Sunday, March 28, 2010

Introducing, The Red Wattle Review !

 Now for the first time ever, South Pork Ranch is proud to present their first Red Wattle Pig all dressed up and somewhere to go ! Our first Red Wattle feeder pig for our own use, was unveiled with several friends recently in a BLT fest. The bacon was a deep red with plenty of fat and cooked very quickly.We were told, and had read  in several sources, that Red Wattle meat was leaner than the average pig and thus the reason it fell out of favor with the settlers in the 1800's who relied on lard for so much of their household cooking. So we were surprised and pleased to see the tasty fat. I suppose those folks did not have access to the certified organic milk we feed to our hogs.

"Yum" and "yummy" were the official taste testers words. I hang with a very elite and highly intelligent group.The bacon disappeared as quickly as it appeared on the plate. Some actually used forks to grab their share but several reverted to the age old finger grab. Last night Keith made himself porkchops, tonight we will try a ham steak and hopefully by morning there will be enough leftover for Daves Supermarket in Fairbury.   Daves will begin selling our meat this week. Yeah !

Three weeks ago , at the same time we took our own Red Wattle into the locker, we sold our first two Red Wattle feeder hogs to two of our Chicago chefs , Jared Van Camp at Old Town Social (and faithful side kick Yoni) and Chris Pandel at The Bristol,
In Chris's own words in a recent email , "The wattle is super. (or did he mean "supper?" )We have much of it curing for future use but the animal was beautiful when we butchered it"

So there you have it. The first reviews on the tastiness of the critically endangered, exotically beautiful  Red Wattle Hog are in. The reason I am telling you all this is to remind myself why we are raising these little boogers. Yesterday afternoon we almost butchered ten of the little monsters right there on our front lawn with our bare hands.

Seems Red Wattle babies are of the adventuresome sort. Once secure with the location of their home base, they like to, how shall I say it..RUN AROUND LIKE DRUNKEN WILD BANSHEES IN MY FRONT YARD TEARING UP EVERYTHING IN SIGHT WITH THEIR HUGE  FLAT BULLDOZING SCHNOZES. The fact that Keith has lowered the electric fence three times in order to give them a good jolt if they try to leave ground zero, made no difference. Once one little wicked bite-sized hammette decides to go for a stroll, the rest will follow. Lemmings disguised as sausages, they run out of the pasture, across our gravel drive and into the front yard. Our herd dog Freddie is not a lot of help.Still young and untrained (will someone please just call the dog training lady whose phone number has been stuck on the frig for the last 6 months ,and register us for classes ?!?!) Freddie just circled the renegade pigshits, I mean piglets,around and around just a few feet from our front door. The poor dog has no sense of direction but he does know his shapes. Well, one shape. The circle. Or on a very good day, he does some nice ovals.

With the yard still very soft from recent rain, the 4 week old piglet feet, cloven like the devil's own,  left wonderful holes all over, nicely accenting the big craters left by loose horse hooves the week before. When we opened the front door they stopped in their tracks, looked at us simultaneously and then ran like fats out of hell back UNDER the electric fence and into the protective hogcienda. None of the four sows even bothered to chastise them. Parenting skills of a pig I tell you.

And now we leave this story for a raw milk update. We are still selling it as Illinois State Law says we can. The milk truck from company A did pick up our milk on schedule. And tomorrow is Monday. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Reading the Riot Act

Can't talk right now. I'm reading.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fighting "the man"

Frustrated. A little angry. Mostly frustrated. And more angry than I thought. For the past 13 years we have been selling our milk conventionally  to a commercial milk company, I will call Company A. Every other day the truck pulls up to our farm empties our milk tank and goes down the road to pick up more milk from other dairy farms. It is all mixed together and eventually finds its way to the grocery store. If you read the label you would have no idea where the milk came from or who produced it. At the end of each month we get The Milk Check. It no longer covers our cost of producing milk even if you took the organic component out of the equation . (The cost of organic feed primarily).

So, last year we had the dairy certified organic. Years of work which culminated about the same time the organic milk market took a dive. The organic milk buyer who verbally offered to purchase our milk changed their mind. We chose to keep our organic status and sell our milk directly to on farm customers on the days the milk truck does not come. That has been working well. We sell our milk to individuals at a much higher price than we are paid by Company A. The consumer buys it from us at a much lower price than they have been able to buy organic raw milk in other areas. By selling some milk off the farm, about 30 % of our total produced, we are doing our little part to keep the milk market from being flooded which is what happened two years ago driving DOWN the prices paid to dairy farmers .It was a win win win win situation. Until today.

