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

Springtime! (and catching up, since we’re blogging slackers)


We’re the worst bloggers ever. You’ve probably noticed, as you haven’t heard from us in months. Sorry ‘bout that.

Anyway, here’s the scoop. I’ll work backwards.

It’s finally getting springy around here. Well, we hope it is. That is we hope that it will stick. Exactly two weeks ago, it was in the 70s here, and I even wore flip-flops that afternoon to feel the lovely breeze on my pale winter-whiney toes. It made them happy. Then that night it got cool and didn’t get genuinely lovely again until today (now yesterday), which was glorious. Today was also the day that my daffodils finally bloomed! Also today, we took Nelson, our ponybeast, who’s gotten to be one seriously shaggy dude, out for his first real ride since the blizzards. Yesterday, he got a pedi. Nelson, that is.

Matt riding nelson between the box truck and the tractor, which has the silage wagon attached.

Matt riding nelson between the box truck and the tractor, which has the silage wagon attached.

Our first major blizzard came and dropped twenty-something inches of DENSE, wet snow! Then we lost power, which was neat. And we’d begun brooding chickens already by then (early this year, since we sold out of our frozen stash faster than we’d anticipated), but thankfully, Matt had, just weeks before converted the brooder heat to propane, instead of electric lamps, so no harm done—no one froze! We did miss the running water, though, both in the house and barns

LOTS of snow this winter.

LOTS of snow this winter.

We were lucky, and got electricity back within a day or so, though. Lots of folks in our area were out of power for several days. Which reminds me, that I should impart this clever tip: a neighbor and farmer friend suggested that we fill the bathtub if we’re expecting a big storm or blizzard. Says he does, and though we’d never thought to do it before this storm, we’ve vowed to do it going forward, seeing how out of luck we were without water. Shortly thereafter, as the most recent storm approached, we got to enact our vow, plus we extrapolated and also filled jars and pitchers for drinking water. We never lost power this time, but if we had, we’d have been set!

Did I mention we got a LOT of snow?

Did I mention we got a LOT of snow?

Since we got so much snow, Matt had to get creative to get chores done. The first morning, when we’d gotten over a foot overnight, Matt literally skied down to the silage pile, and he didn’t do it to be goofy—it was out of near necessity. The snow was so deep and heavy, you could barely walk in it, and trying to do chores would’ve been murder, so the skis kept him on top of the snow and made the trek more manageable, and even a little fun. Though, he was pretty bummed when he got down to the pile, finally got the loader started, and it promptly ran out of fuel. He had to ski back up the hill, grab a can of fuel, ski back down, and was finally able to load the wagon.

Chore skiing

Chore skiing

Later that same week, once there had been some nice sunny days and an icy crust had formed on the top of the snow, Matt, Berry, Minnie (Berry’s beagle mother), and I had an arctic outing on property. Matt skied, I hiked, and Berry shouted at him. (She’s not a fan of skis, we learned. She’s also not a fan of bicycles or horse and buggy combos, and neither is Minnie, so it’s always a treat for the Mennonites who go by our house. We have to literally call off the dogs and apologize. Fortunately, the mild-mannered Mennonites don’t seem too worried about it, and she’d never hurt them, of course, but she launches a verbal attack each time.

For anyone who’s worried, yes, our porch survived. In fact, our porch was a champ, and has been a fine venue from which to feed and watch the birds, which is my new favorite thing.

Our porch standing proudly despite the snows

Our porch standing proudly despite the snows


Feeding the birds from our porch.

Feeding the birds from our porch.

Anyway, the snows, while somewhat inconvenient have been an absolute gift! As you may remember, our area suffered from a crippling drought last year—the worst our county has seen in 30 years, so this was a VERY welcome bit of moisture. And what’s great about snow vs. the same amount of rain is that it sticks around longer and, as it melts, actually absorbs more effectively into the soil than rain does (rain tends to run off, meaning we don’t really get the same sort of benefit out of it). So we’ve learned that if, heaven forbid, we experience such wicked drought again, we should perform snow jigs in conjunction with our rain dances.

