Lily Comes to the Farm
Lily and Cubs
Lily is a real little girl who is three years old. She lives in California with her Mom and Dad. She has good neighbors and lots of friends. It is sunny most of the time although it does get chilly in the winter. But it doesn’t get cold enough to hurt the avocado, orange, and lemon trees that grow in her yard.
Lily has loved plants and flowers since she was a tiny baby. She looks for flowers wherever she goes and can’t resist picking the prettiest ones. She and her Mom grow herbs on their porch and Lily knows each one by scent. She says “This one would be good for cooking” or “This one is poofery” which means stinky.
Lily comes to visit the Kelsey Family Farm a few times a year. After greeting Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Ryan she has to deal with the DOGS. The dogs are all WAY bigger than her. There are three big dogs---Rosie, Levy, and Cubs. Rosie is the oldest at almost seven years old. She is a Bernese Mountain dog, bred to pull carts. Levy is a pound puppy, a Rottweiler and Lab mix who is three years old. Cubs is only five months but is bigger than the other two already. He is a cross between an Anatolian Shepherd and a Great Pyrenees.
Lily runs and giggles with the dogs. She throws the ball and sticks for them. She made them snow cakes when it snowed and the dogs actually ate them. They followed her as she picked the herbs to add to the cakes. They sat in a row and paid close attention to the mixing.
Lily helps with the chores on the farm. There is a lot to do to take care of the animals and all the plants and trees. The pigs get a big bucket of hot water mixed with grain and milk and vegetables. It’s hard to get into the pen to feed them because they are so excited to eat. They fall over each other and jump into the feed bucket. Lily prefers to have her Mom or Grandma carry her while the pigs are being fed. It can be kind of scary when they all come running, even though they are little pigs.
After the pigs are fed, we go into the barn to feed the sheep. They get grain and hay in the winter. We have to be sure the water trough is full and not frozen. Lily grabs a big armful of hay and calls “Lama, lama, lama, lama!” They coming running too, just like the pigs. They aren't as scary as the pigs because they stay far away from us.
When we are finished feeding the sheep Lily brings her egg basket around to the chicken coop. When she was first learning how to gather eggs she dropped them, plop, into the basket. It was okay because we used those eggs to make pancakes. Most of the hens are friendly and Lily can pet them in their nesting boxes. But, there are some that don’t like to have their eggs taken. Grandma wears gloves to gather their eggs. Or, we pull our jacket sleeves over our hands. The pecking really doesn't hurt but sometimes it makes you drop an egg!
We fill the feeders with a big scoop and keep an eye out for the rooster who likes to jump on our legs when our backs are turned. We fill the buckets from the rain barrel that gathers water from the coop roof. This works great except when it freezes. Then we have to haul hot water from the house for all the animals.
Chapter V---The Bees
Last year, in the spring, Grandma and Uncle Ryan captured a swarm of bees. They found the swarm on the top of a little pine tree. Ryan cut the branch and put the bees into a big bucket. We put the lid on and drove home. Just before dark we dumped the bucket of bees into a brand new hive. Since then the bees have made lots of honey and laid lots of eggs. We let them keep their honey so they would have plenty to get through the winter.
Grandma bought Lily her own bee suit with a helmet and veil. It is still a little big. When Lily went to visit the hive we had to tie knots in the sleeves to keep her hands covered. Uncle Ryan opened the bee box very carefully. The bees were not happy and came shooting out of the hive! Grandma was holding Lily and ran down the hill. Uncle Ryan, Grandpa, Mommy and all the dogs ran in different directions. Next time we will use the bee smoker!
Chapter VI---Baby Pigs
When Grandma and Grandpa decided to get pigs, Lily was very excited. She said, “I want to see them!” She and Mommy made a special trip from California to help get the pigs. Uncle Ryan and Grandma built a little hut for them and got a big red bucket for their water. They were so little that they both fit in a dog carrier. When we captured them we found out how loud a pig can squeal! They don’t like to have their feet off the ground!
Higgs and Hazel are a special kind of pig called American Guinea Hogs. They are small and black and very friendly. We brought the pigs home and put lawn chairs in the pen so we could sit and watch them. Lily helped feed them their grain and vegetables. We sat with them every day and patted their bellies. They are much bigger now and still like to have their bellies rubbed.
Chapter VII---Baby Chicks
Last year, in the early spring, we ordered baby chicks in the mail. To do this, you get on the computer and search for hatcheries. In the old days, you had to find a hatchery advertised in a magazine and send for a catalog. Or you went to the feed store and looked at their catalog and chose Barred Rocks or Rhode Island Reds or Speckled Sussex. The chicks came by mail and arrived in a special box at the post office. Even today you have to make a trip to the post office to pick up your chicks, ducklings, turkeys, or goslings. The postmaster is always relieved when you come in because the baby birds have to be fed and put under heat lamps right away.
When Lily came to visit last spring, we went to the feed store where they had the big metal tanks set up and full of baby chicks. Grandma asked Lily to pick out a dozen little balls of fluff. We brought them home, gave them each a drink of water and set them under the heat lamp. Lily was so excited about the chicks that this year they got four of their own! Daddy made a chicken tractor for them and they are getting big!
Once of the first things Lily needed when she started to walk was a pair of mud boots. The puddles were something new and so much fun to splash in. At first, her feet were small enough to wear Uncle Adam’s old boots. They are a tiny pair of black rubber boots with a red band at the top. Adam wore them when he was two and we had just moved onto acreage. They fit Lily for one visit and then pinched her toes badly next time she tried them on.
The mud on the farm is everywhere. When it rains, water pours down the driveway and puddles in front of the house. The pigs make a muddy soup in their pasture. The sheep squish the straw down in their hut and get mud on their wool. The dogs tear around in the little spring and gallop into the house leaving a trail of muddy footprints. Lily’s boots get heavy with mud. Grandma doesn't know where to go first with the mop.
