December 22, 2010

Winter Work

Here's Clark relaxing in the winter loafing yard after a long morning of dropping off hay for the cattle.  There's less work for the Fjords during the winter months, but Clark and his fellow Suffolk teammate Fred stay pretty busy almost every day. Along with the feeding and manure spreading, there's also the random odd job like hauling firewood or harrowing.
While Clark is as steady and dependable and they come, all the horses benefit from some kind of work as often as possible.  It's no surprise that after a few days of laying around the barn and eating hay, some of the younger horses like to pretend that they've forgotten how to work when duty calls.

December 17, 2010

Out to Pasture

We have six different pastures we use for grazing and haying here on the farm and we've informally given each a name loosely based on some physical feature. There is the "Mailbox" pasture, the "Upper" pasture, the "Shire" pasture... things like that.  Here we have Ryan driving Fred and Clark back from dropping off hay in what we inventively call the "Waterfall" pasture.  This particular nook is one of the most remote spots of the farm, and due to its' northern exposure and the tall maples, cedars and hemlocks on the hillside above,  it gets very little direct sunlight. At the moment, it is the home of Big John (the Dexter bull) and his harem and attendants.  

December 9, 2010

Winter Feeding

We've been feeding hay in the waterfall pasture for a few weeks now even though there is still some grass, but the animals seem to appreciate the extra feed, and it allows the pasture to rest and recover over the winter.
The young heifers and steers are being kept outside, while the milk cow and the new mama and calf stay in the barn.  At feeding time, we toss a few large forks full of loose hay down from the loft, load it up on the wagon, and head out with Fred and Clark.  It didn't take long for the cows to figure out that the approaching wagon meant chow time.  Here Ryan is hauling the hay out to the far side of the pasture so that the same spot of ground doesn't get trampled day after day. Moving the feed around also utilizes the animal's natural abilities as self-loading manure spreaders.

November 30, 2010

Lilac's New Calf

Lilac has been as big as a house for a couple of weeks, and we moved her into the barn a few days ago before the cold spell.  This morning while I was mucking the stalls, I noticed that she stopped munching her hay, laid down, and about 15 minutes later... 

November 24, 2010

Stormy Weather II

Winter came early to the farm this year with about 8 inches of snow falling through the evening yesterday, followed by clear skies and sub-freezing temperatures.  We usually get these kinds of storms in December and January, but hardly ever, according to the long-time locals, before Thanksgiving.

The cold probably finished off the mangel tops, which were providing good feed for the chickens and the pigs, but there are still plenty of the roots themselves which should have weathered the cold without much trouble.  The carrots are likely finished, but the collards should be fine.

We spent some time this last summer getting the barn more warm and snug for the winter months.  Mike finished all the doors and windows, and we have plenty of good hay and straw.  

November 20, 2010

Ed Mowing with Fred and Barney

Here is a nice picture of the early days of the farm. Ed is hooking up Fred and Barney, neither of whom are still with us, to a McCormick-Deering #9 sickle bar mower. The #7 and #9, along with the John Deere Big 4 (see photo on previous post), represent the apex of horse drawn technology. Thousands of these mowers were manufactured from the late 30's until 1945 or so when tractors began to displace horses at a rapid rate. These mowers are ground driven, taking power from the wheels and transferring it, via the pitman stick to the sickle itself. These late model mowers feature an enclosed gearbox in which the gears run in an oil bath "just like an automobile." There are still several thousand of these gems doing good work on farms all over the country, a testament to the good workmanship and sound engineering of the farm machinery of the this era.

November 16, 2010

Stormy Weather

The fortunate alchemy of air, water and mountains that bless Western Washington with an almost ideal climate for farming becomes something of a curse on those rare occasions when the weather does turn bad.  Here on the farm, in the valley of the Stillaguamish River, the wind hardly ever blows harder than 10 or 15 miles an hour, and usually, not at all. So when we do get a wind storm (with the obligatory downpour) we also get a lot of downed trees.
Last night a strong weather system rolled across Puget Sound with gusty winds, lightning and heavy rain. We were without power for most of the day here on the farm, but that doesn't really put much of a damper on the day's work of cleaning up. Surprisingly, not too many trees came down, and none directly on any of the roads or power lines. In the photo we see Terry looking over a tree that just missed the road, and will probably be stacked firewood within a week.  As luck would have it, last night was the start of our winter schedule for the horses, and so they were all warm and dry in the barn.   

