"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Lamest Farm Ever (Ethical Questions)

This place is pathetic. Seems like everywhere I look, I see an injured animal.

The new Jersey calf with her droopy broken ear, limping around on her dislocated hip, or whatever it is. She is actually getting around much better than she was at first, even frolicking a bit, but she will probably never be entirely normal. Homero holds out hope she can be bred and used as a family milk cow, but I rather doubt it, myself. He wonders if she can give birth normally; I wonder if one of her hindquarters will be unfit to eat. 

Flopsy the goat has something wrong with her left foreleg. She is a little slower than the other goats, bobs her head when she walks, and often holds her foot up off the ground. I thought it was hoof rot, because her hooves were horrible when we got from Mexico. All the goat's hooves were, actually; I think the renters hadn't trimmed in many moons. But this particular foot of Flopsy's was the worst: grossly deformed and swollen. However, after diligent trimming for three months, it's pretty much back to normal. I can't see that there's anything in the hoof that would explain her limp. Now I'm thinking she has a strain somewhere higher up in the leg. I'm a bit worried because she is certainly bred now, and the extra weight of pregnancy isn't going to do her any favors. Flopsy is a gigantic obese goat in any case, which is probably why the leg hasn't healed on it's own. I don't know why she's so fat - she just eats grass like all the rest of them. 

The white turkey got stepped on by a horse about six weeks ago. He was pretty bad off for a while. He spent most of his time laying down and his breast feathers all fell out. Now the feathers have grown in again, which greatly improves his appearance, but he still limps. He somehow flies up to the top of the chicken coop to roost every night, but I have no idea how. When he comes down in the mornings he flops heavily to the ground and it looks like a small airplane crash landing. I always try to run up and grab him to let him down gently, but he always evades me. 

Rosie Pony's intermittent eye infection is back, and her long lashes are gummed together. Twice a day I try to catch her, and if I can, I swab her eyes with warm salt water and cider vinegar. What she needs is to have her tear ducts irrigated, but she'd need to be sedated for that and last time, three years ago, it cost $400. (see What Do You Do With a Drunken Pony?)

The day before yesterday I saw Dorian, our elderly cat, sitting in the sun on the front porch. He was hunched up oddly, and when I went closer I saw he had one foreleg folded under him. I tried to get him to stand up and he fell over, crying. We brought him into the house and examined him, discovering a large, squishy lump over his shoulder. I couldn't find the shoulder blade, and that, combined with the way the leg was dangling, made me think he had a fracture or dislocation. 

A friend of ours, A., is a vet who makes house calls, and she came out yesterday to see Dorian, prepared to put him down if he turned out to have a fracture for real. Dorian is almost seventeen years old and in poor health; we weren't going to try any heroic measures. However, A. said that the big squishy lump was an abscess. We didn't find a bite mark, but A. said she saw a scar. She thought he had been bitten by something - maybe a rat- some time ago, and the skin healed over the infection. She said cat skin seals up quickly. I held Dorian while A. tried to aspirate the wound - without much luck - and then made a small incision to let the wound drain. 

I've been putting hot compresses on the wound three or four times a day, and giving him heavy doses of antibiotics. The poor cat is flat out, he hasn't eaten anything, not even the tuna I opened for him. I'm not sure yet if he's going to make it or not. The little girls are frantic, Dorian has been around since long before they were born. He's our oldest pet. 

The questions surrounding how much should be done to save a pet are complicated. The questions surrounding how much should be done for livestock are complicated as well. One of the reasons I didn't want a cow is that I know we can't afford the veterinary care she would need if she were to get sick or injured - further injured, I mean. I don't think we should have animals around if we are unable or unwilling to provide a certain minimum level of care for them. We shouldn't let animals suffer pain or debility, that seems like a simple statement. Until you begin to break it down into economic terms. 

Dorian's case is relatively easy. He's elderly and has other, chronic conditions. If he doesn't heal in a reasonable time frame, we will ask our friend to euthanize him and bury him beneath a fruit tree. He's a pet, with a name, so he gets a funeral and a headstone. Flopsy is in a grey area - she is livestock, not a pet. But she has a name and we all have feelings for her. If she had to be put down because of an injury, for example, we would never eat her. Homero might try to convince me to sell her as meat, but we would gang up on him and refuse. She would be buried in the goat graveyard, no funeral, no headstone. Flopsy is an animal with economic value - she provides us with meat and milk, year after year, and often with cash income from the sale of her adorable babies. Beyond the ethical requirement to provide her with some level of veterinary care that applies to all the animals, she justifies the vet's fee economically as well. Up to a point, anyway. 

