Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pig Travel Agent

I wear many hats. Even those with the ridiculous ear flaps but only when it is really cold. I also juggle hats IN the house. Like the time I have been spending lately just trying to get one fat pig from point A (our farm) to point B (Institute of Higher Learning).

"Yes, I'm very proud of my Mama Sophie and her
involvement in the research when is dinner?"

It started with one of those innocent emails, "Hi, I'm looking for a Red Wattle pig for a research program." All would've gone well if I'd hit delete that very moment but Noooooooo, I was curious. Several weeks later we are committed, or should be soon once a room is ready. We asked for sea view.

The commitment is with the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Science Department. They are studying the behavior of certain heritage hogs. Enter Sophie age 2 and 1/2. We agreed on a sale price and expenses for us to take her to them which means a short vacation for Keith and I later this spring. If you call hauling an occasionally squeeling pig across 4 state lines a "vacation." We do.

The logistics have been entertaining. First Miss Sophie had to be impregnated. That was easy seeing as Max did all the work. Then the pregnancy had to be confirmed which meant loading up her pigness and taking her 10 miles down the road to Dr Whitman's.

Live piglets were confirmed via portable ultrasound in the back of the trailer. Blood was drawn as well as she needed to be negative for Brucellosis  and Pseudorabies  and PRRS. With pregnancy positive and others test negative we now were in phase 3. How shall we get her there?

We played around with several ideas. Have her shipped by strangers, who knows what kind of fool hardy play would occur at the truck stop rest areas? Or we could take her ourselves but in the big livestock trailer? Maybe a topper on the back of the pickup? We decided to fix up the big calf box we use to transport, you guessed it, Calves to and fro.

It will sit on the back of the truck and be less conspicuous in hotel parking lots...we hope. So transportation solved but what about the farmers? It's over 800 miles to PA and we ain't young anymore so we'll need to break the trip up and stay in hotels on way out and way back.

More reservations to be made. Done. Then more emails with the vet at UPenn to clarify timing of the health exam to be done (within 30 days of the trip) and another set of blood tests. Another appointment with the vet needed, Done.

And where exactly will we be dropping off this piggy? seems the UPenn contracts with a nearby farmer to use his barn for such housings. So more phone calls and directions and dates confirmed. Done.

Wait. Who will take care of all our animals while we are gone ? Keith talked with our young man who works for us once a week and his mother since he is still underage. Seems they have a trip in the future and needed help with their farm animals. Trades made. Dates clarified. Done.

And people wonder what I do in the house all day....

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Black Ice Fright

I may have mentioned before (hands up!) that my father the cop turned artist turned maintenance man turned sand blaster turned cop again, taught me how to drive.

I think I need a refresher.

Sunday evening  the weather turned on us. We got this very odd blast of icy rain.  All went well. It's a feeling of great power turning that little knob from 2WD to 4WD, a sense of security like the pope must feel when that big bullet-proof bullet lowers over his sacrosanct head.  After dropping off the GK's back to the care of their hard working mama following her 12 hr shift, I headed back home her final wish for me ringing in my very non-sacrosanct head . She told me "be careful."

I was, thank goodness, but not enough it seems. The temp had warmed and the ice was gone in my daughters town, leaving roads just wet, so no 4WD needed or so I thought. Coming up the road just about a mile from our house I slid some but didn't put the truck back in 4WD because after all, I was almost home.

Have you ever read those reports about how most accidents happen close to home?

So, almost home safe and  just over the railroad tracks, I headed up a slight incline, and sure enough my back end decided to head the OPPOSITE direction of my front end. At my size, not an attractive sight.  At first I thought just a little more fishtailing, no big deal, but soon the fish became a whale and was heading into a full out water ballet.

"Weeeeeeeeeee", was NOT the word that came out of my gob. Fortunately the west end of the road I was on is rarely traveled  so there was no oncoming traffic. There was however, an oncoming building. A long metal machine shed type.

So as it rushed towards me  I had that little epiphany where you think...I am so dead...followed by the impact and the next thought...hey, cool...I am not dead!

Because I was only going between 20-30 mph (a rarity in itself) and wearing my seat belt,  the impact did very little damage to the truck or me, not even severe enough to release the airbags into my face. The machine shed, however, being older and more fragile, took the brunt of the blow and the dent(s) were much larger.

