Saturday, October 31, 2009

A miracle - cows fascinate me!

Those who have been following this blog know that Lucy had a mishap.  One of her teats was stepped on by another cow (I didn't see it, but according to Mat, our vet, it is fairly common and my description of the injury was a pretty sure indication that this was what had happened).  The gory details are in a previous post, and I will not repeat them here.  So those of faint heart can keep reading.

The vet said in order to save that teat - and that whole quarter - Lucy must be milked out on that quarter at least twice a day.  I started milking her two days after the incident.  It was a trial.  She has always been a bit testy when being milked, quick to kick.  I have the bruises on both wrists as evidence that this whole ordeal brought out her kicking skills to the max!

Twice a day, someone had to hold her tail over her back, which makes it harder albeit not impossible for her to kick, while I reached under her and milked her as best I could, being careful not to touch the exposed and very raw skin on the lower portion of the teat.  There were good days and bad days.  Twice I tried to use the machine, and it only led to more kicking and irritation to the injury.  I told Kathy to make sure that I didn't milk her for at least a week, because I know myself, and I knew I would want to try to milk her just as soon as she would let me.

Two nights ago, I said, "Kathy, I'm going to give it a try with the milker."

"No, you're not." she countered.  Yup I would have tried, yup she stopped me, and yup it was a good thing she did.

Lucy is obviously feeling much less pain.  I can see the value in letting the teat heal with as little touching as possible.  I had to touch it to milk it, to get the flow going each morning and night which was necessary to keep the milk duct open so that we wouldn't lose that quarter forever. Sometimes it was really tough, quite a few tugs before milk appeared, which was just more pain for her and more chance of being kicked for me.  Someone had to drive over here every morning to hold her tail over her back just long enough for me to get the milk going. 

A miracle happened last night.  I went out to milk Lucy, timing my entry to the milking parlor so that Kathy would be about done with the others and would be milking out Lucy's three good quarters.  As I entered the parlor, Kathy put her finger to her lips and said, "Shhhhhhhhh!"  There was a steady stream of milk flowing from the injured teat!  Kathy said it didn't start until she put the milker on the other three.  Plenty of milk flowed, so much that when I tried to milk her out a bit by hand after Kathy had pulled off the machine, she was done.

This is big news!  And good news!!  The milk duct stayed open without any manual milking.  That quarter emptied out.  And she didn't leak until the milker was on the other three quarters.  Why is that important?  One of the things we feared was that the injury would affect the sphincter valve in that teat and she would leak all the time.  That means milk coming out and bacteria going in pretty much continuously, and all of our work would have been for naught.

I didn't have to do anything tonight, no hand milking.  We just let it flow, nice, clear, clean milk.  Lucy is doing it all by herself.  Perhaps this is her way of saying, "You can keep your hands off me, Susan!  I am tired of being jerked around!!  Now go away."

And I did.  :)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why raw milk?

Many people are under the misconception that raw milk is dangerous.  It is not.  So why do we pasteurize our milk?  A little history here.

At one time, milk did spread disease, in particular from city dairies that housed cows that were not pastured and were kept in dirty circumstances.  How did that happen?  As populations grew in cities, the need for dairies close to the consumers rose, and city dairies became common. The cows were inside - no room for pastures - and they were fed offal from the greengrocers and breweries, to name two of the mainstays of their diets. There was a great deal of filth in these dairies, and it was a prime breeding ground for diseases such as brucellosis and tuberculosis. Cows infected with brucellosis pass it on, as undulant fever, to humans.

When the Pasteurs came up with a method for heating milk to kill pathogens, it presented a way to prevent the spread of disease without cleaning up the dairies.  Let me repeat that - without cleaning up the dairies.  They had a choice, clean up the dairies or pasteurize dirty milk.  The latter was much cheaper, and so it was chosen.  And that is the reason we must pasteurize our commercial milk today - dirty milk.  The number of pathogens allowed in commercial milk is extremely high because they are going to be destroyed anyway.  No matter that precious vitamins and minerals are destroyed or greatly minimized at the same time.  No matter that the good bacteria, which comprise the far greater percentage of the bacteria in milk, are also destroyed.  And now, with ultra-pasteurization, even the enzymes are killed.  You cannot make cheese with ultra pasteurized milk.  It is dead milk, the very life of it destroyed with a blast of heat.

You might be thinking it is worth it to get rid of those bad bacteria.  Here is what you are giving up - enzymes that make milk more digestible.  Mother Nature, in all her wisdom, provided an animal that can convert cellulose (which we cannot digest) into milk (which we can).  I have heard the argument ad nauseum that we are the only animal that drinks milk from another animal, and that is just so silly!  Cats, dogs and chickens will drink milk from any animal.  Has anybody milked a chicken lately?  They love milk and their species doesn't even produce it!  Mother Nature also made sure we could digest it by adding valuable enzymes to the milk.  Many people who think they are lactose intolerant have no problem with raw milk, in which all of the natural aids to digestibility remain.  And you are giving up the good bacteria.  It boggles the mind that people buy Activa, made with a patented bacterium, to get those "probiotics" to make their gut healthier when they could have gotten them with raw milk.

Ah, but what about the bad bacteria that go along with the good bacteria?  Listeria is a very nasty bacterium, and it has been responsible for the majority of deaths from dairy products.  All of those deaths have been from pasteurized milk.  That bears repeating - all of those deaths have been from pasteurized milk.   The good bacteria that naturally occur in raw milk eat listeria, and therefore control it.  Mark McAfee, who owns a large raw milk dairy in California (where it is legal to retail raw milk), proved it to a board that was trying to stop the sale of raw milk.  He deliberately injected listeria into raw milk, and then tested for it the bacterium again 48 hours later.  It was gone.  However, if by any chance listeria infects pasteurized milk, there is nothing to stop it.  It has no natural predators, and it can proliferate to the point of being dangerous to people with compromised immune systems.  About 2% of pasteurized milk contains minute but measurable quantities of listeria, by the way.  One of the reasons that pasteurized milk rots rather than gently souring as it ages. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are still quick to warn consumers about the dangers inherent in unpasteurized milk, citing the fact that more than 800 people in the U.S. have gotten sick from drinking raw milk or eating cheese made from raw milk since 1998.  Not deaths, but illnesses.  In eleven years, no deaths from raw milk. Over a thirty year period, 620 people died from consuming pasteurized milk products.  And yet raw milk producers are often hounded by government agencies as if they were pushing drugs or had meth labs in their barns.  Five people died from an outbreak of e. coli in spinach.  Several people died from eating radish sprouts.  If one looks at the total number of food related illnesses, produce comprises nearly 40% of them!

When you buy milk from the store, it is heavily subsidized, and you are actually paying less for it than the cost to produce it.  Our raw milk more accurately reflects the true cost of milk.  We get no subsidies.  In fact, the government - and agribusiness - would like nothing more than for us to just go quietly away!  I'm not sure why.  It just seems to me that the demand for raw milk is so low that they shouldn't be worrying that we are depriving them of their profits.  But maybe they worry it is the first chink in the armor.  Puzzling.  I will continue to drink raw milk.  I believe in the health benefits, and it sure does taste better!

Tonight there are fifteen chickens roosting happily in the Moop, three calves, three heifers (they broke out of the paddock twice today, but they are where they belong now), six milkers (Lucy continues to improve), one bull, three dogs and a cat.  All is well on the farm.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Drying up the cows

The first year we milked, we had meetings at my house each month.  Steve, the farmer whose pastures and milking equipment we rented, came to the meetings and helped us learn about milking as a grass farmer.  He dries up his whole herd in November.  We didn't want to do that, because we didn't want to have to revert to store bought milk or get raw milk from a farmer who fed grain and who wasn't organic.  Steve explained that we had to dry up the cows at some point to give them a rest before they freshen (that means have a calf) in the spring.  We asked how we should do that, would we milk every other day, then every third day, to gradually dry them off?  He said, "No, you just quit milking them."

In concert, every woman in the room threw her arms across her breasts and moaned!  Then we looked at one another and burst out laughing.  Steve, a bachelor farmer, didn't get it.  But I'm sure every woman reading this does!!  When we explained to him why that sounded like a painful proposition, he said it doesn't give them pain - they just start directing the calories that they eat toward making that calf instead of making milk.

