Sunday, August 8, 2010

First Rabbit Butchered, First Farmer's Market & Catch-Up Blog

I am not sure what sort of wildness is in the air but life has been insane lately.  We're just going with it, but I'm hoping that winter brings a bit of calm to our life. 

We are moving into canning/harvest season, and I'm so excited to put up new things like Rhubarb Orange Jam, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Filling and Fennel Relish.  Those are just what I've decided on doing today.  We'll can some pickled beets too because they're a favorite! 

We did our first Farmer's Market the 31st of July and were really successful.  The funniest part of selling was that catnip (which I took on a whim) was our bestseller.  Catnip.  I had to laugh.  Since we are overflowing with rhubarb, I also took some rhubarb cobbler kits and sold two of the three.  I was pretty excited about them because they were our first "value-added" product and they sold!  It was good to talk to people about what our goals are, where we are now and whats in the works for this coming season - I can now talk about these things much more smoothly than before.  My friend Christina sold her beautiful bags and other hand-sewn products across the way from us, and we met several other vendors (of course) so it was interesting to see what was available.  I am not certain we will be doing a booth there more this summer - though I certainly enjoyed it - simply because of the time requirement and because I cannot take the kids down at this point.  Richard took them home this time, but had to take the day off to do so, and as far as economics goes, it makes much more sense to have him work than sell produce for half the income.  Once this kids are bigger this won't be a consideration, but until then, unless we have more high-dollar items to sell, we're undecided on how much we'll be going down.  I am a bit disappointed by this but ultimately enjoy selling from home much more.

Last night I butchered one of our two young bucks.  Initially used the "broomstick" method for killing them, but didn't do it correctly so ended up taking thirty seconds (forever! i don't really know how long) to kill a rabbit that should have taken five.  Not the best deal.  I felt horrible that it wasn't as quick as it should have been, but learned and will be better with the next one.  Killing something with your hands is much different than shooting it.  More intimate, which made me more thankful because I felt the life leave.  Earlier this week I cooked a Foster Farms chicken, and was disgusted by the unhealthy smell of it - so much so that I almost threw it away.  Processing the rabbit I was struck by how clean and healthy the meat looked and smelled, and  it made me happy that we are providing that quality for our family.  If we all had an intimate knowledge of the animals that we ate, I'm certain there would be much lower consumption nationally.  We're going to fry it tonight, so I will post on the quality/taste etc then.  We will be butchering the second buck this week sometime between Tuesday and Thursday, hopefully it goes much much quicker!!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Land next spring!

Through his work, Richard has talked to a man who is interested in leasing us land.  Apparently Richard's boss has been talking to land-owning customers about what we're looking for and trying to do - pretty amazing to have support from unexpected places - and as a result he approached Richard!  We are hopeful, but are obviously several steps from putting a shovel to the ground. 

We have received our seed mix lists from Justin at NRCS, and they're long lists.  Instead of a few plant species there are two batches of nearly ten species!  We would split our land, seeding half with one mix and half with the other so that the entire growing season is covered. 

Lately we are getting more and more people coming by for produce, and I just love being able to have them walk through and point to what they want.  It's just a cool experience.  Sharing our goals - letting them know what they're supporting - is wonderful.  Savanna will tell them what everything is too if she is outside with us, which I just love since I don't drill her or anything on the kinds of plants we have, she just catches on.  We are even able to sell the catnip that we originally planted to keep the cats in a certain area of the garden.  It has flourished and I figured "why not?"

I will be taking pictures of our garden again this week, and will post them shortly after.  It has grown a TON since the last photos were posted.

We have several more wild bees showing up now!  Hopefully they will pollinate the tomatoes like crazy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Downside of the strip beds

We love the quick setup, ease of use etc of our strip beds BUT it turns out the animals love to be at ease in them!  Crazy Lucy (cat) loves to lounge on the young seedlings and Jesse (Bassett/Bordercollie pup) thinks he should sit in the tomatoes to drink out of the little water dish I have in one.  They're only a foot tall, so apparently it's like an animal throne lol.  I'm hoping that me running them out will get the "don't get in there" message through.  Not holding my breath though - I've found that once they like a spot it's pretty hard to convince them that it isn't wonderful.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Our Garden

Digitalis (Foxglove) I planted last year, put to sleep under straw for the winter, then did a happy dance when they emerged this spring - victorious!  Bees like flowers too, so a constant bloom on the property should help attract bees and therefore boost our production.  Thats the idea anyway.

The rest of the front flower bed.  Bees have been coming through regularly and I should be able to start collecting seed soon.  We have flowers in almost every planting bed.  This bed only has the large, nasty/noxious weeds pulled.  Food beds keep me busy enough with the weeding.

The two beds on the right each measure 4'x20' and are made with FREE scrap wood from our local mill.  The shorter bed on the left is new this year and measures 1' x 18' +/-.  We call the little beds "strips" because we've been putting them up in free/unused space.  They are made from salvaged feed-lot fence boards (also free).  Pretty doesn't grow plants (good thing lol).

These are three more "strip beds" behind our house.  This area has some nasty clay soil spread over it (containing a TON of weed seed) so we're hoping that the soil in the raised beds will be enough for the plants to thrive.  Not sure they will, our pumpkins are struggling but seem to be gradually getting better.  The right bed contains only root vegetables though, so maybe they'll have a better outcome...?

Our home & front beds.  The bed to the right of the sidewalk is 5'x60' and our neighbors regularly stroll by to check its progress.  I know this because I am usually weeding, watering or thinning.  The "squash boxes" (this year anyways) are new this year also, and are simply a way to use our lot more completely.  They are only 18" or so square and are very quick to do.  Just dig out the sod where you'd like to put one, build the box and fill it with soil.  Simple.  Much easier than trying to keep the grass back from the squash.  They are also made with scrap lumber.  All we purchase for these beds are nails.  It's good to explore your community : )  Our lot is 9,000 square feet for those of you who are curious.

In the evening the leaves of several of our vegetables cup in order to collect moisture.  Pretty cool.

Everything needs a place to water.  By supplying a water source you attract all sorts of life that you otherwise wouldn't see: caterpillar-eating birds, aphid-eating lady bugs etc - good guys.

There is one more bed on the north side of our home.  Richard dug a 5'x40' section of horrible, hard clay(then added and turned in organic matter), so that he could plant a swath of sunflowers out our kitchen window.  He raised them from seeds brought from California - from sunflowers he planted for me there.  They are the only thing he has started and/or planted this year.  I love sunflowers, and they're right out my sink window now.  Their sole purpose to say "I love you" every time I look out.  Pretty words would not begin to compare to the beauty of them stretching ever upwards in love.

There is somewhat of a lull in gardening, mostly I maintain right now.  Still weeding grass, watering of course, and dragging Fort Rabbit around the lawn.  If we have enough to sell at Farmer's Market, we will be going this Saturday.  I have been thinking up value-added products that are easy to do and use the things we have the most of - I'll be implementing them soon!  We'll even have something special for cats (due to the mass of catnip growing in the "wild corner" of grasses, trees, catnip and mint).

Our rabbits should be butchered this weekend, but if Richard continues to work every day (as in 7 day work weeks) then I'll have to find time to do it in the evening after he gets home.  When the kids and passerby aren't around to see me thumping rabbits on the head.  Ugh.  I can hardly believe that these are even considerations I'm making.

