Mother Nature's Way

It is with a heavy heart I say good bye to my beloved Ares.  Of all the happenings on a farm, dealing with death and loss is the most difficult.  It happens often in a farmers world.  We are careful to watch over the sheep, chickens, and llamas but sometimes you just don't know what might happen.  Often it's a predator but sometimes they just go down with some unusual affliction.  Very often, it's sometime before your vet can get there and you have to do the best you can.   From the raccoon eating chickens, the snake stealing eggs and eating chicks, the buzzards coming in on your lambs or the parasites that take the weakest sheep...each death is sad.  

Some just hurt worse then others.

This boy got me.

Towering over me, this gentle llama stood with majesty and grace. 

Towering over me, this gentle llama stood with majesty and grace. 

Walking the Walk

 

Scrolling about on social media today I came across a fantastic video of Rebecca Burgess speaking at a conference in California.  For those not familiar with Ms. Burgess, she has emerged as a pioneer in the soil to skin movement.  A few years back Rebecca vowed to spend one year wearing only garments sourced within 150 miles of her doorstep. Her journey is a wonderful story but also a wake up call for all of us.  She realized one day she was "talking the talk", not "walking the walk".    

As I listened and pondered her story I realized I could easily say the same in my life.  

In some instances we can play the naive card.  I hadn't really thought about fossil fuels in my clothing and furnishings.  Here I am though, farming and promoting all natural, humanely raised, sustainably produced wool products and I'm not "walking the walk in all areas of my environment.   Once we have the information though, we need to make the changes in our lives.  I now know.  For the sake of our own integrity but also for our good of others.

And, let us not forget...

Our Planet!

 


To Wean or not to Wean

Observing a mother and her new born is a heavenly site.  We respond  based purely on emotions,  whether we've actually "mothered" or not.   At the moment you lay your eyes on this site all the world around is a blur and all that matters is the true love that halos around them.  It is such a pure connection that under no circumstances one should want to come between them, right?

 

A lot of the methods used in sheep farming  are about "management" of the flock.  The larger the number your trying to manage the harder it is to keep "order".  Orderliness becomes a goal for efficiency.  Efficiency adds to profits.  Follow me?  This is a slippery slope.

Weaning is one of those "management" tools.  According to reference books,  lambs should be removed from their mothers at 8-10 weeks old.  The reasons are mainly that the needs of the lambs for maximum market potential are different then the mamma's.    Growth of the lambs requires richer, higher protein grasses or grains which the mamma's don't need.  The only way to accomplish such a task is to separate them.  The other argument we found (didn't read it in a reference book) to support weaning  is the mothers will give and give until they are basically spent.  We find the heat of the summer, coupled with the very selfless nature of mom's takes everything out of them and begins to compromise their own health.

For these reasons one might wean.  

 

Wean:accustom (someone) to managing without something on which they have become dependent or of which they have become excessively fond.

 

Now that I've given you a bit of knowledge about weaning I'd like to share our journey with this decision.

We began this farm knowing we would make choices about the care of our animals based on our experiences, not just because everyone said so. Many topics of care and handling were researched and we found enough disparaging information that we felt strongly our decision to observe first was a worthy one.

Many of our farming practices were established by observing,  educating ourselves, then we'd established our way.  Weaning the lambs was one really challenging task.  Now 8 years later, after going back and forth, this year, we're not weaning again.  The first three years we didn't wean.  I wish I could tell you why we decided to wean the 4th year but I'm betting we succumb to the "text" book ways.  Most other shepherds around us weaned which made us question our decision even more.  Our farm was growing and as often happens after you've immersed yourself in something you loose some of your "curiosity" or better yet, the luxury of time to remember to be curious and ask questions.

So, we spent a few years weaning.  It is a very difficult task, not physically challenging, just heartbreaking really.  They cry and baa for easily 48 hours.  The mothers also.  Eventually they all settle in but gosh it never felt right.  As often I'm guided on this farm, if it goes against nature my heart cannot find peace with it...this is one of those lessons.  

With most industrial farming models, maximum growth of the lambs became the  shepherds primary goal in order to get those lambs to market fast and efficiently.  Is fast and efficient our ultimate goal.  Those that know this farm know our answer to this question is NO.  We strongly believe you sacrifice so much in order to achieve those fast/efficient goals.  It is this very reason that so many breeds of livestock are in danger of being lost for good...they don't meet these industrial models!

In summary, we've have some of the best looking, healthiest lambs ever, happily growing on mothers milk...there must have been some divine wisdom in that!

