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!

Pigs on Pasture!

The pigs are graz­ing, root­ing, sniff­ing, and explor­ing their new pas­ture. They are so happy I can’t describe it in words. As soon as I released them from their tem­po­rary train­ing pen, they started eagerly explor­ing the whole area and soon were run­ning and run­ning all over the place. Its a truly beau­ti­ful sight.

Tran­si­tion­ing the pigs to pas­ture took some plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion, but in the end it went very smoothly. After I got their A-frame sit­u­ated in the field, I built a tem­po­rary pen for elec­tric fence train­ing. I pounded some U-posts into the ground and then just built up some walls with skids and old boards. It was not very pretty, but it was easy to set up and it served its purpose.

I built three sides of the pen and then set up the elec­tric net­ting as the fourth wall. Then I set up more boards on the other side of the net­ting. This is the secret to train­ing pigs to the fence. Pigs don’t have the best eye­sight so the thin strands of the net­ting are eas­ily missed. Putting up a phys­i­cal bar­rier behind the net serves two pur­poses. It helps them see the net­ting bet­ter and it pre­vents them from barg­ing through the net­ting in panic when they first get shocked, which is often their instinc­tual reaction.

When the day finally arrived for the big move, I put up some tem­po­rary ply­wood sides on the bed of my pick-up truck and filled it with hay. Then I backed it right up to their pen in the barn­yard and my dad posi­tioned him­self in the truck while Gal­lagher and I caught the pig­gies one by one and handed them up to him. Gal­lagher used a 4x4 piece of ply­wood to help herd the pigs into a cor­ner and then I swooped in and grabbed a hind leg. The pigs are about 50 lbs. now I would guess–I won’t be able to pick them up pretty soon! Pick­ing them up by the a hind leg is the best way to do it. It doesn’t hurt them and they don’t strug­gle very much as soon as you have them in the air, but they do scream. They’re not in any pain, but they scream bloody mur­der. Its so loud it really does hurt your ears. And then the sec­ond you set them down on their feet again and let go, they stop.
We got them all in the truck very quickly and they stood calmly for their slow ride out to pas­ture­land. We backed the truck up to the pen and did the exact oppo­site maneu­ver. All of them got a shock from the fence within sec­onds of explor­ing their new space and quickly learned to avoid that wall as they went about rip­ping up the grass and root­ing around for bugs.

Soon they were right at home. They were in the pen for two days to make sure they had been trained, then this morn­ing I took down the walls and let them roam. As they explored the pad­dock, just like the rap­tors in Juras­sic Park, they each tested the fence in a few places, got a shock, let out a brief yelp, and scur­ried back in the other direc­tion. What smart pigs! I’m so proud of them.

New House for the Pigs

I recently com­pleted the pig’s new shel­ter for when they are relo­cated onto pas­ture. I knew that I wanted to build a sim­ple A-frame for them, so I looked around online and found some plans from an exten­sion ser­vice from the 60s. This is a very clas­sic design. The only dif­fer­ence is that the plans called for doors, but I decided not to add them because it just doesn’t seem nec­es­sary. My pigs won’t be around in the win­ter and if at some point I do keep pigs over win­ter, they prob­a­bly wont be out on pas­ture any­way. This is sim­ply the pig’s sum­mer home.

