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The Scary Part

There is a point in starting your small business where you realize that you are all-in.  You have a bunch of money all tied up with processors like butchers and yarn mills, and you wait for your product to come back.

This is a tale of three products.

On the bright side – The first batch of yarn is in, and it is magnificent.   Border Leicester will never be mistaken for Merino, but the spinning work done by this mill brings out all of the best drapey, light attributes of the fiber.  I’ve been developing my dyeing skills and I am pleased with the colors I achieved as well.

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On the otherhand, the sausage isn’t quite what I had hoped.

Most importantly, it TASTES FANTASTIC.  It’s juicy and yummy with great lamb flavor.  But the packaging is not what I had expected, and it was mislabeled at the plant and cannot be re-labeled easily.  Instead of 9 oz packages, each package is a pound, which makes for a pricey product when I calculate the value of the meat plus the very high production costs.  I wish I had other sausage-production options, but only one meat processor in the state routinely makes sausage with pork fat mixed in, which is necessary for good lamb sausage.

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Finally, the 75 meat chickens were almost an unmitigated disaster.  We lost 20 total to the raccoon, one or two a night for two weeks such that we didn’t really notice (it doesn’t help that chickens do not hold still for counting, and that the geese leave feathers all over the yard, disguising evidence of theft and dining).  We took the chickens to be processed today, and the carcasses are TINY!  Every chicken was a Cornish Game Hen in disguise!  I had wanted to avoid the Cornish Cross, so we choose the Slow White broiler instead.  Slow must be the operative word.  So we are going to just break even on the chickens on a cash basis, meaning all of the labor of raising them will be unpaid.   On the bright side, there is a strip of highly-fertilized grass in our pasture now where the chickens left generous deposits of nitrogen.

I have $1450 worth of sausage in the freezer and $850 worth of yarn in the storeroom.  The chickens are largely for our own consumption as well as for friends and family.  It was time to “throw open the shop doors” in effect.  Would customers come?  Will I be able to recoup my money and add a bit of profits besides?   In past years, having a full time job lowered the stakes of this moment, but right now I feel the full effects of worrying that my efforts have been in vain.  I like sausage, but we are well beyond what we could possibly consume ourselves.  It feels like this is the time where my publicity and marketing efforts succeed or fail.

But no sooner did I offer the sausage and the yarn than some requests and orders came in for each.  We are grateful whenever someone gives us the opportunity to provide sustainable, regenerative yarn and food – it’s the bit of good we can offer the world.

If you are interested in sausage or yarn, find them both at our store!.  I am delivering sausage for free in Northern Vermont as long as you are willing to wait for a time when I am headed to Burlington, Montpelier, etc, for other errands.  No more than a week’s wait, typically.

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The Wind

No matter where you are in the viscinity of our farm, it is impossible not to notice twenty one 450 foot wind towers on top of Lowell Mountain.  We have a direct western view of them, and all night they blink a vigil of nine red lights.

This morning, Matt and I had the opportunity to tour the wind project to finally see the towers up close.  We really appreciate renewable energy – it fits nicely conceptually with regenerative agriculture.

We were met by friendly representatives from Green Mountain Power.  They seemed really excited to talk to visitors about all of the efforts they have made to make the towers as clean as possible.  From stopping the towers from turning at key bat activity times to innovative stormwater runoff efforts, they seem to have really worked to make the towers as sustainable as possible, though there still are small numbers of birdstrikes and some disruption of bear habitat.  Due to the presence of the towers, the rest of the mountain is conserved and closed off to development.

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Turbine blades are BIG.  That’s Matt, for perspective, and I couldn’t get the whole thing in the picture.
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The arc felt graceful.
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The pads where the turbines were placed are gradually vegetating – other than some seldom-traveled roads,  this mountaintop is reverting to forestation.

Other visitors to the towers were mainly out-of-towners.  We discussed good lunch places, education funding mechanisms and just general stuff.  If you are on a tour of wind towers, the people with you are more likely than not like-minded nerds, I guess.

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View from the Top!
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That’s our house in the middle!  Matt’s camera does get a bit grainy when it is zoomed in 7 miles!

 

I thought back to the fear and opposition to this change.  Certainly, there are some legitimate critiques about siting development like this in poorer areas (you’ll notice a lack of wind farms in Stowe!) and general concern about impacts on close neighbors (though both reflection and sound are actually really minimal).  Nevertheless, there is a small but vocal group against further wind development.  I can relate, as there are both legitimate critiques of animal agriculture and also an entrenched group that won’t be happy with anything but abolition.

 

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Checking the Flock

Cloverworks farm sheep grazing in field

A little over a year ago, assessing the wellbeing of ten sheep was as easy as walking into the paddock with a handful of grain and waiting for everyone to come and say “hi.’  I could touch, FAMACHA and evaluate all of my sheep in a few minutes.  Simple!

With 60 sheep now present in the main group and many of them more independent and less friendly than my sheep last year, this approach is no longer feasible.  So we put together a panel-pen, shook a bit of grain, and collected most of the flock.  I had set up a new paddock for them to enter, so “inspected” sheep could exit into a different paddock than the location of our un-caught flock.  Trust me, it made sense.

