Where have we been?

The short answer is: Here on the farm. Just like everyone, we’ve had to make adjustments because of the ongoing pandemic and keeping up with the website has fallen by the wayside as we took on some new projects and animals.

With that, I’d like to introduce Rosie (a Red Angus/HIghland mix) and Willow (a full Highland), who joined Two Rock Ridge Farm in April 2021.

We spent much of the spring — after a strange up-and-down maple sap run — building infrastructure to keep these two ladies safe. We were not expecting to get cows this year, but as luck would have it, things came together and they were delivered by Highland Farms of Troy at the end of April.

I was able to raise two flights of meat birds this year and tried a new-to-me breed — Red Rangers. Those are a heritage breed of meat birds that aren’t as breasty as Cornish Crosses. Rangers take a little longer to grow out and, in my case, are much smaller birds. I think if they had a little more space (I didn’t get them out onto grass as quickly as I should have), they would have been larger. I kept a few and those have gotten close to typical Cornish Cross size now that they’re in with my layers and aren’t competing with as many birds.

The first batch of birds included some Cornish Cross and we had a time with them. They arrived in April on a day of howling winds and cold. We decided it would be better to keep these small babies in the house instead of the drafty barn. I did all the usual things I do when I get day-old chicks — give them water and a little feed inside the plastic tote I always use as a brooder. Anyone who has ever had chicks knows they can be a little loud so I was suspicious when it got very quiet in the tote. I went to investigate and what I saw was devastating: Thirty wet, cold chicks.

I’m not sure how they managed to soak themselves but many of the birds were stiff and looked dead. Jeff jumped in to help me dry them and try to warm them back up. We put them on the open oven door and Jeff ran next door to grab our niece’s hairdryer. After about an hour, we managed to dry and revive all but three of the chicks. However, in the next week, they continued to die (we think from that initial stressful event) until I was left with just seven Cornish Cross birds. I replenished the numbers with Tractor Supply chicks, Isa browns and Golden Comets, but those chicks did not grow fast enough to be butchered on my scheduled-in-advance date. Most of them now live with the layers.

In addition, we raised pheasants this year for the first time. There was a learning curve there, too. They fly when they are very young — which I did not know. Lost a few of those as well before I realized I needed to cover their brooder. Then, I lost a few more when I moved them into a covered pen outside that I wrapped in chicken wire — a predator reached right through the holes and pulled the smallest birds right through. After that, I added bird netting over the chicken wire and that did the trick. We got permits to release the pheasants and friends with hunting dogs attempted to track them down. Unsuccessfully. But, they said they had fun and we might try again next year, as our release permits are good for two years.

My “old ladies” — free-range chickens I’ve had for five or six years — also had a catastrophic summer. A raccoon attacked and killed four in one night, leaving behind the bloody carcasses and the remaining four traumatized chickens. I found the spot where I thought it got into the coop and patched it with metal chicken wire. But I didn’t find the other spot where it got in and it killed three more of my old ladies. I have just one Barred Rock hen left now and it took her weeks to venture out of the coop again. I added some of the spring chickens to her coop and they are slowing warming up to each other and the young chickens have recently begun laying. I’m not sure how it’s going to play out quite yet but I somehow ended up with a rooster in that batch and he’s been cozying up to my old lady — she might still overrule him but it’s still too early to tell what kind of a rooster he will be.

We decided not to get pigs this year and are glad of it. We will probably go back to raising pigs again next year or the year after, once we move the cows closer to our house. The cows are currently living next door at our niece’s barn, which was being used only for storage and raising meat birds for the past few years. After pumpkin season concludes, we will be back at it, building more fenced pasture for the cows.

Also this spring, we purchased a new farm stand. No more sharing the sap house space for farm stand sales, now we have a dedicated building for retail. It took a couple of days but I managed to get one coat of stain on the farm stand before we opened for the season. We’ve now been open for three weekends and it’s been hectic! (But awesome!)

Did I mention we also put up a greenhouse? Just a small one to start, 12-by-20-feet, but everything inside is growing like gangbusters (no small feat considering the weather challenges of this year). If I could figure out how to get the chipmunks to stop chowing down on my unripe tomatoes, I’d be ecstatic. We are already considering a larger greenhouse space for next year.

The farm started a YouTube channel and we’ve posted several videos over the summer of different things around the farm. We continue to post on Instagram and Facebook as well. With winter getting closer, we will be evaluating how to consistently keep up with social media since we obviously didn’t do very well on that front this year.

Another thing that did not do well this year for us is potatoes. We planted more than 500 pounds of seed potatoes in May and lost nearly all of them by late July. The plants were growing along as usual, even with the dry beginning of summer. Then it started to rain. And rain. And rain. And rain. Potato beetles discovered our large crop and moved in, decimating rows overnight. We hand-picked bugs. It rained. We dusted with diatomaceous earth. It rained. We simply could not keep ahead of the potato beetles and didn’t want to use harsh chemicals. So we lost all but about 75 pounds of our harvest — most of which were consumed at our niece’s August wedding.

Deer and turkeys also took a toll on the pumpkin crop, wiping out the majority of my small gourds, squash and pie pumpkins that were planted away from our two large fields of carving pumpkins. With those, I also planted a big patch of sunflowers (also for the wedding) and those did quite well. I’ve harvested a bunch of the heads to save the seeds for replanting and I’m going to try roasting some as well. The turkeys are all up in the sunflowers’ business still…but now I know I need to harvest the heads a little sooner.

I’m sure there’s more I’ve forgotten but I think I hit most of the highlights and lowlights of 2021 so far. Stay tuned…

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