The Frozen North

The temperature plummeted far below zero last night. It is -28 F this morning, before adding wind chill. At 2 AM I was up and heard trees exploding — the sap freezing and bursting the bark with a noise like rifle shots. This is a familiar sound to anyone who lives in deep cold.

I follow weather forecasts compulsively, checking a couple of times a day to keep my animals comfortable, so I knew this snap was coming, and last night I shut the top of the dutch door in the back of the barn. I have been experimenting this winter with keeping that door open in milder weather (0° F and above). The sheep and cattle exhale so much moisture that if I close up the barn, the low, eight-foot ceiling becomes thickly coated with frost. The minute the temperature rises, the ceiling drips and the walls stream water. This seems less than healthy.

The experiment has worked well. The barn is oriented south to north, and we rarely have a north wind, so even in blizzards there are few drafts and snow rarely comes in the open dutch door. The sheep, whose stall is nearest the opening, stay snug in their thick fleeces. Still, at -28 F I thought it was time to swing the top of the door closed.

This weekend DH’s sister and her husband stopped by for a quick overnight visit. They haven’t been in this neck of the woods in twenty-two years. It was wonderful to see them, and fun to show them the rough beginnings of the farm. The manly menfolk trudged on foot while Lucy and her aunt rode on the tailgate as I drove the truck through the drifts back to the cabin.

Except for the fact that Jon had to work and so wasn’t able to join us, the timing of their visit was perfect. I think if they’d been hit by -28 F it might be another quarter century before we saw them here again!

*   *    *

Meat Sales

Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts posted here and privately about my potential venture into selling lamb. Claire’s suggestion of pre-selling the meat by the half and whole and having customers pick it up at the slaughterhouse is exactly how many small-scale farmers manage their business. Unfortunately in this area our single USDA-inspected slaughterhouse is two hours away in the back of beyond. I don’t believe most customers would be willing to spend four hours picking up their cuts — especially as lamb is a tough sell to begin with.

A farm forty-five minutes from here gets almost entirely around the slaughterhouse, labeling, and license requirements by operating as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Their members buy shares in the farm at the beginning of each season. Because the members are now “owners,” the animals can be slaughtered and packaged without inspection on the farm. This eliminates a huge layer of bureaucracy (and most of the need to market). This works well for them but I’m not sure how it would work for me. I can steel myself to sad tasks when I have to, but even knowing that it would be less frightening and more humane, I think butchering all of my own animals might be too much for me.

I will continue reading and pondering. Thank you, Tricia, for your thoughtful help with the New York regulation maze.

*   *    *

And now it’s time to suit up in many, many layers to face morning barn chores. Definitely no milking today!

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3 Responses to The Frozen North

  1. Jody HB says:

    We had a wonderful visit and definitely won’t wait so long before the next one! Thanks again!

  2. Amy says:

    Hi Selden,

    Not sure how it is in Vermont, but here in WA we are able to sell shares of live animals to our customers, have the animals slaughtered by a licensed slaughterer, and then have the meat hung and processed at a licensed custom butcher for pickup by the customer. The customer pays us for the meat (and a portion of the slaughter fee), and pays the butcher the cut and wrap fee. They are also able to work directly with the butcher to have their portion cut and wrapped to their own personal specifications. USDA inspection is only required here if we sell “processed” meats (by the individual cut, including burger) as farm-to-consumer or at farmer’s markets. Our butcher has a USDA room, but to use it the animals must be slaughtered by the USDA roving slaughter truck, which is too expensive per head for little guys like us.) I guess our way could sort of be looked at as CSA…

  3. adkmilkmaid says:

    Yes, Amy, that’s EXACTLY what I’d like to do. Unfortunately our closest slaughterhouse is two hours away, and I find lamb a hard enough “sell” as it is, without suggesting that folks drive four hours round-trip. I am going to be reading about New York State’s meat processing laws (we’re in NY) and talking to my slaughterhouse to figure out what the best options are. Thank you!

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