On a positive note, we were encouraged by a farmer friend to be unafraid (not dumb, just not fearful) of making a big push to get us started on a grander scale.  He says not to pass up on a good thing just because we're afraid of failure.  Nice to hear things like that from someone who knows better than we do about these things.  It makes me wonder what gems of advice I'll have when I've got a few more decades of gray on my head. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I just had to open my big mouth lol

Yesterday I blogged about bringing the more delicate plants out into the warm sun, and planting them in our beds.  This morning the forecast is calling for "large hail" tonight!  I just had to laugh at the timing.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Visiting Season

Rick's mom (my MIL aka Mother-In-Love) has come from California to visit us for a week, and we are so happy to share our life here with her.  She hasn't been up since last fall when Cole was born, so we have been sharing our many new projects and gardening things with her.  I love that she has stories about how her family did things (as well as how she did them) and likes that we are trying all kinds of fun things - food production-wise - in town.  Her mother, Helen Mama, was a "real food" champion back when people we flocking to the prepared food isles and sprinkling MSG into their gravy.  I have wished several times I had gotten to meet her, but she died the same year that my grandma died, in 1996.  Thank God for stories to keep their habits and wisdom alive.

Our two New Zealand bucks are nearing butchering age.  In another week or so I will be posting pictures and blogging about butchering "bunnies."  I've been prepping myself by going through the "I'd rather eat an animal raised kindly, eating what it's supposed to eat" etc...but am not sure how good that's going to make me feel when the time comes to thump them on the head.  Butchering hooved animals doesn't bother me quite as much, but ultimately every time we kill something I am a bit sad and very thankful.  If we were all to personally kill the meat we ate, I'm willing to bet that our consumption would go down quite a bit. 

I am no longer milking, our fat little heifer is consuming all the milk that her mama makes and I don't have the heart to keep them both alone so that we can get milk.  Next year we will have two milk cows (therefore two calves also) so they'll both have company when they're separated and we will have a TON of milk!  I will have strong hands next year.  This coming month we pick up our new heifer, and I can hardly wait to visit a Milking Shorthorn dairy!  They're an Organic Valley dairy with an outstanding sanitation record so we're very interested to see how they are set up (since they only have forty cows that they milk, and are considered very small).  We have only seen dairies that are for several hundred cows, and their tanks, milking stanchions etc are huge.

Last week we sold our first lettuce and green onions!  Our neighbors have said that they will buy whatever we offer them and are thrilled that we're just over the fence.  I talked to her last night and she said that our "lettuce was wonderful!  Not sure if we'll ever be able to go back to store-bought."  And I hadn't even asked, so no just-being-polite-because-you're-prodding  ; )  Another week or two and our beds will all be full finally.  We have brought the more delicate herbs out of the cold frame (their large, soft leaves make them easily damaged by hail) and have filled the "holes" in our planting beds with them.  Their soft, fragrant leaves are not only beautiful, but when it's warm out you can smell them - it's divine.

All of the blooming flowers and trees around us have made me wonder about bee-keeping, so I am now going to look into keeping a small population/hive here in the back corner of our lot.  Hopefully bees aren't lumped in with llamas in the city ordinances.  I'm hoping that having bees will improve our crops and flowers, plus bees need all the help they can get with colony collapse disorder affecting their numbers so seriously (30% loss annually).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Busy Day

Our buck has arrived!  He is the first California I've seen up close and is SO different from other rabbits I've handled in the past.  He is built very wide, long and deep - just like any other four-legged meat animal.  For some reason I'm shocked by how stout he is, but it really is amazing for an animal so small.

While our "rabbit connection" was here she checked the sex on our two New Zealands - lo and behold...they're boys!  I apparently bought them at an age they're not very easy to sex (she may have said this to be kind) and now that they're older their testicles have descended so it's pretty clear they're bucks.  "When they're very small the boys holes are circular while the girls are a slit."  FYI.  This bit of news means that we will be butchering them within a month.

She said she had two does to sell (many really, but we only want two) and would gladly bring to us the next time she comes to town (from Lima).  Pretty nice that she has a whole harem of breeding rabbits so we can get what we need from her.  The Californias have dark ears, so they won't sunburn like the New Zealands are starting to from being in the sun and grass.

A note on new skills acquired - today I stitched the skin on top of my dogs' paw back together.  My first time stitching though I've helped with fixing animals (mostly cows and horses though) up plenty of times, which is handy because I knew what I needed in the way of bandages etc.  This is not the first time I've had to doctor him.  Last winter his shoulder was torn open and had to be bandaged daily for a couple weeks.  Several small wounds in the past but this was his worst to date.  Good thing he is such a good patient.  I would not have had to stitch him if a vet had made time, but they weren't taking emergencies today (even if it was something that would have taken them a half hour).  Very frustrating but ultimately not too big of a deal.

There were thunder storms rolling through today, and when I milked this evening the rain was falling heavy on the  barns tin roof.  I love milking when it's raining for the sound of it.  It is so calming to hear, maybe because my favorite house when I was growing up had a tin roof, but it's so nice.  Opal, however, was so full of it she was running in and out of the stall I milk in and jumping with all four legs off the ground, bucking and kicking and shaking her head.  Nothing like a warm day and a cool rain to bring us all to life!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Found the girls a man

I found a California buck this afternoon!  Ten months old.  He arrives tomorrow.  We will breed the rabbits this fall if all goes well : )  Our rabbits will birth 10 or so at a time (up to 70 lbs of finished meat once butchered) and were $6.  "Pastured" - which I'm going to start referring to as "lawned" since we have a town lot - rabbits don't consume nearly the feed that caged do so I'm curious to see how the numbers pan out in the end, but as of now rabbit meat is looking very economical.

The Rush of Spring

As we near the middle of June, I am finally feeling brave enough to put out the squash, tomatoes, root veg (of all sorts) and flowers that I have started from seed.  The herbs will go out once they're a bit sturdier.  In the last month I have noticed a few things that are from last year and have re-seeded on their own:  purple husk tomatillos (which thrived and produced immensely last year), onion sets that did not grow last year but thought they'd try this one, pansies throughout my purely-flowers-bed from us tossing the heads underneath the plants last year (then they spread with the watering), and a chunk of Stupice tomatoes (awesome, hearty cold weather - Czechoslovakian - tomato). Oh, and also a chunk of Early Market carrots.  All of the tomatoes that we planted are short season, cool climate adapted.  There are some from Scotland, and a repeat of the Stupice from Czechoslovakia.  I'm hoping that the Scottish are hearty also because fresh tomatoes are our absolute favorite.  The neighbor girls - the youngest in particular - "helped" me plant and her quiet, serious mimicking made my work fly by.  Watching kids absorb our actions is wonderful. 

Ruby's calf, Opal, has been receiving the lion's share of milk lately and is turning into an outstanding heifer.  We've been encouraged to "at least" show her locally, but also to take her to larger shows throughout the state this summer.  Not sure if we'll have time for that, but if we do continue to raise registered-only stock, then it would be good marketing for us to go on the road with our animals a bit. 

The rabbits have been doing a great job mowing/grazing our lawn.  We move them once a day, and usually they have it pretty well trimmed down inside their pen.  Richard built the pen, so it is solid.  We joke that our dog house is "Fort Freitas" (also built by him) and that this is "Fort Rabbit" because they are both a bit heavy for their purposes.  At least we know they won't blow away, and should someone try to shoot our rabbits, the wood is thick enough to stop the bullet ; )

A note about becoming a more timely milker:  I am.  Not quite as early as I'd like, but much better than when we were sick!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lazy milker and other happenings

I confess:  I am a lazy milker.  Not in the sense that it takes me forever to milk, but in the way that I hit the "snooze" button on my alarm several times before draggin myself out of bed.  The spring of sickness (meaning April/May for those of you who don't know we've been sick for what feels like all spring) taught me that the calf will consume every bit of the morning and evening milk if I am late.  This was why we bought a milking shorthorn after all - to be able to slide a little but still get sufficient milk - but it's allowed me to develop bad milker habits.  I am now working to restore the order that was: 6:00 a.m. milking. 

