December 23, 2002
Dear Friends and Family,
I hope this letter finds you happy and healthy, and as ready for the new year as I am. 2002 was a pretty eventful year, full of ups and downs, and lots of plain hard work.
This past year started off on a high note with the birth of A.I. (that’s insemination, not intelligence) lambs at the end of January. These lambs were eagerly anticipated, as they were the result of nearly a year’s planning and some significant vet bills. The nine lambs born to four different ewes were a great success. These lambs are out of two superior British rams and will be a great addition to our flock’s genetic diversity. The rest of the lambs were conceived the old-fashioned way and came right on schedule in late February and early March. When it was all over, we met our target of 50 lambs for the year. Next year’s goal is 60.
In April my brother Geoff and his wife Sandy and their kids Meg, Will, and Sam came to visit for the Old Dominion Hunt’s annual point-to-point races and to check out the baby lambs. Meg, as usual, acted as bookie for the betting and made sure everyone got into the spirit of the day. April also saw the birth of assorted chicks, peachicks, and goslings.
In May I took a short break between the spring rush of farm births and summer chores for a quick trip to visit my parents in Tryon, NC while my sister was there visiting from Germany. My German niece Helene really enjoyed playing with her American cousins Will and Sam.
On the way home, I stopped in Fayetteville, NC to pick up “Ceres,” the latest feline addition to the farm. We now have three farm cats who now enjoy a pretty nifty Kitty Kondo in the small barn (complete with catwalk, climbing ropes, tunnels, a climbing tree and a hammock for humans wanting to take cat naps). Steve’s cat Juno also had her first litter in May with one surviving kitten and later in the summer she had a second litter of five high energy kittens. They were a lot of fun and we look forward to her next litter this spring.
As if we didn’t have enough animals roaming around here already, in June I got a call that some young mute swan cygnets were looking for a new home. As I’d been wanting to get some swans for the pond for some time, I didn’t hesitate to drive up to Baltimore to collect them.
It was also around about June that we felt the full brunt of last year’s addition of 50 acres to the farm this summer and were almost overwhelmed by the amount of work that needed to be done. Despite a long drought and record-breaking temperatures in July and August (over 60 days of 90 degrees or above), a lot of major farm projects were completed this summer. The barns were rehabilitated, pastures renovated and fenced, and a new hayfield was planted.
Towards the end of July, the press of work caused Steve Burton to re-assess a few career and life choices, and he decided he’d be much happier leaving the farm to live elsewhere and pursue teaching full-time. He’s now enjoying teaching math and the classics at the local high school and I wish him well in his new life.
There’s still a fair amount of work to be done around here, and there always will be, but thankfully most of the “big ticket” items have now been completed and the farm is finally looking roughly the way it should. The big project for 2003 is to organize the long delayed kitchen garden.
The Summer also saw a number of visits from family and friends. My brother Eric and his wife Beth came in July with kids Drake and Riley, as did friends Rick and John from San Francisco. Will and Mark from New York showed up in August, and so did cookbook writer Shannon Hayes and her photographer husband Bob. Shannon is writing a cookbook featuring grass-fed meats and Bob is doing the photographs. She was kind enough to include Touchstone Farm and some of our lamb recipes in her new book (coming this Spring from Chelsea Green Publications). We had a great day with them that included a memorable dinner cooked by Shannon herself.
In September I cashed in some frequent flyer miles to travel to British Columbia for the annual North American Clun Forest Sheep Association meeting at Dennis & Rene Lapierre’s Habitat Farm in Falkland, BC. I was able to spend a few days in Vancouver as well. The sheep meeting was a lot of fun, as always, and the Canadian hospitality and scenery was incredible. Next year the annual meeting will be held right here at Touchstone Farm, so I won’t have to travel far at all.
With the summer’s long and hard drought, I had very little hope of much Fall color. Late September rains, however, made for a beautiful and lush October. Unfortunately there were no visitors during this most beautiful month of the year, and on the day of my annual mountain climb up Old Rag Mountain, it rained most of the day. Despite the sodden conditions we still managed to have a great time. Also in October both my sister Jennifer and sister-in-law Audrey helped contribute to global overpopulation by giving me a new nephew, Stuart, and a new niece, Leah.
November brought more visitors. Matt, Chad, Eric, and Alec all came out from DC for a hearty farm lunch one Sunday and were tricked into herding sheep most of the day (but I think they enjoyed it). My brother Wayne and his wife Audrey and their three kids Ava, Lukas, and little baby Leah, came for Thanksgiving, which was lots of fun.
Shortly after Wayne and Audrey left we had an early December snow storm that dumped 8 inches of snow on the ground. It was not only great sledding weather but also a ready-made excuse not to go in to the office. December also brought an unwelcome visit from a black bear that destroyed the chicken coop. Luckily the chickens survived, but they now need a new house (yet another project to add to my list). As of this writing, the bear’s still prowling around. As we’re in the middle of bear hunting season, I have my rifle at the ready, but it’s too soon to tell if I’ll have a bear skin rug any time soon.
A far more welcome visitor this month was Dr. Brenda Coe who inspected the farm for the American Humane Association on December 9th. Touchstone Farm is now the first sheep farm in the country to receive the AHA’s coveted “Free Farmed” status.
So that’s been my year. Lots of work, a few setbacks, and yet, some visible progress. All in all, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t give thanks that I can live where I do, lead the life I do, and know such wonderful people like you. I wish you all a very merry Christmas and the best of all possible new years!
p.s. If you’re not completely bored by now with my long-windedness, you can also check out the updated farm photo galleries on the farm website that show more of this year’s great fall colors and other scenes..