Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The 20 Year Old Farmer

I appreciate my hay supplier more than I can say. And for more than the fact that he delivers awesome hay to my barn door when I ask him to. Some wonder why I buy from him at all, since his hay isn't organic, and it's expensive. Very expensive. Why don't I find a different supplier that has organic hay? Or at least cheaper hay? In the end, there is one main reason why I stick with him and appreciate him so much:

He takes me seriously, and treats me like an equal.

You have no earthly idea what that means to me.

Think about it: I am female. I am single. I am 20 years old. And I'm a farmer. How many times does ANYONE see those four facts put together?? So far, I've only seen an extremely tiny handful of others who can claim ownership to those same things

When you take those four things and put them together, you have yourself a recipe for ridicule. I get laughed at a lot when folks hear that I am a farmer. Those who don't laugh often snort and shake their head as if to say, "Girlie, you don't kow NOTHIN'." Or I receive hate mail with hurtful words saying I'm a fake. A single girl who's farming? Get real kid.

The worst though is probably when I'm treated like I don't know what I'm doing. I get brushed aside as folks look for an older person to ask their same question to. Yes, I do actually know the feed conversion rates between your Angus and Hereford steers, thank you very much. And if you want to discuss the differences between feeding 14% protein hay and 18% protein hay to your dairy animal, I can do that too. I'm young, but I'm not stupid.

My hay supplier and I talk about hay, horses, and milk prices. There has never once been a look in his eye, or a tone in his voice that suggested that he feels I am too young to do what I do. There has never been an air of reproof from him for my doing this, because I am a girl. He is dead earnest and treats me like a sane adult (something I don't get often). When we prepare to part, he always has the same piece of wisdom to share with me. He always says, "I started farming when I was 16. It took me 30 years to find this here piece of land and to get to this point that I've reached, but I did it. And I know you'll do it too. Just keep going."  I always want to hug him when he says that. Maybe someday I will. ;)

I am an oddball out, in society. I'm young, and I'm a girl. So often I feel like sham. A fake. Like I'll wake up one day and find out that this was all a dream. I get pushed to the edges of the crowd by the older folks, and in those exposed edges, I often feel a creeping feeling of shame. How dare I try to fit in?? What makes me think I can be accepted?

There is a very particular reason that I have a tee shirt that says 'Lunatic Farmer' on it. Because in the end, I truly am just that. I shake off the feelings of shame and accept the fact that some people don't like me for who I am: A crazy, 20 year old girl who calls herself a farmer.I am what I am. If you want to be friends with me, then you had better have the same views as my hay supplier. I get along real well with him...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Fierce, Fierce Bird

This is one of my Freedom Rangers. :) Nine pounds of feathered glory, he is quite the sight as he glares at everyone; he is a fierce, fierce bird. 

The Freedom Rangers are scheduled to be butchered hopefully next week. I'm going to miss these birds...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lunatic Farmer

I just finished filling out my 2012 USDA Agriculture census. Talk about boring. But when I finished, I couldn't help but laugh as I found one very stark fact in front of my face: I am a lunatic farmer.

The census wanted to know how many tractors I have. How many silos I have. How many cotton pickers, grain harvesters, migrant workers, and feedlot cattle I have. I don't have any of that. It wanted to know how many hundreds of acres I rented out in 2012. How I irrigated my cropland (that I don't have), what chemicals I sprayed this year (which I don't do), what my profits were at the end of the year...

I am a lunatic farmer who has no silo. Who feeds no corn and soy to her cows. Who owns no tractor. Shucks, I don't even have processing equipment for my poultry. I am a lunatic farmer who believes animals should be on grass, eating grass. Who believes that silos are unnecessary, and so are manure lagoons. A lunatic farmer who doesn't believe in feedlots or feeding candy to cows because it might make them fatten quicker. I am a lunatic farmer who laughs at her pigs while she scratches them behind the ears. Who knows her goats by name and can tell you in extreme detail about the lay of the property. I can show and tell you where the dry spots are, where the wet spots are, where the good spots are, and where the bad spots are. I am not only a lunatic farmer, I am a small farmer. I do not need 100 acres like I used to think I did. Ten acres would probably suit me just fine. Maybe 20 acres if I was really going "whole hog", but not one hundred acres... Size is a curse; only a lunatic farmer would realize that though. 

