Sudsing it up

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we decided that an investment we made in a country not our own, when sold, would yield us a small yet tidy profit we could live on and eat with and not have to work all the way until we were 90 or died. Whichever came first. It was a great plan, a beautiful plan, a plan like no other. And since we have been self employed for, like, forever, it was the only plan we had.

As plans go, it worked on paper. It worked in real life. And would have worked swimmingly if it was a plan executed in the United States. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Getting money out of foreign countries can be like getting milk from a bat? Have you ever tried to milk a bat? I haven’t but I assume it would be pretty hard.

And as such, instead of traveling to Italy in August for the gelato festival, we are now living our Plan B. Which is, let’s throw something against the wall and see what sticks.

I have no skills. No, really. I can’t do much. I’m ancillary to the big guy. When everyone is out creating something special, I make the ice tea and chocolate chip cookies. I’ll provide the best lasagna this side of Asti after you are done building goat barns. I’ll bake an Italian cream cupcake that will knock your socks right off your bone weary feet. But doing anything that actually produces something profitable? Just not in my wheelhouse.

So when our does, Luna and Cinnamon, became “with child” we had to decide what to do with the vats of goat milk that we had no room for.

This is Luna. It’s obvious why she’s called what she is. Her registered name is “Fieldhaven Winter Moon.” But Luna is what she is.

luna

I know, she’s a bit off. Hence the name.

We had a refrigerator so full of milk that we had no room for food. Literally. So I made cheese. Making cheese was fun when you only had a gallon of goat milk. I made loads of ricotta. I made a ton of chevre, all sorts of chevre. Lemon rind, lavender, rosemary, smoked salmon, blueberry. But when you have 20 gallons waiting to be turned into cheese, I just wanted to run into the bedroom, hop in bed and throw the covers over my head. It was too much, all at once, and it was a never ending process. Make one gallon, get two more. There was no getting ahead.

So I came up with the bright idea that I would make goat’s milk soaps. The best part is that if you make soap out of goat milk, you have to freeze the goat’s milk. Problem solved! I didn’t have to hear Brad nag that “we’re running out of space, when do you think you’re going to make more cheese?” All the excess milk could be frozen and I could merrily make soap today, or tomorrow, or even next week.

Soap making was fun. It was a lot of work for a little bit of product (hours to make 10 bars of soap) but I liked it. But then I got bored. I made a nice bar of soap, but I wanted more. I always want more.

So I played with scents. I blended. I played with colors and textures and patterns. And then I took it to the streets. Or in this case, the internet highway and decided to sell online.

Being that I was in marketing for over a decade in my fresh-from-college years, I knew how important presenting the soaps would be. I wasn’t going to just take a photo of a bar of soap. I mean, how plebian would that be? This? Absolutely not:

soap

Who would buy this plain old thing?

I told Brad I needed to infuse my soaps with the personality they deserved. My soaps needed to have a platform! And I had to shoot on location.  My Ocean Shores scent needed to be taken to ocean shores. Made sense to me.

Cottongrass needed to be shot in cottongrass. Lavender Fields needed to be shot in a lavender field. How else do you promote your exotic, carefully blended pure organic soaps?

Brad was willing to support this one small skill I seemed to acquire. But to a point. “We are not going to drive an hour to the beach for a $5 bar of soap, Susan. We’d spend more in gas.” And of course, if we drove an hour to the beach, I’d demand lunch as well. And he knew that. You can’t take me somewhere and not buy me a meal. Or a gelato. I’m not getting to Italy anytime soon, so I need at least some creature comforts.

I set out to find locations onsite for the soaps. I trekked through our woods, and it seemed to go pretty well I’d say.

But there was only so much grass and ferns and oddities,  and I needed more. I got my marketing juices flowing to create scenes and stories. My soaps deserved no less than a great story.

And the names reflected their stories – Avalon, the mystical island of King Arthur. First Kiss, that sweet second of innocence and romance. Sea and sand, fresh ocean air and sand between your toes. Empress, when being a princess was just not enough.

