Category Archives: Farm

Farming in June

It’s always a splendid idea to move residences just as farm season ramps up for the summer.  I have done it three times now.  You’d think we’d learn.  Needless to say, it’s been a busy month but we are having all sorts of fun!

This is sort of a photo-dump but here’s what has been going on at the farm in the last week:

 

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We’ve been breeding cows (artificially inseminating) up at Carol’s ranch.  She selects good bulls for sires and hires someone to come AI the cows. The Spring 2014 calf crop is percolating as we speak!

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The weather has been nice, so our broiler chicks have been heading out to pasture at precisely two weeks of age.  They still have their fluffy chick down, but they much prefer being on grass to being in the brooder.  They really forage a lot even at this age.

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We have been happy to see the variety of grass and forb, species that are coming up in the fertilized area behind our broiler pens.  Now that there’s been a bit of rain there is quite the diverse landscape. This is a picture of selfheal (prunella vulgaris) in bloom.

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We are even seeing some wild strawberries (fragaria virginiana) ! They are tinier than the tip of a finger, but they look just as delicious as their domestic counterparts.

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Emmie picked a fight with a tougher dog than herself and ended up with a few war wounds.  She was bedridden for a few days but the first sign of life was her intense desire to go with me to the farm when I’d put on my boots in the morning.  She can’t stand being left on the sidelines while I’m working.  It’s been said of Border Collies that each dog has the energy of a small nuclear reactor.  That’s very much true of this one.  I’m glad she bounced back quickly. I hadn’t realized how attached I’d become to my sidekick til I had to do chores without her.

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We’ve been making hay up at the ranch.  I have been assigned baling duty.  I straight-up love it.   It’s hot, the dust makes me itch and sneeze,  the baler is old, and the fields are rugged.  But the scenery is terrific!  We’re making hay in the foothills of the Coastal range, with covered bridges and vineyards and rivers on every side.  I’d rather be out there making hay on a sunny weekend than doing pretty much anything else in the whole wide world.

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Carol and James first cut the grass down with a swather.  The swather incorporates a conditioner (or crimper) which crunches the grass a little bit to make it dry faster.

Then they come along with a “tedder”, which has tines that fluff up the hay and accelerate the drying process.  Getting the hay to dry quickly is important in the Willamette Valley where mornings have lots of dew and it could rain at any moment.

The next step is raking the hay into windrows.  This puts the grass in nice, straight lines so that the baler can pick it up.  Raking also helps with drying, as it turns the grass and fluffs it up to get more airflow.

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We check the grass by hand and with a moisture meter and when it’s dry enough, we fire up the baler and I get to work.

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James comes along behind me with the bale wagon and scoops up the bales.  When he gets a full stack, he drives up to the barn and and deposits them for the winter.  

And with that, I’m off to go bale some more hay.  We are expecting rain in the early part of the week, so we’re getting it up as fast as possible.

 

 

 

 

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They’re Here!

Our Cornish-cross chicks arrived on Thursday morning, fresh from the hatchery in California.  There are about 600 in all and they are all healthy!  We didn’t lose any even though the shipment spent two days in the postal system.  Those chicks are amazingly hardy for being so small.  They can survive for at least a day on the nutrition they received from the yolk sac in the egg, without needing any additional food or water.

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The chicks are shipped in cardboard boxes with holes in the sides and lids.  Each box is divided into sections with about 25 chicks in each partition to prevent them from piling up and smothering each other during transport.  In the middle of summer, the hatchery usually puts fewer chicks in each box so they don’t get too hot.

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Our day begins when the local post office calls to let me know the chicks have arrived.  The call usually comes at 5:30 or 6 a.m.  We head straight to the post office, where the poor postal workers are enduring the incessant cheeping of hundreds of chicks.  I think they’re always glad to see them leave!  We pull up to the back loading dock of the post office and unload all the boxes off the postal carts and into our car.  Then we head straight up to the farm where the heat lamps are already turned on and food and water is set out for the new arrivals.

