Pre-Christmas status report

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Don Armstrong, Dec 21, 2003.

  1. Don Armstrong

    Don Armstrong In Remembrance

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    Well, it's almost Christmas. It's typical hot Christmas weather. It's already topped the old Fahrenheit century mark (38°C), and probably with the hottest quarter of the year still to come (early Autumn will be hotter than early Summer).

    It's been another dry year. People have taken crops off, but many or even most of them won't recover costs. Grain has been high in protein, but that's only because it hasn't filled out with starch - small and pinched. A lot of people cut their cereals for hay while they were still green - they could see that most of the heads were light, or even frost-damaged and empty. Canola yielded low and is very low in oil as well - didn't receive the rain or have the sub-surface moisture they needed when it was maturing.

    Fortunately my brother the farmer decided that farming was becoming too marginal and too costly, so he remade himself as my brother the grazier. As he says, he buys skinny sheep, makes them fat, and sells them again. We've never believed in overstocking the place and having starving animals chase the pasture down into the ground, eating the roots when they've eaten everything else, and then losing an inch of topsoil every time they break wind. Now it's paying off. For about the third year running rainfall has been low, but there's been just enough at just the right times to keep pasture growing. Now it's all dried off, and our place has standing feed where neighbours have already eaten their feed to the ground. Lots of people are eating-off their crop stubble now, and have very little stored feed - after all, it's the third straight year of severe drought. As my father says (and he's 85) it's the first drought he can remember that's nation-wide. Any severe drought before, there's been feed available somewhere. People could buy feed in, sell stock to a non-drought area, or even send them there for agistment. Not this one. Of course, that doesn't mean nothing grows. Just that nothing much grows.

    My brother's sold most of the stock now, and gone on holidays. Srelling a few more by remote control. He's relatively newly married, and he and his wife and their new son Peter (five months) have gone back to show Peter off to her family. She's from Mizoram - a state in India, in the far northeast, adjoining Bangla Desh (former East Pakistan) and Myanmar (former Burma), and not too far from Nepal. Interesting place - about 90% Christian. That doesn't go down too well at all with the other Indian states. They're working up a major missionary effort now. Won't be long before they have more missionaries in the field than all the conventional Christian churches of all the European and European-derived countries combined. That's than you and me, brother - the flame has passed to other hands - the people who are truly living the Christian life. Anyway, that's how he met her - he was visiting as part of his own missionary effort.

    Anyway, to return to the farm. My brother is getting the benefit of pre-Christmas prices for fat stock now. When he returns from holiday (another month yet) we'll be just about at the stage of seeing people unable to afford to hang onto their animals any longer. They'll have eaten their pastures, they'll have eaten their stubble, they'll have begun to make inroads into their stored hay and grain, and they'll be making decision about which stock they can afford to keep. That's when he'll be able to buy light (i.e. skinny) lambs at bargain prices, and take advantage of the pasture we haven't eaten-off. Also means that, because we're not over-grazing, the pastures will recover faster when the autumn rains come.

    In the meantime, here I am, back on the family farm. Not good for much. My back problems just aren't getting better fast enough, so I'm going to have to relinquish my job. Still, I can make myself useful here. My father is needing more and more help now, and there are things Mum won't be able to do for too much longer. One thing I earnestly believe is that today's farmers have lost the plot to an extent. Financiers have sold them a bill of goods, and they believe they have to finance operations and be in debt. In that situation, they are too busy servicing the debt to think about things. Too busy making money to pay bank interest, to be able to spend time saving money.

    When I was growing up, we used to do "homesteader" things. Kill our own meat, grow a lot of our own food. That's something I can do (although we're severely limited with vegetable gardens and even fruit trees in a drought). We're enjoying the first of the summer fruit now - cherries (we don't grow them ourselves, but they're worth buying), apricots, plums, figs. I love fresh figs. Busy time for Mum (age 82) - she still preserves (you'd call it cans) and makes a lot of jam. I have to be fast to get any fresh fruit.

    Do you know, when a mob of livestock goes away to be sold this way, they take everything - even crippled animals? Clear the animals out, ready for a new mob. However, those cripples may only bring a dollar at the saleyards - abattoirs have to handle them specially, as they may need to discard an injured forequarter or hindquarter, or even downgrade the whole animal to petfood. Then you pay fifty times that or more for a dressed carcase from the butcher. You have to earn a lot more pre-tax dollars than that to have that many after-tax dollars to spend. Well, that's poor economics to my mind. So, come Tuesday (first available day, even if it is just before Christmas Eve) I'll slaughter one of the cripples for meat. Have my father standing by (well, sitting) to give advice - I've never done the whole thing myself, even though I've done a lot of it decades ago. Slaughter and hang it overnight, then break the carcase down the next day. Wish me luck.

    Then I'll move on to refurbishing the poultry yard. Things my brother wouldn't bother doing that seem worthwhile to me.
     
  2. I wish I could send some rain and cooler temps from Maine to you! We have had flooding and ice jams in Dec. which is practically unheard of! Snow (in feet) followed by 1-3 in rain storms 3 weeks in a row. We had a wetter summer/fall season as well but we needed to recover from a long standing drought which dried many Maine wells....no so any more...Our Cup Runneth OVER!

    I agree with you about putting extra effort into homesteading things that may not seem worthwhile to others. Knowing where your food comes from and what it ate is increasingly important. Everyone says that you cant put a price on good health and it comes from eating nutritious food minus pesticides and hormones and antibiotics.

    I also think that many a farmer was fed a line of crap about modernizing. Few did the math on how long it would take them to recover money spent (borrowed with interest) to pay for $100,000 or more tractor. In the old days farms shared equipment and families traded labor to bring in the harvest. Now instead of helping their neighbor they pay some huge company vast amounts of interest whose employees would cringe at the thought of poop on their shoes or sweat on their brow. Not people most farmer types would want to associate with!

    Anyway thats my 2cents worth.....but its my 2cents...not owed to the bank!

    I hope Mother Nature is good to you!
     

  3. Balancedmom2003

    Balancedmom2003 Well-Known Member

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    Much luck Don. You seem to have things well thought out and in hand however. You live in a wonderous country that I wold like to visit one day. Take care and I hope that your family appreciates all of your effort.
     
  4. Terri

    Terri Singletree & Weight Loss & Permaculture Moderator Staff Member Supporter

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    Drouth still here in Kansas, though other states got quite a bit of rain. We DID get a few good rains, but it was at the wrong time of year for the crops so all it did was help the water table out, some. The grain fields out here are looking rather thin.

    I bought some used bee boxes from a friend: they belonged to his grandfather. The price of honey has doubled, thanks to the varroa mite. The good price helps to cover the cost of treating the bees. I intend to start up several hives this spring.

    I have put in quite a bit of red clover to feed the bees: I will be looking for a source of common white clover soon. Probably after Christmas.
     
  5. Blu3duk

    Blu3duk Well-Known Member

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    Where to start a reply.... It is good to take the cripples and make home grown food out of them, better for you... better for the market.....

    Sad to hear the whole country is draugthy, the cycle has began the other way from 50 years ago.... and new heat resistant and minimal water need plants are needed. Do many folks plant Oats there..... can be grazed when young 3-6 weeks up, cut for hay if let grown a little longer, and if enough water is available can be harvested as a ceral grain crop...... something to think about in hotter than ormal weather. and sheep will do good on it.

    I have a plant called birdsfoot trefoil on site here, and although it is not the bestt fodder in my book, it is heat tolerant, and stays green in hotter weather and grows rapidly and grows fairly heavy in the clay soil i have to work with. I have heard it is not the best feed for horses, and the cattle would prefer alfalfa and grass over it when fed to them, but perhaps sheep may be able to handle it as well. Just another thought in the lines of bringing together our small planet.

    Happy Christmas and Merry New Year
     
  6. Don Armstrong

    Don Armstrong In Remembrance

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    I don't think so - but then I don't care all that much for a market that is so much bigger than me - let them look after themselves. On the other hand, it's my opinion that it sure has to be better for me. We'll see after I've done three or four.
    Not a huge amount. They used to, when farms were smaller scale, and you needed to stretch the harvest season because labour was the element in short supply. In fact, it used to be common practice to take a first cut of hay off an oat paddock (or turn stock in on it for a week or two to graze it), thus forcing it to tiller (grow multiple stalks per plant, if you onlookers don't recognise the term - it's a useful term and a useful concept). Doesn't happen much any more. Oats is a useful second tier cereal - grow without fertiliser the year after a major cereal like wheat. Also can be harvested that year as a hay crop. However, there are other crops that will give better returns once you start investing the money in dedicating to crop rather than pasture, working-up, planting, and some form of harvesting. The real benefit in it used to be that it could use labour that was available at no additional cost anyway, before the other cereal crops came in. Might still work on a farm that was organised that way, but almost none are these days.
    Not much use here. I've seen it, but my information says it's a cooler-weather plant - doesn't flourish in hotter weather. We have different soil too - loam or sandy-loam. Although I've worked in heavy clay-to-the-eyebrows-the-moment-it-rains areas, that's not what we have here. I understand birdsfoot trefoil does well in clay compared to lighter soils. In any case, we have native legumes which suit marginal areas well.

