Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Comparing Apples to Great Big Grapefruits



Every time about this time of year, except when we are 2 months behind like this year, Keith and I do a market review. We decide who our main competitors are, we look at all their prices for any products similar to ours and then we adjust our prices accordingly. At the end of this time consuming process we do indeed hope to increase our revenue enough to offset our costs, yet the process is a bit grueling.

The problem is always this. There is no one just like us. We are..what is the technical term?
Yes, oddballs, we are oddballs. If we lived on either coast in the lands of the aging hippie  or "Hippiactric" ( I just invented that term) we would fit in just fine, but most farmers here are very different from us.

Apples to oranges ? More like comparing apples to great big purple grapefruits. How to begin comparing? We start by looking at the 3 farms near us who sell meat direct to customers off their own farms. None of those three are certified organic or 100% grass fed (beef). All three had per piece prices much higher than ours.

Next we looked at the five farms who sell to the same four grocery stores we sell to. Some of those farms are small, some are big. Some are local, some are distant. Some were organic, some were grass fed. Only one was both. We also looked at two locker locker plants who sell other farmers meat in their retail stores. This group of competitors had  prices  MUCH MUCH higher than ours were. For example Rib Eye Steaks were being sold at $18.99, (organic) $21.99 (non-organic, grass fed) and the most shocking $29.99 per pound! (Organic and not even grown by the person selling it in their store))

Our current price for Rib Eye steak which is both organic and grass fed? $8.99 per pound.
Our new price will be ...$12.99 per pound.

Why are we increasing at all ?  Because of course our feed prices have gone up, organic hay and organic straw primarily. As of last June it became federal law for organic farms to bed all our animals with certified organic straw. Our straw supplier's farm was 90 miles away (Round trip) so hauling costs have to be added to actual cost per bale of straw. In addition to direct costs such as feed and minerals we figure in the cost of all indirect costs such as labor, fencing, marketing, trips to Cancun, (just wanted to see if you were paying attention) fuel, health care , ear tags, blah blah blah.

Thus our new Rib Eye price must be high enough to cover costs and allow for a small profit. Low enough to ensure folks feel that making the drive out to the boonies will be worth their time and gas.
After agreeing on a price for rib eyes we go to the next cut, then the next . We offer 27 cuts of beef and 24 cuts of pork. When that task was complete we moved on to pricing in our store for non -meat items as well as roaster and suckling hogs and Red Wattle Breeding stock.

We also spend time deciding what we would not increase selecting  items that are commonly purchased and can be stretched to feed large families or small couples. We feel strongly that young families with growing children, as well as folks on fixed incomes should be able to afford healthy food.

This year we did increase our prices on any of the following: ground beef, ground beef patties, hot dogs (nitrate free) soup bones, stew meat, BACON, ground pork, plain or Italian sausage.

Then it all goes into the different word documents on our computer and then handed to number one son who will update our website. Copies are made for the store and my desk. More copies are taped to the store walls so folks know the prices of our products. Many more copies are made for customers who do not have the Internet and/or prefer hard copies in their hands to keep at home to help with ordering. Finally, letters are written to the grocery stores we serve so they are informed. They have budgets to live within as well.

So the next time someone says to me "How come we never see you working outside with Keith?" and I dump a load of manure in their trunk...you might understand the motivation behind that gesture.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Pantry That Sucks



When we moved into our 115 year old farmhouse nearly 17 years ago it was without a pantry. With four children at home, we stored food all over the place, the refrigerator, the cupboards, under their beds, in dresser drawers, where ever.  For all those years I dreamed of a pantry. I researched pantries. I drew pantries  and worse of all I envied the pantries of others.

Sometimes when I visited my family and friends, you have no idea how hard this is to admit, I really wasn't that interested in their lives; I just wanted to check out their pantries.

Then, four years ago,  our last child moved out and I got serious. I started thinking about pantries all the time!

Last year, I yanked out the closet doors of a small closet under our stairway that is also very close to our kitchen. Short of time, I plopped a rubber shelf unit in it and dressed it up with cans and boxes. Because the back walls are slanted, I am always knocking things off the shelves. They are consequently never found again.

Then the mice came, so I moved all the dry goods back into my cupboards.

Then we got a cat.

And the mice ran away.

So I moved all the dry and boxed goods back into the sorry looking pantry and began dreaming of a beautiful pantry once again. Last week I took pictures of the space. Beginning next week we pull EVERYTHING out and I will repair the holes in the plaster walls and repaint. Keith will build shelves and lay a new (leftover vinyl from the kitchen remodel 3 yrs ago) floor.

Our goal is completion within one week of starting and to spend NO MONEY on the project. We plan to use all leftover, repurposed, handmade materials. Stay tuned for the Pantry Remake of The Year.!


