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Friday, November 30, 2012

Unknown blog readers

Two days ago, Suzanne gave the most milk that she has given since we moved her to THE FARM.  I told Hubby about it and he said, "She probably read your blog post!"

Who knew the wireless worked in the barn?  They are probably huddled around an iPad that they keep hidden under the hay bales...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Unique Obsession

One of my pet-peeves-turned-unique-obsession is mis-spelling or blatantly incorrect agriculture terms.  Particularly from people who should know better.  A favorite of mine is the online classified ads.   There always sure to be at least one.

The most common?  An ad for hay that says "hay bails for sale".  Ummm, no.  "Bail" is something you pay to get out of jail.  "Bale" is a lump of hay.

Others?  An ad offering "weathers for sale".  Ummmm, no.  You aren't selling atmospheric conditions, you are selling "wethers", castrated male sheep.

Last night I was watching TV (that's how you know I'm traveling, we don't have TV at home), as I flipped to the Discovery Channel they were hunting wild pigs.  As the very southern accented `hunter let a large black pig go saying, "That one is a sow."  The announcer broke in to say "A sow is a female boar."

Whoa!  WHAT??!!  You are the Discovery Channel.  Children and adults turn to you for educational programming.  You aren't TV Land for pete's sake, get your facts straight!

A boar is an intact male.  He has testicles.  The female version of that would be a transvestite.  And there are no transvestite pigs.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Best Part of My Day

{As a side note, I'd love to post the really great pictures I have taken in the last two plus weeks, but my USB cord for my camera is nowhere to be found.  I ordered a card reader last night so in 6-8 business days, I'll be up and running.}

My love affair with goats is well known.  I'm not sure even Hubby knows just how deep it runs.  They are my girls and I love them dearly.  I love milking.  I really do.  I've told many people that the best part of my day is spent at the back end of a goat.

Every morning I prepare my milking items:  paper towels, paper cup, homemade teatdip/udder wash, and milk pail.  I walk out to the milk stand and place those items beside it.  Then I take a small pail and fetch the alfalfa pellets.  (Because we feed our goats no grain whatsoever, the pellets are their treat to come and milk.)

Then it's time to fetch the goats.  They come one at a time.  Suzanne is first because she is the boss.  She has always milked first and would probably be horribly offended if she wasn't.  And the last thing you want to do is horribly offend a goat.

Suzanne is our best milker.  And by best I mean she is the easiest to milk and gives the most milk.  She is just a two year old and won't hit her peak for another year or two.  She is a beautiful cinnamon color with black legs.  She's beautiful.  Form and function.

She leaps onto the milk stand.  I think she likes milking as much as I do.  She plunges her nose into her alfalfa pellets as I plunge a paper towel into the sanitizing liquid to wash her full udder, taut with creamy milk. I wash and dry, bumping her with my hands as I do so.  The bumping is purposeful, it stimulates her to let down her milk.  As a squirt the cleansing first stream of milk from each teat, Suzanne spreads her legs to make room for the milk pail.

In the freezing late November mornings, the warm milk steams as it rings off the bottom of my stainless steel milk pail.  Suzanne milks so easily that foam forms almost immediately.  Stream after stream of milk course through my hands.  I'm taking a part of her, the best her body has to give.  As a woman and as a mother of three children that I fed, I understand what she is giving us.  I fed my babies and now I trust Suzanne to feed them.

I think of these things as I milk.  Of course, I don't think for long because Suzanne is such an easy milker that I'm done in just minutes.  She is finishing her pellets, I can hear her chasing them across the bottom of her feed pan.  But even if she finishes before I'm done, she'll stand there and wait.  When the last morsel is consumed, she leaps down and heads back to the corral.  It's Rosie's turn now.

Rosie is the smallest of our goats.  And she is quiet, calm and shy.  This makes her the bottom of the herd pecking order.  But I don't think she minds.  She raised two big buck kids this summer so we didn't milk her until later this fall.  Rosie has small teats which make her slightly more difficult to milk.  She milks easily, meaning that her teats, even though they are small, have a large diameter that allows the milk to flow faster.

I run my hands over her as she begins to eat.  She's thin, thinner than I like my milking goats to be.  But she worked hard to raise those two kids and she's in need of a rest.  I will dry her off in a few days.  Today she too will give me all she has.  And I'm grateful for her gift.  Rosie is three years old, a gorgeous black/tan/white combination.  She is fine boned and feminine.  She does not give the quantity that Suzanne does, but it is just as rich and delicious.  By design, I always finish milking before Rosie is done eating.  I do this for two reasons:  she needs the extra nutrition to put on some weight and I want some extra time to love on her.  To brush her and run my hands over her.  Because we didn't milk her until later, she was the most skittish.  I want her to know my touch and my voice.  We need to know each other well.

It's a miracle really.  This process of turning grass or hay, water, and a few alfalfa pellets into milk.  I know exactly what my girls are eating.  I see them eat the most noxious weeds:  Canadian thistle, wormwood, stinging nettle, marshelder; and they turn it into creamy, delicious milk.  They stand on their hind legs and strip the leaves from the Chinese elm.  The lower their heads and tear off an entire dock plant and then look at me as the whole plant disappears into their mouths.

Every morning I take all the milk they have.  Every drop.  And the next morning, I do it again.  It's a beautiful thing, milking goats.  Their beauty, the beauty of their gift, the beauty of our partnership.  We're working together on this farm.  

And that is the best part of my day and I spend it at the back end of a goat.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

Not Christmas, that's for sure.  No Christmas here.  Even outside, we've lost the little snow we got before Thanksgiving.  Back to the "cured stockpiled forage wonderland" that is our new home.

No Christmas inside either.  Hubby has some rules about when someone can decorate for Christmas.  No early decorating!  But usually he's fine with any day that has "Christmas" in its title.

But I need a bit more holiday in my house than that.  So we compromise and we get to decorate a tree after my birthday (which is next Friday for all those of you (hi mom) who are planning to call and sing to me).

We always buy a real tree and Hubby insists on the Charlie Brown special.  We had a "full" tree one year and I vowed never again.  My ornaments laid ON it rather than hung FROM it.  Give the CB special every time.  Usually Hubby can negotiate a pretty good deal for those trees so we're all happy!

My presents are mostly purchased and stashed in a box marked "Laundry" in my sewing room.  This is to hide them from the kiddos and also from the Hubby.  But he found my box before we moved and said, "Why is this marked 'laundry'?  This is too heavy to be laundry.  You need to label this accurately or we won't be able to find anything.  What's in here?  Why would you label it laundry if it wasn't laundry?  I better see what this really is. I bet it's my stuff!"

{sigh} That's what I get for marrying the world's most practical machinist.  No "shell-game" present hiding from him!  Well, if he wants to look in the Laundry box, he can spoil his Christmas and find out he's getting new monkey jammies, Legos, and a Magnadoodle...

The only thing we are doing early is Truth In The Tinsel, an Advent study for preschoolers.  We're pretty big on Advent in our house and I've been looking for a way to teach and involve our small children.  This wonderful ebook is a great way to do that.  It is geared for 3-5 year olds, but any child can participate.  There is a small craft project for each day that the child will make to hang on the tree.  Some parents use a special small tree and others put them on the family tree.  Also, for those who are not-crafty (or those of us who can't find their craft supplies this year) there are printable paper ornaments that are colored and cut out.  Excellent for my 4, 3, and almost 2 year old kiddos this year.  We can't wait to start!

***Disclaimer:  Amanda at Truth In The Tinsel has no idea who I am.  I just found her ebook yesterday and fell in love.  Thought you might like to do it with your little (or big) people.  It's the best $7.99 you'll spend this Advent season.




Monday, November 26, 2012

What will you leave behind?

Last night I spent the evening going through six large boxes and totes of handwork from my family.  There were crocheted items, tatted items and quilts.  Beautiful works of love and talent.

And as I ran my hands over the fabric and thread that my grandmothers, great-grandmothers and even a great-great-grandmother had held in their hands, my mind was transported with memories.  These women had created these pieces from simple things:  white cotton thread and a steel crochet hook, fabric and a needle.  There were no fancy machines involved, just their hands.

I have vivid memories of my Grandma White.  She taught me to crochet and encouraged my other handwork.  I watched my grandma crochet, quilt and embroider with her fingers.  Her twisted, gnarled, arthritis-ridden ringers were laced with yarn, thread and fabric and still she created beauty in her lap.

My other grandma's passion was thread crochet.  And she was prolific and she was an artist.  Her stitches are tiny, so even, and so perfect.  She created tiny rosettes and made tablecloths and even a bedspread!  Do you know how many miles of crochet thread are in a bedspread?  I have stacks of doilies of all shapes and sizes.  Her linen embroidery is a work of art, I can only hope to one day embroider as well as she did.

I have two quilts from my great grandmother, my grandma White's mother.  And a quilt from a great-great-grandmother, my Grandpa White's grandmother.  They are beautiful pieces and I will share their story another time.

My mom and I talked about them on the phone and discussed each woman's quilting style.  Did you know that each piece is like a signature?  It's pretty easy to tell which relative made which item when you know their "signature".

These women have left behind pieces of themselves in this work.  They created something out of nothing with their own hands.  How many of us can say the same?  What will we leave behind to our children and beyond?  A list of blogs I read?  A full DVR of TV shows?  All of our friends on Facebook?

