THE BIG FARMSTAND
March 3, 2014. Balance.
For every day like February 27 (see Record-breaking Day), there is a March 3rd.
When lambs are born they seem to be someplace in between here and there. Like waking up early in the morning and it seems just as easy to slip back asleep as it is to get up and put your feet down on the cold floor. So it's a good 24 hours after the lambs are born until I feel very positive about them staying here for good.
Monday morning, pen #2 was missing its lambs. I found the ewe lamb next door napping with 021s twins, but the little ram lamb had become lost and was hunched up by itself off to one side. I would have put him back in his place right away, except right behind him was 793, her rump was red with blood. A little white lamb was standing next to her. But farther on there was a dead lamb.
When lambs are stillborn they seem to fall from the womb and fold in on themselves on the ground where they land. This lamb was stillborn. Off to the right now, another dead lamb. Different than stillborn, this lamb had wandered off in the dark and was stretched out in a posture of cold longing. 793 had birthed triplets and lost track of them. She called out to both of them now and slowly worked back and forth between the bodies until I coaxed her into a pen with her living lamb.
Then back to 853's little ram lamb. I put him in with his mother but he couldn't stand. His ears and mouth were cold.
There's a general rule at THE BIG FARM: No livestock in the house. Johnny the bottle-fed lamb slipped in a couple of times (oh, those were jolly days!); and in the summer with the door open, poultry have explored the threshold, and a couple of years back, Dottie's lamb was hypothermic and was brought in, but he died.
By the time I'd gotten 853s little ram lamb in, he was not very responsive. He began to crane his neck and head back over his body, and started convulsing. I deployed the homestead version of the ER crash cart, but, in truth, it was nothing more than hospic care. He was intubated, given an enema, and received a plethora of shots--Vitamin B primarily, but also A and D, dextrose, and an antiobiotic.
I left him alone on an old dog bed on the fireplace hearth and went to Brownfield for the week's hay and grain, but the strangest thing happened.
That little lamb came back. Francesca and Sarah and Ike had come home from doing some errands and, when I looked in, the children were playing with the lamb. His head was up, ears sticking out. He looked around, considering his good fortune at being in front of a raging fire.
Francesca Priestman, RN, and I ran him through another series of shots and tubed feeding. He stood on his own about twenty minutes later and I scooped him up, walked gingerly down the iced-over driveway, and put him back out where he belonged.
February 27, 2014. A Record-breaking Day
Thursday morning started out nicely. Twenty-one had birthed her twins in the early morning and they were both in great shape. I set them up in lambing pen #3. Sweetie and her daughter Sweetness had won the early-bird sweepstakes, having had their lambs over the previous weekend. They occupied the other two lambing pens.
Ike and I went out to check on the lambs at 3:30 pm. We found Eight-thirty with her new baby, a single ewe lamb. I moved Sweetness and her lamb out of pen #2, Ike held the spot while I lured Eight-thirty over and in with her lamb.
Great! Ike and I set off for the post office and to hang out at the library while the girl scouts met at our house. We got back a little after five, just as the meeting was breaking up, and some of the girls wanted to see the lambs.
When we got out to the barn--more new lambs. Richelle had birthed twins.
I handed over Sweetie's lamb to the girl scouts, moved Richelle and her new lambs into pen #1, got everyone fed, milked Gretel, toweled off the new lambs, made sure they were nursing, then back in for dinner.
Five lambs in one day is not even a blip on the radar for most operations, may be even considered a slow day at some, but at THE BIG FARM, five lambs in one day is a big day. I checked the records at the dinner table while I was waiting for everyone to get in and get settled. The previous records had been set January 31, 2011 and February 10, 2011. Four lambs were born on each of those days.
January 17, 2014. The King of Des Moines.
For me, salami stands shoulder to shoulder with cheese and bread on the front lines of life-enhancing foods. I love the salty chewiness, the peppery spiciness, and, in very good salami, the nearly indetectable muskiness that comes from good quality meat hung and dried to concentrate its texture and flavor.
If all that excitement over salami seems a little over the top to you, I understand.
I really like salami. The better part of my childhood was marked off by Sunday dinners at my grandparents' house. They didn't live far away. They had an extremely large television console and plenty of very comfortable seating for game day. But as mid-day waned toward late afternoon, and the pot roast wasn't quite dried out enough, the Waldorf Salad not yet assembled, the burning of the Yorkshire pudding not yet considered, there was the salami! On a little side plate with some cheddar cheese and Ritz crackers, go ahead and try to tell me I'm not the king of Des Moines.
Surprisingly, out in the country here in New Hampshire, it's hard to put your hands on a good salami. The supermarket version today is typically pretty oily with a flat flavor that says it's salami, but doesn't really mean it. I could probably find a passable salami at the Whole Foods in Portland, or trek down to Boston to the grocer around the corner from where I used to live in the North End. Good salami there. The store's still open, of course, and it's out from under the shadow of the freeway which is now properly buried. But I don't get to Boston much, and the gas expense usually leaves me without much salami money.
So, in the spirit of the times--if you can't get something you need, make it yourself--I've put together a test batch of salami for the first time. It's a mostly straightforward process. Mix some pork and fat with salt, pepper, sugar, garlic. Stuff it into some casing (for this small batch, Sarah and I used a pastry bag with the tip taken off to squeeze the meat mix into the casings). Hang it to dry.
This basic recipe we used suggests three to four weeks drying time. The salamis will lose about a third of their weight in the process. We are nine days into the drying process. Weight loss is negligible.
Of course I've left out the most interesting part. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, it is also the most interesting part about making cheese. That is, bacteria strains are added into the product to be preserved and encouraged to grow. And in the dog eat dog world of the micro-cosmos the cultures added into the meat (or milk curds) beat out the everday bacteria we live with all around us and would otherwise feed on our food and spoil it.
Francesca had just been ruminating out loud about food preservation. Until a hundred years or so ago, salting, drying, culturing, smoking; all these were the go-to methods for keeping food at home. And now, in some quarters, a lot of these methods are forgotten, or on the fringe, or suspect.
