Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Babies R Us

The barn is filled with goat kids of all colors and sizes. We must have around 20 kids now, and they keep on coming. On Monday we went to each pen and started tagging, giving a shot of BOSE (selenium and vitamin E), and castrating. I tagged a few ears (basically piercing their ear with a plastic or metal tag with a number) and tried my hand at castrating. For the goats we use a crimper. I felt around for the cord just above the testi and clamped down on it and held it there for 3 minutes on each side. This severs the cord so the testicles can't develop and is a little more pleasant than slicing them. At least, for me it is. I can't imagine the boys like either option.

This morning I went to check on the goats and found that the Philly horse had a baby last night. We had built a small area for the horse in the barn so she could have her baby away from the other horses. All I could see was this big brown head with long stick legs hiding behind her mama. She is so adorable and funny looking at the same time.

On Tuesday morning another pig had farrowed, we had moved her only on Monday to the farrowing pen, and had 10 healthy little piglets. We were amazed at all the animals being born and we were convinced the full moon had something to do with it.

On top of our animals having babies, we got in a shipment of meat chicks called Plymouth Bard Rock. We had to push out the Rhode Island Red young chickens into the yard to make room for the chicks. We set Rhode Island Reds in one of the mobile chicken coops and put an electric fence around the perimeter so they have plenty of space to free range and peck at the ground and shelter and a place to lay eggs at night.

We set up an area for the chicks by removing the poopy straw and laying down soft wood chips. They have tiny feeders and waterers which is very adorable and reminds me of Honey I shrunk the Chickens. Only these guys are super soft and cute and make tiny peeping noises.

Spring is definitely in full gear now.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Goat load of trouble

The mama goats have been birthing like crazy the past few days. But we still haven't worked out the kinks that have been plaguing us. The goat mom (pictured on the left) had triplets early this week and accidentally suffocated one on Friday. Then, that same mother looked like she was ready to give birth again, she was so bloated she looked like she was carrying lopsided basketballs. Ken thought she might have eaten too much corn which is very dangerous because it can either cause acidosis or bacteria to multiply too much. We forced some Maalox down her throat to help with the bloating. Another goat had twins and one died. And Lady, our little bottle baby has pneumonia. We started to give her penicillin. Her nose and eyes were mucousy and she wasn't drinking her bottle.

On Friday I gave a newborn kid a shot of BO SE (selenium and Vitamin E) as a precaution. Just in case the feed we give the goats is deficient in selenium. The kids need it for muscle development. It was my first time giving a shot and I was a little nervous I might hurt them but it wasn't bad at all. Kids are far tamer than piglets. When we castrated the boys (using crimpers) they cried out initially but then were silent as we counted out the three minutes (we basically crushed the cord leading to the testicle.) We put one of the boys down and he was lying on the ground almost convulsing. Worried we asked Cale if the boy was alright. Cale said something like " yeah he's fine, he just got his balls crushed."

Today I went in for chores and found two more twins had joined the goat crew. They were sporting blue snuggies, so I knew something was up. One of them was hunched over and both of them were not interested in taking the nipple or the bottle. Apparently their temperatures had crashed last night. I gave them each 1 cc of penicillin. I grabbed one of the goats to give her a shot and knelt right into a fresh pile of turd. I had just washed my overalls yesterday!

Things were looking up for the bloated goat mama and Lady. The mama looked much slimmer today and Lady came right up to me, eager to take the bottle, while wagging her little goat tail.

In the afternoon when I was checking on the snuggie twins I heard the sounds of crying kids, I looked up and saw two new babies outside the pens. I put the kids in a pen and tried to get the mom to follow but she ran away. I spent the next few minutes chasing her around and trying to coax her into the pen where her babies were. She could hear them crying but did not immediately locate them. Eventually I pushed her in their direction and she went in. I checked her tit to see how her milk was ( a little low) and checked to see if the kids could stand on their own (they could) and one of them started to milk.

The kidding season is well under way. I can only imagine what it is going to be like with all the kids running around the aisle in the barn!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Trucks are fun, Dump trucks are cooler.

