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Monday, April 30, 2012

Rainy days

Rainy days have always been sweet for me.  Growing up on our farm, if I woke up to the rain I knew I could snuggle down under my quilts and get a bit more sleep.  Sure, we still had to do chores in it, but after that, we could relax and enjoy a day off.

This past week we had two rain days and they were glorious!  Not driving wind and rain, but gentle.  Nourishing.  For the soil, the seeds and the farmers.

We have entered our busy season:  hens on pasture, garden to put in, chicks and poults in the brooder, a calf and perhaps milking goat coming in the next two weeks and after that 10 pigs.  Oh, and we're dealing on some sheep.  So, yes, it is our busy season.  We've rested and read and planned all winter long for this time and we're ready to go.

But when God decides to give us a day (or two) off from outside labor, we take it.  Hubby continued reading his "Dirt Hogs" book, I did some much needed deep house cleaning and sorting.  Hubby worked on rebuilding his transmission (he's a genius that way) and we dreamt some more about our farm.

As the rain nourishes and builds the soil and plants, so it nourishes and builds the farmers.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

How to Cut Seed Potatoes

In the spring, a gardener's thoughts turn to...
planting potatoes!  (What did you think I meant?)

My great aunt swore that potatoes must be planted on Good Friday.  I'm not quite that rigid, Easter was early, potatoes weren't here yet.  So late April it is.

I order my seed potatoes from a DECA club that sells garden seeds.  Always happy to support kids, especially kids learning business skills and gardening skills.

This year we're planting two different varieties:  Yukon Gold and Red Pontiac
You'll want to plant seed potatoes, either from your crop last year or from a seed source.  Not from the grocery store produce department.

You could just put each potato in the ground and they would grow, but it isn't very efficient.  To get the most out of the potato, we cut it into pieces.  Each piece must have at least 1 or 2 eyes.

What's an eye?  That little node right above my thumbnail.  That's where the roots and stems will grow from.

How important are eyes on a potato?  So important that even the young farmers know what makes the best potato.

This is NOT an eye.  It's the attachment point where the root was attached to the potato.

With large potatoes, I cut them roughly in half first.

Then I'll cut between those two eyes.

 The top half does have more eyes, but we will also cut that in half.  
Why not carve out each eye?  Because there has to be enough potato part left to feed the sprouts.  If you cut the potato into too small pieces, your sprouts won't have the energy to break through the soil and you won't have much of a crop.

We're not just blindly chopping here, look at each potato with a careful and critical eye to see where the eyes are located and how you can maximize each piece.  Yes, this will take time.  But you can't rush it. A practiced eye and hand will come through experience and you'll get faster.

This is about as small a piece as I will cut.  There's at least 3 eyes there.
Now, having said that, I have heard of German-Russian women who wouldn't waste anything who saved the potato peels and planted them in the spring.  I'll admit I've never tried it!  But you can't do it with store-bought potatoes, only homegrown.  Store potatoes are treated with an anti-sprout chemical.

That one potato will grow 4 plants!

With small potatoes such as these, I'll just cut them in half.

And then I'll lay the pieces out to cure and scab over in the bright sun and breeze. 

Why do we have to let them cure?  
If we just planted the pieces right away, a number of them would rot before they could send sprouts up.  We want to seal over the cut edge of the potato, it's called "scabbing over".  See the white starch starting to dry on this one?  That's the scab!  It takes 12-24 hours to scab over potatoes, depending on the temperature and wind.  I cut these potatoes before lunch and we'll plant them this evening because it's over 80 degrees with full sun and a brisk wind.
There is a danger of waiting too long.  A couple of years ago I cut potatoes and then the tiller broke down.  YIKES!  We had to wait three days to plant and they started to shrivel and turn black....NOT GOOD!  So, check your weather report, check your equipment and check with your husband before you start cutting seed potatoes.

Cutting potatoes is an art.  I learned it from my dad, who learned it from his aunt.  Dad and I would cut potatoes in the evening.  He could cut three times as many potatoes as I could.  

This is 100lbs of seed potatoes, 50lbs of each variety.  The Yukon Golds are on the left.  They are cut bigger because there are far fewer eyes on that variety.  Which is a good selling point for consumers who don't want to dig out eyes when peeling potatoes, but not so good for gardeners wanting to plant potatoes.  The Red Pontiacs on the right have many more eyes and thus we'll have more plants, probably 2/3 Pontiacs and 1/3 Yukons.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Chickens and the Post Office

It's a bustling morning on the farm, getting breakfast on the table, kiddos into their clothes.  The phone rings at 7:30AM.  It's the post office saying "Your chicks have arrived!"

