Friday, December 9, 2016

Hay Feeder For Three Please

 Feeding our livestock is just another challenge we've had here, not because we're new at this animal thing, but because we're new at doing it with less moola. On the big farm we had big metal hay feeders like these:

They worked well for feeding huge round and square bales to 20 or 30 head of cattle at a time. But those feeders, too big for our needs here, were sold this past summer. Now that pasture season is gone we needed a way to feed winter hay to our petite herd of three steers.

So as is his skill, Keith rummaged through what was on hand (and leaning against various trees) and constructed this feeder without purchasing a single item:

Open near the back where the electric wire runs, it allows easy access for us to fill. In the front Keith cut a large V in a leftover piece of wood, which allows our biggest steer to pass his head and horns.

Whereas the sides have narrower slats which he cannot fit his head into. We hope. Cattle can be cattle. This allows the two smaller calves to eat alongside the big steer, without him pushing them out of the way. Keeping hay up off the ground helps decrease parasite issues and allows us to monitor how  well they are eating over the winter, which is a prime time for weight loss as extra energy is used by the animal  to maintain body heat.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Well Hello Winter

My Writers Studio

It happens every year, and yet I still find it special, that first snow.

Some years we get a few flurries with the initial cold weather shift, but this year we got the real deal, about 5 inches of heavy wet stuff two days ago.

I run nostalgic about first snows, remembering the big storms of my life like the huge Chicago snow of 1967. I was eight years old and we lived in a three story walk-up. With three other babes at home, my father took my six old sister Mary and I out into the storm of the century to bring home bread and milk. He pulled us on a sled down the middle of Ashland Ave. where no motorized vehicles were running. It was exhilarating!

Image result for chicago snow 1967
  Image result for chicago snow 1967

This snow, 49 years later, was absolutely benign compared to that, but still; it reminds me of my fathers' ways: his intent to keep his family safe, warm and fed, his desire to prove a little weather couldn't slow him down, his unending love to have fun in life.

Thankfully, we had our animal shelters secured just prior to our minor snow of 2016, and our Rocket Mass Stove is working just fine. My horse Ennis though, only occasioanally hangs out in her livestock trailer shelter.  She's always been a bit of a snow bunny.

We do need a good tarp for our sole tractor as there is no barn or garage (yet) to house it. Take note for anyone related to us reading this blog, who needs a Christmas idea. Yes, subtle, that's me.

Of course, someone always gets stuck in our drive, which is sorely lacking for a good bed of gravel. Problem solved with the old truck and a chain pulling out the newer truck.

This next weeks temps will drop into the teens but for us, frozen ground is so much better than the deep mud we had yesterday after the temp went up and melted about half the snow. All our ground hoses are out of commission now for the season and water must be carried to our livestock, which is not too much of a burden since our numbers are so small compared to the years we were on the big farm. We carry multiple five gallon buckets for one horse, two cows, four steer and the chickens/ducks. The dogs and cats drink out of any of those water troughs as desired.

Our Looney Bin was built between a tall thick grove of Evergreens on the south and smaller trees; a Weeping Mulberry, an Aspen, a grove of wild Plum. After this snow it looked like we tucked inside a fluffy ball of cotton candy, where the wind never really hits us, but just swirls around us.

Not a bad place to be.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Depression Moves into My Studio

My grandparents, Tom and Josephine O'Shaughnessy, lived for some time on Moody Avenue in Chicago. We lived only blocks away, in my early childhood, and we visited them often. Their home was typical of a couple who raised their children during the Depression. A few good pieces of solid wood furniture, but mostly hand-me-downs from others, a real hodge-podge of style. But, it was warm, comfortable and inviting. It was my grandmother who taught me to always offer coffee and something to eat to any guest who visited. She also read me my first poetry as she was a published poet herself. She would have me sit at her feet while sitting in her rocker, reading her own poetry and the poems of her mother, to me.  I loved her dearly and still cannot believe I was only seven when she died, as my recollections of her are so strong. 

It's those memories that are forefront as I create my little writers studio. After repainting the walls a neutral grey and leaving the window trim and loft beams, deep red, I gathered all the vintage rugs we had from the old farm house and covered the contemporary vinyl floor from wall to wall. The large red rug above was a giveaway to us over 20 years ago, I have no idea how old it is, but we had thousands of family meals over that thing as it sat in our dining room. You can't see it in the pics, but there is a metallic green paint spot in the middle. A gift from a grandchild, which makes the rug that much more valuable to me.

My recent score is the matching couch and chair (above) which I found on Craigslist. It too has a story. Purchased in 1935 by a young farm couple in rural Melvin, Illinois, this Sears brand set was their "company furniture". Long since passed, their grandson, about my age, told me of visiting his grandparents often but never being allowed to sit in the front room where the matched pair resided. That room was only used when the pastor or other important folk dropped by.

Consequently, the two pieces are in excellent shape for their age and much smaller than they appear. My feet rest firmly on the ground when I sit in the armchair which is a thrill, because at 5ft 1in my feet often end up dangling mid air Lily Tomlin style.

