Oct 082018
 

Photos in this post were taken by Ben DeFlorio in October, 2013, because I asked to be part of his portrait project. Best pictures of me anyone has ever taken. Thank you, Ben!

I feel like a whole bunch of people I care about are hurting right now.  All around, our community suffers from grief, confusion, aimlessness, emptiness, loss, and pain.  Be patient, friends.  Have faith.  Have faith in each other, in our human community, and in the bright and beautiful future ahead. Ask for help, and trust each other.

Let me share an example of faith and community.

Five years ago this month, we moved into a little rental house in the village of Randolph, after selling our house of close to 16 years.  In order to sell that house, we did some cleaning, threw items in storage, got it listed with a realtor, and made a handshake deal with our next-door neighbors. Larry, Sr. looked around, nodded his head and said, “yep, most likely going to buy the place”.  That was May.  We didn’t talk about it again until September.

In the mean time, we moved forward.  We threw out eight(!) heaping pickup truckloads of old boxes, trash, books and toys for the thrift store, and built a mountain of scrap metal and items to leave by the roadside for neighbors to take freely.  At a particular moment in the summer, we had to decide whether a modest windfall from Chris’ job would be used to buy our winter wood (the usual choice), or we would have faith that the house would sell and we could invest the money in other bills and other places.  We stepped off the cliff without the net of firewood for the winter.  It created a hard deadline.

We had no idea where we would be able to rent, and we had no idea where our sheep would live. We thought we would be in a place just temporarily while our land sold and we moved to the new farm we had picked out as *the* place (it wasn’t).  I investigated several options for the sheep to move elsewhere; nothing fit our budget so we decided to keep looking for a different option.

These photos were taken just a couple of weeks before our move to the rental house. Thank you, Ben DeFlorio!

If you are reading this blog and have followed our story at all, you know we ultimately found the right farm, and are working diligently to share a space of home and family and community and good food and lively music with the person reading this post, and more people like you.

This post isn’t just about good things happening in our particular life, it’s about having faith in humanity and community, and believing deep down in our hearts that things will be OK.

Our move from the old place is a shining example of that.

Our neighbors honored their handshake on an “as-is” property, which totally could have gone sideways. An acquaintance of 20 years connected us with her husband’s rental opportunity (and we grew closer by sharing some very pivotal life moments together). A friend of my dad’s from high school came to join us in painting the rental house, just because he was between painting jobs and had time.  Our son had the support of his friends as we bounced between awkward living situations.  Our family squeezed itself into a teeny rental to celebrate Thanksgiving as we collapsed after a marathon move.

Turned out, we didn’t didn’t need the wood, but we did need all the help we could get, and were grateful for it.  There were plenty of slips and slides, but in every case, someone stepped in to help in some way.

Photo by Ben DeFlorio.

That pretty much describes our experience in finding and buying the Tilton farm as well, except that we stopped denying our faith in the future and started asking for help on the heavy lift of our life’s dream.  At first it was so hard to ask.  That’s not the way we were raised, except that community *is* a way of life in rural Vermont.  That’s how farmers got harvests in.  It just was, and there was no shame in asking, especially when people or animals would starve otherwise.  Community can’t happen, can’t grow, can’t build success…unless someone asks, “can you help me?” and someone else answers, “yes, what can I do?”.

So, as awkward as it was at first, when people asked if they could help move or paint or truck animals, we said yes.  We asked for help with a financial shortfall—something we would *never* have dared do before.  Every time we asked for help and someone did, we helped build their faith in people, too.  See, helping people is what builds community over the long term.  Helping other people makes US feel good.  I’m coming to learn that not asking is a way of robbing someone *else* of feeling good.

This morning, I remembered a particular example to illustrate this last point.  Several years ago, we met a new barbecue friend.  He saw me hauling heavy equipment out of the trailer and rushed to help me.  See, his parents raised him to always offer help, especially to a lady (his words).  Me, I pushed away his help, because I saw myself as a strong farmer and an independent woman.  Who won out of this situation?  No one.

