I am so happy it's finally spring because spring = calves and calves = fluffy and cute. We've had 4 born so far and are expecting many more over the next few weeks. The coloring of our Murray Grey bull is showing up in some of the calves - it's hard to capture on camera but they're almost silver.
Our TOBB grain bins finally arrived from Missouri this week. They each hold 3 tons and can be filled by our feed supplier, Stone House Grain. When we started buying feed for our pigs and poultry, we bought 50 pound bags. Once we started going through close to 200 bags per month, the plastic bags became an issue: not only an eye-sore stacking up in the barn throughout the week, but so wasteful, too. Stone House can now drive their bulk truck to the farm and fill these directly - no plastic involved! (You don't have to see many pictures of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch before you don't want to be responsible for a single shred of plastic going into the dumpster).
My brother called asking for a favor last weekend. His hairdresser saw someone abandon a duck and a goose at a park in Bristol, and after watching someone trying to entice their dog to attack them, she scooped them into the back of her car and brought them home. "They look just like yours, will you take them?" he asked. John has an affinity for poultry so of course we went and picked them up. This inseparable pair may have feathers, but they're really dogs in disguise. As soon as they see people they come running, squawking, to be pet and held. I've really never seen anything like it. So let me introduce Beetle (the duck) and Juice (the goose).
Lastly, I have to congratulate my brothers on the success of their new business, Litchfield Organic Land Care, LLC, and highly recommend them to anyone in need of environmentally-conscious land care. Their guidance has been invaluable for our orchard and they will be taking down some dead trees on the farm. Even if we weren't related, I would endorse their knowledge and skills!
Our solar electric system is up and running! This project was months (years?) in the making so it's almost unbelievable to see it completed. We can't talk about the panels without thanking the Connecticut Farm Energy Program for their assistance with the grant application. We applied for a USDA REAP (Rural Energy for America Program) Grant, and would've been lost in the paperwork if not for the invaluable guidance of CFEP.
We wanted to install solar panels on the farm for a couple of reasons: one being to cut down our electricity costs. More importantly, though, we wanted to switch to a renewable source of energy. We're constantly trying to improve the sustainability of the farm and this is an important part of that. Just as we collect manure and spent bedding to compost and then fertilize our fields with, it seems right to harness the sun that shines on the farm and use it to power the well, run heat lamps for the piglets......
Speaking of piglets.
Our pot-bellied mama had a litter of piglets last night. Unfortunately, she was completely disinterested in them, and without her motherly grunting the piglets couldn't figure out where to go to nurse. We decided to hand-rear this group, and by we, I mean Kelley had them in a laundry basket next to her bed overnight, and currently has them in a makeshift cardboard crib next to her desk at work. They need to be fed every 2 hours for the first few days, so for now they'll be her sidekicks until their feedings can be stretched out a bit and I can lend a hand.
I also wanted to quickly touch on something that John and I saw in the news recently. Within the last year, the Department of Agriculture has relaxed a ban on the importation of Brazilian beef. Brazil is just one of over twenty countries that the US imports beef from. In general, I take issue with such high importation because transporting all of that beef across the world creates a lot of pollution. Brazilian beef is particularly concerning, however, because cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. Rainforests are vital in that they help stabilize the world's climate by absorbing carbon dioxide. Plus, there are 16,000 species of trees and 2.5 MILLION species of insects in the Amazon.
This is why it's so important to know where your food is coming from.
"We don't have to participate in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world." -Howard Zinn
A few customers have been asking us "what's new?" which reminded me that I haven't shared any farm news since last June! I'm not sure how time flies by so quickly, but we definitely have had many things to be excited about over the last 8 months (wow I'm a bad blogger).
Last summer was an absolute blast. The cows enjoyed their time on the beautiful land we're leasing down the road, and we enjoyed our morning and nightly visits to check in on them. My favorite check-in was July 24th when John asked me to marry him. We were sunburned, covered in dirt, and surrounded by cows - I couldn't imagine it any other way.
I think the main reason autumn and winter have passed so quickly is our investment in more Ritchie automated water fountains for the animals. I seriously can't praise these things enough. We had to run more water lines and electricity, but they are 100% worth it. Not having to break ice and lug hoses back and forth from the house has saved us so much time and frustration. If I had any advice for new farmers, it would be to automate your water as soon as is feasible so you can spend your valuable time caring for your animals instead of stressing about being able to get them enough water.
Of course we've had lots of litters of piglets since June, and are currently gearing up for our busiest time of the year as far as farrowing is concerned. Let us know if you're looking for spring piglets as our list is filling up quickly.
