Monday, March 10, 2014

Worship the Lord with Gladys

A few months ago, my daughter and I were riding in the car, listening to a Praise and Worship CD she received from our church.  One of the lines in the song was "Worship the Lord with gladness", but apparently my daughter heard it differently, because suddenly she blurted out, "Mom, they're saying 'Worship the Lord with Gladys!!!'".  Gladys was one of our chickens, a lovely Buff Orpington.  Of course, I burst out in laughter and started to correct her, but stopped myself and told her, "Yes, Ellie.  You're right.  We CAN worship the Lord with Gladys."

Ellie with our flock.  Gladys is the light (buff) colored chicken standing in front of her.

I've been dwelling on these words from the mouth of babes for months.  Besides the obvious (it's funny), why do I keep thinking about these words?  Perhaps it's because my 4 year old daughter managed to clearly state something I have been struggling to articulate in the past few years.

Lately, we have been reading the Chronicles of Narnia to our son.  In each book, one can't help but notice the great respect and honor C.S. Lewis gives to each one of his animal characters, even the ones that don't speak.  Did Lewis know something we don't?  Does God care just as much about animals as He does humans?  True, animals are not created in His image like man, but did He not create these creatures for His own pleasure and delight?

Which then brings me to my next thought.... can animals worship God? In my opinion, yes.  When animals engage in the specific activities that God intentionally created for them to do, that is worship.  When cows graze, they bring glory to God.  When hogs root in the earth, they bring pleasure to God.  When hens peck and scratch, they delight God.  And isn't the same with us?  When we DO what God created us to DO, it brings glory, pleasure and delight to our father. As it says in Romans 12:1 (The Message):

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you:  Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him."

What a concept - our daily living, the ordinary things we do each day can be a form a worship! Each creature that God put on this earth has a role and a purpose, as it was designed purely for God's pleasure.

I suppose this explains why I'm so deeply disturbed on a very spiritual level by the growing trend towards farm animals being enclosed in confinement operations.  On many of these farms (but certainly not all), the animals are being prevented from engaging in the activities for which God created them. Instead of being outdoors grazing, root, pecking or scratching, these activities are forbidden.  Cows live on concrete slabs.  Hogs are housed in barns with slats that allow their droppings to fall through, but they are not given any opportunity to root, which is what they were designed to do.  In their frustration, they often turn on each other.  Their tails are routinely cut off to prevent other hogs from chewing their tails off.  Chickens live in tiny crates, so small they can hardly turn around, and never see the light of day until they are carted off to the slaughterhouse.  If they happen to be lucky enough to be in a "cage-free" barn, their beaks are cut off shortly after birth to prevent them from pecking each other to death.

Peggy, digging in the dirt.  A dirt covered snout is the sign of a happy hog.

 Are the farmers to blame?  No, absolutely not.  I don't know a single farmer out there that would delight in torturing animals.  Every farmer I know goes out of his/her way to make sure their animals are comfortable and well cared for.  They run "state-of-the-art" operations, that use the latest and greatest technology to raise animals in the most efficient manner.  Technology is a GOOD thing.  Efficiency is good.  I just wish we could find a way to use this latest and greatest technology to raise animals in ways that are more respectful of their God given nature.  We are creative beings - we can make it happen.

 Think about this - if dogs are confined to small crates for extended periods of time, it's called a puppy mill.  And what do we do to puppy mills?  We cry foul.  We call them animal torturers.  We shut them down because it's cruel to confine any animal in that manner (and by the way, pigs actually have a higher intelligence level than dogs, so don't tell me that farm animals are stupid and don't understand what is going on).  So why aren't we up in arms about chickens living their whole lives in crates smaller than 1 square foot?  Why aren't we upset about sows that are confined to farrowing (birthing) crates that are so small they can't even turn around or stand up?  Why aren't we angry about dairy cows that spend almost their entire adult lifetime standing on concrete?

Again, don't get mad at the farmers.  It's not their fault - they are simply giving the public what they want - the cheapest food possible, raised as quickly as possible. It's OUR fault. We should be angry and upset with ourselves.  Every time you buy milk, dairy products, eggs and meat from the grocery store, you are enabling this system.  So before you go off spouting about how terrible conventional animals farms are, take a long hard look at your own buying habits.  I'm not trying to make you feel guilty about your choices, I just want to raise awareness (and I will readily admit that I still do buy some of these products from the grocery store - I, too, am contributing to this problem.  However, we are doing the best we can with the resources we have at this time, and I have to be ok with that. I can't change everything at once.).  If we want to see changes in this world, then change MUST start at home.  Is buying pastured chicken from a local farm going to save the world? No.  But you're helping to change the life of a farmer who is trying to swim against the current, and that does make a difference.

Gladys, our chicken, is no longer with us.  We sold her a few months ago to a family who was thrilled to have fresh meat for their table.  She was no longer laying eggs, so she was not earning her keep on the farm.  I was sad to see her go as she was lovely, friendly bird, but felt no remorse because I know that Gladys lived a good life, roaming around our farm, rolling in the dirt, scratching and pecking... and worshiping the Lord in her own way.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Forgive me.  I know, I know, I have been silent for too long and you are full of curiosity to know what we have been up for the last 5 months.  Let me share...

