Monday, August 31, 2009

Another lamb! and copper and sheep

Okay, I admit, I was holding out on you yesterday. We actually have two new lambs! On Saturday, Majik gave birth to this beautiful little ewe, whose father is also a mystery -- and yet another reason to do DNA testing. With this little girl being so black, I'm wondering if Albus might be daddy. We've never butchered a ewe, and I don't want to wind up with a flock of unregistered sheep, so DNA testing seems like the obvious solution.

Now perhaps you'll forgive me for holding out on you yesterday when I tell you that I had a reason -- I want to talk about sheep and copper. You see, Majik looked absolutely terrible at the end of winter. I was worried that we might lose her. She was thinner than I've ever seen a sheep, and she was anemic. Her face was almost white. Her wool was half as long as it had been in past years. Deworming her with Cydectin didn't do much to improve her condition. Providing a protein tub from Sweetlix didn't help either. She is only seven, which isn't old enough to be having this much trouble maintaining good body condition and wool growth.

In goats, copper deficiency can cause a loss of color in the coat, but people in the U.S. are very worried about copper toxicity in sheep. When my goats were copper deficient, I did a lot of research on the topic and learned that in Australia and New Zealand, they've started using copper boluses in sheep. They've given them to ewes during pregnancy, and they've given them to lambs after weaning.

Copper boluses contain tiny bits of real copper -- copper oxide, which is a different form of copper than what is in feed mixes and minerals -- copper sulfate, which is much more readily absorbed. Researchers have given copper boluses to sheep for two reasons: copper deficiency and as a dewormer. It has worked well for both problems. As a dewormer, it only works for haemonchus cortortus, which is a stomach worm, because the tiny bits of copper sit in the animal's stomach for three or four weeks as they dissolve, creating an environment antagonistic to the worms. It doesn't work for intestinal worms. And it may come as a shock to a lot of shepherds that sheep could ever be copper deficient, but they have diagnosed this problem in New Zealand and Australia.

Looking at sheep minerals, I think we've gone overboard, since many of them contain molybdenum, which binds with copper, making it less available to the animal. So, in addition to not providing sheep with any supplemental copper, they're also giving them something to keep them from absorbing whatever tiny amount they get in their diet naturally.

Since Majik had all the signs of copper deficiency, I decided to give her a copper bolus, using the same dosage as I would for a goat her size. As you can see from her picture, she is much improved. Her face is almost completely black again, and her wool is growing normally. She's gained weight, and she just gave birth to a healthy ewe lamb. I'm glad she is a colored sheep, because the bleached hair on her face was what made me consider copper deficiency. If this had been one of my white sheep, I probably would not have considered copper deficiency as a possible culprit.

For more information on this topic, you can visit the Southern Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

New ram lamb!

Fairy presented us with this handsome little fellow nearly two weeks ago. Sorry I haven't shared this sooner, but it's no good to share baby news without pictures, which I didn't have until yesterday. Doesn't it look like he's wearing a bib?

While I am thrilled that I'm finally getting brown lambs, I'm pretty sure it's because Teddy is both sire and grandsire of the little bugger. (He is Fairy's sire.) About five months ago, he busted through two livestock panels to get to the ewes. I knew someone had to be in heat for him to do that, but I didn't know whom. All the rams were actually running around with the ewes at that point, but Teddy, being the dominant male, was probably the sire. Although this little guy will likely become lamb chops next year, I am thinking that maybe I should go ahead and get Teddy and the other rams DNA tested, since it seems to be nearly impossible to keep them away from the ewes sometimes.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Update: Growing your own pineapple

Back in May, I shared my pineapple growing experiment with you, and since "growing pineapple" is a popular search phrase for people finding my blog, I figured that means it's a hot topic and some of you might want an update. Yes, that beautiful plant in the picture is my baby pineapple, but it's not such a baby anymore. It looked downright scary back in May, didn't it? I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of you thought that it wasn't going to make it. I certainly had my doubts. You see those little brown-tipped leaves at the bottom? That's what is left of the original pineapple top. All these long, green, beautiful leaves are new.

What have I been doing? I water it at least every other day. I give it a cup of coffee every month, and when I rinse milk bottles, I pour the first rinse into the plant for a touch of extra calcium a couple times a week. I have no idea whether these things actually help, or if the pineapple is surviving in spite of my foolishness. I recently watered it with some vermicompost tea and will be doing that weekly now that my worms are finally producing plenty of manure.

Now I just have to remember to bring it inside before the first frost, which usually doesn't happen until mid-October. However, tonight's low is predicted to be upper 40s, and tomorrow night's low is predicted to be lower 40s, so I think I'll be bringing it inside to be safe. I don't remember my last pineapple plant looking this terrific before I lost it to frost. If I lose this baby, you'll hear my sobs all the way to Minnesota and Ohio, at least.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's crunch time

Around this time every year, I start to panic. Mike has gone back to teaching, which means that he only has Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to work on the farm. I know I should be happy that he doesn't teach on Fridays, but three days compared to seven is quite a reduction in hours. And fall is approaching, quickly followed by winter, when hibernation is the only reasonable option for all living things in Illinois, including people.

My annual panic had not set in until last night when Mike informed me that the forecast is calling for nighttime temperatures to fall into the 40s within the next week. Unlike some parts of the country, we have been having unbelievably cool weather this summer, which I love. This colder-than-normal weather pattern has been here since last winter when we had temperatures at something crazy like 16 below zero, which I did not love. I've been hoping something would snap soon, and we'd be back to normal seasonal temperatures. If this trend continues, our first-frost date of mid-October will probably be coming a lot sooner, which means less time for things to grow in the garden. I'm still waiting for my fall lettuce to sprout. And if frost comes sooner, frozen ground probably will also, which means we have even less time left than normal. In other words, it's crunch time.

