on loving, caring, killing and eating

**If you would rather not read and see pictures of the butchering of our animals for meat you may want to skip this post and come back another day. However, I would encourage you to read on because as long as we remain disconnected from the realities of our choice to consume animal products the longer are food system will remain broken, and I dare say, harmful to both the animals’ lives and ours. It’s so easy to divert our eyes from the reality of being omnivores, it also seems as though many living this lifestyle are skirting round the realities that come with raising one’s own food and avoid articulating their experiences in favor of not ruffling feathers. In the name of authenticity I am choosing to share both the realities and the emotions that accompany them. 

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Spring and Fall. The most frantic time of all for anyone who grows/raises the majority of their own food. Eh, who am I kidding there is really never downtime when it comes to living the way we choose but there’s just something about Spring and Fall, that manic hurrying, the need to get so many of the things on that “to do” list done, like yesterday, or you’re gonna throw the whole damn schedule off.

In reality, that schedule is a mirage, something that never actually existed because the second you decided to be a homesteader your were already behind. You should have started 5 years ago, you should have learned a hell of a lot more a hell of a lot sooner. 

Summer is abundant and feels at time languishing. The humid, hot days seem to stretch far in front of you, the light lasts forever and you feel like you have all the time in the world to get it all done. There’s always new life running and bouncing in the pastures or rising up from the cool earth of the garden. When one thing stops ripening two new things start and there is always something to look forward to.

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Then one day you wake up, walk out the door and realize you’re missing a layer to protect against the morning chill. It never seems like Autumn arrives gradually, at least not in our neck of the woods, but rather all at once, catching you off guard, unprepared and suddenly you’re behind…again.

Fall is harvesting and closing up the garden, moving in the firewood, repairing anything that might not make it through another winter, winterizing of structures, recalculating and sending out a quiet prayer that you have enough hay, breeding of most of the livestock, and moving everyone closer in to be nearer to the food, water, the electric to keep the water from freezing and the farmer. (The shorter the distance you have to carry a square bale in two feet of snow, the better. Especially come February when your patience with the white stuff is already wearing thin.)

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Also, it’s butchering season, at least around here.

We do most of our butchering this time of year for a variety of reasons. It’s cooler for one, there are fewer bugs, more rapid cooling of the carcass and an overall more hospitable environment for us throughout the process. Also, most things reach the age required at this time of year. I think there is also something that results from our closer connection to nature and the seasons (and I believe a pleasant side effect of this lifestyle) flipping that primeval switch that still lies somewhere deep inside of us all- winter is coming, protein rich food needs to be acquired and put in reserve to help us weather the long cold months that are ahead.

This past week we butchered both a steer and the the final turkey that remained after an apparent coyote visit this summer (we are lucky to have a local farm that we can buy free-range turkeys from to replace the loss.) Within the month we will butcher the lambs that need to be culled and Kevin will hopeful get a deer or two and that will stock our freezers full of meat until this time next year. We would also be butchering pigs and meat chickens but they were two of the things that didn’t make the cut this year when we had to rethink where our energy was spent.

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In the name of full discloser we did not butcher the steer ourselves (we like to do our own butchering when ever possible) only because we do not have a large enough cooler (yet) were we can hang the sides of beef for 3 weeks. So instead we reluctantly loaded him on a trailer and took him to a local, family run butcher shop that can do it for us.

Bert, the first animal born here on the farm two years ago, was Lilac’s baby. We touched him and carried him within an hour of being born. We watched him nurse and grow and nurse some more even after he had grown. (See? when left to their own devices all mammals practice full-term breastfeeding.) We fed and watered him, giving him a scratch on the head whenever we did. He was precocious and possibly more friendly than even his mom, by far friendlier than the other bovine in our herd.

