eggs-perimenting with the eggs-periment

I swear this will be the last post with this bad pun.

We experimented with the frozen spring eggs experiment. I really didn’t mind the consistency. Ron was less thrilled. So he whirled several bags of frozen hen eggs in the blender, measured it, and put the leftovers in tupperware.

I admit: the scrambled eggs were better.

Therefore, eggs-periment (2.0) consists of freezing eggs, defrosting them, blasting them in the blender, cooking, and eating!

Hmm, I suppose eggs-periment (3.0) will entail scrambling the eggs in advance and then freezing them.

Maybe this isn’t the last bad pun after all.

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eggs-periment

We get a lot of eggs from March through May as spring comes on, and the days get longer and warmer. A few hens generally go broody, which means they stop laying for a few days to a few weeks. Caroline and Ella have hatched clutches for us so they are also out of commission when they are sitting on the eggs and then raising the chicks.

Now that we have about 20 chickens (most of whom are hens), we actually end up with too many eggs. We sell a few to friends, generally 1-1.5 dozen per week, but we still have too many.

In contrast, the hens really slow down from early November until around New Year’s. Conversely, the days get shorter. In addition, the chickens generally molt in late fall and early winter. It seems a bit strange to molt then, given that the feathers keep them warm. Overall, these factors mean that the hens lay much less so we generally get 0-4 eggs per day from sometime in November through early January.

This spring we tried an experiment–or (wait for it) an eggs-periment. [laugh track goes here]

We tried freezing four eggs (cracked) in a freezer ziplock bag. Turns out, The Internet Advice says that you are supposed to scramble the eggs before putting them in the bag. I just cracked them and dumped them into the sack whole.

About 10 days ago, we started eating the stash of frozen eggs from the spring. The yolk consistency once defrosted is, admittedly, a bit strange. The yolk is fairly solid and firm. I really have to smash it with a fork to break it up. The “scrambled” egg “liquid” is less liquid-y thanks to the more solid yolks. As a result the consistency of the cooked eggs is a bit atypical, but the eggs basically taste the same. And, really, who cares.

The cool thing about this eggs-periment is that we can now extend our very local egg consumption more year round, rather than buying eggs for most of November and December. I wouldn’t serve our scrambled eggs to the Queen of England, but she’s not coming over to the farm anyway.

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farm thanks giving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, in part because it hasn’t been entirely corrupted by capitalism (yet). At times, though, the gratitude talk gets a bit inauthentic–as if we remember to be grateful one day per year.

Having a homestead has definitely made me more grateful, though. When you rely on the weather, seeds, starts, animals, soil, and many other factors to produce food and wool, you become more cognizant of how much we depend on the natural world. That dependency is even more apparent to those who farm to survive. However, many in the industrialized world now take adequate rain or good germination rates for granted, although they may be nonetheless affected when crops fail or animals die–and prices go up at the grocery store. Higher prices for eggs or avocados are less tangible and immediate, though, than when you actually see dying plants (or, alas, animals), dried up soil, or all weeds and no crops.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are some of the things we are grateful for this year at White Pine Farm.

  • No drought this summer. Much less schlepping water, dragging hoses everywhere all the time.
  • Grass that grew and grew and grew in the sun and rain for the growing season, supporting 11 sheep and 1 llama from early April to mid-November, only winding down in the last week or so.
  • Adequate rain so that we weren’t hit by extra high hay bills when hay is scarce.
  • An apple tree that completely fell over during a very wet and windy spell in the spring, but miraculously went on to produce many nice apples in late summer.
  • Tomato plants that patiently held on through a relatively mild summer, waiting for a surge of heat in late summer and early fall.
  • Mason jars. What did we do without them???
  • Tom the rooster for helping protect the hens and chicks.
  • Caroline and Ella for being good hen-moms and raising new cohorts of chickies.
  • Chickens who eat everything (for better and for worse).
  • Organic, truly locavore eggs (that also make non-organic, pasture-raised eggs now hard to eat).
  • Worms and bugs, which help feed the chickens (mmm).
  • Compost for doing its miraculous compost thing.
  • Chicken and sheep poop, which goes into the compost, decomposes, and enriches the garden.
  • Cinnamon for delivering Chaco and Francisco so easily, especially given how the next two ewe births went.
  • Delinquent, first-time mother June Bug for eventually bonding enough with Crescent and Joseph to become a good ewe-mom after a very rough start.
  • Cutie twins Crescent and Joseph who are, well, complete cuties.
  • That sweet Joseph was “only” injured in the coyote attack in early August.
  • Cornell vet for providing world-class vet care for little more than a house call fee. We couldn’t do this without them, especially sheep specialist Dr. Smith.
  • Diego the llama for adjusting to our farm (unlike his father who lives up the hill from us and has not adjusted to his new home) and becoming a fierce protector and sweet friend of the sheep.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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sheep greetings

I don’t know why we are still relearning how sweet sheep are. I guess it says something about their reputation–and how different (our) sheep are from their reputation.

