Saturday, November 30, 2013

Life and Death

This is not a downer post but if you live on a farm you learn that death is a part of life itself whether you experience unexpected loss or you harvest an animal. If your lucky, you also get to witness a birth and no matter what the animal is it is a real privilege.

About a week ago we got up one morning and noticed that our ewe Tulip was pacing and then rolling on the ground and we knew she was about to give birth. You don't always get to witness these events because it can happen at night or they hide or your just gone for the day so we were all very excited to see this. I invite you to look at her face and look at the little bundle coming out; those little white things in the amniotic sac are hooves.

It only took about 10 minutes for the first one to be born and that is a little head you see. It was moving and trying to break the membrane. Sheep carry twins in separate amniotic sacs so we were privileged to see two distinct births.
This was Tulips second time around so she pretty much knew what to do and she is a very attentive mother.

So we had twins and they cry like a human baby.

Its crucial that they nurse and get colostrum in the first 24 hours so we were a bit apprehensive but it all worked out like it usually does.

The white one was the runt of the two and failed to thrive and we lost him but the little brown one who we have named Cocoa is healthy and active and she could be posted in Wiki as an example of cute.

So we had a birth and a death and the circle of life continues.
Its also been deer hunting season which is a very big deal here but this year opening day was warm and windy to about 50 mph and we didn't even see one deer. Holly and I were in our double tree stand and it was like a Disney ride we were tossed around so much. We normally get a couple of deer but the harvest numbers were way down this year due to the weather and probably last years drought but I did get this nice 4 point buck. He had a small rack but was heavy bodied with a nice fat cap and appeared to be very healthy.

This buck was pretty big bodied for around here. I was shooting a 30-06 Savage 110 with a cheap Bushnell scope and 180 gr Core Lokt ammo at about 130 yards while he was on the move following a doe. I thought I had missed him because I never saw him drop and the doe ran off flashing her tail right across the front of our stand but I didn't take a shot because I didn't know positively about the one I shot at (we had any deer tags and could have taken a buck or doe). I apologized to Holly for blowing two chances to fill our freezer and since these were the only two deer we had seen to that point I was really bummed. I am an excellent marksman with decades of shooting experience and I couldn't believe I missed. But I learned long ago to check and not just assume so I climbed down, crossed a creek and hiked over to where I had seen it and there it lay. It dropped so fast because I had shot it through the heart and thankfully missed all other organs so it was easy to gut.

I am including these pictures because I have noticed a trend where people will go out hunting and then don't want to gut or clean their harvest and I just think that's wrong somehow. I was talking to a butcher right before deer season and he said they get a lot of deer brought in and half the time the hunter hasn't even gutted the thing and then they pay $65 and up to have the animal turned into, no and no.

We use all parts of the animal, antlers for knife handles, bones for stock, the hide gets tanned, and we harvest all of the meat for steaks, roasts, stew meat and sometimes hamburger. And I want to slap those who take a beautiful backstrap like this one and turn it into hamburger or jerky.
Some people don't like hunting and I get that but if you hunt be respectful of your harvest and learn to enjoy the process of preserving and using it just like you do with growing vegetables. To me taking your deer to be gutted and butchered by someone else you don't know is like harvesting your crop and taking it to a store to have it canned. Life is good, we are living it to the fullest!

An Unexpected Visit

Shortly after returning from the wedding of our daughter Jenny to her new husband Steve up in Minnesota we were sitting in the family room on a Sunday morning when there was a knock on the door and it was them. They were on a driving honeymoon and had been to Niagara Falls, they swung by North Carolina to visit youngest son Alex and made the trek to see us and we couldn't have been more delighted.

Steve grew up on a farm in Minnesota but Jenny finds everything on our farm new and fascinating and its a lot of fun watching her explore and interact with the animals. She may be almost 30 but she hasn't lost her sense of wonder at the beauty of nature and I like to think she got that from me.

We got a kick out of her taking pictures of everything from the big animals to in this case a grasshopper Steve found for her in our pasture.

We used some ripe Juniper berries in a roast recipe we fixed for them and she was amazed when we just went out and got some off the trees and of course she had to take pictures. We did a lot of hunting, fishing, crabbing and gathering when she was growing up but the bounty of this area is something she finds unique.
Halloween is a big deal in our house because Holly and I married on Halloween and to us its a joyful day and marks the start of the holiday season. We may all be adults but we all still like to carve pumpkins and we have a blast with the kids who come for trick or treat. So, since they were here we all carved pumpkins.

Steve is a bit more artistic than most of us and carved an Insane Clown Posse pumpkin (I had to Google it) that looked just like the pictures on the Interwebs.

