Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Yesterday morning the pond was half empty.
This morning it is full. I didn't even leave the clothes on the line!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Surprise Birthday Party

Monday on the farm has been all about cleaning house this summer. We used to clean house on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, but now we sell at the Daleville farmer's market instead.

As Patrick scrubbed the stove and Rose cleaned cabinet doors, Maggie swept floors and cleaned the deck. Nora organized shoes in the shoe cubby and Thomas took out the trash and fed milk to the pigs. I hung out loads and loads of laundry on the clothesline daring the skies to rain. At some point Maggie ran in with a wonderful surprise! Our free-range mama Rouen duck had rejoined the two rouen drakes out on the pond. Along with eight adorable little babies swimming along behind!!! All chores came to a screeching halt as we found some old bread and Patrick and the rest of the gang ran out to the pond to inspect.

What a treat. Thankfully Mama Duck is a much better mother than Jemima Puddleduck. Nevertheless, we compelled her and her sweet babies to join the chickens in the chicken yard for awhile. You never know when a wily old fox will come along and try to "sweet talk" her and her babies to dinner.

PS. The laundry on the line trick has failed to work so far. Maybe I should leave some blankets out or something? Roll down the car windows? We are praying for rain. The ducks would love some more puddles for splashing.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Stop and smell the 4 o'clocks

There are so many topics I would like to cover and so little time.

I have an article rolling around in my head about August and gardens and personality tests.

Another one about the friends who lent us their horse trailer to make a 4:30am trip to the butcher with our nice big steer. Had to be there before 6 so the inspector could insure that he walked himself off the trailer and that he had adequate food and water for the journey.

Or the decision to drive our friend Holly to the Homeplace for a non-home cooked meal of fried chicken and mashed potatoes and biscuits because, by golly, I was just too tired to cook.

Or those entertaining turkey poults in the breakfast room who play a mean game of basketball with cherry tomatoes.

Or my prayer Friday morning for some divine intervention to help me have a little time with my husband, alone. And how a friend called that afternoon and said she had been wanting to help out and could she come over and work at our house on Saturday afternoon and evening and so Philip and I had a great date Saturday night, ate yummy greek food and saw a movie and stayed out way too late, and talked over supper for a very long time. Alone.

Or the new source of employment for our piggies, tilling up weeds in part of the garden.

Or the continuing cheesemaking saga, this week, 4 lbs of mozzarella.

Or the one little bantam hen who keeps slipping out of her yard and into our garden to poke holes in every single one of my nearly ripe tomatoes.

Or selling 2 of our little baby goats to a young couple who are furthering their dream of a self-sustaining life.

Or our wonderful barter relationships, or farmer's market customers, or bread making, or homeschooling.

But I think I will mention that as I sit at my piled up desk and be still, the fragrance of the 4 o'clocks and nicotania outside my back door floats in and reminds me that beauty is everywhere. God loves me and gives me good gifts. This evening in August is cool and fresh, and the end of summer frogs and insects sound like home. I made a point of sitting outside on the front porch with the girls for a few minutes to feel the fresh air and to watch the sky change as end of summer sun faded out under cover of promising clouds.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Flexibility on the farm, or letting go of total control, or FRIED CHICKEN

Today was slated for chicken harvesting.

In the past, I would get up extra early, clean out the barn, push sleepy family members toward the barn, get grumpy, watch family members get grumpy, then butcher chickens. Today I felt divinely inspired to let Philip and the kids do the preparation work on their own time while I took care of my own chores. I milked the cow, ate a nice breakfast prepared by Philip, read the newspaper, trying to figure out what in the world is going on in Georgia and Russia, made pickles, started some chevre, put up the fromage blanc we made yesterday, skimmed milk, made 3 quarts of cream into butter, and didn't get at all worked up over the late start in the poultry processing department.

By the time everyone was ready, it was time for lunch, so we had some delicious sandwiches with ripe tomatoes and crunchy pickles from a couple of weeks ago. Made another pot of coffee, then off we went.

