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Maria's Blog

About Brown Hens and Spring…

As you may know, I have 25 brown laying hens. They are my pride and joy. I got them last summer as chicks, raised them outside on grass and pretty soon I started finding an egg or two! That was sure exciting!

Not long after my first eggs, the weather turned cold and I put the hens in the barn with the ram lambs where it would be warmer. Usually a hen will not lay as many eggs or possibly stop laying all together when the weather gets cold and the days get shorter, but not these ones! They had started laying and there was no stopping them now!


I started counting the eggs…16, 14, 17, that’s pretty good laying, since you really can only expect 2 eggs for every 3 hens every day. And then I started writing down how many eggs I got. I also wrote down the temperature every morning. I was now on a mission to discover how temperature, time of year, and the age of the hen, affected how many eggs there were.


Well, so far I discovered that when the temp goes down, the number of eggs will go down a day or two later. Cold weather, less eggs…warm weather, more eggs.


So now I am looking forward to see what they’ll do in the spring and summer and then how being 1 ½ years old will affect them next winter…so much to learn! How exciting!

This morning, as I routinely checked the outside temp, I discovered that it went from -10 Celsius (yesterday) to +10! Wow! I marked it down on my chicken calendar (the one with all the temps and number of eggs) and went to pull out my rubber boots. Yay! It’s so great to finally get out of my heavy winter boots…warm boots, but HEAVY.


Wayne and I went out to feed everyone. The air was balmy, all the smells were thawing out and all the animals were just soaking it all up, standing in the sun…eyes half closed…pure bliss!


My brown hens used the opportunity for a splendid dust bath in the SUN! When I went to pick eggs, there was only 9…huh? I guess they were too busy enjoying the sun! I bet they were thinking…’I just wanna fluff in the dust here for one more minute, I’ll lay my egg later…’


Market Time for the Lambs

So the time of year rolled around again in which the lambs go to market. It’s kind of a nice transition time; the time when the monotone winter chores kinda disappear, leaving a slight lull in the work before the summer work hits in full strength.

At this time the lambs that were born last June have reached the right weight, which is between 100 and 110 lbs. If you know a little about sheep, you might wonder why it takes our lambs so long to reach that weight, since a lot of lambs gain that much in as little as 3 months. Well, it’s because we grow our lambs slower on purpose. We believe that the lambs end up being healthier and also it costs us less to feed them a more natural diet, which is more hay and no cereal grains.

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All fall and winter the lambs (males and females mixed) spend leisurely days. Food and water is always at hand. Plenty of bedding everywhere. Nothing is too demanding. Just the right environment to grow up in! Sometime in January we introduce a few small rams to the group so they can check out the new girls and do their thing (all the females that get bred will be kept as replacements for our main flock).

And then as market time approaches we sort through all the lambs. The males will go to market and the females will be kept for now until we can see which ones will have lambs. All the lambs to be sold get tagged with a registered tag (that’s the law in Canada). And then it’s time to wait for the truck!

When the day came for the truck to arrive, all the neighbors seem to gather of their own accord. Everyone wants to be a part of the loading! And a big loading it is! Especially since we discovered when the truck pulled in, that there was no ramp into the fourth level and so 75 lambs had to be manually lifted/pulled/pushed up into the fourth level! Pew! What a job! But it gets done and off the truck goes! Paycheque for another year!

 


 

Summer Summary

And so, suddenly, its August! Wow, time sure flies! Especially when you’re having fun, and there sure wasn’t a lack of exciting things in the past few months!

For one, was the lambing, which happens in June/July. Sometimes it seems to me that our entire year revolves around the lambing. Either we are preparing for lambing, lambing, or dealing with the after-effects of lambing. And everything else has to somehow fit around this one momentous event…

For two, we’ve got a baby on the way! Talk about exciting things happening…this one totally tops them all off!

And that’s what these past few months have been about for me…juggling lambing and being pregnant for the 1st time. And somehow the timing really worked out not bad because by the time we were approaching the busy season, I was past the queezy, morning sick part, which was awesome. I can think of a hundred things I’d rather do than puke behind a weed patch with a couple bottle lambs sucking on my pant legs!

But like I said, it worked out good. We prepared everything so that when lambing stuck full force, Wayne was out in the field and I was in the barn. I guess before I go any farther I should explain a bit how we lamb on our farm…

Lambing is when all the mother sheep have their babies. Some people jug lamb, which means that when a ewe (mother sheep) has her lambs they put them in a little pen (or jug, as they are called in a shepherd’s world) for a day or so to mother up and then gradually put them out to bigger and bigger pens with more and more sheep. This means all the sheep have to make their way through some sort of barn or lambing shed. It also means you can lamb any time of year because it is possible to heat a lambing shed if it is too cold. One disadvantage of this system is that you need enough barn space for all the sheep you have. So if you run out of money or space for more barns…no more sheep.

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Other people pasture lamb, and that’s what we do. This means all the sheep have their lambs out on pasture, preferably on a lot of green grass. This means you have to lamb in the spring or summer when the weather is nice and the grass is growing. If you pasture lamb too early and you get hit by a late snowstorm, that is pretty much a death sentence for the lambs.

So this year, Wayne was out on the pasture, monitoring and marking lambs (we mark them, so in case a lamb loses his mother we can match them up again) and when he found one that was in trouble, he would bring them to the barn and I would take care of them. So I was kind of like the hospital!

Sometimes the ‘hospital’ part of lambing is depressing (because you only see sick and problem sheep) but mostly I loved it. I was out of the hot sun, didn’t have to walk miles and miles, and could sit for a quick rest most any time.

I had all kinds of ‘patients’. Some were ewes with weak lambs, some had too little milk, and some couldn’t keep track of their lambs. All ewes with triplets came to the barn (they don’t generally do that well on their own). Then I had some that I called ‘Rejects’ and they were ewes that had twins but only wanted one and didn’t like the other lamb. Then of course I’d get bottle lambs or orphans. These are lambs that wander around the pasture and we don’t know who the mother is, or the 3rd lamb of a set of triplets (often the ewe can only feed two lambs properly), or a weak/sick lamb that needs tlc, one time I had one that was just too short to reach her mother’s udder (imagine that)!

So, I’d start the orphans off on the bottle, but if Wayne brought in a ewe that had a bad birth and her lamb was dead, I’d put her in a pen and give her one or two orphans (depending on how much milk she had and how old she was) I called these ewes ‘Foster’ ewes and they are great, because they save me a whole lot of bottle feeding! This year I had 23 ‘foster’ ewes that each took one or two lambs off my hands!

After everything was said and done, we had a great lambing! I managed well in the barn, pregnant and all, and Wayne managed well on the field, even without me out there, so it all worked out great! In fact, it worked so well, we think we might just do it exactly the same way next year even though I won’t be pregnant (we will have a baby though, but that will be next year’s adventure…how to lamb and nurse at the same time!)


 

Bacon and Such…

Recently we came up with a new bacon recipe! We are very excited about it because we think it tastes awesome! I know some of you have already tasted it as we got quite a bit of positive feed-back.

So now, I just want to say a few words about how to cook it. The first time I tried it, I was a bit disappointed because I cooked it like regular bacon and it just burnt. And then I figured out why…there’s molasses in the bacon brine and the sugar in the molasses caramelizes and burns a lot quicker than regular bacon would. So next time I turned the heat down, like medium at most, and flipped it often, keeping a very close eye on it. If the fat builds up in the pan and the bacon is sort of floating in it, that’s great because it keeps the bacon a bit off the direct surface of the pan and that seems to help. That is also why starting slow helps because that gives the fat a chance to render out before the bacon gets too hot. And lastly I pull it out of the pan just a bit before I think it’s actually done. Somehow it seems to cook the last little bit on the plate.

Anyways, this is how we like it the best. Today we had it in fresh tomato sandwiches! Yummy!

And while I’m talking about food…we’ve been into the fresh garden produce lately and there is one recipe I just adore…


Greens and New Potatoes in Cream Sauce

Firstly, take some of those tiny new potatoes (depending on how big they are you can cut them in half or quarters) and boil them in salt water till very soft. In the meantime, gently sauté chopped up kale (or swiss chard), onions or green onions, maybe some sugar snap peas or anything else green and fresh from the garden, in lots of butter. Some fresh dill works great in it too! When veggies are sort of wilted and half cooked (I like them to be still somewhat crisp when done) add about a tablespoon of flour, mix it around quick and then immediately add some milk. As the liquid simmers it will thicken into a nice creamy sauce. If you like a thick sauce put less milk and vice versa. In the end add the cooked potatoes and stir them around so some of them mush up a bit, season with salt and pepper, serve! SO GOOD! We generally eat it with pork chops or steaks!


The Family Farm


It’s the middle of October and the weather actually fits the season. Usually overcast, sometimes rainy, sometimes windy, it freezes at night but isn’t too cold during the day. The other day we had a very strong wind that stripped the trees of the remaining leaves. It’s totally fall.

Only this fall, instead of being outside with Wayne, weaning lambs, sorting out cull ewes, and castrating pigs…I’m looking out the window, as I’m baking muffins, coming up with a new squash recipes and vacuuming dust bunnies out of usually undisturbed corners.

And that’s because THIS October, I’m 8 months pregnant.

I heard stories of women who baled hay or killed chickens the day before giving birth…well, my body doesn’t seem to agree with that, so every day I watch Wayne drive out to the farm without me, doing what he does every fall, getting everything ready for winter. Millie, our dog goes with him. (I sewed her a jacket cuz she’s a short haired Jack Russel in Manitoba, Yikes!)

And here’s the thought that came to my mind…I guess I’m just experiencing the ‘family’ part of the family farm. It seems like sometimes doing my part on the farm means staying out of the sheep pen. Kinda hard for a girl like me… But then one night I had a dream; I dreamed I had the baby…and as I held her in my arms for the 1st time, and I looked at her and she looked at me, I suddenly realized that I didn’t care if I ever saw a sheep again!

