The solar clothes dryer won't be working for a while, but we are grateful for the moisture. It started as liquid, but ended up as freezing rain. It was a challenge to get the chickens out of their trailer this morning since the hinges on the door were coated with ice. I tried chipping it off, but to no avail. Finally, I got a bucket of water and slowly poured it over the hinges and that did the trick.
February 7, 2018
Farm News: Here in western Oklahoma we are in a stage 3 drought. Many of our neighbors are wheat farmers and run cattle on the wheat during the winter. But the drought has become so severe, that some farmers are having to sell their cattle early and at a poor price because their land cannot support the cattle.
We are also dealing with serious drought conditions, but because of the way Ron has been able to improve our pastures over the years, we still have plenty of forage for our grass fed herd. With the increase in organic matter, our soil holds moisture better and longer than it used to. With a rotational grazing system, cattle graze one area (and provide natural fertilizer) while letting other areas rest. So, it's good to see progress being made on our land, but we sure do join our neighbors in praying for rain!
January 24, 2018
Farm News: There are still details to be worked out, but we've had several Providential opportunities come our way in the past few weeks. We are working on finding a way to continue to stay in farming and I'll let you know more as things unfold.
Cow Psychology Quiz: Ron was at Pastured Poultry meeting Monday and Tuesday, so I did all the cow chores. We have the cows grazing in 2 paddocks that are side by side and we move them back and forth. (Not to make our lives harder, but because of what's growing in the different areas.) I learned a while back that you cannot make a hairpin turn with a herd of cattle. (As in the illustration below). Every cow has to be moved out of the first paddock, into a holding area, before you turn them around and move them to the second. Why is that?
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Farm News: We've been terribly dry this fall, but Ron is really pleased with how well the pastures are holding the moisture. He has planted quite a bit of rye in an area where he can irrigate and that's looking good. It should make fine grazing by February. Meanwhile, the standing hay (grasses that were allowed to grow tall over the summer, but were allowed to dry out on the stalk rather than being cut and baled) is serving the cows well. We bring in a little alfalfa hay to supplement, but we don't use any grain, even in winter.
Farm News: "Whitekit" the black kitten, ("Well, her teeth are white!" explains William the name-giver), followed us on our hike to the creek but didn't make the return trip. She's been to the creek with us plenty of times, so I figured she'd find her way home. But at supper time, she wasn't here. We went to the Helena Christmas parade and got back after dark. Still no Whitekit. I was afraid she'd become dinner for something down at the creek, so I got the flashlight and headed out calling "Kitty Kitty". Sure enough, she was still down there, and, I think, she was glad to see me!
Farm News: Ron was in the yard the other day and could hear a hen “muttering” nearby, but couldn’t see her. He realized that the sound was coming from underneath a plastic tub and when he flipped it over, out came the hen. She must have stood on the rim of the tub and flipped it over herself. Although she’d been under there all day, she was no worse for the wear. In fact, she’d made good use of her time and laid an egg!
Farm News: All of our milk cows are now dry (on maternity leave). This will be our third winter to have our cows on a seasonal milking schedule. It's working well to have them all calve in the spring when the pastures are lush with grass and then to dry them off in the fall. They'll continue their grass diet as Ron moves them around the pastures where they eat standing hay, (tall grasses that were reserved for this time of year), rye (where they get their "greens"), and, in the case of a snow/ice storm, hay.
Farm News: Nine year old William and I took a walk down to Wagon Creek with three friendly cats in tow. Upon our return, we realized that one of the kittens was missing. We called and called, but she didn't come. So, we retraced our steps. Still no sign of her. Finally, William spotted her in the crotch of a tree about 12 feet off the ground. Her forelegs were dangling on one side and back legs on the other. Now, I know that cats generally don't really get stuck in trees, but we were half a mile from the house and I was afraid that she'd end up as coyote food if we left her. The tree had no lower branches, and there didn't seem to be a way to reach her. But William thought he could shimmy up the trunk, and will a little support from Mom, he actually got high enough to grab her. Kitty's hero!
Farm News: Recently, Ron was bringing the cows up from the pasture and into the holding pen for the milking. As the lead cows got into the narrow alley way, they stopped and refused to move on into the pen. Since Ron leads from behind, he couldn't figure out why they wouldn't move, so he went around to the front and found the problem. There was a long pipe stuck through the bars of the fences and it was acting as a gate to stop the cows. As it turns out, a certain boy, who wishes to remain anonymous, had tripped over the pipe the other evening and decided to put it up out of his way, never even thinking of the consequences!
