bee typesDeath to the Drones!

My style of hive management is relaxed. I start fall feeding when I see the workers killing the drones.

Drones are male bees created from unfertilized eggs. There are between 500 and 1,000 drones in a typical hive of 50,000 – 60,000 bees. A drone's only job is to fly out and search for virgin queens. The luckiest, or unluckiest depending on your perspective, die immediately after mating. It's a good news, bad news, scenario.

Drones are useless to the hive. They don't clean cells, care for the young, gather pollen and nectar, sting, or fan the hive in hot weather. The don't do anything. Drones are larger than workers and steal large quantities of stored food.

So, in the fall, the workers kick them out. They tear the drones wings by pushing and pulling them out of the hive. It's a vicious attack and a violent end to self-serving freeloaders. The workers line up at the entrance to form a barricade against the drone's re-entry. Without the hive's protection the drones die.

For these reasons I don't feed the hive too early in the season. I let the workers do their job first. Otherwise the drones will eat the stored honey, pollen patties, and sugar-water. By waiting I have a reasonable assurance that there will be enough food for the hive to survive through the winter.


Hope floats in her Heifer Hot tub

floating a calf
calf is floated to relieve a back injury

One of our late season calves got stepped on. She has a large area on her spine that's swollen and very sore. Keith took her to the vet and they started her on a protocol of anti-inflammatory medication. She can stand with help but isn't steady on her feet yet. One of the problems with cattle is the blood pressure in their legs builds up the longer they're down. In order to keep her circulation strong , without added pressure, we've made a floating tank for her.

The University Of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine uses tanks to float cattle after surgery.

We're using a stock tank with an old beach towel as a sling to cradle her and keep her upright. The tank gets filled half way with hot water and topped off with cool water until it's the perfect temperature. Cold water would shock her, the water has to be warm. She floats for about 45 minutes a couple of times each day. Everyday she's getting stronger. Time will tell if she'll fully recover but for now Hope Floats.


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Oxymoron: Fat Cattle and Lean Hogs

Livestock producers continue to defy nature. Cattle are naturally lean. They're grazers. They eat grass. They move through fields and glean forages while trampling the ground leaving behind a covering of vegetation and manure. This ground cover retains soil moisture which prevents evaporation and drought conditions. It's natural for cattle to graze and fertilize as they move forward through a pasture.

Unfortunately the new model for raising cattle is a mono-slope building where steers get stuffed into confinement and fed a high grain diet. Typically these buildings are designed to a maximum capacity where each animal is allotted 22-24 square feet, which is roughly the size of a dining room table. I can't imaging a steer standing in the space of the table and being comfortable, let alone healthy. Another issue, many of these mono-slope buildings are built above a manure pit; in other words, the cattle are eating while standing above a pit filled with their own waste. Imagine if you ate all your meals on the toilet. Gross. Leave it to science to try to change the natural inclination of a species.

"In America today, you can murder land for private profit. You can leave the corpse for all to see, and nobody calls the cops." - Paul Brooks

Another example of poor animal husbandry is lean hogs. Hogs, by nature, are fat creatures. They're fatter than cattle. Think lard and bacon. Hogs are great at converting legumes and grains into meat. We raise Gloucestershire Old Spots, which were bred to clean orchards of fallen fruit, and Berkshires. Today's confinement hog facilities get paid a premium for raising lean hogs. The producers achieve this by feeding Ractopamine  (brand name PayLean) which is a drug designed to cut the fat in hogs. Leave it to science to lean out hogs by chemical intervention.

I have an idea. Let's feed cattle on grass, in pastures, grazing and moving. Let’s raise hogs in fields where they feed on green legumes; alfalfa, forage peas, rape seed, fallen fruits (like apples) and vegetables along with a grain ration. Lets allow hogs to be fat and cattle lean. That's how each one of these animals is designed. So, rather than going against nature or fighting the natural inclination of a species, let's work with the natural capacities of each.
Food for thought.


