Hard Lessons

Your friendly neighborhood farmer has learned some hard lessons in animal husbandry over the past three weeks. Since I last posted, all of my ewes have delivered with varying degrees of success. Of the fifteen lambs born to Runamuk this season, two lambs perished, and I have two in the house at this very moment. All of the others are strong and healthy, growing just as they should, without care or concern. I invite you to join me on the farm now, as I share the story of this farm’s 2022 lambing season with all it’s highs and lows.

I Love My Finnsheep!

Let me start off by saying how much I love my Finnsheep! I thank my friend, Kamala Hahn at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, for indoctrinating me into the Finn fan-club. A hardy breed, originating from Finland, Finns are not the largest of sheep, making them easier to handle. Their wool is next-to-skin quality, oh-so-soft, in a wide variety of colors, and their meat is reknown for being some of the most flavorful lamb you can get. Finns are relatively easy keepers, friendly and personable, with lots of character. The ewes are generally good mothers, known for producing litters of multiple lambs without fuss. After two easy lambing seasons, I felt fairly confident as I came into my third year as flock-keeper.

Up til this year, my ewes had thrown only twins and single lambs. I was looking forward to a larger set, and hoped this would be the year. In that regard, I was not disappointed. On a Saturday night, two weeks back, one of my ewes by the name of Maleficent, gave me my first-ever set of triplets. An hour later, Fiona produced a whopping set of four lambs! The following morning upon waking, a visit to the Ewe-Shed found a third mum had produced a set of twins in the wee-hours of the morning. What a night! I was beside myself─overjoyed with the productivity of my flock.

Everyone looked good to this novice’s eyes. Mums all came through with flying colors. Babies were all in tact. Though the lambs of the litters of three and four were all very tiny, I’d had some smaller ewes produce very tiny lambs before, so I didn’t think much of it. I made sure each lamb got latched onto it’s mum’s teat for a good feed of the critically important colostrum, and checked on them frequently throughout the day.

This particular weekend happened to be the first in two years that my sweetheart, Deron, could not be with me for our regular visit due to a family crisis. Typically he spends Friday and Saturday nights at the farm. Then, on Sundays, I join him at his parent’s home for a family supper, then spend the night at his place in Solon. Since everyone seemed to be doing well, and with the lamb-cam to spy on any new deliveries, I caved to my longing to spend just one night with my huny. I left the farm late that Sunday afternoon.

Hard Lessons

Of course I checked the lamb-cam while I was off the farm that Sunday evening─repeatedly. I even woke periodically during the night, pulling the app up on my phone to make sure all was well. Unfortunately, with so many little lambs, it’s hard to see some of the finer details from a distance like that. It wasn’t until I was back on the farm the next morning that I realized one of Maleficent’s three babies was missing. I released the ewe from the confines of the lambing pen, and only two lambs tottered out after her. Where was the third???

I checked behind the water bucket, and under the hay-net, to see if the poor thing had gotten trapped there. No lamb. Panic welled in my throat─where could it be? What could have happened?

When I spied a telltale tuft of white fuzz peeking above the litter of the lambing pen, I felt sick to my stomach. What had I done?

The ewes will often kick up the bedding material in the shed, and in their lambing pens too, to make a sort of nest for themselves to lay in. This tiny, little lamb had gotten buried in the litter. Whether or not it was intentional on Maleficent’s part, I cannot say. Sometimes, ewes will reject a lamb if there is something wrong with it, or if they feel instinctively that they cannot provide for that mouth. Even if the lamb was destined to be rejected by her mum, I feel fairly certain that if I had been on the farm to check on the lambs in person, I could have at least saved it to be a bottle baby.

To make matters worse, another of Maleficent’s babies took a chill that night. Concerned, and not wanting to lose any more precious babies, I corralled the ewe back into a lambing pen with her two remaining lambs. Thanks to my two previous “easy seasons”, though I diligently monitored the situation, I did not recognize the danger the poor fellow was in. He was nursing periodically, but sleeping more and more. The following morning when I went out at sunrise, the lamb lay sprawled, all but lifeless, on the floor of the lambing pen.

