35 years, reflections on lambing

We are past the first week of February and generally that means if we haven’t gotten things ready in the barn for lambing yet, we’d better get going! So far, I’ve ordered ear tags, inventoried health supplies, cleaned the heat lamps, checked the bulbs and prepared the permanent stalls for early arrivals. And so we wait and watch.

Throughout December and early January Abby and I feed square bales from the southeastern corner of the barn in order to open up more space for the lamb pens. The south facing side is covered with greenhouse film, protecting the new lambs from wind, snow, ice, or rain.  This part of the barn warms up quickly on the ever-brightening winter days. As impatience rises, I start cleaning up udders and legs by shearing off the excess wool. This helps the lambs find the teat and more easily get their first drink. Soon we’ll begin our daily “udder checks” – walking behind the ewes as they eat and occasionally pulling a warm hand from a glove to feel their swelling udders, which gives us some indication of how soon a ewe will give birth.

2020 marks the 35th year of lambs being born at Apple Creek Farm. Since 1985, each Spring the flock has grown stealthily, new members coming late each night and in the early hours of the morning. My father, Pete can claim the bulk of the work for those 35 years. He and my mother, Janet have logged closer to 45 years of lambing since they acquired their first sheep. After celebrating a milestone birthday for Pete at the end of January, I thought back 35 years when we moved from Brunswick to Bowdoinham, sheep and all. I was only six and new lambs were a thing to celebrate, like a birthday. As with much of farming, it’s all about the routines and familiar seasonal rhythms- new each time yet familiar. Three and a half decades of observing ewes whose names we know without seeing their ear tag. Of looking up into frozen, starlit skies on the quiet walk to the barn to check for ewes in labor. Almost four decades of drying off lambs in the dark, moving ewes and lambs from the paddock into pens. Hands covered in blood, milk, and iodine. 35 years of life and sometimes death.

Our sheep aren’t needy. They don’t ask us for much, least of all an abundance of attention. But after a ewe has delivered a lamb or two, they let us carry their newborns to a safe, dry place to bond. They tolerate us sitting with them, waiting, helping the lambs find the udder.

The pre-lambing season involves a lot of standing around and watching. After morning chores Abby and I will lean on gates looking across the sea of wool and hay and snow. We speculate aloud about who looks ready, playfully place bets on which of us will be right. We recount the previous year and who lambed first, who was bred to which of the rams. In the evening we remark how a particular ewe is walking, whether she is gazing thoughtfully into the night sky chewing her cud or if she is laying down rather than joining the others at the feeder. During each of the nighttime checks we walk through the stillness of the night, ears perked, listening for the telltale sounds of new life. A small bleat, a nicker from a new mom, a groan from as a ewe shifts her bulk or paws in the hay as she readies her nest. Arriving at the barn we slowly ease open the gate and slide into the paddock to avoid waking the sleeping ewes.  A third are chewing their cud and another third pushed up to the feeders, still not sated.

As long as it seems we wait, with the first birth a familiar rhythm takes over.

Helpful Valentine’s Day tips from Apple Creek

Are you one of those folks who doesn’t like Valentine’s Day? Do you wait until the day before to order flowers or buy a card on your way home from work? We’d like to offer you some ideas for this mid-winter holiday that you and your loved one can enjoy equally. Why buy flowers that you can’t eat and will just get composted? Why buy a generic card that you’ll stuff into some desk drawer? Chocolates? Well perhaps. But how about MEAT? Steaks, roasts, chops, ribs, shanks? Lamb, beef, goat, chicken, goose?. We can give you a leg up.

a boneless goat leg...
a boneless goat leg…

Why go out on February 14th and share a restaurant with multiple other couples? Making a meal for your Valentine is a sure way to show how much you care for them. There is time involved and that shows commitment. Choosing a meal to make shows you’re decisive and it shows you know your loved one’s taste. Stick with a safe, traditional dish or get experimental – it’s like buying one rose verses 50 roses, both show you care, but one might carry a bit more weight in the love department. But don’t make a dish that only you like. That’s like buying your girlfriend lingerie rather than the sweater she really wants. And you won’t break the bank selecting a great cut of meat either, we have a price that will fit everyone’s budget!

So maybe lighting a fire in the kitchen isn’t your thing and maybe more your Valentine’s. How about getting them a great, high quality cut of grass-fed beef or lamb? Or a certified organic chicken or goose? This gift could ultimately land you in the seat across from your loved one enjoying the goat shanks or beef tenderloin that you gave them!

This February 14th meat will guarantee to heat things up…in the kitchen at least.

And if meat isn’t your Valentine’s thing, perhaps a sheep or goat skin will show your love. It will surely provide a cozy place to curl up during this cold month. Remember February 14th is a Friday this year! Find us this Saturday the 8th at the Brunswick Winter Market at Fort Andross in Brunswick.

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New neighbors.

