Monday, January 30, 2012

Savoring the Fruits of Our Labor

One of the things I love about our farm life is enjoying the fruits of our labor.  Tonight for dinner we had two of our own roosters roasted to perfection.  For dessert we had Raspberry and White Chocolate Fudge Brownies made from our own raspberries and eggs.  A year ago I could only imagine the benefits of living on a farm.  Now I enjoy those benefits at almost every meal.

We are currently planning our garden and livestock for the spring.  Now that I understand that we can really grow food and then eat it I am excited to provide as much for ourselves as I can.  My garden increases in size every time I go to the store and buy something only to realize that I could grow this myself.  Potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, lots and lots of tomatoes, green peppers, strawberries, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, turnips, asparagus...  The list grows and grows.  It's a good thing we have a really large yard and four children.  Lots of space and lots of hands to help.

Each time we eat one of our own roosters the memory of the harvest slips away.  The benefit of cost and pleasure now make the labor and gross factor grow fuzzy.  Maybe 100 roosters isn't such a bad idea.  Maybe we should try more.

As we savor the fruits of our labor during the lull of winter it's easy to lose sight of the labor that produced those fruits.  It's easy to feel is if it is all as simple as opening the door to the freezer and selecting what we want.  It's easy to overlook the real man hours involved in each bite of chicken and each raspberry in our brownies.  It's hard to reign in our enthusiasm and vision with reality.

Last year was our year of intense learning.  This year is our year of serious planning.  We will continue to savor the labor and the results and pray that we can find a balance for the two. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Honey Bee Expo

I spent the day learning about bees.  Our local bee keepers association hosts an annual Honey Bee Expo and I was blessed to be able to attend this year.  To be honest, I haven't given much thought to my bees in the last few months.  I have gone out every few weeks to look at the hives from the outside, mostly just to look at them and be sure that there is still signs of life outside the hive.  It seemed as if  all was well.  It turns out that I haven't been doing all I should for my bees.  I should be tapping the hives and listening.  I should still be inspecting.  I should know how my queen is and how the cluster is doing. 

After listening to some experienced bee keepers talk about bees today I know I've got a lot more care taking to do.  My bees are practically neglected.  I need to be listening to my hive.  When we get a warm, sunny, calm day I need to crack open my hives and take a peek.  I need to get ready for spring.  Apparently, my bee vacation is over.

I listened to speakers talk about prepping for spring, splitting hives, extracting honey and inspecting your hives.  I learned that free bees are the best bees. I learned that if you are going to put up a bear fence you need to hang bacon on the wires.  I learned where two or more bee keepers are gathered together there are as many methods as there are bee keepers.  Mostly I learned that I have a lot to learn.

Over the next few months I need to get at least one new hive ready.  It would probably be a good idea to get a nuc ready too.  Supers are also a priority.  I'll need at least three of those per hive before the first of April.  I'm going to do some research to make a choice about extractors and we are going to prep an area for honey production.  It sounds as if we will soon be busy as bees.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Measure of a Cow

Our most recent farm job was to measure T-Bone, our 10 month old Holstein steer.  The reason you measure a cow is to determine how much they weigh.  The reason you want to know the weight of a cow is because the weight of a cow indicates when the cow is ready to be dinner.  This is just one of the many jobs that I had no idea needed to be done a year ago.  This is just one of the jobs that I've learned to do in the last year.  In fact, last year, I could never have predicted that we'd have a cow much less need to measure him.

Getting the cow to stand on one foot on the bathroom scale is beyond the realm of possibility.  Also, I don't think the bathroom scale goes high enough to measure a cow.  Thankfully, someone way smarter than me figured out that by measuring heart girth of a cow you can estimate weight.  This is much easier than getting the cow to step on a scale.  However, with a cow, nothing is really easy. 

The biggest challenge came with getting the cow to stand still.  If you've read previous posts you know that the cow is not all that happy about being approached by Rob.  You also know that I prefer to stay on side of the fence opposite the cow.  Even before I knew how much he weighed I knew that it was a lot and that I didn't want any of that weight pressed against any part of my body.  I like scratching the cows neck and head.  I do not want to come in direct contact with any other cow parts, especially his feet.  

Food is just as motivating for cows as it if for people.  By luring him with carrots and corn we were able to get the measure wrapped around T-Bone just behind is front legs.  This is the heart girth.  That might be helpful on some trivia game at sometime in the future.  T-Bones heart girth showed him to be 69".  That translates into about 940 lbs.

Our research says that butcher weight is about 1200lbs.  Our research also says that a 900 lb cow equals about 500 lbs of meat.  That's a lot of meat.  We'll be checking around in the next few weeks to see what our options and costs concerning butchering are.  We will also be trying to find new homes for some of our chickens in the chest freezer. 

We have another skill to list on our resume.  We are able to take the measure of a cow.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year New Challenges

The temperature dropped last night.   Colder weather brings a new series of issues with our animals.  The primary concern with below freezing temperatures is how to keep water available for the animals.  Today, our solution was to change the water frequently.  That's not going to work all the time.  I won't always be here to stir the water three times a day.  I also prefer not to go outside and mess with water when it's cold.  In fact, I prefer not to go outside at all when it's cold.

Now, I understand that as a farmer I am obligated to take care of the animals.  It's an obligation I take seriously.  I will go out when it's cold.  I just won't like it.  Also, if I could go out less frequently, I'd like that.  Because of my desire to go out less frequently I've been researching de-icing solutions. 

It appears that our cheapest fix for the chickens is to pull the waterer out of the coop at night and during the day position the heat lamp closer to the waterer.  Sounds easy enough.  We'll be trying this starting tonight.

Our fix for the cow seems a bit more complicated.  We could get a de-icer for about $25 but it's a floating one.  We are concerned that the cow would play with it.  I'm not sure that's our best option.  Breaking the ice a couple times a day is an option.  We rarely spend more than four or five hours away from home.  As long as we made sure the water was clear before we left, the cow should be able to drink enough while we are gone.  There are heated buckets but they are kind of pricey. 

It's funny to think that this time last year we didn't have any thoughts about taking care of animals during the winter.  We were just praying that we'd be living on the farm soon.  It's amazing what a difference a year makes.