Friday, October 31, 2014

Crap...It's Winter

One last glimpse of the beauty of Fall

My GK'S were asking me the other day about good words and bad words. The writer in me wanted to explain that words are neither good or bad as they have no ability to act immorally but I knew they were not interested in that definition; they basically wanted to know what words, if spewed aloud, might lose them computer time. Basics. Always get down to the basics.

So without an exhaustive list I mentioned a few non acceptable words. Then the 7 year old grandson asked me about the word "crap." For his purposes I decided no. There would be no crap utterances on my watch. But if they are smart, and they are, they will learn like the millions before them; that barn lofts are meant for uttering disallowed words. Cats, chickens and peacocks don't give a crap about your language.

Now, as a farmer..Crap! a most personal favorite of mine, as evidenced this am when I stepped outside to do pig chores. Crap! It was really cold outside and Crap! that's snow coming down isn't it ? And Crap! I'm going to have to go back inside and get a hat and gloves.

Crap! Fall is over and winter is barking up its backside. Sure we will have a few more warm days, a tease, but we all know wha'ts coming here in the Midwest and we best get ready. In the past I would make "Winter Prep" lists but in the midst of a what we thought was a possible farm sale, going back to school, etc...the list was not made. Therefore there is nothing to do to prepare for the ice and wind and snow, correct?

Oh, so wrong mon Cherie. There are hoses to drain and hang which means buckets will be used to carry water to those critters without automatic waterers. Oh joy. Then we have to board up the spots in the barn where snow may drift, secure the open areas on outdoor hutches left open for summer breezes but not helpful when breezes become gales of pure frigidity. Bedding must be packed into hutches to help animals keep warm and fences fixed. Storm windows must return and for those upstairs windows without storms good old plastic must be applied as an additional insulating layer.

The list goes on and on and later this am Keith and I will have our farm meeting and talk seriously...about what we can put off until, or say, the winter of 2017.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Little Poor Farm on the Prairie

Little Poor Farm on the Prairie
What's one more year among friends? Samantha Stephens used to say to Darin in the 1960's TV show when she was about to admit something that might not bode well for her, appears as once again, financing is just not going to happen for the last couple we've been working with. This obviously means no move to The Poor Farm anytime soon. When we purchased the 7 acres last fall we were sure we'd be living there in a months time. Now don't get me wrong, we are definitely into miracles and if one makes its face known we can pack up and ship out in no time flat, but realistically it looks like Prince Farming and his way past Midlife Farmwife are here on South Pork Ranch for the time being.

Now here's the good news. It's been a fabulous summer here. After last winters frigid air and snow dumps our livestock blossomed with the summers lower temps, frequent rains and thick pastures. In years past like in the drought we had two summers ago, we were feeding hay in early July. This year the pastures even now on October 27, look like spring. The growth is so lush we still must watch animals closely for bloat when turned into new areas, something we normally only need to vigilant about in spring.

The Red Wattles have caught up with their breeding schedules and litters born have been large and healthy. All of our pork that will be market age this fall is sold out with none additional available for sale until February. All the beef that grew little or none when the cold was at its worst have bounced back and after months of not having any beef even for ourselves, our freezers are filling up again. Milk production has been so good we were able to take some folks off our raw milk waiting list and actually put them on the raw milk GETTING list! Nothing like great pastures to make great milk. In addition, our very loyal customers remained even more loyal.

And so we sit back (just for a minute) to lick some wounds and then grill up some steaks and lick our fingers. We have plenty of food for ourselves, lots leftover for our customers and the ability physically and mentally to keep doing the work we are doing. Don't cry for us Argentina...instead check out some recent pics of The Poor Farm which has waited this long for new residents, it can wait a little longer.

The 100 year old barn being picked apart piece by piece.
Treasures have been found.

Nature reclaims that once abandoned



Add caption

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

To save them you must eat them...and broil them and bake them and fry them.



The irony of our life is stuff for poems. I should know, I just wrote a pig poem the other day.

It's not very good.

But I am good at castrating piglets which is what we did yesterday afternoon after I got home for school. Buehlers life was dull compared to mine. We had another lovely group of pure Red Wattle piglets born last week and it was time to separate the boys from the men.

