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Introductions and Ideas for Our Farm

Posts: 5
Location: Western Massachusetts
goat chicken pig
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Hello! I've been lurking the forums for several months now after finishing my PDC in November. In this first post I wanted to introduce what I've been up to and what my plans are moving forward with the property my partner and I are leasing. We're a young farming couple with off-farm jobs hoping to increase the amount of food and income we can make off the land. Hoping to get some feedback and encouragement to carry us through the last stretch of winter!

LAND: May will mark 2 years since we moved here from NH and we are in the process of getting a 2-year lease signed that will allow us to apply for a number of grants/loans/cost-share programs. Suggestions for such things are welcome! Currently on our radar is the NRCS cost-share for season extension hoop house installation and I've heard tell of a grant regarding wildlife habitat creation, though we'd need a forest management plan first. We're working with about 30 acres in Western MA (zone 5). About 15 acres of pasture and 15 wooded, lots of sloped ground, a vernal pool, and other wetter areas. The main downfall of the property is the set of utility lines that cut through it... we try not to spend a great deal of time under them, although we do have to graze the animals under them every so often. Haven't noticed any obvious ill effects yet although they do make buzzing noises when it's very humid or raining/snowing. The original house is very old (late 1700s) and there are two large barns dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s. We keep most of our animals in the lower level of the older, larger barn, though the brooder for chicks is in the older barn. The barns both have slate roofs and it would be amazing if we could capture some rainwater off of them, but the eaves are quite high and we're not sure where/how we'd contain all the precious water... Area between the barn is asphalt in mediocre condition. There are some strong north/west winds that rip through in the winter. We are hoping to create some hedgerows for windbreaks in the pasture and closer to the house. There are 5 apple trees planted in the 80s that we've been working on pruning back. The varieties are nothing special, definitely one Red Delicious (why?!?). We'd love to graft on other types next spring though that's not something we have any experience with. There's a nice grove of black walnut trees on the slope behind the barns, and we have tons of young and old black locust farther uphill that we'd like to use for building and fencing projects. The fields were mostly hayed or set stocked for the few years before we arrived so we've had our work cut out hacking back multiflora rose and grapevine along field edges. The animals certainly help but some of those bushes are impenetrable!

ANIMALS: The hope is to start a small organic + pasture-raised meat and egg CSA. I've been loosely custom grazing 3-4 head of cattle for the last two seasons, which was the original impetus for fencing the pasture. I would love to purchase a few head of Red Devon beef cattle since I'm sick of buying so much grain and eating animals that eat so much grain! The really crazy part of me thinks it'd be a great time to buy up milking equipment and a few Milking Devons or Jerseys for a 100% grass-fed raw milk dairy operation but 1. Massachusetts has so many regulations and licensing fees that any sort of business-scale setup sounds like a total nightmare and 2. I don't want to get ridiculously in debt to make that dream happen and we certainly don't have the money to start that up now. Note that I have several years experience working with organic pasture-based dairy cows. The two Saanen goat doelings we have were purchased after I ended my last dairy job and figured it'd be nice to have a milk goat or two down the line. Though it'll be another year yet until they give birth! Until then they're great pets, walking buddies, and rose-eating-machines. We purchased 5 Tunis sheep from some friends who were dispersing their herd of 30 back in October. One ram and four ewes. The first lambs were born last night! Planning to raise them for meat. We've also been raising about 100-150 broiler chickens each summer over the last two years (in batches). This year we're looking to do 200-300. There are about 30 hens and a few accompanying roosters that free range the yard (Dark Cornish, Welsummer, and SL Wyandottes), and a month ago we welcomed 100 female chicks who will be producing lots of saleable eggs by mid-late summer. We rotated 5 hogs around the eastern perimeter of our pasture last summer after they did a nice job of digging up a new garden plot for us and we currently have two more in the barn being fed all our food waste, expired/reject foodstuffs from the local co-op, some scraps from my restaurant job, and organic grain whenever we're lacking in other feed. They'll be going to slaughter at the end of April. Hopefully all this snow melts in time for them to do some digging outside!

We made a Fedco trees order that includes a mulberry, a pair of siberian peashrubs, 10 everbearing raspberries, 9 hybrid hazelnuts, 2 shrub willows, and lots of sawdust mushroom spawn! The plants will be picked up at the end of April and the spawn should be arriving in the next month. There are some maples that shade the kitchen garden that we plan to cut down for inoculating. If we save up some extra cash before the tree sale I'd love to purchase more plants while we're up in Maine (especially elderberries).

Hedgerow plants-
I've been doing some research recently to put together a list of potential plants I could use in my windbreaks. Some of these could be transplanted from elsewhere, others would need to be seeded or purchased as saplings. Obvious preference for those that could be freely acquired! Many of these are medicinal, both for humans and livestock/wildlife. I'm about to start a second year herbalism course and am excited to make more medicine this year, both from my cultivated plants and those locally wildcrafted.

