And now for something completely different: fun family activities

Blueberry goes back to school within the next week and both Sheldon and I find ourselves scratching our heads wondering where this shortened summer went.  As relatively new farmers, we haven’t been able to take a vacation since the great vacation of 2012 (because visiting family does NOT count as we all know!!), but we do try to do little day trips here and there.  In the last week, we have tried to visit a few places that were within driving distance from the homestead including:

Fantastic Caverns

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As you all know, Wilbur crossed the “rainbow bridge” last weekend.  Blueberry and I were in charge of taking care of his remains in a humane and legal way.  On the way back, she talked me into a last minute side trip to Fantastic Caverns.  I’m glad she did!  If you are ever near this part of the country and want to take a very easy tour through a lovely cavern originally explored by a group of twelve brave ladies in the 1800’s, I recommend it!

Woolaroc

Woolaroc is a pretty cool little (ha!  3700 acres little) historical site that includes a wildlife preserve, old buildings, lots of art (including quite a bit of Native American art), and some fun stuff for the little humans like a great play area and a small petting zoo.  Woolaroc isn’t quite as great as say Promised Land Zoo in terms of getting close and personal with the animals, but it’s pretty interesting all the same!  And since you are going to be in the area, you might as well check out…

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Bartlesville

Bartlesville is an interesting town much like any small city with a large corporate presence.  Interesting mix of people, some good restaurants, and lots and lots of artfully decorated Bison statues including this one.

disco bison

Blueberry couldn’t quite figure out what was going on with his undercarriage, but we had a laugh about his “disco balls.”  Well played Bartlesville!

So, that is the extent of this year’s summer vacation.  It’s not quite as exciting as going to Europe or visiting the House of Mouse (depending on your perspective), but for budding homesteaders, it’s enough.  Now, on to our next adventure…first grade!

Happy homesteading!

 

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The reality of farm life: it ain’t all sunshine and roses

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that we are still relatively new at this farming/homesteading thing-only a couple of years.  Most of the time, we are blessed with happy and healthy animals.  But, as with everything else in life, it’s not always that way.

Enter in Wilbur, one of our barrows.  Wilbur was one of the piglets we brought home late last year and raised to full weight.  He was a happy and healthy pig…until he wasn’t.  When we fed the animals on Sunday morning, he wouldn’t get up to eat.  By the time we came home from church on Sunday, he seemed worse and died within minutes of us arriving home.  Maybe he was waiting until we got there to say bye?  Yeah, I’m not quite that sentimental, but it did all happen really fast.  My immediate fear was the PEDv going around, but he didn’t display any clinical symptoms..and frankly, the way we farm and the few people who are invited onto our land mean that we have pretty strict biosecurity procedures naturally.  Upon further research, I found that it’s not terribly uncommon for pigs to die without obvious physical symptoms and the only way to confirm cause of death is with an autopsy.  Seems a little too CSI for us, but I’m sure that makes perfect sense to a “monoculture” farmer with thousands of pigs to protect.  We immediately moved him from their yard and took him a good distance away from all livestock for disposal.  Some have asked why we didn’t just butcher him and sell/eat the meat.  There are so many reasons why we wouldn’t do that.  One is that for a pig to be butchered commercially (ya know-not by your uncle Fred behind the garage), the butcher or his/her agent has to witness the killing.  Two is because we didn’t know or even suspect what killed him, we did not feel good about selling (or even giving) that meat to anyone.  We may not know everything there is to know about raising pigs, but we know our own values and we will never sell meat we wouldn’t feed to our own Blueberry girl, so with his death, it’s a total loss.

As to the future, our remaining gilts/barrows seem to be doing just fine.  They do not love the high heat, but do love the baths I’m giving them every day.  We have made some tentative plans around what we want our future to be with raising pigs and I think it’s the right decision.  We have been thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly!!!) enjoying the hand cured/smoked bacon, amazing chops, delicious steaks, and incredible sausage from these Berkshire piggies, and for that, we are grateful.  If it’s up to us, we will never, ever go back to what we now recognize as inferior quality pork from the local mega mart.

