Farming in Fall0
“The goldenrod is yellow,
The corn is turning brown…
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.”
― Helen Hunt Jackson
Well, the goldenrod around here is already dead and releasing little puffballs of seed, but the corn is definitely turning brown and apple trees are still hunched over with the weight of their fruit. I actually love this season–as well as the one that follows–but farming in the fall tends to get a lot more complicated. At least, it does for us. How so? Well to give you one example of many, there’s that whole ‘birds need to drink water’ thing. You see, the effects of Fall are a little accentuated this year since we’ve still got nearly 2,500 birds out on pasture, but even if we had fewer birds we’d still have to be getting water to them. Normally, we just run our pex tubing (hose) out to the birds and let the automatic system do its thing. We can’t do that as easily now though because we’re well below freezing every night. So, before it gets too cold each evening, one of us has to walk out to pasture and disconnect the pex tubing in several different places so that it drains. There’s one very low spot too, so once you’ve disconnected the lines, you need to lift the low area(s) up and drain the water out of one end or the other. The other night, I neglected to do that and ended up having to wait until well past noon for water to flow freely. That mistake ended up looking like the picture below…once the ice had melted enough and the water pressure could push its way through.
Little ice tubes shooting out of the end along with green water, made green by the dying algae that has flourished in the pex all summer long. Resilient stuff that algae, and it causes plenty of trouble when it tries to squeeze through the filters on the waterers that hang in each shelter. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that everything takes a little longer to get done now given the inclement weather and freezing temperatures. What was once automatic is now an hour or so of my time…every day. Annoying? Yep. Anything I can do about it? Nope, hahaha :)
There are other downsides to this near-favorite season of mine. Rain, for instance, is far more problematic these days. I love the rain, my home is the great Pacific Northwest, but now when it falls it lingers far too long. Then you get a week of rain, and while the aquifers are slowly filling underground (one would hope), the pasture becomes a muddy mess that makes simple things like feeding animals a lot more, um, slippery. Another factor at play is that most of the pasture is now dormant, so there’s no real re-growth of alfalfa or grasses. That’s ok because we give them a very large area, but at the same time the pasture looks pretty brown in comparison to just a month or so ago. Here you can see the turkeys, ducks and chickens hanging out together.
Some birds also end up getting soaked because they opt to stay out on pasture during a storm rather than under the shelter. This isn’t normally a problem, but then the temperature drops down to 24F at night and the poor decisions those birds made are highlighted in the most dramatic fashion possible. We can help out here by moving their feed underneath the shelters, but it’s no guarantee. There will still be birds who opt for the cold soak. Granted, pretty soon you notice that everyone is under the shelter when it rains. I still don’t know if it’s because they’ve learned a lesson, if they’re just lingering around the feed, or if all of the bad decision makers are simply gone now.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not trying to complain so much as explain how this season affects the day-to-day on the farm. It can be very frustrating, but one needs to get used to that in a hurry if he or she wants to farm because this is a career track that you ultimately have very little control over. You do what you can–and you do a lot–but Ma Nature has a funny way of occasionally making your well thought out plan look like a fool’s errand. You do have your victories though, and when times get harder it tends to make the animals a bit less wary of you. So they get closer, run up to you a bit more because they know you’ve got food, water, or a shelter fix, you know…basic needs stuff. I also find myself being less sarcastic with the birds and more sympathetic. Here we are discussing the latest pasture drama at one of the seasonal water coolers.
There is a great sense of urgency to get to the end of the season because, by now, we’re pretty tired. You can’t linger too long in the light at the end of that tunnel though because there is still much to do. Plus, every day reminds us of some sort of winter preparation that we’ve forgotten…a memory that was washed clean months ago by the Spring.