My daughter takes a lot of the photos that appear on the blog. Some by request and many not. Most of my photos are photos of cow manure, chicken manure, and grass. Many times when I am at a loss for words – yes, that does happen on occasion – I only need to peruse the day’s photo file to see the farm through a different set of eyes. Hers. She doesn’t appear much on the blog because she doesn’t want her picture posted all over the place. She was a minor when I started blogging and I chose not to parade her around on the internet because of how I felt about that; it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Why do people who say they are shunning the internet due to privacy issues feel the need to plaster said internet with continual photos of their minor children? I have no problem with people who just post photos and don’t complain about loss of privacy, but really? I am sure kids love it, but they really don’t have a say. And that puts me at a loss for words. So thank you dear daughter – for supplying me with fodder for the blog this week and every week.
Here are some photos from this week:
rost is on the way again, so that meant I had to quit procrastinating and get my dahlia tubers lifted, washed, labeled and put away for winter. This is a task I probably haven’t done in 15 years or more. I used to grow way too many dahlias and glads, and unlike potatoes, you don’t eat the multipliers, you have to store them through the winter for the next years garden. If you’re a dahlia seller, it’s worth the work and space you need to devote to the tubers over winter. Dahlias can quickly get out of hand – see below.
I want more food than flowers, so proceeding with caution (warning: dahlias are a lot like material, one more yard to add to the stash is a good thing, right?) this year, I bought a few dahlia bulbs just to add some larger flowers to the garden. All my food chores in the garden are about done, except hilling the remaining root crops with soil, but before I do that I do need the plant tops to freeze back a little. I found out the hard way that jumping the gun on that task made a nice area for voles to keep warm and eat my vegetables.
Nothing gets done around here without the crew of vole hunters. I didn’t see much hunting going on yesterday though, mostly just hanging out with the two-legged. The dogs and cats steered clear while I hosed the soil off of the tuber clumps, but they quickly migrated back as soon as the hose was drained and put away.
I purchased these tubers from a small farm on a whim, and they were neatly displayed for self-service in the farm house breezeway. The farmer was spreading manure on her pasture when I stopped by, so I only had to write down my list and count the tubers and hand her the cash as she went rattling by with the tractor.
Most folks I know that grow dahlias casually, occasionally have mislabeled tubers. It really makes no difference, and once you see the blooms you can make note for the following year if it matters to you. She had some of my old favorites and some others that I wanted to try. I wasn’t worried about each tuber not being marked, I liked them all, and could sort them out after the first blooming season when I lifted the tubers.
Somewhere during the summer as we were enjoying the dahlias in the garden and in bouquets, I misplaced that list. I had every intention of marking those plants by name and the pressure was on as the weather turned cooler. I finally found that list, but to my surprise after an internet search of dahlia images I discovered about half of the dahlias I bought weren’t the ones on the list. I like them all, she sells cut flowers and that is what I wanted, dahlias with strong stems that will hold up to the rigors of bouquet making. The internet is a wonderful thing, I could at least confirm some of the names of the dahlias, for the others I had to resort to dahlia lingo. I have some that are marked like this: Purple, B FD, which means in dahlia speak – color, size and style, I have a clump of purple, 4″ – 6″ , formal decorative tubers. Some have harried gardener lingo because I was late in finding the list, and the freeze destroyed the blooms and tweaked the colors. These are marked IDK, I Don’t Know.
For marking the dahlia tubers before storage I like to use an indelible ink pencil. This makes my job much easier come planting time. The ink on the tuber will stay readable even through the next growing season, it’s that good. And it’s also to remind me of my mistake, Nadine Jessie is the proper spelling. I did this immediately after washing the tubers because the tuber needs to be damp for the ink to work. If they are dry you can use a damp cloth or a spray bottle to wet a small area for writing.