Summer was good to us this year.  We had ample amounts of rain and the garden harvest was plentiful.  The canning shelves were full by autumn.  The meat chickens were butchered in late July and we filled our freezer with 24 free-range, Organic fed chickens.  The hogs were slaughtered in early October and we had over 100 pounds of pork to feed us. We harvested about 4 gallons of honey from the beehives. My husband shot a deer in November and we butchered it in the garage, adding another 50-60 pounds of meat to the freezer. We are well stocked and feel wealthy beyond measure.

After all this hard work, we were tired.  Down right exhausted.  I feel like we've simply been trying to recover our energy for the last 4-5 months.  While everyone else is complaining about winter and wishing for summer, I'm happy and content these days to burrow in my hole and hibernate.  Oh, there is still plenty to keep me busy (animals still need to be cared for in the winter, meals need to be cooked and households managed), but I am moving at a slow pace these days and deliberately making time to rest, read and spend more time with my children (but if we have one more snow day, I might go crazy - 6 snow days already this year!).

I've also been trying to limit my time on the computer.  It's so easy for me to sucked in and realize an hour later that I've completely neglected my daughter.  Yes, she's more than happy to color quietly at the table by herself, but it's finally sinking in that next year she will enter kindergarten and be gone ALL DAY, EVERY DAY (8 hours a day, 5 days a week) instead of just going to preschool for 5 hours a week.  My time at home with her is coming to an end and I'm mourning that loss already.  So the computer is being shut off more often and I'm spending extra time with her... hence my lack of time for blogging.  It's a good thing.

Here a few photos to recap our summer and fall.  Enjoy!

Freedom Ranger meat chickens, almost ready to be butchered.  We kept them in a movable coop (called a "chicken tractor"), which allowed us to keep them safe from predators, yet allowed the birds access to fresh grass and bugs to eat every day.  By the time the birds were about 8 weeks old, we were moving the coop twice a day to make sure they had clean grass.  They were butchered at about 11 weeks old.  

Here is what our pasture looked like after moving the coop.  The chickens make a mess in a hurry!  We moved them up and down the pasture all summer and they spread their manure all over the grass, fertilizing it.  A win-win situation!  We get healthy, happy birds AND a healthy, happy pasture.  

Some of the honey we harvested!  We also ended up with lots of beeswax, perfect for making lip balm, like this recipe:  Chocolate Peppermint Lotion Bar/Lip Balm

The hogs in their pasture, shortly before their slaughter date.  

Peggy the pig doing what God designed hogs to do!!  Hogs love to root around in the dirt and find worms, grubs and roots to eat.

Fluffy eating apples.  We scavenged for dropped apples to feed to the hogs, so we could have "apple-fed pork".  

 Studly McMahon, our Silver Laced Wyndotte rooster.  He almost ended up in the stew pot after attacking the children and I a few times, but we finally tamed him (which means we cornered him at night when he couldn't see and we cuddled with him.  At first, he hated it, but he grew to like it and now he's a perfect gentleman).  He is a good rooster, wooing the ladies and keeping a protective eye on them., unlike our previous roosters that harassed the hens to no end, chasing them around all day (some of the hens would actually play dead, in hopes the roosters would leave them alone!).  The ladies adore this rooster and I can see why.  He's quite the looker!!!

Our new additions to the farm!  In late November, we purchase 3 new goats, all of them does (females).  Gloria, the mother goat is mostly Boer, which is a meat goat breed (just like cows, goats are divided into breeds that excel in either meat production or milk production).  Her twin daughters, Ruthie and Margie, are Boer/Nubian mixes.  We purchased these gals because we enjoy having goats on the farm and would like to continue to keep selling them for meat, but purchasing goat kids to raise is expensive and negates any profits we could make.  So we decided to buy does to breed and raise our own kids.  Weathers (casterated males) will be sold for meat and does will either be kept for breeding or sold to someone else who wants breeding does.  We bought the gals too late in the season to breed them (and the twin daughter were not old enough anyway), so we will breed them in the fall of 2014 and have kids in the spring of 2015.  Someday, we might  try our hand at milking goats, but not until my children are old enough to reliably help me with the milking.

Gloria, the mama goat.  She is extremely gentle and docile.  

We still have these 4 wethers that will sell for meat late winter or early spring.  They were supposed to be ready to go by late fall, but they were not big enough (our buyers like the goats to be about 70 pounds).  They are finally reached slaughter weight, so as soon as we get a break in this cold weather, we'll sell them.

Despite the 2-3 feet of snow outside my door, I know it will be spring soon.  Seed catalogs have been arriving in the mail and my heart leaps with excitement when I look though those glossy pages full of promise and opportunity.  Come March, I will be busy in my basement, starting seeds under the grow lights and plotting my crop rotations for the 2014 garden.  In the meantime, I think I might just keep hibernating...