Except none of them will be "men" this group, none of them as perfect for registration as we would like so will all be sausage, bacon, chops about 6 months time. As more folks learn to appreciate the taste of this NOT the other white meat, then more ask for it and thus more farmers want to raise them. Supply-demand-bacon!

The process is good for the economy, good for small farmers and good for the consumer. Organic pasture raised meat is amazing. Yes, we feel it is even good for the pig as they have a super life, able to roam over large areas, able to play in mud puddles, cuddle up with brothers and sisters and bask in the warm sun whenever they like.

It is amazing even to us how fast this breed will grow. Of course all that extra raw milk does wonders. Just look at how I, I mean they, have grown. The group below is on the way to Eureka locker as I type. No worries, Keith will take them through the scenic country. It's a wonderful morning for a drive.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Helloooooooooo! Anybody home?

Yeah I hear you. Where has she gotten off to this time? Is she not aware anther month, another ridiculous season, has passed since she last posted? If this continues we'll just move on to better and bigger farmwife pastures.

I would not blame you. I might even tag along.

But you are here now so you might as well stay. Lets recap. No, the farm is not yet sold, yes I have made it though the first 5 weeks of school, no, we have not started building on the Poor Farm, yes, we believe this blog is constantly being monitored by IDPH because they have nothing better to do, no, I still cannot speak Italian well and yes, we will have more bacon in the farm store in just a few days.

Farm sale. Still pending. It is not easy in our section of the woods for young (or not) beginning farmers to get loans for farm businesses that are not...dare I say it?...of course I will... created from the almighty corn and soybean mindset. It appears many loans in our county and our state have been nicely floated to those who follow the rules, who remain conventional, who refuse to step outside the box. But if you dare to try something new like manage an organic farm, one that raises a variety of livestock not just the same overused , overbred robostock that no longer even sees real grass, you can expect very little help from local banks and farm agencies. But the young couple we are still working with have a strong entrepreneur strength and we continue to have high hopes that this farm will become their farm.

Good things come to those who wait, who work, who pray, who perservere despite prejudicial treatment.

In the mean time, Keith has been logging longer farm hours as his wife gallivants within the academic world; a world that I will admit, has made me giddy with happiness! Oh sure, it's no cake walk, although it is but a brief walk from the English building to my new favorite restaurant on campus The Red Herring. It's so fun and old- age- new- age there. Great Indie-Rock folk music I can dig, (from Dylan to Sarah Jarosz)  groovy atmosphere for study (they serve "old-hippie" tea in real mugs) and farm fresh food. FARM FRESH from small local farms I tell ya. Sure, its vegetarian but they let me in anyway. Shhhhh, please don't tell them I also eat pork, beef, eggs, chicken, milk and the occasional lamb. I'm kinda a big deal there and don't want to lose my seat under the 8 foot long live plant that drapes itself over my favorite table.

Nearly at the midterm point at UIUC, this semi-senior is getting such a kick of being referred to as a Junior which means I'll graduate with my BA in Fine Arts, Creative Writing in May 2016. I have four intense reading and writing classes plus one kick butt Italian class. Truly I cannot remember caca for that class. (See ? I just used the Spanish word for excrement instead of the Italian word. Geez! The word I want is puah. Now repeat after me..Puu-wah, Benissimo!) Every week I am reading massive amounts of short stories/poetry/essays and then writing about them. I either support them, analyze them, annotate them or argue against them--yeah I LOVE that. Oh that crazy Poe, I adore him so. I returned school to improve my writing and man, am I writing. What I am not doing is getting much sleep in between homework, class time and travel time since I commute 2.5 hours each day. But since lack of sleep causes wrinkles and I am already in that deep boat I fret not. I am also not making soap, not cleaning house, not cooking, not calling friends, not returning calls to friends, and OK I'll admit it, I am not keeping my eyebrows plucked. Why bother? When they are overgrown and bushy disappearing into my untrimmed bangs, my fellow students don't see me raise them as they make totally off the wall unsupported left-winged propagandist statements.

I do represent the establishment you know :)

And THEY do an excellent job of not scoffing out loud when I say something deeply meaningful, insightful and oh so wisdom-- based like "Hey! Who stuck their disgusting gum to the underside of my desk ?!?!" Truth be told I have met some amazingly brilliant young folk on campus and I am learning from them every single day. Every single day. And because of their enthusiasm and desire to excel they have motivated me to push my own envelope. For example I only use the rail to go up and down the stairs about half the time. The other half I risk all and brave the steps, now get this, unassisted.

