"We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependant on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do."
—Wendell Berry

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Look who wandered in.

Just when I had given up hope of the hens ever hatching out a clutch. I ran into this girl bringing her babies in for a drink.

For a long time the hens have variously hidden themselves away on a secret clutch and not once has anyone managed to hatch any out. So it was a pleasant surprise indeed to see this mum with her brood today. A week ago we discovered her on a nest of fourteen eggs out in the field under some raspberries. She seemed pretty determined so we left her there. As you can see she doesn't trust me with her babies, as soon as I got the camera out she puffed up and told me off before escorting her flock out to the field again.
I am pleased she is showing a strong defensive nature, it will give the chicks the best possible chance. Hopefully she will pass on her secret to the other hens and we will have a few more chooks about the place.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Milking the cow

The core of each day is the milking.
Rain, hail or shine the milking is a chore that cannot be ignored and if you wish to have a milk cow then this is the responsibility that comes with it. For the first four months after the new calf is born we milk mornings only and let the calf have the evenings milk. After the calf is weaned we milk twice a day, every day.
Annabelle gives around six litres per milking on average. Twelve litres per day give or take a few litres depending upon the season. When the grass is sweet and plentiful due to plenty of good sun and warmth the milk volume rises. On these days Anna will be waiting for us each morning outside the milking shed, her udder drum skin tight and looking forward to being milked.
If the weather has been foul and the grass is sour she will usually still be out in the field. On these days she will be grouchy and needs to be driven into the shed to be milked. Her milk yield drops noticeably too. Long periods of rain and cloudy weather can make the grass "sour off" and become less palatable to cattle. In turn they will consume less and the milk drops off. Dairy farmers hate this sort of weather.
Both Anna and I off in our own thoughts.
So at about seven thirty each morning I stumble out to the milking shed. I quite like the milking. It is a wonderful chance to just sit and think as the milk hisses into the bucket. I use this time to plan the day and just enjoy the morning sounds.
A cow has to be trained to be milked, it does not just come naturally. To do this we bring her into the milking bales every day of the year for her morning and evening feed. The food she gets, usually some oaten chaff and molasses, is really just a treat so she enjoys milking time. In the bales she learns to stand quietly in position and to not be afraid of being touched.
The littlest cloud farmer discussing the world with Emily.
We are in the process of training our young heifer Emily to the bales. Fortunately she is a placid little girl and has taken to the training well. The bales shown here are my own design. The cow walks in from the end to the feed bucket at the end nearest the wall. When done the gate is opened and she can walk forwards and out of the bales. Knowledgeable types will note we milk our cows from the near side (the left side) whereas many people traditionally milk from the off (right) side. Personally I don't think the cow gives a damn.

Monday, 2 January 2012

The ethics of killing

I have been asked by several people now to discuss killing ethically on the farm. It seems this is often one of the most worrying things for folks new to the land.
Now I am not going into a debate over the morality of either the act of killing or eating meat here as it is obvious where I stand. Nor do I want a hundred letters from pasty vegans, instead I will refer anyone with a vegetarian disability to The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. At the end of the day if you have any animal on your property then you will one day be faced with the question of its death. Thus our creed.

We will provide the best life possible for each animal here. It will be healthy and happy. It will live a natural life. Its death will be absolutely unexpected, sudden and painless. No exceptions to this rule are ever tolerated.

All very good you might say but exactly how, in layman's terms, do you go about this? I have listed below the method and process we use to kill the various livestock on the farm. I should explain that I take no pleasure in killing, in fact I quite dislike it, but I am proud of being able to kill painlessly and cleanly. Like it or not we are a meat eating species. I feel therefore we must make sure we keep our animals ethically and this includes the practise of killing.
"Biggest" One of our first beef steers.

Beef. We take great pains to tame all of our stock. Even when the animal is a steer destined to become beef in a few short months we will still take the time to train him to come for a treat of food each day. He will learn to allow us to approach him and eventually run our hands over him, brush him down or give him a nice scratch behind the ears. They come to quite like this and will usually come up to me for a scratch if I am working in the field. On the day of the slaughter he will come for a feed. The other cattle are herded from the area. When the steer puts his head down to eat he is shot through the head from a short distance with a rifle. This destroys the brain instantly. For anyone who doubts this I can assure you I have investigated the skull cavity afterwards and the brain is almost completely obliterated every time.
Wiltshire horn sheep with a meatmaster ram.

Sheep and goats. Much like the cattle the animal is shot through the brain at close range with the same result. When I was a younger man I used to slaughter by the slaughter mans method of sticking the knife into the animal behind the skull and out through the throat in one motion. It severs the spinal column if done properly. Nevertheless it requires the animal to be pinned down and there is too much chance for something to go terribly wrong so I no longer use this method.
Looking delicious already.

Pigs are also shot through the brain while distracted and then stuck to bleed out. Traditionally they were rendered unconscious by a blow to the head with a maul (large wooden sledge hammer) and then stuck. I have not ever used this method but I am told it works well.
"Pilgrim" geese. A bugger to pluck but very tasty.
Poultry. I find that it is best to sever the spinal column to kill cleanly. This entails either chopping the head off with an axe or breaking the neck by a quick backwards twist- this method needs to be shown first to be understood but I prefer it as it is very quick and clean with no blood to panic the other birds. If the poultry are used to being handled then there is no alarm at being picked up and the rest is very quick. The separation of the spinal column causes instant unconsciousness and paralyses the bodies motor functions which means the heart and lungs quit immediately. On very large birds such as geese and turkeys I will usually stun them before killing by delivering a blow to the skull with a wooden club known as a "priest" (it administers the last rites). This blow is usually sufficient to kill outright by crushing the skull and destroying the brain but at the very least it renders the bird unconscious before decapitation.
Sorry if this all sounds a bit gruesome. Many people, especially from an urban background, find it very difficult to understand the realities of life and death on a farm. I often explain that what we do is both a case of ethics and love. When I look at the life the animal has had I can truthfully say it was happy, healthy and that when death came it was absolutely sudden and painless. The animal had also fulfilled its purpose. It was born to be used for food. If this was not the case the animal would not have lived at all.
The end result. Mmmmmm