November 6, 2010

Winter Cover Crops

Here's Ryan mowing a cover crop of oats sown back at the end of July following potatoes. Surprisingly, some of the oats were actually starting to head out. Last winter's oats were killed by a hard freeze in December, which was ideal for planting early spring crops. When a cover crop winter kills, you don't have to deal with knocking back a live cover come spring. With our generally mild winters, I doubt oats will winter kill every year. We shall see. For fields and garden beds that will not be planted until later in the season, and where we want robust spring growth, winter hardy rye is a good choice.

Cover crops are important for protecting soil from winter rains, trapping and holding excess nitrogen, competing with weeds, adding organic matter to the soil as well as contributing to a healthy soil structure. Nature abhors bare ground and so should we.

October 1, 2010

Still Working the Land

The seasons may change, but the work stays the same.  Ed has been using horses to work the land here at the farm for over thirty years - that's him, above, doing some long-ago spring harrowing down by the old barn. When so much of this area has been put under development in recent years, with strip malls, giant chain stores and fast-food dispensaries now growing on what used to be productive farm land, Littlefield Farm remains an oasis in a changing landscape. Below is Ryan harrowing yesterday, before planting the winter wheat.

September 5, 2010

Bringing in the Sheaves

We harvested the oats last week, and despite a little bit of rain, everthing is now safely in the barn. Thanks to Ed for these photos.

August 25, 2010

Good Breeding, But No Manners

Our new Berkshire weaner pigs have only been on the farm for a week or so, but they've already become quite content in their new surroundings.  Of course, who wouldn't be happy with an all-you-can-eat buffet of chopped mangels, grain and table scraps?  We'll keep these two in the barn for a few weeks, and then move them outside to the portable pig house where they can get serious about rooting and digging.  The Berkshires are an old and rare breed, and today's animals are supposedly descended from a herd owned by the House of Windsor more than three-hundred years ago.

August 24, 2010

Cutting and Binding

Now that the hay is in the barn (finally), and summer is fast slipping away, we've started harvesting here on the farm. In these photos we have Ryan, along with Clark and Fred, finishing up the wheat. There is also an adjacent field in oats that we will cut today.  If the weather cooperates, we should have all the threshing done by the end of the week. 

July 12, 2010

Norwegian Fjord Power

Sven and Ole provide the horsepower that gets the hay off  the wagon and into the barn.  We're into our second week of haying, and have one more field of cut grass to rake and pick up before Ryan starts mowing again.  Thanks to Ed for the photo.

July 2, 2010

Loading Up the Barn

We have a great way for getting the loose hay into the loft which allows us to move a substantial amount of hay from field to barn each day with only one wagon and a team. The system uses a set of hay harpoons which are attached to a pulley and ropes (above).  The harpoons are driven into the haystack atop the wagon, and the resulting load is slowly raised upwards to a trolley and track which runs the length of the loft.  
When everything is set, a team of fjords on the opposite side of the barn begin to pull the load off the wagon and up to the trolley.
As the load goes up, one person keeps a hand on the trip-line that releases the hay from the harpoons and makes sure that the ropes lifting the load and the trip-line don't get tangled together.
If the wagon was stacked correctly as it was being loaded out in the field, very little hay drops off on the way up, and most of what does falls right back on the wagon.
As soon as the harpoons latch on to the trolley, the load is quickly pulled inside and along the rail.
As the trolley zips along the rail, a person stationed inside the loft waits to give the signal to pull the trip-rope.
A big advantage to this system is that the hay can be dropped in different spots in the loft, and minimal spreading is needed.
It takes five or six loads to move all the hay from a fully stacked wagon into the barn...or about thirty minutes...which sure beats hauling bales.
When the load has reached the right spot, the person stationed in the barn shouts out the signal, and the trip-rope is pulled releasing the hay from the harpoons.  The trolley is then pulled back into position for another load...and another...and another.  
Thanks to Ed for the photos.

