Friday, January 29, 2010

Thinking 2010?

a post from Karen.... I'm getting a lot of flack for not posting. It's winter, and I know that things are as quiet as they will ever get so I am trying to make time to reflect on the year ahead and set some goals and put some plans in place (and I should make the time to put a post on to track said reflections). We are approaching some big decisions about our land that we own and the land we are slotted to start leasing next year. When we looked for farms we had a 35 acre plus wish list, wanting to graze, looked at places with good pasture potential. It was a huge struggle to find a place with good soil and topography, fencing, good outbuildings and a livable home. That we could afford that is. When we saw this place, we were smitten, but it was less acreage than we imagined and we had lots of questions... "Are we just going to have a rural home and be happy?" or do we need to make it working farm. How will it feel to make our farm dream on mostly leased land and what if it disappears from us? We won't have any control in saving our farm or saving farmland if someone with deep pockets wants to buy it for a mcmansion. We had a lot to think about when we decided on this place, but it felt right and we are so grateful that we have some good soil, good outbuildings, a cosy home, and a great community. Fencing, well, that is taking a while. But it will happen!

I think as we go into our 2nd full season, we know how tired we can get trying to maintain our careers and invest our time into the farm and our family and ourselves. I feel it's important somehow to make the farm productive and to reclaim farmland in sustainable practices. We have learned that we don't have unlimited time and energy and have to be intentional in the projects we take on and the choices we make for the farm. I'm trying to get to the root of my 'impulses' knowing that I can be impulsive (compared to my ever planning and researching mate) and wanting to be clear in what I want the farm to be and what kind of farmer I want to be. For instance, I really liked our turkeys and really am driven to have heirloom turkeys again. Red is quite opposed. Her strong feelings became solidified on a certain afternoon when the hens and tom had pooped all over her radio, pecked at the oil marker we used for marking hogs, knocked down the insulating layer that we used for the broilers brooder, and had to be chased for the umpteenth time from the waiting jaws of our birding spaniel who had claimed far more turkeys than I would like to talk about. We ran up direct costs that were something around $80 per bird. We gave the other surviving (at least until slaughter) ones to friends and family and enjoyed on our own Thanksgiving the one that had lost a wing in the processing facility. I appreciate that at first glance, it was not a successful venture. But the poop that frustrated Red so much, and the foraging and roaming right into prime spaniel territory, is exactly why I want turkeys again. I like that they forage, and find food out of green things, and crawling things and flying things that would otherwise be pests in my garden. I like how nutrient rich their manure is and how on pasture, it's put right where you need it. And I LIKE that heirloom turkeys will take longer to finish, even if it means hanging out longer to wreck havoc at Prairie Fire Farm. I like the idea of cultivating systems that work together to make slow food. I love seeing how curious and active and funny turkeys are and feel a duty to make sure I put some out on fresh pasture and offer some alternatives to factory-raised meat. I appreciate that folks might care enough to pay folks like us enough to make it worth the trouble they might cause! And I also know we can't make this work if they really do cost us $80 a piece. Trying to see how we can keep costs down, contain them enough to keep them safe, and find a model that is sustainable is my challenge. It has to be a good enough plan that I can convince my partner that it will work. And I have to be brave and creative enough to give it a go and find the time in my schedule to make it go well.

We are planning our next herd of pigs and excited to get setup with improvements every time. We're organizing our garden plans and will soon be ordering seeds. We are thinking about where we want to be in 5 years, 10 years - so not a lot of answers but lots of good questions. We're not just sitting back in our 'rural home' but are making it productive, no matter how many acres we end up with.

We're going to MOSA in FEbruary to help along our dreaming and planning and 'figuring' to see if we can make the farm vision work for the long run, to recommit to the possibility of a working family farm, and to network and find others trying to make it happen too. Should be a good start to the 2010 season. And this year, we have a tractor, some hog houses, lots of great folks who like what we're doing and are enjoying the end result of our labors, and a few lessons under our belt.
And I've got a bookmark filled with heirloom turkey poult sources. And shhh... I'm wondering about ducks. I hear they can be great weeders in the garden.;)

Pork better for sex than Viagra?

