Lambs to the Slaughter

The first batch of lambs went in to the butcher last night. As long-time readers of the blog know, we had a bumper crop of lambs born this spring; the 8 ewes had 16 lambs between them. One succumbed to disease and one was killed by a dog, but we had 14 survivors — and they’ve been extremely healthy. I credit several factors for this year’s success:

1) A clean, brand-new pasture with no parasite build-up from previously grazing animals;

2) Climate that is more similar to our flock’s native Iceland than the swelteringly humid Illinois summers we’ve had;

3) An excellent barn, providing better shelter, especially to newborn lambs;

4) Mineral feeders always kept full and sheltered in the barn — back in Illinois, they frequently ran out of mineral or it was ruined out in the pasture;

5) A switch from rain water (in Illinois, collected in tanks from building run-off) to iron-rich hard well water.

Yesterday afternoon, Scooter and I rounded up the whole flock and secured them in the barn. I then backed my old 1984 Ford Bronco 4×4 into the barn, put the seats down, and spread a tarp in the back. One by one, I selected the largest male lambs and hoisted them into the back; one of the children stood guard at the truck’s tailgate to ensure we had no escapees. We managed to fit seven large male lambs, plus the yearling female who was rejected by her mother and proved too small to be bred last fall (she also had a lousy set of horns, another reason to cull her). And to the great joy of Homeschooled Farm Girl, we also loaded up Biscuits (the pathetic goat kid who was so stupid, he never learned to drink water from a bucket and had to be bottle-watered his whole life).

So, down the highway we went, NPR on the radio, and Scooter the Amazing Wonderdog perched on the passenger seat with me for the ride. Actually, we deliberately avoided highways and made the 11 mile trip almost exclusively on deserted country roads. This proved to be a wise decision, as I had nothing to separate the testosterone-laden back of the SUV from the passenger compartment. Biscuits in particular seemed to be squeezing the last moments of trouble from his miserable life, repeatedly trying to climb onto the truck’s console and into my lap. I shoved him back each time, and each time he again stuck his face up to my neck and tried to nibble my collar. Had we been on a busier road, driving at high speed, I probably would’ve caused several accidents.

Finally, after one especially firm shove, Biscuits waded through the ovine hoard and made his way to the back of the truck. My first reaction was relief, but this proved premature. After smashing his long horns against the ceiling several times (destroying the headliner), I then noticed him trying to butt his head through the window on the tailgate. Being an old truck, we haven’t been able to latch that window in years. Each time he tried opening the window, I slammed on the brakes to force all the animals to move forward. This only worked, however, as long as the truck was rolling. At the next stop sign, Biscuits seized his opportunity — and disappeared out the window.

Disgusted, I slammed the truck into Park and got out to look for him. He’d hopped into a ditch, but appeared too stunned to figure out what to do next. I easily caught him, without even needing to get Scooter (I brought him along in case of a massive jail break). Once Biscuits was again loaded in the truck, we were fortunately only a mile or so from the butcher. We arrived without further incident (apart from complete destruction of the headliner).

This butcher, unlike the one we used in Illinois, has an extensive set of holding pens in a barn out back. At first I thought this was wonderful, as it meant I could bring the animals the evening before — rather than loading them up and driving early in the morning on the day of slaughter. However, once we began unloading the animals, the butcher and I immediately grew concerned: their gates are set up to contain commercial-sized meat animals. Standard breeds of sheep would’ve been fine, but we never would’ve used gates like these to contain Icelandics on our farm. We managed to get all of them into a pen far in the back; even if the lambs had worked really hard and gotten through a gate, there were two additional sets of gates they’d also need to negotiate to get totally loose. Also working in our favor: several members of the flock were too big to squeeze through, and because they were in a strange place we knew they’d all stick together. Plus, dusk was closing in and they’d want to stay in a shelter.

Even so, I worried about my flock last night and even considered driving over to check on them. These were our biggest animals, and represent hundreds of pounds of meat that would be literally impossible to replace on the open market. There was a busy highway not far from the butcher, and I imagined my little flock wandering onto it in the night. Funny how, even when the animals are within hours of being slaughtered, a shepherd can’t help worring about their safety and well-being. In the end, I decided to entrust them to the intercession of St Francis of Assisi, and told myself to get a good night’s sleep. This proved to be a good decision; I called over this morning, and they confirmed everything was alright. All the same, next time, I will bring the animals in at 8am on the day of slaughter.

It was a little strange last night, securing the barn and seeing such a reduced flock. I don’t exactly miss the lambs we took in, but it was an odd feeling to see so many fewer. A little sad. But those feelings evaporated this morning when I put hay out for the remaining flock, and saw how much easier it was for the smaller lambs to get at it now. We’ll give those little guys a couple more weeks to put on weight, and then take them in at the same time I pick up the meat from the first batch.

Yummmmm. I can hardly wait to enjoy some Icelandic lamb chops again.

Shorn Again

Yesterday was sheep shearing day again on the farm. “Mrs. Lisa, the Sheep Shearing Lady” (as the kids call her) was up here from Indiana for the weekend; she drives a huge circuit across the region, hitting a nearby flock on Saturday and then us on Sunday. (As posted elsewhere, we don’t typically like to do work on Sundays, but in this case we didn’t have much of a choice — you need to get the sheep shorn when the shearing lady is available.)

We got 25 beautiful fleeces from our flock, ranging from the very small (a couple of our undersized triplet lambs) to the very large. In all, we have 14 lambs and 11 mature adults. Apart from the fleeces, shearing day gives us an excellent close-up look at each individual member of the flock. We won’t be keeping any lambs as breeders this year (our flock is plenty large), but under normal circumstances this is a good chance to identify the best-conforming animals.

