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Day to day, week to week life at Blue Rooster.
Posted 11/30/2011 11:13am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

I don't recall losing track of November in previous years.  It has always been the month of transitioning to the slower pace of winter, but this year it has nearly slipped by without an acknowledgement of how much changes on the farm during its short thirty days.  

Most years November is the month that we get all the animals settled into their winter homes and routines but this season has been mild and wet giving us several extra weeks of grazing for the sheep and cows.  Roy has the barn cleaned out and ready to move the beef cows down for the winter. The sows are in the former sheep pen where they are both sheltered from the cold and being put to work excavating the old floor so that in the spring we can dig out the original concrete and lower it to the level of the rest of the barn for easy cleaning.  Believe me this might sound like cheap labor, but... given the price of grain and that they aren't good at taking directions, I would not recommend them for anything too complicated.  They do raise cute babies though. 

The feeder pigs are in the chicken pen for the winter.  When or if the ground in the chicken run ever dries out, they will have access to entire run, but for now, we cannot afford to have them root up the ground around the fences and trees any more than they already have. Pigs on pasture are wonderful under the right conditions and disastrous in the wrong ones. Wet ground rooted and stomped on by pigs will dry into hard-packed, tight soil that is difficult to reseed or cultivate.  It's just like getting into your garden with a rototiller too soon after a spring rain.  I peeked in on the feeder pigs yesterday and they looked very warm and cozy snuggled together for warmth. "Pigs in a blanket" are happy pigs; makes me think that whoever coined that marketing term for wieners wrapped in dough knew a thing or two about pigs.

The sheep, like the cows, are still on pasture. Two weeks ago three breeding rams were put in with  the ewes.  We divided the registered ewes from the commercial ewes and gave them a ram all to themselves. In a couple weeks we'll pull the rams to ensure that spring lambing is limited to three or four weeks. We keep the sheep on pasture all winter providing them with hay and giving them a paddock with winter water access and some natural shelter from the wind.  Now that we lamb in the spring, the sheep need very little shelter.  In fact we've found they have fewer lung issues since we started keeping them out in the winter months.   We will bring them in to be sheared in March and if it is still cold they get a couple weeks to acclumate in the shelter of the barnyard.  But... that is all months away.  Time to be in the moment and enjoy the last bit of November. 

Posted 10/21/2011 7:51am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

No doubt many of you are wondering what we are doing with our single draft horse, Bob, since we lost his teammate, Bud, last spring.    Like the old Bill Murray flick, we are back to taking baby steps towards incorporating draft horse power on the farm.  

Bob has had a leisurely summer.  We considered selling him and putting our draft horse dreams on the back burner again till we have the time and money for a new team.  There is no doubt that this would be the most logical move, but when it comes to Bob, it is hard to be emotionally detached.   He is such a sweet horse and we really like him.   Selling him would have been hard on so many levels.   We'd miss his big, gentle presence in the barn and pasture.   We'd certainly miss the work we have done and will do with him.   And, more selfishly, selling him would feel like admitting that horses just don't make sense in our day and with our lifestyle.  We've become quite busy.  Roy's new position is more enjoyable but more demanding than his previous one.   Our marketing efforts have increased keeping me quite busy and I've taken on some additional responsibilities at the FoodShed at Village Acres, Roy's parents' farm.  All these things have been good, but the question remains, is this lack of time to work Bob fair to him and does it make economic sense for us? Actually, we've accepted that Bob, without a teammate is hard to justify economically, but worth keeping all the same. So the real dilemma now is how to give him the life he deserves till we find a teammate we can afford to work with him.

A single draft horse has a lot to offer, but the jobs we can task him with are certainly limited.   He can pull logs out of the woods, he can pull a walking plow, and we can ride him.  Roy hopes to get him in the woods this fall to pull out firewood.   We only plow a tiny garden-size plot that would work him for a very short time and so far none of us have had the nerve to clamor on his back without a saddle, which for a draft horse is quite expensive.  And so we wait and Bob patiently waits with us.   He always seems to enjoy our company when we are in the barn and for now is out on pasture with the cows.    I think he seems bored sometimes; perhaps wondering when he'll be put to work or perhaps just lonely for another horse and we all feel bad about that.   Some days he runs around the cows and calves as though he just needs something to do.  