I am a lunatic farmer who wants her hogs to root in the dirt. Who wants chickens who know how to chase a bug. Who wants cows who know how to convert grass into milk and meat. Who wants to use draft animals instead of an oil chugging tractor. Who am I kidding here? I am an utter lunatic!!

I have no migrant workers because I do not need them. I have no cotton picker, because I grow no GMO cotton. I have no tractor because I can't afford one, and don't believe in going into that much debt for something I can borrow from a neighbor. I feed no corn and soy because God didn't make ruminants to eat those things. This is sheer lunacy, by most of America's standards. As a "farmer" aren't I SUPPOSED to have a feedlot, manure lagoon, and green tractor? That's what the government says.

But a lunatic farmer knows better. We know that farming is a whole lot more fun without those things (well, okay, the tractor actually might be kind of fun. I give you permission to buy me one.). We know that we really don't need all that grain for the cows. We don't need that manure lagoon. We don't need dark building to house thousands of animals. Instead we lunatics get to experience happy animals that are on pasture, and are healing the land and people, rather than hurting it. We grow our crops with compost, beneficial insects, and companion planting. We know the whole story behind what we grow, and we know who eats our food.

I am a lunatic farmer. And I have never been happier.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Pumpkin Hulsey Pullet

And here are the pics of my sweet little girlie! She's adorable and petite, but still *quite* the little fighter. I love her pluck for something so small. :)

Her color is spot on for a female Hulsey, but I was dismayed to see that she has matured with GREEN legs! Pumpkin Hulseys are supposed to have white or yellow legs (my stag has white legs). Anything else is a DQ. So she is unshowable, and possibly unbreedable. We'll see though.

The Pumpkin Hulsey Stag

With the help of a sister, I finally managed to get some pictures of my Pumpkin Hulseys today! 

Wonder of wonders, I did indeed end up with one pullet (young female), and one stag (young male). Because of the amount of pictures I got, I'm splitting this into two posts. One for each bird. 

First is my lovely stag! I was dissapointed to see that he ended up not being the color that I like. You know, the whole "pumpkin" coloring?? That was the desired result. He's still show quality, so I think he'll stick around for his genetic pool. 

Other than his color, I am quite pleased with him. He's a good boy. :) 

Friday, January 18, 2013

I Didn't Have The Heart To Tell Y'all

But another one of my goat kids died. And she died the day after Pippin did.

This time it was a little harder to deal with since I had just lost Pippin in the previous 24 hours, and since this time it was my prize doeling.

Goat Song's Duet is dead. 

The nighttime temperatures dropped to the low 30's and as usual all the goats nestled together in one huddle. They do this often; it keeps them warm, and they actually generate a fair amount of heat from doing it. The next morning though, as I scanned the big group of goats, I saw to my horror that one of the senior does was laying on top of a kid. I panicked and shoved the unsuspecting doe over to see what on earth was going on. Beneath the big body of the senior doe was Duet's crushed body. She had been smothered and then laid on during the night. 

My mind was reeling as I picked up the warm, but stiff carcass of my pretty girl. Of all the goats to lose, why did it have to be Duet!? She was the result of a carefully planned breeding that I could never duplicate. I sold Duet's mother, Ivy, and her sire was from WA. I sold her brother Chad Gadya since I had her. Sold Ivy because I had her. She was everything I wanted from that breeding... She had the conformation, style, stellar pedigree, and almost 3,000 lbs. of milk behind her. And now she's dead.

I didn't tell anyone about her death for quite some time. Couldn't bear to think about it. On Wednesday night I shared about it on Facebook. And now I'm sharing it here. I figured y'all should know too. 

Goat Song's Duet (on right). August 2nd, 2012. Three weeks of age.

RIP Duet... I had such high hopes for you.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Today, One Year Ago

Today, at this exact time (4pm Oregon time; 7pm East Coast time), one year ago I was pulling into Polyface Farms for my internship interview with the Salatin family. 

I was exhausted from an all-day plane trip through stormy weather (8 hours of turbulence is never fun), I was alone, I knew no one, and I was wondering what on earth I had just gotten myself into as I found myself in Swoope, VA. But I was also determined to learn while I was here, to do my best, and to enjoy myself.