The farm itself is motoring along nicely. Our livestock did a great job of procreating this summer and we've had many extra piglets to sell as feeders, breeders and eaters. Our waiting list for all those continues to grow. It's exciting to see more and more small farmers wanting to raise the Red Wattle hog. In fact we had another fine litter of these beauties just the other day and as soon as the rain lets up I'll be snapping some photos. All our carcass meat is spoken for through February and soon I'll be taking names for these new feeder pigs. No, I don't want you to name them, I will be putting your names on a list to eat them.

Clarity in sentence structure.
Just one of the many weaknesses I offer.

One of our hogs was featured at Spence Farm's Harvest Feast a couple of weeks ago and that is always a big thrill for us when amazing chefs get their hands on one of our piggies. So, I'll leave you now with a raw milk update and take a few moments to catch up on all your blogs. I really have missed you guys.


When last we spoke raw milk issues were kicking up speed here in Illinois. That train is still rushing full speed ahead and I really do not know where it will end up. We are encouraging everyone and anyone who cares about the right to consume and produce and sell and give away the raw milk from your farm animals to contact JCAR (Joint Commision of Administrative Rules) These big guns will be making the decision on whether or bot these rules will stand. We have just another week or so to get our opinions in writing to them. (email or snail mail) Please go HERE for that contact information.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Around the World in 80 Blogs and a Raw Milk Update


Geez. I'm so embarrassed. One of my bestest blog buddies, Lorna Sixsmith of Carlow, Ireland just did this wonderful post about yours fooly and it very nicely refers back to my blog (you hyperlink my back and I'll hyperlink yours) but then I follow my own link, some days its the only way I find my way home, and I realize I have not posted in 12 days!

Yeah, I'm quite the blogger all right. When the Nobel Prize extends it's reach into the blogosphere I'll be right up the top 10,000 or so. Enough excuses, time to get to work but before I do; thanks again Lorna, you and your blog Irish  Farmerette really rock !!

So what have I been up to?
A large amount of reading and writing and over-reaching government fighting, that's what. I've been back in school full time at UIUC for 4 weeks now and let me tell you this, I am totally scr**ed if I don't learn how to read about 10 times faster!

But I'll come back to that another day. We need to talk raw milk.

On September 5th, as threatened, the Illinois Department of Public Health posted their pages and pages and pages of proposed rules for raw milk production, sales and consumption in the Illinois Federal Register. We now have 45 days to comment. We had until today September 18 to request a hearing. After the 45 days the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules better known as JCAR will review these rules in the second 45 day comment period. They then have the power to reject them.

 As I have talked for over two years now, these rules are unnecessary, illogical, based on myth, punitive in nature and unaffordable when it comes to enforcing being as Illinois can't manage their money now and could never afford to hire the inspectors required to ensure compliance. They also will likely prove unconstitutional because they reach across so many rights of the private citizen. Example #1 the raw milk farmer will be required to submit names addresses and phone numbers of customers to IDPH whenever asked for them.

Fortunately we've had great support from organizations like The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund who published an amazing Call to Action today which well outlines the issue and gives clear direction on steps each of us can take to stop these ridiculous rules. You can read that Call to Action Right Here

There has also been decent media coverage. The Chicago Tribune( and WBEZ radio)  put in their two cents, interviewing both sides of the debate Here and The Pantagraph, a Bloomington, Illinois Newspaper, tracked me down while I was in class to get my side as well. Yes, I waited until the lecture on Gothic Imagery in Poe's Novel Arthur Gordon Pym was complete. If you'd like you can read that article Here

So as the Irish might say if this issue was happening in Lorna's land, The Shite has Hit the Fan. Through the power of social media as well as perhaps a few of my more recent anti-social comments to reporters; "Really, now they want to make it illegal to sell raw milk of your farm is located closer than 1.5 miles to a municipality? How NUTS are these people!?!" I do believe we have gotten the message out to those in our state who still believe that we the people have the right to eat and drink what we chose.

So now we keep writing letters to JCAR, we keep spreading the news, we keep sharing posts on Facebook and blogs and I personally will keep drinking raw milk ( and serving it to my family and friends) until they pry it out of my cold dead hand.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Cow Does Not A Pet Make



How now guard cow?

