Ram on the Lamb
 
In August we bought a ten month old Dorper ram to begin breeding ewes in November.
 
Two weeks later he disappeared.
 
We searched.
No Luck.
Called neighbors.
No sightings.
Put a notice on the radio.
No calls.
 
Ten days later our friend, Ron called, "Your ram is heading up the road by my place. We’ve got ewes in the barnyard, that should get his attention."
 
As we pulled up to Ron's place a few minutes later.  He started shaking his head, "Sorry, he ran past and didn't even glance at the ewes." Ron lives about four miles from us.
 
We searched the area.
No luck.
We talked with Ron's neighbors.
No sightings.
We were puzzled.
 
For the next five weeks there was no word on the ram.
 
During the time he was gone decided that if we got him back we’d sell him, and not to use him for breeding. We thought he might be unsuitable or lead our ewes away from the farm.
 
Then early one morning our friend David called, "Hey, I spotted your Ram this morning."
 
Where?"
 
He started laughing, "He's about 50 yards away, standing outside your gate."
 
That afternoon I ran into a wise friend and retired veterinarian, Merle. "Congratulations, I heard you got your ram back." News travels fast in a small town.
 
I shared our concerns about keeping the ram.
 
Merle asked if the ram came from a large farm.
 
He did, the breeder had about 1000 head.
 
Merle smiled, "He's young and he got bullied. He wasn't dominant in the herd and he's conditioned to avoid confrontation. Based on his age he's never bred and doesn't know what he's here for."
 
Merle had the cure, "Take one of your older gentle ewes and put them together. He'll figure it out."
 
I followed instructions.
 
Three minutes later the ram understood his calling. He's not interested in leaving now, he’s got other things on his mind.
This spring his first crop of lambs will be here.
ram on the lamb

Celebrate Bees

In the early spring, when the apple, peach and cherry trees are blossoming I keep the bees interested in pollinating the fruit trees by cutting the grass very short. This keeps the dandelions down until after the trees have finished blooming. It’s my trick to get bigger fruit crops.

Later in the spring there are still plenty of dandelions to keep the bees happy . And there's a variety of clovers and flowers planted for the bees, too.  It’s a pollinator paradise.

Bee FriendlyCelebrate Bees

On a trip to Seed Savers Exchange I bought Blue Boy Bachelor’s Button, Lambs Ear, and Heritage Farm Poppy seeds. The bees love these.

On our farm the pollinators are safe from  pesticides and herbicides. We’re an organic farm, it’s all about health and quality of life.

Recipes to Help Both You and the Bees

Honey Lemonadecelebrate bees

This lemonade is a great energy booster. Not only does it taste great it helps the honey bees and your local beekeeper.

  • 1 cup Fresh squeezed lemon Juice (if you don’t have a citrus juicer this one works great)
  • 1 cup local honey (support a local beekeeper, don’t by commercial honey, It's probably not be real honey, anyway)
  • 6 cups water
  • Put the honey and lemon juice in a blender and mix at high-speed for one minute.
  • Pour into a pitcher, add  water and ENJOY!
  • You can add fresh fruit, raspberries or strawberries taste great. Adding ginger or mint is an extra tasty treat, too.
  • Meyer lemons make this even better, they’re sweeter than regular lemons. When they’re available buy them in bulk and freeze the juice.

Bug Jugs and Bee Safe HerbicideCelebrate Bees

Plant bee friendly gardens and keep them pesticide free. These recipes protect your fruit trees and kill weeds without using glyphosate.

Save the Bees!

 

 

Save

Chicken Feed

chicken feed

I love this picture. The grasshopper catcher is a perfect example of Necessity being the Mother of Invention. Insects are a great source of protein. Free range poultry fill up on grasshoppers keeping the pests under control. It's a seasonal feast, though. The pioneers solved this by catching grasshoppers in the hayfield and drying them for winter feed. This is just one example of alternatives to corn and soybeans.

Summer through fall our chickens, ducks and turkeys move through the pasture catching insects and eating greens. Take advantage this summer and send the kids outside with a net and a bucket. Let them catch bugs. Have them turn over rocks and look under logs. They'll find plenty to feed the chickens.

A couple of years ago I heard about the benefits of goji  berries so I planted some. They're full of vitamins but they taste terrible. Now, instead of using them myself, I dry them for chicken feed. Apparently the chickens don't mind the bitter flavor. Goji berries are easily dried and stored for year round use.

In certain areas of the country its not easy to buy small grains. Here in Iowa corn is king, followed by soybeans. Finding wheat is tough – no one grows it commercially in this area. There's no market for it here. Growing food plots gives the flock both exercise and superior nutrition. Plus, you'll have healthy eggs and meat. A food plot of small grains; wheat, oats, and barley inter seeded with clover and alfalfa provides a balanced diet when grazed green or cut and dried for winter feed. These plots are terrific for growing chicken feed.

