Friday, August 5, 2011

Black and White Brethren

When one thinks of four-legged, black and white, bamboo eating animals, one would most often think of the panda bear.  After today, however, I will think a little closer to home.  (And you may, too!)  Why?  Well, we happen to have a small bamboo forest by our pond.  We call it a forest, it's more like a patch.  I happened to glance out there today and saw cows in our bamboo forest, munching away on what leaves they could reach.  I tried to get a picture, but the guilty little things came out before I could snap one off, choosing instead to pose in front of the bamboo.

I attempted to get them back into the pasture, but they just kept running from me, either around the pond at top speed or into the water.  As angry at them as I was, they were beautiful standing by the pond.

Free cows ended up being a battle all day.  They tore down quite a bit of bamboo and ate almost everything in our vegetable garden, including my rare heirloom Festivity corn (corn that looks like indian corn but is really sweet corn) that I was really excited about.  Luckily I have a handful of seeds that didn't fit in the garden I can try planting next year.  They chose to stay out of the garden full of blue Hopi corn, winter squash, and pole beans we planted for the livestock.  They came back into the pasture, by jumping the fence, during evening chores.  Guess they wanted to see if what I was serving for supper was any better than what they could find on their own.  I went ahead and put them into an extra stall in the barn.  We can't have them keep escaping, and it will cost a fortune to provide all their feed without pasture, so it looks like they may be getting butchered sooner rather than later.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Monsanto Field Day

Today I got to accompany my husband to Monsanto's field day in Union City, TN.  I thought this was my first field day, but looking back I did go to one in high school for roughly 30 minutes in one of my ag classes.  This one was much more memorable.  (I hope!)

We started the day at a 1-hour presentation about cotton, at which I more than quadrupled my cotton knowledge.  I learned all about white flowers and early vs late producing plants and cotton bolls and perfect weather conditions for each stage of cotton and how to tell how close a plant is to harvest by either counting bolls or cutting open a boll.  I also learned about defoliant (which I had heard of only once before) and chopping a field (which I still don't really know why or when).  I also learned that they use A LOT of chemicals on cotton: one or two chemical applications to kill weeds before planting, more chemicals at planting, more one or two weeks (or both) after planting, more as needed for weed and pest control, then one or two passes with a defoliant.  (Just listening to all these chemical applications made me want to run out and buy all new only!)   The great thing was, I thought of all kinds of questions, such as "is there a defoliant that is approved for organic cotton?" and "how does a cotton plant not look like a cotton plant" (which he had mentioned about one of the experimental varieties).  Unfortunately, everyone else in attendance was a real farmer with real farm questions (especially about pig-weed, which seems to be a big problem right now with the cotton), so I was left only wishing I had a guide to explain terms to me and to answer my more general questions.

Next we visited a presentation about weeds.  The plan seemed to be to talk about all weeds and Round-Up Ready products, but the farmers wanted to concentrate on pig-weed.  I did finally get to see this Pigweed (Amaranthus palmeri...a pigweed that is resistant to the protein glyphosate used in Round-Up Ready products).  I also learned about a pesticide that kills caterpillars from the inside out (which made me glad we don't use chemicals on our farm).

We finished out the day by checking out the corn varieties.  Nothing too exciting there: we are from Illinois, after all.  Overall, it was a very interesting, educational day.  And I don't mean to put down Monsanto at all and am sorry if that is how this blog has come across.  They do what they do well, it is just not necessarily the way I would choose to do things on our farm.

By the way, I Googled organic cotton when we got home.  According to HAE Now's article "Why Choose Organic", no defoliant is approved for use on organic cotton.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Got Milk?

A couple of weeks ago our Apline doe's udder started looking bigger on one side.  I didn't think much of it: we got her at an auction and don't know exactly how old she is, so maybe she was just growing.  Then today her udder was MUCH bigger on the one side, like full of milk bigger.

I cornered her, pulled on the teat, and MILK CAME OUT!!!  I got her up on the stand and milked both teats, getting almost as much out of her as we do each of the other goats.  I ran in and told Matt, dreams of a super-breed of goat floating around in my head, a breed perfect for hobby farmers who wanted the milk but not necessarily a billy or kid goats. 

Once I had come back to reality, I Googled the phenomenon and found out it is actually rather common.  They are known as precocious does.  There are all kinds of opinions on what to do with these does.  Some people milk them because it helps the goat to avoid mastitis and gives them a bit more milk.  Goats who are milked as precocious does can give as much as a half gallon per day if stimulated (about as much as our current two goats give together).  Others do not touch the doe and allow it to dry up, waiting for milk until after the doe has kids.  I read on one Homesteading Today post that someone had experimented with her precocious does, finding hers do best if she milks them up until bred then drying off...also finding those gave more milk after kidding than precocious does she did not milk at all.  One thing everyone agreed on was becoming precocious is a sign of a great milker: it looks like we can expect to get over a gallon per day after she does kid.  (Yeah!!!!!)

