Fake Buddha

Fat and purring, he lies in the sunbeam. His pure white underbelly billows and slivers of pink flesh peek through the fur.  His eyes, mere slits, bear the heavy satisfied look of one who recently tossed back a few shots of tequila, polished off a Porterhouse dripping with grease and butter, then finished the meal by lapping up a bowl of heavy cream.

Tomorrow has no meaning for this cat and yesterday doesn’t ring a bell.  This moment and maybe the next are enough.  This particular beam of sunlight and the faint taste of a meal lingering on the back of his tongue consume every part of his attention.

Being near such complete satisfaction is remarkably satisfying.  I am content to sit and observe this feline Buddha, noting changes of breath and thrilling to tiny movements as if every lazy stretch of the paw brings this cat (and his audience) one heartbeat closer to Nirvana. It is performance art and I don’t want it to end.

I have an itch.  I scratch it.  Zen zapped.

IMG_2473The world changes when I move my hand and the curtain collapses on this one-cat show.  Self-satisfied lizard eyes snap open and flash arrogant yellow once again, demanding to know my intentions. In no uncertain terms he communicates his disappointment in my inability to grasp the principles of the universe and I understand that at this exact moment it has occurred to him that I may be unworthy.

I attempt to placate this fake-Buddha by scratching his chin to remind him that he, too, appreciates a good scratching.  He’s not buying it.  You just don’t get it, he says. With enormous dignity, he heaves his corporal frame to the floor and stalks out of the room, his twitching tail giving me a piece of his mind.

He’s going to check out his food dish.  I know this and he knows this, but we have to pretend his superiority.

Charlatan, I hiss.

My basket overfloweth

img_3242I’m sitting on 28 dozen eggs our chickens laid in just the last week and brooding over how to sell them. We have a small loyal weekly client list already, but our hens matured to full production recently and my refrigerator is a wall of egg cartons.

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For a farmer, the most incredible aspect of an egg might not be its edibility but its profitability. Finding our chicken eggs each day is the one chore that brings a little cha-ching with it – that is when you can find them. We’ve had longer client lists many times, but when I can’t find the eggs, I can’t sell the eggs. Also, it’s important to note that when I talk about profitability on Erma’s Farm, our idea of profitability is measured, quite literally, in chicken feed. We’ve gone from finding a dozen eggs daily to four dozen, which only means that the chickens are able to foot their bill at the grain mill each week as well as treating the goats and Emus to dinner.

mario-or-luigi-with-coinsCollecting eggs reminds me of collecting coins in a Mario Brothers game; sometimes you can skip along and grab egg after egg until your basket is full, but usually the chickens make you jump through a few hoops first. inspector-clouseauMy favorite time is winter when the snow is deep and the birds have to stay inside. Although I still end up on my hands and knees gathering eggs, at least I know where to find them.
Because we let the chickens and turkeys outside in just about every other weather situation, I’m usually less lucky than Luigi and more like the bumbling Inspector Clouseau slyly sneaking up on chickens hiding in the garden in an attempt to catch them laying an egg.

Truthfully, I wouldn’t mind being less a cartoon character on my own farm. Therefore, in an effort to redress the seasonal instability between our egg availability and egg customers, we’re reviewing movable fencing options for this summer.

Meanwhile: Is anyone in the mood for Quiche? Egg Salad? Lemon Meringue Pie the color of Marigolds? Email me! ermasfarm@gmail.com

Big Green Eggs

IMG_2483High Fives go to our flightless Emu friends, Squiggy and Jax, for successfully hatching out two beautiful baby Emu chicks in March.  In December we began squirreling away their gorgeous eggs in an incubator we kept in the house, but when Jax, the male, began finally sitting on Squiggy’s eggs in January, we let him take over.  One of the ten eggs we had inside attempted to hatch but sadly failed.  In late February Jax stood up to show me that one of his five eggs had broken and he let me remove a fully formed dead chick.

Despondent, I waited another two weeks before finally deciding that I needed to remove the eggs from under Jax.  The male Emu sits on the eggs, not eating, for an incubation term of approximately 50 days and I hated to see him waste away pointlessly.

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Jax kept his Emu chicks warm under his feathers and hidden from view.

I knelt down and slid my hand under his hot underside to pull out an egg.  Jax looked annoyed.  I dove in and extracted another egg.  When I went for the third egg my hand stumbled across a warm little feathery bundle and while my mind processed what I was feeling, Jax partially rose to expose both his hostility for my stupidity and the most adorable and miraculous live baby Emu chick.  I was able to snap some quick pictures while he contemptuously used his long neck and beak to roll the eggs back under him.

Because I seem quite incapable of optimism, the following week I resolved that I must remove the remaining three eggs.  That same day I discovered a second glorious chick nestled into Jax’s feathers.  (The final two eggs were duds, so the cup really was half empty.)

