Irish Lamb Stew (or, Lamb’s Neck Stew)

Don’t let anyone try to tell you that it’s hard to raise and slaughter your own meat. Nothing could be easier, or more fulfilling.  Suddenly, buying meat from the grocery store feels like paying someone to come into your house to brush your teeth.   It’s absolutely ridiculous.   Raising as much of your own sustenance as possible isn’t a lost skill, as much as it is a lost part of what makes being a human enjoyable.

Above is a photo of Irish Lamb Stew, or as some call it, Lamb’s Neck Stew. It was also last night’s dinner. The stew is a traditional peasant recipe from Great Britain dating back many hundreds of years. Inexpensive and readily available ingredients were key, mainly lamb neck and root vegetables. I used neck of lamb (along with the neck bones for added flavor) and vegetables from the garden including whole young potatoes, carrots, onions, leeks, peas, and parsley.

Honey Extraction

A few days after checking the hives for honey, I came back and pulled off the top super from my best colony. Inside were ten frames filled with this summer’s honey, the individual cells capped with a thin layer of wax.  A completed frame is a thing of beauty. It glows with a rich golden hue, smells sweet, and is a lot heavier than it looks. You’d think it’d be sticky to the touch but it’s perfectly dry and clean. A piece of art.

 

Before the honey can be extracted the caps have to be removed. We used an inexpensive uncapper, which pretty much looks like a giant fork. It takes some time to expose the honey but otherwise works just fine.

 

After a few frames are ready they’re lowered into the spinning cage inside the centrifuge. Giving the handle a few good cranks spins the cage at a high rate of speed.  The honey flings out of the frames where it sticks to the inside walls of the centrifuge.

 

After spinning all ten frames the honey (along with bits of wax) settles to the bottom of the drum.

 

A valve on the bottom of the centrifuge makes it easy to drain the honey into a five gallon bucket, but not before it passes through a simple filter to remove wax and the occasional bee part.

 

Lifting the filter from the bucket allows you to see the pure, clear honey slowly dripping through. It’s mesmerizing to watch.

 

This is what’s left in the bottom of the filter, loose wax coated with sticky sweet honey.  You can’t resist not dipping into this mess with your fingers, slowly chewing it until all the flavor is gone. It’s Mother Nature’s chewing gum.  I remember once seeing a National Geographic documentary where Amazon tribesmen hacked into a hollow tree to rob a massive wild bee colony. After running to safety with giant slabs of comb the first thing they did was sit down and pull off piece after piece to enjoy their prize.  Chew, spit out the wax, then repeat until they felt sick from too much sugar. It’s a universal reaction when in the presence of such deliciousness.

 

All the clean honey is then poured into Mason jars, we got just over two gallons total.  I’d love to give some wine snob description of the taste but I wouldn’t do it justice.  It’s complex, rich, kind of floral with a hint of wood perhaps? Who knows. The best part is that it came from my own yard.

Checking for Honey

Our first attempt at beekeeping seemed to be going well.  But last year when we moved from the Georgia Coast to the mountains in the North, the colony foundered and never recovered.  This spring we ordered 3 new colonies and they’ve looked healthy and vibrant all summer long. It’s time to check for a surplus of honey which I intend to rob.

The bottom two boxes are the “brood chambers”. This is where the queen lives and lays her eggs, and where workers store extra honey to feed the rest of the hive. We take nothing from these areas, it all belongs to them. Directly above the second brood chamber is a “queen excluder”.  It’s a thin wire grate through which the queen is unable to pass due to her large body size. Worker bees, however, can easily walk through and deposit honey in the boxes, or “honey supers” above. If the queen were able to access the honey supers, she’d lay eggs and there would be developing larvae mixed in with my honey. Not a good combination.  So will there be excess honey this time?  The only way to know is to open the hive and look.

First, the top cover of the honey super is removed to expose the frames which hold the comb. The dirt-looking substance on top is “propolis”, a glue bees make to seal holes and gaps inside the hive. All the frames in the above photo are glued at the ends with propolis and have to be pried apart with a metal tool. Then they can be individually lifted out for inspection.

In this particular super all but one frame is completely filled with honey and capped with wax, a nice return from such a young hive.  It should yield just over two gallons of local honey once we extract it.

Observed Animal Behavior During 2017 Solar Eclipse

You always hear stories of how animals are tricked by a full solar eclipse.  They think night is coming and alter their behavior, heading back to the barn or bedding down in place to go to sleep. It sounds neat but not entirely believable. Are they really that easily fooled?  With a looming 99% eclipse and a farm loaded with various types of livestock, it was time to find out.

Heading home early

An hour before peak eclipse, the sky was dimming and the animals began to work their way toward the upper pastures.  At this time of the day, 1:30 PM,  the sheep, goats, horse, chickens and livestock dogs should be in the lower pastures, around the bend and out of sight. The above photo is a scene typical of 7:30 in the evening, not early afternoon.

 

Is it day or night? So confusing.

45 minutes later the height of the eclipse was almost upon us and every single animal was in the barn pasture where they’re typically locked in for the night. Very unusual.  At this point everything took on an otherworldly shade of dark.  The best way to describe the scene is as if you were wearing a too-dark pair of sunglasses, but were unable to remove them from your face. Like an underexposed photo in real time.

 

Dramatic skyscape at 99% totality

By 2:30 PM the eclipse was peaking.  At 99% it looked like a solar Cheshire Cat smile, without the glowing eyes. It was beautiful and fun to walk around in an altered-looking landscape.  Without a doubt the animals were acting strangely. Some of the goats and sheep were laying on the ground chewing their cud. A few grazed and the rest walked around looking lost. And sure enough every single chicken was back at the coop and several began to roost!  The rooster didn’t crow however, not even once.

