Some Pictures of Spring!

Tom Erick­son mod­el­ing our new bee suit with accessories
our geor­gian fire gar­lic start­ing to sprout 
the ducks enjoy­ing fresh green grass
the good news: our ducks have start­ing lay­ing eggs
the bad news: they’ve been lay­ing them in the pond
prepar­ing beds to plant sugar snap and snow peas 
fenc­ing in a wood­land pas­ture in antic­i­pa­tion of our new breed sow com­ing home!
fix­ing up the garage
orga­niz­ing the garage (very VERY excit­ing)! There’s noth­ing like spring cleaning…
Egg­plant and tomato seedlings enjoy­ing the indoor light table

The Month of October (in brief) So Far

Well the leaves are finally turn­ing col­ors, even though the tem­per­a­ture is stay­ing warm. Mean­while, the gar­den con­tin­ues to pro­duce a impres­sive amount. Our toma­toes, sum­mer squash and cucum­bers may have long since been com­posted, but egg­plants and pep­pers are still going strong and we have more than enough beets, car­rots and turnips to go around. The last Carlisle Sum­mer Farmer’s Mar­ket is tomor­row, and Mom and I have been har­vest­ing all day.

Brus­sel sprouts, leeks, car­rots and beets

We also have tons of greens that are enjoy­ing to cooler weather: let­tuce, pak choy, kale, swiss chard, cab­bage, col­lard greens, arugula, the list goes on. In order to extend our greens sea­son, we bought a Quick Hoop High Tun­nel Ben­derfrom Johnny’s Selected Seeds web­site and erected a very rudi­men­tary hoop house.

Dave bolt­ing two bent pipes together
The first hoop

Basi­cally, the hoop house is just fence rails bent to the same curve and then bolted together to form a half cir­cle. They are then inserted into shorter, wider sec­tions of pipe that are ham­mered into the ground. One last rail along the top of the hoops pro­vides stability.

Next week we are plan­ning on installing the plas­tic over the top, which will then be lashed to the frame with para­chute cord. With this added cover, we are hop­ing to keep grow­ing greens well into the winter.

All the win­ter squash has been har­vested from the sec­ond field and put them into the green­house to dry and cure. Now that the sec­ond field has been com­pletely har­vested, we’re get­ting ready to till it next week. We’re plan­ning on expand­ing it out towards the pig a bit to give our­selves a bit more room for next year.
We went up to the Com­mon Ground Fair  in Unity, Maine a cou­ple weeks ago (a really good time for any­one inter­ested in local food, rural liv­ing and/or home­steading). The fair, aside from hav­ing craft and food tents as far as the eye can see, also includes a lot of work­shops. We took the oppor­tu­nity to learn a lit­tle bit more about sheep care and lamb­ing, and I bought a drop spin­dle so I could start prac­tic­ing spin­ning wool. It’s not easy.
Our five ewes are set­tling in nicely. In prepa­ra­tion for the ram that’s com­ing in the end of Novem­ber, we have plans to fence in the front pas­ture — and are in the midst of try­ing to find the cheap­est, eas­i­est and most effec­tive way to accom­plish this goal. We were cau­tioned not to try to keep a ram behind flimsy, tem­po­rary elec­tric fence, and any­way we need to cre­ate a per­ma­nent pas­ture for our preg­nant ewes to live in all win­ter (since the portable elec­tric fence is also too flimsy to stand up to snow).
The front pasture

Look for­ward to the thrilling con­clu­sion to this fenc­ing story in a cou­ple of weeks…

As well as an update on our pigs…
And my thoughts on how won­der­ful CSAs are…
All com­ing soon.
But until then…
Happy Fall!

Fencing Plot

Here is the plot I made for our elec­tric fenc­ing. I mea­sured all the dis­tances with a 200′ tape mea­sure and marked trees that I could use as posts with orange tape as I went. Then, I over­laid this plan onto an exist­ing map of the prop­erty that I have.

I for­got to put on the map that the size of the small field is 100’x50’. I sent this into Wellscroft and I’m wait­ing to hear back on a quote.

There’s more than one way to fence a pig

Hello, blog read­ers. This is my first blog post ever. Gal­lagher has been threat­en­ing to rescind my abil­ity to post for months, but I finally did it! Hope­fully, I will get used to this and be a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor in the future.