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Growing Oyster Mushrooms  (click on the main title above to see the beauty of these mushrooms)

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Keith and I decided that we were under utilizing the timber ground of this farm. We planned a few projects to re-connect us with the beauty of the forest. The first two projects were; tapping Walnut trees and inoculating logs for mushroom production.  At the time of year when we would normally be inside the house these projects brought us outdoors to enjoy the timber. This past winter we cut aspen trees for growing mushrooms.   In February we set up a production line to inoculate the logs.

Last March the inoculated logs were stacked on pallets in the timber.

This week we harvested the first mushrooms. We're growing both Grey Dove and PoHu Oyster mushrooms. Now that the mushrooms are growing the next step is to stand the logs up on end in a tepee fashion. These logs will actively produce mushrooms for the next few years.

We bought our supplies at Field and Forest Products   An added benefit of buying from them is that they sell certified organic mushroom spores.






Resident Evil vs Visiting evil

For the past eight years there's been a family of coyote living in an old stump pile in the timber. When we first moved here there were a few encounters with them. Like the morning Keith and Garrett saw a large female trotting through the pasture with one of our turkeys in her mouth. Soon after that we got Miley and Maisey. They patrol at night and keep the livestock safe. Eva works the day shift. Spike's twelve, he does what he can.

DSCN0009(27)The dogs and coyotes had a respectful agreement. The resident evil, i.e. coyotes, stayed away from the livestock and out of the barnyard area. In return the dogs kept their distance from the coyote’s den. For years the agreement held, until recently.  This year we haven't seen them or heard their cries at night.

A few weeks ago Maisey and Miley were barking in the distance pasture. They were getting louder as they brought the sheep in closer to the barn. While they were some distance away Keith looked out and saw a young, lone coyote standing in the yard. He turned Eva out and she chased it off.

Last week, in the middle of the night, we heard the dogs start their chase. Their barking grew fainter as they ran farther into the field. With the barnyard area unprotected another predator, probably the young juvenile coyote who visited earlier in the week, killed six ducks. One duck was dragged behind the barn but managed to escape. She's injured but should recover.

Kit Pharo, of Pharo cattle Company has written about this issue and I agree with him. A pair of coyotes and their pack will dominate a territory. They'll keep intruders out of their hunting ground. The resident coyote knows the parameters of where it's safe to hunt and which animals to hunt within their territory.

This summer our peaceful nights are filled with barking dogs and animal's cries. Something must have happened to the dominant pair. I am assuming that coyote hunters in the area took down the dominant female or her mate.  In their absence the farm is open to visiting marauders. The cries from these other packs fill the twilight hours. The rules are no longer defined.

The threat from a resident coyote is less frightening than the visiting evil of outside packs. For the coyotes the hunt is on. Our livestock need protection, so, for Maisey and Miley the hunt is on, as well. I'm hopeful a new pack will move in and learn the boundaries set up by our dogs. Resident evil is always safer than visiting evil.



Murphy's Law of Farming

Murphy's law of farming
Murphy's law of farming

1.  The week your new chicks or bees arrive so will a cold snap.

2.  You'll ONLY have problems with the planter on the rows most visible from the road

3.  Animals ONLY escape when you're running late and DON”T have time to round them up.

4.  As soon as the hay is raked a pop-up rain shower will bless your farm

5.  The hay baler ONLY breaks when you're trying to beat the rain

6.  If you borrow something it will break

7.  The day that guests, or the vet, come to the farm everything goes wrong and the chores don't get done

8.  The newer your clothes the more animal slime they'll collect

9.  While lecturing your children on the importance of closing gates the one you've just latched will swing open behind you.

10.  You'll discover you're wearing your barn shoes when everyone in the grocery line starts sniffing the air and looking around.

11.  When you are trying to finish your own project (gardening, canning, cleaning) your husband will interrupt you at least 300 times. When you need his help he'll have vanished.

Feel free to add your own in the comment section...


Cussing is Livestock Abuse... what?

Ewes 9-15-13

"Hey, ewe are they swearing at us?"

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued a formal complaint to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in Australia that sheep are offended when sworn at.

One of PETA's volunteers recorded this abuse while working undercover at a sheep station in New South Wales.

The rancher, Ken Turner said, “To my knowledge there was no actual cruelty on the job. The allegation was that bad language was used by an employee on the property in front of the sheep and that they could have been offended by the use of bad language.”

