Friday, November 30, 2012


It is official. Mattie, the Jersey cow, is dry for the winter.

I milked her for the last time yesterday evening, and reveled in knowing that I wouldn't have to do it in the mornings anymore. Not until March...

November was an interesting month with the dairy cow. She was ready to be done. Almost hitting 2 years of steady milking, I can't say that I blame her when it came to wanting to be done, but I needed to stretch her until the end of the month! So stretch her I did. She continued to drop as the weeks wore away, but we both gave it our all to see that there was milk every single day. She went from 2 gallons a day, to 1.5 gallons, to 1 gallon, to 3/4's of a gallon, to 1/2 a gallon, and then finally sputtered to 6 cups a day. It was hard having to turn folks away who have been depending on Mattie each week. It was hard having to give folks jars that weren't all the way full. But yesterday was our last gasp and the ol' girl has finally earned her three month's holiday. And I'm glad for both of us.

Today I cleaned out the milking parlor for the last time until spring. The floor was swept and then mopped, the goats' milk stand was given a final scrub, the vacuum pump was dusted and the power cord was coiled neatly. The milking machine was wrapped carefully and placed on top of an empty feed bin, the feed bucket was overturned. It is clean and quiet in there. We are done Mattie; we've finished for the year.

Mattie's due date is February 21st, but who knows when that calf will actually drop. If it's a heifer, then she'll stay as a future replacement milker. If it's a bull, then I may keep him as a working ox. Either way, I am excited for the first calf here at GSF and am happy knowing that I have a plan for the little tyke. 

Barn chores used to take me 3 hours to do, what with milking the goats and the cow, and then feeding/watering everyone. This morning it took me 30 minutes to take care of all 70 animals. It was nice.

But having dry animals does mean that I'm back to my annual dairy fast. I haven't had any milk since October, and won't have any milk until mid-March. Ouch. But it's the price I have to pay to have the winter off from milking animals in freezing temps and fighting with frozen vacuum lines. Pick your poison, I guess.

Well Mattie dear, you've done well. Now you get to laze around the barn and do absolutely nothing more strenuous than eating hay. What a rough life you've got, girl.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

How To Have a Great Day

First, catch a pig in a record winning time of 30 seconds. Make sure that it's raining heavily outside before you do this though, and then be in an area in which the mud comes up to your ankles thanks to the recent flooding you just had.

Secondly, build yourself an automatic fodder growing system out of PVC pipe, and then right when you finish you must find that you put the most important piece on backwards and you can't get it unstuck so as to fix it.

Third, come inside the house and have the whole family tell you that you look like something that the cat dragged in. By this time, your hair will be plastered to your head from the rain, you should have mud on your face, pants, and sweater, as well as having mud smeared liberally on your hands. 

Now, clean your face and hands up, but don't bother to change your pants since you'll just be back outside in an hour anyway to do more barn chores. Go upstairs and pull out your bowed psaltery, and play that little instrument like you'll never get to play it again. Play it so that the glossy wood vibrates in your hand, and the bow takes on a life of its own. Play it like you mean it. 

And know that in your dirty, tired state, that life is beautiful.

This is a cross-post from my Facebook page that I decided to share on here as well. :)

Thirty Seconds Flat

Sausage escaped again today.

I caught him in 30 seconds flat. 

I fixed the problem, so there will hopefully be no more episodes of this.

I was rather pleased with myself afterwards. 

I'm figuring this pig out.

Mystery Crop Revealed

Y'all did an excellent job at trying to guess the latest crop being grown here at GSF! You guys got really close at guessing the answer, but no one *quite* got it. So I'm here to spill the beans and give you a fill-in.

Those little green and purple seedling you saw were mustard sprouts. I let them grow to day #10 of germination and then lopped them off this morning.

The result is what is called Micro Greens. A wildly popular (and wildly expensive!) crop that upscale restaurant chefs are raving over and trying to buy whenever possible.

I had first read about micro greens in my Spring 2012 catalog from Johnny's Seeds. I was intrigued by the idea of the tiny plants, but didn't give it a whole lot of thought at the time. I was preoccupied with getting ready for this year's broilers, turkeys, cows, and goat kids. Cool idea, but it wasn't my time to be sprouting little seedlings. I did however try to stay updated on how the micro green fad was playing out in the food world. To my surprise, the little greens didn't fade away as the seasons passed; instead the interest has grown. Hmmm.

Fast forward to this October/November. My dairy goats are dry and won't start milking until March/April. The cow will be dried up by Sunday. The goats and cow provided the majority of my income and I was facing a 3 or 4 month period with very little cash flow. My mind jumped back to the idea of the micro greens. Why not try it now?

After hours upon hours of more research, I bought a test package of seeds that would make a colorful, spicy blend. I have to admit that they taste as good as they look... I have a hit list of some local restaurants that I would like to start selling my micro greens to, and I'm planning on contacting them soon and seeing what deal we can strike. :) 

I'm also taking this idea and giving it a slightly different twist. I have a batch of wheat sprouts ("fodder" as I usually call it here on the blog) that are almost ready to be eaten, and when that point comes I'm going to contact a local, upscale pet store (it ain't your ordinary shop...) and see about taking them some free samples. If they like the sprouts, then I will see about becoming a regular supplier for them. 

And who knows, maybe I'll see about getting a booth at one of my local farmer's markets and see about selling some micro greens there next year...

So there you have it. Yet another one of my wild ideas. But somehow my ideas manage to work one way or another, so it'll be interesting to see how this one pans out. :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Full Day

I woke up at 7:26 this morning so as to turn my alarm off, which would start beeping at 7:30. I was already sleeping in a bit more than usual, but today I wanted to sleep in juuuuuust a wee bit more. I slept until 7:33 before bolting upright as my sub-conscience remembered that I had a doctor appointment at 9:30, and I needed 2.5 hours just to get barn chores finished and make myself presentable. Whoops. So all ideas of sleeping in were thrown out the window as I started scurrying through the beginnings of my Wednesday. Surprisingly enough, I managed to make it out the door just in the nick of time. And yes, I even managed to brush my teeth. I'm good.

Almost three months ago, I lost pretty much all hearing on my right side. I had gone swimming at the beginning of September and came home with an aching case of swimmer's ear. After a week of being a grumpy bear from the painful infection, the swimmer's ear cleared up. But before another week could pass, my hearing faded for no definable cause. We tried everything to treat it... Drops, candles, water, more drops, more candles, more water... Nothing worked. After awhile I got used to being half deaf, but I did miss being able to hear, and was I definitely getting tired of having to ask people to repeat themselves. So today was the day, I was going to the doctor and I wasn't leaving until I could hear!

Shucks, I should have done that sooner... The nurse pulled out a cattle-sized syringe which she admitted to having bought at our local Wilco, and started the oh-so-fun process of irrigating. And wonder of wonders, that did the trick. I can now hear from both sides now! It's taking some getting used to though, how loud everything seems now! Just tapping away at this keyboard has me wondering if the keys have always been this loud... Never take your hearing for granted. It's a wonderful thing.

After regaining my hearing, I had to face the next challenge of the day: Taking my permit test.

