Wednesday, December 31, 2008

You Can Never Do Just One Thing

I forget which book I got that line from, but it was almost certainly a book about sustainable agriculture. Every change that we make will have consequences, some anticipated, some completely unforeseen, some pleasant and some unpleasant. I added cats to the farm to keep the rodent population in check, and they do a wonderful job at it. However, they've also become convinced that the haystack is the ideal litter box. This is disgusting and unsanitary, but then again so are mouse droppings in the hay. I think that next year I will need to come up with some sort of basic tying or bailing system to encourage them to find a litter box that is more pleasant for us humans. Perhaps I will also put in a small pit filled with loose, dry organic matter, with a roof to keep the rain off. It could be a self-composting litter box. I will have to ponder this some more.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

So Many Choices

Yesterday, I got a catalog from Stark Brothers, a fruit grower, and spent several hours drooling over the different varieties of fruit trees. We plan to get started on our orchard this spring. This is going to get rather complicated, because each of the varieties of apples has certain others that do the best job pollinating it, yet some varieties don't pollinate others at all. I think I need to come up with some sort of a graphical representation of all the different relationships in order to sort out which varieties will be the best for us. Also, black raspberries are supposed to be planted at least 75 feet away from blackberries and red, gold, or purple raspberries. Since all of the wild brambles in our forest are black raspberries, all of the other kinds will need to be planted well away from the forest.

I also need to research planting density requirements for the various species, so I can plan how to arrange all of them. I want to design a permaculture-based layout, mixing up the trees, bushes, brambles, and low-lying fruits in an efficient and visually pleasing manner. I definitely need to check the Permaculture book out from the library again.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tub of Lard

Or, rather, mason jars of lard. Today I finally got a chance to render down the pig fat that's been sitting in the refrigerator for a week. I've rendered small amounts of duck fat before, and lard is the same process. The fat is cut into small pieces and then simmered with enough water to cover. The water keeps the fat from sticking to the pan and burning while the first grease is rendered out. Eventually, the water evaporates off, but by that point there is enough liquid fat to keep the rest from sticking.

It took me about two hours to dice ten pounds of back fat into small cubes. It took three quarts of water to mostly cover the cubes in the pot. After eight hours of simmering (and lots of stirring), all of the water had evaporated, the fat was liquid, and a nice layer of cracklings had formed. Speaking of cracklings, I really need to get a mesh strainer that is larger than cup-sized. It took about an hour to strain the lard because I had to keep emptying the strainer.

The ten pounds of fat made exactly four quarts of lard. Here are seven of the pints, in my freezer. The eighth one is in the refrigerator to be used. Apparently, lard is supposed to be that golden color, not the white of grocery store lard. The one on the top, far right is the best example of the color. They are all the same, but some look darker because of the angle of the photo.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

101 Things, 1001 Days

Yes, it's a meme, but it sounds like a useful one. You're supposed to come up with 101 goals to accomplish within 1001 days. I thought that sounded like a good way to quantify some of our plans for the farm, so here is my list. December 28, 2008 will be the starting date, and September 25, 2011 will be the ending date. There is a countdown widget in the right column of the blog, showing how much time we have left to complete the items.

Not started
Started but not finished

    Building Projects
  1. Build pickup truck crate.
  2. Build up driveway.
  3. Put gravel on driveway.
  4. Build hoop house (or other permanent house) for poultry.
  5. Build hay feeder for goats. (1/30/09)
  6. Build second hay stack.
  7. Make a hay rake from on-farm wood.
  8. Make a snath from on-farm wood.
  9. Put water tank up on blocks.
  10. Insulate goat water trough.
  11. Build insulated battery box.
  12. Build rabbit pen.
  13. Harness water power from creek for something.
  14. Build a barn.
  15. Build a sledge.
  16. Build a hay wagon.
  17. Build a bridge over drainage ditch.
  18. Build a monkey bridge over the creek.

  19. Crafts
  20. Spin a fleece of wool into yarn.
  21. Process flax into fibers.
  22. Complete a woven project.
  23. Shear a sheep.

