24 December 2012

Processing the Pigs

Things as as settled as they can be here in Whitefield.  I've started training at Johnny's Selected Seeds to work at their Contact Center and this has taken up most of my time.  All of a sudden all the time I thought I would have to devote to winter projects and business planning has disappeared.  Nevertheless, I have decided to make time to write another post mainly because it feels good.

As previously promised, I will write a post on butchering.  I am by no means a professional and I will confess that at times it got sloppy.  What do you really expect from a guy who lost sleep the previous two days about the logistics of killing, skinning, gutting, and cutting up a pig?  Combine that with cold weather that makes your hands work a little slower and it makes for a long day.

My previous post details how we got the pigs into the trailer, etc.  After the long day of driving, we still had to set up a physical pen using 16' long metal hog panels that we borrowed from a friend.  They were setup using 2 panels we had already set up as a funnel towards the trailer for the other 6 pigs.  We added two other panels to close off the two ends to form a trapezoid where we could trap one of the two remaining pigs and exclude the other.  We distracted the second pig by putting out grain a distance away from the pig we were about to dispatch (she was very hungry because we didn't feed her the night before; this makes it less messy to gut afterwards).

The night before we also had to set up a couple of tripods using long poles, rope to tie the poles together at the top, and a couple of block and tackles to pull them up.  This seemed like a pretty easy and ideal setup...we wish.

WARNING: The next few paragraphs describe scenes that may be disturbing to some people.  Not any pictures though.

Ken, Adrienne, Kate, and I were all there at about 8am.  I had spent a few minutes practicing shooting the .22 Ruger pistol we borrowed from Kate's dad.  I pretended a plastic milk bottle label was the pigs head.  It is recommended that you use a higher caliber bullet, but I read in several places that a .22 is enough provided you fire at the right angle and aim correctly.  You basically imagine an X drawn from the ears to their respective opposite eyes.  An old trick is to make the pigs hungry and then lure them with grain.  Kate passed me a small rubber trough with some grain in it while I was prepared with the loaded .22 trying to stay calm and collected.

I placed the trough on the ground and eventually the pig started eating out of it.  Nothing is as easy as it seems.  The pig's head of course moves up and down every time it scoops a bit of grain into its mouth and chews.  The key was to be really patient and wait until it picked up its head for a split second while it was chewing.  I put the barrel about an inch away from its head, waiting for the right moment, angling the gun so that the bullet would enter its brain perpendicular to its flat forehead, and pulled the trigger.  A puff of smoke and like that it dropped and would no longer feel pain nor be conscious.

Kate quickly passed me the sharp, sturdy, foot-long knife that I would use to cut it from ear to ear after I adjusted the carcass so its head was slightly downhill to facilitate blood flow.  It died quickly and painlessly.  At the same time, the other pig didn't have much of an idea of what was going on since it was busily eating in the woods 100 feet away.

We repeated the procedure with the second pig, which went even more smoothly.  This time Ken made the killing incision after I shot it.  From here on was the real hard part.  There is a fair pressure to complete skinning and gutting pretty quickly as the guts can quickly start rotting and make a mess if left to its own devices in the carcass.  Before we could even gut, we had to skin after cutting the head off by slicing neck meat, twisting, sawing, and pulling.

The tripods were not as high we thought they were.  They were 10' tall and we really needed them to be at least 11' tall to be able to work on the pigs at comfortable working level.  One of our blocks was actually a comealong that ratchets up a steel cable with a hook.  We tied the hind legs of the pigs to a singletree.

We then had the arduous task of trying to ratchet one up.  This took two different tries and two other people to support some of the weight of the pig so that I could get enough leverage to ratchet the ~300 pound pig up to 6' in the air.  This was the easier process of the two.  The second pig had a simple block pulley with a wheel; therefore we had to hold back the weight ourselves.  The tripod didn't cooperate with all the sideways force we were putting on it in order to pull the pig up so we tied the rope to the back of a truck while i held the tripod down.

Ahhhh so it was mid-morning and we hadn't even started skinning or gutting.  At least it was around freezing temperatures.  Skinning the pig took really long.  Really, really long.  Combined with cold hands and greasy pig fat, starting at the anus and ending at the head, skinning took a total of almost 3.5 hours.  Several times during the process you have to stop and sharpen your knife because it dulls very easily on the pig skin and especially hair and bones.  Skinning around the limbs is especially tough because it is tighter to the muscle and has a very curved surface.  Once one gets to the back and belly it gets a little easier.

