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

Of Peace and Quiet
Of Peace and Quiet

The old wagon waits for a job.

Littlefield Notes: Of Peace and Quiet

by Ryan Foxley of Arlington, WA. Photos by Joe D. Finnerty

New tractors each year, and each one makes more noise than the last. The one in the valley now sounds like a big bulldozer. Round and round the alfalfa field, in fury. What thoughts it represents, what fury of man, what restlessness, what avidity, what despair. — Thomas Merton

Walk with me for a moment to the edge of the Waterfall Field. We can lean on the gate and let our gaze soak up the mid-summer scene: a perfect blue sky and not a breath of wind. The river runs straight and true the length of the field from end to end, though at this time of year the river is so low it can’t actually be seen from where we now stand. A neat row of maples, alders and wild cherry define the boundary between field and river, wildlands and cultivated. In the stillness you may hear the sound of salmon splashing; spawning in the gravely shallows just below the field as they perform a final act of procreative self-sacrifice.

Look to the far side of the field, opposite the river and you will see a western red cedar that will take your breath away. This giant was overlooked, forgotten or, as I prefer to think, left on purpose when this field was cleared back in the 1890s. It must have stood then, as it does now, a colossal sentinel, a gateway of sorts leading to the equally impressive waterfall cascading over solid granite with enough volume and force to make its own wind. I like to consider that even in those days when the woods of the Northwest offered the irresistible lore of timbered gold, a young man, proving up on this land stood poised with ax raised, and overcome by the sheer loveliness of the scene slowly lowered his ax and decided to simply let the old giant be, content to leave for future generations a glimpse of the splendors of a once virgin forest.

Movement catches your eye, and in the distance you see a threesome hard at work in the hayfield. Two Suffolk horses, heads bobbing, making good time followed by a man comfortably seated on a mowing machine. The waist high grass and clover falls steadily in neat swaths behind the mower. Swallows dip and dive as they glean their supper from insects flushed by the mowing. What you can’t help but notice is the quiet. From this distance the mower makes barely a sound; and the sounds it does make are so natural and intriguing that you’ll want to crane your ear, cock your head and learn more of this marvelous machine doing good work without aid of internal combustion. The verdant green of the field, the team at work, the placid river, the giant tree and waterfall elicit a scene worthy of a song, a sonnet – indeed a whole symphony!

Of Peace and Quiet

Blue Slate hen turkey.

The reverie is suddenly broken by the sound of a tractor arriving in the field across the river. Pretty soon the unmistakable sound of a baler is heard. The incessant, violent, rhythmic pounding as grass is forced into small squares, clouds of dust billowing up over the tops of the trees. In an instant our world has narrowed by degrees of magnitude, from bucolic agrarian vision to industrial efficiency.

There is a blinding, numbing effect created by industrial process, by the enormous noise of machines doing hurried, often shoddy work. When the world becomes too noisy our minds lose a certain amount of interior space; the world becomes smaller, more insular. Not only are the sounds of the day drowned out, but there is somehow less to see as well; and not just with the eyes, for we see with more than the eye, but with the heart also.

Quiet places are getting harder and harder to find. It used to be that a public library was always a good place to find peace and quiet. Indeed, I have fond memories of going to the classic brick library in my hometown with its endless dark corners and musty smell of old books. And the hushed silence! People, if they had to speak, actually whispered. The only sounds were those of the pages of newspapers being turned by old men and the dull thud of a librarian’s ink stamp on card as patrons checked out books. The irony does not escape me that as I pen these words about pastoral quietude at a table in the local public library I have heard no less than six cell phones ring; also the perennially annoying sound of music coming from several different sets of headphones; also the almost continual din of various electronic sounds including beeps, vibrations, clicks, electronic chimes and oh…now there is a young man nearby who is actually talking to his computer: “undo, re-do, undo re-do” over and over. And then a few minutes ago there was the loud and completely unhushed conversation about a recent trip to the county jail for stealing clothes…I must be getting old and cranky what with me expecting to find books and quiet in a library.

