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.

this morning’s arrivals

Here’s a little cuteness to welcome in your weekend.

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Kevin found Dessie with her new twins during our scheduled mid-morning barn check. They were nestled in a corner of the barn that the pregnant ewes have been taking turns resting in. There were no complications (that we know of) and they were both walking and nursing by the time we found them.

They are exactly the color and patterns I had hoped for when I paired Dessie with our white ram, Fergus, and happily, both turned out to be ewes. I am overjoyed by their adorableness and the promise they carry with them for this little farm of ours!

Welcome Addie and Abbie.

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Abbie

Born April 5th, 2013

Sometime between 9am and 11am

7 lbs

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Addie

Born April 5th, 2013

Somewhere between 9am-11am

6 lbs

Please excuse the less than stellar photos. Bad lighting in the barn (plus a very excited me using my iphone) equals not so great pictures. I would also like to give all the credit to PJ for naming the new little ones. We told him that all of this year’s names would have to start with an A and he ran with it from there. Have a happy weekend…we will most likely be spending it, in the barn, cuddling the twins! 🙂

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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yarn along

Joining Ginny in her Yarn Along over at Small Things.

The shawl is almost off the needles. I had hoped to finish it last night after the kids went to bed. What, 30 rows and casting off was too much to expect at 11pm at night? Yes, indeed it was and as I became more tired I found myself missing increases, not realizing it until 20 stitches later, and having to rip back and fix it. If I have learned anything in my 5 short years of knitting it’s to stop and put whatever I am working on down when I start to make silly mistakes, especially when I am extra tired, as it’s only a recipe for an assured, and rather frustrating, disaster.

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Luckily, I already cast on my next project over a month ago (does anyone else do this? I always start my next project before the last one is done as if the world would come to an end if something wasn’t lying around the house sitting on a set of needles), a Honey Cowl using a delicious hank of Madelinetosh Merino Light which I snuck in splurged on after stumbling upon it while shopping for yarn to use on the few holiday presents that I was planning to make last December. It was the only hank left in the amazing colorway of Earl Gray and I just couldn’t leave it sitting there, all sad and lonely like, on the yarn shop shelf now could I?

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I brought my new find home, immediately put it on the swift, wound it and tried to decide what to make with it. I had a very difficult time finding a pattern due to the fact that I only had the single hank, so larger projects were out of the running. I didn’t want to use it on something for the babes because they always, oddly enough, outgrow their hand knits (I know, how dare they) which are then tucked away in the hope chest for their little ones to wear someday. This yarn was too gorgeous to be worn for mere months and so I decided to make something for myself, something I rarely do, although you wouldn’t know it looking at the two projects that I have shared here with you.

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I am probably pushing the yardage I have to complete a large size Honey Cowl but I really wanted something simple that would highlight the beauty of the yarn (I think any intricate stitch work would have detracted from it) and I was really in the mood for a simple, quick knit that didn’t necessarily require a lot of attention while I worked on it. Apparently, I will also be needing a nice cozy cowl by the end of this week as today’s 50 degree weather is soon going to be replaced with snow and below freezing temperatures, yet again.

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While I sit and knit I pulled Keeping Bees by Ashley English off the shelf to thumb through because we finally have a local and natural beekeeper (thanks to a recent trip to our local food co-op and a quick and serendipitous perusing of their ever helpful bulletin board) coming this weekend to talk to us about our bee situation.* See, ever since we have moved in we have had a hive that took residence in the wall of our main livestock barn, which also happens to be located right at the gate to entering the hops yard. Consequently, Dad was stung at least three times last summer, just walking through the gate, and Kevin and I ended up spending a lot of our time, down there, shooing the kids away from the spot. Bees have always been on our ever growing homestead agenda but no one here has any experience or practical knowledge and we have had an extremely hard time find someone local willing to guide us. We have no interest in killing off an entire, and apparently perfectly healthy, hive but they obviously can’t stay where they are. Ideally we would just like to gently relocate them to a better spot on the property that is safe for both them and us, while also being able to harvest some honey in the near future.

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Hopefully come next fall we will be the proud stewards of a honeybee hive that looks less like this one…

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and more like this one!

What are you knitting, crafting, and reading this week?

