Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Salsa for everyone!

Say, what do you do when you've picked a peck of peppers?  Make salsa, baby.....

Aren't these lovely? We grew about a billion Anaheim peppers this summer. They went nuts so we are picking them by the bucket load.

And we are making salsa.

Of course I consulted my Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving for "how to." Despite a thousand warnings that we'd all die if we made or processed the salsa incorrectly... we persevered with the preserving. And... its fabulous! Wow - really great stuff. We used the "Zesty Salsa" recipe on my page 82. I liked that they used weight measurements ("about 2 pounds") as I finally broke down and got a kitchen scale. The process went pretty fast with the chopping taking the most amount of time.

My only disappointment was that I couldn't find a canning recipe that included black beans and corn - our favorite. But I figured I could just add these ingredients to a jar of the core salsa after we canned it properly.

And I used by buddy, Drew's recipe found here. Its amazing - we only added cumin, black beans, and corn to a jar of our Zesty Salsa... then we grabbed a bag of chips and commenced to sit on the couch and eat the whole thing. Whoot!

Thanks Drew - you are right, I'll be making this over and over again.

We did learn a few things tho....

First, we ended up with more salsa then we were supposed to... which made me nervous. The ratios are really important or you won't have enough acidity to kill off any of the scary canning bacteria. So I added a teaspoon of lime juice to each pint before I processed them.. just to make sure.

Next, I got irritated at how slowly the pepper chopping was going. So I ditched my slow but safe method of chopping and just started handling the peppers barehanded. Of course I thought I made sure that the peppers weren't too hot to touch. nope.. the peppers just weren't that hot. All was fine until about 30 minutes later.. and my hands started feeling.. funny.. then hot.. then really hot and not so funny.. then there was a lot of hopping around and shaking and blowing on them.

I tried all the remedies... Dawn dish washing soap, soaking in milk, etc. Nothing helped.. and then someone suggested that I use olive or veg oil, rub it around on my hands like soap, and then rinse off. Wow! It totally worked. Apparently the olive oil bonds with the hot pepper oil, neutralizes it, and then helps get rid of it. Of course my farm-y hands are pretty rough and cracked so it took a couple treatments.. but it did the trick.

And yes, next time I'm wearing gloves!

Monday, September 27, 2010

A LOT of pears

We have a LOT of pears....

like.. an incredible amount of pears....

an amazing amount of pears...

our poor tree....

if you're wondering what I'm doing today... I'm working on pears.. lots and lots of pears...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Creepy Meat. Its Back.

 Creepy Meat. Its Back.

 Never say never. That's all I'm sayin'

I got a big heap of it.


Well. The only thing that is certain......all y'all will have about 9 weeks of my constant complaining about how the meat chickens are creepy. Sigh. Go ahead. Give me the "told you so." Sheesh!

So that's my chicken confession. We had such a bad turkey hatch this year that we needed to do something. And fast...or we'd be eating old hen all winter. We'll have our first frost in mid-October so we had to move quickly. We ordered 25 dinner chicks from Meyer. They were a bargain! Including delivery to our local post office we got a straight run for about $43!  Right now they are under a heat lamp in a box in the basement. But we'll move them outside soon. We have one of the big turkey coops all ready for them.  I swear you can see them grow. Its creepy.  Here we go...

Creepy Meat-o-Meter:
Started with: 26 on 9/21
Today: 25
Status: Doing well but I had to take their food away for a couple of hours. Wow - do they suck down the water.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Adorable kitten pix

As promised from yesterday's post, I'm happy to provide these pictures of an adorable kitten... Little Mo was mugging it up for the camera.  He is very possibly a black hole of cuteness... you can't help but get sucked in.

I mean seriously - how cute is he?

Little Mo was the Worlds Worst Barncat. So we moved him inside and now he is not even remotely interested in going back outside. For anything. Ever. I mean never. If I open the door he runs the other way.

While our boy Shine is The King of Barncats wields his "Daggers of Doom" and strikes fear into the hearts of rodents everywhere... Little Mo just doesn't have that killer instinct. So we call him Mr. Doom Spoons. A more subdued version of "daggers of doom."

Pretty much Little Mo just lazes about all day... being cute. Doing cute things. Making cute noises. Little Mo's whole world consists of snuggling, lounging, having his yums, and trying to get the other cats to lick his face. That's all. He's not very deep, but we sure love him.

Now, has everyone recovered from yesterday's butchering post? If not...gaze into the cuteness that is Mr. Doom Spoons....resistance is futile.....

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Meat Mutts and Rooster Day Tips

Gentle Readers, due to the mature content of today's post,  the very young, vegetarians, and folks who don't want to know where their food comes from should look away.  Tomorrow I promise to feature pictures of adorable kittens. But this dance is just for the farm-y people.


If you are new-ish to chickens chances are you have a rooster or two out there terrorizing your hens, causing mayhem, and wearing down your last good nerve. You might be wrestling with whether or not you should try and train the roos to "be nice" or re-home them to some sucker. Well, there is a third option - Rooster Day.

Yep. It's what it sounds like. Some folks call it Freezer Camp but lets call a spade a spade. Its butchering extra roosters.

The Rooster Crew were acting like a gang of thugs and starting to fight each other. While I totally agree that the barnyard flock needs an aggressive, protective rooster... too many are not a good thing. Having too many roos confuses and annoys the hens. They are either afraid of being chased down... or there is a power vacuum while the males try and figure out which hen belongs to which roo... and where territories begin and end.  So, there are practical barnyard management reasons for getting rid of extra roos....aside from the obvious... that chickens are food. To be sure this isn't a solicitation for a meat vs. non-meat discussion so lets just stick to the "how-to's."

For our Rooster Day we ended up keeping Little Pansy, both BlackJack and JackBlack, and dressed the rest (a total of 7).

