Happy Spring 2014!

Happy Spring, Dear Readers!

We’re well beyond just a little excited about springtime and all that it brings. The daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths are coming up and all our fruit trees have promising little buds or blooms, which the bees are digging, and which we’re taking as a sign that our first ever orchard attempt has been, so far, at least, a success.
bees enjoying spring bloomsFruit Tree Blooms!
Of course, springtime also means we have poultry again! Well, to be honest, we’ve been back in the poultry business since sometime in February, but now they’re all big and strong and can be outside, and Outside’s starting to get warm and welcoming enough to be a good hostess. It’s a total win-win.Spring Chickens
Even before the birds were ready for the great outdoors, though, the weather was pretty cooperative in our neck of the woods. It’s been cold, sure, but it’s been dry, which is a big deal for brooding. We’ve been pretty fortunate on that front.turkey + fence turkey field + truck

Also in February, we sold all but one of our cattle. And the one we kept is staying ’cause she’s on the nest! It was a surprise, because we don’t have a bull, but this little tart jumped the fence and apparently got cozy with the neighbor bull. We’re pretty excited about it, though—this one will be our first conceived-here, born-here calf!

We DO have a few other calves right now, but they’re adoptees. The first one’s name is Mickey, and he weighs about 160lbs at 3 or so months old.Mickey! Mickey came to us in a sort of round-about way. Our neighbor, Kevin, got cattle early this year, and many were bred, so he’s had many successful births, effectively growing his herd. Sadly, though, one of those cows lost her calf, so Kevin got a young dairy calf to keep her company and help alleviate the pressure on her udder. But the cow was too clever and didn’t, even for one minute, believe that Mickey was HER calf, so he became a bottle calf, instead. Meanwhile, Matt had been thinking that maybe we should get a bottle calf for our little nephew (who’d been asking for a goat—this is close enough, right?), and since, for Kevin, keeping a bottle calf would be challenging (he has a full-time job and doesn’t live at the farm), the stars aligned and we got the calf! And though he’s not bottle-feeding anymore, he’s still super friendly and we get a kick out of watching him explore his world.

Mickey, Steegs, Kurt, Clark, Sarah CookMatt brought home the other 4 bottle calves a few weeks ago from the local dairies. Eager Steeger (Steegs)There’s Eager Steeger, or Steegs for short, and he’s for our newest niece. He showed up hungry and eager and we have yet to see him satisfied, which explains his name. Then there’s Clark,Clark! who we got for our other niece. Clark’s doing great now, but during week 2 here was feeling sorta puny. Fortunately, Yours Truly saved the day with a couple probiotic capsules as big as a a thumb, electrolytes directly down the gullet, and a syringe of some sort of magic from our vet. The remaining two calves are a matched set of Holstein-Angus mutts, and their names are: Kurt (named for Matt’s cousin) and Sarah Cook (as requested by my best friend, who just likes having farm animals named after herself—this calf joins a series of other Sarah Cooks on farms around this fine nation), and they’re our very own.Kurt

Anyway, selling the bulk of our cattle herd has allowed us to take advantage of the empty pastures and do some much-needed soil amending. In March, a very nice man with a hat named Doug brought a very large truck with a dump-bed and dropped a couple tractor-trailer loads of lime on the driveway of the new 40. Then Matt and our neighbor, Kevin, spent that evening (night) spreading it on the cattle-free pastures.

Also on on the pasture front, we’re in the process of converting a couple previously row-crop fields into pasture, which for now means planting oats for forage/hay. The long-term plan is to plant an endophyte-friendly fescue there, but since seeds for that grass are best planted shortly after its harvest in the fall, we’re too far out by the following springtime (at which point you start to lose some of the benefit of the endophyte-friendliness). So in the meantime, we’ve gone with the oats. After we make hay from them, we’ll sow the fescue, and once it takes hold, we’ll add in some clover. And the cattle will be the happiest clams.

