Friday’s Farm: Death on the Farm

My sweet, blind Henny passed away this past week from what I believe was congestive heart failure. She was older, and I knew the inevitable was coming. As much as we celebrate life on the homestead, death, too, is our sober companion. If you are sensitive to reading about this subject I understand if you want to skip this post and I strongly advise it. I’m going to be very frank and open about how we handle the more practical aspects of an animal’s passing. It’s not pretty, but it is the reality of life.

 

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Lambi was just a month old when this was taken. We celebrate life daily, but we are still mindful how fleeting it can be.

 

Burial

Those of you who live in the country know that there are cemeteries tucked here and there down almost every road or behind most every old farmhouse. In fact, there’s one on our property so old that all the headstones have worn down to nothing and we aren’t sure exactly where it is. For small animals like cats, hens, geese, most dogs, and even smaller sheep burial is an option. We keep a small critter grave yard fenced off from the rest of the farm. Our gentle Dagny is buried at the center.

If your ground is like ours it’s full of rocks and clay. Frankly, I can’t dig more than three or four feet down. We also sit down in a valley and our water table is usually closer to the surface than two feet. Shallow graves are pretty much the norm. I usually wrap the body at time of death in a plain muslin cloth before riggamortus sets in to hold a sleeping pose. In short, I use this process as a method of compacting the body’s shape to better fit into the grave. I then wrap the entire bundle in an outer cloth, tuck in herbs, tie with string, and then place it in the grave. The outer cloths and herbs help to cut down on the smells that attract scavengers. To help further the grave being left alone I place large rocks over the grave for several months.

I dislike using plastic bags to wrap. It slows the decomposition process and puts toxins into the ground. We also make sure that any burial is down stream of our water source and out of grazing and growing areas. If an animal dies during the winter when the ground is frozen we store the bundled body in our freezer. It’s macabre, but effective.

I know some people with the right land type that use a back hoe to bury large animals such as horses and cattle. Unfortunately we don’t have that option. But, I think it’s preferable personally.

Cremation

When Lambi died I chose to have her cremated. It was a tough decision. I really wanted her buried next to Dagny. However, Lambi was over two hundred pounds. Not only could I not dig a grave, I had no way to move her body. Two vet techs came out from our vet’s office and retrieved her body. They were as caring and kind as if they were removing a human body. It cost almost $300 total. Lambi now resides in a box next to the front door. However, she was my first lamb and slept next to me. It was the best option available at the time.

Death Pits and Scavengers

This is my least favorite method of dealing with death on the farm, but it is effective. Those who have room can have a pit dug in an unused corner of the farm. When an animal passes you simply remove the body to the pit and allow nature to take its course. At the old farm we had a another tenant’s ewe die. So, Kate and I dragged her nearly a mile to the pit in the dark. When a cow died after an animal attack up in the wood line it was left. There simply was no way to move it. Sometimes the most dignified thing to do is simply to leave an animal’s remains alone. When this is a pet it’s difficult.

Preemptive Slaughter

Some people find this controversial. However, there is some practicality to this method of dealing with impending death on the farm. My cow Bossy has many years left in her. Daisy our matriarch ewe has less than five. I check their teeth yearly. When they can no longer eat hay over the winter they will face a long suffering death from starvation. Let me be clear: starvation in an animal is painful. They bleed internally. It can take weeks. It’s cruel. So, instead of allowing them to suffer I personally will attend to their slaughter to ensure it’s quick and as painless as possible. It’s one of the few situations when we kill and eat our animals. However, it is the kindest option. It’s not pleasant, nor easy, nor done lightly. I will process out my old friends and use every part of their bodies to feed and cloth our household. I guess it’s the Blackfoot and Apache in me that comes out in those instances, or maybe the practical Welsh. I simply find it more honoring than leaving them to starve and become food for the vultures and coyotes.

 

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Even when she has me running through the woods I want her to live forever. She’s the sweetest onery old boss cow ever.

