Tuesday, February 10, 2015

These Little Piggies Went to Market

Pigs have been a big part of our farming experience this fall.  We got our pigs on July 31st.  We started off with 5 pigs.  They were so tiny and cute. The five of them fit in a dog carrier.  They were 5 weeks old when they arrived.

We let them come out of the carrier and into the pen on their own.  They came out and immediately eating all the lush greenery in the field.

It was a cool summer and the nights were down in the fifties.  I was a little worried about them handling the cold, but they were fine.

We put a garbage can with hay in it so they had a place to cuddle and stay warm.  All of our pigs liked to sleep together and share their heat at night, even when they were big hogs.

The pigs grew and grew.  We had a medical issue and ended up losing two of our piggies.  We made some changes in their feed and water procedures.  We gave them some herbs and they all recovered and started to really grow!  They were very friendly and would come to the fence to be petted and scratched.  

The hogs' names were Brazil, Panama and Trail Mix.  How did we come up with those names?  T-Bob assessed the spots on their skin and determined that their spots resembled maps of the two countries, and the other looked like trail mix.  The largest pig is a barrow and was named Brazil.  He had a back injury and required spinal adjustments several times.  It made a huge difference and he was once more able to get up and walk easily.

We moved our pig's pen every day to keep them on fresh pasture.  This worked very well and made it so that we had no issues with smell.  The chickens would come behind and clean up the spilled feed so that we didn't have rodent issues.  It was a system that worked well for us.  It also meant that we never had to shovel their manure and they put it on the field for us.  It was a win-win.

 The pigs were to be at the butcher  on February 2nd by 8 AM.  The excitement came when we realized that there would be a storm coming in on the day before.  We had to be able to get a trailer into the field to get them loaded, and then back out.  This would be very challenging to do in a foot of new fallen snow.  We borrowed a friend's trailer and loaded them on Saturday before the snow started.  It went pretty easily compared to many of the horror stories our friends told us of escaping pigs and hours of muddy labor to get them in the trailer.  It was about a 45 minute project.  We put hay in the bottom and food and water in the trailer and the pigs seemed very happy in there.  It was probably a lot warmer than their open sty out in the field.

We had to take them to the butcher in the middle of the snow.  It took us twice as long as it should have and was very exciting.  The roads were totally snow covered and slippery.

We got the trailer covered and ready to go.

The hogs seemed content in the trailer, and were quiet travelers.

We arrived at the butcher at dusk.  It was a little freaky looking there.  It was an old brick building painted white.  There was a definite sour smell and the animals inside were restless.

The boys unloaded the handy dandy ramp that came with the trailer.  It worked magnificently.  We had also been told stories about pigs refusing to unload as well, but ours were very well behaved.  They were installed in their new facility in less than ten minutes.

It was a very dreary facility! It almost seemed like a dungeon.

It was a little sad to see our pigs in their little enclosures.  They had been such cheerful creatures and never gave us a lick of trouble.   They had been on the farm almost exactly 6 months.  We did our best to give them a pleasant existence and to treat them humanely.  They got to live outside in the great outdoors and to enjoy a pasture as well as all non-gmo feed.  The butcher commended us, when I went to pick up the meat, for raising such healthy, nice-looking animals.

This was last night's dinner.  The best pork chops we ever had.  They came from Brazil or maybe it was Panama.  No, we didn't import the meat, those were just the pigs; names.  I didn't think that it would be a problem, but nobody seemed to have any issues eating our former residents, although it was a little strange to think about.  My DH says, "Farming is great!  You get to enjoy all the cute little animals, and when they grow up and no longer are cute, you get to eat them!!!  I can't wait until we get the bacon cured!

For those who are interested, the pigs dressed out at 191,199, and 252#.  I am interested in running our final cost assessment numbers.

I love homesteading! It is delicious!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Basketball Times

This year is the first year that both boys have competed in basketball. Thomas played on the Junior varsity and T-Bob played on the Junior High Team at CCS.

Yesterday they took the team pictures for the Varsity and JV teams.  Thomas is number 11.

There were LOTS of pictures.  I think Thomas is the tallest guy on the JV team.  He has had a good season and has learned so much about playing basketball.  This was his first time playing and he ended up starting most of his games.  You can't teach height!

Incidentally,  This post is dedicated to my nephew in the Philippines who started his basketball career playing with many of these guys.  Micah (#24) has really grown in the last year.

