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New Hampshire Farm

Posted 5/2/2016 3:21pm by The Webb Family.

There has been much anticipation on the farm in the past weeks. We have been busy keeping pens clean and preparing for our ‘new to us’ Belted Galloway cows to begin calving. Tyler and I have been considering beef cattle breeds over the last year or so… debating about which breed would do well with our management style. Until now, Harding Hill Farm has always purchased calves and raised them on a grass-based diet to maturity.

In February, we made contact with a breeder in the ‘north country’ or otherwise known as northern New Hampshire. Otokahe Farm has been raising and breeding Belted Galloway cattle for many years (and making beef jerky, yum!). Kris and Bert were looking to downsize their breeding herd slightly. We made the visit to their farm, just down the road from Santa’s Village, and immediately knew these cattle had the right attributes to fit in at Harding Hill Farm. We purchased four pregnant cows due to calve in starting in April/May. The cows moved south to Sunapee shortly thereafter.

 

One of the better parts of this adventure was the timing. Tyler’s parents, Van and Robin were on a ski trip when the cows arrived. We got the cows settled, and upon Van and Robin’s return, there were 4 large cows resembling oreos hanging out in the barnyard. It was quite the surprise!

We have spent a few months acclimating them, and unfortunately fighting the spring mud in our barnyard! Things have dried up some, though I write this as it is pouring rain outside. Fortunately there is plenty of dry loafing areas under the barn. We highly anticipate the greening up of pastures as we await the proper timing and level of grass growth to turn them out on pastures for the season. Meanwhile the cows are happily eating stored fermented grass (haylage) and dry hay.

 

Why Belted Galloway or as we call them ‘Belties’? There are MANY reasons. We wanted to create a niche breed of beef cattle for our farm as we continue to develop our grass fed beef business. Tyler and I always admired the breed… who doesn’t love cows that have a white belt resembling an oreo? Also, Robin has mentioned wanting them on the farm for many years. More importantly, there are many positive features in addition to their looks! This breed was developed in Scotland in the rugged hills where hardiness was a trait necessary for survival. Being a New Hampshire farm on a windy, exposed hill sitting on ledge, this sounds familiar. They are naturally polled (no horns), which we preferred because de-horning calves is a nasty (and often necessary) job for both farmer and calf. They have a double coat of hair that provides a great deal of winter warmth, while they shed that extra layer in the summer. Because of their coat, they lack the back fat of other beef breeds. Research has shown that grass fed, beltie beef has less total calories, fat, and cholesterol than conventionally raised beef and grain fed belties. Their heritage allows them to efficiently convert marginal pasture lands into delicious, lean beef. Yum!

 

Now… more about those cute looking cows. The look of the Belted Galloways, black with a white belt, was selected through many generations… however Galloway cattle originally came in numerous colors and patterns. Now the breed colors are Black, Dun (several shades of brown), Red, and Silver. You can still get a seemingly unexpected color combination, but nearly always with a belt. The answer lies in their genetic makeup. When breeding a bull and cow, two sets of genes interact to create the genotype. The actual appearance is known as the phenotype. Belties are unusual in that Dun is the dominant color, not black like in most animals. While an animal may have a Dun color, like our cow April, she may also be a carrier for a black or red gene. This carrier gene can lead to several shades of Dun… or with the correct bull, the birth of a black, red, or silver (two dun genes) calf.

 

Interestingly enough, it turns out that April, our one Dun cow, must have been a black carrier. She gave birth to a very black calf with a white belt just last night… quite a surprise and a bit difficult to match them together! It will keep things interesting. In the meantime, we continue to await our next arrival with one calf on the ground and three to go!

Stay tuned to more adorable pictures and stories.  We can certainly thank our friends Kris and Bert at Otokahe Farm for getting us hooked on these great cattle.

 

Posted 2/5/2016 11:32am by The Webb Family.

About one week ago on January 28th, Tyler and I sat around the dinner table and debated over whether or not to start tapping our maple trees. The seven day forecast was showing not a single daytime temperature below freezing, which would have been normal if it were March. Unfortunately it was still January. It would be the earliest the Webb family would ever start tapping, and we discussed the pros and cons. After much debate, Tyler concluded that we stand a pretty good chance of missing a really great sap run if we don't act NOW. 

What is the downside of tapping this early? Some may argue that you run the risk of missing later runs during the 'regular' season. The reason? - once you drill a hole into the tree and insert the tap, you have created a wound. Compare this to a cut on your arm. Human blood begins to clot in order to prevent your arm from bleeding. The trees act in a similar way. Sap carries nutrients up to the crown of the tree, and when the tree is punctured, the sap eventually will begin to clot around that hole. When you are looking to pull that sap out of the tree, this isn't good. However, much research has been done and new technology has been developed. The introduction of new drop lines (connects the tap to the tubing) every 3-4 years and taps/spouts every year has helped keep things clean. We use spouts that contain a 'check valve' which lets sap run out of the tree but prevents any bacteria from entering the hole. This technology both protects the tree and enhances the collection of sap, hopefully avoiding any pre-mature healing and prolonging the maple season.

