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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday Tidbit - Potty Training

Now that Kiddo2 is 3 (say that 4 times fast), it's time to break his diaper addiction.  

He got some really cool underwear for his birthday, which he loved.

However, this is the best use of them to date...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Somebody's THREE!

This little boy had a birthday recently and his grandma made him a horse cake.  He was in love!

Here are the Top 10 Ways He's Our Boy:

1.  He plays cowboys morning, noon and night.  He goes to bed with cowboys and a hat.
2.  He loves tomatoes, especially the extra juicy ones.
3.  He can be quiet and shy or he'll talk your ear off.
4.  He's always called me "Mama".
5.  He does NOT like the shower, or rain, or any water that splashes him in the face.
6.  He eats more pancakes for breakfast than I do.
7.  He knows the names of all our tractors.
8.  He could crow like our rooster before he could talk.
9.  He can eat his weight in watermelon.
10.  He sings loudly and off-key...just like his mother.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Is the customer always right?

I don't think I've ever mentioned that I am a member of the Rural Leadership North Dakota Class V.  We're a diverse group of leaders from across the state working together on leadership development, community building, and issues.  (My issue is local food...I know you're shocked.)

By virtue of my membership in this group, I have had a lot of doors opened to me that I wouldn't have had otherwise.  Does anyone remember the meetings?

At the end of June, our group traveled to Minneapolis to explore regional agriculture issues, import/export, and finance.  While there we had the opportunity to meet with the executive team from AgriBank.  Like I said, doors were opened...the WHOLE executive team met with us and discussed agricultural trends and issues.

On of the issues presented was the topic of hog production.  One of the vice presidents shared that projections indicate hog producers can expect to break even prices up to $5 per head profit on each pig for 2012.  An article in Dakota Farmer verifies this information with a $4 per head projection.  You read that correctly:  $4 per head.  This is compared to $14 per head profit hog producers enjoyed in 2011.  So in just one year, hog producers are, at best, making a third of what they made just a year ago.

This news came just after the restaurant chain Cracker Barrel announced it wanted to source pork from systems that do not use gestation crates.  (A gestation crate is where a pregnant female pig is kept until she gives birth.  She cannot turn around nor is she with other pigs.)  Cracker Barrel is not the first company to make such an announcement, neither will they be the last.

As we left AgriBank, I sat next to a pork producing friend of mine.  We've known each other 25 years and grew up together in 4H and FFA.  We don't agree on everything, but we can always have a good discussion!  I asked him the following question:
"We're at a time where pork producers are struggling to make a profit, any profit, even just $4 per pig.  If Cracker Barrel and other companies, at the urging of their customers, are asking for pork to be produced a certain way and are willing to pay a premium for it, shouldn't we as producers oblige those customers?  Isn't it in our best interest to respond to what customers are asking of us?  At $4 per head, what is our bargaining point?"

We talked about the expense of implementing group systems rather than the individual crates.  We talked about price increases to consumers that might drive down consumption.  All real concerns.

I'll be honest, we direct market all of our products.  We know exactly who are customers are and what they want.  They tell us and we listen.  For example:  I like big chickens (and I cannot lie, you other brothers can't deny---sorry, I couldn't help myself).  At least 4 pounds, preferably 5.  But guess what?  Very few of our customers do!  They want smaller chickens.  We have one customer that orders 80 chickens and she doesn't want them more than 3 pounds.  And she gets them, because that is what my customers want.

Why can't all of us as producers listen to our customers?  We're so busy trying to tell them why we have to do it a certain way, we forget to ask them what they really want.

Well, in the case of Cracker Barrel and others, our customers are telling us.  And we need to listen.  After all, isn't the customer always right?

P.S.  I've got more thoughts on this subject that I'll share next week...stay tuned!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to Can Cherries

{For some reason, my camera is taking blurry photos and I'm not sure why.  Considering what it's been through, I'm not surprised.  Frustrated, but not surprised.}

There are three things that remind me of eating at my grandma's table:  kechla (a german dough treat, kind of like a donut but done in a knot, pronounced "KEY-cla"), her famous bars (known in our family as "Skip Bars" because they are my brother's most favorite), and canned cherries.  It was always a treat to have her call me to the kitchen and then be sent to the basement to fetch a jar of canned cherries.  She would put a little dish of cherries by each plate as our dessert.

It's cherry season and that means we can cherries.  LOTS of cherries.  I bought an 11 pound box to can.  And then my MIL went back to the store and called to ask if I wanted another box.  Sure!  Why not?

