When we started our dairy herd in the spring of 2013, we were using an old milking parlor that came with the farm. It had been constructed on a shoe-string budget, hadn't ever had much maintenance done, and had been sitting unused for 5 years. While it served well enough to get us started, we soon realized that we needed to either do some major upgrades, or totally rebuild. The boys were optimistic and enthusiastic about taking on a building project. Kinley was thinking it would be a great opportunity to bring the milking herd to the home farm, since they boys have been driving to milk at a farm three miles away. The lone dissenting voice came from me, with my usual question of "How are we going to pay for this?", and my concern about making a 10 year plan with boys who are 21, 19, and 17. The boys were quick to reassure me that they aren't intending to leave anytime soon, and Kinley pointed out that having capacity to graze and milk 60 cows instead of 30 would help to pay for the project.
So, here are Jason (on the skidloader) and Jacob (with the laser transit) digging the trench for the footer for a 24'x48' milking parlor. Suddenly, all the conversations in our home are about trenches, trusses and headers; and any time I'm out on an errand I can expect a call asking me to pick up a box of nails or some Quikrete :).
Yesterday, Jared and Jason nailed the first header in place, and by tomorrow they hope to have the trusses set. They boys are looking forward to completing the project by spring, and milking in a shiny, organized parlor, where everything works the way it is supposed to.
Waking up to a phone call at 1:14 a.m. is never a good thing. Last night, it was our new neighbor in the house down the road calling us. She had recently moved here from the city, and was panic stricken to step out her door and see cows in her driveway, sniffing and snorting at her shiny SUV. Kinley woke the boys, and they zoomed out the lane to check things out. As soon as they arrived at her house, they realized something didn't add up.... they were looking at black and white cows, and all of ours are tan and brown! The poor woman was so excited that it took a few minutes for her to calm down enough for Jason to explain that the cows weren't ours. Her incredulous response of "How can you tell" almost made the boys laugh out loud :).
The next step was to call the farmer at the other end of the road. After getting his answering machine three times, they called his dad, who lives next door, and sent him to rouse his sleepy son. This finally got him out of his cozy bed to claim his wayward holstein heifers and chase them back to his pastures.
I have always said that there is a difference between 'being a farmer' and 'living in the country.' At 1:14 in the morning, I'm glad that my sons are the farmers, and I was snug in my bed while they pursued cattle frolicking in the moonlight!
As our family (and workforce :) ) continues to grow, we have tried to make wise decisions about how fast to expand our family's farming operation, and in which directions. Over the last few years, we have gone from raising meat animals to offering dairy as well. In 2011 we started making cheese on our farm with purchased Organic milk. In the spring of 2013 we added a herd of Jersey milk cows, and were able to use our own 100% Grassfed, Certified Organic milk for our cheese. In 2014 we spent time (lots) doing paperwork and purchasing equipment, and by the end of the summer had all the inspections done, and we could start bottling our Grade A milk, yogurt and kefir.
We quickly outgrew our 100 gallon pasteurizer, and our 24'x24' processing/cheese room. Much of this past winter was spent building an addition to double the size of the "processing plant", with most of the work being done by our three sons Jared, Jason and Jacob, who are 21, 19, and 17 years old. There is seldom any surplus money to hire work done, and the boys learned by experience as they worked.
Here is Jared giving directions as Jason runs the skid loader backhoe to dig the footer trench. Kinley served in an advisory capacity, with hands in pockets ;). As usual, there is no time to undertake big projects during the green season, and we ended up racing 'old man winter' trying to get under roof and out of the weather before it got too cold and snowy.
Pouring the footer... now Dad is hands-on! They used the market tents to cover the trench and ran heaters to warm it so they could lay block for the foundation. Right after the block went in, the huge snowstorm came, and they had to clear the whole construction site by hand. Some of the tools didn't reappear until the thaw.
They built the back wall in the nice warm shop, and brought it up on the trailer.
The back wall is set, and the work crew is well pleased with the day's work.
Putting on the roof went quickly.
