Monday, March 31, 2014

Meet the New Pigs on The Block

Really, If I were a pig (just don't) I'd want to look just like Miss Gidget here




 Believe it or not we actually  do more here on South Pork than just fight back on raw issues all day. (Note to government)

We raise Beef. Tend Bees. Milk cows. Assist customers. Feed pigs. etc...

Speaking of pigs, check out these stunning gals we recently purchased from Deanne Holmstrom up in the beautiful rolling hills of Wisconsin last month.

Both are full blooded Red Wattle Gilts (virgin sisters)  who will soon be big enough to be bred by one of our registered RW boars. Wally and Max are drawing straws for the privilege as we speak. Perhaps we will split them up and compare the litters? Sounds like a good time to me.

Wally making eyes at the new girls

They come from some amazing stock (Sire side) from a few of the original Red Wattle breeders in our country like Clyde Grover of Northern Illinois, and Elvis Kirsch of Texas where the Red Wattles were rediscovered in the 1970's, as well as from some wonderful newer breeders (mom's side) like the Wickham Farm in Iowa.

As we gear up for selling our farm and working with the Prince Farming who plans to expand all our farm product lines, especially pork production, we needed to add to our current breeding stock. We fell in deep like* with these two the minute we skidded down the long snowy drive of their beautiful homestead.

Best way to move a couple pigs down a slippery slope?
Well, they don't call them hog panels for nothing.

But then again how fun is a road trip if the road is dry and easy to see? We enjoy a challenge and finding these two treasures was worth every mile. The Holmstroms are fellow dairy farmers like us and raised these girls with the gentlest of hands. They are super sweet (the pigs AND their owners), easy to care for and very content in their new digs in our barn. But what I admire the most is their deep mahogany red coloring. Admit it. They are stunning.

Gidget and Gizmo.
Tomorrow is their big day as they will be introduced to an electric fence. Once they master the skills (i.e. back up from the wire, don't go through the wire) and complete the written competency exam they will be assigned  a breeding group and moved to an even BIGGER pasture.

If all goes as planned we'll have litters from these girls sometime in August, which means lots more pork for folks to buy in February. A life cycle you can smack your bacon lovin'lips on!

* (genuine love won't come till we see what kind of mothers they prove to be, sorry I can be very judgemental that way)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

HB 4036 Amendment #1 to make all Raw Milk Illegal in Illnois....Dead or in Hiding?

As promised yesterday a summary of my conversation with Chrissy Carlson , Executive Director of Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium, Inc. Chicago.  Ms. Carlson returned my call late yesterday afternoon, was very polite and I feel spent a good amount of time hearing my concerns. I was in fact very happy about this return call since between my husband and I we had contacted 8 separate public health departments in our state and had been told repeatedly that THEY had been told to tell us they had "No Comment."

Was it just us or did others of you get similar responses if you called any of the public health offices in Illinois?

You might recall from yesterdays post Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium Inc serves 9 counties and 2 large cities in Northern Illinois, and it is was this organization who supplied the fact sheet in support of HB 4036 HA1 to Representative Daniel Burke the sponsor of the bill that went through the General Assembly Committee hearings on March 26.

The Fact Sheet contained 12 bullet points and just 8 references. Of the 8 references, the CDC was listed 4 times.  I'm going to share the highlights of our chat.

Me: I'm very concerned about this fact sheet since so much of the data is oversimplified and not specific in anyway to Illinois. Where did this fact sheet originate?

Ms. Carlson: "One of our MD members completed the fact sheet."

Me: Can you tell me why you are concerned about the incidence of raw milk illness, have you had any raw milk related illnesses reported in the area you serve?

Ms. Carlson: "I'm not sure because it's not a reportable disease."

Me: So you are not aware of any raw milk related illnesses in the 9 county area you serve?

Ms. Carlson: "No, I am not."

Me: Are you aware of the number of raw milk drinkers in the area you serve?

Ms. Carlson: "No."

Me: You might be interested in knowing that on our small 11 cow dairy farm we sell raw milk to over 100 customers each month, on average over 400 gallons and in the 20 years we have been doing so we have not yet received one complaint of illness via a public health lodged complaint or direct from a consumer. We understand that raw milk illnesses can occur but statistically speaking when compared to the very huge number of folks who are consuming raw milk the risk in my opinion, is minuscule.