Many people might consider driving a truck not a big deal. But it is to me. Consider the following: I have had my drivers license for 11 years but only drove for three of them. The only two cars I have ever owned were compacts (Toyota Echo and Toyota Yaris) and I haven't driven in three years until very recently. The day after I got my first car I got into an accident and I once went off the highway trying to eject a C.D. I get extremely agitated when lost/driving in the city/ or when someone blinds me with their high beams. Oh, and I hate reversing, driving in snow and getting stuck. So being comfortable driving a truck is like some sort of Dr. Phil breakthrough. In fact, I really like driving a truck. You're high off the ground, you take up the whole road (at least it feels that way to me)and you can haul stuff around. This week I actually drove the truck off the farm to deliver eggs and pick up compost. Plus, I drove at a speed above 20 mph! Then on Wednesday I briefly drove the dump truck. Dump trucks are way cooler. It's like driving a tank only you have the option to hydraulically dump crap out the back. I blasted Beastie Boys the whole time in the truck. I felt like a rock star.

Speaking of dump truck, on Wednesday we mucked out the pig pen and dumped the contents in the back of the truck. We accidentally buried six gardening tools under a ton of crap. We didn't realize that rakes and shovels were there until Brian asked if we had taken them out. Donald went to dig them out. Some of them were so deeply buried that they had to later dig them out using the Bobcat at the dump site. Lesson learned? Look before you dump.

Thursday I went to help Mark, the Glynwood Jack of all trades or handy man, fix up the second mobile chicken coop. I suggested we paint it hot pink and label it the Chick Mobile. That idea was shot down pretty quickly. I didn't do much but hammer, screw, sand, and carry stuff. But I absorbed the procedure and how he went about building it. We used the frame of a farm wagon for the platform, and built from there. Someday, I shall build my Chick Mobile. Or maybe I will get myself a truck, a hot pink truck with nice shiny chrome wheels. Now that's a chick mobile.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tick check

Sunday, I brought my husband over to the farm to help me do chores in the afternoon. I really wanted to show him the farm and what I do on a daily basis. We fed the sows and piglets, fluffed the hay and pet Lady the goat, watered the seedlings in the greenhouse, collected eggs, refilled the water in the chicken coops, and went and checked on the other pigs. This bunch are the mischievous ones as mentioned in a previous post. The two by fours that anchored the water trough down were pulled down and were being chewed on like they were a bone. As I filled up their water, one of the pigs decided to cool off with his nasty feet in the water.

The tomato seedlings I started last week are starting to pop up

Monday, a goat gave birth to two healthy baby boy kids. Unfortunately, the other mother who lost her three kids died on Saturday. Then we had another goat give birth to triplets. They seemed all good and healthy but Ken had to intervene because they were breached. Lady was not at all acting like herself yesterday. She wouldn't come when called, wasn't really interested in finishing her bottle of milk. Maybe, we thought, she was having middle child syndrome and was upset that she was no longer the baby. But, clearly we are projecting. More than likely she is just weaning herself of the bottle.

The last two days have been gray and rainy so we haven't been clearing the rose bushes. This afternoon we were going to clear a couple of small bushes behind one of the houses. I showed up with the weed whacker and the girls were not interested in busting that thing out. They were content to use pruning sheers and loppers. I could have razed that thing in a few minutes, but they are clearly not as much of a fan of the weed whacker as I am. So I went with the boys to dismantle the roof of one of the mobile chicken coops that got knocked over last year.

With beautiful weather comes nasty creatures. We can literally see the ticks crawling on the backs of the pigs. Frankly it is pretty gross. I have this sinking feeling that I am going to end up with Lyme disease this summer. Gosh darn it I am in my prime years! And not to sound vain and all but I don't want to end up looking like a stroke victim. Every itch I get or every bump I feel will set off panic that some blood sucking bastard is on me and infecting me with its disease. So a new part of my daily routine will be to strip down after work, at home of course, and check for ticks. I wish I could make it sound sexier, but its really not. Ticks suck.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Declaring war against multiflora roses

The lines are drawn. Me on one side, the rosebushes on the other. I am officially declaring war. Starting on Thursday, we were back out in the fields and my worst nightmare came true, 65F plus temperatures. On Thursday I had a sweatshirt and t-shirt underneath and had to choose sweating to death or death by a thousand paper cuts. I took off the sweatshirt. The only thing that made this job tolerable is the fact that I got to use a bad-ass weed whacker with a circular saw at the end.

I would go into the bushes and tear them down with a little too much gusto in my opinion, and retreat with their pricks hooked in my skin. Their last feeble attempt to take me out. At the end of the day I looked like I was a cutter, someone who belonged on one of those A&E shows about harmful addictions.

