Sunday, June 30, 2013

Saponification Sunday...Billy Bob Soap

I have a soap customer
His name is Bob.
So I  named the soap he likes most,
Billy Bob Blue Grass Soap

It never comes out exactly the same. But it's close.


Lots of different colors.


All thrown into the mold with a big soup spoon


The colors are some shade or another of blue, purple, green, white and yellow.


But never pink 'cause Bob is just not a pink sorta guy.

But he does like his soap sweet.


A little lavender, a little Geranium Rose, a little Lemongrass, a little grapefruit.


Today, I took Billy Bob outside  for his photo session


Into my secret (shhhhhhhh) garden

Because, although I appreciate  those beautifully photographed  light box soaps


I'm not really that kind of soap maker


I'm messier. My soaps are never bubble free. My beveled edges are not consistently beveled. My soaps are never uniform in size

Or shape

Or color

Or scent

They are a work in progress.


Just like someone else I know

13 oz Coconut Oil
13 Oz Pomace Olive Oil
3 oz Sweet Almond Oil
3 oz Castor Oil

Lye 4.5 oz
Water 10 oz

Colored with Woad, Indigo, Alkanet,
Spirulina and Orange peel powders
Scented with 1/2 oz each of Lavender, Grapefruit,
Lemongrass, Geranium Rose Essential Oils

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Upside of Downsizing

Mad Max and girls enjoy greener pastures while we dream
of our own new day.

So the current status of South Pork Ranch is this...

Despite all our best attempts, we're still here. You might recall that not so long ago, about a year and 1/2 ago, we put the farm up for sale. Lock , STOCK, and barrel, which s not technically true because although the majority of livestock are included in the sale, my guns will  come with me.

We've shown the farm and the farm business to several individual parties and although they seemed very interested, none were interested enough to offer real money to us. So we've moved forward, onward and upward even though our goal has been for some time now to travel DOWNWARD.

With just one month left on our second Realtors contract (first we tried selling with one realtor, then by ourselves via For Sale By Owner, and then with a second realtor) we are once again faced with the decision of "Now What?"

So for your reading pleasure, here is just a snippet of alternative plans.

     1. Stay as we are. Working very long days amongst far too many farm revenue centers
         which provides us with adequate income but a slow, sure, death.
         (Raw milk, direct and retail beef sales, direct and retail pork sales, Red Wattle feeder sales
          Red Wattle Breeder sales, honey sales, soap sales, conference speakers, free-lance writers)

     2. Give it all to Charity and join a monastery ourselves, preferable one that grows all their own
        food and makes their own underwear.

     3. Pick just one of the revenue centers listed in number 1 and make it our sole source of income.
        Who says you can't put all your eggs (or pigs) in one basket?

     4. Re-list the House and 10 acres alone and sell off all the farm p and return to nursing in order
        to pay the mortgage and other utilities.

     5. Consider selling the House and 10 acres we own on Contract for Deed , hoping the tenants
        actually pay us their monthly amount due and selling off all the livestock etc and using that
        for seed money for our next tiny tiny farm.

      6. Follow number one but hire enough staff to make it workable, at least two full time folk
          so we can fret about having enough to pay them every month.

     7. Allow the bank to take it all back, file bankruptcy, go back to nursing, live in an apartment
         (Keep in mind this action would put Keith in the ground within 6 months)

    8. Sell all our belongings. Rent five acres from our friend LM, move our farm store to that property
        Making it our 200 square foot home, rent out our farm and land.

     9. Turn it all over to the bank. Climb in the truck. Resettle in Alaska

     10. Take a nap and make a decision on Monday

Ah yes, you are indeed brilliant. I choose number 10. Keith is spending the afternoon planning a get
rich quick scheme involving Peacock feathers. Don't ask.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Parasite War

One Hot Pig prepares for her mud bath.
The best parasite deterrent of them all


 A couple of weeks ago while in Michigan we noticed an extraordinary amount of ticks and mosquitoes. Even the locals said it was far more than normal.