Farm News: We have one white hen and she lays a bright white egg, so she's the only hen who's production I can keep track of from day to day. The problem with her, however, is that she's always looking for greener pastures (or a softer nest). She'll lay her egg in one spot, every day, for about 2 weeks, and then she'll move on. We don't even get half of the eggs she lays because we cannot find them. So, if you ever get a bright white egg in your dozen, you'll know we've found her latest location
Farm News: Since we are going to two farmers markets (Broken Arrow and Tulsa), I load the freezers in both vans. "Panther" the cat was very involved last time. As I'd carry a box to a freezer, I'd find him lounging on the lid and would have to move him aside so I could open it. Then I'd come out with a box for the other van, and there would be Panther, now lounging on that freezer lid. This went on for some time before he finally gave up and decided to hang out somewhere else. Panther is both aggravating and amusing!
Farm News: I caught William working on a paint project on the kitchen floor. Because he was making quite a mess, I sent him outdoors to finish his project. That worked out much better, though I have noticed that we now have a hen with green feathers. Hmmmm.
Farm News: Our neighbor girl hatched out several chicks for us this spring and a broody hen hatched a couple more. Now they are getting to the age when we are starting to see pullet eggs. I found one in the nest box this week that was just the size and shape of a marble. Good start little hen!
Farm News: Yesterday I saw a hen running around with something hanging from her beak. Somehow, she had managed to catch a frog. But she wasn't able to eat it in peace because every time she dropped it to try to take a bite, another hen would race up and try to steal it. She out ran 3 other hens before finally disappearing from my sight. Hope she finally got to enjoy her meal!
Farm News: Ron will make his TV debut tomorrow morning when Nina Cason, Channel 8 KTUL does the cooking segment on "Good Day Tulsa" sometime between 9:00-10:00. Hope you have time to take a look!
Farm News: For some time, we've had a coyote that will come out to the draw in the afternoon and bark like a dog. Our dog will take off after the coyote, who then runs off, but it will come back a few minutes later and start the taunt all over again. We haven't been able to figure out if the coyote is working in tandem with another one who then comes into the farm yard to grab a chicken, or if the same coyote is doubling back to snatch a meal. But, Ron's been finding piles of feathers out in the pastures and my rough count of chickens the other night showed we're 30-40 birds short of what we had in January. Ron wasn't having any luck taking it out, so he called the state trapper who came out this week. That coyote taunted one too many times. Good riddance!
Off Farm News: Natalie, William and I made the trip to Columbia, MO on Saturday to visit my extended family--and to be there for the total eclipse. Monday dawned partly cloudy, and although the sky was hazy, we had a good view of the sun with the eclipse glasses on. As it got closer to total coverage, the clouds began to thicken and the sun and moon were moving in and out of sight. "Oh, Lord, I really, really would like to see when it's totally covered!" I prayed. Just as it went to 100%, it went behind and cloud, but quickly came out again, and it was stunningly beautiful! I confess, I cried. We had a good view for about a minute before the clouds obscured it again, but I'd had my look and was so grateful. Even though we could no longer see the sun, we could see Venus, the cicadas were singing their night song, a large bird swooped overhead going to roost, and the street lights were on. It was about as dark as 30-40 minutes after sunset. Another thing that amazing was how bright it still was even when the sun was 90-95% covered. Not until it was totally covered did it suddenly get dark. What an awesome experience!
Farm News: After Saturday's market, two of the kids and I are headed to Columbia, Missouri to visit family and see the total eclipse. Ron doesn't get to go since there is no one available to mind the farm, but I've left a pair of eclipse glasses in the commercial kitchen so he and our creamery workers can enjoy the sight!
Farm News: On the drive home from church Sunday, we came along side a coyote chasing a rabbit in the ditch. The rabbit took that opportunity to dash under the van and I was sure we would hit it. But Ron slowed down and the rabbit ran out from under us and continued racing ahead, right down the middle of our lane as we followed along behind. By this time, the coyote was so confused, it had given up the chase, but the rabbit raced down the highway with us in unintended pursuit. It went a good quarter mile before it finally dashed off into the ditch. But the funniest thing was seeing the driver coming from the opposite direction, rubbernecking as he passed. I'm sure he wondered, "Did I just see a van chasing a rabbit down the highway?"
