Monday, April 27, 2015

The Goat

The past few days on farm have been a stark dose of reality. We found that one of our goat kids (not the ones born here, but some we bought in for meat production) had developed a condition he's likely had since birth, but it was now progressing rapidly. While we were moving the kids to pasture, I noticed he was in worse shape then at last check though in good in spirits, significantly smaller then his brethern and not using one hind quarter. I decided not to put him out into the pasture with Kermit (a large full grown buck) and the rest of grazers so as to get a better sense of his overall health. Upon a full physical examination, and a day of research- the results were grim. He had a condition causing cysts to form across his small body, cysts that eventually would rupture and then could be contagious to the rest of the herd. For the hundredth time, I cursed buying in livestock, even from reputable sources. This goat would have to be harvested at his current size if my diagnosis was correct. We couldn't risk the rest of the herd, or have that type of bacteria exist permanently on our pasture soil. While the condition isn't often fatal, it can ruin meat if left untreated, isn't curable with antibiotics, or any othe vet treatment and slows growth significantly. It can cause pain, or deformity. I returned the little fellow to an indoor winter pen, and scheduled a time to harvest him early for our own home use only. I spent a day confirming what I knew already, and resolving myself to the decision. We would make the best of the situation and honor the life of the livestock as always.

I hate these moments. These, sad, unavoidable farm moments where the life you want to give an animal just isn't possible. Sometimes, you can't protect livestock from a predator breaking a fence. Sometimes, the weather causes flooding or freezing or other discomfort. Animals fall ill, they acquire injuries and you can not seek to control all of the variances that occur and change the outcome you had planned. Still, for me, it's agony. I feel somehow I've failed, though I couldn't have prevented this onset, and the best I could do is protect everyone else (thus far, not symptomatic, keeping everything crossed). 

I wish that the steps that we take to protect our livestock were always enough. But when working with nature, nature always wins. And Nature has a dark side, to keep the balance. You can do everything right and still fail, it's a cruel part of agriculture. 

Many of the days tasks are a meditation for me, I work steadily and more often then not, alone, minus the puppy. I build housing, fences, haul feed, shovel, fix tractors and train the dog. I listen to stories on the technological wonder I carry in my pocket, fix meals, answer emails- it's busy and constant. I find peace in the routine things and challenges in the monotony. But I'm not operating in a vortex, the work I do will serve a whole community of people. There are moments I get to share with my wife, working side by side in a peace I know we are fortunate to have. We've always worked together as a couple, though I know it's rare, I wish more people could forge that bond that comes when you sweat and struggle in tandem. These types of tragic developments are like a sun burn, sore and uncomfortable- present in each small movement you make.]- interrupting each usual scene.

The joy of farming isn't in the success of our business, though of course that is crucial. It's not in the satisfaction of a hard days work- though I'd never deny that pleasure. For me, the joy can be found in tiny moments after hard decisions when you realize you are both powerless and powerful in your relationship with the living organism that is a farm. I stand, and watch, as Swanson, (near 5 months of border collie now) maintains a friendship with George, Fiona's buckling. They take turns playing tag across the farm, each skidding to a stop at my feet, begging for a scratch- one around the ears, one around the horns. I can't stop the gut wrenching decisions on a farm, but I can live for the moments where what we do goes right . I can be cautious in my chocies. I can do my best to mitigate suffering, I can provide the safest environment possible for the animals in our care. I can accept that there will be sadness. Farms, no matter how bucolic are not a perfect place void of misfortune. They are a constant shifting of life and death. Of failure, of human error, of natural trajedy. But there is also no place of greater magic in my opinion. 

When you live this close to animals, you become so attune to the fragility of our natural world. I can tell you how 10 degrees in weather shift will affect my chickens, how the water content in a pasture to play off of my sheep's hooves. I'm reminded that we're animals too, and just as easily thrown into the wind by something unexpected. It may seem too dramatic to some to consider all of this over the early harvest of one goat, and mabe not dramatic enough to others. As a prudent and practical farmer, we did what was right for the animal, and for the health of the whole herd. And it's never a decision we take lightly or without weighing each and every option. On our farm we value each life, from chicken to dog- and seek to help each animal fufill their purpose as part of our ecosystem. This goat was a reminder, and its purpose goes beyond harvest (which of course we are still grateful for). Its life gave me the opportunity to tell a story of what it's really like here- the choices we make and why we make them. Thank you, Goat, for everything. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


We have our CSA shares that get picked up on farm or at The Cheese Traveler (Delaware Ave, Albany) seriously dicounted until 4/25 for the April-September pick ups. Support small farming, get great meat, save $$!

