The Farmer's Husband

The Farmer's Husband

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Resolution 2014. Buy a farm.

January 4, 2014 4 Comments

Have goats. Will travel.

Have goats. Will travel.

So many of you have been so helpful in our farm hunt. We truly appreciate the leads and links that many of you have sent us. We have seen DOZENS of properties, but have yet to find the one. Some were nice. Very nice. With very nice prices to match. Others were in shambles. Some had neighbors with pet wolves. Some had glistening Jacuzzi tubs in the kitchen. Some had no electricity or toilets (okay those were Amish, so they had an excuse.)  When we started our hunt we posted about all of the things we wanted in a new farm. We were planning to mortgage every penny we could. But the reality of having a hefty mortgage is that one or both of us will have to work off of the farm, perhaps indefinitely. It’s hard to farm when you’re at a desk 50 hours a week. Rather than figure out how to make more money off the farm, or how to finance more and more, we have decided to go the other way. Find the cheapest farm we can work with.

Here is the revised list of needs in a property

Price. Price. Price.

Sadly, this is the deciding factor in all of our decision making. We would love to find a $125,000 property. That would leave us with some wiggle room to spruce up this or that on the farm. Farms in our price range are rarely ready to go. If we found the perfect farm with no improvement needed we could spend up to $200,000 or $250,000 in a very well located place, but that is the maximum we are willing to finance.

Location.

We have broadened our search quite a lot. Vermont is our primary focus at this point, as the raw dairy laws are farmer friendly there, and it would be nice to be able to sell the milk from our 20 goats. The local and farm fresh food scene is more developed than our current area. We assume our budget will land us in the Northeast Kingdom, but southern Vermont would be just fine. We are still considering New York- all counties that are not targeted for fracking. (Cheap farms abound that have their gas and mineral rights leased already) New Hampshire, Maine, or even Western Massachusetts could work. And even good old Pennsylvania would be considered.

Land

We are open to properties with as little as 20 acres. We want and ultimately need much more. But financially if a smaller property will keep our costs in check, then so be it. On a smaller property almost all of it needs to be level and usable. Larger properties can have more varied terrain, provided there is a bit of tillable land and a level spot for the garden.

House

This is the biggest change in focus. We are looking for less of a showplace and more of a homestead than we were initially. This could be a cabin, or a cottage, or a mobile home. As long as it has a roof, a wood stove (okay we can add that), a toilet, and maybe some electricity (Thomas insists), we can make it work. Fixer uppers are okay provided it is livable. Off grid situations are of great interest, but not necessary.

Barn

We need a sturdy barn for the animals to come into for winter. Especially in Vermont and other northern locales, it’s just easier on man and beast if there is a roof overhead, and plenty of storage for hay. We let animals out of the barn whenever they will be comfortable and benefit from being outdoors, but sometimes the elements are detrimental to animal health and human morale. We are willing to put up a pole barn if the right property comes along that meets all other requirements at a low price.

Neighbors

We still want some privacy. Not that we’re going to be cooking meth or running a nudist colony. We just have lots of animals, and animals can be loud. And they get out. A peacock roosting on our truck is charming, but a peacock screaming at the neighbors window is a problem. Pigs are destructive and can dig up a garden in no time. If it’s our garden, oh well. But if it’s a neighbor’s prize winning peony bed… You get the idea. A location set away from busy roads is also necessary for the safety of animals and motorists.

Time frame

We are still looking to close on a property this winter, and move in late March. Yes, the clock is ticking. We do have an intermediate place we can go, but with the critters in tow, we hope to move all at once.

I won’t go into our philosophy and the ins and outs of what we farm and how we farm. Just poke around the blog if you want to see that we’re serious about what we do, and committed to farm preservation.

If you need to reach us, just send us a comment on this or any post. We get the blog comments easily. Thank you, friends.

Almost. Almost.

November 20, 2013

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Uncle Jeff plays with your pigs. Thanks Lindsay for the photo!

To our group of pork customers who have paid deposits for your pigs, and are patiently awaiting delivery, please read below.

To other folks still interested in buying a whole or half hog we have about 3 whole (aka 6 halves) still available for purchase and delivery this year. Just let us know if you are interested, and we will send you an address to send your deposit.

