We love our animals, no one here is vegan, and that is not a contradiction.

Apparently I have to say this. I have left the most recent facebook comments where they are for two reasons. First, they make it pretty clear that if you’re looking for a smiles-and-cauliflower approach to life, you’re in the wrong place. Second, they beautifully illustrate how to politely and gracefully excuse yourself from a page. Please take a hint, internet.

No, Owl Hill Farm has no vegan members. There’s one relative who doesn’t eat meat but does appreciate eggs and milk… I guess that makes her a vegetarian? I’m not actually sure. Either way, there are no persons here who believe that it is inherently wrong to make use of an animal’s effort, products, or flesh. We do believe that there is a right and wrong way to go about doing this, however.

We don’t use antibiotics, de-wormers, or other pharmaceuticals unless they are absolutely necessary. We’ve all seen the horror stories about resistant infections and resistant infestations and we don’t want any part of contributing to that. Good quality diets firmly based in roughage/forage and solid rotational grazing practices go a long, long way toward avoiding the need for these things anyway. Work with nature, not against her.

 

This is how everything works together here, with nature and not against it. Most obviously, everything poops. Chickens and rabbits contribute to the amazing compost that keeps the vegetables impressive and the goats scatter theirs across their pastures so that I don’t ever have to add chemical fertilizer to the field. The chickens are probably the best bang for the cluck, since not only is their compost awesome but they scratch through everything they can reach and peck out all of the bugs. Yes, chickens are omnivores naturally. I haven’t pulled a tick off of a human or pet since we turned the chickens out to start scratching for bugs years ago, and they lay AA Ex-Large and Jumbo eggs with huge dark protein rich yolks from February to November. I don’t use artificial lights to keep them laying year round, but I also have some three year old hens still laying strong when a commercial egg layer’s life is less than two years. That natural winter break is important to their health. There is no vegetable waste on this farm. If the goats, rabbits, chickens. or mealworms (the hens’ winter protein supply) won’t eat it, it gets composted. Grass and leaf clippings get composted or mulched if they aren’t being fed to rabbits or lining nest boxes because who buys wood shavings or straw when there’s free leaf mulch?

There’s no animal product waste on this farm either, and that’s the part that’s harder to explain, but apparently needs to be explained. Every animal here is food or a support system for food. The goats are lean, healthy, naturally raised, no antibiotic or hormone involved red meat. They are also milk, leather, tallow, bone crafts, wool, draft labor, self-propelled field fertilizer, dog food, and hours of entertainment. I do, in fact, know how to use everything but the ‘baaa’ from a goat. (yes, even the offal has uses- ever eat black pudding?) This means that we require fewer goats to meet all of our needs, and treat each and every goat with respect and a strange, hard to explain sense of admiration for just how much it’s giving us. It’s not just the goats, either. Rabbits are meat and pelts and dog food (some offal that is perfectly edible if treated properly by humans that is better served regards the time involved by being fed to the dog. Security system’s gotta eat too.) in addition to being fantastic producers of compost material. Rabbit poop is amazing soil amendment, once properly rotted down. The chickens are even more multipurpose. They lay eggs, till the garden beds, provide unbelievable pest control, deposit high-nitrogen soil amendment wherever they go, are hilariously entertaining, and even make decent soup when their egg laying days are done. Old chicken is like trying to eat leather, but it does put great flavor in the soup. Again, with all of them it’s hard to explain the sense of admiration for these animals, because they really are so much more than food.

So no, we’re not vegan. We’re committed to working with nature and the natures of our livestock. Livestock are part of a larger interconnected and mutually supportive system we call small-scale sustainable agriculture. They’re food, but they’re also a lot more. We respect them, we admire them, and we don’t let any of them go to waste.

Coming Soon!

No really, they’ll be hitting the ground any day now… Look at these does!

Those necessary jobs- a poop story

This weekend I finished (with some help, thanks guys who were actually all girls but I tend to use guys generically!) two of the four big nasty necessary parts of keeping things going on this farm. The tiny sheds in the Quarantine lot (which has FINALLY had the fence completely removed to the correct location fuckyouverymuchneighbor) have been mucked out and their rather *ahem* aromatic collections have been added to the current phase of the compost piles. I say ‘piles’ because there was in fact that much shit. I have also scraped out everything underneath the rabbit cages and added it to the piles.

I’m dreading the chicken coop and the big goat shed.