A representative from ANOTHER conventional milk company , which I will call company B, came to our farm, on our property, without invitation. He informed us that Company A has been moving towards closing their doors and many dairy farmers in Illinois are now under contract to his Company B. He showed my husband the current rate of pay which was a little higher than Company A, offering to buy our milk from us if we switched companies now. However...we would be required to sign a statement promising we WOULD NOT sell any raw milk to anyone. He also "warned " us that if we did not sign on with Company B soon, we could expect Company A to drop us from their route very soon. The two companies, once competitors are now merging partners.

When my husband questioned why the quality of our milk,  with its very low bacterial counts and high butterfat ratios, and the fact that our annual state surveys always reflect very well on Company A, were not entered into any equations, the representative from Company B mumbled something about quantity not quality.

Keep in mind these facts.
     1. It is legal to sell raw milk in Illinois as long as the consumer comes to the farm and brings their own
     2. Illinois state law does not limit the amount of raw milk that can be purchased directly from the dairy
     3. When we started selling milk to Company A years ago there was no contract signed. We were never
     asked or told not to sell some of our milk, raw, directly to the consumer.
     4. This is still America. Land of the free where individuals should have the choice to purchase and consume
     raw milk as they see fit.

So, what does a hard working farmer and his midlife farmwife do ? We make a plan. It will probably include some files and folders, post it notes and copies of other stories like ours. I will also be calling my state representatives and an attorney or two at The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund. How DARE they attempt to interfere with a small farmers legal ability to make an honest living !   Stay tuned.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Are you my mother ?

Yesterday, my two sons Colton and Jason and I went outside to play with the pigs. Yes, we do have a TV. What's your point ? Our babies are made up of two litters born a week apart from two sows. Co-nursing began almost immediately and the group mingles in other ways as well. Especially at playtime. Debs babies, born first and now 3 weeks old, are all reddish pink and full Red Wattle . Dots babies, born a week later are only half Red Wattle and smaller overall. Some are red, some pink and one is this crazy yellow- red with black leopard spots. She cannot be missed.
 I laid down in the hogcienda with mother Dot happily nursing to my left and babies playing in the front of me. I stayed in one place snapping away while they would run up to us , run away, run around each other, around us, nurse, get up, come closer.
And then they would get a little closer.

And then they started to get sleepy,  And a little sleepier,
 And then...good night piglets.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Here comes the sun. du du du du....

Dear God

Its me, Donna. The pigs and I would like to thank you for the sun. That is all. Over and out big buddy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy Saint Patricks Day !

With the last name of OShaughnessy, I of course, love all things Irish. In 1999 my husband and I went for the first time to the land of green. It was to be a "once in a lifetime" trip. Little did I know at that time, how deeply I would fall in love with the country of my ancestors. My great-great grandfather George J. O'Shaughnessy immigrated from County Mayo at the age of 12 in 1856 while the country was still recovering from the Great Famine. I cannot imagine placing my very young son on a boat , sending him thousands of miles away knowing I would never see him again. I also cannot imagine watching my children starve to death. Therefore, if faced with the option of saving their lives by sending them away forever, I suppose I would take them to Cobh Harbor and place them on a ship as well.

Due to George J's bravery, I am here today. Due to the hard work and generosity of my husband I have made it back to Ireland every year since 1999. Sometimes I travel with family and friends, sometimes I have gone alone. In a few months I will go again with the girls from work. Too much fun that group ! The first couple of years I was all about the castles and thatched cottages. Now I go for the peace and the people. The Irish are a family focused, God loving group of hard workers. They recycled buildings and equipment long before it became "popular." So in recognition of Saint Patrick, the man who brought Christs word to Ireland, here are a few pics from some of my trips to the West coast of Eire. My favorite spot in the world next to our own farm.

A perfect Irish meal would include soda bread with a slab or two of butter, new potatoes, pan seared lamb and hearty wine from South Africa.

Ireland is a poor country compared to the US. These trailers are not abandoned but instead house families with children. Often home schooled "travelers" move from county to county to utilize state resources as available. Animals are often seen tied up outside the door and trinkets are sold to tourists for extra income.

