Monday, February 28, 2011

End-of-Winter with the Livestock!

When I was at university, I did my history thesis on Virginia Weddell, wife of the American Ambassador to Spain during the Spanish Civil War era. She was a prolific letter writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed venturing through the boxes of papers she bequeathed to the Virginia Historical Society. In one of her letters (her secretary would retain copies), she used a phrase that has always stuck with me to describe the seasonal transition of this time of year: "The hounds of spring are upon winter's traces." That seemed to me a very apt description for this time of year!

As winter begins to conclude its reign on Harrison Farm, I am grateful to see the first signs of spring's approach! Each year it is an exciting moment for me when I notice the daffodils peeking their green tips up through the muddy winter ground. There are patches of daffodils along my walk to the chicken house, and those tiny vestiges of green are a welcome sight! In hope for better weather, I have even opened up the back vent of the chicken house for more fresh air (and have promised the chickens they will soon have a spring cleaning of their house!) The chickens are back to egg production after a lengthy sabbatical during the darkest days of winter. I do not have electric in the hen house, so I must be patient as the short days disrupt their laying cycle. It is such a pleasure to be cooking with my own eggs again!

The pups are doing fantastic and develop more personality all the time! Augustus is the "people dog". He is interested in everyone and everything around him . . . especially the compost pile. Last week I found Augustus and the Captain happily fighting over a goat hide that they had "liberated" from the compost! While Augustus likes everyone, Captain Call continues to be more reserved with visitors. I admit, however, that his level of devotion to me warms my old Goatherd heart! As I do the chores, it is a delight to have him follow me around the farm. While I adore my guard dog Jolie, I have often wished that I had a barn dog that would be my companion while working. The Captain is definitely filling this niche. I do not hesitate to indicate my partiality to him, as Augustus is -- without a doubt -- the favourite of my friend Christopher!

Augustus & the Captain have joined me for a few walks to the north pasture. With pleasant weather, I have opened it up twice this week for the mother goats and their kids. The does (and Baby V the Cow) have been very pleased to return to graze on the remnants of last season's pasture. It must be a nice break for the animals from their steady hay consumption through the winter! Even the baby goats seem to enjoy the walk out to the north pasture. They are learning to stay close to their mothers and graze alongside them. I expect another round of kidding to start at the end of March and last through the end of May. Approximately twenty does will be due to have babies.

It will be a delight to enjoy spring again on the farm! I am ready to look out and see green trees & grass again!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Goats are NEVER Boring!

I read an interesting article today in an agricultural publication. A farm wife was recounting her efforts -- and frustrations -- with using social media to promote agriculture. Her two main concerns were that farmers are simply too busy to be able to successfully incorporate social media and that most of the public would be bored by the day-to-day efforts of farming. It was a well-written piece and it definitely got me thinking . . .

As to her first assertion, I certainly agree. Farmers are incredibly busy! Any time spent working on social media takes a farmer away from his efforts in the barn or in the fields. While it is great fun to update the Harrison Farm Facebook page or write a new piece for this farm journal, it does take time. I do not have Internet at home, so I must venture out to the local library (Wagnalls Memorial, best library ever!) or one of my favorite coffee shops to use their wifi. The time I spend working on social media to promote agriculture is time that I am not actually working on my farm. This can be a roadblock for farmers, but it is exceedingly important that farmers make it a priority to tell our stories! We need to educate the public on why we do what we do & why we love it!

In regard to the second idea, I completely disagree! Any topic can be incredibly fascinating or ridiculously boring, depending on how it is portrayed! Beyond this, agriculture is amazingly intriguing! As a child, I can remember complaining to my mother that I was bored. Her response was that only boring people get bored. As I have matured, I have found this to be a remarkably true sentiment. Thus, here is a list of some of the amazing things I encounter in my daily life that could never be boring . . .

Being greeted at the door of the barn by two smiling & playful Pyrenees puppies! Sitting with them in the barn at the end of a long day while they tumble and play!

Watching baby goats -- just hours after their birth -- learn how to use their little legs to jump & play . . . and eventually mastering the game of "King of the Hill" on their mother's back! (Or a sheep or a rock or even a goatherd!)

