Friday, May 28, 2010

Father of Invention

I am a selfish blogger. On our farm "me" stands for Myself Entirely because that is usually who I talk about when I get in front of the keyboard. But not today. Today I talk of Keith.

Keith Parrish is my husband and partner on the farm. Together we have raised four children, and hundreds of animals, often using the same techniques for both. We have learned that what is good for the goose often applies to the out of control teenager but I digress.

Keith can make most anything out of most anything. ( Really, take ME  for example. Once a bra-burning -man-hating-hemp-dressed-unshaven-feminist , I married Keith and evolved in the logically thinking conservative I am today. But again I digress ) Most recently he created this milk fountain for our market hogs.  I wish he would have thought of this when all four kids were still living at home. Would've have saved a lot of plate washing. Anyway...when we decided to raise hogs year round we budgeted for larger DRY grain feeders. We did not plan for ways to feed extra milk from our dairy. In the past, with just a few hogs, we would just hand carry buckets of milk to the hungry hog snouts. Now, with nearly 50 head of hogs to feed we needed something more efficient and SAFER. 50 hogs running into your legs looking for milk was getting a little hairy.

So here it is. The Milk-O-Matic or MOM is you'd prefer. A nice little substitute for the real thing.

The big white barrels hold the leftover milk from our dairy, that which has not been sold to our milk customers. The barrels are old soap barrels we got FREE  from The Corner Hardware Store in Chatsworth, Illinois. Keith fitted them at the bottom with $8 valves to allow the milk to flow out of the barrels. The barrels are supported by a hard plastic pallet which allows Keith to move the barrels from the milk house to the pig pasture with the forks on our Kubota tractor.

When Keith opens the valve on the spigot and the deliciously rich  milk comes pouring out , the pigs turn into growling, snarling, beasts of carnal desire. Like me when presented with a big plate of sizzling bacon. Ironic, no? Even more ironic, the trough is made from a PVC sewer pipe, 14 feet long with a 10 inch diameter, cut in half lengthwise. Yes, it was a clean, unused sewer pipe purchased from Kafer Tiling in Fairbury, Illinois for $120.

The trough is stabalized and blocked  at the ends with scrap iron and wood from Keiths "inventory".

The pipe width is perfect for many snouts to get their fair share of certified organic raw milk from 100% grass fed cows on pasture. Every day we get thank you cards from these little piggies. Some write better than others but all are special to us.

Some pigs get far enough into the trough to get little milk facials, making their skin that much softer and sweeter for our chefs (like Jared Van Camp of Old Town Social in Chicago) who love to make tasty dishes like Porchetta di Testa from the pigs head   . See how he does it at

Farming.  Everyday an adventure.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Illinois Department of Public Confusion

I don't get it. We open a dairy. We complete paperwork. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) inspects us , pats us on the head, and grants us a Grade A Dairy Permit. We sell milk to Foremost and to individual customers. After 11 years Foremeost tells us we can't sell raw milk even though IDPH says we can. So Foremost stops picking up our milk.

Being the law abiding citizien I am, really I'm sort of a "rules girl", I decide to call IDPH to inform them of our status change in regards to our no longer having a conventional buyer. I also want to clarify which milk tests we will need to do independently since Foremost will no longer be testing our milk. I leave messages. LOTS of messages. But no one returns my calls. Hmmmmm. After THREE weeks I try the Supervisor of the Champaign Region and he does return my call. (Thank you again Larry Mohr)

Larry admits that the department has not been returning my calls because "The department doesn't really know what to do with you Donna. You don't fit into one of their boxes". He goes on to tell me in regards to our Grade A permit. "You don't need it anymore, for all I'm concerned you can tear it up today" He also said "No more inspectors will come to your farm" When I asked about milk tests he said since we no longer have a permit (keep in mind we had the permit 30 seconds ago before I called Mr Mohr) we were not required to test our milk BUT if we wanted to, once a month would be good.

So lets see if I understand this tangled web. Foremost won't buy our milk anymore because we sold some of it raw to private customers. IDPH  says its OK to sell raw milk but they tell the public it is dangerous to their health if they consume it .Because we no longer have a conventional buyer, Illinois will not maintain our Grade A permit EVEN THOUGH this would allow them to continue to inspect our farm regularly and thus help us maintain clean and sanitary conditions which would logically decrease the risk to the public, which if you recall, is what IDPH is suppossed to be all about. Please note we have had a Grade A permit for 11 years and have always had good inspection results.