(Yes, I am aware that the picture on today's post is of children and not of a pantry. I got a new camera this week and cannot get the new software to load. I already put the old memory card in the new camera so I could take a picture of the pantry with the new camera but if I can't get it to download to my PC what would be the point I ask you?!  Yes, I could take the old memory card out of the new camera and put it back in the old camera, take a pantry pic and download to my pc with the old camera's software but that WOULD TAKE SO MUCH TIME ! (About half as long as it took to explain why I do not have a picture of my pantry on this blog)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rejected but not neglected

Our "farrowing crate" at South Pork Ranch
Lots of room, lots of bedding' lots of contentment

A few days ago Terra Brockman  http://terrabrockman.com/ contacted me and made me aware of an op-ed piece written in the NY Times by Blake Hurst, President of the Missouri Farm Board.

Terra, knowing my strong belief that hogs (along with many other farm animals) are best raised on pasture knew I would want a chance to share my opinion . She was right.  So I did. Unfortunately the Times did not choose my rebuttal for publication.

But, never fear, due to magic of self-promotion through blogation, I have copied my response for you to read right here. Of course to get the whole gist of the issue you must read Mr Hurst's op-ed piece first.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/20/opinion/happy-pigs-and-unhappy-farmers.html?scp=2&sq=pigs%20mind&st=Search Then after reading mine let me know your thoughts on pastured hogs. Better yet,  let the Times know your thoughts. Maybe you'll have better luck at getting their attention than I did.



Pigs I Have Known
By Donna O’Shaughnessy
Chatsworth, Illinois


Dear Mr. Hurst,
Please forgive the tardiness of this invitation, I had intended to send it immediately after reading your op-ed piece, Don’t Presume to Know a Pig’s Mind, published Feb. 19, 2012, but my husband and I are just two farmers on a small Central Illinois farm and we were busy…keeping our pigs happy.

So, if you are not too busy writing over simplified articles about “inefficient” non CAFO family farms like ours, I’d like you to come to our home for a pasture raised pork chop dinner. Before we eat, we’ll give you a tour.  You should wear rubber boots and a chore coat as it is nearly springtime and parts of our real farm are muddy with large concrete slabs being in limited supply.

We’ll start outside where 90% of our animals reside. The other 10% are those animals needing to calve or farrow inside due to extreme weather conditions.

You stated in a broad generalization, “But for all we know, pigs are ‘happier’ in warm, dry buildings.”  I think Mr. Hurst; you will be pleasantly surprised to see that our animals, which have access to good shelter at all times, will choose to stay outside. Often reclining in the mud, basking in the sunshine, lounging in the rain, or standing shoulder to hip in the middle of their pasture in the midst of a heavy snowstorm, I find it easy to evaluate their happiness. One indicator; they are not screaming, another, they have no open sores on their legs and feet from standing or lying for months at a time on hard surfaces. A third sign, (related to our pregnant sows) their mouths are not bleeding from the endless bar chewing due to the mind blowing boredom of being confined in a 2 foot by 2 foot gestation crate.

When you visit, there will be no need to wear boot covers, masks, or vinyl gloves. Our herd has a very strong immune system, and besides, when scratching behind the ears of our 600 pound Red Wattle Boar Mad Max, rubber gloves will just decrease the pleasure…for him and you.  Yes, I said “pleasure.”  Our animals do feel pleasure. How do we know since they do not speak? They demonstrate their feelings.
 
They sleep well. They eat well. They play with each other.They nuzzle their babies. They cuddle with their bunkmates. They run. They jump. Their coats shine and their eyes sparkle.

Your comment, “either way, the end result, is a plate,” is profoundly bizarre. Are you saying that because the animal’s primary raison d’etre is solely to provide us with a source of protein; it makes no difference the conditions in which the meat is raised? I am sure you are aware extensive research has been done regarding the decrease in meat quality as animal stress increases.

Regarding your gestation crate comments, I must again encourage you to get out of the confinement buildings and onto real soil. Are you so removed from natural animal behavior that you have forgotten the well-known phenomenon of “pecking order?”  Neither good nor bad, pecking orders serve a real purpose of identifying animals of strength and preference for future breeding. And with adequate space and food, each animal is able to consume what it needs for good health. Your belief that animals get into “violent fights” at feeding time can only be a result of your lack of pasture farm visits. “Grouping together in pens” is not the same thing as pastured life; it is just confinement with a cloud ceiling.

 We run an honest farm business here. It is not a hobby, nor is it part of “the entertainment industry” Our prices are comparable to non-organic farms in our area and less than the certified organic competitors. Our 2011 profit per hundred weight of pork was $75-$100,a decent return as compared to the CAFO’s profit of less than $20 per hundredweight. So much Mr. Hurst for your belief that preventing the problems associated with pastured hog farms are, “complicated, expensive and dangerous to the pigs.” Thus the reason we encourage you tovisit us. What better way to assess the happiness of a hog than to visit him in his home?

Which makes me wonder, Mr. Hurst, are there any confinement farms in your area actively inviting visitors? Generally when you are proud ofyour farm you enjoy sharing it with others. Just a thought.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Saponification Sunday Etc...Etc..Etc...

