Now I can say with certainty that we have lived on our new farm one whole year. There were some disagreements over when it actually began, but I consulted the ole’ journal, and Andrew was right. It was the end of August, not September, when we first actually moved in here.
To try and share all that happened in one year would take a novel. It was the craziest time of my life, and that was just moving here. Last fall we busily put up a 30 by 60 ft hoophouse, fenced paddocks for ducks, goats, turkeys and pigs. We then had to move them here, which was insane. And WE had to move in, settle our own nest, as well. The ducks, due to the stress of moving, stopped laying eggs after they came to the new farm. They were so happy with their giant pasture, but the 40 minutes in a horsetrailer coming here really upset their routine. Very hard to be out of eggs when you least expect it.
Winter came on heavy by Thanksgiving time. We hosted around 35 people for Turkey Harvesting Day, had the Perennial Plate come film it all. For our own Thanksgiving dinner, our families crammed into our tiny house around our hog butchering table. It was lovely.
Dead of winter brought animal care in frustrating situations- LOTS of snow, LOTS of cold. The ducks surprised us by beginning to lay eggs after Christmas, which was totally unlike them. Very welcome though and we began bringing eggs to market. Our spigot froze up, so we hauled water to everybody by the bucket filled in our bath tub. We were soaking organic grains for our young pigs in our livingroom and hauling buckets out to them in the hoophouse. We learned you must not house ducks and pigs near each other. Ducks have bedding envy, as in, “that hay in your pig pen looks mighty lovely, I think I might just sneak in there to lay my egg.” We lost several ducks over several days to the pigs’ omnivorous nature. Despite multiple surroundings of the main pig fencing with small opening fence, the ducks kept going into the pig pen, and we found evidence moments afterward. Tragic, but nature is just so. Domesticated or not.
All winter long, I was still working off the farm, pining for spring, when I would quit and go fulltime into farming. We spent the coldest months planning for our garden, ordering seeds, scheduling our ambitious workshop calendar and planning planning planning some more. It was a very exciting buildup to our first spring.
Spring brought the joy of baby goats, and major trouble- snow a foot high in mid-April! That majorly squelched our plans for gardening April 1st, and set our CSA shares back too. Very frustrating. We scrambled to find feeder piglets, there seemed to be none for sale anywhere. The pigs we raised over winter were harvested late may, after they spent some serious time this spring out pig-a-tilling the blackberry patches for us. Finally we got our garden in, and got that rocking after alot of time, sweat and frustrations.
We decided to try raising our own piglets, since they had been so difficult to buy this spring. Lance came to our farm, a purebred Tamworth boar. Our beautiful gilt Rosie ended up being too large for him to do his job. After 3 months of waiting and hoping, we abandoned ship on our pig breeding adventure last month. Don’t let anyone tell you boar meat has to taste bad. When any animal is butchered without fear or stress, that leads to the best tasting meat ever. Lance was a good boy, he ate very well and he had the best girlfriend pig ever.
Since we settled in last fall, more mayhem has been the norm. We have made many mistakes and each one has been a valuable learning experience. Painful sometimes, but this is how you learn. We’re making it, just barely. This is something I have always admired about farmers….being broke, but happy. People raising your food shouldn’t have to be poor, but this is often the case. Not many want to pay what food really costs to produce, especially when it is done on a small scale, using organic feeds and manual labor. If we put anything out of balance here, by trying to raise too many of any animal, we’d surely go mad. Diversity is important for the land, for the farmers and for the atmosphere of the farm. Down the road from us are many factory turkey farms. The sad thing is, even though these guys raise literally millions of turkeys each year, they are in debt, they are miserable, and they are not in control. We’ll take small scale farming anyday.
Today we harvested a turkey, one of the ones intended for Thanksgiving. We were pretty sure he wasn’t gonna make it another two months.
See yesterday I found him lying on his belly by the water bucket. As I approached, he ran off. Later he did it again. Maybe he was being bullied? He was a big guy, doubtful. I hoisted him into the goat paddock for a break, and he just sat there, breathing heavily. Hmmm. That is not normal turkey behavior. We tried to decide what to do.
Animals are hard, and this year we have had our share of mysterious animal behaviors. We worry about parasites, infections, nutrition, etc. Basically, they are like kids in all the troubles they can have. When you’re depending on them living good lives, being harvested in their time, as part of your livelihood, this adds alot of pressure to figure out what is going on.
The turkey had not improved this morning. It was like he was having random spasms, then was totally calm and immobile. He had no quality of life like this. As tenders of beings in their lifetime with us, we had to intervene. And we were worried about what might go wrong with the rest of the turkeys, if he was an indicator. Calmly, and nobly, we ended his life. He had alot of energy and spirit despite his behavior over the past two days. We assumed we’d be doing a necropsy, and finding horrible things inside…..but his organs looked perfectly clean and healthy.
Except his heart. He had a malformed heart, with a strangely placed ventricle bulging oddly off one side. This was the source of his situation, not having the stamina to maintain normal behavior. I have read that heart deffects affect beings, animal and human alike, when their growth reaches a certain point. He was pretty big, near 20 lbs. We’ve had no problems with this group of turkeys, until this situation.
This is what we get for raising turkeys bred to live short lives in confinement. Broad Breasted Turkeys are simply not designed to be living as they are here: roaming, grazing, lounging in the sun. Perhaps he had TOO good of a life here, and his heart started giving out. His heart defect would perhaps have not bothered him in his short life in a factory farm, vs a free roaming, long life situation. We delight in being able to give our birds a chance to taste the good life as such, knowing they could have easily gone to some terrible factory farm instead of ours. But still, it was so sad to lose one of our beautiful birds due to a heart defect. What caused it? Overbreeding and inbreeding is a major problem with conventional poultry. It basically was just a fluke for his situation to come about. He had a wonderful life until this caught up with him.
My heart swells to watch our turkeys loping about, singing to us and wandering far and wide in the fresh air and sunshine.
Tonight I was milking and dealing with troublemakers. Our milkers are a handful, and each is overeager to get on the milkstand. There is a hierarchy, a routine, but none of the girls seems to respect it when I open the gate. Alot of pushing and shoving, as one by one, they get their time on the milking stand. Its the snacks that create the mayhem.
This morning the Mommas got organic corn as their snack, a change from the oats we’d been using for the past 2 weeks. They loved it, but tonight May’s udder was at about half capacity. Oh man, just when things had started increasing, down we go again. Any change in diet affects them big time, and I should know this. Should have mixed the oats with the corn half and half for at least one feeding to switch them over. But I didn’t, and now I see the consequences. Hoping tomorrow AM things will have evened out.
Walter, the new buck, wanted to let me know he wants grain too, by banging his head against the gate repeatedly. Not digging him so much, but bucks bring baby goats in the spring, so I try to deal. Also, each buck will eventually become goat curry, etc…….so he’s a multitasker on our farm, even though he doesn’t know it. Milk and Meat.
As I wrangled goats, I asked Andrew to put the turkey into the fridge (trying to stop thinking I have to do everything.) After harvesting, the body cooled in a well water bath inside a cooler. Tomorrow we’re gonna have a roast turkey for dinner with Andrew’s folks. There was another meat project I asked him to do- the guanciale, a cured pork jowl, had been soaking in water for a week in the fridge. This was one of Roxy’s jowls, our pig from last year. We cured the jowl last fall, and it dried out well with all the salt, but was rather unappetizing looking. After being rehydrated and refreshed, we’ll see how it turns out. Andrew’s roasting it now.