Friday, August 27, 2010

The Turkeys See the Light

The irrepressibly curious turkeys inspected the cool, retro lamp I got at  the Salvation Army thrift store yesterday for $2.50.  It seemed to meet with their approval.

I have been buying this 1970's style of  lamp whenever I come across one  inexpensively since we  moved to the farm. I have acquired many similar lamps in the typical 70's  green and orange colors, but this is the first specimen with blue glass I have found.
No, our house isn't decorated with these retro lamps. I have been disassembling them for use as fence post  finials. Rog mounted them on the fence posts along our driveway and I inserted solar-powered landscape lights. They glow like glass pumpkins and  squashes at night, guiding guests in  and casting groovy light patterns on the driveway. We also stacked a couple on either side of our patio gate for a more colorful entrance.  Silly, but I get a kick out of them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

To Milk or Not to Milk?

Before Cadence left for school in Mexico, realizing that I would be the only milker, we cut back our milking schedule from twice-a-day to once-a-day.  LaFonda adapted easily. Her production quickly dropped from 3 gallons a day to 2 1/2, and has continued to decline, settling at about 1 1/2 gallons each morning.  That is fine with me because it is a challenge to keep up with so much milk.

I really do enjoy the hour I spend milking each day, hanging out with LaFonda, singing and talking to her.  She is a good-humored cow and often cranes her head way around to look at me, wondering what is taking me so long, perhaps. Sometimes she gives my arm a sandpapery lick with her gigantic tongue, and once she chomped onto an unruly lock of hair...and gently yanked it out!

But then I also have to deal with the milk, even more-time-consuming than the milking. With one week's milk I can make 3 or 4 large wheels of cheese,  a gallon of yogurt, a pound of butter, and still have plenty for us and the dogs to drink.  Depending on the kind of cheese, making it is often an all-day project.  Today I am making gouda, which I started at 11 a.m. and just got it into the press now, after 5 p.m.  In 20 minutes I take it out of the mold, flip it over and re-wrap it, and put it back in the press with heavier weights. This gets repeated several times yet tonight.

I am also still battling the problem of aching hands from milking. My Udderly EZ milker has only partially solved the problem - it is not really up to for such constant, heavy-duty duty. After a session of helpful hand-massage work from the fellow who does $1/minute massage at the street fair, I went back to hand-milking. And I investigated purchasing a bucket milker.

After going back and forth about it for weeks, I decided to let LaFonda go dry now, rather than waiting until winter.  This way, I will have significantly more time this fall to deal with harvest, paint, and focus on my part-time job. Plus, I  will be able to visit my family up north for a long weekend without abandoning Rog to the milking.  I'll miss the fresh milk and yogurt and occasional ice cream --but we have a refrigerator full of cheese aging that should last us all year.

Drying a cow off is a worrisome proposition -- there is a risk of mastitis, plus there is just no avoiding her being uncomfortable.  My neighbors with 150 holsteins  advised me to restrict food and water for a couple of days and close her in a stall.  I guess I can imagine that being the most sure-fire strategy for such huge cattle that are giving up to 14 gallons of milk a day, but restricting water seems pretty harsh in this hot weather.  One resource suggested tapering off,  milking once a day, then every other day, then stopping.  One said feed her no pasture or grain or high-quality hay (what else is there?) Another book advises to just stop milking suddenly - nature has designed a cow's body to know what to do if she loses a calf, and by intermittent milking you are confusing her system.

I decided to just stop. Since she is only giving a gallon and a half a day, it seemed she should dry off pretty easily. Yesterday was the first day I didn't milk  her --she came running to be milked when she saw me and waited for me patiently at the gate, looking at me like, "Aren't you forgetting something?"   But eventually she went back to grazing with Lariat.

Today her udder was immensely full, but it wasn't feverish and she wasn't complaining.   Not that I would be able to tell. When Lariat moos, it is a deep, grouchy bellow, but when LaFonda moos, it is as musical and gentle as a low note on the harmonica.