Yes, you read that right... I'm 20 years old, I run a small farm, I have an off-farm job, but for all these years I have NOT had even a driver's permit. I tried getting it last year, but failed the test and then was too busy to take it again. But I had to stop running from fear of failure; this was getting ridiculous not being able to drive myself anywhere. So I bit the bullet and did it today. During the whole drive into town (20 minutes), the doctor's appointment, town errands, and up to the very, very, very last minute at the DMV, I had my nose stuck in the driver's manual, trying desperately to finish reading through the darn thing. That book of 113 pages has been the bane of my existence for the last year and a half! I finished reading the very last page right as the lady at the desk pointed me in the direction of where I would be taking the test. Talk about "squeaking by"... After something like ten minutes of agony, I finished the test and PASSED! Whoop, whoop! I am officially a "legal" driver! So now I just have to bite the next bullet and learn to drive a vehicle that has a stick shift. [shudder] It's been five years since I've tried driving something with a stick shift, so I'm hoping that perhaps I've matured since then and will be able to do it. We'll see though. I'm a horrible when it comes to multi-tasking which is what driving anything besides an automatic vehicle seems like to me.

After coming home and helping a farm patron with her weekly goods, I headed out to do what I thought would be normal barn chores. Ha. I'm so naive sometimes.

Upon getting closer to the barn door, I could see what looked like the southern half of one of my pigs poking out from a 5-gallon bucket. Preposterous! Why on earth would my pigs be out? Why such a thing is ridiculous, right? My pigs? Escaped? Well, it turns out that it was indeed a pig that was not in its usual pen. Arms akimbo, I looked down at the grunting marauder who had not yet learned of my presence. I grabbed a hind leg on the trouble maker, intending to bear hug the fellow and put him away. Who knew that pigs could be so slippery!?!? The pig squealed and shot forward, out of my grasp and reach. And of course it just had to be Sausage that was out. The bigger, meaner of my Tamworth weaners. Mike was calmly back in his pen looking innocently smug. It was time to call upon all whatever wit and cunning I had left in me (which amounts to precious little). Now, have you ever tried to catch a 40 lb. pig? There is virtually nothing to grip on those things. Seriously. With a goat or sheep they at least have an upright neck with gives you some leverage. Pigs? Nothin'. They are fast as greased lighting, and they're a perfect torpedo shape which leaves you pretty much nothing to grab except a leg. But how are you going to get close enough to grab that leg if the oinker is going too fast!?!?  My pig books all said things like putting a bucket over the pig's head, putting them in a floorless box and then scooting them where they belonged, putting them in a gunnysack, or luring them with food. Right. Okay, we can do this Caity. I didn't have a gunnysack, so that idea was kaput. Luring him with food? Nope, he wasn't hungry after all the time he had just spent snacking in the barn.  Putting him in a box? Turns out that the ONE box that was big enough was so soggy and damp that Sauasage was able to literally burst right through it. Put a bucket over his head? Are you kidding me? I felt like a cutting horse facing a steer trying to put a bucket over his head. Either that or a hockey player with a grudge. 

That was it. There was only one thing left to do, but I didn't know what that one thing was. So I set out to do it. Yes, I'm genius. I thrust, he dodges, I throw in a parry, and he retaliates with a lunge. This isn't a chase, it's a fencing match of brain power between species. he ducks behind the 2-ton stack of hay and I clamber over it. He wheels into a corner and I just barely miss him. He met his waterloo though in the milking parlor. I had him cornered there. During this whole adventure, Peaches the heifer was bawling her head off for some reason or another. Her moo is fairly tolerable, but when she bawls it makes my skin crawl. Ugh. Feeling downright feral I crouch and lunge as the little porker passes by me. HA! I got you by the hind leg you uncultured swine! Sausage retaliated by jackknifing around with a fierce growl and trying to slice my arm open with his needle-like teeth. The only available option I had at that point was to quickly scurry to the opposite side of him and grab his other leg. Great. Now I've got this pig in wheelbarrow fashion. What now? 

So for the record, while putting a bucket over a pigs head might not work, nor might putting him a box do much good, trundling him around like what kids do in wheelbarrow relay races works *perfectly*. I had my pig, and I sure wasn't about to let go of him, so I applied forward pressure to that haunch of ham and smiled for a quick moment he began moving. After a few more moments, I figured out how to steer my vagabond pig and away we went. The merriment only lasted until we got to the door when Sausage decided that he'd had enough and began to squeal hideously. Ever heard a pig scream? Mothers, your toddler throwing a tantrum doesn't even come close to the pitch of an upset pig. Word of honor on that. But continue to trundle we did, meanwhile I pondered just what it would take before the neighbors called Animal Control on me. Peaches was still bellowing. Chickens were in my way. I was wearing a skirt. Could this get any funnier? I got Sausage over to the pen and with a supernatural heave-ho, I scooped him up and tossed him just barely over the top edge of the pen wall. With the pig screaming and writhing the whole time. All the work at the veggie farm is giving me some really nice upper arm muscles and a strong back, let me tell ya'. Comes in handy when you're trying to toss a pig who doesn't want to be tossed.

After putting Sausage back where he belonged and fixing the pen up, I was hot. And Mad. Peaches was still bawling so I made the split second decision that if she was going to bawl, then she had better have a legitimate reason for doing so. I shooed her into the barn, haltered her, and began the process of halter breaking her. My goat mentor who is also a vet tech, 4-H leader, and retired dairy cow owner, gave me some advice on breaking my mischievous heifer, so I decided that I might as well do the work today. The method? This may seem slightly harsh to some, but I think to those of you who really know large livestock, this is pretty tame. Dear Peachy abhors being haltered, and absolutely does not lead. That's not a good thing when she already weighs 700 lbs. and is still growing like a weed. After getting the halter on Peaches, she was tied to a support beam in the barn. The rope had to be long enough that she could lay down comfortably, but short enough that she wouldn't get tangled. It's a fine line. I asked my goat mentor how long she should stay tied and her advice was four hours. Every twenty minutes you have to check on them, brush them down, work with their feet, and towards the end you try leading them around. As I suspected, Peaches threw a conniption about the whole thing for the first hour and a half. I stayed outside with her for the first hour, making sure that she didn't do something foolish, and teaching Mattie that Peaches was off limits for awhile. After two hours, Peaches figured out that by standing close to the beam, there would be no pressure on her face. After three hours she was chewing cud. By four hours I was able to lead her around. Tomorrow will be the test to see if Peaches remembers her lesson or not. I'm really hoping that this works... 

When all the animals were fed, watered, captured, or trained, my afternoon was plumb gone and I needed to start dinner. We were going to have a simple dish of chicken with some biscuits, but then I decided to throw a bit of pizzazz on what would have otherwise been a rather plain meal. I just finished reading Joshua and Jessica Applestone's book titled, 'The Butcher's Guide To Well-Raised Meats'  and their "secret" chicken rub blend sounded way too tempting to not try tonight. I did leave out the cayenne pepper on my first try since not everyone in the family likes that spice as much as I do. But even without the cayenne, the chicken turned out amazing. Good gracious me, why did it take me so long to find that recipe??? The biscuits were also livened up when a sister decided to add cheese and garlic powder to them. Ha, okay I don't even want to know what my weight is now that dinner is over. But it was worth it. ;) I love food. Growing it, tending it, harvesting it, preparing it, and then eating it; it's all good.

