Farmer Jake's Take: May
May 21, 2018
May has come and is already almost gone, and the farm is feeling a bit weird. A bit off. Why?
Well, some of the normal things that we expect this time of the year are here and keeping us plenty busy. Normal things like our farmers markets and calving season. The long days are welcome as we make the most of the daylight to get things ready for the season and prep for markets. But we're missing some pretty big hallmarks of this season- namely grazing. Most farmers are able to have a good feel for how things are progressing and what to expect for the year by how many acres of corn or beans they've planted or ground they've worked at certain "checkpoints"; our barometer is when we're able to start grazing. Usually we shoot for May 1st for our cattle. After the cattle go out, the pigs go too in the next week or ten days. Chickens and sheep actually get out a bit earlier than the cows and pigs, due to their smaller size and overall gentler impact on the soil and plants.
Our pasture is slowing getting there...
With a typical (what is typical or normal when it comes to weather, really?) spring, our pastures are "boot high" by the beginning of May and have grown enough to be able to handle grazing and regrowing quickly. Sometimes we are even tempted to start grazing in April, like last year with the warm winter and spring. Remember the 60 degrees days in February?? This year, though, with our record cold April, we have yet to start grazing any of our cattle or hogs. A solid three weeks behind. Sure, some of our fields with a nice southern aspect or some sandier soil have warmed up and are ready, but our cattle would eat them up in a few days and then they'd be onto the other fields which are still slow to start up. While it hits the pocketbook pretty hard, we are fortunate that we still have plenty of hay and feed in store from previous year's abundance and our animals have full bellies.
Luckily, we have some sense of normalcy due to our sheep and chickens starting their grazing rotations. This has kept me at least somewhat sane!
My nephew Emmett likes that the sheep were out grazing our warm hillsides!
It's been extra fun this year to focus on the laying hen flock and their grazing. We have a full hoop building for this season- 1,000 hens, which seems like a lot, but they have plenty of room and amenities. I love hanging out around them and watching them scarf down alfalfa and clover leaves. Daily moves ensure they have as many as they like. Freyja has been loving the long grass too! Hand washing all of these eggs though, has been less fun; we've been spending a few late nights each week doing so. We are getting over 50 dozen each day, and in a few weeks we'll be closer to 70! Thankfully, my brother, Logan, is back from college and will take over most of the egg washing duties. He'll also be joining me at most of our markets. As many eggs as that is, we can't produce enough eggs and have sold out at most of our markets this year! It's been very rewarding and energizing to hear how much people love our eggs and to not be able to keep up with demand. Honestly- and I never thought I would say this- but I think the chickens might be making a move on the cows to be my favorite animal on the farm...
Overall, things are going pretty well on the farm and personally. I might be a bit tired and overworked already for the season, but I'm having fun and loving the farm life! The past few weeks have been consecutive 80-100 hour weeks, and at times I felt like I was pushing myself too much (and I was told that by multiple people too), but at the end of the day I can reflect on the value of hard work and building for the future of this farm, my life, and this land, and I've been having fun! Having new tasks, and being challenged every day and every hour, and for the most part being able to figure things out and keep checking things off the to-do list has been rewarding.
To top things off, our markets have been going very well to start the season. As I said earlier, our eggs have been a big hit, but it's also been fun to start vending in Andersonville, and get to meet a new community every week. We also had our first time at the Kenosha Harbor Market earlier this month, and this coming Saturday we'll have our first appearance and experience at the Evanston Farmers Market. I'm looking forward to 20+ more weeks of getting to know people more and carrying that on into future years! This experience was exemplified this past Saturday at the opening day for the Oak Park Farmers Market where we got to see many friends and customers that we built a connection with last year in our first year at the market. It's been absolutely uplifting to come to the market and be embraced by so many people again. To hear people genuinely share that they "were looking forward all winter to us being back", "they were referred by a friend who thinks the world of you and the farm", "you're our farmer", and much more is something else. I thrive off the energy they bring, and the market literally flies by because I'm having so much fun! Oh, and being able to spend plenty of time with Logan talking and jamming out in the truck makes things even better. :)
Interesting Links and Articles that I've found the past month that you might be interested in:
Are There Enough Young People in Rural Wisconsin?