Monday, December 19, 2011

Winter Days Ahead and Current Thoughts

Only a few more days until the Winter Solstice. Can't wait for it so the days will begin to get longer. It is frosty and freezy today - 7 degrees last night. 

The Farmer has been getting the lambing barn ready. It won't be long until there will be new babies. This cold weather is great for lambing because the ground is frozen (he calls it poor man's cement) and the lambs do better when there isn't much moisture in the ground. Snow is much better than rain. I'll keep you all posted.

We've been selling lots of our pasture raised lamb. It's nice to think that local folks will be enjoying the products of our farm as the centerpiece of their holiday meal. If you are local-ish, I've got two different "meat-ups" scheduled -

In Greenfield on Wednesday evening from 5:30 to 6:00.
You must call or email to place an order. Cash, check or credit card payments accepted. See this post for more information. I will be bringing recipes or you can look at them on my lamb recipe blog.

There have been many interesting comments over on the Webs FaceBook Page about the "meat-up." I thank Kathy and Steve for helping me out with this and supporting local agriculture. They didn't have to. Kathy's comment to me was this - "We are all in this together and if I can help out your farm and family, then I am happy to." 

We are sheep farmers here and no matter what many knitters may want to believe, the major product of the majority of sheep farms is lamb meat, not wool. I went into this sheep farming thing as a knitter and fiber lover 31 years ago. For me, sheep were those cute litttle fluffy animals that grazed green pastures. I knit with their wool and spun their fiber. I understand where some of these people are coming from. I had those same rose colored glasses.

My partner in this farming life - The Farmer - grew up on a working dairy farm. His eyes were open to what living on a farm was all about because he grew up with life and death all around him as a small child. He learned to slaughter a chicken as a small boy. On a dairy farm, cows come and go and it is just part of it all. When we bought our first four sheep, he talked to me about what would happen with the ram lambs. I chose not to listen.

Kristin + Mark - early 1980's
I was in for a rude awakening - not a bad one, just a different kind of one. I grew up not really thinking about where my food came from. My parents were passionate gardeners but we did not live where livestock was common, nor even allowed. My dad was first generation German and he always purchased the meat we ate from "The German Butcher." As a kid, liverwurst, beet salad, herring salad, sauerkraurt, rolaten, sauerbraten - all traditional German foods were part of our family heritage and I loved it all. Daddy used to talk about the farm his grandparents had in Rockaway, NJ, where the current Morris Hills High School is now. He spent summers on the farm and had memories of the pigs his grandparents raised and ate. He used to tell about the day the traveling butcher would come to the farm and the pig would be slaughtered. Then his grandparents would smoke and preserve the meat for the winter ahead. I was not oblivious to the whole process of farm to table. But I was uneducated, as most kids were in the 1960's. 

We have 3 rams who service our 250 breeding ewes. That's it - THREE. This January and February, we will probably have 400 plus lambs born. Most likely half of them will be boys. We don't need them because 
a. We only need our 3 big boys.
b. They are genetically related to the ewes and lambs that are on the farm. Inbreeding is not something you strive for on a farm. It happens sometimes but it isn't good most of the time. There's a reason you shouldn't marry your cousin.
The January boys will become our lamb crop of 2012 which we sell as meat to our meat-eating customers (many call themselves "recovering vegetarians"). And sometimes we also harvest the females, depending on their size.

Here's the thing now where I have a bone to pick with some of the "fiber farms" who are marketing and selling their wool to knitters who have dreams of Utopia. On those farms, babies are born and most likely, half of those babies are girls and half are boys. Unless these farmers want to castrate all of those boys and keep feeding them all their lives just to keep their wool, those boys will all go away and become part of the food chain. It is not financially feasible to keep every boy born on a sheep farm just for fun. I know Paul and Linda McCartney did but we aren't all rock stars. Most fiber farms do not talk about this, most likely so they will not offend their knitting and fiber customers. Talk about continuing the rose colored glasses phenomenom. I know many knitters do not want to think about this. They want to think of sheep as cute fluffy creatures living out their lives in some kind of Utopian Eden (just like I used to). But it just is not that way. Animals live and die - some of natural causes but most at slaughterhouses. 

I think it is time that knitters look at sheep for the animals they are - producers of meat and wool but also producers of bones, lanolin, sheepskins, leather, intestinal casings for violin strings, collagen (plastic surgery, anyone), gelatin, buttons from bones, pet food, and darn good manure machines for fertilizing fields and gardens. Sheep are amazingly useful and beautiful creatures who can turn an overgrown hillside into a lush green piece of pasture in a year's time with continual rotation. There is a reason that nomadic cultures still wander the world with their bands of sheep and that they still have a sacrificial lamb for celebrations. Did you know that lamb is the second most popular meat in the world, behind goat meat? 

As sheep farmers, we treat our animals as good as possible while they live on our farm. When they are grown and ready to go, we take them to a slaughterhouse where they are treated humanely until the end. I know this because I help load the truck and go with The Farmer when I have time. I have been on the killing floor and I know what happens. I know how the animal lives and how it dies. I needed to know this so that I can honestly sell our lamb to our customers.

I think there is such a disconnect with most people about the source of the meat they buy at the grocery store on a piece of styrofoam wrapped in plastic. Most Americans want to eat meat. In fact, I bet many American families have meat almost every evening at dinner and many probably eat meat for lunch too. I have no problem with people who chose to not eat meat. It is everyone's choice. I too was a vegetarian for a few years. That is perfectly fine. But please meat-eating people and knitters..... think about how the animal you are eating was raised and how it died so that you could consume their flesh before you say ewwww to the farm family who is doing things right. 

