Thursday, July 12, 2012

Another Shorty And A Stupid Mistake

Tonight is another short update.

In the last week we finally had RAIN!! Much needed for these parts. Our part of the country has been ridiculously dry, so the rain comes with great sighs of relief. Until the night it flooded our chicks. Our lovely little Cochin chicks, two surviving turkey poults, keets and random silkies got flooded in their outdoor pen. We had a few unfortunate losses, and ended up bringing the whole lot of them BACK into the living room to dry off, warm up, and hang out until we had a better shelter set-up for a few days. I had a few weeks of barn-free living at least. While I don't mind the occasional inhabitant from the farm staying with us briefly to nurse wounds or as wee little babies, I really do enjoy when they can join the general population again outside. It also reminds me of how dusty chickens can be when they are in an enclosed space. It makes me sneeze just to think about it!

I also made a very stupid mistake this week. We had received a bunny (Holland? It is black with a white stripe) as a companion for Claire's rabbit. We were told it was another female. I didn't even THINK to check said bunny's anatomy to be certain. If it had been a castrated male, a male partner for a female bunny would be fine as long as they got along well together. A female companion for a female rabbit is fine too, as long as they like each others company. However, a MALE rabbit in the company of a female rabbit tends to produce baby rabbits. For some reason I didn't even think to turn this new rabbit over to check for dangly bits. I trusted this woman, who seemed to have more experience than I did, that it was a female. I am sure that by now you can guess what gender said new rabbit is.

As soon as I put him in the same cage, he jumped on top of our female rabbit and, well, did what boy bunnies do. I took him out after about ten minutes, as soon as my brain had enough time to process his actions and realize that it probably wasn't your usual domination efforts by a female rabbit. When I turned him over and saw the tell-tale testicles (after feeling like doing an immediate rabbit castration and thumping my own head against a wall for my ignorance!), I put him back in seclusion and did some frantic searching on the interwebs for information regarding what to do if your bun has a bun in the oven.

So, a brief lesson in rabbit gestation here, to fill in everyone so we are all a little more knowledgeable. Rabbits breed quite quickly and readily (hence the term, breeding like rabbits). A rabbits gestation lasts 28-31 days. Yikes! That means little Bunny-Foo-Foo can multiply a ridiculous number of times in a year. Ovulation actually starts about 10 hours AFTER the mating act occurs, as rabbits are induced ovulators. This means our little girl bunny is probably already pregnant. In a week or two I can probably palpate her abdomen to see if I can feel any babies in there. Usually folks will breed their rabbits around 9 months of age. Since she is not spayed, and already several years old, I am HOPING she does OK and survives this whole mess. Bugger all. I really didn't want baby bunnies until we had some large breed meat rabbits and were set up for them. Silly me. I will definitely be checking next time and NOT be taking anyone's work for it on a rabbits gender.

So much for a short update. Night all!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fire Cider...It Will Cure What Ails You!

Tonight I finally got around to making up a batch of fire cider. This is one of those recipes that I keep meaning to start, but I either don't get around to getting all the ingredients at the same time, or I have them all but just feel too lazy or overwhelmed to even start slicing things up. Well, I was determined to do it NOW so we could have it ready when needed.

What exactly is fire cider, and why am I making it? I am going to be brief (you can follow the link to read more) because I want to get off to bed and I am too tired to think straight. First the why. When I was growing up, I remember my great-grandmother always cooking, baking, and creating in her kitchen. I wish I had paid more attention then, but since I was so young I am not sure it would have made much of a difference. She was from such a different era as well as place than I was. She grew up on the Russian steppes, and was an amazing cook. She could (and DID) make vodka out of anything. I have very strong scent and flavor memories associated with her. One of these is the concoctions (potions? medicines? whatever you want to call them) she would make to stave off illness or outright banish it from an infirm body. I remember one particularly strong one that knocked me on my butt as a child (our whole family was quite ill at the time with some bronchial issue), tasted of blackberry syrup and brandy, and eliminated the virus within 24 hours. It really was that impressive.

Those memories stayed in the back of my brain until a few months ago when I ran across this recipe for fire cider. I have often made up my own herbal teas and tisanes, but this one just reminded me so much of something my great grandmother would make, that I wanted to try it and perfect my own recipe for the family. This version of fire cider should be excellent whether it is used to prevent a cold or flu from taking hold, or to expel one from the body. It is also useful in maintaining a healthy digestive system, which has become an important issue for my hubby and partner. When his gut doesn't hurt, the rest of his brain and body feel better.

If you are knowledgeable about herbs, you can use those which are most relevant to your particular needs. If you are not knowledgeable, please either find someone who is, or just use the basic recipe.

