End of an Era

As of yesterday, Solace Farm has entered a new era - not to be overly dramatic, but we took Fergus the bull to the butcher.  He was one of the set of 3 Scottish Highlands we initially bought when we moved here over 6 years ago, he's the only bull we've ever had, and has done a fantastic job.  We've only ever had one cow stay open for a breeding (and we blame that on her), he was gentle and calm, never a threat - just a nice guy all around!  We've gotten a lot of wonderful babies out of him over the years, and are sad to see him go.  It was time, though - he was really getting old.  We're not sure how old, but we calculate at least 12, probably older, especially based on his physical condition.  He was still healthy, but was getting to the point of not really walking anymore.  If necessary, he could move along alright, but generally he moved around the pasture a single short step at a time, with plenty of pausing between steps.  And he was really keeping movement to a minimum the last month or two.  

We also took the 2-year-old half-bull Quinn (we attempted to fix him as a calf but it only worked on one side).  We generally butcher at 3 years, but we took him early since we don't want him inbreeding with his close female relatives.  We're getting Fergus entirely ground for our own use - I don't think, at his age, that he'll quite live up to the fabulous reputation of Highland beef - and that'll allow us to sell all of Quinn's meat (except for a few steaks we'll take ourselves of course).  This leaves us with 16 cattle - the new bull that I think we've decided to name Hamish, 5 grown cows, 2 heifers that will be grown this summer, and therefore 8 calves of various ages.  In looking at my records to actually count the cattle, I noticed that of the 4 cows we've had through at least 4 calvings, we currently have 2 heifer-calves apiece for 3 of them, plus a steer each.  I like to see an even production of male and female, or even slightly heavy on the girls since we're still wanting to grow the herd.   Kerry and Darcy have had 3 of 4 and 4 of 5 calves turn out heifers, so they are looking to be our foundation cows!  I also noticed that we will have a grandmother in the herd as well, and it makes me feel old - it's Kerry, who we bought as a calf the second year we were here at Solace Farm.  Her daughter Madeline should have her first calf this summer.  I'm excited to see this calf - Madeline is my favorite based on color - her mother is half-Black Angus, and pure black, so Madeline came out charcoal that faded a bit to a rusty dark gray. I'm hoping her dark tone will combine with the red of Fergus and make a nice deep red.  

The other major project we (and by that I really mean Caleb) got into this weekend was dealing with hides.  Since we brought home 2 more cow hides (that he spent Friday afternoon fleshing and prepping for the brining stage), and needed to get them into a tanning brine, we took the opportunity to change out the current brines, see what was in them, and start a fresh batch.  It turned out there was less already in the barrels than we'd thought - one bobcat, 2 grown alpaca skins, one baby alpaca, and 2 goats.  I'll start working on breaking these one at a time over the next few weeks - we can just dry these out now that they are thoroughly pickled, and then individually re-wet and break them when we're ready to finish them.  We refilled one barrel with Fergus' hide - just that alone filled it up!  The second now holds a bobcat, a coyote, a raccoon, and 2 sheepskins we're going to do for my former midwife.  That "only" leaves 2 more sheepskins, one cowhide and at least 3 goats (and I'm sure I'm forgetting something) still waiting to go in the brine.  These are all thoroughly salted and can wait until we have time and room in the brine to continue the process with them.  There's one more goat hide that Caleb has soaking in a lime solution, getting it to slip the fur so we can try to make buckskin, or worst-case just use it for slipper soles.  Oh yeah, I almost forgot the grocery bag of rabbit skins I got from another farmer, just waiting in the freezer for a good time to deal with them!  And of course, Caleb is still getting Quinn's hide fleshed, and then salted, so that'll be added to the "salted and waiting" pile.  We need to put together a workshop on tanning this spring, we have such a wide selection of skins in various stages of the process.  Hmmm...  I'll keep y'all posted if that happens!  

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