Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Great Lamb Drive of 2015, Part Two

Earlier this year we separated the lambs from their mothers, and moved them to the other side of the road. They've grazed that hayfield twice over since then. And now that the grass isn't regrowing much due to short days and cold nights, it's time to give that hayfield a rest. And it is also time to move the lambs on to their next purpose. The ewe lambs that are keepers will be put in with the ewe flock for possible fall breeding. The wethers (castrated ram lambs) will become lamb chops, and other related food products.

The first item of business was to block off where the horses are. The last time we moved lambs, they took a detour into the horse pasture. The horses thought the lambs were a real-life version of a "whack-a-mole" game. No lambs were injured in the excitement, but it's a wonder. We didn't need that happening again.

The second item of business was the planning meeting. We sometime skip this step, but the fact that we held one shows how serious this lamb drive was. It really, really helps if we are all on the same page and have a passing knowledge of the overall game plan. Things change mid-stream, sometimes, but it does help to go over what we hope will happen.

Not all of us listened well.

We did have some fence set up to guide the lambs in the general direction we wanted them to go. Here's The Farmer, dramatically releasing the lambs from their pen.

Here's the non-stampede, as the sheep cautiously investigated the opening and tried to decide whether or not to go through it.

Finally, one felt brave enough, and they all moved as a group in the direction we wanted them to go.

Great. So far, so good. We had people stationed on both sides, hoping that a person positioned here and there would act like a fence and funnel the sheep to the other side of the road.

It didn't work. Here's a picture of the lambs as they made a break for it. One or two of us (not me) were able to run fast enough to turn them around and head them back towards the narrow driveway (lower right in the picture below) they needed to cross to get to their destination.

Finally they headed where we wanted them to go, after their short detour.

Never a dull moment at Shady Side Farm...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Harvesting Corn

We finished up harvesting corn last week before the rains came. We have had beautiful fall weather (in fact, it was 63 degrees this morning when I got up), and even with the recent rains, harvesting is happening all around us.

Since we are small farmers, we run a small combine. Four rows at a time, back and forth. This is the same combine (pronounced COM-bine) that we use to harvest wheat, rye, oats, and our edible beans. We have three interchangable "heads" that we swap out depending on what we are harvesting. 

When the combine hopper (storage area) is full, we unload into a waiting wagon.

Here's a short video of what unloading looks like. I grew up playing in the neighbor's corn wagons at harvest time. We now know that it is dangerous to play in grain (the larger the amount, the greater the danger). Sometimes the grain bridges up, leaving air pockets underneath. When the bridge collapses, people can be buried in grain and will suffocate.

This is what the harvested corn looks like in the wagon.

These wagons are called gravity flow wagons (or boxes). This short video shows us unloading the corn into a grate in the ground that leads to an auger that empties into the grain handling system. We can then decide to store the grain in a large bin, or dry it in our gas dryer (seen at the very end of the video) before storing it.

We are glad to be done with harvest in time to enjoy some of this wonderful weather.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Eight Years, Four Months and Twenty-two Days

Today I am composing my 1,000th blog post. My posting stream over the years has ebbed and flowed. Sometimes it has nearly dried up.

Many things have changed in the eight years, four months and twenty-two days I've been blogging. When I started, our kids were all teens or pre-teens. Now they are all adults. All of them are gainfully employed, own small businesses, and/or are working on a degree. There are still some piles of dirty laundry, smudges on the refrigerator, and a few pair of shoes to trip over--but these are fewer than they were eight years ago.

Instead of being a stay at home mom who homeschools her kids, I am now employed part-time as our township clerk and work on the farm in my free time. I just finished parting with the last of the expendable homeschool materials, though I have kept many of our favorite books for future little people who may come to visit.

Over time we have transitioned to organic farming. We added beef cattle and dry beans to the farm rotation, and have stopped raising chickens. We now attend farmers markets on a weekly basis, and still open our farm once a year for shearing day.

We know a lot more about the importance of soil health and its relation to animal and human health than we did at first--yet we are learning new things all the time. We still joke that every year we find new ways to screw something up.

Some things, however, remain the same. We're still farming. We still love what we are doing and are grateful for the opportunity to grow food for animals and people. And we still try to live out those verses that made an impact on our lives so long ago:

"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." 

We have tried not to be dependent on anybody, but we are indebted to our parents and our children, who have helped us so much over the years. We certainly aren't wealthy, but we have enough.

As Emily Dickinson penned,

"The Products of my Farm are these
Sufficient for my Own
And here and there a Benefit
Unto a Neighbor's Bin."

Thanks for journeying with us, friends.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Dry Beans Need to be Dry

At some point in the harvesting process we need to determine the moisture content of the beans. If they are too "wet" (high in moisture), they will spoil in storage. We often test as we are harvesting, in an effort to determine if we should continue harvesting, or wait for another day. 

This blog post shows a post-harvest test. We already ran these Hidatsa Red beans over the fanning mill to remove most of the non-bean debris. 

This is a tool that tests the moisture of common grains. There is a setting for corn, wheat, soybeans and more. But there is no setting for Hidatsa Red beans. Since they are close in size to soybeans, we use that setting.

These beans test at 17.1% moisture. Slightly higher than we'd like, but beans that are slightly high in moisture will finish drying out in the storage bin in a matter of a few days.

For beans that are not similar in size and shape to soybeans, we test the moisture level in the oven. We also doublecheck our fancy tester with this low-tech process. We start by weighing out exactly 100 g of beans, and we spread these beans out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. We bake the beans at a low temperature (250-275) and weigh them every hour or so. As the beans dry out, they lose their excess moisture. What used to weigh 100 g will weigh less and less as time goes on. When the beans stop losing moisture weight, we subtract the end weight from the beginning weight. Beans that finish at 86 g were 14% moisture at their wettest point (100 - 86 = 14).

Knowing the moisture content of harvested beans helps us to make decisions about how to store them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cleaning the Beans

We use an antique fanning mill or seed cleaner to take out most of the non-bean stuff that is harvested along with the beans: stems, bits of bean pods, stones, split beans, and weed seeds. We remove the beans from the combine in buckets and then pour them one by one into the fanning mill hopper. 

The beans move along two screens with different sized holes. These screens shake back and forth to both move the beans along and allow some of the debris to fall through the holes. Different beans require screens with different sized holes.

The junk comes out the side of the fanning mill.

And the beans come up a small conveyor and into a large wooden box.

While there is still some cleaning to do, this process takes out much of the unwanted stuff.

These Hidatsa Red Beans are now ready for the next step.

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