Early Winter

It’s been raining for 4 days straight, so I’ve finally found some time to blog.  I may have to cut this short if it keeps raining and try to teach the chickens how to swim.  Sorry for the long absence, but I’ve been teaching Spanish at the high school lately (yikes!) and with the daylight getting shorter each day I just haven’t found the time to put pencil to paper.  Er, fingers to keyboard.

Since the last blog, we’ve mostly put the gardens to bed.  There are still some greens and peas hanging on, but everything else has been chopped and mulched with leaves from the surrounding trees.  I’ve been working really hard on the gardens this summer and fall.  Next year should be our most ambitious gardens yet!  Lindsey’s dad Ronnie wants to help out with the gardens and essentially combine our labor on the gardens here to produce veggies for both of our families.  I’ve prepped the 2 raised bed gardens that we’ve used the whole time we’ve been here, the 3 Sisters garden that we made two years ago, and the new “straw garden” I made last fall and put to its first use this year.  I’ve also “broken ground” on two new gardens that we’ll use for the first time this coming spring.  One will be another standard garden and the other will be a trellis garden for growing vertically-oriented crops like cucumbers, Malabar spinach, peas and beans, and small squashes.  All of our gardens are created by first closely mowing all of the vegetation.  Then we lay down cardboard sheet mulch to block any regrowth (thanks to Jake and Ronnie’s move we’ve had access to a lot of cardboard).  After that I throw on layers of manure and old hay and straw and let that mix compost in place all winter.  Then in the spring, the garden is ready to go!  Plant, mulch, harvest!  All told, next year we should have almost 12,000 ft² of garden space in production next year!

The Food Forest in the backyard is moving along nicely as well.  This year we managed to get almost of the trees planted!  Our ultimate goal here is to teach people that a phenomenal amount of food can be produced in a regular suburban-sized back yard.  When we moved here there were a few raspberries planted in the backyard, but that was it.  Last year we planted grapevines and built an herb spiral with our interns Cameron and Alexa.  This year we got 5 apple trees in the ground (Gala, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, MacIntosh, and Arkansas Black), 2 plums, 2 sweet cherries, several blueberry bushes, 3 pawpaws, a mulberry, 2 hardy almonds, 2 brown turkey figs, 2 mayhaws, and 2 golden chain trees.  Most of the trees look like sticks right now, although the ones we planted in the spring put on some good growth.  These will be the canopy layer of our Food Forest and we wanted to get them growing as soon as possible since it will take several years for us to begin to see the literal fruits of our labor.  Next year the goal for the Food Forest will be to begin the establishment of the understory plants to grow underneath the trees.  These shorter plants will provide some food, but will also accumulate nutrients, block the grass, and generate mulching material on site.  Right now all the mulch comes from old chicken and rabbit bedding.  These plants will include comfrey, horseradish, rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes, sea buckthorns, nasturtiums, daffodils, and other shorter plants.  Once the trees get larger, we’ll add some more vining plants for another layer in the forest.

We also got a corral built around the winter quarters for the cattle and goats.  Now the animals should be secure behind a solid physical barrier.  We’ve been using just electric fencing and that isn’t a great winter solution because it doesn’t work very well in the winter.  We can’t keep the batteries charged well in the cold and snow shorts the fence out on occasion.  But now we shouldn’t have to worry about escapes due to faulty fencing.  We’ll be down to just human error now.  No place else for me to hide!

We are continuing to learn about pigs.  I really like them!  They eat a lot, but they are very useful and I can see them improving our woodlots paddock by paddock.  Now if their jaws could just get strong enough to actually crack all of the black walnuts they have access to we could cut the feed bill down significantly!

Finally, we’ve adopted a cow for the short term.  One of our Amish neighbors needed his cow bred, so we traded out our bull Russell’s stud services for some hay.  I didn’t ask Russell for his permission, but I can attest to the fact that he did not mind a bit.  I like this deal a lot.  Our bull knocks up someone else’s heifer and we get a half a winter’s worth of hay from it.  Only with cows…



2 thoughts on “Early Winter

  1. John Binkley says:

    I came across your website while researching Red Poll cattle. Congratulations on all that you have achieved thus far in building Good Life Ranch. Many of the projects that you have undertaken are the same ones that my wife and I experienced when we moved to our farm in 1979. Looking back now, it has been a very good life for us, and hopefully, it will be for you as well .

