On a farm, summer, spring, fall, and winter, there is always something new. Each day brings a surprise. So, we invite you to join us by checking this page often for updates on all the going's on's--the hoppenings-- at Coon's Age Farm.
May is the month that we wish were 3 times longer, here on Coon's Age Farm.
After bringing in the water of the Riverview Ditch, along with the other 7 farms that we share it with, days suddenly get longer. The great ethnographer of the West, Major John Wesley Powell, envisioned a portion of what we see in this little valley. Namely, a company of farms and farmers cooperating to maintain small irrigation projects supplying their fields. Hence, that's what we do; each farm taking part in the maintanance of the Riverview Ditch; cleaning, burning the bottoms, repairing, and cleaning out the weed-catcher (a job that Katie, Callie, and Aislee have done full-time since our first summer here).
Sheep Rooing: As we raise Shetland Sheep for their long stapled fiber, we've come to appreciate certain traits of this old breed. One characteristic that some lines of Shetlands show is the shedding or rooing of their wool after lambing in the spring. Historically, many Shetland Sheep possessed this trait as do other primitive breeds like Soay Sheep. So, here is a sequence of photos showing Callie and Katie rooing "Little Miss." Next step will be to spin the wool directly from the sheep!
Even though we've burned the ditches previously, detritus (dead grasses, sticks, roots, etc.) is always awaiting an opportunity to plug up a headgate, splitter box, or culvert. And, that's just what it did, backing up and filling our root cellar-- over night. We awoke with the house like a little island and 5 1/2 feet of cold clean Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone water soaking a couple of tons of grains and flour. After pumping it out, Aislee squeezed in the door, cleared a path, and rescued a little Chorus Frog who probably had had the time of his life! Certainly a long day as we dried out grains on the trampoline!
We awoke this morning (21 April 2008) to 0°F after a windy, snowy day, yesterday. Young grass and alfalfa seedlings peeked through the whiteness as
a dozen Long-billed Curlews settled on the Great Field, taking a break from their northward movements. Wilson's Snipes began winnowing during
their courtship flights on April 10th and a brave little Boreal Chorus Frog began creaking from the just-filled Silvertip Ditch on the 18th.
A gang of male Yellow-headed Blackbirds watched a wonderful gang of School of the Beartooths volunteers on a warm Saturday just before the winter front pushed through.
Folks built fence, filled ditchbank holes, and visited all day while kids took a ride on Amy the Haflinger, found eggs to set hens, floated stick-boats in the Silvertip Ditch, and experimented with mud art! The children also planted trees and fenced alongside the adults with time out for exploring, natural history endeavors like finding grass spiders, jumping spiders, and insects. Rizon even noted that one type of spider quickly retracted its legs and held absolutely still, like playing possum, when any sudden movement happened nearby. Furthermore, he went on to demonstrate this experimentally by dropping small pieces of dirt to affect the arachnid's behavior.
We had a wonderful time and certainly appreciate all the help given so freely. A full quarter mile of fence, complete with sheep wire to keep calves from tumbling into the ditch, were completed! Yahoo!
As part of the yearly ritual of readying Coon's Age Farm for spring, we began burning last year's grass (mostly Reed Canarygrass) out of the ditches. Removing this growth allows for more freeflow of irrigation water which we'll be bringing in soon. We, as most farmers in our little valley, leave last year's growth overwinter in the ditches as burning is safest in spring and such vegetation provides important winter cover for wildlife such as Song Sparrows, Meadow Voles, and American Tree Sparrows in addition to providing excellent winter grazing for roughage-preferring Galloways.
Lambs have been arriving in our Shetland flock with the ewes outnumbering the ram lambs 4:1. Our single non-Shetland ewe ("Twilight"), a gift to Aislee last year from the Coulimore family, lambed nearly a month earlier than the more primitive Shetlands. The lamb-naming scheme in 2008 is following a "Waltons" theme with Jim-Bob, Elizabeth, Marcia Woolery, The Baldwin Sisters, Yancy Tucker, etc. all bounding around the garden spot. Ike Godsey hasn't shown up, yet.
As Western Meadowlark males settle on Coon's Age Farm, Mountain Bluebirds inspect some of the bluebird houses situated around the
farm. Today (4 April 2008) we noted Great Blue Herons standing atop their precarious nests in rookeries along the river just to the north of
Coon's Age Farm. This week we've been attempting to finish the plowing of a field in preparation for planting to permanent grass cover.
Alas,as Robert Burns observed doing just that:
"The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley", as our main tractor became bound in the field with little hope of repair. Following suite, our old Oliver decided to play jumping jacks with its 3-point hitch. So, as we embark on farm-side repairs, we look forward to the day when the oxen we're training are all ready to go to work.
