Butcher Day

Today was a hard day to be a farmer. It was one of those days that I knew would be difficult, but when I lived it, it was even harder than I expected. Today was butcher day. It wasn’t my first and it won’t be my last, but I was closer with this lot than the previous animals. Some people are squeamish and appalled by the act of butchering animals. Some of those people are vegetarians or vegans. However, the others, those who are squeamish and appalled at the act of butchering animals, that are not vegetarian or vegan, in my opinion are either living in the dark or hypocrites. Harsh? Maybe. Accurate? I think so.

I don’t know of anyone who treats their animals any better, more humane, or loves them more, than I do mine. Especially my pigs. I truly love my pigs. They are the highlight of my day on the farm. I am somewhat known as “the crazy pig lady”. I don’t mind that, depending on the tone in which it’s spoken.

So yesterday in preparation. I moved 4 of my best hogs, two culled breeder sows and two feeder pigs (barrows), down from their mountain pasture to the barn. I placed each in a stall and fed them extra organic corn and carried and poured each of them fresh spring water. Late last night my husband and I drove over to the barn with the trailer and we loaded them into the trailer filled with fresh hay. They all followed me into the trailer single file, the entire loading process took less than one minute. Moving and handling my pigs is the easiest job I have. Some farmers fight, cuss, gripe and pull their hair out trying to load pigs. Not me, my pigs are happy to hop on a bale of hay and into the trailer. We drove them up to the upper barn where two steers were waiting-again the steers just waltzed into the barn and were given hay and fresh spring water. The pigs camped out in the trailer and the steers were loaded this morning around 4 a.m. I was all ready to leave and as I was dragging the watering trough out of the trailer (so water wouldn’t slosh out on the pigs) I managed to dump about 5 gallons of water all over me- from the waist down. It was 20 degrees. So after everyone was loaded, we had go back down the mountain, home, so I could change jeans.

The trip to the butcher is a long one. About 14 hours all together. This includes loading, driving, unloading, processing orders, driving home, feeding cows, feeding pigs (at dusk) and trying (in vain) to get all the chickens into the barn for the night. The trip is about 150 miles one way- at least 3 hours up. It takes us about an hour to unload. The steers were happy to hop out of the trailer. Once they were out of the trailer, I got in. I waded the cow and pig crap to say my final words and farewell to my pigs. I took some marking chalk and marked each hog for identification. I took my time, as the guys were getting the steers down the alleyway and into the kill area inside the shop. I got snout marks all over my pants. I scratched each ear. I rubbed each belly. I spoke to each pig by name and thanked them for being such wonderful pigs. I thanked them for being good and I told them to be brave. They didn’t really want to get out of the trailer. So I stepped out and began calling them in a low voice. I said “here pigs, come on babies” over and over. That was their call each day of their lives after weaning. They each raised their heads, allowing them to see under those big ears. They looked at me and began walking to me. They followed me all the way out of the trailer, into the small holding area and then down the long alleyway to their larger holding pen. Thankfully my butcher allows all this to take place. Many would just push and shove and scream to move animals. They let me do it my way. They allowed a safe, non-stressful and easy end of life for the animals. That is huge for me. I raise my pigs in a very natural, primal and environmental way. To cause them distress just before butchering them would be crazy.

I walked into the office and gave all the cut sheets to the very helpful staff and left. I left knowing that the pigs would be killed very soon after all the cattle. I made it to the end of the driveway and began to sob. I cried for about a mile or two. My husband asked if I was ready to talk and I started crying again. I told him I was a hypocrite for crying over pigs when I am a happy meat-eater. I LOVE meat. I know where meat comes from for crying out loud. I know exactly what sacrifice is due.

We stopped for lunch and both had steak. Yep, the sadness was gone, I was back to normal. So here are my thoughts. For all those consumers who go to the grocery store and pick up a clear plastic covered pack of meat, whether chicken, pork, beef, fish, whatever- an animal died to produce that. The quality of the animal- well I won’t get into that in depth. Those poor sad confinement, feedlot raised animals live a sad life, for many death is a mercy. But for animals whose farmers are wonderful, determined souls who work hard and worry about their animals and their welfare, the end is not the end. They provide healthy, quality food for families. They provide income for the farmers who raised them.

So every time I eat meat, I think of the animal. I think of how it lived and died. I think of how DELICIOUS it is. And how now, after farming the way I do, I appreciate the sacrifice, I appreciate the life and death of that animal who is providing for us. No meat ever goes to waste at my house. Whether by huge family dinner, then followed by broth, soup or stew, the meat is happily eaten and enjoyed. We gather to catch up, to grieve, to commune, to laugh and to eat. So to those who know where you food comes from- I salute you. To those who think that meat is just a cut under clear packaging- educate yourselves. And to all who eat meat, come on over, we’re cookin up pancakes, maple syrup, bacon and sausage. It’s to die for ;)

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Snowday (12)

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Maple Syrup Season Is Here!