Last week we finally finished up the mobile coop. There are still some minor details to complete but we’re saving those for when it gets warmer. We wheeled the coop out to the winter cow paddock to provide a little more wind break for the cows but also so the chickens can scratch around in the waste hay. With the temperatures still quite cold but the sun shining the girls came out to meet their new neighbors today.

New Year Brings Big Changes

After three years of planning, three months of waiting for the Unity farm to officially sell and at least two weeks of moving- everyone is on ONE farm in Bowdoinham! We are excited (and a little tired) but wanted to share some photos of 2014 happenings so far.

Share the news…Farm for sale!

Where did the end of the summer go?? It has been mighty busy around Apple Creek Farm and Bacon Brook Farmstead the last two months. Haying was wrapped up…finally. Five great calves were born at Apple Creek, our batches of organic meat chickens have all been processed as have our organic geese, and lime and manure are getting spread on some pastures and hay fields.

Abby and I were busy in August and September getting her house and farm ready to go on the market. That’s right, Bacon Brook Farmstead is for sale in the great town of Unity. We are eagerly looking forward to farming (one farm) together in Bowdoinham.

Pasture with broilers.
Pasture with broilers.

Lower pasture
Lower pasture

Here is the link to the farm: http://www.masiello.com/real-estate/unity/41-albion-road/1110433.cfm

We’ve put a lot of work into the fields and pastures – the broilers that you enjoy so much at the winter farmers’ market in Brunswick were the main sources of fertility. Heavy rotations have brought the pastures back in just two years. The goats and geese add a tremendous amount too. There are several great locations for vegetable production and still have space for raising livestock. This is the perfect little spot for a young farmer, or a pair, or whoever! Located just close enough to Unity but just out so that neighbors aren’t something one thinks about. We would appreciate folks who can share the link and information with friends and family.

Looking north.
Looking north.

Beat the summer heat – make hay and jump in the water!

What a summer! I think we’re ready to expect the unexpected from here on out of our farming lives. It is now creeping towards the end of July and we have yet to finish our first cutting of hay. All that rain in June really saturated the ground leaving us useless on the days when it was sunny, unable and not wanting to put a tractor in a field; leaving ruts we’d regret for the next 10 years. And even when the ground was just only slightly squishy, there was enough moisture that the hay wouldn’t dry completely. Or the threat of thunderstorms was so great we didn’t dare cut – sometimes to our advantage, sometimes not.

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When it did get nice though, it was beautiful! Until the humidity showed up. But the hay must be made and nothing feels better than jumping in the Cathance River after loading and unloading a full hay wagon.

Our geese, on the other hand, have enjoyed every damp, rainy, foggy day June and July threw at us. Even the hot humid days these guys can be found bopping in and out of the water tub, grazing happy-as-can-be, or sacked out catching some rays.

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Pool’s open!

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The best way to beat the heat.

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Just last week they were moved into their finishing pastures. We seeded down a section of pasture in the spring specifically for the geese – a mix of chicory and a pasture mix including perennial rye grass, timothy, and several clovers.

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Salad Bar!

Information about ordering a holiday goose can be found at Apple Creek Farm and there will be a blog post about it too.

Lastly our first batch of Red Bros are being processed this week and will be available for order or at the Bowdoinham Farmers’ Market. We will have more chickens being processed throughout the rest of the summer and available all winter.

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Feel free to contact us – applecreekfarmbham@gmail.com about getting chicken, goose, or any of our other grass-fed meat products.

Two Farms

Here are some photos from Apple Creek Farm and Bacon Brook Farmstead over the past few weeks.

Basking in the warm sun

Our second batch of Red Bros

Day old inquisitive little one

The goslings are growing up!

but still lounging around…

Winter rye and vetch was planted in the new field last fall at Apple Creek Farm….

here’s the vetch!

The cows were strip-grazed through during the rainy stretch last week

The rain helped the pastures thicken up

 

When the sun returned the mama goats and their kids did some lazing around in the grass

 

The yearlings.

 

 

Bluebelle

Carlo

 

Clover and Jimoo cool off in the trees along the field edges.

 

The Real Arrival of Spring [In like a lamb, gosling, chick, OR mud]

mud
Oh mud!

Generally mud is a good sign of the change of seasons. This year we had snow then mud, then snow again, then mud, and snow once more before the ground decided to thaw out completely and let the mud reign. There are some sayings I like to hold close when it comes to talking about the seasons in Maine – “We’ve got 9 months of winter and 3 months of rough sleddin” or the three seasons,  “Summer, winter, and mud season.” Spring in Maine isn’t like spring I’ve experienced elsewhere. It takes longer to wake up, the fields stay brown even as the sun is higher in the sky, and mud abounds. Spring in Virginia seemed to pop overnight. Leaflets and buds appeared in the afternoon on trees that were bare in the morning. Wildlife and birds arrived in hoards.  And in Wyoming it came in the forms of grass greening and little yellow flowers appearing in the hills; all the while snowstorms continued to arrive on the doorstep. But I asked Abby the other day what spring was like in Pennsylvania where she grew up. Dreadful was close to the word she used – monochromes of gray across a lifeless landscape. The sky stayed gray and the land had no variety to it; the hills kept everything enclosed. She continued to explain that upon moving to Maine a decade ago, she discovered there was such contrast between the blue sky (and lots of it) and the yellow and brown fields and the trees on the hills in variegated shades of purple on the faraway hills, blue of the mountains and red on budding hardwoods. And the evergreens were the first real green of the new season. I realized she was right – the spring in Maine is more than mud and dull tones. Perhaps as we get older our eyes pick out the beauty of the season with more clarity, but growing up, mud seemed to be the norm.

