Tuesday, January 31, 2012

For Sale by Owner (We hope)

My tack shed. Yes, it is for sale too. Would make a great mother-in-law
apartment don't you think?

So we told our realtor Ba-Bye being as it didn't seem he understood what it was we were trying to do. Basically..SELL THE FARM!!

So now what? Well we still want to sell the farm and the business and the farm business and yeah selling the house along with it all would be good too. Enter FSBO the newest craze in all the land.

We talked to others who have gone this route and then I chatted with our attorney. Seems when we add up the cost of FSBO plus the lawyers fees we will still be spending about $21,000 LESS than if we sell the house through a realtor.

Thus, a good part of my day was reading complaints and complements(through the better business bureau)  about the FSBO business located in Chicago, talking to our attorney and working on our listing. I also cleaned a few rooms (barely) and took pictures for both the FSBO site as well as the Farm Blog site I did a few months ago. You can find the new pics here. http://certifiedorganicfarm.blogspot.com/  Even one of our bedroom. Oh go on. You know you want to. Everybody likes to snoop at other people's houses.  Tomorrow I might even post pics of our bathroom, once I empty the overflowing trash and the wash the juice splotches off the wall by the toilet. Don't ask.

Why you ask and if you are new to my blog you are entitled to ask, are you selling your farm? Because we want a simpler life. We want a tiny house and just enough animals and garden space to grow our own food. But first we have to get through the complicated mess of selling our organic farm business.

Simple is not as easy as it looks.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Saponification Sunday WHAMPOO!!

On the menu today at South Pork Ranch we have homemade Corned Beef. All the kids coming for our monthly dinner in a few hours, but first things first.


Recently I made more shampoo bars. I call them WHAMPOO! bars because I can. When I started making soap 15 months ago I was one of those folk who had the shower full of bottles;shampoo,conditioner,deep conditioner, shallow conditioner, body wash, and usually one bar of industrial strength soap for my grungy feet.

Now, the only thing in my shower is homemade soap. Some is mine, some from others I've swapped with and then of course I love to buy other peoples homemade soap so I can compare and snoop. (Hmmmm that lather is thick enough to wash our cows. HOW did they do that?!?)

The shampoo bar was originally a recipe from the world famous Julia of Cocobong. If you soap and you don't know her, well leave my blog and check out hers RIGHT NOW    http://cocobongsoaps.blogspot.com/ 

(please come back, we little newbie soapers need fans too  'sniff)
Of course, I tweaked her recipe a bit because of no good reason that is why because, I just did OK?!

My recipe goes a like this

Babassu Oil                  20 oz                     Blood Orange EO    1oz
Olive Oil                      10 oz                      Lavender EO            1oz
Rice Bran Oil               20 oz                      Pink grapefruit         1 oz
Castor Oil                     5  oz                      Lemongrass EO        1 oz
Sweet Almond Oil       5oz

Lye 7.0   oz                                                Organic orange peel powder  1tsp
Distilled water   15 oz                                Annetto seed powder             1 tsp

I prepared a 3 in diameter PVC tube by spraying the inside with mineral oil and blocking off one end with anything round that I can tape to it. This might explain why our black cat Jackson is missing some hair on his hind side.  Then I put it on the floor with the open side up (the PVC tube not the cat) and taped the tube to an old bench I have, to keep the tube upright.

I mix the lye water and set aside
I mix oils and then blend in the EO's and the powders.
I pour the lye water into the oil mixture. The oils and lye water are all approximately 100 degrees F.
I mix it all into a lovely soupy orange mix. It will trace and get thick quickly.
I immediately pour into the PVC tube using a funnel with a wide end.

Because the mix is thick I do get a few air holes but I'm not concerned about those and my customers don't care either. We're a swarmy farmy bunch who judge soap by its ability to remove major barnyard gunk from skin and hair while not stripping it completely . (did you hear that? It was me rationalizing. One of my strong character traits)

I let it sit for 2-3 days and then with the great strength of my husband we push it out of the tube using a small tomato paste can and a broom. Well, he pushed while I hold the soap as it comes out the other end, keeping it from crashing to the floor. Yeah, we're professionals with high tech tools.

