Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year's Eve.  I'm going to a small gathering at a friend's house - an open house, so I can come and go as I please, just the right kind of party for a free spirit such as I.  We are supposed to get some nasty weather, but I'm hoping it won't hit until after I am safely home tonight.

Have you made your New Year's resolutions?  Mine is to practice what I preach - get that sugar out of my diet! 

I made cheese a couple of days ago, and the chickens are still enjoying their morning treat of whey.  The calves are doing fine, and they are becoming a little friendlier, especially since I demand a little contact with their noses before they get their morning feeding of hay.  Bribery always works - ask our politicians, especially Joe Lieberman!  The cows are still milking great, and we are all swimming in milk thanks to our two loaner cows, Phyllis and Delilah.  They are fitting into the herd well.  Sam is bored - everyone is bred, so he is on hiatus.  Poor Sam!

We have so much milk that I am having a cheese workshop on Sunday to get rid of the overflow. One of our shareholders couldn't pick up her milk this week and donated it, two others are bringing some extra, so we are going to be able to make Gouda, paneer, cottage cheese, ghee and cultured butter.  I warned the people coming for the workshop that they are all going to be put to work!!  We will have a lot of irons in the fire.  But many hands make light work, and there is no better way to learn than to do.

I'm picking up the fixings for Saag Paneer, and those who want to stay for supper will get a taste of a fantastic Indian dish. 

Well, I'm off to market.  Make that resolution, and try to keep it for at least a week!!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The high cost of cheap food - milk

I have spent a good bit of time digging out information on the cost of food as a percentage of income in as many countries as I could find, and then for health care costs.  If I could find both data for a given country, I put it on the chart.  It is not a perfect curve, but in general, the more money people spend on their food, the less they spend on health care. We spend 17% more per capita on health care than the next nearest country.  And we have the cheapest food in the world, being the only country whose inhabitants spend a single digit percentage on food - only 9.3%.  Next nearest is just under 12%.

So you might be asking, "Couldn't one explanation for that be that their higher cost of food deprives them of being able to pay for health care?"  Well, no, because in many instances, their life expectancy is longer than ours here in the US.  Our life expectancy is 38th in the world (that means 37 countries that spend less on health care - because they ALL do - live longer), not exactly a stellar figure, and to my way of thinking a pretty good indicator of how well our health care system is working. I think we are pretty good at fixing things, if you are one of the lucky ones who can afford the fix.  However, we do not do nearly enough to prevent the need for health care. 

And that's where that cheap food comes in.  In our quest for cheap food (sometimes out of sheer necessity, but all too often so that we can use more of our income for bigger cars, cable TV and Nike shoes), we will eat anything - and I mean anything!  And it's a push-pull thing:  on the one hand, we are managing our budget so that we can buy more stuff, and on the other hand we have advertising agencies doing everything in their power to make us buy whatever their corporate bosses tell them to promote.  Sadly, our health is not entering the equation on either side.

One of the things the corporations and their ad agencies promote is really bad food!  When was the last time you saw an ad for a fresh radish --  not in a salad at a chain restaurant, just a plain old fresh radish, straight from the produce section of your local grocery store?  No organization that can afford the suits at the ad agency makes money on that fresh radish, and so it gets no press.  We are all hypnotized by ads at one time or another, and so we may find ourselves whipping into McDonald's, or we buy the name brand convenience food in the freezer section, or we look for "Heart Healthy" products after getting the crap scared out of us by the ads for Lipitor!

Repeat after me . . .
  • One half of the people who have heart attacks have "normal" cholesterol levels.
  • Triglycerides are the best predictor of heart health, and they increase as we eat more carbohydrates, not saturated fat.  Oh, and high fructose corn syrup is the worst for increasing triglycerides.
  • For women, as cholesterol levels fall below 220, overall mortality INCREASES.
  • For men, as cholesterol levels fall below 200, overall mortality INCREASES.
  • In women over 60, the higher the LDL, the LOWER the mortality rates.
  • If one examines the reduced deaths from heart attacks (not overall mortality) due to lowering cholesterol using comparative figures (misleading), yes, it is around 30%, but is really only about one half of one percent if using reduction in deaths over the whole population.  If one uses the same misleading statistical method to look at suicides as cholesterol levels are reduced, then the INCREASE in suicides is about 170%.  Disraeli was right when he said "There are lies, damned lies and statistics."
  • This is the biggest one.  There is no group of women, based on age, ethnicity, general health or any other factor, that benefits from statins.  In EVERY group of women, mortality rates increase or stay the same with statin use.
 Okay, back to cheap food and milk.  Milk is the cheapest of the cheap, and it is so pervasive in our diets!  Here is what we have done to one of nature's most perfect foods.  Instead of cleaning up filthy urban dairies, we started pasteurizing the milk - killing all of the bad bacteria (along with the good) rather than preventing them.  Pasteurization wasn't enough; we started homogenizing it as well.  Homogenization incorporates the cream into the milk so that the cream doesn't rise to the top.  What, it was too tough to shake the jar? Homogenization changes the molecular structure of the fat, and it has been hypothesized that homogenization may lead to increased susceptibility to atherosclerosis.

