Saturday, November 20, 2010

pig day

I blame Novella Carpenter. In her book, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, she creates a farm in the middle of the ghetto. In the middle of a Oakland she pulls off a giant garden, chickens, ducks, rabbits, geese, turkeys, bees and here's the kicker: pigs. Yup. She raised two pigs in a dog kennel in an abandoned lot. If you think you're limited with your quarter acre in Suburbia—take a lesson from Novella—farming can be done wherever a farmer decides it will be.

Ever since I read that book the idea of my own pig has been floating around in my mind. The idea that Novella raised these animals near a Freeway and learned how to make them into various Charcuterie with the help of a Bay Area chef...wow. What the hell was my excuse? I have six acres, a barn, a pickup truck, and a slaughterhouse just twenty minutes down the road and also love bacon. Time to suck it up and grab dinner by the cloven feet.

So during my lunchbreak yesterday (I wish I could tell you how many animals I have acquired on my lunchbreak...) I was scanning Craigslist for a free donkey/llama/mule/mini horse to be on Lamb Watch 2011 and I came across a post that really caught my eye. Piglets, sows, boars: Cambridge NY. Call Dylan. I really wanted to call. So I called.

Dylan explained he had feeder Yorkshires for 60 bucks a piece. I didn't have sixty bucks to spare, but I did make thirty dollars on pie and egg sales that week at the office, and had that cash in hand. In my head the farm had already covered half the cost. We chatted briefly and he said I could pick one up tonight if I wanted, since he was heading to his deer camp for the weekend. Time being short, I told him I'd see him in thirty minutes.

I stopped at his farm on the way home from work and picked out a chubby female shoat (young pigs between 30-50 pounds), called a gilt. (I realized when talking with pig farmers calling their young animals "piglets" was about as ignorant as walking onto the deck of the Titanic and asking where the row men sleep. No one who raises pigs seriously calls their little ones piglets.) I decided the only way I could do this would be if it was cheap and easy. To keep expenses down I would only raise a single swine and do it with as little financial resources as possible. I'd raise a small feeder pig and have it butchered and keep track of every expense, and if it turned out to be $19.99 a pound pork-chops then I wouldn't do it again and let the pros across the road at Flying Pig Farm be my pork source. So far it's been pretty impressive how little money I had to shell out. A fact I came to realize only existed because I already had all the little supplies that add up lying around from other endeavors. Things like heat lamps, buckets, extension cords, bedding and such. I had a five-dollar off coupon and was able to get fifty pounds of feed for 7.99 at Tractor Supply. Not too shabby so far. In fact, this was turning out to be the least-expensive project the farm had to date. Hell, bottling my beer cost more.

So this morning I woke up with the energy of a girl on a mission. I perked my scary-strong coffee and got to work. I moved things around the barn and made a proper pen. I used two barn walls (with metal roofing scraps from the farm's junk pile screwed into them as protection from chewing/escaping), and a $24.99 piece of hog panel I bought that morning with the fifty pounds of feed. A "panel" is about 16-feet long, so I bent it into a half circle and nailed it to the farm and made some clips near the barn door for human enterance. I liked the panel, but was still kinda pissed at it. I got a fat lip trying to load it into the back of my pickup. While loading it into my little pitpull of a farm truck it snapped out of its coil and smacked me in the face. It was behaving now. I lined my little pig pen with enough hay to feed my sheep for a week and recycled a barely used metal feeding tin I bought for the Vermont farm and forgot about in the chaos of the move. It was in storage with the stickers still on. I hooked up a chicken brooder heat lamp and clipped a clean flat-backed cwater bucket to the hog panel and there you have it. Cold Antler is in the bacon business.

Soon as the pen seemed to pass my crude inspections I headed with Gibson down to the farm on the other side of town. It only took a few minutes to grab the girl by the legs and put her in GIbson's crate in the bed of the truck. The ten-minute drive home was mostly spent watching her in the rear view and praying she wouldn't buck the thing onto Route 22.

