Sunday, November 29, 2009

Autumn Accomplishments

November has been so busy, blogging has had to take a back seat to preparing for winter. Besides the dramatic work like harvesting pigs and turkeys there are a zillion smaller fall tasks, a few of which I have photographed:
Hoses must be emptied of water, coiled up and brought in before freezing. I cannot believe how many hundreds of feet of various types of hoses we have all over the farm.
Set up watering systems for animals. This will be our first winter with livestock and the challenge is how to provide water without it freezing and without having to lug so many heavy buckets (the cows drink a lot!). I was so happy to discover this red heated hose at Fleet Farm! It has a thermostat so it only heats when the temp drops below freezing. The hose is 40 feet and just reaches the stock tank in the loafing shed. Watering animals in winter turns out to be rather costly: heated hose ($90), heaters for 2 poultry waterers($30 each), heater for stock tank ($30), not counting the electricity.
Clean pig areas. Now that the pigs are gone, we have taken down the fencing, cleaned up the buckets, feeders and pig toys, and cleaned out the shelter.
The pigs did a great job of rooting up the brushy undergrowth in the prairie/woods, so Sara and Cadence took advantage of that headstart by cutting down the dense sumac, which Rog then burned. We envision a future hazelnut orchard in this spot.
Cadence removed the corn kernels from her dried heritage corn by hand(is there a special verb for this action?). Next, she will grind the corn into meal.
Make wreath. There are two spruces out in the west pasture--one has a beautiful pyramidal shape and the other must have once been cut off for use as an indoor Christmas tree, leaving just the bottom few branches. The poor thing is an unsightly mess, but still has some healthy branches, so rather than cut it down I have been using it for parts for our annual holiday wreath, which I finally got assembled.
Move the lawn chairs, picnic table, grill, hammock, horseshoe game, hummingbird and oriole feeders, bicycles, garden art, birdbath, flower pots, etc. into storage away form the snow. (These springy metal patio chairs were a recent Salvation Army find - I love how the faded paint looks like verdigris.)
Stay tuned for still more winter prep in a future post...

The Granary Heats Up

The weather was unseasonably warm this weekend - 50 degrees and it's almost December! - so Rog decided it was a good opportunity to get the little woodstove installed in the granary.

The stove is a pretty little antique parlor stove (or will be pretty when painted and re-chromed) Cadence found on Craigslist. The granary is so small and essentially one room, so the parlor stove should be adequate to make it comfortable. This photo was taken looking up from inside the building as Rog lined the chimney opening in the roof.
Both of us were extra cautious about Rog working on the roof (since my ladder accident a couple years ago that resulted in broken wrist and ankle). For extra security, he tied a support rope from the other side of the building and he nailed boards across the shingles to create treads. I spotted him whenever he was up there.
The chimney must extend two feet beyond the peak of the roof. Our stove is in the southwest corner of the building, which meant a very tall chimney.
Once the chimney was perpendicular, two guy wires were attached from a girdle around the chimney to the roof. They are called "guy wires", but actually they are metal tubes.
Rog connected the chimney to the stove just as it was getting dark. Then we built a small fire in the stove to see if it worked. What do you know? It worked! It is going to be a cozy little building.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful for our HomeGrown Feast

Today was a quiet family holiday, but we all concur, maybe the best Thanksgiving meal we have ever eaten. The star of the feast was the bird, one of Cadence's 9 turkeys she raised from day-old chicks. We sold all the turkeys except two, one for our Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. This was a smaller hen, about 20 lbs.

Next year we will start raising the turkeys a bit later-- by harvest time, the toms were huge - two of the toms weighed 50 pounds (about 40 lbs. dressed.) You need a pretty large oven for such a big turkey!

