Friday, July 31, 2015

Scaling back in one area of my life

If you've been hanging around here for very long, you know that I've produced most of my own body care products since 2003. I've even sold my own goat milk soap and a few other body care products. But we can't do it all, and I totally understand that some people don't even want to make their own soap or body butter. But you do want natural products with ingredients that you understand -- products that you could make yourself, if only you had the time and inclination. That's why I fell in love with Poofy Organics. Their ingredient lists are very similar to the ones I've used when making my own personal care products, which means they are all natural, and most are organic.

I've also come to the conclusion that I can't do it all. For years, I've been saying that I'm going to create my own all-natural version of Tiger Balm, and that still hasn't happened. Tiger Balm has petroleum jelly in it, which is (as the name implies) a petroleum product, and I hate the idea of slathering that on my skin. Biofreeze has green dye in it, which again, I hate using. Poofy, however, has an organic liniment called RUB-ology, which is made with beeswax and sunflower oil and essential oils and NO artificial colors -- or anything artificial, for that matter.

I looked for a VERY long time to find cosmetics that were non-toxic. If you've read my book Ecothrifty, you know that most cosmetics do contain toxic chemicals, including many that are carcinogenic. And that is one reason I only wear make-up about three times a year, usually only when I know there will be many photo-ops through the day, such as one of my children's graduation ceremonies. Back when I was doing regular television appearances to promote my books, I tried to not think about the chemicals in the make-up, and I'd wash it off my face as soon as I was off camera!

Anyway, as part of my scaling back -- and in an attempt to encourage others to trade in their toxic products for those that are truly toxin-free -- I've decided to become a Poofy GUIDE, which means I'm selling it. How is that scaling back, you ask? Because I'm not making my own AND selling it. This actually eliminates about 80% of the work! I might continue making my own goat milk soap, but as for the rest of the body care products, I've realized that I just need to stop trying to do everything. So, if you'd like to check out their products and see why I'm so excited, click here to visit the main website. And if you'd like to use a quick order form after checking out some of the products, click here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Chick days!

I know most people get chicks in the spring, but when I'm getting chicks for breeding purposes, I like getting them in late summer or early fall so that they can mature over the fall and winter and be ready to lay in early spring. Ultimately we get a lot more eggs the first year by doing it this way.

Yesterday we received a shipment of 26 Delaware chicks. (Yes, they were sent through the U.S. Postal Service. It usually works out fine because chicks don't need anything to eat or drink the first day or two after hatching.) They are one of my favorite breeds, and I'm going to have some fun crossing them with barred rocks and New Hampshires, which will be arriving in another month.

They're straight run, which means we have no idea what we have for cockerels and pullets. The pullets will grow up to be laying hens, and most of the cockerels will become chicken dinner around November and December. Since it will probably only be about 12 or 13 males, and we'll keep two for breeding that will only leave about 10 for dinner, which isn't enough to drive two hours to the processor, so Mike will butcher them as we need them over the winter.

We put them in an old water trough for the first week or so until we're sure they know where the water and feed are located, and they understand that being under the heat lamp keeps them warm. (That's why the pictures are pink; the heat lamp is red.)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Turkey breeding woes

Last year we were quite successful hatching turkeys in the incubator and with hens, but this year was a totally different story. We had a complete failure in the incubator so none of the 19 eggs hatched, and although we've had two mamas setting, only one actually finished the job, but she then left the nest after five of them had fully hatched and one had only pipped the shell.

Mike didn't know you aren't supposed to "help" with hatching turkeys, so he finished ripping off the shell, thinking that mama would then take care of the little poult. But she didn't. So we put it in the incubator to dry off and get his land legs. That didn't really happen. For two days I kept finding him flipped over, and I kept sitting him upright and leaning against the side of the incubator. Just about the time that I figured we should put him down, he finally got the strength in his legs to be able to stand! Although that little story has a happy ending, it still meant we wound up with only five total turkeys, which isn't even enough to take to get processed. I waited around for another hen to hatch her eggs, but then realized she wasn't really serious about the whole thing when the eggs started to stink.

We were also supposed to be getting some blue slate and lavender turkeys from a hatchery in Indiana, but they had problems, so they said the poults wouldn't be shipping until July or August, which isn't enough time for them to grow out by Thanksgiving. I told them to just wait and ship in late August, as I was planning to keep the hens and a couple of toms for breeding anyway. We can butcher the extra toms next spring.

So, we were in the middle of June and had only five turkeys for the year. It was too late to get any heritage turkeys from another hatchery because they were all sold out, so I decided to get some broad breasted turkeys. I checked all the usual hatcheries, and no one had any left. Then I started looking at hatcheries that I've never used before, and I finally found one in Iowa -- Meyer -- that had some broad breasted whites that could be shipped towards the end of July. They'll be four months old by Thanksgiving, but that's big enough for this breed to be processed at a decent size. In fact, when we've kept this breed for six or seven months, we've wound up with some 35 to 45 pounds toms!

I finally got that long-awaited phone call from the post office yesterday at 11:45 a.m. Since the invention of Click-n-Ship, I don't know our post office workers as well as I used to, and the woman on the phone said, "You've got some chicks here. What do you want me to do with 'em?" Hmm ... what were my options, really? I said that I'd come get them and should be there in ten to fifteen minutes, to which she replied, "You've got 15 minutes!" Geez! Seriously? Was she really going to let the little thing stay in the post office until the next day if I didn't get there by the usual closing time of noon. (Welcome to life in a rural community!)