The Urban Dictionary defines crunch time as:
The interval of time immediately before a project is due, when it becomes apparent that the schedule has slipped and everyone is going to have to work like dogs to try to complete the project in time. Crunch time usually occurs during the period between the next-to-last scheduled milestone (prior to which everyone was able to delude themselves that the schedule had NOT slipped) and the final deadline for delivery. During crunch time, workers are in crunch mode. Prevalent in the software industry, but used elsewhere as well.
My delusion this year was acute. So, what do we have to do before our world freezes over?
  • Put drain tiles in the yard around the house. Every year the flooding is getting worse, and we said that we were definitely going to get this done this year. Can't do it once the ground freezes.
  • Replace almost all the electric fencing with woven wire. Goats and sheep do not respect electric fencing. Woven wire is destroyed when it floods. So, we're going to put woven wire in all the areas that don't flood, and we'll use the temporary Electro-net for rotational grazing in areas that do flood. New fence posts have to be put in before the ground freezes.
  • Create kidding pens in the smaller barn. Last winter, Mike created "temporary" pens in the smaller barn for me, so I could sit in the heated office and keep an eye on goats that were in labor. Over the summer, he removed all of them. New pens have not been built. After last year's experience kidding in below-zero weather, I am not breeding anyone for due dates in January or February this year. Although we could do this after our world freezes, we are kind of wimpy when it comes to working outside for very long in cold temperatures, so it needs to be done soon.
  • Stain more trim for the house. Yes, this can also be done after it gets cold, but then Mike is tempted to do it in the heated barn office, and I'm afraid that the fumes are going to cause him serious problems. Katherine is supposed to start staining this weekend, so she can do it in fresh air.
  • Put tile around my bathtub. This might sound like a low-priority item, which is why I have been staring at concrete board for four years. At some point, it needs to be moved up on the priority list. And it has to be done when windows can be opened because it's a headache-inducing-stinky job.
  • Landscape in front of the house. I'm over-the-top optimistic to think that this is going to get done, but I either need to seriously get it landscaped or learn the names of all the weeds growing out there so it sounds like it's a "planned natural area" when people ask what we're growing in front of our house. It is kind of pretty when the weeds are five feet tall and blooming, but I don't think anyone would ever want that much Queen Anne's lace.
And we need to get all these special projects done while continuing to do the daily work on the homestead. Right now, there is also a lot of gardening that needs to get done, as well as canning and freezing vegetables. I was going to make salsa yesterday but ran out of time. I need to remember to order garlic for fall planting, but my indecisiveness in choosing varieties usually leads to procrastination in ordering. You can see how this is problematic.

Speaking of ordering, I need to order maple sugaring supplies, so we can tap our maple trees next spring. I just ordered two books from Amazon on the whole process. As we were walking around looking for oak and hickory trees, we realized we have a lot of very large maple trees. My sister-in-law in New York learned that all the suppliers are sold out during sugaring season, so last spring she used Chinese take-out cartons to collect sap. I've already started looking for supplies, but the less-expensive suppliers are still saying "sold out," so I need to remember to keep checking back or just order and hope it all arrives before next spring.

This weekend, we need to do goat maintenance: FAMACHA everyone (check their anemia status), give copper to those who need it, trim hooves, tattoo summer kids, and probably a few more things that I've forgotten at the moment. Oh, yeah, the bucks need to be moved to new pasture, which is always a fun job.

Now, I have to get ready to teach today.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sustainable and delicious pork

Conversations with organic farmers are a happy treat for me, since I always learn something, and Friday was no exception. I was talking to a farmer I hadn't seen in a few years, and I mentioned that we now raise pigs. He started talking about how mast-finished pork was getting popular, and I asked him, "What's mast?"

"Nuts, hickory nuts, acorns," he said. Supposedly it makes the most delicious pork in the world, selling for as much as $5,000 a pig. My jaw nearly bruised my chest as it dropped. Without even knowing we were doing it, we've been raising mast-finished pork. We cannot not raise mast-finished pork, because our property is covered with oak and hickory trees. And now I know why the pigs two years ago kept getting out and rooting up our front yard, while completely ignoring the field across the street. The pigs were rooting up the area under the oak and hickory trees to get the nuts.

This explains why everyone raves about our pork. I always thought it was the breed, since we raise Tamworths, a heritage breed of pork. I was considerably confused when a customer told me that she bought a Tamworth from a farmer in Wisconsin last year when we didn't raise pigs, and it wasn't as tasty as our pork. (When she heard we were raising pigs this year, she immediately reserved a whole one.)

When I got home from my visit with the farmer, of course, I went straight for Google and searched for "mast-finished pigs." One site said that they sell for hundreds of dollars a pound in Europe, but they didn't give a source for that info, so perhaps it's exaggerated somewhat. It would be $25 a pound if the $5,000 pig price is accurate, which is still amazing, considering that we sell our pigs for $3 a pound. I did find a farm in Connecticut that sells their mast-finished, whole pigs for $5.50 a pound, so we're still considerably under-priced.

Mast-finished pork is rare because there are only so many hardwood forests where pigs can be raised, which was the traditional way of raising pigs. Buying nuts to feed pigs would be prohibitively expensive! The practice has been lost almost completely in the last hundred years. The nail was put in the coffin of chesnut-finished pork in Virgina by a blight that killed many of the chestnut forests. Bakers have to share some of the blame too, because they preferred the solid lard of corn-finished pigs. The lard of mast-finished pigs is considerably softer, sometimes even liquid at room temperature. Not so good for pie crusts, but that means mast-finished pork is healthier for you, because it's lower in saturated fats. Of course, mast-finished pork is the ultimate in sustainable meat, because the trees just keep producing their nuts year after year without any chemical inputs. If you want to learn more about mast-finished pork, Badgersett Research Corporation has the most information on a single page.

Saturday we took a walk through our woods to see how many hickory and oak trees we really have. We talked about how to get the pigs to the trees, so they can get even more nuts to eat. The sheep live in the east pasture, which is a grove of oak trees. I wonder how they would feel about sharing their pasture with pigs. I picked up a couple acorns and hickory nuts to take back to he pigs. I dropped them in their pan of corn, and they immediately gobbled them up and started rooting through the pan of corn looking for more. They definitely prefer the nuts over corn.