Cadence took charge of roasting the turkey.
She brined the turkey for a day in a saltwater concoction that contained carrots, onion, celery, and herbs, peppers and fennel from our garden.
This morning while Cadence prepared the turkey, I made my family's traditional sausage stuffing, using pork sausage from Sara's pigs and sage, thyme and marjoram from our garden. Rog made his famous sourdough bread.
The roasting turkey smelled scrumptious and emerged perfectly browned. (It also tasted divine.)

Rog carved the turkey. Sara read a poem. We gave many thanks - especially for this feast, our animals, our bountiful little farm, and each other.

Then we toasted ourselves for our hard work and dived into our delectable farm-grown feast:
Turkey raised by Cadence
Stuffing with Sara's pork and herbs from our garden
Potatoes from our garden
Rog's sourdough bread
Wild cranberries from our woods
Salad with dressing containing wild elderberries we gathered
Pie made from our garden pumpkins, eggs from our hens, and maple syrup from our trees


I have one more thank you: Thank you to our friends, neighbors, customers and everyone who has supported us in this farming endeavor. It is wonderful to feel so much encouragement and enthusiasm, even from friends we have never even met!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Art of Sheep Herding

My friend Larry just sent me this video, with the comment that this is what Scottish Highlander shepherds do when they get bored. Amazing. Not sure who is more talented here, the shepherds or the dogs.T

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Another Crazy Idea?

You just never know what you will find on Craigslist. Yesterday Cadence found a listing for two young water buffalo heifers for sale.

Yes, water buffalo. And she almost has me convinced that a couple of water buffalo would be wonderful livestock for our tiny Minnesota farm. Water buffalo are gentle, hardy and give very rich milk, ideal for making mozarella cheese [In Italy, mozarella cheese traditionally is made made from buffalo milk], which would fit well in our pizza farm venture - but more about that in a future post. These water buffalo were from a petting zoo and the owner said they were extremely tame and friendly. So today, Cadence and I drove three hours to see them. By the third hour of driving we were wondering why we were spending our entire day on what was probably a wild goose chase...
We were expecting a midwest farm-sort-of-petting-zoo - perhaps a pumpkin patch where kids could touch baby goats and sheep. We were taken aback to drive into the farm yard and see a camel. When we met the owner, Kevin, and told him we didn't expect to find a camel he asked if we had seen the giraffe!
He took us into a very high barn that opened out into a large yard where a giraffe was out enjoying the unseasonably mild November day.
When he saw us, the giraffe came over to the the fence and leaned down for a treat. How magical to feed a giraffe a cookie!

I wondered whether the giraffe was full-grown or would get even taller (I estimate he was about 15 feet). The farmer said he expects -and hopes-he grows another foot or more, or he would have saved a lot of expense by not having to build the building so high.
We stopped to meet the camels. There were three, but this one was the friendliest. His nose was velvety soft and he seemed to crave being petted. In the summer Kevin takes the camels to county fairs and gives camel rides. This time of year the camels appear in some nativity pageants.
I asked Kevin how he got started in this business. He said he had a pet raccoon as a kid, then a second raccoon, and it grew into this. He obviously loves animals and they all seem to be extremely well-cared-for, calm and gentle.

He had many other unusual animals, including capybaras, kookooburras, an African eagle owl, Jacob sheep, llamas, an ostrich, the most darling baby bison, and this zedonk (a cross between a zebra and donkey.)
We were totally smitten with the sweet water buffalo heifers and now will have to contemplate whether this crazy idea is the right move for us.

Foggy Friday Morn

The past few mornings have been very foggy and the days have been freakishly balmy for late November --getting up to mid 50's. No complaining here about that- Makes it much more appealing to get up early when it is barely light out and tackle the chores.
Geese browsing by the tire swing.
The big rock in the fog.
It didn't really seem cold enough for frost, but most of the plants in the prairie were glazed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Dreaded Day

The thick, gray fog matched our heavy hearts as Cadence and I drove the turkeys to the processor at dawn this morning. Hilltop Poultry is at the crest of this long, steep hill. Everybody is very friendly there, but after delivering our turkeys and the last few roosters today, we will be glad to not have to return for almost a year.
The big challenge was figuring out how to transport these big birds (the toms are about 40 pounds.) We ended up lining the walls of our little 4 x 8 trailer with scrap plywood, stretching plastic garden fencing across the top (covered by a tarp held down by bungees) and closing up the back end by screwing on a wood pallet. It was a Beverly-hillbilly-ish construction, but it did the job. Cadence put in some straw bedding and then she and Rog put the turkeys in the trailer last night.

