Thursday, December 18, 2014

Outhouse Out Takes

Life is funny isn't it? One minute you're minding your own business (literally we own our own business and it takes a fair amount of minding) and the next minute the department of public health is threatening you with a $1000 fine.

Nope. It has nothing to do with raw milk, sales are going great and still no ridiculous rules passed,YEAH!, this piece of paper was related  to a gift we received last Christmas from our oldest son. Some of you might recall this awesome outhouse...

Built by hand- a real work of art; he even wrapped it in Christmas paper. A stunning gift and we were thrilled. Perfect for our new simpler life we are still striving towards. Then this past May all three of my strong sons and my hubby dug a nice deep hole for it. I was so proud. So proud that I, you guessed it, blogged about it. You can see that original post HERE. Silly me thinking Freedom of Speech was alive and well in the US.

What I did not know though, although I had suspected it; our government officials, rather than doing the self important work in their job descriptions, were spending a good amount of their paid-by-our-taxes-salaried time, reading my blog. Since they still have no basis to give us any trouble regarding raw milk sales, they instead went after a defenseless rectangular box.

Their claim? We didn't follow section 905.130  surrounding the building of a simple, single seater outhouse; excuse me, I mean "Private Sewage Disposal System." Attached to this letter was a five page permit application, requiring a $100 Permit Fee and three pages of "Administrative Code" regarding human waste disposal which had to be met. You might be thinking, big deal, pay the $100 and use your outhouse. Sadly, not so simple.

One of the requirements states that's the bottom of the privy hole must be at least four feet above the water level. One of the ISCA Certified Professional Soil Classifiers we contacted said that is virtually impossible to do in our county as our water level is very high and thus the only way we could meet the standards would be to purchase a septic tank, pay to have it properly installed and then place the outhouse over THAT!

Now here's where it gets funny. Wasn't that the whole reason for installing an outhouse? In order to avoid all that? So faced with the choices of spending thousands of dollars to continue "simplifying" our lives for the privilege of using our outhouse on our property say 3-4 times a month (since we still don't live there) or leaving it as is, paying the $1000 fine and probably many more fines to come, we decided to fill in the stupid hole because God knows how our little bit of "sewage" would certainly threaten an entire counties water supply. Never mind the tons of chemicals being dumped on the fields that surround this property on four sides, the massive amounts of runoff with each rain into the ditches and onto our non-contaminated farm, the drift of hazardous chemicals that float and drop down from above us by planes spraying additional herbicides and fungicides, because that you legal.

So IDPH, here you go. Proof  that our outhouse is no longer a dangerous threat to our friends, neighbors and families of Livingston County, Illinois: a filled-in hole.

Previous outhouse hole to right of outhouse.

View through outhouse seat onto grass, no hole.

And no, we will not be inviting you on our property to "prove" the hole is filled in. Since you managed to cite us for non-compliance by merely reading my blog you can certainly un-cite us using your same in-depth investigative methods.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Organic Certification Hoop Jumping

Once again it's time to prepare for our annual organic certification inspection. This will be our 6th year and as always...I'm working like a fiend to get the paperwork in order. Although the standards are extensive, at last count 222, each year we do a better job of tracking what needs to be tracked. The problem is of course remembering how exactly we tracked it.

Was it on the computer? Via hard copy records? Those little pieces of paper stuck on the bulletin board? The torn off pieces of brown cow towels scattered on Keith's barn desk? Post-its littered on the fridge? Inked notes on the back on GK's hands? Each year when I find myself sorting through masses of ephemera I think of Jessica Lange in "Country" as she frantically sorts through her stack of papers to find that one receipt for sheep feed the bank needs. She eventually finds it but the bank STILL takes their farm. Bat rastards.

I should think more positive thoughts during this process shouldn't I?

Each year we discuss if we shall continue this process. In the early years we felt it was important as we sold meat to grocery stores to customers who never saw our farm. Although no certification is a guarantee of anything it was at least visual "proof" that the meat they were buying was antibiotic and chemical free. But since we stopped selling to middle men/women almost two years ago and now sell only direct to the consumer via our on site retail farm store, to customers who can visualize our farm methods up close, we did consider not going through the process again. We would still feed certified organic feed, keep all our fields organic we just wouldn't go through the paperwork, the expense (about $1500/year) for the actual certification through the National Organic Program.

But, with a prospective buyer on the horizon last summer who at the time wanted to continue with the organic certification we decided to go through the process so the certification could transfer to them with ownership of the farm. Oh well, best laid plans and all that. So since the fees are paid for this year we go forward. Step by step. Neither of us walk backwards that well anymore anyway.

And if you are one of those geeks who just love to read government rules and/or are considering organic certification yourself here is the link for you to read. hint: they are much more entertaining to peruse if you have a nice bottle of Merlot in your mitts. Enjoy.


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



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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.