Saturday, February 28, 2009


Some of the results of yesterday's endeavors. Took out a frozen turkey carcass, simmered it for four hours, strained the broth and added the good turkey bits back in. Threw in some carrots, celery, potatoes and barley and poured it into quart jars. Canned them in the pressure canner for and hour and half, and now we have six quarts of yummy turkey soup in the pantry.

We're getting our 1/4 beef next week, so I am frantically using up a bunch of freezer stuff, in order to make room. Over the past few seasons of canning, freezing and preserving I'm beginning to learn what my family will use over the course of the year. Fewer onions, peppers and squash. More potatoes, carrots and broccoli. Fewer pickles, more tomato sauce. Less beets, more sweet corn.

It's almost March. And that means it's almost spring. You might not be able to see many signs yet, but the days are getting longer and the bitter cold spells are getting shorter. Spring is peeking its brown eyes over the top of the snow drifts. Almost time to play in the cool damp earth, planting seeds and laying beds. Almost time to hear the peeps of chicks and the bleats of kids. Almost time to see the buds bursting with new leaves and blossoms on the fruit trees. Just a few more weeks to go...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Movie night

I can't remember the last time I rented a movie from a store. I think it was about ten years ago, when we first moved to Ortonville. The last time I saw a movie in a theater was a year and a half ago, when my husband and I took a weekend off and went to Fargo (sounds exciting, doesn't it?). It was Juno, in case you were wondering.

So you can see I'm not much of a film buff. But when I saw these three videos available for sale on the internet, I jumped at the chance to buy them. In case you can't see the titles, they are from left to right: Chicken Butchering, Hog Butchering, and Fencing 101. They were made by Lighthouse Farm in Princeton, MN. I can't wait to watch them.

My husband said he'll watch the chicken one and the fencing one, but not the hog one. I think he's afraid we're going to add hogs to our farmsteading endeavors. At this point I have no plans for pigs, but I got the butchering video because if you ordered all three videos you got free shipping. And even though I have no plans to butcher my own hog at this time, I'd still like to see how it is done.

If there's anyone out there who lives nearby and wants to organize a movie night, let me know. I'm up for it. Nothing like eating popcorn and drinking cocoa while watching a chicken being eviscerated. Something tells me I might not get a lot of response from this proposition.

If you're crazy like me and want your own copies, go to this website:

Electric butterloo

I tried our electric butter churn for the first time today. It was nice and quiet, as opposed to my blender method previously. It took 35 minutes to churn. The instructions recommend using a buttermilk starter, which will make it churn faster. I'll try saving some of my buttermilk from this batch in the back of the fridge, and add it to the next batch to see if it helps.

Washing the big glass crock is kind of a pain. Good thing my husband offered to do it for me. Otherwise I am tentatively pleased with the new device. I have to adjust my straining process, however, since I'm doing a lot of cream in one jug instead of several smaller batches. I'll probably use folded cheesecloth instead of a jelly bag.

Think I'll make some homemade biscuits with supper tonight, and give the new butter a test drive. Speaking of which, gotta go put the roast in the oven. See ya!


Otherwise known as the oPossum Protection Program. Step One: Capture an opossum (using the previously introduced handy device, the Possum Stick) that has snuck into the hen house. Step Two: Deposit said opossum in a fully enclosed container. Put on lid. Tightly.

Step Three: Put container in an unmarked vehicle, making sure no spies or media reporters are on hand to witness the relocation. We want to make sure this opossum is never harassed from urban gangsters or members of the mafia. Step Four: Drive five miles to a nice grove of trees on the prairie countryside. Abandoned farmhouses on site are optional.

Step Five: Carry the container to the trees, open and release. Watch happily as the opossum scampers quickly away into the trees, knowing that you've done your part to ensure the safety and protection of one of nature's oldest and strangest mammals.

Note that I don't have any pictures of the possum scampering away. That's because he really BOOKED into those trees and I didn't have time to aim and focus.

Of course, while we were busy catching and relocating this opossum, we saw another one walking around on top of our septic mound. Better stay out of our hen house, Mr. O., or else! The PPP is open for business!

Friday, February 20, 2009


A rare moment of fraternal cooperation. Normally when these two monkeys are interested in the same toy at the same time, an eruption of yelling and crying takes place. How can boys who are so affectionate and loving to their mother be so antagonistic to their brothers? My husband just laughs and says simply, 'boys.' Curse him and his Y chromosomes.

Benjamin hasn't quite learned to share yet. For that matter, neither has Graham. It's a hard lesson to learn. Sometimes I have problems. But for a few precious minutes this afternoon, our two littlest boys managed to play happily and quietly with one another. I had to take photos, just to record the event. Otherwise I might have looked back on this as a strange, beautiful dream. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. A bit.

