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!!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring Cleaning and Rabbit Moving Day

I was really expecting rain today.  Why?  I had the day off work with plans to rake leaves, scoop manure, and just do some general cleaning around the farm.  The morning started off good.  The wind didn't start until AFTER the leaves were burning...good-bye nap, hello extra leaf patrol!  The house remained unburned until the piles died down to almost nothing and I could move on to manure scooping.  I didn't get quite as much done as I wanted, but I will be able to work on it a little more tomorrow.  It does always amaze me how much one can get done with no children around!

Matt was so impressed by how much I got done, he got into project mode as well.  He put some finishing touches on the moveable rabbit coops and we moved our first two bred does out.  We are experimenting with the youngest blue does.  We usually butcher the blues since they are not recognized by the ARBA, but I insisted we keep a few out of a litter last fall so we could use them to make sure nothing can get into (or out of) the coops.  Look how happy they look in their new home.

And look how happy Matt looks to finally have them there!

You can see the bottom of the coop has wood slats, which is because rabbits do not like to eat greens that are crushed, which walking directly on them will do.  The slats also help prevent rabbit-dug holes where the coops have been.  A win-win for us and the rabbits!  The coop has two nest boxes (one for each rabbit), a water bottle, and a feeder for pellet supplementation. 

Now it is time to take a shower to get this smoke-smell off of me and get to bed so I can be back hard-at-it tomorrow! 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Quick Rooster and Wine Trip

A couple of weeks ago the only Welsummer rooster we had left came to an early demise.  We have since been on the search for one already of breeding age, which is easier said than done.  Matt was able to find a trio via CraigsList.  We agreed to meet the seller at a swap meet being held at Columbia Farm Supply in Columbia, TN.  (We learned while we were there Columbia, TN is the ancesteral home of James K Polk, 11th president of the United States.)  The swap was average size for what we have experienced in Tennessee, which is pretty small.  There were a few goats, a few rabbits, a couple of calves, a miniature donkey, a lot of chickens, and several other types of birds (pigeons, quail, peacocks, ducks).  There was also a woman dressed up in a cow costume and a large, stuffed horse the kids could sit on (see below).  We ended up just buying two roosters because one wasn't quite up to standard but we are happy we can be back in production with the Welsummers.

We had seen a couple of wineries on the way to the swap meet.  As you may know from following my blog, we love to stop and wine taste.  The first winery on the way home was Keg Springs Winery.  We turned on the road the sign pointed us to and drove.  And drove.  And drove.  There were no more signs, despite several other roads we came across.  No indication we were headed in the right direction.  No indication of how much farther we were going to have to drive.  We finally turned around and decided to give the next winery a chance.  The next winery was Amber Falls Winery & Cellars. 

This winery was also a bit of a drive off the main road, but the way was well marked.  We pulled up to a property full of grape vines (which are more typically not that visible as you pull up) and a guest house.  We drove through the property to the wine tasting room/shop.  It was a nice little winery.  The wine was good, but a little too "woody" for our taste.  We were told the barrels they use are neutral so they add oak to the red wine to add the flavor.  Sometimes I can taste the barrel in a good bottle of whiskey, but I have never tasted it that strong in a wine.  Of course, this is the same state Jack Daniels is from, so maybe the wood taste is extra popular here.  One of the reds they make is called Meriwether Lewis.  The famous explorer died and was buried in the county, so they were asked to make a wine to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his death.  (Who knew so much history would be involved in purchasing a couple of Welsummer roosters?!?!)  Our favorites were the Ruby Trillium, a sweet red wine, and Cranberry Caress, a grape wine flavored with cranberry juice.

After the winery it was back home, were we gave a tour of our farm to the farmer who had given Matt and a friend of his a couple of steers for doing some work with her goats.  All in all, it was a nice way to spend a Saturday with the family.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Our First Home-Grown Pork!