Yesterday we finally found out what bull Ruby was bred to, and now we will be able to register her with the American Shorthorn Association.  Mama Sharon (Richard's mom) is mailing the tattoo gun ( we have to tattoo Opal's ear for identification so she can be registered) so we should be able to register her by next month.  We also have to register a brand here...but do not have one designed yet.  We keep going back and forth, but really I think we'll just end up with initials with a bar or a rocker because it is simpler.  There are a TON of brands registered in Montana though, hopefully it doesn't take to long to find one thats available - we'd run out of ideas quickly I'm afraid lol.  Apparently if we drive to Helena, where the main office and master books are, the process is much quicker because you can get an instant answer. 

I have been telling people in our neighborhood that we will soon be setting up a "farmstand" in front of the house and have gotten a great response!  It's pretty exciting to hear that people are enthusiastic about  your ideas.  When thinking of the logistics of keeping two small children occupied while I sell at the Farmers Market I shudder a little, in my mind I picture borderline chaos mixed with tiny child melt-downs.  If I could sell direct from the front of the house it would be much easier on us all, plus we'd have a lower overhead.  We'll see what works for us I guess.

I have begun halter-breaking Opal, and I really enjoy it.  It's interesting to see how an animal deals with the experience of something new.  She has so far handled it fairly well.  Once I get the halter on her wiggling head she doesn't struggle much, but won't make more than a step at a time.  When she does take a step we quit and give her a good rub so that she ends on a good note and realizes that release comes with doing what I ask.  Since I've left her in the same space as Ruby and I are in during milking, she has gotten much more comfortable with me so I think that haltering will become easier much more quickly now.  I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bad weeds

Ruby has been out on pasture for the last week (off and on for a couple months) and has been loving it.  I love seeing her on pasture rather than in a big pen, and her calf has the best time running around.  The only thing is - whatever weed is out in that pasture that she's eating, it's making her milk taste horrible!  It goes straight to the dogs.  I don't know if it is only a weed that is just now up and growing strong or what, but she has to live back in the pen.  If she were a beef cow this obviously wouldn't be an issue, but since her milk is a family staple we will bring her in.  Like the "don't-eat-that" sheriff of pasture land, I'm bringing her in lol.  I can only hope that once the grasses/weeds mature she can go back out without spoiling the milk.   She stayed in for the first time this morning, and mooed at me when she realized I was leaving her there.  Talk about feeling like a heel! 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Taking the leap & a second milk cow

Yesterday we decided to sell our home so that we have more flexibility. We cannot afford to lease land that we don't live on (carrying a house payment as well), and being tied into this home makes it near impossible for us to move quickly on a lease when it becomes available. This is a breathtaking, exciting decision and even though we are now also painting all summer - we're relieved to have finally decided.

Also, in July we will be driving down to Mendon, UT to purchase our second milk cow. She is another milking shorthorn, but is much more "dairy-ish" than Ruby is (I'm hoping this also means a bit more docile). The dairy we are purchasing her from will be breeding her for us this month - they are such nice people to do business with! They're an Organic Valley dairy and have an exceptional dairy cleanliness record so we can't wait to see their operation.

We have been working in the planting beds this week and I was so excited to find that our tomatillos from last year (the few fruit that remained after harvesting) have self-seeded and there are dozens of tomatillos seedlings in that section of bed. I separated and planted them as a hedge/wind block along the up-wind side of the bed. They were an amazingly hearty plant last year that overcame every bit of weather that blew them over or beat them down, so I'm hoping they'll protect the other plants in the bed this year. We're waiting for the last "June snow" that could damage everything immensely, before we put too many young plants in the beds. For now they are happy in the cold frame.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

EQUIP Application Filed with the NRCS

Friday we filed paperwork with the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) for their cost-share program for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers for the year of 2011.  We haven't found land to lease yet, but had to have the paperwork in by the 1st of June or we wouldn't be eligible for the EQUIP program until 2012.  It's exciting to have it filed even if there isn't much going on with land for us right now.  But the really exciting part is this:  under normal cost-share guidelines for planting pasture mixes the legumes (clover, alfalfa etc) cannot exceed 10% of the mix.  This is in order to discourage people from making hay.  Justin, our contact at NRCS, went to a state meeting and spoke with the director of the EQUIP program about what we were working towards and explained we would need 25% legumes in our pasture mix to make it work.  The director said he'd sign off on our paperwork so that we could do it!  How nice is that - not only is Justin advocating for us, but the director will sign to support us financially!  They will pay a little over $37/acre for planting costs.  This is pretty exciting stuff, knowing that we won't have to foot the entire bill for planting etc.

The start of the urban meat rabbit grazing (two does, not for eating but for breeding, they're the only "pets")

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Two White Rabbits

They're here!  We purchased two New Zealand rabbits from the co-op yesterday, and while we wanted a buck and a doe, I'm pretty sure all the rabbits at the store were does.  We'll find a buck somewhere.  Savanna is very excited about the rabbits and is taking care of them as much as is possible.  We will be building them a "grazing cage" soon, but for now just move their cage around the yard so they can eat grass.  They are so excited to get grass, they buck and jump and devour all that pokes into their cages in no time.  They've eaten very little pellet so they must be getting a lot from the grass.  It will be difficult to kill something that is so sweet and gentle, but ultimately we'd rather eat an animal that was fed and handled with respect than one that wasn't, plus it's cool knowing you raised much of the food on your table.  I am certain that, like the milk, we will consume less meat when we harvest it ourselves etc.  I'll keep you posted on whether that happens or not.  We'll definitely have to see how it goes, but until there are babies there isn't much reason to worry about butchering.  The does get to be our "pets."

 I will post pictures soon!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mulling over rabbits, "warm-water test," & cow thank you's

We have had much time to think about things lately, we have all been very in our snuffy, congested, hoarse voices we mulled over our options - yet again.  What a struggle it can be just making decisions.  Stay here, go there.  Sell this, buy that?

Richard and I have been doing a lot of talking about what we can do now that will transfer on a larger scale when we buy/lease property.  Rabbits and a hoop house were on the top of the list.  Dillon doesn't allow chickens (they're lumped in with goats, llamas and pigs in city ordinances) but rabbits are ok.  Rabbits will help us build soil.  They will feed us.  They will humor us and our children with their wild, rabbit antics.  We'll try to find a breeding pair, they will be the "pets" of the project, Savanna will call them hers I'm certain.

Our milk fat has been gathering in two ways: one semi-solid mass or a collection of smaller masses.  These smaller masses only happen after Ruby is in heat...coincidence?  Hormonal?  Looks like hormonal but I was uncertain, so I asked my online family cow forum friends what these globs could be.  They turned me onto the "warm-water test:"  simply place the cream in question (a bit of it) in warm water, if it relaxes and "melts" then its just fine.  If it remains in glob form then it's mastitis.  Pretty neat huh?  Of course, by the time I got a reply on this I had tentatively figured this out.  As I poured several milkings worth of milk into my large, red enamel cheese pot I saw the lumps.  Figuring that it would have to go to the dogs and worrying over how I would slip in extra milkings along with taking care of a sick family (and self), I left it there on the stove for an hour or so.  Guess what?  They all "relaxed" and it looked just like the normal, solid cream.  This is completely bizarre to me.  I feel like a little kid getting to do new science experiments or something.  There's an odd happiness that fills me when I figure these things out.  I went on to make ricotta with this milk, and it was the most heavenly that we've made yet!  Soft, delicate and crumbly - exactly what it should be.  Lovely.

