Saturday, March 30, 2013

New Pigs - Squeal and Grunt

Fourty two and a half miles from Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock is our farm- The Shamrock and Thistle Farm. For these three years past, the little postage stamp of green we call home has been devoid of that favorite of farm animals - the pig. Twenty miles north of S and T Farm lies Morrilton Arkansas nestled between two ridges of highlands between the Arkansas River and Interstate 40 on State Highway 9. Eighteen miles north of Morrilton through relatively flat plateau, past Heifer Creek Ranch (Highland Cows), is Center Ridge Arkansas and State Highway 124. State 124, scenic and smoother than one would expect, rivals, and in some cases exceeds State Highway 9 for its sharp curves and 40 to 55 speed limit and back changes. Eight miles after taking a left on 124 in front of Nemo Vista School one encounters, to the right, a dirt road aptly, but obscurely, named with a small blue road sign at the apex of a ninety degree left hand curve, is Lost Corner Road. Aptly named because we had passed it and would have wound up lost if the directions we had been given were not so precise, "Exactly eight miles..." the farmer had said. Another 2 miles, we were told, you will see a mailbox with the farmer's name on it. "B____" and a "cedar box I built to hold my garbage in there besides the road." Two miles later, in Aaron's Jeep Grand Cherokee, we saw the mail box but no cedar box wherein the farmer "holds" his garbage. We pulled into the drive. The large split level house was abandoned. A small creek ran past it at the base of a ridge, picturesque, but no farmer, no pigs, and an eerie feeling like we had driven into the plot of a slasher movie. We pulled around the circle drive and decided to continue down this dirt road in the hopes of seeing another mailbox with "B_____" on it and the elusive cedar garbage box. About a 1/4 mile more and there it was. No mailbox, but a cedar one at the end of a dirt drive, pock marked by deep ruts and holes. In places where there was not a rut, or a hole, there were large rocks that had probably been in their places for millenia. Rain hitting the ridges that bordered this farm apparently had run down to this sunken road and washed away the top soil to reveal the boulders, that, we hoped, Aaron's Jeep was made to traverse.

I have given you this detail to not only show you where we went and how we got there (it is important to set up the end of the story in this manner) but to set up where I am going with this post.

During the hour and a half drive I mentioned to Patt that I hoped where we were going was a nice farm. We've had too many experiences in picking up animals we have bought, of driving on to a farm littered with scrap metal, garbage, disjointed buildings barely standing, over crowded with, perhaps not abused, but neglected animals that have become wild through a lack of the farmer's attention. We pulled into the drive and found beautiful scenery, a clean crisp farm with good fences, well constructed barns surrounded by paddocks with safe looking fences and gates - not the Martha Stewart kind of prissy barns and paddocks you see in the magazines but efficient and safe and clean. We are also greeted by a pack of dogs and a teenager who informed us, though we arrived at exactly 5:00 PM that his father who works an hour and a half away had not yet arrived but since his cell phone went directly to voice mail, he must be almost there. We checked our cell phone and saw that, we too, had no bars.

The teenager gave us a quick tour of the place and before too long his father pulled into the drive. We shook hands and introduced ourselves and without hesitation he put on his work jacket as the air had become cool and he walked us towards where we thought he kept his pigs. However, he instructed us to get into his old farm truck that never left his 130 acre "pasture", he driving, me in the middle and Patt riding shot gun in the single cab pickup, his teenager and our large dog crate in the back. We bounced and jiggled down yet another trail, over rocks and into gulleys, down a hill. As we came to the bottom another beautiful vista appeared to as, a valley nestled between the two ridges, a creek to the south and a large pond or small lake up top of the northern ridge. This lake, we learned, captured run off from the rain. We stopped briefly to pick up two 5 gallon buckets of feed for the hogs (to keep mama hog busy while we stole her children) and headed to the flat piece of earth on which the hogs were kept, surprisingly by a small pen of hog panels and an immaculate house which kept the piglets, and a decent sized pasture of nothing but a single strand of solar powered electric fence about knee high. Behind this electric pen were two very large boars and a couple of sows and a pack of mid sized hogs that would soon go the butchers.

The farmer, I'll call him TB, instructed his son to hop in the piglet pen and catch us two girls while Patt and I stood ready with our crate, still in the bed of the pickup, because the tail gate would not lower - the truck had over 400,000 miles. I won't tell you the make and model. If it were a Dodge I would have.

Teenager had some trouble with the lightning quick masses of muscle, so I, in my newly cleaned work coat hopped into the pen to help him. I picked out the one Patt wanted, corralled it up against one of the panels and reached for it, grabbing it by a hind leg with one hand and attempting to cradle it around its belly with the other. The little 20 pound piglet put all of her dense musculature into action and drug me to the left and right into their mud-hole. But I caught her! I leapt over the hog panel and walked her quickly, covered in pig mud to the crate and shoved her in. By this time TB had finished feeding the big hogs and had come back. He asked,

"How'd you get mud all over you?"

