Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Our Family Cemetery is Open for Business (Free of Charge)

It's true, after a year of phone calls, regulation research, conversations with coroners and funeral home directors, our attorney and several meetings with our county officials--The O'Shaughnessy-Parrish Family Cemetery is a reality.

In our opinion, this "zoning variance" granted by the county, is a cause for celebration. It means that Keith and I and those related to us by blood or marriage, can be buried naturally in one of the 18 approved plots.  No embalming, no metal boxes, no expensive vaults. Wood caskets optional. If that is their desire of course.

Anyone who chooses to spend on average of $7,000 to $10,0000 for a traditional visitation, funeral service and large cemetery burial with all the bells and whistles of velvet draped funeral homes, fancy caskets with silk pillows, and concrete vaults that do nothing to preserve our bodies no matter how much moola is invested, is welcome to follow that route, but they'll have to do it elsewhere.

For family members who would rather leave their money to loved ones or deserving agencies, instead of burying it in the ground, we can now legally offer them a less expensive alternative. Sorry, we can't accept deposits as there will be no charge for this end-of-the-line vacation resort, nor will we take reservations.

It's strictly first come first serve.

I myself have my eye on Plot Number 1 because it's the farthest from the road, but if someone beats me to it, I'll be mature enough to step aside.

All in all the process was only mildly painful, but would've been less time consuming if I'd run across even one informed state individual who could've walk me through it step by step.  Or at least pointed me in the right direction. I was often given inaccurate information or sent to the wrong offices for info gathering. Additionally this was the first Family Cemetery request our county board could even remember and they too were unschooled in the specific requirements. The state rules and regulations were disjointed, duplicative and scattered about the internet in the form of outdated applications, instructions, and phone numbers.  When I finally tracked down the right people in the right offices, those  representatives knew nothing of the county or federal requirements.

Some of the standards I had to familiarize myself with during this process included but were not limited to:

      The Cemetery Oversight Act of Illinois
      The Cemetery Care Act of Illinois
      The Cemetery Protection Act of Illinois
      Transportation and Disposition of Dead Human Bodies
      Burial of Dead Bodies Act
      Illinois Department of  Financial and Professional Regulation
      Illinois State Comptrollers Office

There were no specific county requirements thus the reason we had to request a variance permit and present our case at three separate county meetings.  The "variance" being we wanted to use land zoned for agriculture ( a small portion of our property which was 2500 square feet or approximately 1/17th of an acre) for a different use, i.e. a Family Cemetery.

The neighbor who protested at the first two county meetings insisting we would lower the property values, didn't bother to show up for the last meeting so perhaps she's gotten used to the idea. Anyways, it's all good and next time friend Jay comes to visit we're going to move the four foot tall Celtic Cross he gifted to us last year, down to the center of our cemetery. He's a bricklayer by trade so we'll have him build a short pedestal for the cross.

Now to find some antique wrought iron fencing for the perimeter. In the spring we plan to plant lilac bushes there as well. Maybe carve out some benches from the Oak trees we felled to make room for  the barn. A fountain of some sort. Maybe even a hot dog stand! Kidding...Or am I ?

So excited, I can hardly stand it!!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Half Walls and a Half Roof Make Almost Half a Barn

The barn, our eclectic creation of recycled wood and metal,  continues to inch towards completion.

Completion being a flexible term. For us it means a good enough shelter for our animals this winter. Future completion would include the walling in of Keith's shop as well as the  storage room within the barn which will house our meat freezers, extra refrigerator, well pump and vacuum pump for milking our cow.

Later in the future

All in good time my pretty, all in good time.

Two weekends ago friend Jay came again and with son Jason's help the roof was half completed. Without any fancy (i.e. expensive)  man lifts or rented scaffolding, we slid the long steel panels up the ladder where Jay grabbed on and pulled them up the rest of the way. Kneeling up high (prayers are always appreciated) he screwed in each panel. After that he and Keith would move the wood kneeling boards back another three feet, and we would repeat the process.

The weather was perfect.

Later this week it turned rainy and cold which slowed down both the barn build and the final leg (breast and thighs)  of our chicken butchering plans. Oh well. Next week  the weather will warm a bit, if weather predictions are correct.  Usually they are meaningless, but we look anyway. Hope allows us to plan the outdoor tasks we need to complete, not to mention about three loads of laundry I am behind.

A couple of days ago the concrete guys came and dug out the areas for Keith's shop and our storage room. These rooms are two different levels due to the slope of our land. A trench was dug  for the foam insulation boards and the concrete footings and then they filled the area with limestone. If the weather cooperates they plan is to pour the concrete then.