On Friday I helped Cale extract a dead kid from one of the mama goats. It was pretty sad. The goat went into labor on Wednesday but wasn't dilated enough. We gave her a shot to help with labor. It was taking such a long time we knew that there was a good chance she would give birth to stillborns. By Thursday she passed one and not too long after another. We didn't know a third one remained. Friday the head started to emerge, and I held her up and tried to soothe her while Cale tried to pull the dead kid out. He asked me to go and get some twine. I always have some in pocket for some reason and just gave it to him. I will try to spare you from the gore, but the smell and decay was horrific, and apparently the kid felt like oatmeal on crunchy bones. We are worried that the mother may not survive she is looking very lame and not interested in eating. She is on Penicillin right now and we are going to be checking her frequently.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dusting off the mobile chicken coop

Something interesting always seems to happen when I miss a day at work. On Monday, one of the sheep gave birth and no one even knew she was pregnant. This sheep, named Charlotte is BFFs with another sheep named Madeline and they are isolated away from the other goats and sheep. Why you ask? Because Madeline belongs to someone else and we board her. Madeline used to have a friend but he was old and died last year, so I guess we lent her a friend or something like that. So, apparently, the lady who boards her sheep with us saw that Charlotte had a little lamb and freaked because she thought she was attacking it. She had her dog with her which was barking and scaring the bejesus out of the mother. At the same time she was trying to force feed Charlotte a carrot (just in case the sheep was hungry and confused its baby for food?) Come on. Only rabbits do that! I guess she was well meaning and all, but she probably did a great deal more to frighten the mother than anything else.

The last two days have been beautiful and sunny. We are using this time to clear up all the fallen tree branches, hidden away under the snow. This morning I spent sometime in the greenhouse. We started multiple varieties of hot peppers, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes. They have cool names like Czech Black Hot Pepper, chocolate pepper or taxi yellow tomatoes. We buy our seeds from Fedco, Johnny's and High Mowing Seeds. We plan to do a few plantings of tomatoes but spaced a part a few weeks to give us a bit of a buffer in case blight sets in again this year.

In the afternoon, Dana and I were cleaning out the mobile chicken coop,aka scraping and shoveling hay mixed with poop. A mobile chicken coop is basically a coop on wheels and chickens can lay their eggs in their nest and then spend the day roaming green pastures pecking at worms. Sounds like a Sandals resort to me!
Donald and Dana cleaning out the mobile coop

Dana and I drove the truck up to the compost pile to unload. What should have been a two minute job turned into an hour job. We drove right into a muddy mess. Wheels were spinning and mud was flying. We couldn't reverse and couldn't go forward. A man in a truck just happened to stop and offered assistance but we had no rope or chain to attach to the vehicles. Dana wanted to avoid calling the guys to come and help us out. So we tried placing the hay under the wheels and digging out the front tires. We both tried and tried and were getting nowhere. Then, Donald came by and tried to help. Still stuck. At this point we had to suck it up and get the tractor up to help us. Dana and I waited for another 15 minutes and saw no one coming. We gave it one more try, but this time we put hay in front of the back tire and not just behind it. This time it worked, the tiring spinning pushed the hay undernearth and gave it the traction it needed. We got out just in time for Cale to come up the road with the tractor. Too bad we couldn't have done that before! Oh well, lesson learned.

Monday, March 15, 2010

No Farms No Food Rally in Albany

I missed a day of work today to take part in something I have never done before, lobby. I drove two hours up to Albany on a gray and rainy Monday morning because I felt I had to stand up for what I believe in. Albany wants to make big cuts to important agricultural and environment programs. These programs range from protecting farmland for future generations, increasing consumer access to nutritious foods grown in New York, helping farmers protect water and the environment, and strengthening the farm and food economy,

Now, usually when someone says the word lobbyist I immediately picture some hot shot suit paid thousands of dollars by a corporation to derail any movement that gets in the way of profit or imposes regulations. Instantly a few things come to mind such as the contentious issue of removing soda machines from schools or even the health bill. But, lobbying is one of the more effective ways (aside from chaining yourself naked to a tractor) to express your point of view or concern to the people in charge. And when you don't speak up, the corporate lobbyists can whisper sweet nothings into the senators and assembly-persons ears with no one contradicting them or making their opinions known otherwise. And what could be more important than Strong Farm and Food Economy, Healthy Environment, and Nutritious Foods??

No Farms No Food is the slogan of the American Farmland Trust and they organized this rally/day of lobbying. I asked Jeff Williams, New York Farm Bureau, how far in advance they had to make appointments with the legislators. He responded "usually, if you are meeting with one person, a week in advance is sufficient, but because we are so many people and we are seeing so many legislators it was planned three weeks ahead of time."

