May 13, 2021

From the Pastures: Off to a wet start

Hello from Graze-N-Grow. I think we can delay any talk of drought for now, at least in my area, with over 2 inches of rain the past few days. Thankfully my neighbor, Roger, was able to get oats and peas drilled into 60 acres of bean stubble before the rains. I hope to get some grazing from that before planting our organic corn there.

When it dries out, I plan on getting more drilled into a couple small pastures that have been used as sacrifice to give the rest of the pastures a little more time before turn out. It also gives me the chance to reintroduce some chicory and legumes into the predominately grass sward. Chicory is supposed to be a perennial, but it usually dies out for me after about three years. I like it for providing the flock with a good natural wormer. It’s usually the first plant grazed when they go into a pasture, only matched by giant ragweed as a delicacy.

We also have about 60 acres of rye that I spread really late last fall into cornstalks. I didn’t think it would ever amount to much, but it is beginning to look pretty green out there now. After it dries out in a couple of days, I plan on turning the flock out there until I get ready to plant.

Since our roads became fit for trucks, we’ve had some chicken litter and mushroom compost spread on some ground going to corn, but the rains have delayed the finish. I still have some manure to spread when it gets fit again. I clean the barns each spring after the ewes and lambs are done with them and I pile it in rows outside until spreading it the next year. Then I only have half the volume and can spread on pastures without smothering the forage.

A few years ago, I bought some earthworms and put in the manure piles and when I find a big batch of worms every year since, I save them back for the new piles and the rest of them get an airborne send off to hopefully multiply in the pasture.

We’ve had Easter lamb requests from our regular customers for the Eastern Orthodox Easter May 2 event this year. They want a 25- to 30-pound carcass, so it’s a good thing their Easter is so late this year. We also have a lady customer who has been coming out from Chicago every year for at least the last 12 years for a Passover lamb. She is a Messianic Jew. Although I only know her as Mrs. Green, we’ve become friends during our visits with her and her kids and now grandkids.

I’ve had truckers haul their lambs alive in the cab of their truck and even had two fellows haul 15 of them live in the back of their minivan back to Chicago. The next year, these fellows decided it would be better to butcher them before the trip home. What some folks will do to have a great meal.

But one fellow came to get one three days ahead of slaughter day and put it in the back seat of his car with his two kids holding it and I told him he wouldn’t be able to kill it. He said, “Why not?” I said. “Look at your kids holding that lamb. By tomorrow they won’t let you.” The next day he called and said he needed another lamb and would bring the now-tame one back and trade. I ended up keeping him for about four years in the breeding group. He produced some good lambs. What a lucky fellow.

Ruth and her sister, Martha, have been getting ready for opening day April 12 at their greenhouse, Red Barn Nursery, and even after 32 years it’s a challenge to get the barn and yard and parking areas cleaned up and presentable after I’ve had all winter to mess it up while doing daily sheep chores.

After last year’s chaos with “you know what,” they had their best year ever since gardening and home food production became the “new normal.” I hope “that new normal” will continue this season, but I hope for us all that we can get back to the old normal this year, as well. I pray that the blessings of the Easter season will help us to appreciate the new life it brings this spring. Happy trails.

Jim Draper

Sheffield, Ill.