This morning I raced a large, wet and windy storm to the barn.  As I was just getting in the barn the first drops started hitting its big tin roof, thousands of small soft thuds hurrying me through the myriad of gates to get the girls in.  Both Ruby and Opal (who usually enjoys a game of "who's faster?" before going in the barn) were waiting with their heads at the gate, and ran inside tandem right as the rain started blowing horizontal and cold.  When the weather is poor Ruby doesn't seem to care if the milkings take a while, but when it's sunny outside she is angsty to get back to sunning herself, it seems.  After milking this morning though, both she and Opal stood in the breezeway inside the barn, looking out the open door while I gathered a few flakes of hay.  Not moving an inch.  Just watching.  It wasn't until I tied their gate back and walked towards their shelter that they hopped out of the barn and trotted along behind me.  When I held the blowing door to their shelter open for them, they slipped inside and - if cows could talk - said "thank you" for the hay in the warm little barn.  Had I fed in the bunk outside - by the hay stack - I'm not sure they would not have left the barn without some prodding.  It's very satisfying to experience animals in this way.  To do things for them and know that they appreciate it.  Rarely would I spoil a horse like this, but for some reason - probably because she gives nourishment for my family - doing so for a milk cow seems natural.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Touching traditions

In all of this: milking, cheese & butter making, bread making, food growing...wild-ness, there is a grounding effect.  When I milk Ruby, and hear the steady streams beat the bucket I know that there are millions of women that have done (or do) the same thing daily for centuries.  This exact same thing (well, without a teat dip cup I'd imagine).  Providing food for our families is something that satisfies on a very elemental level, and I adore that feeling.  Tucking kneaded bread into pans to "sleep" (second rise) while Savanna watches, feeding warm, soft bits of fresh ricotta to her right from the cheese cloth - these are things so satisfying that I've begun to realize why people become truly fanatical about "self-sufficiency."  When you've made or raised the things you eat, you tend to eat with a clearer mind as well as eat less of the fats etc because they are more time consuming to produce.  There is no "what was this sprayed with?,"  "was this cow healthy?," "do they have the same regulations in Chile as they do here?"  Only pure enjoyment.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A word about REAL cream

For ten minutes I tried to take a decent picture of what fresh cream looks like coming off a spoon - only to realize that my camera doesn't do close-ups very well.  Here is the best of the several blurry photos I took.  Fresh, raw cream hangs in drips from the lid of its jar.  It slides off of a spoon in a thick lump, almost like yogurt but not really.  It's incredible to pour the skimmed cream into a bowl because the mass of heavy, thick (delicious) cream glops in instead of streaming out like the small bit of skim milk at the bottom.  You know how Emerald Lagasse is always talking about the "essence" of this or that?  Raw milk has an essence of cow.  Cow in it's purest form.  People who've never had raw milk before are usually surprised by it when they first taste the difference.  It is the difference between store-bought cookies, and the ones that your mama makes (or your friends mama if yours always burns a cookie).  Real cream doesn't behave like store cream at all.  Making butter can take over an hour in the Kitchenaid if the cream isn't left out to "age" for 8-12 hours first (something to do with proteins breaking down so that the cream will separate into fat & buttermilk) - then it still takes a half hour!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Warm like an old world grandma

This evening looking north from the feed bunks by the barn

For those of you who know me well, some of this will be old news.  I am a weeny about the cold if my neck and ears aren't out of the wind.  I will stay perfectly warm, so long as I have one of my scarfs (wild rag kind, not long, fringed kind) tied tightly around my neck.  For my entire twenty six years I have assumed that women in the 1950's and earlier wore their scarves tied over their hair so that it wouldn't be "mussed" in the wind.  Never did it cross my mind that there was more function to this - naive I know - until this evening.  The wind was blowing like crazy at the barn.  A cold, damp wind from the northeast.  I cannot keep my hood over my head with out the zipper scratching me and my ears feel as though they are filling with tiny icicles.  Here is where you Montanans start laughing because it really wasn't that cold today.  Anyways, finally decided that I would just wrap my scarf around my head so that the hood of my jacket wouldn't scratch me and my ears would be warm.  Wow.  It essentially made my hood silk-lined, kept the wind out of my ears, and still kept my neck warm because it was tied around it under my chin.  Here is where all "stylish," cool chick points go right out the window, but it was heavenly and I will do it again.  

In the last couple weeks I have been calling dairies across the country that are doing anything local and small-scale-ish.  Wow is it depressing.  I cannot come up with the words to explain how disheartening some of these stories are.  Some started by investing a LOT of money, without ensuring that the local market could support their business.  There are artisan cheese makers out there selling cheese for $27/lb.  Pretty steep compared to Tillamook right?  They are only clearing $2/lb on their product.  $2!!!!  Am I the only one who thinks this is insanity?  They give their whey (by-product) away.  No ricotta made, pigs or calves fed and then profited from.  They have incredible, beautiful structures on their property for cheese tasting and their barn looks like something out of Country magazine...but all they talk about is how broke they are.  
We are obviously green, and I listen to these owners with great interest and respect, but in my mind I cannot seem to understand many of the aesthetic things that they are investing in.  

I'm sorry this isn't very organized, but I am floored and saddened by the things we're learning.  

Our food system is set up (regulations etc) for large, mass-production farms and I really was clueless about the extent of the difficulties in starting a small farm purely with the intent of supplying food to our community.  I guess I'm a simpler person that I thought, but I really don't see why on earth everything is priced to keep the little guy out of the market.  No wonder so many people just sell raw milk or go around the law in some other way.  Going with the law not only requires a lot of money, but also a lot of paperwork and fuss - which we'll deal with but geez.  All to sell minimally processed products.
My goal for this week is to look into grants for land/equipment purchases as well as learn a little bit about the government subsidizing farms.  I am fairly in the dark regarding subsidies, really my only real experience is with apricots in California a few years ago.  Our family received the "OK" to go pick all the apricots we wanted from an orchard there.  A large orchard.  Fruit so thick it looked like giant clusters of creamy orange colored grapes running down the length of each branch...and the farmer was being paid to let the fruit rot.  He could not give it away to the community (but apparently a few families like ours would go unnoticed).  What was wrong with the fruit you may wonder?  It was blemished by a wind storm a couple weeks earlier.  Not destroyed, not badly bruised, just a few scrapes here and there but it was declared a total loss.  What a waste.  Remembering this and hearing of how little money there is in dairying made me want to look into subsidies, because the numbers just don't pencil out unless there is some sort of hand out added in.  I'm willing to bet the small farmers aren't receiving the bulk of it though.  Just think of all the things that could be done with "waste" like those apricots if the local communities were mobilized to make use of it.  

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Tonight I worked on cleaning the barn up a bit, mostly just swept the wide planks of the breezeway until my nose and throat were full of dust.  As I cleared the fine silt away, and the grain of the beams showed, I realized that they are all worn smooth.  It made me want to touch the soft grain of them, so smooth that they shine a bit.  I have no idea how old the barn is really, but it's old.  It is no longer square in any way, and it looks at though it has been slowly settling for a long time.  It's two stories tall, and I can imagine days of throwing hay down into the stalls from the hay loft.  Our cow and calf live behind the barn in a large pen with a small, four-sided building with a hay bunk in it.  It's quite snug, they're always in it when the wind or snow blows.

I have been working with Ruby so that she is more relaxed during milking, and this evening we had a break-through of sorts.  She chewed cud while I was milking tonight!  Now, normally this would be no big news flash.  Cows chew cud.  But they only chew their cud when they are relaxed - very relaxed.  She has not done this before while being handled (not even when we were just  brushing her).  I can't help but feel a sort of elation when we achieve little things like this together (her and I) because we have both fumbled terribly through this whole "milk cow" process and have been short with each other off and on for longer than I'd like.  Knowing a cow this well is a new experience for me, and an intriguing one.

Opal is changing as well, she's slowly settling down and letting me touch her more.  She's not quite as ticklish as she was when she was new.  Soon she'll have a thick hide like her mama and will beg to be scratched.  Ruby is shedding currently, so she is a glutton for being rubbed/brushed.  I can't blame her, my skin would itch like crazy if I had lived outside all winter too.

