So this weekend I went out to the farm. Every couple of weeks we go out, picked up a few gallons of Raw Grass-fed milk and then let the kids play around and watch the animals.
The weather is becoming more fall-like, and as I was sitting in the shade of a 70-year-old-pecan tree I began reflecting on how much the landscape has changed over the course the year.
The kids in the goat flock were fitting into their new found goat-hood. The calves from the Jersey heifers (milk cows) had all been weaned or sold off. In fact, some families in our community had bought two cows for Eid a little while back.
We ourselves just bought a cow and put in in the freezer as out year-supply of halal grass-fed beef.
A year of harvest. The cows harvest the grass, the farmer harvests the milk from the cows and then we harvest the cow itself.
Often when we talk about “seasonal eating” we are talking about vegetables and fruits.
... and “pumpkin spice”.
Animals, too, are seasonal.
On our little suburban homestead, we raise chickens for eggs and meat. But not all at once.
December through April are lean times for us in the egg and meat department.
Chickens lay eggs heavily in the Spring and summer months when the days are long and warm, but when the weather turns cold and the days get shorter those delicious little breakfast bundles become few and far between, even in a large flock.
Chickens need long daylight hours to set of the hormones that tell their bodies to produce eggs. (That's right! Chickens do not need a rooster to produce eggs... just to produce chicks-in-eggs)
Once the sun starts setting earlier in the Fall, egg production drops off and we have to find a new breakfast routine.
So in February we are rationing our eggs and sometimes we cave in an buy store eggs. (Once you go fresh, you become an egg-snob and store-bought eggs become an insult. Especially when you are feeding chickens while eating store-bought eggs).
But you better believe when those days get long and warm, we have a list of egg recipes in line for the coming abundance.
One of the things that amazed me when I started homesteading was how out-of-touch the supermarket had made me.
Chickens are one of those things that are more valuable alive and laying than on your plate.
Bare with me on this Chickenomic break-down:
Typically, an egg layer takes about 9 months to reach maturing and then a few more to put on enough weight to be worth culling.
The industrial meat-bird (the Cornish Cross) has been selectively bred to eat corn which gets them to grow to 5 lbs in 8-10 weeks. That is two and a half months!
We buy these little monster-chickens in February and then feed the little winged-piggies organic corn and grass until its time to harvest them in late April -early May.
Basically, late Spring is chicken season...and let me tell you, it is a hard-earned delicacy.
As a side-note, chickens are omnivores and they need protein to grow. That makes them more expensive to raise than beef. This year, we calculated the price of our home-grown organic, pastured chicken and found that it came out to about $8.00 per pound, not including our labor, and packing. In contrast, grass-fed beef was $5 per lb for the whole cow, all the cuts, labor and packaging included.
Chicken's ain't cheap meat!
Lamb is a late-summer treat. Lambs are typically born in late Winter, early Spring and then reach edible age by 6 months.
I love reflecting on Our Creator's wisdom in having animals birth in Spring. The weather just begins to warm up as they mature, giving them the maximum amount of time to feed on the rapid-growing, nutrient-packed spring and summer grasses to strengthen them before their first winter.
Yes, milk has a season, too!
If the natural rhythm is that babies are born in the spring, then it follows that that is the beginning of milk milk season is when all the babies are born!
But Milk is also really interesting, because it changes with the season and the changes in the grasses available for the cow/goat/sheep/camel (yes, camel!) to eat!
Bottom line: where there are baby herd animals, there is milk!
Fall is cow season. Many farmers have allowed their herd to graze all year, and now that Fall is here, the grasses are dying back in preparation for the cold winter months.
In order to conserve pasture, farmers selectively sell or harvest their cows in order to keep only the healthiest and hardiest to continue the flock.
The amazing thing about a cow, is that if it has been grass-fed, the meat will contain all of the vitamin and mineral goodness from the grasses it ate earlier in the year.
Traditionally, cows were culled in the Fall and their meat would be preserved to become nourishment in the dead of winter when vegetables and fruits are scarce.
The longer I homestead, the more I realize the beauty and wisdom of the Seasons.
I know there are arguments questioning the ethics of eating meat, the quantity we consume and the quality of life the animals have before they or their products reach our plates.
Much of the uneasiness around raising and eating these creatures could be resolved if we took a step back and submitted ourselves to the Natural Rhythms that Our Creator has put in place.
There is a huge blessing Allah (God) has put in meat. Meat is like a Divine multivitamin; in times of seasonal scarcity, the nutrients of the summer and spring are made available to us through the food these animals provide. Some nutrients we can only derive from animal products.
By respecting the lives and seasonality of each kind of animal, we are respecting ourselves and submitting ourselves to the Divinely Decreed rhythms of the Earth.