Back home. Same thing. Not as many ticks as in Michigan but still far more than we've seen in other years. In addition the flies seem to be having a riot with their obsessive breeding, swarming, buzzing. Lice has been noted on some of the livestock, as well as fly bots (eggs) especially on horse legs and behind pig ears. Even flooding their pens with the first mud holes of the season did not see to help much. Therefore...

This means war.

Due to our organic certification we are prohibited against any DEET type chemicals or other synthetic parasite control. So we gather up our own supplies and make our own deterrent.   It's always a challenge.

The pig ears were the worst last week, flies had been biting them, drawing blood, leaving scabs etc. I did my research and gathered together my organic coconut oil and the approved Essential Oils and concocted me own brew. It's very complicated. Pay attention,

16 oz water
1/4 oz each of Cedar wood. Peppermint. Rosemary, Lemongrass, and Tea Tree essential oils

Shaking it well, I did what all goofball farmers do....I tested it on myself. Sprayed my extremities and my clothes and went to the garden, in the evening, for some weeding. The night before I had gotten chewed up by several winged creatures, at one point I swear a bat was gnawing on my ear, but after spraying my home brew on me the next night, I was not bothered.

I did however, smell like the inside of a tennis shoe recently used as a makeshift bong, but the odor kept away the critters and for that I was grateful. Next I tested it on my horse Ennis, our three young calves and Mad Max our Red Wattle boar who seemed to have the most fly bites on his ears.

I mean what's the point of having animals if you don't use them for scientific testing? (Just one more reason PETA never returns my phone calls)

My spray worked well for a few hours but needed to be reapplied a couple times that day but by the next am Mad Max's ears had stopped bleeding and there was only a couple flies buzzing around instead of the mob action he had the day before.

The calves backs had small redden areas where they too had been frequently fly bit so I went back to the food processor and beat the living fluff out of 8 oz of Organic Coconut Oil. My water based spray wasn't going to last long enough I suspected. I then added 1/8 teaspoon of the above essential oils (listed in paragraph 6). I needed an applicator so created one from burlap strip and a wooden skewer and went to work applying salve to the critters with serious bite marks.


Good Witch Glenda and her wand...sort of.


4 hours later checked and NO FLIES on those areas of salve. I reapplied for good measure and went to bed. The next day the sores were well on their way to healing and I swear Mad Max's facial wrinkles have decreased as well.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Raw Milk Monday. Some good News!

Please note: If you are new to my blog you can catch up on the reasons for my raw milk passion and the struggles our own farm have experienced, by reading any of the previous posts on the topic I have written over the last 3 years . To do so, simply enter "Raw Milk" in the search bar under the picture of our house, on the right.

Yesterday we sold out. Of milk that is. Folks came and the tank was empty. Good news for us not so good for those who traveled. And two couples traveled over 130 miles (one way) to get our raw milk.

So we will have to start scheduling our regular raw milk customers, new procedure for us. And who should we see about all this? Well the Illinois Department of Public Health! So much free advertising as they tried first to limit our sales and production, that we are just one if several raw milk farmers who have seen an increase in sales. IMAGINE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THEY MADE RAW MILK ILLEGAL IN ILLINOIS?!?

Well, as we have tried to warn them, farmers would not stop selling raw milk nor would consumers stop buying it. Instead we'd all go as far underground as we needed to. But this IS NOT what we want. Because with illegal sales comes immoral producers, who when they see the profit that can be made would begin producing raw milk in all kinds of unhealthy conditions.

Yes, believe or not there are dishonest farmers. Not many but a few.

So back to the IDPH Dairy Work Group. We had another conference call on June 11 and it basically went like this

No, we said. We are not moving forward with these proposed rules that were not written by raw milk farmers and/or consumers.

Instead we asked that all the proposed rules written before my involvement began in Feb and the other farmers and pro-raw milk advocates came aboard May 1, be eliminated. Yes, totally eliminated. Instead we want a clean slate with the agenda for the July 16th mtg to be written by the Dairy Work Group, not by IDPH.

They agreed.

Yes they did.

