Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pests... Meat Product

One morning I was fencing in some fresh pasture for the sheep when our neighbor found me. She said that while the sheep were pastured near her house, she'd woken up before dawn to the rustling of angry, growling cats nearby. A man with experience in the forest, who also heard the growling says with certainty that they were Bobcats. Apparently, the bobcats came to where the woods border the sheep paddock, but their meal was frustrated by our electric fencing. Getting zapped would account for the angry growling. When Chris Bernier, a wildlife biologist, came by with some food scraps for our pigs, he confirmed that there are indeed Bobcats in this area, but Fisher cats are common too. He explained that one way to improve the odds for our animal's survival in general, is to keep them out in the open where would-be predators are afraid to risk being seen.

Lucy and I hatched this farm plan based on our willingness, our resources, and our abilities. Encounters with large predators entered into our awareness only so far. We knew that with rotational grazing we could do right by the land, livestock, and consumer. But we only had a cursory understanding that the flexible electric fences we use also protect our investments. What we didn't know was that we would be learning much more about the intersection of wildlife and farming. Vegetable growers deal with predators, or pests, all the time, but on a different scale. Either way, the pests meet the product at eye level.

Thanks for your interest, Oliver

Monday, June 22, 2009

In a new window

This foggy morning our little sheep flock ran away through the woods, down a valley side, across Potash Brook, and up the other side. They managed to stick together and made it to the top of the ridge. At 5 a.m. they arrived at the remote homestead of our neighbors the Bernier/Minehan clan. Chris Bernier recalls hearing their first "ba-a-a-a!" from bed. His wife Meg woke up too. She said threateningly, "they BETTER NOT be in my garden." So they went to the window and saw our ewes and lambs standing at the edge of their garden looking forlorn. Meg let them off the crook with a reprimand for trespassing. And Chris, a wildlife biologist and farm enthusiast was kind enough to herd our flock home with his Honda. He said they followed the road pretty good except at a round-about, which they went round 3 times. "Ba-a-a-a! Chris knocked on our door at 5:30. Lucy was long gone to work for milking and chores. So barefoot and sleepy, I speculated with Chris that to travel so far would suggest that they fled for their lives. Chris left, I finished getting dressed and made my way through the thick fog toward where he saw them last. However grateful I was that our sheep were home safe, I worried that maybe I would find a bloody mess made of our other animals by coyotes on this suspiciously still morning. My vision was very poor but I came up on those sheep in the fog and it was... well, imagine a cloud in a dream and you're watching a flock of white geese drift in formation, except they're sheep and they're walking in slow motion, and the only sound is the soft chewing of the lush green grass on the lawn.

There was no loss of life that day. No trace of coyotes. No wild animals did that. We had only ourselves to blame for two minor oversights that would've cost us our sheep. Thank heavens they didn't eat Meg's garden!.. or any garden for that matter. Chris called that evening to check in, as a wildlife expert he had some good advice for protecting our chickens, and we may have determined that the hawk who was caught poaching was probably not a peregrine falcon. More likely it could be a cooper's hawk, athough we have a friend who thinks it's an immature bald eagle.

Whatever it is has moved on from here and we're on schedule to process chickens July 11.
If anyone wants to come that day, they should bring a cooler! We're not sure what time yet. More later.


Thursday, June 11, 2009



NAME: Peregrine Falcon a.k.a. Falco peregrinus

DESCRIPTION: Large falcon, approximately 1-1.5 ft in height, wingspan stretches 3-3.5 ft. Wings are a bluish grey and underparts are barred colored white, brown, and black. Feet are large and yellow.

Peregrine falcons are the fastest of all birds. They can swoop down from high above at speeds of up to 200 mph to prey on vermin, or skillfully swipe a medium sized bird out of mid-air…plump, tender, delicious, unsuspecting chickens beware.

Peregrine populations on the East coast have rebounded dramatically since the use of DDT as an insecticide was banned in the 1970s. Supposedly, these hawks are still considered an endangered species due to their sensitivity to human presence. At our farm they seem quite fit, an attack helicopter of the wild, emboldened by chicken brains.

LAST KNOWN WHEREABOUTS: Spotted by Lucy, perched atop a chicken tractor.


