It's been an incredibly busy week at Farm on the Hill here in Wisconsin's Driftless Region! After watching the barn form frozen waterfalls inside this past winter, where the water was pouring into the place we plan to have sheep, and seeing the floor of the room in the barn that we planned to use as the brooder become a sheet of ice, and also watching the stones fall out of a load-bearing wall in the basement of the house, we finally decided to make the investment, and we hired a mason and his crew. I have to give a major shout-out to Mark Kast Masonry, LLC, for their terrific work! What a great bunch of guys ... we will be hiring them again, most definitely, for the next job! They do both the vertical work on the walls and the horizontal work that we needed done, so we were able to make a real transformation!
IN THE BARN:
Brooder before (the area under the large viewing window was a sheet of ice):
Brooder after (4 inches of concrete to raise the floor level, since we determined that the water was coming from under in this room, not from leaking walls):
We hired our neighbor (and his skid steer) to clean out the barn and the old liquid waste trench that was part of the old dairy operation that was once here ... the trench was filled, all winter, with 6 inches of solid ice, and with 6 inches of water all spring and early summer.
See the hole in the wall in the photo below? It was there so the lucky person mucking out the barn via the trench could empty the muck into the manure spreader, which was parked on the pad on the outside of the hole in the wall. We have no use for that "exit point," so the guys walled it in for us. First, they filled it in with blocks, then they "sculpted" over it with concrete to reinforce. (Note: the vertical barn wall work is not finished ... this is just the start.)
THE BEGINNINGS OF OUR CUSTOMER WELCOME CENTER:
AROUND THE HOUSE...THE BASEMENT:
Our basement has two halves: the original half (which is almost a century old), and the new half, added sometime in the last nine years by the previous owner. Much has been done in the last year, by us, to the old half. This time, however, it was the new half that was getting a facelift, indoors and "out!"
The wall that divides the new half of the basement from the old is the original, 100-year-old stone foundation wall. The side of this wall that faces the "new half" of the basement was the original exterior foundation wall. To understand this better, here's a little "word picture" for you, then a photograph:
Go back in time to the 1910s. Picture a big, rectangular hole in the ground that, when the house was built, was to be the basement. The builder took the stones, and pressed them into the dirt "walls" of that hole until he had the entire thing "walled in," then he used mortar to secure the stones in place on what became the inside of the basement.
Fast-forward almost 100 years, and dig an adjoining hole, right up to the old one, to add more basement alongside (plus a new kitchen on top of it). Use a sledge hammer to break through the old wall, creating an opening from old basement to new. Then remove all the old mud from what was the exterior side of the old wall, so it now shows on the other side, the new side. This is what we have.
Since this "exterior side" of the stone wall was just pushed into the original mud/dirt hole, it becomes a crumbly mess when it's exposed. Not only do we constantly have dirt piling up at its base, we also have gravel and large stones dropping off of it. Not very safe, and certainly a constant mess. Tuckpointing and then a sculpted concrete coating fixed this old, exterior-now-interior wall!
The finished wall:
THE BASEMENT WALKOUT PATIO:
Opposite the newly sculpted wall are the sliding glass doors that lead to the back "yard" of the house and the pastures. The area just outside the doors was a weed-laden mess for the last year. Not any more!
There is still much to do as we reclaim This Old Farm, but each step we take brings us one step closer to the long-term dream coming true! I hope you've enjoyed our tour!
Strong storms moved through most of Wisconsin last night. Though we had quite the lightning show and heavy wind and rain, we were spared the structural damage that seems to have hit farther east, in the Madison area. Nonetheless, the wind and soaking rains did lead to the loss of three of our young chickens. It would have been four, had it not been for Farmer Bryan’s quick actions, which saved a hypothermic bird.
She is one who doesn’t yet have her full feathers. Most of them do, but a few are a bit “behind” their pasture-mates. Bryan ran her into the house, into the basement where the brooder used to be. I ran to the barn to grab a chain from which Bryan then suspended one of the heat lamps we use for the baby chicks. Our bird was dropping her head down to the ground. Her eyes were closed, and she was shaking quite hard. We set her down in the little child’s pool we keep as a “hospital pen” for sick chicks. We tossed a couple of towels into the microwave to heat them up, then wrapped our little patient in two of them, and placed her under the heat lamp. It wasn’t looking good.
