Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Chicken Littles

With all that we've had going on of late, we were tardy in getting our fall broiler chicks ordered. I was sure I had completed this task in June but when the chicks never arrived it became clear I had only THOUGHT about ordering them; follow-through had been lacking. But finally, reordered, they arrived.

We like the Freedom Ranger breed. They grow well but not to the crazy Frankenbird size of the white Cornish or Plymouth Rock variety, which are ready for slaughter at 6 weeks. (But if you wait too long these poor creatures suffer bone deformities and heart failure from the rapid weight gain.) Instead, the Freedom Rangers take 9-12 weeks, but they do not suffer genetic abnormalities and their meat is very tasty. We will likely butcher them mid-October when the weather is cool outside and the bugs have died off.

This is a good thing as butchering chickens in the heat of summer is one sticky, smelly, sweaty event no one wants to attend.

In addition to organic broiler feed these bambinos will also be pulled about the yard in their protective hutch on wheels, allowing them to have fresh grass, bugs and worms. Not only are they efficient growers and great tasting, these little dead birds walking, are super freakin' cute.

Friday, August 26, 2016

One More Illinois Dairy, Shuts its Barn Doors

Yesterday the last two milk cows from our Chatsworth farm, went to the sale barn, marking the end of over 80 years of dairying on that property.  The evidence of that history remains in the rebuilt barn which Keith constructed using the century old beams from the property's first barn, which had to be torn down the year we moved there.

We took the old and turned it into something new again.

Now, the milk stanchions are empty, the last of the milk sits in buckets waiting to be brought home to our pigs, and the hay mow is completely empty of all bales. The house is cleaned out and listed with a realtor. We held the first of several garage sales in, get this, the garage, because it too was emptied out enough to fill with tables showcasing all the stuff we thought we needed, once upon a time.

Turns out, we don't need so much stuff anymore. Also turns out, we're very ready to get back to our life here on The Poor Farm and as sad as it is to see our history go down the road in a livestock trailer, we are also at this point feeling great relief.

We'll still be running back and forth to care for the four remaining heifers we'll keep down here for the pasture benefits (more grass equals increased weight equals a better price at the sale barn) but we're no longer tied into a twice a day milking schedule.

Today we held the first of several planned garage sales, piecing out the farm one toolbox, one basket hay feeder, one farm store counter, at a time. It was fun to see people excited about their new treasures and even more fun to see the farm become neater and cleaner and more attractive to a new buyer every day.

Even with all the cows gone, there is still a chance some young family will appear who wants to bring our dairy back to life, but we  know that possibility is unlikely. Perhaps it's time for the farm to evolve the way Keith and I have, into something really quirky, like a training and education center for farmer-want-to be's. Or maybe a medical marijuana test greenhouse facility? How about a writers retreat for all those Annie Dillard nature type authors? A Paint Ball Competition Center? A school for Red Wattle Hog Breeders complete with bacon making facilities in the basement? A Chicago Chef run Bed and Breakfast for city folk who need some peacock bonding time?

The list of possibilities goes on and on, but I don't. I'm tired and going to bed. Garage sales resumes in the am at 0900.

For You Local Followers:

     From 9 am until 5 pm      32796 E. 750 N. Rd  Chatsworth, Il.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

And Now, Back to Regular Programming

No one but us 50 plus year olds say that, do we? These technology twisted millennials have no idea what it was to have cartoons on Saturdays only and the entire TV broadcast system shut down for a State of the Union Address. Ah yes, good times.

Regular programming for Keith and I, is also in sight. Five weeks now into running two farms we're still...running, but not at warp speed. Still down in Chatsworth caring for livestock everyday, maintaining what we've mowed and cleaned and repaired, but the crisis mode is lifting. There were 27 head of cattle to be cared for when we assumed possession of our other farm, but now we are down to just nine. One calf (coming here for our 2018 beef supply) one milk cow (coming here to replace Puppette) four other milk cows (one sold and waiting for new owner to pick up) and three heifers (one bred, two unbred).

 A young farmer is coming to look at the three milk cows left and we hope he'll take all three. By the end of the week, all livestock will be gone from Chatsworth and we can begin cleaning out the barn there. In the meantime we continue to use the milk we get from there by feeding to our hogs and sharing with another farmer friend with pastured hogs.

Milk fed hogs make fantastic pork chops!