Me: Please help me understand, if you are not seeing any raw milk related illnesses in your area can you tell me about food borne illnesses that are being reported? Perhaps the 3 major food borne related illnesses that have been reported this last year?

Ms. Carlson: "No, I'm sorry I don't know that."

Me: Then please help me understand why you feel raw milk should be made illegal in Illinois in light of the fact that you are not seeing any increased reports, or indeed any reports of raw milk related illnesses.

Ms. Carlson: "We rely on the CDC (Center for Disease Control) for all our facts. The CDC is the most credible source of information not a single dairy farmer."

Me: " Have you or any of your staff ever heard of the Westin A Price Foundation or looked into the numerous research studies being done in Europe about raw milk.?"

Ms. Carlson: "No, we haven't"

Me: I gave her other resources and encouraged her to broaden her research base, and to avoid repeating old statistics that have been circulating for years. I also encouraged her to gather specific statistics on raw milk illnesses in her area in the last 10 years and then compare them in incidence to the top three food-borne related illnesses in that same region. I also asked her...

Me: Have you ever visited a raw milk farm?

Ms. Carlsom: "No, I have not"

Me: I invited her to visit ours. She did not suggest a date but the offer, Ms. Carlson, remains open.

Finally I asked her..."Are you aware of what will happen to small farmers and raw milk sales in general if raw milk production is made illegal in Illinois? I told her of the hundreds of small raw milk famers who might lose their farms and specifically told her of the great financial loss to our farm. Ialso shared my fear that if made illegal, folks who have no business caring for cows will buy a few just to be able to sell illegal raw milk for $40 a gallon and that with this practice raw milk related illnesses will SOAR.   Her response?

Ms. Carslon: "Why can't you just sell to the milk companies like everyone else?"

Me: I explained how we were not like everyone else. How we are certified organic but so small no organic milk company will bother with us. Discussed with her how it costs far more to produce our high quality milk than any "milk company would ever pay us enough to do", how we lost money for years selling to co-ops who paid low, unfair prices set up for big dairy, not small, HOW IDPH ignored us four years ago when we went direct with our milk sales but they refused to inspect us so we could keep our GRADE A license and finally told her because we have good decent direct consumers who are willing to pay a FAIR price for an excellent product.

Summary:  Again let me say how much I appreciate Ms. Carlson taking the time to call me back. I am sure this raw milk issue which is huge for me and many others in this state is just a small fly in a huge worms nest she must deal with every day. I have been that public official on the other side of the phone who gets blindsided by an angry patient or consumer on a topic where I was not given the correct information and it's not easy but then again just like the rest of us...she chose her job and is not forced to work there.

She never lost her cool with me, she listened to what I had to say and she never cut me off. I hope that our conversation shed some light on a situation she obviously was not well versed. I was however very disappointed that she could not even tell me the incidences of raw milk related illnesses in the counties she serves.

As of this morning I am still getting emails and phone calls from individuals who choose not to identify themselves who are saying that Representative Burke was totally inundated with calls, letters, emails from concerned citizens as well as numerous Republican representatives  who were hearing from THEIR irate constituants, and therefore he will not be pursuing Amendment #1 to HB 4036.

Only time will tell.

 Just a reminder if you have not yet taken this survey on raw milk in Illinois please do. results will be shared with those at the Illinois Public Health Department still trying to pass very restrictive laws. MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!

Friday, March 28, 2014

URGENT POST: Raw Milk Monday Continued...HB 4036 wants to make all raw milk ILLEGAL in Illinois

Well Good Afternoon,

Now grab a big cup of coffee or raw milk or Pepsi or whatever YOU as an American choose to drink and settle in for some very disturbing raw milk updates. If you follow me on Facebook this post is both a recap of the events of the last 3 days as well as essential action steps needed RIGHT NOW.

When I last posted just 4 days ago I informed you of IDPH's back handed work with the proposed rules and regulations now making their way through that department. Less than 24 hours after that post I was informed by a Springfield contact, that House Representative Daniel Burke was sponsoring HB 4036 Amendment # 1 that would make all sales of raw milk in Illinois illegal.

This flies in opposition of what our own Molly Lamb of the Illinois Department of Public Health promised us, the members of the Dairy Work Group, which was that they never intended to make raw milk illegal, they just wanted to make it "safe." I'll come back to that point soon. 