After realizing I would yet see another black ice Sunday, I took a deep breath and backed up, turning the wheel to go back in the direction I was originally headed. This produced a large rubbing noise. Being just a hundred feet or so from our farm I motored on home anyway.

Assessment was a few dents in the bumper and Keith was able to pull it back off the wheel enough to be able to drive it. Good thing we had vet appointments for the  puppy and cat and don't you know, life must go on no matter how close one gets to meeting her maker (not very close)

Later today  we'll take it in to our local repair fellow and get the full damage report. Since Keith is not one to worry much about superficial things like dented bumbers and spots of rust (see example A;his wife) we won't spend any money making it look good again. Instead we'll just repair any structural damage that might keep it from going in a straight line in the near future.

The buildings owner, also a fellow not so worried about bumps and dents in the elderly was most gracious about my after dark damages to his property. We believe he can be bought off with a few steaks.

So, fellow careful out there.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Saponification Sunday...Nancy Today

When I first started making soap I went to You Tube to see what what out there in the way of instructions. I learn best through observation.

 I ran across this very entertaining gal who may not have the best technique (no gloves, no mask, no real measuring) but certainly has the best hat.  So for your viewing pleasure I give you "Nancy Today"

Friday, January 25, 2013

Waking the Sleeping Bear

A few raw milk post ago (early 2012 ) a follower of mine made a comment about being careful not to wake the sleeping bear. She was referring to the barrage of phone calls I was making at that time to many regulatory offices both state and federal to get some answers to my raw milk questions. That raw milk episode is covered HERE

Well, 12 months later, the "bear" woke up and dialed my number.

I received a phone call this morning from the IDPH (Illinois Department of Public Health). Specifically the director of the Food, Drugs and Dairy Division, who asked me if I would be interested in serving on the Raw Milk subcommittee. Would I ? WOULD I ?!?

You bet your ice cold non-homogenized, unpasteurized glass of raw milk I would. The committee is focused on the revision of the current Illinois State Laws regarding raw milk production, marketing and distribution.

Thrilled I am.

So much for Just Saying No !

And for those of you who are still waiting for that last tidbit of info regarding the cost of pastured raw milk production here you go: In 2012 each gallon of certified organic milk cost us $4.13 to produce. We sell it for $6 a gallon. In figuring expenses we included everything direct and indirect that goes into the care of our dairy herd EXCEPT our own salary. Reason being, we don't pay ourselves a salary.

We do however get all the milk we can drink.

If you are interested in our exact formula for computing all costs involved in this, please email me. Happy to share

Thursday, January 24, 2013


My husband never gets or takes enough credit. So today is his day. When we bought this ex-farm back in 1995, it came with a dairy barn built around 1895. Leaning dangerously it took just a wee push with our truck (we did not even own a tractor then) for it to collapse. With the help of our then 13 year old son, much of the wood was moved to another site and it was indeed BARN-again.

While I was gone most days all day at my nursing job, Keith would piece by piece rebuild the barn so now the inside still contains much of the century old barn covered with new (now 18 years old) steel siding.

A couple days ago I was up walking around the loft (I went up for a bale of hay for the horse and got distracted ) The lighting was beautiful and I noticed again the beauty of the old barn within a new barn.

Getting up into the loft takes some skill, the ability to put one foot in front of the other and pulling one round self through the opening in the floor.

With the old posts and beans my husband also moved over much of the old hardware, some of it I would guess was hand forged back then.

The beams themselves are much thicker than you can ever find now, at least in this sorry country where we tear things down about 20 years and throw away far more than we ever recycle.

This old basketball hoop hasn't been used in years not since we built our big machine shed and a new hoop with a concrete court instead of uh..straw and other things.
Looking up you can see the multiple rafters that came from an old chicken barn.
Keith put each of those in place one at a time with the first tractor we bought, hoisting them up with chains, then climbing up to secure them, then back down to put another in place then back up to secure them. When I think about selling our farm and this barn I get saddest about leaving this barn since literally so much of my husbands blood, sweat and tears is in those beams!

The hay loft was full a few months ago but now, mid winter, the supply is dwindling. Our GK's love to come up here to play, to read to build forts (with us of course). What is it about haylofts that kids love so much?

