We are unabashed omnivores. The ethical choice is how our meat is raised. Our livestock enjoy their nature close to nature. Even if we chose not to eat meat, we would make a place for animals on Croft Farm, as there is in nature. In a very direct respect animals create Croft Farm. In nature, animals have an essential role in keeping the land fertile. Animals distribute and perpetuate nature.
Livestock are only an environmental threat when there are too many of the same kind in the same place. Rather like too many people in the same place.
The Human Animals of Croft Farm…
We are Tom and Leslie Keenan. We have lived in many places, most urban or suburban. We often tended home gardens, usually quite small, and only sometimes did these gardens include food. In more suburban settings, Tom had grown vegetables and raised a few chickens and geese.
Our professional lives were devoted to treating urban social ills. We found how people suffer in how people live. We think life grows well where food grows well. For us it meant growing our own food. We were never farmers and know of none in our family histories. But we know our forebears grew food somewhere where such things are forgotten.
When Tom was about to retire, we had settled on seeking a home where we could grow a farm. Welcoming old age, we no longer had career aspirations. Our aspirations were not without considerations of the perspiration and pains probable with agrarian life as aging transpired. The farm was always to be a place where we could reasonably grow our own food as we realistically grew older. An acre is quite enough for a woman and a man aging to manage well. Especially when farming is put in nature’s care. As Croft Farm came true, we wished to share our life-giving acre as a retreat for others, and to help us all continue to remember how to raise food.
The House Pets…
A family, to us, includes domestic pets. Our pets bring nature indoors…as often muddy floors and other reminders attest. We currently have two dogs, Pooka and Caleigh. Pooka is a Whoodle, a Wheaten Terrier crossed with a Standard Poodle. Caleigh is wholly a Soft-coated Wheaten Terror…er, Terrier. Terriers were bred to control vermin. Our dogs are good watch dogs, although all they do is watch. And make a lot of noise. Our cat, Dooley, is a rescue from our local SPCA. Only Dooley contributes to vermin control. Pooka and Caleigh are kept for entertainment value and their effervescent affection. Dooley’s affection is a bonus.
For our small acre we sought a breed of sheep to serve multiple purposes. The Clun Forest is a medium sheep originating in Shropshire, England along the Welsh border, rendering quality wool, exceptional meat, and rich milk. Ours proved too sheepish for us to milk. The ewes are quite prolific however, lambing easily, commonly twinning, and are very attentive mums. Though we only keep four ewes - Biddy, Alice, Aiofe, and Anwen, we also keep our own ram, Padraic, who lives with the ewes year-round and is an attentive sire. Lambs are born out in the paddock, the ewes seldom needing us at lambing time.
Oh, truth be told, one of the ewes is a black sheep. Anwen is a Black Welsh Mountain and Southdown cross, who is being bred with the Clun Forest ram for colour. That hasn’t happened yet. She is a dear, however…a lot less sheepish?
To supply dairy needs we opted for goats when the likelihood of ever milking our sheep became daunting, at best. Goats milk easily. When in milk, two does provide at least a gallon per day, more than enough for beverages, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and soap for us. The milk also supplements feed for our dogs, cat, and chickens.
We have kept Toggenburg goats, so far. Toggs are a docile, generally quiet, medium-sized Swiss breed with hilarious personalities. Like the ewes, our does, mum and daughter - Faery and Gypsy - typically kid in twins and triplets and are very good mothers. Faery’s boy at present (and Gypsy’s kid brother) is Hatter, whose father is an Oberhasli, another Swiss dairy breed.
Goat and sheep manure is rich and easy to collect, and is ‘cooler’ than chicken manure, allowing year-round application. As we feed our soil with manure, we don’t bother to compost. (Chicken manure composts in roost droppings pits and as deep litter before being spread on gardens.) There is no vegetable or yard ‘waste’ to compost, or waste. The goats and sheep are our compost bins, gladly processing our kitchen and garden trimmings.
The most plentiful stock on Croft Farm (other than bees) is our chickens. We keep as many as fifty hens or so at a time. But, we keep them in small groups in three separate coops to allow them comfort and space and to allow us to breed distinct flocks. As a self-respecting farm, there are usually a few roosters around with something to crow about.
We prefer heritage breeds, which are equally good at egg laying and as meat birds, and remain so longer than production breeds. Breeds we have kept include Silver Dorking, Welsumer, Light Sussex, Buff Orpington, Chantecler, Silver-Laced Wyandotte, Barred Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, and Ameraucana.
Turkeys are kept for their excellent meat and as breeding stock. And they, too, keep us in laughter. We have raised Bourbon Red and Standard Bronze varieties, but now greatly favour Small Beltsville Whites and their crosses, better sized for a two-person home.
Ducks have proven a boon to our kitchen menu and to our kitchen garden, eating bugs and clearing pathways, though they also clip the borders of raised vegetable beds if not fenced out. Whatever they eat they turn into rich eggs and succulent meat, and manure for the blueberry patch. The duck breeds we have preferred, for producing meat and eggs equally well, have been Saxony and Welsh Harlequin, particularly the latter crossed with Pekins. We have recently taken in some Cayugas. All ducks produce good manure.
We have also kept Ringed-Neck Pheasant. Or, tried to keep. Most never made it to our dinner table. As wild birds, pheasant manage to escape to the wild, or serve as attractive meals for raccoons and mink eating in or taking out. When we someday build a foolproof pen, we’ll keep pheasant once again.