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 weekend

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This weekend we accomplished a couple of homesteading tasks. Of course a tool met its demise at the hands of Kevin, who has left an array of broken implements in his wake over the past few years. Today’s casualty was the push broom we were using to clean out the winter chicken coop. I kid you not, he was simply sweeping and it broke in half, just as the hammer snapped while he worked on the deck and my dad’s shovel splintered in two as he dug out the old hydrant while moving the water lines this past summer. His new farmer muscles seem to be twice as strong as his old, gym-built ones.

I plan to be back later this week to tell you what else we did today.

Here’s hoping your weekend was good and all your tools remained intact.

-L

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I might not have all my ducks in a row but my eggs are another story.

I may not have all my ducks in a row but my eggs are another story.

I’m not sure if there is anyone left around here to read these words but I think I will type them none the less. A 9 month absence must be enough to kill a blog, especially a little one like mine, but I will write because I need to dump all of these words and thoughts out of my head. I need to keep a record of our days and experiences if for no other reason than that I want my kids to have it. So, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter if there is anyone here reading this as long as someday in the future the kids do.

I know I have said this before but this was meant to be a journal of our homesteading experiences and this year has been real short on the homesteading bit. I mean, we are still here, still chopping firewood and moving sheep, still butchering our own animals for food, still pulling a plant or two out of the ground to grace our dinner table but it all seems far and few between and certainly not noteworthy enough to write a post for. Really, what would that look like anyway?

We woke up this morning and walked the 10 sheep 10 feet from pasture 1 to pasture 2 today.

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We harvested carrots for tonight’s dinner from our one and only row planted this year.

Awe inspiring it is not.

So rather than manufacturing posts and scraping together a few pictures, I just avoided it all together. Spring and Summer around here were spent mostly in doctors’ offices, either for my issues or for pre-op, op, and post-op (which in the end lasted months longer than it should have) on Kevin’s right knee. Our two biggest projects consisted of Kevin digging a new waterline out to our overwinter pastures (which took nary a long weekend) and him rebuilding our back deck, a highly boring job but one that had to be done, lest the whole thing went crashing down sometime this winter, buckling under the weight of two feet of snow.

Of course, we still felt busy because while none of those things look all that impressive individually, string 1000 mundane moments together and they still take up a hell of a lot of time. Add in that half of those 1000 things involve an animal with an instinct, an agenda and a mind of its own you might as well multiply it by a million. On top of it all there are two little kids needing time and attention (Exhibt A: while just typing this I had to field a question from PJ as to what is actually happening when we burn wood in the woodstove. This led into a discussion of atoms, molecules, hydrogen, carbon, waste products, atmospheric gases, incinerators and how it all impacts the environment.) Granted, we got our science lesson for the week (month? next year?) out of the way but you can see how this might all make a mom (and dad for that matter) a little too tired to muster a weekly blog post.

So what else is there to say? I have missed writing and all the cathartic side effects that come along with it. I have struggled with what to write about and how to walk that line of feeling like I have to share and sharing because I want to. I want to connect with other like minded people as well as people that can help me expand my mind. I’m not going to make any broad sweeping statements that I am going to show up here every day, or every week for that matter, but I do know that I want to show up. How that’s all going to play out I have no idea but I do know if anyone wants to come along I sure would enjoy the company.

taking a detour

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It’s funny how we never really know what’s going on in others’ lives. We are only privy to snippets of what being someone else is like. Especially in the world of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and all the other supposed connectedness that the interwebs grant us; we probably know next to nothing about the people we “visit” and “talked” to everyday.

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We can paint a perfect picture to send out into the world or create a soapbox to sound off on, all while safely positioned behind the screen that our dsl cable or our phone plan provides us. All of us have done it, created a pretty little picture of a pretty little life, just edit out the boring parts, take away the nasty bits, eliminate the hard decisions, gloss over the struggles and there- you now have a beautiful portrait to put on display.

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Just like when I take a photo and I actively do my best to crop out the chaos and the things I deem either ugly or unimportant, I have spent the last months presenting you with a portrait that only tells a fraction of our story. I was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune disease where my body is actively doing its best to kill my thyroid gland (which apparently controls almost every function in your body. Who knew?), mistakenly believing that it is something foreign and will cause my gland to slowly diminish in function, possibly stop all together, over my lifetime. This has caused a year-long bout with hypothyroidism, which I will spare you the, oh so lovely, details of (if you wish, you can read more about it here) and has resulted in my doctor asking me to remove gluten completely from my diet. Apparently, gluten has the same chemical makeup as the cells of your thyroid gland and when you eat that delicious piece of cake or slice of bread your immune systems goes into overdrive, not only attacking the gluten coming in but hitting your thyroid even harder. My diagnosis also means that I must be on some form of thyroid hormone replacement for the rest of my life, something that this chemical free, home-birthing, coconut oil swilling, refusing to clean with anything other than vinegar and my other homemade concoctions woman really struggled with accepting.

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I had originally thought that finding a reason for feeling like I’d aged 50 years over the course of one would have been a huge relief but it has not been quite so black and white and having to remove one of my favorite things from my diet, seemingly over night, has done nothing but add insult to injury. I am Italian after all, so basically I have lost an entire food group here people! My doctor warned that this is not something that can be managed instantaneously and often requires tweaking, especially in the medication department, until continuous control of my hypo symptoms can occur. There could also be times where I will swing into hyperthyroidism and back again, another common occurrence with Hashimoto’s and something that obviously makes calculating the amount of hormones I need to take on a month to month basis even harder. I have had a few symptoms ease over the last month of treatment but honestly my bad days still seem to be more prevalent than the good, so much so, that sometimes I’ll have a fantastic morning then crash and burn by dinner time, other days it can be reversed.

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I have struggled with whether to share our newest obstacles here or to just keep it close. This was never meant to be a personal blog, however, it is written from my point-of-view and about our collective life. I do not want to spend my time, or yours, whining and complaining. What I do hope to accomplish from sharing this is possibly connecting with others who have dealt with similar situations, whether it be some type of thyroiditis (or any chronic illness for that matter), gluten-free living or both. Our first go at gluten-free bread, which called for potato starch, tasted like, well, potatoes…and not in a yummy way! And even though we rarely eat any convenience food, the quick, yet still organic meals that I did use when we were overworked, or just simply ran out of hours in the day, all seem to contain a gluten filled product as their main ingredient. It seems like we are starting from scratch and re-teaching ourselves something that we had just gotten the hang of.

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Truth is, I have times where the food restrictions alone get me down and cause me to wish that I could just go back to bed and sleep through the day. I also struggle with not being able to go, go , go the way I once did. Working in the garden now consists of a few minutes weeding and a few minutes sitting…greatly reducing my productivity. And if I push too hard through a given day, inevitably the following day will be a bad one; a full day out with Kevin and the kids on a Saturday means an entire Sunday lost, trying to recover. All of this causes me to feel like a frail 80-year-old woman, as opposed to, the capable 30-year-old that I should be…which tends to take a toll on my overall morale as well.

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This new path that we are forced to walk now will, unfortunately, be pervasive into every aspect of our homesteading life. Everything from the food we grow and cook, to time management and accomplishment of tasks will have to be reworked. There are some days where I am less than helpful and Kevin has to steer this ship all on his own. Needless to say, he’s been a little extra tired and made a few more trips to the chiropractor than usual, as of late. I am also, yet again, reminded of how much of a saint this man of mine is, the same guy who insisted on eliminating almost all gluten from his diet in order to support me! And while I do not wish to ever be defined by this I do need to learn how to live within the confines it creates, which is something I am bound to struggle with as I have always been a “doer”, often pushing through into the wee hours until a particular goal is reached.