It’s also a time to identify definite culls. One male had a beautiful set of horns, had reached a reasonable size, and had a nice fleece; until shearing day, I’d been thinking of possibly keeping him for breeding next year. But with his fleece off, we immediately spotted a big problem: he has a significant hernia on his belly. He will be among the very first to go to the butcher.

Today, the whole flock was out again in the pasture, enjoying the fall sunshine and 60 degree temps with their coats off. Here they are, enjoying some windfall pears that I’d tossed over the fence for them. (This picture also gives a good look at how expansive the new pasture is.)

Moving On Up

If John McCain somehow manages to pull off an election upset, that will no doubt be the final straw for a whole lot of liberals. They’ll finally make that move to Canada they’ve been threatening for so many years! In that vein, someone has put together this very funny instructional video:

http://services.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f8/271557392

Though I do wonder, with Conservatives winning in the recent elections up there, if any Republicans might be looking North with longing eyes this November…

Going with Goats

We really like our dairy goats, and enjoy eating the male offspring, but Icelandic lamb has been our primary meat of choice.

That said, the New York Times has put together a great story about a former cattleman who has gone into meat goats big-time. He was an early pioneer in the humane treatment of livestock; like us, he believes that the better an animal is treated, the better it will end up tasting.

We don’t believe animals have “rights,” but we do have a duty to exercise responsible stewardship over them. And part of that responsible stewardship means letting a sheep or a goat glorify God by allowing it to behave in the way God designed it to behave. Remarkable how when you allow animals to behave in the way they were designed…they end up having all the wonderful flavor and nutrition that their Designer intended them to have.

Sorry for that digression. The goat herder profiled in the Times doesn’t express this kind of philosophical argument for humane animal treatment, but his story is still very instructive for anyone contemplating raising livestock for meat:

He and Nicolette Hahn Niman, an environmental lawyer, were married five years ago, and now they are raising what they hope will be the best-tasting animals around. They have a handful of premier cattle that fatten only on pasture and a flock of traditional turkey breeds they personally chauffeured from Kansas to Bolinas last spring. Mr. Niman also has an organic pig project going in Iowa.

But he hopes goat will be the cornerstone of his comeback. That’s in part because he has more of them around, and because he sees a wide-open market for pristine, pasture-raised goat meat. The guy is, after all, a businessman.

“I don’t need to get 10 percent of the market anymore,” he said. “I just want to be the best.”

Chefs on both coasts are fast discovering his goat meat, although it is still available only in limited amounts, under the name BN Ranch.

In June, Mr. Niman stopped by Eccolo in Berkeley with a piece of shoulder, a loin, a leg and a rack of ribs. The chef and owner, Christopher Lee, now breaks down one or two of the 30-pound goat carcasses a week.

“It was succulent,” Mr. Lee said. “It was mild. It was just perfect.”

Like other chefs who have begun to cook with goat, Mr. Lee predicts a bright future for the meat.

This Day in History

Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and sometimes called Our Lady of Victory. The feast was dedicated in memory of the tremendous victory that Christian forces won over the Turks of the Ottoman Empire on October 7, 1571. When Muslim forces were threatening to overrun the Mediterranean, and with it all of Western civilization, Christian Europe rallied and went out to meet the Ottoman Empire. Pope Pius V famously asked all those back home to pray the rosary on behalf of those in harm’s way; the result was a stunning victory which saved Christendom.


Michael Novak wrote an excellent piece on the subject two years ago, and is well worth another read. In part:

The two greatest naval forces ever assembled — 280 ships in the Turkish Armada, some 212 on the Christian side — came into each other’s sight on the brilliant morning of October 7. So confident was the Turkish admiral, Ali Pasha, that he sailed proudly at the center of his own Armada, bringing with him on vessels just to his rear his entire fortune, and even a part of his harem.

Historians tell us that all over Europe a pall fell. Few had hopes that the Christian fleet could avoid the doom that seemed to hang over Italy. The pope had urged all Christians to say the rosary daily on behalf of the brave crews on the Christian galleys. The rosary is a simple prayer that can be said in almost any setting, and had already achieved a certain popularity among humble folk. With each decade of the Hail Marys they had been taught to reflect upon a different event in the life of Jesus. The beads went through one’s fingers as regularly as the blood through one’s body, as regular as heartbeats and the breathing of the lungs.

To make a long story short, Don Juan aimed his own galley directly at the heart of the Turkish armada, directly at the clearly colored sails of the Ali Pasha’s galley, with its great green flag, inscribed 28,000 times with the name of Allah in gold. The Venetian vessels sailed furiously into the Turkish right wing, and with the help of the revolt of the galley slaves collapsed that wing. Six of the largest Christian vessels had been outfitted with a platform elevated above normal levels on which rows of devastating cannons were arrayed. Blasts from these new cannons were withering, and within minutes sank dozens of Turkish ships. The sea, witnesses said, was covered with flailing sailors, floating turbans, pieces of wood and sail.

The passion for defending their own civilization against ruthless invaders also strengthened the muscles of those engaged in the close, bloody, violent hand-fighting when one vessel came alongside another. But it was mainly the new firepower of the smaller Christian fleet that quickly sank galley after galley until, after not too many hours, the Turkish center also collapsed, as if cut through by a hot knife. The Admiral’s galley was captured, along with 240 more Turkish ships.


These are lessons well worth remembering, in the midst of the seeming-impossible trials that our country is now facing. Let’s all remember to pray for our country and her future every time we say the rosary, and to ask Our Lady of Victory to pray for us.