Now I’m sure that I will want to see sheep again, but that dream sure made me realize that once baby’s here I won’t miss the farm, and in time we can all three be back at it together, and in the end…everything’s gonna be ok!


Once upon a time, there was…LARD!

Lard…it used to be like white gold. The fat from a pig was an important part of the diet often valued equally to the meat. And way back when (in the days before superstores and Maple Leaf), if you wanted pork, you butchered a pig and then you would have all the things that came with it: meat, bacon, ham, sausages of different kinds, lard, etc. So if you ran out of lard way before everything else was gone…you made the pig fatter before butchering! Because with pork fat, or lard, you can actually do that (grow more on one pig, that is); where as with bacon or ribs there is only ever going to be so much per pig and that’s it.

And then something strange happened…for a whole list of reasons, people quit using lard. I don’t know half of them but one reason is the myth that lard is unhealthy, or at least more unhealthy than vegetable oils and shortenings. In any case, suddenly we didn’t want our pigs fat anymore and slowly lard disappeared from our menus.

Fact of the matter is that a pig will always grow SOME fat. Partly because you can’t grow a pig without ribs either, fat is as essential a part of the pig as its ribs or other parts are; and partly because the meat part of the pig would taste terrible if there was no fat. Just think of bacon as an easy example: for good bacon you need it to have a certain amount of fat and if there’s fat in the bacon, there will be fat on other parts of the pig. This is especially true for non-conventional pigs…like for example the Berkshires we raise. And so when we butcher our happy pigs to fill your plates with tenderloin, bacon, and chops, there will also be some fat or lard.

The problem is that these days it seems that a lot of us hardly know what to do with lard (other than make pie crust), let alone how it goes from pig to plate (because as you probably guessed, it doesn’t grow on the pig in smooth, white, odorless blocks) And so I would like to share with you some of the appreciation for lard that I was raised with…

For those of you that don’t know, I was born in Austria. And Austria is a country where lard is still much more a part of the culture than here in North America. Which is the reason why that I grew up eating more lard than some, even though I grew up in Canada. An example of something very Austrian: lard mixed with cracklings on dark bread sprinkled with a bit of salt…lunch! (Very good especially with some garlic and when you are good and hungry because it is quite rich) My mom made that sometimes when I was a kid.

Ok. Let’s get down to business. I’ll tell you what I do today with lard: Lard starts out as a layer of fat covering the pig just under the skin. Or at least that’s were the most of it is. There is a type of lard that is just inside the ribs that is called leaf lard which is of different/higher quality especially for baking and such, but there is less of it per pig.

When butchered, the excess lard is separated from the meat and skin and then it is ground up. (like burger only coarser) And that is what you would get should you buy lard from us: a bag with ground lard in it. It looks white, possibly just slightly pink with a mushy consistency, and similar in scent to other raw pork.

I take this bag, and thaw it out. Then I put it in a pot (heavy bottom pot works best) or in a roaster if you don’t have a big enough pot, and put it on the stove or oven on low heat. Like 200 F in the oven or Med Lo on the stove. This is so the raw fat can slowly start to melt. Melting the raw fat is called rendering.

In the start, stir often as the fat will tend to stick a bit on the bottom of the pot. As the lard melts, there will be more and more liquid in the pot. Keep stirring occasionally until all the solid “fat burger” is melted. You will now have a liquid with little bits floating in it. First it will look rather milky and the bits will be light colored and rather chunky and pretty soon the liquid will turn clear and the bits will turn just slightly golden and seem slightly crispy. That’s what it looks like when it’s done. (by the way, the bits are the cracklings and they taste AWESOME) In the end you will have to pay it more attention because it is very VERY hot and can easily burn. So if you notice that your pot of liquid lard is smoking ever so slightly, that’s not good, pull it off the heat.

The next step is the trickiest. I like to strain the lard when it’s piping hot because I find that most of the lard will drain from the cracklings that way, leaving the cracklings dry and crumbly and good (rather than a congealed clump) So make sure you have a heat resistant container and a metal sieve, wear oven mitts and send the little kids away and strain the lard.

This whole process will send an amazing unique scent through the house. I love it but some people find it too rich. The next step is to let everything cool a bit. I usually can’t wait for the cracklings to cool before starting to nibble at them!

When the lard is cool enough so I can touch the outside of the pot with my bare hands I will fill it into small handy containers (I use old yogurt containers) and put it in the fridge or freezer. The lard will then set into the smooth, white consistency similar to store-bought (it will keep outside of the fridge as well, however it will stay creamier). And it won’t be odorless…that’s good, that’s what lard is supposed to smell like. (imagine butter that didn’t smell like anything)

The cracklings I’ll put in the fridge too.

If the lard won’t set quite hard and it has a browny color and a slightly “fried” smell, you probably had it on the heat just a bit too long. That doesn’t mean it’s wrecked, it just means it won’t be as good in baking.

So now you have lard…now what? Well this is how I use mine, even though there are a lot more ways to use it if you get adventurous: The minute I pull out a pot or a pan to fry chops, potatoes, start stews or soups, cook omelettes, sauté onions, it all gets started out with a generous amount of lard. That’s probably how I use it the most…in simply everything, instead of oil or butter (there are a few exceptions because some things just scream butter) I use lard. There is nothing that smells quite like onions sautéing in lard! That always gets my appetite going!

Then of course if you want to deep fry something, anything, from chicken, to French fries, to donuts and fish, lard is the thing to use.

And last but not least, any recipe that calls for shortening can have lard instead. A lot of recipes that call for butter can have lard instead depending on your mood.

So there you go…suddenly your using lard and everything just tastes a bit better! And if you want to try something from the old country, get some dark bread, toast it a bit, rub a clove of garlic on it, cover with lard, sprinkle with salt…Mmmm!

I know I sure miss mine when I run out! Oh and the cracklings! You can bake them into bread or biscuits for a hearty addition to soups and stews or my personal favorite: start them warming in a pan and then fry some potatoes with them!


And then there were three…

It’s now the middle of January. Winter is being fairly good to us…nothing crazy, like 10 feet of snow as in two years ago or NO snow as in last year! Out at the farm things have long since settled into the monotone winter rhythm, not boring but mostly the same every day.

At least that’s my understanding of what’s going on out there, as everyday when Wayne comes back to the house after a day of feeding and checking on all the animals his response to my, “Anything special happen out at the farm today?” is a laid back, “Nope.”

Sometimes I wish that I could head out there myself and just make sure he’s not hiding any adventures from me…but then again…that only happens sometimes, because mostly I’m very content in my current role which is caring for our new little daughter!

She’s the cutest thing I’VE ever seen, a good little bundle of perfect baby! (but then again, I bet every mother thinks like that!) Emma was born near the middle of December and our life was changed forever. To tell the truth, it was sort of a shock in the start! To me, it was as if I crossed a threshold; like everything I knew, my whole past life, was behind me never to be seen again and I was entering into this totally new world were nothing was the same. From ordinary everyday things, to priorities, to reasons for doing things or what things matter and what things suddenly just don’t. Everything was different.

But I think I adjusted fairly well! One of the things that I’ve noticed is that I am more present in the ‘now’ than I was. And I think that’s because ‘now’ is when things are happening! If I spend too much time in the past stressing about why things happened the way they did; or if I spend too much time in the future, worrying about things to come…I’ll completely miss Emma grow! She changes so fast I sometimes have this overwhelming urge to just stare at her because if I blink I might miss something!

And so I enjoy our more or less leisurely days of baby time together as the winter idles by. Every day is a new adventure, every day is a new discovery, never a dull moment!!

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Millie & Me

About a year ago I had this brilliant idea that I wanted a pet. I love budgies, since I used to have some before, but Wayne wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of waking to bird song at 5 every morning. Fair enough!

I thought mice and rats would be cool, but I had a pair of hamsters once and though very cute, they stank something fierce and reproduced like…well… very, VERY fast!

Wayne is allergic to cats and I didn’t care for a cat that much anyway, so we finally decided that maybe a dog would be ok.

Truly, as long as we would be living in town and working out on the farm it would have been smarter to not have a pet house dog, but I was obsessed for some strange reason. And Wayne was probably thinking that the only way to have me talk about something else other than pets every day was to let me have a pet…which was probably true…Oh well!

Anyway, off I went and brought home a black and white, cute as heck, short haired, Jack Russel puppy!

On the way home we stopped at a fast food place and me and my puppy were eating french fries together…’sigh’… so dreamy! She looked at me with big sad puppy eyes and it was great.

That evening I was in tears. My cute puppy had proceeded to do nothing but tear around the house all evening, biting, yapping, chewing, peeing and pooping. I finally lost my temper and locked her in her kennel convinced that I had just done the stupidest thing ever! I actually wanted to sell her, but Wayne, my calm and collected hubby, said “No we have to give her a chance at least.”

So Millie stayed. And I tried to not lose my patience. After all, it was my idea and I was being a pretty big pain about getting her, so now the least I could do is sleep in the bed I made … at least for a while.

About one week after Millie, we discovered that I was pregnant! We were ecstatic! It didn’t take long and the queasy time came over me like a fog…and Millie suddenly developed this super-duper intensive dog smell that just made me want to puke. Yay! And then on top of that, she wasn’t totally sold on the whole ‘pooping outside’ thing. So I’d find the turd and barely manage to dispose of it without getting sick. Then I’d scrub and scrub the spot (on the carpet, no less) and then I’d still smell dog poo for an hour after that.

As time went on and I got more and more pregnant, I was still convinced that Millie was the dumbest thing I ever did. Summer came and pretty soon Millie spent more time with Wayne than with me. He seemed to like her fine so that made me feel a bit less guilty. She would run around outside all day, chasing gophers and such. Great life for a short haired Jack Russell.