In this age of technology, the benefit is that we can "stay connected".  But I don't think emails or texts or any of that can keep me as connected to the generations of women who came before me as the piles of handwork that I held last night.  My girls, and their girls, will hold these same pieces and tell stories of their grandmas and their mother.  We will be connected in a way no smart phone can accomplish.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

What Giving Thanks Is Really All About

At 5:32 this morning I awoke to make stuffing and plaster the cavity of my pastured turkey with it.  I looked at the time and knew my mom would be doing the same thing 1400 miles away.  I picked up the phone and I called her and we compared turkey notes.  Hers is 15 pounds and she didn't want one that big, but it was the smallest they had.  I told her that's the beauty of eating your own turkey, you can pick the size!  (Ours is 12.5 pounds.)  My mom and I both love to cook, and we love to talk about cooking so it's a wonderful treat to talk to her in the early morning hours while we are both stuffing our turkeys.  I only wish she was seated at my kitchen table in her old kitchen, we'd probably deal a game of Phase 10 after the bird was in the oven.

My pies were baked yesterday.  Kiddo1 loves to cook and bake with me so we set up pie shop in the kitchen.  She made two of her own pies, rolled the crust and everything!  I have miniature pie pans that she uses.  She made one apple and one pumpkin and had great fun watching them bake through the oven door.  Then disaster struck.  Disaster in the name of her sister who dug her fist into Kiddo1's pumpkin pie.  There were tears and wailing and tearing of garments.  (But if there had to be one pie that was dug in to, I'm glad it was hers and not the 10 inch ones I made!)

The house is still a disaster work in progress, but I'm not killing myself to get it ready for dinner at noon.  "Welcome to our home, this is where we live.  I live with three children under the age of 5, watch out for wooden blocks and stick horses.  Be careful if you sit next to Kiddo3 at lunch, she tends to use her neighbor as a napkin."

My home is not perfect.  It may never be.  There is a mystery stain near the fridge that may or may not be scrubbed before my guests arrive.  The bathrooms have not been cleaned.  At all.  But they're still functional, even with the dust bunnies behind the door.

I know there are many people (and TV specials) that have spent a lot of time on how to create a "table-scape" for their Thanksgiving table.  Be assured, there will be no "table-scape" on this Thanksgiving table.  The "table-scape" on our table is the faces gathered around it.

We will gather here, in my box and toy-strewn house today.  We will eat food that we raised ourselves. We will play and laugh and visit.  We will remember the memories that this house holds for me and I will share those with my children.  I'm not promising that I won't cry.  I miss my mom terribly and the memory of my dad is so strong, particularly in the house he spent 69 of his years.

And that is what Thanksgiving is REALLY all about...here at THE FARM.

A blessed Thanksgiving to all of you!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Thanksgiving Menu

As a child growing up, Thanksgiving was a big deal.  A really big deal.  We always celebrated the holiday with our family.  Both sets of grandparents would come, my great aunt and uncle as well.  There would be games of cribbage, at least one jigsaw puzzle, maybe Aggravation and certainly some Phase 10.  There would be football and naps after dinner.  And turkey sandwiches for supper.

I married into a family that really doesn't do Thanksgiving.  Which made it easy which family to spend it with.  But then that family up and relocated to the hinterlands and left me.  One year we celebrated with friends.  Other years we've had Hubby's parents over or just celebrated by ourselves.  This year we have invited Hubby's parents and his aunts to join us at our new farm.

Here is what we'll be eating:

  • A Pastured Turkey - thankfully I saved one from last year for when my mom came home.  But she didn't come home this summer so I still had it in our freezer when the Great Mountain Lion Attacks I and II happened.  I'm not brining the turkey, although the I've always wanted to.  Just roasting it with some onions and garlic.  
  • Ham from our pastured pigs - So far, we've had bacon, sausage, ground pork and pork chops from our pigs and they have been amazing.  We can't wait to try the ham tomorrow.   No fancy glazes or anything on the ham, just baked in the oven.
  • Mashed potatoes and gravy - It's not a holiday meal (or a Tuesday) without  mashed potatoes and gravy.  I'll do a pan gravy with the turkey trimmings.
  • Sweet Potato Gratin -  I always try a new recipe and this is one that uses sweet potatoes but does NOT use marshmallows.  You wouldn't believe how many recipes I had to sort through to find a non-marshmallow one!  Recipe here.
  • Green Bean Casserole - My sister got me hooked on green bean casserole when we were in college.  Now it's a Thanksgiving tradition.
  • Creamy Confetti Corn - My second new recipe this year.  This one I can make on the stovetop and since oven space is at a premium.  Recipe here.
  • Stuffing - Yes, we eat stuffing.  And yes, it is stuffed inside the turkey, not shamefully baked in a pan along side.  I took my mom's recipe, made some modifications and now it's my own delicious concoction.
  • Pies - I'm baking apple, pumpkin and possibly pecan pie this year.  I've never done pecan because I don't like it all that well.  But my mother-in-law loves it so I'm going to try and give it a go.
  • Homemade buns - I made them on Monday and immediately froze them so they'll taste fresh tomorrow.
  • Relish tray - Of course, there must be a plate of pickled things:  cucumber pickles, pickled beets, etc.
That's it!  That's our Thanksgiving meal.  I can't wait to eat and laugh and share and love around our table tomorrow.  What and where are you eating?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Kitchen Accidents

I love happy accidents.  You know, the kind where you didn't intend for that to happen, but it did and it totally worked out even better than you had hoped??