This is the time of year to think about feeding the flock in the winter. Learn to sprout grains or grow fodder. The nutritional value of the two is quite different. In sprouted grains the white tap-root is full of enzymes. Once a green shoot develops the enzymes are lost to the sprout, but the green sprout is full of health qualities, too. Your hens will be healthier with the forethought.

And, if you'd like healthy meat and you're not raising poultry yourself we'd be happy to have you as a customer.

Muscovy Duck Can FlyMuscovy Duck Can Fly

Keith hung up the phone, “Are we missing a duck?”

“I don’t think so, why?”

“Robin called, there’s a duck sitting under her pine tree. She said two eagles were attacking it as it flew into her tree this morning.”

Robin lives across the field and down the hill from us. It’s a good distance from our farm.

I checked the barnyard. Sure enough, one of our Muscovy hens was missing. I called Robin back. She explained that she saw two eagles chasing after a white bird. Looking closer she realized they were attacking a duck. The duck flew into the center of the pine’s branches. The eagles alighted at the top of the tree. Eventually the duck fell to the ground and rested under the tree where the branches camouflaged her from the eagle’s view. She sat quietly at the tree’s base.

Earlier in the morning Maisey was sitting under our pine tree barking at a bald eagle perched above her. Miley sat off to the side, eyes fixed on the bird. These two dogs keep the farm safe from predators, however, they're not equipped for airborne assaults. Neither was the duck.

Muscovy duck can fly. They don’t usually fly very far. They’ll fly from the barnyard to the pond or just circle the barn a time or two.

Once the hen was back home we gave her a thorough exam. She’s missing a few primarily flight feathers and was in shock, otherwise she seemed fine.

She’s started laying eggs again. More than likely she’s grounded until her ducklings hatch. So, until then, Maisey and Miley are on guard.  Eva and Spike don’t pay attention to eagles and Grant’s the most likely to get carried off. His saving grace is the fact that he’s exceptionally heavy, which is a nice way of saying he’s fat.

Sorting Sheep

Some friends called and asked if they could stop by on their way home from picking up their new puppy, of course they could.  I love my friends and puppies. The eight week old pup explored the yard. She ran from a curious hen, chewed on everything she found, and then fell asleep on a blanket in the car.
As they were getting ready to leave the couple looked at each other with curious expressions. Through a few not so subtle head nods and eye rolling maneuvers they finally asked the question I suspect was the real reason for their visit.
“Could you tell us if we have a male or female puppy?”
“Really, you can’t tell?” I started to laugh, “It’s a girl.”
The were relieved, they’d wanted a female. The confusion came from the puppies pot belly with a protruding naval stump.
We all laughed. Sometimes what seems obvious, isn’t.

My friend is not perfect - nor am I - and so we suit each other admirably.  - Alexander Pope

sorting sheepLambing season is almost finished, just a couple of ewes to go. Keith leaned on the gate and looked over at me, “See that sheep over there. She’s never going to have lambs.”
I looked at the sheep he was pointing at,  “How do you know? She’s a healthy ewe, maybe she was just a late breeder.”
“Nope. It’s because she is a he,” Keith chuckled.
Sorting sheep is a big deal. In the fall we move the sheep  through a series of pens to separate the females from the wethers (castrated males). Not only are the sheep separated into pens but they’re identified with livestock marking paint. Each sheep is cross referenced according to their ear tag. Throughout the sorting process each animal gets examined no less than four times as they move through the pens.

Despite this ‘fail safe’ system all four of us misidentified him. I looked at Keith and laughed, “Really, you can’t tell it’s a boy.”
What seemed obvious, wasn’t.

Here's more information on organic grass-fed lamb

Four years ago we completed an area of direct seeding trees; Walnuts, oaks, and Chestnuts.  The walnut trees are about twelve feet tall, the oaks four to eight and the Chestnuts about five.

The project was so successful that we’re direct seeding other areas. One of them is along the lane.

Some years oaks don’t produce many acorns, last year was one of them. For a successful direct seeding it’s best collecting from trees within a fifty mile range. Outside of this range the variety of tree may not grow as well as local species.

We spent most afternoons last fall scavenging acorns from our timber. On windy days there would be a windfall, other days were sparse.  Because our own trees weren’t producing many acorns  we kept a nut roller and bucket with us. Everywhere we went we’d search for trees shedding nuts.

