Oh what a difference a day makes…
Here in the beautiful Driftless Region of southwestern Wisconsin, particularly in our city, Richland Center, there is just a dusting of snow. But three hours to our north and west, a nasty 5 to 8 inches of heavy snow and ice took direct aim at our poultry processor, and hit just a few hours before we were to take off with a trailer-load of future Thanksgiving "Centers of Attraction."
We’d been watching the weather forecasts all day on Sunday the 9th, our departure scheduled for Monday the 10th, and the turkeys’ demise scheduled for early Tuesday morning, the 11th, when the state inspector would be on site. It is a little over three hours’ drive for us on a good day … but with the snow starting to fall overnight between Sunday and Monday, and continuing all day Monday and Tuesday, we decided to stay put here in “The South” and reschedule for the following week. We are glad we did, as the news reported an accident in Minnesota, where the storm was coming from: A semi traveling on I-94 with a load of live turkeys had skidded off the highway and overturned down the embankment. On the map below, our farm is at point "A" and our processors are at point "B."
So, our turkeys received a temporary reprieve … and we’ve received a bucketful of challenges! Fortunately, we still had plenty of feed left for them, and there’s lots of grass. The temperatures have plummeted below freezing, and look to stay that way throughout the entire week, so I think their much loved bug population is gone.
Last August, Farmer Bryan ran about 300 feet of hose from the well pump at the barn out to the Turkey Pasture. The hose is connected to an automatic waterer, which senses the water level in the basin and allows water to flow in when it starts getting low. Needless to say, the hoses are frozen, and the water in the little red plastic basin froze, too.
So, every three hours, we filled a bucket with hot water from the farmhouse sink, and carried it out to the Turkey Pasture. The turkeys love the warm treat, and drink it up fast … necessitating another trip up and down the hill from house to pasture. That little watering basin is perfectly adequate when it constantly refills itself ... but when it's hand-filled, the little bit of water that it holds doesn't last long with 20 thirsty turkeys.
This routine got very old, very quickly, so Farmer Bryan made a trip to the hardware store (our rural hardware stores carry farm supplies, too) for a thick-walled rubber water basin, and then to another store for a package of ping pong balls. Rubber is a far better insulator than plastic, and the three ping pong balls we float in the water move with the slightest breeze, so they help to keep the surface water from skimming over with ice. It seems to be working well, and wasn’t too horribly expensive a fix.
The tarps we had applied to the northwest corners of the mobile Turkey Huts this past October when a cold, wind-driven rain was forecast seem to be holding up well, and provide a wind-break for the birds at night and anytime during the day that they desire to find shelter from Old Man Winter who has come to call far earlier than he is supposed to.
So, we felt like we had our bases covered … until I spotted a wintertime resident who also decided to call earlier than we had expected.
This bald eagle, who typically hung out at our next door neighbor’s place last year, decided that the tree between our barnyard and the Turkey Pasture was the place he wanted to be.
He kept a watchful eye on those turkeys, and it had me worried. I’m betting that the turkeys are too big for him, but I’m not an eagle-turkey expert, so I just watched him as he watched them. Finally, after about 20 minutes of mutual watching, he took off and went to the neighbor’s trees. I’m hoping he finds plenty of corn to glean and rabbits to eat, and forgets about our turkeys.
What a difference a day makes … we should have had 20 turkeys, nicely shrink-wrapped, safe and sound in the big freezers downstairs. Who knew that a typhoon from Hawaii would scoot up to Alaska and then turn east with its low pressure and moisture to derail our oh-so-carefully-laid plans? Such is life on the farm. We yield to the pressure, wherever it is from, and do our best to roll with it. Praying we can keep these Thanksgiving turkeys healthy and alive through these next five frozen days, and then have safe passage to the processors up north. I’ll breathe a sigh of relief when everyone is safely back home at the farm!
Happy November to the Capper's Farmer family! For most of us, the harvest has been gathered in, and we are completing preparations for the winter that will, no doubt, be upon us before we can blink twice. Hearth and home are true focal points at this time of year as we bring the colors of fall into our homes.
Here at Farm on the Hill in southwest Wisconsin's gorgeous Driftless Region, the riot of fall color we thoroughly enjoyed is but a memory ... grays and browns are taking over, and the smell of wood smoke spices the air as we fire up the wood-burning furnace.
This is the time of year when I begin to think warm and cozy as I walk around the farmhouse, placing extra throw blankets on the couch and easy chairs, and pulling out candles with the warm scents of cinnamon and vanilla.
I love to have my kitchen and dining room tables wear a simple decoration throughout the fall, and then get dressed up for Thanksgiving. And my favorite table decorations come from and reflect the bounty of the fall harvest.
My everyday table is accented with the natural beauty of tri-color popcorn, a canning jar, and a tealight.
As the harvest season progresses, I love to decorate my table with winter squashes. These little decorative ones were super inexpensive at my grocer, but acorn and butternut squashes work just as well, and can be eaten as they ripen beyond their "decorative life." The larger the squash you use, the larger the canning jar should be.
