SFJ

Facebook  YouTube

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Elsa

Elsa

by Brian Bennett of Heuvelton, NY

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

For years, I have been telling people Bittersweet Farm is a work in progress. Well, I have reached the age of the average American farmer and progress has stopped, the workload is excruciating and hope for the most part is non-existent. My son is downstate hoping to make his fortune as a computer geek/ nerd/genius/hacker. My daughter is in Kenya learning how to milk Holstein cows and holistically manage the intensive, rotational grazing of cattle (go figure). Too bad a young person couldn’t learn those skills in such an exotic place as Heuvelton, NY. That leaves my wife and I home to pursue MY dream of becoming a small-scale, local, regenerative agricultural entrepreneur. My beautiful wife has been physically confined to an electric wheelchair for almost twelve years and I have been mentally challenged in so many ways.

So here we are, another glorious spring day in Heuvelton. Fourteen degrees above zero, whiteout conditions and the ice can’t decide whether it is coming or going. My wife just got out of the hospital with no PCA (personal care assistant). I am running on empty and have a gut feeling that I must go out and find Coco Chanel, NOW. Coco is the first purebred Scottish Highland born on our place four years ago. The day she was born one of our pigs ate her right front hoof and life for her got much harder after that. She is a pretty blonde but walks with a limp, is bullied regularly but never bred. She broke one of her horns and any real farmer would have shipped her long ago. Not to worry – I am no real farmer. So finally, she is bred. Checked her two days ago, she dropped and is clearly bagged out but is not dilated and shows no discharge. Her mother, Ginger, calved recently at the edge of the swamp where the coyotes promptly shredded the newborn and dragged the body parts across the open field. After four years, I wanted my girl to successfully raise her own healthy calf. She has been a great aunt and sister to many others. But, like I said, it was a perfect spring day in the North Country: fourteen degrees above zero, high winds, snow squalls, whiteout conditions and just cold and wet enough that in some places the ice holds and in others it drops out from under you. You hit hard and you hit painfully. So with my wife one day out of the hospital and in need of help – I, being the ever good husband – bundle up against the onslaught of spring and head into whiteout conditions to look for yet another dead calf at the swamps edge. I headed out with a gut feeling not that something was wrong, but that in these conditions there soon enough would be if I did not try. I couldn’t see more than a foot in front of me and I was not enjoying being pelted with large hard snowflakes and high winds. I made my way more or less by instinct across the open field and through the (for the most part) frozen swamp. No Coco. Up the hill towards the brush covered rock piles, no Coco at the upper pile. The wind and snow are harsh, even for a beautiful spring day of fourteen degrees. I can sort of see a cow (maybe) lying in the lower rock pile. In amongst saplings, rocks, and old rusty metal and wire there is a large, red haired calf half steaming where mom is aggressively licking her and the other half is iced over where her hooves and legs appear frozen to the ground. Well, I am cold, wet, exhausted, and all too happy. I am giddy and ecstatic, my girl has her first beautiful heifer calf, now what do I do? It did not feel like the snow was letting up and I could hear the coyotes in the distance, but could not place the direction. No fear, just anger, how stupid am I? Eventually mom and calf stood up, I stripped out three quarters and mom licked the calf ’s butt until she nursed. I attempted to walk mom and baby back to the carriage shed, but no luck. I am too old (okay, out of shape) for this. I picked up the calf and tried to walk backwards downhill through the snow while begging mom to follow. I am really too old for this. I arrived at the edge of the swamp and could not figure out where I came out at. Mom was way too far back to see. So I pushed through the cat-nine tails, over the ice and headed towards home. Soon enough the calf and I dropped through the ice up to my waist into the swamp, boy is this fun. I was not gong to let go no matter what, but this is really stretching my limits. How do you slog through waist deep ice water and mud carrying a 75 lb calf when you really, really want to give up? And where the heck is mom? After what seemed like two painfully long lifetimes, calf and I came out at the eastern edge of the swamp where I could see the front leg of an earlier calf shredded by coyotes. Is mom following? Don’t know, but I cannot carry this calf any longer. I put her down and she crumbles to the frozen ground. I turn around to hear mom bellowing and crashing out the same path I just did. All-wheel drive on her part makes it look much easier than it felt for me. She licks her newborn and we get her up, only so I get to chase the now inspired calf in the wrong direction. I catch the calf, pick her up and head to the shed; I really am too old for this long walk across the field. A perfectly good walk (ruined). We finally arrive at the carriage shed, I try my best to warm and dry the calf. The snow and wind has stopped, the sun is out, thank you very much, and where were you an hour ago? I head to the house to fetch a pail of warm molasses water. At the house my wife seems quite comfortable and in real good spirits. She seems happy. I share my story and Ann decides to have her PCA, that finally arrived, name the calf. She mentions a movie called Frozen and names the calf Blaire – no wait, it has to be Elsa, Elsa is the ice queen. I LOVE it. I carry five gallons of molasses water to Coco and a towel to the newly anointed ice queen, Elsa. I go back to the house to celebrate and wallow in my pain.

