So a couple of weeks ago I was asked a question: What do you not like about farming?
I answered that I liked everything about farming, at that moment, even though I could think of several challenging aspects of farming, there was nothing I could think of that I did not like about our lifestyle as farmers.
Well, unfortunately I was reminded of one thing that I hate about farming last Saturday when suddenly one of our draft horses, Charlie, started to go into a severe colic. He went from not eating at 7 am, still dry, we walked him, to drenched in sweat by 8am. By the time the vet had arrived he was breathing hard. She took his vitals and temperature and felt for his intestines and gave us the worst news we could have expected. She couldn't do anything, his intestines had shifted to the wrong side and she didn't believe he would make it in time for surgery. We cried in disbelief, even for a short moment hoped for a miracle. But it was clear, Charlie was in a bad condition and was suffering extremely. He laid down and we relieved his pain.
Although I don't want to elaborate on Dan and I's emotions, we had a very hard time accepting the reality. Did we do something wrong? Could we have prevented this? The vet told us colic is the number 1 killer in horses and it can be caused from as little as eating a clump of dirt and there is really no way of telling why it happened without an autopsy.
So this brings me to writing this post. What I do not like about farming is that it involves as much death as it does life because nor life nor death can exist alone. The fact is that farm animals do not live as long as humans do and thus we are bound to experience many deaths when we bring many lives into our farm. And as beautiful it is to see an new life be born it will never be easy to see death come around. Even with butchering, when we take the life of animals we did not
particularly bond with because we have raised them for their meat, it is far from easy and we do not take their lives for granted one bit. We try as best we can to give every animal the love and respect they deserve.
Bud, our other Draft horse, also had a hard time seeing Charlie go. We let him go close to Charlie as he had past away to allow him to see what was happening (this was recommended by the vet), and the first few days without Charlie were very hard for him. He neighed for him and looked for him for a long time.
Horses are very special animals and with every horse we have owned we have
developed a precious relationship, because horses are smart and so incredibly strong, and still they don't mind working so hard for us. At our farm we depend on them and they depend on us for food and shelter. Because our farm needs at least 2 horses to do the work and to give Bud another companion horse as soon as p
ossible we tried to find a new team of horses which we may be buying next week.
This is not easy but a phrase comes time mind: "it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all"
We will continue to focus on bringing life to the farm and will continue to have to accept that death though not always wanted will sometimes be here as well.
In the pictures Charlie was hooked up on the left.
Though we've been right on schedule for many of our farm projects we've definitely neglected our blog for quite some time, so here is my attempt to share with you our 2012 season wrap-up and the beginning of a new year 2013.
As October 2012 rolled around, Dan and I, tried to keep it together as we wrapped up the last farmers markets with loads of tomatoes still coming of the plants and a great winter squash harvest. We noticed how our efforts to add manure to our fields did wonders on the winter squash and decided to make our biggest investment yet and ordered a horse-powered manure spreader with a lime attachment. In October we also had a great turn-out to a harvest celebration farm tour we took part in. It was organized by WSU and we plan on participating in years to come. Dan demonstrated some plowing with the horses in the pasture. This plowed area we plan to reseed with a diverse pasture mix to improve our pastures.
When we reached November we were so beat by the incredibly busy end of season we took a little break to see family on the East Coast...little did we know traveling with a one year old is far from relaxing and we came home needing a vacation. We took a couple of days though Dan didn't wait too much longer to start some house remodeling projects we had planned for this winter. By the end of January we had new wood floors in our living room and a new kitchen which will make processing farm products much more possible than it was before. We also squeezed in putting up the last part of our sheep fencing that completed our fencing efforts. Needless to say February came really fast.
Sofar February has been fun though, we took the horses back out to try the new manure spreader and had a lot of fun spreading manure over one of our large pastures. (will try to post pictures soon) This we hope will really increase the growth of the grass, add organic matter, life and nutrition, and will in turn feed our animals well. We've got one pile of manure left that we are saving for the squash fields. This year we will grow an exciting variety of winter squashes, including red kuri, black futsu kabocha, delicata, acorn, butternut and some blue hubbard. Of course, I have not started those seeds yet, however we have started seeding and harvesting some of our early greens and onions. We are applying some simple organic compost teas which I'm learning to brew to our greenhouses to help keep the soil biology balanced which we hope will reduce mildew issues we can get here in the North-West. Every year we are trying to improve our methods and with an early start we hope to have another great CSA
Our new batch of baby layer chicks has also arrived and will increase our production of eggs by July. And of course baby lamb
s! The 5th lamb was born yesterday and it was the first one we actually saw being born, in less than 20 minutes it has been hard to catch the sheep in labor, though it hasn't been due to lack of trying as we hang out by the sheep barn any chance we get in the hopes of being able to see a birth. It is an event that doesn't stop being exciting, at least not yet for us. We've got 2 more ewes that are due soon so we suspect not having more than 7 or 8 lambs total. This is less than last year as we reduced our flock in another effort to regain healthy pastures before increasing the flock again. Our turkeys
won't arrive until April but we are taking preorders already, we are looking at the Bourbon Reds as the heritage breed we would like to try this year to compare in taste and size.