RSPCA in New South Wales chief executive Steve Coleman says the complaint was rejected, but not because it was bloody stupid in the first place. He said the video footage was ruled  “not legally usable.”

Having worked with both sheep and goats for over twenty years I confess to cussing, in their presence, on multiple occasions. Especially when I find them eating the apple trees and running through the garden.

Sometimes, I forget....

...I forget what store-bought eggs taste like, how pale the yolk is.

...I forget that store-bought chicken doesn't have flavor, that the flesh is pale, the texture rubbery. Pastured poultry is superior to conventionally raised in every way.

pastured poultry
pastured poultry

...I forget that pasture raised pigs don't smell bad, the meat is tender, juicy, and the fat is beneficial.

...I forget that most families don't cook with lard. They've never tasted homemade pie crust or biscuits.

...I forget that walking out your front door to pick cherries, raspberries, gooseberries and apples, from the trees you've planted, is a luxury. It's a special benefit of arranging your life differently than most people choose to do.


...I forget that fresh garden produce is a choice. It's trading your time, planning, and labor in exchange for a plentiful harvest.

I forget that there's nothing sweeter than homegrown peaches or the sight of baby ducklings chasing after a bug.

I forget that most livestock producers don't believe in the restorative powers of MIG grazing. Instead of planning a grazing program they allow their animals to forage randomly. This creates a barren pasture, soil depleted of nutrients, and not enough organic matter or cover crop to control evaporation. These poor decisions, made by many farmers, are a choice. A choice that negatively impacts water quality, wildlife, and climate.

There have been several visitors to the farm recently who've enjoyed the beautiful views and learning about grass based farming. Many of them recall memories of their grandparents farms which were like ours in many ways.

Their grandparents had pigs in the pasture and chickens pecking in the yard. Small orchards provided fruit and cider. Large gardens fed the family and everyone worked together. Picnic tables were sheltered under shade trees where cool breezes relieved the heat of the day.

Sometimes I take for granted that each day is my own. I'm greeted by beautiful surroundings with the people I love and the life we've chosen. Our farming practices are intentionally organic.

Bug Jugs, Homemade Herbicide, Garden Dust

It's that time of year again - time to protect your fruit trees, kill weeds, and dust the garden for pests while saving the bees!

Here are three recipes:

DSCN1322Bug Jugs

Put all the ingredients into a gallon water jug and hang in fruit trees to catch pests. One jug per inch of tree diameter.


DSCN1256Homemade Herbicide:

Mix well, apply with a sprayer or dish sponge  soap dispenser  Use caution; wear gloves and eye protection. 20% vinegar can cause burns on contact. Apply in dry, warm weather. A second application, within a few days of the first, may be needed for some weeds. Poison Ivy, brush, and vines will require more than one application. Be careful - this mixture will kill both the plants you want and don't want - don't get it on any that you don't want to die.

hot peppersGarden Dust

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 TBS Cayenne pepper

Mix together and dust plants while there's dew on them. Works especially well to get rid of cabbage worms.


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Esme' riding in the tractor
Esme' riding in the tractor

Goodbye, Esmé. You were the goodwill ambassador of the farm. I found Esmé at the Dubuque Animal Shelter and named her after a character in a short story by J.D. Salinger. Esmé was a clown, always having fun, and exceedingly happy. She loved swimming, digging, chasing, and biking.

She welcomed every new arrival. It didn’t matter if it had two legs or four Esmé welcomed everyone.

I heard the dogs bark and knew someone was coming up the lane. Cookie ran into the house and yelled, “call the vet, Esme’s laying in the driveway bleeding!”

As soon as I saw her I knew she was gone, she was so still. So small. So lifeless. Scooping her up I held her close and whispered goodbye. I kissed her head as tears trickled onto her fur. Looking up I saw the face of our friendly delivery driver, her tears fell, too.

I assured her it wasn’t her fault. Esmé must have gotten caught by the tire as she turned into the drive.

When our boys lost their first dog, Squeaky my sister gave us a book, Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant. The inscription reads, “Given in memory of Squeaky. January 1999.” We’ve added the names of other beloved pets. With deepest regrets I’ve added Esmé to that list.