Monday, October 25, 2010

Heartbreak on the Back 40

Cassie was born May 2, 2010. Rest in peace, little one.
This past September 30 we had 60 acres come out of the CRP after 10 years. We were tickled to finally be able to graze our Highland cattle on that land. Understandably the grass on the former CRP was quite tall and the ground fairly wild, but we opened the gates and watched them enjoy their formerly forbidden territory.
Sunday morning as we sat by our campfire sipping coffee, we noticed three (just three) of our cows up near the barn. The mister and I brooded and set off toward the southernmost pond with the dogs to find the others. We came to a clearing in the tall grass and instantly recognized it as a spot where the cattle had bedded down. However, we weren't prepared for what we saw next ... three hooves ... a ribcage ... and finally ... a calf head. There was beautiful Highland red hair strewn about, and it was still attached to the leg bones and head. We were exasperated and deeply saddened, trying to piece together what could have happened. It felt like an episode of CSI: The Prairie. 
We walked further, toward the pond, still trying to find the others. They were right where we thought they'd be, and we knew immediately who the fallen calf had belonged to: Big Mama, as hers was missing from her side. The cows cautiously followed us back toward the "crime scene" and we could tell they were spooked. One by one, they approached the calf's head and sniffed, then slowly backed away when the moment of recognition was upon them. That was the moment I lost it ... when Big Mama sniffed her baby's head and backed away. I burst out in tears, unable to remain stoic and rancherly about the whole thing. 
What we were able to deduce is that coyotes were the culprit. Either the calf died somehow, perhaps struck by lightning (the rib bones appeared "charred"), and coyotes moved in; or, a pack of coyotes surrounded a vulnerable calf and took it down. This would explain the cattle fleeing in different directions and ending up scattered the next morning. We've had intense coyote action for the last several weeks, with enormous roaming packs howling and waking us up at night. 
I'm angry. I want our calves to live. And our sheep, and our chickens and turkeys. We've got a few nasty donkeys that really hate dogs. We're thinking of putting at least one in with the cattle and, the coyotes around here are officially on notice.       

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chicken Slaughtering Day

I know these photos will invoke a bit of squeamishness for some, but I just had to post them to show people the nature of at-home chicken processing.

About 10 weeks ago, we received a batch of Cornish Rock cross chicks (broilers) to raise for our year's worth of chicken. We penned them in our previous corn patch and fed them every day, despite the fact they liked to escape and dine on grass, the pig's corn, and other farmyard delights. A friend and co-worker of my husband's also raised broilers--Freedom Rangers--at the same time, so for the second year in a row, we all got together and did the processing at our farm. Wives, co-workers, neighbors and friends all took part in various stages, each person using their particular expertise to speed up the process. 

With the help of modern equipment like killing cones (the most humane way to kill), a Featherman scalder and plucking machine, and traditional equipment like knives, plastic-covered tables, ice chests and a screened tent to aid in fly control, we all worked together to get it done. We processed and bagged 40 chickens in about 3 hours, including set up and clean up. Afterward, we ate a delightful lunch of quiche, salad and fresh-baked bread under the barn eaves and then our friends hurried home to get their chickens into the freezer. 

For me, processing our chickens at home is an experience that brings me closer to God. We have raised these birds with the intention of them becoming our meat for the winter. We have been blessed with the ability to raise our own food, knowing its origins, and we have taken responsibility for its humane slaughter and clean processing. We are surrounded by friends who are doing the same, with reverance for every step of the process. It's a beautiful thing to be in touch with God, nature, and our ancestors, all in one afternoon.   

saying a prayer



cooling down

ready for the freezer