Tuesday, July 31, 2007


We are finally getting some rain regularly. Though not the amounts we need to beat back this drought we seemed to have been alloted at least enough to turn the grass back green and to grow it just a little.
Add to that the sale and butchering of a number of sheep-- and we again have breathing room in regards to our pastures.
Currently we have 3 more sheep to move on to another farm, a couple more to go to slaughter and 5 to come home to us at the end of August. That will move us into fall with the total of....17 sheep. Just one more than last year---and he will be a wether. Cute little guy too---perfectly sized to be a wether since he is smaller than usual.
This will be our first year to carry a wether with us. We have debated it many times---but never have decided to keep one. The other day we decided: yeah! we need one for animals that need to be quarantined or to be a friend while a sheep recovers if hurt or any number of other reasons. So...we neutered him. He wasn't happy about it though. We used basically a rubber band that is so tight it will squeeze the blood out of the testicles and they will dry up and fall off. He looked a bit "sick to his stomach" for about 2 days, but he looks fine now (I checked him frequently since I was a bit worried about him).
The testicles have not fallen off yet---but it won't be long.
So now he gets to live a life of companion and fleece animal. Wethers actually give the best fleeces since they are not rams (coarser fleeces) nor are they producing ewes (pregnancy and lambing can sometimes make a fleece not quite the best).

Anyways---as I ramble on about wethers I am reminded just how quickly the "circle of life" moves around. Not long ago I blogged away with time to spare then we came to spring, lambed and moved into summer and it all fell to the side with our endless amounts of things to do. Here we are again---almost time to go to Michigan to pick up this year's new sheep----and then there will be fall shearing (and fall festivals), breeding season and then the wait for lambs (and time to blog and do some of my "own" things). Yes----it sounds long---but it won't be when you add Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the other things we come across in a year. My...how time does fly. And they say children make it seem fast. Well who ever said that never raised sheep :-)

Cheryl: if you are still reading I hope your house is coming along just peachy!

COOL & NAIS update

Just an update to anyone who may have commented to their Senators, Congress persons or even heads of various committees in Congress: As of last Friday the national animal identification system had been separated from the Country Of Origin Labeling that was being addressed in the new farm bill. Knowing which country your food comes is a good thing, needing to tag every "farm" animal even if the person does not own a farm, is a bad thing.
Debate and complete passing is still not completely over yet---so write, write, write to make sure they get the message in Washington. We don't want them to re slip it in at the last minute of Farm Bill approval.
However even if the final Farm Bill had passed and Nais was not attached to it---the fight would still not be over. Mandatory programs (as in Wisconsin and Michigan) are still in on the agenda, so we still have work to do since it is not much of a stretch from "the neighboring state does it" to "we will now do it".
Please check web sites such as Nonais.org and libertyark.org for more updated information and PLEASE----keep sending those letters.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Chicken Combs

After a lengthy absence I have come across something that I wanted to write about: Chicken combs. I know--silly but there you have it.

We have raised chickens many times but never before have we concerned ourselves with breeding. We always just bought replacements since we didn't really care one way or the other about raising any chicks.
However, with the decision to raise Marans (again) and the critically rare Delaware, we decided when we purchased our birds that we would breed our own replacement chicks if possible. So it came as a eye opener to me that when considering my Wyandottes that to have a single comb versus a rose comb---would be a bad thing. I had never heard of that before so I had to look it up. Now I know what a comb is---but I didn't know there where so many names for them. I really never gave it a thought and I guess most of our previous birds have had "common" combs. I had at various places seen birds with different style combs before, but I did have a lack of knowledge in this department. I always assumed I would choose my birds based on body styles, foraging abilities, prime egg laying etc---not the shape of their comb. To be truthful, I would never cull a hen that showed exceptional egg laying and foraging abilities, maybe along with quick growth as a chick if her comb was "wrong". I will though, consider the comb in my future "schemes".