This morning’s lesson: I went out to say hello to the sheep after breakfast. I hadn’t seen the sheep much over the past 2.5 weeks due to travel, work, and the time change. I usually say hello to the sheep when I toss the cat poop bags on the front porch (!), when I leave for work, and when I get home, but it’s usually dark (if not pitch black) by the time I get home these days. And I don’t remember the last time I actually visited them.

So, this morning I went out in my wellies, pjs, Ron’s farm jacket (mine is still in the closet because I’ve been too busy to pull it out), and a polar fleece hat. I started walking towards the fence where I’d do what our amazing farm vet calls the “can can” over the fence. Before I got very far, the sheep (and Diego) came around from behind the corn patch area and then started jogging over.

Sure seemed like they were running to greet me.

Most of them took turns saying hello. Tagine was his usual friendly, pushy self, wanting pets and doing a lot of  l e a n i n g  on my leg. June Bug was near by so I stuck out my hand towards her face. She sniffed my fingers, gave me a cute look, and then wandered off. Pretty nice for shy Junie. PJ also sniffed my hand, but dashed off (also bold for even more shy PJ). Many of them were over by their hay feeder so I wandered over there. I squatted down and started giving Brownie pets at which point Cinnamon jogged over and shoved her face in my face. She even started nibbling on my chin, which she has never done before. Crescent still does this, but Cinnamon seemed to be extra affectionate today. Then I made the rounds with Chaco and Francisco and Tatanka. Strangely, Half Moon was doing his own thing eating hay in the sheep shack, given that he had helped lead everyone over. Also somewhat surprisingly, Crescent and Joseph weren’t very interested in pets.

Later I was thinking about Brownie’s return after her hot date at A’s farm two years ago when she had an extended “play date” with an intact ram and got pregnant with Half Moon. Upon her return, the sheep took turns going up to her. At the time, Junie was happiest to see her because she was still pretty young when her sheep-mom left for almost 6 weeks. As I recall, Spot and Brownie were last to greet. Not surprising since they always had issues, which we could entirely never understand (two alpha ewes??).

This morning, I hadn’t seen the sheep much over the past 2.5 weeks and I think they were greeting me with extra affection because the blonde sheep had been gone so much.

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of llama and lambs

Here’s another guest post from Ron. Not sure about the ratio of “regular” and “guest” posts in recent months, however.

Diego the llama has been with us for several months now, and I have spent a fair amount of time observing the interactions between him and our flock of Navajo Churro sheep. As some readers may recall, we held high hopes for him as a guardian of our little flock, particularly following the failed coyote attack on Joseph the lamb. The intra-species interactions would be interesting to watch from the perspective of a dispassionate observer of animal behavior. This description does not apply to me, though, as I freely admit an excessive attachment to our sheep and have accordingly been watching for any signs of aggression, mating behavior, or–on the positive side–development of a bond between the two species. In summary, in spite of a few glitches, I have been very pleased, and at times touched, by the somewhat gradual development of this multi-species flock.   

With that, I will tell you about Diego and Chaco the lamb. Chaco is Cinnamon’s (not so) little boy, and the first lamb born in 2017. We saw him slip out of his mother on a lovely April morning followed by his brother Francisco (Paco) 10 minutes later. Both lambs are a shade of white quite distinct from Diego’s chocolate brown coat. The day I integrated Diego with the sheep flock, Chaco came walking up and introduced himself with a nose inclined towards Diego’s face. Chaco seemed to have no fear of this six foot tall, two hundred plus pound creature. Diego, however, turned and scooted away. An odd power dynamic considering Chaco might weigh 40 pounds with eyes at the level of my thighs. Chaco was not dissuaded though and tried this again several times that day with Diego growing more comfortable with this much smaller, white creature. A week or so later I caught the tail end of a different interaction with Diego slowly chasing Chaco around the pasture. I did not see any potential for harm, but Chaco was a little disturbed by this. I let it play out and all was calm in a few minutes.  Perhaps Diego was irritated with the invasion of his personal space, or perhaps he was herding his little charge. I have not seen this again.

A week or so later, we looked out in the pasture, Diego was lying down, and Chaco was standing right next to him–looking his hero Diego in the face from a few feet away. This went on for something like 30 minutes. At the least Diego had decided to tolerate his lamb worshipper. However, I gathered later that more than tolerance was likely occurring.