My new pal, Filippo, from Italia sent me an email asking about butchering chickens. As it was timely I figured I'd share part of  of our conversation... as well as some things we learned from our Meat Mutts.

Many folks ask me about butchering so I have a list of Top Tips for Rooster Day and am thinking of developing an FAQ. Of course, I send everyone over to Harvey Ussery's spectacular The Modern Homestead site for exact processing instructions...with the caution that the language used to describe home butchery is by nature inflammatory. That is, it sounds worse than it is and there is no nice way to say it. So, cowboy up before you go and see the step by step instructions.

We have a pretty good routine worked out for our butcher days. The night before we put the "volunteers" in a separate coop with water but no food. "Starving" the birds overnight makes dressing them cleaner and easier. But of course, you don't want to withhold water. Having them in a separate coop makes them easy to catch.

After morning chores we gather our tools and get out there. We use a hatchet to dispatch the birds. The Big Man is the axe man...and I am on the guts part. No, its not gross. If you've seen any of the CSI shows you've seen much worse. And if you've ever cut up a chicken from the store you can do it. Really.  I know, I know, you're not convinced. But to a person, the folks who give it a try say exactly the same thing:

1. It isn't as bad as you imagine.
2. They feel great after wards....a profound sense of being part of the cycle of life and sense of accomplishment. Being able to feed your family is an amazing experience.
3. They are definitely going to do it again.

You just need to get your confidence up...and your courage.

We make sure we have a clean work surface (a stainless steel topped table), lots of paper towels, very sharp knives, a garden hose, several kitchen trays, a couple bowls, several buckets, and our sense of humor.  We also make sure that the beer fridge downstairs is cleaned out and that its one its coldest setting. And then we march out there and collect our first volunteer.

We've never had a bad experience with the chickens. The work is interesting, it feels like great teamwork, and we know that we are honoring the birds by not wasting anything. We usually have a great day. By the time we get everything cleaned up we're tired, excited, and very satisfied with what we've accomplished.

And the hens are basically standing around high five-ing each other.  Instantly, the hens are more relaxed, and we don't have the 20 minute chase around the barnyard trying to get the Rooster Crew herded into the hen house for the night. And its quiet. And we've got some good eatin' coming our way.  And its quiet. Very quiet. Nice and quiet. So everyone is happy.. except for, of course.. the volunteers.

My Top Tips for Rooster Day:

1. Pray for courage and practice thanksgiving. Trust the way of things.
2. You'll need more water than you think - make sure there is a hose nearby. More than likely you'll never drink from that hose again.
3. If you are plucking, make sure you have the proper water temperature to scald the birds which makes for easier plucking.
4. Use really sharp knives.
5. Make sure you have somewhere to chill the birds ready. You want to get them down to 40* as soon as possible. We have an extra refrigerator that we turn to the coldest setting and let the birds chill for 3 or 4 days before we freeze or cook them. This provides better quality meat.
6. Make sure you have a plan for the feathers and 'leftover bits.' Many people compost them but we have a big burn pile to dispose of every thing so we don't attract varmints.
7. Wash your work clothes in cold water to get rid of any stains.
8. Develop a sense of humor to relieve the tension. Its OK to laugh - sometimes funny things happen.

Some folks are shocked that we are out there cracking up or that we are having a good time. I thought the same thing too...until we did it ourselves. The thing is... funny things DO happen. We have a couple of standard jokes that we can't get over:

* After the "smiley parts" are.. ahem.. removed with the hatchet, we turn to each other and ask, "Is he really gone, or do you think he's faking it?" (We got this from a friend's young son who wanted to make sure the deed was really done. I love that kid.)
* Inevitably you might press on the carcass and sometimes there are.. um.. noises. This is startling. Sometimes there is me screaming and hopping about...followed by us laughing and falling over each other saying,  "He IS faking it."
* And then the hens have to get into the mix and pick some kind of part out of the scrap bucket and run off with it - then there is a chase. A really gross chase which can result in a horrifying tug-of-war.

The funniest story I ever heard about butcher day was about two ladies being taught to dress chickens by a 7 year old Amish boy. He was sorely disappointed in their performance. The day hit its peak with a failed axe chop followed by the intended volunteer rooster, now rather angry, chasing one of the gals around the yard.

Its OK to laugh.

Just like the turkeys, I tend to part up the chickens and then make a lot of stock. The leftover stuff goes to the inside cats. Teddie Grumpkins waited all day for me to finish cooking the stock. She's in there right now eating one of the cooked down necks.

You'll remember our results from the Dinner Chickens.  We were interested in how the "meat mutts" would compare. Most of them were considered "dual purpose" breeds good for laying and for meat.

In short, it tasted like chicken. Of course these birds were much smaller, so unlike the Creepy Meets, it seemed like the portions were more reasonable. Our first supper was buttermilk fried chicken, mashed 'taters and gravy, and honey baked squash -- all from our yard.

As far as breeds go, all of the roos were mutts - crosses of a variety of hens and roosters but they all had strong traits of certain breeds. These were birds that were hatched this spring - so basically, aside from feed, they were free. We think we got our money's worth.

To our surprise, the Buff Orpington (the meanest of the lot) was the most disappointing. Generally they are heralded as one of the great dual purpose birds. But we found it to be all feathers and very little substance. The barred rock got a solid "B+", the RIR crosses got a "B", and amazingly... the light brahma was the winner of the day.  Nice and meaty, easy as pie to pluck, and well proportioned with a goodly amount of fat.  To tell the truth, I was considering sending Little Pansy to the pot, but after seeing how well that young brahma dressed... well, I wouldn't mind having a whole passel of them.  He gets a pass. For now.

So if you haven't run screaming yet or puked on your keyboard.. congrats!  Now gather up your tools and get out there and give it a go. You'll be amazed at how the day unfolds...and you'll be very glad for the peaceful barnyard and the full freezer.

