Joyful Kids, Happy Sheep

Our first two doe kids, enjoying playing with the sheep.

Saffron

The more time I spend around animals the more I feel like I ultimately learn about myself. We want to use opposable thumbs and verbal language to draw dividing lines between us and them, but lines in the sand always get blurry after the tide.

I have a goat named Saffron, she is an Alpine/Nigerian Dwarf cross, small, lithe and beautiful. Groups of goats have a herd queen, an individual that makes the decisions for the others: when to eat, when to sleep, when to move on. Saffron’s royal duties have lead her into climbing the highest, and taking the biggest risks. She rules with an iron hoof.

Last autumn , as the leaves fell, the grass shriveled and the hay feeders were brought out, Saffron decided she wasn’t going to eat with the plebeians. She was going to eat inside the feeder, where she could shit on everyone else’s food. The feeder is about a foot wide, and she would glide inside it like a dove, landing softly and gracefully. A few lambs occasionally tried to emulate her but could never jump high enough, and always bounced off the sides of the feeder, dejected.

One morning we found Saffron limping around the inside pen. She had jumped out of the hay feeder incorrectly, caught her leg, and broken her third and fourth metatarsal bones cleanly and completely. When we caught her and I ran my hands delicately down her leg she screamed as I realized the only thing holding her lower leg together was muscle and skin. The vet splinted the bone later that day and advised Saffron be kept in a very small area to heal.

She did heal, and she came out of her confinement slightly unsteady, biding her time until she had the strength to take back what was hers.

And take it back she did. During the growing season Saffron would sneak under the fence with her suitors. I’d hold the door open for her to come back in to the proper pen and she would give me a contemptuous smirk. The queen does what she wants.

Now its winter again, and Saffron is back to jumping in the feeders. Broken bones, and all the memories of a goat can’t seem to keep her out out of the hay. We put a board across the top of the feeder, and she now jumps up on top of that, balancing on it, to dip her serene neck down to eat.She will balance on three legs, and scratch her neck with her back leg, all the while looking me in the eye and saying without words, “The heart wants, what the heart wants.”

Sometimes she pushes her way down below the board, into the depth of the feeder. She is pregnant, and with the new board she can’t get out on her own. She waits quietly, head held high, till I come by and pull her out, while she squirms and screams at the indignity of needing help from anyone at all. But I am gentle, always. Because I get it. The heart wants what the heart wants.

Fall is here, the last hurrah before the Midwest winter buries us in snow and makes the residents of this frosty land question if continuing to live here is an erosion of our sanity. The crisp air makes everything feel fresh and eager, when in fact the natural world is battening down the hatches, preparing for the winter that not everyone will see the other side of. Fall is a death, and a prep for rebirth. A threat, and a promise.

After my parents got divorced we lived in an apartment, and then we moved to the house on Jonathan Ave, where my youngest sister and my mom still live. My sister was six when we moved. We met Peta a few days after we moved in. She was playing at the park down the street with her uncle Steve. Peta was five.

Peta spent a lot of time at our house. A LOT OF TIME. She went everywhere with us, and I felt like she was my sister. She was tall and blonde, like mom, and when we were out, people thought Peta was her daughter, instead of us. She loved Harry Potter, and animals and was a sweet and gentle girl, not afraid to be quirky, with a quiet, bright smile.

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Easter, 2006

She died last week on Tuesday. The funeral was yesterday.

IMGP2582My sister, Nikita’s wedding

We released balloons into the air and we watched them float out of view, and then we watched a little longer because we didn’t know what else to do. When people stopped saying, “I can still see one.” we just drifted away too.

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2007

I came home and found Calypso’s seven baby piglets she started birthing around the time we were letting balloons go. Dizzy is in the stall next to her with her 8 piglets and Penelope is growing fatter and fatter in the stall next to her waiting for her turn to farrow, which should be any time.

So much death, so much birth.

Life is just to fragile. Be kind to each other.

A New Direction With Chickens

Joel and I have been on the farm five years, and we have practically had chickens for the entire time we’ve been here. Over the first few years we tried Delawares, Buckeyes, Speckled Sussex, New Hampshire Reds, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, Seabrights, Silkies, Cochins, Black Jersey Giants, Dominiques and Chanteclers. We liked different things about different breeds but the breed we were drawn back to time and again was the Delawares.

Using the check lists established by The Livestock Conservatory ( http://www.livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/chicken-manual) we selected our Delawares over the past years for meat and egg laying qualities. Over time we decided to keep only Delawares and Silkies.

