Heirloom Meals: Savoring Yesterday's Traditions Today

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

Thursday December 02, 2010

Heirloom Breeds & Seeds:
Lisa’s History in Her Own Words

Greetings Heirloom Meals Blog Readers!

I’m Lisa Dachinger, the Farmer at River Valley Farm and you will be getting a unique behind the scenes look at life on a sheep farm once a week. I raise sheep for lamb and wool. My sheep adventures began in 2000, with me asking my daughter Jennifer (who was 8 years old at the time) if she would like to do a 4H project. For those who don’t know what 4H is, here is a link http://www.mass4h.org/ - The project I proposed was a market lamb project. This would consist of obtaining a weaned lamb ( a lamb who no longer needed its mother), feeding it and exhibiting it at livestock shows through the summer and then at the end of the summer, there would be a “big” show with an auction and the lamb would be sold “to market” and Jennifer would be paid for the lamb. Since she was already experienced at showing her chickens, goats and pony, she eagerly agreed to do the project. That first market lamb was “Diego” and he lived a very pampered life. Jennifer fed Diego only the best of hay and grains, he always had the cleanest water bucket and he even received daily “massages” from her, to ensure he would be very tender for whoever purchased him when he went “to market.” Long story short, Jenn took the majority of blue ribbons that entire summer and at the last “big “ show not only did she take all the blue ribbons in the classes she entered, but she also took Reserve Champion at the final competition. She had raised that lamb so well (yes, I did help a little) and so perfectly, that even the show judge entered bids on the lamb (though no other lamb) during the auction.

The hook was set – market lambs were good, fun and could be profitable – and we were beginning to fall in love with sheep. The next 4H project was the “bred ewe.” This project takes you through raising a weaned female sheep to reproduction age, then breed it and experience having a baby lamb. Jenn took her hard earned dollars and invested them in “Cinnamon” a purebred California Red Sheep. Now, a sheep is a flock creature and should not live all alone, so of course more sheep had to be purchased to keep her company. Then, some sheep needed a “good home,” then some other sheep were bought and then there were a whole lot of sheep that needed fostering until a new home could be found – and of course, there were new baby lambs being born as well - and before I knew it – there were 100 sheep running around! This was too many, something needed to be done. So, a business was born – shear the sheep and spin the wool to yarn, take the extra lambs to the butcher and sell the meat at the Farmers Market. Okay – we were on to something.

But still, there were too many sheep. Homes were eventually found for the sheep that needed fostering and we settled on having 25 ewes (females) and a couple of rams (boys) so we would have a continuous supply of market lambs and wool. That worked ok for a few years, until there were several food and meat recalls from industrial food production - then demand at the farmers markets took off for grass-fed, locally produced meats. Twenty-five sheep was not enough, we upped the numbers to 45. That was good for meeting customer demand, but there was a downside. Having got caught up in sheep so intensely caused me to lose focus in my other farming ventures and in my personal life. Divorce followed in 2008.

Now what? I had 45 sheep, a good customer base, but not nearly enough sales to pay all the bills, let alone make a living. Well, I thought, I would sell the house, find a new farm, raise more sheep and eventually the numbers were going to turn in my favor. On paper it looked good, but where to go? I didn’t want to leave Berkshire County – I had a small child to consider and my parents and grandfather retired here so we could all be close geographically.

I networked and looked around for a new farm – Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden Counties – over in NY – Columbia and Rennselaer Counties. A few potential prospects, but I needed to sell my house first and the housing market tanked, so no go. Then, after two years, the market began a brief turnaround and with the greatest Real Estate Broker Carole Murko (who also happens to be my dear friend) and a lot of “letting go,” I accepted an offer on the house in early September of this year. I was on my way!!!

With an accepted offer on the house, I reconnected with my network, knowing I was ready and able to move to a new place and build my sheep business. Russ and Jan Clark (brother and sister) in Richmond, MA had been living on their family farm after their mother passed away, growing some pumpkins, sweet corn and hay. During our many visits and conversations, Russ mentioned he liked haying, but would rather work 20 acres, than 100. He is a yacht captain by trade and didn’t want to continue putting in so much time on the farm. Jan said she enjoyed the market gardening, but was getting a little tired of it and would like to consider doing other things with her time as she had a part-time job in town as well. The farm had been in their family for four generations and they were very attached to the idea that it remain a farm and they didn’t want to see houses all over it.

This is where today’s blog gets interesting…………..

Since I needed a farm and the Clarks were looking to “not farm so much” anymore, we had several meetings and discussed ways on how we could all work together and yet, still keep the farm, a farm and not houses, since it was located in a very desirable area for potential residential development. We agreed that I would rent the house, barn and land on the East side of the road for several years as I built my sheep business and during that time I would assist them in placing the property into an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (which would pay them for the “development rights” in exchange for a deed restriction allowing agricultural pursuits only) and then I would purchase the property for its “production value,” which was to be determined (production value is just that – monetary value that is produced by the land. If the land is suitable for growing corn, then it is the value of a corn crop. If it is suitable for growing hay, then the value is of the hay crop, etc.).

We had a deal – we were all in agreement. They even offered me the use of their farm name “Clover Hill Farm” to keep the history of their family farm alive.