Farm News: My niece brought her drone to the farm and made a cool video which is posted on facebook. Take a look if you have time at https://www.facebook.com/WagonCreekCreamery/
Farm News: Our neighbor hatched out 9 guinea fowl and brought them over when they were about 8 weeks old. We have only 1 guinea fowl that survived the Great Coyote Massacre of 2016, so she's been hanging out with the chickens. Though she refuses to sleep in their coop, she roosts on the top of it. Once the little guineas arrived, we put them in the hoop coop with the ducklings and the young chickens. The adult guinea immediately took notice and would visit from the outside of the coop. After a week, we let the youngsters out and off they went as a flock with the adult. She's very protective and, so far, has kept all 9 babies safe. I think it's fascinating how the guineas knew which bird to attach themselves to.
Farm News: Every year, we have barn swallows in the barn, but this year I found one of their nests knocked to the ground. No one confessed to the crime--- it would be out of character for anyone here to have done it---and the birds rebuilt their nest and laid eggs. A couple weeks later, I discovered "Panther" the cat in the barn, the new nest knocked to the ground and eggs broken. That cat had climbed onto the old feeders and leaped 6 feet up to the corner of the ceiling, grabbed the edge of the nest and both cat and nest must have come crashing down to the floor. I was impressed with his athleticism, but not his choice of prey. The swallows were undaunted and have built a third nest and I've hung a paper in front of it to discourage further attempts.
Farm News: The same day that we found the orphaned kittens, a mama duck waddled into the yard followed by about 14 newly hatched ducklings! We hadn't realized she had a nest out in the pasture. We quickly caught her and her brood and put them in the coop with the hen and 2 chicks. Otherwise, the cats will take out most of the little ones. My high school aged neighbor has hatched out 6 chicks and 7 guineas for us and is bringing them this weekend. The nursery is getting full!
Farm News: We had a litter of kittens about 3 weeks ago, but the mama had them so well hidden that we couldn't find them. This is not good, because we want the kittens to be tame. When I got back from the market last Saturday, Ron told me there had been 2 kittens in the yard. So I walked around the yard, meowing, and found one. Then I heard a second one in the lean-to shed attached to the dairy barn. I could hear it, but couldn't find it anywhere. Finally, I realized that the sound was coming from over my head. The kitten was in the ceiling of the shed! I wondered how in the world I was going to get that kitten out, because I didn't think Ron would like for me to make a hole in the ceiling. I went into the dairy barn and found a vent. Providentially, the kitten came over and stood on the vent in the ceiling. I was able to unscrew one corner of it and snatch the little guy out. Then I had to go hunt for the other one that Ron had seen in the yard. With a little more searching and meowing, I found it under the propane tank. The mama cat seems to have vanished, so we are feeding them with a syringe until they can feed themselves.
Farm News: We had 3 ducklings hatch out last weekend and they are staying in the brooder pen with their mother. William was filling the stock tank for the calves and decided to let the ducklings go for a swim. The problem was, they were only a couple days old and don't yet float. (I guess it takes some time before they get the oil in their feathers.) Fortunately, he had a quick thinking playmate over and she snatched them up and brought them to me. I really didn't think they would survive their dunking because they looked pretty rough, but we dried them off and put them under their warm mother. Happily, the next morning they were as good as new! Lesson learned.
Farm News: Ron has been checking the sand plum thickets on the farm where we graze the dry cows and has found areas that are thick with ripe plums. We'll be headed over there this evening to pick. I am hoping to have time to make our first batches of sand plum jelly next week and will let you know for sure if we have it available in time for next Saturday's (July 1) market.
Farm News: I'm starting to pick sand plums, but it seems that the cool, wet, spring has damaged a lot of them. We'll still have sand plums, but not as many as I'd hoped. When I get enough to make jelly, I'll let you know!
Farm News: I was gathering eggs in the chicken trailer on Tuesday and was alarmed to see a huge snake curled up in a nest box. Ron had gone to the midweek markets in Broken Arrow and Tulsa, so I had to deal with the snake myself. I confess, I've never killed one before, but I knew it was a danger to the hens and the eggs. I got a stout stick and a shovel and tried to drag the snake out of the box with the stick. Almost unconsciously, I found myself shuddering and hollering in disgust, "AAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHH!" The snake was heavy and hard to get out, (AAAAAHHHH) and then it headed out the back side of the nest box and began to climb the wall (AAAAAAHHHHH). I hit it awkwardly with the shovel and it fell to the floor (AAAAAAAHHHHHHH). I was able to flip it out of the trailer with the shovel (AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH) and managed to chop it's head off. Did you know snakes can still writhe and open their mouths for many minutes after they are dead? AAAGGGHH! It sure did make me shudder!
