Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pigs: Diamond, The Pot-Bellied Pig


Our Pig Partner has a farm, E-I-E-I-O!
And on his farm he has a Pet Pig, E-I-E-I-O!

Meet Diamond. She's not for eating... she's a pet! Diamond's owner was getting older and wasn't able to take care of her anymore. Diamond was so fat (even for a pig!), and she had a diaper rash of sorts from laying in her pee-soaked blanket. The skin on her back was so dry that it flaked off in big pieces and often bled. Her nails needed trimming so badly (they were 4 or 5 inches long!) that she couldn't walk on her toes the way pigs usually do. She's starting to walk better, and with room to move, she is getting strong and healthy. She's super friendly, too. Mr. Farmer wants to bring her to our house, but she's better off with all that open space at the farm.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Pigs: Back in Business


Our Pig Partner has a farm, E-I-E-I-O!
And on his farm he has a PILE OF PIGS, E-I-E-I-O!

That's right, folks, we're back in business! Last month we purchased 17 piglets. Two of them will be going as payment for transportation of the animals, and we are currently deciding which will breed and which will be butchered or sold. The best news of all is that Our Pig Partner is leasing enough land that the local authorities can't hassle him/us.

Mr. Farmer walks the fence line every day to make sure nothing is disrupting the flow of electricity. The pigs are learning the boundaries quickly, and they are starting to put on weight just like they should. It is a promising start.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013



Our Pig Partner has a farm, E-I-E-I-O!
And on his farm he has a Bunny, E-I-E-I-O!

Ok, so he has TWO bunnies... for now. After all, rabbits will do what rabbits do...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013



Our Pig Partner has a farm, E-I-E-I-O!
And on his farm he has a DUCK, E-I-E-I-O!

A big, fat, pigeon-toed duck who waddles around and lays huge, delicious eggs! Yummy!   She doesn't really have a nest, so she just lays her egg wherever she sees fit that particular day. It's like Easter all the time!  

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Off Topic: Dinner Drama

Does anyone else feel like preparing dinner is like being on one of those competitive cooking shows? I swear that some nights (like tonight) I hear Ted Allen’s always-charming voice inside my head...

Ted: Contestants, open your baskets! Tonight you must prepare dinner with… (dramatic pause)…
  1. Bone-In, Skin-On Chicken that you bought because it was cheap and now is threatening to spoil if you don’t cook it soon
  2. Pasta, because you served rice last night and one of your kids would rather NOT eat potatoes
  3. A completely filthy kitchen, with at least two loads of dirty dishes sitting around
You Have 30 Minutes. Please begin!
Judge 1: Oh, the producers have a bit of a sadistic streak tonight, eh? I mean, after the long day she had today, they give her bony chicken AND dirty dishes all over the prep table? Ouch!
Judge 2: Chicken leg quarters are inexpensive and low quality. But more importantly, they take at least an hour to roast in the over, and she only has HALF that time!
Judge 3: I agree, and Farmer is at a real disadvantage here. She will HAVE to bone out and skin that chicken if she’s going to finish in time, and she has only the smallest of experience butchering birds. Her real talent is disassembling pork. Couldn’t we cut her a break and give her more time?
Ted: No chance. Those kids have school in the morning, and they need to get up early. Besides, there is no doubt some homework that has yet to be completed, so she’s gotta get them fed so she can discover it. Wow! Look at her washing the dishes while the pasta-water boils! Excellent time management!!
25.5 Minutes Later:
Ted: The clock is running down. The table is nearly set, and the hubby is starting to circle. Water glasses are filled… She’s draining the pasta… Wait! The Hubby just called the kids to the table! They’ve come running and the dish isn’t assembled yet! Look at those faces staring into the kitchen as she stirs the sauce into the noodles…
Judge 2: Get it served… GET IT SERVED!!
Ted: AAAAANNNNDDD…. Time’s Up. Please step away.
Me: Whew. Hope you like it.
Family: MMmmm…
And Then the Cycle Repeats....

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Congratulations! It’s a BULL!!!

Our Pig Partner brought home a very young dairy bull last night. Apparently they are reasonably priced, as dairies only need a small number of bulls to keep up production. I don’t have a photo yet, but this little guy is ADORABLE! Ok, I know that the little fella has a destiny that is less than desirable to most, but there’s something here that cannot be denied…


OK, I’m done gushing. But honestly, I am looking forward to a new adventure. With any luck, I will be allowed to do some of the butchering. I love adding to my skills, and I’m a pretty good butcher! Financially we cannot afford our own calf right now, but maybe if my luck changes…

(Did I mention that I scratched around a young bull’s nubby horns today, and that he is super cute?)

Update 5/31/13: I finally got a photo! Oh, and it's a STEER now. (wink wink)

I told you he was cute! He's getting BIG, too!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chickens: Out with the Old

After cracking my eggs into a hot pan beside some leftover steak, I did something I haven’t done in some time: I tossed the shells in the trash instead of putting them aside to feed back to the chickens. We raised this latest batch of leghorns from day-old chicks to full-grown, egg laying machines for the past 3 years. There were times when they didn’t lay eggs at all, and there were times when we had so many eggs that we gave them away or sold them for next to nothing.

Sometimes they had to take turns laying.

