Monday, December 29, 2014

O'Shaughnessy Kid Pyramid


Yes, that's me smack dab in the middle of things as usual; I am the dark haired child with glasses bottom center, holding up my whole world. I was the oldest of six and in my opinion in charge of all things. Still, I lean in that direction. From the top down is youngest sister Teresa, then brother Tom and sister Peg, then next to me in white is my sister Mary. The other girl with the impish grin is family friend Patty Dawson who ironically was about the same age as my sibling Bernie Jo who could not be in the picture as she was busy being institutionalized.

Bernie Jo had been born with a couple of  birth defects and then at just a few weeks old was accidently dropped down the stairs by a neighbor boy and suffered serious head trauma. My parents tried to care for her at home but it proved too much for them as back in the early 60's there was virtually no support for parents with that burden. She managed to survive for 11 years after that finally succumbing to pneumonia while living in Dixon State Home in Dixon, Illinois.

I still feel her loss as being the oldest I was often the one who accompanied my parents most when they visited her. I was 15 when she died. All of us O'Shaughnessy kids were approximately two years apart, Bernie Jo came after Mary and before Tom. So after she passed there was this four year gap between Mary and Tom, thus forever after my parents referred to Mary and I as the older kids and Tom, Peg and Teri as the younger kids.

There does not exist a single picture of all 6 of us kids together and as far as I know this picture above is the only one with the five of us healthy kids all in one spot. Film was expensive then, as least for my lower middle class parents, and generally pictures were only taken at Christmas. I was gifted this particular photo a few months ago for my 55th birthday by my friend Gene Ruet who I grew up with in Chicago.

Gene's mother, Doris (who was living in Arizona) had died last winter and after going through some of her things he found this photo. It seems at some point my mother must have sent his mother this shot and his mother had held onto it through several moves of their own, for over 45 years. Then, when it was rediscovered Gene took the time and trouble to return it to me. Such a thoughtful gift. I love how we all look in this photo taken in the living room of our first home on Ray Street in Warrenville, Illinois circa 1971.

We were happy.

We had no idea how little money we had, how our parents struggled to feed and clothe us, how their burden of their other sick child weighed on their hearts. We knew little of world troubles like the Vietnam War. All we knew was that we had been given permission to act like some tumbling team and it made us happy.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Year in Review

County Road 750 that runs in front of our farm in Livingston County, Illinois.
Well, it has indeed been a long road this past year and yet, we're still here, upright and taking nourishment. Looking back though it is amazing we are in one piece, the changes have been dramatic; and although the events were not the ones we had planned, I believe they all served a purpose. So class...lets review.

RAW MILK:  We are still in the raw milk business; with a herd of 12 crossbred cows, despite the antics of IDPH. We've had good success rallying the troops and in a public hearing in Springfield, back in November, IDPH had to face many angry raw milk producers and consumers. The proposed rules have had many setbacks (yeah!) and will eventually make their way to JCAR (Joint Commission on Administrative Rules) It is expected they will balk at the nonsensical approach IDPH has taken to create a problem where none exists and throw them back at IDPH for revision if they don't refuse them completely.


In the meantime we continue to sell raw milk to amazing customers who drive long distances to be able to purchase and consume a healthy product from healthy cows, all done WITHOUT the public health department's unnecessary interference.

THE POOR FARM: Purchased in September 2012 our 7 acre spread waits for us as our current farm, up for sale since June 2011, continues to support us. We visit the Poor Farm often, we don't want the outhouse to feel lonely, and we continue to plan for "one day" when we will indeed live there making our lives on a smaller farm with less animals, a lesser house, less income and far less stress. Yes, our new American Dream calls for less. Just call us backwards, you wouldn't be the first. We've shown South Pork Ranch to several couples but sadly financing continues to be an issue for all prospective buyers. In January we will list the house and 10 acres separately and then if that sells we will sell stock and inventory piece by piece. It is pathetically sad that is the US massive amounts of funding exists for new and used  farmers who will follow the corn and soybean standards while virtually no assistance exists for the  independently thinking entrepreneur.

Pasture raised, organically fed but not certified organic Chicken
produced by Ryan Steffen and Bailey Beyers of Two Mile Farm, Fairbury, Il
THE FARM STORE: We were recently inspected with no deficiencies. Still selling eggs and chicken from other farmers there plus our own beef and pork and soap; it is the  source of income for us.  All raw milk is sold direct from the tank, customers serve themselves. (I just put that in there for our officials who like to read my blog. Makes it easier if I put everything in order then they don't have to use the "search" button on my blog. I'm all about efficiency for those we pay with our hard earned tax money.)
We have an amazing group of customers, about 100 each month coming and going and serving themselves. The most honest group of folk we have ever known. We are open everyday except Sunday. Farm store income is the number one source of revenue on our farm,  followed by: raw milk sales then pork carcasses, beef carcasses, Red wattle feeders, Red wattle breeders in that order. We are part of the 1% of all US farmers who mange their farm without any other outside non-farm related income but without our committed customers, it would not be possible.
ORGANIC CERTIFICATION: Two weeks ago we had our fifth organic inspection. Again no deficiencies which I take seriously because it is hard work to remain certified organic. This past year was especially hard due to my being so busy with school so I must give the majority of credit to my husband who kept up with the paperwork required by NOP (national Organic Program) while I gallivanted around with other co-eds. The NOP has gotten some very bad press lately about huge farms that were certified organic while not meeting the standards but I will address that in a future post. For us, and our small farm,we take the standards seriously.