The following days were action packed and memory filled. The Salatins are amazing people and I miss them more than I can say. Joel taught me to use the saw mill, Daniel taught me how to care for the cows in the winter. Grandma Salatin shared story after story, and Missy and Sheri made the most amazing food I've ever had.

I have mixed feelings as I think about where I was today last year. I've spent my day reading 'You Can Farm', and looking at available internships across the nation. Polyface Farms changed me. I am a different person for what happened there. And so today I just wanted to make a little note of what happened today one year ago... I had the adventure of my life.

You can read about all my Polyface adventures by clicking HERE!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Sorry Guys

I'm trying to write up the final post for the Basic Broiler Challenge, but the words just aren't coming... I'm having a case of writer's block right now, but I'll keep pecking away at it. Sorry. :-/

Fix You

This is a new favorite song of mine that has been playing on my MP3 quite a bit lately.
Two minutes and thirty seconds. That's when the song gets really good. ;)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

He Went Into the West

Pippin died in the night.

I remained emotionally passive, even as I picked up his stiff form for the last time. Death is bothering me less and less these days. I'm not proud of that fact, but it is a fact nevertheless.

Good bye my sweet Pippin. I hope the ship took you into the West quickly and calmly.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


All seemed normal as I went out to do evening barn chores. The animals were quiet, everything seemed calm.

Then Peaches stepped backwards as Mattie nudged her away.

A small scream rung through the rafters of the barn as Peaches moved, but the noise didn't come from her.

I looked behind my 700+ lb. heifer and saw a crumpled heap of brown fur.

Peaches accidentally stepped on Pippin, my little brown wether kid.

I honestly thought he was dead. I scooped his warm body up in my arms and felt a heart beat. There was life yet in this little boy. I brought Pippin inside, placed him in a towel-lined bucket, and gave him a bottle that was fortified with iron, calcium, magnesium, and acidophilus. He looks dazed... Zoned out. He's not "all there" it seems.

He'll spend the night inside, where it's warm and sheltered. I don't know if he'll make it or not. Years of working with livestock has taught me to never get my hopes too high, never get too attached to an animal, and has taught me that where there's livestock, there is going to be dead stock. It's a constant battle to control your emotions when something goes wrong with an animal. Not something that can be felt when trying to save a crop of spinach.

I'll try to keep y'all posted on him.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Northern Heirloom Seed Collection: Review

It seems I have a recurring illness that always strikes in the winter time.

It's an acute pain, that strikes at odd moments, and can sometimes be so overwhelming that I fairly buckle. Did I mention that it's also highly contagious?

This illness is known as "Spring Fever". Certain people are affected by this problem, and I happen to be one of the numbered. Life will be going by just fine when we're suddenly overtaken by an urge to work in the dirt, and roll seeds around in the palm of our hand. We need to grow something. Plant something. Do something! I sometimes get a little claustrophobic during this time. The house starts feeling smaller and smaller... I need to be outside! Quick! Somebody call 911! I'm having a massive attack of Spring Fever! It doesn't help either, that this always happens in December/January; right when the ground is frozen solid, and everything is cold, cold, cold. 

All that we can do is order seeds... And that right there is a dangerous task. It's when I'm stuck inside with catalogs that my plans go out the window and my garden suddenly becomes the size of New Jersey. Do I really need five different kinds of onions?? Of course I do! And let's not forget the fourteen varieties of tomatoes, the eight varieties of pumpkins, and all those cabbages! I'm hopeless. Thank heavens I have an online bank account, so I can repeatedly show myself that I DO have a strict budget to contend with. And then once faced with a budget, I deflate and suddenly have no idea what to buy. Am I the only one with this problem? (please say 'no'!)

But I had a eureka moment this month. Or you could call it a "duh" moment. The former makes me feel smarter though, so let's go with that one. To continue though, I had the opportunity to check out someone's seed collection, and everything fell into place: Seed collections may not be for everyone, but I'm convinced that they're the most logical purchase for this impulsive dreamer. You already know my problem of wanting to buy everything in the seed catalogs; I need a bit of curbing...

Now, I'm not so dim that I've never heard of a seed collection before (Really. Cross my heart). I've seen these time and time again, but I have to confess something... They scared me. Buying a seed collection seemed like letting go of all choice. I didn't know what I wanted while flipping through a catalog, but the thought of not getting what I didn't know I wanted was terrifying. If you understand that sentence then you get brownie points. 