I let it sit another 24 hrs and then I cut with a kitchen knife into 5 inch sections. Each of those sections is split in half giving you a great hunky piece, about 5.5 oz to hold easily in your hand. The shape makes it very easy to hold in the shower and rub all over your hair. The evolving lather is unbelievable -HUGE-and therefore makes a super body bar as well. I have very dry middle aging grey and silver Crone hair and the bar is wonderful for it. Today, I'll be handing out samples to the girls in our family so they can test it on their long 20-something locks. Then I'll know how well it works on the youth of our society.

If you make a shampoo bar tell me a little about your recipe and why you love it.

Now back to my corned beef experiment. It's our own 100% grass fed beef brisket but the spices , peppers, salts were all collected at various stores and then there was the "pickling spice" I bought from that guy on the corner of Ashland and Grand. He seemed like a nice enough fellow.We'll see.
Wish my kids luck as they'll be the ones stuck eating it.

Yes, I know, I should've checked with you first Nessa, dangit. What was I thinking?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Old Woman Winter

Welcome again to Farmhouse Fridays at The Renegade Farmer. http://www.therenegadefarmer.com/  Read all about it and then be sure to hop around and check out other farm blogs from their site. Now back to my simple Friday Post.

Living and working on a farm in winter...a bit of a challenge, it is also beautiful and peaceful in its own way.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Life and Death in the Farrowing Stall

Farming is wonderful. The magic and wonder, the true miracle of life, it's a welcome gift in the barn.

Barely awake Midlife Farmwife meets barely awake
newborn Red Wattle piglet

But behind the scenes, the miracles are not so pretty, or as in the case of my own barn looks, average.
As I mentioned in my last post on Tuesday, Miss Debbie, the Matriarch of our Red Wattle herd, was due to farrow soon. We had no idea how soon but we're getting smarter. Instead of putting them in the farrowing pen a few days before the expected date, we now put them in two weeks before.

Good thing. Deb wasn't due until Feb 4, at least by our calculations. Apparently some rolling in the hay occurred BEFORE we witnessed it. Imagine that. And so yesterday morning we were a little (lot) surprised to see Miss Deb had gone ahead and birthed a bunch. 13 to be exact.

Miss Debbie nurses newborns while still
giving birth to more piglets at the
other end. Love those multi-tasking mamas!
Red Wattles are known for their large litters but 13 is large even for them. But of those 13, three were DOA and one of those three was partially mummified. Still in labor when we got to the barn yesterday am, we witnessed one birth of a well formed babe which wasn't breathing on its own. Keith assisted with some mild chest compressions and after seeing a couple of breaths we hung the babe upside down (gently) for improved chest massage and drainage. Interventions worked and new babe was off in search of a nipple

To the right, the beauty of farming, to the left
the reality.
Sadly though, a few hours later Miss Debbie was down to just 7 viable babies. Why ? So many reasons. Possible a crushing incident. Even though her pen is very large with lots of room to move, mama pigs are big and clumsy. In confinement the piglets are pulled away from their mama's and kept in a tiny metal floored area next to her, where they can reach her nipples but nothing else. Their survival rate is higher but often runts survive that end up being put down later anyway, and their short lives are horrible.

We have farrowed outside before in groups but lost piglets when they were stepped on by other adults. Again they had plenty of room to move but chose to stay close to each other thus the reason we have moved on to the separate farrowing pen idea.

Yet, we still lost piglets.

We feel strongly that weak piglets  are not meant to survive even though it may be possible to save them. Genetically, saving the less perfect of the breed will not in the long run SAVE the breed. The solution to preventing extinction is to raise healthy animals with strong genetics.

Rationalizing the loss of some of these piglets? Perhaps. But we have seen other breeders of purebred anythings, keep the offspring just to get the money which comes with "breeding stock." But how ethical is it to save animals whose genetics are weak, only to have them reproduce more weak offspring.?

The amazing fact of hogs: weight at birth
about 1-2 pounds. Weight in 6 months 200 plus.
Can you imagine keeping THAT baby in diapers?!
From birth we want to see strong animals with the iron will of survival. Offering a little help at the time of birth especially to those last piglets who have been in the birth canal longer and maybe aspirated a little amniotic fluid seems reasonable.  Just need a few thumps to get them over the birth hump? Yeah, we can do that.