Keith standing in his shop area

Inch by inch and dollar by dollar, we pay as we go rather than use credit, the barn becomes a reality.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Chicken Butchering Time and a New Grandson!!

Image result for Cage free chicken versus pasture raised chickens

Warning. if you are a vegetarian or someone who believes all the meat they buy in the grocery store or order at the restaurant comes from a magical mystery place where all animals just drift into the freezer department by the gilded propellant of fairy dust, then this blog won't be for you.

But if you believe as we do, that a certain amount of responsibility comes with being a meat eater, that the best meat comes from humane family farms rather than factory farms,  that raising your own meat is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and your family, then read on.

Last week we tackled the all important,but not so much fun task, of broiler chicken butchering. We've done it every fall for many years for one basic reason: the meat is so much better. We raise them outdoors, with organic feed, leftover milk from our cow and lots of run to roam. They get to scratch in the dirt, eat bugs and grass and act like real chickens, unlike the millions of birds raised in this country in horrific, crowded, indoor conditions.

Normally we purchase 20 or so but we hated running out of chicken before the next fall so we bought 31 newly hatched broilers this time. Still not enough for the whole year so we plan to buy more in the spring. When they arrived several weeks ago, we kept them under warm cozy lights for a couple weeks then  slowly acclimated them to the outside. Then they were turned into an old garden area which we expanded by week four into a larger part of the old garden. Two weeks later we expanded that into a large pastured area with grass and more bugs and lots of room to run. By the end of their time with us the number though had decreased to 28.

Not sure where the other three ended up. Possibly in the belly of a hawk, or the jaws of a hog, we have chalk it up to the cost of doing business.

Because Keith is home just a few hours each day during the week, we were only able to get 10 chickens in the freezer, but we hope to complete the rest of the group later this week. It was in the high 50's on Tuesday and not too windy, so after prepping our cutting table, the feather picker, the scalder, the chopping block, as well as sharpening knives and gathering buckets for the blood and the offal (intestines, feet, heads ), we got busy.

We rounded several broilers up in a corner of the fence putting 3-5 of them at one time in a large cage. Then one by one we followed this procedure:

Cut off their heads
Let them hang and drain
Dip them in the hot water scalder 15-20 seconds to loosen all feathers
Run them over the plucker machine with its rubber "fingers" that gently beat away all the feathers
Take them to the cutting table to remove the offal and cut into pieces
Carry pieces into house for cold water dip
Dry pieces and wrap for freezer
Take to freezer in old house

And repeat.

It is a time consuming and very messy job but the satisfaction of raising, humanely killing, preserving and later preparing your own meat is immeasurable.

Now back to Off With Their Heads part. In the past we've used a killing cone (a metal cone where they go in head first and it is open at the end),where we cut their juggler vein while they hung in the cone.  This year, I wanted to try chopping off their head entirely on a large wood stump

 It did kill them quickly, but I am still unsure which process I prefer. Yes, they do flop about and blood does splatter if you don't put them in the plastic field tile right away and allow the blood to drain, but I hated the throat slitting method we've done up until now.  For me it seemed more barbaric, and I believe even though it lasted only a few seconds, more painful. The clean cutting off of the head, the absolute separation of church from state appears most humane.

Humane killing. An oxymoron if ever there was one.

Either way, we do get covered with some blood and feathers but we work hard to keep the whole cutting process very clean. We use a big stainless steel sink and counter propped on two barrels and cold running water from the spigot, to keep surfaces and the chicken

well rinsed.

Also, it was cold enough that we had no flies to deal with, just a couple of mongrel dogs who love standing by for the offal which they believe is pretty wonderful.

Now, the really wonderful news...Ten days after the birth of our fifth GK, the sixth GK arrived. Son of our youngest boy Kyle and his wife Amanda, the awesome Eli was born last evening. He weighed over two pounds more than his wee cousin September and evens out the score.  We now have three granddaughters and three grandsons. So much to be grateful for .

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

New Weather, New Walls and a New Granddaughter!!

Whether you're a fan of Bob Seegers song (Turn! Turn! Turn! To Everything There is a Season) or prefer to get your profundities from the Book of Ecclesiastes, I think you'll agree that Fall is a season of great change. Of course that depends on where you live, but here in the often insipid Midwest, Fall has a way of shocking us into paying attention. 

