Blazing Trails

April 15, 2021

Upon recent vaccination, Susan blazed a trail to the Georgian beach last week.

I followed in her wake, and we enjoyed five days of stillness beside the ever-magical ocean. Upon departure, she suggested we make the same pilgrimage on a yearly basis. By the time we arrived home, the suggestion had become twice a year. Before it evolves into quarterly or monthly, I am preparing a counter proposal, emphasizing all the water that flows through our ten-foot-wide creek and the newly configured sloping bank, making it easy for wading... Being married to a former litigator is always perilous, when it comes to counter-proposals. Wish me luck.

So, we missed a week of updates on the farm, for being distracted by the tide down south. But the tide kept flowing on the farm and much work has been accomplished of late, in anticipation of the growing season ahead.

Just before departure for the beach, we palpated our cows. Of the 62 head in the herd, 11% proved not to be bred. We impose a very narrow breeding window of 45 days, in contrast to 90 or 120 days for most cow herds. We favor the narrow window, as it simplifies management of cows and calves throughout the rest of the year.  A good "open-rate" on a conventional herd is 5%. We feel our 11% is fully acceptable, given the narrow breeding window of two breeding cycles, and stands as an investment in future fertility of the herd. As we cull cows that do not breed in 45 days, our breeding rate will only improve. Those cows move into the "finishing" herd for processing into cuts of beef. This system works well. 

After palpating the cows, we joined together two of our three beef herds: the cows and the yearlings. The picture below includes 150 beeves: cows with their calves from this past fall, plus 44 calves from two falls ago, now "long yearlings".  

The day after palpating, we picked up 15 Berkshire feeder-pigs from a local breeder, and they are now breaking in our new hog-handling facility. They quickly figured out where food and water was hidden, and are learning about hot-wires in the paddock beyond. In another few weeks, they will be ready for the woods. 

Mike G. and Randy have installed three satellite feeding stations for feeding hogs in woodlots. Each station will anchor half-a-wagon-wheel of movement through woods for a group of hogs. The hogs will come back to the center for water and grain, and will be rotated to a new wedge of woods and grass, as the former is impacted sufficiently. Our first half-a-wagon-wheel covers about 15 acres, the second about the same, and the third around 5 acres. The hogs should be pretty much "finished" by the time they land at the third, where they will be held until they are run through the sorting facility, weighed, and sent down the road for processing.

Below are pictures of the first two feeding stations. Grain-feeding is on the left; freeze-proof water on the right. The grass beyond was grazed by dairy cows, but will now revert back to woods. In addition, we will plant hazelnut and chestnut trees in these areas to enhance feed source for hogs. 

Once we complete final touches on the rest of the hog-sorting pens, we will show you them as well. We didn't follow a model of any sort, for this entire system, but listened to a good number of people with informed and constructive opinions: Clark, now in Colorado, Mark in Hillsboro, Chris, Scott, and Mike G. Between us, we conceived of our platform, upon which to move hogs from "feeders" to "fats" through the woods and out the door, over six months of time, without stress to animal or handler. Its trial run has just begun. 

Below, a perimeter trail is being blazed by Chris and Scott, through honey suckle and multiflora rose. They have traded in chop-saws and drills used in the hog barn for chain saws in the brush. The foliage is dense and makes for slow going and hard work. Fortunately, it is still cool while performing this task. Six additional spokes of the wagon wheel will also be carved out of the brush. It will be interesting to see the effect hogs have on this overgrown landscape.

Blazing trails in life or in the brush is never easy, but is always interesting and ususally rewarding.

Hens are being moved steadily, and egg production is up. We are relocating our egg-mobiles to the pasture from which they came about a year ago... The best idea is often the first one. 

Chickens are growing rapidly and are doing well in their new chicken-tractors. We have set aside 3.5 acres of pasture for them and installed three nearby watering points to keep them in clover. They go to market in early May, which will replenish our depleted inventory of cicken parts. 

Our biggest challenge currently is the sheep flock. Escaped rams last fall produced lambs two months early this spring. We are holding the flock off of pastures currently, so they will regrow to provide high-quality feed for lactating ewes. But the ewes are lactating already, so we are supplementing their moderate hay with alfalfa pellets to support their high nutritional demands. This is being done in a sacrifice lot, while the rest of pastures sink roots and grow. This cold weather is not helping new growth.

Nevertheless, we will eartag and band the lambs that have been born, in the week ahead, and then start grazing again. The ewes are eager for green grass and warm weather lies ahead! 

A brief side note is that our coppiced willow trees are looking hail and hearty. Coppicing is considered unnatural by some, but is widely practised in England and Europe. These "Austrees" were planted by my father 30 years ago, and had become unmanageable. Their long brittle branches would break and shed all over the road, rendering it impassable. Giving the trees a haircut, solved a problem for us and created new life for them.

We are preparing to introduce another new product, which will be Mt. Fuji Gyoza, an Asian dumpling. Developing a new product is a long process involving many attempts at recipes, weights, packaging, and labels. It is like giviing birth. So, a new member of the tribe will join us next week.

Several weeks ago, we enjoyed a visit from two of Susan's legal compadres, and Susan served Chicken Tajine. This included delictable ingredients like: olives, apricots, chick peas, spices, and cilantro... I enjoyed the leftovers for days afterwards, that only seemed to improve with time.

Bob and Beth will join you at the Madtree Brewery this Sunday from 10 - 1:30.

Submit orders here in anticipation.

As the redbud blooms, may we continue to blaze trails to discover new life,

Susan & Drausin

Drausin Wulsin

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