Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Joy of Seasonal Eating

Alright, I will admit it…at one time in my life, I bought strawberries out of season, and Chilean grapes in the dead of winter. We even drove to C’ville in hopes that a salad with a tomato in February (or March) would actually taste like those items should. Wrong!

The out of season food purchases of long ago only served to make us more committed to learning about seasonal eating, to put up what we could, and be much more creative with our food choices.

Here in the Valley of the Shenandoah, we just can’t have some food items year ‘round. For that matter, there are some food items that we just cannot produce. This is not a problem unless you are completely committed to “LOCAL”. If that’s the case, you are going to have serious eating issues! Personally, I have some “issues” with this “issue”, so you can be certain I will revisit “LOCAL” at some point in time.

The rhythm of the seasons is marked by the availability of different crops. The anticipation of these crops grow as the crops mature. It is always exciting to see the first tiny vegetables forming on the plants. Once the craving for this crop is satisfied, it is time for the next in the cycle. Early asparagus gives way to broccoli which in turn gives way to green beans, and then dark leafy greens before broccoli makes a return appearance in the fall.

While we put up a good deal of our own food for winter eating, and now offer it for sale to our “winter sales group”, nothing matches the taste sensation of the first meal of any one vegetable crop. The same can be said for fruits, although their goodness is more sporadic through the year.

The first strawberry, stolen from the patch while mowing, (yes, I did see that, TOM!)

is so tantalizingly sweet and tart…it calls us back for another and another. By then end of the short berry season, we have eaten our fill, put up loads for winter, and are actually glad to see the end of the ruby red berries.

Presently, we are just beginning to harvest the squash.
We have an annual debate as to what is better, yellow squash, green beans, or sliced tomatoes. We have never been able to declare one vegetable as the clear winner. Each one has its distinct appeal.

While a lot of folks find that the zucchini overtake the garden, the refrigerator, and possibly their lives, we just love it!

We can’t supply enough for our Market customers at times. The golden zucchini is particularly popular.

A sidenote: if a zucchini can be hollowed out to use for a canoe…it is TOO large for human consumption! As with most vegetables, it is best on the small side. Then it can be sautéed, boiled, fried, put in sauce, salad, soup, breads, muffins, cookies, pancakes. There is SO much you can do with it. I really hate to see it go in the fall.

It will still be a while before the tomatoes are ready for harvest.

There is no way to re-create biting into a juicy tomato fresh off the vine on a hot summer day. Tomatoes that make it to the grocery store must travel incredibly long distances, and they are bred for durability, not taste. You are better off to wait until summer, even though the time from tomato harvest to tomato harvest does seem interminable in the midst of the winter.

I guess what I am trying to say here is…enjoy what is in season at the moment, make the most of it, and savor it! The anticipation of the upcoming crop is part of what adds to the enjoyment of it. …and there is ALWAYS something delicious to look forward to!

Did I hear someone mention GREEN BEANS?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Totally UN-Cool

This morning, I went to the freezer to grab a chicken for supper…when I realized… “something is NOT right here!” The stuff at the top of the freezer was NOT cold…the freezer was not cold…the ice that builds up around the edges was sliding down the sides. HELP! I alerted Tom to the situation and we began frantically transferring everything to another freezer. (I was frantic….Tom was calm and cool)

Thankfully, we have a whole bank of freezers…six, to be exact. Before you start thinking this is excessive for TWO people, please let me explain. We need a freezer for chickens, one for lamb, one for beef, two for veggies and fruits (these are for winter sales)…and one for the odd and random thing that my "inner hoarder" cannot bear to waste. In reality, we could probably get by with five, but…

This week we will be processing broilers and that will take up the majority of one freezer. Thankfully, since they are selling so amazingly well, that freezer was empty and we just dumped everything in there. We didn’t lose much…some cookies and some bread had thawed; the chickens will enjoy those.

We are also supposed to pick up the first processed lambs of the season. Since these guys were big…really big…they will need their own freezer. Currently, it is full of strawberries for winter sales. Looks like freezer re-organization is at the top of my list this week!

