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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Fresh Eggs to Start the New Year!

Our flock has grown to 127 over the past year.  38 birds are scheduled to start laying in January and about 30 birds are headed to freezer camp in early February.  If the girls stay on schedule, I will fire up the incubator in February and try one last time to incubate my own birds.  My first incubator worked great for us and we had six successful hatches of chicks.  That incubator died and the two I have tried in the years since have not worked so well.  If this batch does not result in a good hatch then we will be buying pullets from here on out.

Our winter farmers market starts in two weeks - we should be in good shape to bring some fresh eggs!

Thursday, October 31, 2019


Everyone ends up with dirty clothes at the end of the day.  Of course when we are young, our parents take care of that not so small chore for us.  While I was in college and for a few years in my young adult life, I had to think about an hour or two at the laundromat, one often adjacent to an establishment that served adult beverages, to be sure I had enough clean clothes for the week.  Luckily as I earned a little more money and had larger apartments, I was able to install a washer and dryer in said apartments and it wasn’t more than 90 minutes between dirty and clean and ready to go out for the evening.

When a child joins your family, a dryer and or several drying racks and a washing machine are almost a necessity to ensure you aren’t spending an hour or two every other day at the laundromat.  This summer when my dryer decided that its 27 years were enough, we went without. Lucky enough to still have a washer, we strategically watched the weather, and on the best of days three or four loads were washed and hung on the line to dry.

Thankfully where we live, free on the side of the road, is a very real thing.  Just as fall started to close in, we found a dryer on the side of the road. The sign said, barely used, just doesn’t run.  According to the serial number, the unit was barely two years old. A little farmer’s ingenuity and an $7.00 part and we have an almost brand new dryer.

As a farmer, I can’t tell you how many extra loads of laundry I have done.  For instance, I came home from my off farm job - I work in a school lunch room, so there are various and sundry food bits, specs of grease, cleaning supplies, etc. that get on your ‘work’ clothes.  I changed out of those work clothes and into freshly laundered clothes that are oil, blood, dirt, etc. stained and far less presentable to go outside and work around the farm. My clean farm pants were quickly soiled with blood, water and fat dripping from the birds we harvested to clean out our chicken coop.  Birds that are no longer laying and too old to remain productive on the farm are loved and thanked for their service then added to our freezer to soon become chicken soup or chicken and biscuits.

While certainly not the cleanest job in the world, it was the least messy of those on the list today to start the afternoon.  Then it was out to the pigs pen to fix the hut which has lost two of its three walls over the past season to rubbing, scratching and otherwise playful pigs.  Shoveling mud, kneeling in old hay soaked with mud, and hunching under a collapsing roof to use your back and shoulders to lift a dusty roof rafter and support a leaning, dusty, and slightly muddy wall so that Little man’s father can re-bolt it together are not conducive to keeping your only slightly soiled farm clothing clean.

Then since the temperature is a lovely 57 degrees this evening, you have already made room in the newly constructed main chicken coop and there is still daylight left, why not go out and get the 40 birds from the pullet palace, band them and integrate those young ladies into the main coop.  Here in Northwestern Vermont, it has rained for four or better out of the seven days of the past couple of weeks. Anything that isn’t completely undercover - including the yard of the pullet palace and the pigs pasture - is completely saturated. This time of year should and could be called Vermont’s second mud season.  While not nearly as bad as the days that follow our first couple of thaws and spring rains, it comes a very close second. Catching chickens that are running around in a muddy chicken yard, holding them close to your body while you extend a leg and install a plastic band around its foot is not the cleanest job you can imagine on the farm.  Little man’s aunt came down to deliver him an early Halloween basket tonight. Since Little man, his father and I were completely covered in mud and only about half way through banding the newest birds to the farm, she didn’t stay long to visit.

When we were done, my clean farm clothes were no less that half soaked with mud, blood and dirt from a short afternoon’s worth of work on the farm.  The shoes and boots, in far worse shape then the clothes, were deposited on the back porch. Just inside the back door to the house reside the washer and dryer.  The clothes that all three of us were wearing didn’t make it more than five feet into the kitchen before we stripped them off and deposited them directly into the washer.  Showers were taken before dinner hit the table and clean pajamas kept us cozy as we filled our bellies and completed our evening.

