Carrying capacity

“Why don’t you have more of these gorgeous orange and delicious eggs?” say the customers. “Because 35 hens approach the carrying capacity of our land,” I say. And the same is true of our roasting chickens and our pigs and our goats. Carrying capacity.

So what is carrying capacity? Carrying capacity is the number of an organism that a given piece of the environment can support indefinitely without degrading the land or negatively affecting the organisms. So, if you can raise 35 hens on a given piece of land, and then you add another 25 in order to provide more of those delicious and beautiful eggs to your customers, suddenly the dirt starts to show between the grass leaves, then there is more dirt than grass, then there is no grass, then the dirt starts to wash downhill. Since our beautiful farm is on a steep hillside, the law of gravity works harder here than if we were on a flat piece of land. So when the dirt starts to wash downhill, that is some washing!

We found our carrying capacity for hens by surpassing it in the third spring we were here. Our hens like to roam, and they will easily go 100 yards in any direction foraging for the bugs and plants that make them hale and hearty. So we found that they denuded an area about 50 yards in a radius from the door of their henhouse. The back yard was just dirt and shale bits. The washing was significant. So we did two things.

First we built a new henhouse about fifty yards down the row of old barns so they would have fresh ground. Well, we had no idea how demoralizing it is to hens to move their base of operations. They took weeks to recognize their new henhouse as home. When we opened their door in the morning, a line of desperate hens would trudge up the hill and around back to the closed door of the old henhouse. Then in the evening when it was time to go to roost, we had to carry them one by one back to the new henhouse. We would close them in for three days, which is supposed to be the amount of time it takes for hens to become at home in a new place. But they didn’t. It took a couple of weeks for them to settle down, and their suffering was obvious.

So then we decided to let natural pruning take its course. The fox was happy to assist us over the next few months, and we also sold some of the older ones, who still laid a few biiiig eggs each week, to friends looking for a few hens to help out in the yard and give a few eggs. So over the course of time we returned to the carrying capacity of that piece of land. It was very hard work toting unhappy hens every evening, and we hated to see them being so upset. So we are going to build a mobile henhouse to move them about the farm without so much suffering. But it has to be light enough to move without a tractor because we have decided not to have a tractor for various reasons.

So in a lot of ways, as you can see, it is better to hold the line on carrying capacity rather than go overboard and have to back up. That’s the lesson for this week.

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MMMMM, pork

It is said that pigs are like saints, more honored after their deaths than during their lives. Our pigs are certainly greatly honored after their deaths.  When they return from the smokehouse in all their glory, we look forward to every new contact with them.  We toast them with wine and think kindly of them.  Tonight we had our first pork chop dinner of the winter.  It was delicious, delicate in texture and robust in flavor.

On this occasion we remind each other of one of the germinal events of our growing concern about industrial farming.  About twelve years ago we bought our last industrial pork chops.  It was late in the evening of a busy work and school day.  We grabbed the pork chops out of the meat cooler at the grocery store and brought them home to fry them up.  We heated up the frying pan and threw them in … as we cooked them we became aware that something was missing — NO SMELL of frying pork at all.  When they were cooked and we put them on plates, something else was missing — no taste of pork at all.  The texture was woody.  We didn’t even finish them.  Our disappointment gave way to concern about how that pig was raised in order to completely extinguish the natural robust and delicious flavor and smell of cooking pork.  In the next few months we heard about the huge pig-raising outfits in the southern states, where the smell was enough to kill plants and fish, and destroy neighborhood property values.   We saw some pictures of how these poor pigs were treated.  Sentient beings, mind you.  If you treat a pig like an industrial widget instead of a pig, it will taste like a widget and not a pig.  And if you eat some, you will be sorry.

A few weeks later we found our local farmers’ market.  One of the vendors, Arnold Grant, sold pork.  We asked him if he ever sold pork in bulk, and in this way we became owners of our first half pig.  The flavor and texture were a big improvement over the industrial product.  We enjoyed that pork so much that the next year we got a whole pig.

