Saturday, 27 March 2010

Ten Acres - Now What?

Walking the boundary of Milkweed Farm

Now that Milkweed Farm is officially ours, I've started to worry that I won't be able to manage ten acres. Which is ridiculous because we already have 30 acres and we manage that just fine. But we have tenants for that farm (Mike's started calling it Teasel farm) and they manage it. I just do the paperwork. I can totally do paperwork. But I'm going to farm these ten acres myself. Do I know enough about being a farmer?

It's ours as far as those trees

Well, I know the first principle is that the land you have determines what kind of farm you have. If you fall in love with a steep-sided hill farm, you're going to end up with a flock of sheep, because that's what thrives on a slope. Milkweed farm is flat, and the sward (grass) is good. In fact it's certified organic as the previous owner raised organic grass-fed beef on it. We have lots of options.

The dew pond in the corner of the field - we can extract water from it for livestock

Too many options are confusing. I need to narrow them down in order to find this farm's purpose. When I'm not sure about something, I fall back on what I know: research. Luckily there's a local Agricultural College (my old alma mater ) with a pretty good library. As it's too wet to get on with spring chores I used the opportunity to rummage through their stacks for titles like Fieldcraft and Farmyard, Grassland Smallholding, and The Profitable Hobby Farm.

Maybe it was the change of scenery or the comfort of a library environment, but some thoughts came clear. I know that the farm must pay for itself, and contribute to our overall income - no more fooling around. I know that I want to keep the organic status, at least in principle (the accreditation can be expensive). And I know that I'm going to make some mistakes. It's inevitable.

After a walk around the field this morning, we decided to start with what needs doing - namely fencing, and clearing up some weeds that are encroaching on the field margins. We need to clear this in order to put the fence in, and reclaim around an acre of field that would be going to waste otherwise.

We also had a good look at animal scat and prints. This field is a magnet for deer and wild pigs, which it great news not only for our freezer, but also for our pockets. Harvesting the wild meat will earn a profit, around £50 an animal. And as we are the landowners, any pig or deer I shoot belongs to me - no estate tax, no pigs destined for London markets.

Pig workings in the field

To that end, I popped up to the local gun shop and got a good deal on a new high seat. A high seat is just what it sounds like: a seat about 12' off the ground, tied to a tree. It gives you a good, safe vantage point to shoot from. And as there are no big aerial predators in Britain, deer don't bother to look up in the trees for danger, so it's good camouflage. Two deer to the game dealer will cover the cost of the high seat. We won't be putting livestock here to graze until late in the year, so the wild animals won't be pushed out. I can harvest them all summer.

Can you see the track that the animals have made coming into the field?

At home, the livestock are thriving but muddy. The lamb pen is more mud than grass, churned up by tiny feet. My calendar says that the duck eggs in the incubator are due to hatch in the next day or two; I candled them and 3 out of 4 were developing. She doesn't know it yet, but Barbara the Silkie hen will be adopting any of the hatchlings. She's broody on a dummy egg, on standby.

The lettuce and mixed greens are growing on in the greenhouse, despite the fact that a family of rats has decided to make a home underneath it. The holes are so large, the greenhouse is in danger of subsidence! I need to start trapping again.

It's dark, all the dogs (and the gamekeeper) are asleep. It's time for me to go to bed too. Maybe I'll just have a look in the Organic Farming and Growing book first.


Poppy Cottage said...

I'd sell my teenagers for just an acre of flat land to do with what I wanted (keep your ears to the groung for me xx) Come to think of it I'd sell my cottage for a hut and a bit of land around it.

I'd love to show you how to crochet. Are you busy Thursday or Friday?

Loove forward to a walk around you Farm.

me xx

Terry Scoville said...

You must be excited to start working your own farm. What type of fencing will you build? I am curious how one deals with wild pigs. What a game trail, full on and a high seat is perfect. I am happy that you'll be able to keep what you harvest and enjoy it.

Poppy Cottage said...

Maybe I should re-read my comment before I post it!! Look at the spelling!!!!!!!!!!!!


Jennifer Montero said...

Colette - Spelling doesn't count towards your final grade ;-) How's Thursday sound? I'll even make a cake, extra fattening.

Terry - We have 250m to fence asap, and it's a boundary fence for mixed livestock. Strong but not fancy so posts with sheep netting and 2 strands of HT wire on top (barbed wire can trap deer). Horses will be strip grazed behind electric fence, but this should keep them off the road if they break out.

I'm not interfering with the pig runs yet, and they only really respect electric at snout level. For the moment I'm encouraging them in, so I can quietly put a .308 bullet behind their ear. Another good reason for the high seat - I don't like being on the same level as an angry pig, or herd of pigs.

These are mainly wild boar crosses, and there's no closed season on them. I try to pick and choose with respect for the quarry (e.g., leaving lactating sows and their piglets)

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

What a lovely farm-to-be! I read your post the morning after I left the cold frame open, exposing the lettuce seedlings to the 20-degree freeze. So I'm particularly admiring of your skills and your plans. 10 acres, and the world's your oyster!

Okay, admiring's not really the right word. Jealous is more like it. Jealous of your skills, of your opportunities, of your wild game! I won't be able to hunt here until the fall, when bird and deer season roll around. Perhaps if I stopped by your house you'd take me out and teach me what's what?

My congratulations to Barbara on her impending motherhood.

Poppy Cottage said...

With plumber, builder Thursday sounds fine, but no cake please (can't believe I have actually said that!!) Morning ish? Can I bring the Lil?

Jennifer Montero said...

Tamar - You give me way too much credit calling it "skills". I bumble around, worry, and figure it out as I go along (usually after doing it wrong 5 or 6 times first).

I'm impressed that you decided to bite the bullet (bad pun..) and get your shotgun license. You have left yourself enough time to get comfortable with it, then Fall will roll around and you will be looking for duck and goose recipes for your first hunted game. Free meat, like free fish, is so satisfying.

I hope your seedlings have survived the open cold frame - we've all done it! One year I left the cold frame open at work, and my hens got in and ate the house's entire crop of chard. I had to tell them there was a 'crop failure'!

Paula said...

How cool to pot a pig on your own land! Can't wait to read about what you get. Good luck with your new farm.

Jennifer Montero said...

Paula - Once I build my high seat and get it set up, and the rain finally stops, I might finally get a shot at those pigs!