So now I'm tuckered. It's been a full day, and my clock says I need to go milk the cow now. A farmer's work is never done...

Monday, November 26, 2012

New Crop

I've had an idea fermenting away in my head for about a year now, and as of last week I decided to finally take the plunge and see if this idea was solid or not.

But I'm going to be mean and not tell y'all any specifics just yet. Yes, I'm mean; what else is new? ;)

But here are a few pictures of my new, mystery crop. Any guesses as to what it is and what it will be used for? (Hannah C., you can't guess! I think I already told you!!)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Watching My Back

Unbeknownst to me, I left a gate unlatched today while doing barn chores. 

And not just any gate, mind you, it was the gate that led straight outside to freedom. Straight into the path of a busy country road. It was the gate that led to grain and hay galore. It was the gate that led to milking parlors and stacked pumpkins. It was the gate that could lead to a loss of $4,000 in livestock if they got loose and couldn't be recaptured.  If there was ever a gate that the animals dreamed of being left unlatched, it was this one. And I left it ajar this morning.

I went out this afternoon to do the routine barn chores of refilling water buckets and hay mangers, feeding pigs, and checking on chicks. Everything seemed normal. I looked ahead at the gate that is ALWAYS latched and found it swung wide open. I gasped in horror and wondered how many animals were gone. 

I had no need to wonder though. Lying down in the entry way of the gate, chewing his cud and looking as calm as a saint was Darcy, my white wether lamb. Peaches tiptoed forward towards the sight of freedom, but Darcy glared her back to her spot at the hay manger. My little sheep kept all fourteen animals exactly where they belonged. I scratched him on the chin and told him he was wonderful before gently scooting him away from the gate. He simply chewed more cud with a stoic expression on his velvety face. 

It's nice knowing that I have a sheep watching my back.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Okay, so this one isn't Christmas music...

But it's still amazing. LOL. I was delighted to see that The Piano Guys had finally done the LOTR music, and  was grinning by the time they got to the finale in doing the Gondor piece. It's amazing what you can do with only two instruments and the layering effect...

Time For Christmas Music!

The Piano Guys are quickly becoming a favorite of mine to listen to. :) They have yet to disappoint me.

Draw, Hold, Release.

The day's chores were done, I had completed the tasks I had set for myself, the animals were cared for... I paced the house testily; like a caged animal facing freedom. The sky outside was gray and angry, moodily shifting from downpours to sullen moments of light mist. The logical side of me said to stay inside where it was warm and dry. The not-so-logical side wanted to be outside doing archery practice. 

I went with the not-so-logical side of myself today.

I pulled the beloved long bow out of the closet and strung it with ease. Stringing my bow used to give me so much frustration. I wasn't strong enough, I thought, to get the string into the rubber grooves on each end of my 5' long, fiberglass bow. But after a few weeks of practice, I can now do this small chore with the ease of tying a shoe. I clipped the black quiver onto the waistband of my skirt and slipped in 6 arrows. Before heading outside, I grabbed my Carhartt, a pair of leather gloves, and my MP3. These three things really are the key to properly using the long bow. 

The rain was withholding as I stepped outside. My appearance was eyebrow raising, with a denim skirt, Carhartt coat, flower-print boots, and a red bow held with comfortable confidence. But I didn't care. I was outside with one goal in mind: to set shaft to bow. To draw, hold, and release.

It took a few more minutes to set my hay bale target up, close gates so as to keep nosey cows away, and set my target distance. Today I would only be shooting 33 yards. I wanted something close.

The first five shots are always warm-ups. I don't try to hit any bulls-eyes. I work on loosening up, matching my arm strength to the target distance, quieting my mind so that I am in the present. Draw, hold, release. Think of nothing save the arrows, the target, the distance. 

When at last I feel ready, I turn my MP3 on and flip over to my Braveheart soundtrack. Though I have never seen that movie, I have been listening to the songs since I was 12 years old. Today's choice was track #8, titled 'Revenge'. The song takes two minutes before it speeds up and gets to the point where I fall into it's comfortable pace that matches my shooting ability.

At last I am ready. I am poised, with the arrow fitted to the notch on my bow. The song hits 3:23 in time and I start. I inhale deeply as I draw the hard, slim string on this lightweight weapon. Inhale, draw, and hold it. I am a nearsighted archer, and can only see about 10 to 15 yards ahead. Though I just got glasses this week, I chose to go without them today. You really don't need the greatest eyesight when you're hunting a hay bale. I hold my feathered shaft in place, my right arm is completely parallel with my right ear, I am facing to the west while my torso is pivoted to the south; facing my target. When I feel that I have a bead on the bulls-eye, I loose the shaft in one quick, heart-stopping motion. The string whizzes forward, propelling my arrow forward at a shocking speed. The arrow hits the ground just touching the bale of hay, while at the same time my bow string finishes it's reverberating movement with a SNAP against my wrist and palm. I am wearing a heavy coat and leather gloves today. If it weren't for them, then the bow string would have left a ragged wound on my exposed skin with bruising on the edges, and blood in the center. This I know from experience. With my heavy duty clothes though, it leaves only a minor bruise. You come to ignore the bruises and the pain of the moment. It is a dull ache as you continue to fire arrow after arrow. But it's just a part of this sport.

There is a certain grace to archery which captivates me to no end. It is not something that can be done with a gun. With my bow and my music I fall into a very methodical rhythm. With my quiver at my side I grab an arrow with my right hand and fit it in the bow with surprising ease, despite the leather gloves. I straighten my spine, and inhale as I draw; A deep breath which causes me to focus with the intensity of a Border Collie. I peer down the camouflage shaft of my arrow, pull back slightly more on the string, feeling every muscle, every nerve that is required for this moment. I pull back and with a grace that has to be learned, I let go of my string. Let go too roughly and you will alter your arrow's path. Too slowly and your arrow with not go it's full length or speed. 

My music hits 5:08 in time and the sudden change in tempo causes me to unconsciously draw back more than I should have on my next arrow. I shoot and watch my arrow fly 50 yards. My target was at 33 yards. 

I loose two more arrows and then finally get what I want: A hit target. I jog-trot up to the bale of hay and check to see where my arrow had landed. Only a half inch away from the bulls-eye, it was deeply embedded in the dried summer grasses. Close but no cigar.

The sky becomes angrier and slowly begins to release it's rain drops. Not enough to cause me to turn back and sheath my arrows, but just enough to give the day a Scottish flair. Where's the kilt when you need it?

After 25 minutes of shooting, I am so focused on my task that I hear nothing, see nothing, acknowledge nothing around me save for the continuous movements of my archery. Fit arrow, draw, hold, release. Fit arrow, draw, hold, release. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.

The rain begins to come down a bit harder, so I switch my music over to a last ovation for the day. This time I go for something sunny sounding and choose Julie Fowlis' song 'Touch The Sky'. Still Scottish in flavor, the song helps me to lift my focused mood. As I fit another arrow shaft in my bow, I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. I look up and see three young men across the road, whom I had never seen before. Their baggy, black clothes hardly seemed warm enough for this weather, but perhaps the chains helped? (I kid.) They craned their necks to see what I was up to, and as they saw me raise my bow with an arrow on it (aiming at the target! Not the people!), they immediately turned around and hightailed it for safer grounds. Och, mess ye' not wi' a lass who kens how tae use a bow and shaft. 