Fast forward to the gutting.  This is my least favorite part because if you puncture any of the organs it is messy and can ruin the meat if allowed to persist on any of the surfaces.  It is also difficult and nerve-wracking to carve around the anus and make an incision down to the chest plate.  Pig poop stinks and you obviously don't want it on your meat.  This also took a really long time on the male pig because his anatomy is a little less obvious to cut around.  After you open up the abdominal cavity, you kinda stick your hands in there and free up all the connective tissue inside and start pulling things out into a container so you can save the liver and heart.  This is a smelly job, but a nice opportunity to warm your hands up.

By this time it was getting dark around 4:30 and we still had to cut the pigs in half down their spine with a handsaw.  Sawing was pretty easy.  Then we had to rinse the carcasses with cold water down at the house and hang them to dry and cure for a few days in the barn.  Of course there were like 5 other things we had to do so we broke down the "breaking down" of the carcasses into several stages.

First we broke the animals down into primal cuts: the head, the shoulder (roasts and hocks), the midsection (pork belly, bacon, ribs, chops), and the hindquarters (ham, hocks, ham steaks).  This way we could control their temperature in our chest freezer and fit all four halves into it.  A few days later, the four of us would proceed to break the carcasses down into the cuts we are familiar with; also a whole-day process.  We also made our own sausage which was a fun family activity.

Any questions?  No?  Good.  Thanks for reading!

PS- We made lard.

PPS- We own a horse!!  More on this later.

15 November 2012

Hog Harvest!

Here we are, already midway through November and the temperature is dropping.  The weather is crazy as evidenced by Super Duper Ultra Storm of the Century until next year "Sandy."  I do hope everyone in the New York tristate area is doing well.  I half-joked to some of my friends through e-mail that the hurricane was evidence that everyone needs to move to Maine to ensure their food security and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.  The unpredictability of the weather does speak to the effects of global warming, how populous we are as a species, and how vulnerable we really are despite humanity's collective effort to make us invincible.

Being up here in Maine while my friends and family are in New York City does make me think (and I hope everyone else) more closely about food security and being safe.  Resupplying and rebuilding large parts of the metropolitan area comes at great expense to the environment; think of all the stuff that now needs to be removed, disposed of, manufactured, replaced, and installed in one house.  Then multiply that by thousands.  Also most of that stuff was dunked in corrosive salt water which then ends up back in the ocean.

Besides that, I thought about what food might be available and the great cost in energy and resources it takes to transport it outside of the more efficient distribution system in place.  Sure, Ramen noodles can keep you going for a while, canned foods are good, but there are a lot of people in New York City and not all have the means or wherewithal to plan ahead for a disaster like that.  I for one feel a bit safer out here in the boonies.

In other news, the 8 pigs Kate and I raised are no longer in our hands.  After many lost nights of sleep for myself thinking about the little details of getting the pigs in a small trailer and pulling it out with the horses Pete and Jewel, we got it done.  The area that the pigs were in was not very accessible and to use my 4WD Tacoma would risk being underpowered (pulling close to 2 tons of trailer and pig) and getting it stuck in a muddy area.  To initially get the trailer there I had to harness and warm the horses up by trotting them up and down the road hooked to a forecart.  I even walked them around in the area the pigs were in to familiarize them with the noise they make and the terrain.  Together we were able to pull the trailer through a rough dip and turn it around so that we could set up fencing leading to the back of the trailer.  That was the easy part.

The pigs immediately liked the trailer so Kate and I had an easy time getting 6 pigs in and leaving two pigs behind to process ourselves.  That same frosty morning we were ready to deliver them, we quickly harnessed Pete and Jewel and warmed them up.  They could probably sense our anxiousness and seemed a bit anxious themselves although it could've been that they had energy to get out from standing around in the stalls all night and had just eaten grain.  Kate and I hooked the forecart to the trailer and off we went.  The trailer was pretty much lined up to go out of the area over the very dipped culvert. 

The horses made it out to the road with the trailer about to go over the dip and then...Pete balked.  He stood like a statue for a minute and I couldn't get him to go any further.  I tried to ignore the distracting hunters driving by while trying not to get frustrated.  Another minute passed by where Kate and I both thought we may have gotten the trailer stuck in a very hard place.  We started thinking of the option of hooking up Molly instead or pulling from experience, unhitching the horses from the forecart and walking them around for a little while to help them further distance themselves from the hard task.  Horses will sometimes balk if they have a history of pulling a hard load and "learning" they can't pull it and therefore losing confidence in their ability.  Usually they can definitely pull it; it's just a matter of the team starting the load at the same time.

