All posts by Denise Skidmore

Busy Times on the Ridge

Yesterday was a bit of a blur.

I got news that there was a shearer in town, and he might be able to fit me in this week. I’ve now got an appointment, and have to rush some of my spring cleaning to ease that process.

I got another call out of the blue from a hay guy I’d tried to contract last fall. He’s got more hay customers and more equipment than he had last year, so he’s now more interested. We are both hoping to get hay harvested sooner than was done last two years, which increases its nutritional profile, and puts us another step towards a 100% grass fed operation. He is also willing to till and reseed rather than spray and reseed, so we can rapidly improve the field. (I’d rather improve with 3 cuttings, but he’s the one burning the gas and you get less hay per cutting that way although more in the whole season.)

Meanwhile, I’m on a 13 hour shift at work…

My husband finds the poor feral cat dead on the road. At least now I know what color it was, before I only ever saw a blur (black and grey tabby).

When I finally got home after 11 PM, did regular barn chores and then started cleaning and rearranging for the upcoming shearing day. The big deal there was that Hoppo and Rigel finally got to meet. Rams that don’t know each other can be a bit touch and go. We put them in one of the smaller stalls, and dumped a bunch of hay bales inside to make it harder to charge across it. Rigel is being pushy, Hoppo is hovering behind Rigel’s shoulder out of the main line of fire. They’ll take breaks from wrestling to grab a snack together. If I see them get too aggressive I’ll put halters on them and clip them together so they can’t back up and get a running start at each other. As rocky as the introduction period can be, in the long run it will be good for the rams to be buddies instead of being alone. In a couple months when the grass comes in we’ll put them out on one of the ram pastures together.

2 AM and I was finally able to hit the sack for a few hours before getting up to go to the city job again. Thank God for caffeine and flex time, I’ll be getting off a bit early today to pick up plywood for a shearing floor and do some barn cleaning and mapling before dark.

Tomorrow is shearing day. Shouldn’t take the pro long to do my little flock, but I need to work from home while waiting for him to show, and afterwards I’ll have 8 fleeces to skirt, sort, and put up for sale. …and then back to town to make a late meeting at work…

The Opossum Must Die (not for the faint of heart)

Academically I knew, I would eventually have to face a predator after my chickens, but I still don’t own a gun, a crossbow, or a trap of significant size.

Last night I saw a possum in the barn. He was much bolder than your average wild animal, but did move to some partial shelter from which to watch me do my chores. I moved around the barn nervously, not knowing how close I could pass by without him reacting violently since escape didn’t seem to be on his mind. He stayed in his corner while I did all my chores, sometimes having to pass within 4 feet of him, and I left the barn without incident.

When I got inside hubby and I started researching possums. Apparently the American animal is an Opossum, and the Australian one Possum. Ours was most likely a Virginia Opossum given his coloration, size, and location. They rarely transmit disease to humans, are resistant to rabies, eat snakes, mice and insects, and lyme disease carrying ticks generally die after biting an opossum. Small animals may be at risk, but we keep baby chickens in a cage to protect them from cats anyway, and a lamb would be bigger than the opossum. We’d have to keep an eye out to see if it could get into nests and steal eggs or if it would just discourage the hens from laying on the ground. So far so good.

But then I specifically started researching opossums on a site dedicated to farming. Sometimes opossums develop a taste for chicken. If they do, they tear the heads off and leave bodies behind, over and over again.

Was this opossum to be an ally or enemy? Which side should I err on? I decided to wait and see if we might be able to peacefully co-exist and got a good night’s sleep.

I was wrong.

In the morning I went to do regular barn chores, and there was a dead, headless chicken. The rooster repeatedly attacked me as I removed his dead lady friend. I protested to him that it was not my fault, but deep inside I thought, yes, it is my fault. I keep free range chickens, I don’t even coop them up at night, and I didn’t kill the predator I could see lurking in their barn.

We raise meat animals, death is a natural part of that cycle, but each death fulfills a purpose. That chicken died for nothing. The opossum wasn’t hungry enough to eat that much meat, they probably tussled over rights to roosting locations or eggs. The meat was ruined so that I didn’t want it for my own table. The ground is still frozen so I can’t even bury her and fertilize my garden. She died for no purpose.