Both chicks have now joined Jax and Squiggy in their tireless march along the fence lines of the pastures in search of predators and treats.

 

The baby Emus are perfect miniatures of their parents except that they are vastly more attractive.  Young Emus are crisp and dapper with spotted heads and black and cream striped bodies and grow into their dust mop of feathers as they mature.

 

The Accidental Homesteader

I love the grid.  I LOVE it. The only way I’m ‘getting off the grid’ is if somebody unplugs it and then rips my iPhone from my cold dead hands.  How Charlton Heston felt about guns?  That’s me with conveniences like internet and drive-thru Starbucks.

What I’ve learned since losing my job, however, is that almost everyone I know believes that my goal in life has long been to be a Homesteader.  This, my dear friends, is completely insane.

Homesteaders are hard-working disciplined folk who are motivated by ideas far stranger and infinitely more exhausting than any I’m likely to hatch.

According to Merriam Webster, the original term Homesteader was used to describe “a piece of government land that a person could acquire by living on it and farming it when the western part of the U.S. was being settled.” The modern Homesteader is not merely one who owns a tract of land and a makes a home on it, but one who strives to live a life of self-sufficiency by deriving as many products as possible from the land to live on.

In other words, and I say this from the bottom of my heart, a Homesteader is a lunatic.  Anybody who wants to work that hard must be half-cracked.

And yet, I find myself making this argument against Homesteading while one part of my brain considers whether or not I should pick and pickle some green beans this afternoon for fun cocktail garnishes and if those giant red semi-hot peppers I picked yesterday would freeze well for a chicken tortilla soup this winter.

Believe me; I harbor no particular love or attachment to these beans I planted.  I could turn my back on them and let them grow fat, tough and die without another moment’s thought. The thing is, to me this sounds like a pleasant afternoon activity. By my own definition, this shows that I’ve got some potentially clinical cracks.

I’d like to make this clear though: I am NOT going to pick and pickle beans for Jesus.  There is no ‘growing for God’ on my farm.

I’m also not planning to pick and pickle beans because the government and/or big business is trying to murder me with poisoned food at the grocery store.  And, by the way, I’m definitely not planning to pick and pickle green beans because I’m preparing for an undefined but soon-to-come end time where civilization as we know is indefinitely cancelled mid-season.

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Note: Our small farm is not in preparation for a zombie apocalypse.

Unfortunately, when I hear the word “homesteader,” I think of people whose motivations for ‘going back to the land’ are painted with paranoia or are doused with a religious fervor.

Ironically, I love a good conspiracy theory. I’m pretty sure the FDA and big business ARE permitting the sale of foods that are killing us.  It seems obvious that nearly everything in the middle isles of the grocery store is bad for you, fast food probably does lack any nutritional benefits and poisons sprayed on fresh food will also poison us… eventually.  I just can’t get myself into hysterics about it.  There are plenty of ways to make better choices without having to work your fingers to the bone.

I’m also my father’s child. He was raised in the Great Depression and his family was one of those trying to steal coal to stay warm instead of those who were able to get a steal on cheap hired help. His stories of eating lard and onion sandwiches were greasily imprinted upon my imagination at an early age and were deeply influential in my desire to have a farm. Even though I personally have never known a hungry day that wasn’t a self-imposed scheme to lose weight, it became my goal to live out Scarlet O’Hara’s vow:  “As God is my witness … I’ll never be hungry again!”

(Hmmm.  Melodramatic impulses, in a variety of costumes, appear to drive ALL small farmers. It seems I should stop throwing stones from my half-cracked glass house.)

Accidentally Very Busy

Getting a few backyard chickens is apparently a slippery slope for those of us with Melodramatic Impulses.

Having a small ‘hobby’ farm means that I’ve accidentally found myself very, very busy doing a lot of activities that are suspiciously similar to a Homesteader.

When you milk goats you get milk.  When you have raw milk you make cheese.  When you plant and weed your garden weekly you end up with lots of vegetables… and you can’t let all of that hard work go to waste so you spend hours more in harvesting, cooking and preserving them.  When you like beer, well, why not brew it yourself?  And, when you have free range chickens, you spend your time hunting for eggs and chasing hawks. Then there is the basic maintenance and cost of feeding the livestock.  Who wouldn’t decide to grow your own animal feed to save money?

And…when you live in the middle of a windy sunny country field, it seems only sensible to begin daydreaming about wind and solar energy.

(Wait, Grid!  Don’t worry darling!  We’re not breaking up with you anytime soon. I’ll always stay in touch, you massive hunk of all-night industrial power you, no matter what.)

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Granger taking a well-deserved afternoon siesta.

Homesteaders? Not us, pal, no way.