Two months ago a fox visited the farm in the middle of the day and brazenly killed almost our entire flock. It was heartbreaking to lose all the work we had put into the breeding a line of Delawares to be effective meat and egg producers as well as profoundly upsetting to lose so many gentle friends in a single day.

Since then Joel and I have been trying to decide how to move forward. Re-establishing our line would be difficult if not impossible. Buying new chicks was a possibility but quality of chicks can vary so we might not get the greatest specimens. Buying older birds from other farms was a possibility but bio-security is an issue.

After mulling it over for a while we decided to go in a somewhat different direction. When we had initially started raising chickens we were incubating chicks each spring. We enjoyed this, but it never came together or was as lucrative as we may have hoped. In part, this was due to our inability to sex chicks at hatch like the big hatcheries do. Sexing chicks is difficult and employees that work for the hatchery sexing chicks are trained to do so. Many farmers wanted only pullets (young females), and did not want to deal with the hassle of using excess males for meat production.

Although we loved our Delawares, and we still believe the breed is a great one we placed an order for the following birds which arrived this morning three weeks ago and are being cared for by our silkie, Michelle. Michelle went broody a few weeks before the chicks came in the mail. We put ping pong balls under her so she would keep sitting. The chicks came early in the morning and we snuck them under her. She immediately started making happy mother hen noises.

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6 Barred Rock pullets

6 Cuckoo Maran pullets

6 White Rock pullets

14 Delaware straight run

10 New Hampshire Red cockerels

10 Buckeye cockerels

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Red cocks can be mated to white hens and the offspring are white if they are male and brown if they are female. Red cocks can also be bred to barred females and the offspring can be told apart by spotting on their head. Being able to tell which chickens are female and which are male from the get go will be helpful.

http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com/what-breed-is-it-understanding-sex-link-chickens/

http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com/what-breed-is-it-understanding-sex-link-chickens/

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We also had a Delaware go broody so we ordered some silkies and Naked Necks for her. The Naked Necks are supposedly good dual purpose birds although I find them a little bit ugly. Joel says they will grow on me and they probably will.

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20150910_092210Cute, eh?

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And now you know why they are called NAKED NECK.

Wisconsin Sheep and Wool 2015

In 2011 Joel and I went to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool festival. We had not lived on the farm for very long and only had poultry and rabbits at the time. We knew we wanted some bigger animals such as goats or sheep, but were unsure what breed would best suit our needs. At the festival we saw many different breeds of sheep, including the breed we would end up raising: Shetlands.

Its been four years since that festival and we have had three successful lambing seasons. I’ve come to love our breed very deeply, and try to improve upon the stock we currently own with each breeding season. We are breeding for polled rams, fine fleece, good confirmation, pleasant temperament, good mothering abilities and strong parasite resistance.

The 2015 Wisconsin Sheep and Wool festival started on Friday but I had a presentation in class so Joel and I were not able to attend the early activities. We loaded our sale sheep up Friday night, got to the fair grounds, unloaded the sale sheep and then loaded up up to sheep I bought from Becky of River Oaks Farm (she lives in MN and was kind enough to bring them for me to pick up.)

Here is Minnie, a moorit gulmoget.

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And Gillian (Gilly for short) a moorit, gulmoget ewe lamb

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Joel started to feel sick while we were loading up the new sheep so we hurried home as we knew we would have an early start the next day. That morning Joel felt even more sick. We managed to get our show sheep loaded up and brought them to the show. My dad met us at the show. Joel was feeling so ill he drove my dad’s car home and my dad stayed on to help out. Our friends Cindy and Steve also came to help in and outside the ring so I wasn’t alone. I don’t know what I would have done without the three of them to help me! I am a lucky lady to have such wonderful friends and family!

The order of classes in the show is senior ram, yearling ram, ram lamb, pair of ram lambs, champion ram, senior ewe, yearling ewe, ewe lamb, pair of ewe lambs, and then some other classes such as best fleece on the hoof, best small flock, dam and daughter and then the very last class that decides Supreme Champion and Reserve Supreme Champion.

Our first class was yearling ram and I had Bruce. Bruce was excellent on the halter and walked at my side like a gentlemen. It was a small class with only two other rams in it, both of whom are stunning. I was feeling very intimidated, and I almost choked when Gilbert Mielke, our Scottish judge, handed me the first place ribbon. He shook my hand and I thought I was going to faint.

