Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hard Decisions

We need to make another hard decision. It seems like farming is full of guessing and second-guessing. And here we are at another crossroads where the "right answer" (if there is one) is not clear.

The interesting weather we experienced over the summer meant that the beans we planted on the clay field did not germinate well, and/or were choked out by weeds that could handle the concrete-like clay soil better than the beans.

We have a field of weeds with a few beans scattered through them. Black Calypso, Black Turtle, Black Valentine, Hutterite Soup, Jacob's Cattle, Jacob's Cattle Gold, Marrow, Pinto, October, and Tiger Eye. Many of our (and our customer's) favorites.

The combine cannot handle the grassy weeds. In fact, it is on the edge of breaking again. We know there are hardly any beans out there. The choices we have are clear: try the combine and suffer the consequences of it breaking right before we need it to harvest corn and potentially losing that crop as well, hand-harvest (a seemingly-insurmountable task), or walk away. While the choices are clear, none of them is appealing.

What would you do?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A New Strategy for Watering the Cattle: Work Smarter, Not Harder

Our sheep and cattle are often pastured beyond the reach of a hose. This requires us to haul water to them on a regular basis, and in the case of our cattle herd, we've had to haul water four or five times a day to keep up with their consumption. We've been using our trusty Gator with four 15-gallon water tanks. It takes quite a bit of time to keep up with the demand for water this way, and means that someone always has to be around the farm, hauling water every 2-4 hours.

The Farmer wondered about getting larger tanks and doing the water runs less often. We found a few 330-gallon tanks for sale on Craigslist, and set a couple of them on a seldom-used hay wagon. We fitted them with special valves to which we could attach a garden hose. Now we fill two large tanks (each takes 50 minutes to fill) and haul water once every three days or so.

The hose is attached to a standard waterer with a float (to prevent overfilling). The water is gravity-fed from the storage tanks, and automatically keeps the waterer full as the cattle drink.

We still need to check daily to make sure that nothing has gone wrong, and to switch to the second  tank when the first one is empty. But this is going to make life a bit easier, especially in the heat of the summer when the lactating cows are really drinking a lot.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Spring Swarm

A friend reminded me that I have a blog. There is so much other busyness to take up my time that I find it difficult to take photos, upload photos, edit photos, download photos, and then find words to put with them.

But if I think I am busy, The Farmer is even more so. Spring tillage has started--we have the oats and the hay planted, and he is working the ground for corn and beans. Our parents are busy with other things around the farm--groundskeeping, gardening, cleaning dry beans for sale, fixing things that break, etc.

The other day The Farmer was out in the field in his tractor and saw something strange on a fencepost. It seemed to be moving. When he got closer, he saw this:

Sometimes bees will swarm, following a queen to find a new place. I am not an expert on bee activity, but we do know who to call when we see a swarm. A couple of beekeeping friends came out right away. It's a little like being called to a fire--if you stop to finish what you're doing, you'll miss all the fun.

They were able to coax the swarm into one of their boxes, and take them home.

For more in-the-moment news and photos, consider following us on Instagram or Facebook.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Annual Shearing Day is Coming!

Why do we host an open house each year at sheep shearing time? It's important for us to show the process of farming. Many people will tell you things about farming that "ain't necessarily so." Unless you can see farming practices yourself, and meet the farmers who care for the land and the animals, you are at the mercy of what you see on social media.

Farming is a messy, heartbreaking lifestyle. It's also an amazing, joy-filled lifestyle. When you come to visit us, you will smell what a barn smells like after it's had 100 sheep living in it for 2-3 months. You will see baby lambs and their mothers. You will watch sheep struggle to get away from the shearer, and then lay still while he works. Then you will see those same sheep jump up and run off to join the others. You will check out the inside of a fleece--snowy white--and the outside of a fleece with a year's worth of oils and dirt in it. Not so snowy white anymore.

We encourage you to come and see what a working farm is like. We'll clean things up a bit, and pray like crazy that it won't be muddy that day. Be prepared for something much messier, louder, smellier--and more wonderful--than you can imagine.

The Open House will be held on Saturday, March 4 from 9 - 3, at 13275 Blair Street, north of Holland. You may come and go at any time during the day. Dress warmly and in old clothing--we shear in a barn!

In addition to sheep shearing, you will have the opportunity to see demonstrations of various wool crafts, including needle felting, spinning and more. Farm products will be available for purchase, including wool products and organic dry beans. 

Farm friends and family will be on hand to answer questions and explain the process of harvesting and using wool. There is no admission charge to this event. Donations will be accepted from those who would like to support the education and outreach programs of the Critter Barn in Zeeland, but there is no obligation to donate. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Sock Knitting Classes Offered

Have you ever wanted to learn to knit socks on a circular sock knitting machine? Maybe you found one in an attic and need to learn how to use it. Maybe you're looking to buy one, but before you spend the money, you'd like to know for sure it's something you can master and enjoy.

During February and March, you can take a 1-day or 2-day class at a time that is convenient for both instructor and student. Sock knitting classes start at $90, and include everything (even the machine!) you need to take home a pair of fresh-from-the-farm wool socks.

Email info@shadysidefarm.net for more info.

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