Last night when I walked into our library, a 20-year-old copy of Mother Earth News was staring me in the face with a cover story about raising acorns. The article briefly talked about finishing pigs on acorns and gave me good numbers on how many pounds a tree can produce per year. As you can imagine, I'm really excited to learn that we have exactly what we need on our little farm to produce the most sustainable and delicious pork in the world.

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade.

Monday, August 24, 2009

More on beans, beetles, and the winner

I'm so proud you all for figuring out the right answer, although if you've read my blog for long, it should have been pretty obvious. Choice A is not even an option. As for B we've never used a trap, but I did buy a lure one year and hang it on the turkey pen. As the beetles were lured to the pen, the turkeys snapped them up. I do sometimes take a bucket of soapy water out to the garden and shake the leaves over it, but I've done it less each year; and since I realized that the beetles are quite happy munching on the lazy wife beans (and a weed with huge round leaves), I've pretty much abandoned that practice.

I love all the other options readers mentioned, in addition to planting the Cherokee and rattlesnake beans. Since we will have free access to the lazy wife, we'll probably plant some of them again, and since heirloom beans are so much fun, I want to try another new variety or two. Who knows what other fabulous traits I'll discover.

By the way, all three of these varieties are pole beans. After harvesting our first batch of bush beans a few years ago, our backs told us to plant pole beans forevermore. It might seem like a lot of work to give them something to climb on, but it's nothing compared to the backache of picking bush beans.

The winner of the contest is (drum roll, please) Laura and Kelly Allen. Drop me -- Deborah -- an email at Antiquity Oaks dot com with your full name, mailing address, and variety you prefer, and I'll send the bean seeds in the fall after they're dried.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mixed feelings about Julie and Julia

If I were a movie critic, I'd rave about Julie and Julia, the movie. Meryl Streep and Amy Adams give excellent performances. It's a well-written script with solid technical work and direction. If you want an entertaining experience, go see it.

I went to see the movie for two reasons: food and Meryl Streep, and the latter did not disappoint. I am conflicted, however, about whether or not food came out a winner in the film. I was really hoping that people would leave the theater with an increased desire to cook real food, but I'm not sure that happened at all. For those of you not familiar with the film, it's a true story of two women, Julie Powell and Julia Child. Julie Powell is a secretary and blogger in 2002. Julia Child needs no introduction, but this film covers her life in France when she attends the Cordon Bleu and writes her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julie spends one year in the movie cooking her way through that cookbook, which is 700+ pages and contains 500+ recipes.

It sounds good on paper (or a computer screen), but in the movie it looks really hard. Julie has more than one mental meltdown, and it seems that they seldom eat dinner before 10 p.m. That little fact right there will validate eating out for a lot of people. Yes, Julia Child made French cooking accessible for us servantless American cooks, but it is kind of nuts to attempt to cook something that complicated every night after you've been away at work all day. And it's not exactly healthy to eat such rich food every day. Julie complains about getting fat, and her husband is seen with a bottle of antacids more than once. Those recipes are for Saturday night dinner parties and Sunday night family dinners, not daily fare.

Good cooking and sensible eating is not that hard, people! Nor does it make you fat or give you indigestion or result in frequent mental anguish. The recipes I post on here are delicious, quick, simple, and thrifty. Real people don't spend three hours in the kitchen every day. So, I doubt that the movie has really made a difference in the status of food. Those of us who already love it will find the movie charming, and those who don't have time to cook will find validation. Sigh...

But the real story behind Julie Powell is the thing that I dislike. In the movie, we discover that Julia Child does not like the blog, but we never learn why. So, I did a bit of sleuthing around the Internet and found two different sources that said she didn't think that Julie really cared about cooking. Julia Child's editor at Knopf, Judith Jones, said she did not "respect" the blog. Jones said Julie "did not care one bit about cooking" and was just trying to cash in on Julia's famous name and book. (Another blogger spent a year living Oprah and got a book deal also, so it's not an uncommon idea.) I visited the old blog, and after reading a few posts, I agree that it doesn't sound like she really cares about cooking. It was just a shtick to get a book deal, and even though I'm not Julia Child, I'm disgusted, so I can only imagine how annoyed she must have been by the blog.

Amy Adams was far more likable than the real Julie Powell, who dropped F-bombs as often as eggs in a quiche. And the way she uses them, it definitely gives you the feeling that she doesn't care much about cooking. In one post, she says, "I was supposed to degrease the sauce, but f--- it." (Hey, Julie! Degreasing would really reduce the antacids your husband needs, and it would be less calories for you!) And she writes as much about watching television and getting drunk as she writes about cooking. No, I didn't read every last entry; it was just too painfully boring, whining, and uninspiring to continue.

On a positive note, Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking is number one on Amazon. I can only hope that people will actually use it once in a while.

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays. For more posts on real food, visit Food Renegade.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A hard lesson to learn

You don't want pictures today. Trust me on this. Today's post is about the worst things that nature can throw at animals -- coyotes and maggots. A bourbon red turkey hen hatched babies in the pasture, and a coyote attacked her. The llamas chased off the coyotes, but a good deal of damage had been done. Within a couple days, maggots started to hatch in the open wounds.

I told Katherine to put screw worm spray on the wounds. As soon as she did it, the maggots started wiggling like crazy, and the turkey hen swung her head around and started pecking at them. [expletives deleted] I grabbed the can and started reading the label very carefully. I didn't think the poison would kill the mama turkey, but I was definitely worried about the babies eating the maggots as they fell to the ground. The label had no warnings about using it around young poultry. In fact, it said it could be used for poultry lice, so I hoped the babies would be okay.