 

 

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Keith and I each take a stack of boxes into the brooder and work quickly to unload the chicks.  They are so hungry, thirsty and cold at first!  Each chick makes a bee-line straight for the water or feed as soon as its feet hit the ground.  They run everywhere, peeping in a state of panic and you have to be very careful not to step on them.

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After their little bellies get full and they find the heat, their cries of distress fade to a quiet murmur.  They all huddle under the hovers and cozy up next to the heat lamps for warmth.  Their eyes drift closed as they bask in the heat.  Sometimes they fall over, they get so relaxed.  It’s really adorable!

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We will be getting at least 6 more batches of chicks as well as another couple hundred layer chicks for egg production, over the course of the summer.  This kicks off the busy farm season!  We’re looking forward to a good year in 2013!

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Emmie loves the chicks.  She has to stay up on a straw bale so that she doesn’t step on them, but she watches them intently, quivering with delight.  I think the frenzy of little running birds really kicks her herding instincts into full gear – she really wants to get them all bunched up into one spot.  She’s pretty adept at herding chickens, which comes in handy when these birds are bigger and sometimes escape from their pasture pens.

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C’mon Little Chicks!

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The brooder is all set up – shiny new heat lamps are installed, an overhead automatic watering system is in place, mason jars waterers are filled, feeders are set out.

Now where are the chicks?!

My hatchery in California tells me that my 600 Cornish-Cross babies are enroute but transit has been taking two days instead of one.  I’m imagining fluffy yellow chicks standing in long TSA lines at the airport.  It makes me laugh so I don’t worry too much.  I am looking forward to getting them out of their boxes and into their plush new living quarters!

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On the Move

This farm is on the move!   This Sunday, Keith and I loaded a couple of our brooders onto a flatbed trailer and hauled them up to their new resting spot at the ranch.

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These brooder houses are pretty darn awesome, if I do say so myself.  Each one cost less than $200 to build and they’ve served us through 4 different farm seasons at 3 different locations and have (mostly) held together well.

Please excuse my “migrant farmworker” husband in the straw hat.  He found the hat in an old refrigerator and spent the afternoon wearing it and dancing a jig to Irish music as he worked.  I can’t really explain any of that previous sentence in a way that makes any sense whatsoever.  Whatever makes him happy, since I took him away from his precious Mt. Bachelor to help me on the farm this weekend.

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Here we are, about to hit the highway with one load of brooders!  We’ll transport the other two next weekend if I can peel the migrant farmworker off the ski slopes again.

 

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Working Calves

I have this funny situation occur regularly:  If I come back from a long marathon training run with painful, tight calves and I Google anything to do with “calf muscles” I get lots of results on breeding beef cattle for more musculature.  And when I want to know more about how other ranches “work calves”, I get lots of links for exercise websites.  It’s like my two worlds collide via the power of Google.

All that to say, I’m sitting on the couch drinking my nasty electrolyte sports water and nursing my sore calves from a 23 mile morning run, so I thought I should use my rest time to tell you about the other calf work I’ve been doing up at the Hemphill’s ranch.

I’ll say up front that my pictures are not Pioneer Woman quality.  There’s a couple reasons for that:  (a) the purchase of an SLR camera isn’t really a financial priority in my lil’ farm budget, and (b) I’m actually working, so I don’t have a lot of time to  frame the perfect shot.  Also, who are we kidding?  My siblings got all the photo/video genius in my family.  I’m just a farmer with an iPhone.

So, Friday before last, we rounded up about 50 mama cows and their calves that were born fall of 2012.  Carol breeds a total of about 100 cows a year and times it so that half of them calve in the spring (happening right now!) and half of them have their calves in the fall.  The Fall 2012 calves are now about 4 months old and they’re not quite weaned but it’s time for them to receive their vaccinations and wormer and the bull calves will be castrated.

All the cattle are in sacrifice paddocks right now because the pastures need a rest during the winter.  This particular group of cattle hangs out at the top of a hilly pasture.  We bring them hay every day, but that morning we mixed things up a little.