Roads are a riot in Eire. No real shoulder, lots of brush and behind the brush usually old stone walls. Even so, the Irish drive FAST. Now I know where I got that bad little habit. All genetics.I wonder if they rode their horses really fat  in the 1800's ?

This is a working tractor on a working farm near Oughterard, County Galway. The owner told me it was built in "the sixties, give or take a decade, unless it was the fifties"

 Children. Lots of children in Ireland. This group was crossing a busy street in Galway. All going shopping together.Brave women those Irish.

Tis herself at the Blarney Castle "theme park." No rides there but cool shops as they were in the 1950's which truthfully did not look all that different from the modern shops you see in most Irish villages. I always travel in the off season between Oct and April which is also the rainy season but far less of those pesky tourists to deal with !
 Tis herself again (on the left) strolling the streets of Galway after a successful year on the Atkins diet. I'm not sure but I think the boots make my legs look a wee bit heavy. Music is the mainstay of Ireland. You will hear it in the streets, the churches, coming through open doors of private home and of course, in the pubs. Today, I am most certainly missing the pubs.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Complaint Department

While doing chores this am I was approached by one of our resident goats. Purdy. She was ticked off about the fact that all I seem to care about lately is pigs. She pointed out that other animals of South Pork Ranch are expecting little ones and how come I never blog about any of THEM ?!. She then flounced off. It was at that point I noticed her very round belly. Seems she was right, others were indeed in the family way. So Purdy, my little caprine friend, I aplologize.  Here are a couple photos of you and might I add, both of your sides are looking pretty fine for a middle aged goat in her last trimester. 
 And when your kids come forth I promise to take lots of pictures. Maybe we could even run the baby pigs and goats together for a group photo ? No ?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Van Gogh

This is Van Gogh, the Red Wattle. He has a bit of an ear problem. The right one is bent. He came to us that way all cocked to one side. Cute little pig. The older he gets the flatter that ear lies against his head. Once while pouring milk into their  feed pan he stuck his head under the bucket and got an ear wash . He didn't seem to mind. Recently  I saw him laying on the ground with his butt up in the air and that ear flat against the ground. I think he was listening for trains. I like Van Gogh.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New Logo. Same place.

The decision to change our name was not an easy one. We had been Green Acres Farm for 15 years. It worked well for us in this small neck of the woods but when we began to offer our product in the Chicago area it became more confusing. Seems a few others had thought Green Acres was a nice name for their farm too !

So after several corporate meetings (Keith and I and the occasional drop by adult child) and some secret voting (I hid my ballot under my pillow), we hit upon South Pork Ranch. "South" because we are south of  I-80, "Pork" because our hog business is growing much faster than our dairy business , and "Ranch" because no one has a ranch in central Illinois. Everyone has farms. I spent 10 years in South Dakota where everyone had ranches but no farms. And I have a soft spot (in my head) for SD being as two of my children were born there. And finally we liked it because "South Pork" sounded  like South Fork and South Park, both humorous shows in their own way.

The new logo was designed by niece Micah Tompkins and originally consisted of a large hog and dancing cow and twirling duck. Very very cute but I knew it was a little busy for a logo. So I found professional Ramona Killin on Ebay. Yes, Ebay, and we struck a deal. She played with the logo so it still looked like the original but was more print worthy . Its friendly and cheerful and still reminds us of the small family farm we are. Your thoughts ?

Monday, March 8, 2010

The quiet before the storm

This is our daily calendar attached to the wall in our office at home. The blank days are the ones where we did the usual chore stuff that never gets written on the board. It is just a "given". Before I erase the February activities and add the April ones I thought I would take a few seconds to reflect  on what we have accomplished. I have such a drive towards TOMORROW and rarely enjoy what we have done yesterday. Bad habit. Part of it is due to my  Catholic uprising. Nuns who braved war torn countries and came to the U.S. with no personal possessions and paper thin shoes on their feet had little patience to praise me or others when we finally printed the letter "S" correctly. They were not being mean but compared to what they had endured they had little time to waste on mamby pamby kids who could not print clearly. They had WORK to do.

Now, there is a statue of limitations (pun by accident) when its comes to nun blaming. I carried forth with my "Lets go. lets go !" attitude all by myself into my adult years.Always thinking about the next job that must be done I am neglectful when it comes to enjoying the flowers blooming at my feet. Thus the reason for taking a little more time than needed to plan Aprils calendar.