We have a new cat in the barn, a black and white tom cat it looks like.  He is wild, but has become more comfortable enough in the last few days to let me see him while he waits for food.  It is so quiet while I milk usually that I can hear the cats and birds moving in the barn, as well as the cows pacing outside and occasionally bawling for their breakfast.  Such a heavenly thing - the quiet - when my days are usually filled with the joyful sounds of a happy home.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The infamous barn cat

Protector of the grain - unless a raccoon shows up
This is Bluey, he's the cat living in the barn where Ruby is.  Once a day he gets about a quarter cup of fresh milk.  He spends nearly two hours a day trying to convince me that he's missed his calling and is supposed to be a house cat.  He'll actually hop up a little when you reach down to pick him up, he's that excited.  He plays in the hay like a wild animal while I feed the beef cows - which catches the attention of the three calves there, who in turn chase him around the hay area.  Funny how "simple" chores can be so entertaining.

Feeling centered again

The older calves play with me while I feed (this is after the blizzard this week).  They peek around the side and as I feed they run around the bale to look from behind me.  Good thing I have a camera phone : )

Today I made cheese, and was going to take some to the man that has been helping us so much - Justin - at the local NRCS office.  I realized that Richard has been wanting to meet him so we waited for him and went as a family.  We all talked about the things that we need to know, know, and have to find and Richard now is so much more confident about the help that we're getting!  Now he understands why I trust Justin's opinion to be a solid one (even if we may not entirely agree) and has learned new things because he was able to discuss it with someone who knows much much more about the science end of mob-grazing/management.  We also now have specific zones of the area we live in that we are shooting for.  There is a huge difference in how you are able to stock your animals (based on forage production per acre), and now we have a region that produces much better than others in the area.  BUT, in the areas that are sub-irrigated - think close to the river, high water table - while the production is lower, you don't have the same irrigation costs.  Lots to think about.
Life is so beautiful for us right now.  Constantly evolving, occasionally trying, but ultimately incredible.  We are so blessed to enjoy what it is to be living and to have the courage to take small, breathtaking risks.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Need a little help from you "foodies" out there (Updated)

Alright, I keep trying to make ricotta (not just queso blano though we have been making that too) and keep getting a firm product that while delicious, is not fitting the creamy-use-it-for-sauces-and-fillings bill.  Do any of you know if the fat content needs to be high in order to get a soft product?  I'm using whole milk (mostly) but some recipes say add cream - others don't.  Help! Please!  I'll keep cruising the net to see if I can get an answer there but if you have input please give it :)

Yes, you do need a lot of fat for a soft product!  We get a lot of cheese but it's firm because it is mostly protein and little fat.  Sunday we'll try a "fat" batch.

Getting into the numbers of it all...

This week I have been researching the equipment requirements for processing milk (straining, cooling, pasteurizing, cooling again, and the bottling) and it is such a crazy process.  There are very, very few farms in the country doing what we're trying to do, and the two that I've called are small conventional (confined cows) dairies that are selling semi-locally.  Not exactly what we're looking for but still got some valuable information from them.  Both bought their land - which is great if you were gifted a fat sum of money but when you're starting from scratch can really put you in a bind fast - and also spent around $250,000 on setup.  Wow.  Mind you this is conventional dairy stuff, grass-fed, pastured dairy means a lower overhead (big time) than a semi-confined dairy.  The cows will be harvesting their own feed, and we won't be feeding silage or much grain so these things will also keep our overhead lower.  There is quite a bit of information out there on "mob-grazing" and it's management, but nearly none for the growing area that we're in.  Alberta is as close as the information gets, so we're in for some hit-and-miss in our operation I think.

The second issue that we're talking about it the breed.  We'd like to keep our cows with our calves for most of the time (why bottle feed when the cows can just feed them?) and  rotate them on a high energy pasture mix....but, we are unsure of the milk production from a milking shorthorn if she is only on grass.  Now, once the grass mix comes up and is in full production her milk quality will be excellent, but how much will there be? We are reading as much as possible on this but really there comes a point when you have to just DO it to get an answer.  I guess this is just the way it goes when there are no reference farms in the area you live in.  We have been talking about adding a Jersey or two anyways so that we can produce more value-added products like butter, yogurt and soft cheeses so this may just be something that we're going to have to fumble around with.  Now, as another source of income, we will be selling milking shorthorn heifers that are raised & handled with the intent that they will be sold as family cows.  We believe that if people could get a gallon or two a day instead of six gallons or more a day, then there would be a lot more people with their own cows.  So, we're going to give it a shot, see what the market's like.

The Range Management Specialist at NRCS has worked up the numbers on how much land we would need to support the operation we have in mind, and its "94 pivot-irrigated acres."  We will have to plant the pasture with a pasture mix because odds are it will be in wheat or alfalfa production, but the NRCS will cost-share with us because we are striving for a sustainable, organic operation.  Pretty sweet.

Now, throughout all of this, I am thinking about how much the kids and I will be outdoors and am very excited but just a touch apprehensive lol.  I'll be moving the animals once a day (cows, pigs, goats/sheep maybe, and chickens) and milking twice a day.  Then processing the milk etc, feeding the family, doing all of the things required to run a house...because Rick will be working.  I'm going to have to be in good shape and on a pretty tightly managed schedule I'm thinking.  Otherwise it'll all be chaos!  We'll deal with that when we get there, but you can believe that I'm planning ahead now.

Milking is going well though, and Opal is growing like a weed; and getting snottier every day.  Halter breaking will start soon with her!  I am just completely smitten with going out in the early mornings to milk - it is always breathtaking out, even though it is usually chilly.  I am so glad that we have chosen to make this a part of our lives.

Opal @ 2 wks old

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mastitis and the Learning Curve

Over the weekend Ruby developed milk mastitis because of a few things:  1.  I didn't finish milking her out Saturday morning because I forgot the hobbles and she "told me" she was done being milked by kicking the pail over and in general being difficult to milk.  Without hobbles to stop the kicking there really wasn't much I could do (were I an excellent knot-tier I could have just made hobbles quickly, but I'm not, a one year old could slip out of my best knots lol) and 2.  Right as her milk was really coming in we started giving her a high protein grain while she was being milked.  The grain amped her production up and she was already putting out a lot of milk for a heifer, so between the two she got fouled up a bit and had a bit of mastitis for a couple days.  I milked all of her teats out thoroughly and it gradually cleared the quarter with the problem, and now tonight her milk is clear again.  I am SO relieved that it didn't progress and require antibiotics, we're trying to manage her in a "holistic" manner and part of that is avoiding medication where we can.  Pretty thrilled that it cleared with careful milking.
We did make Queso Blanco though while attempting to make Ricotta, and it is delicious even though it isn't what we started out with in mind.  It's a mild crumbly cheese that takes no time at all to make.  We've had it on tacos, eggs, and in soup these last few days and have really enjoyed knowing that it cost a fraction of store-bought and is so superior in taste.  Just satisfying on all sorts of levels :)
We have been watching what kinds of farm land are available out there, and have realized that even though we would prefer to be farther out and not able to see neighbors - for the high quality forages we'll need to grow we're going to have to be somewhere in the bottom land.  Sub-irrigated would be ideal.  It's going to be a long time putting feelers out before we find just the right spot, but once we do we'll be able to finish steers or have producing dairy cows on it without having to supplement with any kind of feed or grain - just let them eat grass like they're meant to.  Plus, whatever improvements we need to do (pasture seed, water system, fencing etc), the NRCS will cost-share with us because we will be working towards organic and sustainable production.  How cool!  Just learned that today.  There are other government divisions that will cost share too for beginning farmers and ranchers (less than 10 years farming), so maybe we'll be much better off starting up than we know.

