Welcome to Painted Hand Farm

Painted Hand Farm is a 20 acre Civil War era farm located in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania. We raise meat goats, veal calves, turkeys and organic vegetables using humane and sustainable agricultural practices.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Feathered & Fuzzy Friends

There has been lots of avian action at the farm of late--both wild and domesticated. The barn swallows who have been nesting in Bango's stall for several years now have once again returned to raise their young. While most horse people I know knock down the nests because the birds occasionally poop on their horses, we know that swallows are bug-eaters. What a few spots of poop here & there as opposed to pesky bugs.
The turkey poults are really beginning to feather out. Nearly all their down is gone. Another week and we'll start turning off the brood lights during the day. This has been an extremely hardy batch and we've yet to lose any birds or notice any leg problems.
Today, the Robin's eggs started hatching.
Fortunately for the birds, our latest furry additions are still too young to actively hunt. Ralph is really fed up with the mouse population explosion and is taking no chances. He brought home more kitties. Officially, there are six in the barn, but I could only find five. We're making it a point to handle them daily so it's not a total nightmare when the time comes to vaccinate and spay them. We believe in being responsible animal owners, regardless of whether they are pets, livestock or working animals. Plus, from experience I've learned that a well-fed, spayed female cat is a merciless killer who will hunt for fun which is exactly what we need.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Just Another Busy Day

Our day started out with a load of hay. With hay-making season in full swing, it's time to fill the hay mow. Who needs Gold's Gym? That was 2 1/2 tons I had to load on to the elevator for Ralph to stack in the barn.
Every year, our friends in Perry County throw this big fall party called "Grapevine". It's kind of a cross between a Halloween party, a harvest celebration and a craft center. The guys bring a truckload of wild grapevine out of the mountains and all day long everyone eats, drinks, visits and makes wreathes, swags and other things out of grapevine. On year Ralph got in on the action and decided to make a grapevine ball. It's wedged in the trunk of our Dogwood tree. The other day, he noticed that a Robin has built a nest and laid eggs in the center of the ball.
As our cats have gotten older, they've decided they'd rather live inside than chase vermin and fledglings all day. Unfortunately, the lack of a feline presence in the barn has led to an over population of mice. They literally ate an entire 50-pound bag of whole, shelled corn in two weeks so they're living large. Fed up with them, Ralph relieved our friends down the road of three kittens--they have 15! I told him to only bring home females as they are merciless killers when properly fed (and spayed). He was going to get four, but they're pretty wild and they could only catch three. While kitty here may be cute, she'll tear the flesh of your finger in a heartbeat. Let's hope she gets the idea and does likewise to the mice.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Farming with Free Stuff...well, amost free

Welcome to the latest installment of Farming with Free Stuff. However, I must clarify that the final resource is free--WATER. As a citizen of planet Earth, I feel that the next battle ground will be waged not over religion, oil or borders, but over water. Our fresh water supplies are already shrinking and the fight for this life-sustaining resource has already begun. As every farmer will tell you, water is a critical resource necessary for their operation--be it animal or plant-based. Right now, farmers in the Ojai Valley are facing water rate hikes that threaten their livelihoods. While we are fortunate to have our own water source on the farm, it's not without cost. The electric bill increases significantly when we are pumping maximum water at the hottest part of the summer. Although the ultimate goal it to take our water system completely off the grid and operate it on either solar or wind power, for now we're tackling the low-hanging fruit with some good ol' fashion ingenuity.After installing gutters on our barn roof, we purchased a 150-gallon Rubbermaid stock tank and plumbed it with a ball valve. No matter how close we got the tank to the fence, it seemed that young critters alway found a way behind the tank so we had to stack some rocks around the valve for protection. All the rain from the backside of the barn roof now drains into the holding tank at the barn. When the valve is open, the water flows through a collapsible irrigation hose to a secondary holding tank--a BIG advantage of living on top of a hill.The advantage of using this type of carrier hose as opposed to regular old irrigation hose is it can handle more water and you can run over it with vehicles and tractors without damaging it. It takes 3/10th of an inch of rain to fill the 150-gallon tank. The secondary tank is an old fish box leftover from Ralph's days as a commercial seafood harvester. It's made out of recycled plastic, has a lid and holds approximately 350-gallons. It was already plumbed for water since it also served as our hippie hot tub for a couple years when we lived in California. From the fish box, a regular old hose gets water to lightweight 50-gallon Rubbermaid livestock tanks that are easy to carry between the browse paddocks. Additionally, we also invested $60 in 500-feet of irrigation hose that reaches to nearly all of our outermost paddocks. While that system has provided a significant amount of water for livestock, it only utilizes half of the barn roof. We've been tossing around ideas of how to capture and store water from the front half. Since the front half has more surface area, it will provide more water. Also, there are two gutter systems, so there is the option for two different collection systems. Normally, the water just runs out on to the ground, but the other day Ralph rigged up this simple water capturing system using some feed tubs and a peice of molding. He was so impressed with the usefulness of having a water supply in front of the barn, he got to work building a real water collection system. So I wasn't surprised today when I heard the sounds of power tools hard at work. With a simple $4.99 spigot and a free plastic drum, Ralph was hard at work. His goal was to set the collection barrel high enough off the ground so a 5-gallon bucket would fit below the spigot. A few salvaged cinder blocks from Betty Orner's greenhouse solved that issue. The second challenge required more thought--how to install the spigot without cutting the entire top off the barrel. He did this by drilling a hole just a hair smaller than the diameter of the threaded end on the spigot. Using a propane torch, he heated the plastic on the buck just enough to soften it so he could screw in the spigot making his own counter threads. Then he unscrewed the spigot, cooled down the plastic and re-inserted the spigot using some silicon sealant. The final step was to cut a hole in the top of the barrel just large enough to insert a downspout collar. Viola' Another water collection system for the farm.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cheese for a Cause