This House Bill 4036  (Listed under The Restroom Access Act, how sneaky is that?) was scheduled to go to the Human Services Committee of The Illinois General Assembly Wednesday am March 26 at 0800. Representative Burke and the co-sponsor of that bill, Representative Mary E. Flowers chose to alter this act which previously stated this:


After the effective date of this Act, no person shall sell or distribute, offer to sell or distribute any milk or milk product for human use or consumption unless such milk or milk product has been pasteurized and has been produced and processed in accordance with rules and regulations promulgated by the Department.   

The term "sell or distribute for use or consumption" means to sell or distribute to a person for human use or consumption and not for processing or resale in any form.
    The pasteurization requirement of this Section shall not be applicable to milk produced in accordance with Department rules and regulations if sold or distributed on the premises of the dairy farm.  

Now look at that last paragraph. This is how raw milk dairies have been allowed to sell raw milk in Illinois. Let me point out the phrase "milk produced in accordance with Department rules and regulations".  Please remember the department they are referring to is the Illinois Department of Public Health who to this day does not yet have any rules related to raw milk production, they only have unenforceable policy, which is why they are fighting tooth and nail to get those rules passed that we objected to. (See my post on Monday)

But Representative Burke in his amendment altered that part of the bill so it looked like this:

The term "sell or distribute for use or consumption" means to sell or distribute to a person for human use or consumption and not for processing or resale in any form.
    The pasteurization requirement of this Section shall not be applicable to milk produced in accordance with Department rules and regulations if sold or distributed on the premises of the dairy farm.  

By eliminating the final sentence he and Representative Flowers would make ALL RAW MILK ILLEGAL IN ILLINOIS.

With just hours to spare, many of us who either produce or consume raw milk here got busy making phones calls and sending emails. We told folks to call Representatives Burke and Flowers, their own representatives as well, and we told them how to file an official slip opposition to the bill on Illinois General Assembly Web Page.

The response was immediate and amazing. I stayed up until midnight Tuesday eve just watching the opposition slips roll in. By 0750 the next morning there were 390 opposition slips to this bill and only 16 proponents to the bill. It is crucial to note three things.

1. Of all 16 proponents to HB4036 , 14 were representatives from various Public Health Departments in our state and only 2 were consumers.

2. Of the 390 who opposed HB4036 the large majority were consumers, the very same people that IDPH claims to be protecting, are clearly saying “we don’t want your protection, WE WANT RAW MILK.”

So how did that vote go? Sadly the Members of The Human Services Committee (composed of 9 Democrats and 6 Republicans) voted to pass the bill, with its amendment making raw milk illegal in Illinois.  9 Democrats for the bill to 6 Republicans opposed. Imagine that.

Now here is where I get back to public health as I promised in paragraph 4 above. We had to wonder how did this bill pass when so many folks registered their opposition PRIOR to the committee mtg. Well, I would venture that it had to do with the "FACT SHEET" complied by Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium, Inc.  which was circulated to the committee members. The fact sheet is a very tiresome repeat of old CDC statistics that suggest raw milk "May cause illness and possibly death"

I may fall down my basement steps, hit my head and die of a cerebral hemorrhage as well. Gonna ban my use of basement steps, Public Health?

But I regress, anyway... there are just 12 bullet points on this Fact Sheet and only 5 separate resources, barely enough to meet high school research paper standards. All of these same very broad raw milk statistics have been churned out over and over ad nauseum.

Consider this my challenge to you, Northern Illinois Public Health;  What if you shared the exact number of raw milk related illnesses resulting from milk produced by ILLINOIS raw milk farmers in the last decade in the 2 cities and 9 counties you currently serve? And what if you took the time and trouble as many of you were taught in your MHA and MBA classes to compare those statistics to the number of adults and children in those same areas who were ill/hospitalized/died after consuming tainted pasteurized milk as well as all other food borne illnesses? And, because I know you want to do your best at this task...what if you expanded your reference list a bit? Include the well-established Westin A Price Organization, perhaps.

Of course I have made several attempts to talk with Chrissy Carlson the Executive Director at Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium, Inc.  I'm sure she is busy but since their mission statement says that they are

Serving as a point of exchange for information, innovation, and collaboration in promoting health, preventing disease and protecting our communities.

