Saturday, January 23, 2010


Today I am reporting from the Southern Southeastern Agricultural Work Group Conference - SSAWG. However, if Elmer Fudd said it backwards it would be, very appropriately, GWASS. After all, all flesh is gwass. That's what this conference is about, the coaxing of food from this cursed earth.

I am happy to be here for primarily one reason. I received a scholarship. I typed up my farm plan, what we do here, what we want to do here, and they said, "We like this, and you may come," well, not literally, but figuratively, they gave me a free ticket. This is a good feeling.

I left home at 4 a.m.! State Road 53 is frightening at that hour of the day. The nocturnal animals were everywhere and the people were nowhere. Winding, winding, winding, I went into very dark and forested mountain places. This is the shortest route. I simply could not see the sense in going south on 75 to go north to Chattanooga. I saw it at 4 a.m. though. All I could think was, "My mom would kill me if she knew I was doing this." I made it with a little navigation from George back at home. I still have no GPS phone. I want a GPS phone.

I'm staying at the La Quinta Inn on the edge of town. Once again George has booked me into the 1970's model where all room access is interior. He knows that I am terribly claustrophobic. He promised he wouldn't do this again. There will be words.

It is chilly, damp, and gray, nestled in this valley town. I love the way that Chattanooga is all squeezed into the only flat area they could find. Lookout Mountain and her sisters encircle the town and appear to be looking over the whole manner of things. For someone like myself who has difficulty with missing turns and knowing how to get places this is a stroke of genius! I've been orienting myself by the mountain and the Tennessee River. You can't go too far wrong or you will run into one or the other. It is a tiny bit claustrophobic too. What a handicap I have.

This is the second day of the conference. I remember very little of yesterday. The 4 a.m. wake up caught up with me at about 6 p.m. and I lapsed into a twelve hour coma.

These things are always about the people for me. This is a smorgasbord of people watching. As I sit here in the Chattanooga Convention Center in what looks like an airport concourse and in an airport like chair, here is what I see. I'll use a clock face to orient you:

1. At twelve is a man in his 50's who appears to have been smoking at least some of what he is growing. His face is mouse-like and adorned with a bushy beard which has a single dread-lock approximately two inches in diameter that reaches (I'm not kidding) to his mid thigh. He is a permaculture guru and he has brought all of his own food in a cooler. His lunch is a tomato libation which he sips from a Mason jar - in this we are connected, I take almost all of my food to work in mason jars. His commitment to healthy food makes me feel very guilty for the Cadburry Caramello chocolate bar that I just consumed.

2. To my left at nine o'clock are two very common looking men, one in his 20's (who I think probably has a suspiciously good taste in furniture and fashion *wink*) and his companion in his 50's. They are discussing the importance of preserving native strains of corn seed. The older one comments that the man mentioned in #1 is wearing "last year's bird nest" on his face. He is also lamenting the last speaker who admitted to voting for George Bush - twice (gasp)!

3. At two o'clock looking to my right is a venerable, older black man in his 60's with ghostly white hair and beard. His voice sounds like Redd fox who played Fred Sanford in the t.v. show Sanford and Sons. He and his friend are talking about melon, corn yields, and last year's rain and market prices.

4. At 10 is a man who must have ridden here on his hog. Not the four footed one. His arms are sleeved with tattoos and he is sporting a long wiry braid down his back. His conversation with the conservative looking 50 somethings at his table is sedate, amiable, and unfortunately too quiet for me to hear.

5. There goes the mother with her three month old infant who "eats at Mom's" and has hiccups in every session that we attend together. She has been too busy for conversation. I admire her and nod knowingly in her direction. I remember trying to balance my desire to do things that mommies want to do and still care for baby.

6. Walking by is the young fella decked out in Abercrombie clothes, long curly chestnut hair, and a passel of brand new tools. He's apparently farming on a family trust or Daddy's American Express. Nube. He will soon find out that he doesn't need half of what he just bought, Goodwill is a far better source for farm clothes, and one must get dirty.

7. Standing between those of us in the airport chairs and those sitting at tables are a group of white southern farmers with plaid shirts, baseball caps, and Skoal in their rear pockets who apparently just got the email that folks don't want chemicals and genetically modified food anymore. They are excitedly and animatedly talking about their plans to convert a portion of their production to organic. This is so encouraging. They are here to learn the new old way.

8. The overweight women over 60 are scattered all around. Most grow garden vegetables or cut flowers. They give me hope that I might have at least another twenty years in the field (literally in the field.) They knit. In fact, almost all of the women here knit.

I don't knit. There must be something wrong with me.

*side note* ...the herb grower (#1) with the long dread is laughing an amazing laugh at something his companion has said. His eyes are scrunched up and he rapidly shakes his head sideways with amusement. That is adorable. He is such a happy guy. He makes me happy too. It is infectious.

I'm am in my final class and the young mother and her hiccuping baby have seated themselves beside me again. I must be giving off the old maternal musk. Baby tanks up and falls deeply asleep on his mother's lap. I am so envious - about the sleep. While she and I listen intently to the nuances of seed saving there is a long, loud, and gaseous emission from her general direction. I reflexively look her way and she whispers, "That wasn't me." I winked. At least it wasn't hiccups this time.

