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COLUMN: Winter settles in and a new year begins

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By Jeneen Wiche

While the winter slowdown has not yet happened it does seem to be around the corner. Or is that just wishful thinking? At any rate winter is a time to regroup and plan for another year for the farm. We have some serious infrastructure planning to do thanks to a grant from Animal Welfare Approved, which will allow us to add some fox proof fencing for our free-ranging laying hens; and some improvements to our sheep pastures that will allow for more organized rotational grazing and sorting.  The AWA Good Husbandry Grant is not just financial support but a vote of confidence which really does propel us up to the next level as farmers. We can build our infrastructure as we also grow emotionally and intellectually with our farming practices.  I know this may sound a little strange, but farming is very emotional because at any moment things can go terribly wrong. I am not suggesting that we have a fatalistic approach to raising animals, fruits and vegetables, but for each species there lurks a threat. I have honed my skills on fruits and vegetables and now have “coping skills” when it comes to managing animals for food, as well.
We hedge our bets with fencing, livestock guardian dogs, movement, sunshine and rain, and vigilant observation.  This applies to sheep and potatoes alike. Observation reveals a happy lamb or a diseased potato plant. If we see the happiness we know we are on track; anything to the contrary we need to act accordingly to address the situation. Yes, we have blown it on occasion and missed the signs of distress but the lessons have never been lost on us. I try very hard not to make the same mistake twice.
We had 26 lambs born this year, increasing our herd of Katahdins by nearly 100 percent; over 300 Freedom Ranger chickens made it from our pastures to local plates; and pints of fruit blueberries and figs and dozens of eggs went out to our Egg CSA members. Next year we take another step forward and grow the operation to meet both our desires to farm more and to address the growing demand for humanely raised food that relies on and contributes to our local economy. More eggs, more chicken, more lamb and we plan to try our hand at turkey for the first time.
There are two things that I go back to as I try to maintain a meaningful existence. First is this idea that individual dependency on the whole reinforces accountability to one another.  We have lost some of this accountability because of the anonymity of the services we use daily.
My customers know where their fruit, eggs, lamb and chicken come from so you can be sure that accountability is easy to trace.  The other thing that keeps me grounded is articulated best in a quote from Will Harris of White Oak Pastures, “the way you know you are successful is, do you still enjoy watching your animals.” I can say that this is usually the best thing I do on any given day. Watching animals actively engaged in what they instinctively like to do is pretty cool. Happy New Year.