Besides being one of the coldest months of the year (here in the northern hemisphere anyway), January is a time to get tax receipts together, make garden plans and revise goals, both personal and business.
The Farm did surprisingly well last year. It was a surprise to me, at least, as I was out of action for three separate surgeries that limited my time outside. The beauty of having heritage breeds that can stand a little inattention came through during these times, and all is forgiven with an extra snack of sunflower seeds or garden gleaning.
The 2016 goals were about evenly split between building infrastructure and investing in breeding stock. Of the infrastructure goals, the tractor garage, chicken shelters (and bonus! sheep shelter), and chicken runs all got built. The wooden walkways that have been providing a stable walking surface for the last 10 years were replaced by lovely new concrete, and new concrete walkways along the new chicken runs has made life a whole lot smoother.
Who doesn’t love dreaming and shopping for new breed stock?
A 95% Gotland ram became available and I couldn’t say no to having my own ram, and one with the Swedish genetics I coveted, so Big John came to live with the ewes. After seeing the trauma that ewes go through with AI, I will stick to natural breeding. Hopefully all the ewes are bred and will give us a split between meat and fleece lambs.
Delaware and Svart Hona chickens were on the goal list, but those breeds didn’t make it. Instead, I invested in two more Standard Cornish hens after selling out of every chick and egg the other Cornish hens produced. I’m not sure this trio will be able to keep up, but I now have a good source of excellent genetics that are relatively close. Both Birchen Marans roosters were a disappointment: no fertile eggs. The hens did not lay many eggs at all in the first place, so between the two issues, the hens went into genpop and the roosters were processed. They may be a possibility down the line, but not now.
The Farmer’s Market sales were 100% successful, as were the pumpkin and processed chickens sales.
I received a batch of Black Jersey Giant chicks from a breeder who needed to place them, and so my consideration of whether to do full-size or Midget White turkeys was solved. I didn’t know how big they would get, but they grew very well and looked so pretty in the sunlight. After processing, the average carcass of the 8-month-olds was 7.5 pounds. A very good return, and the meat was firm and sweet. I kept three of the hens to keep in with the Barbizieux, and if their chicks can put on a bit more meat and be less flighty, I’ll keep the mix.
The goals for vermin control continue. The new chicken shelters were built with an eye for preventing entry at more than point and it seems to discourage rats from living inside the coops. They do love to bury under them, though. Ally and Bella are becoming very keen ratters, so we will continue to encourage that behavior.
Though it was not a goal, I managed to attend a couple of pig and sheep butchery classes. Seeing in person how to dispatch larger animals, and then to break the carcasses down to smaller parts was very valuable, as was the opportunity to talk with other smallholders about all kinds of things.
Overall, it is good to see, in writing, that the plans I thought were just a bit ambitious came through and give me the confidence to plan more for 2017.
Here is what will be included:
The Baker Creek Seeds catalog is a thing of beauty. I was going to order some seeds, but their photos and descriptions were so delicious that I had to have (almost) all of them! Not really. But a good deal more than I thought I was going to order. We should have some rare and heirloom tomato starts for pre-order and then for sale in the very early spring, some very rare beans from 1,500 year-old seedstock, some delicious-sounding peas and melons, rare Morning Glory seeds from remote Japanese villages, giant sunflowers that will have a space all to themselves and lots of nectar and pollen-producing plants to help the pollinators.
The does should also be bred for dapples of all colors and some solids, too. Any bucklings not reserved will be wethered and any not sold for 4-H or FFA will be meat. We will try to market the kids for ethnic celebrations first, and consider introducing Kiko goats if that goes well. Outside of an outstanding black or black-dappled doe, I don’t plan on retaining any of the kids so if that is a wishlist of yours, please contact me for pedigree check and reservation.
The sheep should also all be bred. Dafne didn’t carry any lambs last year, so if she does not settle this year, she will be sold for fleece.I especially look forward to Elinor’s lambs, as Zipper, her daughter, has outstanding fleece and John is a fleece improver.
Building wise, the sheep will get a shearing shed, the goats will get a small barn and I am already recycling parts of the wood walkways for a retaining wall-planter that will define the backyard and drastically reduce the amount of random grassy area I have to mow. It’s drain field, so I can’t use the space to plant anything and I have decided to just gravel it and decorate as best I can with annuals.
The Barbizieux in the north pasture will get a coop, too, though I doubt they will use it. Despite a very nice A-frame shelter with lovely straw, they roost in the open on top of a metal cattle panel. When it snows, they are little white lumps. Hopefully in time, they will see the folly of their gamebird ways and sleep inside.
The Barb’s coop will be a project for a beginner’s building class I will present. It’s a simple structure and I want the students to be able to go home and build whatever outbuilding they need for their animals with confidence.
Travel-wise, I am planning to attend the Heirloom Expo in California in September and complete a library of videos on stock care, which will take me to lots of cool farms and producer’s operations. If I can swing it, I have my eye on a Gotland sheep smallholding in Scotland. I’ll never miss an opportunity to go to Scotland!
More targeted marketing in 2017 should bring more customers. This will mean getting the NPIP certification for the chickens and CL/CAE/Johnnes blood testing for the goats.
If 2016 taught me anything, it’s to dream big and then take little bites out of that dream til it’s accomplished. Keep a written account of progress and look at it every now and then. Take a day off, or two especially in the busy season. Remember why you are doing this. Spend some time with your goats/sheep/dogs/chickens/rabbits/pigs. They are good company.
Happy New Year.