I was mad at myself for not thinking through all the repercussions before spraying the hen. We don't use pesticides on our farm because we know that bugs -- dead or alive -- are a favorite food for chickens and turkeys. Then two years ago, a lamb was infested with maggots. We brought her in the house and elevated her to pet status. She would never be eaten, so using the spray on her didn't seem like a bad idea. But, it didn't require an entire can to treat her, and the remainder sat in the storeroom. Once you have something at your fingertips, you think about using it. Mike asked about the safety of the spray when I told him my plan, but I responded that we would not be eating the turkey hen because, number one, she's four or five years old, and number two, her leg and back are infested with maggots. I didn't think about the babies.

Once I did think about the possible problem, the options did not seem very desirable. We could bathe the turkey hen and pick out the maggots by hand, but an adult heritage turkey is not like a cuddly lamb. If you've ever been smacked in the nose by a heritage turkey's wing, you understand my fear. Yes, fear. I'm emphasizing heritage here, because heritage turkeys can fly, and you have to have to pretty strong wings to lift 15 pounds into the air. It would have meant many hours of struggling to pick the maggots out with tweezers -- and then we would have had to put her in the house, so more flies wouldn't lay eggs in the wound. A dog crate is the only thing I have that would hold a turkey in the house, but she'd be cramped and unable to stand up straight. We couldn't think of any alternatives that weren't met with, "That's crazy."

You probably know how the story ends. Over the next two days, the babies died. As I started beating myself up about my stupidity, another voice in my head pointed out that's what happens when you have that crap within your grasp. I made the same mistake that's made every day in modern agriculture. They have antibiotics, so they use them -- daily. They have hormones, so they use them. They have pesticides and herbicides and GMOs, so they use them, whether they need them or not, whether there is an organic alternative or not. I can't believe how easy it was to just grab the can and use it without thinking about all the possible repercussions.

I need to learn to deal with maggots organically. It's obvious that they are an unavoidable part of farm life, especially when you have coyotes. This summer I discovered that Shaklee's Basic H works very well as a fly spray, so I can use that to keep flies off animals in the future. I think I've read that diatomaceous earth kills maggots, but I want to do some more research on that. Hmm ... maybe I'll have Katherine do an experiment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Organic green beans

The first time I looked through an heirloom vegetable catalog, I thought all the different varieties of vegetables were pretty. That was it -- just pretty. I had no idea that it was important to plant a variety of the same vegetables. I didn't know that bugs find some varieties more or less palatable than others. I was clueless about garden diseases. I thought that maybe some varieties do better in one climate than another, so I ordered a few different types of each vegetable, having no idea which ones might do best in my state. I ordered tomatoes based on color and size, but with the other vegetables, I was really winging it.

Looking at my green beans and hearing Michael Pollan say that nature abhors a monoculture, I finally had an epiphany. The two pictures in today's blog post are both green bean plants, and they are planted right next to each other in my garden. The one that is covered in Japanese beetles is the lazy wife variety. The one that looks lovely is the rattlesnake variety. At the other end of the row are Cherokee beans, which are also perfectly beautiful. I have no idea why the Japanese beetles fly past the Cherokee and rattlesnake beans to feast on the lazy wife beans, but I really don't need to know. I'm just glad I planted three varieties.

In The Botany of Desire, Pollan said he used to think that organic farmers grew plants the same way as conventional farmers, but used safer pesticides. Then he interviews a potato farmer who avoids problems by not planting certain varieties of potatoes, as well as planting a number of different varieties each year. Doesn't that make sense? The Irish potato famine occurred because they had planted only one type of potato, which was unfortunately susceptible to a disease. If they had planted a variety of potatoes, the famine would not have happened.

What do you think will happen in the Antiquity Oaks garden next year?
A. We'll spray on a heavy-duty pesticide to show those beetles who's boss!
B. We'll buy beetle traps to catch the little buggers.
C. We'll spend an hour every evening shaking the leaves over a soapy bucket of water into which the beetles will fall and drown.
D. We'll plant Cherokee and rattlesnake beans.

Put your answer in the comment section by midnight Friday, and everyone who chooses the correct answer will be entered into a random drawing to win an ounce of bean seeds from my garden, so you can plant them next year. (Your choice of variety.) We will definitely be saving seeds for our own garden. That's one of the great things about growing heirlooms -- you can save the seeds from year to year, because they aren't patented. Choosing heirlooms also means you don't have to worry about GMOs. Since they are patented, you have to sign an affidavit swearing you will not save the seeds for planting in the future. If I see a contract in a seed catalog, the whole catalog goes into the garbage. I refuse to patronize companies that sell GMOs. Of course, one of the best things about heirloom vegetables is that they taste really great!

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday. Check out Kelly the Kitchen Kop for more blog posts about real food.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What's important?

As I was checking Facebook this morning, I saw a link to a blog post and clicked on it, thinking it was about how to increase readership on your blog. Author Jonathan Fields began,

There’s been a lot of focus on follower counts, friend counts, subscriber counts, viewer counts and readers as of late. And, those are important metrics from the standpoint of expanding your impact on the world…and potentially, your income.

But, sometimes I wonder if we’re spending too much time on the wrong metric…

Then he proceeded to talk about the things that really matter to him. The writing is absolutely beautiful and I don't want to paraphrase it for you, so check it out for yourself.

His post really got me thinking about how blessed I am and what's important to me, so here's my list:

I love beautiful flowers, simply because they make me smile.

I love food that makes me close my eyes and sigh, food that begs to be eaten slowly, savored, and enjoyed; food that comes from soil that has been treated with respect; food that comes from animals that have been treated with love.

I love newborn baby animals. I don't think I will ever cease to smile and squeal with joy as a new baby animal is born, or as it takes its first wobbly steps, or as it figures out where to find its first meal. I love their motivation to live, to walk, to bounce, and to simply be themselves.