Chapter IX---California Chickens
Lily and Mommy went to the feed store near their house in California and bought four baby chicks. Daddy built a nice chicken coop with a fenced in run, a ramp, and two nesting boxes. By May, they should start laying eggs for them. Lily put ceramic eggs into each nesting box so the hens will know where to lay their eggs.
Right now, the little birds are pretty shy and spend most of their time up in the coop snacking and sleeping. When they get older they will be really interested in hunting for bugs in the grass and eating table scraps and tasty bits from the garden. Lily is learning to sit quietly and let the chickens come to her. When they are tame they will eat out of her hands and even hop onto her lap.
In the middle of April the first batch of lambs will be born on the Kelsey Family Farm. There are four little Shetland ewes that have been bred to our young Icelandic ram Barnabas. Last week the shearer came and gave everyone a haircut so they are ready for spring. The wool is fine and soft and ranges in color from creamy white to darkest black.
Lily is looking forward to the lambs. She and her Mommy will be coming up to help. We will camp out in the barn to watch the ewes and be sure the lambs stay warm and fed. We will put coats on the lambs and their mothers to protect the wool for next year.
Having a farm is all about fences. If the fences are bad, animals get out and animals get in. A good fence gives a farmer reason to relax. At the Kelsey Family Farm, we are still waiting to relax. We have very old fences that need to be replaced. We have made good fences for the pigs and sheep but they need more room. We need to put up new fences to keep coyotes and other wild animals away.
This weekend we will be doing some fencing. When it is done the sheep will have four pastures to rotate through. The pigs will be able to roam in the wooded banks of the creek. The farmers will be able to relax. For a minute or so.
After months of quiet dozing under the ice, snow , rain, and mud, the fields sprout green. One day we looked out and the pasture was four inches tall and ready for the pigs to mow. Places the pigs had turned into mud bogs over the winters are sending up shoots of rye and vetch. Daffodils have returned in bigger clumps than before and are ignored by the pigs. It makes quite a picture to see the black pigs grazing amongst the golden daffodils.
As the green returns to the pastures, work increases exponentially on the farm. Chicks are growing in the brooder in the basement, lambs are getting ready to be born, pigs have mated for June babies. Lily will be here soon to help with lambs and chase the dogs.
At night, the dogs follow us to the barn when we feed the sheep and check on the chickens. Levy hopes someone will throw a stick for her. Cubs grabs the wool left over from skirting and runs off to chew it quietly in a corner. Rosie grumps and complains if the other dogs are too excited or rough in playing around her. It seems their only duty is to play. But, from years of living in the country, we know the dogs do serious work.
Their presence sends a signal to other critters in the woods and gulley surrounding the farm. Coyotes have been known to waltz up the driveway past the living room windows. Bears have munched ripe plums and crabapples in the orchard. Raccoons steal the cat’s food and knock over the bird feeders. The dogs are alert to every foreign scent and whisper in the night. When they are with us, we walk to the barn in the dark without a worry.
Chapter XIV---Miracle in the night
After months of planning, worrying, and waiting, the first of the new lambs was born during the night. The sturdy little Shetland ewe did it all by herself. Grandpa heard tiny cries from the barn and knew they had arrived. They are twin, all black, little girl sheep. We were sad because Lily and Mommy had to fly back home yesterday and didn’t get to see the new babies. But, we sent them lots of pictures and a video. Lily will name the lambs for us!
We gave the ewe some hot water with molasses and penned her and the lambs away from the other ewes. The grumpy brown sheep was butting the babies. We hope she will do better with her own. The little lambs are tame and fearless when they are first born. We will spend time sitting with them in the pen so they see us as friends.
Little lambs are growing so fast. Lily has named them Hula Dancer and Orange Juice. The remaining pregnant ewes are very fat and look like they will lamb any minute. We are keeping them in the barn although the little lambs will be moved with their mother to a pen outside so they can start to eat grass. The ram is developing a deep “baaaah” and paws at the barn door for his ration of grain.
This weekend we will fence another pasture and will bring in a herd of Boer goats to keep the blackberries down. We are excited about these little guys doing some serious clearing of inaccessible areas on the farm. There are a couple of property corners we have never seen in our 26 years here!
Chapter XVI---Little Lambs Eat Ivy
Two more lambs were born yesterday. This time they decided to give us a little trouble. The vet came and sorted things out to our enormous relief. We have two fine little boy lambs, one all black with a tiny tuft of white on the top of his head, the other white with black spots like a Holstein cow. Lily has named them Bloom and Flower. They are up and eating and all is well.
We have added a little bottle baby goat named Wilbur to the menagerie. He has bonded with Uncle Ryan who has taken on the duty of feeding him every six hours. He is cute as can be and follows the guys as they continue to build the fence.
Chapter XVII---Of Sheep and Bees
Lambing is complete with a final total of three ram lambs and two ewes. A tired little Miss Lily, dancing around in a flaming red Ariel the mermaid wig, named the last ram Burger, with a little help from Mommy. We are tired from a hard couple of days in the sheep barn that left us with three bottle babies to feed.
Meanwhile, honey bee swarm season is upon us and we captured our first for the year in a tree down by the courthouse. They are cozy in their new hive and out busily gathering pollen and nectar. We have more hives to set up and are hoping for more swarm calls!
Chapter XVIII---New Faces on the Farm
After a tortured few days putting up a fence sturdy enough to hold back a T-Rex, we finished the goat paddock. Images from Jurassic Park kept running through my mind as I strung 1600 feet of electric fence wire. Then we got the goats. They are the sweetest, most passive little creatures. Lily will love running around with them. So, the fence will mostly keep out coyotes and dogs, bears (maybe), cougars (hm, maybe again).