So what did I learn this weekend? I would have to say...drip irrigation. I had an excellent teacher in my drip irrigation class, Clynton Slade from Virginia. Mr. Slade was an extension agent for 28 years and is the consummate family farmer. He and his family produce fruits and vegetables for a local farmer's market and make a killing at it. He says he owes this to drip irrigation. I think that I get what he is saying because it is basically one large garden intravenous system. It has tubes, drip rates, stop-cocks, and it runs under the surface. You can even piggyback manure tea into it. I learned all of this in nursing school. Maybe I too can make a fortune. I can't wait to drip something.

So I have to share the best part of State Road 53. I'm through conferring and on my way home. I drove this route about ten years ago with a car load of sleeping Rinke spawn who were going to see grandparents in Kentucky. It was early morning then too. Driving through Tate, Georgia, because there is no town to drive into, in front of the elementary school, I saw the sweetest sight. A mother and her little son had their arms around the flagpole and they were holding hands, on their knees, praying before his school day started. It was Rockwellian. I've snapped a photo for you to see the flagpole and the school. I'm sure that little boy is probably a senior in high school now. I hope he still prays with his mom.

Tate is the self proclaimed granite capital of the world. I'm sure they are right. As you can see EVERYTHING is made of granite there. It appears that Taters ( I don't know if they call themselves taters but what else would they call themselves?) spend their time digging granite and marble. If you have had a proper earth science course you will know that marble is just granite plus a little extra time, heat, and pressure. There must be a million kitchen counter tops in them thar hills.

Surely you know of the Historic Tate House . It is very pink. Their government complex is pink granite too.

Here is one of the quarry operations.

Here's a little bonus for all you Facebook Farmville players. There really is a Farmville. They have a granite church. You guessed it. They are about 40 miles from the Taters.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haemonchus Contortus

Here's a good one. Say it, "Haemonchus Contortus," and wave your wand... No, it isn't an incantation. It's a worm. It is also known as the Barber's Pole worm. Back in the day the red strip on a barber's pole indicated that he was skilled in blood letting. You could have the barber cut your hair and sick the leaches on you. Since this little worm is skilled in drinking blood, well, Barber's Pole worm is a fittin' name.

To call one a "blood-sucking parasite" is to call them a Haemonchus. These guys wrote the book on blood sucking. We in the southeast have a Haemonchus problem. We get rain, and then more rain, and then, well, more rain. Rain is good for hatching worms. That makes keeping goats and sheep a little tricky. This is the cycle: the animal poops the worms onto the pasture, they grow on the grass, and then they eat them again. Eeeeew, that's gross. That's life deary. At the Gooneybush we graze sheep, chickens, and cows on the pasture with the goats. Some species, like our Gulf Coast Sheep for instance, are immune to the Haemonchus. The Cows aren't bothered by them either. Here's the nice part. Both the sheep and Cows graze lower in the grass and eat the worms, they don't bother them, and this effectively reduces the number on pasture for the goats to get. This is called symbiosis, things working together to make life nicer for one another. So far we have not had a worm problem. Our pasture has not had goats or sheep for several decades. I guess the worms moved to greener pastures.

So why don't we just worm them? First of all we try and stay away from chemicals. However, I would kill them with semi-automatic weapons if it would work. Oh no, they would live and then come and strangle me, or infect me, in my sleep. There isn't much that can kill them, they laugh in the face of wormers and the like, they are resistant. Too, there are no new wormers being developed for goats - goat farming isn't big business in the states yet. Perhaps if Bill Gate's goat gets worms he will help fund some new research. I bet if President Obama's goat, or his family in Kenya's goats get worms, maybe he will enact legislation. We can only hope. One day goats will take their rightful place in this part of the world.

For now sheeping is more popular than goating. That can only mean that the sheep farmers have not ever met my goats. If they did there would be no contest, but plenty of mutton. I digress. Most of the sheep are susceptible to Haemonchus, and that means someone cares to help those farmers. There is some money to be made with sheep. It is important not to over use the wormers that we have. It is hoped that careful use will keep them working a little longer, even though they don't work so well. So knowing which sheep really need wormed, truly need wormed, is very important. You can't just worm them routinely anymore, if you do, those wormers will be completely useless in no time. So, the parasitologists put on their super hero capes and made a test that makes finding Haemonchus in our critters so much easier. That's good news for goats because for the most part, what's good for the sheep is good for the goat. In case you ever wonder which is goat and which is sheep: tail down is a sheep, tail up is a goat. Sometimes the wool gives it away, but there are some dead-ringers in both groups. You might need this skill one day.

Here is why I am so proud. UGA's parasitology lab has aided in developing this test. They have some lean mean parasitologists there. In fact, our personal vet and friend, Mike Dzimianski, works in that lab. We are so proud of him and his colleagues. Thanks guys.

Don't be hatin'. You have to admire these worms, even if you love goats and sheep as much as I do. Listen to this. They know through their ESP worm gifts when the momma goat or sheep,from whom they are intimately associated with, is going to give birth. They know that her new little babies will be great hosts for their little worm babies. So they roll the dice, "Baby needs some new intestines" they say as they double up the egg count. They know that her little one is going to be right next to mom all day, eating the grass where she just pooped. Momma goat is their personal vending machine. Their goal is to get their babies to the ground before momma sheep or goat delivers hers. Genius! This strategy could work in business, school, all of life. The moral of the story? Just get there first, don't work for a living, use someone else's resources...mwahahahah (diabolical laughing.) Wait a minute. I think Congress beat us to that one.

