Monday, April 29, 2013

Raw Milk Monday...What next ? Tiramisu?

After weeks of phone calls, emails, media interviews and conference calls we are finally just hours away from the May 1 meeting of the Dairy Work Group.

Again, lots has happened this past week. The Kankakee Daily Journal interviewed me and several of our raw milk customers and Keith was (reluctantly) photographed for the front page article. Fortunately dairy cow Ariel cooperated  by grazing quietly for the camera. We've had several phone calls and emails of support and several donations towards the cost of the bus we are renting for
May 1.  (Please join us, the bus leaves our farm at 07:30 and return sat 3:30 pm on May 1)

Just $100 short of the bus rental fee we have been truly humbled by the generosity of strangers some living as far away as New Mexico and Washington.

We, the group of small raw milk farmers, Westin A Price leaders and consumers, remain frustrated with some of IDPH less than honorable actions of late but we are all also positive that our work will encourage IDPH to step back and away from some of the more stringent proposed rules.

The issue of most misinformation is the actual raw milk illness data which I will share and clarify here. In a letter to the General Assembly dated April 9, IDPH Director Dr. Hasbrouck states that between 2006-2010 there were a total of 116 food borne illnesses. related to raw milk in Illinois.   In an attached table he lists specifically that in 2006 there were 18 illnesses related to raw milk that came from an Amish Farm, 96 illnesses associated with Mexican Style Cheese and 2 illnesses in 2010  related to milk brought into Illinois from another state.

No other specifics were given by Dr. Hasbrouck in this letter to the General Assembly.

The reason being...the specifics make it clear that raw milk produced by a raw milk farmer in Illinois according to the current law in not a problem.

This is why.

The 18 cases stated as caused by an "Amish Farm" in 2006 have never been proven. There is no written evidence, no written reports about this farm. Later that year IDPH states that 96 became ill after eating " Mexican Style " cheese, sold in a grocery store. This is cheese that is made illegally with raw milk since state law prohibits PROCESSING of raw milk into other products. And the two cases stated in 2010 came from Raw Milk produced on a farm in Indiana and distributed by a Michigan Distributor into Illinois, also illegal as interstate distribution of raw milk is prohibited by the FDA.

This brings us back to my original statement at the Feb 22 mtg of the then raw milk steering committee and now being called the Dairy work group that...There are no verified cases of food borne illness related to fluid raw milk produced and sold by an Illinois Raw Milk Farmer.

But, just for arguments sake, lest say that the 116 food borne illnesses listed by IDPH in their April 9th letter were valid, proven, investigated and verified. That would mean there were on average 23 food borne illnesses related  to raw milk and raw milk cheese per year. No deaths.

Compare that to these state of Illinois Food borne Illness facts: (from the CDC, Center For Disease Control and Prevention's own web site)

     in 2006  there were 869 food borne related illnesses that occurred in restaurants
     in 2007  there were 401 illnesses related to the consumption of "Pot Pie"
     in 2008  there were 36 illnesses related to a "turtle chocolate cookie"
     in 2009 there were 189 illnesses related to "ice,lemonade" in a school
     in 2010  there were 314 illnesses related to bread consumption at a drive through. But even more 
                   upsetting, there were 7 illnesses related to the love of my life...Tiramisu !

Well you get my drift. Of course those other food borne illnesses I listed above were only a very small part of the total number of food borne illnesses from all reported sources which numbered by the way...3,316 in Illinois in 2006 alone

We, the small raw milk farmers and consumers of Illinois understand there is of course RISK, involved with anything we consume. But the level of risk one takes when consuming raw milk is very very low and must be the responsibility of the producer and the milk drinker. Not be left in the hands of those who would eliminate something as healthy and nutrient-packed as raw milk but allow us to eat all the Turtle Chocolate Cookies we can handle.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Saponification Sunday...Cocoa- Java- Clove- Guiness-Cedarwood -Coffee-Cro- Soap

For over two  years I have been making a coffee soap which has been popular with my garden friends. Made with coffee grounds and  strong coffee (Folgers of course, Maxwell House is too wimpy) it works great for scrubbing off dirt at the end of a planting session.

Last week I decided to beef it up a bit. First I added beer. You see, new followers, once upon a time there was this lurker of a follower, Cro Magnon  he called himself. (Cro Magnun's blog by the way, is a most excellent read and a long time favorite of mine. When you stop by please tell him I sent you.) Being naive about the world of suds dear Cro made a comment to another well known, well respected  soaper, who went by the name of Cocobong.

They snipped at each other through the Internet waves, all in good CLEAN fun of course and in his honor I created "Cro-Bar" soap. Made of Guinness, it was hearty and earthy and a regular hit with the men folk.

But I knew deep down that "Cro-Bar" had not fully lived up to its potential. As a beer soap it was good but so was my coffee soap which I called "Java Wood" but neither were over the top. So I fixed that. At least in my own warped head it is fixed.

I started with 12 oz Guinness, letting it breathe in the open kitchen air for four days (it was only supposed to be overnight but I forgot about it) . Using it for my lye water plus another 8 oz of triple strength Folgers coffee.

To my Coconut, Olive, Babasuu, Almond and Castor Oil base I added organic cocoa powder (to offset the evil influence of the Guinness, that's why) some clove powder, but not much as it can be irritating to skin, and cedar wood essential oil. Mixing to trace I tossed in 2 scant tsp. of coffee grounds and pored it all into my biggest log mold.

For its white frosted topping, I poured a half batch of plain unscented soap lightened with titanium dioxide over the dark base. For a little texture I used a small whisk to pull some of the dark soap into the light soap.

It cut easily the next am and smells as good as I had hoped. Imagine how a husky handsome Irish Lad after a morning of breaking sod would smell after he guzzled down a pot of coffee with a Guinness chaser just before he walked out in the field to rescue a lost calf, carrying it across the rocky wall fence back to its mother... would smell.