We are thinking that in the not too distant future there may be 4 generations here on the farm carving pumpkins..hint, hint

And so this is what our Trick or Treaters were met with when they came to our door, from left to right, Steve's Insane Clown Posse, mine, Jenny's, Judy's traditional, and Holly's rabbit jack-o-lantern.
It was short but it was a good visit.

Preserving the Harvest

I have been slacking on updating the blog but with school, fall harvest, lambing, a visit from the newlyweds, Halloween, wood cutting, Thanksgiving and hunting its been ...a bit busy!

One of the things we have enjoyed learning is preserving what we grow for use during the winter months. Not only does it help reduce the grocery bill and give us some great tasting fare, I think its an important skill to know particularly if you care about what you eat and where it comes from. We freeze, can with both a water bath and pressure canner, and we have discovered the wonders of dehydrating.

We took the green tomatoes and made a great green tomato relish that came out just like hot dog relish. We added in some of the green peppers, some onions, some pickling spices and vinegar and cooked it down and canned it and it tastes great.



We cut the bigger tomatoes into cubes, salted them and let the juices drain in cheese cloth and then cooked them down with all the spices and canned it.
The small ones we made into green tomato pickles and they are delicious and retain their tomato flavor.
We are pickle people and love pickles of all types and these guys are now some of our favorites.
We have been wanting to try dehydrating for a while now but it always seemed so complicated...its not. This NESCO dehydrator cost less than $50 and does a fine job.
We started with some of our late harvest green peppers..

We washed and cut them into small pieces, loaded them onto the trays, and turned the machine on and.. 

At the end of about 5 hours we had these dried up green pepper pieces that are so concentrated in flavor they would be a good snack. They will be great in soups and stews this winter and they got put into a freezer bag for storage in the dehydrating project down.
Then we washed and slit the various Serrano and Thai chilies and loaded them on the trays. Please note the use of Nitril gloves, I always have them on me in my medical bag but I highly recommend using them when your preparing your chilies.
We loaded up the trays (there are three) and took them out to the garage to turn on. The fumes will drive you out of the house if you don't.

We keep the seeds in them for an extra kick but it works fine if they are de-seeded. These are the dried result and again, they have a concentration of flavor that is amazing.

These also got put into freezer bags for storage in the freezer. Even though they are dehydrated you want to make sure they don't get moldy so just sticking them in the freezer is a good preventive measure.
Not all the peppers got dehydrated though. We decided to make some pickled peppers and they are very tasty in addition to being colorful.

That right there is a whole lot of heat and I have to be careful because I can sit down and eat half a jar...then pay the price all night!

We got a pretty good pear harvest this year after our fire blight scare last year (we thought we were going to lose all the pear trees in the orchard) and we canned a bunch for tarts and pies this winter. We lost the entire apple harvest (literally about 100lbs of apples) to deer. We just waited too long to harvest them and the deer wasted no time.

I love this time of year and we all enjoy canning. There is just something visceral in preserving what you grow and the smells as they cook are intoxicating.
And finally, we dehydrated a lot of herbs from our herb garden like this Basil.

Its important to wash everything thoroughly even though we don't use chemicals on our food gardens and we only dehydrate unblemished herbs.
So the pantry and root cellar are full to the point we have to buy more cupboards to hold it all but we will eat well and as I said before its a deep down feeling of satisfaction to be fortunate enough to have such a bounty to preserve. We grow our own vegetables, fruit, nuts, and herbs, we raise our own chickens who give us meat and eggs, we raise our own beef and lamb and next year we are going to try for some grain crops, peanuts, turkeys, quail and a hog or two.
Most people don't have the land to grow a lot of crops or raise livestock but even apartment dwellers can take advantage of sales and can preserve through canning or dehydrating. Give it a try.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Happenings Around the Barnyard

We have managed to accomplish a lot of the goals we had for this year and the year isn't over yet. We find that setting goals and objectives are essential for managing our various projects and getting this old farm up to a level where we aren't buried in maintenance/rehabilitation and we can be a productive farm.

Back at the beginning of the year we mentioned that getting electricity to the shop was a main goal along with at least starting to renovate the big barn. We would have done it sooner but life, other commitments, and finances got in the way so we got a bit of a late start.

We ended up having three power poles placed in the back (had to get a utility easement from a neighboring farm to tie onto his line). The meter will be placed on this pole with an underground power connection to the shop breaker panel which will be in the back left of the shop as you look at this picture. I still need to start the wiring inside but that will be pleasurable and we will end up with an outside light over the roll up door, a porch light, an outside 110 and 220v outlet and plenty of outlets and overhead lights inside. I want the 220 for my welder and so I can plug in the camper up there if need be.

One of the reasons we didn't go with a complete underground system was cost but we also wanted a dedicated transformer close to the shop so we didn't get too much voltage drop for the welder.