A day or two after moving the flock to a new pasture I noticed burdocks in some of the lambs’ wool. This can make mess of the wool so I went out, pulled up any burdock, and cut the burrs out from those lambs that would let me grab them. Chaco and Paco are too skittish for this so I had to lure them in to the catch pen. Once I had the two white boys corralled, Diego came running over and stood right next to us on the other side of the catch pen fence intently watching. When I grabbed Paco and flipped him on his butt, Diego let out an alarmed whine and got quite agitated. I then did the same to Chaco and Diego paced the fence line whining. When I set them down the llama stuck his long nose through the fence and sniffed everyone as if to check that they were okay. Diego did not relax until I let everyone out in to the pasture. To me this showed an obvious sign of a protective bond, especially for those two (not so) little white lambs.

That evening I was sitting on the back patio as the day’s light faded and I saw Cinnamon walk out into the pasture to graze with her two boys. This time of fading light is the golden hour for many predators. Diego got up and followed the trio into the pasture and simply stood next to them, watching the tree line–looking, looking, looking. At one point Chaco put his face up towards Diego, just like on the first day, and Diego stretched his long neck down and briefly touched noses with his admirer.

As a biologist I know it is bad practice to interpret or apply human emotions to the animals we observe. However, it is hard to imagine the gesture of touching noses as anything but affection, bonding, family. Diego is Chaco’s hero, and this shepherd’s hero as well.

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a shepherd and his sheep

Ron got back from a trip early this week. I picked him up at the airport and we got home just before dusk. As usual, the sheep (and their llama, Diego) were out and about.

When Ron got out of the car to unlock the garage, he said hello to the sheep who were hanging out under the pine trees. They looked up and were very interested.

He went into the garage, opened the door, I pulled the car in, and then we started unloading my work stuff and his travel stuff. As is often the case, we stood at the entrance to the garage and looked over at the sheep.

By that point, all of the sheep had wandered over to the fence line near the garage and stared at Ron with big eyes and perky ears.

It was hard not to imagine the cartoon bubbles over their heads: “Look! It’s our shepherd. Where were you this week???”

We brought our stuff into the house, I started fixing dinner, and Ron went outside to do the day-end chores a bit later than usual–collect the eggs, check on the chickens, fetch the mail, lock the garage, and check on the sheep.

Once the leftovers were on reheating, I wandered over to the west desk and saw Ron out in the near pasture with his sheep. They were in a big sheep blob around him, obviously saying hello and the friendlier ones–Tagine, Half Moon, Cinnamon, Francisco (who has turned into a big sweetie), and, of course, Crescent and Joseph–getting pets. It was clear they were very glad to see him–and he was glad to see them, too.

We did not think being sheep owners was going to be like this. It’s made losing sheep like Spot and lambing season a lot harder because we have so much affection for these fuzzy creatures.

But it’s a helluva lot better than instrumental functionalism that treats the sheep as if they are nonhuman, lifeless commodities.

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on the job

Thankfully, Diego the llama is, as Ron puts it, on the job.

Integration Friday afternoon went smoothly. Poor Diego was castrated Wednesday afternoon and we had planned to integrate him with the flock Saturday morning, but Ron decided to do it a little early.

Diego was less certain about the whole thing than the sheep. The sheep really weren’t scared or intimidated, mostly curious. Meanwhile, Diego stood away for a while, watching, scampering off when someone–often Chaco the lamb–got too close.

More than a bit funny to see a llama (at least) twice the weight of the adults and four times the weight of the lambs–and more than twice as tall–dash off because he’s nervous about the sheep.

Diego got a bit more relaxed as the day and weekend went on. He sniffed all the sheep, in that personal, animal “get to know you” way. Pretty soon he was hanging around with them, more at a distance, but closer as the hours went on.

On Saturday, the flock was divided in half, with some of the sheep resting under the pine trees and the rest grazing a hundred feet away. Diego was initially with the sleepy sheep, but he kept watching the others. At one point, he got up and then laid down with the grazing sheep. The cartoon bubble over his head seemed to say, “time to check out the sheep over there.”

Here’s a photo of him in typical watch-the-sheep mode.

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After three days together now, we humans are breathing a lot easier. The integration went well, Diego is very curious and watchful, and the sheep aren’t bothered by him at all. In fact, they seem to like Tio (Uncle) Diego.

If I remember, I’ll write about that tomorrow.

In the meantime, another photo of Diego and his sheep. I particularly like this one because Half Moon is looking right at the camera in typical Half Moon mode. You can also see how big the lambs are getting (PJ with the butterfly on his forehead on the left; Crescent hiding behind Half Moon; Cinnamon’s twin (white) boys on the right; Francisco is the whiter one, Chaco is more beige).

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