Friday, February 29, 2008

Learning Curve

Most things in life have some kind of learning curve. Things like mowing the grass (in general) aren't so tough and you can be doing it with halfway decent results in very little time. Start the engine and walk. Simple. Other things aren't so easy. Brain surgery, for instance, requires an undergraduate degree, a graduate degree in medical school, a lot of time as an internist and a specialization. By the time you get to the point where you feel like you actually might know what you're doing, you're in your mid forties or older (seems to me, anyway), and then, you're still only 'practicing' medicine. Big curve there.

I'm sure that life on a farm will be full of learning curves. In my effort to prepare myself, I've decided that when I want to make chicken (fried, that is), I'm going to buy a whole chicken and cut it up myself. Now, realize, I've done this all of about three times in my life.

I remember as a kid, my mom would cut up a chicken to bake or fry and the sound of the knife cutting through the bone would absolutely gross me out. I still don't like it, but I've gotta deal with it.

Why do I want to cut up my own chicken instead of buying it that way to begin with? Self-sufficiency, to begin with. Accomplishment, for another. Besides, if I raise chickens, I'm gonna have to learn how to kill and dress one. If I already know how to cut it up, then the job is half done.

So, I just cut up a chicken for dinner tonight. I'm learning where to cut and how to separate everything. I don't mess with the back. I save it and throw it in a pot, stew the meat off and save the broth for noodles. This time it wasn't as bad as the last time, and I'm sure I learned a thing or two that will help next time be even better. I'm still amazed at how large the breasts were on that bird. I cut each in two just because I knew it wouldn't all get eaten in the larger pieces.

What are your experiences cutting up chickens? Got any advice?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Robin's are Lost

Well, it's in the 20's today (has been for some time), and today there are about a dozen (give or take) Robins at my bird bath. They're drinking and drinking and drinking. That's all they've done since early this morning. I'm not sure what all the need for so much water is about, but they sure are thirsty.

What I don't understand is why they're here in the first place. I've seen one or two Robins over the past week or so, but the temps have consistently been well below freezing and the wind has been pretty good too. They're way early to be coming north again for the year. As a matter of fact, it's snowing right now and it's supposed to continue, with freezing rain as well, all night and into tomorrow.

Well, I'm not sure what's going on, but I'll keep the birdbath filled for them anyway.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I hate winter

Yes, I believe I've said it before, but I do hate winter.

Even with the sun shining, it's cold outside. The brown grass is even getting to my daughter. She's complained about it several times now and longs to see some green.

I feel like I'm stuck in a cacoon. Cramped, stale, dull. It sucks the very life from me. I get so bored, so restless, so crazy....

I long to feel a 65 or 70 degree day with the sun shining. To have the windows open and let some of that great warmth in the house to chase out the stale winter air. I want to smell the sweet green grass and feel the breeze. Yeah, I've got it bad.

Meanwhile, I sit here and stare out the window, wondering when this blasted season of cold, dark death will end. Oh, I know Spring is on its way, but not for a while yet. A few days ago, a friend asked me what a farmer would be doing right now during the winter. Probably spinning wool, chopping wood, making baskets or rugs, planning his crops, milking the cow.... I come up empty on all of those right now.

So I wait. Spring will come and I'll come alive again. I started taking vitimin D yesterday too. Just can't get enough sunlight on the skin here lately. Hope it helps.

Inspiration for my homestead

I thought I'd share just a thought or two about
some of the things that have inspired me to work toward becoming a homesteader...
When I was a kid, my dad was a pastor. In our church were some wonderful people that had a dairy farm and milked somewhere between 60 and 80 Holstien's. These people were good friends with my parents (and family) and when we left that town, it sort of happened that I would go and spend a week or so with these friends on their farm during the summer.
More often than not, I'd be so excited on that first morning, that I'd wake up before anyone else in the house. I'd lay there forever waiting for someone to get up. Finally, I'd get tired of waiting and just get up on my own, sneak out of the house and walk out to the barn. I'd go to the grain room and grab a shovel and begin filling the trough with grain for the cows in preparation for the morning milking. I was a kid, remember. My friends were always surprised by this.
Now, Holstien's are rather largish cows, and for a kid like me, not accustomed to being around them, I was a little afraid of them. But I always loved being in the barn. I'd help feed the calves, and watch as my farmer friend went through the routine of milking. I even got to know some of the cows by name. Popcorn and Pearl were two that I remember especially for being so gentle. Other cows had no names, and therefore didn't get much attention, at least not from me.
I recall how, on more than one ocassion, I witnessed the process of artificial insimination and was adequately grossed out by the whole process.
During the day, if there wasn't a tractor to ride as it worked a field, or a trip to town to be made, I'd spend my time playing in the hayloft, or tromping through the pasture (not caring whether or not I stepped in a fresh pattie because I wore my Wellies), or wandering to one of two culvert creeks on the property to try to catch minnows (though I never suceeded). My friends also had a three wheeler, the predecessor to the four wheeled ATV. Three wheelers are now outlawed as dangerous (as if four wheelers aren't). I'd get on the three-wheeler and putz around the place, through a pasture, down a lane... but I was a big chicken so I never took it out of first gear.
I remeber that my friends had well water. Something about that water made their iced tea taste soooo good. It was made in no different a way than my mother made it, but the water made the difference. I recall telling my friend that she needed to give my mom the recipe, then she explained that it was just the water.
I remember the evenings there in the summer as the sun set. It would cool off, the bugs would do their thing, the dusk-to-dawn light would hum. It was peaceful. I could look forward to tomorrow's visit by the milk man as he collecte a couple of day's worth of white gold. The Schwann man would drop in periodically, my friends' daughter or son would make a call now and then. Otherwise, the place was quiet and undisturbed. I'd play with Pepper and Snoopy, the Australian Shepherd's that ran the place.
I know I'll never be able to recreate those memories. But with any luck and some help from God, I hope to create some special ones of my own some day, so that my kids can look back and think about what it was like to live on a farm.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Milk and other thoughts