 

In Closing

I know this topic has been anything but pleasant. But I hope you found it informative, especially if you’re new to homesteading and farming. We do our best to treat our animals with respect and dignity during life. We also do our best to extend that respect and dignity into death. As caretakers of the land and her inhabitants we have the incredible privilege of witnessing the grandeur of life and lesson of the ending. Each one of us will in turn face our own ending and return to the earth to nourish her and become nourishment. Nourish life, and celebrate the lesson our companion offers.

Until Next time,

Craft No Harm,

Moriah

Monday’s Musings: The Illusion of Control

Today (Sunday) was one of those days. I overslept, and while stumbling from my camper up to the main house I discovered the cattle were out. Cash had “the calves” out front and upon seeing me directed them towards to logging road leading up to the woods – and eventually Kentucky. I hollered at mom and ran after them. Remember that running… it’s a theme. Fortunately, Profit, my little Jersey Angus ox to be likes me happy and helped me bring them into the barnyard. He and his baby brother Asset stopped off at their stall and had a snack while the rest of the bunch returned to the momma cows. I went back to get the boys and discovered that Asset was bit, well, on his namesake. He’s also bit on the leg. I think either a dog or coyote got after the younger animals. I lean towards a dog running them.

Later, we made a hay run. It was pleasant. But we spent a great deal longer than expected. We came home, started chores, and then chased the cows and “the calves” across the river and through the woods. Okay, I chased the cattle. Finally, mom appeared with the grain in the front field (after I chased them there) and into the secured paddock they all went with plenty of hay.

They sheep were WILD. The excitement with the cattle really lit a fire under their silliness. It was actually pretty funny to watch. My rooster Kang and his hen got out. I finally ran him into a stall and closed the door. Nancy the Gander became separated from the rest of the gaggle. Again – running. I no sooner had him in when Dragland the head gander attacked him. Draggy is spending some alone time this evening. Somewhere during all of this Henny Penny, my blind hen, started having breathing issues. We rushed her into the house and performed the necessary vet care. She’s much better.

These are just the highlights from today. Today with plans of fencing, baking breakfast bars, gathering wood violets for homemade candies violets, clean sheets drying on the line, and a Sunday afternoon nap. We had a plan. We had poise. We had control.

No. We had a plan. We had poise. We had chaos. Control is only an illusion. I can call today a bad day, or I can call it today. Today was just today. I accept today just as it is, as it was, as it will be. I have no control over today. I have no control over tomorrow. By simply accepting today as today I have no real disappointment. While chasing the cattle I discovered a patch of dyer’s broom, a glorious patch of violets, a new red flower I’ve never seen before, and found out my old retired milk cow has allot more agility than I thought. Profit proved that he can listen even in trying circumstances. We have a new hay source.

The only control I have is to accept and allow each day, or to fight every moment and rob myself the pleasures that each moment bring. Control is only a feeling, and it’s a feeling born of fear and disappointment. I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I really want in my life.

Until next time,

Craft no harm

 

Moriah

Friday’s Farmlife: Garden Planning

Most people think winter is not the time for gardening. But in reality, winter is when the gardening cycle begins. Even though I’m not out working much this time of year, there’s still work to be done.

I’ve decided to branch out and cover more aspects of farm life and homesteading than just the sheep. There’s SO MUCH to share that goes on around here! There are so many skills that people have lost, and that I’m learning. Things that need to be shared. Without further adue, let’s get into it.

 

GARDEN PLANNING

Most people think winter is not the time for gardening. But in reality, winter is when the gardening cycle begins. Even though I’m not out working much this time of year, there’s still work to be done.

I can and preserve much of our winter food in a typical year. I start my plan by figuring out what I have cheap and easy access to, what is more expensive, and what I actually have room to grow. I also look at what can be preserved that’s expensive in winter. Lately that seems like everything.

My current garden is on top of solid bedrock and gravel. This means everything goes in beds, and I make my dirt yearly via compost. This is labor intensive, and really curtails my planting. Space is at a premium. This means harder to find, higher priced food gets top billing. But, I also know what we eat most.

