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.


Ashland
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 goal...is to start riding again. Wish me (and her) luck.

Ennis


 

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?