In our attempts to stay on the right side of ever oppressive agricultural law, we had previously listed pricing based on the hanging weight of the pig. Hanging weight implies a dead pig, and by NY law, we have to sell you a live pig. We can have it killed and processed for you, but you must claim ownership of the live pig first. Even if you never meet. So, CONGRATULATIONS! With your deposit payment you have become the owner of a real live, rooting, oinking, squealing pig.

And now that you have gotten used to that, let’s talk about making them un-alive.

The first pig of the group has crossed the finish line, and is the freezers of his new owners. We enjoyed 2 of his siblings at our wedding on October, and while smaller, they were really very tasty. Your pigs are very close to their finish weight. As we have them on pasture, and want to encourage them to eat as much grass, weeds, roots and bugs as they can find, we don’t push the feed on them. They do get fed well twice a day, but we’re not forcing them to grow faster than they want to. Forcing them just makes for more fat and less meat. We had hoped they would be ready for you by now, but they just need a couple more weeks.

We want your pigs to be between 230 and 250 pounds live weight. This translates to 160-180 pounds hanging weight. As we are not allowed to sell you pork based on hanging weight, per NY state law, we have decided to go with set pricing. Whole pigs will be $800, and halves will be $425. This is the total price, and does not reflect your deposit. This will actually be a bit cheaper for you than the per pound pricing, as we want you to get your money’s worth. We will make sure the pigs are on the upper end of the weight range at slaughter. This will still include sausage making, and smoking of hams and bacon as desired. We will discount those orders that don’t want smoked items.

We are planning our first big slaughter day for Dec. 2. The fresh cuts (ie, not smoked) will be available that week, but the smoking takes an additional week. We plan to deliver to Philadelphia on Saturday Dec. 14. We will be able to deliver about 6 whole pigs on that day, which will be the bulk of our Philadelphia orders. If the pigs cooperate in their growth, we will be delivering the remainder of the Philadelphia pigs a week or two after. We prefer to have this all said and done before Christmas, but we can’t rush growth. If a couple just aren’t ready, we will have to wait. We will contact you individually, and will offer first delivery to those who paid their deposits first.

Immediately after Thanksgiving we will confirm delivery dates with those in the first group, and will email cutting sheets to you. We will call you to discuss the cutting sheet line by line, as it isn’t as straightforward as you might think.

We appreciate your patience with us, and with the pigs. The wait is almost over.

Bailey and Thomas and the pigs

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It’s all in the details

November 17, 2013 3 Comments

For the second installment of wedding photo-memories, we will feature the work of our dear friend and exceptional photographer Michael Persico. He is a consummate professional who captured hundreds of photos of our floral work during my time with MODA botanica, and we are fortunate to count him as a valued friend. Michael is a master at capturing the details, which we are honored to share here.7N1A8239

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It’s time to buy the farm

November 1, 2013 7 Comments

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If it seems like we were just looking for a new farm and just moved, then you’ve been paying attention. We have been living at our current rental address for about 10 months now, and we will remain here through the holidays and most of winter. What happens then? We hope to move to our very own farm. Now that we are married, and now that we have 2 years of mistakes and successes behind us, it’s time for us to find our own farm. We don’t regret renting for two years while we cut our farming teeth. Moving every year has been a hassle, but trying out 2 contrasting farms has shown us much of what we want and don’t want in our own farm. Aside from site-specific rules for the use of a landlord’s property, there are things you simply can’t do on rented property. Growing asparagus or peonies for example. It takes three years for them to mature, and then if you move them in that time, three more years to reestablish them. So we choose to wait. Permanent fencing is crucial to keeping animals safe and out of the road, and in a rental situation it makes little sense to invest in something that is expensive and not at all portable. Our portable net fencing works very well, except for when it doesn’t. Some of our neighbors are understanding and excited about the presence of farm animals on a farm, and others are deeply offended and inconvenienced if they so much as see a turkey or guinea fowl standing beside the road. For each of us loving the rural simplicity of this region of New York, it seems there are 10 more lusting after the suburban hell that has already swallowed so much of the rest of America. Farms are vulnerable and easy to destroy.

Hence the imminent need to buy our own farm. We have no selfish need to own land. We are happy sharing it.  We depend on the land for our livelihood and our security. There is a farm out there that needs us as much or more as we need it, and owning it is the only protection we can give it.  It is the only way we can truly create all that we dream, to share it with our friends, our family, our neighbors, and complete strangers.

