We got the garden prepped this past week. We are in spring officially I think. Kale raab and nettles the last week of February? That’s spring folks, still freezing at night if it’s not raining, but we’re firmly on the path to spring planting.
I’m trying to stay on my schedule of seeding something each week.
Leeks – King Sieg and Bandit
Onions – Guardsman
Herbs & Flowers – thyme, oregano, sage, marjoram, parsley, and marigolds.
Vegetables – Brilliant celeriac and Red Russian, White Russian, Rainbow Lacinato, and Lacinato kale.
Everyone is up except the late shows – celeriac and parsley, but that is to be expected.
Thinning is also a weekly chore. I’m trying to use up my oldest seed first, so I did seed a little heavy since I wasn’t sure how good the germination would be. These early plantings aren’t quite so critical, if the germination is spotty I know the next week to use fresher seed. If germination is good, I’m ahead of the game or at least moving right along on schedule.
Other chores right now – tying up raspberries. Check.
Side dressing garlic. Check.
Plant parsnips and leeks for seed production. Check.
March is here.
Having the cows in the barn for feeding requires us to be present in mind, and with pitchfork. In this post I’ll give a little overview of what goes on in the personnel side of the barn.
Keep in mind we deal with small-squares. In hayspeak that’s actually a small, two twine rectangular bale, approximately 14″ x 18″ x 36″ weighing about 50 pounds give or take. It may be a fortunate thing that livestock farming has left the building in our area or not, depending on how you look at it. You have to travel a ways to get a round bale around here, or even a large square that weighs a thousand or more pounds. Which means on the luck side, we can make and buck 50 pound bales all day, and not need a tractor with a bale spear or round feeders to feed with. Or have to deal with dismantling a large round bale by hand. I’m comfortable with the handling required to put up, store under cover, and feed out small-squares. But if you’re new to farming or live in an area that only has round bales or large three tie bales, you may be more comfortable with that because that is what you know.
What I do know is how cows eat. And how to keep them from wasting hay. I do not want to use expensive hay for bedding, and it bugs me when I hear people say they don’t care if hay is wasted for bedding, or that their bales are so crappy or rained on that a third of a bale is bedding material. A ton of hay to me, is a ton of edible hay.
Cows really enjoy their food, they sniff out the best morsels first, clovers, plantain and dandelion before diving in for the bulk of the leaves and stems. The baler compresses the dried grass, cuts it and stuffs it into bale form so we can store summer in a bale for feeding out in winter. These cut flakes the baler makes are lovely for us to handle and use for figuring, but they annoy the cattle. They shake and toss the flakes much like shaking out a pair of jeans to put on the clothesline. Depending on how much they shake and sort, about one-fourth of each feeding ends up out of reach of the cows. That’s where we come in. We flip it back for them. Zero waste. They flip it out on the clean people side of the barn floor and we put it back within their reach. It never sees the manure side and we don’t walk in the feeding area with dirty boots.
When the cows are in we feed twice a day, it’s comforting sitting in the barn listening to the cows chew. I like to think about the sweat equity of investing a few minutes a day with a pitchfork instead of counting on a certain amount of hay wastage. That slippage has to hurt somewhere.
♥ Quality hay, cows will clean up good hay, if they are rejecting a fair portion of the hay, listen to them. They know what is good and what isn’t.
♥ Enough feeder space and barn space for all the cows to eat at once. You remember musical chairs in school. It’s pretty humiliating and nerve wracking to be the one left out. Timid cattle will go hungry before they risk getting beat up. Or they quickly stick their heads in the feeder and pull out a mouthful in case they have to fend off an attacker. Which then means they drop hay on the manure side and may be tempted to eat that. The cow in the photo above will be the last cow I have that has horns. Even her own calf is staying one slot away from her. In the video taken a few minutes after this photo, her calf had moved, so you watch her, she is threatening (o:15) a different calf next to her. She’s not mean, she’s just got an advantage. I know horns evoke a wonderful image in homesteaders minds, until you are on the end of that stick either literally or writing out a check to the vet for damage to another cow. Keep the playing field even. All horns or no horns. I am done with horns. Most of my cows are polled naturally but since I persist with at least one dairy cow, I have to deal with the horn issue when I breed for full dairy offspring.
♥ Build or buy the feeder and manger setup that suits the stock you have. If you have cattle with horns, allow for that, you’ll need to double your feeder space to keep everyone comfortable. Even metal feeders get mangled, so buy heavy duty if you can afford it. With wood, I would use small smooth round poles or saplings about 6″ diameter if you have them available, or at least 2″ x 6″ dimensional lumber if you’re going that route. Build the feeder hell for stout, or you commit yourself to rebuilding fairly soon. Cattle love to rub, they fight, they play, and they have a lot of muscle to back all those activities up.
