Up to now it has been intuitive. Now it is official! It has been wet this year. A couple of days ago NOAA announced that for 2017, the seven months of January through July had, for the state of Wisconsin, the highest precipitation totals ever recorded in the 123 years that records have been kept. For those seven months the average record precipitation was 25.25 inches. That number is also a whopping 7.14 inches above normal.
This little guy is understandably happy with all the moisture. A number of species are currently evident around the farm, all in numbers that seem larger than in the recent past. It is always a pleasure to have them in residence.
Our frustrations from June continue! June set records for the amount of rain in the month and for the number of days in which rain was recorded. There have just not been a string of days long enough to get the hay dried if it was cut. I did not manage to cut and bale any hay in June (which was a very real setback). Now with July two-thirds over, I have managed to cut only once, again because of frequent rainy days with very short spells of sun in between. Even that effort was not particularly successful. All the cut hay was rained on slightly before it was ready to bale. We managed to get it dry enough to bale over 300 bales, but before we could bale the last of this hay it was soaked by a 1.5 inch downpour. (Normally, by this time in the summer I hope to have 1500 to 2000 new bales in the barn.) Eventually I got the wet hay dry enough to bale, but by then it was very moldy and a total loss. I had to bale it to get it off the field, but it was 116 bales which I just threw in a pile in a wet corner of the field where it will eventually rot away. Here is the western edge of the big field a couple of days ago. The cut pasture has already regrown so much that it is hard to believe that it was recently cut! I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will not rain this coming week so that we can get back to making hay.
On the positive side, the rain and warmth seems to have been perfect for the Common Milkweed. I do not believe I have seen so many healthy plants in a long while. It also seems to have been perfect for the Monarch Butterfly population. Their caterpillars feed on the Milkweed, and I have seen a prodigious number of the youngsters on our plants. There is small portion of a large stand of Milkweed on the edge of the field pictured above. This week I took a walk through the edge of the field toward the woods. Besides the number of Milkweed plants, I was struck by the very pleasant fragrance from their flowers. I am not sure I had noticed the smell previously, probably due to the smaller number of plants. The blossoms are attracting not just the Monarchs but also a large diversity of other butterfly species. Sadly, the number of bees we are seeing continues to dwindle.
My reason for the walk was to see just how wet our woodlands to the west of the hay field had become. In a normal year, there are always patches of water in the woods. This year there is enough water that I found a couple of patches of cattails growing in the more open areas.
Right at the transition from grass to woods I also discovered a plant that I had never seen growing on our land. It is the Great St. Johnswort. We have other varieties of St. Johnswort growing on our land, but I have never seen this before. It likes to get its “feet wet” and grows quite tall in this wet area, in this case at least 3 feet high. It was truly a striking bright yellow beacon.
On the other side of the hay field the flock is still managing to graze its way through the “Orchard” pasture. I feel bad for them, since the grass is so tall. Their preference is for something 6 to 8 inches high. Unfortunately for them the pastures are growing so rapidly that the sheep cannot keep up with the growth. It is a strange sight each morning when I take them out to a new patch of pasture. In a few minutes they begin to disappear in the tall grass. By the time this picture was taken, when our B&B guests got to visit the flock, the sheep had been out for a couple of hours. They had made a dent in the pasture, but there was still lots left for grazing. Sadly, a lot of the pasture is trampled rather than cleanly grazed. Nevertheless the grass and legumes are making a phenomenal recovery, due to all the rain.
Lastly, here is a visit with Toodles, one of the older members of the flock, she is still going strong despite her 11+ years, but on these hot days she needs a drink too.
Welcome to our updated website and updated Ewe Turn. If you have been following our blog for a long time you may have recently discovered that we have a revised website and a revised EweTurn. The blog has a new address (https://whitefishbayfarm.com/ewe-turn-blog/). We hope that all of the changes that we have made are for the better. It has just been two weeks since we set everything up and there are still a few glitches to take care of, but they are slowly being resolved. For the time being if you wish to comment on a blog posting you must first click on the particular post before you will be able to open the comments section. Sorry for the bother; we hope to make this a bit easier in the future.
The reworking of our website has taken a lot of time and effort. I would like to thank our web guru, Gregg for all the time he has devoted to us. At least it has been a convenient time for us to devote a lot of attention to computer work. For the last month our outside activities have been hampered and often curtailed by the weather. To say that the month of June has been wet is an understatement. May was also a bit wet (10 days of measurable rain). But June has been at entirely different level. We have experienced 17 days of rain and there are still 2 more days to go. (And yes, it is raining as I write!)