In related news, Matt found an updated map of the drought yesterday, and reported happily that it looks like we’re nearly recovered now!

All this recent precipitation means we’ve got stuff greening up like mad around here! The pasture where the turkeys were last year is positively glowing green, and the others aren’t far behind. Also, though we planted them very late in the season and weren’t sure they’d take, the shrubs and perennials in our porch garden and around the house seem to be coming back. Plus, as I mentioned, the daffodils are blooming, the hyacinths are nearly to that point, and the tulips are following suit. So, though it’s supposed to rain more and get a bit chilly again this weekend, I’m confident spring’s on it’s way. For real, this time.

Our porch garden coming back. Picture from a couple weeks ago. It's even happier looking now.

Our porch garden coming back. Picture from a couple weeks ago. It’s even happier looking now.

Before that, the big deal in these parts was the beam. “The beam” may not sound significant to you, dear reader, but it is exceptionally significant in our household. And that’s because the beam replaced what used to be two walls that divided our living room, dining room, and kitchen into three tiny, stupid rooms. Well the living room used to be an OK size, but the other two were genuinely stupid. So NOW they’re all one lovely (ish… there’s plenty more glamorizing to do, but this was a GIANT leap for wonky-farmhouse-kind) space, wherein I can be boiling tea or slicing veggies, in what used to be our tiny, sequestered kitchen box, without losing out on the action in the living room!

The beam!

The beam!

Matt and I had ordered lumber for the beam early last spring, but never got around to putting it in, so Matt’s older brother, who’s a timber frame pro and his charming and lovely wife, gave me a “we’re coming to do your beam” voucher for Christmas! And they did! And it’s amazing!

Also, we replaced our old two-story stove. What’s that? You’ve never heard of such a thing, you say? I’m not shocked; it was a pain to use, and went extinct shortly after it’s own brilliant invention, I’m sure. Ours came with the house. Anyway, now we have a single story unit (my folks’ old stove), which has added to the openness the beam provided. The whole effect is the bees knees, so I’m looking very forward to preparing some delicious fresh meals there this summer!

Before all the blizzards, before the beam, and before we began raising chicks for the year, we were on our big winter (cause when else can farm folks get away?) Down South & Out West vacation. It was pretty great. We started in OKC, celebrating the holidays with Matt’s grandparents, followed Matt’s fabulous uncle and aunt to Austin for an amazing New Year’s Eve concert and sight-seeing, and then followed them to their home in Brownsville, TX, where they showed us all the coolest stuff in the area, took us to Mexico for a day, and sent us off along the rest of the Rio Grande. We camped in Big Bend National Park and learned that Texas has mountains (who knew??); soaked in a hot springs in Truth or Consequences, NM, where my bougainvillea froze in the car; visited Great Sand Dunes National Park; and finally biked, hiked, soaked, and skied with friends in Salida, CO. Also we ate on this vacation. Loads. Everywhere we went, in order to sample the local fare. We put a lot of miles on the ol’ Subaru too, but it was a pretty great trip, so the miles were well worth it.

Guess which city...

Guess which city…

Texas. Near Big bend. That's the Rio Grande.

Texas. Near Big bend. That’s the Rio Grande.

At Great Sand Dunes National Park

At Great Sand Dunes National Park

Near Salida, CO, on a hike with our pals, Benny and Tracey.

Near Salida, CO, on a hike with our pals, Benny and Tracey.

And since Matt’s very competent younger brother watched the place and looked after the cattle for us, we had nothing to worry about while we were gone. Though I did think a lot about Berry and Minnie, who stayed in MO, and whom I missed dearly.

Before our vacation was the holidays, and for us that means Christmas tree season. The Home Grown Trees (Matt’s family’s really, really good pal and partner in the business—actually the same fellow who married the two of us—grows the trees in Northern Michigan, where we used to live) tree lot is something Matt’s family has been doing, and enjoying immensely, for years. This year’s lot went great at the new location, and we’re already looking forward to next year.

At the Home Grown Trees Christmas tree lot. Matt and his brothers and dad, Benny, from Michigan, and the short one's our nephew.