Really, IDPH, thats OK . We did not maintain your cleanliness policies just for you anyway. We followed them because we wanted a clean safe product for our consumers. We followed them because we felt it was the right thing to do. We will continue to follow IDPH standards for a Grade A Dairy even though you no longer care if we do. We're just that way I guess.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ham Futures

...are looking good at South Pork Ranch.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Date Day

Most couples go to dinner and a movie when they go out for a date. Keith and I make a 9 hour round trip/road trip  to Indiana to buy a hay rake. was time away from the farm (sort of, we brought our notebooks and datebooks and did a lot of planning).

The best part of the day was Dot Jordans home cooked meal. We love visiting Kiss My Grass Farm ! Not just because of the food (homemade chicken pot pie, bread, apple pie and blueberry cobbler) but because of the company as well . Whenever we run across another set of Eeejits out there trying to make a living on a family farm, it makes us feel a little less crazy. Of course when you look at these hay rake loading pictures its obvious crazy is relative.

Thank you Dot and Brian for a great afternoon and for feeding us even though we were late. *#@! &! time zone changes

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Like Gilda said "Its Always Something"

Yup, its always something. As the sun goes down on one phase of our farm, it also rises on another. Keith and I have never been satisfied with leaving things the way they are. First we had to be certified organic, then we decided to stop dehorning calves, then we opted to eliminate all grain from all our cattles diet. This included milk cows, new borns, steers, you name it ,we took the corn from it. Nine months ago we thought it would be entertaining to try our hand at raising the critically endangered Red Wattle hog, so we bought some and then bred some. After that we thought "Hey ! Lets sell more raw milk". So we did, but the folks at Foremeost, never big supporters of the entrepeuneur type farmer, decided thaey didn't like that. So they told us to stop. I mean really why should we keep selling it directly to consumers at twice what Foremost was willing to pay us ?

We were oppossed to this directive being as THIS WAS OUR FARM and it was never in writing . No contract given to us to sign and nothing in the bylaws to support their directive. Not to mention, but I must, that we had been selling raw milk for years and Foremost knew it. Thus we chose to do it "our way" by continuing to sell raw milk the way Illinois State Law says we can and Foremost rewarded us by refusing to buy our milk any longer.

Thus on May 15, the milk truck picked up our last load of milk. The last time our excellent high quality milk from our very healthy herd will be mixed in with milk across Illinois, heated and homogonized beyond recognition and good taste and turned into a varity of equally taste-free products now appearing on your local grocer shelf. To Foremost we say whole heartedly...Good Riddance, and of course "Don't let the tank room door hit you in the ass on your way out !"  (Just channeling my mother a little)

. The recent news stories,    blogs by others,   word of mouth communication regarding this story about our wee farm has helped us tremendously . Our customer base is growing , our name recognition is , well, being recognized, and I have three more restaurants on our waiting list for pork and beef. Our customers are thrilled that there is cold fresh milk in the tank EVERY DAY and no longer do we Aricept minded folks have to remember if this is "milk-truck day" or not.

A neighbor of ours is planning  to buy more of our milk to use as a field fertilizer. Recent research supports this and he is ready to give it a try. Our hog herd has tripled in the last 3 months which means more hungry mouths to feed. More pigs drinking more raw milk makes an even better pork product for our restaurants , grocery stores and farm direct customers.

 So basically,  Don't cry for us Agentina. We're going to be fine, one way or the other.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Beckers of Ridge Road.

After over 30 years the Becker-OShaughnessy's were together again , and THIS time not a single one of us was arrested . Always a postive sign that a reunion is going well.