So I had 22 pounds of cherries to can!  Here's how I did it:

Rinse the cherries under cold water.  Remove all stems and any fruit that is damaged or soft.  Because cherries are so dark in color it is often difficult to see blemishes so I rely more on feel than sight.

Then get out your cherry pitter.  What?  You don't have a cherry pitter?  This little invention was first brought to my attention by my beloved MIL, she's a saint!  For more reasons than just telling me about devices that save my sanity...

Back in the day, my grandma didn't pit her cherries.  And you have to eat them carefully and then spit the pit out.  Not the best way to go with small kids in the house, so a cherry pitter is very helpful.

And one that can do four cherries at a time is even better!  

Place your cherries on the plate.

Close it with your hand.

Open it up to see the pits pushed through the plate.

The cherries are stuck on the stainless steel bars with very sharp points.  You just pull them off and repeat.  18,000 times.  But it's mindless work and I did lots of thinking while I was working.

When all of your cherries are pitted you can start putting them in the jars.  I canned up quarts as I have 5 cherry eaters.  I prefer to do a raw pack so my cherries are cooler or room temperature.

(At about this time, I got my water bath canner water boiling and ready to go while I was filling jars.)

Fourteen quarts of cherries ready for the canner!

Make a simple syrup with sugar and water, check your canning book for amounts.

When the syrup is boiling, ladle it carefully into the jars.

Make sure you wipe the rim of the jar so that no syrup or cherry juice is on the rim.  We don't want a failed seal just because we wanted to skip a step.  Remember, there are no shortcuts in canning!!

When water in your canner is boiling, it's time to add the jars.  You want to wait until the water returns to a full rolling boil before you start timing.  My canning book listed the time for quarts as 25 minutes.

On my second batch, I heard a muffled "pop".  My heart sank, I knew what had happened.  A jar had cracked in the canner.  But then I smiled!  This happens to me every year, but just once and usually with my pressure canner.  One jar will crack and leak.  I can tell you exactly what food it was each year:  last year - chicken broth, the year before - carrots, before that - vegetable soup, and before that - beets.

Why did this happen?  Even though I always inspect my jars before adding the food, these kind of cracks usually cannot be seen and it's the change in temperature and/or pressure that blows the crack around the jar.  I shouldn't be surprised that this happened, Kiddo3 had been moving the jars from one box to another after her nap.

So, did I clean everything up and start over?  Nope, I just kept on canning with the juice and cherries floating in the water.  (I did remove the jar, however.)  The remaining jars were sticky from the syrup, but a quick rinse with warm water and they were fine.

So, for a couple of hours of effort, my family will be eating succulent, delicious cherries during the cold winter months!  

Remember, I eat local because I can.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How to Can Ham

Until our pigs are butchered and in the freezer, I'm still buying pork from the grocery store.  At Easter time, the grocery store was offering a coupon for half off one bone in-ham.  So, armed with said coupon, I set off on a ham-procurement mission!

I wasn't looking for just any ham.  I was looking for a big, BIG ham.  We were having Easter dinner at Hubby's aunt's house so I wasn't making it for the holiday.  Oh no siree, I was getting this ham to can!

WHAT?  How do you can a ham?

Very easily my friends, I'll show you how:

First, buy a giant ham.  I rummaged through all the hams in the store until I found the biggest:  19.34 pounds!  And seeing that it was 50 cents a pound, I got a ham for about 10 bucks.

Second, roast your giant ham.  I roasted this one on a chicken butchering day.  About 4:30 I threw in some previously scrubbed, pierced and foil wrapped potatoes to bake along side it.

We ate four meals from this ham before I set to canning it.

(See, we'd been eating on it!)

Slice up the ham.  I used an electric knife to speed the process.

And then dice it.  My pieces are 1/2 to an inch square.  You don't want them too fine or the ham may be too dense in the jar to can safely.

Add a bit of oil or lard to the bottom of a kettle and saute your ham until it is heated through and there are some browned bits on the bottom of the kettle.

While you're waiting, make sure your jars are ready.  They don't have to be hot, but they do have to be clean!

Add the heated diced ham to the jars.  Use a funnel!  We don't want ham bits or any grease to be on the rim of the jar.

After the jars are full and the kettle is empty, fill it with some hot water and bring it to a boil, scraping all those delicious browned ham bits from the bottom.  We're making a ham broth to can the meat in.

Once the broth is boiling, add it to the jars.  Check your canning book for headspace recommendations.

Carefully wipe the rim of the jar with a paper towel.  Why?  If there is any grease on the rim, the lid may not seal.  And we've gone through too much work at this point to let it all go on a failed seal!

Add a previously simmered ring and lid.