In total there were 130 participants representing over 70 organizations all over New York state. We shuffled into a conference room and began our day with some pep talk from various organizations and were given tips on lobbying. The participants were split into groups and were assigned a team leader, typically someone who has previous experience lobbying, and would do the introductions and sum up the main talking points. Our schedule was pretty packed. We met with a member of Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, and a representative of Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

There were 7 people on my team. We would introduce ourselves to the legislator, shake hands, and present him or her with a business card and a folder with our talking points and other information. One of the lobbying tips was to take one of the talking points (in this case, trying to convince them not to cut funding or restore previous funding that was already allocated) and try to make it personal. That is just what our group did. We were diverse enough that we could cover all the main priorities. I would talk about access to local meat being very difficult and expensive because of the lack of infrastructure (slaughterhouses and processing plants) and the resultant lack of farmers raising grass-fed livestock. Our main argument to the legislators was this, when you support local agriculture that money is recycled back into the community. It is good for the economy, good for health, good for the environment. The agriculture and environment programs only make 1% of the total budget (around $100 million dollars) and yet have been disproportionately cut to almost 50% of what they were in previous years.

I found it really interesting the various levels of interest, support, and responses we got from each person. Some were very supportive, some were indifferent, one assemblyman saw Food Inc, which we thought would win him over to our side for sure. However, his main concern was the budget. And he was lamenting the fact that Wall Street wasn't given out those $100 million dollar bonuses in cash anymore (they give it in stock instead) and that the state doesn't get the $7 million dollars in tax revenue. Hold up. You mean to tell me that they are taxed at a rate of less than 10%? Geeze, no wonder the government has no money!

Below is a sample of the budget cuts being made to important agricultural and environment programs. This can be found at the American Farmland Trust.

It was a great experience, to actually feel like I was taking part in democracy. Even if you missed the rally, it is not too late to let your opinion be known. If you live in New York State you can contact your legislator and tell them to not let Governor Patterson make these cuts. Click here to find out more.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Those suckers gotta go

This week we spent the majority of our time in the apple orchard, pruning the trees. These apple trees, while not very productive and when are they are productive, bare scabby, worm ridden fruit, have been around since 1922. We basically keep them around because they are pretty to look at. So, up the tree we went. Armed with pruners and saws we hacked away at the "hair" like projections sticking straight up out of the branches. I decided to climb into one of the trees without my rubber boots on, to get a better grip on the tree branches. All was fine until it was time for me to get down. I wasn't going to jump into two feet of snow in my socks, so I asked Dana to get the ladder for me. She put the ladder next to the tree and I stepped on to it only for it to fall completely over to the side. I landed in the snow with the saw still in my hand. Fortunately, I had all my fingers still and only wet socks to contend with.

For the really tall branches, we needed the long and awkward orchard ladders. I spent five minutes maneuvering the ladder and one minute cutting suckers. The worst part was moving the ladder from one tree to the next. I was sinking in the snow up to my knees and the ladder was incredibly top heavy. I tried moving with it over my head and failed miserably. I threw out an F-bomb as I sunk and the ladder crashed to the ground. My new technique was dragging it in the snow.

On Wednesday I helped split the wood we collected from all the downed trees we had during the snow storm. I was determined to use the maul to split wood. It was really heavy, probably around 20lbs, and the first few swings, barely made a dent in the wood. I later tried a lighter maul and successfully split the wood. We didn't actually split all the logs by hand because that would have taken forever. And besides, we had a hydraulic wood splitter which was way cooler. There is something soothing about the process of splitting wood. I put this heavy log onto the splitter and operate the handle which pushes the log towards the blade in slow motion and splits it like a knife slicing through butter. At one point, our wood splitting was interrupted when Cale showed up in the truck and told us the goats were running wild in the barn. We drove to the barn and found the goats were indeed running around freely in the aisle. The gate had been left open. Surprisingly, the garbage bins filled with corn were not knocked over and raided. We herded them back into the pen in a matter of minutes. Piece of cake. As we walked to the truck I sang "Who you gonna call? Goat Busters!" The guys shook their heads and were clearly not as impressed with my bastardization of the iconic Ghost Busters song.

By Thursday, we were finished cutting the suckers. But we discovered a lot of the trees had dead branches. Cale came in with the chain saw and cut them down. This prime apple wood would be saved in case a smoke house gets built. Mmmmm, apple wood smoked bacon.

