Taking Back Our Field
Ever since we moved here full time in Spring 2014, we have dreamed of having the resources to use all of our property for farming. We had been to Polyface Farm and seen Joel Salatin’s cattle, pigs, chickens, and turkeys regenerating his land, creating idyllic beauty and prosperity and this was our vision as well. We began the first season, taking over our yard (3/4 – 1 acre) for our vegetables, bee hives, laying hens, broiler chickens, turkeys, and rabbits. As we outgrew the space, we began using a small field, perhaps 1/3- ½ acre, in front of our house, alongside the driveway. Wanting to raise even more broilers in 2017, we set our sights on the rest of our 43 acre property.
We have lots of woods and two fields to choose from. One field is more easily accessible from our dirt path, but had not been mowed in more than 20 years and much of it was going back to woods. An awesome friend brought over her tractor last year and brush mowed it, but there is still not much grass and lots of stumps and stubble. The other field has been maintained by neighbors who have cut hay off of it for years. It is off of the main path down a narrow foot path on the other side of a stream bed with no vehicle crossing. We settled on the second option, thinking the grass quality would provide better forage for our chickens.
Not owning a tractor, we brainstormed for months about how to overcome the obstacles of accessing the field and keeping it mowed. Finally, we built a very makeshift bridge by filling in the stream bed with stones dug out of the garden and covered them with recycled pallets. Each miserable, enormous stone we labored to excavate from our garden, I said was an awesome addition to our rock collection for building our bridge.To keep the grass cut, we ordered a sickle bar mower attachment for our BCS. It was expected to arrive in one week, but took five weeks. Our BCS had only had a rear tiller attachment in its 20 years and was seized and would not rotate to accept a front attachment, requiring a trip to the shop and more waiting.
Of course, the project was on the back burner, getting brief bouts of attention, but not a major focus, until our deadline loomed – chicks in the brooder that needed fresh grass for their pen in a matter of weeks. We buckled down and got to work on this latest crisis.
First we cut up some fallen trees blocking access from the neighbor’s property and hired him to cut the field with his tractor and brush hog. This left a lot of uneven clumps of tall grass and piles of clippings that we wanted to remove prior to offering it to the chickens.
Here is Shawn with a small push mower, bagging the clippings. We took turns mowing and driving the side-by-side with the cart hitched on the back to dump the grass we bagged. I was a little dismayed at the poor quality of the pasture that was visible after it was cut short. Thin, brownish-yellow patches of grass, worn out.
Because the pasture was not ready earlier in the season, we decided to build our new pen in halves, expecting to run the first batch of broilers in our yard, then dismantle it and move it to the back field once we had the grass under control. Here is the pen broken down and the first half loaded.
Here it is arriving safely in the back pasture.
Here is the heavy half. I walked behind it up the path to yell when it threatened to slide off and reposition it. It looked like it was going over on several occasions, but somehow it stayed upright and arrived intact.
Here it is reassembled.
The next day we got some great news! The sickle bar mower was ready and we picked it up and went to work. This tool is so powerful! It destroyed the rest of the grass we wanted to cut in around an hour. Also, the clippings were very easy to rake up because the sickle bar makes long pieces rather than little bits you get from a rotary mower.
On Tuesday night, we crated the three week old chicks and settled them into their new home just in time to clean out the brooder for the next batch that arrived at the post office at 8 AM Wednesday morning.
Each morning and evening when we drive the side-by-side into that field to feed and water the chickens and move the pen to fresh ground, I feel absolutely elated that we did what seemed impossible not long ago. I am dreaming of the bright green, revitalized pasture grasses these chickens will help us create and the ruminants we will one day rotationally graze here. Shawn asked me why I am always so nauseatingly optimistic. I’m not really, but these four farming seasons have taught me that farming and small business ownership deliver so many soul crushing kicks in the teeth that when you get a victory you have to soak it in and bask in your accomplishments for as long as possible. After all, there is likely something around the corner just waiting to knock you down to earth again.