To take up less storage space I cut the stem just about the eyes and store the marked clumps in recycled plastic burlap weave feed bags. Not the new fused plastic feed bags, the old style gives a little breather room, and also holds in moisture. I gave up long ago packing tubers in vermiculite, perlite or sawdust. I store the bags in the cellar to keep them from freezing, and I can monitor them for dryness. If they start to look a little shriveled I tie the bag closed. You don’t want too much humidity nor too little. Part of our cellar has a dirt floor, and I have found that is the best place to store my dahlia bags.
If you’re a gardener, you know the saying next year all too well. Next year I plan to mark my dahlias a little better and do more research on the varieties I have. Of course, this research will have to be a field trip to the farm where I purchased these, and maybe I’ll get a few more
Jane has a big announcement to make – she’s pregnant! But who is this handsome fellow in the pasture and more importantly why is he here in November? I was reading a blog post the other day and the writer mentioned the old saying if you want to make God laugh tell him your plans. I’m going to add it’s the same with blogging, if you show just a wee bit of confidence with your plans or words, you get slapped down pretty quick. I’m not even going to bother finding the old post in August where I wrote, ” the AI didn’t take, I’ll just put Jane in with bull, I’m confident that she’ll settle.” Yeah, well so much for that.
I also know that the way the world works is you always blame the woman first for fertility problems. Been there, done that. If it’s a man’s world, it’s also a bull’s world too and bull rental guy’s world. Clears throat. I have to take some blame here for my mindset too, well, a lot of the blame. Grass ceiling, FarmHer, yeah I know new girl farmers, farming in a man’s world is hard. I love it, not really, I hate it. You ever tried shagging parts and having to find the part yourself in the book because the counter guy thinks a V-8 345 is a new vegetable drink. Or taking the haybine driveline back to the repair shop because they welded the U-joint on wrong. Trust me, it’s not fun, because of course you’re a woman and what could you know about such things. The easiest thing to do is to plead ignorance and tell them, “gee my husband told that’s what I was supposed to get.” Trust me you get out there much faster and back with the correct parts, sometimes.
Or this, which usually comes about on farm consults.
“Is that your husband’s truck? It’s so big.”
“Ummm, no actually it’s my truck.”
So do I bother to explain that I have to go pick up a ton of feed on my way home, and I just can’t fit it in my smartcar…no I don’t, because then I would have to explain how it’s just not safe to be hauling a ton of feed in a truck with out the proper suspension, or should I really be driving the econo rig today, while I am out and about. Combining trips? What’s that? Nah, you can’t explain yourself, because it makes it all sound like an excuse. So I don’t, and the part about the smartcar, I made that up. You know what? If I go to a woman’s farm to consult, they never ask me about the truck, if I go to a farm that is mostly menfolk, I get asked and jabbed multiple times about the truck. Go figure, I guess size really does matter… .
So, you can imagine my trepidation about calling the bull rental guy and telling him I think your bull isn’t, uh, DOING HIS JOB! First I have to say, Bull Guy is old, like 85 or so, then there is a slight language barrier if he needs to pull that out, pun intended. He speaks broken German and it’s actually pretty funny and comforting too. A lot of the older folks around here when I was growing up spoke with the same accent. But it ceases to be funny when he pretends he doesn’t understand what I am saying to him. He is getting a bit senile too, he got lost two years ago on his way here, and believe me I have no idea how he got where he did, and it got worse when he called and said he was at the fire station, we gave him directions and he called again lost more than ever, because he didn’t tell us he was in a different town! Anyway, I feel badly for him, and worried, because his bulls are gentle, and when he retires, we will be forced to deal with not having him available or having to buy a bull of our own again. So as maddening as Bull Guy is, he still makes my life fairly easy.
At first it wasn’t apparent that the bull wasn’t okay. I have myself to blame for Jane being bred so late. All this aligned or didn’t as the case may be, because of mistakes I made in judgement. Jane’s first strong heat after calving on June 13th was July 25th. I wasn’t thinking of breeding her until August so I let that one slip by with just a note on the “brain” wall calendar in the kitchen. That calendar is my life with the cows and the grazing rotation. It was however my wake-up call to get on the stick and call the AI Guy. He is just as interesting as the Bull Guy. I know he judges cattle at the fair the next county over. I also know this particular fair has slayed my plans for having him AI my dairy cows in the past. So I called him to see, could he be here that week? Or were his fair duties too much? He left me a message saying he could make it, but he was pretty booked and it would have to be first thing in the morning – first thing means 5:00 am.