Since the freezers are somewhat geriatric, Tom’s first assumption was that the compressor was burnt out. To replace the compressor is just as costly as buying a new freezer, and nowhere near as easy, so we debated on the way to town what we should do. Get a new freezer? Repair the freezer? Such a dilemma!

By the time we finished our errands, the overheated freezer had cooled down. He plugged it in. IT STARTED! YAY! After about 2 seconds…it quit. BOO! The decision was made. New freezer!

After some sticker shock at Lowes, and a lengthy discussion concerning freezer type, we decided to stick with the same old thing. Lo and behold, it was on sale! Things were looking up.

Long story short….bought freezer, loaded freezer, unloaded freezer, plugged it in, it’s good to go. YAY! We’re gonna need it this week with all those chickens and all that lamb. …did I mention that the green bean crop is ready, too?

Closer examination revealed it was not the compressor, but a burned out controller. The part can be had on-line for under $50. Hmmm….. Tom ordered the part, and if it corrects the problem, we will then have an “emergency back-up” freezer. (Tom feels much safer with an “emergency back-up” whatever….”always prepared”…ya know…once a boy scout always a boy scout, I guess)

After a completely UN-cool start to the, we're chillin'!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Black Snakes ALWAYS Make Me Scream

This morning when Tom moved the broiler pen, he uncovered a black snake that had slithered in under the pen, looking for an overnight shelter. As Tom was concentrating on the broilers, he didn’t see the snake..

The broilers are quite close to the ram paddock at present, and the hose used for watering is available to both species.

When I went to grab the black HOSE, I realized it was a black SNAKE! "AAAAAAAAH!"

“What?” He still hadn’t seen the snake. I pointed…he laughed.

I am not afraid of snakes; it is the unexpectedness of their appearance that makes me scream. We have seen one dangling from the tree in the backyard, several slithering through the barn, and another scooting through the hay. Every time I have screamed…and every time he has laughed at me. Thankfully, the girls never shared my reaction. Yep, that's B....circa 1997.

Black snakes are just a fact of life around the farm. They are good at keeping the population of small rodents under control. Although the larger ones have been known to eat a few eggs, for the most part they don’t do anything bad around the place. They are not poisonous like rattlers or copperheads. They won’t strangle or squeeze like boas or anacondas. Most of the time, we don’t even know they are around.

But,the sudden awareness of their existence gets me every time. "AAAAAAAH!"

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

It's all in a Name

Tom and I took lambs to the processor's yesterday. Processor is another word for butcher…one that is slightly less disturbing to the customers. Depending on which one of our customers you talked to…you would either get a “oh, poor lambies!” or a “oh goodie, goodie! Can’t wait for lambchops!”

That made me think about the term “lamb”. The word lamb makes one think of little Bo-Peep and Mary had a little lamb. Cute, woolly, lovable lambs.
Like George…

Don’t worry, George didn’t grace anyone’s dinner table. George died of natural causes. In some ways, this was far worse. But, that is a story for another time.

When the lambs go off to the processor, they are not cute and cuddly. They are well over 100 pounds of muscle and wool. They have long since passed the “cute” stage. They are big, cantankerous, eating machines. They are not interested in being friendly;

their attitude says “ just give me the food and get out of the way, woman!”

For the record, sheep aren’t even nice to pet. Their wool is like greasy steel wool, and the lanolin in it sticks with you for a long time after handling them. No, they wouldn’t make good pets. It is their place, their destiny, if you will, to end up on a dinner plate somewhere.

It occurred to me that we don’t refer to a lot of our other meat choices by the animal name. For instance, you don’t go get a cow burger…it’s ground beef. Baby cow or calf never makes it to a menu…it’s veal. Goat sounds exotic when it’s called chevon. Pig meat is pork.

It seems there should be another word to use for this type of meat. Don’t try to use the term “mutton”…that means OLD sheep meat, and believe me, it’s not comparable to our lamb products…not by a longshot! If you’re wondering, mutton tastes like tough, soapy beef with hard bits of lanolin-tasting fat in it. Blech!