Relocation is a tempting option, but relocated animals have a low survival rate, often starving to death or falling prey in an area where they don’t know the available shelters, if they survive they likely displace the local members of their species, or cause a nuisance to a different human than myself. As kind as it sounds, relocation is avoiding the issues of indirect damage I might cause.

Now with a heavy heart I realize the opossum must die. I hear they make good eating, maybe it can at least have a final purpose…


By now you have probably heard of Turducken, the roast with a chicken inside of a duck, inside of a turkey. What you might not know was that Turducken was not just a brief obsession of John Madden, but a sucessor of a long line of multi bird roasts. The turducken is a rather grand three bird roast, but the royalty of yore had 5, 7, 12… one cookbook from the 1800s even included a 17 bird roast “Rôti Sans Pareil” (roast without equal) going from Great Bustard down to Warbler. A modern farmer though decided to one-up that with a roast of 48 birds of 12 species (serves 125). You can even buy one if you live near her farm.

A sliced roast

We’re only a family of two, so although I have dreams of a grand feast for 30, I started learning about this dish with a more modest Engastration. A deboned chicken, lined with bacon, then inside a cornish hen, then onion, apple, cornmeal and egg stuffing. Overall not bad for a first try! Husband definitely approves of my new hobby, even though I did spend a couple hours making dinner. (It should go faster as I learn how to debone correctly. Jacques Pepin says it should only take a couple minutes to debone a chicken.)

So what does cooking have to do with farming? Everything. Everything you eat has to be grown by somebody, and I’d like to have an increasing role in that growing. I’ve challenged myself to grow a larger percentage of my Christmas dinner next year, and I hope to have some surplus to share with all of you as well.

I’ve also become rather interested in geese. They have a lot of advantages being decent guardian animals, able to live primarily on grass (chicken and turkey must have a protein source), fairly dependable weeders, and also decent eaters of garden pests like slugs. From a business perspective, the grocery store price to duck is a more reasonable goal for my poultry sale price than the (unprofitable at small scale) grocery store price for chicken, and the initial outlay is considerably less than getting into beef or pork.

If I’m serving a bird for Christmas, it needs to go into this year’s farm plan. And that farm plan is shaping up rapidly considering my first indoor seeds are going in trays next month.

So what do you think we should have for dinner this year? Turducken? Goturken? Gooducken? Gooturducken? Would you want to give it a try yourself? What if we found a butcher to debone and roll the roasts for you?

Still avoiding GMOs

Despite the expanding evidence that GMOs are not inherently dangerous, our farm will continue to avoid them as much as possible.

  1. We believe each new cross-species gene insertion should be independently studied for safety. The actual process of gene splicing is not inherently dangerous, but poor choices can be made in choosing which genes to splice. Even independently safe compounds can have dangerous reactions in combination.
  2. We support heritage varieties of plants as well as heritage sheep, helping to preserve the diverse genetic bank that may someday be invaluable to saving a species or increasing the nutritional value of our foods. Growing a limited number of varieties of each species can lead to disasters such as the Gros Michel banana extinction. Even if we do not save seed ourselves, our patronage of heritage breed vegetable suppliers funds the maintenance of their seed banks. (Just as your patronage of our farm funds the maintenance of our Cotswold gene pool.)
  3. We don’t use herbicides on our crops, so we have no reason to use herbicide resistant varieties.
  4. We support wildlife and diversity on our farm, and will not spray our fields down to replace the diverse meadow with a monocultured GMO.

Conversely, we are not so afraid as to avoid GMOs at all costs, and will make some compromises as needed to keep our farm sustainable:

  1. We will not spray our pastures down to get rid of potential GMO contamination from possible prior owner’s seeding. The risk of the sprays far outweighs the risk of having some GMO grass strains. With time native grasses should replace most of the seeded grasses, and this is definitely already happening in our diverse fields.
  2. When we run out of non-GMO vegetables grown right on our farm or by other local farmers, we will supplement hay with commercial beet pulp or alfalfa/timothy pellet as needed for the nutritional status of our sheep.
  3. We will do business with our neighbors rather than burning large amounts of fuel to buy certified non-GMO crops from further away.

