Heirloom Meals: Savoring Yesterday's Traditions Today

Thursday January 27, 2011

Heirloom Breeds & Seeds:
Bale Slicer

Well we managed to get through the cold and the snow and more snow. This is
a hard winter. I am looking forward to spring...but not the mud...countdown
to lambs has begun. Jenn said she "smelled" lambs last night once we were
finished cleaning the barn and had the girls back inside. She can usually
detect that scent up to a week or so away from the first lamb being born. My
nose isn't that good. I have to have a newborn right up to my face in order
to catch that scent.

The new bale slicer works great! George came and fixed it, we hooked it up
and whoosh....it cut the "mostly" frozen wrapped bale right in half! It was
so easy to pick up a section. Think of a wrapped bale as an onion. Stand it
on end (stalk up, root down) and cut in half. You can see the concentric
layers of the onion as the two sides are separated. The bale slicer works
the same way as the knife in this situation, except this is a 1500lb.
onion...made feeding the sheep their evening meal so much easier and faster!

The BCAE class with Chef Michael was a smash hit! All of the attendees were
thrilled to be able to work with such a talented guy and loved my lamb and
the Pretty Things Beer it was paired with. Here is a link to the photos
Many thanks to Leise Jones for sharing the photos!

Thursday January 20, 2011

Heirloom Breeds & Seeds:
Snow and Cold Challenges for the Sheep Farmer

Snow, snow, snow - are we caught up yet? That fatalist in me says we must
have been due. The artist in me says slow down and look at it, it is
beautiful. The sheep are not impressed, but they are very funny. If I don't
clear away the snow for them with the tractor, they stick to a single file
little path and no one wants to go first to break a new trail. So I shovel
the step and the walk and I plow the barnyard and the sheep paddocks with
the tractor. The dogs however, leap and bound through the drifts like
gazelles. They think the snow is great!

I still haven't been able to use my new bale slicer, even with the new
fittings on the hoses. So I finally put on my reading glasses since the
connection was still not right. I didn't know if I was cross threading or
what and I was getting very frustrated!. Turns out the male fitting on the
hydraulic cylinder is bad. It is all chewed up - not anything I could have
accomplished, so it must have happened at the factory when the original hose
was installed. It is amazing what a person can figure out when they have the
right equipment for the job (yeah, I know, I should have put my glasses on
when I first started working on it). Anyway, the salesman is arranging to
have a new cylinder shipped out, he will fix it and then I will be in
business. I hope. This weekend is forecast to be seriously cold and it will
not be fun having to deal with frozen baleage. That slicer would have made
it much easier.

Today is barn cleaning day (still by hand). After digging around in the snow
for a bit we found some parts and pieces we will use to construct part of
the unit. They need a bit of pounding and welding before we can actually use
them, so once that is done we'll be making headway again. We might even have
it all installed and working before I know it; this is a job in progress.

Speaking of jobs in progress...the other day my Mom came over and helped me
get rid of the rest of the boxes that were in the house. Thanks, Mom!!
Without the clutter, I attempted to vacuum the cat hair which has been
building up and of course my hand me down grandmother's Electrolux died. At
35 years of age, I felt it died too young, was missing out on so much more
of life. It was painful for me, so many memories, so expensive to
replace....but I have to say the new Lux is AMAZING!!! Crazy expensive, but
boy can that thing suck up cat hair! No hair, no dust, no more wheezing
mother (she's allergic to cats) - I vacuumed everything is sight. Now to
tackle the boxes in the garage....well, soon.

Monday evening I will be in Boston for an American Lamb Board cooking class
with "my" Chef Michael. He will be cooking my lamb, and I will be the one
getting "grilled" by the attendees about the lamb, how it is raised, what
the farm is like and anything else the students/attendees care to ask. It
promises to be another amazing eatfest and lots of fun! Chef Michael has
been so generous every time we have seen him, sending over plate after plate
of wonderful things to eat; I really must reciprocate. I'm going to bring
him some of my "Personal" Egg Nog. I'm sure he will love it. Here is a link
to the event:Fans of Lamb

Have a great week and stay warm, the forecast is for bitter cold!!

Thursday December 30, 2010

Heirloom Breeds & Seeds:
It’s All Good!!

Ok, let's get the sayings out of the way - it'll help set the stage for this week's blog.

1. "The best laid plans...never actually work out the way you want them too."
2. "Murphy's Law, if it can go wrong, it will go wrong."
3. "When it rains, it pours."
4. "This, too shall pass."
5. "It's all good." (Say this one with a rueful smile on your face, as you realize beyond a doubt something is about to or has just gone unbelievably wrong.)