I love the soft wool that comes from my flock of Shetland sheep and llamas, not only because it feels heavenly, but also because I know where my scarf or hat or afghan has spent its entire life. I am working on an afghan from wool that was grown by Teddy and Latte, washed by Mike, carded by Jamie, spun by Katherine, and knitted by me. As it keeps me warm on these cold Illinois nights, I'll have no worries about what animals were mistreated for the wool or what workers were exploited in its spinning or knitting.

I love my house because it was built with love and care. Every bit of flooring, paint, and wallpaper, every bathroom fixture, door and window, everything was chosen by me. Every nail was pounded into the two-by-sixes and two-by-fours by Mike. Walls were lifted into place by all of us. Margaret screwed the drywall into place. It's more than just a shelter for our family. It represents the ultimate family project.

I love my children for making me the person that I am today; for teaching me patience; for making me smile and laugh; for being thoughtful; for being supportive.

And I love my husband for being the ultimate partner; for being an attentive father; for attempting to do all the crazy things I ask; for making the world's best homemade croissants; for bringing me coffee in bed every morning; for providing our family with the most wonderful home anyone could ever want.

When I see this list and know that it does not even represent half of my blessings in life, I ask how I could want anything more. But I do. I want to empower people to create their own little Eden, to help them learn to be self-sufficient, and to experience the joy that can be found in nature. I want everyone to have access to fresh food and to have the knowledge to prepare it. That's why I blog. I want to share my enthusiasm for all the things I love, and I don't mind sharing my mistakes if it will give people a little more courage to risk success!

It's vital to know what's important in your life so you can make sure you're heading in the right direction. For example, I know a woman who bought four sheep and got rid of them a year later when she realized she didn't want their wool. If you look at my list, you might come to the conclusion that while I love flowers, they're not the most important thing in my life, and I act accordingly. They are the last living things on this farm to get my attention ... after my animals and the herb and vegetable gardens and my family ... and my blog ... and I guess I'm just lucky that daylilies are so hardy.

So, what's important to you? What do you love?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

We and us for 23 years

So, who is this "we" that I write about all the time? We built our own house. We put up a new fence. We built chicken tractors. It's time for true confessions -- if "we" ever do anything that involves power tools or large amounts of physical strength, it generally means that I came up with the idea and my husband Mike did all the hard work.

But if you've been married for a while, you can understand the fine line between me and we. Today is our 23rd anniversary, and there doesn't seem to be much difference between me and we sometimes. (I know psychologists have a word for that.) On one hand, we are total opposites. On the other hand, we compliment each other perfectly. On our wedding day 23 years ago, people thought I was being mean to Mike when I scooped all the frosting off my piece of cake and put it in his mouth. On the contrary, frosting is his favorite part, and I don't like it. He's an engineer; I have degrees in English and communication. He likes making things; I like reading and researching.

So, when I say "we" built the house, it means that I looked at house plan books for years, finally bought a plan, then made a number of changes in the floor plan and roof elevation, handed it to Mike, who then built it with an old-fashioned hammer and other tools. When he needed extra hands to lift a wall into place or something like that, the kids and I helped. I also cooked three exquisite meals a day, so he'd have enough strength to work like Paul Bunyan 14 to 18 hours a day.

And I also dragged him out of the master bedroom closet one night to save him from his perfectionism. When I woke up at 1 a.m. alone, I immediately thought he'd fallen off a ladder and knocked himself into a coma, so I went running to the new house. I found him standing in the closet staring at the top of a wall. "It's not straight!" he said, clearly disgusted.

I looked up at the two-by-fours. "It's in our closet. No one will ever see it." I took his hand and tried to pull him toward the door. "It's time for bed."

"But it's not straight. It's going to mess up everything in here."

I finally convinced him that he needed some sleep and that it would look better in the morning. Of course, being an engineer, he doesn't think about the way things look! The measurements don't lie! He did finally agree, however, that it was not worth the time to tear down that wall and redo it for 1/4 inch of perfection inside a closet. (Now when he reads this, he will no doubt tell me that it was 1/8 inch or 3/4 inch, as if my blogpals need to know the exact fraction of error.)

When "we" built the chicken house and the chicken tractors, I did hours and hours of research, then sat down with him to develop a plan that would work for our site, and he put it all together. I do the research on how to care for the animals, and when I need his physical strength, he helps. Right now, we're working on a new fencing plan. So, you can see how we work together towards a common goal, each contributing our own unique gifts and strengths.

It might seem implausible that two such different people could ever be happy together for 23 years, but our goals keep us headed in the same direction. We both value healthy lifestyles and organic food. And we push each other towards our own personal goals. I keep nudging Mike towards his goal of creating a car that can operate without ever visiting a gas station. He is always asking me about my latest writing project, and if you enjoy reading my blog, you can thank him for reminding me to post often.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dealing with homestead clutter

After living here for about a year, I said to a friend one day that trying to keep a farm clean and organized was like trying to keep several houses clean and organized. She said she'd never thought of that -- and neither had I until I'd lived out here for long enough for "stuff" to catch up with us.

Time for brutal honesty here -- I've never been the neatest person in the world. I try though! I used to read every book I could get my hands on -- Clutter's Last Stand, Confessions of an Organized Housewife, that one by the Slob Sisters (can't remember the title) whose system is used by Flylady. Yeah, I've done Flylady, too. Flylady provided us with some interesting experiences. When I realized that our coffee table was a hot spot, my answer was to donate the coffee table to our church garage sale. Bad idea! The couch then became the hot spot!

I'm thinking about this now because school starts in just over a week, and of course, my big goal was to get organized this summer. Never happened! The library still has piles of mail, books, magazines, etc. Of course, I have those handy little magazine holders, but they're all full, so do I buy more; or do I take the time to go through the magazines to rip out the articles I want to keep, and then do what with them? I know Clutter's Last Stand would say to just throw away all the magazines, but really?

Then there are the organizational challenges unique to a shepherdess -- what does one do with all those bags of roving? Currently they're in the guest room and the library. I've contacted a fiber co-op to become a member and put some of my roving with them, but I will still have a lot left.

