Olive had Twins

We’ll be dairying again soon.  Thank goodness she waited for good weather this year.

Here’s the little female, still damp.  She appears to be polled (hornless) and has lovely goat jewelry.  And look at those ears!

Here’s the little male, still a bit messy.

We believe they got a good bite to eat but haven’t seen them nurse on their own.  We’ll hold off on naming them until we’re more certain they are nursing and healthy.

Here’s a quick video:

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Vegetarian…Chicken…Soup?

Humanely-raised, vegetarian fed.  That’s what the label said.

My wife’s aunt called asking how she makes such delicious chicken soup.  My wife replied, “I don’t know how you can do it without one of our chickens.”  Nearly all of her siblings have our chicken in their freezers.  She should too…lol.

Well, that doesn’t help.  She needs chicken soup now and lives four hours away.  What to do?  What to do?  She went to the local supermarket looking for the next-best thing.  She found a humanely-raised, vegetarian chicken.

Now, I’m going to offer my wife’s chicken soup recipe in a minute but bear with me here.  How can a chicken be both humanely-raised and vegetarian?  Chickens are omnivores.  You give the chicken a choice between wheat and worms and the chicken will choose both.  They also seem to really enjoy flies and larvae.  I understand what they are really trying to say…the chicken wasn’t fed beef tallow.  But a lack of beef tallow does not a humanely-raised chicken make.

If you deny an omnivore the chance to eat meat you are denying it an expression of self.  That’s pretty inhumane.  Though humans are omnivores in their natural state, some people choose not to eat meat.  That’s fine.  They make a choice.  I promise you, no chicken on earth would make such a choice.  Further, I almost guarantee these chickens are raised in a building, with fans blowing to keep the ammonia smell down.  They can’t see the sun, they don’t get fresh grass under their feet daily, and they never escape their manure.

Our chickens thrive on a diet of mixed corn, oats, roasted soybeans and fish meal.  They also get fresh alfalfa daily and all the worms they can eat when it rains hard and the worms surface.  That is, I think, more humane.  The chickens are on pasture, in the sun, eating a variety of feed they enjoy.

Now on to chicken soup.  Buy a bag of Chism Heritage Farm backs and necks.  Place 3 backs and necks in a stock pot and cover with water.  Add a quartered onion, 6 sliced carrots, 6 sliced celery stalks and a little salt.  Bring that to a simmer for at least 24 hours, adding water as needed.  Stewing them for 3 days would be better, resulting in a dark, rich, fatty broth and soft chicken bones.

Strain the broth into a fresh stock pot.  Here’s a picture of broth we intend to can.  We’ll strain it and place it in a smaller stock pot which we will refrigerate overnight.  Then we’ll skim the fat off of the broth and can it.  We like to use chicken broth when we make mashed potatoes among other things.

Pick the meat off of the bones and add back into the broth.  Chop an onion, slice 6 more carrots and 6 more celery stalks and add in garlic, oregano, pepper, salt and maybe a little basil.  Maybe a bay leaf toward the end.

Set this to boil while you make the noodles.  You need:
1 cup flour
1 egg (Chism Heritage Farm happy chicken eggs!)
1/2 egg shell full of milk

Mix these together in a mixing bowl.  Flour the countertop, roll out the dough to 1/8″ thick then slice into 1/4″ wide, 4″ long noodles with a pizza cutter.  Add the noodles to the soup stock and boil for 30 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf and serve.

Now you have a humanely-raised, omnivore-fed chicken in your soup.  If you want to do even better, buy a Chism Heritage Farm stewing hen in the fall…if you can.

The New Kestrel

Each year we find an American Kestrel or two in our yard.  This year is no exception.  They appear to nest in the elm tree in the corner of the yard.  You know, the one with the big burl up high.  You don’t know?  Come by and I’ll show you.  Anyway, this little fella posed for pictures on Wednesday.

Not quite flying yet but very spirited.  There are probably another three or four around somewhere.  I would guess they are hiding in the tall grass on the other side of the fence.