Looking forward into the next few weeks, we'll be busy with piglets, getting seeds started for the garden, and finally getting our solar panels installed! I am over the moon excited about getting the farm running on clean, renewable solar energy. I'll write another post and share pictures once they're installed.
We're happy to share our new relationships with Davis IGA in Kent and Sherman IGA in Sherman, which are both now carrying our beef, pork, and chicken. It's great when small, locally-owned businesses can work together to offer local goods to the community, and we look forward to expanding and meeting new customers in that part of the state.
Don't forget to visit us at the Norfolk and Winsted farmer's markets - details are on our homepage. And if you can't make it to a market but are craving your favorites like jalepeno-cheddar chicken sausage or maple-cured bacon, use our online shopping page to complete your order and schedule a delivery.
Thanks again for your support!
We eagerly check the fruit trees every morning, watching the buds slowly enlarging, promising many sweet treats in the months to come. We had a small scare of peach leaf curl on one tree, but luckily my brother is a horticulture aficionado so it was nothing some pruning and neem oil couldn't take care of. The kitchen garden has blossomed into more of a potager with herbs and flowers heavily intermingled among the vegetables. They definitely add beauty, but they also attract pollinators and keep many pests away from the vegetables. Nasturinium, for example, will repel squash bugs, among many other pests, so plant them near your squash, 'cukes and 'zucchs. Let your basil and tomatoes grow together, too, as they'll enhance each other's flavor. We don't need no stinkin' insecticides or GMO's here - just follow nature's template, y'all.
Over the winter, we acquired a trio of pet-bellied pigs. We originally were just going to look at them because John was only curious (or so he said) but when we saw that the living conditions they were in were less than adequate, to put it lightly, we decided to take them all home. The owner couldn't tell us anything about them since he picked them up at an auction. They're still pretty flighty, but we hope with time that they'll become more friendly. Little Olive's belly recently became not so little, and we suspected that she might be pregnant. When I walked in her pen to feed her on Tuesday and she didn't come out to greet me, I knew something was up. We moved her to her own paddock, just in case, and when I checked on her 20 minutes later she had given birth to 4 of the smallest, cutest piglets I've ever seen. It was such a fun surprise and she is a great mom.
We met a neighbor a few streets away with a great deal of pasture and no cows to enjoy it, so most of our herd will be spending the summer there. They have the best view in town.
It's only June, but we've had Thanksgiving on our minds since our chicks arrived a few weeks ago. They are heritage breeds (Bourbon Red and Black Spanish) which means they'll be smaller birds, but we find that most of our customers want turkeys under 16 pounds anyway. Please contact us to reserve yours as they go quickly!
We are so excited to offer you the convenience of ordering online. This process has pushed the envelope on our tech skills to say the least - but we think it was so worth it! You can now shop for individual cuts or a meat share variety pack AND receive our free home delivery service OR have the option of picking up your weekly meat order when you visit some of our local farm stands (be sure to sign up for their weekly veggie CSA's to complete all your farm fresh shopping in one spot).
Here's how it works:
To shop for the best meats around go to: https://howlingflatsfarm.grazecart.com/ CLICK HERE
At check out you can currently choose:
* The Grassy Knoll Farm Stand and Bakery in Riverton ~ Order by Wednesday to pick up Saturday or Sunday. Give yourself a little extra time at pick up for their coffee and incredible baked goods, be sure to get there early to take home some of their freshly baked bread.
* The Victory Garden in Canaan - Just give us two days notice and we will have your order in their freezer for pick up.
* For Home delivery choose pick up at Howling Flats Farm - There is $50 minimum order for free delivery and we can be on your doorstop within three days.
We will be adding Maple View Organic Farm in Harwinton, Gedney Farm in New Marlborough and local farmers markets as pick up locations once the season starts in the spring.
Need something right away?
The Grassy Knoll Farm Stand & Bakery keeps a variety of our products on hand.
The Riverton General Store always has our ground beef.
The Health Food Corner in Winsted stocks both ground beef and pork chops.
Both Holcomb Farm and Clark Family Farms in Granby have graciously offered to sell our products this spring as well.
If you need anything special that you don't see on our list - or you need something sooner than the times shown PLEASE send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org - we are happy to accommodate you whenever we can!!
Stay tuned for updates: It is our goal to be able to offer our partnering farm's products as a one-stop LOCAL shopping option for you in the near future.
"The magical, marvelous food on our plate, this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy. To eat with reckless abandon, without conscience, without knowledge; folks, this ain't normal."
-Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm (and my personal hero)
This statement gets right to the heart of why we farm and why we've decided to focus our efforts on a CSA. The advent of grocery store chains and prepared foods has created a vast disconnect between the people who grow the food and the people who consume it. Shoppers have shifted their focus to the shiniest apple and the best deal on pork chops, instead of considering how the tree that apple came from was fertilized, or how that pig was fed and handled. It is never our intent to guilt people into buying our products, but when you know as much about factory farming as we do, it is unconscionable to us that this faceless farming has become the new norm. The food on your plate has a story to tell, indeed. We believe that people should know their food and their farmers, so I'd like to share with you the details of our farming practices so that you can be an informed consumer, even if you are not one of our customers.
Husbandry: We breed our own cows and pigs so that we can oversee the lives of our animals from the very beginning. We breed naturally, keeping a bull and a couple of boars on the farm. We understand the benefits of artificial insemination, but it can be complicated and time-consuming so we let the boys do the work. We also choose not to use farrowing crates for our sows – again, we understand the benefits, but such a confined environment is stressful on the sow and does not mimic at all what she would experience in the wild, which is very important to us. Instead, we have a maternity ward in the barn which has recently been renovated by a friend of the farm and we are ecstatic with the results. The girls each have a pen dedicated to lounging in their hay nest, with a "rub rail" to keep the piglets safe from the weight of their moms, and a pen where they can eat and drink. We wrestle with the idea of allowing the sows to farrow outside, weather permitting, but so far we haven’t been able to draw up a plan that keeps the piglets safe from the elements to a degree that we are comfortable with. The cows are free to birth in the fields.
We're committed to raising our cattle and pigs outside for many reasons. It is incredibly beneficial to their health to have fresh air, ample room for exercise and exploration, distance from their own manure, and sun. In our opinion, the quality of life of our animals is equally as important as their physical health, and they clearly enjoy being outside. Lastly, and honestly, it is much less work for
us - confining animals on concrete means hauling out manure constantly. Raising them on pasture means they are perpetually fertilizing our fields.
Feeding: A large part of raising cattle is growing grass. Our fields are fertilized naturally with manure only – no herbicides or pesticides are sprayed. Our cows are happy with grass and hay, and actually have a deep love for tomatoes in the summer.
Our pigs are raised on pasture, too. They like to forage through the grass and dig through the dirt. We feed them a non-GMO, soon-to-be certified organic grain mix from Stone House Farm in New York (its important to support other local, organic farms!). They also get non-GMO barley fodder for breakfast every morning. We have many friends of the farm who donate fallen apples, pumpkins, acorns, etc. when they’re in season. People may think pigs are, well, pigs, but I can guarantee that given the choice, they would choose acorns over donuts every time. In the future, we hope to plant a nut and fruit orchard of our own for the pigs to live in.
Choosing non-GMO feed is important to us for a couple of reasons. Corn and soy are very nutrient-rich and so are staples in a pig’s diet, but they’re also some of the most genetically-modified foods out there. We believe in following nature’s template as closely as possible, so we like to support other farms who share this philosophy. I also personally believe that genetically-modified foods haven’t been around long enough to really know the effects they could have on animals, humans, and the environment. Unfortunately, most of the research that has been done on them is done by the companies that manufacture them and stand to profit from their proliferation.
Medication: As I’ve mentioned above a few times, we weigh the benefits and risks of things often. We absolutely reject the idea of using antibiotics daily to encourage growth in our animals. But, on the extremely rare occasion that one of our animals is sick or injured, we will treat them with antibiotics if our veterinarian recommends it. This sentiment is shared by some of the best farmers I know and is a large reason why many farms who are committed to organic practices choose not to get certified.
I cannot stress enough how much we love and respect our animals. When it comes time to slaughter a cow or a pig, it never gets easier emotionally, and I hope it never does. These animals make the ultimate sacrifice and I am honored to be so deeply involved in the circle of life and the food system.
Know your food. Know your farmer. We are happy to provide any further information.
I've had this quote from Jack Kerouac swirling in my head for the past week or so:
"Will you love me in December as you do in May?"
In the winter, my relationship with farming begs this question. We have been lucky to have such mild weather for the past two months - but the cold snap this week hit me like a ton of bricks.
If I was ready (read, smarter) I would've taken all the floats out of the water tanks and tucked the hoses safely inside the farm house, away from the bitter wind that so quickly freezes them. Nothing incites panic more quickly than finding frozen hydrants on the farm - the cows alone drink 300 gallons of water each day, a quantity that I wouldn't want to carry in buckets from the kitchen sink. Gray clouds threaten snow, which is beautiful, but also incredibly difficult to trudge through when carrying fifty-pound buckets of feed out to the pigs in their pasture. These months bring a lot less daylight and a lot more work.