I just read an article about a farmer trying to find another name for "horsemeat” as the term is alienating customers when they consider eating the noble beast. It bothers some folks to think that anyone would eat a HORSE,despite the fact that it is perfectly acceptable in many areas of the world. That seems to be the problem on occasion with lamb. The mental image is a definite obstacle. Guess it really is a matter of semantics. There must be a better word choice, there just must be! This may need some serious consideration.

In the meantime, our more carnivorous customers will enjoy lamb in its many forms. Chops, roasts, sausage, ground, and shanks all made my list for the butcher. If everything goes according to plan, we should be fully stocked with lamb for the Market by July 1st.

Oh, now I can’t wait for those **chops! We'll just concentrate on enjoying them...maybe a new name for marketing purposes will occur to us after a meal.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rain is a GOOD Thing!

When Luke Bryan released his song “Rain is a Good Thing”, J told B, “hey, there’s a song about your dad!” B listened to the lyrics…My daddy spent his life lookin' up at the sky. He'd cuss, kick the dust, sayin' son it's way too dry! She laughed and said….”NOPE….That’s my MOM!” (EVERYONE knows Tom is the steady one.) The weather definitely affects my outlook on life. Having gone through a drought where we didn’t receive ANY precipitation for well over 12 weeks, I am always edgy when hot, dry weather becomes the norm. (even when it's a relatively short period of time)

Last night we had over an inch-and-a-half of rain! Thank the Lord!

We had not had measurable rainfall in quite some time. Up until now, June had been dry, very dry. We were trying not to covet the rain that neighboring communities reported. We were trying not to take part in the ongoing talk concerning the lack of rain and the dire state of affairs if we didn’t get some SOON. We were trying not to mention the lack of precipitation to one another. We were trying NOT to worry. For despite Tom's outward calm, hot weather and the possibility of the "d" word (drought) gets to him, too.

You know it’s dry when the zucchini plants just sit there…no overnight growth, they were just surviving. The sheep were panting, the chickens were holding their wings out…hoping to get cooler. The lack of rain was almost unbearable when coupled with a string of ninety degree days. It was great haymaking weather, and we are glad for that. There’s a load of hay in the barn, and another we need to go and pick up.

Rain is completely out of our control and we accept that. Although, sometimes, it’s a little hard not to freak out when it’s either to wet or too dry. When it’s wet, we just have to wait it out. But, there are always other things to do. When it’s dry, we can irrigate. That helps, but there is nothing like rain from heaven above to make things grow. The rain makes US feel better too! It's as if we can finally breathe from that worry over the crops that is always in the back of our minds.

Today the grass looked greener, the corn seemed measurably taller, and the sheep were WHITE again. It was a beautiful, damp morning. It felt good to do chores and see that things were growing once again.

“Yeah, where I come from, rain is a good thing!”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Hair of the Dog

This is Jed when we first got him in 2007. AWWWW!

This is Jed last month. EWWWWWW!

Jed is a Great Pyrenees. When we got him, the breeder told us that he had French genetics that made him double coated and that was a desirable thing to have in a Pyr. Genetics didn’t really matter, he was cute and fuzzy and we hoped he would grow up to protect the sheep from harm.

Despite the fact that our neighbor thinks Jed is a “magnificent animal”, he does live outside, his double coat gets matted and dirty, and he generally looks a sight. He is supposed to be a “working dog”, so grooming is not a top priority. The first summer we tried to keep up with the brushing. We brushed and brushed and brushed. Huge piles of white, woolly fur looked like clouds in the yard. Hair was everywhere. That was not a good solution!

We gave him a haircut the next summer. He absolutely hated it, and looked awful afterward. But, he was cool and eventually his fur grew out and he looked somewhat acceptable again.