12011211_10155959018995456_4194353240840124214_n(yearling ram class photo by Garrett Ramsay)

Next up was the ram lamb class. We only had a few ram lambs this last season and I brought our favorite, Washburne. I believe there was a class of about 12-15 ram lambs and Wash got fourth place, earning him the chance to have his own breeding group this fall.

wash(Wash and I in the ram lamb class with Mike Bartles on the right. Photo by my dad, Martin Solis)

Then there was pair of ram lambs and I had a quick break to give Wash to Cindy and Steve and grab Bruce again to compete for Champion ram. In champion ram the senior ram winner, yearling ram winner and ram lamb winner go back in the ring to compete against each other. Bruce won again, earning him the chance to compete for supreme champion. We got a rosette! And a plaque! Our sheep have never even won a first place ribbon before so I was really over the moon and giddy at this point.

BRUCE(My face is like WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING??? Bruce is cool as a cucumber. Photo: Garrett Ramsay)

Right after this class was senior ewe and Cindy grabbed Ostara and I grabbed Cleo and Steve got Bruce put away. Cleo got third place.

bea 1(Mike Bartles on the right in first place, Terri Mahlkuch in second place and Cleo and I in third. Photo: Martin Solis)

Cindy and I showed Gretel and Beatrice for yearling ewe and did not place. Bea almost head butted me in the face while I was holding her for the judge to examine her wool.

The next class was ewe lamb, we had planned on Joel being there so we brought 4 lambs. Steve and I got Echo and Osceola in the ring and they both went nuts, throwing themselves on the ground and really acting foolish. Mindy slipped her halter before getting in the ring and Cindy caught her but not in time to get her in the ring. In my dad’s words, “good thing it isn’t an obedience contest!” We didn’t place in this class but Osceola and Echo did get second place pair of ewe lambs in the next class.

I believe the next class we were in was Best Fleece on the Hoof in which Bruce won second place. I took Raven to best colored, patterned or modified sheep and she didn’t place.

After all the other classes were done they called the Champion ram (BRUCE!) and the Champion ewe, Sheltering Pines Salicional back into the ring. They told the reserve champion ram and ewe to be on stand by. Our judge looked at both Salicional and Bruce and then called the reserves back in. I thought for sure that meant we had not won. I was just excited we had made it so far! Salicional won Supreme Champion and Bruce was Reserve Champion. I was thrilled!

FINAL FOUR GARRETT(Last class…Photo: Garrett Ramsay)

BRUCE2OMG!

This is our third time showing at Wisconsin Sheep and Wool and I didn’t anticipate this at all. I am so grateful to our judges who came all the way from Scotland to judge our show and share their knowledge of the sheep we all love so much. I am honored that a UK judge and inspector sees so much potential in Emancipation Bruce. Gilbert Meikle(our judge) said Bruce was, “A superb ram with excellent wool and very true to type.” I could not possibly be more grateful. (Bruce might be a bit more grateful then I am when he finds out he is going to get so many more ewes this year).

One of the best things about the Jefferson show is seeing old friends, making new friends, and enjoying time with other people that love the same things.  This photo is (almost) all of us. I had an absolute blast. I could not possibly ask to be friends with a funnier, weirder(in a good way), kinder group of people. Watching everyone support each other, and cheer each other on was a thing of beauty. I can’t wait to see you all next year, and hopefully I will see some of you before that.

shetland sheep group

Why Every Farm Needs Goats Part 1

Joel and I have lived on our farm for five years. Before that when we were in the reading, researching and dreaming phase I was obsessed with dairy goats. Anyone that knows me even a tiny bit probably knows about my deep and unyielding love of cheese.

There is an often quoted saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin, ” Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” In all reality this is a condensed version of a paragraph Ben wrote in a letter that was actually about wine. Personally, I think he was just to drunk to actually remember he was talking about cheese. Cheese is just delightful, and really does seem to be proof that at least dairy goats love us and want us to be happy.

So why, given my overpowering cheese lust did we wait five years to start milking goats? I knew I wanted to make cheese but I also knew our animals needed to be working to pay our bills. Wisconsin has some of the most draconian cheese laws and one can not simply build a commercial kitchen and start making cheese. So, I put the brakes on my dreams of goats.

Half of our 40 acre property is overgrown woods. The first few years we spent building pasture fences (a task that never ends) in the obvious pasture worthy parts of the farm. As our poultry, sheep and pig herds and flocks grew bigger we began to think seriously about the woods. Joel has been wanting to clean up and restore the woods to Oak savanna  (as it historically was) since we moved in, but it’s a huge project and it always seemed we had to many irons in the fire to get started on this important and time consuming project.

