Disclaimer: This post contains no Rocky stories. Sorry for all those left hanging- the end of the story is simple. He ate, slept, and pooped for another 6 weeks and then went along to the slaughterhouse with all his cousins. Just to be careful, Ken and Adrienne are keeping the meat separate because he was given antibiotics.
On the eve of Ken’s birthday, the three apprentices plotted a celebratory horses-wearing-party-hats maneuver in which we would inconspicuously bring a bunch of bailing twine, duct tape, and grain sacks down to the outdoor kitchen, assemble them into cones with tassels by the light of our headlamps, sneak back up to the house to hide them in the cooler in the morning, wait until Ken headed out toward the barn and we toward the horse pasture, and put the hats on the horses. All went as planned until the last step, when Star flipped out at the sight of the tassels dangling from the hats that were still 10 feet away from her, and we had to abort mission. We still made Ken wear one during lunch, and they were a big hit, making a second appearance for Graham’s birthday.
The week before I left, we sorted out all of the garlic heads into tiny (for our own consumption), average (marketable), and huge (for seed). We then broke out all of the seed garlic into individual cloves and checked for nematode damage, rejecting ones that were too damaged. The planting was a process of laying down a board of plywood marked with holes in three rows and at uniform distance apart, poking holes in the ground through the board, popping a clove in each hole, and later covering over the whole bed. The key to garlic planting is the timing and depth. Ideally, garlic is planted when it is warm enough for the seed to germinate and send down roots, but cold enough and deep enough that the leaf shoots will not reach the soil surface and break through to begin photosynthesis until the spring. It was muddy, raining, windy, tedious, and cold, and I got blisters from pressing the broom handle repeatedly into the soil to make holes for the cloves, but I am so glad that we got at least 1/4 of it done while I was there, because the rest of the crew had to complete it without me. It also got me excited and thinking about next season. Most of the work this time of year involved putting things to rest for the winter, which is, in itself, an meaningful process for the farmer spiritually, but it is important to have the stirring feeling of excitement for the season to come.
One of my favorite days this season was the sheep roundup. It was a fast-paced, dangerous, stressful event, but our teamwork and energy ultimately prevailed over what could have been a disastrous project. The goal was to separate the ewes from the rams, leaving the breeding ram with the ewes to impregnate them for next season. In the process, though, we were also giving them each a shot of selenium and vitamin E, feeding them garlic juice, trimming their hooves, and, if applicable, treating them for foot rot/hoof rot. First, all of the sheep were corralled into a small round pen alongside the trailer. It is important that the pen be round so that there are no corners for them to huddle into. Ken and Graham chased and tackled sheep, and once secured in a butt-on-the-ground position and determined to be male, Ken used iodine water and special trimmers to clip back the excess hoof growth and report a hoof rot severity rating to the note taker: 0 being no hoof rot at all, 1 being minor, 2 being hoof rot, and 3 being severe foot rot. Next, Mica or I would fill a syringe with garlic juice and try our best to get the sheep to consume it all without demolishing the syringe with their molars. Next, we would inject an intramuscular shot of selenium/vitamin E just behind the shoulder. Finally, someone would pull down the lower eyelid and report a rating of 1-5, 1 being dark pink and 5 being white. The garlic juice treatment, called “drenching,” is intended to treat gastrointestinal parasites. The selenium shot treats white muscle disease, which causes limping in its early stages but can be fatal if left untreated. Selenium is deficient in most soils in New England, so it’s important to make sure the sheep have healthy muscles by supplementing. The eyelid test is to check for anemia: healthy sheep have dark pink lids and a white eyelid indicates severe anemia. It may sound like we had a solid system in place, but it’s a miracle none of us got stuck with a needle. At one point, Adrienne was riding a ram lamb around the pen as she tried to wrestle him down, and nearly knocked over Ken who was in the middle of clipping. Later, letting the ewe lambs into their new paddock, the shyest of them escaped and wandered free around the pasture for a good 20 minutes. Earlier on in the day, there was a rain cloud that passed over us for about 10 minutes and dumped buckets of water on us, which just made the garlic-sheep-shit-sweat odor more pungent. Near the end, two of the ewes jumped out of the pen and, luckily, happened to jump into what was the previous paddock, still enclosed. I was so engrossed in changing a needle that I didn’t even see them jump– I just looked up and thought, “What are those two doing over there?” For most of the event, neighbor Jack Larrabee came across the street to watch and it must have looked like a circus. On the bright side, I am really glad that I learned how to administer shots and change a needle. I also learned a lot about ovine medicine and flock management. I was reminded of a phrase I learned last summer at a concert by Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, and Stuart Duncan called “Goat Rodeo Sessions.” Thile explained that “goat rodeo” refers to a situation that is so utterly chaotic and unmanageable that it seems like magic if it all works out; teetering on the edge of pandemonium. Although I’m sure goats would have been much worse, I now understand the origin of that term. Nevertheless, I felt a love for the work and for the animals like I always have with cows, but in a way I had not, until that insane mess of a day, felt before with sheep.
A few days before I left, Adrienne brought us all into the office on a wet and chilly afternoon to show us her field planning tools. There were sheets after sheets of numbers and estimations, not only from this season but from seasons past. She kept track of every variety planted, where, how much, when, its yield, how many shares it would provide for on exactly which week, the dollar values, just to name a few. It helped me see how massive and intricate a job it is to grow vegetables. I had been working with small, realized pieces of this spreadsheet all season, but seeing it all in once place gave me a sense of the headache it must be to keep track of it all. At the same time, though, software like this makes it so much less of a headache. It is amazing that there is a clean, digital way of keeping all of this numerical information stored and it makes me wonder how vegetable farmers ever managed with Excel. Adrienne taking the time to show us her planning tools was a huge gift of time and intellectual resources, and I will definitely be asking for a copy of them.With gifts being passed down like this, the value of the apprenticeship as an institution goes well beyond the experience itself; it serves as a connection between small farmers and their mentors, and their mentors before them. The death of farm families and rural depopulation did stifle the vitality of small farms for about half a century, but it is rising from the ashes through this reborn community network. I am indirectly receiving the gift of the intellectual heritage of Goranson Farm.
This experience has affirmed my desire to make farming a part of my life and shown me what a complex, herculuean, and deliberate journey it must be.
That’s all folks!
Information from Noon Family Sheep Farm on eyelid color: