Hello again, from Wisconsin! It is summertime now, but the weather has been relatively mild lately (which is wonderful!). We’ve been staying busy on Mastodon Valley Farm, and time is passing quickly. So, what’s new?
As you can see from the above photo, we have started attending the local Viroqua Farmer’s Market as vendors. We don’t have too much to sell from the garden, but enough to make it worthwhile from time to time. Two weeks ago we cobbled together a market booth and sold our greens and radishes. It is certainly an education to be on the other side of the Farmer’s Market booth. We were up past dark the night before, washing our vegetables in a thunderstorm and making display boxes and signs. It seems like a great way to meet people in the community and spread the word about the farm.
The animals are doing well. Our broilers are a couple weeks away from their slaughter date. They are getting bigger and lazier.
The hens are alive and well. We have been sprouting a bunch of grain for all of the birds and pigs. The hens especially seem to like the sprouts.
We still haven’t built an “eggmobile” but the ladies do have access to lots of greens every day.
Below is a photo of our unfinished “sprout shack”. We built it on skids, so it is moveable, but we intend to use it in place for the summer. Soon we will build a roof to give the sprouts shade. The floor has plenty of drainage for our slitted buckets. We are using an old wine tote with siphoned water from the pond to rinse the sprouts. There is a good reserve (275 gallons) and lots of pressure to make rinsing fast. This system seems to work well. Right now we are soaking 6 buckets filled half-way with dry grains, every 12 hours. We rinse the buckets every 12 hours and feed the sprouts when they are 72-84 hours old to all of the poultry and pigs. It is becoming more efficient but we all haven’t decided if it is worth the effort. The pigs and hens do seem to prefer the sprouts over dry cracked grains. We will have to continue observing.
Below is a photo of Peter and Mo’s 17 resident pigs. The five largest are set to be slaughtered within a week.
We also have a new set of Freedom Ranger chicks. They are a little over 2 weeks old, and they have spent their entire lives in our off-grid Rocket Mass Brooder!
As soon as we received our second batch of chicks we had a number of days with thunderstorms and cooler nighttime temperatures. We were thinking we may not need to heat up the mass in the brooder as often with the summertime weather. But we ended up losing 4 chicks the first few days. Since then we have been vigilant about keeping the mass warm. I have been waking up at dawn to burn the Rocket Mass Heater for a good three hours in the cold mornings. We also start a fire in the evenings for a at least an hour. This seems to keep the mass quite warm. Since we started the routine of two daily burns, we haven’t had any more deaths. We have also been using the “deep bedding” method in the brooder, where we simply add more wood shavings every day, instead of removing the old chips. This causes the bottom poopy layers to begin composting. We left a thermometer in the 8-inch bedding and found it to be 91 degrees. So this method, coupled with a warmed mass and the body heat from the birds seems to create a perfectly warm environment for the little ones. We also keep the insulated box well ventilated. Our Rocket Mass Brooder seems to be a success. There are lots of modifications we would make if we were to build it again, but the general design seems to work pretty well for an off-grid situation. I also like the fact that the birds can experience night and day, instead of having a bright heat lamp on them 24 hours a day.
Our garden also seems to be doing well! We have a lot of grass growing, but the soil is incredible and it seems easy to grow anything here. Tony has been busy pruning and trellising our long tomato tunnel and it seems like we should have some ripe tomatoes pretty soon!
I have also been excited to be a part of the local herbal community since attending the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference last month. I met a local Viola herbalist who has been teaching a group of us once or twice a week at her homestead in exchange for some a little project help. She has been taking us on herb walks and teaching us about herbal medicine making. We have also become involved with the Driftless Herbal Exchange Network, a group of local people who come together to share local medicine by wildcrafting and growing medicinal herbs. We have gone out on several occasions to help harvest red clover. It is truly a unique and wonderful community of folks interested in local medicine and I am loving being a part of it!
Mastodon Valley Farm is full of incredible biodiversity and wild medicine. Tony built me a couple of hanging drying screens in the yurt and I have a constant rotation of herbs to dry, both from my garden and from the land. As I learn more about herbal medicine I am even more convinced of the health and vitality of the pastured animals here. They are not just eating grass– they have acres of medicine to choose from on a daily basis. We feel lucky to be in such a beautiful place, consuming the highest quality foods from pastured animals, our garden, and the plants growing wildly around us.
I have also been involved in the local Biodynamic group. We met a couple of weeks ago to make some preparations: valerian and yarrow. There is a wealth of wisdom and experience in this group of people and I look forward to learning more!
We have been learning a great deal about ourselves and what we desire out of life. We are grateful for the community of people here, for our gracious hosts Peter and Mo, and the lessons we have been learning from the animals and plants!