It's easy to think back to the days of May when everything is coming alive - the fields and trees exploding in green in what seems like the blink of an eye, calves being born, the chirping of new chicks. The sun is warm, the air is sweet, and the water is automated. (Ok, maybe I'm starting to romanticize all of this a bit, with myself as a Carhartt-clad Snow White of sorts.)
I realize, though, that the cold and wind and snow are hard on all of us on the farm, not just the humans. It may make our work more difficult, but this is when the animals need us most. Breaking five inches of ice in water tanks in order to run 250 feet of hose from the one trusty hydrant we have suddenly doesn't seem like a chore, but a duty.
So we throw on an extra layer of thermals, a balaclava (life saver) and some New England grit. May might be more kind, but December brings renewed sense of purpose, and these farmers are grateful for it.
p.s. Our continued thanks to our expanding family of CSA members - your support and enthusiasm for real food is awesome.
When I walk down to the farm every morning, it is always with a yawn, a smile, and bated breath - I love my quiet, foggy mornings on the farm, but when you care for so many critters, its not unusual for something or someone to be amiss.
Goats aren't running down the driveway? - great. Pigs are still asleep - good; much easier to feed them that way. Make sure the cows haven't wandered into the neighbor's alfalfa field - phew, I don't have the energy to chase them around this morning. So far so good.
Climb up in the hay loft to grab a bale for the heifers. Check on the bantam hen and her newly hatched chicks. Peek down on the cows' water tub to make sure they didn't pull the float out -
WHAT IS THAT?
Race down the ladder, climb the gate, run to the fluffy ball of black fur on the ground....
Hi cutie, where did you come from? Certainly not from one of our cows. We only breed in the summer. Our calves are only born in the spring.
In runs Jane, udders full of milk. MOOOOOO she says - step away from the fluff ball. -moo- says the fluff ball. What do we do, say the farmers. He's dry. He can stand. Has he nursed? It's too cold for a calf, bring him inside. No no, he's better off with his mom. Put a jacket on him and back out to mom he goes.
The first moments between a cow and her calf are incredibly tender. I cry (and John laughs at me) every time I witness a new mother softly cooing to her baby.
Hello, I'm your mom. When you hear this moo, and only this moo, come to me. I will feed you. I will clean you. I will protect you. And when I hear your moo, I will run acres, through our herd and fence lines if I have to, to get to you.
The bull let himself out of his paddock a few times over the winter.
It's November 13 - this fluff ball must have been conceived around Valentine's day.
I'll call you Valentino.
What a year this has been! Our big project this year was our fodder system. We've been researching the concept, attending seminars, and trying to track down untreated non-GMO seed for a couple years now. The stars finally aligned and we were able to get to work. There are pre-fabricated systems that you can purchase that already have the framing, trays, and water set up for you - but we tend to be too thrifty for those types of things, and what fun is the easy way? We sprout barley hydroponically for about 10 days using just water and light. It turns out the amount of light, temperature and humidity need to be kept in very specific ranges, so controlling the conditions can be quite the task, but it is so worth it. The animals love it and will be able to eat fresh greens throughout the long New England winter we're about to head into.
We are so overwhelmed by the response we've had to our new CSA. We had hoped to engage about 10 families, but we are now close to 20 already! We know that finding time to grocery shop at multiple places doesn't fit into everyone's schedule, so we've made it easy by delivering beef, pork, chicken and eggs right to your door. Check out the CSA page for more information. If the standard share seems like too much or little, we can certainly customize your order every month. Plus, the November share includes a pasture-raised turkey just in time for Thanksgiving, and we have 6 new sausage flavors to enjoy (think apple spice, maple breakfast, and toulouse).
Though we sometimes are a bit jealous of our vegetable-growing farmer friends and their winter respite, our little farm is so beautiful in the winter covered in snow. The animals really don't appreciate the scorching summer days and often seem happier nestled into their hay beds in the cold months. So for now we'll be gearing up to make sure huts aren't drafty and waters won't freeze. We hope to see you at the upcoming Pre-Thanksgiving and Holiday Norfolk markets (dates and locations on our home page).
"A farm includes the passion of the farmer's heart, the interest of the farm's customers, the biological activity of the soil, the pleasantness of the air about the farm -- it's everything touching, emanating from, and supplying the piece of landscape. A farm is virtually a living organism." -Joel Salatin
Real food enthusiast following nature's template