THE RED WATTLES: Are alive and well on South Pork Ranch, even though we did say goodbye ( and good eating) to our boar Mad Max. He was one cool pig, friendly and easy going and a joy to be around but when he failed this past summer to get our RW girls pregnant we knew it was time to cull him.  Large amounts of meat now available for our dogs and if the taint smell is not too strong...for us as well.
His progeny will continue on, as over the years we have sold several of his offspring as breeding stock continuing the trend of "The Gentle Giant" in Red Wattle circles.  In his place our boar Wally will carry on with the 7 sows we have. Due to the great taste of this raw milk fed, pasture raised meat all our feeder pigs are sold up until April 2015. I'll be taking orders for that pork after Jan 2. Email us at if interested.
SCHOOL: I completed my first semester at UIUC (the University of Illinois, Champaign) without falling down any of the English Building stairs. As the oldest undergraduate on campus I consider this a great accomplishment. I certainly struggled to keep up with the technology requirements and discovered a few of my writing implements to be outdated.
I honestly had a riot hanging out with so many, brilliant students who tolerated all my "in my day" stories. I taught them about wall phones, 8 track players and black and white TV's while they showed me how to put a Pusheen Sticker on my text messages and make movies on my PC.
I completed one poetry class, one narrative writing class, one course in American Novels prior to 1914 and one writing analysis course. All I did for hours and hours each week was read and write and read and write. I rediscovered my love of poetry, to read it, to write it, to eat it for dinner. I also spent a large amount of time on the road, 2.5 hours commuting each day. Lets hear it for Audio Books!! All in all the semester was intensely satisfying and exhausting and I can not wait to start classes again Jan 20.
Three more semesters to go for my BA in Creative Writing and just a few more years after that for my MFA. Oh well, going to be old and dead one day anyway; might as well be old, dead, and well read.


view up our barn alley

So, we have no idea where 2015 will lead us but we are sure of absolutely one thing...we will never, ever be bored.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Outhouse Out Takes

Life is funny isn't it? One minute you're minding your own business (literally we own our own business and it takes a fair amount of minding) and the next minute the department of public health is threatening you with a $1000 fine.

Nope. It has nothing to do with raw milk, sales are going great and still no ridiculous rules passed,YEAH!, this piece of paper was related  to a gift we received last Christmas from our oldest son. Some of you might recall this awesome outhouse...

Built by hand- a real work of art; he even wrapped it in Christmas paper. A stunning gift and we were thrilled. Perfect for our new simpler life we are still striving towards. Then this past May all three of my strong sons and my hubby dug a nice deep hole for it. I was so proud. So proud that I, you guessed it, blogged about it. You can see that original post HERE. Silly me thinking Freedom of Speech was alive and well in the US.

What I did not know though, although I had suspected it; our government officials, rather than doing the self important work in their job descriptions, were spending a good amount of their paid-by-our-taxes-salaried time, reading my blog. Since they still have no basis to give us any trouble regarding raw milk sales, they instead went after a defenseless rectangular box.

Their claim? We didn't follow section 905.130  surrounding the building of a simple, single seater outhouse; excuse me, I mean "Private Sewage Disposal System." Attached to this letter was a five page permit application, requiring a $100 Permit Fee and three pages of "Administrative Code" regarding human waste disposal which had to be met. You might be thinking, big deal, pay the $100 and use your outhouse. Sadly, not so simple.

One of the requirements states that's the bottom of the privy hole must be at least four feet above the water level. One of the ISCA Certified Professional Soil Classifiers we contacted said that is virtually impossible to do in our county as our water level is very high and thus the only way we could meet the standards would be to purchase a septic tank, pay to have it properly installed and then place the outhouse over THAT!

Now here's where it gets funny. Wasn't that the whole reason for installing an outhouse? In order to avoid all that? So faced with the choices of spending thousands of dollars to continue "simplifying" our lives for the privilege of using our outhouse on our property say 3-4 times a month (since we still don't live there) or leaving it as is, paying the $1000 fine and probably many more fines to come, we decided to fill in the stupid hole because God knows how our little bit of "sewage" would certainly threaten an entire counties water supply. Never mind the tons of chemicals being dumped on the fields that surround this property on four sides, the massive amounts of runoff with each rain into the ditches and onto our non-contaminated farm, the drift of hazardous chemicals that float and drop down from above us by planes spraying additional herbicides and fungicides, because that you legal.

So IDPH, here you go. Proof  that our outhouse is no longer a dangerous threat to our friends, neighbors and families of Livingston County, Illinois: a filled-in hole.

Previous outhouse hole to right of outhouse.

View through outhouse seat onto grass, no hole.

And no, we will not be inviting you on our property to "prove" the hole is filled in. Since you managed to cite us for non-compliance by merely reading my blog you can certainly un-cite us using your same in-depth investigative methods.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Organic Certification Hoop Jumping

Once again it's time to prepare for our annual organic certification inspection. This will be our 6th year and as always...I'm working like a fiend to get the paperwork in order. Although the standards are extensive, at last count 222, each year we do a better job of tracking what needs to be tracked. The problem is of course remembering how exactly we tracked it.