I thought no one would notice, I thought no one would care, I thought you had probably gone on to those blogs brighter and shinier and far better than mine and then, I ran into J.

J. is a neighbor
J is a fellow farmer
J is my favorite stalker.

She does not comment on my blog, she does not even read other blogs but when I ran into her yesterday at the FFA Fair and Home Show. ( FFA is Future Farmers of America for my non USA followers) The first words out of her mouth were:

"You haven't blogged since Tuesday!!"

Busted. I was so busted. So J. this post is for you. Thanks for following me, thanks for caring, thanks for stalking me. It makes me feel so needed. Because I am warped that way.

The last 5 days have indeed been full.

More piglets were born while I was mailing out soap to winner Jenn in Ontario
for winning our last "Let's make a squeal " contest,

Many more customers to our farm store, and three brand new raw milk customers.

An op-ed piece to write for the NY Times about confinement hog farming,
(I can't share it until I know if they are going to publish it or not),

 More rain, more snow ( just a tiny bit) which has made it messy to work outside.

Preparations to be made for the booth at the FFA show yesterday, (not for our farm
but for a group I belong to, The Stewards of The Land),

An elderly aunt to visit, a family dinner to attend, and a price list to update on our website
and in our store.

And in the middle of that I just didn't get around to blogging. But it is important that you know...
I thought about you everyday. So, lets just forget about last week and start this week as I always do, with Saponification Sunday.

I recently completed a soap trade with Tanya Chappelle of http://titaniasdreamydelights.blogspot.com/       How exciting to get soap from Australia!  Not only did she send bubbly stuff  (4 bars!) but she also graced me with this perfectly crafted handmade soap dish created by her father. IN ADDITION she sent me a  beautiful glass bead which I have put in my safe deposit box as in the event I ever lose an eye, that bead will be placed in my head as a replacement. Yes, it is that gorgeous.

Tanya's bars were sweetly wrapped and just as sweetly scented. I was thrilled to get one of her beer soaps since I make one of those myself. How grand of her to make a soap bar in honor of her father. The shapes are nice and chunky and you can see by the torn label of her Latte bar that I perhaps have been sleeping with them too much. I can't help it. It has glitter.


Another bar, pretty purple and wrapped like the gift it was, complete with the well crafted wooden soap dish, was sprinkled with poppy seeds. The top was wavy and a perfect catchall for the tiny black dots.




Sales of my own soap in our little farm store continue to go well and on Monday I gathered  all my cured ones and lined them up for labeling.


Not quite ready to say goodbye to Winter, since it never really arrived in this area, I made a peppermint/wintergreen soap colored with maddor root powder and titanium dioxide. It is extremely FRESH smelling. I love coloring with natural roots and herbs as it is so experimental. Different oils and lye solution temperatures, cause the shades to vary and one never knows what one may end up with. This time one ended up with this:


The block in the back? It's a 10 pound hunk of Himalayan salt I bought primarily for picture taking. Now if, I can just figure out how to use my new camera, I might be able to do the salt block and future bars of soap, a little justice.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Raw Milk, Cold, Sweet and Well Marketed

Raw Milk: A Popular Commodity
on South Pork Ranch in Chatsworth, Illinois

For the new followers: We have a farm not anywhere near Africa. (I sound just like Meryl Streep don't I?) And on this farm we had some cows...who produce milk.

For years we sold to the man, his name was Foremost. Then he told us we could not sell any of our leftover raw milk to customers who came to our farm. So we told Foremost "See ya!" and we began selling our raw milk ONLY to private customers.The rest goes to our pigs. They like sporting milk mustaches as much as we do.

Illinois law said OK to sell raw milk as long as the consumer comes to the farm.  But there was this tiny law, tiny in that it was hard to find and no one knew of its existence in the offices of the law makers and law shakers, a law that said we could SELL the milk but could not TELL anyone we were selling it.

Hogwash.

We starting telling people after spending over 18 years NOT telling people. We were tired of being afraid of our governement and what they might do. A few months ago we started talking about it on this blog, and in magazines, and in newspapers. Lots of newspapers. We not only told folks we had raw milk to sell, we were so brazen as to tell them the price of the milk, which by the way is $5 a gallon.

To date, we are still advertising and still selling the milk we advertise. We are farmers making an honest living selling a great product for a very decent price. Nationawide, organic milk averages $8 a gallon and organic raw milk can rarely be found. It is non-existent in this neck of the woods. Our customer base continues to grow steadily and when we ask how did they find us? They answer "my uncle Rufus's 3rd cousin Ruby's neighbor told me."

It has only been 2 or 3 customers that have mentioned one of the four newspapers we have advertised in these last 6 months. Hmmmmm. Seems like we spent a bunch of money for nothing. Seems like the 'ol word of mouth technique still reigns supreme. So we have decided we don't need to advertise our
RAW MILK FOR SALE FOR JUST $5
in the newspapers anymore. We'll instead allow our most excellent customers to do the work for us and in return for their hard work of spreading the word, we will keep our raw milk at the very reasonable price of just ...you got it...$5.