*The irony of this post and the unintended relationship between my knitting, reading and weekend plans does not elude me. However, it was completely unintentional and I didn’t even realize it until I had finished writing the post. Let’s chalk up my delayed realization to not having had a full night of sleep in over four years. That, and for quite a while now, I have had honey (and all things honeybee for that matter) on the brain, so maybe I unconsciously conjured the current theme of life here on the farm! 😉

baby, it’s too cold outside

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We have had quite the cold snap around here as of late. A week with temperatures feeling like they are below zero, or colder. Hence, we have only done the absolutely necessary outside (breaking water in the few unheated waters, delivering daily meals and collecting eggs), you would too if, while milking your cow, the milk was freezing to the side of the pail almost instantaneously! Instead we have been attending to indoor chores (ugh, I’m getting tired of looking at tax paperwork) and doing our best to entertain ourselves while being cooped up for what looks to be a relatively short period of time. I have never been so happy to see a HIGH of 20 in the forecast.

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The sunrise is beautiful but I would rather be curled up inside, in front of the fire, with a hot cup of coffee.

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That 6 degrees on there, it actually felt like -15.

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They have spent a lot of time staring out the windows, wondering why we won’t let them go out to play in the snow.

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When we do venture out we are constantly looking for a quick escape from the frigid temperatures, this day we linger a little longer than usual in the barn wishing that sunlight streaming in actually felt warm.

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Through it all the ladies have kept up their laying and we have been fighting to keep the coop feeling warm for them. We do come out to a few frozen and, consequently, cracked eggs everyday though.

With every challenge there comes opportunity (that’s been my daily mantra as of late after all) and with our extra time inside we have been…

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Making future plans.

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Grabbing a nap when we can.

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Taking time to play games, Trivial Pursuit for the adults, Crazy 8s or Go Fish for the younger set and Scrabble for the bunch of us.

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Cuddling up in front of here whenever possible.

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Taking the time to sit and create when the urge strikes us.

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Being warmed by the sweetness that the kids show us. PJ brought this back to me after a trip out with Nonni. I think he learned that from his daddy. I’m glad he’s been paying attention.

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Been waking up to this in the slow cooker for breakfast, hoping it will help us to warm up on these very cold mornings. Overnight Oatmeal: Steel Cut oats cooked in milk and water, your choice of fruit (in this case Ida Red apples) cinnamon and maple syrup. Yum!

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And when nothing else was able to warm us up we indulged in a glass of this (Rhubarb Tea is on the agenda for spring.) It’s delicious and if you haven’t tried it yet you should grab a bottle, your sweetie and cuddle up under a blanket, preferably by a roaring fire.

Here’s to staying warm. Cheers!

The two new men in my life.

 

Meet the newest men here on the farm, Fergus (on the left) and Zeke.

 

In late October we took a road trip to New England to pick these two handsome guys up. Kevin, the two kids and I piled into the pickup truck and hit the road. Kevin and I fueled by coffee (with a little a lot of knitting thrown in for me) and the kids passing the time with a mix of movie watching, lots of pre-packed snacks, the occasional car nap and some good old travel games.

 

In the name of full disclosure, this particular farm addition scared me a bit. I had been told scary stories of rams attacking their shepherds, hooking wrist with their horns, butting anyone who dared to turn their back on them and beating other rams until they were both bleeding, or worse. But to have our own herd, and to turn a profit, we have to sell breeding stock. The fiber is fun but it won’t pay the bills. A ram, in residence, had to be next on the list, whether I was fearful or not.

 

We had spent months searching, weeks visiting various breeders and every ram we saw was either not for sale or didn’t meet the list of traits I was looking for. I was growing more and more frustrated and we were fast approaching the time of the year for breeding that would result in spring lambs. Finally, we found Fergus, after a month of phone tag and lost emails with his breeders, and decided to buy him. They then offered Zeke for sale and we decided to bring him in as well, his bloodlines were too nice to pass up (bloodlines that were completely unrelated to Fergus) and we were told that a ram would not do well alone, so it was a no brainer. Both Fergus and Zeke are the result of artificial insemination and their fathers are rams who live on the Shetland Isles and bringing them here was a great way to get authentic, UK genetics on our farm.

 

The trip back was smooth and uneventful, they spent most of the time munching on hay. It was an important trip for the future of the farm and we managed to squeeze in an impromptu family vacation. Hurray for the happy coincidence that the only reasonably priced hotel room, in a 30 mile radius, had an indoor water park attached to it. Plus, it was only an hour drive from Kevin’s alma mater, so we got to tour that as well.