Well, that sums it up for now...we will make an effort to post some pictures of the horses in action with the manure spreader and the new baby animals on the farm!
The summary about the certification process....
Since June 1, 2012 we are have been issued a transitional certification for our fruit and vegetable production and our pasture. This means that after thorough inspection it has been certified that we are following the USDA National Organic program requirements since March 2011. This is the date when we move to this property. Because we are not able to secure management information prior to March 2011 we will only be ably to get the organic status in March 2014. Though please note that we are following all organic standard at present and this property does not have a history of conventional farming.
As for our livestock: "Organic liverstock are required to be on certified organic land. Because [our] land is still in transition to organic status, [our] flock does not meet the requirements of the NOS". This is the only requirement that we do not meet as we are feeding certified organic feed and following all other requirements.
Well, as you can see getting the organic certification is a process that we are going through. On another note we believe we are going above and beyond organic certification by free ranging our animals and using many practices that would be many be considered sustainable, but we want to give the certification process a try to show to you that we are dedicated to the organic standards as the minimum baseline of our practices.
In the end, it is possible that our customers may trust us enough and convince us that certification is not required to show our dedication, but for now this process of becoming organically certified by the year 2014 is a helpful standard.
About a month ago, now, we bought our new team of Beglians, Bud and Charlie( 16 and 15 years old) off of an Amish farm in Iowa. Steve Krier, from Montana found us this team and was able to deliver them to our farm. Bud, is the taller of the two standing at about 16hands tall and Charlie stands at about 15.3 hands tall. We decided after working Lucy pretty hard this spring, that we really needed a team to get the work (plowing, discing, and cultivating, etc.) done more efficiently. It is amazing how much more work you are able to do with two horses versus one. e.g. While we were discing with Lucy, we would work her one length of the field and have to rest her (until her breathing slowed) and with Bud and Charlie, we could go back and forth a few times and rest them and notice that they were hardly breathing. We have been enjoying using our "new" John Deere 191 14" inch walking plow with the team that we bought at the Small Farmer's Journal Draft horse Auction in Madras, Or earlier this spring and our new implement called the Homesteader built by the Pioneer Equipment Company (Amish) which you can attach a plow, cultivator, hiller, and potatoe plow to. We couldn't of asked for a better team to work with. Bud and Charlie, are extremely patient, calm, gentle, and well trained. We absolutely love working with and taking care of our draft horses. So, when you are eating our produce a lot of growing that produce came with the help of our horses.
As an undergraduate student at UC Santa Barbara I remember taking the small scale agriculture class series from Prof. Cleveland and the first question he asked the students was: "What does sustainability mean?"
This in fact is a pretty huge question because the term is used pretty loosely these days to describe a concept or a practice that has been given many definitions. So what does it mean to me?
Firstly, I believe sustainability involves thinking about the future and planning ahead. Thinking long term instead of short term. Thinking about the next generations and their well being.
At our farm, this includes establishing lasting relationships with our customers. This is why CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, is such an important part of our farm. Through our CSA we ask our customers not just to think about their next meal but to think about their supply of vegetables through the whole season. We also ask them to think about their veggies at the time when the crops are planted, as people were forced to do traditionally but with grocery stores everywhere it is now a conscious decision we ask our CSA members to make. We are starting our program this year but only plan on improving and building it as time goes on. In the future we would like to include our egg sales and nursery production into a CSA type program. Asking people what plants they would like to plant in their garden during seed buying time and starting those plants in our greenhouse is a service we would like to provide for gardeners who produce their own vegetables but don't have a greenhouse and the time to start all of their starts.
Thinking long term also involves other aspects like buying resources that are beneficial to the farm and to our environment while these resources should be renewable at the rate that we are using them. Choosing the products and material inputs we include into our farm carefully is in my opinion very related to sustainability as well. Of course price can sometimes limit what we can buy but buying local, supporting other small farms, buying organic, natural, and "sustainably produced" are always considered in our decision to which products we choose to include into our system. As we are on our way to being certified transitional next month, which is the certification we will receive for 3 years before we receive our certified organic that certifies that we farm our operation organically, we want to show to customers our dedication of never using chemicals which are not organic and also buying our seed and soil raw materials from organic source. This is very important to us.
Limiting our inputs and maintaining the biological cycle of the system we are a part of such that our system can self sustain itself is the goal ahead of us that we strive for. Our system includes us farmers, our child (our next generation), our grazers, our birds, our browsers, our workers (horses), our protectors (dogs), our pest control (the cats), our wild life and polinators, our plants but lets not forget our soil. We may not ever reach a time when we don't purchase any inputs, as we also have sales and outputs, but having that goal in mind allows us to stay focused and have something to continually make changes to get closer to. Each member of our farm has a job and produces products that are useful to our system. Nothing should be a waste!
Staying local and being a part of a strong and growing community is of course part of it all as interdependence is a part of sustainability. It would be naive to think that we could do it all on our own. We depend on society and always will because we cannot do it all. So to us what you do is part of our sustainability. Whether you are a chef, an insurance agent, a teacher, an engineer, a carpenter, a farmer, you name it, you are part of the larger system that allows us to do what we do and therefore you are part of our sustainability.
