Friday, July 18, 2008

New Life, New Hope

My usual routine, walk down to do the horses calling in on the cows to ask "how are you ladies, any babies?" Well this morning as I peered into Rose Bud's stall, there was her baby, a beautiful heifer calf, probably no more than an hour old.

What to do? Too late for boiling water and fresh towels, can only marvel at new life and ring Jorg with news. Check Bessie, who looks concerned but not overly expectant - that is until an hour or so later, with Jorg on the way home, she suddenly lies down with a look that says "me next".

And so Jorg arrives home just in time to see Bessie's waters break, and the thrilling sight of another new heifer calf delivered with all the aplomb of an experienced cow Mom. Less than an hour in all, and oh so beautiful.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Slowly, Slowly......

Since we bought the farm it has been a "work in progress", and probably will be for the rest of our lives! We have had to shore up rotting footers in the 10-stall barn, to make stall doors work; take out walls and old sliding doors (well the old ones fell down!) in the gambrel barn; remove a complete section of the pole barn, which had fallen down thanks to a hurricane some years ago; replace barbed wire fencing with board fencing; replace old plumbing and electrics; paint and so on........

Well, we have another little milestone, a minor celebration. A piece of roof on the pole barn, visible from all over the farm and a constant annoyance in photos because it was an eyesore, has been painted! Charles Fernandez, our newest volunteer, has succeeded in erasing one of the most visible signs of poor housekeeping. What a difference a bit of paint makes!

green and red we have used for the barns was done some time ago, and the roof really rounds it off. Just some trimming to do!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cornucopia Utopia

This year, we decided to experiment with some heirloom varieties of vegetables. Given the limited gene pool from which commercially marketed vegetables are developed, keeping the heirloom varieties going is important in order to increase the chances that we may have alternative food sources should the biological “big one” ever hit, i.e. we get a widespread epidemic of disease or fungus. Plus, the different colors look cool in your garden and growing heirloom varieties makes it sound like you know what you are doing to your less enlightened friends.

We picked Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( because they had the greatest variety of vegetables and fruits that no one has ever heard of. As important, they have a colorful catalog that is just fun to read. We ordered the “Southern Collection.” Within about a week, we received more seeds than we will ever plant in our lives. So we decided to work with just a few at a time.

We planted six varieties of tomatoes. These are: Cream Sausage, Egg Yolk, Arkansas Traveler, Coer de Boef and Heartland. Yes, that was only five, but I have forgotten the other one. We have yet to produce the first tomato from these because the spring was long and cold and they were slow to take off. Germination was good for all varieties (100%). Considering the dry weather the past couple of months, they’ve all made steady progress, despite occasional stealth attacks from Tomato Hornworms the size of kielbasa. But recently, the Cream Sausage, an ivory-colored, banana pepper-like variety has developed blossom end rot on nearly all of the still-forming tomatoes. This is a pity because this variety is my personal favorite. As this is a problem that occurs during blossom set, we hope it will ultimately correct. But we will have to chalk this one up as less resistant to moisture and temperature fluctuations (so far) than the others. The Egg Yolk and Arkansas Traveler are doing especially well.

In my continuing quest to make us more self-sufficient (and because I really, really like to eat in the name of research), I also planted Jerusalem Artichokes and Asian long beans. The Jerusalem Artichokes are a great success. The tubers look like ginger root or cannas. You can leave them in the ground all winter and they will continue to spread, or you can start new plants with very small sections of tuber. They are drought-resistant and the bugs seem to hate them. The big question is whether or not we will hate them, too, as we have actually never eaten one. The long bean seeds (those that did not end up in the washing machine by accident) were very slow to germinate, but as soon as the really hot weather arrived, they were off and running. These are slower growing than green beans, but far more interesting. The longest at the moment is about a foot long and still growing. We’ll stir fry these when we have enough of them.

Note to self: Start seeds inside earlier in the year, in case of cold, long springs. Check lunar planting calendar. Cheat and buy started plants from Dale at work.


