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Here's what we have been up to lately!
Posted 1/6/2016 10:46am by Kinley Coulter.

 

       

     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 :).

Posted 1/6/2015 11:26am by Rebecca Coulter.

12/19/15

     The real estate agent who listed our farm for sale in 1999 was a master of embellishments and exaggeration, and painted a glowing picture of the numerous, quaint barns, outbuildings and facilities the lucky purchaser would have.  It has taken us a quite a number of years and a sizeable pile of dollars to either dismantle them or reconstruct them to put them into useable condition.  This winter’s project has been an ancient bank barn, probably built in the 1860’s, which we have used as winter shelter for the sheep and cows, as well as for hay storage. 

     Old bank barns have a low ceiling in the ‘cellar’ area, with a loose stacked stone wall at the back, and huge beams and posts supporting the open upper hay storage area.   Over time, the supporting posts in ours had become rotted, and some of the beams had shifted.  Jared, on a mission to rescue the barn, decided to use a 20 ton and two 12 ton jacks to lift the beams, and replace the posts and the concrete footers under them. 

  

Next was the wall at the back, which had lost all the mortar holding the stones in place, and quite a few of the stones.   This week he has been replacing stones, and using a chute from the upstairs of the barn to funnel concrete into forms to stabilize the wall. 

 

It feels good to recycle plastic milk bottles….it feels very good to salvage an entire building.  By the time he is done, I expect he will be reluctant to let the animals back in, since they will quickly take the lustre off his fresh work.        

 

 

9/5/15  

     “What makes your milk so orange?” is a question we are often asked at market.  For folks who are used to seeing heavily processed, homogenized milk, from cows who are seldom outdoors, our fresh whole milk looks unusual.  The Beta-Carotene from the grass and sunshine are a visible reminder of the difference; the Omega 3’s, CLA, and other phyto-nutrients are all there too.  Especially during the grazing months, when the cows are only inside to be milked, our 100% Grassfed milk really shows its color.   

Typically, in our rotational grazing system, by the time the cows have grazed through all the paddocks the grass on the first pasture is regrown enough to start the rotation all over again.  During the recent dry spell, the cows ate the grass faster than it grew, and had to spend about two weeks eating the hay we had baled during the early summer.  Jason and Jacob, our milking crew, were surprised that their milk production dropped off  30% when they didn’t have fresh, green grass to eat.  A recent storm has the beautiful, nutrient dense grass growing and the milk flowing abundantly.      

7/11/15  

     When I was growing up, on our farm in Susquehanna County, my father always set a goal of having the first cutting, or harvesting of hay done by the 4th of July.  My father did the mowing, and my four brothers and I helped to rake, bale and stack the hay in the barn.  It seemed to me like I always got the sweaty, dusty job of stacking up in the tip top of the barn, bumping my head on the rafters; I think the job assignment may have had something to do with a piece of broken equipment the only time I tried to do some of the tractor work.  If we had good weather and were done by the 4th, Dad would take us to town for banana splits. 

 

     Here on our farm, my three boys do the mowing, raking and baling.  But with more cows to feed, and more acres to cover than my father had, we wrap our harvest in plastic, with an automatic bale wrapper, to store for winter feeding. 

 My job now is to bring them food and drinks, and run for parts when something breaks… they still don’t want me driving the tractors J.  This year the weather has cooperated, and we finished harvesting our last field yesterday, so I guess Kinley owes the boys a trip for ice cream!  And next week, if we have fit weather, they will start right in on harvesting the second cutting.  

So far, Kinley and the boys have mowed, raked, baled and wrapped about 120 acres of grass into 245 big round bales of hay for the cows’ winter feed. By the end of the growing season, they will have about 1,200 bales, totaling about 600 tons stored away, waiting to be turned into milk, beef, or lamb.                

3/14/15  

     The end of February found us keeping a close eye on the sheep pen, and an ear tuned for the bleat of newborn lambs. The pattern of arrivals usually is 2 or 3 lambs a day for a few days, followed by a week-and-a-half deluge of lambs, then a lull for about 2 weeks, until the next batch starts. Right now, we are in the ‘new lambs everywhere’ phase. 

     Last year, Jessica had decided she was too busy and too mature to bother with raising a bottle lamb, so three-year-old Sabrina decided to give it a try.  She really enjoyed being Betsy the lamb’s mama, until Betsy got bigger than her.  When lambs nurse, they often butt at their mama, to the point of lifting the ewe’s  back feet off the ground.  When Betsy butted Sabrina, she would go sprawling, and the bottle would fly through the air, followed by the hungry lamb.  Sabrina decided that lambs are much cuter when they are small, and sent  Betsy to live with the other sheep, consoled by the thought that this year would bring another bottle lamb. 

