Yesterday my wife and I went out to the goat shed early in the morning before the humidity and heat started to rise, I with my .22 rifle and she with a scoop full of corn. We brought out three of our goat kids one at a time and shot them once in the head, which stunned them immediately, and then cut their throats. All in all the goat kids left the gate and died within about 30 seconds. This is the most humane way for any animal to die. Nothing grounds you in reality like a death or a birth. The reality is that these animals were males, and male goats are relatively unsellable compared to females. They had a lovely few months living a peaceful life and now will become a special meal for us.

We then put them on the gambrel and I went to work butchering them. It is better to cool them down under 40 degrees F for 24 hours, but we don’t have the resources to do that, so we decided to butcher and refrigerate until today.

Today I am going to break down the primal cuts and trim them of their silverskin, and then make a kind Cabrito el Horno by roasting the meat in the oven at 225 degrees F for 6 to 8 hours. My intent is to have the meat fall completely off the bone. Then I am going to pull all the meat off and mix in some Tex-Mex herbs and spices, roast for another hour or so, and let it cool until tomorrow, when I will reheat it and it will become the centerpiece of our CSA Member dinner, where we will have Cabrito Tacos with Refried Beans, Tex-Mex Rice, Pico Di Gallo, and other sides with ingredients all sourced from our farm.

I love growing and cooking food, knowing the whole cycle from beginning to end. It is an amazing life to be a farmer.

birthday missive 2013

Tomorrow I turn 35. As I delivered CSA boxes to the Cities today in the humid heat, I reflected on my 35 years of life on this planet. It has been an interesting journey to get to this point, to say the least. One thing that was a recurring theme in my head was my friend JB, who died of cancer just a couple years ago.

He was one of the only people I could talk to about anything. We were kind of on the same wavelength, and now that he is gone I have missed that connection. In the past few years I have learned that the connections are what make life move forward, not just the plans you have laid out so carefully or the intentions you create with deep feeling. Whatever happens, seems to happen because of the connections. You could say karma creates connections which keeps the wheel-o-life movin’. Permaculture also reinforces this idea – our designs are only good if they make multiple connections across all the elements in the system. That’s when life starts to turn up the juice.

So when somebody dies or goes away, that connection, that incredibly important link between your life and another life, seems to fade away.

Maybe that is why the worlds major religions are so focused on the afterlife – to deny that sad inevitability when a life disconnects for good. But I don’t think denial makes for a healthy relationship.

I have learned a lot more about engines this past year or so then I thought I ever would, but it turns out I love mechanic work. The most striking thing to me about any machine is that usually, if you take out only one part, the whole damn thing will grind to halt. Without all those parts in rhythmic & synchronous motion, the machine does not come to life. That’s what it feels like when somebody dies, like all of a sudden that part, whatever part it is, is gone and the whole machine of your life doesn’t seem to work.

And then you stick another part in there and it might work really well, not at all, or sort of differently with a strange sound.

You might think it is soulless to think of our friends and family as just parts in a machine. I don’t think of machines as soulless hunks of junk. In that case, we are just thinking chunks of meat. The beauty of the mechanics of a tree are as beautiful as that of a pouncing cheetah or humming bicycle. The difference between living and non-living things is probably smaller then is thought, in my opinion.

In any case, 35 years later, this machine is getting a little more worn down, some wires are crossed and its getting a threadbare seat. But that is all fine. I want to age like a good tractor, still as useful as I was off the factory floor, with a lot more blood, sweat, and tears that make of me what I am.

the sun was orange, I had to stare

the moon was almost full in the sky

the turkeys coo on roosting boards

one bird is killed from up above

eyes are closed in a pool of blood

but we only wail for a minute – this is how it is. We can see only so much future in the scree. More then that, we move along the same trails as the paws and talons, and there is always a beginning and an end. So we begin again,

and again,

and again,

until something feels right. And then we stop for a moment and feel fine.

good morning

Our three little pigs twirl like their tails when I come with their big old bucket of slop –  this time old fermented pickles, duck eggs, and soaked organic grains. They like to slurp up the juices before chowing down. The bunnies are all pressed eagerly against wire waiting for their fresh hay and water, the very embodiment of fuzzy cuteness. The one doe with her kits eagerly awaits her fresh water as her kits aggressively suckle.

The ducks are content in the morning, while the sun rises and illuminates everything golden. Here is a hay pile, here is a compost pile, here is a junk pile. Everyone is thirsty.

The geese and the goats are loud, waiting for corn. I notice the morning sun shining on the dew in the spiderwebs, the funnel web spiders with their retreat in the middle. Thinking about structures, can’t wait to build our house, but meanwhile i have to order the posts for the duck barn addition. Not stressed out yet, too early in the day. Each hole will be augered into our rich clay soil, each post will be placed, and so it will be.

There is nothing out of time, nothing out of place. We lost another chicken last night, this time no sight of an owl, no apparent bite marks. What is happening? Could the geese possibly be killing the young chicken? It makes some sense, but also no sense. It is very hard to get all the chickens into the trailer at night, they mostly want to huddle underneath.

But meanwhile the turkeys are a joy. We tend to them happily, they are grateful, curious, and crazy.  Sometimes I think I would choose turkeys over the other animals if I could only raise one type of animal. But of course what a loss that would be – the diversity is what makes it interesting, what helps create a balanced system. But sometimes I think we are a bit too diverse- then I look out at nature and think, what is  “too diverse”?

if only everything was perfect

We have had this really cool and amazing August. Too cool for tomatoes, just right for me, except this morning when my shorts seemed like a bad choice for camp wear as I shivered under the blankets in our station wagon nest.

