My grandfather owned the farm where I was born and raised in Westfield, MA. My mom lived in the house taking care of my great grandmother. My siblings and I were lucky enough to live there and enjoy the freedoms it afforded us.
I grew up in a time where everyone in the family had daily chores including caring for all the animals, collecting eggs and helping in the garden. We raised the family beef, pork and chicken the way he knew how… hormone and antibiotic free. We pasture fed the cows... every day we walked them down to the pasture on a chain and staked the chain in then we would have to bring them home at night. Our chickens were raised for eggs and meat. We often found ourselves running from the roosters who were pretty mean as I remember. Needless to say the roosters didn’t last very long. We processed our own birds and composted the offal in the garden. We also raised pigs, ducks and geese and even had a goat or two at some point.
The butcher would come and take care of the cows... again we composted everything in the garden and then he would take the meat off to cure and when it came back it was in nice packages. There was no such thing as sending your animals off the farm for processing it was all done on site... that’s just the way it was then. Looking back it makes the most sense to me and that is why we process our own chickens and turkeys here at our house.
My grandfather worked for the US Postal Service as a mail carrier and then farmed the land on weekends and evenings. I learned that this was how you were supposed to take care of your family. I have many very fond memories of growing up in this large Polish family. Everyone came to "the farm" to celebrate holidays and to work and do their part to keep everything running as it should. Aunts, uncles and cousins were always around working and playing hard. It was a time in society where as kids we were turned loose and no one looked for us ‘til dinner time... it was a safe time. We were always a very close family. I lived here until I was 21 and then moved out to find myself as a person in the world. I tried many things and experienced a lot in life but in the end I found myself coming back to farming.
In 1997 we bought some land in Hadley... 1.5 acres of farm land. We built our first home and had plenty of grass to mow. We lent some of our land out to local farmers to farm because "it was too much for us". I had a small vegetable garden which was plenty at the time. When we started having children I wanted to raise our own chickens for eggs so I acquired an old ice fishing shack and retrofit it for my hens. I placed my order and anxiously awaited their arrival. I was scared... I didn’t know if I could raise them and keep them healthy long enough to produce eggs. Sure enough, I met with success and had a dozen hens laying eggs in no time. Our hens free-ranged all over... spending a lot of time in the neighbors yards. I stopped using fertilizers and chemical weed killers on our property because the chickens were free-ranging and so were my kids. I started small so I did not overwhelm myself. I wanted to have control over how our food was raised and processed so I had the idea to raise meat chickens. Genius, I thought! ...until it was time to process them. We struggled through our first batch and I can say they all made it safely to the freezer. Confidently I decided it was time to try turkeys for Thanksgiving... I stayed confident up until it came time to process them. Our first turkey was 32lbs on the table. That is a lot of bird! My family came up and enjoyed our first homegrown all natural turkey dinner with us. Now, it’s a tradition that I raise the Thanksgiving Turkey and they come for dinner!
One day someone suggested raising meat goats. I laughed at first thinking how silly that was. It was mentioned to me a few more times before I finally said sure why not... we have land... I can build a fence and house to raise them... how hard can it be? I decided I would raise Boer goats for meat since they seemed to be the most hardy. I made this decision in November 2011... not a good time to be looking for a starter herd. I emailed many farms and pretty much got the same answer… “Sorry we have none available right now.” Then my luck changed. I received an email from Sara Davis at Oak Hollow Livestock saying she had decided to sell some of her does. I was on fire with excitement. I went up and visited her farm and instantly decided I was going to be a goat farmer. We struck a deal and before I knew it, Bryon Fuller (my friend and partner at Route9Auto) and I were out in December installing a fence and hoop house for my girls to live in. Bryon has been a big part of my success as he affords me whatever time I need and is always there to help if I need it. Thanks Bryon! Now back to Sara... she gave me the list of supplies and suggested feeding for my new goats and delivered them to our house 1/2/2012. She gave me a lot of good advice which I promptly put away so deep in my mind that I forgot most of what she advised me. This made for a long year and a very steep learning curve, thankfully Sara was there to talk with me about any issues I had. I had no idea what I was getting into and still have so much to learn... I will save this story for another entry as it has been full of heartbreak and promise!
I will end for today with a big THANK YOU to my grandfather for teaching me how to raise my food humanely and chemical free, for teaching me what a hard days work means, for teaching me that family is most important and for all the love you gave us when we were growing up! I love and miss you Pa and I wish you were still here.