Out of the blue, an opportunity to purchase a flock of 83 sheep ( and build my sheep business that much quicker) arose – perfect timing! I put a deposit on the sheep and asked to finalize the deal once my house had sold and I had the cash to pay for them. Done – and I also could purchase equipment with the sheep, because I would be building a new sheep barn in the spring to house all of the sheep and lambs that would follow.

Shortly thereafter, I received a phone call from the American Lamb Board (lamb trade organization) who tells me they are beginning a new National Ad Campaign called Shepherd to Chef and would I be interested in being the Shepherd for a Boston chef? I explained my situation, the move, the new sheep and when were they starting the campaign? February – perfect! That is when we will start having our next bunch of lambs. Wow, this is all coming together!! New farm, bigger business, a major marketing campaign and all I need to do is show up!?

Sounds really amazing right? Yup – too good to be true… as I was to find out the hard way.

Fast forward to the week of the house closing. I’ve been packing and moving equipment and “stuff” over to the Clarks while the “paperwork” is at the lawyers being finalized. The night before I move in, we meet again and everything is fine – or so it seems – aside from waiting for the paperwork to sign. I tell them I have thought long and hard about a new farm name and how does “Clover Hill Sheep Company” sound? They are ecstatic - history lives on!

I move in the next morning as they are moving stuff out – a little hectic, the rain doesn’t help, but hey – this is going to be great! I can highly recommend All-Ways Moving in Pittsfield, MA – the crew was fantastic! Respectful, careful and helped me to keep my sanity. I spent my first night on the new farm. The sheep hadn’t arrived yet, they were still grazing in Lenox. The plan is for them to remain there until the grass is all eaten, then they will come to the new farm and we will put up a temporary shelter for them for the winter.

A couple of days after moving in, Russ drops by to see how we are doing and mentions he has spoken to his attorney, who has advised him to return the rent check; that it cannot be accepted. That is strange, I thought. I call my attorney, who then tries to get in touch with their attorney (can you see where this is leading?). A few days after that, I receive an email from my attorney that he has forwarded me from their attorney. The deal the Clarks and I had agree upon is no more and the new deal quadruples the rent, reduces the lease to one year and at the end of that year I am to purchase the house and property for $1,000,000. Wow – what happened? I don’t think I will ever know the entire story…….

I went and spoke with Russ and asked him what had happened. I reminded him why we had made the deal we did (I had very little cash, needed to build the sheep business to qualify for a mortgage, it would take time to get the property into APR, etc) and he basically blamed it all on his attorney and said he and his sister just really didn’t want to be in the Berkshires anymore, and they really just wanted to sell the property. Great, thanks – you couldn’t have had this revelation BEFORE I MOVED IN????

I told him it was not possible for me to purchase the property under the terms that had just been presented to me, since I didn’t have the money to do so and that I would need to find a new place and leave as soon as possible. That was two weeks ago. I was freaked.

Added to this, my grandfather had died the night before I was to move in, and my Mom was still in a very fragile state, so I was dealing with all of that and I just felt I couldn’t add to her burdens by telling her what was going on. My daughter was freaked and wanted to chuck it all in and it didn’t take long before I began to seriously consider chucking it all in finding a rock to go hide under.

Of course this is not the first drama in my life and there are never any rocks to be found and this is also the time you find out who your friends are. Thankfully, I am blessed with many friends and they have all helped in one way or another. So the good news is, as of right now, I have a place for my sheep for the winter and I have found a small house to rent that is nearby the sheep so it is easier for me to take care of them. Today’s headcount for critters is 128 sheep, 4 llamas, 2 alpacas, one donkey, one horse, 2 dogs and three cats. At the end of January, lambing starts and the sheep numbers will go up.

Speaking of the sheep, the new sheep settled in nicely and the entire flock is quite impressive. They have been grazing peacefully in lush hayfields and are blissfully unaware of all the goings on, the stress and craziness of this “interesting situation” I have found myself in. Lucky them…

The next few days will find me moving equipment to storage and getting in touch again with my new friends at All-Ways Moving in Pittsfield – maybe they’ll give me a “frequent mover” discount this time around!?

End of blog…..

Thursday November 18, 2010

Heirloom Breeds & Seeds:
Berkshire Grown’s Holiday Farmers’ Market

...should not be missed!!

Vendors at the Great Barrington market include Allium Restaurant + Bar, Asia Luna, Berkshire Mountain Bakery, Berkshire Orchids, Berkshire Organics, Berkshire Wildflower Honey, Cedar Farm, Consider Bardwell Farm, Cricket Creek Farm, Earthborn Garden, Farm Country Soup, Farm Girl Farm, Farm House Bakers, Foggy River Farm, Good Dogs Farm, GooGoo Gourmet, Indian Line Farm, Jaeschke’s Orchard, Justamere Farm, Klara’s Gourmet Cookies, Leahey Farm, Lorna Herbals, Maiden Flower Farm, Markristo Farm, Mayflower Farm, Maynard Farms, Moon in the Pond Farm, North Plain Farm, Ooma Tesoro, Shaker Mountain Canning Company, Taft Farms and Zehr & Sons Mushrooms. Berkshire Grown will also be present.

WHEN: Holiday Farmers’ Markets will take place at the Williams College Field House on Latham Street in Williamstown (10 am – 2 pm) and the Searles School Gymnasium on Bridge Street in Great Barrington (9 am – 1pm.) PLEASE NOTE THE NEW LOCATION FOR THE GREAT BARRINGTON MARKET.

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