Bonus!

Imagine Jake’s surprise when he found an “extra” lamb! Freshly cleaned off and “baaing” for its mother.

Sunday mornings are generally when we let ourselves sleep in a little bit and last Sunday was no different. But, upon waking we realized with a groan that it was daylight savings time! Already feeling late, we rushed out to begin chores. We arrived at the barn and Jake went over to check the nursery, the area where we put ewes and lambs after their time in individual lambing pens. Everyone in the nursery has bonded and know who belongs to whom. Imagine Jake’s surprise when he found an “extra” lamb! Freshly cleaned off and “baaing” for its mother.

Immediately we suspended normal chores and with the lamb tucked into my jacket, began a search to figure out who the likely mother might be. We assumed one of our first-time moms had this lamb and somehow (as unlikely as it seemed) it had made its way from their adjacent paddock into the nursery. To do so, the newborn would have to maneuver through multiple locked gates. After twenty minutes of “hind-end” reviews and doing a full headcount of ewes, we concluded that none of the first timers had given birth. I returned to the nursery area and noticed that a pretty brown ewe, named Peppercorn was stretching her neck over the nursery fence and calling to the lamb. “Just being friendly” I thought.

At this point, knowing the lamb had been out in the cold for at least an hour and unsure if it had eaten, we decided to take it indoors and get it some packaged colostrum. Inside I trudged with the little lamb who by now was quite cozy in my jacket. I tubed the lamb as Janet and Pete stood by scratching their heads; as confused as us. Once he got the warm colostrum in his belly, he was quite happy. By this time, Jake had examined all the ewes in the nursery and determined that Peppercorn had blood on her tail, a sure sign she had given birth. The only problem was that she had already given birth, a week prior and had delivered twin lambs!?!?

Jake came into the house to let me know. Janet then produced her iPad and did a quick google search, turning up results in the British Isles of this condition called (without much flair) “delayed birth.” It is not unheard of in other species and with sheep it generally results in death for “delayed” lamb.

Still dumbfounded, we returned the lamb to its mum, Peppercorn. She was removed from the nursery with her twins and placed back into an individual pen. The twins seemed delighted to have a new playmate rather than grumpy with their new, younger sibling. Triples are not uncommon in sheep but with only two teats on a ewe’s udder there always tends to be one of the three lambs that doesn’t grow as well as the others. Survival of the fittest I suppose.

I am proud to say that little Bonus is doing well. He gets supplemental milk daily from a ewe that lost her lamb at the start of the season and nurses vigorously from his mother. Despite his age difference he is bouncing around with his brother and sister enjoying being a lamb and Peppercorn continues to be up for the challenge of caring for her triplets.

35 years, reflections on lambing

We are past the first week of February and generally that means if we haven’t gotten things ready in the barn for lambing yet, we’d better get going! So far, I’ve ordered ear tags, inventoried health supplies, cleaned the heat lamps, checked the bulbs and prepared the permanent stalls for early arrivals. And so we wait and watch.

Throughout December and early January Abby and I feed square bales from the southeastern corner of the barn in order to open up more space for the lamb pens. The south facing side is covered with greenhouse film, protecting the new lambs from wind, snow, ice, or rain.  This part of the barn warms up quickly on the ever-brightening winter days. As impatience rises, I start cleaning up udders and legs by shearing off the excess wool. This helps the lambs find the teat and more easily get their first drink. Soon we’ll begin our daily “udder checks” – walking behind the ewes as they eat and occasionally pulling a warm hand from a glove to feel their swelling udders, which gives us some indication of how soon a ewe will give birth.

