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Sheep

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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Fulfill

When our to do lists started to need spread sheets because there are lists within lists, I could almost start to feel the ice melt and the grass begin to peak through the snow in anticipation of spring. It's a mix of excitement and worry. I know we can grow vegetables, but will we be able to grow on such a large scale and with such different growing conditions than what we are used to? I know we can produce large eggs with rich orange yolks, but will we find a market for them all and will our plans for a new chicken tractor work out? The possibility that we will get grants for irrigation and fencing are looking promising but will we be able to juggle all of the work that goes into those kind of projects on top of our daily farm chores? Will we get the rest of the fencing done before the lambs arrive? The question marks are endless. Luckily we have a couple of distractions in the form of puppies who are spending an increasing amount of time together now that the weather is slightly warmer than last week when it dipped down below 10 degrees several mornings in a row. I really can't get enough of watching Bella run at Lulu full steam, sometimes jumping on her head, and Lulu wrestling or batting at her with her giant paws with just the right amount of gentleness as to not hurt her. Bella and Lulu 1

Bella and Lulu 2

A couple other distractions have been talking to a graphic designer about a logo for the farm and interviews for our farm internship. Both things have let us step back from our lists and all the small decisions that need to be made in the next couple of months and look at big picture ideas. Why are we doing this? It's definitely not to get rich or to fulfill some lifetime dream of living on a farm, although we are enjoying that part of it. It's really all about feeding people and feeding them the same kind of food we want for ourselves. The most nutrient rich food possible that enriches the earth and doesn't just deplete it's resources.

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It's a pretty gutsy move to think we could do this without much experience but if not now, when? We could spend years working on other peoples farms to learn and make the mistakes that we will make on our own farm. It might be a less painful proposition but it would be less time that we would be getting to know our piece of land. Less time to watch our tiny orchard of apple, pear, and peach trees grow.

Bella and Ewe

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Fall Forward

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Fall Forward

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The last two weeks have given us only one day of clear skies and many days where the air was considered too hazardous to breath for any extended period of time. Our self imposed deadline of the baby arriving and the one created by nature are still looming with several projects left so smoke or no smoke things must still move forward. That means some days getting work done with a mask and most of the time doing work in fits and starts. It also means constantly revising our to do list to prioritize what can't wait and what can be put off till spring.  The first thing to get taken off the list was a wood burning stove. We live in a large barn that was converted into a house and it doesn't have the most efficient heating system so we wanted to add a wood burning stove to keep our energy bills a little lower for the winter. Luckily we weren't counting on it for heat this winter so we will still have a nice cozy house to spend time cooking, reading, researching, and planning for our first full year of farming in.

One project we did accomplish was getting water and electricity to the pastures closest to the house. This involved hiring an excavator to dig a long ditch three feet deep (keeping below the frost line) from the yard near our house all the way out to the sheep shelters, running pipe for the water and electrical conduit inside the ditch, installing a frost proof hydrant, and an electrical outlet. What we thought would be a two day project turned into more than a week long project. There was one day a pipe burst because of a bad part we were sold, then there was a lot more time spent putting the fill dirt back into the ditch since we were using our tractor and not an excavator to get the job done. It was at the top of our list of things to get done because it means we will no longer have to haul 5 gallon buckets of water out to the pastures everyday and there will be an outlet to hook up a stock tank heater to keep the animal's water from freezing this winter.

My favorite part of getting ready for winter is putting up food. It's exhausting when your 8 months pregnant but when I look at all of our jars of tomato sauce, applesauce, apple butter, sauerkraut, frozen blueberries and pitted cherries and think of all the great meals we will make during the winter months it makes all the late nights worth it. We are still  hoping and planning for some more cabbage and beets from our CSA so we can make some fermented kraut-chi (from Sandor Katz's "The Art of Fermentation"), there is also quite a few apples left in the fridge from an apple truck that turned over down the road from us so more applesauce and apple butter, and if we are lucky enough to get any pumpkins from our very late planting, some pumpkin butter and pumpkin pie. We aren't putting up enough food to get us through the winter but its a small step to becoming a more sustainable farm. We are putting up enough hay to get the sheep through the winter because we don't want to be paying an exorbitant price per bale come January. Matt has loaded into his truck and then unloaded into the shelters three tons of hay and one ton of straw. We are thinking about getting a fourth ton of hay just to be on the safe side and looking into large quantities of grain to make feed for the chickens this winter. Every time we take something off the list we seem to come up with a new sometimes smaller project to add on.

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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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Animal Farm

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Animal Farm

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This week has been full of thunderstorms, double rainbows, and getting to know our 13 Icelandic Sheep.  They were a little worked up after making the long trip from Whidbey Island in a little trailer Matt had made for them. We were also a little nervous not having found a Llama to guard them so we made one of the horse shelters as secure as we could and breathed a sigh of relief when we woke up in the morning to find them all there and ready for us to let them out on the grass. They are warming up to us a little bit but still a little camera shy.

The chicks and turkey pullets have doubled in size since we got them just a little less than a month ago. Between them growing out of their watering trough and having lost one turkey during the triple digit weather we hoped they would fair better outside in their chicken tractor with some added protection from tarps.  They seem to be enjoying their extra freedom and rolling around in the grass. They are also learning how to use a water feeder with nipples, which we had to switch the older chickens to also because so much of the water was getting tossed out when we have a windy day in the valley.

We have also adopted a young rooster from one of the Seattle Urban Farm Co-op members and although he has grown much larger than our hens they still spend most of the day bossing him around. He is a dapper young man with some of the most beautiful plumage I have ever seen. He's been slowly working on his rooster crow and what once sounded like a dying seal now sounds like the real thing. His first call of the day is usually around 4:30 am.

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Icelandic Sheep

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Icelandic Sheep

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We recently took a trip to Alderwood Ranch on Whidbey Island, run by Katie and Randy, to meet their flock of Icelandic Sheep and see if its the breed for us. We have been researching the Icelandic sheep for awhile because it is one of the oldest breeds of Sheep and has many traits that we are interested in. Its a hardy breed that can withstand colder weather which we were worried about with our lack of windbreak or buildings on the farm right now. They are good mothers, also known for prolificacy, typically having twins and triplets. The main reason we are interested in them is that they are tri-purpose which means that you can get milk, meat, and fiber from them. We don't have much infrastructure on the farm yet, besides a couple of horse shelters, so we won't milk them right away but that is an adventure we can save for the future. I don't know how long we will be able to resist having fresh milk to make our own butter and cheese with. The first ones to greet us upon our arrival were Toto and Piglet, the Wether Rams (castrated males), they are used as another form of protection on the property besides the two Llamas and the Icelandic Sheep dogs that the Alderwood Ranch breeds. Randy said they sometimes put the Wethers in with the isolated Rams to keep them in check and calm them down a bit. They loved hanging out near us while we chatted about our plans but most of the Sheep kept their distance with their lambs in tow.

We learned a lot about the breed and ended up rethinking our whole plan on how to fence the farm. Which we better get started on pronto because we have 8 Icelandic Ewes coming to the farm in less than a month! The plan is to bring in a Ram this fall, so hopefully by spring we could have a dozen or more little lambs frolicking around the farm.

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