The Big Digout

The snowstorm ended overnight Thursday. We stayed at 16″ of accumulation — the last few inches were offset by melting/compaction since the temp rose into the mid 30s. Friday was clear and bright, a perfect day for digging out.

No way to avoid using a shovel on the stone steps up from the house to the upper driveway.

No way to avoid using a shovel on the stone steps up from the house to the upper driveway.

But the tractor awaits in the garage, after a 100-foot trudge.

But the tractor awaits in the garage, after a 100-foot trudge.

Now that's what I call a show shovel! Note that snow and dirt are still frozen onto the bucket from the last several digouts this winter

Now that’s what I call a show shovel! Note that snow and dirt are still frozen onto the bucket from the last several digouts this winter

BTW, here is our 50-gallon diesel tank that we got along with the PTO-powered electric generator that you can see in the previous picture on the left behind the sawhorses.

BTW, here is our 50-gallon diesel tank that we got along with the PTO-powered electric generator that you can see in the previous picture on the left behind the sawhorses.

With this season's earlier snows I could mostly push the snow ahead and to the side. But this one is deep enough that I had to repeatedly scoop then back up and dump off to the side.

With this season’s earlier snows I could mostly push the snow ahead and to the side. But this one is deep enough that I had to repeatedly scoop then back up and dump off to the side.

Well, that 100 feet took about an hour. After another half-hour of manual digging around the car I took a coffee break.

Well, that 100 feet took about an hour. After another half-hour of manual digging around the car I took a coffee break.

After the break I moved on to the lower driveway. This was much trickier, for two reasons. First, the drive tilts as it comes down off the dirt road, as you can see in this picture. That caused a lot of sideways sliding. Second, this portion is also pretty narrow as it passes between the apothedairy and the goat shed, which meant I had to do a lot of backing up this slanted slope to dump the snow. I got stuck twice sliding sideways, had to use the loader to lift/push backwards to get unstuck.

After the break I moved on to the lower driveway. This was much trickier, for two reasons. First, the drive tilts as it comes down off the dirt road, as you can see in this picture. That caused a lot of sideways sliding. Second, this portion is also pretty narrow as it passes between the apothedairy and the goat shed, which meant I had to do a lot of backing up this slanted slope to dump the snow. I got stuck twice sliding sideways, had to use the loader to lift/push backwards to get unstuck.

The lower driveway goes all the way past the front door to the woodshed.  It took 2 hours to get to here, time for a lunch break.

The lower driveway goes all the way past the front door to the woodshed. It took 2 hours to get to here, time for a lunch break.

After another couple of hours around the woodshed and the upper driveway and mailbox, the job's done and the tractor's back in the garage. The poultry shed path can wait until tomorrow -- they had a full feeder and they have a light-activated door so they can get to the snow for their water.

After another couple of hours around the woodshed and the upper driveway and mailbox, the job’s done and the tractor’s back in the garage. The poultry shed path can wait until tomorrow — they had a full feeder and they have a light-activated door so they can get to the snow for their water.

Farm Chores

Been quite busy here of late. We have had a handful of large tasks building up, including spreading a several-ton pile of gravel, cleaning out the goat shed, and putting up round bales of hay for next winter. Our tractor is an old and small, but cheap and useful, Yanmar 1300D 16HP 4WD. It has served us well for mowing, post-hole digging, and lime spreading, but there have been times when it’s power was somewhat lacking, and it does not seem worth it to get a front end loader put on it. We briefly looked at buying a new, somewhat bigger compact tractor with a front end loader, but the price tag scared us off — it is around $15K-$16K for either a new 24HP HP Mahindra 2415 HST with ML105 Loader, or a new Kubota 26HP 2630HSD with a LA403 Front Loader.

Fortunately, we were able to borrow a tractor from our neighbor Stan — a 30HP Kubota 7800 HSD with a Woods 1008 Loader, pictured here.

[Just a quick note on tractor specs: the engine horsepower is only vaguely related to the HP available at the rear PTO, the lift capacity at the rear 3-point hitch, or the lift of the front end loader. All three of these tractors/loaders have pretty similar specs in these categories.]

