Ever since I've owned a house, I've craved backyard farmyard animals. In Middlefield, Massachusetts, where we had a woodland farmstead, the first animals were chickens, sheltered in a coop fashioned from our daughter Alexis's outgrown playhouse. A small yard fenced with chicken wire kept them safe from wild varmints-opossums, hawks, raccoons, and weasels-and they laid dozens of delicious eggs that spoiled us forever. I've had a backyard coop ever since.
While living in Westport, I became very serious about the quality of my food, opting for my own chickens and eggs, organically grown vegetables, and home-raised ducks, turkeys, lambs, goats, sheep, and even a hog or two. I joined a club, the Fairfield Organic Gardeners, where I met scores of like-minded women who experimented with milking goats, brining hams, smoking bacon, slaughtering chickens and ducks, plucking turkeys, and growing tasty, healthy vegetables and fruits. I was lucky to be on the cusp of an important moment in the creation and preservation of -- as well as the communication about -- good, wholesome, pesticide-free food. I have continued to espouse and use the best organic practices and disciplines developed (or, really, rediscovered) in the last 30 years.
In Bedford, my menagerie has evolved a bit. Beautiful, friendly Friesian horses became the focal point of the farm life, drawing carriages along dirt roads and offering big, comfortable "seats" to my friends and me for long weekend rides along the many miles of trails preserved by the Bedford Riding Lanes Association. Needless to say, the horses' manure has become an integral part of the massive composting system we've built on one part of the farm.
My chicken coops house 200 or so chickens of various breeds -- Araucanas, Polish, Cochins, Speckled Sussex, Jersey Giants, Mille Fleurs, Silkies, Orpingtons, Silver Laced Wyandottes, and Minorcas are just some -- and for most of the year, my "chicks" provide me with more than 100 eggs a day, which I use in my home and share with my colleagues at the offices in New York City. The eggs are rich with golden-yellow yolks and have an excellent taste.
In the adjacent coop and larger grassy yard live my Pomeranian geese and Thanksgiving turkeys -- Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, and Black Spanish. The geese and turkeys coexist nicely yet eat slightly differently from the chickens, which is one reason I keep them separated. But everyone gets a daily diet of grass cuttings, overgrown greens from the garden, and vegetable scraps from my house, as well as from the magazine and TV test kitchens.
Shortly after moving to Bedford, I was given two young Sicilian miniature donkeys, Clive and Rufus, and then a female, Billie, soon followed. These small, friendly, curious beasts are an excellent addition to the farm. They can be walked like dogs on a lead, they love visiting the house for a cube of sugar or a freshly picked apple, and they are a source of endless enjoyment for the dogs, Francesca, Sharkey, and Ghenghis Khan. The donkeys are easy to keep; they are groomed and bathed regularly, and shaved once or twice a year when the weather is warm.
Recently I was given a pair of Black Welsh Mountain sheep, which have adapted phenomenally well to the farm. I hope they will become part of a larger herd that I will raise for food, despite their cuteness. (I am not a vegetarian, remember.) In the meantime, I can use their naturally black wool for weaving and knitting projects.
Next on the agenda, though I admit the specifics have yet to be determined, are milking cows. My dream? The fabrication of a creamy, wonderful Vacherin-like cheese. Any suggestions?