We discussed it and decided to milk her until she is bred.  We even discussed trying not to breed her since we are only interested in the milk and would be happy with a half gallon per day, but I couldn't find if there would be any negative consequences to that option.  For now, we will just enjoy this little suprise!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Doctor is In

Yesterday morning I went out to find a new litter of Large Blacks IN THE BARN.  We give them an entire pasture and the sow chooses the barn!  I will give her that it stays pretty cool in the barn, but I maybe would have chose somewhere besides right next to the gate.  (We now have to walk around and go through the pasture to the back of the barn.)  But the litter and the sow's choices are not really why I am writing.  No, I am writing because I noticed a gash above the right leg of one of the piglets.  Upon closer inspection, it was not simply a gash, but an actual hole...through which the piglet's guts could actually be seen with space between the skin and insides.  (The picture does not do the hole justice, it still looks like a surface wound more than a hole.)

Since the wound was an actual hole, we knew it should be stitched so it would heal, but we didn't have a curved needle and Matt didn't want to use a straight needle.  We cleaned the area with a iodine/water solution (we read a saline solution could also be used, but we had iodine) then rinsed it with distilled water.  We patted it dry and used duct tape as make-shift butterfly bandages.

Well, the duct tape kept coming off due to the drainage, so we brainstormed and Matt came up with the perfect solution: super glue.  We super glued the wound mostly shut (we dotted the area with glue so there was still some space for drainage).  We then covered the area with gauze and wrapped it with self adhesive medical tape.

We decided to keep the piglet inside in order to reduce the amount of dirt, etc the wound is exposed to.  However, we then needed to decide how to feed it.  We first tried goat milk in a bottle, but the pig was more interested in trying to suck on my fingers than the bottle.  We then tried a syringe and got some goat milk down, but the piglet wasn't very happy with that option.  We finally decided the sow is right down in the barn, and the piglet was very interested in eating, so we would just take it down to the barn to eat 3-4 times per day.  Both the sow and the piglet seem to be doing well with this choice.

The hole doesn't seem to be slowing the piglet down any.  It is one of the most active piglets while in the barn, has a hearty appetite, and is smart (when the sow flipped to the other side it was the first one to walk around and keep eating).  If we can keep infection out, prognosis is good.  Although I probably shouldn't say that, because mentioning it is just asking for trouble to come our way!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Murphy's Law Hits The Farm

Goodness...has it really been almost a month since I wrote last?!?!  Well, it sure doesn't feel like it!  Time has been flying.  The garden has, slowly but surely, been growing.  Animals have been reproducing.  And we have been on yet another trip to Illinois...when Murphy's Law decided to show us just how important a positive attitude is.

The trip to Illinois was wonderful.  We stopped at two wineries this trip, Bella Terra Winery and Windy Hill Vineyard & Winery, both located in Creal Springs, Illinois and only about a mile apart.  What Matt and I decided this trip is we are not necessarily fans of good wine, but of good tasting wine.  Let me explain.  We visited Bella Terra Winery first, where we received the best service we have ever received while wine tasting.  He explained all the different grapes while serving us, gave us more free samples than allowed (each person is allowed 5 but we tried just about every wine they make trying to find one to bring a special twinkle to our eyes), he gave our son a bag of Cracker Jacks and our daughter some Goldfish.  It was really an amazing experience.  However, the authentically Italian wines were just not our thing.  They tasted very high class and were obviously high quality, but we found ourselves without at least one that jumped out at us as amazing.  We decided to purchase Bacca Rosato, a Sweet Red Wine.  We then made our way to Windy Hill Vineyard & Winery, which we weren't expecting but saw a sign for at the turn for the first vineyard.  We were a bit worried when we pulled up, it looked like a shed with an old pick-up outside.  Matt asked if we should go in and I said we were already there, we might as well.  The inside greatly suprised us, it was completely different than the outside, maybe even more nicely decorated than the first winery.  This winery had a lot of grape and berry hybrid wines, which to a real connoisseur is a no-no, but is just fine for us.  We found ourselves in the usual predicament of which two to limit ourselves to.  We finally chose a STRONG-tasting (it contains black cherry and black currents) Chambourcin and their award-winning Catawba.  The whole experience reminded me of the line in Hal Ketchum's song Mama Knows the Highway "...little places always share the Grandy's sign..." since we only found this winery because of the interstate sign for the other.  Like I said, we can appreciate good quality wine, but that doesn't mean we don't like good tasting wine better.

Grapes at Bella Terra Winery
Little did we know while we were tasting wine and visiting friends and family in Illinois, Murphy's Law had already set in back home.  Actually, we should have known something was up because the air conditioning broke on the way home, on the first day to hit over 100, and we were all miserable most of the 8 hour ride back to Tennessee.  Then we arrived home to find the GFI outlet breaker had popped out during a power outage during our absence and we lost ALL the meat and bread in our chest freezer.  One of our goats also got sick while we were gone and several chicks and rabbit kits died in the heat wave.  If we had been home we would have turned fans on, but our farmhand just didn't know. 

