Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rooster talk: Predator alert or photo op?

The other day, David and I ran outside when we heard an aerial-predator-alarm call from our roosters. I don't know how to describe this exactly, but we've started to discern some subtle differences in this kind of alert. This time, our first reaction was that it must be a big bird coming in low overhead. Sure enough, we got outside just in time to see a pair of golden eagles cruising low overhead (the first one we saw wasn't much more than 50 feet up).

They were enormous, amazing, beautiful birds, and it was the first time we've seen golden eagles here, although we've had a lot of bald eagles around in the past year or so. Silly me, I had run outside without my video camera. David said to me later that for birders like us, the roosters' alarm calls can be helpful in letting us know not just that there's a potential predator in the vicinity, but that it might turn out to be a rare opportunity to see something like a golden eagle. (Golden eagles usually are higher up in the mountains than our place, which is at about 1000 feet.)

As I said, there seem to be some variations in the aerial-predator call. I'm going to try to get some recordings of these calls one of these days. In the meantime, I must remember to grab my camera next time I hear our helpful little roosters give the head's-up.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Slaughter v. Harvest

We have been asked recently why we continue to use the term "slaughter" in favor of the current trend toward using other terms such as "harvest" to describe the killing of farm animals raised for food. It's a somewhat tricky question, as we don't wish to offend anyone or seem to be passing judgment on their choice of terminology. I'll just say that there are definite reasons we choose to say "slaughter;" please hear me out and know that I respect your choice, whatever it may be.

First, the Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions. Harvest: (1) The act or process of gathering in a crop; (2) to gather, catch, hunt or kill (as salmon, oysters, or deer) for human use, sport, or population control. Slaughter: To kill (animals) for food.

Do you see the distinction? "Harvest," by the second definition, is clearly referring to wild animals, those "caught" or "hunted" as opposed to those specifically raised for food. Also, we feel that using "harvest" in the context of killing chickens or turkeys for food (vaguely grouping this process with "gathering in a crop") is frankly euphemistic.

Our position, then, is simply that we feel more comfortable using the term "slaughter." If you prefer to use "harvest," please do let me know; I am interested in your point of view and the reasons for your preference. I think it would be a good topic to have a discussion about.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New Year! I am back....

Hi there! I hope you all enjoyed the holiday season. After being down with a nasty 'flu for a couple of weeks (during which I couldn't be bothered even to check my e-mail, never mind find the energy to write on this blog), I am back! I've got a lot to talk about, too, so look out for more posts than usual this month.

You might think that January is some kind of off-season for farmers, full of short days and long winter naps. The days are certainly short (although already noticeably longer), so we need to maximize our daylight-hour efforts. We've had some cold weather lately, with several days in a row last week where the daytime high temperature didn't even reach freezing. On those days we spend a lot of time just making sure the animals' drinkers are kept thawed. Luckily we haven't had much snow lately, as that adds another degree of difficulty to the daily chores.

We also are racing the clock to get firewood in every day. Some recent high-wind activity brought down some trees on our property, and my husband David has been keeping quite busy locating, cutting up, and hauling them out of the woods. It's nice when the trees come down right next to the road, but more often we end up having to haul the rounds out by wheelbarrow (sometimes a sled), so it can get to be time-consuming. The payoff, besides the extra exercise, is that our house stays nice and cozy even when the temperatures drop down into the teens or lower.

Today the big project is getting the pigs moved into new paddocks. Even the newest pigs (the Three Little Pigs) are big enough at 4 months old that they have reduced their current paddock to mud in a short time. It's helped that lately the ground has been, for the most part, frozen; it's easier to walk around in their yard without getting stuck. The downside is that the pigs can't do much rooting, which is pretty much their favorite thing to do. They also do better when they have the variety in their diet that pasture crops provide. Part of their new paddock will include access to a wooded area. I'm hoping they'll find some truffles....

Speaking of pasture crops, I've spent the better part of the last two days doing some intensive planning and research about various grains, grasses and legumes. Since it seems that we will be continuing to raise pigs, it's becoming necessary for us to develop a good plan for sustainable rotation of grazing pastures. It's a lot of work because I'm relatively new to this, but at the same time it's exciting; the "big picture" of the future of our farm is starting to take shape, on paper at least. It will be up to us to make it a reality, starting this winter.

The egg production is up dramatically over the past couple of weeks, and we should be easily able to keep up with the Alder Wood Bistro's needs when they re-open the first week of February (they close for vacation every year in January). Our two older pigs are scheduled to be slaughtered on January 21, and we will be teaching several people how to break down the pigs into chops and roasts. We will also be starting another round of curing prosciutto, pancetta, lardo, culatello, guanciale, and several kinds of sausage (all without nitrates, of course).

Other stuff coming up: Before long, I will be starting some seedlings in the greenhouse, a task that I look forward to every year. Recently I have been learning to hand-hew logs, and I have hewn a number of cedar logs, from which I will soon be building a grape arbor. There is split-rail fence to repair where a tree came down on it during a windstorm, and a drainage ditch culvert that needs attention. This is also the time of year when we realize the need to repair the half-mile of road between the house and the gate; in the low areas especially, holes seem to develop quickly with the fall rains.

So... plenty to do. Lots to look forward to and daydream about. I'm excited, aren't you? All the best to you in 2011.