Welcome to Forest Hill Farm

Have you heard…It’s official, as of August 1, 2013 Forest Hill Farm is a certified organic farm! We’re off to celebrate by doing what we love best… farming!

This summer our farm crops are certified. In 2014 the cattle, sheep, and poultry will be certified, as well.  Beef and lamb are 100% grass fed, rotationally MIG grazed and dry aged. Our heritage hogs are pasture raised, eat non-GMO grains supplemented with milk from our small herd of dairy cows.  We’d love to have you as a customer.

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Installing Packaged Bees

DSCN2065On Sunday night we had snow. Monday’s overnight temperature was 20 degrees. It was cold this morning, but I got the call that our bees were ready to be picked up. It seems too cold for bees. I put them in the back of the truck and they were very quiet. A few stragglers were clinging to the outside screen. As the car warmed up, so did the bees. Their buzzing got louder and stronger. I turned up the radio so that I wouldn’t hear them. Driving with six-thousand bees in your car is a little nerve wracking. I put them in the garage and watched to see if the temperature would get above 40. It did, so I got ready to hive the bees.

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The sun was shining, it was in the mid 40′s. It turned into a fine day for installing packaged bees. I carefully removed the cans of sugar water, took out the queen cages, shook  the bees out into the hive body and  set the queen cages between the frames. The queen cage’s have plugs in them to keep her separate from the other bees. I replaced the plugs with a mini-marshmallows. In a few days the workers in each hive will eat through the marshmallow to free her. By that time they’ll recognize her pheromones and accept her as their queen.

Buckets of sugar water were set inside the top hive body and pollen patties were set on top of the frames. The maple and poplar trees have pollen for the bees to collect so they won’t need additional supplements. We’ll continue feeding sugar water until there’s a good nectar flow from flowers.

I consider today’s installation a great success because I didn’t get stung, the bees were active, and I felt more confident than last year. The bee keeping classes prepared me for success.

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The Joke’s On Me

DSCN1973The joke’s on me.

I love April Fool’s day. I enjoy playing pranks on my family. This year I had an elaborate stunt planned. I got some fleece material, some boards and decided to make a flock of baby lambs. I was going to dot the hillside with my fake lambs, placing them near our ewes. From the kitchen window it would look like we’d had an overnight windfall of new births. Before Keith goes outside for morning chores he always looks out the window to check on the livestock. He likes to see where they are. Well, Mother Nature beat me to it this year. On Sunday, when I checked on the livestock for the night, four new lambs were milling around with four ewes fussing over them. Getting them inside the barn was easy, but then we had to sort them out. Through careful observation of their behavior we figured out which lamb belonged to each ewe. One ewe had twins, two others had a single lamb. The odd ewe, without any lambs, followed us inside, too. Half an hour later she delivered triplets. Once they were all fed and bedded down we checked on the outside ewes again. Two more were ready to lamb. So, my April fools day plan didn’t go as planned. Mother Nature delivered real lambs instead. As of this morning twenty-one new lambs are in the barn. The joke’s on me!

Categories: lambs, Life, Sheep | 2 Comments

They Get It

Our boys have been raised with certain expectations. They haven’t always willingly followed the rules or program, we’ve laid out for them, but the consequences have been made clear. Sometimes there’s a painful shock to them when they realize they’re off track. At one time, one of our son’s was cutting corners and not living up to his obligations. He was twelve at the time and earned money helping around the farm. He also had his own farm related side business and was earning a nice income from it. Despite clear guidelines he decided to slack off, thinking we wouldn’t notice. We noticed. He was given one warning, didn’t heed it, and was fired. Eventually he earned our trust and was re-hired and there hasn’t been an issue since. Last week we were asked if we’d take a thirteen year old into our home for the summer to teach him responsibility. I’m not sure I know how to teach responsibility to a teenager. We didn’t teach our boys, they learned by example. They’ve worked side by side with us for seventeen years and twenty years, respectively. They’ve been given responsibility. When they accomplished the small tasks they were given larger ones. The rewards started small and grew larger, as well. Truth be told, we never believed we were raising four year old boys, fourteen year old boys, or even eighteen year old boys, we were raising men. That was our goal, so that’s  how we treated them; like men. Being given instruction, responsibility, and compensation they’ve gained independence. They’re capable of helping friends and neighbors without any concern that they’re unprepared for the job. They can earn their own money, set their own goals, and accomplish great things, not because we’ve taught them, but because we’ve worked with them. This particular thirteen year old is welcome at the farm. We’re willing to work with him, too, but at some time he’s going to go back home. If at home there isn’t an expectation of responsibility, then the time spent here will have been for nothing. He just won’t get it. He’ll forever  be an adolescent with no direction and when he’s out on his own he’ll be in for a shock, a painful jolt of reality. He just won’t get it.

“A brat is a child that acts like yours – but belongs to your neighbor.”