Thanks everyone. You are the cats meow, the bees knees and the cows moo.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Saponification Sunday AKA Wally cleans up for his big date.

Yes...Soap...hold your bubbles a minute OK?

You might think because of my neglectful ways, that Mad Max is the only Red Wattle Boar to ever grace the farm land we own. Untrue. There is another mighty giant, although not quite as "mightified" as Mad Max because of no fault of his own, he's just younger, who has been making an impression on the gals of the farm.



He is Wally-Man. You might recall that we acquired him last summer in an under- the- table boar swap (I dropped my pen under the table when we were signing registration papers) He is a fine boy, proving his manhood one litter at a time.

News must have spread of his skills as a couple north of us contacted the farm about borrowing the beastly boy for their cute little gilt, a  Gloucestershire Old Spot. Read about them here...http://www.oldspots.org.uk/ She is as we were told, very laid back and easy going and lovely beyond words. If I were a pig...oh lets just not go there..Anyway, the two have not made a documented love connection  as yet but we have the best of hopes. I'll keep you updated.



Now onto things that smell of Rosemary.



I took a nice break from the swirls and the whirls, the embeds and the inbreds and instead made a classically simple cold process soap this week. It was so easy and entirely relaxing. Using Olive, Babasuu, Coconut, Castor and Almond oils, I added just a teaspoon of ground rosemary powder and some of Rosemary's Essential Oil as well.



There is the slightest light green tinge to the soap but it doesn't really show up in photos. The scent is fresh and oh so herby. I wanted to smear it all over a whole chicken and roast it for an hour at 350.

But I did not.



Fortunately one of our milk club ladies gifted me with some fresh Rosemary from her sun porch so I had great props to go with my new soap bars.  I again poured and then plopped...into the frig for 24 hours and then forgot about it, cutting it 5 days later. It cut like butter except that is was harder than butter so I guess you could say it cut like hard butter. Another good formula discovered by accident.

Hey ! Thats it. "The Accidental Soaper", fits me so much better than "Artisan."


Next Sunday ? Be sure and visit as I will focus on a great soap trade made with Tanya Chappelle of Australia . http://titaniasdreamydelights.blogspot.com/ I am waiting for my new camera to arrive so I can give her soaps the credit due them.  Yes, I followed the advice of several blog friends, I bought a Nikon CoolPix.

I have great expectations for this camera.
I am afraid though, I might disappoint him.

I hate first dates.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lets Make a Squeal...WINNER!



And the winner is Jenn of  Southern Ontario . You can read about her crazy life filled with kids, chickens home births (yes, HERS) and somebody named "Hotdog" who might be her pet or maybe its her husband, I haven't quite figured it out yet. http://thehalfwaycoop.blogspot.com/

She really nailed the pig guessing thing as she said, Feb 16 and 6 babies, which is exactly what Miss Sophie did. Walt of Wickham Farms http://wickhamfarm.blogspot.com/ was a very close second (he said Feb 17 and 9 babies) but I'm not so sure that was a valid vote since it was HIS boar (traded to us last summer) that impregnated our Sophie in the first place. How do I know the two of them haven't been keeping in touch and sharing trade secrets ? Hmmmm?

Anyway, back to Jenn. She has the choice now of getting 4 bars of my homemade soap OR two South Pork Ranch T-shirts or she an hope in her car and travel a few miles from Ontario to  Illinois  and pick out $20 worth of stuff in our farm store. I'm sure she'll pick the last choice since she is about 10 months pregnant I think.

Congratulations Jenn!!

Now about that Red Wattle Wally, the father of the new babies...you won't believe what  he is up to right this very second. I'll post more about that very soon.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another downsizing step. COMPLETE

Today was a big day here at the ol'South Pork Corral. Nope, no piglets from Sophie yet but she was looking a little irritated tonight.

I speak instead of our decision to eliminate the restaurant portion of our meat business. After delivering our pasture raised, organically fed, raw milk sloshed hogs to numerous Chicago restaurants for the last three years...today was our last day.



We took a HUGE hog to the first restaurant who ever bought from us, Old Town Social, and we took a smaller 1/2 hog to The Vincent, their first (and last) purchase from us today. You might recall how last month we made the decision to start decreasing our dairy herd while maintaining enough cows to meet the dairy needs of current customers as well as our own family.

This new decision allows us to concentrate on the areas that are working best for us, our own Farm Store , our carcass sales to customers who pick up their meat at the locker and then the four grocery stores we sell to. On the way home we did indeed feel sad, these restaurants took a real chance by buying meat from an unknown producer AKA tiny farmer, and they helped us promote our business, They also introduced us to the world of FINE dining.

