Greetings from Michelle, Wally and all the critters at Spellcast Farm!
Where did March and April go? I neglected to send out newsletters for both months. It’s hard to remember what we’ve been doing so I have to go back and read through my on-line journal to see exactly what it was we’ve been doing.
The rabbits are all doing reasonably well. We’ve now got a total of four rabbit tractors (bottomless pens on the ground that get moved around several times a day so the rabbits can graze) going and all of the fryers have been grown out completely on pasture. Our back “yard” is going to be so lush and green with all the fertilizer that’s been put on it. I’ve lost a few of the young rabbits to bloat and diarrhea, but that seems to be part of the process. Our latest tractor is a four by four-foot model which is what we will start to make more of. The plan is to install a doe with her litter in these pens so I can keep track of which lines do better on pasture and keep those rabbits in my breeding program. Soon I’ll have a line of rabbits that thrive on pasture.
I made the difficult decision to sell my young Arabian, Sudi. He went to live with a man interested in getting into endurance. I believe he and Sudi will do well together. Ace, our old rescue horse, still lives here and probably will remain: he’s become a yard horse. I rarely have time to ride, but there’s always hope.
We added two Jersey cows to our herd: one was a bull that we sold as a two month old calf last summer. He got a bit too rowdy and was scaring the man that bought him so he asked if we’d buy him back. He is a rowdy boy, but he’s since been re-introduced to the School of Gel and now has better manners, at least when Gel is around. The second was a six month old steer who grew a little too big for his tiny pasture. I dried Gwen off the beginning of April and they are all out in the pasture doing the cow-thing. Gwen is due to calf the beginning of September and I can’t wait for her sweet, creamy milk.
We raised 12 Cornish X chicks to slaughter size. That was an experience that we will not be repeating! The “Cornish X” is the type of chicken that is grown on factory farms, the type of chicken you buy in grocery stores. They grow fast, too fast really. I am glad I was given the opportunity to experience raising these mutant chickens. Wally and I vowed we’d never do it again. I felt so bad for those chickens! They had very little chicken-ness about them. We grew them well though, all on my homemade chicken grain mixture. At 13 weeks old, they dressed out between four and five pounds each. Our next batch of meat birds will be from heritage, dual-purpose breeds. We purchased 10 Delaware hens that just started laying, 11 White Rock pullets, three Dark Cornish hens and a Dark Cornish rooster. In addition, we purchased an incubator and we have 30 Dark Cornish and 12 eggs from our resident hens in it with an anticipated hatch date of May 17. Fingers and toes crossed! The hope is that those birds, in addition to the dual purpose breeds that I already have on the farm will reproduce and grow sufficiently to be used as meat birds (the roosters) and laying hens. The ultimate goal is for Spellcast Farm to be as sustainable as possible and buying meat breed and laying breed chicks every year is not sustainable!
We brought the chickens to a processor up in the mountains and that was an interesting experience. I stayed with the chickens as they were brought in, one by one to first be stunned with a stun knife and then bled out. I had tears in my eyes as I helped to send them on their way and I thanked them for giving us their lives. When I sold them at the farmer’s market, tears came to my eyes as I described to the customer how they were raised. While they were frustrating creatures, we raised them with great care.
The goat herd has gone through some substantial changes. I sold two of the Oberhasli does to a woman in South Carolina starting up a small dairy and purchased three Saanen does and a Saanen buck. The goal is to keep goats that have soft, easy-to-milk udders and the Saanens fit that bill. Also, as a general rule, the Saanens produce more milk than the other breeds and their kids are larger. This year we will be using the buck kids for meat and a larger-size in a dairy goat kid makes for better meat. Unfortunately, the Saanens are almost always solid white, which is kind of boring, but I guess you’ve got to take the good with the bad. Most days, I milk 11 goats in the morning and five every night so we are getting lots of milk to feed the chickens, dogs and cats and I am making a lot of cheese. We considered getting a Jersey bottle calf, but that’s proving difficult so it’s a good thing we got the other two Jerseys to be used for meat this fall and next year.
I guess more big news is that I no longer have my job doing the sales and marketing for the farm that now remains nameless. While it could have been a perfect job, the stress level was too much to deal with. I very much enjoyed going to the farmer’s market and that was something that I would have missed. I could have continued to go to the Charlotte market, but I elected instead to pursue a local farmers market that only allows local farmers to participate. At many farmers’ markets, Charlotte included, there are a lot of resellers. Listening to those people hawk their goods was frustrating. They really had no clue how the vegetables were grown or the animals that produced the meat and eggs were raised. So this Saturday will be our first market. We don’t have much to sell, but I’ll go and education and hopefully get lots of people interested in rabbit and heritage breed chickens. It is all about the education and helping people to understand that what they get in the grocery stores and even at some farmer’s markets is not real food.
Luckily, I’m still eligible for unemployment (a piddily $100/week) but it’s better than nothing. Donations will not be refused.
This newsletter is starting to get too long, but it’s nice to be able to share what Wally and I have been doing. I personally feel like a Phoenix rising up from the ashes. I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in my job situation. The amount of stress that has been lifted from my shoulders from the former job is tremendous. I know I was short-tempered and ugly at times and if you were at the receiving end of that nastiness, I apologize.
Thank you for your continued patronage and support! We appreciate it more than you know.
Until later …
Michelle and Wally