A Look At Last Summer

I’ve been spend­ing some time recently look­ing back at pic­tures and video I shot last year.  It’s amaz­ing how much the farm has changed in such short time.  It’s also remark­able how much fur­ther along we are this year than we were at the same time last year.  For exam­ple, last year at this time we had JUST started form­ing the rows of our main garden.

 

I also came across some video I shot one morn­ing last August with my sister’s Canon 60D.  It’s excit­ing to think that the gar­den will soon look like it does in this video.

 

Meet the Newest Member of the BBFg Team: Diamond! (plus new piglets, chicks etc.)

First of all, I hope that you’re all enjoy­ing our new site. Aside from hav­ing a sleek new ban­ner, some new pages and a bet­ter URL address, our web­site also makes it pos­si­ble to reserve meat online using Pay­pal. Just got to our Pre-Buy Meat Online page.

 

I’ve been mean­ing to post for a very long time, but so much has been hap­pen­ing around here that I didn’t really know where to start. How­ever, yes­ter­day there was a big enough change that I couldn’t help but come online and share it with all of you…

Meet Dia­mond!

Meet Dia­mond, our new llama from Pel­ham, NH. Dave and I just went to pick him up yes­ter­day, and so far he’s exceeded our expec­ta­tions for awesomeness.

 

I’m get­ting ahead of myself though. This all started because we’ve been look­ing into find­ing some other pas­tures for our sheep to graze on this sum­mer. Because we bred all our ewes to a Finn ram, a breed that’s known to throw triplets, quadru­plets or even quin­tu­plets, I’ve been get­ting a lit­tle ner­vous that we were going to end up with more sheep than we have pas­ture for at Black Brook Farm. Add to this worry the fact that we’ve been get­ting very lit­tle rain so far this year, and we have to ready our­selves for the pos­si­bil­ity of a very dry sum­mer, and you can see why we might want some back up fields. How­ever, the more we talked to peo­ple, the more obvi­ous it became that there was no way that we could put our sheep out on pas­ture some­where with­out pro­tec­tion against coy­otes. Dave and I have yet to see a coy­ote since we moved to BBF (which could be because of all the bark­ing dogs, or the horses, or just blind luck) but there are surely coy­otes in these woods too — so that’s where Dia­mond comes in! We researched some dif­fer­ent ways to pro­tect our girls and their babies from preda­tors — guard dogs, per­ma­nent struc­tures — but a llama seemed like the best solu­tion. Dia­mond eats the same things that sheep do (unlike a dog), he doesn’t require any spe­cial train­ing, and he’ll stay behind 4′ elec­tronet fenc­ing! Plus, he’s a per­fect gen­tle­man, and appar­ently has never spit at a human, he just doesn’t like coy­otes. There’s lots of infor­ma­tion about guard lla­mas online, but here’s a nice suc­cinct study if you want to read more:  http://www.sprucelane.com/guardllamas.pdf.

The ewes check­ing Dia­mond out

So hand­some!

 

The sheep also have got­ten sheared and look more preg­nant than ever! We’ve expect­ing lambs to drop any day now.

Before

Dur­ing…

 

After

 

And now, finally, our new baby chicks and piglets…We were on our way up to get our breed sow from Ver­mont when we got a call that she had had a mis­car­riage, so we decided to go with piglets instead. It’s sad that we’re not going to get a big beau­ti­ful pig momma, and that we didn’t get to see our piglets birthed, but it’s nice to have con­trol over exactly how many piglets we have (six right now!) I’m just going to post some pic­tures, and I’ll write more later. It’s almost 9 AM and there are things to do today so I have to wrap this up.

Baby chicks under the heat lamp

 

More baby chicks (note all those feet under the heat box)

 

Com­ing home in the trailer

 

Chow­ing down on whey

 

And finally, the pic­ture you’ve all been wait­ing for…

Our new sign!

Chicken Processing Day Meets Hurricane Irene

The last two days have been pretty excit­ing. Yes­ter­day we processed our 75 meat chick­ens, which would have been a daunt­ing enough job with­out the threat of Irene bar­ing down on us.