I had one of those yesterday.

It's a crazy week here on THE FARM.  Monday we had to go to the bank and do some paperwork and such.  There should be an award (or a ward?) for taking your young children to a bank while you sign paperwork.  Thankfully, there were three chairs in the lobby and I have three children who were told to plant their bottoms in those chairs and not move.  Two out of three listened, the little one did not.  Then the biggest one came running to tell us the littlest one was out of her chair.  {sigh}

Tuesday I am once-a-month cooking, which is the longest day of every six weeks, but completely worth it.  The great thing about this time is that my friend Lori and her daughter Ella are coming to spend the day to see how "the magic happens".  Translated:  I have someone over the age of 5 to talk to and the kiddos will love showing Ella all their toys and get into all kinds of trouble.

Wednesday, I'm cooking for Thanksgiving.  That's right, what the craziest thing you can do when you still have bags of clothes in your room and boxes everywhere??  Host Thanksgiving of course!  As all of my family is out-of-state, we are having Hubby's parents and aunts come over to see the new place and eat our homegrown food.

Where was I?

Oh yes, happy kitchen accidents.

So, with such a busy week ahead, I knew I needed to do some baking today.  Namely buns and some caramel rolls (cream was on sale last week, I stocked up).  Kiddo1 always helps with baking and today was no exception.  But now Kiddo3 felt the urge to help and help she did not!  I may or may not have butter smeared on every surface of my kitchen...

Doing a triple batch of bun dough while trying to get breakfast on the table with two helpers can cause even the best of mamas (and especially me) to forget things.  Oh, and having to rely on my memory of the recipe because it's packed in a box of which I know naught.

I bet you can guess what happened.  Yup, I forgot an ingredient, the salt.  And I could tell as soon as I bit into the first bun we ate hot from the oven for lunch.  Thankfully, I had not made up the caramel rolls yet.

When I rolled them out and spread the butter/brown sugar/cinnamon on the dough, I grabbed my salt shaker and dusted the surface with some salt.

OH.  MY.  GOODNESS.

Salted caramel rolls are better than regular caramel rolls.  I know you may find that hard to believe.  I had to eat three caramel rolls myself just to be sure.

But my dedication to quality made me do it...

Monday, November 19, 2012

We are what we read...and watch

Like most children, my progeny have very active imaginations and great memories.  As a result, their play is often re-enacting or spinning off of something we have read or watched on a movie.

I read a lot to the kids and for a few months, we were working our way through the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  We were almost through Little House on the Prairie when Kiddo1 had to go to the doctor.  When we came home, Kiddo2 kept asking "Did you see Dr. Tan?  What did Dr. Tan say?"  Dr. Tan was the doctor who came when the Ingalls family was sick.  Kiddo2 has some ants in his pants when we read, so I usually let him play quietly with a horse or car while Kiddo1 snuggles in for the story.  I didn't know just how much of the story Kiddo2 was taking in until that day.  Dr. Tan is a pretty obscure character but he remembered him two weeks later!

This past summer it rained and as always, a large mud puddle formed on the path to the pasture.  I sent the older kiddos out with Hubby while I got Kiddo3 dressed and out in her stroller.  When I came along Kiddos 1 and 2 had their shoes off, socks rolled up inside and their pants pulled up.  They were wading in the big puddle.  My first reaction was to chew them out for getting wet and dirty. But I swallowed that down and said, "Umm, what are you doing?"

Kiddo1 said, "We're being Laura and Mary and we're wading in Plum Creek!"

Kiddo 2 chimed in, "But there is no crab here!"

I couldn't do anything else but say, "Carry on, children.  Carry on!"

Right now we are almost through Charlotte's Web.  For the first four or so chapters, it's all about Wilbur.  Every couple of minutes, Kiddo2 would grab my cheek in his little hands and say "Mama!  Where's Charlotte?  What about Charlotte?"  He was very distressed that the book was called Charlotte's Web and there was no Charlotte.  He actually cheered when Charlotte dropped down from the barn door!

As you can see, we take our literature characters pretty seriously around here.

This past week, we discovered that Kiddo2 also takes his cowboy heros pretty seriously as well.  You remember the chaps?  He takes his cowboys SERIOUSLY.  When we moved to THE FARM, Grandma had a bunch of movies, one of them being "Rooster Cogburn" starring none other than John Wayne.  Kiddo2 loves to watch "Wooter", as he calls him.

The other day I came in from milking and found Kiddo2 sitting behind the recliner in the living room.  He had a Louis L'Amour novel in one hand (Radigan, to be exact), a piece of chalk held between his index and middle fingers, and he was bringing it to his lips every so often.  I've learned by now that I just have to stifle my initial "WHAT ARE YOU DOING???!!!" reaction and just calmly ask "Ummm, whatcha doin'?"

Kiddo2 replied (and I quote), "Oh, I'm just sitting here smokin' a fine cigar."