As I bought my first washer and dryer for my second or third apartment, I never thought I would be washing the same set of clothes twice in one day or several times in one week.  Jackets were washed once or twice a year, not every week. Never did I think I would spend so much time thinking about laundry. But as your budget becomes snugly managed and several extra sets of clothes are not in the budget to carry you through to the next day at the laundromat, $7 parts and free on the side of the road have ensured that the rest of the farm projects will get done in moderately clean clothes and this mom can still be somewhat presentable at her off farm job.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

These Hands

These hands started today much like any other, tucking in blankets around Little man who would sleep for two more hours after Mom was well into her day.  Last night these hands assisted in the birth of three of nine piglets; even though towels and rags were involved, these hands were colored red before the six healthy piglets were settled in for the night.  A thorough washing with soap, bleach and water, these same hands tucked that Little man into bed last night.  Downstairs to washing some dishes, feeding the indoor animals and emptying the trash.  Washed with soap and water, brushed teeth and hair, change of clothes and hand lotion applied, these hands skillfully maneuvered the car to the feed store.  Feed and hydraulic fluid paid for; these hands loaded them into the car and headed back home.

A quick sweep of the kitchen floor, a load of dishes into the dishwasher and some more hand lotion - these hands hugged her Little man and headed outside.  Grabbing gloves, the battery powered drill, the screws and a bottle of water; these hands went to put up a few more arches on the high tunnel.  The tractor wasn't big enough and Mother Nature added her ample supply of rain - these hands moved jacks, 4x4's, and concrete blocks.  Amidst the rain, three arches are raised instead of eight.  These hands clean up the tools, move the mud from tractor parts where it doesn't belong and start doing chores.  

While still wearing gloves, these hands collect chicken eggs, water and feed the chickens and rabbits and remove the gloves only to gain tactile advantage on the bag of feed that was inadvertently placed under the one spot that leaks in the shed roof.  Un-gloved hands clean up the ruined feed, placed the salvaged feed into a clean 5-gallon pail and head for the stump to stoke the fire that amazingly remains aglow after all of the storms that rolled through today.  Forgetting the gloves, burnt chunks of wood are rearranged and the fire burns strong again.  Black with charcoal these hands head over to the hose, grabbing a splash of car wash soap, the hands get a quick rinse before finishing chores for the evening.    Over to the pigs, who have moved their feed buckets into the muddiest, wettest, slimiest part of their saturated spring paddock.  The gloves are completely soaked so these hands delve into the mud to relocate feed dishes and rinse out water dishes to ensure that all of the swine start with a clean meal - though they don't finish it that way.  Ear scratches, tummy rubs and rearranging hay; these hands exit the pig pen in a lovely shad of muddy brown.

Back over to the hose for another splash of car wash, these hands show a few shades of pink amidst the stained cracks of black and grey.  A few tosses of the baseball and some misjudged kicks of the soccer ball; these hands are brown again before they get another great hug from Little man before heading inside to prepare dinner.

Some baking soda, some warm water and some soap are generously applied to these hands for several minutes to ensure they are bacteria free - if not pink and clean - before dinner prep begins.  Everyone gets fed and then it is back outside to put the chickens to bed for the night, close up the rabbits, re-stoke the fire (of course without gloves) and put the farm to bed for the evening.

These hands trim Little man's hair, prepare a quick dessert and ready him for the land of slumber.  After he is settled, copious amounts of hand lotion, some more soap, water and bleach this time are applied in hopes of making these hands somewhat presentable for work in the morning.  They look OK, not great, but OK when the pigs start squealing - one has gotten stuck in the fence between the new piglets and its regular pasture.  Back outside - without taking even half a moment to think about gloves - the six month old piglet is freed from its fence entanglement, the pants which were once tan are now several shades of brown and the hands that might have passed for normal have returned to those of the overtired farm woman and mother who sometimes has an off-farm job.