June 28, 2010

'Tis the Season

The first spell of dry weather in June can mean only one's haying time again.  Ryan started cutting about a week ago, and after curing and tedding, we started bringing the hay to the barn yesterday.  Here Ryan loads the wagon while Igor picks up the small piles in the corners of the field that the loader can't reach.  Ed has taken lots of great photos of the whole process - from field to barn loft -  that we'll share in the next few posts.  So far, we've put up seven wagon loads, and we're keeping our fingers crossed that the weather continues to least for another day or two.

June 16, 2010

Not Impressed

Poor Tom.  He's tried all his best moves, and still Peahen ignores him. She's been hanging around the coop for a week or so, but I think she's more interested in the grain we feed the chickens and turkeys than in Mr. Big Stuff's dashing good looks.

June 13, 2010

Preening Owl

For those of you who like the bird photos more than a discussion about compost...thanks to Laura for this great shot.

June 9, 2010


Here are our two compost piles that sit on a concrete slab near the barn. As all farmers and weekend gardeners know, compost is organic material that has broken-down through aerobic decomposition. In addition to providing a fertilizer, compost also conditions the soil and acts as a natural pesticide. Obviously, with six horses and a pony in the barn, we get plenty of organic material on a daily basis. To this we add (when possible) green organic material from the garden…weeds, clippings, plants that have gone to seed, and anything else that isn’t fed to the chickens or pigs. For the microorganisms in a compost pile to work effectively, four ingredients are necessary: oxygen, water, nitrogen and carbon. The carbon and nitrogen are supplied by the organic matter; green and wet materials are high in nitrogen while dry and brown materials contain higher carbon concentrations. According to the experts, ideal composting occurs with a carbon to nitrogen ration of about 30 to 1, which, by volume, means just about equal parts green and brown materials. And since the microorganisms also require oxygen, the compost pile has to be stirred on a regular basis. The heat generated is a result of the microbes oxidizing the carbon, and water is produced and released as steam. The heat also kills the unwanted weed seeds and any pathogens in the manure.
We use the compost as an ingredient in the soil blocks, mixed directly into the planting beds, and as a compost tea. The pile in the rear of the photo is currently being used, and with the garden (and weeds) really starting to grow in earnest now, we have started the new pile in the foreground.

June 1, 2010

Threshing 3.0

One of the casualties of the centralization and industrialization of agriculture over the last 60 or 70 years is that of small, diversified farms growing small acreages of grains. Time was when nearly all farms grew a few acres of oats, wheat and barley. The farmer's family and his livestock were fed from the grain grown right on the farm. Now the growing of grains has, for the most part, been concentrated into certain favorable geographic regions, and has adopted the use of giant machines and mountains of chemicals.
The small farm resurgence that the country is currently enjoying is an exciting thing to witness, with its' invigoration of local food economies. One thing missing from this new farm momentum, however, is the growing of small grains. A lack of small scale harvesting and threshing equipment is partly to blame. There are simply very few options for the small farmer to efficiently and economically harvest and thresh grain. One must look oversees, to Asia for example, where there is still a strong culture of small scale grain growing; or one must look to the past and try to find and restore the machines which formed the backbone of the American farm economy from the 1850's to the late 1940's.
I realized years ago that to truly create self sustaining operation a farm must grow it's own grains rather than buying them at the local feed store. It has been a long time coming, but finally this last month we threshed the grain we grew and harvested last summer.
We harvested the oats and rye using a McCormick-Deering 7' binder, which cuts the grain and ties it in sheaves which are in turn stacked by hand into shocks in the field. We acquired a very fine 28"x 48" McCormick stationary threshing machine and a beautiful Farmall Super M to power it with. After meticulously evaluating and rejuvinating every function of the thresher we were finally able to fire it up and feed it some bundles of grain last month. The result, after much trial and error, was 36 bags of grain stored in the loft of the barn ready to feed to ourselves and our stock.
Just last weekend we used our new hand cranked roller from Lehman's to roll our own oats. Honestly, I was shocked at the incredibly rich taste of the homegrown oats- almost as much difference as a carrot or tomato from the store when compared to those fresh from the garden.