By "fine" I do not mean 12 forks and 10 courses, I mean fresh ingredients from local farmers prepared in extraordinary methods. We wined and dined with some wonderful chefs and their staffs and we learned mega amounts about how to prepare good food, well. We are especially indebted to Jared Van Camp of Old Town who took our word about our animals being raised on pasture and risked his business and his own customers by using our pork, often our Red Wattle pork to make award winning sausages. He also taught me how to say (and eat) charcuterie.

Read more about Jared Here http://www.starchefs.com/cook/chefs/bio/jared-van-camp

But, as we move closer and closer to this dream we have of living very simply and producing just enough food for ourselves and family, we have to keep letting go of the complexities that have gotten us to where we are today...really tired :)

We have to push away from the more and more, faster and faster, crazier and crazier lifestyle we created for ourselves these last few years. It's not easy to say goodbye but there was a sense of impending RELIEF, on our way home from the big city tonight. A sense of energy as well, which can be put towards areas of neglect. Perhaps we will get to take TWO showers this week.

We will always be grateful to the following outstanding restaurants and we hope if ever you get the chance you stop by and treat yourself to a special meal. You will not regret it.

Acre                         http://acrerestaurant.com/
Anteprima                http://anteprimachicago.net/
Bacaro                     http://www.bacarowinelounge.com/
Bristol                     http://thebristolchicago.com/
Destihl                     http://www.destihl.com/
Elysian                     http://waldorfastoria3.hilton.com/en/index.html
Frontera                   http://www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/grill.html
Gilt                           http://www.giltbarchicago.com/
Old Town Social      http://www.oldtownsocial.com/
Vincent                    http://vincentchicago.com/

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Day in the Strife of...

I woke to breakfast and a cheerful husband who made the breakfast for me. Lucky girl tis I.
After checking all the VITAL social media outlets, I headed for the great outdoors.Come with me, it's been awhile since I dragged you out there isn't it?

As a reminder, Keith does 75% of the outside chores, I do 75% of the inside chores which means we are in the average day doing 150% of the farm work every day. No wonder we are tired...

My outside work in the winter is a nice break from the rest of the year, no grass to cut (mow is me), no garden etc..My inside work is intense and consists of many hours doing bookkeeping, talking to customers, marketing, keeping items ordered for the store, etc...

I prefer the outside work, unless I prefer the inside work, it all depends on the color t-shirt I am wearing and the amount of essential oil I sniffed the day before. No, I will not explain.

So outside work goes like this. I amble out around 10am to feed calves. On the way I am greeted by the big calves closest to the house. I bottle fed them for several months and it is obvious they still miss me.


I pass the chicken house and drop off some grain and water to them. I am greeted in a weird and unnatural way by Sunset our Blue Slate Turkey.



We were gifted him as a 3 day old turkey-ette and he at first thought I was his mother, now he thinks I am his very own Patsy Cline, that is why his feathers are all in the upright ruffled position. The bird is just plain Craaaaaazy....

Next we have the calf hutches, all lined up in a row because I like rows.


They are all looking at me cause I'm the one with the milk and the Pavlov wagon.

Since the calves milk comes from real cows and not a powdered mix or a vending machine, I have to wait until Keith milks the cows first. He saves the calves milk for me in a big steel bucket set in hot water to keep the milk as close to mother cows internal body temp as possible.


I fill buckets (for the older calves) and bottles for the younger calves and wheel them out to the mooing babies.


After all the bottles are filled, I take them out to the calves , eleven now, but have to stop and remind the pigs, rushing out of the barn, that Keith will be out to feed them soon.


Always nosey, the pigs had to investigate my activities


After calves were done and fresh hay given, bottles and nipples washed ,(careful now) I headed to the north end of the property for equine awareness day (The donkeys constant braying made me aware I needed to feed THEM)


And there she is, Nora, staring me down. Why can't I look this good when my hair is uncombed and all wild?

A few pads of hay to them and across the lane I toddle to the BIG pigs, Mad Max and his harem of lovely breeder stock. They too think they are starving. Waa waa waa.


That's Leopard on the right, a 1/2 breed if ever there was. Born with a bad toe but a great personality we decided to keep her even though she was only half Red Wattle. She makes a great mama. Out of a huge litter our GK Allana picked her out telling us she would be a good one to keep and she was. Standing just to her right, your left, is the awesome Dot. Both weigh in at around 450 pounds. A little father down the line is the king of the farm...Mad Max


Mad, unlike his name, is sweet and kind, unless you get between him and his grain or his girls. At 600 pounds we NEVER get between him and his grain or his girls. He is full bred Red Wattle .

Off in a nearby paddock is the petite Sophie, due to farrow (deliver) any day now. What ? did someone say contest?!?


Yes lets! It's been awhile has it not? So OK here goes.

Via the comment section of this blog send me your guess for the date (official due date is Feb 18),
number of  live births (her last litter she had 10) and ..tell me how many will be boys and how many will be girls.

Whoever gets the most right answers of the three questions (date, number,sexes) WINS !