Email us to sign up! 

Sale Prices:
Small Poultry Share: $175 

Large Poultry Share: $340
Small Mixed Meat Share: $280
Large Mixed Meat Share: $540

You can check out the link to the right to see the full details of what is contained in each share- but rest assured- it's delicious. 

Rainy Tuesday

After the gorgeous weather last week, the rain gods have come to turn the dry pasture soft, and bring spring's green paint. I mind a little, as I'll likely be soggy for the entireity, spring stops for no one. The farm role call is lengthy now, and Kim gets up early for chores in the morning to help me keep the pace at a steady crawl towards success. While she works in the barn feeding the noisy residents, I get our two goats milked and reunited with their kids on my finish.

At a dairy operation, the farmers usually separate out the kids at birth- but here we leave them on during the day but pen them in overnight. The mothers are then ready for milking in the morning, and the kids are still well fed. I've  never seen such vibrant little goat kids- they are solid and happy. And our fridge is stocked with milk. It's a perfect set up for us, for home use dairy. Milking has been an adjustment, it's certainly an added chore- but it's manageable at only once a day and half of the two is pleasaant enough. Noelle, being an alpine fully and generally a sweet girl, takes no time at all and hops up on the stand with little fan fare. Fiona, (always the brute) is like wrestling with a hog, still. She's obstinent and quickly showing us that she may not be cut out for this dairy life. We'll give her a few more days, but Noelle is producing well and we should still have plenty of milk with just her. Fiona will definitely be replaced for the home dairy  at least next season, and we'll use either Noelle's little doeling- called Blanche, or another kid we bought earlier this season we call Fancy. Fiona gets a pass from the butcher though too, she had sturdy twins and can stay on as a meat production mama. Plus, she provides comic relief.

Speaking of goats, the steady warm drizzle after last night's thunderstorm won't stop today's task! The kids from the winter are finally ready for the pasture! The electric netting came in yesterday's mail, so after the second cup of coffee I'll be headed out to get it set up, tested, grounded and ready. Then, I'll build a sturdy weather shelter using pallets and plywood (the most invaluable things you can have on a farm). The shelter will get a coat of paint when it dries out. Usually I'd get everyone moved down to the pasture and then build the shelter so I can monitor their fence minding and keep them calm- but goats HATE rain. If I don't have a shelter up, it'll be goat kids everywhere. Along with the kids, Kermit the buck and June the ewe will be out to the pasture too. The bucklings will all be castrated, and the one doeling (Fancy) will be pulled from that particular grazing paddock before breeding age. In the meantime, everyone can enjoy the company and spring greens, finally out of the winter barns and paddocks. Then it will be time to clean and finally set up that barn with proper stalls and turkey grow-out pens, rather than the 'we're moving into a new farm and it's winter' nonsense. The whole project may take more than just today, depending on the rain and what supplies we're out of when I get to it- but before Wednesdays done we'll have them eating fresh grass.

If all goes well, next week will be the first processing of fresh poultry on the farm for the year! The new facility is no where near done (bit of a hang up getting started, contractor is busy due to the late spring) so I'll be setting up our current equipment so we don't get behind in production. It's not ideal, but you've got to roll with the punches and keep the farm moving. We'll be doing a test batch of a small group of the heritage birds, I want to make sure my eye isn't fuzzy from winter and they are of proper size before we take the majority. Sometimes a winter off can make judging size tricky, so I'd rather take a few and see where we are. The chickens, with the new pasture paddocks are absolutely thriving! The new permanent fencing makes life significantly easier, once it's up. We are pushing so hard to get the farm into a position where it's easier to work, but we have a few seasons left of real expense and struggle. This is just the reality of moving, and of finally establishing our permanent base. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

I can now see the bottom of the coffee cup, so it's just about time to get back to it!