Then there are two barns -- they are huge hot spots! They're 30 X 100 feet and 36 X 60 feet, and they just fill up from wall to wall. They are gigantic clutter magnets! How do you keep that from happening? You don't want to throw stuff out because you're pretty sure you'll need it someday, but how do you organize all that stuff? When it comes to storing stuff in a barn, we're not talking about essentially worthless items like old magazines; we're talking about old doors, windows, lumber, hardware, and things that add up to a lot of money. And yes, we will use them when we make more chicken tractors, goat pens, and other animal enclosures. (And hopefully a potting shed someday!)

With only a week left before school starts, I really want to get 'er done! I decided to teach only one class this fall, so I will have five days every week to devote to the homestead, but I'd like everything organized before the semester starts. The days will soon be filled with harvesting tomatoes, making and canning salsa, and freezing tomatoes. In addition to the stuff around the homestead, I still need to finish my syllabus and lesson plans for the class I'm teaching.

So, what have you found effective and really helpful in dealing with clutter in your house, your yard, or your barn? I'm really looking forward to reading your suggestions!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fight Back Friday: Review of "Fresh!"

Nothing like an injury to make you slow down and catch up. Thursday afternoon I was carrying two buckets of water and tripped outside the barn. I went splat on the ground, and the two buckets flew into the air. Everything hurt, and I was crying. But part of me wanted to laugh when I thought about how ridiculous I must have looked laying flat on my face, soaking wet, and covered with manure and straw from head to foot.

Being stuck in bed with ice on my knee, I remembered that I've been wanting to participate in Fight Back Friday ever since I discovered it a couple weeks ago. Now I finally have time! Fight Back Fridays are sponsored by blogger Food Renegade. But I know a lot of my readers are food renegades too. Who are you? Food renegades are "the people who opt out of the industrialized food system, distrust standard nutritional advice, and embrace Real Food. They’re the people who are fighting back against the dominate food culture — one forkful of food at a time."

For my first Fight Back Friday post, I decided to review the documentary, Fresh, which we screened on our farm a couple weeks ago. If you haven't seen it, find a screening near you. Better yet, buy the DVD and watch it -- several times!

For me, the most eerily depressing part of the film was the interview with modern poultry farmers (a husband and wife) as they talked about the "improvements" in raising chickens over the last 10 years -- as we see day-old chicks dumped onto the ground of the poultry house. A few facts plainly discussed by the couple: There are 27,600 to 29,000 chickens per house. Antibiotics are in the feed for the chicken's health and well-being. The chickens wouldn't grow so fast if they weren't healthy and happy. The couple doesn't exactly look happy; they look resigned as they talk about how they have to work with this one poultry company, because they have millions of dollars invested in buildings, which would be empty if they didn't sign a seven-year contract with the corporation.

Several experts are interviewed during the film, including Michael Pollan, who says modern agriculture is unsustainable because it can't go on. It can't sustain itself. The only reason modern ag can grow large numbers of animals in close confinement is because they're using antibiotics to keep them from getting sick and dieing. "Nature doesn't like monocultures, and sooner or later, she will destroy them." I love this line -- sounds like something from Jurassic Park, and it's true. Monocultures don't exist in nature.

George Naylor, a conventional corn farmer from Jefferson, Iowa, says farmers did not have to spray for bugs on soybeans many years ago. He lifts a soybean leaf full of holes and says, "They never used to look like that." But planting only two crops in an area year after year, it means that the bugs become more numerous, so farmers spray more, and the bugs develop resistance to the pesticides, and the vicious cycle continues. Naylor says, it's not necessarily good for the environment or the farmers or the consumers, but they have to do it. How did this happen?

Corporations industrialized livestock production, which took them off the farm and broke the natural cycle of nature. Farmers used to use livestock manure to increase crop fertility. Pollan said that today's manure from pig farms can't be used for farming because it's too concentrated and full of drugs. Plants and animals historically worked together in a symbiotic relationship on th farm -- like they do here on our farm. The goats poop in the pasture, which makes more grass grow! But in a factory farm "manure becomes a problem instead of a blessing." And with no animals making manure on the farm, farmers now need chemical fertilizers.

Sobering sound bites from Pollan are sprinkled throughout the film -- like -- the nutrition level of vegetables grown today is 40% less than it was in the 1950s. And then processed food has basically no nutrients, because it's been so over-processed. Pollan said, "Cheap food is an illusion. . . . You get what you pay for with food as with anything else." We pay through the environment, our health, and farm subsidies of corn and soybeans.

Just as I was starting to get depressed, Prof. John Ikerd, an ag professor says it's time to shift to a different paradigm, a different world view. Yes! Now we're taken to Joel Salatin's farm, Polyface, in Virginia. If you've read "Omnivore's Dilemma," you're probably quite familiar with Polyface. Now we get to see Salatin, wearing his "Grassfed" T-shirt, moving his eggmobiles to a new pasture and letting the hens out to forage. Salatin is not trying to replicate what his grandfather did. He's trying to replicate what animals do naturally. In nature, herbivores don't eat meat, but Big Ag feeds meat to cows, which is where mad cow disease came from. All the diseases in modern agriculture are nature's way of screaming at the industrialized system, Salatin says, and we need to look at nature and try to mimic that.

One of the most compelling stories came from pig farmer, Russ Kremer, from Frankenstein, Missouri, who went to college to study agriculture, and convinced his father to modernize their hog farm. "I got hung up on that, and you know what, it didn't work," Kremer said. Diseases increased among the pigs, and the use of antibiotics became a daily ritual. "It wasn't a very pleasant lifestyle." Then 15 years ago, a boar hog stabbed him in the leg with his tusk. Two weeks later, he had an antibiotic-resistant strep infection. He nearly died and realized that he had created a monster. "I realized I'm propagating this. My conscious really kicked in, and I said I can't do this anymore." He killed all of his pigs and started over with a free-range sustainable system. He hasn't used any antibiotics in 14 years, because he hasn't had any sick hogs.