Last summer, being what last summer was, Jed didn’t get combed, brushed, or clipped. He and Ellie Mae got fed, and that’s about it. When I took him to the vet for some routine visit in the winter, I was made to feel like a “bad dog mother” because he had mats in his fur with burdock seeds in them. An aside here, did you know that the inventor of Velcro got the idea from burdock seeds stuck in his dog’s fur?

As the summer gets hotter, Jed seems more miserable with his furry coat. He also needs his rabies booster, and I’m reluctant to take him to the vet looking like he does.

So….today is the day! The sheep shears are going to do DOG duty!

We (read, I) approached the job with some trepidation. Jed is a complete chicken, or scaredy-cat…can a dog be either one of those? Loud noises terrify him. He has been known to squeeze his entire 100 pound frame into the house through a narrowly opened door to escape the sound of thunder. He doesn’t like to have his tail touched, and forget about getting anywhere near his feet!

Tom thought that by putting Jed on the sheep shearing stand, things might go a little smoother than when we tried to clip him on the ground.
He fought and growled and tried to bite us. He was not at all cooperative that time.

Up on the sheep stand, Jed had to stand still while Tom ran the shears. The noise frightened Jed, so Tom eventually resorted to scissors. While he turned out just a little lumpy, he seems much more comfortable…and not quite as embarrassed as last time.

We got almost as much fur off him as we get wool from a sheep. While I know there are some folks who spin Great Pyrenees fiber, I think we’ll skip that project.

Job well done, Tom!

Jed seems to think his new "hairless" look is MAH-velous!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Last week, we took a trip to H’burg to pick up some “ready-to-lay” pullets. This was the final attempt to correct a long-standing egg production problem.

The old hens haven’t been laying well since winter. This is not because we haven’t tried to improve the situation. We changed housing location and feed. We tried every natural remedy we could. We threatened their lives repeatedly. The last resort was to replace the whole bunch with new birds and begin again.

The new pullets came from a hatchery in H’burg. Generally, we raise our own, but we didn’t want to wait the 18 to 22 weeks it takes for a chick to grow to the point where she can lay eggs. The new girls were supposed to be 17 ½ weeks when we picked them up. That means egg production should begin in the very near future.

The trip to pick them up was uneventful. The picking up/purchase of them was uneventful…once the proprietor remembered who we were. (that was a little unsettling) The ride home and settling in the barn was uneventful.

We waited until nightfall to put them in with the other young hens. By working with poultry in the dark, you deal with them when they are somewhat sleepy and much calmer. We clipped a wing on each bird (that keeps them from flying) and put them in the mobile henhouse. Okay, girls….grow up and lay some eggs!

The next morning, the adjustment began. You have heard the term pecking order, no doubt. That refers to how those of higher status pick on those of lower status in order to maintain their own standing. The way this plays out in the chicken yard is like this….pullet eats hen’s food…PECK! Pullet looks at hen….PECK! Pullet walks past hen….PECK! Pullet just exists…PECK! PECK! PECK! Well, you get the idea. Each time a pullet is pecked a loud shriek follows. (that’s the pullet complaining)

The amount of pecking and shrieking that went on was unbelievable. By nightfall, things had calmed down somewhat. The pullets found safety and comfort far away from the hens. They chose to bed down for the night UNDER the henhouse!

Now, it was rather expected that some of them would do this. But, we didn’t count on the fact that the hens were going to be so territorial and the pullets were going to be so….well, chicken!

Out into the dark we went. Tom got his big net, and I worked on grabbing chickens. After some hassling around, they were all secured for the night. The henhouse moved to a location where the pullets could not get under it.

The following day, the pecking began again. It did not have the same intensity as before. But, the pullets were still not “allowed” to eat along with the hens. PECK! Occasionally, a pullet would be minding her own business and some cranky hen would just walk up and PECK! I suppose this was to keep the new girls in line.

We’re finally a week into this project. The pecking order has been established. An un-easy truce has been established. Now, we just have to wait for the eggs to start coming. If we could only hen-peck them into compliance on that one!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

One Sick Sheep

Monday dawned with a promise of heat and humidity. This fact, combined with a seemingly endless to-do list, a project that seemed more than a little uncertain, and the need for an early morning departure time, made me feel more than a little stressed as the day began.