My girls had arrived.

I became best friends with Michael’s and Home Goods and Hobby Lobby. I needed sparkly things and shiny things and stones in bags and feathers! I’m a woman on a mission. To save the family farm – one bar of soap at a time. And I can do it with props! Lots and Lots of props! Joan of Arc, riding on my horse, soaps in my satchel, fighting off pestilence and famine with the prettiest little bars of soap you could ever hope to find.

The other day Brad asked me “why is there soap propped up against my pillow. And why is there a sleep mask on the soap?”

Silly man. It’s my new Chamomile and Lavender Sweet Dreams soap. And he had the puffiest pillow in the house.

 

The Point System

“You have to do something with all that milk.” That’s what I heard first thing this morning when my husband, Brad, opened the refrigerator door. That’s what I heard before I drank my first cup of coffee, brushed my teeth or even looked in the mirror. Although recently the mirror has not been kind so I’ve skipped that early morning ritual.

To his credit, we DID have a ton of goat milk in the refrigerator. I count 5 gallons of milk in the fridge, and packs of milk in the freezer to make 2600 bars of goat’s milk soap.

“We have too much because YOU are not doing anything with them.” And, before coffee, at times like this, I want to open a gallon and pour it over his head. Again, no coffee, plus reprimands, makes me have serial killer eyes. Unfortunately, the crazy eye look seems to go right over his head. Otherwise, why would he keep asking me questions? Especially when I have a pot of hot coffee in my hands?

So, I’ve decided to allocate points. Based on what we do, and whether we like it.

We have this agreement, Brad and I. He mainly tackles the outside jobs. The stuff I find either taxing or repulsive. I handle the inside jobs, INCLUDING the jobs that I find both taxing and repulsive. He cleans poop outside – all brands and all sizes – goat, rabbit, chicken – and I handle the poop inside – 3 bathrooms, 2 that are used by Air BnB guests and seem to be cleaned almost every other day at times. Neither of us enjoy these jobs. So it’s a wash. HAHA. Yes, literally.

He spends a lot of time on his riding lawnmower/tractor. I know he mows the lawn, but what else he does on his John Deere, I can’t imagine. I know he moves dirt, moves poop, moves compost. He rides it to the neighbors to ostensibly talk about farm stuff.

And please don’t write and tell me this isn’t a John Deere. I know it’s not a John Deere. Reluctant Farmgirl, remember? This is the only picture I have of him on a tractor, and it was his first one. Stop bugging me about it.

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I spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. He loves to ride the lawnmower, I enjoy cooking, but cleaning? Not so much. So I get one point. Or a half. I do get annoyed that we eat three meals a day. Seems like every time I clean the kitchen, it’s close to time to make yet another meal. When we both worked, breakfast was on the go, lunch was at work, and all I had to really think about was dinner. Now it’s a constant aggravation to think of something for 3 meals a day. With the Air Bnb, I’m also planning guest meals and executing with my usual charm and grace. So yeah, I’ll take the full point on that.

Brad feeds the worms in the worm bin, and distributes his “worm tea” to the different compost areas. Which I find repulsive. But he doesn’t so he doesn’t get the point. I wash the laundry for us and for the guests. I don’t like doing this, so I’ll take the point.

Brad makes stuff. He loves woodworking. I make soap. I love making soap. It’s a win-win for both of us.  However, he does have to help me with a few steps, but he doesn’t hate it so I won’t even mention that. And my soaps are legendary …

He walks the fences and mends when needed. He hates walking the fences. That’s an assumption on my part because Loose Luna, one of our does, seems to always find herself in the boy’s pen. She was in the boys’ field twice this week, prancing around and switching her little tail in front of our buck, Mojo. She really is the slut of the neighborhood. Me, I hate dusting which, with two Air Bnb Rooms, I do every couple of days. And our house is almost 3,000 square feet, so there’s a lot to hate. Another wash.

