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Aug 20 / Michael

Finishing Cow and Goat Skulls

Almost two years ago we got a bull to breed our girls.  Turned out that one of our girls (“Bossy Mama”) was mean to him and nearly ran him off, so she ended up at the butcher that very week.  (You can read more about that in our Where’s the Beef? post.)  When we got her skull back, we hung it in the woods with a couple of goat skulls.

First, a bit of eye bleach, some recent spoils of the garden.

Spoils of the Garden

We realize that some of these images may be disturbing to our visitors, so we’re making the “worst” of them hidden by default, click to reveal if you wish…


This is the fresh skull, with skin removed.

Hanging in a tree.

The rest of the images aren’t too bad, so we’ll go ahead and show them.

After two years it looked like this and we needed to figure out something to do with the skulls.  We decided to clean and whiten them.  We’d thought about using chlorine bleach, but then after some research decided to use hydrogen peroxide, as described on BoneLust.

Cow skull after 2 years

Cow skull after 2 years

Here’s the cow skull with the three goat skulls we were also processing.

Cow and goat skulls

Jamie sorted through the random bones (jaws, etc).

Sorting the cow and goat bones

And M helped with the water.

Filling the bucket

We’re going to leave them to fester in a bucket of water for at least a couple of weeks. Then we’ll finish them in a hydrogen peroxide bath to whiten them.

Random cow and goat bones

The whole skulls are in a big blue bucket, with the top sealed by a garbage bag. I can only imagine the foulness in there.

Cow and goat heads stewing

Check back in a couple weeks where we hope to show the finished skulls.

Here’s another “cute” image, our resident garden spider.

Spider in the Garden

Jul 25 / Michael

Ducks Finally Back on the Pond

Last year, we got some ducks for the pond after a couple years without any (bad winters and predator issues), but they didn’t make it.  I didn’t do a good job acclimating them to their new house and the pond.  It was a difficult loss.

This year, I decided to put things right.  I got some ducklings and raised them in an enclosure.  When the time came to put them on the pond, I made an another enclosure off the back of their house so they really couldn’t go anywhere.  At the very start, the front (by the pond) was closed, so they only had the house and the run.

Duck run

Once they’d figured out that they could go back and forth into their house, which took a couple weeks, I opened up the front side with a ramp down to the water. Last time, I didn’t contain the ducks well and teach them where their new home was, so this time I was very cautious. I made a fenced area in the pond. They could get down to the water and back up to the house using a ramp.

Ducks on the pond

After another couple weeks, I removed the fence from the water, and the ducks were on the pond and knew where their home was.  They were so happy and we were happy to have ducks back on the pond after a couple years without.

Ducks on the pond

Note: the water is pretty low here.  When the pond is full, the water will go to just under the house and the ramp will mostly be submerged.

Ducks on the pond

Ducks on the pond

Also, last night we had a gentle rain come through.  It created the brightest, most gorgeous double rainbow we’d ever seen.  It hovered over the orchard and was so beautiful.

Double rainbow above the orchard

Jun 14 / Jamie

Growth

It is the middle of June and one of my most favorite times on the farm.  We have so many new creatures and the garden is really coming to life.  We have been eating fresh greens for weeks and even had a few cherries today.  It is just a small sampling go the bounty that is to come.

First, we have to tell you about our amazing new kitten, Willow.  She is sweet and playful and lovely.  She is an indoor-only cat for a while but soon enough we hope she is hanging out with us outside on the farm.

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We also got our pigs last weekend. The are named Ham and Bacon and seem to be enjoying the pigs life. Laying in the sun, rooting in the dirt, and eating everything that goes in their trough.

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We have baby chicks and baby ducks and baby rabbits and they are all doing really well. Our little lamb Snowflake is outside full time and has been weaned from her bottle. She still hasn’t joined the sheep flock yet but that’s okay.

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One of the best parts of June is all of the plant growth. The greens are in full-swing and many of the end-of-summer crops are just beginning.

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May 2 / Michael

Spring Blossoms

Flowers and our orchard are blossoming and the pollinators are busy at work.  The dwarf apricot trees (Stark® SweetHeart™) are some of the earliest and prettiest.  This is one of my favorite times of year.