    The reason that I write is to express a word of caution as regards the loaning of bulls. Of course, one of the many problems with owning a bull is that you only really need one about 60 days out of the year, yet you have to provide for their care the other 305 days as well. This is a obviously an expense, and, most often, especially on a small farm, very unhandy. So a solution such as the one you describe, where the bull’s services are traded for much needed hay, seems a win/win scenario.

    As someone who has done this in the past, I wouldn’t recommend it, especially if my goal was to insure that my farm, and the food it produces, was as free from the potential of disease as I could make it. I understand the impulse to be a good neighbor, but my experiences have made me realize that my first responsibility is to my cattle and my operation.

    In your blog post describing your start in obtaining your cattle you mention that none of the breeders you contacted were willing to lend or lease a bull to you. There is a reason for this. I once loaned a bull out to a customer of a neighbor, and when I finally had to go get him myself, he weighed around 400# less than when he left my farm. Rule #1: Don’t loan a bull to someone you don’t know. I once loaned a bull to a neighbor who I knew fed well. When he brought the bull back, it weighed 300# more than when he left. (I’d put the grain in the trough, and he’d just shove the heifers out of the way!, he said.) Rule #2: Don’t loan a bull to someone who feeds differently than you do. The overweight bull from Rule #2 ended up lame shortly thereafter when in the breeding pasture, and had to be replaced. Rule #3: If there is a way for a bull to hurt himself, at some point he probably will. A bull is a very large animal, and often he works in very rugged, uneven terrain. A fallen limb, a groundhog hole, a skittish cow, all increase the chance of injury. Over the years, I have had any number of bulls eventually come up lame, one cut his penis, another broke his penis, one got his head caught in a factory-made mineral feeder so that when I finally got it off by lifting the feeder, bull, and all, with the tractor loader, he was so stressed that all his hair fell out, and he had no live sperm in his semen. This is just to give you a sense that being a bull can be a risky business, so if you do decide to loan an animal, you should establish beforehand who bears the risk.

    I have loaned two bulls in the past three years, one to a young Amishman and one to another young neighbor, but I only do so with bulls that I am through with, and were next headed for slaughter. Most of my young cattle are sold through a network that provides “natural” cattle to the Whole Food grocery chain, which requires that you be GAP (Global Animal Partnership) certified. Part of the GAP program deals with bio security, with recommendations on how to avoid bringing pathogens onto your farm. One of the easiest ways to do so is to avoid exposing your stock to unvaccinated animals. There are several common venereal diseases in cattle, including vibrio and trich. Johne’s Disease, which has been identified in 32% of all U.S. dairies, can also be spread reproductively. So if your neighbor doesn’t vaccinate his cattle, or if he brings home breeding stock from the local sale barn or untested dairy, any problem he might encounter might be your problem as well. And with some of these diseases, not only the cattle can be affected, but also your other species. Worst of all, some stay in the soil, so that even getting rid of the exposed animal, does not insure that the disease risk is over.

    All life entails some risk, of course, and I realize that I may be sounding like a prophet of doom. That was not my intent. I wish you well in your endeavors.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts John. Some of those concerns did cross my mind but you also brought up some issues from your experience that I didn’t have the foresight to think of.

    My first concern was obviously the safety of our bull, and for that reason he did not leave our property. I just allowed our Amish neighbor to bring his cow over. There’s always a risk of disease when introducing new cattle (I even get concerned when I go to events where I know the animals have been tested – like Red Poll sales), but I know my neighbor just has this one cow and he has had for a couple years so I figured the risk was as minimal as we could get.

    I’m not sure if we’ll continue this practice in the future or not. Especially after reading about your experiences we surely will not be loaning our bull out for off-farm breedings.

    I appreciate your time and your thoughts!


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