So here is a little chart for everyone to look at and see the various combs chickens have that I found in my search. Quite interesting really, and in the future---I will have to go out and peruse all my birds hair dos to see if they their "combing" is correct.


Chickens all have a comb. It is the fleshy protuberance on top of the head of a fowl. The protuberance is larger on the male than female. There are various forms of combs in different breeds. The combs are usually red in color, however, they are purple in Sumatras, Birchen and Brown Red Modern Games and Silkies and purplish-red in Sebrights.

Take a few minutes to learn to identify the various combs that are found on the various breeds and varieties of chickens.

The Buttercup consists of a single leader from base of beak to a cup-shaped crown set firmly on the center of the skull and completely surmounted by a circle of regular points. The cavity within the circle of points should be deep, the texture of the comb should be fine.

The Cushion is a solid low, moderately small comb; smooth on top, the front, rear and sides are nearly straight with rounded corners. It has no spikes.

The Pea is a medium length, low comb, the top of which is marked with three low lengthwise ridges, the center one is slightly higher that the outer ones. The outer ones are either undulated or marked with small rounded serrations. This is a breed characteristic that is found in Brahmas, Buckeyes, Cornish, Cubalayas and Sumatras.

The Rose is a solid, broad, nearly flat on top, low, fleshly comb that terminates in a well-developed tapering spike. It may turn upward as in Hamburgs, be nearly horizontal as in Rose Comb Leghorns, or follow the contour of the head as in Wyandottes. The top surface of the main part should be slightly convex and studded with small rounded protuberances. The general shape varies in the different breeds.

The Silkis is an almost round, somewhat lumpy comb, inclined to be greater in width than length; covered with small corrugations on top and crossed with a narrow transverse indentation slightly to the front of the comb. Sometimes two or three small rear points are hidden by a crest, others are without points. Generally they are considered to be genetically a rose comb changed by a rose comb plus crest.The

Single comb is a moderately thin, fleshy formation of smooth soft surface texture, firmly attached from the beak along the top of the skull with a strong base. The top portion shows five or six rather deep serrations or distinct points, the middle points being higher than the anterior or posterior, forming a semi-oval when viewed from the side. The comb is always erect and much larger and thicker in males than in females; may be lopped or erect in the female. This depends on the breed. The comb is divided into three sections: the front or anterior, the middle and that extending past the rear base of the skull, the posterior or blade.

The Strawberry is a low comb that is set well-forward. The shape and surface resemble the outer part of half a strawberry with a large end nearest the beak of the chicken.

The V-Shaped comb is formed of two well defined horn like sections that are joined at their base, as in Houdans, Polish, Crevecoeurs, LeFleche and Sultans.

Monday, July 16, 2007

To Bad

Here's a story I found about an organic farmer in Va.
Just goes to show you never know where you might encounter chemicals. I will certainly be more careful since I never have considered that the hay I feed my animals might have something like this in it. Inorganic fertilizer maybe---but I have to admit (as I smack my forhead) that I never considered broad based herbicides or terminator chemicals. Eek!

Bitter Harvest In Sperryville

Couple's Farm Falls Victim To Herbicide-Tainted Mulch

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 11, 2007; Page F01

For farmer Rachel Bynum and her 2-year-old son, Nicholas, the afternoon of June 2 started as an idyllic occasion. For the first time, mother and child harvested vegetables together at the family's Waterpenny Farm in Sperryville, Va. Bynum and her husband, Eric Plaksin, both 33, sell the pesticide-free produce from their 10 acres of fields at farmers markets, through a CSA program and right from the barn.

As she waded into the otherwise healthy-looking zucchini vines, Bynum noticed that many of the plants had an odd windblown appearance with uncharacteristic curling leaves. "It looked like maybe the plants were getting too much water," says Bynum, who has farmed in western Rappahannock County for eight years. The previous night there had been a much-needed rain, and the couple was also using a drip irrigation system, with water pumped from the nearby Thornton River.