Here is was my first mistake, kind of, when Jane came in heat in August, I decided to just put her in with the bull and skip the quest for the possible dairy heifer. That would keep me in good standing with AI Guy. Simple. Jane goes to bull, we put her and the bull in a separate pasture and then go about our merry way until milking. At about this time Bull Guy calls and wants the bull back, which is kind of odd, since only 3 weeks of the 6 weeks has elapsed, hmmm, senior moment. I talk him down, and the bull is scheduled to stay. Perfect until 3 weeks later – Jane becomes the crazy cow in heat! What! Of course, I blamed Jane, there is only one thing worse than being a woman in a man’s world, and that is being a dairy cow in a beef cow world. Dairy cows are not a natural functioning unit compared to a beef cow, they have been bred to give copious amounts of milk, and this literally can milk them of their health, sometimes making them hard to rebreed. If you’ve followed my blog long enough, you know Jane is a no resilient homestead cow, she is what she is, so I looked to her for the answer to the repeat heat cycle after being with the bull, and I also thought maybe I brought her home too soon too.
Of course, in my mind AI was out of the question this next time, because I was so sure it was Jane, and AI is not quite as sure as a live cover. So sent her back to the bull, but at the same time I noticed one of the other cows in heat too, that I knew had been serviced. Hmmm, the gears slowly started to turn a little, maybe it wasn’t Jane after all. Could it be the bull? This is my personal cue to turn around and look at this whole wrong thought process/path I have been following. What if? In the next two days, two more cows came in heat and poor ol’ Samson looked like he had quite a hitch in his get-along. It appeared that his hip was bothering him and he just couldn’t get himself up on the cows. I really dreaded calling the
pimp Bull Guy because I knew he would give me a hard time. And he did.
“What did you do to poor ol’ Samson? It must be your cows.”
“Well, he has a bum hip. Half are bred and half aren’t.”
“Harumpf, I’ll come get him then.”
“Okayyyy, but I need another bull pronto.”
“Don’t have one.”
Great! Now besides having a huge calving window next year, I have to mollycoddle this old guy, because I really need a bull from him, and I paid for 8 cows to be bred. I have 4 open cows and no time to find a bull, besides I don’t particularly want to keep a bull anymore, we have too few cows to justify the extra cost and feed for an entire year just for a 6 week stint with the cows.
So it gets worse. Samson goes home, gimping and I felt kind of bad, because I know they come to a bad end at some time, but I have never had one of the rental bulls go bad on me. I liked Samson, and I was sure I just sealed his fate. The standoff occurred when Bull Guy basically refused to bring another bull until I made absolutely sure the cows weren’t bred. So another 3 weeks passed, cows came in heat and I had AI guy out for Jane and made note of the beef cows cycling and called Bull Guy back.
We talked, and he said sure he could bring a Gelbvieh bull on Sunday. How many cows, and what breed. I answered his questions and we made the appointment. You know how after you get off the phone, you go over the conversation in your mind and you realize something isn’t right? He knows what kind of cows I have! Oops senior moment. I called him back and told him again who I was, and geez was he mad. He said he would bring the bull and he hung up on me. Yeah right like it’s my fault. Joey was delivered on a Sunday as promised. I have found the best medicine for Bull Guy and his shenanigans is to have Hangdog present. That really cuts the bullshit. Bull Guy was quite pleasant actually. Of course, he was getting a deal, he had no job for Joey, and here I am feeding the bugger for six weeks while he does three days worth of work. It’s still cheaper for me to have him here, then it is to leave the cows until next breeding season, or to buy a bull. It is what it is. There is no changing the way it all worked out.