There were still the other birds outside who needed food, water, and freedom from their nighttime confines, so Bryan headed up and out to finish chores while I sat with our shivering bird. I remembered my experience, back in high school, with a November canoe trip in Michigan. A classmate who was goofing around (foolishly so) in her canoe lost her balance and fell into the cold river. We spent hours with her, battling hypothermia. I remember distinctly being told, “Whatever you do, don’t let her fall asleep. Keep her awake. Talk to her, sing to her, rub her skin, just don’t let her fall asleep.” So I figured I’d do the same thing with the chicken. I talked to her, sang to her, petted her head and neck … which were the only parts sticking out of the towel-wrap. Then I finally turned on the radio, so she could hear music. I carefully lifted the waterer to her beak, and tried to coax her to take a drop. I had filled the jar with very warm water, and added just a dash of “Save-A-Chick,” which is an electrolyte powder. It looks and smells like orange Gatorade. She only took one drop. I prayed …
After about 15 minutes, she briefly opened her eyes. A good sign! I talked to her, petted her, and re-adjusted her towel wraps. Her eyes opened more often, and she seemed to look at me. After a little more time, she was noticeably more alert, and began to squirm just a bit inside her wraps. I pulled them back, but just a little bit, as she was still shivering.
I didn’t time this, but I’m guessing it took about 30 minutes of sitting in the towel wraps, under the heat lamps, before I smelled the clear notice that her kidneys and her digestive system were functioning normally (smiles). I don’t love that smell, but this time, it was a welcome sign that her organs hadn’t shut down! Once she’d done this, she really wanted out of the wraps. I opened them more, enough that she could get out if she really wanted to, but they were still there if she was cold.
She began to move, but was really stumbling around. This lasted another half-hour or so, during which time she ate a bit (another good sign) of food from her tray, tried to perch on her tray, fell into her tray, sat in her tray, and, finally, walked out of her tray.
As her gait became more steady, and she began to explore the walls of the little pool, we decided to “wall her in,” just in case she found the strength to make a jump for escape.
Once we saw that she was thoroughly dry and thoroughly recovered, Farmer Bryan dodged her pecking beak and was able to grab her for the trip back outside to her pasture home, and her pasture-mates. It was hot and humid outside … perfect weather for a chicken!
It was so cute … as we approached the pasture, her pasture-mates stopped their activity and peeked around the Chicken Huts to see what was happening. When Bryan stepped into the paddock with our little patient, they all came running, as if to say, “Yay! You made it! You’re home!”
Bryan placed her in the Chicken Hut, near the food trough, and her pasture-mates flocked around to see their missing friend.
We are sad to have lost three of these chickens, but it was sure satisfying to nurse this one back to health! We have more possible storms predicted for tonight, so we are praying that she stays safe and dry. Think we’ll get up with the sun tomorrow morning and check on them, just in case we need to warm up some more.
With summer knocking at the door, I thought I'd share my method for making jam without commercial pectin. Agar-agar is made from a variety of sea vegetables (seaweed/kelp), and is used like gelatin ... only it's completely vegetarian! It's a great alternative to pectin in jams, and it can be used to thicken anything you cook. Agar-agar must be heated to "release" the jelling properties, then it will set up as it cools. Agar-agar flakes are best ... less processed than agar-agar powder. My recipe is for flakes.
Pectin is found in the skins/peels of many fruits and has thickening properties. Commercial pectin, on the other hand, is a processed powder made from apple (typically) and/or citrus peels. It is far from natural ... have a quick look HERE at a chart showing the steps to make powdered pectin. You'll probably realize why you're allergic to it, if you are!
I used the recipe from my Ball Blue Book of Canning for peach preserves, and modified it to include blueberries and to use the agar-agar. Here are the ingredients lists for both ... each uses 4 pounds of fruit. Note the amount of sugar called for in each:
8 cups sliced, peeled, pitted peaches (about 4 pounds)
1 package powdered pectin
2 tablespoons lemon juice
7 cups sugar
Blueberry-Peach Preserves With Agar-Agar
4 pounds combination blueberries and peaches (slice, peel, and pit peaches)
4 tablespoons agar-agar flakes
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups pure cane sugar (do use CANE sugar ... others can be from sugar beets or other cheap sweet stuff)
Did you check out that difference in sugar? This jam has a delicate sweet flavor that comes from the fruit itself, rather than the overpowering taste of sugar. I love it! Here are the instructions for how to make it:
– Have your jars sterile and ready (I just use my dishwasher, and keep the door shut to keep them hot; it takes my canner about 40 minutes to boil, I think, so I start the water bather heating when my dishwasher has about 40 minutes to go until the end of the cycle).
