He who has water and peat on his own farm has the world his own way. -Old Irish proverb.

Category: Farm Life (Page 1 of 4)

Scott Russell Sanders

“People who root themselves in places are likelier to know and care for those places

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

than are people who root themselves in ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

When we cease to be migrants and become inhabitants,

 

 

 

 

 

 

we might begin to pay enough heed and respect to where we are.


 

 

 

 

 

By settling in, we have a chance of making a durable home for ourselves,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

our fellow creatures,

 

 

 

 

 

and our descendants.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

–Scott Russell Sanders

Left Behind

People have left many things behind when they come to buy eggs.  They’ve left egg cartons and money in the envelope, of course, but also sippy cups, shopping receipts, toys, etc.

Today someone left behind their child
.

P.S.  We were home, child was playing with the chickens, all was well.

P.S.S. Can it get any crazier than that?

P.S.S.S. Don’t answer that please. I don’t wanna know.

Farm Events Galore

We’ve been busy this spring.  Busy with farm work, yes.  But also busy with events.  Farm events.

The renewed interest in local food has meant that there are a lot of people suddenly interested in and wanting to visit farms.  So far this spring we’ve been the destination for a local elementary school field trip, we participated in our second annual Openfields Farm Tour, and we hosted a Pasture Walk.  All of these events are a lot of fun (and a lot of work). 

The first event, the fieldtrip, brought 20 1st-graders and their parents out to see the chickens.  Each classroom at their school focused on a different farm animal, organized a field trip around that animal, and then reported what they learned back to the others.  They all visited a large farm and a small farm in the same day to see the differences in production styles, which I thought was a brilliant idea.

The kids that came here had first visited Phil’s Fresh Eggs in Forreston.  There they got to see a video about egg production, they got to see the egg washing machines, the egg sorters, the egg packing machines, etc.  Everything is very mechanized–it has to be when you’re packing 150,000 dozen eggs a day (!)–and must be pretty cool to watch, especially for a 1st grader!  But they didn’t get to go in a see the chickens (disease control) and they didn’t get to touch an egg (not quite sure why–couldn’t they spare a couple?).

When they got here, I let them visit the chickens, taught them about the different breeds and showed them the food that we used.  We showed them the baby chicks and explained the difference between those used for meat production and those kept for eggs.  They got to hold the chicks and gather some eggs.  Every single one of them got to candle their own egg, grade it and put it in the appropriate-sized egg carton.  They then took home a few dozen eggs (the teachers insisted on paying for them) so they could each take an egg home with them.  I joked that I took no responsibility for school-bus-induced scrambled eggs in their backpacks. 

The kids had fun, and so did I, but the best thing that came of that fieldtrip was the packet of thank you letters and hand-drawn pictures I got back from the kids about 2 weeks later.  They were absolutely hilarious.

Next, we participated in the Openfields Farm Tour for the second year in a row.  I seriously considered not doing it this year because the tour comes at the busiest time of year for us.  But it’s an Extension event, and I work for Extension, and my boss and co-worker basically told me I had no choice but to sign up for the tour, the big bullies.

That’s OK, it turned out to be a lovely day, Laura and Rob and family came over to help, and we had about 90 people come by the farm.  Wow!

Look at that farm crew! (Madelina was such a good tour guide she was given a few tips and I even had a lady threaten to steal her away. We definitely have her slated for the marketing and advertising department.)

Here are some happy visitors taking home a dozen eggs.  (This lady is running for the county board!  She likes farms, so she just might get my vote.)

Rob is taking some visitors out to see the baby calves, which reminds me I need to post some pictures of them soon.

And Ana is taking advantage of the fact that we finally have enough people around to make a good go at a lemonade stand. Marketing and development for her, too.

All in all the day was a success.

Our final farm event was a Pasture Walk.  A pasture walk is an informal event for people interested in grazing.  It was hosted by the U of I Extension and the Northwest Illinois Grazing Network.  Extension did a good job of advertising for the event so we had between 20 and 25 people come, which I think was a really great turnout.

I explained our operation, Jim Morrison from Extension provided some technical information about finishing animals on grass, forage values, grazing techniques, etc., and Ed Johnston from NRCS gave the crowd some information about the EQIP program, which we used to cost-share for our fences and waterlines.  There was a nice article in the Freeport Journal Standard about it, so I’ll let you read it.

