Friday, October 29, 2010

Dear Coyote: Prepare for a Reckoning!

As much as I love farming, I detest coyotes. I love goats & sheep, and unfortunately coyotes do too. Coyotes have been a problem to our farm for two decades now, and this week they again struck a blow. The graphic picture at the left is all that is left of the Keiko buck I so proudly bought this spring.

Many people in central Ohio are surprised to learn that Coyotes thrive so close to the Columbus metropolitan area. They are, however, a problem throughout our state. In the early 1990s, I first remember my grandfather dealing with coyote attacks on his sheep. Around 2003, there was another group that moved through, killing many of my mother's lambs. This led her to purchase Great Pyrenees dogs to protect her herd. I lost many kid goats in 2008, but that was such a difficult year as it was, since my mother passed on that spring. I instituted several safety measures that discouraged the coyotes: bringing animals into the barn at night, shutting gates to exterior fields, leaving lights on in the buildings. That summer I snared two coyotes. Since then I have had no problems. In fact, I had not even heard the coyote's blood-chilling howl at night for some time.

Tuesday night we had a powerful windstorm in Ohio. The rain left the goats quite unhappy, especially my three bucks that were grazing the north pasture. After the worst of the storm passed through, I checked on the boys to ensure they had weathered the storm. Wednesday when I went out to feed, I could not locate Keiko Dynamite. Boyo Knightley and Sean of Arabia were strutting across the fenceline from the ladies, but Keiko was nowhere to be found. I walked the perimeter of the field and later drove out to use my headlights to scan the field. I hoped that Keiko had jumped the fence and simply was out of my sight.

Sadly, the next morning, when I headed out to let the chickens out of the hen house, I saw something in the distance that turned out to be poor Keiko's remains. I knew immediately it was coyotes. In a panic, I suddenly realized I couldn't find Sean! I grabbed Boyo and moved him into the lot with Abraham the Mule, mourning my beloved boys. Imagine my joy when I realized that Sean had already jumped into the lot with Old Abe! With many hugs, I told my boys to hang tight, and I would soon reward them with numerous ladies!

Now smelling like Boyo & Sean, I mobilized to take action. I was truly surprised that Keiko was attacked. I did not know that coyotes were hunting our area again. This past spring I had seen three foxes. The old farm wisdom is that foxes & coyotes will not hunt the same turf. Thus, I assumed coyotes were not residing within range of Harrison Farm. While I knew that the north field was the most convenient for an attacking coyote, I didn't think any predator would go for the three big bucks. I can only assume that Keiko, being the smallest, was miserable after the rainstorm, and an easy target for a predator to take down. What a loss! I had just purchased the noble Keiko Dynamite last spring to be my new herd sire and I was so excited to use him!

My first call was to the division of animal control. They dispatched an officer to assert that it was not a dog attack. Both the lady at the department and the officer who came out were very pleasant & professional. The officer asserted right away that it was definitely a coyote. Dogs are more random in their method of kill, and will attack across an animal's neck and shoulders. Coyotes are skilled killers that know to strike at the throat. We both took photographs, and filled out the paperwork to notify the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, a call to the Department of Agriculture served to inform me that there were no funds to recompense me for the loss of the goat. The coyote (which theoretically belongs to the State of Ohio) killed my valuable new buck and I am simply out of luck. This is very financially damaging to me considering what I spent on the goat, and crushes the potential for what I could have earned from Keiko's ability over the years.

Truly, I detest coyotes.

Coyotes are wild animals. They are carnivores. I do not begrudge them the ability to hunt. I fully intend to hunt the coyote myself, and I look forward to using my skinning abilities to cut out the coyote's skull for a trophy. I do, however, protest government policies that allow predators to thrive near agricultural areas. I am fortunate that I have only lost one goat this year. I know of ranchers out west that have lost hundreds of animals, especially to wolves which are protected by the federal government. Farmers & ranchers work incredibly hard to raise animals; to have them become food for coyotes is heartbreaking. One of my favorite books about livestock was written by a rancher in Montana and is entitled: "Today I Baled Some Hay for the Sheep the Coyotes Eat." It is a sad, but true part of raising animals.

