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.

well that’s that…and a word

Hello everyone and Happy New Year to you all!! So, I had the intention to ride the lovely momentum that the Capturing December project had created for me here in this space. However, the fates had other plans. This post has sat in my draft box, in one form or another, since the day our last holiday guest left. I contemplated not ever hitting publish on this one but then I stopped and realized I had spent the entire last month of 2013 opening myself up, sharing authentically (whether the day, the shot, or myself was perfect or not) and accepting, no, embracing all the beautiful/ugly, ideal/imperfect, helpful/inconvenient everything. Picking a word of the year that speaks to you is something a lot of my blogworld friends participate in annually, my beautiful and talented girl Tracie is the one who introduced me to the practice. So, I’m hitting publish, speaking truth and choosing to EMBRACE it all, with a little help from you, I hope. 🙂

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With the first full week of the new year coming to an end, so did our holiday celebrations (with the exception of one, which had to be postponed until a later date.)

It was, all in all, a relatively calm holiday season.

We visited, we ate, drank, laughed and reminisced. We gave gifts we produced right here on the farm or, at least, with our own hands. We weathered two below zero forecasts and two snow storms. I completed a goal of recording a picture a day in December, while at the same time cultivating some beautiful friendships with some lovely ladies who joined in, kept me company and kindly provided encouragement throughout the process.

In the quiet pockets of time, between meals to prepare, waiting for visitors to arrive, caring for livestock and children, healing from one illness after another and contending with piles of snow, we brainstormed. We talked about what we wanted to plan on for the coming year, what we wanted to eliminate, what we had to do, what we no longer wanted to participate in and how to arrive at that oh so beautiful place we call balance.

With the hurricane of the holiday season dissipating reality is becoming quite evident in the light of the new year.

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I am not getting better…yet. My Hashimoto’s is actually progressing rather than remitting, as are my symptoms. The past few weeks are apparently going to take sometime to recover from, evident in the fact that today I didn’t drag myself from bed until late morning, spent most of the day under a blanket, on the couch, snuggling with either a puppy or child all while dirty dishes laid waiting to be washed, laundry baskets overflowed and decorations begged to be put away. I barely even touched my latest knit project (which is very unlike busy-minded me.) With each passing day it has been a little bit harder to get out of bed in the morning, my joints have increasingly ached, throbbed and swelled, my mind has become more sluggish and my mood has swung sadly low again. The worst part is the normal healthy me is trapped inside this wasted, sad excuse for a 31-year-old, watching it all plummet and feeling as though she can’t do anything to stop it.

I think I did a fairly good job of hiding it throughout the season. However, those of you who visited might not necessarily agree. I know while we ate very well at most meals, I did indulge in more sugar and refined flour than I would have any other time of the year. I also slept less and was on the go more, which probably hasn’t helped. Many changes are being instituted in the hopes of relieving symptoms, maybe, if I am lucky, reducing my antibodies, but they are going to have to be big changes that require a lot of support, often readjusting of everyday occurrences and instituting of new habits.

On top of all my health issues not only has my mother been suffering from health problems the last six months but now my father is also. None of it seems to be life threatening, thank goodness, but all of it is pervasive enough to put both of them out of commission. Not only are they unable to help around the homestead but they are both in need of help from Kevin and I for, not only everyday needs, but also in their non-farm business. My parents still do their best to help, in many different ways, but currently have neither the time nor the energy/ability to do what we had all initially intended. (It was, of course, always the plan for us to care for them as they grew old, which was the entire point of us all agreeing to cohousing, I just don’t think any of is expected that need to happen so soon, nor occur all at once.)

Circumstances have drastically changed since our move here two years ago. Not only am I less than helpful with our usual farm task, leaving most of that on Kevin’s shoulders, but our attention is now desperately needed in places that are, albeit just as, if not more important than our dreams of homesteading and self-sufficiency.

So the short of it all is, things are quickly being recalculated and rearranged in order for Kevin and I to have the time and energy to continue raising the kids in the way we had always intended and something has to give. That something seems to be the majority of our homesteading lifestyle.