  24. Crops
  25. Grow open pollinated corn.
  26. Grow flax.
  27. Plant oats for winter forage.
  28. Start apple seedlings.
  29. Plant bramble fruits. (12/2009)
  30. Produce all necessary hay.
  31. Produce half of animals' grain on farm.
  32. Plant at least two paw paw trees. (0/2)
  33. Plant three varieties of eating apples. (0/3)
  34. Plant three peach trees. (0/3)
  35. Establish feasibility of planting blueberries. (1/24/09)
  36. Plant at least 16 different herbs/spices in front yard. (0/16)

  37. Culinary
  38. Eat a goose.
  39. Eat a capon.
  40. Bake every bread in The Bread Baker's Apprentice at least once. (0/43)
  41. Eat a paw paw.

  42. Education
  43. Take a welding class.
  44. Become certified to compost dead livestock. (1/9/09)
  45. Visit Polyface Farm.
  46. Visit Malabar Farm.
  47. Visit The Land Institute.
  48. Read Malabar Farm. (3/29/09)
  49. Read Agriculture Yearbook from 1924.
  50. Read Agriculture Yearbook from 1935.
  51. Read Agriculture Yearbook from 1936.
  52. Acquire at least five more pre-1940 Agriculture Yearbooks. (1/5)
  53. Read Pork Production.
  54. Research Jersey cattle lineage.
  55. Buy box of Jersey cattle registry books, if still available.
  56. Read The New Agriculture and answer chapter questions.
  57. Read Horticulture Enterprises and answer chapter questions. (1/21)
  58. Complete ten field exercises from Horticulture Enterprises. (0/10)
  59. Read a book on chicken genetics.
  60. Establish a breeding plan for free range broilers.
  61. Research sheep breeds and choose best. (Icelandics)
  62. Attend a sustainable farming class or conference.

  63. Fencing
  64. Stretch back fence in main pasture. (4/24/09)
  65. Hang forest gate.
  66. Hang water gate. (4/28/09)
  67. Plant hedge around pond pasture.
  68. Plant hedge in forest along road.

  69. Foraging
  70. Pick five gallons of blueberries at Dolly Sods. (2/5)
  71. Pick cranberries at Dolly Sods.
  72. Pick 30 gallons of black raspberries. (1/30)
  73. Pick 10 gallons of wild blackberries. (1/10)

  74. Livestock
  75. Buy a milk cow.
  76. Buy at least ten female runner ducks. (0/10)
  77. Buy a pair of geese. (3/2) (2009)
  78. Fill our freezer with homegrown beef.
  79. Successfully caponize a rooster.
  80. Buy rabbits.
  81. Buy turkeys.
  82. Buy a sheep flock.
  83. Acquire at least one potential ox.
  84. Successfully incubate duck eggs.
  85. Breed at least two generations towards free range broilers. (0/2)

  86. Marketing
  87. Find five regular customers for bread. (0/5)
  88. Find ten regular customers for eggs. (2/10)
  89. Get retail license.
  90. Sell a fattened pig.
  91. Sell produce at a farmer's market. (2009)
  92. Update farm blog 300 times. (61/300)
  93. Write three newsletters for our customers. (1/3)
  94. Build a farm website with our own domain.
  95. Have an online order form for our customers.
  96. Sell 200 broilers. (0/200)

  97. Pasture Management
  98. Graze upstream field.
  99. Within a growing season, mow entire main pasture at least once.
  100. Get scythe for Paul.
  101. Clear undergrowth from forest.

  102. Processing
  103. Make five gallons of maple syrup. (1/5)
  104. Butcher a deer.
  105. Buy a meat grinder.
  106. Make butter.
  107. Make apple cider.

  108. Water Management
  109. Dig pond.
  110. Install water system in upstream field.
  111. Expand drainage ditch to one foot wide entire length.
  112. Expand drainage ditch to one foot deep entire length.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Full Freezer

Our pig dressed out at 134 pounds, and we got back about 116 pounds of meat and 10 pounds of fat to render into lard. Now that I've seen the cuts of meat, I'll make a few different decisions next time. For example, we had one of the hams cut in half, and one left whole. A whole ham is huge! I'll definitely get them both cut in half next time. So far, we've only tried the bacon, which was amazing. The pig was partly finished on apples, but I'm not sure how much of the sweet flavor is from that and how much is just the difference between real pork and factory pork. Anyhow, the bacon is very sweet and earthy, and it cooks up perfectly. The fat is crispy and the meat is chewy. I can never get store bacon to do that.

