Thursday, October 23, 2008

Logging Camp

Tarps over the woodpile work for a little while, but they're not the greatest. This point is driven home when you try to straighten them out after a windy day and one of the lakes that has formed on the top comes rushing down to wet your pants for you. So we've decided to build a wood shed. Our property has plenty of pine trees planted by the previous owners which need to be thinned out, and they'll now make some nice poles for the woodshed. All we'll need to buy is roofing.

We all ventured out to one of our pine stands for an afternoon of playing logger, and had a lot of fun. I felled the first tree with a chainsaw, but after that decided to just use the axe. I like to do things the hard way (note that I'm still quite happy to use the tractor if not the chainsaw), so that it won't be such a shock when the economy collapses and that's the only option available. But that will certainly never happen so long the fiscally conservative republicans remain at the helm of this great country.

After felling, limbing, and bucking up all the logs, we hauled them out of the woods and to the house with the tractor, which works well with a 3-point crane and a chain. Here's a video:

Logging is hard work for people who aren't smart enough to use a chainsaw, so we had to take a break in the afternoon and press some cider. Rachel had previously picked the apples on the trees at her parent's house. It was kind of neat to drink cider from apple trees that she planted when she was about four years old.

We had our first frost on the 19th, and have a had a couple more since then. I remember 80 degrees only a few weeks ago, and this Sunday there's a chance of snow. The weather changes fast here.

I've uploaded a few photos of the fall colors. The sumacs (particularly poison sumac -- my favorite) turned red first, and then the sassafras turned yellow. I've been waiting for all the trees to turn colors all at once, but they aren't cooperating.

The goats needed another worming, so we're without milk again for a few more days while the medication makes it through their system. Hopefully we don't have to keep using the hard stuff like this on a regular basis. The kittens are taking this especially hard. They run outside to lick the grass when I have to toss the milk out.

We're looking at a Jersey heiffer this weekend. That will definitely ramp up the milk production if we buy a cow. Rachel is trying to remain a voice of reason, but I like the idea myself. I don't like the idea of lugging several buckets of water down to the barn twice a day though; I really need to get some water lines installed. Cows also eat way more hay than goats, and may go through as much as 1 bale per day. That gets expensive, so we would likely set up a "cow share" to sell some of the milk. This is about the only legal way to sell milk in Michigan without investing 10's of thousands of dollars.

Rachel is attending a workshop tomorrow on the legalities and requirements of selling milk in Michigan. Most of the speakers are state and federal inspectors, so I suspect it's mostly intended to squash people's ambitions. In most states, the laws were written by the large industrial producers to squash small competitors, and Michigan is among the worst in that regard. A couple generations ago, it was quite common for a farm to sell milk (typically raw) to their neighbors.

Henry is experimenting with new parental management techniques as of late. In addition to the frequently used tools of the tantrum, whining, and pleading techniques, he's recently decided that threatening to "not be with us for a whole year" might be effective. I mentioned that he wouldn't like living by himself in the woods for that long, and he seemed to agree. The least-favored parent at any given moment may also be told that "It's hard for me to tell you this... but I love <the other parent> more than you now."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Over the last couple weeks, I've managed to sneak up on the turkeys that frequent our farm without even trying, on a few occasions now. They're wiley birds, and are typically seen sprinting for the nearest patch of trees. But for some reason, they just weren't paying attention lately.

This was enough to make me think that I might hunt them successfully, without the usual investment in full-body camouflage, decoys, calls, and everything else which Cabellas will gladly sell me. It's only legal to hunt them with a bow or shotgun, so you've got to get pretty close (about 40 yards max)

Our neighbor Stan just happened to be interested in hunting in our tree stand, so he and I swapped spots for a couple days. He's got a tent blind set up, which makes for a good spot to sit where the turkeys don't notice you. They were so thick around the blind that he was shooing them away, since he was after deer.

I spent the last couple days out there, a bit in the mornings and again in the evenings. It turns out that the tent blind doubles as a mosquito feeding station when I'm in it. My constant squirming and swatting probably didn't help me lure any turkeys the first night, but it got much better once I came back armed with some mosquito netting over my head. I was so stealthy that a chipmunk came and shared the blind with me for a while, but no turkeys showed up. I did spook a bunch of them the last time I walked out to the blind though, but these ones saw me well before I saw them.

Just to rub it in, the turkeys have been hanging out in our fields as if they were a herd of cows. While I was standing out in the driveway chatting with Jim Wetherbee (whose family owned our farm since the '50s), they came walking accross the pasture in the middle of the day.

We've got a new feature this week -- video! They're posted over in the upper-right hand of the blog, along with the photos. One is of Henry singing his "Burrito the Cat" song, which is how he entertains the cats (and Rachel) while he's sitting in the barn during the morning milking. Youtube's processing darkened it a little too much, but you may still be able to make out Henry holding "Burrito" the cat while he sings.

Another video is of Fergus the Rooster, displaying his new crowing ability. He's becoming a real man now, with all the responsibilities that entails. He's been demanding plenty of piggy back rides from the hens, but gets a little confused and stands on them backwards sometimes.

Our hens just started laying this week, and are fortunately returning to the coop to use the nesting boxes. Rachel was watching as one of them finished her business and stepped outside, giving the "Where is everybody!?" noise. Fergus, down near the barn, heard her, and ran in the direction of her call, pausing to crow a few times until they made contact and were reunited.