She and I had a few run ins during lambing like when I caught her rolling down the hill with an orphan lamb, or every time she was exactly in the path of a ewe I was trying to coax into the barn, but all in all it went ok.

Summer passed and winter came. Millie was settling down a bit. She started to listen just a bit when I said ‘NO’. I could keep her off the couch more or less. She didn’t eat too many dirty Kleenex. It was ok.

I was starting to think that maybe things would work out after all.

It got cold, and Millie’s short hair was not keeping her very warm. I had a weak moment and sewed her a jacket…BUT she somehow slipped out of it and lost it somewhere out at the farm and I was NOT making her another one!!

Wayne kept taking her out to the farm every day anyhow…until one morning Wayne called her and she walked the other way! Well, it was getting pretty cold, so she stayed in the house with me. Just what I needed…yeah, right!

But we came to some agreement, her and me, and I would walk (or whatever you do when you’re 9 months pregnant) around town with her running zig zags ahead of me on her leash. Mostly she was good in the house. Sometimes she got bored. She completely mutilated the pair of old crocs I gave her to play with. She ate about one rawhide bone a day. She would follow me around (about 5 inches behind me at all times) wherever I went in our tiny house, especially when I was cooking. I kept tripping over her because when she was behind me, and then I’d turn around she would disappear under my belly and, aaahhh!

Baby Emma was born! And Millie behaved very well with her. And so, slowly she earned her place in our home. Today I’m ok with her. Actually I sort of like her even! Surprise, surprise!

Babies go through phases, and the other day, Emma was in a phase were she didn’t go to sleep even though she was really tired. It was late. There were big bags under my eyes and Emma’s eyes were red rimmed. I nursed her. I rocked her. Finally, finally she was going to sleep. I tip toed into the bedroom, put her in her bed. All seemed well! I sat there slowly rocking the cradle careful not to make a sound … Suddenly … BOING!! WAAAH! Boing! BOING!!! What the heck?! I look out in the hallway and there sat Millie, plucking the spring doorstopper like some old mouth harp!

And I guess…such is life!

 


Thinking Spring…

Emma and I were enjoying our winter in the house. I did go for walks with her in the month after she was born because I have one of those handy-dandy-baby-carrying-wrap-things (for those of you who really want to know what it is; it’s called Moby Wrap) and when the baby is little enough you put them in the wrap with their legs tucked in under them. But Emma grew and pretty soon she was uncomfortable sitting on her legs and I had to let them hang out and then I didn’t want to walk with her anymore because I was afraid her feet would get too cold.

But I didn’t mind too much. I still got the chance to get out and get some air sometimes and I was truly enjoying not having anything major to do besides be a mom. I knew that when the weather warms up, things would start to get busy. Working with sheep, shearing and most importantly, the biggest job of the year: lambing; and I didn’t quite know how all that would work with Emma and that’s why I was happy to have the long cold winter ahead of us so I didn’t have to deal with those challenges right away.

Well, now it’s the middle of March. The weather is slowly warming up a bit, and in spite of the fact that I’m nervous about summer, I am finally getting bored of winter. It feels like I have ants in my pants and I want to go out and do stuff.

Which leads me to thinking about how to tackle the challenge of summer, lambing and Baby Emma.

In the start, I was thinking that by the time we have to lamb, Emma will be 6 months old and I’ll just take her with me and do what I did last year, which was work in the barn with the problem ewes all day. All of you mothers will probably be chuckling right now… Oh well, live and learn! One thing that I’ve discovered is that when you are a mom you definitely don’t have the WHOLE day at your disposal

And so I’m still hoping that I can take Emma with me and spend PART of the day in the barn, but I now know that it can’t be ALL day and it probably won’t be very reliable as to what time I get to the barn…because that’s the another thing I discovered: Babies and everything to do with them, evolves! Just because something is a certain way today, doesn’t mean it will be that way tomorrow, let alone next week or next month! That started happening when I was pregnant already (I’d just get used to my belly being a certain size and sleeping and eating a certain way thinking ok, I can do this and then POW it would all change and I’d have to get used to everything all over again) But for some reason I didn’t think that would keep happening after the baby was born (don’t ask me why I thought that!) BUT…IT DOES!

And so the only solution that we could come up with is that maybe the time has come for us to hire farm help during lambing. Yep!

That in itself comes with some challenges, first and foremost: finding someone! Firstly dealing with problem ewes and lambs requires a certain amount of patience, persistence and ‘feel’ that not everybody has. Matter of fact, dealing with any animals requires that and my personal opinion is that some people are born with it and some aren’t. Kind of like some people are good at math and some aren’t. I’m not! That’s not saying that if you don’t have it you can’t work really hard at it and come by it eventually, but that means you have to be a hard worker and a willing learner.

The other thing is that it’s sometimes tricky to find someone that has 6 weeks time to do the job. I mean…what are they doing the rest of the year? Most people have jobs. Everybody needs to support themselves ALL year.

And I guess the last part is that it would be nice to get along with that person. Since if they come from far away (which they likely will unless we are really lucky and fine a local person) they will be living with us in our house aside from working with us all day. And I suppose you can work with someone you don’t get along with but it’s always nicer if you do!

So ya, it will be interesting! I hope we find someone!


Why I think going Vegan is not the solution…

So as I’m waiting for winter to end (as I’m sure all of you are too) I decided to raid the Netflix archives on food documentaries (there are quite a few of them if anyone cares to check them out).

As you all know, we raise livestock and eat meat, but I came across a vegan documentary and I thought to myself, ‘why not check out a Vegan’s view on the world…’ and so I watched it…and I’m glad I did since it was very interesting!

According to this documentary, a Vegan doesn’t use any animal products; not meat, milk, eggs or even clothing made of wool. One of the big reasons for this is that they feel the animals are being mistreated by being ‘forced’ to produce those things for us. Another reason is because they feel that animal production is bad for the planet. The other aspect is the idea that eating vegan is healthier and that humans were never meant to eat so much meat as North Americans consume these days.

I ended up thinking about that particular documentary quite a bit over the next few days...some things were bothering me about it, and the more I thought about it the more it didn’t make any sense to me. So I thought I would demonstrate what I think doesn’t work out with the vegan train of thought as presented to me in this particular documentary and also what I think would be a much better solution to both the challenge of healthy eating AND reducing animal cruelty. Here’s my vegan rant:

The Animal Cruelty Issue

The documentary showed typical shots of factory farms (which I think a lot of us feel are inhumane), of organic farms that were pretty much factory farms, and then they showed a family farm where the chickens were in batteries and the conditions were just as horrid as the factory farms. Basically their point was that it doesn’t matter, factory, organic, or family; farming in itself is inhumane.

They didn’t show the farm where the chickens were happily scratching in the dirt looking for worms in the bright sun. Those farms still exist. The animals are happy on those farms and the farmers take great pride in the happiness of their animals.

Castrating

They showed a dairy cow calving in the mud and the bull calf getting killed. They made milking sound like rape and they also made a big fuss over castrating.

So here’s the thing with bull calves; I witnessed firsthand how that whole thing doesn’t make any sense. In Austria, where the animal rights people had their way with the farmers, it is illegal to either castrate or dehorn (or dock sheep tails, a personal pet peeve). The result of course is full grown, horned, bulls. I’m sure a lot of you know how dangerous any bulls can be let alone a horned one. And because of the dense population in Austria, it is too dangerous to let these animals graze on a pasture for fear they would accidentally get out and kill someone and so they were in a barn…chained to a metal rod with a gutter behind them, because of course you can’t let them loose or they’d kill each other. I walked through that barn in complete disbelief. The bull’s hind legs were coated with a thick dried out crust of manure from hock to hip because as anyone who has ever chained or stanchioned a cow even briefly for milking knows…if she lays down she’ll likely lay in her own poo, even if you put piles of straw under her and are very diligent about cleaning up after her. And if you chain them up permanently then they build up a layer of caked on manure that won’t come off until you put them on pasture for a month. But you can’t let these bulls out, because they are bulls, same as you can’t let tigers out because they are tigers.

In this situation does anyone wonder why some farmers think it might be better to just do away with the bull calves while they are still babies? Or maybe getting castrated isn’t that bad of a deal after all if they can’t breed anything anyways and could be out on pasture if they were… Or if they had to choose between being castrated and being killed as a newborn…

If you look at it that way, suddenly NOT castrating sounds like animal cruelty! I wonder if those animal rights people ever showed up after they outlawed dehorning and castrating…?

Shearing

So what about wearing wool? I sheared sheep for a living for 10 years and I’ve heard this one before too…how inhumane shearing is. Well, shearing is about as inhumane as getting a haircut and a massage all at once if you know what you’re doing. I believe that as long as there have been humans there have been sheep and sheep need people to live happily and the least we can do is shear them (even though they need a whole lot more human intervention than that to be safe and happy). Not shearing a sheep is inhumane. A sheep with two or three years of wool on it is truly handicapped; it can’t pee or poo or breed properly (matter of fact if a sheep like that should happen to have a lamb, the lamb would probably die because it can’t find the udder), it can’t lay down or walk properly, and if it’s luck is really tough it might even die because it’s not sheared.

Again, I completely feel that NOT shearing would be inhumane.

Male Chicks

Another thing the documentary showed was on chickens and hatcheries; there were shots of male baby chicks getting tossed through a grinder alive. I think this is horrendous and a direct result of factory farming…which is not the only way of doing things.

Another thought…

So what if we had no more use for farm animals because everyone went vegan? What would we do with all the animals?

I don’t think rescue farms are the solution. With no way for the animals to earn their keep it would cost too much to feed and maintain hundreds of thousands of animals. Also the conditions would probably be very near a factory farm if not worse because generally when there is a lack of funds things go downhill pretty quick.

