Winter's light illuminates promise.
We have been busy over the past weeks warding off darkness. Activity is the best tonic against long nights, so what have we been up to?
We pulled bulls from the cow herd on January 23rd, to ensure a 45-day calving window next fall. We choose a narrow calving window, because it concentrates management of newborns and simplifies movement of cows around the farm thereafter. Herds that calve over longer periods of time, as is more typical, run the risk of leaving calves behind in tall grass, when moving to new pasture. One of the drawbacks of this narrow calving window is it only gives cows two heat-cycles during which to breed. If they don't breed, we shift them to the meat herd. By adhering to this strict standard, we are selecting for fertile cows, which in the long run generates the best return. So, three bulls have reluctantly stopped socializing with the ladies and have returned to their deferred habit of late-night card games.
We have also been reckoning with a familiar winter warrior, Mr. Beaver. For some watery reason, he likes our wetlands and keeps showing up, looking for residence. Eventually we will grant him full access, but not until new plantings have matured over the next ten years, for his floodwaters would kill establishing vegetation in the meantime. Below we see his felling of saplings and an abandoned den from last winter, when water was a foot higher.
We are still moving cows onto rationed strips of fresh grass every day, providing protein with which to make milk for nursing calves, but the bulk of the cows' feed is coming from hay. Every day, we take two bales to the cows and one to the group of yearlings. The tractor performs full duty. This is our first year storing hay in the hay barn, and quality is notably improved. Bales are not rotten or frozen on the outer shell, increasing ease of delivery and quality and quantity of nutrients.
Mike continues to move hens forward, despite winter conditions, keeping grass beneath them and egg yolks thick and yellow. He can often be seen at night moving nets, when hens are dormant. The quality of eggs this winter and last is a significant improvement over several years ago, when we brought hens into the barn for the winter without access to forage.
We have also begun installing 18 acres of new fencing for sheep. Lots of posts are being pounded, along which will be stretched woven-wire with a hot-wire on top. We are giving over lengths of field to riparian corriders and wildlife habitat, which feels good. This fencing effort represents considerable investment for the benefit of health of sheep and high quality of meat.
We have also been busy in the kitchen, as usual. Bone broth was prepared from browned shoulders of beef, vegetables, and 24 hours of simmering. We dutifully sampled one of the best strip steaks we have ever had from cow #7667, and will have some on hand for you this Sunday at the market. We don't fully understand what causes exceptional tenderness and flavor in one cow over another, but we are slowly learning.
There is so much to learn.
As we wrestle with darkness during these days and times, may we receive the light that illuminates tomorrow.
Drausin & Susan