Snow Days & Stocking Up

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This past week of snow & ice has been a rough one. We’ve had to deal with frozen water lines, hauling five gallon buckets of warm water to all the livestock. Moving hay ahead of time to feed the dairy cows. Our hay barn is on the opposite side of the property from where we milk and feed the girls. Usually it’s not a problem, but with all of the snow in the forecast we needed to move a week’s worth all at once just in case. And we barely made it. By the time my husband got out here with his truck we had already accumulated a good 5″ of wet snow. It made maneuvering around the fruit trees and bee boxes a white knuckle experience. Farming is strenuous work on a good day. But add a half foot of wet snow and your regular farm chores take on a boot camp work out intensity.

A week like we just experienced is a real eye opener. You can see where your weak areas exist and once things go back to normal it gives you an opportunity to fine tune. We know a hay barn right next to the dairy girls is a must. If my husband hadn’t been able to get that hay moved for me, I would have been in a world of hurt. As it turned out, he went sledding with our son later that night and hurt his back. It’s a good thing he added in a few extra bales to that last load.

This is where stocking up and planning ahead really come in handy. Keeping your pantry full for humans and animals alike is more than just a good idea. It makes the difference between a full belly and hunger. While we were “stuck” at the farm we didn’t need to worry about trying to make a dangerous drive in to town to pick up bags of livestock feed (or human groceries). We had already stocked all the barrels and topped them off before the first snowflake fell. Having been through a week like this not too long ago, I had an idea of what to expect. I’d gathered a long watering hose and adapter so I could attach it to the hot water heater in my milk shed. By doing that I was able to provide warm water directly into a spare water trough that I’d situated just outside of the shed. While the other water lines were frozen and no water was making its way into the regular troughs, the girls were still able to come up for water twice a day. And I was able to use that water to fill those 5 gallon buckets that I had to haul across the farm to water all the other animals. It was an intense amount of work, but no one went thirsty. We’ll be installing a second hot water heater in the pig barn later this Spring. That will cut the distance I need to travel in half next winter when things freeze up again.

Today I’d planned on making a trip out to town. I’d been farm bound for the past five days and was looking forward to a change of scenery. Well, my little car just couldn’t make it up the steep hill in my driveway. I wasn’t going anywhere. Except back inside. Because I keep a well stocked pantry, I didn’t really need anything from town. I’d been working my way through an old fashioned baking book, one recipe at a time. I was pretty thrilled to see that no matter which recipe I picked I had all the ingredients stored on hand. Peaches? No problem- I canned 30 quarts back in July. Blueberries? Yup- 15 gallon bags still in the freezer from August. Pears? Apple Sauce? Got them too. Canning and preserving food is highly addictive and well worth the effort to learn. It’s great to pop open a can of summer when you’re in the middle of a snow storm.

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Back in the “old days” it wasn’t uncommon for several families to gather together and have an all day canning party. Everyone brought their produce and jars and working together by the end of the day everyone went home with a good haul of preserved food. Many hands making light work. I think it would be fun to start a “canning circle” of friends to share the harvest and make the time go faster while we canned.

If you’ve thought about preserving food but haven’t done it yet, here is a list of my favorite books:

Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving- this is the go to book for water bath or pressure canning

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving:400 delicious and creative recipes for today-Edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine

The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest: 150 Recipes for Freezing, Canning, Drying, and Pickling Fruits & Vegetables- Carol W. Costenbader

Completely Revised & Updated: Stocking Up-The 3rd Edition of The Classic Preserving Guide-Carol Hupping & the Staff of the Rodale Food Center (this gem also has a section on dairy)

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Snow All Around

Image(Snow on the Far Barn)

It’s no secret that I don’t like the snow. I grew up in the mid-west and always knew I’d move to greener pastures. Literally. So here we are on Day 2 of Oregon’s Snow Storm 2014. It certainly doesn’t compare to the snow I had growing up. But I am still just as disenchanted with snow now as I was back then.