Farm News: I noticed a cat lying in an odd spot half in and half out of the sunshine. I went over for a closer inspection, and as my eyes adjusted to the shadows, I spotted a huge snake. The cat was keeping a wary eye on it. We have a Great Pyrenees dog, that is guardian of the farmstead. I called her over, expecting some heroics. She trotted over, glanced at the snake, looked rather alarmed, and trotted away. I'll have to look elsewhere for a hero!
Farm News: This is the wettest spring we've had in a number of years. That's wonderful for grass farmers like us. We never take rain for granted in this part of the state. Once it shuts off, it can be weeks or even months before it rains again.
Farm News: We had a vacuum pump quit during the milking last week. Fortunately, there were only 2 cows left to milk, so I figured we'd just milk them out by hand. Wow, was that ever hard. I have a new appreciation for our ancestors that milked by hand and I'm really thankful for milking machines!
Farm News: William's Cub Scout troop came to our farm to fish in the pond on Tuesday. The weather was fantastic and the fish were biting like crazy. Each boy caught anywhere from 4-20 little perch. One of our older sons stocked this pond with fingerlings from Wagon Creek a few years ago, so it's fun to see them growing. Most were about 3" long, so not big enough to eat and the boys threw them all back in.
Farm News: A good news/bad news story.
Good news: Ron and I are both able to bring vans to the Tulsa area on Friday evenings so that he can work the Broken Arrow market and I can work Cherry Street on Saturdays.
Bad news: The transmission went out on Ron's van last Friday.
Good news: It happened just as we got off the BA expressway onto 41st--not on the expressway or out in the middle of nowhere.
Bad news: Everything he needs for his market is in that van which must be towed to the repair shop.
Good news: My brother-in-law has a pick up and was able to meet us at the shop. We moved everything out of the van, into his truck, and he gave Ron the keys so he could use it the next morning and not have to miss his market. My brother-in-law and sister even came out to Broken Arrow market on Saturday to help so Ron wouldn't have to climb in and out of the truck for every transaction.
Bad News: Transmissions are really expensive to repair.
Good News: To make that van earn its keep, Ron is planning to make a midweek run to the Tulsa area this season. Broken Arrow has a market on Tuesdays from 4-7 pm and Brookside has one Wednesday morning from 7:30-11 am.
Extra good news: I have a wonderful sister and brother-in-law who not only host us every Friday night (and now Tuesday night) but help us out in a pinch!
Farm News: We now have 17 little calves, with about 10 more on the way. We have the calves separated into 3 groups, by age. Each group has a milk barrel in it. The barrel has nipples on the outside, with tubes on the inside that go to the bottom of the barrel--like long straws. With this system, we can feed a number of calves at one time. We dump a couple buckets of milk in, and the calves eagerly drink their dinner. Because the calves have to work harder to suck on the straws, it's actually better for their digestion than if they guzzle down a bottle of milk. And, it's much easier than bottle feeding for us!
Farm News: We've had a broody duck in the doghouse again this spring. This week she hatched out 4 ducklings. The doghouse is not a safe place for ducklings because mama can't really protect them from the cats. I happened to be out there when one duckling toddled out after mama into the yard--right near the cat. Fortunately, I was quicker than the cat and I went ahead and moved the ducklings to the brooder pen. There were still a lot of unhatched eggs in there and I can see ducklings inside many of them, but I don't think they are still alive. I've put the mama and eggs in the brooder pen with the ducklings--and a heat lamp--but it's been a couple days, so I don't think we'll get anymore ducklings. I'll wait a few more days, and if nothing happens, I'll need to get the eggs out of there.
Farm News: We now have 6 cows fresh and lots more getting close. If all goes as planned, we'll have enough milk for processing by the time the regular season starts April 1. Our heifer calves are all being named with "C" names this year. So far we have Cara, Cora, Carol and Clemmie. If you have a suggestion, let us know!
Farm News: Ron tells me that we had a calf yesterday and another today, so our spring milking season is getting an early start--kind of like the weather! Of course, we'll have to have more than 2 cows fresh before we have enough milk to start making Greek yogurt and butter again, but the time is almost here!
Farm News: We got our first little pullet eggs this week! Yesterday William and I moved all 70 pullets to the big chicken trailer where the nest boxes are. We will leave them shut in there, with plenty of food and water, for about 48 hours. Thursday, near sunset, we'll let them out and we hope (!) they will return to the trailer and not try to find their old coop.
