Monday, August 30, 2010

Take this job and LOVE it !

I quit ! decade long job as medical surgical weekend night nurse at the small community hospital near us. A decision that was many months in the making. My last day is Oct 30, which will allow Keith and I to investigate the location of all the poor houses in our area, as we may need a place to live if this new idea tanks.

It is time for us to fish or cut bait, and take a leap of faith. Either this farm  is ready to be totally "sustainable" enough to support itself or it isn't, but we will not know until we cry...I mean TRY. Our hog and raw milk business has been steadily growing but is far from reaching its potential. We feel if I am home full time we can accomplish so much more.

The response from our 4 grown children was most amazing.

From "way to go mom !" to "what the @%&! are you thinking !!??" I feel the same way. Why would I leave a great job with great pay and super benefits like health insurance ? I am leaving because it is time.

Time for me to put my money (or soon to be lack of money) where my mouth is. Time to put everything I have , instead of just half of what I am capable of, into our family farm. Time to trust God, which is so easy to do when life is stable and much harder to do when life gets challenging. I have been in health care for 36 years, 25 of which has been as an RN. I have loved that job, especially the 11 years I spent caring for hospice patients but the seasons they are- a -changing and I am pulled to another season of my life.

Keith and I are blessed in so many ways allowing this decision to be a little easier to make. Our four children do not rely on us financially, our health is good, (well, Keith's is fantastic and mine is good enough and that averages out to be good ),  our minds are clear at least 80% of the time. We LOVE what we do here on South Pork Ranch and we love sharing it with our friends and families. So wish us luck as we begin to sever the corporate safety nets we have kept underneath us for so many years, and begin to build supports of faith, hope and charity, and by charity I mean YOU GUYS. Because when we lose the house, the farm, the land it might be your porch we show up on with our sleeping bags in hand ! Lock your doors.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pied Piper of Pigs

Once again, because the demand for our product is growing so fast, we recently bought a "few"  feeder pigs from a neighboring farmer. Soon our breeding stock will be in full production but as our growth has been so wonderfully rapid, we have had  to "outsource" some of our pork chop crop. All hogs are still raised here but only about 75% are born here. (We believe this will be our LAST group not born on South Pork Ranch.)

So we buy piglets as young as we can and then we move them OUTSIDE. It is often the first time these piggies have ever felt dirt or been able to chew grass or bask in the sunshine.

In the beginning,  confinement hogs are very wary of people. They are used to being indoors, in tight quarters. They are often fed by automated means. They don't get the kind of behind the ear scratches and shoulder rubs our animals are accustomed to receiving. Then they come to South Pork Ranch and their lives change.

We get them on pasture as soon as we can get them acclimated to an electric fence. The REAL fun happens very quickly as Keith begins to feed them raw milk from our certified organic dairy. The pigs love it and of course fall deeply in love with Pied Piper Keith.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Babes in the woods

Woke to a gorgeous, crisp, sunny morning and found this:

A brand new litter of 12 piglets ! Congratulations to mother Dot and father Mad Max. Dot is a crossbred we purchased last year from the Wettstein Organic farm in Congerville, Illinois  and Mad Max is full Red Wattle which we purchased from Dot and Brian Jordon of Kiss My Grass Farms in Indiana.  This is therefore Mad Max's first sired litter.  This is also our first litter born completely ouside. (Special thanks to Walter Jeffries of Sugar Mountain Farm for all his on line education in this area.)  Litters born last winter were in the big Hogcienda Keith had built. Dot could have chosen that area as well this time but instead went to the far north end of her pasture and picked this very private , cozy spot.

To get to her you have to walk through chest high grass and weeds. We had noticed Dot going in circles last evening, pulling up weeds and knew she was making a nest, yet at 0630 her nest was a little hard to find. Since we have been very hands on with our sows this summer, Dot greeted us with a few grunts but felt no need to jump up or charge us to protect her litter. Close up shots were easy to take. So everyone, lets raise a glass of raw milk and toast all animals on pasture, where they should be.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Look out, mama's got spurs.

A week since I last blogged. Where did that time go ? Right into my behind and heels.  I am thrilled to announce I rode in the 3 day Chris Cox Clinic in Oregon, Wisconsin and survived to tell about it. Man, oh man, oh man, what a weekend. This blog is long. If you love horses, grab some java and jump in. If you don't... read it anyway.

