opening and that again helped a little, but not enough and it all came down again. The fourth attempt, which finally has worked, is taking another concrete block and tying the PVC pipe on the south opening to the concrete block so the wind cannot lift up the structure. I also built a bigger wind barrier to the south of both of our hoop houses to deflect the wind away from the structure. Next time around I am going to face the structures east/west instead of north/south and see if that helps as well. We have 2 hoop houses up and just need to by some more PVC pipe to create a third structure. The cost of this hoop house is about $50, plus the cost of the plastic, which is far cheaper than getting a commercial hoop house.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Good days and bad days on the farm

One of the lessons that we have learned is there is a lot of good days and maybe a few more bad days on the farm. This morning I went out to the barn to feed the animals only to find our first goose egg of the season. I was wondering when they would start laying eggs as nothing much had happened so far. She had built a nice nest in the feed tray that I was using to feed them grass. I then went to feed the goats, only to find our twin baby goats had died during the night. I am not sure exactly what happened, but I think the other goat that we had in the pen may have sat on them. This was particularly traumatic for us, especially for Kaden who breaks down in tears every time an animal dies. It has certainly taken the fun out of the day. If there is any bright spot in all of it we got the goats for their milk and we still get that. I was not really sure what we were going to do with the kids anyways. Fortunately we have one more goat that should have her kid soon and this time we will separate them and get the kids out of the pen sooner. We were going to do it today, but unfortunately, it ended up being one day too late. We also separate our Oxford ewe from her twin lambs, which is always difficult for both parties. It is sad to hear them out there just bawling away trying to find each other. It has been eight weeks and it is time to wean them.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Slow Foods at Heritage Lane Farm

Slow food was introduced in Italy in the 1980’s as a reaction to the trend toward fast food. The thought was that food has important societal values and the trend to fast food was negating the benefits, as well as being unhealthy. Here at Heritage Lane Farm we consider the slow food principles to be an important part of our efforts to educate people on the changes that have come to the food system over the last few decades. One of the important things the U.S. Slow Food organization has done is to establish an Ark of Taste that identifies important food that is being lost with the commercialization of the food system. The Ark of Taste includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, livestock, poultry, and prepared foods like bread, cheese and drinks. The items on the Ark of Taste have important historical significance in the U.S. food system and it is just as important to protect as historical buildings and sites.

Heritage Lane Farm uses the Ark of Taste as one of the determinations as to whether we have a vegetable or livestock on our farm. Although not everything that we have is on the Ark of Taste, we intentionally have a number of animals and vegetables on the list. From a livestock standpoint, our Navajo-Churro sheep and Mulefoot Pigs are both part of the Ark of Taste. This year we will also have Buckeye and Delaware chickens, as well as Narragansett turkeys, all of which are part of the Ark of Taste. We also have a number of vegetables on the Ark of Taste list including Amish Deer Tongue lettuce, Lima Cisco Bird Egg and Hidatsa Shield dried beans, Green Mountain potatoes, and Cherokee Purple tomatoes.

Our long term strategy of having an outdoor kitchen and commercial kitchen where we can host local chefs and events is also part of the slow food strategy. By being able to experience food within a few feet of where it was raised provides a wonderful opportunity to experience food the way it was meant to be.

To us slow food means more than just eating a local meal. The commercialization of many livestock breeds has meant that many breeds have intentional been genetically bred to grow as quickly as possible on the least amount of high protein food. This has had adverse impact on the temperament of the animals, as well as the taste. Our breeds of livestock grew more slowly and have not been genetically bred for certain traits. Our sheep and pigs will take almost year to reach maturity, instead of 5-7 months like most commercial breeds. Our chickens take 10-12 weeks before we butcher them, instead of 8 weeks for the commercial breeds. To us, slow food is more about how an animal is raised then it is just about the preparation of a meal. We would rather have livestock with a personality then genetics to pack on weight as fast as possible. By the way, if you ever doubt the benefits of slow food, just give our food a try and you will be able to taste the difference.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Over the past two weeks we have added two sets of twin lambs, the one mentioned last week was born a week ago on Thursday and then we added another set of twins yesterday morning. For some reason, Thursday mornings are the days for twin lambs as all three of our sets of twins were born in the middle of the night on a Thursday, my most busy day of the week. I barely have time to get them situated in the morning before leaving for school and not getting done until after 6pm in the evening. So far we have managed well and outside of some minor issues our 2010 lambing season is a great success.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lambing Season

