Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Whittling Down the Livestock Numbers

In 1993, the year Keith and I married, we owned one steer, one horse, a few pet goats, a handful of chickens. Over the next twenty-two years we added milk cows for our state licensed dairy, which led to many more steers for our own meat and extra to sell to others. At our largest Keith was milking forty cows and we raised about twenty steer each year. We phased out the goats and added hogs, raising sixty to a hundred of them every year.  The chickens were joined by ducks, guineas, and peacocks. More fowl than we could ever count. Barn cats were everywhere. I added more horses and at one time we had four. We opened a retail store on our farm where we sold raw milk, eggs, frozen pork and beef and then expanded our sales to four grocery stores and ten Chicago area restaurants.

We were often so exhausted supplying decent certified organic food to everyone else, we ate only ate fast food and processed food for weeks at a time because who had the energy to cook?

Talk about insanity.

Then we got smart, sold the big farm and moved here. Over the last two years on The Poor Farm we have steadily sold off our livestock leaving just enough--we hope--to feed ourselves and a handful of family members who appreciate what we produce here.

So, as of today we are down to four steers, two milk cows, one heifer calf, three hogs, two dogs, three cats, three ducks, fourteen ducklings (as of yesterday)  two roosters, one horse  and EXACTLY twenty-nine hens. Last week we had many more poultry but we cleaned house by putting an ad on Craigslist, and selling ten redundant roosters and fifteen ducks.

It's beginning to feel like we might have control of this livestock thing.

The steers are a variety of ages. One goes to the locker in a couple weeks, two will go in 2018 and one more in 2019.

Of the two milk cows, Mucca and Liz, we've decided to keep Liz . She is older but so gentle and loveable I can't bear to part with her. Mucca has been listed on Facebook and Craigslist and we hope to have her sold soon. She's done well after calving for the first time a couple weeks ago but we don't need that much milk and can't afford to feed both of them. Besides, we just love Liz a little more.  We may keep Mucca's heifer calf as a possible replacement for Liz in three or so years.

Mucca's Craigslist Photo $1500 or best offer.

Keith demonstrating Mucca's gentle nature

Liz babysitting Mucca's calf

The hogs are vacationing with us for the summer only. In October they all go to the locker. One and a half of them will return to our freezer, while the rest of the meat has already been sold. Next summer we'll do the same, buy two or three feeder pigs, feed them for six months then eat them, selling any extra. This means no hog chores in the cold winter months!

Keith and I are a bit at odds regarding the number of chickens/ducks we need to keep for eggs and pest control. He wants more in order to keep bugs/flies and mosquitoes at bay but I want less as tired of chasing them out of garden, mulch beds etc...The breed we have, crested cream leg bars, are good for egg laying but not for eating. Too small. We'll order some broilers soon to butcher specifically in the fall like we do every year. Probably thirty or so.

The three cats are static, one neutered male, one neutered female, one Tom cat with no one to breed. Sucks for him but he uses his pent up energy to catch mice and moles!

The two dogs (one great Pyrenees and one Shepard/Huskie mix) are livestock guard dogs and will remain here till they die. We could not run the farm without them.

Fannie and our cat Tiger

The horse, Ennis, is purely for pleasure, but since I've done very little pleasure riding the last two years, her gig may be up as well. Keith says we should keep her, he knows how much I love to have a horse, but I say if  she isn't ridden this year BY ME, she goes bye-bye in the fall too. No, we won't eat her, likely I'll give her away to some young person whose always wanted a horse. But the to start riding again. Wish me (and her) luck.



Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Slaughter of Innocent Elms

We did not want to do it. This pair of elm trees were likely original to our farm (origin date of 1865), but they had to go, and last week they went.

The two trees were landmarks for us as when we drove up our road, as it was those two tall fellows, standing above all the others on our seven acres, that told us we were almost home. Sadly though, they were in the way of progress, progress referring to the building of our new (old) barn.

Elm tree #1 and the makeshift calf shed beneath it. It had to be dismantled and moved before the tree cutting began. It will now serve as the
summer digs for our three hogs.

Elm tree #2 next to the current feed shed. The inventory stored beneath
it, also had to be relocated.

If we moved the barn father away from these trees we'd pay more to run utility lines a longer distance, but if we built the barn in the shade of the trees and closer to the well and power pole, we took the risk of future building damage during a storm. As it was, all winter we worried about branches falling on the old feed shed, which eventually will be torn down, but currently shelters hay, straw and more. We didn't want to lose it before we were done using it and we didn't want the new (old) barn to be damaged after going to the trouble of rebuilding it.