They are fun to see each spring.  Last year one was just getting it’s wings as it chased a group of starlings.  It couldn’t quite turn as fast as the starlings could and it crashed into our house.  I found it hiding in the spirea under the window of the front room.  Boy was it ticked off!

Keep an eye out for little raptors but keep your hands off.  They are entertaining but very, very strong.

Mulberries, Hay and other Delicacies

Do you have mulberries where you live?  Do you even notice them?  We have them here.  When I was a kid in New Minden we had one in our back yard next to the gate that led to the alley and Mrs. Ruth’s yard.  There was a crotch in the tree just right for a 7 year old to park in and make himself sick eating berries.  I did.

Today we baled hay in the bottom where mulberry trees abound.  I picked a handful while I was walking out to where dad was ready to bale.

I picked another handful when the baler went under a mulberry tree.

I picked yet another handful for good measure.  Don’t mind the hay hook.

I also took inventory of the dewberries crop.  Not as many as I would like to see…

…and the blackberries.

We pick and freeze as many as we can get my hands on but we really don’t go past the edge of the woods because there’s a bumper crop of poison ivy out there every year.  This year is no exception.

Each spring we clean out our freezer and find forgotten gallon bags of berries and make a big batch of mulberry, dewberry, blackberry, strawberry mixed jam.  Yeah.  It’s pretty good…better on ice cream.

So anyway, we were out there to make hay.  I’m a little allergic to hay.  On the third pass I started sneezing.  By the fourth pass my hankie was soaked.  Dad runs the baler clockwise around the hayfield.  Both of dad’s main fields are on a slope so it’s an interesting ride.

Between the two fields in the bottom and the barn lot we put up another three wagons of hay.  We have had an unusually dry spell so this is far and away the best first-cutting hay we have put up in years.  Isn’t it pretty laying in windrows?  That hill made about 65 bales.

Hang on…ACHOOO!!!!

What’s going on?

One of our rabbits kindled yesterday.  We finally found the kittens in the barn…and my oldest son found out how protective mama cats can be.

The goats still haven’t kidded.  You have to be kidding!  We thought Sweet Pea was in labor on the 6th.  Nothing.  Nothing.  Just uncomfortable girls chewing cud.

Broilers are coming along nicely.  They are scheduled for freezer camp on the 26th but we plan to send some early.  Early birds shouldn’t be above 5 pounds and that would be good.  They’re pretty hard on the alfalfa that we just cut for hay.  If we could just get some rain…

The pigs are settling in well.  They still don’t like us but they know we bring food.  It’s a step.

That’s about it.  What’s going on at your place?

Cross…Farm? Diet and Exercise for Alternative Agriculture.

People always ask me, “Chris, how do you get it all done?” then say, “It must be nice to be so young!”

First, I don’t get it all done.  Though it used to sound old, it is nice to be 35.    There are things we can do to make the work more manageable at any age though.  First I have to be strong enough and take care of my health.  Second I have to eat right to have enough energy and take care of my health.  Finally, I have to take care of my health.  You with me so far?

Exercise

We’ve been tightening our belts this spring.  Our winter insulation has been obliterated by our work routines.  If I don’t tighten my belt my pants fall off.  Nobody makes shirts that fit me well.  My large shoulder/small belly ratio is far outside of the sizes offered by mainstream manufacturers.  The result is my shirts fit my shoulders and arms well but at the waist it looks like I’m wearing my dad’s shirt.

Though this isn’t saying much, I may be the strongest I have ever been.  But I’m not as healthy as I have ever been.

Years ago, when we lived in town, we were avid CrossFit athletes.  A typical workout is something like run set distance, lift heavy objects, climb a rope, rinse and repeat, completing the work in a minimum of time.  The workouts vary greatly so your body never quite adjusts to the workload.  It’s always hard.  The time factor is genius as it forces you to crank up the intensity as you compete with yourself in an effort to get better.