A little over a month ago we added twin Oxfords to our farms, both of which are getting big and getting close to being weaned from their mother. Over the last 10 days we have added 4 Navajo-Churro lambs to our flock. We had two singles and then one of our ewes had twins. So far the 4 lambs are adjusting well and already starting to get big. We have one more Navajo-Churro ewe that should have her lamb in the next week or so and then we have another Navajo-Churro and a Southdown ewe that will not have their lambs until April or May. As usual, all of the lambs are coming in the middle of the night because when I go out in the morning to feed the sheep all the sudden there is a new lamb running around.

The Navajo-Churro that had twins caused some interesting moments for me. It was last Thursday and I have to leave for work early so I was hurrying to get all of the feeding done. I saw the ewe that based on her size I really thought that she would have twins. I fed them and she had one lamb with her and I looked around to see if there was another lamb, but did not see anything (although it was 6am and dark in parts of the barn). I was a little dejected that she only had a single lamb and went on to feed the other sheep and pigs in another part of the barn. While feeding them I heard a baah baah like a lamb was looking for its mother. I went back to the other part of the barn and finally found the twin in the corner. He is a very dark brown, almost black, and in the dark I could not see him. I hurried and separate the ewe and her two lambs into another pen that we had so she could adjust to having twins and I can give her a little more food. I took a few pictures of the twins, but they did not turn out so I will have to try again tomorrow.

Monday, February 15, 2010

2010 Planting

The 2010 planting season is starting early as we already have lettuce, cabbage and spinach starts growing in our living room. In the end we will have about 90 different varieties of vegetables growing over the next 10 months or so. Today we got a couple of hoop houses ready so we can put the lettuce out in a few weeks and then will follow that up with tomatoes, peppers and melons. Our hoop houses are pretty simple, just PVC pipe that is attached to the ground with a 2 foot metal rod that is stuck in the ground(we will put up pictures in a few weeks). We experimented last year with the hoop houses, but they were too long and we had the PVC pipes at 10 foot lengths which was too large of a gap. This year we are doing 25 foot hoop houses and we have PVC pipes every 5 feet to provide more structure. We also glued the PVC pipes together this year so we did not have the pipes coming out like we did last year.

Most of our vegetables come from Baker Creek Heirloom and Seed Saver's Exchange. Both specialize in unique varieties of vegetables. Potatoes we had to get from other sources because the potatoes we got last year were not available this year. We also are getting some corn and soybeans from a couple of Seed Saver members as we wanted a blue corn for flour and neither Baker Creek or Seed Saver's have a blue corn variety available. We will highlight some of the vegetables we grow as we go through the year. It will be an exciting year as we are off to a much early start and we learned a lot last year that we will apply this year.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Oxford breed comes from Oxfordshire, England and was developed in the 1830s through the crossing of Hampshires and Cotswolds. The resulting sheep combined the hardiness, muscling and wool quality of the Cotswold with the carcass quality and grazing ability of the Hampshire.

Oxford is the largest of the English “down” breeds, developed for the lush pastures on the hills, or downs, of southern England. They are related to the Southdown sheep that we have in that both are "down" breeds from England. Oxford sheep were imported into North America in the late 1840s.

We got our Oxford ewe from a farm in Gig Harbor, WA a few months ago, but are just now getting around to posting a picture. We unexpectedly had our first lambs of the season on last Thursday with the birth of a ewe and ram. The ram was very small and weak to start with so we have been feeding it ourselves and hoping that it gains strength quickly so it can manage on its own. It is almost like the ram lamb is about a week or two behind in its development when compared to his sister. The lambs are a very cute gray color with very long legs.

The primary reason for getting the Oxford is for our two boys and the fair. The Oxford ewe and the ewe lamb will be their primary show animal in the Northwest Washington Fair in August. The size and conformity will make it tough to beat in the show ring. The Oxfords are very large (we named her Twice My Size), but very easy to work with and not nearly as jumpy as our other sheep.