    However,that's not relevant to my brother's situation. He is currently working on minimum-input practices. He is not sowing a durned thing, and doesn't want to. Still can - he's got the basic equipment, and he'll have to do it for weed-control some day. However, putting in crops costs mucho dinero in chemicals these days, which is why he went away from it. He found himself fighting pesticide-resistant ryegrass which would choke cereal crops, when it actually makes decent stockfeed. Similarly, if he went with a broad-leafed crop like Canola, it cost enormously in pesticides to fight plants which really didn't matter in a natural-grown pasture. Decided he'd rather roll with the punch than keep trying to stand up to it. Some of our pastures now are marginally toxic, and not a good idea for graziers trying to maintain breeding stock for year-after-year. However, those weeds grow well, and they'll feed stock more than harm them for one or two seasons. Since we have also been cursed with Ovine Johnne's Disease in our district, then breeding is not a good long-term proposition anyway. Buying stock, fattening them, them selling them for slaughter rather than as breeding stock (while not maintaining your own breeding stock) makes a lot of sense at the moment. I'm surprised more people haven't worked it out.

    Oh, yes. he does maintain his own breeding-stock anyway, but it's at minimal levels. It would take him a couple of years, maybe three, to breed up to the level where he was supplying all the stock himself which he now turns over. However, it's not out of reach. He could change the balance so he was supplying a greater proportion of his own stock within a year.

    I also wish you all the best for the festive season, whatever it may mean for you; and for the forthcoming year as well.
     
  7. j.r. guerra in s. tx.

    j.r. guerra in s. tx. Well-Known Member

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    Don, thank you for that very descriptive report. I'm sorry your back is still giving you problems, but have a feeling you might be overdoing things. I'm also pretty sure the drought is responsible for quite a bit of the extra work.

    I just think its super that your parents are still active, even at their age. So many aged people begin to allow themselves to slow down and allow their bodies and minds to atrophy. My grandmother used to make preserves, (hers were peach) and I can still recall how good they tasted, even though she passed on in 1995.

    I hope you and yours also have a wonderful Christmas - hope the drought goes on a 'holiday' of its own.
     
  8. Melissa

    Melissa member

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    I really enjoyed your writings as well Don. I love the hear the day to day operations of people's farms and homesteads. Have a nice holiday with your family and I hope your back is feeling better soon.
     
  9. Don Armstrong

    Don Armstrong In Remembrance

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    Well, that was that. Refreshed my memory by slaughtering and butchering a beast - a sheep - under my father's tutelage. I wanted to get that information from him while he could still get out to where it was happening. He managed to forget about it before Christmas, admitted he really wasn't looking forward to it, but with some firm resolve on my part we managed to slaughter a rather doddery animal on Boxing Day. That was part of the point: use an animal which would have little or no value by the time it had been transported to the sale yards, and give it value to us here and now.

    Very much a learning experience for me. I'd done it in bits and pieces decades ago, but I had to learn what works for me now. I shot the beast and bled it in the paddock rather than rounding it up, yarding it, then killing it. Much easier. Carried the carcase to the shed which was set up for killing, and learned that my back really didn't want to let me work on the animal at floor level. I'm strong enough to horse a carcase around, but my back is not capable of the bending work. That's OK - I may try and arrange a low platform in the future. However, I can do enough now to get the animal up on hooks (gambrel suspended from a pulley), and I can work on it once it's up higher.

    Allowed plenty of time, I thought, but we still ended up coming home in the dark. No time to do the right things with innards - just had to discard all but the liver this time. Left the carcase hanging overnight to set. Well into summer here, so I left it wrapped and tied in an old sheet to prevent flies getting at it in the morning. There was a risk to that, and to an extent it happened. The sheet retained the heat inside the carcase, so this morning the carcase was set outside but wasn't properly set inside. Couldn't be helped: if I'd left the sheet off I would have had to be back there at dawn, and it would have hung for three hours less.

    That's about the way Dad handled it back when. However, he started building a meat-house back then, which was never finished. Just wasn't going to get used, since my brother stopped slaughtering meat for their own use. It will require very little work to finish. Gauzed in, so it's well ventilated but insect-proof. I'll repair that, finish it off, and we'll be better set-up.
     
  10. Oxankle

    Oxankle Well-Known Member

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    Don:

    Too bad about your back.

    Not many people in the states go for lamb. I grew up in Texas and never ate mutton except now and then as barbeque.

    How do you season and cook lamb? Seems as though in a country where sheep are a prime commodity there would be some experts on the subject of using them.

    Johnnes' disease is in the cattle herd here in the states. It is not causing much stir now, but will in the future. I am told that the testing is slow now and is used only for confirmation of symptoms as cattle are goners anyway once the symptoms show.
     
  11. Bluecreekrog

    Bluecreekrog Well-Known Member

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    I'm another that has never eaten lamb or mutton. Uncle and Gramps had sheep on the "homeplace", to keep grass and weeds down in the graveyard. Funny, now that I think about it, I don't recall ever seeing any lambs. None of the women in the family would even consider cooking one. Strange.