After a couple of minutes of both horses prancing and trying to feel for a way out of the situation and Pete still refusing to move on my command, I sensed that Pete's confidence had returned somewhat.  I once more asked Pete and Jewel to step up and in a wave of relief, they easily walked the trailer out of the dip and we continued on our merry way.  I was so elated I could hardly believe it and had quite an adrenaline rush and comedown for awhile.  Everything else after that was cake.

Yes, this is an actual pork chop we cut up.  Yes, that is Kate's hand.  We did trim the fat.
I will hopefully be writing another elated post about where we will be farming next year.  A post about butchering maybe too.  Until then we will be enjoying some nice, homemade sausage, lard, bacon, and more!

21 October 2012

Patience is the greatest virtue

The weather hasn't made up its mind yet, but I believe it's fall.  One week it's consistently below freezing at night (and in the tent) and the next it's nice t-shirt weather.  We do know one thing though; the pigs love this weather.  They're all probably over 210 lbs. and eating more and more and MORE grain.  We truly hope our CSA customers will be happy and have been getting their cutting instructions for the butcher when they go up north on November 5th.

The pigs have taught us patience every time they have gotten out and we've had to herd them; almost always in the late morning.  The lesson here is to make sure they have enough food in front of them or else they'll get bored and hungry.  There are not many things more destructive than a bored and hungry pig.

The season has taught us patience with the streaks of wet weather we've been having which haven't permitted us the flexibility we desired to till in beds or plant cover crops.  We've learned to be patient with all the small obstacles that get in the way of what seemed to be a simple task.  We've learned that finding draft horses and good implements for them to pull is harder than it sounds.  Patience is important when dealing with potential land owners, schools, farmer's market managers, borrowing stuff from other farmers, and more.

In the process of trying to find land, in all of our rush to try to find a place so we can plow it before the end of the year (it will make dealing with weeds much, much easier the following year), we've learned that it will come with time.  We have had some many wonderful opportunities come our way and it takes a lot of time and energy to sort through it all.  Our hearts eventually led us to make decisions that feel right.  With all the uncertainties that come with farming, your decisions are probably about 50% gut instinct and 50% what you know.

So we have learned that you can't work against time, but do what you can to get where you want to go at the pace that feels most comfortable.  There isn't need to stress about how little time you have.  You just do what you can in that time whether it is spending time with friends, enjoying a good book, or of course working (which I tend to do too much of these days).  Good things come to good people; especially people who cooperate with the conditions and community around them.

"Today is the first day of the rest of your life."

All photos were taken by Nancy A. Johnson

07 September 2012

The farm search continues...

Hello everyone, it's been a while.  A farm wedding in the middle of the growing season truly does take over the farm.  Ken and Adrienne's wedding was fantastic and I think a good time was had by all, seriously.  Kate and I were contributing all we could to the farm's operation while Ken, Adrienne, and their families were running about setting things up for a wedding of about 200 people.

Meanwhile, Kate and I have been furiously looking for a place to farm together next year; possibly partnering with a friend or two or five.  We have applied to be MOFGA Journeypeople so we could have access to many farming resources in the state of Maine and learn more about the things we like to do so we can do them better.  There is a lot of land that isn't being used, is being retired because the farmer is retiring, and land that people just plain want to see in agricultural production.

We had a really exciting opportunity that fell through in the beginning of August and have since stumbled upon several more that are exciting for many reasons.  We are excited to perhaps be involved in agricultural education at a charter school and still involving horses in the whole operation.  I suppose most of what I can say at this point is speculation and circumstance so I won't say much more until something concrete happens.  Regardless, Kate and I are expending a lot of energy trying to find that "perfect farm."  We know we just have to be patient, but are also impatient to get our own gig going.  If you think we're crazy, please say so.  We probably won't listen anyway, but it's good to have a reality check.  After all, we just want to farm veggies with horses.  No rush right?  Winter is a-comin'.

21 July 2012

Working on working on my own farm

It's the middle of summer and of course that means it's extremely busy with harvesting and weeding (if we can find the time).  There have been many other opportunities presenting themselves to Kate and I.  Horses, land, equipment... it seems to never end.

Kate and I have been looking at farming opportunities and have found one that we think will work for us in the short term outside of Augusta.  We're both really excited and working on terms for a lease and getting our collective sh*t together in terms of money, equipment, and business transactions.  It ain't all cake starting a farm business.  I've been spending a lot of time on the computer; albeit not using it to keep in touch with friends and family unfortunately.

Hopefully I can soon tell about the entire process and what our situation will look like next year.  For now, you will have to anticipate the best.  I'll be going down to Maryland for a wedding August 4th and so will also likely be spending some time in New York City (hint hint friends).  More exciting news in the future!

