In a sense this year has been relatively laid back, as we’ve gotten into the groove of off-grid homesteading and regenerative farming. In another sense, it’s been intensively chaotic, with lots of surprises!
We have continued to grow our farm share CSA and feel proud to have produced so much food for so many people. In 2016 we handed out over 5000 lbs of beef, pork, and lamb to more than 50 customers. Much thanks to all of you that have been supporting us and enjoying the fruits of our labor and landscape!
We had a healthy crop of calves in the spring and our cattle herd is continuing to grow! We are super pleased with our Red Devon and Red Angus cows and impressed with their hardiness, easy calving, and how quickly they produce such high quality meats. It takes 18-22 months for us to raise a bull calf up to slaughter weight on an all-forage diet.
Odum, our Karakachan livestock guardian dog who we got as a puppy last winter, is now one year old, a giant puppy, and a formidable guardian. He’s been in two fights with coyotes this year and came out on top both times. He patrols our farm all night long and keeps all our animals safe.
We are super happy with him and impressed with his instincts. Not only is a smart and diligent guardian, but he’s also super helpful around the sheep and goats. If/when they get out of their paddock, he’s always right there to help guide them back in. Tilia loves running and grabbing ahold of his fur and getting drug around the farm. We’re super excited to get him a girlfriend and have a big, happy, fluffy pack of super tough guardians. We had a scare when our 15 year old dog Tehya, came down with Lyme. After 8 days of not eating, she bounced back and still enjoys her daily jog around the farm.
One big huge excitement came as Maureen’s parents, Leif and Marcia, decided to purchase the 120 acre parcel next door. We were already leasing and grazing the 40 acres of pasture there, but the big excitement is the 40 acre crop field also on that property. Our mission is landscape regeneration and no landscape needs more regeneration than these perennially poisoned fields. This next spring we’re excited to establish perennial prairie pastures, utilizing native grasses and flowers to utilize as a hayfield and for grazing. It shouldn’t be a surprise that we’ll also be planting out thousands of hazelnuts and oak trees there!
This year we purchased new breeding stock for our sheep flock. We had previously been working with Katahdin, a hair-sheep breed that sheds its wool each spring making it a lower maintenance breed than other wooly sheep, which need to be sheared annually. The wool market is incredibly depressed, and it is generally more expensive to get a sheep sheered than the wool is worth on the market. We love wool, however. It is the perfect winter fiber for clothing, and it’s what we wear everyday. Maureen is also a knitter, and is constantly crafting sweaters, pants, hats, and mittens for our family. The deciding factor came when a local sheep producer and yarn store owner decided to invest in the equipment to locally process wool into yarn. She is opening up a wool mill just about 5 miles from our farm! So we bought Rambouillet ewes and a ram – a breed closely related to Merino that produces premium wool and also known for excellent meat. We’re super excited to produce our own wool and have our own wool yarn that Maureen can knit into warm winter clothing for us all!
ne new farm purchase that’s radically improved our day-to-day lives is our new electric utility vehicle. Peter can zip up and down the steep hills around our 220 acres quickly, carrying all the tools and equipment he needs to get the job done. He’s getting 5x more accomplished in a day. It’s hard to believe he used to carry all our fencing around by hand, setting up paddocks on our steep hillsides. It’s perfectly quiet, so when a calf is lost, we can quietly cover lots of distance and we still hear the calf rustling in the weeds. Since it’s electric it’s super heavy, carrying 8 deep cycle batteries. The power of the motor plus the weight means that the machine never gets stuck. It can cruise straight up a hill through mud or ice without even slipping. We’re super impressed.
The 5 acre prairie we planted two years ago is really starting to thrive. What used to be a crop field consisting of one species of plant is now a thriving grassland ecosystem. Peter counted over 100 plant species here in the height of the summer, many that we planted but many that came on their own. This is where we’ve been running our broiler chickens the past two seasons, and the impact on fertility is amazing. We’ve been moving them through the thinnest, most compact soils in the field which are now producing the greenest, most lush swards of grasses and clovers. It is really amazing to see the difference that a few hundred chickens can make in just two months.