The following are a list of preferable attributes in the perfect farm for us.

Location

Ideally, we will stay in the Schoharie/Otsego/Montgomery County, New York vicinity. Sharon Springs, Roseboom, Cherry Valley, and surrounding towns would all be perfect for us. Of course if the right farm finds us and needs us to move we would consider moving further.

We are also interested in exploring southwestern Vermont as an option, or perhaps anywhere in Vermont. The land is more expensive, but the laws seem to be more farmer friendly in Vermont, especially in terms of raw dairy.

House

We need a house to call home. Ideally it will be big enough to host guests, be those bed and breakfast patrons, friends and family visitors, interns, or farm curious folks looking to have their first farm experiences. It need not be perfect with all modern appliances (but okay if it is!). It does need to have a roof and heat and running water. We are up for some light remodeling, but not for complete fixer upper. An historic house with charm and warmth will make up for a few cosmetic problems.

Acreage

Although most of our farming will happen on 30 to 40 acres, we are looking for as much as we can afford. We want to save farmland and forest. The only way we can do that is to buy it and dig in our heels. Some of that acreage will ideally be in open pasture or tillable land, so we can plant our large garden, graze our goats, sheep and pigs, and begin some cut flower production.

Barns

Some sort of barns, sheds, outbuildings, or a combination of all three would be ideal. While we are firm believers that animals belong outside, there are time when indoors is a safer place for them, and there are some animals such as our goats, that just prefer to be in the comfort of the barn much of the day. Storage for a winter’s worth of hay is necessary. Again, a good roof is more important than anything else. We can do minor repairs and maintenance to an old barn, but building from the ground up is beyond our finances.

Water

We need water, and so do our animals. An ideal property will have plentiful water in several forms. A well or spring for the house, in addition to a pond/lake/stream out on the land. Otherwise perfect grazing pasture becomes useless without a ready source of drinking water for livestock.

Neighbors

We have experienced good ones and bad ones, and it’s not until you move that you find out what you have. Thus a buffer zone is needed. Our animals free range, and they roam. Sometimes into the road, sometimes down to the stream, sometimes out to the pasture. They bark, they holler, they crow. We like it that way. We have seen the consternation that a misplaced chicken turd can cause, and we’d prefer that we don’t have too many outside opinions on how we run our farm. Additionally a quiet road or dead end have great appeal.

Price and Financing.

We don’t kid ourselves about what we can and can’t afford. It is often assumed that since we came from a city that we are “city slickers” or that we must be trust fund babies if we just threw in the towel on our city life to play farm for a while. This is simply not true, as anyone who has gotten to know us in our farming life can attest. Beyond all other labels, we are farmers, and are looking to make our living from the land. We have looked at very nice properties, and even considered getting in over our heads with mortgages that would be difficult to pay off. But at the end of the day, we don’t want to have to work off the farm just to pay the bank. We’d rather find a simpler sort of farm with fewer bells and whistles and both stay on that farm and work it together. We are confident that we can afford a place in the low $200,000′s, and not much higher. Lower is a-okay.

We are open to creative financing options as well. Owner financing is an option we would explore, although a traditional bank loan is also an option.

Time frame

We would like to close on a property this winter, and move in March of 2014 or earlier.

Our plan

We started this farming dream after becoming concerned about our food system. Rather than complain about it, we moved away to do something about it. As we have become farmers, it has become evident how valuable farm land is, and how vulnerable it is to development. Farmers are the only ones who can save this land, and most often are the last ones who can afford to buy it. I suppose we are looking for a deal. We are looking for a family or individual who are no longer able or interested in farming themselves, but who value their farm, and want to see it preserved.

We use mostly organic practices, always on pasture. We don’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and will only medicate an animal if it is truly sick, and is not intended for the table. We are opposed to gas drilling under our land the land of our neighbors. We are opposed to the proliferation of genetically modified crops and the corporations who push them. We value all farmers, and acknowledge that our style of farming is a small piece of the greater food puzzle.

Our operation will center around pigs, dairy goats, and poultry. We focus on heritage breed preservation along side our more efficient modern production animals. We would some day like to have a small farmstead dairy operation with our goat and sheep milk.