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Cleaned out brooder pre-goslings.

 

 

 

And what is normal? This post came to me as I was cleaning the brooder where our 50 goslings will live for two weeks before our 250 broiler chicks arrive at the beginning of May. The thought of 50 goslings just pushed me over the edge with anticipation. We are doubling the number we had last year. And raising last year’s group was truly a delight. Thinking about the arrival of these goslings and chicks I recalled being young and every few Easters my brother, sister and I would get chicks or ducklings or goslings. Once in a great while there would be a bunny even. We’d come downstairs on Easter morning to find a box alive with peeping, some 2 or 3 yellow fluff balls looking back at us.

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When Abby got home later that day and I crawled out of the brooder I asked her if she used to get chicks or goslings as a kid around Easter. She responded with a “No” and quickly reminded me that I grew up on a farm. Suddenly it hit me that young children getting presents of baby chickens or geese in the springtime wasn’t a normal event parents did annually. I had to laugh about how ordinary it felt to me when in actuality our family was the anomaly.

So now we await the phone call from the post office, telling us to come pick up our box of peeping peepers. This won’t be like any Easter morning I can ever remember, but I hope this becomes the norm.

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Day old puffballs, straight from the post office.

Down to two…

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The madness that is the lamb nursery…often feels more like a playground.

 

 

March Madness: The selection showcase, the sweet 16 and then the final four…I’m not talking about the NCAA basketball tournaments. I’m talking about the lambing season. In October we selected which ewes would be turned in with which rams, and separated the different groups. 145 days later (give or take) the lambs started being born. So as the final game was being played on this past Monday night, our third to last ewe decided to have her lamb. But that still leaves us with two ewes, facing off in the final moments… but really the lambing season should be over by now. In 2012 we wrapped up lambing in exactly one month – February 22 to March 22. That was slick.

 

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Sappy is the colored ewe in the back, Hyacinth the white one in the front. Both striking the same pose.

 

 

This year though we have two holdouts: Sappy and Hyacinth. They are sisters of course. Well half-sisters as they share the same sire. They were born in 2009 and the other night after a barn check at 2:30 am I looked back through our lambing records to discover that Sappy is consistently the last to lamb since she began having lambs in 2011. Hyacinth is more a wild card. In 2011 she was the fourth to last but was in the top five to lamb in 2012. I’m sure one could account for varying gestation times, longer heat cycles, or a lazy ram. I however like to believe these two, now the size of barrels, really are trying to psych one another out. Or they have some sort of bet; which one will be the last to lamb?

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We continue the nightly 2 and 4 am checks, even though you get out there and all is quiet. My dad always likes to say, “The one night you don’t go out will be the night they lamb…” and implying, will need our help.

Sure would be nice to get this season wrapped up this week. My money is on Sappy to be the last. But I’m sure both will have twins whenever they finally decide to.

Taking Stock

With the ever present snow, it is hard to believe Spring is coming, therefore it is a great time to take stock and make stock. Since we raise our own animals we often find our freezers full of parts that sometimes seem overlooked. Beef and lamb bones are some of those. Our beef bones come to the farm in big packs. bonesWe defrost and roast a bunch preserving it in the freezer for soups and stews of the future. The roasting process itself is very straightforward.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees and put the bones in a oven safe pan. Roast until browned. To make stock simply cover bones with water and boil. We usually put ours on the woodstove, but keeping them on the stovetop for as long as you can will insure a flavorful broth.

ImageWe have a variety of bones, but the marrow bones are a special treat. Jake and I found a great recipe on a blog called The Hungry Mouse.

We also made some delicious french onion soup with the broth. The recipe is from James Beard’s American Cookery and is really delicious. This is one dish that I will never need to order again, because it is super easy and really delicious to make at home!

Onion Soup

5 tbsp butter318092_4525427771315_342001395_n
2 tbsp oil
5 medium onions, peeled and sliced thin
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 cups beef broth
1 cup red wine or port
8 slices crisp toast, preferably a crusty French bread
Grated Parmesean or Asiago cheese
Grated Mozzarella cheese (our addition)

Brown the onions in butter and oil over medium heat until they are soft. Sprinkle with sugar and toss so sugar caramelizes them, add salt. Add boiling broth and wine, blend over medium heat. Ladle soup into ovenproof dishes and add slices of toast. We added fresh spinach as well. Place under broiler for 10 minutes. Serve at once- enjoy!