October Nor’easter

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An unusual October Nor’easter tore through New England last week, breaking records and causing power outages for over a million households. Here at Runamuk, the fierce winds sent the sheep-tractor flying to land toppled upside-down a good 10 yards down the field. I don’t know how long my poor sheep were exposed to the elements, but they were a soggy, woolly mess when I found them Thursday morning. It seems Old Man Winter has awakened from his long sleep, and is making mischief once more.

soggy sheep_october noreaster

Soggy sheep!

Now that I’ve been through a full year of seasons on this property, I have a better understanding of the conditions we’re facing. I can see opportunities for improvements to the livestock accommodations that would make the winter easier on both the animals and their farmer.  I’ve been working doggedly through my list of winter preparations, hoping to beat the first snows. Some of the most important projects are things like:

  • Semi-permanent winter fencing for livestock.
  • Winterizing hives and providing some kind of wind-break.
  • Modifications to the Winter Coop
  • Modifications to the Winter Sheep-Shed
  • De-worming the sheep
  • Move the flock back to the Winter Coop
  • Equipment clean-up
  • Garlic planting

Winter Coop Modifications

Modifications to the Winter Coop were high on my list of priorities; the roof absolutely needed to be tightened up. Last winter the wind was able to get under a large section of the tin roofing so that it billowed frighteningly in the weather. There was also a leak where the flashing had come away from the building that allowed water to drip onto the nesting boxes below.

Note: Heights are a challenge for this farmer; big thanks to my friend Jeremy for climbing up on the roof of the coop to make those repairs for me!

A dividing wall was added─turning one coop into two, allowing me to house chickens of different ages. I added a pop-hole to the coop and made some alterations to the door to prevent snow and ice build up. There was a general tightening of drafty gaps with spray-foam insulation. Then I MacGuyvered a flap at either end of the coop using a couple pieces of mill-felt so that I can increase or decrease ventilation depending upon the temperature outside. Plastic went back on the outside walls this week and now the only thing left to do is add more roosts and nesting boxes.

broody hen

Sadly, there was one casualty to the October Nor’easter. Some predator took advantage of the storm to completely devour both hen and eggs.

The Runamuk laying flock consists of some 80 or so birds… I don’t actually know how many I have right now lol; I haven’t stopped long enough to count them. Regardless, moving them from field to coop or coop to field is a big job and one that requires extra hands. It took a couple of nights, but all of the birds I intend to overwinter were moved off the field and into the Winter Coop. Those who didn’t make the cut are slowly being culled: non-producing hens and all but one rooster. No free-loaders at Runamuk.

I’m finally beginning to get some eggs again and I’m hoping to be back to full-production soon. I’m not sure, though, how the cold and dark of winter is going to affect production with these heritage-breed hens compared to the hybrid-commercial layers I had last year. Those Golden Comets really cranked out the eggs all winter… To encourage laying, I’ve set a light on a timer in the coop to come on in the morning at about 4am, but I allow them to go to bed with the sun in the evening. I know they’re capable of laying through the winter, but I don’t want to push them too hard either.

Sheep-Shelters

The sheep are still being rotated around the property, and probably will remain on pasture til sometime in November. Since Lilian’s Temper Tantrum, the sheep with their shenanigans have continued to make life especially “interesting” here at Runamuk. Not once, but twice! I found sheep inside my fenced garden. Their shenanigans have only increased in frequency as we’ve gotten closer and closer to breeding season…but that story is blog-post in itself lol.

I can’t blame the sheep though; in almost every instance it iss farmer error that allows the opportunistic sheep to take advantage. I know a lot about raising bees and chickens, but I’m still new to sheep.

sheep-shed modifications

Re-building the sheep-shed to make it stronger!

Aside from the sheep-shenanigans, it was important this year to have not one but two separate sheep-accomodations. One for just the ladies, and another for the guys. For the ewes I opted to use the Sheep-Shed I constructed last year, but with some modifications. I took off the plastic and removed the hoops, seeking to make a stronger structure that requires less maintenance from the farmer during storms. I also re-positioned the shed to make it more centrally located in hopes I’ll be able to provide the sheep with a least a small yard in the lee of the garage. It will henceforth be referred to as: the “Ewe Shed”, where my ewes and their lambs will live during the winter.

The guys are going to overwinter in the Sheep-Tractor, which will sit out back─just beyond the apiary.

Fencing for everyone is a high priority, and currently still on my to-do list. I actually have all the fencing I need to do the job, but I’m a little short on T-posts and finances are tight, so I’ve been picking them up 2 and 4 at a time when I visit Tractor Supply. The Almanac is forecasting the first signs of snow for mid-November, so there’s still time to get this done─provided I get all the T-posts in the ground before it freezes…

Equipment Clean-Up

Making sure the livestock was squared away for winter has been my first priority, but ensuring that all of my equipment is cleaned up and put away was high on my list too. I’ve spent a lot of money on tools and irrigation in the last couple of years, and having maxed my credit to the hilt to get up and running here, I know I won’t be able to make those kinds of investments again any time soon. I need to take good care of the equipment I have so it lasts as long as possible.

With that in mind, I spent last Sunday pulling up the tomato patch to get at the drip-tape I’d laid there, and worked my way back from the garden removing irrigation and hoses from the field. I drove the car right out to the garden and loaded the equipment into the back to haul it to the garage. Each hose was fed over the top of the car and then coiled on the other side. The increased elevation ensures that any water still in the hose drains out the other side as I pull it over and coil it up. Each hose neatly with a piece of twine in one or two spots, just the way my farm-mentor showed me years ago.

Gaining Ground

lucy's eyeball

Lucy is the sweetest little lamb!

Incidentally, I had the opportunity recently to show off my place to that same farm-mentor, Linda Whitmore-Smithers, from Medicine Hill in Starks. She came for honey and I seized the chance to pick her brain about pasture management, critter-welfare and product marketing, etc. It was rewarding to be able to show this powerhouse-woman, whom I admire and respect so much, how far I’ve come along my own farming-journey.

“I’m following you!” Linda told me.

Thank you, Linda. It means a lot to know that there’s love and support out there. Indeed, some days it’s the only thing that keeps me going. Some days it feels like I’m working, working, working, and not really gaining. Some days the farm and the finances and being mom─is so overwhelming that I can’t help but wonder what the *#@$ I’m really doing here. Am I really making a difference in the world? Or am I just banging my own head off a wall?

Those are the days I just put my head down and put one foot in front of the other. I pick one task from the chalkboard and just do that one job to completion. When I feel overwhelmed I return to my list to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing. If I’m having a panic attack, I’ll take a yellow highlighter and highlight the most important tasks on the list and then I’ll select my next project from those I’ve highlighted. In this way, one task, one priority at a time, I have managed to accomplish quite a lot. I am gaining on that massive list of winter preparations. And I am gaining in income from this farm. Slowly and steadily, with dogged determination I am gaining ground here.

Old Man Winter is Awake!

I think this next month will continue to be difficult both in work-load and finances, but once ski-season hits, my farmstaybnb will be hopping─and that will give Runamuk a really great start to 2020. I think, that will have a snowball effect (no pun intended) for Runamuk─in a very positive way. Then all I’ll have to worry about is moving snow and serving up those delicious farm-fresh breakfasts for the next few months haha. Stay tuned, folks! Old Man Winter is awake and up to mischief again!

Thank you for following along with the story of this female-farmer! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your in-box! Or follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a daily glimpse into life on this Maine conservation farm!

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