I shoot three more arrows, and then quit for the day. The appearance of the three strangers has rattled me out of my reverie and my aim is no longer what it was ten minutes before. 

After putting the hay bale back in the barn, I come inside. I am damp, hot, but in a much calmer state of mind than I was earlier in the day. I hang the quiver up, with all the arrows present and accounted for. The bow is unstrung, wiped down, and then put back in the closet where it will remain until next time. I am working on my aim, my skill, my competence in this sport. Next summer I will do this on horseback. There is a group of mounted archers who meet twice a month in Newberg, and I am impatient to number myself in their party. Archery and horseback riding. To me, that is the ultimate challenge in life. To time your arrows to the cadence of hooves; balancing your body with the upward swell of a horse while still keeping your bow still and centered on the target. I have a hard enough time right now hitting a bulls-eye while standing on Terra firma; I can't imagine being at the point where I can successfully do it from the back of a horse who is going 15 to 20 miles an hour and covering 12 feet in every stride. But for now I practice in the rain, standing on my own two feet. It's a good way to spend the day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mike and Sausage

The pigs have landed. 

Please meet Mike and Sausage, the Tamworth pigs.

It hasn't even been 48 hours with these pigs and already I've learned what heart-stopping fun these guys can be. Getting them unloaded from our truck and into their pen turned into a rousing adventure when Sausage escaped and was soon followed by Mike. We humans had a wild chase on our hands! I thought I was going to lose my pigs; oh it was bad... Quick! They're headed for the road! No, run the other way! Dive, dive! Watch his teeth!! After much frustration, we finally figured out how to not only out-wit a pig, but how to best handle one. I learn something new every day.

But once the "boys" were settled in their new digs, life calmed down. Mike is a sweet tempered, although cautious, fellow. Sausage is a firebrand who knows how to use his wicked sharp teeth. When it was first announced that I was getting pigs, my three year old and five year old brothers pleaded for the privilege of naming the two porkers. I was fine with that and grinned at their name choices. Although the three year old is thinking that he would rather change Sausage's name to Ice Cream. We're still debating that.

This morning I peeked into the pig pen and saw no trace of my pigs. Poof. Gone. As though they had sprouted wings and flown away, there was no clue of their whereabouts. Unless you knew what to look for... I stared hard at a far corner of the pen, where the hay was piled two feet high. If you looked very, very closely you could see the hay gently rising and falling. Pulling the hay back, I saw the two chubby bodies of snoring pigs. When they wake up, they smack their lips and stretch like cats, before they start wagging their tails and looking for food. It makes me smile just thinking about it. :)

I got a quick video of the boys this afternoon, enjoying the afternoon sunshine in their pen. These boys are fun, let me tell you. I like pigs.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Pumpkin Hulsey Chicks!

Well it looks like I will only get two chicks out of this hatch. :-/ I'm going to buy a new thermometer soon and try doing another batch, but for now I am at least happy that I got a couple of chicks! Had I bought these two from a hatchery, they would have cost me a total of $250; buying them via Ebay saved me quite the chunk of money! 

P.S. I got my pair of pigs today! The story and pictures are coming tomorrow!

Monday, November 19, 2012


There's really no other way to put it: I am exhausted after my first day at work. 

I got up at 4:30 this morning so that I could get barn chores done in time; I had to be at the farm by 7:30! The following day was long, wet, windy, tiring, but fun. By lunch time the rains were coming down so hard that the term "monsoon" kept coming to mind. It was a fierce, hard driving rain that made us all get wet despite our rubber rain gear. I was soaked to the skin by 11am. Today's to-do list was for us workers to split up and harvest carrots, fingerlings (tiny potatoes), big potatoes, beets, turnips, brussel sprouts, and lettuce. I did all of that except the last two things. 

By 4pm, my energy was seriously flagging. I had been soaking wet for five hours, and I was tired... So tired. My boss, Casey, grinned at my slowness and shouted out, "Welcome to farming!" I laughed and shot back, "No, it's 'welcome to vegetables'!" I was dog tired after this day, but as I thought about it, it really was the veggies that did me in. To me, "farming" has always been milking animals, feeding animals, moving animals to new pasture, pounding fence posts, trimming hooves, slaughtering, and all that lifestyle entails. My body is used to that kind of exertion and is limber from years of livestock work. And then I started working with vegetables... As of today, I have realized that while I can work for hours on end working with animals, this whole veggie thing is going to take a few weeks to get used to. In short, it's a lot more physical. I have a very strong hunch that I am going to be sore tomorrow.

But despite the wet clothes and aching muscles (and aching head!), I really did enjoy the work. When we were finally done with everything, I came to the conclusion that this work is just far more satisfying to me that working in a store would be. We worked all day. In the rain. And wind. And mud. And flood water. But when we were done we had an amazing amount of food for people. I liked that. :) It was also really nice that a good friend of mine was working that day too. The first day of anything is hard; having a familiar face was an absolute boon and he really helped make my day easier. 

When I finally got home, I was given the awesome news that two of my Pumpkin Hulsey eggs had hatched during the day! I was ecstatic to hear this, and couldn't wait to see my two fuzz balls, but before I went and saw them, or did anything at all, I took a long, hot shower. After a day like today, I was filthy (I laughed at my own reflection when I saw myself in the mirror!), sopping wet, and freezing cold. I looked like I had been in a mud fight, and felt like an icicle. Once I was feeling human again (meaning clean, and in fresh clothes), I went upstairs and peeked in on my chickies. Oh dear me... They are so stinkin' cute! Okay, so yes they rather look like any ordinary chick, but they're still cute! I'll see about posting pictures tomorrow.

So now I'm tired. And my fingers are swollen from harvesting potatoes. And I will bet an acorn to an oak that I am going to be horrifically sore tomorrow. But I rather enjoyed today. After all, what's not to love about singing "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" in the rain, covered in mud, harvesting potatoes, with a good friend? (It's a long story)

So toodle pip and cheerio my dear friends. I'm off to crash and burn somewhere with a warm blanket.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Tomorrow is my first day working at Oakhill Organics! It's looking like it's going to be a rather soggy day, but it *is* Oregon after all... 

I'm looking forward to the work. :)

Eggs Are Hatching!!

If you look very, very closely on some of the Pumpkin Hulsey eggs, you will see some hairline cracks on them that weren't there a few hours ago...

And if you hold your breath and listen as hard as you can, you will hear two chicks peeping from within the close confines of their egg shells. 

It's enough to make this farm girl flush with excitement and grin wildly. The stork never came, but the mail lady did three weeks ago when she first delivered the eggs, and I guess that's good enough for me when it comes to game fowl.

Stay tuned...

I am SO trying this next spring!

How cool is this!? I found directions on how to make your own top bar beehive out of half a rain barrel ( AKA, a 55 gallon drum), and scrap wood! I absolutely adore bees and have been wanting hives of my own for I don't even know how many years... I've seen both the traditional hives in action (known as "langstroth" hives), as well as the not-as-common "Warre" hives, and the other top-bar style known as the "honey cow" (which is what this rain barrel masterpiece is also known as). I personally like the top bar hives over the langstroth hives. But personal opinions aside, this rain barrel hive looks way too cool not to try when March swings around and my local bee keepers have a few pounds of bees to sell me. 