Near to tears with the shame of my failures, I immediately took the lamb into the house. I made every attempt to rescue him, but it was already too late. He slipped away from us. It took a few days before Maleficent finally stopped crying for her lost babies, her eyes pleading with me to return her lambs to her.

Maleficent and her remaining baby are doing well now.

I know that it’s entirely possible those two lambs might have been doomed with or without me, yet the pain of those losses lingers in my heart. I blame myself. You can be sure, the hard lessons those two babies taught me will not be forgotten. Larger litters of multiple lambs are a wonderful thing, but just as triplets and quadruplets born to humans, multiples of sheep are so much smaller and frailer than a single baby, or even twins. They require much more diligence from the farmer. Finnsheep may be fantastic mothers, but that many mouths are harder for them to keep track of. Perhaps most importantly, newborns require my vigilance for the first forty-eight hours─minimum. I can’t be caving to the longings of my heart for the nearness of my boyfriend. No matter how sweet he is to me, nor how much I miss him. Farmers do not have that privilege.

Rejected

It was a little over a week following the loss of Maleficent’s two babies that my last ewe finally went into labor. “Baby” was last year’s bottle baby, whom I never really gave a name. Laughingly, I tell people that she was named after the main character from the movie Dirty Dancing (“nobody puts Baby in the corner”), but the truth is─she was my baby, and I’ve just always called her Baby, lol. She is a very small ewe, from a very small mother. I hadn’t intended for her to be bred, but I guess my ram had other ideas…

I worried about Baby’s birthing prospects, and stayed with her through the entire ordeal. Indeed, she did struggle to bring forth the single lamb she carried. It was a long labor, and the lamb’s legs were not in the right position. Once the little guy had emerged, Baby was less than impressed. It was hard to watch as she head-butted the tiny lamb, pawing at him with her front hooves, and attempting to cover him over with the litter at the bottom of the lambing pen. I toweled him off and tried to get Baby to allow the newborn to suckle at her teats. Unfortunately, Baby wanted no part of this creature that had caused her so much pain and difficulty. She was still very young, and not ready to be a mother.

The shenanigans start at an early age…

Fearing for the lamb’s life, I made the call to take the rejected lamb from the ewe. I refused to allow another lamb to perish on my watch. For the last week and a half, the little ram has been living inside the farmhouse. He eats from a bottle, and sleeps in a playpen I scored for $5 last year at the Embden Community Center’s thrift shop. After such an awful entrance into the world, I thought the little guy needed some kind of empowering name, so BraeTek dubbed him “Big Man”. Mercifully, this little lamb is thriving under the care of his farmer.

Perks of the Job

Our young CSA member, Saffron (in pink), shares her farm with her friends.

One of the perks of the job is being able to share bits and pieces of farm-life with the public. Initially, the lamb was eating every two hours, so when I left the farm last Friday to make my CSA deliveries, I couldn’t just leave the infant at home alone. I put him on a towel in a wooden apple crate and placed him on the passenger seat of my Subaru. He traveled that way, making the Madison-Solon loop with me, pausing at Deron’s long enough to feed him another bottle before we continued on to Harmony to make our final delivery. On our way back to New Portland, I stopped by the Solon Corner Store to pick up some weekend provisions. Reluctant to leave Big Man alone in the car, I tucked the four-day old lamb under an arm, and took him into the store with me.

My friend, Trin, finds spending time with the lambs to be very healing.

Since Deron’s home is located in Solon, I am frequently in and out of the Solon Corner Store when I go to visit my sweetie. The clerks there have come to recognize me, and know something of my farm. They all knew I’d been welcoming new lambs to the farm, yet these ladies fairly melted at the sight of Big Man! I wish I could have gotten it on video to share with you.

Heedless of the other customers waiting to check out, Gayle came around from behind the counter to get a closer look. I placed that bundle of legs and wool in her arms for a few moments, allowing the cashier to gush over the lamb. She brought him close for a handful of other shoppers to pet him, before relinquishing Big Man back to my care. Needless to say, there was quite a line behind me once I’d finally checked out with my things, lol. And then Gayle offered to carry my bags out for me hahaha!