Maybe if we turned them all out into the wild. Had huge wildlife sanctuaries were the animals could live the way they were meant to live free of human oppression…? Hmmm…the last time I let my chickens live completely free of human oppression it took all of a month for them to be eaten by a mama fox and a skunk family. At least when I eat my chicken I kill it first which is less than what these predators do. I wonder if the chicken felt mistreated as the skunks were tearing it apart…? I’m pretty sure that cattle, sheep, and pigs would suffer similar fates. Maybe not all of them would get torn apart and eaten…probably some of them would starve and some would freeze to death. Probably half of all baby animals born would succumb to mother nature… Hmmm…sounds pleasant. I think not. Mother Nature is often pretty cruel.

What else could be the solution? Well I am pretty sure that if suddenly no one used animal products that we would have a mass termination of thousands of animals because factory farms don’t go through the trouble of finding homes for animals that only cost them money…they gas them (or something to that effect) Huge piles of dead animals. Regardless if they are babies, pregnant mothers or whatever.

I have a better idea, but before we get into that let’s reflect on one more thing…

The Vegan Diet

According to this documentary vegans do not eat meat, milk and eggs not only because they feel sorry for Bambi and Thumper, but also because they feel it is actually healthier; a plant based diet.

And so they proceed to eat veggies, nuts, seeds…AND soy milk, fake cheese, fake wieners, fake burgers (that taste like chicken burgers) even fake butter!

Does anyone wonder how all that stuff is made?! Sounds kind of like processed food to me and since when was processed food ever high on the ‘healthy foods’ list? Besides the fact that most of that stuff has a pretty big environmental footprint, since it’s made in factories and shipped from who-knows-where.

And then lastly…(I personally find it sort of funny even) here we are making this huge fuss over not eating animal products because it’s so cruel and so we eat imitation animal products..? Really?! That’s like one cannibal telling the other cannibal that you can’t eat people because it’s cruel and then turning around and eating something that tastes just like people mm-mmmm yum! It tastes like Fred, but it’s not Fred! How clever!

I guess my point is that if you are vegan because you truly think farming is cruel then you should stick to veggies and seeds.

Conclusion

So then…what is the solution? How do we make sure animals are happy, comfortable and healthy? How do we avoid factory farms, slaughterhouses and shipping of animals and food? How do we give in to our carnivorous cravings (so we don’t have to eat imitation wieners) without feeling guilty?

Local, sustainable, family, farms of course!

close pigs

The type of farm that they DIDN’T show on this particular documentary. Where all the animals are running around in fresh air and sunshine, fed natural diets (like grass for a cow and grains for a chicken) allowed to reproduce naturally and to live as close to the way they would live in nature…only as farm animals they have the added luxury of having a farmer that actually goes to the trouble of protecting them from getting torn apart by predators; or who feeds them in the winter as their wild cousins are dying because all the ‘wild’ feed is covered by ten feet of snow.

 

Just think…if everybody suddenly only bought their animal products from this kind of farm…

  1. a.There would be no market for factory farmed meat, milk, eggs.
  2. b.There would be a great increase in sustainable, happily farmed products, allowing more families to actually make a living growing happy food.
  3. c.The problem of all the now useless factory farm animals would be solved because they would be either absorbed by the happy family farms AND/OR the factory farms would change into happy farms (because remember: there is NO market for factory farmed products)
  4. d.Animals such as milking cows, who have been genetically engineered only to produce insane amounts of milk to their own detriment, will quickly get bred back to a more sustainable, happy animal.
  5. e.Farming sustainably with happy animals doesn’t destroy our environment…it builds it and makes it stronger and cleaner.

 

 

See who is in control of how animals are treated? It’s the consumer, the eater, the person who eats the food! And that is all of us! Because if we care how our food is raised, and we don’t buy eggs in Superstore where the hen that layed them has to live cheek by jowl with 5 other hens in a shoebox sized cage who’s brothers all got chucked into a meat grinder when they were a day old, and we actually go through the trouble of finding a farm AND visiting that farm to see for ourselves if the chickens are happy and clean and healthy, then we are taking care of the animals that feed us. And if we are all aware of these things and instead of not eating chicken, we could eat more things like chicken soup, to create a use for all the brothers of laying hens, then they can also live a happy life instead of being ground up as babies.

 

For most (or all; really) farm animals, life wouldn’t be better in nature…it would be a lot LOT tougher and crueler and shorter. Farms are good places. Or they should be. And we have a say, by not supporting the ones that aren’t. And supporting the ones that are!

Eating is about more than going to the store and buying food. Not so very long ago, everybody had to grow or catch their own food. It was a LOT of work to put dinner on the table. Like…A LOT! So in comparison, it’s not really such a big deal to at least care about where our food comes from. We don’t have to grow it or raise it or harvest it or catch it; we just have to know the people that do and not buy from people who make a mess of things.


 As winter drags on…

 

Is anyone feeling the blues? I was thinking to myself that maybe I’ve come down with the Baby Blues. You know, they say you can get those even months after the baby is born. I was feeling fairly good, maybe it’s finally come to nip me in the butt.

 

Then one day I hear on the radio that there is an increased percentage of people coming in with depression lately…Hmmm, I wonder as I look out the window at the huge drifts of snow that still cover everything…and then at the calendar where it seems that we are already in the middle of APRIL! Yes, April!

 

So maybe those days were I feel like a zombie and am bored to DEATH even though there are things I could do, doesn’t have anything to do with having had a baby 4 months ago. Heck, I think even Emma gets bored! I feel like I’ve watched every single show on tv, I’m tired of watching food documentaries, the floor doesn’t really need vacuuming yet, I don’t wanna do the dishes because then Emma will wake up, I don’t want to clean the bathroom because she’s already been asleep for an hour and she’ll likely wake up when I’m midway through the toilet, and I’d feel like a truly lazy ass if I sat down to read a book at 11:30 in the morning. Well, I suppose I could write a blog, but my brain feels practically dead. Or I could sew the border on that baby blanket that’s been needing fixing for a while, but I just don’t feel like it. Maybe I should fold some laundry, but it’s in the dryer and not bothering anybody and I really don’t feel like doing that either. Maybe I should do some dishes so Emma will wake up…

 

By the time Wayne comes home, I feel like there’s huge circles under my eyes, I’m cranky and Emma’s cranky and I’m still not totally sure what to make for supper. How pleasant. So then I feel even crankier because I’m feeling guilty for not feeling at least a little cheerier.

 

So Wayne takes Emma and sends me out for a walk. I pull my jacket and rubber boots on, step outside and…take a deep breath of fresh, clean, crisp air! Ahhh…as I’m walking I can actually FEEL my brain air out!

 

And a half hour later, I know it’s just the winter dragging on my nerves. Feeling much refreshed and having slightly refilled my positive energy tank I ponder on the simple beauties and pleasures in life…and I do this on purpose because I know it will keep the zombie feeling at bay for a little longer. But I have to focus on simple things that are great right now…not things that would be great if it wasn’t winter anymore, because otherwise it doesn’t work.

 

The simple pleasures like the perfectly warm, soft, coziness of my bed; the roar of the furnace coming on keeping the chill out; the smell of baking bread in the oven. The simple beauties like the soft, fluffy hair on Emma’s head; the cozy look of Emma’s crib, the warm color of the wood and the bright colors of her blankets; my bright green impatiens plants under the window in the spare room; the sight of Wayne reading with Millie the dog curled up on his legs…

 

Ya…I feel better already…but I still can’t wait for spring!


All about Shearing…

 

Many of you probably know that in my single days I worked as a sheep shearer.

 

I started when I was not quite 18 years old, with a single wether. I remember that sheep. It took me about twenty minutes to shear it and when I was done I could barely stand up my legs were so shaky from the strain; and I left a ridge of wool on the wether’s backbone making him look like he was terribly skinny even though he wasn’t which lead me to always shear the backbone carefully on every sheep I shore after that one!

 

For some reason I felt completely empowered when I sheared; almost like I was on some kind of high. After that first wether, it was like I was hooked. I never thought I could do it the first time I watched Cliff Metheral peel a ewe out of her coat, and when my Dad wanted us to shear our own sheep the next year I thought it was a bad idea. But when I watched the ‘How to Shear a Sheep’ video he bought, I was inspired by the fact that the instructor was a lady…and she sheared amazingly well, and I thought to myself that if she could do it, I could do it! And that’s when I tried and that was the beginning of my shearing journey!

 

At first I was so proud of myself when I managed 4 sheep in one hour; I remember the day I set a new record, 12 sheep in one day! Then my hourly average climbed to 6 and hour…then 8, and then one day I was at 10. Cliff was my hero, mentor, and buddy. He took me under his wing and taught me the trade. We teamed up and shore sheep all through Manitoba and Saskatchewan. It was with him that I did 121 sheep in one day which was the most I ever did in one day. It was with him that I sheared 25 sheep in one hour; my best in one hour. I met a ton of farmers, asked a bunch of questions about sheep and learned about a lot of different management practices. I was just soaking up all the info; it was such an awesome opportunity to learn about sheep!

 

One of the big highlights of the shearing world was the Calgary Stampede shearing competition, in which Cliff and I participated as well as top shearers from Australia, USA, and New Zealand! Shearing competitions are judged on four points:

  1. 1.Speed; that’s a big one. If you are too slow it pretty much doesn’t matter how good you do in the other parts, you are not going to score well.
  2. 2.Not nicking the sheep’s skin; sheep shearing clippers are not quite like the kind we use for our hair or for our pets either. They are designed to move through wool easily and efficiently with the smallest amount of resistance and the largest amount of wool cut per swipe or blow. This different design is the reason why it’s very easy to nick the sheep if you don’t know what you’re doing or if you are sloppy.
  3. 3.No second cuts; this means that the wool has to be cut right close to the sheep’s skin with the first blow, so you can’t cut the wool an inch off the skin and then go back and clean up that part because this causes short little pieces of wool that is essentially waste because not much can be done with tiny short pieces and therefore it downgrades the wool.
  4. 4.Appearance of sheep after shearing; this is an easy one…the sheep has to look good. No funny tufts or ridges, no blood, just smooth and clean.

