In Theory

This week the Homestead reached a massive milestone; Wednesday 27 August marked a full year since the first goat arrived on the Homestead.

The entrance of Nessie, then Leia and her kids, to the menagerie was a pretty momentous occurrence.  Suddenly, with feed to mix, a paddock to muck out, and goats to milk, we began to take this way of life seriously.  There simply wasn’t enough hours in the day to do anything but.  So, Wednesday was the anniversary of us changing from a quirky family with silver beet growing among the border flowers and a couple of backyard chickens, to Union Homesteaders.

How does this differ from what we were?  Probably to the onlooker, it doesn’t . They may notice our front garden is now entirely turned over to food production or that the backyard flock is larger and more varied, but the real change is in how we view ourselves. Whether we’re spending our days in someone else’s employ or scuffing our gumboots around the Homestead, we’re now marching to our own tune and we reckon that’s worth celebrating.

How better to mark a year of living a more simple existence than a home-grown dinner? Since The Farmer had recently happened upon a couple of new coop residents, Priscilla and Quilla (silky/barnvelder ladies, right at point of lay), space had become a little cramped in the fowl house.  

Quilla
Quilla
Prisilla
Priscilla

With this in mind, two flock elders took a trip next door to visit Mr Ezekiel Tigerlily, a gentleman who is well versed in the art of poultry dispatch.  It was a simple transaction resulting in one chicken per household, ours earmarked for that Homestead favourite: Chicken and Vegetable Curry.  Wednesday evening saw this delicacy teamed with bought in rice (hopefully next year our potatoes will come to the party – literally),  followed by Blackcurrant Crumble and washed down with Union Homestead apple cider.  Yep, it was a meal to be proud of and one over which we reflected upon the highs and lows of the past year.

The hardest thing to get our heads and hearts around has been consigning members of our flock to the pot.  More than once we’ve heard the golden rule of not naming the animals you intend to eat.  On a farm this  option tends to be a little easier. Room exists to maintain a decent physical distance between yourselves and a future curry, so attachments aren’t formed.  Even were we to resist naming the animals, having them scratching and bustling around our gumboots every day as we go about our Homestead business exposes each bird’s idiosyncrasies and personality traits. We get to know them. We know, for example, that Raven loved warmth, draping herself in a most unladylike fashion over the sun-baked tyres (intended as protection for the roots of the Medlar tree) the moment clouds appeared.  Houdini, as her name suggested, spent her days examining the compound for, and acting on, security breaches.  Resolving ourselves to culling these two, their egg laying days a thing of the past , is something we’re still working on.

Which brings us to the latest two Homesteaders: Otis and Ruby.  Goat kids, like human ones, grow so fast!  Farm Girl barely makes it in the gate after a hard day down the Kingdom of Nova salt  mines before she’s down in the paddock.  Bike,  school bag and cycle helmet lie jettisoned enroute, as she rushes to indulge in the convoluted game of Diamond League inspired all-in tag trampolining the three of them have cooked up.  To be fair, I doubt whether all participants are on the same page regarding rules or the official training course (up the plank to the top of the compost heap, down the heap, over the brick and plank see-saw, onto the trampoline, up the apple tree, swinging down, and repeat)  but that doesn’t seem to impact on their enjoyment.  There’s nothing as joyous to watch as gamboling kids of any species.

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But, what does the future hold for the goat kids?  It’s not that we don’t think about things in advance.  Truly it’s not.  We ponder, contemplate, discuss, debate, pontificate and postulate but it’s all in theory.  Cold-hearted, clear thinking theory tells us that we need our goat girls to procreate in order to provide us with milk, their passport to being Homestead residents.  We also know that our little patch of land can’t sustain four full grown goats and, even if it could, Miss Ruby is a while off being able to add to the milk production line and Master Otis will never be able to provide that particular (ahem) service, being as how he’s related and all.

Good old rational practicality screams “salami”.  Could we do it?

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Could you?

goatbabies2

Really?

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What we’ve decided to do is enjoy the moment.  If this last year has taught us anything, it’s to take time out to have fun and that answers to life’s conundrums have a way of appearing in the most unlikely guises.  In theory, we’re burying our heads in the sand and hoping, in a very irresponsible, impractical, airy fairy manner.

See, that’s the thing with theory.  It’s devoid of emotion.

2014-01-17 16.41.57

 

13 thoughts on “In Theory

  1. This issue has been weighing on me more and more as my Sgt. Pepper (whom we’ve raised from a chick, and she falls asleep cradled in my arms!) gets older and since our goats had their kids. The buckling never got a name that stuck, probably because I knew from the beginning that we were going to sell him. We hardly made back the money it took to have him, but that gave me a lesson in breeding expectations. 😉 I fell in love with the doeling instantly…so now we have 3. Kudos, actually, for being able to take that step to chicken curry. That makes you more legit; we’re not there, yet.

