Friday, August 30, 2013

Meat Week

***Warning*** This post contains information that may be too graphic for those of you who eat In-N-Out burgers, but who don't really like to know the story behind the meat.  As you may know, I've changed my feelings about meat over the past five years.  Our dream is to catch or raise all of our own meat.  This is the story of one meaty week.

I have talked to several vegetarians who started eating meat after living on a farm.  One sweet woman told me she would have never dreamed of eating her animals, but slowly it became just part of the cycle of life. We raise Nubian goats, mainly for their milk (but also for their wonderful personalities).  The only way to get milk out of a goat, is for her to have a baby.  Cutie Pie was born early last March.  He was small and struggling, so we helped him latch on and warmed him by the fire.


Oliver and Pearl loved him to pieces.    


We have struggled with the best way to neuter and disbud a male goat in the past.  We had a veterinarian come out last year, but we weren't pleased with the way he neutered our boys.  My mom bought a neutering device so that I could neuter Cutie Pie as gently as possible.  The neutering device sat week after week untouched on my counter.  No one wanted to hold Cutie Pie down and castrate him.  As he grew, he became stronger and more unruly.  He was a wild man, and although he was almost as big as his mother, he was still nursing.  Oliver and Pearl were unable to play in the pasture without threat of injury.  We knew if we wanted to find him a home, it would involve separation from his family, a painful castration, and a life we could not control.  After weeks of discussion and thought, we came to the conclusion that ending his life and eating his meat might just be the most ethical choice.   

Goat Meat

A friend of our family is a chef and is very knowledgeable about how to slaughter an animal.  Glenn and Ben (the chef) brought Cutie Pie to the barn where he was fed his favorite food, blackberry leaves.  He had his head down in the leaves, when Ben shot him in the head.  He died instantly.  No stress.  No pain.  It hurts so much for me to look at his pictures and write this post.  I still get sad when I look in the freezer.  I try to think about all the burgers in the world that are consumed without a second thought.  Cutie meant so much to us and when we eat his meat, we will honor him.


Fish Meat

Two days after we slaughtered our goat, Oliver and I woke up at five in the morning to head out on a deep-sea fishing trip.  I have wanted to take Oliver deep-sea fishing for years.  I liked the idea of eating fish we caught ourselves.  We set out on a cold morning with choppy waves.


The boat's captain took us out to the deep-ocean water and told us to drop our bait to the ocean floor.  After two minutes, we had a fish on our line and began the long process of reeling him in.  Oliver and I were heavily medicated with Dramamine, so we were shocked when so many people on the boat started vomiting.  


At stop number two, we noticed less than half of the people on the boat were fishing.  I ignored the sounds of retching all around me and continued to drop our bait to the bottom, and reel in fish.  We caught two big red fish on one line.  Oliver was in heaven.


I just pulled in my eleventh fish, when I heard screams and saw the deck hands attempting to help a woman.  She was so sick, she passed out and hit her head.  Being a nurse, I have to get involved with everything medical I see.  The deck hands were pretty happy I was obnoxious and took over the scene.  I love yelling, "I'm a nurse!," especially in front of my kid.  I kept her going until the harbor patrol made a daring and dramatic rescue.  I think Oliver enjoyed watching the EMT jump onto the boat even more than seeing the whale.  



And with that, our trip was over.  Our nostrils were tainted with the smell of vomit and dead fish, but we were on a fishing high like no other.  We are excited for the day when Pearl is big enough, and our whole family can go together.  

The Freezer
  
Our freezer is now filled to the top with meat from our own chickens, our dear goat and eleven fish.  I'm not sure if I could handle another goat slaughter.  Or perhaps, it will get easier with time.  Glenn said the goat meat is tender and wonderful because he was milk-fed his entire life and was so healthy.  I'm very thankful to him for the nourishment he will bring to my children.  Deep-sea fishing will definitely be a part of our lives for good.  Thank you to the fish for six great dinners!


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A little blog therapy for me...

When I was 22 weeks pregnant with Oliver I started having contractions.  I was sure I was going to lose him.  My midwife told me I would have to fight for him and I would never regret dropping everything to keep him from coming too soon.  I stayed on the couch praying I would be able to meet the baby boy I loved so much.