Well, I think that smells good.

Friday, April 26, 2013

South Pork Ranch Labor and Delivery

In the midst of raw milk issues, sick grandsons (much better) spring rains flooding much of the plains, daily farm life trudges forward.

Our Red Wattle Hog, Mrs. Dalloway, full Sister to Clarissa for your Virginia Woolf fans, had her  second litter today. Labor was slow, over a few hours but we rarely interfere with the farrowing of our Red Wattle Sows unless absolutely required. Instinct, time and mother nature are usually far better midwives than mere humans.

Due to the very wet and cool conditions we did move her inside the barn three days ago. Generally they get a big section of a private pasture with a nice 3 sided shed and lots of bedding. But the ground is so wet and we were having trouble keeping her dry so she was transferred to higher level of care.

No idea if her HMO will cover it nor do we care.

Cool thing about Mrs. Dalloway was her nesting skills. I have never seen such a perfectly oval shaped nest. With equal sized borders all the way around babies are protected from cold breezes while mama is able to retain her own body heat.

She looked like some Queen sow with her moat of straw and hay.

I could only compare it to the millions of confinement hogs raised all over our country where sows deliver on rubber mats over concrete so to allow feces and urine to drain beneath. Mother pigs has minimal room to move, to turn, to nurse. Piglets are separated from mammas with metal bars which barely allow them access to nipples for nursing. Warmth is provided by artificial light and heat lamps.

Mrs. Dalloway was surrounded by soft grasses , natural light through the barn window, a few curious chickens who floated in and out of the labor suite, and finally by the warmth and snuggles of her babies.

Yes, this may sound overly romanticized for a farmer who in the end does indeed eat pork. But I firmly believe just because they do serve our dietary needs in the end there is no need for them to be stressed, uncomfortable and /or in pain while they are here with us sharing this earth.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ready on the Right?

Sometimes you just have to go out with the girls. You know, that group of special women, the ones you've known a long time, the ones you've gone to for support, the ones whose shoulders you've cried on, the ones you've laughed with until the incontinence commercials sadly become a reality,  yeah those ones.

Someone sets a date and a place and a time, and you meet for say...dinner. Or maybe a movie. A shopping trip to The Covered Bridge Festival where you lodge in the finest of single wide trailers only Indiana can boast. Or perhaps a trip overseas together, twice I tell you, where you  gather around a wood table in front of a centuries old fireplace and drink whiskey in a warm, dark, haven of a place called  O'Loughlins in the village Ballyvaughan. Or maybe you just get together...

To fire off semi-automatic handguns, a revolver, a shotgun and an AR-15 rifle while getting yelled at through headphones by a man wanting to get your adrenaline way up while keeping your aim way steady.

Yeah. sometimes you just got to get together with the girls and do that.

It's extremely helpful if there is a group of talented marksmen who wear police badges during the day and teach woman how to stop intruders with intent of imminent harm, at night. Last evening  I completed a Home Self Defense Class sponsored by the Gibson City Police Force. (Illinois) Men who charge a pittance of a fee to teach woman how to protect themselves and those they love if pressured to do so.

Men who understand that true safety in the crazy world has nothing to do with limiting guns to law abiding Americans but everything to do with teaching the skills needed to make use of our second amendment Constitutional rights. 

Men who work long hours on their regular shifts but volunteer to come in extra to teach woman not to be afraid but to be in charge, as much as one can be, in desperate situations. Men who are tired of seeing woman terrorized, threatened, injured and too often killed because they didn't have the skills needed to say "get out! get away! I have a gun!"

The class was not easy. Several woman had never really handled a gun or shot before, some of us had a little experience but like me had been lazy about practicing. My father took me out regularly when I was 12 and he was a cop. Then 40 years go by before eldest son bit the bullet (sorry) and showed me the ropes again. But even though we had different levels of experience and confidence we were committed to knowing more about guns by the time class was over.

When you count the time these officers spent before and after class answering questions, allowing us to shot whatever we wanted as long as we wanted, we had 8 full hours of training.

Not exactly  boot camp but still those 8 hours were intense. Classroom time gave way to range time. Range time gave way to "Oh Dear God you want me to do WHAT ?! time. Each of us were assigned our own instructor to watch every single move we made,  teaching us the basics of how our guns worked, over and over and OVER.  Placement of hands, of feet, of trigger fingers, find your sight. How to slam magazines in. (No sissy stuff tolerated !)

And if they saw us "cheating" i.e not doing it the way they taught us, they made us do it again and again. Then came the shooting. First one round. Then one more. Another one. Then two rounds at a time. Then three. And after each round always back to the basics. Placement of hands, of feet, of trigger fingers, find your sight and for the millionth time "SLAM IT!"

Then the big finale where our skills and our nerves were totally tested. I won't tell you anymore about how they accomplished THAT last feat, hate to ruin it for those of you planning to take the class in the near future,.but I will tell you one of my nursing buddies (yes MS. To-Let of you I speak) went totally Sigourney Weaver in Alien at that point.

You know you've been thinking taking a class like this.  Just do it!

Gibson City Police Department 217-784-8666

Monday, April 22, 2013

Raw Milk Monday...Countdown begins


Please note: If you are new to my blog you can catch up on the reasons for my raw milk passion and the struggles our own farm have experienced, by reading any of the previous posts on the topic I have written over the last 3 years . To do so, simply enter "Raw Milk" in the search bar under the picture of our house, on the right.

Less than 10 days away is the May 1 mtg of The Illinois Department of Healths Dairy Work Group formerly known as the Raw Milk Steering Committee. Since my last post on raw milk...

* We've received several donations towards the cost of bus rental to take our supporters to the mtg in Bloomington. About $200  left to raise. THANK YOU EVERYONE!