So in February we schedule that rest for the girls, and for the people on the milking crew.  Our cows are bred to freshen in April, May and June.  They cannot continue to give milk unless they have a calf every year.  Cows are pregnant for nine months, just like humans.  The schedule looks like this:  The cows freshen in the spring.  They are all dried up between February 1 and February 15, no matter when they freshened.   

Quattro freshens every year on time.  She is not a great milker, but she is a great breeder!  That is important, because she is giving milk right from the start.  Compare that with Rosie, who is a fantastic milker but who is slipping a little each year.  She is older and not as fertile as she was.  She didn't freshen until July.  Since we dry up the whole herd in February, then that is just lost milk - nothing from Rosie in April, May and June, while Quattro was giving her milk every day.  So that makes up for her low quantity of milk.  Over the full period of lactation, Quattro probably gives nearly as much milk as Rosie.  Also, she is having calves in the spring, when we can add them to our herd.  We only keep calves for ourselves that are born in April.

The calves that are born later are put up for sale.  We have a waiting list for them, too.  We have already earned a reputation for having healthy animals.  The bull calves go to people who will raise them as breeding stock or who will raise them for meat.  We can be picky about who we sell to, and we avoid selling to people who are going to raise them to sell to feed lots.  I am an omnivore, but I care about how an animal is raised.  Feed lots are not the way to raise beeves.  They should roam free, grass fed, until their day comes.  I'm climbing on my soap box again now, but just remember that when you buy commercial meat, you are buying feedlot factory farm meat.  Go for that grass fed beef.  Pay a little more.  It is better for you, and it is better for the animal.  I do believe that the animal's state of mind affects the meat.

Anyway, back to drying up the cows.  Our girls are definitely in their downturn now.  They are putting more of their energy and the calories they consume to making calves and less into making milk.  We are getting less than half the amount of milk we were getting in early July, right after Rosie freshened.  But that is natural, it is how things happen in the real world.  Our shareholders understand that they are not getting their milk from a supermarket, but are getting what their own cows provide.  That means a lot of milk in spring and summer, and less and less as the cold weather sets in.  Then in February, it is NO milk.  This is why we encourage our shareholders to freeze some milk while production is high, or to learn to make cheeses that freeze well, or to make and freeze butter.

This is our third year, and our shareholders are getting the hang of it.  Some of the new shareholders complain about the drop in milk production, forgetting about all those weeks when they were getting way over the average, even after it is thoroughly explained when they join.  And some of them drop out.  But there is always someone else waiting to get on board, and so we continue to increase the number of dedicated shareholders who understand that at some level, they become farmers when they become shareholders in our association, that they become dependent on the largess of their own cows.  I enjoy seeing the change in attitude many have towards food and farming once they become part of this group.  They are the ones who are delighted when we have a good milking day and they are blessed with an extra half quart of milk.  They are the ones who hold that winter milk jar up to the light and notice that as the milk declines, the cream increases, and they may have a jar that is nearly one third cream!

My mission on this farm initially was to provide myself with wholesome organic food.  Now I am helping to provide it to many other people, through the milk - for which I provide the building, equipment and pastures - and through my organic greenhouse plants and the good food from my garden.  It is a satisfying life.  I do not remember being happier than I am now.  Maybe becoming a full time farmer was an accident, but it was a GOOD accident, a very good accident indeed.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Paperwork and soap making

I hate paperwork!  I would much rather walk fences or feed calves or make soap.  That might have something to do with why I took early retirement from the corporate world.  No way to get around it there.

So why did I think that there would be no paperwork here?  Hah!  Not only do I have my own, but I am treasurer and scheduler for our milk association.   It has been my objective over the past week to get to the bottom of it.  First I balanced 12 months of bank statements for two bank accounts, and three months' worth for a third.  Then I did two months of posting for credit card charges.  Yesterday I tackled filing, for the milk association, for my farming business, including the organic certification papers, and for my soap business.

The dining room table is clean.  The kitchen counter is clean.  I can see my desk top.  My computer desk is clear.  So now I can get on with making soap.

Soap is made with lye.  People ask me if my soap has lye - they don't want lye.  Well, ALL soap has lye.  The chemical formula for making soap includes lye.  If there is no lye, then technically it is NOT soap!  So I have to gently explain to them that the lye disappears after it does its job, which is to act as the catalyst to bind the liquid and the oils.  Just as copper and zinc are combined to form an alloy called brass, from which neither copper nor zinc can be derived, soap is an "alloy" of fat, liquid and lye, which cannot be broken down into its components.  So the lye really and truly is no longer there.  But the lye makes a very alkaline product, which is why cold process soap - which is what I make - has to sit on a curing rack for several weeks.  During that time, the pH gradually lowers until it is at the proper level. 

I have people specifically ask for "lye soap."  I am catching on to that one.  What they mean is that they want the old fashioned soap that was nothing but some lard or tallow, water, and lye.  I make it for myself, grate it and use it in my washing machine.  It is the most fabulous laundry soap!  It leaves the clothes soft and scent-free.  No need for fabric softeners.  The little chunks of bar left after I'm done grating go into a cup in the laundry room and are used to rub on tough spots.  No need to buy stain removers.  I make my own soap from tallow I get for free from the butcher.  I buy lye in bulk from an internet wholesaler.  My machine is a front load type, which uses less soap.  It costs me about three cents per load to do my laundry.

As for grating it, that Cuisinart food processor is good for more than slicing cabbages for sauerkraut!  The grating wheel makes short work of grating three bars, enough to fit in the Tupperware cereal container and more than enough to do my laundry for three or four week.

Well, I'm off to the soap room right now.  Gotta get one batch done before Misty gets here to help milk out Lucy.  Vet says maybe another few days of morning milking just to be sure she is clear, but she is doing just great!

Still 15 chickens, three calves, three heifers in their proper paddock, six milkers, one bull (will have to write about Samuel one of these days), one large black old dog, one large black young dog, one yappy middle aged small dog, and one small white curious cat.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Blessed be!

Lucy did well this morning.  Milk flowed on the first tug.  She didn't defecate once during the whole time in barn.  These are both signs of continued and rapid healing.

Regarding our new supply of hay, the cows' production was up 25% last night, after just 36 hours on the new balage.  That is good stuff!  Also, we have plenty of it.  This morning, for the first time in weeks, I was not greeted with much bellowing from hungry cows.  Even Blackie and the three little calves were silent.  They are well fed at last!

That didn't keep me from giving them two big flakes of balage this morning.  Let's hope production rises again tonight.  The shareholders will be delighted. 

In spite of the clouds, this is a great day.  Now if the Bears can just pull off a win against Bengals this afternoon, then my day will be complete!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The ongoing saga of Lucy

Lucy did so well Friday morning!  I had high hopes that we could milk all four quarters with the machine on Friday night.  I tried.  I failed.  She went pretty nuts.  Is it possible to get bruises on top of bruises?  If so, I am going to have a very colorful left wrist!

I have some idea how Lucy feels.  The first time she didn't know what I was going to do, so it came as a surprise and I had some small advantage when I put the milker on.  But now she knows, she knows in advance that it is going to hurt.

And I know in advance that those flailing hooves are going to get me, and they are going to hurt me.  I start hurting before I even put my hands up to milk her (purely psychological, I know), and I can understand perfectly why she is beginning to hate the sight of me.

It is mutual. I DON'T love Lucy at this moment in time. We will both get over it once the healing is done, once my wrists are no longer tender, once we both forget about all of this.

Today's fiasco is my own fault. I didn't really do my job last night, due to the skittishness on the part of both Lucy and me. This morning Leifschon and her husband Jason both came over to help me. Leifschon knew how crazy Lucy had been the night before and thought having three of us there might be a good idea. It was a very good idea indeed.

The reason that we milk Lucy twice a day is to keep the milk duct open. If it heals shut and scars over, then we will lose that quarter forever. Many farmers do that, but if you have 50 or 150 cows, it is no big deal. We have six cows, which is 24 quarters, and we have 36 shareholders. You do the math - we need every one of them to be in working order! It is not easy on the cow to have the udder dry up, since it will swell before it dries up and possibly become infected.

