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HOMEGROWN Life: The Richness of Farming

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

 

HOMEGROWN LifeMy Grandmother’s saying, one she borrowed from Benjamin Franklin, “the only two things certain in life are death and taxes,” came to mind this week. Yes, it’s tax season.

In between birthing 2 more sets of twins (that makes 4 in all), I’m tending the flocks and herds, starting up the dairy, chasing lambs, and howling at the goat kid antics. I’m wondering if the day will ever come when I actually sleep 8 or even 6 hours in a row. It’s time I bravely face the pile of paperwork that’s been patiently waiting on my desk.

Even though I am a tiny micro blip on the farming radar screen, I still keep track of the reality of what it costs and how much can be made working at this thing we call farming. I am proud to say that Bittersweet has been a sustainable operation since its second year! No, it didn’t happen because I have some magic formula for the farm supporting itself. It happens out of the sheer terror that if that changes, I won’t be able to continue.

The realities farmers face each year are enormous. The biggest realities are always: how much each year will cost? Can I continue year after year without at least making it pay for itself? That’s the very least farmers expect, because if we can’t say that – if we aren’t at least growing or raising beasts or plants to feed ourselves to cut down on the grocery bill –it’s hard to continue justifying the effort. Most people will say, you’ll never get rich farming.

After sitting down with all my piles, sorting through the slips and bits of paper with numbers scratched on them, I add up the two columns. One is what it costs to open my barn door every day. The other shows how much wool and cheese and milk and jam and pickles and soaps and other things I’ve sold. Turns out, at the end of the day, every day, 365 days a year, I am earning 91 cents an hour. That’s my definition of sustainable. I am earning, not losing, 91 cents an hour.

Now you may say, “You’re kidding, right? 91 cents an hour? Who would work for 91 cents an hour?” As it turns out, there are a lot of folks who do, and they wouldn’t trade it for 9,100 cents an hour. I’ve met a lot of them and we all seem to have something in common. We love what we do.

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There’s a certain pride and satisfaction in farming. Things almost never go according to plan. When you’re relying on Mother Nature in the form of living things, whether it’s beasts or plants, it’s all a crap shoot. I think it’s hard to explain why we do it to someone who thinks we’re all crazy for choosing the farming life style.

I’m frequently asked, “You can’t go anywhere, can you?” My reply is always, “I’ve been other places. I’m happy right where I am.”

I’m not a person who spent their life dreaming of having a farm. I did set out to get some sheep 20 years ago for a property I bought in Southern Pennsylvania. It was an old stone house Jacob Flohr built in 1855 and I/we were restoring it to its original state. I’ll never forget the day my husband came home and I was pitching the 1950’s oak flooring out the front door. There were wide pines boards underneath that needed to be revealed.

The house sat 10 miles south of Gettysburg and was on Lee’s retreat route. It had been a farm, and it was a hospital during the Civil War. All farms were. Every inch of space was utilized for tending to wounded soldiers. I found blood stains in the old crumbling plaster ceiling, blood that had dripped through the floor from above where probably more than one of them had lain, maybe dying.

The stone foundation for the old barn was still there. The original barn had burned down, maybe more than once. I found a gorgeous post and bean barn further up the road that would fit the foundation perfectly and the people who owned it just happened to want to take it down. The plan was to use it for sheep who would graze up above in the old apple orchards. But, the dream for sheep ended along with the marriage. We never got around to rebuilding the barn.

Twenty five years later, as I sit with my bits of paper, I gaze across the pasture watching my newborn lambs leap in spring’s cold morning air. The flock doesn’t have a post and bean barn with a stone foundation to lamb in, but they do have a view of Mosquito Harbor leading out to the Penobscot Bay. Some mornings, their fleeces are misty with the dew coming off the water and often they are treated to dried seaweed treats from Drift Inn Beach down the street. I think it’s a good trade off.

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I think I’ll take a break from my paperwork for an hour or so today and invest my 91 cents or even $1.92, in snuggling lambs, sitting with a baby goat in my lap, or running the brush over the girls’ backs. I might even bake a custard on this cool spring day with eggs from the coop and milk the girls gave me this morning.

After all the other jobs I’ve had and all the paychecks I’ve gotten over the years, it’s today that I receive the largest paycheck I’ve ever had, plus 91 cents an hour. That’s the richness of farming.

MORE FROM DYAN:

HOMEGROWN-life-dyan-150x150Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK

HOMEGROWN Life: What the Fodder?! The Latest in Cheap and Easy Livestock Feed

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREEN

Have you seen the latest big craze in animal feed? Livestock fodder from grain seed takes only about a week to grow and increases your feed by up to six times in weight. (So far, I’ve seen five but I hear six is possible.) It’s highly nutritious and provides 20 percent protein by dry weight. You can feed it to poultry, rabbits, ruminants, horses—just about any grass-loving livestock around.

When my friend Brande first told me about it, I wasn’t so sure. I had heard great things about it but had only seen these huge, incredibly expensive setups for large livestock operations. I hadn’t even thought it was possible to do fodder without one of those setups.

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Gathering round.

What in the hell was I thinking? Nowadays everything can be done DIY, so why not fodder? It would just require a bit more labor on my part.

There are really only three things you absolutely have to have: seed, water, and planting trays with drainage holes. There’s no need for soil or fertilizer. Because we have a mild climate, I’m just growing mine outside on a table. The best seed to use is barley, as it has the highest nutrition and protein of all the grain seeds. I can get an 80-pound bag of barley for just over $18. You can try to find hulled barley, but unhulled seems to work fine. When watering, I recapture the drainage water to reuse.

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Cleaned barley with hulls intact (unhulled).