I keep reminding myself that although my boys may fight and argue with each other right now, they will grow to love one another as they grow up. That's how it was with my husband and his brother. That's how it was with me and my sister.

It better happen that way with my monkeys. Preferably sooner than later.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Predator and Prey

When I came home from work yesterday I had to leave straight away for a local foods group meeting, so hubby and I decided to wait another night to try to trap the opossums. When I got home from the meeting around 8 pm, I noticed the door to the chicken coop was open. It was a windy day -- probably I hadn't shut it tight enough and the wind had pulled it open. I did think much of it, and wandered over to the coop to feed the chickens and see if the opossums had left me any eggs.

I stepped inside and peered across the room into the nest boxes to see if any furry critters were having a late night snack. Nope. I walked over to the boxes and looked inside. Seven eggs, undisturbed.

I turned around and looked into the corner behind the food bins where the opossums had been hiding out. Nothing. No one. Aside from the small hen chirps from the roosts behind me, all was quiet.

I paused there, confused. Where were the opossums? Then, suddenly, it hit me.

The smell.

The smell of cat.

The strong smell of cat permeating everything in the coop. I was amazed I hadn't noticed it until then. Things began to click in my mind. Before going to my foods meeting I had put out a dish of milk for the outside cats. The usual five came running, plus one extra - Vincent. Vincent is a orange tom cat that comes by every so often. He's a little hesitant to come close, but once the deck door is closed he will come forward for his share of goodies. I call him Vincent because he is missing one ear, no doubt from one of many fights he's had over the years.

I noticed today that he was limping. I mentioned it to my husband. "He's been in a fight, and his leg looks pretty wonky." "Let's hope it was with a possum." Hubby says, and we both laugh. So far our five outside cats have proven themselves less than helpful in confronting the opossum menace.

Until today. Vincent, the wandering Tom, must have wandered into the chicken coop and found the invaders. There were no dead opossums around, so he must have scared them away and gotten injured in the process. Hurrah for Vincent! Viva la Vincent!

I am overjoyed -- elated almost. Not just that the opossums are gone, but that in her own way, mother nature stepped in and played a supporting role. Predator-prey relationships, Wildlife Biology 101. Not that feral cats are exactly what mother nature originally had in mind, but hey - you work with what you've got.

Part of me knows that this reprieve is only temporary. This morning, Vincent was no where to be found. Likely he has already wandered away to the next farmstead. And without the predator in this predator-prey equation, it's only time before the opossums find their way back to the coop to, in turn, prey upon my eggs. But nonetheless, the reprieve is welcome.

Next time I see our one-eared orange friend, he's gonna get a big hunk of steak.

Monday, February 9, 2009

She brought friends...

Ugh. Just when I thought the opossum problem had happily resolved itself. I should have known better.

They've found the eggs.

And a new spot to hide. Yes, one possum in the nest box and two more in the corner makes THREE 0possums in the hen house. And the one that is peekings its face out of the corner is peeking out from its new hiding spot - inside the wall. There is about a 4" space between the outer wood wall and the inner wood wall of the front of the coop. The inner wall only comes up to four feet. We were able to reach a stick down into the open space from the top, and could feel soft bodies at the bottom. So, maybe we have more than three. Who knows?

My husband tried to 'shoo' the 0possums out. He managed to get the nest box thief out, with help from our newest invention - 'Possum on a Stick. Don't tell the state fair folks about it. Really, don't.

The 0possum really did not want to get off the stick. My husband had to lay the end of the pole on the snow and uncurl it like spaghetti.

We set the live trap out last night. It tripped three times, but caught nothing. I think the trap we have is too small. But if we get a bigger trap, we'll likely catch a chicken. And I don't really want to shell out $50 (or more) on a bigger live trap.

My brother had a suggestion. He works at a factory that makes playground equipment. He said that one time that they had a 0possum hiding under a pallet, they taped up the opening to a garbage can, leaving a small entry-way big enough for the 0possum. Then they put the opening in front of the pallet, and coaxed the 0possum to crawl inside the opening. My brother said the critter was easy to coax and seemed eager to go inside the dark cubby to hide from the big scary people.

So we're going to give that a try tonight. Tape over the opening to a garbage bin leaving a small opening, put the bin in the corner of the coop, and use a crow-bar to gently pry away the inner wooden wall. Make sure to block all other means of escape. Coax the 0possums (one or more) into the bin, and then tip it up and quickly put on the lid. A short drive to an abandoned farmstead, and release. Maybe we'll have to catch one at a time, maybe we can get all of them in one night.