But when I hear of breeders who go all out to save those very sick, very weak animals for the sole purpose of increasing the farms bottom line...I get angry. Nature never intended for the weaklings to live and reproduce more weaklings, and I firmly agree with Mother Nature on this point.

And to be perfectly clear...this post is about ANIMALS, not human beings.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A few good Calves

Mr South Pork and I like our little day trips which is not to be confused with the old time "Day Tripper," just in case you were, you know, confused.

We enjoy getting away for a few hours as due to our milking obligations, that's about all we get. (Whine whine whine)  Once in a rare Blue Moon, our son Jason milks for us a couple times so we can go overnight somewhere but his current boss, an Angus farmer/breeder is in the middle of calving season and Jason is spending lots of nights there watching over the high end (and their low ends) world of show cattle. So we are farm bound several more weeks. (Yes, now I would like some Ritz crackers with my whine)

Special effect or camera lens cover sticking?

And speaking of calves, we were running low, thus the reason for the day trip. Yes, I am aware we are supposed to be downsizing and we are. More cows going to the locker means less babies being born, yet we still need enough of a beef supply to sell in our store and to grocery stores.

So we headed north to KJB Farms in Ridott, Il., near the Wisconsin border, about a 300 mile round trip, down of course in between AM and PM chores. It made for along day, but weather was good.

Why so far? Well, they're are very few organic beef farms near us and because we are organic any calves we sell as organic should be...you know...organic. The farm we visited is so much bigger than ours, milking 140 cows! Their calves were kept in their hug old barn built in 1930 with the thick, heavy beams and old heavy metal milking stanchions. Beautiful. We picked out five calves and Keith and his muscles loaded them up into the "box."

Now about this box. When Keith brought it home, another spur of the moment purchase from another farmer, I of course thought "Oh great, just one more thing I have to auction off when he..uh..retires to Oklahoma. I mean look at this thing. Have you ever seen such an ugly box?

Of course you have not.

But it appears that it has a use. Several newborn calves are easily and comfortably transported in it which little wind sheer and because it is small they aren't tossed around as they would be if they were in our full size livestock trailer. Chalk one up for the farmer...again.

Unloading them out of the box was a bit trickier since it was dark when we got home, but we managed. All five of our new babies did well through the night with Miss Fannie (below) to watch over them and they have caught on to bottle feeding very well.

This big girl in the next photo? This is Miss Debbie, fill bred Red Wattle Hog, the matriarch of our herd, in a very pregnant state. More about her on my next post. Y'all come back now, hear?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Saponification Sunday...Suberb !

So first off, thanks to all of you who encouraged me last week to try my cinnamon coffee cake soap again, you know the one that was all dry and crumbly? Yeah that one. So I did. But I did something very different this time, at least for me.

The first coffee bar. Dry and crumbling
but with potential
I took my time.

I have a bad habit of always trying to do five, six, seven things at a time. Like right now, I have a load of laundry washing, another drying, Red Wattle fat melting on the stove (on low heat obviuosly) and I'm listening to ClareFM from Ireland, my favorite radio program to listen to while blogging. And oh yeah, I AM BLOGGING.

Coffe soap, just unmolded. I could've spent
more time making the top prettier.
So when I make soap I tend to do the same kind of thing. I will have a couple pots of oils melting, and another in the crock pot while measuring and mixing lye'. I do soap when all alone...but still I need to sloooooooow down, do one batch at a time and enjoy what I am doing. Besides it's safer that way.

Just your average mountain of soap
So this week, I followed my recipe exacty after double checking it with the lye calculator and I worked on this ONE BATCH only.  My recipe:

Babasuu Oil            10 oz
Coconut Oil              5 oz
Olive oil (pomace) 10 oz
Sunflower Oil           5 oz
Coffee Butter            2 oz

Lye                           4.34 oz
Cold Coffee              12 oz

Titanium Dioxide       1/2 teaspoon
Clove EO                    1 oz
Cassia EO                   1 oz

Coffe grounds (used)    1/2 teaspoon

After combining my lye/coffee with my oils I brought it to light trace, then added my EO's. I followed some of your advice about not mixing the EO's too much since clove EO can cause the whole thing to accelerate (see there? I am educata-ble) Then I poured out approximately 1/3 of the soap and mixed in the TD with hand mixer. I then hand stirred in the coffee grounds into the bigger portion of soap and poured that into my high tech diaper wipe mold.