In our 20 plus years of farming together (and he did it for 10 years before he met me) Keith and I have run across all kinds as they have run across us. We have met the coolest Jane and John Does who have the deepest and most sincere desire to run a simple (they hope) and somewhat sustainable small farm. We often have young and not so young folk who come to us for advice (we have lots of that ) or wisdom (this supply runs short) or just to chew the Red Wattle fat about farm life in general.

We learn from them they learn from us and sometimes in appreciation we get cool stuff from our followees like poetry books by Wendell Barry! Thanks again Ben. I did love the one in "The Mad Farmer" titled Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.

Enough off topic verbals, back to the cow.

Another cow
If there was one piece of advice I would give new homesteaders it would be this. Do not make a pet of your cow. Do not think of her as a pet. Do not treat her as a pet. Do not take her with you to school on Bring Your Pet to School Days.

Cows are not pets.

I understand it is easy to make that mistake especially if you come by them when they are calves. Calves are quite stunning with their doe eyes, quivering ears and graceful necks. Once you begin to bottle feed them they will indeed follow you to the ends of the earth and quite possible up the stairs into your master suite.

Milk on tractor wheel. Not your ideal storage place
just a photo op.

But they are not pets, they are...get ready as this next word may be hard to take...livestock. They were made for two key purposes; to produce milk and to produce more bovines. And when they get to that point when they can no longer successfully do either of those tasks they have one last purpose, to produce several hundred pounds of yummy ground beef.

What we have seen happen too often is folks mistake their cow or maybe their two cows for dogs. It's easy to make that mistake. They both have four legs, they both speak no English (Italian, French or Gaelic for that matter) they both enjoy defecating wherever they please, they both enjoy scratches behind the ear but when an intruder pins you against your barn wall demanding all your raw milk be poured out on the ground for a trumped up rule breakage which "pet" will most likely buy that bad guy/gal in the leg?

That's right, it will be Fido, whereas Betsy will merely walk away in search of the proverbial greener pasture. Seriously though, making a pet of your cow can be dangerous to you directly as well. My husband warned me in the earlier years about not rubbing a cows head to hard or for too long. The occasional rub behind the ears and nice pat on the flanks for a milking job well done is one thing but over doing your physical demonstrations can lead a cow into thinking you are her equal and you might very well find yourself on the wrong end of a strong head but, the kind that can land you on your back.

Cows with attitude problems are the cheap ones often up for sale. Women especially love to buy cows based on their looks, their carmel coloring, their big expressive eyes. But after they get then home they realize the animal won't stand to be milked, kicks off her milker or worse yet kicks at YOU or your child.

Folks have tendency to make this pet/livestock mistake with their horses as well. Letting them into your space without your permission, allowing them to be aggressive at feeding time,  rubbing hard against you to get a bridle off. These are not friendly gestures and allowing them can cause you harm.

Other potential issues with Miss Bossy relate to diet and health care. Too often we see folks not taking the time to do real research when they buy their first cow. What is the best diet ? (we think grass and no grain but that's just us) How will you get feed? How will you know the feed is good quality? How will you store all this feed? And remember grass is not grass is not grass. Different types of grasses, hays have different nutritional values.

Have you considered the equipment needed? Too often people have this very romantic idea that they will milk their cow by hand. This takes a long time. If you do get a milking set up do you know how to use it? To trouble shoot it when it fails to work? Do you know how to thoroughly clean it?

Think about vet care. Do you have a vet? Does he/she know cows or just dogs and cats? Fewer and fewer vets want to troubled with actual livestock care especially on those farms with very few animals. Will your vet come to you or will he expect you to bring the animal to him? Some do. Yes, even if it is a 1000 pound cow. Will they come out in the middle of the night if your cow now has milk fever after calving? Do you know how to treat milk fever if he/she won't or can't? What about mastitis? What about bloat? What about hardware disease?

Yeah, cows will eat nails and screws accidentally. Mechanical accidents happen.

Finally there is the milk itself. Cows produce a LOT of milk, anywhere from 3-6 gallons a day depending on breed and feed. That could add up to over 40 gallons of milk a week! Will you sell the extra? Give it away? Feed pigs with it like we do? Do you know how to strain the milk of any impurities, how to cool it, how to store it?