At the Home Grown Trees Christmas tree lot. Matt and his brothers and dad, Benny, from Michigan, and the short one’s our nephew.

Aside from Christmas tree season, the holidays were also the holidays, and our holiday celebrations were exactly lovely and precisely delicious. We have really wonderful families

Before that was Buttonwood Farm’s very own turkey season. The turkeys this year were hilarious, and loved their grassy roaming zone. We had a good variety of sizes for our customers, and just the quality we’d hoped for. We had about half of them processed for Thanksgiving in St. Louis, and the other half processed a week later and frozen as whole, ground, legs, drumsticks, breasts, wings, necks, and backs. It was a heck of a project, but we were proud of the result. It made all our (mainly Matt’s) hard work seem worth the effort.

Matt with his flock, looking proud.

Matt with his flock, looking proud.

Perfect timing on this one! Caught her mid-shout.

Perfect timing on this one! Caught her mid-shout.

Also rewarding is that this year we got a sliver of limelight when one of the local TV stations did a blurb about how best to do a Thanksgiving turkey. It was a demonstration by one of the chefs we work with, who used one of our turkeys, and was kind enough to say so, promoting our methods!

Anyway, it’s always a bummer to see the turkeys go, because they’re so curious and entertaining. Some of this year’s most memorable turkey moments were when our toddler nephew would visit and run among (and amok with) the turkeys. They’d just chase (though that sounds aggressive, and they weren’t) him around all over, until he ran back into a flock of them flailing, after which the whole process would repeat itself. I should really post a video, ‘cause my words just aren’t doing the scene justice… We’ll see if I can figure that out. Anyway, it was incredibly funny and adorable.

Matt caught a turkey for our nephew to pet. He looks suspicious.

Matt caught a turkey for our nephew to pet. He doesn’t seem to be getting good reviews.

They're so inquisitive.

They’re so inquisitive.

Also during our turkey season, Berry, our mascot and the world’s finest beagle-mutt got sick. Spoiler alert, she’s great now, so no worries, but she was in really, really dire shape. She had Ehrlichiosis from a tick (though she’s always been on tick preventative), and it was awful. It’s not an illness you hear about, but it’s sorta like Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever—another Rickettsia bacteria. Apparently, it’s pretty common in our area and in St. Louis, and in case I wasn’t clear, it’s awful. It can hide out in your pup for a long time and then attack brutally (Berry even had seizures!), but thankfully, treatment is simple and works very quickly! Anyway, just something to be conscious of, dear readers. Ticks are a big deal. So is Berry.

That got a little glum… Sorry ‘bout that.

Berry has SO recovered!

Berry has SO recovered!

On a WAY lighter note, as I mentioned our porch survived the blizzards as well as the fall and summer, and we loved every moment on it. Already this year, we’ve grilled a couple times, and have had coffee/tea and a few brisk lunches on our porch. Today’s lunch out there wasn’t even all that brisk. The porch is still not quite finished; we have yet to paint it an add trim and railings, for instance. Need to apply the gutters too, but it’s a mostly functional space, and we enjoy sitting out there, admiring the garden, and watching our cattle grazing across the road.

The box truck also survived the year! And best of all, it’s got new tread and tires (thanks to Matt’s very, very generous cousin), so Matt’s fallen in love with it all over again. He says it drives WAY better, and he’s convinced it sits higher. On a side note, we’ve learned that with its new tread and better traction, it can pull out the tractor when it’s stuck, his other truck, the neighbor’s snowed-in vehicles, etc. A very handy tool, indeed. We’re talking about painting our logo, etc. on the sides of the box, but Matt’s campaigning that we should really have a picture of him on there, instead—one with a cheesy, overly enthusiastic smile and thumbs-up, holding a chicken.

chickens on pasture

chickens on pasture

As for what else is new or in the works this year, we’re looking at expanding further, meaning we’ll do a few more birds, probably build a new brooder space, specifically for the turkeys, and that we have more cattle this year too.