Seeing the cow run in the field alongside joggers as they proceed down the road! What do these joggers think as she races them to the end of the pasture?!? Especially when she beats them!

Letting Jolie run in the north field when it lies fallow in the winter. The ground may be resting, but it is the perfect venue for my dog to stretch her legs like a greyhound.

Bringing the chickens leftovers and observing what they attack first . . . will it be cheese? rolls? maybe the delicious spanikopita?

Finding the first tender green shoots of daffodils poking through the ground after a long winter. Enjoying the visual of the goats grazing in the north field in the summer. Watching the trees turn color around the farm as fall arrives. Waking up to a beautiful winter snow that blankets the farm.

Smelling fresh hay in the barn, knowing this means the animals will be well-fed. Hauling grain in the Goatmobile, and smelling the lingering aroma of molasses afterwards. (This is far superior to the aroma left when I haul goats, or sheep, or a cow . . .)

Cracking eggs from my own chickens and noting how much bigger & more golden the yolks are than store-bought eggs! The joy of getting compliments from friends who use my eggs!

Spending time with my student assistants and watching them master new skills. Observing how responsibility makes them mature. Laughing about shared experiences & outlandish stories. Knowing that farm kids are amazing individuals who could change our world!

Going to the barn before the goats arise, and seeing them yawn at my presence -- quickly replaced by enthusiasm when they note buckets of grain!

Watching pigs run when they escape the barn! Yes, this is a huge hassle, but nothing is funnier than a running pig! Run, pig, run -- just not too far!

Butchering my own meat and cooking it. Making use of all parts of the animal by saving the internals for my dogs. Learning tricks for butchering from Mohamed Mohamed. Knowing that I am carrying on a legacy of self-suffiency from my ancestors. Laughing at myself for inadvertantly waving a knife & a goat leg at a bus full of elementary students!

Agonizing over how to best care for an ill animal. Rejoicing when they recover and flourish. Mourning when I lose one. Treasuring memories & being thankful for having had them at the farm.

Being privileged to witness the miracle of birth . . . there is nothing more humbling or more inspiring than seeing the efforts of the mother in labor and the joy of creation when a new baby is born. God is great!

These are just a few of the things that fill my days with interest. I would contend that farming could NEVER be boring! And if you think it is, please feel free to come visit my farm . . . I have a feeling those puppies will change your mind!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Introducing the Pyrenees Pups!

I am very delighted to introduce the two newest residents of the Farm: Captain Call and Augustus!

After losing Keiko Dynamite the Goat last fall -- and having had recurring predator issues -- I decided I must take action & get some guard dogs. While many people are surprised to learn that coyotes could be such a problem in Canal Winchester, we have had kills on the farm throughout the years. Predators are a major issue for farmers who work hard to raise & protect their animals. We have tried guard donkeys and guard llamas, but by far the most effective protectors were the Pyrenees dogs that my mother kept with her sheep. The Pyrenees breed originated in the mountainous region between Spain & France. Shepherders relied on the guardian dogs to protect their livestock. This breed has likewise become quite popular in the States. My mother adored her Pyrenees dogs, and it was with great joy that I was able to get two pups out of that bloodline!

I brought the boys home last week, and they quickly began adjusting to my farm! They are handsome, bouncy bundles of adventure! One is curious about everything, and is interested in people & animals. The bigger brother is a bit more reserved, but quickly began to follow me around whenever I was in the barn. They are only two months old, but they have rapidly begun to develop their protective skills. Both pups climb in & out of the livestock pens, and they have learned to bark when they hear the barn door open. Within a few months, they should be formidable opponents for any coyote that tries to eat my precious (yet tasty) little goats!

After picking up the boys, I decided I would wait a week to name them. I wanted to get to know their personalities before choosing what I would call them. After a week of trying different names -- and wanting to find some that connected them to my mother -- I chose to name them after the lead characters from one of her all-time favorite books: Lonesome Dove. Thus, my little lovable adventurer is Captain Augustus McCrae and the quiet protector is Captain Woodrow F. Call. Believe it or not, they already respond to "Gus" and "Captain" after only 24 hours of trying out the names!