 

Everything fell silent and the songbirds ceased their singing. Cicadas and other late summer insects were also mute.  Then the first crickets began to chirp, followed by a chorus of bullfrogs from the pond…sounds only heard at night. The temperature dropped 5 degrees.

 

Peaceful, for now

Foraging bees stopped returning to the hives.  Normally you keep a good 20 feet between yourself and the hives just to avoid any complications. Normally considered an act of insanity, I was able to place my bare face inches away from the meanest hive without worry. Half of the bees in the above photo were swaying back and forth in almost perfect synchronization. An eclipse dance perhaps? I’ll never know for sure.

 

Safety first!

One of the dogs expressed a wish to view the eclipse but lacking thumbs, was unable to properly place the eye protector on his head. Here you go my friend, we’re more than happy to help with that.

Fun’s over, now get back to work

20 minutes later things started to noticeably brighten and everyone began the slow walk back down to the lower pasture like it was morning.  So yes, animals are indeed fooled by the eclipse. Not exactly a scientific observation but it was still fun to watch.

First Time Lamb Butcher, part 2

Here’s the rest of the photos from last month’s lamb slaughter. After letting the halved carcass rest in the fridge for a few days, we brought it inside to make our final cuts. We started with the upper portion of the animal.

The larger cuts begin to take shape.

Breast fillets, shank steaks, shoulder roasts, neck fillets, boneless leg of lamb…the meat is piling up.

 

Cuts are packed for storage in the deep freezer.

People rave about the flavor of Katahdin lamb. But still you expect that some sort of lamby, gamey taste will be present.  After a few hours of slicing, chopping, and sawing, a few pieces were cooked for the first taste. Wow!  It’s every bit as delicious as they say…maybe even better than they say?  This is some of the best meat I’ve ever tasted and fortunately we’ve a deep freezer full of it.  Lamb number 2 will be slaughtered tomorrow which should satisfy our red meat needs well into the winter.

A juicy cut of shoulder steak with fresh Beurre De Rocquencourt beans from the garden.

First Time Lamb Butcher

The time has come to slaughter our first lamb. We were going to bring it live to a butcher where it would have stood around for hours in a strange environment, before eventually being killed and processed.  A few days later you pay the butcher and bring home your meat.  But bringing it to a butcher didn’t seem quite right.  As soon as an animal is separated from the herd it becomes stressed, so at a meat processor it would be stressed for many hours at least.  Plus, why pay someone else for what I should be doing in the first place?  We’ve decided that for us, home butchery is the best option.

So last week was butcher day, and it was mostly straightforward and simple. The first step is to choose the lamb. Our first candidate was a black male lamb, 4 months old and already 90 pounds.  He was pulled from the herd and quickly brought behind an out-building where it was killed with a bullet to the head.  If you have your equipment ready to go, this process takes only 5 minutes.  Had we decided to use a butcher, It would’ve taken 5 minutes just to load the lamb into the truck.  Again, you want the beast to be under stress for as little time as possible.  Using a razor-sharp knife, the throat was then slit, and the deceased lamb was hung upside-down from the tractor scoop to bleed out.

As soon as the blood was drained we started the skinning process. This is not a difficult job but was slow for us first-timers. We took off too much fat in a few places (rookie mistake) but overall did a decent job. Then the animal was gutted, with the liver, heart and kidneys being saved to feed the dogs.  After a quick wash, we cut the carcass in half with a bone saw and hung it up in a converted refrigerator for a few days to rest. This allows the meat to age and develop more flavor before the final cuts are made.  Staring at 37 pounds of fresh, high-end meat from our own farm feels fantastic, but we’ll have to wait a few more days to see how it actually tastes.

 

Why I’m Excited to Raise, Slaughter, and Consume My Own Lamb

Why I’m Excited to Raise, Slaughter, and Consume My Own Lamb

This past spring I walked into a Whole Foods for the very first time.  I’ll hold my fire on what I think of the place because it’s incredibly one-sided and opinionated.  You wouldn’t want to read it anyway.  One thing that really stood out, however, was that there were more good-looking, in-shape people at Whole Foods than at any other grocery I’ve visited.  Do they have a gym and running track on the second floor?   But I digress.   I came to see the lamb meat.

After viewing their offerings, it didn’t take long to come up with a few reasons as to why raising my own lamb is a fantastic idea.

  1. I’ll be saving a lot of money. Whole Foods is charging anywhere from $6.99 to $16.99 a pound for their lamb.  Mine is essentially free.
  2. According to the WF website, their lamb contain no antibiotics, growth hormones, or animal byproducts in their feed.  Same here!
  3. They also claim their lambs must be raised on pasture or range for at least 2/3 of the animal’s life…leaving one to wonder where they spend that last 1/3.   My lambs will spend 100% of their life on pasture or range.
  4. Whole Foods Lamb is born, raised, and harvested in New Zealand.  Then it’s frozen and flown over 7,700 miles to the US.  My lamb is born, raised, and harvested on my own land, so it will travel a whopping 150 yards from the slaughter area to my kitchen table.

Not to mention, whether it’s chickens, eggs, lambs, or vegetables, it all tastes better when you grow it yourself.

They’re only cute for the first few weeks…then they just look tasty.

The first two lambs, now nearing 90 pounds, will be slaughtered and processed in a week or two. Stay tuned for the results.

Living a happy life, from beginning to end.