Up here on Poor Farm central I was able to enjoy some time this morning enjoying the peace and quiet. Comparatively speaking, our few critters here are easy to care for. The garden is overflowing with produce though and demanded attention. Finally, I got some tomatoes canned, pesto made and frozen, a cake baked and God willing, might even get supper made. Rain came in spurts but laundry was hung out in between cloud bursts. Last week we were so crazed, one load of laundry hung out for four days, washed three times by rain. And people pay good money for "rain scented" fabric softener. Cracks me up.

I also did what all we queer country folk do from time to time, I took pictures of my flowers. It's a silly ritual, the way we all think we have the most  beautiful cosmos of all, but it serves another purpose. It slows us down. Makes us appreciate that which is blooming its fool head off, right in front of our eyes.

Flowers are full of silver linings. Especially those morning glories blooming on the trellis friend Jay made for my birthday back in June. It's a keen place for coffee or tea. That's my aunt Bernie's old 1978 dial phone on the table, just in case I feel like calling her on the other side.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Kissing the Cows Goodbye

We had hoped we'd be able to find individual farms/families wishing to own our milk cows, but fact of the matter is this; in Illinois the small family dairy farm is rapidly disappearing. Most dairy farms are in Northern Illinois, closer the the Cheddar Curtain, and the few families who used to own 1-5 milk cows have ceased doing so.

This is in part due to the new Raw Milk Regulations passed in July of this year by IDPH (another future blog post I promise) and in part to homesteaders recognizing that owning a milk cow, is a lot of work.

Here on The Poor Farm we will always keep our own milk cow for our own purposes but the herd we sold on contract in Chatsworth, are going the way of farm history. Only two have been sold to individuals, the rest have gone the route of the sale barn, which means hamburger. Three were sold last week this way, three more went yesterday and three more go today.

The good news is the lessening of our work load between the two farms, less cows means less milking, less cleanup, less pasture maintenance, less gas money, less stress.

The sad news, the burden of saying goodbye, rests on my husbands shoulders. A few of the cows are 12, 13 and 14 years old. All of them were born on that farm, had their first calves there, produced thousands of gallons of milk for us there, which allowed us to raise four of our own "calves." Some were gentle enough to be taken to town fairs and demonstrations where youngsters had their chance to milk their first cow, to see and feel where milk really comes from. We benefited from the milk, the sales of the milk, and the burger made after a cow got too old to produce. From their beginning  to their humane end, these animals were a huge part of our family and telling them goodbye now, has proven to be much harder than it was in April 2015 when we sold the farm and all the livestock on contract.

We thought we were passing on our livestock to someone who would care about for and for them, as we did. We were so mistaken. When we left the Chatsworth farm the animals were all, after years of work, certified organic, 100% grass fed, and free of all antibiotics or hormones. Their market value was on ave. $2500 each.

Now, after a year of being fed copious amounts of grain, given antibiotics and hormones (all in the name of increasing milk production) the value of these animals has plummeted to between $800-$1500. But to us, regardless of "market value" they remain priceless.

Last night Keith brought up to The Poor Farm, our old milker, Puppette.

We were told by employees down at Chatsworth in July she had given birth to a still born calf and did not "clean out well" They said she was treated by antibiotics but they could not remember what kind or for how long. The cow records we gave them and had returned, did not include this info. When we saw Puppette in July, she  was in bad shape. Barely able to stand, left in a manure sodden barn on concrete. She was a sick girl.

Keith got her on pasture down there, as soon as we had possession of the farm again, and she started to improve. He also started milking her again when she was strong enough. This gave her purpose, we believe, but because we don't know the last day she was injected with antibiotics (we left all our organic treatments on the farm but they were left unused) we can't take her to the sale barn yet. Thirty days free of drugs is the law, so our 30 days started July 29.

She is here now, so we can care for her better, even though her expiration date is approaching.  We want her to feel better. We hate seeing sick cows being unloaded at sale barns, we find it disgusting, so Puppette gets to recover fully on The Poor Farm with Mucca as her temporary pasture buddy, before we say our final goodbye to her.

It's the least we can do for an animal who has been nothing but kind and gentle all her life, even to those humans who did not have her best interests at heart.

Monday, August 15, 2016

With a Little Help From Our Friends...The Chatsworth Farm Comes Back to Life work.

We continue to sludge our way through the grunge, debri, and destruction left behind by the folks who semi-resided on our Chatsworth farm this past year and slowly, we are making headway. In fact, "headway" gathered great speed this past Saturday when a motley crew of relatives and friends came together to make the farm presentable enough for realtor photos. They included sisters Mary (and husband Dave), Peg and Teresa, friends Marty, Will, and Emma, sons Jason and Kyle (with his wife Amanda and baby Easton to spread light and joy) and our granddaughter Nicole.