Morning chores did nothing to help this feeling. When I went to feed the lambs, one lamb was definitely “under the weather”. All the lambs hang out by the barn gate, waiting to get to the feeders. It is a wild stampede when the gate is opened, with jumping, bumping, baaing, butting, as all of them jostle for a position at the feeder. Except one. One lamb hung back, he put his head down and looked pathetic. When he finally wandered through the gate, it was without enthusiasm or interest. He walked close to the barn, pawed the ground and lay down. He didn’t even look at the feeders. Oh, great! The worst part of this whole “situation”….this was one of the “big boys”…one of the ones we are counting on taking to the processors in a short period of time. He just couldn’t up and DIE on me! He was looking like that might be his intention, though.

I was feeling pressured to “hurry” and a sick sheep was NOT what I needed. He was feeling so miserable that he let me hold him while he was lying down, and check him out all over. (NOT a good sign) Oh, bother! He needed some type of attention, so I went up to get my vet supplies. Meanwhile, I tried to get hold of Tom. No answer on the house phone. No answer on his cell phone. GRRRR! Oh, I looked up and he was banging chicken crates around in the barn. (in anticipation of our morning project) No wonder he didn’t answer any phone calls!

The idea at this point was to catch the “sick sheep”, medicate him, and go on my way. Of course, “sick sheep” instantly felt well enough to run around for at least 5 minutes prior to getting him (and all the rest of the lambs) in the barn. Now, I was really hot, really bothered and really worried. This didn’t bode well for the rest of the day.

Finally, I got Tom to help me capture the lamb. I medicated him and turned him back with the others. Second-guessing myself all morning as we headed off to breakfast with friends and a chicken project in H’burg, I couldn’t really focus on anything.

When we got back from H’burg, “sick sheep” was still feeling punk. The fact that it was in the nineties wasn’t helping anything. I still had to do the town-run (feedstore, bank, groceries). I worried while I ran my errands, wondering if he would be better or worse when I got home. No change was the diagnosis when I got home. I had spent the better part of the morning picking A’s brain via texts. She was fairly certain that my diagnosis and treatment were on-track. But, the lamb just didn’t seem to be responding. I began to fear the worst.

When I called the sheep at afternoon choretime, “sick sheep” came a-running with all the others. He didn’t eat real well, but he did at least show some interest. By evening, he was eating like a pig. Hooray!

If sheep and people share a lot of similarities, I suppose it is only natural that lambs and children are alike, too. In the same way that small children get instantly sick and the instantly respond to treatment…lambs can go from sick to well, or vice versa, at the drop of a hat.

Thankfully, this lamb was only suffering from a severe parasite load. Once that was treated, he felt so much better! That diagnosis was so much better and easier to deal with that the horrible things I had been considering.

Okay….on to Tuesday!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Ain't Never Seen Nuthin' Like THAT Be-fur"

The clientele of the Market has changed dramatically in the past 14 years. The complete change in demographics was not overnight, but it has been astounding.

When we first began selling at the Market, a lot of the customers were older folks. They were the type of folks who had gardens, remembered life on the farm, and who weren’t about to spend a lot of money on their food. A constant refrain was “oh, I can get that much cheaper at (insert grocery store name)”.

Red tomatoes, white potatoes and yellow corn were the best sales items; baked goods did extremely well back then, too. Forget selling meat….a lot of folks still had access to home-grown.

At the time, we were also selling vegetables to restaurants. It was a strange world where small was big and unusual was ordinary. The restaurants wanted tiny, tiny, tiny veggies…and would pay top dollar for them. They wanted cinnamon basil and purple potatoes, among other things. It was most amusing when we took some of the excess produce to the Market. Someone actually said, “humph, what’s THAT? Aint’ never seen nuthin’ like THAT be-fur!” We still chuckle over that one.