Lets backtrack. The year, 1971. The place, a gravel lane called Ridge Road running between Manhattan and Elwood, Illinois. Two Catholic families meet at mass, the Beckers and the OShaughnessys. The rest is pure Will County Police Department History. By the time these two families went their separate ways five years later, they had helped raise 16 children together. Wait, maybe it was 17...18 ? Anyway, it was LOTS of children.
                      From left is Madonna, Sandy and Jay

Thanks to Facebook, I reconnected with one of the older Becker kids, Madonna, a few months ago. She then contacted some of her siblings who came to visit our farm yesterday. From the moment Madonna, Jay, Sandy and Sandy's young son lept from their vehicle until they left a few hours later the farm was filled with wild laughter, and the retelling of even wilder stories of teens and pre-teens gone astray. How we all survived those years is miraculous. (Picture an bright orange  pick up truck , its bed crammed full of unrestrained children, being taken for a speeding joy ride by some unlicensed teen girl )

The fact that both sets of parents sadly died while being relatively young (none of them reached 70) is probably testament to the stress we inflicted upon them in those out-of-control years. Sorry moms and dads. Really, we are.

Hopefully though we also gave them some great laughs. Becker family, it was great seeing you again !!!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Amazed and Confused

I have no picture for todays blog because my pc with all my pictures has been moved to my husbands desk and it is not connected to the internet, because I have no idea how to do that. Therefore I must do my blog on my laptop which is connected to the internet because my brillant 19 year old son did that for me months ago. BUT at this time my laptop does not have my Kodak Easy Share software loaded on it thus no pictures.
Because, after all, the laptop was suppossed to stay upstairs in my library and only be used to write my book.

Why, you might ask did I move my pc to Keiths desk in the first place ? Well, it was doing all that dramatic moaning and groaning, pre-crash noises (it is 6 years old you know) and I needed to make room on MY desk for the brand new pc we bought over 3 months ago but were too busy to install.

So last night I finally started to install the new pc. Really how hard could it be?  You just match up the blue cord to the blue port etc..right ? But the keyboard would not work, then I got the keyboard to work but not the mouse. Then the dang thing would not turn off. I struggled for two hours, sprayed it with PAM , set it aflame and went to bed. This morning I called Dell and bonded with a man named Emene whom I could not understand who (whom ? what ?!)  could not understand me.

Over the course of the next hour and 1/2 he said something about my mother which ticked me off. Turned out it was my motherboard he was unhappy with. A technician of some sort is going to show up sometime and do something to my new computer so it might work. When we were all done my good frined Emene asked me why I had only bought a one year warranty instead of the five year warranty. I told him it was because I was already 96 and didn't plan on being here in five years. He did not laugh

Lighten up Emene.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dirty Pig Love

Some days you get the cute scenes but you forget your camera inside. Other days you have the camera but the animals are acting dull as Brad Pitt in the movie " A River Runs Through It". But then every once in a while you get one of those great shots.
              Our Registered Red Wattle Hog Lady Anne and 3 week old piglet who we will obviously
                                           have to name Kissy Face.

The Bristol in Bucktown

Last Thursday, May 6, Keith and I left Dodge and ended up in Bucktown. We made whole pork deliveries to Green Grocer, Old Town Social , Then Elysian, and finally to The Bristol. This was just our third delivery to the Bristol but the most enjoyable one as we decided to spend the night in that Chicago neighborhood and return to the farm the next day.

Of course, since we were in Rome we needed to do as the Romans do, so after settling in at Rays Bucktown B&B ( my next blog will focus on that funked up place) we headed back to The Bristol for dinner.

Voted one of the top ten new restaurants in America by GQ Magazine, it is in my opinion also the one with the coolest sign. I mean just look at the way it runs up the side of the building all lined up perfectly perpendicular with the light pole. This was no accident I can assure you

And, and AND...the food was a work of art as well. These two farmers (still talking about Keith and me, try to keep up) were exposed to so many new flavor  combinations, it made the rubber on our chore boots curl up with delight.

First though, I must talk of the service. Well there was none.

Service is something you get from strangers. We instead received a reception fit for pig farmers of the Queen . Greeted at the door like we were good friends coming by for a visit, we were then asked,  "Where would you like to sit ? " WHAT ?!?
You want me to choose what is best for us instead of what is best for the waitress, waiter or chef ? How cool was that.? I choose a window seat as I love to watch people, but my first inclination was a seat in the kitchen. I wanted to watch the magic being created. Maybe next time

We sat at the comfortable butcher block table and then we met our server who was super friendly, but knew when to give us space, was well versed in the menu, but knew not to push, and was attentive to our every need, without getting in trouble with the law. She was so wonderful and her name was...dangit ! Dangit all to Hades ! I've forgotten. Red ponytail, huge genuine smile. Oh wait, I have a picture.

If you know her please refresh my over 50 memory. I'd love to send her a real Thank You card.

So then the food began arriving. All of it fantastic but I must elaborate about the dessert because I am the dessert kind (insert shock and awe here). Called Chocolate Sabayon which is French for Chocolate that will make you froth at the mouth  like a big fat Red Wattle Boar in heat, it started out innocent enough. Chocolate mousse in a glass cup.Then one noticed the drizzle of olive oil and the glistening diamonds of chunky sea salt. Hmmm? One might ask. Then they bring the homemade Nutter Butter cookies which is the only acceptable utensil for scooping up the posh pudding. OMG. (I never say that, its so dumb but it works here,) OMG !! The taste was so rich, so thick so beyond chocolate.

And I washed it down with more wine. I was one happy , relaxed  and totally satisfied (food, people, I am still talking only about food.) farm wife.

Thanks very much Chris Pandel and all the staff at The Bristol. You have no idea how proud we are to say we provide some of the  pork for your outstanding restaurant.

And now a few pics of the Bucktown Neighborhood.

                             A great place to visit and perhaps live. Apartments are available

Sunday, May 9, 2010

To Thelma Lu, Thanks for Everything.

 Thelma Lucille Durham O'Shaughnessy  age 31 with oldest daughter Donna Marie O'Shaughnessy, age 11 months. You told me you were happy in this picture because I had just taken my first steps. Thanks mom, for showing me the way.

 Dear Mom,
      Its been 12 years since we celebrated Mothers Day together and I miss you. I miss the way you would let the hem out on my blue and white plaid uniform skirt, every year to make it last just a little longer . I miss how you would keep adding  water to the one pot of coffee you would allow yourself t make in the morning and then how you would reuse the grounds in the evening. I miss the way you would hide the red plastic wrapped bulk chuck of bologna in the frig behind the crisper drawers to keep your kids and husband from eating a weeks worth of luncheon meat in a single sitting, as we had been known to do.
     I miss the sound of playing cards slapping on the formica table as you competed in yet another pinocle match with your "hackling" friends. I miss watching you endlessly rock my little sister Bernie Jo after yet another long night of caring for your seriously ill baby. I miss the way you would curl our hair with socks, and then bobby pins and later in the more "prosperous" years, pink foam curlers. I miss the way you called our dad "Shagnasty" (among other things )and I miss the way you would say "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out !" whenever one of us threatened to run away.
     I miss how well you could wear dark red lipstick.
     I miss how you made a weeks salary last a month, how you loved Chinese food, how you thought Shower To Shower bath powder was as good as any expensive perfume. I miss how you would write me letters when I was at college or living 1000 miles away in South Dakota, or when you knew I was going through a tough time and needed some encouragement. I really miss the Maxine cards you would send me.
    I  miss your harsh smokers cough, even though it was in the end, the cigarettes that took you from us so early. That cough was unique to you and it was how we kids knew we were never lost at the huge KMart store. If we could hear you cough we knew we were safe and close by. Mostly though I just miss you and I'm sorry we did not have more Mothers Days together. But you are ALWAYS  and forever, in my heart.

I love you mommy.
Your Madame Butterfly

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Castration Gyration

Every year I add some new skill to my middle age collection of hobbies. Last year I learned to use a reciprocating saw. The year before that, the table saw. This year, the castration scalpel.  No, I do not see a trend.

Baby pigs have testicles, if they are male, and the story goes that if left in place they will work well as breeders but be a disaster for the fry pan. EVERYONE says you must castrate baby pigs if you are going to sell the meat. But a couple more inventive folk think this may not be true. They believe the boar taint can be bred out over time.So we are in full experimentation  mode here on South Pork Ranch, because really, we hate doing stuff just because EVERYONE else is. We are keeping one boar intact to use for meat for ourselves. In the meantime I am castrating the others.

The first two times were a little tricky since helpers of mine, the MEN in my family, kept running away screaming every time I brought out the glistening, sharp and oh so perfectly curved little blade. But they got better. First the men restrained the piglets by holding them in thier laps, then I restrained the men with a ton of duct tape.

We also moved the babies away from the mommies with this cool box and castrated them out of earshot. After seeing how close Kyle got to Keith with the tractor spears, I did conduct an immediate farm safety inservice.It is titled 'Be careful You idiots !"  , and is available on Power Point.