I'm sure she'll get back to me soon. Unless she has been told like so many others in various other county health departments which my husband and I have been calling the last few days that they are to make "No Comment" Including public health departments SOUTH of I-80.

How is that for professional accountability?


 BUT, the numerous phone calls. Emails, texts, Facebook messages sent by raw milk farmers and consumers, did hit nerves and in fact phases from various representatives offices such as "we've really opened a hornet’s nest with this one" are circulating on the internet. And let me just say a big THANK YOU to my own Representatives Josh Harms and Jason Barrickman who took time to listen to my concerns.

So the Bill was reviewed again by the Human Services Committee at 3pm March 26, but strangely I cannot find the results of THAT meeting. You can see all the other bills discussed at that time HERE but no mention of HB 4036 Amendment #1. Another phone call to those who manage this website with no clear answers and a request that a supervisor return my call.

So where do we stand? In a thorny thicket that must be cut away.

What can you do? Please take a moment today or tomorrow to contact all the Members of The Human Services Committee as well as your own representatives in the event this language to ban all raw milk sales shows up in another bill or at another time. Tell them how you feel about raw milk. And let me be clear, if you are opposed then I encourage you to call as well. I may not agree with you but I certainly support your right to your opinion.

Finally, if you are a customer of ours feel free to share these grim statistics. If raw milk sales are banned in Illinois our farm would (If we chose to follow the law) immediately lose 40-50% of its income. Not just in raw milk sales but in the other products we sell to customers (like beef, pork, chicken, eggs, and soap) who travel to our farm for their milk. Our farm has only been able to stay in the black financially because we sell a diversity of products. Take a major product away and all the other product sales will suffer as a result. Recovery would be time consuming, expensive.

Other small farms will have to shut their doors. Already one of the amazing raw milk farmers that worked with us on The Dairy Work Group informed me this week he is selling his herd. Just one of the many small dairy farm fatalities which would continue to occur should future draconian measures against raw milk in Illinois rear there Big-Dairy-Over-Involved-Public-Health-Fire-Breathing-Heads.

Final Note: I worked in healthcare as a nurse aide and then and RN for over 36 years, in two states and I NEVER ONCE cared for a patient who became ill as a direct result of raw milk consumption. I do not doubt that these illnesses exist but the risk is minimal and must be accurately reported.

The elimination of raw milk sales in Illinois will cause (now) safely produced raw milk availability to plummet, will promote illegal and unsafe production by those eager to make big money from a $40 gallon of raw milk, and will destroy hundreds of small famers in Illinois and most disturbing it will dramatically INCREASE the number of raw milk illnesses in Illinois.  Raw Milk farmers of Illinois have been self governing and self improving for decades. Raw Milk consumers have been our "inspectors."
Why insist on fixing that which is not broken?

Post post note. Just seconds ago (12:44 pm) I received an email from another raw milk farmer who talked with his representative who told him this today...

"Just wanted to let you know that I talked with my representative, and he said he is opposed to the ban on milk sales and that he talked to the sponsor Rep Burke and that Burke did this as a favor to IDPH but didn't "realize" what he was doing but now sees the light and promises not to carry it forward anymore. So he said "Don't worry, it will not come up for a vote".

Like anything else that comes from "on-high" I'll believe it when I see it. But the statement did make me smile!

Update 1:00 pm Chrissy Carlson of The Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium, Inc. did just now return my call. I'll post about that tomorrow






















Monday, March 24, 2014

Raw Milk Monday: IDPH Shows True Colors. Ignores and then Slamdunks the Small Farmer with New Rule Proposal.


The Family Milk Cow. Soon to be extinct in Illinois?

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 4 years . To do so, simply enter "Raw Milk" in the search bar under the picture of our house, on the right.

As of last week IDPH has announced the completion of their new rules for raw milk production in Illinois and are rapidly attempting to send them through their legislative layers without due notification of the public. Well, it's no big surprise considering the way the Illinois Department of Public Health ignored our comments last year while we served on its bogus Dairy Work Group.

Here is the current situation and the actions you can still take.

The Dairy Work Group met for over a year.

Farmers and consumers worked very hard to educate IDPH about the lack of raw milk related illnesses in Illinois and the need to keep any raw milk productions related rules SIMPLE.

