It has been a loooooooong winter. We Michiganders joke about our crazy weather (because otherwise we would just cry), but this year pushed us all onto the edge of insanity. Last year, it was 80 degrees in March and this year we had snow several times in April ...and about 2 weeks of rain, which caused record flooding in Grand Rapids and the surrounding area. As someone who suffers from a mild case of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), I've been in a major funk for the last month or so. Most years, if I can just make it through March, everything is fine.... but this year March seemed to keep going all the way through April and the weather just. didn't. get. better. The only thing that kept me sane was the grow light set-up I have in the basement. Sitting under those lights, planting seeds or transplanting starts is the best therapy I have found.
But I digress... No more talk about snow! Spring is finally here! And there is so much to do! Since April was so cold and rainy, we feel like we're about a month behind and we're playing the game of catch up. Here's what we're up to right now on Third Day Farms!
Goats: We put a deposit on 4 dairy goat kids a few weeks ago. All 4 are castrated males (called "wethers"). In order for dairy goats to give milk, they have to have babies (obviously). If the kid is a female, she can be used as a milking goat too, but the males are pretty much worthless. Only one buck (male) is needed to breed several does (females), so there is often a surplus of male dairy goats that often end up as meat. These kids will come home with us in a few weeks when they are weaned from their mothers. Their job will be to keep the pasture mowed over the summer and then in October, they will be sold for meat. We're excited to see adorable goat kids bounding around! In the meantime, we're working on beefing up the electric fence to make sure those kids stay put in the pasture.
Chickens: The 19 babies graduated to Chicken Tractor 1.0 yesterday (our first version of a chicken tractor). They were outgrowing the brooder box in the garage, but it just too cold to put them outside. Thankfully, the weather seems to have turned, hopefully for the long term. The babies were delighted to have some room to run around and be out on the grass!
We will keep the 19 babies locked up in the chicken tractor for a few weeks. Eventually, we will release them and they will begin to integrate with our existing flock of 14 laying hens. When everyone is playing nicely, they will all be moved into the new and improved Chicken Tractor 2.0.
Orders have been placed for meat birds. This will be our first attempt at raising chickens for meat. We decided to order Freedom Ranger chickens from Freedom Ranger Hatchery, after learning more about Cornish Cross chickens, the breed used in almost all meat bird production. This is just my opinion, but I think Cornish Crosses look freakish and sickly. They have been bred to grow such large breasts at such a fast rate that many of them have their legs break because of the weight. The catalogs advised against providing too much food, saying it would cause them to have heart attacks. They also advised butchering them by 9 weeks old at the latest, saying they would start to die off after that age. Call me crazy, but I don't want to eat an animal that can't reach adolescence because it's so poorly bred. When I saw the Cornish Cross chicks at the farm store, I couldn't help but notice how many of them were lying on their sides, struggling to breathe. No thanks. We're going to try our luck with Freedom Rangers, a breed that grows more slowly and looks like a real chicken, not a pair of chicken breasts on legs.
Hogs: We have 5 piglets coming in a few weeks once they are weaned. Last year we raised Yorkshire hogs. This year, we're going to try Hampshire hogs. Hampshires are a heritage breed, noted for their black bodies with a white belt, good foraging ability (we'll raise them on pasture, in addition to grain and garden produce) and tasty meat. We truly enjoyed raising hogs last year and look forward to more fun this summer!
Garden: After a late start, things are finally shaping up in the garden. The lettuce we planted in the green house is doing well and we'll have lots of fresh salad soon. The peas and spinach in the garden beds are coming up.
I've moved all the plants from the basement to the greenhouse. There are still a few extra tomato plants for sale, if you want to pick some up! Check my previous post to see what varieties I grew this year. The plants will be ready to go in about 2 weeks. Many people plant their peppers and tomatoes in mid-May, but I like to wait until around Memorial Day weekend, just to be on the safe side. Our Average Last Spring Frost Date is from April 30-June 1, and seeing how cold this spring has been, I have a feeling we just might get frost right up until June!
In addition to all the regular garden work, we've also been busy preparing a berry patch. We have about a half acre of grass on the corner of our property that we are sick of mowing. In the spirit of "Grow food, not lawns", we are slowly trying to convert some of that useless lawn (that costs us money to mow!) into a productive berry patch that hopefully will yield some delicious berries and maybe even some cash! We're just getting started and couldn't afford to invest in as many plants as we'd like, but here's what we're starting with (click on the link for the catalog description):
- 12 Heritage Raspberry Plants
- 6 Triple Crown Thornless Blackberry Plants
- 50 Earliglo Strawberry Plants
- 50 Cavendish Strawberry Plants
- 50 Tristar Everbearing Strawberry Plants
Whew! So much to do around here, but we're thrilled to finally be working outside. The children have rediscovered the joys of playing in the backyard. When they're not playing, they're "helping" us with various chores around the farm.
Our sweet baby girl turned 4, which is totally and completely incomprehensible to me. How did this happen? Over the past year, I've watched her transform from a needy, rascally 3 year old into a helpful young lady. She melts my heart when she tells me "When I grow up, I want to be a mama just like you!" Baby girl certainly still keeps me on my toes, but I can see that in the very near future, she will be my right hand woman.
There is the quick recap of our last few weeks. Stay tuned for updates on goats, hogs, chickens, berries and veggies. Hope you all are enjoying this spring sunshine!