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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Friday's Featured Farmer~Claire Weldon




It started with chickens. Chickens, I’ve found, can be a fast and slippery slope into farming. When I was just about to turn 12 my family moved from the suburbs of Cleveland to a more rural area about 40 minutes to the south. Up until this point the largest animal I’d ever dealt with was a German shepherd dog and farming felt like a very foreign concept- relegated to flashing past the car window on long drives or at the two local historical villages. I was introduced to chickens and a whole host of other livestock at a friend’s house and immediately fell in love. After 3 years I managed to talk my parents into building a coop and getting chickens. We were gifted about a dozen assorted hens and a rooster from the same friend who had introduced me to them and the flock rapidly expanded as we bought or were given more hens, raised a batch of chicks every year or two from local hatcheries, and produced our own interesting crosses when some of the hens went broody.
The cow started as a joke. Every year when my mom asked me for a list of things I wanted for birthdays and Christmas I would put in a few never-going-to-happen items, like a giant squid for the pond, a pet camel, or a milk cow. It remained a joke until September 11th, which started my family thinking about if we would be able to feed ourselves if some sort of large-scale terrorist attack or natural disaster shut destroyed the infrastructure of the country. Later month I found a book called The Family Cow (by Dirk von Loon) at a bookstore. I read it and thought to myself that having a cow was something I would really like to do, that it was actually feasible to do, and it would be a wonderful way to be sure we would have milk, butter, and beef. Somehow (and today I am still amazed) my parents agreed with me and in an whirlwind over the next two months we built a barn, fenced a pasture, and had a cow in the backyard just before Thanksgiving. My 16th birthday occurred in the midst of all of these preparations and I still think getting your own milk cow beats out getting a car any day.
My cow is a now 12.5 year old Guernsey named Isabelle. We found her by looking in the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) guide to certified organic farmers- she was at the 2nd farm my dad called enquiring about cows for sale. When we brought her home she was a shy 3 year old in her first lactation and pregnant with her 2nd calf. I was completely and absolutely inexperienced and unprepared when we brought her home, but somehow I lucked out with the world’s most gentle, calm, patient cow that survived all of my blunders and taught me more about cows and myself that I could have ever imagined. She gives me delicious golden milk, births and raises gorgeous calves (and even accepts fosterlings, though grudgingly), and in her old age is so mellow I let her wander around the backyard dragging a short lead rope while I work nearby. I’ve milked her through 4 years of full-time college (and coming home to a cow and chickens and evening chores kept me sane even through the stresses of finals, papers, and projects) and we are still going strong together 9 years later now that I’m out of school and working as a biologist for a county park district.
My family’s farm has grown from a dozen chickens to a flock that ranges from 30-60, the wonderful Isabelle, two steers (Friedrich and Gustav) that are nearing their date with the freezer, 5 hives of bees (Russians and Italians), two gardens, and 15 rented acres down the road where we grow hay. I do all the daily work with the cows and chickens and my parents take care of the gardening and beekeeping. My three brothers all pitch in for major projects- stacking firewood, making hay, putting up fencing, etc. I hope in the next few years to be able to save up to buy my own land and continue farming- the chickens and cows will always be a feature. I would love to experiment with raising geese or ducks or turkeys or pigs and to raise more steers for beef than just a steer or two every few years. I already have lists of heritage breeds that I want to try out. There are many days when I am exhausted from work or slogging through deep mud trying to carry hay and I wonder what life would be like if I was like most people and could just come home at the end of the day and do nothing, but I know that I would not feel complete and content in my life if I wasn’t a farmer. Being outside for every sunrise and sunset, how bright the stars are in winter when I’m heading out to milk the cow, seeing the cow sleeping in a warm bed of hay, the dramatic lives of my chickens, the smell of newly baled hay, eating a meal of my own eggs and milk, I can’t imagine a richer life.

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A big "thank you" to Claire for the wonderful post! If you would like to get to know Claire better, you can follow her blog Pitchforking, follow her on Facebook, and read her very knowledgeable and helpful post on the Keeping A Family Cow Forum.

My apologies for the lateness of this post.  I have been having technical difficulties with my blog and just today found the remedy!

1 comment:

Lucky Lizard Ranch said...

Beautiful Post Claire!
Thank you for sharing your story with us!