I hurt my new friend’s feelings by rejecting his kind offer, and I was more tired than I would have otherwise been if I’d accepted his help.  It took me some time to see it, but I’ve learned that accepting help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of openness and a way to help others feel useful and appreciated.

If you are hurting or struggling, my experience has been this:

The most powerful act of faith we can exercise is to let our community help us.

The most powerful action we can take to build a positive future…is to ask for that help.

Thanks for listening,

Jenn

Vaughan. <3    Photo by Ben DeFlorio.

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Sep 252018
 

Plenty of people love to eat meat, but are concerned that they shouldn’t, because of negative stories that they see about animal products. The environmental impacts of flooding manure lagoons; pictures of animals being treated poorly; the long distances food is trucked to get to our plates; and simply not knowing (or trusting) the companies or agricultural system where the animal came from.

I totally get that.

In college, I joined an animal rights group because I felt strongly that animals should be respected and treated well.  I remember sitting in our second or third meeting, feeling a tremendous disconnect from the group’s organizers, who were vegan and proudly wore plastic shoes instead of leather ones.  “How is it that plastic is a better choice than a natural product like leather? Shouldn’t we be connected to how our food affects the environment?”, I wondered. I left the group and found a more practical way to improve animal welfare.

Even the biggest, tastiest ram starts as a little guy who needs care and oversight to grow and thrive.

Looking back, that was the very beginning of my path toward being a more responsible eater, and eventually, livestock farmer.

Along this path, I’ve been gathering reasons about why we should actually feel good (and not just NOT bad!) about supporting livestock farmers and buying products made from animals.

  1. We care. I’ve come to understand first-hand that people who do not care about the animals that they partner with, depend upon, and ultimately gather food from (in one form or another) don’t last long as livestock farmers. This isn’t just a job that we can decide not to show up for, or call in sick to.  It’s an intense and delicate balance to care enough to be willing to be tired, hot, wet, cold, stiff, muddy, and (name your discomfort) while pushing yourself to put the animals first.  And then caring enough to end an animal’s life quickly, when they are sick, or when it’s time to harvest them. Last winter I had to euthanize my two oldest ewes, and I bawled like a baby, but it was the right thing to do because they were suffering.
  2. We manage the land and the animals well. All of our management is focused on keeping the land and animals healthy. We pay attention to where manure builds up, how much rain is soaked up by the land and stays there (instead of running off to cause floods and damage), and give the animals fresh food every day.  Our goal is to be part of a sustainable system that brings more wildlife onto the land, and grows more kinds of food on the same land.  A great example includes the apple trees we have been pruning, which now bear more fruit, and attract the tasty, nutritional venison-producing deer! I spend time every day watching and documenting how the land is changing under our management, because I am out on it.
  3. We let animals have a life and express their natural behaviors. Pigs root, and sheep graze, and turkeys wander and fly. You may not realize, but pigs are great nappers.  Much like us, they only get out of bed for a good reason (like breakfast), and they’re quite fond of a Sunday afternoon snooze (every day).  They love to explore the world through their noses, and are quite easily bored.  A small fenced area with a concrete floor doesn’t really allow a pig to be a pig in its fullest way.  Poking around the roots of trees, finding nuts and berries, laying down in a warm patch of sun in the winter, or mud in the summer—these are signs of a pig at its happiest.  They make little grunting sounds.  That’s what happiness sounds like, and we want them to feel that right to the last moment.

    These pigs grew fat and happy nosing around in the tree roots and hay all winter, just expressing their piggiest behavior.

     

  4. We know (so you know) where the animal came from, how it was raised, and how it died. Some years ago, we bought the Spring piglets from a farm that didn’t raise their own; they shipped them in from Canada. I’m sure the folks in Canada did a fine job, but I really wanted to KNOW where the pigs had come from.  I wanted to have a relationship with a person I knew, and be able to count on our relationship well into the future.  I think it might also be worth mentioning that those pigs always seemed perpetually stressed, and nippy, throughout their lives.  Was it breeding? Was it early life experience?  Was it just that batch of piglets?