That’s right, I’m getting tired of typing. Follow this link:

Pasture Walk

Blog Catchup #2: Going Retail

Yes, you read that right.  Irish Grove has gone retail.

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I don’t move too quickly.  I decide to do something and then I have to think about it for awhile.  Some people may call that procrastination.  But for me, it’s my own way of time-testing my ideas to make sure my decisions are sound.  My nature is to be impulsive and I’ve found out the hard way that impulsiveness is a terrible trait to have, usually by making a bloody fool of myself.

So, yes, I finally applied for my egg broker’s license after deciding to do so about a year and a half ago.  Which means this decision must be really sound.  And I’m taking about 15 to 20 dozen eggs per week in to Choices Natural Market, where they are being sold next to some “Big Organic” eggs.  Time will tell how they fare, but for now it’s pretty exciting to see our products in a store. 

If you’re in Rockford and want to see for yourself, look for our label:

 

Try a dozen and let me know what you think.  I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed! 

Catch-Up #1: Manure Spreading

I realize that winter and snow are very ‘yesterday’, but I’m playing blog catch-up. It has been such a crazy winter that I’ve left you out of the loop on farm happenings. In fact, I’ve even left you out of the poop loop.

That’s right. We had a lovely, odoriferous time not so long ago, on a nice, wintry day in March.

The picture above was my view from the driver’s seat of our JD 4020 tractor. I realize that JD 4020 means nothing to most of you, I just added that to prove how farmer-ish I really am.

Marcel was working the blue tractor, loading up the spreader with manure.  (That’s a NH TL90A, in case you thought I didn’t know.) 

It takes a little more finesse to work the loader bucket.  I can do it, but Marcel can do it better.  See?  I’m farmer-enough to even admit that someone’s better than me. 

Oh wait, farmer’s never admit shit like that.  Strike it from the record.

Once the spreader is loaded up, off I go.  Driving a 4020 with a loaded manure spreader takes finesse, too.  Finesse and lots of skill.  Ahem.

Anyways, I make my way through the stone-quarry pasture, out onto the road and up to the field south of our house.  The field will be put into corn this year, so any extra nitrogen is always helpful.

Here’s the view as I spread the goods onto the field:

You use a hydraulic control to lift the back gate and then start the PTO, which spins some forks at the end of the spreader.  The PTO also moves some fins on the floor of the spreader which slowly push the manure from front to back until it’s all out and on the ground.  Pretty nifty. 

And smelly.  “Smells like money”, as the farmers like to say. (God, I’m impressing even myself today.)

In the meantime, the cows are totally put out and complaining, and a few are acting all uppity.  I  overheard one say, “Humans!  Look at ’em.  They can’t get enough of our poop.  They’re squirreling it away as fast as humanly possible, as if it’s something other than yesterday’s hay bale.  God they’re gross.”

Hm.  I guess I failed to impress after all.

A New Addition

It wasn’t like we didn’t have anything else to do Saturday. I had 3 coats of primer to apply to my new (!) kitchen walls (a project which of course necessitated two trips to the hardware store for forgotten supplies), the electrician was out to look at some old wires we had unearthed in the process, Marcel and Rob were finishing up a job we had started two weeks ago–cleaning out the barns and spreading manure, my oldest had plans with a friend at 3 PM, and we were keeping my nephew for the night, whom was supposed to arrive at anytime. I had no food and my house was a disaster, but I was going to get to that, too, eventually.

So when Marcel called to say that the young heifer #19 was in labor and not progressing, I had no choice.  Everything else had to be put on hold; we switched gears and jumped into ‘birth-assistance’ mode. #19 had never given birth before and is quite small, so we knew she might have problems. Marcel was already up there cleaning up the manure pile, so he kept an eye on her as I quickly excused myself from the electrician’s conversation about his beagle puppy, grabbed the kids and gathered the birthing-assistance tools: 3 straw bales for clean bedding, rubber gloves for Marcel and I, and the birthing chains.

When I arrived, the chute we use to confine the mother had been pushed out of position during the manure operation, so we had to get the tractor and move that first. At this time the mother was prostrate on the ground, pushing with little progress. Her eyes were strained and her neck outstretched–we needed to help her, fast.

