Thursday, October 28, 2010

St. Brigid's Farm

Traditionally, most pictures of Saint Brigit have one of two things in them, if not both: a cow, and a book. As a goddess, Brigit is patron of Healing, Poetry, and Smithcraft. She comes from a rural society with a cattle-based economy, and she inspires and oversees the work of scholars and artisans. As a saint, Brigit is responsible for the blessing of cattle, and her miracles related to the production of milk, butter and meat are many.

In Maryland, USA, St. Brigid's Farm is dedicated to raising beef cattle humanely on grass* instead of grain, and veal calves are given far gentler lives than is normal in modern times. Here are a few words from their website:

"Our farm is named after St. Brigid, the patron saint of dairymaids and scholars who was renowned for her compassion and often featured with cows at her feet. She perfectly represents the pairing of Judy, the dairymaid and Bob, the scholar...

"The 55 acre farm, located on the scenic eastern shore of Maryland, is planted in permanent pasture, comprised predominantly of perennial rye grass and clover. The seasonally calved herd intensively grazes from April through November...

"Milk from our outstanding Jerseys is marketed through our cooperative, Land O’ Lakes...

"Grass fed Jersey beef and veal is...a delicious and healthy alternative to the options at the supermarket...

"The pairing of a dairymaid and scholar has resulted in a beautiful farm which produces high quality milk, beef, veal and dairy stock. Stop by anytime for a real life visit."

Silo View, St. Brigid's Farm
Kennedyville, Maryland, USA

Looking through the website and reading the links they provide, I was enthusiastic about St. Brigid's Farm. But I am uncomfortably aware of the issues concerning the meat industry and veal in particular. Before writing this post, I wrote to St. Brigid's Farm to ask about how they raise their calves. Below is our correspondence.

Mael Brigde:

"I would like to do a posting about St Brigid's Farm for my Brigit blog, but I'd like to know more about how you raise veal. Although you mention TLC on your site, and link to an interesting article on veal, it isn't clear exactly what SBF's methods are. There are lots of photos of mature cattle grazing but only one of a calf, with its mom; the other calves are shown tethered and separated from each other and their mothers. I know that although Brigidines love the image of the cow, many are vegetarians and most others are very careful about humane treatment. I'd like to be able to tell them straight out what you are up to."

Judy Gifford:

"In answer to your inquiry, we raise calves in three different ways and consider all of them humane.

"Our veal calves are reared on nurse cows from birth until 3 to 4 months. Currently we have 6 bull calves on four cows. This is the end of our season for veal. We will start new calves in the spring when we have grass for the nurse cows. June, at 10 years old is our oldest nurse cow. The other nurse cows are Isadora, Rouge and Viola. They range in age from three to six years of age and all are wonderful mothers and adopt new calves readily.

"Heifer calves are raised individually in the calf hutches you referred to from birth until they are about three months old and then they are moved to the calf barn. We have learned during our 12 years of calf raising that this is the best way to raise 40 calves born in a 15 week window. We can monitor feed intake and identify a sick calf immediately. Years ago, we raised our heifers on a mob feeder but had trouble with aggressive calves getting too much milk and slower calves not getting enough milk. Also, it is warmer and drier in the calf hutches especially during inclement weather when rain or snow can drench the open sided calf barn. When they are in the hutches, they can jump around and nibble on grass. Individual hutches also minimize the spread of disease when the calves are most vulnerable.

"The bull calves that we raise for steers are grouped and raised communally. We are a small farm and have to allocate our resources (time, labor and space) according to their best use.

"We are grateful for the wonderful life and farm that we have and work hard to take good care of our animals and the land. Before we were farmers, we visited Vancouver and loved it. You too live in a wonderful place. If you ever travel to the east coast, you can by all means just walk right in!!"

Have a look at the St. Brigid's Farm website. You'll find lots of information there, a great deal of which is gleaned from the many (and often beautiful) photographs. For those who wish to preserve a rural lifestyle while improving on modern farming techniques, there is much to encourage you here.

*See "How Cows (Grass-Fed Only) Could Save the Planet" for more info on the issue.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Imbolc Podcast

The New Order of Druids has a lovely podcast telling the story of Imbolc and Brigit, with some very nice pronunciations of words many non-Celtic speaking folk struggle in vain with.

I am not sure who drew this lovely picture of Brigit. If you know, please tell!