Last week daughter Raven and our other two grandchildren Allana and Wesley tackled garden weeds while neighbor Duane made the first pass through the front yard with HIS tractor and mower. In between these two groups of helpers, we were offered tons of assistance from other friends and past customers but I could not fathom taking them up on their offers until the grossest leftovers (especially those within our old farmhouse) were carted away by Keith and I.  But, it worked out well this way, as Keith and I were, after two straight weeks of cleaning,  physically tired and emotionally drained. Thus, this Saturday Morning Live group, motivated us again.

These people were amazing.

Will and Marty of the world famous, or at least it should be, Spence Farm, started the day with  heavy equipment, a tractor and pull behind mower. Marty tackled the front two acres of pasture with weeds that were in some places, over eight feet tall. He worked on it all drizzly morning. His son Will worked with me gathering up old fence posts for the metal pile and then he worked alongside Keith and our son Jason pulling out the ridiculous fencing the previous tenants had left, where they had pastured the cows literally up to our back door, blocking off the entire west side of the driveway.

This allowed Jason to mow the backyard and when he was done, except for the multitude of cow pies, it resembled, well... a backyard again.The transformation was made complete by son Kyle who weed wacked the house right down to its brick and pored concrete foundation! Some of the trees allowed to grow alongside the house needed chainsaw action from him as well.

My three sisters and brother-in-law tackled the farmhouse and small garage with vigor. Trash went to the big burn pile, junk went to the dumpster, cobwebs were sent screaming into outerspace and toilets were shining like diamonds when they were done.

I kid you not. The queen of England herself does not have cleaner thrones.

Friend Emma led the brigade against all weedy things in the two raised flower boxes in the yard which two weeks ago could not be seen at all, and she and the sisters freed up three rose bushes also left for dead. And might I say, my sister Teresa with an industrial sized weed wacker in her hands, wresting with shoulder high Comfrey and Horseradish plants, is a frightening sight. This morning two of the three rose bushes had new blooms, just in time for the realtor photos. Sadly the blooms were not big enough to cover up the porch destroyed by the last tenants, but still, their red and yellow colors may soften the blow for prospective buyers.

We listed the house with a realtor today and half our our livestock has now been sold. Our farm equipment is going up on Craigs list and next week we'll tackle barn cleanup. Selling our farm business, and  home via contract for deed turned into a nightmare for us, but with the help of all our friends and family the fog is lifting. Soon, we hope to once again focus primarily on our Poor Farm activities. Soon.

I'll end this post with a few before (we assumed ownership again of the Chatsworth farm ) and after (we hacked away all the weeds and cleared up the debri) photos.

          The front porch

        The shop

        The Wee Garage

       The front pasture    

     The Farm Store


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Shifting Gears, Negative to Positive

The last 11 days, since we were court awarded control of our property in Chatsworth, have been stressful. Managing two farms with livestock on both, the cleanup activities required on the bigger farm, showing of the that farm to prospective buyers and the twice a day milking there has been frazzling but, the blessings coming our way are equally overwhelming.

The community support via social media, texts, old fashioned but much appreciated phone calls has been truly awesome, and I do not use "awesome" very often. At night, when we are exhausted from it all, we read these comments and best wishes to each other and we are reminded of how special our family, friends, and past customers truly are. The word, community, has never felt so powerful.

We also remind each one died, this is just stuff we have to fix, repair and resell. Things...are not permanent. Keith worries about my workload and I worry about his, that's how we operate. We both worry about our financial burdens but that gets offered up to higher powers everyday. HE has much bigger shoulders than even this wide bodied farmwife.

Through Facebook listings we garnered huge interest in the real estate and showed our one time family home to many people over the last 24 hours. Yesterday we met with a realtor and will turn it over to him very soon. You can see our home/machine shed/barn listing HERE.

All of our livestock, milk cows, young heifers, and calves are for sale. Some are being sold to individuals and the first few destined for the sale barn have been identified. You can see our livestock listing HERE. We are open to offers on all.

In a day or two I'll be listing our equipment for sale. Tractor, grain wagons, hay feeders, grain grinder, manure spreader.

