When I write blog posts here they’re always for you — the Michiganders who support our existence by eating locally and well, the fellow small-scale farmers and homesteaders who like to share in our experiences and earned knowledge, the ag and food-enthusiasts who share our passions even if not our lifestyle — but over time each post becomes infinitely more valuable to me. Early on I couldn’t have predicted how much I would enjoy looking back on the thoughts, trials, successes, and ideas we were dealing with at each step through the process of building this place from scratch. And yet, I often find myself going back through these archives to recall a snapshot in time.
What weather had us on the edge of our seat? What week did we begin and end the chicken season? When were the tomatoes ripe and when did they stop producing? So much of what I have written here acts as a record for my own perusal and I find myself going back over my words and pictures more now than ever. Which is why I realized last week while looking back on last year’s fall and winter weather for the farm newsletter, I’d really like to have a single list of the projects and tasks I’m undertaking each month. The day-to-day rarely changes — feed, water, bed, clean, ear scritches and belly rubs and chin scratches for all — but the month to month is constantly in flux. What better way to record it than with a monthly blog series? And perhaps you’ll even find it interesting too?
So, without further ado… during the month of October, 2017, this is what we’ll be doing:
Breed Sows for Late January & February Farrows
Three, three, three. Months, weeks, days. That’s how long it takes to bring a baby pig into this world. Which means sows bred the first week of October will farrow — that is, give birth — on or about the last week in January. Which, with our weaning schedule, is just about perfect for the first spring pigs around here. Once we begin we’ll breed for more pigs every few weeks until all of our gilts and sows are expecting. By staggering their due dates we’re able to make the most of small facilities while also ensuring we have plenty of time and attention to give to each group of newborn pigs during their earliest days.
Preg-Check January Farrowing Sows
Once bred, we’ll go back to each sow a few weeks later and use an on-farm ultrasound to confirm they are, in fact, expecting. No matter how many sows you’ve bred and farrowed, there never comes a point where you can look at an individual gilt or sow early in gestation and say, “Yup! She’s bred!” with certainty. And with some sows, including my favorite sow in our herd, you can’t even tell late in gestation. Each sow, like each woman, simply carries her pregnancies differently and so, if we want to be really sure a sow is bred, we have to have some way to check. The ultrasound is non-invasive. Since all of our gilts and sows are quite friendly we don’t even use a chute, crate or any other restraint. The entire device is handheld so I squirt a little gel on the wand, walk up to them wherever they are standing or laying, and press the wand gently against their belly just in front of their rear leg. Within a few seconds we have a definitive answer. And, since we use a live boar rather than artificial insemination, a definitive due date — or at least due date range if we happened to miss the action itself a couple weeks earlier. This way we can better ensure we have her in a comfy delivery pen in time for the arrival of her bitty bacon seeds.
Mend Winter Sheep Pen Fence
I won’t point fingers, but Penelope is a one-ewe wrecking crew and since we haven’t had need for the pen and shed we use for the sheep through the winter since they were last housed in it this past spring, her previous shenanigans still require a little fixing. It’s always something.
Move Sheep to Winter Pen
Normally I’d have another month, maybe more, to get around to that wrecked fence. In a year with more usual weather the sheep would not be moved into their winter quarters until November and in mild years even December. Unfortunately, we’ve been under a moderate drought for months now so there is nothing left of the pasture and hasn’t been for quite some time. They’ve been getting hay on the pasture since August so there’s little reason at this point to leave them out. We’ll move them to their winter quarters where we can more closely watch their breeding activity and body condition.
Clean out, clean up and deep-mulch the garden
The end of the growing season is always bittersweet. I hate to see the fresh food market right outside the front door disappear for another long, dark winter, but I’m also ready for a bit of a break from the work of it all. Fighting back weeds and bugs, managing harvest and preservation windows, monitoring for drought and disease… the care taking of organic fruits and vegetables is never ending. This month we’ll be just a bit sad as we harvest the last of the season’s abundance, pull out the annual plants by their roots, and cover the whole patch in a few thick inches of whatever organic matter the rest of the farm can spare for us — compost, leaves, spent hay and straw. Waste not, want not.
The perennial herbs, asparagus, berries, and fall-planted garlic will get a little extra care taken in tucking them in, the rest will simply be covered up to help snuff out the native vegetation underneath and keep the weeds at bay come spring. Since we began no-till growing a couple years ago, we’ve never been happier with our produce and this method of weed suppression and soil amendment is an integral part of our strategy.
Did I just say I was sick of canning and preserving? I am, but nature doesn’t care. Apples are ready, and when apples are ready you make applesauce. I’ll put by a few bushels in sauce, butter, juice and pie filling by the end of the month.
Process & Deliver The Last of the Meat Chickens
With the end of October comes the end of the 2017 chicken season. I spent a good half hour watching a few of the current batch scratch around in the piles of leaf mulch I’d been transporting into the garden earlier this week and I have to admit I’ll miss the little buggars between now and next spring when we do it all over again. We have just a handful of chickens left un-claimed so if you’d like to put a couple free-range, humanely-processed whole chickens in your freezer for the winter, let us know soon. They’ll be ready to go early November.