* We've had another conference call with Westin A Price and Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund folk to discuss our strategy for the May 1 mtg

* We've scheduled another conference call for April 24. for those planning to attend the May 1 mtg in support of raw milk . Those of you who are planning to attend and have not yet heard from me via text or email please email me

* Tom Kocal of Prairie Advocate News wrote an excellent article on this issue. Real investigative journalism for a change. Please read it HERE

*Ernest Rando continues to keep his website active with summaries of my posts and our currents activities. Read it HERE (Thanks again Ernest)

* IDPH has FINALLY and after many requests  posted the minutes from the Feb 22 mtg, as they were required to do by the Open Meetings Act of Illinois yet they had not done so. No minutes for the Jan meeting have shown up on their web site

*IDPH has posted their agenda for the May 1 mtg (after several requests and as they were supposed to have done via the Open Meeting Act of Illinois) and although at first it looked encouraging as they expanded it from 2 hours to 5, upon closer inspection you'll see it's filled with lots of time wasters. See For Yourself Here   Even more frustrating, the total time allocated to the public who wish to speak positively about raw milk is limited to just 30 minutes. Each individual will only be allowed to speak 3 minutes and in order to speak they must PRE-REGISTER

Funny, how at the first two mtgs (or were there three? Still no confirmation on that from IDPH) those against raw milk were not limited in any way. In fact there was not a single farmer who made their living selling raw milk, represented at those first mgs but now that we've insisted on fair representation, these individuals we have fought so hard to make aware of this "public" meeting will be in a sense...gagged after their allotted 3 minutes.

So the clock is ticking. PLEASE help us make the point with with IDPH that changes in the current raw milk laws are unnecessary, unaffordable and unrealistic. Call Molly Lamb, Division Chief at IDPH 217-785-2439 or email her at  Please write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Email me at if you need help with this. Please attend the May 1 mtg with us. You can ride with us if your a local follower. The bus leaves South Pork Ranch at 07:30.

        Illinois Corn Growers Association Building
        14129  Carole Drive
        Bloomington, Illinois  61705

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Saponification Sunday...Oh Shea Can You See?

Shea on me. Even though I has been entrenched in the making of homemade soap for nearly 3 years,
I have never used Shea Butter until last week. .

No real good reason other than it is costly, averaging $1.50/oz   compared to coconut oil which averages .08 cents/oz bought in bulk and the fact that my basic recipe seemed pretty good. If you are not familiar with Shea Butter, it  is a slightly yellowish or ivory-colored fat extracted from the nut of the African Shea  tree.

Used often in cosmetics it is known to be a great moisturizer as well as healer of a multitude of skin issues such as eczema, sunburn, rashes, itching, wrinkles etc...Normally soap makers use it in the range of 5-7% of their recipe but I have heard of others going much higher. It is even used to soften leather straps. Hmmmmmm.

So,in the mood to experiment I bought some and used it. My first batch I used 15% Shea butter along with my usual Coconut, Olive, Castor and Sweet Almond. oils. In the second batch all the ingredients were the same except I bumped the Shea up to 30%

I only let the bars cure for a week before playing with them comparing them  to a bar of store bought Shea butter soap I picked up at Barnes and Noble.  The bar was real cute with it's little elephant imprint and dry, it felt very smooth in my hand, but the lather really bombed.

5 minutes after rinsing my hands were tight and my skin felt dry. So much for "Triple Milled Shea Butter Luxury Soap" Granted the package was adorable but no where did it state how much Shea butter was actually used. I'm guessing in the 2% range.

The first batch of my own Shea soap took well to my alkanet coloring, just a little for a ight pink swirl and the peppermint EO I choose. With 15% Shea I was surprised to get the amount of lather I did.

Several minutes after using, my hands felt wonderful! So then it was on to batch number 2 with 30% Shea Butter. The lather was slightly less the first batch, each bar got a brisk 10 second scrub...
But still it was very adequate and left my hands very VERY soft without them felling greasy or oily at all. Both bars. although somewhat soft when cut at 24 hours after molding, were moderately firm after a week.
Final opinion. Shea Butter is good.
Now tell me, how do you balance out the cost of Shea in your soap bars? Do you save it for special bars only? Do you use it all your bars and increase your price per bar accordingly? If you don't use Shea butter why not?  Would love to hear your side of the story.



Saturday, April 20, 2013

Eggs....all in one basket

Everyone likes brown eggs it seems. Nothing says fresh country eggs like a big brown egg. So we of course eggs.

Brown egg top left. Light blue egg to the right and white egg to the bottom.
All secure in bubble wrap 14 more Cream Legbar eggs.

Coming from the very feminine looking Cream Legbar chicken we have always thought blue eggs would be fun to produce here. So we of course went to an organization of the highest caliber, EBay. For a mere $6 each, including postage, we bid and won some, a whole basketful.

I think I shall paint my bedroom in these colors
Yes, I shell!

They were supposed to be delivered over night. Which would have been perfect timing for the new incubator we also purchased. But the eggs came about five days late and the incubator is somewhere between Campaign and Wisconsin having passed up here in Chatsworth at least once.

In the meantime the eggs are staying in the well humidified basement (due to recent rains) waiting for their mechanical mother to arrive and make them whole.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Rain Falls Mainly on The Insane

Farming is...face it...A schizophrenic occupation. And farmers, well it's just asking a lot of us to have "typical emotional responses" when it comes to the stresses in our lives.

Last summer we would have broken out the dandelion wine and behind the barn home stilled moo -juice if we could have gotten just half of the rain we've gotten the last two days.

But now that the rain is here and seemingly with no end in site, we are mopey, grumpy and easily irritated. How are we going to plant? Why is it the weeds take off in this monsoon but the pastures are just laying there under water. Why didn't I put up some rain barrels ?