Guess what kind of week I had? Great! No, really it was. Army boy (aka Curt, my oldest) was home for Christmas, my Uncle and his entire family came up as well and I had a wonderful visit with everyone and gave tribute at my Grandfather's memorial. That's the broad overview. Diving into the different days in detail tells a little different story, but still a happy ending.

So, back to the sayings - number 1 – The Plan – clean out the barn, move the feeders around, finish erecting pens, fill the gutters and bed the barn with lots of dry, fluffy shavings, pull up all of the fencing that is still outside and frozen into the ground, make marmalade and egg nog for gifts and have it all done by Christmas. Yeah, right… I did manage to get the girls into the barn just as the snow was beginning to pile up during the blizzard.

The girls seem quite comfortable, but the cost of shavings for bedding just might put me out of business, really. I’m used to a deep pack bedding system where you put down a thick layer of shavings (once), then lots of straw and keep adding straw on top of any manure. Doing this makes a warm, solid and dry place for the sheep. Of course you need to clean it out in the spring with a tractor, but I have a tractor, so that isn’t really so important. The important thing, is to be able to get into the pack to clean it out. I can’t do this in the barn I am renting for the winter, so I need to put down shavings and clean it all out every week. Okay, more work, but where else do I need to be aside from being in the barn with the sheep? Only problem is, the 21 bags of shavings I put down Sunday outlived their usefulness by Wednesday. 21 bags of shavings from Tractor Supply Co. cost $126, not sustainable! If this keeps going at this rate, I will need to clean and bed the barn twice a week and financially I won’t make it through the winter. I called three people who deal in and deliver wood shavings, but the stuff is so expensive and hard to come by (thanks to all the wood pellet stoves out there), that it has taken repeated phone calls over three weeks to get any answers. Best we can do is get loose shavings, 30 yards at a time (BIG pile I need to cover) and that will be about ½ what it costs for bagged. Still, very expensive and certainly not an expense I had planned for.

Number 2 – Murphy’s Law – that kind of says it all doesn’t it, so I’ll just top off some of the gaps – Home Depot (where I am recognized and called by name) wrong size nuts, bolts, drivers, etc – having to make multiple trips. My printer deciding it didn’t want to talk with my computer anymore because it was no longer networked (all the system and program CDs were in storage of course, but I didn’t know that and kept looking all over the house and garage in every box for three days because I couldn’t find them, until I realized where they were).

Number 3 – Mechanical trouble. I Gave Curt the truck to drive while he was here since it is his favorite vehicle (who doesn’t like to ride high up in a Diesel powered F350) and the Turbo dies – that means the truck won’t go and stalls every few seconds. Jenn crasheD her little Ranger pickup into a tree, Christmas night on the way back from my parent’s in Becket, backwards no less and under 20 mph thank goodness! And now her truck needs a new taillight, tailgate and rear quarter panel, and of course she now has another concussion. Once my big truck was out of commission, Curt and I shared the VW and the night before he left (as the blizzard was ending) he ran over a piece of a snowplow that was hidden in the snow in the middle of the street. Had the car a higher clearance, it probably would have been ok, but since it is a Passat and sits low to the ground, the blade punctured the transmission pan, so that is now sitting at Flynn’s in Pittsfield awaiting diagnosis to see if it is salvageable or if it damaged the transmission. The truck turbo should be under warranty, so that is the good news, the bad news is they can’t even look at it until sometime next week. So I borrowed Gregg’s truck and on the way to the airport to get Curt on his plane, the windshield got dinged…

Number 4 – did I mention my Uncle and his family came to visit for Christmas and we had the Memorial for my grandfather? I do love my family – they are great, generous and loving, but they are all nuts in their unique and individual ways (and I am sure they think the same of me, in a loving way of course) so repeating number 4 was the mantra of the week.

Number 5 – Army boy has drilled this one into my head. Whenever something would go wrong, he would quote, “It’s all good.” It was his way of keeping his cool under pressure. Basically, no one got hurt (too badly) and no one was dead (yet) and whatever it was we were experiencing at the moment was not going to be something insurmountable. I started saying this one when he told me he was trying to get into a Unit that was stationed in Germany that was part of Special Forces and he would be gone for three years. Basically he would live in Germany and go wherever and whenever into harm’s way doing things I would not know about, but might read about, for several weeks at a time. His wife Nichole should be able to go with him and be stationed there too, but that is not guaranteed and I get the dogs…

Here’s wishing you all a Happy and Healthy New Year! It’s all good…

Thursday December 16, 2010

Heirloom Breeds & Seeds:
Early Winter Challenges and Pregnant Ewes

Of course the snow and the cold just couldn't hold off until the sheep were
settled for the winter, so I've been bundling up and just trudging ahead
with everything that needs to be done. The water freezes in the barn
nightly, so I added a heat tape. This doesn't mean the pipe doesn't freeze
anymore, it just takes a few minutes for the heat tape to work and the water
to run. I have the water pipe heavily insulated as well. Once the sheep are
in the barn, there will be enough body heat to keep the pipe from freezing.
I have to turn off the power to the barn at night when I leave for safety,
but when the lambs come, if we need it, the power can be on. Considering the
hayloft is above where the sheep live, it is a good idea not to tempt the
fates with a potential barn fire.

