Winter update

Merry Christmas, friends! We still have a few weeks until the 2013 CSA programs begin, but we thought we’d check in and share some winter doings on the farm (plus some photos).

When we run into CSA members during the gap between seasons, they always ask us, “How is your break going? Getting some rest?” Yes, we do get rest during the “break,” but a lot has been happening around here too. The rest comes primarily in the form of forced quitting time (it’s dark at 4:30 pm!) and the peace of mind that comes from completing tasks on our long-term project list. Except for this Christmas week, everyone has been working full days on our normal schedule, and we’re getting lots done. Here are some highlights:

Casey and crew have done some major cleaning up and remodeling of our red pole building, in preparation for the start of the Full Diet CSA next month. There were a lot of spaces that weren’t being well used, and we needed some new ones (a bigger area to handle milk supplies; an area for butchering; etc.). Casey built some new walls, put in more lighting, installed a new water heater, and hung a propane shop wall heater (directly pointed at the “break” area for our employees!). The folks seriously cleaned up around the outside too, making the whole operation look a little bit less like a farm hurricane. After so many years of this farming business, we have come to accept that entropy and chaos are party of the deal (also: blackberries). When you’re moving fast in the summer, bits and pieces get stacked up every where, to be dealt with “later.” Now is later, and so we dealt with it, including having a pretty awesome bonfire with the various wooden bits that were of no use anymore:

Big bonfire!

While Casey has been focused on the infrastructure work, the crew has been doing lots of work in the fields. They’ve been weeding, when it has been possible. On some rainy days, they cleaned out the field houses to prepare for early planting. On another rainy day, they sowed flats of chard, kale, collards, lettuce, and other greens — our first veggie starts for 2013 (the seed leaves are already up!). The crew has also been planting and generally tending to our trees on the new land. Last week, they planted 220 more hazelnut trees and 100 more walnut seedlings (that we started from actual walnuts that we planted last year!), for a total of eight acres now planted in nuts. They’ve also been cleaning out around the berries and mulching:

It's hard to see the blueberry plants without their leaves, but you can see the mulch around them!

The animals have also been taking up more of our time than ever before, as they increasingly become an important part of our farm and its routine. The biggest recent addition of time is related to these ladies (our 260 hens):

Curious hens!

… because now we have to collect these every afternoon:

HUNDREDS OF EGGS! (pre-washing)

The start of the eggs has been SO exciting! As with every other flock we’ve ever started, we were just beginning to doubt the reality of eggs, when they started to come. It’s amazing how you take care of these crazy birds for months and months before getting any eggs, and it’s really easy to forget why. Then eggs come. These eggs are amazing. We’ve always kept chickens for ourselves, because farm eggs are vastly superior to anything else. And, yet, these eggs surpass anything we’ve ever eaten. They are enormous. They barely fit into a standard egg carton. And, the white and the yolks have the most distinct body we’ve ever seen (egg lovers will know what I mean). Rusty really loves eating fried egg whites without the yolk, so we’ve been separating a lot of eggs lately, and it’s amazingly easy to do with these eggs. I like to cook the yolks later and eat them. Check these out:

Beautiful yolks! Oh my!

Why are these yolks so beautiful? Because of the consistent work of Casey and folks to keep all our animals, including the chickens, moving onto fresh ground regularly. They’ve been moving the chickens twice a week, and red clover actually makes up a substantial part of their diet (along with farm grown oats). The cows and sheep get moved daily. The pigs we are moving just weekly, because we realized they really really really love the oat haylage we had made this last summer, but they don’t eat a whole bale in a day. So, the crew made a bigger enclosure and we’re moving them less frequently so they can enjoy more of the haylage before we move them (they also love playing and hiding in it — cute little piggies!).

FYI, these piggies are about to be moved, which is why all the green stuff has already been eaten.

We’ve been feeding the haylage to the sheep and cows too, and they also enjoy it. Since our fields are at their lowest point for vegetative growth, it’s been a wonderful supplement for the clover.

The sheep also love standing on the bales before they're broken down, but we didn't capture a picture of that here.

We’ve continued milking twice a day on pasture, through all of the wintery weather we’ve been having. Although we “know of” other farms that milk on pasture (mostly in California), this has been a bit of an experiment on our end. Since we don’t own a barn and wanted to keep our cows on fresh ground at all times, we figured it was a worthwhile experiment to attempt, but we weren’t sure how it would go in the cold and rainy season — would it be comfortable for both man and beast? We’re pretty sure man suffers the most this time of year, since all of our animals — Jersey cows included — have grown wonderfully shaggy winter coats. (I’m pretty sure that if it snowed, the snow would not melt on their backs, because their coats are so insulative!).