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He was funny and entertaining, running fence lines whenever we walked by, often telling us a story while doing it. He is the headliner in the best story that has come out of this homestead of ours. He was originally scheduled to make his trip to the butcher earlier this fall but secured his month long reprieve the morning that Kevin and my dad tried to load him on to the stock trailer we had borrowed. They had parked the truck and trailer in the alley way that runs alongside all of our pastures. The plan was to run him from the pasture into the blocked off alley and then up into the trailer. All went according to plan until the second they got him up to the the trailer, Bert suddenly realized what they had in mind, froze and took a mental accounting of his surroundings and remaining options. Without missing another beat he reared up onto his hind legs, all 1000 lbs of him, and gracefully leapt over our seven wire, electric fence, just barely grazing his belly hair against the top wire and gently came down in the same pasture he had just exited, reunited with his herd. According to the guys, they looked at one another, threw their hands in the air and said “you win today, Bert.”

This week, using a revised plan (the same plan I had suggested the first time around, ahem) he loaded immediately and was delivered without incident.

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Now here is were it all gets confusing and murky. As the trailer pulled away there was sadness, melancholy and few tears (mostly from the youngest one) but there was also gratefulness, relief and something that felt a lot like excitement, though I am terribly reluctant to use that adjective in regards to a situtation such as this, but it was there none the less. After all, within a month we would have a freezer full of high quality, grassfed, extremely nutrient dense food to feed our family and that would last us well over a year at a fraction of the cost (a fraction of a fraction?) than if we were buying from a local farm, not to mention the grocery store.

With these emotions still fresh in our memories we finished off the week butchering the last turkey ourselves. Both kids were present, though they always have a choice to opt out, just as they always have the choice to not eat meat. (I would like to mention here that mine and Kevin’s bodies feel better and stronger when we eat meat and considering the life we are living both of those things become paramount. We have also, at times, consumed a far more vegetarian based diet, mostly out of necessity (read cost here) and before we lived in a place where we could raise our own meat.) We said our goodbyes and thank yous and watched as Kevin delivered the life ending swing of the ax. See there it is again, the confusion and murkiness. Things have to die, we have to kill, in order for us to live. Be it a turkey, or cattle, right on down to the lettuce chopped out of the garden. And while I understand the it is easier to see the similarities between us and an animal then between ourselves and a head of lettuce the truth is everything is going to expire, including us. We are all going to return to the ground and feed new life.

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The hard truth is everything is going to be something’s dinner. 

My point in all of this is not to sound callus or to find fault with anyone who chooses not to eat meat, the point is that life is complicated, full of gray areas- raising, killing and consuming our own food is one of them. What’s not a gray area is that if your meat is coming from the grocery store you are actively supporting a substandard life for the cow that is going to grace your grill (and that you are likely to overcook all the nutrients out of but that is an entire post unto itself.) That cow never stood in the middle of a lush green field, sipping fresh water void of dung and getting a glorious scratch between the ears. He most likely hasen’t seen his mother since she licked him clean and has definitely never drank milk from her udder, no less at 18 months old.

Don’t even get me started on what the life of that turkey you will be setting on your Thanksgiving table was like. A quick internet search of factory farmed poultry will be education enough.

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If we are going to eat meat, it feels most honest to have the proverbial (and often times literal) blood on our own hands. 

Now, I’m sure those of you who are still here reading this ridiculously long post are thinking “That’s all great but you have acreage and I live in the city or suburbs, I don’t have the land, knowledge, resources to raise animals to meet all my meat needs.”

To this I say hogwash (How punny was that?) not because I think you should get a steer or a batch of meat birds and let them trim and fertilize the grass in your backyard, though I do dream of a day when everyone has a sheep or two on their lawn and they finally throw out their lawn mowers, but because you have options. Minimize your meat consumption like we did when we lived in the city. Go to the farmers market and introduce yourself to a local farmer, ask him/her about their animals or better yet make a visit to their farm. Join a meat CSA or go on LocalHarvest or eatwild and find a local, grass based farm near you. Offer to help during butchering time to offset the cost of buying better meat because, yes, this is a more time consuming and labor intensive way of raising meat animals just like buying a hand-carved, wooden toy is more expensive than a piece of plastic from china, which is to say, it is an investment. You are investing in your future health, in the health of those you love, in the health of the animal you are going to consume and the health of the earth.

