As May drew to a close, Larga Vista Ranch experienced many changes, the most notable (and probably most challenging) being the dairy barn renovation. On May 21st, Dairy Specialists spent roughly 15 hours in the barn (with only a short lunch break) re-routing and repairing the pipeline system, which is comprised of a vacuum system and a milk-piping system. Additionally, they installed a pre-owned 600 gallon bulk milk tank to hold the milk. Now we are able to pipe the milk directly from the milking claw to the bulk tank and chill the milk to 35 degrees within 10-15 minutes, resulting in higher quality milk. This new set-up is much easier on the back since the milker (usually Doug) no longer has to carry pails of milk into the washroom to mix with other milk in an effort to maintain cream-line consistency.
This system, while taking several weeks to fully adjust to, will save us a good amount of time and money, especially when the loan is repaid. Last year, we spent what seemed like a small fortune paying people to pour milk. Without the tank, there was nowhere for the milk to go, and it had to be poured each day, necessitating a second person in the barn at milking time. Now one person can milk into the tank, and the milk is chilled and stirred while awaiting bottling day. Also, the system is more reliable now that it has been updated. Before the renovation, we were always nervous that such an antiquated system could break down, which could be disastrous in terms of workload (hand-milking 15-20 cows is very time consuming) and could compromise the herd’s udder health.
Our pipeline system had not been used to full capacity since 1992 when Doug ’s father’s dairy went bankrupt. We spent an enormous amount of time hand-scrubbing the pipes, putting them back together, running a wash cycle, checking and rewashing, and checking and rewashing before we could even use the updated system. While this was excruciatingly tedious work, it was absolutely necessary to ensure milk quality. At the same time, it was an exercise in progress. We are refurbishing the barn and feel that we are moving forward! We still have a little more work to do; we need to paint the pouring room, install new doors on the front, and install wood siding (salvaged from the old corrals) on the exterior of the barn. We will keep you updated on the progress, and we’ll probably need some volunteer help with some of this!
We are confident that the new system will help us be more efficient in ways that affect all other aspects of the farm, and we feel the milk quality will be even better!
As many of you know, the Colorado Farm and Art Market (CFAM), in its ninth season, resumed this week on June 13th, with a repeat performance this Saturday, June 16. This is always an exciting time for people who love good local food and arts. For those of you unfamiliar with it, our market is the only one in town that offers organic produce, eggs, and meat sold by the farmer who produced it here in Colorado. The market also features the arts and crafts of various local artists selling their own creations. The market is special to Doug and me since this was how we got to know each other; I (Kim) volunteered my Saturday mornings to help Doug sell vegetables that first season at the Gas Works Building parking lot back in 2004.
There is a proliferation of markets out there, but very few of them offer organic produce, eggs, and meat sold by the farmer who produced it here in Colorado. By and large, other markets’ vendors are re-selling produce from Texas and California, hence watermelons and tomatoes offered in June. Watermelons and tomatoes (and other produce) grown in Colorado, with its short growing season, take several months to come on. But the hot days and cool nights of our southern Colorado climate create the sweetest tomatoes, cantaloupes, and watermelons. If you are ready for the best watermelon you have ever eaten, make sure you come by in August and get a “Doug-selected” Larga Vista Ranch watermelon. Numerous people have told us they are the best they have ever eaten!
Don’t wait until August, though, to shop at the market, or you will miss out! While the season starts off a little slow, it builds with anticipation each week! Lettuce, spinach, peas, beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, and garlic scapes are all plentiful now. Many of the farmers offer recipes or make suggestions on how to utilize their produce, so ask them! Throughout the season, you will find the best in local organic produce, including our own! At Larga Vista Ranch, we grow heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydew melons, beets, cucumbers, chiles, and Italian heirloom sweet peppers. Don’t forget to shop the artists and artisans for the best of locally-produced and unique creations. Shop for gifts for others or for yourself, and skip the big box stores!
Plan ahead and brush up on different methods of food preservation, especially those of you who are members of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program of Venetucci Farm. If you can and freeze the overabundance of your CSA produce, you will savor your efforts throughout the winter and save money when produce is really expensive! During the winter, we love opening canned beets, nibbling on dried tomatoes or peppers, and swirling the summer’s heirloom tomato sauce through pasta. It is all far tastier than anything at the grocery store! (By the way, the Larga Vista Ranch produce mentioned above figures into the CSA shares!)
Your patronage of the market and sharing it with friends will help sustain the only true local market in Colorado Springs!
Labor woes have always been one of the difficulties in farming. The level of commitment needed and the ability to endure the heat, the dust, and the long hours make the job unappealing for most. Many nights, as I drag myself through the evening chores after dark after an exhausting sixteen-hour day in the field, sheer force of will is the only thing that makes me finish. That is how I was raised, to understand the weight of responsibility one assumes when caring for domestic livestock, especially dairy cows.
As a boy, I began helping my father in the milk barn at the age of 3, and by 5, feeding the calves twice a day was a required chore every day of the week. When labor problems arose the year when I was 8, my brother and I got out of school early to come home and help with the afternoon milking. And so it continues. Kilian (age 5) has stepped up to help in the milking parlor and to keep an eye on the cultivator as we weed the garden, load cattle and hogs, etc. I think it is in his genes. One day when he was just learning to talk, as we surveyed a trenching job, he said to me, “Where’s my shovel?”
This brings me to our next idea! We would like to establish a working volunteer corp to help on a more regular basis. Some of you have come to the farm on special workdays, and many others have expressed a desire to pitch in sometime. We realized a few years ago, thanks to Kathleen (a wonderful farmhand), that having volunteers here at the farm would be the only way we could accomplish some very necessary tasks, ones that are more than what we ourselves can get done along with the actual farming and milking. These tasks include: farm clean-up, building a new chicken house (the existing one teeters precariously on its chassis, held on as it is with straps and chains), painting the interior of the washroom and parlor at the dairy, repairing dairy cow sheds and corrals, etc. We will be sending out an email to see who would like to participate as well as to establish some dates. Just a couple of extra hands one day a week would be a huge help to keep the animals safe and us in business for you!
A hot wind is blowing again today. While we just put up a good first cutting of hay, 1300 bales for winter, the month ahead is expected to be brutally hot. We are keeping the market/CSA garden watered just enough, and things look good, but the potential of worsening conditions may mean that we will have to leave 30% of the farm unplanted this year, which would reduce our yields and income. Nevertheless, we look forward to a bountiful year for all of us. We consider you as members of our farm family, dedicated to the great cause of good health for our families and the community through good nutrition, achieved in turn through sustainable, beyond-organic agriculture as we practice it here on our farm.
Thank you for your continued support of Larga Vista Ranch!
—Kim and Doug Wiley and sons