– Put all ingredients, except agar-agar, into a stock pot or deep pasta pot. Mash the peaches and berries with a potato masher (you could use a food processor ... but I like my jam a tad chunky, so I don't use one for this). Stir to mix sugar in well.
– Bring a good book or magazine to have by the stove (you'll see why ...).
– Bring it all to a boil, stirring constantly.
– Add agar-agar, stir in well.
– Turn down heat to warm, and mash some more with the potato masher (the hot fruits are softer so they'll mash really nicely now ... careful that you don't get spattered with hot fruit).
– Turn heat back up to resume a gentle boil; set the timer for 20 minutes, and keep stirring.
– Keep stirring, stirring, stirring ... just keep stirring the whole 20 minutes!
The agar-agar will begin to thicken at the end of the stirring time. ***DO NOT ADD MORE AGAR-AGAR ... WHAT YOU HAVE IS PLENTY, AND IT WILL THICKEN! BE PATIENT! ***(How do I know this? I wasn't patient, and I added another tablespoon of agar-agar ... my jam is delicious, but really jellied ... more than I would like.)
– When the timer goes off, you're ready to ladle this into your hot canning jars; be super careful, this stuff is super hot. To prevent the jars from possible cracking, hold a metal table knife in the jar with one hand while you ladle with the other.
– Wipe down tops and sides and tightly screw on lids. Some people just let the lids seal at this point, but I water-bath processed mine for 10 minutes.
Read more about agar-agar HERE and HERE.
I hope you'll give it a try this summer with the fresh fruit you purchase at your local farmers' market, or that you grow yourself if you are so blessed! Let me know how it turns out!
After enjoying a wonderful Easter Sunday cantata at our church, Bryan and I headed another 45 minutes south (and thus about 1 1/2 hours south of our farm) to pick up 20 1-year-old laying hens from an Organic Valley Coop egg farmer who had them for sale.
I like Organic Valley and am a loyal customer of their dairy products, but I have to say I was surprised by the high production at this farm. It wasn’t anything like the confinement egg operations you see in the conventional ag industry, which is nightmarish, but it wasn’t what I had imagined, either. It’s still high production … but the birds weren’t confined in cages, and we know, since they were O.V. birds, they weren’t fed all the chems and meds that conventional birds would receive. A vast improvement over the factory-farms which produce the 99 cents/dozen chalk-white eggs at the supermarket … but we kinda like what we’re doing with these 20 hens, and we think the hens like it, too.
We kept them in the Eggmobile for the first three days, to make sure they had settled down after the stress of the move, and also to make sure they were accustomed to laying their eggs in the nesting boxes, so we wouldn’t have to hunt all over the pastures for the little brown orbs.
On day four, Bryan opened up the ramp and I readied my camera to capture the big moment! But the girls were too nervous to come out.
Bryan moved the red waterer closer to the ramp, so they’d be able to see it. Since it had been in the Eggmobile with them for those first three days, they knew what it was. That should draw them out of the Eggmobile! I readied my camera again and waited …
No go. They were still too skittish to come down that ramp. More work to do on the farm, so we left them with the ramp door open, and hoped they would come out and enjoy the fresh air, cold as it was.
This afternoon, Bryan and I finished the Mobile Chicken Tractor, which will house our broilers out on the pasture in just a few days when we move them out of the brooder. I had my camera with me to take some photos of the construction, including this shot of one of our farm kitties, 1-year-old Hobbes, who decided to “help” Bryan with his work …
After we finished the tractor, I headed out toward the pasture, and found the girls happily scratching through the grass, pecking at bugs, and enjoying the sunshine!
I’m looking forward to watching the yolks on these eggs turn from the winter-time, barn-raised yellow to the deep orange of foraging, bug-eating, pasture-raised hens. The nutrition of these eggs can’t be beat, and the satisfaction of knowing that the hens that laid the eggs are enjoying their chicken-lives while they are in our “employ” is icing on the cake!
Here at Farm on the Hill in Richland Center, Wisconsin, "Mud Season" has begun in earnest. We eagerly await the pastures complete thawing and firming up enough to bring our first critters out to the green grass. This year, it'll be the chickens.
The broilers are still in the brooder in the basement, and they are growing like weeds! It's amazing to watch the way they change, literally before our eyes.
In the tractor shed, farmer Bryan Havens has added the roof and the sides to the Egg Mobile in preparation for the laying hens to join us in just a couple more weeks.
