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.

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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.

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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.

 

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