Shares Are Available

I’ve gotten some emails in the past few weeks from folks looking for herd shares.  Unfortunately, I just found out today that my email service has not been saving most of my sent messages.  That means I don’t have email addresses for anyone who has contacted me recently regarding shares!

The grass is green and growing and the cows are producing well again.  We do have shares available, so if you’ve expressed interest, and I put you off for a few weeks, please contact me again!

The Pig Whisperer

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Aren’t they sweet?  You wouldn’t think “sweet” as a good adjective for a pig, but these two really are.  Bob, the darker fellow in the front, is a borrowed boar.  He was living in a small concrete pen until the day came to visit our Miss Piggy, and he was weak and scared and timid.  A couple of weeks of sunshine and fresh air and a large pen to wander in have done him a whole lot of good, but he’s really thrived under the gentle care Dave has lavished on him.

Dave is our resident pig handler.  He enjoys working with the pigs like I enjoy the cows, and he has spent hours out in the pen, just sitting nearby, talking and touching Bob as much as he could.  After the first few days, Bob was following him around and initiating contact instead of shying away.  He’s been here three weeks now, and he has finally begun to stand his ground for food.  He’s almost a normal pig!  (He still won’t walk down the hill to the water, though. :-) )

We’re hoping to get two litters of piglets out of Miss Piggy this year, but we’re not sure Bob is doing his job.  Miss Piggy keeps showing him how, but Bob hasn’t shown any interest.  At least, not while we’re watching.  We’ve read that pigs mate at night, but who knows?

If Bob works out, we’d like to add a freezer to our offerings, where our shareholders can choose to purchase healthful meats, in addition to our usual dairy offerings.  That’ll mean, too, that you won’t have to buy your chickens all at once.  :-)  And there just might be a store front in the works.  No more navigating the children’s shoes and coats in the mudroom!

 

Homemade Ice Cream

Hey, there!  Today, I want to share with you a method I use to make homemade ice cream, without keeping any special equipment on hand beyond a hand mixer and an ordinary freezer.  There will also be irrelevant photographs sprinkled throughout.  Ready?

Farmer Dave is out rolling the places that have gotten rutted from using the tractor on soft ground.  Or from trying to drive a pick-up that was hauling a trailer which was holding a pig through a field which was extremely soft from a foot of snowmelt and several inches of rain over just a few days.  When the grass grows back, it'll be nice!

Farmer Dave is out rolling the places that have gotten rutted from using the tractor on soft ground. Or from trying to drive a pick-up that was hauling a trailer which was holding a pig through a field which was extremely soft from a foot of snowmelt and several inches of rain over just a few days. When the grass grows back, it’ll be nice!

To make ice cream, you only need a few ingredients:

1 1/4 cups sweetened condensed milk (That’s one can, or we can make our own!)
2 cups heavy whipping cream (Ask us if you need additional cream with your weekly milk.)
Whatever you want to use for flavorings.  You can go simple with just chopped strawberries or a dash of vanilla, or you can get a little crazy!  A favorite of ours was cinnamon apple ice cream; I simmered the apples with some sugar, butter and cinnamon until they were very tender.  Last week, inspired by Delaney’s no-bake cookies, I used peanut butter, chopped chocolate, and a sprinkle of cinnamon and salt.  A popular request around here is mint chocolate chip, again with chopped semi-sweet chocolate, and three drops each of food grade peppermint and spearmint oils.

Ready for the super-tricky instructions?  Pour your sweetened condensed milk into a bowl, and add any flavorings.  You may need to use a mixer to combine things like peanut butter, but usually, you just need to stir.  In a separate bowl, whip your cream until stiff peaks form.  Scrape the whipped cream into the condensed milk bowl and fold them gently together until no (or few) white cream streaks remain.  Pour into a container, and freeze for six hours, till firm.

We use the small square glass baking pan (9″ x 9″?) because we can cut it easily into nine squares, which is just right for us (for now – Evie still shares!)  We would also like to recommend that you remove the ice cream from the freezer ten minutes or so before serving so that you can actually scoop it.