Ah well. We're not alone. Our farm critters are growing tired of the moisture levels as much as we.

Wet dogs avoid eye contact

Wet Turkeys complain about cold feet (Yes, he has shelter he can enter but he would rather stay outside and whine)

Wet pig also has dry shelter behind her (see the yellow straw) but claims the abode is too dark and some lamps would be appreciated. If it's not too much trouble.

The horse paddock sucked up one of my boots and after hopping around trying to replace it on my foot I finally gave in, put my unbooted foot in the slop long enough to pull out my Wellie.
Cows glared at me, totally ticked that Keith pulled them off the green pastures as they were just packing the ground too much. Maybe in a day or two they can be put back out. If not, I suspect they might put those horns to use.
Fortunately the farmhouse sits up on a bit of a hill. Unfortunately the veggie garden is well submerged and planting is postponed for some time.

The only critter on the farm today with a smile was the Midlife Farmwifes very better half, farmer Keith. He got to abandon ship today and drive to Eureka to get more of our meat to put in the farm store. Of course he still had to come back and do evening chores. Probably not smiling so much now are we Mr. Rogers?
How's the weather this spring where you are?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I found this metal wall sign in a small shop in Fairbury way back in their clearance area. For just $3.98 I thought what a cheap way to remind myself to keep life simple.

Meant to be motivational, the sign, which hangs just to the right of my computer desk, now serves only to mock me.

We continue to swear up and down we are "downsizing" and that even if we don't sell the farm we will decrease our work load here and along with that our standard of living, working towards a small homesteading attitude amidst a too-big farm, yes, that is what we keep saying.

Yet, in the last month, we've done everything except...SIMPLIFY.

When Keith's computer kept getting slower and slower and freezing up even when the house was warm and toasty we decided to upgrade. At least for now, until we downsize we encouraged each other. This meant his PC went out of the office while my current PC became his NEW PC. This meant of coarse that I needed a new PC.

Which we bought. With elder sons help we got those two PC's up and running. Well, they were running, until I tried to load software from my old PC onto my new PC. Seems several programs were not compatible since my new PC operated on Windows 8 and much of my old software could only count as high as Windows 7.   So companies had to be called and midlife farmwives put on hold for hours and new software was eventually downloaded over the Internet via something called a "driver."

Miss Daisy was not amused with her new driver.

Then we realized Keith's new PC which was my old PC would not allow downloading of the printer software for the printer he had, since it was an archaic 5 year old printer. So of course we had to buy a new printer.

In the midst of all that, we decided our land line was no longer needed but a smart phone was. So to keep things SIMPLE I got the smart phone while Keith kept his old Tracfone. But the volume had stopped working well on it a couple of months ago so we decided it would be SIMPLE enough to give him my old Tracfone to use but we'd have to switch his minutes and phone number from his old Tracfone to his new (formally my old) Tracfone since customers often called on HIS number.

A phone call to Tacfone and a new sim card SIMPLY took care of that matter (maybe, we haven't installed THAT yet) while I tried not feeling like such a dumbass while learning the ends and outs of my new smart phone. I have less than 2 weeks to master it since we are disconnecting the land line you simplify things.

So now I can answer email and text and Facebook and take old fashioned phone calls all from one device, at least theoretically I can. First though I have to master actually turning the phone "ON" which really is not as SIMPLE as it looks.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Raw Milk Monday...16 Days and Counting

Please note: If you are new to my blog you can catch up on the reasons for my raw milk passion and the struggles our own farm have experienced, by reading any of the previous posts on the topic I have written over the last 3 years . To do so, simply enter "Raw Milk" in the search bar under the picture of our house, on the right.


Last week I asked the Illinois Department of Public Health for several things, and I am happy to report...I was given a couple of them.

I asked Molly Lamb of IDPH to
     Send me the minutes of all the Dairy Work Group Meetings (formally the Raw Milk Steering
     Post the Minutes of the Past meetings on the IDPH web site.

     Contact those folks whose names I submitted for inclusion in the Dairy Work Group

     Decide on the specifics of the May 1 Dairy Work Group Meeting like place and time

     To Post that Meeting Info on the IDPH web page

And this is the answer I received

     No Minutes (yet)

     No posting of minutes on the IDPH web page (yet)

     No posting of the Dairy Work Group Meeting on IDPH's web page (yet)

BUT she did contact all those I suggested for memberships on the Dairy Work Group and she did pick a meeting place and a time. In addition, and this is a very big addition , she scheduled the meeting for 9am until 2 pm. This is 3 hours over the original time frame of just 2 hours when the May 1st mtg was originally set back in Feb.

I see these actions as positive and I am grateful for your efforts  Molly(Lamb)  and Steve (Diviencenzo). But we still have miles to go before we sleep. Now that we have ample room and time to express our serious concerns regarding these drastic and detrimental rule changes that IDPH wants to make to our raw milk laws in Illinois, we need to make the effort to BE THERE May 1 and speak our mind.

Please attend the May 1 meeting of IDPH's  Dairy Work Group in Bloomington, Illinois.

Where: Illinois Corn Growers Association Building
14129 Carole Drive
Bloomington, Il  61705

When  9am-2pm

And for those who would like to road trip it with Keith and I, we've rented a bus that will take 50 to the mtg. It will leave our farm May 1 at 07:30 and return around 3:30. You can donate towards the rental of this bus by clicking the donate button at the top of my blog or by bringing money on May 1

This is our chance to say NO to IDPH before they make it impossible to produce and consume raw milk in Illinois. Please be there May 1. We need you.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Saponification Sunday...One Heavy Lye

What's wrong with this picture?

 You know what they say, Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a crumble, I mean fall.. This applies to the most serious events of life as well as the simplest, such as soap.

