Random notes

We inherited ten chickens when we bought the place and left them to fend for themselves, which they did very well. Recently the older kids have been working to rehabilitate a chicken coop on the property. They cleared the brush that had grown up around it, cleaned out the mess inside, spread new bedding, built a replacement hatch door and ramp, and built some new nesting boxes. We started to provide feed and water in the coop, and the chickens have gradually spent more time in the building (but not at night—they still roost in nearby trees).

Yesterday Chris went out to check on their feed and water, happened to glance in the nesting boxes—and saw three eggs sitting there. This is the first time we’ve had eggs from them since we stumbled across a few in the yard late last summer. We were pretty excited, and used them in the egg pies we had for supper last night. The yolks were deep orange, deeper even than the farm eggs we have been buying.

When we bought the wood stove in November we laid in about four cords of wood. Well, that wood is nearly gone now, and we’re barely 75% through this very mild winter. Another load will be coming next week, we hope. I don’t think we’ve been using excessive amounts. The downstairs stays nice and warm, but nowhere near the 80+ degree temperatures I hear that they’re having in northern Minnesota. The upstairs gets colder than we would like on a cold night, and we have a couple of things planned to try to improve things next winter, more attic insulation and some floor returns to improve upstairs air circulation.

Most difficult has been proper heating during the night. Some of that is certainly due to our current wimpy notion of ‘proper heating’, but I don’t see any reason to start toughing it out if there are reasonable ways to keep the house warmer. While the weather was mild I got into the habit of filling the stove chock-full around 10pm, then getting up at 3:30 to refill it. That worked as long as the low was in the upper 20s, which it was for most of the winter. Now we’re getting a stretch of nights that are 20 degrees or below, and I’ve taken to sleeping downstairs and getting up every couple of hours to feed the fire. It doesn’t bother me too much, but if there is a better way I’d like to find it.

Right now we are buying ten gallons of fresh milk per week, which is more than we drink, so we are looking for other ways to use it. Debbie is already skimming most of it for butter. Matthew, our cheese fanatic, made some queso blanco, which turned out well but puzzled us a bit about how to use it (we ended up just eating it straight, which was fine). A couple of days ago Debbie made some 30-minute mozzarella which was excellent, much better than store-bought. I’m especially looking to trying some of that on a pizza. One of our favorite places to eat is Brick Oven Pizza in Austin, Texas, where they make a European-style pizza with moderately thin crust, fresh tomatoes, fresh garlic, and lots of whole-milk mozzarella which produced lots of rich yellow pools of grease—delicious.

Having fresh milk has led to increasing mentions of possibly having our own dairy cow, so I started reading Keeping a Faimly Cow by Joann Grohman. Debbie and Chris have already read it; Chris was reading it during our late fall musical travels, and as I was driving I heard a lot of “Did you realize that …” from him. Now I understand why. The book is well written, well researched, and does a no-nonsense job of debunking the many myths about fresh milk that have been deliberately cultivated by the dairy industry. It’s a good enough book that I’m tempted to add it to our catalog for its own sake, but the fact that we don’t yet have our own cow holds me back. It’ll be a much more powerful recommendation if we add it because it was the book that led us to get one.

While I was talking to my new friend Al Ellis, whose farm provides us with milk and eggs, he mentioned that he had found a fellow over the hill selling hogs for 45 cents a pound, that he was going to pick one up for himself, and that he’d be glad to get me one as well and take it to the slaughterhouse if I liked. Well, I jumped at that one. The hog weighed about 300 pounds, and in the end we figure we got more that 200 pounds of meat for about $200 total. It took up a fair piece of the freezer, but there is still room for the cow that we’ll be getting from the Ellises after they’ve spent a month or so fattening it up.


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