June 20, 2024

From the Pastures: You are needed

Hello from Graze-N-Grow. This past month has seen, as usual, a frenzy of farm activity with most farmers finished or nearly finished planting. But not here at home. Our organic corn and beans are still in the bag. Recent much needed rains have delayed soil prep, but were much welcomed. We’ve had at least four hail events in the past month, but the one April 19 was a doozy. Larger than golf balls and lasting for about 10 minutes, it perforated all the greenhouses and chicken hoop houses.

I was worried about all the newborn lambs in the rye field, but found no evidence of injuries there, thank God. The houses were all double-wall poly inflated by fans to keep them stable in high winds, so Ruth and her sister, Martha, had to disassemble, tighten down and reassemble the top layer to keep them from wind damage and are hoping to get them to last for the season since heating them is no longer necessary.

New poly will be over $5,000 and usually lasts about five years, but they have never had to do all in one year before. If they don’t just retire after this season — 32 years — then I suppose they will have to commit to another five years of business. With usually only three or four of us putting the two layers of poly on, it’s quite an effort and to do all at one time I don’t look forward to the experience, but will wait and see what they decide to do.

The ewes are moved off the rye now and have a few days to graze the two farmsteads and half mile connecting lane, then on to pasture. The cows and calves, after grazing one 15-acre sacrifice pasture, are now grazing the 20-acre canary grass wetland which has avoided until recently being partially under water as per usual, so there’s plenty for them there. In all the years I’ve grazed, I have yet to see any canaries there, but hope to sometime.

Most of our ewes are done lambing now and lambs are looking good. Thankfully, we’ve had few death losses and bonding challenges, but a few times during my check-up routine I find a newborn alone and through the fence and a quarter-mile away from the flock. Many times momma had two lambs and one strays. If the navel is still wet, I warm the cow colostrum and tube it or bottle feed it, then mark it and put it in the flock after calling them close to me. Usually, momma finds and accepts it and all is well, but sometimes I have a bottle lamb.

This year, that number is about 6% of lambs, not terrible, but not great either as that’s high labor and usually means the ewe isn’t being as productive as she should be. Since Ruth’s cow, Ella, gives more milk at times than customers consume, I use the old milk for the lambs. I smell it before heating it and if it smells OK, I feed it. I have fed milk as old as 12 weeks with no complaint from the lambs. That continues to amaze me.

Progress is being made on our I-80 overpass, finally. Right after Easter they started construction and once they get the median tower formed and poured — five sets — then they will start on the deck. The foreman hopes to be done by July if he’s not pulled for other jobs. That’s great news, but what’s not so great is that I don’t get to have them build me a pond since the test holes yielded too much sand and not enough clay. Now they will have to haul from a distance.

Since my shop is less than a couple hundred feet from the overpass, I get to watch the process of removal, forming, pouring and so forth. These guys do about 30 to 40 a year and don’t waste time. I’m sure it was much easier the first time it was built when there was no traffic, but the process is much more involved now when they have to move the big machinery nine miles every time they need it on the other side. Just as most people wouldn’t have a clue how to farm, I wouldn’t have a clue how projects like this could be done, either. In both efforts, it’s nice to be needed. So, while you are going through your farming process just remember — you are needed. Happy trails.

Jim Draper

Jim Draper

Sheffield, Ill.