We share the news with the kiddos.  Their excitement is palpable, they love to go get chicks.

At 9:30 the moment arrives.  The postal patrons who have come before you to get their mail can hear your packages in the back, peeping away.

A friend from church stoops to tell our kids, "I know what you've come to pick up!"  The two older kids shout "CHICKS!"  He laughs.

136 pullet chicks arrived at our local post office (we only ordered 125, but they sent us quite a few extra!).  

We didn't open the boxes just because the kids were excited.  We have to have the post mistress certify any death loss that occurred before we took possession.  We didn't lose a one!

Kiddo1 is in her third year of chick handling and is an old hand.  She knows how to pick them up and care for them.  Kiddo3 was in awe!  She was only 3 months old last year so this is her first official year with chicks.  She squealed and laughed.

 Here are the pullet chicks in their new home with the turkey poults.  We have three breeds this year of pullets:  Silver Laced Wyandottes, Plymouth Barred Rocks and Ameracaunas 

We'll have more pictures as they start to feather out!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What a Difference the Pasture Makes

Our hens have been on pasture for a few weeks now and their eggs show it!

See that dark orange color?  That is packed with nutrition!  Industrial egg producers feed their caged and even cage-free hens marigold blossoms to try and mimic this color.  There are commercials on TV not only admitting this fact, but saying it's a positive thing!  Marigold blossoms do not add nutrition, only color.  And it isn't this bright orange color, it's more of a brown.  

See how that yolk stands up on the white?  (the shadow)  That's what Uncle Joel refers to as "muscle tone" in an egg.  One customer emailed us and told us for the first time she separated eggs with her fingers!  She could never do it before because the yolk would break and the white was too runny.

 This, my friends, is some powerful food!

Here's our breakfast this morning, scrambled eggs.  Not the white scrambled eggs you're used to from industrial eggs, but bright yellow.  Like you'd find only in your crayon box or your skillet if you eat pastured eggs!

Anybody have other egg comments or questions??  "Lay" it on me....
(I couldn't resist, sorry.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Crockpot Oatmeal

As I've mentioned before, we're fans of the hot breakfast at our house.  But Sunday mornings it's a scramble to get chores done, breakfast made and eaten, kiddos cleaned and dressed, and finally mama cleaned and dressed...all before 9am!  By the time we have everybody strapped into the van, I'm ready for a nap.

A friend recently shared this recipe with me and it's been a great solution to the hot Sunday breakfast dilemma!  Crockpot Oatmeal!  All you need is a crockpot, water, steel cut oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, apples, dried fruit and salt.

First, melt 2T of butter in a skillet with your burner on low.  Then add 1 cup of steel cut oats to brown and toast a bit.  This brings out the nutty flavor of the oats.  You'll want to stir them around every so often to avoid some getting over-browned.

Cut up two apples to shred.

Shred them right into the crockpot, skins and all!

I've also diced the apples which worked fine, but my personal preference is shredded.

(Remember to keep a eye on your oats!)

Now add 3/4 cup of dried fruit.  Whatever you happen to have is fine:  cranberries, cherries, raisins, apples.  I've used them all, my personal favorite is cranberries!

This time I used dried cherries and cut them in half because I have small children who eat oatmeal.

 Pour in 4 cups of water (or you can substitute apple juice for some of the water).

Because you've kept such a close eye on your oats, they are a beautiful toasty brown color and smell wonderful.  Just pour them into the crockpot.

Add 1/2 cup packed brown sugar.

1/2 tsp cinnamon (or more, like me!)

1/2 tsp salt to bring out all the flavors.

Give it all a good stir.  It may not look like much now...but just wait!

We're going to cook this on low for 4-6 hours.  Now, if you have a crockpot with a timer on it, do a happy dance (it's OK, I'll wait).  If not, I have a very small girl who I could lend out any night but Saturday night and she will wake you up at approximately 2AM.  You will feed her and as she is eating, you can turn on your crockpot.

You'll wake up in the morning to the most amazing smell in your kitchen.  Nothing hits the spot quite like flavorful, warm oatmeal.

