goats

CLOSURE

 

Last summer, still fresh to our farm roles, we took in four baby goats. If you've been reading our blog since then (and to that point, if you have: wow, and thank you), you know that we raised them for meat. You saw their faces, and maybe you felt something personally—positive or negative—about our decision. They were our pets for a time, but their roles in our lives always carried more weight. We have a catalog of memories to do with Satchmo, Smithers, Dill and Tuna — from bottle feeding each one while we renovated and outfitted a home on wheels, to weeping in each other's arms at midnight after petting and uttering words of consolation to Satchmo and Smithers as they died of illness. My fondest memories are of winter, when Dill and Tuna were fluffy with winter coats, and seemed to love nothing more than to show off their incredible jumping skills, going so far as to use our legs as catapulting props in their obstacle courses.

Winter was an imminent time, as soon their lives would end. We would shortly close the final chapter on this book—a book that taught us so much about love, farming, and how you must, must, must feel the first if you are to be any decent at the second. Processing Dill and Tuna was a very difficult day. We did everything ourselves; they never left the farm. We made an eleventh hour decision to cure their pelts and have them tanned so that we could truly use every single element of their precious bodies. We toured the tannery (the only environmentally responsible tannery in the country) and spoke of our desire to see their pelts treated with care. After six months away we have them back, and how glad I am that we made that eleventh hour decision. I am proud of us, and I am grateful to Dill and Tuna. Mark and I witnessed life and participated in death, and made ourselves a part of every step in between.

Their pelts are not objects of interior decoration; they are not show pieces to be mounted and admired; they are not luxurious furs. Their pelts are a reminder of what animals can and do provide for us every day; they are warmth for when it is needed; they are utilitarian and natural; they are here because they worked, and so did we, to symbiotically give and take from one another.

Mark and I have deeply appreciated the support, and even the opposition, we experienced during this first journey in raising animals for meat. This was a learning experience — and a deeply moving one — that we hope you were able to experience in some capacity alongside us. Whether you strongly agree or vehemently disagree with our approach to farming and our choice to eat meat, we hope you respect our transparency and our desire to steward both land and animal with dignity.


—S

LATE SPRING FARM HAPPENINGS

 

I think this goes down as the longest stretch without a new post on our blog since its inception. Life has been admittedly full and busy, maybe a bit more-so than seasons past. It's all been good timing, though, as our previous post about spending five hours in Quincy deserved a few weeks front and center. To those of you who felt touched, enjoyed the post, or reached out with words of love for our family and for Erica, thank you. I am positive that Erica's greatest hope is that we all experience, deeply in our hearts, connection with her. Now, onto what's been happening in farm land . . . 

Immediately following our visit to Boston, my mama, my sister, and her four children came to stay with Mark and I for several days. If you're wondering how eight humans did sharing our tiny house and all sleeping in one big room, the answer is: great! It was a true taste of our family commune dreams. I've oft wondered what a big family in a small house would be like; now I know. The kids loved the farm (especially the baby goats) so much that they refused to go anywhere else, so we didn't leave! Settling into a farm rhythm ended up being a gift. My sissy milked the goats with me while my mom got the kids dressed for the day. Mark would set out on farm chores and the kids would meander up to the kidding barn to cuddle the babies. After milking, all of us (including the kids) would herd the goats down to pasture, while my mom would head home to cook breakfast. The rest of the day would follow suit, with adventuring, farming, and mama cooking for all of us. I learned that children are happy as clams with huge puddles to jump in, cow bones to check out, and coloring pencils. A favorite anecdote of mine happened when my nephew jumped into such a big puddle that water poured into his rain boots. With tears quickly filling his eyes, someone told him that "wet socks are part of being a farm adventurer!" He smiled, jumped into another puddle that flooded his boots, and said, "see? totally ok!" Ah, the magic of children.