Life goes on and things are looking up again: the freezer is cleaned out and full of two freshly butchered hogs (which...luckily...were not ready before we left) and the goat is doing much better after a shot of antibiotic and some extra grain.  All's well that ends well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Family-Friendly Farm Recipes II

We have tried several new recipes over the past couple of weeks and I thought I would share some the the best.  As I have said in the past, this is just how I prepared the dishes and this should not be looked at as die-hard "recipes" but merely guides to follow loosely with what you have on hand.

I got this recipe from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing, & Dehydration.  Chesney's babysitter has a plum tree.  She told us we could have as many as we wanted because they "just run over them with the lawn mower".  The recipe is for regular preserves, but it didn't set so I tried putting a jar in the freezer and it made great freezer jelly!  I also froze some whole plums to use later in smoothies; they can be frozen whole, with the pit still in.
Combine 5 cups pitted tart plums (about 2 1/2 pounds), 4 cups sugar, and 1 cup water.  Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Cook rapidly almost to gelling point, about 15 minutes.  As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking.  Remove from heat.  Skim foam if necessary.  Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Adjust two-piece caps.  Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.  Yield: about 5 half-pints.

No one else in the family is keen on left-overs, so I have to find ways to disguise them as new foods.  This pot pie used leftover rabbit we had from the crockpot earlier in the week and was a HUGE hit.  I adapted the recipes from chicken pot pie recipes on, changing them to fit our likes/dislikes and the ingredients we had available.
Crust:  Mix 2 cups whole wheat all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 stick butter, and 1/3 cup spreadable butter (we ran out of stick butter) with a pastry blender (or use a fork, I don't personally own a pastry blender) until butter is in pea-size pieces.  Add 6 tablespoons cold water and stir until dough forms a ball.  Divide the ball in half.  Lightly flour a flat surface and a rolling pin.  Roll out one half of the dough to fit a standard pie pan.  Place in the pan, make holes in the bottom with a fork, and bake 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, roll out the second half of the dough then set aside.
Filling: Mix approximately 2 1/2 cups shredded rabbit, 10 sliced baby carrots, 1 cup frozen peas, and 1 cup frozen corn in a saucepan.  Just cover with water and boil 15 minutes.  Drain and set aside.  In a sauce pan (or I used a large frying pan), make a roux with 1/3 cup butter and 1/3 cup whole grain all-purpose flour.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt, 1 3/4 cups water, and 2/3 cup milk.  Simmer until thick.  Pour rabbit/vegetable mixture into bottom pie crust.  Pour thickened sauce over the rabbit/vegetable mixture.  Top with second half of rolled pie crust, making sure to seal edges.  Poke several slits into the top.  Cook approximately 30 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before eating.

This is another recipe using leftovers, this time from the white meat leftover from our first taste of free-range chicken.  It was also adapted from recipes on 
Boil chicken bones in 48oz water to create a chicken broth.  (I boiled them while I prepared the noodles, so I wasn't timing the boiling.)  Make noodles by mixing 1 egg for every 1/2 cup flour (we had two friends over, so I used 3 1/2 cups flour and 7 eggs,) 1/2 teaspoon salt, and enough water to make the mixture moist (I used approximately 6 tablespoons for 3 1/2 cups).  Lightly flour a flat surface and a rolling pin and roll out the dough till about 1/2 inch thick.  Cut into noodles using a floured butter knife.  Add approximately 2 cups shredded chicken and salt and pepper to taste to the boiling water.  Add the noodles one at a time (so they do not stick together) and cook 30 minutes.  Can be eaten alone or on top of mashed potatoes.

None of us had ever eaten pork jowl before, but we were delighted by how good it was with split peas.
Boil 1 pound split peas, 1 pound chopped pork jowl, 7 cups water, and salt, pepper, and garlic salt to taste for 45-60 minutes, until peas are softened (or "mushy" as I call it).  If you have extra liquid towards the end of cooking, remove it and reserve for an additional recipe.  We like split peas with corn bread or corn muffins (which I currently just make from a box).  

I made this for lunch one day a couple of days after the split pea soup.  It was perfect for a quick meal for one, just add your favorite vegetables.  With a little more time, it would be good made on the stove with potato as one of the ingredients.
Fill a bowl slightly over halfway with liquid reserved from Jowl and Split Peas.  Add 3 sliced baby carrots and a handful of frozen corn.  Microwave till completely warmed through.

