We skipped our Spring update and went right to Summer this year. But just to bring you up to speed, spring was cool and wet until the tail end when we got some unseasonably hot and dry weather. The pasture took a while to wake up and grow due to the coolness, so by the time we let the cattle out to graze for the first time this spring, they were more than ready. For a few weeks they could see the grass but it wasn't tall enough (with plant health and best nutrtion in mind) or dry enough from mud season to allow them to graze it yet. During that time period, they still spent most of their day eating hay and lounging in their new shelter, but they'd also spend alot of time looking out longingly at the paddocks and loudly mooing anytime they saw us ... as if to say "Winter's been fun and all but we want fresh grass".
The bees survived the winter(big accomplishment as a new beekeeper of just 3 years) and in the garden, we expanded our aspargus beds, relocated some raised beds and planted several more rhubarb plants which we use to make wine. If all goes as planned our garden provides us food all year long. This year we still had onions, garlic, dried beans, hot sauces, basil pesto,dried hot peppers, herbs and teas at the start of the new growing season. After a slow start due to cool weather we're happy to report the garden has really caught up and is flourishing.
Summer began dry but has progressed to reasonable amounts of rain, just when we've needed it most. We've had some thunderstorms but none severe or damaging. There have been some hot and dry spells interspursed which have required extra watering of the garden and have caused some slowing of regrowth in the pasture but overall it's been a pretty average summer as far as weather goes.
We've just fenced out a new 2 acre portion of woods that we are working to develop into good grazing ground. In this new area we are working on leaving a few stands of softwood for shelter for cattle and wildlife, some dead standing trees for wildlife, releasing valueable trees and sugar maples so they can grow well and by doing selective cutting, we're getting more sunlight to the forest floor...a requirment to grow the grasses and legumes we will be over seeding with. With the low productivity of this area we are reliant on inputs from the cattle's manure and waste hay to really wake up the microbial action in the soil. Even during the growing season, we are feeding out bales of hay when the herd is in this new paddock. There is browse available for grazing but not enough right now on its own to last more than a couple days so we offer hay as well and the added benefit is any waste hay will act as a perfect place for new seedings to take hold. They love grazing the succulent new sprouts that cut stumps send up, which keeps the area from turning into a shrubby overgrowth. As we've mentioned in previous updates, creating better and more grazing ground is our priority and absolutely necessary if we wish to grow the herd.
We are currently all sold out for our Fall 2020 quarters and halves of beef but we are taking reservations for quarters and halves to be ready in Winter of 2021. We will have lean 90/10 ground available within the next month or two until we sell out. Email us at NbarAranch@gmail.com for more info or to reserve.
It's been a warmer winter here in Central Maine than is typical. We've had our fair share of snow and some chilly days/nights but proportionally low based on winters past. Our cattle are not complaining. Our herd is smaller this winter compared to last and with the warmer temps we've been able to feed less hay and silage. They still have free choice available but we have noticed less consumption this winter vs. prior ones. It took longer this year for the ground to freeze up so we were grateful to have the high use area (talked about in our fall update) available for late fall/early winter feeding. It assured dry footing for the herd and much less pasture damage. We have been feeding in what we call 'paddock 2' this winter, in areas we identified during the growing season as low production and undesirable species areas. Undesirable species means cattle will refuse to graze the forage species in these areas or that the regrowth is so poor that nutritive value is neglible. By feeding in these 'undesirable areas' , we are allowing for more manure and waste feed distirubution. We will harrow and overseed heavily these areas during the growing season and sure as I'm sitting here typing this, these areas will flourish. We want to grow the herd and need to grow more good pasture to do it.
We are pleased to announce the ranch was awarded a FACT (Food Animal Concerns Trust) grant this February! We were awarded funds to put toward a three sided mobile structure for our cattle to bed down and seek shelter in during inclement weather. This will improve animal welfare in our operation as we continue to work toward AWA certfictation.
Technically it may still be fall but snow has blanketed the ranch and at least weather-wise, fall is definately over and has been for a few weeks now. Looking back it was a nice one though.
We got to press cider with family, begin clearing land that will become paddock 6 next year, add to our firewood stack, slaughter our free range broilers and get them in the freezer, and did a lot of preservation of the garden harvest. The garden harvest was good this year and we were able to get cover crop down on it just in time before it got too cold...always planning ahead for soil health. Of course got the garlic planted as usual, around Halloween. The new high tunnel we constructed proves to be a great asset in growing as much of our own food as possible. The hives have been moved to their winter location and have been put to bed for the season...here's to hoping they make it til spring!
As for what is new with the herd, on October 21st we welcomed our last calf of the year. A healthy bull calf from a trusty cow and a great mother. We developed a high use area in November (in an already highly trafficked area with no grass growth) using several dump truck loads of road grade gravel. The purpose is to provide an area with solid footing which is valuable during times when our pasture is muddy. When the ground freezes this isn't an issue but during thaw/mud season and fall rains this has been a problem for us and the herd. We can now feed hay on this high use area and our pastures wont get damaged by our tractor when feeding and our cattle wont be standing in mud while eating. With all the cold weather and snow, the cattle have pretty much gotten into their winter routine.