A thorough scrubbing and some more hand lotion later - these hands set down just after this picture to write this blog post.  In a moment they will get yet another bath, a lathering of lotion and some old white cotton gloves so they can settle in for the night in hopes of resembling a plain old calloused hand in the morning.  But, with all the abuse and chores and tender-loving care these hands both receive and dish out - behind them is a farm woman who wouldn't change all that comes with these tired, dry, cracking, stained hands - for anything else in the world!

Monday, March 18, 2019

The other season

For those who don't live in the northern states, the 'other' season doesn't carry much meaning.  Here in northern Vermont, as soon as the temperatures rise and the welcomed melt begins - so does MUD season.  It happens mostly at the end of winter and right before spring.  It can however come before spring, continue into the middle of spring leave for a little while and come back at the beginning of summer or just decide to stay around for weeks.  The decision on whether to keep your winter boots handy or whether to switch entirely to the less insulated mud boots is never an easy one.  Head out for a project in just the mud boots and your toes freeze, wearing your winter boots could cause your feet to overheat or the water could be deep enough that the liners get soaked and you can't wear your boots for three days while they dry.  Today I chose the winter boots.  The water and mud hadn't gotten too deep and I was able to haul brush for burning, collect some dead wood in hopes of drying out the still frozen fire pit and bring feed and hay to the pigs all with warm and still dry feet.

All of the melting we have had in the past week is very welcome.  It taught me yet another lesson - don't put your snow piles in the middle of your spring drainage paths.  My driveway slants eastward and draining water typically flows off the side of the gravel before it makes it down to the house but when temperatures quickly rise into the upper 50's and the snow banks haven't yet melted, a winter's worth of frozen driveway heads straight for your garage.  Because you put your snow piles in the way of where that water would normally flow, you have to go chip and shovel ice so that you can keep the water flowing past your garage and down the hill.  Next year I will not put the snow piles in the same spot as this year and I will be shoveling the spring drainage paths after each snow storm.

Most of the ice in the driveway has melted and there are several spots of brown grass poking through the remaining snow pack.  With the sun out and the mud arriving this farmer headed out to start working on her high tunnel.  The post went exactly six inches into the ground before refusing to budge any further and now it is stuck, frozen in the ground.  At least that is six more inches than what I had before I started today.  We are still waiting on baby chicks, it looks like the boys were not as successful as they appeared to have been.  Tomorrow will include more outside work and perhaps taking a few minutes to restore my minivan from farm vehicle full of hay, tools, fencing and who knows what else, back to a passenger vehicle.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Farming is a passion - often unrequited

They say that farming is in your blood.  While I didn't have much of an opportunity to farm with my family when I was young - the last of the dairy farm was being put to bed when I arrived on this earth - the farm itself stayed in the family.  I played in the barn, I got under foot of the farm hands that were still haying, I played in the pastures with the heifers that remained here, I caught salamanders in the ponds, I made forts in between boulders and next to hand stacked stone walls, I slept on the floor of a handmade cabin at the south end of the lake and went potty in the woods, even in the rain.  Those are just a few of the things that are in my blood.

I have been homesteading and slowly growing a vegetable, livestock and Christmas tree farm on my families land for almost ten years.  I tried to fit in infrastructure projects, livestock care, weeding, watering, planting, baking, canning and farmers markets with a full time job, a terrible pregnancy which gave me the most wonderful Little man.  As he grows there are t-ball practices and games, soccer practices and games, cub scouts, etc.  The dream of farming has taken a side seat, a back seat or all too often gets relegated to the back of the trailer whose wheels are falling off.

Last summer I made the VERY difficult decision to leave a career that I loved, working with people that I both loved and admired and a profession whose dedication is unwavering, in order to spend more time on the farm.  I miss them terribly.  

The first few months were a huge adjustment.  Learning a new part time job, taking on a second part time job since the cut in pay was more than my budget could absorb but giving up much of that extra time that was supposed to be spent on the farm, and trying to sell summer piglets who were eating me out of house and home.  Then winter arrived far too early and best laid plans of erecting a high tunnel in November have become hoping to get it completed by the end of March.