This has been a science minute from the Gooneybush Farm

Dead Eye

What a beautiful day out there. The sun is bright and the temperatures are almost warm. All of the animals have been lying on the warm what-used-to-be grass. The brownness of the pasture has hit its peak. The animals are no longer patient if the hay gets low. There isn't a stick of green grass anywhere. When the bale is gone they come to the gate with signs threatening strike, legal action, and vengeance! If you have ever read the stories by Doreen Cronin you will be familiar with the sociology of the barnyard already. Take a peak on the Amazon link, they are hysterical. Our favorite is Click-Clack-Moo.

We've been able to enjoy a few moments outdoors the last few days. Enough to discover that our youngest, Hannah-Jo, is a dead-eye. For those of you without guns, that means you can shoot the target and do it consistently. Seems she was out watching the big boys on Sunday and got bold enough to ask to give it a try. Shockingly they called up to the house to ask permission before handing the 22 to a nine year old. Turns out she and the 22 are kindred spirits. She was forced to shoot with her BB gun today and says she wants the 22 back. Unfortunately it belongs to Joseph and lives at his house. We might have to fix that come birthday time. Don't panic, she is a very cautious little girl and knows not to touch it without an adult. Besides, it will have a trigger lock that only adults can remove. So her name is now Hannie Oakley, and you should be watching for it in the 2016 summer Olympics.

I had a wake up call this morning. With the temperatures so cold we have been doing only the essential watering and feeding. In more temperate months I'm at the barn for about an hour per day. I can usually catch things that don't look right or pick up stuff that has been left from some project the day before. Today Nicholas went to the barn to find our beautiful doe Discovery bound about her leg, four times, with the cord that the guys used days ago to hang the killed sheep for butchering. In the barnyard what is least likely to happen is actually most likely to happen. Livestock are toddlers in every sense. Eat, poop, get into trouble, and make messes, all with a keen sense of mischief. I had become slack in simple surveillance, just looking out the window and doing a head count two or three times a day. She was calling at the top of her poor stranded lungs for help. Normally the other goats would have stayed with her, she must have been there a while, but they decided that hunger overrules herd. Off they went to find something to eat in a pasture with nothing but dead grass and leaves. She's no worse for the wear but it was scary nonetheless.

My new semester has begun. From here it is a whirlwind to graduation, five semesters hot and heavy (or six or seven if I can't keep up.) Each class lasts only five and a half weeks which leaves you panting. I like it this way because it means I only have one class to focus on at a time - still. I have no idea why I need a higher degree in nursing. I promised my mom. I keep promises, even when it means paying out of state tuition. All the other things she told me to do were good for me. Surely this is no different. "Be prepared" is the credo of the depression era? I'm not sure for what, but I'll be prepared for it anyway. *side note* I have been a nurse longer than anyone in my class. I'm not the oldest, which is small consolation, but the oldest in nursing. I hear that if I wait until I am 62 to get a doctorate degree it's free. Hmmmm - only 16 more years, I'll still be young.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

63 Days until the 2010 Goat Babies Arrive!

Despite the obvious reasons to be anxious for spring, temperatures in the teens, it occurs to me today that the 2010 kid crop is only 63 days away. I'm not kidding.

Every new year requires planning. Where will births take place? Where will mommas and babies be housed? Where will we milk? What will we do with the milk? What will the adjustment in feed costs be? Failure to plan means trouble.

So I have set my course and applied a counter at the top of the blog. You guys can join with me in the anticipation. Taffeta Stumphollow (Guernsey doe) is due first on March 15th. She will be followed in rapid succession by the other 6, possibly 7. We aren't altogether sure. Gabardine was exposed to a Guernsey buck who was quite novice at his craft. He was discrete, so much so as to possibly not have completed the task.

To speak goat is to possess an entirely new and wonderful vocabulary. Like the word "exposed" that I used in the previous paragraph. We don't say of humans that they have been "exposed" and are now expecting a baby. Perhaps we should. When a goat becomes pregnant she is said to have settled. I think that is a gentle and lovely way to say it. When a goat's udder fills and begins to make milk she is reported to have freshened. With her first baby she is a first freshener; with her second baby she is a second freshener, and so forth. I remember when I began to make milk for my babies and I don't know that fresh was quite the right word. I would love to introduce the word freshened into my practice in human lactation. I would say, "Room 3104 is a third freshener" and the nurses would nod their heads knowingly. I think the term fresh would be very useful in my work. Kidding would also be a fun word to implement in labor and delivery. It is so much nicer than labor. That sounds so masculine and sweaty. "My wife is kidding today" would be nice. "My wife is calving" could get a man in trouble. It would be like calling your wife a heifer. It just doesn't work as well.

I will leave you with a kidding from 2008. This was the birth of Ruby and her sister Tuesday. Tuesday came into this world poorly. As a last resort I carried her to the volunteer fire department. They obliged me with the materials to give her oxygen by face mask. "Must be some goat," muttered the elderly South Jackson fireman. Nevertheless he accommodated me. Very shortly afterward Tuesday's nose and lips became pink. She spent the night in the living room fascinated with George's sandals. By morning she was with her mom. Her registered name is Tuesday's Victory. Ruby and Tuesday had their first babies last year. We are eager to see what they bring us this spring. 63 days and counting....

