Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Summertime Veggies

Refuse to join the movement that is Facebook?

Here is a link that'll take you directly to our new photo album of summer veggies.

Mouth watering yet?  Nice!  Come to the Pullman Farmer's Market on Wednesdays in the Spot Shop Lot on Kamiaken between 4 and 6pm.  We'll be there with lots of other vendors of healthy deliciousness.

Food this good can't be passed up!

Hay Pictures

For those of you not on facebook, or who are finding it here first, below is a link to a new photo album from moving hay a few weeks ago.

Hope you enjoy it!  Hard work but we had fun.  Especially playing in the pool afterwards!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Barn Kittens!

As students were leaving town at the end of the school year this past spring, at least one cat showed up around our barn.  Shame on whomever left her behind!  She trusted her person and they dumped her at an old red barn just hoping that she might survive.  Luckily for your conscience, she did.  You forgot a detal though.  You forgot to get her spayed!

Luckily for this little kitty, I now have one known barn cat: Mama Kitty.

Yep.  I now have one barn cat and six little barn kittens in training!

Boy, are they ever cute!  I would never have known about them if it weren't for the adventuresome grey tabby kittens.  I nearly stepped on them when walking up to our sheep barn a few weeks ago to start setting up to move the sheep to a new area!  They were all the way out by the old corral fenceline, on the other side of the barn from where they spend their days now!

There are two dark grey tabbies, one blue/light grey tabby and three little black and whites, just like their tuxedo Mama.

Their eyes are still blue.  I reckon that I found them not too long after their eyes opened, making them probably about 4-6 weeks old by now and their eyes are starting to change to their adult colors now.  Alli and HannaMae came with me to check on them the other night and got to play with five of them for a little while.  (They like to hide inside the pallets next to their little nesting area and I couldn't find number 6.)  They kept my girls so busy!  Hold onto one while trying to grab another from climbing the bale of hay while another distracts by crawling across a leg.  I even convinced Mama Kitty to let me pick her up and hold her although she wasn't much on the idea of Alli petting her.  Now that they are getting to be big little kittens they can hop and jump and run quite fast!  I still haven't caught the second tuxedo kitten, number 6.  It is a good little hider.

Alli and HannaMae are now always asking to go and see the kittens now.  They even talked Papa into checking on them the other day!  Papa isn't one much for cats of any cuteness level but I think these may have pulled his heartstrings a little.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jumpy Jacobs

Jacobs are known to be flighty by nature.  This trait is definitely heritable and some are more flighty than others.  Generally, our flock seems to not be as flighty as their breed’s reputation.  As individuals become familiar with us as their caretakers and as they age, they seem to generally relax.  Some of it is also experience.  As they have seen all there is to see, they start to know what to expect.  Perhaps it’s just us and our attitude towards them but our sheep seem generally as calm as any other flock of sheep.  We also learned early on when working with sheep that having any sort of handling facility with a proper setup of squeeze pen and gate is immensely helpful for any number of sheep above zero, as is a calm and in control mindset. 

At the first farm that we spent time on, Jacobs were the breed of choice.  While they had been in business a number of years, the farm was quite small and handling facilities were not really an option.  We only really needed to work with them a few times while we were there and we set up a temporary squeeze pen for drawing blood samples, for shearing we caught them in the field.  The owner had  decided that it was better to shear them herself with the help of her husband.  That was where Jason and I each got to shear our first sheep.  It was difficult to say the least and now I am more than willing to pay our dear shearer to come in once a year and get it all done on one day.  Two minutes a sheep versus our 60 minutes per sheep is well worth every penny!  Catching the sheep on the day we were going to shear them at our first place however was less than easy.  They had enough open space that it took three of us a while to catch a hold of just one sheep and in the process we riled them all up in their full wooly coats on some rather hot days.  It also allowed for incidents like nearly having my knee smashed to pieces by one who wished to go underneath me rather than around.  Luckily, she missed.

While we were going to school at WSU we worked with a gentleman who no longer had much in the way of handling facilities.  Our sheep ran with his for a while and he told us that they made his sheep more difficult to handle.  We also couldn't get anywhere near his rams in order to collect ours when we were ready to move them to land of our own.  Part of that was his rams were used to him and wouldn't come near us as unfamiliar people.  Some people call them jumpy.  I think they're still smart, for a sheep anyways.