Before you start making your fodder, you need to soak the barley for six to eight hours in water. This degrades germination inhibitors in the seeds (also why you should soak peas and legumes before planting). You only want to put about half an inch of barley in your tray. It really does swell up, and I found that, with 3 pounds of barley, the tray was busting at the walls. You want to cover the barley with enough water so that it remains covered when it expands.

Soaking barley in a bucket.

Soaking barley in a bucket.

Once your barley is done soaking, pour the seed and water into your tray and rinse the seed. To help encourage germination, cover your tray so that it remains dark. I just use a burlap sack. The photo above shows the barley one day after soaking. Small root tips are beginning to show up at the ends of the seed.

Day 1: Just starting to germinate.

Day 1: Just starting to germinate.

Water your seed two to three times a day. You want to keep it from drying out too much. By the second day after soaking, you’ll start to see more of the roots.

Day 2: At this point, you’ll begin to see the seeds expand in size.

Day 2: At this point, you’ll begin to see the seeds expand in size.

The third day after soaking, small bits of green will poke their heads out of the layer of seeds and roots. This green stuff will soon be growing so fast you can almost see it lengthen. At this point, you’ll want to uncover your fodder to help the grass blades develop chlorophyll and energy.

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Day 3: Time to uncover the seed so that it gets light.

On the fourth day after soaking, you’ll see the beginning of a nice little green carpet. It’s not much yet, but the following day you’ll be amazed.

Day 4: A nice green layer is beginning to form.

Day 4: A nice green layer is beginning to form.

Day 5, and it’s starting to look like turf. Keep watering at least twice a day.

Day 5: Day 5, and it’s starting to look like turf. Keep watering at least twice a day.

Day 5: Once it reaches this point, it grows quickly.

By day 6, you’re almost ready to feed it. Supposedly this is when the grass’s nutrition begins to peak.

Day 6: From day 6 to day 7, the fodder is at its most nutritious.

Day 6: From day 6 to day 7, the fodder is at its most nutritious.

On day 7, it’s time to feed your animals. You can see the awesome layers of roots, seed, and grass in the photo below. Poultry and ruminants will consume all of these parts. Rabbits generally only like the greens.

Roots, seed, and leaf in one tidy package.

Roots, seed, and leaf in one tidy package.

I started with 3 pounds of seed and produced nearly 15 pounds of fodder. It took my hens a couple of days to eat one tray’s worth. If you start a new tray every day or every couple of days, you’ll have a constant supply of fodder to feed your brood.

HOMEGROWN Life blog: Rachel, of Dog Island Farm

My friends in college used to call me a Renaissance woman. I was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. I still am. My focus these days, instead of arts and crafts, has been farming as much of my urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with my husband, I run Dog Island Farm, in the SF Bay Area. We raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. We’re always keeping busy. If I’m not out in the yard, I’m in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

ALL PHOTOS: COURTESY OF RACHEL

HOMEGROWN Life: Mairzy Doats, A Lambing Time Theme Song

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

HOMEGROWN Life

How is it the song goes? “…Dozy doats and little lambzy divey.” At Bittersweet it’s become my theme song, as it’s lambing time.

Lambs are usually associated with spring when temperatures warm and bits of green start to appear. At Bittersweet, lambs arrive when the snows are still blanketing the ground and winds are whipping up the rocky Maine coast. In the dark of night when temperatures plummet into teens and sub zero ranges, babes arrive as steaming bundles of fur taking their first breaths in a cold winter world. Bits of fluff on wobbly legs, umbilical cords dangling from their newborn bellies, eagerly poke tiny noses into folds of legs, anxious for their first sip of milk. Moms grumble their individual voices to each, reaching around with their noses to tickle the newborn’s tails, encouraging them to keep trying to find their source of nourishment. She knows success can be the difference between life and death.

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Being with my flock, mostly as an observer, but also as a midwife is very rewarding for a shepherdess. Knowing when to intervene and when to stand back and let nature take its course is the biggest challenge. Encouragement for both mom and babe sometimes comes in gentle pats or a tiny nudge to reassure that “you’re doing a great job, keep going, I know you can do it!”

Instinct is a powerful force in a flock. Moms know best; I’ve learned that patience is the most important quality a shepherdess possesses. When even patience fails, or there’s not enough milk for two hungry twins, I’m blessed with bottle lambs. With them comes daily lamb cuddles, tiny hooves trailing on my heels, and lambs snuggling in my lap when their little bellies are full and they can barely keep their eyes open. In farming, success is measured in these moments.

BittersweetLamb2This year, play-yard in the room next to where I sleep holds two tiny girls at night. For me, it’s selfishly easier to feed a hungry lamb at 8 pm and again at 4 am without having to go back out to the barn. Ever snuggle with a newborn lamb in your jammies? A tiny voice whispering sweet content sounds in your ear as it slumbers on your shoulder. Trust me, it’s addictive.

Ireland is where I first fell in love with lambs. I would wake up to the sound of moms and babes calling to each other in their distinctive voices. They wander freely to the edges of the rocky cliffs and back up again where they are spotted as dots high on the mountainous landscape. Now, I wake up to my own lambs frolicking with their moms just outside my bedroom window on the rocky coast of Maine.

The first thing I pick up in the morning isn’t a cup of coffee, but the lambs. I carry them to the kitchen where they dance around my feet as I prepare their first bottle. Once their tiny bellies are full, they play together while I prepare my first cup of coffee, keeping an eye out for my whereabouts. Then we make our way to the barn together to begin our day.

Some people find winters long and weary, but for me, winter is the time for cuddling lambs.

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MORE FROM DYAN:

HOMEGROWN-life-dyan-150x150Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK