Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Breed 'em or Eat

As summer draws to a chilly close, we find that our thoughts must also turn a bit chilly. Dan and I look at this year's lambs-- 5 rams remaining!-- and make some very real life-or-death choices. Who will we retain for breeding? Who will we eat?

Who will we eat????


It may seem a callous, brutal question, but reality is: We have no room for 7 grown rams. Come cold weather, they will pummel each other. And they will cost an arm and a leg in hay... and arm and a leg and the rest of the farm perhaps as well. So it has come to this: a difficult choice. A lot of hemming and hawing and second guessing. But it's early in the season yet, and there is time for all that.

I don't think I appreciated the cyclical nature of the farmer's world before we began living it. Sure, every children's book makes mention of the seasons, Halloween and Thanksgiving, leaf piles and sledding. But as farmers, our tasks, even our preoccupations and worries are so specific, so predictable and seasonal, that season itself takes on a different sort of resonance. Nearly five years of farming and I could tell you month by month what my worries will be, what the little annoyances (^%*&&#$# wandering, wrong roosting turkeys!) or joys will be. I could tell you when I am going to be banging ice out of water buckets or clipping maple branches to sustain the sheep through the sparse late fall pasture, shooing a forever broody hen off her nest or checking on heavily pregnant ewes through the long night hours, skirting fleeces or dyeing yarn.

And so I can tell you that before the celebratory and Thanksgiving-y time of "harvest", comes the time of year when I look at the lambs-- the lambs that were once so cute and big-eyed twiggy who now look like everybody else out there more or less-- and make life or death decisions.

Once it's decided and done, I will not be able to look at pictures of these lambs for a while. It will be like any other loss... only one we've engineered ourselves. But there will be food in our freezer and enough hay for winter. And in the spring, I will run twenty times a day out to the barn to check on ewes with bulging bellies. And the cycle will begin again.

Death shadows the seasons on a farm. Fear of it (or of hurt, illness or injury) to your livestock informs much of what you do throughout the seasons of winter and spring and summer.

Then, in autumn, you cause it.

I like to think that farming has taught me to hold death a little closer. Itwas easy for me to forget how much a part of life-- how very normal-- death is when I was shielded from it in the suburbs, buying my meat from Stop and Shop. I chose not to think about the many deaths that enabled my lifestyle. Quite a far cry from my ancestors, who probably had an intimacy with death that I cannot even fathom.

And so, like the seasons, I guess I have come full circle as well.

At any rate, we still have some wonderful ram lambs for sale....


Christy said...

Oh yes. Death is so easy to ignore in the suburbs. Not so much on the farm. I'm processing chickens right now. All by myself. It doesn't get more real that that. There is no one is GA to do them for me.

P said...

All by yourself? ugh! I don't think I would have ever gotten around to ours last year if Dan hadn't been there setting up. We had a group over-- my sister and her family-- and it went pretty quickly with four adults. Maybe you could get some help from neighbors in exchange for a chicken or two.

(Notice we didn't even do meat chickens this year because it was such an "experience".)

Amy LV said...

Wow - what lovely writing. This really got to me. We have not eaten any of our sheep yet, and though we know we should and can, we are not there yet. Thank you for this piece.