Thursday, December 30, 2010

Our Father who liked to Whistle

Walked around the old neighborhood today, North Ashland Ave., Chicago, the land of Our Lady Of  Mispent Youth. Parked the wagon across from Chase Park after dropping off two hogs to Acre Restaurant on North Clark just a few blocks away.

It was a dark and gloomy day...really it was, and rainy too. I walked south past our old gradeschool, (now a training center for LPN's and lab techs) then past the the old convent (now some kind of hippy joint ? Half-way house ? Soup Kitchen ?) and then past our old apartment building. Which is still an apartment building.And then I wondered,  how can a neighborhood smell exactly the same as it did 47 years ago ?

Overcooked cabbage wafting through an open window followed by stale cigar smoke. Oil and gasoline fumes from the traffic motoring on behind me. Coal dust and Noxema mixed in with Brylcream hair treatment and marshmellow eggs. All of it was right there. I felt pulled towards the courtyard where my sister Mary and I would ride our red tricycles  I wanted to jump up on the narrow metal railing circling said courtyard. I could hear Sister Mary Gerard yelling at me from the school, "Miss O'Shaughnessy, you forgot your homework." But best of all I heard my father whistle. The two fingers in his mouth REALLY LOUD kind of whistle that meant, "Come here now!"  And we would.

So new blog design #3. Comments ?
One more thing. Like to cook ? Love to bake ? Love to win great stuff  ? Then check out this wonderful blog and giveaway contest  Tell her the Midlife Farmwife sent you.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Just Playing Around

Soon the New Year will be upon us. I desire something more for my blog. Playing around with my background for starters. The green grass/field thing was too predictable for a "Farmwife" blog. So trying this one on for size. Then will try a couple more until Jan 1. As always comments are welcome as long as they are in complete agreement with my own opinions.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Counting DOWN

If you're a follower of this blog (i.e "stalker") then you might recall our dairy situation. But for those who are new or just forgetful like so many of us Midlifarians, I'll recap. Eight months ago Foremost Coop told us to stop selling raw milk to any folks who came to the farm in need of such. Even though we'd been selling to Foremost for over a decade without any problems , even though all our IDPH inspections were good and even though  selling raw milk is legal in Illinois as long as the customer brings their own container.

Fresh whole raw milk seconds after the cow is milked just
 before it goes into our stainless steel holding tank.
 From there it goes direct to the consumer or the swine of choice.

So we stopped selling milk to Foremost and all our milk is now utilized by selling it raw (non-homogenized, unpasteurized)  direct to farm visitors or by feeding it to our pigs. Sales continue to grow (as do our hogs) every month. Funny thing happened on the way to self-sufficiency. The IDPH (Illinois Department of Public Health)  decided they no longer would grant us the Grade A license we had held for over 10 years, because they were no longer going to survey our dairy. Strange way of thinking. IDPH had publicly stated many times their belief that raw milk is dangerous yet when we asked them to please keep surveying us so we could held accountable to the high standards of Grade A licensure...they said NO.

What's a self-sufficient, responsible, certified organic dairy owner to do ?

Well..we continue to follow the IDPH standards for a Grade A Dairy, one of which is the testing of the milk for various things. One required test (if we were licensed but we are not, so its not "required" of us anymore ) is the test for SCC or Somatic Cell Count. Simply put, the SCC is an indicator of milk quality with  "somatic" referring to white blood cells. Somatic cells originate from INSIDE the cows udder and is considered one way of measuring animal health. If a cow has "mastitis" or inflammation of the udder, the SCC will rise. The SCC of Grad A Dairies should not be above one million cells per milliliter states the USDA  (United States Department of Agriculture). Cows with a SCC of less than 200,000 are considered healthy and will not likely show any signs of mastitis. The average SCC for  Grade A Dairies nationwide in 2009, was 233,000.

Our SCC last month was 90,000  (actual report available upon request to any past, present or future milk customer of ours)

Credit for this goes to our massive employee base. Both of them. Keith who milks 95% of the time and our relief milker (and son) Jason. Its because of their technique and overall herd management that our SCC is so low.

 Oh OK. I'll take a little credit. I am the one who does all the NAGGING about all the rules and regs.  Now back to IDPH.  You would think that they would WANT to survey us, to find out what we are doing well so the information can be shared with others  thus lowering SCC measurements for other dairies who sell both conventional and raw milk. Isn't that what they say they are about , a safe food supply ? I mean it just seems so logical.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Big sister is watching

I was the oldest of 6. Then when I was 14 my younger sister Bernie Jo died and I was suddenly ONLY the oldest of 5. I still feel like the oldest of 6. I always will. I've never minded being the oldest. I am bossy by nature. Being in charge and taking control where situations call for a plan comes very naturally for me,

 even though I know it can be annoying to others,

So my first New Years resolution is this:  Be less bossy. Now get off your can, move away from the computer and accomplish something today will ya ?!?!?!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

And so this is Christmas...

