Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wind Storm - 2010

If you follow me on twitter or, day I say, Facebook, you may have noticed a certain... feverish pitch to my communications recently. And that would be because the world came crashing down on me and my little farm on Thursday, February 25th. That was the day that a massive storm blew in off the coast and reeked havoc across all of New England. The SO was away on business, so I was running the farm solo.

The weather gurus had predicted 50 mph wind and maybe an inch or so of rain You fail, weather gurus. When it was all said in done, wind gusts of 91 mph were recorded and we got over 6" of rain in four hours. All the animals were locked up in their barns and things were looking ok during the afternoon on Thursday, but around 10 pm, we lost power and the wind really started screaming. I heard many crashes and booms from trees falling all over the property. I suited up and evacuated the goats to the basement. I was worried their little 8' x 10' shed might slip from its concrete block foundation and surf down the hill on the growing flood. And, of course, Jolene is very, very pregnant, and I was worried the storm might trigger her to deliver. Stressful. I got the goats safely into the basement and threw down some hay and went for the horses.

After about 20 minutes of trying to skate along the water/ice flowing through our backyard against a wicked headwind, I gave up trying to get to the horses. It was just not possible. Water was over 8" deep from the flooding and headed all down hill. A river was running through my path. I watched the trees bend to almost 45 degree angles in the wind and was afraid of them falling on me. I shined my light on the barn and tried to see if there was any damage. The barn looked intact from this side, but I heard lots of crashing. Of course, most of the trees on the property are around the barn. I retreated to the basement and regrouped. Around midnight, I realized our new baby chicks were without a heat lamp so I looked around for something to put them in that would capture their body heat and keep them from succumbing to the cold. I eventually settled on my sweatshirt.

So there I was, sitting in the dark basement, alone, with a very pregnant goat by my feet like a dog, with chicks stuffed in my sweatshirt, listening for sounds of my horses being crushed by trees. And I lost it. I seriously had that thought of: How did I get here? How did my life come to this? I have a graduate degree in engineering. I studied at Oxford. Now I have chicks stuffed in my shirt, soaking wet, worried about more animals than I can count. What the **** am I doing???

Chicks in my shirt... and not in a good way.

It was at that moment that a chick shat upon me and I laughed. Animals keep you humble. I got up, put the chicks in a small box, suited up and went out to check on the horses. I finally got to the barn by pulling myself along a fence line and they looked ok, scared, but fine. The barn looked ok. The wheelbarrow and other odds and ends were no where to be found. I threw the horses some more hay, tried to act as calm and cheerful as I could, and headed back to the basement. I settled in for a long night.

After the storm cleared the next morning, I assessed the damage. Miraculously, all of our buildings survived intact. Spare sheet metal stacked by the house had blown by the greenhouse and out into the horse pasture hundreds of feet away, and had not made one tear in the plastic. Two trees fell by the goat barn, one brushing the fence on its way down, but they caused no damage. One tree fell by the horse barn, but missed it by 20 degrees. All told, we lost 12 trees, but none fell on the truck, the trailer, the buildings, or the power lines. Truly lucky.

Downed trees by the goat pen.

Chicken tractor pulls double-duty as a generator shelter.

After the storm, 5" of snow. New Englanders have to roll with the punches.

The power stayed off for 48 hours, but we are well prepared, living in the country as we do. I had the generator up and running so I had heat. We stockpile gas so I had enough to last through Monday. It turned out not to be necessary, since we got power back early Sunday morning.

Now it's clean up time, and waiting for Jolene to deliver her kids. She is getting close, should be in the next couple of days. I hope our luck holds, and everyone is healthy.

Oh, and I figured out how I got here, to this farm, to protecting my animals in the darkest of nights, against the wind and the rain. I got here by following my heart, which is how all great adventures get started.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Potato Storage Fail

One aspect of growing my own food I underestimated was preservation. I spent so much time learning how to plant and grow food (and of course, eating it), that I didn't pay much attention to how my hard-earned food was going to overwinter until I could get fresh stuff.

A total newbie mistake.

Well, if I hadn't learned the lesson before, I have learned it now. I was cooking a special dinner for my SO and I decided to use all local ingredients. I purchased fresh, local Cod, direct from the fisherman at the farmers market. I used local butter to make it even more delicious. I cooked up some of our canned green beans from last year's garden. And then I ventured down into the basement to grab some of our potatoes.

I keep the potatoes in burlap bags deep in a big box so no light can intrude. Even though my basement has lights, it's still pretty dark in there so I carried a flashlight to inspect my potatoes. I pried open the top of the box and saw this horrific image:


Night of the Living Dead!!! Yes, I shrieked like a school girl. But once I got over my fright, I realized that perhaps this was not the best way to keep potatoes. My basement stays around 55 degrees, so too warm. And I obviously have not checked on the potatoes in quite some time. Two lessons there.

