Since we moved to our new farm, we've had a lot to learn about hay production and fertility. We are fortunate we raise many chickens and cows to help fertilize fields. But, our fields need a lot more fertility than we can mechanically deal with spreading. Not a lot had been put on our fields in the last fifteen or twenty years, so they were yielding pretty small amounts of hay. Grass has to be fed to grow, too. Being such a low equipment farm (we own a minivan, a skid steer and a small tractor), spreading manure and haying have all been things we have to hire out, which has come with many challenges. We are making a big change this year. Jasper Hill Farm will be partnering with us to spread our manure and also extra cow manure from their farm to boost our fertility and get our fields bursting again. In turn we will share our hay with them. It's exciting because this is an example of farms working together in ways to make the entire Vermont Farmscape and Food movement more successful. We have no interest in owning or managing the huge equipment it takes to make hay and spread manure. It's the perfect partnership. All the equipment it takes to manage fields well is something that not every farm should have to handle on their own. Also, equipment that we would own would not be as efficient. This is better for the environment, too. The Jasper Hill Team has been stockpiling manure on our fields to get ready to spread this spring. Each time a new load arrives, Dave and I smile a little more. Sustainable farming is all about fertility, and it feels great to be moving in this direction. Below is a photo of some of the piles that will be spread this spring.
Well so much for the burly, windswept winter we got all geared up and buttoned down for. Our kids have been wishing for snow to go
skiing and skating, though we haven't heard many complaints about nothaving to shovel the pond! Dave and I aren't complaining this year. The weather has allowed us to work on many projects and get us ready for the coming spring and summer far ahead of schedule.
We are redesigning pasture housing for our laying hens to make them more efficient, comfortable, solar powered, and portable. The new houses are going to be awesome, we can't wait to get them full of birds. We are also experimenting with growing sunflower shoots for our birds during the long winter months that no matter the temperature, have all of us craving fresh greens.
Also exciting is we have received a Vermont Farm Fund Loan to help scale up our egg production and laying hen part of our farm. This is our second Farm Fund Loan, both of which we used to scale up egg production. Three years ago we grew our numbers of hens from 300, and this time we are growing from 1,100 to 2,500. We received our hens as chicks in November. By April they will be mature, laying tons of eggs and ready to head out to pasture. This year will will be managing two flocks of hens as we grow. Our same hens we have now and then our new young ones. Animal science is a huge part of what we do and raising hens to be efficient egg producers, while still giving them pasture, freedom and a fabulous life, has been a challenge we are loving. We are also using them to fertilize our fields. We use an intense rotational grazing system during the grazing months, and during the winter we compost their manure to spread on the hay fields in the summer, making them lush and productive. Each year we get better at it and learn more. It's rewarding. We have just applied for a Working Lands Enterprise Investment Grant to work in conjunction with our Farm Fund Loan to help us perfect the housing and egg production of our hens year round. Receiveing the Working Lands Grant will help increase our profitability and overall success of our farm. And help us produce tons of delicious eggs! Last year was a year of challenges and this year we are making plans to avoid many of the obstacles we encountered. Growing quickly as we have been doing takes a lot of working capital and having a grant to give us that boost to the next step would be helpful. It's pretty exciting.
Animals in winter are amazing. The photo above is of one of our Angus cows, Roseanne, sunbathing this morning. It was 18 below, and all were calm and happy, munching hay. We had a litter of piglets on January ninth, when it was twenty below. We were really worried about it, the sow who had them is our old favorite girl that hardly ever has babies any more, so we were really surprised that she was even pregnant! She's a pet more than a working animal now, she just hangs with our boar, so we never know quite when she'll pop out a bunch of babies. It's always exciting when she does!
This time was no different. Willa, our 8 year old daughter and I, sat there with the piglets, keeping them covered in hay and warm next to their mama. Willa made sure all were nursing and off to a great start. Now they are chubby little beasts that doing great! It was such a nice experience to have, Willa and I, tucking in the pigs and helping our big mama Swirl keep them warm and safe.