Image result for lily tomlin in the big rocking chair

My kids don't think much of the furniture with its flowered seats and mossy green upholstery, wondering why I would spend money on something that was-For Gods Sake-over 80 years old, but they're young and not too sentimental as a rule. I have a feeling though my GK's will like them. I hope so because I plan to leave them the pair. After I have them sit at my feet and listen to MY poetry.

Next up for my studio: the conversion of my parents 1950's buffet into a desk, the hanging of vintage artwork for the walls (I have a few Andrew Wyeth prints that will fit ) and lots of shelves for lots of books. Oh, and some sort of small wood stove or propane heater. Eventually electricity would be fab as well.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Animal Shelter Completion 2016

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. 

Not just a quaint country saying but our real life mantra. Livestock shelter has been a challenge for us as our finances dwindle and we work towards that goal of getting by on less, and less, and even less. On the old place we had a HUGE barn that sheltered over a hundred animals at one point. Here, there is no barn at all but creative farmer-geneering will get us and our few critters though the winter.

A couple of days ago Keith finished the last puzzle piece to animal shelter 2016 by creating this shed for our four young steers.

Three of the steers are under six months while one is just over a year. It is by far the most convoluted of all our shelters on the property but the dang thing is solid and will provide a good dry spot out of rain and snow and wind for our beefy boys.

Keith started with our original hog farrowing hut, thus my "maternity ward" lettering, that we had brought from the old farm, and used as chicken coop for the last year here. But when he remodeled the old well house, which used to be an old wood shop into our "new" chicken house, this small building was empty.

Too short for the yearling steer to get into, Keith used a variety of materials to build a three sided lean- to and attach it to the farrowing shed turned chicken coop turned calf shed.

These materials included old pallets, leftover wooden gates, old plywood panels, corrugated metal panels removed form the 100 year old collapsed barn on this property and four rubber horse stall mats (for the roof) gifted to us by one of my sisters. (Thanks again Teresa and John!)

 Sure, it's a bit homely, but it is sturdy and dry. 
Much the same can be said about the author of this blog. 

And now a quick review of all our critters homes for this upcoming winter.

The Chicken Coop that used to be a well house that used to be a wood shop

The cow shed/milking parlor that used to be a steer shed on the old farm

The original Poor Farm Feed Shed which remains a feed shed and storage shed
The section on the right is original to the farm from 1856 but the addition of the 
left is probably from the 1970's 

The Horse Barn which is really a livestock trailer.
We move it in and out of her pen when we have to haul hay or take animals to the locker. 

The Decrepit House circa 1865 
Used for storage and dog housing

One day we will have gathered enough materials and financial  resources to have a real barn again, but until then we're make do, because we don't want the animals to do without. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saponification Saturday

As promised I've got several more soaps to choose from if you are thinking about Christmas gifts. These last two weeks I've been playing with hot process soap making which involves a crock pot. The recipes are the same , lye solution plus various oils, but rather than pouring in a mold right away, where the saponification process takes place over several hours and cure time can take weeks, the hot process soap is "cooked" in the crock pot. 

This extra heat speeds up the saponification process, the soap is glopped into a mold as it is far too thick to pour,  and the soap is ready to use as soon as it cools. The cold process soaps are solid in appearance and the hot process soaps are more opaque, like this Peppermint number below:

When hot process soap is used it also takes on the appearance of stone or granite, especially when it is wet. Yes, the soap above and the soap below is the same bar. I have 8 Peppermint bars available. UPDATE: ONLY 6 LEFT.

Here is another hot process bar made with Alkanet for the deep purple color and Maddor root for the pick color. it is scented with Lavender and Geranium Rose, a sweet smelling bar. I have 8 lavender/Geranium Rose bars available. UPDATE: ONLY 4 LEFT.

If you prefer the look of cold process soap I've made more of the Eucalyptus scented ones, colored with three shades of green by using Nettle Leaf powder. The colors are subtle and range from a grey-green to yellow-green to a moss green. I have ten eucalyptus bars available.

Final offering this week is my Coffee Soap made by the Cold process method with dark coffee for the coloring and a blend of Cinnamon and Cedarwood for the scent. I added a few coffee grounds to the top layer for exfoliation. Again, this soap is great for chefs or gardeners and it cleans hands well and does an excellent job of removing scents like onion and garlic. I have 10 coffee bars available. UPDATE: ONLY 7 LEFT.

A reminder on how this works. Each bar has been made in a limited quantity and it's first come first serve, All are made with pure essential oils for fragrance, I never use fragrance oils and a combination of the following base oils depending on the soap bar: coconut oil, castor oil, olive oil, sweet almond oil, shea butter, mango butter, rice bran oil. These are large, hefty bars weighing approximately 5.5 oz. each.  They are $5 each plus shipping. Email me at if you need more info or wish to order. 

