Fall Frame of Mind

Autumn has definitely arrived here in mid-Michigan. Leaves are beginning to turn. We’ve just had a few days in a row of dreary and overcast skies, drizzle, and temperatures that haven’t climbed out of the mid-fifties. On Monday I brought in some firewood, cleared the cobwebs out of our wood burner, and within a few minutes our family room was glowing with the kind of warmth that only a fire can produce. Unsurprisingly, the Yeoman Farm Children have begun camping out on the carpet in front of it to do their school work. Little Big Brother in particular likes to set up shop there, first thing after I fire it up in the morning, before his siblings come downstairs.

The arrival of fall has also led to a change of menu: soups and stews are back. I found a couple of lamb necks in the freezer, added a couple of chicken feet from this summer’s crop of broilers, and let the whole thing soak for a couple of hours with an onion and carrot in a large pot of water with some apple cider vinegar. I then brought the thing to a boil and let it simmer all night. Around mid-day, I de-boned the meat and then added seasonings and a lot of sliced carrots and potatoes (a food processor makes quick work of these). That pot simmered all afternoon, and proved an extremely popular dinner. We had a couple of quarts left over for lunches, but it otherwise disappeared the first night. I made another pot yesterday, and it was again a popular dinner centerpiece.

I’ll probably make lamb stew later in the week. My soups and stews are all basically simple variations on the same theme. With stew, I’ll lightly marinate some lamb stew meat or shanks in the crock pot with a little apple cider vinegar and an onion for a few hours. I’ll then add a bit of water, and let the crock pot run on low all night. By morning, the meat falls off the bone and is simmering in a wonderfully thick sauce. After removing the bones, I’ll fill the crock pot with sliced carrots, potatoes, onions, seasonings, and the cooked stew meat. It then cooks on low the rest of the day. By afternoon, the whole house is filled with an incredible aroma…and by dinner, everyone is more than ready to dig in. We’re usually lucky if there’s a serving or two left over.

With eleven or so lambs going to the butcher in a couple of months, and a whole bunch of laying hens still needing to be butchered, we’re trying to clear out as much of last year’s meat as we can. I have a feeling we’re going to be keeping the crock pot and soup pot full for a while.

5 thoughts on “Fall Frame of Mind

  1. I am new to the blogging scene but was quite curious when I read your profile. I, too, hope for a future including a big red barn and a plethera of animals.

    But I am curious, why do you laughter your lambs? Do you not use them for wool when they are full grown? Or is this their sole purpose? I have grown up where chicken and burgers are about the only meat I've ever eaten and I cannot quite comprehend the death of those cute, fuzzy little things. Can you please help me with how that all works?

    Also, do you slaughter your own animals or do you take them to a slaughter house? Can that be done?

    Thank you.

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  2. Farmgirlatheart – welcome, and thanks for the questions.

    Our lambs are born in the spring, and they spend most of the year on pasture gaining size and growing wool. They are Icelandics, which produce a wonderfully mild tasting meat but also a high quality fleece. They don't get as big or grow as fast as the commercially produced meat-specific breeds you'd find at a supermarket, but provide us with two excellent products (historically, they've also been used for milk, but for a host of reasons we've never pursued dairying with them).

    We have them shorn in late October or early November, and then take them to a local butcher shortly thereafter. (The pasture is dormant at that point anyway.) He ensures we get all the nice cuts of lamb, packaged in the right sized bundles for our family's needs.

    We keep a core of breeding stock over the winter; two mature rams, and about ten or so mature ewes. Occasionally we keep a nice ewe lamb to replace an aging or deceased breeder; that determination is made after the fall shearing, when we can get a good look at their bodies.

    We are going to try butchering our own goats this fall, because we don't care about those specific cuts of meat, but the butcher's services are worth it to us for the lambs. FWIW, we butcher all of our own chickens, ducks, turkeys, and geese.

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  3. The best part of raising your own meat animals is that you get high quality meat raised in a humane manner. Nothing could be tastier or better for your health. Personally I envy this farming lifestyle and would love to live it also. -Loretta

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  4. Oh thank you! I think I now understand. Most of your sheep are bred specifically for meat purposes. How long does it take for a lamb to reach maturity? Is there a reason you only allow them to live for 7 months or so? Can you not get good wool or meat after the first year?

    I must say, you have definitely sparked an interest in me!!!

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  5. The reason for butchering at 7-8 months is purely practical: they don't put on much more weight over the winter. We've tried keeping some lambs, and feeding them hay with the breeders all winter, but they don't grow much more. They just eat hay and maintain their weight. And spring fleeces aren't very good, for various reasons, so we wouldn't get another wool crop from them until the following fall. They would indeed be significantly larger that next fall, but once a sheep is over a year old it's no longer “lamb.” It's “mutton,” and not nearly as tender.

    We could definitely get the lambs to put on more weight over the winter if we fed them grain, but (1) that's expensive, (2) we'd have to separate them from the rest of the flock at feeding time, and (3) we like the meat the way it is now, grass-fed. All in all, we've found the best solution is to butcher them when the pasture dies. The only problem is that nearly every other farmer has the same idea, and the local butcher is jammed far in advance.

    Back to your original comment: they are indeed cute, especially when they're young, but they get much less so as they grow older. By the time late fall is here, we're definitely ready to pack them off and enjoy eating them. We also make sure the kids never treat them as pets or give names to the ones that'll be butchered.

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