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Farm Chores [Continued]

The first, long overdue task was cleaning out the goat shed. There was over 2 years worth of bedding and goat berries in varying states of compost to haul out.

In the foreground is a pile in our side garden — should be ready to till in next spring. In the background is a pile that Eric simply pushed out the back of the goat shed — it will continue to compost and what with the goats playing on it constantly, it should spread out rather nicely to help even out the somewhat steep slope there.

This picture does not do justice to size of these piles — there was about a foot of bedding in the 14 by 30 foot goat shed, so that’s roughly 420 cubic feet of material, which is the equivalent of over 3,000 gallon milk jugs!

We are, though, VERY happy to have all of this black gold, though, especially in light of a recent story out of the UK about gardens dying due a herbicide that was applied to cow pastures, and was still active 12 months later, after having passed through the cow, been composted, bagged, stored, and then sold to gardeners at their local home center. We know what is in our compost!

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Farm Chores [Continued]

Next up, we had to deal with 15 round bales of hay that we had delivered (for a decent price of $35 each.) Now, in this case, “delivered” means “pushed off the trailer to gather willy-nilly in the low spot.” These bales are 4-foot diameter by 5-foot length (called “4×5” ) and weigh about 600 pounds each. Last year we got “5×4” bales (5-foot diameter by 4-foot length) which weighed about 800 pounds, but the guy we bought from had a nifty extension trailer so he was able to place the bales where we wanted them for storage. We store at the high end of the back driveway and are able to roll them by hand — well by body, really, there’s a bit o’ rasslin’ involved — down to the goat shed one by one as we need them. But this year we wanted to get the bales up on wood rails off the ground so they will stay drier, and our little Yanmar is not powerful enough to lift these bales — it probably maxes out at around 500 pounds at the 3-point hitch, so we were delighted to borrow this tractor (loader rated at 950 pounds, 3-point hitch rated at 1600 pounds).

Anyway, (sorry to ramble!) with a little trial and error (and initial inspiration and guidance from Walter Jeffries and one of his SugarMtnFarm blog post on how he rangles hay bales), Eric came up with a system using two chains, one looped around the bottom of the far end of the bale (right half of the picture) looped through a second chain that is in turn looped around the loader mounting frame — would have been easier with one longer chain!

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Farm Chores [Continued]

Since these bales are longer than they are round, they stack well in a simple two-on-the-bottom, one-on-the-top pyramid. Was very careful when lifting the top ones into place as shown here — that 600 pounds up above the hood of the tractor really raises your center of gravity and makes you more prone to tipping over, which would be very bad!

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Farm Chores [Continued]

Behold the finished Hay Storage Project, all tarped up and ready to stay snug until we start feeding it to the goats this winter.

Don’t have any pictures of the Gravel Pile Project, but that loader sure was handy! Eric now officially has Tractor Envy!

Lime

The pile: 20 tons of pulverized limestone. The Tools: a 16 HP tractor with a broadcast spreader having a 560-pound hopper, and a shovel. The Mission: spread the lime on our 6+ acres of pastures at a rate of 3 tons per acre. Eric did eight loads (2-1/4 tons) yesterday, and back and shoulders willing, hopes for ten or more (around 3 tons) today. Wish him luck, and aspirin.

Asleep At The Wheel

Our cat Sunny will sleep anywhere and everywhere.

Competition

Here at Riversdell there is lot of competition around the feed trough. Yesterday we gave the two small white does and our four kids another CD/T vaccination. The does are done but the kids get another one in 4 – 6 weeks. Not all goatherds vaccinate with CD/T, but most do. This year we were late with the pregnant does’ vaccinations (they pass on initial immunity to the kids) and we lost our first three kids suddenly, presumably to tetanus.

Tractor Blues

Our Yanmar 1300D tractor wouldn’t start the other day so we have to take it into the shop. We need the tractor to drill the postholes for our 2003 Fencing Project. Update: It was seven weeks until we finally got the tractor back! Since it is a gray market tractor it was difficult to locate the parts.

