Saturday, January 13, 2018

Mother Nature, A Schizophrenic Wench

Our round grain bin house in the near middle, old 1856 house to right

So I complained about the cold. My punishment? A bizarre heat wave followed by more bitter cold. You would think at age 58 I'd shut my gob.

Thursday evening it was 60 degrees F when I went outside to do evening chores. But we'd read the reports  and we knew evil was lurking behind those grey clouds on the horizon. Still I threw caution to the wind an on a January day I went out in just a t-shirt. Ten minutes later the temp starting dropping. I went back to the house for a light jacket. 

Ten minutes after that, the wind picked up and the temp dropped even more. I went back again and put a rain coat on over my jacket as dark clouds were creeping up quickly.

Ten minutes after the raincoat, it got so cold I needed a hat and gloves to finish watering the livestock.

Looking down our drive towards the north

Across our pastures and looking to the East.

Even the dogs, well especially the dogs, knew something was up and kept watching the sky.



In a matter of just 30 minutes the temperature dropped nearly 30 degrees and the wind went from 5 mph to gusts of 25 mph. By late that evening we were back in the low teens. The high that day (60 F) was eighty degrees higher than the lowest temp we had the week before which was -20F. 

Mother Nature you are indeed a schizophrenic wench. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Weather Outside Was Frightful But the Rocket Mass Stove Was Delightful

 Right now, this second, we're having a heat wave. A tropical heat wave, or so it feels to us. It is 33 degrees F outside and a very comfy 70 degrees inside, even though I've not burned the rocket mass heater for almost 24 hours.

I love that! No heat source running in the house and it's cozy as can be.

The last two weeks however, were not so pleasant due to record
lows in Central Illinois and other parts of the country. A week ago today we woke to -20 degrees

 outside (this was not a wind chill reading but an actual temperature) and 56 degrees inside. The picture above is of our bathroom window that frigid morning. We might have to do a bit more window sealing this spring. 

The inside temp did not bother us that much. On those brisk mornings we make coffee, wrap up in robes and blankets on the couch and have deeply intellectual banter.

He: I suppose someone should get the fire started
She: That might be good.
He: It got pretty cold in here overnight.
She: Yes it did.

Just because we own a rocket mass stove doesn't mean we have rocket science conversations.

Eventually one of us moves towards the large rust colored metal barrel in our grain bin house, scoops out the old ash from the feed chamber in the concrete floor and starts rolling up kindling wood and newspaper. A match is lit and VOILA' we have the onset of heat.

Within 5 minutes the barrel is too hot to touch and the thermometer above our kitchen table starts to creep skyward. Within an hour and after approximately one five gallon bucket of 1-2 inch sticks (not logs) the indoor temp will be up about 5 degrees and we are comfortable. Within two hours the temp will be up ten degrees or so and Keith will have his shirt off.

At its worst last week we did burn the stove twice a day for 3-4 hours each time which is very unusual. In a normal winter where lows are in the 20's we only burn it in the evenings for 2-3 hours. Still, running it longer during those frigid days was not a big deal (easy for ME to say as Keith chopped all the wood!) Especially since it cost us nothing in fuel, just time. We had no furnace repairs, or empty tanks of propane to worry about as others in our region did.

Tomorrow it is expected to get in the 50's and it will be a muddy mess here due to the extra snow we've had, but who cares?  I get to hang out laundry.

Unless it rains.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Happy Merry Jolly Christmas to All and to All a Good Night

It's nearly midnight and I'm ready to crash, but first a few words.

We had snow this weekend and it made for a lovely Christmas day. Cold though, very cold but the nearly complete barn is doing it's job to provide adequate shelter to our limited livestock. My writing studio above looks wonderful all tucked against the bare winter trees in the middle of our 7 acres and the broken up concrete from the old well house, which we used to make a sidewalk to my studio, looks like a snow covered quilt.

I still do not have electricity or heat in my studio so won't be writing much in there until spring. 

Above and almost perfectly center, you'll see Keith in the early morning sun, pushing hay in a wheelbarrow out to our steers. Once fed we drove the 12 miles into Pontiac where we met with our four children and their families to celebrate Christmas at oldest son Colton's house. His wife Tab, provided us once again with gallons of coffee, hash brown casseroles, chocolates and homemade cream puffs. Heaven it was.

