So, that long-awaited day is nearly here. At the end of this month our beautiful brood ewes and lambs will be sheared of their coats in preparation for lambing this winter. This year, we will be announcing the date (closer to the time, but roughly the last week in November) so that people can come purchase their fleeces straight off the animal. If you’re a spinner you can take your fleece with you. If you would rather buy your fleece and have it spun by a mill, we can help connect you with some local choices! We have white and a range of natural colors. Ewes and lambs. Sign up to our mailing list to be the first to find out when shearing day is happening.
It has been a busy spring and summer here at Henny Penny Farm. I decided not to blog about the lambing until we were done (bad luck and all that) and then things were so busy with the actual lambs and ewes that the time to sit down and write about the farm and farming just disappeared. Much like having actual human babies!
Nevertheless, if you look at the newly revamped Events page you will see we are starting to offer a wider range of workshops and tours for children, families, foodies, gardeners and crafters. We are also offering private workshops and tours catering to the desires of the group. A blog post will follow soon to get you up-to-date with all of the exciting changes that have happened on the farm this season but in the meantime, I included some snapshots of the fruits of our labor!
Well, it was a busy winter. We were lucky not to have any snow to talk of this year, and minimal cold weather. It left time to research and purchase 2 llamas to guard our sheep. On a mild January day, my daughter and I drove up to Germantown, NY and went to a llama farm. We analyzed the llamas there on their attitude, their mother’s characteristics and their fiber and picked one silky llama (aged 9 months) that we named Hercules and one suri llama (aged 15 months) that we named Atlas. We also learned a bit more about llamas which are most curious animals for sure!
They have a 12 month gestation and only carry one llama at a time. Hercules’ mother is 24 years old and had not had a cria (baby llama) in 12 years. They didn’t even know she was pregnant until he just appeared one day! Both boys took some time to settle in and despite our friends thinking that the llamas would spit at them the boys are quite the opposite, running from most people at the beginning.
Then, February 28 our first lambs were born to Maggie. Being her 4th time lambing it was a very short labor and she didn’t follow ANY of the textbook rules! Typically sheep will separate themselves from the flock to labor and show various signs. Maggie looked a little uncomfortable and then I went back to check on her a half hour later and there were two wet lambs right next to the big outdoor hay feeder, with the rest of the flock and llamas checking them out.
Her two ram lambs were strong and stood right away (sometimes they can take as much as an hour to walk). Getting them to nurse reliably, though, took a couple hours. Within a day Maggie fully bonded to her babies and if unknown people visited her in her lambing jug (a small stall where new mom and lambs can bond and rest for a week or two) she would call her lambs next to her and stomp her feet to show her displeasure at visitors.
After two weeks we returned Maggie and her lambs back to the flock. It was worrying at first since the smaller ram was not nearly as adept as his brother at finding ‘Mom’ in the flock. And there is some ‘laying of ground rules’ among all of the sheep with this process, involving a few good head-butts between Maggie and a couple other sheep. Little Dude (as we call him) would often find Atlas and hang out with him. The llamas were immediately protective of the lambs, even protecting them from the other pregnant ewes.
Now, four weeks later, they are extremely tolerant of these boisterous boys who delight in chasing each other around the pasture, using the lounging llamas as springboards. And Little Dude still enjoys sucking on Atlas’ back hair when he is lying down. Why? I don’t know.
So, on our farm we don’t need guard animals as we are deer fenced but the sheep will leave the farm for 6 months a year to graze in larger pastures and they will need protection from the packs of coyotes that range our hills and mountains here.
We currently have three more pregnant ewes that should deliver in the next few weeks. As I write this blog post I am checking the cameras we set up in the barn to monitor the lambing. These certainly make for exciting times!
I have been raising egg laying chickens for years and only feed them organic feed. When it was a handful of chickens the cost was nominal but over time as the flock size grew, calculating the cost involved in producing each egg became more and more important.
So recently I was talking with a friend who assumed I made money selling the eggs and I informed him that I don’t even break even selling a dozen eggs for $5.50. Then of course his next question was ‘Well, why do you do it then?’ And after thinking a moment, I said I do it because I believe in raising free range chickens and in the value of the product. And for a long time the markets have been selling organic eggs for still far less than I was selling them for. Of course I realized that their organic eggs were still not produced in a spacious, green, bug-filled environment like my eggs are. And I hoped that one day consumers would adjust to the true cost of farming organically and with an aim to leave the environment better than you found it. And I feel our food revolution is gradually happening; but nothing happens overnight. I think finally people are beginning to realize that there are farms that will merely fulfill criteria for a certification and then there are farms that go above and beyond. And ultimately, the more local you can buy your food, the more you will truly be able to see the conditions of your food, be it fruit, vegetable, egg or animal.
After this conversation I went to Whole Foods and saw that now they are selling Organic Valley Pasture Raised eggs for $7.50 a dozen. These large companies buy food by the ton, and can’t possibly have chickens ranging on such large square footage per chicken as on my small farm and still are now selling eggs for 63cents per egg. And seeing such high costs of food is depressing from the point of view that there is such a gap between income salaries and cost of food (something fundamental to survival). And this is another, far larger problem in our country at the moment.
However, on a more personal level, as a farmer trying to at least break even on the eggs, I feel like the public is starting to see the true costs of farming in a responsible way. Over the recent decades we got used to inexpensive, heavily-processed foods and new commercial farming techniques which were developed for high output/low input production. More and more the end consumer thinks about where his food comes from and its impact on the environment. And currently this is a bill in the House getting farming classified as Public Service (which would help young farmers get loan forgiveness etc) and of course, we all know this fundamentally, we don’t need the government to declare that. Every day we are alive and healthy we need to thank many farmers.
I thought long and hard about whether to write this post or not. It’s not a post about raising egg costs. It is a post, however, about the business of farming. All young farmers not only need to learn their trade but also need to be well-versed in business and marketing. They need to calculate costs and profits, with small margins, and need to think about Value Added Products as a way to increase their revenue because as much as the average consumer supports the idea of buying farm to their table, on a busy Wednesday night when dinner for the family just needs to be made, something that is healthy but saves time (a value added product) will undoubtedly be called upon to save the day. And most importantly, it is up to young, independent farmers to educate the public on the values of organic, sustainable farming and why our food system needs to continue to change.
So, this is just a little food for thought, or thought for food I guess, for the weekend!