Thursday Aug. 19, the evening before: while loading Nora, Doolin the jackass jumped onto the trailer, dropped and rolled in front of me and the horse, kicking us both. I was ready to use the event as an excuse not to go. Excuse # 10 for those who were counting. Lesson learned, hang the donkey up by his heels before loading the horse. Calm husband convinced me WE needed a break from the farm. We left. Nora and I in a foul mood.

Friday Aug 20, 0900. It is very hot. Chris Cox meets with us, talks to us. 17 signed up to ride. 14 showed up plus 40 or so spectators.

Then he told us to saddle up, and in my head I was high-tailing it out of that there cowboy place. I had no business being there. Some people had spurs and new Wrangler jeans and one guy was even chewing tobacco. Obviously I was way out of my league, but I saddled up anyway. I imagined myself galloping off like the Runaway Bride if it got too tough...if I could remember how to gallop.

Chris had us walk, trot and lope in front of him, then he critiqued us. I felt naked and stupid. Obviously he  thought my form was just funny as did the crowd. He also made it clear he did not like my "tennis shoes" which were leather Ariat riding boots. The sole was too thick, the toes too round. I was offended. What is so wrong with round and thick ?!

That afternoon we did many hours of ground work. I learned to back my horse with just a look. In the beginning, the first time I " looked " at Nora and backed her up, Chris said " Softer Donna softer ! If I were your husband and you looked at me that way I'd run backwards as far as I could go. " Hmmmm, I sense a theme here. Mr Cox had no idea he was not the first one in my life to tell me to lighten up.

Later he chose to ride Nora to show us some more of his techniques. I could not believe the things he could accomplish on my simple half breed horse.The look of shock and awe on her face was...priceless. Chris and Nora are second from the left in the next picture. I'm the one on foot in orange unsure if I am suppossed to follow him around or just go out for coffee.

I was wiped by the end of the day. The whole day pretty much a blur as I look back.

Blisters on my heals and lots of bruises from my very unbalanced seat. Sweat dripping off my eyelids like rain off the edge of an umbrella. Yet I made Keith take me out to buy some real boots with pointy toes and a smooth sole. I was asleep by 8 PM.

Saturday, August 21. Arrived early at the stables so I could practice and buy a Chris Cox Bridle. I was not going to give CC a chance to chide me on my old bridle which was a hodge podge of leather and lace from the bridles of two other long dead horses of mine. Bad Bridle Karma for sure. At 9 am he gathered us around . While he talked one guys horse suddenly bit its owner hard on the shoulder. The guy turned and lightly hit his large buckskin. Chris went nuts. "Don't you dare hit him like fairy ! Pop him, pop him hard ! (he was not suggesting the guy offer his horse a soda. "Get him, get  him !!!" The formerly meek owner sprang to life and made his horse regret his actions. Afterwards, Chris explained very thoroughly that a biting horse is one that can kill you and there are no holds barred when it comes to correcting a biting horse.

I asked his opinion on the use of spurs. He was very clear about the use and misuse of them. He was clear with me that my leg aides were too poor to have "earned" spurs yet. Like a dejected child I hung my head, nodded, and then began weeping into my sweat soaked support bra.

After lunch the heat was even worse. One slender woman nearly fainted and had to sit out a while. Another one got deathly white and also had to take time out. One good thing about us hefty girls , we retain water well. In the afternoon he had us cantering around him in circles in sets of two. One had to stay inside the circle and one stay on the outside of the circle. We could not take our eyes off of him or his helper Richard. We could not look at our horses, or each other, or our saddles, or the reins or the sky or the hard ground we were doomed to crash into. His point: trust your horse.  They don't run into each other, PEOPLE run horses into each other. In the beginning I was petrified. It seemed we loped those horses forever and once when my partner in the circle started to lag behind he yelled, "Don't you DARE give up !" She looked him square in the eye and finished. Still in her saddle as was I.

Sunday August 22. I passed Chris in the morning before we started. He asked how I was. "My shoulders are the worst. I've never had them ache so much."  His response ? "Good. That means you're doing something right." Direct and to the point. No mamby pamby stuff with this guy. I went to saddle Nora. She cried when she saw me. Offered me all kinds of weird stuff out of her stall NOT to ride her again. Neither of us had worked this hard together...EVER. That is when I looked at my riding helmet and left it in the tack room. It had been hindering me all weekend. Making me feel weak and amateurish. Yes, I fully understand the dangers of riding without a helmet and every child must ride with one, but for me, it was like taking off the training wheels again.