Was it on the computer? Via hard copy records? Those little pieces of paper stuck on the bulletin board? The torn off pieces of brown cow towels scattered on Keith's barn desk? Post-its littered on the fridge? Inked notes on the back on GK's hands? Each year when I find myself sorting through masses of ephemera I think of Jessica Lange in "Country" as she frantically sorts through her stack of papers to find that one receipt for sheep feed the bank needs. She eventually finds it but the bank STILL takes their farm. Bat rastards.

I should think more positive thoughts during this process shouldn't I?

Each year we discuss if we shall continue this process. In the early years we felt it was important as we sold meat to grocery stores to customers who never saw our farm. Although no certification is a guarantee of anything it was at least visual "proof" that the meat they were buying was antibiotic and chemical free. But since we stopped selling to middle men/women almost two years ago and now sell only direct to the consumer via our on site retail farm store, to customers who can visualize our farm methods up close, we did consider not going through the process again. We would still feed certified organic feed, keep all our fields organic we just wouldn't go through the paperwork, the expense (about $1500/year) for the actual certification through the National Organic Program.

But, with a prospective buyer on the horizon last summer who at the time wanted to continue with the organic certification we decided to go through the process so the certification could transfer to them with ownership of the farm. Oh well, best laid plans and all that. So since the fees are paid for this year we go forward. Step by step. Neither of us walk backwards that well anymore anyway.

And if you are one of those geeks who just love to read government rules and/or are considering organic certification yourself here is the link for you to read. hint: they are much more entertaining to peruse if you have a nice bottle of Merlot in your mitts. Enjoy.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

No One Gets Out Of This Alive...Not Even Mad Max


Mad Max as a fine young fellow on the right.

For my long time followers you might remember our very first Red Wattle Boar...Mad Max. Well, get the tissue box out cause he's heading for the locker in about a weeks time. His crime? Shooting blanks or perhaps not shooting at all.

We purchased Max several years ago, along with his little girlfriend Casey, they were our very first Red Wattle breeding pair on the farm. We even had the two of them on our farm T-shirts for a few years. Dang he was cute. Just 8 weeks old and super sweet. He never has lost that sweet nature, always willing to be petted, have his ears scratched and has even served as a great place for Keith to prop his feet.

He has never shown any aggression towards us and why would he? His life has been a good one. well fed, lots of space to roam free, to root, to chase girls; its' been a pigs life. But this past spring we noticed...not enough activity to make us or his woman folk happy. Sows left with him were not getting pregnant and sows in heat he just walked on by. I understand. You get to a certain point in life and Netflix reruns and a big bowl of sour milk is just as tempting as that 1 year old Golden Red Gilt but here, on the farm; it's behavior we can't afford to encourage.

An unproductive pig, be it male or female, has to go. So soon Max, all 1000 pounds or so of him, will be turned into fabulous sausage and brats. Now because he is indeed a male we run the risk of the meat smelling of taint due to his hormone status (if he has any left that is) but we've followed some other farmers advice, removed all females from his immediate area and kept him in his own pasture the last three months.

Hopefully this will tame down the boar smell a bit. (I've never noticed a difference in the taste I just can't get past the boar smell to eat it myself) But if the isolation chamber  doesn't work to decrease the taint it's no worry as Keith has no sense of smell and plans to make good use of Max via some brats. The biggest majority of him will go to the dogs as we have 2 large ones to feed: a German Shepard named Ashland, and a Great Pyrenees, Fannie.

Guard Dog Fannie and Grandson Wes.

Our younger boar Wally will be the only boar up at the plate hitting those home runs until one of Mad Max's sons, Little Max, is ready to take his dads place. He'll be big enough to get the job done in about 8 more months.

Boar number two Wally. soon to be Boar number one

Yes, I feel sad, he was a great boar, literally has fathered hundreds of piglets, the foundation of our farm,his piglets have supplied us with meat for our store and fat for my soaps and he will be missed, but we are not a zoo, or a wildlife preserve.

Lard Soap
One of Max's piglets sold as registered boar named after me.
Of all the things I dreamed would be named after me...
this was not one of them.

We are a family farm which stays afloat by keeping the best and culling the rest. I love watching my kids squirm every time I say that at family events. Might have something to do with why none of the four took up farming as a profession.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Head Count or How Many Steers Does it Take to Make Everyone Happy?

Last winter you might recall we lost a few calves due to the extremely cold winter, the worst winter for us since we started out own farm 22 years ago. It's taken all spring and summer for those animals to recover. Animals stressed to stay warm do not gain much extra weight and thus even those steers we had  (and dairy calves raised for beef) took longer to get to longer weight. Customers expecting beef last spring had to wait until summer. Summer customers had to wait until fall, etc....Finally two year olds  are being taken to market and folks are getting their beef. But it went fast, all our future beef carcasses sold out until June 2015.

Now we are facing winter again and Keith is working hard to get the farm ready for winter. With me in school 4 full days a week the brunt of the work has been on his shoulders. Snow fell today, not much, but tomorrow night we are to get a few inches. Overall reports for winter are calling for more snow here in the Midwest than last year. Hoses can't be used any more for water, instead we'll be back to hauling around buckets instead. The barn must be shored up and more bedding added to stalls and outdoor sheds. As pastures die off, the silage bag is opened and oatlage must be shoveled by hand into the tractor and taken to cow feeders. And the list goes on.

