Saturday, February 27, 2010

Promise we get to sleep when we're dead?

Between the Olympics, lambing and a kid who still refuses to sleep through the night, Mark and I are considering checking into Guantanamo Bay's sleep deprivation unit to get some shut eye.
On the upside, we are officially a lamb-consuming family. These shots of Wilson are from today's lunch which was organic lamb sausage in tomato sauce over cous cous. Lucy likes to say and play with her "cooose cooose!" and it's quick so it works for everyone. As you can see, Wilson likes it too. I think he looks like a fan at the Olympics, cheering on a country with a lot of orange on their flag. That's what happens when an independent child is tired at the table. I'm blaming the flavours of the sausage on the radioactive colour, because the tomato sauce wasn't orange like that!
Then, the other day I tried out a recipe for samosas in phyllo. I used lamb instead of ground beef and I think they turned out fantastically. Heavy on the curry, but I'm a big fan of curry, so it gets my stamp of approval. Plus, I am just so proud of myself for working with phyllo and a two year old and not losing my patience. If you know me, you know that is indeed a feat in itself.

I'll leave you with a couple shots of Barnyard Organics pint-sized shepherds. Thankfully, sheep make great babysitters when chores take too long.
My small shepherdess and below: my even smaller shepherd.
In final news, for any of you olympic hopefuls of the future, I would advise you to get to know me, since the only two people I've ever known to go to the games have both come home with silver medals. I'm clearly a good-luck charm. Atta girl Cheryl!

Hope this finds you better rested than us!


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

To Dock or Not to Dock, that is the question...

Every year, when we sit down to fill out our organic certification application, there is one question that always makes me pause. And every year I fill out the answer that I know will pass, but it is the one answer I'm never sure I actually believe in.
"Do you perform any physical alterations to your livestock (castration, tail docking, etc)? If yes, identify the procedure, the age at which the procedure is done."
And every year I answer honestly that yes, we dock lambs tails at 3 days of age, using the elastrator method. If the application asks why I explain that it is for a few reasons but mostly for cleanliness. Also, when my sheep were purebred, it is important to maintain conformity in breeding stock if I planned to sell to other purebred breeders. The real answer is, "because it's always been done." If there is one thing about agriculture that I have learned from Mark it's that 'just because it's always been that way', isn't a good enough reason to keep doing it that way. I find myself constantly re-learning that over and over again with organics.
The cleanliness factor comes mostly from Australia where something called 'flystrike' is a legitimate concern where flies lay their eggs in manure covered wool and the maggots worm their way into the flesh (that gets the prize for best mental image of your day I bet). Anyway, it's the most oft cited reason given for tail docking, but there are others.
I've read things about tails getting in the way of breeding and lambing (how sheep manage to have more problem than any other animal with a tail is beyond my comprehension and belief to be honest), and reasons about packing houses and abattoirs docking for long tails (yes that's a purposeful pun!). There are endless comments out there about it and for the most part I think that they sound like they are convincing themselves that it's the right thing to do.
So this year I had told myself that I wasn't going to dock the ram lambs, since they're only around for a few months anyway, how much of a hassle can a long tail be? Then I started reading and found a really good fellow organic blogger who had tried a couple years of not docking and regretted it. She said it was mostly because of that first time the sheep hit the pasture in the spring and everyone gets the runs from the lush grasses and clovers, the long tails never really clean up, where the short ones do. As in, the manure clings onto that wooly tail and just sticks around forever, whereas the sheep with short tails can scratch themselves up against a fence post and ta da, fresh as a daisy...ok, a stretch maybe.
Anyway, once again, I've docked the tails of my first ewe lambs. I've got a lovely set of twin rams however, that I haven't docked and they are going to be my 'control' group. We'll see how they make out come summer.
As a final word I would like to clear up that tail docking is a relatively painless ordeal. Not to say it isn't painful, but I really believe that it is a minor concern for the lambs, who seem more worried about finding their mother to nurse from than anything else. So all you conventional sheep breeders out there ( don't come after me for being a animal rights activist or anything. I understand the reasons for it, I just wonder for a commercial flock if it's as necessary as we've always thought.

In other lamb news, my first little ewe from my oldest lady is a bit on the runty side and gets a bottle once in a while, but everyone else is doing A-Ok! Still have 14 ewes left to lamb (hopefully that many are pregnant) and I hope they're mostly done with by the 5th of March which is when the ACORN conference comes to town and Mark and I will be gone most of the day. Here's hoping!