In the meantime I had decided to breed Jane AI at her next heat, if it occurred it would be during the window when there was no bull here, and I didn’t want to wait. When you start ticking off the calendar in three-week increments it starts adding up fast. Or in this case getting late in the year for when I want the house cow to calve. Dickie was not to get a baby brother or sister, Jane came into heat again. I called AI guy and asked him about bringing the special semen that he is storing for a friend of mine. Never an easy guy to deal with, he gave the run down on his schedule, he runs all over hill and dale breeding cows at dairies and servicing clients like me with a house cow. Of course, the semen was at his house, and couldn’t I just this one time use the Guernsey bull he had in his tank? I have to tell you at this point, I was so dejected about the entire breeding season with all the cows that I just gave up, and said okay. Just so the cow gets bred. Fine and dandy, he showed up, bred Jane and left me with a due date for next year and the usual goodbye.
“I hope I don’t see you until next year!”
Fast forward three more weeks, Jane is in heat. Now I have moved from dejected to depressed. I have been stressing about the whole mess since the Labor Day, and now it’s almost the end of October. Too long really to not get some action one way or another. I called AI Guy and asked for the special semen.
“Sure, not a problem, I’ll be there this afternoon. I’ll call you from the fruit stand, so you’re ready.”
“See you then.”
He called, I caught Jane and we waited. When he arrived he started suiting up, and then reached into the tank, big pause, and some cussing.
“&*#! I thought I got the right one, and this is a Jersey…”
At that point, what could I do, besides ask myself what else could go wrong with this breeding season? So we went with the Guernsey bull he had in his company tank. After the breeding we talked and he suggested coming back again the next morning and breeding her again. Artificial insemination relies on different timing than live cover, so the twelve-hour back to back breeding is fairly common. He apologized profusely for screwing up the semen, and frankly at this late in the year, I don’t care what she has, just so she is bred. Dealing with a cycling cow is not fun. There is a reason they call it settled when an animal is bred. Now I have my Teatanic back, she is like a slow-moving milk craft carrier, and that’s the way I like it. Slow and easy.
Who’s the daddy? Time will tell, she was bred with two different bulls. They are significantly different in body type so it may be easy to tell, but then again maybe not. Just as long as one of them took, it’s fine. I’m thinking the second breeding is the one though, since we were a little early on the other attempts. Fingers crossed for a pink halter though, I want a girl! As for the other cows, time will tell on them also when the calves come. As it is now, Joey will be home for Thanksgiving and we will be bull less. And for that I will be thankful.
I pretty much take what I do every day for granted, forgetting that what is habit to me and mine is a whole new world to others. Especially if they want to farm, or are longing to reconnect with their heritage, or are just plain curious about farmsteading in general. Many of the tasks I do every day are etched in my memory bank so deeply I don’t give them a second thought. So I thought maybe a post about the care of Jane’s winter quarters might be useful and timely. When people ask me about getting a milk cow, most questions center around the task of milking only. Not the barn cleaning part. What’s to know?
Well, actually a lot. Cleaning your milk cow’s sleeping quarters is as important as cleaning your milk bucket. It doesn’t matter if you have one dairy cow, or hundreds. Manure handling is an important and daily chore. Grazing season is a little different, Jane is outside day and night and only comes in for milking, but now she needs to be in at night just to get a chance to dry off and rest. It may not get cold here in the Pacific Northwest, but it rains most days from now until April. A cold, wet cow uses a lot of energy just to keep warm. Energy in the form of hay, that we have to make and haul in during the summer. Hard work I don’t want to waste.
Jane actually is a little spoiled. Well, a lot spoiled. But not really because she is Jane, it’s more because the design of this loafing shed just isn’t good for deep bedding like we use for the beef cows. Plus deep bedding is not what you want for a dairy cow anyway due to the size of their udder. Beef cows as a general rule don’t have pendulous udders that touch the ground when they lay down.
