Early in the day last Saturday, I hung out with my compatriots at our Herb Study Group over our topic of “Foraging”, and I supplied the willing and unwilling with ideas for how to cook up Squirrel. (It was a tongue-in-cheek topic idea suggested by our organizer, bedeviled by squirrels invading her vegetable patch, or probably more in her bird feeders, but since I’ve cooked it in the past, I felt obligated to share a few recipes, even if ingredient quantities for this have been lost in the ether, and so I’ve recommended ideas rather than absolutely precise recipes… Braising (my fave), or crock pot, which is good but not as great as braising.
The foraging topic provided us with a great opportunity to taste a garlic mustard pesto supplied by one of our members. This was indeed excellent. Mind you, garlic mustard, like kudzu, is an invasive plant from outside North America. Fortunately, garlic mustard’s ability to strangulate is a few orders lesser in importance than kudzu, which can grow its individual vines a foot or so in a day or so, if the weather cooperates with it. Kudzu, I understand, is also edible. Fortunately, I live in a zone incompatible with kudzu overwintering. I’ll deal with the garlic mustard. (I seriously hope someone with the proper resources will deal with the Japanese barberry, a plant which is truly hell on thorns, and verdantly impossible to eradicate in my Connecticut locale! As of a year or two ago, irresponsible and negligent nurseries were still selling the damnable stuff! For all I know, some may still be.)
Enough digressing. I went to the Laurel Ridge Farm Day event (located in scenic Litchfield, Connecticut), after leaving our Herb Study study. Now, if I really planned to write this up here on the blog, I’d have gotten a photo of their windmill, which stands at their signature locale on Wigwam Road, Litchfield Connecticut. I’d have also told them, yadda yadda yadda, I have this small-scale blog, but since I was there mostly to see where the pastured pork I eat comes from, and maybe get some pointers for futurely raising my own egg-rearing chickens and perhaps my own feeder porkers — I was living in the present, and didn’t think about this.
Now, however, I just wanna write.
I’m the only guest there. Well, this is wrong, someone else was off entertaining a few other visitors with a tour around the farm. The weather was cool, dank, and perhaps uninviting. I’m having thoughts about being here, just sitting around waiting. I mean, I’m single. I really LIKE doing things with other people, compatriots. But if potential compatriots are not available, should I just lurk around within the comfort of my own home? Watching, say, TV? I have other things I can do with friends, and I just came from one of those, but I’m also seriously interested in THIS, too.
It’s not like I haven’t seen other farms. Nancy’s farm, Tralfamadore. Even on a tour with Nancy, to see Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms and how they housed their chickens. (Where I almost stepped on a black snake, and I got so fascinated I shot it — with camera — rather than running down the slope like my mother would have done.) I want farming info. I definitely want to raise up chicken eggs, if one can word it this way. Porkers? Possibly. Cattle? Way beyond my capacity, I think. Sheeps and goats? That’ll be a different tail.
No black snakes at Laurel Ridge. Just a sick-looking skunk. In the middle of the day. Rabid, I’m sure. I recollect seeing a sick raccoon around noon driving down a road near my home a few years past, drunkenly loping around, but at that time, I was in a well-enclosed vehicle instead of an open-air mini farm tractoroid.
That Saturday: We avoided him and took a back route which isn’t really a road down to the current cattle field. Definitely glad we took no chances with him. At any rate, the cattle are calving and dropping new calves. Black Angus dot the landscape of this field. Two new calves within approximately 30 hours, I’m guessing. One new mother is not entirely happy with our presence, so we retreat to visit other areas of the farm after a short close up.
The cattle get rotated into lots of fields. I can’t remember the number, but it’s over 200 acres of actual field terrain here. My informant (and I regret not remembering his name, especially since it turns my journalistic pretensions into just that…) told me it is much easier to herd adult cattle around than calves. Calves haven’t developed the good-forage incentives yet.
There’s one forested lot that their pigs at some point get herded into. They eat oak acorns (among other things), and this enriches their meat. Anyhow, each of the cattle fields gets pointed out to me as we drive (jumpily) past.
We drive down to the chickens and porkers. The Cornish Cross chickens for meat don’t particularly interest me. Yes, that’s the standard, but I seriously wonder why. Their protective-from-predator areas get moved once a day so they can get fresh forage and insects (yay, get them TICKS!) This setup is similar to Joel Salatin’s, but on a smaller scale.
We get to the Rhode Island Red egg-layers, and I’m happy to see them. I at least imagine they have personalities. My Informant told me that he feeds the chickens organic feed, as they stay a major percentage healthier with this. (I don’t think the farm is technically-organic: with livestock there are too many hoops to jump through, and from reading a book about sheep farming in Vermont not all that long ago, you need to keep parallel fencing to separate any animals that might have really needed antibiotics or certain other meds from the general population. Which in already having fencing to keep the bulls away when not wanted, and (in this farm’s case, the yearlings separated) just adds to overall overhead.
And from my own perspective, when I’m ready to farm: I just HATE tracking paperwork!
The pigs are here, too. 4 month old porkers, and 5-6 week old porkers. This farm doesn’t breed their pigs but they acquire them from a breeder in New York. I forget to ask at which age hogs are ready for market. Definitely, none of these are. There are only a few at each age, and they seem to have happy digs. I’m glad to buy my pork from here. While I have no desire to raise cattle, I’m wondering if a couple of periodic pigs might suit my style down the road.
I took a great interest in my Informant’s expertise in fencing. He pointed me to a resource in Terryville, CT, that I will follow up on. Chicken coops, organic chicken feed, probably a variety of fencing concepts there.
Towards the end of the tour, my Informant told me a story. A year (maybe two) ago, one calf suffered a broken leg. I unfortunately thought that with all somewhat-larger mammals that walk on four limbs, there’d be nothing to do for him except turn him into veal. (“They shoot horses, don’t they?”) No, they found advice that said just splint it, and wrap it well. The calf survived and thrived.
Laurel Ridge Farm is an excellent place. They care about the livestock entrusted to them, and I decidedly enjoyed my hour or so here.
Something about the pigs: I believe they are social animals, but it seems age groups congregate with age groups. No jumping in and learning wisdom from the elders, apparently (this is meant to be an aside). Also as an aside, my Informant said something about different coat colors cropping up in different generations of pigs. I, alas, didn’t follow up on this. (Intentional? Random happenstance? Hmmm?)
The pigs first came to the farm circa 2007, if I remember aright. This is an old family farm (and the windmill was originally intended to help draw up pond/lake water many years ago, but apparently turned out not to be needed, as the pond/lake functioned well enough on its own). Cattle were a long-standing operation, but the current owners really came back in this decade, with the need for non-factory farmed beef. Last year my Informant tells me they tried turkeys, but that didn’t work so well. There are no immediate plans to try them again, but down the road, who knows?
A great hour or two last Saturday spent here, exploring the potentials of farming! Thanks, Laurel Ridge!