Category Archives: Farm

Open Doors

Barn Door

I had three cows – one milker, one heifer, and one calf – looking for new homes, and they’re all spoken for.  In about three weeks, we’ll only have Sunshine, our milk cow; Delilah, our Jersey-Angus cross heifer calf; and two steers who I might feed out to butchering size, or who I just might sell anyway.  I can’t decide.

We’re all kind of looking forward to the smaller workload.  I’m in an interesting position in that I’m still feeding eleven people, but three of them are not available to help with the work, and soon, that number will be four.  Two of my remaining people are babies, and so that leaves me with just four helpers, and that’s not enough to run this place all out.

In fact, I’m trying to get my beloved to consider moving.  We have almost fourteen acres here, and that’s about 8 acres more than we can maintain.  But we’re halfway through our mortgage, and plan to pay it off in just five more years, and the idea of owning our home outright is too sweet to him.  I try to tell him we’ll have the equity in this home to apply to our next, but he’s not quite convinced.

We’re so far off the beaten path here that we’ve had trouble getting customers for our herd share program, which is a major reason why we’re downsizing.  There’s no reward for milking and maintaining all these cows, and without the positive feedback of cash and pleasant conversations with visitors, the work gets to be an overwhelming burden.

So, since David doesn’t want to move, we’re going to turn our attention back toward a homestead type of farm, in which we try to take care of ourselves as well as we can off of the land.  That means I get to plant more orchard and nut trees, and I’ve been wanting to try some interesting growing methods in the garden that don’t even require weeding.

And this also gives me some time to pursue some other projects I’ve been dreaming of, like my photography.  When one door closes, another one opens.

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Downsizing

Penelope feeds a bottle to our Jersey-Angus heifer.

Penelope feeds a bottle to our Jersey-Angus heifer.

We’ve been milking our beautiful Jersey cows for seven years now, and we’re sorry to say it’s time for us to downsize our herd. We’ve never been very big, milking at most three cows, but it has been enough to serve twenty to thirty shareholders in addition to our own large family. Alas, with Fort Knox being mostly vacant, and our farm being located inconveniently far from anything else anybody might want to visit, we no longer have very many clients. In light of that, and the demands of our youngest two children, we’re downsizing to just one milking cow. We’ll still be able to serve the very few shareholders we have, and would be able to take on a few more if no other source is located, but we’ll also have less protection from the things that can go wrong with a dairy cow. That means that if our cow suffers an illness or mastitis or an injury, we won’t have a back-up cow in production, and weekly pickups will be affected as they never have before.

When we first began with the cows, our oldest child was thirteen and it seemed like we had forever. But children grow, and our two oldest are now out doing their own thing in the wide world. The third is getting ready to begin her own grown-up life, too, and there are always fewer hands, but never less work. It has become too much of a burden, too much of a distraction to mind the business and the children. We prefer the children, naturally, and since our only goal with the business was to feed the animals so that our out-of-pocket expenses were minimized, the children come out on top again. Anyway, feeding one or two cows is much less expensive than feeding the six, plus two calves, we have on farm this winter.

Instead of trying to run a business, we’re returning to our original homesteading vision. We have most of fourteen acres at our disposal, and I have always wanted to fill our front fields with orchard trees, grapes and berries. We’ve wanted to dabble in sheep and goats. (The goats might be useful in light of baby Henry’s dairy issues…) We might even motivate ourselves enough to actually weed and water a garden. Or maybe not. Gardening is so not our thing.

Anyway, I thought you’d like to know where we stand right now as far as the farm goes! I’m looking forward to the respite, honestly; having babies around in one’s middle-aged years is quite the adventure, and we do not need to make it more difficult than it has to be!

Rendering Lard

One of the nice things about a homestead type of farm is that you can raise a lot of your own food. We’re in the throws of chicken butchering now, but we also raise up a couple of pigs each year for our own use. We hire out the butchering still, but I always ask for the organs and the fat. We’ve grown quite a taste for liver; I’ve learned how to cook it perfectly. Heart is incredible, intensely flavored of whatever animal it came from. (We’ve had sheep, beef, and pig hearts.) I haven’t steeled myself for tongue yet.

But I do render the fat into lard.

It’s a time consuming process, usually done in the heat of summer when you least want to do it, and I confess I always wait until the last minute. You know, when I need the freezer space. Right before we start processing chickens. Autumn is very hard on me.