So we submitted our agenda items , 5 of them , and on July 16th we'll see if they listened to us THIS TIME, or did they not. If you'd like details of this recent conference call please see Tom Kocal's article and part 6 of his series on this issue in Illinois. Maybe since they knew they were being taped they will follow through with their promises this time.

Time will tell. In the meantime our sales and sales of many of the other farmers on the Dairy Work Group continue to increase. So, IDPH, thanks for the free advertising. Much appreciated.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Saponification Sunday...Irish Milled





Before I was deep into the soaping world I was one of those folks who believed that a bar of soap with the words "Triple Milled, French Milled or even better "Triple French Milled" must mean that the soap was pretty durn special, or else why were they charging so much?


And if done the right way it can make a smoother soap and one that lathers nicely. Scraps of soap are either melted down and remolded or if done well they are run through several metal rollers which makes the pieces very tiny and smooth. It is often a very beautiful looking soap.  Unfortunately as with many commercial soaps, the glycerin is removed which means drier skin at the end of your wash-up.


This Midlife Farmwife has her own version of French Milling which I call "Irish Milled" . I grate up leftover soap bars, or ones that aren't as pretty as I would like. Melt them in a crock pot, with some water to keep the soap from burning, super fat them with a little more Castor oil and add more essential oil at the end just before dumping in a mold. It is not the smooth and lovely look of the French Version but I never claimed to be sophisticated did I?


Then after just one day of sitting in my mold, I am able to cut and use the bars. The last time I rebatched or Irish Milled some soap I used two different batches of soap, one very light and one very dark. I also cut up some chucks of the dark soap for even more texture and contrast, This all makes sense since we Irish are not well know for our smooth edges.


First I spooned in the dark soap, then the light soap over it then pushed in a few dark soap chunks then added more light soap. Both batches had Lemongrass Essential Oil added and mixed very well, before I put them in the mold.

Now I have what I am calling Mud Pie soap. Fun huh?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

HAY, you!

Buffer Zone Hay for Equines


 It's that time. It is hot and sunny and dry.

The perfect time to make hay. This year is a first for us as we've made our own organic hay. In years past , due to limited land we have bought all our hay except for the horse hay which we make from the roadsides and buffer zones. But since we have less cows than ever before we have more pasture to turn into hay. Even though we had to hire someone to bale the hay we still saved a large amount of money. Now back to Buffer Zones.

A field full of round bales extends all the way to the tree line

A buffer zone is the land between certified organic land and non-certified organic land. Usually about 25 feet wide and as long as we want, it is hay made from wild grasses and other vegetation. We cannot under the NOP (National Organic Program) feed it to our cows, beef and swine which we sell to consumers but we can feed buffer made hay to my horse and donkey.

First round bale goes on the wagon. It's a trick to keep it all balanced

Since we have no plans to consume them...yet.

For the convienence of the Midlife Farmwife, the buffer hay is done up as small square bales. It would take Ennis and Doolin ages to go through a round bale anyway. The cows and pigs will get the big round bales.


I love the way the round bales look.

62 round bales divided by 5 bales per load equals...numerous trips!

Like big green marshmellows dotting the prairie.

Like shredded wheat for the organically focused Green Giant

Like a kalidescope of grass and alfalfa and wild flowers and the unsung hero-weeds.

Like get on with it will ya?!?

Last of the previous years hay on left, our own round bales next to them
Pallets used to keep hay dry and off the ground

Yesterday, with rain on the way, we had to get the big round bales in the barn. 62 of them. I pulled the wagon out into the field and Keith loaded it with the tractor. Since the hay rack will only hold 5 big bales at a time the whole process took a few hours.


As we worked the clouds began rolling in, darker and darker.

Hmmm. Is that lightening in the distance?
In between getting the round bales in our own shed, We rushed to get another rack of square bales and a load of grain into the neighbors shed (Yeah for generous neighbors!) Down there, I realized  I could ignore the gas gage no longer and had to make a quick trip into town. Back in the field a few minutes later the wind picked up and temp dropped. A couple more loads in the barn, when the rain hit HARD.