We also love entertaining and having guests on our farm. We will work towards creating a farm based bed and breakfast where people can come and stay and eat entirely off the land. And when we have learned a little more ourselves, we will have an active internship and education program where new farmers can come and learn from us and teach us in the process. We wouldn’t have been able to become farmers without the chance to rent a patch of land and give it a try, and we want to make sure others have that opportunity.

We will explore any appropriate conservation programs and land trusts to guarantee that our farm will remain a farm after us. At the end of our farming careers, we will only sell it to farmers who also intend on keeping the farm active. We pledge to keep our farm intact and not develop it beyond constructing buildings needed for farm use.

Thank you for reading about our hunt, and for sharing any leads you may have. Word of mouth is still alive and well, and we hope it will bring us and our farm together. You can contact us by leaving a comment on the blog (we will not publish comments with personal contact information) or email Bailey at bailey.hale@gmail.com.

Many thanks,

Bailey and Thomas

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We got married.

October 31, 2013 4 Comments

We had planned to write and write and write about our wedding planning, but it turns out the actual planning of the wedding and the growing of the food took up all of our writing time. Well on October 12, surrounded by the love of many dozens of friends and family, we both said, “I do.” These are the first photos we will post, from our dear friend, and photographic genius, Neal Santos. I don’t think they need words, so I won’t caption the photos. Many more photos will follow, with some more information about the big day. For now, we’re still feeling blessed and loved and in awe of the generosity of those we love.

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Love for sale

September 4, 2013 4 Comments

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Hello ladies.

We are parting with 3 of our buck kids from our Guernsey goat herd. They are 95% pure Guernsey, would be great for someone wanting to get started with Guernsey goats.

Guernsey goats are very rare in the US, and in the rest of the world. We are happy to be one of the few farms working with Guernseys to help prevent their extinction. They are smaller framed than standard dairy goats, but larger than the mini breeds. They are quiet and have a quiet sweet temperament. They are reported to have higher butterfat and protein in their milk than standard dairy breeds.

The best way to help save these goats it to start a breeding up program, where you take a standard Alpine breed dairy doe (Toggenburg, Oberhasli, Alpine, Saanen, or Sable) and cross them to a Guernsey buck. The resulting daughters are then crossed back to a Guernsey buck, and their daughters and their daughters. After five generations you have a goat that can be considered a British Guernsey goat. They are called British rather than American, as they registry is currently maintained in the UK with the British Goat Society.

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More information about Guernseys and the breeding up program can be found at http://guernseygoats.org/.

We thought our boys would be registered as pure British Guernsey’s but they are 1% shy of Guernsey blood to be considered full British Guernseys. They are given the classification of “Herd Book 2″ by the British Goat Society. These fellas would be perfect for a new Guernsey breeder to get a start with these wonderful goats. It will add a generation to the overall process of making more British Guernseys, but since we are selling them for considerably less than a British Guernsey or a Golden Guernsey buck, they may be an attractive option for those looking to get their feet wet without breaking the bank.

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We have three boys ready to go. All are up to date on their shots. They were all sired by our herdsire, Anin’s Brady. Two of the bucklings are out of Stumphollo Banbury, and one is out of Stumphollo Bramble. Banbury had a polled boy and a horned boy who has been disbudded. Bramble had horned boy who has also been disbudded. She also had a doe kid, which we are keeping. So all bucklings were born as twins. Bramble and Banbury are very similar in shape, size and milk production. We don’t weigh milk daily, but we were pleased with their production for being first fresheners. Bramble has bigger teats, which is nice for hand milkers like ourselves. Banbury has small teats which seem to be more favored amongst the show goat set. All three boys have two well shaped teats. They are all a medium golden red color with small white markings on their faces.

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We are selling these boys to good homes for $250 each, including registration with the British Goat Society (unregistered, $200) We won’t register them until we have found suitable buyers. They are available for pick up in Cobleskill, NY.

We also offer stud service with our BG buck, Anin’s Brady. Contact us for more information.

Never missing an opportunity to show off for his girlfriends, Brady loves reaching for willow branches.

Something old

August 1, 2013 11 Comments

The pumpkins are starting to set fruit

The pumpkins are starting to set fruit

For the three of you who read our blog that we don’t know, here’s some old news for you. We’re getting married!  Soon!

The whole event will happen on “our” farm this October, and we’re taking DIY to the extreme. Mostly because we want to share our farm life with our friends and family who haven’t visited us yet, but also because we don’t have a ton of money to throw at a wedding.