Brad’s major hate is trimming the goat hooves. And he’s also not fond of going down to milk the goats every morning and evening. He has this nice little milking machine, which I would gladly do, but it needs electricity to work. The goat barn is a quarter mile from the house, so it requires a generator for power. And if my life depended upon it, I could not start that pull start generator. Seriously. If I was down at the barn, solo, and needed power to save myself, I would just sit down and cry. I don’t have the upper body strength or stamina to pull that cord hard enough to make it start. I would be more capable of ripping my own arm out and beating myself with it, than starting that generator. So, if he would replace it with one that maybe starts with a button, I would happily go down and do the milking. He gets the point for that one, but with transgressions.

I do all the marketing, writing, reservations, sales for the farm. I love it. It’s what I am trained to do and what I’ve done my whole life. He readies the garden, I help with the planting and harvesting. And I do the cooking and freezing of stuff, and he does the canning. Mainly because I am scared to death that I’m going to kill someone if left to my own devises. I’ll do it but we both agree I shouldn’t handle a pressure cooker, at least not unsupervised.

So, when he says to me that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing with the goat milk, which means making more cheese that we could possibly eat, I think to myself, OK. We have enough milk stored up for the next zombie apocalypse. Why don’t we just let the two does dry up? Give them a break. If Loose Luna scored two days ago, in 5 months we’ll be knee deep in milk all over again. That makes sense, right?

Well, I’m sitting here complaining to y’all because in the fridge is the makings of cheese. I’m supposed to be making cheese. I’m supposed to be doing this while Brad is picking up a third doe we purchased last month with the profit from selling the 3 babies that were born in February. Which means if all three does get lucky,  we will have 6 babies to bottle feed, and 3 does to milk and even more milk in the fridge and freezer. If I make cheese out of 5 gallons of milk, and we eat that cheese, my butt will grow so big it will be a gravity defying feat just to stand up.

And if I make the easy cheese – ricotta – then I’ll be tasked with making homemade raviolis. Which are the bomb (do they still say that?). But are a half day’s worth of work. So I’d make them for lunch and hope that Brad eats enough so he doesn’t want dinner. Which, by the way, never happens. He says “oh, I won’t need dinner” and I think “thank God. I don’t have to cook.” But then 7 o’clock rolls around and he says “were you thinking of anything for dinner?”

And you know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking yes. I’m thinking yes, I do have an idea for dinner. Why don’t you take a big glass, fill it with fresh goat’s milk, and get back to me in the morning.DSC_0486

Dirt Cheap

You’d think by now I would not be surprised by anything my husband could come up with. I mean, it’s been 32 years together. There’s not much we don’t know about each other. Yet, he continually amazes me with the great lengths he will go to, to find a bargain.

We’ve driven an hour just to pick up an old table. Granted, it was free, and granted, with that one table (and 4 matching chairs) he managed to make a farmhouse style clock, a coffee bar and a living room coffee table. Not to mention a new dining room table (with new top).

But for the better part of the week, he’s driven back and forth every day, most of the day, picking up dirt. “But, it’s free!” he said.  And I’m thinking, dirt? It’s free? And that’s a revelation?

We have dirt here. We have 16 acres of dirt. Some is under grass, some is under trees, some is just sitting there. We now have additional mounds of dirt, to add to the mounds of dirt he has when he had the pond dug. I’m not sure what all this new dirt means to me, or what it is supposed to magically do, that the old dirt hasn’t done in the past four years.

The exciting part (I guess) is that today the “free man” gave Brad the use of his trailer thing. This was met with great joy, and so I had to surreptitiously sneak out of the house to photograph this stunning achievement:

It was definitely a Kodak moment. The piles of dirt have made their way from down the bottom of the driveway, to within throwing distance of the front door.

“It’s fill dirt” Brad said, with that look that says “why can’t she see the obvious?”

And I admit. I can’t. See the obvious, that is. All I see are mounds of things. There are mounds of sawdust waiting to become something, I’m sure. There are mounds of compost. There are mounds of poop, categorized by type. Yesterday I had to look at a mound to admire all the worms.

