Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Child labor...again

Running a farm is hard work. Running a farm business is grounds for involuntary committment. Millions of books exist about non-farm businesses but finding an -all-in-one source for a farm business has been tricky. I suppose if we had just picked ONE "niche" it might have been easier to find resources. But Nooooooooooooooo. We chose, organic beef production, organic pork production, raw milk production, carcass sales to individuals and restaurants, meat by the piece to the grocery store trade and individuals, Red Wattle Breeding Stock production, and our most recent venture...a farm store.

I once whined to one of my sisters about feeling overwhelmed. Her response, "Donna, you've been overwhelmed since Kindergarten." In other words I am the one who made this big straw bed so I better lie (lay ? leigh ?) in it.

With so many venues comes paperwork. Some of it required by regulating agencies but some of it required only by me. For example our raw milk customer list.

                     Allana logging in milk sales for the day.
 A great way to improve your printing skills.

The State of Illinois sees no reason to survey us (we've asked) so we survey ourselves. We follow the rules for a Grade A Dairy just as we have for the last 11 years before IDPH decided raw milk sales were too scary for them to deal with. Even though it is legal to sell raw milk in Illinois and even though we have the smartest group of self-educated customers ever, I still track who buys milk, how much and when. Unless a customer wants to be incognito then by all means he can be. But in the very unlikely but still remotely possible event that something should be wrong with our milk (tank gets too warm for example) I want to be able to contact the affected customers. Funny thing how IDPH feels raw milk is unsafe, yet they legalize the sales and then yet again they reguire absolutely no inspection or milk testing of raw milk dairies. Which reminds me, it is time to send another milk sample off to Daily Labs in Peoria. Results are available to any of our milk customers. Ask and you shall receive.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Galway Hooker

Just one of the conversation topics today from just one of our customers when we opened our farm store this morning. And before I go any farther...a Galway hooker is a boat. Better now ? Good. Seems I am not the only one who has been across the pond lately.


You got your black T-Shirt or you got your white T-Shirt.

So at 10 am we opened the store just like we said we would and at 10:03 I announced to Keith , "You watch, we won't get even three customers today ." Always  the voice of sweetness and light, thats me. A few moments later when I was ready to turn the "OPEN" sign over to the "CLOSED due to Bankruptcy" side, our neighbor Duane came by, followed by other neighbors and their children  from other states, then some current customers, then my old (not very) hospice friend Cheryl and her husband and then some new customers and some more old customers and then a woman and her girls all the way from Elgin and then two HS girls who heard about our farm and wanted to do a paper about us and then and then and then....

The meat scale was in our basement for years,
finally it is cleaned, buffed to a sheen and
working as big ol'paperweight machine.

Before we knew it, the day was over. Looks like we are store owners. Drop by this week between 10am and 5 pm and get a free cookie, free coffee and a free tour. The meat however is not free but we will barter for pasture raised poultry, fresh Atlantic Salmon or that little 1969 Mercedes Benz for sale at Paternoster Ford in Fairbury, Illinois.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Organic Diet Coke

If you open our frig door on any given day you are likely to find this...

A case of Diet Coke, a bottle of tart cherry juice, and a gallon of raw milk. The Diet Coke is a very old habit. I picked it up after I tired of drinking Tab, my pop choice through the 70's and 80's. So for the last two decades its been Diet Coke. I'm a Taurus. I'm very loyal both to my loved ones and to my choice of pop.

Lately I've been drinking the tart cherry juice as its suppossed to be good for so many things. And then there is the ever present container of raw milk from our own dairy, which we use for everything and anything. The other very important, life sustaining drink which is missing is COFFEE. Missing because it must be fresh, strong , black and very hot.

I'd like to dump the pop completely. Its always a work in progress. I can go a couple weeks without it and then I crave it and send Keith out into the driving rain, snow and blowing icebergs to get me some. I know it serves no good purpose in my body, other than fliuds, but still...I am smitten. Forgive me my purist organic friends for I continue to sin.

Guinness ? Of course it is not on the shelf with all the other common drinks. Nectar has its own special place in our dark basement refrigerator.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Windy City Field Trips

Chicago delivery days are always a nice change from our farm work even though delivery days are anything but relaxed. We start by getting up even earlier and while Keith knocks out the livestock chores, I work on getting the wagon ready. While he is milking, I'm doing invoices, while he feeds hay, I clean out coolers and pack up the grocery store orders. While he feeds all the pigs, I clean out the wagon, and gather supplies we'll need for the delivery like meat hooks and bungee straps. The hooks make the back of our Ford Transit Wagon look a little suspicious thus the reason I always keep our meat brokers license handy.

