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Day to day, week to week life at Blue Rooster.
Posted 7/27/2014 7:45pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Many of you know that we lost a horse this past spring and as a result found a summer home with an Amish friend near for our remaining draft horse, Bob. We've known the Fisher family of Otterbein Acres for many years and know they are good horse folks and John Fisher also trains and uses border collies on his sheep flock. They are a family that values and cares for their livestock. When John and Lydia's recently married son Mark expressed interest in using and keeping Bob, we were hoping that eventually he would be able to purchase him; theirs is the sort of home we wanted for Bob. 

Last week Mark called Roy and told him Bob is his best and lead horse and he really would like to purchase him. We are very happy to have Bob sold to a good home where he is used and also valued. We've been invited to visit him whenever we are in the area so one of these days, when the work is done, we plan to make a short trip over Timmon's Pass to visit Bob.

Posted 7/10/2014 7:42am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

July 10, 2014

This past Monday we moved the cow / calf pairs across our neighbor's property, along the ridge to the pastures we rent from another neighbor.  Perhaps we've become a little conceited about this process because the first year we did it, we set up long fences to ensure they would not run into the woods on left or into the lush alfalfa on the right. This year Roy and I started the process without even scoping out the pasture they would be running / walking through to get where we needed them to go. I was walking out ahead, calling "Here bos, here bos, bos," and they were gamely following along in the shade ... until I crossed over our property line into the neighbor's creekside pasture and realized the grass there was a up to my shoulders and taller than the calves.  The cows quickly dispersed, some towards the ridge, some towards the alfalfa, some into the copse of trees. Roy took the ATV after the ridge cows and I tried to protect the alfalfa by shoo-ing cows and calves out as I went.  For several minutes I felt how foolish and cocky we had become; just taking off without a reconnaissance mission.

What saved our necks is that cows naturally want to stay in a herd. That and some of the older cows clearly knew where they were headed.  At one point we switched and I took the ATV ahead to make a path through the tall grass into the pasture on the far end, continuing to call the cows as I went, while Roy kept coaxing the ones lagging in the rear. When we closed the gate behind them, we did a quick count, and hopped on the ATV to search for any that got separated.  Remarkably, they were all there.  Disaster averted again. Fools can get lucky sometimes.



Posted 2/26/2014 8:02pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Saturday, February 22, 2014 was a promising day of sunshine and warmth in a long winter of freezing temperatures and deep snow. As is typical on weekends at home, we had a lot on our agenda. Weekdays, Roy and I run the farm separately; Roy around the edges of his full time job as a district forester and I negotiating demands from the office, barn, market, and home. I look forward to the days we can work together on projects and this particular Saturday we had pig pens to clean, fences to repair, and odd jobs to do around the farm.  

In the afternoon I took the girls to a birthday party and when I returned home Roy met me in the driveway. Buddy, one of our team of Belgium draft horses was sick. The vet was on her way. We’d been through a similar scenario about three years ago and we knew that horses are not easy patients. As Dr. Kresge put it, prey animals will not easily show weakness because when they do, they become a target. Sheep are the same way, when they actually appear sick, things have often progressed further than can be reversed. 

Buddy’s symptoms were of intestinal discomfort, usually lumped into the diagnosis of colic in horses. He wanted to stay laying but we knew the best thing for him was to get him up and keep him moving. We took turns walking him around the barnyard, happy to see that he pooped normally several times. When the vet arrived and examined him, she didn’t feel anything too alarming, but acknowledged he was clearly in distress. We gave him water, kept him moving, and were hopeful that we had caught it early. But by late evening we were seeing increased signs of stress and when Dr. Kresge came this time she attempted to tube him so that we could get mineral oil into his gut. Unfortunately, he was very difficult to tube and the more experienced horse vet from the practice was unavailable. The tube went in to the trachea easily enough, but not the esophagus, where it needed to be! Dr. Kresge was very apologetic and frustrated. She acknowledged that her lack of experience may have played a part, but one never knows. She was giving him great care and came out several times over a 24 hour period. Each time Buddy would give us hopeful signs; good bowels sounds, pooping, getting up and walking for us, etc. And then suddenly symptoms would change and it was obvious things were not well. With large horses, even the reach of a vet’s arm is a limited exam. It is just impossible to know what is going on in that large cavity without imaging and that would cost a lot of time and money. Neither of which we could afford. 