The weather spoiled us up until three days ago with 70 plus degree days and balmy low 60's nights, but then cold, blowing rain started in. Todays high was just in the 50's and the low tonight will be only 34! Yikes. It has delayed our plans to butcher chickens this past weekend since we do all that loose feather stuff outside, but we did manage to get a few side panels up on the barn.

We're digging into the 3 foot by 10 foot panels from the recycled machine shed we had torn down, saving the new steel panels for the roof. Before we put each in place Keith uses a pipe and hammer to reshape. Some pieces are too bent up to use in their entirety, but will be cut as fill-in pieces later on.

Because the panels are narrow the wind does not catch them too badly when we raise them into place. While I hold one metal panel against the framing, Keith puts in the first couple screws. After that he works up high while I work down low (ALWAYS, he takes the high road). Using two drills, yes I have my own, it takes just a couple minutes to get the panel screwed in place. 

The panels do have holes in them from the nails used sixty years ago when they were first put up, so we'll need to caulk them eventually. And there is age related rust. The plan is to paint these old steel  panels with the same aluminum paint we used on the outside of our mudroom attached to the Looney Bin. All in good time my pretty. 

In the meantime, another Big Huge Wonderful Change! Our fifth grandchild, with the perfect Fall name of September, has arrived. She blew in a couple weeks early and so is on the dinky side at 5 pounds 9oz, but since her father, our oldest son, weighed in at over 10 pounds, (they used a fork lift to get him out) I'm sure her mother was happy her daughter did not follow in dad's footsteps.

September joins our other four grandkids Nicole 15, Allana 13, Wesley 10 and Easton 2. To add to all the fun, little Easton is expecting a brother any day now, which will bring our GK count to 6. Three girls, three boys. We are so blessed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Full Freezers and an Empty Barn

Ennis, still waiting for the rides I promised her. 

Never in my farm life, have I had such a difficult time keeping up with my blogs. I only have two but still...I'm way behind. It's not as if I have nothing to blog about, I have tons, but doing what we need to do and finding the time to write about it, has become extremely difficult. 

Especially when you take an entire weekend off to run around with your sisters! Inexcusable I tell ya.
It was a grand time though, me and my three female siblings on a road trip with two whole nights away. We spent the majority of the time just talking and eating and driving and talking some more. Oh, and laughing or "cackling'' as our spouses refer to it. Whatever. We had fun.

On The Poor Farm home front however, fall is here with all it's work related anxiety. So much to get done before winter!  We did finally get  some decent rain and with the warm days and cool nights, some renewed pasture growth. A sweet treat for cow Liz, horse Ennis and the steers. Before our two biggest beefy fellows got too comfy though, Keith hauled them off to the locker as planned. While there he picked up our whole hog, which sat curing at the same locker for the last three weeks.

The Boys AKA Rib Eyes and Burger 

As soon as Keith and I got our meat all unloaded and reorganized in our freezers we were frying up the bacon (our first in months) for BLT's. I also set aside some pork chops for my own evening meal and threw a five pound bag of pork fat on the counter to thaw for lard making tomorrow. While digging about in our freezers we found several beef marrow bones so they went into a crock pot to simmer for hours and hours to make beef broth.

This Saturday we start broiler chicken butchering. We have 28 to do and plan to do them in two lots. 14 this weekend and 14 next weekend. Like the pork, we've been without our own chicken for a couple months and refusing to buy store pork or chicken, we've been eating LOTS of beef. So happy to have more variety in the meat part of our diets.

The broilers in their Electrified pen just outside my studio

It's our own fault. Once you start growing your own food it becomes increasingly difficult to stomach factory farmed or restaurant food.

Now, the barn.

Skeletal barn just waiting for it's steel skin.

The framing is complete and limestone has been delivered to go under the concrete which was supposed to be poured tonight for the shop area. Unfortunately the concrete guy has gotten tied up with another job so won't be here until the first week of November to pour the concrete. Ah well, gives us even more time to save up the money needed to pay for said services.

Tomorrow Keith and I will start attaching the steel walls to the outside of the barn, followed by the roof. If the weather holds and we're not pulled in other directions we might have walls and roof attached by the time the concrete guy shows up.

It's a plan.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Our Foul Little Farm, Dreaming of Chicken Dinners and a Barn Update

The above Monarch butterfly has nothing to do with this post. I'm just showing off because after a week of trying to get close enough for a photo the bugger finally let me close enough for this one today. It is amazing what these little cell phone cameras can do. I take all my photos on my Motorola Droid.

