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Archive for November, 2012

Wrench monkeys

We stacked up quite a list of equipment maintenance jobs to do during Bear’s visit here.  Of course the list was way too long and optimistic for the time available, which was three weeks; in addition, he caught a cold on the flight over and so his first week was a no-go for anything other than sneezing, coughing, blowing his nose, and drinking lots of fluids, inside the warm house of course.

But together we’ve gotten a lot accomplished as these three weeks draw to a close, which is a great relief to me, for although I’m pretty capable of doing a fair share of wrench monkeying, my days are stretched rather thin with lots of other requirements.  So all the vehicles and equipment have had their oil changed, the big truck now has mud flaps (Merry Christmas to Thistledog from Bear!) and Jack the Tractor is in the process of getting new gauges and lights installed and wired up.

Yesterday we changed the blades on the Bush Hog, which isn’t a one-person task by any stretch of the imagination.  It was a little more difficult than it had to be, owing to the ginormous socket getting stuck on the nuts after torquing them to 600 ft/lbs.  I think we used the wrong size socket but you know, it turned out ok anyway and we needed the gear puller I had to go into town and buy to pull it off, so I’m not arguing.  New blades will make clipping and mowing pastures so much easier on the tractor, and the tractor operator, too.

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More hay laid in

Sunday I finished hauling in another 30 round hay bales for the cows’ winter feeding.  This hay was made just down the road by a guy that’s been making hay a long time and doesn’t have cows to feed anymore.  It’s really good hay, despite having been left out in the weather until now.  Even the spring hay is in good shape, and the girls are loving it.  I’ll be back for more, I think, to make sure we have plenty well into April, so I don’t have to start grazing too soon.

I hustled up to the pasture yesterday morning to get it covered before the predicted rain hit, and finished just as the first sprinkles started.  It didn’t rain much, but I wanted it covered before it did.  This next spring and summer I’ll buy it from him early and haul it out of the field right after he gets it baled, put it up on logs to keep it off the ground, and cover it before it ever gets any rain on it at all.  Lots of hay goes to waste by leaving it out in the rain, although it’s pretty common around here; you see a lot of hay lined up on pasture edges like this, without any cover.

A barn with hay storage will be nice, when we get to that point.  And as time goes on I’ll be able to manage the paddock rotations better and graze longer into the fall and winter, which will reduce the amount of hay needed.  Meanwhile, it’s about keeping the redheads fed and healthy.

 

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This coming Saturday, the first of December, I will have been retired from the Navy for a year.  A year, for heaven’s sake.

I’m amazed that an entire year has passed already.  Not that it flew by, not at all.  Most of it dragged on like a bad cold I couldn’t shake, testing my patience, challenging my well-laid plans, and taxing me both physically and mentally to my limits.

What a year it’s been.  Full of major changes, some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, more adventure than I ever could have imagined, and lots of unexpected twists and turns that have kept me busy figuring out how to do stuff I’ve never done before.

In addition to packing up 30 years of accumulated possessions, traveling cross-country with two dogs, setting up rudimentary housekeeping at the farm, and acquiring an entire cow herd, the heat and chiggers and physical exhaustion nearly kicked my butt.  And I’m still living amongst stacks of boxes, still looking for things I know I packed but haven’t found yet, and wishing I could wave a magic wand and have all the settling in stuff done now, please.  My heart aches for orderliness, balance, and efficiency.  My life doesn’t have much of any of those in it right now.

But I’m getting there, dammit.  At a bear’s pace, it seems:  lumbering, measured, deliberate.  Not speedy.  Not magic.  At times not seemingly making any progress at all, just meandering.  But the truth is, I continue to whittle down the daily lists of things that need done to care for livestock, pay the bills, keep the larder full and food on the table, prepare for winter.  I am getting my feet under me.  And I am rewarded with a small but growing level of orderliness, balance, and efficiency where just a few months ago, there was none.

Getting back to this blog, this narrative of my small farm journey,  is one of those deliberate, necessary steps toward where I need to be.  Yesterday I finally updated the Flickr pictures on the right of the page, replacing the shots of winter snow and ice from a visit two years ago, with photos taken the past few months.  Since late October I’ve been back to keeping a daily journal, and I’ve reserved time each day to write posts, taking my camera with me more often to capture the magic that happens every day here, magic and beauty I’ve lately been too overwhelmed to see or appreciate.