This, of course, is straight from the scene where "Wooter" is smoking a cigar and Katherine Hepburn asks him about it.  He proclaims the virtues of smoking a fine cigar and then she responds that "even God himself must smoke a fine cigar".

Proof, once again, that we are what we read...and watch!

Friday, November 16, 2012

The moment when you realize that you don't know what you never knew

The past 10 days have been filled with lots of things:  boxes, hay bales, water buckets among them.  But one of the most common phrases uttered has been dear Hubby, "How can you not know that?"

This is in response to me saying "I don't know." to questions like these:
Where does the water go to in the barn?
Where is the electric come from in the barns?
How are the barns wired?
When was _______ built?
When was the last time _____ was done?

And when I say those dreaded three words, a look of disbelief passes across his handsome face.  He is incredulous that I don't know the wiring harness of a Richie frost-free water fountain.  That would have been the first question HE asked when he worked at his father's knee as a small child.  It never occurred to me to ask such a question.  I held the flashlight and fetched the wrenches and jiggled the handle. 

That is how boys and girls can both grow up on farms and know completely different things.

In one bout of frustration, Hubby snapped at me, "How could you have lived and worked here for 18 years and not know how this works?"  To which I replied, "How could you have lived in your mother's house for 18 years and not know her recipe for pickles?"

See, that's the moment when you realize that you don't know what you never knew...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

There's This Chair...

...that my parents bought a few years ago.  Actually two chairs.  Two dark brown leather chairs, one recliner and one with rolled arms.  When my mom said that she special ordered the rolled arm chair I thought, "Why?  What's so special about that chair?"

I never sat in it much because when I visited, I sat on their couch.

But since we've moved into her house, I've claimed her chair as my own.

My goodness, there really aren't words to describe the comfort of this chair.  I could sit here forever.

And I have this perfect footstool to slide in front so that I can work on some handwork or on my laptop.

I'm like a kitten in the sunshine, I just curl up in this chair every chance I get!

It's only been a week, but I'm in love.  This chair has single-handedly saved my sanity.  I can sit in its loving leather warmth and watch the kids play.  I can snuggle the kids and read to them.  I can work at my job in utter comfort.

Thanks mom, for your chair.  It makes being apart just a little bit more bearable.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Farm Work Continues

Many people have asked if I'm unpacked yet. 

The short answer is no.  Thank goodness the washer and dryer were hooked up because I'm wearing the same three pants and shirts.  My clothes are in garbage bags in our room. 

I finally have my kitchen unpacked and the boxes removed.  Also removed were boxes of stuff I moved and then asked, "Why did I move this?".  So they are headed to the thrift store.  The goal of this home is LESS STUFF.  And that starts with me.

(Well, if I'm truly honest, the goal is LESS STUFF  and MORE BOOKS.)  You really won't believe all the books we have.  We may have to issue library cards and I may have to have a SYSTEM.  At the very least I need one of those rubber stamps with all the days and dates on it so I can stamp the books.  (Perhaps I should just buy myself a rubber stamp and move on with life...)

Anyway, I'd love to show you the sea of book boxes and shelves that currently comprise my basement, but the USB cord for my camera is buried in my office boxes.  {sigh}

The only rooms that are organized are the living room, bathroom and the kitchen.  The bathroom was a MUST as there is a limit to how many days I can go without finding a hairbrush.  It's four.  The living room was easy because we are tearing out the carpet shortly, we didn't put much in it.  And the kitchen, well, if this mama is to have even a shred of sanity, she must cook.

I told Hubby the other day that I get "life" done every day and about 10 minutes of "extra"...like unpacking.  We're trying to get all the livestock situated outside.  And that has been a process. 

Hubby is hauling hay and setting up for bale grazing all winter.  We're pretty excited about this and I'll be keeping you updated on our progress as the winter goes on.  Plus, I'm repairing and building fences to keep the flerd and Patsy in their respective locations.  The watering fountain that they will share isn't working properly so we are hauling water for now.  That can be firmly put into the category of NOT FUN.  Hubby will tackle that project as soon as the hay is hauled.

We're busy bedding down barns and milking goats and comforting moving-stressed chickens and playing in the snow with our kids and all the other stuff that comes with living on the farm.

And maybe, just maybe, I can get some boxes unpacked...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Let's Talk About Lamb

Growing up on THE FARM we raised sheep.  A lot of sheep.

As a result, we ate lamb.  A lot of lamb.

I love lamb, it's my favorite meat.  I know there are many of you (Sue and Doris, I'm looking at you) who don't like lamb or have never had lamb.  And I feel sorry for you.

But my dear friends, Sue and Doris, are not alone.  Did you know that the average American eats just one pound of lamb per year?  There's at least 50 people out there not eating lamb because I'm eating their share!