As disheartened as I am when I see the above picture of Keiko's remains, I look forward to posting a companion photo of his killer!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Goodbye to Betty's, Columbus Brewing Co., and the Surly Girl!

During my lecture to the Animal Science 597 students -- as with all my presentations -- I emphasized the importance of food choice! I sincerely believe that we should be able to select the foods we want for ourselves and our families. Thus, I fully support the many different types of production: conventional, organic, locally raised, naturally raised, etc. I believe the ability to choose our own food is extraordinarily important! No one -- and no government entity -- should be able to force certain foods or production methods on us!

The handsome young man with me in the picture above is one of my very favorite people, my wonderful younger brother! He currently lives in Philadelphia, where he is very active in the cultural scene of that city. My Philadelphia brother is one of those amazing people who is so kind of heart and such a pleasure to spend time with! I am so happy whenever we are together! We are, however, two very different individuals -- and this includes our diet. For his well-being, my brother is a vegetarian. I think this is awesome! I love vegetarians because they show the importance of food choice. I have extremely different health concerns from my brother, though. Because I am typically very low in iron and have a gluten intolerance, I structure my diet around protein-rich red meats, dairy, and fruits & vegetables. My brother's diet works for him; my choices work for me. The freedom to choose our own food is very important to both of us!

Despite my support for vegetarian choices, I was very disturbed to read in the paper this morning that a few local restaurants had joined with a so-called "animal rights" group (Mercy for Animals) to offer vegan menu items during "World Go Vegan Week". These restaurants are Phat Wraps, Knead, Columbus Brewing Company, Surly Girl Saloon, Dirty Frank's, the Tip Top, and Betty's. I will no longer support these businesses, and I will be contacting those that I have frequented to express my concerns.

To clarify, I have NO problem with these restaurants offering vegan choices! Food choice is important and I believe in the market dictating production. If businesses wish to offer vegan options and consumers wish to buy them, I think that is fantastic! My concern is that these restaurants are joining with a group that exists to shut down farms that raise livestock and businesses that are involved with meat processing. This is NOT food choice -- this is forcing an agenda on consumers! Mercy for Animals is very clear in all its publications and presentations that they intend to promote world veganism . . . thus putting farmers like me out of business, subverting the ability of individuals to choose their own foods, and adding to the world hunger problem (since meat is a protein-rich food source that provides needed calories).

Please support food choice! Please voice your desire to be able to select what you want to feed your families! Please use your dollars to support businesses that reflect this!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Humans & Animals . . . Or, the Goatherd at OSU!

I was absolutely delighted to be invited to speak last week at OSU in Animal Science 597! This class focuses on issues relative to human & animal interactions, closely observing how humans use animals. I was excited to be able to address the students on this and to be able to share my perspective as a farmer.

I kicked off the two hour lecture by telling the story of Thunder the Sheep, noble guardian of Harrison Farm. I shared that Thunder had been born through a C-Section, and was the only baby of quadruplets to survive. My mother raised him on a bottle and we became attached to him. Thunder came to live with me at Harrison Farm, where he served as one of my bellwethers and was basically a big brother to all the goats. He was incredibly patient with the baby goats that would frolic & jump on his back as he lay down. Everyone loved Thunder!

Sadly, about a year ago, Thunder began to have serious issues with arthritis. And as he approached his 10th birthday, it got worse & worse. I had moved him up to the boxstall in the front of the barn to feed him, as he would no longer walk out to the field to graze. Eventually he would no longer get up on his own. I knew that this was the start of a long road downhill. When animals refuse to get up at that age, they rarely recover. Instead they slowly waste away. I decided I did not want Thunder to suffer slowly. He was a noble sheep and deserved a quick death. It was a gray & rainy day when my friend Abdi helped me to butcher Thunder. After I hugged Thunder's neck for several minutes and told him what a good sheep he was, Abdi & I got to work. The end was quick and we were able to stock a great deal of meat. I know I won't be able to get over the sentimental aspect and eat it myself, but I will be able to cook it for my dog.