Other farm happenings include: awaiting the arrival of our bees, who will hopefully flourish in this valley of meadow flowers and organic pasture; closing the books on kidding season, and opening the books on pasturing the kids we're keeping on the farm; preparing for the pigs to farrow, which will reintroduce piglet mayhem; praising the return of our CSA and the best tasting vegetables our money can buy; foraging and cooking some morel mushrooms and eating endless ramps (wild leeks); moving the chickens in their movable coop every few days so they can do the good work of spreading nitrogen-rich manure around the fields; digging holes for building projects and fixing fence lines to keep the animals from escaping. Haymaking is about to start, and with that the farm officially gets thrown from Spring into Summer.

All of these photos were taken with our iPhones as part of our 'Photos From Afield' series.


—S

THE FIRST KIDS

 

And just like that, Farmer Winter is over. The kids are here, arriving in a mess of legs, fluff, and tiny sounds that only a newborn can make. Half look like Franciscan monks, the other half like Lloyd Christmas. On the part of the farmers, we are smitten. Never mind the relative chaos it will be in four weeks time when we have hundreds of bucklings and doelings to care for. For now, these kids have brought life back onto the farm, and with it, renewed purpose. When you deliver a baby goat, you make sure it's breathing and then lay it in the hay next to the mama doe, who instinctively gets to cleaning the baby with her tongue. This moment is magic every time. It is a true privilege to observe animal birth—strong, natural, intuitive. 

With the arrival of Kidding Season, we begin our second lap as farmers. The sights, the sounds, the smells & textures are all familiar now: the weightlessness of a fresh-to-this-world kid sprawled out across your lap, bottle feeding; the mama's milk that drips from the corners of its mouth; the way its full belly feels when you squeeze it at the end of a feeding. Suddenly, memories of late winter & early spring, already a year ago, come flooding back as if the ensuing seasons were a mere blip on the radar. The life cycle is spinning on, yes—and it feels like magic. 

These long days & nights spent watching, waiting, and participating in a great bloom of life on this farm—on the eve of Spring, no less—are true gifts. We learned as much last year, and the first kids are a timely reminder. So we begin. Farewell, Farmer Winter. Hello, Kidding Season!


—M&S

A VISIT TO A VERMONT FIBER FARM

 

Tammy White is the sort of farmer who makes you want to be a farmer—actually, no, she's the sort of farmer who makes you believe you can be a farmer. Or, in our case, fiber farmers. For a few idyllic hours, we left the land of dairy and butterfat to walk around with, learn from, and posit many a question to Tammy, the shepherdess at Wing & A Prayer Farm. She offered guidance on curing goat skins; taught lessons on the fiber of different wool breeds; humbly explained how her family survived after their first alpaca gave birth to a cria (baby alpaca) when they didn't know she was pregnant; plus, we briefly discussed bartering mucking for natural dyeing/spinning lessons. (A dream.) We went with the knowledge that a visit to her farm would surely deepen our desire to someday grow a fiber flock, but we left with the deep need to include a miniature donkey (or four, like her) in our plans. If you need evidence of why this is so, behold Kalinka and Bilbo, the mini donkeys below. You understand, yes? The small farm community in Vermont continues to inspire in us the drive to do good and to be open to others who might want to see / participate / believe in a different way. 

For a bit of fiber animal guidance, the animals pictured within are: sheep, miniature donkeys (not fiber animals, but good guard companions), angora goats (with the ringlet curls), and alpacas (the goofy other-wordly creatures).

While walking the grounds at Wing & A Prayer, you cannot help but feel included among the menagerie of breeds and species. For one thing, the animals around you are so clearly happy and loved—a contagious disposition, if there ever were one. Beyond that simple fact of life on the farm, Tammy and her family has spent decades creating a warm, welcoming, and educational environment. As you look around, there's a morsel of information about this animal, a tidbit about that one, a hopeful message here & there for anyone who dreams of farming, or who is simply curious. After a long and hearty pasture walk, we settled in her big, well-lived in kitchen so that Sam could touch all of the yarn and talk knitting for a little while. (Their scrumptious farm yarn can be found here. Shetland is wow, wow, wow.)

She is a small farmer with big vision. She is quite what we aspire to be — a breath of fresh air, really. For an industry that can often feel insular—reclusive, maybe?—her farm is a reminder of the good that small farms can do for animals, for communities, and for the Earth, our common home.


—M&S