When we got home I lifted her from the dog crate into her new living space and she instantly went from a shaking, dirty, animal to a calmer state of being. She had grown up in a dirt-lined horse stall and this posh little hotel with fresh straw and her own personal feeding trough and clean water seemed to comfort her immensely. I turned on the heat lamp and within moments she was rooting around with her snout and her once-straight tail started to curl, and dare I say it, wag? She seemed like a happy girl. I told her welcome and to please stay put and not escape and eat all she can. She gave me a little "Humph Wumpth" half-snort and I decided to call it a day. I was starving. Two scrambled eggs does not a pig day make.

I just went out to check on her and she wasn't in her pen! I panicked for a split second, and then remembered a comment a reader left earlier this week. I looked closely at the mounds of hay and upturned feeder and one pile was slowly heaving up and down. She had buried herself in a little mountain of hay and between that and the heat lamp I was certain she'd make it just fine through her first night.

I'm still going to go check on her every few hours though. I'm like that.

iron and swine

Friday, November 19, 2010

write it down

There is a fire in my wood stove, and between that and two glasses of homebrew...I am very warm tonight. I just ate a simple dinner of pasta and red sauce—then with a slight buzz and a full belly—I pulled my fiddle off the shelf and played a few Irish tunes to light up the room. In a little white farm house in Jackson the Scartaglen Slide and Man of the House trotted off my bow while the dogs wrestled on the kitchen floor. I did a little dance with them as I fiddled and hopped about as the fray of teeth and my laughter tore up the peace. It was quite a sight.

What a life this has become! I'm wearing a warm hat over my pigtails. It's made from the wool off the sheep in the pasture outside. There are eggs in my fridge from the birds in the coop and chickens I harvested in the freezer as well (a rabbit too). Besides meat I've made bread, sauce, jams, cheese, beer, cider and pies. There is honey in quart jars I pulled from a hive, and a truck in the driveway. I have a fine pair of geese. I even held one of their just-born goslings in my palm this time last fall. I've grown a garden full of vegetables and held pumpkin in my hands big as bobcats! I've hunted pheasants and shot at foxes. I've heard coyotes sing in the pale moonlight and watched them from the edge of a sheep pen with a crook and a lantern. I've caught a native trout on a dry fly and I know when a river is angry. I've raised rabbits. I've wrote books. I've sewn clothes. I've ridden a dogsled in the blue glow of a winter sunset, and I know how it feels to bottle feed a baby goat during a spring rainstorm on a porch. I can now sit high in a dressage saddle and do a posting trot with a 16 hand horse, and do it quite passingly. A little black and white rocket of a dog runs about as I write you now, and he's the future of this farm: my business partner, Gibson the border collie. We have a CSA in the works, us shepherds, and soon we'll be sending out packages with wool and thank you letters to our inaugural subscribers. There are sheep on the way you know? Those ewes will be heavy with lambs and I'll bring them into the world this spring.

Tonight my plans don't involve any hot dates (though a few might be in the works) and certainly nothing like a night on the town, but this is a night on my farm. Cold Antler Farm. A place that didn't even exist in a gasp five years ago and tonight, tonight I'll be reading about the proper bedding and pen set up for a pig. Tomorrow I add a little swine to the mix. It seems as normal a decision now as deciding which fabric softener at the grocery store. This is now my everyday life.

I've been told by people on this blog that I am a goddamned fool. I must be. Only a fool would be living like this, doing all this, and dancing with dogs to tunes no one even knows anymore. You can call me whatever you please. I'm not changing a thing about this messy life. I like messy. It suits me.

Listen, I don't have much money, and I'm nobodies Daisy...but I'll be damned if I'm not happy tonight—I feel like the wealthiest beast in the world. And you know why this all happened? It happened for two simple reasons and I believe this with all my heart. I landed here because:

1. I always believed I would (not could, not might, but would).
2. And because I wrote it all down.

Something that stuck with my in college was a blip I heard on the radio one night. A person was telling someone on NPR that if you want something to happen with your life, you need to get out a pen and paper and write it down. He said that only 2% of people with goals actually take the time to write them down on paper, but out of that 2% studied—90% achieved their dream. Something about the certainty of pledging it to yourself made it realer to the people he observed. I wanted to be in the 90% of that 2%.

So when I knew a farm was something I wanted. I sat down and wrote out exactly what I hoped it would be. I wrote about a hillside outside my window, about the sheep, about the black and white dog by my side. I drew a pickup truck parked outside, and a veggie garden alive with a lush bounty (Okay, not everything transpired) but the point is most of it did! I carried that piece of paper with me until it naturally disintegrated into scraps. It was my totem, my prayer. And I think because I physically held it on my person I could never forget it was there, and always being on my mind forced myself to always strive towards it.