Fri­day, Mom and I har­vested as many toma­toes from the gar­den as we could in antic­i­pa­tion of the storm and sorted them out to store in the garage. We also rushed to stake down and secure the gar­den. Mean­while, Dave set up every­thing nec­es­sary for pro­cess­ing day. Our last pro­cess­ing day went pretty well (see here for details), but it took about 16 hours and there were clearly improve­ments to be made. Also, this time we were pro­cess­ing 75 birds instead of 36. We wanted to make sure that we were com­pletely pre­pared for so many birds and so we made sure that every­thing was in order before we went to sleep Fri­day night. Very thank­fully, our bravest friend Marka Kiley came out of Boston to help us for the week­end. Sat­ur­day, we all woke up extra early and Dave and I went out in the dark to catch the chick­ens. We got off to a good start, started the pro­cess­ing at about 6:30 AM and were done by 1 PM. Thanks to Marka’s help, as well as sev­eral oth­ers, we were able to qual­ity con­trol and pack­age the birds as we went, so the sec­ond half of the day went quickly and we were com­pletely cleaned up by 5. Mother nature helped us clean by pro­vid­ing some drench­ing after­noon rains. It was a long day, but sat­is­fy­ing. Pro­cess­ing chick­ens is never fun, but we did the best job we could. We made sure that the chick­ens went to their deaths with min­i­mum dis­com­fort and that their meat was treated with the respect it deserves. All of Dave’s work plan­ning and prepar­ing really paid off.

Mean­while, Dave’s mom Tammy had four pots of our toma­toes bub­bling on the stove all day and into the night, work­ing hard to can, freeze and oth­er­wise pre­serve as much of our crop as pos­si­ble. Between her hard work, and my mom’s efforts to secure us some big restau­rant sales, it looks like none of our toma­toes are going to go to waste.

This morn­ing we got 4 inches of rain, but luck­ily, the hur­ri­cane was tamer than we had feared it would be and, other than a few blown down tomato trel­lises and (pos­si­bly) the loss of our corn crop, it looks like the gar­den is going to be okay. The chick­ens are safely in the refrig­er­a­tor and freezer (we didn’t even lose power!) and we can relax — and blog.

Our tomato bounty and Mom’s new vespa
Sort­ing cherry tomatoes
Before (tune in tomor­row for After pics)
Artsy Pic: to remem­ber them by in case they were all blown over
CHICKEN PROCESSING PICTURES (you’ve been warned…)
Kill Cones
Scalder
Plucker
Our bravest friend Marka
Lynda, another brave friend
Hur­ri­cane Irene

Free Range

Alright, as usual these days I don’t have a lot of time, so I’m going to jump right in…

With the addi­tion of a new back­yard dog fence, we’ve finally been able to let our layer hens really free range. We’ve been putting the dogs away mid after­noon every day and our chick­ens have been wan­der­ing around as they please.
free chicken!
Our dark cor­nish chicks are get­ting really big and are almost ready to go out into the chicken trac­tor. We’ve moved the chicken trac­tor out into the pas­ture with the pigs and Dave’s been mak­ing improve­ments, more on that later.

Mean­while, despite some pretty crazy weather this June — 90 degrees one day and then 50 degrees, cold and rainy for the next five (thanks global warm­ing!) — the gar­den is look­ing good.

Teepees for pole beans, and in the top right hand cor­ner you can see where we’ve cov­ered the kale with row cov­ers — to keep pests away
Despite a rough stretch after trans­plant­ing (you can see that the lower leaves look kind of unhealthy) the new growth on this egg­plant looks great!
baby pak cho
a very happy look­ing tomato plant
…and baby tomatoes!
brus­sel sprouts

There’s so much going on here every­day that I’ve had a hard time keep­ing up. I real­ized that I’d for­got­ten to men­tion that we’ve been sell­ing at the Carlisle farmer’s mar­ket all this month! It’s been a slow start to the sea­son for us, mostly because we were so behind till­ing the field, but we’ve man­aged to have enough greens and eggs to hold our own. This last Sat­ur­day we had sugar snap peas, beets, let­tuce, herbs, flow­ers and strawberry-mulberry and goat-cheese and dill scones.

