Wednesday, August 28, 2019

So Long Best LGD Ever.

 Fannie, our best livestock guardian dog ever, died a couple weeks ago and we've all had a hard time adjusting to her absence. She had been with us several years on the old farm and moved with us here in 2014. But old age and bad hips caught up with her. Prior to that she was the star in livestock protection. Roaming the property's boundaries, she kept coyotes at bay during the night and warded off piglet and chick seeking hawks that circled overhead, in the day time. As ferocious as she was towards predators she was extremely meek, mild and gentle with all our gks. The younger they were the closer she stayed by their side.

The photo below is Fannie with our oldest grandson Wesley, now 11. He's known her since infancy. The two of them had a thing for hanging out under trees watching squirrels. 

She was the Alpha dog here in our pack of two. Ashland, our 1/4 German Shepard, 3/4 Husky was always more timid than she and he didn't eat, lie down, or venture forth unless Fannie gave permission. Five years younger than her, he was the annoying puppy she had to train. He, however, never minded his role as number two dog.  In fact, I could lay an entire raw roast beef at his feet and he would not even sniff it until Fannie had her fill and gave him permission to imbibe. 

They were good buddies but there was a pecking order to be followed. Now that she is gone, when I feed Ashland he still looks up and about waiting for her to come around the corner and give him directions. The first few days after she died he didn't eat at all. He just laid in front of his bowl, looking side to side for his buddy. "She's gone" I'd tell him. "She's not coming back." Still though he waited. Eventually he felt better, as we all will. 

This is the last picture I took of my girl, the one who would meet me at the car and allow to me to grab the scruff of her neck to steady myself while walking through snow and ice on the way up to the house. It was a hot day when I took this and she was resting in the shade by the swing all the gk's love to use. I knew then her time left on this farm was limited; I think she knew it too. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Chicken Dinners Coming Soon to a Homestead Near You

In about three weeks Keith and I will venture south to Central Illinois Poultry Processing in Arthur Illinois with our fifty broilers we've been raising on pasture. Last year was the first time we used their services and we were extremely happy with the results. The facility was clean and efficient, the staff was friendly, and the price of $ 3.20 per bird (whole) or $3.80 (cut up) was fantastic value.

We used to butcher our own, did it for twenty-four years, but last year we wanted to raise more birds with less hassle,  so we caved to hiring someone else to do it. So happy we did. No more freezer burnt birds because my package sealing didn't take. No more huge feathery/offal mess in the yard. No more horrible fresh bird in hot water smell,  AND...we got to hang out in the cute little shops in Arthur, Land of the Amish , while our birds were processed. Oh how I love a good "Date Day".

The big bonus for me, besides a clean yard and tidy kitchen, is the whole horse and buggy scene. My most favorite animal in the whole stinkin' world is the horse.

Grandson Wesley (then age 8) with my horse Ennis.

Our birds this year are the same as other years, The Freedom Ranger Chicken. We buy them for $1.70 each, feed them certified organic feed, raise them outdoors on pasture with plenty of grass, weeds, and bugs. They grow so well. No huge leg deformity problems like the common white Cornish Chickens. I also love their pretty red color and their meat is moist and tender even when the broilers get over the five pound finished size. The carcass is dense, and ordinarily it takes about two hours at 325 degrees to bake them to perfection. Low and slow is my manta,

unless I am frying them, then it is quick and hot in our own pig lard, then finished in the oven.  Coated with flour, copious amounts of hymalayan salt, and pepper (after soaking in our own raw milk for an hour). The results are fabulous. I am now thawing our last chicken from the 2018 crop for tomorrow's lunch, which means we will have a three week dry period between chicken dinners.

Therefore, our first meal from our 2019 chicken crop, will taste that much better. Absence makes the heart, and the stomach, grow fonder. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Crossing the Picket Line

It's all Colton's fault. Last year for Mother's Day our oldest son gifted me with a hand crafted gate for my kitchen garden. he apparently was listening when he heard me say-about a millions times- that I wanted a white picket fence for that space, one day. So he got me started with the gate. I have greatly enjoyed going in and out of it this past year. The rest of that garden spot was enclosed with a hodge-podge of wire hog panels and chicken wire. it wasn't attractive but it get critters out of that space and it was what we could afford at the time.

Several weeks ago I turned 60. It was a grand day altogether. My sister and daughter organized a surprise party at Destihl Restaurant in Normal, Il and we had a great time. Then my friend Jay asked me to come out to the parking lot so he could give me my gift, which was taking up space in the back of his truck. Voila! It was the remainder of the fencing I coveted. Several eight foot sections of Gothic Style Picket fencing. Eighteen sections to be exact. He also promised to help us install it and thats what he did, alongside Keith, this past weekend. 