May 19, 2010

Threshing 2.0

Grains were one of the first crops to be domesticated some 10,000 years ago, and since that time have remained the centerpiece of almost every cultures' food supply: wheat in the Western World, rice in Asia, corn in the Southwest and Mexico, barley in parts of South America and mountainous regions of Asia. Unlike fresh vegetables, grain can be stored with relative ease, easily transported, and feeds livestock as well as people. It has a nice balance of protein and carbohydrates making it a natural choice for a staple crop..."give us now our daily bread."
The challenge has always been figuring out efficient ways to extract the tiny kernels of grain from the seed heads. Also, once separated, the loose grain still had to be separated from the remaining straw and chaff. One time-honored way involved the use of the flail: two sticks connected by a piece of leather. Beating the grain out with a flail, and then tossing the loose grain and straw up in a stiff breeze allowed the chaff to fly away and the heavier grain to fall to the ground to be collected. An alternate method was to drive livestock round and round on a threshing barn floor. The hooves of the cattle or horses did an admirable, if sometimes messy job of beating the kernels out of the grain heads.
In the middle of the nineteenth century mechanical threshing machines began to be developed. Most relied on a revolving drum with fingers which removed the grain. Gradually a series of fans and screens were added so as to accomplish the threshing and winnowing in the same operation. Hand-cranked and horse-powered versions eventually gave way to steam and gasoline powered tractor driven machines. All threshing machines at this point were stationary, with power being transfered from the power source to the thresher via belts and pulleys. In the 1950's the modern combine put nearly all the old stationary threshing machines out of business. The combine, as the name implies, combines the reaping and threshing operations into one. It is basically a threshing machine which powers itself and cuts and separates the crop in one operation.
Our machine is a 1950 McCormick-Deering stationary thresher, operated for the first time at Littlefield Farm just last week. More to come on our threshing adventure. Stay tuned.

May 9, 2010


I wanted to make a note about the Small Farmer's Journal auction I attended back in mid-April. Madras, Oregon was the setting, and a more eclectic gathering of folk you are not likely to find anywhere. Tractor farmers, horse farmers, gentlemen farmers, wannabe farmers, market gardeners, cowboys, hippies, yuppies, college kids, conservatives, liberals and everyone in between; all with a common interest in human scaled, animal powered farming.
People came to buy, sell, or trade most any small farm item imaginable; everything from horse drawn plows, mowers and discs, to horses, wagons and windmills. Some stuff looked as good as when it came fresh off the assembly line back in '25, and some looked like it was parked in the fencerow in '25 and someone just drug it out of the weeds.
My main interest was in finding a good, restored, field-ready, horse drawn mowing machine, particularly a McCormick/Deering #9 or John Deere Big 4. There were two excellent number nines up for bid. I got in on the action but bowed out when the bidding went up to the $4,000 mark- nearly twice what a mower of that quality would normally bring! Instead, I came home with a couple of mowers, a #9 and a Big 4, both very sound fundamentally, though not as pretty as the showroom model, and for less than half the price. Both require a bit of work to get up and running: a new tongue and pitman stick, some oil and grease, a good sharpening and we should be ready to cut hay.
While at the auction I also played a benefit concert for the Small Farms Conservancy (see link). I really enjoyed watching the older folks teach the younger, hipper crowd how to waltz. People of all ages enjoyed setting aside the bidding for a few hours to relax and socialize. This was an element of the auction that I felt was missing at past events. The bidding would end and everyone would quietly make their way back to hotels and campgrounds and go to bed. The auction becomes much richer and more important with the addition of this element of social camaraderie, where relationships are fostered, and connections made. We feel alone and isolated at times, working our little farms, while all around the world zips by. It is a comfort to know we are not alone in our endeavors.

May 8, 2010

Big John and Princess

Here we have the cattle royalty of Littlefield Farm.  Big John is a four-year old Dexter bull and the sire of most of the current generation on the farm.  For a bull, he has a fairly mellow temper, but has been known to indulge in the occasional hot-blooded bender, tearing up fences and gates, as well as anything foolishly left out in his pasture.  His consort is the venerable Princess (or Princess Georgina), a female Hereford of indeterminate age, who, to my knowledge, has never been bred and is long past that capability today.  She has had her share of unfortunate medical issues in the past, and to put it gently, is not the most attractive cow in the pasture.  She is cross-eyed, lumpy, and her "moo" sounds something like a broken foghorn.  But I am obviously no judge of bovine beauty since Big John seems to think that Princess is the finest cow to ever chew her cud.  He can be very territorial around her, and he follows her everywhere...which is quite useful when it comes time to move to a new pasture.  Somehow, Princess always knows when it's time to move, and she leads the way with Big John and everyone else in tow.