More beams up above Wally and his visiting harem. Seeing them reminds me its time to clean out some cobwebs again, insinuating I do this on a regular basis...yeah, when pigs fly.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

(Learning to) Just Say No

Me, an O'Shaughnessy, Standing in front of the O'Shaughnessy Chapel at Kilmacduagh
Castle just outside of Gort, County Galway.

It all goes back to the nuns, of course. Most any psychological issue does. It's the law. My specific issue I fault them with today, is my need for power.

Sister Mary Gerard planted the seed in first grade by asking me to serve on the student council. And by "ask" I mean demand of you in a God Fatherly Offer You Can't Refuse sort of way. So I became a member and at the first student council meeting I was asked to vote on the color we should paint the bathrooms. (Just raise your hand if you've heard the story before. Raise both hands if you know about the raising your hand part)

I chose green and there was no turning back.

I've been on hundreds of nursing committees, task forces, steering committees and paradigm shift gatherings, I've been elected to offices, and volunteered for those I wasn't elected for. I've lectured and collaborated and contributed. I took charge, took over, took attendance, you name it, I took it. Whether it was nursing or farming I had to be in the midst of things.

What can I say? I like to be involved, I like to be included, I like to be boss. Sometimes I volunteered because I really had good intentions and wanted to help but if I am honest, really honest, I have to say I got involved because I like the attention. I wish it was a more honorable reason but sadly, not always true.

Today, I said "No" 

I was asked to serve on the board of directors of a Not-For-Profit Farm Entity I have great respect for, one where  I think I could do some good work. But it's time for me to shut up (some) and step back and let others do what they can probably all do far better than I can. I mean. lets face it. Know- it- alls, can be pretty annoying. So I thanked the caller for thinking of me but I said "No".

It's also part of our grand plan to keep downsizing our farm and our lives. In order to focus on selling our farm and business, and then completing my novel (in year three I am embarrassed to report) I need to back out and shut up.

It felt good to say "No". A relief really. And I'm sure some very capable youngster will be asked now instead, one who has  lots of energy and enthusiasm and will do a very fine job. With extra time I hope to gain I plan to really work hard to sell this farm, working more closely WITH my husband instead of standing up in front of crowds talking ABOUT my husband and our farm.

At least it's my plan

Monday, January 21, 2013

Another Year, Another Realtor


I generally don't show our house from this angle, it's not exactly our abodes best side, but who knows maybe this is the side our farms NEW owner will see and fall in love with. Who knows?

Almost two years ago (has it been THAT long?) we decided it was time and put our farm and its entire organic meat business, up for sale. We used a local realtor who did a terrible job. Had to call several times to get signage or ads posted. He didn't answer phone calls or emails. He showed the house once in 4 months.

We kissed him goodbye but without a single smooch. Then we went the For-Sale By Owner route. Our farm is still listed THERE,  (If you love to snoop inside folks houses like I do then by all means click on the link!)  I was happy with what we got for our money and we did show the farm to 12 interested individuals. But, no offers. At first we listed it as a total turn key business, home, land livestock and inventory plus all equipment and the farm store for just $417,000. Then we dropped it to $410,000. After 6 months we decided to list just the house, 10 acres and buildings for $199,00. The livestock, etc, could be added on a la carte if desired.

It was not desired.

Don't misunderstand. They are many who want to do what we are doing but few who have the finances to do so. Or they had the finances but their health was poor and they so did not undertand the work load of a real farm.

So we're back to the Realtor Route. This  time though, we know what we want. I was on the phone last week with 10 realtors and could not believe the total apathy I heard. Statements like "well I could list it if you want me too but don't expect much" and " If I don't understand what organic means then no one else in these partswill either." Some would not even tell me their commission rate over the phone, instead saying "We'll see."

One even came to the house and practically nodded off during our conversation with him.
You would've thought I was asking them to sell our farm Pro Bono. What am I, Cher?!?

Finally, I found a woman who after listening to me explain our business said "You've come to the right realtor." She asked several questions and then had the nerve to ask me to prepare several things for her like a profit and loss statement. Obviously she understood the word business .

I fell in love immediately.

She comes here on Wednesday. Wish us luck. We are so ready for the next phase of our lives to start.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Saponification Sunday

I am not a perfectionist...when it comes to soap. At least not so much about the looks. I do expect them to treat your skin well.