It's a tricky business. We'll see how this project works out.
December 12, 2013. A Short Tribute to Flatbread Company
It occurred to me that in the couple of years I've been writing THE BIG FARM log I have not mentioned one of the farm's biggest benefactors--Flatbread Company.
I work a couple of shifts a week waiting tables there in North Conway. It's been a great source of income while the farm has been building up, and keeps me home days to take care of my family, the animals, and to make cheese.
It's a good place to work. It's nice to sell good food to nice people (some of whom are also discriminating customers of THE BIG FARM); and I'm blessed with the friendship of the people I work with.
If that weren't enough, I'm welcome to waste cuttings from the kitchen whenever I can track them down. Above, Hilary enjoys some delicious organic leaf lettuce which was not quite up to snuff for the restaurant. And below is a photo of a nice Flatbread Company sticker I received from Staci, the North Conway managing partner. Placed as it is, it's doing a super job holding that black rubber strip onto the bumper of THE BIG FARM Vanagon. Thanks Flatbread!
November 27, 2013. A Big Day at THE BIG FARM
Today, Percy came over from Helen Steele's farm in far-off Wonalancet for his ram-in-residency. He's shown above arriving in THE BIG FARM towncar. Our ram, Ivan, died this past summer, and we've given his son Roger (Dodger) a run at filling dad's shoes, but there's a lot at stake--no lambs means no milk which means no cheese which means a lot of sad faces in the Mount Washington Valley, especially here at THE BIG FARM. So, just in case Roger's not up to the task, we've acquired some insurance, also known as a clean-up-guy. He'll stay with us through the holidays. Welcome Percy!
Also today, one of our tom turkeys and I had a disagreement.
He believed he'd been exempted from taking part in Thanksgiving, or "pardoned"; but I knew he hadn't.
November 11, 2013. Winter's Vanguard.
The place where temporary things and memory meet is a powerful place. Remember the old-fashioned perfume your grandmother wore, or the heat from an early morning campfire.
Here is the result of our first snow. Like every other place, there is usually a little buzz and thrum in our little valley when the first snow is predicted, but I was caught unaware and woke up to find almost half an inch of snow on the ground. Six or eight or ten or more feet of snow will fall before winter's end. That aside, the children were suited up and out playing before eight a.m.
By afternoon, the eaves were finished dripping, and by this morning, there was just this little fellow to remind us.
October 31, 2013. Real Frankenfruit
Frightening evidence from our times. Choose your bogeyman--global warming, frankenplants, genetically modified manure, supermarket irradiation therapy. Both photos above taken today, Thursday, October 31, 2013, near the 44th parallel here at THE BIG FARM.
Mister Lincoln is the rose shown above, malingering here well past the first freeze, and more than likely continuing to bear this last blossom past All Saint's Day. In Portland, Oregon, a foggy Halloween, a darkened foot path, and a brush with Mr. Lincoln is commonplace. But I don't expect him here in New Hampshire, where just last week I was working outside, and encountered what I decided to call, "very soft hail."
The little yellow flower above is a tomato blossom from a plant which I bought in March at the Tamworth Farmers Market. That day, good fortune put me next to Sandy Brocar who was selling from a rack of miniature tomato plants--great for outdoor containers or a windowsill. I bought two, both of which were no taller than my thumb, and brought them home for my wife. I may have traded for cheese, but more than likely I paid cash, maybe a dollar and half or so for each.
Over the course of the summer we had more than a handful of delicious tomatoes from each little plant, and eight months later, here we are still together. In a few months time the winter markets will be underway again in the Tamworth Townhouse. Look for Sandy; she has a pretty, friendly face, and a lively look in her eyes. (It might be over-reaching to say she could be a fairy godmother.) She'll be surrounded by tiny little starts, all thumbing their noses at the snow and ice outside.
And, if you get very close, and close your eyes, and smell the tiny tomato plants--push your self-conciousness aside and really lean in--and let a little frond brush your nose; you can feel the ice melting, and smell the warm dirt smell coming back, and you can taste the lake water in your eyes and mouth, the bright summer sun burning down directly overhead, and then summer is rushing past as it does, and finally the questioning slant of the sun, and a day which is too cold to wear shorts, and you've returned to a cold, damp Halloween night, thinking about a little yellow flower--and you'll know the thing is enchanted.
October 18, 2013. Visible Progress
This week marks the first time I can report visible progress on the cowshed. Until now, I've been designing the framing system, digging away, pouring little cement pads in the ground, cutting timbers. Which isn't much to look at.
But Wednesday I completed cutting the joints for the timbers, and Thursday I hoisted the first posts and beams up and pegged them into place.
Halloween is still my goal for getting the cow bought and moved in, though with just 13 days left, it may be just out of reach. The visible progress is encouraging though.
September 11, 2013. Groundbreaking Ceremony
Attendance at the groundbreaking for the cowshed was low today. I didn't put a lot into publicity. Still.
There was a juried competition to award the architectural design for the cowshed. I didn't put a lot into publicity for that either.
Below are the three entries I received. At left is a beautiful conceptual design which initially won the award, but the architect could not provide build specifications so it had to be dropped. The center design was our runner-up, until it was pointed out that this design has already been built in Abu Dubai. That left us with our ultimate winner--the farthest right entry, which, however humble, our cow will soon call home.
August 30, 2013. Grasshopper or Ant?
|We know people who put up a lot of food. On any given day from now through September, their kitchens are steaming with summer heat, boiling pint jars, and the perspiration of human labor; their counters are lined with pots of food and piles of vegetables in different stages of cleaning and cutting and cooking.
Francesca and I have not typically put up a lot of food in the past--a token batch of tomato sauce here, a little frozen spinach there.
But this summer we have put up quite a bit more food than we ordinarily would. Just some of it is shown here. Now this bounty of summer food bound for enjoyment in November and January and March next year got me to thinking about the grasshopper and the ant. It's an annoying little fable. The grasshopper is portrayed as more slack-jawed than is really fair, and the ant is never shown to be quite as priggish and self-righteous as we all know that he is.