Next we had to separate #19 from the rest of the herd. This is the worst part–how horrible to have to chase a laboring mother around the barnyard, knowing what she is going through and worried about the life of her calf. We separated a group of 5 from the rest and corralled them into the barn. Once in, it was pretty simple to get the others out (they know something’s up and want out of there!) while keeping her in. The nice thing about a round barn is that the cows follow the contour of the walls and don’t get hung up in corners where they might decide to turn around and go the other way. So #19 kept walking until she reached our ‘capture area’.  We have a gate secured in place that runs from exterior wall to interior wall, blocking her progress, at which point we swing a hinged gate around from behind and capture her in a small triangle-shaped pen.

At the wide side of the pen is a door to the exterior with a cattle chute on the outside. The chute is the only way out of the enclosure, so the cows try to walk through it to the outside. As they progress through the chute, we close the headgate around their neck, shut the reargate and voila–we’ve got ’em! Now we can vaccinate them, castrate calves, pregnancy check, you name it. Here is a picture from last year, showing how it normally goes:

In this case, however, we didn’t catch the mother in the headgate–we shut it before she gets that far so that she has some free movement within the chute. And instead of shutting the reargate, we put a large 2X4 board through the back of the chute about thigh-high, preventing her from backing up but giving us access to her nether-regions.

We immediately gloved up and got to work.  Marcel inserted his hand into her vagina to find the calf’s hoove.  I passed him the chains and he hooked one end around each foot, just above the second joint so as not to break the calf’s ankle as we pulled.  This is harder than it sounds, and took him a good 10 minutes.  Once the chains were in position, we hooked handles onto the chain, waited for the mother to push and then pulled with all our might.  Literally.  It is really hard to pull a calf and it takes awhile to get that babe out of there.  We noticed the calf’s tongue hanging out of its mouth–not a good sign.  So I told Marcel to keep pulling as I tore away the placenta from the calf’s nose.  The nostrils were moving!  The calf was trying to breathe, so it was still alive!

If we could just get that head out. I pushed up on the cow’s labia to help widen the pathway as Marcel pulled. All of a sudden the mother gave a good push and the head slipped out. Now we had to quickly change tactics: if the mother sat down onto the 2X4 board, she would kill the calf. We had to let the calf hang there through a contraction to help squeeze the liquid out of its lungs, and then get it down quickly and gently. Here is a photo from last year showing Farmer Scott pulling one of our calves. He is a dairy farmer from down the road and taught us how to assist difficult births.

Isn’t that amazing?  He did this by himself with some assistance from my brother-in-law (my sister was taking photos).  That’s what I call experience.  

Anyways, I stood underneath the calf and wrapped my arms around it (they are super slippery!) as Marcel pulled. The mother pushed, Marcel pulled, and I caught the calf. Well, I helped break its fall to the ground at least. Did I mention how slippery they are?  We removed the board and pushed the mother back into the pen where she went to work licking it, cleaning it, and mooing gently at it. 

It’s a girl!  And she is a strong, spunky little calf.  We stood around and watched her try to stand up, which was the entertainment of the day for my kids.  They laughed and laughed as she stumbled and toppled over, head over feet, more than a few times.  But she did it.  Within 2 hours she was walking, nursing, and checking out her new home.  Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Here they are, mother and daughter, immediately after she was born.  Welcome to Irish Grove, little lady.

Morning Admissions

Today’s the day. The day I come clean.

You see, I’ve been hiding something from you. Something that I’ve been too ashamed to admit.

It’s not that I’ve meant to decieve you in any way, it’s just…..well, it’s just that sometimes it’s easier to say nothing than to come clean about things like this.

And anyways, it’s not like any of you have asked. But still. You read this blog to learn about farmlife, to see how things are really done, to get a taste of rural life. You’ve helped me get through the many trials I face here on the farm, the difficult decisions and the many mistakes. But most importantly, you’ve helped me celebrate those rare triumphs, those few things that I’ve done and done well.

So I owe you. I owe you the truth.

OK. Here it is. Here goes nothing. Here’s the deep, dark, shameful secret I’ve been hiding all this time:

I do morning chores in my PJ’s.

I don’t take the time to get dressed before doing chores. I just throw on my coat and boots and go tend the animals. I have been known, even, to duck into barns or the garage if someone is driving by so they don’t see me in my blue-striped pajama pants or my grey sweats that are too short. I know! The shame of it has been killing me.

