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The Farm in Early Spring

There is so much to talk about right now with the farm.  Spring is finally hear and we are embracing the rains.  It is still too early to do much field work.  Any vegetables would be at the risk of frost.  While it would be nice to start plowing and working the soils, the rains are important for building up the water table for this summer.  If we have a dry summer again, we rely on wells and springs to provide water for irrigating the crops.

Last summer was very difficult with the drought, especially for finishing grassfed beef and pasture raised chickens.  This year I’m planting 15 acres of warm season annual grasses like sudan and sorghum so that we can hopefully avoid feed shortages and essentially energy losses (feed value for the animals) in the late, hot parts of the summer.

Beef:  Most farmers calve in the spring.  They breed the cows in July and expect calves April and May.  There are two schools of thought on this.  The calve will be on the cow’s teat for 8 to 10 months. In the meantime, the cow will require a lot of feed to stay in good condition.  A cow nursing in the summer has the advantage of summer grass.

The calf is then weaned in late winter in time for the grass.  At that point, he’ll be 550 lbs or so.  On grain finishing operations, the steer can then be finished for market before the next winter.

For grassfed farmers like Wholesome Valley Farm, it is difficult to finish a steer before the second winter, and you don’t want to try to pack fat on a steer during the winter months.  Maintaining it is difficult enough.  While we currently breed more for a spring calving, we are actually transitioning more towards fall calving so that we can get 2 full summers on green grass before harvesting a steer at 24 months.

I’ll try to start sharing more photos of calves.  Above is a photo of some of the cows and 2 calves we’ve had already (hiding behind mom) and below are ome of last year’s calves growing big.  They were just weaned in the last month.

Peeps:  The first meat chickens of the season are in the peep shack.  The peep shack is our heavily insulated, heated floor, essentially sauna for starting birds.  Day old chicks require 98 degree heat.  We heat the floor with hot water and have zone heaters overhead for additional “hot spots.”  The birds are given about 1/3 of the building for a week.  As they quickly grow, and require less heat, we open the curtain and let them spread out.  After 3 to 4 weeks (depending on the weather outside), the birds will be moved out from the peep shack to our drag pens on pasture.  The grass is greening up and assuming we don’t get a cold snap, the birds will be on pasture by April 10 and harvested for consumption around Memorial Day.

Turkeys:  The photo here shows an egg being “candled.”  A flashlight is held beneath the egg.  If a dark line is present, the egg is fertile and an embryo is starting to grow.  Those eggs are placed in the incubators at 99.5 degrees and 54% humidity.  The incubator gently rocks the eggs.  Turkey eggs take about 28 days to hatch.  I’ll share turkey hatching photos later in April.  These are our Standard Bronze Heritage turkeys that we hatch ourselves and raise out for Thanksgiving.  The countdown is on!  Let’s hope for a good hatch.

The photo below is of a black astrolorp chick that we hatched from our flock.  The black astrolorp is one of  the heritage chickens we use for egg production.