Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I just had to open my big mouth lol

Yesterday I blogged about bringing the more delicate plants out into the warm sun, and planting them in our beds.  This morning the forecast is calling for "large hail" tonight!  I just had to laugh at the timing.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Visiting Season

Rick's mom (my MIL aka Mother-In-Love) has come from California to visit us for a week, and we are so happy to share our life here with her.  She hasn't been up since last fall when Cole was born, so we have been sharing our many new projects and gardening things with her.  I love that she has stories about how her family did things (as well as how she did them) and likes that we are trying all kinds of fun things - food production-wise - in town.  Her mother, Helen Mama, was a "real food" champion back when people we flocking to the prepared food isles and sprinkling MSG into their gravy.  I have wished several times I had gotten to meet her, but she died the same year that my grandma died, in 1996.  Thank God for stories to keep their habits and wisdom alive.

Our two New Zealand bucks are nearing butchering age.  In another week or so I will be posting pictures and blogging about butchering "bunnies."  I've been prepping myself by going through the "I'd rather eat an animal raised kindly, eating what it's supposed to eat" etc...but am not sure how good that's going to make me feel when the time comes to thump them on the head.  Butchering hooved animals doesn't bother me quite as much, but ultimately every time we kill something I am a bit sad and very thankful.  If we were all to personally kill the meat we ate, I'm willing to bet that our consumption would go down quite a bit. 

I am no longer milking, our fat little heifer is consuming all the milk that her mama makes and I don't have the heart to keep them both alone so that we can get milk.  Next year we will have two milk cows (therefore two calves also) so they'll both have company when they're separated and we will have a TON of milk!  I will have strong hands next year.  This coming month we pick up our new heifer, and I can hardly wait to visit a Milking Shorthorn dairy!  They're an Organic Valley dairy with an outstanding sanitation record so we're very interested to see how they are set up (since they only have forty cows that they milk, and are considered very small).  We have only seen dairies that are for several hundred cows, and their tanks, milking stanchions etc are huge.

Last week we sold our first lettuce and green onions!  Our neighbors have said that they will buy whatever we offer them and are thrilled that we're just over the fence.  I talked to her last night and she said that our "lettuce was wonderful!  Not sure if we'll ever be able to go back to store-bought."  And I hadn't even asked, so no just-being-polite-because-you're-prodding  ; )  Another week or two and our beds will all be full finally.  We have brought the more delicate herbs out of the cold frame (their large, soft leaves make them easily damaged by hail) and have filled the "holes" in our planting beds with them.  Their soft, fragrant leaves are not only beautiful, but when it's warm out you can smell them - it's divine.

All of the blooming flowers and trees around us have made me wonder about bee-keeping, so I am now going to look into keeping a small population/hive here in the back corner of our lot.  Hopefully bees aren't lumped in with llamas in the city ordinances.  I'm hoping that having bees will improve our crops and flowers, plus bees need all the help they can get with colony collapse disorder affecting their numbers so seriously (30% loss annually).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Busy Day

Our buck has arrived!  He is the first California I've seen up close and is SO different from other rabbits I've handled in the past.  He is built very wide, long and deep - just like any other four-legged meat animal.  For some reason I'm shocked by how stout he is, but it really is amazing for an animal so small.

While our "rabbit connection" was here she checked the sex on our two New Zealands - lo and behold...they're boys!  I apparently bought them at an age they're not very easy to sex (she may have said this to be kind) and now that they're older their testicles have descended so it's pretty clear they're bucks.  "When they're very small the boys holes are circular while the girls are a slit."  FYI.  This bit of news means that we will be butchering them within a month.

She said she had two does to sell (many really, but we only want two) and would gladly bring to us the next time she comes to town (from Lima).  Pretty nice that she has a whole harem of breeding rabbits so we can get what we need from her.  The Californias have dark ears, so they won't sunburn like the New Zealands are starting to from being in the sun and grass.

A note on new skills acquired - today I stitched the skin on top of my dogs' paw back together.  My first time stitching though I've helped with fixing animals (mostly cows and horses though) up plenty of times, which is handy because I knew what I needed in the way of bandages etc.  This is not the first time I've had to doctor him.  Last winter his shoulder was torn open and had to be bandaged daily for a couple weeks.  Several small wounds in the past but this was his worst to date.  Good thing he is such a good patient.  I would not have had to stitch him if a vet had made time, but they weren't taking emergencies today (even if it was something that would have taken them a half hour).  Very frustrating but ultimately not too big of a deal.