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Carol and I walked along behind the herd and she directed her Kelpie/McNab dog Lizzy to keep the cows bunched up and moving behind the truck.  The cattle were pretty excited about the green grass all around them after a winter of hay consumption and they kept getting distracted from following the pickup.

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This is ranching in Western Oregon: green grass and dense forests of Douglas Fir trees.  I find it absolutely beautiful!


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It didn’t take long to get the cattle coaxed into the corral.  We had thrown some flakes of grass hay on the ground to give them a little incentive to move into the enclosure and then we shut the gates behind them.  Carol does her best to make always make the corral and squeeze chute experience as stress-free as possible for her cows.  She says that if we can keep the cows and calves from being frightened in the large corrals and chutes, then they typically associate it with a pleasant experience and are willing to be cooperative in the future.  This is even despite the fact that each one experiences a brief “scary” moment of castration or vaccination while in the squeeze chute.   But that is over very quickly and doesn’t seem to cause the calf a great deal of anxiety.

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We spent a few minutes sorting the cows out of the pen so just the calves remained. The mothers bawled for a bit and then assumed their babies were in daycare and wandered off to enjoy the grass.  Carol had a list of bull calves that she was considering saving to sell as bulls instead of castrating. We circled the pen, looking for the numbers on her list and then analyzing each calf for conformation, vigor, size and weight gain.  She narrowed the list down to about five calves that she wanted to save. She would probably want me to point out that those two brownish calves in the above picture are not an example of the quality of her herd. They were twins and are kind of runty, pot-bellied little things.

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Here’s a better picture of the handsome Angus calves we are working with. It was hard to decide which bull calves to keep.  She had a number of very good options to pick from.

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After writing down the calves we were not going to castrate, we set up our equipment at the squeeze chute.  Well, it used to be a squeeze chute a long time ago, but the contraption seems to be about 100 years old so now it’s just a chute.   James hung the Cydectin pour-on wormer from the rail and then set the syringe gun for the correct dosage for a four-month old calf.

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I was put in charge of loading the latex bands and clips onto the EZE Castrator tool.  The bands are very thick and a little hard to stretch onto the tool, but I got the hang of it after a while.  We would send a calf into the squeeze chute and then call out his or her ear tag number to Carol.  She cross-checked the males against her list and if it wasn’t a bull we were keeping, I’d hand the castrator to James and he quickly applied the band.  It didn’t really seem to phase the calves one bit.  Then each calf got a dose of the purple Cydectin wormer applied to the top of its back.  Finally, Carol gave each calf a couple of vaccinations which protect against a number of diseases including leptospirosis, tetanus, Bovine Viral Diarrhea, respiratory diseases and clostridial diseases.

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The vaccinations are given subcutaneously in the neck area, just in front of the calf’s shoulder blade.  It’s the best spot to do it, because on the off-chance the calf develops a reaction to the vaccine it won’t affect an area that would yield a valuable cut of meat.

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Carol had the trickest job.  It is challenging to keep the needle steady and in the correct spot when the calf is jumping around in the chute.  The calf’s head is locked into the head-gate, but he can still move around enough to make the job difficult.  Carol speaks soothingly to the calf as she works, and the ordeal is over in a matter of seconds.  The calf leaps free when we open the head-gate and promptly joins his buddies in browsing oak leaves and grass sprouts.

It only took a few hours to work through all 50+ calves.  The next day, they were all happily eating hay back up in their winter paddock, looking no worse for wear.  They have another month or two with their mothers and then will be weaned and sent out to enjoy getting fat on the lush spring pastures.

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Paddock Shift

As I alluded to on Facebook this weekend, big changes are in the works for Provenance Farm. No, we’re not expecting.  Geez people! Asking such prying questions up in here!

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I’m moving the farm and starting my venture into cattle ranching!