Black Locust
Black Walnut

Edible/Medicinal Understory
American Persimmon
Cornellian Cherry
Witch Hazel
Siberian Peashrub
Highbush Cranberry
Shrub Willow
Sea Buckthorn

Herbs for Edges
Anise Hyssop
Comfrey, maybe...
Good King Henry
Stinging Nettle

At some point I'd like to elaborate on my plans closer up to the house. Starting with the big picture, thanks for sticking with me!

Lots of dreams and so little time! It's so easy to get overwhelmed. Please please ask me any clarifying questions or throw down ideas and suggestions! Thank you, all.
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Pasture map. House in southeast corner. Blue areas are wetter. Green blocks are garden plots.
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Topographical map with property line. Purple box shows border of previous map.
Posts: 4328
Location: Anjou ,France
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A couple of plants you may not have considered
Quince - as a fruit and as a root stock for grafting apples . Hard wood cuttings are easy to take and traditionally used for both apples and pears . This tree will pay for itself
Medlar - graft it onto hawthorn :-) don't buy it :-) steal ... Er sorry I mean find some
Black current one bush can easy become twenty in a couple of years a great asset .
Posts: 69
Location: Zone 4B, Maine, USA
forest garden books chicken homestead
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Hello Anne! Welcome to the Permies forums!

And WOW that is a nice plan! I don't have the experience you do, so I'll leave overall design comments/questions to other more knowledgeable peeps than me. But I'd like to offer a couple comments and ask one question.

Comments: I worked in the power industry (engineering side) for 15 years ("retired" in 2014) and have found health concerns about being around energized electrical equipment completely unconvincing. I'm not suggesting others agree with me, of course. But I worked around energized high voltage equipment (up to 500kV) a bunch. I have know a huge number of linemen and technicians that have worked full time in such environments for even upwards of 40 years with no noticeable ill effects to their health. Actually my dad started at the power company when I was 7 in '83... so the informal survey of workers goes back quite a ways...

Of course if you want to avoid the lines and want keep your animals away from them, please do!! I'm not trying to change anyone's mind I just wanted to share a perspective that MIGHT be helpful :)

And that buzzing is perfectly normal. It's called corona discharge. From the pic it looks like a mid-to-high level transmission line (230, 345, or maaaaaybe 500 kV) so it would be totally expected to get that buzz. When the insulators get wet while they have dust or debris on them they discharge at a higher rate and the buzzing volume will increase. If it ever seems obscenely loud go out and look at it on a dark night (if you're in an area without light pollution). You might see the leakage points actually glowing in the dark! It's the same phenomenon that causes "St. Elmo's Fire" on the masts of sailing ships. It's actually a energy loss to the power company so they have a financial interest in minimizing corona discharge; that's something you can talk to them about if you want to. My former employer would blast a stream of ground up corn cob to clean off energized equipment. Pretty cool! And the noise goes away :)

Lastly my question: what did you use to mark up the Google and topo images? I'm looking for something to do that with. Right now I'm using SketchUp, but it's really not meant for that sort of thing. Yet I haven't found a better alternative.

Excited for you! And congratulations on the upcoming anniversary!
Anne Preston
Posts: 5
Location: Western Massachusetts
goat chicken pig
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David, I love quince! Didn't realize it could be used for grafting apples and pears. Our neighbors have a rather sad looking quince tree and the fruit around here tend to have lots of insect damage but if you're just cooking them down (or using them to perfume your home!) what difference does it make, anyway! I've never had medlar but am curious about them. Currants are technically illegal here in MA but I'm sure I could get my hands on some ;)

Bobby, thanks for your reassuring input regarding the lines. I just used the drawing tools in Preview (Mac default image viewing program) and it was a real pain in the butt. Photoshop would've been easier I think but I don't have that on my computer. Try looking up a free/low-cost photoshop alternative?

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Twin ram lambs born Wednesday!
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ah, the joys of animal husbandry :)
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big barn from north end
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dreaming of grass these days!
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summer field at dusk
Posts: 3597
Location: Toronto, Ontario
hugelkultur dog forest garden fungi trees rabbit urban wofati cooking bee homestead
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Amazing! Welcome to the forums, Anne.

I love your ideas, and your approach. And beautiful pictures! Please keep us posted, and good luck.

Bobby Reynolds
Posts: 69
Location: Zone 4B, Maine, USA
forest garden books chicken homestead
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Gorgeous, Anne! And as much as I DON'T want more animals on our homestead those lambs are ADORABLE. Stop tempting me! ;)

Thanks for the tip on the photo editor. I don't have a Mac or Photoshop either. There was a recent post about software doing floor plans and home designs. In it someone mentioned this software:

Sounds interesting, I'll give it a try on my next project!

Nice shot of the transmission line structure, by the way! Looks to be 345kV. Brings back memories :-P At that voltage you'll get some buzzing even when things are perfectly clean. Best wishes for your season!
Rocket Mass Heater Plans: Annex 6" L-shaped Bench by Ernie and Erica
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