Oh, and reason #2 to wear mud boots while milking:  when your cow kicks the bucket you don't get milk on your socks and in your shoes!  Luckily I was wearing mud boots when I had this realization (and milk splash half-way up them).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Opal's Growing Up

Miss Opal is filling out and getting sassier by the day.  We'll have to start halter-breaking her soon so that she's easy to handle and has some respect for people.  She gives us space now, and isn't too sure that we're much fun at the moment.  Who can blame her though, we "steal" her milk (she gets so irritated if I show up when she's just woken up and wants to nurse).

We've got a rhythm!

The sunrise when I got to the barn this morning

Ruby and I have settled into a pattern - and it is SO much easier to milk now.  She is relaxed enough to be calm about everything even if its a bit new.  The only thing that I'm working on with her now is to stop pooping/peeing while I milk!  Right after she finishes her grain, every time we milk, she poops.  I have to re-wash her bag and then start milking again.  Kind of annoying, but as long as she isn't trying to kick me I figure I can deal.  Sometimes she won't pee if I say "no" firmly and tap on her leg, but it's not 100% effective by any means.  She has been giving over a gallon of milk a day, and I'm having trouble keeping up with all of it.  There's straining and skimming and bottling that has to be done twice daily (not a big deal if I didn't have the kids distracting me), then making butter and whatever else I can without cheesemaking supplies (they're in the mail, definitely should have ordered earlier).  Our neighbors would like to have some though, so hopefully we'll be able to give them some on a regular basis so that we don't have quite so much.
Headed into the barn for milking

I stopped in to the the NRCS office this morning to introduce myself (and by default, the kids) to the Range Management Specialist that I have been emailing and talking to on the phone.  Justin Morris.  He is such a help!  Just a wealth of information and really wants to see a intensively managed pasture system started in this area, apparently no one here does it and he'd like to be able to show them that with the right pasture mix its possible.  Sure is nice to have him behind us and so forthcoming with related information.  We're hoping to start in the spring, even if its very small, and grow from there.  We've been so distracted by all thats gone on in the last month that its sure nice to start working on our goals again.  We're putting ourselves on a tight budget this year so that we can save more.  Provided we don't have to make any more urgent trips to California, maintaining a savings shouldn't be too bad.  It'd sure be nice to not have to borrow the majority of our start-up costs.  We'd much rather just borrow a little bit.  
All this quiet milking time sure gives me a chance to line out plans and ideas; had I known that this is what it took to have time to think while the kids are around, I would have gotten a milk cow a couple years ago lol.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Our First Butter

Tonight I made butter with raw milk for the first time, and it is heavenly.  Mind-blowing-ly delicious compared to "normal" butter.  We have a churn that was my husbands grandmothers but it smells of sour milk and I haven't had time to clean it like I want to, so we just used the Kitchenaide mixer.  Once the butter had formed, I expected to see a murky clear liquid left, but did not.  Come to find out, fresh cream that has not been allowed to age a bit leaves a different (more tasty in my opinion) product behind.  I absolutely do not mind!  Whatever it is, its a sweet, light, creamy thing that surely is much lower fat than the milk is.  We will use it for pancakes in the morning, and I'm sure that they will be amazing with our homemade butter.
One pint of cream yielded a quarter pound of butter.  The cream was so thick that it stuck to the spoon and had to be vigorously swished to even start to come off.
This whole having-our-own-milk-cow thing is just incredible so far.  Tiring, but in a wonderful way.  I can hardly wait for the day that I can walk out the back door and milk instead of driving 5 miles each way (not that this is a distance really, but it is just a few more steps in the process).
We are getting a gallon of milk a day, and are overflowing!  I've ordered the ingredients to make mozzarella and ricotta and will be thrilled when they're here not just because I LOVE these cheeses, but because I'm on the verge of tossing milk!  We'll be making cottage cheese and yogurt too so hopefully that will help.  I now understand how with a cow you can supply so many foods for your family.
May I say that I'm thrilled we didn't go with a breed that gave more milk, I would not know what to do with it all!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Smoother Milking

Tonight went so much better during milking!  I milked while she ate grain and wasn't tied, then once she was done put her in a stanchion with her calf in front of her - she let us have much more milk and it's almost cleared of the initial blood so we'll get to use it soon.  I cannot wait to make butter & mozzarella, guess I better get the citric acid and rennet ordered.
Savanna is starting to help with the cow chores more, she wants to carry the grain bucket and throw hay in the feed bunk now.  It is wonderful seeing her enjoy things that Richard and I both do.  I hope it's always special to her.


Early Milking (tail tied to the ceiling or she'll beat me with it haha)

I love going out to milk at sunrise and sunset!  It is so peaceful (well, once we get the fussy girl lined out and get to milk of course).  When we're in the barn we can hear the birds starting their day or roosting for the night, and when the snow is melting from the roof you can hear it dropping in sheets onto the ground steadily.  Opal usually sleeps in the corner of the stall, curled up almost like a cat.  Savanna loves to get to go, but isn't up in the morning so Cole gets to spend some solo time with us (my husband is going with me until Ruby is well-broke to milking).  This morning while I was feeding the other cows at the barn, I propped him up against the round bale to watch while I fed, and you could just see the excitement on his little face.  He was "talking" to the cows and got so excited that he fell over in the hay (it's hard to move normally when Dad super-bundles you).
This morning we put her in a stanchion and hobbled her, and she was much better with the hobbles this time!  Now we just have to get into a routine so that she'll let down more.  I'm working on getting her bag to soften, but it's difficult when she's just starting to get used to being milked.  This is only day three though so really I think we're doing just fine, she'll settle in soon.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A month of sickness, new calf, and a milk cow!

My goodness - what a wild month!  I apologize for the absence, the last couple weeks have meant nasty virus for the whole family and three days in the hospital for our daughter.  Scary stuff.  But I am back now with wonderful news of all sorts!  Our heifer (now a cow I guess) calved early Monday morning!  She had a beautiful little heifer calf that is such a friendly, spunky girl.  The kids love her: while I've been working with her (milking mostly) Cole sits in the stroller to watch and Savanna looks on from a safe distance.  The calf, Opal (we're going with gemstone names for them, my sister-in-laws idea) regularly checks in with both Cole and Savanna, making both of them laugh and squeal with delight.  So fun to watch.

Opal - Born April 12, 2010
Ruby got her first real milking last night - in hobbles.  She gave a full quart from two quarters (two teats/half the udder).  This morning she stood like a nice girl and gave almost a half gallon!  I can't wait for her milk to come in so that we can start drinking it.  We're saving the colostrum for a friend with cattle though, just in case they have a orphan calf, this way they will have real colostrum to start off with.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Feeling a little windblown

Well, we made it back!  All of Nevada and Idaho had 60 mph winds but we managed to shoot the gap between two storms when we came over the last pass at Monida and into Montana.
Thankfully, Grandpa Julius is much better and seems to be pretty close to his old self.  We are so relieved.  It was wonderful to get to spend time with him, he is such a fun man.  Seeing the whole family was lovely!  The trip was really hard on us though, not sure when we'll be heading back.  California is nice and warm but ugh - what a rat race.  We missed being where there are much much fewer people than cows.  Perfect.
More to come, but am currently fried - off to bed!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Headed to CA on Monday

Richard's grandpa isn't doing so hot so we're off to visit him and the family in California.  I'm not sure how long we'll be gone, it all depends, but I will try to keep blogging while I'm there.  I'm  so worried for Richard, his grandpa has been a major part of his life and is the cornerstone of the Boschi family...losing him will be so hard for all of us.  I hope and pray that he perks up from this funk he's in.  We'll probably be bringing our tractor back with us though (since we have to take our pickup)!  Thats exciting - Richard would want to haul it back in December otherwise, and hauling a tractor in the snow just sounds a little too thrilling for the kids and I to be in the truck! haha  I will blog when I can, but will be scrambling around these next few days.  
 Maybe I'll go get time to visit our friends at Full Circle Dairy (they're an Organic Valley dairy) and get some good pointers as well as lovely raw milk!  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Being the change.

