Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Soap as the Meaning of Life

In less than 48 hours our MOSA (Midwest Organic Services Association) inspector will be here to do his annual thing...he will inspect us. He will look at our critters, our critter housing, our barns, our feeds, our bedding and all our files/receipts/certifications. He might even notice the wonderful handcrafted soap in our bathroom made with certified organic Red Wattle Lard. Segue to soap starts here...

Made with palm, coconut, olive, canola oils with a spattering of Mango Butter
and several pours of essential  Lavender and Geranium Rose
Smells great but looks like the moon's surface. Indigo and woad powders
are due credit for the bizarre colors.
 We are of course, not ready due to major paperwork procrastination and the lack of extra time I have requested repeatedly. Does anyone listen ? Do I receive even one hour of extra time a day ? I do not.
Yet, warrior that I am, I am in the midst of rifling through piles of paper that should have been organized months ago but was not, convinced I can get it all together before The Man enters the farm. Perhaps if I soaped less...

Same soap, smaller piece next to gifted shell I adore. Obviously the two were
separated at trace. Colors of the sea all for me all for me.
 We have no one to blame but ourselves. We CHOOSE to be certified organic. Eejit farmers for sure.

BUT, I need a break from Livestock Input  Inventory Update  and Farm: Update Organic System Plan Form  (to name just two of the required forms) Therefore, I will post about that which makes me smile, soap. Because the long and short plan of it is, organic inspection paperwork may be necessary, but it does nothing to rev my engine.

Or perhaps the soap and my bathroom tile were once one and the same.
Either way, I kept only half the batch and hot processed/rebatched  the rest.
Working with natural clays, charcoal and Indigo powder however, thrills me endlessly. I blame all you soap nuts out there, especially those like that Cocobong Chick who had the nerve (and generosity) to send me all natural additives to play with. How could I resist ?

This weeks experiment was on the bluesy side, love playing with the blues. So I mixed woad powder with some raw soap and then some indigo with more raw soap and got a really hard and great smelling bar that looked , well, different. I liked it some, then muchly, then against my better judgement I threw half the bars in a crock pot and cooked them like a Sunday roast. Plopped it in the mold and poured some cold process soap on top.
Sort of Funky Wunky huh ? I added some Titanium Dioxide for the white
in the top layer, got some veinage but the charcoal layer in between
was satisfactory. Is it better this way or should I have left it alone?

You decide. I got paperwork to do I told you.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dirty Women

Did a rare and unusual thing this past weekend, we left home. Packed up our bags (except for the one with all our toiletries which was packed but left ever so inconveniently right there in front of the toaster) and the Gk's, bribed number two son to do chores for 24 hrs and went north...then west...then north.

We landed in the bustling berg of Geneseo, Illinois, home of the painted pig on every corner,  where I met famous woman of a dirty nature. Namely Miss Effie and Miss Amanda and Miss Tammy as well as Miss Tamara and my editor Miss Zan of The Renegade Farmer. Lots of very busy woman who once had corporate jobs or factory jobs or ordinary jobs and now had jobs that were much harder as they were all either cooking and gardening and teaching and bee keeping and soaping and blogging and bow making and doll crafting and spinning and weaving and owning construction businesses and homemaking and child caring and oh my...they were doing it all while being their own bosses at the same time and hopefully making ends meet with self generated income.

And before I go one step farther. Do you know how to tell a really busy self sufficient woman ? Well by her uniform of course. It looks something like this:

Miss Amanda (middle) discussing the pros and cons of Leghorn chicks with Miss Tammy
 and Miss Effie whose real name is Cathy
a beautiful heavy duty grape themed apron and a fabulous pair of equally sturdy chore boots. Anyone can look good in heels, it takes a special gal to look good in rubber Wellies. What a day it was. Keith sat in on Miss Zan's beekeeping class while I toured our host's (Amanda) property and chatted it up with the other dirty gals (this is a definition related to our outdoor work, not our moral status.)

The highlight of the tour was this extraordinary building. I fantasized about it being a writers hideout  complete with padlocked doors but apparently it is meant instead to smoke meats on the top level

                              and store roots attached to veggies, on the bottom level.

Testosterone man Jason and husband to Amanda, HAND DUG the entire root cellar portion of the building, WHY ? Because he could that's why. Its the same reason my own husband carries new born, 100 pound  calves through the fields and up to the barn when he could drive the truck or tractor out to rescue them in bad weather. Because he can.

And they say women are illogical.