But...with every winter comes another spring. So until then fasten your seat belts...we think it's going to be one cold and snowy ride.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Crap...It's Winter

One last glimpse of the beauty of Fall

My GK'S were asking me the other day about good words and bad words. The writer in me wanted to explain that words are neither good or bad as they have no ability to act immorally but I knew they were not interested in that definition; they basically wanted to know what words, if spewed aloud, might lose them computer time. Basics. Always get down to the basics.

So without an exhaustive list I mentioned a few non acceptable words. Then the 7 year old grandson asked me about the word "crap." For his purposes I decided no. There would be no crap utterances on my watch. But if they are smart, and they are, they will learn like the millions before them; that barn lofts are meant for uttering disallowed words. Cats, chickens and peacocks don't give a crap about your language.

Now, as a farmer..Crap! a most personal favorite of mine, as evidenced this am when I stepped outside to do pig chores. Crap! It was really cold outside and Crap! that's snow coming down isn't it ? And Crap! I'm going to have to go back inside and get a hat and gloves.

Crap! Fall is over and winter is barking up its backside. Sure we will have a few more warm days, a tease, but we all know wha'ts coming here in the Midwest and we best get ready. In the past I would make "Winter Prep" lists but in the midst of a what we thought was a possible farm sale, going back to school, etc...the list was not made. Therefore there is nothing to do to prepare for the ice and wind and snow, correct?

Oh, so wrong mon Cherie. There are hoses to drain and hang which means buckets will be used to carry water to those critters without automatic waterers. Oh joy. Then we have to board up the spots in the barn where snow may drift, secure the open areas on outdoor hutches left open for summer breezes but not helpful when breezes become gales of pure frigidity. Bedding must be packed into hutches to help animals keep warm and fences fixed. Storm windows must return and for those upstairs windows without storms good old plastic must be applied as an additional insulating layer.

The list goes on and on and later this am Keith and I will have our farm meeting and talk seriously...about what we can put off until, or say, the winter of 2017.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Little Poor Farm on the Prairie

Little Poor Farm on the Prairie
What's one more year among friends? Samantha Stephens used to say to Darin in the 1960's TV show when she was about to admit something that might not bode well for her, appears as once again, financing is just not going to happen for the last couple we've been working with. This obviously means no move to The Poor Farm anytime soon. When we purchased the 7 acres last fall we were sure we'd be living there in a months time. Now don't get me wrong, we are definitely into miracles and if one makes its face known we can pack up and ship out in no time flat, but realistically it looks like Prince Farming and his way past Midlife Farmwife are here on South Pork Ranch for the time being.

Now here's the good news. It's been a fabulous summer here. After last winters frigid air and snow dumps our livestock blossomed with the summers lower temps, frequent rains and thick pastures. In years past like in the drought we had two summers ago, we were feeding hay in early July. This year the pastures even now on October 27, look like spring. The growth is so lush we still must watch animals closely for bloat when turned into new areas, something we normally only need to vigilant about in spring.

The Red Wattles have caught up with their breeding schedules and litters born have been large and healthy. All of our pork that will be market age this fall is sold out with none additional available for sale until February. All the beef that grew little or none when the cold was at its worst have bounced back and after months of not having any beef even for ourselves, our freezers are filling up again. Milk production has been so good we were able to take some folks off our raw milk waiting list and actually put them on the raw milk GETTING list! Nothing like great pastures to make great milk. In addition, our very loyal customers remained even more loyal.

And so we sit back (just for a minute) to lick some wounds and then grill up some steaks and lick our fingers. We have plenty of food for ourselves, lots leftover for our customers and the ability physically and mentally to keep doing the work we are doing. Don't cry for us Argentina...instead check out some recent pics of The Poor Farm which has waited this long for new residents, it can wait a little longer.

The 100 year old barn being picked apart piece by piece.
Treasures have been found.

Nature reclaims that once abandoned



Add caption

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

To save them you must eat them...and broil them and bake them and fry them.



The irony of our life is stuff for poems. I should know, I just wrote a pig poem the other day.

It's not very good.

But I am good at castrating piglets which is what we did yesterday afternoon after I got home for school. Buehlers life was dull compared to mine. We had another lovely group of pure Red Wattle piglets born last week and it was time to separate the boys from the men.

Except none of them will be "men" this group, none of them as perfect for registration as we would like so will all be sausage, bacon, chops about 6 months time. As more folks learn to appreciate the taste of this NOT the other white meat, then more ask for it and thus more farmers want to raise them. Supply-demand-bacon!

The process is good for the economy, good for small farmers and good for the consumer. Organic pasture raised meat is amazing. Yes, we feel it is even good for the pig as they have a super life, able to roam over large areas, able to play in mud puddles, cuddle up with brothers and sisters and bask in the warm sun whenever they like.

It is amazing even to us how fast this breed will grow. Of course all that extra raw milk does wonders. Just look at how I, I mean they, have grown. The group below is on the way to Eureka locker as I type. No worries, Keith will take them through the scenic country. It's a wonderful morning for a drive.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Helloooooooooo! Anybody home?

Yeah I hear you. Where has she gotten off to this time? Is she not aware anther month, another ridiculous season, has passed since she last posted? If this continues we'll just move on to better and bigger farmwife pastures.

I would not blame you. I might even tag along.

But you are here now so you might as well stay. Lets recap. No, the farm is not yet sold, yes I have made it though the first 5 weeks of school, no, we have not started building on the Poor Farm, yes, we believe this blog is constantly being monitored by IDPH because they have nothing better to do, no, I still cannot speak Italian well and yes, we will have more bacon in the farm store in just a few days.