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In 2014 we decided to get serious about restoring the woods. We knew we wanted to take out the invasives like Buckthorn and keep the trees with food value to livestock and wildlife such as oaks, bitternut hickory, shagbark hickory, black walnut, and mulberries. Some people don’t like mulberries because they are not native, but their leaves are very high in protein, everything loves to eat their berries (myself included!) and they provide shade in the pastures, so they are quite welcome on our farm.

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We started building the first one acre pasture in the woods. We bought five goats and in the spring of 2015 put those goats and pigs into the wooded pasture. It was pretty obvious in the first few weeks that we needed more goats. The best goats for brush clearing are wethers,  (neutered males, does currently in milk can damage their udders on things like raspberry brambles, which goats love to eat).

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I made my case to Joel, if we want/need more goats we should get some does currently in milk, then in a few months we could re-breed them, and by next spring we would have more wethers for the woods, and almost the whole time I would have delicious milk to be made into cheese.

So, that is what we did! In subsequent blog entries I will show how the goats are working for us by

1. Making milk (cheese, soap)

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2. Clearing the woods of invasives without the use of pesticides, or poisons all the while feeding themselves and having a great time.

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3. How the does in milk are helping with the weeds in the sheep pasture.

4. The differences between sheep and goats, why I love them both, and why we need them both.

Beer Braised Pork Hocks

Pork hocks are one of the most flavorful cuts. The hocks are the lower part of the legs, above the trotters. When buying a whole pig you will receive four hocks, and they are often whole with skin on, or sliced width wise (skin on or skin off). Some customers choose to have the hocks ground, or let them sit in their freeze for ever because they are not sure how to prepare them. This is a shame because the hocks are one of the most delicious cuts. Much like shanks in pastured lamb, pork hocks may be tough if cooked overly hot and fast. This toughness is because pastured animals actually use their legs for walking from place to place, unlike pork from CAFOs, however this is aldo what goves pastured hocks such a lovely flavor. Cooking hocks with liquid helps tenderize the meat and allows the flavor full rein to knock your socks off.

To make Beer Braised Pork Hocks a la Emancipation Acres you will need the following ingredients.

High heat cooking oil, I used sesame but any oil that can handle a high heat will do
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, minced very fine
2 pork hocks, whole or sliced width wise
2 white onions, cut into rounds
4 potatoes, cut into rounds
1 large squash, I used a lemon squash but any squash should be fine. If you use a squash like lemon with large seeds in the center, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds, then cut into slices. Squash like yellow squash can be cut into rounds
2 apples, cored and quartered
2 cups dark beer, I used Capitol Amber

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Place the salt in a large bowl and rub the mixture on the pork hocks. If skin on pork hocks are being used score the skin with a knife and rub the mixture into the scores. A blend of spices could be added at this point as well, I didn’t however as I like the flavor of the pork to be the center of attention.

Grease the roasting pan with the high heat oil. Make sure a high heat oil is used.

Peel the white onions and slice them into rounds. Place them evenly in the bottom of the roasting pan in an even layer. Place the hocks on top of the layer of onions and cook covered at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes take the baking pan out of the oven and place the quartered apples, sliced potatos and squash in an even layer around the hocks.  Pour 1 cup of the beer over the hocks and cook for one hour at 325 degrees F.

The FDA recently lowered the safe temperature for pork from 160 degrees F to 140 degrees F. After an hour check the temperature of the hocks, and stir the veggies. I used sliced hocks and they were at 140 degrees F after an hour. If you are using skin on whole hocks they will likely take longer.

(http://mobile.nytimes.com/2011/05/25/dining/porks-safe-cooking-temperature-is-lowered.html?referrer=)

When the hocks are nearly done (130 degrees F or so, baste the hocks with the remaining cup of beer. Turn the oven up to 425 degrees F and heat covered for another ten minutes.

Remove the roasting pan from the oven and check that the hock temperature reads between 140-160 degrees F in the center of the meat.

If sliced hocks were used they can be placed on a plate with the veggies on the side. If whole hocks were used they can be carved on a cutting board, or just go wild with a knife and fork on your own plate.

Don’t be afraid to chew the meat off the bones, that’s half the fun!

Alternatively: after I made this I realized it would taste really good on top of rice, which would also be a good way to stretch the recipe to feed more people.

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