In the first week of March we cared for 39 pigs, over 100 cows, and numerous smaller animals. We milked them, bedded them and fed them. We hosted one family intership and served over 10 direct -to- the -farm customers, I started the training of my mare Nora for our 3 day professional training in August. I painted half the kitchen and sanded part of the floor. We made meals, cared for grand kids, shopped and visited Aunt Bernie. We picked up new (huge) feeders for the hogs, attended farm mtgs and started new Facebook pages. Welding of the next hogcienda was accomplished as was a total of 24 night shift hours . Hired help (two sons) spread manure and helped with above mentioned tasks. We even managed to  watch one horrible Nicholas cage movie. We did more than many folk and a lot less than others. All in one week and yet my mind is constantly spinning about what to do NEXT. Craziness I tell you.

Today, I pledge when I go out to do chores, to spend a little more time enjoying the crisp fog, the new piglets , the blades of green green grass coming through the brown thatch.(Mow is me) Soon, it will be spring and our work load will double. So today is the day to slow it down just a notch. Forgive me Sister Mary Gerard, I know not what I do.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

South Pork Ranch internship program

So, if you were the parents of 5 young children and you wanted to learn about raising livestock and running a small  farm what  would you do ? Read a book ? Attend a seminar ? Surf the web ? Or  would  you wake up at the pre-crack of dawn, bundle up  your little ones and drive over an hour to make sure you get to witness early morning milking with your own eyes ? Well that is exactly what the Scholte family did yesterday. Arriving at our door at 0630 with HOMEMADE bread in hand, Simon, Stacey, Samantha, Alexandra and Zachariah came to intern on our farm.


The Scholte Family
                                         Keith and Simon gang up on one little bitty calf. 

And by "intern" I mean work. They helped us milk, and clean up, then they fed calves and bedded them. They helped me remove a dead chicken from our chicken house (none of us gets out of this world alive you know),  throw hay to horses and one greedy donkey and held goats while feet were trimmed. They fed pigs, moved big calves into the big calf pen and moved little calves into outside hutches. All of this was accomplished before noon. And quite a bit of it was done while lazy Zachariah slept. I guess he figured because he was only 6 months old he could take the easy way out by letting mommy Stacey carry him around. But if big sisters Sam and Alex have anything to say about it he'll be carrying his own weight next time. Those girls, just 10 and 8 years old were no slackers.
     Sam taking straw to calf hutches. I wish I could say I smiled that much when I did chores .

Keith and I often wonder why we do what we do. We get tired, we get really tired and then we get exhausted. About that time someone comes into our lives who thinks our way of life might be a good one for them too. This in turn energizes us and reminds us why we farm. Because people show up with homemade bread that's why.

Monday, March 1, 2010

To Be Or Not To Be ?

Today Wee Wesley , who is not so wee anymore now that he is 2 and 1/2, was playing happily with some new Matchbox cars in the living room  I decided it would be a great time to finish a few invoices and get them in the mail. I was working at the computer, about 15 feet away from him, when I felt his chubby , warm, little hand pull my hand off the mouse. He said very quietly, "Be with me Yaya."

Thats all he wanted. He did not say PLAY with me or READ to me or FEED me , he just wanted me to BE. Not an easy request. I pride myself on my multi-tasking skills. (Pride. That is a whole 'nother long blog) I do not sit well. But today I did. I let him lead me into the living  room, away from my oh- so- important work and I watched while he went back to playing. First he let the yellow truck go down the ramp he built from a cardboard box, and then the blue truck. Occasionally, the black car  would get a chance but he clearly favored the blue truck. Eventually, I did have to make lunch for him, his grandfather and his uncle but for awhile Wes and I were just BEING together.

Several hours later, I visited my 91 year old Aunt Bernie. Usually on Mondays when I visit her, I do several things at once. I fill her med box, collect her dirty laundry, change her pillow case, maybe clean some, all the while chatting with her. Today, I sat and listened. Well, first I made a cup of coffee. I'm no saint. But I tried very hard to BE still with her, to enjoy her, to really see and hear her. To experience the stories about her father and my father, again.  Because tomorrow she could so easily BE ...gone.

Big sisters Allana (left) and Nicole (right) obviously very happy  just BEING with newborn brother Wesley