Our day and our hearts, were overflowing with blessings. Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Expanding our Swine Horizons

Once upon a time we had a big farm and raised 100 or so feeder pigs a year. With our own breeding stock of Red Wattle hogs we had litters coming and going year round. Some of those hogs went to restaurants, some to grocery stores, many to individual customers.

And yet we rarely had enough for ourselves. It just seemed to make more sense to sell the bacon then to eat it. Fools we were.

Then we got smart and downsized. Sold all the breeding stock and instead each year we now buy just a few feeder pigs for ourselves and a family member or two. We generally buy them at two months of age and have them butchered at about 7 months. We took our summer stock to the locker in October.

Last week we bought our spring stock. Ironically, due to our limited finances we can no longer afford to buy the awesome Red Wattle hogs we worked so hard to promote in Illinois for over a decade. Even at young ages, 8 weeks or so, they sell for between $125-150 each.

But, another farmer friend of ours had some Bershire Cross feeders available. He thought they were already were sold but that other farmer never picked them up. Anxious to decrease his large herd before the harsh winter hits, he sold us four fairly large piglets for just $70 each. A win win situation. Already almost 4 months old, they've got a solid start on their chops, roasts and bacon.

Because they have not been raised by us, and have run with a large group of hogs, they are not the friendliest group of porkers, (Red Wattles are real people pleasers) but they are healthy and adapting well to their new digs. I'm not that particular about their manners, I've been snubbed by bigger pigs in my life, I just hope they measure up taste wise. I so love Red Wattle pork.

We've housed them in one of our old farrowing houses, which needed some repair due to damage done by the last porcine tenants, and filled the interior with deep bedding of corn husks. Three long hog panels act as a temporary pen.

We always put our piglets in this type of smaller confined pen with a single hot wire across the back in order to train them to electric fence.  Hogs have a tendency to go THROUGH a hot wire instead of backing up initially, so this pen idea works well to train them.

After a couple weeks, when they are respecting the electric wire, we'll turn them loose into a much bigger area to root and dig and sun bathe.

Even frozen ground can't keep a pigs snout still it seems.

With a steady died of organic hay, ground corn and good kitchen scraps these little piggies should be ready for the locker sometime in April, about the time we'll get a few more for our summer sausages!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

In the Gutter

More barn progress, which is good because it's been mighty cold here in Illinois the last few days. Tonight it will drop to about 19 degrees F and snow is predicted later this week. 

This weeks big deal so far was putting together stalls for the horse (one stall) and the steer and little heifer (sharing the other stall). Our cow Liz will remain in her separate 3 sided combo shed and milking arena until we can afford to run electricity to the new barn and set up the pressure tank needed for our milking equipment. 

One day we'll have all the animals under one roof, but for now we at least have shelter for those who didn't have much before. 

progress was getting up gutters on the north side of the barn. Because we do not have the funds for scaffolding or a man lift (don't we WISH!) Keith has jimmy rigged a raised platform using our Kubota tractor.

By placing long pipes on the fork tines and spearing them through the openings of a wood pallet, he's made himself a small platform that can be raised up and down as he needs it. He placed a short ladder on top of that platform in order to reach the barn roof. Of course he must keep another taller ladder close by in order to get off the platform and back down to the tractor so he can move the tractor and raise or lower the platform for the next task and then move the ladder to that new spot so he can climb back up onto the platform. Whew...wears me out just writing about it. 

All of this explains why Keith has never had a weight problem.

My role in the gutter attachment process was to climb up a third ladder,  raise my end of the gutter and hold it against the barn while Keith moved his way towards me securing the gutter just below the  roof. Since the gutters were not heavy I was able to hold my end with one hand and take a few pictures with my other hand. 

Keith is now standing where I was when I was taking pictures

Good thing I had my smart phone because it was a pretty dumb maneuver while I was 16 feet up in the air. Still, I enjoyed the view of the animal's new stalls.

Horse stall on left with rubber mats over the crushed limestone
Steer and little heifer stall in middle with shredded paper
and straw bedding over limestone.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Roof Over The Critter's Heads

I always think it's only been 3 or 4 or at the most 5 days since I last blogged, and I am always shocked that it's been far longer. Time buzzes by me faster than I used to drive when I was 16 and my dad the cop was chasing me down for stealing, borrowing the family Ford. Excellent times.

Keith's shop will be in the back right corner 

So since we chatted last Keith and our son Jason finished the roof of the new old barn. Keith then took a couple vacation days from work and got more of the walls constructed. Because the roof is constructed of new steel while the walls are all the mid-century steel from the machine shed we had torn down, the new old barn looks like an elderly gentleman with a brand new very shiny toupee.