Its a beautiful Christmas morning here on South Pork Ranch.  Recent snow and ice storms have given us trees like this:

Simple growths like weeds and grasses, seemingly dead after the first frost, come back to life when coated with shimmering ice.

Bare, skinny twigs which were brown and ugly as they lowered themselves to the ground, became elgant feathery fronds as a blanket of  icy-ness was painted over them.

The crystal formations are everywhere, disguising objects this Midlife Farmwife normally describes as junk, into free form objects of wintry art. Rust, when combined with the icy white colors of snow and ice, evolves into something  like this:

And even into something inviting and welcoming like this,

Merry Christmas Everyone and Happy Birthday Baby Jesus !

Friday, December 24, 2010

He's no Freddie Mercury...

...but we still love him. Our Little Freddie, 50% Corgi,  50% Border Collie, 100% nuts. He wants soooo badly to be a real herd dog but we have not gotten around to providing him with professional training. He knows a few commands like  "COME !" and "AWAY !" and then my favorite,  "IF YOU DO THAT AGAIN I'M LOCKING YOU IN WITH OUR BIGGEST SOW ANNE OVERNIGHT AND THEN WE'LL SEE WHO WANTS TO BITE THE HORSES TAILS AGAIN WON'T WE ! ? "  Yeah, he knows the simple commands. But he has a terrible time knowing his left from his right. Let me show you.

Spots piglets, age 6 weeks, (1/2 Red Wattle and half crossbred, we call them the "spotted wattles" ) wandered over to the horse pen,

Then I yell and clap my hands and they begin running

Or in the case of the most frightened pig...FLYING towards their own pen.

When they get across the drive and are heading into their pen where they belong, what does Freddie the Wonder Dog do ? Well, he stops them of course.

Confused, they run back and forth. Confused even more Freddie runs back and forth. Confused most of all, I yell at Freddie and the pigs. No one listens to me. Finally, one of the piglets makes a break for it and they run right through Freddie and the electric fence.

Poor Freddie. Poor poor Freddie. "I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me ."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hog Relocation Program

As our hog herd expands, Keith and I have had to be even more creative about where to locate all of them. To date we have two groups of feeder pigs, bought as tiny babes from other farmers and then finished here. Soon ALL our hogs will be born and raised here, just as soon as demand equals supply. Right now what our customers demand is WAY over what we can supply, even though each month we "supply" more and more.

The Red Wattles continue to be very popular and already several restaurants have reserved RW's for next May, as it will be at that time the current group of RW piglets will be butchering size. In addition, we have four names on our waiting list for breeding stock. These are not problems just blessings to be thankful for. These "blessings" often vex me when they get out from under our fence , run across the drive and into the horse pasture.

Debs purebred Red Wattle piglets resting in between wild jaunts across the drive

Those 8 week old piglets will then stand UNDER the horses feet and dig in the dirt beneath the equines. The horse could are less but it was giving me nightmares. I currently do not have a maket for pig meat indented with horse hooves. So Keith initiated the Hog Relocation Program yesterday and I can report the little RW's are all safely in the big barn. Their mamma Deb was handling the weaning of her litter quite well. I saw her sitting on her hind end with a large rubber tub full of  mulled wine in her hands..uh hooves, as Keith drove away with the 9 wild babes.

In addition to moving Debs litter, he also..
     Moved young Boar Gomez out of his solitary pen into his first breeding group. He now runs with Dot and Debbie. Keith reported he took to his breeding responsibilities very quickly. No advice needed.
     Moved young gilts Morticia and Leopard in with boar  Mad Max for their first dates with the curly haired Hog Juan. Breeding success was also noted by chief herdsman KP.
     Moved older pregnant sow Anne into her own private digs complete with nicely furnished farrowing hut. She is the queen bee of our herd and was a bit miffed by being removed from her kingdom. If we had more acreage we'd leave them all together. Maybe next year.

 Mad Max, Red Wattle Boar, up to his Johnson in fresh snow.
                                           Hmmm, wonder how that will affect his fertility rates ? 
Any U of I folks out there who'd like a new research topic ? Call me.

So, I'll be completing change of address forms for those big fat pigs who seem unable to even do THAT for themselves.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Spirit of Christmas

Chicago is two hours north of our farm but as we deliver more frequently the drive seems shorter and shorter. Last weeks deliveries were about the same as usual. Dead hog in the back of the Ford Transit Wagon, he and I singing along to all the Christmas tunes on the radio, lots of traffic, congested alleys, etc...etc...