I made this as a late lunch one day, around 2pm.  I do not drink a lot of coffee, but the strong tastes all blending together in this omelet had me craving a good dark French Roast so I made a cup...and it was wonderful.  Who needs sleep?
Fry 2 slices pork jowl in a medium-sized frying pan, leaving the melted fat in the pan after frying.  Cut jowl into small pieces and set aside.  Wilt a handful of fresh spinach in the jowl fat; remove and set aside.  Slightly beat 3 eggs and a splash of milk.  Cook in a frying pan.  When eggs are firm, put cut jowl, wilted spinach, and a handful of goat cheese on one side of the egg, flip the other side on top of fillings to create the omelet.  Allow to cook a few minutes longer to heat through.     

Monday, June 13, 2011

Butchering Day: A Step-by-Step First Experience

We butchered our first six chickens (and 12 more rabbits) Saturday.  We had been putting off butchering the chickens till we had a plucker, but we got tired of buying meat (and we finally have a freezer) so Matt rigged up a hand-held plucker and we were in business.  First, Isaac and I rounded up the roosters about to meat (make that, meet) their fate.

Meanwhile, Matt got his butchering gear together.

We started with the chickens.  First, Matt cut their heads off.  I wanted to see one run around with it's head cut off.  My grandma used to tell me they had a chicken run off into the bushes and get lost when she was a kid but I have also read "running around like a chicken with it's head cut off" is a myth and they don't really do it.  I wanted to find out for sure.  Maybe next time.  They did flap their wings a lot and twitch for a few minutes after being decapitated.  Matt tied rope shackles that he had made to their feet and hung them in a tree to bleed out.

While we were waiting, we started pulling feathers from their legs, just to see how hard they were to get out.  We were quite surprised by the Lavendar Orpingtons, they pulled out super-easy!  Like, um, pulling velcro apart.  (It really was that easy.)  The Non-Industrial Red roosters' feathers were a bit harder, but still not has hard as we'd expected.  (My only feather-plucking experience to date was with ducks...which was next to impossible.  Note: skin ducks!!!  You'll thank me later.)  It was a little weird to be pulling feathers off a still warm chicken I had just seen alive a few minutes before...I don't know that's something you get used to right away.  (Nor the smell.  There was a horrible, lingering smell of something.  Probably death.  Two days...and a lot of cleaning...later the smell is still slightly detectable in the butchering area.)

Once the chickens were well-bled and we had the feathers off the legs (and most of the chicken except the wings for the Orpingtons), we took them inside to scald them.  We completely dipped them 10 times (I don't know why, but I tried different numbers of dips and 10 seemed to be magical) in water right around 150 degrees.  

Then we took the chickens outside and pulled the rest of the feathers off.  Actually, on the first one we tried Matt's hand-held plucker, but I found it just as fast and easy to hand-pull.  (If we'd known plucking were that easy we'd have started butchering months ago!)  Soon we had a product that looked more like the chicken I know and love.

We let the chickens soak in ice water for about 30 minutes, then we bagged them in freezer bags, wrote the contents and date, and stuck them in the new-to-us freezer.  The 12 rabbits were next.  (Sorry, but I can only write so much in one blog entry...details on rabbit butchering to come in the future.)  Even though it was enough meat to last 3-4 weeks, it barely made a dent in the chest freezer.

***And here's the rest of the story.  We ate our first homegrown, free-range chicken tonight.  I cooked the dark meat in butter and Lowry's (our go-to recipe for all meats).  The white meat I just put in a baking dish; no one in our family likes white meat, but I figured I would use it for spaghetti or chicken salad or some other leftover type of dish.  Well, let me just forewarn: free-range dark meat is DARK.  And a bit leather-ly.  (Ok, so we had to cut it with steak knives and Matt likened it to shoe leather.)  The meat in the picture is really that color, it is not because of the lighting.

Matt tried the white meat to see if it was any better.  The white meat was tender and juicy and tasted like a cross between store-purchased white and dark meats.  Lesson learned?  (1) Butcher chickens younger (these were just under a year old) (2) Don't bother with a chicken plucker and (3) White meat in a free range chicken is delicious!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Where's My Farm Family?

I had an epiphany today.  We need about 10 more kids.  Three of my grandparents came from huge families.  My paternal grandma was one of only three, but her husband made up for it by having something like sixteen kids in his family.  The old family photos were so chock-full of children I never actually counted them.  Another great memory of his old photos is his great-grandmother and name-sake;  she was super-short and only the youngest of the children (I would guess under 8-years-old) were shorter than her.  Anyway, enough reminiscing and back onto why we need more kids.

Today I needed to continue planting the garden, but we have people coming to look at the farm this weekend so I also wanted to clean out the barn.  And things like dishes, laundry, etc. in the house needed done.  By the time I got done with a little bit of the house and moving around chickens and most of what I wanted to clean in the barn, it was time to go pick up Chesney from daycare.  It was on my way to get her I thought "I would get so much more done if there were four or five of me".  Then I remembered an article I had read that stated farm families used to be so big because it didn't take much additional effort to raise additional food for each additional child (I have never used the word 'additional' so many times in one sentence!) but each child added a significant amount in labor. 