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Kevin and I have had a lot of discussions over the years in regards to the feelings that arise from the raising and subsequent killing of our animals for meat. We agree that it never feels easy and we are always reverent. But the truth is, there will always be a new baby being a born, often times shortly after the butchering of the last one. The circle continues, until the circle comes around and sweeps us in too.

Living the way we do seems to create a life with a lot of uncertainty (Is it going to rain too much this summer…is it not going to rain enough? Are we giving the kids enough off farm experiences…are we away from the farm too much? You get the point.) while at the same time presenting us with some absolute truths.

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Ruminants are meant to eat grass, not grain. Truth.

Animals are meant to live out in the sunshine and moonshine, laying on the earth, napping in the fresh air. They are not meant to live in a dark “barn” that is covered in shit and other animals. Truth.

Most often if an animal eats what it is meant to, and lives as it is meant to, it will likely never become sick and never require a single dose of antibiotics, where as  factory farmed animals will receive these and other medications prophylactically because they will inevitably need it. Truth.

When an animal is living as it should (and grazing in a natural manner) it can do more to help and heal the land than its carbon footprint will undo. Everything form fertilizing and aerating the soil to fighting against invasive species and revitalizing native ones. They will help us save the earth and ourselves. Truth.

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And when the moment comes just before the final swing of the ax or the final pull of the trigger you look into the animals eyes, the animal that you have cared for since the day it was born, and that good life you have given them and all they have done is replayed in an instant. All at once you are grateful and sad, you are killing and loving.

And the circle continues. You will nourish another animal until the day it begins to nourish you.

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We will be nourished by the earth until the day we nourish her. Truth.

embrace- January 24th

Embrace.

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That is what I want 2014 to be all about. I need to get past looking for perfection, for everything to happen at just the right moment, in just the right way. So, I’m going to actively work at embracing it all.

Truth is, with a change in life circumstances I can’t expect for things to always go the way I want. The nature of this disease of mine is the proverbial crap shoot (at least for now while we are still figuring it all out.) One morning I can wake up feeling like a million bucks and the next I can be zombie. So it is imperative that I change my mindset. I’m not someone who has ever been able to go with the flow, now, the current of life is getting even stronger and I am no longer capable of fighting against it.

Every week  month I would like to come here and jot down a little list (hey, have I ever told you how much I love lists? 😉 ) and work at the practice of embracing it all. If I check in here, with all of you, it will help to keep me on the path of moving forward and gaining perspective.

Great! So, now that you have agreed, here it goes…

::All of my people got sick this past week (as did the dog). Thankfully, it was staggered (except for the dog). It helped me realize how lucky I am and just how much Kevin does on a daily basis. None of this would ever work without a partner like him.

::Also, the dog never had an accident in the house and she has mastered ringing the bells by the door to let us know when she needs to go out. Major win! She is feeling much better now, by the way.

::While Kevin was sick I got some one-on-one alone time with each of the kids. It still amazes me how different the interaction can be when all of your attention can be focused on to just one of them. While there were moments that were exceptionally hard, I loved hanging out with them and doing nothing else. I think we will be scheduling more of that into our daily lives now, especially solo dates between all of us.

::This past week, as many of the farm animals moved on to their new homes, I realized I was feeling a little more relief each time I watched tail lights leave the barn driveway. Everyone who has picked up animals seems more than nice and totally invested in giving each of their new charges a good and comfortable existence.

::I found a local organic CSA about 10 minutes from us. They offer an excellent variety of fruit and veg (except for potatoes.) If we do decided to buy a share, or two, we will only have to plant a few things in one of our 4 garden plots- giving us an opportunity to compost the remaining three heavily and amend the soil, which will pay off in a few years when we can get back to the business of growing all our own.

::With all the tending to the sick, which forced all plans that would have taken us outside of the house to go on hold, I was able to finish another Fair Isle hat, this one for PJ.