"The little pig went at tackled me!" I said. He laughed and hopped into the pen to catch another little girl. He wound up crouched inside their little house and with a cacophany of grunts and squeals emerged with another little black and white piglet. With of our new pigs in the crate we piled back into the pickup and bounced and jiggled back to the drive way where the Jeep was parked, lifted the crate up over the stuck tailgate and into the back of the Jeep. We closed the hatch, said our good byes and we headed home.

The inside of the Jeep smelled like hog, hog manure, hog mud, and sweat both from the two little piglets in the crate and from the big piglet driving - me! With windows cracked we headed home with the piglets screaming, squealing, and grunting the whole long way home...

And, here is Squeal and Grunt our new friends on the farm.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Appropriate Self Righteous Responses #1

We started our egg business back up. Going slowly. Collecting up to 3 dozen per day, nice clean beautiful eggs that we place in recycled cartons in our fridge in the barn. I take 6 dozen a week into work and have just now made my first sale - 3 dozen. I've been giving them away for the past two weeks - kind of like a crack dealer who gives away the first hit in hopes of getting the user hooked.

We are selling them for $3.50 per dozen and as happens frequently at the farmer's markets, one of my customers, in an over exaggerated stream of hyperbole protested, in front of several of our new potential customers.

"$3.50 per dozen. Are you crazy? I can get a dozen at the store for around a dollar!"

I will now share with you my response, which, self-righteous as it was, is completely appropriate when addressing his neanderthal-ic reaction, especially since he felt it necessary to use his personal repugnance of our pricing to discourage more willing potential buyers from purchasing our eggs.

Long version - actually spoken while onlookers, slightly taken aback reveled in the embarrassment of the ass who started it all. 

"If you want high protein, high calcium, high in Omega 3s, fresh clean eggs with rich dark yolks and calcium rich shells that are, hard to crack open, from happy chickens, chickens that are fed from my pocket, running free on pasture that we hand pull weeds and naturally fertilize; and eggs collected from healthy hens who are allowed to act and live as chickens were intended, by farmers who open the coop at 5:30 AM, clean it by the muscles in our backs and the sweat of our brows, keep them safe throughout the day from predators and thieves with fencing we've bought from our own pockets, and farmers that, rain or shine, sleet or snow, make one last trip down the hill to close the coop for the night, a coop we built with our own hands in the heat of summer, a coop made from recycled wood and windows you and people like you throw in the landfills or the ditches then $3.50 per dozen is a small price to pay. If however you prefer thin shelled, pale white, almost translucent eggs with pale yellow nutrition-less yolks, high in fat and Omega 6s, harvested from hens stacked 6 in a cage, who never or rarely see the sun or God's green earth, eggs pulled from them by machines and conveyors, scrubbed of everything good, stuffed by the hundreds of thousands into large diesel sucking refrigerated trucks and hauled thousands of miles to your grocers - then don't buy our eggs."

Short version - which in retrospect would have sufficed.

"Then don't buy our eggs."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Feeding Time

Flurry is only about a month old. So we will need to bottle feed her for the next month until she is of weaning age and is fully able to digest hay, grains, and fresh grass. For the first two or three days we had to convince her the bottle was good for her - and boy did she learn quickly!

Her friend Slipper, a couple of weeks older than she, not so much. She still has no interest in the bottle. But, unlike Flurry, Slipper is content to eat the alfalfa pellets, fresh grass, and hay we set out for her.

Now when Patt enters her stall in the morning and when Boyd enters at night when he gets home, Flurry hops up and expectantly waits for the bottle - which is an empty coke bottle with a lamb nipple stretched over the top.

Tonight, without hesitation, without taking a breath, Flurry slurped down the whole bottle without stopping, collapsing the bottle in Boyd's hands.

Another interesting development is that we saw Flurry chewing her cud this evening. This is a tell-tale sign that her four stomachs have the right balance and is starting to digest fresh grass, grain, and hay. The chewing of the cud is the way sheep, goats, cows, re-chew already chewed food. This assists them in digesting what they eat and means they are happy and healthy.

Since Flurry is most likely going to be the ewe that starts our herd, we hope to grow her big and strong by keeping her in milk for much longer than is necessary to get them to weaning age. This will help her grow more quickly and will make her friendlier towards us. Over the next few weeks we will spend much more time with her, just sitting in the stall, letting her get used to us. Eventually we will be able to lead her around the farm.

Once weaned from the bottle and fully on pasture, she will be either tied out to a different spot in the pasture or let loose in one of our three paddocks.
 Boyd and Flurry at the evening feed.

Not only will she be the mother of our meat for the next 10 years or so (God willing), she will also be our friend, and our lawn mower!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

New Additions to S&T Farm

We decided, since the local grocery store burned to the ground, the local farmer's markets are not yet open, and for some reason we can't stand to have an empty farm, to start growing our own food again - immediately.

So, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the newest additions of our food making machine...

Flurry and Slipper.

No, not THAT Flurry and Slipper. These are from the IRISH RM, one of our favorite shows from the BBC.

This Flurry and Slipper...

I wanted two rams or two wethers, but all the farmer had were these two ewes. Having male names already picked out I considered trying to come up with more female sounding names. Patt said that calling girl goats by names from characters in a show no one else had ever seen would just add to my quirkiness - well, I think that's what she meant.

