Entries in Farm Life (117)


Winter on the Farm!

The seasons are an essential part of farming.  Each season has a reason and we plan and schedule everything on the farm to fit within those seasons. This "working with" the seasons and nature is part of our core philosophy on the farm.  We don't try to overpower Mother Nature but embrace that the seasons change the intensity and type of our work and are grateful for the constant but predictable change working in sync with Nature brings.

In the winter, our farm chores change.  We have fewer animals which reduces the "amount" of chores. However, each animal's care becomes more difficult because of the added complications of winter.

The primary chore is managing water.   It is always about this time of year that we pine for the easy days of liquid water, where you can pour it and leave and not worry about it becoming a solid mass in the troughs quicker than you can warm up your toes inside.  Because we keep our animals all out on pasture, rotating throughout the winter, we have had to find ways to bring fresh water to them.  Our primary solution for this is using a large tank filled with several hundred gallons of water that we haul in the back of the truck.  We fill it from a frost free faucet outside.  Then we take this large tank of water out to each of the animal paddocks.  

Right now on the farm, we have our cow pasture, where they are being rotated daily onto fresh pasture supplemented with unrolled hay and they have two large 100 gallons troughs that get moved with them and filled 2x a day.  We also have our layer flock of hens who are habitating with our breeding flock of turkeys -  they get 5 gallons of water in a tub that we can break the ice on when needed.  Then, we have two separate paddocks of our pastured pigs who are rotated bi-weekly to new ground.  They have a large low 50 gallon trough in the winter that has to have the ice broken and refilled.  Lastly, we have our front yard flock of chickens that lives near the house.  We use a gravity waterer for them that we simply bring in each night, let it warm up and it stays ice free through the rest of the day (usually!).  

This winter has been particularly challenging because of the wetness in combination with chilliness.  Not cold enough to freeze everything solid, but cold enough at night that we are still dealing with frozen waters and animals that need constantly refreshed and dried bedding. Luckily, winter is just a season and it will soon be wrapping up and moving into the spring, when we will look back on the current slower pace and wish things could slow down a bit.


I want the temps to stay below 25ºF

Why on earth would I want it to stay cold when I have to be working outside in these temps every single day?  Below freezing cold is much easier on the animals than cold weather that warms up slightly above freezing every day and then dips below.  This is because when the temps fluctuate like this, it also means there is constantly new moisture being dropped from the thawing and freezing and these wet, muddy and drippy times are very hard for outside animals to stay healthy and happy. 

We work hard to find lots of ways to make the animals more comfortable.  This is usually by making sure they are in sheltered and dry paddocks, rotating them to fresh paddocks, providing wind breaks and/or adding lots of dry bedding to help out.

The other thing that would go away with temps under 25º is MUD.  Giant pits of soul-sucking mud are part of the hazards of caring for animals in this world of temps that simply won't freeze and stay there.  Many farm chores are best done early in the morning before the sun comes out and softens the ground.  

So..if anyone is taking orders...Please keep the temps around 25 degrees, keep the moisture falling and give us just enough snows every week or so to keep things clean, white and beautiful.  Until spring - then we'll take warm and sunny days, great for growing grass which makes animals and farmers happy!



A Calf is Always a Big Deal on the Farm

Tonight was one of those nights. I'm writing this Sunday night after a great productive weekend for the whole family.  This is an unusual time on the farm where we are not starting a lot of new projects.  This gives us time to catch up on lots of small projects that just have never been able to percolate up to the top of our never-ending to-do lists. Getting some of those pesky tasks done was good and I was winding down my Sunday with that very good worn out feeling -- You know the one where every muscle is worn out, not by some heroic workout or strenuous athletic event, but rather by hard honest work.  There is such a difference in the exhaustion felt from hard work as compared to hard workouts.  

Regardless, I was about wiped.  However, after the kids were in bed, I was heading out to do the final chores.  This consists of just a visual check of all the animals, and closing up the hens.  It usually takes about 15 minutes or so.  Tonight - the "or so" came into context.  When checking the cattle I noticed one of our heifers was in labor.  I was initially alerted because she was standing away from the group.  Closer inspection showed a hoof protruding from the rear of Zinnia.  

This is exciting news.  Calves are quite literally the lifeblood of our farm.  With so much importance on good calving, this is news that changes our schedule.  9.5 times out of 10, by the time we see hooves hanging out -- it less than an hour before we have a calf.  I came inside and started writing this article -- planning to go back outside in an hour to admire a new calf.   After that hour, Zinnia had gotten more of the calf out, but not much.  I decided I would go to bed for an hour or so since I had to teach the next morning.   Then I would check on Zinnia and hopefully admire our new calf.  When I went out to check on mama I did not like what I saw.  There had been no progress - the calf's hooves were in the same place.  

We have never needed to help a mama with her calf on our farm and I had hoped to keep that streak alive, but it wasn't to be.  I checked more regularly for the next hour and still no movement.  At that point I had already waited longer than most cattlemen would suggest.  I came in and talked over options with Laura and it was decided that I would need to get things setup to pull the calf.   The fact that it was 2:30 am did not play into our decision-making process much.