Finally . . . my goats can rest peacefully and I can sleep with ease even when the coyotes howl! We know that our Pyrenees will protect us!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Goat Sausage & Spinach Stuffed Shells!

Here is an awesome new recipe, put together by my German friend Frau Bricker, using ground goat from Harrison Farm! Enjoy! (And let me know if you need ground goat, just $5/pound for meat raised, butchered, and ground by the Goatherd!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 2-quart casserole dish with 1 teaspoon of olive oil.

Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 3/4 box of jumbo pasta shells (approximately 23-28 shells). Cook until al dente, 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the shells from sticking together. Drain and rinse under cold running water.

In a medium skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add 1 cup finely chopped onion and 1 teaspoon minced garlic. Stir, cooking until very soft, approximately 6-7 minutes. Add 1/2 pound ground goat and 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage (casings removed). Cook until browned, then add 1 package (10 oz.) chopped frozen spinach. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, then remove from heat and season with salt & pepper.

In a large bowl, combine 15 ounces ricotta cheese, 2 large Harrison Farm eggs, 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, and 1 cup grated mozzarella. Add the spinach mixture, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon basil, 1 teaspoon oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the spinach-ricotta filling into each cooked pasta shell. Place the shells in the prepared dish.

Pour 1 jar of pasta sauce (suggest using Newman's Pasta Sauce with Basil) over the shells, and top with an additional cup of grated mozzarella. Bake uncovered until bubbly, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Enjoy with a fresh garden salad and a delicious red wine!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Persy Breaks My Heart

It was a cold day that I buried Baby Persy. As I struggled through the snowy horse lot, dragging the wheelbarrow full of straw to cover her body, I was weighed down by a heavy heart. In death, she still looked sweet and beautiful. I held her to me for a few minutes before I placed her on the ground and covered her body. She was in my world so briefly, but I hated to lose her.

Persy was born on a Tuesday. That morning I was delighted to be invited to speak to a class at The Ohio State University that focuses on human usage of animals. I love talking about agriculture, and being able to share stories about my animals is a joy to me! I had a great time talking to the students about how my experiences as a farmer, as a butcher, and as a liaison to the ethnic community have shaped my view of human-animal interactions. It was a pleasure to be invited to address this class!

As soon as the class ended, however, I began to realize that a nasty headache was creeping up on me. Knowing I would be worthless until it disappeared, I hurried home and dove back into bed. A two hour nap, and the world looked much brighter! Unfortunately, I had a very short turn around time until my evening engagement. The Grandmother had kindly offered to take me & Auntie out to dinner at our favorite restaurant to celebrate Auntie's birthday! I had only a brief amount of time to run to the barn to check the animals -- who still had not been fed yet due to my morning activity and my afternoon headache.

Upon arriving at the barn, I discovered that a second wave of kidding had begun! Four new babies were in four different spots around the West End of the barn. It was obvious by the remnants of afterbirth that Sambo and Zahara had both given birth. Unfortunately, not a single baby resembled either mother! I grabbed the babies and moved them to a pen in the front of the barn, then drug each mother up there as well. With two mature mothers, and four babies, I was sure they would soon sort out which baby went with which mother. I continued rapidly checking each group of animals, but when I returned to the mothers & babies, there was still no apparent division of kids. Time was running short to dress for dinner, so I left without too much concern. Each baby appeared to have already nursed at some point, so I did not think there would be any issue with these good mothers.

After a wonderful birthday dinner at the Wine Shop in Canal Winchester, we returned to the farm. While The Grandmother prepared to spend the rest of her evening relaxing, I put my overalls back on and headed into the cold night. By this point, it was apparent that Sambo (a lovely Boer doe) adored the little tan & white boy. Zahara (on her second kidding) was claiming both the white girl and the brown boy. But that left one little girl, who was now looking quite poorly. I removed my glove and placed my finger in her mouth, finding it to be very cold. A terrible sign. I shoved the baby goat into the front of my overalls, covering her up with my warm Carhartt coat, and headed for the house.