I think I am going to call the white one Flurry - she is more outgoing and friendly than the black one. So by default the black one is Slipper. From now until this fall, they will be concentrating on growing big and strong, and docile, and then we will most likely breed them so we can have new lambs on the farm next Spring. But for right now they will be our lawn mowers as well.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

It Was A Good Weekend in Perryville, My Home Town

Saturday morning Patt and I arose at an unexpected hour - 630 AM and ran through the chores. The still, cool morning greeted us with the promise of a wind-less warm 70 degree day. We ate a breakfast of free range eggs and bacon (of which I will post later) from a local farmer from which we purchased a pound at the exhorbitant price of $12.00.

After breakfast, we started working, in earnest, on our kitchen garden, relining the beds, shaped like a large celtic cross, with rocks, of which there is an abundance in west Arkansas. Once the shovel cut through the thick matte of bermuda grass and chick weed, and these weeds removed we found a deep loamy, dark, sweet smelling earth that was ready for planting. So, after planting some herbs we had already purchased, we decided to go into town and buy some more plants to fill out the beds we had prepared. We ended up buying 12 strawberry plants and 9 of collard greens. When we got them home, we watered them well and waited till Saturday evening to put them in the ground.

Meanwhile, we loaded our large garden cart (quite possibly the most useful tool on the farm) with compost from a pile we had started 3 years ago. The material had broken down into a light fluffy humus which we mixed into the beds to add drainage, depth, and some nutrition. On one of the trips from this bin to the kitchen garden I stopped short and stared into a distant mountain. Patt stopped short and looked in the same direction, "What are you looking at?" she asked.

"I am going to have to control myself," says I, "I just had a sudden surge of happiness there and I wouldn't want to become too flighty."

After getting the garden beds prepared we went to the local library where I checked out a DVD of "Police Squad", a tv series that aired in 1980. It is a lost gem of comedic genius.

Lt. Drebin offering the witness a smoke: Cigarette?
Witness to the crime looking at the open and offered pack: Yes I know.

Ronny and I watched a couple of episodes and laughed like we hadn't in a while, ate a bratwurst, or two and then I headed to the barn. I cleared the breeze way and rearranged so that we can set up Patt's laundry there. Not having room in our 400 sq ft home for a washer we decided to put the washer in the barn. This after we realized that Patt prefers to dry clothes in the sun on a line and in just 3 trips to the laudromat we spent enough in quarters to pay for half of a portable hot water heater. With Ronny's Dakota 4x4 I pulled the last of the clothes line posts out of the ground from in front of the house (something I had been wanting to do for 13 years now) and relocated them to their new spot in the old potato patch.

Then I cleaned the barn fridge so we can start our egg business, which is still in its infancy. Then Ronny and I did some work on his pickup, came up with a list of parts we need.

The first week of my new routine- the 45 minute commute to Little Rock to my new/old job at Arkansas Children's Hospital and then the glorious first weekend- started off a little weird. But by Saturday night, too worn out to take off my boots,

It had turned into the warm comfortable feeling...of home.

Monday, March 4, 2013

To My Friends in Louisville

To All My Friends in Louisville,

I just wanted to say that it was a pleasure working with all of you - even the most demanding of my customers during the year and two months of my working at Baptist Health Louisville were nothing short of patient, kind, and professional. It was with a some discomfort that my wife and I made the decision to leave Louisville and head back to our home. But, really, healthcare is such a small field that it would not surprise me if we do not cross paths again at some time in the future.

 The newly renovated but not yet painted "Disle" (gaelic for trustworthy), the old farm truck now with our farm logo ready for markets that start up as early as March. Some of you made fun of me driving to work in this every morning, but she made it all the way back to Arkansas and has taken her rest and will now be used only to get produce to market or on the property when needed.

 Some of the work we had done by our caretakers while I worked with Aramark made it possible for us to move back when the opportunity arose. The opportunity just occurred a lot more quickly than we expected. The little red building is, indeed, our 396 square foot home. We will eventually build something slightly larger a little bit down the hill and then use this cottage to house visitors. When/if we get to where we can hold farm retreats for people who want to spend the weekend on a farm to see what we do, they can be rented.

 Here I am in the shop we had built by our caretakers. It is in our barn which is about 4 times more square footage than our home. Here I am attempting to rebuild a battery pack for a cordless drill because I am too cheap to keep buying new ones.

Patt has already started getting the le Petite Jardin (french for small or kitchen garden) ready for planting. We will plant this with herbs, tomatoes, and greens. by mid summer we should be able to step just outside the house and make a salad or collect ingredients for a pasta. Like the one below:

Pasta Fresca

In a blender, puree chopped fresh tomatoes, six leaves of basil, one fresh garlic clove, a 1/4 cup of olive oil, and a teaspoon of salt, until it is bright orange and mixed well. Cook your pasta (bowties are best on this). Drain the pasta and add the puree and a 1/4 to 1/2 pound of mozarrella cubes. Stir is up and have with a nice white wine like a Vouvray or cold welch's white grape juice.