It is the breaking of winter here on this farm. The kitchen is 48 degrees at 6:00 in the morning. The one bottle lamb in the house, Amelia McPherson shall be her name, has had her warm milk and I am drinking the first coffee of the day. Fortunately I made a buttermilk caffeine jolt, something welcomed by the way. The black beans are soaking on the stove. A little heat under them to hurry then along. I’ve discovered a somewhat very inexpensive brand of bacon that suits my purpose for soups. It is sold in a massive confusion of intertwining strings rather than nicely ordered casters, easy to peel off and cook. Soup bacon in this house is cut from the frozen block in quarter pound pieces and placed, one per soup, on top of whatever is cooking on the woodstove, if it is lit or the cook stove if it s not. Therefore, since it will end up in shreds amongst the beans, in today’s instance, onion, garlic and bay leaf, it doesn’t matter how it comes out of the package. I have come to the realization that it would be a very good practice were I to begin to cook for myself once again. I used to, and gradually gained weight that it took some time to lose. Therefore, no more apple tarts. Nor can butter be slathered onto Boston Brown Bread. However, with a caution driven hand as well as a hand driving a shovel in the barn, it may be manageable. I used to want to have French for supper once a month. Sunday supper. Not dinner. That involves too many pots. But supper. Only a few things. The numerous constraints endowed in the life here have stayed my hand. However, many of them have been removed. It is now possible to dream, if not, as yet to do.
Lambing went relatively well this year. No mishaps of a serious nature. Few deaths. Two very old sheep and one yearling didn’t make the winter. I am now facing kids being born. Another adventure. The milking stand needs to be moved up to the carriage house from the pretty little place where I milk out of doors. It is time to make a list of necessary supplies for cheese making. With any luck somebody will freshen in time to give me some milk replacer for lambs. Some years the cheese making has gone well. Some years it hasn’t. Some years I have been very determined but that determination has never influenced the outcome.
The other night, in a desperate search for something to read that I haven’t read in awhile, I came across a book I had gotten a year or two after coming here. It has been fairly recently redone and the new edition may need to be bought, however, what was found was the first edition of John Seymour’s Self-Sufficiency. It was written in England where climate is quite a bit more hospitable than in these hills and one is possible to accomplish, particularly in place where distances are not great and life is, therefore, more manageable. Nonetheless, there was a great deal to learn from Seymour at that time and still is. There were some flagrant errors, however, in his book about sheep and giving diluted cow’s milk to orphan lambs among other things. Therefore I am more hesitant about following his directions for cheese making than I would have been. But I’ve always wanted to make the Welsh Caephilly and there it was, a recipe for its making. I shall get some fresh rennet this week, and a new thermometer as well. He also described how to test for the acidity in the cheese by throwing a strand onto a hot iron. That may be worth a try. The chickens like the whey very much, and so do I for bread making. And so, here, the first of March, begins the planning that is a part of the next phase. And here I am, not even finished with the beginning of the last phase. Getting ready for winter! The mittens I’d planned to make for myself haven’t even been started. And the winter clothes haven’t been sorted. And the half a dozen projects that seemed so simple and easy to accomplish haven’t been approached. Where does the time go? And to where has it disappeared. Part of it has disappeared into the darkness of disbelief. Too often problems seem to be solved, as in the forever demon of plumbing, always greeted with a hurrah for “solved at last” until greeted with dismays “broken again”. It became an act of supreme faith to believe that any effort will produce a permanent outcome. Perhaps that is the true dilemma. To believe that one’s best is what is its own outcome. And that is enough. To do one’s best without expectations. That is a spiritual problem of some dimension.
And so I read cookbooks and the flyers in the County Shopper to plan menus. And sometimes even set a bread to rise. Too late in the day to be baked unless I am willing to stay up half the night or, even later, to read the instruction manual on the oven to know how to make it shut off automatically. The day’s bean soup shall go on the woodstove when I fire it or it catches. There is only enough wood left for a couple of days. It takes courage to use it.
Why do I do this? For a long time it was because I believed I could. Figure out a system that would work, that is. And, for the most part I have. But to believe it is worth the effort while abandoning an attachment for the outcome is another task in itself. There has been enough hay in the barn for the first time in years. That has been an enormous security for me. The lambs are good. That, aside from the thousand dollars I am spending on milk replacement this year, is also a good thing. I have hopes for the kid goats expected in three weeks or so. And am already enjoying my very expensive eggs. I am in the process of buying some more sheep. In all probability they will be here this coming week. New animals always give me a lift. The next thought is what to name them? Five. Big girls. They shall live in the carriage house with the goats and be fed there. Grain. They get an approximate half pound a day. Eleven cents a day each. Fifty-five cents a day. Times 365 days. About two hundred dollars a year on these five. May their lambs bring that forty dollars more apiece. We’ll see. This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve bought sheep in from the outside. Each time I thought I knew what I was doing. There was a plan. A purpose for which I was changing the genetics. And met with only moderate success and some failure. My experiment with Finn Landrace didn’t give me what I wanted but did give me some lambs that were too small for my customers. The Horned Dorsets didn’t survive, very well. The East Fresian may or may not have given me milk as promised, but the first generation couldn’t take our winters. Their progeny, crossed with Dorset have been fine. Now my latest choice is for lamb-chop type lambs, something I’ve never raised on this hot-house lamb style farm. The stock I am buying are huge. Sturdy. Plain of face and fast growers. I won’t give up. With any luck I may be able to buy some sheep that are out of my line and may become available soon. They are adults and shall balance out the young lambs I am keeping this year. Some of these are sporting a multicolored yarn necklace designating that they have been chosen. They shall stay. Only four are bottle lambs. A pity. The bottle lambs have been trained to come to me when called. “Cahm ahn, Cahm ahn,” I call out to them from the north half of the pasture. They figured it out a couple of days ago and as one race to the gate, leap over the riser and come into the south half as I close the gate. It is to avoid where hay is dropped down the chute for their mothers and aunts and respective fathers. I don’t want anyone to get squished. And I don’t want to step on anybody while I am carrying a bale to a manger.
` One principle issue here is the question of how to make more money from the farm. The elimination of government subsidies on wool and lamb pelts, while a thing I am in favor or eliminating, has certainly been felt here. A subsidy was given to bridge the gap between the real price of raw wool and the price it was “supposed to be”. Sometimes it was a help to pay for shearing. One of my biggest single expenses. I am planning to register the goats in order to get a higher price for my Sables. I don’t want to increase the heard by more than one or two this year. And they would have to be of exceptional color. Mahogany or chestnut as are four of them at the moment. Sables can have Toggenburg markings but I don’t want them. They can also be a Saanen throwback therefore white. But Verity shall be the only white one in the herd. Marjorie is pepper and salt. The buck Niccolo is Chestnut. So should she throw a brown kid it shall stay. So now. Lambing is almost over for the moment. Amelia may be the last one of the winter lambs. And, this first of March all thoughts are directed to the carriage house. Goats. Kids. Milk. Cheese.
Until the next time.
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