Our family is not really well designed for farm life. We like late suppers. Late conversations. Late book reading. All of us. Not even any of the kids like to get up at the crack of dawn. But I still feel like if we don't start things really early we are going to get in trouble. I am afraid that some people will think we are slackers if we don't get out and hopping by 6 or so. I remember Grandpa Rowe, up at 5:30, making the coffee, turning on the EARLY news on the teeny tv, clanging around, grumbling about the fact that noone else was getting up yet. We just turned over on our pallets on the floor in the living room and tried to cover the head with pillows!

Everyone was a lot more cheerful today as we headed out to the barn around 1:30. I got loads of chores done and didn't have to feel like grouch.

The last time Philip checked on the chicken plucker it worked just fine. So, the water was hot, the counters disinfected, knives somewhat sharpened and we got to work.

The whizbang chicken plucker didn't whiz or bang. It just slowed to a complete stop when we put the first bird in. Poor Philip. I think he may have wanted to cry at that moment.

It was fun seeing how quickly the kids recovered. They began to pluck by hand and one of them, Maggie, I believe, mentioned that after plucking ducks, hand plucking chickens seemed almost fun! We processed ten chickens, leaving the rest of the 45 or 50 birds to grow a little. So we will have harvest day, take 2, in a week or two. Hand-plucking isn't really all that much fun, when you are dealing with 50 chickens.

Rose skinned out the gizzards. She was getting really good at it by the time we stopped for the day. Patrick was head executioner. Everyone plucked. Thomas carried lots of stuff. Philip worked on plucker machine. Maggie helped eviscerate, and even Patrick learned to eviscerate today. Nora hung out and the kids entertained her by doing funny things with chicken feet. They even painted the toenails of a couple of laying hens. (You do whatever it takes to keep a sleepy 4 year old entertained).

Now I sit and type and take a break. Philip took the rest of the gang for a swim, and we will all fry up some nice fresh chicken for supper. I guess if we get all that oil hot we may as well cook up some gizzards and french fries too. Noone else really likes the gizzards besides me. Good for me! Maybe someone better go check the garden for some okra. I think we have just enough to fry up at least a little taste treat.

I guess we may stay up a little too late. Oh well. I guess you can probably figure out the moral of this story.

PS, we have baby turkeys! They are teeny and look like regular chicks, but with a funny thing on the top of their heads!

PPS, you should see our forest of sunflowers. They are so pretty in the late afternoon. The bees are going crazy over them. The sun has changed and the sky is different. Summer feels like it is winding down. Maybe in a few days it will be 90 degrees and I will eat my words. But now the evenings are cool are mornings are brisk. I love it.

PPPS, we picked our apples yesterday. They are red and delicious, and crunchy and sweet. We will try to store them in the basement so we can continue to eat fresh apples for awhile. I hope they don't rot. The figs are ALMOST ripe. So are the plums. Thank God for so many wonderful things to eat.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Cream

it is weaning time for Moose. Moose is an 8 month old steer. Certainly old enough to live off the grass of the land. We have put his mother, Coco, in another field for now, separate from her son.

Poor Moose. What a crybaby! He is not terribly thrilled with the new arrangement. Coco, on the other hand, seems oblivious to the different status. She is getting to munch down on all that nice green grass in our front lawn. And I am getting to milk her in the evening now. What a lot of milk! The evening milk has even more cream than the morning.

Moose is a more efficient milker than I. He can empty Coco out in minutes. Sometimes I get halfway through and want to quit. My hands get sore. The carpal tunnel kicks in and several fingers go numb. I look in the big 3 gallon stainless steel bowl at the half a gallon of milk and am tempted to quit. How much milk do we really need, anyway? Then I think of the cream.

Cows, like humans, have different types of milk at the beginning and ending of a milking session. The first milk is called foremilk. It is watery, high in carbs, great for energy. Think skim milk. The hind milk is where the cream comes in, at the end of the milking session. All that fat leaves a very satisfied calf. Well, at least before yesterday, it left a very satisfied calf. If one stops milking before the udder has been emptied out, the milk will be lowfat. There are many conditions that contribute to fat content in milk, what type of food the cow is eating, breed, mood of the cow(does she let all her milk down or not), and the milker.

