Thursday, March 26, 2015

Kissing Organic Certification Goodby




Really? Almost two months since I last posted? What a sloth. Life has consumed me but for a brief moment (spring break at UIUC) I have been spit out long enough to catch up with that handful of blog followers who might yet remain.

In 2009 we completed our first organic certification inspection. We had literally been preparing for it for years as fields must be chemical free for three years before you can be certified. Transition is not easy as the farmer must pay for certified organic feed/seed prior to the point that they can label their products organic and thus receive fair pay, but; we believed in the concept and the practice and so we moved forward.

From 2009-2015 we have proudly labeled our dairy herd, pork and beef as "certified organic", completing the annual inspection paperwork, maintaining the everyday record keeping, following the hundreds of standards, and paying the fees that came to thousands of dollars over the last 6 years. We did all that because the practice, the label, the animals meant that much to us.

But over the last two years we have noticed a trend that is both disheartening and damaging, the lying trend. Practiced by both farmers who want all the glory (aka money) of organic without doing any of the work as well as the USDA themselves who increasingly look the other way when the factory farms they have certified as organic, care for their animals, well like a factory. Sadly both practices are increasing. A walk around an average farmers market will reveal signage stating "Organically Raised Beef" and yet the owner cannot tell you the minimum standard for cattle to be on pasture each year, (the answer is 120 days) and a neighbor of that farmer who supplies grain for those cattle tells us quite openly his grain is your standard GMO corn. 

We've also been well aware of the large industrial farms that have sought and gained organic certification for their thousands of animals yet still keep a large portion uncertified. This allows them to treat one of their organic animals with unapproved antibiotics and merely shift them into the uncertified group for sale. Sadly this is legal but clearly points out that the philosophy of organic, holistic, natural treatment of animals is by far NOT the priority of these so called "farmers."

To clarify, we have felt for many years that organic methods are good, decent, logical manner in which to raise livestock and we sought the label, followed the rules because we believed in what we were doing.  Which is why our chickens are truly free range (not just able to roam free within a 20 x 20 pen) why our hogs have closer to 200 days on pasture (even though no such requirement by USDA's organic program as "organic hogs" can be kept on a concrete lot as long as they are fed organic) and why our dairy herd is often seen in the winter months resting quite happily on snow covered fields in between feedings of certified organic 100% grass hay.  We didn't just preach organic animal care, we lived it.

But, we no longer can ignore the corruption of the organic industry and we no longer want to be associated with it. What might have been a pure intent years ago has become, just like anything else that involves large amounts of money, grossly tainted. During those years when we sold large amounts of packaged meat to natural food stores in Bloomington and Chicago, our non-farm-visiting customers relied on the label to ensure them of a decent product. Now though, all our customers come here to our farm and actually SEE our animals, our practices. Thus, we are choosing to continue everything as we have done it before: feeding only certified organic feed, never using antibiotics except in the event to save an animals life, keeping animals on pasture throughout late spring, summer and fall, etc...etc...etc...but we will discontinue the biased governmental process of organic certification.

Instead, our only surveyors will be our customers.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Big Fat Belly Dancers



Big Fat Belly Dancer from Summer 2014

Last winter here was horrific. I love using that term because it drives my oldest son nuts, thinks it's a bit overdramatic. But when you lose 20 piglets and 4 calves due to cold weather alone, when you have never lost livestock in those numbers due to frigid weather in the 2 decades you've been farming; I think "horrific" is justified.

Besides, I'm the mom and I say so.

When you're a small farm that type of loss recovery does not happen overnight. In 2014 we raised and sold half the number of hogs we did the year before. Now, a year later things are looking up as pig bellies are going down. It's been a bit of a rocky ride as when one of our two big Red Wattle Boars, Mad Max, self retired and proving less than productive with our sows; was made into brats (for Keith) and dog food for our Great Pyrenees and German Shepard. All of them, except maybe Mad Max, are very happy with the results.