I remember the first time I won the Intermediate Sheep Shearing Contest…it was the finals and I was shearing against two other men. I looked into my pen of three lambs before we started and decided to shear the toughest shearing sheep first and save the easiest one for last. I had my hands resting on the spring loaded gate, breathed deeply and tried to pretend I was shearing in a barn on some ordinary job.

Maria Western Producer Maria Cooperator 2

 

On your marks, get set, GO! And off we went. Cliff was in my pen with the sheep; every shearer was allowed a man in his pen to line up the sheep for fast gripping and for verbal support. I pulled out my first sheep and it was (as I thought) tougher, I couldn’t get my moves in completely smoothly and I knew I was losing time, but Cliff kept telling me how good I was doing and that helped me keep sort of cool.

 

Then I pulled out the next sheep and it was better, but I still was behind the other two shearers. I badly wanted to finish first as speed is not my strength and for once I wanted to be first.

 

The third sheep was indeed the easiest! It sheared like a beauty and I felt like I was dancing, it was just me and the sheep, the clippers an extension of my own fingers as if it was a living thing. There was this odd moment, like there was suddenly a quiet bubble around us, with nothing but the sheep and me in slow motion…but then I heard it…the crowd! They had started to make some noise, and they were making noise for me! As I sheared they began to roar and I knew I was catching up. Blow followed blow and the wool was falling away from the sheep like a sweater unbuttoned. And then I was done! I pulled the stop cord and the audience erupted! The other two shearers were still shearing! I was first and I had won because I could already tell that my quality was better than the other two. It was an awesome moment!!

 

But life as a shearer was not all rosy. It was hard, HARD work and by the end of an 8 hour day of shearing I was beat…like totally beat. I would sort of ‘be’ on a chair like a damp rag, every muscle in my body feeling sort of buzzed.

 

And then I started developing wrist trouble. After about a week of shearing my wrists would feel kind of tight and in the night I would wake with my arms totally asleep, tingling, and a sharp pain going from my wrists, through my elbow and into my armpit. I thought that my body would adjust, so I just kept shearing. When it was at its worst, I had to fall asleep with my hands in fists because when I woke up in the morning I could just open my fingers far enough to slip the handpiece in my hand. If I accidentally fell asleep with my hand open, I couldn’t shear in the morning because my fingers wouldn’t close at all. But that was when I knew that it wasn’t getting better. My body was not adjusting and I had to take it easy. And that was kind of hard for me to do…

 

And so time went by and I lived out of my little pink backpack. Sleeping in a different bed every night, guest at a different farmers’ house. I enjoyed it. I was free. It felt like all of western Canada was my home! Who needs roots anyways? Every day shearing in a different barn, shearing different sheep. Some things started blending together in my mind…when you’re bent over a sheep, things look pretty much the same wherever you are. You get to know who is helping push sheep up the chute and picking up wool by what their shoes look like. And even though our Canadian sheep are extremely varied compared to sheep in other countries, all sheep have the same anatomy to shear around, make the same noises, and smell mostly the same (you’d be surprised though what you can tell by the smell of a sheep; I could tell if they were grain or grass fed, if they just lambed, and Cliff can even smell if they have lice or not!)

 

Then one day Cliff wanted me to come do this job with him in Cartwright…this farmer did things totally different, apparently, and he figured I would enjoy picking his brain.

 

Well, I DID enjoy picking his brain!! And then one day I lost the urge to roam the prairies and I married that farmer from Cartwright!

 

I knew that I just started a new chapter of my life, and I was happy about it! I felt like the ‘roaming around shearing’ chapter had been long enough. Slowly and sometimes very quickly, my life changed. The most drastic change came when I got pregnant and then gave birth to our daughter! Exciting times!

 

This year when shearing time came around, I was completely on the other end of the ‘shearing day stick’! And I learned (yet again) to never underestimate what other people do. If the shearer is the star on shearing day, the people pushing sheep and picking up wool are co-stars and the shepherd’s wife is the support crew. Holy Dina, they wore me right out!!

 

Here’s what shearing day was like for me this year!

 

6:30; wake up in the morning. Check on Emma, who is still sleeping (thank goodness!) after I nursed her at 4:00am. Sneak out of the bedroom and start fixing breakfast. (one thing I learned shearing is that shearers need nourishment and a good breakfast is important) Cook tea, fry eggs and bacon, toast bread, set the table. As I’m doing this shearers wake up and Wayne comes out of the bedroom with Emma on his arm (thank goodness, she’s still happy and doesn’t need food right this instant)

 

7:00; everybody sits down and has a relaxed breakfast, Emma sits in her little lounger watching everything.

 

7:45; shearers get up and head to the farm. Wayne is in a super rush to be out the door too since they can’t really start without him. I push the table against the wall to make more space for people to walk in our tiny house and hurry to fix the ‘coffee breaks’ in a medium sized Rubbermaid tote (thank goodness, Emma’s still happy); teabags, cookies, mugs, milk, sugar, teaspoons, etc. Close the lid. Wayne snatches it quick and runs out the door.

 

8:00; everybody is gone and I can finally tend to Emma. Then I do the dishes and see if Emma is ready for a nap. YES! She sleeps and I set the frozen soup on the stove to thaw and warm for lunch. It will be pork chops for supper so I pull them out of the freezer so they can start to thaw. Then I put the laundry in the washer (have to wash ours now since the shearers get the washing machine in the evening) As the washer is going I quickly clean the house; sweep up, vacuum (it’s amazing how many little wool balls I find; must have been caught in the shearers’ clothes and shoes) Oh good, the washer is done, hang the clothes on the line (I do have a dryer but it’s slow and I love the scent of air dried laundry!) Ahhh…a few moments of peace…

 

11:00; I hope Emma wakes up soon because we need to head out to the farm with lunch. I prepare everything and then Emma wakes up. Pack her in the car seat. Carry everything to the car; diaper bag, car seat, soup. Head to the farmhouse (where Wayne’s parents live). Good, I’m there in good time. Help set the table, cut sandwiches, pickles in a bowl, ice tea made. While we are waiting for the shearing crew to come in I feed Emma.

 

12:15; everybody gets in from the barn. Anybody that hasn’t washed their hands in the barn, washes them in the kitchen sink. There is people crammed in the house like sardines in a can. Emma is happy watching all the commotion. We eat.

 

1:00; everybody heads back out to the barn. I help with the dishes, nurse Emma one more time and then head out to the barn myself. (I wanted at least a little bit of time working with the sheep or else shearing would have felt very odd indeed) While I pick up and pack the wool, Wayne heads out to check on things and to do chores. Depending on how Emma is doing, I stay for about an hour to three hours. Wayne gets back and we work together; packing wool, marking sheep, making notes, sewing up full wool bags, and on and on.

 

By middle afternoon or so, I get called back to the house because Emma is hungry (GOOD! Since my boobs are about to explode anyways!)

 

4:00; Emma is filled up again and I pack her back in the car seat, collect all my things (diaper bag, baby toys, pot that the soup was in, etc.) and head back home to fix supper. I unload the car, Emma, diaper bag, pot, etc. (it takes me at least two trips). Emma seems happy enough so I put her on the kitchen table, car seat and all and quickly mix up this chocolate cake recipe that I found the other day. Turns out to be super easy and I’m pleased as I shove it in the oven. (better get that done right away so I have room in the oven later for the potatoes) I unbuckle Emma and lay her on the floor to play, while I go out and take the laundry from the line (it’s good and dry by now). Bring it in the house and fold it up and put it away. Pull the chocolate cake from the oven. By now Emma is starting to fuss (she’s getting tired, long day for her too)

 

5:30; normally I feed Emma some banana a little later but she’s tired so I feed her now. She gets banana everywhere plus she’s pretty sticky from being outside on the warm day so I decide to give her a bath, quick before the shearers get in wanting their showers. Emma’s bathed and I know pretty soon I’ll have to nurse her and put her to bed but I’m covered in sheep grease and sweat so I quickly shower myself, put Emma in her jumper in the meantime. When I’m done, so is Emma. I pull her out of the jumper and we get comfy in the room. Pretty soon she’s out and I put her in her crib for the night. (so cute and peaceful!)

 

6:30; I start slicing potatoes and onions to go with the pork chops. Shearers come in and start showering. I’m chatting with them as I finish preparing the potatoes, put them (the potatoes, not the shearers) in the oven, set the table, salt and pepper and garlic powder the pork chops (holy moly, there are a lot of them today!)

 

7:00; I fire up the bbq. Wayne isn’t in yet but I’m sure he’ll be shortly so I start bbqing. Can’t fit all those pork chops on the grill and our bbq is weird, one side is too cold, other side is too hot and only the middle is just right. I keep shifting the chops around the flare-ups and in the end they come out alright. (so happy Emma’s already sleeping or I would have burnt them for sure!) Wayne comes in while I’m still shifting the chops around and showers. I check the potatoes, they are done, put them on the table. Get the chops and put them on the table too. Wayne gets out of the shower. I pull the table away from the wall so we can all sit down.

 

7:30; we eat. I breathe a small sigh of relief and dig into my chop, but I’m mentally working out how I’ll best serve dessert. We finish, everyone seems to like the food so that’s good. I decided that I would let them help themselves with dessert so I clear the dinner plates and bring smaller plates. I put the cake, ice cream and whipping cream (you know the kind that’s in a can and you press the nozzle and it comes out all whipped) on the table and everyone loads their own plates. After supper everyone lingers at the table chatting. It’s quite nice really.

 

9:00; I know I have to do the dishes because if I don’t I’ll never get breakfast on the table on time tomorrow so I get up and start clearing the table. It seems that this is some sort of dismissal signal because everyone gets up and goes to the living room, which is just as well with me. I wash all the dishes, clean everything up, get ready for the next day…

 

9:30; I’m done! Whew! Sit down in the living room for a bit. Before you know it, it’s 10:30 and I HAVE to go to bed. I say good night and crash.

 

12:00; Emma wakes up for her feed. I nurse her. I am very tired. She goes back to sleep and I pass out again…

 

Well, my shearing experiences did a 180 and it’s all good! I feel lucky and happy living here with our daughter married to that sheep farmer from Cartwright! I love you, Wayne!


 

When we move out to the farm…

 

I was in my little blue car with Emma strapped into her carseat beside me, dust billowing up behind us, on our way home from the farm. We had spent the morning there, helping vaccinate some cows, and now Emma was tired and ready for her nap.


‘When we move out to the farm’ is becoming a more and more frequent phrase that runs through my mind and heads all my sentences. I was thinking it again now, and how easy it would be to just put Emma to bed without all the driving and packing and unpacking and seatbelts, car seats and diaper bags.

 

By now, most of you probably know that Wayne, Emma, and I live directly in the town of Cartwright.

 

We always knew that one day we would want to move out to the farm, only we didn’t know exactly when or how. The ‘when’ depended largely on the ‘how’ but the ‘how’ was rather tricky to figure out.

 

Off and on over the past few years we had been discussing the problem; the options seemed to be many…

 

There is more than one yard site on the farm; one with the house that Wayne’s parents currently live on, one with a big red hip roof barn, and one with the old stone heritage house.

 

So which yard site would we move to? Build a brand new house by the red barn? Or move an existing house there? The water there is poorish for household use because it’s too rusty…plus the yard is on a busy road that seems to be a favorite for gravel trucks that kick up huge amounts of dust that seems to drift towards the yard more often than not.

 

What about the stone house yard? The house itself is uninhabitable as it is…it would need about as much work to renovate as building a brand new house would take (and as much money). The yard is about the barest in the country…except for one large lone tree there is no windbreak in sight. Strange, really, for this part of the world where every yard is usually pretty obscured with trees or bushes of some sort. It would be pretty grim in the winter there, exposed as can be.

 

And the yard with the house that Wayne’s parents live in…well, Wayne’s parents live in it! We can’t hardly kick them out of their own home! Only there has been some talk about the possibility of them moving to town and leaving the house to us…but somehow that doesn’t seem to be the right thing for US to bring up. (“Soooo, when are you planning to leave so we can move in?” Seems a little too pushy for me!)

 

Well the delicate discussions went on, until last winter when Wayne’s grandma announced that she would move to an apartment. Then things just began to flow in a common sense kind of way. Grandma would go to the apartment, his parents would move to grandma’s house and we would move out to the old farm house.

 

Everyone wanted to do a little (or a lot!) of work on their new house; which makes a lot of sense to take the opportunity of a move to do some maintenance and upgrading. Slowly things are working out and getting done. Slowly our dream of moving to the farm is becoming a reality. I hope that before Christmas at the latest we will be living on the farm.

 

In the meantime my restless brain is imagining and dreaming of all the things I will be able to do or things that will be better, when we live out at the farm.

 

I hope to be able to take care of my chickens better; both laying hens and meat birds (Wayne hates chickens!) Maybe I can even make a nice chicken house, all cozy and warm for the winter. I hope to plant lots of flowers and maybe even some veggies! I hope to be able to help with the farm work a little here and there. Emma and I will see more of Wayne as he will be around all the time, rather than the feeling of him going to work, not seeing him all day till he gets back in the evening. Emma will be able to go with her Dad on short outings especially as she gets a little older. So many things! I can’t wait!

 

Having said all that; I think there will be some things that I will miss about living in town too. Like the smooth pavements and sidewalks I push Emma’s stroller over as we walk. Or running into all our friendly neighbors; going for three minute walks to the store or library. Or living kiddie-corner to the day-care and school (which we’ll be more and more in need of as Emma gets older)

 

Oh well! I’m still looking forward to moving out to the farm! It’s not like we’re going that far, Cartwright!


The long winter…


A guest blog by Wayne McDonald

Is it just me or has this been a long winter? I mean exceptionally long. Ultimate marathon long. Earth to the moon long. Every winter in this part of the world is long, I suppose. Not for us the 2 or 3 weeks of “winter” they experience in Vancouver where the temperature barely dips below freezing and any snow that falls is gone by mid-morning the next day. No, no, no. Instead we get weeks of mind numbing cold and howling winds. Stupid Polar Vortex.

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Honestly, though, I don’t mind the cold that much (OK except for that Sunday this January when it was -28 celcius during the day and the wind was blowing 40 gusting to 60km from the NW. That was ridiculous). I mean it is winter in Manitoba. You have to expect some cold, obscene amounts a little bit of wind, and a few feet of snow. And when you accept that winter is going to consist of some combination of those things every day, it becomes, if not exactly enjoyable, at least tolerable.

For farmers winter brings challenges beyond the weather. Yes we are outside for hours every day, regardless of how cold or windy it is, but you can dress for that. Lots of layers, cover up anything you don’t want to see fall off, and away you go. Yes equipment freezes up and doesn’t want to work. Yes livestock water sources freeze up and need to be thawed out again (at -30, never at -3). But once again we’re used to that. We can handle that and even take a perverse pleasure in MacGyvering (obscure ‘80s reference for those of you born after 1990) a solution.

I think the hardest thing to cope with for most farmers during a Manitoba winter is the monotony. I’m not referring to the sameness of the weather.   As I said that’s a given and manageable. No I mean the day to day repetitiveness of the tasks that every farmer performs day after day, all winter long.

I suppose I should interject here; by “every farmer” I mean “every livestock farmer”. I have absolutely no idea what grain farmers do all winter. Polish their combines and fondle their canola? No clue. I’m sure they are busy with things during the long winter months. But I doubt that their tasks, whatever they are, approach the same level of uniformity that a Manitoba livestock farmer faces from October to April every year.

Ok back to my central thesis/senseless babbling. Every day when I get up, to a large extent I know exactly what I am going to do that day. It’s the same thing I did yesterday, and the same thing that I will be doing tomorrow. Sure there are subtle variations. Maybe this group of animals doesn’t need another bale of hay today. The one I gave them yesterday still has over half remaining and they will be fine until tomorrow. But essentially the series of tasks that I am going to accomplish when I role out of bed in the morning is largely unchanged from the day before or the day before that, etc, etc.

And that lack of variety introduces a tedium to the winter months that can be challenging. To give you a sense of what I mean, here is a typical winter’s day for me. Wake up. Eat and spend some time with Maria and Emma. Go outside. Start the tractor and let it warm up. In the meantime feed and water the lambs in the yard (about 100) and the boars in the yard (about 10). By this time the tractor is warm so head down the road a mile or so to our other farm yard where the bulk of the lambs are housed. Get a couple of bales of hay from stack to feed the ewes. Get a hay bale from the stack to feed the lambs. Fill hopper bottom feeder with soybean pellets for the lambs. Sweep out troughs of snow, bits of straw, etc. Auger pellets into troughs for lambs. Let lambs into pen to eat pellets. While the lambs are eating at troughs roll out bale of hay for lambs. Hook back onto hopper bottom feeder and fill it with canola pellets for ewes. Drive ½ mile over to where the ewes spend the winter. Put out pellets for ewes. Let ewes in to eat pellets. While ewes are eating pellets roll out hay bales for ewes. Feed pigs before you leave ewes. Drive back home (1 mile) and grab 2 bales of hay from stack for cows. Drive ¼ mile across pasture to cows. Roll out bales for cows. Head back home. Park tractor. Feed lambs and boars in yard a second time. If there is nothing else to do you can go back inside for supper. Spend time with Maria and Emma. Go to sleep. Wake up. Repeat.

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It’s the “repeat” that gets you.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact really none of it is doom and gloom. Can the list above get tedious over the course of a 5 or 6 month winter? Sure. But so can everything else. After all isn’t life just a series of tasks we repeat day after day? Wake up. Eat. Work. Sleep. Repeat. But most of us don’t think of our lives that way. If we did we’d never get out of bed in the morning. In life, as in farming, we learn to enjoy the day to day. We find satisfaction and joy in all of the little moments. We find a way to balance our family, our friends, and hopefully our liveihoods. Yes I have my list. Yes there are mornings when I wake up, look outside, see the wind howling and the thermometer dipping, and “Sigh”.

But not very often. The truth is, I kind of like the day to day grind. It appeals to my nature I suppose. I know that some people can’t do it. They can’t handle doing the same thing day after day, even though it’s not really the same at all. There are always subtle variations. Little challenges to overcome and small pleasures to experience.  That’s the stuff I love. Anyone can glory in the big moments. Farming is about appreciating and savouring the little ones.  Farming has given me a great life. I make my own schedule. I’m outside all day, not stuck inside, behind a desk. I have the satisfaction of knowing that at the end of the day, all of our animals are well fed and content. And I know that I’m not just raising a commodity that is going to be shipped off to God knows where to be processed into God knows what. I’m growing food for people in my province. There is a definite sense of satisfaction to be found in that.

And if all else fails I get to come home to this. Kind of puts everything into perspective.

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 Winter Musings

The wind is howling around the house, snow blowing everywhere. I don’t know if the wind is pushing another bout of extreme cold or maybe it will bring mild weather. Likely more cold as we just had a tiny warm spell in our persistently cold winter. But as the days are getting longer and February is making way for March the hope for some warmer weather seems slightly more realistic…well, at least that’s what I’m telling myself!