Some might say I am "creative" while I think it has more to do with laziness. Instead of taking the time to look up the recipe of a particular batch, I'll start with the recipe, see another additive in my box of tricks, and adjust the formula. The recipe calls for orange peel powder but I see Green What Grass powder and Off I go.

Which is why after two years of soaping, I rarely make the same bar twice. Exceptions are my "Cro-Bar" made with Guinness and named after blogger friend Cro Magnon, my Java Wood Bar made with real strong coffee and my Blue Grass Soap made for Special Friend Bob.
The above soap was colored with Indigo Powder which depending on the amount used and the type of oils you add, along with the variations of gel or no-gel, can result in a deep blue to a light blue-green like I got this go round.
My soap resting on Julia Kalkbrenners (Cocobong)stunning,  handmade, clay soap dish.
I also do not care one bit about soap ash, which is the white coating you get sometimes. You can prevent it by covering your soap with saran wrap while it cures or toss  it in the frig overnight. I like that each bar looks different and besides the first time you use it, the ash is gone. I do however insist that my purse is always hung on the hook under my chair in the kitchen and I cannot sleep without the same little red pillow I have slept with for years.
We all have our quirks be they lather related or not.
But what I like MOST about my new blue soap is that it looks like the first ultrasound done on my yet unborn child Raven, 32 years ago. Adorable, isn't she?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

3 Hog Night

Yeah, the cost of producing one gallon of milk. You would think after three full posts and a couple weeks we would've gotten that number for you.

You would think.

But alas, not yet. Still adding numbers, dividing numbers, subtracting numbers, redefining those pesky prime numbers. But don't lose heart. For the 3 or 4 of you who really care, I promise to get that number to you soon.

In the meantime, we have visitors. A harem of girls, Rubenesque in stature who appeared on our barn step a couple of weeks ago. Heritage hogs themselves, these Gloucestershire Old Spots thought they'd like to mix things up a bit and play around on the other side of the tracks, the Red Wattle side. Their owners, the Paddens, agreed to the gals wishes and so our other Red Wattle Boar , Wally, was put into action.

If you can call what he is doing above "action"

Wally came to us about a year and a half ago and frankly...does not get the attention he deserves. For the embarassing reason that...he is located on the FAR side of the farm whereas Max is just outside our front door and less of a walk for the South Pork Ranch's official photographer. Although a registered Red Wattle just like our big fellow Mad Max, he does not resemble that remark. Oh, he still fits the registration guidelines but in a different way.

Wally has the longer nose more indicative of the Timberline Red Wattles which I think gives him that aristocratic edge. He is also a lighter red where Max is getting darker with age. Consequently he throws lighter colored piglets (literally, when they get in his way he's been known to toss them up in the air.)

The Spots will be with us several weeks , staying through at least two heat cycles (every three weeks) as the owners are very clear they don't want these girls back until they are "with piglet." They will then raise the piglets for meat which I too believe will make a tasty pork chop.

For those who are intersted in doing the same thing, we charge $100 for the actual breeding with one free return visit if the breeding does not take. If the owner wishes to leave their gilt or sow at Horel South Pork, we charge $5 a day room and board.

There are some in the Registered Heritage Hog Arena who believe what we are doing might be less than admirable, thinking that only Red Wattles should be bred to Red Wattles. For the sake of registration and  purity of breed, I agree, which is why Keith and I only register the very best of our herd. But when it comes to meat, its taste, its nutritional factor, I am a firm beliver in cross breeding.

How about you? Do you raise Heritage Hogs? Do you loan out your boar or participate in another farms "rent-a-boar" program? Do you believe livestock blood lines should never mix for any reason? Love to hear from you.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Meat Madness

For those of you that have been following my raw milk series, hang in there. The last installment, where I will reveal the exact cost of producing one gallon of milk on our farm, will be presented tomorrow.

Until's meat delivery day.

Porterhouse Steaks, ice cold and ready to go.

We sell meat. Lots of it for a small farmer. It goes to four different stores and into our own little farm store. Keith or I will pick it up after it is processed at Eureka Locker. It comes to us vacuum packed , with a weight and our farm name and the organic seal on the label.

From there, each and every package is hand labeled with a lot number. This lot number is how we track each animal that goes to the locker so if needed we can tell if Millie, cull cow turned into burger, is being stored in the store freezers or the shop freezers or sold to our Chicago Grocery Store or just put in own kitchen freezer waiting for the addition of onions and shrooms for a lunch sandwich.