In Philadelphia, I was a floral designer and a partner in a floral and event design company. Thomas, being a culinary wizard with catering experience, is also no stranger to an event.  So when Thomas proposed to me many months ago (mmm, hmmm, I still got it), knotting a loop of baling twine to my finger, I obviously said yes, and we began planning the cheapest, grandest wedding two broke farmers could imagine.

The wedding will be on the farm. We already pay to rent the farm, so there is no additional facility rental. Ideally we could have the reception in the barn, but we wanted a harvest wedding, and barns are full of hay by October. So we’re renting a big tent, and filling it with friends, family, food and flowers. Oh, and booze.

Since we moved up here to farm, we’re trying out our farming skills on our guests. We plan to raise almost every bite of food our guests eat. We’re also doing the flowers, and building farmhouse tables for everyone to sit around. Here are a few of the details that are in progress. The wedding may hijack the blog for a couple of months, but for some inexplicable reason, people seem to like reading about other people’s weddings.

Menu planning started with finding feeder pigs for the big meal. They're excited to come to the wedding.

Menu planning started the day these pigs were born in May. They’re excited to come to the wedding.

Without sharing too many details, pork and chicken from the pasture and kale and pumpkin from the garden will be heavily featured. The pigs are on track for their harvest date, and we’re will soon be starting a batch of broiler chickens as well. Our first round is going well. They have a reputation for being dirty, lazy, monster birds, but we are finding them easy to maintain on pasture. So far.

Cornish Cross "broiler" chicks will rapidly become chicken dinner

Cornish Cross “broiler” chicks will rapidly become chicken dinner

We are most excited about our tables for the wedding. We love the look and feel of eating at long farmhouse tables, but they are big and heavy, and thus expensive to rent. Since we have a source of free wooden pallets and a group of handy friends, we are making all of our tables as well. We will do a post just on the tables very soon with step by step plans. The prototype turned out pretty well, even in its unfinished state. I am excited to repurpose them into pig houses and chicken coops. But I suppose we’ll build them and eat off of them first.

Prototype wooden pallet farmhouse table

Prototype wooden pallet farmhouse table

We are grateful to have so many friends who have offered to come and help us between now and October. We feel blessed to have found each other, and to have found a way to start scratching out this new farm life together. And we feel fortunate to live in New York state, where we can just get married without any qualifications, like any other hardworking farmers.

The pork’s progress

July 18, 2013

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The long pause in between posts should be no cause for alarm, my pork loving friends. We still cannot find an internet carrier to get us wired at the house, and there simply aren’t many hours in the day to come into town to scam free internet at the library! But after spending the last few sweltering days on the neighbor’s hay wagon, I welcomed a chance to sit in air conditioned bliss, and write about little pigs.
Last autumn we posted about producing a limited number of pastured porks to be enjoyed in the autumn of 2013. A handful of wonderfully supportive and trusting folks sent us deposits as down payments on their pork to be. The big glitch in the system was that Tilda, our Tamworth sow never successfully bred, and thus, never had piglets.
We had budgeted for the cost of “feeder” pig in our pork pricing. In reality, it costs about the same to buy a litter of piglets as it does to maintain a sow year round for breeding. We prefer a more closed system and had banked on having our own, but since we needed little pigs to turn into big pigs, we started piglet shopping. With the increased awareness in food safety and interest in home production, it turns out piglets are especially hard to find this year, especially heritage piglets, which tend to perform better on pasture than their factory based counterparts. It took some hunting and some driving, but we finally amassed quite a group of little pigs that are on pasture as we speak, rooting and grazing and napping, and best of all growing. They get a bit of goat milk, and a bit of grain based feed, which they hardly touch in favor of grass and green forage. We located 5 from one farm, 12 from another farm, and have 2 of our own from a successful litter.
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The piglets we did find are a slightly different mix of breeds than we would have produced ourselves. The all have a heavy dose of Duroc, which as it turns out is a breed created over in Saratoga, NY, not far from us at all. It also turns out that Durocs are long and lean, which means more bacon and chops. These piglets also have a mixture of other heritage breeds in them. Hampshire, Hereford, Tamworth, Yorkshire and Berkshire to name a few.
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Electric fencing is our best tool in pasturing pork. Pigs are smart and active, and like to explore. As long as we keep the fence on and “hot” we don’t have many problems. This portable electro-net fencing is great stuff. It is easily moved to keep the little pigs on fresh pasture at all times.
We will be contacting everyone individually to work out delivery date options. A few will be ready in mid to late October, with the majority ready just before Thanksgiving.
Thank you again for your support and trust. We really love raising pigs, and we think you will love the result.

