Monday, March 2, 2015

A Few More Fires in the Fireplace Before Spring

Sunday the rains started... again.  There is a high probability of rain every day this week with temperatures in the upper 70's.  On Wednesday night, though, the weather will once again change as another front will blow through bringing freezing temperatures with it.  The weatherman said wind chills could be in the high 20's. So before the rain started, I filled up a wagon load of firewood and stacked it under the patio where it will be dry once the rain starts.

This is all the firewood that is left over from the big water oak tree that we took down in the front yard and split up.  It has lasted us for a long time, keeping us warm and cozy through three winters. A small group of hens roosts on the wood pile every night.  They'll soon be looking for a new spot to roost once the pile disappears. The wood pile has also provided a place for Annie, the goat, to climb up on and thus given good exercise for me as I have to re-stack the woodpile after she knocks the wood down - an almost daily occurrence.

The dwindling wood pile
When the chickens see me heading to the wood pile with the wagon, they come running.  They know that the buffet line is about to open.  The wood pile is also home to numerous roaches and big, white grub worms and that is prime eating for the chickens.  Although safe underneath the stack of wood, once I start removing the wood, insects and worms are unearthed and exposed to the hungry chickens who scratch and promptly devour them.  By the time they are finished, the ground is scratched clean.

Cleaning things up
The woodpile is near the end.  Not to worry, though.  We have another stack from the three smaller water oak trees that we took down this summer.  The boys and I will split it and stack it to burn next winter.

Fuel for next year
As I type this entry tonight, I'm sitting in front of a fire that was roaring 45 minutes ago, warming all in the room.  I was shelling pecans while talking to the family, relaxing and winding down for the night.  Now all that is left of the fire is some glowing embers, still putting out heat, but fading fast.

A cozy fire
Just like me!  Goodnight all...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

"Eat Yer Vegetables First!"

I have to admit that I have a sweet tooth.  I've never met a dessert that I didn't like. Tricia has always had a rule in our family that you have to eat your vegetables before you can have dessert.  Benjamin and I aren't particularly fond of that rule. Today we're going to put it to the test.

We dug the last bit of our carrots from the final row of them that we had growing in the garden.  We need that area in the garden to quickly replant with potatoes.  I went out and pulled them out of the moist ground, put them in a bucket and scrubbed them clean.

Fresh dug carrots

What are we going to do with them?  We have blanched and frozen a bunch, eaten a bunch of them raw, cooked some of them and made a couple of quarts of lacto-fermented ginger carrots.  Well, it just so happens that the latest Southern Living magazine has a nice recipe for carrots - Carrot Cake, that is - with cream cheese icing!  What a great idea!

Southern Living Carrot Cake Recipe
Tricia made up a a nice looking carrot cake using our carrots and a bunch of our pecans that we have been shelling.

The icing on the cake
We couldn't wait to cut into that thing.  It was so moist and sweet and heavy!

Take a closer look:

Look closely in the photo above and you can see the shredded carrots in the cake along with the pecans.  We sliced big slabs of the delicious... um... Vegetables, and laid it on our plates.  We tried the best we could to convince Tricia that we were eating our vegetables first, but she wasn't buying it. Carrot Cake = Good stuff!

Friday, February 27, 2015

The 2015 Meat Birds - Two Weeks Old

A week following our last update finds our meat birds growing a little bit.  We put them on the scale and we'll show you the results in a minute, but first, I'll talk a little about the results from this past week.  We ordered these birds a month and a half later than we normally do with the thought process that it would be warmer and the birds would make more efficient use of their calorie intake in growing as opposed to staying warm.  Well...

Here's the part of the narrative where I tell you that chicken ranching is a lot harder than it looks.  I guess if it was easy, everyone would fill their garages with smelly birds and Tyson would go out of business.  The weather was supposed to cooperate, but it didn't.  Several days of near freezing temperatures and a strong north wind affected our birds, even though they were under heat lamps in the garage.  Despite our best efforts, we experienced the agony of defeat.