A few months ago, in his Al's Obs column in Stockman Grass Farmer, Allan Nation explained the reason why lamb is such a hard sell...particularly in the midwest.  It all goes back to WWII, the Asian theater specifically.  American soldiers needed to be fed and protein was in short supply in Asia.  So the government contracted with Australian and New Zealand sheep ranchers to supply older sheep to fill the soldiers' protein ration.  It was not cooked well, it was not served well and it tasted terrible.

And lamb producers across the nation have had to pay for that mistake for generations.  Soldier after soldier came home and told his wife, "I don't care what you fix, but you can never make lamb."  Their children grew up never eating it.

Fast forward to today.  I went to the grocery store sans children the other day.  And when I have such a rare and luxurious treat, I cruise the meat aisle to see what prices are.  (Raising most of our meat and buying our grass finished beef from a farmer we rarely buy meat in the store.)  I particularly wanted to see where lamb prices were, if it was even stocked.

To my mild surprise, it was stocked in the meat case but it was frozen and located above the fish on the top shelf of that freezer.  Difficult to see unless you really wanted lamb.

Then I checked available cuts and prices:  ground was $9.59 a pound, roasts were $16.79 per pound and chops were $19.99 a pound.  I about fainted.

No wonder no one eats it!  Generations have grown up never having it and then it's priced out of most casual consumers reach.  No one is taking a chance on $16.79 a pound.

I came home and reported my findings to Hubby and he choked and then said, "At $9.59 for ground, we could retire!"  {For the record, a whole lamb this year cost $250 and our customers got approximately 40 pounds of meat.}

And because he is who he is, and who he is is a man who puts pencil to paper and finger to calculator, he couldn't understand why lamb isn't cheaper than beef.

  • Shorter growing time (7 months vs. 16 months)
  • Higher percentage of maternal weight weaned (Meaning that a mother sheep should usually wean twins and combined, they are a higher percentage of her weight than a calf weaned from a cow.  This may not mean much to the consumer, but it is a key indicator of profitability in the livestock business.)
  • Easier to finish than beef (To finish means to accumulate back fat which means that muscle and flavor development is complete.)
Good question.  Good points.

Back to the eating of the lamb...

I had a package of lamb soup bones in the fridge that I wanted to use yesterday.  So I got them out, seared them over high heat in a little oil and then covered them in water and simmered them all day.  During the afternoon, I thought I'd check some recipes online to inspire myself in the area of lamb soup. Because we all know that recipes are just that inspiration, not to be followed literally.

Imagine my frustration at the few recipes I found.  And imagine my greater frustration when those few recipes I did find contained all sorts of weird ingredients that made the soup (or stew, I was desperate) taste like anything BUT lamb!

(You have to understand that this if from a girl who thinks mint jelly is a horrible thing to do to lamb.)

One recipe for lamb stew contained apricots.  APRICOTS!!  Another recipe for soup used ground lamb and then 3 cans of beef broth.  If I wanted my soup to taste like beef, I WOULD HAVE USED BEEF!

Honestly, no wonder people don't like lamb or are afraid to try it...stew with apricots, for pete's sake!

So, what did I do?  I made lamb stock, strained the meat and bones out.  Added onions and garlic and bay leaves.  Added back the meat and some peas, carrots, corn and beans.  And then 2 pints of homemade tomato sauce and some barley.  It was hearty and delicate and delicious.  Kiddos 1 & 2 gobbled it up and Hubby had 3 bowls.  (He might have had more, but the pot was empty!)

For those of you who don't know, lamb has a delicate flavor.  It is not as bold as beef and therefore needs to be encouraged, not competed with.  Lamb is a sweeter taste, finer and more tender texture than beef.  Lamb is generally leaner because sheep don't marble (store fat intramuscularly) as much as beef does.  

If I were ever to commit a capital crime, for which I would receive a last meal, it would be BBQ lamb ribs, wild rice and creamed peas.  My lamb meatballs (both recipes) are legendary:  I have a swedish version and a parmesan version.  Lamb chops, bone-on of course, are fabulous.  Lamb roasts, either legs or shoulders are excellent, especially with a pan gravy.  And, according to Mario Batali, lamb shanks are the most flavorful cut of meat...of any species.

Because we were sheep producers, our family belonged to the ND Lamb and Wool Growers.  Every December (around my birthday) we would have our annual meeting in Bismarck and a few of the wives would make lamb roasts and baked potatoes for the supper.  That lamb was so tender and delicious and cooked simply, low and slow, with onions, salt and pepper.  

That's it!  Great lamb doesn't have to be complicated.  And it's time the general public knew that.

I guess I'll have to start sharing my lamb recipes here.  I can guarantee there will be no apricots or mint jelly!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Barren chickens

On Saturday, we got just one egg.  From 136 hens (and 5 roosters who don't contribute and therefore don't count).  ONE EGG!

This is just a few weeks after the farm record 51 eggs in one day.

We're stumped.  

We do acknowledge that the hens from last year (Black Australorps) are starting to molt.  And boy, are they ugly looking!  Molting is when a chicken sheds its feathers in stages and regrows new feathers.  When a hen molts, she stops laying eggs.