Friday, January 8, 2010

Immobile home...

When we moved to a rural area we never dared to dream that we would own a mobile home. We knew these homes only as the dwellings of the grandparents or that special uncle. You might want to think twice about that mobile home dream of yours. All that glitters is not gold. It's like winning the lottery or having a mole shaped like Africa. You are seen differently by others. It must seem smug that having acquired this dream I should call down this warning from my ivory tower. As a friend I feel that I should at least warn you. It is immobile once you put it on the foundation. Few others in your municipality will grasp the concept.

Here's the odd thing. My home will forever be considered by its previous state - mobile. I think this is flatly unfair. What if I were forever considered a baby? Mobile home's are perceived as unique therefore they are taxed differently, insured differently, mortgaged differently, and here's the kicker, you must have an annual sticker applied to your window. Those of you old enough to remember mandatory auto inspections have seen stickers like these. In fact, they are very much like the ones that you add to your car tag each year. Along those lines my home is known as a 1999 model, like a car. I have no intention of taking this little hot rod on the road. Why do I need a sticker? All this, even after it is firmly strapped (with steel hurricane straps) to its foundation.

My dreams of owning a mobile home were hatched as a child in St. Petersburg, Fl.. The only folks that I knew who lived in mobile homes were only there for three or four months of the year. Oh, they didn't own them much, they mostly they rented them, a sign that they were priceless and beyond the reach of most. These people were foreign, elusive, they were Canadian. They had mysterious accents and funny coins that even vending machines were unfamiliar with.

So I am attempting to correct the public misconception about the mobility of my home. I call it an immobile home. I got this idea from my friend Matt who has diabetes. He makes a point to refer to his disease as live-a-betes. It will eventually change how we all view this disease. Matt should work in public relations. Instead he is a radiology technician.

In my county there is a unique form of discrimination toward those privileged enough to live in a 1999 Palm Harbor Home. I cannot build another dwelling on my property because my home would be, and I quote, "Architecturally incompatible" with the new one. I admit, it is quite difficult to replicate this particular style of architecture. Still, it is no call for entire pages of legal code to preserve a notion that an immobile home is somehow very special. Their admiration and attention is almost embarrassing. Next they will want to put the Gooneybush house on the historic registry.

Immobility has its benefits to be sure. In our previous neighborhood we were forbidden to have permanent laundry lines, there were covenants, but it's all green now baby! We are way ahead of the energy curve these days. On our recently built deck we have the newest piece of green technology - the aerial clothes dryer.
I can walk from the laundry closet through the kitchen, dining room, and onto the deck in less than two minutes. Talk about conservation.

You've heard the joke, "What is the difference in an Alabama divorce and a tornado?" Answer, "Nothin' . Either way you lose the trailer." Trailer is a pseudonym for an immobile home. Anyhoo, it has been noted that most individuals being interviewed on television in the aftermath of a tornado seem to be the elect, those with immobile homes. This has prompted us to take measures to protect our family should the rapturing of our little castle occur. We built a tornado shelter. A stone's throw from the house, our shelter is visible to us from the kitchen window. It has so many purposes. In the winter months it can be a root cellar. In the off season it inspires the study of world culture for our girls, ages nine and eleven. On Easter it is their open tomb in Jerusalem, at Christmas their nativity in Bethlehem. During the year they are often seen playing as children in the West Bank or villages in Botswana or Sudan. When I am missing clay pots and wooden kitchen utensils I know just where to find them. How can you compare the depth of child play in a cement shelter to that of the Cypress swing sets of suburbia? We are truly blessed beyond measure.

On this night of arctic cold the immobile home is a safe haven of warmth and coziness. A fire is blazing in the fire place as I write. And yes, that is real stone you see on the hearth.

True there are few negatives associated with the immobile wonder that we live in. Still you should think carefully before you indulge. So at night when you dream of press board cabinets, vinyl coated paneling, and plastic faucet fixtures painted chrome, you should balance all I have told you against your aspirations. It is a weighty matter when you leave your hardi-plank palace in the subdivision to lead this immobile, but never impossible, dream. You might want to watch this commercial before you buy
Tonight we had Quiche' Lorraine for supper. I do not wish to brag when I tell you, we must be livin' right.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

With Feed we are Fed

The snow has been falling. I hope to see some accumulation in the morning. The best part about snow is that it is never too cold when it comes. We hit 57 degrees today and it felt like summer. The trough water thawed and didn't require a shovel to break the ice.

Joseph brought his Christmas tree for the goats to eat. I'm grateful for the all natural Christmas tree farm down the road, 7 g's Farm . In less than an hour the girls had reduced it to kindling wood. Their breath smells like Christmas. Next year I should list our farm as a drop off for, uh, recycling?

Today was feed day, both human and animal. I love going to the feed stores on cold days. Folks stand around and visit; the wood stoves burn. Nobody wants to go back into the cold or back home to chores in chilly weather. I'm never more in my element than at the feed store. Too bad they take all of my money.