Farming is a passion and in order to be successful, many things have to take a back seat.  We don't travel, we don't take family vacations more than a few miles away from the farm, it has been more than two years since I have bought myself a new pair of pants or even some desperately overdue new shoes.  Little man needs food, warmth, and clothing; the animals need bedding and feed; the car insurance and light bill need to be paid, the car needs fuel and perhaps if there is anything leftover then maybe we can grab a takeout pizza or sandwiches once every other month or so.  It has been a difficult winter, one which was not completely unexpected, but one that makes this farmer question - far too often - whether she made the right decision.

Spring is four days away - at least chronologically if not meteorologically.  The chicks are scheduled to hatch this weekend and this past weeks thaw proves that there is actually still grass under the white which has blanketed the ground for the past five months.  It will be lean, but this farmer will be working hard to make a go of it over the next nine months.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A winter of firsts

This winter has been a little harder than most on the farm.  Normally we are outside for most of the season working on various projects, but this years weather has been harsh.  When temperatures are tolerable in the single digits, the winds have been blowing a gale causing fingers to go numb quickly.  Pounding posts for the greenhouse has been impossible as the January thaw which usually has us outside with our first campfire didn't show up this year.  But alas, when you can't get outside, you work on other projects.  It has been a winter of firsts - but definitely not lasts.

Our chickens have continued to lay, despite the weather and we got our first blue egg this weekend.

I tried a new flavor of jelly - plum apple.  It is beautiful in the jar and even more delicious on toast.

We attended our first winter farmers market last week and we did pretty well.

Spring does promise to arrive eventually and temperatures are creeping closer to tolerable each week.  Today I will clean out and ready the brooder box, baby chicks are scheduled to arrive this weekend.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Don't do what I did

They say that you learn something new everyday - that certainly holds true on this farm.  Yesterday I learned that when I decide to build something, I need to take into account more than just - here is an empty spot, let's put it here.

Mother Nature gifted the farm with about two feet of snow last weekend.  Then she delivered a beautiful cleansing rain four days later.  We were reasonably prepared and had cleared snow away from primary drainage areas and dug out fences and waterers to ensure that we could both get to and leave the farm as well as get to and feed all the critters.  All except the rabbits.

A little better than a year ago someone dumped sixty or so rabbits on the side of the road in cold, rainy/snowy weather.  Some were just kits while others were older breeding stock.  I was lucky enough to be able to rescue most of them.  They were placed into temporary holds in the garage until I could build them a new shed.  I had rabbits in my garage once - I won't be doing that again.  We left an overhang of a couple of feet on both sides of the storage shed roof when it was built to store tools and supplies outside, but still protected from the weather.  I took one of those overhangs and with the help of Little man's father and a friend, threw up some walls, added a door and made a small shed to house the rabbits.

When siting the door, I figured in the middle of the long wall would provide the best access to the cages that would go inside.  What I didn't consider is that the snow from the entire south facing roof would drop right in front of that door.  The ground in front of the door was also a little higher than the bottom of the door so I dug out some of the soil in front of it to provide some additional clearance.  This was fine for three of the four seasons of the year, but when you combine a recessed landing in front of the door, rain and snow collect there.  When you get close to two feet of snow, you have to shovel both what fell on the ground and what fell off the roof out from that recessed landing in order to access the rabbits.  Then when it rains in January, it inevitably gets cold again and the standing water in front of the door freezes.  If you don't want your rabbits to go hungry you have to chip all the ice from in front of the door so that you can get inside your shed.  Chores that should have taken 15 - 20 minutes took almost an hour last night.

As I began construction of the new brooder coop for the baby chickens that will arrive on the farm this spring, I spent plenty of time looking at snow drifts, checking side and rear clearances and trying to think of every access and weather implication.  I am certain I didn't think of something, but at least this next piece of farm infrastructure stands a much better chance of being trouble free.