We like to know where our critters hang out.

Keith and hired hand Aaron labeled meat with lot numbers

After the lot number is written in the top right hand side of the label the meat is quickly put into our freezers, which is why I love winter. Since it is already cold outside we can work a little slower without fear of meat thawing. In the summer, we are hauling gr-ass (fed beef) as fast as we can from locker, to freezer.

Yes, in regards to hand writing the lot number on each package, it is very laborious but we've tried other methods with great failure. The stamp we bought just smeared ink across the cold package, stickers won't stick, so hand writing it is.

This week we put over 800 pounds of beef and pork into our farm store. The next day 300 pounds of it went to the grocery stores we service and in the last two days another 200 pounds has been bought out of the store by our most excellent customers.

Our Illinois Department Of Ag license calls us Meat Brokers. We prefer Meat Back Brokers.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Saponification Sunday Returns!

I took a short break from soap making whilst I ran about the West of Ireland seeking the perfect Aran sweater. I found it, came home and began making more soap.  It's about the Aran sweater. The image above was one held in my head the last two weeks. I love the rocky edge of the West Coast of Ireland, especially the "yard" above, just outside our cottage we rented, and I wanted to create a soap to reflect that beauty. This bar

came close, but not close enough. Too much green, not enough grey but I'm working on it. In the meantime I played with several other recipes this week but the real joy was this little gem, a Christmas gift from Keith.

First block of soap (geranium rose) cut with my first professional soap cutter.
A big day for  the Midlife Farmwife

My first professional soap bar cutter. How did he ever know it was exactly What I Wanted?  Just luck I guess.

Strung only slightly tightly than Herself it cuts bars all exactly the same. No more bars that are 1 inch thick on one end and 1.5 inches thick on the other. The same way my mother used to cut the bulk Bologna wrapped in red plastic when we were kids, I might add.

I've had to play with the timing of the cut however. If I cut too late, the soap crumbles  a bit at the bottom so instead of waiting my usual 24 hours I have started cutting them at 8-12 hours. The bars are very clean that way.

Having a new plaything has prompted to me to make more soap and I completed three batches this week. The first is an old standby called Blue Grass that I make for a very special guy named Bob. Why is he special? Because he likes my soap that's why.

I'm simple that way. You like my soap, I deem you special.

The Blue Grass sometimes turns out blue, sometimes green. I think it has to do with not following my own recipe for the amount of Indigo powder I use to color the blue parts, or the fact that instead of adding the orange EO to just the soap I want to be yellow or green I add it to the entire batch before separating into 4 pots and then the Orange EO turns all the other colors into a greenish tint.

Details, details...

The swirls are easy. I just line up my four parts of soap, blue, green, yellow and white and then using a very large spoon I just start laying them one after another. After about 1/3 of my mold is full, I gently bag the mold on my counter to push out air bubbles and then keep going. Layer, layer, slam, layer, layer, slam. Usually to the tune of Queen's We will Rock You or lately, Big Band sounds of the 50's.

Freddie Mercury is really the long lost son of Glenn Miller. Bet you didn't know that did you?

One part of the recipe I am true to, is the scent. I have the perfect combination of Orange , Lavender, Bergamot and Lemongrass Essential Oils. Normally I like to add a "grounding" EO to a mix so sweet, something like Cedarwood or Amyris but special Bob likes his soap smelling of a Rome, Italy citrus grove in late summer.

What special Bob wants, special Bob gets.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Raw Milk, in 2013 the real cost of real good.

The raw milk warmer times.

Yesterday we had some very unusual visitors, raw milk farmers like ourselves. But because they work very hard to stay under the same radar I am always swinging from dressed like a clown grabbing as much attention as I can, I will not share their names or their location.

They do things very differently from us. Instead of selling raw milk outright, by the gallon, to any customer who comes up their farm lane, they do this. They require a signed agreement called a "Milk Share Agreement". This allows the owner of the share, a certain predetermined amount of milk. Often, one share will equal one gallon of milk a week. Two shares will get you two gallons and so on.

This farmers customers must come recommended by another current customer and this farmer does no advertising of his raw milk AT ALL. Even when talking about it...he lowers his voice.