In a wonderful moment of clarity, I decided that the most important thing that we can do is something - anything - that puts us closer to our goals.
This evening I got to go out for a walk/jog with my dogs alone.  It was wonderful!  We all need quiet time to gather thoughts, but too often I don't take them and end up jumbled.  So.  I realized that we need to have a piece of land that is close to our grocery store - because surely if its in the same area, stopping by will be that much easier for our customers.  Also, we should be talking to people who own land locally and may be interested in providing a place for a small farm to produce food for local consumption.  There are several places that are on the market as commercial space that are close to town, but there isn't much of a "commercial" market boom going on so maybe they'd be interested in leasing to us for a couple years or until it sells.  There are also several pieces of land that are fallow/empty/neglected.  My goal for this week is to find out who owns some of these places and get contact information for them.  Even if they tell us no, there is bound to be a yes somewhere in our future.  It's good for us to talk to people about our plans, not only does it get the word out, but it also makes us better at presenting our ideas - refining them.  I've been randomly talking to people in the grocery store, getting input and realizing that really, we'd all like to eat fresh, local food...but either it isn't available or it isn't affordable.  Being affordable is a HUGE goal of ours.  Good food should not be a class-defining thing.
My mom is always harping on us to practice "The Secret" so thats what I'm doing - there is a place thats just right out there for us, we just have to "put it out there" that we're looking for it and ready to accept it.  What we are all truly asking for will materialize.  We just have to work to be the change that we wish to see.

Death and Breadmaking

We make bread for the couple whose land our heifer lives on, and up until recently made bread for the man's mother (who also lived on the property) too.  His mother died a week or so ago and we didn't even know!  I called for his order this morning and he mentioned it in conversation - like surely I'd heard.  I felt horrible, but I'm not part of the gossip mill here really and have been so busy I haven't read the last couple papers.  She said that she was happy I made bread for her because she didn't like the store bread but couldn't make it for herself anymore.  She said that she "slices it and freezes it, so it toasts like those Ego-things."  We didn't know her well, but she was a nice woman and a loss is still - well - a loss.  Making bread this week will be a solemn thing...not making them two loaves, just one.  She was blessed to have gone quickly and quietly though - I wish it were that way for all of us.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Patience and Frozen Soil

Last week I got excited about how warm it'd been and that the soil was starting to thaw - Savanna & I planted some hollyhocks, a few bulbs, and started digging a hole for a lilac bush (that was supposed to have been planted last year).  I got about 6" down the first day so I just left it dug out and let it thaw until the next day.  Working at it every day it took a week to get the bush planted, but today I finished and am now chiseling away at the next lilac's hole.  Pre-children I never would have had the patience to just dig a little out every day, I would have broken out the pick and had it done!  Now I realize that it's OK to go slow - very slow sometimes - as long as the end result is accomplished.
I spoke to the head of the local Farmer's Market this afternoon and now have a "Informational Meeting" to go to on the 22nd!  She said that it's a meeting to share ideas for the market and go over what is required of vendors.  I can hardly wait to go and see what the goals are etc for the Market.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Shitake Mushrooms in the Bathroom

We have these mushrooms - looking like a big toasty marshmallow - in our bathroom.  Yep.  Dampest place in the house of course, but it's still a little odd to bathe with the hunk-o-mushrooms right there.  They're growing like crazy though!  We've had the kit for a week now and will be able to harvest later this week.  Pretty amazing to watch how quickly they grow.  Have to spray them down 3 or 4 times a day but hopefully they will be delicious.  At the store - dried - they are $96 a pound.  Package of 3 mushrooms or so is $7!  So we've never tried them, but will soon :o)  Can hardly wait - what should I cook with them though?  Risotto?  Garlic, butter & shitake over noodles??  Any suggestions?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cold Frame is Almost Beautiful Again!

Last summer we decided that it made more sense for us to build a stick-built cold frame out of "recycled" lumber from a local feed lot and buy a cheap roll of plastic to cover it.  For $50 we had a wonderful structure with a large window and door.  This works perfectly for us because we don't want to spend thousands until we're making money too.  Rick worked all afternoon getting everything screwed down like we want and is going to do a layer inside this week as well - THEN I can start seeds!  We're going to try planting lettuce and other greens out in the beds and putting "bells" over them at night.  Last fall my husband drug home 30 or so 5 gallon water jugs (the ones with the handle on the side and a spout) that will be our "bells" this spring/summer.  They will keep our plants warm at night hopefully, at least warm enough to do well.  The French have beautiful glass bells that they use for intensive, cold weather gardening, I would love some but for now the jugs will do!
We have several neighbors who would like to buy produce, maybe we could be the neighborhood produce people!  That'd be lovely - each neighborhood should either have one or a community garden so they can grow their own.  I have visions of block BBQ's in my head, maybe we could drag everyone out of their shells (not a lot of people outside often for some reason) and hope that we all enjoy meeting one another.  Might be fun : )
Last Wednesday we went to First Street Market in Butte.  I just...don't even really have words for how many amazing Italian products they have.  Over 200 cheeses - several imported - and you can sample most of them!  Oh, it was beautiful!  Aged meats from Italy mmmmm....divine little store.  Floor to ceiling shelving full of balsamic vinegars, handmade pastas, olive many lovely things to smell and taste!  We came home with a Parmesan, beautiful balsamic, amaretti, pasta (of course) and foccacia from their deli.  I tried a spoonful of $40/bottle balsamic that was thick and sweet - a little tangy - just absolute heaven.  Wish I was willing to spend that on balsamic, but we're quite happy with what we came home with too.  I love stores that are run by the people that own them, talking to someone who is passionate and invested in what they're selling makes all the difference in the service and selection.
I'll post pictures tomorrow of our 1st meal made with our buys: asparagus, portobello, onion, garlic, and tomatoes over pasta with a drizzle of balsamic and a sprinkling of parmesan.  A little red wine...perfect way to break up our meat, vegetable, salad routine!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Eating well in winter

We have a ton of canned peaches, apricots, tomatoes and plums.  Our freezer is FULL of venison, homemade sausage and homegrown beef.  Yet we're low on veggies.  So I'm going to try to grow some in our window (like we did chard last winter) with the hope that we won't have to keep buying expensive greens from the store.  When the winters are 5 months long it's hard to not fantasize about salads and bbq'd veggies, fresh tomatoes off the vine still warm from the sun.  Ugh.  Only a couple more months!  Planting lettuce in a window box this week though.
The seeds we ordered arrived yesterday so we're planning our beds this week, locating bulk 4" pots, meeting with the SCORE advisors and looking a little closer at renting land this spring for livestock.  Even if its just stocking feeder calves on a rotational system, it would be a good way to get some experience.  Lambs may be better - lower purchase price.  I can't wait until we can live out of town.  How wonderful it will be to be able to see farther than a hundred feet or so.  At least we can see some mountains from our house, it's a straight shot down the street to the "B" hill (as in Dillon Beavers).  Wish it was a hill with some trees on it lol.
Richard has been working on greenhouse-warming ideas and we've nearly come to an agreement on the set up.  We're going to warm it with water.  Small "ponds" kept warm by a trough heater will keep the room and plants above them warm.  We will grow duckweed in the water because it is an excellent addition to your soil and  has a rapid turnover rate.  Plus, Savanna can have fish now and they don't need to be in the house! We'll keep you posted on how it works, but  it's much cheaper and safer than a space heater or wood stove so we're hoping it works well.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Soil is Thawing

Yesterday evening - in a fit of "I can't wait for planting season!" - Savanna and I turned a bed and planted daffodil bulbs and hollyhock seeds. Yes, I know the bulbs were supposed to go in last fall, but I got them for Christmas so what the hell. Now they're not sitting on a shelf! It'll probably snow and freeze again, but it doesn't matter, they're in the soil and will come up when the coast is clear!  Savanna really loves to work with me outside, I just love that she tells everyone what we planted and that "they're sleeping now so they can grow." It was a nice time for both of us, and felt so good to be working dirt again!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hashing it all out

More ideas keep popping up, it's just insane.  "You know what we could do..." is a pretty common thing to hear in our house right now.  Part of it is that we have a ton of things we'd like to do, and a few that we know we should do...but the area is so void of fresh anything as far as food goes (again, not beef or baking potatoes) that we keep having conversations about where the steady money lies.  Both of us would like to have a small dairy eventually - maybe 10 cows - but only if we could sell from the farm.  It'd have to be pasteurized - the USDA is pretty serious about this - but what other requirements there are we have yet to find out.  Guess we better, because not only is dairy a huge part of our food dollar but we could sell products like ricotta, mozzarella, cottage cheese & yogurt and give the whey to our pigs.  Just rolling all these things around.  