Another inspiring story comes from Will Allen of Growing Power in Milwaukee, which is a three acre urban farm that grows 150 varieties of salad greens and 4,000 tilapia whose waste feeds the plants. They compost about 6 millions pounds of food waste from the city each year. Allen said that food wholesalers throw away thousands of pounds of food every week, and "we're just scratching the surface."

This is where the documentary could have introduced the elephant in the room -- GM foods, a subject that is completely ignored in the film. Scientists claim that GM foods are necessary to feed the world. But if you've read much on this topic, you've read that we already grow enough food to feed everyone -- we just don't do a very good job of distributing it. When I attended the vermicomposting seminar in February, I heard the same thing from a speaker about how much food is wasted. He said he was once given an entire load of apples because they weren't shiny -- the produce manager of the grocery store said his customers wouldn't buy apples if they weren't shiny. At only 70 minutes, it would not have made the film overly long to add 15 or 20 minutes on GM foods, which we are all eating if we buy food from the supermarket.

I can't fault the film for anything that it included though. The farmers, scientists and other experts interviewed provided valuable information for us as consumers, and they really did their homework, making sure that everything was accurate. I especially like the fact that they sat down face-to-face with modern chicken farmers and asked them to explain their operation. It confirmed my suspicion that they have no idea that they're doing anything that is less than optimal. That is terribly sad. I hope they saw the film though and maybe realized that there is another way of doing things. I hope a lot of people see this film and realize that there is another way of doing things -- whether you're a farmer or a consumer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Plum harvest

No, this is not representative of our plums. This is our entire plum harvest. But, keep in mind that we only planted the trees two years ago, so I was happily surprised to find three tiny plums on one of the trees last week. Yesterday I decided to pick them since there were a few Japanese beetles on the tree, and the plums are flawless. I was afraid that I'd come back in a couple days to find them full of holes.

Our garden is yielding lots of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, green beans, and onions. How are your gardens doing? Finding anything exciting at the farmer's markets?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cooking at home: Getting started

Brianne is the winner of last week's teach-someone-to-cook contest. Drop me an email, Deborah at Antiquity Oaks dot com, with your mailing address and choice of fragrance for your sugar scrub, and I'll get it in the mail to you. Thanks to everyone who shared their comments and stories!

In response to my post about the KFC $10 challenge, my friend Coleen sent me an email with the advice she would give a beginning cook. As soon as I read it, I realized this was the KFC mom's problem. She obviously never cooked at home since she was looking for every little ingredient. And judging by the number of people on the Chowhound blog who agreed that you can't make dinner for less than $10, a lot of people suffer from this same problem -- they have no staples in their kitchen.

So, what are staples? They're the stuff we should all keep in our kitchen, all the time. The minute you run out of it, you should add it to your next shopping list. Here are the things that I make sure I always have in my kitchen: unbleached flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, honey, corn starch, powdered sugar, brown sugar, cocoa, baker's chocolate, soy sauce, oils (sunflower, unrefined sesame, unrefined peanut, olive), butter, rice, pasta, tomato sauce, and of course, a wide variety of spices. As long as I have all of these things in my pantry, I'm never standing around saying that we have nothing to eat. I'm sure I've left out some important items, so what are the things you can't live without in your pantry or refrigerator?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The nation that can't cook?

If you watch television, this is going to be really old news, but I've just discovered that KFC had a "$10 meal challenge" commercial airing last year. They claimed that you couldn't make their seven-piece meal at home for less than $10. I was gasping, choking, exclaiming, and -- according to my children who were still asleep when I saw the ad -- screaming about the absurdity that a person couldn't make seven pieces of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and four biscuits for under $10. I was even making up new dialog for the family members. When the mom and son high five at the end because the total is over $10, I exclaimed, "Woo hoo, we're complete idiots who don't realize that we don't need five pounds of flour to make four biscuits!" And as for the cute little girl at the deli counter -- buying seven pieces of fried chicken does not count as cooking at home.

It makes me think that cooking researcher Harry Balzer might be right when he says, "the skills are already lost. Who is going to teach the next generation to cook? I don’t see it." Michael Pollan interviewed him for a NY Times article, Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch, where he talks about how cooking has moved from the kitchen to the living room and become a spectator sport. As I read his tale of gloom, I told myself that it was not true. Surely people still know how to cook. Then I saw the KFC ad, and I tried to tell myself that the vast majority of people would not fall for such nonsense.

Then I googled "$10 meal challenge," which was probably a bad idea. I'm just glad I have naturally low blood pressure. In the comment section of one single blog post, I found enough idiocy to really depress me. Through 37 comments, people argued back and forth about whether or not it was possible to make the meal at home for less than $10. Seriously! And it was obvious that a lot of these people had not cooked at home in a long time since they had no idea how much ingredients cost. Really, it's too mentally painful for me to go through all the comments again to pick them apart for you -- it just annoys me that people can be so ignorant and arrogant. But the link is there if you want to check it out for yourself.

Being a doer, not a whiner, once I had recovered from my fit of frustration, I started thinking about what we can do about this problem. I am absolutely convinced that we must prove Mr. Balzer wrong! There are still plenty of us out here who can teach people to cook! The skills are not lost! Our health depends on it. And I'm going to put my sugar scrub where my mouth is! Okay, that didn't exactly come out right. Perhaps I should explain.

I recently made up a big batch of shea butter sugar scrub, and I'd be happy to send a jar of it to someone who teaches another person how to cook something. Yep, it's another giveaway! Here's the deal -- find someone who claims they don't know how to cook, or who says they don't know how to cook well enough to eat at home more often. Then teach them how to cook something, anything that's made with real food! You don't have to actually do it by this weekend, but at least find someone, talk to him or her, and set up a time to get together. Immediate family members are eligible, so if you have a son, daughter, or spouse who needs a cooking lesson, go for it! Post your experience in the comment section by Sunday midnight, and I'll randomly pick a winner who will receive a 3-ounce jar of my sugar scrub in his or her choice of my available fragrances.

