English Shepherds

 

 

Shadow and Rowdy, English Shepherds, take their job as babysitter/protector, very seriously. Zoe is so gentle and loving to them. She is a rambunctious, energetic toddler all the time but there is something calming about these dogs. She adores them and they adore her. They love all kids but have a soft spot for her.

IMG_1907

This is a great link for information about this wonderful breed.

http://www.englishshepherd.org/

My Favorite Roasted Chicken

One of the simplest pleasures in life is a good roasted chicken. I like to keep things simple. The quality of the chicken should be what  you taste. Start with the best. We raise our own chickens here at Sweet Water Farm. I know what they eat. I know how they are treated and I know they live a wonderful life until the moment they are processed. We don’t free range our birds for a couple of reasons. One is that a Cornish Cross meat bird, the kind commonly sold in stores, are bred to gain weight quickly and, because of that, aren’t good foragers. Our egg layers do free range. Instead we raise our chickens on pasture in chicken tractors. You can see a previous blog on what those entail. They are carefully fed a high protein diet and supplement with grass, bugs, weeds and dirt. The second reason is that Cornish aren’t the brightest chickens in the chicken house and aren’t good at going back into the coop at night so the tractors protect them from predators. Soooo. Start off with the best chicken you can buy. Splurge on your roasted chicken. You won’t regret it. Ours average 4-5 pounds and this makes a tasty bird.

 

IMG_2176

 

Thaw the chicken overnight in the refrigerator and remove at least an hour before baking. The goal is to reduce moisture in you oven which will cause the chicken to steam rather than bake and you will lose the delicious crisp skin in the process. Do not rinse your chicken. I know, I know. This is contrary to everything you’ve heard but trust me. Don’t add water. The very high roasting temperature takes care of anything lurking inside that dark, wet cavity. Dry the inside of the bird thoroughly with paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible and pat dry the outside.

 

IMG_2177

Salt the inside of the chicken using course sea salt and tie the legs together wrapping the string around the bird, holding the wings to the sides and tying at the neck. This takes a little practice to get it nice and snug but  you can do it. Be sure to use cotton string, sometimes called butchers string and available at any grocery store.

IMG_2179      IMG_2180     IMG_2181

Now salt this baby up. Really salt it. Use a couple of Tablespoons. The course salt will be brushed off after baking so it just seasons the bird. If you are on a salt restricted diet you may choose to skip this step. I hope not. The salt also dries the skin making it nice and crispy. No additional spices needed. Now you have two ways to roast this chicken. One is to pop it into a preheated 450′ oven until the your oven thermometer reaches 160′. It will continue to rise after you remove it from the oven. No worries. OR, this time of year, put it on the grill but be sure to spread your coals around the outside leaving room for the bird in the middle. You want indirect, hot heat. 425-450′. Cover it with the lid and LEAVE IT ALONE. Do not open the lid to check on it for at least an hour. We are talking about a big bird here. You may adjust your time according to the size of your bird.

 IMG_2183

Invest in a good roasting pan. This one happens to be Cuisenart. I love that the rack is stainless steel. You  must have a rack for this. You can use a cooling rack over a 9X13″ pan. Just make sure you spray or oil the rack first. I cover the bottom of the pan with foil because it makes it easier to clean. I’m busy(lazy) you see. Now. For the finale. Here it is. The best roasted chicken ever.

IMG_2187

 

The best part about this simple chicken, besides the fact that you only need chicken, salt and string to make it, is that it can be used in any recipe if you have leftovers. The high cooking temperature crisps the skin causing the chicken to be moist and flavorful. Give it a try next time and if you are looking for pastured chickens for your freezer send us a message. We would be happy to help you out or point you in the direction for finding some near you.

 

 

 

We have new ladies on the farm!

IMG_1782

Meet the new girls. The one on the right came with the name Guppy. The one on the left is Peanut. We are naming all of our new cows flower names and have picked Sweet Pea for the one on the right and Cleome for the one on the left.

We call her Cleo.  She is very skittish and doesn’t like to be touched or cornered. She is slowly coming around but it will take time.  She is dry right now which means she is pregnant and not producing milk. Normally they only have a 60 day dry off period but she came from a very high producing dairy in Iowa that drys them off as soon as production drops even a little bit or if their body condition changes. She is due in July so has a long, lazy time ahead of her.