I took on chickens. I took on ducks. I took on goats and even pigs. The mounds, however, confound me. Brad has promised these mounds will accomplish great things. I am to anticipate a joyous event when I see these mounds turn into barns and driveways and landscape art. Yes, it shall be monumental. Behold what I shall do with a week’s worth of mound transportation.

I think I’ll make myself my own mound. Of chocolate chip cookies. Those, I’m sure, I can figure out how to move. And it won’t take a week, or a trailer, to do it.

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Because I said so …

Some things I find perplexing. Ok, I’ll fess up. There are MANY things I find perplexing. More often times than not, I will turn to my husband and say “I don’t get it.” And Brad, being Brad, agrees. Without bothering to ask “what don’t you get?” Because, to give him credit, the list is so long he’s most likely exhausted listening to me.

I was watching TV today when a commercial came on for laundry detergent. And I was too engrossed in what I was doing to fast forward through it. The commercial featured a dad and his daughter, who always wanted to wear her favorite princess outfit. And the princess outfit was dirty. Good dad that he was, he let her wear it until, ostensibly, it smelled like our goat pens on a hot muggy day, and he convinced her to wear her sheriff’s outfit while he washed the offending items.

downey (2)

Hello? Is this strange to anyone else but me? Who’s in charge here? If my daughter wore her favorite gypsy costume for a week, I’d be telling her “you smell. take it off now.” And there would be no argument.

Ok, I lie. My daughter, Melanie, would have definitely argued. She would have looked at me with those big eyes and beg. She’d whine and say she wanted to be a gypsy. To which I’d reply the way I always replied and say “yeah, well I want a pure white convertible Rolls Royce Corniche. Looks like neither one of us will always get what we want.”

The commercial was cute – Dad playing dress up with little daughter. But the message reeks as much as the princess costume. Dads at tea parties? Adorable. Dads saying that their little girls “allowed” them to wash their clothes? Not so adorable.

I was not the mean Mom. But neither was I the gullible one. And never the adorable one.  Often the one with the crazy eyes, the funny one, the one my kids’ friends wanted to visit. For a limited time at least. But at some point the parents have to step up and do the parenting. And the children need to learn the lesson that doing what you want, when you want, any time you want, just isn’t going to cut it.

My former mother-in-law once said “we discipline our children so that others love them the way we do.” It was a lovely thought. For me, though, I disciplined my children so that I continued to love them.

I never made my children respond “yes ma’am” or “yes sir.” I never forced them to sit in front of a plate of creamed spinach until they found a way to hide it in their sweater pockets, never to be found until Mom washed the white sweater and it came out of the washer tie dyed (thanks Mom). I never signed them up for swim team when they were 15 and embarrassed to wear the racing swimsuit in front of the boys on the team, and would rather be on the Pep Squad (thanks Dad). I gave them rope, and hoped they didn’t hang themselves. And if they did, there were consequences.

I’m not a child care expert. I’m not a teacher. I did put my time in – I have two children who came from my loins, and 5 stepsons I inherited. And through it all, through 25 years of kids in the house, never did the monkeys run the zoo.

Now it’s just the big guy and me. And we love when the grandkids come a’calling. But they don’t get to wear stinky clothes, lay in bed until noon, or stay glued to their iPhones.  They help chop wood, feed the goats, collect eggs, ride the tractor. We take them to the national parks. They’re bored, they wish there was a video playing on the “looong” hour drive. They don’t want to look out the window. They wish they didn’t have to climb the hill to see the view. They wish we brought potato chips instead of granola and fruit. And yes, when they whine “I want to check Snapchat on my phone” I say it … yep, I do. “Well, I want a pure white convertible Rolls Royce Corniche. Looks like neither of us will get what we want.”

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Never Can Say Goodbye

I’m kind of a sucker. I like to talk tough, but when it comes down to it, I have a hard time letting go.

