A few mornings ago we woke up to over a foot of fluffy, white snow. A spectacular winter morning in Vermont. What could possibly be more beautiful? At 7:00am the four of us headed out for shoveling, snow plowing, and chores. This picture-perfect moment, however, quickly disintegrated as the tractor, which we rely on to feed hay bales to both the beef cows and ewes, refused to turn over, the new fuel filter Gabe quickly installed failed to do the trick, and the generator proved to be entirely out of gas. Two hours later of course, after a trip to the Corner Store for gasoline, much navigating in the deep snow with the generator and extended blow drying of the tractor fuel lines, the situation had greatly improved. All animals fed, snow removal underway and hot chocolate for both boys…and yet, I must admit, it is mornings such as this that I find myself wondering, why? Why exactly do we do this thing called “farming”?
Hmmm, why farm? Why wake up at the crack of dawn every morning? Why worry about hay? Tractors starting? Animal chores? Why worry about your own snow removal, for that matter? The answer to these questions, at least for our family, is rather simple and perfectly illustrated by a recent trip to Montpelier. Between new snow tires for the truck (which as you all know ALWAYS takes forever), a quick stop for dog food, and unsuccessful stop, after unsuccessful stop in search of the perfect birthday present for a four year old, I found my eyes wide, heart racing, and whole self practically twitching. I vastly prefer, as I have previously mentioned, our self-sustaining oasis to fast-paced, big-city life. And so, the answer to “why farm?” really is simple – it just fits us. It is not just that we would rather battle tractors and the weather than throngs of holiday shoppers and congested streets, but rather that it allows us to be outdoors, in nature, together. Just the four of us, headed out the door.
I hope that this holiday season and New Year, you are able to find whatever it is that fits you. Whether it is farming, an office job, or breaking trail through the freshly fallen snow, find ‘it’ and go for it! Happy holidays, from our family to yours!
We’ve been in Corinth now for over 5 years and despite our, or my, tendency towards hermitage, we’ve made a number of close friends in the neighborhood. And, as luck would have it, a good deal of these friends are similarly minded: farmers, carpenters, stone masons, wood workers, and gardeners. We find ourselves, at least once a week leaning on these friends for favors. Whether it is borrowing a piece of equipment, seeking help for an animal in need or simply general farm advice, more and more often we rely on our network of friends. Last Sunday however, was the pinnacle of our asking and our friends’ generosity has left us feeling a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation.
As some of you may be aware, Gabe and I bit off a tad more than we could chew this summer with our building projects around the farm. Between a house addition that will ultimately leave us with close to double the square footage (still only about 1500 at its completion) and a new barn to home ailing or birthing animals, Jeannette, and any unwrapped hay, we quickly found ourselves in a pickle. Which to push for: human comfort or animal? Of course, the later won out.
Our barn foundation was poured and frame put up earlier this summer, but the roof and siding were mere goals for the future…until I found myself milking Jeannette in the field in 3 inches of snow. Hmmm. Time to call for help. This is the moment at which our friends, and family from a bit farther astray, stepped in. On Sunday at least 20 amazing individuals of all ages and ability levels descended on Winter Moon Farm. The result: the barn roof is fully strapped, one side of which is also covered by metal roofing, while the sides of the barn are more than half covered with rough-sawn barn board courtesy of Gabe’s uncle. It actually looks like our barn is going to be finished before snow flies, or sticks at least, and there is NO way we could have accomplished this without the huge effort our support network put in this weekend. What an amazing gift!
All that said, this holiday season, Gabe, Eben, August and I are, without a doubt, thankful for the amazing friends we have. We are so lucky to find ourselves surrounded by such a talented and generous bunch and cannot thank them enough for all they have done for our family and farm!
Every morning my alarm goes off at 5:30am. In the warmer months of the year I am usually able to wake before the dreaded beeping, however as the light changes I frequently find myself pulled from a deep slumber by my wrist watch. It is completely dark in our house as I grab some warm clothing, a headlamp and my milk pails. Hoping not to disturb any sleeping boys, the three dogs and I creep out the front door, the flashlight beam our only light. Two glowing eyes slowly approach from the bottom of the pasture as my calls of “Jeannette! Jeannette!” echo down the valley. It’s milking time.
As soon as I have emptied our beautiful girl of her morning milk, the dogs and I head back to the house. If I am going to sneak in my morning run, which I do at least 5 times a week, now is my chance. Strain the milk, change my clothing, and dash out the door, hoping to leave, once again, boys sleeping in my wake. Of course many mornings the boys are sprinting in circles around the house, wrestling with the dogs, or simply requesting five different breakfasts simultaneously by this point… nevertheless, it is out the door I go. Gabe is well accustomed to dealing with the morning chaos that is our home.