How angry this makes me.

A hard working farmer feels he has to sneak about in order to sell his perfectly good farm product which in turn puts food on his own families table, or be arrested for I don't know what. As I've mentioned many times before, in Illinois it is LEGAL to sell raw milk as long as the consumer comes to your farm with his own container. There is no requirement for signed agreements or the purchase of cow shares but this farmer is cautious due to fear.

In the meantime, I continue to blog about our raw milk sales and specifically this month, the cost of producing raw milk. So, how does one compute the cost of one gallon of raw milk? Here is our formula. Please keep in mind, this is a very GENERAL blog about computing costs. The process is long and time consuming but since the big universities focus on the cost of producing conventional milk, you wpn't find much help anywhere else. This blog is intended to at least get you started.

To compute your cost for producing one gallon of milk you must first know your  direct and indirect costs.

Direct costs usually include ,Hay, pasture rent, mineral supplements, water, fencing, bedding, vet care, health care (not the same as vet care), housing, milking equipment such as milk filters and milk room, milk parlor cleaning supplies, milk parlor maintenance

Indirect costs usually include everything else but to narrow it, we track these costs; utilities (gas, electric, phone) marketing, building maintenance, organic certification fees, truck fuel and maintenance, natural gas to heat the shop, tractor repair, hired labor, chore clothes, tank room maintenance,  education, magazine subscriptions , etc.

Because we have several enterprises here such as pork production and beef production we add up all our expenses and then allocate a certain percentage to each of our cost centers. For example, electricity...we add the total amount paid this past year and  then allocate 30% of that to our house, 10% to hogs. 20% to beef and 40% to dairy. We do this for each and every expense we have., but the percentage of allocation for each expense area is not allows the same.

It takes a long time.

After all expenses are added for direct costs we will divide that by the total number of gallons of milk produced for the last year thus giving us the direct cost of producing one gallon of certified organic milk.

We'll do the same for indirect costs and then add indirect and direct cost together for the combined cost of producing a gallon of milk. In my last post in this series, I'll pull it all together and talk about how we plan to lower our costs of producing certified organic milk and by how much.

In the meantime if you have a similar enterprise and have more to add please do so. You can leave comments on this blog, email me at, call me at 1-815-635-3414 or cover your face with a mask and drop me a sealed note under my door.

You won't be the first

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Raw Milk in 2013. Plans for Improvement.

So onto our plans for raw milk sales in 2013. In my last post you got a reminder about the history and an update on our present raw milk status.  Today I'll expand more about our future plans in general and after that, in a future post,  you'll get the nitty gritty such as costs involved.

No, you can't have the nitty gritty now because Keith hasn't gotten it yet and I believe strongly that the husband deserves the nitty gritty from his wife FIRST, then the rest of the world gets it.

So the general plans are this:

1. We will continue to sell raw milk direct to consumers in 2013. There are three  primary reasons for this. The first: we believe it is an excellent part of a healthy diet and adults have the right to consume the food they desire and parents have the right to provide the diet they feel is best for their children. Second: very few dairy farmers will sell raw milk anymore, thus decreasing supply and increasing demand, and third; raw milk sales are just a small part of the on-farm-sales that ensure a profitable farm.

I would like to mention here, that in my opinion, "Profit" is not a dirty word. It is in fact, crucial if small family farms are to survive.

2. We will continue to advertise our raw milk sales but not in any big way, because frankly...we don't need to. As of today we are producing enough milk to feed our hogs AND serve our current customer base. So by advertising I mean, I will keep raw milk info on our farms web page HERE and we'll talk freely to any newspapers who want to interview us about our raw milk sales, but we will not take out any more print ads.

3. We will continue to serve as advocates for the right to consume raw milk, speaking to other groups, clubs as requested and writing articles for publication both as a source of revenue and as means for education of the public.

4. We will continue to self monitor our own sanitation regimes and milk test results since the public health department has made it very clear that as far as they are concerned, we just don't exist. Except when the County Health Department inspects our small (licensed) retail store and when the Illinois Department of Agriculture inspects our freezers and policies as required by our meat broker license. Yeah, other than THAT, government officials choose to ignore us.