Homemade ice cream, especially short-cut methods like this one, often yield a finished product with unpleasantly crunchy ice crystals in it.  This is not a problem with this method!  The texture is wonderful, and it takes only a few minutes to whip up.  Also, there are no extra bowls or machines cluttering up the cupboards or freezer!  That’s a major bonus in our book.

Make your own condensed milk after the next irrelevant photo. :-)

Somebody fixed our mailbox in between snow storms last month.  We don't know who, but we thank you, Stranger!

Somebody fixed our mailbox in between snow storms last month. We don’t know who, but we thank you, Stranger!

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk:

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 – 2/3 cup sugar (We use the smaller amount and it’s quite sweet enough; also, we use evaporated cane juice sugar, but use whatever you like!)
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a heavy bottomed pot, combine the milk and sugar.  Bring to a low simmer, stirring constantly till the sugar is dissolved, then reduce the heat to as low as it’ll go so that steam rises off the milk, but it doesn’t boil.  It’ll take quite a while to reduce the milk this way – a couple of hours – but you don’t have to watch it as closely.  If you want to speed it up, just stay nearby and stir often.  I usually get a half gallon of milk reduced in about half an hour, but don’t boil it.  When the milk is reduced to about half it’s original volume, turn off the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla.  That’s it!

We usually start with at least a half gallon of milk, adjusting the other ingredients accordingly.  Then we measure it out into ziplock bags and lay them flat on a baking sheet.  We put the whole pan into the freezer until the milk is frozen, then stack all the bags neatly in a corner.  It takes approximately thirty seconds to thaw out a bag when we want to make ice cream, and we won’t have to slave over a hot stove in July!

Or you can just buy it.  :-)

We've been having the most beautiful weather lately.  You can't tell in this photo, but a lot of the farm is greening up.  Soon the grass will start growing and the cows will be sleeping out of doors and I can start dashing out into thunderstorms in the middle of the night to rescue them.

We’ve been having the most beautiful weather lately. You can’t tell in this photo, but a lot of the farm is greening up. Soon the grass will start growing and the cows will be sleeping out of doors and I can start dashing out into thunderstorms in the middle of the night to rescue them.

If you happen to be in the market for a new hand mixer, I recommend this Sunbeam Mixmaster.  I have always and forever used the super cheap Black and Decker or Hamilton Beach models, which have always and forever burned up at inopportune moments, and this was cheapest model available at my local five-and-dime when I last replaced ours.  My goodness, but it’s a spunky little mixer!  Honestly, I think it’s a little too powerful sometimes, but I will never buy another mixer brand again, on the off chance this one will have to be replaced.  It just seems to be unusually well made.  I’m pretty sure it can handle whatever kind of cookie dough you care to throw at it.

Thanks for stopping in today, and I hope you enjoy your homemade ice cream!

That’s a Lot of Snow, But At Least It’s Not Boston

It started snowing sometime between 3:30AM, when I woke up to check, and 5:30AM, when I actually got out of bed, and it didn’t stop until late evening.  My pitchfork estimated we got about 8″ of fine, soft powder in just about 16 hours.  I know we wouldn’t think much of that kind of snow in my native New Jersey – maybe a school holiday, but the roads would be cleared quickly and life would go on fairly uninterrupted.  It’s an unusual amount of snow for this area, though, and we’re just not well equipped to deal with it.  So the whole world stops.  We stay home because the roads won’t be plowed for quite some time, and the schools will probably be closed for more than one day.

In weather like this, I wish we had a bigger barn.  A barn with two closed ends.  Anything to give our girls a little more shelter.  As it was, all the cows were encrusted with ice by the afternoon, and none of them liked having it brushed out.  I think it pulled their hairs.  ;-)  The steers were the hardest to help, as they don’t have quite as much contact with us and did not appreciate being handled.  I did what I could, but it wasn’t much.  When I left them, they had fresh bedding, but they both had icicles hanging off their cheeks.  I prayed for them.

Although the temperature dropped to -6° just before dawn – 12° lower than forecast – all the animals made it safely through the night!    They only had a little frost on the tips of their fur; even the icicles had melted!