Turn the ring down snugly.  Don't wrench it, just snugly.  Place the jars in your pressure canner.  You MUST pressure can meat.

Please follow the directions for YOUR pressure canner, I'm just sharing how mine works.

Add a couple inches of water to the bottom of the canner.  Place the lid on the top and screw down.

Leaving your petcock open (the needle-looking thing on the right side of my pressure canner), to force out all the air in the canner and replace it with steam.

When you see steam coming from the petcock, it's ready to close and begin the pressurizing process.  (petcock now closed)

Let me just interject that pressure canning is very easy.  It's the same basic process for every food item you can.  But the difference is that you simply CAN NOT leave the canner, particularly during the pressurizing process.  You do not want the pressure to go too high and that requires a watchful eye.  (What a poem!!)

I have used this to my advantage.
Hubby:  "Can you help me stack bales in the barn?"
Mama:  (with book in hand and feet up, parked in a chair in front of my stove) "Sorry honey, I'm canning!"

Again, check your canning book and elevation above sea level for your specific canning pressure.

My pressure is 10 pounds.  Because I have a dial-gauge canner, I like my pressure to sit at 11 pounds, just to be sure.

Once you've hit your pressure, you begin timing the canning.  I was doing pints of ham which, according to my canning book, should be canned for 75 minutes.  If I was doing quarts, 90 minutes.

If, for some reason, your pressure were to drop below the recommended level you must bring it back to that level and then begin timing again.  See why I stick around, even if it's for 75 minutes?? 

(I did make use of that time.  I was pitting cherries for my next round of canning.)

So, what do you do with pints of ham??

These nine pints will make wonderful additions to baked beans, scalloped potatoes, omelets, egg bakes, soups, salads, etc. 

If I count the 4 meals we had before I canned, we'll have THIRTEEN meals from one $10 ham.

(And that's not even counting the bean soup I made.  Two gallons worth that we shared with friends.  Ingredients:  meaty, ham bone, great northern beans, potatoes, water...that's it!!)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday Tidbit - Grasshoppers

As you may remember, Kiddo1 has a fascination with insects this summer.  Butterflies, ticks, moths, and now grasshoppers.

She has tried and tried to catch one.  Her big break came when Hubby went out to harvest some lettuce for supper and a very green grasshopper rode in on the greens.

Hello little friend!

After a few minutes of investigation, she did release him back to his home...OUTSIDE!

Monday, July 23, 2012

It was the best of weeks, it was the worst of weeks

Last week started with so much promise.  We were waiting on the birth of our baby goats, for one.

Monday morning I went out to check the flerd and found this: 

Suzanne is his mother.  Isn't he precious?  There is very little cuter than baby goats.  Even puppies aren't as cute as baby goats.

Of course, everyone had to come out just as soon as they woke up to see the new arrival.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, things started to go south.  We lost a ewe, most likely to the oppressive heat.  I hate losing animals, HATE IT!  

But on Tuesday our other doe (Rosie) gave birth to twin boys that are really too cute for words.

Wednesday afternoon, we found Suzanne's baby dead.  We don't know if it was the heat or he got stepped on by some other member of the flerd.

A crushing blow to both this mama and Kiddo1...

This meant that rather than milking once a day and raising the kids on their mothers, I would be milking Suzanne twice a day.  Hubby doesn't really like milking but he will do it.  He did NOT like milking Scarlett!  I need to be spending some time at THE FARM this summer and I have to travel once a month or so for my job and it's enough for him to care for our children and the farm solo...milking twice a day might just be too much.

So, I was ready to sell the goats.  I know when I've reached my limit and it was then.   As much as we love their milk, something has to go and it would be the goats.  

I got ready to milk Wednesday evening.  Muttering to myself that this is a second milking goat (meaning:  she isn't well trained, who knows HOW she'll milk), we'd butchered chickens all day and I was tired, I wouldn't be doing this at all except her kid died, etc.  A full blown pity party, to be sure!

But then, God always has a surprise...

Suzanne is the best milker I have ever milked!  I thought my goat, Beatrice, when I was growing up was great.  HA!  Nothing compared to the wonder that is Suzanne.  Why is she so great?

She comes to the fence when I call.
She walks beside me the 1/4 mile to the milk stand with a slack lead.
With some encouragement, she jumps on the milk stand (we do need to work on this, I'd like her to just leap up there).
She stands beautiful and rarely moves her back legs.
She milks quickly and easily.  Which means lots of milk that comes with less effort on my part.
And, she's milking over a quart per milking in just the first week!

Just when I was getting ready to liquidate the goat herd, along comes a wonderful blessing.