Molly Lamb of IDPH disbanded the group in November of 2013 and on Feb. 21, 2014 completed The Draft Notice of Proposed Amendments specifically titled "Title 77: Public Health, Chapter I: Department of Public Health, subchapter m: Food, Drugs and Cosmetics, Part 775 Grade A Pasteurized Milk and Milk Products.

Because this document has not yet been officially filed with the Illinois Register, there is still time to contact IDPH with your opinions and comments. THE VERY BEST WAY to do this is through this Raw Milk Survey  created by one of the dedicated raw milk farmers, Cliff McConville, who served with Keith and I on the Dairy Work Group last year. Please, if you are a raw milk farmer, consumer or just deeply concerned about your rights to consume the food you and your family desire without governmental interference, take a few minutes to complete the survey.

Our cows, our farm.
   South Pork Ranch, Chatsworth, Illinois

Now, why the big concern? The draft of proposed rule changes is over 22 pages long so I'll summarize the key points that will apply to raw milk if the rules are passed. Keep in mind rather than the Tier 1 and Tier 2 clarifications the Dairy Group suggested, IDPH is defining the raw milk farms as either "On-Farm Raw Milk" or "Off -Farm Raw Milk"

Page 2. Definition of a Dairy Farm "Dairy Farm means any place or premise where one or more cows or goats are kept, and from which a part or all of the milk or milk products are provided, sold, or offered for sale to a consumer, milk plant, transfer station, or receiving station"

WHY THIS IS A PROBLEM:  If IDPH is successful in labeling an individual who owns ONE cow or ONE goat , and sells any amount of raw milk to a consumer, they will be required to meet all the lengthy and expensive requirements (to follow) for that dairy required by the state.

page 3. Definition of "Grade A"  ..."The term Grade A "means that milk and milk products are produced in accordance with the current Grade A Pasteurized Milk Ordinance...The term Grade A is applicable to "dairy farm."...

WHY THIS IS A PROBLEM: If passed this means that the small homesteader with just ONE cow or ONE goat must meet all Grade A requirements. Just a few of those requirement are:
    all dairy farms must be permitted by IDPH
    regular inspections of YOUR farm by IDPH
    required regular milk testing at your cost
   it will be UNLAWFUL for you to sell raw milk for human consumption without being permitted
   Donations, bartering, free samples and gifts of any type is PROHIBITED. Yes, that is right . IDPH
       has the nerve to tell YOU, you cannot barter your own farm products for other products or
   All dairy farms must meet over 5 pages on inspection standards that tell you what type of equipment
       you must use for milking, how to care for your animals, (by those who sit behind desks) how to  
       clean your equipment and the chemicals you must use, your milking environment, equipment
       storage and on and on.

pg. 13  For farms who sell raw milk ON-FARM "Distribution agreements, herd shares or any other contractual agreements or exchanges are prohibited for on-farm raw milk permitted dairy farms"

WHY THIS IS A PROBLEM: Clearly IDPH wants only the tiniest amount of raw milk produced and sold in Illinois. This means that if one customer has an agreement with two or three or six other customers to pick up their milk for them, they will be breaking the law. It also means that a farmer cannot create his own private contract with his own customer to provide milk to that customer who might own a "share" of a particular cow or goat, a practice that has been successfully well utilized in our country for decades. This flies directly in the face of other Livestock Liens laws that are currently on the books in Illinois.

pg. 19 Under Quality Count Requirements and Standards..."For every day of a sale or distribution action, a raw milk sample shall be kept a minimum of five days...stored between 32 degrees F and 40 degrees F, in a sanitary container, be at least 6 oz and be labeled with date of transaction. "

WHY THIS IS A PROBLEM: The intent is clearly to have access to samples with which to prove fault in the event of an consumer related illness complaint. Although raw milk farmers as a rule are very diligent about cleanliness of their produce and most would certainly take responsibility for an illness that GENUINELY originated at their farm, this requirement sets the farmer up for failure. Milk samples may be incorrectly collected. "Sanitary Containers" vary widely. Who decides? Samples left unguarded could be contaminated accidentally or intentionally. Also, there are appropriate techniques for sample collecting that farmers may not be aware of. Who will provide such training at  whose cost? How will that training be updated and at whose cost?

To Summarize. You might find it interesting to know that our dairy here on South Pork Ranch will have no difficulty meeting these standards. Reason being, we were Grade A licensed for over a decade before IDPH told us we no longer needed our license (4 years ago) when we stopped selling through Foremost. But the real issue is this...why should small raw milk farmers with just a few goats or cows (or just ONE) be subjected to such gross over regulation when the incidence or illness related to raw milk produced by a raw milk farmer in Illinois has been zero in the last 11 years?