I borrowed this recipe and tinkered a bit with it to suit my own tastes and what I could find at the store. I had to substitute some cherry peppers for the habanero/cayennes (although I would have much preferred the latter), so I am hoping it will have the heat I am looking for. Next time I will try to find the peppers I want, rather than make a substitution. Whatever chiles you use, remember that your cider will be spicier if you include the seeds, so be aware of that when making your choices. I ended up chopping the chiles finely, with most of the seeds as they are a milder pepper. I am hoping it doesn't become too spicy, but if it does, I will add a little more honey to cool the effects a bit. I also used rosemary, mint and sage fresh picked from the garden. I am now wishing I had put in more mint, but it can always be added a little later on if necessary. I used a 1/2 gallon jar and expanded my ingredients accordingly as I know that if the recipe works as I expect it to, we will use it up during the coming winter months. I may try a little turmeric root next time as well, as it has immune-boosting properties. I will try to post some photos of the concoction tomorrow.

Remember, fresh quality ingredients will work better than dried, conventionally grown ones. Ask around at your local Farmers' Market for the ingredients you need. For a smaller amount of fire cider, use a quart jar instead, and simply use a smaller amount of the roots. You may have to tinker with the amounts to get the taste you prefer. We like ginger a LOT, so I use more than other people might.

Fire Cider (adapted from Rosemary Gladstar’s version HERE)

1 head Garlic, peeled and chopped fine

i large Ginger root, peeled and chopped fine

1 large Horseradish root, peeled and sliced

1 large Onion, diced (I used white)

1-2 Chile Peppers (Cayenne, Habanero, whatever flavor/heat combination you prefer), sliced thin

1-2 Oranges, zested then juiced (lime would also be fantastic)

Herbs (I used Rosemary, Peppermint, and Sage), crushed then chopped fine

1 quart Apple Cider Vinegar (preferably a brand with the mother of vinegar)

Honey to taste, once it has fermented to your liking

Slice your ingredients and layer them in a half-gallon jar. Cover the ingredients about 2-3 inches above the herbs. Cover and place the jar in a cool dark corner (closets work well) for a minimum of 2-3 weeks. You can let it sit longer if you feel it needs to be more potent (although I would not let it go beyond 3 months or so without straining it). Strain out the herbs and other material, and place in a clean glass jar with a lid; add the honey at this point to your taste preference. It can be kept refrigerated for several weeks. When you feel a little under the weather, have a small glass of it; the cider should taste spicy and sweet.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mornings On The Farm

Sometimes the most interesting things happen during the day when we are doing the morning milking. Now, admittedly, I am not a morning person. My body would prefer staying up to the wee hours of the morning as opposed to getting up with the birds. Yet I can appreciate the utility of getting an early start on the morning chores around the farm, especially during the hottest months of the year. Rising at the break of dawn to milk means getting all the animals fed and watered before the great fiery orb we rotate around has a chance to scorch the very earth we inhabit.

Those early hours are also a window into the natural world that surrounds us, and gives us a chance to connect with it on a deeper level, especially if we are open to it. One recent morning, we headed out into the pasture where the milking does were grazing down the irrigation ditch (a great way to deal with ditch management that is low-impact and requires no heavy equipment). As we walked with the two dogs and chatted, a motion at the corner of the eyes stopped us both in our tracks. Three beautiful mule deer bucks in velvet were grazing about 50 yards away from us, on the other side of the goats. We stopped in our tracks, silent, as we watched them notice our presence. Two decided to trot across the pasture and a fence, and hide in the trees. The third took our measure, sized up the dogs and does, and went back to grazing. While it would have been great to watch them graze, we had to milk, so on we went with our task. The entire time we milked the girls, the bucks grazed; the two that had previously run returned once they determined we were not a threat. A meadowlark serenaded us as we worked and the deer grazed.

It was a magical setting, and an awesome way to start the morning. I was wishing I had brought my camera so I could capture the moment, but I would have to carry it with me everywhere to memorialize all the little moments we experience on a daily basis. And I am admittedly a little lazy in that regard; as well as not wanting to bust the technology while wrestling a pig or goat, or chasing down some cows. Maybe I will have to work on that, as well as other things in my life. I enjoy those mental pictures, and there are some I would love to share in a single image. In the end,I may not be a morning person, but I can certainly appreciate the beauty of the day.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Living Room is a Nursery

We have been very busy here at the farm, for the last month or so. Since I can't remember the last post I made, and I am admittedly too lazy to look it up, I will recap here. We started out with with three pigs (two gilts and a boar) that were in pig (such a funny term for being pregnant!), due to farrow any day. We had six goats, all does, only two of which were in milk. A few heritage turkeys, eight ducks, and a small (25-30) flock of chickens. We have expanded. And not in our waistlines either.

That being said, back to the title. Why on earth is my living room a nursery? Well...

First we had our two gilts/sows farrow. Each had nine wiggly little piglets, and they shared the same paddock during the entire process. All was going well, with mama #2 sharing the job of milk bar for the first little piglets. We thought it was an awesome thing for them to be sharing the job of raising the little ones all together. At least until the second farrow which happened about three weeks later. Since Mama #2 was already nursing babies from Mama #1, she wasn't as focused on nursing her own offspring, or protecting them from the larger piglets. The younger ones ended up suffering s lot of cuts to the head, with some injuries down to the bone. They were also not thriving as well as they should have, since the older ones were pushing them out of the way. So we had to take action. After much mulling over, we decided to remove the smallest ones from their mama and raise them on bottles. It was a risky gambit, since it is generally advised to remove the sow from the piglets when they are weaned. They were also only a few days old, so had a severely diminished chance of survival.

We went in with a plan. We would sneak in after the morning feeding to surround the moms and older babies with a hog panel fence around their favorite feeding tree (a story for later). We would feed them to keep them all distracted, and hopefully swoop in and remove all the babies as fast as possible before the moms got cranky. If you have ever been around pigs, you know why we would want to be fast. For those of you who have never witnessed a cranky mama sow, imagine a pissed off Sherman tank racing towards you hell-bent on protecting its offspring. A sight to make anyone a little nervous to be sure.

For all the planning we did, the act of removing the piglets went remarkably smoothly. Moms were distracted by food, babies were swept into a Rubbermaid tub with hardly an incident, and we trooped off proud of ourselves for a job well done. The next dilemma was to make sure they were well fed and would survive the next few critical weeks of development. For that, we needed enough goat milk, the universal milk replacer for mammals.

We already had two does in milk, but the milk they were producing was not going to be enough. I did some price comparisons on artificial milk replacer (sow milk replacer as well as goat milk replacer), and found it would be FAR cheaper just to buy another doe in milk than to buy the artificial replacer. So the search ensued. We ended up finding one in our price range that was pregnant; the first one we were shown had a large lump in her udder that we were not prepared to try and treat. We drove her home, and she ended up birthing a buckling in the back of the truck in a parking lot. Not at all what we expected! Her udder was massively congested, and she wasn't letting the baby nurse, so we ended up having to remove him too so he would have a better chance of survival. At this point, we had a baby goat as well as nine little piggies in our living room.

Over the next few weeks, we realized that we would need more milk for all the pigs, as we wanted to supplement the older piglets so they would be more socialized as well as having a better diet. Milk-fed pork. Yum! The search began anew. As the story goes, the person we bought the pregnant doe from decided to divest himself of almost all his goats, so we went to pick up another. We bought the one he showed us, and he threw in her two kids for free. He also had another doe (the original one we looked at with the lump in her udder) he would sell us for just a little more, and he would throw in HER kids as well. Yikes! We went out to buy one goat, and we came back with SIX!!

In the end, we picked up ANOTHER doe (and her kid who turns out to be fairly wild) so we could have enough for ALL the piglets and ALL the kids as well. I am hoping to wean the goats within the next few weeks so we can either freeze milk for the piglets as they grow or to sell as Goat Shares.

We also picked up some Large Fowl Cochin chicks who are also currently calling an old TV box home in our living room. They are good for eggs and meat, and have little feathered feet. Squee! I will try to get some good photos of them eventually. No promises, though.

What do I want next? A milk cow. Really. I swear, my husband and my son could both almost fully exist off of just a raw milk diet if given the choice. While we do have a source for some raw cows milk, we really just need to save up our pennies or find someone to help invest in our little enterprise so we can have our own milk cow. I never thought I would see the day when I would hear myself say that! It is amazing what happens in such a short span of time, when different opportunities present themselves. Some Guinea hens or keets would be nice too. While I am dreaming out loud, 200+ private acres in the mountains with pasture and irrigation or riverfront for our own would be awesome too...

Just Saying....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Late Nights

Tonight is promising to be one of those late nights. We (myself and the two little ones) have been at the in-laws for a day and a half, and are planning on going back to the ranch tomorrow. I haven't begun to pack yet, and just barely have things organized. Well, to be honest, I have a list. A list of things I need to remember to take back to the ranch, to be more specific. Unfortunately, said list is also on the same page as my list of things to remember to take TO the in-laws place (thankfully, crossed off). Said list also includes some items to look up on the internet as soon as I have the time (HAHAHA) on this less than 48-hour trip, as well as things to accomplish while I am here. Like completing our taxes. At least I can cross one thing off my list.