Today’s Market customers are younger and “hipper”, looking for the trendy and unusual items that make up our global cuisine. The shoppers are far more health conscious. Folks are looking for food with taste and color. It is not unusual to have a customer ask specifically for something with an odd name that just a few years ago would have just been a mention in a seed catalog.

Garlic scapes are a case in point.
When the hardneck garlic plants are maturing, they sent up a seed stalk. It comes straight out of the center of the plant and then begins to curl back on itself like some odd snake-like creature. This must be clipped from the plant in order to assure nice, big garlic bulbs. Years ago, we read that these could be used for eating. They were, and are, delicious. According to our source, chefs would love them. Wrong, the chefs we were dealing with had never even HEARD of them. So, we continued to enjoy them ourselves.

Now, we take them to the Market and customers LOVE them. We have some customers who remember from year to year and ask specifically when the scapes will arrive at the Market. There are recipes on-line for all sorts of things using scapes. Try scape PESTO!

Arugula is one of the “hot” items at the Market.
Personally, I don’t care for the hot, zesty taste of arugula. It’s okay in very small doses, but some customers simply love it. We can’t seem to grow enough of it. I do my best to have it every week, year ‘round. The flea beetles love it almost as much as the customers, so sometimes it is a real challenge.

Golden beets, bi-colored tomatoes, purple asparagus and teeny-tiny squash have all gotten recognition of late. I enjoy reading the seed catalogs and guessing what the new trends will be. It is also rewarding to have folks tell us of their culinary successes on a regular basis.

Even if you’ve never seen some vegetable at the Market before, try some.

Be daring, adventurous. You may just find a new favorite!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Slaying the Philistines

It’s that time of year…time to chop the thistles in the sheep paddocks.

Thistles seem to pop up overnight this time of year, ready to flower and cast their fluffy little seedpods to the wind. If this is allowed to happen, the seeds will float away and perpetuate the nuisance in countless places. Without resorting to herbicide use, we try to chop them down prior to flower. Although, there are always a few that escape our efforts.

The animals will eat the plants when they are tiny and somewhat tender. By the time the plants are big enough to blossom, nothing around here will eat them. Thistles will grow to around six feet high if left unchecked. Ironically, once the plants are chopped and withered, or even completely dried, the animals will eat them, prickers and all!

Thistles always remind me of my paternal grandfather, “Pop”. He was born to a farmer on the Eastern Shore in 1904. Born in a day prior to herbicide use, he and his two brothers were given the job of thistle eradication. I suppose they were given the job to be productive around the farm as well as to release some of the energy that only little boys seem to possess. Chopping the thistles turned into a game, and they referred to it as “slaying the Philistines”. I don’t know if this had some deep theological meaning, or if they were just playing. More than likely it was a game, not unlike “cowboys and Indians”. But, just like the story of David and Goliath from the Bible, these little boys took on the overwhelming task and won. The best part is that they had a good time doing it, and years later remembered the annual task with fondness.

Despite the fact that “Pop” eventually left the farm and raised his own family in the city, he never forgot his farm roots. He maintained a farm of his own outside of town for years, retreating to work in his garden when the pressures of city life began to get to him. After retiring, he managed to have a garden in his community until the time of his passing at 85. I suppose I owe some of my fondness for this way of life to him.

As a child, I loved to hear the stories of the old days. As I recall, the thistle story was told to us one summer when we were very, very tired of weeding...perhaps in hopes of inspiring us to continue our job. The tales that my grandparents and others told of farm life “back in the day” made a big impression. Their stories always included hard work and a love of productivity. It gives me a sense of connection even now to think that I am doing the same kind of work that folks have done for years and years.

So with a nod to my forebears, I need to grab my hoe and slay me some Philistines!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Waylon Takes a Little Ride

For the maiden voyage of the “king cutter carry all”, Tom planned to take Waylon and his “paddock buddy” back to the ram pen for the summer.