Obviously to me and others, the reason is purely financial. With fluid milk sales (pasteurized and homogenized) steadily decreasing over the past few years , big dairy got scared. Why were people buying less conventional milk? And more importantly where were those lost dollars going?

To raw milk farmers, that is where. So how can big dairy recapture that revenue? By putting small raw milk farmers (and there are 100's of us in Illinois) out of business. That's how.  Rocket Science it isn't.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Midlife Farmwife heads back to The Quad

The senior Peter

As if our lives were not busy enough.
As if our days were not short enough.
As if we SAID we were going to slow things down.

What do I go and do?

I apply to the University of Illinois as a full time student.

And what do those misguided folks do? They accept me. Really. What have I done? I start as a Junior this August in the Creative Writing Program. I plan to continue straight though and obtain my Masters in the very same field.

Why not? I'm going to get old and die anyway, I might as well finally learn the correct use of colons and semi-colons.  If I really want to write and be published then I best learn the techniques. Besides, spending the day in a library trying to sort out the poetry of Yeats is a day well spent in my mind. (well it would be better spent at Galway University but I'm still wading through the Study Abroad requirements.)

The desire for this end result has been a very long time coming but ALWAYS in the back of my head, since 1976 when after a disastrous first semester at the same University I was non-ceremoniously expelled for a grade point average lower than the ground I was passed out on back in those days.

Seemed I love attending all those Peter Frampton parties a wee bit more than I actually attended class. Do you do?  Well I did. To say my mother was pissed, sorry there is no better term, when she made that 3 hr RT drive to collect my sorry (not enough) butt, is a gross understatement.

She brought me back into their home and said "You got two weeks Madame Butterfly, to get a job and find a lace to live." She had four other children who needed her and as far as she was concerned I had already flown the too crowded nest. I was 17, part of the problem. I graduated HS after three years and had no more enough maturity for campus life than a new born calf is ready to produce milk.

Two weeks later I was living in a rented trailer and working as a nurse side, which lead me to South Dakota and nursing school and marriage and kids, a divorce, a wonderful remarriage,  36 years in health care and a farmer and BAM! here I am at almost 55 and ready for a big change.

So , you might ponder, how does this fit in with our Poor Farm plans? Very well I hope. At first, until this farm is sold and new house is built it will indeed be insanely busy. But the University is only an hour away and classes can be scheduled for three times a week.  Since I plan to actually ATTEND classes this time it's likely I'll get better grades than oh say 38 years ago.

That will allow me, outside of study and travel time, and I'm a big believer in listening to classes on CD while driving, 4 full days to work with my Keith on our new place, and continue to write free-lance articles as I do now for additional income.

I still believe the only reason they have accepted me this time is that my records were so old they had returned to dust, unable to place blame where it was due. In fact my old immunization records are so ancient (1959) I have to have new measles, mumps and rubella shots, a health requirement of the school.

I just hope I get a nice bottle of something warm and soothing to drink right after, like any good baby would.

Of course being the most brilliant blog followers in the world you might wonder "How is she going to pay for this little venture.?"

I'm not. My parents are.

You see, due to a  limited scholarship which grants full tuition waivers to U of I for the children of war veterans whose parents served either in WW2, Korean Conflict, Vietnam , Southwest Asia Conflict, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. I have been blessed with four years of paid tuition. I received notice of this award just two days ago. Here is the link in the event you are interested:

Even though my parents, both veterans of the Korean Conflict, who have been dead many years, who were never able to attend college themselves, never made more than $16,000 a year.

I believe my mother is up in Heaven right now hysterically laughing at the irony of this more than anyone.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

And She's Back

Spring...It's out there.
Hey there. Please excuse all the dead air time. A funny thing happened on the way to the organic farm...we got sick.

Indeed it is a rarity and usually comes right after we've bragged about how we rarely get sick, and this time was no different. After a very long and arduous winter we were commenting about how at least neither of us got sick during all those below zero days, all the snow storms, all the wind storms etc...

Oops. Should've kept our traps shut. Flu hit us both and now 10 days later we are finally getting back to normal, up and running, er shuffling in stupid pink slippers, again. Me, not Keith. He's not a slipper guy.