On Sat­ur­day I went to a fenc­ing clinic at Wellscroft Farm in south­ern New Hamp­shire. There they oper­ate both a work­ing live­stock farm and and a fenc­ing com­pany called Wellscroft Fenc­ing Sys­tems. They are very nice, very help­ful, and extremely knowl­edge­able peo­ple. The owner, David Ken­nard, in addi­tion to being a full time farmer and boarder col­lie breeder/trainer, is also the self-proclaimed “Portable Net Fenc­ing KING of New Eng­land.” It was a great clinic and I learned A LOT about fenc­ing in one day.  When I told peo­ple I was going to an elec­tric fenc­ing clinic 1 1/2 hours away from the farm, the reac­tions were some­what mixed. Most peo­ple were sup­port­ive, but some basi­cally said, “why would you need to go to a clinic?” I am an elec­tri­cian after all (albeit not a licensed one), and there­fore the assump­tion is that I should be able to hook a stu­pid wire up to a fence and not elec­tro­cute myself too badly in the process. How hard could it be? This is some­what true. The answer is that I did not go to the clinic to learn how a fence ener­gizer works, or what the dif­fer­ence between volt­age and amper­age is. I luck­ily already under­stand these con­cepts. What makes fenc­ing com­pli­cated and worth learn­ing about, for me, is that there are so many dif­fer­ent options and vari­a­tions, so many ways to do it. And believe me, its very con­fus­ing and frus­trat­ing to design a fenc­ing sys­tem if you have no expe­ri­ence with it. My rea­son for going to the clinic was to deter­mine the best, most effi­cient (both in terms of work and cost) method for fenc­ing my pigs and specif­i­cally what equip­ment I would need. I fig­ured it would be easy one stop shop­ping. I’d sit and lis­ten to a lit­tle sales pitch, ask some ques­tions, and buy what I needed.

The clinic was sur­pris­ingly well attended—around 100 peo­ple showed up at 8:30 for cof­fee and donuts, fol­lowed by a fast paced talk by David Ken­nard on the basics of elec­tric fenc­ing. In 2 ½ hours he cov­ered how fence ener­giz­ers work, the dif­fer­ent types of ener­giz­ers (AC, bat­tery, solar), ground­ing tech­niques, light­ning pro­tec­tion, mon­i­tor­ing volt­age and trou­bleshoot­ing, train­ing ani­mals to the fence, dif­fer­ent types of elec­tric fenc­ing (per­ma­nent, semi-permanent, and portable), and much more.


A few things that I took away from this talk:

  • Ener­gizer all have the same basic inter­nal com­po­nents in that they all run off DC (direct cur­rent, e.g. bat­ter­ies) power. The AC (alter­nat­ing cur­rent, e.g. an out­let in your home) mod­els sim­ply have a rec­ti­fier built in and the solar mod­els are sim­ply DC bat­tery pow­ered units that have solar pan­els attached to to them. Many of the mod­els can run off of AC or DC right out of the box. If you want to run it off a bat­tery, you just need to buy a 12v deep cycle marine or reg­u­lar car bat­tery. If you want to run it solar, you need to buy a bat­tery and a solar panel.

  • Ani­mals need to be trained to the fence. The best way to do this is to set up the elec­tric fence inside of an exist­ing per­ma­nent fence or pen. Then you bait the fence leav­ing some grain or other food right on the other side of it. Once the ani­mal gets a shock they will not test it again. It is espe­cially impor­tant with pigs to train them with a wooden or wire fence behind the elec­tric fence because pigs, unlike other ani­mals, will often charge through the elec­tric fence the first time they get a shock.

  • Ground­ing is extremely impor­tant. If your fence, clogged with weeds and grass, is a bet­ter ground than your actual ground rod, then you have a prob­lem. The fence must be clean and you need at least one 4′ long gal­va­nized steel ground rod dri­ven, prefer­ably into damp soil. The wet­ter the bet­ter. You can even ground straight into a pond if you have one nearby. Addi­tional ground rods can be added as needed, but must be 10′ apart. And finally, all ground rods for your fence must me more than 30′ from your util­ity ground, or you will get elec­tri­cal inter­fer­ence on your 120v sys­tem.

  • If you need to ground a portable sys­tem quickly, and don’t want to drive a rod 4′ into the ground, you can take a sec­tion of fence or of wire mesh, attach your ground wire to it, and then just throw it down flat on the grass. Just make sure not to touch it once the sys­tem is on.

