Friday, February 26, 2010

A Week of Kid Goats, Chicks and Snow

Spring Zing
The first day over 30 degrees brought a little joy to my morning chores. For the first time in months, the yearling dairy goats’ water buckets were not frozen and the rabbit bottles were not solid ice. There was an extra wiggle and waggle to the lambs and goats’ steps this morning. I was feeling optimistic about spring coming early until I picked the mail up at the post office. The gang, which includes several octogenarians who hang out in the post office every morning, informed me with assured authority that the snow will turn to freezing rain tonight and tomorrow would be a wet, cold, icy day. Joy squashed.

The seed displays are up in the grocery stores and hardware stores. Over the years I have noted that if you don’t buy Burpbee’s organic Lincoln peas or pole beans by mid March, then you have to order by catalog. The stores never restock. When it’s gone, it’s gone. The same is true with canning jars in August. I have developed a habit of overbuying and hoarding.

Little Monsters
My 12 year old son Shane can be very dramatic. During President’s Week school break he was fully integrated into farm life. He woke up early and helped me with chores. He hacked the snow from the wood pile and hauled logs in every day to feed the wood stove and fireplace. He carried water buckets from the only working hydrants across the foot deep snow field to the horse barn. He hauled buckets of raw milk to the kitchen to be pasteurized for feeding the kid goats. He helped me fill the bottles and bottle feed the kid goats with their bottle rack. We needed 28oz bottles quickly so I purchased a couple cases of Mountain Dew. Instead of dumping the vile soda down the drain, I let Shane and Katey drink some of it. Besides getting an energy jolt from the caffeine, they were ecstatic about drinking soda. The kid goats are three weeks old and have lost their cute status. We call them the suckling monsters because they attack us bumping our legs and trying to spill the bottle buckets over and pull down the bottle racks. We just disbudded them so they have coin sized burn marks on their heads which make them look even more like little monsters.
Shane has saved one male kid for the petting area of the farm stay. He named him Camaro. Tom is fond of the kid goat too.
Shane helps me defrost the rabbit bottles, feed the rabbits pellets and hay and rerack the water bottles. He helped me breed three doe rabbits this week. The border collies, if not kenneled when they are not working would spend all day under the rabbit hutches.The rabbitry is very crowded so we are slaughtering rabbits as fast as they are big enough. There are rabbit cages hanging from the walls as well as hutches on the ground. We are building pastured rabbit cages this year. We are using ideas from pastured rabbit cage plans from a French agricultural organization. 

Get Out While We Still Have Time
Shane’s big adventure was a trip to the auction barn with male kid goats and a trip to Cornell Cooperative Extension to do his 4H presentation. On Sunday, before his return to school he suffered a complete meltdown. He railed about the unfairness of our lives. He told me that his classmates were going to Florida for the week (I doubt that) and going skiing, shopping in the Albany and Binghamton malls and spending the day watching TV. He ranted that farm life is too hard and we should, “Get out now while we still have time.” He preached that we should give up farming so we could enjoy the “sweet life.” His drama can be very entertaining but he asked me to consider his ranting with seriousness. I asked him to describe the “sweet life”. He rattled off a list of activities such as sleeping late in the mornings, going to fast food restaurants, mall shopping, watching TV, playing air hockey, listening to IPods, spending the day on YouTube. When I pointed out that he had slept to 7:30 am most mornings, had an IPod. IPod and occasionally was allowed to go on YouTube and was welcome to ride with me at the stable during the week, he still felt cheated. Cheated out of what I thought? To be fair, it is tough to never go on vacation because we run a farm, to work outside in sub zero temperatures and to be responsible for livestock every day. However, I have no regrets about keeping television out of the house, banning fast food and never frequenting malls or Walmart. So we compromised. We went to Walmart (I know. I know but it was late and the sports store was closed)and bought a basketball. He has been dribbling the ball for hours. As I write, my head is filled with the persistent thump thump of the ball. I am waiting for the sound of a crash to interrupt the dribbling. Perhaps tomorrow we will go cross country skiing or snowshoeing. In the meantime, there is work to do We have to help Tom unload expired or bad batches of Icelandic yogurt from the back of the truck and feed the pigs. When we deliver our milk for bottling at the creamery, we often bring back at truck load of expired dairy products including milk, creme fraiche, yogurt, cream and kefir. 