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The cows are trained to respect the electric fence. The sheep are respectful of it, too. Every now and again we raise a few bottle lambs who aren’t loyal to the flock of sheep, instead they bond with the goats who are independent and refuse to follow the grazing plan we’ve laid out for them. They scoot over, under and through the fence, going wherever they want. They aren’t protected by the herd, which makes them vulnerable to predators, so they’re kept in a separate pasture and rotated on a more limited basis. The cows get it. The sheep get it. The goats don’t, and they never will. I’m talking about our MIG grazing program.

Every now and again we’ll have other farmer’s cows here for breeding to our bulls. There’s always a learning curve with the visiting cows, especially if they have calves at their side. These calves aren’t trained to the electric fence and run through before they realize there’s a consequence waiting for them; a painful shock. The guest cows follow the herd, learning to wait patiently at the electric fence’s gate handle for one of us to move it aside so they can advance into the next paddock. They’re moved daily, which makes learning the routine a quick process.

 

Every summer the same few cows return for breeding. As soon as they step out of the trailer they remember the grazing system and follow the herd. They don’t challenge the system, they get it, they just get it.

Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?

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Electric Revenge

DSCN1951Electric Revenge

 The deep snow pack prevents the electric fence from delivering a shock, so it’s turned off during the winter. A five-strand, high tensile wire fence contains the cattle, two of the wires are usually electrified. There’s plenty of hay for them to eat, but at the first sight of exposed grass in the yard the temptation is so great that the adolescent steers sneak through the fence. Once they’re through they run, jump, and act wild. In the few days since the snow has receded the steers have broken one young oak tree, a small apple tree that was planted last spring, trampled some lilacs, and rubbed on a cherry tree until it cracked. They like to scratch on young trees. The grass in the yard isn’t any different than the grass in the field, but the freedom of sneaking through makes it taste more delicious.

The bottom strand, which is one of the hot wires, is clear of snow so the grounding rods are making good contact. The charger is twelve joules, which is strong. Only three of the steers come into the yard, the three oldest. They’re excerpting their independence from the herd. Heifers don’t test the fence, they’re content. Today I got my electric revenge. I plugged in the fence charger and waited for the rogue steers. It wasn’t a long wait. The first one hit the fence with his nose, jumped into the air, kicked up his back legs, and ran down the hillside. The second steer leaned through the high tensile, got zapped by both hot strands at once, let out a burst of protest and ran back to the herd. The third one stretched his head through the fence, felt the shock and rushed forward, breaking a few connectors. He ran through the yard where the dogs met him and chased him back through the gate. He tried again, this time he felt the full force. The shock made a loud, crackling, ‘POP’ as he touched the wires. One good zap is enough to re-train them for the season. Revenge is sweet, just ask Cookie.

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New Calf

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This morning there was a cow off by herself. She wasn’t far from the herd, just distant enough to be on her own. She’s been on the watch list. Every morning Keith checks the list of cows with their potential calving dates. This morning he said, “Number 105 should have her calf today.” 

Our cattle are fed in the evening which means they’ll calve during daylight hours.

From a distance we kept an eye on her. After she had her new calf they were moved into the barn where they’ll stay for a few days. Then she’ll move into a small pasture with the other cows and their calves. They’ll have access to the shed, which is bedded down and dry. With luck the pastures will be ready for grazing by mid-April. It’s been a long winter.

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Sheep Quiz

Sheep Quiz

See if you can answer these questions in our sheep quiz…

Q. Other than the farmer’s name in the movie Babe, what is a hogget?

A. A hogget is a sheep between one and two years old.  The first shearing of hogget wool is the best wool a sheep will ever produce.

Q. What mineral is toxic to sheep?

A. Copper. Sheep require trace amounts of copper. However, copper is toxic to sheep in larger amounts. Mineral supplements have to be specifically labeled for sheep.

Q.  What does ‘flushing’ a ewe mean?

A. Flushing a ewe is done 10 days before breeding. She’s put into the lushest pasture where she’ll graze on legumes (clover and alfalfa). The high quality pasture causes her to release more eggs and increases the chance that she’ll have twin or triplet lambs.   

Q.  What is the gestation time for a ewe?

A.  5 months (143-151 days) December breeding brings May lambs. Our ewes are bread in mid-November.

Q. Do Sheep have upper incisors ?

A. No. Sheep have 4 pair of lower incisors, but none in the upper jaw.

Q. What are two distinct differences between domestic and wild sheep?

A. Wild sheep have hair, domestic sheep have wool. Wild sheep, even ewes, have horns. Domestic sheep breeds are virtually hornless.

Q. Who produces the best 100% grass fed lamb, rich in CLA, Lutein, Omega 3, and grazed on certified organic pasture?

A. Forest Hill Farm! Grazed lamb is a healthy choice. Here’s a delicious recipe, enjoy!

 

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Ice

DSCN1838There was a warm up here last week. The thawing snow streamed down the lane exactly as it was designed to do, but made it into an icy raceway. It’s covered in three-inches of thick ice which makes it hard to stay on your feet. Keith has ice cleats for his boots which leave tiny, little holes in the deck. They also leave tiny, little holes in the floor if you forget to take them off, but he doesn’t forget. I don’t have cleats because I always forget. So, I have two choices;

1) fall on my butt or 2) walk cautiously and scream “Get away from me!” when one of the dogs runs at me.

