Monday, November 29, 2010

Big birds

A few years ago, we had a 42-pound turkey, and we cooked only the breast for Thanksgiving dinner, which weighed 24 pounds. There were eight meat eaters at the dinner, and we sent some home with guests. Then we ate turkey until we were ready to gag if someone even said the word "turkey" -- turkey tetrazzini, Mexican turkey casserole, turkey broccoli casserole, turkey and rice soup -- so we finally fed the remainder to our very happy dogs.

Now, if we have anything more than about 25 pounds, we cut it up and grind it up, which is what we did last night with a 32-pound turkey. After grinding up eight or nine pounds of breast meat, we decided to just freeze the legs, thighs, and wings whole. We froze most of the ground breast meat, but I'm going to use some of it today to make turkey chili. This is definitely a chili kind of day.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Holiday shopping on the farm this weekend

Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving, we'll open the farm for holiday shopping from 1 to 5 p.m. each day.

We'll have roving available in a variety of natural colors, 100% Shetland wool yarn, llama-Shetland blend yarn, raw fleeces, 100% Old English Southdown quilt batting from Snuggles, lambskins in a variety of natural colors, and of course, goat milk soap. Accessories, such as knitting needles, crochet hooks, and felting kits will also be available.

You can order custom-made scarves, which include the story of the sheep and/or llama that produced the fiber used to make the scarf.

We'll be knitting and spinning all day Saturday, and you're welcome to join us with your wheel or needles, and if you want to learn to knit or spin, we'll be offering free lessons.

A soapmaking class is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 2:00. The cost is $32, and you'll take home a small loaf of soap, which has a retail value of $24. Reservations are required for the soapmaking class, because space is limited, so email if you're interested.

If you're willing to brave the cold, you can meet Julia Child and James Beard, our new American Guinea Hogs, who will hopefully be making piglets in 2011.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Coyotes, coyotes, coyotes

This morning when Mike was in the woods looking for downed trees to use as firewood, he found a pile of bones that he assumed to be the remains of Snuggles, our sole Old English Southdown sheep that has been missing for several weeks. For the first few days that we didn't see him, we kept making excuses, assuming he was lagging behind the other sheep, or maybe he was in a brushy part of the timber, and we just couldn't see him. After a couple weeks, we started to quietly accept the idea that perhaps he had been eaten. The skull Mike found is a polled ruminant, and it is too wide to be a deer. Since Snuggles is the only sheep or goat to be missing, it seems obvious that it is him.

I have no doubt that without the llamas, I would probably have no sheep at this point. In August, Tuscany, my smallest gelding, was bitten in the knee of his right front leg. And a couple of weeks ago, Merlin, one of the older boys, was limping, although we couldn't find any obvious injury on his leg. He spent about three days kushed (that's what they call it when a llama is laying down) or walking on three legs. Both have made a full recovery.

Our mail lady said that someone a mile south of us shot a coyote and hung it up on a fence post by the road, which is a little creepy, regardless of how much I hate coyotes. The man who lives down the road said that a pack of coyotes had his dog (a German shepherd mix) pinned against his house about a month ago. He's lived here his whole life and said he's never seen so many coyotes as this past year. Their house is in the middle of a cornfield, and the packs come into his yard on a regular basis. The coyotes are probably a lot closer to our house than I want to know, but we can't see them because we are surrounded by timber and little bluffs and creek beds, where they can hide. The sheep are spending most of their time in the cow pasture. I imagine Bridget's horns are good protection. Someone else told me that there used to be a bounty on coyotes, so people would hunt them. But there is no incentive now for anyone to shoot them other than livestock owners whose animals are being killed. It's feeling a little like the Wild West here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Homegrown and Handmade coming fall 2011

In fall 2011, my first book will be published -- Homegrown and Handmade. It's a how-to book on growing your own produce, meat, eggs, dairy, and even fiber. And then once you've grown it, the book will explain what to do with it -- how to make your own goat cheese or wool scarf. There will be recipes for what to do when your kitchen is overflowing with eggs during the spring, and I'll have instructions and recipes for cooking stew hens and other traditional foods. Of course, homesteaders will find a lot of valuable info in the book, but it's also for urbanites who shop at the farmer's market or have their own garden or backyard hens.

So, how did all of this come about? Well, back in September when I was at the Mother Earth News Fair, a representative of New Society Publishing approached me and suggested that I might have a book in me. She had read my bio on the Mother Earth News site and visited the blog. She attended my soapmaking session, and we had a meeting where we started talking about ideas. Over the past month, I've written a book proposal, which we've tweaked for content, and today, I signed the contract.