There were thunder storms rolling through today, and when I milked this evening the rain was falling heavy on the  barns tin roof.  I love milking when it's raining for the sound of it.  It is so calming to hear, maybe because my favorite house when I was growing up had a tin roof, but it's so nice.  Opal, however, was so full of it she was running in and out of the stall I milk in and jumping with all four legs off the ground, bucking and kicking and shaking her head.  Nothing like a warm day and a cool rain to bring us all to life!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Found the girls a man

I found a California buck this afternoon!  Ten months old.  He arrives tomorrow.  We will breed the rabbits this fall if all goes well : )  Our rabbits will birth 10 or so at a time (up to 70 lbs of finished meat once butchered) and were $6.  "Pastured" - which I'm going to start referring to as "lawned" since we have a town lot - rabbits don't consume nearly the feed that caged do so I'm curious to see how the numbers pan out in the end, but as of now rabbit meat is looking very economical.

The Rush of Spring

As we near the middle of June, I am finally feeling brave enough to put out the squash, tomatoes, root veg (of all sorts) and flowers that I have started from seed.  The herbs will go out once they're a bit sturdier.  In the last month I have noticed a few things that are from last year and have re-seeded on their own:  purple husk tomatillos (which thrived and produced immensely last year), onion sets that did not grow last year but thought they'd try this one, pansies throughout my purely-flowers-bed from us tossing the heads underneath the plants last year (then they spread with the watering), and a chunk of Stupice tomatoes (awesome, hearty cold weather - Czechoslovakian - tomato). Oh, and also a chunk of Early Market carrots.  All of the tomatoes that we planted are short season, cool climate adapted.  There are some from Scotland, and a repeat of the Stupice from Czechoslovakia.  I'm hoping that the Scottish are hearty also because fresh tomatoes are our absolute favorite.  The neighbor girls - the youngest in particular - "helped" me plant and her quiet, serious mimicking made my work fly by.  Watching kids absorb our actions is wonderful. 

Ruby's calf, Opal, has been receiving the lion's share of milk lately and is turning into an outstanding heifer.  We've been encouraged to "at least" show her locally, but also to take her to larger shows throughout the state this summer.  Not sure if we'll have time for that, but if we do continue to raise registered-only stock, then it would be good marketing for us to go on the road with our animals a bit. 

The rabbits have been doing a great job mowing/grazing our lawn.  We move them once a day, and usually they have it pretty well trimmed down inside their pen.  Richard built the pen, so it is solid.  We joke that our dog house is "Fort Freitas" (also built by him) and that this is "Fort Rabbit" because they are both a bit heavy for their purposes.  At least we know they won't blow away, and should someone try to shoot our rabbits, the wood is thick enough to stop the bullet ; )

A note about becoming a more timely milker:  I am.  Not quite as early as I'd like, but much better than when we were sick!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lazy milker and other happenings

I confess:  I am a lazy milker.  Not in the sense that it takes me forever to milk, but in the way that I hit the "snooze" button on my alarm several times before draggin myself out of bed.  The spring of sickness (meaning April/May for those of you who don't know we've been sick for what feels like all spring) taught me that the calf will consume every bit of the morning and evening milk if I am late.  This was why we bought a milking shorthorn after all - to be able to slide a little but still get sufficient milk - but it's allowed me to develop bad milker habits.  I am now working to restore the order that was: 6:00 a.m. milking. 

Yesterday we finally found out what bull Ruby was bred to, and now we will be able to register her with the American Shorthorn Association.  Mama Sharon (Richard's mom) is mailing the tattoo gun ( we have to tattoo Opal's ear for identification so she can be registered) so we should be able to register her by next month.  We also have to register a brand here...but do not have one designed yet.  We keep going back and forth, but really I think we'll just end up with initials with a bar or a rocker because it is simpler.  There are a TON of brands registered in Montana though, hopefully it doesn't take to long to find one thats available - we'd run out of ideas quickly I'm afraid lol.  Apparently if we drive to Helena, where the main office and master books are, the process is much quicker because you can get an instant answer. 