    I’ll never know, because since then (for over 15 years), I’ve bought piglets from the same extended family, who live a couple of towns over.  It’s not just that these folks are old friends and adopted family at this point, or that we (through our customers’ support) are helping to maintain two other small farms in addition to ourselves, or that these pigs are blue-ribbon winners at the local fair and are used to help kids get involved in 4H and caring for livestock themselves…NO, it’s about taking some of the mystery out of where our food comes from and adding in some trust.  We trust that our friends raise great piglets (and they do).

  5. Meat such as lamb is nutrient dense. There are good reasons humans have been eating meat for thousands of years, well before the beginning of formal agriculture. Registered dietician Diana Rodgers spends a good deal of time talking about the nutritional benefits of eating meat, and how not all types of meat are equal, either.  According to Diana, “grass-fed lamb has a better than 1:2 ratio of omega 3’s to 6’s, where roasted chicken has a ratio of 1:8. It’s also has twice the iron, 3x zinc, and a 3oz portion of lamb contains 2.2 mcg of B12 compared to chicken which has only 0.3. Lamb is simply superior to chicken, nutritionally speaking. Also, for those looking to cause “least harm,” one lamb can produce a lot more meat than a chicken, and an animal raised outdoors on pasture has a much better life than one raised on 100% grain indoors under artificial lighting for its entire life.”

  6. Some meat production is GOOD for the environment (and not just NOT bad). I know I’ve spent time and blog space above waxing poetic about the pigness of pigs, but the true animal heroines of land management are ruminants. In our case, the sheep. Ruminant animals like cows, sheep, goats, deer, and buffalo, are something magical.  They can eat things we can’t eat (like grass), and gain nutrition from them.  They have a multi-chambered stomach that acts like a giant beer vat, fermenting fiber to release proteins and sugars that are usable by the animals.

    This is a process we humans are simply not designed to do, and it’s a big reason why nomadic people like the Maasaai of Kenya, and folks living in the Swiss Alps are able to survive in very harsh environments; ruminant animals can create food in places that we can not.

    I will talk about what “good” grazing management means in another blog post, but the really important thing to understand about grazing animals and the environment is that the ecosystems of Earth co-evolved with animals.  Grazing animals helped sequester carbon in the soil through plant roots, kept land open for nesting birds, built deep roots to hold soil in the Great Plains, and encouraged a wide variety of species from spiders and insects to wolves and bears.  What we do now using portable fence is recreate what Nature did for millennia before we got involved.

    Compost and soil health educator Cat Buxton led a workshop at our farm this summer; teaching us how to monitor and observe changes on the land.

     

  7. We honor meat all the way to the plate. This is a big one for us, as foodies and cooks. We want to take good care of an animal and give it a full life, but we also want it to taste good.  If we invest our time for months or years to raise an animal, and you invest your money to support us and the animal we raised on our farm, we think you should have the best eating experience possible.  We want to help you understand how to cook meat properly and enjoy it to its fullest.  With every “Stewie” steak and “Tennant” stew, we are grateful for the lives that they share with us, but also it’s an extra way for us to honor them by helping them taste as great as possible. We think the greatest way to honor a life is to lick the plate!
  8. Being a responsible eater means being connected to the life and death that we are part of. Our goals as farmers and good stewards are to minimize and prioritize how much death is involved in our choice to eat. It’s been said, “everything eats and is eaten.” It’s true that something has to die for us to eat, whether you eat meat, vegetables, grains, or other foods.  What might be interesting to know is that what’s the most obvious (above-ground animals) must balance with the less obvious (below-ground animals) in any food system.We simply can not assume that nothing dies when we eat.

    It is true that a sheep dies and we eat it.  But that sheep lived on grass that housed Orb Weaver spiders, ground wasps, grubs, and dung beetles.  Under the soil, there might have been up to 14 tons (per acre) of bacteria, worms, insects, and fungi. In our pasture system, the soil has not been tilled for many years.

    Tillage breaks up the soil “housing” microbes, worms and insects.  Exposure to air releases carbon into the atmosphere, starving the microbes living there.  Tillage is involved in the production of most common vegetable crops, and it is arguably responsible for more death per acre (by number or body weight) than any livestock farm. The path of greater life surviving, and a healthier farm ecosystem, means that the above-ground animal in the system must be harvested. And these concepts about life and death through soil management really put a different spin on whether our food choices are “sustainable” or not.

  9. It tastes really, really good. Chris and I spend a lot of time eating meat, and it’s the star of the show, as it should be. When you feel a deep connection to a food, and you prepare it well, and the flavor knocks the park out of anything you can find in the supermarket; well, it sure feels like all the pieces have fallen together, just right.

If you’ve felt in your heart like buying local and pastured meats are the right way to go, I hope that by sharing some of my own reasons to eat meat, you’ll be better equipped to handle questions and comments by other people.  And that you’ll in general have a better understanding of what sort of life you are contributing to and investing in: the farm, the animals, the soil, ours, and YOUR OWN.

Thanks for reading,

Jenn

 

 

 

 

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Aug 262018
 

There’s a little something extra special about Vermont in August.  Maybe it’s the fact that things slow down a teeny bit (seems like everyone takes a few days off sometime in August!) or that we cling a little more tightly as the evening starts to arrive a little earlier.

It could be I’m speaking a little too much about my own place in life, but August reminds me of the “middle age” of the year. The fresh excitement of May and June has yielded to July, and then August comes on to remind us to value the warmth before winter comes.

What do we love?

  • Parties—Chris and I have August birthdays as do a bunch of our family members…this leads to a host of family parties, tournaments, visits, and hugs. Oh sure, there’s plenty of house cleaning, cooler schlepping and Monday-morning exhaustion to go along, but We Regret Nothing.
  • Family—I can’t explain why, but August is the month we take the time to see people that we don’t see most of the rest of the year. Our family is a tangled delightful mess of birth, marriage, friendship, job, and adopted relatives with lots of friend-family mixed in.  August is THAT perfect excuse to take a Friday afternoon or be sure to go out to hear a Wednesday night concert, because we know family will be there.
  • Blueberries—This farm is a classic reminder that our actions aren’t as much for ourselves as the ones who come after us. Those who knew Otis Tilton tell us that he was glowing with pride over the blueberry bushes he tended. We absolutely understand why.  They were the first farm crop that greeted us just days after we closed on the property and have become a source of joy and anticipation for us each summer.  Someday we’ll figure out a blueberry-related farm product (any ideas?), but for now they are mostly going into our freezer and the mouths of on-farm visitors.
  • Smoked meat—OK, we love smoked meat all year (Who doesn’t? Even chicken and fish are fabulous smoked!), but in particular so many of the events we attend or host are potlucks. It seems like crispy, caramelized, smoky, tender ribs or chicken wings generate the smell and the taste of summer instantly. Sharing meat with people we love is pretty much what we’re all about.
  • Golden days—I was just talking with an old friend who described August as the “golden days” when goldenrod comes into bloom, and farm fields are spread with the deep rich hue that pretty much embodies late summer. I was out moving the sheep yesterday morning and found myself stopping to linger and gaze around at the spots of late-summer sunlight scattered across the pastures.  Goldenrod might be a sign that summer is on the down side, but it’s just as much that reminder to stop and enjoy it while it’s here.

That’s truly what we love most about the summer…taking a few minutes to stop and enjoy it!

Speaking of valuing warmth before winter comes, if you are getting an itchy feeling about the oncoming fall, zip me an email!  I just got back a nice batch of smoked hams and slab bacon.

Jenn

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Jul 292018
 

We bought the farm two years ago this week.  It’s been quite a ride.  This might sound pretty sappy, but our whole reason behind jumping down this rabbit hole has been about creating a place to treat the land, the animals, and people well. Seems kinda Pollyanna, huh?

I started farming back in 2000 mainly because we were meat eaters and wanted to be more responsible about what we ate.  I totally get how people agonize over whether to eat meat or not; I even tried to be a vegetarian for a while.  It didn’t last for me—I was exhausted and anemic in a pretty short time—but I had come from a family that raised our own meat, and that seemed like the best choice.  I started with chickens and then turkeys and pigs.