One thing I appreciate about the CCS team is that a number of the players on the team go to our church.  It really is a good way to build relationships!  Zach (#44) is a bulldog.  He plays varsity and has improved so much this season.  He has even gotten to start a few games.  He plays a tough low post and knows how to muscle it back up.  He does an 'Infinity' workout before his games.  Trevor (#3) "has hops" as the kids say.  He is really quick and can block shots with the height he gets on his jumps even if he is not especially tall.  He is a really good player, especially for being a freshman this year.  He started most of the varsity games.

Thomas started at center for the JV's.  He is tall and he has really long arms for his height.  That really helps on the tip off...

... and playing defense in the middle.

Thomas has come to really enjoy basketball!

This has been a good learning experience for the guys.  They have not had a good win - loss record, but they have really improved through the season.  They have a couple more games left and then the season is done.

T-Bob has come so far from last season!  He has practiced hard to develop a jump shot and is much more consistent on his foul shots.  He shot over 50% so far on the season.

T-Bob has grown a lot this season also.  He has almost caught up to me in height (that would make him almost 5' 9").  He has worked very hard, and has become a leader on his team.

Our junior high team is not very good.  Most of the teams we play against, have mostly 8th graders on their team playing.  We have two eighth graders total and even some of our fifth graders see significant playing time.

Logan is an excellent free throw shooter.  Especially if you promise him candy if he makes the shot.  It seems to focus his attention for some reason.

T-Bob has been a bit frustrated with the play of the team, but they have had much to overcome.  They have had almost no practices.  This was mostly due to scheduling conflicts at the school.  The fall play and other things came up.  But they are learning through playing in games.  They just lack the conditioning that regular practices gives you.  They really get tired in the second half.  

Next year T-Bob moves up to the JV team.  He is looking forward to that.  He has enjoyed going to their practices quite a bit of the time with Joel. He is learning a lot.

You may wonder, who practices the most in our family?  I would have to say that the most faithful player in our family is Elizabeth. She is outside almost everyday with the kitchen timer in her pocket set for 30 or 45 minutes.  She works on her shooting outside.  She works on her dribbling in the house in the basement.

She is her mother's child.  She never gets cold.  She has her sleeves rolled up and her shorts on when she is out there.  Some days the temperature is in the teens, but that doesn't phase her.

She insists on having good shot form and works on keeping that elbow in.  Her goal is to be a 6' 2" shooting guard on a girl's team.  She will get the height without a doubt, now she just has to work on her ball skills.  She enjoys playing basketball with her brothers.  Next year maybe we will let her play on the junior high team.  They asked her this year, but we decided that she was too young as a 9 year old.  We will miss basketball when the season finishes up this month, but now we are in the midst of debate season, so we won't be bored!  LOL

Stay warm and dry!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Things that have made me Smile and be Happy Lately....

Salvation Army  

Has made me smile... 

I took T-Bob to the local Salvation Army on a Wednesday ( half price day) to look for a suit, dress shoes, and a dress shirt to be ready for his debate tournament.  This is what we came home with... A Very nice suit that fit without being altered ( and there is extra material in the sleeves and pant hems to allow for lengthening), comfortable dress shoes that look sharp, a dress shirt that fits perfect and several ties so that he could coordinate with his partners outfit.  All for $17!!!  I also found a beautiful dress for Elizabeth for when she has to give her speeches.  It was $3.50.  Such wonderful deals.  I was thinking that I would have to go to Burlington Coat Factory and maybe another store to find everything.  We got all our shopping done in a little over an hour.  A word of advice... When thrift shopping, go to well to do neighborhoods, they have better quality clothes for the same prices as the poorer quality clothes in less affluent areas.  It is such a blessing and sure helps one to be a good steward of your finances.

Proud mom comment... T-Bob and his partner won first place in the Club Round Robin Tournament in the novice track.  Thomas won 6th place Debate speaker.

A beautiful snowy day when I don't have to go anywhere makes me happy.  The snow started today about the time we got home from church.  It has been so pretty to watch it gently fall.

This little door on the chicken tractor makes me happy.  It means that I can gather the eggs from the outside and don't have to climb up into the coop where there are lots of chickens roosting at head level or a little above.  Anyone who has worked with chickens would know why this is a good thing.  

Opening the little door and seeing all the eggs lying there also makes me smile.  A lot of times, Marbles the cat comes with me and insists on climbing up on the ledge to help look for eggs.  This is more of an irritation than a help though.  I really appreciate Paul putting this door on the tractor.