I like my delivery days. Usually Keith goes with me but last week so much was going on here that we opted for him to stay home. Fences to fix, repairs to make to the second upright freezer to go into our store, and the endless chores of feeding and watering animals. I don't mind the traffic and I like the alone time. Time to reflect on what is important this time of year, to think about ways to better spread the joy. And in the midst of all these thoughts I look up and there he is...the spirit of Christmas.

                                          The Twisted Spoke.  Bar and grill at 501 N. Ogden  Chicago

I almost rear ended the car in front of me.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Slow down

Some people see signs in the water trinkling down the inside of an overpass on a Chicago toll road. Some see signs in the shapes of Fritos or Ding Dongs or freshly dug potatoes. Some see signs in the megalithic stones of Poulnabrone Dolman in County Clare Ireland. I'm a little too dense to make sense of those kind of signs. In this Christmas season where everyone is rushing to parties, to stores for gift buying, to groceries for family get-togethers , I find that it takes a very clear and direct sign for me to notice it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What ? Me worried ?

Alfred E. Newman. Man of the hour, never one to worry. Me ? I'm a little worried. Christmas is only two weeks wait, its 10 days away...WHAT ?! it is only 8 days away ? OK, NOW  I'm worried. In the past decade or so I have always been well organized when it came to Christmas. It started with a major surgery scheduled in Dec 1998. I knew I'd be down and out a few weeks so I had all my Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving. I kept that obsession up for over a decade.

This year, not so much. A tree was sacrificed from our yard and a few sorry decorations are scattered in the house but not one single solitary gift has been purchased by me to give to anyone. What can I tell you ? We've been busy hauling hog carcasses , live hogs, live steers, dead steers, meat in packages....meat, our  whole life lately has been meat meat meat. Hmmmmm, I do have some extra hotdogs left in the freezer. Now where did I put those bows ?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jack wagon !

 If you are a fan of  Roe Conn at WLS radio Chicago, you are familar with the term  "Jackwagon", if not then I'll explain. Jackwagon is a derogative term meaning ....uh....jerk. Yeah, thats it, it means jerk. And my donkey Doolin is being a big jerk. He thinks he is above and beyond the electric fence. I should say below and beyond the fence because I sure can't picture him leaping above the fence to get out. For the past few days we have caught him tearing apart the hay pile just outside his pen. The first day I did not actually see him but the mini-manure piles he left behind were incriminating. Then yesterday I CAUGHT HIM in the act ! Sitting at my desk I saw this..

Putting my Chris Cox horse management techniques into use I walked up to him in a power position, expecting him to back right up as my horse Nora does.

Instead I just walked smack into his fuzzy little hide. Jackwagon ! So I used another well known donkey handling trick. I pushed him. Hard. He laughed at me, I swear he did. So I grabbed hold of that large fat pad running down his neckline and swore to him I would use that lard collection in my next batch of soap. Imagine the marketing campaign for that product. "Jackass soap, for those times when your jackwagon is really dirty." Doolin was nonplussed. So time to resort to REAL horsemanship. I gathered some grain from the hog barrel and that little ass followed me right back into his pen. I suppose it is time to check the electric fence. Well, Keith will check the fence and I will bake him something. We are all about Fair Trade here on South Pork Ranch.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Too much time on my hands...

People, people, sure do say the goofiest things. A few days ago I mentioned to a friend of mine I was planning to make soap. Her immediate response was  "must be nice to have so much extra time on your hands." I just grinned. Poor thing, she actually thinks that God has given me MORE time than He has given her. Truth is, I have 24 hours in each day just like her. No more , no less.  I just CHOOSE to use that time in a different way than she. And when I say I am making soap, I did not mean to imply in any way that it would be my only task of the day. In fact I was choosing to add it to the list of other things that still had to be done.

So, despite my friends opinion that I had more time than she did, I went ahead and made soap .I entered the wildly weird world of saponification (google it, I had to) and I liked it. Because it is made with lots of lard from our Red Wattle Hogs, I am calling it Wishy Wattle soap.  I made it after after all my daytime chores were done squeezing it in before I made supper. Mixing caustic lye and raw milk like an Irish Tinker in a tiny trailer, just call me Donegal.  Thus the soap making was done between 7pm and 10 pm. Supper was finished at 10:30, we ate and fell asleep once again, on the kithen floor. This time amidst all the soap making pots and pans. Now that I think about it, I cannot remember what we ate that night for supper but the soap recipe did not make as many bars of soap as it said it would.

 Oh well, people spend big money to be "cleaned out" in a expensive spa setting. Keith and I may have gotten the same treatment for about 1/10 the cost.  Stop with the   "tsk-tsk" -ing. Look at this soap concoction. Does it not look  like the best chicken soup ever ?

I rest my case.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reach for the Sky !