After our dirty women gab fest, and sharing of marketing ideas, product production, business plans etc ...etc...we promised to get together more often . Even if, in the case of Zan Asha, it would mean a trip to New York city where this ultra creative woman cares for 7 bee hives on her roof top. Not only is she the Queen Bee of her urban neighborhood she also creates special fairy dolls and kittenfish. Yes, kitten fish. I love her website for the music as much as for the creativity. Listen for yourselves   Oh yeah, she also edits the Renegade Farmer E-Zine.

Zan is the tall, youthful one on the left. I'm the un-tall, been around the block
backwards more than once on a two wheeled tricycle, one on the right.
I think  my next road trip (as a warm up to NY) will be to Miss Effies U-Pick Flower Farm owned and run by Cathy Lafrenze, and featured in Midwest Living not so long ago.This hardy chick and I hit it off right away. We're both on the edgy side, the edgy MATURE side. And we both admitted neither of us care about our hair anymore or housework. We do however care about how our barns appear to the general public. Check out her entrepreneur style right here right now

Cool huh ? What was that ? You have tiny ones at home and can't possibly start your own business ? Don't be throwing those words around Miss Amanda,  an accomplished soaper and the founder of   My GK Allana went nuts when she saw what was available to dress up little girls hair and could not be torn away from the turtle bow she brought home with her that day. She wore it up until bath time last night and put it right back in her hair for school this am. The best thing about that bow ? Yes its real cute, but best of all...IT STAYS IN THE KIDS HAIR !!

In addition, her prices are a real steal for the quality of hair bow you are getting. Order now before she too gets discovered by Parent magazine or someone else who will buy her company for the 1/2 million it is worth.

So there it was, my "restful" weekend with hard working woman. I left to go on a mini-vacation and came back with great ideas for making an even better living with homemade, home raised, home loved,  products.

Lucky me.


Friday, September 23, 2011

The $10 Hot Dog

We have hot dogs.

100% grass fed, certified organic hot dogs. Made from beef whom have been outside the majority of their lives, on pasture with lots of room to run and nap in the sunshine and chew cud. These hot dogs come 8 in a package which is vacuum sealed with the appropriate USDA inspected, MOSA certified labels. Labels that include the wonderful ingredients that make them organic. Spices which include coriander, nutmeg, mustard, salt and pepper with flavorings of cane juice, paprika, garlic and onion powder.

Each hot dog is 6-8 inches long , there are 8 in a package and each package weighs about 1.25 pounds.
There are no additives. No hidden ingredients. No waste parts of other animals like chicken feet, goat lips or rice cereals. They are 100% pure beef hot dogs.

What would YOU pay for these ?

The good news is you will not have to pay $10.00 for a pound of our pure beef hot  dogs. The reality however is, if you buy from us you will need to pay $8.50 which is just .49 cents less than a pound of our T-bone steaks, one of the finer cuts of beef. How can that be ? Well it's because of many factors.

The cost of organic hay, organic straw, fences, waterers,  fuel to get the animal to the locker and back to our farm store ( a 70 mile round trip) are just a few factors. In addition, there is the cost of our annual organic inspection, the 40 cents per package for the vacuum wrap and the additional $2.50 per package for all the organic seasoning , curing and cooking done by the locker.

We struggle with the fact that we have to charge $8.50 in order to meet our expenses and still have a little left over as "profit" for all the manual labor involved in the 18-24 months of caring for a steer before he is big enough to be butchered. And yet, yesterday, when a customer came to our little store and my husband accidentally told him the price for the hot dogs was $10.00  for one pound ( because I had not yet put the new price on our price list for him to refer to) the customer paid that $10.00 without a single comment.

I guess that is what he thought they were worth.

Of course the way to decrease this price would be to decrease expenses. Instead of raising just 30-40 beef a year we could increase our numbers to 300-400 a year  and eliminate pastures altogether. We could raise them all on a concrete feed lot like 9o% of all beef farmers do in the US decreasing the cost of electric fencing, pasture rent, and pasture seeding. We could drop our organic certification, feed poor quality hay and grain and cram 15 cattle on our livestock trailer , when going to the locker, instead of just 2-3, to save gas. We could feed our herd growth hormones to unnaturally increase their growth and decrease the amount of time we are feeding them

We could also call ourselves Oscar Meyer and be done with it.

Instead, we look closely at ways  to decrease expenses WITHOUT compromising the quality of our meat or the humane care of our livestock. And regarding the customer who overpaid us the  $1.50 ?  We'll apologize and pay him back next time he comes in our store. We owe him more than just money, we also owe him a debt of gratitude that he would value our hard work so much. Its makes working long hours every day to raise good food, just a little bit easier.

