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.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

To Serve and Protect. The Poor Farm Livestock Dogs.

I have always been dumbfounded by farmers, homesteaders, and hobby farmerettes, who raise chickens, sheep, goats, pigs or other animals of prey, but don't keep a livestock dog. These same folks will then complain about the frequent loss of their animals to coyotes, raccoons or other predators.

Unless your livestock is kept locked inside a concrete building with a stone roof, or in your bedroom (I had a hospice patient once with a pet rooster she kept at her bedside) you'll never be able to limit livestock loss without a good livestock dog.

We have two.

The queen bee, leader of the pack and literal top dog is Fannie, our 6 year old Great Pyrenees we found in Indiana. She comes from a family of goat protectors and would literally die before she would knowingly let a coyote take one of our defenseless animals. She often rests during the day when we, the farmers. are out and about, while at night, she patrols our property from sunset to sunrise.

She has never called in sick, taken vacation time or asked for a raise. She will, however sit very close to you and beg to be petted...with just her big amber brown eyes. If you ignore her, she will reach up with her paw and nudge you. She is basically my dog and is never more than 20 feet from me when I am outside. If our grandchildren are visiting she abandons me to stay close to them, She knows who is most vulnerable, who needs are greatest.

Because we live on a mile section with no neighbors, surrounded on four sides by fields, coyotes can creep up from nearby woods, howling on the edge of "her" territory.  She keeps them at bay with her sidekick (cue second dog) Ashland,

Ashland is four and 3/4 German Shepard, 1/4 Huskie. His name came from the streets as I found him on Ashland Ave. in Chicago. His job is to do whatever Fannie tells him to do. If she says "jump" he will leap straight up and over the moon. If she says "back away from my food" he backs up across the yard, and down the road until she says stop. And if she tells him, "we got coyote issues" he follows her wherever she tells him to go, barking as she barks. He loves me but adores Keith and when we come home from any trip, Fannie comes to my side of the car and places her big fluffy head in my lap, while Ashland goes to Keith's side and (if allowed) will leap into his lap.

Both our dogs are outside year round. They can't do their jobs if they are inside. Often they sleep near the livestock, in the well bedded feed shed alongside our ducks, or under the many bushes and trees on our property. On calm nights, they will park themselves right in front of the Looney Bin door, protecting their owners. Their long coats have adapted them to the winter cold and they have several good places to go to get out of the wind, rain or snow. It is not at all unusual to see then sleeping on top of snow drifts when the sun is out. They eat dog food, scraps from our kitchen and raw meat like beef heart, liver, lard  and bones.

They are big dogs who work hard and they deserve real food in large amounts.

Every morning when we come outside they greet us at the door more thrilled to see us than we ever deserve. Their excitement is so great, they can barely contain themselves. You would think they would tire of us over time, but they never do. Their loyalty is amazing and humbling and they are definitely the unsung heroes of The Poor Farm.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Family Cemetery Update

I was back on the phone again today, tracking down rules for home cemeteries. So far I've spoken with our county coroner twice, nice chap, who is checking things out on the public health side and with our zoning commissioner.

The coroner told me when he called the public health department and told them of my desire to have a small family cemetery on our farm, the woman he spoke with asked if I "had it in for her husband?" Now sweetheart, if I "had it in" for someone do you really think I'd be calling around to get permission to bury the body BEFORE I committed the evil deed?


Our county zoning commissioner also did not know the rules related to my questions but said he too would get back to me. Maybe he's calling public health too. In the meantime I found a great website with loads of info,  Turns out there are no laws prohibiting home burials in Illinois, but there may be specific requirements about how far the cemetery must be from the road, other neighbors (we have none) water supplies (we have a well) etc...

The Nolo site also suggested making a map of your property with the designated area and filing it with the deed for your property. Well, I can do that! But first, while I wait to hear back from our county officials, I did a bit of online shopping for the fence I would like. Be sure to leave a comment on your favorite.

First off is this simple wood and stone model. Not sure if it's actually leaning or if the photographer had a liquid lunch. Either way, I do like this shabby chic cemetery look.

Image result for Family cemetery with wrought iron fence

Next is another minimalist look combining garden fencing and basic pipe secured with wood corner posts. Maybe too bland, Better for tomato support I think.

Image result for Family cemetery with wrought iron fence

This third option below, does appeal to my sense of humor as I find the stone heads more monkey like than human. But what is the deal with the big mound of dirt in the back? Too lazy to actually dig a hole for your loved one? Sheeesh.

Image result for Family cemetery with wrought iron fence

Option four is the rusted Adams Family fencing  A little graveyard within a graveyard . So meta. I'm not sure an entire body can even fit within those confines, well at least not MY entire body. Not unless I curl up on my side in a fetal position. Love how the grass is only green within the fencing. Obviously this is one of those sustainable organic plots.

Image result for Family cemetery with wrought iron fence

These next two are illustrations of what will happen if I die first, since I am overall the neater one of this marital couple.

Image result for Family cemetery with wrought iron fence
Image result for Family cemetery with wrought iron fence

But, as always I gravitate most towards the cemeteries of my O'Shaughnessy ancestors. Those Celtic crosses get me every time. Love all the knots and detailing.

Image result for Irish cemetery

So much so that on a visit to the area  in 2009 I had the O'Shaughnessy symbol, found on the one of the small cemetery gates at Kilmacduagh Castle,  tattooed on my shoulder. Yes I did. I think I'm a bit old for it to be called a tramp stamp, so I'll have to settle for a gram stamp.

Image result for Kilmacduagh Castle