Now where are my noodles....

Folks: Melanie had some great questions. Here are some quick facts on doing larger birds.

LOOK AWAY, TENDER VITTLES!  Consider yourself warned about graphic details.

First, if you have a super big bird, go and check out my buddy, Buster's, incredible how-to for a monster turkey.

Q: Any tips for a larger critter?
A:  Yep. To say it delicately.... expect a larger bird (turkey, duck) to put up more of a fight - both during the post-kill flapping and also trying to catch them.  So technique is important.  For our turkeys we found that we needed to restrain them more than the chickens. My buddy and Farm Master, Bourbon Red, just holds them down on the ground to slit the throat. This works, but we found it was easier for us to hold the bird upside down for a few minutes to calm it, tie the feet, carefully put it into a feed bag (head first) with a hole in it at the bottom, so only the head is showing. Then you can hang it upside down (like many folks do chickens) and slit the throat. The last thing you want is a bad kill. That doesn't honor the bird, the process, or you. 

Q: What about plucking turkeys?
A: We think they are easier than chickens! Easy peasy. Just make sure you have the right water temp. Too hot and you'll blister the skin, too cool and it wont do any good.  I think its 165* but look it up for sure.

Q: I don't think we have a pot big enough to scald them. Just make it skinless??
A: You can skin them - and we do this sometimes. But plucking is pretty easy -  we use one of those extra big, heavy tubs that you can get at the grocery stores during the summer - you know the ones that you can get to put drinks in? Just fill that with hot water. Mine takes 3 big kettles of hot water, then we add more hot water to keep the temperature warm enough. Works great. Some folks use a turkey fryer - which sounds like a great idea to me!

Thanks for the great questions, Melanie!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Floppy the Five Headed Monster!? And Everybody's Roosting - Take 2

I grabbed this cute pix when we were putting everyone in for the night.

Floppy has been doing a great job with The Five. She is a Brown Leghorn which typically are not the broody type.... but wow, what a great momma.  She set her nest like a pro and she keeps The Five close to her at all times. The little ones like to climb under her and up into her feathers. I love when they pop their heads out and she looks like a funny, fluffy, porcupine.  They also like to ride around on her back. Its hilarious.

The other hens need to watch it when Floppy takes her babies out. Yesterday Fats got a bit too close...

Floppy gave her a barnyard-style beat down. That's my girl.  But don't worry - we got there before it got too ugly and hustled Fats right out of the yard. Floppy called all the babies to her and marched them back into the hen house.

Speaking of cute chicks....

Remember when Mrs. Dowlrimple's Bugs were finally old enough to roost? Check out these babies now! They are growing like weeds...look how big!

And Mrs. D's shows that The Bugs will never be too big to be under her wing.

In other news... I've been bad about The Canning Report. Lets just say that the pressure canner hasn't even been put away lately.

Yesterday I did 3 pints of salsa verde, 4 pints of baked applesauce, and 3 quarts of chicken stock. I have more tomato sauce and applesauce that needs to be done.

Elsewhere in the barnyard...

Ohmigolly... the goats are ri-DICULOUS. Seriously... the moodiness, the standing around complaining, oh for heavens sakes. Someone may not make it thru their heat season...sheesh!

And I'm gradually reducing their milking to start drying them out. Right now they are both on once a day. Soon Nibbles will be on every other day...as will Debbie. I'm hoping to get them shipped off to the breeders in the next several weeks. We heard from Vita's breeder - she's already been bred!  Which means we'll see her the first week of March.

That's all the news that's fit to print! Happy first day of fall!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fall Kitchen Garden - its all about the greens.

Its all about the greens this fall.

I'm thrilled that my kitchen garden, just steps from the door, worked out. I have lots of kale and swiss chard within easy access.

And I think its kind of pretty with all the colors. That's purple basil in the front left and a butternut squash on the right under a jungle of swiss chard.

I've been sauteing bacon and greens for breakfast - topped with an egg and finished with grated cheese. Its a great meal that I'll be enjoying all fall. Along with some baked applesauce, of course.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Apple season surges ahead...baked applesauce

Apples are just dripping from the trees around here... its a great apple year for sure. We stopped by the orchard owned by our good friends yesterday and bought our favorite heritage variety - Grimes Golden.

I baked up a mess of lovely apple sauce and the house smelled like heaven. Instead of making applesauce on top of the stove I like it slow roasted and luscious.

I peeled and cored the apples while I skyped with my pal Eliza today. She, with a commanding view of the ocean in Hawaii, and me in my farm kitchen. She likes to hear the turkeys in the background when we talk.  The pigz got the bucket of apple peels.. and I let Debbie, the goat, have a couple bites as well.  But not too many - the fruit will set the bloat on her.

The chickens will pick around at the peels but with chicken cheese, what do they care about apples?  Its the turkeys who love apples best. Anything that rolls gets their attention. Now, they don't like the peels but let them chase a rolling apple and that, friend, is nothing but a good time.

Anyway, I fill a roasting pan with uniformly-ish cut apples, sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar (just a little), cover tightly with foil and bake in a slow oven (300* or 325*) for several hours. Be careful when you take off the foil as the steam will rush out. It might look like they haven't cooked down at all... but with a few stirs they are meltingly caramelly and delicious. Tomorrow I'll set to canning them.

Of course, the baked applesauce will be used for tiny pies. I understand my two favorite farm boys convinced their dad to get them tiny pie pans. Lehman's carries them if the rest of you were wondering.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

No Way. YES! Whey!

Today I worked on a couple more cheese and I thought about Chai Chai's question about whey. Apologies - sometimes I just assume all y'all know all this farm-y stuff. So lets do a quick tour of way.. I mean... whey.

The curds are the solid white at the bottom, they whey is on the top.