These are our plans. But as we have learned, the best laid plans of mice and men (or possums and men?) gang oft agley.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Jack Frost artwork.

I see you!

Wicked sideburns.

Some of our flock.

Seven eggs in one day. (Not all from one chicken...)

Lastly, our current broody hen. She pecks me when I take her egg away. If she (or any other hens) are still broody this spring I'll let them keep their eggs and put a few more underneath. Need me some more chickies!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Making butter - part two

While your cream is churning away, you can set up your straining area. I use a jelly bag, but cheesecloth folded three or four times will work too. Put the jelly bag into a strainer or collander, and then put the strainer on top of a bowl or pitcher. Also, if you intend on freezing your butter, set a large square of freezer paper out on your table. You can use freezer cartons or bags as well, but I think it's easier to work with freezer paper.

After your cream passes through the thickening and frothy stages, it will begin to 'break.' This means that the butter grains are breaking away from the buttermilk. My blender sounds like it's having an easier time mixing. If you turn off the blender early on in the breaking process and dip in a spoon, it will look like the photo above. The granules of butter are very small, and the buttermilk is still pretty creamy. But it is starting to separate.

(By the way, I am sporting a NASCAR bandaid in the photo above. I gouged myself with shears while trimming the goats' hooves yesterday. Ouch.)

After it starts to break, keep mixing for another minute or two. When you turn off the blender and look inside, the butter granules will be floating on top. Some people say they look like grains of rice. I think they look more like small cooked couscous. In either case, at this point it's pretty obvious that you have butter, and not the pudding that you had earlier.

Pour the contents of the blender through the jelly bag and strainer. The butter will be caught in the bag and the buttermilk will go through into the pitcher. If you have no intention of using the buttermilk, feed it to your animals or put it on your flower bed. It's got lots of good vitamins and minerals in it. I use buttermilk in baking, and making waffles and pancakes.

The next step is rinsing. Lift up the jelly bag/cheese cloth and bring it over to the sink. Be careful not to squish the butter inside. If you squish the butter, it will make rinsing harder. Hold the bag/cloth open under cold running water. Rinse all around the granules of water, trying to get as much buttermilk washed away as you can. You can gently move the butter around to break up clumps. I don't have a picture of the rinsing process, since it's kinda hard to rinse with two hands and take photos with a third.

When the buttermilk is rinsed away, the rinse water will run clear. Then it's time to squeeze the rest of the water out of the butter. The drier the butter, the longer it will keep in your fridge. With a jelly bag, the squeezing is easy - just close the top of the bag in your fist and twist it. Keep twisting until all of the water is gone and soft butter starts to ooze out of the cloth mesh.

Pat the bottom of the cloth dry with a towel. Then open up the cloth and turn the butter blob out onto your freezer paper. Now, this is normally the time when people like to add salt. I have tried, and found it quite difficult to add salt and mix it in equally throughout the butter. If I had a more professional butter-making setup, maybe it would be easier. But since I'm using my butter for cooking, I don't bother adding salt at all. There's nothing wrong with using unsalted butter on bread, it just will taste more bland than salted butter. Try it and see.

When all is done, wrap up the butter in wax paper for the fridge, or in freezer paper in the freezer. Clean up all the spilled cream from the counter, table and floor. Put the dishes in the sink and sit back and relax. Feel good about yourself - you've tried something new, and learned a new skill. Even if you encountered some trouble along the way, everything is a learning journey, and it'll probably work better next time. The first time I did it, I had some problems too.

With the four gallons of milk I started with, I ended up with two quarts of cream and 14 ounces of butter. That's not a whole lot, but then again I was using Holstein milk, which is pretty low in butterfat. If I had been using Jersey or Guernsey or Brown Swiss milk, I would easily have gotten twice as much butter. But then I would have had less skimmed milk for drinking.

I was the happy recipient of a electric butter churn this past Christmas (thanks Mom and Dad!). Next time I make butter, I will try it out and let you know how it goes. You're on the edge of your seats in expectation - I can tell!

Making butter - part one

Easy peasy lemon squeezy! All you need is cream, a blender, a small strainer or collander, and some cheese cloth. Actually, I start out with whole milk from a nearby dairy. Let it sit undisturbed in the fridge for at least eight hours, til the cream rises to the top.