The dilemma I have at this point is: Do I succumb to my body saying it is dirt-tired after not sleeping last night (lack of husbands' presence and the cats sleeping on top of me so they would know instantly when I moves thereby being able to ask for petting at every twitch I made). Or do I try to stay up late and collect some of the items on my list, knowing that I don't really have a place to put them yet, and can't really pack the truck up just yet.

Plus, I just noticed that I *really* need to change out my NaBloPoMo icon for something less...dated. It only serves to remind me that I have way too much to do, and I really should focus on the details some time. I also need to order a bunch of seeds to plant, oh, last week. As well as pay some bills. Hard to do with the sketchy internet service we have out there, which amounts to using the little bit I get on my phone. It is a work in progress, for sure.

Speaking of a work in progress, we have running water! Well, *COLD* running water. The hot will take longer to figure out. Trying to hook up the gas to the stove (the stove top works, but the oven doesn't, Boo Hiss) is the next project. Then the electricity. Then maybe the internet. Then maybe the gas heat (by then it will be summer and irrelevant!).

Sigh. I am tired. I think I will just go to bed instead. OH! And one Mama pig had babies. Nine squiggly adorable little porkers. I'll got photos up soon (on that aforementioned list). Mama pig #2 is still holding out..

OK, I am really off to bed this time. Night all!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Finding A Mountain

I think I mentally started this post a dozen times. So much has been going on the last few months, I feel like it has been a luxury to even contemplate posting, much less actually doing it! I think the main reason I am finally sitting down to post is I just want to get a few things out of my head, and clear my brain cells from some of the clutter.

In January, I took a trip by myself, for the first time in....I don't even know. Certainly BC (Before Children), and probably since early on in my marriage. Hubby and I truly enjoy each others company (even after 15 years of being together!), so there hasn't been a lot of incentive to go on a solo trip. This time was a little different. My folks offered to pay my way to California to have a week-long visit with family (I have quite a few relatives out that way) and to see my grandmother celebrate her 90th birthday.

It was a trip of mixed feelings. It was fun (although slightly stressful having to deal with airport security, etc.) traveling by myself. No kids to chase, no other people to look after but myself. I was sad to leave my family for a week, but it was a good experience. It gave me a much-needed breath of air, and allowed me to have a little time to myself and to see my extended family.

Seeing my grandmother made me feel sad. She is such a vibrant and bright figure in my childhood. She and my great-grandmother were such strong women. They were also both,tragically, rather crazy. I can understand their craziness to some extent was brought about by circumstances out of their control, but it has had lasting repercussions through our family relations. It was actually my husband who helped me forge a renewed relationship with my grandmother several years ago, and I think it was for the best. He told me that even though she was crazy, she was also an old lady and would not be around for much longer. So why not forgive her some of the craziness for the sake of loving your grandmother for her last few years on this earth. Such a smart man.

I felt so sad seeing her. It was almost like visiting with a shadow of herself. Some vague parts of her personality and speech were there, but her soul, her spirit was gone. She has been showing greater signs of Alzheimer's the last few years, and it has robbed her of much of her lively personality. She now lives in a home with 3-4 other residents, and doesn't remember much . I think it is a blessing, actually. She had such a hard life (crazy mother, remember?), and was such a bitch to her daughters (and daughters-in-law, and granddaughters, and probably nieces as well), that it a great irony of life that in her final years she remembers nothing. She didn't even remember me. I feel a little wistful that there was only a vague flicker of recognition, and sad that her memories are gone forever. It would have been interesting to have some written down or recorded.

Oh well.

In the middle of February, we discovered that someone in my in-laws neighborhood (where we have been staying with our animals) didn't like our piggies. They left rat poison in their pen, and some of the dogs got hold of it as well. Luckily, they were all fine, especially our two pregnant (!!!WOOHOO!!!) gilts/sows. So we realized that the universe was AGAIN saying "GET OUT AND MOVE", so we had better take the hint and FIND a way to make things work on land somewhere. After a few advertisements, we found out that people in Colorado were *really* interested in our pigs (especially the piglets to buy), and we found several folks willing to help us out in relocating our animals. One even had a place for us as well (!!), so for the last month or so we have been busily moving our pigs and goats and tidying up the place for human habitation. That is another story all together. Especially the "pig moving" story. Whew!