Hay, Good Looking!

If Monet were painting haystacks in modern times, this is what they would look like.
These are big round bales  from my dairy farmer neighbor's  fields.  I love the patterns and shadows they make on the land.
It has been a great year for growing hay.  This is my neighbor's third hay crop this summer.
Across the road he has his fourth crop coming up!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Foggy August Morn

We awoke to dense fog this morning; the dew was so heavy it was as if it had just rained.
Plants were dripping.
Scarecrow danced happily in the garden  in a fog.
Rog got an early start on weeding and digging potatoes, getting as much  accomplished as possible before the fog burned off and it turned into a sultry, sticky, sunny day.
When I went in for my  morning coffee after miking the cow, I noticed that even the kitchen window screens had droplets condensed from the thick fog.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How to Extend Your Guests' Visit

The two little morning glory seeds planted by the patio fence have  grown into an exuberant wall of vines (I can't wait  until they focus on blooming!)  Not content to just sprawl all over the fence, they have begun to twine around the patio furniture.
I seat my favorite guests in these chairs and the morning glories make sure they stay a while!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Turkey Dog

We phoned Cadence last night (she is in Mexico for school) and she mentioned that it is about time for a turkey post. Turkeys are her favorite farm critters and I think she misses them. This one's for you, Cadence.

The  toms are begining to develop their beautiful blue and red complexions. The colors intensify when they are excited, scared, or showing off.

The turkeys torment the dogs.  The toms, especially, gang up on Cocoa and Nutmeg, sometimes chasing the poor dogs across the yard. Nutmeg's strategy is to first try to ignore them; she stands her ground but looks the other way.
Every now and then she reflexively  curls her lip back. I don't think she can help it, but she is not growling.  Neither dog has ever acted  aggressively toward the birds, but twice I have seen both dogs suddenly and gently grasp onto a turkey's neck for an instant, as if to restrain him. (Don't worry, no blood was drawn nor feathers lost.)

Finally she implores me to please stop taking photos and do something.

The  turkeys are so gentle and curious around people, I can easily shoo them away and distract them with a bit of corn or a garden tomato. The most dangerous they have ever been to humans is to untie a person's shoe or peck at someone's brightly-painted toenail polish.
So, it was surprising when the AI (artificial insemination ) technician came to breed LaFonda a couple weeks ago. He  is a 6'5" muscular farmer who confidently handles huge, holsteins and rowdy, horned cows, but he was pretty scared of our turkeys. Apparently at another farm a flock of the same breed of bronze-breasted turkeys pursued him.  Kind of a funny image...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Guileless Guineas

This is our first year raising  guinea fowl, and I am becoming quite fond of them.  They are both goofy looking and  beautiful.  They make a wide range of jungle-like sounds.  They can be noisy, but they only really seem to create a an annoying racket when they first wake up, just before sunrise, and when they gather to roost, just after sunset.
For their own safety, I have been encouraging them to roost inside the  loafing shed at night. We started with 15 chicks and are down to 10 guineas - one chick didn't make it past its first day, and four guineas have fallen victims to the great-horned owl.  It is impossible to really "herd" them anywhere so they go pretty much wherever they want.

Last night after dark I took the garbage out and heard a hackle-raising noise - the sound of fingernails scraping down a blackboard times 50.  The guineas had decided to  roost  on the sloping metal barn roof, and were slipping down, their toenails screeching as they slid. I didn't think this was a very wise place to roost, noisy and in full view of the owl, (plus I didn't like the idea of all those bird droppings on the barn if they decided to make it their regular roost) so I decided to discourage them by spraying them with the hose. My plan worked, causing them to  slide and tumble off the roof --almost landing on top of me!  However, they flew back up. I don't know if they ever got a grip and stayed up there all night or if they found a more secure roost, but this morning we still had ten birds.
We got these birds for two reasons: one of our market customers indicated she would like to purchase some for eating, and they are famous for insect control, especially ticks. They sweep across the lawn in a line, devouring every bug in their swath.  Unlike the geese, chickens and ducks, they don't harm the flowers and bushes. We plan to keep a few  of the guineas over the winter to tackle tick control next spring, and the rest will become exotic gourmet dinners this fall.  

