Musings on the birth of a calf, castrations gone wrong, feeding our future and ice cream, a lot of ice cream.
July started hot and sweet. We decided there was one puzzle piece missing in our lives still, and that piece had the shape of a sweet jersey family cow. We picked up the very pregnant Georgi from a small Vermont dairy farm we admire, and brought her home right to the pasture around the tent we live in.
We had five days of sweet talking, creating friendship through handsful of alfalfa pellets and training her to come when we call. Then one hot morning she stuck to a corner of her daily paddock, had that inward vibe about her that took me back to my own pre-labor walk in that very same pasture, and got back up again an hour later licking a little wet creature into a perfect heifer calf. Our 4 year old named her Emma, after a little dairy farm girl he is slightly too shy to play with.
Life hasn’t felt the same since. The days start and end with the soothing ritual of calling Georgi and Emma to the stanchion. If we find Emma laying in the shade, heavy and milk drunk, we know we go back home with very little milk. Other times we fill jar after jar, impatiently wait until the cream settles and we can dedicate ourselves to the actual reason I longed for a cow; ice cream. The daily milking, that became Dan’s meditative start of the day, and my winding down in the evenings, bring a rhythm to our days that does us all so well.
The sheep and goats have been thriving regardless of the relentless heat this month of July. We move the whole flock/herd (may I say..flerd?) every three to four days to a fresh area, always including dry ditches full of willows and large rose bushes to find shelter under. What to some might seem like imperfect pastures full of weeds, in reality is a diverse system that pollinators, wildlife, grasses and our own animals thrive by.
Underneath a thick rosebush hide a variety of grasses that are lush and growing even during the hottest times. The willows form forage for the goats, a hide out during a summer storm and a place for a ewe to drop her lambs for a nap while she keeps grazing. Our bees are filling up our hives with the richest, most diverse honey by foraging on thistle flower, goldenrod, rose, milkweeds, black eyed susan, and so much more.
We get to snack on black caps and wild red raspberries while setting up fences, and pick clover and thistle flowers to make vinegar, use the wild grape vines for fermenting and wild bee balm to flavor our ice cream. These wild meadows are home to deer and their fawns, so many birds that birdwatchers consider it a hotspot and more types of insects I’ll ever learn the names of. These fields are wild and diverse sources of life, and we love them that way.
Perennial Gardens and Volunteers
During previous years we’ve had many volunteers and WWOOFER’s stay with us, learn and help out at the farm. This summer due to COVID we thought of taking a break, but somehow three amazing people found their way to the farm.
Jake came full of excitement and knowledge about perennial plantings, set up a large hazelnut patch and started a rasp-/black-/blue- and red native mulberry nursery on the back porch. Tailor came to plant seeds, weed the berry patch and learn about bees for a few days and brought so much joy with him. Charlotte reminded me of myself right before I started farming; endless energy and wonder, the hunger to learn every single thing about growing, eating and preserving, and utterly falling in love with life emerged in nature. She designed the most beautiful label for our honey that we could have imagined, soon to be admired and purchased in our online store or on the farm! The fruit of their labor will show in the decades to come with the growth of our perennial garden, harvests of hazelnuts and berries all summer long.
Weaning Time and Tender Hearts
Finally, the past week was one where we started weaning some of the male lambs and goat kids. I’ve started farming and became a mother right at the same time, so I don’t know a thing about animal husbandry without a tender, overemphatic, some might say occasionally anthropomorphizing heart. Weaning time is tough for that heart, even though both mothers and lambs seemed pretty stoic about the sudden separation.
We used a burdizzo to castrate part of the lambs this year (they start showing interest in the ewes with 3.5 months, and in order to avoid early weaning or a complete hormonal driven fighting and breeding chaos, castration is inevitable), but didn’t have a 100% success rate. So with a knot in my belly (overemphatic me) we brought the fertile kids to spend the rest of the summer with their loving dad (anthropomorphizing me), and peace in the pasture was restored.
In between all of this we squeezed some dips in the river, cooked lamb in all different ways we could think of, loved living in a tent and worked until dark every day. A pretty complete July, I’d say.
*More daily pictures can be found here.