Our big project now is getting ready for the new Hockinson Farmer's Market this Saturday. We won't have a lot of eggs or produce yet but people will get to know us!
Chapter XIX---Growing Babies
The sun last week gave us a chance to finish one phase of fencing. The goats are well secured and we have allowed the ewes and their lambs in with them. They know their species and keep separated, except at meal time. We are placing the feeder pigs in a new pasture so they can be finished on orchard fruit as it ripens.
Bottle babies are doing well and still require a lot of care. We keep them in the barn at night with a heat lamp since they don't have a mother to keep them warm. On sunny days we put them out with the rest of the herd to run and leap with the rest of the babies.
Chapter XX---Hawaiian Chickens Grandma went to Hawaii for her niece's wedding. There were chickens everywhere! Most were smaller than our domestic layers. They were every shade of gold, red, and black. A mother hen ran across a grocery store parking lot with her brood of a dozen chicks. A rooster crowed nearby during the wedding!
Some say that the wild chickens are the result of some high school boys deciding to raise fighting cocks. They tired of the project and released the chickens into the wild. We also heard that many escaped after a big hurricane. One thing for sure, chickens are everywhere!
Chapter XXI---The Thick of It
Warm weather has brought an exponential increase in work around the farm. Uncle Ryan is doing visual effects for movies when he isn't chasing pigs or goats or sheep or chickens. Grandpa works full time in real estate and spends the rest of his time building or fixing or chasing. Grandma works full-time on farm stuff including planning, sketching, and plotting new ventures. Niece Lauren has joined the farm and has plunged in to planting, goat-herding, and bottling our first juicy foray into wine-making. Lots happening and more good stuff will be showing up at the Hockinson Saturday Market!
Chapter XXII---A Break
Grandma and Grandma are out of town this week visiting Lily in California. Niece Lauren and Uncle Ryan are in charge of the farm. Lauren finished planting in the new garden and with all the rain hasn't had to water all week. The long-awaited chicken annex has been finished and a whole slew of new layers have been introduced in to the pack. Keep your eyes peeled for the Pearly White eggs coming from our new Leghorns.
Pigs are getting plump. We are looking at a fall harvest of our first pork from our American Guinea Hogs. New piglets due the first week of July. Let us know if you'd like to reserve one!
Chapter XXIII---Eggs for all!
Thanks to all of you who have been buying our eggs at Battle Ground Produce! We will soon be selling exclusively at the farm and at the Hockinson Saturday Market. At the farm eggs are available anytime in the self-serve fridge in the carport. We will be at the Saturday Market, next to the Chevron station, from 9-3 until July 26th.
Feeding our hens organic (soon soy-free!) feed and keeping them happily roaming on pasture is an expensive business. Thanks for your support of our price structure of $5/doz at the farm and $6/doz at the Saturday Market.
Chapter XXIV---Beating the Heat
All animals , including humans, are sensitive to extremes in temperature. These past few days have been hard on the critters and we make sure everybody has access to shade and water. Hazel, about to pop with her first litter of piglets, has been needing a cold shower every half hour. She is so heavy and waddling that we have to push her into the shade. The chickens run around with their wings out to cool off while the woolly sheep and goats hunker down in the shade of the fir trees. Humans get really grumpy when it's hot, so we hose them down too.
Lily will be 4 years old in August. The whole family will be down to celebrate as we have been for each of her birthdays. She is getting to be such a big girl and can write her name and count to a hundred with hardly any skips. After her baby sister is born in October, they will all come to visit the farm again. Meanwhile, Lily helps Mommy feed and water her four nice little hens. She helps gather the eggs and makes sure they don't eat the garden. She is learning to swim this summer and trying her toes at ballet. Grandma misses her a lot.
Chapter XXVI---Pigs in the Wild
We are pretty new at farming. Grandma was born on her grandparent's farm in Iowa. Grandpa's father was a farmer in California who was also the son of a farmer. The urge to garden and run livestock is a strong pull. Even so, we are greenhorns, relying on sketchy YouTube videos for tips and grizzled back-to-the-landers for advice. We have been confounded by our first litter of piglets. How in the world is a 250-pound pig, who is shaped like a barrel with six-inch legs, supposed to keep from squashing her 8-ounce babies? Until we figure it out, we are keeping the babies in a crate and taking them out to nurse every three hours. They are three days old and we are exhausted.
Chapter XXVII---Pigs, oh!
Hazel's piglets were born early on Sunday morning. They were tiny, about 8 ounces, and no match for their mother's great bulk of 250 pounds. In the wild, experienced mothers will build a nest and the babies quickly learn to avoid her when she is on the move. Likewise, she learns to be careful about checking for piglets before she lies down. Our first-time-mom is gentle and calm but clumsy. We've had to keep the surviving four piglets in a separate crate to protect them and make sure they get enough to eat. Taking them to Hazel to nurse every three hours has been a challenge but they are eating baby rice cereal now and looking fine and fat.
We'll be making a mid-week delivery of eggs to Battle Ground Produce for the next couple weeks. The hens are laying like crazy and we know it is easier for a lot of you to buy them at the store. So get 'em while you can!
This week on the farm tomatoes are ripening and lettuce is ready to pick. We have pickling cucumbers that will be made into bread and butter pickles and dills. Blueberries are almost finished as the blackberries ripen. Pork will be ready by the end of August with a new litter of piglets expected mid-September. Get your orders in!
Chapter XXIX---We go to see Lily!
We've packed our bags with several dozen eggs and will keep our fingers crossed that they will arrive unbroken. We are heading down to California for Lily's fourth birthday. The theme is pink and there will be pink food and pink clothes and a pink Barbie cake. Lily and Grandma will make the cake together and it will have a real Barbie inserted in the middle of a cake skirt.