No one complained though…it’s not every day you get to see a teeny tiny baby lamb in the grocery store.

Quasimodo

It was the day following the grocery store scene that I realized something was not right with one of Fiona’s quadruplets. Again, with so many mouths to feed, it’s harder for the ewes to care for their offspring appropriately. Concerned about the runt of the litter, who was all hunched over and pitiful looking, I’d taken to bottle feeding him in the Ewe-Shed. Over the course of the week, I was trucking out there several times a day with a bottle for the lamb I called Quasimodo, the hunchback of Runamuk Acres (I know─not funny, but funny. What can I say, lol, I have a perverse sense of humor.). I had hoped that the bottle feedings would bring an improvement in the little guy. Unfortunately, on that Saturday morning Quasi was looking particularly cold and pathetic, so I made the calldecided to bring him inside for some extra attention.

That’s when I realized just how much Quasimodo struggles to move around. I did some research and found that sometimes babies of large litters can be born with under-developed hind legs. This can be due to a nutrient deficiency, or because of the cramped quarters in-utero. I believe that is what is going on in Quasimodo’s case, and have given him a selenium/vitamin E supplement, as well as an injection of vitamin B. Though I have seen some improvement, and overall he is content enough to keep Big Man company here inside the farmhouse, it will take time and exercise for his muscles to develop properly─if at all. Another of Mother Nature’s hard lessons in animal husbandry this year.

New Donate Button!

Pan, the Lamb.

On a completely separate note, I would like to take this opportunity to point out to followers the new Donate button in my website’s sidebar. I’ve fielded a number of requests for a Wish List on Runamuk’s website. Folks want to know what it is we are needing here, so they can donate items if they have something they’re no longer using that might help our cause. I have had one listed, but it’s rather buried amid the other pages listed on the drop-down menu under the “About Us” tab. This Donate button will now take visitors directly to that page. Woot woot!

Donations have come to Runamuk in many forms─monetary donations, yes, but also donations of materials, equipment, and supplies. I’ve even had folks volunteer their time and energy to lend a hand on the farm for a day. I also barter for the things we need, trading farm-goods at a fair market value for the item being traded to the farm. There is a PayPal button on that page for those who are able and inclined to donate funds to this farm, but donations come in many forms, and cash is not the only means of greasing the wheels here. Every donation makes a big difference in this mother-and-son driven farm. I am always grateful for every gift or trade, small or large, because they allow me to keep doing what I do─nourishing and educating my family, and my community. That’s what it’s all about, my friends.

The Life of a Farmer

Mother Nature is a beautiful─but sometimes ruthless─mistress. With these hard lessons, She’s reminded me this year that it does not do to grow complacent in Her presence. As a farmer, I must always be vigilant for the lives I am responsible for: human, plant or animal, vertebrate or invertebrate, fungal or microbial, wild or domesticated. This is the life I have chosen to live─the life of a farmer. While there are certainly a great many blessings to be thankful for, there are equally as many burdens associated with it, and I must bear them. Come hell or high water, this farm must thrive.

Thank you for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!

Farming Full-Time!

what can you do for your planet

It’s both exhilarating and terrifying to say that I am now farming full-time─with no off-farm income. No safety net. Nothing. It’s sink or swim; do or die trying. For better or worse, my income is now generated exclusively by this property. My life (and my finances) are in my own hands.

Parting Ways With Johnny’s

These last 4 years I’ve made the best of my situation as a single mom, working part-time off the farm in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, while still farming full-time. I gained many advantages working at Johnny’s, but it wasn’t easy trying to do both, and in some ways it really hindered Runamuk’s progress. Even still, I’d intended to continue working part-time for another couple of years to supplement the farm’s income. However, over the course of the last winter, it became increasingly apparent that after 4 years, Johnny’s and I had outgrown each other, and in May we parted ways.

rooster_barred rockI thought I might find something closer to home, and take a housemate to help cover the monthly bills. However, with a special needs son who requires my supervision 3 days each week, a farmers’ market on Friday night, and the Runamuk farm-stand on Saturdays─my schedule is fairly limited.

