The snow doesn’t slow down the kids or the horses too much. This is in the middle of our snowstorm today – probably 6-8″ at the time of the walk, and now we’re approaching one foot. Now it’s time to go sledding!
They weren’t the first snowflakes we’ve seen this year, but the first real snow arrived today. It’s been falling gently since this morning and we’re at about 3/4″ so far. I know it won’t last through the week, but it’s peaceful and beautiful right now. Here are a few pics from around the farm.
Many kids had their first week of school last week, as did ours. However, as homeschoolers, we can be a bit creative in how we spend those days. Last week, from Tuesday through Labor Day, the kids hit science hard… animal science. They did this through their participation in the Hopkinton State Fair in Contoocook, NH. This was the capstone event after a year of hard work with animals, crafts, and other 4H and farm endeavors. All that effort really paid off!
Our 8yo son’s big project this year has been his chickens. If you’ve read our blogs, you know that he runs the egg business on the farm. Since he is too young this year to show animal projects with 4H, he entered his barred rock rooster in the open class… and won best in show! We’ll add pictures later of him holding his rooster and ribbon, but here are a few we’ve already downloaded.
His sisters also won blue ribbons for their duck pairs, with Hana winning “Best pair of ducks” overall.
Friday was the horse show, and Holly was blessed to have her coach, Janine, from Gelinas Farms volunteer to spend the day with her. Janine’s biggest challenge was not helping with getting Zip ready (4H rules state that the kid does all the work), but she really helped out with last-minute coaching tips.
All that coaching made a difference, and Holly ended up winning Grand Champion for her class!
Saturday was the 4H goat show, and the girls really enjoyed doing that for the first time – they earned blue ribbons in several events, with Holly and Ruby edging out Hana and Samy at the end.
Sunday and Monday topped off the long weekend, with pack and obstacle courses, knowledge tests and a quiz bowl, volunteering at the 4H exhibits and food stands, and lots of feeding, cleaning, and talking to the public. The kids had earned enough ribbons to fill their walls (and enough premiums to treat themselves and their animals to some new gear). By the time we pulled out of the fair Monday evening, we were all ready for a rest!
It’s been a while since we last posted – the summer has been busier than we expected both on the farm and at the jobs that are making this farm possible right now! So, it was quite the blessing that we were able to get away for 5 days to explore a bit more of God’s creation at Acadia National Park in Maine.
Acadia National Park covers about 47,000 acres of coastal Maine. Largely contained on Mount Desert Island, the park has a vast assortment of forests, rocky cliffs, mountains, lakes, ponds, streams, and coastline. In addition to the natural beauty, what drove us to select Acadia as our vacation spot was the approximately 50 miles of carriage roads throughout the park, a legacy of Nelson Rockefeller.
Though most say the best time to visit the park is Fall, my work schedule made August a better fit, and so in early Spring, we made our reservations at Wildwood Stables and campgrounds (run by Carriages of Acadia, a NPS concessionaire). With our plans to tent camp, the hot dry summer had us a bit worried, but the weather couldn’t have been better. High 70s during the day, beautifully chilly sleeping weather at night, and only one real rainstorm to challenge the waterproof qualities of our tents!
By Tuesday night, we had the truck and trailer packed so that on Wednesday morning, we only had to throw the food in the coolers, get the horses into the trailer, and be on our way.
Um… did I say “only” get the horses into the trailer?
As you may have read before, we have a bit of a history when it comes to trailering. Zip, our Quarter horse, is meek and mild – our oldest daughter points, he loads, she clips him in, moves the divider into place, and he’s done. It takes about 30 seconds.
Jasper, our Haflinger cross (our son now calls him our “Quarterflinger” because we think the other part of him is Quarter horse), takes a bit more effort. Everybody takes their places – one of our daughters at the door, my wife at the “butt bar,” our other daughter with the handi-stick, me with the lead rope, and our son safely elsewhere. Then, we see if it’s going to be an easy day, where he walks in with little effort, or a hard day, which can take up to an hour.
Wednesday was a hard day. In fact, it got pretty close to being the last day. After several false starts, we got him into the trailer, but I was a bit slow to get him clipped in. When the butt bar came across, he decided to turn around and get back out, forcing me between him and the bar (a length of chain running through a thick PVC pipe and bumper cover). The bar did a pretty good Heimlich maneuver on me (fortunately I’d had a light breakfast) before I managed to move to the side, and we all, Jasper included, had a pretty good scare. On the good side, he loaded right up after that!