May 1, 2010

Galinas in the Greenhouse

We've moved about twenty tomato plants (and their soil blocks that were started back in March) from the small greenhouse into the new portable greenhouse and directly into the garden soil.  Here are a few plants of the Galina variety, a small yellow tomato from Siberia with amazing flavor.  An early variety, they mature in sixty days or so.  We've also planted Amish Paste, Glacier, and Sasha tomatoes (the Sasha variety, also from Siberia, have an interesting story you can read at:

The space in the bed for each plant was prepared with some crushed egg shell and a little compost.  When watering, I try to avoid spraying the plant itself, even though in this photo, if you look closely enough, you can see drops of water on some of the leafs.  I'm going to blame it on condensation.

April 23, 2010

Cows on Break

OK, technically, there are no cows in this picture.  Here we have one young steer (with the wide horns) and three heifers enjoying the mineral lick in the pasture below the Lower House...but no cows.  According to strict farm terminology, a "cow" is an adult female that has had a calf.  Not only is there is no singular term for cattle (this is called a plurale tantum, for the next time you're on Jeopardy), there is also no generic term; when you refer to an individual animal (bull, cow, heifer, steer), you are also giving information about its' sex and ability to breed or breeding history.  I'm not aware of another animal, domesticated or otherwise, that shares this strange linguistic trait.  A gelding remains a horse, a pullet will always be a chicken, and a gander is a goose.  But a steer can't be a cow...or a "cattle."  You can see that I obviously have too much time to think while mucking out stalls...      

The group in this photo have been spending a lot of time together recently since the cows all had calves this spring, and the bull (Big John) and his current harem are almost always kept on their own.  The little heifer to the right of the steer, looking into the camera, is in training to be a fine milk cow some day.  From the time she was born, she has been petted and spoiled, and has become quite tame.  She is affectionately known as Teenage Baby Princess Star, although her registered name is Rose of Sharon.  Thanks to Laura for the photo.

April 20, 2010

Mergansers on the Stillaguamish

Since most of the farm lies along the banks of the Stillaguamish River, wildlife is abundant, especially birds.  In addition to the river itself, there are also a number of small ponds on the farm which provide a year-round home to many birds, as well as a temporary stopping place for a wide variety of migrating species.

Above we have three Common Mergansers, (or Mergus merganser, if you prefer).  According to the Cornell Orinthology website (, the females are distinguished by their shaggy, rusty brown heads, while the males, in breeding plumage, have sleek green and black necks with white bodies and black wings.  Yet another sign of Spring's arrival here on the farm. Thanks to Ed for the photo.   

April 16, 2010

Spreading the Wealth

Now that the horses are spending the nights outside, and all of the cattle are out of the barn, spreading manure has become only a weekly ritual. During the winter, when the barn is full, we usually go out every other day. Except for what goes into maintaining the compost pile, everything else is spread out in the various pastures. Here is Ryan in the waterfall pasture, which should be ready to hay sometime in June.
You can see how well this particular machine, made about eighty years ago by the New Idea Company, spreads the manure behind it. When it first arrived on the farm, Ryan had to fix some of the gearing in the back and replace the wood panels in front, but otherwise it was in good condition. It is a workhorse of a machine (pun intended) with a simple, easy to repair design, and it runs surprisingly quietly. Even heavy loads that are mostly wet hay are easily shredded and tossed around. The only serious design flaw is that it doesn't load itself.

April 8, 2010

April 4, 2010

Chickens and Eggs

Here we have one of the farm's Barred Plymouth Rock chickens.  There are (at least by my last count), seventeen hens and two roosters.  The hens started laying in earnest two or three months ago, and on an average day, we can expect about a dozen eggs.  A couple of the hens have recently shown signs of broodiness, but still seem to be leaving the eggs at night.

The Barred Rocks are, by all accounts, good dual purpose birds, and they became quite tame very quickly.  And since we don't have any pigs just now, the chickens are good for getting rid of the kitchen scraps.  Just don't get your fingers too close at feeding time...  

March 25, 2010

Latest Arrival

Here's Lily and her new heifer calf that was born yesterday morning out in the lower pasture.