Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Puffy, Muddy.

So far, the lovely hen who has started laying has given us three eggs in five days. We think it is only one hen laying -- all the eggs are identical. I spent some time this morning trying to determine if one of them was more puffed up than usual, being haughty, but they were all equally puffed, equally haughty.

Since the laying has started, I've been tinkering with the chicken coop, trying to make it cozier and thus the nesting boxes more alluring to the ladies. I spent the morning at work trying to balance an account, but failed, I'm sure because I was severely distracted mentally designing a secret swinging trap door to allow easier human access to eggs, while maintaining a cozy clean little spot for hens. I can almost see the Big Man's rueful grimace at this. I am mostly sure that the phrase "designing a secret swinging trap door" would never leave the lips of anyone with any real building experience. Ah well.

Photog by Gigi Gatewood, professional artiste

In further happy bird news (and I say this quietly, so that god, or fate, or whoever it is with the twisted sense of humor who likes to make people regret sentences just like this one, won't hear) the waterfowl-munching predator seems to have moved on. I have an aunt who has shot her share of foxes with .22's (hi, jo!) and she said that her foxes usually come back every 3 or 4 days for a new kill. A fox was the prime suspect. We are now 8 days death free (I want to make a sign, like the have in factories. "Days without on farm mysterious maulings or accidental deaths: 8").

Mostly we've been spending the last couple weeks frantically trying to get things buttoned up for the winter, and being stymied at every step by nothing more complicated or nefarious than mud. We have plied our gigantic-tractor-having neighbors with budweiser, so that our regular-sized tractor can be extracted from the swamp that appeared overnight in the middle of the pasture, as well as the suburban that, turns out, cannot tow a tractor out of the mud, preferring instead to lazily bury itself to the axle in said mud. We are downsizing our "to do before winter" list, and that's fine.

Also, finally, here is a link to some pictures of the Feast, taken by Nick Johnson, a stellar individual and equally stellar photographer.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I got one!!!

The first egg, I got it.

It's dirty, it'll take them (or her, since I only found one) a bit to figure out the nesting boxes, as opposed to laying them in the mud. Also, I didn't go down there yesterday, so it may have been there overnight, and as such may have frozen. I figure it'd be cracked if that were the case, but who knows. I will wash it and save it in the refrigerator for Johnson.

So, to date that's $278 for 10 small chickens for eating, and one egg. It's a rough number, as the other fowl must eat the chicken's food, but now they're all gone so maybe I can pin it down better. We will do better next year.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Crime Scenes (and a lack thereof)

Crime scenes are a fairly common event on the farm. There was the murder of the noble Hyena Cat. There was the (murder/suicide?) of Skittish pig. There was a missing mallard (the leading theory still, optimistically, that she flew south for the winter, and will return happy and fat in the spring). A drowned duck. A drowned turkey. A turkey with a limp, suddenly in three motionless pieces. Not to mention that a pig was shot, and a duck and ten chickens had their heads cut off. Some deaths became mysteries; some became food, some became compost, and some became art.

Photo by Nick Johnson, Professional Photographer

Two mysteries in the past couple weeks. First, one of the two surviving ducks*, a cute little Buff Orpington, disappeared. It was obvious that something dramatic had happened, both because the morning of her disappearance her entire team (which includes the geese and the turkeys, as well as the other duck) was found milling about agitatedly in a spot they'd never been before, and because of the amount of downy, waterproof feathers strewn about near the feeder down in the pasture.

It made a bit of sense. The chickens hole up in their coop at night. The turkeys sleep in a pile or a line, off the ground. The waterfowl simply sleep in a pile in the weeds. The compost pile had been dug through. The top two wires of the fence gate had been unattached. A rather obvious predator/prey situation.

And then a goose went missing. In the middle of the day. Leaving not one feather, not one head or foot, not one spec of blood as a clue. Ditches were searched. Potential nesting places were sought. Lisa Marie, the barn cat, was eyed warily. Nichol Fritz, the invisible barn cat, was scowled at in absentia. In the end it seemed unlikely that a cat would be responsible. Especially since there are other, far, far more obvious candidates.

It makes no sense, really. But farmers can easily drive themselves crazy over-analyzing a crime scene, wondering what happened to this piglet or that sheep. And it's important to make little changes to improve the mortality rate at the farm, but a fair amount of death and mystery is unavoidable, and one of the challenges of farming is finding a good middle ground between caring for your animals and letting nature take its course. So, for now, the goose becomes just another mystery. And we have only two funny, odd water birds remaining. Who are about to get more lonely still.