On this, our last day CC reviewed all we learned and had us put it all together in lead changes and counter bending. Not the kind of counter bending you do in the pub after your 5th shot of Red Breast. No, the kind where your horses head is turned  to the right while you are loping her to the left. A bizarre equine skill akin to rubbing your head and patting your belly while step dancing in the Riverdance Troupe.  Craziness that was soooo cool when Nora and I finally nailed it. But it took so much leg work on my part, I kicked and she barely responded, CC yelled " that kick wouldn't get a mosquito to move, now you KICK HER HARD !" I did and she moved. Of course I had a compound fracture in my leg but I had forward movement.

During our lunch break; a picture, just to prove I really was there
and received more than just a t-shirt. ( A picture, three days of intense training and too much new tack, THATS what I got you maroons !)

The last hour of our last day Chris rode many of the other participants horses. He rode consistently and practiced what he preached. It was amazing to see him address specific horse issues (really OWNERS issues) using the same techiniques and acheiving the same results time and time again.

 At the end of a very hot day on Sunday, I approached him with arm extended to shake his hand in appreciation. He grabbed it firmly, pulled me towards him, hugged me and whispered gently in my ear. "Donna, you can get some spurs now." 

24 hrs after arriving home I had spurs. It took two hours to figure out how to secure them to my boots and 10 seconds for Nora to realize I was indeed someone to respect. I was delighted. I wore them all evening, but before I end this too lengthly blog, here is my very STERN warning about spurs. Take the time to remove them before you shower. They will scratch your tile.

To summarize, Chris Cox is dead serious about what he does and expects you to be as well. He is stern but fair. He does not like "quitters". He gives full credit to horses and riders who try hard. He will not tolerate your inattention (nor should he) and he will reward your every honest effort. He is a professional and the real deal. He wants to save your life while you are riding and he risks his own life everyday to show you how. I was literally ridden hard and put away wet every day.  And I would do the whole thing over again in a blink of eye, just give me one more day to recover.

If you love horses and want to improve your relationship with them, do yourself and your horse a favor and check out Chris Cox at

Happy Trails.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way to the barn

Its called trust. I'm not sure when it happened. Maybe day 30 or day 40 or ride number 50 but sometime this summer Nora and I developed trust with each other.

 Nothing replaces time when it comes to important things. Like family and horses. I've been riding for years but I've only just begun my journey as a horseman. I had to admit how stupid I was before my mind would be open enough to learn. And once I did that this whole huge barn door opened up and knowledge flooded in faster than my pea brain could absorb it.

But why or why couldn't this revelation have hit me when my BODY was young and supple ?!?!??!?!? My mantra used to be "please don't let me fall, " now it is "WHEN I fall, please let me bounce."

 Two more days until we leave for the Chris Cox Clinic in Oregon Wisconsin. My sole selfish wish is that there be at least one person a little older and maybe a little fatter than me. Someone who shows up in (brand new)  matching  neon pink cowgirl boots and hat and calls her horse "snookums". Really, is that asking so much ?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Country Store is Born

How can I describe this past week ? Like a cyclone without water, an earthquake without building damage, a volcano without lava. We had so much going on in so many places all at the same time. Even the more well organized multi-taskers found themselves standing in the corner babbling and drooling. Add that to the continued heat wave and our already sweaty faces that when combined with the drool caused our heads to slide right off our bodies. And THAT just really slowed down our thought processes.

Yet still, though all that, Keith and I mustered forward as did our 3 fine sons  who completed many tasks for us. Jason and Colton focused on trench digging and rewiring of the new store, while I secured another grocery store to sell our meat (Naturally Yours Grocer in Normal and Peoria, Illinois )  We started stocking their freezer section 2 dys ago.

The store arrived Tuesday Aug 10, ahead of schedule. Looked impressive coming up our lane. Grandson Wes was beside himself with the excitement of big trucks getting so close,

Soon after, we observed the buildings owner Tim Sinn of Countryside Barns , maneuver the store into place over the gravel pad Keith had laid the day before.  Very neat to see the flat bed trailer raise that store high in the air...

and then slowly ease into place. It was during this process we could really appreciate the quality building skills that went into our new farm store. Within a few moments our store was in place.

