We've been quite busy this spring already. The cows are off winter hay and back on grass and enjoying it. Now that its warm, grass is growing fast and we'll be ready to make hay later this week.
They have also been busy calving. We have had three so far. There isn't much more fun than finding another calf bouncing around the cows! Our rotational grazing is well under way now and the new calves learn quickly from their mothers what's expected of them.
This guy is part of our biological mowing team (bmt). He'll be joined soon by two sheep. We started this last year as a way to cut cost and replace fossil fuel with a natural alternative. Its quite simple. All it requires are a short length of rope, a halter for the animal and a bucket of water and then move them every day or two.
This mower will be used to mow what our bmt's can't keep up with. We bought this Huskee garden tractor a couple years ago without a mower deck on it to pull around a small trailer. After we sold our way too big (and unhandy for our yard and for Jen to use) Farmall A mower tractor, we needed something else to take its place. We found a mower deck off of a Cub Cadet sitting in a friends salvage yard (A+A Recycling in Hartford, MI).
I thought it would require quite a bit of fabricating to make it work seeing the tractor and deck are two different makes, but as it turns out they use the exact same mounting system. The rear brackets and lift arms fastened without modification and the front bracket was simple to fabricate out of angle iron from an old bed rail. Add some paint, drill some holes and we have a heavy duty mower for about $180 including a new drive belt for the mower deck.
Here is the Farmall. It was a great tractor - just not suitable anymore for what we needed for mowing or tractor duties.
We replaced it with this Case 530 CK loader tractor. It will need some work in the future which allowed us to get a great deal on it. It's built extremely well and should serve us well for moving the egg-mobile, feeding the cows hay in winter and other farm duties such as planting crops etc. We used it to plant small plots of experimental crops this spring. We are experimenting with "pasture cropping" in the hopes of growing some of the feed used in our chickens feed ration instead of having to purchase the non-GMO feed.
In a nutshell here's how it works: You take a pasture you would like to plant grain in. Normally in the world of agriculture the pasture would have to be be killed by chemicals or tillage. Neither of which are good for the soil and soil life. Instead you take livestock (in our case our cows) and graze it really hard. Overgrazing long term is detrimental as well, so you want to graze it just hard (once in the spring or the previous fall or both in some case) enough to temporarily set it back and slow its growth. Then plant your grain - we are trying corn as we can harvest a small plot by hand and don't have to invest in an expensive combine just to try this out. Once your crop is harvested, the under-story is growing and recovering and won't require replanting. Crop yields will likely be less with this method, but without the harmful effects of tillage or chemicals and the expense of tilling and reseeding the pasture.
We've also been busy with our first batch of broilers this spring. The ones in the picture are about a week from being ready for processing.
We built a scalder for processing this spring. In lieu spending excess of $3,000 for a scalder, we opted to build our own commercial unit. We built it with a bunch or recycled stainless steel metal, electric motor/gearbox, hydronic pump, ect. What we built is a partially automated scalder. The water temperature is automatic and the tumbler is operated by a simple on/off switch.
We bought some started pullets to replace some of our older laying hens and to expand a bit. We've had a hard time keeping up with demand for eggs this spring. These guys should start laying right away. We will also butcher some old laying hens soon. These make great soups and stews. We still have some available. Call us for details.
Butchered and ready for the grill! Our first batch of the year is done and the next batch shows up this week. Put in your orders now for summer chicken!
On the soaping end of the business, we made some silicone liners for our soap pans to make Jen's life a lot easier. Lining pans the old way with paper was quite time consuming.
Make sheets of silicone by mixing and pouring liquid two-part silicone, cut the pieces to size and weld them together and this is the finished product.
We also made a LOT of soap to prep for the summer farmers market and craft show season. We brought back our seasonal summer scent Lemon Poppy Seed and just introduced a new floral scent Spring Showers.
We are now in full swing with both the Granger Farmers Market and Skips European Market and the first craft show (Regatta) of the year is next Saturday (May 31st) in St Joe, MI.
We had a long winter of not doing much. We are making up for it now. We've probably missed some things in this blog and there will certainly be more to come! Stay tuned.
Matthew and Jennifer Eby live on a small family farm in Southwestern Michigan with their three children. They are homesteaders with a wide variety of interests and a natural foods and home and body products business.