I realized how serious it was that I had not milked her out last night when I tried to milk her this morning. It took forever for the milk duct to break open. By the time it did, Lucy had made a mess, knocked down a pipe and hit that big bruise once again! She calmed down once the milk started to flow, and between the three of us, I was able to milk out the quarter.

Tonight, the milk duct broke free almost immediately. But I learned my lesson. I didn't try to put on the milking machine, and I made sure that she was milked out completely before letting her back out into the pasture. Tomorrow morning, we will go at it again.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Very busy, but good news

Those who are following regularly will note there has been no blogging the last couple of days.  Having to bring the cows into the barn every morning so that I can keep Lucy's injured teat working is taking a lot of time. The way our milking parlor is configured, I have to bring in all of the girls so that Lucy can't move around quite so much.  It is a time consuming process but one that is necessary, like so much of what we do on the farm.

Very good news!  The vet looked at Lucy yesterday, believes that even though it is a severe injury, it was a clean cut on the skin and is healing very nicely.  We are only using my organic yarrow oil on it, and he is impressed.  :)  Last night Liefschon held her tail to keep her from kicking (our usual routine) and I put the milking machine on her.  She danced, but not too badly, and responded to massaging of her udder.  I was able to milk out about a half gallon of milk.  This is huge!  If any of you had been here the first few days, you would have thought that she would never ever again in her life tolerate being milked from that quarter.  She is such a good girl!  She has suffered mightily, but is obviously on the road to complete wellness.  I am so happy for her, and for me!  I have suffered a few bruises and scratches from the kicking, and it will be good to have my mornings back again.  We should be able to quit the morning hand milking within a few days.

As for the rest of the farm, the hay was finally delivered yesterday.  It was supposed to be here Wednesday, then 9 am Thursday, then noon, then 3 pm, and finally arrived at 5:30.  It had to be wrapped once it was here, to make a fermented hay called balage.  That is what you do with hay that is too wet to be conventionally stored, and the cows love it!  My drive is over a half mile long, and there are a couple of sharp turns on narrow roads to get to it.  I didn't measure the semi, but it was carrying 25 tons of hay - 63 bales that are about 3'x3'x6'.  It was close, but the job got done.  We finished well after dark, and it was drizzling rain the whole time.  The truck driver was a little worried about getting the truck back out of the paddock where we put the hay, because the ground was a lot softer by the time he left.  Fortunately, the truck was a lot lighter, and all was well.

So yesterday was a pretty stressful day, but a lot got accomplished.  Lucy is on the mend, and the girls have a more than adequate supply of hay for the winter months.

There were fifteen fat chickens roosting in the Moop last night, and all other critters accounted for.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Not for the faint hearted. Skip if you don't want to read about injured cow.

The farm may seem like an idyllic place, and it is for the most part, especially when we are enjoying lovely fall weather.  But sometimes tough stuff happens.  I got notes from several of you mourning with me about Lola.  That was a tough decision, and I appreciated your kind words of understanding and support.  But worse than the death of a cow is an injury.  That is an ongoing thing, and it is hard to watch the cow's pain and suffering, especially when she is depending on me to make things right.

When choosing a career, "nurse" didn't even register with me because I am just not good around blood or pain.  I have a weak stomach.  If you read my post "I didn't wanna do it . . ." about giving Rosie a shot of vitamin C, then you will know that I am not really Florence Nightingale, even though I pretended to be after that episode.  But that was a small thing compared to Lucy's injury.

Saturday evening Kathy, who had milked, told me that Lucy had a sore teat, that it appeared to be stripped of the skin on the lower half, and that Lucy wouldn't let her touch it.  By then Lucy was back in the pasture and it was already getting towards dusk.  I called Mat, our vet, but got no response.  I took the coward's way out and said I would deal with it Sunday night when the milker got there.  Erin milked Sunday night, and when she arrived, we had trouble getting Lucy into the milking parlor.  When I looked at the teat, I started to shake.  It was raw meat - must have been terribly painful for her.  Her udder wasn't swollen, not even that quarter, which had remained unmilked the night before.  I told Erin to milk out the other three quarters and leave the quarter with the injured teat alone.

I came in and called Mat again, still no answer, so I left another message and I could hear my voice shaking.  He must have heard it too, because he called me early on Monday morning.  I explained the situation as best I could and asked him to come out.  He told me that it is a fairly common injury, caused when another cow steps on the cow's teat while she is lying down.  When she jerks away, it pulls the skin off the teat.  He told me it was important that we milk her.  So that evening when the new milker arrived (each of the seven milkers milks for a week at a time, Monday through Sunday), I told her to check Lucy's unmilked quarter to see if it was hard.  She wasn't sure, and when I checked it, I knew it must be milked.  If it was allowed to swell, then she would develop mastitis, and it could affect all four quarters.  Our herd is certified organic and treatment for mastitis is limited.

The milker milked all of the cows, including three of Lucy's four quarters.   She pumped all of the milk to the collection tank, drained the line and turned off the vacuum pump.  Then she called me and I came out to do something a lot more difficult than sticking a needle full of vitamin C into a cow's neck.  After spraying warm water on the injured quarter (she wouldn't even allow that 24 hours earlier so I knew it was healing), I put the milker on all four of Lucy's teats.  When I put it on the injured one, all hell broke loose.  She kicked the inflations (that is what the devices that attach to each teat are called) from the three good teats, but it held on the bad one, I suppose because it was so swollen.  She danced around and kicked a lot, with me dancing right along with her, holding the inflation as tightly as I could against the injured teat.  Lucy was in pain, and she was shitting!  All over me, all over the railings, all over the floor, all over the milking machine.  When she kicked it off the injured teat, I called it a day and shut down the system.  Lucy's injured teat continued to spray milk onto the floor.  That was a very good thing, because releasing the pressure is important.  I sprayed her udder some more, and whether it was the hot water washer or cold water from the hose, it calmed her down.

I used the hose to clean up the worst of the manure that was coating a good bit of my right arm and was spackled all over my front side.  We let Lucy out of the barn leaking a trail of milk and I went into the house to clean up.

I called the vet right away to give him an update and ask about next steps.  He was amazed that I had managed to milk her alone.  He said it usually takes two people, one to pull back on the tail (it keeps them from kicking) and one to milk.  He also said we needed to milk her at least twice a day - do NOT let the milk build up in that quarter!  So this morning I called my right hand farmer Kathy and asked her to come down to help me.  We brought in all of the cows, since it would keep Lucy more tightly in place and she would also have the comfort of the other cows around her. 

She was calmer than the previous evening.  But is was the same routine - kicked off the milker and defecated all over both of us, but I got the brunt of it since I had the milking machine in hand.  She kept the milker on a shorter time than the night before - less swelling in the teat, more than likely.  The leaking started, which of course was relieving the pressure, but it stopped fairly quickly.  I tried hand milking her, avoiding the raw lower part of the teat.  She kicked me several times - I have the bruises and scratches to prove it.  She began leaking copiously again, and we called it a day.  Kathy cleaned up the milking system while I cleaned out the milking parlor and then fed the cows their morning ration of hay.

Tonight the milker, Leifschon, repeated our routine of last night, milking out three quarters, then called me.  Tonight I got smarter and had her hold the tail tightly as far over her back as it would go.  Problem!  The milking machine yielded no milk at all.  So I tried to hand milk again - finally, milk was released.

She did not defecate on me tonight, in fact none at all in the barn.  That is good news.  It means the pain is abating.

This is a tough life, more than I bargained for on some days.  I will be glad when Lucy is all better again.  Updates will be forthcoming, for those who were able to read through this to the end.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Small white cat . . .

I promised a story about my cat, and then I got off on a tangent with the cottage cheese deal, so I'm a day late with this.

Just an aside, did you know how you become a Cat Lady?  You lose count once you have three cats.  I am told this is absolutely true, that they no longer are countable - they blur into a large cat blur.  One day there are three, the next there may be15.  But you won't know it because all you will see is the cat blur composed of cats that can no longer be counted.  Then you are truly a Cat Lady.  I am not even a cat person.  All of the cats I have owned have been mercy cases - someone going to put down a cat, one found in a ditch, that sort of thing.  I loved them all, but I was not IN LOVE with them.

Two years ago during winter holidays, I made the mistake of going to church on the week when they were trying to find homes for the six feral kittens born in the church garage six weeks earlier.  At coffee hour, someone said, "Oh, there's Susan!  Susan will take a cat!  Susan, you will take a kitten, won't you?  We know how you love animals."  I said no - several times.

I named her Holly Berry and headed home.  Driving with the new kitten was a real challenge since I don't usually bring the cat carrier with me to church.  Diana, the culprit who finally wouldn't take no for an answer, had rigged up a box.  It held the kitten for all of five minutes and I had another 40 minutes to drive.  I tried tucking her into my coat.  It worked for a moment or two, but then she squirted out of it!  After alternately putting her back in the box and then back in my coat, we finally arrived home.  There was much hissing and barking (Ayn Chee, the small yappy dog).  The other cat, Smoky, wanted nothing to do with her.  However, Tashi wanted to carry her around!  She was ready and willing to adopt her as her own.  The kitten was amazingly tolerant of Tashi's attention.

I tried to talk my daughter into taking her.  One of her kids is just nuts about cats, and I was going down there for Christmas.  I took the kitten along, fully expecting to come home with an empty cat carrier.  Everyone just loved her!  Before the day was out, so did I.   I knew I didn't want to give her up.  My daughter, of course, was delighted that she wasn't staying on.  But to assuage Rachel's disappointment about the cat, she had pretty much promised her kids a dog.  I'll tell the rest of that story later!

So Holly Berry and I headed home.  I was hooked, but I still didn't consider myself a cat person.  As the weeks wore on, Holly Berry asserted her strong personality.  She was very tiny, and is still tiny for a full grown cat, but size meant nothing.  She and Tashi played together, getting pretty "rough and tumble" at times.  And she also let me know that I was HER pet, not the other way around.  I would wake up in the night when she decided to comb my hair with her claws.  Yes, she groomed me.  She has quit combing my hair, but I still get a good washing several times a day.  My face, my hands, my arms, whatever she can reach.  Dogs have tongues like velvet; cats have tongues like sandpaper.  But it is entertaining in its own way.  She groomed Smoky, too, whether he liked it or not.  She would jump on his back and start licking his head.

Holly Berry has another name - Poltergeist.  She just loves to crawl onto high shelves and pitch stuff on the floor.  Here is a picture of her backside as she sleeps in a cubbyhole in my desk.  She usually throws a few things off the shelf before settling in for a nap.  Okay, okay, I'm a cat person, at least where this cat is concerned.

My vet, Dr. Hoeffler, says the same thing - he is a dog person, except for one cat that really got to him.  He is such a great vet, always has time to chat and obviously just loves animals.  He ignores me completely when he comes into the examination room, focusing on the animal, talking to it, kissing it, totally different from any vet I have ever had.

I told Dr. Hoeffler about Holly's penchant for knocking things on the floor, and that recently she had gotten to a VERY high shelf and knocked an elephant figurine to the floor.  She batted at it with her paw, moving it ever closer to the edge until it finally tumbled.  Then she watched it fall, head cocked, as it smashed into a gazillion pieces.  I watched her do it, but I was not quick enough to stop her.  And by the way, the elephant was nearly as big as she was.  I kind of liked my elephant, and it had been with me for about 20 years, so I was a little irritated.  I told Dr. Hoeffler that I was sure she did such things out of curiosity, just enjoyed watching things happen.

"You don't know that," he said.  "People make a lot of assumptions about what goes on in an animal's mind, but they don't really know.  She may have been thinking, 'That is the ugliest thing I have ever seen!  It has got to go!'"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Guest blogger - making cheese

My friend Heather asked me to submit my recipe for cottage cheese.  It is posted on her new blog foraging fromage

Hope you enjoy.  Making cottage cheese is pretty straightforward, although it takes a little time.  But if you ever make your own, you will never want the store bought stuff again!

What I failed to mention in the recipe (will have to have Heather update it for me) is that this recipe makes about two pounds of cheese, and it can easily be halved.

You might also enjoy Heather's girlichef blog.  She is truly an inspired cook, and her photography is wonderful.  It's worth getting to that blog just to look at the pictures.  See it here:  This girl knows how to cook REAL food!!!

Well, back to the pile of paperwork on my counter.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Here, chick-chick!!!

Today's blog is devoted to the chickens.  I have given up on keeping them in their pen, and I see no reason to spend $600 on an electric fence.  The electric fence is four feet tall.  They are now flying over the seven-foot fence, albeit in places where the fence is drooping.  They are flying up into trees.  They are ripping through the woods and thoroughly enjoying themselves.  Their little pen is just that - a little pen.  I don't like to be fenced in, so I tend to err on the side of giving all of the animals here as much freedom as possible.   "Do unto others . . . "  However, even if the electric fence won't keep the chickens in, it would keep predators out, so I have not eliminated it from my farm wish list.

The chickens come to me when I walk out to the side yard that they now occupy during the daylight hours.  They don't hop on my lap, nothing that friendly, but they definitely welcome my presence.  Yesterday I was looking at their brilliant feathers while they ran around under the fall foliage.  The similarity of colors was striking, and I ran for my camera.  Of course they had scattered by the time I got back, so the photo op was lost.  Today I went out with the camera a little earlier and stayed a little longer.  So here goes.  This is sort of like pictures of someone's vacation - far more interesting to the presenter than the reader, I know.  But I must share these pics!

This was last night at dusk.  Buster is the one with the big comb.

These are all hens.  In this particular breed, the hens have what is called a "pea comb," that is, it is very small.  Since our winters here are quite cold, chickens with this type of comb are more suitable.  Big combs can get frostbitten.  Poor Buster!  He might have a problem . . .

 Here is Buster with three hens.  You notice I do not have names for the hens.  I can't tell them apart, except for one that I do not believe is a purebred Campine.  She has almost no neck, and her tail doesn't fan out.  Her name is No Neck. 

Here is Buster sitting on a very small branch in a sassafras tree.  He nearly fell off when he flew onto the branch, but after a bit of precarious teetering, he got it together and spent a few minutes there.

This isn't quite as good a shot as the one I missed last night, but it's still pretty good.  I love how both the leaves and the birds are red and gold.

Isn't he magnificent?

Hope you enjoyed the show.  I enjoyed putting it together.  :)

Tonight there are 15 chickens, three calves, three heifers in their proper place, one large young black dog, one large old black dog, one yappy cute dog, and one small white cat.  The cat's name is Holly Berry, a.k.a. Poltergeist, and I will tell you more about her tomorrow.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Where to begin with the story of the oldest of my three dogs.  My Baby Bear.  That is what is written on the file folder where I keep her medical records.  She is hardly a baby anymore!  She weighs in at 50 pounds.  But still, she is my baby.  When I lost my dog Valentine, I didn't think I could ever love another dog that much, but Bear has my heart firmly in her grasp.  I whisper in her ear every night that she is my favorite dog.  But I don't have to.  She knows.  Bear has never suffered from a lack of self confidence, even though she was abandoned in a ditch when she was just a few weeks old.  Here's how she came into my life.

Our secretary was having a bad day.  Her year old dog was being put down that day for an incurable illness.  She was bummed, and we were all bummed for her.  It was the day of our office Christmas party, and it put a bit of a pall on the group.  But Cheryl gamely showed up.  While we were eating lunch, one of the managers showed up with this little black fluffball with a big red velvet ribbon tied in a bow around its neck.

She had found it in a ditch on her way to work and brought it to Cheryl, with all good intentions.  Cheryl just looked at it and shook her head.  I understood completely.  She was dealing with the current situation, didn't need a replacement because, let's face it, there is no such thing as a replacement.

Everyone else oooohed and ahhhhed over the pup while they passed her around.  Then someone put her on the floor.  I had my eye on her and watched her start to squat.  I ran over and picked her up, took her to a patch of grass outside our office door and let her do her thing.  She had puppy breath.  She was so soft it almost hurt.  She had puppy breath.  She had - and still has - the cutest doggy face I had ever seen.  Did I mention she had puppy breath? 

I went back into the party and announced, "I'll take her!"  Several people offered to take her if it didn't work out for me.  Hah!  She was MINE!  So I took her home to be the junior dog to Bud, my dog of three years.