 

 


Sustainability & Our Precious Soil

As farmers, we've been told over and over, your #1 asset is your soil.

 It makes sense, the soil is the foundation of everything on this farm.  For us and most sustainable livestock farmers the pastures feed our sheep by daily spring, summer, and fall gnashing and in the winter its fed as hay.  That's all pretty straight forward, right.? 

 Prior to my farming life my familiarity with grass was only my own "city" lawn.  The lawn that framed my house and defined my space....the lawn I had to mow.  Almost every week-end in the summer I knew I'd be rolling out the self propelled grass eating machine to "manicure" my lawn. Just like everyone else in the neighborhood I kept my 9 to 5 schedule  during the week knowing yard work, long moments with coffee and the religious newspaper experiences were all part of my upcoming, predictable, always looked  forward to week-end.  I don't recall ever worrying about the grass other then it's color or the number of dandelions that emerged.  I probably could have done more to beautify my lawn but that wasn't my thing.  I was all about my garden beds and the pots that adorned my entrance or patio. As long as my grass was "groomed" I didn't do much else to my lawn.  My next door neighbor, now he was into it.  Every evening after work he was ready to work some more... in his yard.  His week-ends were spent fertilizing or amending something.  He had the lawn!  You know, the kind you imagine running barefoot through. Everyone knows the lawn I'm describing, like a green carpet with perfectly shaped edges.

I drove in and out of that neighborhood with all the perfectly manicured and aspiring to be lawns and never thought twice...it was all I'd ever known.

.....

if I knew then what I know now.

As a farmer working directly with mother nature I see so much I never realized.  

She speaks in so many visible ways.  

Naturally, as grasses grow then die back with the seasons, the soil is replenished with decomposing nutrients and a layer of "mulch" for protection.  If we mow the grass or take the grass for our livestock or "manicured" lawns we've robbed the soil of it's natural sources for replenishment .  

Simply put, "taking" the grass

 impacts the soil's fertility. Whether we mow a lawn or graze a pasture we are interrupting the natural process.

Because we depend on the grasses on our farm we learned very quickly the choices we had available to keep that grass healthy and growing!    If we we're going to take her natural source of nutrient we had to give something back.  

Our choices?  Natural or Synthetic. The nutrients in both types of fertilizer are much the same. The differences lie in their source, quantity, availability to plants and long term effects on the micro life of the soil.

Natural fertilizers sources come from plants, animal waste and natural minerals.  They also provide micro nutrients such as boron, copper, iron and manganese. Synthetic fertilizers contain nutrients made from fossil fuels.  

 See this beautiful pasture?  Just as green and lush as you can imagine.  It's kept that way at a tremendous expense.  Every year the farmer applies synthetic fertilizers and every year it looks like this.  What could be wrong with this?  Just like my "city" neighbor applying all those synthetic fertilizers on his lawn, the results are gorgeous and we're conditioned to want them that way.

So golly, why not?  

The synthetic fertilizers are like steroids, they feed the plant but interrupt the symbiotic relationship between the plant and the soil.  The plant can no longer depend on the soil to feed it.  

Eventually, the grass, without another application of those same synthetic fertilizers won't even green.  The natural flora of the soil is gone.  Believe me, I've seen it, even on this same pasture not far from our farm.

 Our other option and the only sustainable solution... we rebuild and/or replenish the soil with natural sources of nutrients.

Why isn't the natural solution the most chosen method?

First, we've been conditioned (brainwashed) to dependency on the commercially available options.  Secondit takes an investment of time and effort.

 It takes years of applying natural sources of nutrients back to your soil for the perfect balance to be achieved.  It takes testing your soil to know what's absent.  It takes sourcing the nutrients or in our case creating them from sources here on the farm.  We collect the leaves and gather our kitchen scraps.  We trek our barn waste to our collection areas along with all the other valuable waste materials and layer them together to age. In this way we build our own dark rich compost that we refer to as gold. We apply that "gold" to our pastures and our soil has what it needs to do what mother nature intended...GROW GOOD STUFF!

So, it takes first admitting the need to do it for the health of our soils and ourselves and second the commitment to the investment of time and labor.

Are we willing to make that investment?

Can we afford not to?

Come out to our farm and see first hand how my immediate boss,

Mother Nature

, whispers in my ear, pokes me in the arm and sometimes slaps me upside the head...

As I write this post I feel proud that we've taken the time and ever prouder of that dark, rich, healthy soil we give back to our soils........