Baby parade 2013

April 24, 2013 3 Comments

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Deloris, the Guernsey x Toggenburg doe kid.

Sorry you haven’t heard from us much lately. We don’t have internet access at our new farm yet, and we’ve had lots of babies to squeeze. Lots and lots of babies. To date, our gals have produced 26 lambs and kids. Here is a photo list of who’s given birth to what on the farm this year. We will update as more kids hit the ground to help us keep them all straight, and to provide some cute babies for you to enjoy.

Goats

March 15, 2013, Gertie the Toggenburg doe gave birth to twin girls, sired by the Guernsey buck, Brady. Dolly, is a flaxen blond color and polled, and Deloris is a dark Sundgau color with gold markings and is disbudded.

Dolly and Deloris, Guernsey x Toggenburg goat kids. Born March 8, 2013.

Dolly and Deloris, Guernsey x Toggenburg goat kids. Born March 8, 2013.

March 24, 2013, Esther the Toggenburg doe had triplet girls. Dottie is a dark Sundgau pattern, with gold marking, and a white spot on her head, and is polled. Daisy is almost white with a bit of blond, and is disbudded. Daphne is almost white as well with a touch of gold, and is disbudded.

Daphne, Daisy, and Dottie Guernsey x Toggenburg triplets

March 31 (Easter day), Trixie the Sable Saanen doe had one boy and one girl. The boy was sold shortly after birth. The girl, Dixie, is very light blond in color, and is polled.

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April 3, 2013, Bramble the Guernsey (well mostly Guernsey) doe produced a boy and a girl, from Brady, the Guernsey buck. Dick is blond at the head, fading to red at the haunches, and is disbudded. Dorcas is solid ginger red from head to tail, and is polled.

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Dorcas and Dick, British Guernsey goat kids

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Dick and Dorcas, offspring of Brady and Bramble.

April 5, Banbury the Guernsey (HB2) doe had twin boys, from Brady, the Guernsey buck. Dudley is an even blond with small white spots on his face, and is disbudded.  Dexter is an even ginger red with white spotting on his face, and is polled.

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Dudley, the British Guernsey buckling

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Dexter, the British Guernsey buckling

April 6, 2013, Vapors, the Sable Saanen doe had twin boys. They were sold a few days later for pets/meat. They were both white.

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Vapors and boys.

April 9, 2013, Aggie, the Toggenburg doe had one boy and one girl. The boy was a flaxen gold color, and was sold for a pet or meat. Dusty, the girl, is a light flaxen color, and is polled.

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Thomas and Dusty.

April 17, 2013, Millie, the Nubian mix doe gave birth to twin boys. One boy is a medium gold color and has gone to live with our friend Meagan, and the other is a black and white cou blanc pattern with floppy ears. He is available for a pet/meat home.

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Calvin, the Guernsey, Nubian, Alpine mix

Sheep

March 27, 2013, Michelle, the East Frisian ewe had two ram lambs by our Katahdin ram, Cranston. They are both white, and are growing rapidly.

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Twin ram lambs. Katahdin x Friesian

March 31 (Easter) 2013, Maggie the Katahdin had triplets, sired by Marvin, the East Friesian ram. One boy and one girl (Wanda) are being raised by Maggie, and the other girl (Wendy) is being bottle fed, as she was rejected by her mom.

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Boy and Wanda, Friesian x Katahdin lambs

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Wendy, the bottle lamb. Friesian x Katahdin

April 3, 2013, Aster the Icelandic ewe had twin boys from Marvin, the Frisian ram. They are very fast growers, and are already looking delicious.

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Aster with her boys. Friesian x Icelandic.

April 13, 2013, Coco, the Icelandic ewe had 2 ram lambs from Cranston, the Katahdin ram. It will be hard to eat them, they’re so cute.

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Katahdin x Icelandic ram lamb.

