Farm update.

A farm update is long over due. Plenty of things have changed since my last update… Lets see inside the house, A is quite mobile, following us everywhere, interested in pretty much everything she should not be handling, cords, remotes, laptops, and iphones.
The child proofing has begun, but will be an ongoing project as A finds things we have not yet secured. 

Outside the house has been just as exciting. Around sheering time, which we hosted here for the first time, we introduced a few more alpacas to the herd. We are up to 9, which is pushing the number of animals I’d want to have here. It’s not too much for the land, but we don’t have it equitably divided, or shelter in alternate pastures, so it’s one big group for now. We’d ideally divide this into at least 3 paddocks, if not 5, or six, extending the fenced in area down the side of the house towards the lower fences. That is a long way off.

A few months ago we lost 7 chickens to a fox. It was a sunny afternoon, we had let the birds to do their nearly daily roaming, scratching and exploring, which they have enjoyed for the past few years without incident. I look out the window and see a red fox jogging along the side of the house, towards the coop. I immediately ran outside,  there were no birds to be found. I was able to scare off the fox, but that was little reward. 

We spend the remainder of the afternoon searching out the remaining birds. Charlie our rooster survived, two year old young birds, wisely flew up into the windows in the barn, and the solitary Balaclava eventually showed up as well. 7 down, 4 left. We pretty much immediately rushed 3/4’s of a dozen off to incubate in hopes to save the genes of the birds we knew and loved. On a positive note, we had planned on rotating some of the older layers out once the hatches have grown up. This expedites the plan, and was a deeper cull than we had intended, but does prevent us from having to find new homes for two year old birds. As for the replacements, we had already hatched out 4 birds, 2 blue laced reds, 2 aracanas. It turns out one of the blr’s is a rooster, so he’ll need to find a new home. Of the 8 eggs we rushed off to the incubator, only two hatched, and we have yet to identify sex yet. I’m hoping for two more hens, to leave us at a 9 birds, 8 layers. Which would be a good volume for our coop this winter.

We’ve also added a half dozen guinea fowl to the flock. I built a small hutch for them, with the help of Joe. It might be a little too small, after all is said and done, but they now have a home. We placed it on the far side of the barn to hopefully insulate us from the noise of the flock as they can be noisy. Hopefully in a few weeks I can put on the pop door, and allow them freedom to range. 

Lets see what else is new…  This years Csa has been flying by, I’ve put up some pesto, a batch of tomato sauce, one batch of jam, but that’s about it no pickles yet. I suppose we’ve also put up some food for A, beets, summer squash, and carrots. I’ve not really had a lot of time to cook, and with my lack of motivaton it’s been tough using it up each week. When I get home I want to play with A, get her to bed, and relax. This however does not mean we have been skipping the farmers market, we have been regular shoppers there, which often is a highlight of my weekend.

So in a nutshell, a lot of little stuff has changed on the farm, but it remains the same. 

Mystery eggs

It’s time for a quick farm update. Well, I actually have a lot more to say than this, but I’m too tired to write a full blog at the moment. Last Friday was shearing (I took the day off), which included 34 alpacas to do. It was an exhausting start to a busy weekend. Sunday, we had a different adventure to tackle.
Some of you may recall we had a dozen eggs make a trip a few weeks back. Well, here are the results of the journey:

That’s right; 8 of the 12 eggs became adorable, fuzzy, healthy chicks. These are crosses of our Blue Laced Red Wyandotte rooster (Charlie) and our Easter Egger hens. The two grey chicks (blue in chicken parlance) are offspring of the roo and our Black Star hens. I had forgotten how fun chicks are, before they get big.

We will see how many turn out to be male or female. It’s impossible for me to even guess right now. At approximately 5 days, they all have Charlie style combs (flat), and are getting wing feathers already. It won’t be long before they have to go to the big brooder, but for now the little tub in the barn is working out well. These guys should be very winter hardy with Charlie’s extra feathers and comb style.