Near home is Maddox Feeds. The owners Janice and Terri are dear. Their sons Joshua and Caleb work in the family business too. Terri tries to talk us out of everything that we go in to buy. It is a strange sales technique, but we always spend money. I think he is a Jedi. Janice, his wife, is precious. She mans (or womans) the counter, keeps track of orders, and fellowships with the people. We get a monthly newsletter from Maddox which is complete with prayer requests for customers who have fallen on hard times. It is a dear community of people.

Farther away is Midway Farm Supply. They are another sweet family with three red headed sons like their father. Lynn is always at the counter with a smile. The personalities of the stores are distinctly different but they are equally wonderful. Each has something that this little farm needs. Midway has the advantage of being about 3 miles from my friend of 24 years home, Cindy. Nice.

Once again I have spent the feed budget, but the cabinets and the hay feeders are filled. Tonight the goats and sheep will ward off chill with the warmth that comes from orchard and alfalfa hay.

As for the people feed, shopping isn't so colorful or unique. Sam's Club, Walmart, and a quick stop into Publix. However, this evening's meal captures the essence of some of my favorite things: efficiency, frugality, and economy. Fifteen bean soup is the absolute pinnacle and realization of those things. Using the ham bone from the Christmas ham and a $2.48 bag of fifteen bean mix, a $.33 box of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix, and, if you are really decadent, a $.75 head of cabbage cooked and covered in butter, salt, and pepper. Bam! you have half a gallon of soup beans and a delicious, warm, filling, and very nutritious meal. It just doesn't get any better. If everything in life could be so.

Incidentally the cast iron skillet pictured above was my maternal great-grandmother's, Helen Amanda McKenzie Jones, born 1880. She had eight children with her first husband Alonzo McKenzie, married a man with 7(?), and they had one together. When he passed away she finished his term as jailer and was elected in the following term. The skillet is c.1900. Grandma Jones actually moved (from where I don't know) to Flatwoods, KY, in a covered wagon. For all I know she got this skillet from her mother. It has seen the times change. From campfire to glass top range it has received its heat from an ever changing list of sources. Every egg, slice of cornbread, baked bean, fried potato, or grilled cheese I ever ate in my mother's kitchen was cooked in that skillet. As long as that skillet is in my kitchen George will be at his best behavior. We went through many a non-stick skillet this past 29 years. I'm done with 'em, they're for wimps. I bought the red silicone cover for the handle because it gets hot. This skillet brought me in and I'm sure it can take me out. Keep it seasoned and the heat low, it'll treat you right. Did you know that cooking in iron cookware actually improves your iron levels? That should make you feel good. It should also cause you to re-think all of your cookware.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

That's a Wrap

Well, the Gooneybush Girls had a great time this evening. After the usual farm day we headed downtown to make dinner for the mothers and children of the Athens Area Homeless Shelter.
The folks at the shelter have the daunting task of providing home cooked meals every night of the year. For this they need lots of folks in the community to step in and help. I had no idea about all of this but my daughter-in-law, Joni, has recently been installed to the board of directors for the shelter. She filled me in.

I'm what my friend Donna calls a "breeder." I'm not offended, she is one too. We cook with big pots and long spoons. That's how you know a breeder when you see one. We are the ones stirring the 16 quart stock pot. When you think there is nothing to eat, we go to the pantry and cook another seven days worth. Breeders develop these skills feeding hoards of hungry children, their friends, the sick, church members, and extended family. Cooking for twenty - doesn't phase us. Only Jesus can feed more with less.

So, when I heard about the opportunity I jumped, stock pot and long wooden spoon always at the ready. I've whipped up a list of meals complete with ingredients, estimated cost, and utensils/manpower required. I didn't even really have to whip one up, it is in the task list of my Google apps, another sign of a breeder. The manpower will come from friends, church, and family. Tonight the help came from the draft... my daughters: Chloe (11) , Hannah-Jo (9.) I think they really needed to do this. Do you know why? Because on the way there Chloe said, quite seriously, "Mom, where do the homeless people live?" I said, "Nowhere Chloe, that is why they are called home... less, here's your sign (tm.)" Normally she is very intelligent. The prospect of work causes lapses in her cognitive ability.

There is some depth in Chloe's question. Being homeless doesn't really mean that you don't live anywhere. That's what makes it so miserable. You still have to live somewhere, it just isn't home.

The shelter provides a well equipped kitchen to work in. We provide the ingredients and the workforce. It was fun serving the families and talking with them while they ate in the dining room.

Tonight's fare was our family's personal favorite, chicken wrap-ups. The sides were rice, carrots, green beans, cranberry sauce, and homemade cookies. Now wrap-ups are a shelter favorite. Several moms were asking for the recipe. More than one said it was their favorite meal at the shelter- ever. That is high praise. There are many good , even excellent cooks, providing meals on other nights of the week. Still, for a woman who loves people with food it was music to the ears. Wrap-ups are a skill level 1 meal, but they are a level 10 on the comfort food scale.

Go back a few lines. They were asking for the recipe. The human spirit is strong. The need to be a good mother, for women, even stronger. It is on the top of their wish list to be home in their own kitchens cooking for their children. They have mentally filed this recipe away for a homecoming meal. That touches me deeply. I hope they get there very soon.