5:55 a.m.

Days are getting noticeably shorter. This morning I drove Rog to catch a 6 a.m. airport shuttle and the sun was just rising.  It's nice to be up for the sunrises again, but kind of wistful to see those wonderful, long days of summer shrinking at both ends.

Friday, August 13, 2010

24-Hour Sky Show

Our house  perched on a  small hill and we have a great view of the sky to the east.  It has been hot and sultry lately--good tornado weather, and sure enough, today was rife with tornado warnings and sightings nearby.  None touched  down close by, but the sky has been putting on a dramatic show. All these photos are taken from approximately the same spot.

Last night, an ominous ceiling of black cloud crept over us from the west and turned a bright evening sinisterly dark.  After a temper-tantrum storm, the clouds parted enough that we got to see glimpses of a few faint meteors - the Perseid meteor shower.  (No photos of that)

Around 3 a.m., we had a house-shaking storm.  At first, lightning pulsated continuously like a strobe light, then big bolts started striking and I scurried around the house closing windows and  unplugging  computers. Rog turned on the radio and heard that a tornado had just been sighted by Pine Island, about  8 miles away, but then the power went out, so no more warnings to worry about.

This morning, the power was still out, and the air was heavy and wet.  We called the  rural electric co-op and  found out there had been a lot of damage to the power lines - many people were without power they couldn't predict  how soon it would be fixed. This put a crimp in my market baking plans, but fortunately Rog's bread  is baked in the wood-fired oven.
Our power came back on around noon, and I got to work baking. The weather was so fickle--there would be a fierce wind, then a deluge of rain, then suddenly brilliant blue sky and sunshine. Vivid rainbows stretched low across the horizon several times. The entire afternoon we were under severe storm, flash flood and tornado warnings - but we escaped the serious weather.
The rainbow above  the garden.
Tonight the weather has finally settled a bit.  We were treated to another spectacular sky before sunset.  Tomorrow is expected to be a bit less humid and mostly sunny - should be a lovely day for the Farmers Market.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Granary Civility

It has been too stiflingly hot for anyone to sleep in the granary lately, especially  since the granary suffers from the  greenhouse effect, with no screens on the door and no operable windows. Until now!
On his way home from a work meeting in the cities, Rog stopped at the ReUse Center and found a triple window perfect for the front of the granary.  Usually Rog does not like casement windows on old buildings like this, but this window has scale and character that fits right in with our other outbuildings.
I also made a great find on Craigslist for the granary--a set of louvered wooden shutters/doors that just fit over the glass doors.  I love how they filter the light, and the louvers can be closed for privacy or to  shut out the hot afternoon sun.

This space is becoming too sweet to go unused now that Cadence has left--it just might have to become a painting studio this fall!

Chickens Chillin'

Last week we harvested the 48 Freedom Ranger Label Rouge chickens.  We picked them up from the processor on Friday, all but 2 frozen, and now they are in our freezer.  They are sizable! Half of them, the hens, are between 3.5  and 5 pounds. The rest are between 5 and 6, with a few even topping 6 pounds

On Saturday night a few friends joined us to celebrate Cadence's last night before leaving for Mexico. We grilled the two fresh chickens, first tucking garlic cloves and thyme beneath the skin.