PS. If it makes you feel any better, (I know it helped me) I did a little market research checking 20 websites,  and discovered nationally  that organic hot dogs average $8-$15 a pound. Imagine that

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Shower me with Calendula

It doesn't take all that much to make me happy.

One day I'll be able to say that without hearing all the jeering behind me. In the meantime I practice on the joyful thing by taking showers because showers my friend...make me happy. Oh they've always amused me or maybe the really good ones, you know...not too hot not too cold, even made me smile slightly but I always saw them as just utilitarian, something one had to do. And often I was too busy thinking about the next step such as,  "I suppose the last person left the towel in a big wad and I'm going to have to dry off with moldy dampness again..." to fully enjoy the shower experience, But then, I began making soap . Now 9 months into the craft, I am also much more into my showers.

Will my soap suds up really well ? Will it be a bubbly or creamy lather or even better, a little of both ? Will the scent still be present ? Will the slight amount of coffee grounds give me the perfect amount of exfoliation on my pony feet or will I emerge from my shower as I did at age 12, the first time after I shaved my legs, jagged bloody gashes streaking up both my legs ?

Recently though, the shower thing has been even more perfect due to my new soap interest, Calendula Gal. I call her Callie. She looks like this

I created her a few weeks ago from a concoction of Olive, Babasu, and  Rice Bran Oils along with Red Wattle Lard, Calendula petals, Titanium Dioxide and an essential oil mix of Orange, Blood Orange, Clary sage and Lavender. The lather is fabulous and wild and crazy and unrelenting. It smells great too, all sweetness and light but not too much so. And the scent over the weeks has not lessened one bit. Is it the TD ? The plant material ? The olfactory faeries in my head ?

Doesn't matter. Some miracles just can't be rationalized with science. There is no rationalizing the horrible cut job on theses babies either. Not too hard to tell these are handmade is it ? I don't own a real mold or a real cutter so I make do with an empty baby wipe container and a knife. Usually I can eyeball it pretty well and sometimes I even use Keith 's miter box for more even cuts, but not with this loaf. Nope. I just hacked at it and then tried to pretty it up with some edge beveling.

The rose is till blooming nicely even though the nights are getting cool and I used it in this shot as it slightly detracts from the bumps, holes and chips of my soap. It is that same theory that causes me to wear earrings whenever I go out in public. Distraction from the bumps, holes and chips is always a good thing. 

When the flaws are especially evident the larger rose (AKA dangling earrings)  is best. So there it is, my far from perfect soap that I am really liking.

Hmmmm. Thats a lot of romantic talk about a bar of soap. I think it might be time to start hanging out with real people again. If I could just get them to take my calls...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Stupid is as Ridiculously Slow and Stupid Does

First, ( and always it seems lately ) MY APOLOGIES.  In the back of my head someone nominated me for something again. A few weeks ago I believe. For something well done possibly or could have been a mediocre nomination, which is more appropriate. Please forgive me for not publically recognizing it when it happened. I genuinely appreciate these sweet things you sayeth to me. So, looking unsuccessfully through past comments for this nomination for something somewhere I noticed something else.

On Sept 16, I received my 1000th comment ! It was made by Walter Jeffries whose blog was the very first one I ever started following over 2 years ago. How can you not believe in good Car-Ma, ( You can never get luckier than a Chevy Nova I always said,) Fung Shray, the power of the purple crystal etc...when something like that happens ? Well I don't but still, its fun. Thank you Walter over at Sugar Mountain Farm   Dang it now ! I just hopped over to Walters site and seems he asked me to take a few pics of my rooster art and post on my blog. Missed that request completely. Forgive me Walter. I will do just that.

You know, if I would just get some kind of routine in my life I maybe wouldn't be playing catch-up all the time. I'm telling you the pressure of the blogging world are mind numbing. And speaking of syndication...
I received an email two days ago from a website known as "Before Its News"
inviting me to have my blog syndicated and available on their site under the self-sufficiency section.

Being the limelight hog I can be (what self-respecting, Irish writer isn't?) I was flattered. I am also highly suspicious. Reminds me of those "Whose Who is Whatever" books you get invited to be published in after you pay $39.95 for the book of course. At least this web site did not ask me for any money.

Did they ask you for any money to have my blog syndicated ? I mean we all are very close you know and the folks at Before Its News might take advantage of our friendship by asking you for handouts. And you being kind, gentle, generous folk might send money just for the sake of said blog friendship. Oh how I would hate to see you get ripped off.