Officially then tomorrow, winter is over. Happy happy day. Our losses were the worst in our 19 history here on South Pork Ranch. Due to the horrific weather we lost 3 large steer, 1 newborn calf, two full Red Wattle newborn litters, a few chickens and one adorable donkey.

What that means in the long term is about 2000 less pounds of beef and approximately 3200 less pounds of pork to sell. Financially, that means lost revenue of around $10,000 for the beef and $24,000 for the pork bringing us to a grand total loss of $34,000.

WOW. Really regretting that I took the time to figure that out.

So what do a couple of respectable organic farmers do? Well we certainly trashed ourselves about ways we could've saved those animals. Maybe. It's easy to think one can control all variables in farming but truth is we did not order the weather and we really did our best. Then we went back to what we do well; we took action.

Two weeks ago we travelled north to buy 10 new calves and 2 new Red Wattle sows. Another $3000 in one long day. Oh well easy go, easy go. Then we took a hard look at our breeding program for the pigs and you can bet there will be no PLANNED litters born next winter (if we're still here but probably not.)

Finally though spring and hope and new growth and all that jazz is here. The weather is warming, snows have melted and the sun shines more. Animals are frisky, chickens are in the yard and some days we are doing chores in jackets with NO HATS!

Soon we will be moving 100 miles an hour towards our life on the new farm while making this farm as strong and viable as it can be for its new owners planning to take possession next fall. Stay tuned and watch us go!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Saponification Sunday, Making an Ash of Myself

 Well into my 4th year of soap making I am at the point of saying Ques Sera Sera, oh come on you know..".whatever will be will be", how young are you people anyway?  What I mean by that is I am no longer working so hard for the perfect looking handmade soap but instead have focused on its inner quality.

Rationalization at its best, I suppose.

In the early years I was all about the looks even though my bars maybe weren't as moisturizing as they could've been. But my recipes improved. Still I worried about how they appeared, getting upset if there were bubbles in my bars or the swirls weren't perfect or if the dreaded soda ash appeared.

Soda Ash in all its glory

But now I have learned to Embrace the Ash. In fact might make that statement my new personal motto.

Embrace the Ash

I see bumper stickers, magnets and T-shirts in my future. Soda ash you see, will form when the unsaponified lye reacts with the airs own carbon dioxide. It is harmless and can form anywhere on your bars but most often across the top. It does not hurt anything or anyone to use bar with soda ash on it but some folks do find it less than appealing, interfering with the swirls or other designs on your soap bars.

It can be avoided or lessened a couple of ways. You can spray the top of your soap just after pouring into the mold with (99% Isopropyl Alcohol   . Some folks spray right away some wait 10 or so minutes. Some soapers will cover their soap with plastic wrap. Or spray with alcohol and then cover with plastic wrap or cardboard unmolding after 3-4 days instead of the usual unmolding after 24 hrs.

I have also read that soaping at very cool temperatures will produce soda ash in the middle of your bar but this has never been my experience.  Probably because I am much too impatient to soap at cool temperatures, once I see the lye is dissolved I tend to mix with the oils. I think I like the excitement of moving and pouring FAST before my soap gets too thick.

Which then can lead to some air bubble problems unless you get very good at slamming your soap (hard) in its mold. But back to the ash...

It is a very fine powder, whitish grey that forms on the top of your soap if not covered and yeah sometimes pops up even when you do cover your soap.  Many soap makers find the ash ugly and use plastic wrap to lesson or avoid the ash. I was one of those. If I still had some ash develop I would take each bar and hold it over a steaming pot of boiling water, which will in essence melt away the ash...and burn your fingers if you are not careful.

The ash also disappears after you use the bar of soap, wash with it.

But last year I said forgettaboutdit. The ash is not harmful and after heaving a heart to heart with myself I believe it adds its own individual look to soap. And in fact since I stopped obsessing about it and just let it be I've noticed its very artistic nature. The way the ash clings to parts of the soap tops but not others, landing on different pasts of the soap swirls.

Like snow in the mountains...or soap scum at the bottom of your tub. Its your call.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Organic Calves Do Not Grow On Trees


Recently a customer of ours expressed concern over the increase in our price per pound for the beef she had ordered awhile back. At the time she called we were selling it for $4.75 a pound hanging weight.