After Jane is milked and put out to pasture, the milk is processed, I eat breakfast, gulp down some more coffee and go out and do my barn chores. I get annoyed with myself if I leave this chore until afternoon. When it is time for evening milking I want to just go out and milk, so having the barn night-ready makes me feel better. This is about like washing dishes before you start to cook, it just goes easier. Having manure chores separate from milking chores is a wise thing to do.
My first order of business is to remove her water buckets so they won’t get manure or soiled bedding in them when I push the loaded wheelbarrow past them. If it’s raining I put them under the gutter on the implement shed. If it’s not I take them to the water trough for filling. Rain is nice, I don’t have to pack the buckets so far.
Jane is pretty good about making a little nest for sleeping in a clean area of the shed. I like this. If she doesn’t feel good she is apt to lay in her own poop. It’s not true of all cows I guess, but I have noticed that cow that are ill or slightly off tend to just not care where they lay down. Kind of like us when we have the flu, who cares if you comb your hair, you feel like crap. If your cow is chronically dirty, your cow area may be too small, or you’re not using enough bedding. It happens, but you basically don’t want to see manure on the cows. A clean udder makes my job much easier to produce clean milk. As it is, if Jane does have manure on her udder, I don’t keep the milk for the house. I still have to clean her and milk her, but it makes more sense for me to discard the milk. The chickens don’t mind a bit.
The loafing shed has a dirt/rock floor. In the summer we put down shavings, and I add straw to the top of that. The shavings absorb the urine and the straw is there mostly because I want this material for the gardens. Shavings are great if you can afford them, but the carbon to nitrogen ratio is too high for garden compost, unless you have years to wait for it to break down. It’s good to note here too, that shavings or sawdust on top the ground is a good fertilizer, but since I am tilling this material in and basically burying the shavings before they could break down, using straight shavings isn’t the best for my garden situation. It’s also good to note too on the cow side that the shavings must be kiln-dried or you run the risk of Klebsiella bacteria possibly causing mastitis.
Like any other chore the right tools make the job go easier. I have a dedicated manure wheelbarrow, and a five tined manure fork. The handle is so smooth you wouldn’t believe it, a testament to how much I have used it. This old post about barn forks explains a little more of the hows and whys of pitchforks.
When we built this loafing shed for feeding we didn’t do deep bedding and these feeder panels are fixed in place. We tried to deep bed once, and what a fiasco to clean since we have end walls on this barn. The feeder gate spacing is a pain too, just ask Jane. I look forward to the day this whole thing is cut apart and gone and we can replace it with something that works better.
Of course, you must have quality control with barn cats and calves.
After picking the stall, I have to bed it with fresh straw. Cut the twine at the knot and cover all the soiled areas in the stall with fresh straw. I have handled so many bales of hay in my lifetime that if the knots are down I can flip the bale with a flick of my wrists before you could blink an eye. And I always have my knife in my pocket.
After bedding, I add Jane’s hay and we’re good to go until the next morning.
I know this makes it seem cumbersome to clean up after a cow, but to tell the truth I don’t have to think about most of it, like where to fill the buckets, or cutting the twine at the knot for recycling. It actually took me longer to take the photos than the actual chore of cleaning up after Jane. But I think this chore is probably the most important ten minutes of my day.
Just one look at this photo makes me a bit wistful for spring. Well, more than a bit.
The greenhouses get put to bed for winter. Here that means removing warm-season plant debris usually by sheep, rescuing tomato clips, tying tomato twine out of the way, removing plastic mulch, irrigation, and adding a light mulch. A controversial thing we do is remove the covers and expose the growing space to the weather. In part because of the 20 year snows we get here that can collapse this style of greenhouse and partly because I was thoroughly convinced Eliot Coleman is right about the rejuvenation of the soil from his moveable greenhouse system. Three years of growing in this space after winter removal of the cover has me totally on board with this. It’s also got Hangdog on board too, since he decreed he would never build another greenhouse. We can’t move our greenhouses due to the lay of the land, we’ll just let the weather in and forgo winter salads. So not a problem since we have hardy greens growing anyway. I say this is controversial because of what our neighbors and friends think. One neighbor was so bold as to ask us to give him our greenhouse because we weren’t “using” it.