But we weren't done.  So what more could we do?  We could start putting it in plastic.  You may have heard that plastic has estrogen-like properties.  It is far worse than you know.

Bisphenol A (BPA) was developed as a hormone replacer, but was shelved until polymer chemists discovered that it could be polymerized to form polycarbonate plastic. Since we began the wholesale use of plastic in packaging, we have seen the incidence of breast cancer in women rise from one in 40 to one in 7.  That is far too short a period for evolution to be blamed.  The sperm count of men is about half of what it was in 1940.  The range for "normal" has been revised, lest you get distracted by that term.  Also, men's penises are getting smaller, and at some point I should think that that one would get the attention of our august lawmakers, but to date it hasn't.  We still wrap our lives in the pernicious stuff - plastic water bottles, plastic wrap on our food, plastic baby bottles - the list goes on and on!

Are there other things we need to look at besides plastic?  Yes.  About the time we started using plastic, we also started hailing "grain fed" as something good in our diets.  Grain means the cows give more milk, the steers fatten up for market faster, and the bottom line gets fatter faster.  Since so much of what we do in this country is measured by its effect on that bottom line, pretty soon the amount of free range meat and animal products fell.  The products of grain fed animals, whether meat or dairy, have only a small percentage of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) - the reduction being as much as 80%.  CLA boosts our immune system to help prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and the cost to treat those three is astronomical! 

As if grain feeding wasn't enough (read about that in detail here:  Why you shouldn't feed grain to a cow), Monsanto gave us recombinant bovine growth hormones (rBGH), a hormone that would increase milk production.  So your daughter is getting female hormones in her milk?  Small detail.  Just change the  "normal" age of onset of menses; problem solved.  Yes, Disraeli, you were absolutely right!

About the time they started using rBGH, we also got "ultra" pasteurization.  This assures that your milk is absolutely dead - every last living thing is gone.  100% of the good bacteria, and 100% of the natural enzymes - natural enzymes that help us to digest milk.  Mother Nature knew what she was doing, contrary to the milk processors!  There are people who have trouble drinking milk that CAN drink it just by finding a brand that is not ultra pasteurized, although it is getting harder and harder to find, because if milk is not ultra pasteurized, the enzymes are still alive and help them to digest it.

What does all this have to do with cheap food?  Well, the dairies can ship milk with very high bacteria counts and it can sit longer in the coolers at the farm between pickups - and longer in the tanks at the processor.  That saves money.  The amount of milk a single cow can give is more than doubled by using rBGH, feeding grain and picking Holsteins over heritage breed cows.

Enter factory farms where the cows are milked three times a day.  More milk, uses less land because they are jammed inside small buildings 24/7, and all that filth from being crowded?  Just put antibiotics in their grain as a preventive practice.  So your kids are getting minute amounts of antibiotics in their milk - not to worry, the scientists will come up with better and stronger (and more expensive) antibiotics when your kids develop resistance to the ones they get on their breakfast cereal and with their school lunches.  While public outrage finally put a stop to the wholesale use of antibiotics in feed in many states, it is still legal in some, and it is virtually impossible to find calf milk replacer that is not laced with antibiotics.

And of course plastic - how much does that cut down on cost?  Cheaper to buy, cheaper to ship, no need to sterilize returned glass jars.  So your kids are getting a little added female hormone, in case the rBGH wasn't enough.  Just shift those "normal" numbers and all will be well.

As if all of this wasn't enough, the government subsidizes the grain farmers, and the gas that hauls the milk to the producers.  So now we have REALLY cheap milk - and really cheap fast "food," since corn and beans are the building blocks of all that manufactured fast food and convenience food.  And remember, if tax subsidies are helping to underwrite manufactured food, then it is you who are paying the bill, whether you whip into the McDonald's drive-through or not!