2020 marks the 35th year of lambs being born at Apple Creek Farm. Since 1985, each Spring the flock has grown stealthily, new members coming late each night and in the early hours of the morning. My father, Pete can claim the bulk of the work for those 35 years. He and my mother, Janet have logged closer to 45 years of lambing since they acquired their first sheep. After celebrating a milestone birthday for Pete at the end of January, I thought back 35 years when we moved from Brunswick to Bowdoinham, sheep and all. I was only six and new lambs were a thing to celebrate, like a birthday. As with much of farming, it’s all about the routines and familiar seasonal rhythms- new each time yet familiar. Three and a half decades of observing ewes whose names we know without seeing their ear tag. Of looking up into frozen, starlit skies on the quiet walk to the barn to check for ewes in labor. Almost four decades of drying off lambs in the dark, moving ewes and lambs from the paddock into pens. Hands covered in blood, milk, and iodine. 35 years of life and sometimes death.

Our sheep aren’t needy. They don’t ask us for much, least of all an abundance of attention. But after a ewe has delivered a lamb or two, they let us carry their newborns to a safe, dry place to bond. They tolerate us sitting with them, waiting, helping the lambs find the udder.

The pre-lambing season involves a lot of standing around and watching. After morning chores Abby and I will lean on gates looking across the sea of wool and hay and snow. We speculate aloud about who looks ready, playfully place bets on which of us will be right. We recount the previous year and who lambed first, who was bred to which of the rams. In the evening we remark how a particular ewe is walking, whether she is gazing thoughtfully into the night sky chewing her cud or if she is laying down rather than joining the others at the feeder. During each of the nighttime checks we walk through the stillness of the night, ears perked, listening for the telltale sounds of new life. A small bleat, a nicker from a new mom, a groan from as a ewe shifts her bulk or paws in the hay as she readies her nest. Arriving at the barn we slowly ease open the gate and slide into the paddock to avoid waking the sleeping ewes.  A third are chewing their cud and another third pushed up to the feeders, still not sated.

As long as it seems we wait, with the first birth a familiar rhythm takes over.

July Newsletter

Summer lasts only about a 100 days (and not all of those sunny) and so this is our busiest time of year. We’ve been busy making hay, watching our new farm emerge from the forest and moving animals to maximize the lush green grass. Hay has been slow and steady with great yields due to our application of fall manure and this spring’s mix of rain and warm temperatures.
IMG_7863The land clearing began just about 2 weeks ago and we’re looking at 13 acres or so of future pasture and silvopasture. Jake and I spent several evenings walking the land and choosing a mix of big and small trees to leave for shade and future timber. The result will be a mixed hardwood forest with enough openings in the canopy to allow grass to grow while offering some shelter for our animals. We have been very pleased with the crew from Comprehensive Land Technologies.

Moving animals is a daily activity. Not every animal group moves each day, but each day there is a group to be moved. Our goats have been doing their annual road crew work, controlling the bittersweet along the road edge and clearing along the stone walls. The cows, seven of whom will calve in the fall are getting wider and wider with all the fresh grass they are consuming.

We hope you’ll come out and see us this weekend for Bowdoinham’s annual Open Farm Day & Art Trail which coincides with Maine’s Open Farm Day. We will be open from 9AM-1PM offering tours (including a look at our newly cleared land) and a pop-up farm store. What should you expect? Check out our previous Open Farm Day post.

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You can now order your Holiday Birds! Our Thanksgiving turkeys arrived this week and they are the most feisty birds I think we’ve every had. In just a few short weeks they will head out on pasture where they will be eating a mix of clovers and grasses supplemented by certified organic grain until they are ready to grace your table. We are raising two groups of geese this year to expand availability. Our summer geese have been acting as night watchmen, protecting our chickens from a Great Horned Owl that lives on the farm. The owl’s nocturnal visits usually come at the cost of a broiler so putting a pair of geese in with the broilers scares off the owl.
Follow these links to reserve your turkey or goose.

Copy of Christmas in July-2-1Christmas in July! We are offering 20% off all our sheepskins and goat hides July 22 – July 29. You can visit us at market or order online– use code JULY17.