While in school, I spent a little bit of time at the University of Idaho sheep facility.  They were fully setup everywhere to facilitate easy movement and handling of sheep there.  If you needed to wort a group into two, you'd take them up to the sorting pens.  During lambing season, the pens and gates were arranged so that all you had to do was open the gate and walk behind the ewe and she would end up where you wanted her to go. 

Granted, the U of I sheep facility was built with sheep and only sheep in mind and had been there a long time.  Most of us don't have that luxury. Most of us must build our own systems within our capital and land constraints.  Most of us have more than just sheep living on our farms.  For us, we are planning on eventually having a great variety of livestock living here and everything we build must reflect that somehow.  Building for ourselves a permanent and appropriately sized handling system of pens, chutes and gates is both a priority and large challenge.  A priority because already we are up to thirty breeding adults with more being added every year.  With lambs this year, we have about fifty animals to work with at any given time.  This is a large enough group that we feel the costs of a permanent system will benefit us greatly both economically and mentally.  It is a huge challenge because we are definately not done growing our flock yet and we don't want to build something too small but it has to be able to work with very few animals at a time as well and not be simply too big.  We also have to fit it in amongst other facilities like a barn and chicken coop that are both also being utilized and in between land features like a creek and the general palouse hillsides.  Oh yes, and it must fit in with our capital restraints as well.

In the time between now and when we get to build our handling system, we use a lot of T-posts and cattle panels.  We also lucked by some large sheets of lightweight concrete reinforcing panels which are very similar to cattle panels.  We but them up and left long posts on one side so that we essentially have step-in panels now.  Permanent or not, having a way to direct our flock so that there is only one way to move makes life much easier for us and much less stressful for our animals.  It is an important consideration for any sheep owner and one I feel that isn't touched on a lot in literature, especially for the small time folks.  Most of our convictions about handling facilities and methods has come from experience rather than school or books.  If you are considering investing in a permanent facility for livestock handling, take a look at the book Humane Livestock Handling: Understanding Livestock Behavior and Building Facilities for Healthier Animals by Temple Grandin.  It discusses theory and methods for calm handling techniques as well as how to build a system and facilitates proper handling of livestock.

Some folks call Jacob sheep flighty, jumpy, crazy.  I call them smart.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Farming with Kids

Having young children is a challenge. having multiple young children is more so. Anyone with multiple children within 2-3 years of age will remember those years before they began school well. Damage control is a very accurate concept. More so with some children than others, obviously. also more at some times than others. There are those days, many of which may fade into distant memory sadly, where your little ones are absolutely angelic. then there are days that make us wish there was such a thing as Toddler Boot Camp. hmm... A new reality TV show? I think SuperNanny may have already accomplished that.

Being farmers, our family and our children are faced with many special challenges and experiences. "Helping" takes on a whole new meaning each day. While most toddlers might be indoors learning letters and tracing shapes in a workbook or playing with pupets and blocks on nasty, confused spring days, HannaMae and Alethea get all bundled up in their winter clothes and go out to the farm with their Papa. They make dirt angels, dirt castles, go mud jumping, watch ants braving the cold air and help herd sheep (effectively even now that HannaMae can walk across a pasture!).

HannaMae has become a rather accomplished shepherd, Alli has begun to learn what the names of crops are and which plants are really weeds, mostly.  Both girls must be plied with fresh kale and lettuce and carrots of their own to keep them out of the boxes of clean produce heading for market.  And everyone has been learning to listen to directions when it's crunch time before market.  Everyone is even learning to stay in our own space at the markets, especially at the Tuesday Grower's Market at the Moscow Food Coop, where market is in a parking lot with lots of cars going by.

Farming with young children especially, is a huge challenge.  It is also one of the greatest joys I can imagine.  The girls put on their cowgirl hats and are all dressed up in their cute go-to-market clothes and I can't imagine anything cuter.  Watching our girls obsess over the latest ladybug and even simply playing quietly in the dirt is something I can't imagine living without.  Their imaginations soar when they have little more to play with than a stick and lots of dirt.  (okay, they have TONS of toys at the farm, most go un played with for weeks at a time!)  Watching our girls sit on various trucks and push each other around is so cute.