In addition, Keith spread more limestone in the area which will be our livestock stalls. Thus our one horse, one cow, one steer and one heifer calf will soon be all snugged in for winter. Good thing since the temps dropped dramatically last night. Cold weather is here to stay I believe.

Yet to be done on the barn:
     Attach gutters to the roof.
     Finish south wall and all door trims
     Attach machinery sixed doors to East end
     Run electrical for lights and power in Keith's shop
     Build walls for milking stall, storage room and Keith's shop

And, that's enough to think about right now.

As long as this process has taken us, it's been rewarding to be able to see the barn from a distance. Inside it seems small, especially compared to our old barn in Chatsworth. But when compared to the other smaller buildings here on The Poor Farm, it reigns supreme.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Our Big Fat Kitchen

We are big time fat lovers here on The Poor Farm. Bacon fat, coconut oil, lard or butter is included in most every meal.  And Keith and I feel better than we have in years. This is amazing to me since I was "raised" on the American Heat Associations line of hogwash (but not hog lard) that proclaimed all fat is bad.

Nurses are often given mega loads of misinformation. All part of the anything but, healthcare system. 

Organizations like Weight Watchers jumped aboard this ridiculous fat free train and convinced women that fat elimination and over dosage of fruits and vegetables would save their lives. Often hospitals paired up with WW and offered their classes within the hospital walls, collecting dues through payroll deduction. Women did lose weight, for awhile, but it all came back on. Mostly because these women were always hungry. Minimal fats, and tiny amounts of protein left them unsatisfied. In addition, so much, these WW type companies produced frozen and well preserved premade foods that were low fat, but high in sugar, especially corn syrup. 

They were also expensive. 

It's not fair to pick on one diet fad, I know, being  there are hundreds in this country alone, but they do all share one premise: make the consumer dependent on the company's doctrine rather than teach them the basics of good nutrition. 

I feel qualified to have a solid opinion on all this because I am...fat.

I was not a fat child or teen, far too little food to go around for that, but I lost all control when I got pregnant and gained 50 pounds with baby number one. When baby number two came along just 14 months later I packed on another 30 pounds. I clung to that weight another two decades and then in 2000 I jumped on my own fad train, the Atkins Diet.

It worked really well. I lost 100 pounds in one year and felt fantastic. I also blew out my gallbladder which is a common occurrence in women in their 30's and 40's who lost a large amount of weight. Eventually I tired of the low carb deal and I gained back 50 pounds.

I'm Irish, love my bread and potatoes.

Over the last 15 years I have remained steady at a luscious size 18. Nearing 60 I thought I would never feel motivated again to drop some of that extra load but a sister of mine took The Whole 30 challenge and she felt so much better, motivated to increase her exercise and eat less processed food,  it inspired me.  

So, I'm following her lead as are my other two sisters. We are all seeing results and feeling better. Whole 30 isn't a diet so much as a break from all the processed foods including all sugars and grains. I was not eating that much in the way of processed foods but I sure was eating my share of bread and taking way too much honey in my 8-10 cups of tea every day. 

You're not meant to be on The Whole 30 plan for more than thirty days, thus the name, as  the whole premise is eliminating those processed foods that may have caused you issues such as heartburn, inflammation, insomnia. You give your body break and take the time needed to learn which foods work for you and which clearly do not., then slowly and with reason, you add a little sugar, some grains back to your diet. Hopefully, being much more selective amount the types and amounts. 

What I love about Whole 30 is you don't pay membership fees or have to buy the book. There's always a book isn't there? You are encouraged to eat pasture raised meat, which I already did, and healthy animals fats, but the rest of your food needs to be prepared by yourself. 

Jars always on my counter filled with lard, bacon grease and coconut oil.
I also keep a bottle of olive oil on my stove and butter in various stages like Ghee.
Pig fat all chopped up and in the crockpot for lard making
Seems I am washing, cutting, prepping, cooking  food all the time, which is what a homesteader should be doing anyway, right?

Now, this quinquagenarian is down almost two sizes and up in energy  levels I haven't felt in decades. My main motivation was the addition of two new GK's last month. I want to be around for them, to be able to help their parents when needed, to have the ability to run after them, to play with them, to wrestle with them, to attend their school events and future weddings, to love them and their four older cousins, for a very long time.

I also don't want to wear out my pallbearers when they haul my carcass down to our family cemetery!