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Great Pyrenees

The road we travel

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The road we travel

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H on a farm hike

We have been working on putting field fencing up around the perimeter of the farm for over 9 months and we finally finished this week. I would say it's time to celebrate but there are too many things to accomplish to get the farm fully functioning before we can crack open the bubbly. The fencing will help us utilize all of our pastures and we will be a little closer to fully realizing our rotational grazing farm model. One other step in this process is getting a more efficient irrigation system installed. The farm has received two grants for the project but because of the sequester everything has slowed down dramatically. I am not complaining because I feel incredibly grateful to even have the grants and there are so many other things that have lost their funding that are much more essential. We had been planning on breaking ground this month but we are still in the review part of the process. The grants will allow a small farm like ours to use all of our pastures and to grow good quality grass during the months of the year we don't have any precipitation. Right now when we use our irrigation water it runs through a series of ditches and most of the water gets wasted and over waters creating bad quality grass that is not good for foraging. Most of our precipitation comes during the winter months so being able to use a small amount of water during the dry months in an efficient way will make it possible for us to practice our grass based farming in a way that needs fewer inputs (feed for chickens and hay for sheep) from off of the farm.

Rock found while fencing

Bella and Wyandotte Rooster

Another way to practice rotational grazing that creates healthy soil and healthy food is to have the right amount of animals grazing for the size of the farm. Right now we don't have quite enough animals to keep up with all the grass we are growing. We are adding on one more flock of laying hens, expanding the number of breeding sheep we will have year round, and looking for a couple bull calves to raise. So what else makes us different from conventional farms besides the fact that our animals are not caged and we don't spray pesticides on our pastures? We keep the number of animals we raise low to create healthier soil by not over grazing and in turn the soil gives us healthier eggs, meat, and someday milk. We produce less food than a conventional farm and we will do it by using fewer inputs (subsidized soy and corn feed) and instead use our own labor moving animals around on pasture. So we produce less food and we need more man/woman hours to do it. What does this mean? It means in no way can we compete with the prices that conventional farmers sell their food for. They are basing their farm models on an economy that relies on cheap subsidized feed and that doesn't give them much room to care about the health of animals and people. In every aspect of our farming decisions we take into consideration the health of the animals, the farm as a whole, the people who eat our food, and the long term health of the environment. So how do we accomplish all of this, farm the way we want and make it economically sustainable? We will have to spend time educating people, taking the time to talk to them about the way we choose to farm and why it is worth their hard earned money to pay more for food. We will also have to make sure we are paying close attention to economic forces and utilizing all the resources we have at hand. It is also why we pay close attention to the breeds we choose. The Icelandic sheep are tri-purpose which means you can get Fiber, Milk, and Meat from them and it will make our farm that much more economically diverse. When we pick a breed of Cattle we will make sure we have one that grazes in a way that will work best with our farm model. We will also be growing the vast majority of our own fruits and veggies (utilizing all the great compost we were able to make with a winters worth of sheep manure) this year and selling what we have in abundance at the farmers market along with our eggs and meat.

Tall Tails

Now that all of our serious business is out of the way we can move onto all the great moments from our first lambing season. It's technically not over because we have one ewe still pregnant but I can't resist sharing this special time with you. In addition we have our bottle fed lambs back and a shelter set up for them near the house. We moved the other sheep into a small paddock nearby so Lulu could keep an eye on everyone and well the grass was starting to look like it needed some four legged mowing anyways.

First two lambs

Bottle Feeding

Evening Grazing

Lu and Ram Lamb

Sheep with beehives

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Farm Dogs

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Farm Dogs

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FarmDogs_01 It has been almost six months since we brought Lulu home to begin training her as a guard dog for the Sheep. She is a couple months away from turning one year old so still a long ways off from being out of the puppy stage but her guarding instincts are strong.

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Lulu has been rather lonely since the Sheep started breeding with the Ram and she started roaming off of the farm to play with the neighbors dog Dora. We have been thinking about getting a Border Collie for awhile to help with herding the Sheep and to have a companion for Lu, but the ones we found were either gone before we had a chance to see them, or just bad timing. When we put the word out that we were looking on our local farm exchange we almost instantly found some a couple miles down the road from us. We went to see them on New Years day and picked Bella out of the three puppies that were left from the litter. Bella is 1/8 bulldog which the breeders said would mellow out the Border Collie breed a bit. She was born just a couple weeks after Malcolm so still incredibly puppy like and too tiny to be outdoors by herself in this icy wonderland we have on the farm right now.

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Luckily her and Lulu seem to becoming fast friends. We want her to be mostly an outdoor dog so we get her out as much as we can and we introduced her to all the other farm animals yesterday.