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Sadly, I am selling almost all of my sheep herd and as of Saturday 10 will already be off to their new homes. I am just not physically capable of tending to a herd of 20, nor am I able to process as many fleeces come March. It also seems unfair for their care to fall mostly to Kevin, as it is his least favorite job here on the farm. (Most of our sheep are just that, sheep and with the exception of about 6 they tend to do the opposite of what we want them to.) So, we are aiming to sell most, butcher a few and, for now, keep only 4 ewes as pets/lawn mowers/fleece providers.

We are also selling or culling the majority of our laying hens. The plan is to put some meat in the freezer, decrease the amount of feed and care needed and keep only the best layers to meet our personal egg needs. Then we will add in maybe 3-6 new chicks to replace those layers next year. It will also mean a new, smaller coop, closer to the house which will facilitate in the kids and I easily taking over their care (no matter how I feel on any given day) and relieving Kevin of that chore, as well.

Thankfully, none of the cows ended up being bred this past summer (Yay, for the combination of being too busy and having a little bit of brain fog thrown in) so we do not have calving to worry about and the herd was already due to be decreased with the butchering of one steer in spring and the second in fall. We are also considering selling the three girls if things remain the same by late summer.

The ordering of two more pigs and a batch of meat birds has also been put off and we will be forced to outsource those meats to other local homesteaders and farms, along with our milk needs. That will leave us with our goat heard, which are fairly easy keepers, and our garden/orchard. The garden planning has not yet begun but I think I am going to have to force myself to keep it even smaller than last year and possibly supplement by buying a CSA share.

It is sad because we have all of this land and all the possibilities it holds and we are now back to living a not so self-sufficient life. I am beyond frustrated and swing from beating myself up for seemingly failing at our dream and curling up in bed wishing we had never tried. I have so many things I want to do, learn and become better at (as does Kevin and which I wish I was better at facilitating, or better yet, not interrupting!) but I can’t make my body or our current life situation mold to those needs and head in that direction.

I am also a little sad because I feel like this blog will no longer have a voice. There won’t be much homesteading occurring for at least awhile and that is really what the space was supposed to be all about. I do not yet know what the future holds for my writing here. Maybe a different blog? Maybe some time away while we regroup? I really don’t want to stop writing, photographing or sharing as it feels cathartic and I have met so many beautiful, wonderful friends through it, but this doesn’t feel like the right place to air all of that. Then again, maybe this is just another chapter in our story that needs to be told?

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So, how does one arrive at a place of acceptance when they feel like their body is abandoning them and their self is mostly unrecognizable both physically and mentally? Or when their dreams, at worst, fall apart around them, or, at best, get put on hold for an indefinite period of time?

They feel sad, they cry, they get angry and they ask why. Then they wake up and pull themselves out  of bed and start making an alternate plan. They sit across from their husband and talk about it, all day if necessary, until his outer dialogue becomes her inner dialogue because, heaven knows, the awful words she has been telling herself are not helping.

And then we make a plan, one that allows everyone to work on healing, keeps the kids from getting lost in what was becoming a manic shuffle and keeps an eye on that thread of a dream, until another day, when we can pick it back up and weave it into our lives again.

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January is Thyroid Awareness month. The butterfly is the symbol for thyroid awareness (as the gland is shaped as such.) My mother-in-law gave this ornament to S and left it nestled in our tree (yes it is still up) and I found it there earlier today. Approximately 1 in 1000 people suffer from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, a disease that is, at least, 10 times more common in women than men. It is also a hereditary disease. Please go here to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of the illness because chances are someone you know is suffering.

shifting…

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I don’t know about you but this year I am looking forward to winter. I am ready to tuck the animals into their winter pastures, tidy up the garden and close up shop until spring. The shorter days and cooler weather are just what I need and I am so ready to move our attention indoors and practice hibernating for a while. I know, I know- feel free to remind me of all of this in February when I am complaining about hauling another bale of hay or unfreezing another hose, all while wading through two feet of snow in below zero temperatures.

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In the vegetable garden we only have the hardy crops left. Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, carrots, celery, beets, a couple of spaghetti squash and a few rows of tubers waiting to be unearthed. We lost our tomatoes (late blight?) but only after processing gallons of paste and dehydrating quarts upon quarts of cherry and pear tomatoes. I hope to harvest a few rows of carrots now and leave the rest in the ground, under cover of straw and mulch throughout winter, so we can pull them as needed. I am also contemplating doing the same with a few rows of beets as an experiment. The rest will be harvested and stored in our garage, layered between sand in metal garbage cans with the greens loped off. The remaining purple cabbage will be pulled out by the roots and hung, upside down, from our fruit cellar’s ceiling. The kale and Brussels sprouts will stay out until a nice hard frost to sweeten up and then brought in- the kale frozen for smoothies or beans and greens while the sprouts will be roasted and devoured immediately.