Which brings me to a little trick I haven't quite figured out. What to do when your self image is in direct conflict with your actual self.
Given the choice, I have thought of myself as the grasshopper. I think my wife would say the same. We are city people. Libertine slaves of summer. Happy-go-lucky. Believers in the here and now.
Grasshoppers through and through.
However, here we are, awash in canned fruits and vegetables, some double-digit number of chickens are in the freezer, a short supply of household cheese resides in the aging room, apples are soon to follow.
What to do?
What to think?
Who am I really?
Grasshopper or Ant?
July 4, 2013. The Swarm!
|It's a long, boring story between the time we got bees and the moment I donned this haz-mat suit to get into a hive for the first time.
Like a lot of stories, it starts at the dining room table in the afternoon during a bewildering snowstorm. It was a couple of years ago. My wife and I and my wife's father, and a couple of the children, we are sitting around, being together, I think, by instinct, as the snow swirls down in great heaps. (We are probably gorging ourselves on cheese.) When I asked my father-in-law if he was interested in building us some hives. He has a nice wood shop, and the skills. After a little thought, and some prodding, he agrees.
By April of that year, Mr. Meier has completed the hives, enrolled in bee school with the regional bee club, is subscribed to a bee journal, and has ordered two colonies of bees for delivery within a few weeks time.
This is great for me. I have done no work, provided no supervision, and made no financial investment, yet here we are in just a few months time with honeybees working overtime.
Now let time pass a couple of years. There are triumphs and disappointments, up-close lessons in apiology for the children, and some delicious hyper-local honey. Among the disappointements was the loss of a colony over this past winter of 2012-13. A new colony is ordered for delivery in the spring; however, that colony as well as every other colony to come north on the eastern seaboard is delayed a month by cold weather. My father-in-law will be in Germany when they finally arrive. I will reemphasize, up until this point, the bee operation has required no work on my part. My streak is over.
The trickiest part of installing the new colony in the hive is taken on by friends from the bee club who deliver the bees. Five days later; however, a simple procedure must be performed to make sure the queen has joined her colony. For the first several days in the new hive, she is enclosed in a separate wire matchbox-like device with soft candy on both ends. Over the next couple of days she nibbles her way out, while the other bees nibble toward her; the queen rejoins her colony and you're off to the races.
To make sure this has happened, it's necessary to open up the hive, find the matchbox, make sure the queen is not in it, realign the hive bars which have been disrupted, and close everything up. Which brings us back to the top--me in a haz-mat suit with a new colony of bees.
I was a little anxious, of course. I don't like bee stings. I have some claustrophobia issues, which I was concerned about with the whole headdress and bee suit thing, but that worked out ok.
When I opened up the hive (see photo below), I think I stopped breathing for a little while. But then, recovered, I went about my task, very slowly and deliberately, and lo! the bees did not attack me. Or even seem to be interested in me much at all.
After a while it got to be down-right enjoyable. The bee smoker which is used to calm the bees was fun to use. And there is a pleasant hypnotizing element to watching a swarm of bees moving around. I caught myself lingering with the hive open for perhaps longer than it should.
I will not let on that I enjoyed my task with the bees. Spending time with them would be a secret pleasure. Look for me, by the hives on the side of the road, I will look like the ghost of an old cardinal in the moonlight, swinging his smoking thurible as the liturgy of midnight mass humms from inside the white boxes.
June 6, 2013. Cheesecake.
|Since Donna Wren took home some whey from the cheesemaking class I put on here in April and made cheesecake by cooking ricotta out of the whey
(see her post here), I've been obsessed. The first ricotta I made was grainy, then better after that.
Then the cheesecake. It was tricky. The flavors were mostly right, but getting the texture--that mouth-feel--seemed out reach. For two weeks I made cheesecake every day. And every day I made my family eat my cheesecake experiments for dessert.
The weeping and gnashing of teeth. "No, Daddy, no. No more cheesecake."
I know now it was a sacrifice I should not have asked of them.
Were there raised voices at the dinner table during this time? Yes, there was.
Did I say things I now regret? Perhaps, yes.
Did the words ever cross my lips: "Children, you shall not have any salad and potatoes until your cheesecake plate is clean."? Actually, no.
But the family trials were worth it in the end, and so that their suffering will not be in vain, I've assembled a tutorial to guide you on your own cheesecake-making odyssey. Click on the link below for the video on THE BIG FARM's YouTube page.
Cheesecake-making Tutorial from THE BIG FARM
May 12, 2013. Large Hadron Collider Look Out.
|To avoid being considered backward-thinking or retro, THE BIG FARM Creamery is moving forward with new technology. In fact, our research and development team, has bypassed Twenty-second century technology and is moving right on to 23rd century technology.
And so, with pride, I unveil our latest development, Very Large Pot Technology (pictured above). Without getting too technical, Very Large Pot Technology allows me to make the same superbly delicious sheep's milk cheese as I have in the past--but in larger quantities! Whereas before I could make a 5-pound cheese in a day, now it is possible to make four 5-pound cheeses in that very same day!
(And who doesn't like more cheese.)
April 15, 2013. Wow!
|What a week!
The better part of it was spent getting ready to put on the first cheesemaking class here at THE BIG FARM. I was hoping for the best, but really expected the worst, or some variation of the worst. There were really dozens of things that could have gone wrong, the most likely of which was I would stink.
But Saturday came. Students came. We made some cheese together, had some lunch, made some more cheese, visited the livestock.
It was fun.
I'd been saying it would be for a couple of months while getting it all set up, mostly to convince myself. And if I stunk at times, I think people were distracted enough by the cheese making not to notice. One of our visitors, Donna Wren, has a neat blog at
The Canning Doctor which has an entry describing the day, and including some nice pictures. It's inspired me to tackle harvesting my ricotta and making cheesecake. Thanks, Donna!