Bear walked in the house.  I think I have mentioned in previous posts she was an alpha dog.  She weighed just a few pounds but that didn't matter.  She let Bud know who was boss in short order!  She was just IN HIS FACE!  And Bud was always such a love, such a gentleman, definitely not alpha, so he just let her take over.

I gave Bear her first bath in the kitchen sink, and once all the fluff was wet, she fit neatly in one hand.  When I took Bear to the vet for her first visit, the vet thought she was six to eight weeks old and would grow to weigh under 20 pounds.  That was a very bad estimate, and one that leads me to believe Bear may only have been three or four weeks old when I got her.  Bear caught up to Buddy's size quickly and surpassed him by about twenty pounds, eventually weighing in at 55 pounds.  I think she was tiny because she was very, very young, because she was certainly not a tiny breed of dog.  Another reason I believed that Bear was quite young was that she suckled my earlobe.  I do believe that is even more awesome than puppy breath!  To this day, Bear often greets me with a little kiss on my ear. 

Bud and Bear were inseparable from Day No. 1.  When I called them, I would just yell, "Buddybear, Buddybear!" and they would come running together.   When Buddy passed, I buried him under a cherry tree in the side yard.  Bear laid on the grave and mourned.

As a puppy, Bear did not have good house manners and had to be put in a cage.  She escaped.  I put her on the screen porch.  She popped the screens out.  She bit me - not once but three times.  I talked to a dog trainer after the third bite, and he told me that he thought she had some Chow in her, and that they would try to prove they were alpha to their owners, would bite their owners but no one else and that I had to let her know who was boss.  The next time she snapped at me, I pinned her, yelling, "I'M THE BOSS, NOT YOU!  $30 AND YOU ARE HISTORY!  DON'T YOU EVER BITE ME AGAIN!!!"  She was totally subdued when I let her up, and she never snapped at me again.

I realize I must stop now, because I could write a whole book about my Bear.  I will close with this note.  Bear was diagnosed with Cushing's Syndrome about seven years ago.  She had started shaking a year or two earlier, and two vets said nothing could be done.  The third vet suspicioned Cushing's and it was confirmed through testing.  It is a nasty disease and I thought I would lose her at a young age.  Every Wednesday she takes two Lysodrine tablets.  Once a year she is tested to make sure the med levels are correct.  And she will celebrate her 15th birthday soon.  She is still happy.  Standing still is tough (that's why she has to lie down to eat) but she can run just fine, and when I come home, she is the one dog who always stops to give me a greeting on her way out the door.  It is usually a kiss on my ear.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wandering cows

Today I came down with the flu.  I am pretty miserable.  I pride myself on never getting sick, but this cannot be denied.  I'm  hoping it isn't the swine flu, that it will come and go quickly.

I let the cows into the makeshift pasture down by Crone Creek.  A few hours later, when I got up off the couch to check out all of the critters, they were nowhere to be found.  They have escaped from that pasture two other times.  I should have known better than to put them there, but it actually had a little grass.   It is just that they now know where to go to get a LOT of grass!  They have to follow the creek, oh, probably about a half mile, then take this rutted track through the woods, only about fifty feet or so, and then they are in a magnificent meadow.  I don't know whose it is.  I wish my pastures looked like these three meadows.  So do the cows!

Of course, I found them there.  They hadn't been there long, and the reason I know that is because they were not ready to quit eating.  Usually I can get Rosie herded where I want the whole herd, and then the others follow.  But she was NOT leaving that meadow!  After chasing her around a circular path a couple of times, I gave up.  I was sweating profusely and figured I needed to get back to the couch and take care of myself.  The cows weren't anywhere that they could hurt themselves, so I left them to their illicit meal.

I called Brad, who is milking tonight, and Kathy and asked them if they could be here a little before milking time.  They arrived at 3:30 and we went out to get them.  When we found them, they were all lying down, which meant they had had their fill.  I knew it would be easy.  I probably could have gotten them myself.  But it was good to have help.  I got Rosie headed in the right direction and sent Brad with her.  He walked her to where Kathy stood to help get them through the woods and back onto the homeward bound path.  I got the other nine of them up and on their way.

They were back on my property in short order.  They will milk well for a couple of days.  That is really beautiful grass.  Wish ours looked like that.  And I know that someday it will.  Each year, the cows put their precious manure and urine on this land to fertilize it, they cultivate it with their hooves, and they eat away the weeds that vie with the grasses for nutrients and sun.  

I am heading back for the couch.  I hope this doesn't go on too much longer.  My throat is raw, sinuses are stuffy, body aches.  It is not good.  I am not used to being sick, and I don't like it!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The art of feeding cows

Have you ever stood in a pasture and listened to cows munching on hay?  If not, you have missed listening to SATISFACTION!  Yes, if there is a sound associated with satisfaction, munching cows does a far better job of capturing it than anything I can think of.   One would think that feeding cows would be pretty straightforward - just get the hay in the general proximity of the cows, they will find it and they will eat it.  But there is really an art to feeding them.

The girls get pretty restless after milking at this time of year, when they are not turned out onto a lush pasture, but one that they have already nibbled down to the nubs.  No grass treat awaits them in the pastures now.  So we are feeding four bales of hay each night.  They are creatures of habit, and they know that after they do their daily stint in the barn, it is time for the hay!  Blackie moos incessantly until the hay arrives.  Tonight I got tired of listening to her bellow, so I went down to the pasture with an armful of kale, which she and Rosie just love.  Quattro is getting a taste for it, too.  Those three ran to the fence and started grabbing mouthfuls of it from my hands.  Rosie is the pushiest, and she kept taking it away from Blackie, I mean tearing it right out of her mouth.  Shame on her!

Then Erin started down the path with the hay.  To hell with the kale - here comes the good stuff!  They all crowded around, and getting that first bale opened and into the paddock was a real trial.  Once their heads are down and they are stuffing their mouths, then opening the other three bales and laying them out in the proper pattern is a piece of cake.

We used to sprinkle the hay out in a big circle.  We were told to do that, so that the bits of seed in the hay would fall to the ground and improve our pastures.  Of course you would want to spread it out over a large area.  Two thing are wrong with that.  First, I didn't see any improvement in the pastures where the hay was thrown.  In fact, it tended to kill out the grass, and where we fed a lot of hay last year, we got a mighty fine crop of lamb's quarter, but no alfalfa.  The second thing is that if they are standing on the hay to eat it - which they will do if it is sprinkled out in a big circle - then they will poop on the hay.  And once they poop on the hay, they will not touch it, nor will they touch any hay within a foot of that cow pie.  So a lot of hay was going to waste.  At a price of $225 to $300 per ton, that is not a good thing.

The square 50 pound bales we are feeding at this time of year break up into pads of hay that are about 2' x 2' x 6" thick, and we call those "flakes."  (They are called "square bales," but obviously they are rectangular,  not square.)  Anyway, there are about 15 of these flakes in a bale.  I looked over the situation and thought about what pattern would prevent them from defecating on the hay.  I tried lining up these flakes, one after another, in a straight row.  The row was two feet wide and about 30 feet long.  Voila!  It worked!  The cows line up on either side of these rows, heads down, munching away, and most importantly with their rear parts AWAY from the line of hay.  They clean up most of it, and I have yet to find a cow pie on any of the rows.  Experience is the best teacher, don't you think?

Tonight, after Erin and I got the first bale broken apart and put into some semblance of a line, I got to listen to the sound of SATISFACTION as the cows munched away on their supper.  It is a peaceful way to end the day.

Chickens are satisfied, too.  The escapees made it back into the pen tonight, and 15 chickens are at roost.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A sad day . . .

Last year, the first year our milk association was here at my farm, we had so much demand for shares that we couldn't keep up.  We forged ahead and bought several cows.  There were a few poor choices.  The last one to come on board was a trade with a neighbor.  We had bought a Dutch Belted, one of those poor choices because she was a huge cow that ate copious amounts of grass and hay, providing very little milk in return. She milked well for the first two months but by mid-July was nearly dry.  Her name was Alligator.  Part of Gator's problem was that she came from a grain fed herd, and she was used to that grain.  When she came here and had to live on grass alone, she just didn't milk like she should have.  The neighbor (Eric) had a smaller cow that had always been grass fed.  She would eat less, and she was bred to freshen in April, unlike Gator, who was not going to freshen until later in the season.  Eric's wife wanted a Dutch Belted, so we were both happy with the deal.  Gator left us and Lola joined us.

Lola was the last cow to join our herd, and she was quite small.  Fortunately, Eric hadn't dehorned her, so  she could defend herself.  She freshened on time in April, and we had high hopes for her.  In fact, we kept her calf, Zelda, and she is a beauty.  But one of Lola's quarters had a problem.  A little explanation here - a cow's udder is divided into four separate compartments, each one with a teat.  Lola's right rear quarter wasn't milking.  The vet looked at it and tried to open it up.  No luck.  The quarter dried up, never to provide a drop of milk.  Eric said that sometimes the other three quarters will make up for the dry quarter, but alas that was not to be.  Lola was a poor milker, would probably have been our worst milker even with four quarters operating.  We dried her up about a month ago.  Not worth the effort to bring her in the barn.

We have had two dry periods this summer, each lasting about four weeks.  The pastures are not lush, and we had to start feeding hay during the first dry spell in July.  I only got an inch and a quarter of rain in September, so we got a double whammy and have had to go on about three fourths of our winter hay feeding rations already.   The pasture rent is based on the number of cows that are grazing, so Lola increased the monthly pasture rent.  She was eating grass and hay that could have been going to the milkers.  It was time to make a tough decision.

Margie, a former shareholder, knew how it was bothering me, and she reminded me that animals live in a Zen state, in the moment.  They do not contemplate their own deaths.  I remembered that, and in the three weeks leading up to today, I did not mourn, instead treating her the same as usual and enjoying my time with her.  Lola left us today.  She lived a good life here, enjoying the great outdoors and a first class diet.

She blessed us with the nourishment of her milk.  She will provide us with organic grass fed beef.  Some of her tallow will make laundry soap, and her bones will provide bone broth. We saved her horns so that we can use them for our BD-500 preparation.  Read about that in Stirring Preps

Lola served us well and will continue to serve us in the months and years to come. Blessed be.

Tonight, there are 15 chickens, three calves (including Lola's Zelda), three heifers inside the fence, one small white cat, one large black dog, one small yappy dog, and one less cow.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Harvesting yarrow

I have gotten a run on yarrow cream orders, in part because of a post that Susun Weed did on her Facebook page regarding yarrow cream.  She has a link from her wonderful web page to mine, so a lot of people found me.  If you Google yarrow cream, there are 1,900,000 sites that get listed.  An entry's placement in the list depends on how many hits it gets - the more people choose a particular site, the farther up the list it goes.  Well, thanks to Susun Weed, my site got so many hits that it has moved to the number one spot!  There was an article in a health magazine about yarrow cream, and a health food store that carried the magazine got a lot of calls for it.  So the owner Googled yarrow cream and voila! there was my company's name, at the head of the list.  So this has all snowballed into a much higher than usual demand for yarrow cream.  I'm not sure how long this will last.  One jar of cream goes a long way.  However, yarrow is seasonal, and I don't make the base for the cream and the yarrow sticks too far in advance since I don't use chemical preservatives. But if demand keeps up at even half this level, there is not enough yarrow base in the workroom fridge to carry me through until next April.

Yarrow blooms heavily in the spring.  There is another pretty good bloom in the fall - usually!  We have had crummy weather this fall - very cool and a lot of cloud cover.  Yarrow likes bright sunshine in order to send up its lovely flowers.  While the leaves are effective, I definitely want to include the flowers when I make my yarrow base.  So today, I headed out with my special yarrow pan to harvest what I could.

In the spring, I go to Paddock #7 and walk in about a 10' circle for all of the yarrow I need to make several sixteen-pound batches of yarrow base.  Today I walked five paddocks and had to work hard to get enough for one.  I'm hoping the sun continues this week so that I can make another batch next weekend.  But for today, I'm glad I found enough for one, and I'm glad I had to work so hard at it!  Why is that, you might ask?  Since I had to widen the area I was walking, I got to experience a lovely day outdoors, full sun, crisp breeze.  I lit the wood stove this morning to take the chill off the house and the breeze was carrying the smoke from the chimney across the paddocks where I was walking. That is such a lovely scent!

One of the paddocks is down by Crone Creek, which is running hard.  We put in a creek crossing so that the lumber trucks could get into the woods to take out a few large trees that were interfering with proper growth.  The crossing creates a small water fall, and I love the sound of it.  I got a couple of proper rains last week, so it is quite lively right now.  I stopped by the crossing just to enjoy the sound and the sight of it.  Yarrow could wait.

I found two different spots with small firm puffball mushrooms, which I gathered to add to some soup I had simmering on the stove. Puffballs are one of two mushrooms I'll pick, because they don't have any nasty look-a-like cousins. A puffball is a puffball is a puffball.  The first year I lived here, I found one while mowing lawn and was sure that there had been some kids down here with a soccer ball without my permission. When I went to move it, I discovered it was a mushroom. That was my first experience with them. I found out that they are pretty tasteless, but if you slather them with butter, add a healthy sprinkle of garlic salt and grill them in a heavy skillet, they are pretty good.  But then, wouldn't just about anything taste good with butter and garlic? Here is a picture of that first one.  Pretty impressive, isn't it?

It is always a good thing to walk the pastures.  This is what the cows eat, this is what is making milk.  So it was interesting to see which of the paddocks I walked are holding their own, and which could use some help - top seeding, lime application, more mowing next spring.

The yarrow base is bubbling on the stove.  The soup was sipped as I wrote this.  The pumpkin pie is just about to come out of the oven.  I think I will make a pint of vanilla ice cream to top it.  I am not superwoman with all of this cooking - I just like kitchen machinery and do not hesitate to put it to work.  Gotta love that Cuisinart ice cream maker.  Well, the timer is calling me to get that pie out of the oven.  Gotta run.

All in all, it was, and remains, a lovely day.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Home, sweet home . . .

Last night's search for the missing chicken was fruitless.

She finally showed up a few minutes ago. 

Friday, October 9, 2009

Girl's night out

One chicken is missing.  It is never Buster, the rooster, always one or more of the girls.  Last Friday, three of them spent the night on the outside.

We can only hope for the same outcome - one slightly wet and bedraggled chicken in the pen in the morning.  I wish she had company.  Better yet, I wish I knew where she was nesting so that I could take her back in.  I think I will look for her.  I'm worried.

Fermenting wildly . . .

One of my favorite books is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.  It is the bible of fermentation.  He gives complete and detailed instructions for fermenting comparable to Julia Child's instructions for cooking all things French in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I got into the whole fermentation thing a few years ago when I started to pay more attention to the role of food in my health.  The more I read, the more research I did, the more I was convinced that for the most part we are hell bent on killing our food prior to eating it.  Pasteurization, irradiation, freezing, canning, drying, manufacturing (e.g. HVP, TVP, "breakfast" bars) - we just can't leave it alone.  What is wrong with picking an apple and eating it out of hand, on the spot?  Why not lightly steam some veggies right out of your backyard garden and drizzle them with melted butter?  How about a big glass of raw milk? 

So what can we do about it?  I will get to that in a minute.  I want to point out a few more problems with how we eat.  A UN study showed that it would take 10 apples of today to equal the nutrition from just one apple from 1976!  In 1950, a serving of spinach provided us with considerably more nutrients, especially minerals, compared to the nutrition of spinach tested today.  In looking around at various studies, the decrease in nutrition varies wildly depending on who paid for the study and who wrote the summary.  One study goes so far as to state that nutrition is actually increasing in spinach due to newly developed hybrids.  But I worry about those hybrids.  Hybrids were the precursors of genetically modified foods.  Just because we aren't injecting a fish gene into nature's spinach gene doesn't mean that we are not mucking with Mother Nature.  We think we can do better - sort of like deciding that margarine was better for us than butter.  We know that was a pig in a poke, hey?  So in addition to foods that are manufactured after the fact, we are manufacturing foods before the fact - messing with the genetic makeup of the plants - again, thinking we can do better than said Ms. Nature.

