Thursday, August 16, 2012
In past personal blogs about our cancer journey, I've explained the "why" - looking forward to a vision of a bucolic future made the six months of cancer treatment a lot more tolerable.
Ive never explained the "how". In a new series of Thursday blogs, beginning today, I'll recount what we've done and what we're doing to turn 15 acres of Sherborn, Massachusetts into a productive working farm providing a non-stressful environment numerous animals and a nurturing ecosystem for a bountiful fruit/vegetable harvest.
The property we purchased in April 2012 has all the right ingredients - former pastureland filled with 1700's rock walls, flat sunny well drained soil with generous sun exposure, forest, a meadow, and a stream/wildflower wetland.
Over the past hundred years, the pastures have filled with second growth trees - pines, oaks, and black birch. The rock walls have been lost in a sea of bittersweet, wild grape, and poison ivy.
Our first task was re-open the pastures. We cleared over 50 trees including numerous invasive/non-native plans. We used an expert tree contractor for the large trees and for the smaller trees I used a Stihl MS290 chainsaw, a Gransfors Bruks splinting maul/Swedish forest axe, and a steel farm push cart capable of hauling 800 pounds.
Our next task was to clear debris - fallen branches and deadwood. I created a pile 50 feet long and 10 feet high, which we chipped into mulch.
Then we created paths throughout the property which enabled us to manage the land. We covered the paths with the mulch we created from chipping.
Once the rough clearing was done we had to move rocks. New England is full of rocks. Although I hand carried many and used a heavy duty wheelbarrow for others, we used a small front loader (Bobcat) for the really large ones.
Once the topography of the land was more obvious, we planned our planting areas, buildings and fences.
A wetland engineer is working with the town of Sherborn to plan our future planting areas - likely an orchard of heirloom apples and a meadow filled with high bush blueberries.
We created a 10x12 chicken coop and a loafing shed to keep animals warm in winter/cool in summer. We planned 1000 feet of fences and chose to use 5 foot woven wire fence supported by posts at 20 foot intervals, topped by a hot wire (9000 volts, low amperage) to keep the predators out.
The end result was 2 quarter acre paddocks - one for males and one for females, and a half acre pasture, connected with a series of 8 gates that support manure management, hay storage, and easy movement of animals.
We then planned the barn. The property included a barn, but it was originally designed as more of a garage than a barn. We added hay loft doors, thick rubber mats for the stalls, a water hydrant with a french drain, fans to keep animals cool in Summer, and wall mounted feeders. We painted the building red with black trim and added barn lights above each door.
With this layout done, we had the infrastructure in place to complete our animal strategy. We raised 12 chickens from 3 day old chicks indoors and moved them to the coop at 6 weeks. A friend gave us a rooster. We named him "Lucky" since he'll be living with vegans/vegetarians.
We raised 22 guinea fowl from 3 day old chicks and moved them to the coop at 6 weeks.
By pure happenstance, my Telecom manager is selling her herd of 8 alpaca. After meeting them, we purchased the entire herd - 3 males and 5 females.
Realizing that alpacas need guardians because they do not defend themselves well against the coyotes, fisher cats, and other predators on our property, we researched llamas. We found an ideal guard llama who has lived with alpaca for many years. She also happens to be pregnant.
The female llama will guard the female alpaca.
For the male alpaca, we chose an experienced female Great Pyrenees mountain dog, the livestock guardian used by Basque shepherds. We also chose a male Great Pyrenees puppy who will keep the female company and learn how to guard from her.
On August 18, the alpaca arrive. On August 20, the female Great Pyrenees arrives. On August 23, the male Great Pyrenees arrives. On August 26 the llama arrives.
The journey of joyful chaos at Unity Farm has replaced the cancer journey and our property is about to blossom with new arrivals.
Posted by John Halamka at 4:43 PM