I love my chickens. I do. When we first put them in their outside pen, we set up lawn chairs so we could drink coffee and watch them every morning. Nerdy? Yeah. Did the neighbors think we were a bit mad? Oh, yeah.

So this winter, when they stopped laying, Brad came to me and said “it’s time to get rid of the birds. I refuse to pay for food if they’re not going to produce. You better talk to them.”

My birds? MY birds? Never. I didn’t care whether they were only laying 4 eggs instead of the 12-18 we were normally getting daily. They were MY BIRDS. Every morning I’d head down to their coop, calling “hello ladies, I have breakfast for you” and proudly carry something special from Mom’s kitchen. They crowded around the edge of the pen, little wings clapping in glee, waiting for the shredded zucchini, Mom’s special pasta salad leftovers, maybe some home cooked oatmeal, or sautéed barley flakes or simmered cracked wheat. They loved me.

AA - flock of hens

Brad is a bit more pragmatic. So my girls were sold to a family who would appreciate 4-6 eggs a day. They thought it was quite grand. I, however, was heartbroken.

A week later Brad found a new flock, so away we went to pick up newer, younger, better ladies for my coop. They were unlike my girls, as we didn’t raise them from 4 day old chicks. They were still too young to lay, but in a matter of a few months, they would start producing and we would then, once again, put out our “Farm Fresh Eggs for Sale” sign.

They’re nice. We even inherited a rooster. Which so far as worked out well as he is not free and unfettered in the pasture. And if he starts looking at me funny, I can back out of the pen and slam the door. In theory, all should be right with the world.

It’s not. They don’t get me. My first girls got me. Everything I brought down was manna from heaven. These new ladies don’t seem to understand. They were formerly only fed dried, leftover bread for treats. So you’d think that when I brought down my angel hair pasta with wild mint sauce their eyes would roll around their heads in sheer bliss. No, they look at me with their chicken eyes as like I’d lost too many brain cells. And wait for dried bread bits.

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I’m in mourning. I’m an Italian for crying out loud! I can’t feed dried bread to chickens as if it’s a true treat? How can this relationship mature? They don’t drop when I walk in, and they don’t let me pet them. They actually peck at my fingers when I place their food on their special treat tray. They run away when I try to pick them up and kiss the tops of their little heads. It’s like my idea of the entire species has turned on it’s head.

This morning I walked down to their pens. I unceremoniously plopped some of my legendary cranberry nut muffins, and bits and pieces of fruit from breakfast. Kept walking our driveway, and decided that, since it wasn’t raining, I’d get in steps on my Fitbit. Waved to the goats, hand-fed Henrietta (our senior chicken who hangs with the goats and no longer lays, but is a welcome member of the farm), and took my stroll down the road.

Came back up and stopped. There were the new ladies, all lined up on the side of the pen, waiting for me to return. And – for all that is holy – they ate every bit and piece that I left them. I opened the pen door to get the special treat tray, and they clustered around LIKE THEY LOVED  ME!

And, sure enough, EGGS were in the coop. Beautiful brown eggs. I smiled. The world was no longer tilted on it’s axis. Black was not white. Up was not down. The chickens loved me. I can live to see another day.

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I Don’t Need a Man. And I’m lying.

Inevitably the dog poo hits the fan when my husband leaves the farm for any longer than a few hours. And leaves me in charge. I’m best behind the keys of a computer – it’s my wheelhouse. But I can sub in for Farm Boy any old day. And after all, it’s only for 4 days. I’m a wildly independent woman. Strong and intelligent and capable.

I’m on day two. And it’s not pretty.

Yesterday morning the pregnant goat, Luna, got loose. Turned over lawn chairs, opened the large container with chicken scratch and proceeded to down half the bin. Brad had a makeshift patch in the fence, and Luna got down on her knees and crawled out. To goats, chicken scratch is like catnip. It must be. Because I know it would have taken a lot for me to crawl on all fours when I was pregnant. I tried to mend the fence with dental floss, my go-to fix it all, but as soon as I walked away, down on her knees she went and shimmied under the fence. Thank God for neighbor Bob who fixed the fence, or she would have been wandering the streets like the hussy she is.