Oh yeah, an article on why the tomatoes you buy in the supermarket suck:
The prettiest tomatoes taste the worst.

"To Infinity, and Beyond!"
-Buzz Lightyear a la the geniuses at Disney

Here are some pictures of the pigs and the watering system we set up that mostly works well too:

23 June 2012

Haying (mostly) with Horses

What a long, muscle-testing week it has been.  It's been hot and dry which has been a good thing for a change after all the rain in the last month or so.  The ground is drying out and we have more land available for planting at the farm.  Harvesting has been steady for the CSA pickups and market.

The most exciting thing for the whole crew was putting hay away for the horses.  Ken mowed two fields with a total approximate size of 4 or 5 acres over the course of 2 days.  The larger, 3 acre field was mowed this past weekend and tedded 2 times.  Tedding is a process most simply described as "fluffing the mowed grass."  The idea is that in order to be able to store hay, you have to let it cure in the field on a hot sunny day; otherwise it will grow moldy and become unhealthy and inedible for the animal.  An unexpected rain can ruin good hay.

The timeline for our two days of haying went as follows.  Tuesday we began tedding the large field with Jewel and Pete after CSA harvest with Ken instructing us and Kate and I taking turns doing that and doing other tasks on the farm.  Wednesday morning, Ken tedded again and mowed the second field while a neighbor helped rake and bale the hay with his tractor.  Once the baling was coming to an end after lunch, we harnessed Molly up to hook three horses abreast to the hay wagon.  Kate and I took turns driving the horses while Adrienne or Ken stacked the hay in an orderly fashion so they wouldn't fall off.  The two people who weren't driving or stacking threw bales on. 

Each full wagon load held approximately 65 bales of hay.  Throw in a tall can of Coca-Cola, kettle-cooked chips, strawberry popsicles, and peanut butter ice cream and at the end of Wednesday we harvested 298 bales of hay.  Of course we didn't finish until around 8 PM, but we went for a super refreshing swim at nearby Freedom Pond and pizza after that in Unity.  One of the best experiences I've ever had.

Thursday we harvested for Friday market in the morning and tedded the hay on the second field until lunch time.  During lunch the neighbor baled that field and we harnessed all three horses again for the last 132 bales of hay for the afternoon.  It was a hot day, but not as hot as the day before.  Kate and I had made plans previous to the knowledge of haying to have a potluck with farmer friends in the neighborhood. Although we were totally exhausted, it was a nice way to end the week.

Alimony is like buying hay for a dead horse.
-Groucho Marx

17 June 2012

Pigs are Cool

Don't mind the cute pig.  If you didn't know, Kate and I are raising 8 pigs and selling them by the half.  They will be custom butchered so that you can have as little or as much sausage you want, the off cuts and organ meats if you want them, and the option of smoking them.

We have 2 and a half pigs left to sell so let us know if you are excited to be part of our pig CSA!

Updates on our New Beat Farm experience:

We have been plenty busy planting summer squash, hand weeding, cultivating with the horses, and harvesting lots of lettuce, beet greens, salad turnip greens, mesclun/mustard mixes, kale, and chard.  Between working 4 days at New Beat and doing various projects involving the pigs, Kate and I have been super busy.

We assembled an automatic watering system using a 300 gallon tank we bought, PVC fittings, garden hose, and nipples that go on the end of 4 hoses split off from one.  The nipples are stood on a little stand that I made with some scrap wood and stood up by two pieces of rebar pounded into the ground through two drilled holes in the top.  This type of watering system eliminates several issues; the pigs walking in their water troughs (making it less palatable and risking carrying disease on their feet into their water), reducing the need to haul 5 gallon buckets (~40 lbs. of water per bucket), eliminating the need for troughs, spending less time dealing with their water supply, significantly reducing water waste.  Our water tank is set and bolted onto a snowmobile trailer (courtesy of Kate's dad, John) and filled from a spring until it is about half full.  Any heavier, and the trailer might not be able to handle the weight.  Then we haul the trailer to an area uphill from the pigs with the horses hooked to the forecart; uphill so that the water will gravity feed down the hose to the nipples with enough pressure.

We'd also like to thank our friend Jessie for supplying us with whey, which the pigs looooove drinking.  They're gaining weight everyday due to the extra protein.

We love whey!
Other than that, we're both happy living in our wall tent and working with the crew and horses at New Beat Farm.  If any of you have the inclination, please come visit!  E-mail us when you're coming and we'll be glad to have you over!  The pigs would love it too!