I had no idea until recently when more and more folks with all of zero agricultural background started showing up at various agriculturally themed local events that no one talks about poop on a farm. Seriously, no one talks about one of the biggest, messiest, and most valuable free resources that livestock create. That shit is black gold. Or, slightly brownish gold, depending on the species.

I recently had to explain to someone that you have to let various critter poop rot before you can use it on the garden- it’s too strong and can chemically burn your crops if you don’t. They had no idea. They were just too busy complaining about the smell. Of course, that will fade away too as it rots down into good black compost. Dig a few of the worms out of the lower layers and go fishing, while you’re at it.

Speaking of worms, don’t ignore worm poop. A mealworm colony costs about $50 to start (worm nucleus, bins, wheat bran, vegetable scraps) and feeds chickens forever for very nearly free. Just some more wheat bran every so often. If you’re feeling ambitions you can migrate the colony and have a bin full of bran and worm castings. That’s poop. Epic fertilizer.

Yes. Farming is a crappy job. That’s what makes it grow.

 

Just in time

The Donner pole has been planted in the Q lot.

There are hours and hours of work and a lot of meaning in that statement.

The pole itself is- I will be the first to admit- not very well carved. I am a lot of things, but I am clearly not a wood carver. Still, you can tell that it’s a face with a beard and with the red dye you can even figure out Who it’s supposed to be. It is carved out of an aged gum limb that fell (no oak limbs handy, but given that gum shares oak’s reputation for strength and longevity in this area, I’m pretty sure it’s ok.) and has been treated with linseed oil to prolong its life in ground contact.

It’s in the Q lot, or Quarantine lot, which has been the work of many hours and many people to move the fence to the correct side of the new property lines. I finished staking the bottom of the fence down yesterday. The lot is used for goats that are new and need to be observed for a while first, or for goats that are ill and need special care, and for does who are about to give birth and need a lot with good tree cover to protect the kids from eagles (it also is surrounded with chain link and is better for keeping other predators out) and it is used to isolate specific does with a buck for breeding. It also sits on the corner of the property surrounded by hostile neighbors. I literally could not think of a more appropriate location for a pole shrine for Donner.

As much as I would like to open this to the public, I can not do that. Yet. I am currently still working in the school system 3-4 days a week and will (if my work passes the examination of current co-op members) be working sporadically at a craft shop in Leonardtown where my work will also be hosted. That said, if you would like to visit the pole, please do not hesitate to contact me. We can probably work something out.

Hail Donner.

The more things change

Let’s see…

The goats are waddling around being happy and fed and pregnant, the dog is racing around being an overgrown puppy, the cat is looking at the dog disdainfully, the chickens are scratching through the dead leaves, we’ve gotten most of the fence repair on the quarantine lot finished, there’s a new President, I got the new shallow raised beds lined and filled with dirt and compost yesterday, I adjusted a bracelet someone had purchased and requested resized, the shipment of feed came in, the seed orders are going out this week, I paid my bills, I need to go pay the truck’s registration renewal, I lost a day of work because of a cold, I spent the day puttering around getting little pestery chores done so it wasn’t a total loss…

And so on and so forth.

Focus on the good. Focus on the stable. Focus on the every day making-in-better things. No, I’m not saying give up. I’m also not saying give in to the apocalyptic drama. I said the exact same thing to the last big protest movement: it’s not going to help your cause if you let them manipulate your emotional reactions into the kind of dramatic responses they need to shine the spotlight of negative interpretation on you.

One day, one step at a time. Keep moving. Keep your cool. We’ll get through it together.

Announcing New Handcrafted Awesome

Take a gander through the Farm’s associated Etsy shop- The Spider’s Mask- for a parade of hand crafted wearable art including hand woven silver, real lapis lazuli touches, an actual charm necklace, and a wide variety of shapes and styles to fit a variety of tastes.

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All of the new pieces for sale feature hand made trichinopoly chain, often referred to as Viking weave or Viking knit wire. Creating this strong, supple, lighter-than-it-looks chain by hand is very time consuming but I’ve tried to keep prices reasonable despite some pieces taking six hours or more to complete.

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Trichinopoly chain has been found at archaeological sites across Scandinavia and norther Europe. It is not at all inaccurate to refer to this collection of new jewelry as ‘historically inspired.’ Take a look, share it with a friend, and maybe consider that your ‘inner Viking’ would be glad to add some of this to your own hoard 😉

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(The woven copper and silver has been SOLD. Contact me if you’d like me to make another similar piece.)