Hand Woolcombing

I highly recommend the book Hand Woolcombing and Spinning by Peter Teal.  I’m still reading it, but even the introduction section is very interesting.  Mr. Teal believes that when spinning was revived as a leisure art in the mid 1800, it was believed that  women were too fragile to handle wool combing, and therefore worsted spinning never revived the way woolen spinning did.  He expounds on the virtues of worsted spinning, and the ability of a highly skilled spinner to produce customized threads for a task.

I will soon be referring to the directions in chapter 1 to build a comb set in the lighter range.

Long Wool Project

As mentioned in my earlier post, I’ve been contemplating that the path the textile industry took during the industrial revolution may be responsible for the downfall of the Cotswold. I think we can change that with new technologies that help all the long wool breeds.

I’m no genius, I’m not smarter than the 250 years of engineers who have worked on the problem of wool processing before me, but I have a different focus, a different goal, and therefore may come to very different results.

I’ve since been doing my reading. It seems that there are not enough Cotswolds in the world to keep a single industrial sized carding machine busy, so even if we revolutionized the technology there would likely be no large commercial buyer of our machine. I have since turned to look at small hobby scale machines, something that would work for the same market that buys motorized drum carders, but is better suited to processing long wool.

I attended the Rochester Makerspace open community night (every Thursday night) and brought my wool processing tools. The interested parties were quite taken with the manual processes, and we had an impromptu combing/flicking/spinning class. No engineering was performed.

I got a chance to spend an afternoon with an interested engineer, and we played with some sketches, but I’d not brought the manual tools which might have been helpful in demonstrating the combing concept.

Simple tools I’m considering making:

  • An extra long blending board
  • 2 and 4 rank comb sets
  • Blending hackle

More complex tools I’m considering inventing:

  • Motorized flicker
  • Automated combs

I still have a lot of reading to do, I have to study up on the wool, cotton, and flax industries, and the machines that run them.  I’m hoping the long fiber problem has already been solved for flax and we don’t need to re-invent the wheel.

If you like to tinker or design, we could use your help. Give me a buz and I’ll keep you updated on which nights we will be at the Makerspace.  If you like to tinker or design but don’t want to help, I might recommend the Makerspace anyway.

One lamb, cut to order

Taking deposits now for December/January Lambs

If you are on my waiting list but wish to pass this year, please let me know that so I can let someone else have your spot this year.

Our lambs are scheduled for butcher. We have two butcher dates available, the first set will be ready right around Christmas (Sorry, I can’t guarantee they’ll be ready for Christmas dinner as I had hoped), the second set around January 8th. When ordering please let me know if you are available to pick up for only one of those dates or both.

We encourage you to come to Marion to pick up directly from the butcher and get a chance to visit the farm. If the weather is below freezing, we can bring your meat to Perinton, NY on a work day. If the weather does not co-operate, you will have to come to Marion to pick up. We are available for farm tours 12/26, 12/27, and 1/10 by appointment. The butcher shop is normally open until noon on Saturdays, I don’t yet know their Christmas week schedule.

This year the price for Tunis cross lambs will be $275 including delivery to butcher and cut & wrap fees. Special butchering requests may incur additional butcher costs. Tunis cross lambs is what last year’s customers had. Cotswold Cross lambs will be $300. Cotswolds are slightly larger and reputed to have very mild flavor.

We also have one adult Finn ram available, $275. The ram is not grain free, he has only been with us a few months of his life. He is being finished on hay, rutabaga, and pumpkin. He will be larger than any of the lambs, but will have a stronger flavor and be less tender due to his age.

A deposit of $125 is required to reserve your lamb or ram.  Deposits accepted by mail or in person.

Address for mailing deposits or taking farm tours by appointment:
Denise Skidmore
4513 Eddy Ridge Rd.
Marion, NY 14505

We have a limited supply. If you are on my waiting list, you have one week to claim your waiting list priority, then all customers will be handled in the order deposits are received. After I receive your deposit we will discuss your butcher cut sheet.

This year we have a new website, you can read more about our farm and how we do things up here on the ridge.

Looking forward to hearing from you, please let me know if you have any questions.

Denise Skidmore
Eddy Ridge Grassland