Luckily, what will save us from a speedy spiraling descent into the madness of self-sufficiency is our organic laziness. We are not hard-working lunatics, we lack discipline and work our fingers to the bone only on special occasions. But, we’ll just possibly get there, one day, {sigh} quite accidentally.

My three R’s: Ruminants, Rabbis and Rain

Two things happened this past month that have taken me from being a muck-boot wearing hobby farmer to a farmer up to their boots in muck.

I guess to make it more literal, there were three things.

  1. We bought four goats to add to our farm.
  2. I lost my job the same week.
  3. It rained most of the month of June.

You’ve perhaps seen the photos of the glorious glamorous Miss Hibbitz the Duroc Sow, but you have not known how I paid to feed Hibby each week.  Ironically, I’ve worked for a Lubavitcher Rabbi for the past 12 years.  It worked out well; I kept my bacon separate from the lettuce the Rabbi provided and worked tirelessly to help him market and communicate Judaism to the community.  Here’s a tomato: I’m not Jewish and I’m not religious.

While Hibby grew and grew, so did the Rabbi’s Chabad House.  My skill set now fails to cover all that they needed, such as the ability to count and keep track of money, and so they decided to restructure and hire somebody who could Do It All.  I wish them well and much mazel.  Obviously there is so much more to say about it, but… goats are just more interesting.

Gwyn first day

Glorious Gwyn, shouting out a fire, brimstone and hail litany of diseases of the goat.

If you know anything about goats, which in June I did not, you will know that bringing four goats into a fledgling farm changes everything.  Apparently they have a great knack for getting sick and dying. Gwyn the Goat Lady, who has raised goats since the 1970’s, recited the long litany of diseases and disorders to me while she installed the goats in their new pens at our farm.  Rain was thundering down on the metal barn roof so she had to raise her voice to a shout so I could hear her. I was petrified.  I still am.  Each morning and evening, when I waltz through the doors with the milking pail, I am inwardly steeling myself for the worst even as I call out merrily to my new friends.

Ballernia, sweet naughty Ballerina.Myra, Silent Bob McGee and Jay Joplin enjoying following me around to help with the chores.We have two already-milking Alpine does, Myra and Ballerina and two bucks born in March,  One buck, Jay Joplin, is a sweet Alpine who will one day be the daddy to these lovely ladies’ kids.  Silent Bob McGee is the other buck, a Saanen who we bought to keep the other buck company but who came un-wethered and is now destined to grow into a giant white stud-muffin who will demand that we buy a pretty Saanen doe for his pleasure next year.

Ballernia, sweet naughty Ballerina.

Ballerina, sweet Ballerina.

Within the first week I had damaged Ballerina’s teat with my clumsy stubby stupid little hands, which led to blood in the milk and the immediate onset of the dreaded mastitis.  Gwyn, the patron saint of all goats and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, came immediately.  She came every day for five days in fact, driving an hour each way, to administer the injections Ballerina needed to recover.

In my defense, well.. have you ever milked a goat?  Prior to the goat’s arrival, I had not.  It turned out to be exceedingly difficult to get the milk out of those swollen udders.  After milking for 20 minutes I could still see shimmers of stainless steel at the bottom of the bucket.  When Gwyn tapped the teats a quart of milk gushed out as though she had pressed the foaming nozzle on the espresso machine.

Gwyn shared two bits of information with me that week that I find interesting.  A)  Gwyn had entered competitions at one point in her life.  She won first place repeatedly.  B) Once she had a family come to visit her goats and a toddler, just a year and a half old, had slipped away from the group.  They found her under a goat on the milking stand and… she had milked the entire doe out.

This is not the baby in question. Thanks Google.

So, although I am pleased that I am being taught by a grand-champion goat milker, ultimately, a baby can do it.

I might not have a job, but it is raining buckets…. of milk.

 

Plus-Sized Female Seeks Long-Term Relationship

Matchmaker Profile:  Miss Hibbitz

Plus-Sized Female Seeks Long-Term Relationship

Profile:

My friends describe me as a pretty, non-conventional, good-natured girl who has a dark sense of humor and a penchant for solitude.

They have a few things right.  Except for a birthmark on my shoulder, I am in perfect condition.  I blushingly admit that I receive compliments on my corpulent size continually.  Born and raised on a farm, I have a practical and pragmatic outlook on life and am not definitely not one of those types of females who refuse to get their hands dirty.  (Although, don’t worry – I’ve been told that I clean up extremely well!)

And yes, probably another result of being raised on a farm is that the things that tickle my funny bone are often macabre.

But solitude?  This I could do without. My days are often long and silent here in the country.   I crave companionship to share my life with, from the sunny balmy days spent wallowing in cool water to the dark cold winter nights spent under an icy moon.