You can find the directions for this honey cow by clicking HERE!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Clean Boots

In a span of only 12 hours, I managed to wash my Carhartt coat, AND my muck boots. For those of you who know me well, this is almost unbelievable. I do not wash my Carhartt. Period. Exclamation point. The boots also do not receive special attention. Both of these articles of clothing are the work horses of my life and I love them most when they are streaked with mud and have hay chaff sprinkled liberally on them. I have worn my boots more than any other pair of shoes I have ever owned, and the Carhartt has the same honors when it comes to coats. 

But today both were washed...

I'm headed out to another Raw Milk Training Day come Saturday morning, and I figured I should probably be polite and arrive in a respectable state... Sigh. We're doing a pasture walk during tomorrow's session, which is why I will be wearing my beloved boots. The Carhartt just goes without saying. 

But worry not. Once Saturday is over, then the boots and coat will go back to their normal, dirty look. After all, we wouldn't want them to be too clean now, would we?


The Pumpkin Hulsey eggs are due to hatch sometime between tomorrow and Monday!! I don't think I'll get a very good hatch this time around since I think my thermometer might be a bit off, but I do hope that I at least get a couple chicks!

Stay tuned for updates, and maybe some pictures and videos!

Postponed Porkers

I was supposed to go pick up my two Tamworth weaner pigs today, but the plan has changed a bit and the porkers will now be landing at GSF on Tuesday the 20th. I'm a wee bit dissapointed that I won't be bunking down any curly-tailed oinkers tonight, but I really did need the extra time... I'm not *quite* ready for them yet. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Seasonal Farmer

Farming is tiring work. I get tired doing what I do. Some mornings I wake up so tired that I don't even want to look at the cows; much less milk and feed them. Yes, it is all worth it in the end, and I love what I do, but lately I have come to really appreciate being a seasonal farmer. 

It's hard farming seasonally. No, it's actually easy to FARM seasonally; it's just hard to explain to people that you are not Super Man or Wonder Woman, and cannot magically produce homegrown tomatoes in December without the aid of an expensive, heated greenhouse. Or fresh, pastured chickens in January. Or kale in an August heat wave. Or raw milk when the animals need to be dry. Or delicata squash in May. See where I'm going with this? 

I get bored relatively easily. Always on the hunt for some new challenge or goal, I've found that the seasonality of farming is perfect for me. Right after kidding/calving season ends, you have the start of broiler season, and then you have the garden coming to life, then the turkeys follow a few months later, then breeding season sneaks up on you, and then you start winding down in late fall with butchering the last meat animals, and finally drying up the milking animals. The constant change of animals and chores through the seasons keeps me energized and excited for the next thing. But by the time November rolls around, I am dead beat. Tired and ready for a couple months of nothing more strenuous than throwing hay into the manger for lazy animals, and filling water buckets (you have to remember that we have really mild winters here). And this is where my love for seasonality comes in. 

I really do need that winter break from farming every year. Most of my goats are dry now, and I'm only milking one doe (Trigun) which is a daily yield of about a quart of milk (I know, so grand). The cow is also starting to sputter out and has dropped to giving 1 gallon a day. We're all tired and ready for a break. And it's always this time of year that I am in awe of people who continue on with their farm work in winter. Lots of folks milk their animals through winter. Many of them have greenhouses and keep their growing season going non-stop. Others manage to keep on producing chickens no matter the weather. And I wonder to myself how on earth they can keep doing it... Day after day. There's no change. No reprieve. No rest. Am I just a wimp and a slacker for wanting this break? Is it selfish of me? With the dairy animals drying up, I am faced with mixed feelings. Part of me is celebrating that my rest season is approaching and I will have time to recharge my batteries and lazily pore over seed catalogs in front of the wood stove during cold winter afternoons. The other part of me is guilty that I'm leaving my herdshare members without milk for the next three months. 

I think the seasonality of farming is needed for everyone and everything; not just the farmer. My grass needs a rest after having the hoofstock grazing it since March. The dairy animals need a rest; the goats each just pumped out over 2,000 lbs. of milk  (Trigun did 3,600 lbs.!), and the cow has done around 5,000 lbs. They need time to rejuvenate and get ready for another year of that (except next year the cow will produce around 19,500 lbs.). The laying hens need a rest, and egg production slows down incredibly. The farm takes on a slow, steady pulse. There is still lifeblood here, but it has slowed like the sap in the dormant trees. Everything wants to go into hibernation mode, and my gut instinct is to follow nature's pattern here. I'm not perfect at this though, which is why I have two weaner pigs coming tomorrow, but for the most part I am willing to just take a deep breath and relax... The last eight months have been spent in long hours and hard work. Now it's time to play hooky take my turn to rest.

There will still be projects going on in the winter; there will still be stories and adventures. But this farm girl is ready for a change of seasons... 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lesson Learned

If you decide to try raising turkeys, then here's a piece of advice: buy a lot of them.

I don't necessarily say that because they're all going to keel over and die on you (you may lose a few though; most folks do), but because turkeys are amazing to have when it comes to trading and selling. 

I bought 10 poults (baby turkeys) back in June, but lost 4 during growing season. The remaining 6 turkeys sold like hotcakes and I have had an overwhelming flood of interest from local people all clamoring for a Thanksgiving bird (alas, I had none left to sell). And mind you, I didn't sell these cheaply... More than that, I traded a turkey for some electrified netted fencing, and have had so many other people ask to trade things for a turkey. I had people offer lambs, goats, calves, misc. livestock supplies... The market was wide open. I am kicking myself for raising such a small number of turkeys this year, but I will be prepared for next year. Next year, I will have turkeys for sale and for trade. Who says legal tender comes only in the form of a paper bill? I've found some in the form of gobbling feathers. 

My last turkeys were butchered this morning, and I was sad to see them go. I adored the turkey's docile (if somewhat dim-witted), yet curious nature. Although, wrangling a 15 lb. bird who doesn't wish to be picked up does leave something to be desired... But I hear that turkeys can be herded, so next year I'll just have to make sure that I have a dog to help me with moving the butterballs. 

Despite the groans from many people over my choice of turkey breed, I went with the Broad Breasted White for my first time. This is like the cornish cross of the turkey world; they're huge, they can't mate naturally, they need a high-octane feed to make them grow, and as most folks say, "they just aren't "natural"!" I heard a lot of stories from people saying how terrible their BB whites were, how they wouldn't forage, etc. but I'm just going to shrug my shoulders here. My birds did awesome. I bought them from a bad hatchery (lesson learned there, too), so that's probably the reason why I lost 4 poults right off the bat, but all the rest were fabulous; foraging like nothing else, and just being turkeys. Lately I've been thinking about trying some heritage breeds next year... As great as the BB Whites were, I always like to keep on trying new things. That, and I just can't resist the available breeds over at Porter's Turkeys. I mean, how can one NOT resist a turkey that goes by the name of 'Sweetgrass', 'Fall Fire', 'Harvest Gold', or 'Tiger Bronze'??? One of my reasons for choosing a white bird on my first try was because I was sick to death of colored birds. I had slaughtered well over 5,000 turkeys while working at the processing facility and 3/4's of that number were dark colored, heritage breeds. Utter nightmare to pluck, let me tell you... Even while taking my last turkeys to the facility today, I got a lot of happy exclamations from the workers over the feather color on my birds. White birds! Yes, yes, yes!! But now that I'm thinking about raising some heritage breeds, I think I will at least stick with the lighter colored ones. No black turkeys for this girl...

Just today, I had three different people ask me if I had any more turkeys for sale... I've been hearing this question for two months now and have sadly had to turn people away. Why did I wait so long to start raising these birds? I really didn't think there were that many people in my area who would willingly pay $60 to $80 for a holiday centerpiece, but I have found differently. I also just learned of a local farmer who charges  $200 to $350 per turkey, and they sold out before they even bought their poults!!!! Holy kohlrabi. 

I'm not writing this post as some sort of hype; trying to give y'all the idea to raise turkeys as a get-rich-quick scheme. I think this has a lot to do with locality, and I just happen to be in a very good county that embraces local food (at any cost I might add...). But for years I have heard stories from people saying that turkeys were terrible to raise. I would like to take a moment here and say "Bah-humbug" to those stories. My turkeys were wonderful.

Lesson learned: Turkeys are quite enjoyable, and I did not raise enough of them this year!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Mystery Solved

I recently put the animals on a lower protein hay, which has helped some of the "easy keepers" to maintain a good weight. Despite the new hay though, my buck, Tamarack, has been getting chubbier and chubbier. It was driving me crazy that I couldn't figure out how on earth he was managing to stay so slick and portly while on this dry hay. Yeah, sure the does all look great on the hay, but this guy looks like he's been getting extra snacks somewhere. 

Tonight while watching the animals before turning the lights off, I figured the mystery out. Two does were in standing heat (meaning "ready and willing to be bred") and while performing his courting gestures, Tamarack slyly started nursing off of the unsuspecting doe! He did this on both girls, who were more than disgruntled at his tricks, but my goodness did that boy have a smirk on his face. It's all crystal clear now... He's been snitching milk from my girls, which is why he's suddenly gained weight and why I've had a sudden lack of milk in my pail. The little stinker.

I liked this.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Feeling Better

I found my hat. The injured chickens will live. I'm going to leave the Freedom Rangers in the tractor for one more night and see how they do. The cow cheered up. I took painkiller.

Next up, getting the pig pen ready!

It's Been One Of Those Days...

For the most part, I am pretty good about laughing off bad days. If something goes wrong I usually just acknowledge that what I just did didn't work and try something different next time, or I just laugh at my pathetic self for my ineptitude. Today I haven't managed to do either of those... It's just been "one of those days". 

It all started out with my hat. I have a hideous, bright purple, knitted hat that I wear in the winter time, and I as dorky as I look in that thing, I wanted to wear it today while milking and doing barn chores. Couldn't find it. You would think that it would be easy to find something that is as loudly colored as this hat, but it seems to have camouflaged itself somewhere in the depths of my closet. So I had to just get over it and endure having cold ears. One of these days I'm going to get a nicer looking hat...

As if feeling like an icicle wasn't bad enough, Mattie stubbornly refused to come up to the barn to be milked. She was at the far end of the pasture enjoying watching me try to entice her up to where I was. Nope, that cow decided that she was quite content in her spot. So I had to go get her, which meant all fourteen of the goats, and the two sheep had to accompany me in a ridiculous looking parade of mammals. Where the human goes, the goats go, and where the goats go, the sheep go. On a warmer day I might have laughed at all of us, tromping out to get the cow; but today I just wanted to get the milking done and over with. 

After milking chores, and regular barn chores, I went to check on the Freedom Rangers. I had put mine in my chicken tractor the day before and was a little apprehensive to see how they fared through the night, which had ducked into the mid-30's. Alas, one of the Freedom Rangers had frozen to death in the night. All by itself in a corner, it had ice particles over its feathers and beak. It was my pretty little lemon cuckoo colored one too (the golden barred pullet). I pulled the dead bird out and started working on moving the tractor to a fresh piece of grass. The rest of the birds seemed okay, if not a little subdued by the cold temps. I shoved the wooden dolly beneath the back of the tractor, which puts wheels on my behemoth structure, and started pulling from the front. 

Turns out that I didn't have the dolly shoved under there well enough. In one quick motion the dolly popped out while I was in the midst of pulling the tractor forward and the whole thing landed with a dull THUD on the soggy November ground. A chicken squawked loudly and then went silent. I zoomed around the the back and found that the tractor had landed on another Freedom Ranger and it looked like the bird now had a broken wing. Great. I tried catching the poor thing, but it evaded my grasp and hid in a corner out of my reach. I'll have to see about getting it tonight when it's asleep. 

I gave up on the dolly after that. From here on out I would just try and pull the tractor, which weighs around 200 lbs. and has no leverage for me to work with. For the record, it is really hard to pull a dead weight that is at least 80 lbs. more than you. I gave a huge heave-ho, saw the tractor look like it went over a bump, and then it scooted forward with relative ease. Or it would have been called "ease" if my sudden exertion hadn't caused me to pull a muscle in my back. This day was just getting better and better! (Not.)

Satisfied that I had at least moved the chicken tractor to a new spot, I went to put the useless dolly away. When I got the back, I found to my dismay that the "bump" the tractor had gone over was yet another chicken. And it looked dead. The tractor had scraped all the back feathers off of the bird, and its head was bent beneath it in a grotesque form. I nudged it with my boot and to my surprise, the chicken hopped up and sped off. It didn't go far though before it started running in drunken circles; its eyes dilating wildly, and its feathers all puffed up. Could this day really get any worse!?!? Now I had one dead chicken, and two injured ones on my hands! I picked the chicken up, and looked it over more carefully. Under its left wing the skin had ripped open. With grimness I thought what a pity it was that this was a pullet to be hurt; the tear was in the perfect spot to try surgical caponization if it had only been a cockerel. I know, of all the things to be thinking right then, THAT just had to come to mind... I put the little bird back in the warm brooder box with some food and water. I don't know if it will live or not yet; only time will tell.

I think at this point I am going to pull the meat birds out of the tractor and keep them in a more sheltered spot until they're butchered. I only have two or three more weeks to go with them, but it seems like forever. It's just too cold for them to be outside, and frankly I don't even want chickens on my pasture right now. The grass is supposed to be resting and the birds are scratching their area into a mud hole. Grrr. 

So now I'm inside with a hurt back and I'm trying to figure out how on earth I'm going to get all those meat birds back in the barn before nightfall... Ugh. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Jobs, Hogs, and Pregnant Ewes

Ummm, did I really stop blogging for 5 solid days???? My goodness. I suppose y'all are expecting a spanking good update now, for the inconvenience of waiting! And to see to it that I make everyone happy, I shall commence to filling you all in on what's been going on!

Actually, I don't even know where to start... So I'll just be seriously blunt here and state the biggest piece of news: I got a job.

*KA-BOOM!* I know. I'm good at dropping bombs.