::In our attempt to whittle down the livestock count we decided to cull 4 sheep and take them to our local butcher. It was a hard decision, one we did not take lightly and something we were not thrilled with having to hire out. However, I am grateful that soon we will have a freezer full of lamb, especially since our stock of beef and venison will be gone at the end of this week.

::Our week of convalescence also afforded me a lot of time to sit and think. I was forced to be still (with the exception of rocking one sick kid or the other) and work through all the things that have been swirling around my head for a weeks now. There is still more I need to sort out but, for now, I am riding the momentum and moving forward- as opposed to wallowing in the stagnation I had felt a couple of weeks ago.

And now, I leave you with this face. Happy Friday. Here’s to embracing it all next week!

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What did you embrace this week? Leave a comment and share, you just might inspire another lovely soul. 🙂

here a goat, there a goat

Meet our newest additions, our meat goats.

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These ladies and gents are one of the easiest keepers on the farm, maybe even simpler than our little bovine herd. With the exception of the occasional hoof trim and a lovely little incident with goat lice among the last group we brought in ( all I’m going to say is thank the heavens that we quarantine all newcomers and that the louse are species specific. YUCK!) they pretty much take care of themselves.

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We have two breeds in this herd, Boars and Kikos. Some are full bred, others are some cross of the two. The Kikos tend to be a hardy breed and more apt to eat just about anything. The boars seem to convert feed to muscle more efficiently so they should theoretically make the most optimal cross. With two huge ponds, a maple grove, lines and lines of pine trees and brush that is hellbent on devouring our fence line, not to mention the acres and acres of grass that would need to be mowed by one of us, we were in desperate need of a little help. This summer has been hijacked by a massive project which aims to re-grade a ditch that runs the length of our property and has required weeks of Kevin’s attention, as well as a weekend of help from his dad and a good bit of help from a neighbor,  to cut down about 50 trees and clear it out before the heavy machinery can be brought in to complete the job. Needless to say, between this and all the other daily chores and winter preparations, we were in desperate need of some help.

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Our main goal when bringing in goats was to have some sort of livestock that would cleanup and clear out the north part of our property, taking that demand off of us this summer. And, like everything else, it needed to meet our criteria of providing some sort of income and a possible food source for us. Meat goats seem to be the answer, mostly because I do not have the time or energy to milk an entire dairy goat herd right now which was our other option. We decided to bring in two breeds in the hope of encouraging hardiness within our bloodlines, especially since we plan on only producing grass-fed meat and have no intentions of showing them.

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This will probably be one of the last additions to the farm for a while now, excepting births next spring, which will be limited to the goats and probably only a few sheep. With everything that has been going on this past year I missed our small window to get the cows bred in order to time the births in early spring and will now most likely have to wait until next July to schedule a visit from the AI specialist. At this point, we have only sold three of this year’s lambs and will only be butchering two of last year’s wethers for meat, leaving us at a herd total of 27, two more than the high-end of what I had hoped to go into winter with. Unless we sell a whole bunch in the next two months, only a few girls will be headed for a date with Zeke and Fergus this November.

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Now it’s up to Nelson, our Kiko buck, to get down to business this fall and expand our herd. Hang in there buddy, November will be here in no time!

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if it’s not working…

Change it!

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The new garden plot.

Well the last couple weeks have been all about reconfiguring. Reconfiguring our plans, our wants, the things that we truly need and, most of all, our (often times unrealistic) expectations.

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Kevin preparing the soon to be potato patch.

Truth is, things had gotten a little out of hand; stuff on the homestead had seemed to take on a mind of its own. We were trying to do so many different things, in the hopes of being guided toward that which fulfilled us and that we honestly enjoyed. On the contrary, we were each being pulled in so many different directions that we were all suffering. Oh, the perks of restructuring you life and mindset all while in your 30s, raising two kiddlets and completely overhauling one’s living arrangements. We also found ourselves drifting away from some of our original intentions which had, of course, led us to this lifestyle in the first place. We were so busy everyday that Kevin and I found ourselves with little time and, unfortunately, sometimes even less energy and patience to really engage with the kids, what with constant farm chores, three meals a day to prepare (often times from scratch), businesses to attend to and any other general tasks all of us have to do in our daily lives. We also found that we all had little time left to pursue our individual creative endeavors, those things that refill each of our respective cups, allowing us to return to the group refreshed and recharged. The environment that we were unintentionally generating was in direct contrast to how we so badly wanted to live.