Winter is not easy on us. Keith is outside the most, getting cows into the milk parlor, milking them in the  cold parlor, scraping the manure off the concrete lot  in a tractor with no cab, doing misc. other chores. I am outside some , usually feeding sows and horses and calves and chickens, unless I am making meat deliveries or caring for our grandkids or seeing my elderly aunt. But, we cope. And we drink a large amount of warm fluids and we dress in layers and we talk of spring which will , one day, come again.

The animals on our farm cope with the winter as well. As long as they have a dry shelter out of the wind with a deep manure pack and fresh bedding. Unless they are very old or very young. For example, we found this poor fellow yesterday morning.

Yup. Dead as a doorknob, tail feathers blowing in the breeze. Perched on the wire roof of  the chicken yard. Why was he up there ? Was he watching over his girls ? Enjoying the view ? Maybe he went up to the roof to shovel some snow and BANG , sudden MI. He could have gotten inside if he had wanted to. The door to the chicken yard was open and the little door (bottom left of next picture) leading into the well protected chicken house was open as well.
Or maybe, he was just hen pecked, one too many times.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Routine gone bad

"Ok,I'll be quiet"
"I'll be peace"
-Bill Murray in What About Bob ?

We all like our routines. Our quiet times. Especially small children and midlife farmwives. Recently our family has been going through a bit of turmoil. A few illnesses, two resulting in hospitalizations and a car accident with gratefully no injuries. But it doesn't take much for us weak human beings to feel out of sorts. It all came to a head today in a small resort home called Evenglow.

I took the two youngest members of my family to visit the oldest member of our family. The children have been out of their routine  for several days, which I thought they were dealing with beautifully until 4:06 pm this evening. The 6 year old got things rolling by asking me to color with her. "In a couple of minutes" I said "Just let me visit with Aunt Bernie a minute." Now on a normal day this child would have said "OK" and gone about her business. Not today.

She plopped herself down onto the floor, THREW her crayon (never has she done this) and began to cry. Before I could respond her brother one-upped her and TOSSED his coat up into the air knocking
over several framed photos. Again this is NOT normal behavior for this 3 yr old. None of the frames broke. Even so I felt a glare coming across my face. He laughed. His sister continued to cry. I felt bad for them both and for ME. No one was sleeping in their usual beds at the usual times. Meals were off schedule , the little ones parents were dealing with health issues in another town. Everone had reached a boiling point. Brillant scientist that I am it became clear it was time to leave. I hustled the kids out of there before they flushed the 92 year olds med down the toilet or something just as shocking. My aunt said she'd walk us to the door. A polite way of saying "time to go"

She walked us to the front door and as I hugged her goodbye the 3 year old broke from my grasp and went running towards the Christmas tree. I instictively grabbed his jacket and repositioned him to my side. He again laughed.  Game on. His sister was in a full blown arms -across -chest -pout. With a child on each side and a wobbly wheeled laundry cart in the middle (cheap piece of crap that stupid STUPID laundry cart) we almost made it to the door when my aunt yelled out IN FRONT OF EVERYBODY (well, one other resident and the receptionist)

"Donna, patience is a virtue !"

I smiled tensely, waived and got through the doors. tearing up I managed to get the little ones safely into the car . I then jammed the stupid STUPID laundry cart into the back of the car. I got in, buckled myself up and sat for a minute to compose myself.

Then the 6 year old cheerfully spoke "Yaya ? Can we visit Aunt Bernie again tomorrow ?"

Sure kid. Why not ?

Friday, December 3, 2010

In your face

When we decided to go public with our farm venture our Marketing President (moi) struggled with the appropriate slogan. She discussed it with the General Farm Manager (Keith) who ran it by the Ways and Means Committee. (That was Jason saying "what do you mean ?" and Kyle saying "No Way!" when I suggested our slogan.

Seems some of the higher ups (they are all taller than me) thought the slogan  I was suggesting was a little rude.  Like the slogan "Where's the Beef ?" of the Wendy's company from the early 80's wasn't rude.  Not only did their slogan become famous, the little old lady who yelled it recieved all kinds of awards.

So the Marketing President cooked a great meal for the General Farm Manager , including homemade baking soda biscuits, and got her way. And it wasn't even a Thursday. The Ways and Mean Committe never really had a say since they don't bunk here anymore. And thus our farm slogan was born.

But for those of you who are the softer, gentler type of human being, we also have these

T-shirts (short sleeved) are available in our store or by mail. $20  for the black slogan shirt and $15 for the white shirt with the pig pictures, plus $4 for S&H. They come in adult sizes S, M, L,XL and 2X. I do not yet have kids sizes. Would Make THE MOST EXCELLENT Christmas Gift. Please email me you order at 
And thanks so much for helping support the small family farm.