5. We will increase the amount of education we do with our customers regarding raw milk consumption even though no regulatory agency requires it and no other local dairy is available to serve as a role model. We will do it simply because we feel it is the right thing to do. I'm considering regular email updates, a newsletter, some informal classes, increased farm signage, (strong handsome young body builders wearing those A-Frame signs maybe) not sure yet.

See you next time where we try to figure out how much grass (fencing, electricity, water, minerals, health care, gas, organic bedding,  etc etc etc...)  is needed to make one wonderful gallon of raw milk.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Raw Milk in 2013. Past and Present

Thanks to Joel McNair of Graze Magazine, I'll be able to once again express my opinion on the issue of raw milk sales off the small family farm, and the real kicker is...I get paid to do so. Yowza. My article will be out in late January.

In the meantime, we just keep on doing what we're doing but hopefully with improvement. I've heard some farmers just do grain, or hogs, or beef or dairy. Yes, I envy them. Imagine waking up focused every single day.

But, not us, we're still twirling about in that diversification tornado , keeping most of our eggs out of one basket, instead spreading them all over the farm. The last couple months I included you, my faithful followers, in our financial thoughts and plans regarding the sales of  Beef . Soon I'll share more about pork in 2013 but today you get dairy.

Our milk parlor (above) is small. The metal stanchions which gently hold the cows head in place while Keith applies the milking claws (gentle suction cups, don't let the word "claw" scare you) are from the the old dairy barn that stood on our place years ago. The barn original to our property was not salvageable but other parts were. So, Keith milks in the same fashion as many dairy farmers did in the 1950's. For the first 10 years our dairy was operational we were licensed Grade A by the public Health Department. When we decided to stop selling raw milk to a conventional buyer but only direct to the consumer on our farm, IDPH said we no longer needed a license and in fact refused to firther ackknowledge our existence.
You can read all about THAT sequence of events HERE and HERE.
He milks four cows at a time and with our milking herd now reduced to just 9, (in 2008 we milked 3 times as many) actual milking time is about an hour. Each cow has a name, a number and a distinct personality. Cows teats are well washed, tipped in NOP (National Organic Program) approved teat pre wash and dried.  The milk goes from the cow into a glass pipe line and directly into a large stainless steel bulk milk tank. There it is cooled to 40 degrees.
Several times during the day our milk customers come into our milk room,wash their hands, turn a lever at the bottom of the tank and fill their own vessels (glass, plastic, clay urns whatever) with cold fresh RAW milk. Never pasteurized, never homogenized, always yummy.
We currently sell our certified organic milk for $6 a gallon.  According to NODPA in Sept of 2012, the national weighted average advertised price of organic milk half gallons was  $3.91, or $7.82 a gallon. The comparison is a bit apples to kiwi since organic milk in Illinois Grocery Stores  is not raw but it's easy to see our milk is a good deal.
Granted, folks have to drive to get to our farm thus the reason we have our farm store with frozen meat for sale to help make it worth the consumers time to road trip it to a tiny farm in Livingston County, Illinois.
In 2011 our raw milk sales were 64 % over sales in 2009. Part of that is an increase from $5 a gallon to $6 a gallon while the rest is just overall increase in number of customers. We still average 100 different customers each month. Some have been getting their milk from us for years, others for months and we have two new customers expected later today. The average person buys 2 gallons at a times and comes weekly.
Many have young families who consume our product and are extremely well read about all the pros and cons in regards to drinking raw milk. But we also have a fair share of retired individuals who grew up on raw milk, have never read a single study about its value but drinks it because it tastes good. Then there are the serious cheese and yogurt makers. It takes all kinds and for all those kinds we are grateful.
Any leftover milk at the end of the day is fed to our hogs, who scream bloody murder when they see Keith coming with the milk buckets. Nothing makes our hogs happier than raw milk. The end product, a tasty healthy pork chop or plate of bacon makes us very happy too.
In the next couple Posts I'll be more specific with you about our costs for producing milk, our dairy herds diet, our pasture practices, herd health care, milk testing and our dairy goals for 2013. Stay tuned. Not all of it will be seen through rose colored teats.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I'm back, a survivor of the Craic.

The view off  Doolin Pier about 200 feet from our cottage
Sorry for dropping off the face of the Earth but a vital trip had to be made.
It was once again time to visit my ancestral home, Ireland.