Last weekend was a little taste of summer again, with temps in the low 80's. The asian beetles took advantage of the warm weather to crawl into every nook and cranny in our house (they like to winter over wherever it's warm), where we met them with the vacuum cleaner. They look just like orange lady bugs, which is what I thought they were when we first moved here. There's also another beetle called a "box elder bug" which has been showing up inside the house, although not quite in the same numbers as the asian beetles. I'm about ready for a good bug-killing frost, myself.

The fall colors are really ramping up now. No good photos yet, but we'll get some posted. I've also been sampling the nuts that grow on our farm. Hickory nuts are supposedly one of the best tasting nuts around, but you have to find a tree producing nuts where the meat come out of the shells easily. I haven't found any of those yet.

Today I tried cracking open a few black walnuts. While they're not particularly easy to extract from the shell either, they are much bigger, and taste great. Better than regular walnuts like those you buy in the store, as the skin doesn't seem to have a bitter flavor to it. Walnut husks stain quite well, as I now have brown fingertips from peeling off the husks. There's some sort of worm that lives in the husks, but they don't seem to be getting into the nuts themselves.

Our pastures are coming in nicely now. Not all the green is good (there's a good amount of weeds in addition to the clover, alfalfa, and grasses), but I've got to say I'm pretty satisfied with how they're turning out. I don't think we'll have much trouble grazing them next summer, or getting a cutting or two of hay.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What made David and Rachel do such a silly thing?

If you've read any books by Michael Pollan, you can skip this entry. If not, the NY Times has an excellent article he's written to the next president. It's a long article, but you could consider it a "Reader's Digest" summary of his books. He makes several excellent points, all of which have in part inspired us to start our small farm. Here's the link:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

This is where we're headed...

This post doesn't have much to do with our farm, but rather is a video clip (there are three, each about 10 minutes long) which I strongly recommend that everyone watch, and share with everyone they know as well.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Monster Buck!

Having hunted for the last 12 years in Washington where I went as long as 4 years without getting a deer (and this even when I lived and worked in the woods as a forester), the idea that I could sit in one spot and expect one to walk within 50 yards seems almost laughable. For instance, during last year's season in Washington, I hunted in the foothills above Bellingham, covered over 20 miles in a day (okay -- I didn't plan to go quite that far, but became navigationally challenged) and didn't see so much as a single doe. Hunting in Michigan is different.

This morning was opening day of bow season, so I figured I'd go out and sit in my new treestand and stare at the trees and birds for an hour or two before I had to start work this morning, which is all that would happen if I tried this back in Washington.

About 10 minutes after sunrise, a doe came down the trail I had come in on. She paused about 20 yards away, pretending to eat some leaves while keeping her eyes and ears focused on me, then popping her head up to see if I had moved. She knew something was up, and finally turned around and left.

Another 20 minutes after she left, I heard the sound of a horse. Not sure what you'd call it, but it's the sound a horse makes when they exhale and let their lips flap. Maybe the neighbors were out riding horses, I thought. I turned my head to see three bucks making their way through the woods past me, about 50 yards away (about the maximum effective range of a bow). The first was at least an 8 point, and the two behind him both appeared to be 6 pointers.

I drew my bow on the leader, just as he disapppeared behind some trees. Then buck #2 came into clear sight, so I let the arrow fly, and the deer bolted. It was a long shot, and chances are that I misjudged the distance (arrows have a very curved trajectory compared to a bullet, so guessing the distance wrong by 5 yards is enough to send your arrow into the bushes rather than the intended target). I waited a bit, as you're supposed to do to keep a wounded deer from running rather than bedding down nearby as they grow tired.

Finally I climbed down to see where my arrow ended up. Sitting in the bushes, there it was. It had pink frothy blood on it, indicating that it had passed through the lungs. That's a good sign -- it means the arrow hit the "kill zone", and that the deer won't go far. Now to just find the blood trail...

I could clearly see the soil churned up where the 3 bucks had run off, so started following. And following. The woods here are a latticework of deer trails, but it had just stopped raining, so the old tracks were washed out and relatively easy to tell from the new tracks. As the deer run, however, they might only leave a hoofprint every 10-15 feet, so it's not always easy to know if they've turned on a side trail until you follow it.

I followed the trail as far as I could -- about 1/8th of a mile, where I could no longer find any fresh tracks. Not once did I see a drop of blood, which seemed odd for a lung shot, and made me think that the wounded deer had given me the slip on a side trail somewhere.

I headed back to the house (saw two big turkeys on the way), letting Rachel know about my adventures, and picked up our dog Memphis. She's old and deaf, but she loves deer and still has a good sniffer. In her younger days, she would go nuts seeing one outside our camper, and would chase them through the woods as fast as she could go, letting out yelps of frustration as they easily outran her through the brush.

Memphis and I headed back to the scene of the crime, travelling through a brushy area that I thought the deer may have gone through (but to which I saw no tracks). It wasn't long before
she became "occupied" and stopped following me. I turned around to follow her, and came accross a very well marked blood trail. Memphis had wandered down to the pond, and there, floating about 20 feet out, was a big furry deer back.

I'm not sure why he would've chosen to run into the water. Maybe it makes a good hiding spot (we spooked a fawn hiding in this pond last summer). I've heard of other deer doing the same thing, but never thought it might be a pattern until now. I couldn't see the rack though, until I waded out to pick him up. I phoned Rachel to let her know the good news, and decided to just pull the deer through the water over to where we could load him into the pickup. She met me just as I reached the end of the pond, where she snapped the two photos you'll see in the link for 10/1/08.