That said, it's not a magic trick. It wasn't exactly like it fell into my lap. Nothing was given to me. I had to earn it. I had to wheel and deal, beg, borrow, or steal myself to make it happen, but it did. I pulled it off paycheck to paycheck, a little at a time until it rolled into something so epic it wore me down and built me up again. Somehow got a mortgage, a collie, a truck, land, and raised a barn. There are fences outside and a CSA on the books. Thanks to the help of many hands, my amazing parents and siblings, friends, blog readers, thoughts, prayers, and (I think) this daily diary online my aspirations went from a pipe dream to a steam engine. If it was something a girl from Palmerton could get, you can too. I promise.

So if you are someone who wants their own land, wants their own farm... I ask you to sit down and write what you want tonight. Write it all down, fold it up and put it in your pocket. It might take five years before you're in your own kitchen dancing with a border collie—but hell, those five years are coming no matter what—might as well have a farm at the end of it all.

And keep dancing in your kitchen. It can only help.

gilt

I picked out a little gilt tonight. A farmer here in Cambridge was selling them for a song. Tomorrow I'll bring into the barn a 9-week-old yorkshire piglet. She'll stay here just a few months really (as my books say they'll reach slaughter weight in 90 days). and by early spring she'll be inside the house (in the freezer). I'm planning on splitting the animal between me and some friends, and it should be quite the experience and actually make a few bucks for the farm. Tomorrow morning I'll prep a pen in the barn and then by 2pm she'll be alseep on a bed of straw.

Here's to a short-term experiment and a lot of bacon!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

i eat meat

I was a vegetarian for nearly a decade, something I decided to do in college when I became aware of the mistreatment and cruelty in industrial agriculture. But I decided to come home to eating meat earlier this year and am glad I did. My reasons are personal but I will share them here. I'll start out this post by saying that these are my opinions and conclusions, and mine alone. Every person has the right to eat however they wish, but I have endless respect for anyone who thinks about what they eat. But this is why I am a shepherd, and why the first meat to pass these lips in 9 long years was lamb.

Because They are Here

Quite frankly, there's a lot of meat around here. I live in an agricultural Mecca known as Washington County. My region of Southwestern Vermont and Northeastern New York (which I lovingly refer to as Veryork) is thriving with small-scale, ethical, sustainable farms producing (within fifteen miles of my front door) beef, pork, turkey, chicken, rabbit, lamb, mutton, deer, emus, and spit-ready goats. There are trout-rich rivers, venison in the fields, pheasants-and-ducks-a-plenty, and even the occasional bear or squirrel stew. Protein sources like these, raised by my neighbors, friends, and coworkers are plentiful. When I found out I was surrounded by so much grass-fed meat and wild game it seemed ridiculous to keep eating tofu shipped in diesel rigs from California. Since my reasons for being a vegetarian were entirely about avoiding factory-farmed meat: I decided it was time to start supporting the farmers who were raising animals the way I wanted them raised. It took a couple years to take that first bite, but now I am a proud and happy carnivore. I support local meat farmers, I raise my own animals for food, and I hunt wild game as well.

I Eat Meat Because I am an Animal

Some people like to consider human beings something else. I do not. I suppose we are in the sense that our advanced evolutionary status, intelligence, and abilities, surpass others but at the end of the day: I am an animal. Being an animal on this planet means I have to abide by certain unquestionable truths to live here. The first and foremost being that the only way I can remain alive is if I eat other living things. There is nothing a human being consumes that wasn't at one point alive, and even the purest Vegan diet still contains living plants. A life was ended. Just because the plant wasn't as advanced a species as a rabbit or a deer, doesn't mean a life was not taken to sustain you. I am not comparing plants to complex animals, just making the simple point that the alive must eat the living. This is how our world works. If I died in the woods and a pack of coyotes came across me, they wouldn't trot past thinking "Oh, we can't eat that. It's not food! It's a person!" Hell no. They'd go buffet on my ass.