Starting this week, I’m packing up broiler pens and all my farm equipment and heading for the new location of Provenance Farm.  Our friends Stu and Carol Hemphill have asked me to run broilers on some of their nutrient-deficient pastures of their 400+ acre cattle ranch just west of Philomath.  I jumped at the chance because I’ve been an ardent admirer of Carol for a few years now.  She has been raising high quality grass-fed Angus beef cattle for over 30 years.  I’ve been privileged to buy stocker steers and heifers from her for the last few years, finishing them on my own pasture for the latter months of their lives.  The excellent beef you have enjoyed from our farm is primarily due to the hard work and dedication of Carol Hemphill long before I came into the picture.  I’ve often told Keith, “When I ‘grow up’, I want to be just like Carol.” There just aren’t many women ranchers out there, and even fewer with the intelligence, education, animal savvy and dedication to quality that Carol has.  I’ve been eagerly following her for a while now, gleaning any knowledge I can from her wealth of experience.  To say that I’m thrilled to be farming in collaboration with her would be a humongous understatement. Broilers and layers are awesome but cattle ranching is in my blood and it’s the reason I chose farming as my life’s work.

 

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So, many things will be changing around here but at the same time it will mostly be the same.  We will be growing and processing as many broilers as we did last year, if not more.  They’ll be raised on the rolling hills of the Hemphill ranch, high above the Mary’s River and out of the mud (hallelujah! – can you hear the angels sing?!).  The pastures we’ll start on will be the most needy ones – fields that can use a hearty dose of chicken fertilizer.

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Our beef cattle will be finished in the same fields in which they were born.  If you don’t know how rare and wonderful that statement is, you haven’t been paying much attention to the way the US beef industry works.  It makes me unbelievably happy to know my cattle have had a good, stress-free life, so I’m really excited about this.

I’ll be raising lambs at the ranch as well.  We’ve had such a great demand for our lamb in the last few years, that our flock was rapidly outgrowing the space available at our current acreage.  Our sheep will have plenty of room to graze up at the Hemphill’s place.

Our laying hen flock will be staying at our Fern Road location for the current time. The hens are just beginning to lay consistently and moving them would cause them stress.  Stress always affects production and so I’m keeping them in their current place for the rest of the year.  We look forward to settling them in at the new ranch in the future, as their current location is subject to floods from the Mary’s River in the winter.

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Local customers will be happy to know that they can still find our eggs and chicken at the Fern Road farm stand, and that’s not going to change!

There are lots of big things happening around here this year and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, overwhelmed and scared to death at times.  But I also love the adventure and the chance to learn and grow and make this farm (and my life) something worth being proud of.  There’s something so satisfying about hard work and new goals.

 I look forward to sharing the adventure of this upcoming year with you all in person and on these pages.

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Would you like to learn more about our new digs?  Check out a few of my friend Camille’s blog posts about the Hemphill Ranch here:

http://waywardspark.com/feeding-cows-in-winter-at-hemphill-angus/

http://waywardspark.com/april-with-stu-and-carol-hemphill-anguscoast-range-forest-products/

http://waywardspark.com/pasture-with-carol-hemphill-angus/

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February 20, 2013 · 2:26 pm

Emmie Loves Herding Chickens

Emmie’s absolute favorite activity is herding chickens.  We never taught her how to do it, she just came built with that amazing border collie instinct. She was clever enough to figure out the process of paddock moves very quickly. She knows that as soon as we fire up the tractor and open the feathernets it is time for the birds to move from the old area into the new area.  The chickens know it too and they do a pretty good job of running straight for the fresh grass.  We move their hoophouses with the tractor and the chickens follow along.  There are always a few stragglers however and in this video there were a lot of dawdlers because we were moving them a long distance across a low-lying area that had become filled with 6 inches of rainwater. They were taking their sweet time, and I made Emmie wait for a few minutes so most of the chickens could get across on their own. She’s very obedient but as you can see, she hates to have to take a break from herding.  She never “talks” likes this unless she wants to herd the chickens.

Emmie herds fast and furiously but she almost never hurts the chickens.  Occasionally she gets frustrated at a wayward bird that won’t go the right direction and she tries to drag it by its wing.  I’m always there to step in and call her off though.

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