Until next time, happy homesteading Blueberry Acres Fans!

Here piggy piggy! A curly tale about getting pigs

Well, he went and did it!  Sheldon went last week to pick up our “couple” of pigs…except the maybe 3ish pigs turned into 3 gilts, 5 baby barrows and 1 very large boar.  For those of you playing at home, that is 9 pigs….who need to go into an enclosure that was designed to hold 6 at most?  Not only that but the gilts that we picked up are not quite at the farrowing (the baby making stage for you non-pig people) stage, so we need to keep the boar away from the ladies a bit longer.  Have you ever tried to encourage a lonely 200ish lb pig of anything?  Yeah..it ain’t easy.  Gripety gripe gripe gripe.

Ok, so let’s reboot and start this post again.

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Yeah!  We were blessed to be able to afford 9 Registered Berkshire pigs that will enable us to begin our pig farming (on a tiny scale) but will also help fill our freezers with high quality, pasture raised pork for the winter.  While the plan was to start with a smaller amount of piggage (I made that word up, don’t bing it for accuracy, ok?), Sheldon just became so enamoured of the piggy potential that he decided to up the ante by starting our pig endeavors with 3 gilts, 5 baby barrows and 1 ginormous boar. 

Hush little piggies don't say a word...mama's gonna buy you a big pile of food

Hush little piggies don’t say a word…mama’s gonna buy you a big pile of food

3 out of the 4 older pigs.  I didn't want to give you a shot of the boar from behind because I was afraid it would scare small children and the elderly.

3 out of the 4 older pigs. I didn’t want to give you a shot of the boar from behind because I was afraid it would scare small children and the elderly.

And so I don’t make you go on out to Wikipedia, I will tell you what all of these words mean:

Boar: a male pig of breeding age.  Some people refer to this as an “intact” male.  Our boar is named Shoot after his sire, Shoot to Thrill and he is very very intact.  Like I cannot look directly at the back of him intact.  Like we had to have a biology lesson with The Blueberry intact.  Ok, you get the picture.

Gilt: a female pig of breeding age who has not yet had a litter or maybe has only had 1 litter.  Our gilts are named Charlotte, Hey You and Other Pig (ok, so we are a little behind on the naming) haven’t yet had any babies and should be totally ready to go later this fall/early winter. 

Barrow:  a male pig that is castrated at a young age before he hits puberty.  Yes, pigs get pimples and act awkward too, except they don’t..but of course they do go through puberty.  Barrows are often prized as feeder pigs because many people think that the lack of testosterone in their systems means their meat has a superior flavor.  We have 5 barrows named Hubert (he’s French), Spot, Skunky, White fur and Wilbur.  Of course we have a pig named Wilbur!

And just for fun

Stag: this is a male pig that is castrated at a later age.  We didn’t get any of these, but when I saw this term in my pig books, I had to laugh…next time your husband talks about going to a “stag party” you can laugh with me…

Now here is where it gets a little more intensive.  Because we had built the pigmahal and pig yard, we thought we would be set on pig buildings for a long time.  It took Sheldon a long time to finish the pig house because that man built it out of concrete blocks with mortared in concrete blocks.  No ramshackle pig house for our pigs! 

Butttttt…because our girls aren’t quite ready to get pregnant and our male is very ready to make everything pregnant, we are building him his own little bachelor pad with an adjoining “birthing house” next door so we will be able to lead the appropriate pig to the appropriate place when the time is right.  In addition, because we ended up with some little piggy barrows, we didn’t feel good about putting them in with the big kids, so they actually went into a temporary enclosure until we get Shoot moved this weekend.  Ironically, they went into a chicken yard that I had just finished.  This means that we are delaying moving around some of our chickens, but we thought it was better that than have Shoot step on them all in his excitement to get to the ladies.  Once Shoot is settled in, we will move the barrows into the run with the gilts and then the chickens can finally get rearranged.  Whew.  It’s like musical chairs but with a lot more poop.