After 4 days the bar was hard but not
crumbly and the bottom layer darkened well.
I then poured the lighter colored soap portion remaining, on top. Taking another even higher tech device, the small kitchen whisk, I plunged in into the soap about 8 times.

Popped the whole 2 pound batch into my frig. Left it for 2 days. Unmolded and let it sit at room temp for 2 days and then cut by hand with long knife. I get 8 bars from each loaf, each weighing about 5.5 oz each. This second attempt came out so much better and smells fantastic, that is if you like cinnamon !

The white streaks are cused by my knife.
Perchance a professional wire
cutter would be good?
I sell my soap primarily in our little farm store for $4 each, cheaper than most homemade bars I've seen in other stores but it covers my costs plus a fair enough profit. I also sell a few at two local antique stores.

I have no plans to expand my soap business...much...this next year, our farm requires too much of my time to do that, but maybe one day I'll open an online store. You can however, order a bar by emailing me at opies99@gmail.com. a $6 flat shiping fee in the Continental US for 1-5 bars. They'll be ready to use February 20.

Nothing to do with soap, just a good husband
spending time with one of our wonderful GK's
In the meantime I keep reading other soapers blogs and watching those those gracious and hardworking enough to make VIDEOS and I keep learning and learning and learning because my own particular learning curve is indeed quite WIDE.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Welcome to my FarmHouse Fridays Post! All part of the fun at The Renegade Farmer, a fantastic web site for those who farm, who want to farm, who used to farm, who dream about farms, who buy from your local farm....you get the picture. Check them out at   http://www.therenegadefarmer.com/


Years ago our youngest son  Kyle would always mix up the words "Thank You" and "You're Welcome," combining them into one word of his own 3 year old making, "Ankum."

If I told him he did a good job picking up his toys he would say, "Ankum." If he wanted a cookie he would say "ankum." You get the picture. I was reminded of the importance of saying "ankum" again yesterday.

My husband and I had a very busy day. Up at 6 AM we did all our morning chores (milking, feeding, watering, bedding) and then we pulled over 300 pounds of meat out of our freezers.  Packing it into coolers, and  then into the back of our pickup we drove 150 miles delivering to 3 of the Central Illinois grocery stores to whom we sell organic meat. On the way home we picked up another 400 pounds of meat at the locker and then filled up the holes in our freezers left by the AM deliveries.

The little farm store at South Pork Ranch
We were still putting away meat at 10PM.

When I finally got inside, convinced again that our life was too crazy, too busy, too HARD, I found this email waiting for me from one of our regular farm customers. I was gobsmacked. With his permission I am copying it here for you.

Hi Donna and Keith,

Sometimes it must be hard to realize what your family farm means to others, but I just thought I would let you know how it touches ours and say...Thank You!!!

sour cream
Honey buttermilk waffles...which are becoming famous with family, friends and wife's coworker's
Flour from wheat berries
Hard cheese
pork chops
Home made egg noodles
Turkey dinner
Side pork
Clean showers
Clean clothes
eggs, scrambled, over medium, boiled
egg salad
and corned beef if I can find a recipe on how to turn a briskit into corned beef
lastly an always enjoyable road trip.

Take Care,

Yeah, just when I had decided no one cares, no one really NOTICES the amount of work it takes to run a farm, to produce good food, to raise animals humanely and sanely, to keep them all warm and dry in the winter winds, We get an email like this. Well, all I have to say now is...

Ankum Doug, Ankum.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Goin' Downtown to Chinatown

We've been invaded. Rooster Haven for sure. We just lost control. One minute we have a cute nest full of fuzzy itsy bitsy chicks and the next we have Roosterzilla and all his hoodlum friends terrorizing the female Chickie's of the farm. Over run with uppity male birds.

What are going to do?

Roostbusters. We called them. Seems there is quite a demand for good farm raised chicken and especially roosters in the Chicago Chinatown Restaurant arena. A friend of a friend knew another friend who knew this here guy who came to the farm and checked out our rooster goods yesterday.

He was also making eyes at our Drakes, the male ducks that have also grown well here on all the free feed a bird can get.