The mystery predator responsible for the massacre on East Hill revealed him/herself to me yesterday. I spent much of my day beefing up the chicken tractors, following a series of attacks which left several chicks dead and/or missing. During routine afternoon chores, I had the wheels on a chicken tractors, moving the “machine” forward onto fresh grass. As usual, a couple of chickens snuck underneath where the pigs before them had dug themselves a big hole. So I stopped pulling, dropped my rope, and headed to the backside of the tractor to retrieve and replace the missing chickens. Out of nowhere, a large bird swiftly swooped in front of me and snatched up a chicken. Wow! What a surprise! It all happened quite fast but for a moment this hawk and I inspected each other at close range. My eyes bugged out of my face, my mouth hung open. I’m stunned at the audacity of this bird! At first I thought it was a barred owl, they’ve roughly the same size and color pattern. Besides everyone here knows that the local barred owls covet those chickens dearly. Brook says they hold owl conventions here at night, and chicken is the focus topic. Still, in the moment I realized what we were dealing with was not an owl but something far more bold and powerful. Our predator hovered at chest height facing me for a moment. The long, pointed wings reached wide and I could hear the wind it made as those wings flapped slowly up and down, all the while keeping the body levitated and I suppose it was thinking about what it ought to do. My poor wayward chicken chirped regretfully. Then I realized, it’s a Paragrine Falcon. Oh crap! The surprise factor wore off for me and I acted to defend. We both hesitated, the paragrine and I didn’t know what I would do. Whack at it? I was within range but with nothing to whack with. It must’ve been my hollering and crazy talking that finally convinced the falcon to drop the chicken and fly away. My poor little chicken was badly torn up between the wings from the talon’s grip. So I brought the bird to the brooder where it could sort out his issues with life and death in peace. I had little hope that it would make it through the night, but it did! Our patient has not touched his food or water that I know of yet, but the fact that he’s still alive is a very good sign of recovery.
Lucy and I are considering our options for defending chicks against this sort of airborne assault. One option put forth by John Bliss is to hang a radio inside the tractor and tune it to Rush Limbaugh. Wildlife would find the thought of eating a Republican chicken so offensive that it would turn away in disgust.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Splendid Table

For all you who live within listening distance to VPR, you must check out The Splendid Table, a wonderful radio show on Saturdays at noon. Hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, it's a show "for people who love to eat." I love it. She has interesting guests, good recipes, and the second half of each show is devoted to calls from listeners. You can learn all sorts of useful tips.

On their website, you can listen to archived shows, available for download as well.

Massacre on East Hill

Okay, it was really only a couple birds. That probably doesn't qualify as a massacre. But still, we were disappointed. Some friendly folks picking up hay from Jonny visited our chickens and noticed a small pile of feathers and guts behind one of the chicken tractors. We can't figure out if it was a hawk or a varmint, but it could have been either. We mended a couple of holes and tomorrow will fortify the structure. It's bound to happen with such delectable morsels. We hope it won't happen again.

Today Oliver and I went to look at Mimi's sheep. She has too many for her space and offered to sell us three yearlings. We're going to take them. They are so affectionate. And wooly! I'll have to shear two of them and then decide what to do with the fleeces. It was great hanging out with Mimi, her friend Jim, and son Rip. Their family has been in the Londonderry area for ages it seems and they have deep roots. I loved visiting Haven Hill for the first time. What kind people they all are.

Sounds like we're not getting a cow for the hill just now. Sniff. But someday we surely will. The menagerie wouldn't be complete without one.

Tonight for dinner we are having stir-fry with Doug Adams' beefalo steak, young turnips from Deep Meadow (a trade for cream), and parsnips, plus a salad of our greens. I have to freeze some of that spinach or it's all going to get away from me!

Happy eating to all,

Friday, June 5, 2009

Grazy Days

We are into it now! The grass is green, the clover is blooming, and the hum of tractors can be heard across the land as farmers make some of the season's first hay. Out on the Allen Field, we have four Tamworth/Gloucestershire Old Spot boars and 130 or so meat birds. Most of the birds are Cornish Rock crosses and a small number are Rhode Island Reds -- sent to us by the hatchery as a surprise! The difference is amazing. RI Reds are considered dual purpose birds, but most people I know raise them for eggs. They should provide delicious meat, though, and are arguably a more distinguished meat breed, having slightly less brawn and way more brains than the Cornish Rocks. They went out on pasture just yesterday (at 2 weeks old) and it's fun to watch them pecking around, discovering grass, seeds, and bugs. The pigs are a riot. Three now will let us rub their bellies. In fact, one practically lay in my lap the other day as he rolled over for a belly rub. The fourth is still a little standoffish and will protest if you touch him. He is, however, slowly letting himself enjoy a little back scratch now and then. The sheep are busy mowing through the pasture.

Our goal with all this pasturing stuff is to feed these animals well and give them a high quality of life while putting some fertility (in the form of their manure) back on the land, which hasn't seen much animal action in years. We hope to see an increase in favorable pasture grasses and legumes, which would in turn be capable of feeding more livestock and result in better hay. Jonny has started mowing the fields and seemed pretty satisfied with the progress today! And in recent news, there's talk of a cow entering the East Hill scene. But I won't write about that now, because it's still all up in the air.

First batch of broilers is ready Saturday, July 11, and we would love to take your order! The birds will be processed right here in the yard by Monte Winship and they will be ready for pick-up by noon that day.

Come visit us and let a lamb nibble your finger.