A Luna

Last night I went down to collect eggs, give the chickens some treats, and feed the goats their second feeding of the day. I walked the quarter mile down the drive to the pens and goat barn, swinging my colorful egg basket I got at the swap meet from some lovely gentlemen weavers from Ghana.

For some reason, our lovely, happy, laid back rooster, Black Bart, took a turn towards bi-polar land. When he saw me his neck feathers stuck out a foot and he launched himself at my basket. And this rooster has developed those razor sharp spurs on the backs of his legs.

I have to admit that roosters scare the shit out of me. They have those rooster eyes. They look at you and size you up and decide, nah, she’s no threat, I’m going to mess with her big time. And they don’t do it to your face. There’s no frontal attack, it’s always right out of eyesight that all of a sudden ten pounds of feather and muscle launches itself at you, and all you can hope is that you can outrun an angry rooster. Which I can’t. I can’t outrun anything. Most ants run faster than I do.

I had no option but to pull up my bloomers and get the job done. I hurled the basket, which the rooster then followed (screw the lovely colorful Ghana basket, he can have it!) ran down to the goat barn, shut the door, and started getting the hay ready for the goats. I first threw the chicken scratch out for the chickens, thinking they’d all be oblivious to me as they dug into their dandy treats.

Black Bart, usually obsessed with chicken scratch, decided that I was a much more fun target. He ran under the electric fence, around the barn and into the goat pens. The pens I had to get into to put the hay into the feeder. He crowed at me and belligerently stood by the feeder, and whenever I’d go close, the feathers would go up.

I had to sidle up to the feeder and shove the hay into the feeder sideways, keeping my eye always on the rooster. Because of this, I didn’t hold the door shut, and out goes the pregnant goat, straight to the chicken scratch bin.

If you’ve ever tried to move a goat somewhere where they don’t want to go, you’ll know. It’s not something I would wish on anyone. It’s not like a dog, or a cat, or even a horse or cow. You have to physically shove them, and they dig in their little hooves and duck their heads and it’s more like a bad wrestling match but with much more drama.

I had to also put the hay over the girls pen into the boys pen and feeder. I don’t normally go into the boys pen because, well, boys will be boys and I’ve learned that it’s not safe to turn your back on boys. I learned that a long time ago, but having bucks sort of cemented it in my mind. So while the rooster is launching himself at me, and I’m screaming and tossing hay everywhere, and trying to hide behind the goats (yeah, it really was that pitiful) all three of the goats decide to make their great escape.

Hauling one goat around is one thing. Trying to corral three is another. One goes in, you grab the other, and the one that’s in goes back out. I couldn’t latch the door because if I let go of one to unlatch the door, she’d take off in the other direction. And, again, they’re not like dogs. You can’t shame them. Goats are shame-less. You can tell them no, you can pinch their little ears, they flip their heads, leap and kick up their heels and do exactly what they want to do.

goat jumping

While I’m dragging about 3 goats, the 2 bucks are standing on their hind legs, hooves on the pen gate, watching in rapt attention. Hell, that was much better than the hay I gave them. I could see them thinking – wow, where’s the popcorn?

So this morning I vowed to change things up. Get a handle on it. I boiled up a dozen eggs. Crunched them up, and DROVE down to the chickens and goats. Tossed the eggs on the ground – chickens loved it. Fed the grain to the goats, goats loved it. All’s right in the world. It is no longer tilted on it’s axis. I can do this.

I did bring my weapon of mass destruction just in case …

IMAG2329Yes, I know, it’s a small broom. But when properly applied, with a general sweeping circular motion about my body, I can ward off nasty roosters and maintain my sanity.

So tonight I went down. I had it covered. Brought my broom, DROVE down (quicker escape and that way I dont’ have to run, in my ugg boots, a quarter mile up my driveway), opened the barn door, got the chicken scratch the tossed it out. Chickens AND roosters seemed quite happy. Laid the broom inside the barn, and started on the hay.