We have made some adjustments to our plans for using horses on the farm.  We've decided that with our acreage, number of animals, and lack of time, making hay with horses probably doesn't make sense, so Roy is in the process of selling some of that equuipment.  When we do get a second horse, we will likely use them primarily for logging, spreading manure, and clipping pastures with a sickle bar mower.  Hopefully by next spring we can introduce you to our new draft horse.  All in good time.  

Posted 10/13/2011 1:27pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Late last spring we were excited to find a mama hen in the barn with seven newly hatched chicks.   Our chicken flock had been dwindling over the past several years and we were hoping for a naturally occurring population boost.  We collected them in a big green tub and brought them across the road to the house where we knew we could keep them safe till they were large enough to roost.   Perhaps our summer was busier than usual, but before long they were out of the tub and into a small dog kennel and then simply wandering around the yard where they were the fix for Mac's herding obsession during the boring months when his best playmate, Pip, was off at herding school.    Between Mac circling them constantly and their very attentive mother hen, (...and yes, Mac seemed to know that eating these chicks was not in his best interest as we were giving them a lot of attention) all the chicks survived their most vulnerable months, even the period of about two weeks when an immature Red-tailed hawk was eyeing them from the telephone wire.  

It was that hawk that took the blame for the sudden disappearance of the mama hen in early September.   The chicks had grown to the point that it was difficult to tell the difference between the mama and some of her chicks.  She had continued to faithfully cluck for them when she found food and at dusk she led them to the big garage where, when they were just tiny fluff balls, she had gathered them under her.  Then one day she just wasn't around.   The grown chicks wandered around in the yard, occassionally running to me or the girls, like aimless teens.   We were sad to have lost the mama hen as not all hens show the same proclivity for mothering.  We looked for her and we looked for her remains, assuming the young hawk may have finally gathered up the courage to take out the mama as she sounded the alarm for her chicks to take cover.    No luck.  No hen and no pile of bones and feathers.   She was simply gone. 

... Until one morning she came trotting across the road from the barn, a hapless rooster trailing along behind her.   She, the wise reader of Ecclesiastes, knew the time had come for her children to leave the nest and since they didn't seem to know where to go, she moved out, back to her previous home and one of the fathers of her brood.   She frequently comes to the house to visit them and usually brings the rooster along to keep Mac and Pip entertained while she chats it up with her chicks as they muddle through their Adjustment to Adulthood Disorder.    I'm afraid our neglect of the situation has added to the young chicks' angst.   We usually return chicks to the barn and chicken house when they begin to roost, but these chickens were late-roosters and we were either too busy or too lazy to make it a priority.   So for now we have yard chickens when what we want  are barn chickens.  One of these evenings we will gather the unsuspecting chickens as they roost and walk them across the road to the barn and chicken adulthood.   We'll see if it works.  Tranisiton to adulthood is never as easy as we would like it to be ... especially when a rural highway divides chick-hood from chickendom.


Posted 10/6/2011 5:03pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

I like wildlife.  I like domesticated life too.  And I enjoy the junction of wild and domesticated life as well.   Hanging out laundry is much more interesting when there is a hawk flying overhead or an indigo bunting is singing nearby.  Jumping several deer from the wetlands when we are going to move cattle is always a thrill.   Then of course there are the chipmunks.   They live so close to our house that they seem to be confused as to whether they are wild or domesticated.   In my mind it is quite clear and I wish I could communicate with them so as to clarify the situation.   Mini, our furball cat, is also certain.  She has presented me with at least two chipmunk carcasses in the last year,  carcasses that she brought up from the basement and deposited just inside her cat door in the dining room.  Our basement has an old drainage pipe that leads outside and apparently acts as a chipmunk thoroughfare.   Honestly, one very late night several years ago, I could of sworn I saw a little shrew scurry across the living room floor.  I think Roy believe it was a dream, but since then Mini has deposited some shrews just inside her cat door too.  