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Even though, I am angry and sad that I have to deal (sometimes fight against) this new reality of mine, I am also grateful, both for the fact that, if controlled, it will likely never be life-threatening and for the lesson that it has already given me. Struggles are quiet little creatures that many carry with them, hidden from us all, tucked away in their pocket or shoved to the bottom of their bag. We have no idea what they could be feeling, what really triggered that seemingly exaggerated emotion to what we view as a benign situation. Someone could have every joint in their body aching and throbbing, regardless of just having got out of bed and after sleeping for 12 hours straight. They are also, probably, not out of shape (they may even exercise on a regular basis) and they are most likely not inherently lazy. They are doing the best they can, with the hand they were dealt on that particular day and are probably harder and more judgmental of themselves than you could ever dream of being.

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Here’s to giving everyone a little leeway, ourselves included.

Do you have an experience to share or any go-to gluten-free recipes that you swear by? 

*To the family members and non-internet friends who are reading: know that if this is the first you are hearing about all of this it is not because I was trying to hide it or didn’t want to share it with you before I broadcasted it over the internet. Recently, our time has been spent assimilating all of this new information and trying to adjust our lifestyle and thought process, well that, and trying to keep the homestead running while most days we end up being one worker short…which you wouldn’t think would be a big deal…but when you are already essentially two able bodies short of an actual farm crew, it really is. I also figured that this post was a way to have the conversation once, rather than 100 times. I welcome any questions or thoughts you all might have.

Love Always, -L

if it’s not working…

Change it!

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The new garden plot.

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

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Kevin preparing the soon to be potato patch.

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

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Last year’s garden partially turned back into pasture.

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

I hope these guys get to stay!

I hope these guys get to stay!

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

It's a work in progress...

It’s a work in progress…

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

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Sunset over the apple orchard down the road from us.

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

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

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! 🙂

desperately seeking spring

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This time last year it was 70 degrees outside. Unseasonably warm you say? Well yes, but none the less fantastic. We spent last March plowing up the vegetable garden and the hops yard, giving us quite a jumpstart on our spring farming. This year doesn’t look nearly as promising.

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I have started seeds inside, followed the kids outside every time the sun chooses to grace us with its presence and have completely given up trying to fight the allure of the cut tulips and daffodils that are strategically placed in the supermarket. I’m ready for spring. I need to get outside, with the kids in tow, feeling the sun warming my back as I plant…hum, what? Honestly, anything would do right about now! It doesn’t matter, I just need to get digging. I’m itching to watch little baby lambs running and jumping in the lush green grass and I need to eat that luscious yellow butter and cream that only comes after Lilac spends time munching on the late spring pastures. We have even scheduled shearing for this coming Friday (the only time the shearers will be in this part of the state). It’s supposed to be 35 degrees and snowing! Poor shearers, poor us and poor, cold and soon to be fleece-less sheep.

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Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for winter, for all the seasons really, because they each have their purpose. For now I will occupy myself with a few more things that I had hoped to accomplish before winter’s end, which all seem to keep making their way to the back burner. So, in that spirit, here is my late winter “To Do” list…

I swear that, while I patiently wait for spring’s arrival, I will:

-Finish the farm’s business website.

-Place our berry and orchard order so it’s ready for spring pickup.

-Continue starting seeds inside, maybe throwing some micro-greens/sprouts into the mix to use while we wait for the garden’s bounty to arrive.

-Heft my spinning wheel to the neighbors to get some tips (and schedule in some practice time), before I am swimming in roving made from our sheeps’ fleeces and have no idea how to process it.

-Finally get our sourdough starter…well, started.

-Setup a batch of Kombucha to ferment before the warmer weather hits.

-Enjoy the time left inside before the majority of our days shift to our outside duties.

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How do you fight the end-of-winter blues and what are you up to while waiting for spring’s arrival?

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?!?

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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! 😉