We saw how to cut the cheese a couple days ago... the watery stuff leftover from squeezin' your cheese is the whey. Yeah, like little Miss Moffet eating her curds and whey.  I do not know what a "tuffet" is. But you don't use it in cheese making as far as I can tell.

Taking the curds out of the kettle to put them in cheesecloth to drain.

Whey is what remains after you've convinced all the milk proteins to stay together in what will become cheese. Sometimes you get a LOT of whey. Way. (No, this joke does not get old to me.)

The fresh whey can be refrigerated and used for lots of things - you can use it in bread making, fermenting, etc. Some people even drink it - it has tons of nutrients in it. However, there are always cautions about using it quickly so it doesn't go bad.

We use it for the barnyard. 

Chicken swarm! The guineas were stuck on the wrong side of the fence.

The hens love it - so do the pigs, dogs, and even the ducks!

Sometimes I'll take the bucket of whey out in the evening and milk one of the goats into it. I'll let it set overnite and then have "chicken cheese" for the flocks next morning. They go wild for the stuff. There are cheeses that are made from whey but none of mine have worked out. In ancient times they used the whey as a culture for a new batch of cheese. I'm trying to find a whey.. I mean...way to do this. It works for my chicken cheese.. so there has to be something to it.

I was completely inspired by Ken over at Living the Life in Saint-Aignan and his trip to a cheese maker who finely crafts neufchatel cheese. My 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes has a goat milk recipe for neufchatel so I'm giving it a go. One of the steps is to hang the cheese in cloth to drain. As always, I have to improvise. So I hill billied up this..

A wooden spoon resting on paper towel rolls with the curds hanging from it into a deep sauce pan. It works. I'm sure the cheese maker in Normandy would be horrified. But this is how we do it, farm-y style.  The cheese has to set for several more days - hopefully a mold will form over it. Then we'll eat ruined, moldy milk. I can't wait! Whoot!

Tomorrow I'll take the whey out to the hens and watch the swarm.

So that's the word on whey. Way. No.. way.. Whey!

Friday, September 17, 2010


As if you need one more reason to run right out and get dairy goats..... FUDGE!

Oh golly - I don't even have any pictures.... but wow! You have got to hear about goat milk fudge. Sure I knew about it - but I'm not really a fudge kind of person. Or so I thought.

Roll Farms shared this a while ago... I hadn't really thought about it but yesterday it got the better of me.

These super easy instructions might make purists cringe.. but the rest of us are digging in:

1 lb. Powdered Sugar
1/2 Cup Cocoa
1/2 Cup Butter
1/4 Cup Goats Milk
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 Cup Broken pecans or walnuts

Combine Sugar and cocoa thoroughly in a large microwavable bowl by sifting it together. Make a well in the center of the mixture.  Place cut up butter and milk in the well.  


Microwave on high for 2 minutes.  Remove and add vanilla, stirring to blend. Stir in nuts and put into buttered dish or pan.

Mine never really made it to the "pour into a buttered pan" stage... mostly I just stood there and ate it out of the bowl with a spoon.

And then I had it for breakfast this morning.

What are you waiting for? Go and find a dairy goat! Quick!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cutting the cheese....curds!

I admit it. I have the sense of humor of a 4th grade boy. My favorite joke right now is to tell people I'm cutting the cheese. And the thing is... I AM cutting the cheese. Well, the curds anyway.

One of the best things about having dairy goats is learning how to make cheese. I don't pretend to know everything about it.. but I'm having a great time learning.

Wanna see how to make cheese?

There are some great references out there for home cheese making. Ricki Carroll is probably the most famous -- she's the one with the 30 Minute Mozzarella. Her book is wonderful and you can buy cheese making supplies online at her New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.

I also have 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes: From Cheddar and Brie to Butter and Yogurt by Debra Amrein-Boyes. I almost like it better because it has more information on using goat milk and making goat cheese. I also like her easy, approachable style.

And all goat folks should know that the fiascofarm site had great and easy cheese recipes.

Many of the goat supply places including Hoegger and Caprine also sell cheese making supplies.

Now that you have the resources... ready? Lets get cheesy!

After hearing over and over about food safety and the importance of keeping dairy products chilled, the biggest surprise about cheese making I found was..... that most dairy products are just varied forms of rotten milk. Some of the instructions include "let the milk curdle and then let it set for 3 days at room temperature."  WHAT!?!? Yep. Its nuts. But hey.. whatever.  Altho the ingredients, molds, cultures, times and temperatures are different. There are some similarities to the steps.

First, start with extremely fresh milk... and then ruin it. This is the first of lots of crazy cheese contradictions.

A culture (above, the mesophilic culture) is first added to ripen the milk. Rennet is then added to get all of the milk proteins to huddle up. Then you just let it set.  Sometimes you have to let it set at a specific temperature...so putting your kettle of rotten milk a sink full of the perfect temperature water works.

Once the curd has set.. and you get a "clean break" shown above,  then you need to get rid of the whey. I know.. waaaay. No whey?  Way!  (I could go on and on with that one...)

This is where it gets fun.. grab the phone and call your friends to tell them you are cutting the cheese....curds. Cutting one big curd clump into smaller curds provides a larger surface area for the whey to drain. Because after you spent ALL that time getting ALL that milk... you need to dry it out as much as possible. Yet another crazy cheese truth.

Sometimes it takes a good long time to get as much whey out as possible. Above the curds are just floating around in the whey and draining. There is a lot of stirring and resting (the curds not you). One of my favorite recipes instructs you to stir the curds for 20 minutes. Non stop. Get a book, baby, or haul that huge pot into the living room and watch something on tv.... while stirring. Gently.