I used this story to get the students thinking about my goals as a farmer to provide the best quality care for my animals that I can and to show them respect in life & in death. I wanted the students to think about what they would do. It was VERY hard to make the decision to butcher Thunder, but it gave him a quick death and it provided a protein-rich meat source for my dog to eat. He served me in life & continues to serve in death. So many people today are only familiar with their pets, and don't realize the differences between companion animals and livestock and wildlife. I encouraged the students to consider this, as we began a discussion about my perspective as a farmer, my work as a butcher, my experiences with religious slaughter, and the way that religions regard animal care.

As a former government teacher, I stressed to the students what a right truly is, and why it is a fallacy to use the term "animal rights". A right is something that must be codified, it must be won, and it must be protected with recourse. In other words, I can elucidate what my right to freedom of speech means. This right was won by Americans who fought for personal freedoms and enshrined this in the Bill of Rights. If someone compromises my freedom of speech, I can seek protection through our court system. In contrast, my dog Jolie cannot state her rights, nor has she won them, and she has no system for recourse of suppression of any rights. Thus, she does not have rights.

I encouraged the students to change the conversation to one of animal care. Using examples from various religions, I discussed that although the world's religions do not recognize "animal rights", they do stress the moral obligation to care for our fellow man, nurture our world, and shepherd the creatures in it. Thus, it is paramount that we show respect for the lives of the earth's creatures -- without losing sight of the appropriate relationship between humans and animals. Although my dog Jolie may not have "rights", it is my moral responsibility as her owner to care for her in a manner that provides a decent quality of life. It would be disrespectful of my fellow man, however, if I elevated Jolie in such a way that I served her over others. Far too many people go to bed hungry, do not have proper housing, and suffer from basic diseases. As humans, we need to keep things in the appropriate perspective as we strive to fulfill our obligation to animals, yet focus on improving the world for our fellow man.

I sincerely appreciated how hospitable the students of the class were! It was a great opportunity and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yay for Facebook!

Ready for more farm information?!! Of course "ewe" are! Craig the Cat would castigate me if I did not point out our presence on Facebook. Please check us out by searching for "Harrison Farm". We hope you will enjoy all the stories posted on the farm journal as well as the status updates found on Facebook!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Day in the Life of The Goatherd

So what can you expect from my farm journal? Information about agriculture, promotion of Harrison Farm products, and recounts of my hilarious misadventures! With apologies to the parents of Winchester Elementary Bus Route #5, here is a typical event in the life of the Goatherd . . .

One of my favorite recurring jokes is to reference the TENS of dollars I make as a goatherd! Farming is definitely a business for those who are passionate about agriculture, can handle hard work in difficult situations, and realize that their chosen field will not yield abundant financial profits. I work to utilize everything possible to save money, and try never to let anything go to waste. This can lead to some interesting scenarios . . .

During the summer months, I tend to check the animals a few times a day to guarantee that they have plenty of fresh water. It was the afternoon of one of those late August days, where the sun beats down in such a way that it is hard to believe autumn is so close. After arriving home from a Farm Bureau event, I decided to make a quick jaunt to the barn to check on the well-being of the livestock. As I approached the barn, I could see that one of the little boys had his head stuck in the fence that divides the buck pen from the pasture where Abraham the Mule resides. One of the frustrations that I live with as a Goatherd is dealing with unthinking goats that stick their heads through the fence to nibble at whatever might be on the other side. They can usually stick their head through the fencing, but then discover that the angle of their horns prevents them from removing their head. Typically this results in me struggling to get them out of the fence, since they refuse to believe I could possibly be doing something to help them!