Right now we’re only milking one cow, Annie, and she has been incredibly cooperative through all kinds of weather. In fact, she recently lost her halter, and no one has been able to get it back on her — and yet she will stand for the entire milking routine without being tied up. It’s been wonderful to have this “experiment” continue to work, and it feels good to have our animals outside in a poop free zone. (Barns can be wonderfully poop free too, but not without a lot of daily man power! We’re happy to not be scooping poop!)

Annie, the cooperative cow, standing for her milking.

Incidentally, this is the historical method of milking Jerseys — they were kept in the fields year-round and milked in place. Their hardiness in mild climates is part of why we chose this great breed! Also, their milk is awesome and rich in fat. Here are two one-gallon jars of milk that Casey filled for our home use (to make butter and cheese):

Holy cream line!

It’s been great to have time to wrap our brains around the milking routine again, both in the fields and back in the pole barn (milk handling). Casey attended a talk at a nearby dairy last month and has been working to implement some goals related to efficiency and cleanliness. Some of these are structural (like the renovations I mentioned earlier) and others are simply system-based (like having a clear set of procedures that lead to clean products) We have clear designations for things that are “clean” surfaces (sanitized and ready for milk) and “not clean” surfaces. For example, that bulk tank in the picture above will never be set on a “clean” surface because it goes on the ground in the field. We’ve had such systems since our first day milking, thanks to Katie’s experience helping to run the kitchen of a remote retreat center where we fed 500 people three meals a day (I administered food safety tests twice a week for a year! Food safety is drilled into my brain forever!), but as with everything, evolution is the key to success! We started with the most basic safe and clean set-up and we’re continuing to work on it as we learn more and gain a better idea of what will work best for our farm. The same evolution has been at work with every aspect of our farm — our current veggie “wash station” is the fifth one we’ve set up as our operation has changed!

We’ve also been practicing other new-to-us aspects of our animal operation, namely slaughtering and butchering. Casey and the folks did two trial runs in recent weeks. Casey had slaughtered and butchered two ewes last summer, but it was good for everyone to get exposure and practice. Our two butchers did an awesome job with the most recent ram we butchered. They followed the directions in the guidebook Whole Beast Butchery and came up with some amazingly beautiful cuts, far beyond what we were expecting. For example, instead of the sort of overly fatty lamb ribs that Casey cut last year, they flayed the meat off the ribs and rolled it up with fat on the outside, creating this beautiful roll:

It's called LAMBCETTA!

Casey and I ate our first Lambcetta this evening for Christmas dinner. Casey sliced it into medallions and pan seared them like a steak — the fat turned crispy and brown (like bacon) and the meat was tender and rare inside. SO. GOOD. (We have really been enjoying fat lately, and for Christmas, I gave Casey Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient.)

If this update seems a little animal-heavy, I suppose that’s appropriate. We’re definitely tending to the fields and orchards, as I mentioned above (as well as planning our 2013 seed orders) — but, this is the quietest season for plants. Our coolers and storage rooms are already full of roots, onions, squash, apples, and such; and, the greens in the fields are mostly just “hanging out.” We just passed the winter solstice, and so we’re in the season of the lowest photosynthetic potential. I’m sure you can feel this in your bones; it has been so dark lately (those photos of animals above were taken on one of the “brightest” days of late, and it still looks dark in those shots). Meanwhile, the animals are as alive as ever (er, well, except for the one that gave us that lambcetta), and it’s been wonderful to have this opportunity to give them more of our full attention.

This morning (Christmas!), Casey had a fun surprise when he went out to milk: our first lamb of the season was born to our ewe Midnight. We didn’t manage to get a picture for this update, but of course lambs are by definition cute. And, it’s a good reminder that this cold wet season is just one cycle of growth, death, regrowth. Even though the green growth is minimal, all of these plants (veggies, clover, etc.) will grow again quite soon. Look at these little clover plants, just waiting for the sun to return:

These little clover plants will be knee high by June!

If you find photographs of plants more aesthetically appealing than winter images of animals, I hear you. We’ll have those photos back again when it is seasonally appropriate. I am very grateful right now for that emblem of the season: the green tree in our living room covered with white lights. So cheery on these days of long nights!

And, yes, we are getting rest too. Casey and I have prioritized play as a family, and it’s been wonderful to enjoy our bigger family of four this holiday season. Today, once the feasting and unwrapping was done, we went for a walk to visit the new lamb during a brief break in the rain:

Happy Rusty & Happy Farmer Papa Casey

... and, a Happy Mama & Dottie too!

A very Merry Christmas to you! We look forward to seeing you all again in the New Year!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla

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