Who could blame her?

We all have to keep track of what we are paying for our food, but more importantly WHY we pay what we do. Being good stewards of whatever funds we have available to feed ourselves and our families is an important task.

So, in order to help her and others I thought I would dedicate this post to the cost of certified organic beef.

Yesterday for example Keith and I took a leisurely road trip up to Blanchardville, Wisc. for two Red Wattle gilts (I'll post on them later) and then back through Ridott, IL to pick up calves. The calves are needed to meet our ever increasing customer demand for organic grass fed beef and because our dairy is small, ( just 10-12 milking heifers at any one time) and because cows only give birth to one calf per year (multiple births are very rare) we needed to purchase more calves.

These 10 calves we bought cost us $1.25 per pound live weight and they averaged 200 pounds each. Some were a couple weeks old  and some were up to three months old.

We would love to be able to buy them closer to home but JKB farms is the closest source of certified organic calves we have found. Plus we really like their farm practices. Round trip it is 400 miles which equates to about 7 hours of road time since 60 mph is the average speed when you are pulling a heavy livestock trailer.

Add to that, time to eat and get gas.

Add to that the cost of gas. Mileage on our 12 year old Ford F-150 is less than 15mpg especially when you are hauling over 2000 pounds of live calves plus those 2 big gilts !  Then of course was the time to load, unload, put on calf collars, tag ears, and settle into hutches at 10:30 at night. Although we did pay our hired hand $40 to do chores the morning we left we had to do chores that evening after getting calves home. Please note I did not include our meal costs because if I'd gotten my act together I would've packed up food from home.

And so just 24 hours into owning these 10 calves we have invested:

Calf price   10 at $1.25 per pound....$2025
Hired labor to do chores in am............$40
Fuel for truck round trip...................$ 205
Organic Bedding for truck.................$ 20
Organic bedding for hutches ..............$30
3 new milk buckets..............................$15
Calf 180 supplement for travel stress.  $5
First two Bottle Feeds (14 gallons)     $28
Our time.............................         Priceless

Total for first 24 hrs........................$2368

Now, to make things even more fun, another non-customer but a visitor to our farm last summer wondered about our beef prices since "grass is free isn't it?"

Oh people, how you make me chuckle. No, indeed, grass is not free on our farm. Cows need certain types of grasses in order to provide the right kind of nutrition they need to produce healthy beef. This means we often have to re-seed our pastures and those seed companies, those certified organic seed companies, because we cannot just plant any old seed, actually have the nerve to charge us for that seed. And here's the real kicker, grass does not grow in winter :) This means we must feed hay that we either have grown at a cost (machines to cut and bale hay. Labor to store it in barn. Labor to feed to beef animals) or purchased from another farmer (trucking costs now adding to hay cost.)

And as often as we have just left those bags of seed sitting in the yard, they have yet to plant themselves. That means the cost of the machines  and or labor and or these farmers time to do just that, plus the spreading of our well rotted manure over those fields in order to return to the soil the nutrients it needs to produce the grass needed to produce the beef.

Such a vicious cycle is it not?

To complicate even more...we only own 10 acres. We rent another 40 acres surrounding us in order to have lots of room for our animals. To protect our landlord's privacy I won't tell you the exact amount we pay but the average land rental in this area is $250 per acre per year.

Additionally of course is the year to year and 1/2 of care those animals require until they are butchering age. Lots more bedding and bottle feeding, those babies think they have to eat twice a day! Then it's into the pastures where we have to maintain fences and electric fence charges and shelters and waterers. Along the way we must continue with all the paperwork required by the National Organic Program and the fees that must be paid for all the meat we sell and the annual inspection which comes to about $1300 year.

Finally about 18 months after the little guys are born we can load them up into the livestock trailer again (think more bedding, gas and time) and take them to meet their (chuck roast) maker.

The cost of slaughtering and processing beef isn't free either.

I do hope I am not sounding defensive but rather providing education about what it really takes in time, labor and cash to raise a calf from cute stage to cube steak. I also hope it will make it a bit easier for you consumers to justify why you would prefer to pay your hard earned money for our hard earned beef. Sure you can buy cheaper beef at the grocery store if you choose but you might want to investigate how that animal is birthed, fed, raised, transported, slaughtered, packaged and kept in a frozen state on the back of a truck.

In the get what you pay for.