Thursday, February 2, 2012

celebration and sadness

This morning I drove south to Greg Stratton's Custom Meats Business, about 30 minutes from the farm in Hoosick, NY. I didn't know what to expect, but when I pulled into the driveway of the impeccably maintained farmstead and cut shop I was so impressed I stumbled walking inside. Outside the butcher shop, (their family business), were perfectly painted red barns and a blue farmhouse. Inside the shop was spotless floors, stainless steel, joking and laughing staff and a small office with white aprons hanging behind it neat as soldiers.

I picked up 150 pounds of meat, in two huge boxes. And that was without the hams, ham steaks, and bacon being smoked at a local meat shop (ready in a week or two) My two little pigs have served this farm well. I wrote him the check for three hundred dollars (includes on-farm slaughter, custom cuts, and packaging in vacuum-sealed freezer wrap) and carried them out to the truck with Gibson watching, tail wagging.

It is quite the proud feeling driving home with that amount of good food, work of your own hands, to feed friends and family alike. My thanks to all involved: breeder to butcher. Time to feast!

When I got home with Gibson and unloaded the truck, I had a very different task to tend to. I had to cull Pidge out from the flock. She was in poor health, not breeding quality, selling quality, and doing poorly this winter. It was a sad event indeed and I don't want to discuss, defend, or explain it any further than that. It needed to be done. I never had to put down my own lamb before, and it was hard on the soul and nerves, but I do not regret it. Not at all.

I hope that as I type this another generation is growing in my flock's bellies. I hope that late spring will welcome lambing once again. As tiring and stressful as those days are, they are my favorite time of the shepherd's year.

This Sunday Brett and I will slaughter and butcher Atlas, his work being done at the farm and my plan all along was to use him for breeding and then for the table. If he had grown into a mighty beast and outstanding specimim of the breed I would have sold him as breeding stock, but the truth is you can't have a ram full-time loose with your flock unless you want to invite hormones and incest in a few months. I can't use him next year on his own daughters and so he will be used to serve this farm as food. I'm just glad I have a chest freezer...yikes it will be full on Sunday afternoon. Afterward we'll head to a Superbowl Party in Manchester. Quite the weekend, equal parts somberness and celebration. I suppose that is what I signed up for, and I am glad in my choice.


Blogger greendria said...

Good for you, following through on difficult decisions. You've got grit and I admire your ability to take the actions that you deem best. I should learn from it; I have a rooster who is a menace, I need to do the "right" thing.

February 2, 2012 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Christee said...

Jenna, I am glad to read your posts everyday and become inspired by your words and your soul. Keep it up sister!

February 2, 2012 at 10:42 AM  
Blogger Jen said...

It sucks that doing the right thing can be so hard sometimes.

February 2, 2012 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger georgie said...

What Jen said.

February 2, 2012 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Flartus said...

Da-yum. As if all that slogging water uphill on an ice sheet in freezing weather weren't hard enough on a farmer. Tough week this week. Sorry about Pidge; a hard lesson to start with. I sure hope Atlas will leave some youngin's behind this spring. They'd be a living testament that he had some fun in his short but good life.

February 2, 2012 at 11:26 AM  
Blogger Jess said...

How heavy and old were the pigs when you butchered them. I'm sure you wrote it somewhere.

My son's best friend is the #2 man at a Purina Farm pig operation and loves working with them. He's butchered one hog he bought, and will pay for the rest of them to be done.

February 2, 2012 at 12:11 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I'm not exactly sure, but Kevin delivered 147 pounds of pork and bacon delivered 85

February 2, 2012 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

sorry, that was their hanging weight! so together it was a little over 150. they were 2.5ish months old in October so they were just shy of 6 months.

February 2, 2012 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Debi said...

Sorry about Pidge. As so many have already said, you did the right thing, and I admire your strength.

February 2, 2012 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

Hi Jenna, What will you do for a ram next year? Just idle curiosity. Sorry about Pidge. Perhaps you've already seen this article?


February 2, 2012 at 1:15 PM  
Blogger Stacie said...

As a meat-eater, I know and have to deal with the fact that death is part of the process, but it doesn't make it easy. I think it's good to recognize the gravity of our responsibility, which you seem to do with grace and compassion.

February 2, 2012 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

thanks all

February 2, 2012 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Jill, I have seen it. Thinking about it.

February 2, 2012 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger Maria said...

Your title of the post is right on! Both happy and sad today!

On all fronts, you did what was necessary and right.

February 2, 2012 at 1:55 PM  
Blogger RocketStarling said...

