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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” - Jeremiah 29:11-13
His plans, not ours…
It’s so tempting to believe we can plan our lives completely. To decide what we will do and when we will do it, and to forget that our loving Creator has plans that are so much better. Yet, “In his Heart, a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” (Prov 16:9). As we step into this next chapter, we know that the Lord has wonderful plans for us, and pray that we trust in His faithfulness and place our feet in the steps He has determined.
Hope and a future…
It’s not an empty hope we hold, but onebased on His demonstrated goodness, promises He has made and fulfilled in so many tangible ways, and especially through the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of His Son. And that hope includes our knowledge that our ultimate future is eternity with our loving Father.
Seek with all your heart.
Expectantly is how we are to seek. Not knowing what lies around the corner, but excited that whatever it is, it is good and brings Him glory!
Here we are. Send us!
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8
All of us here at the Flying T wish you a very merry Christmas, and God’s continued blessings for you in the new year!
We are blessed, really. Even though we intentionally had a down-sized bounty under the tree this year, we were overwhelmed with the generosity of friends and family. I don’t want to disparage any of the amazing and thoughtful gifts we received this Christmas, but I would like to highlight some of the creative homemade ones.
Caveat: I just thought about the theme for this post today, and so many of the edible homemade gifts are no longer available for me to take photos!
Our kids were very active and crafty this year. For me, they found a toy John Deere tractor at the dollar store, then decorated it with “Sculpey” clay. It features Jessie the Boer Goat, Doc the Duck, and Chuck the Chicken Duck.
For my wife, one daughter used Sculpey, a reclaimed salsa jar, and imagination to build a snow globe.
One of the big hits was something my dad made for our youngest… an old-fashioned slingshot.
And as always, our friends and relatives knocked us over with an amazing variety of homemade treats. These allowed us to keep plenty of snacks and sweets available, as our house was blessedly full-to-the-brim with visitors from before Christmas to yesterday afternoon. On display here: the few remaining cookies, buckeyes, toffee, and homemade apple cider wine!
Of course, we made a lot of the gifts we sent out ourselves as well, mostly canned goods from this summer. However, we also gave some store-bought gifts (including a trio of $5 disc sleds for the kids that were an absolute hoot on Christmas day). A friend told us she’s thinking of doing a 100% handmade Christmas next year. We’re wondering if we’re up to the challenge!
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.
This is the first cut of a video I’m putting together of the change of seasons at our ranch. This is approximately .5 seconds per day fom Sep to Nov. I plan to put the whole year on the final version.
Though the most common grass used for hay in New England might be Timothy, another very common component of baled forage around here is Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata).
Unlike Timothy, which takes a bit of care to get established, Orchardgrass often finds its own way into pastures and hayfields. Propogating both by seeds and by tillers that spread from its dense, clumped bases, Orchardgrass competes well with other grasses and weeds as it seeks new soil. As its name implies, Orchardgrass is tolerant to shade (surviving even in less than 40% sun) and thus can be found commonly between trees in orchards or woods as long as they are not overly dense.
Identifiable both by its distinctive seedhead and its leaves, which are folded at the base, Orchardgrass is an increasingly-popular species both for pasture, silage, and hay. In addition to its self-propogation properties, Orchardgrass is a robust producer in the vegetative state, outperforming Kentucky Bluegrass and Timothy while being more palatable to livestock than other high producers like Reeds Canarygrass. Orchardgrass also is tolerant to close grazing, and as long as the base and tillers are left behind, regrows vigorously after close cutting or chomping that would kill Timothy.
Orchardgrass is not only more shade tolerant, but also can handle a wide range of soil pH and is more resistant to drought, and heat than Timothy, Kentucky Bluegrass, or even Smooth Bromegrass. While it may stop growing or go dormant in these conditions, it springs back quickly with a bit of watering and Nitrogen.
Though it can handle infertile soils, Orchardgrass thrives in high-Nitrogen environments. In a lightly-managed field, it will be common to find the strongest stands of Orchardgrass in the places where livestock frequently deposit manure, or where those nutrients collect during rainfall. This is where we find most of it at the Flying T Ranch – in the low areas of our pasture as well as on the portion of our trails that get at least part sun.
Given good fertility, Orchardgrass will produce large quantities of Digestible Dry Matter (DDM) while simultaneously providing quality nutrition and energy.
Downsides include the fact that Orchardgrass also can out-compete legumes in its area, lowering the overall energy yield for a field. Orchardgrass also becomes less palatable to livestock as it matures.