In last week's installment we had 111 birds.  Alas, we now have 103.  Eight birds succumbed to the cold weather.  When they get cold they bunch up in little piles under the heat lamp and the ones on the bottom are crushed.  I've composted those chicks in the garden and those 8 brave and noble birds will be feeding our garden soil instead of us.  Not a total loss, but there are cheaper ways of feeding your soil. On the bright side, if you are going to lose chicks, you want to lose them now - not after you have put a bunch of feed in them.

A casualty
I picked out our Cornish Cross and Red Ranger that we're monitoring and brought them to the scales for weigh-in.  They are bright and perky and appear to be very healthy.  You can see the wing feathers coming in and the tail feathers on the Cornish Cross.

Cornish Cross (left) and Red Ranger (right)
The Cornish Cross went on the scale first this week and weighed 6 ounces, up 2 ounces from last week.

Cornish Cross - 6 ounces
The Red Ranger stepped on the scale next and weighed 5 ounces, up 2 ounces from last week as well.

Red Ranger - 5 ounces
Here's a shot of the birds in one of our three brooders.  You can see the heat lamp is lowered to a good position and the birds in the center are scattered out - not piled on top of one another.  The birds on the right and top left are eating chick grower (feed).  The birds on the lower left are encircling the waterer and drinking to their heart's content.

In this photo below, if you look to the ground toward the 'brown' color, I don't need to tell you what that is.  Each and every day, we place new bedding on top of the existing 'stuff' and each and every day, they soil it very quickly.

Dirty Birds
I want to try to get these out quickly. but a glance at the 10 day weather forecast is a mess next week, with highs in the early week in the upper 70's followed by high percentage rain chances for 3 days and lows around 34 degrees on Thursday.  We'll see how it goes, perhaps next week at this time, I'll have them out on pasture, but it's not looking good.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Choosing what to look at - Mud or Masterpiece

They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs;

You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.  
Psalm 65:8 (NASB)
We've had a little rain lately, transforming the area around the barn to a dreadful swamp of muck and mire.  It sticks to your boots and it stinks.  I'm taking the photo below from inside the barn where it is high and dry.  Once we finish milking the cows and open the gate to the barn, Daisy and Rosie, slowly and reluctantly slog out to eat hay. Annie, our Nubian goat, likes walking through the mire even less, lifting her feet high, prancing in lady-like fashion so as not to get her "shoes" muddy. When the muddy area finally dries, I'm going to order a load or two of fill-dirt and build up the land around the barn.

The foot rot that we treated Daisy for that I was mentioning in a previous post, was undoubtedly brought about by the mud that encompasses the southeast corner of our property - or more accurately, by organisms that live in the mud.  You see, what looks like mud to you and I, if you put it under a microscope, is actually soil mixed with cow poop and urine and is teeming with living bacteria, including a bad one, (Fusobacterium necrophorum), that causes problems.  As an update, our treatment of Daisy's back left hoof with iodine has been successful and she's no longer limping.  

After feeding all the laying hens, making sure that their trough of crushed oyster shells is full, turning off the lights to the barn and heading back inside with our buckets of milk, we look westward.  It is the end of the day.  We thankfully notice that the days are getting longer - ever so slightly.  This will enable us to start working on a chore list as long as my arm during daylight hours.

It's funny though, many times I dread my "real job" - sitting in an office behind a computer all day.  I never dread working on our little farm.  Every day is different and even if there are challenges and hardships, there is a sense of freedom, contentment, fulfillment and satisfaction I get from being outdoors and working on our little farm to get projects completed that I don't get elsewhere.

So despite the mud, at the end of the day there is peace and tranquility.  There is real beauty if you stop long enough to look around, but the choice is ours as to what we focus on. 

God's Masterpiece
Many times (more often than I'd like to admit) I'm guilty of only looking down at my circumstances and seeing only the 'mud' and in doing so, I miss looking up and seeing a magnificent portrait painted by the very hand of God.  I must constantly remind myself that his signature is everywhere and many times I miss it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2015 State Livestock Show - Gonzales, Louisiana

Hundreds of Louisiana youth flocked to Gonzales, Louisiana last week for the 80th Annual State Livestock Show at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.  It is a fine facility that has been hosting the State Show for quite some time now.  When I was younger and showing sheep, the State Livestock Show was held on the LSU campus.  I assume that it was moved to Gonzales due to the traffic congestion/parking issues on campus each year.