And by the way KFC, you can make 90 biscuits from a 5-pound bag of flour. Even using organic ingredients at retail price, a biscuit costs less than 8 cents to make at home.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What's in my refrigerator?

A lot of people probably think that their refrigerator has to be stuffed to overflowing if they're going to do a lot of cooking at home. If they looked in my frig, they might even say that we have nothing to eat, but we have plenty. Prepared foods are what's missing. My frig is like the supermarket of the 1960s -- not totally lacking in prepared items, but not packed like the supermarkets of today. Although I do sometimes make homemade salad dressing, I usually buy them. Although I made peanut butter a few times 20 years ago, I've been buying it ready made since then. (I didn't see much improvement in quality with homemade peanut butter, and it's easy to find all natural.)

The frig is actually a little fuller here than it was earlier in the day when I had more milk and less cheese -- but then I made mozzarella and chevre, and they take up less space than the milk. I had also recently made the pudding, and Jonathan had made the carrot salad.

In the door of the frig, we have a lot of things that typical families have, such as mustard and mayo, although I usually make homemade mayo. There is not much difference in taste; however, when one of my children picked up this mayo from the store, I discovered that they have added a lot of multi-syllabic ingredients since the last time I bought it. So, once it's gone, I'm back to homemade mayo.

We also have a few things in our frig that most people don't have, like rennet, cheese cultures, and wheat germ.

But as you can see, it's not overly full. Last night, we had the turkey for dinner, as well as zucchini, green beans, and corn, which were all fresh. During the winter, we'd be using vegetables from the freezer. A picture of my freezer might be more interesting, but it would be hard to see anything. It's basically full of vegetables, fruits, and meats.

So, what's the point? Well, if you have plenty of ingredients, you can make delicious meals from scratch without much work. For example, as long as I have flour, milk, eggs, and cheese, I can make quiche. As long as I have some kind of dry beans or meat or vegetable, I can make a soup. If I have flour and milk, I can even make a cream soup. If it's hot where you live, make a cold soup or a salad. For fresh bread, I only need flour, yeast, sugar, salt, oil, and water. I don't even need sugar and oil for French bread. So, next time you find yourself tempted to head out for "fast food," think again, and you might realize you already have some pretty fast food in your kitchen.

(If you can't read the labels on the photo, click on the photo to enlarge.)

Monday, August 3, 2009

And the winner is --

Debra B. guessed the little doeling's weight at 1 pound, 6.3 ounces, which was less than one ounce away from the 1 pound, 5.5 ounces that the little doe actually weighed at birth! Pedalpower and Michelle at Boulderneigh were both quite close with guesses of 1 pound 4 ounces and 1 pound 3.5 ounces, respectively. So, Debra will be getting three bars of my goat milk soap. Drop me an email with your address, Debra, and I'll get that in the mail to you.

The little doe's big sister weighed 1 pound, 10.8 ounces, which is only about five ounces more, but she looks a lot bigger than that when you see them side by side. It's amazing what a difference five ounces can make when you're that small.

The little does are doing extremely well. It has taken them days to accomplish things that many kids do within minutes of birth, such as stand and walk. It's hard to believe that they are still being contained in the laundry basket, although the bigger one probably will find a way to get out pretty soon. She's been getting her front legs over the top for a couple days already.

I hope Joy doesn't have some sort of breakdown. I wish I spoke bichon! She has been spending just about all her time next to the laundry basket, and when the bigger one acts like she's trying to get out of the basket, Joy starts whining and yipping and looking at me as if she expects me to do something!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Eating well when you have one of those days

It's been a week since I posted my menu, and as suspected, things got off track. They always do, because that's just life. When people talk about eating at home, they often say that their life is too crazy to be able to cook or stick to a menu. Well, deal with it. It's not a choice between cooking Martha Stewart meals at home or eating junk. You might have noticed that most of my meals and menus were pretty simple. My pineapple pork roast, for example, takes less than five minutes to assemble and can be done a day ahead. Make some rice as a side dish, along with a couple of in-season vegetables steamed or stir-fried, and you've spent less than half an hour cooking.

But I digress -- Getting back on track about being off track, here is what we do when a day gets too crazy or plans change. Yesterday was a good example of plans changing. Mike wasn't home last night, and he really wants to be home for pizza night, so we didn't have pizza last night. Katherine and I went to the Little City an hour away to do our monthly grocery shopping, and we got home too late to do anything fancy for dinner. So, we resorted to fast food -- lentils and rice. Jonathan sorted and rinsed a one-pound bag of lentils, then put them in a pot with water to cook, which only takes about 30 minutes. As long as it's on "low" on a small burner, you don't even need to be in the kitchen to watch them. Once they're done, they can sit until you have time to deal with them. Katherine came along a little later, chopped up an onion, fried it in oil, added a one-pound bag of our frozen tomatoes and the Indian spices, and dinner was ready. I love to buy the boxes of masala spices at the Indian grocery store because they include about a dozen spices and nothing else -- no MSG or "natural" flavors or anything I don't recognize.

Since Mike is out of town, and he is the croissant baker, that also means we didn't have croissants for breakfast. Since I wasn't in the mood to cook when I woke up -- yes, it happens -- I made smoothies. Blend together a banana, cup of homemade yogurt, frozen strawberries, honey, and 1 tablespoon of wheat germ. (That makes one serving; multiply as necessary.)

I'm not quite sure what we'll be doing tonight, since I thawed the turkey, and Mike was hoping to have pizza tonight when he gets home. So, we'll have to talk about it. If we have pizza and a movie tonight, then we'll just have the turkey tomorrow night.

I'm thinking that my two-week celebration of food might actually wind up lasting longer than that. It's hard to believe that it's been two weeks since I started this. I still have so many things I want to write about -- snacking, drinks, zucchini recipes, serving food, and the movies Food, Inc and Fresh.


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