I think that has been the biggest joy this winter- seeing our kids grow into our farm and their roles here. It has been so cold, but when you are moving, you are warm. Our kids are outside every day. Our tractor broke for a while and we had to roll the big round bales out of the barn by hand. It took all five of us, but the kids loved it! It is refreshing to have kids around to remind us of what is fun, and take our minds off what is stressful.
It's also neat living up here in the Northeast Kingdom because there are so many farms around here and amazing farmers, who have become our friends. It makes a difference being part of a community. Farming can get lonely, but not up here. We are so fortunate that we lucked into this great farm and all the people who live and farm nearby. This morning, after we argued with our truck and finally convinced it to start, Dave and the kids went and helped a friend milk their cows, sheep and goats. It feels great to me that the kids still want to see other farms and that they are so immersed in this life we are building.
Now it's almost March and the spring planning has begun. Next week we receive our first delivery of the year of Golden Comet chicks. They will add to our flock of hens. So this summer we should have an abundance of beautiful, delicious eggs! The meat bird chicks will follow soon. We are really excited about the chickens we are raising this summer. We can't wait to have all the animals out on grass. Our farm is growing so much and it is really cool to see it flourish because of all the animals. Our grasses and pastures are changing, we are making better hay, and it is all thanks to the animals. We have many more pigs, too. The rest of the piglets should be born in the next few weeks, and the cows are starting to show signs of preparation for their calves. I don't think it will be twenty below for much longer. We have a Jersey Heifer that is going to calve this spring and the kids can't wait to milk her. We can't either! We are looking forward to a sunny and bountiful spring and summer. We hope to see you all at the Farmers' Market or for a visit to our farm!
It's hard to believe we've been on our farm for almost two years now. We are learning so much about our fields and land, about the climate up here (windy) and about all the different things we can do with our farm.
Our animals are thriving, and we have a lot of them. We moved here and had to reinvent our portable coops for the meat birds because it is so much windier here than it was in Middlesex! It is exciting to be delving into understanding our farmland and evolving our farming practices to match.
As we do our chores each day, feeding birds, moving coops or cows, collecting eggs or stopping to scratch a pig belly, we are still in complete awe of how beautiful and peaceful it is here, and how healthy and content our animals are. We are raising about 10,000 meat chickens and 400 turkeys on pasture, free ranging this year. We are proud that our birds free range during the day and aren't pastured in tractors or coops they can't get out of. Seeing them wander, graze, sunbathe or choose a nap inside is a good feeling. We set out on our farming endeavor with the goal of raising animals with extreme care and attention. We are growing more and more animals, and figuring out how to do it so all have fabulous lives is fun and incredibly rewarding. We feel great about the progress we are making.
We have expanded our laying hen operation a lot. When we moved here we had about 150 laying hens. Last summer we received a loan from the Vermont Farm Fund (www.https://www.vermontfarmfund.org), we purchased another bulk feed bin, a flock of hens and what we needed to scale up. This year we started many more laying hens from chicks, and they have all just begun laying. We have about 1,000 laying hens now, and we are so excited to be pasturing them all, having them fertilize our fields, live an exceptional life, and lay us exceptional eggs.
We have been able to expand our pig farming as well. Before we moved and found this farm, we were struggling with the amount of driving we were doing, and found it very difficult to have lots of sows farrowing so far away from home. We spent countless nights sleeping in the pig barn in East Montpelier. We decided that if we couldn't find a farm we were going to get out of the pig business. We kept getting outbid on farms and we lost a bunch of hope. We sold our sows. And then... we found our farm. We moved here with just a few feeder pigs, no sows, no good genetics to begin a new herd. We have spent the last two years rebuilding our herd and our genetics. It was a blessing in disguise because we now have ten gorgeous sows. We have had some great litters of piglets this year and and this coming spring we will have even more. We have created some great farrowing beds and are pleased with how well everything worked this summer.