Niece Lauren and friends will be watching the farm. There are many animals to feed and sprinklers to move. When we return the piglets will be four weeks old! Halfway to weaning time!
The pastures are dry. Tonight there was lightning and thunder and a tiny spit of rain. The ground doesn't look wet. Water troughs and pig wallows require daily filling. We are on our fourth hose filling of the rain barrels. Last year we filled them three times. There is a beige glaze of dirt on the barn and coop roofs. We have limited water accessibility on most of the acreage which requires a network of rain barrels, gutter drainpipes, hoses, impact sprinklers, and a few faucets to keep things watered. We are praying for rain.
I love witnessing the ebb and flow of nature's offerings. Blueberries peter out just as blackberries come into full swing. Niece Lauren has been donning her long pants and long sleeved shirts in spite of the heat, to defend herself from the thorns of our snaking blackberry brambles. She has picked enough blackberries for several batches of our delicious home made Blackberry Mead.
We are still perfecting our rain dance over here on the farm, kicking up nothing but dust. Keeping our eyes open for some promising clouds and taking several essential trips a week to Moultan Falls for a refreshing dip.
Chapter XXXII---Waning of Summer
Grandma just spent two weeks in Kansas visiting her parents and learning the routes to the stores and doctors. They live in a food desert where the only convenient grocery stores are Walmart and Target. Finding organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free anything is a challenge and requires a trip into Kansas City for any sort of selection. It's an incongruous thing to be in the middle of vast farmlands, acres of corn, and not have access to good organically grown food! We are lucky in the northwest for the general awareness of organic food and the amazing variety available to us. Support your local organic farmer!
Orchard fruit is getting ripe and starting to fall. Piglets have discovered the apples and regularly escape their pen to gorge on the fallen fruit. Higgs, the father of them all, waits by his fence for fruit to be thrown to him. The butcher pigs are being finished on fruit and will be processed soon. We are cleaning out the planter boxes and putting out red and green cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and garlic. Tomatoes are not quite as abundant this year so our regular forty jars of pasta sauce may be in jeopardy. Hens continue to lay like crazy as the days shorten. Lights will be going on in the hen house soon!
Chapter XXXIV---Pigs, Again
We've made a rookie farmer's mistake. We left our batch of baby pigs in too long with Higgs, the adult boar. Now we have four pregnant pigs that were not planned. The piglets are due soon and we are scrambling to find homes and pasture for them to last through the winter. Because of this unexpected explosion in our pig population, we won't be breeding our goats this fall. We think the sheep should do fine and will turn sow Hazel in with one group of sheep and boar Higgs in with the other. The fall rain will make the pastures green again and the mud will return.
Chapter XXXV---Harvest Moon
This Thursday is the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox which occurs September 22 this year. The night is supposed to be clear so the moon should be visible and spectacular. We will have a bonfire and drink some of our apple and plum wine from last year. It will be a welcome break from piglet midwifery, canning, and winemaking. Not that those activities aren't fun! We were up at midnight last night confining a sow who hasn't quite gotten the hang of nursing her babies. Coyotes howled in the distance. Fall is upon us.
Chapter XXXVI---These Eggs Do Have a Story!
People have asked about our eggs so we thought we would share once again what makes them so special. We have raised all our chickens from babies and feed them only organic, non-GMO, NO SOY layer mix. They sleep in a big, specially built chicken house with lots of windows, automatic fans and lights. There is a light-activated door that closes them in safely at night and lets them out in the morning. Their waterers are self-filling from the three rain barrels fed by run off from the chicken house roof. Our birds free-range on rotated pasture and are protected from predators by an electric poultry fence. All this care makes for the freshest, healthiest eggs you can buy anywhere!
Chapter XXXVII---It was so muddy that...
The one good thing is that it hasn't been too cold. We spent an entire day outside as the rain poured down. We were soaked to the skin except for our feet which were well encased in tall Wellington boots and thick socks. We built new shelters for the sheep and goats. We moved the sheared sheep from the barn and gave up on trying to shear the ram for now. His dreadlocks are soaked and must dry before the shearer can touch him. Piglets and their mothers were swimming in mud so the men went out in the dark and spread a thick layer of straw in their houses and pens. Four piglets ready for new homes NOW with 15 more ready mid-November! With a deposit we will raise one for you for harvest next fall. Just give us a call! 360-607-4574!
Lily's new baby sister is due this month. Grandma is flying down to California to help out. Grandpa, Uncle Ryan, and Lauren are manning the farm while she is away. Baby chicks have to be moved to the hoop house. Two more sheep need shearing. Several cords of wood must be stacked in the barn. Seventeen baby pigs need to find new homes. Wine has to be racked and maybe a batch of apple wine started. The bees need a quick inspection to see if they have enough honey for the winter. Everyone will be busy while Grandma is gone!
Lauren has spent hours cleaning the stacks of wool that have come off the sheep. We didn't have coats for them this year so everything got stuck in their wool. Despite this, and the intense rain of the last few weeks, the wool is soft and is a range of gorgeous colors. Our lambs are Icelandic and Shetland crosses so their fleeces are fine and long. We will be sending it off to be spun into some amazing yarn. Next year's wool will be covered so there won't be nearly the cleaning involved.
Chapter XL---Getting Ready for Winter
Each critter on the farm must prepare for winter. The chicken coop is closed up at night except for vents along the ceiling that help keep the moisture down. We turn the lights on in the coop so the hens get exactly 16 hours of light to maintain egg-laying when the days shorten. Pigs grow a thick coat of hair and like to spend their days snuggled in the straw of their houses. Sheep have their thick wool to keep them warm and stay inside on wet days. Goats need extra shelter from the wind and some nice alfalfa. Turkeys return to roost in the trees despite herding them into their house. We plug in the cat's heated house and the dogs doze by the wood stove.