But we've got almost 100 pullets who should be pumping out eggs like crazy.  

Nothing.

Our thought is they are still holding the move against us.  We've bedded down the nest boxes.  They have plenty of calcium, feed, and water.

Hmmm, maybe I should get rid of those worthless roosters and see if that helps.  Even if it doesn't, they'll still be tasty in my stew pot!

So, if anyone has any suggestions or ideas on how to get hens to kick it into gear, I'd love to hear them!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Today is his birthday

It's Hubby's birthday today and we're out prepping for "Snow-pocalypse 2012".  Which means we're moving the livestock into their winter corrals, setting out hay bales for winter grazing, getting frost-free waterers going and bedding down barns.

Isn't that how you spend your birthday?

But tonight after dark, we'll have a picnic in the basement.

And we'll eat the cheesecake that Kiddo1 and I will make after naptime.

And, to Kiddo2's great delight, we'll watch the "Complete First Season of Rawhide" that Dad got for his birthday.

Well, maybe we won't watch it all tonight.  Because only one of us can stand 19 hours and 40 minutes of cowboy action and he has to go to bed at 9pm.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

All you need is peace and quiet and cheesecake

They say that the most stressful things in a person's life are having a baby, a death in the family,  and moving.  Hubby and I are experts in the first one (three in three years) and have experienced the last two over the last year.

What I'm trying to say is....We're stressed.  And we're taking it out on each other.  Which is SO not what we want to do.  But the exhaustion, chaos and transition is difficult for both of us.

Hubby was again back at the old place, this time to bring Patsy.  I was here at home to do chores and sort meat.  And if you've never spent three hours standing on your head to get hams and roasts out of the bottom of your car-sized chest freezer just to count, distribute, bag and return them to said car-sized chest freezer....well, then you really haven't lived.

I had to take a lamb and half a pig to my friend Lori today.  I climbed my weary body into the pickup and set off with two Kiddos.

Can I just tell you how her smile melted away my exhaustion?  A miracle.

Then that angel of a woman said "Hey, do you guys want to stay for supper?"

I could have kissed her.

She and I visited while the kids (mine and her daughter) played together.  I had to hit the grocery store and (drum roll here) she told me to leave the kids with her and go get whatever I needed.

And while the urge to hug her and cry on her shoulder was pretty powerful, I did the next best thing.

I bought her cheesecake.

Because mamas need cheesecake.  And mamas need to sit in another mamas kitchen and talk about something else besides the location of all our important items and reminding children that their sister is not a coyote.

Mamas need to talk about the election and food and joining meal exchange groups.

And then this mama headed home, put her over-tired children to bed and helped Hubby repair the hoophouse and feed Patsy.  Then she put her over-tired husband to bed and sat down in the peace and quiet of her house to just take a moment.

All this mama really needs is peace and quiet and cheesecake....

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Moving...blech.

Well, we're moved.

Kinda.

Sorta.

The vast majority of what we need to get through daily life is here.  You know, milk buckets, egg baskets, my children.

But Hubby continues to make the daily pilgrimage to the old place to bring more stuff that is useful, like our pig, the grain wagon for the chickens, Kiddo2's cowboy hat.  (In hindsight, that last one should have been in the previous paragraph...we found that one out the hard way.  It's been a rough 36 hours for my cowboy.)

The kids are adjusting well.  Me, not so much.

I try not to hate anything, but I intensely dislike moving.  And upheaval, chaos, un-organization of any sort.  And this is all of the above.  My kitchen is a nightmare.  I worked on it all day yesterday (and before you get all excited that I didn't go to the polls, I voted absentee last week) and it looks worse.  I didn't even know that was possible.

Oh, and our lamb and pork is back from the processor so I'm also trying to coordinate delivery of our last products of the year.

And I have to give a 2 hour talk on Saturday about small farms.

It is action packed here on THE FARM.

I'll share the horror pictures of the chaos that is my house, just as soon as I find my USB cord...

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Right To Vote

If you are US citizen, tomorrow you have the opportunity to vote.  Our right to vote is very important to my family.  My mom taught 5th grade American Government and Constitution for years.  My dad was the chairman of our township (shout out to Wise Township!) until they left for the winters, almost 40 years.

When I was young, our township had its own poll...the old school house.  I would go with my dad and get the heater started and dust the desks and tables and benches so that our neighbors could come vote.  My mom would make donuts and coffee.

As our neighbors filed in, Dad would have to ask, "Name?  Address?", even though he knew them by heart.  He dutifully recorded the information in his ledger and issued the ballot.  Our neighbors would step across the room, into the voting booth and perform their civic duty.

While the voting booth (and there was only one) was occupied, spouses, children and neighbors drank election coffee and ate election donuts, and visited around the old stove.  I snuggled too close to the stove one year and started my wool sweater on fire!