We have noticed that cats like to be in a box of just about any type and Whiskers has taken over this old abandoned flower pot.

Judy continues to make and sell quilts and still longs for her own quilting machine.....but they are upwards of 20K...can you imagine that for a glorified sewing machine? She still holds out hope though and maybe she will win the lottery.

The unexpected and early hard frost meant we had to harvest most of the remaining garden crops and in the next post we will show how we preserve this through canning, dehydrating and freezing. We got about 50lbs of mostly green tomatoes that will go into relish and green tomato pickles while some that had started to ripen will be allowed to fully ripen. We also got a mess of bell peppers and pounds of Serrano and Thai chilies along with some herbs.

We didn't plant as many sweet potato slips this year as I am not particularly a fan but we got a good harvest and what we don't sell we will store in the root cellar. Right now they are inside hardening getting their protective skin.

We got rid of most of the old doors on the barn and rebuilt them like they should be built and we have painted the trim white which looks so much better than the dreary grey trim. A barn should be red with white trim...I think its some kind of law (or should be). The hay loft elevator door still needs to be rebuilt along with the double door on the lower right.

We have a long way to go with new framing around the windows, some structural repair, refastening some of the tin, some new posts inside, and we have a few more doors to rebuild but just what we have done so far has made the barn much more useful and the paint really brightens it up.

For some reason the previous owner made some doors that opened out instead of in like they should be and they were made of thin interior grade lumber but we have rebuilt the doors with 2x6 pressure treated lumber with Z bracing inside and heavy duty hinges and barrel bolts.

We also need to touch up the paint on the bottom of the stem walls where the previous owner painted down to where the grass had grown up instead of trimming it and doing it right. I don't mean to harp and I am sure that plenty of people could criticize our efforts as well but some of the short cuts we have had to fix are aggravating.

We only cut hay on one pasture for the second cutting and ended up with 56 bales which compares to the total of 65 bales for all the pastures we managed during last years drought. We now have over 500 bales in the hay mow and its a very satisfying feeling.

That is a lot of hay for us to have put up but there is nothing like going into an old barn and enjoying the smell of the hay, the smell of the old machinery, and looking for all the treasures in an old

This claw foot cast iron tub that has good porcelain and only needs to be cleaned up and the bottom painted. It has all four claw feet intact which is hard to find and we will be installing this when we remodel our bathroom next year.

Buster our bull calf is growing and doing well and we are still expecting Louise to drop her calf before Christmas.

My best friend and wife Holly sure looked pretty in the fancy gown she wore for the wedding but I confess I much prefer her like this. Riding her four wheeler in the back pasture and scouting for turkey and deer. Its hunting season soon and we are looking forward to filling the freezer as we have almost consumed all of our wild game from last year.

Holly, Judy and I have found we get great pleasure from wandering around our little farm and seeing the results of our labors. It was a blank slate and so run down when we bought it that we didn't know where to start but now we see the fences and the corrals and the renovations and building additions along with the animals and the place is alive. We both gave up high paying jobs and opportunities to embark on this regrets what so ever.

Its hard to convey some of these scenes in pictures because the sounds and smells are just as big a part of the enjoyment (at least for me) than the sights. As I took this picture the new rooster was crowing in the background, Thelma (this cow) was slurping water, the sheep were bleating and Maybelle decided to get vocal up on the hill. No other sounds other than a few birds. The smells I also find pleasing, I have always liked cattle and the faint manure smells, the smells associated with their regurgitation (cud), the smell of the earth and the fresh air all combine for me to equal peace.

Another crop we haven't harvested yet besides the carrots still in the ground and the cabbage and broccoli that are thriving are these Persimmons. We have several Persimmon trees that all bear way more fruit than we could ever want and we offer it to anyone who wants to come pick it...its just that no one wants it in these modern times. Used to be they were a staple around here but along with Hickory nuts they aren't much sought after anymore. We plan to harvest them and make jam with them but you have to catch them when they are just ripe because they are very bitter until a frost softens them and brings out their sweetness.

They are very tasty when ripe and you can make bread and a bunch of other things with them but if all else fails......

The chickens love them and we supplement their daily scratch rations with Persimmons when they are available. One interesting thing we are still figuring out though is that they tend to ferment sometimes and we wonder if we are making alcoholics out of our chickens...hmmmm

And finally for this post, we harvested the last of our Asian Pears and will be canning these for use in tarts and pies this winter. One of the things we want to improve with this blog is that we want to show more of how we do things and the next post in a day or so will show how we are preserving this late harvest. We have a NESCO dehydrator which is very reasonably priced and it is a good way to preserve food even if you live in a city and want to take advantage of some of the sales that come up in the store. Nothing finer than preparing meals in the middle of winter with food you preserved and you just can beat the taste. So until next time....