And I have extra reason to be looking forward to spring this year because…WE ARE FINALLY MOVED OUT TO THE FARM!!! It is very exciting! And with Emma headed toward 18 months (by springtime) she’ll be able to have more fun outside too (running around, digging in dirt, picking mommy’s favorite flowers…)

So many plans, I’m sure I won’t be able to get it all done. I have to keep reminding myself that we will be living here longer than just one year and that I’ll have to save some things for the years in the future!

But one thing I really want to do is chickens, especially laying hens. I’ll have a lot of work to do before I can actually go out and buy chicks and maybe I won’t have eggs till next spring, but the journey will be great. I am going to make sure that my chickens don’t succumb to the forces of nature this time! Or at least not if I can help it!

I hope to convert some old wooden granary or corner of a barn into some sort of coop that will be warm enough so that winter doesn’t rob them of their extremities. For now I’d like their laying box in the coop and then have a little chicken sized door so they can walk out if the weather is nice in the winter. And in the summer I’m planning on using the flock net (which is a portable net fencing specifically made for poultry that can be hooked up to a fence energizer and thus powered up) so they can be out on pasture and eat lots of bugs without being snatched up by the fox family that lives beside our yard.

I would also love to grow some tomatoes. I’m not sure yet where, but there must be some patch of ground somewhere where we could start a bit of a garden.

On to a different topic…here’s a little behind the scenes look at me writing this blog: somehow I find it hard to write anything while having a little kiddo crawling around all over me, or wanting ‘up’, or wanting ‘ju’(ice), or she’ll bring me a ‘boo’(k) to read to her. Emma is a pretty good little girl but she’s still very busy. It sure does make me wonder how other people manage anything with more kids, let alone how I will manage anything if one day there should be more!

In any case, this winter I am able to do this awesome job in town here: cooking lunch for the daycare kids. I go from 10am to 1pm, cook lunch, shop, do dishes, and prepare snacks. AND I can take Emma with me, which is great! So by 9:30 she already starts bugging me to brush her ‘tee’(th) and ‘GO!’ She loves going to the daycare and playing with all her friends. We have lunch there (Emma eats amazingly well surrounded by other eating children!) and then we run a few town errands (like get the mail) and head home. By this time Emma is pretty wiped out and she almost always falls asleep on the short 5 minute drive from town to the farm. I carefully pick her up out of her car seat, get her jacket off and lay her down in her little bed for a nap. Sometimes she will just go right back to sleep and sometimes she needs a bit of a nurse to doze back off but one way or another she ends up snoozing in her bed.

Yay! Time for me to run downstairs and get a few things done. I chase Millie off the easy chair in the living room (yet again! We are trying to train her to stay OFF the furniture, but she thinks she is the Queen of Sheeba and that the biggest, comfiest, chair in our whole house belongs entirely to her alone. Then one day when she forgot herself and growled at Wayne when he went to sit down, we decided that that was the end of that and she would have to learn to sleep in her own bed which has a perfectly cozy fluffy blanket in it that I regularly wash! Spoiled dog!) I peer at the chair that Millie just vacated…yup, sure enough! Dog hair. And I hate her short prickly dog hair sticking into everybody’s clothes. So I pull out the vacuum, thank God that Emma is sleeping upstairs and I can actually turn on the vacuum without her waking up, and hastily suck up all the dog hair. And while I’m at it I do the floor too. Put the vacuum away. Sweep the kitchen floor (which also seems harder to do with some little munchkin running criss-cross through my dirt). Think about what to make for supper and get that started (like get potatoes peeled and diced and sitting in a pot of water ready to turn on for mashed potatoes). Quickly clean up the peelings. Decide which one of my ‘quiet time’ jobs I should tackle today. Decide maybe I should really try to write a blog finally. Start up my computer. Pour myself a tall glass of water (because sometimes I forget to drink and then I get dehydrated and headachy). Check the weather. Check my mail. Open word document. Start writing blog. It takes me about 20 minutes to get into the flow of things. I get a paragraph done. Emma wakes up. And one and a half whole hours have passed by in the blink of an eye and I feel like I didn’t manage a thing…until I write it all down for you here and discover that it wasn’t that bad after all! And needless to say this blog took me two or three sessions to complete so if you feel like the ‘flow’ is a bit choppy as you’re reading it is because the ‘flow’ was kinda choppy as I’m writing! 

Right now I’m happily clicking away. It is evening and I’m feeling content. Emma is sleeping and everything is good.

I go back to the beginning of my writing and wonder how something that takes all of three minutes to read could possibly take three sessions of anything to write…Oh well!

I hope to be able to blog about chickens and green grass soon!


Full bins and food systems

If you have been listening to the radio or reading the newspaper (or surfing through news sites for those that are more technologically inclined), you may have spotted the odd reference to the bumper crops enjoyed by Canadian grain farmers in 2013. I know that in our area the crops were amazing. “Best crop I will ever grow…” was a common refrain this fall from our neighbours. So you would think that our grain farmers would be rolling in cash by now, enjoying the fruits of their labours as they send their grain to markets around the world. But that’s not happening. In fact there are increasing rumblings about cash flow shortages and worries about how farmers are going to afford to finance planting the 2014 crops this spring. What? How is that possible? Huge grain crops = a huge cash windfall right? After all it only makes cents (wow that was lame).

So what’s going on? Have the crop prices fallen to nothing? No. While crop prices have dropped from their highs this past fall, but there is still ample opportunity to make a profit at the current market values for wheat, canola, etc. Was the quality of the crop so poor that there is no money in it? Again no. There were some fields that had lower quality grain, but there always are. Nothing widespread. So why on earth are pundits throwing around dire predictions of financial ruin and cash flow crunches? Because the vast majority of all of that grain; millions and millions of tonnes; is still sitting in storage bins throughout the prairies. It’s not that the farmers don’t want to ship it out on trucks, trains, and ultimately ships to destinations around the globe. They absolutely do. It’s that they can’t. That’s right CAN’T.

What do you mean “can’t”, you might be thinking? Have they forgotten how to dial a phone and book a truck to haul the grain to the elevator? They can book the truck, but the elevators won’t take their grain. And the elevators won’t take their grain because they can’t book a set of train cars to ship the grain to the west coast where massive freight ships are waiting to fill up and head out Japan, China, etc. The rail companies, such as CN, will say that a combination of incredibly poor weather across Canada and a massive crop volume that needs to be shipped has limited their ability to move the grain. The farmers and grain companies will say that the rail companies are preferentially shipping crude oil at a greater profit and intentionally limiting the amount a grain they are willing to take. So who’s right and who’s wrong? I have no idea. They are both right. They are both wrong.

Well that was a pointless blog post, wasn’t it? Give me another minute and I’ll try to make it worth your while. Maybe it isn’t about who’s right. The weather has been brutal. The crop that needs to be shipped is huge. There are record amounts of crude oil being shipped by rail. So what? It occurs to me that we shouldn’t be talking about export limitations. We should be talking about a different food system entirely. Why are we so hell bent on exporting those millions of tonnes of grain in the first place? The answer is because that’s what we’ve been told works. In fact, according the government (both provincial and federal) that’s the only thing that works. As a country we are all about export. It’s become part of our national identity. “Canada: We’ve got oil, we’ve got lumber, we’ve got grain. Please take it. Seriously we want you to have it. No really you’d be doing us a favour… Sorry.”   I’m not sure when our marketing strategy changed as a country. The 50’s or 60’s? Somewhere around there I would think. We went from taking raw materials and natural resources, processing them to add value, and then selling those new products into our local markets to ‘harvesting’ resources and shipping those out of the country as fast as we could. I don’t think that approach is working for us farmers anymore, if it ever did.

So what are we supposed to do? Sell hundreds of millions of bushels of grain a few pounds at a time at farmer’s markets and road side stands? No I don’t think we can take a vast commodity based system like the grain industry and reduce it to barter and trade. But why can’t we try to process more of the things that we grow locally? Why can’t we take our own Manitoba grain, grind it into our own Manitoba flour in our own Manitoba built plants, and bake our own Manitoba bread that we would sell in our own Manitoba grocery stores to Manitoba people? Is that so crazy? I don’t think so. Imagine if we had a more local centric food system in place right now. Isn’t it easier to imagine sending our grain 100 miles to a plant in Winnipeg to process it rather 1000 miles to a west coast port? No trains? No problem! Load up the grain truck and drive your grain to market yourself! But we can’t eat all of the bread, pasta, etc. that we would produce! Agreed. So we ship the excess value added products around the world. More money for the farmers, more control over how their products are marketed, more jobs created in the province, and a more valuable product to export. Sounds good to me.

Obviously there are no easy answers to these complicated issues. I know that taking something as unwieldy as our current food system, and even worse the government policies that encourage it, and making substantive changes is difficult at best. But really so what? Just because it’s hard we shouldn’t do it? When we switched from marketing our meat through the conventional market (auctions sales and feed lots) to direct marketing food to family we didn’t do it all at once. That would be crazy. It took time. We had to develop a market. For a while we did both. Gradually all of our animals were direct marketed. We’re just one small farm, but it can be done. Our country can do it too. I think it’s time.


 

Adventures with Sourdough…

Has anyone ever tried making sourdough bread? Like from scratch? Like even the starter from scratch? Without using yeast?

Well, it’s a lot harder than it looks! I’m starting to think it’s a skill in a class of its own entirely!

I’ve always wanted to try making sourdough bread, but I kept pushing it off till we moved to the farm because I wasn’t sure I could make the starter with our chlorinated town water. (in the meantime I read on a website that apparently it does work with chlorinated water, but I still somehow doubt it would have worked for me!) And so, now that we are out at the farm and…yes…it still is winter, why not finally give the sourdough a go. So I do some research and am even lucky enough to stumble over a book all about bread including lots about sourdough!