It is difficult to piece out our old farm business life this way, we had always hoped it could survive intact, but that has not happened. Yet, at 57 I am aware that often something has to be torn down, deconstructed, dissected, in order for it to be built back up again, stronger, more resilient, than before. When we bought the Chatsworth farm in 1995 it was destined for destruction at that time, on the schedule for complete demolition and return to farmland. We had to convince the owners to sell it to us.

Over the next twenty years we built a new barn, repaired the century old farmhouse, built a milk house, added a new machine shed, opened a Grade A Dairy, converted it to a Raw Milk Dairy, and obtained organic certification for our land, livestock, milk and meat products. We also raised four children there. In the last 14 months much of this was destroyed or at least badly damaged, (not, the kids, they're fine) but there is a family or individual out there willing to envision it's new potential. So until we are connected , we are going to continue to work very hard to bring this farm back to a place someone would be proud to own, to call home, as we, our children and grandchildren did, for over two decades.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Real Raw Milk Farmers vs Raunchy Raw Milk Brokers

This post is not just for my regular blog followers but also intended as a source of accurate and first hand information for members of the Illinois Raw Milk Alliance Facebook page. Specifically I'll be addressing the business practices of Golden Guernsey of Illinois.

Keep in mind, that by doing so, some people will take issue with one raw milk farmer dressing down another. Farmers, like doctors, have unwritten codes about such things. (I am also an RN) If the code was written, it would look like this: We'll patrol our own profession, thank you very much. But, I'm not calling to task another raw milk farmer, instead I am publicly holding the feet of two Raunchy Raw Milk Brokers to the flame and although my husband and I and several other residents of Livingston County, Illinois have been greatly damaged by them financially, it is my concern for public safety, that is my number one priority and motivation for this post.

In April of 2015 we sold our then certified organic dairy farm (house, barn, equipment and cows) via a contract for deed, to Kelly and Rick Boge. We then moved here, to The Poor Farm. In June 2016 they asked for lower payments on this contract. We said no, it was not affordable for us to do so. On July 4th Rick Boge said to my husband "We're not going to be able to make this work." But then agreed to pay us "something." This "something" never arrived, so on July 11th we visited again and he agreed to vacate the premises by July 31. 

We asked to inspect the property but were told it wasn't a good time. "I'll call you and you can come at the end of the week." We respected his wish. This was a mistake. He did not call us and in fact, it was the last time we saw Rick Boge. He fled back to Arizona leaving two young, untrained women in charge of milking the cows. Most were our cows, only a handful were his as he had been removing his cows from the property for several weeks. (So much for their website claim "Guernsey Milk $12") These employees had been instructed to continue milking our cows, to continue bottling the milk, to continue distributing the milk to their two drop sites in Carol Stream and Barrington.

When we realized both the Boges had returned to Arizona, (his employees told us this) abandoning the farm, the care of the livestock, the supervision of their employees  I texted Kelly Boge to tell her we were inspecting the property. We were appalled by what we found. The details of structural damage to our property was extensive but the conditions of our milk parlor, milk room (where the milk was being bottled) and the Farm Store building where the milk was stored, were horrendous.

The milk room was coated in manure. On the floors, on the walls, on the hand sink. On the milking inflations .The hand sink was in fact so filled with garbage and debri, you couldn't wash your hands there if you wanted to. The garbage can was overflowing and flies swarmed everywhere. I am not talking a few flies, we sold raw milk for years, operated a Grade A dairy for years, all dairy farms have flies, no, this was of grotesque proportions. Liquid fly traps set up who knows how long ago, were bulging with dead insects. The smell was putrid. Empty boxes, empty plastic gallon containers littered the floor. The milk tank (meant to immediately cool the milk) was not working and the employees were still emptying milk into it, letting it sit in 90 degree summer heat, for more than an hour, while they finished milking the cows. There was no cover on the floor drain. 

Please recall I said these young women were not trained well and we do not fault them. They were just doing as they were instructed.  One mentioned that Rick had not milked the cows in over 6 weeks. (So much for the website claim about well-cared for would he know?)

In the parlor, the room where the cows are milked, more manure was caked on walls and grain was evident on the floor and in the stanchion troughs. 

In addition a 40 pound bag of conventional grain, "sweet feed"  bought at Big R, was on the floor. (So much for their website claim of only feeding Non-GMO grain) On the shelf in the parlor were multiple bottles of antiseptic sprays, and ointments, antibiotics were in the refrigerator. (So much for their web-site claim of following organic standards and not using antibiotics.) 

In the Farm Store we discovered the freezers, which obviously never been defrosted or cleaned, had huge mounds of ice encasing old, torn open packages of meat from various farmers. 