The next morning I went out to feed and milk the sheep, and I was greeted by one, two, then three newborn lambs. I sorted out who belonged to who, coaxed the first-time mothers into their private maternity pens with their lambs, then sat down and took a couple of breaths.
My wife is right. The first-time moms really are shell-shocked by the whole lambing experience. After the first year they are much more savvy and casual about the whole affair, but the first timers are totally surprised by what has happened to them. They look at lamb next to them, look around for the lamb's mother, and when no one steps forward, they can't believe it is theirs. And if the poor girl has twins, and the second comes, and she finds that one, she looks around, doubly appalled, "And you too?"
But the biggest event of the week was at the beginning. Ginger and Sarah both have jobs they can do in the milking parlor, but Ike, who is out there with me the most, and is not yet two, had not figured out anything he could do to contribute. That is, until this week. Below is a link to the YouTube video of Ike performing his first job on the farm.
Ike's First Chore
February 26, 2013. Weaning Pen.
|I'm hoping to stoke another breastfeeding controversy. Feel free to copy this image and forward it to your friends under the subject line: "Farmer Tries to Curtail Breastfeeding by Penning Son with Weaning Baby Lambs!"
The truth, unfortunately, is less fantastic. Ike and I had a nice couple of mornings in the barn last week setting up the weaning pen and the creep feeder right next door. He was a great help with the hammer and the nails and the staples, and pretty good company, too.
The creep feeder is an 8'x8' pen where I put out grain and hay for the younger lambs. It has a little Z-fold opening that the lambs can go in and out of without their mothers breaking in and hogging all the feed.
The weaning pen is exactly what it sounds like.
With a sheep dairy the question inevitably arises--If you are milking the sheep, what about the lambs? What about the lambs?
It's a good question.
I almost always start by answering the question with, "Well, you know, those big outfits in the midwest, they take those lambs off their mothers the very first day..." Etcetera, etcetera. Head shaking, gentle moaning. Those poor little lambs. "But me," (sound heroic farmer trumpet) "I keep them with the moms for at least a month. By that time, they're eating hay and grain and..." Happy, happy, happy, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Warm fuzzy lambs; warm fuzzy farmer.
As a self-serving diversionary tactic, this is an A-1 strategy.
The truth is weaning lambs at any age is unpleasant. After I've tossed a small group of them into the pen, they explore a little, check out the food situation, run around a little--then start looking for their mothers.
The mothers start calling back and rush over to the pen. The lambs start calling and crying, calling and crying; hurling themselves against the pen wall. As I said before, it's unpleasant. This carries on day and night, off and on, for about 36 hours or so. Then the lambs seem to forget about nursing, or resign themselves to their situation, and get back to doing cute lamb-y things with their brothers and sisters.
Ike is not yet weaned. I'm not sure when he will be. But when the time comes, I'll show him this picture if I need to. Remember, it could be worse for you, son. A lot worse.
January 22, 2013. Spring Training.
|I needed a little clean warm water for a veterinary task in the barn; unfortunately I grabbed the most handy container--this nice, glass quart milk jar, and left it behind when I was finished.
I have gotten more accustomed to the extreme cold in New Hampshire since we move here from the temperate Northwest, but I don't think it's ever going to be right. For folks who live in warmer climates, think of the difference between 90 F and 60 F. That's the difference between freezing and another beatuful day in New Hampshire when the temperature dips down close to zero.
But this entry isn't about the weather. The weather is what you talk about when you don't want to talk about the other stuff--which right now is the new season starting.
Today is the first possible day for lambs to come. More likely they'll start next week. And keep coming through the middle of February. Which is all very exciting. Like hearing that pitchers and catchers will start practice in just a couple of weeks. It means somewhere in the U.S. the ground is not frozen and covered with ice and snow.
The tide has turned. I'm excited to see how many lambs come and which gender they are. I will pick out 2-4 of the most promising ewe lambs to keep in the herd. Nineteen, 007 and Beacon are yearlings born here at THE BIG FARM in 2011, and they will have their first lambs this month, which is exciting. I'm interested to see how milky they are which will give me the first inkling whether Ivan, our ram, will have a positive effect on milk production.
Milking will start in March, which means more cheese! I am close to being satisfied with a cow's milk cheese recipe I've been working on. It will be a creamy, cheddar cheese, which will be a nice complement to the sheep's milk Manchego, Romano and the Oswald West.
And I've been thinking for a while about making salami. I love salami. And I think it would be a nice product to carry along with the cheese, so I'm going to work on that this spring, which is also very exciting, in a slightly uncomfortable/intolerable way. Like being at the starting line ready to go. Stand there, shake it out; first one leg then the next. Crouch, stretch it out. Stand back up. Shake out your arms, roll your head around on your shoulders. Wait.
Which, of course, brings us back to the weather--below is a link to the National Weather Service forecast for Madison, New Hampshire--and a reminder I could have used this week: Don't let water freeze in nice glassware.
NWS forecast for Madison, NH
December 31, 2012. Time to let go.
It's probably past time to retire this old broom. The end of the old year and the beginning of the new is as good a time as any. The broom is sitting in the corner of the garage. I use it every week to brush loose hay out of the back of the truck after I drop the bales in the barn. It's a long winding road to this get to this point.
I have a broom system.
When I buy a new broom, the new broom is assigned to the kitchen closet for use in the house, primarily the kitchen, dining room, mud room. The old kitchen broom is sent downstairs to the creamery where it does service in the milk room, the milk processing room, the bakery and the cheese aging room. The retiring downstairs broom, which is still in pretty good shape at this point, is sent out to the barn where it is used primarily in the spring and summer to sweep out the milking parlor twice a day.
It can also be deployed to clean cobwebs out of the rafters, knock out nascent wasp nests, swat at angry roosters, etc. This is where the wear and tear really starts to kick in. By the time the handle breaks in half and the bristles are worn to a nub, the usefulness in the milking parlor is just about nil. This particular broom earned extended assignment to the garage, but I looked at it yesterday as I tried to sweep the hay out of the truck with it.