Well into my third year of soap making, I was thinking I had a fair handle on this craft. I can hot process, I can cold process, I can layer, I can tiger stripe, add embeds and do landscapes.  I can swirl in the pot, out of the pot and even in an elemental manner.

But apparently I still have a way to go when it comes to scale use.

Earlier this week I was in the groove. I had big plans to make big amounts of soap. I pre-infused many herbs for coloring and ordered lots of oil. I stocked up on lye and away I went. After making three soap batches I realized my glad bag, that I use to protect my scale was looking pretty raunchy. I threw it away, then realized I was out of glad bags.

So I grabbed some Saran wrap and wrapped my scale with that.

Being brilliant as I am, I wrapped it TIGHT so no oil would leak onto it. I measured my water and added the lye and set it aside. I made another batch of lye and set aside. I made two more soap batches. Then decided I'd make just one more. Measured my water, poured in the lye but was short about an oz.

Walking away from the scale that showed 13.5 oz (10 of water and 3.5 of lye) I grabbed some more lye and added another 1 oz. As I was capping the lye jar I saw the scale drop in front of my eyes from 13.5 to 13. Then back up to 14. Then up to 15.

Uh oh. Something wrong her.

Poured my lye water into another container. Turned scale off, turned it back on and even more wonky measurements. I knew it wasn't the battery as I changed it the day before. Obviously it was scale failure. Which meant soap failure . Which caused me to have a minor fit.

My husband suggested I was too tightly wrapped.

Before I could suggest alternative sleeping arrangements, he clarified that the Saran Wrap I encased the scale in...was too tightly wrapped. He was correct of course. My digital scale worked fine after I released it from it's see through straight jacket.

But alas my mistake was discovered too late to save the last couple batches of soap, which explains the pictures on this post. Lye heavy soap is basically just bad soap. At it's best it gets rock hard and crumbly and some soapers have suggested it can be saved by rebatching with additional oils. But because lye heavy soap at it's worse  can cause skin irritation and/or burning, I choose not to take that risk. In my opinion, best thing to do with lye heavy soap?

Take a few pictures for humilitys' sake and pitch the rest.

Then buy some loose fitting glad bags to protect your scale, take a deep breath and start over.

O-bla-di, o-bla-da, life goes on, brah!...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

If Its Not One Thing, It's A Mother

Thelma Lucile Durham O'Shaughnessy circa 1953

Dusty was looking forward to spending Easter with her daughter and her two young grandsons but aware the day was due to wear her out she decided to hit the sack, which actually was the living room couch, early.

Taking her Stardust Hotel mug from the drain board, the same mug she had bought home from that ridiculous trip she and her husband had won to Vegas many years ago, she filled it with recently reheated coffee leftover from the  morning.

Being 12 hours old, it was bitter and on the crappy side since she switched from her usual Folgers to the house brand at Aldis's to save a few bucks, but she really didn't mind. As long as it was hot, black  and in ample supply she was satisfied.

Coming back through the dining room she grabbed her Harlequin of the week paperback, her green metal ashtray and a fresh pack of fags. She always called them "fags" in her head but she learned the hard way not to call them that in public. People were so touchy nowadays.

She arranged the pillows at enough of a slope to allow her to read but not so much that she'd get short of breath. Damn emphysema really pissed her off some nights. With her cigarette lit, her book in hand, her coffee on a makeshift end table created from one of the dining room chairs with a broken leg, too unstable to hold anyone but perfect for her evening props, she settled in for a quiet smoke and a simple minded read.

Sometime after that and before Easter sunrise of 1998, she died.

And now 15 years later I can easily say...I miss her my mother more than ever. At 67 she was entirely too young yet on the other hand she had lived a very long and often very tough life. If anyone deserved a rest it was she.

But still, being selfish, I will imagine from time to time how much fun it would be to have her around still. No, not with her COPD,  no one should have to live endless years with that, as unfortunately our father did, but man it sure would be fun to have her with us as a relatively healthy 82 year old.

I can see her tearing up the drive in an old Pinto (she and dad always had an eye for fine autos). I can hear her arguing with my GK Allana, who would be in shock after meeting the Matriarch of Arguing Purely for the Sake of. And I can see she and I wearing each others clothes, neither of us with any sense of style totally embarrassing the rest of the clan with our mommy "tennis" shoes, our men's T-shirts obtained at K-Marts last Blue Light Special and our stained used-to-be-white socks.

So yes, sure am missing her. Can't wait to hook up with her again, sit with her at the old Formica covered kitchen  table and share what's left of the reheated, scummy topped coffee.

All in good time.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Five "Lucky Duck" Pigs

Emma Lincoln of Lucky Duck Farms, Forrest Illinois
Professional Red Wattle Handler and Model

Nearly lost to extinction in the 1970's a group of Red Wattles were rediscovered in Texas. I believe George Bush Senior was blamed for losing track of them.

Since so few and so close to dying out , new owners bred these few hogs to other breeds and then back again to a few other Red Wattles. Over the decades, the group has grown and the Red Wattles have became more pure in their genetics but remain on the Critically Endangered list according to the ALBC   To date there are less than 2000 registered Red Wattles in the world.

The good news is there are many many NON-REGISTERED Red Wattle hogs. These are the real workhorses being bred primarily for their meat, because let me tell you, Red Wattle Pork is to die for.

Our hogs never laugh when I say that. Nothing worse than a 1000 pound boar without a sense of humor.

Keith and I are doing our part to spread the greatness that is the wattle which we've been raising since 2009. The first year we raised them the majority went to private customers. The next two years a very large number went to the Chicago Restaurants. Last year we backed out of the restaurants and focused on selling the meat as carcasses and by the piece in our farm store.

This year we are increasing our breeders and feeders. Meaning, now that we have a good strong, but still small, herd of Red Wattles we are selling more to other farmers who want to raise them for breeding and for eating.