Farm News: We've been without a dog since we lost our beloved "Sherlock" last summer. But recently, our nephew brought us a dog that wasn't a good fit for their place in the city. "Ruby" is a Great Pyrenees and is a welcome addition to the farm. It's nice to have a companion when I go out to the pastures to move the cows to their fresh paddocks. We hope she'll help keep predators away from our chickens and ducks, too.
Farm News: The 3" of rain is already perking up the cool season grasses. This moisture will be a tremendous help as we head into spring when the cows begin to calve and milk starts flowing again. It was worth the ice to get the rain!
This weekend, Nora delivered our first calf of 2016; a little heifer. Many more calves should be arriving soon and we are looking forward to having lots of milk, Greek yogurt and butter again in the near future.
If Nora looks familiar, that's because she's the cow on the left in our header photo!
This is the month when the calves start to arrive. Several of our milk cows are "bagging up", so time is getting close. After our break from milking this winter, we are eager to get back to work milking cows and making Greek Yogurt, butter, etc. Once we can get a minimum of 100 gallons of milk from our cows, we'll be able to process again. Thanks for your patience!
Here's a photo of "Rojo" mugging for the camera. She's one of our heifers expecting her first calf. She had a lot of practice going through the milking barn last season, so she should be calm as she joins "the big girls" on the milk line this spring.
Yearling heifers are wintering on the south side of the farm. They graze standing hay and get alfalfa hay twice a day. Because cattle are notorious for wasting hay, we feed it to them under the hot wire so they cannot lay in it or trample it. It's a lot more work than just setting a bale out for them, but well worth it because they don't waste very much. These girls should be ready to breed this summer and will join the milking herd in the spring of 2017.
Already this season, we've had 2 ice storms with major power outages. I can't think of another winter where this happened twice--much less this early in the season. We hope it's not a sign of things to come!
With the slower pace of winter, we are working on a variety of permaculture projects. The ice storms have brought down a lot more limbs, particularly along Wagon Creek. Some of these will be used for building more hugelkultur gardens. We had particularly good success in growing potatoes in these mound gardens last season, so we want to plant a lot more this year.
Ron and his right hand man, Tim, have been planting lace bark elm trees as windbreaks. We've planted hundreds of trees on the farm over the years, and it's an ongoing project. This is a windy climate and it always amazes me what a difference a wind break makes: the ground doesn't dry out as quickly in dry weather, the cattle are protected from cold winds, and it's a snow break--to name a few. We are adding more fruit trees to the mix, but these are planted closer to the house and barn where we can better protect them from grasshoppers. A couple of years ago, we planted several dozen chestnut trees, but the grasshoppers destroyed every one of them.
On the food production side, we're making good use of the commercial kitchen and are baking a lot of granola, and pizza crusts, making lots of granola bars and experimenting with hummus recipes. Hope to have some ready by the Jan. 16 Tulsa Farmers Market.
We'll be shipping out the first set of gift boxes this week. Everything in the box was made here at Wagon Creek Creamery--3 blocks of raw milk cheese, 2 granola bars and a jar of sand plum jelly. Shipped via Fed Ex within the continental United States for $50.00, this is a fun and tasty gift to share with friends and family. We've even hand painted the shipping box with festive designs--using a stencil, of course! Please contact us at 580 496-2447 or at firstname.lastname@example.org to order or for more information. Thank you.
We have much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season. One thing is that we aren't milking cows during this ice storm. In the past, we've hooked up the generator when the power was out and gotten the cows milked even in weather like this. The worst part of it is the danger, to us and to the cows, of trying to walk on the ice. It's not so bad out in the pastures where the blades of grass are coated, but once the cows have to travel along the paths and into the holding pen, it's really treacherous. So this weekend, the cows have plenty of hay and can just stay put out in the pasture--and we can spend more time indoors! We're liking this seasonal milking better all the time!
We did our last milking of the season on Monday, so now we are able to focus on some other projects while the cows are on maternity leave. Ron will continues to study and experiment with a variety of permaculture projects and garden plans.
He'll continue to work on building hugelkulturs (mound gardens), learning to grow mushrooms, and experimenting with a variety of methods for starting fruit trees. Eventually, we'd like to see this farm produce even more "calories per acre" than it does now. There's a lot of potential here, but it takes a lot of time and labor.
Of course, the cows still need daily care. Here they are following Ron to a fresh pasture of standing hay.