Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Now you see 'em, now you don't

I used to count the chickens every night, and I mourned when one was missing.  Sometimes the errant bird showed up, sometimes not.  I started with 26 chickens, and by the time the new chicks arrived this year, I only had nine of them left - one rooster and eight layers.

I had losses from this year's chicks.  The hatchery replaced ten of them.  By the time I took them out to the Moop to join the other chickens, there were a total of 54, two roosters and 52 layers or pullets.

I haven't counted in quite some time.  Too many of them, and so heartbreaking when the number isn't right.  We lost one to a hawk, and second one didn't make it into the Moop on a cold night.  I found her body in the snow outside the pen.  Both were Campines, my favorites.  So now we keep a bit of hay under the Moop and make sure the gate is open at night, just in case some errant girl is out and about at sunset when I close the lid on the Moop.

About a week ago, I did a count, flashlight in hand.  There should have been 52.  I counted only 47, so that meant I had lost another five at some point.  No bodies were found lying around, so I could only imagine that a critter dragged them off.

Last night, I bravely decided to do another count, even though I knew I would be very depressed if the number was less than 47.  There were 52!  The Buckeyes are solid dark brown and tend to bunch on the floor in corners.  I am assuming I just did a terrible job of counting last week.  My heart soared to know that all of the cluckers were still there!

I am in love with these chickens.  But you knew that.  :)


One Saturday morning, as I went out to feed the cows in the dark before leaving for market, I noticed Sam was lying down.  He was usually right there at the head of the line for breakfast.  It's a good thing there was a bright moon, or I would have missed seeing him.

Sam wouldn't get up.  He had foam coming out of his mouth.  His head was off the ground, but I was very worried. I gave him a bucket of water, but he only drank about half of it.  I called one of the other milkers on my way to market and asked him to stop by and check on Sam later in the morning.  He told me that Sam was up and about at 10:00 a.m., but that he only drank about a half bucket of water. 

I also called the vet, Mat.  He said to keep an eye on him and he would stop by on Monday morning if he wasn't any better.  He thought it might be metal disease, and he told me what to do in the meantime.  Bovines love to munch on bits of metal.  It is imperative that we do not leave any metal lying around.  But occasionally I find a small piece of wire or a fencing hook lying in the pasture.  It happens, no matter how careful we all are.  Mat suggested that I put a magnet down him.  Any loose metal will stick to the magnet instead of migrating to the heart, where it can be fatal.  Unfortunately, Sean, my 10 year old visitor who had lived at the farm for a month, had found the plastic pill pusher to be an interesting toy.  I saw him with it one day and should have taken it from him, but thought he would put it back when his curiosity was satisfied.  It was nowhere to be found, and when I contacted Roy, he said Sean had no memory of it.  Sigh . . .

So I headed out for the farm store for a new pill pusher and a magnet.  Only one pill pusher on the shelf, and it had a broken handle.  No magnets, either.  After calling around to three vets, I finally found one who had both.  So off I went to another town, about ten miles away.  The pill pusher cost four times what it had at the farm store, but I had no choice.  I went home and got the magnet down Sam's throat and hoped for the best.

Sam wasn't getting any better.  Mat thought it might be that Sam had been getting too much balage, so I put him in with the calves where he would get a diet of dry hay only.  Still, he wasn't any better.  At one point, the vet warned me that he might not make it.  Mat thought it might be constipation, and I tried to get mineral oil down him, but he didn't find it tasty.  In fact, he was drinking very little water and was becoming noticeably thinner.  So Mat came out.  He hoped it was an impacted second stomach, which would cause him pain when he tried to drink or eat and would explain his weight loss.  Of all of the options, it was the best and the easiest to treat.  We would force feed him a couple of quarts of mineral oil in a few gallons of warm water.

My granddaughter, the medical student, was living with me at the time, and she came out to the barn to watch.  Mat held Sam's head and put a tube down his throat, making sure he got into the right stomach.  He ascertained it was the correct one by smelling the gas that came out of the tube - different stomachs have different odors.  (Sure hope you are not eating breakfast while you are reading this.)  While he held Sam's head, I began to pour mineral oil and warm water down the tube.  Four and a half gallons of it, to be precise.  Poor Sam!  There was a lot of belching and it wasn't pleasant!  At last the job was done.

Kate said she had to get ready for work at the clinic where she was doing her family practice round.  As she left the barn, I asked her if she would like to be a vet.  She answered, "No way!"

Sam's health improved daily.  I left him with the calves until I was sure that he was eating and drinking.  There were no more episodes of foaming from the mouth.  It was amazing how quickly he started putting on some weight.

Finally it was time for him to go back with the cows.  He was a bit indignant.  A few of the cows are quite capable of pushing him aside at feeding time, but the calves were no match for the big guy.   He had thoroughly enjoyed the extra attention and extra hay that he got while living with the calves.

I am so happy that Sam made it.   He is such a sweetie, and I hope to have him around for a long time.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Deal of the day

Ah!  Mother Overstock offered me 20% off today!  For those of you who are confused by this, read yesterday's blog.

I figure by January 1, she is going to pay me to take a coat.

Monday, December 20, 2010


I've been contemplating getting a new winter coat for everyday use - not one for barn work, and not a full length coat that I would wear for dress.  Just a nice, warm coat to wear into the market - one without hay in the pockets.  My current only non-hay corrupted coat is a full length 100% cashmere coat that I bought about ten years ago on  So I have been spending some time out there hoping for another bargain.  It was only $165, and I wish I had bought two of them!  This one is getting a bit threadbare, and I want to save the last bit of goodness in it for dress up days, few though I have anymore.

Needless to say, Overstock knows I have been looking at coats, and so I hear from them frequently.  I am reminded of the mother telling her child, "If you do that one more time, I'm going to send you to your room!"  Ha!  How many times do many children hear that before the action?  I feel like a recalcitrant child whose mother is named Overstock, and she is telling me, if you order NOW, I will give you free shipping and 10% off.  Every day the bait gets a little sweeter, so why should I buy today?  It's another mother losing her credibility with her child.

I have written how, as a new bride, I wanted to impress my farmer husband when he told me not to let Rose back in the barn, as she didn't like to go back to the pasture when we were done milking.  I braced myself in the barn door to prevent her return, and Rose won.  She weighed about 1,000 pounds, and I was no match.  My right shoulder got rammed into the door frame and has given me trouble off and on ever since.  I have been having trouble with it again lately, and have even gone so far as to think I may have a torn rotator cuff.  It is quite painful.

Okay, this is a rather long and convoluted post, but it all links together.  I went to the doctor to get it looked at, and while in the waiting room, I picked up a magazine.  There was an article in there with a picture of a broken and glued together vase.  Curious, I read the accompanying text.  It told about the art of Wabi Sabi - making do with what you have.  You know, getting your priorities straight.  There is beauty in the break as well as in the vase.  The article went on to tell how you might put friends ahead of dusted furniture, that sort of thing.  Well, I learned that one a long time ago.  Before Kayla, my assistant, joined me, my friends could write their names in the dust on my furniture to keep track of when they last visited!

The article went on to talk about clothes.  I am not very fussy about styles.  Goodwill is my friend.  Since I have lost so much weight, I drop off a handful of baggy stuff at the back door and go in the front to find something that fits.  Then I remembered this lovely car coat that I bought a few years ago, on sale, very good price, but it was a little tight.  It has only gotten a little tighter over the last few years.  I would say it is about ten years old now, but looks like new.  I pulled it out of the closet and tried it on.  It fits beautifully!  Wabi Sabi - I have a new coat. 

So Mother Overstock, I will enjoy your mailing tomorrow.  Will it be 15% off?  Will there be another cashmere coat for $165?  Will I be tempted?  Maybe, but probably not.  I am enjoying watching to what lengths you will go to make a sale.  Better luck with other customers who have not learned the art of Wabi Sabi.

May you all find treasures in your own backyards this very night.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Kate is on the road . . .

Well, my granddaughter left this morning, car packed to the hilt, and will be leaving from work this afternoon for her apartment in Indy.  Her family practice round is complete, and so I have lost my boarder.  She will be so glad to be back with her beloved dog, Stanley.  She hoped to bring him along.  Stanley came along on Thanksgiving Day, but unfortunately Tashi showed her Alpha colors and it was not pleasant.  Blood was drawn.  So Stanley had to stay with his Aunt Abby while Kate was here.

My Ayn Chee is a terrier, like Stanley.  To say that Kate and Ayn Chee bonded is an understatement!  When she walked in the backdoor after work, Ayn Chee ran to her with her "go fetch" toy, and it went on all evening.  I know how much Ayn Chee loves her, because she never brings the toy to me.  For the last two nights, Ayn Chee hasn't even come to bed with me until the early morning hours, when she is getting cold and wants to crawl under the covers with me.  I think that is because she is quite put out that Kate sleeps with her bedroom door closed!  Kate would be more than happy to sleep with Ayn Chee, but she keeps her door closed because of her allergic reaction to Holly Berry, the cat.

Oh, what convoluted lives we lead, accommodating the animals with whom we cohabit.  But it is worth it!

I miss Kate already, but not as much as Ayn Chee will miss her.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

This and that . . .

It's cold here this morning.  South Bend has 13º, but just a few miles SSW of there, my thermometer bottomed out at -6.2º - yes NEGATIVE 6.2º.  I was a bit worried about the chickens.  I'm glad there are more of them in there this year than there were last year.  It was quite cozy when I opened it up.  The door didn't go up until about 8:30 - I knew the temp would drop fast once it was open.

They are happily picking at their morning feeding.  They have a heater for their water, and I took out another waterer full to the brim with hot water from the sink.  I'll have to check them a couple of extra times today.  The Campines are very hardy, but the other breeds out there - well, I don't know.  This winter will tell the tale.  Buckeyes were developed for cold weather regions, so I think they will be okay.  But the new girls are a mystery.  I'm not even sure of the breed of a couple of them.  When one takes free chickens, one does not look a gift chicken in the eye.

On a whole other subject, I did a little cleaning this week.  I sell herbs and spices at my booth at the market.  You would think that my herbs and spices would be well organized, wouldn't you?  Ha!  What a mess in there!!  The labels are still on the shelves, but the spice jars are no longer aligned with the carefully thought out labels:  Leaf, Powder, Seed, Gourmet, Rubs, Pickling Spices, and there is even one called Seldom Used.

Night before last, I hauled out every last jar and tin and got going.  My nose was put to good use, and some were far beyond using, even if used at double or TRIPLE the amount called for.  I filled a small bowl three times with unusable seeds, leaves and ground spices.  Then I started consolidating.  Three jars of oregano, four of celery leaves (I always dry the leaves myself and save them, although obviously not in the same place), two of turmeric, and on and on it went.  The emptied tins and plastic containers went into the recycling, and the glass jars were put to soak to get rid of labels.  I just took the last of them out of the dishwasher this morning.  I decided to count the empty containers - over 30 of them!

My spice cupboard is neat and well arranged.  There is space to move things around a bit and hunt for the stuff in back.  Two houses ago, I converted an old ironing board closet in my 1924 house to a spice closet.  It was perfect - in the kitchen, very tall, and very shallow.  I still mourn for that cupboard - no hunting or rearranging in there!  I tried to find room in this house, which I designed and had built, for such a cupboard, but it was a luxury I couldn't afford.  However, there are times when I wish I had taken out a bedroom so that I could have had a "proper" kitchen!

When you clean your fridge, do you find yourself going to it to look at your handiwork again and again?  I do.  And that is what I am doing with my spice cupboard.  It is a sight to behold -- at least to me.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Another Campine gone . . .

It is always a Campine.  A hawk got a chicken about a month ago, and it was one of my beloved Campines.  This morning, as I was leaving their pen, I saw a dead chicken under some snow.  Of course, it was a Campine.  She didn't make it into the Moop last night.  Maybe I just missed her, or maybe some critter had already gotten her, and I just didn't see the body until this morning.

It always makes me sad.  I think it was one of the remaining nine from last year, because she was pretty big.

I am glad that the only roosters I have are Campines.  I will make sure that some of those white and fertile eggs get hatched next spring.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Feeling good

I realized that I have not had to stop on the way home from market for a nap in a couple of weeks.  Nearly every day on my way home, I would pull into a parking lot or a gas station, put the seat back, and snooze for ten or fifteen minutes.  It was serious, since I would find myself starting to fall asleep at the wheel and knew I had to stop or risk a serious accident.

So what has changed?  I have help!  I always blamed the sleepiness on things like the drone of the car, or boredom behind the wheel, never on exhaustion.  But I think that is what it was.  Kayla is here now, starting her fourth week of working here.  She works around 30 hours a week, sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on if she is on the milking schedule or not.

Yesterday I had to leave to get chicken feed and to pick up half a pork at the locker, so Kayla was here by herself.  I left her with a few small jobs, told her to stay busy as long as she could since she is not milking this week.  When I got home, both of my wood boxes were filled to the brim, the fires were both going (I usually come home to a bit of a chill and fires that have burned down to some coals), all of the dirty utensils from the soap room were cleaned up and put back in place.  What a nice feeling!  When I got home, I had to unload 300 lbs. of chicken feed, but that was it.  No fires to rebuild, no wood to haul in for the night.  I left the 85 pounds of pork in the car until after Kate and I had supper, and then she helped me bring that in.  I feel absolutely pampered and spoiled!

I think I know why I no longer need a nap on the way home.  It is good to have help here, and Kayla is a jewel!  No job too big or too small for her.  :)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Six eggs - all white

Oh, those Campines!  They do not know the meaning of winter.  Six eggs yesterday, all white, four of them pullet eggs.  These are Belgian chickens.  I wonder if that has something to do with it - they were developed in a country far to the north.  Belgium's latitude is about 50º, ours is about 40º and Anchorage, AK is about 61º.  So it is actually quite a bit to the north of us.

These Campines think they are in the south, compared to the daylight hours they experienced in the land where they were developed.  Well, I'm all for it.  Now that I have five different breeds of chickens around here, I thought I might not be so in love with the Campines.  I am.  They are my favorites, even if they don't let me pick them up and cuddle them!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Back in business

I am told that whether or not your chickens lay is dependent on the number of hours of daylight.  My Campines don't understand this concept.  As the days wind down, nearing the winter solstice, they have begun laying!  At least one of the older chickens is laying, and I am getting two or three pullet eggs every day as well.

No rhyme or reason to this.  But I am so glad to be getting my own fresh eggs again.  Kate and I breakfast on eggs and bacon every morning.  This morning there was a pullet egg in the nest when I went out to feed and water at sunrise, so an egg that was warm in my hand went into the skillet today.

All of the eggs I am finding are white, whether full size or pullet.  No blue, no brown.  Obviously, the Campines, independent little devils that I know they are, missed the lesson on day length and laying.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My granddaughter's visit

My oldest grandchild, Kate, is a third year med student, and she is doing a rotation at a clinic about 25 minutes from my farm.  She asked if she could live with me for the next three or four weeks, and I welcomed her with open arms!

We are dealing with a cat allergy, so tomorrow it is heavy duty housecleaning in the bedroom she is using.  It didn't seem to bother the first couple of nights, but it is getting worse, so hopefully the vacuum cleaner, washing machine and some elbow grease will get all traces of Holly Berry out of her room.

Kate loves to eat as much as I do.  We had open faced Reubens tonight, on homemade sourdough rye bread.  Last night it was porterhouse steaks, with salad from the garden.  Yes, there are still valiant greens making a statement in the garden, and the winter radishes will be good for at least another month.

It is so good to visit with Kate in the evenings.  She is so smart, and so thoughtful.  I am so happy that she is a confident, intelligent and caring adult.  As regular readers know, I am very interested in health issues, and it is good to bounce my ideas off her.  It seems that the medical schools are teaching things that are more in line with my beliefs, things like the Vitamin D issue.  Problem is, older doctors often do not have the time or the interest to learn the latest views on such things, and so their patients are still caught up in the old beliefs.  I am glad that things are changing, and that fat is not being quite so demonized as it was for so many years.  But still, Kate said that she read through one on-line lecture that still pushed a low fat diet - but that was dealing with overweight people who had already had a heart attack.

So Kate and I continue to bat around the whole "fat in the diet" controversy over dinner each night, as we eat our high fat meals!  LOL

Monday, November 29, 2010

You go, chickies!

Well, well, well!  Yesterday I got three pullet eggs - small, but decent sized.  So my pullets, born on June 1, are coming through.  All white eggs, so it is the Campines.  They are my little darlings, although it is nice to have a chicken that will let you pick it up without screaming!  The Buckeyes are definitely friendlier.  But still no brown eggs, so they are not laying yet.

Several of my chickens are molting.  This is NOT the time of year for such things to happen, but this crazy weather has them confused, I think.  It was near 60º again today.  Nice to be able to turn on the watering system for the cows instead of dragging the hose out.

I am just so glad to have my own eggs again.  I was reduced to buying from others for a couple of weeks, but now I can have my own, with those dark yolks.  The ones I got from Leifschon are just as good as mine, plus they are entertaining, since they are from "Easter Egg" chickens, and come in several different colors.  Leifschon's chickens haven't quit laying, but she told me they have a heat lamp in their coop, and we are wondering if that has affected them.  I didn't see an egg for nearly three weeks.  I got some eggs from an Amish farmer, too, but was a little disappointed.  They are free range - I see them running around with my own eyes - but they don't have such dark yolks as mine and Leifschon's do.  Also, the yolks are very small in proportion to the whites.  Those Campines - small eggs, but BIG yolks (my favorite part).

Well, it is good to know that they are finally earning their keep, especially since I am going to have to get chicken feed again next week.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Crazy weather is affecting my chickens!

My chickens are molting again.  I haven't had an egg in nearly two weeks, then this afternoon, there was an egg - from the Campines.  As new layers, they were laying last November.  The weather and short days didn't bother them - I got a few eggs every day.  But this November, neither the old layers nor this year's layers have been giving me any eggs, until today, that is.

They should be all done molting, but this heat wave has them confused.  Roosters are not usually active at this time of year.  Yesterday, I saw Roscoe mounting a hen.  We have had some really weird weather in the past couple of years.  I wonder what this winter holds for us.  I hope it doesn't hold chicks hatching at this time of year.  They will be doomed!

It is supposed to be in the 60s the early part of the week, then plunging temperatures.  I must remember to get all of my hoses in during the nice weather on Monday and Tuesday.

My son and his family are coming here for Thanksgiving, and my friend Phyllis is joining us, barring lake effect snow.  For those who don't live on the east side of Lake Michigan, here is a little bit about lake effect snow.  It is quite beautiful - light, fluffy, sparkling, the stuff you see in the movies.  But it can be wicked, and it can be voluminous!  So I am hoping that the weather doesn't include snow on Thursday.

I am looking forward to seeing everyone.  Kate, my oldest granddaughter, is in her third year of medical school and is working for three weeks at a local hospital, so she and her dog Stanley are coming back up on Sunday night and will spend three weeks here at the farm.  Her sister Abby just got exciting news that she has been accepted at Indiana University for medical school next fall, so there will be a lot to talk about.  She is glad she has that behind her!

It is 5:23 and darkness is falling.  The chickens are probably already starting to roost, but there is no sense in going out there yet, because the crazy Campines will come flying back outside again if there is a little daylight evident!  The others will all be hunkered down for the night, I'm sure.  So I'll give them a half hour, then head out to button them up for the night.  I will have to teach Kate how to do some chores around here!  And Abby is the real animal lover, especially chickens, so I'm sure I will get some help with them Thursday evening.

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving now, since my guess is that I will not have time to sit down to write before the big day.  I hope you all spend the day with at least one person you love - and since that must include yourself, your covered!

Friday, November 19, 2010

This is work!

I am glad that Kayla is such a fast learner.  She is scaling that learning curve at record speed!  But still, there is that small amount of training for each new product, and I have many!

Today, we added two new lip glosses to the line, one with lots of grape flavoring, another called "Buttercream" that tastes a lot like Tollhouse cookie dough, of which I am a big fan.  It is one of the few things that I really do miss from my sugarholic days.

So anyway, in addition to training, I am slogging through the paperwork involved in putting an employee on board.  It is not easy!  I have spent most of the morning reading instructions on the internet and filling out forms so that everything is in order.  I had several employees when I had my restaurant, but it has been a long time since I have had to deal with such things, and I am getting older and hold less patience for all of the details.

In addition to this, I am utilizing my free time to do some honing of my business expenses.  I will not tell you how many hours it took to set up this latest thing, but I can now swipe credit cards with my new cell phone.  I wanted to make sure it was working correctly before Saturday market.  It will make its maiden voyage tomorrow, and if all goes well, I will be able to cancel my phone line at the market - $37 a month.  I am paying $12.95 a month for the new service, and my fee per transaction drops from 80 cents to 30 cents - a very good thing.  Now if it works as well as the old land-line system, I will see a considerable savings.

There is so much to do with the holidays coming on!  Kayla and I are just barely keeping up, and there are the extra things to do like harvesting kale to blanch and freeze.  Yes, Kayla does a little of everything!  But January is my slow month, and I am hoping that we can tackle my files.  How wonderful it will be to start February (that's when the pepper seeds start going into seedling trays) with my office organized and help at hand!

I am trying not to be too optimistic about my future, but might I have a little free time next year?  I am trying very hard not to think about new projects.  My new mantra is NO NEW PROJECTS!  

Well, back to work.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shareholder's suggestion

The new cow wasn't giving much milk, after losing her calf.  I had expected to see copious amounts, but obviously she was not letting down her milk.

Karen, one of our shareholders, mother of seven and member of the La Leche League, suggested that we put her with another calf.  She asked if we had one that might nurse.  I hadn't even thought of that!  Yes, as a matter of fact, we had just weaned Romeo, our bull calf.  He and the three spring heifers were now in the maternity pen, and so I put Skipper Princess in there with all of them.  Lo and behold!  Not Romeo, but Sweetie Pie, one of the seven month old heifer calves, immediately latched on, while Skipper stood there contentedly.

The next morning, I took Skipper back out of the pen.  She was much calmer, I noticed.  She went back with the milk cows, and has milked steadily better the past few nights.  Last night she was full enough that she leaked a bit while waiting to go into the barn.

Talking about issues and listening to suggestions is a very good way to learn new things.  Thank you, Karen, for a great suggestion!  We are all benefiting from it, especially Skipper.

Friday, November 12, 2010

No calf . . .

I knew something wasn't right, called the vet several times and kept waiting a bit to see if anything would happen, per instructions.  I finally called and said, "This isn't right.  She should have had this calf by now!"

The vet came out.  I asked if my instincts were right, and he said yes.  He and Androo spent over half an hour removing a huge dead calf from her.

I am so sad.  Skipper Princess is okay, but she is searching for her calf.  It breaks my heart.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New cows

Pricey, our new Guernsey cow, is milking very well.  Production for the herd is so low!  If it wasn't for her copious milk, we would be getting only two or three quarts per share.  But she is a trouper, just freshened in September --contrary to what the sale bill said -- and should milk well throughout the winter months.

Her daughter, Skipper Princess (we didn't name them - it's that registered-Guernsey thing) was supposedly due to freshen on October 23.  Needless to say, that didn't happen.  They come in heat every 18 to 21 days, so that means that her calf should come sometime between tomorrow and Saturday, assuming she was bred on her next heat.

Androo is milking tonight, and he called to tell me that he thought she was in labor.  I went out to check her, flashlight in hand, and I do believe we will have a new calf by morning.  Perhaps not, this is just her second calf, and sometimes they move a little slower than the old girls, but for sure by Saturday the new arrival will be here!

I'll keep you posted.  :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

First snow

We had our first "sticking" snow early this year - Thursday, November 4.  I got between 3" and 4", and here it is Monday the 8th, very warm, but still some evidence of snow on north facing hills.

Thought you would enjoy some pics.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Farewell to friends . . .

Sean and Roy are moving west.  There was not enough work in this area, and I was not able to provide enough here on the farm.  There is barely enough for one person to get by, and with two more, and no outside work, Roy decided to continue on his drive back to Arizona, where he had lived before moving to Maine five years ago.

I miss the sound of Sean's happy voice calling out, "Ayn Chee!  Tashi!"  The dogs miss Sean, too.  Our cats had just started to make friends, Sean's big Maine Coon cat Puff outweighing Holly Berry about three to one!  But they had finally gotten close enough to touch noses.

I am glad I got to meet Roy and Sean.  They've called once from the road, and of course I am collecting a box of things on the dining room table that were left behind.

I know how much they both loved it here.  Too bad things didn't quite work out, but that's life.  I am glad I got to know them both.  Roy's handiwork around here will be a reminder of his presence this past month, and Sean's happy voice will echo through the house for a long time to come.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

October's nearly gone

Here we are moving into the last week of October, and I have only written four pieces for the month!  With Roy here, a lot more is getting done, but it seems that for every job that gets done, two pop up in its place.

Kayla is working with me in the soap room one day a week, only last week it was two days!  We are nearly caught up with soap, and this week I plan on trying her out on some office help.  That is now where I am the farthest behind.  The tags on the soap board nearly covered it - one goes up every time I see that I need to make more of a particular soap.  It takes five weeks to cure, so staying on top of it is important.  We are down to only four batches needing to be made this week, and Roy wants to learn how it's done.  So hopefully we will get them all onto the curing racks by Wednesday.  Then there are a few lotions to do, and some herbal remedies.

We are butchering one of our cows that failed to settle (that means get pregnant).  If they can't have calves, then they don't give milk, and they are not salable.  Our shareholders appreciate getting meat from animals that have been treated humanely, are strictly grass fed, and are organic.  So we will sell the meat to the shareholders for considerably under the value for organic grass-fed beef.

At auction, most of the animals will sell for less than they would if you are shopping for just one cow, so I set out to see if I could purchase at least one cow for replacement, and maybe even two.  These were registered Guernseys, the breed I want to increase in our herd, and would probably have had to pay at least what we will get for our meat for just one cow.   I was fortunate enough to be sitting next to a guy who raised and milked Guernsey cows for 50 years, and so he pointed me to some good values - cows a little older, maybe not such high, perfect udders, but good milking records and very high butterfat.  The two cows cost what we will get for the meat from our one cow.  They arrived last night and are getting to know the other cows already. 

I was going over the records of the two I bought last night and discovered that I bought grandma and granddaughter.  One of the girls freshened in July, and we are already milking her.  The other was due to freshen yesterday, so very soon we will have copious amounts of milk from her as well - and all that butterfat!  Guernseys give this lovely golden milk with very high butterfat, and are the breed with the highest A2 content.  You can read more about A2 milk here if you are interested: 
A1 - A2 Milk information   And some of the science stuff here:  Science behind A1 A2 milk

Pictures of new cows later.  I need to get on with my day.  I'm going to bake some braided oatmeal and whole wheat bread today.  Sean and Roy are getting spoiled for the good stuff - no more day-old bread store bread for them!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Peace, evening peace

 The weather is beautiful, it was sunny all day, crisp temperature and light breeze.  Now it is still as it settles into twilight, the breeze gone, the sun setting.  The chickens are about to go to roost.  Cows are milked, back in pasture waiting for their evening feed of beautiful green alfalfa hay.

There is a big pot of spaghetti sauce on the stove.  Roy and Sean are finishing bottling milk and cleaning up.  They will be in for supper soon.  Roy said the cows milked well.  They are getting used to him, are much better behaved than they were the first few nights he milked.

I snapped a few pictures.  I hope they capture a bit of the peace that exists around here - all the time, but especially at twilight.

"Now the day is over, night is drawing nigh, shadows of the evening steal across the sky . . .  "

Sabine Baring-Gould, pub.1865

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Eggs of many colors!

The new chickens roaming around here are finally laying a few eggs.  My old Campines lay white eggs; the new ones lay blue and brown eggs.  So I always know the source - colors mean the new girls are finally feeling at home.  I get at least one colored egg most days now.  A few days ago, I found one of each in the nest, and I wanted to share with you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

New friends

I've been very busy, picking and preserving last of garden produce before the hard frost.  We got the predicted frost last night, and I was glad that there were baskets of tomatoes, peppers and kaprao holy basil for tulsi tea in the garage.  The greens will do just fine in this weather, and I expect to be picking cabbage, kale and collards for at least another six weeks.

Roy and his son Sean are here visiting from Maine.  Roy wants to help out here on the farm, wants Sean to experience farm life.  They are both enjoying themselves, and Sean is taking to this place like a duck to water.  Yesterday while I was canning tomatoes, Roy built a new gate for the chicken run.  It is a work of art.  I was going to get some lumber to frame the gate, and then Roy said, "You have a lot of saplings around here.  Would you mind if we cut some of them down for the frame?"  Would I mind?  Hardly!  Off we went in search of some long, narrow and straight saplings for the frame.

I was canning tomatoes while they worked on the gate.  Sean came inside to ask if I wanted to go along on a walk to find a final sapling, one with a hitch in it, that could be used for the handle.  I was at a point where I could take a break from the tubs of tomatoes, so off we went for a second walk into the cottonwood stand down by the pond.  We found several candidates for the handle, and Roy cut the two best possibilities.

By suppertime, the gate was complete.  It is a work of art! 

The finished product, handle and all!

Friday, October 1, 2010


My Baby Bear, who came into my life on December 21, 1994, left this plane this afternoon.  She was just a few weeks old when she was found in a ditch near my workplace, and she came with puppy breath and lots of fur.  When someone brought her inside to our Christmas party, I was instantly in love, and she came home with me that afternoon.

She has been failing for the past year or two, but still happy and doing okay. Finally, I could no longer deny that it was time. She slipped away at 3:30 this afternoon, in my arms, after bringing me nearly 16 years of joy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The season is winding down . . .

I am looking at my list of offerings on Purple Porch, our on-line co-op.  More items just got pared from it.  I'm down to a few tomatoes and peppers and a lot of greens.  I didn't plant enough root vegetables, wish I had more beets and carrots to offer.  Next year.

My broccoli was very poor this year.  It is sprouting broccoli, many little heads.  I sold a lot of plants, since it is a favorite of mine and so I am enthusiastic about it when selling greenhouse plants.  But the heat!  It didn't produce, and my customers all complained.  No one got much broccoli.  However, now with the cooler weather, it is finally coming into its own.  With a little luck, I'll be harvesting well into November.  Perhaps my customers will be a little happier with their plants now that they are doing what they are supposed to do.

My new chickens are getting into the swing of things around here.  I was to be gifted with 16 of them, but only nine arrived here, and of those, one is really just a pet, had quit laying altogether, and three are still young pullets that haven't started laying.  So my dreams of having an extra dozen eggs a day once they showed up has been dashed.  They have been here nine days, and since they all lay non-white eggs (my Campines lay white eggs), I know how many they have laid to date.  Try seven!  Yup, nine chickens, nine days, seven eggs.  I am underwhelmed!  I found most of them under a tree, and since they have been confined to the chicken run, which isn't all that big, I am sure that I have found them all.

Yesterday I opened up the run for the first time, since I was sure that the new girls would know where home is by now.  Alas, two of them, one of my new Buckeyes, and one of the Gift Girls, were running around frantically at dusk because they found the way out, but couldn't find the way back in!  Androo helped me round them up.  We will see what happens this evening.  I opened up the gate all the way today.  It will be easier for them to get in and out.

Allen quit.  He was very good with the equipment, and was learning to milk.  Due to health problems, it wasn't working out for him, though.  I hope he feels better soon.  In the meantime, a new person is coming on board for a bit to see how it works out.  I need help, and he says he is willing to work.  There is plenty of that around here!  We will go slow and make sure it works well for all concerned.

Androo, Allen and I had a very good meeting shortly before Allen quit, and we looked at the whole farm, what needs to be done, what needs to change, how do we put our efforts into what is the most profitable.  Financially, it was not a very good year, in part because the bugs destroyed a good bit of my garden, probably cut my produce revenue by at least two thirds.  Ouch!  But we have a pest management plan in place for next season.  I have not had a problem with bugs since I moved here in 2002, so this year took me by surprise, and being organic, my choices in combating them were limited.  But as I said, the plan is in place.  Bugs, beware!

I have said before that I wish 24 hours would go by when no equipment fails, no light bulbs burn out, no cows escape.  It won't be today.  One of the tires on the golf cart came off the wheel, so I had to fire up the small tractor and hook up the wagon so that I can get hay out to the girls this morning. I will worry about fixing the tire later.  For now the girls need to eat.  And I had better get on it right now!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I am so lucky!

Last night I got a birthday card from my Aunt Irma, my dad's sister.  No matter that it is a few weeks late.  There is a three page letter enclosed, and I am savoring it a half page at a time.

My aunt has an apartment in a place for seniors.  She is still one step from assisted living, even though she uses a walker.  I am so glad that she has her own space.  She has made the most of it, growing flowers in a planter on her balcony.  She writes the details of her blooms, and says that she takes care of the geraniums by the front door of her building. 

She tells me that many of the people in the building are NOT using walkers, and they could be doing things like helping with the flowers, but they would rather just "sit on their butts and complain."  Yup, that's my Aunt Irma!  We are a long lived and hardy lot, and part of it is our penchant for work.  We really do enjoy it!  If your choice is to sit with a bunch of people and join in the complaining or stare mindlessly at a TV screen or go outside and weed some flowers, every Siemers I know will choose the weeds!

I feel so grateful that I still have two aunts who are living, Aunt Irma and my namesake, Auntie Vey.  Auntie Vey still lives on the farm, and until the doctor banned her from her tractor a couple of months ago, mowed a two-acre lawn with a 25 hp John Deere.  I'm not sure of their ages, but I think Auntie Vey is now 94, and Aunt Irma is 92.

What is so remarkable is that their minds are good, their handwriting steady, and they have retained their sense of humor - AND their ability to work!

As we move into fall, which happened upon us last night at 11:09 p.m., I am reminded that no matter what the season of our lives, there is much to be thankful for.

Blessed be!

Friday, September 17, 2010

And then there were three . . .

Last night I pulled only three squawking chickens from under the Moop.  There were three more who went into it on their own, after some gentle nudging with my rake.

This morning, we put all of the new fencing to the test.  So far, they are all inside the new chicken run.  The new ones were not running around much anyway, but the old nine from last year are totally incensed!  And outraged!!!  Buster is really letting me have it.

Maybe I will get a few more eggs today.  Or maybe they will go on strike and I will get none.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

And the number is . . .

Only eight chickens under the Moop last night.  Roscoe the younger rooster was one of them, and he chose to come out on his own.  It took him awhile to decide to hop in the back, but he made it with no interference from me.

Perhaps tonight they will ALL be inside when I go out to shut them in.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Last night - checking chickens in the dark

I didn't count, but my best guess is that about a third of the new chickens were in the Moop last night.  However, there was one little hang-up.  The pecking order is no joke.  Two of the older hens were busy clearing the top two rungs of the roosts.  They were vicious!  No interlopers allowed!  Top run is reserved for the old girls and Buster, and by the way, the next rung is a "no fly / no roost" zone, thank you very much.  Bottom two rungs only for the newbies!!

In the process of grabbing screeching chickens by the legs to move them from under the truck onto the perches, some of the ones waiting for their turn with the mad lady decided to walk out from under the truck and hop into the back on their own power.

Will tonight be a little easier?  I hope so, because I am getting 16 more chickens on Sunday morning.  I have received a gift of 12 laying hens and four three-month-old chicks, about the age of mine.  So the flock grows, and I shall have eggs.  Blue and green ones, too, by the way, since a few of the layers are Araucanas.  :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Moving chickens in the dark

I am reminded of Tom Lehrer's infamous song "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" as Tina and I make our way through the dark, each carrying a tote with four chickens inside.  We are "Moving Chickens in the Dark," a much less pernicious lyric, but kind of funny all the same.

Why are we doing this?  A load of hay is coming soon.  The chickens that joined the farm in June have been residing in a pen where the hay has to go.  So for the last couple of weeks, Androo, Allen and I have been working on the new chicken run - a place where these smaller chickens can go and get at least a little protection from the predators with whom I share this land.  Last year I put them out too soon, in too open a space, and the hawks got seven of my chicks in short order.  Not this year!

We moved the Moop inside the run, which thoroughly confused the nine who have been living there for the past year.  The Moop moved about twenty feet, but the chickens continued to hang around the bare spot of earth where the Moop was sitting until a few days ago.  On the fourth night, all of them finally decided to move back in and quit roosting in trees that overhang the old spot. 

So why were we doing this in the dark?  Chickens become quite docile in the dark.  There is no way we could have rounded up 37 chickens in the daylight, even contained in a 15' x 15' pen!  So Tina came out about 9:00, two totes in hand (which certainly beat my idea of carrying one under each arm!).  I would sneak into the pen with the totes and pick up four birds one at a time, put in the tote and then hand it out to Tina.  I would repeat this operation with the second tote, then leave the pen with it in hand.  Off to the new chicken run, where I got into the Moop with a tote, carefully removed the chickens one at a time, and made sure that their claws were firmly around a roost.  Then I handed out the empty tote, Tina handed in the second one with four more chicks, and the operation was repeated.  Back to the barn, two more totes, and so on, until all 37 chickens were safely in the Moop.

Yesterday when I let them out, I didn't know what would happen.  It was pretty good news.  While the older chickens escaped (we are still working on fixing escape routes), the new ones stayed in.  They ate about half as much food as usual, and surprisingly drank a lot less water.  But then I realized that worms and grubs have a pretty high water content, especially when compared to the ground up grain that has been their diet to date.

Interesting thing with the layers, the "old" girls - they all escaped.  So I thought I would get NO eggs yesterday, that they would wild lay and as usual I would be hard put to find them.  They are molting, and between that and wild laying, I have been getting only one or two eggs a day, several days none at all.  Well, leave it to these weird Campines!  When they had to sneak back in to lay, I found three eggs in the nests yesterday.  Yup, that's right, when the nests were readily available, they layed in the bushes.  When the Moop got moved behind a fence (from which they had escaped early in the morning), then they sneaked back inside to lay their eggs.  Gotta love 'em!

But back to the new chicks.  The hay showed up two and a half hours late.  Dusk fell while we waited, and I checked on the new chicks.  They were not going into the Moop to roost.  I could hear the coyotes, one of them really close!  I know they have to live too, but please, not on my chickens!  And those Buckeyes are such fat little things.  By the time the hay finally came, full dark had set in.  I checked the chicks before starting on hay, and only a couple of them had made their way onto the roosts in the Moop.  The others were sitting on top of the feed containers, just like they did in their pen in the barn, or were huddled underneath the Moop.  This was not good!  If a chicken could escape the Moop, then any kind of critter could get in and make a meal of my chickens.  I fretted about it the whole time we were stacking hay in the barn.  When the last of the workers left, I decided rather than sleeping on my chaise lounge in the pen, I would try to get them all inside the Moop.  I went to work, small flashlight in hand, and pulled them one by one from under the truck, amid much protesting!  I swear that those Buckeyes were calling out, "Help!  Help!  HELP!!!"  Yes, that is truly what it sounded like!  I would stroke each one and say, "The coyotes are not going to get you.  The coyotes are not going to get you."  They would quiet down, I would make sure their little feet were firmly on the roost, and then I would head back for another.  Finally, with the help of a broom handle, the last two chicks were pulled from under the truck and put in the Moop.

I wonder how many nights this will have to go on before they figure it out.  I'm tired!!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Spreading biodynamic preparations - BD500

This afternoon, we did our second application of BD500.  Click here to see information on biodynamic farming in India.  Last fall, we packed cow horns with manure from our own organic cows and buried the horns in a circle.  This spring, we dug them up and removed the manure from the horns.  By then, it had composted into sweet smelling clumps.  We broke them up and used half of them, mixed with water, to spread on our pastures.

The rest of the horn manure went into a bucket and was put aside until today.  There were close to 20 members here, ready to go.  "Many hands make light work."  We worked in pairs, letting those with experience help out those who were new to it. 

We used the last of it today, then repacked the horns with fresh manure and put them back in the ground for another six months.  Next spring, we will start the process all over, uncovering these horns, removing the composted manure, and stirring to make more BD500.  The pastures were limed a couple of years ago, but this is the only other fertilizer we use.

Those who stirred took home a quart jar of BD500 to apply to their own lawns and gardens.  A quart will do plenty!

I made sure there was some left for my own gardens and flower beds.  Our president, Tina, said, "Oh, we already did your garden."  I was so grateful, started heading for my herb garden, and she said, "We did that!"  So I headed to the flower beds, and she said, "We got them, too!"  Doubly grateful.  The people in our milk association are good people, and their efforts are much appreciated, by me and by the cows who will be grazing on the paddocks they walked today.

Here are more pics of today's workers.  (One of these days, I have got to do something about formatting!  My apologies for the awkward spacing of the photos.)

Finishing up - A JOB WELL DONE!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Yesterday I noticed that the overhead lights in my garage were both burned out.  Before getting out the big ladder to replace them, I checked the breaker box.  Lo and behold, #25 had popped.  I thought this would be simple - turn it off, turn it on and all would be well.  But it would make a little buzz and then pop again.  Okay, something was wrong.  I can live without garage lights, so I just put it out of my mind for the time being.  I would deal with it later.

This morning Holly Berry, my cat, was driving me nuts - again!  Last night she pestered me until I checked her food dish and found it empty.  Having filled it to the brim, I was sure that hunger wasn't her problem.  I followed her down to the family room, but instead of going to her dish, she headed for a door begging to be let out.  The animals all wear magnets around their necks, which activate a small sliding door so that they can go in and out at will.  Perhaps she lost her magnet again.  It wouldn't be the first time.  Nope, her magnet was on her collar, so I checked the animal door.  It didn't work.  And both lights were out in the storage room.  I had two areas with no lights.  Still believing the problem was the breaker, tonight when I got home from market, I called Allen and asked if he had ever changed out a breaker.  He said he hadn't (wise move!).  I told him I had looked up instructions on the internet and it didn't seem too hard.  Then he told me about the smoke or dust or some such thing that he saw coming out of the outlet on a post by the water trough in Paddock 9.

Aha!  The breaker was probably good, and doing exactly what it should be doing.  The cows had knocked the cover off the switch within ten minutes of installation - plastic housing, poorly made.  So it was in tough shape.  I was pretty sure I had found the problem, since the outlet by the water tank had been run from my storage room, the storage room with the overhead lights out and the pet door that didn't work.  I called the installer.  Of course, on Friday night, this was going to cost some big money, but the pets needed their door!  He said I could save a trip charge if I waited until he came out on some other business on Friday.  I asked him what I would have to do to make it non-operational so that I could get the breaker to stay on, and he explained that I could remove the outlet and put plastic nuts on the end of each wire.

Okay, I thought, I can do that.  Then I thought, if I'm going to take it apart to disable it, why not just replace it?  I headed out to the local hardware store, and with some excellent advice from the clerk there, including how to make sure I didn't kill myself in the process, I headed home with a bag of tools and parts, costing about $15.

I tested to make sure there was no juice running to the outlet.  A little WD-40 loosened up the old screws, and before I proceeded too far, on the advice of the clerk at the hardware store, I checked the wires at the back to make sure they were dead.  They were, and the old part was out in no time.  Within about 15 minutes, I had the new part in and a new outlet cover installed.  This one fits flush, and hopefully the cows will not knock it off.

Jiffy Pop "helping"
They are so nosy! If they would just leave things alone!!  Sam came over and licked my face while I was working, and of course Jiffy Pop had to get her nose into things.

But at last, everything was put back together and the job was done.

I feel pretty good about doing this. In addition to the money I saved, there was a great deal of satisfaction in hitting the breaker and seeing the overhead lights go on in the garage.  All is well.  The pets can get in and out of their door.  The tools are put away, and all is right with the world.

So the romance between Rosie and Sam and my successful electrical wiring job are my two little tales for today.

Rosie and Sam are having a date . . .

Sam, our bull, is such a lover!  He really woos the cows that he is servicing, spending quality time with them.  He will lick his lady's neck, stay by her side, and keeps the jumping to a minimum.  He also sings to them. 

It's Rosie's turn.  She will not settle (that means get pregnant) this heat - it is too soon since she had her calf.  Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, gives the cows a few months after freshening (that means having a calf) before a live egg drops.  But they still do come in heat, and so there are some times for dates without consequence.  Rosie and Sam are having one today.

It is sweet to see them hanging out together.  They are walking side by side.  Wherever one of them is grazing the other is not far away.  I can see them now, on the other side of some trees, away from the others, walking, munching, enjoying one another's company. 

Today, I am especially glad that I am a farmer!

Sam is on left, Rosie on the right.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Moving the Moop

We finished the fencing and moved the Moop into the new chicken run, a distance of about 20 feet.  Last night, only five of the nine chickens spent the night in it.  It was nearly dark when I got home from Purple Porch, and I couldn't find the four others.  This morning, they were there, hanging around the back door of the Moop, waiting for the other chickens to be released.

Tonight I made sure I went out earlier.  I had eight of them close to the Moop, should have closed the fence, but I didn't and two escaped.  I put the other six inside, so I got in one more tonight than last night.

Before I got them into the new area, they all hung around the spot where the Moop formerly sat.  It is just a spot on the lawn with no grass, bare dirt, where it has rested for the last year.  But apparently they still call that home.

The remaining three are roosting within a few feet of one another in a tree very close to where the Moop was sitting.  Only twenty feet, that's all, but they are not going to rest easily at their new address.

Funny little creatures.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Yes, I'm still here . . .

Just a quick note to let you know that I'm still here.  This morning the last of my paperwork will be faxed to OEFFA, my certifying agency for organic certification.  What a load off!

The big thing on my schedule for the week is to get a corner post fixed and fencing cleaned up, and to move the little (not so little any more!) chicks into the new chicken run.  The older ones will go there as well, and if we can keep them contained, I may have more eggs.

No eggs in the nests for three days now, but when I was watering some flowers, I found a nice little indentation with four eggs yesterday afternoon!  They will have to be boiled, because I am not sure of their age, but I happily brought them to the house.  I was down to five eggs in the fridge, and have been limiting myself to only one egg per day.  I love my eggs, and I was glad to find those four yesterday.  I wonder if they will lay in there again today.  Probably not.  Once I find one of their spots, they never go back.

Such weird little birds they are!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Another deadline - organic certification

The organic inspector will be here Monday afternoon.  I need to do a lot of neatening up of my paperwork prior to her visit.  We talked on the phone at length, and she sounds pretty sharp, willing to teach where I need some guidance.  That is good.

Tomorrow is cleanup time.  I have been stacking paperwork on my dining room table, not just organic certification stuff, but two months of credit card charges and a bunch of filing for things other than organic certification.  It all needs to be done.  I have found out one thing, with my crunch schedule this year - the most efficient way to do this sort of things is to do a full month at a time.  I used to do it at least once a week, sometimes as soon as I came home with the charge slip in my purse, or as soon as I finished the on-line order for organic greenhouse seeds and supplies.  But that was a luxury I didn't really have this year, and so I found myself entering a whole month's worth of items after I got my credit card bill.

Who knew?  It is really more efficient this way.  I do keep the credit slips clipped together, sorted into piles by billing period, and by credit card company.  Then when I get the bill, I make sure I have a slip for each charge.  No sense in putting it into the computer and then finding out when I get the bill that I put it on the wrong card, or some other such mistake.

It does require making notes on the charge slip, since it might be a month before I am entering it into my accounts.  But that is a small effort, and takes seconds while I am standing in the checkout line.

This mess on my dining room table will be cleaned up by tomorrow night.  No Sunday nap this week.  Then I will be sure that I have all of the stuff for the inspector put together into a binder.  It does make a difference.  The easier it is for them to get at information, the less apt they are to start digging.  It is not that I have anything to hide.  I just do not want to go on a treasure hunt.  So the pile for organic stuff must be at least minimally organized by Sunday night, and then I have until 2 p.m. on Monday until she arrives to pretty it up.  I am sure I will be ready, but I am also sure that I won't have too many minutes to spare before she arrives!

Yup, that's the stuff that has to be in order for the inspection.  And of course, paperwork is just half of it.  Androo did a great job of cleaning out the area of the barn where the chicks are residing, and Allen will spend the morning with the weed whip cleaning up here and there in the calf pens and paddocks. 

I'm glad this only happens once a year.  Lots of stress.  But Monday night, it will be over, and hopefully I will not have too long a list of things to correct.  Then I can heave a sigh of relief and put it out of my mind until the process starts all over next spring.

Organic certification is important.  It means consistency from farm to farm.  It clarifies just exactly what "organic" means.  I do admit I resent it when I hear a farmer say, "I'm not certified, but I am same as organic."  My first question is, "Have you downloaded and read the organic standards?"  I know the answer to that will be no.  Next question is, "Then how do you know you are same as organic?"  I am always surprised by the little things I have missed.  And some big ones!  I did not know that potting soil, if not labeled ORGANIC, has a wetting agent that is a petroleum product.  Now I do, and of course, I use the proper soil in my greenhouse.  But until I read through the requirements, I wasn't aware of that.

I will say this - if you suffer from insomnia, you might want to download them and read them at bedtime!  It's about 50 pages of small print, and unbelievably detailed.  But those rules mean that you can rest assured that you are getting some pretty good food when it is labeled "Certified Organic."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Losing chicks

I am so sad.  I lost three Campine chicks yesterday.  I am not sure why, but I think it may have been because their waterers got filled with bedding and they couldn't really drink as much as they should have.  Two of them were caught in the fencing, and I wonder if they were trying to get out of the pen to find water.

I feel so bad!  If I had checked the waterers closely when I went out to the barn, I would have known, but I could see that they both still had water in them, and their food trays were full, so I just told them goodnight and didn't even go inside the pen.  I thought the waterers still had so much water in them because it had been a pretty cool day.

I noticed something unusual when I got the chicks.  The new little ones separated into two groups - the Buckeyes went right for the feed, and the Campines went right for the water.  So water must be very important for Campines, much more so than for other breeds.

Now I know.  It is hard to learn lessons at the expense of a little life.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Low carbing

Earlier I said I would talk a bit about my low carbohydrate diet.  Enough people are noticing the changes in my appearance so that I am getting a lot of questions.

"How did you do it?"
"Aren't you worried about eating all that fat?"
"I couldn't do it! I don't have the will power."

I will give you an overview of how I ended up losing 28 pounds.  But first I will tell you WHY I lost it. 

Most people would have said, upon observing me last January, that I didn't have to lose any weight.  I had gained 10 pounds over the holidays, and I went onto Atkins induction to get rid of it fast.  But I didn't want to just see-saw and gain it back, so I joined several yahoogroups boards for a little moral support.

Finally, I found a board that worked for me.  Plenty of moral support, but also good and thoughtful answers.  These people cared about what they were putting in their bodies, and there were many links provided so you could see for yourself why they were eating the way they were.  Very few mentions of faux sweets.  No diet soda (my one sin, and I'm working on it), with emphasis on good, unprocessed foods.

When one eats an extremely low carb diet, at least some of the carbs that you cut out have to be replaced with either fat or protein.  Okay, you might just want to cut out calories, but in my case, with only ten pounds to lose, and becoming convinced that low carbing might just be the best way for me to eat for the rest of my life, I had to look at how I consumed at least some of the calories I was giving up when the bread and lemon meringue pie left my diet.  All of our dietary choices are composed of fat, protein, and/or carbohydrates.  Those are our only three choices.  One's first instinct might be to replace the carbs with protein, but it turns out that protein is not the best choice.  Fat is - and (gasp!) saturated fat is the best of the fats out there.  Fats are very satisfying.  You will stop eating sooner, and you will not be going back to the kitchen later. 

Later, I'll discuss the merits of saturated fat and the unfortunate Seven Countries Study that pointed a finger at saturated fat without any proof. But not yet.

Here is how this way of eating works.  When one eats very few carbs, the body begins to burn fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.  This state of affairs can be detected by a simple urine test, which I do every morning.  If I am throwing ketones, then that means that my carbohydrate intake is low enough that my body is going to fat for fuel.  When we are throwing ketones, it means that we are in ketosis.  Many people confuse ketosis with a serious state called ketoacidosis, which is not good.  However, when one is in ketosis, especially if you are at "trace" for your measurement, then there is little danger of reaching ketoacidosis.

For now, I want to talk about why I am still on a very low carb (VLC) diet, even though my weight is normal.  On the support board, mention was made of kids with epilepsy who have been cured - yes, CURED! - of epilepsy by staying in ketosis for two years.  Then they can eat anything they want, and a cure seems to have been effected in about a third of the cases.  Another third have greatly reduced episodes, in both number and severity, and the last third don't seem to get any help at all.  This has been known and used since the 1920s.

I have been on a medicine that is used for epilepsy.  I have been diagnosed with mild bi-polar disorder, and the medicine I took did help a great deal with episodes of depression.  But it didn't seem to help much with agitation or with my hair-trigger temper.  I also developed a skin rash, which is a serious and sometimes fatal side effect of Lamictal, the drug I was taking.  So I had good reason for wanting to lower my dose or get off of it altogether.  Why do we take the same meds that work for epilepsy?  There is some speculation that bi-polar disorder is actually a form of epilepsy.  Our episodes are not in the same form, but episodes they are, and they are pretty much uncontrollable.

Anyway, I asked the question of my support group, "If a ketogenic diet helps kids with epilepsy, what about adults with bi-polar disorder?"  Well, what do you know, it is being used for that, and I was put in touch with a psychiatrist at the University of Louisville who was looking for people to participate in a study.

I got on board in February and since then have provided the doctor with a weekly report, which consists of my keto reading and a sentence or two to describe my moods each day.

I have been out of ketosis exactly once in that period of time, and I suffered the effects.  For nearly a week, even though I immediately went back into ketosis, I was agitated, angry and depressed.  It was a real wake-up call!  I have not been out of ketosis since. I want to stress that point.  If this was just for weight loss, I would be cheating.  This is my peace of mind that is being affected!  Peace of mind OR a cupcake is not a hard decision to make, at least for me.

On July 1, I tried to give up my prescription altogether.  I lasted 36 hours.  Then I tried again, lasted a week, had an emotionally upsetting episode and went back on the meds.  On July 25, I took my last pill.  As the doctor said, there will be withdrawal symptoms, no matter what, so just be prepared.  The third try was the charm.  I feel good.   My temper is in check - actually for the first time in my life.  My agitation is gone.  And my weight continues to drop.  I now weigh one pound less than I weighed when I graduated high school.  And as for me thinking that I was thin enough last January after losing the ten from the holidays, well, I am hitting the racks at Goodwill!  It is fun to shop.  Just about everything I put on looks fine, when I'm not worrying about covering up lumps and bumps.  I can even wear white.

People remark almost daily on the changes, how healthy I look.  I want to stress that they usually don't mention the weight loss, but rather my health.  I am sure my emotional stability has contributed to my look of well-being.  While I didn't set out to lose this much weight, I'm glad I did.  And there have been other unexpected benefits as well.
  • No more headaches - not even one - since I went into ketosis.  I used to get two or three dillies a month.
  • I have ditched my blood pressure medicine.  Blood pressure is normal without it.
  • My triglycerides are 58, while most people are struggling to keep their reading under 100!
  • My creaking joints (which I chalked up to old age) are gone, and I bounce around like a 20-year-old.
Okay, there is a little excess skin here and there that I'm working on, but I have found this diet to be amazing!  I asked the doctor whether I could stay in ketosis for two years and then resume a "normal" diet, but alas, he said it doesn't work that way with adults.  And why would I want to, come to think of it?  So I can resume my headaches, see my blood pressure rise, and feel old and creaky again?  The ketogenic state of my body is now my medicine, and if I go out of ketosis, I can expect to have to resume my meds.  So I guess I will focus on what I CAN eat, rather than on what I CAN'T eat.  Now I am going out to the kitchen to get some pork rinds and a little sour cream to dip them in while I watch Antiques Roadshow.  :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The raw milk wars

The meeting held this morning on my farm with five Amish raw milk producers went very well.  First I must say that many Amish farmers in this community have been very generous with their help to me as I was getting started with my dairy operation.  It was my turn to give back.

The Amish keep things simple.  Their cow share programs consist of having a customer lease a portion of a cow, then paying board on the cow they are leasing, a fee that correlates with the amount of milk they are getting.  Very simple, but the state says this is exchanging money for raw milk, which is illegal.  Our association is set up so that we collect a flat fee from our shareholders every month for their fair share of the expenses, and they get their fair share of milk each week, with no connection between the two.  They pay the same monthly fee whether they are getting a gallon and a half a week, or three gallons.  It is the main thing that keeps the government out of our hair.  But it is a complex system, a bit hard to manage.  In addition, in order to be legal, you must truly give up ownership of your cows, and the shareholders must participate in the operation, both by making business decisions as a group and by doing the physical work, such as milking, digging thistles and in our case, spreading biodynamic organic fertilizer over all of the pastures spring and fall.

We do all of those things.  Unless they change the laws in this state, under the terms of our agreement, we can legally distribute raw milk to those who choose to include it in their diets.

What we are doing is a far cry from the Amish farmers' cow shares.  There is no way they can just use our agreement as a boilerplate to adapt their business.  However, they left with a copy of our agreement in hand, along with our brochure, which outlines our cost structure and tells potential customers why we think our milk is the best around.

I bounced one idea off them which did at least get some nods.  I told them I would be glad to work with them in order to look at what kind of a structure would make sense for them and for their customers.

I believe that raw milk needs to be available to those who want it.  The danger of raw milk is getting it raw from a factory farm.  I have been in many Amish barns, and I wouldn't hesitate to drink the milk from any of them.  They feed this milk to their families, and they take care in how the milk is handled.  Factory farms do not care, and are allowed outrageously high bacteria counts, because after all they are going to cook the milk and kill them all anyway.  (Yum, yum, store bought milk with lots of dead bacteria floating in it!)

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  Right now, since the state has not been successful in putting the Amish farmers out of business to date, they have taken a different tactic - one large milk processor has taken a huge grant from the government, and now suddenly is asking (no, demanding) that all of the dairy farmers who ship to them to sign a paper swearing that they will not produce milk for raw consumption under a cow share plan.  The wives must sign the paper as well.  So all of a sudden, if they do not comply, they do not have a place to sell the rest of their milk.

That means another barrier has been put up so that you, the consumer, no longer have a choice.  And it should be your choice.  If you do not want to drink it, no one is making you.  If you do want to drink it, no one should be standing in your way.  Lest you think that the government has a right to save us from a "dangerous" food, here is a list of deaths from various things in our diet or our environment since 1992:
  • Deaths from raw milk - 2
  • Deaths from radish sprouts - 3
  • Deaths from spinach - 5
  • Deaths from PASTEURIZED MILK - 620
  • Deaths from tobacco - 7,250,000
Availability and consumption of raw milk does not constitute a health hazard.  The government needs to back off.  They are bowing to the pressures from agribusiness, and believe me, Monsanto, ADM and ConAgra do not have your health and well-being on their minds!

I'm back

My computer crashed - a bad one!  The operating system had to be reloaded, and anyone who has gone through that knows what that means.  All of my software had to be reloaded as well, my internet bookmarks are gone, all of my personal settings in programs had to be redone.  Outlook is really a bear to work with, and I estimate that it took about 15 hours in total to get it installed and running correctly.  Fortunately, all of my data was saved onto a different drive, so I was able to recover everything.  I use my email like a humongous filing cabinet, maybe not such a good idea, but very handy.

I am in the process of reloading my camera software as I write this so that I can upload some new pics, including one of our new little bull, Roscoe!

So you will be hearing from me again soon.  Here are a few things that I will be covering in the near future.

Small farmers - you will meet two families who have small spreads and are making the most of them.

Low carbohydrate diets - what has worked for me, and what might work for you.

Update on the raw milk wars in Indiana - I am meeting with several local Amish farmers this morning who are considering giving up their cow share programs due to harassment on the part of government officials who are "protecting" the health of their customers. 

Until next time - which will be soon.

Monday, August 9, 2010

May she rest in peace . . .

Tiny came to me in the second batch of chicks.  I could tell by about the third day that she wasn't quite right.  She fell behind in growth, and by the time the nine little chicks were two weeks old, she was about half the size of the others.

I brought her in the house, but she was very lonesome and was only happy when she was on my lap.  I finally took her back to the barn.  It was very unusual that the bigger chicks didn't bother her or pick on her.  The pecking order is no joke, it is fact.  But they were rather careful of her, or as careful as chickens can be.

The little chicks, being three weeks younger than the first batch, were kept in a smaller pen inside the big pen, and Tiny did just fine.  One time she got out of the pen, and I found her crouched in a corner, but still okay, none of the bigger birds picking on her.  Anyone who has had chickens will tell you that such behavior on the part of the older chicks is just short of miraculous.

A few days ago, she got caught in some netting, and I thought she was a goner.  But I picked her up and held her for a few minutes.  In no time, she was back on her feet.

And speaking of her feet, her little body, small as it was, seemed to be a bit much for her feet and legs, and she spent most of her time sitting down, sometimes in the food tray.  Every now and then her head would jerk around.  There were neurological problems.  I knew she didn't have long for this world.  Every time I went out to feed them, I would be so happy to see her, still going, still picking at her food, still being respected by the other chicks.

This afternoon I found her dead in the middle of the small pen.  It was a peaceful death, I think, because there were no marks on her.  She wasn't caught up in netting or pushed into a corner.  She was still warm when I picked her up.

I do not bury my chickens.  They go into the compost heap.  It is different with this little chick.  Tiny is in her own little grave in the middle of my herb garden, the spot marked by three small rocks.

Tiny, this courageous chick, lived from June 21, 2010 to August 9, 2010.  I think it was a good life.  May she rest in peace.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Busy time!

This past week has been very busy.  I met a new friend at a raw milk conference in Madison, WI last spring, and he asked if he could come out to the farm to learn to make cheese.  Bernie lives in Milwaukee, and that is a long trip for a cheese making class, but I said, "Sure, why not?"

One of our shareholders has a lot of excess milk, and he said he would contribute it to a cheese making class if I would have one, so Sunday it was.  Bernie arrived Saturday evening, and we started with his lessons right away.  I decanted a quart of kefir and showed him how to make a new start before we turned in for the night.

Sunday morning, we checked our kefir and he saw just how easy that is.  Then we moved on to yogurt.  Although I am a fan of raw milk, I do heat the milk to 180º and hold it there for five minutes, because I make Bulgarian yogurt, which is really the best, in my opinion.  And if I want to preserve the Bulgarian strain, then it is important to kill off any other bacteria in the milk before making it.  So we got that mixed up and put into the yogurt maker before the other guests arrived for the Cheddar making workshop.

About 1 p.m., we got started making Cheddar.  There is a lot of "wait" time while making hard cheese, so in one of those times, I showed the group how to make sweet cream butter.  The participants all got to help press the water out of the finished butter, which assures that the butter will stay fresh a bit longer.  Leaving any buttermilk in the butter contributes to it going rancid, so it's an important step.  Even if one is very careful about washing the butter, sweet cream butter is only good for a few days.  Culturing the butter makes it last a couple of weeks, but we didn't have any cultured cream to work with.

One of the by-products of cheese making is whey.  If you heat whey to 200º within two hours of draining the curds while making cheese, then add some vinegar to precipitate out the remaining curds, then drain it through some butter muslin, the end product is ricotta cheese.  It is so good!  One of the shareholders turned me on to adding some cacao nibs and fermented walnuts to a bowl of ricotta.  For us "low carbers," it is a dessert made in heaven!  I can pretend I'm having a chocolate sundae, with just a tiny bit of carbohydrates.  (I'll be talking about my low carb diet in another post soon.)

I showed everyone the cheddaring process - yes, that is what makes Cheddar cheese Cheddar cheese! - and then I got some help with my least favorite thing to do when making Cheddar.  This lump of cheddared curds has to be cut into tiny slices, which is tedious at best.  But with five of us there, it was short work.  Then these slices were tossed with salt and packed into the mold.  The mold full of curds went into the press, and the bulk of the work was done.

All of the guests but Bernie left at that point.  No sense watching a cheese press for twelve hours, hey?  But Bernie and I weren't done.  Now we got some cottage cheese started.  I make mine the old fashioned way, using no rennet to set up the curd.  So that means it has to sit for at least 20 hours after heating the milk to 70º and adding some special bacteria to it.  We got that going and turned in for the night.

Monday we enjoyed another farm breakfast of bacon and eggs (no toast - that low carb thing), while Bernie chided me for drinking coffee and I chided him for drinking water out of a plastic bottle.  We foodies do tend to get a bit carried away at times!  I showed Bernie around the farm - first chance we had to do that - then he tended to his consulting business (lap tops and cell phones make portable offices) and I took care of emails and other farm duties.  After lunch, we finished the cottage cheese.  Then Bernie asked, "What next?'

Okay, what next?  I decided to make paneer, an Indian cheese that is pretty quick start to finish.  So we got that done and pressed it lightly.  For supper that night, we had Saag Paneer, a very tasty Indian dish made with cubed paneer sauteed in butter with onions, and then spiced with cumin and curry powder.  Saag - better known as spinach - is then added, but I don't have any in my garden, so we did kale instead.  Very tasty!  So I guess we had Kale Paneer, didn't we?

I hope Bernie enjoyed his dairy product marathon!  I sent him home with samples of most of what we had made.  In a couple of days, he learned first hand how to make butter, kefir, yogurt, ricotta, cottage cheese, Cheddar and paneer.  That should keep him busy with his own raw milk for quite some time!