Friday, February 26, 2010

Back online with Good News!!

We bought this new computer and it promptly had to go right back to the shop.  Lovely.  Onward...

Jonda from AERO (Alternative Energy Resources Organization,) returned my call and I was thrilled with all the cool information she had for us!  She said that we were in an excellent place (progress-wise) to get funding next spring (our goal)!  AERO is linked to the Western Montana Growers Co-Op and they do Farm Tours in the summer so she's sending me contact info for people doing what we want to do.  They have a woman who works with beginning & transitioning organic farmers (she, too, is a farmer) to develop a strong business plan.  Helpful when you're needing financing.  Plus, she'll be able to suggest ways to improve our product line's marketability.
My mom called today from work (all excited) to tell me that a local resort would buy whatever we could produce!  They spend over $3000/wk on groceries and NONE of it is local or super-fresh (except beef, but average produce travels 1000 miles to get here) so the owner was thrilled to hear what we were working towards and said that in the meantime he would certainly be happy with produce!  We won't sell everything to him of course, we will still do the Farmer's Market because we want everyone to enjoy our harvest - not just tourists.  It totally opened our eyes to that market though; not every business in town would be interested, but there are certainly a few who would be glad for the option.
We have an appointment with the Small Business Administration's SCORE counselors next week.  They will help us develop a business plan also.  At this point we feel that it's important to have as many points-of-view as possible regarding business management.  Business is the place we're foggiest.
All-in-all we're feeling very positive, very excited and are reading like crazy about crop rotation and sustainable farm planning.  What a wonderful thing to have such an amazing response from not only friends and family, but from the community as well!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Are USDA/FHA loans the way to go?

Sure way to fire a farmer up: ask him/her what they think of government direct or guaranteed loans.  Sheesh!  Apparently there is a LOT of skepticism about who these loans help more - the government or the farmer.  "Some guys barely make it out of them with their shorts on."  Guess we better read the fine print of all the documents before even applying.  Maybe it's something to do with the managing skills of the people I've way to know!
When I talked to the Farm Service Agency's Loan Advisor today, he actually told me to find a property first.  As in before we develop a business plan, like thats secondary to getting funding. Excuse me?  I'm pretty foggy on investing, but personally, if someone came to me and said "Hey, I need some money for this land - we're gonna farm and stuff."  You can bet I wouldn't be very eager to hand you a check for up to $300,000 (their loan limit).  I was under the impression that you should have an idea about what you'd be able to repay...just a thought.  Maybe I'm just a bumpkin, but this non-chalant (?) stuff worries me a little.
We're still exploring the options, maybe the local food movement has links to funding or grants for start-up!  All of my contacts for local food/organic/sustainable farming have messages on their voice mails, but all of their voice mails said that they were out of town for days or weeks alternately.  Bummer.  Waiting is not my favorite thing when it comes to business/money.

In the midst of all this we're trying to figure out how we can pasture poultry behind pigs in a rotation system.  Shelters are an issue to consider, as is cover for the chickens so the hawks/eagles/carnivores don't get them.  These shelters have to travel with them around the pasture.  LOTS of thinking/design ideas floating around.  Also have to have permanent (and warmer) buildings for them off the pasture to winter and sleep in, as well as a large greenhouse for the produce side of the farm.  Minimal footprint is the goal so we're thinking of using a couple of plastic-covered, Kwansit-style buildings with rotational pens within.  I think Mother Earth News had an article on a system like this a while back.  Pretty sure they turned the soil within the structure in the spring and then planted in all the lovely soil the animals had made.  Better look for the article.

Any ideas/experiences/input would be lovely!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Finding the Right Breed

I've spent most of the afternoon researching breeds of pigs and attempting to network.  There are a TON of organizations interested in making Montana's food supply more locally based.  Very good to know!  Now if I just can get a hold of one of these groups - I left 5 messages today and haven't heard back from anyone yet. Sigh.  Guess I should expect us to be more excited about this than others.  I'll just have to convince them!  Better find my "Sales Lady" hat and dust it off.
Our goal is to breed and raise "heritage" livestock.  Our heifer, Ruby, is a native Milking Shorthorn (a critical status breed).  The native part makes her special - it means that there is no Jersey slipped in there, no Holstein...just Milking Shorthorn right back to the 1700's or so when they were introduced.  We're trying to find a balance between structure, foraging ability, temperament, good mothers and hardiness for our farm.  Ruby has so far fit the bill perfectly.  We'll find out in another month or so when she calves how she rates on milk production and mothering.    The reason that we're focusing on heritage breeds is simple: they have not been bred to survive in a tiny cage.  We need animals that have strong instincts about what to eat, how to weather a storm, birth their babies...all of this is essential.  I can't imagine having an operation that has to pull every single calf - somethings just wrong there - and then doesn't allow the cow to raise it.  This is business, I know, but to me it goes beyond some sad moral place that too many of us ignore when we grab a jug of milk at the store.
Tenatively, we're looking at Large Black Swine (also Critical Status) as our Pig Choice (Watch Status, but the nearest breeder is in Rigby, ID) and Dominiques are our Chicken Choice (picked long ago).  I feel like there should be an award handed out or something lol.  Chicken Choice is tricky because I'd like to have our meat birds be the same breed as our layers so that we don't have to keep buying a zillion chicks.  I'd much rather let then hens raise them so we don't have to fuss with heat lamps, feeders, and waterers in a small space.  The more we can let the animals do for themselves the less work load we'll have.  Of course, we're going to have to figure out the economics of this at some point.....
If you want to learn about the breeds we've selected so far I've posted the links below.  Also have posted a link to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy in case you're interested.

Meeting with a Business Counselor

Called the Small Business Association's volunteer SCORE counselor for the Butte area.  Have a meeting set up for the 3rd of March to help us get started!
Left a message with the local Farm Service Office requesting information.

Starting out & planning for Farmer's Market this year

Alright - off we go!
This weekend we printed all the information we'd need (hopefully, it says so lol) from the Montana Department of Agriculture web site.  We found a local organic feed supplier only two hours away!  What luck!  I was worried we'd have to find a way to get feed from much farther away.  Plus, they only make feed for hogs and chickens - perfect.

Sunday we bought $125 of seed for our garden this year!  We'll be producing as much as possible so that we can show records of our production when we apply for funding.  We figure if we can show profit and production from less than a 1/4 acre lot then it'll help.

Today's To-Do:

  1. Call the Range Management Specialist for this area, I've heard he idolizes Joel Salatin & Polyface Farms so he may be an excellent source of information.  
  2. Contact the Small Business Administration for an appointment with a SCORE counselor (you can take them an idea and they get you pointed in the right direction in regards to paperwork, business plan etc).