Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Holidays to everyone!
There's been a whole lot going on around Prairie Fire Farm.

A few weeks ago we finally got some bred beef cows, yay! They're not all the same color but they are pretty just the same. Our neighbor Ahren was buying half a herd from a guy, and brought these three home for us. We were told they are bred to a red angus bull, due for Spring calving. But the other day, I noticed one of the cows looks like she's 'bagging up', or her udder is getting bigger. A sign that birth is getting close. Hm. Maybe I was just imagining things. Then Ahren called me and said one of the heifers he bought from the same guy had just calved! And she had a beautiful little White Parks calf! They look like this:
So... I'm wondering if my cow is close to calving, she might have been bred by the same White Park bull...and that wouldn't make me sad!

A while back, Karen and I picked up a big old round outdoor hog feeder at an auction. These feeders are common in the more traditional hog production area, but scarce as hens' teeth here in dairy country. They are great in that they can be filled with feed and hold up to the weather and whatever pigs can do to them. I have been looking forward to being free from having to carry bags every day, and once the pigs get over 100 lbs., it can be a real fun experience being swarmed by them while re-filling our smaller feeders. Karen hates how my pants get coated with whatever thepigs had in their mouth and ontheir lips. They just gotta mess with ya.
These big feeders go for over a thousand dollars new! That's nuts! So we picked upthis old one, but likealla these big old feeders, the bottom had rusted out. I'm notmuch of ametal worker. Better make that not. A metal worker. But, I have a friend who is . She offered to make new panels and help me put them on. In fact,though she had just had shoulder surgery, she came over twice and brought help along, too! Can't beat that with a stick.
I learned how to use a grinder and a pop riveter, handy things. got thebottom pieces all on now, got it caulked up and just need to put a couple skid boards on the bottom to make it easier to move, and I'll be in business!
All those pumpkins are gone, been fed to the pigs. They were fun to feed, and they lasted agood while, but once the night time temps got below about 25, they started to freeze and then get mushy. The ratio of pumpkins to weather worked out pretty well.

Bred Ridgett and Icy two weeks ago, we'll find out if it worked this New Years' weekend.
Sold some of the finisher pigs from litter 3.
The weather is really weird. It's nearly New Years, and I haven't needed to plow the driveway once yet this year. There is NO snow on the ground. I remember years when we'd have a warm spell around Christmas, or of course the January thaw, but I don't remember many years, if any when we haven't had any apppreciable snowfall at all before January. It's great for working outside or driving, but not so great for plants who need the blanket of snow to protect them from the deep cold.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Butcher Shop 101

does that look like white meat to you?

Ever wonder how they do it? How they actually cut up a hog/beef/sheep? What exactly does it look like back there? How do I know it's my meat? How do they track that?

I recently had the opportunity to come to our butcher's on the day they cut up our hogs, and I really learned a lot. I thought I'd share.
First, after the humane slaughter, the pig is bled out and then gutted. The carcass is placed into a large drum containing very hot water to be scalded, and large paddles rotate around the carcass to remove the hair. Any extra hair is singed off when it comes out of the drum. The carcass is then hung and each carcass has the customer's cutting order card pinned to it.
You can see the cards associated with each side as they rest on a cart (right) waiting to be cut up. This card stays with the carcass all the way through. The meat cutter takes the primals off the cart, looks at the card, and makes the cuts according to instructions. Here is a shot of a ham shank on the cutting table. We had a customer ask for the shank, and we worked with our butcher to get their meat cut exactly as desired. Reminds me of the iconic pictures of hams hanging in the windows of old world butcher shops... by the way, there are two 5 lb. ham roasts sitting behind it, just for reference.
Then the meat is packaged (either vacuum sealed or paper wrapped; customers' preference), labeled, and placed
into a box with the customers' name on it. Then it is rolled back into the freezer until pick up day.

I'd like to thank all the nice folks at Lake Geneva Country Meats for giving me that opportunity! I learned a lot more than what I've posted here, mostly about where each cut of meat comes from, and many of the various ways each section can be cut to produce different products. Those folks are true professionals who are skilled at what they do and take pride in their work. We take great care and pride in the way we raise our animals, and it feels good to entrust them to Lake Geneva to turn them into beautiful end products for our family and our customers.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I've been enjoying the weather and light this Fall. Then I remembered that last Fall, we were consumed with the stress and pressure of dealing with different contractors for getting our hoop barn put up. Sometimes it was a real battle, not fun at all, but when we finally got things sorted out and got the right team on board, things finally went much better. Those obstacles and hitches meant my barn wasn't completed until until January when I had originally anticipated October. So no wonder it seems like this is the first Fall I've been able to look out and notice things like the colors and the light. It really is beautiful.
Having our own field of corn has really added to my sense of time and seasons and color, and made me appreciate Fall even more I think. Like canning tomatoes in late Summer or stacking wood in Fall, it just feels right to see the golden grains get harvested, to participate inthe big annual event going on all around us. In many real ways, it is a community-based enterprise. We are all in this boat together, and our collective fortunes rise and fall together.
In addition to a part of our pigs' feed, a years' supply of bedding was also produced.
Couple weeks ago the neighbor Dave chopped some of our corn stalks and baled them into large round bales. He is a real blessing to us. He's got all the equipment to get the field work done, lots of knowledge,and a really nice guy to boot.

