Pete's random thoughts

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Heat wave!

It's the "January thaw" here in New Hampshire.

The temperatures have been gradually warming all week, and as I write this it is 50 degrees out! Most of the snow has melted with the exception of large piles that were snowbanks, drifts etc. It's raining and the unseasonable warm air is causing quite a bit of fog and mist.

Seeing the "stuff" strewn about in the yard that was freed by the melting snow makes me impatient for spring and the resume of cleaning up the grounds, clearing brush, and building stuff.

The pathways that were worn in the snow by going out to take care of the animals every day are down to bare ground (OK, bare mud) and the rest of the areas are covered in a couple of inches of ice from repeated thawing and freezing. The guineas slide all over the place as they run across it. I haven't fallen yet.

After the freezing cold, I'm so energised by the quick little thaw that if our little pond wasn't frozen over, I'd go jump in to celebrate.

It's all over tomorrow though. Temperature in the daytime is supposed to be in the low 20's with an dip down to 6 degrees tomorrow night. Probably some snow too. It really personifies the old saying that "if you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a minute".

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Pic of the new goat

Here's a picture of the new billy goat.

It was a little hard to snap the picture because there were two chickens sitting on my head at the time.

Bumper is the white doe on the left, Chocolate is the brown doe in the middle and the unnamed buck is on the right. He still has his horns and is sporting an ear tag from the auction that I haven't removed yet. We'll take it out and trim his hooves in a week or two after he is used to us being around. He's still a little skittish.

Fridge full of mutton

I haven't posted here in a while. It's been busy with holidays, work and finalizing the sale of my old house in Massachusetts. We are "closing" on it Tuesday at 1PM and there are still a million little things to take care of first. I'm sure I will have things to say here about that experience.

Today, however, I'm back to my favorite topic: homesteading.

Last week, Chester and I built a stock rack in the back of my ugly old truck and went off tot he livestock auction in Whatley, MA which is on the Deerfield line. The plan was to get a goat buck, some feeder pigs and maybe a grown out hog. We learned a lot about the livestock business from the staff and other auction goers, it was a very friendly, welcoming atmosphere.

We came home with a young buck goat (looks like a Nubian/Boer cross, just like our girls) and a sheep. The goat is to breed our girls and then eat. The sheep is to eat.

Here's a pic of the sheep in her makeshift pen.

Wednesday morning, I managed to get the goat out of the truck and in the girls. There is much more to the story, but I don't want to sidetrack myself. The sheep stayed in the truck with a bucket of water and some hay to munch on.

Thursday, Chester and Steven arrived. We wrangled the sheep to a spot close to the hanging boom we had rigged, killed her with a single shot to the back of the head with a .45, then cut her throat to bleed out. Small cuts were made the long way, just below the rear hooves to expose the tendon and we inserted a gambrel to hang her up.

We removed the hide, still with a thick coating of fleece, and rolled it up in a trash bag to freeze until spring. Next we removed the head and put it aside to save the skull for reasons yet to be determined. Next, we removed the innards and set them aside to sort through for edible stuff (I.E. Haggis fixins).

Since it was an older sheep, at least three years old (you tell by the teeth) we need to let the meat age for a while to tenderize it. We used the sawzall to cut the breast bone and down the spine which gave us two neat halves. See pic here.

The sheep's liveweight was 89lbs. She cost $.325 per hundredweight, a total cost of $26.65. Subtract from that a 9lb hide, a 6 1/2lb head, and 26 1/2lb of non-edible guts and stomach contents and you are left with 47lb of chops, legs and stew meat at $.57 per lb.

Sure there is some work involved, but THIS is the way to buy meat until we can raise it all ourselves. This animal came from somebody's family farm. By it's demeanor, you could tell she was used to people and thus not likely to have been abused or mistreated.

On the flip side of that, Wendy's parents came up for New Year's and the last days of Chanukka. (we are a very "mixed" family, celebrating Christmas, Chanukka and Mid-Winter) Since we hadn't planned the defrosting of chickens right, the girls went out to the supermarket to get the fixins for "Shabbas Chicken". They came home with a pair of Purdue roasters. I think this photo speaks for itself, but I will describe what it about.

The leg bone on the left is from a Purdue mutant chicken, you can see that it is stunted, malformed at the top, and twisted. What you can't see because of the camera angle is that is twisted in several directions with a corkscrew effect. This occurs because they are fed a high-protein diet and not allowed to exercise. Their bodies grow so quickly that their skeletons can't keep up and support their weight. In short, they are malnourished. This fast growing trait is accomplished by crossing two specific breeds: a Cornish and a White Plymouth Rock. They aren't equipped to survive on the range because their bodies are too messed up.

The bone on the right is from a real chicken. It is from one of our cage-free New Hampshire Red roosters. As you can see, it grew a good, straight leg bone because it was fed properly and allowed to exercise. We got them as day-old chicks and raised them to adulthood. They start off looking like this, then after being cared for and fed every day they end up looking like this. Along the way, they get treated as good as any pet.

The more I learn about the modernized farming industry, the more determined I am to grow as much of our own food as possible. The dirt here is rough, lots of rock and clay. The animals are doing their part by creating more topsoil for us to garden on. It's not going to be as easy as just going to the supermarket, but it is the right thing to do. My family farmed this valley since the middle of the 18th century, my branch of it only left at the beginning of the 20th. Now I have to think of Caleigh and what kind of world she will grow up in and do the best I can to provide a good one for her. In our case, I feel that means doing so here in the country and not back in Lowell where I was born. Our garden there was only slightly bigger than my desk!

In a modern world where malnourished mutant chickens are a normal part of our diet, we as individuals need to take some control of our lives and for us it starts with what we eat. I'm not even going to get into my thoughts on the milk industry, I'm still too pissed off about what I recently learned to write about it politely.

OK, back to work! I've got a ton of things to do before Chester and I leave for Lowell tomorrow!