Poultry does not get veterinary care. If a chicken gets injured, they get a cold appraisal and my best guess as to whether they will recover on their own or not. If I don't think they will, they get their necks wrung quickly and mercifully by Homero, and will be eaten or not eaten according to their age and health status. Chickens simply do not have either the economic or the sentimental value to justify spending money on the vet. I would only do that if, say, there seemed to be some sort of epidemic. 

These all seem like pretty middle-of-the-road positions to me, extreme in neither direction. But I know people have a wide range of opinions on these topics. How do the farmers among you make these kinds of decisions? How have you decided when it is time to authorize a pet? How much does money figure into it? Any comments would be greatly appreciated. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

State of the Farm (Mid-Autumn)

Last week we enjoyed a long stretch of beautiful fall weather. Temperatures reached the low sixties on a couple of days, and it was dry enough that the fallen leaves were crisp and crackly. Blue skies and light breezes tempted everybody outside to get the last of the outdoor chores done before the curtain of rain descended again, as we all knew it must. From our hilltop, we could see several thin columns of smoke, neighbors burning leaves and the accumulated detritus of the old year.

Homero built an add-on to the field shelter for the new baby cow. Our small three-sided field shelter was not really much of a shelter, being open to the north. The prevailing winds here are generally from the southwest, but during the deeps of winter we get strong, freezing north winds that sweep across the valley from Canada. The field shelter was adequate for a couple of shaggy shetland ponies, but not for a delicate baby dairy calf. Homero added two more walls, on the east and the north sides, leaving the west side open, and roofed it with corrugated plastic sheets. I hope those sheets can stand up to our winter winds; we'll find out.

Meanwhile, I staked out the ponies and let out the goats to graze on the last of the green grass before the frost. There hasn't been a freeze yet, but there surely will be soon. After the first frost, the grass loses most of it's nutrition and becomes fairly useless as fodder. I had to take advantage of the good weather to graze the animals as often as possible before that happens. The goats attacked the blackberry vines, which still have green leaves, and stood on their hind legs to eat the brown leaves off of the pear tree, the dogwood, and the copper beech. I drove them away from the cherry trees: I read that the leaves of the cherry are toxic right at this time of year - after they lose their green color but before they are completely dry. I have never seen any evidence of that, but why take chances?

It's goat breeding season, and the buck is still rank, but I think all the does must be pregnant already, because he has lost interest in them and now grazes peacefully alongside without harassing them. Some neighbors are bringing a couple of does this weekend to be bred. They are farmers, and I would trade with them for pumpkins or something, but money is tight right now and I need the $50 to pay the electric bill.

Rowan's garden is still producing. We did a late planting of inside the greenhouse, and so now we are enjoying spicy mustard greens and small red radishes. Outside, there are still carrots, spinach, and brussels sprouts. A late planting of various brassicas are tiny, but surviving. I don't think they will grow much over the winter, and I am predicting Rowan will have to tear them out next spring, but who knows, I might be wrong. When she tore out the old tomato vines she threw them to the goats, who loved the hard green tomatoes. I was worried the vines might be poisonous, but it doesn't seem so.

The chickens aren't laying much, but then again they never did. I don't know what I am doing wrong with chickens, but I never seem to get the egg production that others do. The five layers that my neighbor gave me were producing an egg a day each when she gave them to me; since I've had them they are producing about an egg a week. Chickens hate me. I don't know what to do - we are going through chicken food like crazy and getting nothing like as many eggs as we need.

The turkeys have grown up. They are really very big now; I have no idea what they weigh but I'm pretty sure one of them will suffice for the entire Thanksgiving crowd. One of them was injured - stepped on by a horse, I think - and is limping around. Maybe I will use that one as a practice turkey before the holiday. Pasture raised birds need a slightly different treatment than your standard supermarket turkey. Last time I cooked one, I brined it for a day beforehand and I think that worked well.