We’ve had predator attacks in the field where the turkeys, goslings,  and chickens are pastured. After many traps were set and guns loaded, today we caught the predator in the act. A great horned owl, it seems, a hoo-hooing down our ravine being chased by crows. Its tally of death was 3 chickens, and it is now time for us to consider all options on how to protect our domestic poultry from this wild bird of prey.

Even we, who are working with permaculture principals and pasturing our animals on organic fields, can be preyed upon by the wild animals who do not know how eco-friendly we are, and I can only guess that they would not give a shit, to boot. Or, they would shit out the bones and feathers of our flocks if possible.

But I wanted to write about another kind of death. The kind of death that we choose for our animals.

We kill our animals (chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, goats) as humanely as we know how to. They live happy lives outside with cozy shelters, fed with organic grains and all kinds of natural treats. They die here, where they lived, without the stress fear of transportation. We butcher them ourselves, mostly, and we use most of the animal for food, for hoof to snout. The guts go to our dogs, and I am trying to learn how to tan hides and make bone handled knives. This is what human beings have been doing for a long damn time.

Meanwhile, you have the new paradigm of folks who know nothing of the natural cycles of life, bemoaning the horror of the death of any living creature. I would invite them to feast their shaded eyes on nature. While perhaps not being red in tooth and claw all the time, it does not have a morality in the sense that we understand morality, it exists independently of human thought constructs. While we perceive an owl ripping our chickens apart as bad (and it is tangibly bad for us [and the chicken] in many ways) this is what nature has evolved. Our unnatural acts of farming exacerbate issues with predators and pests endlessly. So I don’t think the healthy answer is to constantly be in defense mode.

As a Kung Fu Farmer, I have to work within the framework of doing the best I can. All we can really do is do the best we can with what we have, where we are. There is really nothing else to do, and perhaps this is the essence of being present in the moment. So I can’t say, if only the world was perfect I would eat only hazelnuts and blueberries, because there is no “if only” in the present, there is just “what is”.

So what is? My job is to drive off the predator and protect my flock. The owls job is to eat our flock.

Is it strange that some hunters and fisherfolk have a better understanding of the natural world then some conservationists or vegetarians? I don’t think it is strange to live in connection to the natural world, from which all of our food, shelter, sustenance and happiness comes from. I think it is strange when others tell me how awful it is to raise animals in a caring manner in a natural way and then to kill them and eat them. What is more natural?


broken steel

A shaft broke on the Kubota – one that connects the crank to an auxiliary hydraulic pump that powers the loader. I noticed when the loader quit working and a weird knocking sound came from the engine. Terrified me. On close inspection I saw the broken shaft, and disassembled the engine housing and radiator to get to the problem. The real issue was that the splined shaft was welded onto a flange, because the grooves in the coupling were worn out. So then I went to a tractor repair guy, and after some talking he sliced off the junked bit of shaft off the coupling and welded it back together, only shorter. We didn’t know if it would have enough length to get into the coupling on the hydraulic pump. I came back home and fit it up and by golly it did. So for $10 I think the problem is fixed. The shaft isn’t true, though, so there is a lot of wobble. Hopefully not enough to cause to many problems. We’ll see, I guess.

Otherwise days have been cool and damp. I think we only had maybe a week of hot summer days, and now we’re getting into the middle of August, it feels a bit wrong, but I’m definitely a cool guy, not too into hot. Cool as a cucumber, Cool Hand Luke, Coolio – that’s me.

In a bit here I am going to go out and put the tractor back together with my dad, see if he has any advice. Wondering if I should raise reindeer. Thinking about  fall crops. Cleaning the dishes. You know, just a normal day on the farm.

accidental death

More and more my mind comes back to cooking.

What seems like the most prosaic chore is probably the most influential activity we engage in daily. Even more so then farming or gardening, I think, primarily because what we choose to eat dictates, to some extent, what we farm or garden. So, in other words, what our palate desires shape the landscape all around us.

So, cooking. Every day we have a choice. Cook something wholesome and delicious, or snack on the good old standbys. And most of us, myself included, tend to reach for the standbys. In a busy workweek we don’t have time for more work, more tasks, more cleaning and planning. So, we lose out on one of the biggest pleasures of life repeatedly.

Every time I give myself time to cook something it is a pleasure, even if it doesn’t come out just perfectly. When we cook our meals and enjoy them together, we are so much more connected, which can translate to happiness, or at least communication.

So last night there was a slight accident. A board fell and killed a baby turkey. I was pretty sad about it, feeling very guilty. But I hung it overnight and dressed it this morning. It comes out to probably about 2 pounds dressed. And what this little being won’t be is wasted. I gave the dogs the offal, and the dogs are hard workers. We will roast up the bird for lunch, and use the bones for stock. Afterward, the bones will be composted.

If we give ourselves time to do these things, to live life one moment at a time, then we can respect life, and live in the present instead of the past and future. I think cooking is the most important alchemy we can do three times a day. Cooking is a meditation and yoga all by itself. If you can find the time to watch a show, do yoga, read a book, meditate, or clean your car, you can find time to cook I would suppose.