In years past, we rendered by chopping the lard and simmering in a slow cooker. It worked all right, but it took a long time to work through all the fat, and multiple women with a knife. Last year, I bought two roasting pans from Walmart, and we chopped the fat and baked at low temps in the oven till melted. It was faster, but it still took a couple of days and two to three of us to get through all the fat. Chopping is tedious work.

This year, I read Moby Dick. Gosh, that book was long. And tedious. Just as tedious as chopping hog fat. But I can’t say I’m sorry I read it, really, and it did speed up my lard-rendering time considerably. Not quite enough this first year to make up for the hours spent reading, but I’m sure it will come out even eventually.

See, the Pequod had a mincer on staff, and his job was to, well, mince the blubber before it went into the “try” pot. Why, yes! I thought, reading along. The finer it’s minced, the more “oil” we should be able to render out of it, and more quickly, too. But I don’t have a mincer on staff, and I don’t want to spend even more time chopping fat. I’ve got cows to milk, children to educate, dinner to cook, and babies to hold, you know? So I got onto Amazon before I even finished the chapter and ordered an electric meat grinder.

That did the trick! I rendered two hogs’ worth of fat by myself in two mornings.

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How To Render Lard

Equipment Needed:
2 roasting pans (Mine are just like this, but purchased at Walmart for $10 each.)
electric meat grinder (I got this one. I’m very happy with it.)
sharp knife (This is a fine choice.  Get a sharpener, too. This one is great.)
cutting board
large bowl
ladle
fine-mesh strainer (Like these, but check Walmart.)
canning jars or 5-gallon food safe buckets*
oven

What To Do:

  1. Thaw your fat, if you’ve been storing it in the freezer and dreading the day you have to do this job.
  2.  Preheat the oven to 300°.
  3.  Slice the fat into strips that will fit into your meat grinder.
  4.  Put a roasting pan under the grinder blade and process the fat through the meat grinder. I found my grinder liked it cold, but not partially frozen. It could handle warmer or semi-frozen stuff, but not as well.
  5.  Spaghetti-like strands of fat will build up in your pan. Move it into all the corners so as to fit as much as you can into the pan. It will shrink somewhat in the oven, so it can be a little heaped, but you don’t want to be worried about sloshing oil around later.
  6.  Bake at 300°. It’ll probably take about half an hour to render down. I put the first pan in, then start in on slicing and grinding and filling the second pan. By the time I get that one into the oven, the first pan is melty enough that it needs to be stirred.
  7.  Do stir periodically. It helps to break up the clump of fat that will form as it melts and render more completely.
  8.  When you’re tired of waiting or the fat looks as completely melted as it’s going to get (browned bits stop rendering) pull it out of the oven.
  9.  Position a fine mesh strainer over your storage container* and begin ladling the liquid fat into it. You don’t want any leftover bits of fat or meat contaminating your finished product.
  10.  Rinse and repeat until all of your fat has been rendered!

*Storage Containers: I have used quart canning jars to store the lard, but it takes a lot of jars and it can be difficult to get the lard out later. I think there is no way to speed up or improve upon this process except by using 5 gallon food-grade buckets. That’s what I’m going to do next year.

The rendered lard should store fine at room temperature for as long as it takes you to use it up.

What To Do With Lard

Lard can be used in many recipes that call for butter or margarine. It makes the flakiest pie crusts and the fluffiest biscuits. It can also be used for deep frying delicious things like donuts or apple fritters. Lard is the primary ingredient in homemade soap, too. (I don’t know how to make soap yet, so don’t ask!)

I’m sorry I can’t include any pictures of the process; my hands were a bit greasy.  It’s pretty straightforward, though, and I know you can do it!

Hay Day

delaney hay

I never had to worry about this sort of thing before, but out here on a farm, pretty much as soon as one winter ends, the preparations for the next one begin. We garden and can our vegetables and put them away in the pantry in anticipation of the end of the growing season. We gather firewood, split it, and stack it near the house, so it’s close at hand when the winds and snows are blowing. And we fill our barns with hay for the livestock against the months the grass doesn’t grow and there is nothing to graze.

hay day

I had a baby this year in the spring, when preparations for winter began in earnest, and I didn’t get around to calling for hay until just last week, but my hay guy is a great guy, and he had 200 bales of grass hay and a hundred bales of alfalfa for us. It was a hard morning’s work, but our girls, our son, their dad, and two visiting fellas got it all in the barn and borrowed trailers returned by one o’clock. I just had to tend the babies and feed them lunch.