Tonight they are safe and warm, cold weather and snowfall in the forecast, with wrap- ups in their tummies.*selah*

[Post script]

You want some too don't you? I thought so. Here's the recipe:

Chicken Wrap-ups
(serves 157...haha! Jus' kiddin'. Makes 16 wrap-ups)

2 cans Pillsbury large crescent rolls (8 rolls/pkg)
4 or 5 cooked chicken breasts chopped into small pieces
2 or 3 c. of shredded cheddar cheese (depends on how cheesy you want 'em)
2 cans (or 1 family size) cream of chicken soup / equal amt. of milk
1/4 white cooking wine

( For a nice alternative fill with ham and swiss.)

Mix cooked chicken and cheese until well incorporated.

Mix cream of chicken, equal amount milk, and 1/4 c. cooking wine in blender to make the gravy.

Place as much filling as will fit in on top of the crescent roll. With the square end facing you bring the right and left corners over and together and pinch them. Roll toward the point. Place point side up in a greased 13x9 pan. Bake until uniformly brown. Pour all the gravy over the wrap-ups and bake again until bubbly (about 10 more minutes.)

I love to serve wrap-ups with brown rice, peas, and cranberry sauce the best.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Chicken Liver Pate' and Lamb

Too cold to be outside today. What to do with all of those chicken livers? Pate' ! I haven't tasted it yet, it is cooling, but I made sure there is enough onion and garlic in it to cover all other flavors. It was sure easy enough to make. There are still forty two little chicken hearts in the freezer. I think the catfish should like them on our hooks this spring, the gift that keeps on giving.

Our guardian dog, Gus, turned rogue in the wee hours today. After many days of acceptable sheep behavior he caught and killed one, and wounded another. We are very sad. He was grumpy because his goats were staying under the porch to stay warm, he was grumpy because he was not with Bo-Peep (who is in season,) and it was night time, when he is most on the offensive. He just hasn't learned that the sheep are not interlopers. So the sheep are going to have to be confined to a smaller yard where he can sniff and acclimate to them through the fence. In a couple of weeks we will start some assimilation exercises and watch more closely. Oh the lessons we have yet to learn.

We made the best of a bad situation and our chicken helpers returned to help us butcher the lamb. They recently all attended the "Buck Skinner's Ball." There they learned skinning and tanning techniques along with several other useful skills. For their services they received half of the meat.

We are all still enjoying memories of our Sunday chicken festivities. It is a nice day that leaves such pleasant residual memories in its wake. I am sorry to say that today will not be one of those.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Harvesting?! Pishaw!

We dispatched 40-some chickens on Sunday....

I tried this with my friend Lisa last year. We did it the old fashioned way: woman, clever, and chicken. Armed only with enough knowledge to be dangerous, rudimentary tools, a few internet images, and purpose, what we did is surely a felony. Oh it was humorous, for us. We wore black garbage bags over our clothes, had mentholatum stuffed in our nostrils to reduce the aroma (nice word) of wet feathers. Our neighbor stopped and asked if we were performing animal sacrifice. God bless that first chicken, the one that I practiced on.

So, this year we are processing in bulk and improving the learning curve - we hired a tutor. With the help of our dear poultry farmin' friend, Daniel Dover, hard messy tasks are a breeze. It's all about the right tools and experience. He has both. Daniel farms and lives with character and conscience. I love talking to him. What's more is that he is generous with his tools, his time, and his knowledge. He wants everyone to be able to raise chickens too.

The politically correct term for our actions today is harvesting (hahahahah.) This is the word that agriculture teachers are using in public school ag classrooms across the country. In the year 2010 we don't say butch_ _ anymore. That sounds messy, barbaric, and carnivorous. Actually, that sounds like us! There is no euphemism for what we did on Sunday. In fact, if you soften the truth about eating meat it creates several problems. First off, it's lying. Dressing animals for consumption is not the harvesting of a fruit or a vegetable, a gentle plucking from the plant. It is the taking of a life. If you properly acknowledge that truth it creates awe, gratitude, and frugality. When the chickens are gone we must do this again. Because of that we will use them more wisely than any bird ever purchased from the store. This it the eating and consumer style of generations past, and I hope the future.

I think the most significant thing that I learned with this particular brood is about cost. I didn't plan our butchering date very well, it came too close to Christmas, and we went over by two or three weeks. That was disastrous for our feed cost. My cost per bird with purchase price ($1/chick,) feed (? ,) and processing ($2.5/bird) came to somewhere around $14! I didn't calculate feed cost carefully but it was up there. It is difficult to put a dollar value on the time that went into keeping them safely housed, full with fresh water (they are two-fisted drinkers,) and preventing their untimely death. They are not bright. Daniel sells his birds for $3.5-$4/lb. My cost would have been the same had I bought them from him. I will get better at this.

Compare that to the cost of that pretty little package at the store. One must ask, "How can the poultry industry sell them so dad gum cheap?" They do it through governmental slight-of-hand. The HUGE poultry manufacturers get subsidies. They report losses to the government. These losses are not necessarily fabricated. They are probably very real. It costs more to raise poultry than the public is willing to pay. That unrealistic price expectation has been generated by the same subsidies of which I speak. It is estimated that poultry businesses have a twenty percent loss. That loss is then compensated by our tax dollars. So don't be fooled. You are paying the same price that I did in raising my own birds. You just aren't paying it all in one place. You pay a portion at the store (so that you won't freak out at the cost) and the balance in your taxes (where you can't feel it. ) There are so many middle-men in getting your chicken from farm to store it should be MUCH more costly than my bird.