So far in 2013 we have sold more Red Wattle Breeders than we have the other three years combined. Before you drop over in true amazement, keep in mind we only averaged 1-2 breeders sold each year, and maybe 5-8 feeder hogs. Yes, I have exact records somewhere just to lazy to get up and find them.

For 2013
In Feb. we sold 5 feeders and 1 breeder.
In March it was 3 feeders.
In April we sold eight feeders.
In May, June and July we have another 10 feeders and another 6 breeders scheduled to leave South Pork Ranch, all of them secured with deposits.
In Aug, a couple will be traveling from North Dakota ( over 1000 miles from here) to buy a little Red Wattle Boar.

Seems the small homesteading type is catching on to how wonderful these Gentle Giants really are.

Today's RW delivery was very local. Friends Emma and Kyoshi  Lucky Duck Farm  just about 8 miles from us. They choose three full bred RW's and two cross bred RW's . All will be grown for meat for their CSA customers. Be sure to contact them ASAP if you want to be one of their very lucky CSA members. Not only will you get RW meat but true free range chicken and eggs and awesome Japanese, Chinese and Thai vegetables.

Emma and Kyoshi are in that very limited group of real homesteaders. They both work full time on their farm struggling to sell at least as much farm produced items as they have to spend in farm related expenses. Where everyone and their dog refers to themselves these days as "sustainable" these amazing folk really are. Theirs is definitely not a hobby farm! We stock our farm store store with their free range eggs which are very popular.

One of their "value added" income sources now includes Kyoshi's hand felted creations. Recently receiving the attention it deserves via art venues like ODLCO Design ., no one has ever made me WANT to have little sloth hanging from my bedside lamp before but after you see More Of His Creations you'll understand.  As soon as I am done with this blog I'll be commissioning him to make a Red Wattle.

Emma and Kiyoshi  prepared for their new farm critters by putting up the coolest electric fence creation. With an electric hog fence from Premier1 Fence on the inside  and an electric fence meant for poultry on the outside, all solar powered, it was obvious they meant business! 

Piglets were unloaded from our livestock trailer and carried into their new pen (due to a minor truck stuck in mud issue).

Big fat spoiled pigs!

They took to their new home quickly, digging into the dirt and tearing up the grass in record time.
Big fat spoiled HAPPY pigs.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Best Of Plans the Worst of Plans


Every year we face this dilemma.

What to plant, how to plant, why plant?

And every year, we make the decision to ...plant. Except two summers ago, right after we put the farm up for sale. I mean why bother going to the trouble of planting when some lovely young couple with buckets of money and enthusiasm, not to mention strong backs, would just buy the place immediately?

Ah, the hallucinations we were enjoying back then.  But then last summer, when the farm was on the market for a year we figured we might as well plant the garden. Just one more asset to show the fine young couple with buckets of money,loads of enthusiasm and strong backs.

Then we were blessed with the drought. Veggies died almost as fast as they shot up through the soil. Evergreen trees screamed out loud as they shriveled up in sets of three. We even installed a nice porch swing near the garden so we could watch Mother Earths destructive ways up close.

But NOW, it's different. Although we seriously do have one young couple with loads of enthusiasm, and strong backs who are seriously interested. (They are working on the minor "buckets of money" detail) we know there is still a chance we'll be here long enough to be buried in that Secret Garden I planted last year.

Thusly, the veggie garden planting has commenced but without any serious plans. When I go through the kitchen, I grab a pack of seeds and I bury the boogers somewhere out there. I plant a few seeds too. I no longer care if it's too early for some veggies and too late for others, I am just planting. I don't care if Marigolds prefer to be on the outside and garlic prefers to be by tomatoes, I am just planting. I don't care that the garden has not yet been plowed for the season, I just dig as I go, because I am just planting.

Maybe we'll sell the farm, maybe not. Maybe we'll get adequate rain, maybe not. Maybe the sun will suck up every drop of moisture like last year, maybe not. All we really truly need is peas because that is what the GK's have asked for. Anything else would be a well appreciated bonus.

Basically, all we are saying is....Give Peas a Chance...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

And now a Word From our Sponsor

You might notice, if you are one of those very astute followers, that there is now a "Donate" button just over there top right.

As Keith and I move forward in our own battle with The Illinois Department of Public Health regarding proposed  raw milk law changes, as well as being the farmers who are also trying to organize and keep informed all the other farmers and consumers in the state , we have noticed that such a fight...costs money. We have no problem using our own money to win this fight but it is unfortunately in limited supply.

Many of you have asked what it is you can do. I have pointed you towards letter writing, news media,
representative communication etc...but for those of you who live out of state or just prefer to help defray the actual costs of fighting for easy access to raw milk, the button is for you.

Today I ordered some posters for our May 1 mtg in Bloomington ( we shall see) as well as some posters to distribute to other agencies. We've also needed to buy the mundane things like envelopes, stamps, copy paper and ink. In addition I am hoping to hire a bus to transport about 50 of our consumers to the May 1 meeting. Cost for that? $600.

After this issue goes away, and there is still hope it might, the DONATE button will go away as well.
Every dime donated will go solely towards this raw milk battle and nothing else. And every dime will be accounted for with a detailed income/expense record available for anyone who asks.

Many many thanks.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Raw Milk Monday...Open Meeting Act of Illinois, Who Knew?

In this process of educating myself about law making in Illinois while trying to educate the Illinois Department of Public Health about the need to leave current raw milk rules alone and as they are, I learned something about public meetings.

It appears that in black and white there exists some very specific rules about meetings of those in public offices, such as IDPH. (Thank you Pete and Marc for making me aware of this.)

The specific act is HERE. After reading it and reading it again, I will admit how surprised I was at how IDPH had not followed it's own State Rules.

Specifically, when I was contacted By Steve Divencenzo to serve on the Raw Milk Steering Committee, I asked for the minutes of the last two meetings so I could get up to speed. He told me there were no minutes and that the proposed draft of new raw milk rules served as the minutes.