So lets do this. Lets just skip this middle web thief and you can send the money directly to me. Sure, send cash, I happen to think the post office has the highest of morals. That way you can support me the way you want to and I can keep from losing any of my material or brilliant ideas to virtual strangers. Sort of a win-win situation, for me.

Oh relax, I am indeed messing with your heads. Not about the blog syndication part , in fact why don't you check out that site for me and let me know your thoughts?, but I am kidding about the money.

Everyone knows you should never send cash through the mail.  Certified bank checks, however, are always welcome. Speaking of gifts, what do you think Walter would like for making the 1000th comment ? Hmm?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Another day, another opinion.

So a couple days ago I went off about the term "Fair Trade" and the difficulty in getting fair prices for farm products. Immediately after posting my rant I thought about pulling it. It was whiny and the word flow was jagged at best. But I left it and was greatly surprised at the responses I got over the next 24 hours. Seemed I hit some nerves. Most dangling on the same side of the spinal cord but some were firing on the other side of Fair Trade but either way it was a great discussion.

You know you're out there blogging your little fingers off and you wonder some days "Is this thing really, truly even connected ?" because you receive zilch feedback and the next day you rant and folks get fired up right back and then you get all full of yourself being all fired up and before you know it you are off and blogging again.

Monster. Created. Happy?

Well now that you mention it the pigs are well. With the addition of Wally our new Red Wattle Lover Boy we now have two good old boys getting the job done, With another couple of large farrowing huts to be built very soon we should have two well defined hog breeding groups; The Mad Max Mob and Wally's World. (Yeah, me too, a mini-Ferris wheel is just what this farm needs to bring in perspective buyers)

We keep a large breeding schedule on a piece of white poster board where we track spotted breeding's, farrowing, weanings, foreclosures etc...We have found the "scientific" approach helpful but far from perfect. Only one thing really works well and that is just keeping an eye on things.

We have three sows due to pop soon. Morticia, a full RW is on our board as being due today 9/16/11 but her belly tells us differently

Rounded but no real udder making. But if you look at Spot directly behind her with a due date two weeks from now you can tell even this far away she is hanging lower. So, which sow did we move out of our large pig group and into their own farrowing yards with large accommodation ? Yeah, both of them. Cause I am the wife and I asked him too, that is why.

In the meantime Miss Debbie, full RW who farrowed 8 weeks ago is tiring of her brood who never stay home anyway and love running under all the electric wires and in and out of everyone Else's yard.

She can now move freely back to her large group home which she does during the day but still she ususally sleeps with her babies. We'll officially wean her 9 piglets in a couple more weeks, or maybe tomorrow if the way Miss Debbie just tossed one of them back and up over her hindend just because the wee one got too close to her own share of milk soaked grain, indicates anything about how Debbie feels

I don't blame her. What mother has not dreamed of being able to toss a kid or two up high in the air when they are acting out?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Little Farm That Could

The hardest thing about being a small being a small farm. Keith and I are constantly looking at ways to expand/improve/organize/maintain our farm and all its products while remaining financially solvent yet keeping the farm attractive for future buyers and physically able to get up out of bed the next day.

Looking at our farm from a different view point.
I'm not kidding about the bed part. Keith falls asleep HARD, I fall asleep for awhile, wake a while, sleep a while, watch reruns of SOAP for awhile so when it is indeed time to get up I am rarely in the same place in our huge full size bed that I was when it was lights out. Last night was a toss me/turn you night (Just don't) and when I dropped my leg off the side of the bed to get up, I instead slid the whole hippus maximus right off  the mattress that does not need to be 60 inches deep anyway does it ? and slid down to the floor.

Made me mad.

But no one said running a small farm would be easy. For example, Keith and I both would rather be outside providing animal care so we can raise them big, healthy and happy and sell them for a fair price to us, to our restaurants, to our grocery stores and  to private customers. But what is "fair?"  I 'll tell you what FAIR is...FAIR is a huge burdensome, time sucking, brain destroying, Internet searching noun  that cannot be proven or disproven. Don't even get me started on "Fair Trade Coffee" as it seems only depraved old men with donkeys are entitled to "Fair Trade Payment"

Why can't a good, decent, honest, hard working white fellow/gal  get good money for his/her Middle Western Dark Beans?  I said, don't get me started. Thus my frustration. Keith and I have not increased our price of restaurant pork in 3 years. Its way past time. Corn prices are stupid high as is organic straw. So we block out several days to hit the books again (thus my little blogcation) but all our other chores eat into the "free time" and we are not neat as close to coming up with a FAIR price as we want to be.