Did you pay attention to where that chicken money just went? Contemplate the value of government subsidies someday when you have time. Do the research. Why does the government even get involved with the cost of my chicken (or any food?) Do I really believe that they have my personal food interest at heart? Why have they made it so difficult for small farms and families to grow their own food? Why do they want livestock micro-chipped? Subsidy equals control. I am no conspiracy theorist. I actually believe we have a good government model. But what in the world history should cause me to trust government? Where is the benevolent leader seeking his position truly for the good of the people? Why do you need to pay attention to this paltry poultry diatribe? Because you think, therefore you eat. Food sovereignty is important. Ultimately you can be controlled by your hunger, controlled by the one(s) with the food that is. Subsidized food is not really your food. It would be best for you and me, in the political sense, for our food to really be our food. Then we get to pursue life, liberty, happiness, and chicken as free people. Read about the collectivization of farms among communist nations sometime. First they got the food, then they had the people.

Enough preaching, you get my point. *Cleansing breath*

O.K., so there is a process, a system of efficiency in all things. Chickens from farm to table are no exception.

Step 1 - Catch said bird. Not hard, they are fat, slow, and their ankles look as if they have congestive heart failure. On my slowest day I can do this.

Step 2 - Kill bird. Into the "killing cone" they go, head first, wings compressed, eyes...wary.

Step 3 - Bleed chicken. Daniel was kind enough to show me exactly where to cut in order to speed exsanguination. In the frigid temperatures the steam was rising from the blood, pretty neat. Scripture says, "The life is in the blood." This is never better illustrated than when you see it leaving the body and the color in living tissues become - not so rosy.

step 4 - Scald chicken. This loosens the feathers prior to plucking. It is a very important step. No amount of tooth floss can get those suckers out of your teeth. Daniel said to dunk and swirl the birds fifteen times. Perfect. The feathers came off but not the skin. That's a good thing.

Step 5 - Pluck chicken. This is the best part. Daniel has built an ingenious little invention called the Whiz Bang Chicken Plucker. It looks like the inside of a washing machine with black rubber fingers. It's done before you can say "Naked birds."

Step 6 - Eviscerate chicken. This is the worst part for some folks, especially those who have been buying chicken in neat little packages. No one in our party was effected the least. Daniel had a great plan for this too. It really wasn't unpleasant. On the contrary, it was very interesting. I learned that chickens keep their testicles in the most unusual place. I can't tell you that. You will have to ask your mom. The most entertaining part is when air goes into the headless chicken through the trachea and makes chicken sounds while you are cleaning out the bird. Air escaping any part of the body unexpectedly is always funny.
*Note my nine year old daughter (dressed as a homeless person) doing this independently. I was immensely proud of her. She completed four birds alone. Yes, we give our children real knives. She has a BB gun too, and she helps the animals during their births. She is prepared to blaze a trail into unknown land if she takes a notion. *

Step 7 - Chill chicken. Into the icy water you go. Obviously you need to stop any bacteria in its tracks. Ice should pretty well do it.

Step 8 - Package chicken. Daniel gave us some awesome shrink wrap bags. The final product looks very professional. You simply bag and seal the chicken. After a quick dip into 190 degree water the bag molds to the chicken. The birds all weighed between 4 and 5 1/2 lbs! That's what an extra two or three weeks of grow time will get ya'.

Step 9 - Age chicken in fridge for 24 hours. That is self explanatory.

Step 10 - Freeze chicken. That's easy too, but where is the beef going to go!?

Step 11 - Eat chicken... but only if you are really hungry, and don't waste a bite. This was hard work. This picture is of our very first roasted chicken mmmm. I know, she looks like she is at the gynecologist. This bird was fresh and had not been frozen into a more "lady like" position.

We genuinely had fun today. Visiting with us were our long time friends Mary, Billy, and Josiah. They brought us three new friends: David, Amy, and Hillary. These folks were all wonderful workers and it was really fun listening to their stories of travel and life. David and Amy recently bought a bus to live and travel in. Hillary and her husband Rene' live in a refurbished ambulance that runs on vegetable oil. Everyone had their more favorite tasks. David enjoyed the killing part and the scalding. I personally like the killing too. I want to be sure they go quick and easy like. Amy, Mary, Hannah-Jo, and Lisa seemed to be the best eviscerators. For Lisa I think this comes from too many forensics t.v. shows. Hillary was super good at removing feet and heads. Plucking wasn't really a skill, but everyone enjoyed looking into the plucker and watching it happen. Thanks guys for all of your help. Please come again someday.

Can enough be said about Daniel Dover? (double click the picture for the true effect) He is a hugger. I knew that. Everyone else found out for themselves. He is passionate about what he is doing, and he is an excellent teacher. We all learned how to process chickens today. We really learned how, like, good and learned how. I feel like I could do it again completely alone. Daniel does have one little Achilles heel. He is a bit squeamish. I find that amusing.

I had such a good time with these folks. It was truly one of our best days on the farm. The kind of day that you didn't plan and it just came out golden. The chicken coop and yard are very quiet now, and very clean, thanks to George. All the beautiful manure that they left behind and the spoiled hay of their winter bedding has been moved to the garden. Here's to spring!

