Friday, July 27, 2012


Sorry it has been a while since my last post, but Chuck started work at an off the farm job and now I am on farm duty with the kids, as well as the normal daily stuff and trying to find my own self a teaching job.  So far, no luck for me, but I am still hopeful.  I'm trying to get the processes at the farm to the point that I can handle it with all three children with me, and that presents some unique challenges but we are figuring it out.  I can't physically move the goat panel moving pens we like to use, but I can move an electronet just fine, so I am trying to figure out a way to clear some edges so I can finish using up that blackberry patch.

For a while we were trying to beat the heat and hoping for rain, and now we're getting the rain and the heat is still here, albeit not quite so close to the 100 degree mark.  At least this rain has made the pastures a little less crispy.  The cool season grasses like the orchard grass likely won't come back fast enough to do much this time of year, but the lespedeza in the front pen where the bucks are is coming on.  With the rain we're getting (still, I am NOT complaining, as I know just how lucky we are to have had some) we have also had some super high humidity.  We have areas where the grass was growing white stuff on the edges, so I looked it up and it is apparently a slime mold, and occurs during extended periods of rain and high humidity.  High humidity is an understatement.  I work around the heat and do my farm stuff as early in the morning as I can convince the kids to get going.  The afternoons are miserable for all, human and caprine.  On the days I run my mother around for her errands, it almost makes more sense just to water everyone and wait until dusk to feed, but that makes for a lot of trips back and forth on that long curvy road between home and farm.
slime mold growing from rain and humidity
We have managed to get most of the does we intend to expose, duly exposed to their respective bucks for the season.  Shaw is in the top field with his does, and we moved the doelings in the bottom field to a temporary pen outside of the field where their mommas are, so Ace is now in with the mature does down there.  I'm not so sure the does are thrilled to have Ace with them.  I think he might do better in a herd of about 200.  He's like the real jerky guy at the bar hitting on everyone, whether or not they are even slightly interested.  He's not exactly subtle or charming.  Boomer will have a lighter year this year as he will be getting two young does for sure, and possibly another two when we get the area ready.  He also will likely be the "cleanup" buck that catches any unbred does at the end of the season, although we hope not to have any. 
Ace.  My phone's camera stinks and so does he.
I recently posted about water, and how the quality of the drinking water can determine how far afield cattle (and I assume goats) will go to forage.  These past few weeks I have been hearing a lot on the radio about climate change, and interestingly, the folks being interviewed said we are not alone in extremes of weather.  The panel said the warming isn't as devastating to farmers as the fact that we have entered a period of extremes.  There is drought, and then there is flood.  Both can be devastating.  I personally can envision a "worst of both worlds," if you will.  I remember pictures of the Dust Bowl in history books and documentaries, and how the drought stricken and barren land looked like a desert.  In a presentation at one of the sustainable Ag conferences we attended, the presenter also showed a picture of what happened to the same bare dirt when the torrential rains came.  The good soil washed away.  All of it.  There was no matrix of plant roots left to hold it in place.  That presenter was demonstrating why having the bare fields of conventional agriculture is a bad thing, but it is relevant in thinking about this extreme weather, too.  What used to be rare events (drought, flood) are now increasing in frequency and intensity.  I won't even attempt to speak to the causes, but instead, offer the idea that no matter the cause, we still have to deal with it. 
Hot days make for early mornings and time in the shade
In my neck of the woods, we've been lucky.  The spring was moist and gentle and got the pastures off to a good start before the extreme heat and dry stretch came.  Just as we thought we may start losing much of the grass in the pasture, the rains came and saved at least some of it.  I am wondering what we would have done if the rain never came.  I remember my Grandmother used to say, during a dry spell, that "it'll rain sometime, unless it's like 1930 something."  Of course she had the exact year, and I can't remember it, but the point is that in that year, the rain never came.  Seems like that is happening with ever increasing frequency in much of our country.  Before we got rain on our farm, even the blackberry bushes were starting to wither when it was over 100 degrees and parched.  So if this was like that year she remembered, how would we cope? 

I am thinking again about how to make our pastures resilient.  We definitely have species that are drought tolerant (alfalfa and some lespedeza, and to some extent chicory) in the fields.  None of these work as well as they could without the grasses to balance them as a forage, though.  I'll mull this over a while, and try to do a little research, and see what we might consider adding.  We also need to think again about management practices for both the animals and the pastures, and of course, for the water.  Without water, all the other stuff becomes moot.  There is an old shallow irrigation pond out in the woods, and I don't even know if it stays full year round these days.  Maybe we should clear a path to it and monitor it, to see if it something we could use in the future.  I assume once we fence those woods the goats may be able to use it as a water source, but if the water is of poor quality it could do more harm than good.   And if it goes away competely in hot weather, then we have to know it won't be something we can count on anyway.  I just want to know I have some options.  It's that whole "resilience" concept.
Pastures just coming back from the point of  "crispy"
Resilience is something we are working towards both on the farm and in our own personal mindset.  As we know from personal experience, this is no longer a world where a person can get a job right out of school and expect to retire from it some years later with a steady pension.  I know that's what my parents had taught me to expect, and I may be in the last generation that expected it to be that way when we were deciding where to apply to college.  Being a part of "Gen X" (hence, our herd prefix being GNX) we are having a total paradigm shift in mid-life and mid-career.  Farming is part of our effort to be resilient as a family.  Annalee's school puts a huge effort into creating resilient students who will be able to handle whatever life throws at them because they unashamedly admit that we just don't know what jobs are going to look like ten or twenty years from now.  We hope more food will be grown locally on small farms because it makes for a more resilient food supply country-wide.  We put a premium on resilience in our herd, and work towards resilient fields, and hope we can weather whatever storms come at us, both figurative and literal.

Another downpour.  I ain't complainin'.

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