Around noon on Sunday, the signs of stress had increased. Buddy was calm, but sweating profusely, and another rectal exam made it clear that an intestinal loop had pushed back into the colon. It was this experience that suddenly felt like deja vu all over again. The options were similar to what we faced with Bud. A trip to the Bolten Center with a suffering horse to an outcome of less than 25% survival, and more money than we could really afford or relieve Buddy’s suffering with euthanizing drugs. 

So with more than few tears, we had Buddy put down. We all feel saddened at this loss and somewhat helpless in the face of suffering and death of such a magnificent presence. If only we could have slipped him into our Subaru wagon and hustled him down the road to an animal ER.

Buddy will be missed and his absence leaves us questioning whether we continue to pursue draft power on our farm. Those thoughts will have to wait for another blog.

Posted 1/30/2014 8:29am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

For the past many years, I’ve scrounged around for used plastic and paper grocery bags to pack our meat orders. I thought as long as they are around, why not save money and reduce consumption by recycling them. Not a bad thing, but really wouldn’t it be better to just to move further away from our “throw-away” habits and invest in something with a longer, more useful lifespan? So we’ve invested in lovely, blue, Blue Rooster Farm, reusable bags to pack our orders! I know, you are likely acquiring more of these types of bags than you need. I will be happy to exchange your old ones for our bright blue ones! Use our bags around town, give them away, or give them back to us and help us spread the word that Blue Rooster Farm is happy to provide you with locally raised 100% Grassfed Beef and Lamb and Free-Range, GMO-Free Berkshire Pork!

Posted 12/12/2013 8:14am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Either I've "gone native" or some latent family gene has begun to blossom in ways I would not have predicted. Soon after we moved to our farm I agreed, under the persuasive influence of both my sister and Roy, to get my hunting license.  All the men in my father's family were hunters and even though Roy's father did not hunt very much, Roy has been an avid hunter as long as I've known him.  I am familiar with all the arguments and protests about hunting because I used to make them. And like every "group" that I've ever been part of, there are many elements of the hunting culture I prefer to distance myself from. I am quite happy to only have three shells in my clip at once and to manually move them into the barrel. I've found that is more than enough to get the job done. I am a cautious hunter.  I have neither the skill nor drive of Katniss Everdeen. What I do love is being in the woods with all the required focus and attention of a predator. There is nothing quite like it.

On opening day we are up before five dressing in warm layers. We hunt with my family at a cabin in valley not too far from our farm. We always eat a big Pennsylvania breakfast; eggs over easy, fried potatoes, scrapple, and toast.  Both the banter, usually referring back to other year's hunts, and the well wishes begin as soon as the coffee is poured. It is not a leisurely affair however as we all hope to be in our stands by first light, usually around 6:30.

The feeling of being part of the woods begins as soon as the four wheelers are quieted and pre-dawn quiet walk begins. When I am finally in my stand and have situated my lunch bag and seat cushion, my breathing slows, calm descends, and the world slowly begins to wake up. Do I sit perfectly still for hours? Are you kidding! But I have learned to move my eyes more than my head; to tell the difference between a deer and a squirrel by just the sound of their movement.  I get out and walk around when I am cold or bored. And I've learned that animals behave with a similar mix of pre-meditated caution and blatant irrationality.  I've seen squirrels misjudge a jump and tumble to the ground.  Had deer walk within ten yards me, turn and look me in the eye before moving on. And then there are the turkeys.

Turkeys are amazingly confident birds. They are not stealthy creatures. They quarrel and scratch their way through the woods as though nothing in the wild world might be interested in having them for dinner. This a week after Thanksgiving. At dusk on opening day, I heard a large flock of them moving towards me up the mountain.  Sometimes deer move with the cacophony so I was trying to stay very alert. Just as they came into sight, the first one launched itself into a nearby tree.  Soon a few more were flailing into trees around me. Their flight appears desperate as though with only a song and prayer will they make it to their destination. I felt the urge to hoist them up; just land already and settle in for the night!  While watching their bedtime antics, as if to show off, a beautiful great horned owl silently glided in and perched on a tree beside me. She watched with haughty disdain her clumsy cousins bedtime routine, swiveled her head to stare me down, then flew silently and gracefully across the mountain.

Soon after the turkeys were settled in, I climbed out and headed down the dark mountain to the well-lit cabin in the valley where hunters and non-hunters would gather for dinner and an exchange of stories from our day.    