We are the lab rats for the genetically modified organism (GMO) study.  It has been pushed on us without our knowledge, given the power of the agribusinesses that own the patents on GMOs to back a law that prevents us from knowing that a product contains genetically modified products.  Yes, in this country, they do not even have to list GMOs on the label.  So how do you know if you are eating GMOs?  Count on anything containing soy to provide a dose of genetically modified food, first because 95% of soybeans in the US are GMOs, and second because the GMO beans have corrupted the non-GMO organic soybeans so that about 30% of organic soybeans tested are now genetically modified.  Those ill winds blow no good, leaving GMO beans to pollinate their pristine organic neighbors.  And soy is in everything!  See my earlier blog Food and Health.  You can be pretty sure you are eating soy, unless you are buying fresh fruit and vegetables and staying away from the edamame beans. 

Tests conducted and interpreted by the very companies that are developing GMOs have been used to convince the FDA that there is nothing wrong with GMOs.  Proverbial fox watching the hen house, hey?  I found this while surfing the web for information based on reliable studies.   "Mice fed genetically modified (GM) soybean were not affected in nutritional performance, but pancreatic microscopic features were disturbed . . . This indicates that GM soy protein intake affected pancreas function, evidenced by the early acute PAP mRNA increased levels and pancreas cellular changes . . ."  I found this in PubMed,   This surely is a fairly reliable source of information.  And it is bothersome.

As a further safeguard from eating GMOs, look at the code on fresh fruit and veggies.  If it starts with "8" and has five numbers, then it too is genetically modified.  If it starts with "4" and has four numbers, it is chemically grown.  If it starts with "9" and has five numbers, then it is organically grown.  So that is a little help for you in making healthy choices

Okay, we know we can stay away from soy, and we can look for the right fresh fruit and vegetable codes, and we can stay away from manufactured foods.  What else can we do?  What if you don't have access to raw milk or wouldn't drink it if you could find it?  How do we give today's vegetables a nutritional boost?  Impossible, you say?  No, it's not.  Try fermenting!

Fermenting adds helpful bacteria and enzymes to our food.  It's easy, safe and prolongs the life of our food without high heat, irradiation or pasteurization.  Yes, you can ferment milk.  It's called kefir.  If you can't find someone to give you live kefir grains, then buy the kefir powder from your health food store.  But do try to get live grains.  Then all you do is put the grains in a quart of milk (be sure to leave some head room for the fizz that is going to develop), leave the milk on the counter, and give it a shake every time you walk by.  Depending on how warm your kitchen is and how strong you like it, you will have kefir in eight to 36 hours.  It is a little like thin yogurt and has a tangy taste.  After straining out the kefir grains to use for your next batch, add fruit, maple syrup or honey and whir in blender for a smoothie.  It is said to have 50 times the probiotics found in yogurt.  And it is a lot easier to make.  So now you have taken that dead ultra-pasteurized organic milk from the grocery store and injected it with new life!  And if you are lactose intolerant, those kefir grains live on lactose, so kefir can often be drunk by people with lactose intolerance given that the kefir grains have disposed of most of the lactose in the milk.

When we speak of fermenting food, the first food most people think of is sauerkraut.  And well they should.  It is such a great food!  Eating a bite or two of sauerkraut before each meal helps us to digest our food.  It starts the digestion process in our mouths by encouraging saliva production.  Then the rest of the meal digests more quickly and easily.  It is a simple thing to do, and very healthy.  Got to the bottom of the jar of kraut?  Try drinking the juice for a concentrated dose of the goodness of kraut.  It's low calorie, chock full of vitamin C, and inhibits the growth of undesirable flora in the gut.

Then there is kim chee, that Korean fermented vegetable dish that makes many people say yuck!  Okay, I don't like it either, so I make my own.  I love it with chopped root vegetables such as winter black radishes, carrots, beets, turnips and parsnips, a recipe that I found in Katz's Wild Fermentation.

The list of what you can ferment is just about endless.  If you really get into it, then you will create a crock of never-ending fermented veggies, pulling out what you need and adding more fresh veggies when you do so.  It bubbles away continuously, providing you with the liveliest of live foods 24/7.

So yes, we can improve the quality of our foods through fermentation.  Try it.  It's easy and fun!  I just decanted a gallon and a half of kraut yesterday.  Some of it was made with red cabbage.  The color is absolutely stunning!   It is edible now, but it will just get better with time.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rain, or lack thereof

Rain + sun = grass

Grass + cow = milk

I am really, really, REALLY sick of this weather.  We only got about an inch of rain the whole month of  September.  Lots of fog, mist, a few days of drizzle.  That means not much sun.  The pastures are terrible.  Not enough rain, but plenty of clouds to block the sun.

October is not doing much better.  Again, today, it "rained" all day, but end result in the rain gage was less than a quarter inch.  It looks wet outside, but I can kick up dust with my boot, and I am not kicking very hard.  It looks wet, it feels wet, but it ain't wet!  All this weather did today was prevent the sun from shining on the grass.  (See equation #1 above.)

We are feeding a lot of hay.  The cows should still be feasting on pasture.  In fact, fall rains can produce some pretty good pastures.  But alas, it is not to be this year.  I looked at my rain records, and we got over 12" of rain in September of 2008.  I am glad I didn't spend the money to top seed the pastures this year.  The seed would have lain there without germinating - it would have been very expensive bird seed!

Well, enough of the kvetching.  It isn't going to change a thing.  I am going to bed.

Still the requisite number of animals here today - 15 chickens, 3 calves, 3 heifers inside the fences, 1 small white cat, 1 large black dog, and 1 cute yappy little dog.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ayn Chee

My friend Evie who rescues animals called me and said she had a dog that she thought I might be interested in. Evie has several cats.  This little dog Angel was part terrier.  Terriers view cats as prey, so she wasn't fitting in very well at Evie's house.  But I said no, that I had two dogs and didn't need a third.  I was still working as sales manager for a large corporation and did a lot of traveling.  A third dog?  It wasn't fair to me OR the dog! 

I pretty much forgot about Angel.  In the meantime, Evie and I visited from time to time, usually by email or phone.  One day I could tell she had a little too much on her plate - she sounded pretty stressed.  On top of losing her lease on the place where she taught music lessons, she had just found out that her mom was quite ill.  I said, "Evie, you don't need another email or phone call.  You need a hug!  I'll be right there."  I ducked out of work early and headed to her house, which was just a few blocks from my office.

When Evie let me in, we immediately hugged.   I looked over her shoulder and there was this adorable little dog staring up at me.


I've never been a small dog person, preferring big, friendly dogs.  Angel was a little yappy dog, but so adorable, don't you think?  Look at that face!  Impulsively, I said, "I'll take the dog." 

Once I got her home, it was obvious that she was an alpha dog.   And she was no angel.  I changed her name to Ayn Chee, as in that great old Sinatra hit: "Ain't she sweet?  See her walking down the street.  Now I ask you very confidentially, "Ayn Chee" sweet?"

Ayn Chee had a rough time assimilating into our family.  She is jealous, wants to be the only pet.  She was about 18 months old when I got her, and my home was her fourth.  She was sorely neglected by the original family who had her.  The neighbor, who had been putting food and water over the fence for her, asked if she could take her.  Sure, no problem!  The second home had two other dogs, and Ayn Chee doesn't share - that alpha dog thing.  She was disruptive, so that person asked Evie to take her and find a home for her.  So Evie became mom #3, but that was destined to be short lived, given the cats in Evie's household, and a rabbit, too. Ayn Chee's sharp bark as she stalked cats and the rabbit earned her a lot of hours in the "time out" cage.

So I became mom #4.  She was a handful.  She tried to take out my dogs.  No matter that she was 18 pounds to Bear's 55 pounds and Buddy's 40 pounds.  Buddy put up with her; Bear (also an alpha female) tore into her.  Ayn Chee spent three days in hospital, had about 30 staples in her to close up a gaping wound that had come dangerously close to killing her.  When she returned home, she crept into the closet, lamp shade on head, where she spent several days recuperating.  After about a week of it, she came out of the closet, walked up to Bear and barked right in her face.  That is Ayn Chee.  A leopard doesn't change its spots.

There has been relative peace in the household.  Ayn Chee still mouths off to Bear, but the pecking order has been established.  Bear allows her to bark, which is very kind of her, but both of them know who is boss. 

Did I say I wasn't a small dog person?  My attitude towards little dogs has totally changed.  Ayn Chee sits on my lap as I work at the computer.  She snuggles with me in bed and often lays her head on my shoulder, snoring gently.  So I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks, hey?  This "old dog" cannot imagine life without a pooch that fits on my lap!

It's still daylight.  The chickens are on vacation.  I let them out of their yard to roam in the woods on the advice of one of my fellow chicken farmers.  They should be well protected from the hawks, and the gate is open so that they can return home at dusk.  Clay cleaned out the Moop, so they will come back to a clean house.  Hope all will be well.  I'll let you know.

PS - 15 chickens came home to roost.  :)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Stirring preps - Part 2

I wrote of spreading biodynamic preps on the paddocks last Sunday.  We got all of the paddocks on the west side done, and also did my gardens and flower beds.

Today we finished up, doing all of the paddocks on the east side.  Kathy asked if we should do the chicken yard.  How could I forget it?  But I had.  Kathy made sure that it was sprinkled with the BD-500 that we stirred earlier in the afternoon.

I did Paddock #7, and now I know why the cows didn't milk so well yesterday.  They were on Paddock #7 all day.  I didn't realize how bad it was until I walked every square foot of it this afternoon.  Ragweed and goldenrod do not make milk.  It does have its redeeming graces, however, since it is where the yarrow grows, yarrow that I harvest to make my yarrow cream. 

I made another discovery this afternoon.  I now know where the chickens are escaping the fence.  So tomorrow I will go out with pieces of bent coat hangers and secure the fencing along the ground.  There is also a big tear in one section, so a little heavy duty thread is in order.  I do so need that electric netting!  Maybe next month.

In spite of the escape hatches in the fencing, tonight there are 15 chickens in the Moop, 3 calves, 3 heifers inside the fence, 1 small white cat and 1 large black dog.  Tomorrow I will tell you about Ayn Chee.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Chicken alert!

Yesterday I said all of the animals stayed put.  How wrong I was!  I didn't get out to the Moop until well after dark.  I hadn't seen any chickens running around outside the fence earlier, so I was quite sure they were all there and didn't even bother to take the flashlight with me for a head count.

When I carried their feeders into the Moop, I looked at the shadowy figures sitting on the top rung of the perch.  It didn't seem like it was as full as usual, but it was quite dark in there, so I thought it was probably my imagination.  However, I knew I wouldn't rest easy if I didn't count.  As I have mentioned before, chickens in the dark are a lot more friendly than chickens in broad daylight, so I stroked each shadowy back as I counted. . . . . . . .  Nothing!  There are supposed to be fifteen chickens, not twelve!  I counted again.  Still twelve.  I went back to the house for the flashlight, shined it on the row of chickens, and yes, there were twelve.  Only twelve.

Usually I get out to button them up while there is still a bit of daylight, and if there are any chickens on the outside, they will be running around looking for a way to get back in.  I am still curious as to how they can get OUT but cannot get IN.  Anyway, by waiting until dark to go out there, any stray chickens had long since found a place to roost in the woods, and they were not going to come anywhere near the chicken yard once they were roosting.  They were in for the night, wherever "in" was.

I did not sleep well last night.  Berating myself for not getting that electric netting to enclose them, I finally took half a sleeping pill and tried to forget it.  I dreamed of chickens.  I would wake in the night and wonder if the three miscreants were dead.

Saturdays are my biggest market day, and I'm always up at 5:00.  It is still pitch dark at that hour.  By 7:00, I gave it a try.  It was still dark, but there were hints of dawn's light in the eastern sky.  There were no chickens to be found.  I propped their gate wide open and finished getting ready, loading the car with veggies and going out to the barn to pick up the shareholders' milk for delivery to the market.

Okay, one last try.  As I walked back to the pen, there they were, all three of them, looking quite bedraggled and a bit put out.  It had rained all night, not the best night to be out and about.  Maybe it was not such a great night for the coons and the possums to be out either, which may account for their having survived to see another day.  At any rate, as of 7:30 this morning, there were 15 chickens again.

I just buttoned them up tonight.  Still 15 chickens.  They must have decided one night on the town was enough.

Count tonight is 15 chickens, 3 calves, 3 heifers inside the fence, 1 small cat and 1 large black dog.  I shall sleep better tonight.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Hard frost

My weather forecast said low of 38ยบ Tuesday.  I shouldn't have trusted it.  We got a hard frost.  Even my lettuce got nipped.  It stayed well above freezing last night, and it feels pretty balmy out there tonight, but I have got to make time to get my floating row covers out.  That is the only way that lovely tender lettuce is going to make it for another week or two.  I brought in the least damaged of the buttercrunch heads, and that will comprise a good part of my supper. 

As for what in my garden doesn't care about the cold, can you guess?  Collards, broccoli, cabbage and kale!

It is dull and depressing outside.  I am glad for my cast iron wood-burning stove.  It is a ray of light (and heat) when the weather gets like this.  My work room is just off the family room where the wood stove sits, so it was rather pleasant working down there today.  I am finally making a dent in my To-Do list, and I got the last of my internet orders out the door.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened today.  All the cows stayed in the pastures.  The dogs stayed home.  None of the chickens got out.  I am just realizing that my quality of life depends to a great extent on keeping animals in their proper places. 

Well, I am going to chill out tonight.  Another good book made it to my mailbox last night, and I look forward to enjoying a few chapters of it this evening.  That is what this weather is good for - warm fires, good books and the last of the buttercrunch lettuce.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


The youngest of my three dogs is Natasha Marie, Tashi for short.  She came to me in a roundabout way.  A friend of a friend of a friend (her name is Patty) is a dog groomer and has two large dogs of her own.  One night it was storming.  She opened the door to let her two dogs in, and a third dog came in with them.  She helped herself to some food and water and settled down to watch TV.

Patty tried in vain to find the owner.  This beautiful dog had no collar, no tags, and was not chipped.  Calls to vets and dog pounds were fruitless.  I was asked to take her, and I said no.  So Patty groomed the dog and took her to the animal pound assuming that someone would want her.  Here is how that dog pound operates -- find a new owner in three days or put them down.  Heartless, but that is how it is. 

On Friday night, my friend and his brother came to my farm and asked me one more time to take the dog.  Again I said no.  They said that she was to be put down the next morning.  I said yes, but if I didn't like her, she was going back.  They had her in the car.  I guess they know I am a patsy - they had already adopted her, assured that they could pawn her off on me given my penchant for saving the helpless.

I was a little miffed, but she really was a beautiful dog.  I already had two alpha females - what was one more?

It took me several days to name her.  I finally settled on Natasha because it sounds like a Russian ballerina's name, and Natasha is poetry in motion when she runs.  She weighs about 55 pounds, is long and lean, was about two years old by the vet's estimate when I got her and had the boundless energy of youth. 

It took me several weeks to warm up to her.  There was a part of me that held back.  I really didn't want three dogs, had just gone through a disastrous experience with a biter that I had agreed to take in and give one last chance.  It was all for naught and the dog had to be put down.  I was happy with my two lovelies, Bear and Ayn Chee, didn't need a third.

Tashi was always with me outside, just a few steps away.  I noticed that she followed commands well and loved to have something to do.  I melted.  It took awhile, but I melted.  One day I tolerated her, the next I loved her.

Tashi is chipped now.  I fear losing her, especially since she ran a bit when I first got her - once all the way to the nursing home three miles away.  The police called to tell me they had her in a cage up town, would I please come and get her?  But she sticks close to home now, except for an occasional visit to see Clay, the neighbor boy who helps with the garden.

Margie is a professional dog trainer, and she came out to help me with her.  She told me that it was very clear that Tashi had already been trained.  Someone loved her.  She had not been abused.  She is confident and loving, no cowering or fear.  She was well fed and healthy when I took her in.  But no collar, no chip, no name tag.  I fear that she is a victim of the economic downturn.  People who lose their large homes and move into an apartment that will not take animals cannot find a home for their pets, and they cannot bear to put them down.  So they put them out - out to fend for themselves, to cadge a meal here and there, to ingratiate themselves to strangers.  Tashi was one of the lucky ones.

And I am lucky, too, to have her in my life.

Tonight there are 15 chickens, 3 calves, 1 small white cat, 3 heifers inside the fence, and 1 large black dog.  All is well.