Chapter XLI---Farm Warriors
It's pretty tough being a farmer. Everybody has these starry-eyed notions of going back to the land and living independently. You plant your first field of clover and thrill when the first sprouts appear. You are filled with joy to bring home your new lambs and baby pigs who will live an orderly life contained by your sturdily built fences. All is well until the first escape. The pigs rampage through the clover and leave it looking like a disc plow went through. One morning as you gaze at the sunrise sipping your coffee you realize that the herd of sheep has stripped the new apple trees of their blossoms. Neighbors are understanding up to a point. A piglet in the yard is funny until it lands in the swimming pool with the new liner. You soldier on, beef up the fence, string more electric line and wait to discover how far turkeys can fly.
Chapter XLII---Waiting for the Butcher
Fall is harvest time in the garden and in the paddock. The silly turkeys we raised from ugly babies will be butchered for Thanksgiving. The piglets we chased and caught one by one at a farm dispersal sale are ready to be made into hams and bacon. We look forward to this time with a mixture of dread and relief. Relief that we will no longer be schlepping hundred of pounds of food to them each week. Dread that we are dispatching these creatures into an unknown where we will someday follow. There are many questions as we do this. We are meat eaters and yet we care for our animals. We look to their welfare and try to make the best lives possible for them. We are glad they have their time in the sun and mourn for the lambs and piglets that didn't make it past their first day. There is a lot to contemplate as we wait for the butcher to arrive.
Our farm is on the north side of a hill. When the killing frosts of late fall move across the landscape, they linger on our side of the hill. The pond and tanks stay frozen long after the sun is up. It's just cold. The house, an old farm dwelling built somewhere between 1875 and 1900, keeps a chill like an old barn. We have heated with wood for years and just recently installed a ductless heat pump to push back at the cold. It works pretty well on the below-freezing days although there is still a swirling cold draft at floor level. It is not unreasonable to wear long johns and fur-lined slippers when sedentary in the house. We fall into bed with icy hands and frozen noses after working by the frosted windows. It is good to work outside every day, busting ice off the tanks, lugging hot molasses water to the animals, to fully appreciate how warm the house is, despite the drafts.
We've barely had time to scrub the turkey roasting pan and it is time to string Christmas lights. It is overwhelming to think of decorating around the farm project clutter that has crept onto the porch, blocks the kitchen, and waits by the door, ready to trip the incautious. Add to this a bathroom remodel that has stretched from spring to fall. In the next few weeks we will box up wool for the spinnery, extract honey from the waiting frames, repair perches in the coop, and dress sheep in their coats. We will finish the bathroom in time for aunties and cousins to visit for the annual Christmas Craft gathering. We will find a tree and cut holly for the mantle. Holiday movies are already queued up on Netflix for viewing while knitting little sweaters for Lily and Catie Jo. Add some spicey shortbread, fruitcake, and hot toddies and we will be good.
The Devil's Icebox
This is a merciless cold. Grain with the tiniest bit of moisture is frozen in the feeders. The koi pond is frozen more deeply than we've ever seen and two of the larger fish are encased in solid ice close to the surface. We are hoping for reanimation when the weather warms. The new chicks seem fine in the hoop house with their waterers under heat lamps. The coop is a problem as the cold has crept in and frozen the pipe waterers and the metal nipples on the buckets. We moved the lamps closer to the buckets to keep them thawed through the night. Floating tank heaters are in place for the larger animals and there is a heated dog bowl serving both the dogs and the turkeys. The hummingbird feeder is under a lamp but even that is not enough to keep the outlets thawed. The little birds are in a fury for the thawed nectar in the morning. Tonight will be the coldest night. We are worried about the turkeys perched on the trellis as the temperature creeps down to 6 degrees.
Cold, cold, cold. The top two inches of the pond has melted but the fish remain trapped in a layer of impenetrable ice. We've unplugged the stock tank heaters while the weather remains above freezing. Four pigs went to market and we will be express mailing frozen pork to Hawaii and California. Little hens are almost ready to move into the coop and should begin laying their first tiny eggs in January. Seed catalogs are stacked by the computer to be dealt with after the Christmas crunch. We will order mulberry trees for planting in the chicken area for shade and fruit. Wine needs to be bottled and stashed in the basement. We hope for time by the fire with family.
Niece Lauren has pulled out the infused vodka that she put up in a mason jar on the summer solstice. She stirred in blueberries, mint, and basil and poured tiny portions of the purple liquid for us tonight. After laughing at our contorted faces, we pronounced it "interesting, not bad, kind of good actually." It was certainly warming on a cold, wet night.
We have yet to do any Christmas baking as all hands have been involved in finishing the perpetual bathroom remodel. The vanity went in today as well as the claw foot tub, with one mishap of severing the hot water line. Tomorrow we will finish the plumbing, touch-up painting, and dreaded caulking. Still a little tile work to do on the backsplash, maybe tomorrow. And then we will bake and make candy!
We talked about resolutions tonight over dinner. As every year, thoughts turned to managing money better, finishing major projects, reducing stress. We have many plans for the farm including running frost-proof water lines and hose bibs, re-wiring the barn, building another hoop house, increasing our product offerings. We want to add a kitchen space in the basement for preparing some of these products. We'd like to eventually offer farm stays and to share our knowledge of getting back to the land. Then there's that resolution about stress. We have grandbabies in California that we need to visit more often. Uncle Ryan is in an intense program working toward a second bachelor's degree. Niece Lauren will be working in Portland. Lots of things to assess and balance, start up and discard. This will be a pivotal year for the Kelsey Family Farm.