As a boy, I'd look forward to the livestock shows as it afforded the opportunity to get out of class for a few days as an excused absence.  I remember having so much fun running around with my buddies, unloading our Show Boxes that we made in Vo-Ag class, setting up our Parish Area, getting ready for the show, and then having the nervous butterflies in your stomach as show time arrived.

As much as things change, many things stay the same and Benjamin participated in the exact same things as I did - but 34 years later!  He had the opportunity to ride with a friend a day earlier than us and stayed in their camper with them.  They went out to eat and I got the following text from him: "Dad, we went out to eat at TJ Ribs and I got a half rack of pork ribs, 1/4 of a chicken, red beans and rice. and fries.  I think I gained 5 pounds!"  Some things do change - I never ate quite that good at livestock shows!

Benjamin brought his heifer, Amy, a Jersey Dairy animal, to the show.  We decided to leave Daisy and Rosie, our two Jersey cows in milk at home this year.  The Showmanship competition began Saturday and exhibitors wear white shirts and bring their animals in the ring.  The judge is looking at the ability of the exhibitors to show their animals - not the quality of the animal.  The classes are broken up by age group of the exhibitor and it doesn't matter what dairy breed the animal is.

Bringing Amy in the ring
Benjamin was a little reticent about showing Amy as, wouldn't you it, she was in heat.  When animals are in heat, they jump on other animals, on you, and on passers-by.  It is embarrassing and they are hard to handle and it was unfortunate timing...  But that is life.  You deal with it, control them the best you can, and move forward.

Showmanship (You can see the many different breeds of dairy cattle: Jersey, Holstein, Ayrshire, & Guernsey)
In Showmanship, the exhibitor must watch the judge very closely, as the judge is motioning directions.  Eye contact is critical as you want to stop and set your animal up quickly when the judge instructs you to.

Keep your eyes on the prize
The judge makes his way around and asks questions to each exhibitor to ensure that each boy or girl has been involved in his/her project.  In the photo below, the judge is asking Benjamin:
"What is your heifer's name?"
"When is her birthday?"
"How much food do you feed her?"
"What is her sire's name?"

Benjamin getting questions from the judge
In the end, Benjamin did a fine job.  He placed Seventh in his class and received a nice yellow ribbon.  When I looked at the ribbon, I remembered that the very best I ever did at State showing sheep was Seventh Place.  I have a ribbon in my old bedroom at Mom & Dad's somewhere that is exactly the same color, shape, and size.

Seventh best Showman in the State in the 13 year old class
Here is Benjamin's haul of ribbons from the Parish, District, and State Livestock Shows for 2015. The three on the left are from State.  After placing Seventh in Showmanship, he went on to get Fifth place in the Jersey heifer class and Second Place in Louisiana Bred Jersey heifer.
It's really not about the ribbons, though.  It is about making memories and putting your efforts into a project that teaches work ethic, responsibility, patience, time-management, character-building, budgeting and compassion - all valuable traits that will serve them well throughout adulthood.  They are indeed Learning By Doing - which just so happens to be the 4-H Motto!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Broccoli from Another Planet

You probably have "old stand-by's" in your garden - like tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, and green beans and every single year without fail, you plant them. You like certain varieties and you swear by them.  I'm like that too, but I also have an unofficial experimental plot where I plant odd things.  I find these odd varieties while perusing seed catalogs on dreary, wet, cold winter days while sitting in front of the fireplace.

This year I planted some purple cauliflower, some green cauliflower, and this oddity - Romanesco Broccoli.  It literally means broccoli from Rome because it originated in Italy.

Romanesco looks like a cross between a broccoli and a cauliflower, but if you look really close (and I wish I had a better camera to show you), it is very, very strange looking.  It has many points on it that are made up of spiral buds that are arranged in other spirals.  Those spirals make up curious patterns.