So, a deal was struck and hands were shaked...er....shaken?...shook?  (This is why my novel isn't finished) and then tonight, when the sun went down and the roosters were asleep on their perches, the guy showed up with his...uh...board. Yes, his board. Seems if you back a long thick board up to the back of a rooster he'll step backwards onto it. From there you slowly lower it to the ground where your poultry partner just picks the rooster up off the board. Cool huh?

33 roosters were selected for this honor along with 9 drakes. All will travel to Chinatown in Chicago where they will be highly sought after by many oriental chefs.

Yes. Money was exchanged. It seems only fair. Those birds have had the run of the place, Free room and board, warm shelter (often on the back of a huge Red Wattle with an internal temp of 103 degrees.) and no responsibilities. Nada. Wait. There was one. They did eat a lot of bugs, but as insect control...they can be replaced quite easily by all the hens we are keeping.

So next time you eat a big dish of Bang Bang Chicken or General Tso's Chicken or even Szechuan Hot Chicken Salad you can rest easier knowing it might very well have been raised humanely, free range-ly, on a small organic farm in Central Illinois.

More rice wine please.  Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Raw Milk News and Views

It's time for another raw milk update from we rebels who sell the wonderful stuff. If you are new to my blog be sure to check out my other Raw Milk posts (via this blogs search engine in the right hand column) so you'll be as brilliant as the rest of my followers.

Here's a good post to start http://midlifefarmwife.blogspot.com/2011/10/take-raw-milk-stand.html

So, to date, no word from any of the representatives I have emailed or spoken to concerning the rumored law that it is illegal to advertise, the sale of raw milk. Remember, in Illinois it is legal to sell it as long as the consumer comes to the farm with their own container. The farmer has been told he cannot legally transport it. But, on that note many folks are tired of that law and doing their best to make changes regarding transportation of such. Read about those fine folk here. http://rawmilkfreedomriders.wordpress.com/

Back to Illinois, where another law states this:

(505 ILCS 70/1) (from Ch. 5, par. 91)
Sec. 1. Every farmer, fruit and vine grower, and gardener, shall have an undisputed right to sell the produce of his farm, orchard, vineyard and garden in any place or market where such articles are usually sold, and in any quantity he may think proper, without paying any state, county or city tax, or license, for doing so, any law, city or town ordinance to the contrary notwithstanding: Provided, that the corporate authorities of any such city, town or village may prohibit the obstruction of its streets, alleys and public places for any such purpose: And, provided further, that nothing in this Act shall be so construed as to authorize the sale of spirituous, vinous or malt liquors, contrary to laws which now are or hereafter may be in force prohibiting the sale thereof.
(Source: P.A. 84‑1308.)

See how confusing this all gets ?  The above law says a farmer has the right to sell the produce of his farm. Therefore it would seem logical that to sell it I must be able to advertise it.

So without clear input from those I sought for guidance, (Really, the words "guidance" and "government" are counter-productive , don't you think?  Well, I do)  we have no choice but to move ahead on our own, specifically, if we are going to make a living selling our products, we will need to TELL people about our products, since the majority of our future customers, although bright in their own ways, are not psychic.

Thus, last fall, we did the unspeakable. We advertised our raw milk, in Book of Face, Twitter, this Blog, and blatantly in our own little farm store. We even wrote signs in ink ! We waited for the G-men to come forth.


We moved forward a little more with a print ad in local newspapers just before Christmas; The Pantograph (Bloomington) and  The Daily Journal ( Kankakee.) We waited for Big Brother to come for coffee.


I approached number one son and webmaster , last week to list raw milk availability under "Products". So now even our web site is advertising our raw milk sales, something we have never done in the 5 years we've had a web site     http://www.south-pork-ranch.com/products.html     And we waited for Men in Black to arrest our cows.