Thanks Daniel. Thanks chickens. Thanks chicken helpers.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Missing milk and eggs

January and February are the "lean times." The two commodities we love and work for most, eggs and milk, (those are ours in the picture) are in shortest supply. It is really hard to spend good money at the store for products that pale in comparison to the farm fresh ones. We have been without the goats' milk for a month now. I suppose no one misses it more than our young beef calf. It is cold and the chickens are cutting their work days- severely. There are plenty for us but our co-workers and friends are feeling left out. November, our turkey, is really faithful in her laying. Never mind the fact that you need a chisel and hammer to get through the shells. I think she is just glad to have made it safely through Thanksgiving. She is safe. Any turkey that can sit and sleep in my arms shall not be eaten. She is so ugly she's cute. Besides, she is the only survivor of eight that I started with. I'm not so good at turkeys. I'm gonna try again this year.

We are expecting record cold this next few days. I don't do cold. I resent the water freezing. I resent the incarceration of clothing required. I resent the color brown. I am a barefoot Florida girl. Darn good thing I didn't move any farther north. I read the farm journals of a woman who farms one hundred twenty five head of sheep in Connecticut-alone. She has been doing this for twenty five years. Her stone house registers twenty to forty degree temperatures inside. This is what happens in the colder climates. You freeze, you lose your cognitive abilities, and you don't have sense to do what rational and thawed people would do -pack and move south at the first sign of spring.

Anyway, the temperatures should make the processing of the meat birds interesting tomorrow. To the right they are pictured as chicks. Even then (note feeder and chick traffic jam) their soul existence was about eating and pooping. If you step in their containment they will happily remove your leg hairs and any incidental skin that they can get. I know I sound callous, but this is the opinion of every family member, they will not be missed. They are eating their last fifty pound bag of food today. Woohoot!!!! Tonight we are to remove their feed and leave them with water only. If there is no governor's stay in the a.m.... the undertaker cometh. It's roast chicken and veggies tomorrow evening, mmmm. I think I'll bake up some Parker House rolls to celebrate.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year 2010...I'm hoping for corn.

I have been at my other dairying pursuits yesterday and today. My co-workers were in jolly moods. It is New Year's Day and we were paid time and a half. This does much to make the hours go more swiftly. Our beds have been full as the little tax deductions just kept coming. I go often and farm dollars from the local hospital where I work helping human offspring and their mothers accomplish their daily feedings together. It is always amazing to me what a natural act nursing is to the animals, yet, we humans need so much assistance and encouragement. On the rare occasion that an animal mother or her newborn are unfit in some way, they fail to feed and die. This is frowned upon in American hospitals. So they pay me to make certain that it doesn't happen. I do this, in order to produce money for the feed that our hungry animals expect every day. Milking at home, milking at work.

The forty meat chickens are now consuming fifty pounds of feed in twenty four hours. Were we not planning to send them to freezer camp on Sunday we should have to file chapter thirteen. I am amazed by their appetites and eager to see their weights at the end. Stay tuned.

I love the beginning of a new year. It is pregnant with possibility. 2009 went more quickly for me than any other. The first half of the year was full of anticipation for Joseph and Joni's wedding. It was everything we hoped for and will cherish the memories forever. I know that this year has been hard for many who have no jobs and who, like ourselves, are struggling to deal with increasing costs at every turn. I met a man in the elevator at the hospital today who looked to be carrying the weight of the world. I bid him a happy new year and he offered back , "I just hope it's better than the last one." I hope it is better for him too.

On the farm we have had birth, death, and sickness. That is the order of the day on most farms. We ended the year with more animals than we started with. I suppose that is pretty good accounting. We certainly do no look to estimate the worth of a year by the dollar. My friend Bob Yoder passed on advice that has served him well, "If you farm don't figure, and if you figure don't farm." That is very well put.

Things we look forward to in 2010:

  1. We anticipate new birth in the spring. Our Great Pyrenees (Gus and Bo Peep) appeared to be whipping up a fresh batch of puppies today. That puts them here some time in March.
  2. Our first goats are set to arrive then too.
  3. Our cow Mabelle, is expecting her firstborn some time in March or April.
  4. We are looking forward to the 2010 goat shows. We will be attending our first national show in Lousiville this summer.
  5. We have been offered the use of an electric milking machine in exchange for weekly milk deliveries this year. My hands and arms rejoice.
  6. Nic's cabin is to receive its siding as soon as we finish staining it. That will hasten him toward completion of the interior.
  7. We are looking forward to a garden again this year. With the wedding this past spring it just never got done. I received some heirloom corn from a friend in South Carolina almost two years ago. I have never seen ears so massive, just look at 'em! He has been selecting for firm stocks that do not blow over so easily, among other traits. In a time when ninety eight percent of our corn is genetically modified I cherish this small store of untouched vintage seed. Fortunately no one around us grows corn that could contaminate it.
  8. Oh! We will be adding two beehives too. I can't believe that I almost forgot about the bees.
  9. More than anything we need a permanent solution to our driveway debacle. Please deliver us Dear Lord. *sigh*
Here's wishing you a beautiful new year. God's love for you never ends, His mercies are new every morning, His thoughts for you are greater than the sands of the sea, and He sings songs over you. That should make any year better.