CSA post number 1

This is the first post that I hope will become a series of posts about our CSA share. Tasha and I are buying a 1/2 vegetable share in a local CSA. What is a CSA you ask? It is when a farm sells shares of it’s harvest for a fixed price at the beginning of the season. The farmer gains financial stability, and the share holder gets weekly boxes of fresh vegetables for a reasonable price.
We are fortunate enough to have a Dragonfly farms very close to the house. The farm / pickup spot is about 2 miles away, so I plan to pick up our box via bike. I’ve already exchanged emails with the owner, and they seem very friendly. They grow everything from potatoes and onions to melons and garlic scapes. The CSA lasts for about 19 weeks starting mid June.
This has been a tough decision for us. There is so much to consider about a CSA. It is an unguaranteed commitment of $275, there’s no telling what could happen this year on the farm. You have no choice in what you get each week. It’s a lot of vegetables, and sometimes you get ones that you have no idea how to cook. Other times you maybe getting beets for the 4th week in a row.
Even with those ‘downsides’ I look forward to the challenge of using a random box of veggies each week, and I really like the idea of supporting a supporting a local farm.
Don’t worry, we still plan on patronizing the farmers market, shopping at Lull, and picking in season local fruit, as this is mainly vegetables. Also how else would we get our regular Bagel Alley bagels?
So for those of you keeping score at home, we are still enjoying are own eggs, locally grown beef and chicken, and our own black berries. You can now add a seasons worth of local vegetables to the list. We’ve still got a lot of food miles in the other foods we eat, but this is another step towards eating more local goods.
Next up, I’m going to get some local honey, and see about finding a more local source for organic dairy products.  

What will these be?

I promised more pictures once the weather started getting nicer, and finally it is. First, a fresh dozen of our eggs from this weekend.

They made a special journey to a neighboring town. We’ll know more soon…
Next up, our first blossom of the year. We now have three daffodils out, but this one was the first. I’ve been driving by other people’s flowers in bloom for maybe a week now, and wondering when ours would show themselves.

Well, they have, and though it’s going to be rainy the next few days, it was sure nice to have a warm sunny afternoon to enjoy them. We need the rain anyway, it’s been a very dry spring. Great for not having too much mud, but it’s also keeping our grass from getting established. Speaking of, we were working on cleaning up some leaves from the fall, which meant going in between the paddocks with loads of leaves. Well, today at work I got a text message midday – ‘The boys are in the paddock!’ I knew right away what this meant. Sure enough, I looked at our web cam and there they were, happily munching away at the young tender grass. Aaron went to investigate and determined what had happened. Seems someone *cough, looking innocent* forgot to latch one of the swing gates after she brought in the rakes…
The gates are secured again, and the boys left to gaze longingly at the greener grass.

Welcome, 2009!

This will never be a complete list, and we are constantly thinking about new projects as well as ways to improve what we’re doing… but since it’s always fun to share a list here are a few things we want to achieve around the home in 2009, ideas that we had in 08 but maybe didn’t get to or ones we’ve had more recently. I’ll divide into two groups.
-Get a generator, so we don’t face a multiday power loss again
-Put in a clothesline for less use of the dryer in warm months
-Rebuild our raised beds and use our own compost to fill them
-Set aside as much berries and meat as we did in 08 from local sources
-Process our fiber into yarn and goods [I should take a picture of starting pile… a lot!!]
-Stain the barn with the new paint sprayer we got (yes, my birthday present) – it’s looking like it needs it
-Raise up our own chicks via incubator
-Actually do some canning this year now that we have some supplies given to us
-Try making new homemade items (yogurt, breads, and soaps come to mind)
Of course, we want to continue blogging, taking pictures, and trying new recipes out. We hope you’ll stay tuned for ’09!
Here are some parting pictures of our December 2008:
Alpacas outside after the ice storm:

After we had 3 days of continuous snow:

and lastly, some of the eggs we’ve been getting (no, this is not normal):

Happy New Year!

Ice house and barn poopers

Tonight, I came home to fin pd that I cannot get into the chickens’ run. The metal swing gate is covered in ice and I couldn’t work the latch. No problem, I thought, I’d go through the barn to the other side. I did, stopping to get the boys some fresh hay and water. On a tip from another pac farm, I am putting just a little water in the heated bucket, and I have another 5 gallon (their summer buckets) inside it. I can just lift out the interior bucket, empty/fill it, and put it back in the heated one. This saves a lot of effort and I don’t have to move the heated bucket at all. Anyway, once they were happily munching away, I went to go try and take care of the chickens.
As I approached the coop, I noticed the birdnet was drooping down from the weight of the ice particles. It has pulled away from the upper wood slats and there are several gapped areas now. From a distance, it looks like a sheet of bubble wrap because of the ice. I thought I’ll just get in there and knock some of it off to release the tension. Naturally the clasps on the run door are frozen shut too. So, at this moment I have no way to get into the run. Hopefully, Aaron will have some ideas on how to get us in there when he gets home soon. But it is nerve wracking feeling like I can’t get in to check them and get them more food, yet the top is barely hanging on. Clearly, we’re going to be doing some repair work this weekend. At least tomorrow Aaron will be here and can keep an eye on them.
Back to the pacs, the boys were soaked when I was feeding them. Yesterday (it was raining hard much of the day) they had pooped in the left stall, so I’d opened the right stall and put fresh hay in it. Now, pooping in the barn is not that unusual for animals, and it is after all a barn. But alpacas aren’t barn poopers by nature, they just don’t like pooping outside when it’s unpleasant weather. I can’t say I blame them. Well, I still was hoping “mine would be different.” Nope – yesterday their weather bar was crossed, and pooping in the stalls it was. So, last night I’d closed the door to the poopy stall (so I could clean it later), but with the ice sleet horrible rain I opened it back up today…
I don’t think pooping with ice pellets flying at you is something even a paca should have to do… I’m a softie I guess.
The funny thing is horses poop in their stalls all the time. And they poop a lot. I used to muck stalls when I was younger.
Horse people have a lot of patience!