We made a pile with all the clipped suckers to make it easier to collect them later on. As I was picking up twigs I noticed all the deer and sheep droppings on the ground around the trees. Another reason to be thankful I never fell off the ladder again!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Broke back bunnies

Chores are never boring. For instance, I can always count on the animals to keep me busy or entertained. The other day I walked in on two bunnies going at it. I was a little concerned that they were brother and sister. Not to worry I was told, they were two males. Ahhhh, I see. Aside from the cowboy bunny action, the baby bunnies are out of their little kit (nest) and are pretty darn adorable. They fit in the palm of my hand and they super soft. Lady the goat follows us around in the barn while we feed out the hay, jumping in the piles of hay or making friends with the steers. Never a dull moment.

Even with all that snow, it felt like spring on Thursday. Not because of the temperature, but because we fired up the greenhouse and started the first round of seedlings. Lise (assistant gardener) demonstrated the process. First she emptied a bag of the blackest earth that had a slight oniony smell to it. Then she formed the dirt into a doughnut ring and sprinkled a tablespoon of mycorrhizal fungi powder mixture (this makes nutrients in the soil more readily available to the plant) and then we dumped 3/4 cup of azotite ( a mineral mix). Then in the center a generous amount of water was dumped and we mixed the soil with the water so that it was damp but not soaked. We filled several trays (that contained 128 spots) with the soil mixture.

We seeded onions, parsley, celeriac, leeks and green onions. Most of the individual spots received three seeds. After filling the trays we placed our fancy tongue depressor labels with the date, name of plant and variety, and gave then gave the tray a good watering. The set-up is pretty ingenious. There is a flexible hose that snakes around the table and the trays rest on top of it. This basically transfers heat to the roots of the plants, instead of heating the air in the greenhouse, which saves money. The plan is to seed once a week for the next several weeks. We will be checking the trays everyday and watering when necessary. It was nice to get my hands in some dirt.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

After the storm comes the clean up

After a hellish week, calm and a sense of normalcy settled over the Hudson Valley Area on Sunday. The snow stopped, roads were cleared, and our power was restored in the afternoon. Yesterday after chores, all man/woman power was spent cleaning up the mile and half road leading to Glynwood. The road was a graveyard of fallen and broken trees and of course, plenty of snow. With three chain saws, a tractor, and two pick-up trucks, we slowly made progress. By the end of the day we could see the 301. Victory was ours!

It didn't take long to get soaked. Snow was going down my boots and my gloves were soaked from stacking wood, but the weather was sunny and a nice 40F.

A pleasant surprise came when we checked on the sows and the Large Black (sow breed) farrowed. Dana (fellow intern) and I walked into the barn and we saw a little piggy running freely in the aisle. Dana went and picked it up and was about to put it in with the sow that farrowed a few weeks ago. I immediately yelled out to her not to do it, as I noticed that the piglet was too tiny to belong to that mama. Then I looked down into the Large Black's pen and saw a bunch of piglets. She had 12 in total and 2 died. Half the litter were black and half were pink. I picked up the dead piglets and after birth with my gloves and put them in a bucket. At this point, I realize that I could probably cultivate a dozen different microbes if I swabbed my gloves. (How did I go from food inspector to picking up placenta?) As I contemplated the need to wash them, that decision was taken care of when they fell into two mud puddles.

As I mentioned in the last post, we ran out of hay on the weekend. We got a few rolls in and they are massive. Nicole (fellow intern) and I tried to push it but to no avail. Sadly, we needed the boys help. The good thing about these bails of hay is that we only need to roll out one a day (instead of two to three) for the 65 cattle and 100 goats. (The cattle also have access to hay outside)

We received a load of silage hay today. And boy oh boy, let me tell you about silage. I smelt it long before I saw it. An odor that is reminiscent of sweaty man feet and stinky cheese. Ken, the farm director, explained that silage is rolled wet in early spring, while the hay is at peak nutrition, instead of cutting it and letting it dry in the fields a few days. As it is typically done at the end of the summer. The wet hay is tightly rolled and wrapped in plastic and bacteria multiplies and consumes the remaining oxygen, thus preserving the hay. Its kind of like a rolled sauerkraut. Fortunately, we don't have to roll silage hay out (we stick it outside in the feeder rings) because I already have a lot of funky smells going on in my car, I don't need to add smelly man-feet-cheese on top of it.

So now the roads are clear, hay has been delivered we are waiting for the snow to melt to deal with the rest of the damage. I threw my dirty work gloves and clothes into the washing machine. As I put them in dryer I noticed dry kernels of corn and hay left in the bottom of the washer. A large clanging noise from the dryer prompted my husband to open it up and search for the cause. He pulled out a 5 inch screw from the dryer and said "I don't even want to know."