Right now I am sifting through all our processing receipts, which locker charged us how much for what ? 4 years ago we used 4 lockers then we decreased to 2. Its working well but still I see now all the little details I might want to put in the memo box of a quicken entry. Tidbits like costs of sausage patties VS sausage links. I do understand the importance of tracking ones sausage but I would rather be playing with the newborn sausages in the field.

Even the smallest operations must have the ability to interpret data
otherwise how would we know for sure that mustard is
thicker than cheap syrup?
We easily need a full time secretary/full time herdsman but there is no salary for such.  If I sold lots more hogs in the next few months we might have enough extra for a little tiny secretary on the side. But first we have to figure out all our costs related to raising of the pigs (and later the dairy and the beef and the chickens and the honey and the soap) so we can raise our prices in a Fair Trade manner (don't get me started). We have data but no one to interpret all the data. We have customers, great customers but no one is keeping them well educated and updated, keeping them INTERESTED in the farm, so they will be driven towards future purchases unless they read this blog and some do but it is so ramble ramble sometimes it really cannot be labeled as education.
These are just a few of my favorite things that keep me up at night. Oh and that ridiculous term "Fair Trade"
but please don't get me started.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chicago...My Kind of Clown.

Its a funny city Chicago is, we never know what kind of hilarity we are going to find on delivery day. For example I find this piglet butt hysterical

I don't know why. Maybe its just the angle, or the voice of Miss Piggy in my head . "Hello ?  Who took my skirt ? Is this any way to treat a lady ? Someone get my agent on the phone NOW!" After all, Keith is working so hard to get down those steps I should be respectful and not giggling behind his back. I can't seem to help it. Tense times does that to me. In Mass my sister and I would get to giggling and we would have to pinch each other to gain some control. Laughing in the middle of the Our Father ? Not good.

Then dad would catch us out of the corner of his eye and he would whack us (not so hard) to get us to stop. But that made us giggle more which made mom really mad and then she would be pinching us to get us to stop and her pinch was no laughing matter. Oh the cycle of abuse. I miss them everyday.

Following the drop off of two roasters and one large whole Red Wattle hog to Old Town Social,   we headed north to In Fine Spirits.

There we delivered about 35 pounds of very fresh boneless pork shoulder. This Italian restaurant and its chef Marianne work so well with us. We do not always have shoulder available all the time, in fact we have to wait until the supply in our farm store is low enough so we can process the rest of the hog (sans shoulder) for individual cuts to go in the store. Good stuff like bacon and chops.

Marianne always  orders when we have it available and ALWAYS makes wonderful comments about our fat cap. As a mature sized woman, it is a real treat to have someone speak well of my fat cap. I cherish those pats on the (fat) back.

I am also grateful for the free advertising she gives us and the other farms she supports.  FRESH healthy food is important to her. So fun to see our farm name in the middle of her "Our Awesome Farms" board in her restaurant, in Neon (chalk) none the less.

With 9 whole minutes left on the parking meter, and we never waste those minutes, we walked into my favorite thrift shop, The Brown Elephant. If you like junk and retro and rehab and recycle and just stuff, you must visit this gem. Once an old Vaudeville theatre it is now in its 9th life selling treasures. Perhaps you are the mood for some lamps

That pair of pink ceramic ones (lower right) calls to me in a Marilyn Monroe sort of throatiness. You too, huh ? I love the front stage part of The Brown Elephant. Can you not see Jimmy Durante and his big banana
twirling his cane ? If you do not know Jimmy then just leave this blog right now you big baby. Speaking of fresh fruit, I forgot to thank Cassie Green at Green Grocer for her order today.  The only grocery we choose to sell to in Chicago and YES, smarty pants (I learned that term from MBJ) we have had other groceries ask us to supply them. But we only have so much meat so we pick and choose who we will serve just like they pick and choose who they buy from. America, gotta love her.

OK, now all you folks who did not know the Snoz...come back. I need all the followers I can get. In addition to the well lit area at The Brown Elephant, they also have books

And of course, a few bags...(That remark was uncalled for. It was acutely accurate but uncalled for.)

On the way home we stopped in my old neighborhood, Ravenswood, at my favorite Irish Pub (in the US) and had a pint and a Sprite ,which we washed down with some fish and chips.    

A grand day all together.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

WHAT is that SMELL !?!

I used to say that when Keith would come in at night after chores. Even though I usually knew what the smell was. Manure was manure, a no-brainer. Heavy wet metal smell was usually blood meaning he had helped with a birth, occasionally a pull is needed here and there. Then there is the really bad smell that comes from something that has died and was just found like a chicken or duck in the weeds.

