Today marked the first cutting of hay on our farm in over 20 years. Our farm followed the irresistible trend of corn and soybean (and sometimes corn on corn) rotation that most farmers have moved into over the past 40 years. I admit I'm proud to have that piece of land into a perennial planting of oats, alfalfa and volunteer tillage radishes. With a bit more rain (yes, we're dry here) and tender care, this will be our organic forage crop for the next few years.
And I'll apologize to Troy, straight up, for getting in his way while helping us hay by walking out there to take pictures with kids and dog in tow. We nearly lost our dog Happy to that hay cutter. Would have been nobody's damn fault but my own. A working farm is a dangerous place. You think I would have learned that already.
We're well enough respected that folks in our community can call us idiots to our faces- and a couple have. "Really? You're taking farmland this valuable and putting it into hay?" Well, yes. Mike knows, as does his father and uncles, and his grandfather before that, that this soil needs some alfalfa to 'mellow' it. Plus, with a growing herd of cattle, we don't want to be dependent on buying feed or hay.
The farm is taking shape, even with being set back the better part of year by Mike's accident. A year ago, we rolled the dice and planted corn late in the season. We lost the gamble. The corn didn't mature and we had to plow it under for green manure/mulch. Then we planted that whole field to tillage radish--a new cover crop that sends down deep, thick taproot to break up hard pans (a compacted layer of soil from using tractors and such) and serves as a kind of deep tillage device to break up the soil. We need that here with our heavy clay soils. This year a lot of the tillage radish came up in our hay field and provided a cover of lovely white flowers to the field.
And we've been observing our farm and animals- their natures and response to our practices. Take those Dexter cattle, for example. We watched them grow from the time they were born to now. They thrive on the grass and their summer coats shine up with that first flush of green grass. We (and by 'we' I mean Mike who is the day to day, hour by hour observer on the farm) find that the low-line Angus take longer to sleek up in the spring, but they are catching up with the Dexters a couple months into the grazing season. Time will tell. And taste.
We're out of ground bison (from our friends Rod and Mary) and so will have to butcher our first grassfed steers- born on our farm on a fine May day in 2010 the day after arriving here. Their names are Trouble and Bill. They'll be going by trailer to the Pioneer meat market in Ortonville in the coming days. Once we're assured of the quality of the meat, we may have some sell. That will be a nice milestone on this farming journey- from birth to sale of our first grassfed beef.
In other parts of the farm, the wetland is being 'installed' starting July 1, with heavy equipment coming in to move earth. We have fencing bids coming in to lay down 18,000 feet of fence on the farm--over 3 miles worth-- and are working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service on grazing the adjacent prairie land (next year). About 150 acres are in conventional corn and soybeans (total farm acreage is 320). So 2012 marks the first year that more than half the farm is in either organic crop production or pasture and wetland.
The garden is one casualty of Mike's accident and so this year will be scant on our own produce. Some of our perennial beds are doing fine- it's been all you can eat asparagus for the past month. The strawberries, however, fell victim to quack grass.
It is still a grand adventure as we move into and through this fifth growing season on the farm. And I'm guessing more than one farmer out there would agree, that there is nothing like the look and the smell of that first cut of hay to fill ones heart with a sense of the goodness of farming.