MARKET SCHEDULE
Tuesdays 8 AM-2 PM Brunswick Farmers’ Market on the Mall Brunswick
Saturdays 8:30 AM- 12:30 PM BTLT’s Farmers’ Market  Brunswick

May Newsletter

Yellow Egg Spansion Instagram-2Thank you for a great start to the season! Our crowdfunding campaign was successful due to your support. We’ll be sure to keep you updated on our progress throughout the season. Several of you asked about the nest box technology we’ll be using. One of the companies that makes the “Roll-away” nest boxes we’ll be using made this neat video that explains how they work and the benefits for both hen and farmer.

 


We, along with the animals are impatiently awaiting the April showers to give way to the May flowers. We had a group of ewes escape their winter paddock over the weekend and that taste of grass has ruined their appetite for hay! Since our animals are used to be out and moved around, you can imagine that being in their winter paddock for the last few months has gotten really boring. The goat nursery is anything but with 25 kids running around. Rainy days find the kids jumping on overturned tubs, on their mom’s back or snoozing in the hay. Its a great place to spend a few minutes relaxing at the end of the day. IMG_6260We had our final lamb of the season and he has joined one of the most varied and personable groups of lambs I’ve met. One stand-out is Bill, his mom Barracuda is pretty infamous as she is loud and bossy. But any complaints I’ve had about her have been silenced by the sweet presence of Bill.

IMG_6177We are launching a Market Share CSA. The program is modeled after a traditional CSA where the farmers receive payment upfront in return for a share of the harvest throughout the season. In Apple Creek’s model you will receive a 10% bonus for every $100 share purchased. So a $110 market share will be priced at $100, a $220 market share for the price of $200 and so on.  When you purchase a Market Share you’ll receive a card loaded with your share amount to use on whatever products you’d like throughout the 2017 season. The card can be used at any of our markets including the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s Farmers’ Market and the Brunswick Farmers Market.  More details and the sign up for can be foundhere.

PATE NEW FLAVORSWe have TWO new pates in our line-up! Our new beef liver pate and chicken liver mousse, like all our value-added products are made by Jenn Legnini of Turtle Rock Farm using ingredients grown here in Maine. We plan to have fresh chicken mousse available weekly and frozen beef pate throughout the summer.

October Newsletter

Image result for lamb boardLamb is back! So many of our customers have been waiting patiently- thank you! Our lamb is 100% grass-fed which is part of the reason for the wait. We graze our lambs all summer and this year was particularly tricky with the drought to provide enough forage to help them grow.

We will have a full range of lamb cuts- including chops, ground, shanks, stew and more- available starting this Saturday at the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust market.

We have turkeys for your Thanksgiving celebration. Follow this link to order yours. Birds will range from 12-20+ pounds, are priced at $5 a pound and are certified organic. We are proud to raise our birds outside, on pasture supplemented by certified organic grains. Our birds are processed at Weston’s Meat & Poultry in West Gardiner one of our local processors who are now MOFGA Certified Organic. We thank the staff at Weston’s and in MOFGA’s Agricultural Services Department for their help in making this happen!

Image result for ebtWe are now able to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) & EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) at all our market locations. It has taken us a good long while to get there (we started the process in March) but are now equipped with a new EBT card reader and wireless printer. If you receive these benefits you can access the full range of Apple Creek Farm products. We’re really excited to be even more accessible!

Early August

For me the weather in July seemed more like August, so it feels a bit like we’re getting an extra month of summer! We’ll be busy this month with our last two groups of broilers, introducing the turkeys to pasture and hopefully enjoying a day or two at the beach with visiting family members.

We had a fun Open Farm Day and thank everyone that came out despite the rain. The day cleared shortly afternoon and we were able to enjoy the local foods bbq with family, friends and neighbors. We are hoping another such rainy morning will come along soon as our pastures are getting quite dry. If you have been to the farm you know we have many beautiful trees and this year there are distinct patches of dry grass around them. If you’re curious about where we stand with rain visit the US Drought Monitor. We are fortunate to have options to mitigate the dry conditions though this does mean feeding hay earlier and grazing what has in the past been an on-farm hay field.

No GeeseDue to a variety of circumstances we won’t be raising geese. While this a big disappointment (they are the most adorable babies) it also a blessing as the dry weather means there is less grass coming up. The geese are fantastic grazers and grow best with plenty of pasture.