5 egg day, and random updates

Well, I started this one days ago, but the title still applies. We got five eggs today, and for the first time two Easter Eggs! The new egg is a lovely shade of pale blue, not as green. It is pretty big for a first egg also (well, we think it is a first egg). Our trendlines are really beginning to go up in our graph, despite the daylight hours being much shorter at this time of year. According to our spreadsheet, we have gotten roughly 90 eggs since they started laying, which sounds like an awful lot for a short time. If we get up to 50% laying a day, that will be very impressive.
Fortunately, the temperature has moderated so the waterer hasn’t frozen this week at all. We did get a heater base, and as of today, a heavy duty outdoor cord. The alps already have the heated bucket I got this weekend, though presently unplugged.
Yesterday, Aaron prepared a dinner with 10 of our fresh eggs, sliced dried tomatoes, goat cheese, and herbs (basil, chives) from our winter herb garden. We had some hearty bread on the side. More on that some other time… I’ve been negligent in my reporting on the hydroponic herb garden (Aerogarden).
It’s also been great to have my Dad here, on this very historic week. We’ve had a lot of great conversations which makes for a great change of pace, even though this week has certainly been as hectic as any, with coordination of more alpaca moving going on. The vet will be out to our farm tomorrow, I’ve got the day off to spend with my Dad, though I am hoping to get to the gym as well. Aaron’s parents will be here later in the evening before they head off on a fun trip to Costa Rica with his sister, her husband, and their granddaughter.
Over the weekend, I’m hoping we’ll have time and good weather to get into the woods for some walking, as well as visit some local farm stores.
For those who may have missed, we have a cam currently pointed at our paddock. You may be able to spy pacas or chickens. They will be small (chickens especially) so look carefully.

Works during the day.
All in all, we’re well, but busy.

Weekend update. Lots of little things.

ACLBaloonAfter returning from Austin, and Austin City limits Festival, we are both battling colds which put a damper on our weekend. Despite our colds, I think we were reasonably productive.
Friday evening I baked a pie, not from scratch, but still quite good none the less. I used the apples we picked at Kimball’s fruit farm with Joe, Katie, Kristen and David.
On Saturday morning, we visited the final day of the farmers market to get our weeks produce, and bagels. It’s sad that it’s over, but I think the participating vendors are happy for it to be done for the season. After speaking with a few of them, they indicated that the numbers have been steadily declining since the start of school. This was our first year shopping there, and we really enjoy supporting the local farmers. So, I hope when they return next July, not only are the numbers strong, but we will be one of them!
In the afternoon T mowed the lawn, while I cleaned the garage. After noting the increased amount of scalping on the lawn, I think we may have some work to do on the tractor. I hit a rock while mowing the stony field earlier this summer, after which I replaced a severely bent blade, but I think I may have bent a shaft. So that will require some further investigation, and perhaps money.
I spent the evening Saturday converting my recipe bookmarks to Evernote. I was using google reader because it’s where I find most of the recipes I want to make but relying on RSS and live bookmarks just doesn’t work. People delete, move, and change content. After searching out some recipes that interested me a while back, and finding more and more dead links, I thought it was best to capture the content incase the link goes dead. It was also a nice chace to take inventory of the recipes I’ve collected, and logically sort them. Now if I could only have all my cookbooks digitized, I could find all the great recipes I’m missing.
We had a lazy Sunday, I went grocery shopping, cashing in some coins for an amazon gift certificate. I wonder if they realize that with amazon prime, and the fact that amazon sells grocery type stuff, they are losing a sale by charging for coin star and not GC’s.
While I was shopping T cleaned up the coop, the girls are acting a little more like layers each day. Some of their cheeks have become quite red, and we’ve seen them hanging out in the coop under the nesting boxes. However we have still not been able to gather that elusive $1000 egg.
Later in the afternoon, T and I visited the girls at Silver Oak Alpacas. It was nice to see the farm they are at, and to see the ones I’ve never seen. We are still pondering names for the two young boys.
After visiting the girls, I whipped up a loaf of bread, and made some slaw. Not bad for a ‘sick’ weekend… Heck, I even posted a blog entry.