Farm sale. Still pending. It is not easy in our section of the woods for young (or not) beginning farmers to get loans for farm businesses that are not...dare I say it?...of course I will... created from the almighty corn and soybean mindset. It appears many loans in our county and our state have been nicely floated to those who follow the rules, who remain conventional, who refuse to step outside the box. But if you dare to try something new like manage an organic farm, one that raises a variety of livestock not just the same overused , overbred robostock that no longer even sees real grass, you can expect very little help from local banks and farm agencies. But the young couple we are still working with have a strong entrepreneur strength and we continue to have high hopes that this farm will become their farm.

Good things come to those who wait, who work, who pray, who perservere despite prejudicial treatment.

In the mean time, Keith has been logging longer farm hours as his wife gallivants within the academic world; a world that I will admit, has made me giddy with happiness! Oh sure, it's no cake walk, although it is but a brief walk from the English building to my new favorite restaurant on campus The Red Herring. It's so fun and old- age- new- age there. Great Indie-Rock folk music I can dig, (from Dylan to Sarah Jarosz)  groovy atmosphere for study (they serve "old-hippie" tea in real mugs) and farm fresh food. FARM FRESH from small local farms I tell ya. Sure, its vegetarian but they let me in anyway. Shhhhh, please don't tell them I also eat pork, beef, eggs, chicken, milk and the occasional lamb. I'm kinda a big deal there and don't want to lose my seat under the 8 foot long live plant that drapes itself over my favorite table.

Nearly at the midterm point at UIUC, this semi-senior is getting such a kick of being referred to as a Junior which means I'll graduate with my BA in Fine Arts, Creative Writing in May 2016. I have four intense reading and writing classes plus one kick butt Italian class. Truly I cannot remember caca for that class. (See ? I just used the Spanish word for excrement instead of the Italian word. Geez! The word I want is puah. Now repeat after me..Puu-wah, Benissimo!) Every week I am reading massive amounts of short stories/poetry/essays and then writing about them. I either support them, analyze them, annotate them or argue against them--yeah I LOVE that. Oh that crazy Poe, I adore him so. I returned school to improve my writing and man, am I writing. What I am not doing is getting much sleep in between homework, class time and travel time since I commute 2.5 hours each day. But since lack of sleep causes wrinkles and I am already in that deep boat I fret not. I am also not making soap, not cleaning house, not cooking, not calling friends, not returning calls to friends, and OK I'll admit it, I am not keeping my eyebrows plucked. Why bother? When they are overgrown and bushy disappearing into my untrimmed bangs, my fellow students don't see me raise them as they make totally off the wall unsupported left-winged propagandist statements.

I do represent the establishment you know :)

And THEY do an excellent job of not scoffing out loud when I say something deeply meaningful, insightful and oh so wisdom-- based like "Hey! Who stuck their disgusting gum to the underside of my desk ?!?!" Truth be told I have met some amazingly brilliant young folk on campus and I am learning from them every single day. Every single day. And because of their enthusiasm and desire to excel they have motivated me to push my own envelope. For example I only use the rail to go up and down the stairs about half the time. The other half I risk all and brave the steps, now get this, unassisted.

The farm itself is motoring along nicely. Our livestock did a great job of procreating this summer and we've had many extra piglets to sell as feeders, breeders and eaters. Our waiting list for all those continues to grow. It's exciting to see more and more small farmers wanting to raise the Red Wattle hog. In fact we had another fine litter of these beauties just the other day and as soon as the rain lets up I'll be snapping some photos. All our carcass meat is spoken for through February and soon I'll be taking names for these new feeder pigs. No, I don't want you to name them, I will be putting your names on a list to eat them.

Clarity in sentence structure.
Just one of the many weaknesses I offer.

One of our hogs was featured at Spence Farm's Harvest Feast a couple of weeks ago and that is always a big thrill for us when amazing chefs get their hands on one of our piggies. So, I'll leave you now with a raw milk update and take a few moments to catch up on all your blogs. I really have missed you guys.


When last we spoke raw milk issues were kicking up speed here in Illinois. That train is still rushing full speed ahead and I really do not know where it will end up. We are encouraging everyone and anyone who cares about the right to consume and produce and sell and give away the raw milk from your farm animals to contact JCAR (Joint Commision of Administrative Rules) These big guns will be making the decision on whether or bot these rules will stand. We have just another week or so to get our opinions in writing to them. (email or snail mail) Please go HERE for that contact information.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Around the World in 80 Blogs and a Raw Milk Update


Geez. I'm so embarrassed. One of my bestest blog buddies, Lorna Sixsmith of Carlow, Ireland just did this wonderful post about yours fooly and it very nicely refers back to my blog (you hyperlink my back and I'll hyperlink yours) but then I follow my own link, some days its the only way I find my way home, and I realize I have not posted in 12 days!

Yeah, I'm quite the blogger all right. When the Nobel Prize extends it's reach into the blogosphere I'll be right up the top 10,000 or so. Enough excuses, time to get to work but before I do; thanks again Lorna, you and your blog Irish  Farmerette really rock !!

So what have I been up to?
A large amount of reading and writing and over-reaching government fighting, that's what. I've been back in school full time at UIUC for 4 weeks now and let me tell you this, I am totally scr**ed if I don't learn how to read about 10 times faster!

