Every day at my job begins with the chickens. I bring them half a bucket of pellet feed and dump it over the grass in their pen, dodging the hungry hens as well as the garden and food scraps we add as extra fodder. Luckily there are no vicious roosters to look for when I collect the eggs from the back of their mobile coop. The eggs are perhaps the best we have found in the area, although the ones from the compost company down the road are a close second. Those chickens are fed exclusively on the food scraps collected in the Montpelier area, a closed loop from “breakfast” to “garbage” to “chicken food” to “egg breakfast.”
We have met almost as many animals here as we have humans, and sometimes they are the best companions. Our house has two resident cats, Rascal and Little B. Aside from exacerbating my allergies, they are great to have around and quite friendly. Recently they’ve been exploring the outdoors as much as possible to savor the warm weather that is close to ending.
Two weekends ago we went to the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine. This is the fall festival for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener’s Association, and attracts tens of thousands of people and other animals every year. The two oxen in the picture above were the mascots for this year’s fair, which included talks and workshops on all kinds of farming, gardening, homesteading, and primitive skills.
Eileen and her parents also made it to the fair, and we got to watch a sheepdog demonstration with them. The dogs were incredibly attentive to the shepherd’s demands, sprinting and stopping wherever they were needed. A few people told us this would be one of the most entertaining parts of the fair, and it didn’t disappoint. At the end of the demo, some volunteers from the audience tried to see if they could move the ducks, sheep, and goats more effectively than the dogs. One volunteer tried his best by running around on all fours like one of the dogs, but I’m pretty sure the canines did a better job.
“I know someone from Sewanee will randomly be at the fair,” Arden said on our way there. Doubly correct! We ran into Cane and Jonas unexpectedly and got to catch up with them. We also sat in on a fermentation workshop with Tennessee resident Sandor Katz, who always has something new to share about live culture foods. PS If you happen to have an “heirloom” yogurt culture we are still interested in taking it off your hands.
In fact, we spent two days at a gathering specifically about farm animals! This was the Draft Animal Field Days in Barton, VT, where many organic-leaning farmers from around the country (mostly northeast) gathered to talk about horses and oxen they use to power field cultivation and small-scale logging operations. Of course there were some lovely beasts there, such as Briar and Thistle in the picture above.
Draft animals are making a comeback as people want food and timber that comes from systems that don’t compact soil, pollute air, and change the climate. Tractors also don’t give birth to baby tractors or (usually) run on fuel that you can grow on your farm. It was good to get an introduction to draft power and see it’s potential, but we also learned that it can be difficult, time-consuming, and sometimes heart-breaking.
Overall it was amazing to see the connection between the farmer-animals and their horses or oxen. This was especially true with Doc Hammill, a horse trainer from Montana who makes instructional DVDs (we won one of these in a raffle!). In his “groundwork training” workshop, he used nothing but a stick and plastic grocery bag to develop a relationship with a young horse and teach it to pay attention to him. This involved chasing it around a ring, making predator-like motions as well as petting the horse. He seemed to get a bit frustrated when one stubborn horse simply would not look at him, but he made sure to keep his cool so as not to affect the horse. I guess the first rule of draft power is to be friends with your animal and treat it like the living, sentient being that it is.
So basically, everything is still going well here. We have been finalizing some post-Vermont plans the past few weeks and continued to meet cool people and produce delicious food. Looking forward to another promising workshop next weekend: Regenerative Urban Sustainability Training. Peace!