Also, 20 or so gallons of frozen solid milk. On the store floor was layers of manure and dirt and 15 cartons of eggs delivered by another farmer, unrefrigerated. Since the single refrigerator was full of very warm milk there was was no room for the eggs. (So much for their website claim of eggs coming from Golden Guernsey Farm.) On the stores front porch, clotted, rotted milk swimming in more clotted, rotted milk. 

And still, with all that, it was only the tip of the iceberg, but enough I hope for customers of Golden Guernsey to ask some serious questions.

But wait. How would one do that? When you call their contact number you often get the "Sorry this mailbox is full" recording. I suppose you could write them but, wait again. Their web site lists no address. So where exactly is the farm of Golden Guernsey of Illinois? Are they in Arizona? Wisconsin? The only thing I know for sure, is they are not in Chatsworth, Illinois any longer. 

Up until yesterday their web site still contained pictures of our farm and directions to their drop off sites. Now the web site is "under construction." Hopefully, if it presents again, it will contain factual information about breeds of cows, locations of cows, grain usage, antibiotic use, etc...etc...Transparency is the key for strong, honest, farmer to consumer relationships, and one can't be very transparent if they are always hiding out on other peoples farms.

So, in the future, how can a raw milk consumer protect themselves and their families from a Raunchy Raw Milk Broker whose intention is not the sale of a healthy product produced in a healthy manner, but rather just plain sales?  Start by asking just five simple questions. Any hesitation, side stepping, stalling or inconsistencies when answering, should send up some red flags. 

1. When can I visit your farm? 

All farmers are busy and drop in visitors can be disruptive to farm chores but setting a date
and time to visit two or three times a year should be welcomed by a Real Raw Milk Farmer. They
are generally proud of their livestock and their farm. A Raunchy Raw Milk Broker may not even 
own their farm. They often keep cows on other peoples farms, spreading livestock all over several   counties or states. They will make numerous excuses not to take you on a farm tour like, "My
insurance won't allow it."

2. Why do you want me to make my check out to "cash"?

A check made out to cash prevents the bank or IRS from tracking the recipient of the check. I'm
not a huge fan of our over-governing government but if you work and pay taxes why doesn't your       raw milk provider have to? And what if  the Raunchy Raw Milk Broker loses your check? Anyone     can cash it and you might be blamed for non payment. 

3. How often can I expect to see you ?

I love this question if I do say so myself. A Real Milk Farmer greets you when you come to the         farm, thanks you for your patronage, and if you're a regular, calls you by name. A Raunchy Raw         Milk Broker hires lots of employees who work and quit or get fired because they cut into his/her       profits. Often you will see different people with each visit. Therefore a customer will rarely see         "their farmer" because they are too busy spending your hard earned money.

4. Can I watch how you milk the cows, bottle and store the milk?

Sure, the Real Raw Milk Farmer will say. It will give him the chance to show you much he 
cares about selling you milk that has been carefully collected and IMMEDIATELY cooled. 
DING DING DING will be the alarm bells going off in the Raunchy Raw Milk Brokers head,             warning him. The last thing he wants is witnesses.

5. Why does your milk only last 5-7 days?

A Real Milk Farmer will smile at this because he knows FRESH raw milk will last 2-3 weeks 
in your refrigerator if it was properly cooled, if the milk containers were very clean, if he washed       his hands before bottling your milk. In fact many prefer to have you bring your own containers and
access the milk with your own two clean hands from the bulk tank. A Raunchy Raw Milk Broker will blame the cow, the weather, the tides, the weeds in the pasture, the floods, the drought for that
his milk tastes funny. Accepting responsibility is not part of his skill set. 

There you have it, The Rest of the Story, as well as a few tips for avoiding the notorious Raunchy Raw Milk Broker should they enter YOUR county as they did ours. We raw milk farmers who served on the IDPH's raw milk committee in 2012-2013 always said we didn't need IDPH to inspect us, the consumers would do it. It's extremely ironic that Golden Guernseys of Illinois was granted the first Raw Milk Permit in Illinois, two weeks after the Boges fled back to Arizona and based on false information.

I guess we here on The Poor Farm have something in common with IDPH after all. Neither of us did enough due diligence on these people. But you, the raw milk consumers of Illinois, now have way more information than we had, so I place the ball in your court.  Be a good detective, investigate your applicant farmer, ask for references, and then choose your raw milk provider carefully. Your health and your families health depends on it.