Prior to his coming though, I had serious work to do, get the fencing painted. Of course Jay's gift came with paint and brushes so in the hottest week we've had so far this summer, I got to work like Tom Sawyer. Well, harder than Tom because there was no Becky around for me to pawn off the work.

I set up in the barn out of the sun with an old box fan to simulate a breeze, and a radio to simulate company.  I painted and painted and painted. I also sweated profusely. What a pain it was to cover all those surface edges! But what a joy it was to see my dream coming true. 

Then, as planned, Jay showed up this past Friday ready to work AND with a hydraulic post hole digger. Happy day. Although Keith has dug hundreds of post holes over the years with his manual post hole digger, he wasn't looking forward to it with the projected high heats. And criminy, did it get hot on Saturday when the guys did the bulk of the work. 97 degrees with a heat index of 110. 

And what did I do while those two die hards were putting in the fence posts? Well I painted and painted and painted some more. Keith had built a second gate a couple weeks ago to match the one Colton had made and it needed painting too. Of course Keith built it out of scrap lumber pieces which shined up nicely with a couple coats of Behrs Wood and Fence Stain in Tintable White. That product was amazing!

I also kept the fellows well supplied in cold drinks. By 9 pm that evening we were all sound asleep, exhausted.  Even with the hydraulic post hole digger, the work was strenuous taking both the guys and many muscles to hold the machine in place and or repositioning it when it hit heavy clay or rock. Most definitely a two man job. 

By Sunday am most of the posts were in place with only five more to go. They had that done by 10 am and started with the fun part of attaching the fence sections. We ran into a bit of a snag around the old well tiles I had filled with zinnias. They needed to come forward about two inches. At first the guys thought they might be able to just push the tiles (filled with soil and flowers) forward , but they quickly discovered they were too heavy. That's Jay below, trying to pull with his  legs parallel to the ground, while Keith is laying behind them, trying to push. Didn't work. 

 They then wrapped some chains around the bottom of the tiles and used the tractor to scoot them forward. It worked well, even though I was concerned the tiles might break. A few petunias were sacrificed as were several other flower plants during the whole fence installation, but I had expected that. In fact I was impressed with how many border flowers were saved overall. 

By 1 pm Sunday 75 % of the fence was up. The last section on the south side still had to be painted and installed, and the gate nearest the grain bin had to be hung but we were all ready to call it quits. The heat had worn us down. Keith and I will finish the rest of the fence this week, it's supposed to be much cooler,  and then I can get busy weeding that garden spot of ours. Below is the view out our second story window. Makes me so happy to have a white picket fence after decades of wanting one!! I am so grateful to my dear hubbie and dear friend for making this a reality. Happy 60th to me. 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Barn Update with Loft Room

 Two years ago Keith and I bought a 1950ish metal machine shed about 9 miles from our farm. We paid someone to dismantle it and deliver it to us, then we brought it back to life here piece by piece, post by post, as our barn.

Two years ago. Where did that time go?  It's still not finished but not for lack of effort and hard work. With Keith working full time off the farm, his hours for barn work are limited, but he does manage to keep at it whenever he can, repurposing so many, many materials from the old 1868 house we are tearing down on our property.

He has even recycled the old insulation, some of it loose, some in the form of Styrofoam panels, some in strips. See below.

To date , we are able to store hay, hog grain, our tractor, our lawn mower, our freezers and all of Keith's shop materials, even though he does not yet have walls for his shop area, in our barn.  Details, details. We also have stalls for our three steers and my horse.

While I was in Texas visiting a niece last week (a blog about that is next in que) Keith took a week off from his job for a Farmcation. He was as excited about staying home and getting work done here as I was about getting OFF the farm for several days.

In my absence he made tremendous progress on the loft room which will house the homesteading supplies we need, but don't use everyday, like: canning supplies, soap making equipment, winter chore clothes, sewing equipment, plus we'll have room for a full size bed for guests. Or Keith and I will sleep there and the guests can have our fancy 10 x 10 grain bin bedroom. This new barn loft room will have four walls, a pitched roof, three big windows and a reading nook. (The raised platform just behind Keith in pic below.)

We don't plan to heat or cool it so guest overnights will depend on weather but when your GK population keeps growing it's nice to have options.

The best part of this new space are the truly awesome floors! Keith recycled each board from the 1868 house. Some were floor boards, some were wall boards, but all were sturdy and well made as they were in the 1800's. My plans are to lightly sand the boards and then just cover with several coats of polyurethane. Most are already over 150 years old, they should hold up for a few more.