Since we are a low-intervention type farm, we do not have fancy working facilities with squeeze chutes and the like.  Instead, to catch the mama cow I had to setup a temporary round pen made up of twelve 10 foot panels.  Then, within that round pen using other panels and metal T-Posts, I made a squeeze chute that I could maneuver her into and then block her so that I could safely work on her calf chute.  She cooperated as well as could be expected and I soon had her in the chute and was able to inspect her.  It seemed the calf was trying to come out backwards.  Typically, they come out in a beautiful dive - front feet then head then body and back feet.  Using a nice gloved up hand I was able to feel the calf 3 feet up inside of the mama, but all I could feel was legs and what I thought was rear-end.

I tried everything I knew to try and get the calf turned so it would slide out nicely -- nothing worked.  At this point, after several hours of no progress, we were no longer trying to save the calf, but rather the mama.  The clock was ticking down for me.  I would try manually turning the calf -- but I could not get it to budge in or out.  Finally at around 5:30am, I had to stop working and get ready to teach school.  I tried one last time -- I had both arms inside up to my shoulders, but still could not get that calf to budge.  I came inside, left Zinnia happily grazing in the round pen as if nothing was happening and I showered and asked Laura to call the vet when they opened up.  

The vet was able to come out first thing and he and Laura worked for about another hour before he was able to get the calf out.  This was all while I was teaching.  As soon as the calf was delivered, he checked for viability, but it was not to be.  The birth had been too traumatic.  As it turns out, the calf was not backwards at all.  Her head and been mispositioned and was wedged in the birth canal backwards -- a very tough and unusual birth.  

In the end, Zinnia was fine.  The vet did not think there was anything to worry about with her next calf and said it was just a bad luck type delivery.  Meanwhile at school, I asked the class to describe something about their weekend in one word -- I chose 'calf '-- they had no idea what their teacher had been up to just a few hours before.


Fair Time!

This was Fair Week for Linn County!  The fair is a fantastic and interesting microcosm of the county and it's people.  It harks back to times of yesteryear when you could not meet with the neighbors and community via facebook or instagram.   It is a memory of a time when people came together as a community to celebrate each other individually for their accomplishments and to enjoy the company of those in your area.  In the times of the past, communities went on hold for fair week.  It was assumed everyone would be there. Today's fairs are simply a modern day representation.  Communities are not as tight knit anymore.  We have lots of ways of keeping in touch with each other and many of today's modern conveniences seem to also make it much more difficult to put everything in our lives on hold for the week.

Nonetheless, we enjoy going each year to see certain events.  We always go to see the dog shows, the horse shows and to walk around the livestock areas.  We are always amazed by the time and the effort people put into training their animals and the poise they show in handling the very real stress of performing in a competition.  We have gotten to know many of the families that are regulars and recognize many of the important Linn County names.  

This year we added to our fair experience by even entering projects to be judged - and by we, I mean they. The rudimentary creations I create on the farm may prove pragmatic - but rarely beautiful or impressive.  All three girls entered various projects and really enjoyed the process of sharing their work with an appreciative audience and have already pledged to do it again next year.  They shared artwork, educational displays, food preservation, and even flowers.

We did not enter any livestock into the auction.  Still, we always enjoy going to see the animals with a   renewed appreciation for the work and care each person puts into the care of that animal.  It is also a sad reminder of where our agriculture has gone though.  None of the animals shown at the fair even resemble the animals we raise on our farm.  They are show animals that are no longer bred for taste and efficiency on natural forages.  Instead, they exemplify animals that grow fast and cheaply -- with no consideration to taste or health.  Pigs are the most obvious example of this -- you would not even recognize these pigs.  They are almost a comical caricature of a pig where certain qualities have been so exaggerated through breeding that they seems to be made from different parts glued together, rather than naturally born and raised on a farm.  This Is a result of breeding with very precise physical characteristics in mind, but not considering the overall structure of the animal and no longer expecting it or allowing the animal to live  natural life outdoors.  Although our pigs would be laughed out of the fair if we ever brought them, I would guarantee that our pigs produce a better quality pork that is both nutritious and delicious.  Just as importantly, our pigs lived a happy life out on pasture from the day they were born to the day they leave.  To me -- that's worth more than a blue ribbon!


We have the GREATEST customers!

Or as we like to call them, Farm Friends!

It struck me this week as we were making deliveries that we simply have the greatest supporters of our farm.  I made this brilliant discovery not after a customer gave us a gigantic bag of fresh picked blueberries from her yard, and I still had not fully realized it after, just a few minutes later, another customer handed us a plateful of vegan brownies (which I am enjoying the last of right this instant!).  Instead, I realized it when a customer said they had been thinking of our farm during the most recent bout of thunderstorms.  

This shows me that our farm has succeeded at one of its primary objectives -- Connect people with their food.  When people have broadened their horizons past their immediate bubble, and now think about how tonight's thunderstorms affects next week's eggs, that is a gigantic paradigm shift that our customers make -- I am glad to be part of that shift.  

We have LOTS of pork back in stock.  Everyone's favorite cuts that were sold out -- ARE NOW AVAILABLE!
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Synergistic Acres - 21733 Iliff Rd, Parker, KS 66072 - 913-735-4769
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