The girls have been getting tired over the last few months, however. We continued to feed them well, but production was way down. Mr. Farmer kept looking at the coop and thinking about ways to improve the setup for the next run. So, when we found an ad on Craigslist looking for older chickens, we decided to retire them to a farm where they will run free.

We aren’t very sentimental about chickens. Still, these girls have served us extremely well over the years, and leghorns aren’t very meaty anyway, so retirement just seemed like a better fit than slaughter. So stay tuned (do people these days even know what that means anymore?) for updates on the new brood, the new brooder, and the new chicken coop… all scheduled for Spring 2013!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Maple Syrup: Upsizing the Cooker

Two years ago we harvested our first ever maple sap. I posted about tapping, collecting, and cooking down the sap into sweet syrup. This year we purchased 8 more taps (not that we used them all) and enlisted our previous Pig Partner to tap trees on his land. His trees are twice the size of ours, and the sap was flowing strong, so THIS upgrade became necessary:

Woah. That's One BIG Pot!

In 2011, our large roaster oven was sufficient to process the sap from our few, relatively young trees. It had some issues, however. Some of the sugar caramelized and even burnt on the sides of the cooker. When we added more sap, it washed that char off the sides, resulting in a very dark finished product:

Delicious, but a Bit Darker than Ideal
This new system, which consists of a very large aluminum stainless steel stock pot on a propane burner from a turkey fryer, isn’t without its issues, of course. As you can imagine, it takes a very long time to heat up a pot of that size, even with the large propane burner. A heavy metal frame had to be fabricated to hold the immense weight of the pot and liquid. Also, since there is no room for it in the house, we must complete the operation in Mr. Farmer’s Man-Cave, which is not the cleanest place in the world. Outside contamination is a constant concern, so all other shop projects had to be suspended for the sugaring. The setup makes temperature tricky to maintain as well (see the sheet metal reflector on the wall behind the pot?). The direct heat from the flame also requires constant attention to prevent burning. This means that Mr. Farmer has gotten very little sleep the past 2 weeks while he stirs the pot every half hour or so. It makes for a tense household, to say the least.

Of course we are very excited about the finished product that we should have soon. The last of the 2011 syrup went with a visiting friend home to England, and we can barely wait to have more!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hillbilly Ingenuity: Uses for Maple Sap and Syrup

Those of you who are unfamiliar with your Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (and shame on you if you are unfamiliar, by the way), might be surprised to hear what a special treat white sugar was just a handful of generations ago. In pioneer times, when "town" might be a day or more drive from the homestead and when supplies might only come in by train every few months, white sugar was a commodity almost akin to gold or steel. It was rationed in leaner times and generally only used for special occasions and when visitors arrived. The amount that we dump into our hot beverages in the morning, sprinkle on our cereal, or use to make candy (gasp, I even do this when there is no particular holiday in sight!) would be considered almost vulgar in those times. Less-processed raw or brown sugar were more common for everyday use, as was molasses. But if your Little House was in The Big Woods, your primary source of sweetness was maple sap and syrup.

It can take up to 50 gallons of clear, watery sap to make a single gallon of syrup, and it takes time to do that evaporating without burning it. When there is a huge vat cooking away within full view in your dining room, it is difficult to wait. So, we have found that there are many good uses for maple syrup, sap, and partially-evaporated sap:
  • Sweeten hot cereal such as oatmeal, farina, or corn mush by adding a splash of syrup or 
  • Replace the water in the recipes for hot cereal with fresh or partially evaporated sap 
  • Top desserts like ice cream or pie with a drizzle  
  • Add it to tea or coffee 
  • Heat a mug of sap for a warm, sweet drink 
  • Replace the sugar or liquid sugar in a cocktail with sap or syrup 
  • Anything else you can think of!
If you have the patience, sap can be cooked all the way down to dry sugar. So far, we have not had that kind of patience, but imagine what this list would look like if we did!!
Maple Sap Cooking Down to Syrup
(It's so hard to wait!)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Pigs: Post-Partum Pig Depression

I know the blog has been quiet, but between the normally busy month of May (those of you with one or two kids in school know what I'm talking about) and the loss of the pigs, there has been very little time or subject matter to report. Chickens aren't all that exciting this time of year (with all the baby plants, we don't dare let them out of the run), and I am sadly behind on the gardening. But most of all, Mr. Farmer is filling the void with research, reading, and science- inside projects that I couldn't blog about even if I was willing to go that far off topic, since I don't completely understand them. It is almost as strange to be without the pigs as it is to be without a dog.

It's not just the chores that makes it so different. Admittedly, not needing to go to another site to feed and water the pigs leaves a hole in the daily routine. Even when they were here, the pigs needed attention a few times a day. Watching them frolic and occasionally fight was a great way to pass the time, and who wouldn't love watching new piglets being born?

Not to worry, however. We are holding on as best we can, and before you know it, we will be on to the next project.

Hillbilly Ingenuity: Maple Tapping Time!

That's right; it's that time again....

Sap-Catching Bucket

When the weather is above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, the maple sap flows. In my neck of the woods, that is approximately February 15 to March 15.  So, here we go again!

(Note: Last year we did not have enough cold weather, so the sap was bitter, and we made no syrup at all. This year looks very promising so far!)