While he feeds calves, I check maps and addresses of the restaurants we are delivering to and double check mapquest for directions to any new customers. We simple folk don't have a Garmin, or a Tom Tom or even a Peg Peg to help guide us, we do it the old fashioned way. We're a solid team in the big city, I was taught to drive by my father, the cop,  so traffic bothers me not and Keith learned to read in school AND has a great sense of direction so he does the map reading and direction giving.

Due to the fact that we deliver WHOLE and half hog carcasses  to the restaurants we don't usually go through the front door (but we do imagine how much fun it might be ) but rather we have the Chicago Alley system to deal with. One particular restaurant receives deliveries all day long which means we have to jockey for space in a narrow area.

Once the hogs are safely escorted into the restaurant (by a very strong , young chef  thank you very much ) I have to usually BACK out of the alley and into downtown Chicago traffic. Times like that have made us very grateful we found the Ford Transit when we did. All its storage room is up top instead of in width or length so its easy to park and maneuver in traffic. (Hey Ford Company, are you listening ? I'm not above being a paid spokesman. At 5ft 1in. I'm not above much at all.) So as long as the piggies don't mind being snuggled up close...

...we don't mind taking them to the chefs for a little R&R. (Roasting ? Rotisserie ? Raw-sages ?)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Never a BOARing moment

Keith and I may look gentile at first but really we are quite the rebels. When Foremost told us that we could not sell raw milk ...we did. When other dairy farmers told us we had to dehorn all our calves, we stopped. When the conventional world told us only grain fed cattle would taste good, we went to all grass fed. So it seems only logical that when we were told boar meat would always be bad we raised one just for the sole purpose of experimentation. Humanely of course. With informed consent.

We blame Walter.

After reading Walter Jeffries blog for quite some time and hearing about the success he had with boar meat we decided to give it a try. I've blogged in the past about castrating our little piglets because both Keith and I had been told/taught that male piglets left with gonads intact would result in bad smelling, bad tasting meat. This being due to the hormones released as they reached puberty. One farmer told me,  "The smell will be so bad you will RUN (Forrest) from your kitchen.

But Walter said No.

So we raised our Red Wattle boar  (born with no wattles even though his folks both had wattles) with another boar of the same age. Fed organic grain, milk and hay and on pasture in the open air we watched and wondered, We kept him away from adult females hogs in a quiet environment where he was fed (and scratched behind the ears ) by Keith or I everyday . Somedays I even hummed to him. Not sure why. It just seemd like the right thing to do. When he was 9 months old and close to 300 pounds we took him for a ride to the butcher. Two weeks later we took him, well his big chops, for a test run.

                   Now you know why we describe our Red Wattle meat as beefy looking.
                                   Not exactly the "other white meat" is it ?

While baking in the oven I kept sniffing the air like a hound dog on a squirrel hunt. Nothing. When Keith came in from chores I let him take the first bite. I'm thoughtful that way. He chewed and swallowed. I waited for the scream of pain as the boar meat eroded  his esophagus. Nothing. Another bite. Still nothing. And then finally, an opinion.  "Seems OK. "  So there you have it. We now pronounce boar meat as "OK."  It might have been "Great " if this amateur chef had not over cooked it.

So Keith suggested we take some to our chefs and get their opinions. Brillant idea. The first chef was thrilled just with the package. "This is BOAR meat ?!?! I haven't been able to find this anywhere ! I've even called TEXAS !"  He was very happy to try it. Chef number two said " Boar meat ? Do you have it in the wagon now ?!" When I said no, we just brought a few chops he said "can you make a special delivery ? I'll buy all you have. " Chef number three acted as if we had given her a special Valentines gift. "For me ? You brought this boar meat for me ?"

Seems boar meat is a delicacy. Desired by chefs. Hard to find. Sought after. Coveted.
Really glad we didn't feed it to the dogs.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Days of Blunder

November. Cool. Bright. Gorgeous. Purple beams of light. Serene dairy herd still on what remains of our pasture.

And the slightly anxious feeling of  "OH DEAR GOD WINTER IS COMING !"
So much to get done and always so little time. Yeah, I hear ya.
"If you have so little time and so much to do than why are you wasting it writing, huh ?"
"Well "  I said to myself,  "Writing centers me, helps me prioritize, and gives me the opportunity to drink another pot of cafe' La Folgers before I hit the ground running, OK walking a little fast"

Not sure why I put a conversation in my head in quotes but lets just move on, shall we ?

