Saturday, November 22, 2014

No One Gets Out Of This Alive...Not Even Mad Max


Mad Max as a fine young fellow on the right.

For my long time followers you might remember our very first Red Wattle Boar...Mad Max. Well, get the tissue box out cause he's heading for the locker in about a weeks time. His crime? Shooting blanks or perhaps not shooting at all.

We purchased Max several years ago, along with his little girlfriend Casey, they were our very first Red Wattle breeding pair on the farm. We even had the two of them on our farm T-shirts for a few years. Dang he was cute. Just 8 weeks old and super sweet. He never has lost that sweet nature, always willing to be petted, have his ears scratched and has even served as a great place for Keith to prop his feet.

He has never shown any aggression towards us and why would he? His life has been a good one. well fed, lots of space to roam free, to root, to chase girls; its' been a pigs life. But this past spring we noticed...not enough activity to make us or his woman folk happy. Sows left with him were not getting pregnant and sows in heat he just walked on by. I understand. You get to a certain point in life and Netflix reruns and a big bowl of sour milk is just as tempting as that 1 year old Golden Red Gilt but here, on the farm; it's behavior we can't afford to encourage.

An unproductive pig, be it male or female, has to go. So soon Max, all 1000 pounds or so of him, will be turned into fabulous sausage and brats. Now because he is indeed a male we run the risk of the meat smelling of taint due to his hormone status (if he has any left that is) but we've followed some other farmers advice, removed all females from his immediate area and kept him in his own pasture the last three months.

Hopefully this will tame down the boar smell a bit. (I've never noticed a difference in the taste I just can't get past the boar smell to eat it myself) But if the isolation chamber  doesn't work to decrease the taint it's no worry as Keith has no sense of smell and plans to make good use of Max via some brats. The biggest majority of him will go to the dogs as we have 2 large ones to feed: a German Shepard named Ashland, and a Great Pyrenees, Fannie.

Guard Dog Fannie and Grandson Wes.

Our younger boar Wally will be the only boar up at the plate hitting those home runs until one of Mad Max's sons, Little Max, is ready to take his dads place. He'll be big enough to get the job done in about 8 more months.

Boar number two Wally. soon to be Boar number one

Yes, I feel sad, he was a great boar, literally has fathered hundreds of piglets, the foundation of our farm,his piglets have supplied us with meat for our store and fat for my soaps and he will be missed, but we are not a zoo, or a wildlife preserve.

Lard Soap
One of Max's piglets sold as registered boar named after me.
Of all the things I dreamed would be named after me...
this was not one of them.

We are a family farm which stays afloat by keeping the best and culling the rest. I love watching my kids squirm every time I say that at family events. Might have something to do with why none of the four took up farming as a profession.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Head Count or How Many Steers Does it Take to Make Everyone Happy?

Last winter you might recall we lost a few calves due to the extremely cold winter, the worst winter for us since we started out own farm 22 years ago. It's taken all spring and summer for those animals to recover. Animals stressed to stay warm do not gain much extra weight and thus even those steers we had  (and dairy calves raised for beef) took longer to get to longer weight. Customers expecting beef last spring had to wait until summer. Summer customers had to wait until fall, etc....Finally two year olds  are being taken to market and folks are getting their beef. But it went fast, all our future beef carcasses sold out until June 2015.

Now we are facing winter again and Keith is working hard to get the farm ready for winter. With me in school 4 full days a week the brunt of the work has been on his shoulders. Snow fell today, not much, but tomorrow night we are to get a few inches. Overall reports for winter are calling for more snow here in the Midwest than last year. Hoses can't be used any more for water, instead we'll be back to hauling around buckets instead. The barn must be shored up and more bedding added to stalls and outdoor sheds. As pastures die off, the silage bag is opened and oatlage must be shoveled by hand into the tractor and taken to cow feeders. And the list goes on.

But...with every winter comes another spring. So until then fasten your seat belts...we think it's going to be one cold and snowy ride.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Crap...It's Winter

One last glimpse of the beauty of Fall

My GK'S were asking me the other day about good words and bad words. The writer in me wanted to explain that words are neither good or bad as they have no ability to act immorally but I knew they were not interested in that definition; they basically wanted to know what words, if spewed aloud, might lose them computer time. Basics. Always get down to the basics.