My goal was to build the house as inex­pen­sively as pos­si­ble and to use as many free/recycled mate­ri­als as I could find. At first I thought it was going to be dif­fi­cult to get what I needed for free since its all dimen­sional lum­ber and sheet goods, but it worked out pretty well. After a some­what awk­ward con­ver­sa­tion with the lum­ber­yard man­ager at Lit­tle­ton Lum­ber, they took me around back and fork­lifted down a huge stack of 2x4s and 2x6s for me. They were all recy­cled and had lots of nail holes and some sta­ples in them. And they were pretty twisted and checked, but there were a lot of long lengths, a bunch of 16′ and 12’ers. So I said thank you very much and took the whole stack.
I had 5 sheets of Tex­ture 1–11 ply­wood which were left over from some project. I found them in the garage and I have no idea how they got there. Tex­ture 1–11 is ply­wood that some­what resem­bles barn boards. Its kind of hokey stuff, but it was free and for this pur­pose it actu­ally was per­fect. It looks nicer than nor­mal exte­rior ply­wood at least.
I was really happy with how effi­ciently I was able to use my mate­ri­als. I used all 5 sheets of the tex­ture 1–11, with very lit­tle scrap left over. The tri­an­gu­larly shaped sec­tions in the pic above were all cut out from one 8′ long strip. The only mate­ri­als that I ended up buy­ing were:
(2) pres­sure treated 4x4s (for skids)
(2) 4x8 sheets 3/4″ exte­rior grade ply­wood (for the floor)
(1) gal­va­nized steel ridge roll
screws, glue, and paint
All together, I don’t think I spent more than $150.
All the fram­ing I did with dry­wall screws and then I attached the ply­wood to the frame with glue and nails (using my new fin­ish nailer). I found this glue that Tite­bond makes called Interior/Exterior Wood Con­struc­tion Adhe­sive which I really liked. You apply it with a caulk gun so its great for these projects when you need to get a lot of glue on quickly.
I took an old can of paint from when the barn was re-painted and got it cloned so the pig house matches all the outbuildings.
I drilled through the skids and installed a loop of chain with 1/2″ hex bolts so that the house can quickly be hooked up to the trac­tor. The house will be mov­ing every month or so with the pigs as they are rotated through the pasture.
And here it is, all the way out at the end of the field! I can’t wait to get the pigs out there. I will be set­ting up the fenc­ing tomor­row, so hope­fully I’ll be mov­ing the pigs in a few days.

Welcome Home Piglets!

Well, I’m happy to report that the doxy­cy­cline seems to be doing it’s job and this week is promis­ing to be much bet­ter than the last one.

Just in time too, because we had four lit­tle piglets wait­ing for us in New Hamp­shire. Yes­ter­day morn­ing Dave put the fin­ish­ing touches on our piglet pen, we packed a cou­ple sand­wiches (and some of Becca Chapman’s famous oat­meal wal­nut pecan cook­ies), threw a cou­ple of old large dog crates in the back of the truck and pre­pared to make the trip north.

I made their bed for them
Dave’s Pig Trough
This pen used to belong to Wilbur, the Viet­namese Pot-bellied pig. But since he’s decided he’s more com­fort­able in the barn, it seemed like the per­fect place to keep our pig­gies for the first cou­ple weeks that they’re here before we’re ready to put them out to pasture.
After a beau­ti­ful two hour drive we arrived in Bath, NH, home to Clin­ton and his pig farm. We’ve emailed back and forth with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent poten­tial piglet sell­ers in the last cou­ple of months, some much closer to us than North­ern New Hamp­shire, but Clin­ton had impressed us both with his knowl­edge and his love of pigs. His barn con­tains tons of mama pigs and their lit­ters, and they all seem very happy and healthy. Clin­ton was hon­est, straight-forward and full of infor­ma­tion. In addi­tion, the piglets that we received had already been wormed and cas­trated, and were guar­an­teed not to die (he promised to replace them if they did).
Clinton’s Pig Farm
Clin­ton allowed us to pick from a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent lit­ters. We quickly iden­ti­fied which lit­ter was our favorite, and decided to take all our piglets from that one mama. It’s okay to mix lit­ters, but the pigs will often squab­ble at first, and we just liked the idea of keep­ing the broth­ers and sis­ters together so they would be more com­fort­able when we got them home. We picked out two match­ing red boys with black snouts, a white boy with a brown face and spot, and one lit­tle feisty girl with a white stripe across her back. We ruled out another larger girl because her tail was hang­ing straight and loose, which is often a sign that a pig isn’t feel­ing very well. Clin­ton picked them up one at a time by their back legs, try­ing to avoid the mama who appar­ently has a mean streak and is extra pro­tec­tive of her piglets, and loaded them into our dog crates. We had filled them with lots of hay to keep the piglets cozy and com­fort­able, and wrapped a tarp over the top to keep them out of the wind.
We checked on them once at a gas sta­tion on the way home and they seemed very com­fort­able and happy. Once we got them home, we placed them one by one in their new bed and watched as they rooted around in the hay for a lit­tle while and then stepped out to explore and dig around in their new pig pen.
In Other News:
The fence has been put up around the kitchen gar­den, so now we can start really plant­ing the raised beds in earnest.
Dave also har­rowed the field on Sun­day, so all the big sod clumps are bro­ken up and buried. Only one more week (to let the sod really break down under­ground) and we can start planting!
Disc Har­row: dragged behind a trac­tor, it cuts through strips of sod and breaks up the soil
Com­ing Soon: Piglet videos!
Mean­while…

