Friday, May 31, 2013

My first successful cured meat

Who doesn't like bacon?  Our freezer is packed full of pork; at least 250 lbs of it.  Instead of having the butcher slice the pork belly and sides we decided to try curing it and make bacon.  As you may remember, my duck and goat prosciuttos were a bit disappointing so I was a bit nervous about attempting this since it involved at least 12 to 15 lbs of meat. 

I got out my trusty book, Charcuterie, The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn, given to me by some good friends.  I think I owe them some bacon.    I followed the instructions pretty closely but it gives you some leeway on spices you may want to add.  I won't go into detail but what it entailed was heavily salting the meat and adding brown sugar or maple syrup and other spices and sealing it up in a bag and refrigerating it for a week, turning it every other day.  After it felt firm I rinsed it off and took a deep breath.  So far it looked pretty good.
 At this point I could have put it in a 200 degree oven for 2 hours, slice it and call it done but I wanted to go all the way and smoke it too.

James split some apple wood for me and I started a small fire in the pizza oven.   After it had cooked down a ways the oven temperature varied from floor to wall to ceiling so I had no idea if it was too hot or not.  I took a chance and put the pork in the oven on racks and closed the oven up tight so the chimney was closed off and the smoke stayed in the dome. 
The meat needed to reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees.  That took about 2 1/2 hours.  Every now and then I'd open the chimney a little bit to produce some more smoke.
When I announced it done I sliced some of it.  It was a lot of work since we don't have a meat slicer.  I did about half and put the rest in the freezer to firm up a bit, hoping to make it a little easier to slice.
It's definitely sliced thicker than what you'd get at the grocery store but I had much more satisfaction eating our own bacon for dinner last night knowing we raised and prepared it ourselves.  It's quite tasty and definitely has a smokey flavor.  Yay, finally a success!
Our lawn mower has been in the shop for 2 weeks and our grass is shin high.  As I type this my wonderful neighbor is out cutting it for me.  I owe him.  Maybe I'll pay him in bacon.

On a sad note, something got our ducks last night.   We really liked these two so it's very disappointing. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day music (?) and a little madness

Seven great friends from NC came to visit this past weekend.   Every time we're together there's lots of laughter and music.   What a great 2 days.  I wish they could have stayed longer.    I just happened to catch some of it on video.  You might notice every video has the same leading lady. 

Wait, there's more.

It's very quiet here today.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Donkey dentist

I learned lots about my donkeys' mouths yesterday.  Did you know there was such a thing as an equine dentist?  I guess I never thought about it until a vet suggested I call one to take a look to see what's going on in Mac's mouth.  He's had a snotty nose for months and we suspected an infected tooth.  It appeared not to be that but he did have a deep hole in his upper gum that collects "stuff" and goes way up into his sinuses.  Maybe that's what's causing an infection and exrays were recommended.  I was really hoping it was a tooth that could be pulled and it would all be over.  Mac and Jaz both needed their teeth floated.  I had no idea what that meant either until yesterday.  Donkeys' teeth move side to side when they chew, not up and down.  If their teeth grow longer on the outsides they won't slide back and forth properly and their bite is, what the vet called, locked.  They showed me how to check for proper bites.  The equipment they used was fascinating too.  The donkeys were sedated before any of this was done. 
They used a regular garden sprayer to wash out his mouth.

At one point I was asked to hold Mac's gigantic tongue.  I wish I had a picture of my fistful of tongue.  I have to admit I kind of enjoy visits from large animal vets.  They teach me so much.  Not only did I learn a lot yesterday but the vet and her assistant were hilarious and I could have hung out with them for hours.   Here are some pictures of horses' teeth.  The long tooth in the center belonged to a young horse and the short one to the right of it belonged to a much older horse.  The tooth grows out from the gum and keeps getting shorter and shorter.  It's hard to believe that long tooth could be way up in the gum. 

Mac and Jaz were both troopers and behaved beautifully.

Our 12 year old boxer, Lex, also had dental work this week.  He had 3 teeth extracted and now his breath no longer announces his entry to a room.  Unfortunately his right rear leg seems to be bothering him worse after his visit to the vet.  I wonder if they hurt him while moving him around during his teeth cleaning procedure.  He's on pain medication and I hope we see some improvement over the next few days.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I might get hooked on donkey driving

I've ridden Willo twice now and it's gone ok.  I do like sitting on her back.  She and I both need some more time in the saddle.  We'll get there though.  Yesterday I had my first horseback riding lesson.  Yes, a horse, one of those shorter eared equines.  Can you believe that?  The horse I rode, Stretch (a quarter horse), was very sweet, patient, slow and smooth, which is just what I need at this time.  Even though he was very smooth my legs are feeling it today. 