The laying chicks arrived last week. Tony, the postmaster rings us as soon as the post office opens to beg us to get the noisy, smelly chicks. An entire batch of Rhode Island Red chicks survived the mailing but did not survive the first 24 hours. We take the chicks out of the boxes, dip their beaks in water, give them food and put them under heat lamps. Because the barns are too cold and it is too dangerous to have heat lamps on in the old barns, Tom hauled a huge water tank into the new office, a part of the house that is under construction. 200 chicks are peeping and scurrying and chirping . The chicks are below Katey’s room and after four days the smell of chicks and chick poop has permeated her bedroom. She moved into the guest room until it is warm enough to move the chicks to the barn.

A major snow storm is underway. The roads are closed and it looks like a couple of feet of snow. The sheep and the livestock guardian dogs are asleep under a thick blanket of snow – unconcerned with the snow piling up around their snow den. They stand and stretch now and then to get out from under heavy blanket.

Fable - Next Second Saturday Supper is March 13th at 5 pm

I had to change the menu for the March 13th Saturday Supper because the butchering gods are working against me.  The first course was a warm spinach salad with beets and bacon.  We sent in pigs for butchering but the bacon won't be smoked in time for the supper.  The main course was steak and kidney pie made with local ale but the butcher forgot to save the kidneys from the cow he butchered and he did not save the cheeks!  So the rabbits are almost plump enough for slaughtering so we will slaughter on March 12 and I will make rabbit pie.  The new menu for March 13th is:


winter greens with blue cheese and poached pear vinaigrette

rabbit meat pie
horseradish potato mash

baked custard with cajeta

The cajeta is the most fun of this supper. It is goat milk and sugar cooked for three days on the stove until it is distilled to a thick, creamy tangy caramel.  Great for custard but even better over goat milk ice cream. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Winter Work at Stone & Thistle Farm

Farm and Fable Musings – February 6, 2010


Splash of Color at Kortright Creek Creamery
The first freshening of the season occurred this week. Triplets were born, then four sets of twins in 24 hours with only 50 more to go. The herd sire this year is a sungau alpine buck from Linda and Morgan of Sherman Hill. So far, there are splashes of black and brown on a couple of does – the rest are white. The kids are in totes in the mud hall for a couple of days to acclimate to being alive before they are sent to the kid barn. The small barn across from the house was historically used as a pig barn and stored a lot of the harnesses and horse equipment from the carriage barn. Since we have farmed here, the small barn has been a kid nursery, a rabbitry and a farrowing barn. Every trip to the dairy barn yields another kid or two. We only keep the females from the good milkers. The mediocre milkers, first-time fresheners and all the males are sent to the auction barn every Wednesday where they fetch around $10 each. We are often asked why we don’t raise the males for meat. It is simple math. A kid is bottle fed 2 cups of organic goat milk three times a day for 12 weeks. The cost of the organic goat milk is $5.40 (or what we can sell it for) per kid each day. We spend $453.60 in milk to feed a kid from birth to 12 weeks. If we add our labor – the kid would be worth $800. A 12 week male kid sells for about $50. So that is a loss of $750 per kid if we raise the kids for meat.

The Pink Vinyl Bra
We are renovating the center living room and the old dining room. We hoped to be finished before kidding began but the kids came two weeks earlier than expected. The old dining room will be our new office. Tom patched the wood floors, remade wainscoting, and built a closet. In the 1940’s the Haynes family closed off the front porch and expanded the living room area and in the 1950’s added a fireplace and dropped the ceilings 18 inches. We ripped down the dropped ceiling which consisted of sheet rock and fiberglass ceiling tiles. The plaster ceiling of the old porch was painted swimming pool blue.