However, palatability is all relative. Back when we were in Texas, we didn’t buy “hay” for our horses. Instead, we bought “coastal’ which of course is a type of “hay.” Coastal (Bermuda Grass) made up the bulk of the horses’ feed, because what most large herbivores need the most of is roughage, and boy is coastal rough. Our horses loved the stuff, though they obviously picked through it for the flake or two of alfalfa we’d add for energy and protein content. Even the most mature Orchardgrass can’t hold a candle to the coarseness of a good bale of coastal!
Note: This is the second installment in a series I’m writing for a class in Forages and Grassland Management.
We had a late start to the garden itself as we were pretty busy with all the projects that came from moving in. A combination of that late start and me mixing entirely too much compost into the garden led to a relatively low and late yield. By mid-summer, only the lettuce (which absolutely loved the nitrogen high I’d given it) was harvestable for our table.
Meanwhile, the other vegetables turned the nitrogen into leaves and stems, growing somewhat out of control but not producing flowers or fruit. It wasn’t until late summer that we started to get a few beans, cukes and tomatoes.
The tomatoes, combined with fresh basil and some store-bought mozzarella allowed us to make one of our favorite summer appetizers, Caprese salad.
The recipe for Caprese, btw, is ridiculously simple: slice and arrange 2 or 3 very ripe tomatoes on a plate, top with slices of buffalo mozzarella and basil leaves, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
(Warning/spoiler – the last pic in this post has a dead animal in it)
It was mid-summer. With all the moving, unpacking, and other projects, we’d gotten the garden in entirely too late. To boot, I’d mixed too much compost into the soil, so the plants were on a nitrogen high, shoots and leaves out of control. This was great for the lettuce and spinach, but not for the fruits and veggies. In the presence of so much nitrogen, the plant will use it for growing vegetation, not vegetables.
But now, the garden was finally starting to produce. The broccoli was flowering – I love broccoli. The peas and beans were starting to form. Tomatoes, cukes, zucchini, and peppers were budding. Each day, we’d watch the garden’s progress with anticipation of fresh vegetables gracing our table.
It started with the broccoli.
One morning, nearly all the leaves and some of the flowers were gone in our row of one of our family’s favorite vegetables, nibbled by a sneaky broccoli assassin.
The damage started at about 1′ off the ground, so the first culprits I suspected were the deer that bed down in our woods. Two does, one with twins and one with triplets, had been browsing around the farm. We had a 6′ woven wire fence around the garden, but that evidently hadn’t stopped them. What made us doubt the deer as our garden destroyers, however, was the absence of deer tracks between the rows.
Then we found the split in the fence behind the blackberry brambles, and I thought rabbits. There aren’t many in this part of NH, but the chipmunks and squirrels that inhabit the surrounding woods weren’t big enough. No problem, though… I repaired the fence, and that was that.
The next morning, there was a tunnel dug under the fence and the beans were in shambles.
Elmer Fudd’s famous rendition of Wagner began playing in my mind…
Rabbits are easy to take care of. I used to hunt them many years ago, and a bit of rabbit stew sounded like a good midsummer’s meal. However, hunting equals time, and time was something I was pretty short of. I couldn’t plan to spend a lot of it staking out the garden (it’s out of sight of the house itself). This is where my old Boy Scout experiences (not to mention the taxpayer dollars invested in my USAF survival training) paid off. I’d make some snares.
Snares have always been pretty successful for me, whether filling my belly during survival training or snagging some squirrels that had taken up residence in our attic when we lived in Alaska. In fact, I had been enlisted to instruct survival skills at an Army camp later in the year, so this was a good time to brush up on those skills. I picked up a coil of 20 guage brass wire from the hardware shop, fashioned a few snares, tied them to drag sticks, set them around the hole, and I was in business. I went to bed with dreams of rabbit stew.
The next morning, the snares had all been pushed out of the way, and the peas were now damaged. No problem, it was a bigger rabbit than I thought. I made the snare loops larger and reset them. Big rabbit meant more stew, right?
The next day, I found out that I’d made the snares the right size. Two of them had been tripped, drug outside the garden… and snapped. Now, I’ve caught a few cottontail rabbits (the kind we have here), and never have they snapped 20 guage wire. During winter survival training in Alaska, we’d been told the snowshoe hares could do it, which is why we twisted the snare wire double. But snowshoes don’t live down here. My neighbors told me it was a woodchuck.
Time to get serious.