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Last year’s garden partially turned back into pasture.

Late this winter while discussing this season’s upcoming pasture rotation schedule we came to realize that the front pasture we used for our garden last year would need to be reseeded and transitioned back into grazeable land. I officially started off spring feeling deflated and firmly planted behind the proverbial eight ball. After all the work and soil amending we had done on the space, with tremendous help from the pigs no less, we faced the 2013 gardening season back at square one. We also sat down and discussed which livestock groups were working here, which we would like to possible add, and those that we would rather transition away from. Taking into consideration ease of keep (especially during the winter months), upfront and subsequent feed costs, resale value and whether or not the products that each inevitably provided could be purchased from other farming friends at a reasonable price, we started laying out slightly adjusted plans for the future.

I hope these guys get to stay!

I hope these guys get to stay!

As is usually the case, the further we move forward with these new plans of ours, the more the resulting benefits become apparent. We have scaled back the vegetable garden, finally convincing my father that we would never be able to make a living from market gardening if Kevin and I were the only two working at it. However, we can save quite a bit of money if we focus our efforts on the produce that we eat all year and put our energy into growing those crops well, then preserving them for winter. The garden is now much closer to the house which makes taking the kids out with me to tend to it much easier and tremendously more productive for me (this girl of ours is a runner, a daredevil and a huge majority of my days seem dedicated to keeping her from mortally wounding herself during one of her stunts). It also seems to be much more enjoyable for the kids, thanks to their play set and other toys soon being moved near by and a new picket fence that is being erected, allowing them to play safely within its confines, without me having to chase after the littlest every two minutes (that two minutes is not an exaggeration, by the way). We have already established various fruit trees and bushes, including a large strawberry patch that Kevin and I planted on the slope of a small hill, near the new garden area. As the new layout and design unfolds before us, my creative heart is happy with the aesthetic we are achieving, as well as the resulting increase in efficiency and more realistic goals we have set for ourselves.

It's a work in progress...

It’s a work in progress…

All of this reconfiguring has also allowed Kevin and I to begin focusing on creative endeavors that before had only received a fraction of our attention while we worked mainstream jobs and before we began cohabiting and pooling all of our respective resources. Our move here was supposed to allow for pockets of time, and interpersonal support for each of us, to rekindle these talents. I am so thankful that we were able to step back, re-evaluate where we wanted to end up, accepting where we currently were and having the courage to say “this is no longer working for us, we need to change it.” Sometimes the choices are tough, other times the decisions are a no brainer, what’s important is that we realize when things are heading in the wrong directions and have the strength and confidence to turn the train around. Granted, admitting that I can’t accomplish everything on my list(s) is certainly not my strongest quality but that is why I have Kevin. He, thankfully, plays the part of my brain (which I dreadfully lack) that tells me when I have reached the reasonable limit of things that can be accomplished, figures out which of my “to dos” really do not matter in the grand scheme of things and identifies those that will need to be left until another day.

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Sunset over the apple orchard down the road from us.

I have a feeling that exciting things are on the horizon and I think we will now have the time and energy to enjoy them.

What’s new with you? Has Spring’s arrival inspired exciting changes in your neck of the woods?

surprise!

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Kevin found this little guy (yes it is another Bull, probably soon to be a steer, someone obviously didn’t get the memo that we were aiming for heifers here) when he went out to water and feed the cattle this morning. He said he looked up from what he was doing, saw Mum who stepped to the side and revealed our newest addition to the farm; according to the breeder, at least two weeks, possibly a month, early. He is initially friendlier than Bert was. He contentedly, laid at our feet in the barn, allowing us to pet him like we would one of the dogs.