The dogs are curious when I’m walking soooo slowly. Today, in my frantic attempt not to fall I started flailing at the dogs and I knocked myself down. That’s when, always practical Keith, came over to where I was lying and asked, “Why don’t you go out the other door and walk through the snow so you don’t have to cross the icy driveway?”
Looking up at him I realized he’s much smarter than you could ever hope to be. The other door, huh, great idea.

Last fall I was worried about 049 and 005 slipping on ice because they’re both fourteen now. They’re both doing fine. They’re following the sun. In the morning they stand facing east then move throughout the day soaking up the rays. The sheep aren’t bothered by the cold. They haven’t been shorn yet so their wool is thick and long. Because they’ll begin lambing in mid-April they’ll keep their fleeces until mid March. Hopefully it will be warmer by then.

 

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Signs of spring

Our friend Corky is a bird watcher, as is her sister, Storm. Storm lives in Texas and watches her bird feeder all winter long waiting for the Robins to return. When they do she calls Corky and gives her the news along with a report on the number of robins she’s seen. Corky marks her calendar and waits. It’s usually three weeks until the birds make it this far north. Sure enough, as soon as the robins get here so does a blast of severe weather. Folklore says that the robins will have snow on their tail three times before warm weather is here to stay. Here’s where you can track the robins migration.

 There seems to be so much more winter than we need this year. -Kathleen Norris

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Yesterday was the first day in over a month with temperatures above freezing. It was the perfect day for a walk in the woods. The dogs enjoyed the sunshine, too. Especially Eva who’s recovered from her accident last spring. I searched the timber for berries, fruit or any sign of first food for the robins. Some of the gooseberry bushes have a few shriveled fruit clinging to the branches, but for the most part the bluejays have picked the timber clean.

Soaking up the sunshine

Soaking up the sunshine

The cattle lined up in the sunshine, soaking the beams into their souls. Their contentment was as visible as the sun itself. The chickens ventured a little farther than the barn yard for the first time in weeks. They cackled and called out with joy. It’s amazing how restorative a small temperature inclination, accompanied with bright sunshine, is. Everything seemed to sing yesterday.

 

 

 

 

signs of spring!

signs of spring!

 

On our walk back up the lane in an area where the snow was pushed back so the bare ground was exposed, a small patch of grass was greening in the afternoon sun. Only 28 days until spring.

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. -Henry David Thoreau

 

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Grafting a Calf

Life on a farm isn’t all sunshine and roses. Sometimes it’s tough, but not often, only occasionally. This week we had a heifer who laid on her calf and smothered it. Because she’s a heifer with years of healthy calving ahead of her and concern that she’d get mastitis, limiting her milk production or udder health in the future, we decided grafting a calf  was a good option. A neighbor who dairies had a newborn bull calf the same age as the one we’d lost.  Keith cut the hide from the lost calf and tied it onto the new calf.  A cow initially identifies their calf by smell, maintaining the scent of the lost calf greatly aides in the grafting process. The heifer was haltered and tied until the bull calf nursed. This was repeated several times each day for several days. In about one week the heifer accepted the calf as her own and the hide was removed. 

Here are the steps to grafting a calf:

  • Find a calf close in age to the lost calf
  • Let the cow or heifer get a good scent of her calf before removing it from her
  • Skin the lost calf
  • Tie the hide to calf being grafted
  • Drizzle molasses onto the new calf to encourage the cow to lick it. The more you can encourage her to smell and touch the new calf the faster the grafting process.
  • Halter the cow/heifer or if necessary hobble her so she can’t kick at the new calf
  • Encourage the calf to nurse safely
  • When the cow/heifer begins to accept the calf, allow at least 3 days, remove the hide
  • The new calf will be accepted, it’s just a matter of time. Heifers are easier than a cow, but eventually even a cow will give in.
Grafting a calf

Grafting a calf

 

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Another Reason to Go Organic

Are you looking to make a change in your diet?  Grass fed, organic beef might be the answer.

It’s important to know where your beef is coming from. Did you know, 4 of the top 5 sellers of grass fed beef purchase cattle who have been fed distiller grains and soybean hulls? What else might these cattle have been fed? Many sellers of grass fed beef are buying, rather than raising cattle in order to keep up with demand. Is your beef coming from a farmer, or someone who procures their beef? It’s time to go organic.   EatWild.com has a list of farmers who are committed to raising animals on a grass based diet. Be careful though, some farmers have a few steers on grass, but they buy the majority of what they sell. It’s labeled with their farm’s name and shipped to them for distribution; however, the steers never set foot on their farm.

Another reason to buy organic beef – Inputs. This story is just starting to unfold. Merck, the maker of Zilmax is trying to downplay the relation of their product with downer cattle. Conventional farms use additives including; hormones, antibiotics, larvicides (the list goes on), to promote weight gain and profits, not health. If you wouldn’t sprinkle any of these products on your breakfast cereal why would you accept your farmer using them on their livestock’s feed?

Just more food for thought.

Dinner

Dinner

 

 

 

 

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