Keith and our youngest GK, Wesley

I am not saying all small homesteaders who want to produce their own milk for cheese, yogurt, long milk baths, etc...must be experts in care of bovines, even Keith and I are still after many decades learning new ways to care for our animals,  but PLEASE I am begging you, do your homework!!  Learn from someone whose been doing it for many years. Volunteer to help a dairy farmer with his chores in exchange for picking his brain or watching him milk.  Purchase the books you need. The Internet is full of them. Mother Earth News is a great place to start. Read all you can, learn all you can  first before you buy the cow and get into real trouble. Have a good conversation with your vet. Farm calls can range from $100 and up. Volunteer to go with your vet on a day he is treating cows. Help a friend who has a cow by taking are of it for an entire week (dairy farmers rarely get vacations.) Eat, sleep and be the cow.

In other words do the work BEFORE you get your four legged dream ice cream machine.

Just another public service announcement from your local Midlife Farmwife. You may now resume regular programming.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Skool is Hard

The Quad at UIUC

I apologize for not blogging recently but you dog ate it.

Not really, he's not that into computers, he'd rather chase piglets and sniff his friend's back end, but I'm working on my excuses for not completing my homework. And boy, do I have homework.

It's funny, not really, how when I first made the decision to go back to college for my degree in creative writing I had this magical mystery tour sort of image in my chunky head. I would be sitting in class (the WISE one they would call me, giving validity to my waist long grey hair and crumbled up face) and I would be just absorbing through osmosis alone, all the knowledge I would need to rewrite my one routinely rejected novel and create thousands more.

I would hang out in smoke filled ultra hipster cool coffee houses where live music played in the alcoves-no dead music please-while I curled up into a decades old leather chair soaking up the creative genius ( and a small amount of residual body oils) left behind by the now famous authors who sat there in the last century.

I would learn and grow and improve as a writer merely though the art of BEING.


It has come to my attention that even though many things have changed since I last plodded along the Quad 38 years ago at UIUC, formally U of I, formally nicknamed U of High, one thing has not changed...the professors expect you to work, as in homework, as in lots of homework.

The biggest challenge for my atrophied brain is finding all the digital and non-digital places where homework assignments may or may not lurk. I have five classes. Creative Composition, Narrative Writing, Intro to Poetry Writing, The American Novel prior to 1914 and then Italian for Remedial Eejits. Italian for Brain Dead Eejits was the prerequisite. This is not a mocking of the course content but a reality check for the quinquagenarian who enrolled in it.

Each of these instructors share their homework assignments differently. Three use an online site called Compass 2g. One uses the universities site and one sort of goes by her syllabus only. Of those 5 folk, one puts all her assignments online and meticulously checks and grades all of them, one puts them all online but doesn't get to all the reading she assigned so class time is quite the gamble, one lists assignments online and then adds more in class and then removes some from the online list after you have already completed it, one only gives you assignments in class (works for me!) and the last one assigns online homework that has to be completed by midnight on Sunday.

Midnight. Sunday. Whatever happened to being able to stay up all night if you wanted and then just turn in your homework the next morning? No wonder the No-Doz company is reporting decreased sales.

I have in the last 10 days of school I've changed my method of tracking my homework at least 5 times. It might has been 6 but I recorded that method online and now cannot find it. I have tried writing out all the assignments in long hand, short hand, on the back of my hand and while watching Cool Hand Luke. I have set timers in the house to go off every 10 minutes so I can check what an instructor may have added or subtracted from her internet site of choice.

I have written them in notebooks, assignment books and address books. I have listed them on flash cards, greeting cards and now defunct library cards. But still I managed to turn in one assignment over 10 hours late, (she wrote "noon" and I read "midnight" because the other instructor said midnight that's why) and another incomplete when I accidently hit the "submit" button as I feel asleep my head crashing into the keyboard. Overall though it's a bit improved this week. Instead of lounging up in the trees swinging from a hammock like so many of my non-gray haired peers, I am doing my homework as it is assigned. Or trying to. I am staying later at school studying in the awesome --I can say awesome now, I'm a college student--library where the International Sciences Section on third floor has a very quiet and secluded group of tables. Last week I was rushing home so I could catch up with farm work. This week my farm work will have to wait until the weekend, when my husband will certainly need a break as he has been picking up all my farm chore slack.

So enough. It's time to summarize because I learned how to do that earlier today in CW 243
Homework is hard and so am I.