  2. We have our equivalent to your Sgt Pepper; Clank has been with us for so long that her arrival preceded our change in ethos and she will be afforded the full on ceremony when “the final rooster crows” for her. Becoming legit is a journey in baby steps…we’ve barely left the station yet. Thanks for your lovely, thoughtful comment

  3. Ah, no, I couldn’t 🙂 I am hopeless with animals, I used to live on a dairy farm where we raised some pigs….5 years on I was still insisting they had to be sold to buy meat. We have just chooks now but neither Roger or I could cook them, we would make lousy lifestylers 🙂

  4. We’ve been raising broiler chickens (aka meat birds) for about 7 years. They are not named, and they are a fair number of them – like 150 at a time. Nameless chickens that are mature and ready for the freezer at 8 weeks are a lot easier to dispatch than old layer hens with character, I can tell you from experience. Not only that, but the scale of the thing gives us some distance – my broilers are sent to the processor (any meat intended for sale must be done by a govt inspected processor), which makes it even easier. We do process our layers ourselves, but again, I have more than a backyarder would – about 40, usually. I always cry over the first bird and then I’m over it for the morning. We just raised a pair of pigs for the first time last year (Bacon and Pork Chop). Pigs is citizens, as a character in a James Herriot book once said, and have a lot of character/personality that chickens, even backyard chickens cannot match. Once again, the legality of selling the meat requires me to send them to a processor, again absolving me from doing the deed myself. Last year, I thought I would be a wretched sobbing mess when we got to the abattoir, but in fact, the whole unloading and putting them in a stall was so businesslike and quick that I had no time for emotional outbursts. And I was with two men, which gave me some backbone. I don’t know about this coincidence, but my eldest daughter (19) decided to become vegetarian a fortnight before the pigs final day. The rest of us have managed to enjoy our sausages just fine, and as you know, we’ve been raising Big and Little pig all summer, ready for a repeat. The thing about pigs is that they are very cute when babies and in no way cute when they are 250 lbs. I think sending goats for processing would be as difficult as pigs, again the personality thing, and the fact that they likely go one at a time. It’s probably the main reason we haven’t gone with goats, though I’m very tempted for the milk (cheese, yum!), and the fact that finding a market for chevon might be tricky. While they’re as adorable as those baby pictures above, it doesn’t even bear thinking about, you’re right to go one day at a time. At some point bucks stop being adorable and become pests, and it may be easier to face at that point (though isn’t the meat tainted by then?).

    • As always, love your comments. We’re quite pleased that council bylaws prohibit us keeping a pig – that’s the only animal we’re not allowed to have, all the rest are fine as long as your neighbours are happy. What breed of meat birds do you raise? This is something we have been contemplating solely for stocking our own freezer. At the moment it is still day at a time stuff with the goat kids but the clock is definitely ticking for the boy. Otis is a fine bloke and a purebred Saanan so quite a find for the person interested in his breeding abilities…it’s just finding that person. Otherwise…salami?? *gulp*

  5. My meat birds are Cornish Cross. I actually can’t get any other kind here). This breed is pretty much ubiquitous all across North America. Some people are using Freedom Rangers, a type of Label Rouge chickens, which grow out a lot slower (and therefore eat more feed) and some people are using heritage meat breeds (Orpington, eg), which would be an option for me as they are available locally, but again, they grow out a lot slower (6 months) and you’re feeding them all that time. Cornish Cross have their problems though, being the industry bird – that fast growth (7-8 weeks) means they often have heart issues, and sometimes leg problems. Mine are on pasture, as you know, which helps keep them moving and gives them green stuff, but it doesn’t completely do away with the issues. They do taste wonderful though, and the fast turnaround fits the seasonality of my farming/family better than raising 6 month birds would do, so I keep going. I think the hatchery/breeders are taking note of the increase in pasture raising though, because the last couple of years, the birds have definitely been stronger.

    • Thanks for the chickeny info. Meat birds is something we really need to sort ourselves out for. We’ve opted for more heritage breeds for our layers as the others have such short lives. We seem to be forever culling the flock, although their eggs are wonderfully uniform in appearance and arrive regularly. Life is full of these conundrums 🙂

      • I stopped using the industry hybrid a few years ago, same issues as you. They lay eggs like crazy for a year, and it’s like they’ve thrown their entire body into egg production, because as they approach the first molt, they start to die off – getting egg bound, or just ill, I don’t always know. Up here, they’re called ISA Browns, or Hyliners – but it’s your basic brown hybrid sex linked hen. I’ve gone with heritage crosses the last two batches, and liked them much better, but the flock I’m growing right now (young pullets about 3 months) is Rhode Island Reds, with a couple of roosters – I’m hoping to breed from them and develop my own locally adapted flock. We started out with Rhode Islands and the eggs are large, even and brown. Just what I need.
        .

  6. Completely understand your conundrum! We’ve been there, and still go there on a regular basis. I never had too much problem with the chickens, though we only kill roosters for the freezer. All the girls we raise are either kept for eggs or sold. We were vegetarians until we started eating our chickens. We were breeding our own egg laying replacements and suddenly realised we had to do something with the inevitable roosters. Our ethics didn’t allow us to “knock them on the head” and throw them in a hole…what a waste. We could sell them, but then someone else was just going to eat them. So we did it…eventually! We then started breeding Light Sussex as they were good sized birds and lay fine.
    As for the goats, yes, we’ve done that too. A very fine little Alpine wether got to 9 months old and then was despatched. We couldn’t do it ourselves though at the the time, and the slaughterman was incredibly quick and efficient. The first goat meal was a bit difficult but it really was great meat…we knew where it came from and that it had had a fabulous life. Now we have got to the time where we can “do the deed” ourselves and are planning to this week….if we can pluck up the courage…..

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