Lucky Keith, he SAYS he can't really smell much so lucky me gets the olfactory "gifts". Over the past 10 months though our home is smelling sweeter. Thanks to the world of soap.

Now 9 months into my new hobby, I am grateful not to be pregnant and I am concentrating on coloring and experimenting with all things natural. Blog friend and soap master Cocobong sent me some clays all the way from Germany. The post was soooo tardy with these that by the time they arrived I had forgotten they were even making the trip. It was like Christmas morning as the generous one sent charcoal and three types of clay plus TWO bars of soap made with clay. I am telling you this: getting stuff in the mail from Cocobong was better than the time I played volleyball with you-know-who. Even better than stealing that beer bottle off stage from Three Dog Night in mid concert back in 1974. Yup, even better than that !

I immediately dropped the piglet I was castrating and told my husband Ba-bye, I got soap to make. So I whipped up a bar of pink using Red French clay. Oh la la, Je suis enthousiaste ! (6 years of French and that's all I got. Tres pathetique)

I used just 1/2 tsp to 1 pound of soap as I was told to do in a little bitty note from Miss C herself. I resisted the urge to add anything else like crushed pine cones or pulverized organic corn. Nope. I kept it simple and I was rewarded with something I can be proud of. Scented very lightly with geranium rose EO which I know...predictable; but sometimes predictable is comforting ya know ?

They stack well too even though they have uneven bottoms (who doesn't?) from my ultra cheap diaper wipe mold. Edges lightly beveled with the best carrot peeler I bought  from an Amish grocery store in Arthur Illinois.

The bar is thick without air pockets and all the clay mixed really well after I let it sit in a little oil before adding to my big batch of oils.

Then I got stupid. It happened so fast. Truly, I can go stupid in seconds if I am not closely supervised. Just ask Sister Mary Viola of the amazing second grade Violas. One second I am quietly watching the Cardinals (birds...I don't do sports) out the window of our second floor classroom at Our Lady of Lourdes and the next I am lifting UP the window and starting to climb OUT the window to get a better look. I'm the same way with soap. One minute I am sane soaper, the next minute I am moronic mama.

I couldn't be satisfied with one batch, noooo. So I made another batch because I wanted to play with blue powders Indigo and Woad. (That is correct, WOAD, look it up. I had to) I mixed different amounts in oils and then added to several containers of raw soap and then I obviously over mixed cause man, did that batter get thick fast.

I was only able to pour a tiny amount in the mold before I had to start globbing the rest in. Within seconds I had to use my husbands tractor bucket to push more wads of thick thick soap into my mold. I tried to be creative in the process. The good news: my EO combo was so great, Lemongrass with some Lavender and Blood Orange. Sweet with a little kick. The bad news:

Well, you got your holes, your cracks, your shininess which is not oil cause the top is dry, it just is...uh...shiny. The swirls were fun but still look someone was a bit heavy handed with her eye makeup. But wait ! What is that ? The bottom of the top seems OK folks. Yes the lower 2% of the soap bar is OK !

I do indeed like the shades of blue which made themselves known after unmolding and cutting. Next time I will not over mix and I will pour at light trace and and and I will SLAM SLAM that mold on the counter to get rid of all those holes. I might want to consider a real soap cutter instead of continuing my use of the weed wacker. Any other advice ? Hit me baby.

PS  My soaps are now available in two local shops. The Antique Shoppe in Fairbury Illinois and Copasetic Consignments in Champaign, Illinois. You can also order direct from me via email
$4 per bar plus shipping.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where's MY Beef?

People...are funny. They will load their precious babies onto school buses sending them off to school to be taught important life values (If your child is with another adult for several hours a day , each day, believe me, they are being taught VALUES) without ever doing any background checks of their own. They trust the school to do these investigations even though that same parent has never investigated the authorities at that same school to do those background investigations.

People will do that, but when it comes to their burger...panic sets in. Our first time customers often ask "How do you know the meat you send to the locker is the same meat you get back ?"

There must have been some huge meat conspiracy issue that I never heard about. Headlines must have read
MILLIONS GET THE WRONG T-BONES. FILM AT 11:00 ( That film at 11 thing is so old school isn't it ? Remember how you would get a headline tease at the supper news but not get the film of the news until hours later ? Our children have no idea how we suffered do they ?)

So back to burgers; customers worry. We could tell them we have wired microchips into each animals ear allowing us to record all that happens in the locker plant or we could inform them we actually hide in the bushes behind the locker and observe all that goes on with our own eyes but instead we utilize a very old and  time tested technique. We call it trust.