What’s more, with a large garden, 150 chickens and 4 sheep to rotate around the pasture, 20 beehives, new apple trees and perennial food plants in the ground this year, plus the household and my children to manage─Runamuk has reached the point where it really needs it’s farmer every. single. day. The time has come for me to be fully committed to the farm. Right here. Right now.

Not having that safety net, though, is pretty terrifying. To make matters more difficult, Runamuk has been suffering an egg-shortage. Production from last year’s flock is going downhill, and we’re still waiting for the new flock to start laying. It’s a little painful having to tell people I don’t have eggs for them.

Thankfully, I’ve managed to cover the financial shortfall with produce from the garden, allowing Runamuk to cover the cost of all the animals here. I sold a few hives this Spring, and a couple of Queens, and mercifully, was able to take a honey harvest last week. Runamuk is treading water and I’m keeping my head above the surface─but it’s a good thing I’m a strong swimmer!

It’s Happening

Our presence in the community is growing; it’s really happening. Folks stop by, saying they saw the signs on Route 16─or they saw my post on Facebook and wanted to check us out. Runamuk has gained a number of regular patrons, and I’ve gained some new relationships with locals here. Like Steve─the kindly, white haired retiree who always has 2 or 3 (or 4 or 5!) peanut butter dog biscuits in his pocket when he comes for eggs.

murphy_summer 2019
Murphy!

Okay, maybe that’s Murphy’s relationship, lol, but there are plenty for me!

It is happening; Runamuk is cultivating those relationships, nourishing it’s community, and growing into the farm it was always meant to be. Yet with winter coming on, I know the household still needs some kind of supplemental income─you know-if we want to be warm. I wasn’t having much luck finding a housemate, and I refuse to take a boyfriend for the financial support alone, so a friend suggested I try listing my spare room with AirBnB.

AirBnB

AirBnB has been mentioned before, but in the past I’d always resisted the idea. I didn’t like it─partly because of William’s difficulties with new people, but largely because I was uncomfortable with the idea of having strangers stay overnight in my house. I’m friendly and sociable enough, but I’m also an introvert with reclusive tendencies─and, like many farmers, I relate better to animals than people.

Over the course of the summer, though, I’ve become rather accustomed to strangers dropping by. Sometimes it’s just to buy eggs or swiss chard. Other times they’re interested in a tour of the property. And sometimes folks are hoping for a peek at this old farmhouse. I am always grateful for a visit, and happy to oblige; afterall, I would not have this farm without the support of the people. So this time when it came up, I didn’t have that same guttural reaction to AirBnB that I’ve had in the past, and I gave it more serious consideration.

Note: For those who aren’t familiar with it, A‌i‌r‌b‌n‌b‌ is an online marketplace for arranging or offering lodging, primarily homestays, or tourism experiences. The company does not own any of the real estate listings, nor does it host events; it acts as a broker, receiving commissions from each booking.

Locals don’t really want to live in New Portland, Maine (except me, apparently!). It’s kind of in the middle of no where. You really  have to commit to the idea of driving to get anywhere from here, and most rural Mainers do not want to have a long commute. Hence the difficulties finding a suitable housemate.

For outdoor enthusiasts, however─tourists enjoying Maine’s rugged wilderness─or travelers journeying to or from Canada, New Portland is a plausible destination. The tourism industry drives this region of Maine; I could see how I might tap into that and use it to my advantage.  I did some research, and when I found several articles indicating a popular trend toward farmstays, I made up my mind. I listed Runamuk’s spare room, and, almost as proof of concept, I had 3 reservations within the first 48 hours!

The Guest Room @ Runamuk

the guest room
The Guest Room @ Runamuk Acres

I didn’t give it a fancy name, just “The Guest Room”, but it’s a pretty sweet space, I think.

A newer, first-floor bedroom rather separate from the main house, but still readily accessible to the bathroom and other common areas. The room has been repainted to brighten the space, and decorated in what I hope comes across as “farm-like”, with an old quilt, handmade quilted pillows, and original Common Ground Fair posters given to me by a former colleague at Johnny’s (thank you, Tom!).