For my second trip into the morning darkness, though there is usually at least a hint of light in the sky, I take only Isis, my running partner extraordinaire. What dog, at mile 10 of a 12 mile run, is still jumping up to bite the leash (or my arm) in excitement? She is truly the most energetic beast I have ever known and loves, more than most things in this world, to run. We cruise down the driveway and out onto the surrounding roads, only to return 4-16 miles later (4 being the short runs of late, 16 the long) with chores looming.
A chorus of “baaa”, “moooo”, and pig grunts generally meets Isis and I as we top our driveway to hungry farm animals awaiting their breakfasts. Now that fall has truly arrived, and the grass is lacking in nutrition, most of our animals are eating a daily ration of hay and are thus arriving back at the farm from their summer grazing locations. Isis and I quickly switch modes. Grain, whey, hay for the three pig groups, hay and water for the lambs, double check the cows’ water trough and a quick peek at the layers (who generally only need water and grain in the evenings) before we hurry back to the house. By this point my mind is usually wondering what state Eben and August will be in…happy?…wild?…furious? Hoping for the former, we open the door to cries of “Mama! Isa! Mama! Isa! Mama!” The day has begun.
Fall is my favorite season but it is also the one that I get the least time to enjoy. Fall is a foreshadowing, bringing the prospect of winter and 7 months of frozen ground and cold. To be ready for winter we must have all of our winter animal shelters ready, water, hay and fencing all lined up properly. I am not going to pretend that I am ready or that it will be smooth. We were overly ambitious this summer and the roof needs to be put on the new barn, the new water system needs a pump and winter pig area needs a bed of wood chips. Oh and the house addition needs a chimney, insulation and a roof.
We are just beginning to think about bringing our cows and sheep back from their summer pastures. The sheep have another 3 weeks of grass but the cows need to be brought back and put on hay. This week will be our last summer farmers market and we will say goodbye to our last batch of meat birds and turkeys. I like to think that with these things wrapped up I will have time to finish the barn and our house addition. The truth is I am not so secretly hoping for a glorious and long fall, another three months before snow and frozen ground please. This is a dangerous thing to do with our increasingly unpredictable weather but this is my favorite season and I would like for it to last.
How do our two wild chickens survive the marauding fox without an electric fence? By living with the pigs of course. Winter Moon Farm is an attempt at symbiosis or at lease synergy. We graze different animal species consecutively so we can minimize parasites. We rotationally graze our pastures working with the natural cycles of ruminants and perennial grasses. Our farming practices are underpinned by the assumption that agriculture is the most productive and sustainable when it mimics or follows natural cycles, symbiosis, and ecology.
Yet we have spent a lot of the past few weeks trying to upset the natural rhythms of predator and prey (fox and chickens), the inclination of the pigs to duck their fence and roam through the wilds of our neighbor’s gardens, and the tendency of turkeys to fly the coop and get chased by our dogs. Multi-species interactions, planned or not, are what keeps things interesting and meaningfully differentiate us from a bigger mono-culture.
Back to the wild chickens. We have two of them. One is a five year old layer that escaped the butcher’s block by flying away at the right time. She has been living on her own scavenging dropped grain along with bugs and grass for a couple years now. The other is a meat bird who we nicknamed “runty” as she was much, much smaller than her brethren. She jumped out of the pen while we were slaughtering chickens. I was thinking of sparing her anyway. Each of these chickens bonded to separate groups of pigs. Runty sleeps with a sow and her young litter and has grown much larger sharing the sow’s grain. She is often the early alarm system jumping up and squawking as we approach. At times she has taken to roosting on top of sleeping pigs. It became clear after the fox ate a few escaped chickens that these two had an advantage and were protected by their porcine associations.
Gabe and Hayley
This is a wonderful time of year to write about – piglets, lambs, greening grass, and budding trees. We have been thinking a lot about sheep. In the fall we bred three ewes and two of them lambed. Myrtle gave us two big lambs a couple weeks ago and Spruce this week gave us two ewe lambs. Nettle, our dominate ewe, must not have liked the look of the young ram that we used to breed and looks like she will miss motherhood this time around. This fall we will breed at least five ewes, Grace and Gretel – black Romney sweethearts born a year ago will join those mentioned above. We are planning on buying 8-10 feeder lambs this spring for fall butcher dates and have reserved a registered black Romney named Harvey from a nearby farm who may become our flock sire. Hayley has been actively exploring adding another breed and several more ewes to the mix.
Meanwhile our 19 piglets have just been weaned and we are getting the sows ready to be put in with a boar in a couple of weeks. As this summer is full of building projects I has been spending some time sawing timber. We expect to break ground on the house addition in a few weeks and are finalizing the plan for the new barn.
Busy, busy, busy.