We decided to become a rooster-free farm. The toll to collect eggs every night was pecked-at shins and death squabbles from Romeo, the tyrant ruler of the Something Wild Hens. I dispatched Roo, a true Henry the VIII and allowed Romeo to take over. But Romeo did not appreciate his good fortune and quickly turned on his council. So off with his head.
I was away for a few days in March and Romeo escaped the coop while Kay was trying to feed the birds. He hid in the sheep barn and glared at Kay before disappearing into the shadows. Straight up Pennywise the rooster. Fortunately a family member was nearby and helped round the violent bird up. I didn’t wait long to send “Romy” to the fridge. I performed the necessary ritual during a Sunday afternoon snowstorm, which was calming and peaceful. After picking the carcass clean, I aged the bird for three days in the fridge and left it in the slow cooker for another 24 hours with lots of spices. The best chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life. No regrets. The remains went back into the slow cooker with dried nettle, old potatoes, carrots, and other garden goodies for a winter leftovers stew.
We missed the crowing a little, but now we’re fine. The hens are quite noisy! They like to sing and talk and mumble while pecking at our boots. I’m pretty sure they’re saying “Food, where’s the food?” or “Have you seen my egg? I just laid it right here….” Sometimes the hens are just saying “la la la la!”
It’s wild how quick seasons transition, after taking forever to do anything. It was cold forever, the snow would never melt. Then it melted, then it came back. Then the dandelions were dandelyin’ and the peepers were peepin’ and the ticks were tickin’ me off. Before we knew it we had chicks in the brooder and the electric netting was out to fend off the bears.
The birds went into their RV and are on a Chicken Road Trip for the summer. First they visited The Gardens, where they ate lots of old scraps from last year’s garden, and turned the compost pile for me. I also left them on the periphery of the garden to tear up some grass for new beds. Then they travelled over to Elderberry Groves. Here they decimated the local tick population and weeded up the elder bushes for me. The giant pile of elder branch prunings made for fun chicken hide-n-seek as they hunted for bugs and other little critters. Now they are back in the pasture in weedy edge areas, Stump City, focusing on ticks so I can stop picking them off the sheep. I picked four ticks out of Mittens’ ears tonight. If you happen to hear me yelling and swearing while walking across the pasture, talking to something tiny in my hand, it’s probably a tick and I am probably saying “You think you’re so clever huh, tick? Well now you’re going to be an omelette!” And I feed it to the chickens, who peck the ticks out of my hands like I am feeding them dog treats.
The sheep are on pasture now, moving almost daily. I’m reading some books about intensive grazing and pasture management. Some grazing is better than no grazing for the health of the land. So even when the grass isn’t superb in an area, throw some animals on it for a day! They poop and pee and stomp and stir and that’s how land gets restored. Animals were meant to be on grass and grass is meant to be grazed. We prune apple trees; we need to prune pasture too! But like pruning the apple tree, not too much!
In this sensitive part of the season, the sheep are only lightly grazing. I move them daily, if I can. Two days max, if the area is particularly lush. Areas of our yard which look sad and weedy actually look better than they did last year, when they looked particularly parched and bare. Other sections of the fields are lush and green, chock full of plant variety, and might as well be candy to the sheep. I’m really excited to see what we can do to these pastures with just a few sheep and chickens in three to five years.
Come summer, I plan to stick the sheep into the edge of the woods where they can get some shade. They will eat the leaves off maples, poplar, and beech saplings that I cut down as I thin the woods for the sugar bush.
We had the sheep sheared. They were going on 15 months without a haircut. The lambs had never been shorn. The shearer was a pro and he got it done with ease! The sheep looked like aliens for a few days, giant heads and skinny bodies. I was so used to Clover and Aster looking like buffaloes, and Mittens' little Elvis flop that I was kinda sad for a few weeks. But now that we’re out on pasture, and the sheep are filling in a little, it’s exciting that we are going to be turning grass into more wool! It’s a crazy miracle. Kay is studying carding and spinning and we hope to offer locally produced wool and yarn soon! If anything, I can’t wait to wear mittens made from Mittens!
The garden is coming along slowly. Just a homestead garden ‘round here. I got off to a good start with plant starts, but after a week of rain in early May, the typical drought-like vibes we’ve had for the last few years returned. And now back to your regularly scheduled programming. This weekend promises an inch of rain and I will be outside dancing in it, rejoicing in the fact that our land is a giant sponge and will slurp it all right up.
In exciting news, Kay’s candles and salves are now for sale at the Remick Farm Museum shop in Tamworth village! There are spring-themed scents like lilac and lavender. We love the folks at Remick (and eat their beef, lamb, pork and raw dairy!) and are excited to work with them to keep local products in local shops.
Hmm, what else? Ah yes, potatoes. We’re planting a lot of potatoes. So many potatoes. I’ve always said after eating pastured pork for the first time, I could never go back to grocery store pork (they are not the same species); and I now think this is true about potatoes, too. After eating a real straight-out-of-the-ground-and-cured-in-the-barn potato, the potatoes in the store taste like photocopies of potatoes. Like eating a piece of paper with a picture of a potato on it. Butter helps, at least. Plus potato plants around here tend to attract these silly little bugs called tortoise beetles, which are pretty cute.
Potatoes and onions and garlic grow real well here at Something Wild Farm. Perennials and berry bushes do great, too. Spring greens and summer crops that require staking and constant baby-sitting don’t really excite me much and I probably don't have the time to really master them like I wish I did. I might be finding my niche. Critters and potatoes. Calories on the hoof and calories in the soil.
Spring feels like it’s being flung by us. The world spins around the farmhouse like dancers at the spring fling, except the music is The Rite of Spring. The lilacs are out, though. Don’t forget to stop and smell ‘em; they’ll soon be gone. And we’ll be longing for them before we know it.