Our greenhouse rotation consists of swapping crops from one greenhouse to another in different years. While it appears from the road we aren’t using our growing space, rest assured we are. All the winter kale and cabbage is safely inside the greenhouse where the deer haven’t been bold enough to enter as long as we keep the doors closed.
A few days with the sheep grazing and eating crop residues makes my job of cleanup much easier. They pretty much defoliate most the plants just leaving the woody stems.
These clips last several years, and on their third year now I did find some that had broken. Usually it’s the size of the stem that gets them. The stems grow large enough to burst the clip. By that time though the plant is fully supported and you are none the wiser until you remove them at the end of the season.
After clip removal I pull the plants, it’s always pretty amazing to see the roots on these plants.
I like seeing what has went on under the plastic mulch all summer. I see some weed growth, some weed suppression and some fungal activity. I used both the red and dark green mulch this summer, and could see no difference between the two. Except maybe that the red mulch tricks you into thinking you’re seeing a ripe tomato early.
The twine lasts too, but to keep it from getting tangled up on the purlins and bows during winter storms, I have found tying it up keeps it pretty tangle-free. This also keeps it out of the way of the tractor when I till.
This growing space sure looks bleak in November, I am almost done removing items in here, and hopefully before I know it, it will be spring again and looking like this.
I have a totally non-related question for my readers…how many of you are seeing thumbnail sized photos when you view the blog? Several have mentioned this and sometimes when I am viewing the post in preview, I see them too, or just captions and no photos. I have been told it’s a WordPress glitch, and I do know if I go back to the draft, then back to preview the photos appear to be the correct size. Just wondering.
he first seed catalog arrived more than a week ago! What’s up with that? Christmas displays in stores before Halloween – I guess it’s only fair that the seed marketers get on the bandwagon too. They probably know us better than we think though, even if this wasn’t a company I buy seeds from, they probably have a sneaking suspicion my thoughts are leaning towards making up my seed lists for next year’s garden. They’re right too, I am. While I like seed saving as much as the next gardener, I like growing hybrids too. My box of last tomatoes sitting in the hallway is predominately hybrid New Girl, with the fluted open pollinated Pantano Romanensco filling in the blanks. But I didn’t want to post about tomatoes, I worked in the greenhouse yesterday putting that garden space to bed, so I’ll do a post about that tomorrow. I’ve moved onto winter food and I want to put a plug in for a quiet player in my garden that I think needs a little attention so other gardens can learn it’s virtues. Celeriac.
From my perspective celeriac gets a bad rap like turkeys do. All the old wives tales get repeated time and after time. Too fussy, needs constant attention, dies at the drop of a hat. Just insert the words turkey or the celeriac into those sentences. I have to say, though I haven’t found those things to be true about either turkeys or celeriac, unless of course, you don’t pay attention to what the needs of those two things are.
Talk about slow food, celeriac is the vegetable for that. I seeded my celeriac this year March 13, it germinates slow, and grows slow. That’s a good thing right? After a time, I move the tender seedlings from a 200 cell flat to a 48 cell, and about the time it is ready to transplant around the first of June, there is just enough time for it to establish and start putting out its roots. And that folks is one of the many things I like about celeriac, it puts out so many roots it is a perfect candidate for my dryland gardening. Moisture gatherer extraordinaire. So while that may not make much difference to folks who irrigate, it makes a huge difference to me. This is just one more vegetable I can grow that isn’t too fussy once I can get it to the stage that it can make it on its own. Plus it tastes good too. The leaves and stalks are the best for flavoring many meals, the root is delicious, and if you grow enough to save over winter, you can plant them out and get seed too. At our house the root poses as a potato substitute since my husband is allergic to potatoes.