Stocking Up On Firewood

We’re taking advantage of a little break in the cold icy weather to put up more firewood. Most years we buy our wood already cut and split, but this year a generous neighbor has offered us a bunch of seasoned logs ready to cut and split. Here you see we’ve cut some of the logs (mostly locust and sycamore) to length. Next we need to split it — our neighbor even included the loan of their 22-ton hydraulic splitter! By doing this ourselves this year we are saving enough money to more than pay for our new Husqvarna 346XP 20″ chainsaw.

Viva la Difference

The line between the light and dark green areas is where we had the electric net fence a few weeks ago, The dark green half on the left was grazed by the sheep, and the lighter half on the right was mowed with the tractor (without the benefit of the sheep’s fertilization factor!)

Tatham Farm

We purchased Sampson, our Katahdin ram, as a lamb from Bill Tatham in April 2001. We liked Bill and his farm and we recently purchased four ewe lambs form him as well, so I decided to write an article on his farm.

The drive through West Virginia to the Tatham farm in Broadway, Virginia on route 259 has a distinctly bucolic feel. Poultry houses, green fields, and cows abound between the tiny towns of Baker and Matthias. There are a few unkempt, muddy pens, but they are in the minority. The road then crosses the state line into Rockingham county, where there is a slightly more suburban feel – that is until you reach a small cabin on North Mountain Road.

tombstone The log-cabin farmhouse has seen a long and colorful life. It has served as a haven during Indian raids, as a sorority party house, and now as the home of William Tatham. Built with a true spirit of cooperation by two couples in 1797, these intrepid people shared the house until they were able to build another one close by. The two farms also shared the spring run by zigzagging the fence across it. The tombstone of a young wife outside the front door is a poignant reminder of the rigors of frontier life. Although it did not belong to his family, Mr. Tatham appreciates the historic nature of the cabin. The Tathams have been around since the earliest days of this country. The William Tatham that wrote “An Essay on Tobacco” in 1782 was certainly an ancestor of the William Tatham now in possession of this rustic abode.

Mr. Tatham has farmed here for 7 years, starting with steers, then adding sheep in 1999. I first met Bill in 2001 when I went to buy a ram for my new flock of Katahdin sheep. His record keeping impressed me, so I was back again to buy some unrelated ewe-lambs from him. He has Boer meat-goats, guard donkeys, and Katahdin sheep on 56 of his acres, and Angus cattle on the rest of his total of 116 acres. He says he’s thinking of getting out of goats, as he likes the sheep so much. He currently has both registered and unregistered stock.

gatesImmediately noticeable at the farm are the numerous excellent gates. In addition to being part of the permanent fencing, Bill keeps several loose gates that have short chains and S-hooks for making quick paddocks, pens, and alleys. This helps his operation stay flexible as he can respond quickly to a lot of situations by using them. Some interior gates are hung “upside-down” so they can be quickly removed and pressed into service elsewhere.

The newest addition to the farm is a metal barn next to the house where gates are again used to full advantage. The barn is divided into thirds, each with a large door. There is a workshop/ garage portion, an area with a concrete pad for hay storage, and a pea-graveled area for animals. The animal area has a sturdy wooden fence that runs perpendicular to the wide door. It has three gates, which can either be placed flush against the fence to make one large area or “closed” against the wall to make three separate stalls. If necessary, the storage area can be used for animals as well. The rain gutters outside end about four feet off the ground so that water can be saved in barrels. The multipurpose aspects of this structure are impressive, and I doubt I’m doing it justice here.

The paddock my ewe-lambs were in is about 2 acres next to a spring head. “The sheep want to go right to the head to drink; they rarely drink further down the run,” he said. He can see this paddock from his porch – an advantage during lambing season. An adjoining paddock held my ram’s mother with 2 healthy new lambs by her side. This area has an old shed adapted as a lamb mineral feeder, as well as a loading chute. The sheep are very calm, as Bill doesn’t go for cowboy tactics. He just calls the sheep to him with a coffee can with a bit of cracked corn. Gets ’em every time.