In fact, right now we have double the cattle we thought we would, since we have yet to sell last season’s herd, because the drought set back the whole process. It threw off the prices of grain, and devastated grass and the amount of weight cattle were gaining from it, thereby negatively affecting cattle prices and how big our cattle were. Shockingly, that was NOT a recipe for success, so we didn’t sell them last fall like we’d planned to. We kept them, fed them hay and silage, and Matt plans to sell them in the next several weeks.

The new calves, meanwhile, are crazy cute. And, though neither set (old or new) is grown adults, these fellas are much smaller than the first batch, which reminds us that last year’s calves, who started about the same size, really have come a long way under our tutelage.

Curious and adorable new calves.

Curious and adorable new calves.

Both teams of calves get a bit of silage each day. Matt starts calling them a bit before he heads out to feed them, so they’re all ready and waiting at the gate, and then it’s pretty stinkin’ cute to see all of them chasing after Matt on the tractor with the big wagon. Many actually walk along and eat as he’s driving, their faces shoved into the moving silage stack.

Mouths watering, waiting for Matt and his silage wagon.

Mouths watering, waiting for Matt and his silage wagon.

Moving silage in the snow.

Moving silage in the snow.

The snows made the feeding process very challenging. Matt’s tractor wouldn’t do the trick, so we had to borrow our neighbor’s steel-wheeled tractor. And thank heaven we did, or the calves would’ve been hungry. However, Matt’s learned that the Mennonite lifestyle (when it comes to steel tractor wheels, anyway) is not for him. So he’s in the market for a new (to him) tractor that will do the job. One with regular tires, if you please.

I mentioned the propane brooder heat improvement earlier, but Matt’s also been preparing for the summer heat out in the pasture. Of course, last year was especially brutal for our birds with the heat and drought, and surely most years won’t be so rough, but we’re improving our shade methods anyway. Matt’s just gotten several old hay wagons, and is preparing them to serve as new shelters, in addition to the shelters we had last year. We’ve also been discussing new, more efficient methods of watering the birds in the field, so stay tuned (I’ll try to make it a point to post again before December, but don’t bet the farm on it) for what we decide there.

You can kind of see the netting (last season's big chicken improvement) in the back of this shot. It keeps the birds contained, but more importantly, it keeps the bad guys out.

You can kind of see the netting (last season’s big chicken improvement) in the back of this shot. It keeps the birds contained, but more importantly, it keeps the bad guys out.

In other news, we’ve just yesterday been to visit our pals, the Zimmermans, the Mennonite family who grows the majority of the produce we sell, and they’re well on their way in terms of production this years. Their greenhouses are already up and at em, and the day we were there, they were planting candy onions in the field. So we’re very hopeful about this year’s produce.

As I’m writing this, it’s pouring outside. But it’s not an angry, oppressive rain. It’s a hopeful, friendly offering. And I’m choosing to think of it a bit like seed money—like an investment for the purpose of starting something great or doing something amazing. That’s how this year is going to be. I just know it.

I’m hoping hard about it, anyway.

So that’s that. We’ve covered a lot of ground, both literal and figurative, since my last post, and are looking so very forward to what this year will bring. We’ve got lots on our plates, but we seem to thrive that way.

Despite the Drought: The Good Stuff!

Sorry about the depressing drought business in the last post. Unfortunately, we’re full-disclosure sorts of folks, so that’s what you get. But this way, you’ll appreciate this happy post SO much more!

On to the good stuff!

On a high note, the produce we’ve been getting is still beautiful! Our neighbors who grow it have been irrigating like mad, but their efforts have paid off! The tomatoes, in particular, are just as lovely as ever and we recently canned around 50 quarts, we love them so much. Our chefs, restaurants and CSAs love them too and have been very happy with the produce this year.

They’ve been very pleased with chickens, as well. We’re proud to say that despite the drought, we’ve maintained our high quality standards.

Some new chicks in the brooder barn

And on another high note, and as promised, the front of our house and new porch are roofed! In fact, we’ve spent many nights this summer on our porch. It’s Matt’s new favorite place to take pre-naps (what he calls it when he falls asleep on the porch before he actually goes to bed for the night).  It’s a great place for breakfast and coffee too.

