Friday, May 8, 2015

Little Lambs and Chicken Yoga at Kinderhook Farm

Baaaaaaaa. Baaaaaa. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. The ewes and lambs were pretty noisy at Kinderhook Farm in Valatie, NY when I visited last Saturday for a tour. Being the sensible, conservative, thoughtful, and mature superhero that I am, I baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa'd right back. It was fun.

These one day old Dorper sheep triplets are just about the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.
It's lambing season and the folks at the farm were busy - long days and nights tending to their animals. Laura, one of the hands and a wonderful guide, told us about the challenges of managing all these newborns. I was impressed with her attentiveness to, and respect for all the animals we met that day. A sense that everything was right and clean and happy and good just permeated the air.

After a day or two the lambs and their moms are moved to the field closest to the lambing shed.
Kinderhook Farm is a special place. Animal Welfare Approved in 2009, it has just been Certified Grassfed by AWA for their sheep and cattle. Better yet, it is the FIRST farm in the United States to be awarded this gold standard for their sheep.  This means that the animals are raised outdoors on pasture their entire lives, eat only grass or forage, and are cultivated and slaughtered according to the highest standards of welfare and care. I felt honored to share their good news so soon after it was announced. Oh, and there were little lambs everywhere doing cute little lamby things. I smiled so much my face hurt.

Freedom Ranger hens grow quickly. Kinderhook raises four rounds of babies to broilers each summer.
We then visited baby Freedom Ranger in the nearby coop, awaiting release to the apple orchards once their enclosures had tarps in place. There were also a couple dozen laying hen chicks - multiple species and colors - still penned and safe until they get a bit bigger. Oh, and fuzzy yellow goslings that move together in a gang, in and out of the enclosure, making high, sweet little honking noises. I prompted two little girls, ages 3 and 5, to mimic the sound, but they were better at baaaaaaaaaaaa-ing.

Above, laying hen chicks. Below, two little girls meet the goslings outside the coop. Inside the babies are protected and warmed with heat lamps early in the growing season.

From there the visitors walked back to fields where the laying hens had their mobile coops, but trust me, there were chickens EVERYWHERE, having dust baths, congregating, running around at top speed because they could, doing chicken yoga, preening, etc. They were, um, BEING CHICKENS, the way chickens were meant to be. Downside was they had a way of setting up nesting sites all over the farm, so Kinderhook wasn't getting the yield they should have from all those birds in terms of egg production, but they were working on it. Laura talked about the possibility of building new coops that would be more inviting to the various species and sizes of birds, all of whom seemed to get along well. We got to pet a couple that she picked up and cradled for us. Soft and friendly.  The "Peace Train" - two buildings on wheels, is moved around the farm to fresh pasture throughout the season.

Feed in the low trough, near the center, supplements the bugs and stuff to keep the birds healthy and well fed.

Chickens like to roll around in the dirt. It feels good. It makes them happy.
We didn't get a chance to visit the piglets - there was some construction at that site so we'll have to do that the next time we go to the farm. And we didn't get across to play with the cows, either, but we understand they, too, were busy calving somewhere in this 1000 acre paradise. Kinderhook Farm has an active Facebook site where you can watch 15-second videos and see all kinds of pics of what's happening almost each and every day. Being an office girl it's really nice to go and watch their dogs work the farm, to see the lambs learning to stand up, and to hear the chickens baaawk as they get released from their coop in the morning, instead of actually working. Much nicer than the sounds of traffic and telephones. Much, much nicer.  And I get to baaaaaaaaaaaaaa back, which feels good, whether I'm doing it because I'm happy or pissed off or just need to amuse myself so I can get through another day. Charming, but visit if you can if you really want to understand about sustainability and where food really comes from and the importance of caring for your land and beasts.

There's a farm store on the property that's open year-round, probably the best place in the area to buy their products, including all parts of the animal, ground meats, whole chickens, sausages, and eggs. Kinderhook also sells to chefs that handle whole animals. It may seem expensive, but the quality is amazing, and you will have the grace of knowing you are part of the solution.

Thanks to everyone at Kinderhook Farm who made us feel so welcome and who took the time out of their busiest season to share their story. It was a beautiful day.

Zena, Goddess of Fire 

Spring in Valatie at Kinderhook Farm

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