It is pretty rustic right now (no running water, no heat, spotty electricity, and even more spotty internet and phone service), BUT it is four walls, a roof and a ceiling for us, safety from poisoners for our animals, and hopefully a little more serenity and calm for our little family SOON. We are working very hard on making it so, so please forgive the lapses in posts as we try to work all this out. And keep your fingers and toes crossed that this is the right path the universe is setting us on!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Salt Dough Ornaments

We have been busy around here, so I haven't been as good about writing every day. Well, that and a certain amount of innate laziness I have to try and overcome. It can be a huge effort to overcome inertia and actually do something more creative some evenings. In a similar fashion, the days are generally filled so I don't get to sit down without interruption very often. Even trying to plan certain activities during the day can take an overwhelming effort to accomplish.

I have been wanting to help the kids make salt dough ornaments for a few months now. I have run across the recipes in too many places to count for the last several years, and always thought it would be an easy and fun project to do with the kids. Things always seemed to get in the way, though. I was finally able to sit down (ha, ha. Actually I didn't get to sit at all for several hours!) with the family and help the kids make ornaments last night. While Greg worked on making the dough, I helped them roll it out, cut, and transfer the ornaments. As usual, my little independent-minded children wanted to do everything themselves so I tried to let them as much as possible. The kids did most of the decorating, and we left a few undecorated so they could be colored or painted after they were dry.

As with any new project we have a few little learning experiences that will hopefully prepare us for the next round of making decorations. We all had a good time, and made quite a few nice ornaments for the tree. I want to send a few to family members too, so I'll let the kids pick those out. I'm looking forward to having these on the tree soon. Growing up, we often made new ornaments every year; I think this was mainly in school, especially when we were little. I have fond memories of so many of these ornaments, and I want my children to have the opportunity to have these same kind of connections as they grow up.

For our dough, we ended up using some whole wheat flour and kosher salt as that is what we had lying around. Normally this wouldn't be a problem in baking, as the salt would be well incorporated. Our ornaments ended up looking more grainy (as Greg jokingly called it, more like some rawhide dog treats), but I like the texture of it. They appear more homey to me, and since it was a craft project for the kids to enjoy I think it is just fine. With this recipe the dough is only slightly cooked at a low temperature to actually dry out the dough. Please remember, this dough is not edible, and quite nasty if you try to eat it. Make sure your animals don't get to it either; I imagine the salt content would not be healthy for pets if ingested.

Before I actually get into the recipe, I want to talk a little about the lessons we learned. Since we used the materials we had on hand, our dough turned out a little different than it might have otherwise. Had we used a generic highly processed white flour and table salt, the dough would have been more paste-like and less grainy. I have also seen recipes with only 1/2 cup of salt, but I think a larger amount might act as a preservative and drying agent for the dough over time. I have read about adding other ingredients to the dough to change its consistency (cooking oil, lemon juice). I have no experience using them so I cannot say how they will truly effect the dough. We may experiment at some point in the future and I will update you later if we do.

For the dough:

1 cup flour

1 cup salt

1/2 cup water

Food coloring

We ended up using one batch of dough per color (4 colors overall), as each batch made a small amount of dough. Dissolve salt in the water first, then stir in the food coloring. More food coloring will create a darker, intense hue while less will create a lighter shade. This will make it easier to incorporate into the flour more evenly. Add the water/salt/color mixture to the flour and mix thoroughly.

If you make several colors at once, I suggest you put the dough into plastic bags or under cling wrap to prevent it from drying out too quickly. If your dough turns too crumbly, add a little water. Sculptural elements can also be added using a little water to bind the pieces.

Roll out the dough and use cookie cutters or a cup to cut out ornaments. Lay on a cookie sheet on top of waxed paper; unless you want to take a chance they will bond quite well to your baking pans, that is. Be sure to poke a hole with a straw or toothpick so you can put a ribbon through the ornament when it is dry.

Bake in an oven at 250 degrees until they are dry. Depending on how humid your area is and the thickness of the ornaments, it can take an hour or several days. Ornaments can also be dried in the air over several days. If you use plastic decorating elements in the oven, check them often to make sure they don't melt.

Ornaments can be decorated while wet or dry. I sprayed the ornaments a little with water before adding the decorations then we used some sequins and small plastic beads while the ornaments were wet, and pressed them into the dough so they would stick better. Once dry, ornaments can be painted with a variety of paints, glitter glue, spray paint, markers, etc. Be creative and play around! Clear spray paint can also be used to seal the ornaments. Be sure to store them in a box wrapped in tissue or paper to protect them when not in use, as they can be fragile.

This dough can be used to make ornaments for any occasion, or just for fun. Here are a few images of ours.