But I'll come back to that another day. We need to talk raw milk.

On September 5th, as threatened, the Illinois Department of Public Health posted their pages and pages and pages of proposed rules for raw milk production, sales and consumption in the Illinois Federal Register. We now have 45 days to comment. We had until today September 18 to request a hearing. After the 45 days the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules better known as JCAR will review these rules in the second 45 day comment period. They then have the power to reject them.

 As I have talked for over two years now, these rules are unnecessary, illogical, based on myth, punitive in nature and unaffordable when it comes to enforcing being as Illinois can't manage their money now and could never afford to hire the inspectors required to ensure compliance. They also will likely prove unconstitutional because they reach across so many rights of the private citizen. Example #1 the raw milk farmer will be required to submit names addresses and phone numbers of customers to IDPH whenever asked for them.

Fortunately we've had great support from organizations like The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund who published an amazing Call to Action today which well outlines the issue and gives clear direction on steps each of us can take to stop these ridiculous rules. You can read that Call to Action Right Here

There has also been decent media coverage. The Chicago Tribune( and WBEZ radio)  put in their two cents, interviewing both sides of the debate Here and The Pantagraph, a Bloomington, Illinois Newspaper, tracked me down while I was in class to get my side as well. Yes, I waited until the lecture on Gothic Imagery in Poe's Novel Arthur Gordon Pym was complete. If you'd like you can read that article Here

So as the Irish might say if this issue was happening in Lorna's land, The Shite has Hit the Fan. Through the power of social media as well as perhaps a few of my more recent anti-social comments to reporters; "Really, now they want to make it illegal to sell raw milk of your farm is located closer than 1.5 miles to a municipality? How NUTS are these people!?!" I do believe we have gotten the message out to those in our state who still believe that we the people have the right to eat and drink what we chose.

So now we keep writing letters to JCAR, we keep spreading the news, we keep sharing posts on Facebook and blogs and I personally will keep drinking raw milk ( and serving it to my family and friends) until they pry it out of my cold dead hand.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Cow Does Not A Pet Make



How now guard cow?

In our 20 plus years of farming together (and he did it for 10 years before he met me) Keith and I have run across all kinds as they have run across us. We have met the coolest Jane and John Does who have the deepest and most sincere desire to run a simple (they hope) and somewhat sustainable small farm. We often have young and not so young folk who come to us for advice (we have lots of that ) or wisdom (this supply runs short) or just to chew the Red Wattle fat about farm life in general.

We learn from them they learn from us and sometimes in appreciation we get cool stuff from our followees like poetry books by Wendell Barry! Thanks again Ben. I did love the one in "The Mad Farmer" titled Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.

Enough off topic verbals, back to the cow.

Another cow
If there was one piece of advice I would give new homesteaders it would be this. Do not make a pet of your cow. Do not think of her as a pet. Do not treat her as a pet. Do not take her with you to school on Bring Your Pet to School Days.

Cows are not pets.

I understand it is easy to make that mistake especially if you come by them when they are calves. Calves are quite stunning with their doe eyes, quivering ears and graceful necks. Once you begin to bottle feed them they will indeed follow you to the ends of the earth and quite possible up the stairs into your master suite.

Milk on tractor wheel. Not your ideal storage place
just a photo op.

But they are not pets, they are...get ready as this next word may be hard to take...livestock. They were made for two key purposes; to produce milk and to produce more bovines. And when they get to that point when they can no longer successfully do either of those tasks they have one last purpose, to produce several hundred pounds of yummy ground beef.

What we have seen happen too often is folks mistake their cow or maybe their two cows for dogs. It's easy to make that mistake. They both have four legs, they both speak no English (Italian, French or Gaelic for that matter) they both enjoy defecating wherever they please, they both enjoy scratches behind the ear but when an intruder pins you against your barn wall demanding all your raw milk be poured out on the ground for a trumped up rule breakage which "pet" will most likely buy that bad guy/gal in the leg?

That's right, it will be Fido, whereas Betsy will merely walk away in search of the proverbial greener pasture. Seriously though, making a pet of your cow can be dangerous to you directly as well. My husband warned me in the earlier years about not rubbing a cows head to hard or for too long. The occasional rub behind the ears and nice pat on the flanks for a milking job well done is one thing but over doing your physical demonstrations can lead a cow into thinking you are her equal and you might very well find yourself on the wrong end of a strong head but, the kind that can land you on your back.

Cows with attitude problems are the cheap ones often up for sale. Women especially love to buy cows based on their looks, their carmel coloring, their big expressive eyes. But after they get then home they realize the animal won't stand to be milked, kicks off her milker or worse yet kicks at YOU or your child.

Folks have tendency to make this pet/livestock mistake with their horses as well. Letting them into your space without your permission, allowing them to be aggressive at feeding time,  rubbing hard against you to get a bridle off. These are not friendly gestures and allowing them can cause you harm.

Other potential issues with Miss Bossy relate to diet and health care. Too often we see folks not taking the time to do real research when they buy their first cow. What is the best diet ? (we think grass and no grain but that's just us) How will you get feed? How will you know the feed is good quality? How will you store all this feed? And remember grass is not grass is not grass. Different types of grasses, hays have different nutritional values.