It was time to let go.
November 4, 2012. Farm Grandpa
I first encountered Farm Grandpa in the spring of 2009 when I went to buy my first lambs outside of Belfast, Maine. Ginger and I came up to the farm in the van, and the first person we came across was the Farm Grandpa, a thin old man scratching at the dirt in the yard with a metal rake. He called the lady who was selling the lambs--his daughter or his daughter-in-law, I'm not sure which--and got back to work.
I've driven by that old farm two other times since, and both times that old Farm Grandpa was out. One time, in winter he was hammering at something on the front porch, and another time in late summer, he was in the side yard standing out under an apple tree, taking a break, just out of reach of the sun. After I noticed my first Farm Grandpa, I saw them everywhere I went--little old men at other little old family farms doing chores and keeping an eye on things.
These are not General Store Porch-Sitting Grandpas, these are Farm Grandpas. Farm Grandpas have a number of high-level roles, mostly general oversight and supervision of the farm property and the comings and goings. They are usually engaged in some sort of homesteading activity.
It took me a while to connect these other Farm Grandpa's and my very own Farm Grandpa--my wife's father, Sepp. He's an unconventional Farm Grandpa, which I think made the initial connection difficult for me, but he's a Farm Grandpa all the same--whipping the woodpile, tending the bees, fixing broken furniture, providing high-level oversight and supervision.
Sepp took this picture of Ike.
Ike likes to come out with me and do the morning chores. When this picture was taken it was early and pretty cold. When I stuck my head out of the barn to check on Ike, Sepp was out on the driveway in front of the barnyard snapping away. He was in his slippers and green bathrobe.
I like my Farm Grandpa, and I know my wife and children do.
One warning though. Farm Grandpas are difficult to buy for. I'm giving mine food--a BIG FARM Christmas gift box: One bag of BIG FARM crackers, two quarter pound wedges of delicious BIG FARM Creamery cheese. (If I made salami, it would be in the gift box, too; but I don't--maybe next year.) All packaged in a nifty little wooden re-usable box: perfect for loose screws, playing cards, drill bits, whatever else your Farm Grandpa would like to tuck away for another day. Check THE BIG FARMSTAND for price and availability.
October 19, 2012. Foxie loxie
|We had a fox problem last month.
Our chickens are not penned, so they get out pretty early in the morning and start working the pasture and woods looking for breakfast, usually just about daybreak. With fox in the neighborhood, they became prime targets for his bedtime snack.
All our CSI team could find were a few tufts of feathers out in the open fields. There were six or seven victims in total over the course of couple of weeks. Francesca and her father both saw the perp accosting groups of chickens near the compost at the edge of the wood, but there were no eyewitness accounts of any slayings.
(Chickens don't lie; but they also don't talk.)
I ordered a trap for the fox. It came in the mail. It's like a very large have-a-heart mouse trap. I set it, baited it. I was worried we might catch the dog, or the cat, or the baby, but none of them seemed very interested in the trap.
I didn't get any action on the trap so I moved it. Waited. Rebaited the trap. Nothing. Then one morning the trap was sprung.
Every war has its innocent victims. Above is a picture of the collateral damage in the war between me and fox.
We'd had a problem with a skunk last year in the barn, eating eggs, and causing general nervousness in the house. He was deported to a nearby national forest. This skunk, however, was not a known menace. I opened up the cage, and after a couple of hours, he trundled down to the culvert just above the house and slipped into the woods.
The chicken killings have stopped. There were a couple of nights when there were coyotes making a ruckus up the hill, and my guess is they've asked fox to move on down the road.
The dozen or so hens left are mostly older, enjoying THE BIG FARM's generous retirement program, so the flock mistress ordered some new hens who are getting along nicely and will likely be laying by spring.
August 7, 2012. The F-word.
|If June and July are the months of routine--the steady months of milking, baking, cheesemaking; then August is the month of change. I've stopped milking the ewes. They will take a month or so's vacation before breeding, then start the whole cycle over again. Our short-stay poultry are wrapping up their time with us. Woodcutting has started in earnest, which of course brings to mind the F-word, also known as the A-word, also known as the season which follows summer. It is a fine season, perhaps the finest, but very short; and its proximity to The Season Which Shall Not Be Named is reason enough to look away from it out of fear as we grind from one solstice to the next.
Ivan, shown here, has undergone a change of venue. I've moved him to the recently vacated milking parlor, and a little section of the barnyard I've penned off from the rest. My wife calls it his ashram--a place of solitude and spiritual reflection. I call it his non-procreation station.
He will hang out here for the next month or so, with extra rations, and quite a few extra social visits from me and the children, who usually come bearing beet greens or bolted lettuce cuttings. After his month of quiet reflection he should be well-rested and energized, and the ewes will be ready for breeding.
This is the first time he's been separated from his flock for any length of time. Our hands-off approach in the past has given us lambs in the first week of January, This year we hope to stave off lambing until Groundhog's Day. Which is closer than you might think.
July 12, 2012. A long ways from January.
This is the scene on July 10, 2012--this photo taken from the same spot the first Project photo was taken on New Year's Day. Scroll to the bottom to compare and contrast!
Posts have been fewer and farther between since we've gotten into the routine of summer. Milking, moving the sheep around on the pasture, making cheese, making bread and crackers for the Farmers Market, and, as you can see, riding our bikes--up to the road, down to the barn, back up to the road, around and around the garage.
Good times, summer.
One of the questions most asked about the sheep is how do you milk them. The children and I endeavored to answer that question. Use the link below to see the result at THE BIG FARM's YouTube Channel.
THE BIG FARM Channel
June 9, 2012. This little piggie went to market.
There really should not be such a successful farmer's market in Tamworth, New Hampshire. The town is not the largest in the area. Fewer than 3000 people live there. It is not Conway, or Jackson, or even Madison. It is too far off for Lake visitors to trek, and a ways off the beaten path to the resorts in the North, yet . . .