I figure 10 more kids should do us fine.  Of course, we would have to wait for each one to grow up, so maybe we should look into the adoption of older, farm-experienced children.  It would definitely save time and Matt doesn't want any more biological children.  (He is worried about genetic and/or birth problems; who isn't in this day and age?)  Of course, with more children we would need more rooms in the house.  And the cost of utilities would go up...and food costs, even though we produce all of our own meat, eggs, and milk now.  And we would need a small bus to drive everyone around.  (With the cost of fuel, who can afford that?)  Looks like I will just have to find a way to be several places at once.  Or find a way to never sleep.  Imagine what I could get done with that extra 5-8 hours per day!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

How does your garden grow?  Not very well, I'm afraid.  (But then, my name's not Mary, so maybe that's the secret.)  I planted.  And planted.  And planted.  All last week.  Then we went on vacation for 3 days.  We didn't plan this vacation, it was actually planned by Matt's family.  We (mostly I) had some doubts about going.  But the pigs were born before we left (one of my biggest worries) as well as a litter of rabbits (with no more due) and most of the flats of vegetable plants were transplanted, so we decided 3 days away from the farm would be a good break for us.  Our farmhand agreed to come in the mornings as well as evenings, so Sunday morning we took off for Kentucky Lake.  Unfortunately, while I was soaking in the pool my garden was drying away to an early demise.  We came back on Tuesday, AFTER ONLY 3 DAYS (I even watered them Sunday morning, so it was more like 2) and EVERYTHING was dead.  Maybe not everything.  While I was looking for any sign of life today, I think I found a Luffa and a squash.  Maybe a pumpkin.  Or maybe it was just wishful thinking, turning weeds into more than they are.  I am really upset about my Luffas.  They sounded like the greatest thing ever and I am definitely planting them again next year.  (We will also hopefully be making soap next year, so that should go together well in our future farm store!)  I am also upset about the zucchini.  I love me some zucchini cooked in butter, not to mention chocolate zucchini bread.  Mmmm.  So I spent today planting lots of seeds: summer squash, winter squash, corn, pole beans, cow peas, carrots. 

I always try to find the bright side to everything and the bright side today was this: the plants took up more space than we had planned so, since everything that needed transplanted died, Matt won't have to create a fourth garden plot.  I think.  We do still have a lot of seeds! 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sore... Dirty... Tired....

For the past two days I have been transplanting vegetables from flats in our sunroom to garden plots outside.  All day each day.  And it's over 90 degrees.  And I'm not even halfway through the flats.  Then we STILL have actual seeds to plant.  AHHHH. 

I detassled from age 13-16.  (Those of you from Illinois will remember detassling!  For everyone else, you walk through a field and literally pull the tassle off thousands of corn plants in order to make sure the plants are only pollinated by the "male" row.  It is used to create seed corn and new hybrids.)  I used to see corn whether my eyes were open or closed, whether I was awake or asleep, whether I was in a corn field or not.  I am starting to feel like that now.  I close my eyes and I still see rows of tiny eggplants and squash.  At least I am that much closer to being done for the season!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Deep Mud + New Piglets = Bad News

Late yesterday evening our farmhand came in and told us the sow was laying on top of some of her piglets.  Not too concerned, I said I'd go check on them.  Well, she was definitely ON TOP of them.  Three were completely buried in mud and one, while not in the mud, had its head covered in mud.  They had all apparantly suffocated.  Up until this time, we had not realized how deep the mud wallow was.  I found out when I stepped in to pull them out and ended up knee deep.  Matt had to help pull me out.  Then we had a bit of a heated discussion about the lost piglets.  I was the one who had read Large Black Hogs fare better farrowing on pasture, therefore Matt said it was my fault the piglets had died.  I said I had read they do better on pasture, I had never read anything about mud wallows.  I reminded him we do not know for sure they would have all survived if he had put the sow up in the barn before farrowing, anyway.  Then he lamented a little about the $500+ we lost from if they'd stayed alive.  I reminded him: don't count your chickens before they are hatched, or your piglets before they are grown.  Besides, I figure it is better to figure out what is wrong with our set-up on the 75% Large Black piglets, which are worth less to us financially, than the pure bred piglets. 

The remaining three piglets are doing great.  We filled in the large mud wallow.  The sow tried to make a new one today, but at least we know it is not deep enough to bury the piglets! 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Piglet Surpise

Piggly Wiggly (our 50% large black gilt) lived with our large black boar for about 3 months earlier this year (Janurary through March).  Since they were living together, we weren't exactly sure when she was bred and couldn't use the 3 month, 3 weeks, 3 days method of figuring out when she was due.  We knew she was getting close because she was getting HUGE.  Last week her teats starting sticking out more and her utter-area was a bit bulkier.  I told Matt Friday I thought she would have piglets over the weekend, he told me he thought she was still a couple of weeks away.  Turns out we were both wrong.  I went out for morning chores and found seven tiny piglets hanging out in the pasture.