Next you'll have to get even more of the whey out by letting it drain. Sometimes you can just let it drain thru cheesecloth laid over a colander, like this:

Or sometimes you need to use a mold and pressure. Ideally you'd use a cheese press. I don't have a cheese press... they can cost a couple hundred dollars and in the Farm-o-nomics view of the world... well... you can buy a lot of cheese for a couple hundred bucks. So it was time to get creative. I was standing there trying to figure out how I was going to apply 40 pounds of pressure for 12 hours.

Just then one of the cats walked by... say.... wonder what I have that weighs about 40 pounds....I had an 'ah-haaaa' moment and so I invented ....

The kitty litter cheese press.

Mock if you must. There are actual cheese makers out there shrieking at the very idea of this... but it works.

The point is to provide constant pressure and allow the whey to drain out of the cheese mold. Voila! The buckets provided a framework mechanism and the bag-o-litter was just the right weight. Of course, safety first so I had to drag over a trash can to make sure the whole shootin' match didnt fall over on anyone.

I've refined my techniques since this shot... but Lehman's fancy press ain't got nothin' on good old Yankee ingenuity and Appalachian-American cheap. And no, there isn't anything that I can't do with kitty litter buckets. I consider them my most important farming tool.  And yes, The Big Man was horrified at me "Clampet-ing" up the time honored craft of cheese making.  For heaven's sakes.

Then you get to wax the cheese. And yeah - saying that cracks me up too. Just a little over $5 buys you a pound of cheese wax. Just plop it in a old pan, melt in a double boiler, dip or brush on the wax, and then just keep the leftover wax in the old pan for next time. Easy peasy and fun. Do not burn down your house. Wax can be combustible so don't even think about walking away from it.

The last step for some cheeses is letting them cure for several weeks to several months. We don't have a cold/cool basement nor a cheese cave... but we scored a wine fridge from craigslist at a reasonable price.  This allowed us somewhere to let the cheeses set at 53*.

The only downside to cheese making is that you don't always get to test your results right away. Sometimes you have to wait for months. But, I opened one of the cheeses early and I really liked it. It was drier than I thought it would be but it grated like Parmesan and was nice and sharp.

So now that you know the basics... get out there and cut the cheese!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Apple season is here! And fall activities

Its the best time of the year... apple season finally arrived. I LOVE it.... apple pie, apple crisp, apple sauce, apple pancakes, apple cake.. oh happy day! I'm working my way thru a bushel of these beauties. Our first apple crisp was heavenly.

Fall is moving right along. You'd think we'd get a bit of a break, but realistically things won't calm down until the last jar of lard is put up - sometime in late December or January. But at least the mornings are cool, the humidity is down, and the living is relatively easy...I'm loving the cool nights and open windows.

Here's what we are working on....

Yesterday we had some new friends come and get Ginger. Last week we took Vita back to be bred for the winter - we'll see her in the spring after she has her babies. And now we are getting Debbie and Nibbles ready to be shipped off to be bred.  They will be with us for the winter when they get back from their dates. They are out there trying to figure out who is the boss of whom. There is a lot of running and chasing going on...when they aren't laying around in the afternoon sun, that is.

Either tomorrow or Friday we are butchering roosters from The Rooster Crew.  They are entirely out of hand these days and are causing chaos in the barnyard.  They have been acting like a gang of thugs terrorizing the hens and the turkeys. One of them has already earned the position of "first" while a second had better watch his P's and Q's... he was crowding me this morning. The dogs set him straight.

We still have a couple of ducklings and 2 sets of baby chicks popping around so we are keeping an eye on them... Happy is still the happiest little duck I've ever seen. What a charmer! 

The hens are getting back into the swing of laying after several weeks off.

We are getting everything picked, packed, and canned or frozen.... and I'm making cheese like a mad woman.

And we are working double time on the pigs so we can get them ready to butcher. Mostly we are just feeding them everything we can our hands on.  We are also working on chainsawing down to the pond to give them more room and allow them to clear out all the bramble. So there is more fencing in our near future.

The good news is that they are already starting to take up the corn in the fields all around us.  We'll be out there picking up all the free corn after the combines go thru... we know folks who let us glean.  "Free" is always good when you have this many little bodies to feed so we are thrilled.

Oh. And if you are concerned about The Great Canned Pumpkin Shortage of 2010.... we got it covered.  Along with these lovely butternut squashes... there are always the monster squash that Pepper is so interested in... you know.. I think something is going on with them. Hum....

That's the news that's fit to print! Happy apple season everyone!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ginger - found a wonderful new home! Thanks G and the Girls!

We are thrilled to announce that our gal Ginger found a WONDERFUL new home. G and her Girls came to pick up Ginger today. Ginger went right to them... and everyone was very very happy.

G - thanks so much! We know that Ginger will have a great home with you!

Its Ginger! Sunny personality, easy going, gets along with others. 

La Mancha x Boer, no papers but look at this little face! Born March 11, 2010. Full sized La Mancha mother is a great milker.

Aside from the small La Mancha ears, Ginger is all Boer. Nice conformation, sturdy and fun to be around.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Star and more

I was shocked to my shoes when Grandpa from Life on The Farm passed on the You Deserve a Star Award to me.

Me? Seriously? When I clicked back thru the sites that this award has passed to I was even more shocked ....it came from real writers. They talked about the art of writing, their habits, and what inspires them. I don't consider myself a writer. At all. More of a teller of ridiculous things that happen to me.

I think I'm a bit of a disappointment to those real writers. I talk about whatever is happening out in the barnyard. Folks ask me where I come up with this stuff and honestly, I don't make it up. Its all happening right out there in front of me. I'm just a reporter here on this funny farm.

My writing habits are a bit lame. Most of the time I'm at my "Command Center" - my laptop on my baking table in the kitchen. Usually there are at least 2 or 3 members of The Insane Cat Posse fighting to get up on my lap. Almost always there is barn dirt on the floor around me from when I drug it in on my boots. Half the time I have one ear open toward the barnyard listening for malfeasance... and more than likely there is something going on stove. So I pound out a couple sentences and try to keep myself organized. 