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As far as berries and fruit go, we are still picking a few ever-bearing strawberries for a quick snack as we run past the patch and the littles continue to eat all the ripe raspberries before any can be picked and brought it into the house. I, myself, am most excited about our much anticipated apple harvest, we have stolen a few here and there as snacks and they are delicious. My Aunt and Uncle were kind enough to supplement our fruit harvest this year while we wait for our little trees, bushes and vines to grow up. They brought me apples from their garden to add to ours for sauce, juice and pies along with a crate full of grapes which I made into juice and canned right away.

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Other than the goats, there won’t be much breeding going on this fall and the last of the pigs have been butchered, a huge relief as they were the hardest to overwinter. Over the next few months we will also be butchering some of the non-breeding sheep for meat, which will help get the herd number down to a more manageable number as we have not been able to sell anymore breeding stock.

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Soon the fall routine will be in full swing, Kevin and Dad will spend more time in the woods as deer season will have begun, apple and pumpkin everything will be consumed, canned, dried and frozen. We will continue with a huge amount of celebrations, one birthday after another, sprinkled with a few anniversaries and, of course, all those autumn holidays yet to come. I hope to occupy myself with a lot of knitting, homemade chia and snuggling on the couch under cozy blanks, possibly in front of the fire, and waiting for winter’s arrival…a welcomed break after a particularly crazy year.

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Are you looking forward to winter? What are your plans and must dos for autumn? 

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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a winter walk

I fear that farming in winter, especially in Upstate New York, might be a bit repetitive. It mostly consists of running outside, seeing to feedings, de-icing waters, collecting eggs, milking (when Bert kindly leaves any behind for us, which will soon no longer be an issue, but more about that later) and giving everyone a quick once over before running back to the house so we can defrost in front of the fire.

So I thought I would share a couple of photos from a recent walk about the homestead.

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Tractor and cat tracks. We also found rabbit and deer tracks but, of course, I neglected take pictures of those. :-/

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A man, his dog, and their little bit of woods.

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Looks like that one is going to need to come down this year.

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And finally, after a few days of staying in the coop due to high winds and below freezing temps, we let the ladies and, ahem, their two gentlemen out for some fresh air and a much missed sun bath. She led the pack, saw the snow, gave it a peck or two and said…

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“um, no way. You people are crazy!*

Hope you have a happy week filled with sunshine and laughter.

*They did eventually come out. It took them quite a while and they exited one by one, jumping from the top of the ramp down onto the grass under the coop where, as far as I know, they stayed for the remainder of the day. It does beg the question of how the heck they got back in later that night?!?

December 28th

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The view while doing last night’s chores.

Close to two feet of snow fell here a couple of nights ago and yesterday was spent digging us out and then running to get everyone fed, all their waters de-iced and everybody tucked in before dark.

Also, I found the best and cheapest workout around. Carry hay bales and feed buckets through snow up to your knees out to a few different pastures. You will definitely feel the burn the next morning. 😉

It’s a boy!

Yep, we now have a little bull calf in residence here at the farm.

Like any other morning, November 7th began with us crawling out of bed to the coffee pot, while the kids went about the business of rousing all the grandparents from their peaceful slumber. Two days previous, on my trip out to visit the cows, I noticed Lilac was behaving odd. She was ramped up, dancing around, running laps on the perimeter of the pasture (this was quite a peculiar sight, considering she looked like a barrel perched upon four toothpicks and was closely followed by Mum, who is very husky herself, lumbering behind her with Poppy bring up the rear.) Any other day she would have been forehead deep in her bucket of grain, getting her nightly scratch, while warding off Mum’s attempts at sharing her snack. I got back into the barn and told Kevin that I had a feeling that she would be calving soon, seeing as how she had that same frenzied demeanor that some pregnant women (myself included) get right before they go into labor.