Sweet Pea is just that. She’s sweet and curious and into everything. She didn’t take well to our milker because she had never been milked by a human. They use robots where she was milked. They could go into the milker whenever they wanted, as often as they wanted.  The robot knew who they were and made them pass through if it was too soon to be milked again. We had plenty of kicking going on to say the least.  She is now, happily, using the milker and enjoying her feed and alfalfa. We hoped she was bred but that was not to be. She started her heat on Monday yelling and screaming like any female does. Jack, in the other field, did  his share of yelling also. It was pretty obvious what was going on.

Duchess is still waiting on the arrival of her little one. It could be any time now but her due date is the 27th. I will let her have the calf full time for a week or so and then it will be taken away at night for a morning milking and the spend the day with Mommy, unless Mommy has other ideas. Duchess isn’t known for her parenting skills. She loves to love them but doesn’t like nursing. Hmm. I know other Mommies like that.

I can’t, legally, advertise raw milk for sale. Boy do I have lots of milk, wink wink. If you would like to contact us about eggs or anything else, please email at asweetwaterfarm.com. We would be happy to hear from you. We are hoping to be able to do an open farm day this Spring, after the cows have settled into a routine. If you would be interested in visiting the farm, please let us know. If there is enough interest, we will be happy to do it.

Happy Spring Everyone!!

It Was a Smokin Sunday at the Farm

Look what we were up to this weekend. Sausage making!

 

IMG_2152

It didn’t look like much when we got started. We used eleven pounds of ground pork and eleven pounds of venison that we were given. We wanted to try two different recipes and settled on one with garlic and red wine and one cajun recipe.  Problem with the red wine is that we didn’t have any. We used something even better. Phill had a great year with his home made Elderberry wine so we have Garlic Elderberry sausage and Cajun.

IMG_2155

All the meat is ground twice. Once into chunks and once finely ground, like hamburger. The spices are then added as well as the wine or a bit of water and it is ground again to distribute the seasonings evenly through the meat. It’s starting to smell really good about now. The smell of ground spices, wine and raw meat is amazing. I know, I’m a little crazy, but I found all this so exciting.

IMG_2156

While they were busy grinding, the casings were soaking in warm salt water. At the top  you can see how they come. They are rather hard and flat. The salt water makes them pliable and hydrated so they don’t remove moisture from the meat. We didn’t use natural casing for our first try. We’ve used them in brats and they are harder to work with so we thought we would give these a try. They aren’t edible so will have to be removed when eating the finished product.

IMG_2160

Here Phill and Tyler tackle the job of filling the casings. We wanted one pound sausages so there were two per casing. My job was to tie between the sausages to end one sausage and to tie again to make a loop to hang the next sausage. It was a little like Laurel and Hardy to begin with but we figured it out and it was much smoother by the time we got to the end of it. Everything was labeled with the correct type. I splurged when buying my grinder/ stuffer and am so glad I did. This thing feeds meat through as fast as you can feed it and with the foot controlled starter the person holding the tube can control exactly how much meat is going into the tube. AWESOME!

IMG_2163

Into the smoker. Now here is where things got interesting. We bought this proofer way back in 1993 and had it in storage all these years. Phill gave it away a few months ago to a gentleman he works with who turned it into a smoker. We borrowed it back for this project. Funny how those things go. He disconnected the thermostat on it which we found to be troublesome but  our Go Go Gadget son, Tyler, hooked it back up so we would have good control over the temperature. The smell of Apple Wood chips permeated the air. It smelled so good. Can’t you just smell  it as we speak?  See the little ones? Those we made for gifts or samples. If this works out, we will do that again on a larger scale.

IMG_2164

AND HERE THEY ARE!  They were cooled in water this morning after 15 hours of smoking. They will be refrigerated today and then vacuum sealed and frozen.  Our next batch will be slow smoked and hung to dry for several weeks. Those won’t need refrigeration.