I think I am finally ready. I find an appropriate container (a 4 cup Purex measuring dish) and flip open my book. I follow the recipe exactly: mix ½ cup freshly ground whole wheat flour (mine was not freshly ground but I keep it in the freezer so I hoped that….

(small side note: remember the last blog I wrote about how all my blogs now get written in sessions? Well, up until now I had to give the rice a stir that I’ve got cooking on the stove for supper-5minutes-run upstairs and put Emma back to bed-20minutes-wait for my computer to stop goofing around-15minutes. I know, I know, a lot of you non-rookie moms will just be smiling and saying ‘welcome to the club’ but once in a while I’m still adjusting to the new way of things!)

…now where was I…Oh, yes, freshly ground whole wheat flour! Ok mix the freshly ground flour that’s actually not freshly ground but been in the freezer with 1 tbsp milk and 2 tbsp water. I’m a little leery about mixing milk with flour intending to let it ferment, especially pasteurized milk but, oh well, I don’t have any raw milk so here goes. It’s supposed to be a firm dough and a firm dough it is; about the size of a baby’s fist, a small little lump of a thing and I don’t know what I was thinking but somehow it wasn’t this. Usually when I cook I have some idea of how things are supposed to look as it progresses but with this little chuck of flour, water, and milk (oh my!) I have no idea. It says to cover with a damp cloth and put in a warm spot. I wet a dish cloth, cover, and leave it sitting on the counter. Now leave it for 2 days. Okey-dokey!

…two days later…

Ok, time for the next step. My little dough lump looks a bit off, it’s got a brownish crust on the outside and didn’t really change at all in size. The recipe says:

“Pull off hardened crust and discard” (Oh, so the crust is fine!) “Scoop out the moist centre that is about the size of a hazelnut and should be aerated and sweet smelling and place in a clean bowl” Then you are supposed to mix in more water and flour, cover it with plastic wrap this time and leave for another 2 days.

Well my little aspiring sourdough-starter-lump did not seem aerated at all and I don’t know what the definition of ‘sweet smelling’ is exactly but mine smelled a whole lot more like a rotten egg than anything I would define as ‘sweet’ but then how would you describe the smell of a rotten egg without using the words ‘rotten’ and ‘egg’... maybe sweet? Or maybe sickly sweet?

Anyways, here I stand, toss it? Or mix in more flour? It sure seems to stink. Maybe it’s the milk? Maybe it’s the bacteria in the dish cloth? Maybe it’s supposed to smell like this? Well, better safe than sorry so I chuck it and start over.

This time my little dough ball is a teensy tiny bit softer but by all means still firm. And instead of putting it on the counter, I put it in a drawer that’s just above the heat register so it should be good and warm in there. I also debate if I should put milk in at all but my new book says that the flavor of the bread depends greatly on the ingredients you use to start it, and I wanted to do the San Francisco Sour Dough so I better follow the recipe and put the milk in. I debate if I should use a wet dishcloth again or maybe just plastic wrap right away and again I decide to follow the recipe and do the dishcloth.

A day later, my little lump… doubled in size! What?! My dishcloth has dried out and instead of wetting it I just put plastic wrap on right away. I put it back in the drawer for another day, but it doesn’t change much till day two. Once again I pull off the crust and proceed to scoop out the soft insides which this time is very aerated! But…it still stinks! What to do? Well, this time I decide to mix in more flour and water and see what happens. Back in the drawer it goes and we wait again.

Two days later I have a huge bubbling mass! I’m so excited! I pull off the plastic wrap and give it a cautious sniff…and the smell has changed! No more rotten egg, now it’s distinctly sour smelling; a good kind of sour. So I go to mix in more flour and water, all excited that it seems like I’m well on my way to getting my very own sourdough starter. But sourdough starters are one of those things that you shouldn’t count before they’re ‘hatched’…I open my cupboard where the flour is supposed to be and discover that the bag is empty! Really?! No one to blame but me. I can’t believe it. What to do?

The problem is that at this stage I need white flour.

I’ll try to explain the way I understood it…in the beginning you use whole wheat flour, preferable organic and freshly ground because there is a large array of different bacteria on that kind of flour including the kind that we need to make sourdough. Then when you add the water and sometimes other ingredients the different bacteria try to take over the starter and the way it’s supposed to work is that eventually the good bacteria (the kind that will make bubbles and a good taste) will overpower the bad bacteria (the kind that doesn’t smell so good and/or does all sorts of other stuff we don’t want in starter or our bread). So then once you realize that the good bacteria has the upper hand so to speak, you want to add unbleached white flour, because that kind of flour has less bacteria in general and it will be easier for the good bacteria in the starter to make sure that it stays in control than if you added a bunch more bad bacteria with a new batch of whole wheat flour.

And that’s where I screwed up. I ran out of unbleached flour. And the store in town only has regular bleached flour and I think the reason you’re not supposed to use that is because bleached flour is pretty dead…too dead to properly support sourdough bacteria. So I put my newborn starter in the fridge and hoped that it would still be good by the time I found some unbleached flour.

In any case, if I hadn’t run out of unbleached flour…you continue to feed your new starter very often (basically what you are doing is feeding good bacteria) and the older the starter is the stronger and more stable the good bacteria are which means you will get more consistent bread and you don’t have to worry as much about some other bacteria taking over. Apparently you are not even supposed to use starter that is less than a week old, and I know that there is starters out there that are years old, can you imagine that?!

But all this is still very theoretical for me, as I haven’t reached that level yet. I’m still somewhere right in the beginning with my rotten egg smelling whole wheat starter lump. (by the time I did get the unbleached flour, the stuff in the fridge was ripe for the trash and I decided to start over) Which by the way I am about to attempt for the FOURTH time as the third time I tried it the dough was too soft and it just turned into a weird mass that had not ‘crust-free’ centre.

So like I said…definitely and art AND these adventures are to be continued! I still have to successfully manage the whole feeding bit and then, months later, maybe I’ll get BREAD!

If anybody has any sourdough tips, send them my way!


…and on that farm he had some turkeys, e-i-e-i-oh!

So last Christmas we finally moved to the farm! And then, after we got unpacked and settled in, I spent a lot of time looking out the window at the snow drifts and the teensy-tiny bit of red left at the very bottom of our thermometer, dreaming about all the things I would do when summer did come! (like the snowman ‘Olaf’ from Disney’s “Frozen”, which I now listen to/watch at least once a day with our daughter Emma). And one of the thoughts that drifted through my head was my rather old dream of raising some turkeys!

So before the snow was even properly melted I called the hatchery and ordered 100. (I was thinking about just getting 25, but then Wayne said something like ‘if your gonna do 25 why not do 50’ and then I thought to myself if I was gonna do 50 why not right away do a hundred?)

At the end of April I became the proud (and slightly nervous) owner of 100 turkey chicks for the 1st time in my farming experience. I have heard a lot of stories about how turkey chicks are the most finicky things there are, so I had done some research and was super picky about doing everything as right as I knew how. And I think it paid off, because I only lost a few and soon they were growing into very curious, interesting, real, live, turkeys…strut and all. (I discovered that the tom chicks strut as soon as they grow 3 feathers in a row. They look a little odd, all fluffy and peeping, strutting away!)

Emma and I spent a lot of time in that turkey pen. Emma loved running around and playing in amidst the turkeys and they were super tame and loved following her around.

The summer rolled on and the turkeys got bigger…AND bigger! I had no idea how big they actually were because I had never done it before, but I was not disappointed when it came time to butcher. They were great! Really well filled out and round, just enough fat to make them juicy! I was very excited; I couldn’t stop grinning for a day!

We had one of them for Thanksgiving and MY, was that good!

I discovered that a turkey is a much bigger bird than a chicken. I know that seems pretty obvious but somehow I guess I was thinking a bit bigger than a chicken, but it’s more like a lot bigger than a chicken! There are so many things you could do with the meat of just one turkey…meals and meals and meals. I made bone broth out of the leftover bones and skin from the thanksgiving turkey and it made at least 6 meals worth of stock! That’s just the bones! Bone broth or stock is such a handy and healthy thing to make. I always put a bit (like a ¼ cup) of vinegar into the water at the beginning of the cooking period because it helps the calcium from the bones get into the broth; hence, bone broth. Sally Fallon, who wrote the book ‘Nourishing Traditions’ says that properly made bone broth contains as much calcium as milk! Among a bunch of other healthy things, on top of being super easy to digest. (wonder why chicken soup is always served when your sick? Because chicken or turkey bones are traditionally easier to come by than beef bones) I use my stock for soups, stews, gravy; or use it to cook rice or noodles, or soak some bread in it and mix it into your meat loaf, or whatever. The possibilities are practically endless. When I make my big pot, I freeze it in 2 cup plastic containers and then when I need some I run the container under some hot water, plop the frozen soup out into a pot and away you go.

I cut some of the bigger turkeys up (the ones that wouldn’t fit into anybody’s roaster!) before freezing. I can think of hundreds of things to do with turkey breast. Stir fry, schnitzel (breaded, fried, steak), cubed into stews and pies, roasted whole (a juicy delight when seared 1st and roasted til just done), stuffed, and the list goes on.

The drumsticks are good to be marinated or put in brine and then slow roasted (or smoked for those few lucky people who actually own a smoker!) Or slow cooked in a crock pot with rich gravies and sauces. Drumsticks are MADE for winter!

Even the turkey necks are not to be underestimated! The big ones weigh a whopping 2 pounds! There’s your chicken (er…turkey) noodle soup right there…for probably 3 whole days! And I personally really like the neck meat; I can’t wait to slow roast one with lots of rosemary, garlic, and onion, and then put the meat into a thick creamy stew (if I can resist eating the whole thing as I’m picking the meat off the bones…or rather picking the bones out of the meat because those things get so tender)

Anyways, I’m pumped about our turkeys and I hope to share a bunch of it with all of you! Christmas is coming up! Eat McDonald Farm turkey!

 

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