The next morning I returned to that same stand and just the trees emerged from shadow of night, the first turkey tumbled out his tree and grumbled at his clan to get moving. The trees dusted out their turkeys and off they went, greeting and scolding each other as they moved down the mountain for the days hunt.


Posted 8/29/2013 6:09am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

When I called my neighbors to discuss hiring their sons to do some fence repairs, I got into a conversation with their mother about my life. Upon learning that I did not return to teaching after the girls were born and the farm had grown, my well-meaning neighbor told me she thought is was really important when a woman has a "hubby-farmer" that she be home to support him and her children. Roy isn't really "hubby" at all, I thought, he is actually quit fit. In fact, I thought quite a lot of things in the two seconds it took to say, "Well have them give me a call if they are interested in the job." 

Later that day when I rode up to check on the ewes and ewe lambs, I discovered three unfamiliar rams hanging around the outside of the electro-net looking in at our very sexy flock of ripening ewes.  We've worked hard to select good rams and time our breeding for an early spring lambing and those three eager-looking rams were one thin wire away from foiling our plan. I suspected the rams belonged to another neighbor who had a small flock of Katadin sheep and rode over to ask about them. Angela knew immediately that the three rascal sheep were her yearling ram lambs who escaped recently and she was unable to catch on her own. While she works as a nurse nearby, her husband spends his work week near Philadelphia where his business is located. She was very apologetic and the two of us set out with a bucket of grain to lure her boys home. 

Unfortunately a flock of ewes if far more enticing than a bucket of dry grain and the rams were totally uninterested so we moved to plan two: Mac.  I can work with Mac and Pip but... it isn't pretty.  The plan was to drive the three rams into a corral set up in the pasture till the pickup and trailer could take them home. But the whole plan was ill-conceived, which I realized as soon as I released Mac. Sheep instinctually flock together in the face of a predator and to add to fuel to fire, Mac is not very good at working on a split flock, which is what this essentially looked like to him. So upon releasing Mac, the three ram lambs split up and all found separate, but equally effective ways to run through the electro-net into our flock.  By this time I was really frustrated and angry at myself for not thinking this through more carefully and Mac for not listening to me when I tried to call him back as soon as I saw the problem with the plan. 

So there we were with a torn down fence and a flock of sheep with three young, strapping, ram lambs beginning to socialize.  We didn't have much time but the solution was just revealed to me in my earlier failure.  Isn't that usually how it works? Using Mac we moved the entire flock down into the corral.  Inside a catchment pen had been constructed and thanks to adrenaline and frustration, I was able to catch the three scared Katadin boys and put them into the pen where they stayed till Jimmy (yet another very helpful neighbor) arrived with the livestock trailer.  

It was satisfying to have worked together with Angela and Jimmy to solve a problem before any damage (read breeding) was done and it took me back to my earlier conversation with my other neighbor lady. In her mind I am a "farmer's wife", a support person, not meant to be demeaning to her mind, but not necessarily a decision-maker when it comes to the business of farming.  In my mind I am something quite different.  






Posted 7/3/2013 2:02pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

We are recovering from quite a scare this past weekend. The girls, my mother, and I made a quick trip to Cincinnati to see Riley's specialists, leaving Roy home to tend the farm. We arrived at our hotel early enough to swim Sunday afternoon and missed several calls from Roy, so it was alarming to receive urgent texts and voicemail messages asking to be called ASAP!. I called a very distraught Roy to learn that Mac, our much-loved border collie, was rolled over by our empty livestock trailer and at the time of the call, appeared to have lost all use of his back legs. He was being x-rayed at the animal ER, but the vet had prepared Roy for the worst and I was imagining how I would tell the girls that Mac would be put down without any of us having the chance to say goodbye. I guess it is always good to be prepared for the worst and feel the immense relief and joy when the worst is avoided. The x-ray showed a dislocated hip but no broken bones. The blood tests came back normal; no internal injuries. Mac would have to stay the night and be sedated while two docs worked together to put the hip back in place. When we came home Tuesday, Mac greeted us with his usual tail wag and grin; his back leg pulled up in a sling where it will stay for at least two weeks. Aside from hobbling around a bit slower than usual and not being allowed to put Pip in her place, Mac seems almost normal. He is soaking up the love he feels totally entitled to. Roy is recovering well too. A cold beer or glass of wine on the back porch every evening with Mac and Pip insistently nosing for affection is a great remedy for near-loss-of-a-best-friend.   

