Thursday, October 20, 2016

Solar Energy on Sunny Acres

It might be fair to say our farm utilizes solar energy more than any other resource.  We've been "going green with solar" long before solar panels were even invented. How is this possible?

Behold:  the incredible conversion of solar energy to carbohydrates and oxygen, which, in turn, provides energy for our animals. And, ultimately, us.  

 Here, the herd is checking out (and sneaking some edges of) a new seeding. Even 
as the daylight period fades, this lush pasture will continue to grow. 
In the spring, it will provide an incredible boost for the does and kids--- so long as the deer don't decimate it. But that's a story for another day!

Here, we have another great use of solar energy:  boosting the temperature in the compost pile, which encourages the growth of bacteria that will convert organic waste into compost. The compost will eventually provide additional nutrients to the crops.  And back to the animals. And to us. Who knew the sun, waste, and microbes could make something so wonderful?

Part of our sustainability plan is to continue to utilize solar energy in a multitude of ways.  We're pleased to announce that Sunny Acres Farm has "gone solar" with the installation of panels on the barn, as well as on each home on the property.  We've worked with Kasselman Solar to establish a great solar plan for our farm.  If you're in the area and considering utilizing solar energy, please click on the link and check them out!   

While we're talking about solar energy, there's on form of solar power yet unmentioned.  It's probably the most powerful form of energy our farm has ever seen.  We've managed to snap a picture of this energy- though it is usually so energetic, it is difficult to capture in photos:  Kid-in-the-sunshine-energy.  We have four units of this running at the moment, and it appears to be a totally renewable and limitless power source, if not a bit unpredictable at times.

So there you have it:  Sunny Acres Farm is truly a solar-powered operation that has "gone green" since 1897.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Surrogate Grasslands

It's a beautiful day here on Sunny Acres, very much in line with our farm name.  Let this image speak for itself:

Truly, what more can be said about a seamlessly blue sky, outrageously green pastures, and just the slightest warm breeze to make a walk in the sunshine comfortable?

Perhaps the one thing a picture can't quite speak to is the sound of such a day:  a chorus of birdsong carries over these pasture lands and hillside. Redwing Blackbirds and Bobolink, in particulary, ring out clearly.

If you've never heard the babbling, bubbling, flittering, and wild song of Bobolink, you truly must visit a grassland of nesting Bobolink and immerse yourself in it.  They sound like R2D2, or pure spring joy, or a a run-away orchestra.  This video is a good substitute if you don't happen to have a pasture close enough to visit.

This spring, we're celebrating the return of another grassland bird to the farm.  (No, the picture below is not a flock of birds.  We assure you we can tell the difference.  It is, however, a nice example of the herd moving through a pasture, improving it as they go.)

Perhaps because the pastures are improving under the care of rotational grazing and hard work of the two-legged AND four-legged pasture managers around here, we've heard the distinct song of Northern Bobwhite around the farm. He's been much too elusive to document with photos, but we are so glad to know they have decided to call Sunny Acres home. We hope it is an indication of the health of the farm as a whole--- instead of being a one-crop land, these birds arrive to enjoy a variety of flora and fauna acting as a surrogate grassland to the native prairies they were once so abundant on. It might not be font-page news when a small bird slips quietly to the near-threatened status, or when that bird is at long-last found again locally, but we all stood outside during the first morning this Bobwhite call was heard, taking it in, feeling it is a triumph for nature, no matter how seemingly small.

Honeybees are carefully tended by one of the Sunny Acres farmers, and goats by others. Chickens forage here, and now we can say that Bobwhite do, too. In a world filled with climate doom-and-gloom stories, we hope these images of life returning to the farm will lift your spirits. A little bit of sunny news is welcome, isn't it?

On the other side of the pasture, a cool wetland area offers respite from the heat during the warm seasons of the year.  Not wanting to be outdone by the riot of color and song in the fields, the woodland offers beauty, too.

