Thursday, October 25, 2007


Last weekend Dan and I attended the New York Sheep and Wool festival in Rhinebeck New York. We didn't go as vendors or exhibitors, we just went to learn, to see what kinds of possibilities were out there for us (Once we get our act together, anyway!) Oh, and to spend a little time with each other sans kids or animals or other responsibilities. It was, you could say, our yearly "date". I should say that the members of my family who provided childcare-- my sister and cousins-- didn't believe we'd REALLY choose to spend our one day "off" at a sheep show. They thought Rhinebeck was just a clever cover for something juicier and more fun. But nope. We went to a sheep show and it was great!

I was inspired by the amazing felted art work. And I met some amazing artists. (I'm learning to felt through trial and frequent error.) Dan loved the weaving and variety of yarn. We even saw some rare Cashmere Goats with downy soft undercoats (Love to have a few of those sometime). And we spoke to some really wonderful breeders and shepherds.

Fall was in peak form, and it was so nice to be out and on the road. Reminded me of old times, when Dan and I (and Maggie) spent our time roadtripping across the country. On the way back we stopped in Pittsfield, MA for some Indian food. (Dan's favorite and unavailable in Colrain) It was a splendid "date".


Well. Last entry, I said I would eat our animals with some difficulty and soul searching. That won't be the case for Gus, our ram. I will eat Gus gladly, I think. Gladly.

You see, he's getting in his own sort of fall spirit. Which means busting out of his stall while I am home alone with the kids (of course!) and refusing to go back to the barn. Yup, I'm not too proud to admit I was scared. This big horned thing comes walking up out of the dusk-lit orchard, a fine fall mist making the place looking all "The Hound of the Baskervilles". What else could I be? I was out tending chickens with Luka, when we spotted him. He charged, half-heartedly, and I yelled to the kids on the porch to stay inside. He followed me back toward the house then headed back to moon at the ewes. I stayed in after that. (Yup, wimpy) A few frustrating hours later, Dan came home and we (read: HE) managed to get Gus into a high security stall in the barn. Of course, Gus immediately commenced banging the walls in there. I can hear him now: "Thud..... Thud....". Hopefully, he won't break out. I don't care for a repeat of Tuesday, and really, there's nowhere else to put him. (I realize he just wants the ewes but we have other partners planned for them this year, and there's a good chance he'd hurt the ram lambs if we left him in with them. He is too used to being the one-and-only-head-honcho-big-boss-of-everything-ram.)

Duane, our barber, has offered to come help us first timers "dispatch" and, um, "process" Gus. (We've tried finding transport to our local "processor" but the schedules never worked out) So Sunday. Yep. We'll have just a little less testosterone out here on Maggie's farm. We've heard that ram (even Icelandic Ram) is best used for sausage and keilbasa so that's the plan. And I don't think I'll shed too many tears over Gus. At this point, I just want him out of here before somebody gets hurt!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Eating Something with a Face (and Name!)

I was a vegetarian for 12 years, up until I met Dan in fact, and began the journey that would land me here on Maggie’s Farm. In all those years, I didn’t miss meat much (Though I’ll admit every once in a while, quite out of the blue, I got a mean little craving for corned beef, of all things!) but the impracticalities of a meatless/meat and potatoes household led me to eat more flexibly. It was a slippery slope—boneless chicken to burgers to… well, I haven’t progressed much farther than that.

But aspiring to become more self-sufficient, we’re prepping for the next step: consuming our own four-legged critters. We’ve eaten Archie (Mean Ol’ Rooster) and when Maggie went nutso on the guinea fowl during spring shearing, Dan and I felt that we should eat the three dead birds so as not to waste them completely. And we did without too much trouble. But other than that, nada.

One of the things we really like about Icelandic sheep is their “triple-purposeness”. They are terrific fiber, milk and meat animals. Icelandic lamb is a delicacy. Barb Webb, the breeder of our original four sheep, told us that once we had a larger flock, this aspect of shepherding would come more easily to us. But it hasn’t—yet. In fact, we’ve often looked at little James Henry Trotter, our weakling lamb, and come up with excuses to keep him. “He has such beautiful fleece,” we say. “Couldn’t we just wether him and keep him as a fleece animal?” And so we hesitate.. and hesitate. Last month we tried to send Gus off to the, um, “processor”. But we couldn’t arrange transport and our timing was off. So here he remains. But it is getting easier to think about.