I jumped in the horse lot, expecting to push the head of the kid goat back through, when I realized this was a more serious situation that initially expected. Was the goat alive or dead? He appeared to have put his head at such an angle that he was strangling himself. I pushed and pushed, eventually freeing him, only to realize the goat had just died. Immense frustration! This was the best of my kid goats! Nearly the perfect 50 pounds for sale, healthy, and the son of Little Stuff (one of my best does). Due to his stupid actions, the goat had not only committed suicide, but had lost me the potential to sell him for at least $60 (as the market was running around $1.20/pound).

Losing animals is not only hard on the soul -- this was a living being I had cared for -- but very hard on the wallet. Hay is $4 per square bale. The goat feed I give the young goats is $14 for a 50 pound bag. I spend about 2 hours each day working with the animals. These are all expenses for me. I rely on the sale of meat goats to not only cover the expense of the herd, but provide me with needed funds to eat, to have an SUV, to pay for my cell phone, etc. I cannot in good conscience let anything go to waste. The goat was dead . . . but barely dead. The meat simply couldn't be a total loss.

I hustled back up to the house. Still wearing my summer "barn check" outfit of a Hard Rock Cafe tank top I bought in 1992 and a pair of blue shorts, I added my knee-high black Muck boots and my cowboy hat (which proudly sports a feather from a vulture for decoration). I grabbed my knives and a tupperware container for the meat and hurried back down to the barn. The goat was still dead, so I heaved him over the fence and dragged him up near the water hydrant.

Although I had honed my butchering skills over the last five years working as the general manager of an ethnic slaughterhouse, this was the first animal I had butchered on the farm. In the Great State of Ohio, you can slaughter your animal on your land with no regulations. If, however, you wish to slaughter your animal at another person's property, they must be licensed as a slaughter facility. If you intend to sell the meat, an inspector must be on site. I intended to eat the meat of the goat myself, cook the bones for my crazy dog, and give the internal organs to a friend, thus I could butcher my own animal without regulatory issues. Since the goat was already dead -- sigh -- I did not have to worry about a humane kill. (Actually, so-called animal rights groups should respect that I allowed the goat to choose the end of his own life! HA!) I was a bit overwhelmed, however, with how to start the processing . . .

I tried to consider the best way to keep the carcass clean, using the skin as a work area to protect it from the ground. I decided to take the front legs off first, since I could easily keep them clean. In all my glamour of shorts & Muck boots, I bent over and started skinning out the first leg. After opening the skin, I grasped the leg firmly as I cut it off of the carcass. With a final swipe, the leg was freed, and I stood up -- with goat leg in left hand & knife in right. And at that very moment, there went the school bus with all the little elementary kids looking out the window! Complete embarrassment on the part of the Goatherd!

As I finished the process, I tried to reassure myself that the kids (human variety) were probably too busy texting or talking to pay any attention to the farmer cutting up a goat. I considered that I was doing the right thing by raising and processing my own meat. Really, children need more exposure to farming and food processing! I still couldn't help but think, though, that the small children would now know me as the crazy goat lady with the knife who made them scream on the school bus one afternoon . . .

Just another fun day as a Goatherd & Butcher!

Photo Caption: The Goatherd & Cassie the Goat at the Franklin County Fair! Cassie has NOT been butchered, because she is not suicidal and does not stick her head in a fence. Cassie is part of my herd of commercial meat goats and is an excellent mother. I raise the kid goats for meat, but retain the best little does (girls) to add to the herd. Cassie raised triplet girls this year! I hope to keep all three.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Welcome to Harrison Farm online! As a farmer who is passionate about agriculture, this farm journal is an opportunity to share my experiences. I hope to provide readers with a window into what life is truly like for farmers . . . separate from what is portrayed in the media. In addition, I hope to share information about local foods in the Columbus metropolitan area. Speaking of which: Penguin the Chicken would like for me to advise you that Harrison Farm offers farm fresh, naturally raised brown eggs for $3.00/dozen! Contact Katherine at 614.271.0304 to place an order!