Mostly I blame my friend, Kelly, for all this nonsense. She really got me organized and headed in the right direction. She is a real writer. And editor. And coach. After a lot of prodding from her I started this blog last winter and I guess it just kinda took on a life of its own. I think she liked my stories that I'd send her about what was going on here. So that's how it all started.

I am glad, tho, if I made you laugh....or helped you solve a barnyard problem... or gave you an inspiration to get out there and do something farm-y.

So, Grandpa, I humbly thank you very much. I'm a little bashful about these things, but I'm very honored.

I think Kelly would be a little disappointed if I didn't include a funny story... so I'm doing a second post today with the real life tale that got this whole thing started.

But first... I think I'm supposed to pass this along...

First for Kelly because this is all her fault.....

And for Mimi - back atcha, baby!

Girl. Drives. Truck. The Prequel.

In honor of my friend Kelly I present to you,“The Big Red Affair” or “Girl. Drives.Truck. The Prequel.”

This event happened the first summer after I moved to The Good Land. We were still living on the Old Farm back then. And I was still adjusting to the culture shock of living in a small town. I was not in the Big City anymore and this tale proved it. Names have been changed to protect the innocent....such as they are.

OK to set this up I need to remind everyone about Big Red - our big ol' three quarter ton Ford F-250, extended bed, extended cab, 4 wheel drive, fire engine red work truck. We love Big Red. Unlike in civilization, no one here gives me the finger on the freeway or cuts me off. Especially when I'm driving Big Red with the country music blaring, the NRA sticker in the window, and the big ol' police badge on the back license plate. Whoot!

And now the story.

Generally The Big Man drove Big Red to work. But one week I thought I'd use it and he could drive one of our many other Ford trucks because what could happen? Right? Right.

So one sunny fall day I drove Big Red into town to get the mail (because they didn't deliver out there). I happened to park next to the curb at the post office but didn't think anything about it. Whatever. I waltzed on in and ask for the certified letter at the counter as we had a pick up notice in the box.

The post lady said to me “So, who are you? Are you Mrs. The-Big-Man? I noticed that we got some mail for you."

And she was giving me that disapproving look because what I had received was my unemployment check. Back then not every third person was laid off so I was considered a bad seed. And I was a newcomer. Still using my old name. No one had ever asked me anything like this in the Big City. Mostly folks there just avoid eye contact and hope no one talk to you.

Not wanting to share all my business I just stammered “Umm... err...Sure I'm Mrs. The-Big-Man.”

Now technically I wasn't Mrs. The-Big-Man. Yet. I was still going by my pre-married name...and out here its just easier if they just think you are already married... No harm, no foul, and what the preacher doesn't know won't cause a stir at church.

So out to the truck and off I went. But a weird thing happened as I was pulling out. I briefly felt the truck roll up on the curb... and then there was this horrible screeching, grinding noise. It was awful - metal on ...something.. oh geez! oh geez!... and then I was stuck.

Yep. I was stuck. Some how I ended up with one tire on one side of the curb and the other tire on the other side of the curb...and on the sidewalk about 18 inches lower than the parking lot... which meant I was run aground. Stuck. Really stuck. Incredibly stuck. No, I could not go forward and no, I could not go back. Stuck. The truck was straddling the curb and would not budge.

“Well this was much worse then the time I got Big Red dug in up to the axle in the muddy field.” I said to myself hoping I wouldn't have to call and confess I was stuck in a big ol' 4x4. In town. On a dry day. On pavement.

“GOOD NIGHT! Honey, how did that happen?”  The lady from the post office came running out to see what was what.

Then a guy from across the street came running out... then the lady from the business next door showed up. A crowd had started to gather.

And of course I had been painting all day so I was covered in paint, and dust, and you know I'm always pretty grungy anyway. More people came out of their homes. Everyone was looking. There I was for all the world to see, enormous red truck, paint in my hair...stuck. Obviously stuck.

Just when I thought it couldn't get worse the town sheriff showed up, blue lights flashing and all. Beaufort T. Beerbelly and his side kick Johnny Law stepped out of their patrol car.

“Say boys, ain't this a bi*ch?” I called to them gesturing to the stuck truck.

They were not amused at all. 

From behind his mirrored sunglasses Johnny Law drawled,  "Women drivers... no survivors.. that's for sure."

Now all y'all know very well I got me a 'screw you attitude' that extends about a mile in all directions and I'm very happy to tell just about anyone exactly what I think of them. So after that comment I was feeling my Irish getting up and I reared back to tell this local yokel exactly what I thought. 

But then it occurred to me that I might just be in some kind of violation for demolishing their curb and blocking an intersection. Best to keep quiet and be cooperative. I smiled though gritted teeth.

“How'd that happen?” They asked.

By this time about 14 people had already asked that and I was starting to make things up. “Aliens. Yes, aliens came down and did this.”

“Bears! It was bears!”

Or my personal favorite, “This is how we do it, West Coast Style...I'm parkin' it like its hot.” 'Cuz you know I'm cool like dat and I like to rap like this. And like this.


Of course the cops couldn't help me a bit. But they informed me that this happens to a lot of people. Nice. Now what?

Well, Jean from next door called out that she was headed over to get James and he could probably help me. Off she went. No really. I'm telling you she got in her car and drove away to find him! No one in civilization will even give you the time of day let alone get in their car and go and find someone to help you with your stuck truck. I was amazed.

I wondered who this James was but apparently everyone knew him. I gathered this from the murmurs of approval from the crowd.

Well, I figured it would beat calling The Big Man and telling him that I was stuck on the curb.

More people gathered. And of course every third car honked so they could wave at the sheriff. Just about everyone in the county drove by. One ol' boy in a beater K car that was draggin' its back end drove by and called out that he'd be back if I still needed help after he picked up his kids.