Speaking of thinking, inspired by Ally (of 3 Dog Farm) and Patrick (of West Elm Farm), Dan and I have been thinking about pigs and turkeys. These animals would most certainly provide food for our family—reasonably-priced, healthy food. But would we be able to follow through? Would we ever manage to turn that adorable spring piglet into bacon and ham and chops, or would we end up with a 700 pound pet?

I should say here, I truly believe that if one is going to eat animals, one should be willing and able to take an active part in the process. It seems hypocritical to tut tut and avert my eyes then eat a big ol’ burger. I should know what (who?) it is we are eating and the kind of industry my money supports. If I am to eat meat at all, it makes complete and good sense to eat MY animals. After all, I know these animals have been well cared for and that they have led lives free of want, worry or fear. I cannot say the same for those that come to me in little white Stop N’ Shop foam trays. In an ideal world, we would all be a little more connected to the process that brings food to our tables. Eating locally—be it from one’s own backyard or from the backyard of the farmer down the road—is goal to which I absolutely aspire.

But, just the same, it ain’t so easy.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mean Ol' Rooster

Well, it's happened again. For the third consecutive time, our rooster's gone mean on us. This guy, "Batmandu", was a sentimental favorite and I was hoping against hope that he'd stay on the straight and narrow. But yesterday, he came goosestepping ("Roosterstepping?") over with that characteristic aggressive rooster posture and bumped up against my calves. And so it begins....

By now, we are veterans of previous roosters. If the last two are any indication, the rooster will get a little bolder day by day. The kids will start to worry about going out into the yard alone, then will be fearful even with an adult. Finally, they will make mad dashes to and from the house and refuse to set foot anywhere near a feathered critter. Then we will have to come up with a plan to, um, ditch the rooster.

The first time this occurred, it was a complete surprise. "Archie", a beautiful golden-laced wyandotte, was the free chick in the otherwise female box of Murray McMurray chicks. He was a real little "duh duh boy" early on, slower to catch on than his female counterparts, but somewhere along the line he had a surge of testosterone and viola! Mean ol' rooster! Archie was blatant and bold in his attacks, crossing a great expanse of yard to attack any and everything. Something had to be done. I tried giving him away on freecycle. No takers (No surprise there, eh?). Dan and I read up on butchering chickens but hemmed and hawed over this new and thoroughly unfamiliar step along the homesteading continuum. (Yep, call us wimps if you must) and then, the rooster boy went too far, attacking little Joe, "spurs" drawn. Dan went after him then, while I stood on the porch saying something like "You're not really going to do that now, are you? Are you? No way...?) But do it he did (Wringing Archie's neck and taking him off behind the barn, one of our homesteading how to books tucked under one arm) We wondered how our children would take this new turn of events, sensitive little girls and guy that they are, but they had NO PROBLEM at all. In fact, they were positively gleeful while eating the chicken pot pie we prepared. (In their defense, they really were terrified of that rooster.)

Our next mean old rooster was "Batman", a big, beautiful cuckoo marans. Batman was a reasonable guy for a long while, we began to get complacent with him. Believeing we'd finally found that holy grail of chickendom: the friendly rooster. But nooooo: Batman chose to go mean all at once, attacking my nephew Sulli. Then we were back to square one: kids afraid to leave the house, walking everywhere around our free range property with a nice big rooster warding off stick. We didn't really want to eat Batman (Dan and I did not enjoy dining on Archie) And, as he was a heritage breed, we were able to find him a wonderful new home. In fact, I loaded Batman into a dog carrier, packed the kids into the minivan and drove us all to Bennington, VT to hand off the rooster in a halfway point playground. (Yup, I am thoroughly CRAZY.)

But Batmandu (our third and present mean rooster) is a sentimental favorite. We hatched him in our homemade incubator after his father Batman had left the premises. In fact, we rescued him from that same incubator when, as a just-hatched chick, he'd managed to wedge himself between the mesh grating and incubator wall in two inches of cool water. I still remember holding the tiny, black chick under a heat lamp and cautioning the kids not to get too attached because this one would not likely make it. But he did. And now, he is a mean ol' rooster just like his daddy.