Unless you’ve ever tried to lead a lamb that hasn’t been halter broke, you cannot appreciate the sheer awfulness of the job. The lamb flings about, jumps STRAIGHT up in the air, crashes down, shrieks with panic, and then lies down in preparation for its impending demise. Oh, it is one of the fun jobs on the farm. NOT! The only time the job is worse is when it is a full-grown ram that is being transported from point A to point B.

Since the sheep, particularly the rams, are so infrequently handled, it makes no real sense to halter break them. Most times, in order to move the entire flock, we only need to shake a feed bucket. They all know the bucket, and will follow it anywhere.

When handling one or two sheep, that flocking instinct doesn’t work. It’s as if they realize that being alone is not a good thing, and they freak out. While herding dogs are a wonderful option for some, this isn’t a consideration around here. We have enough projects going.

So, we generally halter the sheep and push, pull, cajole and drag it to the new location. Definitely NOT a fun proposition; someone always ends up cussing.

Enter the “king cutter carry all”. After some modifications this morning, we were able to load Waylon and his friend in the little pen and haul them out back. No muss, no fuss…and Tom entertained himself by coming up with a new version of the Beverly Hillbillies song while he drove.

Another job checked off the “to-do” list. Waylon is in his new home until mid-August when he moves in with the girls. We won’t need the hauler at that point; we’ll just open the gate…natural instinct will do the rest!

A Handy, New Farm Doo-Hickey Thing

Last Saturday, Tom handed me a piece of paper, saying “hey, think we could use this thing?” HUH?

My sleep/caffeine-deprived brain can only handle so much on a Market morning. I am usually having some variation of the following ongoing conversation: What is the total for asparagus, lettuce and arugula?…no, wait..I want a dozen eggs, too…no, just a minute….can I get a half dozen? Can you tell me what seasonings are in your sausage? Do you really raise all this stuff yourself? Are you organic? No? Why not? Do you spray? Do you have change for a twenty…fifty..a hundred? Where can I get a bag? Does anyone at the market sell….? When will the sweet corn come in….are there any tomatoes? Now, what’s the total?

Yes, I have been known to have someone’s cash in my hand and look at it blankly with absolutely NO idea what just transpired. (doesn’t happen often, and thankfully the customers think it’s funny)

So, it isn’t any wonder that I looked at the piece of paper detailing the “do-hickey thing” with little or no comprehension. I think I said something like “whatever you think, dear”. After 27 years together, he should know that I truly mean this….mostly because I have NO idea what he’s talking about. He and the seller talked it over some more, and I thought that was the end of the subject.

It wasn’t until Wednesday when the topic came up again. That wasn’t too surprising, a lot of times I’ve forgotten a topic, only to have it re-surface at a later date.

At this point, Tom thought we should get the thing. As it was “only” $70, I concurred…despite the fact I STILL didn’t know what possible use the thing could be.

The guy selling it REALLY wanted to get rid of it, so he delivered it Thursday. Tom put it on the tractor, made some modifications, and attempted to explain again what it was he wanted to do with the thing.

OH, OH….my brain finally got it!

Yep, it looks like it will make some things easier around here. Particularly hauling the ram to and from the barn…chickens in chicken crates out to pasture and back for processing. I’m fairly certain Tom will think of a great number of other projects for the new “doo-hickey thing”. Okay, it’s actually called a “king cutter carry all”.

Now, I guess we can look forward to hauling jobs. …and maybe I should start paying attention to the great potential of these “finds”!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

"MY" New Gate

Last week we had a lot of rain. (is it me, or are a whole lot of posts starting out this way?)

Tom decided that since it was too wet to work in the gardens, he would repair the gate out back. Okay, he was probably also tired of my whining about it. The gate was becoming a constant topic of conversation.

Back in October 2009, “DUDE” the ram, took out the fence. You could read “when rams are bored” for details and a picture. Some repairs were made at the time, with the hope of getting it fixed “right” sometime in the future..