Anyway, it wasn’t long before we were back in the cattle business. Matt’s a cattle man at heart, so we couldn’t really have gone long without a significant cattle project, and we didn’t. A couple weeks ago, he came home with 11 cows of the pregnant persuasion. So we now have 12 cows and 6 new teeny calves (whose mothers are no longer pregnant). And they’re so cute and clumsy you can barely stand it. Their eyes are all shiny and sparkly and their ears are ginormous. And their mothers are doing all the right things. 🙂new calf new cows cow-calf

Also new is our fancy new (under construction) garden! For Christmas this year, Matt gave me two little scraps of paper, both IOU’s, which sounds terrible for a gift, but it was brilliant. One IOU was for a bunch of bricks and the other was for a bunch of lumber which combined, are the fixin’s for a brick-paved, raised-bed garden! So we’re about … let’s say 34% through building it, and have started to populate the built bits with cool season stuff like greens, onions, radishes, carrots, etc., and have also planted some potatoes. This Easter will be dedicated to finishing the garden and getting a few more things in the dirt, including flowers, which I’ve been buying at the nurseries around here and keeping indoors at night for fear of too-cold weather. May 10 is our frost-free date, and I’m not sure I can wait that longnew gardenstuff coming up!I may gamble with a few plants.

What else…? Well, for one, the Feast Magazine buzz of last year was great for business, which has been lovely, and has helped us grow again this year. And growth is great, but it means we’re producing more and that there’s more work to do, so we’re finally getting some regular help for the first time ever, and it’s been great!

matt + truckMatt’s been loving the new trucks, too. There’s the new (to us, anyway) box truck for deliveries, which has been a trooper and is much more glamorous than the first box truck. And then, just this winter, Matt got a new (to us, only) farm truck and put a flat-bed on it. And it was about time, since his last pickup was in pretty tough shape. We just took the farm truck out to check on the cattle earlier in the week, and our nephew got to steer it. I think it was a pretty peak experience for him.

the new barn!In addition, the new barn we (well not we, personally, but you know what we mean) built last fall has improved our lives immensely, making the big weekly job of getting ready for deliveries pleasant, when compared to how we used to do things! Not to mention, it’s also become the perfect venue for farm repairs, of which there are many, so if you’re ever looking for Matt, that’s probably a good place to check.

farm at sunsetWe’re looking forward to this season’s promised sunny days and warmer weather. Everything’s getting green and the cows are calving. The beagles are happy (catching rabbits always results in happy beagles, and they got one this morning), so things on this here farm are good.

Late Spring + Early Summer 2013

Hello, Dear Readers.

I’m going to go out on a limb, and guess that you’re not shocked you haven’t heard from us in a while.

… I’m right? Thought so.

Anyway, as always, a lot has happened since our last update. Here’s what we’ve been up to:

Last time we posted, we had just gotten beyond the bountiful snows that replenished our area from the drought and things were starting to green up. Indeed, that happened. Things got REALLY green and lovely and we got plenty of rain this spring. In fact, it was downright soggy for weeks, and we began to think we’d taken the rain-dancing of last summer too far. Since, however, the rain has trailed off, and we’re back to little showers here and there, and back to a typical (nothing dire like last year, though) feeling that we could use some real rain.

It Got Green Here!

Matt tilling our garden in early April, when the daffodils bloomed and everything began turning green.

The early profusion of rain made for a very involved spring, in terms of chicken rearing. That’s because our chickens on range tend to just park themselves once it gets dark, and the rain would typically come just after dark, meaning that while the chickens may have had the sense to move under their shelters in a rain storm during the day, they were bound to become soggy, hypothermic cadavers after dark without our intervention. All this translated into many a dark, muddy, waterlogged-pajamas, evening. Of course, we survived just fine, but each time we had to perform this task, I’d see Matt shake his head and say something along the lines of: “Why do I DO this??! THIS is why normal people don’t raise chickens on range!” He’s right—it’s certainly no walk in the park. And it made us look back on last year’s drought with a bizarre fondness. That’s not to say that we’d like to see it repeat itself, just that we didn’t appreciate NOT having to chase chickens around in the rain and mud at the time—that it was part of the drought’s silver lining we didn’t see from in the trenches.

And not to worry—we’re not overly discouraged by muddy, nocturnal chicken wrangling. Chickens are our gig, after all, so we’ll persevere, Dear Readers. It’s all just part of the experience. You’ll have your delicious local chicken (via our fabulous retailers), we promise.