In August we got hit with a 7’’ rain event that struck already saturated soils. This caused massive flooding in our region with several counties actually receiving federal disaster funds. As the rains fell through the night we watched from the window in our loft which looks over the valley. It was pitch black, but in the occasional lightning strike, we could catch a split-second glimpse of the farm. “Wait, was the chicken coop underwater? Where are the fences?” The ravines filled with water that spilled out and gushed down our valley. 3’ of water flowed over our coop, which was 6’ higher than the ravine. They gathered speed and height as they moved down the valley washing out massive cuts of soil and leaving giant rocks, boulders, and debris. Fortunately, all our animals were up on the hills and were safe from the rushing waters. The roosts for our chickens are 4’ off the ground so they were safe from the waters that got up to 3’ through the coop. I’m sure they were a little freaked out though! The flood waters carried away any farm equipment in its path including fence energizers, fencing spools, and our water pump. Lots of our stuff our now sunk at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Whoah! It also washed out any fence it encountered. Hundreds of feet of barb wire and woven wire fencing were destroyed in 15 different sections that took Peter over a month to get fully repaired. We are grateful that the damage wasn’t worse and that we were able to recover. It was also informative to see the paths of extreme flood water movement across the landscape. It will help inform future decisions both for the placement of fences and infrastructure, but also ponds and earthworks to help mitigate future events.
On the plus side, this summer, Maureen’s dad Leif shored up the slowly collapsing 150 year old dairy barn at the front of our property. One of the foundation corners had collapsed and one wall was literally just hanging there in suspension. The only reason the barn hadn’t collapsed decades ago is due to the tension of the timber frame structure made of rock solid old-growth oak and joined together with oak pegs. The roof also had lots of holes in it and many of the structural timbers were starting to rot. So Leif jacked up the barn, rebuilt that corner of the foundation, and put on a new roof. It still needs a lot of work, but its now ready to weather another 150 years! We look forward to eventually transforming this space into a kitchen, classroom, and event space with a beautiful veranda overlooking our pond and the Kickapoo valley.
This year we tried an experiment to grow an acre corn without using any equipment, input, or hand labor. It was an astounding success and we plan on doing an even bigger patch next season as well as using the same technique to grow other grains.
Our annual Permaculture Design Course was a huge success where we hosted an amazing group of people from all over the country and learned together about the design and management of regenerative agricultural systems. It’s always the highlight of our year where we get to spend lots of quality time with lots of new and old friends.
A major home improvement occurred when we purchased a Waterford Stanley wood cookstove to replace our tiny Jotul 602. It’s got a baking oven and a large cooking surface that produces wonderful even heat. It is solid cast iron, and provides a ton of thermal mass. The stove stays warm long after the fire dies and we’ve been waking up to much warmer mornings thanks to all that thermal mass. Pretty much everyday in the winter we’re able to simultaneously cook down bone broth, cook winter veggie soup, render lard and heat our water. Oh, and it keeps us warm!
We got a Kitten! Clements is a quickly growing feline with impressive athleticism and obsession with the mice that scamper around the cabin. He’s Tilia’s new very best friend and handles himself with dignity against the onslaught of big dogs and little kid.
Maureen has always been a good cook, but she’s constantly improving and taking her creations to the next level. Everyday she cooks us 3 amazing meals. She’s constantly trying new recipes and experimenting. We’ve been posting our favorite recipes. Do yourself a favor and get some high quality meat, fat, and veggies (like ours) and try them out.
Tilia is growing fast and learning even faster. Everyday she surprises us. She’s strong, smart and already capable of so much. Her first word was “chicken,” and her second was “hey cows.” She greets everything on the farm when she sees them – “Hey cows, hey sheep, hey maple, hey Odum, hey moon, hey papa.” Her favorite activities include helping with dishes, helping sweep the floor, and hugging travis. Her favorite books are Sibley’s Bird Guide, and the Illustrated Guide to Pleistocene Mammals. Her favorite foods are sauerkraut, hazelnuts, and ground beef. Go figure.
We have lots of big plans for 2017. The biggest project is building a new house. We’ve got our designs pretty much finalized and Peter will start this winter logging and milling the lumber that we’ll use to build a timber frame house, inspired by our newly shored up barn. We’ll be using mostly pine from the plantation while incorporating some hardwoods like ironwood, oak, and hickory, in the framing and flooring. It’ll be a huge project and we’re blessed to have Maureen’s dad Leif to help us in the summer.
Another big project is planting the new 40 acre field with perennial forages and trees. We’ll also be laying out pipeline and building new fences around the farm as we continue to develop our infrastructure to allow rotational grazing with lots of different species of stock.
We’ll be shearing our sheep in the spring and getting our yarn back in the summer. We’ll be teaching our Permaculture Design Course here from June 17-25, and we’ll be teaching Tilia how to help out with projects around the house and around the construction site of our new house. It’ll be a busy year! We’re now enjoying the long nights and resting up from a busy 2016 and preparing for an even busier 2017. We’ve also opened up applications for internships for 2017.
We feel so blessed to have such amazing and supporting families, friends, students, teachers, and customers.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Peter, Mo, Tilia, and the packs, flocks, and herds of Mastodon Valley!