Thanks so much!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thankful, Beyond Measure, for the GK's

 Yesterday was Thanksgiving but Keith and I spent it doing non-turkey things: finishing the trim in our bathroom, adding another shelf to my wee office space and cooking for todays events. We'll meet later at my sister Mary's house for a meal with the rest of the family.

But in the tradition of recognizing ones blessings this week I must comment on how thankful I am for these four youngsters, our grandkids or GK's as I like to refer to them. Ranging from age fifteen to sixteen months we are so lucky to live within fifteen miles of each of them. So many grandparents see their GK's only a few times a year, if that, while it is rare for us to go just one week without seeing one of ours. We are ridiculously fortunate. 

Since the first one came along we've included them in our farm work. Much of their time with us has been outdoors. Each of them can proudly say they've been on the back of a cow (yes, we do own a horse as well, but anyone can ride one of those) have gone snout to snout with a piglet, have helped collect eggs, and have gone home to their parents with a thick blob of manure on the bottom of their shoes, if not their cheek. They have all owned their own pair of chore boots, kept at the ready for their return, except Easton, as he is just learning to walk. Guess what he'll get for Christmas this year?

Our youngest GK, baby Easton

Next up, Wesley age 9. 

Then there is Allana, now 12.

And finally Nicole, a high school freshman

Small farms are rapidly disappearing from the American landscape while large automated corporations assume more of the 'agricultural work via automated machinery and transient employess. When we die we won't leave much, a few acres and a cozy grain bin house. It will be up to our four children to decide how to disperse this tiny property. We are hopeful one of the young ones above will choose to continue in this nearly extinct line of work Keith and I have chosen. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Off With Their Heads!

First, a shout out to T.M. blog follower, who sent me the most amazing email yesterday, thanking us for our work here on The Poor Farm and for sharing it on this blog. Contacts like that are rare in these times, we're all to busy to say Thanks most of the time, so when it happens it is deeply appreciated. Now, the topic of the day...
Today it is cold and windy, after a night in the low 20's.  The ground, the water pans, the hoses not yet put away, are frozen hard. Leaves have crashed to the ground and the laundry on the line will be stiff before it is dry. Winter is gearing up.

Just five days ago though, the sun was shining warm at a balmy 71 degrees F and as we'd planned for some time, we got to work. It was the end of the line for our broiler chickens.

We purchased our Freedom Rangers late this year but timing still was perfect, as they grew well in our mild Sept. and Oct. weather on fresh grass daily, leftover raw milk and organic grain. They also dined on tasty garden surplus like too ripe watermelon and buggy tomatoes.

It took us about an hour to wash up equipment and set up our killing field, which folks, is how it happens. The animals must be killed before they can be grilled. So often we get these horrified looks when we tell people we butcher our own birds, as if they believe the dead meat in their McChicken sandwiches was never alive at all. Such a total disconnect the average American has from their food. It appears in a can, or a box, or on a restaurant plate, and you eat it. End of story.

But there is so much more, like the living conditions of the animals before death ,which to many, like these "cage free" birds below, must be a real blessing.

Image result for crowded "cage free" chickens in big farms

There is also the food they consume before becoming our entrees of the week, which make all the difference in the taste of the final product and the health of the consumer. The birds above receive grains laced with prophylactic antibiotics, weird by-products and due to their crowded conditions, and pure boredom. the droppings of their nearest feathered neighbor.

Our birds were actually "caged" but in a very large cage, which was moved everyday to fresh ground, fresh grass, fresh new bugs and worms. Our large box had open wire sides so fresh air was a constant, compared to the environmentally controlled atmospheres in chicken factories, allowing the fly and grasshopper buffet to come and go 24/7.

One at a time we brought them up to our designated outdoor kitchen, (above) tied them by the feet, hung them upside down, grabbed their head and a very sharp Mercer knife (Thanks again Chef Tab for tipping me off about these great knives) and quickly slit their throat. We then lowered their body into a PVC tube to control any flapping, which is so minimal, and within a couple seconds, their life's blood has drained away and they are quite dead.

From there a dip and a swish in very hot (145-150 F) water, and then feather removal by our automated feather plucker machine, an investment we made years ago.

Now, the head comes off as the bird is gutted and cut into handy cooking pieces: one breast, one back, two thighs, two legs. two wings.

Even though I know this formula well, I still mange to pack up a bird with either no wings or four wings. Don't ask.

After cut and rinsed, we rinse many times, pieces are patted dry,  placed on a tray and partially frozen in our big freezer. Then they get sealed in our Food Saver. For years we just placed the meat in gallon freezer bags but the meat got freezer burn and many of our birds got made into soup or just chicken salad. Last year we bought the Food Saver and with the birds partially frozen, the air is vaccummed out easily making the final seal super tight.

Between set up, clean up, butchering and freezing, it took two of us 6 hours to do 22 birds. The Food Saver bags are too expensive and the chicks plus feed plus labor to feed and move them everyday, does not equal a cheap meal.

But it does produce an extremely tasty, healthy, self-satisfying one, well worth all our efforts.