Sunday, April 25, 2010

April Farm and Fable Musings

First Sign of Spring on the Farm
The serviceberry tree, also know as juneberry or shadbush or shadblow, is the first sign of spring on the farm.  The tree grows along the stonewall adjacent to the horse barn.  It is called the serviceberry because the tree blooms when the ground is soft enough for persons who died during the winter to be buried and is a showy canopy of blossoms during burial services.  It is also called shadbush or shadlow because the tree flowers when the shad is running in the rivers.  The berries taste like honey and can be used for jams, jellies and pies but I rarely pick the berries before the birds get them.  Bird enthusiasts often plant the serviceberry tree to attract birds to their property.

A Lamb in Another Lamb's Clothing
Lambing season has begun.  Ten to twenty lambs are born everyday on the West Kortright Church Road pasture.  When look in on the flock every morning and evening, we have to match ewes with lambs and tag the lambs with the ewes' tag number - yellow tags for females and green tags for males.  Sometimes lambs are lying in a jumble basking in the sun so we have to stir up the pile and observe which lambs seek out which ewes.  When we arrived at the WKC pasture a few days ago, a lamb was outside of the electric fence (god knows how it got through the fence) trying to get back to her mom.  We put her back over the fence and she ran to her mom. She must have been separated from her mom for a long time because her mom refused to take her back. The ewe stomped and snorted and nosed the lamb away.  We scooped up the lamb and continued to search the pasture for more lambs.  In the road end near the pond, was a ewe with a dead lamb next to her.  The lamb never made it out of the amniotic sac.   By the end of the morning, we had ten lambs, a ewe without a lamb and an orphan lamb.  An orphan lamb is called a bummer lamb.  I am not sure where the term originates but it is a real bummer to bottle feed a lamb three times a day for 12 weeks.  Sometimes a ewe will accept a lamb that is not hers under the right conditions. The trick is to make the lamb smell like the ewe who lost her lamb.  We made a coat for the bummer lamb.  We skinned the dead lamb and made a hole for the tail and plastered it to the bummer lamb and put the lamb in with the ewe.  She smelled the lamb with the lamb coat for a long time. We waited anxiously to see if it would nurse.  Success!  Once the lamb nurses, its poop smells like the ewe and she will accept it.  Two days later, the coat is off the lamb and the lamb is happily with her adopted mom. 

Broiler versus Layer Chick
Chickens for eating are called broilers and chickens for eggs are called laying hens or layers. Both sets of chicks are five weeks old. The broilers are ready to harvest at eight weeks and the layers will be ready to lay eggs at 20 weeks.   A layer chick is called a poulet until she starts to lay eggs.
The chicks will be moved out of their heat box and onto pasture this week.  Metal portable shelters (they look like small Quonset huts) are used to keep them dry, out of the sun and safe from hawks. However, the big move to pasture presents risks.  If it is too cold or too wet, the chicks pile in the shelters and die. Hawks are their biggest threat - they often swoop into the huts and pick off chicks one by one. The dogs provide some protection from predator hawks. The broilers will be harvested on the farm in a few weeks and they will be available fresh at the May farmers markets.  Fresh chickens will be at the markets and in our farm store every week until mid October.   The profit from broilers, even at $4.50 lb, is very slim due to large piling and predator losses and the labor that goes into raising chickens.

Bunnies in a Box
Each of the breeding does has a litter. The youngest litter is two weeks old.  A first-time doe had 11 babies but the kindling box was too small so she threw out five of them. Unfortunately, she did it in the middle of the night so they did not survive.  The oldest bunnies are four weeks old. They are active in their cages, hopping in and out the kindling box and eating pellets and grass. 

Goats on Pasture

After a long winter of hay and baleage, the goats travel to the back pasture for the first of the season's grass.  They graze non-stop for the first few hours and then collapse with drowsiness from the weight of the grass digesting in their rumens and the feel of the sun on their backs. They wait at the fence at the end of day and are ready to go back to the dairy barn for milking. Electric netting powered by solar batteries is moved from pasture to pasture with the goats and sheep. 
Two years ago we decided not to disbud (remove the horns) from the dairy goats.  We changed our minds after a few mishaps with horns and milk stands, fencing and our faces.  These sisters use their horns advantageously and butt all the other goats away from the choice spots of grazing and the water tank.

Farm Dogs
The new Maremma puppies Louis and Clark have lost their puppy look but not their puppiness.  Louis is guarding the dairy barn and Clark is giving Ty the new border collie an approving sniff.  Ty's training started a month ago with simple commands of lie down and there (stay). He is keen on sheep and goats and he does a simple job every day such as moving the goats to the pasture which enables him to feel comfortable with the goats and sheep and build confidence as a working dog.  He is smart and willing dog; he has already learned how to keep a good distance behind the goats and lie down on command. If the dogs get too close to the goats they turn on them and butt them. If this happens too early or too frequently in their training, it could make a border collie forever apprehensive of working with goats.  Ty has a crouch rather than a full lie down which is fine for his work.  Ty begins his formal training with Elizabeth Phillips very soon.  Ty is not a high strung border collie. He is intense when he is working but knows how to relax. 
"That'll do Ty"

Farm Store
The movie Food Inc has been making the rounds and recently aired on HBO.  As a result, the store has been a buzz of activity from people buying our grass fed meats and organic goat milk. The farm store is stocked with pork, lamb, beef and rabbits. The eggs are plentiful and the goats are producing tons of creamy milk.  The raw milk takes on the color and taste of what the goats are eating.  Dandelions and spring grass are the mainstay of the goats' diets so the milk is sweet with a delicate, grassy, tangy taste and colored a soft, buttery yellow.

The last winter supper is May 8th at 5 pm.  The three-course menu is wilted dandelion salad with fresh eggs and smoked bacon, spring chicken and vegetable pot pie with cheddar chive crust and for dessert - farmer’s pound cake with season’s first maple syrup. The cost is $28.  Fable's Saturday dining and Sunday brunch begins Memorial Day weekend.  The farm stay/bed and breakfast also opens the same weekend so we are working diligently to get the the renovations completed.  I was at a tourism meeting the other day and one of the participants suggested we call the farm stay/bed and breakfast "Stable".  What do you think? We are squeezing in the renovations between regular chores and planting the gardens. 

I am hand spading the kitchen garden because the rototiller does not dredge up the big rocks. I am convinced that in the process of turning over the soil, I am loosening the dirt so the rocks can spring forth.  We have been gardening in the same plot for twenty years so why am I pulling out three-foot rocks with a crowbar?  Where are all those rocks coming from?  The garlic is up from last year and all of the perennial herbs survived.  The biggest survival surprise was the tarragon. It never makes it through a Catskill winter.  The bees in the cedar tree in the front yard also survived the winter although they are using a different entrance to the 150 year old tree.  The tree has housed bees since we moved here 25 years ago. While it is not the same hive, there must be a very big honeycomb in the heart of the tree.

Farmers Markets
We hope you survived the winter with minor complaints.  We would love to see you soon at the farmers markets or at the farm. The Callicoon Farmers market begins Sunday May 2.  The Pakatakan Farmers market begins Saturday May 15th and the opening of the Oneonta  Farmers Market is Saturday May 22nd.  Support family farms, eat healthier food and shop at farmers markets this season!

Tom, Denise, Katey, Shane and Susannah (she's back!)