Here are the notes we took.  Dagging means trimming poopsicles off bums – the flock is now dingleberry-free!  Ivermectin and Fenbendazole are wormers, we treated sheep who looked more anemic with Ivermectin.  We are still struggling with the wide variety of tagging systems present in our flock – Letters denote the color of the tag, so B122 is Blue (appropriate for Bluefaced Leicesters!), crossbred lambs are Yellow, pure Border Leicesters are green, and we have a few stray pink and white tags for Cormo crosses and other crosses.   Other ewes from other flocks, well, let’s just call the system eclectic:

Notes as follows:

  • Ozzy is now numbered B112
  • GWAR got 2.9 ml Fenbendazole
  • Summer looked fine
  • Judy looked fine
  • Emma looked fine
  • Sue looked fine  (Judy, Emma and Sue are all yearlings from our starter flock)
  • 65 looks good and has regained weight since lambing.
  • 1606 looked good.
  • 95 was thin and received 1.5 ml Ivermectin.
  • Fannie had pale eyelids and received 2.9ml Fenbendazole
  • Tag-torn unknown lamb is now Y132 – torn ear has mild infection and will need to be addressed.
  • 210-Bisdorf was thin and pale-lidded and received 2.5ml Ivermectin.  (This ewe has huge, vigorous lambs who’ve taken a lot out of her- she will be 7 next year)
  • Fancy B124 had pale lids and received 1.5ml Fenbendazol
  • Krombopulis Michelle had pale lids and received 2.9ml Fenbendazole
  • 1616 required dagging
  • Chloe had pale lids and received 2.9ml Fenbendazole.  We should have retagged her, but we forgot. (Chloe tore her tag out while at Rhinebeck!  She never even made it home with her scrapie tag).
  • Lamb 130 is fat and healthy!  (This is the youngest lamb of the main group, though there are some later-born lambs from yearling ewes)
  • 2503 is fat, received a bum-trim
  • Ewe 13-266 from Sue is now G100 (this fixes the Border Leicester ID issue – there are three more ewes who needed visible flock-tags.  Luckily most had existing ear piercings and weren’t subjected to a new taghole)
  • Another tag-torn lamb is now Y133 and received 1.5ml Fenbendazole
  • 122Blue had pale lids and received 1.5ml Fenbendazole
  • 123Y is small and poopy.  Was dagged and received 1.5ml Fenbendazole
  • 115Y was poopy and was dagged
  • Sheppenwolf was thin and had pale lids and received 2.9ml Fenbendazole
  • 128Y is fine
  • Ewe 13-264 from Sue is now G101
  • Lamb Y121 looks good
  • K-Michelle’s son is now White347
  • Lamb y126 is good
  • Lamb 103 is all wool, no sheep.  Concerned about poor growth
  • Lamb 110 had pale lids and received 1.5ml Fenbendazole.  Eyes are perfectly clear and healthy!
  • Ewe 72 looks well
  • Ewe OH-Bisdorf-K looks good, considering her advanced age.  Ewe was born 2010.
  • Erin looks good
  • Y118 looks good
  • Y122 looks good
  • OH34, the skinny one, is concerningly skinny and was dosed prophylactically with 2.9ml Ivermectin.  Will have the vet inspect next time she is over.
  • 1411 Border Leicester is now G102
  • 1620 needed dagging
  • 13-270 is now G104
  • 13-262 is now G105.  Tag 103 broke in tagging.

Cloverworks farm sheep grazing in field

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This ram lamb is for sale!  Registered BFL.   He passed our inspection.

 

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One Year on The Farm

One year ago today, Matt and I bought the farm.

I know that I’ve described the effort we have made to restore it, to revitalize it, to build a barn and some infrastructure and a life on it.

Last night, I walked out to feed the calves one of their three daily feedings of milk.  The last traces of dusk had escaped the western sky, and the pattern of a half-dozen red lights on the wind turbines signaling in unison was the only light there.  In the East, the moon was just rising through a distant haze over the tall hill that circumscribes our viewpoint.

Across our fields and our neighbors, the fireflies put on a beautiful show of lights.  One or two fireflies in a backyard look very nice, I will grant.  But acres of fireflies look like magic.   They take my breath away, even as I slog somewhat wearily on a hot and muggy evening.

The calves are grateful to see me.  In moments, the milk vanishes and the calves urgently lick each other looking for more milk.  Overfeeding would be risky for them, so I resist their snuffling entreaties for more.

Heading back to the house, I pause to admire the beautiful starscape I can see above.  The Milky Way is visible until the moon rises.

I love this place.  Farming is hard, tiring, and sometimes thankless, but I get to behold beauty every day.

Some images of the land from last year.  This doesn’t include our efforts just to *find* the front pastures.

 

Some updates:

For those of you who follow Instagram, you are aware that we had some illness in the bottle lamb group.  We lost two lambs- the weakest of the BFL lambs from Ohio, and little Liz died of a genetic heart condition (as best we can tell).  She was getting persistently thinner with no improvement from many attempts at treatment.   I autopsied her carcass and found her heart large and floppy with excessive fluid all around it.  So we think the issue was congestive heart failure.

The rams are fat and happy.  It’s tricky to give them enough pasture so they won’t try to bust out, but not too much nutrition so they don’t get more chubby than they are right now.

The main ewe group is doing well.  Most are putting weight back on now that their lambs are demanding less.  Some are a bit thin, so we will soon be rounding up the sheep for some FAMACHA, some worming, and some bum-trimming.  There are always a few ewes with poop-sicles dangling from behind.  No one needs that!