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We will be moving the Sheep constantly come spring so we are hoping to start the almost two year training process soon which will make our intensive rotational grazing system that much more closer to a reality. We would also like to add on a couple of Cattle to make the most holistic grazing system we possibly can but for now we have two puppies to train, chicken tractors to build, and our first lambing season to look forward to while keeping our family and growing farm warm and fed.

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Animal Update

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Animal Update

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We have had our Icelandic sheep for almost three months now and where they once would run away from us as soon as we let them out of their shelter in the morning they now calmly hover around waiting for food. This is our breeding flock so their natural forage has been supplemented with a little bit of grain to get them up to weight for pregnancy and birthing. That and we are still working on fencing and growing enough quality forage to keep them in green pastures year round. Some of them were incredibly small since there were at least two sets of twins but now most of them have more than doubled in size and we feel comfortable bringing a ram to the farm in the next month to start breeding. The main challenge with them has been to keep them in fresh green grass. The pastures closest to their shelter were soon not enough so we fenced in our front yard and with the use of a temporary fence rotated them around our almost two acre yard while trying to keep them out of our garden and about a hundred trees we have planted since we bought the property. The temporary fence did not keep a couple of the more daring sheep in so we were constantly chasing them out of the garden and back into their fenced area. We were finally able to make the fence a little hotter which for the most part has kept them in. Two of the smaller sheep were injured after a 55 mile an hour windstorm blew fencing material into their pasture and they got tangled up in it and wounded their legs. Matt spent weeks bandaging them up and giving them medicine. They were spending so little time foraging that we were worried they weren't going to make it but they are now completely healed up and enjoying their second rotation around the green grass in our yard.

Lulu, our six month old Pyrenees puppy really has two families, the one that feeds her and plays with her but the one she spends the most time with is her sheep who she also spends her nights with. She is still figuring out that the sheep are not puppies and have no desire to play with her but when it comes to guarding them she is all business. It's hard to believe that she won't be a fully mature guard dog until she is two because her instincts and willingness to stand her ground are already so strong. We are also hoping to bring a sheep herding dog to the farm but we will wait until next year to start that project.

Lulu's instinct with the chickens isn't as helpful as it is with the sheep. She hasn't injured any yet but she loves to chase them around and we have seen her mouth around a couple of the older hens. The 37 Bard Rock chicks we got in the mail are now almost fully grown and should be laying eggs within the month. We think there at least 10 roosters in the bunch and have heard the beginnings of crowing early in the morning. We have only had one rooster up until now and the prospect of 11 cock-a-doodle-doos at 6 am is not very exciting so there might be some Coq-au-vin in our future.

We lost one chick on it's trip from the hatchery to the farm but none since we brought them home, we have not had as much luck with the turkey pullets we brought home at the same time. Three died during the over 100 degree weather we had this summer and 4 were very lethargic with foot deformities so we decided to cull them, which left us with one. It was a hard decision but we didn't want to see them in pain anymore. Lulu's vet said it was pretty common in turkeys that are non-heritage breeds but we also did some research and found the foot deformities are related to a magnesium deficiency. We really want to have turkeys for our family and friends next year so we found a hatchery that specializes in heritage breeds and we will look into putting together our own feed recipe that will focus on any deficiencies our soil might have. It was a huge disappointment to lose so many but one of what I am sure will be many hard learned lessons we will experience over the next several years of starting a farm.

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We're in love with a girl

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We're in love with a girl

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and her name is Lulu

We had been searching for a Llama to guard the sheep for weeks but all of the leads were dead ends.  Then we started contemplating the idea of a puppy but with a baby on the way we were worried it would be too much to handle. Everything we read about the Great Pyrenees breed seemed to fit exactly what we needed. They are an older breed that has been used for hundreds of years by shepherds, and also good with children and a family dynamic.  We found a breeder in Spokane that had three female puppies that had grown up in a barn with sheep and chickens. So we made the leap of faith that this would be a better decision in the long run and we haven't regretted it for a moment.  Her first day on the farm was full of trepidation, mostly on the Sheeps part, but soon she was a part of the gang.

A week has gone by and there were definitely moments we were worried that she was going to bond with us more than the sheep, but she now spends most of her days and all of her nights with the sheep, happily even. She is far from full grown and we are not sure how she would hold her own with a coyote so everyone is still locked up at night.  We are hoping in the future we will be able to leave her and the sheep to roam their paddocks and not need the gates and electric fencing to keep them safe at night. This means we will be able to use the pastures farther away from the house, but it also means we have more fencing and irrigation projects to start.  More to add to the to do list but its exciting to be able to utilize more of the land and see our plans become reality.

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