We’ve also been sell­ing our deli­cious eggs to a restau­rant in town, 80 Thoreau, where they’re fea­tured on their farm salad. See the menu here.
This week­end we’re going to be one of the ven­dors at Old Home Day in Carlisle. In addi­tion to our rapidly grow­ing pro­duce selec­tion and scones, we’re also hope­fully going to be sell­ing some of Dave’s freshly baked bread. Come visit us if you can!
Lovely lit­tle sour­dough loaves being proofed

My last week in pictures

 

Installing the irri­ga­tion system
The trans­plant­ing begins! Lettuce…
Egg­plants…
Toma­toes, toma­toes, tomatoes!
The trel­lises start going in (thanks to Bob Hannan)
The egg­plants must be cov­ered to pro­tect against bugs and wind
And this morn­ing, baby chicks! Dark Cor­nishes, they look like lit­tle tigers

Rainy Week

Those of you who live in the Mass­a­chu­setts area can prob­a­bly empathize with me when I say that this past week has been the absolute worst.

We woke up on Mon­day morn­ing and real­ized almost imme­di­ately that there was no way we were going to be able to per­form the final till on Wednes­day, it was cold, rainy and dreary and — accord­ing to the weather report — there was no end in sight. Nat­u­rally, this real­iza­tion was fol­lowed by a cou­ple hours of mop­ing, finger-pointing and rock-kicking. Why hadn’t we paid atten­tion to the weather report and tilled on Fri­day when it was still sunny and dry? What were we going to do all week in the mud and the rain? Was our sum­mer har­vest ruined by one poor deci­sion? Was it a poor deci­sion? What was worse, to till too soon and face the weeds or to be plant­ing our field at the very end of May? And what to do with all those crazy two month old tomato plants over­run­ning the greenhouse????
Well I’m writ­ing now to say, we did it! We slogged through the muddy, rainy week and now we’re pulling our­selves out the other side alive and well (except for a cou­ple of chick­ens — but that’s a story for another post). We planted some more in the kitchen gar­den, did some Spring clean­ing, built a shel­ter for the pigs and got the tomato plants out­side where they’re hard­en­ing off. Now we’re glued to the weather report  hop­ing it’s going to dry out in the next cou­ple of days so we can get our fields up and run­ning and our trans­plants in the ground. Who knows if we made the “right” deci­sion, or if there even is a “right” deci­sion, but we’re forg­ing ahead.
And as the weather improves, so do our moods. I see sun so I’ve got to get out­side, but here are some pictures.
We’re using a cou­ple empty raised beds to keep tomato plants out­side. We have wire hoops ready if we need to tarp them against the cold at night.
Flower trans­plants
Build­ing the pig shelter

Outdoor Chickens

When I got a fever two weeks ago I fig­ured that my num­ber had finally come up and I had got­ten the flu. After a painful, sweaty and bor­ing three days in bed I felt much bet­ter and got back to work. Five days later a huge rash broke out on my neck. Unlucky again, I thought, I’ve swiped my neck with a work glove cov­ered in poi­son ivy. Easy enough to believe, con­sid­er­ing I’d spent the last month brush clear­ing and burn­ing. How­ever, this last Sun­day when I col­lapsed into bed with another fever, the rash still itch­ing and burn­ing on my neck, I started to put two and two together and real­ized that maybe this was more than just a string of bad luck. Sure enough, a visit to the emer­gency room later, it was con­firmed, I have Lyme dis­ease. Lyme dis­ease is a pretty nasty tick-borne ill­ness, and even though the antibi­otics I’m on have got­ten rid of my fever and most of my rash, they’ve left me pretty weak and tired.

