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.

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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.

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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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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.

 

 

 

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The Stars At Night Are Big And Bright


Without a doubt, improving fences has been the most time-consuming endeavor on this farm.  And the work continues, hopefully to be done by the end of May.

In the meantime a huge backlog of photos and stories has been piling up.  So what else has been going on here for the past three months?  Might as well start with late last October. The humidity of the summer was finally gone and the night sky became incredibly clear again. On this particular night the moon had not yet risen which made the stars more vivid. The most hardest thing about this shot was keeping the goats and horse from rubbing on the tripod and ruining the picture. I wound up giving them a bucket of grains in the corner of the barn so they’d leave me alone.

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A Starry Night

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Almost everyone enjoys a beautiful sunset but with most of the U.S. population living near large cities, the show in the sky stops when the sun goes down.  Around here I’ve noticed that on almost any night when the moon is new or hiding behind the ridges, it’s hard to walk outside without being distracted by the ocean of stars above your head.  The night sky is spectacular and the Milky Way is usually on full display.  It can’t look too much different than it did thousands of years ago when Native Americans thrived among these same ridges and valleys.  There are no cell phone towers or glaring lights from nearby cities junking up the view and it’s rare to see the blinking lights of a distant jet.  Hanging out with the beasts in the fields at night it’s not uncommon to see the flash of a meteor out of the corner of your eye, and still have enough time to look up and watch it flame-out on the horizon.  The feeling one gets when gazing on such a scene is much like Van Gogh’s  “The Starry Night” , a vast, animated sky that almost feels alive.

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Extreme Measures

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Innocent…for now.

 

As predicted,  the murderer showed up again, picking off my best hens one-by-one.  I soon caught a break when I found fresh tracks around a pile of feathers.  Ah, a fox.  Remember that 2013 smash hit  “What Does the Fox Say”?  Well, I fantasized that this particular fox would say, “Damn, I picked the wrong barnyard” right before I blew his head clean off with double aught buckshot.  I spent the weekend upstairs in the barn, sitting in an old rocking chair with a gun across my lap but he never showed.  Monday afternoon came and another chicken disappeared…I clearly needed to bring in the experts.  I contacted a local farmer and a few days later the “experts” arrived in the form of two, eight week old Great Pyrenees puppies.  But what could they do, looking like innocent white plush toys?  As it turns out, a lot. manny-wide-resize Great Pyrs are bred to be livestock guardian dogs, not house dogs and once fully grown they will flat-out destroy anything that dares to harm their livestock.  The fox seemed to sense this and immediately the killing stopped. So now instead of being used as a sniper location, the rocking chair is once again a great place to just sit and enjoy the scenery.

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