You can buy milk at the corner gas station on special for $2.75 a gallon, maybe less.  At the other end of the spectrum, you can buy lightly pasteurized non-homogenized certified organic milk in glass jars from grass fed cows for $3.95 a quart, or just under $16 per gallon, sold by Trader's Point Creamery near Indianapolis, IN.  Quite a difference.  The latter example is good milk except for one thing - it is pasteurized, which kills off all the good bacteria along with the bad, but it's the best you can do unless you can find a cow share program and get raw milk.  You might be asking why it is pasteurized.  Well, that is to save you from the perils of raw milk.  LOL!  You should be laughing with me on that one if you read this blog very often.

Let's look at the cost of our milk association's raw milk.  We don't pay for the milk, but we do divvy up the operating costs among the shareholders.  To calculate the cost of milk per gallon, the shareholder would have to keep track of the gallons they got and divide them into the amount they paid in assessments over a year's time.  One of our shareholders did this last year, and it ran about $9.00 per gallon, considerably less than $16 per gallon, but also considerably more than the gas station milk.  In addition, I'll give you another price point for raw milk.  You can get it in a lot of places around here, this being farm country, by paying the dairy farmer a boarding fee for your share of a cow.  The boarding fee is in line with how many gallons of milk you got, and many farmers offer this for $5 or $6 per gallon.

That is quite a range!  And is the cost indicative of the quality?  Sort of.  The range in raw milk will be due to things like plastic containers, breed of cows and grain feeding.  But you can be pretty sure that you won't be getting antibiotics or hormones in your raw milk (if you are smart, you will confirm that with the farmer).  The gas station milk will be in a plastic jug, it will be from factory farm cows, the cows will be Holsteins, the milk will be ultra-pasteurized, it will be homogenized , the cows will have been fed grain, almost assuredly genetically modified grain, and their feed will have a hefty dose of prophylactic antibiotics in it, just to make sure the cows don't get sick from living in confined spaces.  Oh, and they will probably have been injected with rBGH. 

What does this have to do with your health?  Many people would say nothing.  They shop price, and that's all she wrote.  But this is what is wrong with our food!  GMO grain passes into the cells of the cows, and on to your milk, and through your gut.  There is now definitive proof that we do in fact experience cellular changes in our bodies when we eat genetically modified food.  The industry says not to worry, that to date they haven't found that those cellular changes will damage our health.  Do you buy that - are you okay with being a guinea pig in their mad experiment?  Are you okay with disabled Vitamin C in pasteurized milk?  Do you just take a vitamin tablet to replace it?  Will your bones and teeth mind that the D3 has been destroyed and the milk companies "fortified" your milk with D2, a poorer form of D that is less readily absorbed by our bodies?  Just get some Fosamax, right? Does your tummy mind that you can't digest the milk properly because the digestive enzymes were all killed by ultra pasteurization?  Take a Tums.  Do your arteries care that the milk was homogenized?  Just get some Lipitor, hey?  Do you see what is happening here?  Because we drink cheap milk, we end up spending a lot on our health, maybe just a Tums after eating, or maybe by-pass surgery on our plaque-laden arteries. Or that low sperm count leads to in vitro fertilization at $15,000 a pop!

Maybe you think milk isn't all that great a food.  Well, at one time, Mayo clinic used milk as a cancer cure.  Cancer patients were fed nothing but milk (and it was all raw at that time) for six weeks, with many cures.  Milk is not bad for us - it is what we have done to the milk, and to the cows, and to the containers, that is bad for us.  Milk is still a perfect food.  If I were diagnosed with cancer, I would put off any treatment until I drank a diet of pure raw cows milk for six weeks.  Then let them test me again, and I will go from there.

Do you want the best milk?  Then get raw milk, get milk that is in glass jars, get it from heritage breed cows that are fed a diet of grass and organic hay.  You just simply can't do better than that.  It won't be the cheapest, but it won't be the most expensive either.  And any compromises you make, you make at the expense of your body.  It is your choice.  There will be no advertising firm telling you this in the magazines you read, or the TV programs you watch.  This is one decision you have to make for yourself.

Go to Google and check out the facts I have put forward in this blog.  Argue with me, tell me where I am wrong.  I welcome your comments and I will get back to you.  I may learn something from you.  I sincerely hope you have learned something from me today.

Happy and HEALTHY eating!

Friday, December 25, 2009


Last night we celebrated Christmas.  I decided to pass on my Christmas dishes to my two oldest granddaughters, Kate and Abby, who will be getting an apartment together next year.  I haven't had the dishes out in two or three years, and I wanted them to go to someone who would use them and cherish them - not the sort of thing to send to Goodwill.  But I was not sure how it would be received - used dishes - would they like them?  Kate, the oldest, is not a sentimental person.  She is in her second year of medical school and relishes giving us details of her latest endeavor in the operating room.  She is not the type who needs a tissue in her pocket when watching "It's a Wonderful Life."