Spring Flowers

Spring Flowers

Spring Flowers

Spring Flowers

Spring Flowers

Spring Flowers

Apr 29 / Jamie

A House Lamb

We experienced a bit of a surprise.  A few weeks ago during morning chores, I heard some baaing out in the field.  Our two lambs were in the barn, so this was unusual.  It turned out that our yearling ewe had given birth to a single tiny lamb.  We had been checking her and didn’t think she was bred, but she was.  We put mother and baby in a hay stall in the barn and spent four days trying to get the pair bonded.  The ewe would let her lamb nurse as long as we stood in the stall, but if we moved away, she would head butt her until she stopped.

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So, we brought the lamb into the house.  The kids named her Snowflake and our dog Elsa immediately took to all of the motherly duties like cleaning her bottom and making sure she ate enough.  It has been a cool spring, so we have let the lamb sleep in the house at night.  Snowflake is adorable and growing very quickly.  She has been the most pleasant surprise.

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Mar 22 / Jamie

Omnivore on Land

Jamie gave a talk at the University of Connecticut based on her experiences as both a psychologist and a farmer. This was part of the UConn Reads & Global Learning Community discussion series on the book Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Jamie recorded this version of her 25 minute talk so we could post in on our blog. Enjoy!

Feb 22 / Michael

Snow Days

We’ve had quite the winter.  Living in eastern Connecticut, we’re on track for one of the snowiest winters of all time.  The last 30-days have been one of the snowiest every, anywhere in the US and February is on track to be the coldest month since records started being kept.  In late January, right after our first lambs of the year were born, we were hit by a massive blizzard (the first snow of the season).  That was January 27th.  Since then we’ve had “record” snowfalls 3 or 4 more times and are on track for the snowiest winter ever, with total snowfall for the year approaching 100 inches. The kids haven’t even had a full week of school since January 12th.

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Normally I move the snow around with my tractor, but since the weather got cold the hydraulics (which operate the bucket loader) hadn’t been working right – after the first blizzard the hydraulics didn’t work at all.  Jamie and I started trying to shovel the driveway (all ~200 feet of it).  Jamie had to get into work the next day and neither car was movable.  Luckily we got it good enough get the truck down to the bottom of the driveway and called it a night (there was still probably a foot of snow on the driveway).

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At 10:30 at night, I hear a truck in the driveway. My friend who does snow removal brought his plow over and cleared our driveway.  He’d heard we had tractor problems and really saved the day.  We had another storm and I finally started getting serious about fixing the tractor hydraulics.  The dealer suggested it might be a clog in the filter or intake strainer.  Sure enough, after draining the hydraulic oil and replacing the filter, cleaning the strainer and putting in 10 gallons of clean oil, it worked like a charm.

Now it’s fairly easy to move the snow around (this was from our latest snowfall, a dusting).

It hasn’t been all bad though.

Elsa loves the snow. She’s sitting on at least a couple feet of snowpack.

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The kids have loved the snow mountains.

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And we were able to go to a friend who’d made a tubing course in their back yard.

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Jan 29 / Jamie

The Calm After the Storm

Things have been relatively quiet here the past month.  We had an incredibly relaxing Christmas and New Year’s.  We stayed home for the holidays this year and had a small celebration with my parents.  We also got to spend a lot of time with friends and getting out to some local sights (Roger Williams Zoo, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston).  Up until this past week, the winter weather had also been relatively quiet.  There were even some days that approached 60 during the holiday break.

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This week, that all changed.  We got a substantial blizzard on Tuesday, dropping the highest snow total that we have had since living here on our farm (close to 30 inches with drifts over 5 feet).  I was particularly concerned about this storm as we have two ewes that looked due to lamb any day.  Thankfully, Frances waited until this morning to drop another set of twins–a boy and a girl.  It was bitterly cold, but at least it was sunny.

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When I got to the barn this morning, I could see her in there with one lamb.  We had closed the sheep into the barn for the duration of the blizzard.  I got the other sheep out into their other stall and fed everyone.  Frances had been huge, so I expected two lambs.  After a minute, I thought I heard something.  Sure enough, the other lamb had already been born and had managed to crawl behind a board in the barn, wedging itself into a corner.  It took me a few panicked moments to get her out.  She was wet and cold, but once I put her with her momma, she started to perk right up.  We made one of our hay-stalls and put the mother and two lambs into it along with a bucket of water, some hay, and some grain.  We have been out every few hours to check on everyone and each time, both lambs have been up and nursing.  Their father is our ram Rorschach who had also been born in a snow storm a few years ago and survived on his own for a good six hours during a snow storm.  There is no question that this is some hardy stock.  I expect for Cameo to lamb sometime in the next few weeks.