(photo credit: 'Janene' from Keeping a Family Cow online forum)

In the picture above, you can see the cream lines in the different jars. The cream is the more 'solid' creamy-colored (makes sense) stuff floating on top of the more blue-ish skim milk on the bottom. The farthest jar has the most cream - nearly 1/3 of the jar. If you have homogonized milk, the cream will never rise. The history of homogonization is a whole other story, and I won't get into it here. I've read that goat milk is naturally homogonized, which is why you never see goats-milk butter.

If you are letting the cream rise, make sure you put your milk in a wide-mouth container. Wide enough to fit your ladel into, and then some. That's how I skim my cream - with a ladel. It takes a bit of patience and a steady hand. You can skim off all of the cream, which will leave you with skim milk to drink. Or you can leave a little bit of the cream behind, which will give you 1-2% milk. Whatever you want. If you do leave some cream in your milk, remember to shake the jug before you pour it into a drinking glass - because again, the cream likes to rise to the top.

Here I have about two quarts of cream (and probably some milk too - my ladeling isn't perfect), skimmed from four gallons of whole milk. Now, if you want 'sweet' cream, you can start churning right away, while the cream is still fresh. Or, you can let the cream culture a bit. Culturing means letting the cream sit until it starts to smell a little bit sour. You can let it culture in the fridge, which will take up to a week, or on the counter top, which may take just a day or so. Depends on the freshness and quality of the milk and the air temperature.

The pros for letting your cream culture are two-fold: the butter churns faster and you get more butter. The big con against letting it culture is the taste. It has a little bit of a sour flavor. Some people like the taste, some people don't. It's up to you. I let my cream culture, because I use my home-made butter for cooking and baking, so I don't taste the sourness. Try it both ways, and see what you think.

The longer you let the cream rise, the thicker it will get. I've had cream that I could lift off with a fork, it was so thick. This thick cream is great for whipping (as in, whipped cream).

Pour your cream into the blender. Fill it no more than half-full. Put the cap on, and turn on the blender to the lowest speed. The intention is to get the butterfat molecules smacking up against one another. The intention is NOT to whip air into the cream (again, whipped cream), which you will do if you mix it at the highest speed.

Here is the cream, mixing away. Actually, you don't even need a blender to do this. If you have a lot of time, patience and strong arm muscles you can put your cream into a mason jar or a clean milk jug and just shake. And shake, and shake, and shake. You should get butter in about 30-40 minutes, again depending on various factors mentioned above.

The cream will go through a couple of stages. First it will begin to thicken. Then it will thicken some more. It will begin to look like pudding, or a thick malted milkshake. You might begin to see a bubbly froth rise to the top of the cream when you turn off the blender. That's normal. Keep churning.

Turn off the blender and check your cream every minute or two. Don't leave for twenty minutes to hang up the laundry - there is a danger of over-churning. That means churning through all the stages, including the butter stage, and then churning the butter into a gloopy mush. I've never done it, but then I've been pretty watchful.

If you're not bored to tears yet, look at my next post for part two of Making Butter.

P.S. Visit the Keeping a Family Cow website for lots of good homesteading info here:

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Say hello to my great-great-grandpa Nydam. He came over from Holland at the end of the 1800's and settled in the Indianapolis area. I love this picture. Probably because of the chickens. Makes me feel pretty cool to have chickens, just like my great-great-grandpa had chickens.

This is my great-grandma, the daughter of the man above. I love this photo because it looks like she's about to 'give a piece of her mind' to the photographer. Something like, "what in heaven are you standing around there taking snapshots when there's a whole field of potatoes to be dug out before supper time?"

This is my grandfather and grandmother. My grandmother is the daughter to the woman above. I like this photo because it is one of the few pictures I have seen where my grandfather is smiling. My grandmother was always smiling in pictures, but I guess my grandfather preferred the stoic look.

This is my mother's mother. She grew up and lived in the London, Ontario area. I got my square nose genes from her. Also my brown eyes. She died before I was born.

And here we are, me and my parents at our home in Knoxville, Iowa in the early 1970's. I'm the one with the ears sticking out and a spoonful of cereal in my mouth. I love this picture because it gives a real image of an early time in my life, a time I obviously don't remember. You can see real things here - cereal boxes, dirty dishes, an exasperated look on my mother's face, my father ready to leave for work. Toast on a plate and a toaster on the counter top behind us. You can look at this picture and actually feel like you're there.

And finally, a not-so-old picture of my first son, taken outside in our yard when we lived at our little house in Ortonville. He was just learning to crawl. You can see stalks of sunflowers that I had planted in a small garden plot behind him.

I wish I could jump into these picture frames, to hear and see and touch everything that was happening at the times they were taken. I want to talk to the grandparents that I never knew, I want to see what my parents were like when they were the age I am now, and I want to hold my first born babe in my arms once again.