“But as long as you remember what you have seen, then nothing is gone. As long as you remember, it is part of this story we have together.”
Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony

27 April 2012

China now consumes double the meat that the US does

I just read a study by the Earth Policy Institute (via grist.org) that reveals China consumes approximately 70 million tons of meat per year, double what the USA eats.  What is amazing about that is that we don't have one fifth of the earth's population like China does, yet we still consume the most meat on a per capita basis AND are the second biggest meat eaters in the world.

08 April 2012

Horses, Grease, and Sweat

It’s the first week at New Beat and what a week it was!  Kate and I arrived Monday morning and helped repair a greenhouse and spread manure in it in preparation for growing tomatoes and lettuce.  We also started work on the wall tent. 
Tuesday we were familiarized with the horse chores, which include feeding hay, cleaning their water buckets and refilling them, mucking out their stalls and putting down more bedding/sawdust, and harnessing the horses.  We also both learned to pick out the horses’ feet.  This involves picking up their feet and using a hoof pick, which is a curled piece of metal on a handle which allows you to pick any debris and gravel out of their hooves.  It is a very important piece of horse health maintenance because leaving debris in their feet can lead to infections and poor conformation/stride; there’s an old saying “no foot, no horse.”
Afterwards we got to ground drive horses; which is to say we each had a single horse and drove them around to accommodate them to us and vice versa and as a warmup to the rest of the season when we will be driving them with great frequency.  I got to drive Pete, the new black Percheron, while Kate drove Jewel (a blonde Belgian), Ken and Adrienne’s lead horse.  Pete is still becoming a member of the herd and apparently had been kicked around, literally, by both Jewel and Molly.  He has started to stick up for himself lately but as a logging horse, is very unfamiliar with most of the farm operations he’s been involved in so far.  Jewel and Pete were then hooked up to the spring tooth harrow to smooth out a field that Ken plowed last week with Jewel on the left and Pete on the right.  Both Kate and I got some basic experience driving them around and harrowing the field.  When we completed that task, we brought two walking plows down to Lauren’s field, where we would eventually be plowing to prepare the soil for her nursery and cover crops.  To end Tuesday we worked more on setting up the tent platform for our wall tent
We all started off Wednesday with hooking up the horses in order to plow.  At first Adrienne and Ken demonstrated the Pioneer walking plow that they bought from an Amish family.  It is huge, heavy, and in almost new shape.  Watching a plow turn over soil is mesmerizing; akin to watching waves on the ocean.  The driver’s, Ken’s, job is to make sure the horses walk straight and to keep the furrow horse (the right or off horse and in this case Pete) right on the land side of the furrow.  Ken describes this as keeping the furrow horse’s left feet on the left edge of the soil of the last furrow.
On my first few passes, I felt like I had just sprinted a mile.  When you watch a walking plow work, it looks as if you have to keep the tip of the plow pointed into the ground when in reality the plow, if set correctly and in good shape, will suck itself into the ground and the horses do most of the work.  Your job as the plowman is to make small adjustments if the horses begin to veer off course and to keep the plow in the ground if the plow hits a rock.  Hindsight is 20/20 and my hindsight didn’t kick in until the next day.  Both Kate and I had struggled a lot this first day of plowing.
As I alluded before, Pete is unfamiliar with farm work, which is steady work with breaks once in a while.  He was mainly used for logging and when logging, the horses pull some really heavy loads and therefore must really jolt the load to get it going initially.  Jolting is not good for things like plowing, harrowing, and cultivating around valuable plants.  The hope is that Pete will become familiar enough with the work that he will be a steady worker by the time we have to start cultivating.  He had taken all of us by surprise by taking off for 20 feet or more and nearly ripping the plow out of the plowman’s hands several times.  The plow even almost hit Ken, which could have been really bad.
Eventually he settled down and Ken and I did a lot of plowing while Adrienne and Kate cut some poles for the wall tent.  By then I was extremely tired despite feeling comfortable and relatively relaxed behind the plow.  At morning’s end I was starving and bushed.  The rest of the day we spent prepping soil blocks for seedlings and working on the tent platform.
Thursday morning we planted a whole bunch of cauliflower, peppers, and flowers in the greenhouse.  Before lunch we readied the horses for work.  That afternoon we finished the last third of the 1/3 acre we needed to plow.  When I came back to the plow, it felt as if it was an action I performed hundreds of times before.  There is something to be said about how your body learns even when you sleep, imprinting what you learned into muscle memory.  I was better able to help Kate become comfortable on the plow because I was able to describe the feel of the plow when it’s going well and I had just undergone that learning process.  She was also a very good observer, and took note of how my body was positioned and how I stood holding the plow in relation to myself.
We felt extremely accomplished to say the least.  It’s probably more accurate to say we were blissed out.  There is a feeling that is hard to put into words, but it is quite magical when the partnership between the team, the driver, and the plowman work together well to turn over a whole lot of sod or cover crop so that you can plant into it in the next few weeks.  Just magic.  The rest of the day we thinned seedlings happily to end a great week.
 Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.
-Thomas Jefferson 

25 March 2012

Once Upon a Time There Was a Winter

My name is Millie.  Pay attention to me!  All the time. Now.