Here it is, to my mind, the best small town farmer's market I've ever seen--and a decent rival to some big city markets I've been to. These pictures were taken in what should be the ho-hums of June--before the kids get out of school and the produce really begins to come in, before the fireworks the first week of July and the market is packed.
Still, there's a good crowd here, even in June; wallets are open, shopping baskets are full. Music is playing, people are socializing. There are more than 15 tents up this weekend, all food. Produce, bread, cheese, preserves. More tents will go up next weekend. By July there will likely be more than two dozen growers and producers selling the fruits of their labors.
If you already go to the market, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't been, put it on your list: Saturdays, 9 am to noon through Columbus Day. At the junction of Route 113 and Main Street in Tamworth.
April 5, 2012. Watch the birdie.
In the spring of 2009 when the sheep dairy operation was just starting with a handful of little lambs, I raised broiler chickens to sell fresh at the Tamworth Farmers Market. We had laying hens and knew how to keep them up, and I think the idea was: eh, what's a few more?
Two hundred and seventy-five chickens later, the season was over and I'd learned a few things about raising broiler chickens.
In the beginning of that first summer of 2009 I kept grain in front of them around the clock. They had plenty of grassy pasture to go to, but their instructions said keep feed in front of them at all times.
The first batch or two seemed to grow a little on the quick side, and they got a little flabby and didn't seem particularly bright--even for chickens. And I was beginning to join the crowd who disparaged these little guys as McFrankenChickens: glutonous, stupid, ugly, ungainly, dirty. From mid-summer on that first year, then more and more the next season, I scaled back the grain feed for each subsequent batch until they were just getting a good ration in the morning, then nothing. They ate their share, then the cupboard was bare. They weren't ready for market in 7 weeks, but my feed costs were way down as about mid-day, every day they all got a little peckish and headed out on the fields and up in the woods scratching out seeds and greens and bugs. They started lolling around in the sun, taking dust baths, running and flapping in a stiff breeze. Their self-esteem seemed improved.
The next year I did half as many. The year after that--half again fewer. The sheep were taking up more time and we suddenly had lambs to take care of and sheep to milk and cheese to make. I only do a handful now for ourselves and a couple of friends.
These chicks here were hatched in Connecticut and get van service to the No-view Farm in Wolfeboro, then it's car service for the chicks to Madison where their valet, Ginger, shown here, escorts each to the dog crate in the sun room and makes sure they are comfortable and know where the water fount is.
Elsewhere on the spring poultry front: We gave 3 turkey eggs to the Madison Pre-school last month to put in their incubator and they should probably hatch mid-April. And--Teresa, our Naragansett turkey hen has set up a nice little nest in the back of the barn, so we'll be looking for more turkey chicks mid-May.
I'm sure I'm not the first one to say it, but, I guess spring has sprung.
March 28, 2012. Playing the odds
A lot of projects don't play out quite as you'd like them to. In truth, most
Just since we've been here at the farm
in Madison, I can put together a pretty good list: acorns which mildewed, fleeces
still unwashed, plants poorly cared for, produce left too long in the ground, shoddy grazing fields still, the list goes on and on
and on and on . . .
So, when you get a success--even a small success--and when you get two in one week;
it's hard to know what to do with oneself.
Exhibit A. A snapshot of two children enjoying the fruit of their labors--sweet maple syrup. Our post of February shows our diligent
first attempt at tapping a maple tree. And, though the season was short and perhaps not as productive
for commercial producers, we got just the right amount. And,
Exhibit B. In December I began experimenting with some cow's milk cheese from another producer in the
Mount Washington Valley. I made some washed rind cheeses, and was mostly skeptical about the likely outcome.
But, I cut into one the Thursday before the March Tamworth Farmers' Market (which I had to bypass
because I had a household of sick children); and lo and behold, enclosed in that crusty ochre rind was a creamy and pungent cheese which I did not really believe was within my reach. I'm going to chalk that up to beginner's luck.
March 12, 2012. Johnny is dead.
|The orphan lamb Johnny died 2/28. He'd just been weaned off the bottle and was in the pen with Buck and Prestelle when he can
down with a bug of some kind. I pulled out all the stops for him--vitamin and dextrose injections, antibiotics--but he wasn't up for it and
died within 36 hours.|
He was a nice little guy and I miss him.
On the brighter side, here late in the lambing season, we've had 17 other lambs (7 girls and 10 boys) and lost only one other. Button had
a little ram lamb who never got up to speed. He died in my lap toward midnight of his first day while I was prepping to intubate him.
My wife, Francesca, provided us with our heroic moment of the season. It was a month ago yesterday. Hillary started laboring late in the afternoon and seemed to stall out. Little lambs are delivered
head and front feet first--like they're diving out and down into the hay. Hillary's little guy was upside down. I could see the hooves pointing out, and up toward the sky.
Fortunately, my wife was home and came out to help. I kept Hillary settled at the front, and Francesca did an internal exam. Lamb upside down and
backward. We retreated to the house to check our tattered copy of Managing your Ewe by Laura Lawson, and returned to the barn.
Hillary was waiting patiently--what
else was she going to do!--her lamb still stuck; time was not on our side. We assumed our prior positions and Francesca executed the move from Managing your Ewe. Reach in, grab the legs,
give a firm one-quarter turn, and pull continually until the lamb comes out. He did not come easy--and Francesca was a champ getting him out. He flopped out onto the hay,
long and limp and we had a long five-count until his muzzle twitched and he took his first breath.
Nice job, Francesca! Thanks.
04/13/2012. Morning Milking
|I have two orphaned lambs as sidekicks from house to barn every morning.|
March 8, 2012. Warning! Easter is just one month away!
Giving your children or a loved one a lamb for Easter is pure gold. The year they found a baby lamb in their Easter basket will be remembered for a lifetime.
And while you're thinking of the hugs and kisses and uncontainable affection you've earned for being a generous and loving person by giving an Easter lamb, there are practical reasons to raise a lamb, or two or three.