The winner will receive your choice of the following, hoof roll please; four bars of all natural handmade soap OR Two South-Pork-Ranch T-shirts mailed to you , OR if you live locally $20 worth of product in our Farm Store , (bacon, steaks, popcorn, eggs etc..)

Ready , Set. GO !

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Saponification Sunday



Playing arund with the greys this week, maybe because we have had so little sun this winter in our area. Made several more batches of soap this week due to increased orders, (nope, no ETSY, no web store, just word of mouth) and the fact that soaping is very relaxing and comforting for me.

Have I told you a friend of mine is getting a whole SOAP ROOM built for her ? Did I tell you I was jealous? Well she is and I am but good soaping rooms come to those who wait...and wait...and wait.
My soap area is my kitchen for all the melting, mixing and pouring while the dining room is for bar curing, labeling, packaging and storage of all supplies. It's not perfect but it is very adequate and the two rooms now smell good all the time.



This weeks featured bar is my first attempt at coloring with charcoal, other than the usual line technique to separate layers. I used just 1/2 teaspoon of charcoal powder mixed with a little almond oil.

After mixing my soap of 25% Babassu, 25% Coconut, 25% Olive Oil, 15% Sweet Almond Oil and 10% of Castor Oil, I scented with Star Anise EO only. adding a 1/2 teaspoon of Titanium Dioxide for whiteness. Then I separated them into two equal portions adding the charcoal mix into one.

The Little Crystal Biscuit Jar?
Crafted by Genius Sean Daley of Dingle Crystal
http://www.dinglecrystal.ie/
With an  in the pot swirl and some more swirling with the handle of a spoon after it was in my mold I let it sit in the Frig for 24 hrs, room temp for 24 hours in the mold then cut into 7 bars weighing about 5.0 oz each.


I took 312 pics of this soap and the ones in this post are the only ones 1/2 way decent. So give me your recommendations for a new camera. I have a birthday coming up in May.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Why Farmers MUST Blog



I have been blogging for nearly years. But enough about me. One of my goals this year is to get YOU the farmer to start blogging. Yeah yeah yeah, I hear you. "I'm too busy, I have better things to do with my time, I don't understand computers, I'd rather be pulling calves." The excuses are endless but today I want to tell you why you MUST.

But first a disclaimer. The idea for this post came from another post. A hardworking "Farmerette" in the South East of Ireland has a well done blog that I have been following for some time. Her post Why Farmers Should Blog nails the reasons farmers need to blog in order to save their farms. If you visit her blog you will note that Lorna, the blogs' author, is a busy mom, chef, writer, book reviewer, farmer and business owner, and yet she manages to squeeze in blogging. Be sure to visit her at http://irishfarmerette.com/why-farmers-should-blog/ Tell her I sent you.

But...I am not as sweet as Lorna, which is why the title of this post is Why Farmers MUST Blog.
So, from across the pond, from the viewpoint of a pushy farmer babe in America ,here are my reasons:

1. If you depend on your farm for income, people need to know you exist. Wishing it will not make it so. Ads in newspapers cost big money. Ads on radio cost big money. Billboards cost big big money. Blogging is FREE.

2. Small Farms are nearly extinct. Oh sure we have new small farms cropping up all the time but the likelihood that they will still be around in 5 years is very small. Why? Well besides the financial issues, they get little emotional support and encouragement. Blogging generates feedback and encouragement.

3.Mega farms are worried about farm bloggers. In the past when laws were passed under the table and over our heads because we were buried with work, we had little recourse to affect change. But now we can voice our opinions, challenge the makers of ridiculous laws which benefit the large factory farms but bankrupt the family farm, confront our representatives publicly and inform others of actions that can be taken to protect our farms. Blogging is essential for the building of strong farmer relationships.

4. "Buying Local" is hip and popular yet many farmers complain that their own surrounding community, doesn't even know they exist. Through regular blogging you can tell your neighbor what breed of pig that is they see in your field and why your baby pigs sometimes get loose and end up on the neighbors porch. (Sorry, we are really really sorry) Blogging is informational.

5. Today's children are being rapidly removed from farms. Soon they will not even have grandparents who farmed. Blogging is a cheap and effective way to talk to kids about animals and show them pictures so at least they will know a cow does not have wings. (From time to time though our pigs have been know to fly. Usually on the same day my husband remembers to take out the garbage.)
Blogging is educational.

6. Although our farm is generally all sweetness and light there are days I'd like to load up all the animals in an Ark and send them down the river. With my blog friends I can share my frustrations over broken meat freezers, Boars who would rather sleep than procreate and crabby customers who complain about there being fat (of all things) in their bacon strips. I can post pictures that make us laugh and send words of praise to those who have done great things. Blogging is stress reducing.