Can I survive off plants alone? Of course I can. So can a bear, a rat, a crow, a raccoon, and countless other omnivores. Yet no other animal who has the choice to avoid meat in its diet, does. This is because flesh is a power-packed, vitamin-rich, and calorie-dense source of sustanance. It keeps them going, keeps them alive. Energy in its purest form.

The natural state of this world, I'm sorry to say, isn't peaceful and kind. As compassionate beings, people with beautiful hearts and minds go above and beyond their abilities to stop the taking of lives. Yet, this is not how nature works, and we all know that. If every carnivore stopped eating its prey there would be nothing short of chaos and destruction to the entire system. This is a system that has been working for quite some time. You would never ask the wolf to stop eating rabbits, so why should you ask the humans in the same eco-system to do so? I am constantly told that our ability to choose means that we should opt away from eating animals. I say it is our abiluty to choose that proves that we are animals, and should eat accordingly. Our choice should not be "what" we eat, but "how" we eat.

Pasture-raised meats in moderation is a wonderful thing.

Eating meat also reminds me that I am a dying animal. I am something that is here for a short time, a part of the world for a few decades and then gone forever. When you are farmer producing meat you are constantly aware of your own mortality, it is impossible not to be. I hold no illusions about this, and so it is with every bite of a bird I raised that I am aware of the world he left behind. It makes me talk softer, listen more, and never ever do I get worked up about the things the way I used to. Growing food this way has forced me to live every day like it might be my last. If I love someone: I tell them. If I can give money, or time, or energy to make someone else's life easier: I do. It has made me more compassionate in ways I could never imagine.

Why Sheep?

When I decided to become a livestock farmer, I went with my gut and focused on sheep. The more involved with the animals I became, the more I realized they are the perfect small farmer's animal. They not only produce meat but milk, wool, cheese, shearling, leather, and lanolin. They are easy to manage, respect fences, and small enough that if you get attacked by one you probably won't die. I can also manage a large number with the very green energy that is my sheepdog. The idea that I can get all this, and work beside my border collie, is why I raise these animals. On a bitter winter night I can cover up in a wool hat, sweater, and sheepskin gloves on a full stomach of lamb chops and feed my sheep with just a few flakes of hay. As a single woman I can manage an entire flock with the help of a good dog, which would not be the case with pigs or cows. I ask you, what other animal gives us so much and asks for so little in return. And does it without jumping fences or making a fuss?

If You Care About Farm Animals Eat Them

If you really care about the humane treatment of livestock then I strongly suggest you eat them. I mean that with all my heart. Purchase, prepare, devour, evangelize, and support the small farmers raising animals on pasture. Show this modern world that you don't want your money going towards feedlot beasts, that you are going out of your way to avoid them. Every dollar that goes into clean meat shows the folks making decisions about animal welfare in agri-business that people are appalled and distressed at the factory farm model. That we will no longer stand for assembly-line death and bacteria-filled carcasses. Until they notice their wallets getting thinner—and the organic meat sections growing larger in Wal-Mart—millions of animals will continue to suffer.

And I am not interested in hearing that a pasture-raised animal killed for food is also suffering. Why is all suffering bad? Why should all suffering be avoided? Of course an animal killed for food suffers. It dies to feed us. But food is the reason they are here in the first place, so I am not concerned about their lives coming to a close. I want their lives to end since that is what sustains me. What I am concerned about is what leads up to that final day. I want the majority of animals I eat to know what sunlight feels like. I want them to know how to run, know what it feels like to move every damn muscle in their body. I want them to be healthy, happy, and alive as their wild kin. I feel no guilt in harvesting them any more than I feel guilt slicing a head of broccoli off the stock.

I am grateful for both though, you just can't know how much.

All Meat is Not Created Equal

Some is certainly better, for us and for the beasts. Some people say that free-range meat is overpriced and an elitist option. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You may pay a few more dollars but what you aren't paying for is corn-fed, diabetes-inducing, fat-lined cuts from an illegal-immigrant powered slaughterhouse. If you bulk at the price after that, than why not eat healthier meat less often? Certainly, meat isn't something anyone needs to eat everyday. Most of my meals remain vegetarian with a few heartier ones on the weeknights. That all said, I am not perfect. I do grab the occasional deli meal on the go, but I do so less and less. It is now impossible for me to get any meat while sitting in my truck. Drive-thrus are part of my past. Good riddance.