With the idea of moving out fermenting away in my mind, my parents wisely encouraged me to look at getting a REAL job. I rather groaned and procrastinated about the whole thing. The last thing I wanted was to be cooped up in some building away from my farm for a whole day, wondering if the goats were still in their paddock, and if the cows had run out of water again. But I eventually caved and started looking for some place to work. For a year I'll do it. I'd like to be working for myself by 2014. But I was still adamantly against working inside a building. It just grates against my nature. I hate being inside. So I set out to find the impossible. If I HAD to have a job, I wanted it to be at a place that I loved going to. I made a crazy long list of everything I would *like* to have. You know, just a weird brainstormed oh-this-would-be-neat-if-I-could-do-this type of list. I wanted to work outside; I knew that much. I really wanted to work on a farm. And an organic farm would be cool. And while we're dreaming up impossible dream jobs, it would sure be neat if the place did things Joel-Salatin-style, or if I could do more dairy work, or possibly even some slaughtering. Vegetables would be fun to do, since I need to improve my skills on that score, but fruits, grains, or just livestock would also be great. 

That was my crazy list.

And to be quite honest, I didn't find anything in my searches that fit the bill.

It wasn't until a friend mentioned that he just recently got a job working at a small, organic, family farm that I got a lead. My ears pricked, and I Googled the farm. The name of the place was Oakhill Organics, and of all things, they run a CSA and are about to start a Full-Diet CSA (and they do things Joel-Salatin style!!). What does that mean? It means they're becoming the grocery store for their members. They do vegetables, fruits, grains, natural sweeteners (honey, and I believe sorghum), meats, and dairy. Holy kohlrabi, if I had to work somewhere, that sounds like the place to be! I sent off an application and nervously waited for a reply...

A few days later I got my reply! They wanted me to come out to the farm for an interview! So on the appointed day I went out to Oakhill Organics, dressed for a day of work. You see, this wasn't an ordinary job interview; it was a work interview. So while moving Guinea hogs, Jersey cows and Katahdin sheep to new pasture, throwing pumpkins to the hoofstock (it seems I need to work on my throwing skills... The desired result was a squashed pumpkin; mine only bruised. Ha.), and harvesting carrots, I talked with Casey, the owner of the farm. I have to say that I really enjoyed the work that day. It was good. It reminded me of working at Polyface. :) After the interview was over, Casey gave me a huge bag of fresh vegetables, and the thumbs up I was hoping for. I was hired.

It sounds like I'll be doing a lot of dairy work there, and that really excites me. They currently have two milking Jersey cows, but Casey mentioned the possibility of getting some more cows. Along with working with the cows, I'll also get to help slaughter their animals for meat, which includes hogs, chickens, and sheep, and I'll be out in the fields harvesting veggies and doing who-knows-what-else.

I was a little dazed when I got back home. Hired? Seriously? I managed to find a job that had  every single thing that I had on my list?? Wow. I'll be working part-time over there for now; probably only 3 days  a week, which is fine for me right now. I'm not sure when I start yet, but it should be sometime around the end of November.

With this piece of news in mind, I decided to dry a few of the goats up. I had five milkers and was getting 2 gallons a day (most of them were already half dried up; I should have been getting 4+ gallons a day). I didn't want to have to get up at 4am every morning to get my animals milked before going to work, so I decided to dry up Lily, Ivy, and Jupiter, which would leave me milking Metty and Trigun, and a daily amount of 1 gallon of goat milk. That was the plan anyway... Unfortunately, I bought two tons of hay from a new supplier at the time of drying the girls up, and the remaining milkers didn't cotton to this new stuff so well. The result? I'm now getting less than a 1/2 gallon each day from the two milk goats! Aargh! So life has been a bit tense as I try to make sure that all of my herdshare members still get their weekly quota. The cow also dropped a bit in production from the hay switch, which has been yet another headache to deal with. At first I was getting 2 gallons a day from her and was just barely squeaking by in having enough for folks. Now she's giving 1.5 gallons a day. Fun, fun, fun.

But life still goes on, milk or no milk. My last post I did on here was a little blurb about how much I am looking forward to the day I can get my own pigs. And I am ultra excited to announce that that's finally happening!! I'm trading Ivy, one of my goats, for a pair of purebred Tamworth weaner pigs! I had been going back and forth for quite some on what breed of hog to go with, or if I should use a crossbred, but I finally settled for the Tamworth. A rare, heritage breed, the Tamworths are also known as the "grazing pig", or the "grass pig", since they are excellent foragers and can be finished out on pasture. Once mine get big enough, they will be moved onto my neighbor's property beneath a large stand of oak trees. The acorns are thick in that little glen, and there should be enough to fatten a pair of grass pigs. :) In the meantime though, they'll get their fill of sprouts, fermented barley (tutorial coming soon on fermenting grains for livestock!), scraps, and once Mattie (cow) freshens in February, then they'll start getting all the milk they can handle. I'm trying to keep this first round of pig-raising as cheap as possible, which is why I decided to trade one of my goats for them. Ivy has done well for me all these years, but it's time for her to move on. That's the way things work here. I don't keep very many animals long-term; they're always coming and going as the farm works its way up in quality and gets closer to the ultimate goal. With luck I will have the little pigs here at GSF in two weeks time!

On the ovine side of life, things are going - ah - swimmingly? I know I should think of some grand pun, but I can't think of one right now. But the sheep are doing great. :) The little brown ewe lamb still stubbornly keeps her distance, but the white wether is getting braver each day. Today I was able to scratch his chin and cheek without him running off. But things may change a bit here too... The lady who I got the sheep from called this morning saying she had another little ewe lamb (she thought she only had the brown one that I now have), and this one was just bred; thus meaning it can't be slaughtered. She wanted to know if I would like to trade out my white wether for a preggo ewe... Half of me is fairly screaming 'YES!!!' at the thought of having lambs scampering around come April, but then the other half of me kind of wants to keep the friendly wether around. So we'll see what happens. Personally, I'd really like to just buy the third sheep and keep a wooly trio here, but seeing as I just bought two tons of hay AND a buck, I'm not so sure I have extra funds to buy a third sheep for fun. Maybe I should get a job or something.... Oh wait.

Well I gotta' scoot now... Dishes to do and animals to milk!

Week #7 of the Basic Broiler Challenge is coming tomorrow!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Next Step

I want pigs. I've wanted pigs for pretty close to six years now. I have cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and rabbits. Pigs are the next step.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Basic Broiler Challenge: Week #6!

Week #6 with the BBC! There's not much to report this week, save for the fact that the birds are HUGE!

My birds have officially been off their broiler ration for a whole week now, and they seem to be doing really well on it. It took them about 4 days to get used to only getting milk/cheese/sprouts for their food, and consequently it hurt this week's weight gain. They're eating like hogs now though, so I'm hoping that they'll make some extra gain before next week.

This weeks weight reports are as follows:

Group 1. (My group)
Average individual weight: 3 lbs.
Average combined weight: 78 lbs!

Group 2 (Friends' group who are still on 20% broiler ration)
Average individual weight: 1 lb. 7 oz.
Average combined weight: 45.9 lbs. (27 chickens; one stopped growing and is still the size of a 1 week old chick!)