*We have done horribly with ducks. Out of seven ordered, one was dead on arrival, one died two hours after arriving, one drowned as a youngster, one disappeared without a trace, one sacrificed itself to the freezer, one disappeared in a flurry of feathers, and one is lonely.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Farm Ninjas

First of all, a brief belated statement on the First Ever TBA Farms Grow-It Kill-It Eat-It Jazz-Run Cold-Toes Pass-the-Whiskey Festival: A gigantic THANK YOU to all who attended -- your interest, support, questions and ideas were nothing short of inspiring (new business plan, coming soon!). It was amazing to see folks from all walks of our lives mingling over chicken killing, brussels harvesting, (endless) chopping, pit digging, pig roasting, table setting, and, finally, feasting. There were fireworks and America and sequins and oratory. And we have only you amazing folks to thank for that. You can all come back any time.

And, I swear that I will gather pictures together soon (ahem, all who took pictures: can I steal them from facebook?? Can you email them to me????)

But, among all the excited ruminating on the Feast and our parsing of ideas and future plannings, as those who lingered know, life moves on quickly at the farm.

The boar, no longer content with his monk's existence, pulled a Great Escape-inspired tunneling maneuver sometime in the wee hours of Wednesday. I managed to lure him back in, but not before (and don't ask how I know this) he had clearly done, well, exactly what we want him to do, with one of the Big Pig ladies. He just got to it about a month early. Big Man and I spent the rest of the week wondering how fruitful his exploit had been, and hemming and hawing over whether to stick to the original plan or to just go all in and shoot for a cluster of piglets, albeit a month too soon in the spring.

But then he solved the problem for us, by getting out again on Saturday morning. This is what the fence looked like after we fixed it:

It was clear that nothing short of castration would keep him away from the Juliets. So, the new release date for piglets appears to be late February, 2011. And I suppose we need to start bustling about, stockpiling pickles, watermelons and a variety of ice creams for expectant ladies.

Also in the leitmotif of things growing where you can't see them, Garden 2011 has officially started. Garlic.

Admittedly, not much to look at yet, and neither are the presumed piglets. But it's somehow very satisfying to have things already growing, just as the rest of us are retiring for a semi-hibernation full of casseroles, novels and network tv.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Death of Stump

So it goes.

The body becomes meat bizarrely quickly, practically as soon as you get it upside-down. Legs become hams, feet become trotters, backs become back fat. The air smells like meat. Once the animal is cut open, onlookers are amazed to see how tenderloin fits into the pork chop, how French butchery keeps the muscle groups together, how these pork chops are so strikingly different from the shrink-wrapped boneless varieties in supermarkets.

I, erstwhile Friend of Stump, experienced it all with an odd sense of detachment. Stump was eating, Stump was shot; Stump moved and then stopped moving; Stump was Stump, then Stump was an interesting event. Adrenaline prevents processing the event as it is happening. One hopes for a clean kill, and one is happy that one is provided.

After adrenaline, with a freezer full of incredibly delicious-looking cuts of meat, I try to decide how I feel about the whole thing. This, I am still in the middle of. I think of how, until a scant two hundred years or so ago, this is how most everyone procured meat -- through witnessing (if not actually themselves enacting) the death of a very large mammal. In slaughtering Stump it was the very mammal, in fact, that people dissect to learn about what humans look like inside. During pig dissection in high school, I had actual nightmares that consisted of fetal pigs raining down on me, in a fetal pig coated waste land.

So, I kind of expected the worst.

Instead, I feel oddly vindicated. Here is this pig, one of six original pigs, that I made oatmeal for, carried daily apples to, nursed back to health -- she was actually the first pig that we named. She died quickly and perfectly. She became an entire winter's worth of pork. Out of 210 pounds, only the digestive system and three quarters of a 5 gallon bucket became trash. And not even that -- those bits will compost in a pile of hay, and be added to my garden in years future. Turns out, the only part of the Stump to meat process that I keep dwelling on, is how odd and unfortunate it is that we had to do it in a small group of five (utterly amazing) folks, and how I kept getting this nagging feeling that we were doing something incorrect by driving a pig around chained to the tractor bucket, dipping it in a scalding bucket over a wood fire near the road, and butchering it on a wooden table in the barn. When really, this is much closer to the way it should be. The eater should see the animal alive, and inspect all the innermost bits, and be expected to provide a swift and painless kill. Friends should do this together, learning and talking and sorting through both thoughts and cartilage, and the process should eventually become ritual.

And also, the teeniest bit of homebrew should perhaps be discreetly poured on the ground, so that even in the midst of the adrenaline, there is the recognition that this is most likely a solemn thing.