My sister Mary,  (aka Moire' when we are in Eire)  her husband Dave and their 19 yr old daughter Micah were my travel partners this year. With Dave and Micah being newbies to the world of narrow stone hedged roads and the always burning peat fires, the trip was even more entertaining.

(A picture here would be nice wouldn't it ? Blogger thinks not)

We started in Dublin this year, finally wise enough to spent the first night there before taking off cross country, driving on the left after a sleepless night on Aer Lingus. Dublin, in a word, is insane. Packed with 1.5 million residents, nearly half the entire population of Ireland, the road signs have not been updated in eons. Instead of being logically placed on street posts where you can see them, they are plastered haphazardly on buildings at faerie height. Not much use to the modern driver.

You also must learn to read from the bottom UP as the Gaelic street name comes first. Traffic was as I remembered in, chaotic and without reason. Cars, bikes , pedestrians and mopeds all ignoring suggestions on parking and directions and going whichever way trips their triggers. Leaving Dublin alive is harder than winning the lotto. If you cross O'Connell bridge hoodlums rush in behind you and flip the River Liffy around the other way so that when you think you are heading out of An Lar (city centre) you are merely heading straight away back in.
Eventually and with much direction from numerous back street drivers (Go! Stop! Go and then stop right away! Turn! Turn Back! Watch the eejit now perched on your bonnet taking a free lift back to Aldi's)  Honestly though, my sister Mary is the very best co-pilot, my friend Stacey running a close second, and without her I'd still be circling around Molly Malone and her damn mussels)
Soon enough,but not for us very impatient Americans, we made it out of the city but not before noticing signs of despair and a crashing economy. A reminder I have nothing to complain about. And yet I still do.
 Once out of Dublin we sped across the midlands on N6 or was it M6? The maps say one thing the roads signs say another, and arrived in Doolin late afternoon to settle into our little rental. Once again, I live in a rambling farmhouse and complain about having too much to clean. This cottage once raised a large family with only this space to serve for its dining and living space.
Perfect for 4 Americans on Holiday but I would wonder at night how "cozy" it felt with 2 parents and five or six children?  It was my job to make the fire, a job I love since we have no fireplace at home. My brother-in-law did dishes while my sister kept the cottage tidy and split cooking chores with me. Niece Micah worked hard modeling all the newest European fashions for us as my own modeling days ended after I discovered the joys of whole milk and butter. A stick of butter dipped in milk being one of my most favorite snacks I might add.

Corkscrew Hill Road , only recently paved, between Ballyvaughan
and Kinvara. Be assured. I have NEVER been on this road.
Yes, it was winter there and the 'breezes" were cool, especially on the Cliffs of Moher where my size 2 niece was nearly head feet first into the sea's waves of volcanic foam, yet still...the craic was grand at O'Connors Pub in Doolin  well making up for the slight discomforts.

A few pints  and gallons of tea were consumed and we feasted on our share of (REAL) fish and chips as well as fresh salmon swimming in dill butter. But, even though I have traveled there many times, it is the awesome wonder of Kilmacduagh Castle just south of Gort in County Galway that makes me shiver with the history of my O'Shaughnessy name.

But in the midst of total enjoyment and pure laziness (sleeping until 9 because that is when the sun comes up) I was again saddened by the fact that my own father never made it back to the land his grandfather immigrated from in 1867. It was his dream but not his good fortune. So I did the next best thing. I brought a tiny piece of him with me...

one of my fathers old paint brushes. One that still had his paint soaked fingerprints well embedded into its wood handle. For several days I contemplated where best to leave it. On top of the Cliffs? Outside a pub? Wrapped in plastic and secured in a bottle flung far out into the Atlantic for others to find?

I finally decided on this. Well, below is supposed to be the picture of my fathers paintbrush lodged into the rails of the gate that bordered the lane to our cottage but Blogger has decided not to let me upload even one more picture . Guess they are just jealous of my time away. That's what I get for paying NOTHING to use their blog site.

Anyway, I placed it there because I know my dad would've loved the view from that spot. Looking out each day over the sea, watching the kayakers and fisherman coming and going on the busy pier road, talking to folks about their problems their worries or just about their ordinary day.

It is my hope that years and years go by before anyone ever sees that that paint brush woven in between the fence wires. And that only time, salt air and the rain will wear it away, making the wood and the brush hairs and the paint splotches just another part of the rich land he and I came from so very long ago.