As it turns out, the problem wasn't too much water. And the trouble quickly spread to the tomatoes and eggplant. But it would be two weeks before Bynum and Plaksin received the test results confirming the culprit: They had unwittingly poisoned half of their farm fields by using a hay mulch that was contaminated with a powerful herbicide.

For Bynum, who is expecting a second child in the fall, walking about the sloping acreage in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains is now "a farm tour of doom."

County agriculture extension agent Kenner Love was the first person brought in to assess the problem. "We didn't expect herbicides because they don't use them," says Love, who has worked with area farmers for 12 years. "I suspected a virus, but there was no yellowing of leaves." He sent samples of the tomato, squash and potato plants from Waterpenny to Virginia Tech for analysis. The results: The plants were infected with a "broadleaf plant growth regulator" -- an herbicide.

But at Waterpenny, they still had no idea where the poison was coming from. Because the affected fields were fairly sheltered, they ruled out drifting sprays from neighboring farms. The farmers zeroed in on purchased hay as the source when they recognized that the plants without mulch were thriving. Hay, which can be one species of plant, such as alfalfa, or a combination of plants cut from open fields, is normally used as feed and bedding for animals, not as a mulch for vegetables. At Waterpenny it was used to suppress weeds and conserve moisture.

Without hesitation, the farmer who sold them 120 round bales said that they might contain hay from fields that were sprayed with the herbicide Grazon. He didn't know any consequences from its use. Grazon, a product of Dow AgroSciences, is sprayed on fields to kill undesirable broadleaf plants; it contains picloram, a plant growth regulator.

Bynum and Plaksin were not aware that herbicides were used in hay production.

Dow AgroSciences spokesman Garry Hamlin points out that the Grazon label states in bold type: "Do not use grass or hay from treated areas or manure from animals for composting or mulching of desirable susceptible broadleaf plants." Selling produce contaminated with picloram, which is not rated for human consumption, is illegal. The company cannot say when the couple can plant again in the poisoned fields without knowing how much residue there is in the soil.

As at all CSA (community-supported agriculture) farms, many different crops are grown at Waterpenny to satisfy customers who pay an annual membership fee for a share of the harvest. And it is unusual for a CSA farm to have herbicide damage because most use organic methods.

"Usually it's a hailstorm that might just kill the broccoli, part of the crop. It would be more common to have a drought or flooding, insect infestation or crop viruses," says Guillermo Payet, president of Local Harvest, a national organization that provides a directory for farmers and consumers to find each other.

Bynum and Plaksin's conservative estimate is that they have lost 12,000 plants with a harvest worth $80,000. Thus far, the un-mulched fields, making up about half of the acreage, do not appear to be contaminated. There will be broccoli, some root crops, beans, onions, garlic and cabbage. Because the fields are separated by 12-foot-wide grassy areas, the likelihood of contamination to the whole farm is low. Planting more tomatoes and melons in uncontaminated fields is still to come this season.

They are working with the hay farmer, who has insurance, to determine compensation for their losses. When word got out in the close-knit farming community, 60 people, including many of the couple's 150 CSA shareholders, started the unpleasant process of removing the 50,000 pounds of wet hay from 3.5 acres. Results from soil tests on the extent of the contamination are still to come.

For this season, they are canceling two months of their CSA deliveries and offering customers a partial or total refund of the full share price of $475 for 21 weeks. For the time being they will no longer sell at the farmers market in Warrenton. But they will continue to sell a limited number of vegetables from the un-mulched fields at markets in Takoma Park and Charlottesville.

Unanswered questions remain about the long-term prospects for the farm. Once all the contaminated hay is out of the fields, they will test and retest the soil for traces of the chemical. "But I don't think we have enough information yet, and we are reading everything we can, contacting pesticide watch groups," Bynum says. "We may have to retire those fields for a few seasons."

Even though farmers have a typically small profit margin, and such a disaster would raise concerns about the farm's survival, Bynum says, "we are not scraping by, and this doesn't mean we'll stop farming."

