Zucchini lamb taco boats

Last weekend we were part of hosting a Lamb and Wool festival in our little town for the 17th straight year.

One component of the event is a sheep shearing school. This training provides beginning and intermediate shearers with hands-on, step-by-step instruction to handle a sheep with care as it is shorn.

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Another thing that we do is offer a brief farm tour to discuss pasture and animal health. The questions that come from this tour help us consider things from another perspective.

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However, quite possibly the best-kept secret of the behind-the-scenes festival organization is our vendor dinner. Each vendor is invited to relax and enjoy fellowship with a lamb dinner. This year Sherrie came up with one of the best menus (we probably say this every year and every year it’s true).

This is one easy dish for your household…or up to 75 of your closest friends:

  • In a skillet, brown ground lamb with taco seasoning. Set aside for placing into zucchini boats.
  • Trim the top and bottom from medium-sized zucchini, then slice in half longways, scoop out center contents.
  • Shred lettuce and cheese enough to top each taco boat, and serve with salsa.
  • Serve hot.

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Add a gallon of milk to your Fitbit challenge

This weekend I worked out. OK, I worked out(side). But that counts, right?

I don’t own a fitbit. I don’t eat many fruits or vegetables. I really don’t even like to walk between my farm and my parents’ farm…and we are nextdoor – country style – neighbors. But this weekend I rediscovered every single muscle while walking more than 15,000 steps per day. Sidenote: I only know this because my smart phone knows.

Why would I do this? Because we’re having spring lambs out on beautiful, green pastures that are as tall as my waist. So here’s how the workout(side) muscle discovery goes:

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Ear tags aren’t animal fashion accessories – they’re a way to trace our animals back to this farm as a way of protecting public health

My feet ache from wearing too-small, too-old rain boots.

My legs are tired from all the walking, a little running, from trudging through tall grass and uneven ground, and they ache from floating over the electric fence as carefully as possible so as not to be zapped by the current. My thighs and knees hurt from carefully supporting lambs while eartagging each one.

My arms and abs are sore from carrying lambs when it was necessary to match up moms and babies or to bring a lamb into the barn to be a bottle baby. They hurt from carrying the equivalent of a gallon of milk – all the tools we need for eartagging, banding tails and keeping good records inside of a 5-gallon bucket this season (an awkward shape to carry anyway!). They hurt from using pressure to hold down the fence with a shepherd’s crook so my sore legs could more easily cross the hot fence.

Know what feels great? Taking care of animals. Doing my job to the best of my abilities. Being trusted by my parents to handle the responsibilities of three farms while they took time away. It feels amazing to be here on the farm while juggling tasks of my usual work routine, too.

I don’t do yoga, I farm. And that’s enough for me. But if you are into fitness, I recommend adding a gallon of milk to your workout. Either in weight carried around, or drinking it as often as possible for muscle ache recovery and to increase sales for my dairy farmer friends.

 

Grass-fed, Grain-fed…what do these labels mean?

Last night I attended a “Bringing Everyone to the Dinner Table: Understanding Farm to Fork and Today’s Agriculture” event hosted by the Macomb County Farm Bureau (as in, Michigan’s outskirts of Detroit-area).

Michele Payn-Knoper, founder of Cause Matters Corp., Indiana dairy farmer, book author and fellow Michigan State University graduate (see her Spartan Saga here), was the guest speaker. She encouraged the attendees to share the dinner plate when it comes to food and farming topics.

On our farm, we recognize a variety of farming methods are needed to make the community healthy. Small and big farms, organic and “regular” farms, farms that use horsedrawn plows and tractors that use autosteer and GPS, heritage vegetable plots and GMO seeds…the list goes on and on. What we LOVE is to celebrate the choices that we have as American farmers.

Know what those choices mean? Choices in our grocery stores. Heck, choices at the direct on-farm markets and your local downtown farmers markets. The world is not black and white, as much as I would love clear rules. Right now we want things to be green anyway ;)

One more thing that seems to be murky these days, though, are the labels found on foods and other products. Grass-fed, grain-fed…what do these labels mean? Do they matter?

Not to start researching what others already know and have written about, I visited a blog entry from “Mom at the Meat Counter,” written by a mom/farmer/meat scientist/when-does-she-sleep rockstar. Because even though we raise sheep on pasture and our lambs get a “grainola” mixture with most homegrown crops, I know our way isn’t the only way. I’m not always right. (But please don’t tell my dad, OK?)