It has been a strange winter so far in Maine.  There was not too much snow, only one really cold stretch, and quite a bit of mud.  Many farmers I have talked to have expressed some concern about the coming season and how it may be dry because the snow cover, and thus water, will evaporate early, requiring more irrigation this summer.  Most people probably have already dismissed winter as over and done with, and are happy to look forward to warmer weather.  I admit that in the past I would have felt the same way.

Millie: This is what it should look like in Maine in March.  Now let me smell you.

However, with nature (and everything in life) balance is essential.  We continue to see extremes in weather and climate because we are testing the earth's limits as a closed system.  Like a drop in a bucket of water, our energy use a.k.a. release of energy in the form of heat, our use of fossil fuels has caused a spike in average temperature causing the water's surface to move down.  In an attempt to restore equilibrium, the earth's atmosphere is trying to rebound in the other direction, then the other, then the other until it is almost at rest.

The warm weather is messing with farmers and it's messing with maple sugaring.  There has not been a consistent flow of sap from the trees at Mitchell and Savage Farm.  The sap has also been darker than in the past from what Mitch tells me.  The cutting short of the season by warm weather has significantly reduced the amount of syrup that can be made considering that 40 gallons of sap on average are needed to boil down to one gallon of syrup and a tree can produce at least a half gallon of syrup on a good day (20 at night and 40 high during the day).

Sap season is likely coming to a close if it hasn't already.  On the bright side, I have had a wonderful experience with Mitch and Penny helping collect sap with Dick, Dock, and sometimes Belle.  I also learned a lot about boiling sap and a bit of the science behind it.  They were gracious enough to let me drive the horses many times while collecting sap from stop to stop in their sugar bush.  I recognize the trust it takes to let another person drive your draft animals; especially large, 1700 pound beasts that can easily pull a tank/wagon that easily weighs a ton altogether.  It's hard to resist emphasizing the power of a pair of horses and the thrill and beauty of working together to harness their abilities and mesh their personalities with yours in the process.  I truly want to thank Mitch and Penny for the opportunity to work with them and their "haases."

These, however, are Jeff and Amy's horses.

I also happened to show up at Buckwheat Blossom Farm to drop a few things off after an invigorating bike ride and ended up helping them with the sheep shearing process which included keeping track of all the little lambs and giving the adults booster vaccines.  I'll be working at New Beat Farm in a week helping with seedling work, making soil blocks, moving the wall tent platform, and when the soil is drier, plowing with the horses!  My excitement can hardly be contained.  I am, pun intended, chomping at the bit to work with Ken, Adrienne, Lauren, Rachel, Kate, and the horses Molly, Jewel, and Pete this season.  Time for some good, ol' fashioned faahm building!

Peace, Love, and Head Cheese!

Hi! I'm a lamb!
He's only 7.5 pounds!
"Our model citizen is a sophisticate who before puberty understands how to produce a baby, but who at the age of thirty will not know how to produce a potato"
-Wendell Berry

08 March 2012


I am officially not an apprentice for a month.  Then I will be again in April.  The yurt was cleaned and moved out of by Monday afternoon, ending my first apprenticeship.  For a glimpse of it, you need only read any of my past updates.  In an attempt to avoid a year-end summary, I will look to the future.  I've learned so much and cannot properly address my gratitude to Buckwheat Blossom Farm for taking me on for the year.  The opportunity to learn so much, from logging and tillage with horses and growing vegetables, to raising pastured and woods-raised chickens, cattle, sheep, and pigs, was a proverbial alignment of the stars.

Throughout my time here I've had the chance to meet tons of new, cool people related to agriculture and the variously related craftspeople that a farmer/grower depend on to keep their farm running.  I've found, at least personally, that the more people you know in the field, the better.  You don't know what might come up, what kind of equipment might need repair and the skills you might have to trade for in order to get them repaired.  I've been feebly attempting to improve and diversify my skill-set, and therefore, my opportunities for energy and economic self-sufficiency by participating in as many things as I can while apprenticing and in the coming month.