Seems the Open Meetings Act of Illinois says something different.
5 ILCS 120/2.06) (from Ch. 102, par. 42.06)
    Sec. 2.06. Minutes; right to speak.
    (a) All public bodies shall keep written minutes of all their meetings, whether open or closed, and a verbatim record of all their closed meetings in the form of an audio or video recording. Minutes shall include, but need not be limited to:
        (1) the date, time and place of the meeting;
        (2) the members of the public body recorded as either

present or absent and whether the members were physically present or present by means of video or audio conference; and
        (3) a summary of discussion on all matters proposed,
deliberated, or decided, and a record of any votes taken
Why is this important? Well, for a few reasons. Minutes (if they were taken as required) would identify which new proposed rules came from the mouths of IDPH and would then identify which member of the committee suggested the other proposed raw milk rules. It would also identify  any discussion that followed.  
 It was also fascinating to see the section about the posting Meetings on the IDPH website which had not been done prior to the last mtg on Feb 22. Which explains why only one raw milk farmer, not a member of the original raw milk committee, was able to find out about the meeting and call in to participate. It took him several phone calls to find out.
In addition I discovered that IDPH was to have posted these mtgs a full ten days before their occurrence. And now IDPH is becoming secretive about the May 1st mtg. In the last Raw Milk Steering Committee mtg we were told the May 1st mtg would be In Bloomington, Il  at The IAA building on Towanda Avenue.
Last week Molly Lamb sent me an email stating the May 1st mtg time and place was not yet "finalized" Obviously, they are intending to wait until the very last minute before they announce specifics. But, no worries. Today I sent a snail mail to Ms Lamb and her supervisors requesting copies of the minutes of all THREE meetings and reminding her that according to the law the May 1 mtg had to be posted on their IDPH web site by April 21.
I am not the first in our group to do this, I am in fact following THEIR lead, power in numbers we believe.
And now a small bit of good news. In the last email I got from Molly Lamb she told me that the 100 gallon monthly sales limit of raw milk  might be rescinded. Not sure how she knows that or can make that statement since the actual Raw Milk Steering Committee hasn't met since Feb . 22  but that's OK. It means someone, somewhere in the IDPH castle is listening to the noise of the serfs.



Sunday, April 7, 2013

Saponification Sunday...Class Act


There is nothing like prove to yourself how much you don't know. On the other hand each time I teach, I learn more.

I taught my first soap making class yesterday and thanks to a great group of first timers it went very well. Even though I had spent a good amount of time trying to figure out (in my head) how to coordinate lye mixing, oil measuring and soap tracing, it did not quite work out the way I planned.

The class was focusing on basic soap making. It was sponsored by the oldest know farm of Livingston County, Spence Farm and called "Little White Lye" since I was to demonstrate how good soap can be made from simple ingredients like lye and lard.

The only problem...I forgot the lard.

I did remember four other kinds of base oils, numerous pitchers, bowls, spatulas, mixers, a scale, plastic gloves, eyes goggles, electric fry pan to keep the coconut oil in liquid form, vinegar, paper towels , essential oils, garbage bags, molds, measuring cups and plastic spoons to name a few items. But the lard got left on the kitchen table. Right where I had out it early that morning so I wouldn't forget it.

Oh well. The group did not stone me or ask me to leave. They were a forgiving group. They even paid for the class and in return I taught them how to mix lye safely and reach trace easily. And each participant went home with 7 bars of beautiful soap they made with their own two hands.

I had great help. Class participants who helped each other measure oils and remind each other how not to get bubbles in their soap. People who reminded each other to wear their gloves and goggles when working with the lye water and raw soap. Folks who came early to help set up and stayed late to tear down. And at the end of the afternoon we left the old schoolhouse smelling better than it had in almost 100 years.

And nobody suffered a lye burn. Yeah for that.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Spring Round Up

Raising pigs on pasture may look easy from your car as you travel up our lane but truth is, a lot of juggling is involved. A comment on my last blog asked about fences when she saw the little ones in the yard. Yes, we do fence in our animals but generally when pigs are small if they get bit by the fence they run THROUGH it. So,

Small pigs are weaned from their mama's (after seen running around the yard as in my last post) and put in the barn stall for a couple weeks to get used to being handled by humans. Then they get a small out door pen made with livestock wire panels with an electric wire across one end to teach them to respect the hot wire. That takes another week or so.

After that, they are put in the larger dirt lot off the barn. Now when they hit the fence they BACK UP. Thus the electric fence training is complete. So complete that if you move the wire and try to get a pig to cross an area that used to have a wire over it,  well it's a very hard task to accomplish. Usually only promises of food and sex can make that happen. Fact of life.

Pigs from barn yard loading up for big field time

When about 3 months old they get moved to the big pasture. Due to winter those in pic above are older.To do that Keith backs the trailer over the lowered electric wire and into the pen. Milk soaked feed is placed in the livestock trailer.  At first a few pigs will go on then a couple jump off. Then four get on and three jump off, Finally they all go on and Keith quick like closes the door and drives them to the other end of our property out to the BIG field.

New neighbors arriving while Max watches on right

Next to the BIG field is the ALMOST AS BIG field when Mad Max lives. Now Max does not rotate. He stays where he is and sows and gilts rotate in and out of his pen for the sole purpose of fun and games. Our other Boar Wally has his pen on the back 40. Same thing happens there.

Max loves fun and games, he is a very prolific breeder. So whenever the livestock trailer backs up anywhere near him he comes to...uh..attention. He thinks the trailer is once again full of girlfriends just for him. It's a little sad to see Keith back up the trailer to the lot next to Max and deposit a group of feeder (not breeder) hogs.