My dining room table gets dressed up for Thanksgiving in much the same way, but with extra candles and the addition of nuts in the shell. While nuts in the jar are expensive, nuts in the shell are purchased in the bulk section of your grocery store, and can be stored in the freezer after they've finished their time on your table, thus being useful for many years. (You'll know when it's time to replace them by their smell ... but mine really do last many years!) I love walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds ... but if you are blessed with an oak tree in your yard, acorns can be gathered at no cost other than a little exercise!
Apples and pears can be easily added to this table decor on the celebration day for an extra pop of color and fun. Small, fallen branches with still-pretty leaves clinging to them or clipped stems of shrubs from your yard can be added. Simply walk around your property ... what looks pretty and won't be a wet or sticky mess on the table do you see? Bring the outdoors in.
Once Thanksgiving is over, place the popcorn into zipper-lock baggies and store in a dry location. (I put it into the drawer where I store my candlesticks and placemats); cook and eat the squashes; and enjoy the fruit if you used it!
Nuts in the shell also go into a zipper-lock freezer baggie (I actually double-bag these to prevent absorption of freezer odor over the years of storage) and then into the freezer. Label the baggie as "Decorative Use Only ... Do NOT Eat!" if you plan to store them for more than six months. Make them easy to find in the freezer ... you can use them again for Christmas, and I'll be sharing more inexpensive holiday table decor inspired by nature come December, so stay tuned!
My last blog post left off with the purchase and homecoming of our day-old turkey poults to the brooder that Farmer Bryan had just finished ... in the nick of time!
The little birdlets spent seven cozy weeks in their newly crafted brooder, where they learned to eat a little grass and the occasional bug that flew in through the window or crawled in through a tiny opening. They explored their tiny "world" and grew strong and healthy.
Finally, at 7 weeks, it was time to leave the brooder and meet the great big world outside! First, I suit up for work ...
I'm not able to photograph the capture, wing-trimming, and crating of the birds as it is fully a two-person job, all hands on deck (and none on the camera), but we do a gentle body-grab of the birds, pinning their delicate wings with our hands so they don't injure themselves by frantic wing flapping. Once captured, Farmer Bryan tucks them under one arm, by his side, like a football, then holds out one wing. I look underneath the wing so I can see the "quick," where the feather quills' blood supply is, and then carefully trim off the feathers beyond the quick ... very much like trimming fingernails.
It does not hurt the bird (again, like trimming fingernails), and prevents them from being able to fly out of the protected pasture area we have ready for them. If they were to fly out, they would very rapidly be eaten by something ... so flight is a liability. In the photo below, you can see the trimmed wing feathers on one of the birds:
Once the feathers are trimmed, I open the top of the poultry crate and Farmer Bryan gently places the turkey inside and guides it as far back as possible. He quickly withdraws his arm and I quickly close the hatch so our bird doesn't escape ... which they try to do! We put about five turkeys in each crate. Once all the turkeys are crated, we lift the crates into the back of the Kawasaki Mule, our farm utility vehicle, for the ride out to the pasture where the Chicken Huts, all scrubbed out and re-named "Turkey Huts," await the nervous birds.
Once we're at the Turkey Hut, the crating procedure is reversed, again taking care to open and close the hatch quickly to prevent the turkeys from injuring themselves in any escape attempt. Food and fresh water await them inside the Turkey Hut, and they soon settle in for a meal and then a nap in the warm sunshine!
We leave them in the Turkey Hut for one week, so they learn, no doubt about it, where "Home" is ... food, water, shade, shelter. It also gives them time to get just a bit bigger, which makes them only slightly less of an easy "pick-off" meal for one of our resident hawks or eagles. At 8 weeks, we will open the door to the Turkey Hut and allow them to learn the lessons of living on the pasture ... under our watchful eyes! Stay tuned!
It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post … my apologies! Let’s see … I left off as the concrete work was happening at Farm on the Hill. What a difference!
The masons did a great job in the old barn, completing the interior tuckpointing on the original stone foundation walls, then parging it all.
Once they cleared out, and the electricians had finished re-wiring the barn’s electrical system, Farmer Bryan and I got to work constructing the brooder in one of the newly repaired rooms. After a good sweeping, insulation batts were placed.
Additional framing was added where needed.
The ceiling was installed. NOT EASY! The barn, like the house, is built of solid oak. That’s a hard, hard wood to drill into up over one’s head!
Walls were installed, and everything was sawed and shaped with hand tools where needed.
We worked during the daytime and also by lamplight, and finished walling in the room the night before the turkey poults were to be picked up!
The morning of pick up, I washed the viewing window and Bryan put the finishing touches on the brooder … pine shavings, heat lamps, feeders and waterers.
Just in case you forgot where we started, just four short days prior, here's the before:
And the after:
Last but NOT LEAST ... a good, sturdy latch for the door.
Then it was off for some fun!
We won’t talk about Thanksgiving dinner just yet … these guys and gals are just too cute to think about that! We'll just enjoy watching them through the sparkling clean viewing window instead!
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!