    When a ewe lambs, we want to see that she is paying close attention to her babies.  Most often, the ewes are good mamas, but sometimes if there are multiple lambs they will  reject one of them.  The tricky part is determining if the mama is just distracted by the other lambs, or is actually abandoning one.  Sometimes, when left to themselves the family bonds and everything is ok; sometimes she really is rejecting the lamb, and it will die without intervention.  To avoid taking one that a ewe could raise, we usually wait until we see that a lamb is not thriving before we take it to bottle feed.  Unfortunately, that reduces its chances once we do take it.

      Jason makes the decision of whether to take a lamb or wait and see, and sometimes the children have extended discussions about how well a lamb is doing. Jason is usually sure the lambs will be fine with their mamas; Aerial and Sabrina are certain that any lamb who is not vigorously  nursing when they see it is a candidate for adoption, especially if it has pretty markings.  Usually Jason’s good sense wins out, and so far we have no bottle lambs in the laundry room.      

2/14/15  

     While driving down the highway recently, we passed a farmer running a tractor and spreader in his field, and Jacob and I got into a discussion on the merits of stockpiling and composting our bedding pack (which we do) versus spreading raw manure on frozen ground and snow every week. 

     As the conversation continued, our eight year old foster daughter revealed that she is not yet an accomplished farmer by her question  “What is manure?”  Sensing a teaching opportunity, I launched into an explanation of nutrient management, the plant growth cycles, and the marvel of a creation where the waste from a cow can nourish a plant.  I think she missed most of what I said, because her response was “You mean there is cow poop in the salad I eat?”  Jacob jumped on the chance to inform her that almost all of the food we eat is fertilized by manure from animals.  I’m not sure it really helped me in my efforts to get her to eat more fruits and vegetables, but I did point out that I would rather eat food raised organically than food with chemical fertilizers.    

1/15/15  

     As we headed into the slower pace of winter, with the dairy cows dried off (which means no daily trips to the milking parlor, and no huge batches of cheese), and the market schedule reduced to one Saturday farmers market, Kinley had hoped for a chance to catch up on all the jobs that had been left undone, or half done. He mentioned to the boys and me that we need firewood, the driveway is full of potholes, the farm equipment needs to be gone over for repairs and oil changes, the animal shelters need to be cleaned out and the manure spread in the fields, and the tanks that hold the whey (a by product of cheesemaking, and very good for the soil) need to be emptied.

     The children had a different priority. Two years ago they developed an interest in ice hockey, and used greenhouse plastic and boards to make a small rink inside one of our cattle sheds. It was very popular, but teams had to be limited to 3 on a side, since any more left no room on the ice.

     Somehow, this year, they talked Kinley into a larger outdoor rink. It started in late November as a simple, quick project, but took on a life of its own, and grew to the point that all the neighbors started stopping in to ask what was going on. The boys planned, excavated, leveled and lined a 60x100 rink enclosed with concrete barricades, and are in the process of putting up lights. Last Saturday, they flooded the rink, and they are looking forward to the bitter cold next week so they can start skating.

 

     Of course Kinley is hoping it won't freeze, because not much of the previously mentioned list of tasks got done, and the possibility of skating might diminish their enthusiam for chores. Maybe they could work a deal with their friends where visitors can earn rink time by doing chores. I couldn't help but mention that they should get some sponsors and put up billboards along the sides, to help defray some of the cost, but they are not much into marketing, and said that was my job....so if any of you are looking for a place to spend your advertising dollars, I'll save you a space ;).      

10/11/14    

     This month, we are very excited to finally be able to offer bottled milk.  An on-farm milk processing room, where we could turn all of the milk from our 32 dairy cows into products we can sell directly to our customers has been a goal  since before we even got the cows.  As I think back through the steps of building and certifying the cheese room; starting a milking herd (primarily cared for by our sons Jason and Jacob); sending Jared, our cheese maker son, to classes; getting equipment and learning to make and package ice cream; and meeting all the requirements to be certified as a Grade A bottling facility, I find myself wondering how we managed it all.   We now offer fresh, pasteurized cream-line milk, from our herd of Certified Organic, 100% Grassfed Jersey cows. It will be available in pints, quarts, and half gallons or gallons; we also have wonderful, rich chocolate milk.

  

  In addition, we are now taking orders for Thanksgiving turkeys.  The turkeys are currently ranging through our organic pastures, eating their fill of bugs and seeds.  They also occasionally range in our yard, and on our porch.  As soon as they get near the house, Jessica, Aerial and Sabrina go storming out the door, usually accompanied by two dogs and a cat, to keep them from leaving any ‘deposits’, and to chase them out of the flower beds.   

9/13/14  

 

     As we head into the cooler fall weather, things usually settle into a quieter routine here. The animals are really enjoying the pleasant evenings, fewer flies, and rich green pastures. However, it seems to give them some extra energy, which can lead to mischief. One recent Tuesday, Kinley came home late at night from market, and found cows in the driveway. He was not too pleased that they chose midnight as the time to decide the grass was greener on the other side of the fence, and I was not too pleased to get rousted out of bed to help put them back in. I guess, in the end, I come out ahead though, because they come out as hamburgers.