Plaksin says that without the large CSA program to worry about, "we're looking at this as an opportunity to reevaluate what we're doing. Maybe we should be smaller. And we're learning about things like herbicides that we never knew about before."

Waterpenny Farm produce is available at Charlottesville City Market, First and Water streets, Saturdays, 7 a.m. to noon; Takoma Park Farmers Market, Carroll and Laurel avenues, Takoma Park, Sundays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and at the farm, 53 Waterpenny Lane, Sperryville, Va. 540-987-8567.http://www.waterpennyfarm.com.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bucket O potatoes

We are now getting potatoes---very nice potatoes at that. Only one so far has been "nibbled" on and we will just have to send our Jack Russell on patrol in that spot more often :-)

Considering that we had a late, late, very bad frost, which nipped back the growing tips, all the potatoes came back fine from under their piles of leaves and went on to produce. We probably won't get as many potatoes as we could or should have because of the frost and then drought---but I am pleased with those we are getting. Very decent size with some "whoppers" for baking. If we had watered them also, I am sure we would have gotten way way more than we will. However---we do not have a well and so we pay to water. My bill for water one month was more than the electric bill for running the a/c in my house---so we quit watering. Considering we were using soaker hoses---we were a bit surprised at the amount.
The potatoes never did get any of that water anyways---purely because we knew watering so much would get expensive (we just didn't realize HOW expensive). We were just trying to get beans, which we had a very large section of, and keep alive the artichokes and tomatoes. No matter though---it didn't work completely. Yes, we have kept things alive---however it is unlikely we will be canning this year. There has only been enough at any one time to eat for dinner that night-- but not to can. Maybe if we get some more rain in the next month a few of the plants may kick in and produce well towards the end---but we aren't really holding our breath.
No matter----we did learn that we love our leaf mulch and will try and con the city into bringing us, and our neighbors, more this next fall for use in mulching potatoes and other garden plants this next year. Underneath some of the areas, the leaves are starting to really break down into some beautiful leaf "mold" that should do amazing things for our soil. With the advent of fall, and hopefully rain, we will till up a few of the spots that got a bit out of hand (too few leaves and too many weeds) and then over seed everything with a fall cover crop. Maybe by the time we have "optimum" rain---we will have the most amazing soil and will end up with a jungle of produce for canning and giving away.
Potato wise we have been lucky here this year. Stuart and Gabrielle in Brittany have been getting more than their usual rain for this year (just like our family in Texas) and their potatoes---along with their neighbors---ended up with scab because of the wet soil that probably never has dried out in between rains. Well, each year is a challenge now isn't it. When you consider my last post, and this years weather--- I don't have to wonder to much about why some people just didn't want to stay being farmers. People should have more respect for farming----it's somewhat stressful. Next time you go to market and buy berries or tomatoes---thank that person for sticking it out. They need a pat on the back once in a while.