Turkeys are very sweet, gentle, ungainly birds when they are walking around, but when you try to lift them they panic - they are amazingly strong and a whop in the face with a wing is very painful (speaking from experience!) You could easily wind up with a broken nose, but nobody did.

We had to wait a bit before we could unload the turkeys- here they are in the trailer. They were very calm, just wanting their breakfast, I am sure. It is probably not very professional for a farmer, but we cried a bit.

None if us ever expected to grow so fond of the turkeys. They turned out to be such easy-going, trusting creatures. They are very beautiful in a kind of homely way--and awesome when the toms turn all blue in the face and their wattles and snoods flush bright red. They followed us everywhere. They were curious and funny, but much smarter than everyone says, just easily baffled. When we arrived back home the farmyard looked so empty and quiet.

We are now officially done with all our harvesting of animals and garden veggies--other than gathering a few eggs, we won't have to harvest anything else until the sap starts running in the maple trees next spring. Whew! This has been truly the hardest aspect of farming.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How're we gonna keep 'em "Down" on the farm?

Both of our dogs have been hanging out by the back door, longing to be out. It is deer-hunting season and yesterday a big doe took refuge in our little woods, hiding out by the big rock. Cocoa was beside herself because she could see the deer through the windows and we wouldn't let her out for risk of chasing the deer and/or being mistaken for a deer by a hunter.

This year I found two blaze-orange bandanas for the dogs so they wouldn't have to wear those humiliating orange t-shirts. Cocoa's bandana is getting pretty muddy; Nutmeg managed to lose hers the first day.
Nutmeg is especially morose because she is being forced to rest for a couple weeks. She has had a recurring limp all fall. She is stiff in the morning, heads out on her morning rounds, and returns limping. I was pretty sure it must be arthritis (been there) but over the weekend she was in significant pain and unable to put any weight on her back right leg at all. I took her to the vet this morning.

Sure enough, the vet diagnosed arthritis. Nutmeg is her own worst enemy--she just doesn't know how to pace herself- she thinks she is a young pup or something. The vet said we should try to make her rest and recover for a couple weeks (right!) and give her pain meds as needed (which I worry will just make her feel better enough to run harder) and try giving her glucosamine. The vet pointed out how Nutmeg's spine is out of alignment and her leg muscles are unevenly developed because she has been compensating, probably favoring that leg for a long time. Apparently there is a dog physical therapist nearby who has an underwater treadmill to help dogs with such problems! I'll have see how that fits into our budget. Maybe I can persuade my trigger point therapist (he is a dog lover) to teach me how to work on dear old Nut.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hen Dilemma

When I head out in the morning to do the chores, my first stop is the chicken coop. The moment I open the door one of my favorite hens, Red Zinger, hops out, bustling off to her favorite laying spot. She has selected the cows' hay server in the loafing shed as the premier laying spot.
Apparently she hasn't figured out that it is not the most reliable site for laying an egg. This metal hay cage is designed to prevent the cows from spilling so much hay on the floor and wasting it. They pull mouthfuls of hay out as they munch and the nesting material is soon devoured from the bottom up. Today I watched for quite a while as Red tried to get settled in and the oblivious cows kept disrupting her nest. Red became all flustered as the hay was pulled out from under her, but she persisted in trying to arrange a new spot.