The Guest Room is sparsely furnished, but there’s a desk and upon it I’ve organized a few of my favorite books related to food and agriculture. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, and “In Defense of Food”, by Michael Pollan, “Food Not Lawns”, “Locally Laid”, and a copy of “The Maine Birding Trail”. Included in a stay at Runamuk is a complimentary farm-breakfast made with our own eggs, which seems to be a popular selling point so far.

At the foot of the Bigelow Mountain Range in western Maine─Runamuk is just 10 minutes to the historic Wire Bridge in West New Portland, 10 minutes to Kingfield, 20 minutes to Carrabasset Valley, Sugarloaf, and the Maine Huts & Trails. And the farm has direct access to the ITS 84 snowmobile trail. So in addition to the farm and Runamuk’s own events, workshops and classes, this area offers plenty of other activities: hiking, fishing, hunting, skiing (cross-country or downhill), snowshoeing and ice skating, golfing, and snowmobiling. It’s basically a four-season playground.

Here’s the listing on AirBnB: Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm-Guest Room, feel free to share with friends and family who might be visiting the area, or who are interested in an up-close and personal farmstay at an authentic working Maine farm!

Farming Full-Time

And just like that, I’m farming full-time!

Leaving Johnny’s to be a full-time farmer wasn’t the plan for 2019, but over the course of the summer I’ve come to realize that this is exactly what needed to happen. Runamuk has reached the point where I just cannot do any more if I’m giving my time and energy to another company. I’m one person, farming alone, and I’m needed here. AirBnB is going to allow me to be on the farm full-time, working to grow Runamuk, while still earning that supplemental income we require at this early stage. I decided that William and I are just going to have to get used to hosting guests here─and who knows? maybe it’ll be good for us.

When the Fates Decide…

It’s a wonder to me, how sometimes we can make very deliberate choices for our lives, while other times it seems as though the Fates decide for us. Looking back at some of the doors that have opened and closed for me along the way, steering me further along my journey into farming and wildlife conservation, I can’t help but marvel at how many of my choices were made for me─by circumstance.

what can you do for your planetWhen I look at it that way, how can I not feel as though this is where I was always meant to be? that this work is what I was put here to do? And how lucky am I that the Fates ordained to make my dreams come true, when there are so many out there still waiting for theirs to be made reality?

Every day in this beautiful, marvelous place is a precious gift. Even on the worst of days, I am grateful to be here and to have this opportunity. You can be sure that I will not squander what I have been given. I am giving everything of myself to make it work. Pouring my time, money, energy─my very soul─into this property, growing my farm and feeding my community.

I am a farmer, and this is my story. Thank you for following along.

Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your in-box; OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the day-to-day goins-ons of this bee-friendly Maine farm!

Finally a Forever-Farm

It’s officially official; at long last Runamuk has a forever-farm of it’s very own! On Wednesday, June 27th, after nearly 10 years working toward this goal─I finally became a land-owner.

Big Thanks to the Dream Team!

fsa farm closing day
From left to right: Nathan Persinger, Penobscot County USDA Farm Loan Officer, Janice Ramirez, Somerset County Farm Loan Officer, myself holding the keys to the farm, my NextHome realtor Leah J. Watkins, and Andrew Francis, FSA Program Director for Somerset County.

Closing was held at the USDA Service Center in Skowhegan, Maine, and my whole team turned out for the occasion. I’ve dubbed them the “Dream Team” because without these people none of this would have been possible. Nathan Persinger, Penobscot County USDA Farm Loan Officer and my FSA rep, Janice Ramirez, the Somerset County Farm Loan Officer, my realtor Leah Watkins, and Andrew Francis, the FSA Program Director for the Somerset County FSA. They each believed in me enough to help make my dream of farm-ownership come true, and they will always have my unending gratitude.

Settling In

With the ink drying on the paperwork, the #GreatFarmMove #FinalChapter is well underway. I’ve spent the last 6 days moving my farm and family from Norridgewock to New Portland: Saturday and Sunday were the hardest, with the larger furniture, dressers, beds and bookcases, coming over in the Hilton’s horse trailer and a borrowed truck (thank you Ken and Kamala Hahn!). Saturday night a few of my closest friends came to help move the bigger items into the house and joined me in the celebration of this victory.