Our Green Acre:

We are beginning to think about maple syrup season. Also, Edible Ozarkansas just published their latest Fall/Winter edition which includes a story on our family maple syrup harvest for 2014. So I thought I would dig out this old post and re-share it. Hope you enjoy it!

Originally posted on Our Green Acre:

There’s a few things I remember about making maple syrup as a child. Most of the adults were cranky and I couldn’t imagine why.  Who could be cranky with that sweet goodness in a huge kettle?  There was always a fire to play in, which resulted in the adults getting really cranky.  But afterwards everyone was happy & smiling and ready for pancakes.  Now that I’m the one working it, I get it.  It’s a hard job.  It’s time-consuming.  The weather doesn’t always cooperate.   Stoking (or playing) in the fire makes ashes fly up which will fall into the amber-colored “liquid gold.”  But the payoff, ahh, the payoff!  THE BEST SYRUP EVER!

My family has always made syrup from the maple trees on our property.  It doesn’t take a maple tree born & raised in Vermont.  Many of the “locals” haven’t made or even tried the real stuff.  It amazes…

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Here Piggy Piggy

Yesterday I made a new batch of our “bacon” soap. It is made with Large Black hog lard, rape seed oil, lye and two essential oils for scent. It is a really cute soap, the silicon molds make it all possible. Here is the finished product. We are also adding a pet soap to our line up. Here you can see the puppy feet soaps too. We are really excited for these.

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Chicken Feet Soup

I had to stay inside today as we had someone coming to the house to pick up a bed that did not work out. The guys were from Tulsa, so I knew I would need to be at the ready with directions and in the house while pickup was taking place. Never one to waste a moment, I decided to finish cooking down some chicken feet and can the broth. I began the cook down yesterday and strained the lovely broth from the skin, toe nails and bone (bahahaha), I then placed it into jars and into the canner. Of course mid job the movers arrived. I was able to educate one of the guys on the art of cooking chicken feet down into broth. He was intrigued. I invited him into the kitchen to check things out. He was surprised to see the fresh batch of feet submerged in water. He said he had never eaten anything like that before. Hmmmm. Really? I asked if he had ever had chicken noodle soup, he replied yes, and I told him he had probably eaten a lot more than the feet! He was great about it, laughing and joking, but truly curious. I told him how I am prepping to make another batch of our homemade chicken noodle soup and the broth was a key ingredient. “That’s really really cool” was his reply.

I was telling my mom about this (who had never in her 67 years cooked down the feet, but her grandmother Viola had). She laughed and said, “he should be glad he only came to visit on chicken feet day!”  I agreed. But it got me to thinking how everyday people have no idea what they eat. In one package of ground beef from the grocery, there can be hundreds, if not thousands, of different cows in that one package of meat! Consumers have no idea where there food comes from. This makes me sad, though not to long ago, I was in that group. I had no idea where most of my food came from and I didn’t care. Now I won’t even waste the feet from our processed chickens! How things change!

Here are some photos of the process.

Here is the final product! Wonderful gelatony goodness!!  http://youtu.be/WiRg8EvoTk0

 

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Foxy

Turk, the largely useless, but very handsome LGD, treed a fox this morning. Foxes are huge predators to our chickens and piglets (very young). I did not have a gun with me, by the time I raced home and retrieved one, he was out of the tree and gone. I didn’t know foxes could climb trees I guess, because as it was going up I kept saying “that fox is climbing a tree!!!” So Turk is now tied up at the barn guarding the chickens. He is not thrilled, he tolerates the chickens well, but doesn’t seem to enjoy their company. This means I will be going to the barn multiple times today to check on Turk and let him off the leash to stretch his legs and go potty. In the meantime I am cooking down chicken feet into stock and canning it. The house smells fantastic. It’s a great day to be a farmer.

Smiling Turk

Smiling Turk

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A Farmer’s Frustration

I try to post happy thoughts here in Blog Land. I update our Facebook page with the highs and lows of day-to-day farm life. When it comes to pet peeves, irritations and just down right fits, I try to keep those quiet & to myself. Not sure if my family would agree, but I try. Farming is hard work. Under the best conditions farming is hard. Add certifications of animal welfare & organic standards and that adds a lot of extra hoops to jump through. Add a bad economy to the mix, you better brace yourself for the hardships. We have had many ups and downs, many, many learning experiences and I have to say we are better for it.