Grandmother held the baby, while I returned to the barn to milk some colostrum out of Sambo. She was definitely not a fan of this situation, but Sambo was still too tired after labor to protest much. I then hustled back to house, where I found the baby was sadly too weak to nurse. The next task was to locate and clean the items to tube-feed the baby. A long stomach tube can be inserted down a baby's esophagus to get milk directly into the stomach if it won't suckle. Sambo's fresh milk dripped down into the baby's stomach through this tube, then I wrapped the baby in a towel and placed her near the register for heat. With this accomplished, I returned to the barn to FINALLY finish feeding some very grumpy goats!

Lo & behold, when I returned to the kitchen, the baby was warming up & was hungry! I warmed some more milk, and she happily nursed from a bottle. I joyfully held the baby, watching her strength return! Exhausted from the day, I tucked her in with a blanket in the kitchen and went off to bed. As newborns of any species do, she awoke twice during the night and cried to me to feed her. By late morning, she was moving around the kitchen as she wished and looked great! Grandmother & I christened her Persy for Perserverance The temperature was warming outside, so at noon I took her to the barn and gave her more milk. I re-introduced her to her siblings, and then did the morning chores.

At 4:00pm, I returned to the barn to feed Persy. She didn't drink much milk, but she was walking about contentedly, and then curled up in a pile of babies to sleep. All seemed well. At 7:00pm, I once again mixed up more milk and headed to the barn. There, to my despair, I found Persy limp & miserable. I rushed her back to the house, incredibly downhearted by this turn. I repeated the activities of the night before, but she did not perk up after this tube-feeding. I held Persy and rubbed her little limbs to get her circulation going. Eventually, I went to bed. She cried only once in the night, but had no interest in eating when I got up to hold her. By morning, I knew she was close to passing on. I held her while I drank my morning coffee. Her sweet little head lay on chest, and she soon took her last breath.

I berated myself vehemently over this loss. I told myself I should never have taken her back to the barn. In reality, though, that probably had nothing to do with it. After all, I had 16 other babies in the barn at that point that were doing just fine. and the temperature had not been overly cold. It was more likely that something was wrong with Persy and her birth mother knew it. I still don't know if she was Sambo's or Zahara's. Goats, however, will protect themselves & their offspring as best they can. If her mother recognized that something was not right with Persy, there is a chance she would disown her in an effort to save needed milk for the other baby that was healthy.

Some farm stories are happy: Orph is still doing great with his adopted mother! Other farm stories break your heart -- especially when a baby dies in your arms. This is a reality of the human-animal relationship. This is a part of the circle of life. I did everything I could for Persy in the absence of a birthmother. As much as humans may wish to think they control their world, however, such control is in the hands of a far greater power. As such, we must appreciate other lives for all that we can. Life is precious. Death should be respected. Babies should be treasured, for however long we have them.

Photo Caption: The Grandmother holds Persy on our happy morning together.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hey Oprah! Why Didn't You Invite The Goatherd on Your Show?!?

I have had the pleasure of speaking twice at OSU on a farmer's perspective of the human/animal relationship. A point I always stress is that we must have perspective: while Americans have the blessed ability to analyze & sometimes criticize food production, to some of my friends & staff members who lived in countries with unreliable & unsafe food, the American bounty is a marvel! I absolutely encourage food choice, and believe we should each be able to make our own choices on what we eat! (And as an aside, I am intrigued that one of Oprah's guests is a vegan author & spiritual advisor . . . interesting!) I love talking about my experiences as a butcher & farmer, so please let me know if the show leaves you with any questions that I can answer! Thanks to the Ohio Farm Bureau for the following information.