The two photos below show the interior of the Egg Mobile. The nesting box will be hung on the left side wall closest to you in this first photo. On the outside of the Egg Mobile, behind the nesting box, there will be a hinged panel, which we can raise and prop open in order to collect all the eggs laid in the nest boxes from the outside.
At the back on the left side of the photo below, you can see that Bryan has left an opening. He'll be building a "trap door" type of structure that will, when open, serve as the ramp that the hens will use to go in and out of the Egg Mobile. At night, Bryan will call them all back inside, and then he will close that ramp door up tight and lock it to keep predators out, and the hens in.
We have purchased 20 certified organic laying hens from a farm to the south of ours, and plan to pick them up in another week. So we'll have LOTS of activity happening really, really soon!
Stay tuned for more news from This Old Farmhouse!
Over the last 10 years, I've done a lot of reading and learning about food. I've been a "raw-foody," a vegan (briefly, but I felt better than I had in decades doing this ... I just couldn't keep it up with a young homeschooling family to care for who did NOT want anything to do with my food schemes!), a junk-food junkie, a fast-food junkie, a ... well, you get the picture. I recently came across a doctor who was interviewed on TV about his book titled, "Wheat Belly." Fascinating! I love breads ... comfort foods. I mostly buy organic, or grind my own organic wheat into flour to make my own bread. I love doing this! Even so, for the last few months, something in my system has felt "off." I'm not getting any younger, and I know I need to be more careful with my health each passing year. My love of breads and pastas has caught up with me! Personally, I'm not interested in the "Paleo Diet," nor do I ever want to go "vegan" again, for a number of reasons. I think God gave us all these good foods to eat ... even Jesus ate them, so I have to believe they're OK for me, too! So how to reconcile that?
As I listened to the "Wheat Belly" doctor's interview, he talked about the problems that can occur with our modern wheat, which no longer resembles the original stuff. It was fascinating to me. I know that not everyone has a problem ... but I think I'm developing one, and I want to stop it in its tracks. So I did a search for ancient wheat, and I found this stuff:
It's called "Einkorn" wheat. It is the only remaining wheat that has never been hybridized, making it the genetically purest wheat available today. Jovial provides the einkorn wheat that I bought ... I purchased mine here.
Since I'm trying to get to a place where I only eat foods in their original state (that's a looooong, tall order, by the way, one that is going to still take time if the good Lord allows me more of it!), I thought I would give this new ... I mean, this old wheat a try! Einkorn wheat has been on the earth for many thousands of years! (Learn more about it at the Jovial website, here.)
Their recipe looked simple enough ... grind a pound of einkorn berries into flour, mix with water, yeast, honey and sea salt. Stir together with a spatula ... no kneading ... let rise, pour into oiled bread ban, smooth dough with a wet spatula, let rise, then bake. Bryan helped me with it so I could photograph.
The einkorn berries are different from modern wheat berries ... they are lighter, "fluffier," not so hard. They are slightly powdery (kind of like oats have a little powderiness to them). I forgot to photograph them in bulk, but here are the last few being pulled into the grinder:
Looks just like wheat flour :-) but it smells different ... less pronounced, milder somehow.
While we were grinding our berries, I had the yeast, water and honey mixture "proofing" on the counter. My friend, Helen, surprised me a few weeks ago with a jar of her home-farmed honey ... now that's a sweet gift! I used this honey to feed the yeast in this recipe.
Bryan poured the yeast mixture into the flour and sea salt blend:
Then came the very simple, gentle stirring with a spatula (I used the stiff, plastic one that came with my food processor). No kneading!
The dough is sticky, but still pretty easy to work. It took Bryan about 1 minute to incorporate the flour and liquid together into the dough. We covered the bowl with a towel, and left it out on the countertop to rise for 30 minutes, after which it didn't look like it had done much rising. My yeast is a little old, though it did proof, so I figured I would give it an extra 10 minutes with the benefit of a barely warm oven and making the cover towel damp. That did the trick, and after another 10 minutes (so 20 in the oven, total), it had risen nicely, though I don't think it quite doubled.
Lots of good "gluten windows" (air holes)!
Next, we plopped it into the greased bread pan (I used butter, plus a little organic coconut oil spray on top of it), and used a wet spatula to smooth out the top. The dough is still very sticky:
Another 30 minutes rise ... this time I went straight to the barely warm oven, and covered it with the damp towel! It rose really well, all the way up to the towel! I had to peel the towel off, and it left a messy top:
I scraped a bunch of dough off of the towel, and decided to put it on the bread for fun:
Into a 375-degree oven for 35 minutes, and it was done!