It’s not quite as cold hardy as our other root vegetables, sometimes we squeak by without it freezing, and other times I lift some and store them so they won’t freeze. Another way I have been saving it and the delicious tops is to make this vegetable bouillon for the freezer. It’s a great way to save the fresh vegetable flavor, and use up odds and ends of vegetables you may have around, I usually skip the fennel in the recipe, and substitute a little more celery root because that is usually what I have on hand. The amount of salt in this recipe sounds high, but you either leave out some salt or just use more water when cooking. Personally, I leave the salt portion alone because I think it preserves the vegetables better, and add more water to taste.
There they are – second row from the left, limping along and probably praying for rain and all the while building a massive root wad.
One thing though, you just don’t casually go out to the garden and pull on these puppies out of the ground like a carrot or beet. I do have to take the spading fork with me to break the roots and loosen things up a bit.
Shake as much soil out of the root wad as possible.
It was dry yesterday, so that part was pretty easy. Wet harvest day – much more difficult.
Obviously my dryland celery roots aren’t like the specimens you see in the store. But they are big enough, certainly you can irrigate if you want, I’m just here to say it’s not necessary. Peak water is more on my mind than peak oil… . When you consider that the root in the store is missing the stalks, I have a lot of vegetable here for the kitchen that is so much more than just the root. I’ve grown leaf celery and plain old celery, and celeriac wins hands down for space-saving and harvest amounts time after time. All summer long I can pluck a leaf here and there for salads or other dishes and as long as I don’t get too greedy it doesn’t seem to matter.
So I guess I want to put in a good word for that ugly root, celeriac. I find it fits in pretty good here and is definitely worth a try. And while I am it, we’ve been enjoying side shoot production on the romanesco. Normally I pull the plants for the hens after we harvest the heads, but this year I just hadn’t got to it yet and noticed they were starting to push some teeny tiny fractal heads. You might want to add romanesco to your seed list too.
he chores don’t really stop here, they just change. You trade one task for another. I’m not doing much in the garden these days except harvesting, and sheet mulching, but I am now building and tending a fire each day and splitting a little wood too. The beef cows are still grazing with twenty-four hour moves, but I have started putting Jane in at night. So that means I have barn cleaning activities to add to the chore list, whereas if I left her out at night she would be depositing her manure and urine in the pasture. Trade-offs.
Our gardens of annual vegetables are fairly large, and we need to move some of that fertility Jane provides from the pasture to the garden. The chickens take up some of the slack, but the cow manure is my manure of choice for garden compost in most cases. The effects of cow in the garden seem to have longer lasting effects than chicken, most likely due to their digestive tract being one big microbe factory. By feeding the cows good minerals, you can boost the re-mineralization of the soil in a two-step process.
Each morning after I am done milking and processing the milk, I clean the barn. Judging the number of cow pies I find each morning leads me to believe Jane leaves me a good-sized cow pie about every hour and a half during the night. By the time I am done picking her stall, I have a seven good-sized cow pies and lots of soiled or urine soaked straw. Just enough for a wheelbarrow load.
I am finding that the sheet mulching in late fall/early winter time frame is working wonders on my garden soil. By adding a thin layer of sheet mulch in the fall, I am skipping a round of tillage that I used to do when I religiously planted a fall cover crop, the sheet mulch protects the soil from the pounding rain, provides an insulating blanket and food for soil critters, and is pretty much broken down by spring when I do want to till for planting. I’m seeing too in the spring that I don’t have that lag time of waiting for the green manure cover crops to break down. The garden magic has been happening all winter with the bedding straw and manure sheet mulch. Usually once a week I take a load to the hens for their enjoyment, the rest goes to the garden unless there is soiled hay in the bedding. Loads with a significant amount of hay go to the stacked compost rows reserved for the pasture.
Livestock always need daily care of some sort, and sometimes the chores are time-consuming or physically taxing. By taking care of Jane’s nightly manure every day, I can take what could be a big job, (like our feeding shed deep bedding) and break that into manageable bits. It feels good to transition to a different work load by degrees, the changes are subtle and a welcome change of pace. I miss summer, but I am looking forward to spring already and somewhere in between are winter type chores and maybe a little rest?