This, in addition to the thirty-odd round bales Dave traded his labor for back in May, will see our dairy cows and their calves, two steers, and three hogs through the winter, no matter how bad it might be.

Now, we just need to acquire that firewood and we’ll be good to go!

Spring on Our Farm

Goodness gracious!  I’m such a bad farm blogger!

chicks on perchWe’re thick into Spring around here, even though the weather is somewhat uncooperative.  We’re hatching chicks, for one thing!  Each year, we hatch a new flock of layers, plus the birds we need for our freezer and for our shareholders, and also some extra chicks for sale.  Chick sales are really good this year, I’m happy to report, and since our Megan will end up doing most of the chicken care for the summer, she gets to be the primary beneficiary of those sales.  Seems only fair, don’t you think?

We’ve also, hopefully, got two of our five cows bred for late fall calving.  They’ll be born later than I’d like, but we’ve had the hardest time getting them pregnant this year!  I don’t know why, but I’m glad those troubles seem to be behind us.  We’ll breed the other two in May and June for calving next spring, and our fifth heifer is spoken for and moving to a new home in May.

We got a bit of a late start with our seedlings this year, but that seems to be working out alright, since the weather is all over the place this year.  Some nights, it’s 50 or 60 degrees, and others, we fall into the 20s.  It’s very hard to work with that!  I’m not surprised, though, after the mild and equally unpredictable winter we had, and I imagine that, eventually, we’ll be able to plant tomatoes.

We’re getting a lot of interest in herd shares at this time of year.  Last year, everybody wanted their shares delivered, and we’re just too small to do that, so we didn’t pick up any new shareholders.  So, for the winter, I only kept two cows in milk – enough for us and our current membership.  Alas, I expected to have more cows calving by now, and so have shares available, but it hasn’t worked out that way.  (See paragraph above.)  It’s all for the best, I’m sure; we have a human baby due any day now, and it’s probably best that we slow down for this season and just let things ride.

Signing off for now, but I’ll try to write more often here, okay?

Scenes From the Feed Mill

8x10 grain bin 8x10 jon and meg loading feed 8x10 string ties at feed store

Funny story: Jonathan is fourteen now, and he is, rather miraculously, becoming quite the manly man.  Meaning he can lift two 50# feed sacks effortlessly and toss them several feet without even trying.  His physical attributes are frequently admired at home and abroad.  We women, though, we consider ourselves pretty strong, too, in spirit, perhaps, if not necessarily in body, though a 50# sack is no match for us, either.  So Megan was watching her brother toss sacks into the trailer, and she thought to herself, “If Jon can do it, so can I.”  She grabbed her sack, walked to the trailer, and launched it.  Except, instead of sailing through the air and landing on the far side of the trailer, it plopped unceremoniously right in front of her.  Perhaps we’ll just leave the tossing to Jonny from now on.

Farm Babies and Other Things

I haven’t written on this blog in quite a long while!  Since August, it seems.  My bad.  In my defense, middle-aged me is happily pregnant with our ninth child, but quite exhausted.  Even keeping up with the daily must-do list has been more than I could manage.  Thankfully, I’m coming into the second trimester now, and feeling quite a lot better.  It also helps that we have sold or butchered all extraneous livestock as we come into the winter season, so there are fewer bodies to tend around here.

If you’ve visited, you’ve probably noticed that all of our chicken crates are empty!  The children helped us process them in three pretty easy sessions, and then we were done.  We’ve set aside a laying flock of about sixty hens.  Around fifteen of them are already laying, and we’re hoping to have a good egg supply for our shareholders through the winter.  Our last crew gave up laying in early August, for some reason.

But we have more important news, oh, yes, we do.

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On Saturday morning, just after 1AM, our heifer, Sunshine, delivered her fist calf!  The birth was uncomplicated, and mother and son are both doing fine.  We’ve named him Oliver, and he’ll be in the barn for the rest of the week.  He’s very sociable, and he’d love it if you’d say hello when you visit the farm.

Sunshine’s training has paid off and she’s milking relatively well.  She’s got a bit of settling down left to do, but her issues have been minor thus far.  Her milk should be in by Wednesday, for which the children are very grateful.  They’re used to drinking about 30 gallons a week, but we’ve been milking just one cow for a month, and supplies have been tight!

Also, I miss ricotta.  A lot.  I dream of warm, sweet bowls of cheese…