Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Much has happened since my last blog update in February!   Spring started early, forcing us to get a running start.   We loaded roughly 40 loads of manure by hand and spread it out on our fields to be plowed and some on the pastures this year.

Our half acre of corn (being plowed above) and a half acre of oats went in without a hitch.   Oats need to go in early to gain an advantage over weeds that germinate at higher temperatures.   I thought I'd lost this race when the temps hit 95 shortly after getting the oats planted (in early March), but the crop still did well.

Aside from harvesting our oats and straw, and one load (out of 9) of hay, we've completed all of our fieldwork with the horses this year.  All the manure spreading, plowing/discing/harrowing, planting, hay mowing, raking, tedding, and hay loading were done without any direct use of fossil fuel.  We're not 100% yet, but I'm proud of that.

The first cutting of hay was a bit late due to a business trip of mine to Pennsylvania in May, but we got it all in the barn without rain.   Lots of volume there, but the humidity was so low (in the 20's) that we lost a lot of the leaves as they crumbled off in the field.   Leaves contain most of the nutritional value in alfalfa hay.

As soon as the hay was in the barn, we were feeding it out, as the rain had stopped and our pastures stopped growing as a result.   Feeding this winter's hay in June wasn't something I'd planned on.   With the lack of rain, our hayfields screeched to a halt as well, and the price of hay started to take off.  I can usually get good dairy quality hay at around $4/bale, but I've seen prices as high as $17 this year.   We started buying as much as we could, and sold another cow and some sheep.   We butchered our steer a few months earlier than planned, as any gain he made on hay would've been dearly expensive.  Even with the cuts in our herd and our own hay production, our hay requirements were quickly becoming a several thousand dollar liability.  Milk production dropped nearly 50% with the heat and return to a hay diet.

With temps hovering in the '90's and topping 100 a few times, I decided that it was time to move my computer (where I make money to support my farming habit) to our 72 degree stone basement.   I made friends with a salamander who lives under some boards in the dug-out "michigan basement" section under part of the house.  Hopefully he liked the cricket I put down his hole.

The past non-winter and summer starting in March began to worry me.   It was entirely possible that our farm would be untenable if this continued much longer.   Drought had been plaguing many southern states on a regular basis.   Had that situation moved north already?   Climate models (most of which have proven themselves to be far too conservative over the last decade) suggest that Michigan is destined to lose its forests and become a grassland area.  Would we also be losing our woods?   The massive sugar maples that shade our house?  Certainly changes of this magnitude aren't possible so soon... or are they?  With the north polar icecap on schedule to disappear by 2015, anything is possible.   There's little doubt that this will send our climate patterns into a new state.

About three weeks ago, the rains began again, with a 2" in an hour deluge.   We've had some rain every few days ever since.   The hay is growing again, and the animals just returned to pasture this week.  Hopefully we'll continue this way for the rest of the summer.   The nightmare is over, for the time being.   I'm still not sure we have enough hay to get through this winter (but that won't be a problem if winter doesn't come!), and am hesitant to buy what I'm seeing offered at the moment.   Hopefully our own remaining cuttings will give us what we need.

We've found that our wood cookstove is fine in the mornings, but a bit much in the evenings on days above 90, so Rachel requested a rocket stove for outdoor cooking on our patio.  Rocket stoves, for the uninitiated, are a very simple third-world type of design;  essentially an L-shaped chimney.   Put the wood in the bottom of the L, and set your pot on the top.  They burn quite efficiently.  We happened to have some bricks from an old chimney we took down last summer, which seem to work well for the stove.  So far, so good.   Our materials have cracked from the heat already -- but hopefully will stick together.


Unknown said...

It is amazing what can be done with 2-horsepower!
Good job Bro'... if more farmers followed your example... our planet would breathe a lot easier. :O)

Darija said...

great to hear an update! the weather is very concerning. best wishes for the rest of the summer