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Bottle Lamb Shenanigans

This is a Covid-19-free post, so read and enjoy!

We have a whole passel of bottle lambs in 2020. We have the two remaining ewe lambs from the quadruplet situation. We have a BFL ram lamb who never caught on to nursing his mother. We have a Border ram lamb who was rejected due to having sharp teeth (we fixed the teeth but couldn’t repair the relationship. Then, we have triplet BFLs whose mother just can’t keep up with their needs.

Almost all bottle lambs start out in the house. Because we can’t feed them as frequently as a real sheep mom, we choose to keep them indoors where they will be warm enough to not suffer chilling and hypothermia. Hypothermia causes most needless deaths of young lambs – lambs who are too cold won’t nurse or digest milk, resulting in a downward metabolic spiral. We try to give the lambs motherly attentions that they would receive from a real mom – ewes don’t hold their lambs, but they mutter to them and nuzzle and groom them. Petting and stroking the lambs meets their need for attention.

This guy likes sleeping among the woollens. Of course, where he sleeps is also where he relieves himself, so I’ve been cleaning up ever since!


Of course, bottle lambs in the house are adorable. We show you the cute pictures of a lamb snoozing in a corner, but we don’t show you the mess they make. Lambs do not potty-train, so we do upwards of two large laundry loads of towels each day just trying to prevent indoor lambs from destroying our floors and furniture. Diapers aren’t really in the lamb’s best interest as we don’t want to leave manure in contact with their wool for any length of time. Finally, scampering lambs need space which is best found outdoors in the barn. They need playmates and guidance from ewes, too, so they learn to be good flockmembers and not frustrated wannabe-humans.

We gradually introduce houselambs to life outdoors by sending them out to the barn for short periods and then not bringing them back into the house eventually. We then must train these lambs to use the nursing bucket instead of the bottle. We use a Pritchard teat initially to facilitate nursing initially to facilitate nursing. Once the lambs are larger, however, they are too strong for small rubber teats. At that point, teat-bucket feeding becomes more practical.

The bucket is a competitive space, but we work to ensure that all lambs get the milk they need without overfeeding the aggressive ones.

We have set up a lamb creep as well. A creep is an area of the barn only accessible to lambs through a gate that admits only small sheep. In the creep, we offer grain, nice hay to nibble on and a sunny, dry floor. It takes the lambs a few days to discover the space, but once they do they really take to having a clubhouse just for them. We do feed some grain at this stage to help out the many triplets we have. Not all ewes can provide enough milk for fast-growing triplets, so this is our most practical option to grow them out effectively without overtaxing Mom.

So that’s the news from the lamb barn. We have 71 lambs bouncing about and only a few more ewes expecting. We are tired but finally beginning to catch up on sleep.

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Cloverworks Farm in the Media

If you’ve ever ridden in the car with me, you probably know that I’m a bit of a public radio buff.  I am a huge fan of VPR, and particularly of Brave Little State, which is a podcast about questions about quirky Vermont topics.   Recently, a question I asked was featured on the program!

My question is answered on Brave Little State

Matt and I spent a lot of time driving all around the northeastern part of Vermont on our search for a suitable farm to buy.  We noticed Star Pudding Farm Road in Marshfield more than once, so I wanted to ask about it.  Turns out that the answer brought a tear to my eye because sometimes it feels like my farming efforts are rewarded with dining on wind pudding.

Our other major media effort is a new children’s book about lambs growing up on our farm.  April and May: Two Lambs at Cloverworks Farm tells the charming story of two lamb sisters who explore their surroundings, with educational commentary for adults to enjoy.  The book is appropriate for pre-readers and early readers.  Buy a copy through the link above, or come see us at the Craftsbury Farmer’s Market on Saturdays!

In other farm news, Mary Lake came to shear the lambs who aren’t slated for retention yesterday.  We got over 50 pounds of top quality fiber, so I am debating whether to have roving made or whether to hold out for more yarn….what do you think?

 

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On Farm Dinner

Join us on the farm for a dinner celebrating the harvest.  Craftsbury chef Nadav Mille will be preparing a tantalizing menu of foods using lamb from our farm and other local ingredients.  Chef Nadav’s cooking is vibrant with flavor and creativity – I sincerely hope you will consider joining us for this special evening.

If you can’t join us, we have plenty to lamb for sale!

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Doner Kebab

Have you ever experienced the magic that is a vertical stack of meat, slowly rotating and barbecuing, then shaved into a pita or flatbread with lettuce and sauce for eating?

I have.  In a perfect word, I would have a vertical Doner Kebab spit, but this is not a perfect world and I don’t tend to favor “unitasker” kitchen implements anyhow.

When I discovered the Spruce Eats “shortcut” Doner Kebab recipe, I was elated.  And friends, it works.  It’s not QUITE like the vertical spit kind, but it’s crispy and good and close enough to fill that void in my life.  And it’s so simple: in short, make a spiced lamb loaf, then finely slice and fry the slices.  Nothing elaborate needed, no special skills required.

Here are my lamb loaf slices, cooking up crisp.  I didn’t have good pitas available, so I just ate it on bread like a sandwich – delicious, nevertheless.

We have ground lamb available in all of our Lamb Boxes – order today and I’ll deliver as soon as I am in your area in NH, MA or VT.

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Riblets

Raise your hand if you like Barbecue.

Alright…

Raise your hand if you like the crispy parts where the sauce and the fat melt into tasty meat.  Is that your favorite bit?  Would you nibble on bones all day?

Congrats, you are my barbecue twin.  Because that’s my favorite bit.  I’m all about texture in food, and the crispy/juicy contrast has to be my favorite.

Cue the Lamb Riblet.

I dry-rubbed some of my lamb riblets with Memphis Dust and cooked them at a low temperature on our Weber kettle grill for 3 hours.  I probably should have stopped at 2.5 hours- they were a little overcooked in spots.  The meat had a rich pink smoke-ring and the fat was well-rendered.  I love that unlike pork, which is kind of a neutral flavor substrate, lamb tastes lamby no matter what.   I paired it with a sour beer that broke up the unctuous fattiness nicely.

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Instructions for cooking riblets vary a great deal depending on your grill or oven setup.  I recommend amazingribs.com for real, tested recipes.  Don’t let the shouty, blinky nature of the site fool you- I promise it is the real thing for food science-based recommendations and techniques for making great barbecue on any kind of grill.

We have 18 more sets of riblets, so get some for your next barbecue at the next Craftsbury Farmer’s Market!

 

 

 

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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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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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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!