This week we pulled the net in closer to home. So many local folks don't even know we exist here in our own community. Well, who's to blame for that ? That would be me, VP of Bacon.  So for the first time in the 18 years we have been on this farm, we ran an ad in our local small town newspapers. See below. And we waited for the phone calls.  We got a few...new customers ! But that's what advertising is all about isn't it?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Saponification Sunday...Sad State of Soap

So not to be copying Jen http://jenorasoaps.blogspot.com/ but seems I got carried away with water discounting as well. But before I go further, let me say how much I appreciate when soap folks who d share mistakes as well as earth shattering accomplishments. It takes a special soaper like Jen to say "Hey...DON"T do this! "  Of course I ignored her advice being of the dull witted variety, but still I appreciate that she tried to warn me.  Maybe you will be smarter than I

So I made a beautiful smelling soap  all full of clove and cassia essential oils.  Wafting with the aroma of freshly baked coffee cake and hot brewed Java, it also looked wonderful as I colored with real Folgers, none of that ridiculous what-is-the-point decaffeinated junk, and some coffee butter which is a deep rich brown.  Just before pouring in the mold I stitrred in  a brief teaspoon of the coffee grounds themselves and it all looked heavenly after sitting in the frig for 24 hrs.

Yeah, it looked wonderful until  I began cutting it into bars...It all came apart at the seams it seems. At first slice it went well but as I got closer to the bottom, the bottom lost it, crumbling to the floor.  DANG IT !

So I got a thinner knife which helped some but a few hours later obnoxious fissures started showing up throughout the bar. Right about the same time the bottom half was darkening into a rich brown, which made me see the potential and grieve its loss even more.

I really liked the way my swirls worked after stabbing the soap with a small whisk a few times. But alas it will not work for resale. So, I will grate it and rebatch it, another lesson learned.


The bowl? Got it for 99cents at my favorite thrift shop, Frugality, in Fairbury, Illinois. On the bottom it says FRANKOMA. Name of potter? Who knows. Still a cool bowl

Saturday, January 14, 2012

To Tour or Not to Tour; That is The Question (and the risk)

As seen in todays issue of http://www.therenegadefarmer.com/

When folks call us to ask about our farm, its products, location, etc...they invariably ask the toughest question of all, "Do you give tours?"

The answer is indubitably Yes, unless of course it is No, not really. Why so wishy-washy? I'll have to refer you to our insurance carrier, who gets nervous about tours. Where we see opportunity to educate city dwellers, share techniques with other farmers and provide children with the means of touching a real live animal, she sees it as a lawsuit waiting to take root and spread faster than a pack of Morning Glory Seeds.

School children love the opportunity to visit farms and help with chores
Make sure the parents come along to help.

Her advice to us is to avoid labeling it a "Tour" and whatever you do, don't charge for it. Instead, she suggests, call it a "Walk-a-Bout" and inform people they can leave a donation if they so desire. If we do decide to give real tours it could cause our liability insurance to double. She also strongly recommends we have all farm visitors sign a waiver, something like this;

Thanks for visiting us. Farms are highly dangerous and could kill you. A cow might gore you in the abdomen, a boar might bite off your arm, a chicken might peck your eyes out and our milk could curdle in your stomach before you get back down the driveway. We are not responsible for anything. Have a great day.

Or something similar to that. We understand her concern, farms can be dangerous, but then again so is life in general. We hate to assume the worst of people, that they might sue us if our turkey pecks at their open-toed sandal (and WHY would you wear those to the farm?) and we love teaching them about the benefits of free range eggs and pastured meat. We really love seeing a child pet the soft warm nose of a newborn calf.

We're just strange that way.

Stranger than many of our own farmer friends who don't allow visitors for fear of disease that might be brought onto their farm from outside sources. I've been on a few farms like that where visitors wore more masks, booties and gloves than a medical team did prior to open heart surgery.

Allowing Graduate students and journalists to visit your
farm can be a real asset, unless you see it as a risk

How did farms and folks get so leery and untrustworthy of each other? How will we ever foster the love of farming in our youth, enough so that they might want to own or at least work on a farm of their own, if we don't allow them to touch the farms livestock or taste its produce before giving full disclaimers and 10 page liability waivers?

What do you do at your farm? Do you give tours? Do you charge a fee for them? Do you have visitors sign waivers? Do you carry extra insurance against injury claims?