View of our farm looking West. Barn on left, machine shed in middle
and house to right of that. Dark rolling clouds above.
Keith was drenched by time we got back to the barn (I had the shelter of the truck) but we got in all but 10 bales. Those will be fed up first to livestock and with the heat predicted this weekend may dry out pretty well anyway.

Stacking round bales takes skill. Which is why Keith does it, not me.

There are many things that give one a sense of accomplishment on the farm but none quite like the feeling of a barn full of hay for the next year. Well, nearly full.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Saying NO to Farmers Markets

The display above is of the soap I make here on our farm. This was taken a couple of weeks ago at the Farmers Market in Fairbury sponsored by The Stewards of The Land, a group of farmers Keith and I are very proud to be a part of.

We were members for many years and then to make more room for new farmers, our "status" was changed to Advisory Board Member. That's OK with us, the group helped us get started with direct farm to consumer marketing and now it's our turn to help other newbies.

For two years we very religiously set up our soap and meat and honey products at this Farmers Market every Saturday morning. It takes hours to get ready the day or two before, a hour or two of set up time (tents, tables, signs, products) and more time at home to put it all away.

Some weeks we sold only $4 worth of product.

But other weeks we sold much more. Regardless of the end sale amount we always came out ahead. Time spent with our fellow farmers chatting in between customers, time spent with the locals chatting about our products, our farms, time spent in the Antique Shoppe owned by the very gracious Kathy and Daton who lent us their parking lot for the market....all of this was time well spent.

But, this year, we decided to shift our focus. Again. Four years ago we stopped selling our milk to a co-op and shifted to on farm sales only. Three years ago we opened our Farm Store to further advance direct farm sales. Two years ago we pulled out of the Chicago restaurant scene ceasing the delivery of carcass pork. This year...we're greatly limiting our Farmers Market presence.

Don't get me wrong. We love Farmers Markets and support them, shop at them often. We will be at The Stewards of The Land Farmers Market in Fairbury at least twice this summer doing our share as "Host" farmer, but our focus will be right here. Do you understand what that means ?

It means we need about three more loads of gravel for our driveway, THAT's what it means! We have a lot of traffic up and down the lane these days.

But that's what we want. The more people can actually SEE their farmer at work, and SEE the animals at work and play and SEE the way good food should be raised, used to always be raised, the more likely we are to facilitate the growth of new farmers in our country.

Children need to hear the cow bellow, watch the pig burrow, feel the peacock feathers swirl by their feet in order for them to want to be farmers. Not all farmers are set up like we are for constant visitors, many of them must work off farm jobs and are not even home during the day doing all their farm work late into the evenings.

But for us, for us right now, on farm visitors are the key to our "success" and the success of farming in this country. In an era where farm displays in large metropolitan zoos will not even allow the child to touch their token animals or where milking is done on a life size fiberglass cow, farmers who can take the time to share their livelihood with visitors...should.

It's not easy. It sometimes interrupts our supper or breakfast or our bookwork but the payoff for our own little farm and for those kids who might never have experienced the joy of a piglet nibbling on their shoes, is really worth it. And 99% percent of our visitors are very gracious, respectful of our privacy  and thankful for the few minutes of our time. We have also learned to set limits. No tours on Sunday. And we do not offer Bed and Breakfast...yet.

So this year we are saying NO to our own participation in Farmers Markets and instead saying YES to bringing the public to our farm even more than before.

If it gets too intense we can always hide out in The Secret Garden. No one knows about that, do they?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Raw Milk Monday

Sorry about missing last week. I was selfishly enjoying some relaxation time in the middle of a pond on a kayak...yes, Michigan was berry berry good to me.

So where is this raw milk struggle in Illinois?

A recap.

November 2102 IDPH decides they need to have rules about sales of raw milk even though there have been no illnesses related to fluid raw milk produced on an ILLINOIS farm. They organize a group of folk and have a meeting.

January. They meet again. Someone suggest they maybe want to include an actual raw milk farmer.
I get invited to join

February. I attend the 3rd mtg of this work group and discover they have three  pages of proposed rules out together by those who do not make their living producing raw milk. In fact the majority of the work group is comprised of government officials and big dairy employees. The proposed rules are very slanted against raw milk production , consumption and sales.