CrossFarm (lol) requires we walk, run or bike 1/4 mile to the broilers on pasture carrying a feed bag or pulling a wagon loaded with feed bags, lifting and pulling chicken tractors, carrying buckets of water and returning to the house…often for time as we try to beat a coming rainstorm, sunset or other deadline.  Like the Clean and Jerk, I have to lift a heavy bale from the floor, lift it onto my forearms and launch it into the air accurately placing it high on the pile fast enough to stay ahead of the my father and son who unload the wagons.  We have to run through the brambles, up and over the hills, over and over again trying to find that silly pig that escaped when we were trying to load the trailer for market.  We squeeze, grip, jump and roll when the horse we are riding bare back decides it’s time for him to kill us…lol.  There are shooting events, late night electric fence troubleshooting and all-night hide-and-go-seek games with the cows.  There are ample opportunities for strength on the farm.  Intensity is added by the fact that there is so much to do and so little time to get it all done…or when we suddenly find ourselves being outrun by a 400 pound bulldozer/pig…that decides to turn and run after us!  But…

Exercise is not enough!

The work accomplishes only a portion of the change.  We are busy.  We do work hard.  But we also try to eat well.  In fact, that’s why we started farming.  We were looking for sources of clean food and found the best solution was to raise it ourselves.  We recently fell into the busy trap and found ourselves selling the best chicken in the world to our customers and stopping for a pizza between church and chores.  Late nights lead to sleepy mornings and there’s nothing quite like a sugary, caffiene-laden soft drink to get you started in the morning.  It’s a real problem for me.  Add to it the cookies and desserts that accompany social gatherings and suddenly I’m not feeling 100%.  My allergies are acting up.  I just feel run-down.  I’m strong, yes.  I’m burning calories, yes.  But, I’m not healthy and my runny nose is the proof.

CrossFit forced us to eat well.  If we didn’t eat well we wouldn’t be able to recover between workouts.  When we were in the Zone my allergies disappeared, my blood pressure dropped, my waking heart rate was low, my cholesterol was awesome.  Recently I got busy and allergies have returned.  I’m realizing the shortcuts I have been taking in recent months come with a cost.  It’s time to clean up my diet.  Not just to skip the sugar but to add in lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut.

I know better than to treat my body this way.  I’m not living up to my own expectations.  This post is part confession, part line in the sand and, I hope, part encouragement.  Want to feel better?  Modify your diet and add in a dose of intensity to your activity.

Changing your diet

We found Nourishing Traditions to be the best challenge to our notions of a healthy diet.  Their recipes are historically normal but are nothing you’ll read in current magazines.  Also, spend some time researching the Paleo diet.  Both of these will rock your diet and may help you tighten your belt as well.  Most of it comes down to avoiding processed grains.  It turns out Cheerios aren’t part of a nutritious breakfast at all.  Breads, grains and pastas may not be the best things for your health…though the government recommended them as the base of our diet for years.  Pasteurized milk may not be such a good idea.  Everything is upside down.

Energy Levels and Rest

I need to maintain a high level of energy.  I have a full-time job and a full-time farm.  That means I have to make time to rest.  Yesterday (Sunday), I got up early and did my normal chores then I took a nap.  After my nap I went to lunch at my in-laws…and took another nap.  I was feeling so good after that I picked up our milk at the dairy then drove home to watch a little Star Trek with the kids…and took a nap.  Then it was dinner, a few more chores and an early bed time.  If I don’t make it a point to rest on the weekend I risk shorting my employer, my chickens or my children.  Any of those would be a disaster.  Many of us fall into the trap of maintaining social relationships and work by sacrificing sleep.  That’s not sustainable.  Weather managing pastures, work schedules or intense workouts we have to allow for recovery and rest.

Work with intensity, eat right and rest.  If any of these are lacking you will suffer.  Your farm will suffer.  Your customers will notice.  Finally, if you want to try CrossFit scaled for mere mortals, scaled versions of the workouts can be found here.  Thank God because I’m not as young as I used to be.

Mother’s Day 2012

My parents are a pair.  Each performed their own role in my childhood but they were, in my memory, united.  Among the things they did, both worked to prevent the little boy in me from killing myself doing stupid little boy things.  They barely succeeded.

