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Summer Arrives

Summer arrives to find the bobolinks have fledged from our neighbor’s hayfield.   Three streaky brown birds making little plink calls were flitting and bouncing around the pasture I set up for the sheep.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to provide habitat to this struggling species.

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We are so close to weaning time.  I know the ewes are ready to send their lambs off on their own for a while.  Some have probably already weaned their babies without my help.  For others,  it’s adorable yet concerning to see lambs who are nearly the same size as their mothers still nursing.  The ewes need pedicures and a spa treatment (or hoof trimming and some Selenium supplementation, depending on your perspective).

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We have two especially naughty lambs who have figured out how to slip under the electric fence.  They taunt the other lambs by eating the grass I am saving for later meals.  Sadly, one is a ewe lamb that I would have considered keeping, but I don’t really need troublemakers.  Worse, in the process of slipping out, the lambs have occasionally knocked down the fence and allowed other sheep to escape.  We do not want loose sheep in roads and on neighbor’s land.

Our haying efforts have produced 75 round bales so far.  We have several more fields waiting for first-cutting, but Matt is struggling with equipment breaking down.  First, the round baler wasn’t operating smoothly, so he needed to adjust the tension on the belts that roll the hay into a snowball.  Then, one of the bearings on the new mower seized, causing extensive damage to a part that is no longer made.  Good thing Matt is a decent welder.  He’ll need to replace the gnawed-off metal with in-fill, and then use a lathe to make it smooth and round again.  Yeesh.

I have learned how to rake the hay into windrows that the baler then scoops up and rolls.  There is a satisfying rhythm to it, like mowing the lawn.  Would you like to know more about how hay is made?  I’ve been debating whether or not to write a post explaining hay, so let me know if an explainer would be useful for you.

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The Ram You Need.

For Sale:

Pitchfork 926 “Fred” 2016 Registered Bluefaced Leicester Ram

Fred has been the main ram in our flock for the last two years, so it’s time for him to find a new flock.   What can I say about the ram who has sired all of our 2018 and 2019 lambs?  The ram who still wants a few pets now and then, and who loves to strike a pose just for fun?

We love his all-over strength and the rapid, balanced growth of his lambs.  He gains and maintains weight on moderate feed – the challenge is keeping him from getting overly fat!  He has classic BFL wool character with a purled fleece that has commanded over $20/lb each year.  Fred’s grandparents are Trueblue, Ward Reva, Black Mountain and Ward Bonnie.  The only thing I would change would be to lengthen his neck a tad and raise his ears a smidgin – otherwise, I don’t know that I’d change a thing.

Fred’s lambs are just as good- they consistently display his quality wool and correct blue coloration.  As a bonus, they have fun, sweet personalities that make them pleasant to work with.  Fred carries natural color.

It would be my strong preference that Fred to go a flock for purebreeding purposes.   We are located in Irasburg, VT but can travel with him if needed.

Email me at cloverworksfarm@gmail.com if you are interested!

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Fred in 2017
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Fred, Winter of 2018/19
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Yearling daughter of Fred
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The bum
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Fred, 6/2019
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The Yarn is Here

Most years, I have sent my wool to the mill with the expectation that my yarn might come back just a few weeks before the festivals I regularly attend.  Usually, that was just enough time to count it and dye it while Mom might knit a sample or two.

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This year is different.  Our mill, Battenkill Fiber, has a different reservation system that allows me to place my wool earlier in the queue by making an earlier deposit.  This saves me a lot of stress and hassle in the fall; a time of year when I am busy with lambs and farmer’s markets as well as yarn.

Our yarn came out wonderfully, once again.  The Border Leicester wool we sent in became our Derby Line Sport-Weight yarn.   We also sent our BFL to the mill and got back stunning, drapey, glossy fingering-weight yarn.  It’s all dyed up, but I haven’t gotten it into the online store yet.  Ditto for some hat kits we will be offering- there’s lots to look forward to!