I always hope to learn from others’ questions. Foodies, I hope you ask a farmer (you’re looking at one) those questions, and farmers, take time to understand those questions. Foodies, you’re our customers and our neighbors. We care about making sure you feel confident in the choices we have. After all, farmers are food customers too!

What to prepare when you’re expecting…lambs

Imagine expecting 450 babies this year. If you’re a veterinarian or a farmer, you know where I am going with this. Here’s the top five things to prepare when you’re expecting…lambs.

MONTHS before the winter lambing season begins, you’re going to want to make hay when the sun shines. Vacation is nice. To save for winter. For farmer meetings, and only a few days at a time so your sheep know they can count on you to come back and feed hay. June, July, August and September in our northern climate are devoted to harvesting hay fields and some straw for homegrown feed and bedding for our ovine dependents. Store this stuff where it’s convenient to where you’re expecting lambs.

It may seem appealing to go on vacation in the summer, but there's nothing better than knowing we're prepared for a long winter and the lambs that will be born.

There’s nothing better than knowing we’re prepared for a long winter and the lambs that will be born on our farm.

Get your record book ready. No, record books aren’t just a task for 4-H youth. Keeping track of your flock records help you continue to make improvements as your business evolves. We’re still handwriting notes on each mom and baby, but I’m hoping to someday have electronic files of each animal.

Order USDA ear tags and elastrator bands (for tails and other dangling pieces you want to manage). The tags are free and the bands cost little from our friends over at Mid-States Wool Growers.

Ear tags aren't animal fashion accessories - they're a way to trace our animals back to this farm as a way of protecting public health.

Ear tags aren’t animal fashion accessories – they’re a way to trace our animals back to this farm as a way of protecting public health.

It also doesn’t hurt to have a heat lamp handy, a few plastic teats with recycled pop/water bottles and a syringe with feeding tube, in the case that you’ll have some “bonus lambs.” Most people would call these bottle lambs or orphan lambs, but I like to think of them as a small bonus. With a little extra effort on the farmer’s part, these lambs have an opportunity to be a youth project or a protein source, just like the others. And on that note, make sure you’re able to source some lamb milk replacer if needed.

Bonus lambs have potential to turn into bonus business.

Bonus lambs have potential to turn into bonus business. Isn’t my mom so cute with them?

Get the barn ready. Be sure you have enough water buckets for mothers and cut enough gates for “lambing jugs” (individual pens for new moms and babies) proportionate to your estimated amount of needed bonding-space. For instance, if we expect 90 ewes to have lambs over 3-4 weeks, 6 pens are what we prepare to be set up as needed. We then transition bonded families to “kindergarten,” where several families mingle but aren’t set free to roam the full playground yet. One other important step to get the barn ready is to shear your sheep. Wool takes up more space than you think and holds on to moisture, so promote the health of your flock by shearing.

There’s plenty more to do, but these items make my top five list. Not baaaaa-d for 450 babies, right?

Taking down Christmas decor

This weekend we took down our Christmas tree. Every year on Christmas we joke about pitching the tree out the door as soon as gifts are opened. We had a neighbor out east who did that – basically before we had even eaten breakfast. But we enjoy our real tree every year from about 4 days before Christmas until after the new year. We spend a lot of time choosing the ornaments each year and reading old letters to Santa that our kids wrote, which we keep in the ornament boxes. Not surprisingly, we have a lot of sheep ornaments and a lot of ornaments that remind us of the love shared in our family.

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We enjoy sorting through the many sheep ornaments and ornaments that signify the many things we’re grateful for

Christmas list: wool products

A friend recently asked what I thought about someone’s reflection of why she won’t wear wool. I feel pretty fortunate to know firsthand what it takes to raise sheep with healthy lambs and wool year after year. And because of that, I will share with you what five wool items made my Christmas list this year – but first, a video from our farm so you can see for yourself the care we take for our sheep flock:

  1. Base layer tops and bottoms for doing chores in the cold
  2. Actually, add a balaclava on top – I don’t care that it is in the men’s section of this website, winter is bitter
  3. These pencil skirts for work
  4. As many sweaters as possible because, as previously mentioned, winter is bitter
  5. Socks for every occasion

“May the wool of your sheep be soft & warm,” as one of our wall hangings says.

Changing seasons

We’re coming up on Christmas and winter festivities. It seems we just had 2014’s winter lambs, spring lambs and a busy hay season. After years of being in the sheep business, it’s good to know (some of) what to expect. And while we can plan ahead for regular occurrences, the day-to-day task change-ups make farming interesting and challenging. Bring on 2015.

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These snow flurries are about to be a common occurrence. Bring it on.