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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Prepping pigs for piles of snow

Snow, and lots of it.  That is what Mother Nature has in store for the farm for the next 12 - 24 hours.  Being prepared for storms is essential in all walks of life, but a little more so for folks who have livestock depending on them for their well-being.  Fortunately my off-farm job let us leave early as the road conditions deteriorated.  My 23 mile ride back to the farm took almost 45 minutes instead of the usual 25.  Just over two inches were on the ground when I arrived so I changed and went directly outside to complete chores, thankful that I could get them done before the worst of the storm arrived.  

Each pig hut received extra hay.  The pigs immediately set to work rearranging it, piles were moved to the front of each hut to ward off the snow which normally blows in from the North, but today is blowing in all directions.  Both houses have enough hay for the pigs to completely bury themselves with extra to spare.  I took a couple of flakes and tucked them into the north facing corners to ward off the worst of the forecasted wind.   

Back across the pen to their water bowls (sawed off bottoms of 55 gallon plastic barrels), the snow is falling harder and I am reminded why I bought a good pair of bibs when I moved back to Vermont, now if only I had put them on!  I attempted to turn each bowl over only to find them frozen to the ground.  I headed back across the yard to get some hot water only to forget the splitting maul.  The hot water works on Zeb's dish, but not on the girls'.  Back over to the garage, the hood of my jacket is little match for the blowing snow.  Splitting maul and one bucket of food in hand, I head back over to the pen.  Several whacks with the maul and a little more hot water and the girls' dish is emptied.  The rest of the hot water added to their dish and before I can rinse it out - they dive in.

Across the dooryard one last time for five more gallons of water and the second bucket of food for Zeb.  I notice my face turning pretty red and that my worn out jeans are no match for this weather.  Inside the heat washes over me as I fill the water bucket.  Once upon a time this girl might have said to heck with it and left the rest of the chores for later to enjoy being warm.  Back outside I went, pigs watered and fed, then back into the garage with my empty buckets and maul then onto the chickens.  Eggs were collected, more water was thawed and re-filled and their feed dish topped off.  I also let them out of their coop - if chickens could talk I would have gotten some choice words as the girls headed for the open garage door only to turn quickly and head back in the other direction.

Returning to the warm house, I was well aware that my choice of clothing did not protect me well from the weather.  When I moved back to Vermont ten years ago, I purchased a good quality jacket, some warm bibs (ski-pants), great boots and a good pair of gloves.  The gloves have since met their demise and the jacket has survived longer than any garment that has seen as much as it has, should.  I do not have a pair of farm/rain boots so my older shoes act as a non-waterproof version of farm shoes.  Each chore on the farm requires an appropriate tool or set of supplies and I have learned to be better prepared to complete those projects before they are even started.  The other thing that this farmer needs to learn is that she isn't going to be very successful in getting anything done if she is appropriately attired for the weather.  Good rain/muck boots have been added to the to-buy list for spring and a new jacket has been added to the list for fall.

For now all the animals, including the two-legged ones, are tucked in and nice and warm.  Snow totals are forecast between 14 and 24 inches.  Everyone will be checked twice more before we settle in for the evening and tomorrow morning will come earlier than normal as fences are checked, feed and water containers are dug out, the driveway is cleared and the storm heads out.  Little man is pretty excited to be able to go sledding again and mom will certainly join him!   

Friday, March 10, 2017

Storing potatoes & easy recipe

This picture almost makes them look green,
they were perfectly fine.
Last weekend I used up the last of the potatoes that were stored for winter use.  We put up just under 100 lbs for the off season and they lasted through the end of February.  150 lbs will have to be the number for this year so that we can make it most of the way until the next harvest.  

Three factors will ensure successful storage of your potatoes:

  • A good cure right after harvest
  • That the potatoes aren't washed - you can brush off a lot of the dirt being careful not to harm the cured peel - but don't wash them
  • Store them in the dark - if they aren't in the dark, they will turn green - if you eat too many green potatoes, you could become very ill.  

A burlap bag inside of a cardboard box proved very effective this year in the mudroom.  Temperatures didn't stay below zero for too long so that room was fine.  Had they stayed below zero for any length of time, that room would have gotten too cold.  Potatoes like it just above freezing.

There are three of us in the house, we don't have company for meals very often but we both take leftovers for lunches for our off farm jobs.  Potatoes stretch or fill out chicken & biscuits, stews, soups, top shepherd's pie, stand alone, are spiced up for side dishes, put in foil packets with onions and cheese on the grill; they are used in a pile of my cooking.  One of my favorite potato recipe is so simple that it is hardly worth writing down and probably is somewhere on the interweb, but it is so good, that even if I cut up two potatoes for each of us, there aren't any leftovers.

Herb roasted potatoes 
3T olive oil
2T minced garlic
1T each of oregano & thyme
Salt to taste
Paprika for color
3-5 medium potatoes - cut up into 1 - 1 1/2 inch pieces

Preheat oven to 400 or 425 degrees.
In a large bowl mix the first five ingredients until blended.
Add potatoes and toss until evenly coated.
Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper - spread potatoes evenly.
Bake for 25 - 35 minutes until potatoes are crisp and tender.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Upset tummy again!

In an effort to save money, we get a lot of our pig food from the cheese factory in the next town over.  Most often pelleted pig food is supplemented by cheese, vegetable pieces, whey and food scraps from a local organic foods market.  If Little man's father and I don't communicate well, the pigs might get too much in scraps one week and not enough grain.  Last week that was apparently the case as Zeb had an upset tummy again.  