This is awesome. Found this article on the 'net, and just had to share.

– Eating pork is at least as effective as popping a Viagra pill to spice up your sex life, according to … .Thu Jan 28, 12:45 pm ET
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina's president recommended pork as an alternative to Viagra Wednesday, saying she spent a satisfying weekend with her husband after eating barbecued pork.

"I've just been told something I didn't know; that eating pork improves your sex life ... I'd say it's a lot nicer to eat a bit of grilled pork than take Viagra," President Cristina Fernandez said to leaders of the pig farming industry.

She said she recently ate pork and "things went very well that weekend, so it could well be true."

Argentines are the world's biggest per capita consumers of beef, but the government has sought to promote pork as an alternative in recent years due to rising steak prices and as a way to diversify the meat industry.

"Trying it doesn't cost anything, so let's give it a go," Fernandez said in the televised speech.

(Reporting by Karina Grazina; Writing by Helen Popper)

Is that not a great article? When I showed it to Karen, she asked, "Why can't we have a president like that?" Indeed. Who wouldn't take such advice from President Fernandez? She looks very authoritative on the subject, doesn't she? Our pork sales are going very well, but with this type of endorsement, I may need to double my herd size! Thank you, Madame Presidente!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A New Year

A happy new year to all!

We here have been keeping busy with visiting friends,working, playing relaxing and planning.

On New Years' Eve, Karen and I travelled northward to visit with a group of dear friends to ring in the new year. Our hostesses supplied the gang with some wonderful paper lanterns. We each lit a piece of cardboard below the open lantern, which filled the lantern with hot air, much like a miniature version of a hot air balloon. Out on the ice of a north Wisconsin lake, we lit our lanterns, and filled them with mental hopes and wishes, and let them soar skyward. We couldn't believe how far up they went! The lanterns themselves don't come down until they have completely finished burning. So I guess that means they don't really come down! They were really very cool.

It's been snowy and cold. Before this last week, temps averaged around 10 degrees for highs, lows a few degrees below zero. But we have had a reprieve the last week, with highs in the low to mid 30's, bringing us our much enjoyed January Thaw. We never had one of those last year.

The other day I rendered our own lard from the fat from our last pig. It was very easy. The butcher ground up the fat for us, and we got it back in large bags, about the size of a basketball. I haven't weighed them, but we got 5 or 6 bags like this from one whole hog. Our butcher doesn't have the ability to render the lard. I thought this might be a big messy process, but it's really very easy. Just put the entire contents from one bag into the crock pot
and set it on low overnight. Next morning, it was all cooked down. I poured the liquid off into mason jars through a cheesecloth to catch the solids (which are called cracklins. Remember Laura Ingalls Wilder and her sister being so excited about getting the cracklins after Ma and Pa butchered the hog?)

The end result was pure, white, beautiful lard. This will make the very best pie crust possible. This picture is just after I poured in the warm lard - once it solidified it turned white. I got two full mason jars plus a little bit more, maybe a cup's worth. This will keep for a very long time just in jars in a cool, dark place. It can also be frozen if desired.

As far as the cracklins, we did not want to eat them like Laura and her sister, but we didn't want them to go to waste, either. So I gave most of them to our chickens, doled out in reasonable portions. They sure did love the mid-winter snack of fat and protein. I also used some leftovers in my wild bird suet feeder. They loved it too, and it brings the prettiest woodpeckers right up next to our kitchen window.

Otherwise we have been busy poring over seed catalogs and workshop schedules. We plan on attending at least a couple good farming and grazing workshops before this winter is over. Additionally, we are hoping to be able to put up a barn this year, if possible. We need better storage for the tractor and other equipment, and we also want a place to house pigs during bad weather to get them off the fields to prevent soil damage. It isn't easy to design one building that meets such different needs.