Sabrina had a different use in mind for the addition.... for a while, it made a great race course. You can see the recently purchased preowned 200 gallon vat pasteurizer in the background.
Jared has milk in the cheese vat for a 400 pound batch of cheese. An Amish fabricator constructed the overhead agitation system so he no longer has to stir it by hand.
Now that the production construction is done, our next expansion phase is getting the Grade A bottled products to you! We are now offering weekly drops to our Harrisburg, Mechanicsburg and Carlisle customers. Our milk will go from the cow Friday morning, through our pasteurizer and bottler Friday afternoon, and into your fridge on Saturday! Day fresh milk will keep 16 days, but what could be better than right from the farm to you?
Life for a totally free ranging turkey can be pretty good. They spend their days roaming through our Certified Organic pastures, eating grass, seeds, and organic :) bugs and grasshoppers. Sometimes they wander into the yard and flower beds, which brings the three little girls running out of the house to chase them away. At night, they make their way back to shelter, which is an old box truck with the engine and transmission removed, and roosts installed.
However, we have heard that turkeys spend their days looking for a way to die, and free ranging presents some opportunities for that. In the photo above, Jason and Jacob are doing a turkey count, to see how many of the original 80 are still here.
We lost a turkey in a most spectacular was this past Sunday, as we were eating dinner. Kinley looked out the front window, and saw two Bald Eagles wheeling and swooping in and out of sight behind the trees along our driveway. They soon landed, and started pecking and tearing a white shape we could barely see through the trees. We quickly got over our excitement at having eagles so near, when we realized it was a turkey they were eating, and considered how quickly they could decimate our little flock.
This is the view from our front porch, and the eagles were near the trees on the left side. We haven’t seen them since Sunday, and we hope they haven’t developed a taste for turkey! All of the turkeys who survive the dangers of free ranging have an appointment with the butcher on November 21st. We will be delivering them fresh, on Tuesday, November 22. We will be at the Mechanicsburg drop site, from 5:00-7:00; and at the Crystal City Farmers Market from 3:00 - 7:00 with your turkey. You may order items for your holiday visitors for that drop even if you don’t need a turkey.
What does 100% Grassfed mean, and why does it matter? Grains and corn are often fed to cows and sheep, because it causes them to grow much faster, get fatter, and produce more milk, which is good for the farmer’s bottom line. It also allows the farmer to feed their animals in the barn or a feedlot, instead of letting them graze and roam in the pastures. However, since cows and sheep were designed to graze and eat grass, the meat and milk from those animals will not provide the same nutrients. Studies have shown that 100% Grassfed meats are higher in CLA’s, Omega 3, and vitamins and minerals. Check out the EatWild website for more information. We are committed to providing the most healthful food possible, as well as a healthy and natural lifestyle for our animals.
Because our cows and sheep eat only grass, we need large open pastures for our rotational grazing system. But what about in the winter when there is no grass? During the spring and early summer we harvest the extra grass and make huge round hay bales to feed during the summer dry spells, and over the winter. Of course it all has to get hauled from the far flung fields to the feeders.
After looking at the budget, and the possible options, we settled on an old cabover flatbed truck, big enough to carry some bales and pull a loaded trailer. At max capacity, the truck, which soon earned the nickname of the BEAST, can haul 27 bales. The little girls love to ride in it, and our “CEO of Keeping Animals Fed”, nineteen year old Jason, has found it to be one of the most useful tools on the farm.
While we enjoy summer here, the lack of rainfall has turned our pastures into dust, and the grass for the cows into crispy, dried stems. When the grass isn’t growing, we stop our usual rotational grazing, because the cows will kill what grass remains by over-grazing, and will damage the pastures. The mama cows and their babies are now confined to a small, shady section of pasture right in front of our house, with a feeder full of hay from our bountiful spring harvest. However, hay is not as rich in nutrients as the grass, and we want the babies to grow strong and healthy. So Jason, our ‘CEO in charge of all things relating to cows’, has set the electric wire that borders the pasture high enough that the calves can walk under it. The calves are free to wander all the pastures, selecting what they like best to eat, and returning to their mamas for some milk to wash it down.