Dad taught me what it means to be a man.  Mom made me become a man.  Dad modeled how to care for your wife and family.  Mom made sure I learned how to do the same.  I can’t celebrate one without celebrating the other but today I’ll say thanks specifically to my mom.

I love you mom.

Hay Wagon Rebuild Part 2

Yesterday we got the materials lined up so we could rebuild the wagon.  Today, after a long, hard day we got the wagon back together.

The kids were all there helping grandpa while I was at work.  I came home in the afternoon and we got it wrapped up just in time to bale up the alfalfa.  The wagon isn’t really finished, we just did enough to use it to haul hay.  It was originally grain-tight with side walls but those will have to wait.  We were running short on time so we just threw together a headache rack out of scrap material.  We have plans for something more permanent.

Then off to the field.  We had a couple of hiccups with the baler but the bales are tight and heavy.

Dad drives the baler, I catch, carry and stack the bales.  It was a little breezy and about 75 degrees.  I wish all baling weather was as nice.

Here’s the rebuilt wagon loaded with hay.

We have quite a bit of metal to put on to hold the sides in place…once we build new sides.  But it’s not an impossible project.

The icing on the cake was the ant colony that had moved into the hay elevator motor.  The motor burned up so we couldn’t unload the wagons.  Oh well.

Hay Wagon Rebuild Part 1

Dad and I drove to Calhoun this winter in response to a CL listing for a hay wagon.  The price was right so we brought it home.  Originally this wagon was grain tight.  Years of outdoor storage had taken its toll on the wood and there really wasn’t much left of it.

All of the sub-frame was both broken and rotten.  There were numerous attempts to cobble things back together again but even those were failing.  The running gear was sound and the tires were good.  That’s about all I had to work with.  That was enough for the money.

I used it as it was for a few months hauling brush to my wood chipper but now that hay season is upon us, I need my hay wagon.  Dad measured the wagon well and we plan to rebuild the deck just as it was originally.  That will take some doing as most of the hardware has seen better days.

Dad began the long process of disassembly a few days ago.  It would be nice to paint the frame with the bed off but the schedule just doesn’t allow.

I need this wagon today.  Can we finish it in time?  I need to stop burning daylight and go drill some holes before work!  I’ll offer more details including costs in part 2.

What Makes Your Eggs So Special

I have read a couple of articles recently on the differences between pasture-raised eggs and confinement eggs.  Both point out the advantages of eggs from pasture, one somewhat subjectively, one scientifically.  The Mother Earth News article goes pretty far in depth. The Pantry Paratus article is lighter and has a nice video of a small egg handling machine.

I have an egg handling machine.  Two of them, in fact.   Both are 1976 models.  They work to collect, carry, wash, weigh, candle and pack the eggs.  Every day.  They are a little older.  They show signs of wear, they are a bit scratched up, scarred and thickened…but they are clean.

Actually, they don’t look too bad in that picture.  They will by the end of the week when we finish putting up hay.  Oh, well.  They are multi-purpose machines.  In fact, the greater the variety of work I put them to, the longer they last.  I don’t spend 8 hours every day packing eggs with them.  I don’t spend 8 hours/day every day processing chicken either.  We keep our enterprises small enough that each of them is just a portion of our day, minimizing repetitive stress, minimizing drudgery.  It’s work but it’s pleasant work.

I’m a small, diversified farmer.  I can do that.

Back to eggs.  My chickens get enough pasture to last them 3 days.  They sanitize the pasture and eat any weeds the goats leave behind and devour bugs.  They scratch, dig and poop.  They eat worms and leave behind things for worms to eat.  Then we move everybody again.  The pasture is better where the chickens have been.  The eggs are better because of fresh pasture.  The periodic, intense disturbance cycle makes everything better.

Best of all, it makes an egg that is out of this world and, according to the research in the Mother Earth article, is healthier than most.  Does your farmer move his chickens to fresh pasture regularly?