February. I sound the alarm and start calling all the raw milk farmers I know plus the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund and we get to work

May. The BIG meeting in Bloomington. With the Dairy Work group now (finally) being comprised of equal number of pro and con raw milk folk real discussion with IDPH begins. We counter all the proposed rules and are well supported by over 125 general public attendees all opposed to the new proposed rules. Physicians, lawyers, retired heath care personal give moving testimonies in favor of not limiting raw milk sale in Illinois. IDPH appears to be listening

June. Conference call with IDPH. The agenda not only ignored what the new Dairy Work Group members asked for in May, it now includes even STRICTER proposed rules especially in the area of milk testing. The farmers unanimously refuse to accept the agenda and refuse to move forward. A request is made to start over from scratch and IDPH agrees. Note: very few anti-raw milk work group members bothered to attend this conference call.

June. The Pro-raw milk members of the Dairy Work Group submit a brand new agenda to IDPH for consideration at the July 11 IDPH sponsored mtg. It remains to be seen ( as of this writing) if that new agenda will be accepted. If indeed it is, I'll share that agenda with you.

In the meantime journalist Tom Kocal  Of The Prairie Advocate News continues to hold IDPH feet to the fire in regards to the Open Meeting Act of Illinois which they claim they do not need to follow., by registering a complaint with the Attorney General  He has also filed Freedom of Information Act requests related to the FDA grant IDPH accepted which IDPH has not been open and forthright about. In other words WHO is behind the drive to severely limit raw milk sales in Illinois and why?

So, just 7 months ago it looked as if IDPH wanted to say HALT to raw milk sales in Illinois but now, due to aggressive involvement of Illinois Farmers, Consumers and Media, and several of our state representatives who are as opposed to the addition of non-sensical rules as we are, those wheels have significantly been slowed.

But we are not fools. Government has a way of feigning public interest while at the same time generating extreme and escape free restraints on American Farmers. So we remain acutely aware and prepared for what we may have to do next if indeed the atmosphere of "working together for a common goal" goes sour.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Surving the Family Vacation

Keith enjoying the joy of doing nothing.

It is a rare thing for a farmer to get off the farm for any real extended time period, especially a livestock farmer, especially, especially the dairy livestock farmer.

But due to the very hard work of a young man and his mother who did our chores, we made it happen.

Michigan. Cool, forest and lake filled Michigan. Canoes and kayaks, ponds and rivers, killer mosquitoes that were seen carrying around baby rabbits and of course...time with family.


What one word in the dictionary elicits more gut retching feelings of love, devotion, angst, disappointment, pride and passion than that one word?


The true test of a families worth and strength is in times of trouble such as serious and life threatening illness, death, marriage and the most frightening of all...the family vacation.

It is always perfect in the beginning. Shared meals, group events, friendly teasing, evenings of chatter and camaraderie. A time to catch up on each other's jobs, and lives. Time to laugh and relax and enjoy. But as can happen when a large group of people is together for more than 3 days (the old fish and family rule) things can go sour.

It is never planned or intended but it happens. Perhaps a verbal disagreement or a clash in behavior rights and wrongs. The group may divide and actions are misconstrued, feelings are hurt, wounds are inflicted and one might very well end that family time with the raging and over-whelming feeling of "Never Again"

But what a loss that would be.

Families are not meant to be carbon copies of each other. Conflict is unavoidable. But how a family handles this noise of togetherness, the times of discontent is its true measure. Few families bother to come together anymore at special times like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Birthdays, let alone the summer house tucked into the cool woods between babbling water sources.

It is too hard, they say, too much work.  Uncle Martin is such a bore. Aunt Agatha is so bossy. Cousin It is so hairy. Grandpa Festus is too lazy.

But the bottom line is effort. No family is without it's issues but real families are worth fighting for. We can take the low road and refuse to speak, share or gather together because of some perceived mis-deed or we can reach out to those we've hurt, apologize, ask and RECEIVE forgiveness and move on.

