The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Two Years Later

May 17th, 2015 by Ed Bruske


Hard to believe this is our third season on the farm. I made the move to Upstate New York around this time two years ago and this is how things looked then, after I had spread tailings from our new well to fill some of the pot holes in the driveway. The view from the front porch is much the same, except we now have portable electric fencing surrounding those two sheds for the goat enclosure. If you were to take this photo now, you would see our eldest female goat, Dolly, raising the two kids she bore a few weeks ago. The other goats–including a mother Kiko with another set of twins–we moved into the main paddock with the other livestock.

Things are busy lately. We’re in a race to keep up with the grass, which is starting to grow like gangbusters even though we’re a bit short on rain. Except for Dolly and her two kids, the animals are roaming freely to graze, the sheep in the orchard, the cows and goats behind the house and on the upper pasture. With broiler chickens in the field, scheduled for slaughter in June, plus a new group of 20 layer pullets we moved outside last night, and another group of 52 broiler chicks in the basement, we have all kinds of additional chores to do besides moving animals around and mowing and scything with the line trimmer.

I’m finally getting around to moving the various trees and tree branches that have fallen on the property. We’re starting a raised bed vegetable garden (more about that later) and I’m making piles of debris to turn into wood chips for garden paths. Our plan all along when we purchased our tractor and wood chipper last year was to pile chips around the fruit trees in our orchard. That’s a big project waiting for a start date. So far, the sheep are doing a great job keeping the grass down in the orchard so we can at least see where those piles of chips ought to go.

On the subject of fruit, it’s been asked whether we’ll have any this year on account of another rough winter. The first year we were here, we had so many peaches some of the branches broke under the weight. We didn’t know at the time we were supposed to thin them. Last year there were no peaches because of a super-frigid winter. This year we’ll probably strike out again. We do have some blossoms on the apple trees, but nothing like what we saw a couple of years ago. The orchard moves at a glacial pace.

Soon we’ll be rotating the animals around the property behind electric netting in small paddocks. That’s a daily task, but we’ll be doing things a little differently this year. We have a couple of acres that have been overrun with golden rod and buffalo grass in the past. Now I’m mowing there and plan to erect some fencing so the boy goats and boy sheep can move in. Or will it be the girl goats and their kids? I’m thinking whichever doesn’t take up residence there will live with the Jersey cow and her calf in the paddock area and the adjacent pasture. Being novices at this, we improvise a lot. It’s all trial and error.

As you can see, the moving parts of the farm keep multiplying. It’s a challenge keeping things simple, especially when you have to separate the boys from the girls at a certain point. Meanwhile, we’ll be looking for people to buy the lambs and kids we don’t keep. When they’re ready to be turned into meat, I mean. If you know anyone, please send them our way.


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Grazing the Orchard

May 11th, 2015 by Ed Bruske


It’s either feast or famine on the farm. When the ground is covered with snow, we long for a bit of green. But before you know it, we’ve got more grass than we need. The animals can’t eat it fast enough and I have to fire up the tractor and start mowing.

It’s always been my fantasy not having to mow the orchard. I hate steering the tractor around all those young trees, the danger of injuring them, compacting the soil. But I never seemed to get organized to the point where I could get my animals to do the job for me. Plus, you have to be careful which critters you let in there: The cow will eat the leaves right off the trees. Worse, the goats will strip the bark off the trunks, potentially killing everything in their path. Even the sheep will nosh on the bark if they get hungry enough.

Complicating matters is our rather relaxed attitude toward keeping all the different species together. I think the cow rather likes have the goats around. Her best buddy in the past was our boy goat, Tigger. The goats reciprocate and the sheep–well, the sheep seem to tolerate just about anything. This year I finally figured out a fencing scheme where, if I can separate the sheep from the other livestock in the morning, I can sneak them into the orchard and divert the cow, her calf and the goats in the opposite direction, toward the upper pasture. The orchard has permanent fencing around it, giving us about two acres to graze as long as the animals all cooperate.

So far, so good. In fact, the sheep seem to be getting used to the new routine–peeling off in the morning, spending the day roaming the orchard, moving back into the main paddock in the evening. Our five little lambs follow right along–or sometimes take the lead. Watching them race each other into the orchard, then back again, is pretty hilarious. Except we have one ramling who seems intent on visiting the laying hens, confined to an area of the orchard behind their own electric netting. Fortunately for this particular lamb, I haven’t turned on the juice to the chicken fence, cause he keeps getting caught in it. We hear his bleats for help all the way from the house and have to walk out to the orchard to untangle him.

I have to say, the sheep are doing a fine job of mowing the orchard. The momma sheep are eating like crazy and nursing their young. The lambs are frolicking and I’m feeling pretty smug about my newly acquired skills in livestock wrangling. I get about two minutes to ponder my good fortune before turning my attention to all the other work that needs to be done on the farm.


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