It is Friday. Kate and Kelsey show up as they have on most Fridays for the past two and a half years. Then Jeff and Kingsley show up (Who are these guys? Maybe HOPE?) They take over; Coco drops her afterbirth and promptly eats about half of it. Does the warm molasses water stimulate this? Red haired (like Elsa) Kate lays down comfortably between mom and baby. Ask Joel Salatin about lying with cows. Eventually Coco begins licking Kate’s face and chews her hair, only to make a face that suggests she somehow knows this is not her calf. Coco nudges Elsa up, licks her butt and Elsa nurses warm colostrum. I am done. Kate, Kelsey, Jeff and Kingsley take over and begin making repairs to the fence so this never happens again, until the next time.

April, fourteen degrees, a dozen dead lambs, two dead calves, eight dead piglets, one dead Highland bull and more on the way. Life just does not get any better than this. Spring is here.

Remind me later to tell you about our last Hope and how HOPE returns to the farm in the form of young farmer wannabes, students, wwoofers, intern apprentices, Wes, Arla, John and Kelly, and more.

Thank you, and remember to get your hands dirty.

Spotlight On: People

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

by:
from issue:

On a sunny early September day I met Doug Flack at his biodynamic and organic farm, just South of Enosburg Falls. Doug is an American Milking Devon breeder with some of the best uddered and well behaved animals I have seen in the breed. The animals are beautifully integrated into his small and diversified farm. His system of management seems to bring out the best in the animals and his enthusiasm for Devon cattle is contagious.

The Value of What You Grow

The Value of What You Grow

by:
from issue:

There is a lot of value in the produce you sell that contrasts it from what someone can buy at the grocery store. First, you probably sell varieties that are different from what the grocery store sells. As you’ve probably tried dozens of different varieties, you can let the customer know why yours are different. Be brief and talk about things like taste and texture that are easy to get across.

Great Oregon Steam Up

Great Oregon Steam-Up Bonus Gallery

by:
from issue:

The best thing about the SFJ website is “unlimited real estate.” With each issue of the Small Farmer’s Journal comes the required agonizing over what to keep and what to sacrifice due to page space. What follows is a photo gallery of every picture we took at the 2016 Great Oregon Steam-Up. Why? Because we can! And, because there were a lot of interesting machines there that we are sure some of you will enjoy seeing.

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The Craft of the Wheelwright

by:
from issue:

In these days of standardization and the extensive use of metal wheels you might think there is little call for the centuries old craft of wheelwrighting, but the many demands on the skills of Gus Kitson in Suffolk, England, show this to be very far from the truth. Despite many years experience of renovating all types of wagons and wheels even Gus can still be surprised by the types of items for which new or restored wooden wheels are required.