Wow, it was tough processing animals.  Let’s not even talk about the five hours it took to process three roosters the first year (ugh).

It was harder to take on the responsibility.  It was so emotionally draining if something (as it inevitably did) happened to them.  This sounds ridiculous when we are planning to eat them anyway, right?  Not really.  Raising an animal for meat means giving it a good life and a quick death.  There’s an unwritten contract in there.  We’re partners.  And when that animal dies because I messed up, it hurts (and not just them).

Coming to this farm felt like a contract, too.  If we’re going to belong to a piece of the world, we need to treat it well.  I can’t control what happens in the wider world, but I can make sure that the water running off this farm is clean, that the wildlife is happy and healthy, and the blueberry bushes are cared for.  I’m even scoping out rebuilding some of the old stone walls.  Talk about old school!

It’s not just about land and animals, but people too.  People everywhere could use some kinder treatment toward each other and themselves.  Chris and I bought this farm with a dream to create a place where people could come and feel at home.  Our hope is that people will arrive strangers and leave friends.

We love bringing people together around food, especially meat, because it’s how all these things we care about arrive together in the same place.  We care for the land with the animals, and we gather with friends new and old.  It fills my heart with joy, and gets me through the days when it seems like the world could use a little more kindness.

Thanks for being part of it.

Jenn

Let’s finish up with a recipe you can enjoy on a warm summer afternoon!

Rhubarb lemonade recipe:
6.5 cups water
4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar (we use a generous squeeze of Stevia instead)
Boil for five minutes (rhubarb will be mushy)
Strain, add ½ cup of lemon juice

(If you’d like to save the rhubarb for later, it freezes well.)

It’s naturally pink and absolutely refreshing!

(Special thanks to our Canadian friend Lise Villeneuve for this recipe—it’s a keeper!)

Email me and tell us why what we do speaks to YOU

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Jul 152018
 

Wow, what a whirlwind summer!  I don’t know about you, but based on all the things I have scheduled in the next two months, I keep having to check the calendar to make sure it’s only July. 🙂

I’m guessing that your lists are just getting longer, too.  It seems like we work harder and harder to make time for vacation, and in the meantime, the stress ratchets up.  Whew!

Sometimes, dinner can be the perfect getaway without all the fuss.

When Chris and I were competing on the New England barbecue circuit, we gathered financial support by offering “Competition Practice” dinners to our friends, family and coworkers.  We would cook a full complement of chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder, and brisket using all of the rubs, sauces, injections, and presentation for competition, and serve it for our guests, just like they were judges.

We even brought them grilled appetizers and desserts, and asked them to give us feedback about what they liked and what they didn’t–“real time” judging wasn’t something we generally had the option of.

Sometimes we packaged up the meats and brought it to sponsors’ homes (or in the case of the night before Tropical Storm Irene–a mid-construction house on top of a mountain–we’re still thankful we did not accept the invite to stay the night, because the road was gone the next day!).

One of our dinners with beloved friends!

Unlike a competition with judges and “one-bite wows” and a long drive home if the scores didn’t go our way, these dinners were a wonderful opportunity to connect with the people who loved our food and supported us.  There was no pressure and a short time commitment; just an afternoon with friends and full bellies and lots of laughter. If something needed a little more sweet or a little less heat, they were there to tell us.

We loved these dinners.  They loved these dinners.  At the end of dinner, we all felt more full—not just our bellies, but our hearts.  These dinners were special, and they led to a lot of trophies and happy memories.

We knew we wanted to recreate that experience for friends (old and new) at our farm.

And we are!

Take a breath and enjoy the summer, if just for one evening.  That To Do list can wait!

Eventbrite - On-Farm Dinner with Seven Course BBQ Tasting Menu

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Apr 252018
 

We got home late, so they slept in the truck bed overnight.

This weekend we harvested the first of our own pigs since 2013. Gosh I missed them.