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As you read about in The Reality of Yarn,  getting the yarn off of the cones and into skeins took a lot of time and patience.  Choosing colors and dyeing the yarn relies a bit more on some of my experience.  I took careful note of which colors appealed to people and which ones just sat.  I really like orange, but I’ve eased-up on orange a bit this year in the Derby Line.  I have also made more solid shades and fewer semi-solid.   I did choose to make semi-solids and multicolor yarn with the BFL.  It was BORN to be an art-shawl, cowl or scarf, so having an art yarn is more appropriate.    Overall, I am pleased with the palette I’ve made and eager to see how customers receive it!

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The BFL yarn – freshly dyed and now drying out.

I admit that I am a bit selfish about dyeing the yarn.   Even though it would be a potentially fun group activity, I hoard it for myself.  Dyeing is the one place where I can do a bit of artwork in a profession that is otherwise mostly physical, so I make an afternoon of it with the radio on, a glass of wine, and a drawerful of powerful dyes and my dedicated pots.  I hope that my creative outlet will be your crafting inspiration!

 

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To The Geese, Raising Their Goslings in Our Midst

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Dear Mr. Gander, Mr. Gander and Ms. Goose,

First, my most sincere condolences for the loss of the other Mrs. Goose and one gosling on 5/27 at the hands of Mr. Fox.  We are truly sorry for the loss of your dear sister/wife/mother/son/daughter.

We would like to express our absolute joy at the growth of your brood of seven.   Your parenting would shame even the most anxious Manhattan mom or dad, as your helicoptering and minding ceases neither day nor night.

To the task at hand: As laudable as your efforts are, we are writing to remind you that the landowners, Katie and Matt, do reserve the right to utilize and occupy shared spaces including, but not limited to:  1) the driveway  2) the front yard  3) the entrance to their house  4) the garage and environs.  It has come to their attention that you wish to dispute this ownership, and that you have in fact chased them and several guests in the driveway at numerous times, employing threatening gestures while disturbing the peace. In his affidavit, the UPS man reports “they are not the worst geese on my route but they chase my truck every time.”

Your landlords would like to remind you that you inhabit this farm at their pleasure, and the threatening words and gestures that you employ are unwelcome and could be grounds for termination at a later date.  The terms of your lease are non-negotiable because you are birds and birds cannot sign legal contracts, even upon reaching the age of majority.

Please cease and desist your aggressive behavior, or our actions will escalate.

 

Sincerely,

Katie’s pretend-lawyer, conveniently also named Katie.

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Bringing Home the Bacon

Matt had a hard task ahead of him:  Ten hours of labor taking the front of the tractor off,  replacing a $12 gasket, then ten hours of labor putting the gasket back on.

I thought that the best way to thank Matt for a really grungy, fiddly job would be to finally make a big pork belly from the freezer into bacon.  The belly weighed ten pounds, so I cut it into thirds for easier handling and to adhere to the recipe suggestions.

I tried a recipe from The Spruce, which has generally been a decent source of recipes for me that aren’t to fussy or involved.  I read the bacon recipe over three times and decided it seemed about right.

I rinsed the bacon and applied the pepper/salt/pink salt/sugar mixture.  Dutifully turning the bacon daily helped ensure a complete cure.  After ten days, I was ready to try some bacon.

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This is where things went a bit awry: I washed the first third of the bacon but didn’t soak it.  I smoked it on the grill, sliced off a few bits and tried it.

BLECHCH.  It was far too salty and some of the fat had a weird fishy flavor.  I spent a bit of time troubleshooting, and came to find that I had not rinsed away enough of the original cure.  So I rinsed the rest of that chunk and soon we had much more edible bacon.

The second two chunks were more thoroughly rinsed, and I am happy to report that they were delicious.  The meat is tighter and a little tougher than grocery store bacon.  The smokey flavor tastes stronger and more authentic.  The bacon is overall less “canned” seeming.  It’s less perfectly uniform.  The only downside?  I can’t achieve the thin slices that a machine will do.  Oh well.

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I would certainly make bacon again.

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The Reality of Yarn

Don’t get me wrong.  Playing with yarn gives me great joy.  I love the texture, the sheepy scent, the slight dust of it.  I love the whole sensory experience and I am always happy to have more yarn.

This year, instead of having our yarn made into pre-measured skeins at the mill, we elected to have it delivered on huge cones to be made into skeins at home.  Matt built a skein winder that automatically spins and measures each skein.  Such a winder would normally cost $350-400.  He made ours out of spare parts and some pvc pipe for about $150.