I do like going into the Run-in coop and seeing and hearing the chickens. ( yes, we keep two separate flocks of laying hens.  There are about 30 hens in each group and 2 roosters. This seems to work well.)  I love hearing the clucking and  chatting between the birds.  Can anyone tell me what type of chickens these are?  There are two types in this photo.You know you are raising homestead kids when they look at a picture of a chicken and identify the type and the gender rather than just say that it is a chicken.  

One of my daily chores is to gather the eggs.  You might have guessed that.  Marbles the cat comes along and makes sure all the nest boxes are empty and then counts the eggs (or maybe not).  I do though.  They get recorded on our farm sheets, so that we can make sure that we are breaking even or getting a little ahead on the egg sales. 

I really love the beauty of a basket of our eggs.  They are so yummy and good!

This orchid is a testament to my son Paul's faithfulness.  Two years ago, a friend gifted us this orchid as a hospitality gift.  It was blooming in a tiny container, and only required one ice cube once a week to water it. Paul has faithfully tended it and watered it over the last 2 years. He even transplanted it when it outgrew it's small home.  It is currently in a quart container and is blooming again.  You can tell a young man is tending it by the shell casings on top of the soil.  Isn't it a beautiful flower?  It makes me happy to see this result of faithfulness.

Here is the Old White Farmhouse as it looks in the snow.  It is indeed a gift from God and living here makes me very happy! I know this world is not my home, but I am enjoying passing through.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Winter Farm Happenings

Winter is in full force here in Ohio.  The last couple weeks we have had very frigid temps.  It was going down to sub zero temps at night and only in the single digits during the day.  It has made keeping the animals warm, fed, and watered a real challenge.  So far, we have only had one winter calamity.  The Tom turkey with the brown tail met his demise in the cold.  The turkeys won't stay in their coop during the day, no matter how cold it is.  They want to free range, and they generally end up by the house.  JoAn noticed the other afternoon, that one of the toms was down and all the other turkeys were gathered around it.  I went to see and found that the tom was freshly dead.  I had T-Bob come and help me start the butchering process.  It was still fresh enough that it bled out cleanly and was able to be eaten.  I debated skinning it, which is easier, but then it can't be roasted.  Fortunately, JoAn was home that day and she helped me get the water to the right temperature (147 degrees) so that we could scald and pluck it.  Once we had the outside cleaned, I finished the job.  It went pretty easily.  

We cut the bird in half and enjoyed our first roasted heritage turkey for Paul's birthday dinner.  It was DELICIOUS!  The dark meat was almost as dark as beef, and the breast was like dark meat on a commercial bird.  It was so moist!  It cooked very quickly and wasn't tough.  I roasted it like you would a game bird.  I stuffed it ( with gluten free stuffing) and roasted it at 425 for a couple hours in our electric roaster.  That worked very well.  We still have the other half in the freezer.

We did move the turkeys into a barn stall so they wouldn't freeze.

One more note on the turkeys... I am sad to announce that indeed I only have one hen left.  It turns out that the other two birds which I was hoping were hens, are toms.  Since the other tom died the two late-bloomers have been gobbling and strutting.  I am sad about that.  I was really hoping I had three hens and one tom.  This means that I will have reorder turkey poults in the spring.

Levi, my talented nephew who can walk on water!
Winter time is the time to plan and educate yourself about future farming projects and things you want to try and do different the next year.  Some of my ideas to try include mushroom farming, and getting more of an orchard going.  I have been reading 'Eating on the Wild Side' by Jo Robinson.  This book teaches you how to select the most nutrient varieties of food, both in the grocery store, a farmer's market or to plant in your own garden.  She tells you which are the closest to heirloom varieties.  If you are going to eat something, it might as well be the most nutritious available. I have also been reading 'The Holistic Orchard' by Michael Phillips.  He teaches you how to care for your fruit trees so that you don't need to use the chemicals, except in the most dire of situations.  After reading the book, I decided that I need to spend the next year in prepping the soil before I even think of buying and planting trees.  Everything takes time.

T-Bob checking on the pigs

The pigs seem to be doing well.  The barrow (A fixed male pig) is now up to about 280+ pounds.  The sows are both about 180.  We are planning to take them into the butcher as soon as the feed we have is gone.  The feed won't keep until we get our next batch of pigs.  Might as well use it up now and turn it into bacon.  For those wondering how we weigh the pigs.... There is a calculation based on their physical measurements that allows you to calculate their weight pretty closely.  My cloth tape measurer gets used more on pigs, than on people.  

T-Bob has had to work very hard during this cold spell caring for the pigs.  The metal spigot on our waterer freezes up almost as soon as the pigs stop drinking.  He has to go out every hour or two in the coldest weather and unfreeze the spigot and let all the pigs drink.  This also involves chipping the ice away in the barrel and pouring hot water over the spigot.