Both trees had large dead branches just aching for a good wind to knock them down. We suspected internal rot as well.

So we contacted a young fellow in the trade who said he could take them both down for $1000, which is reasonable compared to other tree guys in this county. He came, he cut, and we paid. He and two buddies felled these two massive trees in less than four hours and spared the old feed shed any damage at all.

As hard as it was to see the trees go, we'd already made plans to use the limbs to build hugelkultur beds. If you're not familiar with this practice be sure to check out the link. In addition, we'll use the smaller limbs for next years fuel for the rocket mass stove, and we'll hollow out the two big stumps and use them as flower planters just at the entrance to our new (old) barn.

The $1000 paid did not include cleanup however, so that's what we've been working on this last week. Keith and our son Jason made some serious dents today in the huge piles of felled trees, and we have a path again for unloading more of the new (old) barn as it arrives. Next weekend we're renting an industrial size chipper for $200 and we'll make quick work of the smaller branches, those 6-12 inches in diameter, and thus have more mulch for our farm.

One can never have enough mulch.

And so, each week we get a little closer to the summer's end goal of  a completed barn.

At the end of execution day (from left) daughter-in-law Amanda, grandson Easton, Keith, and our sons Kyle and Colton explore the woodsy remains.

Friday, May 19, 2017

My Birthday is Not Just Another Day

Image result for photo of birthday cake with lots of candles

Two days ago I had a birthday and turned 58.
Thank you, thank you very much.

Some folks, when they get to a particular age or mind set, might say, "No big deal, it's just another day." I disagree. I believe birthdays should be recognized and celebrated. Some deserve BIG celebrations. I had one of those when I turned fifty, I still won't look at the video CD's made that night-apparently alcohol was served, and seventies rock music played. Maybe I'll peak at them when I turn ninety. Other mid-range birthdays, oh say like turning forty-three, will respond well to a dinner out, a bit of cake, a book of poems, or a big bundle of wildflowers.

But, I think all of them need to be appreciated in one way or another.  Think of the parental units. The majority of people on earth have had decent parents. Mine were. My mother struggled for the privilege of parenthood, miscarrying three times before I "stuck" as she would say. And although I cannot recall specifics, I believe they were thrilled when I was born on May 17, 1959. I did, after all, break their dry spell. Mom had five more youngsters after me.

Imagine how it might feel to them, if they were still alive, if I made this birthday announcement, "No big deal, just another day." A bit defeating towards their efforts, eh? If you are of a spiritual nature, this apathy towards one's birthday could be perceived as ungratefulness towards the Big Guy himself. I mean,come on, he does this miraculous thing, takes tiny microscopic DNA material and turns it into an entire human being and you're going to rain on that parade by announcing, "Birthday Smurfday, who cares?"

Even if your parents were of the wire hanger variety, or you are a card carrying member of  Eternal Skeptics of the Universe, imagine how those who care about you on an everyday basis: your spouse, your children, your self-involved boss, that snippy gal at the post office, would feel if you made one of your lethargic anti-birthday statements.

They would probably feel...sad. I know I do whenever I hear someone I love, express those thoughts.

I understand I am blessed. A husband, four children and their spouses, four grandkids, four siblings and a million gazillion Facebook followers, have made my birthdays feel anything but ordinary.  Yet, even if they were all gone and it was just me alone, I believe I would find some way, to be grateful to someone, about this amazing life I have been gifted with.

Two days ago I had a birthday and turned 58.
Thank you God. Thank you mom. Thank you dad.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Mud Room, aka The Dermot Healy Hall, Emerges

Let me just say first off, I deeply appreciate and admire those of you who disciplined enough to blog regularly, if not everyday then at least a few times each week. Even weekly is darn impressive.

Lately, time is barreling past me like a Kardashian racing to a lingerie sale.

In the last week we:

     Started the mud room
     Had our big metal pile removed
     Sold seventeen ducks and ten roosters
     Assisted Mucca with the delivery of her first calf
     Dealt with the new (old) barn pieces being delivered
     Ordered twenty-two more tons of gravel and spread it in the drive.
     Tore down the steers shed and relocated all items in the path of the new (old) barn
     Ordered and witnessed the execution of  two huge Elm trees to make room for the barn.
 Let's talk mudroom first. I'll hit the other events in future posts. Here are the before and after pictures.  A slab of concrete off the front (and only) door of The Looney Bin, turned into 48 SF of usable space for housing our chore clothes, boots, egg baskets, fur coats, etc.