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But please understand that this is Day 12 of winding skeins.  I have rewatched the entirety of Ken Burn’s “The Civil War” (11 hours and 30 minutes, for those counting at home) while winding skeins, and that just covered winding the white BFL and 1/3 of the white Border Leicester.  I watched Ken Burns “The Roosevelts” as well.  I also watched the whole “Avatar: The Last Airbender” series (23 hours 20 minutes!) while making the natural color Border Leicester skeins and white mini-skeins needed for new patterns that will be released soon.

Each skein comes off the line frequently enough to make tasks more complex than television impossible.  Likewise, my hands need to stay clean, precluding anything like cooking or dyeing other yarn.  Watching something informative makes me feel like my brain is engaged with something meaningful.  I know I’m letting my nerd flag fly by admitting to my preference for documentaries and straightforward storytelling.  The current selection of human-failure-intensive prestige dramas don’t appeal: to me, the world has enough genuine sorrow and pain.  I cannot enjoy watching people suffer for entertainment.  I left human services forever in 2010 for a reason.

I am happy to report that I am winding skeins from the final cone of natural-color Border, and I am really, really happy to be so nearly done.  Stay tuned for 2019 yarn!20190521_092711

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Goslings Arrive

We have goslings!

The geese sat patiently on their eggs for most of April.  One goose set herself up beneath some haying equipment, allowing us to leave her generally alone.  Approaching the tarp-covered implement would invariably elicit a hiss.

The second goose laid her eggs in the ram barn, right next to the rams who still needed regular feeding.  So she honked, hissed and snapped at us whenever we fed the rams until they were let outside.

The under-tarp goose hatched her eggs first – seven eggs yielded just 2 goslings.  We think that maybe one or two were taken or that the eggs were predated.   The goslings came out and have been playing in puddles while following their parents around.

Yesterday, Matt came in to say that the second goose’s eggs had begun to hatch.  This morning, he counted six little goslings, one egg still pipping, and three eggs with no apparent activity.

I am eagerly awaiting the new little geese joining the older two, and our entire goose family enjoying the sunshine together.  Hats off to our patient geese, who sat for so long while the ganders cavorted about.

A photographic compendium of Goose Rage:

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Lamb-burgers

cloverworks farm vermont lamb

Matt kept saying “MMMMMMM” when he tried this simple lamburger.  It was hard to focus on my own lamb burger with all of the UMMM in the background.  The richness of the lamb, the creamy tang of the cheese and the tart mineral of the capers blends into a delicious medley.

As an aside – too many food blogs hide the recipe under a semi-relevant novel of personal experiences.  I’m going to share recipes on the top

This burger is incredibly simple:

  • 1/4-1/3 pound of ground lamb per patty
  • salt and pepper
  • 1-2 oz goat cheese
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of capers, without liquid
  • homemade or purchased bun of your choice (or no bun at all if you are avoiding carbs).  I recommend toasting and buttering the bun.

Naturally, we made this burger from lamb raised here on the farm.  I recommend buying grassfed lamb – 1 pound of ground should feed 3 adults or two adults and two children.   You can always buy pastured lamb from here, of course!

The key to a really succulent burger is salting and peppering the meat before you form the patty.  It takes a little trial and error to find the right amount of salt for you, but once you gain some confidence, your burgers will start to sing.

I prefer grilled burgers to pan-frying.  I like to semi-smoke them slowly over a lower heat.  Medium to medium rare is the rule in this house for optimum juiciness.  I have to credit Matt for helping me to learn to appreciate the texture of a medium rare burger.

I considered melting the goat cheese onto the burger, but found it was actually a nice temperature contrast on warm day to have cool goat cheese.  Plus, I didn’t have to worry about valuable (and pricey!) goat cheese dripping off the burger into the flames.

Assembling the burger is simple – toasted bottom bun, burger, cheese, capers nestled into the cheese, top bun, GO.

Enjoy this perfect weekday-dinner burger and let me know what you think!

 

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Out to Pasture

*bang bang*

My eyes open.  Matt says, “Someone is at the door, I think?”

My phone says it’s 5am.  It can’t be anything good.

*bang bang*  Definitely someone here.

