Thursday, April 07, 2011

First Winter Down

We have been operating our hobby farm in full force for a whole year now and MAN have we learned a lot. Honestly, it is my wife who is out there every day doing the daily chores, which she admittedly enjoys.

We now have a skillset that might be valuable someday, and it might not. We learned that in our situation live barn cats are better than poison or traps. There was a mice problem in our barn last year. We got two cats from the feral cat humane society here. Yes, I know it sounds silly to actually pay $25 ea. for cats but we wanted them for a couple of reasons. We wanted them to kill. Domesticated cats do kill, but don't have as good survival instincts as our "little tigers" as I like to call them. We have seen evidence of nary a mouse all winter - last year we couldn't reset the traps fast enough. Now that it is warmer the rodents will head outside for food and we won't have to deal with that problem for a little while.

Our garden was a disaster last year due to neglect, but this year we are going to throw a little more energy at it. Even neglecting the thing we had a bumper crop of squash, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and jalopenos - I pickled the jalopenos myself and enjoyed them for a long time.

We raised five beef cattle through the winter. Our hay was analyzed by our local co-op and we are told that it is very good. More importantly, several farmers looked at our hay and said "hey, that is good hay!" which to me is a better indicator than most tests that are done. Our horses (three of them) did well over the winter too. Our first steer goes in for slaughter in just four weeks and it will be interesting to taste this beef. It is purely raised on pasture grass and hay. We are prepared for a different taste. We are told by many that this beef is in high demand and that we could get up to $5 per pound for ground beef. One butcher has approached us to sell our beef in his display case under the grass fed banner. We have Scottish Highland cattle. It is interesting to see how fast they have grown looking back at last years photos.

Our land supported all of the animals all winter. We worked out a deal with a local farmer who helped us harvest our hayfield. Stacking one thousand small square bales is a long day any way you slice it. But you only have to do it once, and that set us up for the whole winter, with plenty to spare. We may have to sell some before this years crop comes in. We usually keep the second cut - as we get three cuts of one thousand bales each. For your information that is only on approximately 13 acres of hayfield.

Our chickens laid all winter, surprisingly. We were told by many that they would stop laying as the days got shorter, but we kept on getting eggs. Now that the days are getting longer, we are getting a LOT of eggs. They are good, and it looks like we will have extras to give away and sell.

Our farm is right outside of Madison, and this summer we are building a house out there and moving. We have nothing against our current neighborhood, but I guess this is where we are supposed to be. Being a glass half empty type of guy, I think that these skills would be of use during an apocalypse of some sort - at least we could certainly last longer than most people with our supply of beef and eggs and vegetables. On the other hand, it has been a pleasant distraction for us, and we have learned a lot about how much work it is even to keep just a small farm in ship shape. I simply have no idea how people did this before the internal combustion engine. Well, I do know, but my god we don't really want to ever go back there, I hope.

Cross posted at ChicagoBoyz.


Gerry from Valpo said...

I am so jealous.

We had a veg garden in the old place 20 years ago. Our current property is in the woods so we can grow only herbs in the small patch that gets enough sun and our farm is too far away to plant there. But we have considered mooving there some day.

Good luck with your moove : )

Dan from Madison said...

It is worth taking another look at some of the vegetable varieties available that are OK with shade. Obviously you won't get things like tomatoes, but I have learned a lot looking at so many of the new hybrids.

Mark said...

Wow, very exciting. Keep us posted on the house building. I'm sure you've considered these things, but remember to use if possible: passive solar design, thermal mass, masonry heater, solar hot water, which will help your pocketbook and keep you safe in the worst case scenario you mentioned.