But, this put our breeding schedule behind. To add more challenges, our remaining boar Wally, always a fine virile fellow just a tad younger than Mad Max who was 5, decided that HE was getting bored with his boar duties. We put all our sows in with him thinking, silly us, what a hoot of a time he would have. Yet, the girls were just not getting bigger and bellies were remaining too slim. Some visits to the vet for ultrasound pregnancy checks end of December showed only 2 of 7 were pregnant.

At the advice of our vet we put Wally in seclusion. Seems boars, if life is made too easy for them, i.e. easy access to a harem, will get lazy. It all just becomes too familiar to them, too easy, not unlike those unemployed in our society who have all their benefits just automatically deposited into their banks, never seeing the need to seek work. Hmmmm. I sense a new short story; A Boar Speaks out on Public Aide. Anyway...a couple weeks alone and reintroduction of females should cause Wally, theoretically, to be put back "on alert."  Much of this hoopla has worked in our favor as  we told ourselves last winter we would never breed sows to have litters in the dead of winter again.  Seems they took care of that themselves.

Last week more sows went back for preg testing and the results were so much better. Five of seven have dancing bellies!  This validated Wally as new king, apparently he was getting the job done after all. The other two un bred females have been moved back to Wally in his new bachelor digs and man did he get busy, obviously forgetting he had shared a home with these two in the past. So, in the end, we'll have litters in the next two weeks, and throughout March, April, and May . This is excellent news since we have four customers waiting for feeder pigs as more folk have tired of the bad meat quality in stores and our ready to raise their own bacon, chops and hams.

In addition, we have selected a fine young boar, now 6 months old, as Max's replacement and soon, after new babies arrive we'll be back to our routine of moving sows back and forth between two boars thus giving credence to that old saying, "Familiarity breeds contempt."

Grow, mama sows, grow!

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Prodical Student Returns...Again.


Soda.head.com

I started my second semester at UIUC on Tuesday (it's actually my third semester at UIUC if you count those weeks I attended back in the Triassic period of 1976 and my 11th semester of college overall if you count my pre-nursing and nursing days of upper learning) and STILL I find myself unable to sleep well the night before classes because, you know, I might be late.

You would think after over 50 years in school systems I would learn that being late for class does not mean immediate line up for a firing squad. I of course, because it is just plain fun, I blame the nuns; specifically I fault Sister Mary Gerard with the Unibrow.

Yes, that was her confirmed Pope approved name, Sister Mary Gerard Unibrow.

Once, when I was just a tiny, vulnerable 7 year old in first grade, I was told by an upperclassman: I believe he was a worldy third grader, that the cafeteria had a fire and there would be no classes after lunch. Since we lived in the apartment house next door to my school, Our Lady Of Mispent Youth, and I always went home for lunch, this information seemed plausible.

The Innocent and trusting Donna Marie
in kindergarten, just one year before her faith
in humanity was crushed.

My mother may have been suspicious since there were no fire trucks at the school that morning, but straddled with 4 children under the age of 7, I am sure it was just easier to believe me than it was to fact check; besides she needed more milk at the store and I was the only one old enough to cross four lanes of Ashland Avenue traffic to get it.

Thrilled to be out of school on that sunny May day, (I have no idea what the weather was that day  but being a creative writer I am allowed to embellish; in fact it is required) I was skipping past the school towards the corner grocery when from the third floor above me I heard Sister Mary Gerard Unibrow beckon to me.

"DONNA MARIE O'SHAUGHNESSY WHY AREN"T YOU IN SCHOOL?!?!" Now seriously, how did those black capped women manage to memorize every single child's middle name?

I responded the only way I knew how...I ran like the wind to my mother. Her immediate and empathetic response was to get my little can back to school. Apparently I had been a victim of the all too well known The Cafeteria Has Burned Up Scheme. Humiliated, I returned to class and after being chastised in front of everybody about not believing everything I was told; unless of course it was told to me by a nun or priest or talking statue saint, I vowed never again to believe anyone who told me class was cancelled.