I’m bleary-eyed and quasi-dressed when my neighbor at the door tells me that our sheep are out and she’s worried they’ll be hit in the road.  I thank her and she’s off on her commute again.

Time to get up!

I had set up most of the fencing for a starting pasture.  The ewes noticed the fencing coming out and baaed incessantly as I worked.  It was probably seeing the fencing that prompted them to somehow unchain their gate (I am still not sure how this was accomplished without thumbs – I am baffled).  Matt gathered the ewes farthest afield, and soon we had them all in the fenced area.

But the lambs had never left the barn before and had no experience with electronet fence or following their mother outside of an enclosed space.  Many were still in the barn, calling for Mom but afraid to go out.  We realized many years ago that acting as a herd is a skill sheep learn.  They have a basic instinct for it, but still have to learn the particulars.  So as we chased the lambs, they scattered.

We lured the lambs into the creep and then shut them in.  One by one, we caught the stragglers and then hand-carried each lamb from the creep in the barn to the pasture in front of the house.  Carrying heavy, struggling lambs exhausted us both.  An hour after the knock on the door, though, all of our sheep were neatly in pasture, eating up a storm.

Lambs under a shade tree

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On Cooking

This spring, we arrived at the point in our farm lives where leaving the farm, even for a day, requires planning.  Leaving overnight demands hired help.  So we have stopped leaving the farm that much.  Going to Boston during Dad’s acute illness was a major effort.

Being thus isolated, it really was news to me that Americans don’t cook as much anymore.  A quick Googling tells me that 28% of Americans don’t cook at all, while on average people are eating 4-5 commercially prepared meals a week.   Prepared meals represent a lot of climate carbon in the form of plastic and transportation – they also change our relationship with food.  “Quick” and “Easy” supercede “Source” and “Relationship”

Selling at farmer’s markets in Vermont showed us how true this is.  Many visitors to our booth seemed intimidated by the idea of cooking lamb.  We sold much more ground lamb and stew lamb than fancier, fussier cuts.  Sausages sold well.  We noticed that most people felt comfortable heating and serving a sausage, but far fewer were comfortable with shoulders, breasts or racks.   We began sampling simple recipes made from lamb to demonstrate how lamb can be a fun weeknight meal feature.   Sampling certainly helped inspire our customers to try cooking new lamb dishes and to see lamb beyond just roasts for Easter, Passover, or Christmas.

I understand that I am tremendously privileged to have the time and energy to prepare almost all of our meals at home.  Being at home all day most days affords me the chance to use long cooking methods, to experiment with new techniques, and especially the opportunity to raise our own meat.  We raise almost everything we eat, but we occasionally purchase something special locally.  We are truly lucky in this respect.

The other area where I am fortunate is that I was taught to cook by my parents from a young age.  I remember breaking eggs in to peanut butter cookie mix and helping to mix up the dough.  I remember shaking the Shake’n’Bake chicken in the baggie to coat it fully.  Nothing special, but formative experiences of sights and textures.  At 17, I was mostly vegetarian and by 18 I was completely vegetarian.  I had struggled with the textures of meat and was worried about factory farming.  I did much of the cooking in my early adulthood, replicating and tweaking my favorite vegetarian foods from college.  When I met my now-ex spouse, I had been exposed to small farms and was ready to try meat again.  We cooked our way through inexpensive cull mutton and anything else we could afford as we tried to get our farm off the ground.   Eventually, we went our separate ways, but I kept on cooking and learning more.

The rise of meal kits and meal replacements like Soylent and various replace-your-meal-with-a-smoothie came out of nowhere, in my mind.  I’m not ready to cede that cooking is dead, however.  It’s too soon to just eat nutri-algae.

So what can I do to promote the idea of cooking at home?  I do understand that increased work hours hamper many home cooks, so I will share recipes that are generally quick and simple.  I know that not everyone learned basic skills growing up, so I will explain methods.

Many of my recipes will feature lamb, since pursuing this interest also needs to serve the goals of the farm itself.  We raise chicken, duck and beef for ourselves, so virtually any meat mentioned is home-raised or locally-raised.  I sincerely hope you will enjoy these recipes from our farmhouse and feel inspired to eat better!

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Barbecue lamb breast.  It was chewy, ‘cue-y and delicious!