I started hunting in high school and when I shot my first deer I quickly realized the next step was harder than the first. When you harvest your own meat you quickly become a biologist. The way an animal is put together and the way steaks are stacked in the open refrigerator in the grocery store are really very different from each other. I have never been someone to pay a person to do a job I am pretty sure I can do myself, so we got a book and butchered each deer ourselves. Fancy cutting to create the perfect roast fell out of favor in the Jones home after realizing no matter how much bacon you use a deer roast will still be dry. We quickly moved to separating meat from bones and making burger or stew meat. It was quick, easy and practical.
That philosophy is something I have applied to the various things I have butchered for myself or others until now. Now, I am a sheep farmer. I can't imagine grinding something as perfect as a lamb chop into burger. So, I decided to teach myself (have youtube teach me) how to properly butcher a sheep.
For our customers now and the foreseeable future this task is done professionally, off farm. For Olaf, last years breeding ram (who got a little aggressive in rut for our taste) I do not see the point in paying someone to do a job I am perfectly capable of doing a mediocre job of myself. My other motivation for doing the job myself is the completeness of the task and the care I know I will put into it. I raised this animal, care for, protected and harvested it. I firmly believe nothing should be wasted. The hide, every muscle, every organ and every bone has a place and a use and by doing the job myself I can assure it gets there. I can assure the animal is honored in the process.
The hide was salted immediately after skinning to be tanned later, the edible organs and fat were removed for sausage, forelegs and lower legs have no meat but are great for dog bones (if raw). The carcass was split and butchered into all the various cuts according to the instructions in a youtube video where a butcher with significantly greater skill (and sharper knives) made it look much easier than it was. Any "trim" went into the sausage bin. Any bones were roasted and then boiled for 24 hours to make bone broth. My total unused trim from the 60+ lb carcass was roughly a pound. The inedible parts went to the pigs who cleaned up everything except the contents of the rumen. The boiled bones (now soft enough to break and crumble in your hands) will also go the the pigs.
We do this to be closer to our food. I learned a lot through the process and am proud of the completeness of our consumption of this animal that made this ultimate sacrifice to sustain us. This time it took me roughly 36 hours start to finish (not including cook time for the broth). Next time will be faster. We put 60 pounds of meat in our freezer. When Lily asks at dinner tomorrow "who is it?" I will finally be able to answer her question with a name, she will know have known him and we will say thank you.
Yesterday we had pulled pork bbq for dinner. Diantha, her parents and the kids had gone to the beach for the day and while I worked and reheating the bbq I had made the night before was a pretty easy solution for dinner with everyone getting back late.
As we all sat down to eat Lily dictated who was going to sit in each seat, including Connor. I was privileged to get to sit next to her. She first devoured her corn, grabbing buttery kernels by the fistful. She then looked at the meat and this is the conversation that followed.
Lily: "Papa what kind of meat is this"
Me: "Thats pig meat, pork"
Lily takes a bite and you can see her thinking while she chews.
Lily: "Who is it?" looking out the kitchen window at the pigs
Me: "Oh, it's not one of our pigs pumpkin, we haven't turned the into meat yet, it was from the store."
Lily: "What was its name?"
Me: "I'm not sure"
Lily: "Was it a girl or a boy pig?"
Me: "I dont know that either"
Me: "Because we bought it at the store"
We started this farm to know where our food comes from. We want to know the name of animals we eat because when something has a name it is treated better. We name all our animals here which does mean we become more attached but being attached to your food is a good thing. Even the vegetables, while we don't name them, we plant each seed, tend to and harvest their fruits. I am proud that Lily at two and a half is making connections to her food and where it comes from. I feel so fortunate to live in a place where she can truly know her food. I look forward to a time, hopefully in the near future, when I will be able to answer all of her questions for every bite she takes in our home.
I have been and will continue to be a fervent anti-cat activist. Growing up we had cats that I was very fond of. My brain still thinks I remember getting picked up from preschool, going to the animal shelter and picking out our first two kittens, one of which lived until I was in college. All the warm fuzzies I had for these animals faded in an ecology class where we discussed the cumulative effect of feral house cats on native bird and small mammal populations. You can read one of many studies here, spoiler alert they cause significant reductions and extinctions in those small mammal and bird populations. So as an environmentalist, I don't like cats. Mostly outdoor cats, but where do you think those come from?