Things are getting better - books like Omnivore's Dilemma, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Righteous Porkchop, Compassionate Carnivore, Food Matters, Folks, This Ain't Normal, The Grass Fed Gourmet, The River Cottage Meat Book, are being published by major publishing houses. There is a major trend going on with people making their own charcuterie and cooking offal. The interesting thing is that the people who are cooking odd bits and into butchering and charcuterie are very similar people to those who are passionate knitters. They have chosen a different passion though - cooking meat and knowing all about it. I am sure there is a bit of cross-over (see friend Janice's blog, a former yarn shop owner). Food for thought for this day before the big holiday.


gale (she shoots sheep shots) said...

Not true Kristin- you ARE a rock star to me (and many of us!).
Excellent post--and absolutely love the vintage photo.
Happy holidays!

Sally said...

Yep! Gale is right. Rock on Kristin! I love the picture of you and The Farmer.

Anonymous said...

This is what we need to hear--- thanks for giving us the full story!,

Erin said...

Great post! Thank you! Reality is never easy to look at staight on, is it? We are such a sheltered and pampered people, compared to generations past.
Modern convienences bring along their own evils. Just the other day, my friend and I were talking about how daily life had built-in stress relievers, like chopping wood, and mucking out stalls. Today, most people have to go to the gym to destress, or they end up on meds. It is so backwards.

Cheryl said...

Thank you! We are looking for a farm ourselves right now, and my son wants to raise goats. We've spent some serious time talking about what the goats will DO on our farm, because everyone will have to pull their weight!

I am very interested to hear about your experiences, particularly with regard to the slaughter. It sounds to me like you treat the animal well until he fulfills the purpose of his life, which is to become someone's meal. That is great and exactly as it should be. I am looking forward to having cattle that I know and love and then care for up to the moment they become my steak dinner. More humane, truly, than turning our backs because the cattle pens at the slaughterhouses are so awful.

Auntie Shan said...

Oooo! Look at You 2 looking like the "Cover" of some Yarn Mag! ;-D

And THANK YOU, for Your support of THE FOOD CHAIN!

As well as the "educational" bits... I love THAT about This Blog! They "felt" up the gaps in the tapestry of my general Knowledge. :-D When the opportunity arises, I will be sure to pass IT on...


meppybn said...

Well said, Kristin, very well said, indeed! This is the reality of the business and a lot of people are ignorantly judging of it. One blogger even complained of the price of yarn going up and in essence blamed greedy farmers!!!! Total ignorant of economics....I was left speechless (and quickly left her blog!)
Merry Christmassy blessings to you and yours this season and look forward to (l)brighter days ahead.

Susan said...

Good post! We raise sheep primarily because of the wool (I'm a spinner), but also sell freezer lambs. And, of course, we eat our own lamb, chicken and sometimes pork. People ask me how I can eat something I've raised and I ask them how they can eat something that they have no idea how/where it was raised!

Anonymous said...

thank you Kristin for a very information and nuturing article. i buy local meat and chicken as i want to support the care local farmers take with their animals. you and the farmer have a wonderful philosophy and i appreciate you sharing your journey.


Anne P said...

Thank you Kristin for this informative post!

Janis said...

Great post! Happy holidays and much love. Need another lamb sooooon!

Willow said...

Kristin, This is a post more people need to read and understand. So few modern Westerners understand where their chicken fillet sandwich or Big Mac coems from. If they did, they'd be better stewards of the animals they eat.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

Anonymous said...

Couldn't have said it better myself! We also raise some of our own meat and our kids have learned to help. (my youngest once wrote about how we process Thanksgiving dinner for a third grade essay!) Folks who shudder but still eat meat just don't get it. Thanks for sharing the reality.

mn_bird said...

Very well said!!! If I lived closer, I would have purchased lamb from you.

Jennifer said...

Great post Kristin! I also applaud smaller farmers like you. These ginormous corporate farms scare me to pieces.

laura balsley said...

What a heartfelt note you have written.. This was very well said!!
Laura B.

Vermont Grand View Farm said...

An excellent article Kristin-Our family has a small fiber farm in VT. I often have yarn customers who say they do not want to support a fiber farm that sells their lambs for meat. I am constantly trying to educate them about the realities of farm-raised meat vs. feed lot meat. Every June-we sell our ram lambs to local farms who offer meat CSA shares to their customers. They take them at weaning and raise them on their property for their customers. On occasion,a neighbor will buy one to raise for their own family. So this is one fiber farm who agrees with you 100%! Thank you for putting into words what so many need to hear.

Cindy in Happy Valley said...

I'm an ongoing lurker Kristin and I think this post is right on the money. We are way too romantic about our "food chain". I have a BS in agriculture (though I don't practice) and I long ago decided that treating animals compassionately, but for the ultimate good of humankind is the way to go.

Best wishes on your lambing season!

Leticia said...

Awesome post!!

knitski said...

If you have not watched the movie call SweetGrass do. You can get it from netflix and it will remove all the ideal sheep grazing knitting concepts one has!

I commend you on your post and enjoyed reading it. So many people just don't understand where their food comes from at all . . .

Have a wonderful Christmas!