Sunday, December 14, 2008
Posted by Perri at 1:01 PM
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Posted by Perri at 12:26 PM
Joe is thankful for his friend Oliver:
Posted by Perri at 10:37 AM
Sunday, November 23, 2008
You may have heard that farming is cyclical. This is most definitely true. The seasons take on a certain resonance when the variety and type of work you do, the worry that tugs you awake at night, the hopes and sadnesses, are intimately connected with them.
Here's to fall's high hopes!
Posted by Perri at 4:44 PM
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Posted by Perri at 2:06 PM
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Earlier this year, we hatched several "homegrown" eggs in a borrowed incubator.
As advertised, it was a great experience for the kids. The humming box in the corner, forgotten for most of three weeks all of a sudden became the object of intense interest as scattered pips and taps were heard within it. The first chick, "Peeper", hatched while we were getting ready for bed. But by the time the second chick kicked its way out, the kids were thoroughly engaged. And lucky for us, Dan's penchant for technological innovation and a homemade tripod resulted in our capturing this, the sound of absolute wonder (Along with a lot of extraneous family stuff):
The 8 chicks that resulted from this experiment are adolescents now, freeranging about with their cousins, aunts, uncles outside:
Posted by Perri at 9:24 AM
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Posted by Perri at 2:12 PM
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Yesterday, we took another step-- a giant, uncomfortable, yucky step-- in the direction of "real farmness": I brought a vanload of sheep to a slaughter facility in NH.
Now, I knew it'd be a hard thing. But I had no idea just HOW hard a thing it'd be.
These animals were not pets, but they had names, a history with us, distinct personalities. And so I faced the drive with trepidation, reasoning with myself all the way. Self, I said, We can't afford to keep 21 sheep,the money and food from these sheep will ensure that we can afford the others. What's more, these animals, by virtue of health, build or all-out spookiness, are not suitable for breeding and keeping, and we can't, in good conscience, sell them as such. Furthermore, we've given them good, carefree lives, better by far than those of the animals in supermarket freezers and this is just part of the process...
Oh I reasoned alright.... but this helped my reluctant self not a bit. I drove the two hours with a heavy heart, barely able to look back at the make-shift pen behind me.
And when I arrived at the USDA facility (USDA sounded a lot fancier on the phone than the scattered warehouse the place turned out to be) I began to tear up immediately.
What I really wanted was to turn around and go home. I wanted to, but I didn't. Some of these lambs had been presold for meat, and so meat they would be. Besides (here's some more rationalization...) Keeping this bunch would add close to 10 dollars a day in hay expenses, a burden our farm, and family couldn't bear. So I opened the back of the van, and helped the handler shoo my little group into a holding pen.
I didn't say good bye. I didn't even dare to look at them. I went into the small office and went through the paperwork; I checked off which cuts, which parts. Then I went out to my empty van, put it in gear, and cried for about an hour. Really. It thoroughly, thoroughly sucked.
I sat in a bagel store parking lot for another hour, re-justifying. Checking off all the reasons why this was the right and logical thing to do, and I felt like crap about it just the same. I thought about going back to retrieve my sheep-- WAIT! Never mind!-- but once their feet touched down in the dirt of the "facility" they couldn't return to the farm to transmit whatever bacteria and illness they might have com in contact with. It was done. A done deal.
I had planned to go to work after the drop off, but this was overly hopeful. Honestly, I didn't know what to expect, didn't know the day would be so out and out miserable.
Perhaps "real" farmers are used to this process, and bringing animals to slaughter is just like any farm chore for them. But It's caused me to question the whole farm premise.
When we began this enterprise, we hoped to grow good quality wool and breeding stock, and perhaps also some meat to feed our family. The trouble with this model is that meat is the farm product people want the most. We have had no trouble selling meat lambs, and if we had 20 more, we'd probably be able to sell them as well. Local meat, with good reason, is in.
Wool, however.... wool is slow going, expensive to produce, hard to market and such a specialty product. Ditto for roving. Our wool is beautiful, knitters love it, but there are a lot less knitters than meat-eaters out there.
And breeding animals? Well, we've been able to find breeding homes and fiber homes for some of our lambs but we had 11 this year, and the economy's in the toilet and several big Icelandic Farms have dispersed this year, so... nope, not sustainable.
Before yesterday, meat seemed like it might be a way to go, but I'm feeling pretty shaky-- okay, REALLY SHAKY-- about that now. Dan and I like to joke that the sheep are our retirement plan (This is a joke because the sheep COST us a heck of a lot of money each year and have yet to break even close to even.) But we cannot continue to pour money into the farm without the sheep at least earning for their own keep.
But the meat idea is a lot more real for me today than it was a week ago. I do not want to get callous about death. Yesterday,I talked the one of the young handlers at the slaughterhouse while picking up the hides of the animals I'd dropped off. The conversation went something like this:
Me (blinking back the day's ever present tears): "It must be hard, what you do..."
Him: "Oh yeah. It's not easy to get the cuts right. People think they can just do their own. Like my buddy who got a moose yesterday. I told him it ain't so easy"
Me: "No, I mean the killing part..."
Him: "Oh, THAT. That's easy. We do 250 animals a day. That's the easy part..."
When you go to the supermarket or buy local or order a deli sandwich at subway, somewhere, somebody has unloaded a bunch of scared animals off a truck into some ugly warehouse and asked somebody to kill them. That reality was pretty abstract for me, until yesterday. Even locally grown, free ranging meat is not a pretty thing to contemplate. At least not right now. Perhaps if we had a traveling butcher who'd come and do the slaughtering right here on site... perhaps at the new, "state of the art" facility opening up a few towns over this year, one designed by Temple Grandin to minimize stress... Or perhaps, I'll go back to the primarily vegetarian diet of my 20's, win the lottery and and buy hay for our growing flock like nobody's business....
Or, perhaps things will look different in a day or two.
If you've been involved in this process, or plan to be, I sure would appreciate some advice or feedback on this.
Posted by Perri at 11:27 AM
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Posted by Perri at 4:16 PM
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
The Greenway Celebration was our initiation into a new world, a world chock full of interested customers who wanted to know a little bit about Massachusetts' rural heritage, small town living, apples, wool, sheep and chickens. 30,000+ interested customers as it turned out.
Posted by Perri at 7:18 PM
Friday, October 3, 2008
Saturday's the day.
Dan and I are headed off to the opening celebration of the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston. The Greenway is the snaky park that's replaced Boston's old raised highways. (Think "Big Dig".) The celebration is an enormous farmer's market, concert, happenin' event.
...And we, well, we are bringin' it. All of it: Yarn, roving, apples, baked thingys, homemade soap, etc. etc.
It promises to be a HUGE event-- much larger than we envisioned when we agreed to go.
Truth be told, we are rookies, raw rookies, when it comes to hawking our wares. We putter and dawdle and are not as focused on the "business end of our business" as we could be. So this event-- upwards of 50,000 people-- is a bit, um... terrifying. But really exciting as well.
Maggie's Farm may be turning a corner. The sheep may actually pay for a portion of their own feed this year. That'd be nice. Then we wouldn't have to talk so much about what a "fun long-term project" the farm is or chuckle self-deprecatingly about how the sheep are our retirement plan.
....Maybe. Whatever else, I'm sure we'll meet a lot of nice people and come away with some terrific stories. And isn't that what it's all about anyway?
So if you're in Boston this weekend, come by and say hello.
Posted by Perri at 2:25 PM
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Posted by Perri at 10:08 AM
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Are you sick of turkeys yet?
I'm beginning to be.
The big birds have an eye for misadventure, what can I say?
Today, I had to rescue a turkey hen who had accidentally sat on our single line of electric tape fencing and couldn't figure out that she had to get up and run away. (I rushed into the barn and cut the switch, then gently led her out of the pasture.)
The newest episode in our interminable "Turkeys, What the Heck were they thinking?" drama came last Thursday. I was down at the barn for chores and found our biggest tom-- barely functional due to his heavy poundage-- flopping around beside the grain feeder. "Oh, no." Though I "He's finally gone and eaten himself into the category of total lameness." But he managed to flop around the corner of the barn after the rest of the flock. So I grabbed the feed bucket and resolved to check on him after I filled up the feed and water.
Well.... I rounded the corner of the barn to find the big tom in the tall grass with one of the bronze toms ON TOP OF HIM STOMPING AND PECKING in murderous frenzy! It was too late for the big guy. He was quite dead. What a gory scene. I would never have believed that turkeys--TURKEYS!-- were such murderous beasts! But evidently, behind the goofy gobbles and contemplative looks, the comically enlarging snoods and stately waddles, lie diabolical little hearts.
I couldn't-- couldn't-- salvage another gigantic bird alone (See "Cold Turkey, Hot Day" for THAT story.) The kids were up at the house playing Stratego and waiting for dinner. I dragged the gigantic bird to the lower barn and, with great difficulty, hung him up. It was the most I could do. I had a nasty cold and it was just about dark and dinner was... nowhere yet.
Back at the house, I told the kids about the incident. Used to all sorts of odd animal related hi-jinks the kids just said "Really? Oh.." and craned their necks to look out the window at the turkey hanging by the barn. Back to Stratego for them.
Dan, well, I caught up with him as well. "All right," he said, the rush of road sounds loud in the background. "Guess I know what I'll be doing when I get home..." True to his word, he arrived home at 8:30 or so, changed out of his "Perfesser Suit" (Tweedy looking jacket with the leather elbow pads and everything), put on and apron and rubber gloves, sharpened up his knives and spent two hours down by the barn in the dark doing right by the turkey and all of us. What a guy!
He returned with a 32 pound turkey, cleaned and ready for cooling. And so we have a jump on Thanksgiving I guess.
I hope I forget the murder scene by then.
Posted by Perri at 9:40 AM
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Posted by Perri at 9:31 AM
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Last year, our garden was happier, a veritable cornucopia of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers. This year, we've been more than a little preoccupied with sheep, turkeys, chicks, work, house guests, oh, and children-- increasingly busy children.
Posted by Perri at 9:55 AM
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Posted by Perri at 11:00 AM
Monday, September 1, 2008
Posted by Perri at 2:42 PM
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Remember this hornet's nest?
Since my last post, I've done some research about hornets, "white-faced hornets" to be exact. Evidently, this football-sized nest can house up to 700 of the little beasties. They eat flies and other "meat" but will also eat rotten fruit or whatever. Usually, hornets are peaceful, but if the nest is disturbed, watch out! Unfortunately, they chose a maple tree rather prone to disturbances. And chose to live rather low in said tree, beside the chicken coop and barn.
In light of these details, Dan and I did some soul-searching. He is a live-and-let live kind of guy and I aspire to be his equal in going with the flow, not worrying/being happy, etc. Okay, I was willing to give the hornets a chance.
After all, I reasoned, life is always tenuous. However we humans try to minimize threats they exist just the same. We dodge bullets every day, bullets we may not ever be aware of.
Unbeknownst to us, the hornets' nest in question was dangling right above the slip-n'-slide at Joe's 5th birthday party, dangling above a wild water balloon war, kids against adults, dangling above the cake and candles and present unwrapping. I shudder to think of what could have happened that day.
But there are always could-have-happeneds. Near misses and moments of grace as well.
Having experienced the lightning strike of sudden tragedy in the past, I can sometimes dwell on these possibilies. Threats seem very, very real to me. So I thought I'd approach the hornets as a lesson, a case in point. I could live under threat of bees. After all, the bees are just one of a countless nasty possibilities made manifest. They could teach me to loosen up a little.
But then, one of the hornets dive-bombed me as I walked down the hill to do the chores. Now, it didn't sting me-- Did I mention I am severely allergic to bees?--- just bounced off the top of my head. And all this philosophy, the live-and-let-liveness and in the moment, no-worries zen-ness I thought I was cultivating, flew out the window.
I went inside and called an extreminator.
We do live under all sorts of visible and invisible threats, and yes, anything can happen at any time and being okay with that-- if you can manage it-- is a real gift. But I'm not quite there yet, not willing to live under threat of bees.
Posted by Perri at 12:52 PM
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Posted by Perri at 11:00 AM