For the last few years I've been schlepping cheese to agriculture-related events for the Pennsylvania Farmstead & Artisan Cheese Alliance. I've corralled cheeses and cheesemakers for trips to Washington DC and Philadelphia and did two painful years at the State Farm Show next to one of those hard-sell premium cookware shows. One of the more enjoyable aspects of my devotion to artisan cheese has been to round up these delicacies for tastings and fund-raisers. Last year when I had a refrigerator FULL of some of the finest cheeses made here in the Commonwealth, one of the events that fell on to my plate during Local Foods Week--an awareness campaign by the south central PA Buy Fresh Buy Local committee--was to set up the Alliance's display along with samples on a Saturday afternoon at Troeg's Brewery in Harrisburg. Only weeks before, I had been at the American Cheese Society conference in Burlington, Vermont and attended a workshop on pairing beer and cheese given by Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery and author of the Brewmaster Table cookbook. Beer & cheese...mmmmmmm So when Troeg's contacted me about furnishing cheese for the 5th Annual Harrisburg Brewers Fest benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation VIP tent, immediately I agreed and got to work.All the cheeses had to compliment the premium beers that would be served in the VIP tent. With the list in hand, I chose those local cheeses that I felt would best pair with multiple selections. Here are my personal pairings of cheeses and beers.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Last One To Pop

Three maiden does. Two have kidded and one has been waddling around the barnyard with a bewildered look on her face wondering why she was the only one without a kid. She didn't have to wait long. This is how her day started....And this is how it ended! That's a little buck with some unique markings. It looks like he's got a stocking on his front leg. No more kidding until late August/early September.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

As Predicted

While out by the barn working on the mowers, Ralph heard a doe screaming this morning. First, he thought someone was caught in the fence, but a quick inspection proved otherwise. Handy Plum Dandy, a maiden doe, was giving birth to a strapping single buck kid. It was over within moments and the young doe got right to work cleaning up her newborn. He was standing and nursing in no time. Two down, one to go.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

More Babies

"Hey everyone, look here! Nicole had her first doe kid," is what the herd seemed to be saying today when we did the afternoon pasture check. There are two more yearling does with ripe udders and swollen vulvas so look for more baby pictures to come.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

They're Here!

The postcard from the hatchery came a few weeks ago telling me that my turkey order had been received and the poults would arrive either June 10th or 11th so it came as no surprise when the telephone rang at 6:11 am this morning and our local postmistress was on the line. They always call when live birds arrive and give me the option of driving over to pick them up or sending them along with the carrier. My postman is a really nice guy and I wouldn't want to subject him to the incessant peeping during his route until he got to the farm so I scooted on over to the Newburg Post Office to pick up my package.
All 50 poults arrived in excellent condition. The hatchery threw in a few extra to compensate for any attrition during travel. Since young birds can survive on their yolk sac for up to three days, they ship through the US Mail quite well. I also only buy birds from a local hatchery so they are in transit less than 24 hours.
Upon arrival, each poult (the name for a baby turkey) gets its beak dipped in water and is put into the brooder set up inside the barn. Ralph made it years ago when we used to hatch our own chickens. It was made with chicken wire, however, we found out the hard way last year that poults will happily stick their heads through the holes for the cats to chew off. This is the modified Fort Knox design complete with harware cloth on two side and a pair of recycled shower doors (which prevent drafts) on the other two sides. The top is a combination of the screen door off the old chicken coop and a set of repurposed folding closet doors salvaged out of the neighbor's bone pile. The folding doors make for easy entry for feeding & watering. When the poults arrive, two things are guaranteed--we'll be in the midst of our first summer heat wave complete with obscenely high humidity and we'll have a banger of a thunderstorm. While the heat isn't that hard on the poults since they require brooding temperatures higher than chicks, the strong storms have, in the past, led to an initial loss of poult due to power outages and pens being blown over. We've been raising turkeys nearly ten years and we've been through it all. Hopefully, we've got the system down to where neither weather not predators will take a serious toll on the poult population leaving more tasty turkeys for our customers this fall.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Supporting Locally-Grown Foods

What does it truly mean to support local farmers? Meet the Edenbos. They grow chemical-free vegetables on a plot of land halfway between Mount Holly Springs and Boiling Springs. The are graduates of Dickinson College. They have a CSA and sell at the Carlisle Central Farmers Market. With the explosive growth of farmers markets and the push to 'buy locally', eaters need to go a step further and ASK where and how their foods are produced.

Notice the watermelon on the right. How many farmers in Cumberland County have ripe watermelon? How many miles did that watermelon have to travel? Was it grown without pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides? Who picked it? Where they paid a living wage? Was it even grown in this country? If you are dedicated to supporting local agriculture, you should be asking these questions and using some common sense about what is in season or is capable of being grown in the northeast region.
You can be assured that the couple in the top image are the same folks who tilled the soil, planted the seeds, nurtured the plants and harvested the product. That's what local agriculture is all about!