There is perhaps not a single home anywhere which does not display a easily purchased, often trite sign about the value of family but there are few who are willing to do the tremendous heart breaking work it takes to remain a solid, loving , despite all odds, willing to take on any invader, REAL family in these very self centered "I-Have-The-Right-Me-First" times we are submerged within.

Perhaps it is true in this world that there are few things worth fighting for. I myself believe Family is one of them.

Photo: My family.  I love them so.
Back row from left, Brother -in-law Dave, BIL John, nephew Nick, nephew Logan, Son Colton, son Jason,  The Midlife Farmwife aka Donna, Husband Keith, son Kyle, daughter-in-law Amanda, sister Mary, sister Teresa, niece Bridgette, nephew Connor, BIL Brandon, sister Peg, DIL Tab, daughter Raven, GK Nicole, GK Wesley, GK Allana

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Planter Junque

I get a big kick out of antique shops who sell "vintage" farm items for hefty prices.

I got your vintage right here

Most of the year it looks like junk. Rusty, falling apart should be in the dumpster junk.

Then summer comes and I get tired of the eyesores and start planting.

By mid August I am tired of the watering and it all reverts back to cheap farm junk.

Just one more cycle here on the ranch.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Amazing Cull Cow

Cull Cow

The term was not always one of distinction, at least not in the CAFO (confined animal feed operations) world.

There, a cull cow is usually a sick cow, a near death cow, a badly injured cow where the goal is to get them to the locker as fast as possible...before they die on the truck. We've seen some horrible things come off livestock trailers and loaded into sale barn rings or locker holding pens.

Animals that had to be dragged off, beaten off or in the most extreme cases actually killed on the back of the truck and then drug into the plant, to be made into burger, soap bones, dog feed etc..

This was years ago, before there were laws to protect innocent mammals. Years ago before locker plants were fined for accepting such atrocities but the negative  connotation that comes with "cull cow" sadly still remains.

Here, on our farm, a "Cull Cow" is a bit of  a hero.

She is usually a fine young heifer who at about the age of 2 has her first calf. Her milk goes to feed the calf and us and our customers. She spends her days on pasture, happy and healthy. Each year she is re bred and has a new calf. In the confinement world most cows last just 3-4 years , their bodies worn out from the excess grain given to increase milk production as well as the cramped living conditions.

Here, there is no grain just sweet grass from April through Oct and organic hay over winter. And they have room to roam. Lots of room. Eventually Puppy or Ariel or Moonbeam will slow down but usually she'll have 7-8, maybe 10-12 calves before that happens. So when she doesn't breed back, when her body naturally tells her it's time to give in and long before she shows any signs of illnesses or injury we "cull" her from the herd.

She takes a nice slow trip to a locker not farm away, escorted off the trailer by the farmer she has been cared for every day of her life. Her death is quick and humane. She becomes burger. Wonderful, healthy, tasty ,organic,burger. She completes her life cycle with one more great gift to her farmer in the way of 400 plus little white wrapped one pound "chubbies" we call them.

It's the cycle of life here on South Pork Ranch

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Twenty and counting

Our first date years ago was a hospital Christmas party where one of the nuns said "Donna, so nice to finally meet your better half"  Embarrassing, but we got married anyway.

Our second date was Christmas shopping for our children. He had two barely potty trained pre-schoolers. I had two angst ridden pre-teens. No romantic dinner, no dancing under the moonlight but we got married anyway.

Our third date was supper at my house where his two year old threw up spaghetti and red sauce all over my living room. Messy, but we got married anyway.

His first wife had sadly died of a brain tumor leaving him with two tiny boys.
I had been around the block more than once determined I could never trust another man ever again.

But we got married anyway. Two kids became Four. A farm was started with one cow. Nursing career grew bigger and bigger. Children raised and moved out. Grandchildren arrived. Nursing career kissed goodbye. Farming continued.

Still, The very best decision of my life. Happy Twentieth Anniversary to us!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Raw Milk Monday:The Reason Why

There are days when we ask ourselves why do we work so hard
 to keep a farm life that often times can indeed be so hard...
THIS is why.