After the talk, we took a tour of the farm and David showed us all of the dif­fer­ent types of fenc­ing in action. This was extremely help­ful because it became more and more clear how ben­e­fi­cial elec­tric fenc­ing can be when it is set up exten­sively as a sys­tem to con­trol the entire farm. David talked a lot about rota­tional graz­ing and how he has designed his fenc­ing sys­tem with this model in mind. Rota­tional graz­ing is so impor­tant in any sus­tain­able live­stock model, and portable fenc­ing is what makes it pos­si­ble, both in terms of cost and labor, for small and large pro­duc­ers alike.

Inten­sive rota­tional graz­ing (IRG) is a pas­ture man­age­ment tech­nique that results in highly effi­cient usage of pas­ture as for­age as well as restora­tion of nutri­ents to the soil and an increased bio­mass. Graz­ing ani­mals are con­fined to a sec­tion of pas­ture for a brief period of time (the area and time are depen­dent on the type and num­ber of graz­ers) while the other sec­tions of pas­ture are allowed to rest. The idea is to find the right ratio of graz­ers to pas­ture size so that the for­age is con­sumed at an even rate and the manure is evenly spread. If you put 5 pigs on an acre of land, then they are going to poop in one spot, eat some grass here and there, root up some spots here, and maybe not even touch some areas. But if you take those pigs and you put them in a 1/4 acre or even smaller, then they will start to graze, root, and spread their manure more evenly.

After the pas­ture is exhausted (but not destroyed), the ani­mals are moved to another sec­tion and the pre­vi­ous sec­tion is allowed to recover. The ani­mals are pro­vided with unlim­ited fresh for­age. The manure begins to break down and seep into the soil prov­ing it with nutri­ents nec­es­sary to regrow. And if the tim­ing is right, this process keeps going on and on. Its really a beau­ti­ful thing.

This sys­tem work with any rumi­nants or non-ruminants that can get a por­tion of their diet from for­age. And it works espe­cially well when you bring more than one type of ani­mal into play. One of my favorite farm­ers, Joel Salatin, is the mas­ter of find­ing ways to achieve sym­bio­sis on the farm, to have every­thing play its part and in doing so cre­ate a closed loop. After his cows have exhausted a sec­tion of pas­ture, they move on to another and he moves his lay­ing hens onto the grazed down land. The lay­ing hens for­age for what­ever is left and also pick apart the fresh cow pat­ties look­ing for the insects that are already hatch­ing inside them. This breaks the manure down so it can leech into the field more efficiently.


 

pigs enclosed in a small pad­dock using pig netting

For our 4 pigs, we have about an acre of pas­ture and prob­a­bly 1 1/2 acres of woods. The plan that I have come up with after attend­ing the clinic is to sur­round the entire area with a perime­ter fence and then use net fenc­ing specif­i­cally designed for pigs to seg­ment it off into pad­docks. The perime­ter fence could and prob­a­bly should be per­ma­nent fenc­ing, ide­ally high ten­sile wire, but I don’t have the money for that. So I am going to install a semi-permanent fence using 2–3 strands of poly rope and I am going to run it through the woods using as many trees as pos­si­ble as posts. The perime­ter fence will run through the woods and then across the back of the pas­ture, through another sec­tion of woods and then back along the tree line, cre­at­ing a big U shape. I will then use one or two lines of pig net­ting to cre­ate a nar­row slice con­tain­ing pas­ture and woods that will be about ¼ acre total. The best thing about cre­at­ing the perime­ter fence is that it becomes my power source. I can put the ener­gizer at the begin­ning of the fence, which is close enough to an out­let to run it off AC, and then it will run all the way out though the woods to the far end of the field. So, when I set up my pig net­ting, all I need to do is clip it onto the perime­ter fence and it is ready to go. I will post a map of the fenc­ing plan soon.


 

We are con­sid­er­ing using elec­tric fenc­ing for the veg­etable fields as well. We need to keep both small crit­ters and deer out, so the plan is to use a 30” tall gar­den net­ting for the crit­ters and then run 2 strands of elec­tric tape above it to keep out deer. Small ani­mals will not dig under elec­tric fenc­ing like they will under con­ven­tional wire fences because their first instinct is to test the fence before dig­ging. Since I am already buy­ing the fence ener­gizer for the pigs, the cost of buy­ing the fenc­ing for the gar­den will cer­tainly be cheaper than putting in a per­ma­nent fence and it comes with the added ben­e­fit of being able to take it down in the fall if we need to plow again.