We had a great time with this and learned a lot. I know a smoke house is on the agenda. Right after the bee hives, milking parlor, new workshop and Elderberry field. I hope you enjoyed sharing our day with us. Upcoming posts will include the bee hives Tyler and Phill worked on and the clearing of the driveway to plant 100 dogwood, rosebud and other flowering trees that Austin and I are working on.  Please let us know if you would like to come see the farm. Baby calf due March 20th and baby chicks arriving March 27th. So EXCITED.  Life is short. Grab the dream.

Helpful Tips When Visiting a Farm

12571086_10206047501766457_1735901131_n

Baby Jack. So cute and innocent.

 

Please always call ahead.  

 Nothing stops on the farm because someone comes for a visit. We may be cutting wood or cleaning brush. We may be butchering chickens or building fence. You never know what might be going on and some things are more family friendly than others. Give us a few days notice if possible.

 

IMG_2095

 

Let us know WAY in advance if you plan to be here for a meal.

We love to share our farm fresh food with you. We just don’t have fast food. No quick freezer meals or canned soup. Everything we eat is as close to  home made as we can get it. It’s slow food. If you are coming for the day, feel free to bring a picnic. We have lots of places that make for a beautiful spot for that. Or just let us know in advance and we will throw some soup in a pot and make a couple of loaves of home made bread with butter from Miss Duchess and you will believe you’ve gone to heaven.  If you’re really good about letting us know, you might even get one of these.

IMG_2136

 

Home made Take five cake. It was delicious. Can’t you just taste it  now!

WP_20151205_16_14_06_Pro

Watch Your Children

While we love to have children here, and feel it is important for children to learn where their food comes from, it can be a dangerous place if children are left unattended, even for a minute. Above you can see Stormy introducing her son to Duchess. She’s on it. She’s keeping herself between the animal and her son. One flick of her hand and that cow is out of there!  With so much going on, animals, electric fences, tractors and the like, we believe in safety first and that responsibility belongs to you, the parents, grandparents, teachers or whoever brought these wonderful children here. We want them to go home excited, healthy and exhausted. So do you!

WP_20151205_16_10_47_Pro

 

Keep your pets under control at all times.

One of the greatest things about our farm is allowing your dogs to run and play to their hearts content. We want your animals and ours to be friends. Please put your dogs on a leash when they come until we know if they will chase chickens or cows. These animals contribute so much to the income and satisfaction of our farm and are part of our family. We would be devastated if your dogs were hurt, or worse, because they chased Duchess or Jack. We do have a place to kennel your dog if chasing becomes an issue or if they have problems with our English Shepherds. Our dogs are working dogs and have free reign of the farm. They are almost always friendly with other dogs but there is always the possibility of problems. Give it a try. It is so fun to watch a city dog get its farm game on. They will go home as exhausted as the children.

 

dutches and jack 003

 

Come prepared for mud and poop.

Lots of mud and poop.  Don’t wear your Sunday best. Period. Wear clothes that can get dirty, and even torn. Animals poop. Everywhere. All the time. Rubber boots or muck boots are your best friend out here. We don’t stop working just because you show up. You might want to get in the middle of things and help in the garden or muck out the barn. You may just want to hike in the woods or visit the creek. We appreciate your help. There is always more to do than we can get done and most people want to see what it’s really like so join us. Help us. Learn to drive a tractor. But bring a change of clothes and an extra pair of shoes. You will be happy you did and so will your car.

 

My house will not look like a magazine.

I don’t have a picture for this one. I would be embarrassed to show you what my house looks like some times. I have laundry. Lots of it. It piles up on the back porch just waiting to become a priority. I always have dishes in the sink. I don’t think I’ve seen my island cleaned off for weeks. And all that mud that’s outside? Somehow it seems to come inside even though the muck boots come off at the door. Please come on in and enjoy yourself. Put your feet on the coffee table. Get yourself a drink from the fridge. Help yourself to a cookie from the cookie jar. It always has something in it. Our house is your house when you visit. Please respect it and love it like you do your own.

Learning from your mistakes

WP_20151205_16_10_43_Pro

 

These are my cows, Jack and Duchess, meeting a puppy. This post isn’t about them. It’s about Bea, a cow I learned life’s lessons on.  I’m not sure why I didn’t take any of the cow I tried to rehabilitate except that I probably didn’t want to get too attached to her.  I made many mistakes with this one and feel foolish even sharing this except that if any of you are tempted to go down this road it may make you think twice.