February 15, 2012. Who is that tap, tap, tapping at my window?
We had a hands-on project for school today. Earlier in the month Ginger and Sarah studied native trees which
led us eventually to the sugar maple, which led us to sugaring and maple syrup. As you might guess, the
education process here is a little haphazard, or, if you like, you can call it organic!
I am not native to New England
so tapping trees for sap is not a part of my heritage. I would probably easier teach my children how to dig for
clams, or fish for salmon, but here we are; so we learned how to tap a tree by reading and watching videos. We learned how to
read a thermometer and record the daily highs and lows (see photo), but once we'd acquired the skill after about a week or so, the truth is
we left off doing the job, mostly because it had been so cold out in the morning when school is on, and secondly, because
we are frequently in our pajamas when school is in session and the thermometer is posted by the garage, a good thirty feet or so
from the front door.
So, here a good sunny morning presented itself, and a forecast for favorable conditions, so off we went to try our hand. Tap #1-shown with me and
Sarah--seemed dry, while Tap #2 was wet and sappy, so we'll see. If we get a cup of syrup out of the project, I think we'll be happy.
February 6, 2012. Ginger's Birthday!.
Buck has a few brothers and sisters now. They've come in a rush.
Numbers 2-7--Prestelle, Gail, Gil, Linda, Lillian, and Rusty--came without any trouble. Last week, Richelle's daughter, Linda, was still wet and warm from birth when I came across her in the morning and she was already up and jogging around and nursing.
Number 8 came Sunday afternoon. I could hear the bawling from the house, and I went down to the barn expecting that an older lamb had gotten herself stuck somewhere away from her mum. But it was a just-born lamb all by himself towards the front of the barn—no ewe in sight. I started looking for her. Moving through the barn, checking all the ewe's ankles for blood from the birth, I found her in short
order; it was 849. She'd abandoned her lamb last year, and I had not yet gotten to moving her along.
I put the lamb and 849 in a pen together, but she'd have nothing to do with him—just like last year.
So, just like that, I had my first bottle-lamb of the year. I went back to thaw some colostrum and put together a little kit to intubate her. In very cold weather, or with weak lambs, or when it's unclear whether a lamb is nursing, we slide a tube down the gullet and into her belly and put colostrum directly into the stomach. Colostrum is the first milk out of the udder, and, among other things, acts like a super-charged energy drink to get the lamb up and going that first day or two.
Putting together the first kit for this year, I was a little irate. Mad at that lousy ewe for abandoning her little lamb; and a little mad at myself for not having already taken care of her; and feeling bad for that poor little ram lamb nuzzling around for a little warmth and nourishment and seeing his mother kick at him and walk away. My wife had to kick me and my lousy energy out of the kitchen while I fumed and cluh-runked-around putting together the kit. Finally, I got it done and left my family alone.
The lamb took the tubing like a little champ and later that night Johnny the Little Orphaned Lamb and I missed the Super Bowl halftime show together. We were working on our first bottle feeding together. Then again at midnight, and 4 am and so on.
Ginger and Sarah are good on daytime duties, and my wife is good about pinch-hitting, but mostly it's me and Johnny. He's been living in the tot-lot with the other young lambs. (When the lambs are born I set them aside in little 6x8 pens—it makes it a little easier for them to keep track of each other. Then after two or three or four days, depending on the lamb, I move them into a fenced off section of the barn where they have more room to race around and can interact with the other lambs and adults.) That's where these pictures are taken. Ginger and Sarah are taking turns giving Johnny the Little Orphaned Lamb his mid-morning bottle, and Ike is being closely inspected by the mother ewes, while the other lambs do that lamb-frolicking thing they do.
January 26, 2012. Back to waiting.
Reading is a good ways to pass the time—waiting for more lambs. You might remember we had an early lamb a couple of weeks ago.
That first lamb is growing like great guns, but has not learned to read yet. Which is creating a little situation for the poultry. With no playmate and no reading material to while away the winter days, “Buck” has taken to chasing the turkey hen around the hay feeder, and sneaking up on the laying hens and mounting them.
But neither of those things are acceptable outlets for me, so I've just finished Melissa Coleman's memoir of her childhood on her parent’s homestead in Maine. She is the daughter of Eliot Coleman, who is well-known for being in the vanguard of the 70s back to the land movement. Interestingly enough, he started his farm on land purchased from Scott and Helen
Nearing, also well-known from a previous generation’s back-to-the-land movement. If you have the time or interest, it would be an interesting troika—the Nearings Living the Good Life, and Coleman’s New Organic Grower or Four Season Harvest with Melissa Coleman’s memoir This Life is in Your Hands.
I don’t have another book to go with right now, so I am at loose ends again. Always up for suggestions. I will leave the poultry alone though, and gamely prop myself up on my elbows on the rug in front of the fire for another round of Sorry.
January 13, 2012. Trying my hand at a cow's milk cheese.
Sheep milk from this past summer has all been used for cheese and yogurt. The cheesemaking room has been dark since November. So, while we're waiting, I started buying milk from a nearby cow dairy to experiment with some cow’s milk cheeses.
I decided to make “washed rind” cheeses. Washed rind cheeses include Muenster, Limburger, Port Salut and some others, and you will recognize or remember them from their natural ochre-colored rind.
Washed rind is sort of a queer name for a cheesemaking method. All aged cheeses are “washed” in the sense that they are wiped down to keep surface mold in check. Here, however, the salt solution for wiping down the cheese is weak—3% salt v. 18% typically used*. With less salt to retard surface growth, the brevibacterium linens
cultures we’ve added intentionally and blooms in spots on the surface are then spread evenly over the cheese. The b. linens covers the surface of the cheese and creates the colored rind and the interior environment for a particularly tasty cheese. It seems a little tricky and we'll see how it goes.
I've decided to make Reblochon, which can be difficult to find in the US, draws a good price, and—frankly, sounds delicious. The rind provides a strong aroma, while the body of the cheese softens with age and develops a brie-like consistency and strong, sweet, natural dairy flavor.