Think what you must, but that’s the bare truth of it. That’s how things get done here on my farm. Weird but true.

Get Comfortable….

because this Christmas letter is long. (Why aren’t you surprised at that?)

So go grab yourself a cup of tea, sit back and enjoy…and have a happy New Year!!

As I sit down to write this, there’s a sign for our egg customers on the barn door that reads, “Skunk Attack! Eggs are in the House.”

A week ago, I tried to unhook the snow blade from the back of the tractor but had the support stand in the wrong place. The blade fell forward, got stuck on the tractor hitch and Mark Highland had to rescue me.

A few months ago, our grain-fed steers got loose and wandered over to a farm about a mile away. We’d never met these people before, but proceeded to spend 4 long days there trying to get the cows out of their soybean and corn fields.

Farming is an excellent lesson in humility!

We’ve made progress, that’s for sure, but our successes have occurred only after many spectacular failures, embarrassments or desperate pleas for help. If it weren’t for my inborn Irish stubbornness and my superbly capable husband, I would have thrown in the towel long ago. We have learned a lot in the past few years, though, and we’ve come a long way since that fateful spring when we found ourselves with a farm to run and no idea how to run it.

For instance, we have a solid base of egg customers and a long list of people waiting to buy our grass-fed beef. Selling directly to consumers keeps us from feeling too isolated out here in the sticks, gives us better price control for our products, and can also be pretty hilarious. Recently a woman called to say she was coming for 3 dozen eggs the next day. When I told her I didn’t have any saved and that the hens are only laying a dozen and a half per day, she replied, “Well, I’d like 3 dozen. I’ll be there in the morning.” I wondered if she thought I had a hotline to the barn, “Ladies, ramp it up in there. We’ve got a big order to fill!”

People’s desire to be more closely connected to their food source is real, though. We try to honor that desire by answering questions, welcoming people to the farm, and doing our best to ensure a high quality product. There is no doubt that we’ve benefited immensely from the renewed interest in local foods and we feel very fortunate that these people have decided to support us.
2009 was a good grazing year. The cattle herd was finally big enough to utilize our pasture and moving temporary fences every few days presented a good occasion to walk amongst the cows, check on pasture conditions, and test the strength of the electric charge (ouch!). Calving was challenging, to say the least. Of 17 pregnant cows, we had 10 first-time mothers, 4 of whom ended up needing birthing assistance. Scott Swanson was gracious enough to be “on call” for us, and Laura and Rob even got the opportunity to pull one (with Scott’s help) while we were in Eagle River for our annual Peace Corps reunion. By the 4th calf, though, Marcel and I felt confident enough to try it on our own. We were thrilled when we successfully pulled the calf and he survived.

Like most farms, we had a tough year for crops. High input costs, a cool, wet summer, and a very wet fall made for the perfect storm: lower yields, lower test weights, high moisture counts and a difficult harvest. I think the wet harvest hit the guys the hardest, though–Marcel, Rob and Matt were all disappointed that they didn’t get to load the grain bin this year. The harvest wasn’t the same without the hustle and bustle of moving wagons.

Finally, 2009 brought one more addition to the farm–Mom’s new husband Gordy. We understand why Gordy fell in love with Mom (she is wonderful after all), but we do wonder if he had his head on straight when he agreed to move out to the farm. In the past year he has been roped into more cattle round-ups, fence moves, childcare ventures and boring farm discussions than he probably ever thought possible. And being the Flynn’s that we are, we aren’t prone to pass up the opportunity to put an able-bodied individual to work! So we welcome him to the fold and apologize in advance.

We know there will be more farm adventures in the New Year, surely more mistakes and hopefully more successes as well. We thank you for your love, support, and especially if you’re a local farmer, patience over the past year.

All of us at Irish Grove Farms wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Jackie & Marcel, Laura & Rob, Matt, Marcia & Gordy,
the kids, dogs, cats, horses, goats, chickens, and cows. (Phew!)

Tremors

We are all colored by our personal experiences.  So when your house starts to tremor, what immediately comes to mind? 

If you’re a Californian, you may think:  earthquake!!

If you live near a highway, you may think:  semi-truck!!

If you’re from an oil-rich nation, you may think:  gas explosion!!

If you’re from New York, you may think:  another terrorist attack!!  (God forbid.)