I like having the cows in for a bit in the winter, it’s not all work that needs to timed and plugged into the labor column. It gives me a chance to observe them and their habits up close and personal. I can work on taming the calves that at first regarded me a little warily, and I can just generally chill with the cows unlike during summer when I need to scurry off to work in the garden or … winter barn feeding is worthwhile on many counts.
Well some of them anyway. Jane is pretty content from the looks of her noonday nap today. She’s busy making milk.
These guys? Not so much. It’s that time of year when we put them in the winter feeding shed and start building the deep bedding, while resting the wet winter pasture. Sort of like Stockholm Syndrome, the Barn Version compared to the Mob-stocking Stockholm – Summer Version. I try not to abuse the relationship, but I tell them “this is for your own good.” I remember that’s what my sister used to say to me when she spanked me…I couldn’t quite figure that logic out then and I’m sure the cows are on the kid end of thinking too.
Out of sight, out of mind doesn’t work on cattle. They have a very strong sense of smell and they can smell the spring grass growing and they want it. This is always the time of year I have to be on the lookout for troublemakers. The prime candidates are my long yearling steers. They are growing, they are young and not weighed down with nursing calves or pregnancy, and they are impulsive. Impulsive as in, “I want that grass NOW, and I can just pop over that five foot fence!” Of course, once one mashes down the fence everyone follows.
While I know the pasture needs its rest, this is the hardest part of rotational grazing. Keeping the stock held back. Fences, gates and tempers all get frayed this time of year. I keep them plied with hay, water and minerals in hopes of keeping them content. At least six more weeks of this before I can turn them loose. I hope my nerves hold out!
Me and my cousin posing the milk cow’s twin calves. My outfit tells me I was sticking conifer cuttings in late February or early March when my cousins showed up to see the calves. They lived down in the Coast Range, and kept me supplied with $25.00 Guernsey heifer calves from a nearby Guernsey dairy. These babies are from one of those heifers. Those were the days when you could buy a decent calf for a nominal fee. Wow.
Somewhere along the line I found a recipe for an adaptation of Tartine’s Cheddar Cracker. It called for smoked cheddar, which if you know us, you’re not going to find smoked cheddar around here on a whim, it would disappear in nothing flat. But I always have smoky paprika. The recipe was a little wonky too, 2/4 of teaspoon of black pepper (okay I see someone didn’t like fractions) and calling for preheating the oven before you even begin the prep. Not a bad idea if it also didn’t call for freezing the dough for at least an hour before shaping the crackers. No way am I going to have the oven cranked at 400°F for over an hour with nothing in there.
All joking about the fractions aside, 2 2/4 of a cup of grated cheese anyone? I just adapted the recipe to fit my pantry. Sorry no photos of the crackers. They disappeared pretty fast and food photography is a whole nother ballgame compared to snapping photos of cultivated and weeded garlic.
Smoky Paprika Cheddar Crackers – one dozen large or two dozen smallish crackers. 400°F oven
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon smoky paprika
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 ¼ cups of grated cheddar cheese
¼ cup melted butter
½ to 1 cup toasted, chopped pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Melt butter, set aside to cool.
Toast seeds, let cool, chop.
Mix flour, salt, paprika, and pepper, set aside.
In large bowl combine cooled melted butter, cheese, and chopped nuts. Stir well. Add half of the flour/spice mixture and mix while scraping down the bowl. Add the remaining dry mixture and continue mixing until a dough forms. I used my hands at this point. Which really helped bring this mix together, it seems really dry at first but the warmth of your hands does the trick.
At this point I diverged from the recipe. It called for making a log of the dough on parchment paper and freezing it. Didn’t happen. Since my hands were already messy from mixing the dough, my oven was preheated, and my pan was ready, I just formed balls of dough and flattened them into cracker shape. Much less tedious than trying to meticulously cut shapes from the frozen log. Much quicker too, it meant these crackers just moved to one of those go-alongs for dinner that taste like you toiled in the kitchen instead of the barn. They are mighty tasty.
Bake about 8 – 10 minutes until golden brown around the edges. Delicious!
We’re still moving right along with winter/spring work. Our spring-like weather has us dragging the winter feeding field about a month early.
Stored potatoes think it’s April from the looks of their sprouts. Usually my keeping potatoes don’t break dormancy this early.
The nicest part of this bout of spring-like weather is that we aren’t really using much firewood. I haven’t even got into our cold weather stash of miscellaneous hardwoods, so that means we’ll have that cherry and chestnut for 2016. Same with our kitchen wood, it’s pretty hard justifying much of a fire in the cookstove when the house isn’t even cold. Cords of seasoned firewood is like money in the bank.