A porch process shot. Just before we got the roof on that side too. Please note Matt’s giant hat. He’s pretty proud of it.
(roofed porch photos to come in future posts)

Which reminds me, Matt, who until about 6 months ago was vehemently opposed to consuming coffee, has become a regular coffee drinker, and he likes it STOUT! He makes it using too much ground espresso in our French press. Then he just vibrates the rest of the day on the farm, achieving productivity miracles! It’s new his favorite thing. Almost…

I say “almost,” ‘cause Matt’s actual favorite part of the season has been his new BFF, Nelson. Nelson is a mostly-whiteish with grey speckles and splotches, supremely stout pony, and he and Matt take regular rides out to check on the chickens and “beeves” (cattle) as Matt calls them. Nelson had an eye issue when we got him, and we soon learned it showed all the signs of cancer, which was devastating news. So we took him to the vet, who agreed it looked like cancer, but upon further inspection, determined that the swelling was actually a result of an injury! We just had to apply antibiotics for a few days, and now Nelson’s good as new! The cancer-but-not incident sealed the bond between chicken farmer and steed. Now they’re inseparable, which is especially ironic, considering Matt’s lifelong indifference (bordering on antagonism) of the idea of horses and horse-peopledom (that is owning horses for largely cosmetic reasons). Though, in his defense and in his own proud words, “I’m a pony man, not a horse man!”

This is Nelson, Dear Readers.

A man and his pony…

Nelson helping Matt on his Phone

Easily my favorite photo of the season

We sought out Nelson because Matt got a hankerin’ for an equine (a mule, originally, but that’s a different story) and since we’re not horse-pros (shocker, right?). Nelson was the mellowest equine either of us has ever met, and thereby seemed unlikely to be a danger to us, which was exactly what we needed—“lobotomized pony” was our mantra. And he’s still quite mellow (seriously, this fella used to be a pony-ride pony—they type kids walk under and around and stick to with their cotton candy hands and faces at the carnival), but after we wormed him using a delicious-smelling apple paste, he got a bit more personality and spunk. So, naturally, we’ve made it a point to remind him what a “rotten pony” he is every time we see him, in an effort to keep his head from swelling.

But to put Nelson into perspective, I should tell the slightly abridged Equine Acquisition Operation story. Exactly three days before we met Nelson, Matt decided, very much out of the blue, that he needed a mule. The mule had to be “dead broke,” as Matt would say, so he wouldn’t have to worry about getting hurt or training the beast. He found a mule that sounded promising on craigslist that evening, and we went to scope him out. We got there, and on our walk toward the pen where they kept the mule (and his comrade, Goat Man, a rather powerfully-scented goat who took a liking to me), we learned that, while he was “broke-to-ride” six months ago, he was barely approachable now, even with treats. So naturally, I had internally decided (and was 100% certain Matt had done the same) that this was not the mule for us. Unfortunately, I was dead wrong about Matt’s thinking. He took one long look at the handsome mule and asked “how do we load him?!” I was shocked. We were about own an incredibly recalcitrant mule, and had no idea how to deal with said beast. And that was just the start.

As it turns out, the mule’s owners didn’t have a corral or any good way to load him into our trailer, so the operation became a full-blown rodeo, during which Matt free-style lassoed him at one point, shocking us all,  but especially himself! Also, one of the mule’s previous owners was nearly trampled in the operation. All-in-all, it was nearly a three-hour affair. This mule made us earn him.

On the way home, we officially deemed him “Nelson” (wait, there’s an explanation!), having decided we would (if we came to own him) the previous evening. We had high hopes that, with a little TLC, Nelson, the mule, would return to is 6-months-ago ridable status over the coming months. But, despite our best intentions and efforts, our interactions with him didn’t improve. In fact, the next morning, we spent nearly two hours just trying to get a halter on him, which was utterly unsuccessful and far too dangerous (for a couppla horse dopes, like us) to pursue beyond that point. And that’s why we REnamed him “Richard.” (If you wish to understand our reasoning, simply drop your mind in the gutter—there you’ll find the rude, nickname-for-Richard pun, which will shed light on our new name choice. Though, out of respect, we’ve been calling him by his full name.)