Finally, with the new year, we can start thinking about the garden. The plots are still covered with frost and heaved up with great crystals of ice. The mud of fall is frozen. Garlic shoots are appearing and the fall-planted spinach and cabbages are gamely struggling back to life. Seed catalogs are arriving daily. As the days grow imperceptibly longer, we shop the brightly colored pages and imagine grilled eggplant and peppers, pasta sauces and pickles, salads and roasted squash. When it's cold and the summer seems so far away, there is no thought of the work that lies between the picture in the catalog and the food on the fork. Hope springs eternal.
Hens that run around outside...
We have been asked many times what "free-range" means when referring to a chicken. In the big egg industry "free-range" could mean that hens are housed in a huge barn, but never go outside. Few industrial egg producers allow their hens access to the outdoors. There are many reasons for this including a belief that hens are less susceptible to disease and predation if they are kept inside throughout their lives. "Pasture-raised" is another term we could use for our hens but it sounds like the hens aren't allowed inside. We like the term "free-range" because it means that the hens can go outside when they wish to eat bugs and pasture, or stay in the coop when it's cold and rainy. The idea is to let them be chickens, scratching, dust-bathing, and looking for bugs.
January is a tough month. The frenzy of the holidays is over, everybody has gone home and we are left in the mid-winter gloom. We've had a week of particularly nasty fog that stayed all day and turned the farm into a misty, hobbit-haunted landscape. The woodstove could not penetrate the sharp drafts of cold creeping under the doors and through the window cracks. We took lots of baths in the new tub and imagined summer sun high in the sky. Next week we will visit the granddaughters in California and drive out to visit the strawberry fields. Field workers are picking the berries that come to our local stores. When there are strawberries, spring can't be far away.
Shipping a Pig
We have some lovely pork, the result of almost two years of feeding hundreds of pounds of vegetables, hay, and pasture to our herd of American Guinea Hogs. On top of that were many hours hand-feeding piglets as we nervously tended our first litter. The result was six fat pigs that have made the most delicious hams and bacon we have ever tasted. The fat is almost liquid at room temperature and the meat is tender and juicy. Relatives and friends have pounced on our initial offerings of sides of pork. The problem is getting it to them. Local delivery is no problem but getting half a pig to a brother in Hawaii, a son in San Francisco, a daughter in Southern California are different stories. Postage is crazy expensive so we are going air freight. We deliver our frozen packages to a cargo plane at the airport and the recipient has to pick up at the airport on the other end. Fingers crossed!
Oh, Please, Spring!
It's cold in California but despite that, we got our strawberries! Huge, sweet, organic, and fresh from the field. Our dear friend John, who has a couple of the last remaining, full-service health food stores, gave us three baskets. When we get home, we will be heading into full-tilt garden planning, and won't forget the strawberries. We will be starting seeds, ordering plants and trees, and building more planter boxes. We need to make a final decision about our pigs and get ready for lambing. Turkeys are finished, fine and plump in the freezer. Time for spring.
Goodbye Farm Kitty
Liebchen, ancient kitty, fell off her cat tower the night we returned from California, entering into legend. She was a little cat, found abandoned in a dirty blanket along with her siblings eighteen years ago. We adopted her, along with her sister Blumchen, the summer the handsome German exchange student was visiting. He thought the names were dumb but they stuck while he did not. Liebchen was a skillful avoider of coyotes and lover of all dogs. She toyed with the idea of being a house cat but made her preference for the outdoors known by peeing on the laundry. In her dotage, she accepted the comfort of a heated cat house on the porch and food placed on the cat tower, away from the dogs. She survived her sister by many years, four much loved dogs, and all manner of farm critters. During her long reign, the farm kids grew up and moved away and came back. We will probably always expect her little face in the window, waiting for dinner.
Hello Barn Cats!
With the passing of Liebchen, super mouser, we have been on the lookout to find some cats to control the rodent population around the barn and coop. A quick search on Craigslist and we found a Seattle organization called Barn Cats Are Us. They are a barn cat rescue group who traps feral cats, spay, neuter, vaccinate and rehome them as working barn cats. We have been instructed to keep our recruits confined for three weeks and to continue feeding them in the same place to encourage them to stick around. We should get a call sometime this week and will drive north to pick up four new cats. Check out the website for pictures!
Our enormous barn has one small pen devoted to animals. Currently that pen is occupied by our trainee barn cats as they familiarize themselves with us and us with them. Previous to the cats, the Red Bourbon turkeys spent their last weeks being plumped on grain and red wine. Previous to the turkeys, a dozen piglets were confined for weaning. Time will be up for the cats in a few weeks and the pregnant ewes will be moved into the pen. Lambs and ewes will be confined together for a few days before being turned out on new pasture, just in time for 50 more pullet chicks under heat lamps. The rest of the barn is filled to bursting with stuff: an old truck, a boat, dead appliances, firewood, tools, bins of Christmas and Halloween decorations, bee hives, sleds, a saddle. We can trace the entire history of the farm from the junk in that barn.
A Tree Grows in Brush Prairie
Late winter means that it is time to plant new trees. Apricots went into the orchard Saturday. We've made a survey of the old shrubs in the yard and have decided to replace most with fruiting bushes, trees, and vines. The gangly rhododendron that has struggled fifty years under the shade of an enormous cedar will be sacrificed for the elderberries. The flowering quince will be pruned back severely to allow the filberts to flourish. A pair of faded Bridal Veils will make way for exotic Aronia and Goji berries. A beautifully leafed-out olive tree will need a place in the sun. We are always sad to take out old trees. The elm finally fell to a virus but we saved the wood and had it cut into flooring. A leaning fir became structural timbers for the elephant trellis. In fifty years, someone may be making firewood of our apple trees. All we ask is one moment of regret before the axe falls.