One for the freezer

We had a sad night Monday---we had to butcher one of our ewes. For some reason she has never really done very well for us here---even as a lamb. She was born on this farm so we know her whole history and we keep very good records to compare the animals with (this is because I know I have the memory of a gnat at times)
Was she just a bummer to start with? Was it heat? the long term drought? genetics? Is it that we should have supplied more this or that in her minerals? Whatever it is---we finally decided that even if we knew for sure that she will do better by the fall (which we were pretty sure she would)---she could no longer be allowed to contribute to the gene pool. Luckily we had chosen not to sell her lambs. One is in the freezer with her already and the other will be a wether for us to use in situations when we need one to keep another sheep company. He seems well and fine so far---so he can be an experiment in whether or not this passes steadily in genetic lines or maybe is just a "bad match" of parents every so often.
Though I try and "harden" myself to the lambs because you always know some of them will end up in the freezer--- either because they don't sell or they aren't good enough to sell---I had a little trouble with this girl. Yes, I weeped just a bit. But...it is a necessity to cull and only keep those that will do well for us or others and not have lambs that might potentially have problems too. Part of it is raising good animals and part of it is about supplying the meat for ourselves. I have to admit---I have always weeped a bit with the animals. Even sometimes the chickens that I have come to like quite well. So I do wonder at times why I am not a vegetarian. I have tried to be a vegetarian---but I do like meat. I suppose if I lived near a CAFO operation and had to see the care ( or lack ) of the animals----that might have been my catalyst to not eat meat. When on the other hand I am raising them myself, I at least know they had the very best life that they could have had.
One problem we have come across lately is selling our meat. We have run into the problem that there are no longer (must be recently) any NON regulated butcher shops around us. All of them are required to be inspected. Which means that any cow, sheep, pig (farm animal basically) that comes to them to be cut and wrapped MUST be killed in front of the inspector ---by them. However, my issue is that I do not want to take my animals on a trip and pull them out in a strange place and have them stand around in a holding pen to be butchered after they have completely freaked out and been stressed to the nines--by a stranger. I have always felt very strongly that life and death should occur in the place of the animals life. It is the way nature intended it. Animals aren't hauled out of the woods to a processing facility to be butchered under supervision---then later that week the wolves come and pick them up all neatly wrapped.
SO...I have come to a conundrum. How to now sell my meat? Legally---I can't sell it to anyone without that inspection. I could get into huge trouble. Just ask the raw milk people---and they are doing it the "legal" way to start with. I think from now on we will (after this season) set ourselves up with the intention to sell only to those who want, and will, butcher the animals their selves here on our farm. We may have to invest in a station for them to use---with water and a table---but it will be much more "humane" in my opinion than the other way. Besides---if you take them to a butcher that can only butcher on Tuesdays (that is the day the inspector comes) how do you know for sure that you get back your organic animal and not someone else's? Maybe---since not much lamb/sheep is raised around here---I would. But what about a cow or pig? How would I know for sure? Of course---if we killed it ourselves and had him package it---we would still wonder about that, but I just thought I would throw it out there for thought. Since it is something we have wondered about.

As to the issue of packaging the meat, we bought a "food saver" machine. Yes, I know it requires plastic bags to save the meat in. Something I would rather not use--plastic I mean. However---I am horrible at wrapping air free with butcher paper and we loose meat periodically because of freezer burn. So I decided that I would at least invest in the food saver and use it on the larger cuts that are more likely to wait for longer times (roasts are for fall and winter---not the middle of summer) and might become freezer burnt during the wait.
Beyond the problem of the plastic---this thing is neat, neat, neat. After you put in the meat it sucks out all the air and then seals the bag for you. Nice! We had so much fun that we spent quite a bit of time watching it and commenting on how it sounds like a motor cycle. It "shifts" as it does different aspects: like pulling out the air and then sealing the edges etc. It was so fun to do that I was reminded of when we got our first front loader washing machine----it was fascinating watching the clothes go round. Oh the joys of mundane things. To bad I didn't get that much joy out of laundry now :-D

Anyways---hope all are well. We seems to be beyond busy lately---however for some reason there doesn't seem to be a lessening in things to do. Why is that?
Oh yes---we got RAIN finally! Real rain---almost a whole days worth. Amazing :-)

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


Well, as a break from the recent spinning, I am laying out my tile for my kitchen wall. I have "mulled" over exactly how I wanted it to look for a while now and with the counters finished---we can tile. The tile will not only look nice but also cover up the cement water that splashed onto the walls and stained them.
So...though I will probably be a while laying it out AND I decided to order a few more of a few select colors from Mosaic Tile Market....here is a sneak preview of what it will eventually be like. You can get somewhat of an idea of what I am aiming for with these pictures :-) Lots of color!

Have a great 4th everyone! * * * *

Oh yes----we are getting some little bitty rain showers lately. Not enough to grow grass but at least enough to turn some of it back to a light shade of green. More would be greatly appreciated though!