Two weeks ago Matt took our only commercial hog, "Mini-Pig", to the butcher.  Mini-Pig was mean to me (biting, running between my legs to knock me down) and to the other pigs (biting, not letting them near the food trough) and it was time for her to go.  We weren't expecting anything special because she was just a Yorkshire gilt we had picked up from a local farmer for $30 to keep our first pig company.  (Companionship can help with weight gain...until the other pig starts keeping you away from the food!!!) 

Like I said, she was raised on pasture but isn't one of our heritage breeds so we weren't expecting anything but normal, grocery-store quality meat.  Wow, does pasture make a difference!  We opened our first package of pork chops last night...

Look at all that marbling!  We were impressed.  I have my creative moments, but for the most part I cook about as plain and simple as it gets.  I cooked these pork chops to medium/medium rare (which we are comfortable doing with our own farm-fresh pork) in a frying pan with a bit of vegetable oil and Mrs. Dash Grilling Blend: Chicken.  (We got a bunch of free Mrs. Dash at the American Dietetic Association Conference and use it on everything.  The chicken blend actually tastes great on pork.)

I served the pork chops with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and fresh raw goats' milk for a not-so-well-balanced but delicious meal. 

The pork chops were AMAZING.  They were juicy and tender and didn't taste like any pork I have ever eaten before.  If only I could put it into words.  Or, better yet, give you a sample here.  Now I am even more excited for our first heritage breed hogs to get up to butchering weight.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Farm of the Free

When you think of a farm, you think of animals contained in their special little places.  Some are kept in barns.  Some are kept in coops.  Some are kept on pasture.  But the key to being kept is being where they are supposed to be.  Then there are the free animals on our farm.  Not free-range, but free as in little escape artists.  Our Catahoula mix dog has escaped from EVERY collar and chain he has ever been on, and he has to be on one because he has caught and eaten dozens of chickens.  (Then there is the little matter of the county leash law.)  When he isn't escaping to eat chickens, we are finding him stuck in our neighbor's woods with his chain around a tree.  Our other dog, a Blue Heeler, was found walking in the road by a passer-by who knocked on the door to let me know.  If you follow me on Facebook ("Like" ICAcres if you haven't already!) you know our pigs were found out roaming one day during morning chores, with one returning from across the street.  Our goats are constantly getting into the backyard because they have figured out how to open the pasture gate, but they stay in the backyard and return to the barn to be milked so they are not too much of a concern.  Even our brand new steers, which Matt just brought home yesterday, have already been on a tour of the neighborhood (brought to our attention, once again, by a passer-by knocking on our door). 

Hmmm, our poor neighbors!!!  The phrase "Good fences make good neighbors" would be appropriate here.

Luckily, I am married to a 6'4" wall of a man.  Matt has wrestled 200 pound pigs to the ground and literally dragged them back to their appropriate pasture.  He has picked up 100 pound goats and carried them kicking and "meh"-ing to the barn (before he realized they would return on their own).  And last night he roped and pulled the two 600 pound steers (one twice, since it then escaped from the barn) across the yard.  A team of mean would have trouble putting as much muscle into these animals as Matt has.  My wonderful husband, a literal hog-wrestler and cowboy.  I do love a man with some muscle!  I also love a good animal story, but we have decided enough is enough and are putting some money into preventing any further tales of escapes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Hunt for Raw Goat Milk

We were in Illinois this past weekend so we could have Chesney's 1st birthday party with family and for my graduate level written comprehensive exam at Eastern Illinois University.  Matt and I drove seperately so we only needed to find someone to do chores for Sunday.  (One of the hardest parts of having the farm so far from family and friends is finding someone willing to come twice a day to milk so we can take trips all together.)  On the way up, I stopped at Pheasant Hollow winery.  We love their wine, especially the mix of blackberry and blueberry wine they call Black and Blue.  Since the winery is only about a mile off of I-57 in downstate Illinois, it is a quick, easy stop.  They didn't have anything new to try this time, so I just purchased the wine I had stopped for.  I also asked about shipping, but they are not allowed to ship to Tennessee.  (I was also told their wine is not carried in stores, then found it in Dave's Supermarket, Fairbury, IL, for a dollar cheaper per bottle...)