Have you considered the equipment needed? Too often people have this very romantic idea that they will milk their cow by hand. This takes a long time. If you do get a milking set up do you know how to use it? To trouble shoot it when it fails to work? Do you know how to thoroughly clean it?

Think about vet care. Do you have a vet? Does he/she know cows or just dogs and cats? Fewer and fewer vets want to troubled with actual livestock care especially on those farms with very few animals. Will your vet come to you or will he expect you to bring the animal to him? Some do. Yes, even if it is a 1000 pound cow. Will they come out in the middle of the night if your cow now has milk fever after calving? Do you know how to treat milk fever if he/she won't or can't? What about mastitis? What about bloat? What about hardware disease?

Yeah, cows will eat nails and screws accidentally. Mechanical accidents happen.

Finally there is the milk itself. Cows produce a LOT of milk, anywhere from 3-6 gallons a day depending on breed and feed. That could add up to over 40 gallons of milk a week! Will you sell the extra? Give it away? Feed pigs with it like we do? Do you know how to strain the milk of any impurities, how to cool it, how to store it?

Keith and our youngest GK, Wesley

I am not saying all small homesteaders who want to produce their own milk for cheese, yogurt, long milk baths, etc...must be experts in care of bovines, even Keith and I are still after many decades learning new ways to care for our animals,  but PLEASE I am begging you, do your homework!!  Learn from someone whose been doing it for many years. Volunteer to help a dairy farmer with his chores in exchange for picking his brain or watching him milk.  Purchase the books you need. The Internet is full of them. Mother Earth News is a great place to start. Read all you can, learn all you can  first before you buy the cow and get into real trouble. Have a good conversation with your vet. Farm calls can range from $100 and up. Volunteer to go with your vet on a day he is treating cows. Help a friend who has a cow by taking are of it for an entire week (dairy farmers rarely get vacations.) Eat, sleep and be the cow.

In other words do the work BEFORE you get your four legged dream ice cream machine.

Just another public service announcement from your local Midlife Farmwife. You may now resume regular programming.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Skool is Hard

The Quad at UIUC

I apologize for not blogging recently but you dog ate it.

Not really, he's not that into computers, he'd rather chase piglets and sniff his friend's back end, but I'm working on my excuses for not completing my homework. And boy, do I have homework.

It's funny, not really, how when I first made the decision to go back to college for my degree in creative writing I had this magical mystery tour sort of image in my chunky head. I would be sitting in class (the WISE one they would call me, giving validity to my waist long grey hair and crumbled up face) and I would be just absorbing through osmosis alone, all the knowledge I would need to rewrite my one routinely rejected novel and create thousands more.

I would hang out in smoke filled ultra hipster cool coffee houses where live music played in the alcoves-no dead music please-while I curled up into a decades old leather chair soaking up the creative genius ( and a small amount of residual body oils) left behind by the now famous authors who sat there in the last century.

I would learn and grow and improve as a writer merely though the art of BEING.


It has come to my attention that even though many things have changed since I last plodded along the Quad 38 years ago at UIUC, formally U of I, formally nicknamed U of High, one thing has not changed...the professors expect you to work, as in homework, as in lots of homework.

The biggest challenge for my atrophied brain is finding all the digital and non-digital places where homework assignments may or may not lurk. I have five classes. Creative Composition, Narrative Writing, Intro to Poetry Writing, The American Novel prior to 1914 and then Italian for Remedial Eejits. Italian for Brain Dead Eejits was the prerequisite. This is not a mocking of the course content but a reality check for the quinquagenarian who enrolled in it.

Each of these instructors share their homework assignments differently. Three use an online site called Compass 2g. One uses the universities site and one sort of goes by her syllabus only. Of those 5 folk, one puts all her assignments online and meticulously checks and grades all of them, one puts them all online but doesn't get to all the reading she assigned so class time is quite the gamble, one lists assignments online and then adds more in class and then removes some from the online list after you have already completed it, one only gives you assignments in class (works for me!) and the last one assigns online homework that has to be completed by midnight on Sunday.

Midnight. Sunday. Whatever happened to being able to stay up all night if you wanted and then just turn in your homework the next morning? No wonder the No-Doz company is reporting decreased sales.

I have in the last 10 days of school I've changed my method of tracking my homework at least 5 times. It might has been 6 but I recorded that method online and now cannot find it. I have tried writing out all the assignments in long hand, short hand, on the back of my hand and while watching Cool Hand Luke. I have set timers in the house to go off every 10 minutes so I can check what an instructor may have added or subtracted from her internet site of choice.

I have written them in notebooks, assignment books and address books. I have listed them on flash cards, greeting cards and now defunct library cards. But still I managed to turn in one assignment over 10 hours late, (she wrote "noon" and I read "midnight" because the other instructor said midnight that's why) and another incomplete when I accidently hit the "submit" button as I feel asleep my head crashing into the keyboard. Overall though it's a bit improved this week. Instead of lounging up in the trees swinging from a hammock like so many of my non-gray haired peers, I am doing my homework as it is assigned. Or trying to. I am staying later at school studying in the awesome --I can say awesome now, I'm a college student--library where the International Sciences Section on third floor has a very quiet and secluded group of tables. Last week I was rushing home so I could catch up with farm work. This week my farm work will have to wait until the weekend, when my husband will certainly need a break as he has been picking up all my farm chore slack.

So enough. It's time to summarize because I learned how to do that earlier today in CW 243
Homework is hard and so am I.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Thanks for Everything Aaron!