We will be raising turkeys for Thanksgiving again this year. These Turkey Promobirds are available to order now, so be sure to make a note. Birds are priced at $5/lb with average sizes between 12-15 lbs. We sold out last year so don’t delay!

So what else has been happening on the farm?

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Out Like A Lamb

Spring is a wonderful time on the farm when new life emerges daily! We have chicks arriving weekly, a batch of turkeys on the way and kids filling the barn. Someday I’ll get this lambing post done while we’re still at it! This year was one of our fastest lambing years. We used three different rams and all of them provided prompt service which meant that lambs arrived one right after another! With temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s it was a far cry from last year’s urgency to get lambs dried off, warm and out of the wind and cold.

Below are some of our favorite photos of lambing season 2016.

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March toward Spring

March is always a busy month on the farm with lambing being our primary focus. This particularly March though we find ourselves in the midst of several really exciting projects.

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 10.00.54 AMWe’re helping MOFGA spread the word about a survey to better understand why Mainers choose to “Buy Organic” and what can be done to increase the amount of Maine grown organic food on plates around the state. We’d love for your voice be heard! Follow this link to complete the short survey.

After spending some time in the fall writing grants and we are thrilled to report we will be receiving funding from Northeast SARE and from (FACT) Food Animal Concerns Trust’s Fund-A-Farmer Grant program.

food-animal-concerns-trustFACT awarded nearly $41,000 in grants to family farmers across the country to help them transition and/or improve access to pasture-based systems. Seventeen farms located in 11 U.S. states received grants through FACT’s Fund-a-Farmer Project. This innovative project awards grants up to $2500 and facilitates peer-to-peer farmer education to increase the number of animals that are raised humanely in the United States. Since 2012, FACT has awarded 67 grants to deserving family farmers across 26 states, directly impacting more than 54,000 animals.  At Apple Creek we will be installing above ground water lines in two of our of our primary pastures. This will help to increase soil fertility through more grazing (particularly by poultry) and provide fresh water more consistently and with less labor ensuring animals stay hydrated and healthy.

SARE_Northeast_RGBWe’re really excited about our SARE  Grant. The project titled, Using Forage Radish to Combat Compaction in Hay & Pasture Land will evaluate the impact of applications of manure and forage radish on soil compaction in an established hay field and pasture. The project will include on-farm-research conducted over two growing seasons to to understand whether using forage radish to break up hardpan,“mop up” excess nutrients low in the soil profile and increase organic matter can improve the productivity of the farm by reducing costs for mechanical tillage and increase the farm’s net income through improved forage production. Included in the grant are several outreach components including an on-farm field day to share our findings with other Maine farmers!

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We’ll be talking about the farm at the Slow Money Maine Gathering on Thursday March 17th, 12-4pm at Christ Church located on Dresden Ave in Gardiner.
Regular gatherings (1-4pm ) AND focus groups (12-1) are free, require no advance notice to attend. The Slow Money meetings are a favorite of this farmer as they include a wide cross-section of the “Good Food Movement” from eaters to investors. The conversation is lively, the networking unpretentious and the snacks are delicious! Abby & Jake will be sharing the farm story, plans for expansion and what the farm will produce in 2016. We hope you can attend!

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 8.53.57 AMFor several years Maine biologist Gerri Vistein has been organizing talks and events around the state to help farmers better understand often under-appreciated members our ecosystem- carnivores. Through Vistein’s work Apple Creek farmers have learned how to manage the presence of local coyotes, fox and even great horned owls. This information is now available through the newly established Farming with Carnivores Network. The network, made up of farmers from the Northeast like us is designed as a space for sharing the opportunities and challenges posed by farming with carnivores.

 

Roll Call: Farm Babies

Spring is the time of year when you think of new life emerging and it certainly has here on the farm! We’re always energized by the arrival of lambs, kids and chicks even if we’re tired from late night checks on the mothers.