One of the distinct intangible products of small farms is an offering of peace and quiet in a world that seems to get louder by the year. Small farms are important because they grow food for local people to eat, provide income for the farm family, and provide for the stewardship of the local economy and land base. Yet their benefits don’t stop with these tangibles. They also offer an all- important place where one can experience again the quiet of the world. I have witnessed this time and again when city friends have come to visit us on the farm. They are almost desperate to experience a place of peace, which is difficult if not impossible to find in a busy urban world. Small farms, especially if they utilize real horsepower, provide a necessary haven of quiet in a noisy world.

Of Peace and Quiet

Spreading manure through the winter is an almost daily chore – helping to keep man and beast alike from growing soft around the middle.

Mangelwurzel (Beta vulgaris)

I want to introduce a very useful vegetable that I believe should come out of the shadows of obscurity and find its way onto more small farms as an important high yielding fodder crop. It is known variously as mangelwurzel, mangold, mangel beet, and “root of scarcity” and even at one time mango. It is something of a cross between a sugar beet and a table beet. Very large in size with individual beets weighing in at several pounds it can be an excellent way for small farms to become more independent of purchased livestock feed. It can be fed to chickens, pigs and cattle. I think maybe horses could be taught to enjoy them as well since we know they relish carrots.

I initially became interested in growing mangels when I pondered how to raise hogs here in the Northwest without purchased feed. Our consistently cool, damp weather is not conducive to growing field corn as is common in the Midwest. In the British Isles mangels have long been used instead of corn to balance a small grain ration. The mangel seemed a logical choice for our climate, which is similar to that of the British Isles where mangels have been a staple for hundreds of years. According to the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, mangels are “much relished by livestock – pigs especially doing remarkably well on [them].”

Mangels are known to do well on poor soils and under less than ideal conditions, hence the name “root of scarcity.” If times are particularly hard they are perfectly fine for people to eat as well as livestock. When cut open they have beautiful bulls eye circles, much like that of a chioggia table beet. With a dry matter content of around 12%, two thirds of which is sugar, it is no wonder hogs love them. The relatively low dry matter content is offset by the tremendous yield potential: between 20 and 30 tons to the acre on fertile ground.

I have found that hogs can eat them whole and I typically have not had too much trouble getting them to do so. However, this last batch of pigs we raised was initially fed for about three weeks on commercial hog feed from the local co- op supply. I don’t know exactly what they put in that commercial feed, but those were the most spoiled and finicky pigs I have ever raised. We had to shred the mangels in a hand cranked root chopper for several weeks to get them to eat them with anything resembling relish. Then we started chopping them into slices with a machete, which is a very effective and efficient way of preparing them.

I have read conflicting reports on feeding beet tops to pigs. However, I have always fed the tops right along with the roots and have never seen any deleterious effects. They seem to thrive on them.

I also feed mangels to chickens. As with the hogs, they eat them well if chopped, but they will also eat them whole, leaving behind only a hollowed out beet shell.

I prepare the soil as I would any other vegetable crop with plenty of good rotted manure and a winter cover crop of rye and peas. We usually direct seed mangels around the first of May with the Planet Jr. walking seeder into beds shaped with the cultivator set up with hilling discs. Each beet seed is actually a fruit – one “seed” will actually have several seeds in it. As a result, sometime in June, when the plants are three or four inches high they must be thinned to about 12 to 16 inches in order to produce good sized roots. I have tried growing mangels from transplants and have not found the extra work of transplanting to be worth the effort, as the transplants themselves still need to be thinned. Mangels tend to be a little slow to germinate, making a careful first cultivation necessary while the plants are yet quite small. Mangels grow with their shoulders well up above the ground making them easy to harvest by hand. However, I have recently found a horse drawn beet lifter that I am eager to try out next season.