I think we are ready for winter. There are no major outstanding chores to be done. The propane tank is two-thirds full. There is hay in the barn and beef in the freezer. The year's butchering is done. I have made the rounds of the thrift shops and everyone has a winter coat and socks and boots. Bring it on, winter! Bring it on.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Meet the Cow (Chalk One Up for the Husband)

Homero has a friend who works at a local dairy. At any given time they have a few hundred cows and dozens of calves. Yesterday Homero got a call from this friend, saying there was a heifer calf available for free, if we wanted her. She had been injured somehow, probably kicked or trampled, and the owner didn't think she was going to recover fully, or quickly enough, or something. She was scheduled to be culled, but we could have her instead. 

Homero and I have argued a lot about cows lately (Imaginary Cows) and the family position on hypothetical cows had still not crystallized into unanimity, but when faced with an actual, cow, concrete and free, my resistance crumbled and so the baby cow came home with us. In the van. 

She's a scruffy little thing, and to be honest, she does look like a cull. Not only does she limp on her right hind foot, but she has a broken ear (the cartilage seems to be busted and she can't move it; it droops lifelessly) and she has a few small, open sores on her face. I asked our friend what was going on with her face and he said "oh they all get those." Inspires a lot of confidence, doesn't it?

I did some research (also called "googling") and found out that many people consider Jerseys to be perfectly acceptable beef cattle as far as flavor goes. In fact, they are known for their superior marbling. But they are a smaller breed, and relatively slow growing, taking a full two years to mature on grass. We will take our time deciding what to do with this little girl. If she does recover fully, we will probably breed her for a family milk cow - if not, she'll eventually become meat. In the meanwhile, she is a little bit lost.

The poor thing doesn't even know how to graze. She's never been out on grass. She was kept in a small pen, chained to the feed trough, where she was fed grain and a bit of alfalfa. At least this dairy doesn't use calf hutches - the calves are all together in one open building and they can see and hear each other. I know tonight she will be cold and confused. We have her in the small pasture with the three sided field shelter, which has alfalfa and water and a little grain in it. Hope she is okay in the morning.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Scavenge City (Gleaner's Pantry)

After moaning and wailing yesterday in this space about how hard it is to feed everybody, today I received an amazing bounty of free food. The two things are not directly related - it just happened that way.

Right up the road from my house, there is a small institution called the Gleaner's Pantry. I knew about it, in a general way, but I had never stopped by to check it out. The Gleaners collect expired or imperfect produce and baked goods from area grocery stores and then sort it and allow members to collect it for home use. Most of the food is perfectly fit for human consumption, and whatever isn't is taken away for chickens or pigs.

There has been a lot of press recently about the amount of food wasted in this country, and at the Gleaner's Pantry it is easy to see for oneself. A room, about twenty by thirty, was absolutely filled to bursting with food. This happens twice a week, and represents only a very small portion of the food thrown away by just a couple of local stores. Gleaning seems to me like a win/win situation - I get free or extremely cheap nutritious food, and the food is diverted from the landfills, where it would generate methane and contribute to greenhouse gases.

It works like this: for a yearly fee of $150, plus 2 hours of volunteer work per month, a person can come collect food twice a week. The first gleaning is free. Here's what I brought home today - if it's a representative sample, then it's an extremely good deal:

a large bunch of grapes
half a dozen apples
three grapefruit
three bananas
3 pounds or so assorted greens - spinach, kale, and collards
big bunch parsley
six limes
six big tomatoes
a dozen potatoes
a dozen yellow bell peppers
a dozen hot peppers
three loaves of rye bread
a beautiful pomegranate

Everything I brought home is fresh enough - not "just got home from the grocery store" fresh, but certainly as fresh as most of the stuff in my refrigerator is right now. Only the greens really ought to be used today, and so I am making my dad's curry. He uses beef, but I'm using goat (Recipe in Lieu of Post (Dad's Spinach Curry)).

Then, after my visit to the pantry, I went to my neighbor's house to strip his apple trees. We were invited at church last weekend to go and get as many apples as we liked. Alas, there aren't enough to make it worthwhile to drag out and sterilize the apple press, but there are plenty of apples for eating, juicing, and probably for another gallon or so of applesauce. Now it's cold enough, they will keep very nicely in the shed.

I brought the neighbors some home baked pumpkin bread, and if we go back for more apples, I will bring smoked salmon. I have a whole lot of smoked salmon in the fridge - that's the other free bounty I received recently. There was a raffle as the tamagochi's school's open house, and I won a gigantic filet of king salmon.