We were eager to compare these highly-acclaimed chickens with the heritage heavy-body broilers we raised last year.  The verdict is: awesome!   These chickens were meatier than most of last year's chickens (they grew much more slowly --after a full summer they only reached about 3.5 lbs.)  Last year's chickens ranged far and wide, had very dark meat and and were very lean and muscular  -- as one friend described it it, they were Lance Armstrong chickens.  The Freedom Rangers had  more  couch potatos personalities and really enjoyed eating above all else. They did range freely, but only went as far as the close pastures, and  sometimes you had to make them go out and play. They had the authentic farm-chicken taste but the meat was a bit more tender than last year's birds. They they grilled up picture-perfect (sorry, no photo!).

Our celebration dinner featured lots of yummy farm fare: squash blossoms stuffed with cream cheese and homemade pesto or roasted garden beets, then dipped in a light beer batter and deep-fried; tomato-basil salad with fresh, home-made mozzarella; strawberry ice cream  (mozzarella and  ice cream both courtesy of LaFonda and Cadence.)  Delectable potato salad, key lime pie and wine brought by our guests rounded out a wonderful feast.

Nothing beats delicious; lovingly home-made and home-grown food, with dear friends, on a warm summer, evening under the stars.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Adios, Again

Very early this morning, Rog drove Cadence up to the airport to catch her 7 a.m. flight to Mexico. She is off on another adventure, this time to spend a  year at a music school studying mariachi.

Responsible girl that she is, she spent the past few weeks wrapping up  a lot of farm projects.  Most  importantly, she dealt with the harvest of the steers and selling the quarters of beef.  She got us all caught up on using our milk, making cheeses and  butter and yogurt and ice cream.  She accomplished lots of garden harvesting and processing, including making a couple of big batches of pesto for freezing, and cleaning the lovely crop of garlic that has been curing in  the granary.

I gave her a big, moist-eyed hug this morning and off she went. (Somebody had to stay home and milk the cow...)  Rog and I are now empty-nesters again-- if you don't count 4-legged and feathered family members.  Cadence, we are going to miss you SO much, not to mention your fabulous cooking and good-natured chore-doing.  Have fun, learn lots, be safe and call home often!!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wordless Wednesday ; Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

A Cow-Milking Song

Eric, the AI technician, just left and hopefully, LaFonda is bred!   I was worried that we had missed our opportunity because we expected her to go into heat last Saturday, but last night it was obvious. She was not her usual placid self; she was jumping on Lariat and mooing mournfully toward  the neighbor's dairy farm.

Eric is a really tall, strong guy, but he was a bit worried about LaFonda's horns. Then she did attempt to kick him, so he asked if we had a gate or fence to hold her still against the stall.  Once again, the pink iron bunk-bed frame from the garage sale came in very handy!  I braced the fence and Eric was done in about a minute.  LaFonda appeared to be in peak heat, so odds are good she will have a calf next spring.

We are now milking LaFonda just once a day, at 7 a.m.   It's great that it is the coolest part of the day, because the weather has been steamy lately.  Cadence and I have been alternating days milking, but when she leaves for school next week it will be totally up to me.  I hope I am up to the task.

I am a very slow milker, even using the Udderly EZ milker, and I pass the time by singing songs to LaFonda.  She seems to especially enjoy music from Fiddler on the Roof and folk songs like  "I'm Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger."    Our signature milking song is sung to the tune of "Alberta, Let Your Hair Hang Down," with lyrics I re-wrote just for LaFonda and which I will share:

LaFonda, Let Your Milk Come Down

LaFonda, Let your milk flow down.
LaFonda, Let your milk flow down
Be careful of those horns
and I'll give you some corn, 
LaFonda, Let your milk flow down

LaFonda, Let your milk flow down
LaFonda, Let your milk flow down
Watch where you swish that tail
Please don't step in the pail
LaFonda, Let your milk flow down

LaFonda, Let your milk flow down
LaFonda, Let your milk flow down
Step on my foot with that hoof
And I'll go through the roof
LaFonda, Let your milk flow down

LaFonda, You're my Dairy Queen
LaFonda, You're my Dairy Queen
Milk, butter cheese, ice cream
You're every milkmaid's dream
LaFonda, You're my Dairy Queen