In October, Decorah, Iowa hosts the annual Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio Tour. It’s wonderful. In one neighborhood in particular, Shagbark Hickory vastly out number all other tree species. I looked forward to the artwork, Keith looked forward to collecting hickory nuts for our direct seeding. While I toured the studios Keith visited with the locals and collected seed stock.

In the fall a seed bed was prepared. Then nuts were scattered across the tilled ground and finally, the seeding rolled for good ground contact. This winter we noticed fat squirrels, with full cheeks, running back and forth from the seeding area. It’s OK, we seeded heavily. The direct seeding is a collection of acorns and nuts from burr, red and white oak along with shagbark hickory.

Direct Seeding TreesThe faster growing walnut’s in our fourth year direct seeding trees are shading out the slower growing young oaks. Next winter the walnuts will be coppiced (cut at ground level) to allow the oak’s to grow above the canopy. The walnut trees will be stunted but make a full recovery.

Last year Keith and I took the Master Woodland Managers program through Iowa State University. It's a wonderful class with combined teachings in the classroom, on timber walks and through volunteer work in managed timber. We’re continuing our education through reading, observation, and attending more classes. And of course, traipsing through the timber. I highly recommend this forestry program, and the book, Forest and Shade Trees of Iowa.

 

How to Improve Soil Nutrients

Salt the Earth

I spent the last couple of days getting the garden ready. The asparagus bed, pumpkin patch, vegetable garden and orchard trees have been salted to Improve Soil Nutrients.

I read about how to improve soil nutrients and the benefits of sea salt for boosting trace elements in an article from Acres USA, January 2003. This winter I re-read the book Sea Energy Agriculture by Maynard Murray, M.D.

Dr. Murray presents evidence of the declining trace elements of soil. When commercial fertilizers are applied only the basic elements are returned to the soil. The abundance of these; nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and lime initially increase crop yield, however, they block uptake of necessary elements.

The science behind Sea Energy Agriculture is that the chemistry of sea life is naturally disease resistant and nutritionally superior. Sea salts added to soils are properly balanced between trace elements and sodium chloride. The application rate is important, too. The application is reasonable to restore the soil’s missing elements without rendering it useless like Carthage after the Romans salted the earth.

The best defense against disease is good nutrition. That nutrition starts in the soil. Plants take up the minerals which are then distributed to the end consumer whether human, livestock or wildlife. These end crops are nutrient dense and superior in trace elements.

In the past I’ve tried getting the geese to weed the asparagus beds. Instead of pulling out the grass they pulled up all the strawberry plants in the next bed over. This year I’m experimenting by using a high rate of Redmond Salt  to kill the grass in the asparagus bed. The heavier application won’t hurt the crop, instead it will restore elemental nutrients while inhibiting the invasive grasses.

Both  SEA-90 and  Redmond Salt are certified organic (OMRI listed). The difference is where the sea mineral solids are sourced. SEA-90 is from an estuary where sea water is captured and dried. Redmond salt is sourced from deposits in Redmond Utah.

As an experiment both products are being applied separately to the orchard trees and garden. Here on the farm there are two areas with heirloom apple trees, two areas with peach trees and one group of cherry trees of three different varieties. I don’t know whether the difference between the two products will be significant, we’ll find out at the end of the growing season.

Redmond salt is sold by a local supplier, which is convenient. There aren’t any SEA-90 suppliers in our area so I bought enough for half of our vegetable garden and half of the orchard trees through Amazon.

Last fall the pastures were salted with Redmond salt, 50 pounds per acre, to improve the balance of the soil.  This spring we’ll repeat the salt application. We’ve seen great promise in pasture growth using sea solids and the livestock prefer grazing the fields where it’s been applied.

How to Improve Soil Nutrients
Peach Trees

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Organic Certification...Done

Organic Certification
Forest Hill Farm's organic certificate

There are 19,474 organic farmers in the United States. We're proud to be one of them. If you think about it there aren't even enough of us to fill a football stadium on any given Sunday. We're a small group who share our customer's appreciation in healthy living. We value the environment more than the bottom line and believe the health of water, soil, and wildlife are our shared responsibility.

Every year I look forward to our annual organic re-certification visit. Our inspector is great, his name is Gary.  He's a wealth of information and very pleasant to visit with.

 Gary  shared a link to a video featuring Roy Thatcher. Gary inspects Roy's organic farm, too.

I appreciate Roy's hard work and ethics - especially regarding quality. While most farmer's biggest concerned is yield, organic farmers greatest concern is quality. We do our absolute best to provide products that are good for our customers and of the highest quality. I couldn't have said it better myself,  thanks, Roy!

Enjoy the video.

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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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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.

Here's a great book to get you started; Organic Mushroom Farming