Well, it's been HOT, so Matt jumped into emergency mode.  He rushed off to pick up some palates from a construction site in town.  While he was gone, the piglets took matters into their own hands.

Building the shelter turned into a family affair.  Isaac helped hold wood as Matt connected 4 palates (2 for the back and one on each side) by screwing them onto two 2x4's then screwing a 4x8 sheet of plywood on top and a 2x8 sheet of plywood onto the back.  Some hay was added to the bottom and, viola, instant piglet shelter.

The piglets seem to be enjoying their new area.  We sure enjoy watching them.  The piglets are 75% Large Black and 25% Yorkshire.  Six of them appear to be all black and one is white with black spots like their mom.  And they are all cute!  The pictures do not do them justice in the least.  However, if you'd like to see more pictures, check them out by looking up ICAcres (local business) on Facebook.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Computer is FIXED!!! Quick Update.

Blog, oh how I have missed thee!  Although, truth be known, I just missed having the computer, period.  It is hard to get much accomplished when certain letters on the keyboard are not working.  Maybe if it were "X" and "Z" I could have worked around it, but we were missing R, T, F, G, V, B...pretty important letters, especially when you need "R" to log into accounts!  Now I have to catch up on the blog, email, the website, and a variety of other odds and ends.

So much has happened in the past month, where should I start?  We had SIX litters of rabbits!!!  Ranging from litters of 1 to 8, we will have plenty to sell for both meat and breeding stock in just a few weeks.  The influx of rabbits led to Matt building another 4 large cages.  We have had a problem with does having litters outside of their nest boxes.  I let one doe just raise her litter without the box and they all survived, but the others I put in the boxes with good luck.  This is my theory on the nest boxes.  The first boxes we had weren't quite big enough, so Matt built plain wood boxes they originally liked.  I think the wood absorbs too many scents and the does do not like giving birth in nests that smell like other rabbits.  We have talked about designing an all metal box, out of small 1/2-inch wire with some type of rubber or plastic lining the top edges so the rabbits don't get cut hopping in and out.  The wire would be more easily cleaned and it would be comparable to the litter that was raised on the floor of the wire cage.  (Only I wouldn't have to check on them several times a day to make sure they have enough hay and are not crawling out of the cage.)  

Chicks have also been hatching like crazy...and Chesney has learned to open the brooder.  She just loves the baby chickens and wants to take them out and play with them when no one is looking, so we had to start locking the brooder.

Speaking of poultry, our turkeys are still not producing young because they do not like each other.  Our hen has, however, fallen in love with her reflection...but only when seen from the bumper of the truck.  Hmm, maybe it's really the truck she is in love with.  (If only we could hatch little F-150's!!!) 

I won't try to catch up on the entire month all at once, so one last bit of news: we finally got some farm help!

Wait, that's not him!  We hired a local high school student to help with evening chores during the week and to take care of the farm when we need to be out of town.  Or just want to be out of town.  I am dreaming of vacation spots already!

Friday, April 22, 2011

It's Definitely Spring

Spring.  How long I have awaited you!  Ok, so our first winter in Tennessee only lasted about 2 months, but we were really hoping for a bit warmer winter weather.  Then the weather couldn't make up its mind what season it was.  But now, spring weather is officially here to stay.  How do I know? Chicks, mud, and grass.

First, the chicks.  Yes, we have been incubating eggs and hatching chicks for several months, but that's not "natural".  Natural is broody hens in the barn...

...and under the rabbit cages.  (Personally, I wouldn't have chosen to make my nest in manure with the chance of more manure falling on top of me, but hey, I'm not a chicken.)

Spring is being suprised by a hen (who you thought had died) and her 8 new chicks and being able to watch her feed your first completely free-range chicks.  Never seen free-range chicks forage? Go ahead and watch the video...

It wouldn't be spring without getting the truck stuck in the mud and pulling it out with the tractor.

And it wouldn't be spring without having green grass once again.  Grass so tall only the riding lawn mower could finally find the lasso Matt looked so hard for the day Hairy Larry escaped. (Miss that story?  See "One of THOSE Weeks", April 10, 2011).  Grass alive with little, teeny, tiny black snakes.  Grass that proves the grass really is greener on the other side.

