5.20.2013

home


This is a photo of home, taken from the front porch. Chickens in the foreground. A mostly un-tended to and therefore empty garden just behind. And you can just make out Nick leading Winnie in for milking in the background. You can't see the sheep or the pigs or the goats or the rest of the cow herd. They are all there. Safe and acclimating. And so are we. I am so deliriously tired and happy.

5.17.2013

We bought the farm

This won't be the last time I post this photo. I know its obnoxious to see the same one. I hate photos of me, usually. But I love this photo of us. And so I stick with the good ones when I find them. Also, we took an arm cam photo of us yesterday at the new farm and we both looked so old and haggard! Much more youthful looking last summer I suppose. 

Yesterday. We closed. Today through this weekend we are moving home, humans, parasites, livestock, and farm. My mother is driving up with sandwiches and hopefully many forms of caffeine. We are running on fumes and we still have half a house, 8 cows, 2 pigs, 3 sheep, 2 goats, 2 cats, 2 dogs, 30 chickens and the honeybees and all the farm gear to move.

BUT we are elated. As we have found our forever home and it is ours. We have found the home where I want to give birth to our son and where I want to spend the rest of my years with Nick and where we will raise many animals and many vegetables and many children. It is beautiful and perfect. I love every inch of our new land.  Many photos to come next week. This weekend there will be few words and fewer photographs. This weekend there will be much buzzing and much anxiety and much happiness and hopefully many hours of sleeping in between.

Here we start on what is billed to be our last and final move.

5.14.2013

Nameless doelings


This is the story of two naughty nameless goats. I need your help coming up with some good names.

Sunday I went down to Big Picture farm to pick these two little sweeties up. They were a bit frightened to be separated from their mamas and herd and Monday (after I wrote about the schizophrenia of success and failure) I went to give them some alfalfa treats and try to win their affection. I had kept them Sunday night in the sheep's winter shed so that they may stay safe and warm while I scrounged up some goat fencing. I opened the door and knelt down to offer them the treat. Stupidly, I did not close the door tightly and the white one leapt past my shoulder and into the fenceless world. She bounced right out of sight, like a little woodland deer. I ran after her for a mile and half. First through the ramp forest then into a wide open cow pasture of our neighbors. I kicked it into high gear when I saw her heading for a house that owns a rescued coydog (half coyote/half wild dog). Successfully evading the coydog house I had inadvertently pushed her into the opposing pasture where our neighbor's herd was chewing their cud.  She flew through their sleeping herd and bounded straight up a 300 foot forested climb. That was the last I saw of her that morning. I like to think of myself as pretty quick but I am no match for a young goat, especially on steep terrain.

Aware that by now she didn't trust me I thought I would go fetch the other goat I still had and use her as bait for the runaway. I drove the bait goat down to where I last saw her friend and attempted to walk her, leash and collar into the high pasture, to where I assumed the runaway had vanished. The bait refused to walk with me by leash (I imagine it was her first time on one). So instead I carried her on my back.... straight up the forested cliff, tickling her every few yards to try to get her to call to the runaway. It wasn't long before I was exhausted and sweaty and dizzy and frizzy and frazzled and thought this was a rather dumb thing for a woman in my condition to be doing.

So I reluctantly gave up trying not to focus on the poor 2 month old white goat who would spend the night in below freezing temperatures among the coyotes and monsters of the mountains. I wouldn't be able to chase her. She was much faster. I wouldn't be able to lure her to me, she thinks of me as her captor. I wouldn't be able to find her. A little white goat in about 300 acres of contiguous forest. Some things are beyond our control to fix, I reminded myself.

I put bait goat back in her shed with treats and hay and water and went to meet Nick who had been expecting me 2 hours earlier at the new farm. (There is no cell service where we live, so you are either on time or you aren't, no calling to say you are on a wild goat chase). I met Nick in tears as I unwound the stress and drama and guilt of the previous 2 hours. We called the town hall to tell them we had lost a goat and to give them our home number if anyone found her. The town clerk laughed.

We had to finish the cow fence so that they would not escape again and so that is what we did. My fondness for the goat I barely knew and had just lost grew as did my anger and embarrassment. I couldn't imagine calling Louisa that night to tell her what I had done with one of her sweet little baby goats.

We drove home in tandem, listening to the sad verdict given by SCOTUS on the Monsanto soy bean trial. We crawled at 7mph up the last three miles to the house, looking left and right and up and down for a white speck of goat in the neighbor's pasture. Nothing.

We picked up speed in the last half mile as the realization sunk in that we wouldn't see her just happily grazing in a faraway field. As we rounded the drive to the barn Nick (who was leading) stopped abruptly and got out. I parked behind him to see what he saw. The little runaway was there standing in front of their shed, talking to bait goat from behind the locked door.

Ahhhhhh. The success/failure roller coaster had continued.

We got her back in the shed and today I got fencing and we have two happy little goats now who don't trust me for all the alfalfa treats in the world.

But I can't call them runaway and bait goat forever. I need your help naming them. My mind is fried. I have not one creative cell in there right now. Suggestions?

5.13.2013

success and failure

I completely underestimated the stress of moving. The stress of moving is heightened when 31 weeks pregnant (holy lord I move more slowly now) with a cow in milk, calfs being born, a garden to put in NOW, 2 new baby goats and 1 goat-in-milk on the way and pigs and chickens and sheep and dogs and cats that cry their everyday demands.

We still have not closed on the property. (ARGHHHHHH!) But progress in that direction is promising and imminent and the owner has been very kind as to let us move animals and garden over there. So thus far our "move" has been a series of successes and failures punctuated by dreamless deep sleeps and meals brought to us by our neighbors.

Thursday afternoon Winnie (our milk cow) calved. We were there to see it and her last several pushes. It was insanely inspirational.  Success!

With dairy cows you need to separate them from their calves almost immediately (but of course giving them a good dose of colostrum) to reduce the chance of bond and to ensure you still have a milk cow that works for you. It is awful and torturous to do so and I offer no excuse except that we really like to drink milk. If you drink milk I can 99.999999% guarantee this happens to mama cows who make your milk. Failure.

Normally this means we would bottle feed the calf kept in a stall separate from his mama and the rest of the herd BUT we were able to graft him onto Bella who had calved just the day before. Now she was feeding two calves! Annabelle and a new Ted. Success!

Friday we built fence at the new farm and tried to set up the new water pump for cows we had purchased. This water pump, ostensibly, is actuated by the cow's nose and as the cow pushes in for water it pumps via a hose water from the stream up to the pasture. (If you are at all interested in what I'm talking about you can see it in very grainy film action here.) But we couldn't get it to work leaving us with the option of bucketing water from the stream to the pasture or running a half mile of hose from house. Failure.

We did get a nice tight, hot (powered by solar) fence up and ready for cows. Success!

Saturday we borrowed a farmer's large trailer and made to move our two yearling steers and one bull to the new farm. One steer and the bull hopped right on the trailer thanks to our crudely made corral  Success!

We locked those two in and spent the next 2 hours chasing the remaining, terrified, and half feral steer around 6 acres of pasture attempting to persuade him into the trailer. Failure.

He was so frightened of the trailer and so determined to stay he broke through the hot fence at least 17 times. I'm not exaggerating. Failure.

We left for the new farm without him and released the 1 steer and 1 bull into their new pen. First animals at the farm! Success!

It started to pour rain and I walked the fence and made it tighter and hotter as Nick fixed the water pump! Success!

We came home to the old farm and decided to give the remaining steer another try. 3 hours of chasing and running and attempting to manipulate and outsmart left us exhausted, and the steer more determined than ever. We gave up and discussed the benefits of shooting him dead the next day and eating beef all summer. Failure.

Sunday morning we wake up with a plan. Nick goes to the new farm to check on the cows and I do morning chores and meet him on the road south to head to Luke and Louisa's to buy a pair of doelings. Not 15 minutes after he leaves he calls me, breathless, with the news that the cows we brought to the new farm are gone. Disappeared. No trace. Failure.

A bull and an unsocialized --for all purposes feral-- steer are walking or worse, running, somewhere in the woods and pastures around the farm we don't actually own yet. Perhaps terrorizing neighbors we haven't actually met yet.  Failure.

I race to the new farm and we spend the next 2 hours following hoofprints through the mud and communicating via walkie talkie of potential trail leads and cow sightings. I'm wearing a skirt because it was a beautiful day and we were intending to visit friends for lunch. Not the appropriate choice for chasing cows through forest. My legs were literally bleeding and throbbing from the berry bushes afterwards. Failure.

Nick found the season's first morel in the forest! Success.

We find the rogue cows, lose them. Find them. Lose them. Find them. Lose them once more. Find them and walk them gently back to the new pen. Success?!

Nick stays behind to work on fencing. I continue to Big Picture Farm without Nick and 2 hours late for lunch.  Compromise.

I have a beautiful lunch with Luke and Louisa and return north around 5pm with two of the cutest little kid goats sleeping in the back of the Subaru. Success!

We meet at home to find Bella has broken out of her stall and abandoned Winnie's calf. He is near starving. Failure.

But! The lone steer who evaded the trailer on Saturday is sleeping in said stall making him perfect for capture. We close the stall door, swing the trailer around and give him no option but to walk on. Success!

Nick brings final steer to new farm uniting the three yearlings. Now we have 3 of 11 cows at the new farm! Success.

I milk Winnie. 3.5 gallons. Success!

We are an hour late to dinner with friends. Failure.

Around 11pm we return to the barn to check on Ted. He's sleeping outside the fence as coyote bait and Bella is totally uninterested. Failure.

We lock Bella and babies into a stall and bottle feed Ted. This morning he looks even hungrier and we bottle feed him again. Bella has given up on her charge, and now we have to bottle feed a calf. Failure.

We get a phone call at 6:30 am from the tenants living at the new farm to say our cows have done another runner. They are gone. The fence is down.  Failure.

Nick races to the farm I race to milking. Racing is dangerous and makes your heart pound and your shoulders tense and your mind dark. Failure.

He calls to say the cows were just hiding from view behind the apple trees and it looks like a deer broke through the fence. We won't spend the morning chasing cows. Success!?!

Nick and I will spend the rest of the day building a robust perimeter fence at the new farm. I'm headed to give Ted another feeding as we are now his only source for food. It is May 13th and it is snowing. Failure.

We are exhausted. It goes back and forth like this all weekend and I imagine will continue like this all week until we have moved every cloven hoof across town. Moving animals piecemeal sounded like a great idea initially but is just totally consuming. Why isn't there a PODS or U-Haul service for farm moving?

Also, this is a disgusting FAILURE that isn't mine to own. A petition to allow aspartame in milk and milk products (yogurt, cream, half and half, etc...) without being required to disclose the addition of the sweetener on the milk carton. They argue that milk will taste better to consumers if it is sweeter but...

"the petitioners state that milk flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners should be labeled as milk without further claims so that consumers can “more easily identify its overall nutritional value.”


Good lord the regulation on our food system and the system as a whole in this country are so preverse. So much so that I am willing to put up with the challenges our animals throw at us on weekends like the above if only so I can drink milk free of rBGH and aspartame and eat beef free of corn and veggies free of pesticides.

(Thank you Patti for sending this article along!)


5.09.2013

Mama Bella and baby Annabelle

I posted this photo to my Instagram account last night. From left to right we have Bella, Nick, and Annabelle. Bella was given to us by the farm we worked at in North Carolina. At just a couple days old a fellow farmhand had found her in the pasture amongst a herd of several hundred head. She had been discarded by her mama and was dying of pneumonia. He brought her back to the barn behind our house and Nick and I fed her and babied her and nursed her back to health. This is her back in December of 2010 when we were still bottle feeding her.
I think the owner of the herd assumed she would die, so he accepted our deal that if we could save her we could keep her. She is a Rotokawa Devon whose allure lies in their history of being 100% grass fed. We wouldn't have been able to afford one if we hadn't rescued her. Bella lived in our backyard for the rest of the year and was soon joined by our sweet beloved house piglet Rose.

She suffered many health problems through that first year. She was in constant danger of pneumonia. We built her the most pathetic! wind structure in the backyard out of scrap wood to keep her dry from the occasional Carolina winter storm. She decided on her own it was more of a risk to sleep under it than to sleep outdoors (good decision, one wind storm destroyed it).  I made her a calf coat out of a large Woolrich padded jacket I found in the men's department of Goodwill. We made her wear it during several ice storms and I think it actually saved her life a couple times. She grew slowly. But she was always a total sweetheart. Nick worked every day training her to a halter and then a lead and then to come when called.  Last summer we finally thought Bella was big enough to breed and healthy enough to calve. We had our doubts. Many warned us she would likely be infertile due to her late and unhealthy start in life.