So, the morning of the 7th I woke up and my first thought was to look outside and check on Lilac. When I got to our kitchen windows there she stood, Mum and Poppy nearby, but no calf in sight. I cooked breakfast and we all sat down and ate together. When we finished, about a half hour later, I collected up all the dirty dishes and dropped them off at the sink, quickly glancing out at the pastures again. This time there were four cows, two red and two black and white. Due to my shock, it took a second for my eyes to realize what I was actually seeing, as my brain caught up, I yelled “holy crap is that a calf?” followed promptly by me running to frantically change into my barn clothes. Kevin and I rushed out to the back of the property with Dad and PJ following up close behind. When we arrived at their pasture Lilac was sitting, chewing her cud, while Mum watched as Poppy sniff the calf.

I checked on Lilac, who is apparently a pro even though it was her first time around, and then Kevin and I checked to see the sex of the calf. We then decided to separate Lilac and the calf so they could rest and bond, for as gentle and calm as Mum and Poppy were being, they were quite nosey and overbearing. Mum spent the rest of the day bellowing about her obvious displeasure with me meddling, in what I am sure, she considered “herd business” every time I walked past her. Kevin and I took turns the rest of the day checking in on the lady and her lad hoping to see him actually nurse, so that we were sure that he received his colostrum with in the 24 hour period that his stomach was most able to absorb all of its goodness.

Looking back on it now, after both the shock and excitement have subsided, I think he was probably born right about sunrise but was out of sight when we first looked out to check on her. He was already clean, up walking and fairly dry by the time we had gotten out there and Lilac was calm and resting as well. It has been amazing to watch nature take its course (I can appreciate this, having been a first time mother myself and feeling somewhat lost and confused in those early days) and to be witness to their instincts taking over to help them both thrive in their new roles as mama and calf. Now the hard work begins (for Kevin and I anyways) of us and Lilac learning the milking process, her learning to cooperate and us figuring out the logistics of it all. All I can say is that I hope it goes as smoothly as the pregnancy and birth did.

Oh and do you see that little white N on his side there? Well that inspired PJ to name him Norbert, as long as we all agreed to call him Bert for short. Happy Birthday Bert, you are the first to be born here on the farm!

Where we’re at

“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”  -Laura Ingalls Wilder

The past few weeks have been a blur and the next few promise to be more of the same. It’s a busy time here on the farm, especially since it’s our first Autumn. No big posts are on the horizon but I like checking in and keeping everyone updated, so here is what we have been doing…

>Celebrating not one, not two but three birthdays. PJ, my mama and Kevin are all another year…wiser!

>Preparing for two new arrivals. It is very exciting and extremely nerve-racking, all at the same time.

>Anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first little calf, trying to soak up all the information and knowledge that we can about birthing and milking. All the while, knowing that we won’t truly “know” anything until we are in the thick of it.

>Picking, reorganizing and constantly shifting sheep breeding groups, on paper, in the hopes of getting spring lambs with the characteristics we are looking for.

>Desperately trying to get the girls back to laying after a sudden cold snap that made them stop, overnight!

>Trying to come to terms with the fact that we now have not one but two roosters in residents. Which is quite funny considering we paid extra for sexed chicks. (As long as they continue to behave and be respectful they can stay. If that changes they will quickly become dinner!)

>Working on getting Mum and Poppy to eat out of our hands and to let us give them a good pat or scratch.

>Thinking that the time spent last week carefully monitoring the weather for frost advisories was a complete waste of time. We were trying to strike that balance of soaking up more time to ripen the produce without losing it.

>Feeling fooled when we awoke to a frost, considering the weatherman said it wasn’t supposed to drop below 40 degrees overnight. Our best guess is the windstorm that unexpectedly blew through brought with it a windchill that dropped temperatures below freezing.

>Feeling sad that I lost all of the remaining basil to said frost.

>Feeling irritated that a good amount of squash got compromised by the frost and now, rather than tucking it away to use later in winter, I need to process it immediately.

>Prepping for next year’s sweet potato plot and how we are going to fight what ever it was (rodent?) that gnawed on     almost half of our crop, which rendered that half inedible for those of us of the human persuasion.

>Patting ourselves on the back for buying the pigs because they, my friends, ate all of those previously nibbled sweet potatoes after a careful trimming by us. In the end, we will eat that produce one way or another!

