Hardest day yet...

Today was the hardest day we've had to date on the farm. Part of what makes it hard is that it was a conscious choice made by us... 

If you've followed the farm for any length of time, you've probably heard a 'Billy story'. Billy is our Jersey steer who was a surprise purchase at the livestock auction by my step-dad. Billy came to The Hollow when he was just a day or two old. He was all legs and big, beautiful Jersey cow eyes. Billy also came with his name. He had a tag in his ear that just said, "Billy". Billy it was. We bottle fed Billy with milk from the goats. He grew like, well, a cow.

Baby Billy

Baby Billy

Bottle babies become quite friendly. Billy was no exception. We equaled food and family to Billy. Billy grew up with most of our goats. Our alpaca, Ivy, always looks over the babies. She and Billy developed an interesting relationship. Even though Billy was a steer (castrated bull), he seemed to have romantic interest in Ivy. He would occasionally try to get too friendly with her. Ivy would just spit at him and bite his ears. I told you the relationship was interesting. They always looked out for each other and liked to graze together.

Billy and Ivy

Billy and Ivy

If you've followed our story, you probably also know that we try to give our animals as natural life as we can. We make sure they're healthy and happy. We built a teeter totter (I mean see-saw Lyndsey) for the goats. Billy was too big for it and broke it. We try to make life fun for the animals. They get our Christmas trees every year when we take them down. They devour them like piranhas.

Teeter Totter

Teeter Totter

Mmm. Pine trees.

Mmm. Pine trees.

As Billy got bigger, he could make life difficult at times.  He was like a 700 pound puppy. Billy enjoyed attention and didn't like to share it with the other critters. We mostly stopped going into the pasture with the goats. Billy would get rambunctious and while not meaning to do harm, it would be easy for him to do so. He still got lots of love from the safety of the other side of the fence. Billy was a licker. And his tongue felt like 60 grit sandpaper. He would stand comatose for hours if anyone was willing to scratch him for that long.

All along, we knew Billy's purpose on the farm. He was going to feed us. We tried to always keep that thought in the back of our minds. It didn't change the way we treated him. We didn't try to not get 'too close' to him. We treated him like any of our animals. We loved him like any of our animals. 

 

That brings us to the reason this is the hardest day so far on the farm. Today, Billy left to go to the butcher. There were tears and cow kisses. We often hear from people that they don't want to know the animal they eat, or that we shouldn't name them as it makes it too hard to eat them. I'm here to tell you that it should be hard to eat an animal. We will think of Billy and be thankful every time we fix a meal that he provides. We gave Billy the best life we knew how to give him. And then we scheduled his death. We know everything that he ate. We know that he never received a drop of medication. He never needed it.

If you don't want to 'know your food', I urge you at least to get it from someone who does know your food. Ignorance is not bliss, especially for the animals raised in factory agriculture and feed lots. Not wanting to know about how your food is raised is silent approval for inhumane methods. 99 cent hamburgers are not a good thing. The only way to get meat that cheap is to add things to it that most people wouldn't want to eat and cut every expense possible in raising the animals.

We are better from having known Billy. He made us better people and better farmers. We thank him for that. We will remember him always.

 

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Billy Window.jpg
Little Billy Jill.jpg
Posted on August 24, 2013 .

A discussion on farrowing crates.

This is a subject that has become somewhat of a hot issue around the country. Farrowing crates are pens that are supposed to reduce the risk to piglets of their mother crushing them. They are generally so narrow that the sow can only stand up and lie down, no turning.

If you care to read the National Pork Producers Council position on sow housing, it can be found here. To paraphrase, they support gestation stalls for the welfare of the sow and her litter.

If you've followed our adventure since moving to the farm, you know that we raise heritage hogs on pasture, specifically, Gloucestershire Old Spots. Pasture-raised pork has become a niche market, where one time it was the norm. Pigs weren't always raised inside factory-style buildings without ever seeing the light of day. Baby pigs didn't often need iron shots to avoid being anemic, they got their iron from the good earth.

Sows didn't have to be crammed into confined spaces to be good mothers. They would have their piglets on pasture, most times in a nest of dried grass and leaves in some sort of hut provided by the farmer. Piglets do get crushed by their mother at times. It's just a risk when sows are so large and piglets so tiny.

This week, our first litter of Old Spots was born. Our sow, Martha, gave us 10 beautiful, polka-dotted little piglets. She built a nest the day before and delivered them overnight. Our boar, Stewart, is in the same pasture with Martha. We don't separate them. We don't need to. He doesn't present a danger to the piglets, although, Martha made him sleep outside the first night.