So without an exhaustive list I mentioned a few non acceptable words. Then the 7 year old grandson asked me about the word "crap." For his purposes I decided no. There would be no crap utterances on my watch. But if they are smart, and they are, they will learn like the millions before them; that barn lofts are meant for uttering disallowed words. Cats, chickens and peacocks don't give a crap about your language.

Now, as a farmer..Crap! a most personal favorite of mine, as evidenced this am when I stepped outside to do pig chores. Crap! It was really cold outside and Crap! that's snow coming down isn't it ? And Crap! I'm going to have to go back inside and get a hat and gloves.

Crap! Fall is over and winter is barking up its backside. Sure we will have a few more warm days, a tease, but we all know wha'ts coming here in the Midwest and we best get ready. In the past I would make "Winter Prep" lists but in the midst of a what we thought was a possible farm sale, going back to school, etc...the list was not made. Therefore there is nothing to do to prepare for the ice and wind and snow, correct?

Oh, so wrong mon Cherie. There are hoses to drain and hang which means buckets will be used to carry water to those critters without automatic waterers. Oh joy. Then we have to board up the spots in the barn where snow may drift, secure the open areas on outdoor hutches left open for summer breezes but not helpful when breezes become gales of pure frigidity. Bedding must be packed into hutches to help animals keep warm and fences fixed. Storm windows must return and for those upstairs windows without storms good old plastic must be applied as an additional insulating layer.

The list goes on and on and later this am Keith and I will have our farm meeting and talk seriously...about what we can put off until, or say, the winter of 2017.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Little Poor Farm on the Prairie

Little Poor Farm on the Prairie
What's one more year among friends? Samantha Stephens used to say to Darin in the 1960's TV show when she was about to admit something that might not bode well for her, appears as once again, financing is just not going to happen for the last couple we've been working with. This obviously means no move to The Poor Farm anytime soon. When we purchased the 7 acres last fall we were sure we'd be living there in a months time. Now don't get me wrong, we are definitely into miracles and if one makes its face known we can pack up and ship out in no time flat, but realistically it looks like Prince Farming and his way past Midlife Farmwife are here on South Pork Ranch for the time being.

Now here's the good news. It's been a fabulous summer here. After last winters frigid air and snow dumps our livestock blossomed with the summers lower temps, frequent rains and thick pastures. In years past like in the drought we had two summers ago, we were feeding hay in early July. This year the pastures even now on October 27, look like spring. The growth is so lush we still must watch animals closely for bloat when turned into new areas, something we normally only need to vigilant about in spring.

The Red Wattles have caught up with their breeding schedules and litters born have been large and healthy. All of our pork that will be market age this fall is sold out with none additional available for sale until February. All the beef that grew little or none when the cold was at its worst have bounced back and after months of not having any beef even for ourselves, our freezers are filling up again. Milk production has been so good we were able to take some folks off our raw milk waiting list and actually put them on the raw milk GETTING list! Nothing like great pastures to make great milk. In addition, our very loyal customers remained even more loyal.

And so we sit back (just for a minute) to lick some wounds and then grill up some steaks and lick our fingers. We have plenty of food for ourselves, lots leftover for our customers and the ability physically and mentally to keep doing the work we are doing. Don't cry for us Argentina...instead check out some recent pics of The Poor Farm which has waited this long for new residents, it can wait a little longer.

The 100 year old barn being picked apart piece by piece.
Treasures have been found.

Nature reclaims that once abandoned



Add caption

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

To save them you must eat them...and broil them and bake them and fry them.



The irony of our life is stuff for poems. I should know, I just wrote a pig poem the other day.

It's not very good.

But I am good at castrating piglets which is what we did yesterday afternoon after I got home for school. Buehlers life was dull compared to mine. We had another lovely group of pure Red Wattle piglets born last week and it was time to separate the boys from the men.

Except none of them will be "men" this group, none of them as perfect for registration as we would like so will all be sausage, bacon, chops about 6 months time. As more folks learn to appreciate the taste of this NOT the other white meat, then more ask for it and thus more farmers want to raise them. Supply-demand-bacon!