What I've really been itching to do though is hook Willo up to the cart and that's what we did tonight.  When she saw the cart she quickly approached  and checked it out.  She'd never seen our cart before so I wondered how she'd react to it.  She was totally unconcerned and willingly followed us to a pasture where I had cut a circle in the grass to drive in.  I thought it would be a safe place with few distractions.  She was very patient while we bumbled with the harness, "I wonder where this goes.  This looks like it might go here."  Eventually we got her hooked to the cart and after a little pause she walked while I led her. 

She seemed comfortable with that so James hopped in and took a ride.

After one loop I was going to take a ride but a thunder storm was moving in so we quickly packed up.  I was so pleased with and proud of Willo.  I can't wait to sit in the cart and actually drive her.  It'll happen.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Our livestock guardian dog

Keri is a treat.  Yes, she's still very hyper when guests come to visit, but I just love her.  She stays with the goats fulltime now and I think she's happy there.  Even though she could very easily jump over the electro netting, which isn't even hot, she never leaves.  Today she had a job to do as protector-of-the-farm.

I heard lots of barking and looked out the window.  I knew immediately by her posture what she was barking at.  She did the same thing last year.

She may look brave but I could tell the snake made her nervous.  If there was a bug or moth at her feet she would jump like she thought she was surrounded by snakes.  Watch the goats in the background.  They take Keri's bark very seriously.  Often when they're out in the pasture Luti stays very close to Keri.  Some of the other goats get nervous when Keri bounces near them but not Luti.  There's a bond there I haven't figured out yet.  Maybe they pass messages I can't read.

Much to Keri's chagrin, or maybe pleasure (I'm not sure which), the snake hung around for a few hours.  I've never seen a snake do that.  I think it was playing with her.

Don't mess with Keri's goats or humans.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Newspaper pots

Now that we have a greenhouse James starts lots more things from seed.  He goes through hundreds of plastic pots.  Two years ago he blogged about his little pot maker that makes 2 inch newspaper pots.
When he said he ran out of 4 and 5 inch pots this year I decided to copy this newspaper pot idea and make some for him.  All I needed was a tin can, scissors, newspaper and a bucket of water.
4 layers of newspaper seemed to work best for me.  It wasn't too bulky and it was sturdy enough to hold its shape.
I made 40 of them and I think he's already used at least half of them.

James' feathered helpers

Two Khaki Campbell ducks arrived last week and they seem much friendlier than previous duck we've had.  Here they are helping James today.

I think one's a girl and one's a boy.  These are not meat ducks, they're egg layers.  I've read they lay more than 300 eggs a year.  I hope predators leave these ducks alone and one day we can have baby ducks again.  I'm tempted to name them but afraid something will surely get them if I do.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Willo's back and I'm donkey riding

Willo returned from the trainer in NC yesterday.  She'd been gone almost 6 months. I'm really excited to have her back and see what she can do.  I was afraid today might be too soon to take her out for a few loops around the field since she's still settling in but I decided to saddle her up anyway.  This morning I saw she was in heat and I went back and forth about wether this was a good idea or not.  Sometimes she's feistier during "that time of the month". 

She stood nicely while I put the saddle and bridle on.  It went downhill after that.  I tried to lead her to the picnic table where I like to get on her.  She wanted nothing of that.  We kept walking in circles while I tried to get her where I wanted her.  Any time I tried to mount she'd start to walk off.  She didn't even do that before she went to the trainer.  I was firm with her.  I've decided I need to stand my ground and be the boss now.  That's something I've never been very good at in the past.  Somehow she understood that I meant business and finally stood still while I got on.  Then she stood there.  Not a step would she take.  It reminded me of many days in the past where I would beg her to walk but she wouldn't budge.  To be honest, I can't even remember what I did to get her to start walking but she did.  From there on out she was great.  I think she was just testing me. 

A few times Earl would holler for her and she'd holler back.  If you've never felt  "heehaw" under you, you should.  It's very cool.  The only scare I had was when the pigs began chasing us along the fenceline.  It didn't bother her with just Roxie following us but when Calvin joined in and they started running so did Willo.  I'm not a good rider so this made me nervous and I tried stopping her.  She slowed to a trot, which hurt, and finally stopped and stared at the pigs.  I assured her they were ok and she was just fine.  We continued on the the pigs walked slowly beside us. 

