Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thoughts On: Birth and Death on a Farm, Pt. 3

Chrissie Zaerpoor of Kookoolan Farms continues the series (read part one and part two) about trade-offs, transitions and new beginnings on their farm in Yamhill:

Last year we kept eight milking Nubian goats, and had 16 baby goat kids during the kidding season. They were the cutest things, and we bottle fed them three times a day for a total of about 16 weeks. Of the 16 kids, only three were girls (of course, since they're dairy animals, you hope for a larger percentage of girls than boys). We tried keeping the goats on the same pasture with the cows, since they're all dairy animals and they eat the same grass and hay and alfalfa ration.

The larger cows bullied the goats away from the feeders until they had their fill, and then as soon as the cows turned their backs, the goats all jumped into the feeders and pooped and peed on the feed. The result was that nobody ate and nobody produced much milk. So then we tried keeping the goats on the perimeter of the broiler chickens, separated by portable electronet fencing.

But goats are clever and persistent, and they knew that in the middle of all those broiler chickens was essentially an unlimited supply of open cookie and cereal boxes. They challenged the fencing all day long, every day. Eventually two of the young doelings strangled themselves to death in the fencing, which was hugely saddening to all of us, and led to our difficult decision to sell all the goats and to choose cow milk only rather than both cow and goat milk. The bonus has been that the cows are happier and easier to take care of than ever; and we are now able to have orchards and vegetable gardens, which was never a possibility while we still had the goats.

Our odyssey with Cornish cross meat chickens has been much the same: they are adorable little yellow fluffballs when they arrive as day-old chicks (top photo), and yet they become food. Koorosh and I both learned to work up our nerves until we were finally able to slaughter them ourselves, and then slaughter lots of them by ourselves.

We built a loyal following of customers who loved the chickens we produced, and we built a large barn to house them during Oregon's cold, wet winters. But the more intimate we became with their habits and health, the less enamored we became of this hybrid breed. The decision to shift our business away from a large volume of Cornish cross chickens has brought a balance of plants and animals to our farm, and a balance of more home and farm life for our family, and one more farm "off the grid" for factory-raised chicks.

And that barn we built for the chickens? Half of it has new life as a dairy barn, and the other half has new life as a wood shop for custom woodworking and window-building. Meanwhile we're also doing a lot more with cheesemaking classes and other farmcraft classes (check out the Classes and Events page on our website).

A successful farm—any successful small business, really—should continually be changing and growing and re-evaluating itself. We know that we will have lots more intimate connections with endings, and we look forward to many more new beginnings.

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