It's a little surreal and overwhelming at times to think that I am writing a book! But I've already started, and I've knocked off 3,000 words, so I only have another 77,000 to go by February 15. The book will add up to about 288 pages. As usual, the family is being super supportive. Awesome daughter Katherine has volunteered to do most of the milking for the next few months, so I'll have more time for writing.

I promise all of you right now that I won't be one of those bloggers who gets a book deal and totally forgets about blogging. I love sharing all of my adventures with you and hearing what you think of all of it. No doubt I'll be asking you all for advice on various topics as I work through the chapters. And the best part of all this is the book tour, which means I'll get to meet some of you!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Natural alternatives to body care products

A number of events lately have inspired me to take a hard look at all the things I'm putting on my body. I've been working for more than twenty years to eliminate all the artificial and possibly dangerous substances from my food, and it only makes sense to also try to keep such things off my skin, since it absorbs whatever is put on it. That concept is driven home by the fact that there are a number of drugs that are available via dermal patches that are stuck to the skin for a few days, and the drugs are absorbed into the body. It is actually a more effective route of administration that oral medication, because it goes directly into your bloodstream, rather than going through your digestive system first.

If I won't eat food that contains sodium carboxymethylcellulose, then why should I use shampoo that contains disodium laureth sulfosuccinate or hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride? And this is from a company that claims to use natural ingredients. I have sometimes used my homemade soap to wash my hair, and it gets my hair clean, but it's a challenge to style. Then I came upon this blog post about using baking soda to wash your hair, so I thought I'd give it a try. I just put a little baking soda in my hand, get it wet and scrub it around my scalp. It gets my hair squeaky clean. In fact, it dries out my hair and makes it frizzy, which I would have previously assumed to be impossible. Remember Roseanne Rosannadanna? I tried putting the baking soda in my hair and then adding my soap, which works better, but styling is still a challenge.

I mentioned my experiments on the Antiquity Oaks Facebook page, and a few people said that they have completely stopped using shampoo. They simply rinse their hair with plain water in the shower. At first their hair was a little oily, but it was temporary. Some also mentioned using apple cider vinegar as a rinse. Now I am really intrigued and excited to try these ideas and see what happens.

Although my shampoo-alternative experiments have just begun, I started living without a commercial deodorant a month ago. I've known for at least 15 years that alcohol works just as well as any commercial deodorant, but I was always worried that if I used it every day, it would dry out my skin. So, I only used it after shaving under my arms, because I really did not want to put unknown stuff on skin that had just been shaved, regardless of how safe the company claimed it to be. Anyway, I decided to see if I could simply use a bit of alcohol to keep my underarms odor free, and maybe it wouldn't dry out my skin. I've discovered that if I shower daily, I don't need the alcohol, although I did need it the first few days after I quit using the deodorant, which I found kind of interesting. It was as if there was a rebound effect from using the deodorant -- discontinuing use made my underarms stink badly within an hour or two of showering. Now, a month later, I don't smell a thing for 24 hours after showering. I also tried witch hazel, and it worked as well as the alcohol. I just put a little on a cotton ball and rub it under my arm pits.

My next challenge is to find an alternative to toothpaste, because almost all the so-called natural ones have sodium laurel sulfate in them. I found one without it, but it had some tiny something in it that would get stuck between my teeth, which necessitated flossing. It seemed really weird that my toothpaste created a need to floss. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Welcome, Julia Child!

Yes, the Julia Child has been dead for a few years, and no, I am not losing it. Julia Child is our new American Guinea Hog gilt. Jonathan and I picked her up in Wisconsin last Saturday. She will be the foundation of our breeding program for this amazing breed of swine, which calls Appalachia home. I've decided to name all of our hogs after famous chefs because they will be producing outstanding food. Julia is almost eight months old, which is when she can be bred.

We've been raising Tamworths from weaning to finish for six years now, and although I love the pork, the pig itself isn't quite what I was hoping for. Some are better foragers than others. Some have decent personalities, and some are mean. They ignore most vegetables from the garden, and they are so-so on fruit. The biggest thing about Tamworths, however, is that they're big. I'll never forget the time that a Tamworth sow was running straight at me as we were trying to load them up. The family is yelling, "Stop her!" and I just stepped aside. Seriously, you think I can stop a 300-pound sow from going wherever she wants to go? And she wasn't even full grown.

I've been wanting a breed of swine that we could breed and raise here, because you really are not sustainable if you don't have your own breeding stock. Most swine, however, are big. I briefly considered the red wattle, but the thought of 1,000 pound boar is a little scary.