In our climate most winters are mild enough that mangels can be left in the field and harvested as needed. In colder regions they should be dug and stored in the root cellar or in a special dirt covered storage mound called a clamp

Mangels, in addition to being good food for people and livestock, also have wider potentialities. There is a recipe for mangel beer dating to 1830. This inspired a city friend of mine to dig up thirty pounds of mangels and try his hand at making mangel vodka in a homemade copper still.

Mangels have been important enough in England that interesting cultural practices have grown up around them. In Wiltshire a game was revived in 2007 whereby teams of three tossed mangels at a large, leafless mangel affectionately known as “Norman,” the winner being the team whose mangel landed closest to Norman. There is also a tradition of mangels being carved similar to jack-o- lanterns, and of making mangel lanterns out of hollowed out roots.

Local Adaptation

One of the critical components of a healthy localized agriculture that the modern industrial system has lost is that of locally adapted varieties of livestock and crops. Here on the farm in the spring of 2011 we decided to try to turn a bad situation to the good by doing a little selecting for local conditions. We had a particularly nasty, cold wet spring and the vast majority of our 1/3 of an acre mangel crop did not germinate. I ruled out the possibility of bad or old seed by doing a germination test under controlled conditions. The crop was so thin as to be a total loss. There were, however, a handful of plants that managed to grow despite the adversity. What a great opportunity, I reasoned, to select for plants that will germinate under cold, wet conditions. We babied these tough little plants through the growing season and in the fall dug them up and stored them in the barn for the winter. Mangels, being a biennial crop, need to be carried over to the second year for flowering and seed production. Last spring we replanted about a dozen mangel roots and let them produce seed which we will plant this spring. If we continue over time to select for thrift and vigor in our particular microclimate, we will be well on our way to creating a crop uniquely adapted to local conditions. If this little project proves successful, the next step is to get the seed into the hands of other local farmers and gardeners with the hope that they in turn will save and share seed and hence spread little ripples of success and farming independence throughout the region. Magnify this little story by thousands of others like it across the country and you have the beginnings of real change. Like Paul Cezanne, quoted on the SFJ website, said: “The day is coming when a single carrot (mangel), if properly observed will set off a revolution.”

Of Peace and Quiet

Annie, the happy farm Lab.

Spotlight On: Livestock

Farmrun On the Anatomy of Thrift

On the Anatomy of Thrift: Side Butchery

On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals.

Oxen

Oxen

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The culture of the ox was rich across New England. On my road alone there were several good ox men for me to learn from, and many more in the surrounding area. Even the men who were too old to still be working cattle, would give of their time telling us stories of when working cattle was economically practical.

Horseshoeing Part 4B

Horseshoeing Part 4B

Forging is that defect of the horse’s gait by reason of which, at a trot, he strikes the ends of the branches or the under surface of the front shoe with the toe of the hind shoe or hoof of the same side. Forging is unpleasant to hear and dangerous to the horse. It is liable to wound the heels of the forefeet, damages the toes or the coronet of the hind hoofs, and often pulls off the front shoes.

Horseshoeing Part 5A

Horseshoeing Part 5A

All shoes whose ground-surface is provided with contrivances to prevent slipping upon snow and ice are called winter shoes. These various contrivances are produced by several processes called “methods of sharpening.” All methods may be gathered into two groups, – namely, practical sharp-shoeing and impractical. Only the first will be considered.

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 2

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 2

In the practice of Zen sitting meditation, a special emphasis is placed on maintaining a relaxed but upright sitting posture, in which the vertical and horizontal axis of the body meet at a center point. Finding this core of gravity within can restore a sense of well-being and ease to the practitioner. This balanced seat of ease is not all that different from the state of relaxed concentration we need to achieve to effectively ride or drive horses.

Working Steers and Oxen on the Small Farm

Working Steers and Oxen on the Small Farm

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For centuries, the skills of training steers for work and the craft of building yokes and related equipment was passed down from generation to generation. It was common for a young boy or girl to be responsible for the care and training of a team from calves to the age of working capability. Many farms trained a team each year, either for sale or for future replacement in their own draft program.

