Making hay (and chickens, lambs, and strawberry pie) while the sun shines
Our meat chickens arrived plucked and gutted at 8am yesterday morning -
I must be getting a "farmer's stomach" as the sight of eight flaccid, raw birds on my breakfast table didn't put me off my morning coffee. I drank my coffee while I wrapped the chickens ready for the freezer.
Strawberry season is here and I headed off to the local Pick-Your-Own, on the grounds of an 800 year old Cistercian Monastery. I've stocked the freezer, and had enough to make a strawberry and rhubarb pie. The English don't have a culinary history of fruit pies. If you say "pie" to an Englishman, he thinks steak and some kind of offal or stinking cheese. I'm trying to right that wrong. This pie is guaranteed offal-free and I'm teaching Mike to eat it for breakfast. After tasting the pie, he claims he's converted. Well, monks once lived where the strawberries grew, so I guess a religious experience was inevitable.
The cooking kept me occupied until it was time to collect my new ewes. I wrestled the sheep trailer onto the truck (it's all about leverage) and drove to Mr. Baker's Farm.
This is Mr. Baker -
Mr. Baker farms cattle and sheep. He's always got a smile, and a sensible answer to my never ending questions. And infinite patience for my never ending questions. He was late getting back for his supper because we were "talking sheep". Sheep talk is very serious stuff. You can tell how serious by the look of concentration on my face. We're checking his notes to calculate when my ewes are due to lamb -
And looking over the three rams, discussing their conformation and reproductive prowess -
Here we are examining a lame ewe's foot -
Mr. Baker gave me a quick sheep anatomy lesson using his willing victim. Did you know that sheep have sweat glands on the front of their ankles? And by their teats? I guess I'd sweat too if I had to wear a wool body stocking all year round.
Mr. Baker had my ewes in a box on the back of his tractor, which he just backed up to my trailer-
The ewes simply stepped from one into the other. I wondered if it would be so easy when we unloaded them at the other end. After all, we didn't have a canine back-up plan -
Mike's helpful but he's not as well trained as this pair.
The ewes were sheared last week. Mr. Baker saved me their fleece, which is soaking in the bath as I write this.
Look at these beauties, ready for their ride back to Dorset -
Just before we left, I noticed a collection of old horseshoes on a nearby wall. Mr. Baker says his plough is forever turning them up in the soil. I know from experience horses lose shoes for a past time, but this collection was a visual reminder of the history inherent in his land and the days before tractors. When horsepower meant horse power.
From my museum days, I recognised the age of some of the examples. At least one was over 300 years old. On the way home, I asked Mike how long Mr. Baker had been farming there.
"Oh, it's a new farm. He's only been there 40 years" Mike said.
"How is 40 years not a long time?" I said
"I mean it's not been farmed by his family for generations." Mike said
British people have a difference concept of what constitutes history than Americans do. At least we agreed that the Cistercians monks were pretty damn historical.
We got our new ewes home and I eventually backed the trailer into the narrow lane leading to their paddock (thank god for the "Learn to Reverse your Trailer" course at the local agric college.) There was still 10 feet between the back of the trailer and the paddock gate. That's a lot of room for a sheep to misbehave. I crossed my fingers and dropped the ramp on the trailer. The ewes walked right in with only a little arm waving on our parts.
My orphans ran at the newcomers, and bleated a group welcome. A bit of sniffing and they all walked off in a gang -
When I'm not playing sheep rodeo or jabbing myself with vaccine, this shepherding gig isn't as hard as I thought. According to my Old Farmer's Almanac, the gestation period for a ewe is about 150 days. My two new arrivals are already a month or so into their pregnancies. This gives me four months to figure out where I'm going to build a temporary lambing shed in my backyard.
At least I know we'll be able to feed them. We just had Milkweed Farm baled and we harvested 478 bales-
That's about average for this hot and dry summer. In a good year we can expect 900 bales. If we'd only collected ten bales, I would have been excited. We kept the hay we needed and sold the rest to the contractor to pay for the work. He will store our bales as well. This crop saves us the cost of our biggest winter feed bill. More importantly, this winter our own home bred lambs will be eating our own home grown organic hay. It's a good start.