Hopefully, this little "photo tour" of the farm today will help you better see how our farm is in more than just the business of agriculture, but we're also making it our business to create an oasis where life of all different kinds may quietly come on home. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Milk and Meat Goats

We're beyond pleased that the breeding program on our farm is producing girls with good production. While they are belly up to the hay rack, it gives us a great opportunity to pay attention to production and attachment and all things business-end.  These first-time mothers are looking fabulous! 

And these young couldn't agree more that having excellent producing mothers is a positive thing. 
(Ever come to the farm and wonder where the babies are? Just look under a hay rack!) 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Recap: A Year in Review

If a blog were an account of the true happenings of farm, it would rival the Oxford English Dictionary in its expansiveness.  Of course, the more we are doing on the farm, the less we have the time and energy to blog about it. Seeing that the blog hasn't been updated since April 2015, this is a good sign for the farm, though a poor sign for any faithful readers we might have. That's where I'm jumping in. Farmgirl here, writing an update on behalf of the chief farmers of this operation, because they are up to their elbows in all things kidding season at the moment.  I'm snuggled into my warm house watching the snow.  This seems like an arrangement I can live with.

The last post was exactly one year ago.  Babies arrived, the pastures grew, the farm got busy, and the blog got dusty. Here's an exceedingly abbreviated version of the 2015-2016 season for your viewing pleasure.

We were all enamored with the experiment of growing tef last summer- it grew like wild fire and kept everything else out of the field.  Plus, it is soft and really fun to run through, especially if you are a member of the 12 and under set.

Perhaps the most important work of farming is ensuring a future for the farm.  This not only means paying attention to feeding the land (more on that in future posts), but feeding the love of farming in the next generation.  For the youngest farmer, that usually means just letting him tag along and shadow his PopPop. As they get older, it means patience while they practice their skills and, perhaps, get a bit distracted in the process (like pulling the rope that connects our hose to the very top of the barn, before realizing the pulley is now stuck, for example).  

No picture of learning to be patient with the young learner in the rope situation. 
The rope was retrieved, 
the hose reattached, and we were all grateful for ladders. But enjoy another glimpse of the distractedly happy apprentices: 

Summer gave way to a glorious autumn- 

-And the goats kept marching to pasture.  The kids grew (both the 4-legged and bipedal variety), and 
autumn lasted a record length of time:  from September through April. 

Winter started on April 3, 2016. 

... Just in time for kidding season 2016. 

So, Earth has found its way around the sun for another complete revolution, and the seasons have spun along with it.  We hope with the new writing arrangement to update you on happenings here more often than the Earth can make it around the sun.  Stay tuned (and hopeful!) with us. Thank you!

Future topics: 
  • kidding updates
  • Chicken scratch, or why we've moved to a no-soy, non-GMO feed
  • feeding a farm:  how to nourish the soil for long-term gains  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

2015 Kidding Has Begun!

After the long, cold winter we've had, everyone here at Sunny Acres has been anxious for spring to come, and with it, the arrival of the new baby goats.  Today, the wait is over.....the first kids have arrived!  At a mid-morning barn check, we found one doe with very new-born twins....

 a buckling......

and a beautiful doeling!

Not long after that, another young doe kidded for the first time, a lovely and lively doeling.

Meanwhile, the other ladies.....45 of them! and wait.  Soon the barns will be filled!

Even though the wind is howling, the temperature hovers around 40 degrees, and the snow and ice are still with us......our thoughts now turn to SPRING!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Kidding is done, on to grazing!

Kidding season is no doubt one of the busiest times of our year here at Sunny Acres, and leaves little or no time for blogging, even though it does give us plenty of things to talk about!  But now most of the kids have been weaned, and we're into the second busiest time.....rotational grazing season!