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley A Farmrun Production by Andrew Plotsky

Bud & Mary Rickett

Buck & Mary Rickett: Successful Small Farmers

by:
from issue:

Ten years ago I answered a classified ad and went to a small western Oregon farm to look at some young laying hens that were for sale. That visit to Buck and Mary Rickett’s place made a quiet impression on me that has lasted to this day. On that first visit in ’71 my eager new farmer’s eye and ear absorbed as much as possible of what seemed like an unusual successful, small operation. I asked what must have seemed like an endless stream of questions on that early visit.

Ham & Eggs

Ham & Eggs

Max Godfrey leads Ham & Eggs, at Plant & Sing 2012 at Sylvester Manor.

Feeding Elk Winter Work for the Belgians

Feeding Elk: Winter Work for the Belgians

by:
from issue:

Doug Strike of rural Sublette County is spending his second winter feeding wild elk in nearby Bondurant, Wyoming. Strike is supplementing his logging income as well as helping his team of Belgian draft horses to keep in shape for the coming season. From May to the end of November he uses his horses to skid logs out of the mountains of western Wyoming. I found the use of Doug’s beautiful Belgian team an exciting example of appropriate technology.

Harnessing the Future

Harnessing the Future

by:
from issue:

En route to a remote pasture where the Belgian draft horses, Prince and Tom, are grazing, we survey the vast green landscape, a fine mist hovering in distant low lying areas. We are enveloped in a profusion of sweet, earthy balance. Interns and other workers start their chores; one pauses to check his smart phone. Scattered about are many animal-powered rustic implements. This rich and agriculturally diverse, peaceful place is steeped in contrasts: modern and ancient.

Meeting Place Organic Film

Meeting Place Organic Film

Local, organic, and sustainable are words we associate with food production today, but 40 years ago, when Fran and Tony McQuail started farming in Southwestern Ontario, they were barely spoken. Since 1973, the McQuails have been helping to build the organic farming community and support the next generation of organic farmers.

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

Within so-called alternative agriculture circles there are turf wars abrew

Raising Chickens on the Schekel Farm

Raising Chickens on the Scheckel Farm

by:
from issue:

We kept our eye on this rooster. He was high entertainment for 3 boys and 3 younger sisters on that farm. We didn’t give him a name, just called him “Rooster,” and Rooster ruled. Other roosters moved out of his way. Hens cowered when Rooster appeared. My dog Browser wouldn’t go near Rooster. Rooster was invincible. Or so he thought.

Another Barn Falls In

Another Barn Falls In

by:
from issue:

The barn was built around a century ago. A pair of double doors on the front flapped when the wind blew, and a short service door was on the side. It wasn’t a big barn, about 30 feet wide by 40 feet long with a small hay mow above. It had a couple of windows for light, and of course a window in the peak. There was a hitching rail outside that gave it a certain welcoming charm. A charm that seemed to say, “tie up to the rail, and c’mon in.”

Sack Sewing with Wayne Ryan

Sack Sewing with Wayne Ryan

by:
from issue:

Watching Wayne’s sure hands it was easy for me to forget that this is a 91 year old man. There was strength, economy, elegance and thrift in his every stroke.

Rainshadow Organics

Rainshadow Organics

by:
from issue:

Saralee Lawrence and Ashanti Samuels are Rainshadow Organics, a burgeoning, certified organic operation which fully embraces the tenets of mixed crop and livestock farming. At its core is a full-force market garden. The entire farm comprises one hundred and eighty acres situated in the magnificent, high desert region of central Oregon and subject to a painfully short growing season (some years just slightly over 2 months).

The Shallow Insistence

…a life of melody, poetry and farming?

The Real Work Karbaumer Farm

The Real Work Karbaumer Farm

by:
from issue:

A bold and opinionated German, Klaus moved to the midwest over 25 years ago from Bavaria and is currently running the only tractor-less farm in Platte County, Missouri operated by draft horses. Karbaumer Farm tries to “live and grow in harmony with Nature and her seasons” and produces over 50 varieties of chemical-free, organic vegetables for the community, providing a CSA or the greater Kansas City area.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT