Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New barn residents

On Friday, I went to the neighbor's to castrate a goat that someone gave them, and I came home with two kittens. They are living in a room (with a television, heater, and upholstered chair) in one of our barns until they get used to the place. I wish they'd stay in the barns all the time. That's where we need them to eat the mice, and they'd be safe in there. But since cats are independent little critters, they'll go wherever they want. The blue striped one is a boy, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to call him Bogie, short for Humphrey Bogart.

The other one is a girl. She's a calico, and I've heard they only come in female. I had forgotten that little fact as I picked her up and started to cuddle her. Then I looked under her tail. I tried not to like her, but she is just so cute! She is also a vicious little thing! When I brought in Sneakers, the resident barn cat, she attacked him! He completely ignored her. I can't decide what to name her ... Ingrid Bergman and Lauren Bacall both starred with Bogart in movies. Margaret thinks we should name her Audrey Hepburn, but she never starred in any movies with Bogart. Any ideas?

Keeping up with corporate America

When people ask why we moved out here in 2002, I say that we wanted to grow our own food, because we prefer eating organic. Often, someone will respond that there is a lot more organic food available in the stores than there used to be, and I'll agree. There was a time, a couple years ago, when I wondered if we would have made the move more recently. It seems possible when you look on grocery store shelves that one could live in suburbia and eat mostly organic foods, including humanely raised meats. But once I started doing a little research, I realized that things have not changed that much.

Once corporate America realized there were big bucks to be made on conscientious consumers, they started marketing to those consumers ... and as they say in marketing, "The truth is irrelevant -- what's important is what people think!" It doesn't really matter if your products are organic or humanely raised, as long as people believe it and buy your product. The latest corporation to fall prey to this is Niman meats. For years, that label meant humanely raised, but apparently after Bill Niman became a corporation, his board of directors saw only $$$ and didn't really care about the lives of the cattle and pigs before they became meat. I find this sad because I'm sure that most Niman customers don't know that the company has changed leadership and philosophy. How is a conscientious consumer supposed to keep up? The New York Times recently did a story on Niman's new adventure.

He is once again a sole proprietor -- this time raising goats for meat! And I'm happy to say that he has seen the light and is raising his goats on grass. The one thing I never liked about Niman meats is that they were grain finished, although I applauded every other aspect of their business. His new meat is available under the label "BN Ranch" because he is not allowed to use his own name -- Niman -- to sell his products since leaving the company that he started in the 70s.

When I was growing up in a small town in Texas, my parents would buy meat from local ranchers. My dad would go out there, shoot the calf or the pig, and bring it home to butcher in our garage. Of course, I was completely insensed by this and complained, "Why can't we just buy our meat at the store like normal people?" And my mother replied, "Because you don't know how it was raised." I always wondered what in the world that meant -- who cares how they're raised? But as a young mother myself in 1988, I read an article about factory-raised chickens and became a vegetarian, a diet that my entire family would follow for 14 years before we moved out here. So, even though there is a lot more so-called organic and humanely-raised food available in the supermarket today, I'm glad we live out here. I know exactly what our animals eat, how they live, and how they die. More than ever, I won't touch commercially-grown meats, regardless of what the label says, because as my mama used to say, "You don't know how it was raised."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bean basics

I grew up in Texas and ate lots of beans, so I knew how to cook beans like some kids know how to make a bowl of oatmeal. If you know how to cook beans, they are just as easy (cheap and healthy, too) as a bowl of oatmeal. Here are a few important things everyone should know about cooking beans:
  1. Harder water makes for a longer cooking time for beans. (I always know when our water softener has run out of salt because my beans don't cook!)
  2. Do NOT put salt in any beans until they are done, because salt slows down the cooking time horribly -- they will eventually cook, but it will take hours and hours.
  3. Do NOT add tomatoes to beans until they are done cooking -- same reason. The acid in the tomatoes will slow down the cooking.
  4. You should pour your dry beans on the table and pick through them to make sure there are no small stones or dirt clods before washing them in a colander and then cooking them.
  5. All beans should be soaked at least a few hours in hot water or overnight in cold water to make them cook faster -- except split peas and lentils, which cook fine without pre-soaking. You can usually get away without pre-soaking if you're using a crock pot and will be cooking them all day.

Split pea soup

When we are really busy, I like to plan split pea soup and fresh bread for dinner. It's quick, easy, cheap, and healthy. Since all crock pots are different, you should experiment with this on the weekend when you're around to add water if necessary. I've looked for a variety of split pea soup recipes, but they all seem to be pretty similar, even Julia Child's recipe, so here's my version ...

In my big soup pot (5 quarts, AKA a dutch oven), I put four cups of split peas and fill the pot half full of water. You will need to add water as it cooks on the stove. In my crock pot, I put two cups of split peas and fill the pot with water about 2/3 full. Remember, your crock pot may be different! I throw in a couple of celery stalks that have been sliced, as well as a couple sliced carrots, and a diced onion. If I have a couple of potatoes, I'll also dice them and throw them in the pot. You can leave this mix in a crock pot all day, and it will be ready when you arrive home in the evening. If you have it on the stove, it will be too hot and turn into a burned brick by evening, so if you're using a stovetop for this recipe, you need only two or three hours for the peas to cook, depending upon the hardness of your water. The soup is done when the peas are mush.

Before serving, add a teaspoon of salt to the 4-cup version of the recipe and pepper to taste. Personally, I like a few shakes of Tabasco in my split pea soup, but not everyone loves spicy food like I do!

If you don't have a breadmaker, I highly recommend one. I use mine several times a week, and the bread disappears quickly! I'll devote an entire post to bread soon. I love walking into the kitchen in the evening and finding my pot of split pea soup and my loaf of hot bread waiting for me. Makes me feel like I have my own personal chef!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Food joys and challenges

We had company this weekend and cooked a lot of great food, and the most fun part was saying, "All of this is from our farm." Yesterday, we had a roast turkey with stuffing (including garden-fresh celery, carrots, and onions), gravy made with our goat milk, a winter squash, green bean casserole with our beans that had been frozen, and fresh baked rolls. For appetizers, we had goat cheese and turkey liver pate. The only things that came from the store were the crackers for the appetizers and the potatoes for the mashed potatoes. The potatoes would have been homegrown also, except that Hurricane Ike dumped so much water in the garden in September that the potatoes rotted in the ground.

Today we had a Mexican casserole with the leftover turkey meat. It included sweet peppers, banana peppers, onions, and tomatoes from our garden, as well as tortilla chips and cheddar cheese from the store.

Tonight is supposed to be our first freeze, so we worked like crazy this afternoon trying to bring in the last of the vegetables. We never got the cold frame up, but Jonathan and Margaret brought in giant bouquets of celery, as well as a basket of tomatoes and peppers. I also pulled up two cayenne pepper plants and have them sitting in the living room, hoping the rest of the peppers on them will ripen.

An unexpected challenge is making life a bit more difficult -- the refrigerator stopped working, so we're eating and drinking quite a bit of food tonight. We do have a smaller frig where we've tried to store a lot of stuff. Also, we put a 20-pound frozen turkey in a cooler to act as a giant ice pack with more stuff from the frig. Between all the frig refugee food and the garden celery and peppers, the kitchen and dining room are a botanical mess.

All of this celery needs to be chopped and frozen. Right now my house has the most overwhelming aroma of celery that I've ever experienced. You have no idea what a strong scent celery has until you've picked it fresh. I think we'll have cream of celery soup tomorrow for lunch.

Tomorrow I'll post my split pea soup recipe with serving suggestions!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cheap and healthy

The economy is in the news everywhere you look. How is the economy going to affect people's health? There is good news and bad news here. People are eating out less, and some restaurants, like Bennigan's have closed their doors. But Americans have been told (brainwashed) for more than 30 years that "we deserve a break today," and we're still looking to the same place that taught us that jingle back in the early 70s.

Which stocks are not tanking right now? McDonald's is doing a booming business, thanks in large part to their value menu and other cheap foods. If you saw "Supersize Me," you know how bad that food is for you. Even if you didn't see it, you should know how bad it is for you to eat fast food regularly. But if you didn't see it, and you are one of those people who is eating more at fast food restaurants, rent a copy. Your heart, liver, and thighs will thank you. Don't complain about the money that you can't afford to spend at the nice restaurants. Take this opportunity to learn new, healthier habits.

One of the best things about living in the middle of nowhere is that there is no temptation to grab fast food for dinner when I don't feel like cooking. I recall driving all the way to the "big city" 45 minutes away for dinner a couple of times after we first moved out there, but then we realized how silly it was to spend $10 on gas to go out to eat (now it would be $16) -- and driving that much wasn't saving us any time either. So, by necessity, we've learned how to cook at home more, which is great, because it's cheaper, and it's healthier.

Now is an excellent time for people to start doing more cooking at home. Here is my suggestion for today on cheap and healthy ... beans!

A pound of beans is less than $1, and you can feed a family of four with a pound of beans. They're good for your heart and your intestines and your thighs. The calorie count of beans is so ridiculously low that you could eat until you're ready to burst, and you wouldn't gain weight.

With most beans (other than lentils and split peas, which I'll address tomorrow), you should soak them overnight to soften them, so you can save money on cooking (electric or gas). Black beans and pinto beans make great Mexican dishes. Kidney beans and garbanzos make delicious Indian dishes served on rice. White beans make a mean pasta fagioli, and kidney beans make a mouth-watering minestrone. If you work, you can put beans in the crock pot in the morning before you leave, and dinner will be waiting when you arrive home at night.

We eat lots of beans around here. Whether you want to lose weight, eat healthier, or save money, beans are your friend. So, over the next couple weeks, I'll post recipes and meal plans that use beans in a variety of dishes. If there is anything in particular that you're interested in, just let me know, and I'll be happy to share my recipes and ideas!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Garden update

Our garden is still producing tomatoes, peppers, and celery, and this afternoon I discovered some volunteer mustard greens and collard greens. The fall lettuce and spinach never got planted, so I'm excited to find the greens. I am still planning to put together a cold frame using straw bales and an old sliding glass door, so we can have green onions, lettuce, and spinach over the winter. Now I want to put the cold frame where the greens have started growing, so we'll also be able to harvest them for a few more months.

I picked the last five pears today. I'm still not sure how to figure out when they're ripe. They're all hard as a rock. The last ones we picked, we used to make a pear-apple crisp. It was delicious. The granny smith apple tree is still full of apples, so apple crisp will be the dessert du jour for awhile.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Castration day

Normally, castration is a not a big deal around here. It's a fairly routine occurrence with lambs and goat kids. Today, however, was different. I had a buckling that was the son of a master champion doe, and I normally keep her bucks, but this little guy just didn't have everything I want to see in a buck, so I decided to castrate him, but it was too late to use the bander, because his testicles were too big. So, I ordered a Burdizzo, a trade name for an emasculator, which crushes the tubes that go to the testicles. By some accounts, it is the most humane method of castrating, because it is bloodless, so the only real drawback is that you might not actually castrate the animal. The testicles are still there, so you only know that you've succeeded after a month or two when the testicles haven't grown any -- which you can only tell by comparing them to the uncastrated boys their age. After more time, they will shrink up and go away completely.

The Burdizzo arrived on Friday after a three week wait since it was back-ordered. It came with absolutely zero instructions, so I went to the Web to learn how to use it. First I searched for "using a Burdizzo." Bad idea. I was well into reading an article when I realized they were talking about using it to castrate a person! Yikes! Hit the browser "back" button, find another article, click on it and start reading. It begins by saying that a Burdizzo is used on farms to castrate animals, and suddenly I realize I am reading an article about how to castrate yourself. [sigh] Finally, the light goes on in my brain, and I realize I should add the word "goat" to my search. Voila! I have a great article from Fiasco Farm on how to castrate a goat using a Burdizzo.

So, this morning, we did it. The goat was seven months old and didn't put up nearly as much of a fuss as I expected. I was afraid I was going to feel really dreadful afterwards, but disbudding is still #1 on my "Most Dreaded Farm Chores" list. This afternoon, we caught the three little rams that were born last month, and I castrated them using the Burdizzo also. They took it even better than the little buckling, and I think I'll be using it to castrate all lambs in the future. I like the fact that it is bloodless, so I don't have to lose even a minute's sleep over the whole tetanus issue.

And, yes, I really do lose sleep -- a lot of sleep -- over my animals' well-being. Sometimes I think I'm not cut out for this at all. If I wake up in the middle of the night and it's raining, I worry that someone outside is being a bully and not letting some goat or sheep into the shelter. Sometimes I can't get back to sleep at all. So, if the ram lambs were successfully castrated, I'll definitely be doing this again.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

They're back

... assuming they ever left. When I walked out to the mailbox today, I saw a pile of white feathers at the end of the driveway. I didn't see any chickens anywhere, so I went back inside. A couple hours later when I was leaving, the eight young chickens were in the front yard without their mama, who is pure white. I've never seen the babies without her since the day they were hatched in July. I am, unfortunately, left with only one conclusion.

I guess this means the llamas are doing their job with the goats and sheep. We have been working on fencing in a large area around our house, the chicken house, and the pond, so that the chickens will have an acre or two to run around where the coyotes can't get to them. It's not done yet, but we know it's already saved a chicken from a coyote. The mama hen and her babies had been locked up in a movable pen until three weeks ago.

When we decided to let them completely free range, we put them in a small part of the hen house that we use for teaching young chickens that this is their new home, the place they can get food and water and where they can roost at night. Usually after a few days, they understand, so when we let them out, they keep coming back. But after we let mama and her chicks out, they did not come back to the hen house to roost most nights. We never could figure out where they were going, but they were usually in the front yard when we did see them during the day.

Somehow in the next couple days, we need to figure out how to get those young chickens back in the hen house before they become coyote supper. Everything around here has been a little harder than usual since Katherine has been down. Her wrist started bothering her when she was at Spanish camp and has been misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed for 10 weeks -- first they said tendonitis, then carpal tunnel. After seven weeks, they finally did an x-ray to find a broken wrist, but after the cast came off and she was in horrid pain, they said it must be a torn tendon, but she has to wait until the 31st for an MRI. In the meantime, she only has one good arm.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Getting ready for winter

We had a busy weekend, but we still have a lot to do before the arrival of winter. Mike is working hard to finish up the fencing for the sheep in the east pasture. Their regular pasture is adjacent to the hayfield, so this time of year, we will be letting them into the hayfield to harvest their own food and fertilize the field. You can see from the picture how they've eaten a lot of the green grass in the section where they are grazing. We use Electro-net from Premier to limit them to specific strips of grass. Next year, rotational grazing will be much more important for managing the growth of the grass. This fall, we're mostly doing it because the whole hayfield is not properly fenced for sheep yet.

We're not sure what to do about this tree. It looks like it's going to fall right where we need to put a new woven wire fence for the hayfield, which is currently fenced in old barbed wire. A lot of the fencing work around here involves removing old rusty barbed wire, since that's what a former owner used. At least once or twice a year, a dead or dying tree falls on one of those fences, and we don't get too upset since those types of fences are worthless to us. I wanted Mike to stand next to the tree, so you could see how tall it was, but he was being camera shy. It's probably 30-40 feet tall, so it wouldn't be an easy thing to take down or cut up. If we do it now though, we'd get some good firewood out of it, as opposed to waiting until it completely rots and falls over.

The turkeys that hatched in July are growing up! They won't really be big enough for Thanksgiving dinner, but by January or February, they should be good eating size. We'll probably just butcher the males, since I am thrilled to finally have some homegrown turkeys. Eight hatched, and eight are still with us! I am very happy with their vigor and appearance. Even though mama is a bourbon red, they look a lot like their daddy who is a slate. I am hoping they will be more adept at raising babies than the hatchery-born hens. I'll keep one of the hatchery toms to breed them to, since they're related to our tom.

Margaret and I did regular health maintenance with about half the goats yesterday morning. She trimmed hooves while I checked everyone's eyelids and body condition. If the inside of their eyelids were too light, they received either a chemical dewormer or a copper bolus. The tiny bits of copper dissolve in their abomasum for about a month, and it creates an environment that's bad for barberpole worms, so it's a natural dewormer. Pregnant does and does that are milking were given the copper, while kids and dry does were given the chemical dewormer.

A couple of goats also got BoSe shots, which is a selenium supplement. Last winter, a young buck died, and I sent his liver to a lab to be checked for iron, lead, copper, and selenium. Everything was fine except the selenium was right at the bottom of normal, so I got a bottle of BoSe and am giving it to any goats that don't seem to be in top condition. As an experiment, I've also given it to a couple that seem fine, since I know a lot of goat breeders give BoSe to their entire herd. I tend be conservative when it comes to supplements and medications, because I don't want to wind up with a dead animal as a result of toxicity.

After Margaret started to get a blister on her hand from the hoof trimmers, we decided to start working in the barn. She mucked stalls while I cleaned the storeroom. That mostly involved throwing away a lot of things like paper towels and feedbags, then wiping down the counter and the shelves. Today I want to take my new plastic drawer unit out there and use it for organizing medicines and supplements. It was given to me by a friend who was moving and was going to throw it away.

We did all of this, and I was only able to cross off about half of the things on my list!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Coyote mystery solved

Many thanks to Melanie who responded to my post on goats. She mentioned the difficulty of keeping goats fenced in, and then I responded that our Shetland sheep have been just as difficult to keep fenced in, because they don't respect the electric fence. At about 5 a.m. yesterday morning, I woke up and instantly had an epiphany! I realized why after five years of no coyote problems, we have been inundated with coyotes coming into our pastures for the past year. Okay, all you Shetland lovers out there, now don't start throwing cyber-tomatoes at me, but it's the sheeps' fault.

In my response to Melanie, I mentioned that the sheep only respect the electric fence for about three months after they're sheared. Then their wool insulates them from the shock. Well, as they push themselves through the wires, a few fibers get pulled off and wrap around the wire. After several years of this, there are some places in the fence that are completely wrapped in wool! It looks like felt-coated wire. That explains why Katherine heard the coyotes testing the fence when she stayed in the pasture all night. They'd try to go through, get shocked, run down a bit, and try to get through in another spot. They knew that the fence only shocked them in some places!

Now the challenge is getting all that felted wool off the wires! Pulling it off would take hours. My husband suggested using a torch to burn it off, but I've heard that wool is naturally fire retardant. I'm afraid that trying to slice it along the wire would result in someone cutting off a finger. In some places, it's so thick, I don't think that would work anyway. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Planning for Christmas

I heard on the radio a couple days ago that retailers are expecting a dreary Christmas shopping season. Unemployment continues to climb, banks are going under, and people are afraid to spend too much because they don't know what's ahead. Economists are expecting the "big box" stores to benefit the most because they have the power to offer the deepest discounts. This will leave locally-owned businesses out in the cold.

That reminded me of an email forward that I received a few months ago. It talked about who would benefit when you spent your economic stimulus check. It listed a bunch of different places, and ultimately, it was not Americans who would benefit, but big corporations and foreign countries. The email ended by saying that you should spend your stimulus check shopping at garage sales, so you could be sure that your money helped another American.

All of the above thoughts combined in my head, and I got an idea! Ever since we moved out here, we've learned the beauty of bartering ... most of my original Shetland sheep were bartered. I gave people heritage turkeys and angora rabbits in exchange for sheep. A couple years ago, a lady helped me clean the house in exchange for organic chicken and goat milk soap. I met an organic coffee grower from Hawaii, and we exchanged coffee for soap.

As Auntie Mame said, "Life is a banquet, and most poor fools are starving to death!" We all have things that we can do or produce that other people want, so instead of spending our money at the big box stores buying more cheap plastic crap from China, why don't we help out each other? Just because Wall Street is going down the drain does not mean that the rest of us can't have a great Christmas. So, here's my plan for an all-American awesome holiday ...
  1. If you have something to offer, describe it and post your website in the comment section of this post. If you don't have a website, you can post a link to your blog, Facebook or MySpace page or your email address. If you post your email address, please do it cleverly so the spambots don't pick it up and start spamming you. If you do something like deborah (no spam) at yahoo (dot) com, I think we're all web-saavy enough to know that's deborah @ yahoo.com -- and no that's not my email address.
  2. If you are limited geographically, give a brief description of where you can go.
  3. If there is anything in particular you would like to have in exchange, add that also.
  4. If you are not interested in bartering, but you have a homemade or farmstead product to offer for cold, hard cash, feel free to post that also.
  5. If you're going to ship something a long distance in exchange for someone else shipping something, be sure you have each other's contact info so you can get in touch in case something doesn't work out.
  6. Finally, this is a reminder that I don't know all of you and am not responsible for anyone who decides to be a jerk. If you are seriously going through tough times, don't start lying and stealing. Most people like to help others -- it makes us feel good, especially at Christmas.
Here's my listing:
I have goat milk soap, which I'll even gift wrap for you and mail directly to the recipient. You can see the fragrances I have available here. We also having Shetland roving, yarn, scarves, and hats. I also have a couple of Nigerian dwarf goats left, due to buyers who were unable to ultimately buy the goat they'd reserved. In exchange, I wouldn't mind having a female llama (that would probably be enough soap and wool scarves for everyone on your Christmas list!). If you live nearby, we can always use help with fencing, construction, cleaning, gardening, etc. I also accept Paypal. You can contact me through Blogger or my website.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Goats at work

Another one of those goat business has started in North Carolina. They go around and clear brush for people. For more info on the business, you can check out their website or this article. Since goats are browsers -- not grazers -- they love eating young tree saplings, vines, and other woody plants that grazers will not eat.

In another North Carolina newspaper, a guy got busted for borrowing goats to clear brush in his backyard. The goats were fenced in, quietly munching away on poison ivy and other unwanted vegetation. As the property owner said,

"They're solar-powered lawnmowers. . . . They turn poison ivy and wisteria into fertilizer, and I don't have to use pesticides or petrochemicals. And the neighbors love them."

What's wrong with this picture? Now that the city has evicted the goats, he is heading out to buy toxic chemicals to get rid of the overgrown plants.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Gotta love goats!

The Colorado Springs Gazette has a great article about pack goats. I am already sold on the idea of training a wether to pull a cart and work in the garden. In fact, little Maestro, my mini mancha, is going to be trained to drive. I had not given much thought to using the goats as pack animals until I read this story, but it points out a lot of reasons why goats are well suited to this job. Now I'm thinking about how Maestro can help us to carry firewood and things like that.

The article also included a bit of goat trivia, including a hypothesis about why goats have such a bad reputation in this country:

At best they're seen as ornery, randy, aggressive, stinky beasts - bad boys of the barnyard that will eat anything from tin cans to laundry off the line. At worst, they are a symbol of Satan himself.

Maybe all the bad press goes back to ancient Hebrew practices of heaping the community's ills on a sacrificial scapegoat, or to early Christianity's demonization of the half-goat Pagan god Pan. Maybe it's a xenophobic remnant of America's first immigrants, who were mostly cow-tending English, against later goat-tending immigrants from the Mediterranean.

I've always wondered why goats lack popularity in this country. Of course, no one has to convince me of how awesome goats are ... they are definitely my favorite animals on the homestead. If only my sheep made more milk and were amenable to being milked, then it would be tough to choose a favorite. In fact, the sheep milk is even richer than the Nigerian goat milk, and it makes delicious yogurt.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Ready or not?

Our pear trees our producing their first fruit, but we are having trouble figuring out when to pick the pears. They are rock hard, but they sure are pretty. Anyone know when pears are ripe?

(I'm really sorry about this ridiculous picture! Blogger flipped it on me!)


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