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Dec 15 / Jamie

Christmas Confections

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We are in full-on holiday mode right now!  We got our tree the day after Thanksgiving and have been decorating the house and making things merry.

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Yesterday we spent the entire day with our friend Amanda making all sorts of confections.  We followed the same recipes we used in this post from 2011 and added in a few new treats.  And just in case anyone has any illusions that our children are perfect little elves, if you could hear the background in these pictures you would get to listen in on sibling arguments, Mario Kart, and a whole stream of Taylor Swift videos playing on YouTube.  We really are people who make big messes and sometimes have short tempers, but when it is all said and done, we have a lot of laughs and share a lot of love.  We are also really good at cleaning things up.  We think it is all worth the cost.

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We started out making marshmallows.  They are always a favorite and come out so good.  We wrapped them in parchment paper and they look like Christmas Crackers.

Next we made fudge that we actually cooked too long and it was crumbly.  So, we turned some of it into fudgy cake truffles that turned out beautifully and added the rest to a batch of granola.  We made a second batch of fudge that was perfect.

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We made two kinds of almonds, candied and spiced.  They always come out so well.  We also made peanut brittle, something we have been doing for the past 15 years.

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Two new things we added were bacon caramels and peppermint bark.  All in all it was a great day and we can’t wait to share these delicious treats with friends and family :)
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Nov 25 / Jamie

End to Another Growing Season

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We have wrapped up our harvest for 2014.  In every aspect, this was the most productive year we have ever had.  The garden was incredible, we got a ton of fruit from the orchard, and our meat yields were the best yet.  We finished up with all of the vegetable and fruit harvest by the end of September and then turned to getting the animals culled, processed, and put in the freezer.  Here is where things stand.

We currently have four cows.  The two mothers (Sweet One and her daughter Buttermilk) and the two calves.  They are getting really big and the female will go to the butcher around this time next year.  We will keep the male and let him breed back to the two mothers and then he will go to the butcher the next year.  We still have plenty of beef in the freezer from last year, so we should be set.

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We are down to six sheep which is the fewest we have had in a while.  Back in August we lost one of our lambs to a predator (probably a large cat, not exactly sure).  A few weeks ago we took three sheep to the butcher.  We culled our Leicester Longwool ewe Clementine.  She was six years old and has had some minor hoof problems that have been around for a while despite our efforts to treat them.  She was also our only sheep left that needed to be shorn twice/year.  We kept one of her daughters to replace her (a LL and CVM cross) and took her other daughter in to the butcher as well for lamb.  We also took our wether Barnie.  They all dressed out beautifully and we will be sending the pelts out for tanning.  So, we have our two CVM ewes, Francis and Cameo; our CVM rams Rorschach and Francis’ son; Dash, our wether who was orphaned and slept in our house; and the little ewe lamb who we haven’t named yet.  Both rams are very sweet and we are hoping that at least the CVM ewes are bred.

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We took both pigs to the butcher.  Their hanging weights were 238lbs and 255lbs which is the heaviest pigs we have had.  Usually we keep a little less than one pig’s worth of meat and do shares of the rest.  Since we didn’t do pigs last year, we keep almost all of the pork.  I am making stock right now from the heads and feet which will be perfect for making bean soups all winter.  We will definitely raise pigs again next summer.

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We have zero turkeys.  We ended up with three this year, after starting with six poults.  Friends came over last weekend with their two turkeys and we had a butchering day party (they then took two sheep back with them to use as lawn mowers and for fiber and meat).  We had two toms, each weighing in at 29lbs and a hen that was 18lbs and will be our Thanksgiving dinner.  I pieced both males and froze the meat and made stock from the bones.  It was the thickest stock I have ever made, they had a lot of good fat.

We have about 16 chickens.  We lost a few to some sort of predator.  Elsa has them well trained to stay in the bush right next to the coop.  She actually gets really agitated if they leave it and will round them back up.  It is funny to watch.

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We have five rabbits.  Two American Chincilla does and a buck and two Silver Fox does.  We put a good 15+ rabbits in the freezer this fall and likely won’t breed them again until very late winter.

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We still have a thriving hive of bees but didn’t get enough honey in the supers to make it worth the trouble of collecting.  We still have plenty of honey from last year.

There are still pockets of green in the garden.  Some kale, chard, parsley, etc.  At this point I will probably just give it to the animals as treats.

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What an incredible year 2014 has been.  We are excited for the holidays and a chance to take a break from producing and processing food to eating and enjoying time with friends and family.

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