These piglets were born in Washington, Vermont, just about 30 miles away.  They rode in a hay-lined truck to Randolph, and spent the rest of their lives rooting and snoozing and companionably sniping at each other over the food dish and the special treats I tried to spread around so no one got too much at the expense of the others.  They are Saddleback pigs; a very old breed being rebuilt by the careful efforts of our friend Matt Whalen at Vermont Heritage Farm.

Sewer pipe makes a great feed trough.

The pigs spent the winter growing, rooting, napping, finding bricks, flipping tires, and unearthing the roots of the collection of trees they sheltered in.  Did I mention rooting?

In the deep cold of winter, they dug into round hay bales and buried themselves up to the nose.  They didn’t quite hibernate (how do you get the good snacks when you sleep through?), but pigs are a lot like people.  If they don’t need to go out in the cold, why bother?  It’s nicer in here.

Pigs make snow paths between breakfast and bed.

Some people may wonder if pigs are adapted to Vermont life outside in our winters.  Prior to our recent five-year gap, we’ve raised Fall pigs for over

I gave them a fresh dry new round bale–nose!

ten years.  They do beautifully, especially when an old-style, heritage breed is used.  Pigs suffer in the heat.  They have very few sweat glands, which is why lying in a mud hole to cool off is such a preferred thing to do on a summer’s day.  In the winter they just pile, lying lined up like a row of very large black and white hot dogs.

By spring, they were two (or three or four) times the size they had been when they arrived in November.  Jiggles in all the right places.  Tree roots exposed for our selective cutting next month.  Vegetation opened up and ready for a new seeding under the thinned trees.  The sky was blue, the Spring birds back.  It was time.

Mark and Matt believe in the importance of bringing a dignified end to an animal that feeds a family.

The pigs were killed on the farm by local itinerant (on-farm) slaughters, which is a term for a craft largely forgotten.  These fellows are amazing.  The care with which they treat each animal, their quiet calm manner, and their efficiency in skinning and eviscerating are all skills built ove

Neatly skinned and split carcass, hanging from a portable tripod they travel with.

r a lifetime watching their father and grandfather (who are legends in our area). I missed them so much, too.  Mark and Matt and I talk about what we see on farms and they tell me about sugaring and Mark’s recent trip to Florida.  They arrived at 7:30 am on the dot and were packed and driving away at 9:15 (that’s even with chatting).  They had taps to check and I’m sure many other things to get on with during a busy Saturday.

We cooled the pigs in the trailer overnight and Sunday morning, Cole Ward the Master Butcher came to cut them for us.  Cole is one of my favorite humans ever, and very literally a treasure to those who know him well.  He is kind, and thoughtful, and so, SO talented at teaching butchery.  We decided this time not to do a workshop as we have some times before, but Cole can’t help it.  He loves to cut and joke and tell stories about his days working a meat counter near the CBS Studios in L.A., and all of the personalities that came to buy meat from him.  We learn so much, every time.  A real butcher, a true master butcher, is that person with every recipe conceivable for each cut. The person who can tell you how to grill this muscle but not that one, and explain why your sausage won’t bind or your ground beef has crunchy “bone chips” in it (it doesn’t, but there’s a reason why the texture is wrong).  We’ve become accustomed to cuts only available when you cut your own animal,

There are not enough words to describe how important Cole is to passing on meat education and general love of butchery.

and it’s a darned good thing he’s been teaching us, because I’m not sure we could go back.

 

Chris and I spent the day trading off vacuum sealing duties in the cool basement, while a small group of friends and family chatted with Cole, tried to “out joke” him, and ate sausages with mustard.

Such a wonderful way to celebrate a life, thank you!

Tonight we ate some of the best–if not THE best–pork I ever had or raised.  Sure, that might be related to the long, long wait of the past five years, but I’d like to think this was in many ways a sign of a good life, from beginning to end.  Thank you fellas.  We’ll honor and appreciate you, every bite.

 

 

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Apr 172018
 

One of my favorite family visitors feeding a lamb in 2017.