I seek someone of my own kind, who understands my wants and needs and who really ‘gets’ me.  I absolutely prefer dating an honest-to-god swine rather than some feathery puffed-up rooster who is all show.  My perfect match would be kind, funny, take long rambling walks, let me have all of the extra cookies, would weigh in at least 600 pounds and have a raging libido for three crazed days every three weeks. While it is not a priority to have a family, I know that things happen and I am not averse to raising 10 – 12 babies every year or so, should our relationship move to that level.

If you are looking for a girl who can make you laugh and keep you warm on cold winter nights, please email me discreetly at Hibby@hoglove.com

Veal Piccata vs. Chicken Marsala

The table stiffened with quiet horror as I addressed the server’s question.  “I’ll have the Veal Piccata, please.”

After a period of quiet, the gentleman across the table, a new but friendly acquaintance just made since sitting down to dine, squinted toward me and loudly inquired what I’d ordered.  “Good choice,” he bravely boomed back to me.  “I was going to order that myself.”

No.  No he wasn’t.  Ordering veal is tantamount to ordering a plate of cruelly tortured flesh from the bones of a sweet, loving baby cow.  Ordering veal is an easy way to convey to your table mates that you are a diabolical fiend.  (I would never see them again; I didn’t care.)

However, ordering chicken, pork or beef off of a non-local non-sustainably-farmed menu, while brushing teardrops away as you think of veal, is an easy way to convey that you are delusional.

But, they are correct.  Eating meat raised in dank, tight, dirty places IS pretty disgusting.

Modern-day production of animal meat is ugly.  I hesitate to call it modern, actually.  Confinement farming where animals are kept in giant dark facilities with no room to move, standing butt cheek to eyeball, contaminated air to breathe, and no access to the outside seem like they will soon become part of the ‘dark ages’ of farming. Demands for ‘progressive’ farms that raise animals the old –fashioned way, i.e., with the luxury to walk around outside in fresh air and not live locked in a crate, unable to stand or turn around until death, is rising.

But the overwhelming majority of all meat sold – chicken, pork and beef – comes from these miserable, cruel places.  Read this great article from the Washington Post:  “Your pig almost certainly came from a factory farm, no matter what anyone tells you.”

And chickens!  Foodsafteynews has a great article here.  Revolting, nasty birds, the white broiler chicken is a bird bred for self-destruction. They are Jerry Springer Show freaks.  These poor birds grow breast meat that weighs so much they can eventually not walk to sustain their weight.  Their little bird brains live only to eat, eat, eat, eat.  I know; we used to raise them for our own freezer.  Our birds were allowed outside and they did get fresh air and grass and clean dirt and good feed and plenty of room, so they were basically very healthy versions of what everyone else eats. But, the truth is, they really did not want to go outside and could care less about anything besides never-ending supplies of grain.

I can almost sympathize with the Chicken Factory Farms who keep them inside, crowded so close together they can’t walk, living in a stench so great humans pass out, and feed them for five miserable weeks of life before whacking their heads off, washing off the poop and blood, and sending them to the grocery store.  This breed of chickens actually may not care.  But, you still should.

The spotlight is on these confinement farms; people know and word is spreading.  Change is in the air, but it has not come.

The Veal Industry, in comparison, has had the spotlight on them for the past 25 years.  Everyone hates them.  Our previous barn was a reclaimed Industrial Veal Barn.  I tore down the tiny stalls that were so small the animal couldn’t move; I stacked up the buckets that held their daily formula and cleaned out the trenches that ran beneath them to take their feces away.  (The feces was always liquid as they only consumed liquid.) I did all of this in the dark windowless confines of the barn where they used to live.

Being universally despised can be a really good thing.  Veal farmers had to close up shop and read self-help books for a while on how to make friends with their consumers again.   They puzzled over the break-up.  What was it?  What was the problem?

Was it the innocent youth of the cow that turned people away?  Babies of all sorts were being eaten across the country, from tiny baby bird ‘drummies’ to fancy restaurants boasting about their ‘suckling pig.’ They knew there was a market for the lean, tender, delicious meat that a baby cow provides.

No, babies are delicious; it must be the process of keeping the baby so milk-tender that got everyone’s dander up.  I’d like to note here that from what I have read, the best flavor, marbling and texture of baby beef comes from cows that have been kept with its mother in a natural pasture environment.  But, in their defense, I’m sure depriving an animal of movement, digestible food and other natural variables works, too.

So, the Veal Industry began to change.  It is still changing.  Here is a story from Lancaster Farming that tells their story of change.  

Until factory farms move out of the ‘dark ages’ of industrial scale animal mis-management, ordering the Chicken Marsala is every bit as hard to swallow morally as the Veal Piccata.  Although, next time confronted with no happily raised meat alternatives on the menu, I might just make the better choice and order vegetarian.