The vegetable garden has been planted in stages: whenever it is dry enough to work the soil. The early plantings are doing well. The peas, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and artichokes are thriving. It may be a difficult time for the other plantings. We will have to wait and see. Of greater frustration has been pasture and hay management. The pastures are growing madly; the sheep cannot keep up and are often in the barn because of heavy rains and potentially violent weather. Of greater concern is that we have yet to cut and bale a single bale of hay. Since early June there has not been a time when enough dry, sunny days could be strung together to permit hay to be cut, dried and baled. So far there is no end in sight.
On the bright side we have had one project that we completed before the heavier rains fell. If I had been able to cut and bale hay this would have been a task that was just put aside. Some of our permanent perimeter fences are starting to show their age. Over the last couple of years I have described smaller projects to repair sections of fencing. This spring I was able to tackle a larger project.
In 1990, the fence that surrounded our cherry orchard was the first high tensile fence that I had ever built. It’s purpose was to exclude the White-tailed Deer population. The orchard has now been gone for many, many years, but the fence still functions as a pasture fence for the sheep. The wooden posts are 10 feet long and hopefully, but not always, were buried 4 feet deep. Over the last 27 years the annual freezing and thawing cycle had begun to push some of the posts out of the ground. If the post had not been properly buried, the tension of the 7 wires also acts as a force to slowly pull the posts up and also out of alignment. The stretch of orchard fence that parallels Clark Lake Road was in the worst shape. In mid-May, before we had enough hay to think about baling, I disassembled that stretch of fence. With the help of one of our tractors, I was even able to pull each of the seven posts that are involved, without damaging them. Surprisingly they were in still good shape and could be reused for the replacement fence. I also had a number of neighbors concerned. They stopped to ask if I was taking down the fence because we were getting rid of the sheep!
This is the pile of seven posts and 4 cross-brace posts after they had been removed. The orange crosses mark the location for new holes. In the meantime the wire was dangling loosely on the pasture floor.
The holes for all of these posts were originally dug by hand by me. It was a difficult task, often complicated by the presence of large stones buried under the intended path, but made easier by my relative youth. 27 years later I managed to locate someone with a very efficient and sophisticated post hole digger attached to a skidloader. In less than an hour all seven holes were dug to a full depth of at least 4 feet and any boulder that stood in the way was not a concern. Luckily all this work was done before the ground became supersaturated by all the rain.
The task of rebuilding the fence was slower, partly due to the manual nature of most of the work and partly due to having to work around rain storms. Nonetheless it has been completed. Unlike the old fence which stood over 6 feet tall, the new edition stands a diminutive 4 feet. But it still uses the old galvanized wires (which also were in excellent condition). Thus, we hope to have a very effective electric fence to keep the sheep in and predators and other interlopers out. Eventually, I plan to work my way all the way around the pasture, rebuilding the fence to a lower level and eliminating the design flaws and frost heaves. But that will have to wait.
This week the sheep got to inspect and test out the new fence. Here they are on a wet dreary day, having grazed their way to the front end of the pasture. Hopefully, we soon can write about weather that is suitable for baling hay!
The Friday of Memorial Day weekend dawned beautifully. At around 6:30, I left the house, headed for the barn to get the sheep out onto a new swath of pasture. I was greeted by this peaceful sight in the backyard, near the vegetable garden. Mom and two very newborn White-tailed fawns were relaxed and appeared hopeful that I would just leave them alone. Both fawns were very shaky on their feet, but eventually got up, looking for breakfast. Mom, on the other hand, never took her eyes off of me.
It is almost 100% predictable that we will see our first fawns on the farm during the Memorial Day weekend. In addition, over the last few years it has been almost as predictable that the fawn or fawns will be born in the “Orchard” pasture. It makes me think that this is the same mother, who knows that she has a very secure location for delivering her fawns. I left them alone after taking their pictures from a distance. I continued on with my chores, setting up the new pasture fence and getting the flock out. A half hour later, with the sheep taken care of, I returned to the house. The family had moved a few feet to the south (in the deeper grass on the other side of the fence). Another 30 minutes later they had melted into the landscape. They are still somewhere nearby. I have seen Mom in the nearby pastures every day since. Welcome to the neighborhood!