There is so much more we could say, the stories are never ending! The best part about our move is how lucky we are to be a part of the community up here. There are so many farmers, of all different varieties, all willing to collaborate and share knowledge. There are lots of other great people and families too. We live right next to Parker Pie Company, which, if you've never visited, you should. It's a great restaurant supporting many local farmers. Come up, enjoy a pizza (and a great beer), and then visit us!
The last cool thing for today: Our kids are up here, deep into our farm, learning and growing and enjoying life. The pumpkins in the photo with them are some of the pumpkins they planted and grew. Willa had quite the crop of cucumbers, too. We are doing the best we can to farm and live well, and make as much great food as we possibly can.
Don't forget to become friends with us on Facebook because we are constantly putting new photos of the farm up there. Thanks!
We have been on our own farm for a whole year!
Happy New year to you!
We moved to West Glover and to our dream farm just before Christmas in 2012. The day we had our closing we scooped up our children from their schools, drove to Hardwick to pick up a bunch of piglets and then we were on our way to our new, prefect, dream farm. We were so excited because our dream had actually come true! We owned a whole big farm! Our plan was to drive our new piglets to Glover (where most of our animals were already), get them settled in, have a celebratory pizza dinner (from the infamous Parker Pie) and then head back to Middlesex to keep on packing while all the children (and animals) slept.
It started to snow while we were unloading the pigs, hard. So hard there was no way we were going anywhere! Luckily we had moved a few things up to the farm before the actual closing, so we dug through some stuff we had put in the barn and found a couple sleeping bags. We lit a fire in the woodstove in our cozy new living room, cuddled all up together on the floor and, bellies full of pizza and hearts full of excitement, tucked in for the night. We had no furniture, or silverware, cups or plates or food besides pizza, but our new life had begun, and it was already awesome.
The year has proven to be like that first night. It has been one adventure after another, and really fun. We love that we see all of our animals every day, all day long. No more driving from leased plot to leased plot. It is a joy to be able to walk out the door for the late night check, wander around and listen to all the sounds of content animals settling in for the night. It is even nice to enjoy all the smells, from fresh hay just cut to the sweet breath of our cows and horses. And to stand in the middle of a huge field, surrounded by hundreds of turkeys or chickens roaming, sunning, and scratching about, well, there is absolutely nothing better than that.
This year, our farm grew a lot. We processed about 8,000 chickens, turkeys and guinea hen. We grew our herd of rabbits to 35 breeding does and three bucks. We were able to raise 1,000 rabbits for meat this year. Our little flock of laying hens went from 200 to 600, and we plan to almost double that number by June. We raised about 50 pigs this year and will probably stick to that number again. We started a non-profit, Smartburgers, which helps get healthy beef into school lunches at affordable prices. The thing that is so fun about having a whole farm is that we can continue to grow but still do the very same, wonderful job we always have, caring for the animals. I still enjoy the antics of our pigs, and how the hens are so curious and dramatic! Even better, I love having our own land we can pasture and nurture and take care of. It is exciting.
Our children are growing and thriving too. Sam, our oldest, has learned how to drive our little farm truck around. it is a standard and he is really good at it! Governor, our middle child, helps us kill the chickens. He is intrigued by the anatomy and physiology of the birds, and is a very hard worker. Willa, our littlest, is our organizer. She collects the eggs, she snuggles the bunnies and keeps us all in line.
We set out five years ago to farm as a family. It hasn't been easy a lot of the time. But we are doing it, and it is working, and that feels great. It is an incredible feeling to stick with something because we have a passion for the work. Showing our children that it is possible to work hard and be successful doing something that we love and see as beneficial to our community is another wonderful benefit of the life we have chosen. Thank you to all our wonderful customers and friends who have encouraged and supported the growth of our farm for the last five years.
