Update from the farm

Brian Harry

I finally went pretty much completely dark.  The first 2 or 3 weeks of doing email every morning and evening finally passed and I’ve been focusing 100% on the farm.  It’s pretty much a 12 hour day 7 days a week.  It’s been tiring but it’s been fun.  The list of things I’ve gotten accomplished is long so I won’t try to list everything but I’ll highlight some stuff… After the orchard, I started work on the pastures.  I spread about 11,500 pounds of 17-17-17 fertilizer across about 45 acres.  The 50 tons of chicken litter was delivered about a week ago and I just finished spreading it today.  Mid last week, Southern States (a local farming business) delivered and spread 100 tons of lime for me across about 90 acres.  The only thing left is to seed the warm season grasses in 2 to 3 weeks (I’m only doing about 10-12 acres of that).  That will pretty much cover it for the pastures this year. I have to say it’s pretty amazing how much better they look.  I’m not sure it has anything to do with anything I’ve done.  Some warm whether and a reasonable amount of rain goes a long way 🙂  Hopefully all the seeding, fertilizing and liming I’ve done will help though.  Although they are looking much better, I really only have one pasture where the grass is long enough for the cows to graze.  You’re not supposed to let them graze grass down short because it depletes the grass’s energy reserves and can result in either death or VERY slow recovery.  To add to this, I’m down to 2 750lb bales of hay left – about enough for 1 week on full rations.  I’m holding my breath that the grass will come in on a few more pastures before my one good pasture and my last two bales of hay give out. After the pasture came the vegetable garden.  My original plan was to plant about 1 acre.  After a bit more thinking, I decided to cut that back to 1/2 acre.  In retrospect, I’m really glad I did.  It’s been probably my most difficult and time consuming project so far.  Fairly early on, I decided to do raised bed gardens (to help with drainage).  However, I don’t have a bedder (a piece of equiment that is pulled behind a tractor and forms raised beds).  After thinking hard about buying one and deciding not to – this being my first time and not really having any idea how to decide what to buy, I checked around to borrow one.  I found a neighbor that had one.  Further, he was generous enough to come over with his tractor and help me.  Well, it turns out his bedder was of the “home made” variety.  It was a couple of discs from a disc harrow bolted together with 3 draw bars (~3′ metal bars with holes in them).  A commercial bedder is generally quite a bit more sophisticated – with subsoilers to break up the soil, discs to form it and a pan to shape and firm the bed.  I’m very grateful for the help I got but, unfortunately, it left me with a great deal of shovel and rake work to further build up the beds, shape them and firm them.  It took me almost an entire week to get the beds in decent shape.  My wife is in the process of planting them (when she’s not taking care of our 2 year old).  The March plantings are about done and she’ll be starting the April ones in a week or two. One of the last things I’ve done is get our chickens out to pasture.  We have about 125 and they are about 7 weeks old.  We are doing “free range” chickens – which basically just means they live on a pasture instead of in a cramped chicken house.  The main tasks here were getting the portable chicken house ready, setting up a maintenance free automatic watering system, setting up a more scalable feeding system (hauling feed out to the pasture once or twice a day just doesn’t work for me), getting the live stock guardian dog situated (that’s a whole story in an of itself), and moving the chickens – man it takes a long time to catch 125 chickens one at a time 🙂