We've wondered all year if she was bred. She's a beef cow and they are much, well, beefier looking than dairy cows. Bella has appeared sort of fat for over a year now. We had no idea if there was a baby in there or not. You can have a vet come and do pregnancy checks at your farm, but for a herd of four mamas that didn't make much financial sense.

Last Thursday our first beef mama calved. A little bull calf, in the late afternoon. We assumed the other beef mama would come next and then Winnie (our milk cow). We assumed Bella wasn't bred and wasn't going to calve. We talked about giving her one more year, one more chance. We talked about how we would probably need to slaughter her next year if she didn't produce any babies. An animal that size is a big animal to feed and not get milk or calves or beef in return.  But yesterday after Nick came home from working on the tractor he checked the barnyard to see if Winnie was in labor. She wasn't but our sweet Bella girl was licking a wet little heifer calf. She was just starting to pass the afterbirth. He must have missed the birth by minutes.

It gives us such pride to see this calf. To see years of our farm work come to fruition in this one baby girl named Annabelle. This week marks the first week in which we have had babies born on our farm that weren't chicks or ducklings. We have worked with piglets and lambs and calves and kids for several years now. We have bought and adopted many cows, sheep, goats, and pigs.  But the bull calf born Thursday and Annabelle born last night mark the true beginning of our own herd. This gives us great pride.

5.04.2013

Friday chores

The puppy is learning to swim. The cows have begun to calf. While Winnie still has not, her udder gets bigger by the day and my excitement for fresh milkyogurtcheesebutter is overpowering. The chickens need their water filled twice a day. Or maybe they just need two waterers. The sheep are on "pasture" cleaning up the periphery of fields overcome by weeds. And the garlic is looking fantastic despite my watering negligence.

It felt like no transition at all. We went in just a few days from the winter of minimal chores and twiddling our thumbs to summer wake ups at 5:30am and going to til dark. There is never much balance, only extremes.

5.03.2013

walking in love, 7 mos pregnant

I heard an interview this morning on NPR that a transgendered woman did with her daughter about her previous life as a man and her gratitude towards her daughter for the acceptance and love with which she has met her "coming out".  It was a beautifully poignant interview as most Story Corps interviews are. You can listen to it here. What stuck with me were her closing words "I walk in love, and I try to live that every day."

I haven't been walking in love with my pregnant body per se. I am overthemoon in love with the baby boy inside. But the outside has been giving me a helluva ride. It has been a difficult change for me as I accept the way in which my body decides to make a baby. That's how my midwife put it when we talked about my surprising weight gain in the second trimester. This is how your body makes babies. My body goes all out for making babies. Nearly everyone we meet or see remarks on my size. Several people asked me in the past week if I'm carrying twins. An all time favorite I got yesterday was How many babies are IN THERE!?  It's rather rude for anyone to comment on anyone's body size, no matter how pregnant or unpregnant they are. I know they aren't trying to be rude, they all say it with the same stupidly huge grin that says Holy shit! You're huge!  But no stranger or friend is deliberately trying to send me into a mind tizzy about my ever growing body. ***I should clarify that it is NICK who knows this and who reminds me of it every. single. time. For it sends me certainly into a mind tizzy each time and it is Nick who reminds me of humanity's faults and general love and pulls me back into the reality outside my head.***

This morning at the grain and garden store a woman coming out as I was coming in said in passing You are beautiful and pregnant! It was almost as though she whispered it. Just I needed to hear. I've literally been smiling from her kind words since. I know I am beautiful. Nick tells me so all the time. It is just the bizarreness of life that the careless things people say are the ones that stick in your head.

This past week the sun has been out with a fierceness usually reserved for summer. And so my belly and I have been out too. I've been decisively working on loving this pregnant body and on blocking out the noise of other humans putting their mouths before their brains. Wednesday I spent all day in a little tank top that refused to roll over the bump and a low skirt that rode beneath it.