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Katahdin x Icelandic ram lamb

We have a few more does due to kid in June, and will update this list as babies are born. The pure Guernsey boys are for sale. The ram lambs could also be for sale if they are of interest to anyone, but will most likely be finished in our pastures and sold as meat this autumn. All girls, both lambs and kids, will be kept for breeding purposes. A few older does may be available this autumn.

Orka

April 24, 2013 5 Comments

Orka, one of our Icelandic ewes, began to show signs of lambing two Sundays ago. Her bag (udder) was full and she was becoming restless and aloof. A total of nine goats and sheep had successfully given birth so far this season, and she was to be the tenth. Well they say that one out of every ten births proves to be problematic, and if you are at all squeamish, I suggest that you NOT scroll down any further.

WARNING: RATHER GRAPHIC IMAGES BELOW

Orka, in the front here, was by far the most striking of all our sheep

Orka, in the front here, was by far the most striking of all our sheep

Sheep really don’t require any intervention during the lambing process. We do not separate the lambs at birth, as we do with the goat kids, and it is best if the ewes can do everything out on pasture without the stress of us hovering over them.  I went out to check on her after evening chores and everything seemed fine. Her water broke while I was shining my flashlight on her vagina. “Great,” I thought, “We’ll have some more lambs in the morning. Good luck, Orka.” And we went to bed.

The next morning, there were no new lambs. We found Orka lying in the sheep house, exhausted and in pain. She was having contractions but was hardly dilated. Because of last year’s tragic lambing and kidding season, we know exactly what to do in these situations. We reached in, expecting to find a (preferably live) lamb in need of some assistance getting out. But neither of us could feel much of anything. Something wasn’t right.

Her bag was big, purplish blue (not normal), cold (definitely not normal), and very firm. We wanted to relieve some of that pressure in order to make her just a little more comfortable. But when Bailey went to milk her, a foul-smelling, chunky, cloudy, bloody liquid squirted out. We immediately called our friend Cindi, who is not only a goat and sheep expert, but also a professor of animal sciences at the local university. She explained that Orka had gangrene mastitis, that the unborn lambs were probably dead, that the only way to save Orka was to slice open and drain the udder, that if she didn’t die from the whole ordeal (which she likely would) that she could never be bred again, and that we needed to call our vet right away.

Our vet echoed all of that, but told us that if we wanted to bring Orka in to the clinic, she would be able to see her in 3 hours or so. We had two options: 1) Make her suffer for a few more hours before loading her into the back of the pickup and spending hundreds of dollars at the vet, where her udder would be sliced open, her lamb fetuses extracted, and then she’d be put on a serious course of antibiotics, which would likely not keep her from dying anyway; or 2) put her down.

We have a gun, but it’s not the right kind of gun for shooting a sheep. Plus we have no idea how to use it. So we called a neighbor friend who kindly came right over and put her down for us. When we called the vet to cancel the emergency appointment, she told us that we had made the right decision.

We then called Cindi, just to follow up and let her know how everything had transpired. As it turned out, she was teaching an Animal Sciences Lab that afternoon, and asked if we would be interested in bringing in Orka so that she could conduct a necropsy with her students. So sure enough. We loaded up the carcass after brunch and headed to campus, where, under the sun on a beautiful Spring day, Cindi disassembled Orka in front of 25 or so students. Not only was it a very rare opportunity for them to see gangrenous mastitis, but she also had two unborn lambs that had come to full term.

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The first thing Cindi did was remove the udder, seen in the above photo.  The little light pink patch is what healthy udder tissue looks like, everything else is toxic gangrene. On the bottom of the udder, she found a deep cut. Orka was short-legged and her udder nearly dragged on the ground when she walked; she had apparently punctured it on something–likely an unnoticed piece of wire sticking out of the ground–the wound became infected and gangrene developed very quickly.

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The two unborn ram lambs were big boys (nearly 12 pounds each). We got to see all of Orka’s stomachs, her reproductive system, and well, everything else.

We are so happy that she was able to be used for educational purposes and feel really fortunate to have been able to experience something like that. There happened to be a butcher taking the class; he was able to comfortable and cleanly remove the legs and head. The legs and lambs were put in the freezer for our dear Beth at Diamond Tooth Taxidermy. Maybe she’ll make some more hoof candleholders or fetus hats? And we are going to have the head mounted for our dining room. She was so beautiful, and now her beauty will live on forever.

 

 

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