I have been telling people in our neighborhood that we will soon be setting up a "farmstand" in front of the house and have gotten a great response!  It's pretty exciting to hear that people are enthusiastic about  your ideas.  When thinking of the logistics of keeping two small children occupied while I sell at the Farmers Market I shudder a little, in my mind I picture borderline chaos mixed with tiny child melt-downs.  If I could sell direct from the front of the house it would be much easier on us all, plus we'd have a lower overhead.  We'll see what works for us I guess.

I have begun halter-breaking Opal, and I really enjoy it.  It's interesting to see how an animal deals with the experience of something new.  She has so far handled it fairly well.  Once I get the halter on her wiggling head she doesn't struggle much, but won't make more than a step at a time.  When she does take a step we quit and give her a good rub so that she ends on a good note and realizes that release comes with doing what I ask.  Since I've left her in the same space as Ruby and I are in during milking, she has gotten much more comfortable with me so I think that haltering will become easier much more quickly now.  I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bad weeds

Ruby has been out on pasture for the last week (off and on for a couple months) and has been loving it.  I love seeing her on pasture rather than in a big pen, and her calf has the best time running around.  The only thing is - whatever weed is out in that pasture that she's eating, it's making her milk taste horrible!  It goes straight to the dogs.  I don't know if it is only a weed that is just now up and growing strong or what, but she has to live back in the pen.  If she were a beef cow this obviously wouldn't be an issue, but since her milk is a family staple we will bring her in.  Like the "don't-eat-that" sheriff of pasture land, I'm bringing her in lol.  I can only hope that once the grasses/weeds mature she can go back out without spoiling the milk.   She stayed in for the first time this morning, and mooed at me when she realized I was leaving her there.  Talk about feeling like a heel! 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Taking the leap & a second milk cow

Yesterday we decided to sell our home so that we have more flexibility. We cannot afford to lease land that we don't live on (carrying a house payment as well), and being tied into this home makes it near impossible for us to move quickly on a lease when it becomes available. This is a breathtaking, exciting decision and even though we are now also painting all summer - we're relieved to have finally decided.

Also, in July we will be driving down to Mendon, UT to purchase our second milk cow. She is another milking shorthorn, but is much more "dairy-ish" than Ruby is (I'm hoping this also means a bit more docile). The dairy we are purchasing her from will be breeding her for us this month - they are such nice people to do business with! They're an Organic Valley dairy and have an exceptional dairy cleanliness record so we can't wait to see their operation.

We have been working in the planting beds this week and I was so excited to find that our tomatillos from last year (the few fruit that remained after harvesting) have self-seeded and there are dozens of tomatillos seedlings in that section of bed. I separated and planted them as a hedge/wind block along the up-wind side of the bed. They were an amazingly hearty plant last year that overcame every bit of weather that blew them over or beat them down, so I'm hoping they'll protect the other plants in the bed this year. We're waiting for the last "June snow" that could damage everything immensely, before we put too many young plants in the beds. For now they are happy in the cold frame.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

EQUIP Application Filed with the NRCS

Friday we filed paperwork with the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) for their cost-share program for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers for the year of 2011.  We haven't found land to lease yet, but had to have the paperwork in by the 1st of June or we wouldn't be eligible for the EQUIP program until 2012.  It's exciting to have it filed even if there isn't much going on with land for us right now.  But the really exciting part is this:  under normal cost-share guidelines for planting pasture mixes the legumes (clover, alfalfa etc) cannot exceed 10% of the mix.  This is in order to discourage people from making hay.  Justin, our contact at NRCS, went to a state meeting and spoke with the director of the EQUIP program about what we were working towards and explained we would need 25% legumes in our pasture mix to make it work.  The director said he'd sign off on our paperwork so that we could do it!  How nice is that - not only is Justin advocating for us, but the director will sign to support us financially!  They will pay a little over $37/acre for planting costs.  This is pretty exciting stuff, knowing that we won't have to foot the entire bill for planting etc.

The start of the urban meat rabbit grazing (two does, not for eating but for breeding, they're the only "pets")