Unfortunately, they often choose to wander in the driveway, the lawn, and my flower beds. Three in particular have a destructive bent, and I frequently catch them trampling my petunias. Five year old Sabrina usually leads the charge of little girls chasing calves back to the pasture. I suppose I should be grateful that they have not yet discovered the garden.
With the addition of bottled milk to our product lineup, the trailer we used to haul everything to farmers market was quickly becoming too small for the task. Over the winter, we purchased a larger trailer, and Jared spent weeks insulating and putting a cooling system and shelves in a section of it to create a mini ‘reefer’, and setting up the rest of the trailer to hold the tents, tables, coolers and other necessities.
As we started taking it to market, we found a few details that still needed attention, and Jared would work at them as he had time. On a recent Tuesday morning, expecting Kinley to leave for market at 10:00, Jared hopped on the trailer to finish up some work in the ‘reefer room’. Much to his dismay, Kinley was actually scheduled to leave at 9:00, and he fastened the outer door shut, jumped in the truck, and headed out the driveway. Jared said if he hadn’t been so shocked at being locked in, he might have started hollering soon enough for Kinley to hear him; as it was, all he got for the yelling was a hoarse throat. He next started to picture his dad’s face when he opened the trailer in 2 ½ hours at market, and decided to take some action.
Fishing through the bins of supplies, he found a brightly colored flag that we used to advertise our ice cream. He pried open the top corner of the side door on the trailer, and snaked the flag out, expecting the occupants of the truck to see it flapping in the wind and realize they had a stowaway. Unfortunately, the flag was high enough to be hard to see in the mirrors, and didn’t get noticed right away. Jared had formulated another plan, and started in on breaking a hole through the front wall of the trailer, before the flag got Kinley’s attention and he stopped.
As he walked back to the trailer door, Kinley could hear banging inside, and he started imagining what kind of wild animal could have gotten on the trailer during the night; Jared’s disgruntled face was not on the list of things he expected when he opened the door. Maybe it is time for Jared to start carrying a cell phone…..
Collisions between fenceposts and farm equipment don’t usually have a good result for either one. After a few years, and a few close encounters, some of our fences had noticeable sags where there used to be posts. Since none of us are fond of running after loose cattle, who usually find the weak spots in the fences and make their escape at inconvenient times, Jason and Jacob mounted the post pounder on the skidloader this week and set to work.
They should have been able to finish replacing all the broken posts this week, but they expressed a remarkable reluctance to continue the job in the pouring rain. Instead, they stayed inside, and used the time for some lively discussion of exactly who was driving the equipment during the implement/post encounters, and how much smarter it would have been to use a little more caution and a little less speed. I’m sure next week’s better weather will have them finishing up so we will have tight, strong fences around all the pastures when we turn the cows out for their first taste of the fresh spring grass.
Spring! I’m thinking of newborn lambs (9 so far) and calves (1 so far), daffodils poking up from the warming soil, robins hopping in the lawn, and children playing outside (and the amount of time outside being longer than the amount of time it takes to dress them!). The children are thinking of flying kites, chasing butterflies, and running barefoot. Kinley and my big boys are thinking of mud and mess, ruts in the fields, and muddy pastures with muddy cows to be cleaned up and milked. I guess it’s all in your point of view!
Usually during the winter, our tractors and skid loader stay in the shop or one of the barns. But this recent cold snap caught Jason off guard, and the ‘big’ tractor was left outside. When he went to start it so he could haul some bales to feed the cows, it showed no sign of life. After about an hour of tinkering at 9 degrees he came and asked his dad for advice. The two of them rigged up a heater under the engine block, close enough to warm everything but far enough away to not start a fire. At least that was the plan. Judgement calls like that always leave me worrying about flames reaching to the sky or explosions, but they seem to take it all in stride. They have pointed out to me that if I’m not the one out in the cold, I probably would be best not giving advice. By lunch time, they had thawed the tractor enough that the solenoid would engage and the engine could start, and had delivered hay to the feeders, putting smiles on the faces of the hungry cows, steers and sheep :).