To our customers we want to say that we are all sold out of beef for 2019. Thank you for your business! We will have more available in March 2020 so call us soon to reserve a quarter or half.
Summer in the north country always goes by quickly. Before we know it the nights get chilly and leaves begin changing. By mid September, fall is very much in the air. As the season comes to an end we're thinking back to what was a very pleasant summer, sprinkled with visits from family and friends.
There was a heat wave in late July but otherwise the weather here in Central Maine was seasonal: warm days with plenty of sunshine and timely rains. No damaging storms or flooding.
When dividing up the summer pasture for rotational grazing we always do so keeping shade availability in mind. Certainly during the hottest days the cattle are a bit more lazy than usual and for a large portion of the day, seek the shade to lay down and relax in. I can relate...after chores I like to lay in the hammock under the canopy of the sugar maples in the back yard and just take it easy.
We got our second batch of free range meat chickens in early July and they are a very outgoing group. We get them started free ranging as soon as possible, usually by 3-4 weeks old. It is always so interesting to witness how instinctual it is for them to identify food sources: certain grasses, bugs (some more tasty than others evidently), garden scraps in compost. They have been very impressive with the distance they travel in the pasture, forest edge, yard and wetland to find a meal. They are instrumental in helping us with natural pest control as are prior batches of chickens we've raised, but this group in particular.
The garden has done well this year, especially hot peppers, sweetcorn and tomatoes. The Colorado Potato Beetle was an issue and the pesky hornworms made life difficult for a few weeks. Mechanical removal is an organic practice that works well for both pests. Meaning...picking them off with our hands!
Creating more grazing ground for our herd is a high priority in summer months. Little by little we are moving into 'where forest meets pasture'. We cut, stack and burn alder and sun-choking brush in what was non-managed forest in the recent past. We leave good standing timber, some dead standing, and use the rest for firewood and brush fire for ash. Our soils are acidic and spreading the ash in the newly cleared areas helps balance soil ph. We then spread seed appropiate for our soil and climate and then....wait patiently.
No doubt the summer is a busy time for everyone and especially those of us in colder climates, preparing for winter and getting all the growing and work in that we can within a short time period. Every season brings something special and the land and animals bring purpose, joy and even entertainment to what we do!
One of our 2 year old heifers gave birth last week to a healthy 71 lb bull calf. The vigorous little calf came into the world on a rainy morning, amongst the trees with the other cattle in his herd looking on with interest.
He came out and immediately began trying to stand up and get to nursing. His mother, a 1st calf heifer, took to motherhood naturally and immediately. They needed a little alone time together as a pair to build up the new mom's confidence but her robust spry little calf made her job much easier.
Watching calves buck and play at dawn and dusk is the greatest joy of raising beef cattle. He'll be the new kid on the block for a bit. Our next calves are due to arrive in the fall.
The spring peepers are in full chorus in the wetland and the air smells fresh. The black flies are officially out and all this means spring is finally in full swing here in central Maine.
Like much of the country we've indeed had a wet spring. This has prevented us from getting out in the pastures to harrow and over seed. Planting in the garden has been delayed as well but slowly and surely it's all gettin done. The cattle are ready to graze and today we could finally let them into an early season pasture. While the other pastures continue to rest and grow adequately for the sake of plant health,the cattle can get their early season grazing fix and finish up eating bales. The chicks are being let out to forage on nice days and are already learning to commingle with the cattle...right where they should be! We like to get them out free ranging as soon as possible.
We're grateful that mud season is pretty much over and we can get into our warm weather routine here on the ranch. Certainly for us, warmer weather means grilling out more and we got you covered there. Give us a call or email us if you need any grassfed beef for your party, gathering or family dinner. We currently have quarter pound patties, lean ground, and premium steaks available.
The calendar tells us Spring is here, but the ground is still well covered with snow in Central Maine. The cattle are enjoying the increased sunshine and warmer (for the most part!) daytime temps that have graced us these last couple of weeks.
This time of year at the ranch means... waiting for the snow to recede so repairs to fencing can be done, taking the snow blower off the tractor, waiting for the ground to dry up enough for harrowing in order to break up the winter manure and waste hay in the pasture, starting seeds/repotting seedlings for the garden ...BUT the sweetest thing we get to do this time of year is collect sap and boil it down for our yearly supply of maple syrup. We tap a small stand of maples along the outside of our fence line, that way the curious cattle won't disturb the lines and buckets. We collect enough sap to get us between 2.5-3 gallons of maple syrup. We cook with it, bake with it, use it as a sweetener for tea and yogurt and of course pour over pancakes and french toast. Last year we tapped our maples on February 19th, but due to the colder temps and deep snow this year we tapped them just last week. Hopefully there will be enough sap collected to boil down our first batch over the fire this weekend. I love driving by the large sugaring operations with their well maintained stands of sugar maples, seeing the long lengths of tubing and the farmers hauling big tanks of sap. Sure sign it's late winter/early spring. A fine time of year!
For the rest of March, if you reserve a quarter or half of our grassfed beef (ready fall of 2019) we'll give you a free pint of local, Maine made maple syrup. Call or email us to reserve your half or quarter.