Funny how quickly I can go from feeling put upon and whiny to feeling blessed and thankful. There is still the same amount of work to do - more! - but my attitude has done a 180. Now I'd better go wash some greens.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Feeding the Ravening Hordes

It's amazing to me what adding just two teenage mouths means to the family food budget, and to the amount of time I spend cooking. In addition to my own kids, we have taken on Homero's two teenage nieces, collectively known as the Tamagochis. They are twelve and fourteen, and are normal, healthy eaters; not slobbering goblins - not any more so than any other teenager, anyway. I figured that adding two mouths would be no big deal. Two can eat as cheaply as one, so they say.

Maybe I'm not being fair to the Tamagochis - they aren't the only new mouths. There is also P., my oldest daughter's boyfriend, who moved in while we were away and is still here. Rowan and P. buy their own food and cook for themselves most of the time, but I often find myself mentally counting them in as I cook, thinking "I should make enough so there will be leftovers for Rowan and P." He is a tall, lanky 21 year old and he can really put it away. Also, we are trying (again) to institute a Sunday dinner, a sacred hour when all eight of us will sit down together and eat like a real family, goddammit.

The main difference is that I have been used to sit down dinners for four, two of them small children. That's a very manageable and civilized meal. Now every single dinner is for six, and the kids are no longer small. It's more than a sheer numbers issue - the gestalt has changed. Dinner for six - sometimes eight - is just a bigger deal. It's louder. It takes longer. There are more dishes to wash, there are more taste preferences to juggle. It's more likely to be stressful.

Thank goodness the Tamagochis are not picky eaters. Even though they are used to an entirely different cuisine and a lot of what I make - while prosaic enough - is strange and new to them. I've made a lot of salmon lately - it's seasonal and we lucked out and won a massive side of king salmon at a school raffle - and that is definitely weird food for them. I tend to make lots of vaguely asian food - Indian curries and Thai noodles with peanut sauce, stir fries and miso soup with seaweed and tofu - and that is totally foreign to them. Thank goodness they are game to try to new things, and too polite to turn up their noses or complain. I had to tell them, "you know, if I ask you how you like something, and you don't like it, it's okay to say so. I need to know. The polite way to say you don't like something I make is to say 'it's not my favorite.'"

Yesterday was Hope's birthday and because there was so much work to do to get ready for the party, I just made some tuna salad, put a loaf of bread out on the counter, and said "if you're hungry, here ya go, knock yourselves out." Three cans of tuna and a whole loaf of bread disappeared in less time than it just took me to write about it. The hamburger from our beef is packaged in two pound packages, and that used to mean we had to have hamburger in two successive meals - not anymore. Two pounds is just barely enough to feed everybody once. A two-pound loaf of cheese goes in less than a week, and the milk - well, a gallon of milk doesn't make it through a day sometimes. I find myself buying quantities that used to seem ridiculous to me - twenty pounds of potatoes, a ten pound sack on onions.

My dad's mother raised seven children, six of them boys. All of my uncles are well over six feet tall, too. They were pretty poor, especially after my grandpa died and before my grandma remarried. My dad remembers being hungry fairly often. He says grandma used to make a single, enormous pot of some kind of stew or beans and just let it simmer on the stove for everyone to dip up a bowl whenever they wanted. It's clear to me that was the only way to keep six hungry growing boys fed without going stark raving mad. I wouldn't mind doing the same sometimes, but so far I haven't been able to let go of my ideal of everybody eating together at least most of the time. I grew up with sit-down meals every day of the week, and I refuse to give up entirely on the idea, no matter how much extra work it is.
Apparently I inherited the martyr gene from my Jewish ancestresses.

So for the time being, I am keeping up. My canned good pantry is laughable inadequate to the task - more on that in a later post - but it's there. Yesterday we brought home a quarter of a beef - 162 pounds, and I rearranged the freezer to fit it in. We still have a lot of berries and several smaller salmon. We have bunches of broccoli and some frozen zucchini bread I made earlier in the season. We have some green salsa and some frozen chicken stock. And we have most of a goat.

The season isn't over - today I was supposed to go pick up apples from a friend who has too many, but I didn't have the car. I can do it tomorrow. Then there's squash, still. There's plenty to do, and obviously nobody's going to starve. I'm just feeling the weight of my duty to provide healthy, interesting, good-tasting food for everybody, day after ever-loving day to be a bit heavier than I usually do. My favorite of all my motherly and housewifely tasks is cooking, and so I feel bad when even this becomes something of a slog.