Farmers market; Thai Basil Beef

As you already know, I’ve got a freezer filled with beef, Tasha being the forward thinker, took out a steak earlier in the week for tonight’s meal. After a early work day (7-4), T and I headed to the Groton Farmers market. Having skipped a week of shopping, we were low on just about everything. Which made me a happy farmers market shopper! We came home with heirloom tomatoes, corn, potatoes, watermelon, eggs, duck eggs, thai basil, sage, carrots, peaches, bagels, onions, chocolate chip cookies, and peach jam.
With all that bounty I was initially thinking steak, sage potatoes, and corn for dinner, but I couldn’t get the smell of the thai basil out of my head. It’s been one of my favorite flavors for some time now. When we returned home, I decided to make something using the Thai basil;

Thai basil beef

1 top round steak, sliced thin
1/4 white onion sliced thin
1 carrot Julienned
1 package of rice vermicelli
3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup Thai basil
3 cloves of garlic diced
1 Serrano chili diced
1 lime sliced for garnish

Start a large pot of water for vermichelli.
Place chili, garlic, 1/2 the basil, a touch of course salt in a mortar and grind to a paste.
Heat oil over medium heat in a large skillet.
Saute paste until fragrant.
Season meat, and add to pan covering bottom in a single layer allow to brown a bit, then toss until 1/2 cooked.
Add onion, carrot, fish sauce, soy, sugar, then stir
Reduce heat to low, then top with all but a few sprigs of basil.
By this time the water for the vermicelli should be boiling, remove from heat and add noodles. Stir regularly, until al dente, about 6-8 minutes.
Drain the noodles add to a bowl, and pour sauteed meat and veggies over the noodles, and toss.  If the stirfy was dry, and more liquid is desired; deglaze the pan with a touch of chicken stock. The goal is to finish the noodles in the liquid from the stirfry adding flavor.
Plate, garnish with remaining basil sprigs, and serve with a lime slice.

How a freezer can help you eat local.

When I was growing up, we always had a large chest freezer. Tasha and I have both wanted a chest freezer for some time now. This summer we had the funds and space to have one, so we bought a 13 cu.ft chest freezer. Our objective in buying the freezer was to be able to buy more in bulk, saving money. There has been a cool side effect; as we’ve started to fill the freezer, I’m realizing this will also allow us to eat more local food.
The freezer arrived in prime berry season. When Tasha returned with a flat filled with Pick Your Own strawberries, we froze a great deal of them. The same happened when she returned with PYO raspberries. We’ve frozen several pints of blueberries purchased in season from the farmers’ market. We also managed to freeze the excess pints of black berries gathered from our driveway. T talks of this as her winter stash of fresh fruit. We already have an entire basket filled with local berries, just waiting for winter gloom to set in. I also hope to put away a box of tomatoes, and a bushel or so of apples. This will add tomato sauce, apple slices, apple sauce, and pie filling
to our winter stores. Consider it a deep freeze pick-me-up.
One of the alpaca farms where our female alpacas stay was planning on raising meat chickens this spring. After finding this out, Tasha made arrangements for them to raise some meat birds for us. The ten free range, hormone free, locally raised birds are now also filling a sizable section of the freezer. And they are delicious.
Out on a bike ride near the house Tasha noted a small farm advertising local grass feed beef. This piqued my interest. We’ve been buying black angus beef from the local slaughter house for quite some time. While having a slaughter house within a short driving distance might not be considered lucky for some, I consider Blood Farm an asset to the region. How else would I be able to buy beef that would be born, raised, and slaughtered all within a ten mile radius of my house?
We’d tossed the idea around a bit, but it came to fruition while visiting Pepperell’s farmers market (every Saturday from 9-1 in season). The farmers were regulars, going out of their way to bring cows for all to see. We were able to pick up some literature from them and ask questions about their animals. Their family has been raising polled herefords for 50+ years, and they live about 2 miles from our house. The buying process is easy; the hardest part is selecting your cuts. Once you select the amount you want, place a deposit, they will tell you your time slot. They will give you a slaughter date, and a pick up date. Just before the slaughter date they will go over your cut sheet, and finalize the pick up date. We placed our deposit late August, and we made our pickup Saturday afternoon right at the farm. The freezer is nearly full with fresh beef.
When we had originally talked about getting a freezer, I had no idea we would be buying meat birds or sides of beef. It’s been most unexpected that we could fill the freezer with local meat and produce at a reasonable price. Being able to fill our freezer with local food aligns with our personal goals of eating locally, and more sustainably. When you buy in bulk, pick your own, and in peak season, you get the best value for your money. So our freezer will have us eating local chicken, beef, and fruit well through the winter when it’s hardest to get local food, and it’ll be more affordable too. It’s hard to argue with that!