Labeling Tomatoes

Some people are lucky to find a variety of tomato they like and fill their garden with it.  I am not such a person.  When I attend garden shows or visit garden centers, I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer number of different tomato varieties – red, yellow, orange, green, purple and even black!  Small, large, early maturing, late maturing, delicious-for-eating, great-for-canning.  I want one of each!

So, each year I start at least a dozen different varieties, however, last year I had issues keeping track of which variety was which.  The popsicle sticks with names sharpie-ed on them were NOT adequate for the job!  This year I came up with a unique solution that I like a lot better.  Used canning lids!  Since lids can only be used once, I have a large stack of them that I hadn’t thrown away, feeling they must have another purpose.  I drilled a small hole in the top of each and attached it via a small piece of wire, to the top of the trellis, directly above each plant.  They flap in the wind and make a lovely wind-chime noise, but more importantly, there is no doubt which variety grows in each space.  Even when the plants have grown significantly, I should still be able to see and read the labels on the lids.  So much better than digging in the dirt looking for a popsicle stick that has long since disintegrated!

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Baby Daisy

Due to a WordPress glitch, the first part of this post went out prematurely and only half written.  I apologize for any inconvenience!

Our second (and last for the year) calf came into the world this week.  It has been, well, HOT lately (it is July after all) and the heat indices have been 100+ (38+ in Celsius) for several weeks.  A storm every 10 days or so assures that the humidity stays high and the poor heifer – enormously pregnant for the last few weeks – has looked quite miserable as she waddled back and forth between the barn and the pasture.

So when she went into labor 10 days early, we were happy for her pregnancy to come to an end.  We knew the calf was going to be a big one – this heifer looked bigger a month ago than the one giving birth then – so we assumed it would be a bull calf.  Watching her labor and attempt to push the calf out, we realized she wasn’t far from distress, made worse by the high temperatures.  She was laboring at the hottest part of the afternoon and though she was in a stand of trees, we knew she couldn’t labor ineffectively for long before it would become a problem, so we made the decision to move in and help her.

Here is where working with the cattle on a daily basis, handling them, scratching their polls, putting halters and lead ropes on and moving them around, really helped us.  Some animals in labor want nothing to do with humans but this heifer, Star, seemed happy to have our help.  We each grabbed a leg, and also used a hand to ease the head out of the vulva.  it took the combined efforts – a cow and two people – four contractions to pull the calf free.  Once the head and shoulders had cleared the birth canal, the rest of the calf came out in a rush of amniotic fluid.

Seconds after birth

Seconds after birth

The heifer took a short time to catch her breath before turning to see her calf for the first time.

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Labor forgotten, she was ready to start cleaning off the baby.

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Throughout this time she was relaxed having us there, but became anxious about the presence of the dogs – dogs she has known for six months and never worried about before!

Until now we had assumed the calf was a bull due to its size – it was a much bigger calf than Baby Rose, born a month ago.  So it was with astonishment that we finally checked gender and discovered the calf is another little heifer!  We couldn’t be more thrilled as, being Jerseys, a heifer is far more valuable to us than a bull calf.

Baby Daisy knew she had to get on her feet as soon as possible and it wasn’t long until she had gained enough control of those long, gangly limbs, to stand – somewhat shakily – and then take her first few steps.  She started looking for the udder immediately and found it soon after.

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We are thrilled that Star stood still to allow Daisy to get the hang of nursing.  Sometimes first-time mothers are not as tolerant and try to move away any time the baby latches on.  She is also being very protective.  We are simply happy to have a healthy heifer calf, even though it means yet another cow to add to the milking rotation.

Baked Custard

What do you do with a surplus of both milk and eggs?  Make custard of course!  We hadn’t been milking long before we found ourselves in that situation and, seeking a way to use the surplus, I looked up recipes for baked custard.  However I didn’t like any of the recipes I found as they used too few eggs.  So, I took a bit of this and a bit of that to create my own version of this wonderful dessert, that HWA has nicknamed “hot ice-cream”.  Here is my recipe for baked custard:

3 cups milk (we use raw milk, either goat or cow)
8 eggs
⅓ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt

Break the eggs into the bowl of a food processor, and process for about a minute until they are thoroughly mixed.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix again.  Pour into a glass or ceramic baking dish.

Place the baking dish into another oven-safe container that is somewhat larger.  Pour water into the second container until it comes about halfway up the sides of the custard dish.

Bake for 40 minutes at 350.

That is all.  It doesn’t get any easier!

I tried to get a photo before anyone ate any but you have be faster around here than I am apparently.

I tried to get a photo before anyone ate any but you have be faster around here than I am apparently.

Rotational Grazing

When it came to raising sheep and goats, we started by following conventional wisdom, which is to deworm on a regular schedule.  However after observing the animals and doing some research, HWA and I started to feel uncomfortable with routinely pouring poison down their throats.  Last year we attended an all day seminar on Healthcare for Small Ruminants, held at a local, respected university vet school ,and came away committed to reducing, if not totally eliminating, our need to deworm.

It is important to understand the life cycle of the parasites.  For most intestinal worms, the adult lives in the animal and its eggs are expelled with fecal matter.  The eggs hatch into larva which crawl up the blades of grass, to be ingested by the animals, reinfecting them.  This cycle takes about 6 days.  Larva can live about 30 days on the grass but if not eaten in that time will die.

A simple solution then, seemed to be rotational grazing.  By moving the sheep and goats to new pasture every few days, and not returning them to any area for 6-8 weeks, the cycle is interrupted.

The solution may be simple; the implementation however is more complicated.  Until now we’ve relied on our physical fence to keep them confined to their pasture.  In order to cordon off sections, we turned to electric fence.  After researching several brands, we settled on Gallagher SmartFence, which is a form of temporary electric fence that is fast and easy to take down and set up again.  For a power source we chose solar.

Stock photo courtesy of Gallagher USA

Stock photo courtesy of Gallagher USA

The strands of electric fence come on a reel that looks not unlike a harpoon.  The stakes are included on the post and as the fence is reeled out, each post is pressed into the ground.  When taking the fence down, the handle is turned to roll the strings back onto the reel.

Stock Photo courtesy of Gallagher USA.

Stock Photo courtesy of Gallagher USA.

Initially we had to train the sheep and goats to the electric fence, by setting it up inside a section of physical fence.  That way, even if they got through, they couldn’t go anywhere. Once they respected the fence, we tested them by confining them to a section of pasture.  For two weeks they did not breach it, so we felt confident we could use it independently of the physical fence.

As it is summer, we have to make sure they have access to shade and water – challenging to be sure.  For now we are confining them to areas that have at least one tree and are close to water sources.  Our ultimate goal is to have portable shelter and water.

Below you can see the large area created by the electric fence, inside the chicken yard, which had become quite overgrown.  The area is approximately 60′ wide by 105′ long, making use of the entire 330′ of wire.  It includes the tree in the background of the photo.  9 sheep and 3 goats have “mowed” this area quite effectively in only 2 ½ days (when they started it was all as long as the grass you see in the foreground).

After 60 hours on 5400 sq ft, the grass is already noticeably grazed down!

After 60 hours on 6300 sq ft, the grass is already noticeably grazed down!

And, here is how the area looked after they had spent a full four days here:

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Our plan is that rotational grazing combined with dung beetles will allow us to completely forgo the use of chemical dewormers.