I like cream. I like butter. My family adores creamy milk and butter. Soooo, when I look into that bowl of a half a gallon of milk, I keep on pushing on. It really isn't that difficult. If I don't give up I will have a couple of gallons of milk to show for my efforts in the morning and the same thing come evening and enough cream for many cups of coffee and plenty of butter for bread and mashed potatoes. Milking reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures: "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." Galatians 6:9

Guess I better sign off and skim the milk so we can make some butter. Then I plan on applying that scripture to the housekeeping department.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Canette aux navets (duckling with turnips)

We have been eating pork like crazy. So good. Chicken too. We are set to butcher the next set of broilers in a week or so. Soooo, I have been very liberal in our chicken consumption, thinking of the freezer space. I throw a couple of chickens in the clay roaster, and in a couple of hours we have several meals lined up, roast chicken, cold chicken sandwiches and soup.

Raising your own meat is kind of special. It makes you feel a bit smarter, tougher, and oh, so IN, with all this talk of green living, eat local etc. What they don't mention in the magazines is that feeling you get the night before "harvesting day." That feeling of exhaustion, of dread, of "have I forgotten anything and should I go back online to google more harvesting info and tips?" That is exactly how I was feeling last Wednesday night, preparing for the duck harvest.

I truly enjoy eating duck. Pan-seared duck breast, sliced, placed on a bed of salad greens, maybe tossed with some dried cherries, almonds and balsamic vinegar. Roasted and served with sesame orange sauce. Whatever. When I purchased a frozen duck in the grocery store once and looked at the label and wondered about that saline solution and whatever those other weird sounding ingredients were listed on the bag of raw duck, I decided we had to raise our own.

It has been fun raising ducks. They are so cute and fluffy as babies. They are so humorous lining up in the pasture, hunting for bugs and grass. Nevertheless, the processing part is not anything as easy as processing chickens. Ducks were made to be able to swim and stay relatively dry all at the same time. They have lots and lots and lots of feathers. Our feather plucker machine doesn't seem to work on ducks. I read that people use melted wax to peel off the feathers, so online I went to purchase some little beads of wax.

We got up, scrubbed down the concrete area in the barn, set up our counter and sink, started heating up huge pans of water on the propane burners, and proceeded to melt wax.

The children went out to pasture to gather up the ducks we were planning on turning into meat. Philip and Patrick humanely dispatched the fowl. The other kids and Patrick helped pull feathers. We were so excited that maybe the new wax procedure would make processing duck and easy task. We enjoy raising them so much, maybe we would want to produce enough to sell to some of our customers! Maybe duck would be the answer to all our farm financial woes. Maybe, if this stuff worked to defeather those birds as cleanly as they said it would, we would be THE gourmet duck producers in the valley. Oh, the french meals we would make for our friends and family...

I think I understand why I haven't been seeing purveyors of duckling springing forth at every farmer's market. One certainly won't be springing forth from this farm. Death sentences were lifted from 3 or 4 of the ducklings as everyone decided enough is enough. They will lay eggs, and we will enjoy listening to them quack in the field. It won't hurt to have 7 or 8 duck egg layers out there. Everyone loves duck eggs. They make the best cakes! Maybe next spring we will try our hand at processing duck again. Enough to make a few gourmet meals for us and our friends. Not the entire valley. Maybe there will be a YouTube video that shows us all the secrets we have been missing that will speed up the process. Maybe we will refine our technique.

After we finished the task and I got the barn scrubbed down again, and equipment was put up, I thought I would skip cooking supper. Too tired. Let the kids eat bread. Then I got hungry. All that duck. Can cooking be a compulsion? How could I let that duck sit in the basement fridge and not eat at least a little.

So I pulled out the duck, pan-seared it, threw in some garlic and sea salt, and put it in a hot oven. Dug out some baby turnips from the bottom of the fridge where they had been waiting for such a moment as this. Scrubbed some new potatoes and put those turnips and potatoes in the pan with the ducky. Sauteed some soleil filet green beans( a very very thin, small french variety of bean), and had a feast, sitting with Maggie out on the deck with the mosquitoes, because noone else really wanted to eat turnips and Philip and Thomas were still out fixing fence. Delicious. Fantastic. I felt so smart, so tough, so IN, so green. So tired. So happy we don't have to process meat every week. So glad for a nice comfy bed to drop into with my satisfied stomach. So relieved that when it is time to harvest beef, we will be paying someone else to do it!