Burdock Time

What’s a weed, and what’s a resource? On our property, we have a plant that’s both: burdock. It grows everywhere around here. Through most of the spring, it develops lots of broad leaves and just looks kind of ugly.

It’s not until the arrival of summer that burdock becomes more of a problem: as it goes to seed, it develops lots of burs. Toward the end of summer, as the reproductive cycle completes itself, these burs get quite large and dry and pull off the plant easily. They cling to anything, especially any article of clothing, that even brushes against them.

The sheep and goats love eating burdock leaves — but god forbid the sheep get into a patch of mature burdock toward the end of summer. Their wool will be jammed full of burs, all of which will have to be removed before the wool can be processed. Something similar happens to the goats: their “beards” will get so loaded with burs, it can become one solid mass (not to mention the stray burs that cling to the rest of their coats).

This isn’t usually an issue. The sheep and goats instantly mow down any burdock plants that might sprout in their pasture; the tender young leaves are among their favorite treats. So, we never get mature burdock out in the pasture. However, there are lots of burdock plants growing elsewhere in the yard — especially behind my office, or along the edge of the hay field. If the sheep or goats happen to get loose in the yard, or if we want to turn them loose in the yard (supervised) to eat weeds, disaster can easily ensue.

The burdock seed heads are just now beginning to develop, which has gotten me thinking about this issue. It’s also led me to get out the pruning shears, and go on a massive burdock hunt. Over the last week or two, I’ve taken down several large stands of the stuff. The sheep see me lugging armloads of it toward the pasture, and word spreads quickly. They come running, and soon the whole flock is feasting as I toss the cut plants over the fence.

I got most of the big stands right before the seed heads began showing. In the last few days, as the nascent burs are beginning to become evident, my burdock hunt has taken on a greater urgency.

maturing burdock.jpg

Yesterday, and into this morning, I’ve been lopping off every last burdock plant I can find. It’s not necessary to take down the entire plant — just the primary, central portion. I don’t mind if some of the leaves growing from the bottom portion of the stalk remain. When we turn the sheep loose in the yard next week, the flock will gladly finish these leaves off.

cut burdock.jpg

While I was at it, I took down a few other leafy weeds. Before long, I had a nice pile of fresh green stuff for the sheep and goats. Given how picked-over their pastures have become, they mobbed me as I came with this enormous armload.

Pile of burdock

It’s may be a cliche to say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But here on the farm, it’s true beyond a doubt that one man’s weeds are a ruminant’s feast.

Chicks and Ducklings: Mission Accomplished

Back in August, we had a couple of fun surprises. First, a mother duck hatched out eleven ducklings. Shortly thereafter, a mother hen hatched out nine chicks. Given the propensity with which baby birds get picked off — even when being raised by the most-attentive mothers — we decided to move both broods into a portable 4×8 garden pen. They weren’t happy about sharing the space, but it was our only option. They did manage to co-exist, and both broods thrived.

The pen turned out to be a great choice, for several reasons:

  • We were able to get lots of high-protein feed into these little birds. Had they been running around the barnyard, they would’ve been limited to forage and would not have grown nearly so large nearly so quickly. With autumn approaching fast, we’re glad they’re in good shape.
  • They cleared out TONS of overgrown weeds from a fallow swath of the garden, that we would otherwise have had to deal with. They got all that green stuff in their diet.
  • They eliminated lots of crickets, beetles, and other bugs from the garden area.
  • They converted all those weeds and bugs into a wonderful layer of rich fertilizer. This portion of the garden will be exploding with growth after next Spring’s planting.

Here’s a good picture of what they managed to accomplish (in tandem with a second pen, home to nine layer pullets we’ve been raising since April):

And here’s a good shot of what things looked like inside the pen:

With cooler weather and shorter days, we decided it was time to transition the birds and their mothers into the broader flocks. Plus, ducks go through an unbelievable amount of water. I was having to fill their five-gallon waterer at least once per day. (For the nine pullets in the other pen, the interval is more like once per week.) Time for them to go splash around in the swamp with their brethren.

The toughest part was getting the mother hen, and all nine chicks, into the barn last night. We’d turned them loose in the area behind the barn, hoping they’d follow the other birds inside as darkness fell. Unfortunately, they kept trying to get back into the garden; after all, that was the only “home” they remembered, and even Mother Hen had trouble convincing them there was any better place. The two oldest Yeoman Farm Children helped me catch the nine chicks and physically deposit them deep inside the barn. Once Mother Hen joined them, they settled in for the night. They were still piled up in the same nest when I came out this morning.

So far, so good. Next task is to move the Barred Rock pullets. Problem is, they’re now so big they’re indistinguishable from our two-plus-year-old Barred Rocks which need to be culled. I don’t have the time or freezer space to cull them right now, so it’s looking like I’ll need to put an orange zip tie around a leg on each of the old ones.

Never a dull moment on the farm.

Bumper Crop

Most people would be horrified to gaze out on their lawn and see it looking like this:

Look at all those horrible dandelions! What will the neighbors think? Hurry, buy some chemicals and spray them all over the grass!

At our place, the thinking is entirely different. First, we don’t really have any neighbors…and we certainly don’t care about anyone else’s opinion of our lawn. The bigger issue for us is that our pasture still isn’t fenced, so we haven’t been able to turn the sheep out to graze. And they’ve been BAHHHHHing badly, because they can see all that lush green stuff growing, and they can’t get to it.

What’s the solution? Take the pasture — or lawn — to the sheep. We have a bagging lawn mower, so I’ve been taking breaks from work during the day to go out and cut a bag or two for them. And the more variety (especially clover and dandelions) in the bag, the more the sheep love it. It’s gotten to the point now where as soon as they hear the lawn mower running, they gather to watch me and BAHHHHHH through the gate to their enclosure. (Who says sheep are stupid?) When I bring each treasured bag to the barn, they mob me so badly I’ve almost been knocked flat on my back.

Who needs chemical warfare when you’ve got a flock of hungry Icelandic sheep?