Welcome Back Wilbur!

Where to begin…?

Although we haven’t quite eked past the last pro­jected frost date (around May 1st in East­ern MA), it feels like it’s offi­cially Spring. There’s green grass, buds com­ing out on the trees, Kimball’s farm ice cream stand is open for the sea­son, and Wilbur, the Viet­namese pot-belly pig (not for eat­ing, although he does sound like he would be deli­cious in a spring roll) has emerged from his den in the back of the barn and I can see him graz­ing in the fields from my win­dow — which is open by the way. I seem to have got­ten in the habit of always start­ing my posts with a com­ment on the weather, but it’s pretty much all we’ve been think­ing about around here. When’s it going to be dry enough to till the field? Is it warm enough to open up the green­house? Is it still too cold for us to buy meat bird chicks and put them out to pas­ture? Every deci­sion we make requires input from Mother Nature. 

Bio­dy­namic Sow­ing and Plant­ing Calendar

There are some that argue that when tak­ing cues from our envi­ron­ment we should be pay­ing atten­tion to more than just the local weather report. I’ve been read­ing a lit­tle bit about bio­dy­namic agri­cul­ture, which is an organic method of farm­ing that empha­sizes how inter­de­pen­dent the plants, ani­mals and soil on a farm are. Like many forms of organic agri­cul­ture, bio­dy­namic farm­ing is about cre­at­ing farms that are closed loops. This bal­ance is made pos­si­ble through the inte­gra­tion of crops and live­stock, the recy­cling of nutri­ents, and the main­te­nance of soil — no out­side assis­tance or pes­ti­cides nec­es­sary. 


In addi­tion, bio­dy­namic farm­ing also con­sid­ers that there are astro­log­i­cal impacts on agri­cul­ture. Most of these impacts are exerted by the moon as it passes through the twelve con­stel­la­tions of the zodiac. Maria Thun (and now her son Matthias) are the author­i­ties on bio­dy­namic astrol­ogy, and have been releas­ing their Bio­dy­namic Sow­ing and Plant­ing Cal­en­dar every year for almost a half a cen­tury. In her most recent cal­en­dar she writes:


“In its 27-day orbit round the Earth the Moon passes through the con­stel­la­tions of the zodiac and trans­mits forces to the Earth which affect the four ele­ments: earth, light (air) water and warmth (fire). They in turn affect the four parts of the plant: the roots, the flower, the leaves and the fruit or seeds. The health and growth of the plant can there­fore be stim­u­lated by sow­ing, cul­ti­vat­ing and har­vest­ing it in tune with the cycles of the Moon.”
pg 10


The cal­en­dar lists the parts of the plant enhanced by the moon and the plan­ets each day. So for exam­ple today, April 14th, the con­stel­la­tion of the moon is Leo and the cor­re­spond­ing ele­ment is heat, so today is a good day for seed­ing veg­eta­bles that pro­duce fruits. There­fore, when I do my plant­ing this after­noon I’m going to seed sum­mer squash and toma­toes. I’ve been try­ing to stick as closely to the cal­en­dar as pos­si­ble, allow­ing for the fact that some­times due to tim­ing and suc­ces­sions I’m going to have to plant a root veg­etable on a leaf day. Many farm­ers that I’ve talked to, even though who claim that they are more con­ven­tional , have said that they’ve noticed huge improve­ments in the qual­ity and yield of their pro­duce when they’ve used the bio­dy­namic cal­en­dar. I guess I’ll just have to see for myself. 