First of all WHY would the locker plant staff want to give us substandard meat ? Because after one such event we would know it was not our meat, we would not use that locker again and we would tell all our customers and farmer friends never to use that locker again.

That's a lot of damage for just a few really good 100% grass fed, certified organic  burgers an employee snatched while wrapping and labeling was occurring. In addition, if caught (and there is a very good chance they will get caught as an USDA inspector is in the locker all day, every day) that employee would lose their job. Over the last decade we have brought in hundreds of animals to be butchered and we have not received one complaint about our meat. Customers, especially return customers, would notice if our meat did not taste as good as it has in the past and when they pay us on average, $1300 for one whole beef I think they would complain LOUDLY if the sirloin tip roast , sucked.

But people do worry. So we tell them about our ear tag system for identification

Yellow is for girls, pink is so overdone. This heavy duty earring stays with them their whole lives. In addition, on the day we take them to the locker , at a much larger size than this gal, we hand the locker staff another sheet with the animals ID number. Yes, human error can occur but our locker has several people involved who see this animals number. The man who unloads them, the folks in the kill room, those in the cutting room, the owner and the most important  person in the locker, the front desk woman.

At the lockers we use this woman knows it all. We call her "The woman who knows it all."  An amazing creature who tracks all animals coming in, going out. She knows more about our animals than we do.

"That wattle on your biggest sow sure was odd shaped wasn't it? She casually mentioned last week.
 "Why yes," I hang my head in embarrassment, we like perfectly balanced wattles and hate to have imperfect ones pointed out to us, "it did."

And speaking of Red Wattle Meat, when we bring in pigs, we are the only Red Wattle Producer in this area and that meat is noticeably more red than other hog meat. It would be difficult to pass off 200 pounds of whiter shade of pale pork chops to us without us noticing. But I regress, we were talking of beef.

So, "No" I tell our customers, we never get the wrong meat returned. We are very happy with our lockers (we use two) We TRUST the folks who work there.

But that school bus driver with the handlebar mustache and the T-shirt that says "I brake for naked babes",
Him, I am worried about.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Don't let the Sun Go Down on Me

In our rush that is our lives (animals, house, customers,farm sale plans, family,novel writing,soaping) we often run right through the evening. I am sad to report many a sunset is missed.

The other night though I caught one. It looked like this.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Proceded with Caution: Castration Ahead

In the past I have been nominated for the Versatile Blogger award and then again just recently by Chris. Maybe that is why I feel compelled to jump from soap making to calf care to GK (grand kid for you new followers) fun, to farmer issues like raw milk sales, and then to today's blog...

piglet castration,

because, you see, I'd hate for any of you to get bored.

Now back to the nutsacks. I could get all technical with you but that would require a few Google jumps to ensure my terminology was correct. Instead, since it is Sunday and a day of rest, I will speak in simple terms.

If you have followed me in the past you might recall we do not always castrate all our male pigs, but we do castrate most. Non-castrated males do produce excellent meat but that meat does have a stronger smell during the cooking process. Some of our customers and we ourselves do not mind the smell at all, but for those who do, we castrate.

We have learned that the younger the piglet the easier the procedure is for them. We try to get them castrated at 5-10 days. When I first tried to learn how to do it I found very little GOOD info on the topic with the exception of that written by Walter Jeffries of Sugar Mountain Farm. The majority of information is written or video recorded by conventional or confinement pig farmers. Walter however, has had great success by breeding the smell out of his herd. A goal of ours which will take time.

Watching a few videos of mass castrations under dirty conditions done inhumanely, made me sick. I even ran across a video on You-Tube of eejit hired hands castrating a 200 pound plus boar. The procedure was barbaric. Watching these helped me understand what NOT to do. Yesterday we castrated 5 little ones and I took pics as I was able but I missed the key pasts since I wasn't able to cut and click simultaneously.

Next time I will have someone videotape me so maybe I can be of more help to a newbie out there. This is only my 6th time but having 25 years nurse experience certainly helped. No, cringing ones, I have never castrated humans, even though I have run across several in my life that I might have liked to, but I have used a scalpel many times so I was not a totally incision niave'.

First step, secure the mama pig. In the earlier castration events we thought an electric fence between us, the screeching piglets and the mama sow was enough barrier. HA ! OH man did we all run and jump wires that day as the angry mother hog ran us down like a locomotive going downhill the face of Mount Rushmore. Our 20 year old son Kyle helped us that day and lept no less than 10 feet straight up to get out of furious mama pigs way !

He has not helped us castrate pigs since that day.