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It was also quite interesting to see the difference in an experienced mother cow’s behavior versus, Lilac, who was calving and nursing for the first time last fall with Bert. Mum was immediately more attentive to her new calf and highly irritated when we separated him for only a few moments to check him over and trim and dip his umbilical cord. She is also highly protective of him and has nosed butted Bert away more than once when he got a little too excited near the baby.

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It’s official, spring is here in all her abundance, with the final birth of the season coming just two days after Beltane. I love it when things work out like that!

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For some reason it seems to me that five bovines officially makes a herd. Our Herd.

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Happy weekend!

As a side note, I am woefully behind on my blog reading (and engaging), please forgive me for being a bad virtual friend (if you have missed me that is) and bear with me while I try to catch up. Truth is, I have been too short on time, which is evident by the lack of posts on this blog of mine lately. Also, if I owe you an email, it will find its way to your inbox very soon. I promise I will try to do better in the future! 😉 -L

a much needed reminder

Discloser: This post discusses the processing of one of our feeder pigs. The butchering of our meat sources is a part of our everyday life and I have struggled with a way to share it here both accurately yet gently. While it is not the main subject of this post and I write about it in a very general fashion (no photos of the process), and without much detail, I believe I should let you know in advance before you begin to read. If it is a subject you don’t agree with or would just prefer not to be exposed to please skip this post and come back another day.

We processed our first pig this past Sunday. But this post isn’t really about that. It is about finding something, something I really needed, in the most unlikely of places.

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Let me start back at the beginning. You might not have noticed but I have been very quiet in this space for the better part of this month. I want to blame it on being busy, on the downhill slide that inevitably follows the holidays, on the cabin fever that is setting in after being stuck inside for so long, on my obvious lack of Vitamin D or maybe on spending the majority of January swimming in a sea of tax paperwork but I don’t think I can. Truth is, I have been questioning our entire lifestyle. It has felt really hard lately. It has felt like we run from one thing to the next, doing none of it particularly well. When I spend time doing farm stuff I feel bad for not spending time with the kids. When I get caught up with the kids I feel bad for not putting more of an effort into making time for just Kevin and I. When I put time into cleaning the house I feel like it’s a complete waste of effort because I know in an hour it will be a mess again. Don’t even get me started on the lack of time for my much loved hobbies (writing this blog being one of them) or the fact that I haven’t been taking very good care of myself. It’s been a long winter! Personalities, which this big house of ours has in spades, are bumping up into and pushing off of one another. I feel like I get nothing accomplished in my day but by evening I’m in desperate need of a break, and from what? I’m getting nothing done during the day so why should I deserve a break at night? I have nothing to show for a whole day’s worth of busyness except for the fact that I usually manage to get dinner on the table (breakfast and lunch don’t have to be eaten at a table to count, right?) and have kept the kids from mortally wounding themselves before we tuck them into bed at night. One of them is more apt at getting into precarious situations but that is another story for another day.

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It’s been hard. There are days when I have wanted to quit, when I wished I could pretend like I didn’t know all of the things I had spent the last 6 or so years learning. The same things that brought us here in hopes of providing a better quality of life for our family. It has been lonely as well. We are relatively new to the area and are still trying to find people with common interest to interact with. I worry that the kids will be too isolated, that I will be too isolated, by the fact that so much of our new life revolves around taking care of this place, producing as much as we can for ourselves, and putting the majority of our energy and time in to our home and land. “Did we make the right choice” is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately and probably asking Kevin more than he would care to remember. We weren’t born into this farming life. Everything we have learned so far has been gleaned from a book, read on the internet, taught to us by an unsuspecting farmer/homesteader or some convoluted combination of all three. I worry that if I buy a loaf of bread at the store, or feed the kids yet another box of mac and cheese (organic of course) that I have failed at our chosen lifestyle.