Ready­ing the field


We’ve spent the major­ity of our time these last few weeks get­ting the field ready to be planted. This has involved a lot of brush clear­ing and burn­ing. We had about 10 brush piles on the field, all of which needed to be removed before the first till­ing next week. 


 It was hot and smokey work, but thanks to lots of help from fam­ily we man­aged to get it all done in a cou­ple of days. 

Our soil test indi­cated that we had great soil with a ton of organic mat­ter, but there are some things that it deter­mined we were lack­ing. My mom has been tak­ing a nutri­ent den­sity course with the North­east Organic Farm­ing Asso­ci­a­tion. The NOFA web­site defines “Nutri­ent den­sity [as] a qual­ity goal that is actively sought after in the bio­log­i­cal approach to farm­ing. It refers the nutri­tional con­tent per vol­ume of food we eat.” It seems obvi­ous, but the idea is that the more rich and bal­anced the nutri­ents in our soil are, the health­ier the soil will be, and the more nutri­tious and deli­cious the veg­eta­bles grown in our soil will be as well. Nutri­ent den­sity is a lit­tle bit of a tricky sub­ject, and I don’t yet under­stand it wholy myself, but suf­fice to say we have been col­lect­ing the ele­ments that our soil is lack­ing and we are plan­ning on spread­ing them on the field this week­end before the first till. Hope­fully, these addi­tives will make our soil and our veg­eta­bles health­ier — and, nat­u­rally, those of us eat­ing them health­ier as well. I’ll write more on this later but, if you’re inter­ested in read­ing more now, NOFA has a lot of good infor­ma­tion on their web­site: http://www.nofamass.org/reference/nutrientdensity.php.

Chick­ens

Our chick­ens have been set­tling in nicely and been pro­duc­ing eggs like crazy. After the ini­tial trauma of mov­ing to Mass­a­chu­setts (and the lin­ger­ing trauma of their barn burn­ing down), the new ladies from New Hamp­shire seem to have decided that they’re happy enough to start lay­ing again. In addi­tion, we man­aged to snag another 7 chick­ens from a woman in Con­cord who was mov­ing, and so now our flock is up to 33 birds! 

We had been feed­ing them plain organic feed, but one of the guys from Erickson’s Grain Mill in Acton rec­om­mended that we try organic soy-free feed. The jury’s still out on whether or not soy-free food is bet­ter (espe­cially if it’s already organic and not genet­i­cally mod­i­fied — as most con­ven­tional soy in ani­mal feed is), but there are many argu­ments in favor of soy-free, the best being that it makes our eggs safe for those aller­gic to soy. We were con­vinced as soon as we opened the bag, how­ever, and saw how much bet­ter the feed looked! Finally, food that didn’t just look like lit­tle homoge­nous turds, but instead clearly con­tained pieces of dried corn, grains and all kinds of dif­fer­ent good look­ing stuff! In addi­tion, the chick­ens seem to love it and they’ve been lay­ing like mad since we changed them over. Unfor­tu­nately, they love it a lit­tle too much, we went through a 50 lb bag in less than a week. In order to reduce the amont of money we have to spend on feed, and there­fore keep the price of our eggs rea­son­able, we’ve started sup­ple­ment­ing left-over pro­duce that we get from dif­fer­ent restau­rants and super­mar­kets in the area that oth­er­wise would be throw­ing it away. Now our chick­ens are feast­ing on apples, greens and bananas every morn­ing in addi­tion to their deli­cious new feed, and they seem pretty happy about it. 

Chicken break­fast time!
Pigs

One more piece of excit­ing news: we drove up to New Hamp­shire last week­end and vis­ited our piglets! We’re plan­ning on bring­ing them home in the begin­ning of May. 
This is the lit­ter that (most likely) con­tains the
piglets com­ing home with us in May


Look­ing out my win­dow, I feel a lit­tle jeal­ous of Wilbur who is leisurely enjoy­ing the spring­time. But it feels good to wake up in the morn­ing know­ing that, for most of the day at least, I’ll be out there with him, the sun on my back, even if I am drag­ging brush instead of wad­dling and grazing.