I just always enjoy reading your posts. They make me happy to know there are other younger women out there livin' the dream. Soon enough I'll have my own, but for now I'm content to let you do the culling and the slaughtering. I'll just read about it :)

February 2, 2012 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger RocketStarling said...

I just always enjoy reading your posts. They make me happy to know there are other younger women out there livin' the dream. Soon enough I'll have my own, but for now I'm content to let you do the culling and the slaughtering. I'll just read about it :)

February 2, 2012 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

Just echoing what's already been said, but also wanted to offer you my encouragement and admiration for being a good shepherd to your flock.

February 2, 2012 at 2:41 PM  
Blogger Lissa B. said...

I agree that you made the right decisions for your farm. They are tough and I know that someday I will have to do the same. Don't ever let anyone try to tell you what is best for you and your farm, you know it best and you know what you want to get out of it. You got to where you are today by doing your thing and it is so inspiring! Keep it up and I too want to know what you'll be doing next season, renting out a ram or maybe buying a lamb ram?

February 2, 2012 at 3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's often so much harder to make a right decision, but it feels so much better when it's been done. it says so much about your character and your life at the farm that you've made the hard decision and also the one that is the best for all involved.that is something to truly be admired.


February 2, 2012 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Poppy said...

I really believe that if most of our population were so in touch with where our food came from, we (society) would hold food to be more sacred that we do.

It is a shame that we waste so food. I think if we all had to raise our own food, waste would be almost non-existent.

Great posting!

February 2, 2012 at 4:03 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

@Jill - great article, thanks for sharing. Cognitive dissonance is right.

February 2, 2012 at 4:04 PM  
Blogger Abby said...

I wanted to read that Slate article Jill mentioned above, but the address didn't get copied fully. What is the title so I can search for it?

February 2, 2012 at 5:37 PM  
Blogger Abby said...

I wanted to read that Slate article Jill mentioned above, but the address didn't get copied fully. What is the title so I can search for it?

February 2, 2012 at 5:38 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Go to for a link and write up by Cathy Daughton about it. She hits the nail on the head.

February 2, 2012 at 6:03 PM  
Blogger candisrrt said...

What a lovely post. In and out, it is the way the world works. I do enjoy reading about your daily struggles and triumphs.

February 2, 2012 at 6:20 PM  
Blogger Cat said...

I'm sorry about Pidge, but glad you had the strength to do what needed to be done. Congratulations on the pork!

February 2, 2012 at 6:28 PM  
Blogger Lyssa said...

That sounds like one happily full chest freezer.

Culling is always a bummer, but you're doing the right thing...and hopefully soon you'll have a bouncing herd of healthy lambs.

February 2, 2012 at 7:19 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

Those are hard times. I still remember the first time I saw a slaughter in person. It was much the same as your experience. We had a couple of hogs on the school farm that were ready to be butchered. Someone put down a bowl of food in front of them while the butcher got his gun. They were dispatched quickly and the other hogs living just 20 feet away weren't at all disturbed by the goings-on. It was fast, efficient and humane. I hope to be able to do the same thing you're doing now and know that all of my food met the same quick and peaceful end as the hogs on the school farm.

February 2, 2012 at 7:22 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

So I guess Atlas did the deed? I know that you weren't sure if he was up to the task for a while there. How many babies are you guessing you might have this spring?

February 2, 2012 at 10:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

So you don't want to breed a ram to his daughters, but is it ok to use him on his mother? She's in the herd, right?
Curious about the rules of sheep linebreeding/inbreeding. I only know rabbits, where it's basically "do whatever you like, just know you'll strengthen bad traits as well as good". And I suppose with any animal you have to be really careful if you keep it up for multiple generations.

February 3, 2012 at 12:42 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I don't know if he did or not, but regardless, I won't keep him here. If he bred them they are bred by now, if they aren't the season is washed out for this farm. I'll find out in a few months!

I could breed him back to these same sheep, but i would have to keep two pens of sheep, new and young, and I wont do that intensive management splitting mothers and daughters at 4 months if age and then have to rotate my small pasture space with that many animals. Its not impossible, but too much managment, which I don't have the time for. Specially if he didn't dote job he was bought for!

Next fall I'll buy/rent a new ram to do the job.

February 3, 2012 at 6:44 AM  
Blogger Kathleen Stoltzfus said...

Is Atlas just now a yearling? My ram lamb was successful in breeding his first year, but not as successful as in following years when he had a bit of maturity on him. The downside of that maturity is his bad attitude and behavior towards me during breeding season (September through February). I keep reminding him how good mutton sausage would be, but he doesn't seem to care. I know there are those who get a new ram lamb every year or two for that very reason as well as new genetics in their flock.
Good luck with lambing!

February 8, 2012 at 1:00 PM  

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