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Kevin, the wonderful man that he is, does his best to reassure me, telling me that it is just a side effect of the annual mid-winter slump that we northeasterners refer to as the months of February and March or that it will all get better, and have more of a rhythm, when we are truly settled, when we are no longer doing all of these things for the first time and it all just becomes second nature. Part of me knows he’s probably right, and that my need for him to constantly remind me is purely due to my innate lack of patience. However, there is the other part of me constantly worrying that we just can’t do it, the learning curve is too steep, we aren’t smart enough or knowledgable enough, that we aren’t made of the “right stuff” for living self-sufficiently.

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So about Sunday. Every weekend this month we have planned to processes at least one of the two pigs that has reached market weight and each weekend we have had either below freezing temperatures or an epic snow storm foil those plans. So this past week when we saw that they were calling for highs in the 40s for the coming weekend we wrote it on the calender. Our neighbors were nice enough to introduce us to another neighbor who was not only willing to help us through the process but who also agreed to lend us use of his personal butchering facilities and walk in cooler. We read and watched and read some more, hoping to learn all we needed to know to proceed properly. We talked and planned, running through what we would do and how we would do it. Together he and I, with the help of a new friend set to the hardest farm related job we have done yet, not because we had grown attached to the pigs like one would a pet, but because we wanted to do it properly, doing our best to honor this animal who would feed our family for many months to come. We wanted to treat him with as much care and respect in his death as we had during his life. In the name of full disclosure, I was simply the helper, the encourager, the extra hand and the cleanup crew. Kevin was in the thick of it. He dispatched him quickly, accurately and cleanly. He took his time, he took care to do it right and as humanly possible. He worked carefully and methodically, insuring the best results one could have from butchering a pig, nose to tail, for the first time.

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And at that moment, in the most unlikely of places, standing outside in a snowstorm with the wind howling and the mercury racing toward 20 degrees (oh yes, I forgot to mention that it was indeed 40 on Saturday but not so much on Sunday) and him, literally and figuratively, elbow deep in this homesteading life of ours, I realized that I had chosen just the right person to walk this unusual path with. He’s everything that I am not. For all the research and fact gathering that I have ever done and my ability to put a plan down on paper, he is the one who makes it all happen in real life. For every issue or worry I find, he leads me toward a solution. I’m not sure if he is ever scared or concerned when we walk into yet another new and seemingly unusual situation (goodness knows I am) but none the less, forward he goes, holding my hand and taking me with him. When we first came here it never crossed my mind that, on most days, living this dirty, grity, back to the land life would would turn out to be a love story, our love story.

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I’m not sure that we will succeed at being farmers, homesteaders, self-sufficiant livers but I was reminded that our only chance hinges on us doing it side by side, together. Me and this man of mine.

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Make that 73 3/4

73 3/4, the total number of livestock residents living here on the farm, as of this past Sunday.

Saturday the count was 71 1/2, the half being Lilac’s impending calf plus: her, 4 pigs, 44 chickens, 18 sheep, 3 guinea fowl and 1 duck. We increased by 2 1/4 on Sunday thanks to the delivery of the foundation of our grassfed beef herd. Mum who is newly pregnant, hence the 1/4, and her heifer calf Poppy.

Mum is one half Scottish Highland, and one half Hereford.

Poppy is half Scottish Highland, a quarter Hereford and a quarter Simmental.

The Scottish Highland is another primitive, heritage breed which fits into our criteria for animals here on the farm. However, Highlanders are also known for their huge horns. With the kids being so small and with the beef cattle having to live with other non-horned livestock any horns, let alone huge pointy ones, were out of the question. Hence, the other breed crosses which resulted in Mum and Poppy being polled.

They both seemed fairly freaked out the majority of Sunday. When I went in to the barnyard Monday morning they seemed more settled and I was able to get Mum to not only follow me about but to even eat out of my hand.

Poppy also became quite curious and came up to me, giving my hand a quick lick. I’m choosing to believe that it was me she was coming over to see and not the strange black thing I kept holding up to my face and pointing at her.