I'm closer to being completely ready for the pregnant ewes to move into the
barn. I've built some pens and filled in the gutters so the sheep don't fall
and trip. The girls have finished their hay aftermath grazing and they are
ready to move in. Tomorrow I will finish setting things up and bring inside
the ewes that will lamb in February/March. The "open" ewes, the ones who
aren't pregnant are out in the pasture with llamas, horse and donkey. We'll
add Happy the ram to the ewe flock this weekend and leave him in to breed
for 20 days.

Speaking of breeding, Nancy the Ultrasound lady was here Monday and we
scanned all 123 ewes to check for pregnancy and to see how many lambs they
were carrying. My Mom did the recordkeeping, Harvey spray painted the
shoulders of the pregnant ewes so we could tell them apart from the non
pregnant ewes, Kevin ran the gate letting sheep in and out, Nancy scanned
and I caught sheep. Boy did I sleep well that night! It took us about 3 1/2
hours to scan everyone. Ultrasound scanning isn't an exact science, but the
numbers we came up with are pretty good all the same. 68 ewes are bred. Of
those 36 are carrying singles and 32 are carrying twins. So about 100 lambs
total. These lambs will be born February through March 2011.

The next group of ewes (that will begin breeding this weekend) will lamb
sometime in May. Whoever doesn't get bred out of that group will be kept
with the ram and will form our fourth breeding group to lamb in July.

Thursday December 09, 2010

Heirloom Breeds & Seeds:
New Farm Store and Meet the Sheep Dog and Tractor

So, the move went well - all four days of it. All Ways Moving in Pittsfield
has the greatest crew of guys - each one taller, stronger, more handsome and
nicer than the next! The red little house I rented for the winter in
Pittsfield is packed full, the garage at my ex's is packed full and the
contents of my farm store has even spilled over into his office space. Boy,
it is amazing how much stuff I have! I guess that is what happens when you
add up the four bedroom house with basement and attic, a barn, a greenhouse,
a shed and a farm store.

Speaking of farm store, I'll be setting up a new "farm store space" at the
office/garage on S. Merriam St. in Pittsfield this winter. It will be open a
couple of afternoons a week or by appointment and I'll have all of the
wonderful cuts of lamb, gorgeous hand dyed yarns and luxurious silky
sheepskins everyone loves, available for sale. There's even enough room for
me to set up my big loom! Check my website sometime in February for more
information. Maybe, if life is settled in nicely I'll even be able to have a
couple of fiber workshops there in March!

The sheep are all doing well. They are still out grazing in the pasture -
this little bit of snow hasn't slowed them down a bit. The nice thing about
snow is that I don't have to bring them water every day. They much prefer to
eat the clean, fresh snow and don't bother with the water in the tanks. Of
course, snow means I have to slog through it as I reset the fences to give
the girls fresh grazing, but I would rather slog through snow, than mud.

Dolly, our Blue Heeler who was born and raised in North Carolina has been
having the best time in the snow. She loves to bite it and go sniffing
through it after moles in the grass. Jynx, our Border Collie is an old hand
at snow, and he doesn't play in it as much as she does. He would rather just
get to work. The dogs and barn cats are spending the winter at the barn
where the pregnant ewes will be. The rental house is "no pets," but the
landlord did allow us to have Pumpkin Kitty, so he is an indoor cat for this
winter. I think he has gained 2 pounds this week alone since all he does now
is eat and sleep.

Nancy, the ultrasound technician is coming to pregnancy check the ewes on
the 13th. Then we'll have an idea of how many ewes will be lambing, when
they will lamb and how many lambs they are carrying. Knowing this helps us
feed them properly, provide them with adequate shelter before lambing and
gives me an idea of what my farmers market sales might be looking like next

Today I reached the 500 hour mark on my tractor. My sweet little Kubota has
only worked about 100 hours per year, what an easy life for a tractor! Today
it worked hard. I cleaned out the bunk silo at the farm I am renting for the
winter for the sheep. I'll store their wrapped bales of hay in it. The first
load of wrapped bales arrives tomorrow. I better remember to bring my
checkbook with me to pay for them. I purchase all my wrapped bales from the
Leabs at Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock. Don Leab knows how to grow good feed
and it makes better business sense for me to purchase my winter feed than to
make the capital investment in equipment and still have to worry about the
weather; than to try to harvest it myself.

Until next week, I'll be unpacking boxes and readying the barn for the

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