It's been quite the inaugural year at Red-Tail Grove. This time last year, I was spit-balling logo ideas, drafting the redesign of our garden space, and making our three ruminants comfortable through the worst of winter. Since then, the garden has doubled in size, we're managing almost 40 animals, and have wonderful hats with our very own logo.
Winter has slowed the pace here a bit, which has provided much needed time for rest and reflection. 2022 felt a lot like trying to stay on my feet while being blasted by a fire hose, but nevertheless, I learned a lot, and am very happy with the progress. This year promises to be exciting, as almost every aspect of the farm will finally come online after a year or so of building a foundation.
Since I've been negligent with the blog (sorry!), I figured this would be a great place to share reflections on our experiences from the past year. Let me know what you folks think!
-Market Garden Success! As my wife can confirm, what I was most nervous about regarding this whole farming thing was growing annual vegetables and other market garden plants. Frankly, it's still what I'm least certain about when compared to raising sheep or keeping laying hens... but this year did a ton to boost my confidence. Not only did we sell a respectable amount of vegetables (particularly cherry tomatoes), I took a risk on expanding to add flower production, and was rewarded. Couple this with my experiences growing things with Daisy and Jenny at Stormbrew Farm, and I feel much more certain in my ability to plan and grow an efficient, profitable garden this year.
-Intensive Grazing Success! So far, so good with our intensively managed grazing. Not only did our lambs do well, they're honestly the healthiest flock I've encountered anywhere, which is pretty remarkable given that we've never administered a single does of medication or dewormer. We even had a remarkable week in late July, as most of the fields around us were being cut for hay, when it seemed every meadow bird in the county came to live in our tall grasses. It is really delightful to watch a flock of sheep taking giant mouthfuls of luscious grass, excited to move to their next pristine paddock every evening. A couple challenges for this year: 1) figure out a light, mobile shade structure I can move with the fencing, and 2) figured out a better seasonal rotation schedule (i.e., increase paddock size or move paddocks more quickly during spring/fall growth flushes).
-(Mostly) Happy Hens! Our mobile coop has performed (almost) all year exceptionally well. In fact, the design ended up working so well that I plan to build another and double our organic egg production. Not only do the hens use it how I hoped, they've been laying anywhere from 16-20 eggs per day for over two months now-- which is way more production than I expected headed into their first winter. Not only that, but chickens are awesome; had no idea one species of bird could make so many different calls or noises, and our boys love carrying them around the pasture (and, frankly, the chickens seem to like it, too-- even our rooster when he's in the right mood). A couple unfortunate caveats in "The Bad" section.
-Three days of -2 degrees and sustained 20 mph winds: Naturally, my first winter as a real farm would result in a once-in-a-century weather event. While all our animals made it through, a few chickens will have the scars to prove it. For some reason, they decided to spend most of the day on Christmas Eve outside of the coop, which I'd buttoned up and outfitted with a heat lamp. I made a couple attempts to get them back in, but figured they knew best what to do to stay warm. Sadly, our rooster Rico earned pretty bad frostbite on his comb, and a few of our hens got a touch as well. I had already been considering building something for winter housing-- to get them off grass-- and this has made that a priority.
-Hot Sheep: While our sheep hardly notices the -2 degrees, we did have one day of idiocy in August that almost resulted in a heat death. My current shade set-up for paddocks away from trees is a lot of trouble to set up, and on that day I thought where I'd move them would have enough shade to do the job. Fast forward to 3pm, when I'm returning from working over at Stormbrew Farm, and one of my black ewes is on the verge of heat stroke; swollen face, swollen neck, heavy breathing... and several of the other animals are probably only 30 minutes behind her. I hurriedly erected some shade, prodded her over, and watched over the next couple hours to see if she'd pull through. She did-- although definitely looked awful for a few days. Heat is now the condition I'm most cognizant of on the farm.
-Tiny House, Big Trouble: The tiny house has been a miniature version of Tom Hank's The Money Pit. It's been some variety of one step forward, two steps back for over a year now. In addition to all the stuff in my Tiny House Blues blog post, we've had to replace the instant water heater (twice), build a deck, and "properly skirt" the building. Along the way, the newly installed/replaced toilet has developed a leak, and we've discovered there isn't a proper sewer gas vent, causing a terrible smell if enough water doesn't flush the lines often enough. HOWEVER, we are now seriously close to having it ready for occupants. Solid chance the county approves it within the next week, and the final couple repairs are actually relatively simple. Standby to standby!
In Summary: It's been an awesome adventure here at the Grove, and we look forward to what 2023 brings. Expect lots more vegetables, flowers, eggs, and lamb, the ability to have a nice weekend stay at the farm, and the potential for hosted farm-to-table events. We intend to be at the Abingdon Farmer's Market starting in April, and can't wait to expand our network of friends and customers. Thanks for those that have supported us thus far, and good luck to you all in the New Year!