I wasn't sure if it was the wormer I gave him or if he was getting too many scraps from the cheese factory.  It looks like it was probably the latter.  Combine the rich food with the fluctuating temperatures from highs in the 60's to highs in the teens, anyone's system would go a little whacky.  He was put on pig pellets alone, given some extra hay and a scratch behind the ears.  Monday afternoon he looked much better and by Tuesday things seemed to have returned to normal.  He is the first pig I have had where we had to watch what he eats.

The timing of his ailment was unfortunate though as both Sally and Little One came into heat over the weekend.  Last time Sally was in heat, Zeb had also been under the weather. The calendar has been marked and in addition to checking the girls, we will relegate him to pellets and vegetables for the week before they are scheduled to go into heat again.

We will have piglets on the farm this summer, albeit behind schedule.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The tomatoes are started - finally!

I spent the day with Little man dividing up between farm chores and play.  I made the decision that I didn't care if my floor had muddy dog prints on it or if the kitchen table still had lunch crumbs on it.  I was going to spend the day with my son, on the farm.  

It was a good trial of what is in store if I was on the farm full time with Little man in tow.  I will not always have fun chores to do like planting seeds, but I am certain that I can make weeding entertaining, at least for the next year or two.  Part-time farming and part-time off-farm work is something that I tried a few years ago.  At that time Little man was an infant and my first child.  There wasn't any way that I was going to make it work then.  After the successful day yesterday, it might be time to try it again.

The rain came in spits and spats so Little man put on his ski pants if only for protection from the mud.  We went out the greenhouse and he helped me dig out and level an area by the door where we then put down an old feed bag for weed control and bricks procured at a yard sale.  Now, we didn't have any sand or nor did we 'frame in' the bricks so they are a little wobbly, but the muddy spot that was developing by the door is no longer.

A plastic garbage barrel from a free pile on the side of the road had holes drilled into the sides, bottom and top for circulation and became the compost bucket.  Little man quickly lost interest in shoveling the heavy materials in various stages of decomposition.  We were able to squeeze the whole pile into the barrel and then watered it thoroughly.  Worms, who were brave enough to come into the warm greenhouse were also added to the bucket to see if we could speed the process along.  Underneath the pile was some beautiful, black compost.  I scraped that off the floor and added it to the raised bed inside the greenhouse being careful not to bury the tractor and the car-hauler that Little man had working hard in there.

Those two tidying up chores completed, I headed under the benches for a couple of flats to start the seeds.  My seed starting mix was soaked with water and we both got dirty after that.  Stirring water into dehydrated peat, vermiculite and soil is pretty messy - but a lot more fun with a five-year-old's help.  The mix was added to the flats, seeds sprinkled, covered and gently patted.  Each flat was carefully labeled, with a popsicle stick of course!  Out of a thawed water source, we brought the flats inside and carefully watered them.  Once back inside Little man's attention was drawn to his toys.

I went out to the garage and grabbed a set of salvaged shelves, dusted them off, brought them inside and covered them with leftover plastic from my greenhouse project.  The plastic will not only keep them a bit warmer inside my cool kitchen but will also deter the cats from digging in the flats.  If Mother Nature cooperates then I will be able to move them out to the greenhouse to their transplant pots in two to three weeks.  If it remains too cool then I will be rigging some shelving for a half-a-thousand transplants in my kitchen.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Weights and measures

In high school I hated Geometry - just despised it.  Worse even was trigonometry: sine and cosine and tangent.  Experiencing such a strong emotion for this discipline must have helped me retain something.  Each time I put a new roof onto a shed, coop or hut, I manage to figure out what angle the chop saw needs to be set at to accommodate my roof rafters.  It may not be perfectly square when I am done, but since I am not building any houses (yet), I am managing just fine.

Along with angles, weights also play an important role on the farm.  For example, it was time to worm Zeb this week.  This medicine is dosed by weight.  Last time I checked, a six to seven foot long pig doesn't fit on my bathroom scale.  There is also little chance that I would get him into a sling to measure him from a hanging scale.  Thankfully they make a formula (darn that algebra coming into play in adult life)!  Measuring squirming pigs isn't easy so I am certain that my weights came out a little heavy but they were close enough to ensure Zeb got enough medicine to combat any parasites.

Zeb - 750 lbs
Sally - 700 lbs
Little One - 250 lbs
Chicken - 6 - 15 lbs

Chickens you can put in a milk crate from a hanging scale - they are easy to weigh.  You can also step on a scale without a chicken in your arms and then back onto the scale with the chicken and the difference between the two is the weight of the chicken.  

Sunday I was pretty thankful that my girls are a little well-endowed.  The boys (two-legged ones) had settled in to watch the race and I went to write this blog post after my driver wrecked.  As I logged in, the squawking and crowing from the front yard immediately drew my attention.  I couldn't see what the rooster was upset about so I stepped out in my stocking feet.  (It is mud season here.)  At the corner of the house, the hawk had one of my newest layers pinned.  He wasn't the least bit deterred by my presence or my hollering.  I went back in to grab my shoes and the camera of course.  The second time the door opened he knew I meant business and flew away before I could even aim the camera.  I scooped up the bird, brought her inside, checked her all over and gave her a couple of treats for her ordeal.  She had lost a couple of feathers but otherwise wasn't much worse for wear.

Whether you choose to home school, un-school or go the traditional route - make sure you find some good old-fashioned math for your bag of tricks.