My kids cheer when I tell them it's Oatmeal Morning.  Hubby and I love it as well.  And it's definitely helped smooth out our Sunday mornings!

UPDATE:  Thanks to my facebook friends who shared a great tip:  If you don't have a tiny girl to wake  you up in the middle of the night to turn on your crockpot, use a LIGHT TIMER!  Those great little inventions that turn your lights on and off at specified times, you can find them at any hardware-type store.  Genius!!  Now, you have no excuse not to make crockpot oatmeal...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday Tidbits

We're siding our house.  And we're doing it ourselves.  And then we're painting it.  Hubby's in charge of the big painting and I do the detail work.  Here's Hubby and Kiddo1 working on the west side of the house.

This is Duke, our dog.  His official name is Double Duke Dog Pound.  Normally, he is stationed on our porch if we are in the house.  But in the pounding rain, he sought shelter under the Suburban.  He still kept his eyes glued to our door...just in case somebody would come outside and then he'd be right by their side.  As we say, "He ain't real smart, but he sure is loyal!"

Monday, April 23, 2012

An almost perfect day

It was a busy day here on the farm.  Hubby and I got up at 6am to crank out a double batch of noodles before I left for a workshop in Bismarck.  Literally, we really did "crank" them out.  The Kiddos got up and asked "Are we having noodles for breakfast?"  Nope, just gotta get them done today.  Make noodles while the sun's rising...

Then I left for Bismarck to deliver eggs to an adorable little girl, Miss Ella and her fabulous mom.  Got in a little farmer chat before the big Agri-tourism workshop.  YES!

Before the workshop started, I met a blog/facebook friend who I know very well but had never met in person before...thank you social media!

I spent the whole day listening to different agri-tourism operations, ideas, requirements, suggestions.  My little red notebook was smoking from all the notes I took!  And my mind was spinning about all the possibilities for our farm.  The one thing we've noticed is that people want to see what we're doing.  They want to see how we're doing it.  And we want to show them!  No "Keep Out" signs here.  No "Disease Control Areas" here.  We want people to come, see and do.

Today I learned how we might be able to do that.  I'm so excited about the possibilities I could just burst.  Of course, Voice of Reason (aka Hubby), calmly listens to my wild raving and then suggests that I choose one thing to start with.  And, as he would say, "That's how we complement each other."

After the workshop, I met another blog friend.  She doesn't know we're blog friends.   Poor girl just found this out when I ran up to her and blathered, "Hi Jessie, I'm a stalker on your blog.  How's your house project?  Love the pug but don't want him."  She's as funny and enthusiastic in person as she is in her blog  at Meanwhile Back At the Ranch

I went to Hobby Lobby and only bought three things, a new personal record.  I didn't even go to the yarn section.  I must be ill.

When I got home, my Hubby and Kiddos had been in town and bought giant rubber balls (like bigger than Kiddo3 giant rubber balls).  That is a sure sign that children have been in town with just their father.  Because no mother would buy not one, not two, but THREE GIANT RUBBER BALLS.  But that's why we have fathers who take three kids to town by himself, so my Kiddos can get such toys that bring them such joy.

I put on my "play clothes" as the kiddos call them, and flopped down on the grass and played cowboys with Kiddo2, ball with the girls and shared all my excitement with Hubby.  We walked as a family out to the hens to gather the evening eggs.

It was a pretty perfect day!!!

Friday, April 20, 2012

How to Build an Ohio Brooder

In our current production system, we could only brood 125 chicks at a time.  That's all our brooder (an 8 foot stocktank in our garage) would hold.

And while the stocktank/garage set-up worked fine, it was the limiting factor in our operation.  In Holistic Management terms, our "weak link".

This year we needed a different brooder and place to brood.  We have empty grain bins, we could use them for the structure.  But how do we keep a tall grain bin warm on the bottom three inches for young chicks??

A little research...

And enter the Ohio Brooder!

Developed in the 1940's at Ohio State University, it's been around a while and stood the test of time.  And when we read the specifics, we thought "Genius!!".

Because I'm the woodworker in the family, I set out on a sunny afternoon to build one.
(I used this information as my guide:  Ohio Brooder)

First, I gathered my materials.  All found in our scrap wood pile.