Need­less to say, this news has made the last cou­ple of days pretty stress­ful for Dave, who has been forced to do all the heavy lift­ing on the farm (instead of just most of it). Luck­ily my mom’s here every­day to help. She’s been han­dling the green­house, the kitchen gar­den and the lay­ing hens while Dave’s been work­ing on get­ting the meat birds out­side and ready­ing our tem­po­rary pen for the piglets. In the last week we’ve lost a hand­ful of chicks, which has been pretty heart­break­ing. We are in charge of all of these frag­ile lit­tle lives, and although we know that it’s inevitable that we’re going to lose some, it doesn’t make it any eas­ier. A major­ity of the chicks that died appeared to have been smoth­ered by the rest of the flock. This can hap­pen when they get too hot or too cold and all clump together, but we were pretty sure that it was also because they were get­ting way too big for their brooder. We felt as if we really needed to get them out­side and into some fresh air and sun­shine. As always, the weather wasn’t mak­ing it easy for us. Dave’s new chicken bible, Joel Salatin’s book Pas­tured Poul­try Prof­its, had instructed him that it was best to put the chicks out on a dry, sunny day. If the chicks are exposed to heavy rains too quickly they can get wet and cold, or drown, and die. With fore­casts of rain for Wednes­day and today, we knew that we had to get the chicks out fast, or risk los­ing more in the brooder this week.

The frame was all set, but the trac­tor still needed chicken wire sides and cor­ru­gated roof­ing. Luck­ily, a local farmer gave us the roof­ing for free (the only cost was Dave’s time pry­ing it off the roof of an old shed with a crow­bar) and so all day Mon­day and Tues­day morn­ing, while I lay in bed recov­er­ing, Dave fin­ished up the trac­tor. Tues­day at around 10:30 AM we moved the chicks in (I watched). We decided to only move out half at first, just to see how they would do and open up some much needed room in the brooder.

Mov­ing the chicks in
Our Chicken Trac­tor. 10′ x 12′ x 2′
Home sweet home

If you look at the trac­tor from the angle above, the back half is cov­ered on all sides by cor­ru­gated steel roof­ing while the front half has chicken wire sides. Both the roof pan­els on the front half are remov­able. The left-hand side con­tains the waterer and the right hand side con­tains the feeder trough. It is nec­es­sary to have 3/4 of the trac­tor cov­ered by roof­ing because the chick­ens need a lot of escape from the sun, as they can eas­ily over­heat. We copied the trac­tor from Joel Salatin’s design. You can watch a great video about it here:

We moved the trac­tor for the first time this morn­ing to a new for­ag­ing spot. It went well, aside from the fact that it’s heav­ier than we would have liked. Salatin specif­i­cally rec­om­mends that you don’t use cor­ru­gated steel for the roof (it’s much heav­ier than alu­minum), but since we got it for free we couldn’t really be picky. Luck­ily, we only have to move it 12′ a day, just enough to give the chicks fresh grass. Even though there was still a lot for them to eat in the first spot, it’s nec­es­sary to move the trac­tor at least every two days as their feces will start to grow bacteria.

The rest of the chicks are going to go out tomor­row morn­ing, after the threat of rain and cold has past. Until then, they’ll have to con­tent them­selves with their new feeder. They’ve got­ten MUCH too big for the old one.

This feeder is just a piece of 4″ PVC pipe cut in half with ply­wood stands on either side. We’re get­ting bet­ter at cut­ting costs everyday.

Some Other Things We’ve Been Doing:
* Turn­ing over any sod clumps that the plow didn’t catch out in the field. It’s impor­tant that the grass is under­ground so it rots and doesn’t con­tinue to grow. We’re plan­ning on har­row­ing the field on Sun­day. We’ve also been try­ing to pick out any rocks.
* Trans­plant­ing TONS of toma­toes, pep­pers and egg­plants in the green­house, and plant­ing brus­sel sprouts and late sea­son cab­bage.
* Seed­ing the kitchen gar­den with greens so we’ll have some­thing for the first farm­ers mar­ket.
* Get­ting ready for the piglets. We decided to wait until Mon­day to go pick them up, so hope­fully I’ll feel bet­ter by then.