The process is good for the economy, good for small farmers and good for the consumer. Organic pasture raised meat is amazing. Yes, we feel it is even good for the pig as they have a super life, able to roam over large areas, able to play in mud puddles, cuddle up with brothers and sisters and bask in the warm sun whenever they like.

It is amazing even to us how fast this breed will grow. Of course all that extra raw milk does wonders. Just look at how I, I mean they, have grown. The group below is on the way to Eureka locker as I type. No worries, Keith will take them through the scenic country. It's a wonderful morning for a drive.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Helloooooooooo! Anybody home?

Yeah I hear you. Where has she gotten off to this time? Is she not aware anther month, another ridiculous season, has passed since she last posted? If this continues we'll just move on to better and bigger farmwife pastures.

I would not blame you. I might even tag along.

But you are here now so you might as well stay. Lets recap. No, the farm is not yet sold, yes I have made it though the first 5 weeks of school, no, we have not started building on the Poor Farm, yes, we believe this blog is constantly being monitored by IDPH because they have nothing better to do, no, I still cannot speak Italian well and yes, we will have more bacon in the farm store in just a few days.

Farm sale. Still pending. It is not easy in our section of the woods for young (or not) beginning farmers to get loans for farm businesses that are not...dare I say it?...of course I will... created from the almighty corn and soybean mindset. It appears many loans in our county and our state have been nicely floated to those who follow the rules, who remain conventional, who refuse to step outside the box. But if you dare to try something new like manage an organic farm, one that raises a variety of livestock not just the same overused , overbred robostock that no longer even sees real grass, you can expect very little help from local banks and farm agencies. But the young couple we are still working with have a strong entrepreneur strength and we continue to have high hopes that this farm will become their farm.

Good things come to those who wait, who work, who pray, who perservere despite prejudicial treatment.

In the mean time, Keith has been logging longer farm hours as his wife gallivants within the academic world; a world that I will admit, has made me giddy with happiness! Oh sure, it's no cake walk, although it is but a brief walk from the English building to my new favorite restaurant on campus The Red Herring. It's so fun and old- age- new- age there. Great Indie-Rock folk music I can dig, (from Dylan to Sarah Jarosz)  groovy atmosphere for study (they serve "old-hippie" tea in real mugs) and farm fresh food. FARM FRESH from small local farms I tell ya. Sure, its vegetarian but they let me in anyway. Shhhhh, please don't tell them I also eat pork, beef, eggs, chicken, milk and the occasional lamb. I'm kinda a big deal there and don't want to lose my seat under the 8 foot long live plant that drapes itself over my favorite table.

Nearly at the midterm point at UIUC, this semi-senior is getting such a kick of being referred to as a Junior which means I'll graduate with my BA in Fine Arts, Creative Writing in May 2016. I have four intense reading and writing classes plus one kick butt Italian class. Truly I cannot remember caca for that class. (See ? I just used the Spanish word for excrement instead of the Italian word. Geez! The word I want is puah. Now repeat after me..Puu-wah, Benissimo!) Every week I am reading massive amounts of short stories/poetry/essays and then writing about them. I either support them, analyze them, annotate them or argue against them--yeah I LOVE that. Oh that crazy Poe, I adore him so. I returned school to improve my writing and man, am I writing. What I am not doing is getting much sleep in between homework, class time and travel time since I commute 2.5 hours each day. But since lack of sleep causes wrinkles and I am already in that deep boat I fret not. I am also not making soap, not cleaning house, not cooking, not calling friends, not returning calls to friends, and OK I'll admit it, I am not keeping my eyebrows plucked. Why bother? When they are overgrown and bushy disappearing into my untrimmed bangs, my fellow students don't see me raise them as they make totally off the wall unsupported left-winged propagandist statements.

I do represent the establishment you know :)

And THEY do an excellent job of not scoffing out loud when I say something deeply meaningful, insightful and oh so wisdom-- based like "Hey! Who stuck their disgusting gum to the underside of my desk ?!?!" Truth be told I have met some amazingly brilliant young folk on campus and I am learning from them every single day. Every single day. And because of their enthusiasm and desire to excel they have motivated me to push my own envelope. For example I only use the rail to go up and down the stairs about half the time. The other half I risk all and brave the steps, now get this, unassisted.