Got the hay in both hands, started shoving it in the feeder. I close the pen door, but can’t latch it. It requires 2 hands (lift the door, slide the latch over) and both were full of hay. And yes, once again, Luna nudges the door open and heads for the chicken scratch pail.

I did figure out how Brad does it – 6’4″. That’s how he does it. He can simultaneously shove hay into the feeder while holding the door shut with 6’4″ leg. I’m 5’5″ on a very good day. I’d have to detach my leg to get it to reach. Not only that, if I actually had to stand on one leg and shove hay down into a feeder I’d probably end up on the ground. Permanently.

So I shoved the hay, went to grab Luna only to find that she not only opened the corn bin, but was INSIDE it. Head and front legs. I couldn’t get her out. I couldn’t reach her head it was so far into the corn bits. So I had to tug on her long neck, which just caused her to produce a kind of gross barfing sound.

I finally hauled her out of the bin, shoved her into the pen, locked it, grabbed more feed for the boys pen, unlocked the pen, put the hay down, locked it again, and shoved the feed into the boys feeder. DONE.

I turned to unlock the pen door leading to the barn, ready to shove eggs in my pocket and make my way to the car when I see him. Staring me down, inside the barn.

black-australorp-rooster

I’m stuck in the pen. The broom I left outside the pen. I had enough to navigate with the hay, without having to add a broom to the mix. For all that is holy, will someone please get rid of this spawn of Satan?

Not sure whether to just surrender, sit on a hay bale and cry, or act like an adult. While the former was preferable, I am logical enough to realize that I don’t want to spend the next two days inside the goat pen. So I grabbed a wad of hay and threw it at the rooster. He ran out, squawking, I ran out the barn door to my car (with my broom) left the eggs in the egg nest and drove home.

My neck and low back hurts from hauling (and lifting) a pregnant goat. I have hay in my bra. I have two days left. Two days and four feeds. And I’m not quite sure I’ll make it.

Permaculture … on steroids

When my daughter’s fiancé visited us several years back, he made the proclamation … “what you have here, is permaculture.” Being city girl turned reluctant farmgirl,  I had to Google it to see what exactly it was. Wasn’t sure if he was praising our efforts, or swearing at us.

Turns out, yes, we are a family of permaculturists.  When I take on things, I tend to do it with a passion. Brad, disagrees. He says it’s not passion, it’s a freakish obsession to go overboard. With everything. We started with 10 chickens and now have 80. Two goats became six. Although, in my defense, two pigs became freezer fodder, so there is that. And we added six ducks, but that was the neighbor’s fault. Entirely. She bought the ducklings for us.

So it stands to reason that after Jomar  introduced me to a new concept that I would embrace it wholeheartedly. And really, we are quite magnificent when it comes to creating as little, if not zero, excess waste as humanly possible.

Walk with me, if you will, as I take you through our moderately messy, incredibly efficient, immorally time consuming and slightly perfect piece of recycling nirvana.

A bit of a warning. As I said, I get passionate about things. It started with mild composting. But I tend to have a charming neurosis (small, tiny, miniscule, not-getting-in-the-way-of everyday-living neurosis) that drives me to excel at things and be “one of the best.” Except sports. Not happening. Never. I mean, I am the best “walk and talk for 3 miles every couple of days” person I know. But that’s it.

So … the tour begins in my kitchen which is the heart, and start, of the permaculture process. Under my sink is a big stainless steel bowl which is used for collecting bits and pieces – anything from the sink drain catcher thing, anything that hens or goats or roosters shouldn’t eat. We don’t have a garbage disposal, so anything caught in the strainer goes into the bowl. Once that’s filled, it goes down to the compost pile and becomes rich earth. Coffee grounds, on the other hand, are collected by Brad and, together with newspaper, gets fed to his worms. I don’t go there. Ever. It’s not even in the same country as my wheelhouse.