Yesterday I began sugaring at Mitchell and Savage Maple Farm where they use horses to haul a BIG 200 gallon tank around their woodlot to collect buckets of sap.  We were hoping it would be a good sap day because the temperature was close to the ideal range of 20 degrees at night and 40 degrees daytime.  It turns out it wasn't really, but that the sap was about three times sweeter than it typically would be.  This was probably due to Mitch having dumped the ice that froze in the buckets, thereby concentrating the sap that remained.  

Though we only got 50 gallons of sap that was the equivalent of almost 150 gallons of "regular" sap, it was a beautiful day to be out with the horses in the woods.  I worked up a bit of a sweat walking around in the snow with buckets and got to see part of the sap-making process.  It involved a lot of tubes, gravity feeding, and water.  I spent about 4 hours chatting and helping boil sap even though Mitch didn't need the help.  We (including Penny) got to know each other a little bit better talking about everything and anything from politics to horse equipment to the show "Breaking Bad." I easily could have spent the whole night there hanging out, talking, feeding the wood fire, pouring sap, drinking a few beers, and eating popcorn.  In the future I just may do that.  I'm blessed to have met Mitch and Penny and eagerly look forward to the rest of the sugaring season and meeting their son Caleb later this week.

In a month, I'll be heading over to New Beat Farm learning to do lots of new stuff that are almost too numerous to count.  I'll be learning to hay, grow some small grains and beans, do some more walking plowing, single horse work in general, and of course lots of other horse tillage.  Ken and Adrienne also have a different growing system which will be a whole new thing to learn as well.  I'll hopefully also learn a thing or two about repairing horse equipment.  They just got a new horse to make 3 total and his name is Pete.  He's in great shape and I'll be excited to get to know all the horses.

Oh, yeah!  Kate and I will also be raising 8 pigs this summer and marketing them by the half.  I know some of my New York friends are interested and if we have trouble selling them, I will let you know.  Our hope is to try to remain as local as possible.  For those of you in NYC that really want to participate in this kind of meat purchase, visit your local farmers market (there are tons in NYC) and get to know the farmers there.  Otherwise I can help you try to find a person selling pigs by the half or whole.  We have 3.5 pigs left to sell as of today so let me know if you have any interest.  The pigs will be ready at the beginning of October.   Everyone needs to bother me about pictures so I'll be better at including things I'm doing.  Anyways, more sugaring (after a mini-vacation to Portsmouth) is at hand in the coming weeks.  Thank you everyone for reading!

"We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all — by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians — be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us.
How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing."
-Wendell Berry

26 February 2012

If you don't think the meat you typically eat is bad...

read this article from Grist about how a study has connected the dots between how disease-resistant staph jumped from human to pig to human.  Factory farmed meat is cheap, but also uses more than half the antibiotics used in the US.  The result of this abuse is poor animal health, poor animals living terrible lives, and poor human health via transmissible disease and lower nutrient density in the meat we do eat.

If you're thinking, "Well I can't afford to pay for the expensive, locally grown meat they sell at the farmers' market," you can make the decision to eat less meat.  We eat more meat than we need to and it is taking a toll on our environment and health.  I urge people to consider the impact of what they have on their plate.

20 February 2012

Time to put on the big boy suspenders

My last day running the farm with Kate's help.  Tomorrow the Burchsteads will be returning from Hotlanta and with them comes some welcome pressure relief.  I'm not any less convinced I want to farm, but whew! keeping all sorts of animals while thinking about the future and making time management decisions in tandem with the predicted weather is draining.  As each day since Wednesday has passed, I have gained more respect and empathy for Jeff and Amy, as well as every other farmer out there.

Throw in the constant worrying of whether a ewe is going to give birth and my hands felt quite full.  Wednesday and Thursday of last week went smoothly as I mostly took care of projects like wrapping and freezing the rest of the two lambs we butchered, making a ginger carrot ferment, moving, cutting, and covering firewood, and preparing for market.  Then came Friday...

I was merrily doing chores and going about my rainy, farm business when I saw that a ewe was beginning to give birth.  Earlier I had noticed the ewe was standing off by herself for most of the morning, a probable sign that she was beginning to go into labor.  The amniotic sac was coming out and immediately I went to trap the rest of the flock so that I could eventually extract the mom and her lambs.  I went to prepare some warm molasses water to put in the greenhouse where she would eventually end up.

The first lamb was born and the ewe did not immediately start licking it to clear the mucus on its face so it could breathe.  I went to clear its nostrils and the ewe ran as far as she could.  I started to worry that it wouldn't bond with its baby; an important aspect of lambing and ensuring the survival of the lamb.  Eventually the ewe would pass its second lamb stillborn.  I tried to get it to bond with the live lamb by bringing it to her nose but she kept running away.  Trying not to get frustrated, I called it with a sheep call and lured it with grain into the greenhouse.