Then I go out on the field with my tractor and bring each bale, weighing around 8-900 lbs. back into the barnyard area. We got 27 bales, which I felt was adequate for our needs, and left the remainder of the chopped stalks on the field to build organic matter in the soil.

Next episode: Something Not So Good

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hey Punkin

Last Spring we decided it would be a great idea to plant a large field with pumpkins to supply the pigs with something fresh and yummy during the winter months. I spent quite a few hours manually hoeing, planting, and hoeing. And hoeing. But the weeds got the best of my punkin patch and after they disappeared under a jungle of grass and weeds, we just let the stocker cows in and they finished them off. We did manage to harvest a couple dozen from other spots like the garden and other random spots they sprouted up as volunteers.
Still wanting to get a pile of pumpkins, I put out the word to local farmers who had raised fields of them for halloween. I got a call back, and a few days later we had a truck load of huge pumpkins!

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Happy Halloween to everyone! We've been doing the traditional Halloween things- carving pumpkins, preparing costumes, the candy bowl, etc. One of my favorite traditions is to roast the seeds and lots of the 'guts' of the punkins. Just put some butter and salt on them, roast low and slow till crispy. mmmmm.
Tomorrow night is trick-or-treating. I'm glad our little town does it right, in the evening. The town where I grew up seemed to think we needed to do it in the middle of the afternoon. SO lame. Since we live out in farm land, we go into town and go trick-or-treating with friends. We always have a fun time, something I really look forward to.
It's also time in our neighborhood for the artists' tour. This is an annual event where many of our local artists put on an open house, and people drive from all over to see their wares. One of our closest friends and neighbor is on the tour. She is a renowned felt artist, raising her own sheep and making her own yarn and felt. We like to support her during her open house, when she has little time to cook or even eat. This year Karen made her a lunch out of some fresh home grown ingredients from our farm.

Fresh squash soup garnished with apple bits sauteed in bacon, shaved fresh ham, apple slices, and flaky biscuits topped with rosemary from the garden. Yum.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's mid Fall here on our part of the planet. The weather has been quite pleasant, with highs in the 50's to 60's and lows in the 30's. We're starting to get frost at night pretty consistently now. The trees are still putting on a show, at least the later ones which still have their leaves. So that makes it Get Busy Like A Squirrel time on the farm. The above picture is our summer crop of alfalfa hay put up in the hay mow (actually, that is about 1/3 of the total. The rest is on the other side of the barn, and rolled up into large round bales which are stored outside.) Been doing lots of other Fall chores, putting away hoses, water tanks, planting more daffodils, trimming branches, pecking away at the garden, weather-proofing barns and windows, cleaning out gutters, checking tank heaters, etc. ec.
It feels a lot less rushed and crunched than last year, when we had our big barn building project- replete with it's many problems and stumbling blocks. Even so, I am sure the night before the first real snow forecast, we'll be rushing to do last minute things. Like put away the hammock ;) Always kinda sad to say goodbye to hammock days.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mid October

The leaves have mostly turned here in southern Wisconsin and many have fallen already, though there are still a lot left on the trees. The forests and copses of trees here are at that "thinning" stage.... kind of like my aunt Margie's hair.

There was a touch of frost on the grass as I walked to the barn this morning. Red ripe apples on the ground, the smell of damp leaves and I could hear a bluebird singing somewhere along the fence line. I have to savor moments like these, because they are so few and fleeting. I think Fall days like this are perhaps our shortest-lived season. We seem to go from late Summer, which lingers for several weeks, to late Fall where all the leaves are gone,the ground is starting to freeze up, the cold winds are blowing but we don't have snow on the ground yet. As someone who has to contend with keeping animals comfortable, water liquid, and driveways and access lanes cleared, I will not vote for what's next as my most favorite time of year. Best to enjoy this as long as it lasts!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Full Circle

Today was another milestone for us here. We took another load of pigs in to the butcher today, but this time it was the pigs we had farrowed here ourselves. This was our first home-raised litter. We'd been through a lot with these girls. It really feels like quite an accomplishment to have reached this point. In fact, it was almost exactly one year ago that we brought our two gilts home to our farm. It's really something to think about how far we've come in the last twelve months! Wow, have we ever learned a lot, too! Now with our third litter on the ground we almost feel like we know what to expect, heh.

Just a note: we still have a side or two left that can be purchased whole. This is the last opportunity to get pasture-raised Berkshire pork cut to your specs this Fall. If interested in a side, contact us at ASAP! Of course,we will always have retail cuts and bundles available any time.

We will have more pastured Berk available in December!

Thank you to all of our customers. We wouldn't do it without you!