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Cheese

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Cheese

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Yogurt making is the perfect introduction into the world of cultured dairy products and cheese-making. You are handling milk properly, becoming proficient at sanitizing pots and utensils, and learning the principles of culturing milk. Doing these things regularly, perfecting your methods, sets you up for cheese-making very well. Cheese-making involves the addition of a few more steps beyond the culturing.

Ask A Teamster The Bit

Ask A Teamster: The Bit

I work at a farm that uses their team of Percherons to farm, give hayrides, spread manure, etc. One of the horses gets his tongue over the bit. I’ve been told he’s always done this since they had him. I have always thought: #1. You have very little control, and #2. It would hurt! The horse is very well behaved, does his work with his tongue waving in the air, and sometimes gets his tongue back in place, but at that point it’s too late. They use a snaffle bit. Any suggestions?

Ask A Teamster Perfect Hitching Tension

Ask A Teamster: Perfect Hitching Tension

In my experience, determining how tight, or loose, to hook the traces when hitching a team can be a bit challenging for beginners. This is because a number of interdependent dynamics and variables between the pulling system and the holdback system must be considered, and because it’s ultimately a judgment call rather than a simple measurement or clear cut rule.

The Milk and Human Kindness Caring For The Pregnant Cow

The Milk and Human Kindness: Caring for the Pregnant Cow

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Good cheese comes from happy milk and happy milk comes from contented cows. So for goodness sake, for the sake of goodness in our farming ways we need to keep contentment, happiness and harmony as primary principles of animal husbandry. The practical manifestations of our love and appreciation are what make a small farm. Above and beyond the significant requirements of housing, feed and water is the care of your cow’s emotional life, provide for her own fulfillment. Let her raise her calf!

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 1

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 1

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For the last ten years, I have made hay mostly with a single horse. This has not necessarily been out of choice, as at one time I had hoped to be farming on a larger scale with more horses. Anyway, it does little good to dwell on ‘what if ’. The reality is that I am able to make hay, and through making and modifying machinery, I probably have a better understanding of hay making and the mechanics of draught.

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

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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.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 3

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In parallel with making hay on the ground, nearly every year I have also made some hay on tripods. The attraction of this method is that it only needs one day of good weather to dry the grass sufficiently before it is put on the tripods, and then the hay takes very little harm no matter what the weather, usually coming out green, dry and smelling of hay two weeks later when it can be baled or stacked.

Horse Breeding

This is an excerpt from Horse Breeding by M.W. Harper, a Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin from January 1928. In breeding horses the perfection of the animals selected should be carefully considered. Occasionally stallions are selected on the basis of their pedigree. Such practice may prove disappointing, for many inferior individuals are recorded merely because such […]

Feeding Elk Winter Work for the Belgians

Feeding Elk: Winter Work for the Belgians

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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.

The Broodmare in Fall

The Broodmare in Fall

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Mares are not the major emphasis in the fall since they have performed their task of foaling, lactating and being re-bred. After foals are weaned, most breeders tend to focus on weanlings and yearlings that are being prepared for shows, sales and/or performance in the case of long yearlings. Fall management of broodmares is far more critical than some breeders realize and can directly impact foaling and re-breeding successes next year.

Words for the Novice Teamster

Words for the Novice Teamster

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Many people who are new to the world of draft horses are intimidated by what seems to them to be a foreign language. This “workhorse language” can be frustrating for novices who would like to use draft horses, or who would just like to understand what people who do use them are talking about. The knowledge of some basic draft horse terminology can end most of the beginner’s confusion about the special jargon used in this trade.

Living With Horses

Living With Horses

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The French breed of Ardennes is closer to what the breed has been in the past. The Ardennes has always been a stockier type of horse, rude as its environment. Today the breed has dramatically changed into a real heavy horse. If the Ardennes had an average weight between 550 and 700kg in the first part of the last century, the balance shows today 1000kg and more. Thus the difference between the Ardennes and their “big” sisters, the Brabants in Belgium, or the Trait du Nord in France, has gone.

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