Have a Happy Easter and enjoy some Spring!!!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mmm, Mmm, Good Home Recipes

I am not one for following recipes.  In fact, when I try to follow a recipe, dishes do not turn out.  (This isn't usually a problem, except when it comes to chocolate chip's a good thing I love chocolate chip cookie dough!)  Over the years I have come to adapt and am now "a great cook" according to my husband, who was afraid when we got married that he would have to sneak fast food the rest of his life just to keep from losing weight.  The following are some of what I have made lately.  Please feel free to try any dish.  Most are simple and quick.  Also feel free to play around with my dish guidelines (I hesitate to call them "recipes" as I do not actually measure while I am cooking and these really are just guidelines).  Starting with our favorite:

 This dish looks difficult to make, but it really simple and can be made in about 30-45 minutes, less if you already have goat cheese made.  (We do not keep it around and I usually make up a small batch just for this.)  I would also like to note a cold stuffed chicken breast makes for a great "sandwich" in the car on the way to work the next morning! 
Brown 1/4 pound sausage.  Mix with 1 1/2 cups crumbled goat cheese and 2 Tablespoon parsley.  Cut a slit into 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Stuff with goat cheese mixture.  Slightly beat an egg.  Roll each chicken breast in the beaten egg then roll in cornbread (or corn muffin) mix.  Fry in vegetable oil for 5 minutes on each side on medium-high heat.  The chicken will turn out crispier if left uncovered, but I usually cover the pan to reduce the mess.

If this isn't quick and simple, I don't know what is!
 Take a roughly 3 pound pork roast and place it in a crockpot.  Add a 1 pound bag of baby carrots.  Add 3 or 4 potatoes, cut into about 1 inch chunks.  Add about 4 cups water.  Let set on low heat all day till you get home from work (about 9 hours) then set to warm while you do chores (about another 1 1/2 hours).  If you don't have chores, enjoy right after work!

In case you have guessed by now, my crockpot and I have become great friends since I started both working full time and building up the farm with Matt.  It's a convenient way to make quick but healthy meals when all of us are busy during the excuses for a McDonalds or Pizza Hut stop here, much to Isaac's dismay! 
The evening before, quick soak a pound of dried great northern beans by boiling them in a medium pan full of water for approximately one minute.  Dump the beans and hot water into the crockpot and allow to sit overnight.  The next morning you can dump the water and add fresh (to reduce the likelihood of gas) or you can retain the same water (which I do when I am really in a hurry with no adverse affects).  Add about 1 cup of salt pork, cut into 3 or 4 pieces.  Add a few dashes of garlic powder if you'd like (and have time).  Set on low and forget about it till you get home from work (about 9 hours).  Set to warm after work if you are rushing out to chores or just enjoy.  Tastes great with some corn bread!

Matt LOVES biscuits and gravy, so I try to make a batch whenever we have the extra milk and the extra time.
Take 1 quart milk (we now use goat milk, but I used to make it the same way with cow milk) and heat over medium heat.  While the milk is warming, brown 1/2 pound can use up to a pound if you like your gravy meaty.  When the milk gets good and hot, begin to whisk constantly and add flour, a little at a time, until milk starts to thicken...about 1 cup, give or take a little because I just keep the bag of flour next to the stove and keep adding small amounts by hand, which I recommend you do, too!  Once the gravy is thickening, add the browned sausage (and a little of the melted fat for extra taste, if you like), and salt to taste.  Serve over your favorite biscuits, homemade or store bought.  ***For a great variation, and my personal favorite gravy, skip the sausage and add bacon fat at that point.  We freeze bacon fat in ice cube trays and I add 3 or 4 cubes of bacon fat to the milk gravy.  Mmmmmm.  (Don't let my nutrition professors find out about THAT recommendation!)

If you have a favorite dish using farm fresh ingredients, please share...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One of THOSE Weeks

We've all had them, days or weeks where nothing goes right.  This past week was like that for us, with last Saturday being the worst.

I woke up and went out to feed the animals, only to discover a water leak had soaked the entire feed room.  Most of the feed was salvagable, but we lost about 50 pounds of chicken layer feed, 50 pounds of corn, and about 20 pounds of animal feed.  We also fed about 250 pounds of (wet) chopped corn over Saturday and Sunday...we usually use about 50 pounds per day.  The animals thought it was a great treat.  I think they were disappointed to be put back on regular rations.

While we were getting that mess cleaned up, the mule ("Hairy Larry") was watching our comings and goings.  He must have been devising a plan because he timed it just right that as the gate swung open, he ran past.  He hung out in the yard for awhile.  He even walked back to the barn once, walking back out before we could get to the door.  I guess he wanted to get to explore like all the other animals that have escaped during their time here, because before long he ran past us and trotted off down the center of the road.  At that point all I could think was how pretty he looked, like a lone mule on parade.  Seriously, if YOUR mule were headed off by himself, you would have to think something like that or you would start crying!  I hopped in the van and found him about a half mile from home in someone else's pasture.  I parked in the ditch and yelled for him.  He looked at me and actually took a few steps towards me, but then he must have decided the grass really IS greener in other pastures, because he turned around and started eating again.  I told Matt I had found Hairy Larry.  He went to grab the lasso...and it was missing.  The last time he had seen it was the last time the pigs escaped.  We spent almost an hour looking for it with no luck.  He finally created a make-shift lasso out of rope and we took off on the 4-wheeler to the last pasture I had seen Hairy Larry in.  Only he wasn't there.  We rode around through people's yards (if it was your yard, we really are sorry, we would rather have been anywhere but there, I promise), stopping occassionally to stand up on the 4-wheeler or crawl through weeds to get a better look at what would always turn out to be a cow.  We finally were headed home when I saw him.  We spent about another hour running him in circles...and flipping the 4-wheeler on top of ourselves...until we finally trapped him in some stranger's barn.  (There was a car in the carport, and I did knock on the door with no answer, so again, we are sorry for trespassing.)