Oliver arrived at 33 weeks.  He was the most beautiful three-pound creature on earth.  From the moment I met him, I worried.  I worried about how the NICU might affect his personality.  I worried about his abnormally-shaped head and his tiny body.  I worried about what his future might be like.


At age four Oliver had major surgery to correct the birth defect that had been misdiagnosed for too long.  I was angry and felt guilty I had ruined his chance at a normal life.  I worried more about the affects of surgery and if he would ever look "normal."  I worried he would have delays in school because of prolonged pressure on his brain.


Several months after his surgery, Oliver began having stomach pain.  He stopped growing and became irritable.  He had multiple symptoms such as fevers, sweating, shaking and headaches. He was pale.  I stayed up late researching diseases.  I worried he had cancer.  I worried he would need another surgery to release pressure on his brain.  For a year, I worried he would never get better.


Six months ago Oliver tested positive for the gene that causes Celiac Disease.  We took him off wheat and he began to feel better.  He started eating and sleeping.  He stopped shaking and sweating.  He started gaining weight.  In the past month, Oliver has reached his goal weight and has caught up academically with his peers.  He looks and acts like a regular six-year-old.  It has taken me six months to shake the worry, but I think I'm finally there.

Oliver auditioned for and was cast in a local production of The Little Mermaid Jr.  I sat in the audience last weekend, watching him sing and dance and I could feel his joy.  I don't think I've seen him happier.  I don't think I've been happier.  My little boy is going to be just fine.  



Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Truth About Pigs

Wow, I have been a terrible blogger lately.  I'm working full time and with two kids and two new pigs, I haven't had anything left to give.  In January, we adopted an adorable pig names Rutley.  Rutley is a miniature pig, which means he won't be as large as a classic farm pig (he still could grow as large as 200 pounds).  We have learned SO much about pigs, I thought I would pass on our knowledge to others interested in adopting a pig.  We read a lot online about pigs and was promised certain traits by the pig breeder.  I would like to clarify a few common myths about miniature pigs.

Myth #1:

Pigs and dogs make perfect companions.  This is false and I find it scary that most miniature pig breeders spread this untruth.  Dogs are carnivores.  Pigs are delicious.  What more do I need to say?  We quickly learned that our sweet dog could not be left alone with Rutley.  Rutley was not able to speak "dog" and would quickly anger Pumpkin when he failed to pick up on subtle dog clues.  They are cute much of the time, but I would not recommend leaving a dog and pig alone together ever.


Myth #2:

It is okay to adopt just one pig.  You will end up with two.  I promise.  Just go ahead and pick out two at the very beginning.  You will thank me in the end.  Life with one pig was overwhelming, but when we brought Truffles into the mix (we thought Rutley was depressed), our lives were just slightly less complicated.


Myth #3:

Pigs love baths.  Sure, pigs might like to splash in some dirty water on their own terms, but just try to put a pig in a nice bath of water.  Then add some shampoo and see if you can handle the high-pitched screams.  Rutley is a mellow pig and we were able to quickly bathe him while he gorged on peas.  Truffles would have none of it.  She does, however, like to stand in her water bowl.


Myth #4:

Pigs make great house pets.  I really wanted this one to be true.  I thought it would be just like having a puppy.  Pigs need an indoor and outdoor area.  They need to have dirt to push around.  Pigs would rather use the restroom outside (see Myth #5), and they do not like being carried.  Please do not even consider a pet pig unless you have plenty of outdoor space.  If you have kids, they will insist the house is a fine place for a pig.  I'll admit, we did have some good times.



Myth #5:

Pigs are easy to house train.  Rutley came home with a case of the runs.  We took him to two veterinarians and tried all kinds of remedies.  Still, he squirted.  He squirted on walls, under tables, down my shirt, and behind the fireplace.  Our house, for three months, smelled like the bottom of a porta potty.  The pig farmer offered to take him back, but we loved him, so we carried on.  Occasionally, he would squirt in the litter box and our optimism would grow.  We brought home Truffles and she quickly began using the litter box.  Rutley followed suit much of the time.  The problem with two pigs using a litter box is that they are not cats.  They have feces the size of a dog, but go five times more often.  It's a miracle our marriage survived the three months they lived in the house.  We finally got to the bottom of Rutley's diarrhea (it was a bacterial infection) and he now has regular stools.  The pigs have since been relocated to the barn.  Our sanity has been restored and the pigs are enjoying life outside as well!