The sheep are wormed with a combination of diatomaceous earth and ivomectrin. Bill says that the diatomaceous earth in with the loose mineral mix has also helped to control the fly population. The sheep receive no vaccinations and are grass-fed on rotated pasture. The only grain they get is the small quantity it takes to get them to move to another paddock. They essentially move in a circle around the house with the donkeys. The 3 donkeys are excluded from the flock during lambing season, as they sometimes get rough with the lambs.

As we toured the farm, I noticed an abundance of water sources in the form of ponds and streams, as well as plenty of trees and wooded paddocks. Bill has placed the ponds so that they are in natural drainage paths, taking advantage of the land’s slope. In one of these wooded areas, there is a mineral lick available to the donkeys, which is placed too high for the sheep to access. Bill used to keep goats in the area near here next to the new barn, but they kept escaping into his neighbor’s garden. He eventually moved them down the road across from his beef operation. An unlooked-for positive effect was that the neighbor, who had intended for years to build a new fence, finally did.

donkeyIn the early years, Bill lost some 7 goats and 1 calf to coyotes. This prompted him to purchase the guard donkeys. Since the introduction of the donkeys he has had no problems with coyotes, despite a neighbor’s recent loss of 22 sheep to the predators. “Donkeys naturally hate dogs” he says, which brings up Bill’s number one farm hand – “Screamer”. Screamer is an energetic part Chihuahua, part Australian Sheltie pup who accompanies Bill on farm errands. She is the only dog the donkeys will tolerate, but she’s taken some licks from them. Screamer makes friends with all new lambs, catches mice, and checks out every visitor. I wasn’t real sure she was going to let me leave with those lambs.

Bill’s beef operation is 3 miles down the road. He has 52 cattle, including the bull, cows and calves. There are 3 donkeys here as well. A lush combination of grass and clover covers the rolling hills. There is a large pond with a gravel alley and two metal barns to accommodate animals and machinery. The animal handling areas have color-coded gates so that instructions to helpers may be easily understood. These areas also have a 4-foot gate so handlers can quickly be in an area non-accessible to animals. A fence/gate combo similar to the one in the new barn can separate animals if necessary. There is also a dry lot here so an animal ‘s intake can be controlled in case of illness. A similar handling and loading area is atop a hill in an old peach-packing shed. The animals are kept out of the barns during warm weather to control fly populations. In addition to this, face-fly feeders and oiler rubs between the gate posts are used. Again, Bill says that diatomaceous earth and pasture rotation keep fly problems to a minimum. Bill has long-term plans to lease this area when he decides to scale down.

When I asked Bill how he gets his animals butchered, I was surprised to learn that the facility he uses is just a mile away. His animals get an extra apple or two while they wait in the yard. Talk about low stress! That must be some tender beef! Bill swears by the Angus breed. He’s tried Charolais, but didn’t like it. He only raises what he likes to eat, and he sells only live animals. He markets directly using a free local radio spot and word-of -mouth.

The community pulls together in other ways as well. They share land and equipment for hay and haying, and Bill doesn’t advertise his sheep if a neighbor is advertising. There are lots of new, suburban-type houses around, but the area seems to be retaining its agricultural character.

There’s more than meets the eye at this farm, and the combination of history, innovation, diversity and good stewardship made for a very informative visit.

Plum Run Farm and Dairy

We purchased four Nubian goat kids as a result of our visit there, as well as several gallons of delicious raw goat milk. We were quite impressed with Plum Run’s operations.

Plum Run GoatsOn a beautiful March day I had the pleasure of visiting Plum Run Farm and Dairy, just north of Hancock, Maryland near Needmore, Pennsylvania. It is a rather diversified farm with a small orchard, bees, chickens, and horses, but the most noticeable feature on this spring day was a delightful tumble of Nubian Goat kids. There were about 40 beautiful de-horned and tattooed bottle-babies — the very picture of the season! Even more astounding was the fact that the goat operation is managed and run by just one woman.

