July 8th – July 15th

The dairy herd is grazing above the bunkhouse. 

We are coming close to the end of our second time through the beef grazing rotation, passing through paddocks and pastures that we’re grazed once earlier in the growing season. On the first pass over these pastures, the grass was super tall and growing fast, and we tried to get the cows to pass over all of it as quickly as possible to keep the grass from getting too mature and going to seed. Now things have slowed down a bit, and with the shortage of rain that we’ve had around here so far this summer, there is a real difference in the pastures this time through. Visually, the pasture is dominated by a rich green bottom layer where shorter grasses and clover are growing well after the first rotation, interspersed with isolated patches of tall golden dry grass topped with big seed heads where the cows didn’t graze the first time through. Mixed into all of this are some tall weeds like thistles and lambs quarter that we’ll have to mow in the next couple of weeks. We are still growing some incredible clover this year, and there are large areas of it, even in some of our poorer pastures, covering significant portions of our acreage and making up the bulk of our grazers intake. Clover does not grow super tall and put up a high seed head like grass does, but rather flowers in multiple spots on the plant, spreads horizontally across the soil, and grows back quickly after grazing. Clover can also be a bit more resilient in dry weather since it stays closer to the ground and can thrive in that lower region where soil moisture and the morning dew can keep things from drying out too much. We are happy to see the clover beginning to exert itself out in our pastures and to spread in a meaningful way because it also has the highest sugar content of our pasture plants, giving the cows the most energy, vigor and growth as they consume it. We are in the business of turning pasture forage into beef, so we are always eager to get more clover into our pastures, and cows. Clover also fixes nitrogen from the air in small nodules in its root system, and releases that nitrogen into the soil when its roots die at grazing or mowing. That nitrogen, essential in plant growth, helps promote vigor and production in all the other pasture plants.

We had two calves this week, one in the dairy, and one in the beef herd. That is our seventh calf in the beef herd this year, and I expect that we are getting close to our total for the summer. The bull comes in about a month, and I hope that we are finished

Tiny Purple Rain meeting her cohort.

calving before he arrives. Our dairy calf, a tiny little heifer that the kids named Purple Rain, was delivered by Pip, another of the many daughters of the incredible Patty. This is Pip’s first calf, and although she has been a bit of a challenge to milk, we are making progress at every try. Modern dairy cows are bred to have smaller teats than the old style cows of fifty years ago because there is no more need for large teats sized for milking by hand. With mechanical milking, a smaller teat is easier, and safer for the cow, and most cows now have teats shorter than two inches. An old style cow could have teats close to four inches long, giving the milker enough space to get a hand on and give a good squeeze. Pip has really tiny teats which have been difficult to get the milking claw to latch onto, and that difficulty has been exacerbated by the typical swelling that her udder is going through as it gets used for the first time. Things will settle down a bit and come into better shape over the next couple weeks, but there is always a bit of a learning curve when we add a new heifer to the milking lineup. Gladys, another first time heifer, is due is a couple of weeks, so we’ll be going through all of this again soon. We let our heifers get to about two years old before breeding, which is a little longer than the industry standard, so Pip is now just about three years old and has started her first lactation. She has been a very attentive mother so far, and I hope to put her and little Purple Rain out with the herd on pasture Monday morning.

Our hoop house tomatoes required a little emergency trellis support this week as the weight of the large plants, filling with plump tomatoes, pulled the wires down enough that some of the wooden posts began to split and tilt. We installed a second level of ground anchors to pull the posts back up, repaired where they had begun to crack, and

These tomato plants have been pruned for harvest. 

installed additional supports along the lengths of wire to help hold the whole thing up. Those plants are doing really well with their regular irrigation, lots of sun, and shelter from strong wind and rain. They are putting on some really impressive fruit, and we are looking forward to adding those tomatoes to the CSA in the coming weeks. This week should include some leaf removal and pruning down around the lower region of the plants, opening them up for easier harvest and hopefully lightening the strain on the trellis system enough that they can make it deep into the fall. We have all learned a lot about trellising tomatoes in a hoop house this summer, and we’re looking forward to perfecting the system for next year’s planting.

The pullets moved out of the brooder house at Maggie’s this week, and the turkey poults moved out of the brooder at Sentinel Elm, so we have all of animals out on pasture. The pullets moved into an egg-mobile in the same pasture as the mature laying hens to make that chore as easy as possible, and they have their own fence, feeder, water and fence charger. They will move around the farm just like the layers, scratching up pasture and soil that we want to renovate, and leaving behind their powerful manure. The turkeys moved into a small moveable pasture house, and we’ll add more houses as the birds grow before finally letting them out into a large fenced yard when they’re big enough to stay safe. With all of animals out on pasture, the work of livestock care for the rest of the growing season is taken up almost entirely with maintaining the systems that support the animals out there. We’ll be keeping the water and feed flowing, weed-whacking fences, clipping pastures, moving animals across the landscape, and supporting calving, but the major work of setting up the season is done.

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