Here is the break down:
Hams, 1 whole and 2 halves, 26 lbs 9 oz total
Bacon, 11 lbs 14 oz
Italian sausage, 10 packages, 13 lbs 7 oz total
Sage sausage, 10 packages, 11 lbs 9 oz total
Pork chops, 11 packages of 4, 19 lbs 14 oz total
Country-style ribs, 4 packages, 12 lbs total
Spare ribs, 4 packages, 5 lbs 11 oz total
Shoulder roasts (2), 9 lbs 9 oz total
Sirloin roasts (2), 6 lbs 8 oz total

This was all frozen at the processor, so we didn't overwork our poor freezer.

Paul also shot a deer a few weeks ago, so we have venison again. It was a little guy, only providing 18 pounds of meat, but the processor threw in a complimentary baloney sausage when he found out we have the same last name, so that brought us up to just about 20 pounds of venison.

In addition, there are still ten chickens left from last summer. I thought there were fewer, but when I was rearranging the freezer to make room for all the pork, I found more stashed on different shelves. I kind of lost track, but I think we slaughtered around 40 chickens last year. I got kind of tired of chicken, because for a while it was just about the only meat we had, so I stopped using it as much. Those 10 chickens will probably last us until we slaughter again next summer. Oh, and there's also a duckling in the freezer, which will be our special Epiphany dinner.

Last, and definitely least, we culled one of our problem goats from the herd. There are two more to cull later, probably after Christmas. The meat is tough, of course, but so far it tastes ok in small amounts. We had goat tacos for dinner last night, and they were reasonably tasty. We figure that if we don't want to eat the goat meat, it will still make a good supplement for the dogs so it won't be wasted. Plus, it's good practice at slaughtering and butchering larger animals ourselves.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Much Easier Than I Expected

We took the pig to the slaughterhouse today. I wanted to build both a ramp and a wooden crate to go in the back of the pickup truck, but I only had time to build the ramp. We figured that the pig would probably fit in our largest dog crate. Paul took the day off from work, because we figured it might be difficult to convince the pig to walk up the ramp and get in a dog crate, and we had to be at the slaughterhouse by 5pm at the absolute latest.

This November and December have been really cold so far, and the ground has been frozen for much of it. Today, however, it was 50 degrees and raining. The entire pig pen was deep, sticky, sucking mud, and my feet weighed about 30 pounds each within moments of stepping in. First, I got the pig used to the dog crate. She was very annoyed because she hadn't been fed yet today, so I sprinkled some grain at the back of the crate and opened the door. I couldn't have kept her out of that crate! Of course she ate up all the grain within a few minutes, and wanted more, but she'd have to wait until the truck was ready for her. Paul had gone to the feed store to pick up some fresh straw, so while I waited for him I enclosed her in a small space with the electric fence.

Paul returned and backed his truck up to the pen gate. We set up the ramp, put a nice layer of straw at the bottom of the crate, and extended the electric fence to keep her from escaping out next to the truck and gate. The crate was positioned at the top of the ramp with a bowl full of grain at the back of it, and then we were ready to let her at it.

The pig didn't even think twice before hauling herself up the ramp and into the crate. It took a bit of prodding to get her big pig butt far enough into the crate to be able to close the door, but she wasn't interested in going anywhere. We couldn't believe how easy it had been. I had expected to need to coax the pig up the ramp with more grain, since she'd never seen one before, but she knew that the dog crate was full of good things and there was no way she was going to miss out on them.

Paul did have a lot of trouble getting out of the farm with all that slippery mud and an extra 200 or so pounds in the back, but he managed. However, the driveway is now thoroughly torn up and there are a couple of big holes going up the slope from where he got stuck temporarily, so all of that will need to be dealt with before I'll be able to take my car down there again, even in warm, dry weather.

It was about a 45 minute drive to the slaughterhouse, but once the pig finished her meal, she decided that the straw made a nice bed and she slept the whole way there. Actually, she was so comfortable that she refused to leave the crate at the slaughterhouse. Even when dumped halfway out, she scrambled back in and braced her legs against the sides. We ended up lifting the crate entirely off of her before she finally decided to stand up and wander down the aisle.

Our meat will be ready on the 20th. I'm really looking forward to real, fresh bacon, hams, pork chops and sausage. And it will be really nice to have that pig off of our feed bill.