OK, I’ll own it.  I’m a sucker for lambs.  I wait every year to see what colors they’ll be and how many each ewe will have, and how strong and amazing they’ll be (they stand in minutes and often jump around within hours…it’s awe inspiring).

Lambing season isn’t all sunshine and roses, despite the pictures that end up on Facebook.  Sometimes lambs die and sometimes they struggle.  Sometimes the moms reject them and sometimes it keeps me up at night.  Years like we’re having this year, it seems like spring will never come and the green grass is so far away.

You know what gets me through that?

Visitors!

Everyone loves to see the lambs and when we moved out of town to our new home, it felt like we should create a new opportunity to share happenings with friends, family and neighbors.  Thus our Lamb Open House event was born.

Come join us Saturday, May 5!  We’ll have refreshments and barbecue and activities…and lambs too!
P.S. And please register to help us plan! Thank you!

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Apr 012018
 

New leaders at Howling Wolf Farm.

It’s been more than eighteen months at the new farm, and there is much to share.  After the emotional roller coaster of finding and making the right location happen, we spent the fall of 2016 rushing around to get ourselves and the animals settled before winter.  And then we mostly collapsed.  Most of our friends and family forgave us for the withdrawal, and even came to share a little woodstove-and-chat time.  The door is still open (and will continue to be) for all.

Times of great change happen.  I think the past several years have been times of great change for a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons.  Our extended family has had tragic losses and some (one might even say, sacred) reemergence, healing and transformation.  The farm has helped us heal and grow roots–already–that we never seemed to have developed at the old place.  Maybe it’s the regular wind up here on the hill; we must develop those deep roots to stay upright. A good lesson on so many levels.

In 2017, we spent much time just experiencing the farm through seasonal changes.  There’s so much more to understand about the wildlife and the forest and the farm’s potential, but it was a good start.  I wrote a whole bunch (270 days) of haiku.  We tried a Kickstarter campaign, which was ultimately unfunded but absolutely successful in other ways.  I wrote a three-part series about our fifteen-year journey to the farm for On Pasture.

We hosted the first of our annual Lamb Open House events to meet neighbors, moved sheep every day through the grazing season, picked a ton of blueberries, cooked up barbecue for our adjacent buddies at the Jacob’s Court mobile home park, and held an end-of-season farm workshop & dinner.  And we’re finally back into raising pigs!  All along, 2017 was about testing parts of this new life to see what fits and what doesn’t.

We have many plans for 2018, including events spread from June to October that showcase different aspects of our skill sets and the farm’s offerings.  We are building a pig roasting pit and starting to develop a gathering area around the pond.  The sheep flock is expanding and we’ll be running water pipe around the pastures to increase our capacity to include cattle in the mix.  We’re documenting everything that we can.  We’re still not sure whether 2018 is Yurt Year, but our aim is to really start digging in and sharing the farm in new ways to new people.

Much to do and say and love about the changes afoot.  My recommendation: subscribe to our newsletter to keep up!

Jenn

 

 

 

 

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Jun 092015
 

newchapter

Yesterday, we submitted our paperwork to the funding sources we’ll be depending on to help us buy the farm we want.  I am tingling all over with the thought of it.  My emotions are running deep, with what is probably 60% excitement that we’re moving forward, and 40% fear of what we’re getting ourselves into.

Going to work is challenging.  All I can think of is our future farm, which makes it hard to concentrate on the daily tasks and projects I’m in charge of.  My mind periodically tries to shoot up a wave of worry that this might not happen, but I know it will.  This place is THE place.  I can feel it in my bones.  I can feel it in the earth when I’m there.  I can hear it in the farmhouse when I walk through it.  This farm wants us and we want it.

The property we want is not on the market yet, but the seller needs us to make a move soon or it will have to get listed.  Needless to say, we would love to be able to push this rock up the hill faster.  For now, we need to communicate with all parties and have faith that the numbers will line up and that by some time later this summer we’ll be sitting on the porch of our new farm house flush with our dreams of the future.  This farm will be the next chapter in the story of Chris & Jenn.  And it will be awesome.  So, wish us luck, my friends.  If you pray, put us in your prayers.  We’ll take whatever good mojo you’re willing to give us.