Consequently, I find myself at times sitting in empty class rooms because I did not believe the weatherman, the school emails, the large saw horse barriers or the big signs on the door that state class has been cancelled. There is no room for the phrase "better late than never"  in my life.

I'll show YOU Sister Mary Gerard Unibrow.



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lets Give it Up For...Hoary Frost!!


 
 How can you not LOVE that name? Hoary Frost. I mean, I can't even say it silently in my head without smiling. When I finally get around to chucking this lets-do-chores-in-the-middle-of-hell-freezing-over lifestyle and return to my first love of Vaudeville; I am so going to make that my stage name. I might even add something to it like Mademoiselle Hoary Frost. So many options, so few costumes.



Our Illinois weather continues to be winter like which makes sense since it is mid-January. Variety has ruled. Some 40 degree days two weeks ago with lots of mud to trudge through , then last week below zero cold snap with wind chills of -30, then an ice storm and some snow and last night Miss Hoary Frost visited.

 
 
 
 
 

Some folks mistake her for actual snow fall but they are just, you know, wrong. Others refer to it as plain old Hoar Frost but we south of I-80 folk prefer the Hoary Frost term. It's just more fun. Technically it is just one type of frost that includes crystal formations created from the deposition of water vapor from air of low humidity. You didn't know I was a Rocket Scientist did you?

 

 Non-technically it's a beautiful coating of shimmering white, transforming ordinary items into something spectacular. Hmmmm. Perhaps I'll sleep outside tonight.





Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Teat Freezing Cold





It is so cold outside...
How cold is it?
It is so cold outside that I just fell in love with my husband of 21 years all over again when he volunteered to do all the outside chores in this -6 degrees F weather; THAT is how cold it is.

Ennis making us look bad
as she actually enjoys the brisk turn of events.

Of course the drastic temperature drop came just as we got our first real snow fall of the season. It in itself was not to bad, 4-6 inches in most areas, but now that winds are picking up we will indeed see some drifting. But even with the cold and the snow we had a good turnout at the farm store today most likely due to the new batch of beef we picked up at Bittners Eureka Locker on Monday.

Chuck, arm and rolled rump roasts beckoned to those wanting hot stews and other comfort foods to get through these days. This am I thawed one of our chickens for a chicken chili. Yes, it was a chicken in my freezer not just a cold bird in the coop. Sheeesh, give me a little credit would you? I might actually cook up a frozen solid bird found in our chicken coop but I would never blog about it.

Anyway, made the chicken chili and fresh cornbread from our own cornmeal  freshly ground from our corn this past summer and then...here's the best part...shared it all with our friends Emma and Kiyoshi from Lucky Duck Farm. These two work so hard to grow such fantastic food and we had not seen them in TOO long, so it was great to break (corn)bread and share farm stories with each other.

And just in case you don't know about Kiyoshi, in addition to his farming skills he has an amazing needle felting skill. You will not believe the detail in his small creatures!

Needle Felted Bird - Cedar Waxwing

Fabulous gifts for those who have everything or better yet for those who don't have everything and need something special. Check out more of his work Here

Now where was I ? Oh yeah it's cold outside, but when friends are able to make it up your drive for a meal and a visit life feels warmer.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Post Number 1000 !

 

Me and my father in Iowa  1960

 
 It snuck up on me, my 1000th  post and I thought really ? 1000? Did I say anything profound in any way?

I suppose only time will tell. Centuries from now when some alien creature digs up all our old files out of the ground or more likely pulls them out of the nebulous "Cloud" storing so much digital data, will they find anything we bloggers write of any historical value? Perhaps.

I've been conducting my own archeological dig of late in the form of old photos. Over the years I have been blessed with the title of family historian which is just a nice way of saying, "Here, YOU hold onto all this stuff and then when there is a big fire and its all lost we'll know who to blame."