My chickens weighed 2.7 lbs. last week, and this week they are only at 3 lbs. That's a teeny, tiny gain by anyone's standards. But again, this could be that it took them 4 days to get back to eating, so that could be a major factor there. It could also be that now they are growing in leaps and bounds skeletal-wise. They're taller and bigger than ever, but not fatter. Perhaps from here on out growth rate will be slower for both groups since their skeletal rate has caught up? It's a theory anyway... 

And it's time. My Freedom Rangers need to either be put in the chicken tractor or in a hoophouse STAT! They are running amok everywhere and living up to their names of "freedom rangers". I'm getting really good at my chicken catching skills, and that's the gospel truth! Such a shame no one offers degrees or at least a diploma for highly skilled chicken catchers. Someone oughta' complain about that... 

How To Make Your Own Apple Cider Vinegar

Ta da! As promised, here is the latest tutorial here at the blog, and today we'll be going over how to make your own apple cider vinegar. But wait! Why one earth would you want ACV around your house anyway, and what's it good for? Oh I'm so glad to asked!

Apple cider vinegar is one of my "miracle cures" here on the farm. I use it for cleaning (in place of bleach), for boosting the immunity levels of the animals, for treating hoof rot (apply undiluted 2-3x's daily), it is rich in vitamins, minerals and trace elements, which are all quickly and easily absorbed into the system, and for use in the house and home, it makes unbelievable pie crusts (use instead of water). You can Google the benefits of raw apple cider vinegar and you'll find huge lists of pros. I love this stuff. It's awesome. 

When I use it for the animals, which is the main reason I keep it around, I usually pour 1--2 cups of vinegar for every 5 gallons of water. 

So, with all that being said, how do we go about making our own vinegar?

Step 1. Grab yourself a glass or ceramic bowl of any size (go by how big of a batch you would like to make). Don't use plastic or metal though... Neither one of those are vinegar friendly.

Step 2. Put a whole bunch of apple pieces in there. Whenever I'm making an apple pie, or we're dehydrating apples, all the peelings and cores are used for vinegar making instead of being thrown away or fed to the chickens. This is a perfect time to make yourself an apple pie, and then by the end of the day not only will you have a scrumptious snack cooling on the counter, but you'll have a batch of vinegar started as well! Whoohoo!  

Don't fill your bowl *too* full of apple pieces. And yes, even the apple seeds can be thrown in. :)

Okay, Step 3! Fill your bowl with water so that your apples are covered by a good 1 inch. If your apple pieces are light like mine, then they'll probably float annoyingly. Just growl at it a few times and then leave it at that. You really can't teach apples to "sit and stay" unfortunately. 

Step 4 is optional. You can put 1/4 cup of sugar in the bowl for every quart of water you have in there. This speeds up the fermentation process, but if you're in no hurry then you might as well save your sugar for the pie.

If you do want to put the sugar in though, just pour it in and then stir the apples around to distribute the sweet stuff evenly.

 Step 5: Put a glass plate over your bowl and place the whole thing in a dark, cool area. I keep my small batches in our pantry; the bigger batches just have to get over it and be in the barn. Leave the bowl sitting quietly for a week! 

Step 6: When the week is up, strain your fruity smelling liquid into a mason jar and feed the slightly fermented apples to the chickens, or throw it in the compost. What you'll have in your jar will be pale colored and have a slight vinegar smell to it. 

Step 7. Find some loosely woven muslin and place it over your jar to act as a lid! Your vinegar needs to continue to "breathe" and the loose weave will allow the good bacteria that you want to get in there. It will also keep the vinegar smell at bay, believe it or not. I have 1 gallon of vinegar fermenting in the pantry, but you would never be able to tell by sticking your nose in there. Once you take the muslin off though, watch out! 

Once you've done that, put the jar back in your dark, cool spot and let it sit another week. It's going to take 6 weeks from here on out before your ACV is ready, so be prepared!

Once a week, you will have to take the muslin off and give your vinegar a stir. On the very top of your liquid, you will see a bubbly, fermented disc. This is normal, and you want it! This bubbly thing is called the "mother" and it means that everything is going as it should be. As your vinegar ages, the disc may begin to take on a different look then what is in my picture below, and it may begin to become more solid. That too is normal, and just means that the mother is working. 

You may also see a sediment on the bottom of your jars, which is a good thing. :)

Believe it or not, that's really all there is to it! Just stir the mother up once a week, and when six weeks have passed, you can replace the muslin for a real lid and then your apple cider vinegar is ready for use! It will also darken dramatically as it ages, and will look and smell just like the stuff from the store. 

Apples + water = apple cider vinegar. It's cool stuff.

Happy Samhain Everyone

I had a long and inspirational post all thought up while milking the goats tonight, but I can't remember any of it now. Typical me, I suppose.

But nevertheless, I would like to wish all of my readers a happy October 31st. Whether you celebrate this day as Halloween, Reformation Day, Hallow's, someone's birthday, or as Samhain, I hope you have a good one. 

I celebrate this day as Samhain (pronounced "Sow-an"). An ancient Celtic tradition, this day was spent celebrating a successful harvest year with friends and family. It was a happy festival full of dancing, laughter, music, food, and gratefulness. And so, keeping with my Irish/Scottish heritage, I too celebrate this day. It is a quiet day for me, but one filled with thinking, and re-focusing. All that is left now is to look forward in life. To take the next steps and dream still more. I have given this year all I had to give, and now I have a moment to sit back and reflect... And dream for more. This harvest year saw broilers, my first cow, my first flock of sheep. It saw sunrises, and sunsets. It saw my tears and my laughter. It saw friends gained, and friends lost. Is a harvest merely something of food, or can it be of something more? Can there be a harvest of dreams, of new character, of new experiences? I hope so, because I've seen that kind of harvest in myself. I have loved this year, but I do not cling to it. This is the end of the year for the Celts and for me. October 31st is the Celtic New Year; it is time to turn the page and see what is written there. Or if nothing is written, then it's time for us to find a pen and write something with our own hand. Being a dreamer, I think I will be the one to do the writing on my page. It suits me that way. The next harvest year will begin next spring and I quiver as I think what it may hold in it's tendril, green hands. More sheep, perhaps? A farm collie named Dulcie? Hogs? My own land and house? Oh yes please, someone sign me up for all of that. I've had a harvest of dreams this year, and now it is time to sow the seeds for next year's crop of hopes and fantasies. I am a stubborn, hard headed slip of a girl, but in all honesty, that's the only way I've managed to do the things I've done. When you want something, you have to just hunker down and do it. Never mind those people who shake their head and say that you're being unrealistic and unwise. How are they to know your heart? How are they to know that your dreams are what keep you going? How can they know what it feels like to seek something and then finally have it after a seemingly endless wait? Samhain is a day of celebrating that we've come this far and succeeded in what we have done this year. And guess what! Samhain is coming again next year! We have another chance at reaching our goals and desires, and then next October 31st we can sit back and reflect... And consider what we've done, and what there is still to do. There is so much to life. And I love it that way...

Happy Samhain everyone. I leave you now with this song that has helped me put words on this page tonight, and often keeps me company.

Dead Man's Will, by 'Iron and Wine'.