I spent the next two hours drying the lamb to prevent hypothermia and trying to get it to nurse despite the ewe's refusal to stand and the lamb's being so weak it couldn't figure out how to nurse when I put the teat in its mouth.  In between all this, I called Amy on the cell phone and got her guidance.  Eventually I got the lamb to nurse after cutting away some wool for easier access and Kate would subsequently come to help me get it to nurse while I held the ewe still.

We still had to pick up apples, do chores, and prepare for market before Saturday morning.  All told, we didn't finish working until 9 PM; managing to get the truck mostly packed so we could get up at 5 AM to do chores and pack the rest of the market items.  Oh yeah, we also had Kate's parents over for dinner for her mom's birthday.  They were gracious enough to bring some Thai takeout and ease a bit of our burden for the night.  Thankfully, the lamb was at least able to nurse with our assistance several times before we went to sleep and eventually would nurse on its own as its mom began to grow closer to its baby.

The next day would be rough for both Kate and I due to relative lack of sleep and a very long day lasting 12 hours.  She went to the Portland winter market while I ran the booth in Brunswick.  After the evening chores, we relaxed for a little while until we took Kate's mom out for dinner for her birthday; this time our treat.  That night we both slept deeply.

Sunday afternoon I was able to drive a different team of horses at Mitch and Penny's.  Their horses, Dick and Dock, are used to collect sap which they collect using buckets hanging from spiles tapped into sugar maples.  I got a tour of their sap trails and had a wonderful afternoon chatting with Mitch and driving his horses for a little while out in their hay fields.  All in all it was a long week with little much of a weekend, but I enjoyed it all.  I hope you all enjoyed reading this update and enjoy the lengthening days!

Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.
- William Jennings Bryan

15 January 2012

Lambs in January!

There's so much to talk about between participating in my first chicken and pig processing sessions, to moving a 32 by 14 foot long hoophouse full of chickens 200 feet uphill.  It's definitely winter now in Maine as last night was a few degrees below zero and the yurt was about 45 degrees warmer than that despite our waking up three times in the middle of the night to stoke the fire.

There was an unexpected lambing last the Tuesday after New Years.  We expect most of the ewes to give birth in March; hence the "unexpected."  I showed up at the pasture that the ewes and ram were on at about 7:30 AM expecting to just feed them some hay and call it good for sheep chores.  As I approached their paddock, I saw two small, dark shapes on the ground in the distance.  At first I thought they were cats or racoons or some other small mammal.  While carrying a bale of hay towards them, I slowly realized that they were two lambs.  This was not such a big deal except it was about 20 degrees outside with a wind chill of probably 5-10 degrees less.  I quickly covered them up in my sweater and tried to encourage their mama, who was nearby, to continue to lick them dry and nurse them.  Unfortunately they were quickly approaching hypothermia, especially a very cute grey and white one.  I called Jeff and he came down and quickly made the decision to get the ewe and her two lambs over to the greenhouse.

Moving them to the greenhouse proved to be much more difficult than it sounds.  The ram decided it would be great to try to either mount the ewe again or try to ram Jeff and I while one of us were carrying the two lambs to the truck while the other was dragging the ewe along towards the truck.  I quickly put the lambs in the truck with the heat running while I helped Jeff fend off the ram while simultaneously dragging the ewe towards the truck.  Jeff lifted the ewe over the now turned off fence while I kept fending off the ram with kicks in the face.

When we arrived at the greenhouse, we set up a pen for the ewe and her lambs with some mulch hay as bedding.  The black lamb, which was stronger in the first place, seemed to warm up and after a lot of coercion and stripping the ewe's udder, we got it to nurse while we had the grey lamb in hot water to try to get its body temperature up to the average 101 degrees F.  Amy continued to direct Jeff and I on what to do and when the lamb's temperature was finally close to normal, we got it to nurse after Jeff trimmed the wool around the ewe's udder.  They two lambs are now healthy and happy; the grey one likes to make a little nest on top of its mom's back when she's lying down.

So other than that, Kate and I are slowly planning our move to my next farm up north in Knox.  Part of our plans are to raise pigs on Ken and Adrienne's land to till up some marginal land and land that they plan on turning into gardens.  We will be marketing them by the half or quarter animal with customers paying a deposit ahead of time.  Right now Kate and I are planning out a budget to figure out some numbers for customers.  Let me know if you're interested!  We plan on having pigs ready by September or so.  I can't promise updates more regularly, as some may have noticed, but I will try my best as always...  Stay warm, eat well, and love the special people in your life!