Anyway, this sounds like a lot of whining, but mostly, it’s been fine. Besides, things going well doesn’t make for lively blogging. 😉

Nephew + Garden + Beagle - Pants + Mud

Nephew + Garden + Beagle – Pants + Mud

We Got A Lot of Rain

We got a lot of rain

Fortunately, all that rain has made the pastures look great, so the cattle, chickens, turkeys, and bees are benefiting from that now, and since the rain’s let up, we’re mud-chasing the chickens less often. We still load up chickens each Sunday night for processing on Monday mornings, though, and having been at this for a few years, we’ve been improving our methods, and loading chickens on Sundays has gotten to be significantly easier—more a boring reality (assuming it’s not muddy and slick that is) than something we dread. And it’s only once a week, which is manageable.

Also new this year are improved shade-structures for our chickens in the pasture. Matt’s retrofitted hinged sides onto antique hay wagons. The sides fold out like wings to add more shade than just the wagon, itself. And they can also flop down to the ground, protecting the chickens from storms. These new wagon-shade-thingies have also allowed us to upgrade watering systems too. The water barrel now sits on the wagons, making it easy to move as we move the wagons, and it drips into overhead (for the chicks) nipple waterers (I swear that’s what they call them—I’m not making this stuff up). Anyway, we like it better so far, and the chickens have had no trouble at all adjusting to the new waterers, either in the field or as chicks in the brooder.

In other news, Matt’s Tuesdays have been jam-packed! Tuesdays, of course, are delivery days, and we’ve been very fortunate to have had a lot of orders for chickens and turkey this spring—enough that we weren’t freezing any early on (for anticipated winter orders). Matt generally has between 13 and 17 stops to make, plus the trip to and back from St. Louis. Sometimes, he even has a delivery or two in Columbia, but as he tells it, he’s a beast, and can handle it. And fortunately, as I mentioned a post or two back, he’s invented coffee (he was previously a non-believer, but has since discovered, and taken full advantage of it) in the past year or so, which has helped him find inspiration many early mornings. A typical Tuesday begins with some coffee and a bagel, and then a trip to the processor to pick up weighed-out chickens and turkeys, the a return home to freeze boxes (we’re caught up, now, thankfully) of whatever’s not filling that day’s orders (so that it may fill orders over the winter months), dictating invoices to his lovely wife, and embarking on the 3-or-so hour trip to STL, during which he generally stops in Linn, MO for a SubWay sandwich. The sub is something he actually verbalizes excitement over each week before he leaves. Anyway, then he’ll run around STL dropping off meat and produce and chatting with clients, finally stopping in at his folks’ house briefly, and heading home, sometimes stopping for one last delivery in Rosebud, MO. Then he comes home and crashes on our porch. He’s a champ.

Matt Leaving for Deliveries

Matt leaving for deliveries, wearing one of his new Buttonwood Farm shirts!

Speaking of our porch, it remains our favorite place on the farm, and we’ve had many informal gatherings there so far this year. Also, it’s half painted! My sister and a friend came last week to visit and help with a few projects, and one of the projects was painting the trim and floor. So we started with half of the floor and then I haven’t gotten to the next half. That’s on the list for this week. Anyway, it looks fab.

Some of the New Flower Gardens

Some of the new flower gardens off the porch

Also on the project list for when Sophie (my sister) was here was to ride Nelson (our ponybeast), and to mulch our flower gardens, which we did, and they look lovely! I’m especially impressed with how well the perennials we plugged in last year at the end of the season are doing, considering they didn’t’ have the benefit of being established before the winter. Early on this spring, I put in a bunch of annuals, too. Apparently Matt got a smokin’ hot deal on them at the produce auction (since it was a cool, soggy spring and no one was planting annuals), so he got me LOADS of them! I was so excited, at first, and am again now, but was less excited as I planted what amounted to 20+ flats of them (plus 6 mimosa trees). I love spending time in the garden as much as the next guy, but it really got out of hand. Anyway, it’s all paid off and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

As for riding Nelson, we did get in some riding time when Sophie was here during a tour of the farm, but more importantly, we got in plenty of quality mane-styling time. Sophie’s been really into braiding lately and gave Nelson the makeover of a lifetime. I’m not sure he appreciated it in quite the way we did, however. He was utterly engrossed in mowing our back yard at the time, and may just have been distracted by his appetite. Nelson’s also taken to doing a somewhat lecherous sounding neigh-laugh thing when he sees me in the garden near his water. I think he knows I’m a sucker and will take him an armful of weeds or spent plants (he was really digging the bok choy and radishes after they had gone to seed). It’s probably just an attention-getter (it works that way, for sure), but it’s pretty entertaining.