It is so important for everyone to feel comfortable in their own body and to love their own body. Nick does this effortlessly. I don't. But I certainly know how I want my children to live and learn. This week and right through the day this boy is born and then right through the rest of my life I will be working towards walking in love with my body. For the next 3 months I will relish in the miracle that is happening beneath it's giant surface and marvel at the size the body can grow to accomodate this little being. I can't promise that means more photos here, as there is a greater leap between loving thy own body and sending it into the great abyss that is here. So for today I give you this taken as I write:




5.02.2013

ramp harvest

The weather this May has been and is predicted to be much drier than last year. Last year we were harvesting ramps in full rain gear. My hands would numb and my mood would disintegrate wildly in a matter of hours. We were able to let the ramps grow for most of April and May until harvest last year as the mild temperatures and rain permitted.

This year with the high temperatures and no rain we can't be as leisurely with our harvest times and so yesterday morning and night, and this morning, saw the majority of the harvest (unless we get some damn rain).

Our good friend Molly is the horticulture editor for Wilder Quarterly who turned us oblivious flatlanders on to the presence of ramps in our forest last year. She is also the concerned horticulturist who wrote me Tuesday night with news that ramps have been listed as threatened by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife and that we ought to be careful with our harvest.

We are very fortunate to have three very prolific and expansive stands of ramps in the hills by our current farm. We have worked with the landowners around us to allow an annual harvest from these stands.  Nick and I are always looking out for ramps to see where and how they grow best and there are few stands as thick and productive as ours. This surprised me at first, but after Molly's warning email I did some much needed research to find that ramps have been over-harvested in the past years.

Ramps can fetch upwards of $12-$13/lb wholesale in cities like Boston or New York. Because of this huge payout the temptation to harvest any ramp you see is overwhelming for a farmer/ forager like myself. There aren't many times on a farm where you can reap such a profit from such minimal input.
Because of this, the ramp harvest has been rampant with near to total annihilation of entire stands.

A ramp seed takes anywhere from 6 to 18 months to germinate. For some perspective a carrot takes about 2 weeks to germinate. Kale takes just about 5 days.

Ramp plants can take 5 to 7 years to mature to a flowering plant.

You can see where this is going. Wild ramps cannot match the current high volume commercial demand. They are disappearing.

Some places in North America have already banned or heavily regulate the harvesting of ramps. Qu├ębec and the Smoky Mountains have done so.

They are a delicious and nutritious first green of the season and it is my wish not to stop their harvesting but to create awareness of their peril and how we can continue to forage for them in a thoughtful manner.

Here are some harvesting tips for any budding foragers. Please feel free to add anything I have forgotten or left off. 

1. Always be triply sure that what you are picking is in fact an edible ramp. I am not aware of any false lookalikes to the ramp, but this is the No.1 rule for wild foraging ALWAYS.

2. Harvest no more than 5% of your ramp stand in a year. We harvest somewhere around 1% of our stand each year. Studies in the Smoky Mountains have shown that a 90% harvest takes over 100 years to grow back. A 25% harvest takes over 10 years to grow back. A 5% harvest takes at least 2 years to grow back.

3. Allow 2-5 years of rest for each ramp stand.

4. Tred carefully in the forest. Even if you are only taking a few ramps every ramp you step on you can break its leaves and damage its growth cycle. Treat them as you would the vegetables in your own garden.

5. Be aware of what else is growing underfoot on the forest floor. Ramps are special because they are one of the first wild edibles to present themselves after winter. However, baby fiddleheads are coming up too.  The beautiful trillium, coltsfoot and jack-in-the-pulpits are growing and flowering as are a whole hosts of other species whose names I have yet to learn. Careful not to disturb these innocent bystanders of the ramp harvest. Try to use deer paths if possible to navigate through the forest. Molly told me just now that that coltsfoot is actually an invasive, so trample those little sweeties away :)

6. Harvest in the early morning or at dusk as to incur minimal damage to the plants you harvest and those around you. Nothing takes well to the beating of foragers in the hot midday sun.

7. Wash your ramps off in a nearby creek if you can. This will save you water and clean up and is just about the nicest way to spend a morning.

8. Marie added a great suggestion to only harvest the leaves! Gently cut the leaves without disturbing the bulb This allows the ramp to continue growing and you get to go home with all the taste!

Happy foraging. Let the game of spring begin.
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