We lost Aaron the other day. No nothing tragic. Our part time hired hand just grew up and flew the nest. That's him in the picture above bringing in our cows for the last time. Bummer.

We hired him several years ago at the ripe young age of 13. At least I think it was 13 or was it 12? Maybe 14? Well, I know for certain he was a lot shorter then and not as strong but he was always willing.

Willing. Not a common descriptive word for many teenagers. He was indeed willing, and each day he came to work for us he was more and more able. Because our farm is small and for the last 5 years our only source of income, we could never afford to hire Aaron (or anyone else) full time.

Heck, we can't even afford us.

Aaron started with just a few hours once a week and by last summer he had the skills and once again the willingness to manage our entire farm for 7 whole days while we took our very first large family vacation together up in Michigan. Oh he had some help from his also very willing mom, she's another one of those get-dirty-work-hard-farm-types, but the main responsibility was on Aaron's shoulders and he--excuse me for this--shouldered it well. What a treat that was to not only get off the farm but to get out of the state! With the exception of a couple overnight trips it had been seven years since Keith had experienced a real vacation.

We so looked forward to Tuesdays when Aaron worked. While he milked cows and fed pigs I could catch up on the mundane paperwork part of this gig. Keith also had a helper for bigger projects, like fence building and hog relocations. It always seemed that on Tuesdays even though we were just 33% more in the way of help we got at least twice as much done as on the other days of the week.

But, time stands still for no (hired)man...and Aaron moved on to the greener pastures of something even wilder than our farm. He left for Montana Wilderness School of The Bible. He'll be gone a year and with us hopefully vacating these premises ourselves in a few short weeks, the timing really could not have been better. But still we are going to miss our hired help.

Even more than that...we are going to miss Aaron.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Show and Tell

We give tours.
But we do not charge for them.
Because then we'd be practicing "agritourism" and our farm insurance would go up.
So we give tours, we do not charge for those tours but we do accept donations from tour groups.

This group was here just a couple of days ago and what a fun gathering of future farmers they were. Members of Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living, they traveled over two hours one way, most of them from Chicago, just to see what it is we do here.

Some days we ourselves have no idea what we're doing here but we do our best to muddle through anyway.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Farm Sale Update...closer and closer.

No blog for a week !  Not intentional just so much going on. After you've  read , if you still haven't decided you have better thing to do, I've supplied you with some current pics (taken just days ago) of The Poor Farm. For your review and of course comment.

Sale contracts have been written and revised by both parties and both attorneys.The next step, signatures. Of course as with all contracts there are contingencies. Like the sun must be shining on the day of closing and all Red Wattle pigs must pass inspection.

I'm certain the pigs will shine, no guarantees on the sun.

And so we are now seriously working on an "exclusion list." That would be a list of all the items NOT included in the sale. And I thought putting together the inventory list of items that were included in the sale was time consuming. HA!

Seems we must be clear about all the items not included in the sale. Critical items like tire swings, hay racks with broken floors, miles and miles of old electric wire, the horse who does nothing but eat too much anyway.  But really, I don't mind, anything for the cause, not to mention a successful farm sale.

It does now seem that this indeed is becoming reality and I am in a bit of a panic.

Frankly, Panic and I are old friends. She motivates me when she is not vexing me. Panic always rears her ugly head when stressors build. She wants me to flip out just because I start school full time  in 8 days, and because we must find some sort of shelter to live in the winter on The Poor Farm, which will require electric hookup and well inspections and hook ups. We must continue to can and freeze as much produce as possible, we must pack up 21 years worth of inventory and then decide what gets moved, what gets stored and where, and what gets used in the short term in the interim home (still not found) before we move it into the permanent home(still not built.) Panic...I laugh in your face. Ha ha ha ha.

All the above talk about a house is of course if we decide to build. Life in one big tent is looking better and better. The animals however are insisting on something more permanent. Which must be built NOW but not really now because there is no money until the farm sale is final. Then NOW will most likely not occur for at least another 30 days which brings us to fall and cooler weather and then frost and then snow.

Which means if we don't get the animal barn built soon and we don't find shelter for ourselves soon we'll all be holed up in my daughters tiny in town garage for a bit. But really, no worries, I'm not panicked.

That happens tomorrow.

And now the walk through The Poor Farm as promised.

Future Soap Shack? Chicken Coop?
Writers Retreat?


The Shed up Close.

Kitchen sink. Just $15 at the Restore
Out with the old and in with...
even older.

View towards the east. Small grove of
non-weeping willows. Happy willows?


Path going south.
Probable future pasture sight.

Look ! Another path. This one on south end
heading west.

And now the path weaves through our
wild flower patch,
aka the weeds.

I like to call this one
"Old post with Wire"
Reprints just $150 each

I call this one
"Old post with old wire and old gate"
Because it has more metal reprints are $151 each

Heading north along west side. Unknown flowers.
I'm sure they are very rare

Wooded spot on west side. Another ideal place for
a writers shed. Of course it would not be
permanent and therefore would not require
any kind of permit...
(just in case IDPH is snooping on my blog again.)

Old pig shed in middle of The Poor Farm.
Circa 1865.
I'm sure Lincoln slept there

Path through the wild grapevine
on the north side

Grapevine out of control

The Driveway.
Gravel donations will be accepted

The Midlife Farmwife wearing her
happy to maybe be moving soon face.