Our friend Jay came and spent two days here lending us his tools and expertise.  We three shopped for all our supplies last Saturday morning at Menards  spending $630 of the $1000 we had budgeted for this project. Then Jay and Keith worked through crappy rain and cold conditions, as seen on the radar below, while I kept hot meals and coffee on the ready. All together it took them about 12 hours to complete 70% of the mudroom. Mudroom is its common name whereas The Dermot Healy Hall is its official uppity name, since all funding came through that fine Irish Poet.

They nailed the frame directly to the concrete using mostly new lumber and constructed a temporary roof for some weather relief. We also splurged on a new window and security door.


Then they added a layer of roofing paper as a moisture barrier.

The roof was created out of three leftover pieces from the Looney Bin when Keith cut out the original door frame. Placed horizontally the natural curve of the metal panels will help water run off the roof. One day we'd like to have a rain water collection barrel nearby. Keith recycled old lumber as roof supports since these panels are thick and heavy.

The third roof panel was tricky since it had to be cut to match the curve of the Bin.
but Keith measured and re-measured and got the job done with slow steady cutting., attaching it with a couple of buckets of caulk covered screws.

Jay framed in the metal door (below) and they used pieces of the metal siding from the collapsed 165 year old barn on our property, to cover the outside of the mud room. Keith had taken these roof panels off the old barn two years ago always knowing "one day" he'd have a use for them.

As you can see there is rust and several holes but we'll be covering the metal roofing, now mud room siding, with clear paintable caulk and then a coat of metal paint in silver to match the Loony Bin. This paint is made just for barn roofs and isn't cheap at  $40/gallon, but still well worth it.  By recycling the old barn roof panels we saved over two hundred dollars as we did not have to purchase new siding for the mudroom.

About 4 pm Sunday the guys called it quits just as the rain let up. Of course.  Today Keith is plugging all the holes and gaps with silicone caulk and Great Stuff expandable foam along with some tar paper tape. Later this week we will add batt insulation, plywood walls and finish the plywood bench Jay built. Then I'll paint the inside walls with Menards returned paint, only $5 a gallon. it's a light green and it'll do. After that, hooks for coats and shelves for gloves. I'm so excited and I just can't hide it.

I envision a flower box under the mudroom's window as well as some planters on either side of the door. I think bright red geraniums will go nicely with the crisp white door. Your thoughts?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Permission to Bury Ourselves, Sir.


Not sure if this is the cemetery of the Sale family or just a half price sale on family plots.

After 6 months of phone calls, and letters with no response in regards to our request to bury our dead here on The Poor Farm, I reached out again to the zoning office in our county. I was told a gentleman would arrive today with our permit application(s). Please note the pleural designation.

And so he did. With a knock on the door I was pleasantly served with three building applications. I'm not being sarcastic here, he was a genuinely friendly guy. He even played with our dog.

The first two applications were just the standard ones for new above ground building projects that mirrored the application we completed when we built this Looney Bin. One for the mudroom to be added over the concrete slab at the front of our wee circular home, and one for the new (used) barn/millhouse being dismantled  as I write. These basic "Application for Improvement Location" Permits are just three pages and do not require a fee payment. If I recall that comes later at about $150 each.

The third permit, for future underground activity, is the one I am most excited about.

Yes, I am very excited about planning our final resting area, our lounge for the newly deceased, our room temperature resort, our Horizontal Hilton, our localita' di decomposizione.  Sorry, a career in hospice nursing has long term warping effects.. As the gentleman who dropped off said permit this am said, "I've never heard of anyone wanting to do this before, this should be interesting."

Yes, yes it will. The permit is called "Application for Special Use" and is five pages with three pages of intructions. Not too bad. The fees however are heftier. $175 just for the initial application plus another $40-$70 to pay for the notice that goes in the paper about a public hearing that will take place. After the hearing the Zoning Board of Appeals "approves, modifies or denies request" for this special use permit.

It's nice to be called special isn't it.?
Keith's Ideal Final Resting Spot

    My Dream Final Resting Spot. I love road trips.

After that the County Soil and Water Conservation folk get involved to ensure no public waterways are compromised. This will run an additional $40-$150 depending on the complexity of the report that must be given back to the zoning board. Since we do not plan to build our cemetery near river, ocean or lake, I am hopeful this part of the process will be minimal.

There you have it. A fair amount of paperwork, map drawing, and public explanation about why we want to bury our own dead in an economically and ecologically responsible manner,  rather than pay $10,000 for some strangers to do it while utilizing caustic chemicals, steel coffins and concrete vaults that never decompose.

Should be a walk in the park.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Project Barn Again Begins.

Yes, it's ours, all ours, as soon as we write the check for $1000 and mail it to the farm manger,'s ours. Details, details, they will be the death of me.