There are times at our smaller local market, that after traveling over 100 miles to the market, I didn’t even cover my expenses for actually going to market. We are preparing to send two of our lovely momma hogs to the butcher due to a narrow pelvis with one and poor mothering skills for the second. Each of our breeder hogs possess qualities and genetics that we need and require for our breeding program, so anytime we lose one, it hurts. Farming is hard y’all. I work very hard to keep this farm running. I work every day. There are no days off, no holidays. I don’t get time and half for overtime. Each day is planned around farm duties.

So when someone wants to haggle on prices with me about our meat or products, it hurts. I have had someone tell me our “grass-fed beef should be cheaper than the grocery store beef because grass is free.”  Really?? I have organic fertilizer shipped from way up north. It is a hassle to broadcast on the fields. It is roughly 5 times the cost of conventional fertilizer. We have to purchase our grass seeds, making sure that all are non-GMO. Grass is not free.

We travel 3.5 hours one way to the butcher, by the time we deliver and/or pickup animals/meat it is easily a 10 hour day. 10 hours off the farm is a LONG time. Each feeding/welfare check takes around 1-2 hours. So those days are full of miles and feeding in the dark-twice.

Day-to-day work has it’s challenges as well. Hauling hot water to animals twice a day in freezing temps, rain and snow is no picnic either. Summertime brings sweltering heat that forces us to routinely check on spring water levels. Making sure the hogs have a wallow to cool in is a must. Spring and fall bring rain, lots of rain- flooding, muddy barn lots (for me to slip in). Each season has it’s challenges. Our products are made with organic, free-trade components or harvested from our animals (tallow & lard) or our bees (beeswax).

Nothing about the way we farm is as easy as conventional farming. Any deviation from the “conventional farm plan” requires more planning, more work, more time, and especially more MONEY.

So why do I do it? I ask this myself from time to time.

I refuse to purchase food that comes from animals who have been medicated, caged, mistreated or living in squalor. I am providing MY family with real food. And in doing so, I am giving each of our customers the ability to purchase the same quality of food for their families. Step back in time 100 years, that is how I’m farming. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. My animals are happy & healthy and I am thankful each day to be blessed with this adventure.

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Novemburrrrrr

Last week the hubs and I traveled to Austin for the annual Livestock Conservancy Conference. Leaving the farm entails a lot of planning, praying and hoping for the best. It isn’t easy showing someone how to care for our animals the way we do. Sure we are pretty hands off compared to confinement operations in some ways, but there is a method to our madness. Our animals have natural rhythms and rotations each day. The pigs begin their days in the huts located in the hollow between two springs. As the sun comes up they wake and climb the mountain to their top pasture. Their pond and field is on the mountain and they stay up there grazing and hanging out until around 4-5pm. Each day, the same routine.

I have a momma pig with eight little piglets who are out and about each day, but go back into the barn at night to sleep. I have poor little piglet who broke his leg, it has healed, but he can’t travel like the rest of the pigs. He has a buddy, Stinker, who never grew and therefore would be hawk bait with no mother to protect him. Those two are in the barn, aka hospital, until they are ready to be butchered. They require much more attention. Their barn stalls are cleaned out twice a day, they have an indoor dirt floor stall that opens up to the outside.

Temperatures plummeted the day we left for Austin. Farming in “normal” weather is hard, farming in freezing temps can feel near impossible at times. So my helpers were forced to carry hot water to the animals twice a day. I don’t wish this on anyone.

We arrived home amidst snow, sleet and fog. Glad to be home, happy to have made it safe and ready to get back into the swing of things. I am happy to see all my animals, check on everyone and know that it will be a very long time until I travel again. With that weather, no one wants to fill in for me now!

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All Natural Hair Color

About 4 years ago I seriously cleaned up my act in my nutrition. I was running long distance at the time and the fuel I needed to endure the many many miles I was logging needed to be the best quality I could find. I discovered I felt better and ran better on organic food. I cut out chemicals from my environment too. My cleaning products changed, my hair care- I went to the “no poo” method. I also decided to stop coloring my hair. That was a big one for me. Lot’s of people have commented on my hair. It is naturally curly and folks would “ooo and ahhh” over it, though I always wanted “normal” hair, aka. straight hair. I got complements on my hair, I worked hard on my hair and so did my colorist. Mary has always been supportive of any idea I had for colors, highlights and cuts. I have donated my hair several times and Mary always did a great job. So when I told her I was going “au natural” she was supportive as always. She still cuts my hair and for a curly headed girl, that is huge, it’s hard to find someone who is good at cutting curly hair.

So I have been about 65-75% gray for about 2 years now. I have had a lot of comments in those 2 years, not many positive ones though. Mostly old men, who have no hair, asking me “where did all those white hairs come from?” I even had one old man ask me “what in world is that white stuff in your hair, did chicken poop on your head?” I swear…. It got almost akin to asking a woman if she was pregnant. There is no way I would comment like that on anything!

