One week at the farm and I’m still alive! I feel like it’s a perfect fit, I hope my boss does as well. I can feel the tension in my biceps, and the tan on my face, plus they pay me!
I started off simple, gathering eggs. There are two hundred (more or less, free range means predators) chickens, and despite the provided roosts, sometimes they just leave eggs lying about in the weeds. The egg hunt everyday can be fun, although I hate stepping on eggs that I didn’t see.
After gathering and washing the eggs (for some reason we make no attempt to sort them, a dozen will include varying sizes) I fed the pigs. The pigs are fed a mixture of the whey (a byproduct of cheese making) and feed. Pigs are very friendly, but being rooting animals, it’s relatively difficult to get them to look up, other than when you’re holding the first bucket of feed.
Once the pigs reach market weight (300 lbs) they are butchered (not my job). “Whey fed Pork” is apparently desirable. Next year’s little piglets are kept separately, or they would be crushed at feeding time.
The cows are what the farm is all about, and the unconventional nature of the farm is one of the many things I find attractive. We don’t sell milk or beef. The milk the cows produce is used in cheese making (on site), and the whey left from the cheese feeds the pigs. The cows are mostly grass fed, supplemented by feed because our soil is low in calcium. Feed arrived yesterday.
The feed arrives in a big truck, and is loaded into large bags (left). The bags are stored in one of the barns (right). You’re looking at one truckload, about two months of feed for eighty adult and twenty little pigs, two hundred chickens, and sixty cows.
You’ve been waiting for more pictures of cows? I didn’t take any pictures of the milking process, but since cows take up the most space, I wanted to start with the smaller guys first.
We’re building the herd, so we’re hanging on to calves, which are normally sold. I had never before noticed how much baby calves look like deer.
Adult cows are pretty freaking big, I have owned smaller cars. Fortunately, they are very gentle.
This one on the right has “brindle” markings, which I have never seen on a cow before. For the most part, the cows go where you ask them to go (it does help to speak cow), and they prefer not to be handled much. They will shy away so you can “push” the herd, and a minor amount of training has them entering the milking parlor on their own (there is feed in the stalls). They each have their own personality, and we have a device called a “kicker” for the few cows that kick when being milked. It’s a harness that goes on their legs and makes them feel unsteady on their feet, so they don’t kick.
The cows spend the majority of their time in our two hundred and thirty acres of certified organic pastures. This is a really peaceful space, and while working on the fences for the new pig enclosures on the South end of the farm, I came across a flock of wild turkeys. The wildlife is beautiful, but not always welcome. We have a couple of dozen cats to keep down the rodents around the feed, but there’s nothing we can do about the hawks and owls that swoop in for a chicken once in a while, although we are putting up more secure fences around the chickens to keep out fox and coyotes. I never thought about coyotes in New Jersey, they are bigger than the coyotes I’m used to, more wolf size.
Our source of water is a well, and our source of hot water, and heat in the winter, is a wood fueled boiler. We harvest the wood, largely fallen trees from the monstrous storms we’ve had the last few years, and split it (mechanically, I’m no Abe Lincoln).
There is another farm, “up the road a piece”, where we have sheep and goats, I haven’t been there yet. We do have a few goats and sheep on our property as part of a “petting zoo”, across from our market where we sell our artisan cheeses, eggs, and meats. We also sell honey, we don’t make it but we do have about six hives on the farm, and will be expanding in the coming years.
The overall concept is “sustainability”. The bees fertilize the grasses in the pasture, the Sun provides the energy for photosynthesis to create the grasses, the cows eat the grasses and provide milk for the cheese and whey for the pigs, as well as fertilizer for the pastures. The concept of cycles, the cycle of seasons, the cycle of life, the cycle of energy is all very appealing.
It’s good to feel like part of the cycle.