Not knowing her and not knowing whether or not she would really leave the poults there, I quickly told my son that I was heading to town to get some baby birds. At the time I didn't know if this was my turkey order or my Delaware chicken order that should have arrived from another small hatchery a couple of weeks ago. I drove as fast as one can responsibly drive on rural gravel roads and managed to get there before closing time. I had ordered 15, and that's exactly how many they shipped. All of them looked healthy and happy except for one that was already cold and stiff. I took the above photo seven hours later after everyone was settled in and eating and drinking.

I am still looking forward to getting my new breeders next month, and next year I'm planning to purchase a better incubator than the little styrofoam thing that we've been using.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fish kill!

Yesterday morning I woke up and looked out the window of our bathroom to see something rather large floating on the surface of our pond. Was it a dead duck? I called down the stairs to Mike asking him to check it out. He walked out onto the deck and quickly realized it was a dead fish! And then he saw another one and another and another. Then he said the pond was covered with dead fish!

I called the local Soil and Water office, where the woman said the fish kill was probably due to chemical run-off from a nearby field, and she suggested I call a fish biologist at the Department of Natural Resources, which I did. But he wasn't in his office, so I left a message, and of course he called back when I wasn't home. He spoke to my son and told him to call the EPA, which my son did. The person on the phone there said that someone would probably come out to investigate.

Today I realized that if the EPA put our address in a GPS system, they'd arrive at the pond down the road and leave because it looks lovely. (GPS doesn't know where we are.) So, I called the EPA this morning and had a lengthy conversation with someone who told me that they don't usually get involved in private pond problems unless there is evidence of definite pollution. So, he suggested I call the DNR. I told him that DNR had actually referred us to him, and he said that maybe DNR thought the EPA would be interested, but they're not, and the fish biologist at DNR would be our best bet in figuring out what happened. He said that most fish kills are due to oxygen deprivation, but he also gave me the name of a water testing lab in Peoria in case we wanted to check for the presence of chemicals in the water.

I emailed the water testing lab, and they said the fish kill was probably due to oxygen deprivation, but for a few hundred dollars they could test the water. So, I've spent the last few hours reading about fish kill and duckweed.

As you can see in the above photo, the surface of the pond is mostly green. It's not algae though. It's duckweed, which has never been a problem until this year. Apparently it can be spread by wild waterfowl visiting your pond and dropping off a plant or two, which can then multiply every single day! And before you know it, the surface of your pond is covered with duckweed. The good news is that it killed the algae because it doesn't allow any light to get into the pond. The bad news is that it's as bad for the fish as a huge algae bloom because it can ultimately reduce their oxygen and suffocate them.

So, we have one vote for poisoning and two votes for suffocation, and my reading is leading me to think that suffocation is probably the culprit. I did call the fish biologist again, however, and am waiting for him to call me back.

Monday, July 20, 2015

One year anniversary of our second farm!

July 21, 2014

Tomorrow is our one year anniversary as owners of Mike's family farm in Henry, IL. I never wrote about it on here, but it was quite the drama. He's wanted the farm for as long as I can remember, but it was in a trust with his father and all of his father's siblings as trustees. Mike's grandfather created the trust in such a way that it could not be sold without unanimous approval of all trustees, which was a pretty smart move. For years, four of the six siblings wanted to sell, but Mike's father and an uncle in Alaska had said no. Then after Mike's father died, the other hold-out finally gave in and agreed to sell, so the farm was put on the market.

It was truly the most back-n-forth drama of my life. I lost track of how many times we thought we had it, but then, on no, we can't get it. Here is the very abridged version ....

We initially thought we couldn't afford it, but after lots of brainstorming and a good bit of luck, it looked like we could buy it with a little help from a silent partner. But then someone else put down a contract on it before we did, and he was threatening to sue if they didn't sell it to him. But then it looked like that wasn't a problem. Then two of Mike's uncles decided to take a piece of the land for themselves, which meant we only had to come up with financing for 67 acres instead of 97, and they even said we could use their land, which was even more awesome. We truly were not sure that we were going to get it until the day that we sat down and signed the papers.

Mike in soybean field in 2014
Then the real work began. Of the 67 acres we bought, about 27 are tillable, while the rest are forest and wetland. It had been farmed conventionally with corn and soybeans for about 50 years, and our goal was, of course, to transition to organic something, although we didn't know what at the time. We didn't really care what was growing there -- as long as it was organic. We still don't care exactly what the crop is, as long as it's organic.

I posted all over the Internet and asked every organic farmer I knew, trying to find someone who would plant something organic on the 27 tillable acres this year. We thought we had someone who was going to plant hay, but that fizzled in a very odd manner with more drama. In January I spoke with a crop consultant who said that it wouldn't be the end of the world if we let the land lay fallow for a year and then just till under everything that grew, and that's pretty much what has happened.

Mike planting on Memorial Day 2015
We did go out there on Memorial Day and plant two very long rows of winter squash and melons, which can easily grow without day-to-day attention. Although they are growing, they are growing much more slowly than the garden on our farm here. We took some manure and straw out there for fertility, but it obviously wasn't enough, so we'll need to fertilize some more. We've never before transitioned land that was previously farmed conventionally, although I've heard it takes a few years to get it to liven up. We'll take another pickup load of manure out there, and I'm thinking I'll also buy some fish emulsion.

It appears we have found someone who is willing to plant organic wheat and hay for us on a purely contract basis. He doesn't want to do a 50/50 share as many farmers do because he already has his own hay business and has enough trouble selling his own hay. So, the goal is to build a storage building out there next spring and to grow the hay and wheat (straw) for our own use here on Antiquity Oaks. I've never been able to buy organic hay or straw around here in the past, so I'm especially excited about that prospect.

I was going to take pictures today to show you how our squash and melon plants were doing, but the rain chased us away prematurely.


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