I did a little research to find out why porch ceilings were painted blue. The most obvious explanation is that blue resembles the sky and the porch sitter had the impression of sitting “en plein air”. Explanations included the color blue prevents flies from landing and wasps from building nests or keeps away evil spirits. The original paint color of the outside of the house was a faint sherbet green. The house, built in 1863, was originally heated with pot belly stoves; a stove pipe ran from the basement to the top floor. One of the upstairs bedrooms (Shane’s room) has a 10 inch hole cut in the floor for the stove pipe. We never patched it – the children loved to hide things down the hole. So when we removed the ceiling under the hole, we were bombarded with balls, Barbie doll shoes, American girl doll accessories, match box toys, keys, coins, Legos and to our surprise, a pink bra. The large pink bra fluttered to the floor. Tom picked it up and said, “Where did this vinyl bra come from? “ When Shane came home from school, we showed him all of the treasures that rained from the ceiling, including the bra. He blushed and explained that during a sleepover, his friend dared him to steal Katey’s bra from her underwear drawer. When they heard someone coming, they stuffed the bra down the hole. When Katey came home from school she identified it as her bra but explained carefully to her aghast father that the fabric is lycra not vinyl. She admonished her brother (I will withheld what she said to him) and threw the bra in the wash. When we removed the fireplace, we hoped to find something interesting like old newspapers or an old coin or two but certainly not a “vinyl” bra.

The liner from the fireplace we ripped out is in good shape and free for the taking. It is next to the road.

In search of another Perfect Intern
Susannah, the farm’s amazing intern and supreme skunk catcher left the day before Thanksgiving and returned home to the Chicago area. Many of you met Susannah at the farmers markets in Callicoon or Oneonta or during turkey slaughter and sales. She is returning this spring for another farm adventure. We are delighted to have her back. Susannah is helping us find another perfect intern. We received over 20 applications and chose six that we will interview next week. I am amazed at the diversity of people who applied for the internship. Applicants included a 30 something mother of toddlers who had not thought through who would watch her toddlers while she was working, a late twenties derivatives trader who listed food allergies, spine injuries and heart problems as “minor” issues for us to work around and the young man who, in his cover letter, described himself as hard working, responsible and innovative. He sounded wonderful until we got to the baggage he was bringing with him – a girlfriend, two German shepherds and three cats. The applicant who wins the “not” prize was the young woman who had been recently diagnosed with agoraphobia and suffers from such intense anxiety attacks that she has work and live without human contact. We are interviewing this week so if you know of anyone we should add to the resume pile, please have them contact us. Susannah is going to help build the cabins for the interns. Tumbleweed Tiny House Company makes great plans for tiny houses on wheels – a sophisticated version of the laying wagon we have for the hens. It will be fun to design and build the cabins.


Hitting Bottom with Bottom Round
How many different ways can you prepare chuck roast or bottom round? We have a lot of bottom round roasts that have been in the freezer for over a year. While they are perfectly good, we cannot sell them to the public. So we have been eating a lot of bottom round and chuck roast this winter. We have about 40 pounds left and I have hit bottom with ideas of how to cook and serve it. Bottom round has to be slow cooked in a Dutch oven or crock pot so my creative cooking juices may be hampered by the limited cooking method. This week I am putting 5 lbs in the crock pot and cooking it until it falls apart, shredding it and smothering it with BBQ sauce and serving with coleslaw and homemade crispy turnip chips. Recipe ideas for bottom round are welcomed.

The next Second Saturday Supper is February 13th. The cost is $28 per person and reservations are required. The menu is:

winter greens salad with blue cheese and poached pear vinaigrette

sirloin loaf
garlic mashed potatoes with mushroom rosemary gravy

winter fruit crisp with spiced calvados cream.