We've calculated that lambs are due anytime. Last weekend we separated the ewes from the rams and have them in a separate pasture with Hazel, the pig. Hazel is on a diet as she has been making a pig of herself with fruit and vegetables over the winter. She now eats hay and grass with the sheep and seems okay with it. Hazel's mate Higgs is by himself while she slims down. If all goes well, we'll have piglets in the summer. Caruso, the little Icelandic ram, is now running with the goats and Shetland-Icelandic-cross boys from last year. Barnabas, the big ram, is penned with his buddy, a big white Shetland wether. After lambing, we'll gather all the sheep in the barn for shearing and hoof-trimming and rotate pastures again.
Beyond Vancouver, beyond Washington, beyond the Pacific Northwest, there is a land of sun and warmth. Grandma spent a few days in San Diego where the sun is shining off the blue ocean and the days are warm. She was on a mission to deliver Bitsy, the long-haired dachshund, to her retirement home by the sea. Bitsy ran afoul of the big dogs on the farm and needed to be rehomed with Auntie Jan. Bitsy had quite a bounce in her step as she surveyed the sandy expanse of yard, the familiar hens pecking in the coop, and her cozy new bed in the kitchen. Ah, bliss. Grandma sat for a moment on the deck and imagined a home by the sea, warm sun on her face. Then she zipped up her fleece jacket and flew back to a wind swept, rainy night in Hockinson.
After a month of dieting, American Guinea Hog Hazel is back with her paramour Higgs. They spent the winter apart and Hazel packed on the pounds feasting on leftover produce and hay. She was not happy with her restricted diet and silently protested by lying on the sheep's breakfast of hay. She had to be coaxed from her pen with grain and followed the bucket reluctantly to Higg's quarters. Hazel and Higgs were raised together and had one litter of piglets last summer. If all goes well, we will have another litter in July.
About Pee Wees
You will notice some tiny eggs in your cartons for the next few weeks. Our newest hens have started laying in earnest, better late than never. Their first eggs are small and hard-shelled. We are including two pee wees in each carton and bringing the carton up to weight with extra-large eggs. The full dozen weighs the same. Pee wees make cute little Easter eggs and their brown color brings a special richness when over-dyed in pastel colors. In other farm news, we are still waiting for lambs! Our girls have run late two years in a row now. We'll have to bring them to the ram earlier this fall. Goats have a newly fenced area to nibble on budding blackberries and flowering quince. Higgs and Hazel have been reveling in the sun.
Spring comes not a moment too soon. The sidewalks on the farm are slick with leaf debris. The approaches to gates are ankle deep in sucking mud that skid the unwary onto their bottoms in the blink of an eye. The chicken coop is marooned in a sea of mud. On Sunday we dug trenches and laid perforated pipe and fancy drainage systems. Rain barrels are being retrofitted to empty into pipes which daylight into long sleeved tubes that dissipate the water over many feet. The hard-hoofed little Shetlands and Icelandic sheep are doing fine in the wet. Armed with our new hoof trimmers, we will wrestle the pigs into submission and trimming. This is a video worthy event.
A coop full of chickens is hard to hide. Add pounds of high-quality feed, readily available in generous tubs and you have a baited trap for all manner of predatory critters. We have an automatic, light-sensitive door that closes the chickens in at night and opens with first light. We have surrounded the coop with electric fencing and the coop is within a pasture that is strung with three strands of electric fence. And yet, somehow, a raccoon has been finding his way in, opening the nesting box doors and extracting hens. He was caught red-handed last night and scurried off into the darkness. War has been declared.
Spring is a beautiful time on the farm. The orchard is in bloom. Grass is green and growing tall around the stumps and chip piles. We've been letting the goats out to graze on the new blackberries and will fence the sheep in the orchard. Sheep won't bother the trees where the goats will strip the bark and climb on each other's back to reach the furthest buds. The first ewe to lamb and her twin boys are out in a new pasture and looking content. Four more ewes are due to lamb any day. Then we will be fully into the growing season, lambs, garden, orchard. The best time of year.
Back to Work
In winter, there isn't much to do around the farm. The garden is harvested, fruit trees are bare, wine is racked in carboys, chickens are under their automatic lights and heaters. In the winter we feed hay to the sheep and goats and make sure their troughs are thawed. There is no pasture rotation because the grass has stopped growing. Grandma knits and mulls the future. With spring, the chores amp up again. Lambs are being born, raccoons come out of their dens in the woods to hassle the chickens. Barn cats stake out the coop at night and earn their keep catching rats. New piglets arrive this week to help clear a new pasture. Fence is being build to enclose that pasture. Baby chicks will arrive soon to replace the oldest hens who will be moved to a chicken tractor and set to work weeding. Everybody works on the farm.
Was that Spring?
For those few days we flung the windows wide open, turned off the heat pump and were secretly glad that flies had returned to the kitchen. There were a few hot days, too hot to work in the full sun. Bare skin got sunburned as no one remembered sun screen after the long, wet winter. Farm hands Royce and Lauren discovered the joy of working in the garden after the heat of the day, long into the night, with head lamps strapped to their foreheads. We went to bed with the windows open and awakened to a cold rain and chilled noses. Two more lambs were born for a total of six, five black, one brown. Two more ewes to go, then shearing!
Away from the Farm
We've been in California visiting the grandchildren and watching daughter Emilia and Grandpa run in a half-marathon. The weather has been balmy and dry while on the farm in Washington the chickens are drenched and pigs are awash in their wallow. It's a strange contrast with the drought conditions in California. Water rationing is being discussed while utilities charge high rates for excess usage. We'll try to remember this as we slog ankle deep through mud, trying to redirect the gully-washers pouring off the barn roof.