I’m still so excited I can barely keep my thoughts straight.   I should probably lay off the caffeine.

Thanks for reading,

Chris

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May 132015
 

I arrived Friday morning a few minutes late.  I promised to be there at 7 am for the first deliveries, but I hit traffic and the trailers were lined up.  The first one had already been emptied and that beef producer was staying around to help unload some of the cattle coming behind.

An annual rite of spring, the spring beef sale was underway.  I look forward to it every year and mark the date on my calendar months ahead.  OK, maybe it’s not that exciting to people who work with beef cattle every day, but I don’t, and it’s been one of my greatest regular farm-related learning experiences in the past ten years.

2015-05-08 09.11.31

What breed am I? Great question.

The sale is nearly all volunteers, with a few paid Expo staff helping to set up and tear down the cattle chute, State animal health folks evaluating –um, animal health–  and a USDA grader deciding which animals would go to which pens.  We receive over 100 animals, usually from 20+ different farms.  Some are pure beef breeds like Angus or Hereford.  Some are dairy crosses like the group of Holstein-Park White cattle from this sale.  That group also had some Park White-Hereford crosses, and it was fun to guess which was which by their body types and their brown (vs. black) ears.  Others are completely mixed crosses and the game is to figure out what they actually are (breedwise).

I’ve learned a lot about handling cattle and recognizing their movements.  I can tell which ones get a wild eye and whether we should move them to an inner pen (harder to escape).  I’ve learned to watch their ears and listen to their breathing.  This is all similar to other livestock like sheep and horses, of course, but these are animals that I’ve only met five minutes ago.  And they are big. The key to keeping things calm is to anticipate their moods, because when an animal that big wants to go somewhere, they usually do.

Cattle pens.

Cattle pens.

I’ve learned a lot about how to sort single cattle from pens and how to get groups to move.  I’ve gotten the chance to practice testing that balance point on the shoulder to make them change direction, without a cattle cane or a rattle or a prod.  They’ll go…no need to stress them…but sometimes that takes learning what will make them go, and each individual can be different.  I’ve also learned when to step up on the fence rail and just let them go where they’re going.

As we work, the safety and comfort of each animal (and person) is the top priority wherever possible.  For this day, it was crazy hot and we ended up dedicating a person with a hose to each aisle of pens, just filling water tubs.  We hosed down the outside of the cows to help them stay cooler.  We kept checking with each other to make sure the humans had water, too.

Hosing down the cattle to help them keep cool.

Hosing down the cattle to help them keep cool.

That said, sometimes a cow comes in wild. Maybe she wasn’t wild at home, but the combination of new, open space, new smells, trailer ride, different humans, or some variation, causes her to lose it.  Several years ago, we had a heifer whose eyes showed nothing but whites and we couldn’t get her to stay inside a pen.  She came off the truck like that (the owner swore she was quiet as a mouse at home) and we directed her into a pen with other cows to settle down.  She crawled under the metal pen (more than once), dragging a whole series of connected panels with her and upsetting nearby groups.  Sometimes there’s a point where they can’t be reasoned with.  Temple Grandin describes this state as panic, and is often caused by separation anxiety.  In the case of this heifer, we put her back on a trailer where she calmed down in the relative quiet and dark.  We had done nothing to [knowingly] contribute to that–it was just a perfect storm for her.

Mmm.  Cool, cool water.

Mmm. Cool, cool water.

On this morning, it didn’t take long; within about half an hour we’d handled the backed-up trailers.  Cattle in their farm groups were settling in to dedicated pens. The unloading crew chatted and waited for the next delivery.  We discussed the pros and cons of different breeds, feed choices, whether prices would be up or down this year.  We stopped to check out the handling chute and see whether they were ready for another bunch to weigh and tag.  A steer got himself turned around in the chute and they had to open the side door to let him out, but then the line moved along again.

No wildness this year, and that was just fine by us.  Looking forward to next spring already.

Jenn

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