In other news, the canned beans were perfect, so canning was a success. But my yummy whole chickens are starting to freezer burn. There are several ways to preserve chicken in the freezer in a safer manner, and I will dutifully perform them next year. So far I have scored a C- for preservation. Now I need to study up and stop underestimating the food storage aspects of small farm life.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Getting Closer

My goat, Jolene, hit 125 days in her pregnancy today. That means she is just 20 or so days from delivering her kids. I am excited and nervous, but I've been reading up and prepping myself to help. I've gotten all the necessary supplies and some completely unnecessary ones (like whiskey, not sure if it's for me or the goat).

This goat was made for milkin'

Her first freshening resulted in quadruplets and everyone who has seen her think four kids are on the way again. Personally, I am hoping for triplets. I don't think I can manage 4 youngsters all at once.

As exciting as that is, and believe me, it is exciting, Jolene's babies will not even be the first babies born on the farm. That inglorious distinction belongs to some eggs we've been incubating for the last couple of weeks. They are due to hatch February 17th and are a test hatch in preparation for our serious chicken breeding operation. And by "serious", I mean our plan to breed the ultimate small farm dual purpose flock. But more about that in another post...

What I like to call "My Bucket O' Wings"

For now, think healthy baby thoughts and wish Jolene a safe and prosperous kidding!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

From Tale to Snout

Clean, humane meat is expensive. Doubly so if you buy local and organic products. I do not begrudge a farmer making a living from his or her back-breaking, high-risk work. On the other hand, I am not made of money, either, so I am always looking for ways to buy quality meat on the cheap. One way to do so is to get the "off cuts" of an animal. The farmer has no trouble selling tenderloins, but may have trouble offloading some of the less "reputed" cuts, so I can usually get them at a good price. Plus, it would disrespectful to the life of the animal and the work of the farmer to let anything go to waste.

I also feed my dogs a biologically-appropriate raw food diet. Without question, the single greatest consumer of meat on this farm is the dogs' diet. Again, the farm has rendered me relatively poor, so I have to find meat on the cheap. Since it would be slightly hypocritical of me to rail against the industrial food chain while simultaneously buying chicken leg quarters for $0.49/lb at Walmart, my dogs also learn to do more with less.

The greatest boon to my dogs' diet was finding a local farmer who sells his "extras" for $0.50/lb. Extras could be anything from turkey necks to chicken feet to pork necks to trotters and some occasional freezer burned veal stew meat. (I confess, I eat the veal stew meat). The farmer gets to clear out his freezer, we get to feed the dogs, and everyone is happy. We buy everything the farmer would sell to make sure we stay tops on his "discard" list. So sometimes we are literally overflowing with animal bits that no decent modern human would consider food.

And that is how we happened to have 25 trotters in the freezer. The dogs, being somewhat small, don't do well on raw trotters. The bones can choke and there's not much meat. So they just pile up. Until one day, we saw this recipe. And we decided to eat our way through the trotters.

We selected 10 fore trotters (the front feet of the pig). We improvised a bit from the recipe, namely using primarily meat and not the skin to make the croquettes. The trotters were simmered for 24 hours on low heat until they basically exploded. Then the meat was teased out. The liquid was strained into a dish and set into a pretty decent gelatin which was then cubed and vac packed for the freezer. The gelatin can add body and flavor to soups. The meat was made into croquettes similar to the recipe.

Stewin' some pig's feet

One exploded trotter before piecing it out.

The bones and gristle from 4 trotters

The skin and fat from 4 trotters (aka Dog Food)

The meat from 4 trotters (aka Daun Food)

Trotter gelatin!

Pig Trotter Gelatin from Eventing Percheron on Vimeo.

The croquettes turned out quite amazing, but very rich. I could not finish mine and I think we could have easily served 4-6 people on the meat from the 10 trotters. Adding more of the skin and fat back in could have stretched it out even further. The dogs ate the discarded fat and skin and the chickens enjoyed the contents of the strainer after we separated out the gelatin. Overall, we all got several meals out of those 10 trotters, which more than likely would have gone into the landfill if we hadn't been so daring.

Dinner is served!

Nom nom nom pig feet...

It's always an adventure around here. If you ever come to visit, make sure you ask what's for dinner before you decide to sit at the table! :)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Change: You're Doing It Right

I couldn't believe the news this morning:

Small farmers get a reprieve and now individual states dictate regulations for animals transported for commerce. What a relief! And hope for the small farm!