It's also hard to find swine that are good mothers, because that is not something that is important to modern agriculture. The Tamworths are supposed to be good mothers, but our single experience with farrowing did not go well. We wound up with two live piglets out of the eight that were born. People said I should give her another chance, because she was young, but that's when I realized that I wasn't crazy about having a very large animal that was difficult to control.

The more I heard about Guinea Hogs, however, the more I liked them. They are true homesteader pigs, eating just about everything under the sun. Some people don't give them grain at all. They eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, hay, grass, and even snakes and gophers. But they are calm and sweet. Julia is certainly living up to that reputation. Every time I give her food, she gobbles it up while I rub her back. She's been enjoying fallen and over-ripe pears, overgrown summer squash, whey from cheesemaking, acorns, and hay. I'm hoping to get her trained so she'll follow me into the woods and harvest her own acorns and hickory nuts.

The most exciting thing for me is that they only get to about 200 to 300 pounds when full grown. I know that won't be a huge amount of pork per pig, but I'm fine with that.

Julia came from Nancy Gaedke's farm in Wisconsin, and she just happened to have some two-week old piglets when we were there. While Nancy persuaded Julia to get into a dog crate for her trip, I cooed over the piglets. Aren't they adorable! I don't think they're all reserved, so email Nancy for more info if you're interested.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What a week!

Last week was one of constant ups and downs, frustrations and celebrations. The microwave and heat both went out on Wednesday. Then a neighbor called to tell me that two of the llamas were in the field across the road. Friday afternoon I headed off to Minnesota and Wisconsin to pick up a couple of new animals. I have soap orders piling up, and I still don't know when I'm going to make more soap, but it should have been a couple days ago. My arthritis has been acting up, and I couldn't find time to get to either the chiropractor or the massage therapist, so my TENS unit has been keeping me functioning. I need to find the Time Store to see if I can buy an extra day or two, because everything is simply not fitting into the seven I've been allotted each week.

But I'm not complaining. It is all working out. The llamas ran right to me when I went out there, and they followed me home. Mike was able to fix the heat, and I decided that I shouldn't have a microwave anyway. Jonathan and I drove to Minnesota and brought home a new ram for our flock of Shetland sheep, and in Wisconsin, we picked up a gilt -- young female pig -- to start our breeding program with American Guinea Hogs, a critically endangered breed of swine.

The fall garden survived 18 degrees, so we're still enjoying fresh salads. We're using row covers and low tunnels. Over the next few days, I'm hoping to get up photos of the new ram and gilt, as well as the garden. I think the coyotes are also back, worse than ever, but I'm hoping that I'm wrong on that one. Sovalye the livestock guardian dog and Merlin the llama are both limping, and one of the sheep is missing. And I have a new project that I'm working on, which I'll also tell you about in a few days.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New poultry tractor

 Back of our newest turkey tractor

We've been using portable pens for young chickens and turkeys for about seven years now. Our first one was too light weight, and it only lasted one season. It was made with PVC pipe. A week before Thanksgiving, the wind grabbed it and blew it so high that it shattered when it hit the ground. I never wanted another one. But Mike liked them.

Our second chicken tractor design had lots of wood to make it heavy.
He made three new ones with lots of wood, so they would be too heavy to blow away. Their weight, however, made them extremely difficult to move, even though he put pop-up wheels on the corners.

One of them fell apart this summer, because wood doesn't mix well with wind and rain. I was kind of surprised it lasted for five years. So we needed a second portable pen for turkeys. I found this design online. It uses livestock panels that have been bent over to create the frame. I really like the fact that we can walk into it. A disadvantage of both of our previous designs was the height. To catch chickens or turkeys, someone had to crawl in there on hands and knees, which was difficult and dirty, even if you moved the pen to clean grass moments before crawling in there.

We don't usually split gobblers and hens, but we decided to try it this year. We put the five boys in the new pen and left the eight hens in the old one. Although the boys don't look that big, they usually weigh about five pounds more than the hens (15 pounds versus 10 pounds), which is why we decided that it was fair for only five of them to have their own pen. And in case you missed my earlier post about the turkeys, they're White Hollands, which is a heritage breed that is critically endangered of extinction. Don't let their white feathers fool you -- they're a far cry from the modern supermarket mutants.

I'm sorry I don't have a picture of the front of the new pen. I tried five times to upload it, and Blogger would have a nervous breakdown every time. Either the picture wouldn't display, or it was distorted, so I finally gave up.


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