An add for a cow is what started this whole thing. I love my cows, as many of you know. I spent lots of time with my Aunt and Uncle and cousin Cheryl on a dairy farm growing up. I was actually born on one but was little enough when we left the farm that I don’t remember much. My mother recently told me that as a very tiny two and three year old she would find me in the paddock all curled up on one of the cows. I guess I’ve always had it in my blood so when I saw an add for this cow I called. Cheap should have been my first warning sign. Craigslist the other but a girl with a passion can’t be easily dissuaded.  I called. Seems this girl was a six year old which is a great age for a milk cow for a family farm. She had been a nurse cow, warning number three, and the owner, and 88 year old man had pulled three calves from her and hadn’t been able to keep up with her milking, warning number four. A neighbor took her off his hands and we brought her home.  The trip was very stressful for her. She was weak and testy and having none of our attention. She wasn’t electric fence savvy and broke right through and ran into the woods. That is bad enough but it was dark by the time we got her unloaded and into the paddock. Rounding up a cow in the dark in the woods when you are in your late fifties is no fun and games but what are you going to do? Put on your big girl pants, grab a flashlight and go for it.

The first bad sign was trying to milk her out that evening. She was impossible. All the signs of mastitis were evident, especially in one quarter. Cows have a let down reflex to let the milk flow and, because of stress, she wasn’t willing to let us have it. Long story short, she never did give us much milk and what she did have was terrible. We called the vet. He gave her medication, checked her for pregnancy, which fortunately she wasn’t, and we waited. We tried everything including medication to get her to milk out but she was weak and thin, not eating well and getting lethargic. She showed no signs of pneumonia but was medicated. It was sad to see how it was going and feeling like we were doing everything we could to save her. There comes a time though that you know what the outcome will be and the next morning, after two weeks of trying, we knew.

I went out to the field to do the morning feed and there she was, laying on her side head down on the ground. Most of you may not know that once a cow gets down and can’t get back up on their own they very quickly give up. I was home alone. I had no idea what to do. I had never driven the tractor but knew I needed to get her turned around so her head wasn’t downhill and Phill was an hour away. Panic makes you incredibly resourceful. I figured out our old 1957 tractor, got it into the field and turned around, strapped her feet and pulled her around so she was in the right direction, praying, crying and feeling so incapable. She wasn’t going to make it. I knew that in my heart but it wasn’t going to be for lack of love or trying.

Phill made it home. Hearing your wife screaming and crying in the phone will get you home in record time. We were able to get her feet under her an prop her up with hay bales to make her more comfortable but couldn’t get her to eat or drink. She was always very thin from nursing three calves but she just sort of withered away. I covered her with horse blankets and let her go through the night.  The next morning our neighbor came and put her down and took her away.  It was a very kind thing for him to do. No one wants to do that.

Lessons I learned.

You can’t save everything. Learn to walk away and trust your instincts. The outcome of this cow would probably have been the same whether I tried or not and the financial and emotional stress would have been spared.

Lesson number two. Don’t buy animals from undocumented backgrounds. The second party in this, the neighbor, knew much more than he was willing to tell me. I understand that now. The calves had been removed much longer than he had stated for her to have been this sick.

Lesson number three. Take on only that for which you are prepared. I haven’t had cows long enough to be able to tell which cows I can take a risk on and which ones I can’t. I have a very good vet that took one look at that cow and said, not in so many words, “What were you thinking”. He came out twice and was willing to do whatever we needed but gave me good advice when it came time to cutting my losses. I am grateful.

Lesson number four. When  you are in extenuating circumstances you become strong in ways you never knew. Is it sad that she went through all of this? Of course. But I learned I could handle an emergency with an animal eight times my size. I learned I could drive the tractor without tearing down the barn or running over a fence. I learned I could make the hard call when the time came and live with the outcome. I learned I am stronger than I give myself credit for.

Lesson number five. I learned I have a patient, kind, strong, dedicated husband who is allowing me to grow into being a farmer without judgement, condemnation or fear. He was with me all the way. He has not held my poor, initial decision against me or reminded me of it once. He felt my pain and comforted me. He reminded me that life is a journey of growing and that only with mistakes can we learn and grow. I am blessed.