But although Max's needs are not always met every time the trailer gets close to him, He never holds a grudge.

He's happy to wait around for the next time when the livestock trailer DOES drop a girly girl off in his pen. And in the meantime he always has two or three girls in his current harem to keep him occupied.

It's a pigs life.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Renegade Pigs

People, or least those new to pastured pig farming, will often ask us;
"When do you ween your piglets"

And we tell them "oh around 12 weeks"

But the truth is, they get weaned from their mama and out into lock down right about the same time they start tearing up my yard. Depending on their personal motivation, this might be anywhere from 6 weeks and up.

Mama pig to far left, Renegade pigs end of lane.

This fat litter, 11 of them were born about 7 weeks ago. For about a week now they have been sneaking under the wire fence and terrorizing my neighborhood. Digging under bushes, chases chickens, playing tag with the dogs.

Finally, mother convinces them to come home

Their mother frets when they are out of their pen, pacing up and down the fence line, Calling to them but they blow her off making lame promises about being home before dark and no of course they are not running with the inbred feral hogs in the woods.

Finally home, big bad mama sow watches out for bad influences
It's all fun and games until some Porkina comes home with a Big Bad Wolf Tat and silver hoop earrings  where her plastic state approved tag once was.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Signage Carnage

My mother said there would be days like this.

You find some cool wood. You paint it. You letter it. You get the farm guy with the strong arms to ram some metal posts into the dirt. You wire up the sign.

And all is good.

Until some semi-truck driver with a sign vendetta decides to back up, more than a certain task requires, murdering an innocent sign.

So I swallow my pride, clear up the old wood with help of a hard working niece spending a few days with us and burn the evidence.

 A new sign is created.

Lets just hope the next semi-driver has better backing up skills.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Raw Milk Monday: Do you Know Your Committee Members?

Please note: If you are new to my blog you can catch up on the reasons for my raw milk passion and the struggles our own farm have experienced, by reading any of the previous posts on the topic I have written over the last 3 years . To do so, simply enter "Raw Milk" in the search bar under the picture of our house, on the right.


After a group of Illinois Raw Milk Farmers met on March 15, to discuss the proposed rules IDPH is pushing our way, I was asked to share the list of those Big Dairy and or Government employees serving on  IDPH's Raw Milk Committee. It is these following individuals who have verbalized their belief , through the creation of the proposed rules or statements made during the Feb. 22 raw milk steering committee conference call, that raw milk sales should be severely restricted if not completely eliminated.

If you know any of these individuals please give them a personal call or send them an email and tell them why you believe the current Illinois laws regarding raw milk sales are indeed, good enough. Share with them how limiting the availability of raw milk will affect you and/or your family either as a consumer or a raw milk producer.  Refer to LAST WEEKS RAW MILK POST if you need help with talking points. Or just call me 815-635-3414 or email me for help.  Please note the list is not complete as I was not able to discover all the contact phone numbers.

Also of importance, the current Raw Milk Steering Committee currently has 19 members that I know of. Of those 19 I am the ONLY raw milk farmer who makes their living from raw milk sales. Three other small farmers are on the committee but sell very minimal amounts of raw milk and do not rely on these sales for any major part of their income. In addition I identified  3 other members as small business owners who sell pasteurized milk products but NO RAW MILK at all.  Of the remaining 12 members: (1)  FDA, (2)  IDPH, (1) University of Illinois (5) Prairie Farms: Dairy Farm Cooperative with 700 members across the Midwest  (1) Illinois Farm Bureau (2) Dean Foods

The following is the list of names and phone numbers and emails I was able to obtain;

Representing the Illinois Department of Public Health:
Molly Lamb  217-782-4977
(Division Chief of Food Drugs and Dairies)
Steve Divincenzo 217-785-2439
( Director of the Dairy Division)

Representing The University of Illinois
Dr. John Herrmann  217-265-6585
Professor Veterinary Clinical Medicine
Director DVM/MPH

Representing the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration)
Lawrence Terando

Representing Prairie Farms
Don Mackinson
Kevin Olson
Dave Lattan
Joe Delaney
Tom Benthien

Representing the Illinois Farm Bureau
Jim Fraley

Representing Dean Foods
Roger Hooi
John Sanford

Keep in mind that I personally called Molly Lamb on Match 19 and expressed my serious concern over the one-sided anti-raw milk composition of the committee. She told me she did not know how to contact any raw milk consumers or farmers (yet they managed to find me!)

I suggested several other names to her. She asked that I put them in an email. Last week I submitted a list to her of 6 raw milk farmers and 4 consumers all of which had given me permission to do so. Molly has since thanked me for the list and told me that Steve Divincenzo would be making contact with those individuals I suggested.

I do hope he follows through. In the last 4 days I have recieved several more names for inclusion to the Raw Milk Steering Committee and I will submit those names as well.

Now, you might question the reasoning behind my listing these committee members names on my blog for the whole world to see but my response is...why not? If indeed these people feel they have the "authority" to propose rules that can drastically alter the lives of consumers and farmers, possibly affecting the health, well being and ability to make a living of those who rely on raw milk, should those raw milk steering committee members not be held accountable to the public for their actions?

Since it is our tax money that pays their salaries, and I am talking about all those listed above, not the small businesses also on the committee, should they not be required to answer the phone calls, letters and emails they might receive? After all, no one is paying my husband or I for the time and money we are spending to defend our livelihood, suddenly put at the mercy of those whose salaries are paid for by all of our hard work, why shouldn't they have to answer the publics questions and concerns.?

Part of their job description I might suggest.

Don't forget the May 1 mtg of the next IDPH Raw Milk Steering Committee. !!!
It is an OPEN mtg and we need to fill the room will raw milk advocates.  10 am    1701 Towanda Avenue, Bloomington, Illinois. Please call IDPH a couple days before to verify time and place  217-782-4977