Marilyn Pontius and her family moved to the farm from a Washington DC suburb about 5 years ago. The farm has 111 acres of land, a large barn once used for dairy cows, and several small outbuildings and corrals. It took them 6 months just to clear the manure out of the barn. The family had just gotten a goat as a pet, and things took off from there. Soon Marilyn was hand-milking 7 goats. When their number increased to 14, she bought a milking machine. Currently, the herd stands at around 70, including kids.

The barn came with a helpful feature: a hay-manger that runs the width of the barn and had both inside and outside animal access. The family augmented this feature by adding a loafing shed around the outside area to protect animals from the wind. They also added several pens inside the barn-proper for the separation and care of various groups of kids.

Plum Run GoatsThe area with the hay manger lies in between the milking parlor and a large, fenced outside pasture. The parlor has many windows that overlook both the hay manger and the road — these windows are one of Marilyn’s favorite features. The parlor has two milking stands where she milks 24 goats twice a day at 7 am and 7 pm, yielding a total of 10 gallons of milk per day. The family consumes about 1 gallon of this, and the bulk of the rest is sold to a local cheese-maker for $2.50 a gallon. A roadside sign brings in a few customers who purchase the milk at $5.00 a gallon. Marilyn says first-timers often balk at the price, but that after tasting it they usually return to buy more.

Marilyn uses a Hoegger 2-goat belly-pail milking system, which she says has held up well. A favorite feature is that the claws “turn off” in the down position so that you don’t lose the vacuum on the second doe when the first doe is finished. The downside with this system is that it milks only two goats at a time so Marilyn feels that she is about at the limit of how many does she can milk by herself with it.

The separate milk processing area is a few steps from the milking parlor on the “road side” of the barn. Inside is a 250-gallon milk holding tank purchased at auction for about $350, which is currently not used much — at 10 gallons per day it is more convenient to use 5 gallon buckets and a chest freezer used to cool the milk. The room also has a refrigerator for storage, a large double sink (required for her license), and some work surfaces and shelves. This is the most cramped area of the otherwise spacious dairy and barn — chiefly because of the large holding tank.

Pennsylvania has one of the Plum Run Goatsmore enlightened and civilized policies toward raw milk in the eastern United States. Raw milk can be sold on-farm with a raw milk license, which is free to the farmer. Marilyn believes that she is the only licensed raw goat milk producer in Fulton County. As might be expected, raw milk must be tested more often than its pasteurized counterpart. Plum Run’s milk is sent twice monthly to the lab in Altoona, Pennsylvania via UPS for coliform and standard plate tests (around $15), and once monthly for somatic cell count and growth-inhibitor testing (another $25). The dairy is inspected every 3 to 6 months, and receives brucellosis and TB tests annually. Marilyn doesn’t have any stories to tell about antagonistic inspectors. In fact, one even suggested the chest freezer an easy and convenient means to cool down her milk.

When she has extra milk, Marilyn makes goat’s milk soap. Using a recipe she found at the public library, which took her months to refine, she sells many festively molded soaps. They are scented with herbs from her garden. She sells the bars for $3 each, or 4 for $11. They look and smell great.

Her favorite aspects of dairying are the veterinary ones. She enjoys working with the animals and solving the inevitable problems as they arise. Her least favorite aspect is the sheer relentlessness of the work. In five years she has had one week’s worth of vacation, leaving her husband in charge of the operation. (The wily fellow got his boy scout troop to help out!) One evening a week her teen-age son handles the milking to give her a break. She also sometimes regrets her choice of the Nubian breed, as other breeds produce more milk, but looking at her sleek, healthy animals, it’s hard to see why. In addition to their general attractiveness, they produce milk with 4.01% butterfat and 3.31% protein, rendering a highly desirable product for cheese making.

With a high-quality product, 60 acres of hay fields, a large, well laid out barn and pasture complex, a considerable investment in equipment, at least one steady large customer, plus 5 years of experience under her belt, is Marilyn Pontius ready to make the leap from small home dairy to a more commercial venture? We’ll have to wait and see.

To contact Marilyn Pontius:

Plum Run Farm and Dairy
3465 Timber Ridge Rd
Needmore, PA 17238
717-294-6205

Visit her on the web at www.plumrundairy.com