Pretty soon we found ourselves making cheese on a small farm on a hillside with a view over the whole upper Hudson Valley.  Pigs were on the must-have list.  They are among the most efficient users of whey.  In the old days, every dairy farm had some pigs, especially if cheese was made there.  There are pictures in the Argyle Historical Society’s very interesting books — farmers bringing milk to the cheese factory in the morning in cans and taking whey home again in the same cans in the evening to feed the pigs that everyone grew.  So we grew pigs that thrived on our whey and pasture and fed our customers royally.

Pig raising involves using pig psychology.  Once they outweigh us, they are like a group of burly linebackers trying to break our knees when we go into their pen, like giant rambunctious children, ever cheerful and carefree, romping about their pen, romping right over anything in their path.  It is important to remind them that we are top pig.  That is done by applying a hand (preferably gloved) to the side of their face and pushing them firmly sideways.  They treat each other that way, too, only much harsher.  Their top pig shoves with a lot more abandon than we do, but they seem to get our message give us space.  Their self-control is not great, however, and they could so easily break our knees.  They are the most dangerous animals we have on Longview Farm, except our earliest buck, our goat herd sire.  This gives us a rather ambivalent relationship with them.  We take great care of them, but we always have to watch our knees and backs.  Until they come back from the smokehouse.  Then the only threat to our knees and backs is from lifting the heavy boxes of pork into our customers’ cars, as we did yesterday.  Tonight, a lot of pork chops are sizzling in a lot of kitchens in our area, and people are sniffing that real pork smell, and they are eating and saying,  “MMMM.”

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Winter comes to Longview Farm

The year is slowing down.  The goats have stopped milking and are lazing around the barn eating great hay and growing babies.  Daily chores only take 15 minutes instead of two hours as they do in the summer.  Cheesemaking has settled into its peaceful winter rhythm.  We bask in front of the fire three times a day, and snuggle up to the warm Russian stove in between fires.  All the paperwork we have not had time for since kidding season, last February, is now packed in around the computer getting entered and sorted and processed.  The days are unnaturally short, the nights long and quiet.  We have time to cook some of the good things we make and grow here on the farm, rather than just scarfing them down in some basic dish with cries of “eat to live, not live to eat.”  The woodshed (summer brooder shed) is full of small sticks of wood that we split especially small for three hot quick fires a day in the Russian stove.

The laying hens still make their colorful way around the yard and lawn, but they are down to the bare minimum of egg-laying.  We have a beautiful new flock of young hens coming along, about three-quarters grown and very vivacious and shy, just like a bevy of young school-girls.  The house and barns are buttoned up for winter.  We are looking forward to the first blizzard with interest to see what is going to happen.  It is a very satisfying time of year.  Restful.  We can look back on the past year’s amazing developments, and ahead to the next year’s, and let our brains rest a little.  Nice.

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Welcome to our new website! Our son is spending many hours over his holiday vacation creating it for us and for you, and we are excited to watch it grow. It’s a bit rough around the edges right now, but we have big plans, and we will keep you posted here as they come into being!

New things are always happening here at Longview Farm. This week we bought a new buck, Harper Hill Taz’s Andrew – a pedigree-cum-name which we will be shortening to “Andy” for everyday use. He’s a beautiful reddish-brown buck who has been living with some acquaintances in Schuylerville, and will be bringing his great genetics to our herd as soon as we can find a good home for our current buck, Longview Elijah’s Patch.

Our 17 pregnant does are all prospering. Routine is very important to goats – their schedule changed a month ago when we brought their little daughters and sisters up to the barn from summer pastures, throwing everyone off, but now all have adjusted to winter habits.

We also went to visit our old Beauty and Marigold, who have gone to the city to be urban goats. They live in a shed on a tiny farm down a back street in the middle of Albany. They look to be thriving! They are probably being spoiled by the youngsters at the small adjacent primary school. We are glad they are part of this ambitious, worthwhile project: when the world lives in cities, urban farms become an essential part of the cycle.

Two new cheeses are aging in the cave and should be ready within a couple of weeks – Cambozola- and Camembert-style cheeses. Only test batches exist yet, but if you our customers are enthusiastic about them, then by next summer they will be part of the regular round. Two wheels of Longview Parm will be ready to broach in February.

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