>Processing bushel after bushel of apples from our local apple orchard. Juice, applesauce and apple butter, oh my!

>Watching Kevin’s first go at hard apple cider bubble away upon the kitchen counter…teasing us!

>Searching for a local provider of organically grown pears and striking out.

>Desperate for those pears because I whipped up a delicious dessert this week and I need to tweak it so I can share it here.

>Finding others around us who are striving to live the way we are and feeling comfort in the fact that there are kindred spirits “nearby”.

>Considering adding a breeding flock of heritage breed turkeys to our motley mix of livestock.

>Contemplating other heating sources to use in the house, in order to alleviate our dependence on oil. I personally wish for a woodstove to sit beside and knit (or just create in general) at.

>Composting, plowing up and preparing to plant next springs garlic plot.

>Using the last of the previous years venison just as opening day of bow season arrived.

>Sending the hunters out with high hopes, feeling like it is still too early to expect any venison to be coming back in with them.

>Remembering that we have to stop at the local sugar house (who also happens to be a neighbor) to stock up on maple syrup since we’re almost out.

>Walking around our little bit of woods thinking that we should mark our own sugar maples and try our hand at tapping them this winter, just for fun.

>Savoring the last warm weather days that are sprinkled throughout fall, while also looking forward to the coming winters activities.

>Working hard at re-instituting a family rhythm that allows us to feel connected and grounded during these busy days we are now living.

>Feeling the pull of our quiet, winter routine and looking forward to attending to indoor activities that desperately need to be done. As well as, giving time to each of our individual creative outlets that we have missed so much during this busy summer and fall.

What is new and exciting in your neck of the woods?

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!

30

Todays my birthday. I’m thirty. Funny, I don’t feel any different then I did yesterday. I was so sure that the day I turned thirty I would feel different, have an epiphany, know all the answers. At twenty I had a very different idea of what me, at thirty, was going to look like. I was apparently like every other twenty year old, a fool who thought they knew everything. Go figure.

I was never going to be thirty. I was going to relive twenty-nine over and over again. Twenty-nine on the 29th. You have to admit, it has a certain ring to it. And it would be no problem to get others to play along because, for a while, I could probably pull it off, thanks to good genes and my Mediterranean skin (oily might be a bitch in your teens but wrinkles will be a long ways off .) Once I did hit the inevitable time where things sagged, and I was obviously no longer in my prime, people would probably be too scared of the “Old, crazy lady” to refute my claim. Perfect, I could linger forever in my delusion.

Truth is I didn’t plan on this present, back when it was my future. I was supposed to be wearing high heels, not Muck Boots and designer jeans, not Carharts. I wasn’t supposed to be learning how to milk a cow, how to rid pigs of lice using nothing more the canola oil, or trying to calculate how much hay to buy for the winter, striking that balance of not spending money on more than we will use, while at the same time, not purchasing to little and inadvertently starving the sheep, seven of which should also be pregnant. (Note to self, you really, really need to make a decision on a ram , like yesterday!)

I wasn’t supposed to be trying to make all of our food from scratch. Hell, at one time, I had said that I wouldn’t even have time to make my (someday in the distance future) kids cookies, I would find a good bakery for that, since I would probably be much too busy working my über important job, all while being quite fabulous and going to quite fabulous places. Now, spending a Friday night with Kevin, making butter, trying out a new cheese recipe, or baking up some seasonal delight is my idea of fabulous.

Ten years ago I didn’t knit or spin. No reason to own sheep back then. I didn’t garden. I had only just begun to eat organically, and my locavore tendencies wouldn’t surface till about 5 years later. People who knew me ten years ago, probably wouldn’t recognize me now. I have been married to the love of my life, for almost 5 years (sorry Hun, but you weren’t even my type when I was twenty.) I have two littles, whom we parent so far outside the mainstream, and in a way that wasn’t even on my radar back then, that the weird looks and the “do you really want to do that” comments don’t even register any longer. We are living a life that I didn’t even know existed when I was twenty.

It took me thirty years to stumble upon the real me, the one that I created (finally embraced?) and come to find out, the twenty year old Laura was wrong, about almost everything. Thank goodness for that!

Welcome thirty. Let’s see how wrong we can be by the time forty rolls around.