We've begun starting seeds in egg cartons this week, with seeds germinating well in our clayey loam. Several cold hardy apricot and butternut trees have been placed out to provide shade and nourishment for the years ahead. Calves are growing with a new full-Galloway heifer (Hester born to Harriet) arriving earlier this week. Perfect calving weather...warm sunny days with squalls and cool nights.
We've entertained our first American Robin on March 16, but it wasn't until nearly a week later that he began singing-at first with quiet tentative "whisper" songs, but by Easter he was singing fully with a female alongside. Our first Red-winged Blackbird, a male of course--males generally arrive on territory a month before females-- began "dongk-or-reeing" from an elm beside the chicken house on 19 March 2008.
American Tree Sparrows are still along the ditches before heading north to the Taiga and Rough-legged Hawks have begun moving northward, as well.
It has been several weeks since we noticed a Northern Shrike and they'll likely all be headed toward Alaska and northern Canada by 11 April. During the winter, they patrol Coon's Age Farm searching the fencerows and adjacent basin big sagebrush for voles, deermice, and small songbirds impaling their prey in crotches of trees and thorns. The earth is tilting and soon their smaller relative, the Loggerhead Shrike will begin building their nests in our copse of sagebrush.
You may recognize this visitor to Coon's Age Farm. Take a look at the fellow (Gramps) standing next to Rex, the English Shepherd,in a photograph taken about 80 years ago! Not much changes but the clothing styles!
It's always with mixed emotions that we say "goodbye" to animals that we've raised on Coon's Age Farm. Today, the 25th of March, we bid adieu to Tilly's 7 little piglets: Rose, Daisy, Bill, Captain Hook, Spot, Monkey, and Tiny Tim (named by several students of the School of the Beartooths). They went to two good homes in the Gallatin Valley leaving our barnyard much quieter and a little lonely.
Pigs have taught us a lot over the last couple of years. No inhabitants of the farm are as appreciative of a kind word, a scratch on a belly, or a topped off water trough. Moreover, in 2007 we lost our barn, library, harness and tack, a Jersey heifer, and our ecological field equipment and notes to a fire started by a heatlamp over piglets. We've learned, as historically was done, to deep bed our sows and piglets in piles of oat hay. Even on bitter cold nights, the deep composting biomass keeps the little pigs warm at over 90°F! No electicity, no danger of heat lamp-started fires, and simple and healthful. Now that our pigs are deep bedded over soil, we can sleep more soundly.
We've begun experimenting with crossing Louie, our Galloway bull with our milk cows, specifically, hoping to bring winter strength and vitality into the Jersey lines we raise. To that end, Aislee's fawn-colored Jersey Heather gave birth to a stunning chocolate-brown heifer calf who was quickly christened "Huckleberry" on March 10th. "Rosanna" was born to Rosie on the 16th and shows striking hind white socks. Both heifer calves have white tips to their tails! Perhaps, we should call them "Montana Jersoways"?
Lydia, Callie's Brown Swiss/Jersey heifer calved "Hawthorne", while Primrose a full Brown-Swiss and the matriarch of the herd birthed "Hickory" followed by Liberty's birth of "Gooey"--all bull calves and fathered by Louie. It appears that we will have plenty of oxen to begin training!!
Lucy, a purebred Galloway dun heifer, greeted us in "Willow Grove" this morning (3 March 2008) with Luthien, a beautiful heifer calf. Also, Bandit, a 3/4 Galloway Hereford cross heifer had a bouncy little bull calf. Both duos were sunning in the late afternoon.
Tilly, one of our Yorkshire cross sows had her first batch of little piglets on the morning of February 4th. Two little girls and five boys! All the little piggies are running and burrowing through their mounds of composting oat hay.
Solstice arrived with a young filly at its heel. A cross between Kit, a proud Appaloosa mare, and Tony, our Haflinger stallion, Noel is a little spitfire and growing quickly....
Noel enjoys running through the trees in the front yard. Kit, her mom, keeps an eye out in the background.
To supplement our winter pastures, we daily feed hay to the cattle... homegrown small square bales when we can and neighbors' big squares and big unwieldy rounds.
New calves, like Rascal (a Brown Swiss-Jersey cross) arrive ready to eat, rest, and run.
We check on all the cattle, as well as walking the fields, daily and usually even moreso. Here, the girls take a break with Rebecca a Brown Swiss
Jersey cross heifer.
The wild areas surrounding Coon's Age Farm provide amazing and awe-inspiring sites in which to explore. From areas rich in Native American art (pictographs and petroglyphs) to sinuous canyons replete with eagle nests, woodrat middens, and wild horses the landscape of southcentral Montana is a wealthy spot for naturalists. Let's work to keep it that way.
Eric & Melonie
Katie, Callie & Aislee Atkinson
Coon's Age Farm
99 Lovers Lane
Belfry, MT 59008
Give Us A Holler
Small Farmer's Journal
English Shepherd Club