 

We are a small operation compared to many in VT/NH. We put in about 1,300 taps, while the large operations measure in the tens of thousands. Those maple operations were tapping already, but they need to start early at that kind of volume. It usually takes us about 3-5 days to tap our trees, fix damaged lines, and assure our vacuum lines are running correctly (for more info on this, you can read last year's blog - Preparing for Sugaring Season). So on Friday morning, January 29th, Ty went into the woods to begin the 2016 season. 

 

Over the course of three days, we installed 1,200 taps throughout our 12 acre sugarbush. By Sunday afternoon at 2pm, when we installed the last 200 taps, the sap was pouring out as we drilled the holes. It was also nearing 45 degrees, and it was only January 31st.

  

Tyler then spent the rest of the afternoon checking vacuum lines and tightening up the intricate system of tubing. We went to bed that night wondering if all this work would pay off or if it would be a big bust. 

By Monday afternoon, we had 750 gallons of sap at 1.9% sugar (an average measurement would be 2-2.5%) in the tank. For the first time ever, Harding Hill Farm boiled sap on February 1st. We sweetened our pans and made one and half gallons of fresh maple syrup. The quality was perfect, yielding a clear, light Grade A Amber Rich. Prior to 2016, the earliest boil on record was on February 18, 2012. 

 

By Tuesday, with sun and 40 degree temps, the sap was pouring into our tank at a rate of 80 gallons per hour. In the afternoon, it was probably closer to 100-125 gallons per hour. We boiled over 1,200 gallons of sap on Tuesday night, bringing our count to 23 gallons of syrup for the week.

 

On Wednesday, it rained. The raw, damp temperatures just above freezing caused the sap run to stop in its tracks… but Mother Nature was about to throw another curve ball at us. During the night, Wednesday into Thursday, temperatures rose to nearly 50 degrees. When Ty went out to check the tanks at 6:30am on Thursday morning, they had been overflowing for at least a couple hours. Around noon on Thursday, we began boiling around 1,400 gallons of sap. When we left the sugarhouse around 6:30 pm, we had managed to make just under 50 gallons of maple syrup this week. It wasn’t a bust!

This morning we woke up to 28 degrees and snowing...We are wondering if Mother Nature is drunk or just very confused.

 

However, we have a few hundred gallons of sap left from last night, so we will boil again with friends this evening. As we watch the forecast closely, we may get a bit more sap over the weekend, with a possibility of making syrup on Sunday. After that, things should slow down and freeze up… and then we wait. What will the rest of the season bring? How will our trees respond? We wait and hope for the best.

Posted 1/3/2016 4:57pm by The Webb Family.

Winter weather has finally arrived. Being a snow lover, I'm trying to forget those 60 degree days we had around Christmas and embrace the change. Forecasts are calling for below zero temps in the next couple days, and I'm pulling out the winter hats and scarves. 

This is normally a busy time of year around here, despite the cold. Tyler is usually in the woods 6 days a week. During the week, I'm at the office, but on the weekend I'm usually skiing or coaching skiing. This year, without frozen ground, the logging season has been delayed. Meanwhile the ski area is just barely opening, and I'm not able to get back on the slopes for another month or so due to rehab from hip surgery. To fill the time, I have been experimenting with new recipes. 

We like to make meals that use real food, meaning as little processing as possible and farm-raised or locally sourced. Coming off of surgery and limited physical activity, I'm also focused on cooking healthy enough to keep the pounds off. I'm constantly on the hunt for new recipes and ideas. You can find some of my favorites in my occasional posts to the HHF recipe tab on our website. 

For Christmas, my mom gave me a new cookbook - Maple by Kate Webster. I figured it was just another maple syrup themed book, filled with breakfast, dessert, and generally unhealthy recipes. I could not have been more wrong. This book is filled with delicously fresh, seasonal, and healthy recipes using maple syrup in new and creative ways. It has inspired my latest posts to our recipe section of the website, and I highly recommend the book. You can also find more from Kate Webster on her blog - www.healthyseasonalrecipes.com.

Great for a weeknight dish, we tried her Maple Tahini Chicken and Broccoli as our first recipe from the new book. Ty is a big fan of Chinese food. I despise it, basically throwing it in the category of unhealthy, fast food. This recipe puts a fresh spin on the classic chicken and broccoli dish, both sweet and savory. Also a great excuse to pull out a bag of our frozen broccoli from the farm garden. We even had leftovers for lunch for the next couple days.

 

On New Years Eve, we had friends visiting for the weekend. To celebrate, we wanted to grill up some HHF grass fed steaks. I started thumbing through my new Maple cookbook and came upon a recipe for Chipotle and Maple Flank Steak Tacos. I was sold. The mexican theme gave me an excuse to make some 7 layer dip for an appetizer, which is one of our favorite indulgences. This dinner was delicious, and surprisingly not very spicy despite the chipotle peppers. We will use the marinade again, as it was a perfect fit for the flank steak. Steak tacos may become a new staple in our house.

I hope this helps some of you find some inspiration and new recipes to try at home. As a natural sweetener, maple syrup is filled with minerals and antioxidants. I love spreading the word that it can be used for more than just your Sunday pancakes. For the amount of maple syrup we are going through in our house, I'm just happy we produce it right here on the farm. Stay tuned for more posts and recipe experiments... Happy New Year!

~ Kelly