Squash Lasagna

My squash bounty continues and I will not cave to the guilt of waste! 

 I'm having a momentary vision of Lucy and Ethel shoving those chocolates in their mouths as fast as the conveyor belt brought them.  That's kind of how I feel with the squash....

 The squash is coming so fast.  I have given squash to all my neighbors til they don't want anymore.  (Husband yells from other room, "don't plant so much next time", DAH).  Come winter when I pull many of these recipe renditions from the freeze I will again dream of planting squash in my garden.

Who doesn't love ooey, gooey, yummy lasagna?  

I've never met that person and quite frankly I'd think something must be wrong with them.  Chances are, if there is that person,  it might be because of the pasta in the traditional rendition.  Many folks these days are staying away from pasta.

How about lasagna, sans the pasta?  

It can't be done you say? 

How about replacing the noodles with

SQUASH

.  

WHAT?

I saw many renditions of this on the internet. Why not give it a try?

I am here to tell you it is yummy.

I am not going to share a complete lasagna recipe with you.  I'm only going to share the basic premise...

slice the squash about 1/4" thick and cook it until it's pliable.  Most of the recipes called for boiling it.  I LOVE everything roasted.  I think it brings out so much more developed flavors.  So, I tossed it with olive oil and sea salt.  Placed it on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven and roasted it until it was soft but still holding shape.  

Now your ready to create your dish.  

Layer it in place of the pasta just as you would your favorite lasagna recipe, just the same!  

I always finish my lasagna with a layer of Parmesan to create the crust.

You can make this very vegi or add your favorite meat sauce.

I promise, it will NOT disappoint....

Squash Squares

The garden over flowith with squash...

As is familiar to most of you gardeners out there, it starts coming and it comes fast.  We eat it, we gift it, we preserve it, we.....hmmm, what else can I do?

Luckily I have a  recipe from a friend I've stashed away.   I knowI liked it, otherwise I wouldn't have requested the recipe.  

I'm trying to "healthy" up most everything in my life these days so I wanted to trade out the Bisquick for something else.  Don't get me wrong, I have a box of the grand ole gal in my pantry but, these days, if I can I do switch it out for the very stuff it was meant to replace in the beginning...flour, baking powder, salt and shortening.  I wanted to health it up even more and replace some of the white (although I do use only whole grain white flour) for some whole wheat.  So, I did.

 yecch....

I do believe there are certain recipes that are meant to be just as they are.    

Health, it can be argued, is just as dependent on the feeling of happiness as it is the nutrients we consume!

So, revert to the original recipe I did and it is a yummy way to cook the bounty of yellow squash 

3 Cups Squash/zucchini , coarsely grated

1 Cup Bisquick

1/2 Cup onion, chopped fine

1/2 Cup grated cheddar cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon marjoram, oregano, or combo of Italian Seasonings

dash of pepper

1/2 Cup of oil

4 eggs, beaten (hopefully farm fresh)

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I think this is an important ingredient)

1 clove garlic, chopped, minced or grated

Mix eggs, oil and seasonings.  Add all the rest of the ingredients.  Bake at 350 degrees in a greased 9x13 pan for about 40 minutes or until lightly browned.

Cut 1" squares for appetizers or 4" squares for sides.

Oh no, more squash is coming!

More squash recipes too!

Enjoy!

Sustain a Whataby?

I don't know about you but the term "Sustainability" seems everywhere.  

According to

sustainability.com,

(yes, there is a website)

sustainability is...

...in the simplest and most fundamental is "the ability to sustain" or, put another way "the capacity to endure".

Sustainability is an idea, a philosophy.  Sustainability could apply to the economy or society.  It's sustainability of our environment that I am most often focused on.

As a farmer, my day to day is spent in and with nature. Mother Nature speaks to me with visible signs. Don't get me wrong, I don't think I'm special (don't ask my husband that though) I believe her signs are all around all of us.  Working, immersed in the great outdoors, I am highly exposed to those signs.  Nature is so sensitive to everything we do and her responses are so obvious.  

If we pay attention, she will tell us when she doesn't like something.  

The real challenge is honoring her requests!  

Sometimes the required action goes against our normal way of doing things. 

As farmers and more specifically livestock farmers, we're dependent on the grass.  I have seen with my own eyes how grass responds to chemicals used to kill it and chemicals, readily available and highly marketed synthetic fertilizers, used to make it grow.  When those practices are used grass grows green, grass grows fast and grass grows tall or grass dies, as you wish.  

When synthetic products are used the natural cycle is interrupted.