We recently learned that The Oprah Winfrey Show plans to air an episode called “Food 201” that will center on food production issues. It isbelieved the show will likely include video about cattle feeding and slaughter, among other food production topics. While we will not know the tone of this show until it airs, it will likely require further discussion by farmers and food system experts to express a balanced viewpoint.Those involved in the industry believe potential show guests on include Michael Pollan, author of “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and Kathy Freston, a vegan author and spiritual advisor. We are not aware of any food system experts who have been invited to participate.The show is tentatively scheduled to air on Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We encourage farmers and leaders in the food system to pro-actively engage in values-based discussions about the content on this talk show, including the benefits of a diet that includes animal-based foods. Most consumers today are more than two generations removed from the farm. They don’t understand why farms look like they do today, why beneficialtechnology is used, or other recent advances in food production. What theywant to know first and foremost is that farmers are doing the right thingand share their values. The following messages are examples of how farmerscan connect with the values of consumers on many current topics about thefood system. These are presented as examples only – it’s important for youto put these in your own words so they are unique to you.

“Farmers have an ethical obligation to ensure food safety on the farm. Regulations and inspections by U.S. Government agencies at the plants haveresulted in one of the world’s safest food supplies.”

“I am committed to providing for the well-being of my animals and providing consumers a safe, nutritious and affordable supply of food. In fact, I’ve committed my life to it.”

“As a producer, I have an ethical obligation to make sure the animals on my farm are well cared for. I would not be in business today if I didn’t provide my livestock with a safe, healthy environment in which to grow.”

“I applaud efforts to improve the well-being of livestock but when itcomes to animal welfare, we must consider facts as well as emotion. I have a moral obligation to provide for the well-being of my farm animals, and I rely on veterinarians and science to provide guidance on best practices fortheir care. Research shows there are pluses and minuses with all systems and that individual housing or group housing can provide for the well-being of our animals.”

"Animal abuse in any form is unacceptable. The actions of a few “badactors” in no way reflect the high standards demonstrated daily by a vast majority of America’s farmers and ranchers."

“Here are some important facts to keep in mind when talking about antibiotics used by farmers. Veterinarians are involved in animal care and discuss with farmers how best to use medicines. The Food and Drug Administration approves medicines used if animals get sick and animals thatreceive antibiotics are not allowed to enter the food supply until after their systems are clear. Government agencies require testing to ensure the absence of antibiotic residues in food products.”

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration first approved antibiotics for use in livestock more than 50 years ago, when most food animals were raised outside. Modern housing systems, where animals are kept in comfortable indoor environments, help today’s producers better manage the health of their animals because they can act quickly when an individual animal issick.”

“Whether raised indoors or outdoors, early treatment of disease is crucial. Because modern housing means today’s producers and veterinarians are more aware of the health of individual animals, they are able to provide better overall health care and disease treatment for each animal in their care.”

"U.S. farmers continue to produce more food using fewer resources to meet demands of growing global population."

"Today’s ag practices allow America’s farmers to produce twice as much wheat on fewer acres (compared to 1950 acres/yield), 3.5 times as much corn on nearly the same acreage and 12 times the lettuce on 2.5 times the land.”

“In 50 years, we will need to produce 100% more food than we do today to meet demand.”

"By 2050, the global population is expected to increase by 3+ billion people.”

"United Nations: 80% of future production growth must come from increased yields, 10-15% from higher cropping density, and 5-10% from expansion of land use.”

"Consumer choice is important but shouldn’t limit our ability to increase production.”

"Consumers have the right to expect the food system to act in a responsible manner.”

"We can produce more with fewer resources to meet global demand by using technology and innovation in an ethical way that’s right for people, animals and the planet.”

"Producing more food using fewer resources is the ethical choice for people, animals and the planet.”

"If we relied on the food production systems of 1950, approximately 150million people living in the U.S. would be without food.”

"The best food choices for one family may not be right for another. We should support the right we each have to choose the food that fits our lifestyle and our family budget."

"Supporting a diverse food supply, raised using a variety of farming methods, is vital to ensuring that we all have access to affordable food."

"Placing restrictions on the U.S. food system that limit the ability to produce the food we need will increase the cost of food and limit healthy, affordable food choices for all of us, including those who can least afford it."

"Supporting today’s food system in order to produce the food we need using fewer resources is the ethical choice for people, animals and the planet."

"Understanding our choices and how they affect our food supply is vital to preserving our personal right to choose the best food for our family's dinner table."

"We should each be free to buy the food that works best for us. Access to abundant and affordable food is necessary to ensure that millions of American families do not go to bed hungry."