My body is bruised and sore all over, but I’m on the other side now─there’s not so much left to move now, and we’re beginning to settle in here at the Hive House. The house is lovely and fair─filled with character and charm. There are plenty of spaces for a whole spectrum of workshops, along with a 10 acre field out back and mountain views in 2 directions. I never would have dared hope I would end up with a house and property as nice as this─it’s amazing and I feel so blessed to be here.

i bought a farm
The Hive House.

Admittedly, the Hive House was not my first choice; when the Swinging Bridge Farm turned out to be a dead-end, I had to think fast and make some compromises. To some degree it feels a little like we’ve each come into this relationship a little reluctantly. This house had apparently been part of the same family for several generations and has a legacy within the community here in New Portland. Change can be hard, and for something as iconic as a house such as this one, I imagine it’s strange and uncomfortable and difficult to see it changing hands. But now that we’ve been brought together─the Hive House and I─I feel like we’re falling in love slowly, hesitantly, like a shy bride (the Hive House) and her recalcitrant groom (yours truly) unexpectedly captivated by each other.

Savor the Moment

It’s such a monumental accomplishment that I have allowed myself to take the time to really savor the moment─a honeymoon phase, if you will. I’ve been a tumult of emotion: alternating between relief, pride, love, excitement, fear, wonder and incredulity.

Relief: I’m immensely relieved that it’s finally over. Years of working toward this goal and here I am finally owner of my own home, where I can raise my kids and grow my farm and never have to face having to leave it behind ever again. If I have my way I’ll grow old and grey, die right here in this house and my ashes will fertilize the same soil that I farmed.

conservation at the hive house
Lots of birdhouses around the field at the Hive House!

Pride: I am so proud of me! I did it─I bought a farm! And though I’ve had some help along the way to grease the wheels, this was MY accomplishment. It was me who decided to generate an income from farming, and it was me who worked and strategized how I could some day buy my own place to ensure my own security.

Year after year I have doggedly pursued this goal, and even after my divorce when failure seemed imminent, I kept at it. I have been told that it would never amount to anything, that the chickens are of no use, that the bees are too risky a venture, and that you can’t make money farming. Maybe I’ll never be well-off, but I was able to buy this beautiful property as a farmer based on the income I’ve made from the farming of bees and chickens. I did that, and I’m proud of that.

Love: It’s at the root of everything I am and everything I do. Love for my kids, love for nature, and love for my fellow mankind drives me to protect those things. I revel in that love and it consumes me.

Gratitude: To be here, to have this beautiful house and property for my own, I am just so immensely grateful. I am filled with gratitude for every person who ever said a kind word, grateful to those who believed in me and encouraged me, and humbled that the Universe saw fit to bring me here to this place.

Excitement: Now that I finally have a forever-farm I’m excited to be able to get down to the business of farming. I can put into action my plan for a pollinator conservation farm, where I can share the beauty and wonder of the relationship that flowering plants have with their animal pollinators.

Fear: I’ve had people question my ability─asking whether or not I can handle it and if I know what I’m getting myself into. Now that I’m here and looking around, I admit that it’s a little overwhelming to think that I am responsible for all of this. What if those nay-sayers are right and after all this I wind up blowing it in the end???

Wonder & Incredulity: It’s a marvel that I ended up here after the long journey I’ve been on; there are moments when I can scarcely believe it’s really real. The field, the view, the gardens and the pond, the house and all of the out-buildings─it’s like a dream: a wonderfully wonderful dream that I never want to wake up from.

Switching Gears

I still have a few things to bring over from Norridgewock, but today I’m switching gears to begin construction of 2 chicken tractors to house the laying flock on the pasture out back. Making a video-tour of the farm is on the list of things to do, but until the moving is completely finished that is not a priority. Also, stay tuned for news of Runamuk’s Farm-Warming Party scheduled for later this summer!

Thanks for following along! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest updates from Runamuk directly to your in-box! Follow @runamukacres on Instragram for more frequent updates from our farm!