And there is more...I could probably write a whole book about sustainability as it is something that I think about every day, but that is not the point of my blog post. My point is that I would like you to think about what sustainability means to you and how sustainability can be part of your life, because ultimately it is a concept that should be important to all of us, however we define it for ourselves.
In addition to vegetable and herbs, a healthy garden should have flowers in it. Not only are they beautiful, they attract beneficial insects by providing a food source and habitat for them. At the same time they create a little separation between your crops such that when a pest does come along it is a challenge for it to reach the next plant. We are planting many flower seed in our greenhouse to plant in our fields and we will also sell them in four packs and 3" pots. They flowers we grow are known to be great for beneficial insect and some even have edible parts (not all!).
Some flowers we will have available are:
Would you like some flower starts that you don't see listed here? E-mail me and I will try to include it in the mix if not this year, next year!
Every season, I get an alumni magazine from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The latest Spring edition had a featured article on how the Stockbridge School of Agriculture ( school within the college) is now teaching how to sustainably farm with horses. I wish they had that when I was there. I was thrilled to hear what they are doing now and all of the classes are full! I can't tell you how excited I am to hear of this great news. To myself and Caroline, not everyone, it makes so much sense to farm with horses and to hear about other opportunities that are out there to learn how to farm with horses is so inspiring. There is a movement all across the country to farm with horses and we are glad to be a part of it.
Here is the link to the article, enjoy!
Though our blog is mostly short little descriptions about our progress to our farm business, to inform you of who we are as farmers, share our visions and experiences, and tell you what you are getting when you purchase our products, it is time for us to share a little bit more about who we are as a new family too.
Parenthood is so many things, we are finding out...
Mostly it is joy and a blessing. Isaiah is an incredible little boy and he is working very hard to show us he will be walking as soon as his little body allows him. The single most certain thing that makes him happy is when we hold him up so he can stand, he looks so proud and holds himself straight up. Of course he cannot stand on his own yet so we are also working on belly time and sitting with mom and daddy. He also doesn't mind laying under his jungle gym and grabbing to the toys. He is also very eager to roll over and has succeeded a couple of times already after concentrated effort. It is amazing to watch him go through all these steps and listen to his funny squeals of joy and little laughs when we tickle his feet.
Then there is the outside world that he is finding out little by little. We have been bringing him outside in our carrier to explore the farm and sometimes do easy chores with us. He has started to really notice all the animals and witness a few lambing births. It blows me away to think that he will have experienced so many farm life norms that neither Dan or I ever experienced growing up. He really does enjoy being in the carrier as long as we keep moving so the long birthing experiences sometimes became a little long, but he sure liked playing in the sun in the greenhouse while mommy watered her plants. The cold does not seem to bother him either so he will be a well acclimated Northwest boy.
And of course there is the sleepless nights of waking 4-5 times to feed and change diapers, the daily laundry loads of cloth diapers, the hand-offs between mom and dad switching off to get work done, the trips to the doctor to get shots and the evening crying spells when he just doesn't want to give in to the sleepy eyes, but its all part of it and Dan and I are doing ok so far, at least we think.
Soon enough we will be introducing real food into his breast milk only diet and he will start to move around on his own so we better start kid proofing our house.
So, if you see us and we look a little run down, with bags under our eyes, just know that we are the way we are because we are living our dream :o)!
Dan mentioned many things in his last post, but I guess we've been really busy because he forgot to mention the hours we spend on renewing our fencing to protect our crops from deer and keep our animals from going where they please. This year we will be following a strict rotational grazing plan for our animals and after watching our sheep blatantly walk under the electric wires it became clear to us that we needed to make some fence upgrades. We had noticed a few events of deer jumping through the wires as well to munch on what was left in our field this winter and so we took this issue very seriously. We put up a 9 foot fence around the cultivation field by using a 4 foot sheep woven wire fence at the bottom and extending it with 5 foot of deer fencing extension fencing.
In the picture you'll also see our native plants we purchased as part of our plan to plant a hedgerow along the whole field to attract pollinators and create bird habitat. Included are western hazelnut, huckle berry, red flowering currants, elderberry and more.
After shopping around for organic poultry feed and trying out different companies we have found Magill Ranch and Cascade Farms. They are located in the East foothills of Mt. Hood and thus they are local to us if you compare it to other companies. They fit our organic standards, have similar goals of sustainability and meet our high quality expectations. We are very excited to buy feed from them in bulk and will be feeding their different mixes to our chickens and turkeys from start when they are chicks, to finish.
When we met Larry, one of the operators of the business he taught us a lot about why they stay away from corn and soy. The short version is that with the incredible percentage of GMO corn and soy, organic sources are slim. In addition, they do not believe soy should be used in high amounts due to the content of isoflavones, which are a type of phytoestrogen. We are also excited that the use whole grains in their mixes and a very high quality mineral supplement called fertrells organic nutri-balancer, which is the same company we use to supplement our goats and sheep with minerals.
If you are curious to read more you can read about their family run operation on their website