Any farmer/homesteader AKA Eejit type who works primarily outside in areas where bananas do not flourish,  goes through this last minute panic. Barns to be secured for high winds and blowing snow, windows to caulk, doors to fix, fences to strengthen, bedding to be obtained, hay to stack , waterers to install etc ...etc... etc. You would think after so many years of doing this we would learn to just do the best we can and pray about the rest but still my faith wavers.

Today for example Keith is taking a load of hogs to the locker for tomorrows Chicago deliveries. Our biggest delivery ever.  6 hogs in our little Ford Wagon.  I'm sure thats not such a big deal to you large hog producers, but to us, a huge deal. This means invoices to complete, morning chores to finish, grocery store orders to pack . While at the locker Keith will pick up the beef and hog we dropped off two weeks ago which means we play the "meat relocation" game as we move meat in and out of the freezers. We also have several last minute things to finish on our Farm Store which will open for business Nov. 27.

I also must allocate time to WORRY that the wagon can hold all that meat without its bottom scraping the ground, generating sparks all the way up Route 55. I mean really don't you just HATE IT when your bottom scrapes the ground ?

Post note: I really, truly am very grateful for the fact that our farm business is going well and that we have been graced with work. Work is good. But still, bottom , scraping,  sparks...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Who took my stuff ?!?!

Last weekend Keith and I decided we needed a break from the farm, so we took a mini-vacation and attended...The Small Farm Show in Columbia Missouri.  Yes, our horizons do need broadening.

On the way home we came through Memphis, Missouri and swung towards downtown to look for a mom and pop cafe. (We, just for the record, HATE Cracker Barrel.)  But before we found grub we found this

                                                           An auction about to begin.

Our pulses quickened, our mouths became suddenly dry . Could we ? Should we ?
Keep in mind my husband had recently brought home yet another truckload of  "inventory"  from his mother's recently sold house and I had knawed lightly on his gluteous about that.  How could I with good conscious suggest we attend this hoedown for hoarders ? I felt slightly guilty to even suggest we look , but I did.

We edged closer, pulled in by the possibility of great treasure, perhaps a new potato fork lurked behind the gold and olive green Tupperware of Carol Bradys time.

Hmmmm, not close enough. Are those tires on the wagon for SALE ? Or just for show ? We edged even closer hoping the locals would not see us. They might start moving the "good stuff" around. Hiding it behind the Suck and Cut home hair trimmer. Finally we were within the Circle of Fiends...

Oh man ! Just Look at it, Look at it  ! Look at it !  All that loot. I broke into song.

Old broken toys and  suitcases of plastic, half opened bottles of shampoo long gone spastic,  boots that are stylin'

And nuns that are smilin'

These are a few of my favorite (auction) things.

Before I go any further, does anyone else see that nuns eyes move as you look at herfrom different angles ? Good.  For a moment I thought it was just me having the Sister Mary Gerard  flashback.

 In the past when it came to auctions, it was said that Keith used me and I used him and neither one cared, BUT as the saying goes in our home lately,  "Someone quit her job  and that would mean LESS MONEY " So we snooped, and opened a few old purses looking for gold coins and then convinced ourselves that although we really WANTED the 30 year old microwave (fruit dryer ? storage unit for extra coffe cups? Funky Terraruim ? We did not really need it .

So like the strong willed folks we are, we walked away. Well I walked away, Keith laid down and kicked and screamed a little but I once spied on one of my teen boys from inside the local car wash, I wasn't above dragging a grown man down the main street in Memphis. (Insert badly rhymed country song here.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chores: Not a laughing matter

Just because his goof ball Yaya shoves a jester hat on his head, does not mean Wesley takes his farm chores any less seriously than any other 3 year old. (The hat was 99 cents at Frugality Store in Fairbury Illinois. How could I NOT buy it ? )

It is amazing what a three year old can safely do to help with chores. He holds the funnel so I can pour milk into calf bottles, hands me the screw on nipples, holds the bottles in the wagon to keep them from tipping and leaking milk. He reminds me to "feed hay now" and he helps me accomplish said task.

Yes, I see the hay twine. We removed it before feeding it to the calves. Relax you CDO farmer types. No, it is not OCD , because those letters would be out of order now wouldn't they ? May I continue please ?
After calves, and sows and goats and chickens, Wes finds time to chill out with the Papa. Wes may look all business but he actually has a childish side to him.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Little Store on the Prairie

Not the most original title but Laura Ingalls Wilder must be dead by now, she probably won't mind. Other store names in the running include "The Spotted Wattle" to honor the cross bred hogs we have here that are half red Wattle and half Spotted Poland. We found combining these two breeds made for some very loooong pieces of hearty tasting bacon. We also kicked around the name "Piggle Wiggles "not too far from the Piggly Wiggly stores of South Dakota very popular in the 70's. The problem with ALL those names is their lack of reference to the beef we will sell in the store and that is just plain unfair. Some fine cow/cattle types have given their lives for our farm, (we call them heros here in Illinois, where do you think they came up with the name for the Hero Sandwich ? Out of thin air ?) and they deserve to be alluded to in our store name don't you agree ?  But our creative juices have dried up lately. It was spent on the BIG decisions like what color to paint the inside window frames. All three of our sons believe white is the classiest choice while mommy dearest insists on Barn Red.