Home again, we are in full swing. New piglets were acquired, a cute pair of Gloucestershire Old Spots. We've named them after Beatrix Potter characters, the result of too much time to think on the long ride home from picking them up. Pettitoes and Tiggywinkle are stashed in the all-purpose pen in the barn while we run the last bit of electric fence. Goats have done a fabulous job on the Japanese Knotweed and are looking for more. Little lambs are growing nicely. Shearers come soon and we will be picking up our first batch of finished yarn next week. Check Facebook and the website for pictures of the beautiful colors!
We traveled to Columbia Custom Carding to pick up our bags of beautiful worsted yarn. Mitchell and Marilyn Hawks did a bang-up job. We came home with eight bags of Shetland and Icelandic yarn in the most gorgeous natural colors ranging from black to shades of gray, brown, and cream. It's springy, soft and scrumptious! Pictures are on the website and Facebook page. This won't last long, so let us know if you'd like to partake in this historic first batch of finished yarn from the Kelsey Family Farm.
The last week has been devoted to refencing a neighbor's pasture. The neighbor has kindly agreed to let our sheep and goats spend the summer grooming his 2.5 acre field. We have dug deep holes for corner posts, hacked back wild cherry trees and firs, plowed through blackberries, and untangled hundreds of feet of barbed wire. Grandpa stretched a thousand feet of field fence by himself by hooking it to the bumper of his car. New insulators have been placed for electric wire, two per post. Special electrified bungee cord closures span each gate. Tonight we will hook up the charger and drive the ground rods into place. Oh, and then bring in the sheep and goats!
Farming is in the top 10 of most dangerous jobs. This makes perfect sense. Most of the work is outdoors and involves either big machinery or big animals or both. Tractors roll, rams butt, lids slam shut, and electric fences jolt. Farmers have to be on their guard at all times. In the past year, all of us have slipped in the mud, injuring tail bones, knees, and shins. We've been tangled in electric fencing, whacked ourselves with hammers, bruised our arms on cattle panels, and gotten pecked by hens. Just today, Grandpa was knocked unconscious when his head hit the electric wire on the new fence. He woke up with grain from the bucket he was carrying scattered across his chest and goats nibbling from his shirt. Tomorrow we install the cut off switch for that fence.
With the ewes, lambs, and goats on their new pasture,
There are bags and bags of unprocessed wool in the basement and barn. We just received two lovely Corriedale fleeces from a little 4-H’er in Maryland. With shearing again after lambing in April the wool supply will be even bigger. It should all be processed by the fall into drifts of amazing yarn. We are liking the three ply skeins and natural colors overdyed in bright shades. New colors and some really spectacular sheepskins are available on Etsy. Just type “Kelsey Family Farm” into the search bar. Your patronage supports our farm, hens, woolies, and new projects.
Lambing is off to a dismal start. We lost a ewe and her lamb last night. The season will be short as we have only bred four ewes. We need to stick to our routine to get through and keep our eyes on progress. Spring is coming. Daffodils are up. There are buds on the little Japanese maple that we cut way back. We should listen to Rumi: How should Spring bring forth a garden on hard stone? Become earth, that you may grow flowers of many colors. For you have been heart-breaking rock. Once, for the sake of experiment, be earth!
Just a reminder that this carton of eggs comes from our small (under five acres) farm in Hockinson. Our hens have free range of the orchard and fields and return by themselves at night to the coop. We feed a certified organic, soy-free, corn-free, non-GMO layer mix that we buy by the ton from a mill in Bellingham, Washington. The mix includes organic kelp sourced from the Atlantic. In addition, we offer free choice oyster shell and all the bugs and worms they can find. With spring and the new grass, egg production will go up and yolk color will intensify. Yum!
We aren’t getting out too much. The winter has constrained our activities to daily feeding, watering, egg gathering and washing chores, and occasional trips to town for groceries. We are waiting for two more ewes to have their lambs. Grass is getting some height in the pastures and we let some of the sheep out briefly for a snack. Grandpa is prepping the high tunnel for growing cucumbers and tomatoes. Grandma has plans to level the yard and add planter boxes for a garden that can be viewed from the kitchen window. Deck cover is going up now. We have some farm parties planned for the summer. Time to return to civilization!
New and Old
Men were loading a ton of hay in the barn when Chili Pepper was born. She’s a feisty little ewe lamb born to a first time mom. Mama wasn’t impressed with her baby but is getting the hang of things. We’ve been supplementing Pepper with a bottle so now she cries mightily when she sees Grandma coming in her red boots. In another corner of the barn, Ruby, who at eleven was the oldest of our ewes, quietly expired this afternoon. She ate heartily this morning and appeared to enjoy the hay we gave her at noon. She’s been shaky on her pins but with a good appetite right up to the last. One of our original feral sheep, she was finally calm and trusting. Happy trails old girl.
Bottle Baby 1952
Iowa winters are always cold, probably more so in 1952. The snow was up to the top of the fences and my grandparents trekked out to the barn every few hours to feed the orphan lambs. Their youngest son played basketball for the high school team. They left my mother and two siblings at the farm while they took a rare outing to watch a game. My mother was 7 months pregnant with me and my grandmother warned her not to venture out in the snow to feed the lambs. Sassy as always, my mother took pity on the lambs and went out anyway. She returned unscathed, I was born, and 65 years later, I am feeding my own lamb bottle baby. She says it must be in my blood.
A Farm Shower
Aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings descended on the farm for a baby shower under the new porch roof. There were branches of flowering plum and quince and pots of Johnny-jump-ups for decoration. It was a fairy theme and Lily, Catie, and Lily Belle were in full fairy regalia with wings and wands. They jumped on the trampoline while the adults ate finger sandwiches and drank lavender lemonade. The parents-to-be were pleased, the sun shone all day, and only one dog fell in the pond. Every pot, pan, and platter was used in the preparation and it took days to run all the dishes through the dishwasher. The new baby girl arrives in June, a highly anticipated addition to a giant family.