Or do you just put up a huge NO TRESPASSING sign at the end of your driveway, and be done with it? I'd love to hear what you are doing about this on your farm and why. You can comment publicly here or send me an email at opies99@gmail.com.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bye Bye Bossy

This post is part of Farm House Fridays at The Renegade Farmer. When done be sure and check them out. It's a fantastic site for all farmers, famer want-to-be, farm stalkers, whatever. http://certifiedorganicfarm.blogspot.com/

Eight months ago we did the unthinkable. We listed our farm for sale, the simple reason being :business was too good and it was killing us.  Read all about the sale here

When our four children left home and decided farm ownership was not their preference, (what can I say? They are very bright children) we had two choices, or so we thought. Hire staff and continue growing our organic dairy, beef and pork farm OR sell the whole thing down to the last ground burger pattie in our farm store, and start all over on a tiny homestead growing just enough for the two of us; living off the grid was what we wanted, a long time dream.

Home on the range, our pastured cows enjoy
the outdoors even at end November

But, with only one serious looker (who never called back so don't know why I referred to her as "serious") it appears that many folks love the IDEA of running their own farm but due to lack of time/money/ initiative they would rather we continue the work part while they continue the purchasing part.

We understand. I like driving our new (used) Ford F-150 but I don't want to start manufacturing them.

So, after some time, we discover...option three; downsizing right here. It may be awhile until the right buyer finds South Pork Ranch and wishes to make it their dream, so while we work to make that connection we begin to say Sayonara to some of the most work intensive/costly parts of the farm. We're not sure if and how it can be done here. The house is big and inefficient, the animals are many, and the debt is high as is sadly common with most farm operations. So how do we downsize to a manageable work load while bringing in enough income for mortgage/feed/land rental etc.? Which should come first. the chicken or the egg?

We say the cow.

Our dairy is the most costly part of our farm. We do not grow our own hay or grain and must purchase it and then pay to have it hauled to us. Certified organic hay, grain and now straw, is not cheap. Keith milks 18 cows and we raise their offspring for replacement cows and beef sales, abput 60 head of cattle all told.  That's a lot of hay.

Our first goal: to reduce the milking herd from 18 to 5 by June. Five cows will give us enough milk to continue our raw milk sales, even allowing for a few new customers, which average about $1500 per month, and provide us with all the milk we need personally. It will also provide us with enough to continue feeding our hogs which are more profitable than our dairy.

A Farmer and his Girls

But here comes the tough part. How to decide which cow goes and when? Should we require each Bossy to reapply for her own job or just rely on the good old background check?  Perhaps a "Cow-Cam" placed strategically in the free stall area of the barn will highlight the worst behaved cows and make our decision to ship them, easier.  A few will be available for sale as family milk cows. Gentle and kind, used to daily human contact they are great backyard cows, but  the majority will go to the locker a few at a time to be made into nutritious organic burger .

With each cow gone there will be less manure to scrape and spread, less hay to feed, less repairs in the barn, less fencing to fix, less cleanup in the milk parlor, less flies in the hot sticky summer.

There will also be less of those kind creatures who helped us build our farm, and teach our children about the benefits of hard work, (we taught them so well they said "No Thanks!") Less to show to customers children who visit, less of the bloodlines we worked hard to expand and improve upon.
Less sweet calves with the big brown eyes.

But all dreams come at a cost, and you can't very well downsize without making changes. We just hope we are making the right ones.

PS. About that snow. Yeah we got a couple inches, lots of wind and a cold night but nothing to cry about. Damn Midwest Alarmists

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bring it On

The beavers were busy yesterday, After weeks of above normal temperatures we were beginning to think winter was delayed permanently but then predictions of snow started coming in for today.

"One inch and winds of 15mph" predicted at 8am yesterday
We did morning chores and started adding extra bedding to animal stalls. I painted the yard sign, yes PAINTED, with directions to the barn, house and farm store. Keith repaired the door to chicken coop and I painted it as well.

"One and 1/2 inches and winds of 20mph" predicted at noon
Keith moved big bales of hay in front Mad Max (top dog hog) and his harem's hogcienda. This will provide wind block and source of food. I burned lots of old trash and wood piles, overfilled the big calves hay feeder.

"One to three inches and winds of 25mph" predicted last evening
Keith moved large barrels of feed to barn to save on walking to machine shed should snow hit. He spread a few loads of manure as well and took small milk tank over to Forrest for repairs.
I planted spring seeds in an old concrete waterer, with a 10 foot diameter no less. I should have put them in months ago, but why? It was 56 degrees yesterday! I caught 6 loose chickens and threw them into chicken yard on my way up to the house.