In the time since, the gate dividing the feed area from the rest of the paddocks has only deteoriated. As part of the original equipment around here, it has had a hard life. Once part of a pig pen, it was cut to accommodate something. The cut allowed bees to get inside of it during the summers, so one had to be somewhat cautious in hand placement during operation. Years of use and abuse had led to rust and that led to difficult operation.

I was afraid that either I would get hurt because the gate was so difficult to open and the sheep would push against it so hard. Or, the sheep would get hurt because the gate was beginning to fall apart. Both sheep and shepherd have been injured in the past due to equipment issues. I don’t want to repeat those experiences.

So, after a trip to Lowe’s and a bunch of work, I have a new gate.
I don’t really know why Tom insists it’s MINE. But, here it is….and it works great!

Thanks, dear….it’s what I always wanted…a new gate! (although, it doesn't look like "Ethel" appreciates it!)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June is DAIRY Month

It’s the first of June, "National Dairy Month". This month is set aside to remind us all where milk (and milk products) come from. The dairy princesses will be on call to hand out icecream and point out that family dairies are still out there…and still the only places that produce milk. The emphasis on cows has me feeling a little nostalgic. I miss my cows!

I met my first cow when I was about five years old and visiting the county fair. I think it was love at first sight, and since then, I’ve always been partial to Jersey cows with their BIG brown eyes. I knew then and there that I NEEDED to have a milk cow some day. My literary diet at the time was influenced greatly by The Little House on the Prairie books and Countryside magazine. Why WOULDN’T you want a milk cow? I honestly thought EVERYONE would want a milk cow!

I tried to convince my dad to let me keep and milk the Hereford heifer he bought for meat. Thinking I was only trying to save her from the “hamburger factory”, he was quite dismissive. For years, I would daydream about having a cow of my own.

It wasn’t until October 1997 that I finally realized that dream. We met someone with a “family cow” for sale and Tom graciously obliged me. Having a dairy cow was nothing like I had envisioned. It was hard work and there was a definite learning curve.
The first milking, I was only able to obtain 1 quart of milk. I cannot remember how long it took, but I do remember feeling like a miserable failure…wondering if my dream wasn’t really a nightmare. But, I was determined to figure the whole deal out. I saw myself making butter, cheese, and having gallons and gallons of milk to drink! There was a lot of truth in that vision.

We had at least one milk cow until May 2009. At one point I was milking three cows…yes, by hand! I had some very nimble fingers…and sometimes VERY sore forearms! We had gallons and gallons and GALLONS of milk, that’s for sure! That May, we sold “Penny”, our home-grown, beautiful, productive, Jersey cow to a family out in West Augusta. Life on the farm had changed, and it was time for us to move on. In some ways, it was very sad…and I wish we still had our “girls”. On the other hand, it was very freeing…and we’re enjoying the current adventure.

During the ten-plus years we had the cows, I learned a whole lot. Despite the fact that we almost lost the first cow to milk fever due to my ignorance, by the end of our “dairying days”, I had learned enough to earn the respect of our very old-school vet. It meant SO much to me when he went from calling me “Miz Womack” to Barbara…and the day he said “you really know your cows” is forever in my memory. He went from being “the vet” to a friend of the family.

Over the years, we had a lot of good times and some GREAT eating because of the cows. We also had some of the worst calamities in farm history. They definitely added to the atmosphere of the place. We once brought a cow up I-81 in the back of the pick-up all the way from Pearisburg, VA.
Tom and I had the uncanny experience of walking in a field with over one hundred dairy cows and their farmer, as he took them to a new paddock. We helped birth calves and learned how to get the cows bred. Each of those experiences is worthy of its own entry at some time.

But, back to dairy month…

Over the years, we have had the privilege to meet some dairy farmers and their families. All farmers are dedicated to what they do, but dairy farmers must be the MOST dedicated and committed. Those cows MUST be milked twice a day (in some dairies, 3 times) EVERY day! It is not possible to tell a dairy cow to “take the day off”! That’s hard work…I know from experience.

So, as we all recognize dairy month with a little extra ice cream…or maybe a big glass of milk…think about those farm families. Say “THANK YOU!”