I also have 2 Tupperware bins that sit on my counter. One is for the meat birds, the other for the active laying hens. Different things go into different bins. For the layers, they get pretty much anything with the exception of onions and garlic. As you can see, they like it. They like everything.

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The second Tupperware is for the meat birds. I’m more picky about that. They don’t get things like cabbage, Brussel sprouts or any strong flavored veggies. They get more mildly flavored treats – apple bits, carrot tops, bread crumbs, leftover oatmeal, mild flavored veggies. We sell both eggs and the meat birds, so we are careful about what might end up flavoring both. Well, I’m careful, Brad not so much. Which is why I’m in charge. And why our meat birds rock.

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If the eggs we collect happen to be cracked, that gets cooked up for the dogs. Egg shells get collected in a bowl and when I have enough, I toss them in the oven to toast them a bit, crumble them and put them in the hens food. It’s a good source of calcium and helps strengthen their egg shells.

Meat, fish, etc  gets divied up between the dogs and chickens. Yes, oddly enough, chickens eat meat. Chickens are not vegetarians. Getting eggs in the store from chickens who are “only fed vegetarian” is stupid. Chickens scratch in the ground for worms and slugs and eat insects. So don’t waste your money. Goats, however, are strictly vegetarian. Go figure.

And now we come to bones. Brad and I went to a naturopath, who prescribed we both drink bone broth. And she explained that it was what Vietnamese Pho was based on. Not able to find any bone broth in our local stores, I did what I do – I researched. Now I’m a bone broth pro. bone-brothThe best bone broth is found at my house. Seriously.  My freezer holds several gallon ziplock freezer bags. In these bags are leftover vegetables – the ends of the onions, the skins, the tops of celery, the stems of cilantro. Anything I don’t use or feed the chickens, I put in there. The other bag holds bones. With the exception of fish bones, every single bone in every single piece of meat I cook is in this bag. When you come for dinner at my house, you won’t be given a chicken thigh or leg to munch on. I’ll be cutting the meat off the bone for you, just like your mamma used to do.

When the bag is full enough, I toss all the bones and veggies in my crock pot. I cook it for at least 2 days, with some bay leaves, kosher salt, some whole spices (whatever I have on hand – peppercorns, fennel seeds, whatever herbs are in the garden or in the freezer). The bones turn very soft during this time, and turns the water into a flavorful broth that I bottle and freeze and use for a soup base, for cooking rice, for flavoring sauces. I always have the shelves in my stand-alone freezer full of bone broth. AND – after the bones are all cooked down and mushy, those go into the compost pile as well.

By the way, the reason I wrote out the bone broth recipe is, for some ungodly reason, Brad seems to think I could be the next Pioneer Woman. He insists I write down everything I cook (mostly because I can’t remember what I did so that I could recreate the meal again). Then he thinks my blog can turn into a blog not only about composting or permaculture, but about recipes, someone will “discover me”, we’ll be rich and not have to worry about our retirement. HAHAHAHA.No.

We collect slugs in the garden and bring them down to the duck pond. Veggie leftovers from the plantation get tossed into the goat’s pen. The big sunflowers feed the wild jays, swallows, yellow finches. And, if you want a goat to follow you till the ends of the earth, you carry a handful in your pocket and dole them out. You’ll have a friend for life.sassy

Some things are not good for animals – like potato skins. You’d think I’d just toss them, but I’m no longer a “tosser.” I cook the potato peelings for the chickens. I cook up raw chicken skins for the dogs. .

The kitchen is obviously the most interesting and vital part of the composting/recycling process. Brad does the other stuff. Leaf mulching and chopping  and burning and spreading ashes. It’s not as cool as a slimy bowl of gummy veggies under my sink, or delicately sautéed potato peels. So I won’t go into graphic detail. But I do invite you up to our farm and dare you to find one scrap that isn’t used for some purpose. Even the goat and chicken poop is meticulously collected. Nothing like a steaming pile of … well, you get the idea.

It’s a circle of life, my friends, a beautiful little circle of life.

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