Life is hard with lots of long hot days and not much more than a blanket and some shade to take a nap in, not like you need much more than that.  Our girls are always absolutely filthy with all the dust and wash water they've been playing in.  but when we finally get home at night, they sleep hard until it's time to get up and go do it all over again.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer Stir Fry

Omache Farm's Summer Stir Fry

The is one of our favorite stir fries!  So much so that I simply had to write it down!  Now, a stir fry can include anything you wish it to, but this particular combination of vegetables is just perfect.  We've found it to serve between 2 and 4 adults, depending on the appetites involved.  It is wonderfully colorful and the flavors are perfect after a long hot day even if it takes a bit of preparation work, you don't have to heat up the kitchen very long to cook this meal!

1 bunch Chard
1 head Napa Cabbage
1 bunch beets
1 bunch green onions
Snap Peas
Oil for cooking
Rice, if desired, to serve stir fry over

Slice the stems from the chard leaves.  Chop the leaves into squares about 1 inch across and the stems into ½ in. chunks.

Quarter and core the cabbage.  Chop into 1 in. chunks.

Remove the greens from the beets.  Chop the thin root ends from the beets.  If larger than 1 inch in diameter, chop beet into halves or quarters so that all beets are similarly sized.  Greens may also be used in the stir fry if desired or saved for soup or another purpose.

Chop green onions from the root end to within an inch of the tops.

Snap the tops (and ends) from beans and snap beans if desired into 1-2 in. sections.

Chop or slice zucchini into 1 inch sections.

Heat oil in wok or large soup pot over medium-high heat.  Cook onions until softened.  Add beets and stir to coat in oil.  Allow to cook until beets begin to soften.  Add Beans and peas, Chard stems and Zucchini.  When also softened, add cabbage.  Cover and allow to cook for several minutes until cabbage is cooked through.  Add chard leaves, stir, cover and allow to cook until wilted.  Serve hot, over rice.  Sauces such as gyoza or soy sauce go well with this meal.

Lambs can be so.... challenging.

It's a good thing that they're edible.

Now maybe that's mean.  We definately do not do enough handling of our sheep, especially the lambs for them to learn that people really are okay.  The adults have lost their edginess around us and the yearling mamas have begun to lose their edge too, although they are still at the back of the pack and a few tend to get left behind with the lambs sometimes.  Jacob sheep are known for their flightiness and difficulty in handling.  I don't knwo if it's just us or our particular group but they don't seem much flightier than any other group of sheep I've worked with.  Smarter, certainly but not any flightier, really.

Tomorrow morning, we were going to move our ewes and lambs into the next pasture over from where they were the past week.  There were several things that weren't quite right. 

1.  Somehow, last week while in the previous pasture that was next to the rams, one ewe and her two lambs (both males) got themselves into the ram pasture and couldn't get themselves back.  I'll have to be watching that one in mid-december for lambs.  Our rams have never been fertile this time of year before, too hot, but it's been much cooler lately... hmm. 

2. Goats weren't really supposed to be mixed with the ewes yet, but there they were.  Stubborn goats!

3. a couple of lambs had been making adventures somehow into another pasture in the old orchard. 

This time, when I went to check on sheep after market before going home for the evening, the lamb escapees couldn't figure out how to get back into the correct pasture with mum.  I'd have to convince them through a gate, relatively easy.  There were also some lambs already in the next pasture.  Well, I guess it'll be tonight while I've got light rather than tomorrow when I should be building the next fence for the next pasture.  While I'm at it, I might as well get the ewe out of the rams.  Because she has to males for lambs, I don't care if they stay or come with.  They stayed, this particular ewe is particularly un-flighty and loves people because people always bring grain.  I got her through the fence with little problem.  Getting her away from her lambs (still nursing some even though they are 5 1/2 months old!) was more challenging but grain solved the issue, the first time.  Second problem was getting her into the ewe group.

For some reason, in hoping that ALL the ewes and lambs would follow me and my grain bucket, I left the gate open enough to admit Sweetpea, my errant ewe, but most of the lambs and the alpacas and the goats decided the last pasture would be better.  The adult ewes went with me and I got them into the correct pasture.