The calendar shows that it is spring here in Central Ohio in mid-April. We have freeze warnings overnight. I was really worried about the little piglets. We don't have electricity out in the pig pasture. The little piglets don't have the layers of fat like their parents. The pig house isn't air tight or insulated. Visions of pigcicles were haunting me. I decided to go out and check on them. I'm not sure what I was going to do. Maybe, snuggle with Martha and the kids to lend some body heat??? As I approached the pig house stealthily, so not to disturb, my flashlight's beam landed on the pigs inside. What I saw was the best evidence I've ever seen for letting pigs be pigs and not cramming them in tiny stalls...

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In the foreground is the first-time mother, Martha. In the back is the first-time father, Stewart. The polka-dotted pile of cuteness in the middle is ten little piggies that aren't going to freeze tonight. They will share the body heat from their parents. When I stumbled upon this sight, I almost cried. This was the purest example I could imagine of pigs being pigs. These creatures have endured the ages without our help, in fact, probably in spite of it.

Martha and Stewart weren't going to crush their babies, they were keeping them warm. It's possible that something could happen to one of the piglets, despite Martha's super-honed maternal instincts. Stewart could roll over on one in the middle of the night. Nothing they do would ever convince me that Martha needs to be crammed into a crate to have healthy piglets.

If we have to raise pigs in a factory setting to meet the demand for pork, maybe we should eat less pork. Is it worth the horror that factory pigs have to endure to get a cheap pork chop that has little taste and is pumped full of who knows what? This man says it isn't. I'd rather pay a lot more to know that the pork I'm eating came from a pig that lived a good life, just being a pig. How about you?


Posted on April 21, 2013 .

Duck Prosciutto

Yep. You heard me right. Duck prosciutto. I got Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn for Christmas. It's basically a cookbook for cured meats. If you're a fan of charcuterie and would like to try it yourself, I urge you to run, not walk, over to Ohio Farmgirl's website and buy it from Amazon through her store. Take a look at her blog while you're there. She's a talented, informative, and highly entertaining writer.

I am a prosciutto NUT. Try to take a slice of prosciutto from me, and you'll get a growl if you're lucky, a nasty bite if you're slow. I am also a huge fan of duck. And luckily enough, our ducks breed like rabbits. They hatched out over 50 this season.

To start the prosciutto, you'll need two duck breasts with the skin still on, kosher salt, ground white pepper, cheese cloth, and some kitchen string. I removed the tenderloin from the back of the breasts and gave it a quick sear. It tasted better than any steak I can remember. Make sure the breasts are dry. Find a container that will hold the breasts without them touching each other. I didn't have anything that fit very well, so I put each one in a separate glass pie pan. First, put a layer of kosher salt down in your container(s). You don't want the breasts touching the side of the container or each other. Put the breasts in meat side down. Make sure they're pushed down in the salt. Pour salt over top to cover. Make sure that they are completely covered. Wrap your container(s) in plastic wrap or foil and put in the refrigerator for 24 hours. 

Covered in Salt

Covered in Salt

After the day in the fridge, remove the breasts from the salt. Rinse them. It's okay if you don't get every single grain of salt off. Pat the breasts dry. You can let them air dry on a rack for a while if they're not completely dry. Once dry, sprinkle both sides liberally with the pepper. I've read other recipes where people use different spices, or place spices in the salt. This is where you can use your creativity. I followed the recipe since this was my first time curing meat. Throw out the salt! Don't try to get frugal.

Wrap each breast in a single layer of cheesecloth. Secure the cheesecloth with the kitchen string, leaving a length at one end to hang them. Weigh each packet and write down the weight on a piece of paper you can attach to the packet.

Once they're ready, remove them from their wrapping and inspect them. You just want to make sure there isn't any mold or anything funky. I've heard white mold is fine, just wipe it off with a vinegar and water solution. Other kinds of mold are not good and it's time to start over, with probably less humidity.

Prosciutto is best served in paper thin slices. I like to eat just prosciutto, but it's delicious with fruits, cheese, melon. You can saute it for sauces or to jazz up a dish. It makes all kinds of great hors d'oeuvres. It will last for months in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap. Honestly, I just don't know how much you would have to have to not eat it in a week.

Find someplace to hang them where the temperature stays between 50-60 degrees F. For me, it was in our pantry which is unheated. It stayed perfect. Generally, they'll need to hang about 7 days to be ready. It could be longer or shorter depending on the size of your breasts...well, the duck's breasts...and the humidity. To be honest, I missed the part about weighing, and let them hang for seven days but gave them a little squeeze(the duck breasts, not mine) every day to check progress. If you did remember to weigh them, you want them to lose 20-30% of their weight.