A buddy at work offered the use of some big live-catch traps, which I set to compliment the double-wire snares. None of this worked. The woodchuck wouldn’t set foot in the cages, and he’d figured out snares – he’d push them aside to get to our produce. Over the next days, our garden was getting decimated.
One evening just before sunset, after a week of unsuccessful attempts at trapping the woodchuck, my wife saw it. He was a big fellow, munching on dandylions near the edge of the horse pasture. The next day, he was there again, within 5 minutes of the previous night’s time. He’d violated a cardinal rule of guerilla warfare: never be predictable.
The next evening, I was ready. A half hour before his normal time, I set up in the grass behind my portable turkey blind, our little .22 Crickett rifle loaded. The time came and passed, and no varmint, just lots of mosquitos. I put the rifle down to change positions and see if my leg would wake up again. When I looked up, the woodchuck was staring at me. I reached for the rifle but he dashed out of sight. Foiled again.
Knowing he would be wary the next night, I thought about other places I could set up the ambush. Because of the layout, there weren’t many options. The upstairs balcony of the house would work very well, but the distance was greater than I could expect to shoot the Crickett accurately enough, and would require me to fire it over the horse runouts. The best tool for that range (about 150 yards) would be my .300 Win Mag, but not only would that violate safety rules for lanes of fire, I was pretty sure that the earth-shattering blast that thing makes would send at least one of my horses over the fence.
I compromised, and the next night I set up a bit further back. It limited my view of his approach, and it would be a longer shot for the stubby .22, but it would work.
The time came and went again, but just as I was getting ready to pack up, I saw him in a slightly different area, about 30 yards away. Aim, breathe out, hold, and squeeze… and in the words of Bill Murray’s character in Caddyshack, “That’s all she wrote.”
The color, by the way, is pretty true in this pic. Black is a color phase of some of the woodchucks in this area, although rarer than the browns and greys.
When I was a Boy Scout, like many of my comrades, I liked to poke around the fire. In survival school, we called the fire the “Survival Television” – throw a branch in or rearrange the logs, and you’ve changed the channel.
My wife said today that a bonfire on a crisp Fall day is one of life’s true pleasures, and I agree with her. So today we got a burn permit from the Fire Department and spent a bit of time burning a pile of pin cherries (we’ve been slowly clearing them out of our back pasture, as they’re poisonous to horses and goats) as well as some more of the debris left by Irene a couple weeks ago.
Fires are just as fun as they used to be.
But now I have a tractor, and I have to say that playing with a fire with a tractor has got to be one of the coolest things grownup boys get to do (besides using the tractor to knock the trees down in the first place, and then the chainsaw to cut them up). Here’s a video of dropping one of the pin cherry stumps into the bonfire.
Life is good.
The most recent additions to our farm were our Boer Goats, Gracie and Jessie. They are both full-blood Boer doelings, and our hope is to use them as the foundation of our herd.
Boers are relatively new to the US (introduced in the mid-90s), and meat goats in general aren’t nearly as common in New England as are those raised for milk and fiber. So, why did we decide to go with them?
Well, the first answer is they just haven’t invented a 5-day-a-week milking goat, and until we’re able to farm full-time, milking animals are out of the question.
The other reason was that we did want to start on some larger meat animals (beyond chickens and muscovy ducks). As we researched our options, we found that goats can be raised on about 1/4 to 1/8 the land and feed as cattle while reproducing twice as often (usually with twins, so 4 x the production overall) while requiring less maintenance. Being browsers that favor taller, brushy forage, they also compliment grazing animals like our horses as we manage our pasture land.
Although goat meat isn’t nearly as popular in the United States as beef and pork, it’s one of the most widely-consumed meats worldwide, and I in particular am a big fan. Plus, with our proximity to certain ethnic centers, we realized there was a good, largely unmet market for goats.
Another advantage is the the nutritional value of goat meat. Goat meat (sometimes called chevon) is an exceptionally healthy and lean red meat. Compared with beef, pork, lamb, and even chicken, it is lower in calories, cholesterol and fat. Even better, the low ratio of saturated fats to unsaturated fats in goat meat makes it healthier as well, as unsaturated fats tend to increase the High Density Lipoprotein (HDL, often called the “good” cholesterol) counts in one’s bloodstream.
(source: Alabama Extension Office: http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/U/UNP-0061/)
Finally, Boer Goats in particular tend to have a gentle nature (though they are still goats, and when they get a hankering for chicken feed, for instance, they can be pretty hardheaded). That gentle nature is what we hope to foster on our farm.