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(Snow on the Garlic & Herb Beds)

It seems most of the people I know are pretty excited about the last couple of snow days. I think your outlook is different if you work outside with animals every day. But, I’m trying to find some beauty in the snowy landscape so I don’t ruin the fun for everyone else.

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(The Dike Water)

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(Cottage Garden Gate)

I just have to remember that there is green somewhere under all that white. And before we know it the snow will have given away to mud and that will give away to green shoots of spring. I may not find beauty in the snow itself, but there is certainly beauty in the cycle of life.

Butterflies & Rainbows- or The Down & Dirty of Farm Life

ImageOften people think living on the farm is a kind of enchanted life. You get to go out, commune with the animals,  pick flowers and vegetables and…go about the happy life of a farmer. A lot of this is because having chosen to be a farmer at this stage in my life, I’m pretty much in love with what I do. I’m not carrying on any family tradition of farming and I didn’t marry a farmer. My husband and I both had “normal” careers before this stage of our lives. And in fact, my husband still straddles both worlds- working in the high tech industry and working on the farm. Both are full time pursuits. So, when people ask me about farming I have lots of great stories to tell- and they are generally the feel good, life has never been better, don’t you wish you were a farmer- kind of stories.

Except when they aren’t. There is a down and dirty side to farming and it’s not just the mud and manure. Raising livestock on a farm takes on a whole new meaning of responsibility. The animals under our care rely on us for food, shelter, safety and our promise to keep them from suffering. Generally the food, shelter and safety are easy goals to reach.  As farmers, we are constantly surveying the pastures, making sure there isn’t anything left behind that they might swallow leading to hardware disease and possibly death. We make sure we pick up the twine that goes around the hay bales, pick up nails as they drop, keep fences secure and the list goes on and on. But, being animals they do tend to get themselves into tricky situations from time to time.

Just this morning as I was milking cows, my biggest girl- Snow, decided to lift her leg backwards and loop it over the side chain that keeps her on her side of the stall. She’s never performed this trick before, and neither have any of the other cows. It was something I never expected to see. The weight of her leg on the chain made it too tight for me to unhook. She was getting spooked and was starting to thrash around. I had to get some slack in the chain before she slipped and broke her leg. Thinking quickly, I dumped another scoop of pellets into her bucket. This made her lunge forward and I had just enough time to un-clip the chain. She was free and I was relieved. I don’t like to think about what I could have found had I walked away to tend to a quick chore while she was still in the stall. These are the kinds of things that can come up out of nowhere and take you completely by surprise.

Yesterday I was in the back field, tossing hay to calves and sheep. I usually take a quick count while I’m doing this to make sure that all of the critters are present and it gives me a chance to do a visual wellness check. I was missing one ewe. Hmm. It was too soon for her to be lambing. I scanned the field and still didn’t see her. This wasn’t good. The sheep stick together and when it’s haying time they all come running over in a group. I finished up and headed out to find her.

My fears were confirmed. She wasn’t in good shape. I found her laying on her side by a gate. It looked as though she had been there since the night. A quick assessment and I knew she wasn’t going to make it. This is where the part about keeping your livestock from needlessly suffering comes in. It fell on me to put her down. I could have left her there- nature would have taken its course eventually. But the ewe and I had an agreement. She would graze and fertilize my fields and provide me with lambs. I would feed her, shelter her, keep her healthy and- when the time came, I would prevent her from suffering. It was that time.

(Warning: Some may find the following picture graphic)

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(The injury on her head is how I found her. I still don’t know the source of that injury)

Animals get into all kinds of situations. I have no idea what caused the injury to her head- it’s how I found her that morning. It almost looked like she had been grazed by a bullet. The sheep pasture is in the middle of our farm, not a place where I would expect to have wayward bullets flying. In the end, it didn’t matter. I had to reach down deep into my farmer guts and end her suffering with my own bullet.

Farming, it isn’t always butterflies and rainbows. There is a down and dirty side to it too. But like anything in life, you can either focus on the hard times and lose site of the good, or you can take the hard times in stride and know that there is a rainbow right around the corner.

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 (Target practice. A good aim is another skill for the responsible farmer)