Cheryl is still 'rocking' the curling scene and the Olympics have taken over our lives here in Freetown. We stayed with her when we went out the Calgary Stampede a few years ago and now it seems surreal to see her at the top of the standings in Vancouver. It feels like 1998, Nagano, Japan when my cousin Stacy Wilson was the captain of the Canadian women's hockey team who took Silver that year (the first year for women's hockey). I remember getting up in West Branch, NB at 4 am to watch that final game and I came to have a whole new appreciation for the Olympics that year that has stayed with me.

Go Canada Go!


Saturday, February 20, 2010

As promised...

Brand spankin new.
The twins.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Not sure what to call it, since Lent is not about 'giving something up' as much as it's about recognizing when something has a control over us and we want to hand that control back to where it belongs (the Big Guy upstairs) it's a bit strange to call it a resolution, but over time that is basically what it has become. Except that, because Lent is only 40 days, it can be a more difficult resolution, since there's an end to the tunnel. I usually miss the first day and then use that as a good excuse to just pretend I have nothing I need to 'give up'. This year though, my mom reminded me and I've been thinking long and hard about it. I'm still reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and it's still striking chords with me with each page and it has inspired my lenten fast.
This year I'm going to give up any meat that I don't know it's origins and where it came from. We have a huge freezer full of pork, beef and chicken, all of which I know exactly where it came from, and we don't eat out very often, so it might seem like this should be a pretty easy 'fast'. But this puts a serious cramp in the style of my weekly pizza nights, or throwing some store-bought bacon into a pasta dish to add some extra flavour. Then, the odd time that we do actually hit up a restaurant I will almost veritably have to order the vegetarian or fish dish. I know of two eating establishments on PEI who put the farmer's name in the menu along with what they produce and in this tiny province you are almost guaranteed to at least know the name, if not have had a drink at their kitchen table one time. The Merchantman Pub in Charlottetown, and Cafe Maplethrope here in lil' ole Bedeque (sourcing prime organic lamb from Barnyard Organics I might mention...ahem) both serve delicious grub and have both won the Taste of PEI Award for their locavorian efforts.
However, going there is a real treat and since we just went out on Valentine's, I'm doubtful I'll cross the threshold of another restaurant for a while. And that's ok, because when we went out on Valentine's I couldn't bring myself to ask where the chicken came from. I felt like it was rude or forward of me, but in retrospect, I AM the customer and how are they supposed to know that food sources matter to me if I don't ask?
This is an ethical decision, but also a health one. I firmly believe that 'happy' animals (ie. those in proper living conditions, fed quality feed that is right for their digestive system, treated well, etc.) produce a healthier product. E.coli exists in most of us, but becomes a problem when cows are fed a high-grain diet and the acidity in their stomach is more likely to contaminate the carcass. The chicken in the store with that 'grain-fed' label should actually turn us off since chickens are really supposed to forage for bugs and grass and worms, etc. Of course they need some grain, but when you see chickens on pasture, or hens fighting over a worm, it puts a whole new spin on things. Maybe we need to reconsider that just because we've figured out a way to put out a product as quickly and as cheaply as possible, we are likely sacrificing something along the way.
Anyway, we'll see how it goes. I'm going to miss my pepperoni, but maybe I'll find some stellar substitutes and never go back!
To celebrate the first day of lent, I had new lamb dish #3 for 2010. I made tortellini (won ton wrappers) stuffed with curried lamb sausage, spinach and feta. They were ok. A little too strong on the lamb flavour for me, but pretty good. I think the curry, spinach & feta were an odd combo and next time I'll go with one or the other. They were more like dumplings than noodles, but still a nice little treat. Wilson liked playing and slurping them, while Lucy liked 'unwrapping' them to find the 'surprise' inside, so it was a hit with the whole crew.

I keep forgetting to take my camera over to the barn with me, but I promise to post some lamb pictures soon!!

Here's to quality living for everyone, livestock included!


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Big Night in the Bernard House!

We are big Olympics fans here at Barnyard Organics and even more so this year with Mark's first cousin, Cheryl Bernard, skipping the women's curling team. It makes the games a whole lot more interesting, especially when she broke a tie to win in the 10th end tonight! Whoohoo! We all signed a flag to send out and it was so exciting to see it hanging in the stands, right behind the hack! PEI loves Team Bernard!
Also, finally my oldest ewe broke the seal on the lambing and gave us a big one while I was doing chores. The cutest little thing you ever saw, with its little North Country black nose and characteristic head shape and floppy ears. Thankfully she only had one, since she only milks on one side, but she's a fantastic mother and interestingly enough, was the first one to lamb last year too. Then, when I went over to check her later, another older ewe had a beautiful set of twins. Mark and I got the whole family into a jug and as I left both lambs were nursing happily, tails shaking, mother eating some hay. Let's hope and pretend these births will be an indicator of what's to come! Pictures to follow sometime soon.