A couple days ago the farm manger of the land where our new building-to-be sits, called us to confirm we could have it. The tenant farmers have already moved out their items stored in there and the crew we've hired to dismantle it have submitted all their liability insurance paperwork, to the farm manager. They will begin the week of May 1 (next week!) and expect it will take 3-4 days to move all the pieces her to The Poor Farm.

So, now I have to contact the zoning and building commissioner of our county to get all the necessary permits rolling. Prior to the buildings arrival we must have two very large Elm trees removed as they sit in the spot we plan to place our new used barn/milk house. it wasn't an easy decision to make the cut with these trees, original to the property and most likely over 100 years but they are in tough shape and need to go. Lots of dead limbs. If we don't remove them then the new used building is that much farther away from electrical poles; more distance equals more money for running new lines.

The tree guy came out Sunday, gave us a reasonable estimate and he'll start that job this Sunday or next he says. In addition we've stored many other items in this area and it'll all have to be relocated before the tree limbs start falling. After they are felled,  Keith and I will use a chain saw on the bigger limbs, setting aside some for next years rocket mass stove use, and then rent a chipper for disposal of the rest. Yeah, more mulch!

To fill in some of the down time...I'm just going to let those two words down time...sit there a bit. They make me laugh to say them out loud.

Ok, I'm over myself. To make good use of our time before the BIG building project gets rolling, our friend Jay-you remember him right? Last spring he helped built our grape arbor/morning glory arbor and compost bin.

Anyway he's coming this Saturday to help us build our first tiny looney bin addition, a mud room. yes, this means another building permit. Oh joy.

The mud room will be constructed over the 6' by 7' by 8' concrete pad at our entrance door. All winter we tracked in mud and snow and dirt and had to step over our dirty muck boots and hang our crappy chore clothes in plain view and smell of guests. What a hassle. So with the money I won from the Dermot Healy Poetry Award last summer, we are building a mud room, or in non-homesteading terms, an enclosed front porch. It will be called...

The Dermot Healy Hall of course, I'm planning a hand painted sign, because in my opinion; a well built mud room with multiple coat hooks, a place for your manure trimmed boots and shoes and a bench for your keaster, is about as poetic as it gets.

In other news...the steers (all four of them) were put out on pasture, and our feed costs begin to go down. Ah, spring!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Milk House/Barn Update...Fingers Crossed

A few weeks ago I spoke of our plan for a milk house built of tires (shot down by Illinois EPA, for now) and our subsequent search for an old building we could move here. We found one we liked, standing out in her field...

but the gentleman who agreed to move it for us, gave us a $5000 price since it was so wide and over 9 miles from our farm. If we spent that much to move her there would be little left over for concrete, a small service door, some windows, etc...So, we sadly gave up on her. I have no idea why she is a she, she just is. We looked instead at a smaller building owned by a church.

The price was right, free, but the poor fellow had rotten feet and a rickety interior which likely, even though he was more compact at 25 x 25 feet, would not survive the move. After that we hit the Menards page and designed a building out of new materials. We played with door types, post thicknesses and colors but bottom line for their "economy" building at 25 x 40 feet was about $7000. And, we'd still have to pay delivery charges and put the building up ourselves.

Then one of you smart folks commented that maybe we could hire someone to take down the first building and move it. Keith thought of just such a guy we know, we bought all our salvaged wood from him for the Looney Bins beams and floors, and approached him. Sure enough he was willing to get a crew together to do that, dismantle the building and move it on a large trailer.

So back to the tenant farmer who farms around building number one, who turned us over to the farm manager. Said farm manager thought it was a good idea and took our offer of $1000 for the large 42 x 46 foot machine shed/barn. He still has to get approval from the elderly owner of the property, but he didn't think it would be a problem.

So it looks like maybe, possibly, probably we'll have a milk house/barn/machine shed. If we pay a total of $3500 to get it here to The Poor Farm, we'll still have enough money left to build a small room within the building complete with a concrete pad where we can keep our deep freezers and our milking equipment.

Thus instead of keeping all the milking equipment and buckets on a wheeled rack in our shower, it can be stored in the new (old) building. And instead of going into the icky shack house to get dinner out of our deep freezers, we can just grab something after we're done milking the cow. In addition the current cow shed, the steer shed, the livestock trailer shelter for my horse, the hay and straw in the feed shed, can all be relocated to the new barn. How flippin' convenient will that be?!?!

Now, I'm dreaming about layout planning for the new (old) building and paint colors, (that rust needs to be treated), and door sizes and loft storage and an area for a big band to play every Saturday night at our barn dances...