Baking bread with a buttered pan makes for a brown crust...yum!
Now, if you thought that I was going to let that bread just sit there and cool completely off, you were totally WRONG! I wanted to see and taste the end result of this new adventure! I let it cool halfway, and then ...
How to describe this delicious bread? It is lighter than the bread I make with modern wheat, more "air-y." It is much moister, too. The wet, sticky dough hints at that, I suppose! And the flavor ... hmmm ... overall, it tastes like wheat bread, but with a definite difference. The weight of Einkorn bread is lighter, the texture is air-y-er, and the wheat flavor is lighter, too ... more delicate. I've been thinking of an analogy that would work, and I've come up with nut butters. If you know what peanut butter tastes like, and then you try, say, almond butter ... they're similar, but almond butter is less nutty, it's a more delicate flavor compared with peanut butter. It's kind of like that with Einkorn wheat bread vs. modern wheat bread.
Not to mention that this was the easiest loaf of bread I've ever made!!!
It was pretty much just like making a quick bread mix, other than the two rising periods. I'm in love ...
Next we'll see what kind of pastry flour Einkorn is. There's no "hard" or "soft" Einkorn ... it's all just real, God-created wheat. I wonder if this is the wheat that Jesus and the ancients ate?
“Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths,
Where the good way is, and walk in it;
And you will find rest for your souls."
(Jeremiah 6:16 NASB)
Good food for thought! I'm a fan of this ancient grain, Einkorn wheat! I hope you can try it sometime, too, and let me know how you like it!
Finally! The temperature here in southwestern Wisconsin rose up into the 50s! It was a wonderful day to enjoy being outside, so we helped Graham, a neighboring shepherd, and his wife, Margaret, who also operate a B&B on their lovely farm, to vaccinate their pregnant ewes. They raise Scottish Blackface sheep, as well as a Suffolk cross (can’t recall exactly what they’re crossed with) variety. These are good sized sheep, and feisty as all get out when they’re being wrangled and flipped onto their bums so they’ll stay still for the vaccination. That plus the pregnancy weight, and it was quite a workout for Bryan and Graham! I wish I could have taken pictures of the process, but my camera battery died the minute I turned it on, so I left it home to recharge.
Once we returned to Farm on the Hill, our 9-month-old Cockapoo puppy, Zoe, got introduced to a smell she will come to know very well once Bryan’s sheep join us in September! She couldn’t get enough of Bryan’s sweatshirt with its lanolin smell, plus the other “natural” smells one picks up when one vaccinates around 60 sheep!
My job was the easiest, by far ... Bryan and Graham wrangled and flipped the ewes, Margaret gave the injection, and I colored the newly vaccinated ewe's head with purple chalk so we'd know which ones were done. My barn coat absorbed a bit of that chalk as the ewes jostled and crowded around in the pen! Zoe enjoyed sniffing these new farm smells, so much!
Margaret served us a lovely lunch of sandwiches, fruit salad and tea, and then she “paid” us for our help in the best way I could have asked for … she offered us a dozen fresh eggs from their flock of layers! I’ve been wishing for some fresh eggs for the last week, so it was wonderful to receive these. They also loaned us a couple of books that they felt would be the most beneficial for Bryan at this point in time, and talked with us for over an hour about sheep and shepherding.
We don’t know for sure, but I would guess Graham and Margaret are somewhere near 70 years of age, and they’ve been working with sheep for many decades. They will be a fantastic resource for Bryan as he goes through his first year with sheep on his farm. We are so grateful to have met them, and for this new friendship!
I love our rural community here, and I love the way neighbors work together to accomplish tasks that would just be overwhelming if they had to be done alone. I look forward to being able to thank someone who helps us out with a job by giving them a delicious, pastured chicken from our freezer, or some lamb chops, or a dozen eggs. I’ve read heartwarming stories of times gone by where the doctor’s services would be paid for with chickens, or where the dentist’s payment would be covered with a season’s worth of free haircuts, or some other service. What a shame that doesn’t happen more often today. Everyone has something of value that they can offer to the community around them. Especially in these unsure economic times, I think all of us should be thinking outside of the financial box when it comes to helping a neighbor. Money isn’t the only thing in this world that should be viewed as valuable! There's little else more valuable than one generation sharing its hard-won wisdom with the next, up-and-coming generation. Except fresh-gathered eggs, of course.