 

They’ve been here for a few weeks now. Right away it became apparent that Fergus was the more personable of the the pair and when ever I walk into their paddock he trots over to my side for a nuzzle and a good scratch under the chin. Zeke is more stoic, the dark, silent type, and will only endure a bit of loving if he absolutely must. They have very distinct personalities, almost more so than the girls. My fears subsided after a day of actual interaction with them and has now been replaced with respectful awareness. I think they are wonderful and we are very excited to see what they bring to our herd this coming spring.

 

Welcome boys! You will officially make us Shetland Sheep breeders, and for that, you will always hold a special place in my heart. Now, I have some ladies I’d like you to meet…

all is well here

Everyone is safe and sound here. We had high winds and a lot of rain but, thankfully, never lost power. We awoke to two overturned animal shelters, an uprooted hunting tower and a small section of shingles blown from the big barn’s roof. All the animals were wet but happy and escaped our brush with Sandy unscathed! Our thoughts are with all of those who were not as lucky as us and we hope for both their safety and a speedy return to normal.

Even though we weathered a hurricane, a mere two days ago, it’s time to get back to serious business. We have a very important holiday to attend to, at least that’s what the under 4 foot tall crew in the house has told me. Due to the storm, and the time we spent preparing for it, our Halloween activities seemed to have all been squished into the last 24 hours. Thankfully both of their costumes were completed late last week, in anticipation of a Halloween party with my in-laws. PJ’s costume request of dressing as Woody from Toy Story and his sister playing the part of Jesse felt a little to commercialized for our liking, so I decided to make as much of both costumes, from scratch, as possible. It was fun trying to recreate the outfits by repurposing things I found around the house and throwing in a few small fabric purchases (all made with coupons of course). I even went so far as to make Jesse’s hat from poster board and heavy-duty red felt. I estimate that I spent about a quarter of what store bought costumes would have cost and finished them in about three evenings, with help from my mom (she drew all those red squares you see on PJ’s shirt) and while Kevin wrangled the kids on his own giving me uninterrupted time to sew and put all the pieces together. I even went so far as to craft a wig for Shaelyn, made out of orange yarn, but she is much to terrified of it to put it on. In fact, every time we come near her with it she takes off running in the opposite direction.

It was, indeed, hard to find time for all of our usual Halloween festivities while also attending to the work here on the farm. However, looking at it now, it facilitated in me letting go. Figuring out which traditions were truly important to us as a family and letting all the extraneous things just slip away, without the worry of whether the kids were missing out. It seems, just by living a lifestyle that comes with working a farm, simplicity automatically follows. You have no choice but to let go of the unnecessary because there are always more important things to be attended to, such as animals to be moved to new pasture before they find a way to escape to it on their own, water bins to be filled, eggs to be collected, and in the case of this week, structures to be rebuilt. All of this is yet another reminder that life is good since moving to this homestead, it looks quite different and, from the outside, much simpler than the one we lived before. Truth be told, we are just as busy (if not more) than we were a year ago and we (mostly me) are learning to inhabit each moment we have together rather than getting caught up in the breakneck pace.

For now the pumpkins are carved, the seeds await roasting, the house is decorated, the apples are candied and our little monsters are ready to hit the town and gather up their treats. The mess strewn about the house, the three piles of clean laundry that need to be put away, and the bins that those decorations came out of, which are still sitting in the middle of the dining room, will have to wait until tomorrow. After all, there is more important business to attend to.

We wish you all the most frighting of Halloweens filled with only the most adorable ghosts and goblins!

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?

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.

We’re Expecting…

Well, we’re not expecting…not a baby anyways.

But Lilac is! The vet confirmed, late last week, that she is pregnant. We should be welcoming a new little calf sometime late November, early December. Honestly, this feels like the first major thing that has gone according to plan here on the farm. We are all very excited but feel the impending pressure that accompanies such a major event. Not to mention the massive increase in farm chores, possibly two milkings a day and processing gallons upon gallons of milk. All summer long, when going out to do our nighttime chores, we would stop to give Lilac her snack and speculate as to whether she was looking rounder and then remind each other not to get our hopes up. While having a calf arrive during winter is far from ideal, it is better than no calf and, in turn, no clean milk at all. Indeed, it all seems overwhelming at the moment when you consider all the added work but this is what we dreamed of doing for so long. Now we are another step closer to self-reliance.

And now I must go…no more time to talk…I have to go watch You Tube videos of calves being born and cows being milked!