Rotational grazing is beneficial for both the goats, for parasite management and growth, and for the land, as it helps replenish the soil nutrients and promotes regrowth of the pastures.  However, it does entail many trips across the fields, setting up, taking down, moving the temporary electric fences we mostly rely on.  In a perfect farm world, we'd have permanent boundary fences on all the pastures, and would only need to set up cross fences for each day's paddocks.  But time and money come into play, and so, we manage with what we're able to do!  The photos below show the goats in a new paddock, and you can see the edge of the paddock from the day before.  It is ideal to move the goats daily, which leaves lots of trampled residue, protecting the soil from the heat of the sun, and adding organic matter to the soil surface.  This organic matter feeds the soil's micro-flora and earthworms, which in turn bring nutrients up to the roots of the plants.

One of the challenges of rotational grazing is deciding which pasture is the best feed for which herd (does with kids? weaned kids? breeding bucks?) and then moving each herd through that pasture.  The cold spring here had a drastic impact on some of the types of forage we have available, so we find ourselves moving the herds through the pastures in a different sequence from other years.  However, the goats are happy to go wherever the shepherd takes them, and fill their bellies until they return to the secure paddock just before dark each day.  Most of our pastures offer little shelter in the way of brush or trees, necessitating the return to the pole barn shelter at night.  Soon the dry does will be moved to the hedge rows between the mowed hay fields, and will stay out day and night, sheltering under the trees. 

And, when it rains too often, or there just isn't time to mow the lawn, the goats are happy to do it for us, as seen below!   Too bad they can't be trusted not to eat the lilacs and other intentional plantings around the yard, or I'd keep some on around the yard every day! 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Saying goodbye to an old friend.....

"Why do we do this to ourselves?", our daughter asked through her tears.  We do it, because those four-legged friends give us back so much in return for the care and love we give them.....anyone who has ever loved and lost a pet of any size can relate to this.

Today we had to say goodbye to Applejack, our daughter's 27 year old gelding.  He'd been struggling with a health issue for the past seven years, and today he lost the battle.

Applejack was born on our farm on May 18, 1987.   It was a school day and oh, how difficult it was to head off to school and work with a new foal in the pasture!

 Sent for training when he was three years old, the trainer pronounced him "too smart for his own good."  He learned his lessons quickly, and our daughter learned right along with him.  As her riding lessons and his training progressed, they spent many an hour developing their skills.

Applejack quickly decided that this riding thing was definitely not his favorite past time.   A pleasant ride could very suddenly turn into a contest to see who was the more determined, horse or rider.  Over time, it soon became evident why our daughter and Applejack shared such a close bond, one that continued throughout his life....  They shared many of the same traits!    Smart.  Determined to do things his/her own way.  Lively sense of humor......oh, yes, don't try to tell me otherwise!  Applejack could play up the tired, hard-worked horse routine at the end of another ride, only to kick up his heels and race full speed ahead when turned back out into the pasture.  Other days, if the saddle was brought out before Apple was already in the stall, the ride was cancelled, as he would not be approached no matter how tempting the treat being offered.  No matter how many times he battled the ride, nor how frustrated she got with him, he never failed to bring the girl to gales of laughter at his antics.  Even over the past few years, when the vet deemed that his health issue would make it too hard on him if he were to be ridden, he got the last laugh.  Given "maybe a year" by the vet, he lasted seven.  Told the effort of being ridden would make it too hard for him to breathe well, he continued to race around and kick up his heels, enjoying his retirement, eating his special diet, and knowing full well that he won the "I hate being ridden" contest! 

But even the best-fought battle is sometimes lost in the end.  The past winter took a terrible toll on him, and his ability to fight just ran out.  There was time during the past few days for teary-eyed visits to him in the pasture, and "remembering when", but today we told him good bye..

As is often the case, even in this extreme sadness, there is a lesson to be remembered.   Love always comes at a price, but it is a price we will continue to pay because of the great rewards we receive.

When Applejack was born, our daughter was not quite 8 years old, and I was a young mother.  Today, she and I stood together with her not quite 8 year old son, as we all cried and said good bye.

The circle of life continues.................    Good bye, old friend.  Rest in peace!