We will, probably get another cow someday. For now I will love on my girl, Duchess, and my silly steer Jack and wait for the day I learn what it’s like to let go of a boy  you have raised knowing he will one day nourish our family and in the mean time, I’ll go give Duchess her favorite treat of a banana and Jack a handful of kale from the greenhouse and be content that God has given me this great family, farm and life.

Thanks for listening.

 

Today’s Project is Home Made Bread

I make all of our bread. Period. No store bought stuff for us. I feel blessed to be able to have the time in my life to do it. I usually make a killer wheat bread made from wheat I grind just before using. Today I’m having egg overload and decided to do things a bit differently.  Egg bread. It uses six egg yolks and three large eggs as well as an egg wash at the last rise.  I’m trying to learn something new every day. This is today’s lesson. I just hope it tastes as good as it looks.

 

IMG_2103

How to build a chicken tractor

One of the most used investments on our farm are our chicken tractors and our brooder. We raise our egg layer and meat birds in these houses and, over time, have found ways to make them easier to use, move and store.

 

IMG_1967

 

In this photo you see the panels which are made from 2×2’s. The end panels are two feet high by five feet wide. One end is covered in tin and the other is screen stapled to the surface. The screen here is 2×2″ welded wire. It is fine for older chicks but not suitable for small chicks. If you have a predator issue, you can use hardware cloth. We don’t put anything around the bottom of our tractors. It makes it too difficult to move and we have dogs that protect our farm. Each panel is held together with long screws and there is a center piece to give it more strength. The side panels are two feet by ten feet and are covered in screen as well.  This makes for easy assembly  and dis-assembly and they store flat in the barn during the off season.

 

IMG_1928

The top is made in one large five by ten piece with one end hinged for access. We hang this panel on the wall in the barn when not in use.  With one large pen, we had to find a way to access the birds without having to get into the pen. Who wants to crawl around in all the poo to reach an injured bird? Not this girl.

IMG_1966

Here you see the divider panel that slides from back to front to slowly  move the chickens to one end for easy reach.  When the top is put on, there is a small gap that runs from the back to front with blocks that hold it above the pipe. We just use screwdrivers inserted into the end of the pipe to slide it back and forth. Because it is usually in the back position, and we cover with tarps, we don’t want anything protruding beyond the side of the tractor.

 

IMG_1931

If you look closely you can see the divider back by the wheels of the tractor. When the chicks are first moved from the brooder to the tractor we leave them in the front. This allows them to stay huddled together for warmth but still gives them plenty of room. We slide the partition back as they grow. Rowdy just had to be in the picture. These are his babies. We have no need for any other protection against predators with Shadow and Rowdy doing their job. More on English Shepherds in another post.

 

IMG_1197

Chicks start out in a brooder in a building that is made the same way but is solid on all four sides. It has a screen top that is covered with foam insulation until they are able to regulate their body heat. At about three weeks, or when they are fully feathered, they are moved outside into the tractors. The tractors are moved three times a day to fresh grass. We have used standard waterers and feeders but this year will be using a system of hoses that allow a fresh water supply to be constantly available. I will update when we have that in place.

Our birds get the best of care. Great food, fresh air, lots of good bugs, grass and dirt and we believe we produce a bird that is far above the commercial meat bird. Please let me know if you have any questions or are interested in purchasing chickens from us. Production starts in March and by that time we hope to have Paypal ready to go and our website up and running. Please bear with me. I can bake a great loaf of bread, I can plant a wonderful garden and I can go head to head with our milk cow but I have a hard time with the computer and camera.

Hope you enjoyed learning a little about what we do and I look forward to hearing from you.

Let’s get this party started!

This is the first post in what I hope are many.  This is the adventure of a middle aged couple beginning a farmstead.  It would be nice to say we are fearless about the whole thing but, as with anything else, age makes you aware of the complexities and pitfalls of any new adventure.  I think it also makes you aware that you only have one life to live and being true to your dreams always includes some risks.  Come along on this adventure with us.  I will be recapping where we started from a year ago to the present and then ask you to follow along as we move onward. I hope you enjoy your visit here and plan to visit us at the farm someday.  DSC_0142.NEF

A new site in progress

keep coming back while we build this site