Nelson Looking More Fabulous Than Ever

Nelson looking more fabulous than ever, thanks to my sister, Sophie.

Also this spring, we had a visit from the lovely Maddie, of Local Harvest grocery, cafe, catering, and CSA. She stayed with us a few days and tagged along with Matt during her stay, something which is not to be underestimated. They worked cattle, visited the processor, introduced new chicks to the brooder, moved feeders for the field chickens, and all sorts of other activities. She was a great sport about it all, and was extremely pleasant, even cooking several delicious meals for us.

Maddie Earnest!

Maddie Earnest during her visit to our farm and a field trip to a local scrap purveyor (though he calls it merchandise), where Matt gets wagons, barrels, and various other metal items, out of which he builds a farm.

Our vegetable garden has been doing beautifully this year too! We got a later start than we’d hoped, due to the aforementioned sogginess of the soil, but we did finally get stuff in and it’s been positively glorious! Matt planted an early lettuce patch, shielded from the early elements by a glass door panel, which made for lots of fresh salads. Then we had bok choy, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, and peas, the tail-end of which we’re still enjoying, and now we’re into Swiss chard, green beans, cucumbers, summer squash, onions and leeks, and even a single early tomato! Also on its way in is Matt’s much anticipated sweet corn. He tilled up a new spot this year, separate from our main garden to put in larger plots of select crops, including sweet corn, and has been salivating about it all spring. It’s come up and has begun bearing ears. This weekend, we even cooked a few, and Matt was beaming with pride. 🙂  Also in his new plot are a few melons, which now are about the size of tennis balls.

Broccoli Right from the Garden

Our nephew enjoying broccoli right from the garden

Our Garden in June

Our garden in June

Near Matt’s new garden is our tremendous new orchard! Orchard, admittedly, may be an overstatement of the reality, but we just love being pretentious around here, so our little 10 fruit tree grove IS our orchard. The trees are around 8ish feet tall, and include two each of cherries, apples, plums, nectarines, peaches (how about that photo?), and we hope to add pears to the mix. It’s our little Noah’s ark of fruit production, and we couldn’t be more excited about it. We even got a few tiny cherries, plums and peaches this year. We’ve discussed that we probably can’t take full credit for them considering the fruits were already set, though tiny, when we planted the trees. But, to put it in sports terms, we had the assist. And we’re OK with that for now.

Our Very Own Peaches!

The are the peaches we grew in our new-this-year orchard!

There’s not really much exciting news to report about the cattle. They seem to be enjoying the green pastures and still, though we stopped feeding any silage when the grass arrived (also when we ran out of it, conveniently enough) follow the tractor when it goes through their space. In fact, last night, while I was preparing to load up chickens (also in the cattle pasture), our neighbor drove his tractor out to where I was (his 4-year-old granddaughter wanted to give me a Black-eyed Susan she’d picked), and they swarmed his tractor the whole way, and then looked confused when they left, leaving only a single gold posy, and not even for them.

Cattle Swarming the Tractor

Cattle Swarming the Tractor, remembering that it sometimes (used to) brings them delicious silage

As for the produce we’ve been getting for deliveries, the early tomatoes from our neighbors have been lovely and delicious! I’ve used them in cucumber-tomato-leek salads a bunch, as well as on pizzas, and have been really thrilled at the flavor. Matt’s chefs have loved them too. Field tomatoes have just begun to trickle in, as well, and we’re really looking forward to them. The farmers who grow them do a killer job! The summer squash have just begun, and we’ll soon have other favorites like cucumbers and bell peppers. Get excited, Dear Readers! Fresh, local summer produce is nigh!

Meanwhile, the bees have just now started to really kick into gear, according to Matt. He just last week, checked on all of them and was pleasantly surprised at how much more honey they’d collected since last time he’d checked. He’s hopeful that he’ll get at least as much honey as he did last year, but from half as many hives (we lost half our hives in the drought last summer), since they’re producing so much better with more flowers and nectar available. We’ve just begun to notice more bees around the house on our flowers too. I snapped this shot of them in the squash blossoms on Saturday, for instance, and this was just one flower. There were probably 10 bees on the squash alone that morning!