Finally, it was bread day here which means two great things;
-the house will smell amazing and somehow I am suddenly both homesick and yet unwilling to be anywhere but here all at once.
-we will go to bed with bellies warm, full and heavy from the divine pleasure of warm bread on a winter day (knowing we will both be up in the night or very early-for sheep and for snow blowing respectively).

Now THAT'S a good day here in ole' Freetown.

Hope this finds you feeling patriotic and in the olympic spirit!


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Down & out like a sick horse...

My dad loves turnips. And while turnips seem to have a love/hate relationship in many circles, other members of my family hate them. It is simply the nature of the hard, purple and white, benign looking root. In my case, I got the turnip loving part of the gene and enjoy the orange little beast in both it's brighter cooked form (with some brown sugar, that is) and its raw, crunchy, duller coloured form. Every year that I've lived here, my turnip crop has failed due to wire worms and/or root maggots and left me a bit wanting, but too cheap to buy them very often. Buying a turnip from the grocery store seemed like a crazy idea when I knew that I could source them locally if my cravings got too strong. So when I bought one for my beef stew last week, I was delighted when one half of it was all I needed for the stew and the rest could be saved for another time. Or as a snack, as it turned out. Between Mark and I, over the next 24 hours, we devoured the rest of the big turnip, raw, crunching away like toddlers having just discovered our sharp little teeth. With every slab I'd chop off, I'd offer up some brilliant little confirmation that turnips are the work of angels; "Turnips have more vitamin C than oranges even!" Lucy had a couple bites, but soon tossed it aside for the alternative of a softer, arguably sweeter apple or banana.
Then it hit us. Like a tsunami, suddenly Mark and I were laid out flat, as sick as we've ever been. It got to Mark first, who initially blamed the seafood pizza I had made for supper the night before. I indignantly claimed, "But I feel fine!", but began to regret my accusatory tone when my stomach began to churn later on. The kids had both been sick a few days before that, short bouts of stomach flu that came and went over night. The only casualties had been a few extra loads of laundry that got lost amongst the usual loads and the cloth diapers. So proud of our carefully honed organic immune systems and sure that we would never succumb to any sort of 'bug' that might the bother of the mere mortal population we searched our diets for the culprit. Then I remembered a story about turnips and a horse.
As mentioned, my dad loves turnips and lovingly fails to see the more undesirable characteristic of the round little beast: gas. One time, he took some turnip peelings up to our horse for a bit of a 'treat' only to discover that a few hours later she was laid out in a state of near-death. That's not even exaggerated, as my sister-in-law who is a horse expert and vet of sorts, was called in for a pre-autopsy on the barely living creature. Evidently, turnip peelings were to blame and after a day or so, the horse came around again, only to have soiled the pristine reputation of my dad's favorite vegetable. I can still hear my turnip-hating brother ranting victoriously about the poisonous qualities of the vile things, with the sickness of the horse as final proof, once and for all, that turnips should never have existed in the first place.
So as Mark and I were laid out for 36 hours each, racing each other to the bathroom, moaning and heaving, I felt just like that horse and maintained that if I ever actually fell asleep I would surely, "wake up dead."
We agreed in the end, that we couldn't blame the turnip, it wasn't fair and didn't really make sense, with the kids having been sick two days before. I noticed however, that the last slice of turnip in the fridge is untouched and slowly making it's way further and further back in the corner, only to be uncovered, I'm sure, weeks from now when I'm looking for salad dressing, or cheese or a snack of some kind. How will I feel then? I wonder if that horse would eat another turnip peeling given the chance?

In other news, with each day we walk into the sheep barn with just a little more expectation as lambing time could begin ANY minute. They are officially due to begin on the 14th, but it could happen anytime. There are a couple of the older girls showing lots of signs, but I've been fooled before and they'll probably end up going last, now that I've verbalized my predictions out-loud to Mark. So hopefully one of these days you'll check this blog to find a picture of a new lamb, rather than stories about turnip-induced gas. :)
And for those asking, Yes, we have decided to go ahead with getting a milk cow. Mark is a little worried about infrastructure, although I think we have everything we need. I am a little worried about everything we don't know, and Mark thinks we'll just figure it out as we go. Mark's parents think we're crazy and they may be right. I guess, like most things in life though, we can always get rid of it if it's not what we thought. We shall see. The next step is finding one and getting it here. Will keep you posted.

Hope this flu doesn't find you!