We are taking orders now for our spring shares. If you order today, you will receive your pork and beef shares in late March or Early April. The first chickens will be ready Mid-may to early June. We have whole and half pigs, we have 20 lbs boxes of pork, we have 20 lb boxes of beef, and bulk chicken shares. We also have our regular CSA, which is really convenient and always will ensure you receive just what you like to eat most. Buying early helps us with feed costs and will guarantee you always have the healthiest, tastiest and well cared for meats in your freezer.
Happy New year to all! See you at the Montpelier Farmers' Market or come visit us on the farm!
Thank You and we wish you all a happy, snowy winter!
Hello! It's been a while since I've written a newsletter, and many things have changed. Most exciting is, after many years of searching, we found a gorgeous beautiful farm in West Glover, Vermont! It has 188 acres, 70 of which are tillable and another 20 are pasture. It is unbelievably beautiful, with rolling fields, vast views, two incredible barns and a pretty great house. Our kids have a long flat driveway on which to ride their bikes, and Willa is doing great without training wheels! It is nice to be home, with all of our animals and ourselves in one lovely, farmable place.
What is especially exciting is what we are doing with all of our animals. We finally have an opportunity to properly graze them rotationally, in a system that is best for each kind of animal and in a way that best feeds the soils. Farming has many layers that come before the end result- food- like understanding our soils and grasses, and careful observation of our animals. We have been working with great farmers like Sarah Flack and Jack Lazor to better educate ourselves about all the things we can do to enhance the health of our animals and fields. It is inspiring and energizing and productive. I wrote an article for the Montpelier Bridge newspaper about this, and you can read that here.
Another cool thing we are up to is we will soon be grinding our own grain, custom making each type of feed for each type animal. We are receiving a loan from the new and innovative Vermont Farm Fund to accomplish this goal. You can read about our Hammermill and the VFF here.
We have also been hosting field trips, as teaching kids about where their food comes from is important to us. Kids are amazing! They want to know about their food. They don't like thinking about unhappy animals, and they are relieved to learn that there is an alternative. Having lots of kids around the farm is satisfying: watching them sneak around after a rabbit, scratch a pigs belly or snuggle the chicks. It helps make our new Smart Burger Program, all about putting ethically raised and safe to eat beef in Vermont schools seem all the more worthwhile. The Barton Weekly Chronicle put a three page spread in the paper this week about our farm and the field trips and Smart Burgers. It doesn't appear to be online, but if you are in the area pick up a paper, it is a well-written and informative article. And click here to learn more.
The growing season is shorter up here, and it sure is windy, so using our animals to fertilize our fields is of upmost importance, so we can make the hay grow quickly! It is fun to look out at our farm, and dream and imagine all the things we will do and accomplish here. We wander around, taking in the views and admiring our animals, and feel a tremendous amount of gratitude. We still get carried away admiring the little chicks zooming about their brooders, or the laying hens darting here and there, showing off some prize they found. And of course, the calves and piglets are so adorable we can hardly stand it. There is a lot of peace here.
We are taking orders now for our awesome Easy Share CSA. We call it the easy share because that is just what it is: easy. It is convenient and you will only receive just what you want or will use. Unless you would like us to inspire your creativity and cooking to more diverse choices. It saves you money and supports our farm, so overall it is a complete winner. And, beginning in June our chicken will be at City Market, Healthy Living and Hunger Mountain Coop. We often have a cut or two of meat in Pete's Greens meat share as well. And of course, you can always come visit us at the Montpelier Farmers' Market, in the Juilos parking lot, from 9-1, all summer long. The market is full of amazing farmers, food, crafts and gifts. It is a vibrant place that can supply you with most of your food each week. I am the president of the market, and we are working on how programs to support low-income Vermonters Shopping at market. We have incentives and promotions all the time, and want the market to be a market place for every kind of family and shopper. Local food is expensive, it costs a lot to produce. However, good food should be available to all and we at the market are working hard toward that goal. Click here or visit www.montpelierfarmsmarket.com to learn more.
Eat well and Enjoy!