Bees Busy in our Squash Blosoms

Bees busy in our squash blossoms, gathering nectar to make delicious honey.

The current push around here is to finish the lean-to Matt’s constructing off the far side of the brooder barn. The new space is intended to brood the new turkey poults he’ll be getting in 2 weeks. So, it’s crunch time, for sure. Just yesterday, we set all the rafters in place and Matt hopes to get the rest of the structure built this week, and maybe even get the roof on. Dude’s a maniac. Fingers crossed time and events allow for that!

The New Lean-To In Progress

The new lean-to in progress

We have some adult turkeys now too. Turkey orders this spring were such that we’d have run out, if we’d stuck to our initial plan, so we’re doing two batches, one of which we’ve begun to process, as needed, already this year. Anyway, the turkey’s a hit. We’ve even gotten a few mentions from our clients on Facebook, etc. about it. 🙂

A Turkey Poult

A turkey poult from early this spring in the grass

The Adult Turkeys we Have Now

The adult turkeys we have now

Speaking of which, If you’re followers of the farm on Facebook (which I’d recommend, since our updates there are more frequent, albeit less comprehensive than the blog posts), you may have noticed I’ve been trying to post things more often to keep things fresher there. And I’ve been reposting some of the posts we’ve been mentioned in (generally by the fine retailers of our fabulous products). Good times, friends. Have a look.

Buttonwood Farm's Facebook Page

Buttonwood Farm’s Facebook page. Go like us!

Of course we’re always discussing improvements and ways to streamline, making our little operation more efficient, and have a few ideas tumbling around in our heads, now, as always. We promise to keep you abreast (ish, as you know we’re bad about posting) of anything we actually elect to do. In the meantime, we’re going to keep plugging away at things and hope things keep going the way they have.

… And we’ll keep on lovin’ on these beagles.

Berry Being Majestic

Berry being majestic

Minnie Being Bashful

Minnie being bashful

Starting Summer…

It’s been plumb busy here!

We have more chicks and chickens than you can shake a stick at, and the projected number for this year keeps growing. We’ve mixed up our field method this year, and it’s helped a ton. Last year, we had many small pens we’d have to move each day. But this year, we’ve invested in lots of electric netting, which allows for bigger spaces and more grass for the birds to enjoy. It also means less nit-picky labor for us. We’ve also improved our watering methods, in an effort to streamline our process, while maintaining the quality of our product.

In the same vein, we’re especially excited about our new labels! Eleanor does graphic design and worked up the snazziest label chickenkind has ever encountered. We’re pretty proud of ’em. Also in an effort to streamline our ordering and delivering, we’re now packing birds in nice, new wax boxes, which are Matt’s new favorite thing–he’s obsessed.

And most exciting is our new chicken processor! He’s just a few miles from our house, and is state-inspected and full-service, meaning he takes care of everything–all we have to do is deliver chickens and then pick them up, beautifully packaged to our specifications. What we love most about this, is that processing doesn’t waste a day for Matt anymore! He gets up pretty early, but he can still come home and still get a full day’s work done. And there’s plenty to be done.

We just expanded our front yard too. The 40 acres across the street went on the market, and though at first, we weren’t interested, the longer it stared at us, the more interested Matt got, and the more sense it started to make. It came with an insulated barn with nice wooden stalls, and it will be a perfect brooder space, and a certain improvement on the current brooding space. Also, the acreage is nice–it has pasture, which we just had hayed, and a bit of woods, too.

It’s been dry here, particularly this May, which means pastures are growing slowly. It also means that there’s less clover blooming now, so our hives look good, but they’re not putting on as much honey as they would if we’d had more rain. That said, Matt harvested a tiny sample of honey a month or so ago, and it was delicious!

The local produce we’re getting this year looks great as ever! The tomatoes are the picture of perfection and have had really, genuinely good flavor. The asparagus has been tender and delicious, the cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash look and taste wonderful, and we’ve had some of the loveliest (and HUGEST) blackberries we’ve ever seen. And we’re looking forward to peppers and green beans coming available soon.

And for the cattle update, we did get calves–about 100 of ’em, and they’re getting meatier by the day, and look great. We’re feeling really great about them this year.