Pictured here are four batches of Reblochon cheeses made at the end of December. The lightest two rows at left were made December 28 and 30. The two rows at right were made earlier--December 21 and 22—and you can see the blooms of mold and the coloring slowly starting to develop.
I'll keep you apprised.
* Truth in Advertising Note: When I say 3% or something inscrutably precise like that, I mean, here I have a small brinewater bucket with a pint or so of cold water and here is a small handful of salt which in a decent estimate of the amount it will take to make a salt solution in the neighborhood of 3%.
For cheese geeks, following are the production notes: Heat 4 gallons milk to 86 degrees. Add 3/8 t MAII and 1/8 t B. Linens. Let them reconstitute on the surface 5 minutes, then stir in gently. Ripen 15 minutes. Add 1 t rennet. Cut into ½ inch cubes at 60 minutes or when you can get a clean break. Let rest 5 minutes for curd to firm up a bit, then very gently whisk for 3- 5 minutes to achieve pea-sized curd. Heat from 86 degrees to 96 degrees over 30 minutes, stirring gently from time to time to prevent curds from matting together. Ladle whey out of pot to the top of the curd, then ladle curd into cheesecloth-lined molds—these are 4 inch molds. Fill to top—about 6 inches or so—and let rest 30 minutes with no pressure. Flip molds and repeat flips every 30 minutes to make 6 turns. Add 5# weight and press for 8 hours. Rub top and bottom with 1 t salt and put in aging room at 90% humidity and 55 degrees (see Truth in Advertising note above). Sixty degrees is the recommended temperature for aging these little guys, but I have other cheeses to tend to so I’m compromising. Flip every day and wipe with 3% salt solution for a couple of weeks. Reduce frequency of turning and washing until cheese is finished—6-15 weeks depending on the depth of flavor desired and your patience.
January 8, 2012. The No-longer Waiting Place.
||Wow. The first lamb came this morning. A nice big ram lamb from 801.
She gave us the first lamb last year--January 17, 2011--and she came through again this year.
By the time I got out to do the morning chores
the lamb was dry and nursing and the two of them were sitting back by themselves taking a little rest.
January 1, 2012. The Waiting Place.
This is the scene on January 1, 2012.
A bleak, slate-gray late afternoon. Not much happening.
(An exciting project so far, eh?)
We are all in the waiting place. Me, the sheep, my wife and the children; well, less so my wife and children—with school to attend to, music lessons, play dates, etc.
So, really, it's just me and the sheep. Waiting for lambs to be born. Most of the ewes are in the last month or so of a 5-month gestation period—the human equivalent of heading into the 7th month of pregnancy. Their udders are starting to fill. It's hard to tell how “heavy with lamb” they are with all of the wool they're wearing, but they are all getting around pretty well so far. No signs of poor health or trouble.
Nearly all of the lambs’ fetal growth occurs in the last trimester—from little peas to 7 pound animals sliding out the birth canal in just a few weeks.
But for now all there is to do is eat and drink and wait—for me and the sheep both.
Which of course reminds us of the waiting place from Oh, The Places You Will Go, by Dr. Suess...
|Rudy has 2 Thanksgivings under his belt so far. Teresa is in the background.|
11/30/2011. Babies love sheep's milk cheese.
|Our youngest child has just started eating solid foods. Here, he's a natural with a slice of cheese from THE BIG FARM Creamery.|
Sheep's milk cheeses are a great first food for children--easier for children to digest than cow dairy products, and a great tactile and flavor
10/09/2010. Piper on the watch.
|Our 2-year old Border Collie Piper has excellent instincts, but I have not provided her
training to actually do any herding. Even still, she does a nice job working around our little herd,
finishing them through the gate when I ask her to; and is generally a joy to watch out in the fields.|
04/11/2011. Sarah with cleaned wool drying.
|Processing wool is an intensive process we have not kept up with. Here, Sarah poses with a couple of fleeces we've
just washed and have set on racks to dry. We have 10-20 times as much still dirty (filthy, really) waiting to be cleaned. I use
Dawn dishwashing liquid and very hot water. The next step--the card it out into batts--will have to be sent out.|
10/06/2011. Ike with Sweetie
|This was a busy day. We'd had some rain and warm weather and there was a good bit of grass down in front of the house
so the girls and I put out the portable fencing and moved the sheep out for a mid-afternoon snack. While we were out, we picked up
some black walnuts that had come down, and made the rounds drenching the sheep (giving them oral medication). I grabbed a sheep and administered
the garlic and molasses solution with a syringe (the garlic helps keep their worm
counts down) and the girls would follow behind with pink chalk to mark the ones who'd had their due. Ike is just 5 months here--not really sitting
up, but able to hold his own in a milk crate lined with a Pendleton blanket. The sheep were very interested in him, particularly Sweetie, shown
here investigating. Sweetie was her name when we got her from The Vermont Shepherd--a sheep's milk outfit in Putney, VT. She was orphaned and
bottle-fed, and as you would be safe to assume from her name--a sweetie.|
08/02/2010. Turkey chicks in the rose garden.
|As an experiment in 2010, I bought a handful of turkey chicks by mail--Bourbon Reds, Narragansetts,
and the standard type growers use (the name escapes me). They are super cute little animals (see photo), and very manageable,
though a little difficult to care for in their infancy. They forage well and are entertaining, but quite a bit more
to handle in preparing for market than a 4# broiling chicken. |
09/09/2011. School project
|Ginger and Sarah provide here photo illustrations of the first poem they learned in school this year:|
So much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
--William Carlos Williams
02/09/2011. Ginger and an orphaned lamb
|Ginger provides personalized bottle service to a lamb whose mother has rejected her. All of the ewes were first time mothers
that year and a couple did not take to motherhood. |
07/06/2008. Family Photo.
|Paul and all of the girls!|
12/06/2008. Bunny Slope.
|Plenty of early snow on the slopes in front of the farmhouse in 2008. December snow has been a little sparser since then.|