                            


Rutley and Truffles now have a perfect pig pad in the barn, complete with a comfy sleeping area, an indoor retreat and a small yard.  We (meaning my dad) are in the process of building them their own pasture.  Pigs are wonderful, friendly farm animals.  I highly recommend having a pig for a pet if you are okay with lots of poop, loud squeals, snuggling only on the pig's terms, and if you are willing to have two.  Pigs are a joy and we are happy they have joined our family!    






Any pigs we own in the future will be rescue pigs.  We have since learned that pigs are abandoned quite frequently.  Another lesson learned!

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Post for Future Turkey Farmers

I thought I should give you a post-Thanksgiving turkey follow up post.  Here is a detailed Cost-Benefit Analysis of our turkey business for anyone interested taking on such an adventure.
Cost: Financial

The night before the big slaughter, Glenn and I got out our calculators and notes.  We had no idea how much our turkeys would weigh.  Glenn added up all of the bags of food, poult price, and slaughtering fees.  We determined the turkeys would have to weigh over 11 pounds each at our price of $6/pound to break even (and not pay ourselves for any work).  Glenn was slightly disappointed when he picked up the turkeys and their weights were in the ranges of seven to thirteen pounds.  Most were under ten pounds.  I had been warned (by a wonderful heritage turkey farmer) I needed to raise the price to $8-9/pound to make a small profit, but I wasn't sure they would sell.  Because they were relatively easy to sell (I only advertised on Facebook a couple of times), I don't think raising the price will be a huge problem.  We also need to start raising the turkeys earlier in the season to give them more time to plump up.  

Cost: Time

One difficult aspect of raising turkeys, is keeping them out of the mouths of predators.  We had to be home each night before sunset to wrangle all of the turkeys and lock them up for the evening.

Cost: Emotional

The weekend before the turkeys went to slaughter was a dark time in our house.  Glenn and I were depressed about the impending slaughter.  I had nightmares and wanted to lay around in my sweats all day.  I caught Glenn sitting on the couch in the front porch gazing at the turkeys.  The morning Glenn had to drive the gang to the butcher, he had the most difficult task of all.  Glenn had to make "Sophie's Choice" and decide which turkeys were going to live and which were going to be food.  Once we knew the turkeys were gone, a huge weight was lifted and we could focus on them being food and delivery of them to our customers.


Benefit:  Education

Raising turkeys was such a wonderful learning opportunity for our kids and ourselves.  We learned about turkey behavior, the meat processing industry, and  poultry anatomy.

Benefit: New Pets

I love having turkeys as pets.  They follow us around the farm, chase off stray dogs, and just look cute walking around.  You can read my whole blog post about the benefits of turkey ownership (see previous post).

Benefit: Community Farm Movement

I feel really good that we (as a community) saved turkeys from the major meat-processing industry.  I love that so many people got behind us and were willing to pay (a lot) extra for quality, humanely-raised meat.  Plus, when your customers CARE about about their food and the welfare of animals, they tend to be pretty cool people.  This is one of the reasons I wanted to keep the cost down the first year.  Did we stick it to "The Man?"  I like to think we did.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thank You, Turkeys!

This fantasy of raising a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner started in a feed store in 1988.  My mom fell in love with a baby turkey and promised my dad we would raise her and eat her for Thanksgiving.  Dixie Drumsticks became an instant member of the family.  We raised her like one of our dogs and she barked happily with them in the dog run.  It would be our first of many vegetarian Thanksgivings.

Tragically, Dixie's life was cut short by an eagle.  Dixie liked to roost on the fence surrounding the chicken coop.  One day an eagle swooped down and picked her up with his massive talons.  The eagle made it about ten feet before he realized she was too large to carry.  Dixie lived the rest of her life in the kitchen, being feed antibiotics with a syringe.  