It turned out amazing for me. I think it probably was ready on day six. The outer edge of the meat side, was a bit jerky like, but not too bad. It darkens as it ages. The inside stays softer and lighter. It is...well, just prosciutto. It has the smooth texture and wonderful flavor. The white pepper really sets off the flavor. So, run right out and get a duck and start curing meat. You won't be sorry. All I see outside is prosciutto walking around on webbed feet. I think the geese are getting nervous.

Posted on January 8, 2013 .

Gone too long...

Hiya friends,

It hardly seems possible that it has been almost 5 months since my last blog. Surely, it was just day before yesterday when I said, "Oh, I'll write another one tomorrow...". Summer sure can keep you hopping on the farm. Now that the cool weather has moved in, I have just a tad more time to catch my breath. Let me try to recount our summer in a few paragraphs...

I guess I never blogged about one of the most momentous events so far on the farm. Shaasta, our mini-LaMancha goat gave birth to twin girls on March 9th, Tilly and Luna. They are just adorable. Tilly needed a little help to get out in the world and Luna came sliding right out, no problem. They're as tall as their mommy now.

We put in a HUGE garden this summer. When I say 'we', I guess I should say that I put in a reasonable sized garden and my step-dad thought it should be about 3 times the size I planned. Oh, and once he helped me get it planted, it was time for Ma and Pa to head back to Arkansas to take care of some things! I was a bit overwhelmed. Next, our tomatoes started showing signs of leaf spot. It's a nasty fungus that starts with round dark spots on your tomato leaves. The lower leaves start dying and the fungus progresses up the plant. Our tomato crop was pretty much a bust. I'll most likely plant them in raised beds or the greenhouse next year, as it takes 4 years for the fungus to die in the soil. We did get lots of beans from the garden.

That leads to the next adventure. I learned how to can. Boy, that is some hard work. I know it just seems like 'cooking', but it keeps you hopping. I spent several days canning. We put up pickled beets, pickled okra, tomatoes in sauce and wholes, chili sauce, and beans. If you haven't tried canning before, get a Ball Blue Book and a canning kit. It's a great feeling to put up your own food for the winter.

We had our first hogs butchered. Nigel was our Old Spot/Large Black cross and Mr. Humphries was our Old Spot feeder. We filled our freezer with pork goodness. We have been eating a lot or pork and not complaining. It is wonderful. The bacon is out of this world, and unfortunately, we are out of it :-(  We have three more hogs ready to go to the butcher in December. One is sold. We'll try to sell a second and keep one for ourselves. These are two Yorkshires and a Hampshire. Next time, we'll be back to Old Spots. We had a hard time finding a husband for our sow, Martha. He came all the way from Georgia. Luckily, we were able to meet his previous owners in Kentucky. She's very excited to be betrothed. She just wishes um, he would get taller, quicker...

We finally got our hoophouse finished in time for fall. A hoophouse is an unheated greenhouse. We'll be able to grow plants that can tolerate cool weather throughout the winter. This includes root vegetables and many types of lettuces/greens.

We are also currently raising a few cows for beef. We buy them as calves from the livestock auction and bottle feed them until they are weaned. Billy, our first steer, is about 6 months old and getting huge. We call him 'Billy', because it was written on his eartag when we purchased him. He's like a 500 lb. puppy dog with horns. He's very friendly, but you should never let your guard down for a second with such a large animal.

We also have Count Chocula and McCartney who are still on the bottle. We feed them a mix of milk replacer and goat milk. They do very well on it.

We are now up to 14 goats! Animal Hoarders, here I come. No, they are well taken care of and have plenty of space. We finally got our pasture fenced with a lot of help from Pa. The animals are having a high time in their expanded digs. We even took a trip to NY back in May to pick up Jill from the Beekman Farm. It was such a pleasure to meet John Hall. He raises some spectacular, friendly goats.

Here's a pic that has most of our goats. We have quite the herd now. We love them all so much. They really bring more joy than you can imagine to our lives.

Oh, shoot. I almost forgot. We have a line of soap! Chad and I come up with all of the scents, and we have a master soapmaker, Margaret Neff from Nature's Touch Soaps, who makes the soap for us. We are in several retailers and a bed and breakfast. We also have an Etsy store where you can purchase online.

We recently made the decision to give up television! Honestly, it hasn't been that difficult. If there's something we really want to see, we can always watch it online. We just found ourselves wasting too much time in front of the TV. There are so many more things we could be doing that would be productive. We just have to make sure that we have downtime. You will find yourself worn out if you don't give yourself some.

I think I have hit on the major points since my last blog. I am going to do my best to be a regular blogger. I hope they're as much fun for you to read as they are for me to write. We have the beginnings of our website up as well. Visit us at tiltonhollow.com. There are links to our store and this blog. There will be a lot of content added over the next few months. It's great to be back!

Posted on November 17, 2012 .