Up until it creates its head, you might easily mistake the plant for a normal broccoli or cauliflower plant, but then when it starts growing its head, you know immediately that this is not your everyday, run-of-the-mill broccoli.  No, this thing looks like it is truly from another planet.  Luke Skywalker, from Star Wars, was a farm boy on the planet Tatooine before rising to fame.  Yes, I'll bet this is what Luke probably grew before becoming a Jedi.
Romanesco spirals
Have you ever noticed that so many things in nature have patterns that are distinct and orderly in a mathematical arrangement?  Things like the pattern on pine cones, pineapples, artichokes, sunflowers, and romanesco...  Looking at things like this is evidence to me of a Divine Creator. Things like this just couldn't have been created by accident.

In fact, since we're talking about "Broccoli from Rome," I thought this verse is quite appropriate:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.  Romans 1:20

Well, regardless what it looks like, I harvested some and we're going to taste it soon. It is supposed to have a nutty, delicate taste most similar to cauliflower.  Although we haven't tasted it yet, I'm sure it will be "out of this world."

Monday, February 23, 2015

Love Like Crazy - Happy 50th Anniversary, Mom & Dad

The Gold Standard

On February 20th, my Mom & Dad celebrated their Golden Anniversary.  Fifty Years, wow!  Our extended family wanted to mark this milestone and honor them with a simple reception.  I'm not a party planner and don't know squat about decorating, but I do know who to ask and family members with party planning skills came through with flying colors.

The 50th Anniversary celebration was well attended by family and friends and well-wishers and we spent the afternoon visiting, laughing, and snacking on various cookies and cakes that had our blood sugar spiking to precipitous heights, I'm sure. It was a sweet time, both literally and figuratively.

I got a photo of the happy couple before the crowd arrived.

Happy 50th!
My Dad has a tradition of getting Mom a yellow rose each anniversary - one for each year of marriage.  He was able to locate 50 yellow roses to mark the occasion.

My sister has a cottage industry that she runs out of her home making/decorating cakes and was able to make a beautiful one that tasted great, or so I hear.  It was long gone by the time I drifted over to the cake table.  

Mom & Dad's preacher, Bro. Don, prayed a prayer thanking the Almighty for blessing their many years of marriage and for providing a model of marriage for all in attendance. After thinking about the day, I was amazed that we didn't ask them what the secret was to a successful and happy marriage.  I'll definitely do that, but I'm sure they'd answer - prayer. Lots of prayer!  And that made me think about a country song all about this exact topic.

Lee Brice sings a song called "Love Like Crazy" that encapsulates a good marriage with some timely advice whether you've been married 50 minutes or 50 years.  I've copied the lyrics below with the really important advice in bolded red.

"Love Like Crazy"

They called them crazy when they started out
Said, "Seventeen's too young to know what loves about"
They've been together fifty-eight years now
That's crazy

He brought home sixty-seven bucks a week
Bought a little 2 bedroom house on Maple Street
Where she blessed him with six more mouths to feed
Now that's crazy

Just ask him how he did it
He'll say, "Pull up a seat
It'll only take a minute
To tell you everything"

Be a best friend, tell the truth
And overuse "I love you"
Go to work, do your best
Don't outsmart your common sense
Never let your prayin' knees get lazy
And love like crazy

They called him crazy when he quit his job
Said them home computers, boy, they'll never take off
Well, he sold his one man shop to Microsoft
And they paid like crazy

Just ask him how he made it
He'll tell you faith and sweat
And the heart of a faithful woman
Who never let him forget

Be a best friend, tell the truth
And overuse "I love you"
Go to work, do your best
Don't outsmart your common sense
Never let your prayin' knees get lazy
And love like crazy

Always treat your woman like a lady
Never get to old to call her baby
Never let your prayin' knees get lazy
And love like crazy

They called him crazy when they started out
They've been together fifty-eight years now
Ain't that crazy?

If you click on the arrow below, you can watch the video of the song.

Never let your prayin' knees get lazy!  Indeed...

Happy 50th Anniversary, Mom & Dad.  Thanks for loving like crazy for 50 years. We love you!
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