I lived a contented, turkey-free life for over twenty years, but I married a man with a deep love of Thanksgiving turkey.  Over the years I have shamed him into eating squash when a humanely-raised turkey could not be found.  Because it has been so hard for us to find meat that meets all of our humane standards, Glenn talked me into raising heritage turkeys this year.  They arrived in May; the sweetest little poults we had seen.

Really, we are going to have these things beheaded?!  Glenn built them a shelter in the back yard and our lives began as turkey farmers.  With that, I give you:

The Top Seven Things I Have Learned About Turkey Farming!

7.  Turkeys eat A LOT!  The garden?  Demolished.  The weeds? Gone.  Carved Pumpkins?  Mutilated.  On top of all of the foraging, they still manage to eat one giant bag of food a week. 

6.  Turkeys have this fascinating thing that hangs over their beaks.  They also have the ability to move it around and pull it in.  I found out it is called a snood.  I'm pretty sure the turkey with the longest snood gets the most ladies.

5.  Turkeys get along with most everyone.  I have seen them sleeping next to our dog, chickens and guinea fowl.  They love humans and follow us around the yard.  Bob Marley would be proud.

4.  Keeping turkeys alive is a huge time commitment.  Turkeys like to roost in trees and we have a serious fox problem.  Every night at dusk, we have to collect the turkeys and lock them up for the night.  Oliver climbs on top of the chicken coop and pushes all of the turkeys to the ground.  The rest of the family uses arms or oars to guide the turkeys down to their house.  If you haven't seen much of us recently, it's because our lives have been taken over by turkey security measures.  The children are great little turkey wranglers!

3.  Who needs television when you have male turkeys on display on the back deck?  Gobbling provides hours of entertainment for the kids.
  video
  
2.  Turkeys are lovable.  They are too quick now for the kids, but in their youth they received dozens of hugs and kisses from Oliver and Pearl.


1.  Turkeys are intelligent and regal creatures.  I'm going to be very sad to say "goodbye" to ten of these guys in a few weeks.  I am comforted in the fact that our turkeys have had wonderful lives, and will go to thoughtful families who decided not to support factory farming.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Unbelievable Life of Shelby the Tortoise


Shelby is a Russian Tortoise who was born in captivity.  He lived his first years of life in a small aquarium.  Shelby had dreams of stretching his legs and seeing the world.  He frantically tried to escape from his aquarium, walking back and forth, looking constantly for an exit.  Shelby came to live on our property when the college girls who owned him asked my mom to give him a better life.  Shelby moved into my parents' chicken coop.

A couple of weeks after Shelby moved in, my mom left the chicken coop door open to get something from inside.  She came back to find Shelby gone.  We looked everywhere and were devastated to think Shelby would starve alone in the wilderness or get eaten by a raccoon.  One month later we got a call from the Fire Department across the street.  They found a tortoise wandering around the station.

Shelby was thin, but he was alive!  My mom was overjoyed.  Because Shelby had survived such an ordeal, my parents decided he needed to live the life of a king.  My mom began to read about how to bring a tortoise back from starvation.  She took him to the vet and found a local tortoise rescue.  She found out what tortoises need in order to have a perfect winter and summer habitat.  Shelby gained weight and seemed to thrive in his new environments.  My parents spent more money than they had ever dreamed they would spend on a reptile.  It was a beautiful day in May when tragedy struck again.  My dad called frantically saying my dog, Pumpkin, had come over and pulled Shelby from his habitat.  Shelby was gone again.

I was hesitant to blame my sweet dog.  This is a dog who protects chickens and turkeys!  How could he murder a tortoise?  I went over to investigate and found incriminating paw prints at the scene.  We waited for Pumpkin to throw up a giant piece of tortoise shell or need emergency surgery for a blockage.  Pumpkin seemed well, but Shelby was nowhere to be found.  

After a month, we mourned Shelby's loss.  His habitat and our hopes grew thick with weeds.  Three months after his disappearance, my parents received a phone call.  Our neighbor across and down the street found a tortoise walking around in his apple orchard.  Yes, Shelby had survived three months in the wilderness without a constant source or food or water and was not eaten by a bear, raccoon, fox, mountain lion or other critter.  A small tortoise had accomplished a feat most humans couldn't.    