"Three to Six inches and white out conditions" predicted this am
It's 8am we still need to bed horses, move mower inside garage. (Its had a dead battery for the last month), and move another big bale of hay in front of Red Wattle Wally's stall so he and his girls have wind protection and extra feed. Then we should be "ready"

As I write the sky is white and snow is just starting to blow across the yard. Keith volunteered to do my calf chores this am so I volunteered to make him a big coffee cake for when he comes in for his morning break.

That's how we beavers roll.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dear Mom...

I am caught between two worlds. I love the technology of the Internet, I am an info junkie, a blog buffoon, a digital photo freak, a Book of Face lover but I hate how those very things have so destroyed real face to face communication.

A nephew of mine recently enlisted in the Marines. He is allowed letters. Period. No twitters or status updates, no blue tooth on his ear. Just letters.

So that is what he is getting from me. My recent ramblings about nothing sent to him 2 and 3 times a week, reminded me how much I loved getting letters from my folks all those years (10) that I lived in South Dakota. They were both excellent letter writers.

So, in their honor, one resolution of mine this year will be more letter writing. It's a soon to be lost art if we don't get busy with our pens.

From our Farm Your Face

Yesterday, was a big meat day here on South Pork Ranch. Three animals left the farm (via the livestock trailer on its way to the Eureka locker) while three returned to the farm via several coolers and assorted cardboard boxes.

Before November 2010, all our meat would go into two freezers in our basement where folks could purchase it through a freindly knock on the back door, but I always imagined 80 year old aunt Rosalinda tumbling down the back steps, so we opened our farm store. It also became inconvenient to crawl out of my evening bath in order to retrieve one pound of liver for a hungry customer.

Now, our meat (after being USDA inspected, labeled and vacuum packed) is sold out of two bartered upright freezers in our little farm store. Considering that meat travels over 1500 miles in the US before it gets to the consumers table we are happy that ours travels only 1/10 that distance. The Eureka locker, the only certified organic locker in Illinois, where we picked up over 1000 pounds of meat yesterday, is just 60 miles from our farm.

So, it goes from us, to them, to us and then to our customers. Farm to Face as we like to say. A really good system, except for the part where we have to put all the meat away in our store.

Frozen meat is how shall I put it?....Cold, yes that's the word I was looking for. It is COLD. It is times like these that we regret allowing our four children the option to grow up and move away. The days of young healthy, free labor were good days indeed.

 Meat from our last pickup being stored in the machine shed freezers, is relocated to farm store via the high tech kids wagon. Empty spots are filled. Meat in coolers in the back of the pick up are unloaded and complete the empty shelf filling. Once the freezers are filled, any leftover meat from yesterdays pickup goes in the machine shed freezers.

All meat is hand marked with a lot number so we can track each animal to its own package of burger or bacon. Some of our meat is pre-weighed but some like our beef jerky is not so I had to weigh them and write the lot number on them. Yes, I did try a stamp, but the packages are cold and not flat so writing the lot number by hand works much better. Maybe instead of all the free advice you could show up on meat day and help put some of this stuff away. Hmmmmm?

Meat must  be rearranged in the freezer into some sort of order. The method is complex. Beef on the left, pork on the right.

This is the PORK freezer. On a good day it
will mostly contain PORK
I once tried labeling each shelf with the meat located there but labels get moved or fall off so instead I try to put the meat back in the same area like I did the time before, but then I go and order an entire 1/4 cow made into beef jerky. That is over 100 pounds of jerky or approx. 200 packages of jerky which I forgot to plan for.

So meat is readjusted. And readjusted again. Keith is busy doing chores late since he had to leave early for the locker run. I'm just telling you that so you understand why I am doing all the meat adjusting. Someone has to milk and it ain't me.

Finally all 1000 pounds of meat is put away. We decide this would be a great time to sit down in the kitchen and get caught up with each other over pot of coffee number two. I've been up since 0330 and Keith has been up since shortly after that.

And who do you think shows up at that exact moment? Well the Illinois Department of Agriculture's meat inspector that is who. Seems its time for our annual inspection.

No problem, we give him a fresh cup of coffee and a few beef sticks to chew on while he finishes his paperwork at our kitchen table. Funny how he didn't show up until AFTER all the meat was put away