Posted 6/14/2013 9:42am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Friday, June 14

Yesterday's atmospheric turbulance has settled the dust and transformed into a breezy, sunny day.  A lot of activity at the farm today; all of it in preparation for the distant winter that will be here before we know it.  Two young interns from the county NRCS (USDA's Natrual Resources Conservation Service) are walking our fields taking measurements and elevation for a buried water line that will be put in this summer.  We applied for cost-share funding years ago and this year it came through.  It will allow us a longer grazing season in the winter and by keeping the beef on pasture longer, the manure they usually deposit in the barn will be deposited by them right where it needs to go, saving us both time and fuel spreading it in the summer.  
Our neighbor, Alan, is also delivering hay today. We bought some of his best hay from last year at a reduced price so that he has room for this year's hay and we are prepared to feed our steers when they do come to the barn next winter. 
Much of the summer's intensity on our local crop and dairy farms is all about prepartion for the winter ahead. We've become so accustomed to the easy transport of animal and human food that it is hard to imagine the energy that our foreparents put into storing up food for the cold, short, winter days.  I doubt summers' would have the same leisurly feel they take on these days if we all had to work to ensure our family's food needs were tucked away to last around six months or so. There is a lot of idiocy about our food system these days, but there is good bit of genius too! 

Posted 6/3/2013 7:10am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

May is one of those months when the natural world transforms itself at such a rate you feel you can literally see growth happen as the hours pass. The trees are fully leafed out, concealing the warblers and Baltimore orioles we were able to glimpse at the beginning of May. The grass that was barely growing then, is tall and stemmy and fat with seed heads and dusty pollen. Up and down the valley, farmers are busy making hay. Every drive down Route 35 is an encounter with a tractor pulling a mower, a tedder, or a baler; leave the windows open and the wonderful fragrance of cut grass and alfalfa wafts in.  I love living in a farming community in May.  

We too are sending out our grass harvesters to gather the energy-packed nutrients the soil and sun have created. The cows and sheep don't bother making hay for us; they pack in the nutrients they need for growth and deposit what they don't need right back on the soil.  Get a little, give a little. They move slowly over the pasture, stepping around nesting birds and newborn fawns hidden in the tall grass. They operate quietly on the landscape, not competing with omnipresent birdsong and insect buzz of high spring. Sure, they give off some gas now and then, some would say enough to be a major contributor of climate change, but when allowed to live on that great green carbon collecting pasture, I'd guess they contribute more to the solution than the problem. I'll let Simon Fairlie argue for me there though (Meat: A Benign Extravagance); I'm too busy moving and feeding animals, packing orders, communicating with butchers and customers etc etc. these days.

We too need hay for winter feeding and likely some of the hay we buy will be early spring hay, harvested at a time when nesting birds and beneficial insects are destroyed by the machines doing the work. One of our goals is to extend our grazing season so that our need for hay is reduced. The hay made on land we rent is cut after mid-July, allowing time for newly hatched and birthed critters to get out of the way.  It is not a perfect world we live in, we all know that, but it seems we should try to find a way to share this glorious blue sphere with every other living creature rather move at a frantic and destructive pace. Live like a ruminant on spring pasture; walk slowly, chew thoroughly, lie down often, get a little, give a little.

Posted 6/3/2013 7:08am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Thursday, May 30

Posie, our bottle calf, has been moved to the barn on these hot days. There she has befriended the other misfit juvenile, a runty little piglet who was left after his brothers and sisters were sold as weanlings. The girls call him Carlos. No small creature likes solitude and Carlos was clearly distressed when his siblings disappeared. We decided it was best if we arranged the gates in barn so that he could get back with his mother and big aunts for company but escape to safety and goat milk if the mature sows got nasty.  Interestingly enough, they have been very tolerant. He certainly posed no threat to their arranged hierarachy and we frequently find him snuggled up against any one of the big mama sows. He has also become quite friendly with us, his milk providers. At the sound of the barn door sliding open, he pops up and begins a grunty dash towards us and the milk bucket. It you have the time to sit down on the ledge around the side of the pen he shares with Posie, Carlos will come and greet you, putting his dainty front feet on your leg and extending his snout towards your nose.  Riley claims he tried to suckle her nose and ears. It is very cute and endearing...for now; could be a frightening when he is 250 lbs.