Now, onto birds. Our duck population blossomed nicely this summer. Several mama's hatched out babies and managed to keep them out of the pig pen where they can be quickly consumed as feathered hors d'oeuvres. I hate how much ducks poop but I love their gentle nature and good looks. We'll be decreasing the population dramatically when we sell thirty or so to a fellow who takes them up to China Town in Chicago to sell to the restaurant trade. He says they love muscovy the best and since he pays us by the pound, and the ducks are quite fat, we'll all have a bit of extra Christmas money soon. We'll also butcher a few for ourselves to supplement our freezer chicken.

 In the photo above the old decrepit house is on the left and the current milking shed for Liz is on the right. When our barn is completed, both of those buildings will disappear. Not overnight (I wish) but over time as we'll use good amounts of the wood floors in the decrepit house to build the loft floor in our new barn.

Speaking of which, we're making steady progress on this beast of a building. Keith took a few days of vacation time last week , as did our son Jason,  and so with a five day stretch of fairly unlimited time we were able to put up all the trusses. This week Keith plugged away at the rafters and supporting boards and very soon, we'll start attaching steel panels to the roof. The skeleton of the barn is nearly complete,

 Now, back to birds. Our chickens were also prolific this year gifting us with many new chicks. We'll sell older hens and roosters to the same guy buying our ducks and thus decrease our chicken populations by half or more. The timing is good because they all produce more eggs than we can eat or have room to freeze. Plus in just s few short weeks the flies will be dying off and we won't need so many birds for bug control.

The kiddie pool above is primarily a place for the ducks to splash but whenever I replace the water all the fowl get in on the act.  It's been very hot and dry here for several weeks as storms roll through and spit on us but leave very little real precipitation. It seems all I do is water livestock and then water them again.

 These are our broiler chicks above penned in with electric fencing. We started with 31 broiler chicks but we're down to 28. I think a hawk or two might have picked up the other three when they were quite small. Our Great Pyrenees  does an excellent job of warding off coyotes and hawks but she is only one guard dog. She can't be everywhere, she likes to reminds me.

We ate our last broiler from the 2016  group about 6 weeks ago, so we are dying for more pasture raised chicken. With the 28 we have that means we can have chicken every other week. We'd love to eat it more often but knew we wouldn't have the time to butcher that many this fall what with the barn building. We'll have to console ourselves with the pork that went to the locker 7 days ago and the beef that goes in in about three weeks.

Don't cry for us Argentina.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Looney Bin gets a New Coat for Winter

It's more of a pretty mini skirt in mint green, rather than a coat, but still it should keep us warm and hopefully drier.

Last year, perhaps because the winter was more wet than icy cold, we had an issue with condensation gathering around the base of our inside walls. At times it would creep about 12 inches across our concrete floors. We had not noticed the issue the winter before but we had deeper and longer freezing temps in the winter of 2015-16.

This condensation was ugly and although it did not ruin any of our drywall, it required regular wiping up. We had sealed the concrete but not painted it, which was good because the floor was in it's natural ugly state anyway, but we worried that too much moisture might evolve into a mold issue.

But summer came, the weather warmed up and in fact it has been very dry here, so no condensation issues for several months. But, winter is out there, and we needed to get busy on this issue again.

So we asked the opinions of several people, especially those who deal in concrete, and the conclusion was unanimous---no one was sure what the problem was. Nothing like a concensus, eh? So we contacted the folks who did all the inside insulation and asked their opinion. They suggested MORE insulation but on the outside of the looney bin.

You see, when we built this grain bin house, we were making it up as we went. Although there were tons of pictures on the internet and Pinterest, there was very little regarding actual grain bin home construction.   So per the suggestion of the folks who installed the grain bin for us, a deep foundation was dug and a concrete footer was poured. On the outside of the footer we placed two inches of thick foam as a barrier between the back filled earth and the concrete footer. See photo below.

But apparently we still needed more insulation over the edge of the footer that rests at ground level.
Yesterday Sealtite Corporation came and spray foamed a lovely green layer of additional insulation around the bottom of our Looney Bin. It is about 3 inches thick and goes 16in up from our foundation and 3-4 inches out from the bottom.

We could leave it as is...functional but ugly...instead, Keith is returning to the folks who installed the grain bin to get more steel from them to match the rest of the house. It will be curved so we'll run it around the base of the new insulation and built a wood cap or bench all the way around. Will make nice seating for visitors or place for flower boxes. 

This bench will also keep critters like ducks and chickens from picking at the insulation.
Pesky poultry!