I’d post a photo of Richard, but I have only one, and it’s awful, so I’ll spare you.

Richard was, indeed, a beautiful mule, but, as I’m sure you can tell, he was not the equine for us, which is why we got the Real Nelson (Matt’s favorite pony) three days later, and why he’s our only equine now. That’s right, we found a new home for Richard as well as one for our first three steeds, the donkeys!  It was sad to see them go, but their new owners said we’re welcome to visit them.

The donkeys watching Nelson when we first got him. Dennis, Shirley, Laverne.

Also on the list of good news is that Matt and his dad, Mike, and brother, Pat, extracted honey last week. And while the yield was MUCH less than they’d anticipated before the drought, it’s delicious, just like last year, and is now available for purchase, from either our farm or Mike and Pat.

But enough about steeds! In other news, Matt’s preparing another freezer to hold our planned winter stash of chickens and turkeys, and has changed his storage method in order to make more efficient use of the space within the freezers.

The cattle are a mixed bag. Some look great and are putting on weight well, and others seem to be a little stunted by the drought. Thankfully, we should have enough pasture and hay to maintain them over the winter, which is our new plan, since they won’t be a big as we’d hoped they would in November (when we had originally planned to sell them).

The cattle getting a drink

And to top all this good stuff off, the biggest event of our summer was—drumroll, please—our trip to the zoo (and St. Louis Science Center!) with our favorite horse-and-buggy Mennonite family! It was so cool in so many ways, that it’s hard to know where to start with the story! First, Matt was super excited to be driving a 16-passenger black van the family had rented. Next, since this was to be this family-o-twelve’s main family vacation, we picked them up and got on the road REAL early for a Saturday—4:30am (which was imperative in order to get to the zoo when it opens!). Matt and Mark talked about farming and machinery the whole drive to St. Louis and Esther and I covered all sorts of topics, but we always enjoy their company. They’re some of our favorite people.

We had a good time at the zoo—we rode the carousel, made it to the children’s zoo early when it was free, and got “attacked” by a giant gorilla through the glass and saw nearly everything. Then we headed to the Science center, which was a ball, and was a HUGE hit with the kids (and Mark!). At one point the oldest boy in the family said something like. “we should’ve come here first!” As though there wouldn’t be enough time to explore it all, having spent so much time at the zoo. But we explored it quite thoroughly, the crowd favorites being the mind puzzles on the second floor, a few of the presentations we saw, and some of the architectural displays. Finally, we ended the day with a fun and delicious barbecue at Matt’s folks’ house, before driving and chatting the three hours back home, dropping the family off after midnight, and loading up on produce—Esther sent us home with all sorts of peaches and melons and stuff!

Otherwise, it’s lots of the same daily and weekly grind. Deliveries have been going quicker since Matt’s been more consistently printing off invoices ahead of time (filling them out at each drop-off was surprisingly time-sucky). We keep improving our methods for loading the chickens the evening before they’re processed, too. It used to be something we absolutely dreaded, but now Sunday nights, while not something we look forward to necessarily, aren’t so awful at all—just a reality.

Certainly the drought has posed a number of challenges, as mentioned in our last post, but we’re making do. I’ve been especially stoked about using our new soaker hoses around the foundation gardens. It’s made a huge difference in the flora—the forsythia is GOBS happier—but is also supposed to help stabilize foundations in super drought conditions! We’re also excited about the prospect of the rain that’s supposed to come along with the tropical storms we keep hearing about. In fact, as a pal suggested, I’ve been doing my hurricane dance here in California, MO, so look out world.

Anyway, it feels great to finally post something again. Knowing us (me) it could be months before we post again, but I’m gonna try to post smaller stuff (these posts have been epic!) more frequently to keep it feelin’ fresh around here. You, dear reader, have to hold us (me) to it!

Here’s to hoping our next post will be about nearly having to build an ark! Too bad we’re without our donkey collection, eh?