So, first adventure safely completed, and a good bruise starting on my hipbone, we headed out on the 5 hour drive to the park, which passed quite uneventfully. We arrived in the evening and went straight to getting the horses stabled and the tents pitched. Wildwood has about 30 self-service boarding stables in three metal barns, in very good condition, with plenty of trailer parking space. The tent sites are closer together than we’d like but very clean, flat, and serviceable (though the water is across the road at the stables). With the horses walked, watered, fed, and stabled, we collapsed into our sleeping bags and fell asleep.
The next morning, after a good camp breakfast of pancakes, eggs (David’s eggs, of course), a quick trip to get a park pass (thank you taxpayers for the free military NPS passes!) we headed out on our first adventure. The girls rode the horses up to the top of Day mountain while I rode my bicycle alongside. Meanwhile, my wife and son hoofed up the shorter, steeper trail to meet us (David got a ride towards the top).
Up on the small mountain, we enjoyed some snacks, talking with other visitors, and the views (somewhat obscured by fog and clouds) before heading back home.
Our first round trip was about 6 hilly miles, and the horses were exhausted, so after lunch we gave them a break and went to the Seal Harbor beach with the kids. The next day, we spent more time on the trails, a bit over 13 miles between the two trips – girls on horseback, the rest of us on bike.
In addition to the carriage roads, Rockefeller’s construction included unique stone bridges and gatehouses, like this one near Jordan Pond.
Of course, no campout is complete without a campfire.
That evening after dinner, we built the fire up a bit bigger and sat around it. Mike, the owner of Carriages of Acadia, stopped by to talk about the operation. The main business is providing carriage rides through the park – he expects over 24,000 customers this year! The girls, of course, were spellbound, and when they mentioned wanting to learn how to drive carriages, he graciously invited them for a barn tour and carriage ride the next morning.
After a couple more days of exploring on horseback, bike, foot, and car, we headed home. Thankfully, Jasper loaded a bit better this time, and we arrived back at the Flying T in good shape. Great teamwork by the family got the unpacking done, and great neighbors watching the farm in our absence made the whole trip possible!
When we bought the Flying T, we knew that one of our two pastures was “rough.”
OK, it’s really rough. Half-forested, largely with poisonous [to livestock] pin cherry trees. Not much growing in it but rocks and goldenrod. Fence falling down. Steep slopes on a good portion of it. Rutted with holes to the point that it was unsafe to let the horses loose. Rough.
The book answer for a pasture that had been let go for that long would be to call in the bulldozer, then truckloads of loam, but that went against two principles we’re trying to follow on the Flying T: 1) go as natural as possible and 2) don’t go broke.
One of the principles I’ve learned from flying is that there are three competing characteristics in designing airplanes (or other machines, for that matter): light, cheap, and strong. You can build something that has two of those characteristics, but it’s pretty much impossible to get all three. So, you can make a wing that’s light and cheap, but it won’t be strong. Light and strong? It won’t be cheap. Cheap and strong? It won’t be light.
We’re finding similar principles at work in farming, one of which is the “natural, cheap, and fast” law. So, when it comes to our pasture, while we’ve been doing OK with staying natural and cheap (relatively), it sure hasn’t been fast. I’d been hoping to have the pasture cleared of trees by winter’s end – we got halfway there.
We’ve moved a good passel of rocks from that half to the growing rock wall, but there’s still quite a bit to go. The holes we filled with a mixture of dirt and composted manure. Our attempt at strangling the weeds with a cover crop of Winter Rye has been partly successful (and partly not).
It’s all taken a lot longer than we’d hoped, and we still haven’t gotten around to the fence.
So now, we’re well-into the summer, and the weeds are starting to come back, competing against the Rye and other forage species we’ve planted here and there. It’s time to release the goats on the pasture to get it eaten down, but goats without fence go feral almost as quickly as hogs. The pasture is still too uneven to accept our portable electric net fence.
Then my wife says, “Well, when we lived in Greece, Dimitri [our local shepherd] just walked through the fields with them and didn’t have a problem.” Well, that’s right. He did. And what’s more, we even have an official Greek shepherd’s cane in the house that we bought as a souvenir.