Well, it's raining like crazy here today, and, as usual, our yard is turning into a lake. Usually once a year in the late winter, we'll get a heafty few days of rain and our yard will fill with water. Fortunately we have good drainage and it's gone the next day. But it's gloomy in the meantime.

I was chatting with a new friend the other day, a man from my church that I just recently discovered owns a grass-fed dairy operation. They live about 40 minutes from here, but they sell homemade cheeses, grass-fed meat and pork... But in Indiana, it's illegal to sell 'raw' milk(also called 'real' depending on who you are and what side of the debate you take).

What is real milk? Not that white water they sell at the store, that's for sure. Real milk is milk that comes from the cow, is filtered for cleanliness, then cooled and sold as is, without being pasteurized. The FDA says it's not healthy to drink this kind of milk and Indiana has made it illegal to sell milk or mild products that are unpasteurized, except for cheese. Now, there are ways to get around this and still be legal. For instance, my friend has a pet food label/line. Basically, he takes the milk or butter he makes and puts the pet food label on it. The label clearly reads "NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION". But what you do with it when you get it home is up to you. The other way around it is to buy a share of a cow. You and several other folks go together to pay a farmer for the 'room and board' of a cow and you get some of the return from the cow. The legality is that you aren't buying the milk and butter, but the cow. THIS is legal in Indiana, but the outright sale of it isn't. Man, I can't stand this. Our government is deffinitely too big for its britches.

If you're reading this and wondering why anyone would drink unpasteurized milk in the first place, consider this.... When Louie Pasteur first developed the process of pasteruization (originally used for wine making), refrigeration was not a common practice in homes around the world. Food would spoil but people would go ahead and use it... they'd get sick. But most of the bacteria found in milk only becomes a problem in warm temperatures. Most everyone has a refrigerator today. So the milk is kept cool and the bacteria don't become problematic. Wellllllll.... ok, let me make a clarification. I'll say, milk from a grass-fed cow won't likely become problematic. Feed lot cows? Oh deffinitely, please, pasteurize that stuff... twice if you have to. You see, when a cow is able to feed on pasture and get most of her nutrition from her forage, she's able to ingest bacterium that help her in digestion of her food, in keeping her healthy, and producing safe milk. Her own immunity to disease is stronger, her health is better, and therefore, her milk is safer. They're given medications only when they truly are sick... which isn't often.

Then there are the factory cows. I call any animal (be it chicken, cow, pig... or whatever) raised in close confinement and fed grains and silage (or heaven knows what else in the case of some animals) factory animals. These cows do nothing but stand around on a concrete pad all day, waiting for the next delivery of grain or silage to be dumped in the trough. She eats, then moves into the milk parlor to be milked. Stringent records are kept about her productivity and if she doesn't produce more than, say, 30 pounds or more milk per day, she's outa there. She and her sisters get very little exercise, and probably the only grass they've ever seen is on the other side of the feed lot fence, growing in a narrow strip next to the farm office. These animals are cramped together, staning in their urine and feces all day, being given daily doses of antibiotics in their feed, as well as hormones to promote milk production. You better believe some of those antibiotics and hormones are passed on to you in the milk you drink. Yeah, if I have to drink that stuff, I want it pasteurized.

You see, real milk really is good for you. When milk is pasteurized, some of the natural enzymes are distroyed that help transfer calcium, and vitimins A and D. It's a whole food, not processed. One more thing. If drinking unpasteurized milk was so bad for you, why didn't pioneers and folk who had family cows in years gone by complain of sickness more often than is recorded? Sure a few must have gotten sick... but by and large, people were healthier then than we are now.

Check out for more information on eating more whole foods and real milk.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Winter Blah's

Wow. Today the sun is shining and the temp is right around 36 degrees or so. The three inches of snow we got the other day is beginning to melt and it actually feels kinda nice outside (compared to the sub-freezing temps we've been putting up with for the past month).

I'd love to go outside and take a walk or stomp around the yard, but I don't dare leave the kids inside alone... no telling what they'd do.

I've got the winter blah's pretty bad. You know what they are. Sick of cold, sick of snow, sick of gray sheet skies. Thankfully the sun does shine once in a while. What makes it worse is that I've been getting garden catalogs in the mail. Seeds and plants are staring at me in all their summertime beauty, which only makes me want it to warm up all the more. But alas, it's only the 2nd of February. I fear many more gray skies will pass overhead before Spring teases me with green grass and daffodils.

However, I'm going to do something to encourage myself. I bought some seed started the other day and a packet of rosemary seeds. I've also got some grapefruit seeds saved to try sprouting. So I'm going to plant those and hope for some seedlings soon. That might help the situation a little... to see something alive and growing.

Hope you're having a decent winter where you are.