We worked hard this morning, cleaning up the barn, milking the cows and getting water to thirsty animals.  Lovely flakes of silvery snow drifted down from the trees.  The whole world sparkled and shimmered in the warmth of the rising sun.

It’s going to be a beautiful day.

Artificial Insemination: Two Down, Two to Go

“Good morning, ladies!” I called out cheerfully.  I flipped on the barn lights.  Sleepy cows rose and stretched and looked at me curiously.  Except one: she thrust her head over the stall door and mooed.

Here’s a little known fact for you: Cows only moo when they are in need of something.

So I looked at her sharply.  “What’s wrong, Maybelle?  You can’t be hungry.”  She focused intently on Annabelle, who was performing her morning toilet.  “Ah, you’re in heat!”

In order to minimize the chaos a cow in heat causes, we kept her isolated and milked her last.  At the last minute, I decided to leave her in the barn until I could call the vet to see if could come AI her.

AI stands for artificial insemination.  While it’s maybe not the best thing for people, it sure does save a lot of trouble for cows!  Our vet keeps the semen straws in a very cold tank at his office, and when we need one, he warms it, comes out to the farm, and impregnates the cow.  It saves us having to keep a bull, and having to find a new bull every two years when his daughters are ready for breeding.  It also gives us access to better quality sires than we’re likely to be able acquire as a live animals.

Alas, the vet is not always available on short notice, and I didn’t really expect him to make it over.  Then again, it was a rather cold and windy day.  Maybe most of his other farm work had been cancelled due to weather.  I waited impatiently for the office to open at eight, while Maybelle paced and mooed in the confines of the barn.

I dialed at 8:03. (They never answer exactly at eight.)  “Hello, would one of the good happen to be available to come AI a cow this morning?” I asked.

“Actually, yes!” the receptionist replied, much to my surprise.  “Would ten o’clock be okay?”

“Perfect!” I exclaimed.

So Maybelle is bred!  Hopefully.  We’ll watch her carefully for signs of heat in about three weeks, to make sure the AI took.  It usually does, so I’m not worried, but I need to make sure.  And if it did take, that means that two of our four cows are bred for late fall calving this year.  The other two will wait till May for Spring 2016 calving, unless I can catch Annabelle in the next few days.  I’m finding fall calves to be all around better than spring, but I don’t want to deal with it too far into the winter!

The Heart of the Hay: It's the best part, you know! We're storing the hay in the heifer calves' field, and they do a good job of eating out the middles.

The Heart of the Hay: It’s the best part, you know! We’re storing the hay in the heifer calves’ field, and they do a good job of eating out the middles.

Photo of the Week: Moon on the Pond

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Isn’t this just beautiful?  Night photography is not my strong suit; I had my camera pressed tight against a fence post and held my breath till the shutter closed again.

I have a particular affection for the moon in general and full moons in particular.  The weather was particularly fine last night, too, perfect for moon-gazing.

Holes or Sinkholes?

Last summer, I told you about our sinkholes.  Do you remember?  If not, you can go back and read this, or just admire the photographs of sunshine and greenness. :-)

Are you back?  Oh, good!  I missed you.

Now about those sinkholes.  If there was any doubt that our sinkholes were active, they have been laid completely to rest.

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Dave noticed this on his way out to feed the pigs, on what has been so far the coldest day of the year.  I was pretty numb by the time my camera and I made it back to the house, but it was a fascinating thing to behold!  You can barely see in the picture: plumes of warm, damp air were rising out of the earth and freezing on the vegetation closest to the holes.  The whole area was speckled with clumps of crystalline weeds!

I’m glad we got it fenced off, doubly so since I went inside the wire to get the photos and I noted a whole lot of new little holes.

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Maybelle had been feeling particularly aggressive that morning, too, and I had to keep running her off.  Every time I tried to get a shot, she’d charge me again!

I risked frostbite, unstable earth, and a raging bovine, all so I could show you a picture of icy weeds.  :-)

But if sinkholes, caves, and underground rivers are half as fascinating to you as they are to me, it was totally worth it.