* FARM ANIMALS
Let’s start with the TURKEYS …
Last year we again raised a dozen heirloom turkeys, which shows we’re no smarter than the turkeys. They’re a handful and we decided after two years in a row with them that we’d raise them every OTHER year. Sweet as they are personality wise, they’re really not that bright. One out of three evenings they’d forget where the coop was. If we weren’t home at dusk we’d have to climb trees to get them down in the dark. Or, since it was fall and the start of our rainy season, we climbed trees in the DARK and in the RAIN. Now really, how dumb are we?
Joseph would hold the ladder steady while I climbed up into the tree with a flashlight to shake a turkey down, then Joseph would run to catch the 20 lb. pile of wet fluff and feather that fell out of the branches and carry him AROUND THE CORNER OF THE BUILDING and put him in the coop. I’m not kidding. Around the corner.
When we’d see them lost as dusk neared, we’d go down to help them find the coop. First you should know, a turkey will follow you anywhere. It must be a feature in their little brains that says if nobody else can figure out how to lead, then follow the one that does. That would be one of us.
So we’d go inside their pen in the apple orchard and call them. Our turkeys had a two word vocabulary. If something good was happening, they’d trill three ascending notes, beep-beep-beep. If we beeped, they followed.
If they felt lost or confused (I can’t tell you how many times a day THAT happened), they’d do three descendiing notes, boop-boop-boop. Try whining that as sadly as you possibly can. Like on the verge of tears.
Even if we were in the house we could hear that mournful little boop-boop-boop and we’d always go out to see.
And what we found was always sad.
To protect our small orchard trees from deer and bunnies in winter, we put a circle of wire fencing around the trees about two feet out from the trunk. Since it wasn’t winter and the trees weren’t in danger, we had opened the wire cages so we could prune or apply compost.
More than once we’d hear the sad boop and go down to their pen and see that one or more of the turkeys had managed to get inside the OPEN cage near the tree and couldn’t figure out how to get out. They would keep walking forward and bumping into the wire as they tried to rejoin the flock on the other side of the fence. Stuck. Could not figure out that all they had to do to escape was TURN AROUND AND WALK OUT THE OPEN SIDE OF THE FENCE.
Excuse my caps on these letters but I must have tried to explain this to the turkeys forty times at least. I’d even go in myself and show them. Bump up against the fence, no go. Turn around and walk out in ANY direction behind you and you’re free.
I swear if you ever wanted to hunt a domestic turkey, all you’d have to do is put up one short wall of a fence, no sides, no corners, and just wait for one to get stuck up against it. Done. Thanksgiving dinner on the table.
So every third night we’d go down at dusk in answer to the chorus of nearly weepy boops and call the turkeys to fall in behiind us as we walked twenty feet south, took a right and … the whole flock would suddenly leap into a run-fly, beeping all the way. We’ve found our way home! Here it is!
So that’s why we decided to take a year off and raise them every other year and this isn’t one of them.
To give credit to Ben Franklin who wanted the wild turkey to be our national emblem, I’ve heard that wild turkeys are really smart. Ours were not. We raised a few commercial breeds (a gift from a friend) the first year, then tried four different breeds of heirloom turkeys the second year. Hardly a cipher’s worth of difference smarts-wise.
Our Jersey-Swiss cow, Miss Amelia, calved in January presenting us with an adorable half-Angus boy, Possum. We learned how to milk her by watching a video on YouTube of an old Slavic woman doing it.
We just did what she did and it worked. We milked every day up until a few weeks ago when she went dry. Now she’s pregnant and we’re waiting for the next calf to start over again. In May we also added two Simmenthals: Delilah is a big black monolith who’s due to calve in the next week or two; and Maurice (“the gangster of love”), her nephew, is our beef cow this year. I’ve watched him in the orchard and I bet he can eat his weight in apples in a day. With Amelia’s delicious creamy milk we made a lot of cheese, butter and ice cream this year.
Our chickens had the entire farm to range on last year but this spring they were monsters in my flower gardens so we caged them into four big half-acre pens that we rotate them through. They don’t seem to have noticed they’re behind a fence.
New additions are six chicks, some born this week. Nothing’s cuter than a baby chick. We can easily spend a half hour cooing and ahing over them which we do at least three times a day.
We’ve got a lot of bees in the non-commercial top bar hives (TBH) we made. TBHs are more bee-centric than production oriented. I don’t do a big honey production although we always get some. They’re more for pollination and simply because I love bees. They give me extra reason to grow flowers, herbs and clover and to let the weeds go to flower and then seed without feeling I should have pulled them up when they were small.
GARDENS and ORCHARDS
You’d laugh if you saw the gardens right now. Because of the joyful activity of the bees, I let most everything go to bloom rather than pulling it out once the vegetables go by. We have plenty of five foot tall blue flowering lettuces and taller-than-me purple flowered radishes and truly enormous yellow mustards. The beds are full of red and white clovers and purple vetch. When I go to pull something out, I look on top and if there are a few bees there I let it go longer. It makes seed saving easier anyway.
Our tomatoes and basil are delicious. The beans have climbed higher than our corn already but the corn is short so that wasn’t hard. Not sure yet how to grow tall corn but even on short stalks we get ears. Maybe next year we’ll figure that out.
Beds have chard, onions, lettuce, cabbage, eggplant, blueberries, currants, jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, sunflowers, lavender, rosemary, thyme, mints and celery. And anything else that volunteers like borage and tomatillos.
We just hayed eight acres of our neighbor’s field where we’re pasturing the cows so we ought to have enough to get through winter without buying more. The cost difference is immense. Non-organic hay is about $6 bale, organic much higher. When we hay by ourselves — despite the challenge of hot, sweaty, hard labor — a bale is about 15 cents direct cost. Don’t remind me of the cost of the mortgage for the land because when I look at 15 cents, it sounds like a win.
Orchards are growing. We’ve got about 150 fruit and nut trees so far, many still young. Our old timer trees are laden with fruit. Again, a banner year for apples. Grapes still green, many bunches. Just planted a dozen more varieties of seedless grapes so we can add raisin-making to our fall chores.
HOW DO WE DO IT?
We earn our income teaching garden, farm and animal-related classes here. Take a look at our class schedule.
We also host farm volunteers through the year and they are a big help. We had three helpers this summer, Kat from New York, Jean-Paul from Italy and Andrea from Switzerland. Great helpers!
Everything else we do (like writing this blog) happens alongside the farm chores. I just finished two hours of shoveling in a new compost pile while Joseph installed pipes to hook up a bathtub in the cottage. Our days are always full. Hard work. Love it.
Our volunteers live on the farm with us and help out in exchange for room/board and learning farm skills. Tasks vary. Obviously gardening and animal care is a big part but also carpentry, irrigation, dismantling and rebuilding outbuildings, stonewalls, laying brick paths, fencing, haying … the list goes on.
We did a few farmers markets this year and realized we’re not really cut out for that. It’s a tremendous amount of work and doesn’t always pencil out as profitable. Makes me admire even more the farmers we see week after week hitting all the markets around. I grow stuff yet, for the same reason I overtip waitresses, I still buy whatever I can from local farmers because I know how hard a job it is.
So that’s what we’re up to right now. Our days are full, animals are thriving, apple trees are so lush we had to put ladders under the branches to hold the branches up. We made our first cider a few days ago and already have a few gallons in the freezers. If you come by we’ll break out a bottle.
Life is good. Be well.
Friendly Haven Rise Farm