She must have finally given up or else the cows consumed all of the hay before she accomplished her task. Many mornings I find an egg on the floor beneath the feeder, where it has fallen through the bars and landed safely on the straw bedding, but I didn't find one today.

The Pig Tale

Several people have written wondering how the pig harvest went. We slaughtered our two pigs two weeks ago, and all went according to plan, but I didn't take photos (actually, I tried to stay out of the way) and Sara asked me to wait to write about until we got the pork back from the processor. It took a couple weeks while some of the meat was smoked and cured.

Sara decided to slaughter the pigs on the farm so they wouldn't have to be transported frightened to the processor. Our farmer neighbor, Mark, did the hardest part - shooting the pigs and hanging them from his skidloader, then placed them in the back of the pickup. Sara and Cadence wrapped them up and drove them immediately to the the processor for butchering. The entire slaughter only took about half an hour. Even though these pigs were raised specifically for this purpose, it was an intense and emotional day--I was proud of Sara for maintaining her cool and handling everything so calmly and thoughtfully.

This Wednesday, Sara and Cadence drove back to Dover and picked up the finished meat, all neatly frozen and wrapped. The two pigs provided 330 lbs. of pork chops, bacon, roasts, ham, steaks, ribs, and sausage. Sara had orders for three quarters and we gave meat to the dairy farmers in appreciation for providing us with milk for our pigs and to Mark for helping with the slaughter, so we will end up with about half of that amount for ourselves. That's a lot of bacon!

Last night Sara prepared a fabulous feast of braised pork shoulder, served with walnut-beer bread, spinach and dried cherry salad, and mashed potatoes for our dear friends who were also our first pork customers. We said a little thank you for the pigs. The meal was exquisite.

We have never been so close to our food before moving to the farm. We had grown our own vegetables and eaten fish we caught, but that is not anything like eating chickens you raised from day-old chicks or pork you have raised from young piglets, knowing them as individuals, feeding them, scratching their heads, laughing at their antics and making sure they have a comfortable, happy life. I know could readily be a vegetarian farmer, but then there would be no reason to raise these animals. And since these pigs were destined for the table, they couldn't have dreamed of a more pleasurable life.

Sara, ever philosophical and poetic, remarked as we ate out first pork meal, "It is a cycle - Right now we are consuming everything we fed our pigs this summer--the milk from our neighbors' cows, bushels of tomatoes and squash from our garden, those acorns we raked up from Hal's yard, that powdery pig chow we got from the feedmill, the bones from our organic chicken stock, broken eggs, wild raspberry plants and roots they dug up from the woods, insects they caught, and all of our lovely kitchen scraps." Yes, those pigs feasted like gourmands, and now they are nourishing us very well.

Here is the braised pork recipe Sara used for our dinner. She added beer and wine to the braising liquid:
Braised Pork Shoulder with Chimichurri
Recipe by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
5 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 5 equal pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 garlic cloves
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
3 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 cups chicken stock

Chimichurri sauce (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 275°. In a large skillet, melt the butter in the oil. Season the pork with salt and pepper and brown over high heat, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to an enameled cast-iron casserole and add the garlic, onions, thyme, bay leaf, stock and 2 cups of water; bring to a boil. Cover with foil and bake for 2 1/2 hours, until the pork is falling-apart tender. Transfer to a dish; keep warm. Strain the liquid, return to the casserole and reduce by half over moderately high heat. Season with salt and pepper, add to the pork and serve with chimichurri.