With Jorg and I heaving a sigh of relief that, touch wood, we aren't going to get the drought conditions of last year it seems appropriate to consider the importance of water to large and small farmers alike. We, like many, live or die on the capacity and sustainability of our well (the farm's third in around a decade). Our pond filled up nicely after last years drought, with the winter and spring rain, but fell at an alarming rate during June, and is now well on its way to the low of last year. The latest rain will help, but we do need a lot more to ensure our usually steady water supply. With 20 horses, 2 cows, three sheep, chickens and the house pets, plus the usual modern conveniences, we need a lot of water per day.

Did you know that you can save water by putting a brick, or a bottle of water in your WC tanks? Collecting rainwater, and using dish washers and clothes washers less will all contribute to conserving your well. Any other ideas for water conservation gratefully received. Rainbows have been a brilliant feature of the thunder storms we have been having here lately, of course I never have my camera handy when one appears, so I am indebted to the Penn State Climatologist, whose rainbow picture is reproduced above. To illustrate the global water situation, I have linked to the UK Guardian newspaper's environment photo gallery of today, a sobering and thought provoking piece by photo journalists across the world.

C'mon, you can do it.

The rain started last night, initially as a thunderstorm, then settled down to a soft, monotonous soaker- exactly what we need. Like many hay growers we have been viewing this summer’s weather with some apprehension, as conditions are drier than we would like. Last year, drought conditions forced the price of hay up so high that many people either gave up their livestock, or tried to do without hay. Cattle owners resorted to unconventional silage sources and horse owners picked up an interest, many for the first time, in hay extender pellets. Rescue operators in the southeast faced the dual stresses of trying to feed their horses and trying to accommodate the high number of distress calls. Like many rescues, we reached an all-time high for the number of horses we housed.

While we recognize that recent weather patterns and economic conditions have made for more expensive hay and feed, we encourage people to hang in there and keep their horses. If you have had your best guy or gal for 20-something years, now is not the time to send them packing. If you do not feel a sense of responsibility to them, how in the world can you trust in strangers with no emotional connection to them to keep them safe? We rescue the horses that have or will have absolutely no one else to take care of them. Virginia has the 5th largest equine population in the country and we have many horses displaced through genuine owner hardship or lack of owner accountability. Please don’t add your horse to this population. Do the right thing- keep them safe at home, even if you have to give up Netflix and fast food for awhile. It’s not that hard. Maybe not everyone can do it, but most of you can.

Still no calves. The cows are oblivious to our anxiety.

Yesterday, a potential adopter met one of our horses for the first time. It was love at first sight. Our little mare, to our great relief, was the epitome of grace and good behavior- especially for a four-year old. Four-year old horses are generally more likely to step on your feet and panic in wild-eyed, snorting, full-scale alert over bugs and planetary motion when someone shows up who might be interested in them. The potential adopter was kind and skilled and I was jubilant when she handed me the application.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

91 Degrees

It’s pretty darned hot out. At 4:30PM, it’s still 91 degrees Fahrenheit. Not a great day to be working outside, but then again, neither is the middle of the winter. There are some really glorious spring and fall days that make the rest of the year tolerable, though.

The cows are hot and itchy. Dairy cows are not made for quick, evasive maneuvers and flies know that. Cows near the end of their pregnancies are especially unwieldy. The girls have a shelter with a fan that they can stand under, but the lure of the pasture is stronger today, so they are out there filling their first stomachs (in cows, this is called a rumen) as quickly as they can, so that they can come in and munch on it later as cud. This is a favorite and satisfying activity for cows. Still no sign of impending labor, which might just be a good thing today.

Tom and I had a picnic lunch under the shade of the round pen. Even with the heat, sometimes it’s just nice to sit and munch in silence with someone you care deeply about.

I decided that Demaris, our little Finn sheep needs a better haircut. We have three sheep: Demaris, Peter and Hope. Sheep are a lot like goats, with all their intelligence and without their annoying habits (standing on your car hood, eating your landscaping plants). They are vastly underrated as pets. One of my favorite activities is feeding them alfalfa cubes, which they love. All are as friendly as most cats. No, this not one of ours, but you get the idea: