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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

LittleField Notes Weather

LittleField Notes Weather

LittleField Notes

by Ryan Foxley of Arlington, WA

Agriculture comes first among human activities. Without it there would be no merchants, no courtiers, no kings, no poets and no philosophers. – Frederick the Great

Weather

So the country at large had a toasty, indeed worrisomely warm winter. Nationwide, February was all set to blow away the all time record — and would have easily done so if not for the Pacific Northwest. Here we were trapped in an ice box, depriving the rest of the country of its chance for the record books. It was definitely the coldest winter I remember since moving here some eleven years ago. In this normally mild maritime climate the winter garden is usually a real treat, featuring Brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, kale, and collards. This year the ground froze so hard and for so long that the winter storage carrots turned to a sickening orange mush, the kale hung limp and rotting on woody winter stalks. Cabbages turned first to giant pale green ice balls, then to a sick smelling rotting mess. Even the collards, the ultimate winter champion, fared poorly. Cover crops of oats and peas, which in many years do not die back at all, completely winter killed. This I didn’t mind, since knocking back a live, aggressively growing cover crop of oats or rye in the spring can be a bit of a challenge.

Someone said we only had five sunny days from October 1st to April 1st. I believe them.

For the first time this year I got serious about measuring rainfall here at the farm. I implemented my data collection system beginning April 15, 2016. Using a plumbob on a stretch of cable run through a pulley, I track rainfall in real inches by raising the plumbob marker over a homemade measuring stick with inches marked in sharpie fixed to the side of the garden shed. The rain gauge is close by on a fencepost. I check the gauge, dump the water and raise the marker. If I am to be successful in a data gathering exercise such as this, which goes against my natural inclination, I need a system in place so as not to rely on pencil and any random scrap of paper I may or may not find. With my first year complete, I measured 67 inches, an easy number for me to wrap my head around since that is also my height. That’s more than 5 1/2 feet of rain! Of course that’s nothing compared to the twelve or more feet that regularly falls in some locations due west of here on the Olympic peninsula. Still, it is enough rain to be officially classified as a temperate rain forest, for which classification 55 inches is needed.

Indeed rainforest evidence is abundant this year as bitter grey winter grudgingly gives way to slightly less bitter, but equally grey spring. Some big leaf maple branches are almost completely covered in bright green epiphytic moss, like Tolkien’s Mirkwood in the heart of Middle Earth.

The thick carpet of moss on the stones in the spring below the house belie the fact that they are stones at all. I expect to see fairies dancing on each little mossy knoll.

We are approaching May 1, when ordinarily I would plant corn and set out tomatoes, but the soil is still cold to the touch, more like late March or early April. I can’t imagine having any success with those crops yet. I wait.

Presidential Notes

Given the Equus Assinus currently occupying the White House, and my extreme aversion to anything resembling his countenance, I’ve decided to latinise the name of our Suffolk stallion. Henceforth Donald of Eagle Ridge shall be known as Donaldus Promunctorii Aquilae. I am confident that, if given a chance, even he would bring more intelligence, honor, compassion and truth to the office of President than the man currently holding that office.

LittleField Notes Weather

Horse Training

A few weeks ago I started training Stella, our two year old Fjord-Punch (Norwegian-Suffolk). She is of a sweet disposition and has since birth been around harnessed horses jangling in and out of the barn. So it came as no surprise to her when one day I picked up the harness and instead of putting it on her mother, I put it on her. She just stood there — barely flinched. One of the big advantages of raising and training home raised foals is that you know their history first-hand. And provided that you yourself have done nothing stupid to harm the mind of the young horse, the training should go fairly smoothly.

Stella’s training thus far has certainly borne that out. Each step has proceeded in succession without any problem to speak of. I have found that if a horse is trusting and has been regularly handled, the basics will come fairly easily. With Stella, I first harnessed her in the barn for a few days and just let her stand with no further expectation. Then I led her around the barnyard and on out to the round corral to begin the work of ground driving: Whoa, Go, Back, Gee and Haw (these last two at first communicated only through the lines, not verbally until I have hitched to a vehicle and can swing right or left).

Horse training at its most basic level is largely a matter of pressure and release. You apply pressure to the horse: to the right or left side of the mouth for gee and haw, both sides for whoa, and even, steady pressure on both sides for back. The reward is the release of the pressure felt through the bit on the mouth. In order for this to be effective, especially in the early going, the release must happen instantly. Timing is everything. For example, if I want Stella to turn right (gee) I will apply pressure through the lines to the right side of the mouth. At first just a movement of the head in the right direction is enough. In fairly short order she should come all the way around. Similarly, when teaching a horse to back, one step is enough at first. When a horse consistently gives you one step — ask for two, then three. Pretty soon, if you have patiently laid the groundwork, she’ll keep walking backwards all the way to the barn for you.

Teach whoa in like manner. Verbalize “whoa” and apply pressure to both sides of the bit, not with a jerk and not any harder than necessary. In the beginning the horse will likely have no idea what what you are asking. But the moment, the very instant she stops — you release. Ask the horse to step out again fairly soon so that she understands that resuming forward motion is your idea, not hers. Repeat — again and again until her equine mind starts to recognize a predictable and consistent pattern to the new language you are teaching.

A bit more about pressure/release: Keep in mind that the reward is the release. It may not seem like much of a reward, especially when compared to a carrot or a scoop of oats, but imagine you are sitting on a couch and someone plops down next to you and sticks their elbow into your side, not hard, but steady and firm. Chances are you won’t be comfortable like that for long and will scoot over in short order. You will feel a decided sense of relief when you no longer have a strangers elbow in your side. It’s the same thing with the horse. They just want to be comfortable.

The training process should progress from a basic desire to be free of pressure, to true communication in equine language, a vocabulary that the horse recognizes and takes action upon. For this reason we should strive to be ever lighter in our touch as the training process moves from teaching, through pressure and release, to communication through the lines and with the voice. Hopefully this distinction makes sense. To illustrate: if you are coming around the corner of a field with a team, say pulling a hay rake, you shouldn’t have the feeling of pulling the horses around the corner with the lines, i.e. forcing them with pressure, but rather of informing the animals of your intention to go around the corner, i.e. communicating your wishes.

As we move from applying pressure as a means of teaching a horse, to applying pressure as a means of signaling a horse, you should be working toward that place of stasis that Lynn Miller calls perfect tension, that critical point where the working relationship between man and beast comes into a place of mutual awareness, perfect harmony. Though easy to say, it is one of the most difficult things to master when learning to drive horses and must be learned over time and from long experience. Often I have accompanied an inexperienced teamster driving a fast-stepping team, and by a well-intentioned effort not to be hard on the mouth, the beginner will allow the horses to go faster and faster and until, if left unchecked the unfortunate logical outcome will be at best an uncontrolled trot-away, and at worst a full on runaway. I have actually had to take the lines in hand and slow horses back down, bringing them back to an awareness of my presence, my confident, authoritative presence. Not authoritarian, authoritative. There is a difference. While driving, you must maintain control at all times. Perfect tension does not simply mean being light on the mouth at all times. Perfect tension is an elusive target which will change depending on multiple factors: How long has it been since the team last worked? Is it early in the morning or late in the day? Are you plowing heavy clay or drawing an empty wagon along a gravel road? Going toward the barn or away? Is the wind screaming in their faces? Etc. Know your horses; consider the conditions. Perfect tension. Find it.

LittleField Notes Weather

Stella on the mower.

I was thinking about all of this yesterday when I hitched Stella to a real implement for the first time. We had been up and down the lane on the forecart for many days and doing quite well when I finally decided it was time to do some real work. I hitched her up to the Pioneer riding lawnmower (a swell machine) and headed for the house. When I dropped the gangs and the sudden whirring of the three reel mowers came up behind her she was, as I expected, startled, but true to form she quickly settled down. Once again she trusted that I was not going to send anything harmful her way. She passed the whirring lawnmower test with flying colors.

The tougher test came after I had completed the first round of mowing and attempted to cut back in for another pass. Stella wanted to go back to the barn and stand next to her mother in the tie stall, which was not at all what I had in mind. She stood there in the driveway and threw a two year-old tantrum. Our minds were met on a battlefield of the intellect with only one acceptable outcome.

Horses are herd animals and very much want to be with their stablemates. This is the first fundamental of horse psychology. The mind of a horse is guided by strong instinct built upon eons of behavior governed principally by both the flight mechanism and the desire to maintain safety by staying with the herd. Both of these powerful equine tendencies must be overcome in order for humans to enter into a useful working relationship. It is no easy task and there are no shortcuts. There is no substitute for time and repetition when it comes to reprogramming the ancestral mind of a horse. Of course some horses are more independent minded than others, and I expect that training a farm bred horse like Stella, with her mother standing in the stall at the barn, makes this task a bit more difficult. A horse that has traveled to another farm and left his mother will at least not have that maternal attraction (distraction) to overcome. That said, a horse is still a herd animal and is most at ease when around other horses. Sometimes when you find yourself at odds with the natural inclination of a horse to head home, especially in the early going, a little creativity may be required to avoid getting you and your horse into a pickle.

So it was that I found myself sitting at the proverbial fork in the road, Stella wanting to take the right-hand fork and go down to the barn, me wanting to take the left hand fork back onto the lawn. There she was prancing and dancing and tossing her head and absolutely refusing to swing haw and proceed onto the lawn. Make no mistake these situations are dicey and can turn ugly. In this case I cautiously stepped off of the mower and, with lines firmly in hand, walked up to her head speaking softly. Taking her by the halter, I led her back onto the lawn, where a barrier of rhododendrons in the front yard naturally blocked her way to the barn. On the next pass she protested some but went back for another round on her own.

Similarly, you will likely notice upon leaving the barn either horseback or driving, a young horse often will resist walking in a straight line, but instead zigzag, continually trying to thwart your intentions and turn back toward the barn. Of course when you finally do allow her to head for home you will be faced with the inevitable quickening of pace. This too can become dangerous in a hurry if you allow it.

The conditions described above are specific to training a single horse. When training a young horse with an older experienced one there are of course other considerations. There is much to say about the pros and cons of hitching a young horse single versus hitching as a part of a team, a subject I will return to in a future column.

LittleField Notes Weather

Rats

Only moments ago, indeed as I was sweating out the very words for this column, the two peacocks at the barn let out a shrill series of alarm cries. I knew in an instant something was wrong. I flew out the front door in my slippers just in time to see a big shaggy coyote ambling through the barnyard. I clapped and shouted and he tore off across the lower field scattering a bewildered milk cow and calf and several Canada geese in his wake. I am grateful to the peacocks for so reliably alerting me when trouble is nigh. Had they not sounded the alarm, I would likely have gone down in an hour to a barnyard scene of chicken carnage. I am careful to lock up the chickens at night, but for the last several months I have felt fairly confident in letting them run free in the daytime since the coyotes normally only frequent the area just at daylight and generally stay away during broad daylight hours. I suppose they are made bold by the need to find extra food to raise litters of pups this time of year. I wish that if they insist on frequenting the barnyard they would eat a few more rats and pass on my chickens.

Farming always has been a delicate game of give and take with the wild inhabitants of surrounding fields and woods. This Human business of making a living from the land inevitably finds itself sometimes at odds with other creatures also trying to make a living from the same patch of land. For the most part it is not that difficult to strike a harmonious balance. Sometimes this boundary sharing works to our great benefit, as when swallows nest in the barn keeping the fly population down, or when ladybugs go to work in the garden eating aphids. Other relationships are decidedly un-beneficial, and not infrequently, lines are crossed, and boundaries must be drawn and redrawn, relationships reestablished. A recent example illustrates my point.

We have experienced a robust rat population on the farm for the last year or so. I have trapped a few here and there but haven’t gotten too serious about it until recently when they forced my hand. I was shutting the chicken yard door one evening just after dark a couple of weeks ago when I heard a distinct splashing sound coming from inside the coop. “That’s not the sound of chickens roosting,” I said to myself, and quickly shut the little chicken door to the coop. Entering and turning on the light, I was horrified to see the place crawling with rats: gray rats, brown rats, big fat rats, little skinny rats, all hurrying and scurrying for cover, their long hairless tails poking out from under the feed bunk or behind the water trough, frantic in their sudden knowledge that the way out had been shut. It was the kind of scene that you hope to only encounter in nightmares from the safety of your own bed, with the sure, comforting knowledge that when you awaken it will have been only a dream. I felt like Jean Valjean in the depths of the sewers of 19th century Paris, unable to take a step without fear that one of the unsavory creatures might be underfoot, or worse, dash up my leg in a frantic hurry to find cover. No wonder I had noticed the chicken food disappearing at an alarming rate and eggs broken open, the contents spilled and spread over the unbroken ones in the nesting box leaving an unsavory mess.

I briefly took in the scene and then set about the grizzly, but necessary task of dispatching, i.e. killing them. I got the pellet gun which I keep at the barn for such purposes and shot every last one.

I can’t say I enjoyed this. Indeed there should be something at least slightly troubling to any well-adjusted human soul who knowingly and deliberately takes the life of another creature, even a rat. In the modern world we routinely sanitize and outsource our killing, whether it be pest or food animal. Chickens come from the grocery store cooler, their life snuffed out by an anonymous mechanism in an unknown location such that it is easy for the average consumer to forget that the animal was ever alive at all. Rats and mice are controlled by exterminators or poisons without ever having to face the reality that they too are living creatures who have no less interest in living than you or me. Even in my own life, it is somehow less troubling to to set a trap at bedtime and return in the morning to a dead rat than it is to set my sights on the living animal and pull the trigger. Yet in the end the result is the same. I am no less culpable for having set the trap than having pulled the trigger.

In the end, despite any misgivings we may have about killing, we must keep own meager lives in proper context of the world writ large. Living begets dying, dying begets living. Rats are a prey species in the grand scheme of things, with incredible rates of reproduction. By living in such close proximity to human activities they are by and large sheltered from predation by local predators — raptors and coyotes. These rats are imported and not native to this place — the noxious weeds of the animal world, with no long established evolutionary place in the natural ecosystem. They spread disease. They eat my eggs and chicken feed. They even managed to get into my potato storage bin and, in yet another horrific scene, turned the top few inches of my stored crop into a mix of watery, rotten, half eaten potatoes mixed with rat excrement. Disgusting. Utterly disgusting.

And so I put gun to shoulder and drew a bead on one furry little creature after another. I pulled the trigger, again and again until, except for the nervous rustling of roosting chickens, all movement ceased in the midnight coop. This is after all, my domain. I’m trying to eek out a living from this little patch of earth the same as everyone else, doing what farmers have done for generations, stewarding this bit of land where my livelihood and that of wild creatures intersect. And I try not to lose sight of the fact that it is a stroke of enormous luck to be born at the top of the food chain, with opposable thumbs and enormous brain. But I don’t let that go to my head either, for even I, the mighty warrior-farmer cannot escape the inevitability of my own dies mortui.

Spotlight On: How-To & Plans

The Anatomy of Thrift: Harvest Day

On the Anatomy of Thrift Part 2: Harvest Day

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. Harvest Day is the second in the series, which explores the ‘cheer’ that is prepared on the day of slaughter, and dives deep into the philosophy and psychology of our relationship to animals.

Horseshoeing Part 2C

Horseshoeing Part 2C

The wear of the shoe is caused much less by the weight of the animal’s body than by the rubbing which takes place between the shoe and the earth whenever the foot is placed to the ground and lifted. The wear of the shoe which occurs when the foot is placed on the ground is termed “grounding wear,” and that which occurs while the foot is being lifted from the ground is termed “swinging-off wear.” When a horse travels normally, both kinds of wear are nearly alike, but are very distinct when the paces are abnormal, especially when there is faulty direction of the limbs.

The Milk and Human Kindness Making Swaledale

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Swaledale

by:
from issue:

Swaledale is one of the lost British cheeses, nearly extinct, along with other more obscure farmstead cheeses which were dropped because they were not suited for mechanical cutting – too crumbly. Too much loss. I dug the basic method out of Patrick Rance’s wonderful book of British cheeses and I’ve made it for years. I love it, everybody loves it, it’s a perfect cheese for rich Jersey milk, it takes very little time and trouble to make, it’s easy to age, delicious at one month, or a year.

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

by:
from issue:

Let’s assume the beginning ‘farmer’ has absolutely nothing. Nothing but a will to farm and a reasonably normal body. The very first thing you must do is search out a farmer, preferably a farmer who farms close to the way that you want to farm. You must watch him, ask questions, do as you are told and learn everything you can. Very shortly you will be on your own and you will find that the more you learn now, the better you will be when you have only yourself to rely on.

Retrofitting a Fireplace with a Woodstove

How to Retrofit a Fireplace with a Woodstove

Because the venting requirements for a wood stove are different than for a fireplace you need to retrofit a stainless steel chimney liner. A liner provides the draft necessary to ensure that the stove will operate safely and efficiently.

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.

Lightning Protection for the Farm

Lightning Protection for the Farm

by:
from issue:

Lightning-protection systems for buildings give lightning ready-made lines of low resistance. They do this by providing unbroken bodies of material that have lower resistance than any other in the immediate neighborhood. A protection system routes lightning along a known, controlled course between the air and the moist earth. Well-installed and maintained, a lightning-protection system will route lightning with over 90-percent effectiveness.

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

Cultivating Questions: The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

It took several incarnations to come up with a satisfactory design for the bottom heated greenhouse bench. In the final version we used two 55 gallon drums welded end-to-end for the firebox and a salvaged piece of 12” stainless steel chimney for the horizontal flue. We learned the hard way that a large firebox and flue are necessary to dissipate the intense heat into the surrounding air chamber and to minimize heat stress on these components.

Homemade Cheese Press

Homemade Cheese Press

by:
from issue:

On the Gies farmstead we occasionally wallow in goat milk. From it we make our own butter, yogurt and cheese as well as drink some. This has prompted me to build a little cheese press to help with the extra milk. The press is made from inexpensive 1/2 inch thick plastic cutting boards used for the top and bottom plates and pressure disks, white pvc pipe, and a plastic floor drain cap.

Shed and Barn Plans

Below is a short piece from Starting Your Farm, by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller. Click the links below to see Chapter One of Starting Your Farm and to view the book in our online bookstore. “You may have purchased a farm with a fantastic set of old barns and sheds. You, on […]

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

by:
from issue:

Making a pair of tongs was a milestone for a lot of blacksmiths. In times gone past a Journeyman Smith meant just that, a smith that went upon a journey to learn more skills before taking a masters test. When the smith appeared at the door of a prospective employer, he/she would be required to demonstrate their skills. A yard stick for this was to make a pair of tongs.

The Tip Cart

The Tip Cart

by:
from issue:

When horses were the main source of power on every farm, in the British Isles it was the tip-cart, rather than the wagon which was the most common vehicle, and for anyone farming with horses, it is still an extremely useful and versatile piece of equipment. The farm cart was used all over the country, indeed in some places wagons were scarcely used at all, and many small farms in other areas only used carts.

McCormick Deering/International No 7 vs no 9

McCormick Deering/International: No. 7 versus No. 9

McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.

On The Anatomy of Thrift Fat & Slat

On the Anatomy of Thrift Part 3: Fat & Salt

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. Fat & Salt is the third and final video in the series. It is the conceptual conclusion to the illustrated, narrated story that weaves throughout the entire series, and deals instructionally in the matters of preserving pork.

Posts

Driving Fence Posts By Hand

Where the soil is soft, loose, and free from stone, posts may be driven more easily and firmly than if set in holes dug for the purpose.

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