Sunday, January 1, 2017

About that farm...

So much for posting updates about that farm! But, as I warned back in February last year, pretty much everything revolves around the new farm. That ended up being a bit of a prophetic statement.

We did end up buying that farm we were looking at and Jeremy did move to the farm, but "the plan" pretty much fell apart after that.

In March, just as we were getting ready to move to the farm, we got 30 some baby ducks. They were adorable, but wow - super messy!  They love water and made huge messes. I could not wait to get them out of the basement brooder.

We finally moved them to the farm but it was awhile before they were big enough to move outside. For some reason the ducks always traveled together in a big herd. No duck ever went anywhere on its own. Is that normal duck behavior? I have no idea.

We had been warned at the beginning that 'ducks like to die,' and that certainly turned out to be the case for us. Ever so slowly, for the first few months after we moved them out to pasture, one would disappear maybe every week or two.  We had them surrounded by electric net fence so we aren't sure what was getting them. A fox leaping over the 4-foot high fence? An owl or hawk? Mink or weasel or something similar? It could have been any or all. Part way through the summer the ducks decided to take things in their own webbed feet and they escaped their enclosure. They took to roaming the farm and going where they please, returning to their shelter at night. This turn of events sped up our duck loss and by the fall there were maybe a half dozen left. (Oh, one or two visits by a neighbor's dog also caused the loss of a few ducks.)  By the fall though, the remaining ducks had moved into the dairy barn with all the chickens.  Today, there are two ducks left and they go everywhere together. They are a pair, male and female.

A couple weeks ago one of the ducks came to the front door of the house and was quacking away like a maniac.  Sarah, Jeremy's employee, was at the house and she went out to see what was up with the duck.  In the distance she heard the other duck quacking, it's quack reverberating throughout the grain silo. She went to investigate and discovered the other duck had fallen into the silo and was trapped. Its mate had come to the house quacking for help!  I think we should now name them Lassie and Timmy.  (The duck was rescued of course.)

Return with me to the spring again. A month or so after getting the ducks, Jeremy picked up 15 or so baby pigs - Berkshire and Red Wattle/Berkshire cross. Another month or so later he picked up more piglets for a total of about 28 pigs.

Yes, this is as crazy as it sounds. Now, I begged and pleaded and warned Jeremy about this whole pig business because I thought it was a bit soon to be getting into such a big new thing, but Jeremy had his reasons so we went for it. I kind of feel like if I could do one thing over from the last year (from the last 10 years even!) it would be to not get those pigs.

They were of course ADORABLE when they were little. I wish I could snuggle them right now!

But they were an incredible amount of work. Jeremy chose to keep them in with movable electric fencing and do rotational grazing - which meant moving them, their food, water and fencing, every couple weeks. He, and employees, had to keep a strict eye on the electric fence. Pigs are smart and they test the fencing - kind of like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. =)  In July or August they got out several times. One time they destroyed the gardens of several neighbors and we had to make reparations. By that time they were getting close to a couple hundred pounds a piece and you just can't make a 200-pound pig do anything it doesn't want to do!

I don't know how much personality they had, but there was one pig in particular who loved Jeremy. Whenever Jeremy came to visit the pigs and check on their food and water, this one pig would come running across the field, it's little tail wagging and twirling, to greet Jeremy. It was pretty adorable.

Jeremy had planned to keep a couple pigs through the winter and breed them, but, for many reasons, we ended up processing all of them.  So now we have something like 1700 pounds of bacon, sausage, pork chops, brats, roasts, etc in our walk-in freezer! Want some pork? =)

The first four months (in addition to ducks and pigs) was also taken up with moving all the logs (several thousand) from the old farm.  We had several work days with anywhere from 4-5 people to 10 people. We'd spend hours loading up one moving truck, then one and a half to two hours driving to the new farm, then hours unloading the truck. It got to be an ongoing joke about our "FarmFit" exercise program. Why pay for a gym membership when you could get a full body workout for free helping us move logs!?!

The move took much longer than we had hoped and there was still some inoculating to do so the whole schedule for the year was a bit messed up. Since the shade structure and fruiting house had yet to be constructed, Jeremy decided to do things the old way, in the woods.

But finally this fall we got the shade structure done and the hoop house up so that will be a big help for the upcoming season.

Of course, in addition to keeping up with ducks, watching after the pigs, moving the farm, doing maintenance on some of the buildings, inoculating new logs and picking tons of mushrooms, Jeremy was also keeping up with two Farmers Markets, delivering mushrooms weekly for three different CSA operations, and delivering mushrooms to co-ops, restaurants, and a distributor selling his mushrooms throughout the Midwest. Oh, and drying mushrooms, smoking mushrooms, and making mushroom butter and mushroom spread.

Our original plan of Jeremy being at the farm part-time was one of the first parts of the "plan" to change. Jeremy is pretty much at the farm all the time! Not only does he enjoy the quiet out here and the pace of life, he kind of has to be out here because there is so much set up still to do. Our hope had been a full-time employee would live out here and could help be responsible for things when Jeremy was in Minneapolis...but that hasn't exactly worked out. For one thing, we are now on our fourth consecutive employee of the year. Things keep not working out for one reason or another and folks move on. It's been similar with WWOOFers, interns, and volunteers. They say they want to spend a couple weeks or months here, and sometimes they leave within a few days. We've just had some really bad luck in the personnel department. It's hard not to think it's our fault, we've done something wrong. It's been helpful to talk with other farmers in the area who have had similar problems. Jeremy can get together with them and swap stories about some of the wackier volunteer personalities and people who up and leave in the middle of the night with no notice or warning.

As you can tell, it has been quite a year. There is quite a lot I had to leave out, but I have to leave some surprises in case I write a book someday, right?

I'll leave you with some of my favorite pictures of the farm. I've been able to get out to the farm 6-8 times this year and I just love this place.  The plan is no longer that I will live in the city and Jeremy will split his time between the two.  We are now working on a new plan for me to be able to move out to the farm full time. Hopefully this new plan will succeed!

A swampy area near the lake, in the spring

Lots of wildflowers in the spring, and summer and fall!

Swamp Milkweed, lots of it near the lake

Beautiful flower growing on the edge of the lake.

These flowers grow all over the farm.

Our great- great-grandfather apple tree, before we rescued it by cutting back a ton of the buckthorn surrounding it.

Apples! And they were good!

It's a very large apple tree.

Looking around in the woods.

Lots of frogs on the farm.

S'mores at our November open house party.

Bunny tracks in the snow.

Birch bark in the snow.

Happy New Year everyone!

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