It’s been about a week since they have been here and while it’s a heck of a lot more work in the mornings, I’m really enjoying them.  They all have personalities and I really enjoy being in with the barrows because they are such goofy little things.  The big pigs are fairly docile but are interested in Sheldon and have given him some love nips a couple of times.  While we don’t think they are about to eat us, they do seem to be naturally curious.  We’re keeping them very well fed, so we don’t think we are going to end up as one of those horror stories of a farmer getting eaten by his/her pigs, but still..I prefer not to get love nips from someone who could eat me.

I’m looking forward to trying out all manner of pork recipes with these Berkshires, but for now, they are just eating, pooping, mess making machines.  Enjoying it all the same!  What’s new on your homestead?

 

 

Updated: DANGHOLSTEIN!: The final chapter

For those of you who have kindly been following along with our cow follies, today the DANGHOLSTEIN! chapter of our journey comes to an end when Sheldon drives her to the happy hunting ground (aka the butcher who will process her) in the sky.

courtesy of soda head

courtesy of soda head

After she is dispatched, the meat will age at the butcher for a couple of weeks and then we will be able to pick up our cuts.  We have sold half of the cow for zero profit (should be at least break even) and will probably sell/trade a little bit more of her.  Since this was our first endeavor and not the breed that we are making a long term run with, our goal was just to fill our freezers up with grass fed beef for the winter.

While DANGHOLSTEIN! isn’t anyone’s automatic choice when it comes to beef cows, we have learned that it’s not uncommon for a Holstein to go to processing after her milking days are over.  Plus, we believe that the benefits of a grass fed cow are so incredibly strong, we have a hard time being anything but grateful for the meat that she will provide to us.  We anticipate the meat to be sweet-probably sweeter than what we have had in grass fed Angus and/or Belties, but we shall see.

We have talked candidly to the Blueberry about today’s event.  In fact, she has started licking her lips when we drive past DANGHOLSTEIN! in the pasture.  Something that creeps me out to no end if I’m going to be honest….but, I appreciate that my little pragmatic farm girl can take such a matter of fact perspective on this process.

Today in about an hour, our family will gather together to say a prayer over DANGHOLSTEIN! to thank her for her blessings on our family and wish her a speedy journey into the happy hunting ground.  For animal lovers, this may rankle, but our perspective is that we have probably provided her a much better life than she ever would have gotten in a commercial feedlot, plus her meat will provide for our family (and other families)-her life will not be wasted.  So, I guess in the end, she will not be DANGHOLSTEIN! at all, but despite the frustrations of learning to raise cattle, she will instead be known as ThankyouHolstein in our family.

UPDATED:

We heard from the Happy Hunting Ground (aka Cloud’s Meat Processing) that TYHolstein’s hang weight was 570 lbs.  While we didn’t know her live weight at time of butchering (she wouldn’t fit on my weight watchers scale…), the average percentage of hang weight versus live weight is typically between 60-63% with some range up to the high 60’s.  Taking this into account, she either had a big roll of quarters in her pocket or she lost weight from the time we purchased her to the time we took her to process.  We learned some things along the way from this, the purchase of our first feeder cow.  If we have to buy another feeder cow (hoping our #Beltie herd will be built up before that is necessary), we won’t do it during the height of summer.  Lands were dry, grasses were puny and while the cows had plenty to eat, it wasn’t the grass-a-palooza that we saw early this spring.  We also learned that we aren’t buying another heifer unless she is going to be used for some baby makin’!  For some reason, TYHolstein didn’t like our existing herd and ran like proverbial hell to get in our neighbors pasture with his Angus heifers.  Not sure why, but she never looked back and once a cow is committed, well, I think she is like a stubborn old woman-no changing her mind.  We think had we bought her younger, she would have had more time to acclimate to our herd.  I’m sure as the months/years go on, we’ll figure out what else we did wrong this go around, but at least for now, we remain forever grateful for her gifts.