With this silly fear floating around in my head, I never bought a seed collection. So for quite a few years I've been buying just some random seed packets; never a lot. Maybe ten or fifteen packets in a year; in my feelings of "not knowing what I want", I never bought much.

And then I saw this seed collection from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds... It was staggering.

This particular collection is known as the Large Northern Heirloom Package, and has 50 different packets of seeds nestled inside the smooth surfaced, metal can that makes the package. The size of a 1-gallon paint can (or very close to that size, anyway), my mind can't wrap around the fact that this lightweight container held enough seeds to grow who-knows-how-many pounds of food... I'd wager it'll grow over a ton. 

 Fifty packets of seeds sounds like a lot. But fifty packets of seeds LOOKS like even more. This is where the "staggering" part came in. I started pulling the vibrant packs out, but the just kept on coming... And coming... And coming... And coming... The number fifty suddenly seemed very large. 

When I had all the seed packets laid out, I couldn't help but grin. This is what I've needed all these years!! I was always afraid of missing out on something by buying a seed collection, but in that little can was everything I've ever grown, and then varieties I hadn't grown because of my own overwhelmed feelings while faced with a catalog. Take a close looks at those pictures; you'll see all the usual stuff. Corn, beans, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, peas, radishes, cabbage, pumpkins, and carrots. Everything a traditional garden would have. And then things get even better when you find the fun packets of watermelon, rainbow chard, cantaloupe, leeks, basil, asparagus, and lettuce mixes. Suddenly, "choice" doesn't seem as much fun as "Surprise me!". 

It also makes a lot of economical sense for me to stick with a seed collection. Remember the budget I mentioned? The seed packets are much cheaper when bought in a collection (it's like buying in bulk!). There's also the added plus that these seeds will be viable for 4-10 years (length of time depends on the veggie). I might decide to have a small garden one year and only use maybe ten things from the can; if I do that, then I won't feel guilty about all the other seeds since I know that they'll be just as good next year! And things get even better when you realize that you can save seeds from the varieties each year, so you'll never run out! Three cheers for heirlooms!!

If nothing else, I think these collections are a great idea for emergency preparedness. Last summer was hard for a lot of folks as we faced drought. What if we see that drought again this summer of 2013? How long do we wait before we kick into action and start REALLY trying to grow our own food? A seed collection makes me think of having a whole grocery store sitting on my closet shelf. It's there when I need it. Sitting quietly, safely. 

Looking through the seed packets, I was really pleased and excited by what I saw. As I was preparing to write this review, I tried to think of any cons I found with it, but couldn't think of any... There are fun, unusual stuff in the collection, yes, but there's nothing so far out that an average person wouldn't feel intimidated with growing it. 

Large Northern Heirloom Package.
From Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Rating: 10+
Impact: 10+
Recommend it? Yes, yes, yes!!
Buy it? Yes! I am SO buying one soon!

I have rated the seed collection as a 10+, and I feel that it is well deserved. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds does an amazing job with their seed quality, packaging, customer service, and the final result which you find in the container is simply stunning. I haven't bought seeds from anywhere else, save Baker Creek, in 4 years now. I've never needed to. The "impact" of the seed collection is also being put at a 10+. WHY did I never get one sooner??? Seeing it in person definitely made me a fan of seed collections from here on out. Baker Creek also has a smaller seed collection if you want something a bit different, and there is also the option of the Southern Heirloom package which has seeds more suited to hotter weather. What with me living in the Pacific Northwest, the Northern package is more up my alley.

So there you have it! This gardener has finally seen the light, and is now numbering herself as a fan of seed collection. Who needs choice... Surprise me!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

So Starts the Day

My morning started with hauling six dead chickens out of the barn/coop. The temps dropped to somewhere around the high 20's last night and I guess some of the birds just couldn't take it. Two of them were Red Star layer pullets, and four of them were my Freedom Rangers. Phooey. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hope for America Yet

As long as there are kids who still know what a mountain dulcimer is, and know the words/tune to old time songs like Shady Grove, Old Joe Clark, and Turkey in the Straw, there is hope for the future. ;) This kid was amazing to watch; I can only watch and imagine having such talent...