With Hairy Larry safely in our own barn, we headed off to take Isaac to get his eyes checked.  Sure enough, he needed glasses.  We tried to get lunch while we waited for his glasses to be ready; we really wanted to try the new Chinese restaurant.  We were told it has a buffet.  It didn't.  Then the van started making strange, loud noises...and I needed to drive to Illinois the next day.  I called around and ended up renting a car from Avis.  (Which actually turned out to be a good deal, because it was so much more efficient on gas that the cost of the rental plus gas was cheaper than what we usually spend on gas.)  Back home again, we moved around some chickens and I got a huge scratch on my face from a chicken I wasn't even trying to catch.  

Am I leaving anything out?  Probably.  Last weekend was a HORRIBLE weekend.  But you know what, it can always be worse.  And things always get better!!!

Monday, March 28, 2011

When Projects Fail...and Succeed

When just about all projects on the farm are created and built on-site, it is only inevitable that something is going to fail.  It is also inevitable "Murphy's Law" will take effect and the failure will come at the absolute worse time.  Well, we beat Murphy this go-round!  Matt created some new brooders for our sebrights, who have a problem on dying in the brooder in the barn and of making the whole house smell like chicken when kept in the brooder in the livingroom. 

The temperature in the brooder held steady all weekend, so Matt put all our sebright chicks into them Sunday night.  Monday I came home from work and just happened to glance into the sunroom and towards the brooder.  It appeared all the chicks were piled on one end, so I went to check it out.  The sunroom was HOT (it has been cold and rainy all weekend).  The brooder was literally dripping condensation like rain.  And half the sebrights were dead.  The other half were hanging on for dear life.  They were all soaked, much like a newly hatched chick.  They also all had large air-pocket looking bubbles coming off their chests, with larger bubbles on the dead chicks.  I moved the live chicks back into the brooder in the livingroom, where we have lost a couple more but the rest seem to be drying out and pulling through.  Sebrights are hard to raise.  I am considering raising our price from $8-10/chick to $800-1,000 per chick!!! 

Even though the new brooder may not have gotten the job done, the new moveable rabbit coops sure did.  We moved our two bred blue does into a moveable coop as an experiment to see how well the coops prevented predators and how their litters hold up raised on pasture.  Well, a dog got to the coop and completely demolished it, but the rabbits were safe, trapped in their nest boxes by the smashed wiring.  One was missing a little fur on the back of her kneck and they were both wet from the rain, but they got moved back to the barn and both are healthy and happy, ready to relive the tale to their great-great-great-great-great-great-grandrabbits.

RIP Sebrights Lost in the Sunroom Scare of '11

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Best Mouser Around

When one thinks of a great "mouser", one usually thinks of this:

Ok, so maybe he doesn't look like anything special in THIS picture, but the fact is Mackeral is one of the best mouse-catchers I have ever seen.  We have never lived anywhere and had a problem with mice in the house, even if we started out with a mouse problem or lived in the country.  He is also hours of entertainment because he doesn't just catch, kill, and eat the mouse (or worse, leave them for us to find).  No, he catches a mouse then plays with it, sometimes for hours, before finally eating it.  A bit sadistic on our parts?  Probably.  We should feel sorry for the poor, half-dead mouse, and I honestly usually do, but it is still interesting to watch...especially since we don't have cable or satellite!

Like I said, we have never had a problem with mice in the house, but since it has gotten warmer finding a mouse in a feed bucket, and holes in feed bags, has become an almost daily occurance.  We usually find  the cat and lead it to the trapped mouse.  The problem has gotten so bad we have considered getting a couple of barn cats.  This morning there was yet another mouse.  I had my camera with me so I pulled it out for a picture.  I was going to write a blog entry about the mouse problem and good, organic ways to deal with mice.  Then the Welsummer showed up...

Out of nowhere, this Welsummer jumps into the feed bucket and starts chasing the mouse.  I think, "Cool, I'm going to get this on video!"  I had just started to turn it on when, BAM, the chicken picks up the mouse and tries to eat it whole, "snake-style".  I start screaming, "Oh my gosh, the chicken is eating the mouse!!!" and really wishing the video would have been on.  It turns out the mouse didn't quite go down whole, so I was able to get some proof:

Forget the barn cats, we'll just make sure to keep a few barn chickens! 

Oh, and forget "snake-style".  My 9-year-old son just informed me owls eat their food whole like that, so it was "owl-style".  He also patted me on the head and gave me a "that's so cute" kind of look before walking away smiling to himself.  And here I was hoping I could claim to be smarter than him for at least a couple more years!!!