Early this morning Roy and I woke the sound of something fairly large, perhaps the size of a chipmunk, scuttling inside the wall behind our bed.   I was tired and just couldn't bring myself to care.  We've gotten used to this happening on occasion and as long as they stay in the wall, fine.  If they were rats...it would be a different deal but all evidence suggests they are chipmunks, so just let me get back to sleep.  But... this particular rodent had business to attend to.   Apparently it had found a very tempting nut to crack and was going to have at it in the warm, cozy, wall behind our bed.   The gnawing and grinding went on and on.  We got out of bed and pounded on the wall, hoping to send it scurrying for cover outdoors, but after a moment's silence, it started up again.   What should one do about critters in the wall?   From the sound of it, that little gremlin was only inches away from me,  only horsehair plaster and lathe was between us.  After several minutes, the absurdity of the situation got to us and we began to create a story to explain its behavior and amuse ourselves.  What else is there to do?   Finally, the chipmunk gave up and quietly sneaked away, no doubt leaving a tough, old, black walnut as a gift to future wall gremlins that invade our home.  

Posted 9/28/2011 12:41pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Another three-plus inches of rain fell on our end of the valley yesterday morning.  The seasonal spring that runs from the mountain to the ridge just west of our house, spilled over it's banks creating a wide pond in the pasture.   Even during the several-days visit from Tropical Storm Lee the stream didn't venture so far from its path.   While soggy pastures and muddy barnyards weigh on one's spirit and boots, it is nothing to what vegetable and crop farmers face in seasons like this.   Not to mention those whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the recent flooding.   We've got mold growing in our laundry and downstairs bathroom from the humidity, but at least we have a laundry.  I flipped through photo's posted on a CSA member Kristin Camplese's food website, cuizoo, of the flooding in Bloomsburg and got a healthy dose of perspective.  If you have a moment, check out the photos -- they are poignant. 

Around lunch time yesterday I was up at Village Acres getting my orders ready for the evening State College CSA distribution when the local radio station playing in the packing shed announced that Juniata School district was dismissing early due to flash flooding.  Suddenly I was yanked out of work mode and into mother mode, scrambling to find a neighbor who could meet the girls as they got off the bus and take them home till I arrived.  As I was pacing and talking on my cell phone, my father-in-law, Roy-the-elder, came by humming a tune and offered to go pick up the girls while I went to my pre-scheduled doctor appointment.    Roy and Hope are very generous this way, always willing to help even in the midst of their own busy lives.  Thankfully my next-door neighbor was home and all to happy to help out too.

I've got a lot to learn from the elder Brubakers.  It has been a very difficult season for vegetable farmers because the extreme weather patterns of the spring, summer, and now fall too.  (This may be a pattern farmers in the Northeast need to get used too.)   Even with all the stress of crop failure, new projects, and management, Roy continues to sing and hum as he works and make himself availabe to help others in need.   Like the Energizer bunny,  the elder Brubakers just keep going and going.   Here I am in those years that are supposed to be the most productive and I feel tired when I think of how hard the two of them continue to work!  Not only work, but sing while working! 

Posted 9/16/2011 7:59am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

May and September are my two favorite months on the farm.   The air is cool but the sun is warm.  The grass, assuming we've had a decent amount of rain, is growing like crazy.  Many mornings the cool night air is slow to burn off leaving behind a veil of mist that hovers over the low spots in the valley.   This week, after the deluge from Hurricane Lee, the mornings have been exquisite. 

Every other day the ewes and ewe lambs that are grazing a half mile down the road at our neighbors farm need to be moved to a new paddock, so Mac and I set out as soon the school bus drives away,  I on my bike and Mac racing along side in the pastures and fields along the road.   There are few things more beautiful than Mac running at full speed through a dewy, green pasture on an early fall morning.   He is so swift and light that except, for this black coat contrasting with the intense greenness of the pasture,  there appears to be little disturbance from his dash across the fields.   He runs knowing he has a job to do and whether that job is moving sheep, chasing a Frisbee, or keeping track of the seven chicks in our yard, there is nothing that pleases him more than a job to do.  

The first time I rode my bike to move sheep,  I was concerned about how Mac would do with running along the road, but he is well trained to "down" at the sound of vehicle approaching, so I gave it a try.   All I had to say was, "Ready to go move sheep?" and  begin my ride south and he was off, cutting through the pastures several hundred feet from the road, slipping through fences when necessary, and occasionally looking at me to be certain he understood correctly.     I was baffled when at one point he suddenly stopped and downed.   I called twice but he wouldn't budge.   Then in the distance I heard a car approaching and until it passed, he refused to move.    As soon as it passed and I said "okay", he was up and running, faster than I could ride. 