It’s the year mark.  Five months here at the farm.  Time to shake off the negativity, push through the brambles of doubt and lost confidence, and lumber into the sunny clearing ahead.  One bear paw in front of the other, I’m getting back on track.

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Good food

Holidays give us a great excuse to spend a little extra time making good food. It doesn’t always work out that we have the time, and ocasionally the day is just another ordinary day, as it was for my friend Liz in San Diego, who shared a galley-cooked meal with a crew of Navy sailors onboard a dockside submarine.  But when circumstances permit a gathering of hungry friends or family or both, it is a splendid opportunity for culinary excess.

Our gathering here at Bear and Thistle Farm was small this year; just Bear and I, and the two dogs.  But I cooked my little heart out, we stuffed ourselves on wonderful good food, lolled about watching movies all day and laughing at the dogs’ antics, and generally enjoyed ourselves very, very much.

I am so thankful for the goodness and blessings in my life.

The duck roasted up beautifully.  After a great deal of internet research on how to cook a duck, I ended up using Julia’s instructions for roasting a large chicken, which starts it out at 450 degrees, turning from side to side, then finishes at 350, breast up.  Everything else was focused on getting the fat to drain from the bird, and these little ducks have virtually no fat under the skin at all.  Here it is, ready for the oven:

And despite my intention to take a picture of the roasted result, the carving knife got busy too quick and so we just dug in.  It was delicious; dark and succulent and very mild-flavored.  The gravy was spectacular, as well.  Paired with mashed potatoes, herb and onion stuffing, fresh beets from the garden, and Bear’s favorite 60-minute rolls, it was a splendid meal.

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Two down

Duck butchering went well yesterday.  I picked the two white drakes out of the bunch while they were still inside their hooch, and trailered them down to the house in a wire dog crate where they hung out until early afternoon.  The weather was perfect – 63 degrees and sunny – so no cold fingers nor any flies.

We noted that the first bird plucked easier than the second; we think because we scalded it longer.  There wasn’t any problem with skin tearing, so next time I’ll probably swish a little longer in the hot water before cooling them in the ice water.

I’ll be getting a tool to help scrape out the cavity, too, as that was a little difficult with their long bodies.  The livers look wonderful, can’t wait to cook them up.  Both birds are “relaxing” in the fridge in their vacuum-sealed bags, the one to be roasted on Thursday and the other to start the freezer flock.  They dressed out right around 5 lbs each.  Perfect.

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Thanksgiving duck

I brought home 15 eight-week-old Muscovy ducklings in mid-August, to start a bug-eating flock for the cow pastures.  Fly control, or one element of it, hopefully.

They are now 21 or 22 weeks old, nearly full grown.  There are only 5 little hens in the bunch.  I don’t need 10 drakes to 5 hens, that’s for sure; two will be plenty.  So the extra boys are destined for the freezer, and one will volunteer for Thanksgiving meal duties.

It’s been 30 years since I processed poultry, so I’m only going to do two this first go-round.  I won’t take pictures of all the steps, maybe just one before and after.  We’re assembling all the items needed and test-firing the scalding pot today.  I built a killing cone yesterday out of scrap sheet metal, using dimensions I found online.  Hopefully everything goes smoothly, although I’m not looking forward to the hand-plucking.

Bear is here on his first semi-annual visit, over the Thanksgiving holiday – so nice to have him here.  With any luck, we’ll have a succulent young roasted duck with our mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy this year.  Bon apetit!

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I started this blog post a long time ago, when Skeet and Bandit and I arrived at the farm back in the beginning of July, and I had high hopes of settling into a routine that included regular updates.  It has been a lot like heading downhill on a black diamond ski run as a beginner since then, to be quite honest.

How could I have thought it would be otherwise?

At this point in the story telling, with the long, hot drive from California to Kentucky just a faded memory, 4 months and two seasons under our belts, cows up on the pastures eating hay and winter knocking at the door, I don’t think it’s possible to catch up on the details.  I’m not sure I can even write a decent synopsis of the events that have packed my days since arriving here on the 3rd of July.  No, I just need to get started back to posting, which will be a huge achievement in itself.

I’ll try to explain as I go.  It’ll be skippy for awhile, I’m sure, but eventually this narrative should smooth out, the missing pieces will get filled in, and it’ll start sounding more like the story of a woman starting up a small farm, instead of just dreaming about doing it.

Bear with me, please.  The adventure has just begun…

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