Now, the REAL work begins. The list goes a little something like this..install all the electrical wires, outlets and boxes, dig trenches for wiring, install AC unit and Heating unit, dig trench for propane, hang all lights, insulate walls, finish walls with plywood, paint interior walls, and ceiling, decide on floor covering, install counter for checking out, paint outside walls and porch, move standup freezers in, stock all freezers, install general shelving for other merchandise such a t-shirts, honey, published books of my blog, pastured eggs, and who knows what else.  We will also be removing all of Keiths "inventory" in the area closest to the store and building a small petting zoo area. INTERNS...we need interns.!

In the next picture, Keith and Wesley demonstrate the loft where additional merchandise and frustrated, over worked Yaya's can be stored.

But for today, the emphasis was wiring. Thank you Colton, for being the project leader in this area and thanks to Jason for his apprenticeship hours. Thanks again to our secret investors for without them you'd just be looking at pics of cardboard boxes we would be taping together to make a store.

Grand opening won't be until September. Stay tuned for more details.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dangling Participles

Raising calves is generally very pleasant for them.  We feed bottles and then buckets of milk which they like. We feed leafy organic hay in self serve buckets, which they like. We apply organic No Fly spray to ears and other parts which leaves a nice scent of cloves, which they like. We rub their necks and give them fresh cold water. Also well liked.

And then we castrate them.

Different than the cutting process done with piglets, castrating calves involves rubberbands. (Yeah, I see all you guys out there instinctively pulling your legs together. )  At a few weeks of age, and after we are sure the testicles have descended, Keith uses a special hand held device that pulls the rubberband wide and allows him to slip it up and over the testicles wrapping tight to the area that connects the testicle to the calves body.

The calves do jump and or kick for a few brief moments but then very quickly settle down and begin eating again . I am amazed by this. No human male I know would be able to concentrate on a meal, no matter how big the T-bone in front of him, if I had just lassoed his privates. Its not that animals don't perceive pain but I believe they percieve it differently. Or maybe their will to survive is actually stronger than ours.

After a couple of weeks the calves testicles shrivel up from the lack of blood circulation and just fall off.
A bull becomes a steer. And men all over the world feel a little shiver run through them. Not exactly the same as an angel getting her wings everytime a bell rings, but pretty close.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

My only true love

There really is only one way to get through these long 12 hr night shift weekends at the hospital. Only one.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A few bricks short of a load

No, not referring to myself THIS time. Instead, I am referring to our old farmhouse. Over 110 years old, it has a few issues. One little, minor one comes to mind. The foundation. Although not exactly built on sand, our home has experienced some shifting over the years. Most often this occurs when all of the family is here for Thanksgiving or Christmas and they come running into the dining room en masse when I announce the meal is ready. Like a herd of mastodons they will thunder into the room seeking holiday meat and desserts. OK, its not ALL their faults. The fact that the bricks in our foundation were probably made during the Civil War might also have something to do with it.

Thus , a couple of weeks ago, when Keith walked out the back door and saw, literally, a pile of bricks that had fallen ever so casually from our foundation, he decided to move a little quicker towards repair. (See the pic below for the brick pile just to the right of the back door) Enter an elderly man with a serious smoking habit. A gentleman we had heard about from a friend of a friend. He started work on a handshake. ( Stop shaking your head at me Mike Holmes) He worked very fast and came in UNDER estimate. He started early and stayed late even though the weather was very hot. He got the job done.

And the best news ...I was able to get my porch moved back into place. A good thing, as that first fall of the morning out my back kitchen door was starting to take its toll.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How hot is it ?!?!

It is so hot...I'm carrying around our box fan from room to room like some cheap plastic purse from KMart. It is so hot, (and perfectly still) that the flag in our yard has become one with its pole.

It is so hot, the chickens are voluntarily lining up at the plucking machine just to loose a few feathers. It is so hot that the  blue bowl of water I put in the baby duck pen, turned into a crock pot and , well, lets just say it was little sad. It is soooo hot that when I took my third shower for the day and sat on the usually ice cold tile seat in the corner, it began to melt and molded itself to my backside.

When I left the shower the seat came with me which might be why some people have referred to me as a real hard A_ _.