 I've seen many a farm that has applied synthetic fertilizers for so many years that the grass will no longer grow unless those synthetics are re-applied.  I've seen many a fence line saturated with

Glyphosate

better known as RoundUp, that we know requires us to become dependent on more RoundUp in order to achieve that "manicured" look.

Which one of these isn't sustainable?

Our fence line

 "Manicured" has become the norm  for most of us. We have practiced it for so long it's difficult to see the beauty in "out-a-control" growth but,  we must.

I have learned I must change the way I think and see. 

This didn't come to me overnight.  I too have had to wean myself from the "old" habits.  It takes time to change a habit and we become accustomed to a familiar look. 

Along the way I've also been enlightened to some facts that support my observations.   When we mow our pastures and take the grass for hay each year, we remove nutrients that cannot be recaptured.  The natural process of grass going fallow in the winter actually feeds the soil.

I did not know this!

We luckily had the required "need" for successful grass production that made my observations possible.  We realized the long term success of our grass depended on mother natures natural cycles and processes.  We realized our dependence on the products to make the grass grow faster and taller and greener or not was not only financially unsustainable but environmentally not so either.

Honoring her requests requires action on our part.  

Often, the requested action is uncomfortable.

The easiest (but most expensive) thing we could do on our farm is apply synthetic fertilizer.  We realized how

UNSUSTAINABLE

that decision would be for the long term success and health of our operation.  

We are now doing what our ancestors did before synthetic fertilizers existed...we compost and give it back to the soils.  It's not an overnight solution but it is the only

SUSTAINABLE

solution. 

And this folks is a perfect example of SUSTAINABLE practices in play; environmentally, financially and I would argue socially. 

What I know now....


Before I begin the real content of this post I want to dedicate this to a couple that came to our farmers market booth last week-end.  I had the perfect opportunity and a willing audience and so the discussion began.  They were looking through our coolers for some lamb.  As it happens from time to time, she looked up at me and said, 
"how can you do it?" 

here it comes, get ready for it, the predictable yet perplexing comment..........

"I could never eat an animal I raised."

Before farming,  I never really thought about how food got to our local grocery stores.  Through that  plastic wrapping at our local SUPER market I felt confident I had enough experience to spot freshness, what else should matter?  




Now, as a farmer growing sheep, pastures, eggs (no worries, I'm not laying eggs), and vegi's I have a whole new perspective.   I truly didn't have any idea what was involved. I didn't have to know how the food got to me,  the choices were provided and available to me and I knew no other options. 

 My bet is many of you can relate.

 I remember once my family was in England for the holidays and we decided on prime rib for our Christmas dinner. We went to a local butcher because that's often the way they still do things in England.  He presented Bessie, photos; family photos, and all. The butcher and his family loved Bessie. Needless to say I couldn't eat Christmas dinner.  



If I knew then what I know now! 

Through my journey I have concluded, we as consumers are so disconnected from the whole dang process.


 Every time we take a few lambs to the arbitrator to be processed, we shed a tear, we hold hands and say a prayer, then we bless them ...it never gets easier.

I have really wrestled with this.  I've contemplated my options. We could stop raising lamb and I could become a vegetarian. For a variety of personal reasons I won't go into, vegetarianism isn't for me.  So, what would I do if I stopped processing our lambs because it was difficult?  If I didn't give up meat would I go into the grocery like most of America and buy those hermetically sealed packages of meat from animals pushed through a food chain living uneventful lives with no tenderness or compassion for their uniqueness on this earth?  

This is an example of where most grocery store meat comes from.


It would certainly have been easier to do.  

And that... would be so hypocritical.


If folks had to engage in the process there would be a much greater respect for the animals and the food on their tables.

If folks would engage in the process or at least be aware, they couldn't eat meat raised in the horrible conditions so many are raised in.  

If folks would engage in the process and be aware, fewer people would be eating meat.

In our house, if we are going to consume meat/fish it will be humanely raised which I also believe is difficult (not impossible) to do if not from a small farm and definitely not from a factory farm. 

Because of our new found respect for meat and how it gets to our tables, we don't eat a lot of it.  
When we do eat meat it is only from healthy happy animals and farms that strive for that.  Yes, it's more expensive and that is part of the reason why we eat less.


Regarding the interaction with the customers last week-end, I followed up her comment sharing the content of this soon to be realized blog, in a few less sentences of course.  They were so thankful that I shared the experience.  I truly believe they will be more respectful of the process.

I want to thank them for reminding me there are people out there that want to know....