7. So there you have it. The reason I feel farmers (or their wives or husbands or paid representative)MUST blog. I also think other professions should blog but I am not here to speak for the whole world...only the whole world of farmers. There are many resources to get you started. Start with any 9 year old in your family. Most of them have more than enough computer skills to help you. If they are too busy helping another geriatric member with basic 21st Century technology then I suggest these web sites. Remember: Blogging is fun.

www.blogger.com
http://wordpress.com/
http://blog.com/

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Jardin ind├ęsirable"

Yes, that's me speaking (typing) in French. What does it mean ? Well it means Junk Garden of course and that is my newest nuttiest goal for this spring. Like I said, until the farm is sold we are just going to act as if we are going to be here here forever. And since I have been dreaming of a very special garden for..forever..It's time to get crackin' with the junk, I mean "inventory."


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But first...Welcome back to FARMHOUSE FRIDAYS  Just click here to join the fun
http://www.therenegadefarmer.com/  Yes, I'm aware this post was put up yesterday on Thursday but you'll give a hardworking Midlife Farmwife a break won't you?

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I really do love rustic, vintage and recycled, but it must be orderly. For years I have had my eye on some of the husbands collections and this year is THE year it will evolve into something gorgeous. The spot I have selected looks like this right now


On the right running parallel with the trees on the left will be a "wall" of very tall densely planted sunflowers with red zinnia planted alongside on the inside. To the left we will build a fence made a 100% of old fencing materials just lying around the farm. On the inside of that wall I will plant climbing vines, annual and perennials. (Suggestions for vining flowers for zone 5b are very welcome)

Another gate/wall combo will run right to left across the bottom of the photo, again made with recycled stuff. The back wall is as yet undecided. Within the now rectangular shaped garden will be pathways made of 100 year old slate roofing tile and bricks also 100 years old from the houses original chimney. A huge collection of small boulders will be relocated inside somewhere for a rock garden. I also have ac law foot tub, metal milk cans and old brass beds. In addition, items like these


will be tastefully arranged throughout the garden as lovely focal points. Yes, these are real items currently decorating our yard. Even the moss on the bricks is authentic. My mother-in-law gave us the coolest metal chair with a unique back..


I have no idea how to utilize it YET, but I will. So there you have it, the big plans for my first formally informal totally recycled and re-purposed garden. If it evolves as I have planned it should look like this at the time of completion.



Unless it ends up like this. One never knows



In the meantime tell me about the cool stuff you've done in your garden (veggie or flower) with recycled items. If you have a blog or know of a blog/website with photos or such please share
the link(s).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Meat Broker by Day, Exhausted by Night

Recent warm weather begat fog which begat ice

So here we are...still in limbo. We broke up with our realtor about a month ago and then started dating the new guy last week. I like the new guy better, probably because he's a little  like me, well, to be truthful, he's a LOT like me...oh OK,  he  IS me.

 For Sale By Owner is the new guy and we're getting along pretty well. No sale yet but at least I can check my account as often as I want and see how many people have looked at out listing. Sure, it's probably just some guy with his finger on the "number of times listing viewed" button but it makes me feel like action is being taken.

Vampires, witches and werewolves are nothing
compared to the
dreaded Cow Ghosts of Central Illinois
The actual MLS listing won't be in place for a few more days but we did get our big FSBO sign in the mail today. Complete with a plastic box for your flyer's to be grabbed by any drive bys, it all looks very official.

In the meantime it is still business as usual except that like here is never "usual" or "routine" or "stable" It is in fact chaotic and unpredictable. Several months ago another farmer in our area , one who does not raise all his animals on his own farm, and has been known to feed his all natural livestock some very suspicious meals, began undercutting the restaurant business of reputable farmers in this region. Offering his meat for a much cheaper price, the restaurants we had been selling to for a number of years stopped ordering from us.

This could have been disastrous for us but as that door closed another opened rapidly; our farm store business took off. Yes, we could've fought for the restaurant business we worked so hard to build but
why? Driving so often to Chicago was wearing us down. Being gone all day making several deliveries exhausted us and then caused us to get further behind on all that needed to be done HERE.

So, we decided to accept the gift that was being given us. The gift of time, the gift of improved finances (our profit margin is slightly higher with store sales as compared to restaurant sale) the gift of improved customer relations. (More time at home meant more time to visit with our direct farm visitors)

It's not that we have quit the restaurant business, its more that they quit us about the same time we needed to be quit upon. In the last 3 months our farm store sales have increased by 30% , not just in new customers but also in repeat customers who keep showing up...repeatedly. Some days we only have 1-2 customers so we have lots of time to do work in between. Other days we have 8-9 customers and I start fantasizing about hiring a part time person for the store duties.

We are also thinking about starting a bulk buyers club (thank you Doug D. for the idea), building a petting zoo (liability issues be damned, kids need to be able to TOUCH animals) , planting a cutting flower garden around the farm store (I blame Miss Effie for this idea) and maybe taking on some interns. (Spence Farm, you know this one is your fault.)

Sure enough, once we get all this in place the farm will sell.