It's funny how Keith and I were all about downsizing when we sold the old Chatsworth farm in 2015,  which had about 3000 SF of living and storage space. We figured a grain bin house of 670 SF would be plenty of room for just the two of us and it is. It's just not enough room for all our homesteading crud! Eventually, if we keep going the way we are we'll have the same amount of space we used to have, only scattered about in three or four buildings. Oh well, all the walking between house, barn, lofts, studios etc...should keep us in shape.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Prodical Blogger Returns

Thank you, those of you who have emailed or reached out in one way or another to check on me, it was deeply appreciated. I've reached back to most of you and will finish up emails to those not yet contacted, right after I finish this post.

Obviously I have not expired, Keith is well too, but life sure got sticky and I took an extended, not entirely intended, blog break. I even considered ceasing this blog entirely but I have decided against that.

I need the outlet.

In May my youngest sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and in that same month our 7th grandchild, a gorgeous wee girl, was born with a serious cleft lip and palate. My sister faces a long run of chemo followed by surgery and our granddaughter faces many future surgeries. The prognosis for both is good but I felt my time was best utilized in the area of support and time availability. I was so grateful that since I work from home I was able to help where needed. We are even more blessed that our children all live within fifteen minutes of us and my sisters and sole brother are all within an hour.

In the midst of those family changes, my mother-in-law required more trips to the doctor (she fell and broke her arm) and another elderly friend needed help back and forth to her doctor appointments. It rained, it poured, but the sky is now lightening up.

Keith and I, in the mean time, have kept busy with continued barn work and projects on the farm. I have lots more to share and will do so in future posts. In the meantime here are a few pics of my flower and herb garden just outside the grain bin. The wonderful colors there are constant reminders that to every thing there is a season, turn, turn turn.

No wonder I'm so dizzy!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Good Riddance Winter

Finally, winter is moving on and with it, I hope the crap storm of bad and sad. My immediate family, our children and their families, are well but the periphery about all of us (friends of relatives and relatives of friends) was filled with cancer related deaths and serious medical issues. March came in like a lion and acted rudely all thirty-one days.

Today though it's better. Temperatures are creeping up, the sun was brilliant, I was able to hang up laundry and there are no funerals or visitations on my calendar. Gardens are being cleared of last falls debris and tomorrow we'll sow radishes, lettuces and peas. Hope springs eternal as the cliche' lovers might spout. 

Keith further lifted my spirits by installing some garden gates. The first one closes off our large main garden sitting west of the grain bin house a couple hundred feet. He  made the gate from an old hog panel I've been hanging onto for years because I loved the vintage red and yellow paint on it. He used vintage black hinges that HE has been hanging onto for years. Now that it is installed I may paint it white to match the white picket gate on our kitchen garden below. We shall see.

The smaller kitchen garden gate was a birthday gift to me from our son Colton last May. He built it, painted it and gave us all the hardware to hang it. Keith put in the posts a couple days ago and VOILA' I have the quaint garden gate I have always wanted. This summer we will build the rest of the picket fence from salvaged wood harvested form the 1868 house which is still under deconstruction. I love our cute little kitchen garden where I grow my herbs and salad veggies, plus numerous spirit lifting annuals.

What is everyone else doing to welcome spring and/or lift spirits? 

PS. I have no idea why Blogger is messing with my blog by highlighting words and corrupting my font. You get what you pay for eh?

Saturday, March 2, 2019

It's a Fact, We're Low Class

Ice Capades at the Grain Bin House. Winter 2019

Years ago at our "finest" (it's debatable) Keith and I had an income of over $135,000/yr. Our farm was certified organic and we sold to four grocery stores and ten restaurants in the Chicago area, plus one in Champaign. In addition we managed our own retail farm store on our property. Neither of us worked an off-farm job. We were considered upper middle class.

We also ran ourselves ragged and paid a huge hunk of income tax.

But now on our new farm, coming up on our four year anniversary, we've realized one of our key financial goals, to obtain lower class status. In Illinois, where the median income was $ 62, 992 in 2017, lower middle class was considered at $37,473 per year. Less than that, for a family of two, is considered lower class.

Keith and I, with his county custodian job and my small nursing pension, bring in about $26,000 a year. Now, if we made less than $16, 910 we'd be considered "impoverished" or just plain poor. But, we don't think much of the state's definitions anyway, they've done a horrible job of managing their own money, so it's all a moot point, except for the fact that we pay far less income tax than we ever have, and that makes us giddy happy. We completed our taxes last week and we will receive $17 back from the Federal government and a whopping $78 return from the State of Illinois.

How shall we spent this huge mother lode? Should we invest in stocks? Take an Alaskan cruise? Purchase some diamond earrings for my trips to Aldi's? Put a down payment on a car less than twenty years old? No. I believe we'll buy some OSB plywood panels for Keith's shop in the barn.

That's us. Always living on the wild side.