And yet again, we were filled with great happiness to have Shelby back in our lives.  My dad quickly built a barrier to cover his outdoor habitat. 

We like to think Shelby is happy to be home.  He is very active and trying to gain back all of the weight he lost.  He spends much of his day with his new girlfriend, "Shelly."  He doesn't seem to care she lacks appendages.  We hope Shelby decides to live out the rest of his long life with us on the farm and that his days of adventure are long over.   Welcome home, buddy!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Whale Hunting

Before I tell the tale our week-long hunt for humpback whales, I would like to give thanks to the millions of tiny fish who brought an incredible number of birds and mammals to our part of the California coast to feed.  You rocked our world.


Our story begins last Sunday night when I saw several posts on facebook about whales feeding in Avila Bay.  I went to bed feeling disappointed because we spend so many weekends at the beach and had missed a perfect day to see a whale.  The next morning as I picked up Oliver from school, my sister showed me a video she took of the whales that morning.  We dropped all of our plans and headed straight for the beach.

Whale Hunting Day One:

I threw the kids in the car and sped out to the beach.  My heart was beating rapidly and my hands were shaking a little.  Yes, the prospect of seeing a wild animal makes me quite crazy.  Oliver and I were laughing and singing about whales.  Life was going to be so good at the pier.  We pulled up to the pier and jumped out of the car.  A woman told Oliver, "There is a mommy and baby whale out there right now."  I almost died of happiness.  We ran out to the end of the pier.  I asked a woman if she had seen a whale.  She replied, "There are whales here?"  My excitement began to wane.  Pearl and I smiled at seals and Oliver spent time with fishermen.


Watching pelicans dive over and over was interesting, but we wanted whales...badly.  We waited for hours before we finally threw in the towel.


That night I photographed two spiders killing a fly and told myself, "This is just as cool as watching humpback whales, only on a smaller scale."

Whale Hunting Day Two:

It's a really good thing I have a husband who loves animals almost as much as I do.  Glenn, Pearl and I headed out the next morning after dropping Oliver off at school.  The seal lions were putting on a great show, but no whale could be found in the bay.  Can you see the disappointment in my eyes?  I was putting on a brave face for Pearl (Although Pearl thought she was seeing whales the whole time.  She saw at least twenty).  


We drove away from the pier certain the whales were gone for good.  Glenn noticed a pod of dolphins on the drive home and we stopped to watch a spectacular show.  I finally felt satisfied.  The dolphin show was more than good enough.


Whale Hunting Day Three:

My husband is a pretty great guy.  He still wanted to see some whales, so he agreed to pick me up after work for another go at it.  Day three was our lucky day, because I spotted a whale swimming away from the pier just as we arrived.  

We drove to the closest bait ball and waited.  Glenn had the camera when the whale rocketed out of the water to grab a mouth-full of fish.  Everyone watching cheered.  It was glorious.  

Whale Hunting Day Four:

The kids and Glenn had a few hours to kill until I got off work.  They decided to drive to Avila one last time to look for sea life.  Glenn called me when I got off work.  He said, "We are tired and hungry, but I think you should drive out here right now."  Glenn, Oliver and Pearl had seen a whale at the end of the pier and were watching another pod of dolphins play.  

Glenn scraped together some Cheerios from the floor of the car for the kids and we dressed them in whatever old sweaters we could find.  Our car isn't dirty because we are lazy, we do it for survival purposes.   The four of us headed out to the pier once more.  I looked up and saw a whale swimming toward the pier.  "RUN!"  

We were hoping we would be faster than the whale.  We were almost to a bait ball when Glenn said, "You should have your camera ready."  Just then a huge mouth surged out of the water not more than 50 feet from us.  I missed the shot.  This is what my picture could have looked like.  It is a photo taken by my friend, Todd Gaily, at the same pier.

I'm happy I got to see it without looking through a lens.  I have the best mental picture.  All of us were on a serious nature high for the rest of the evening.  Oliver said it was the best day of his whole life.