When she saw the dishes, she asked me, "Grandma, do you really want to do this?  Give up these dishes?"  I said yes, but she just stared at them and said, "Are you SURE?"  When I assured her I wanted them to go to a good home where they would get used, she began to cry.  Kate, if you read this, I hope you do not feel embarrassed that I have shared it here.  You made my Christmas.  Knowing that you care, that you knew it was a gift of generosity and that I gave them to you because you are so special, listening to you and Abby talk about where the dishes would go in the new apartment, seeing the joy on both your faces - you made it my best Christmas ever.

May all your days be merry and bright.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Another jewel at my feet - and a bit about the calves

Of all the weird things, I found another egg on the ground outside the Moop.  If I hadn't been looking down carefully, I would have stepped on it - white egg lying in the snow, you know.  One of the girls is confused, or has a rather unusual sense of humor - or perhaps she is just testing me to see if I am smart enough not to step on an egg as I am leaving the Moop.

Today was a six-egg day, but last three yielded only four eggs each day.  And it has become daily habit for all of them to lay in the same nest.  Not the same nest every day, but once one of the girls does her thing, then they all use the same one that day.  I used to find them in two or three different nests, but it has been at least a week since I have found them spread out.

Now a bit about the calves, the calves which I have pretty much ignored this year.  Except for Jack giving me a scare with his bit of illness, which turned out to be only some constipation, I pretty much keep their water tank full, throw a couple of flakes of grassy hay over the fence for their morning treat each day and call it quits.

Last year's calves were our first.  We sold both the calves the year before, since we were still keeping our cows at Steve's and it would have been pretty much impossible to do anything else.  But last year we kept our first three heifer calves, and I fed them every morning for 90 days.  I babied them, and they were so cute!  When I went in the pen with them, they were all over me, would head butt me if I didn't give them enough attention, and in general were my good buddies.  I don't quite know what happened this year.  Blasé about our second set of calves, I guess, and also my mood was not too good doing that morning milking for three months this year.  For some reason, it was harder this year than last - just because I'm a year older, perhaps.  But it could be that these calves just simply weren't as friendly.  Two of the mothers were not particularly easygoing - Lola was skittish, and Quattro is just plain mean - and maybe those were traits they passed on to their kids.

All that being said, I have found myself bellying up to the three of them lately, trying to get them to warm up to me a bit.  It is a little more difficult at this stage of the game.  Essie May has always been shy, and her mother Quattro is no one's friend, so that one is probably a lost cause, but Jack and Zelda are getting a little friendlier over time.  Perhaps one of these days I will get a kiss, just like I did from Lucky, Smarty Pants and Dolly.

Oh, I found the second disappearing chicken's body this morning, about 20 feet from the door into the Moop.  I don't know how I missed her for the past few days.  Perhaps Tashi brought her home.

I am the animals' caretaker - all of them:  cows, calves, bull, hens and rooster, cat and dogs - and it is a bit burdensome to know that another of them died on my watch.

The magnificent cows!

I haven't posted anything about the cows lately. 

What a winter!  Usually we have very little milk, all of us looking at our half empty totes of milk and fondly remembering those spring and early summer days when we didn't know what to do with it all!  We are there again - more milk than we know what to do with!  Steve lent us two cows for the winter.  He comes down for a gallon of milk every week or two, and he did ask us to keep the calf on one of the cows for four weeks.  Other than that, the milk is ours to keep and distribute.

You might ask what is in this for Steve.  First, he doesn't have to feed them.  They will eat about $1,000 of organic hay this winter.  Our shareholders gladly paid this as a special assessment, because the one time assessment amounts to less than half of a regular month's fee, and these two cows have DOUBLED our production.  Steve's second reason for lending them is that they both freshened very late in the season - that is why they are giving so much milk - and he dries up his herd on November 15.  So he would have lost a lot of milk.  By having us milk them through the winter until he is ready to start milking again in the spring, he gets several months of milk next spring that would have been lost.

You might be asking how two cows can double the production of our own six cow herd.  Well, first, our cows freshened between April and early July, so they are all winding down.  Second, Quattro was dried up entirely about three months ago.  She is just not a very good milker, and I think we are going to use her for a nurse cow next year.  Third, we dried up JP last week.  She is a heifer, and she freshened first last spring, April 7, so it was a miracle that she milked so long!  Many heifers dry up in five or six months their first year of milking. 

Along come Phyllis and Delilah, our two borrowed cows, one fresh on August 31, the other just three days before she came down here along with her bull calf.  Steve said the bull calf wouldn't drink all that much milk, maybe a gallon a day, then up to two gallons by the time he was ready to leave.  Well, we knew better!  We hand feed our calves, and they get two gallons a day for the first month, drinking every drop of it and begging for more!!  The day the bull calf went to market, our production shot up by three gallons a day!  Since we measure our production in quarts, not gallons, that is 12 quarts, and we fill for five shareholders per day.  Do the math - they are all delighted. 

I am now getting so much milk again that I can make a three pound block of cheese every week and a half, even leaving plenty for myself and the dogs.  My dogs each get a small bowl of kefir every day.  I love my vet, and I respect his opinion, but about milk we differ.  He is livid that I feed it to my dogs.  He says all dogs are lactose intolerant.  Well, kefir grains pretty much wipe out the milk sugars, so my dogs digest it just fine, and since I have a dog with Cushing's Syndrome that should have been dead years ago, in this case I think I know more than the vet.  Bear celebrated her 15th birthday with a big bowl of kefir!

I am in a pretty good mood today.  After several days of getting up between 3:30 and 4 am and just chugging through the list of stuff to get done for my booth at market, as of 8 pm last night, I AM DONE!  :)  Today it is last minute holiday shopping, hauling milk into my booth at the market and relieving Annemarie for the last three hours of the workday, then home to start wrapping presents.  Maybe I will get my holiday cards and letters out before January 15 this year. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday hassle - I'm behind!

No posts lately.  I am too, too busy!

Here are the highlights of recent farm happenings.

I lost a second chicken - this is two in two weeks.  No sign of illness, and the body that was found was not eaten, not even a nibble.  It might be that they both got egg-bound.  Happens with pullets sometimes, but two of them?  In my tiny little flock?  Sigh . . .

Egg production is pretty good.  Wednesday they laid six, yesterday only one, but back up to six again today.  BULLETIN!!  I just went out to button up the girls, and there were two more eggs!  Their first EIGHT EGG DAY!!  Pretty amazing, considering I only have 12 hens left and it is just 48 hours from the shortest day of the year!   

Milk production is fantastic.  All of the old shareholders are delighted - this is usually the time of year for slim pickin's.  The new shareholders are getting spoiled and will wonder what hit them in December of 2010 - unless I can pull off another coupe like the one that led to this great production!  I'll post more about how that is working out later.

Still two more presents to buy, but easy ones.  I'll not say what I still have to get in this post, just in case - by some miracle - my grandkids are reading my blog.  "A prophet is without honor in [her] own land."

My Norfolk pine is lit, Christmas music is playing and I'm finishing up 12 loaves of bread.  Life is good.


Monday, December 14, 2009

And now, a six egg day!

Friday the girls laid five eggs for the first time.  Saturday we were back to four.  Yesterday, every time I peeked into the Moop, there was a chicken in the top right nest - their favorite.  At 3:30 I made my third trip out there, and yup, there was one of the girls hunkered down in the same nest.  Well, 3:30 is a ridiculous time to be laying an egg!  It is dark by 4:30.  They should be all done!  I was pretty sure it wasn't a broody hen, so I reached under her.  She stretched, then stood to get out of my way.  And there in the nest, under her fat, warm little body, were SIX EGGS!  At a time of year when production should be dropping, or at best staying the same, these Belgian-bred Golden Campines are INCREASING their production.  Gotta love 'em!

Each hen should lay five eggs per week, pretty good production for a heritage breed hen.  Thirteen hens left, so when they reach their stride, they should be producing nine or ten eggs per day.  So they are already getting close.

I picked up eggs when I was a kid, with a tin can in my hand in case their was a broody hen that didn't want to give up her eggs.  Put the can over the head, reach under, and you can get the egg without being pecked.  But that and throwing scraps over the fence was the sum total of my experience on my mom and dad's farm.  This is all so exciting to me. 

My husband and I had a commercial egg system - 12,000 caged layers.  If there really is Purgatory, I figure I will have to spend some time there for that operation.  Or maybe I have repaid my karmic debt by doing what I am doing now on this farm.  Who knows? No one, really.  We cling to what feels right for us, and what feels right to me is this turning of the Wheel, this everlasting passing of the seasons.

One year, when the Wheel turns, I will no longer be here to celebrate, but while I am, I do, and this Saturday, I will celebrate Yule and the Return of the Sun God.  At last, the days will be a little longer, the light will stay a little later.  Blessed be!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Found the missing chicken

Last night the milker told me she found the missing chicken, dead, down by the hay.  It is puzzling.  Wasn't a wild animal, because her body would not still be there, untouched.  I have a lot of turkey vultures here, and they didn't take her either.  She was lying on the ground with her neck twisted in an odd way.   She went missing on Sunday, was found on Saturday.  Why didn't anyone see her sooner?  Was she out on her own for several days and eventually froze to death?