We don't have enough movable fences to create a whole new paddock without removing some of the fence from the paddock the sheep are currently grazing first.    Mac's job is to hold the sheep in place while I remove a line of fence and use it create the new paddock.   He has become increasingly patient and skilled at this job.   Just his presence, lying still in front of a flock of seventy sheep, is enough to keep them crowded together and in place till the time is right for them to move.   All this for affection and praise, a bowl of chow, and a bone or two.   How did we ever run this farm without a dog?

Posted 9/1/2011 6:57am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Who was it that said the only thing that is constant in life is change?  No doubt many have made that observation.   I have trouble keeping up with the naturally occurring changes that I have no control over like the seasons' swift phoenix dance of death and rebirth or the rapid growth of children!  The girls started 4th grade yesterday and came home so excited about all the new possibilities for the year ahead.  In-School music lessons for band were the big news of the day.  

Here at the farm we are going through a good bit of self-imposed change as well.  Several weeks ago we had feed bins put on our barn hill.   Why does a farm that sells 100% grassfed meat need large feed bins?   Pigs and horses.   The price of grain continues to rise, as does the price of gas, so rather than continue to bring home hog feed in 100 lb. bags stuffed into the trunk of Roy's Ford Focus, we decided it would make more sense to buy our grain in bulk at a reduced price.   It might take a long while for the grain bins to pay off, however, when you include our time running back and forth to the feed mill, it all begins to seem worthwhile.    To keep the grain fresh, we now buy it whole rather than ground.  Whole grains are not as efficient for the animals to utilize so Roy has been experimenting with soaking the grain to make it sprout.  The pigs have been very enthusiastic about their soaked rations, but then again, pigs seem pretty enthusiastic about everything.   Of course I sometimes suspect I am misreading their "enthusiasm" for food and really they'd just like to run me down and gnaw on a leg or perhaps use me as their soccer ball.

Frances informed us immediately that the feed bins were ugly and that she'd prefer to everything to stay the same on the farm.  Riley noticed the ladders on the side and started to climb and soon her sister was "racing" her to the top.

We also have a renovation project going on at our house.  Like most century old houses, ours had no closets and very tiny bathrooms.   This renovation will wrap the front porch around to the side where we will put a small business office, increase the size of our upstairs bathroom, and give us a little additional storage / study space.    It is not a huge project but it is dusty and loud.  It is quite amazing to watch skilled carpenters move between order and chaos and back to order.   Right now we are deep in the chaotic, dusty stage.

Frances told us this morning that she does not like the change to the house and would prefer if we had left well enough alone.  Riley watched without comment as a small bucket-dozer destroyed the little porch that has been attached to the side of our house their whole life.   Then the bus pulled up and they buoyantly dashed off to their second day of 4th grade.

Posted 8/18/2011 5:04am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

We separated the mama ewes from their nearly grown ram lambs on Sunday so that the growing rams can be moved onto the best pastures for fast growth.  Some of the ram lambs are aleady quite large and we knew that they were nearing sexual maturity; it was definately time separate them from their mothers, sisters, and cousins. For several reasons, we kept them in separate pens in the barn and drylot and fed them hay for the last several days.   Even though they are separated from each other, it seemed as though being only a fence apart kept some of the noise down that usually accompanies weening.  

While we had them corraled, Roy caught a few of the largest ones to take to Benners for our retail market.   Catching lambs can be tough, even if you move them into an increasingly confined area.  They are wired for flight and they will squeeze through any opening or wiggle relentlessly in an attempt to return to the saftly of their flock.   The large loafing pen the rams have access to was built into a bank on the north side and opens in to a drylot on the south.   At the north end of the pen there is a six or seven foot drop from which we can feed hay into a wide ailse.  We also put a ladder at that end for us to clamor up and down however usually we enter through the west or south end, coming in at ground level.   Right now our pens are pretty full however, so rather than take the time to shift animals around into differnent pens in order to catch the lambs, Roy decided to use the ladder.   Climbing down is no problem, but once he caught a  ram, he then had to carry 100 lbs of  squirming lamb back up the ladder, around gas tanks, and into the bed of a small pickup truck.   He called me while I waited on the girls' at soccer practice to confirm the number we were taking in.   When he heard he sounded relieved, "That's good because I don't think I could have done this even one more time."  I have no idea how he managed to do it even once!   Strength and sheer willfulness are definate assets on a farm; of course a little maddness goes a long way too.    Thankfully Roy's back was up for the job and he and the lambs survived the climb without injury.


