Sunday, January 20, 2013

Predator Pressure

Edmund and Garth both shot deer this season. They hung in our hops barn as long as the weather permitted before being skinned and butchered. I was present while Edmund was pulling the hide away from the carcass, and I heard him gasp. He had found a cluster of dog ticks buried in the white fur just behind the deer's front legs. He related this experience to a group of older men who gather every year to cut their deer communally. They always invite Edmund and Garth to partake in these evenings. Many of them reported finding the same thing on their deer. The alarming part is that they have been hunting deer here for more than 60 years, and no one ever remembers seeing a tick on one of their animals until this year. Last year was a very warm winter and this may be just another indicator of the pervasive shift occurring in our climate. Whatever the cause, it makes me uneasy. 

I heard a radio program recently that was discussing zoonotic diseases - those shared between animals and humans - lyme disease being the most recognized among them. The person being interviewed described the factors that limit their spread. The most effective was the natural order attained by having diverse species inhabit a large area together. Predators limit the overpopulation of their prey, allowing a tenuous balance to be achieved  The diversity of wildlife on this farm is our most important asset in maintaining ecological stability. It is one thing to hear owls in the night, or observe coyotes stalking groundhogs, but it's another thing to find clear evidence of a predator with its prey. After taking some hay up to the cows, I was remarking to Garth about how you could see all the little mouse tracks swerving this way and that on top of the snow. Our eyes followed the meandering lines until we both noticed one path that was interrupted.

A large bird had caught sight of this rodent, swooped down, carving large streaks with its tail, and then, clutching the mouse with its talons, broke into flight again. I feel so happy to have these relationships playing out around us. It's my hope that our farming practices will do little to quell this activity and that we might live contentedly around the edges of this dynamic order. 

- Alanna

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Heirloom Turkeys in the New Year

The new year stretches ahead of us. 

This is the path worn through the snow by our cows. They use it to retreat from the wind once they've eaten their fill. It stretches to the very top of the hill where the forest beyond the fence cups the pasture at its side and blocks the brunt of the weather. I marvel at them every time I'm within view when they descend to the feeder. They follow each other tightly in single file along the ridge of the hill. We have nearly two feet of snow now, and cows know to conserve what energy they can through minimizing their efforts. We're doing the same - carving only necessary paths, going no further than we need to, and casting our minds forward as we sit comfortably indoors.

Among our many ambitions for the coming year, raising heritage turkeys is high on the list. We haven't decided firmly on a breed yet, but we intend to raise an heirloom bird on pasture, one that might actually fly away from us if it cared to. Initially, we thought of raising a set number of birds and randomly offering a few of them for sale when the time came to the first bidder. But Normandy had the brilliance to suggest that we inform people of our intentions ahead of time, and then raise as many birds as we have the interest for. Granted, we don't yet have full command of the details (what the poults will cost, the grain expense, and these finer points will certainly contribute to the final price per pound). But a few things are certain: these turkeys will be truly free ranging in our pasture with our cow herd - they will be fed organic grain (although they will also be fed any number of garden scraps and roots we harvest for them - meaning that they will feast on the full compliment that nature/nurture has to offer) - and that we will care for them with the respect that sentient beings deserve (including a humane slaughter by own own hands). If you are interested in purchasing one or more of these birds from us, send an email directly to We will respond shortly with all the details, including discounts for pre-orders, that may influence whether or not you want to commit to this. If a number of people in a given location (say, Bryn Athyn) express interest, we would absolutely make a specific trip to deliver those turkeys fresh. On the off chance that more people express interest than we feel comfortable accommodating, we will determine priority by the order in which we receive e-mails. 

We hope you are enjoying some reflection on the past year and casting your hopes for the one to come like seeds into good ground.