Others offered helpful advice. “Well you know, Missy, that truck has all the power it needs to just back right over that curb. All's you got to do is get in there and gun it... but it would probably rip that tire right off.”

Perhaps we could strive for the least amount of damage?

A busload of jeering children went by. A gal with big hair and frosted lipstick in a similar red truck which was not stuck on a curb drove by giving me the head shake and the “Um.. umm. Umm.” And then she yelled out “How'd that happen?”

Elves. Mean elves did this to me.

I resorted to witty conversation with Johnsonville's Finest. “Say, is this the most interesting thing that has happened to you fellas all day?” I asked hoping to break the awkward silence.

They both turned, simultaneously, looked over their mirrored shades, stuck their thumbs in their belts, and said flatly, "No."

The sun blazed. I looked for a hole to crawl into. Even more people came by to offer advice and ask, “How'd that happen?”  Neighbors came out on their porches and called other people. They drove by also.

Finally James showed up in what looked to be the tow truck straight off the Dukes of Hazzard set. He screeched in, tools a-bangin', smoke billowing. I have to say, that man was hand picked to live in our little town. Yes, he was wearing a NASCAR t-shirt. Yes, he had several teeth missing. Yes, he had a bushy beard. And I swear the beer belly on this guy was amazing, not for its size but for its definition. I was literally stunned that his belly was perfectly round. Anyway. Predictably he asked, “How'd that happen?” Sigh.

To his credit, Toothless Joe (aka Skeeter, aka Cooter, aka James) sprang into action. He jacked up the truck, built a ramp of 4x's and provided polite yet pointed instruction about how I should back the truck up slowly... a shimmy and a shake and a roar of the motor ...and...and Bob's your uncle... I was FREE!

So I paid James ten whole dollars for the fee. But I felt so awful that I had to give him a little extra - I called it beer money. Then I headed over to the ask Jean if there is any way I can thank her for driving over to get James?

“Oh Honey! Its the Lords work! That's Jesus for you! God just loves you honey!” She happily exclaimed and she very nearly smothered me with a hug.

As I walked back to the safely parallel-parked Big Red I heard someone from the post office ask the post lady, “Who's that?”

“THAT'S Mrs. The-Big-Man.”

I skulked away. It cost me $10, a case of beer, and all my pride but Big Red and I drove off into the sunset.

And that's what happened.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What I know about goat breeding

Ohmigosh. I think I'm going to have GSA...Goat Separation Anxiety.

Self portrait: A Girl and Her Goat

Today we dropped Vita off at the breeder. She happily trotted off muttering something about being "glad to get away from that circus."  She rejoined a prize winning, professional herd of about 25 dairy ladies for the winter.

But we'll see Vita again in the spring after she "freshens" - that's goat-speak for "just had her babies and is ready to milk."  We are wildly lucky to have a very unusual arrangement with Vita's original herd. We have her during the spring/summer as our milker...but then she goes back for breeding. The breeder keeps or sells the babies and we get our gal back ready to milk in the spring. Most folks aren't lucky enough to have this kind of relationship - for us it works great.

So now that you have a couple of cute little doelings out there and you'd like to milk them in the spring... OK... now what? Well, go and get a cup of coffee and let me tell you what I know about goat breeding.

Just like all mammals, goats need to have a baby in order to produce milk. Since she's a dairy gal we keep her in production by breeding her in the fall for spring babies. This is the natural cycle for "alpine" goats - which breed in the cooler weather. Some Nigerian Dwarf goats breed year round, but fall breeding seems pretty standard.

There are a couple options for breeding your goats. First, you can have your own buck (an intact male goat sometimes called a "billy"). Or, you can be very lucky and have 4H neighbor kids who have a buck. Or you can take your lady goat on a "date" also called, stud service. And yep. It's exactly what it sounds like.

Professional breeders offer their bucks for stud service. There is a fee for this service, sometimes there is an additional fee for boarding, sometimes they don't want to house your doe in their barns and they provide temporary accommodations for um.. that is.. ahem.. "the deed."  Generally you leave your doe at the breeder, sometimes for a while, to make sure she was bred. Nibbles was at the breeder for three weeks. Debbie was over at the Good Neighbors with their buck for several weeks. I found it to be very stressful but no one was upset about it but me.

Around here stud fees are usually about $50. You can find breeders on craigslist, whoever you got your goats from, by asking your vet for recommendations, and don't forget your 4H contacts.

Recently I was part of a conversation where a breeder flat out rejected the notion of using a stud service. Their position was that it was dangerous to expose outside goats to their herd. The breeder couldn't believe than any responsible owner would use this option. While its true there is a risk both to the breeder and the doe owner, not everyone can have, or wants to have, a buck. And for heavens sakes. Its not like you'd just drive by any old crack house, toss your doe out, and wish her luck!  Use common sense, ask for recommendations, and make sure you get all of your questions answered. Many breeders have websites with information on their buck's pedigree and their statements of health.

Transmission of disease is the big concern about having strange goats tromp thru your barn. There are several goat diseases which are contagious and could wreck havoc to a herd. Once introduced they are hard to get rid of and if your goat is a carrier she will be hard to sell, could spread disease to her babies or the rest of your goats, or die. So its important to do your research and weigh your options carefully.

For us, we don't have any problems with using a stud service. Mostly because we don't want to have a buck on our property. Bucks generally have to be housed separately from does - especially dairy does as they may get an off taste in their milk. Also bucks in rut STINK. Like stink horribly. Like have to bleach your clothes to get the smell out of them stink. They stink worse than pigz, if you can believe it.

You also have to consider that you will have to feed and house another animal that only has one job. And just like any intact male barnyard animal, bucks can be dangerous. A full grown Boer buck can weigh up to 200 pounds. Even if he was bottle raised... he may not always be your friend. For these reasons, we do not want a buck. Plus, we have great breeders and have full confidence in them and their herds.