The first or second night we slept in our new 120 year old farm house it sounded like a dozen mice were dancing just over our heads. I suddenly found myself attempting to cause a significant reduction and potential extinction in the local small mammal population. We now know it was at least a dozen mice as well as a family of squirrels (grey and red) and some chipmunks. One man, a bunch of mouse traps and a pellet gun cannot fend off this army of rodents from a barn full of delicious grain and an attic full of cozy insulation. I needed back up. I begrudgingly floated the idea of barn cats to Diantha who, as usual, was way ahead of me. It was however, the middle of winter and we wanted the cats to grow up in the barn, not the house. So I continued my rodent rampage as a lone soldier.
On a recent trip to the farmers market to buy plant starts we ran into Mary Skovsted of Joe's Brook Farm. She randomly asked if we needed any cats, they had found two that needed a home. We said we would think about it. In addition to the rodents Lily's favorite animal, despite our best efforts, has been cats since she was old enough to express an opinion. She has all things Kitty, kitty shoes, kitty books, kitty shirts, kitty vitamins, at least 5 stuffed animals, all named (insert some descriptor Kitty), the list goes on. She may like them more than pinecones and that's saying something. It has always been inevitable that we would get a cat, its just been a matter of time.
I stopped by Joe's Brook Farm to get the scoop on the cats and see if they would be a good fit. We discussed my one man war with the rodents and Eric (farmer) asked if I had heard the story of these kittens. I had not so he filled me in. The crew was laying plastic weed barrier in the field and therefore need the weed barrier. They pulled it out of the top of the barn, dragged it to the truck, ratchet strapped it down, drove to the field, pushed it off the back of the truck, dragged it across the field and started spreading it out when one of the crew did a double take and saw a kitten and by kitten I mean newborn cat (less than 1 week old). They gathered him up, finished the job and went home. Next day they are walking in the field and find two more kittens that had emerged from the plastic. A thorough search of the field found no more stray cats. The kittens were taken to their local cat care taker where two of the three survived. So they seem to be that good wild barn cat sort of scrappy and tough. The kind of cats that would take on an army of squirrels. Sold.
A few days later we contacted the neighbor who had taken them in and set up a visit to see them. One of those visit where you say your going to look but you know your two and a half year old has already made up your mind. So just like that we have two cats. Lily first named them Granola and Hat, two very classic names. An hour later she changed Hat's name to Granola and Granola's name to Boots. They will be tolerant for sure with Lily at the helm. We are working on being gentle with them, Lily has a lot of love that sometimes translates poorly to cat handling, but like with all things on the farm we're getting there.
We are blessed to live at the base of a big hill. A big hill with a mile long logging road that is easy enough to navigate even at the age of two and a half. Diantha takes Lily and Connor at least part of the way up our hill almost every day and that is why Lily loves pine cones more than most of her store bought toys. Its a beautiful thing.
About a week ago Lily and Diantha started seriously talking about camping on our hill. The proverbial first camping trip that we all take in our back yard. We chose a day when the weather would be clear and began making preparations. Ham steak, check. Tent, check. Kitty quilt, check. As we were packing our things Connor was swinging happily in his seat and Lily was outside playing on the porch wearing our shoes. Well turns out those shoes are too big and she took a digger down the stairs. Pre-trip injury, check.
The sheep were and constantly are my primary worry with these sorts of activities. They say sheep spend each day looking for a new way to kill themselves and some days it seems there is some truth to that. They were fenced in a wacky sort of way across that spread from our pond across the logging road and into another small field. I felt okay about the fencing situation, not great but good enough. Sheep in fence, check.
Finally ready to go we headed through the sheep pasture and up the road to set up camp. We pitched the tent my parents bought when I was a kid for a family camping trip we never ended up taking and gathered materials to make a fire to cook dinner. It was then I realized I hadn't remembered to grab my pill. Meds, no check.
I debated not making the walk down to grab it was a beautiful afternoon and a little extra exercise never hurt. It was about a half mile walk back to the house and 150 yards from the bottom I heard a woman yelling, I started jogging. She saw me coming she yells again "YOUR GOATS ARE OUT!" I start running. I came to the house and she points across the road where half the flock in deflowering my neighbor's garden. The other half were in the woods somewhere, I couldn't see them. I deputized the woman and her partner who had pulled over when they saw the loose flock. A neighbor emerged who by now is an old pro at herding our sheep. We managed to get them into the barn more easily than I think I have ever done it without fencing set up. Sheep secure, check.
Back up the hill we cooked our ham steak on the camp fire and after dinner Lily and Diantha made some smores. Lily was so excited to sleep in the tent she could hardly wait to go to bed but that made getting to sleep a bit of a struggle. We all eventually got to sleep and slept better than expected. In the morning Lily and Diantha picked more wild strawberries to add to their oatmeal, I cooked eggs and bacon and we broke down camp to head home. Successful Jones family outing, check.