When it became apparent that my sister and brother-in-law would be traveling through the Hudson Valley at the end of this week, I decided that it would make sense to move the ritual Passover seder meal to Good Friday, midway between the first night of Passover and Easter Sunday. Because of the co-occurrence of the holidays, Eric and I discussed possibly having a fusion seder/Easter feast, in which coquilles Saint-Jacques would take the place of gefilte fish and a roast ham would substitute for the brisket. But the challenge of melding a holiday meal built around bread that didn’t have time to rise with one symbolized by bread that has risen is confounding. Two different stories, matzoh and hot cross buns. Sometimes you simply have to recognize real differences.
Matt takes a lamb appreciation break Photo by Mark Scherzer
So we proceeded with a traditional seder on Friday (albeit with the Christians outnumbering the Jews), and will proceed with a traditional Easter dinner today (with the Jews, conversely, in the majority). This approach allows us not only to recognize the differences, but appreciate them.
The same process of recognition and appreciation might be carried over to the farm, where the effort to understand the livestock I raise involves a constant struggle to figure out how they are like us, and how they are different. You may recall that a few weeks ago I was contemplating the best way to raise Doodle, the lamb rejected by his mother. Let him accompany me, as his substitute mother, and get first chance at the food I distribute (my approach)? Or keep him with the flock to let him learn to be a regular sheep (Eric’s)? Or take a middle course of excluding him while distributing the feed, but giving him extra treats on the sly (Steve’s)?
Many of you sent in thoughts. While most voted in favor of my indulgent approach, Eric’s sister, Kathleen, offered what turned out to be the most sage advice. She said, “do a little of each,” more or less predicting how it has all played out. No sooner had I put the options on the table than Doodle himself started showing conflicting desires, sometimes hanging back with the herd, sometimes insisting on coming in with me, sometimes looking for special treats and attention after the fact.
As Doodle separated himself a bit from me, I began more keenly observing the other sheep during feeding. I noticed, for one thing, that Doodle was not the only one in need of special help. He is somewhat vulnerable for being younger and smaller, but equally vulnerable are the oldest ewes, like Nilufer, now 15 years old, and Lale, now 14. Nilufer, particularly, is subject to being bonked out of the way by younger, stronger ewes at the feed bowls. I’ve taken to letting them both stay in the main part of the barn while I distribute food, to give them a head start, and often end up hand feeding Nilufer on the side.
The herd is in fact incredibly rough on any more vulnerable sheep. While they are very respectful of ewes giving birth, taking pains to avoid walking anywhere near mothers with newborn lambs, it only takes days before they treat those lambs as entirely “on their own”. Last week I observed a lamb mistaking a ewe for his mother and approaching her as she was eating her grain treat. She bonked him out of the way so hard with her head that he ended up splayed out on all four legs a couple of feet away. While I am convinced that ewes and their own lambs feel love for each other, it seems that caring between sheep unrelated by mother/lamb ties is in very short supply.
In that respect, I am quite sure that humans are different. We may not always offer generosity, but we are surely capable of it. I need look no further for evidence than the sojourn of my friend Matt this last week on the farm.
Matt, a civil engineer by training, has all sorts of skills that are invaluable on the farm but which I sorely lack, including understanding how things work mechanically. He also likes the hard physical labor of farm work. Not for nothing do we refer to him as Macho Matt.
In the space of the week, even while doing his office work several days, Matt fixed two major gates. He mined the former pig pasture for metal fencing and posts that could be repurposed to define the new parameters of the vegetable garden. He installed three recycled gates at the garden entry points, and began installing the fencing there. He fixed a wheelbarrow and reconfigured a pen in the barn that the sheep had managed to destroy. Most important, he dismantled the jerry-built front of the chicken coop, installed new gate posts, lintel, threshold and cross bars, and re-installed the door so it works properly. Once we rewired the front of the coop, it was entirely renewed as a safe space for the chickens. Even after returning to the City, Matt has been in touch, mulling designs for new roosting bars for the turkeys that will arrive in late May.
Though Matt claims he does this for the pleasure of it, it represents a generosity of spirit that I am pretty sure the sheep do not possess. We should recognize how human generosity so exceeds that of the animals, and celebrate the difference.
Matt reconstructs the chicken coop Photo by Mark Scherzer
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Horseradish root: $2/lb.
EGGS ARE BACK! Nature destroys but it also regenerates. Egg production is back in full swing. Choice of rich concentrated young pullet eggs or regular size eggs, either way $6/dozen
TIME TO ORDER LAMB Order a whole or half lamb, cut to your specifications, $7/lb hanging weight. The lamb market date has, for logistical reasons involving the truck, been changed to April 18, so there is still time to order.
Coming soon: Sorrel is up. Another week or two to harvest
Email us your order at email@example.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.