It is a mystery, and one that will likely never be solved.

Friday, December 11, 2009

To market, to market

I spent most of the day getting ready for market tomorrow.  I still have to wrap a few more holiday soap bars.  Soap is selling very well at the market.  These tough economic times may have something to do with it.  Give a gift, yes, but make it practical.  My soaps are pretty, and a good bargain considering how long they last, so what better gift?

My friends Tama and Rich came out late afternoon for our annual party.  They have cut their tree here for the past several years, and it has turned into a bit of a ritual.  Tama brings homemade cookies and I make eggnog.  The kids, Willow, Forrest and Autumn, have a great time.  It snowed just in time for their arrival.  The kids brought their sleds and had a blast before we hiked out into the fields to find a tree.  The trees are so big now that Rich just cut the top out of one.  Next spring, the whole family is coming out to plant new trees so that we have some of the appropriate size again.  I guess we should have thought of that a few years ago!

I saved gathering eggs until the kids got here, was hoping for three today so that each of the kids could take an egg out of the nest.  Would you believe, it was the girls' first FIVE EGG DAY!  Yay!!!  It is hard to believe that they are actually increasing what they lay in this brutal weather.

There are 11 loaves of bread in the basket, ready to take to market tomorrow.  I can't eat bread, really messes with my blood sugar and aggravates inflammation in my hip.  But I love to bake.  So until I'm sick of this, which will happen one of these days, or until I get too busy with the greenhouse and the garden, I will enjoy kneading, forming loaves and smelling the rich, yeasty scent of baking bread each Friday. 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas . . .

When I bought this place in 2000, I immediately took it out of production.  The farmer took his crops out that year, but that was the end of conventional farming on this place.  I planted about 8,400 trees, among them 2,400 white pines.  They were just little wisps of trees that year, maybe about 6" tall on average.  Two years later, I was able to harvest one and put on a table for my holiday tree.  In the ensuing years, they got bigger and bigger!  So big, in fact that for the last two years I have brought in volunteer cedars - always plenty of those about - since the pines are all far too big, and I hate to just take a top out.  Cedars smell divine, but they are so stickery that I need to wear heavy jacket and gloves (no knit mittens!) and I actually get out the safety goggles.  The gloves and jacket stay on while I decorate.  Taking it back down is even worse, since by then the needles are dry.  I cannot imagine what the inside of a cow's mouth is like!  They eat these things for a treat.

This year I decided there would be no tree. Last year's tree was not seen by one person save me!  Weather was bad, so some get-togethers I usually host were not held here.  My kids didn't make it up at all over the holidays - much easier for me to go their way, just one person, than for all 11 of them to get up here.  And there was the weather problem.  So I am being "brumsch," as my mother would say of pouters, and decided I would not bother with a tree since NO ONE came to see me last year!

Yesterday I went to a building supply place to get more insulation for the Moop.  I cover the hardware cloth in the back window with Styrofoam to block out the cold and wind in the winter.  But the wind blew it off - 50 mph winds will do that - and I needed another piece.  There at the front of the store were lovely little Norfolk pines.  I came home with the insulation - and the pine.

No lovely scent of cedar, but one string of lights and a dozen ornaments did it, and I have a lovely LIVE tree in my living room.  I'm happy.  And if no one sees it but me, that is good enough.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The egg game

The girls gave me four eggs yesterday.  In the past few weeks, they have had a bad day following a four-egg day.  Today, I got another four eggs!  Wow!!  These girls are really cranking them out given the cold weather, and all of the WIND!  The weather is really nasty today.

It is ugly out there tonight, down to 21º.  The milker buttoned up the chickens because I was at Purple Porch delivering spices and freshly baked baguettes at sundown.  When I got home, I went out with some warm water for them and found that the door on the Moop was frozen shut.  I used half of the water to unfreeze the handle, then left the handle turned into the open position.  I'll get out there with the big extension cord and my hair dryer and do it right tomorrow morning.

Did I say I liked winter?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow . . .

Okay, I am one of those sick people who prefers winter to summer.  Yes, I have to get bundled up and do morning chores now, but I have the right gear, insulated coat with collar that zips up over my mouth and nose, hood that snaps closed over the high collar, insulated socks, insulated boots.  By the time I'm dressed, I'm toasty warm and looking forward to the cold air that will hit me when I walk out the door.

See, in the winter you can keep adding layers of warm clothing.  You can back up to the wood stove.  You can cross country ski.  In the summer, you just can't take off enough clothing to be cool, and air conditioning is not my cup of tea.  I resort to it on really bad days, mostly to pull the humidity out of the air.  And the flies!  Oh, yes, try hanging over a fence feeding three voracious calves - a trick in itself because I'm using two hands to hold three buckets - and have flies biting your legs and arms.  Give me winter!

We had -26º last winter, coldest weather since the first year I moved out here, when we hit -28º.  I was milking that week, and two days in a row it was -4º when I headed out to the barn at about 2:30 in the afternoon.  Yup, that was the high point of the day.  The worst of that is frozen water lines, ice that makes me worry that one of the girls will slip and fall, equipment that won't start.  But in general, there are ways around those things.  I move a small space heater out to the milk room, and it warms the corner where the piping sits.  When the spigot freezes in the barn, we hook the hose up to the sink in the milk room.  That works just fine, and I always run a little hot water through the hose at the end - it softens the heavy duty hose and makes it easier to curl up neatly when I'm done watering.   We don't have a heater in the calves' watering trough, just break out the ice and toss in some hot water.  Last winter it was so cold that I had to bring out my big long-handled sledge hammer to break it out.  But as I said, it all works out, and there are no flies or mosquitoes biting me while I work.

It is snowing right now, supposed to continue all day.  Tonight we may get some icing.  Now that is NOT good.  But that means it is time to stay home!

I'm going to head down to the garden after market this afternoon.   We are supposed to get into the low teens on Thursday, high of only 18º.  I'm going to grab another armload of kale.  This could be the end of my garden.  :(

Monday, December 7, 2009

Say it isn't so . . .

And now there are 14.  One of the hens hasn't shown up for two days now.  I was hoping she would be running around the coop this morning, but alas, she wasn't.  Then I thought she might re-join the flock today and show up this evening.  No, she was not there.

I am sad.  They are such happy, sociable little things.  I hope her death was quick.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Winter hath come with a vengenace

After being lulled by a spectacular November, the cold came rushing in night before last.  I left for market as daylight was just breaking.  Every morning except Saturdays, when I have to be at market early, I take a walk around and make sure everything is okay.  My weather station died in the night, so I didn't see how cold it was.  Had I known, I would have gone out with the flashlight to check for frozen water tanks.  The weather station let me down in another way.  It is also my alarm clock;  alas, I got up an hour and 45 minutes later than usual.  The deer hunter's headlights coming up the drive woke me or I would probably have been a good bit later.  In my rush to get milk loaded and be on my way, I didn't feel the cold.

Brad, one of our newer milkers, was on deck Saturday.  He called me as I was on my way home from market.  Not only was it cold, but it had remained cold all day, never getting above freezing.  When he got there, the water tank inlet was frozen.  The cows had managed to knock a hole in the ice and had drained the tank dry, but one tank of water is not enough for 13 animals!  They were thirsty.

Luckily Clay and I had emptied the tank near the barn and moved it near the holding pen, where we can fill it by hand in cold weather.  The automatic watering system is of no use once the cold sets in.  When I got home, I got out of my market clothes and into my work clothes and insulated boots and went to work.  It didn't take me long to find one of the water tank heaters, but the other is lost.  I put the one I found into the tank by the barn and found the heavy duty extension cord.  I could only hope that it worked.  Then I went out to the east pasture to see what I could do about the tank that was frozen up.  The answer was nothing.  Even the quick drain hydrant was frozen solid.  Since it was in the open position, there was no quick draining, and the water couldn't get through the frozen coupling on the tank.  So I just turned it off and consoled myself that at least it didn't matter that I couldn't find the water heater for that tank.

Brad is new, but he has good intuitions.  He had taken the cows out to the east pasture but hadn't fed hay on the off chance that I wouldn't be able to get the water running out there.  That was a smart move.  I would never have been able to get them back to the barn, where they could get water from the tank with the heater.

This morning I went out hoping that the heater had worked and that they had been able to get to water through the night.  Yes!  Water wasn't frozen.  They had drunk it right down to the bottom.  I refilled it, knocked the ice out of the calves' water tank, hauled the hose back into the milk room and got my mind wrapped around the winter chores that lie ahead of me over the next three months. 

This is my first winter with the chickens.  I wish now that I had let the bedding build up as insulation.  What, did I think that it was going to stay in the 50s until Christmas?  Oh, well, we will start this week adding fresh bedding over the old as the winter wears on.  They have two waterers, so I bring one in the house at night to thaw, take it out in the morning and bring the other inside to thaw during the day.  I'll stop in at TSC and see what they have in the line of heated waterers.  So many new things to learn!

The hens are laying pretty well, three or four eggs every day for the last four days.  I think they are getting the hang of it.  I wonder if this is the best they will do until the days start to lengthen?  My friend Phyllis says they are very dependent on day length, more so than the cold, and I should see production start to go up late December.

I really need to get this whole chicken operation under control before I start my next project, but I will tell you that I have 125 tilapia ordered for delivery next spring.  Stay tuned for more on why I am doing that, and what I hope to learn about fish.

Well, it's time to go out and count the girls.  I still count them every night.  After all of the losses last summer, I just need the reassurance that there are still 15 birds in that Moop each night.  If it is too dark, then I touch each one to count them.  I love the feel of their feathers under my hand.

I just went out to the Moop.  There are only 14.  Buster is in there, so it is one of the girls.  There is still a whisper of light out.  I will check back in ten minutes and count again.  Hopefully I will be writing that they are all home after my return trip out there.

Four more trips.  There are only 14.  I had to button up the Moop.  I saw a chicken wandering by herself in the woods today.  Maybe she is broody and sitting on a nest of eggs.  Maybe she was sick and went off by herself to die.  I saw the them down by the creek today.  Maybe a critter got her.  Maybe she will be waiting for me in the morning . . .

Friday, December 4, 2009

Jewel laid at my feet

The hens (I can call them hens now that they are laying) are a bit erratic in their laying habits.  I suspicion that they are still laying under a bush here and there, although I am now getting two or three eggs each day.  I always make sure to leave one in a nest to lure them back, although with the cold weather coming, I will have to quit that unless I want frozen eggs.

I thought it was time you saw the Moop.  Isn't it quaint?  The new gray tote to the left of the can with their laying mash is full of cracked corn.  I need to add flax meal to it to get the protein up.  I want to avoid soy, which is a bit of a trick once they are laying.

Here is a pic of their nests, and another of a nest with an egg.  It is the nest that I put extra hay in, just stuffed the excess in there and thought I would draw on it as I needed it for the other nests.  I didn't think a hen could get in there.  Yes, she can, and she does.  It is one of their favorite two nests. 

This morning, I let them out mid-morning and found three new eggs.  As I walked back out of the Moop, there on the ground was an egg.  I picked it up and it was still warm.  The ground where it lay was cold and bare.  Did she know I was picking up eggs and so would be sure to find it there?  Did she not want to go into the Moop and lay the egg while I was in it?  Very curious.  I have never seen this before.

It was a lovely sight, and so nice to cradle a warm, newly laid egg in my hand.  One of my hens laid a jewel at my feet.  :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sleep and production

For some reason, I feel as if I am personally responsible when the cows don't milk well.  To some degree, I suppose I am.  I pulled the girls off the pastures, put them in the winter lot, about three weeks ago.  I feared them eating down the pastures too close, and then it is harder for them to recover in the spring.  Steve told me to keep them on pasture another two weeks, and that helped production.  He pointed out that they were a LONG way from that problem.  So the girls are back out to pasture every day.

I found their mineral feeders completely empty yesterday.  I hadn't checked them in two or three weeks.  They eat a lot more minerals when they are on hay, I am told, so I missed the boat there.  I'm off to the organic mill to pick up minerals and organic laying mash this morning.

But I can't control the weather.  It is normal for production to fall once the girls are pregnant and making babies.  It is normal for it to fall even if they AREN'T making babies.  It is a natural rhythm, and one I have a hard time getting used to.

When I deliver milk, I find myself apologizing if production is down a bit from the previous week.  Apologizing for what?  For nature?  I must remember that.

And now I have this egg production to worry about.  I count the eggs per day.  I got four the first day I locked them in the Moop for the day, a number that has not been repeated since.  I was elated that they laid anything when I started letting them out again, but it was two a day, and then only one a day.

It's a good thing I go back and read comments from my followers.  Mark wrote that I should leave the eggs in the nests.  They are more apt to come back to a nest with eggs than to a bare one.  So I sneaked back out night before last with four eggs from the house and put them into what were their favorite nests.  Voila!  Yesterday there were three new eggs!!  Thank you, Mark.

I left all seven eggs out there.  The girls will stay in the Moop until I am back home with their feed.  Will there be FOUR more today?

How much milk will we get?  Will we get to Delilah before her bull calf does?  It makes a difference of several quarts in our production.

Last question?  Will I sleep well tonight?  LOL

Really, when I lie in bed and think about good egg and milk production, I sleep like a baby.  When production was down, I stew and don't sleep well.

This has really got to stop, don't you think?  If it doesn't, I am going to be in real trouble come February.