Lately I have been working hard on the farm and feeling very tired. I look haggardly, tired and ragged. I had almost decided to go back to chemical coloring. I wasn’t interested in henna coloring. Until…. I found a couple blogs/websites that mentioned using black walnuts as a hair dye, an all natural hair dye. I decided to give it a whirl. We have a huge walnut tree in the back yard and this morning I went out while the dew was on and gathered 10 old walnuts. They were already sort of dried, they were black, not green. I put them in a big pot and added about 3-4 cups of water. I boiled the walnuts and water for 30ish minutes and then turned the stove off and let them cool. I helped the husband work cows, we vaccinated and tagged some new calves. When I got home the mixture had cooled and I strained it into a spray bottle. I slathered coconut oil on my face, neck, hands and arms. ONLY WEAR OLD CLOTHES & USE OLD TOWELS. Whatever the mix touches it will stain! Grout, wood, skin, nothing is safe. The coconut oil allows any of the mixture to wipe off w/o staining. Outside on the deck, I sprayed my entire head, then I sprayed it again and again. I made sure to work my fingers through my hair and put a shower cap over my head, then wrapped an old towel around as well. I let that sit about 10 minutes and decided I had too much to do. I went inside and used the blow dryer on HOT to dry my hair. I did NOT rinse. This is the before and after:

All Natural Hair Color

Now the sources I looked at recommended keeping this on much longer than 10 minutes. So darkness varies with time and also how long you cook the walnuts. You can check the color in the pot by using a ladle. I have no idea how long this will last. I did rinse my hair about 3 hours later, after weedeating- a must, but I did not shampoo or condition, just water rinse. There was a lot of brown water rinsing out, but the color held. Time will tell how long it will last, but regardless it was an easy application, one that I will repeat.

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Hand Dyed Yarn

Hand Dyed YarnAbove is a photo of my latest batch of yarns, mostly 100% wool, but some has a blend of alpaca in as well. This is our Autumn yarn selection. Each skein is reminiscent of the colors that will surround our farm in the next month. We have truly spectacular fall colors each year. These yarns have been twisted into skeins and banded. They will be for sale at the Eureka Springs Farmer’s Market and direct from our farm. We are really excited to offer this lovely product.

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Busy Work

I remember hearing my granny talk about busy work. Well if what I do on a daily basis isn’t enough, now I have added “busy work”. Our farm is blessed with acres and acres of wild raspberry vines. They ripen early July and only last a week, two at the most. So when the berries begin to ripen life just has to take a backseat. We pick and pick until we just can’t pick anymore. Making jellies and canning the juice. It is fantastic. It is a lot of work, but it they are so yummy and delicious. Mom makes fried pies with the berries, my biggest splurge. So today I picked, this was my second day of the season to pick berries. They are just beautiful. Our multiple springs are the main reason our berries are so plentiful, large and luscious. The vines love water, and we have lots of that.

I fed the hogs that are on our mountain pasture and the two mama hogs and their babies. I counted everyone and did a quick check, all was good. As I set out this morning over the steep hillside I thought of my granny Ollie. Whenever I pick berries or work in the garden, or can my garden bounty, I think of granny. I believe she would be so proud of me and the little farmer I have become. She would quarrel at me for working to hard and tell me “I worked hard like that all my life and now look what a shape I’m in.” I heard that often as a young adult. She worked as hard as any human could. In her young adult life she worked at a local sawmill, raised children, grew gardens, picked berries and had a multitude of hard, demanding tasks. I hope one day to be as tough as she was.

So I picked berries, alone on the steep hill, with only the chickens as my company. I had one little red hen that stayed with me all morning. I would pitch her the culled berries and she gobbled them up. I try not to think about snakes when I pick. I am terrified of snakes, and in those dense vines and woods they are a problem. I can’t see where I am stepping due to the vast number of vines and berries, so each step is a step of faith. I just pray that I don’t step on anything squishy.

I can usually pick about a gallon of berries per hour and today I made it out with 3 rounded over gallons and a stuffed hen. The pigs visited me off and on, but lost interest when they realized they were not getting the contents of my buckets. I finished just in time to get all the berries packed into half pint clam shell containers and put into coolers for the farmer’s market tomorrow. It began to storm and the creeks are flooded, so I’m really glad I picked this morning.

With the farm there is little time to do off farm activities. The farmer’s markets are the only days that I like to be away. Things get out of sorts and work piles up anytime I leave. This weekend I harvested 10 frames of honey from our newest hive of bees that I purchased last spring. I was very happy & we have some very rich, very dark honey! Really lovely. It is packed for the markets as well. So that’s it, that’s my busy work for the last few days. Life on the farm is busy work, every day, but some days you have to cram a little more in than others.  Now I’m off to enjoy the rain during the evening feedings.

Ready for Market

Ready for Market

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