So until we decide its just "The Store". We hope you can drop by and see it ...maybe even name it. Bring a paint brush, there's still a chance all the work may not be 100% complete. Bets are being collected, they are not in my favor.

                            Grand Opening Week
                 Saturday November 27 through
                           Saturday December 4.
                                    10 am to 5pm

                  Certified Organic Beef and Pork
                          All beef is 100% grass fed

                         South Pork Ranch T-shirts
                                  Free range Eggs
                                      Door prizes

click here for directions   http://www.south-pork-ranch.com/directions.htmlr

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I get no respect

Determined to make our new sustainable life work, I headed out to chores last evening in a gleeful mood and was greeted with this

Really ? Really ?! I dedicate my life to you frieking animals and this is the respect I get ? I have half a mind (and not an ounze more) to add you , yes Sugar the goat I am talking to you, to add you to my already overflowing sausage supply in the freezer.

So why the hostile greeting ? Well apparently I was wearing something that smelled differently than I normally do. Goats have a very acute sense of smell and if they don't like an aroma ,you'll see this ridiculous sneer. Just what I needed, one more judgemental hairy mammal questioning my decisions.

And if that wasn't weird enough...a couple of days ago Keith and I decided we needed another hog hut for the soon to be exploding sow Spot. Due with her litter any day now. We like saying "any day now" that way we can't be accountable for the fact that we cannot seem to count 3 months and 3 weeks, the gestation period of a hog. Back to Spot, she is long, she is HEAVY and she is ready.

 You might recall that last spring Dot's litter was born prematurely and all died. A sad day on the farm. But Spot, even though mired in grief, became one of the herd's best nannies ! She would watch out over the other litters, often with more vigilence than their own mothers. In fact when we gathered up a few to castrate months ago it was Spot that came after us, butcher knife in hand. (Which we just took from her anyway since we forgot our scapels and beside one should never RUN with a knife.)

So with Spot being ready to birth, Keith busied himself with another hog house. He worked in the privacy (and warmth) of our machine shed. And on the seventh day he showed me this...

I hear ya. You think you know someone. You're married to him a long time. You raise 4 children with him. You help him pull calves and goats and pigs out of scary wet places. Then, they think they can just express themselves, out of the blue, with no warning. What next ? Please, if anyone knows tell me. I just don't think I can take any more drama in my life right now. And the thing that REALLY gets me. Everyone thinks I'm the crazy one.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Air R E ?"

About 4 years ago when grand daughter Allana was just beginning to put sentences together, she and I took a different route home to her mothers. I was in the mood for a change so I took the winding road  home along the river just outside of Pontiac ,Illinois. As we traveled, Allana suddenly yelled from the car seat , "Yaya !
Air  R   E ? " This was toddler talk for "Where are we ?"

That phrase is echoing in my head this am (and when added to all the other voices in that cranium of mine it makes it hard to hear the phone ringing some days. And you people thought I did not answer the phone because I was so busy. )

"Where are we ?" Meaning what do I do today ? Before, I would cram it all into the week as I worked all weekend nights and slept all day Saturday and Sunday and needed Mondays to recover but now I have a different schedule. "Retired" but only as a nurse. I feel odd ( so what else is new?), disoriented (again, how is this different ? ) It is, I tell you. Its all different. I've always  brought steady money into the house and if we had an extra need on the farm I just worked an extra shift at the hospital, it was that easy. But now I have to put my money where my mouth is . Like there is room in my gob with all the Captain Crunch thats been shoved in there lately. Anxiety munching is the technical term. Of course its Organic Captain Crunch ! I'm insulted you would even ask.

Back to the main topic. Confusion. Like a piglet in high grass, I am uncertain of my direction.

How much time do I spend  writing ? farming ? houseworking ? with family ? at church ? marketing, packaging and peddling meat ? riding ? posting invoices ? invoicing post-its ? Finally after years of thinking about being home full time, I am. So why I am having such a hard time leaving my kitchen table this morning when there is so much to be done ?

Oh good. The grandson has arrived. My focus has returneth.