Chimichurri sauce: In a mortar, mash 1 chopped garlic clove with 1 seeded jalapeƱo. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt. Work in 1 bunch each of stemmed curly and flat-leaf parsley and 1/4 cup of chopped oregano. Stir in 3/4 cup of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar and season with 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Future Wildflower Glade

This past weekend I worked on transforming the woodland area around the big rock from overgrown buckthorn thicket to magical wildflower garden. I ordered a shady woodland seed mixture from Prairie Moon, a wonderful native plant nursery in nearby Wiscoy Valley. The mixture contains about 2 dozen different forbs , including jack-in-the-pulpit, wild geranium, and Virginia Bluebells (my very favorite) and half a dozen different grasses. I supplemented the mix with a few other favorites: nodding wild onion, bloodroot, and wild leeks (wild leeks, also called ramps, can be sold for a very good price at the Farmers Market!)
My seed order was enough to cover 500 square feet. I had already removed buckthorn, but I didn't have time to ideally prepare the area by killing all existing vegetation and tilling. Since I don't own a rototiller, my solution was to hand cultivate seven swaths in long, irregular islands, curving around the rock at the best vantage points. This seemed like a better strategy than broadcasting seeds over the entire area because I could more thoroughly remove competing plants, choose what seemed to be the best growing sites, create walking paths between the islands so I don't walk on the young wildflowers, and mark each island so I can more easily identify the emerging sprouts. In the spring I will add some other favorites that aren't available from seed: trillium, Dutchman's breeches, and trout lily.

Most of these plants will probably take a couple years to bloom, so I have to have patience. If they succeed, I dream that the wildflower drifts will gradually expand and fill the entire woodland with a carpet of spring wildflowers. How magical that will be!

A Better Mousetrap

I have four mousetraps set up in the barn, but none have ever caught a mouse.

We store organic dried corn for the poultry and for cow treats in several large garbage cans on the north end of the barn. Two days ago when I went to scoop corn for the geese there was a cute little mouse who had fallen into a nearly empty corn can. I went about finishing chores and forgot he was in there.

Yesterday morning there were two mice in the bottom of the can! Now what? If we still had all the roosters I would have tipped them out and the roosters would have made short work of them, but we only have a few roosters now and I don't want the mice to escape and establish new well-nourished mouse families. I left the mice there to ponder what to do and forgot again.

So today when I went to feed the geese there were THREE mice in there! What am I going to do with them? (certainly NOT put then in a cage for pets, as one daughter suggested!)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Intrepid Eggs

Check out the photos of eggs from Squash Blossom Farm, which have now arrived safely in Maryland via priority mail. Katiegirl, a fellow small-scale farmer and blogger, is incubating them in her new incubator! I sure hope they hatch - and can't wait to see photos of the chicks in 21 days.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Taming the Wild Kitten

Last Sunday while we were installing windows in the barn, Nutmeg was barking frantically. When we investigated, we found she had chased something into a big brush pile in the woods. It turned out to be a little feral kitten--a feisty ball of sharp claws and hissy-fit. Cadence pulled it out of the brushpile wearing protective leather gloves and placed it in a big dog crate with a litter box, water and food. The kitten waswas nothing but fur and bones -SO skinny- and we were concerned that Nutmeg might have hurt her. It wasn't long before she began to eat, which we took for a good sign, although she snarled and hid in the corner of the crate whenever we came near.

Most of our cats have been adopted strays, but all have been pretty much civilized when we got them. I was skeptical whether we would be able to tame this wild thing, but I thought she might decide to stick around and be a barn cat, at least, if we supplemented her mousing.
We put the crate in my office, where it is quiet and can be closed off from the other animals, yet we can be around her a lot. Within two days she didn't try to bite us when we picked her up. By yesterday, she was sitting in my lap purring! She is still extremely skittish, but likes being held, or at least puts up with it. She has a stuffy nose so yesteday I took her to the vet for checkup before letting our animals come in contact with her. The vet was surprised to see she has an adult canine tooth--she is older than she looks, probably 6 monhts, not 3 months. She had a bit of a fever so now she is on antibiotics. When she gets healthy again we will test her for feline leukemia and get her immunized.

So, now that we have spent $60 on her, I guess we have a third cat. No name yet--any suggestions??

Monday Morning Frost

Where did this week go? It's already Friday, and I haven't posted yet this week! Here are some shots I took Monday morning. A little frost makes even garden litter look pretty.