As of mid-January the Farm has wrapped up our “Fall Projects” and the farm is in a steady routine. Feed & water the pigs in 4 groups, feed & water the hens, feed & water the milk cow, feed & water the other cows. Repeat in the afternoon, and gather eggs too. It’s simple and doesn’t take a lot of brainpower, so a lot of my thought has been on the coming Spring and the 2024 growing season. But, before that, a bit of a 2023 review:
We had 150 hens to start the year, 70 hens for most of the summer, and 200 hens for the fall and now into the winter. They’re pumping out eggs of supreme nutritional quality and flavor. Feed the hens fresh, organic feed and keep them moving to fresh plots of green pasture – making nutritionally dense and delicious eggs is as simple as that.
Now there is no pasture. It’s covered in 18” of snow. So the hens are in the hoop house on 12” of mulch bedding. They’re staying warm, dry and busy. They are so busy. Eat from the feeder over here, go check out the nest boxes, maybe lay an egg, go scratch the mulch over there over here, walk around and look for grains or roots or bugs to glean, dig a hole and bathe in the dust, perch on the roost bar, do it all again. The hoop house is a dynamic dance of 200 independent creatures that function alone and as a flock, and that, with the help of the farmer and some infrastructure, continue to convert their daily efforts of gathering, scratching and pecking into wholesome human nutrition.
From April-August 2023, we raised 500 meat chickens. They were kept on beautiful grass & clover pasture, fed freshly ground local feed, and moved to fresh pasture twice per day. They were raised with consideration for the land, with care for the creature, and with commitment to a superior final product. The final product – packaged whole chickens, ready for the grill or roaster and our friends’ tables – is worthy of the huge effort it takes to raise meat birds and we’re proud to offer it.
We butchered 10 pigs throughout the year, and we have 27 in their winter pasture paddocks right now. Their “pigness” is a joy to work with – that is, to just see them do natural pig things makes me and anyone who sees it feel that the world is right and good. A pig napping in the grass, soaking up the low angle sun of a Fall afternoon. A pig using its nose as a shovel, working the earth and sorting it for roots, grubs, tubers. A group of piglets that do everything together – sleep in a pile, explore in a single-file line, nurse all at once on mama’s 16 teats, play and wrestle together. The pigs are entirely remarkable creatures, able to thrive through all of Wisconsin’s weather, to forage much of their own feed, to reproduce naturally and abundantly, to grow fast and to store anything from the farm – grains, greens, roots, forages, dairy, eggs, garden products, hay – into absolutely delicious pork. We have put a lot of money and effort into pig infrastructure, and a lot of time into the continuous movement of pigs across the farm. It’s worth it. The pigs absolutely hold up their end of the bargain, returning and multiplying our effort in the form of pork of incredible flavor and nutrition, a true heritage and wholesome product for us and our community. We are stoked to have more to sell this coming year.
We acquired some cattle this year. Some worked out, some didn’t. We currently have an odd assortment of bovines, including a lovely jersey heifer that is due to calve any day now. We will keep you updated on the imminent arrival of the calf and the beginning of milking of Bonnie.
This was the first year we sold at a farmer’s market. It was great fun. Both the community of buyers and the community of other farmers is full of vibrant and friendly people and we have many new friends. It’s not the most efficient or practical way of distributing food – gather your harvest, pack the truck, drive to market, unpack the truck, set up the tent and tables and signs, put out the product, stand there for half the day or more, try to keep the product cool and out of the sun, hopefully you brought the products people want in the quantity they want, hopefully people come out in whatever weather the day brings, pack it all up again, into the truck, back to the farm, unpack the truck. It’s a lot of handling of product and guesswork for us as to what to bring, and guesswork for the customer as to who and what will be at the farmers market. It’s not efficient. But it is fun. Farmers markets are a cultural scene and a social gathering. A circus of colorful vendors and colorful customers, music, wind and rain and sun, beautiful food and crafts and flowers. We’re happy to have it, we enjoy it, and it has been a great way to get our name and presence into the community. We are planning on the Summer Sheboygan farmer’s market again for 2024, and we are currently doing the Sheboygan winter market on the first and third Saturday of each month.
We planted a garden in 2023, just the 4th garden of my life, and for the first time put some focus on a “market garden”, that is, a garden intended to produce products for sale, a garden for profit. The market garden was contained in our hoop house and consisted mostly of the classic summer favorites – cucumbers and tomatoes. The tomatoes were long-term friends of mine. They started as seeds in February, were planted into the hoop house in late-April, harvest began in July and continued all the way into November. From the tiniest most fragile seedling to an inch-thick unbreakable 16 foot long vine, loaded with 20 pounds of fruit, over the course of 9 months. 9 months is a long time to carefully nurture an annual plant. Like our pigs, the tomatoes held up their end of the bargain and returned in spades delicious fruit for consumption and profit.
Fall projects didn’t really get started until around Halloween and didn’t finish until mid-January, the day before a 12” snowstorm. We were blessed with warm (but muddy) weather for the projects, which included excavating and filling 500 linear feet of 6 foot deep trench for frost-free water lines, 3 new water hydrants, 1 cattle drinker, a cattle drinker gravel pad, clearing 30 years of brush from our property lines, building a mile-and-a-half of permanent high-tensile exterior fence, a mile of semi-permanent interior low-tensile fence, a fence charger and ground system, a half dozen gates, and a milk house and shelter for Bonnie.
I’m grateful to have the new infrastructure, pleased to have those projects wrapped up, and happy to be taking the time to finally put window, door and floor trim on our house. The Farmboss is pleased. It does look nice.
We are taking 4 pigs to the butcher today. Our full inventory of pork will be back in stock mid-February. Our pork will also be available in the butcher case at Stefano’s Slo Food Market the week of February 5.
Okay, thanks for reading, enjoy the day!