However, my pal Freemotion, has a great alternative to having a buck. She gets a young buckling, keeps him until he breed her dairy ladies, then sells him. Even very young bucklings (I think as early as 4 months) can successfully breed does. At this age they are not stinky and are generally smaller and easier to handle. I think this is a great solution - but we still don't want to deal with an animal with only one purpose. Right now everyone has to work and a buck wouldn't fit in.

How do you know when to take your goat to the breeder?
She'll have her first heat of the season about this time of the year. Look up the info on your specific breed to find out how many days apart her cycle is and then start tracking the days. Plan on taking her to the breeder a couple days before she has her next heat.  Most folks breed their ladies in October or November for March or April babies.

How can you tell if your doe is in heat?
If your goats are normally loud, they will get louder. If she hasn't said a word all summer, she'll be out there yelling her fool head off.  If you have Nubians or Nigerians they will scream like they are being murdered. Your ladies will moon around like a bunch of teenagers in loooooooove, they will wag their tails in a way you've never seen before (called "flagging"), and they may get some discharge from their...um.. er... that is... I believe the technical term is "hoohoo." They might fight or try to mount each other. Basically they will act ridiculous and like they have ants in their pants.  By the time their next heat comes around you'll be very happy to pack them up and send them off to the breeder.

Nibbles gets a head start on becoming a fattie. Hey Tubby, step AWAY from the food!

When they get back they will be moody. Not so much at first, and you might not even notice. But as soon as they start packing on the pregnancy weight you'll see. Prepare to hand out tissues, give them pickles and ice cream (not really!), and fan them with palm fronds while they complain how fat they are. This goes on for about 5 months, depending on the breed. If you are lucky and have cold winters you won't have to see it all day long and your ladies will just hang out in the barn, getting fatter, and complaining about the service.

So that's what I know about goat breeding. Of course, don't take my word for it. Break out the Storey's Guide, check out the http://fiascofarm.com/ site, and get all your does.. I mean, ducks lined up.

Now get out there and interview some breeders, put together a calender, and watch your goatie ladies. When they start drawing hearts with "I luv Justin Beiber" in the dirt, run - don't walk - to the breeder.

Happy breeding season everyone!

Monday, September 6, 2010

What's in your sink? Cuteness!

What's in your sink? Today my sink is full of cuteness:

Seriously - how funny is this little one? He needed a little clean up and I didn't want him to get too cold.

Fall fell a couple days ago - hard.. we are so glad. Enough of the heat! Bring on the cool!  The last several mornings have been in the 40*'s and the air has been crisp. We have even had some leaves fall off the trees.

I've been tidying up the gardens. Its time to take up the sunflowers. I've been cutting down the tall stalks and saving up the heads full of seeds. I'll keep the seeds for next year as well as for treats for the hens during the winter.

The animals love the cool weather - there has been a lot of goings on out there. And its dark by 8pm so we've had to get an earlier start with evening chores. Even The Rooster Crew wants to go in.... makes it much easier to get everyone shuffled in and bedded down. We think someone has replaced our guinea hens. Both Bob and Roy have run directly into their coop the last several nites. No wild chases across the neighbors yard or anything. I think something is afoot.

Floppy took her chicks on walkabout for the first time this morning. They all gingerly made that big hop down from the hen house door stoop. This is her little white one - that's a fine looking chick, Floppy, a fine looking chick indeed.
This white chick is huge compared to the others. He's got a splash of grey on his wings.

The last couple days have been a little frustrating. We've had some wins and some losses. The worst loss was last night. We found a strange dog down toward the pond... eating one of my favorite laying hens. Poor Pebbles just didn't deserve that at all. She was an older hen - one of our original five. We saw the dog trotting off...it wasn't the Bad Neighbor's dog...it was one from down the road. I do not understand people who let their dogs run loose. Looks like we'll be doing more fencing.

For now, I'm gonna start another cheese before I head out for evening chores. We sampled one that we made earlier this summer... I think it might just work out.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thursday Happy Snaps

We are having our (supposedly) last hot day and its been a doozy. But I got in a few more jars of tomato sauce and some salsa before we closed up the house and turned on the AC.

A few quick happy snaps of what's going on here....there has been a lot of cuteness:

I have a flock of geese! That's Penny in the lead.  The Meeps aren't little anymore - they are nearly full grown.

Remember little DB and Little G? Our Inside Meeps? This is DB now... he's a stunner.

Little Bianca hatched this little darling - we are calling him Happy. And he is. I'm betting he is a micro duck. He's little but fast!

Floppy, concentrating really hard on her nest while a couple of cuties pop around. She hatched 5 chicks in all. Three are this brown chipmunk stripe, one all white, and Red.  Floppy is a brown leghorn, which are normally not known for broodiness. I tried to get her out of the brooder this morning but she wasn't having any of that foolishness. She took the brood very hard and she needs to get up, move around, and get a dust bath.  The chicks are doing great tho.

And the pigz having a big time. 

Our Good Neighbors let us have several rows of spent corn. We cut the stalks down to a nub and gave the whole thing, stalk and ears, to the pigz. These two are growing really well. We are almost to the point where we will stop giving them hog feed and instead we will "finish" them on corn, milk, eggs, and fruit/veggies and whatever else we can find out of the gardens.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Nibbles being cute

Whew! So I'm finally back online. Some wingnut went flying off my computer's flux capacitor and we had to get a whatzit to get it patched before we lost structural integrity. Or something. All I heard was 'blah blah blah blah that will cost you $60."

Anyway - I'm getting caught up with everyone. In the meantime, Nibbles wanted to send a special "hello" to her very favorite Auntie Sally:

Nibbles is looking great these days - we think she looks like a seal. NOT a toad, as some of speculated.

Happy First Day of September everyone!
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