Mark my herds.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Saponification SUNday

My day starts out with my four year GK waking me by saying "Yaya, the sun is setting up." I open my eyes and there he is next to me watching the sun rise with absolute wonder. When was the last time I ever did that?

Fortunately my camera was not far away.



The rest of our day only got better with lunch out with all three of the GK's and an hour trip over to my sister Teresa's to see her new house who by the way is the YOUNGEST of we O'Shaughnessy gals and yet she is the FIRST to get to live in an open plan home design. Oh how I could just ...

do nothing but wish her the very best. Yes, I do. And now onto the soap of the week.



You might recall the problem I have with experimentation. It started in the 70's and has progressed into the 21st century. At least now my experimentation is not likely to put me behind bars, unless I hurt someone who gets in the way while I am hurling my crock pot against the wall.

I made a couple batches this week following a tried and true recipe until I broke my own promise and started playing around with the whole lye-water-oil-plant additive thing. Once again it got too thick and dried a little crumbly on the bottom and a few major cracks on top which meant it got too hot. This is amazing science -wise since I popped it into the fridge immediately.The colors were very nice as the blood orange essential oil turned the soap a creamy yellow and the alkanet was a handsome blue. The pink was French Red Clay.
Man, do I need a new camera

Why is it always the bottom I have problem with and yes this is a rhetorical question isn't it always?
7/8 of the bar was beautiful and well scented but not good enough for Soaper Dearest who by the way happens to LOVE wire coat hangers.

I tried to live with them but knew I could not pass them onto others with good conscience. I mean two minutes after unmolding these bars were hard enough to crack skulls so I did what I always do...I sacrificed looks for quality. My mother apparently did the same thing in regards to me.

I like rebatching my cold process soap via the hot process
 method in a base of new cold process soap. Just call me Sybil
Chop chop and the bars went in looking like Marilyn Monroe and came out looking like Pee Wee Herman, but the smell was better than ever and the texture and lather was oh so Adele. Do you know Adele? She is the perfect bar of soap, glittery, slightly soft and fluffy with the most angelic and slightly edged lather. 

Au gratin potatoes ? No, my bloggy friends , it is rebatched soap.
Now we know why it is called "rebatched" don't we?
Yes I rebatched the bars via Hot Process which has its good points and its good. What is good about it is the scent. I add the Essential Oils right before I glop it into the mold so it really holds its scent well. HP is also good as you can use it just a day or two after cutting and the lather is great.

Negative points? Well if you picked your husband based on his ability to say...oh I don't know...build a barn instead of his skill at modeling Eddie Bauer's latest leather jacket, then you will never appreciate the RUSTIC quality of HP soap. The colors are more muted and the texture is very Rocky Mountain High.



Now don't get your Cold Process Loving Panties in a bunch, I happen to think smooth and lovely serves a purpose in this world as well, I'm just not a purist. I am more of an "impurist" which is a fancy word for lazy when it comes to saponification.



Anyway ..once again the before and the after.
 You be the judge.

And please someone donate
me a new camera.


Friday, February 3, 2012

And on Tonight's Menu...Crow.

It is safe to say that over the years I have eaten most of the strange things, being the "adventuresome" one. It is also therefore safe to say I have eaten far more crow than my husband has, being the "mouthy" one.

And now a message from our sponsor. Once again it is Farmhouse Friday on The Renegade Farmer. What to play? It's great fun and FREE. Go here now  http://www.therenegadefarmer.com/. Click on the Farmhouse Friday Picture on the right side and you are set to go.

And we are back, and I was talking about peacocks, no chickens, no CROW, yes crow and how shall I prepare it tonight.

It all started 8 months ago when we decided to sell our farm and live naked in hippie land. Ready to survive off the land and be 100% sustainable was our common ground. Agreeing on a plan to get there...and the ground turned rocky. The husband said "Sell it ourselves" The overwrought, too busy farm wife gently suggested, "ARE YOU NUTS ? I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THAT! NO WAY ON EARTH!" or something equally sweet.

So we listed the traditional way, with a local realtor and it got us no where, as in no where, no how. And I think I'll just leave it at that.

Last week we ended our contract with the realtor, and I dished up my first plate of black feathers and beaks. With a sauce of buckwheat honey, it wasn't all that bad. The feathers did make me though. Immediately after dinner I looked into For Sale By Owner.com and satisfied that it couldn't be any worse than listing it with a real estate agent, we paid our fees and posted our farm.

Only one small problem, I had many pics of the outside, lots of farm building and livestock, but very few of the inside of the house. And VERY VERY few of a clean house. I decided to do one or two rooms each day and just add them to the sight as progressed. Yesterday was the kitchen. Following the info I learned years ago when I used to watch HGTV, when we had satellite TV, when we had time to watch TV...I stripped the kitchen nearly bare.

Here is the result


And here


                    and here


So there you have it, my first real attempt at "staging."
Now I could use some help "un-staging" I have a few items to return to the kitchen. Help Wanted