Posted 7/29/2011 12:46pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

The heat has returned and the lovely, though brief, rain we received yesterday has taken to the skies again with barely a greeting to our parched pastures.  It is time for these farmers to take a vacation and let our eyes feast on the expanse of water in the Atlantic Ocean.  I can already hear the waves crashing onto beach.

We've had heat of a different variety this week as well.   Pip came home from training camp because she was in going in heat.  Mac was more excited than usual to see his best buddy, but we've barely allowed them a sniff hello.  Our ultimate plan is for a Mac / Pip pairing, but she is barely a year and a half old and I am no fan of teen pregnancies.   It's been interesting orchestrating the dogs away from each other; makes me feel a little like a Montague or Capulet, working desperately against the forces of nature.   The other night we had Mac tied outside and Pip was in the dog kennel.    After dark Mac made the most forlorn and pitiful howl I've ever heard from him.   He sounded positively lovesick.    We allowed him to sleep in the laundry like he did when he was a pup and that seemed to relieve some of his sorrow. 

Tippy, our neighbors, the Kline's, Border collie, is also in heat this week.   Could it be the shared valley phenomenon?  Who knows.  While Pip and Mac have taken to wandering around the neighborhood in the past, Tippy has always stayed close to her farm or her Charles.   But the other night around 2 am she decided she wanted a little attention from Mac.   I woke up because the motion sensor lights had switched on and there was Tippy, sniffing happily around our driveway.   Got to admire a bitch who knows what she wants and goes for it.   But 2 am?  I don't think so.  We sent her home. But the next morning Mac had taken things into his own paws.  The window screen wasn't tight and he nosed it up enough to jump his slim body through and we found him lying on the Kline's front porch peacefully beside Tippy.   If your looking for a Border collie pup around Christmas, I may know where you can find one. 

Posted 7/21/2011 6:09am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Last week the litter of pigs we've been waiting for finally arrived adding yet another age class of pigs on the place.    I'd say these guys are in the exploratory toddler stage.   They currently share the sheep pen with the older litter of pigs and the two litters run back and forth under the hay feeders between the two sows taking drinks whenever they can get them.    Ebony is also with this group and while the sows aren't very tolerant of her trying to grab a drink from them, they are remarkably protective of her and tolerant of her frenzied squealing whenever I'm around.   Ebony associates me with a lovely drink of milk.   When she hears human voices she begins to run around squealing in the most desperate and irritating way.    I always wear my knock-off Wellies to the barn and when I enter her pen, she runs up and begins sucking on the side of my boots.   I like to reach down and pat her floppy jowls;  it is the only soft part of her long, lean tubular body.   The problem with Ebony is that when a lot of folks are around she doesn't only suck on peoples' legs, she seems to get frustrated, will single someone out and begin an aggressive attack on their calf.   She is little so it is seems humorous at first, but her energy and persistence is frightening!   My mother-in-law aquired an nasty bruise as a result of an Ebony fit.  I'm hoping this is the just the trials of adolescence after a difficult childhood, but only time will tell.  

The same day the pigs arrived the girls discovered a hen with a clutch of newly hatched chicks in the horse stall.    This the kind of surprise we are delighted by.   So far all seven chicks are doing well.  Mac has assumed the role of  protector and disciplinarian.   We have little worry of him running of to Charlie's to find work when he has a clutch of chicks to keep in line.   His OCD is at its most absurd when he sits with his tongue hanging out, scrutinizing little balls of fluff as they scurry about.   One wonders what sort of battle may be going on inside his head between his wolfish and herding instincts.  Thankfully it seems his wolfish instinct only wins when it comes to killing rats.