After the first loop around I thought she'd walk to the gate and want to quit.  She didn't.  She continued on.  I called James from her back and said, "I'm riding my donkey".   I'm sure I had a smile on my face.  After a few treats of special grasses I returned her to the others where Earl promptly mounted her.  Nice, Earl. 

I want to ride her regularly and build a bond before I even think about hooking her up to a cart to drive. 

I hope someday soon James and I can take Willo and Mac on a trail ride.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Would you like my animal, cont'd

I have no idea what to expect tomorrow after yesterday's drop off and today's knock at the door. 

Knock knock. 
Who's there?
I hear you take ducks.

I'm not kidding, that's what he said, "I hear you take ducks". 
Who did he hear that from, I wonder?  It was a nice young man who went to school with Adam but I had never met.  This is also a common occurance - people showing up at our door saying they know our son.  Adam knows way more people than we do. 

Someone had given his daughter 2 little ducklings for Easter and now they can't keep them because they're getting big and it's against the law to keep them in his neighborhood. 

I have no idea what kind of ducks will arrive on our doorstep this weekend but I guess he was right.   We take ducks. 


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hey, you have a farm. Would you like my animal?

We get this now and then.  "Can you take this animal?  She needs a home."

In one week I was asked to give a home to a goat, 4 dogs, 1 horse and a kitten.  I said no to all.  Tonight a friend was here to pick up some fertile eggs to put under her broody hen.  As we visited, a truck I didn't recognize drove up our driveway.  This is a common occurance.  Usually it's someone asking if they can fish from our property or someone telling me one of my animals has escaped.   Not this guy.  He had a rooster who was being abused by his duck and was also making too much noise at his house.  "He's a very docile rooster", he said.  What did I say?   "Of course, bring him by tonight and I'll put him in the coop with the others and they'll all wake up together".   What's another chicken, right? 
Things change here daily.  My buck, Cooper, is now sleeping with my donkeys, Chy and Wilson.  The majority of the chickens are living in the field with the pigs.   Once our kayaks are moved to the field under the boat deck, some of the rabbits will be moved into the shed the kayaks vacated.  Very soon my male goat kids need to be separated from the girls.  One of the boys has discovered his buck-y-ness and is terrorizing the girls.   Our 2 male pigs will have moved on and we'll only have Roxie.  Willo, our mammoth jenny will return this week from training in NC. 

Ever-changing.  That is a farm. 


Saturday, May 4, 2013

My kids

When Adam was still living at home we had "kids" popping in and out of our house all the time.  Some of his buddies still stop by and visit.  I like it.  Today one of Adam's best friends, Manley, stopped by to pick up some of Adam's things and say goodbye to us.  He's going to be working with Adam in the Outer Banks.  We've known Manley for at least 10 years.  I can't even guess how many nights he's slept in our house, how many times he's irritated me like a son, how many times he's made me laugh or feel appreciated.  I found it a bit sad when he drove out our driveway this afternoon; it was kind of like another part of Adam leaving.   We even lectured him, "wear your seatbelt; put those bolts here, not in your pocket; drive safely;  have fun, etc.  Tomorrow Adam's girlfriend, Melissa,  and a friend of hers are coming to visit.  Melissa graduates in a few weeks and then will be off to the OBX too; another one gone.  Maybe I'm just feeling emotional today.  It's not like they've moved to another country.  They're only 6 hours away.  Still, I feel like we're starting a new chapter.  I love that we've raised an independent son who supports himself but at the same time I miss the banter, the noise, the company, the liveliness. 

It's good  I still have these kids to entertain me.

Chickens aren't quite as good company as the other animals but they're still fun to watch and they run to see me so they do make me feel appreciated,  though I'm sure they're just hoping I brought them food.
Even though I know these guys are glad to see me, looking at their faces you'd never know it.
The pigs are always fun to watch and they almost always have something to say.

 If you've never seen rabbits breed before you may find this amusing.  It cracks me up to see him fall over.

Of all the animals on the farm, this one entertains me the most.  See how I keep him in a fence too?
This is the garden the pigs were in.  He still had to do some tilling after they were out.  He's planting corn, mangel beets, grains, squashes and who knows what else in this garden; hopefully lots of animal food.

I'll miss having young people around but I don't imagine I'll ever be lonely or bored.  We're planning a trip to the Outer Banks this summer so we'll get to see the human kids then.