The dog – our guardian dog is a Great Pyrinees (might not be spelled right).  He’s a nice dog but I swear he is psychotic.  We got him about 6 weeks ago.  Initially we had him in a small room with the 1 week old chicks.  That was a catastrophe.  He destroyed the room – chewed up the in window air conditioner, tore down some blinds, crushed several of the chicks and more.  Having learned from that mistake, we created a pen for him in a small paddock next to the barn.  It’s already closed in electric fence but we added cattle grating to be sure he wouldn’t get through.  The first night he escaped (I have no idea how) and was gone for a couple of days.  He eventually showed back up on the farm but would not come to us despite our best efforts to lure him.  Ultimately, we managed to trap him in and electric fence area.  So our next attempt was to put him in a stall and chain him up outside during the day.  I think it would be going too far to say that worked but he didn’t escape.  However, he didn’t seem to be warming up to us or the farm either.  He continues to act very nervous, very fearful and to run away any time someone walks toward him.  A few days ago we moved him out to the pasture with the chickens.  I had him on a chain staked to the ground.  Yesterday he pulled the stake out of the ground and ran away.  If he hadn’t gotten his chain caught in some brush there’s no telling where he’d be now.  Now I have him tied to a tree (12″ trunk – he’s not pulling that out of the ground no matter what :)).  I was ready to kill him today.  I spent all morning standing out in the rain splicing hose and hooking up our automatic chicken waterers.  I got them all done, got all the leaks stopped and was feeling very proud of myself.  I walked away for 10 minutes to go do some other stuff and came back.  In his psychosis, he had run circles around the feeders and had them all tied in knots and in shambles.  Let’s just say I lost my temper.  Weeks of frustration with him all came out at once.  I didn’t touch him but let me just say I’m glad no one was around to hear the stream of expletives.  My wife has started asking around with protection dog experts in hopes of finding out what we should do.  We’ve gotten some hints on what we might do differently.  We’ll give them a try and I’ll let you know how it goes.

That’s most of the big stuff.  I’ve also spent a few days clearing brush (have I mentioned that the fence lines are terribly overgrown?).  The farm is pretty old and there’s a lot (miles) of fence lines with 30 year old (or more) barbed wire that’s no longer in tact and overgrown trees that haven’t been trimmed in 10 years or more.  This is my long term project.  I’ve been working on it for almost a year now and will probably be working on it for the rest of my life 🙂

I can’t say I did much on it but construction on our house has started.  The trees were cleared about a week ago and now I have enough firewood to last an eternity.  Seriously.  I think it was 14 dump truck loads of firewood.  And that’s in addition to the 3 truck loads of “large” (probably 18″-36″) red and white oak that I’m going to have sawn into lumber.  The footings are poured and they started laying the foundation on Saturday – but had to stop due to rain :(.  It’s exciting to see all of the progress though.

It seems like the list of remaining projects just keep growing.  I’ve already gotten the wheels in motion on a few more.

I think I had been in denial about deer fencing around the garden and orchard.  After all they are in the middle of the farm and there’s at least 2 or 3 electric fences between them the woods in every direction.  Well, after seeing deer tracks in the garden beds the morning after I made them, I woke up from my little fantasy world and started planning a fence.  I’ve now ordered all of the parts – 96 10′ posts and 2,400′ of deer netting.  Yep, that’s right – the fence is going to be almost 1/2 of a mile.  Anyone care to guess how long that’s going to take me?

Better late than never?  I really should have already installed the irrigation system for the orchard and vegetable garden.  I have made a few steps toward it but they have all been thwarted.  The last failure occurred when I got an estimate back from a local landscaping contractor.  The estimate was for over $41,000.  I nearly fainted when I saw it.  I expected it to be expensive but that was at least twice as much as I was expecting.  So I’ve gone back to the drawing board and am now planning on doing much of the work myself.  I’m working on the detailed design and hope to have a plan in the next few days.  Then I can order the components and be ready to do it in a few weeks.

The last major thing I’m looking at is water distribution for the cows.  After dealing with frozen hoses and watering troughs this winter, I knew I wanted to have this problem solved before next winter but was a bit ambivalent about doing it this spring.  Another little fantasy has been burst.  We are doing a rotational grazing system for the cows – moving them from paddock to paddock about every 4 days.  This is to keep them from overgrazing the pastures.  This last week I moved the cows from their winter “sacrifice” paddock to their first spring paddock with new lush grass.  After buying 300′ feet of hose, hooking it up to 400′ of hose I already had and getting it all set up, I realized that there is really no way I can do this every 4 days all summer.  So, getting water lines run around the farm has suddenly become a priority and I hope to have a plan by the end of the week.

That’s about it for now.  Sorry for the length but it’s been a few weeks.  I think in the next week or so I’ll try to get some pictures posted so you can see what this farm looks like.



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