So, this evening after dinner, we played shepherd. It was a bit of work getting them out to the pasture – goats don’t like new things – but once they were there, they seemed pretty happy!
Since they’ve been on a pretty well-grazed area for a while, we couldn’t leave them out too long the first day. That’s an easy way to get into a bad case of bloat. But, in the short time we did have them out, they got a pretty good start.
We even brought the horses out to graze with them for a while. Zip and Jasper are pickier than goats and weren’t nearly as impressed with the available eats, but they found the largest stand of Rye acceptable.
What surprised us was how easy it was to get them back. My oldest daughter just started back to the barn while I carried up the rear with the shepherd’s crook, and they followed her home. I wish I’d gotten a clearer pic, but this is the best I could do as I jogged along.
Is this going to be a quick process? Nope. But it looks like it might be relatively natural and cheap!
Summer is arriving at the Flying T. Here are some recent pics that tell a story about what that means on the farm.
It’s been really rainy lately, but today we have a good bit of sun… just in time for our son’s baseball game!
The ducklings are now a month old. Just before the three week point, one of the other ducks (Mocha) adopted them as her own. Unfortunately, this meant that she stepped off her own nest a week early, so we lost a clutch of 20.
However, she has been a great mother, and guards over them dutifully so that they can eat, drink, and swim… and take naps in the sunlight outside the barn.
For the past week, Mocha has been bringing the brood on a field trip each morning down to the beaver pond. They spend most of the day there, swimming and eating bugs and weeds, then waddle back to the barn in the afternoon.
Try to find her if you can… this pic was taken with my phone, so the resolution isn’t the best. Once you think you’ve found her, look below. You should be able to imagine Mocha’s blurry brown and white form with a mass of ducklings swimming in front. There also is a brood of wild Mallards sharing the pond, and we’re hoping that another of our Muscovy hens, Sunset, is sitting on a clutch hidden nearby.
Katy was the next to start her nest in the barn. She’s been on for about a week, so about 27 days left in her vigil before the peeps start happening.
Summer means that the grass is growing quickly, especially with all of our rain. This gets the horses frisky.
The grass has been too wet to mow around the house, but with a bit of help from the temporary electric fence we use when trailering, we found a greener solution to the lawnmower.
Still, there’s plenty of work to be found. I’m a bit behind in putting away wood. The good thing is that we have a good bit left over from last year. Here’s the current pile I need to split, and I’ve got another cord lying in the woods right now waiting for me to cut into logs and drag out.
After an hour or so of work, I’ve got a good pile of cut wood waiting for the kids to start stacking (and still a whole lot more to split)!
More to come!
It’s been pretty crazy-busy here at the Flying T (and at our other activities, including the professions that support them), and looking back I can see it’s been nearly three weeks since our last post. It’s not that we didn’t have anything about which to write – we actually have a ton of material, especially after the superb New Hampshire Grazing Conference last weekend! We simply haven’t had time to write.
Today, God gave us some time, in the form of a snowstorm that so far has dumped about 9″ on us and is still going strong!
The snow kept me from going to work, and meant that even though the snow provided some additional chores (plowing and shoveling), it also provided lots of time to do other things: Chores we’ve been putting off, completing our 2011 taxes, and of course… writing! So, I thought about which of the multitude of topics I might write about, and then I saw this out my window:
I said to myself, “Self, this is not a day to spend writing about serious things.” So, my wife and I put our winter chore clothes back on and headed out to play with the kids. We even got some sledding runs in.
So, no “important” writing in the post today. Instead, I’ll finish with some pics of the snowmen the girls put together for the goats and horses to snack on.
Wherever you are, I hope you also have some time to play with your kids!
Our oldest daughter got tired of waiting for me to finish the story, so here is her account of the next day, after the horses had enjoyed a couple days’ break from trailering. Her words start here:
Aww, Dad, you stopped right before the best part!
Anyways, while Dad and Mr. G were hitching up the trailer and whatnot, my siblings, our friends, and I decided to take a walk with the horses in the G’s field. This was partly for our exercise and partly so that Mr. Anti-Trailer wouldn’t see the scary metal box that these crazy humans made him stand in.