Now. we lure mama into a very secure metal livestock trailer (with some milk soaked grain) and LOCK the doors behind her before we go near the little ones. With the larger mothers we have been known to weld the doors closed.

                                                  Step two is identification of male babies.

Cutting into female babies just makes for future enemies when they are old enough to have babies of their own. Testicles on piglets are very easy to see on youngsters.

Step 3 is taking babies FAR, FAAAR away from the ma. We like to carry them in a big bucket

Out of sight and hearing we take them into our machine shed. The fact that it is just another set of steel doors between us and the mother makes the job less stressful for all concerned. Now, gather your equipment. Iodine or Betadine (you'll need about 5 cc per piglet) scalpel with blade and some paper towels.

DO NOT try to save a few pennies by using the same blade for all your piglets. Using a new blade for each baby gives you a nice clean incision. If you reuse blades, the skin will tear instead of cut and you will be spreading dirt and bacteria from one baby into the open incision of another. In addition a good sharp blade is far less painful than a dull blade.

Then, one at a time, piglet is held securely by helper. Helper should be physically strong enough to hold four wriggly little limbs and emotionally strong enough to assist with a procedure which involves a little blood. TRUST is also a major factor. Not many husbands I know would hold a squirming object in their own lap while wife points a sharp instrument in that same direction.

Before making the first cut the area needs to be cleansed with a nice rub of Iodine. Splash it on in good amounts and rub well. Not only does it clean the area it also relaxes the piglet. Imagine that.

We like this position as gravity helps the the testicles move downward. I could mention here how the helpers testicles move in the opposite direction out of fear but that would be crude would it not ?

                                                        With a good clean work area...

I'll make the first cut. I secure the testicle with fingers of my left hand and cut vertically downwards. Don't worry about cutting too deep as you will be going into the testicle which is being removed. Do be careful about cutting too long as the bigger the incision the longer the healing. I will then push the testicle through the opening and grabbing it firmly, pull it away from the body so I can cut both the tiny blood vessel and the spermatic cord. I repeat on the other side.  The testicle looks like this

These openings look large but keep in mind the piglet is small so incisions are less than one inch long each. After wards I squirt openings with large amts of Iodine  and then return them to mommy. The best medicine of all. Piglets will be able to walk immediately, many RUN back to their mothers which always makes me they have less pain or do they tolerate it differently than humans?

Watch for excessive bleeding, there will be some dribbling over the next hour, which is normal but if you see blood spurting out then you've nicked or cut an artery and you're going to have a dead piggie in a very short time if you don't call a vet. Apply direct and firm pressure to the bleeding site until the vet can get to you. and watch for those who are not active or not nursing. The incisions heal closed in about 3 days time.


PS. This is the only "alteration" we do to our piglets. We do not clip eye teeth, we do not cut tails, we do not even notch ears.

 PSS Allana (7 yr old GK) wants me to tell all of you the testicles look like shrimp. The end.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Sundays are slow around here, at least as slow as they can be with over 150 head of livestock to care for. But after morning chores are completed (about 3 hrs) and before evening chores (another 3 hours) we take a break.

Sometimes a few customers will come and go, most know how to "self-serve" when getting meat from our store or milk from our tank, so often we don't even notice them. Usually our grown kids will drop by, sometimes for a meal, sometimes to ride dirt bikes and then lately they've come  to see the newest  high tech toy...the tire that swingeth.

The tire swing gadget was new to the grand kids and when the Papa went to install it, they were greatly intrigued. I, on the other hand was more concerned than intrigued and  had 911 all warmed up and ready to roll. No, not because of  injuries that might occur using the goofy swing but more because of the goofy Papa and his installation methods.

                            I'm not sure why I worried. In 1993 he built an entire barn this way.

           The GK's and I held our breath as he swung the rope a few
                          times to get just the right branch.

To enhance the safety aspect, I layed (laid ? layeth? fell?) down under the tractor bucket to give Keith a nice cushy place to land in the event of slippage. I'm just that kind of wife. Pure coincidence that I was tired (from watching him work) and needed a nap.

Once in place the GK's were loaded all aboard. At first they were a tad leery.

                                                     And held on tightly. Very tightly

But with practice and time and more practice, they loosened up and began to trust those little muscles . Soon Tarzan and Jane were swinging with the best of them.

With a little help from special helpers like Aunt Amanda, what was a bit fearful became a scream fest.

Eventually even the old folks got involved, (old being 23) pretending like they were too cool to enjoy such a childish activity.

After ward, a rest was needed. Have you ever used a Great Pyrenees for a pillow ? Its pretty sweet.