These two ladies will be used for breeding and not for meat. Any bull calves will be steered and raised until market weight to provide us with all our own beef and any excess will be sold to offset costs incurred. Mum and Poppy will most likely be here for the long haul, hopefully giving us a great start to our herd.

Welcome home ladies. I hope you enjoy your life here.

Missing in action

So, thanks to a combination of being at the height of harvest, and in turn preserving season, and what little creative juices I have left channeled into a few household and craft projects that desperately need finishing before winter sets in, this here blog has seemingly been abandoned. From the end of August to the beginning of October we hit our busiest time of the year. Kicking off with my birthday we then have 6 birthdays, usually a wedding or two to attend, throw in some other assorted autumn festivities such as harvest festival, local fiber festival, grape and apple picking…and holy crap we have 7 straight weekends completely booked.

In the madness of it all I have a lot of posts written in my head but have yet to find time to sit down and type them out. In the mean time, I have been working on a little time-lapse photography, of sorts, to help demonstrate what we do with our feeder pigs while waiting for them to reach market weight.

When we decided to homestead, a huge driving force was the astonishing cost of clean, grass-fed meat, not to mention the astronomical pricing of anything labeled certified organic. Vegetarians we are not, with the exception of PJ, who declares meat to be “yucky tasting and bad smelling,” so we knew that our ideal of wanting to know where our food comes from meant that we would most likely raise our own pork, beef and poultry. It was the logical next step, after Kevin began to hunt, and a responsibility that we treat with great reverence and, in turn, do not take lightly. So, we aim to give them a good life, filled with lots of fresh air, sunshine and the food they are meant to eat and in return they will, eventually, sustain us.

Our pigs are Gloucestershire Old Spot crosses, a heritage breed, like all the other livestock residing here on the farm. Tamworths were our first choice, owning to the fact that they are referred to as the “bacon breed” and everyone here, including the otherwise self proclaimed-vegetarian 4 year old, really, really loves bacon. But alas, there are no Tamworths to be found around here and ones about a 3 hour drive away have a waiting list two years in advance and 10 people deep. So GSDs it was! We also chose a heritage breed because of their superior rooting capabilities and their ability to thrive on pasture. While they still receive a large helping of local, organic grain every evening to speed up weight gain (mostly because we got them so late in the year and this crew has no interest in over-wintering our porcine friends) we want them to be mostly grass-fed. Since their arrival, our compost pile has been void of any green matter or food scraps, all of which finds its way into the slop bucket and then out to the pigs. They have also been the beneficiaries of any of mishaps resulting from my initial foray into cheese making, which thankfully takes the sting out of failure…no milk wasted during my learning curve!

We picked this group up just after they were weaned, back in late spring, and quickly sent them to work tilling the barnyard after a short quarantine in the barn. When moving day rolled around we decided to set them out on a bit of pasture reserved for garlic planting later this fall. With the help of a portable solar charger and some electronet pig fencing we have our own rototilling crew. We broke the area up into three sections and here is an example of what happened in each section in the span of four to six days, depending on rainfall…

Here is Day 1 about 10 minutes after we moved them onto a new section:

Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4:

As we move through fall and into winter we will turn them out onto each garden row after we pull the final harvest and allow them to turn over the soil and winterize for us, a job that would take Kevin and I the better part of a week to accomplish on our own. Many people have said to me, when they find out we are homesteading and striving to raise all of our own food, that they could never raise an animal and then send them off to the butcher, not to mention eating them for dinner. I, however, find great peace and solace in knowing the life that my dinner lived and being assured that it was a good one and that it had minimal impact upon the earth.I also know that sometime late this winter, over a dinner of pork chops, roasted garden potatoes, sugared carrots and homemade applesauce we will give thanks and marvel at how these pigs are not only feeding us but also, tilled, weeded and fertilized our garden, provided lard for soap making and entertained us daily with their antics. For as hard as it is to raise an animal from birth to table, I wouldn’t trade those blessings and assurances of traditional living for a shrink-wrapped grocery store package of unknowing any day!