After a little while, Jasper decided to walk off, pulling my sister so hard that she dropped his lead rope. We recaught him and walked on.
When we returned, the two G girls were each proudly walking a horse (with help). While I put Zip’s trailer halter on, the youngest of our friends, who was scratching Zip’s neck, much to his snorty pleasure, looked up a me and said, “I think I’m addicted to horses.”
We pushed all the stuff we’d used back into the trailer (five or so bales of hay make it hard to do this), and took out our trusty Handy Stick. We knew we were ready for anything a twelve-hundred pound horse with a sharp pair of hooves could throw at us.
As usual, we weren’t.
Jasper usually knows that Mom is boss. But, it depends on her tone of voice. If she says “Mister Jabba-Wabba baby, do you wanna get in da twaiwer?” then he will refuse for the rest of the session. If she says “Come on, buster. Let’s get in,” he says “Whoa. She means business here.” (OK, I’m exaggerating – Mom never talks to him like a baby – but she did learn to be firmer with him).
At least, that was how it happened in Texas when our feisty steed knew he was going to only have to stay in there, with his haybag full, for five minutes or so. But this day he said, “Wait a second. I’m not wearing my rope halter. I’m wearing the web one with the blue fuzzy things on it. and everybody’s hugging each other like they’re leaving. You know, I think I’m staying in there for a while. Nope, not gonna do it.”
With that, he threw out buck and a rear, and galloped off over our friends’ lush lawn. A fairy-tale picture, I know, a Horse with a long mane running, free, over a green meadow.
That is, until you notice the dangling lead and the fact that your fairy-tale mount is gamely crossing a road and going for those tasty flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
Mom, Dad and I ran after him, shaking the treats. Jasper said, “Uh-uh. I know where you’re taking me.”
Mom and Dad cornered him by going around opposite sides of the neighbor’s house, and Dad finally caught his lead rope. Jasper hung his head.
Dad now took over. After longing the escapee for a few minutes, he tried to lead Jasper into the trailer. Jasper refused.
Let me deviate from the plot. May I say that sweet old Zip had been waiting patiently in said trailer for about half an hour, now?
We longed Jasper whenever he refused to get in the trailer. After a long time (our friends, after seeing Jasper’s various bucks, kicks, and rears, decided to watch from afar) we finally got him in.
We were headed to Ohio. More adventures were in store.
My daughter and I snuck in after bedtime to take some pics of the barn at night.
What’s your favorite thing about being outdoors at night? Any great memories?
With the unseasonably warm days we had in the beginning of November, we put some of our other work (including some of the kids’ studies) aside and got to work improving our rear pasture.
The rear pasture is about 1.25 acres and “rough” to say the least. Based on the size of the poisonous pin cherries throughout the pasture, we figure the pasture has been let go for a good 5-10 years. We’d previously cleared about a quarter to third of it, and then broadcast spread winter rye seed on that area. Despite the very suboptimal conditions, the seed has taken relatively well, though not nearly as vigorously as other areas on the property with better soil and preparation.
Over the past week, we got working on the next bit. The easiest part was cutting down about 20 cherry trees and white pines of various sizes, cutting the larger stuff for the firewood pile while my wife and kids drug the slash to the burn piles. I also cut up a large white birch the beavers had dropped a bit further down the hill. More on them in a future post.
Meanwhile, as I was at work, my wife and kids got to pulling stumps, filling holes, and moving rocks. We’ve got a lot of rocks – it’s not called the Granite State without reason. Even with the help of the tractor, it’s a lot of work.
I’ve helped a bit, but most of the work on the wall we’re starting to build at the edge of the pasture is due to their efforts. It gives us a new appreciation for the sturdy farmers who built the thousands of miles of rock walls 200+ years ago without farm machinery.
Our hope is to have enough pasture clear by next spring to have three 1/2 acre paddocks to rotate (two in the front pasture, one in the rear). That will still require some supplemental hay to avoid overgrazing, but will be a lot better than our current situation and make for healthier and more productive pastures in the future. The seeding plan for the back pasture is to follow the Winter Rye with a good layer of manure and reseeding with Japanese Millet in the summer, then rotate back and forth between the two for at least one more year to break up the weed growth cycle before we move on to more traditional forages. In a few years, I would like to have a solid Orchardgrass and White Clover pasture established there.