I had also planned to stop at some farm stores while in Illinois.  We love visiting other people's farms and sharing ideas.  However, Monday I found myself on a wild goose chase to find raw goat milk.  Chesney had drank all we had brought, she doesn't drink enough breastmilk to meet all her fluid needs anymore, and the one time she had cows' milk she was colicky and didn't sleep for two days.  The local supermarket sometimes carries fresh goat milk, but it is pasteurized and I didn't know how well our daughter would tolerate it.  I was told a local dairy in Fairbury, Kilgus Farmstead, has goats and a new farm store, so I headed to their farm.  Their country store was well stocked with various meats and cheeses, eggs, their (pasteurized) unhomonegized cows' milk (which we used to buy before we moved and tasty), and candy.  The cutest candy had to have been fudge in the shape of a cow pie...looked just like one, too!  I also found it interesting no one actually works in the store; prices are listed and an honor system is used, with phone numbers provided to call for questions.  Luckily someone was there when I was there and I found out that, while they can order pasteurized goat milk from another dairy, their goats are meat goats.  Since I was leaving the state the next day, I was on to the next farm.

I picked up my mom and headed to South Pork Ranch, Chatsworth, IL, owned by Keith Parrish and Donna O'Shaunessy.  They recently opened their farm store, The Red Wattle, that I had planned to take my mom to.  I knew they had raw cows' milk and was told they used to have a few dairy goats.  Again, a no-go with the goats' milk.  However, I got to smell the wonderful soaps I keep seeing on Donna's blog and get a little business advice about running a farm store from Keith.  My mom was happy to pick up some organic beef liver and pork tongue.  Keith was also able to suggest a couple more places to check for the milk.  The suggestions will come in handy in the future, but it was time to head to a dress fitting for a friend's upcoming wedding, so we had to make due for about 24 hours with juice, water, and breastmilk. 

Next time we are in Illinois we will take a fresh quart, a frozen quart, and call ahead to the farms Keith suggested.  If the grandparents want to see us any longer than that, I guess someone will have to invest in a goat!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Purple Carrots, Blue Corn, and Shower Loofas

Matt told me the other night that we HAVE to sit down and get our seed ordered.  While I may be more responsible when it comes to paperwork, I am not the responsible one when it comes to time.  I am fashionably late to just about everything.  And let's admit it, it is difficult to think of growing anything when you are bundled up in 3 layers every morning.  But he was right, the seeds need to come, so we sat down with the 2011 Bountiful Gardens catalog. 

Bountiful Gardens sells "Heirloom, Untreated, Open-Pollinated Seeds for Sustainable Growing".  We are going to give them a try because their prices are reasonable and they have a great selection.  We decided to go with heirloom not only because we thought heirloom plants would fit right along with our farm's focus on heritage livestock, but because we think heirloom vegetables are just better.  Most of the varieties of vegetables you find in a supermarket were chosen because they are bigger, have better color, are more uniform in shape, and are more shelf-stable.  But bigger and prettier does not necessarily equal better.  The trade-offs for these pretty vegetables include nutrition value, disease resistance, taste, and the inability to keep your own seeds year after year.  Not to mention the uniqueness of each heirloom vegetable.  If you like yellow corn, you can find it in an heirloom variety (Golden Bantam).  However, you can also find corn in blue (Hopi Blue or Isleta Blue), white (Hickory King White Dent Corn or Country Gentleman/Shoe-peg), and multicolored (Festivity or Painted Mountain).  Carrots can be found in the more familiar orange (Juwarot) but can also be found in red (Saint Valery), white (Belgian White), and purple (Dragon Purple).  Looking for something even more unique?  How about popcorn with no hulls (Japanese Hulless Popcorn) and pumpkin seeds with no shells (Kakai)!  Or suprise your friends by growing your own shower loofas.  That's right, those bath staples we all thought were sea sponges are a gourd (Luffa) that can be eaten as a vegetable under 2 inches or can be grown larger to dry and use as a sponge!!! 

The wonders never cease when you are learning to rely more on yourself and less on Walmart!