This is our farm column from farmer Casey O’Neill. O’Neill is the owner operator of HappyDay Farms north of Laytonville, and a long time advocate for the cannabis community in Mendocino Co; more of his writing can be found here. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor feel free to write to [email protected].
This is the time of year when growth explodes. Take a couple days between looks and the change in plant size is stunning. Same goes for the weeds, which can be overwhelming but also make the whole farm look gorgeous. The bright colors of the grasses, comfrey, perennials and crops are fabulous, and the fresh leaves on the oaks make my heart sing.
With everything growing so fast we are running to keep up as the kaleidoscope of the late spring farm unfolds before us. The first two batches of meat chickens are reveling in the lush forage as we move the chicken tractors onto fresh grass each morning. Laying hens have the run of a large section, and all pigs are out onto space where they can graze. Lambs arrive this coming week, and the next batch of meat birds and the turkeys will be ready to go out on pasture soon. We’re operating right about at max capacity, but it’s epic to see all the things happening.
This past week we slaughtered Georgie, our first boar we raised to breed with Ms. Piggie. He got large and sometimes aggressive, taking a chunk out of my leg awhile back, and we decided that his time had come. We want to move in the direction of purebred Kunekunes, and Georgie’s half-guinea hog temperament and body type is no longer where we want to be.
Young Kune boars Hank and Tank are reaching breedable age and we are excited for their potential moving forward. The pig herd is down to six full-size porkers and two piglets that were recently weaned, and we’re starting to plan our rotations for summer and fall, working the north pasture to try and build some fertility and jumpstart forage production.
Last year we ran chickens and turkeys across the whole south pasture, and the response in growth is stunning. The additional nitrogen fostered more grass growth, balancing out the legume growth in reflection of the additional fertility. Last year the pasture was very legume dominant, with clover making most of the action, and it’s interesting to see the shift in species composition in such a short time.
I’m excited to be moving through our second season of rotational grazing in the new space, and seeing the results from last year makes me feel good about where we are in our process. It has taken a huge restructuring of our personal and professional methodologies to incorporate the new project, but the growth has been an exceptional experience. We’re working together as a team of land partners to raise animals for sustenance and improve the pasture and it feels good to step deeper into the role of animal husbandry.
For the ten years before we started operating in the new space I was running birds on the steep slope around our driveway, which was a huge effort but helped me to get the basics of animal management down before stepping into this larger project. Looking back over the years I see a steady progression of lessons (some harder than others) that have led us to the present moment.
Moving birds through the stages of small brooder to larger coop to the chicken tractors on pasture has gotten easier and more efficient as I’ve learned small tricks and acquired the needed infrastructure and tools. Simple things like having enough feed bowls and waterers to keep them at each spot and not have to rotate them with the birds makes a huge difference. Stationing the feed in trash cans along the path of the chicken tractors lets us do a big push to unload and distribute the feed, making for less work on the day-to-day.
One of the main paradigm shifts for me in the last year has been to try to take more time up front to build things right and not leave loose ends to deal with down the road. As our operation has solidified over time I feel more comfortable building things to last with the expectation that our needs will remain similar over time and I won’t be wasting resources on something we’ll outgrow or no longer be able to use. The old adage that “if you can’t find time to do it right, you’ll surely find time to do it twice” has rung for me in new ways as I crossed the threshold of my fourth decade. I’m enjoying the challenge of trying to take time to do things right, while still trying to get all the things done. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!