As a meat farmer myself, I feel as if I am on the front lines of factory-farm liberation. I am providing people with an option of local, grass-fed, healthy animals they can visit and see in person any time they wish instead of some factory-slaughter, diesel-shipped, airline loaded piece of frozen mutton from New Zealand.

A vegetarian's money does support sustainable agricultural and sends a big message to the Conventional Vegetable and soybean business, but keeping your money out of the hands of small meat farmers isn't making a dent in the treatment of those factory farm animals you are protesting. If everyone who agreed on the principal that factory farmed meat was unkind spent their money eating one pasture-raised meat meal a week the industry would be forced to change, and change quick. When there is no good left business in cheap, dirty, meat the factories will go away. As a member of the future of my region's rich agricultural heart: I hope for this above all things.

I raise meat because I love animals.

we bottle our cider in two weeks!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

backseat ballads

I have always been a music lover, and in design school I became a music snob. I devoured as much obscure punk and indie as I could get my ears on, then grew into indie folks bands and old time. I still collect records, and am proud to say my pickup truck has more Radiohead and Iron and Wine than anything else...but I have come around and lost that idiocy that is musical snobbery. Good music to me is music that makes you smile, that makes you sing along, that makes you happy. I started tuning into the local country station last year on hay runs and now it is what I listen to all the time in my Ford. I've discovered that modern country music is one of the few genres keeping traditional ballads alive, telling stories and teaching lessons in a few minutes. This storytelling is what pulled me into my love of old time music, too. So hand me some cowboy boots and a very large belt buckle, gents. I know every damn word of Zac Brown's Chicken Fried.

Sorry, Sub Pop.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

dairy folk get down

All my thanks to Ashley for sending me this. Amazing.

indian winter

If last weekend was all about relaxing and staying at home, this weekend was the opposite! There's this freak weather pattern floating through Veryork right now, with days in the sixties and nights dropping anywhere from the mid 20s to mid 40s. Wood stoves are lit at night and by 10 Am all the windows are open to cool down the houses. If you can believe it: Saturday brought Jackson to 65 degrees. Crazy.

Instead of a picnic or hike, I used that fair weather to take care of things that would matter when it was twenty below here at the farm. I put another coat of paint on the new sheep shed, and repaired weak spots on the old one. I bought another truckload of hay and stored it in the barn, which is now about thirty bales high and reaching up into the loft space. Another ten bales line the covered side porch and will be protected by a tarp from rain. I also did all those little chores I've been putting off like replacing outdoor light bulbs and mending weak areas in the fence. It felt good to know I used the time to help prepare the animals for the coming winter.

Fox wars are still on. Saturday night I was out there with the rifle and almost got him, but discovered the next morning how off the sight was on the 50-year-old gun. I had aimed true as I was taught in hunter safety: but the sight was set too high and when I was presented with the perfect shot just 35 feet away...I missed. I haven't seen him since he ran off into the woods that Saturday night, so maybe I did clip him? That or he's preparing his ranks for Operation Overcoat, in which 4,000 foxes will blanket the farm in an avian death raid...

The fox issue will sort itself out. It always does. But it does have me concerned about the lambs come spring. I'll need some sort of livestock guardian, and am thinking about the options. Another dog is out of the picture. Four dogs is simply too much and they don't seem like the right fit on these few acres. I would like a small (as in under 40 inches) donkey, pony, or mule to live with the flock, since they are proven guardians and also can be trained for draft work. If I'm going to be feeding another animal on the farm I'd like it to be as useful as possible. Dual-purpose security is the preference. But finding a free donkey or mule isn't easy and buying any other livestock is out. Perhaps electric fences will have to do this year.

P.S. ...and if you are wondering what happened to me this weekend without any big posts, you can blame Victorian Farm. I watched the entire 36-episode series on Youtube: twice. That and a brunch party ate up the weekend.

Monday, November 15, 2010

great

Because I'm me, I forgot to go to this Young Farmer Mixer in Albany this past Thursday. Kinda harsh to realize I missed the chance to meet young gents interested in learning how to raise livestock on pasture. So, if you were planning on going, falling madly in love with me, and living happily ever after please send me an email and I'll try not to miss the wedding.

I kid. I'm a kidder.