My father on floor 1929,
his sister Teresa in crib

Not true. No one said that to me; its just that nasty voice in my head spewing garbage. Instead of ignoring it as I can do (like I've never dealt with voices in my cranium before) I am tackling them head on. The photos have been pulled from all their hiding places: boxes, closets, cupboards, envelopes shoved between books, between the pages of books etc... I have collected them, sorted them and given all the duplicates away. I have cried over a few of them, laughed over most of them and felt so blessed to have so many memories literally at my fingertips.


My parents at their wedding, 1956 with
my grandparents and my Aunt Teresa

Which you are not supposed to do you know, finger your photos. I learned that in 6th grade health class I think. Something about body oils hurting the image. Let me tell you these images were damaged by a whole lots more than minute body oil secretions over the years. When I think of the smoke, the alcohol, the paints (my father the artist) the basement humidity, the attic deserts, the travel from state to state and house to house over decades and decades, it is a miracle that any of them survived at all.

My two aunts and my grandmother
Teresa, Bernadette and Josephine O'Shaughnessy

Now, due to the constant pestering of our oldest son, I am finally scanning them all into my computer, labeling them and resorting them for inclusion into an archival, acid free, PVC free, photo album. After years of horrific abuse these photos will likely go into some sort of irreversible shock when their faces touch such holiness. But, it is time. Life is rushing by me and organization beckons. This next generation is entitled to a (somewhat) intact past.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Pigs of a Different Color


Variety is the spice of life
and the chops and the hams...and especially the sausage.

 
We are all about the variety here on South Pork Ranch, just stand me next to Keith and you'll understand. Livestock wise we follow the same practice. Our cows are all cross breds, the ducks have been totally visited by some odd but beautiful  genetic form that brings out browns, blacks and greys in a previously all white collection and the peacocks have a touch of flamingo in them I swear.

It is only in our Red Wattle herd where we exhibit some control, we believe in the "purity" of the breed keeping in mind that when the herd was thought to be lost but was rediscovered in Texas in the early 70's, some Durocs were used to get the breed back up in numbers. After that it was necessary to allow some Red Wattle inbreeding but over the last 5 decades the breed has evolved into something beautiful, well tempered and tasty! Oh so tasty.

Red Wattle Meat is NOT
the "other white meat"

We run both registered and unregistered stock together keeping the breeding stock separate from the feeder pig stock.  Because our breeding herd is small (one registered boar with 5 registered sows and two unregistered sows) we are able to keep track easily of who can be registered and who cannot both by ear tags and by looks. One of our unregistered sows is an obvious crossbred ( half Dalmation I believe) named Dot who we have had for several years. She has no RW in her lineage but she is always bred to an RW. She has big litters and is a great mama and her babies make the best meat hogs.



Look at this group of feeder hogs again. All about the same age (6-7 months) from two different litters. Dots are the spotted ones; the ones we call our "Spotted Wattles." They will be heading to the locker in 4 weeks and will have hanging weights of over 200 pounds. They are longer like their mama.

Now look at the Red Wattle group and note the variety in color. This litter was originally 10 who came from a registered RW boar and a registered RW sow. Of those ten, half met the strict registration guidelines set by the Red Wattle Association. Of those five "best of the best" we sold four to other breeders, keeping one nice boar (front left) for ourselves.

Nice ears: check
Well shaped wattles: check
Willingness to be cuddled: check



These boots are made for stalking...heat cycles.
The remaining hogs of that litter did not make the grade. Either their wattles were not of uniform size or placement, or their ears were not well shaped or perhaps their legs were not well aligned with the rest of their body. So genetically this group stops sharing it's traits the day they go to the locker. Instead they will grace us and our customers with amazing chops, roasts, hams, bacon and fat for lard making. It's our motto...

Breed the best and make Italian sausage for pizza night with the rest.