The farm itself is motoring along nicely. Our livestock did a great job of procreating this summer and we've had many extra piglets to sell as feeders, breeders and eaters. Our waiting list for all those continues to grow. It's exciting to see more and more small farmers wanting to raise the Red Wattle hog. In fact we had another fine litter of these beauties just the other day and as soon as the rain lets up I'll be snapping some photos. All our carcass meat is spoken for through February and soon I'll be taking names for these new feeder pigs. No, I don't want you to name them, I will be putting your names on a list to eat them.

Clarity in sentence structure.
Just one of the many weaknesses I offer.

One of our hogs was featured at Spence Farm's Harvest Feast a couple of weeks ago and that is always a big thrill for us when amazing chefs get their hands on one of our piggies. So, I'll leave you now with a raw milk update and take a few moments to catch up on all your blogs. I really have missed you guys.


When last we spoke raw milk issues were kicking up speed here in Illinois. That train is still rushing full speed ahead and I really do not know where it will end up. We are encouraging everyone and anyone who cares about the right to consume and produce and sell and give away the raw milk from your farm animals to contact JCAR (Joint Commision of Administrative Rules) These big guns will be making the decision on whether or bot these rules will stand. We have just another week or so to get our opinions in writing to them. (email or snail mail) Please go HERE for that contact information.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Around the World in 80 Blogs and a Raw Milk Update


Geez. I'm so embarrassed. One of my bestest blog buddies, Lorna Sixsmith of Carlow, Ireland just did this wonderful post about yours fooly and it very nicely refers back to my blog (you hyperlink my back and I'll hyperlink yours) but then I follow my own link, some days its the only way I find my way home, and I realize I have not posted in 12 days!

Yeah, I'm quite the blogger all right. When the Nobel Prize extends it's reach into the blogosphere I'll be right up the top 10,000 or so. Enough excuses, time to get to work but before I do; thanks again Lorna, you and your blog Irish  Farmerette really rock !!

So what have I been up to?
A large amount of reading and writing and over-reaching government fighting, that's what. I've been back in school full time at UIUC for 4 weeks now and let me tell you this, I am totally scr**ed if I don't learn how to read about 10 times faster!

But I'll come back to that another day. We need to talk raw milk.

On September 5th, as threatened, the Illinois Department of Public Health posted their pages and pages and pages of proposed rules for raw milk production, sales and consumption in the Illinois Federal Register. We now have 45 days to comment. We had until today September 18 to request a hearing. After the 45 days the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules better known as JCAR will review these rules in the second 45 day comment period. They then have the power to reject them.

 As I have talked for over two years now, these rules are unnecessary, illogical, based on myth, punitive in nature and unaffordable when it comes to enforcing being as Illinois can't manage their money now and could never afford to hire the inspectors required to ensure compliance. They also will likely prove unconstitutional because they reach across so many rights of the private citizen. Example #1 the raw milk farmer will be required to submit names addresses and phone numbers of customers to IDPH whenever asked for them.

Fortunately we've had great support from organizations like The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund who published an amazing Call to Action today which well outlines the issue and gives clear direction on steps each of us can take to stop these ridiculous rules. You can read that Call to Action Right Here

There has also been decent media coverage. The Chicago Tribune( and WBEZ radio)  put in their two cents, interviewing both sides of the debate Here and The Pantagraph, a Bloomington, Illinois Newspaper, tracked me down while I was in class to get my side as well. Yes, I waited until the lecture on Gothic Imagery in Poe's Novel Arthur Gordon Pym was complete. If you'd like you can read that article Here

So as the Irish might say if this issue was happening in Lorna's land, The Shite has Hit the Fan. Through the power of social media as well as perhaps a few of my more recent anti-social comments to reporters; "Really, now they want to make it illegal to sell raw milk of your farm is located closer than 1.5 miles to a municipality? How NUTS are these people!?!" I do believe we have gotten the message out to those in our state who still believe that we the people have the right to eat and drink what we chose.

So now we keep writing letters to JCAR, we keep spreading the news, we keep sharing posts on Facebook and blogs and I personally will keep drinking raw milk ( and serving it to my family and friends) until they pry it out of my cold dead hand.