One of my other reading projects is to learn how to make my own sausages, cure my own bacon and hams and how to utilize all of a pig to the greatest of my abilities.  I am reading the books 'Beyond Bacon' and also 'The River Cottage Meat Book'.  I am really excited about eating our own pork.

Pigs do have that magical ability.... They can turn vegetables into bacon!

Frozen puddle in the field
 There are multiple family conferences these days as I dream and plan and they (mostly Paul) try to dissuade me from taking on too much.  My DH is supportive of my ideas so I try to use common sense and not take on too many new projects, albeit, more than Paul thinks I should.  Our goal is to raise really healthy delicious, nutritious food for ourselves, and have enough left over to sell to those looking for similar things.  We have to make enough to cover our expenses and a bit for labor.  The farm can't be a charity.  We are working hard to do a better job keeping track of our expenses this year so that we can see how we are doing.

Elizabeth, Our hot blooded child
 We have enjoyed a very healthy winter.  We are all outside a lot!  Elizabeth is the child who never seems to get cold.  She rarely has shoes on her feet, unless there is a lot of snow.  Even then she often has only crocs on and no socks underneath.  Brrr.  She and T-Bob were outside sledding behind the ATV when it finally warmed up to 8 degrees.  They don't seem to feel the cold.  They have definitely embraced being country kids.

Chicken Tractor Chickens

The chickens seem to be managing well in the cold.  I see a little bit of frostbite occasionally on their combs but nothing very significant.  The chicken tractor seems to be warmer than the run-in coop.  These chickens won't come outside unless it is above freezing.  The run-in chickens are outside everyday.  They have a protected area in the run-in that they take their dust baths and enjoy the afternoon sunshine in no matter how cold it is.  They have been laying better also than the tractor chickens.  We love our eggs with their orange yolks, even in the middle of the winter!!!

Golden Buff Hen
 We have thoroughly enjoyed the meat from our broiler chickens.  We have already ordered our next batch which is supposed to arrive in the middle of March.  The broth from these birds is "oh so good"!!  They were a big success in our first year of farming!

The Run-in Chickens

Ice on the pond
As I close this post, I thought I would also update what is going on in our lives.  I never did get a Christmas letter out this year.

JoAn would appreciate prayer as she is in a VERY busy time of life.  She has her normal job doing all the financial stuff for a local Christian school, and she also decided to do another year at H&R Block.  She is very busy with her other activities as well... She teaches at AWANA on Sunday nights, heads up a girls Bright Lights group,  and works with Paul teaching a kid's club on Friday nights.  She also is involved with a College and Career group on Saturday nights.  It is a very full schedule.  Fortunately, it only lasts until April 15th, cause we miss her!

Paul starts back to school on Tuesday.  He is studying Mechanical Engineering.  He is a very diligent student.  He works hard and does help out here on the farm.  He also teaches at AWANA as well as other responsibilities.

Michelle has been struggling with some health issues.  She is doing some better.  It is a process not an event.  She is working taking care of my brother's children 3-4 days a week at our house. That keeps her busy for now.
Funky ice picture

Thomas has been busy studying for speech and debate season.  He  was very pleased with his PSAT score.  He is starting to visit colleges.  He also has spent a lot of time playing basketball this winter.  He has really enjoyed it and has done quite well, especially for never having played before.  He has started every game on the JV team.  He has that unteachable thing called height in his favor.  He has a lot of decisions to be made in the next year.  He is leaning to preparing for a career in law.

T-Bob lines up his free throw

T-Bob thinks that he should be allowed to skip debate and just play basketball.  That is not an option in our family. He has really worked on his jump shot and spends a lot of time practicing with the JV team.  He enjoys the extra time working on his skills and it definitely helps with his conditioning. But debate will go on.  Thomas has been tutoring him in good debate arguments. The boys' first Debate Tournament is in the beginning of February.  They are both doing sweepstakes in speech.  It is good to see them growing physically,spiritually and mentally.

Elizabeth is a sweetheart and is always a good helper.  She enjoys shooting baskets with the boys and crocheting doll clothes for her younger cousins' dolls.  She can butcher a chicken and she enjoys spending time with JoAn.  They have been working diligently memorizing the book of Proverbs together.

When we are home, we enjoy the quiet of the farm.  There is a sense of peace, whether we are inside or out.  We thank God for his faithfulness in every aspect of life.  Enjoy the quiet of winter.