The box kept us from getting eaten by mommy sows as well. Getting them in the box was easy. With a little sour milk everything is easy with pigs. Each time I do this little procedure I get better, the stress on the little ones is less. It is the only "alteration" we do on the pigs . We do not clip tails or notch ears, we do not cut their little eye teeth.  I hope one day to stop castrating as well. I will need volunteers to taste the boars meat in about 3 months. You can sign up anytime

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Purdy Girl

 Just two days into our week and man are we cramming a lot in. Farm cleanup prior to pasture walks planned in June and July, record keeping updates and filing in preparation for our organic re-certification survey due any day, juggling of vehicles and staff (sons Jason and Kyle) as we plan tomorrow to deliver one milk cow, drop off three live hogs , pick up two dead, I mean processed, hogs as well as pick up two processed beef, at TWO different locker plants no less.

While Keith runs livestock all over three different counties, I'll be cleaning freezers and rearranging meat. Being just 5 foot tall this process always worries me. Falling into the freezer and knocking myself out is a real fear of mine. Not that I am worried so much about my own death but any time a wife is found folded like a chubby pretzel at the bottom of the chest freezer, the husband gets a few glares. Keith is too nice a guy for this kind of stress so I think I'll go stash my cell phone in the freezer now while I am thinking about it

We also continue to tell everyone we can about our availability of raw milk since there are only 11 days left until our last Milk Truck pick up by Foremost Farms USA. Crazy Monkey Business.

AND...Purdy has not yet had her babies nor have any of the other 3 pregnant goats. I still say triplets which is rare for goats but common for me to say.

On Thursday we get a break. After delivering meat to three restaurants and two grocers Keith and I are going to spend the night at Rays Bucktown B &B in Chicago.
Son Jason will do two sets of chores. We plan to eat at  least two of the restaurants we sell to. Time to check out the magic our chef friends are performing with our farms meat. We'll get home Friday afternoon and my weekend night shifts at the hospital will begin again Finnagan.

We are never ever never EVER bored.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The lights are on, but no one is home. YEAH !

Woke up. Got out of bed. Dragged a comb across my head. Then I realized the house was shhhhhhhh......QUIET !!!!!  I plodded down the stairs after my post night shift nap and still...nothing. Oh the usual guinea hens screaming because dog Freddie refuses to stop herding them, and a few roosters complaining about lack of access to the currently penned in chickens, and yeah somebodys donkey was braying like a drunk Mick staggering out of O'Laughlains in Ballyvaughan, but other than all that, it was quiet.

I was all alone dahlink and oh do I love that ! What to do first ??!?! Watch a a movie ? I did. The last third of Yours, Mine and Ours with Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. So cute. They make the Dugger family look like amateurs. Then I checked email and sent off more pics of our For Sale Cows to a few more email requesters.Then I spent 20 or so minutes trying desperately to find my blog buddy Walter Jeffries. He was moving his blog a few days ago to Wordpress but those folks were no help. I suppose I could actually call Walter but that seems so weird since we only know each other in a blog sense.

Then I saw a butterfly outside. Wait, no, it was garbage our dog Fannie was throwing up in the air. Well not throwing up like an emesis, I mean tossing into the air after chewing into pieces. Sheeesh, you people are so literal.

Then I remembered I was alone again and not wanting to waste any more of that precious time I began to blog. I love blogging when I am alone. No one chatting with me about what has to be added to our massive daily schedule, no one reminding me about yet another paperwork deadline. (Finishing off the Organic Re-Certification paperwork for MOSA was a killer this past week), no one telling me I'd better call the locker plants to make sure all our meat would be ready for the 5 Chicago deliveries we have this next week. Oh wait, I was the one talking to ME about all those things. No wonder I can't focus. Not only do I have to deal with all my own voices in my head, I was talking with a friend of mine at work last night about the movie Sylbil and now I have all HER voices in my head. I can't remember the names of the two male split personalities she had of the 16 total. Anyone ? Beuhler ?

 Criminy. I just wasted all that time and now my family is home. Guess I won't train Nora the jump 6 foot fences or repaint the rusting "Truck Lettering "sign my father painted over 20 years ago. I 'll do that NEXT time I am all alone. Sure, I will.

Really, does anyone know where I can find Walter Jeffries ?!?!?