Next step was retrieving everyone else.  Not too challenging except that SweetPea wanted to go back to her lambs, and the lambs and yearlings were confused because they could see their mothers on the other side of the fence of the old pasture.  I had to go all the way back across the pasture and start over and herd everyone back to the gate to their most recent pasture.  convincing the alpacas has so far been the most difficult but thye actually led the lambs through.  The goats had a mind of their own so I let them stay behind.  The alpacas impressed me by leading the lambs around and through a gate to get to the opening in the fence for the next pasture.  The lambs piled past them once they realized which pasture they were in since they'd been there before.  The poor alpacas nearly fell into the creekbed but quickly figured it out.

All I had left was the three individual goats.  Once I got them headed in the right direction and through the gate, all I had left to do was tie up the gate again and amost every difficulty had been fixed, about an hour after I began.  All I'll have to fix later is getting the two lambs out of the ram group but we'll be into breeding season before the first ones go to slaughter and I'll have to sort the rams then. 

I do love my sheep.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shepherd's Corner: Pasturing

We are about to move into the time of year where we are rotating the sheep very quickly from pasture to pasture.  In our idealized farm management system, our sheep would be moving from one pasture to another on a daily basis or atleast on a weekly basis when we are grazing un-fenced areas.  Right now, we are rehabilitating and replacing many old "hard" fences.  These are the fences that are made of a metal mesh and/or barbed wire.  Some of our fences include the barbed wire if we can salvage it from the previous fence while others have a strand or two of electric wire.  In areas of tougher terrain or that are not part of a larger fenceable pasture, we use a four-wire electric fence to keep sheep where they are supposed to be.

We rotate pastures for a number of reasons; first is that forage during the dry season is at a premium and must be used wisely.  Moving quickly from one pasture to another reduces the amount of forage that is lost to trampling when the sheep walk in search of their favorite grasses.  Another prime reason is fertility.  By rotating pastures, manure is spread across the pastures evenly and with zero labor input by us.  We also do not have any runoff from too much manure because the sheep are never in any pasture long enough to leave “too much” manure.  The soils have plenty of time to absorb what the sheep leave behind.  By rotating, we are increasing the amount of forage available to us as well as increasing the fertility of the pastures under our charge!

We also reduce our labor inputs by rotating because we are allowing the sheep to harvest their own feed.  The only hay that we need to move from field to barn and then into feeding racks is hay for winter through early spring when grasses cannot be found under snow and when the ground is so wet and cold and not yet growing that sheep would merely starve and tear apart pastures.  On the Palouse, this still ends up being 4-6 months of the year, depending on spring and fall weather patterns.  This is great for us, because we don't have to spend as many labor hours on the sheep and it reduces the cost of lamb and wool that we produce.  We pass these kinds of savings on to you as our customer.

Now, looking at our prices, this may not seem like a whole lot of savings.  Remember however, that we have little mechanization to ease any labor loads, and that we don't charge at our prices because we can.  We charge the prices we do because we are covering all of our costs.  Take wool for example.  Even 100% wool yarns and products might be less expensive than what our products might cost.  On the other hand, many wool producers are not even covering what it costs to have wool sheared from their sheep!  Our wool and lamb prices reflect the costs and labor involved in producing these items.  When you buy woll or lamb from our flock, you can rest assured that we will be there in the future to provide you with more wool and more lamb because we covered our costs today.

Stewardship of our land begins with stewardship of our economy and our community.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Market Boxes

We are going to offer this week what we like to call "Market Boxes!"

A Market Box is essentially a No-Committment CSA type box.  Each week, we'll put together a group of produce and take 10% off the regular price of the produce if you were to buy each part separately.  We will also include a recipe that will utilize the contents of your Market Box or the box will be themed such that one won't need a recipe.

For Example:

1 Bunch Kale                $1.75
1 bunch Chard              $1.75
1 head Napa Cabbage  $2.00
Beets                            $2.00
Beans                            $2.00
Green Onions                $ 1.75
Regularly: $11.25
Market Box: $ 10.00
Pretty good Deal!

The exact contents and price of the market boxes will change each week as produce moves in and out of season.

Some future themes we are looking at for our boxes during the rest of the season include a Grilling box, a Dorm Dweller box, and a Salsa box.