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Like most Southern families we love our garden fresh, homegrown, never even seen a hothouse tomatoes. I know we need ten tomato plants, plus about another ten bushels from the local Mennonite community for our household. This is a year’s supply of fresh tomatoes, soup, chili, and sauces. One plant will be a high yield cherry tomato, five are heirlooms, and four are determinate that get replaced mid summer. I’m a fan of black tomatoes, too, but enjoy yellow or orange salsa. Tomatoes are also a big chunk of our weekly food budget as well as a big space taker in the garden. Based on this information, I can easily pick out what varieties to start in March or purchase in May. This year I’m going with Black Cherry, Purple Cherokee, German Queen, and Old Mennonite along with Better Bush as my determinate type.

We also love onions and garlic around here. I have elephant garlic and a landrance type garlic Uncle Enis gave me my first year here. Since alums enjoy repeat growing in the same bed, it’s easy to plan for those plants. The same is true of my asparagus patch. It’s pretty much not going anywhere until I begin divisions year after next. All I do is trim the old foliage and put on thin layer of compost down in the spring.

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Potatoes are another staple for us. I have good success growing them in wire towers. Since the sheep don’t like them, I can actually just plant them along the fence row and save valuable bed space. I usually end up with ten to fifteen pounds per tower. It’s definitely the easiest and least labor intensive way I’ve ever grown potatoes. I always grow Pontiac Reds. They melt like butter in my mouth. We have potatoes right up until December. This year I’ll be planting ten towers.

From there I look at what else we actually eat. Peas, zucchini, beets, radishes, purple cauliflower, greens, lettuce, kale, cabbage, Broccoli, winter squash, corn, green beans, spinach, rocket, cucumbers, herbs, and shelly beans made the list.

Our corn will go our front, and so will the squash and beans. I’m planning on trying three sisters this year. The rest go in back far away from the animals and right out the back door.

Cabbage, beets, and green beans are easy to come by, as are strawberries, plums, blackberries, apples, and melons. In fact, I usually snag free culls from behind the produce washing and packing houses. Since I can find these for free or cheap, I pass on growing them. I also know I grow some things other people don’t. Last year I traded for three gallons of mulberries. Yum.

I draw out my garden space into different sections, and then draw out each section with its beds. My beds are thirty inches by about twelve feet. From there I put in high priority  food – peas, zucchini, greens, lettuce, kale, and herbs. If there’s any room left over I might try a new plant. This year, it’s cockscomb on the outside of the garden.

As my early spring crops die off I’ll replace them with broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, and shelly beans.  This way I can have fresh food from March until December. That’s ten months. Whatever we do not eat in a few days gets canned each harvest. There’s nothing better in the dead of winter to pop open a can of tomatoe soup base, toss in some beans and potatoes, herbs, spices, and have a hot bowl of chili grown on your own land. This means we eat what’s in season typically.

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Why

Like many working class families we are always looking for ways to reduce our grocery bill. If we grew nothing but lettuce and spinach in pots we’d save over sixty dollars a month for two people. The same goes with our tomatoes. At a dollar a can, and ten cans a week, growing tomatoes saves us $520 a year, and that doesn’t include fresh tomatoes. Just those two items is an entire month’s income not going out yearly. Add in the six or seven dozen cantaloupes, the gallons of fresh berries, a few hundred pounds of potatoes, another hundred pounds of onions, and you are up to THOUSANDS OF dollars in food. Yes, it costs money to get started, but once you have heirloom seeds, and learn to save them, most of the cost is done. Gardening can be pretty much free.

Another reason is that it’s fun, and healthy. It feels good to get out there and do something in nature. It’s physical without being strenuous.

We can sell some of our extra food or trade it for other items we don’t have.

I enjoy it. The garden, the thrill of pulling beautiful food out of the canner, and eating my handiwork all year. It just tastes better. When you eat fresh homegrown food you are eating the height of nutrition.

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Closing Tips

Garden planning really isn’t too hard. It just takes some time, some thinking, and a bit of mindfulness. It’s really just menu planning, but way ahead! If you want to plan a garden, now is the time to contact your local ag extension office and find out what time to plant in your area.

No matter if you’re doing rows, containers, or doing beds, start simple and don’t go overboard.

Don’t be afraid to put in long term plants and plant around them.

The twenty five cent packets of seeds grow just as well as the $2 packets of seeds.

Buy heirlooms and collect your seeds each year.

Have fun.

Until next time,

Craft no harm,

Moriah

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