But, I wish I could say the week ended there.  But no, it did not.

On Friday we found a dead turkey, also from the heat.  We have NEVER lost a turkey, they're pretty much indestructible as far as we're concerned.  {insert huge sigh here}

But each day dawns with new promise.

There are times in every farmers life when he or she cries out in frustration that a desk job with paid time off and benefits would sure be nice and maybe I'll just throw in the pitchfork and move to town like everyone else.

But then we look at view from our "office".  We look at the animals we love and cherish.  We eat the food we have grown with our own sweat and toil.  We share that food with others.

As we delivered chickens to our customers this week, more than half of them gave us more money than what was listed on the invoice, with comments like: "I really appreciate all the work you do."  "Thank you for this wonderful chicken."  "Take it.  You deserve it."

You have no idea what that meant to this farmer who had been through a very difficult week on the farm...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Many people would consider a foggy sunrise over the lake to be a beautiful sight.

But I think this is one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen, pigs romping on pasture.  Munching on alfalfa and succulent weeds.  Chasing each other.  Snuffling through the soil looking for yummy bits.  Rolling in a wallow on a hot day.

Now, isn't that a beautiful sight????

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The life of a kiddo

It's been hot, so we've been spending more time inside than normal during the middle of the day.

We don't have air conditioning in our house, so we make ourselves rest and rehydrate.

The kids find ways to occupy their inside time:

Kiddo3 is snuggled in with her favorite blanket (a green fleece that my dad used to cover his arms while he napped) and a book.  And, of course, her Bippy!

Kiddo1 has decided that now that she is four, she is going to wash dishes.  (She's also declared that when she is five she is going to cook supper.)  I've worked with her to learn how to wash dishes and we do it together.  Last week we washed a big pile of baking and cooking dishes and she ended up doing about half of them!  I'm so excited to have a willing helper and she does a great job!

Of course, with all my extra time now I can spend it cleaning a small girl covered in chocolate ice cream and joy.

I heard loud voices coming from the living room.  When I went to investigate, this is what I found.
Jessie and Cowboy Woody were singing in church!  Kiddo1 and Kiddo2 provided the songs and they sang out of a geology "songbook".

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My favorite vegetable

My favorite vegetable is not a common one to most folks.

Let me tout the virtues of this marvelous vegetable
  • It is easy to grow, you can plant it first thing in the spring.
  • It is beautiful to look at with its bright colored stems and dark green leaves.  The city of Birmingham, AL planted this vegetable in their common area planters!
  • It will produce all season long.  You harvest the leaves as needed and they keep producing until a killing frost.  
  • It never bolts.  It's a biennial so it would make seed the second year.
  • It is so versatile.  You can use it in any way that you use spinach.  I use it in salads, pastas, sautes, as lettuce wraps, etc.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?  

I know what you're thinking, "But does it taste good?"

All three kiddos say "YES!"
I have to scold them in the garden because they would eat it all if I let them.

Swiss Chard...it's my favorite vegetable!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tuesday Tidbit

A quick photo of our Red Ranger broilers in their FeatherNet.  They are four weeks old and are loving being outside!

Just a couple of them have wiggled through the electric fence each day, but the other 200+ stay inside.

This is an experiment for this year.  Last year they were in the portable shelters.  And we're hoping that the expanded area will encourage them to forage more.  

So far it's working...I'll keep you posted!

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Whizbang chicken plucker

The past two years, we have traded the use of a chicken plucker for the use of our thermostatically controlled scalder with friends of ours.  This year, with both of our farms growing more chickens, we knew we needed our own plucker.

Hubby is a machinist by trade and knew he could make it from the plans.  The Whizbang plucker is a wonderful plucker designed by Herrick Kimball.  You can find his wonderful small farm inventions HERE.  But first Hubby checked eBay and found the most difficult parts to make (the aluminum plate with all the holes precisely drilled and machined, the tub with the holes drilled precisely and the two pulleys) in a kit.  What a find!  Although Hubby COULD do it all on his own, it wasn't worth his time to spend making one the first time.  

That's one thing we are passionate about, what is a good use of our time.  

Hubby put together this plucker in a couple of days of off and on work.  We used wood from our wood pile and a motor he took off a grain cleaner.  We did have to purchase a "wet environment" switch.

We used it on Saturday to process 61 birds.

With a bit of adjustment when the belt slid off, the plucker worked great!!

(Stay tuned for my garden photos, I'm still working on it!)

Friday, July 13, 2012

The To-Do List

This weekend our to-do list consists of two big items:

Building and trying out our chicken plucker

and weeding the garden.

I'll let you know how we've fared!