If you live next to a gravel pit, you may think:  ho hum.

But if you live on a farm, you think:  animal escape!!

‘Cause we didn’t miss a beat last night, at 9:30 PM, as we were watching a heart-wrenching story on Frontline (PBS) about the Iranian elections, when our house started to shake and tremble. 

Instead of grabbing the kids and getting into the doorway, or running to the basement, or grabbing the gas masks, or saying “ho hum”, we ran to our windows to witness:

Two horses and two goats running circles around the house, kicking up their heels and having a fine old time.

Once in awhile, I’d just like a dull moment.  Is that so wrong?

Finally! A Small Farm Advantage

“Rain, rain go away. Come again another day.”

It’s been THE rainiest growing season I can ever recall. A wet spring made it difficult to plant the crops. A wet summer meant it was difficult to make hay. And a wet fall has the harvest at a complete standstill.

If you recall, I was a fall-weather-whiner last year as well, with rain delaying harvest, corn moisture levels extremely high, etc. etc. I should have saved my breath, because last year was a walk in the park compared to this year. With the weather forecasted to continue in this wet and cold pattern, I don’t foresee getting the corn out of the field until December. Which means we might be fighting snowy field conditions.

I have to admit that being a farmer has made me a little cranky. (My family may argue I’ve always been cranky–don’t listen to them.) But my crankiness really comes out when in company with a person that starts to wax rhapsodic about “farmers (said with a negative tone) who are making money! hand over fist! as they farm fencerow to fencerow! with no consideration of the environment! in pursuit of the almighty dollar!” People eat this line up, man. They are all over it. If you want your own popularity to soar sky-high, try that line out. I guarantee you’ll have people murmuring in agreement, possibly a small applause, and definitely an increase in groupies. (Hey, everyone needs a few groupies.)

What these people don’t realize is that our livelihoods are mostly out of our control. Grain prices soared last year to record levels. So did trucking fees, basis levels (what elevators charge for handling our grain), fertilizer and input costs, diesel prices, drying charges, etc. Don’t blame a farmer for trying to squeeze a few hundred extra bushels out of his or her land, is what I’m trying to say here. The survival of their farm depends upon it.

This year is even tougher. Grain prices have come down a bit, but we were forced to pay for much of the aforementioned input fees during last year’s highs. Add to that our wet year, and we’re talking near disaster.

Wet grain means thousands, yes thousands, of dollars in drying charges. Wet grain also means that even if you’re able to harvest your crops, the grain elevators won’t take them because the moisture counts are too high. What does one do with thousands of bushels of grain and nowhere to go? Wet fields increase the likelihood of soil compaction at harvest, which causes a myriad of problems in future years. And wet weather means low quality hay and fewer cuttings (read lost income).

While we’re on the subject of hay, I have to point out one distinct advantage Irish Grove has over other farms: we have livestock. Most people, including us, have given up on their 4th cutting of hay. The alfalfa and grass hay fields sit there, unharvested, taunting us with the lost opportunity and lost income. Except, wait! We have cows. And hay fields with fences.

Cattle prices are too low to make sense for most smaller farms, so cows are usually relegated to large feedlots that can take advantage of bulk pricing discounts, etc. etc. Ignoring the drawbacks that come with large feedlots, the results are that farm fences have been torn down. I don’t blame anyone for this: fencing is extremely expensive to maintain, not to mention a royal pain in the arse–they easily become overgrown with weeds and brush. (Anyways, one may be able to fit a few more corn rows where that fence used to sit. Don’t hate.)

But we graze our cows and fences have gone back up. So while we may not be able to take that 4th cutting of hay, we can run the cattle through the field and they will eat it green instead! After some heavy frosts, the plants don’t have the same nutrient availability as they did during the summer months, but it’s nutritionally equivalent to dry hay.

So, the cows harvest the hay on their own and save us time and money spent on harvesting a hay crop. They keep greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere (no tractor driving), fertilize the land by pooping and peeing, which in turns keeps greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere (no need to mine for and truck fertilizer in). Oh, and we won’t have to feed them as much dry hay this winter, leaving more to sell to our neighbors. Brilliant!

Small farms like ours have few advantages over large farms, so it’s nice to finally find one. Maybe it’ll help a bit with my crankiness! If so, my family will be thanking the cows on a daily basis.

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