For a 4 foot by 6 foot brooder, you will need:
-4 legs 2x2x16"
-2 cleats 2x2x69"
-3 cleats 2x2x45"
-2 ends 12"x4' of plywood
-2 sides 12"x6' of plywood
-top 4'x6'

Then I gathered my tools:
wood screws - short and long, cordless drill, jig saw or circular saw, pen, tape measure, straight edge

I had a helper with the tape measure.  I did have to convince her to let me have the end with the case...

4 2x2 legs cut to 16 inches.  

3 cleats cut to 45 inches.

2 cleats cut to 69 inches.

I had to piece together my top so I cut a 2foot x 4 foot piece and a 4 foot by 4 foot piece.  You will have to notch the corners on these pieces, but we'll get to that.

Then I cut my plywood sides.  My plywood sheets were 8 feet long but only 20 inches wide.  So I skimped on the 6 foot sides and made them only 10 inches tall.

There's the big pieces!  And my jigsaw, I love that thing!

Now to start construction!
 Line up a 16" leg piece with the top and side of a 4' end piece. 
 I used three short screws to fasten them together.  Do what ever floats your boat.
And then repeat for the right side.

 Then I measured 4" down from the top to put on the 45" cleat.

I used a long screw to attach it from the end first on both sides.

 Then I flipped it over and measured down 4" again, this time as a guide as to where the cleat was so I wouldn't miss it!  I used 5 short screws.

Last step, I found the middle of the piece (24") and measured 3" up from the bottom of the plywood to mark where the light fixture will go.

Ta-Da!!  One end wall complete.  Now, make another one!

 When you have them both done, we will attach the 69" side cleats.  I set it up like this so I could screw it together without an extra set of hands to hold the first two pieces.  If you have an extra set of hands, by all means use them!

You'll want to use long screws as you're going through plywood and a 2x2 to get to the side cleat.

The brooder frame! (or a bed frame)

Then the kids got up from their nap and came outside...without pants, but not without cowboy boots.

Now I had an extra set of hands to steady the brooder while I attached the 6' side panels with short screws.

 Now we'll attach the top.  But first we need to make some notches to accommodate the 2x2 legs. 
{Yes, I know there are staples there.  Yes, I know you shouldn't cut into wood with staples in it.  Remove the staples before cutting.  There is your safety message for the day.}

And there you have it!

 And the top pieces slide in perfectly!

Because I had to piece the top,

I had this gap appear.  Gaps are not good when trying to keep heat in.

The remedy to the gap is that third 45" cleat we cut.  I bet you thought I forgot about that one, didn't you!

Now it's strong enough for a toddler dance party!
(If you've taken any notice of Kiddo1's clothing, you may think that it took me 4 days to build this thing.  Wrong, it only took me an afternoon.  But she changed clothes 4 times that afternoon!)

There, all the wood pieces are assembled. 

 Now it's time for some simple wiring.  Hubby found this mess in the shed.

Thanks to my Ag Ed instructor, I have wiring knowledge.  So I cleaned up the fixtures and pulled off the wiring and boxes we didn't need.

 I didn't have to add a plug, but checked to make sure it was attached properly.

We grabbed a couple of bulbs to make sure it worked.  Always a good thing to do before fastening something...

And then attached the fixtures, centering them on the pre-marked locations.  Also, we won't be using just plain bulbs (those were just to test it).  We'll be using 150 watt and 250 watt heat lamb bulbs.

Then I pulled the wiring tight and used plastic staples to attach it to the brooder.

 What makes the Ohio Brooder so great??

The heat produced by the bulbs stays close to the floor, rather than moving up to the top of the grain bin.  It's very inefficient to heat a grain bin from the top down!

It keeps the chicks/poults warm and toasty, providing them a similar environment to their mothers wings for the first few days.  These are the new turkeys that arrived today!

As they get older, they won't need as much warmth so we'll move the food and water out from the brooder and place it just outside the 4" gap.  That way the chicks/poults will be able to move in and out of the heated space to their food and water.  Just like they would with their mothers!
{Do you see a peeking girl?  The poults do!}

We loved the simplicity and common-sense nature of the Ohio Brooder.  And we especially loved the price!  We used scrap wood and found electric supplies.  So for just the price of a few screws and a few hours, we've got a fantastic brooder.  

The 4'x6' size I built will hold 250-300 chicks.  Right now there's 25 turkeys but 125 chicks are coming in two days to join them.  The smaller 4'x4' version would be built the same way and would accommodate up to 250 chicks.