Found on these blog hops:

found at www.modernhomesteaders.net.  Go check 'em out!

found at http://www.modernhomesteaders.net. Go check ’em out!

 

Ding, Dong, the witch is dead and other assorted things….

…..and by witch, I mean hay!  I know-it was a stretch, but it’s absolutely how I feel.  We finally got the hay in our large pasture cut.  Sheldon finished bucking the many bales last night.  The hay should have been cut close to 2 months ago, but alas, we counted on the word of someone who proved to be a little less than dependable in deed.  However, some very hardworking folks came to our rescue and despite their baler giving out on them multiple times, they were able to finish the vast majority of our field.  Is it the world’s finest hay?  This late in the season, no.  But, the field is cut and the little bit of green left will quickly be finished by the cows and Festus.  We already talked about when they will come out next year and how we hope to double our load of hay at that time with an early cutting.  Sooooo…painful first year lesson to learn about depending on others that you don’t know well-both when they fail and like the folks who cut our hay, when they succeed despite obstacles.

Now, we are prayerful for some rain.  It’s been weeks and weeks since we have had anything fall out of the sky save for bird poop.  The lawn is all but dead (and I’m too stubborn to water it-water is for veggies and animals, not my 2 acres of lawn grass dang it!) and the dirt road is making horrible dust devils all over the place.  I feel like I can’t keep my house dust free for more than 2 minutes and frankly in this heat, I don’t want to even think about cleaning!   So, for this week, Blueberry and I are going to do what we can outside without bursting into flames in the dry heat.  We have swimming fun on tap, the library, going to visit the Grand-Blueberries and studying weather.

This cute little weather tracker from Smart Lab came in one of Blueberry’s Christmas gifts.

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This morning as she was outside with it studying the clouds while the dogs looked expectantly up with her, she learned the difference between the different types of clouds thanks to Mom’s geeky love of weather and this handy little website that not only has great weather pics, but some cool weather activities too.  We’re going to be studying weather all week as we begin that downhill slide to the first day of K for Blueberry.

How are you keeping cool in these hot dog days of summer?

Holla! I mean…challah!

Hello, my name is Shellie and I’m a bread junkie.  I’ve been a bread junkie for 40mumblemumble years now and I do not see an end in sight!  When I think of a perfect meal, it always involves bread, butter and cheese.  Maybe some grapes.  You know-the kind that comes in a glass and makes everyone look better.  And when I think of that perfect meal, one of my favorite breads always comes to mind: challah.

image courtesy of jewishrecipes.org

 

Thinking back to my younger days, one of my favorite treats as a little Shellie was the joy of freshly baked Challah bread from Publix.  It may have been grocery store bread, but it was so good all the same.  If you have ever had challah, you know how amazing it can be.  Eggy and rich with a golden crust that shines.  I like to imagine I hear angels singing “ahhhhhhhhhhh” when I bite into it.

Now, full disclosure.  While I have made bread many times, I have never attempted challah.  Not quite sure why, but instead of riffing, I decided to follow a recipe on Allrecipes (one of my favorite sites to be sure!) for challah.  I thought this was a good recipe and since I’m a newbie to making challah, I don’t think I can improve on this recipe…yet.

However, I do have some thoughts about the recipe.  Make sure that you have tons of flour.  I mean tons.  While the recipe calls for lots of flour (8 cups), it isn’t explicit in terms of how much you need to add during the kneading process.  This is normal as humidity levels, etc differ from kitchen to kitchen.  However, I found that on a day where temps in the evening were in the low 80’s with humidity below 45%, I had to add far more flour than I do in just about every other bread recipe.  Probably another 2-3 cups.  To be fair, maybe I was distracted by the Blueberry when I was adding in flour and I missed a cup or two, or maybe my kitchen is just ridiculously humid, but in the end I think it’s just what the recipe needed, which sometimes happens.  Also, since this bread calls for eggs, have high quality eggs.  Many of us know exactly where our eggs come from, but for those of you who rely on grocery store eggs, think about spending the extra money for organic.  Since egg is such a star in this bread, you don’t want to skimp with lackluster eggs.