If someone didn't show up by mid-afternoon, Dad would call them and remind them to "come vote down at the schoolhouse, we'll be here until 5".  At 5, Dad would close the poll, drop me off at home and go to Washburn (our county seat) with the locked box of ballots to certify the vote.

That was what an election was to me.  A time when the community came together to cast their ballots.  I dreamed of the day when I was 18 and could vote at the school house.

But two years before my election inauguration, our beloved little country school poll was closed.  Now we had to vote in TOWN.  (Town being a relative term, there's 40 people that live there.)  It just wasn't the same, but my parents' commitment to their civic duty WAS the same.  They never missed an opportunity to vote.

When I went to college, my dad made sure I had an absentee ballot so that I could vote on local issues.

This year, as I filled out my absentee ballot, I thought of my dad who devoted countless hours of his time so that his family and his neighbors could vote.  And I thought of my mom who taught hundreds of students the importance of their right to vote.

It doesn't matter where you lie on the political spectrum, I don't like labels.  But there is one label we all should wear on the first Tuesday in November, VOTER.  Be one!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

ND Measure 3

{I never do this.  And by this I mean get all political on my blog.  Naked chickens, topless goats?  Yes.  Politics?  Not hardly.}

Next week, voters in North Dakota are deciding Measure 3.  And while it's not quite as high profile as Proposition 37 in California, it could have a huge impact on farming here in our state.

Measure 3 on the Nov. 6 general election ballot reads: “The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices.”

In the past week, I've had three of our customers email me and ask how this measure would affect our farm.  The farm that directly feeds them.  I wrote an email response and sent it to all of our customers.  They encouraged me to write a blog and a letter to the editor to share the impact of this measure with others.

How does this measure affect us, Morning Joy Farm?

First, the term "modern farming and ranching practices" is of concern to us.  What does this mean?  Whose definition of "modern" will be used?  Land grant university's definition?  I found out how modern their techniques are.  Agri-business?  We will we use Monsanto's or Tyson's definition of "modern"?  To state the obvious, we don't farm in accordance with a land grant university extension bulletin, or a Monsanto funded research study, or grow chickens under contract for Tyson.  We have opted out of their definition of modern.  

We grow chickens, turkeys and pigs on pasture, which is certainly not "modern".  "Modern" poultry production requires a factory confinement house, waste management systems and technology.  Having these animals out on fresh pasture every day, moving daily to new ground...well, that's just not modern.

Our ruminant animals, the goats, sheep and cow, are all exclusively grass-fed.  No grain whatsoever.  And that is not modern at all.  They need to have specialized rations.  And at times when corn prices are high, those specialized rations can include candy.  

So while this measure appears to protect farming, it really only protects one type of farming.

Second, we farm using organic methods.  What if an aerial applicator were to mistake our pastures for expiring CRP and spray them with herbicide?  If it came to a dispute that required mediation, this law clearly states that "modern farming and ranching practices are forever guaranteed".  Now, we know our neighbors and they know us and we certainly don't see this issue coming to a head.  But what of other organic farmers in our state?

Third, agriculture is North Dakota's largest industry.  Not even oil has more impact on our economy.  This law makes it illegal to regulate our largest industry at the local, county and state level.  Would we allow that same freedom to any other industry?  Would we allow the oil industry to be unregulated?  What about the medical, restaurant or insurance industry?  

Fourth, in the past few years, a neighboring county successfully denied a request to put a 10,000 cow dairy just outside the city limits of their county seat.  These mega-dairies, as they are called, are the "future of the dairy industry" and would most certainly be considered modern.  If this law passes, our townships, cities, counties and our state would lose the right to make decisions for our communities.  

And finally, I know many of the people who wrote this measure personally and I understand their rationale for proposing this measure.  Measure 5, also on this ballot, is a perfect example of what the Measure 3 authors are trying to stop.  (Measure 5 is an animal cruelty law that is solely the impetus of the Human Society of the United States.  You should vote "no" on that one.)  The HSUS is trying to lay the foundation for future animal agriculture regulation bills in our state and the authors of Measure 3 want to make sure that doesn't happen.  And while I appreciate their effort and agree that we don't want regulation from outside interest groups, this measure is not the answer.

There will be unintended consequences from this law.  It would be the basis for further regulation and litigation.  It would be up to the courts to decide what the definition of "modern farming and ranching practices" would be.  And if it comes to that, small farmers like us have already lost.

And because I don't believe in criticizing something without offering an alternative:  
I would like ND to adopt a constitutional amendment similar to MN.


Minnesota’s Constitution, Article 13, section 7 provides:  
“Any person may sell or peddle the products of the farm or garden occupied and cultivated by him without obtaining a license therefor”.
That means that in MN it is legal for a farmer to sell ANY product that he or she produces.  This would include raw milk!  In ND, it is illegal to sell raw milk.  You may sell it as pet food, but pet food sales are regulated by the state government. 

An amendment like that would do more protect farmers and ranchers than Measure 3, by protecting their production and markets.  As well as allowing consumers the right to purchase any products directly from the farmer.