Is it wrong that I heard Barry White singing "...your love babe.  Can't get enough of your love babe" while I was taking this pic?  Yeah.  Probably.

Is it wrong that I heard Barry White singing “…your love babe. Can’t get enough of your love babe” while I was taking this pic? Yeah. Probably.

Also, the recipe calls for braiding the bread.  Hmm…I’m too lazy for that.  I tried it and it kept breaking but I think it’s just lack of practice.  In the end, I created 3 boules and 1 loaf.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, but the crust is still shiny and golden, worthy of all it’s praise.  Generally speaking, challah doesn’t rise too much in the oven.  I didn’t try it in bread pans, but I wouldn’t expect a huge fluffy loaf.  But, that’s ok because the flavor is sublime.  Try it with your favorite sandwich.  Use it instead of white bread in french toast.  Let it go a bit stale and then use it for croutons or bread pudding.  Ah, the possibilities are endless!

Happy baking!

Trying some new things this month: a working parents guide to not medicating with wine

Well, it’s July 1st.  That means that here at Blueberry Acres, we are sliding downhill (fast) into August where our little Blueberry will start her first day of “real” school.  I began to get misty eyed about it as I thought through the month of June and decided to take her out of the part-time preschool that she has been attending.  Seemed like a good plan at the time.

However, that means that now in addition to working from home part-time, taking care of Blueberry Acres full-time and occassionally shaving my legs…I need to find a way to provide care for the squirt 24/7 while working to keep that balance without having to sneak into the kitchen to fortify myself with wine on days that end in a Y.

Enter in quiet time.  We have decided that we will follow the advice of oh-so-many other bloggy moms and dads with structured quiet time.  While I wish my little Blueberry still slept in my arms, the reality is that those days are gone.  However, I still need (crave, depend on, am crazy for) that quiet time in the afternoon where I feel like if I have to answer another question from a 5 going on 23 year old, I will lose what is left of my mind.  As a result…we’re going to a post lunch regimen that involves the kiddo going to her room for exactly one hour each afternoon.  What she does when she gets there doesn’t matter to me as long as no cats are involved, she doesn’t blow the roof off the house and no hour ends with a fun ride in an ambulance.  Beyond that, she can read Dostoyevsky, play with her guys or paint her toenails blue..whatever.

Beyond the solitary confinement quiet time, we’re trying to be a little more loose on bedtime so that she can enjoy more evening farm time.  I don’t know if I have ever seen a more beautiful fireworks display than the one the fireflies put on around here at dusk.  We’re also asking her to be more involved with the evening poultry routine.  What’s that you ask?  Well, often it’s where I stand in the various poultry yards trying to convince everyone to go into their coops while cursing their moms and telling them I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving, etc.  It’s not my finest moment.  But, add in some Blueberry, and well things get a lot easier…that kid is the dang chicken whisperer.  She has had an almost magical pull over these birds from day one whether they were chickens or turkeys and she can wrangle them into the coop with limited effort.  It helps reduce my workload and stress…but also gives her a little extra shot of exercise after dinner.  While it means that she goes to bed a little later, it also means that she is sleeping in a little more.  That works nicely for me!  While Sheldon would prefer to be strict with the routine, I’m finding that a little flexibility here is going a long way.

Introducing regular chores of her choice.  We have struggled with this for a while now.  We want to introduce the concept of a weekly allowance, but we don’t want her to think that money will always be handed to her without work.  When we have tried to introduce chores for dollars in the past, it’s fizzled out fairly quickly.  Especially when she gets her piggy bank and tries to pay me to do some of her chores because she doesn’t want to.  Obviously she has mastered the concept…it’s just not of interest.  So, now we are going to one unrewarded chore per day (in addition to picking up after herself) and we’re hoping that by doing so, we’ll continue to get her to invest in how things operate, look, etc around here.  Plus, if she is doing more then we are doing less.

But, I’m curious…for the other bloggy moms/dads out there….what do you to balance your day?

Happy Homesteading!