Thursday, March 31, 2011

Waste Not

One of the things I enjoy about raising chickens and goats is their role as instant-composters.  We have a small compost pile, but I use it only for moldy food and manure.  Almost all of our food waste is used to supplement our animal feed.  Though we try to eat what we grow and buy from local sources, there are definitely some exceptions that we make, like bananas and avocados.  So, in addtion to any leftover greens, our goats LOVE to eat our banana and avocado peels, along with tamale husks.  The chickens eat all grain-based leftovers, cheese, potatoes, legumes and cooked veggies.  We give them leftover cooked eggs and crushed eggshells, and if I ever drop an egg in the coop, they rush over to devour it because it is full of nutrition.

As for any meat scraps, the dogs and cats are happy to take care of those.  Whenever I cook a chicken (purchased from Barnyard Gardens in Shelton, WA I usually use the white meat as a main dish the first night, the dark meat incorporated into a dish the second night, then I boil the rest to make broth and peel every bit of the yucky meat from the bones as treats for our indoor pets.

When we tend the garden, we toss the weeds over the fence to the goats and chickens to munch on.  By the time they finish processing all of this waste, it is well on it's way to nutrient-rich compost.  We cut down on feed costs, the animals enjoy a yummier, more nutritious diet, and we don't send any of it to the dump.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Balancing acts

Barred Rock and two Rhode Island Red chicks
Spring is coming SO slowly this year!  Every couple of weeks, we get a nice, sunny day and we all rejoice.  I spend those days outside taking care of farm chores, even if I have a mosaic on the table that I'm aching to keep working on.  But those days are followed by many, many days of rain and clouds, so we've gotten a lot of work done indoors.  I haven't been able to stay focused on my series - I want to play and experiment. 

On weekends, Mike has been working hard to redo our upstairs bathroom, which has a clawfoot tub and old style sink and plumbing.  We collected the tub and sink years before the house was built, and kept them stored in our garage.  When it was installed, we invested in the expensive matching plumbing and lights from Restoration Hardware.  But, that's about all we could manage, so we lived with an old sewing table and a cobbler's bench to hold our soap, shampoo and towels.  We still don't even have a place for Mike to shave.  A couple of weeks ago, Mike hung wainscoting wallpaper along the bottom section of the walls, trimmed out with a chair rail.  He built a big shelving unit to hold our stuff so we could remove the nasty old tables.  Together, we hung textured wallpaper on the ceiling, painted it copper, and put in crown molding.  We are still touching up paint, whenever we can get to it, so for weeks now, the bathroom has been full of tools, a ladder, dropcloths, etc.  But it looks much more like the old-fashioned bathroom we originally envisioned, for very little money.
I just turned the soil in one of the vegetable beds yesterday and planted rows of greens.  In the fall, I put a lot of manure from the chickens and rabbit on the beds, and when I dug in the dirt yesterday, I was thrilled to see that it is rich and dark, with worms everywhere.  I brought home two more chicks and four ducklings and got them set up in their little houses in the barn with heat lamps.  (I had sworn I wouldn't get ducks again because they are always massacred by raccoons, but I love ducks, and they really help with slug control.  So we will keep them in the chicken enclosure most of the time and build them some lodging.)

My art business is just not generating enough money to call it a job right now.  I'm getting very anxious.  We are not able to get by on Mike's teacher income, so we rely on my art sales to top us off and pay for anything fun.  Mike's mom has been fighting cancer in California, so we have some extra travel expenses these days, Mike had a minor surgery last month and we have a copay, and we had to borrow money to do some repairs to our 1983 Toyota Corolla that we still owe on.  I'm applying for every opportunity I think I qualify for, but each one takes months to jury and confirm, so I still don't know if I have art shows or commissions for this summer.  I just keep plugging away at my series, making small pieces in between that I can display at Matter! Gallery in Olympia or show at Olympia's Spring ArtsWalk next month.

So, I've begun to brainstorm ways to earn income from the farm.  I'm thinking of trying to grow all kinds of beans, with the possibility of selling them.  I could can them so that they could sell year round, and have dried beans as well.  Beans are such a great food.  Mike and Anouk made soap last weekend, which got me thinking about developing lotions, salves, and soaps using our honey and beeswax to sell locally or online.  I spend so much time working in our gardens, and we have such an abundance of beneficial herbs and veggies, it seems a waste of my efforts not to find a way to turn that into a business.

Still, I'm sure there will be income-earning events over the summer, and a commission just might land in my lap, and every time I've been about to give up, something has always come through in the past.  I will be featured in a local magazine this summer, which is going to be the best advertising I've ever had.  Last year, I had applied for many exhibits thinking each was a fat chance, and I ended up juggling 5 different shows at the end of summer.  So, I'll give it more time, and when Anouk is old enough to be home alone for a while, or we meet a neighbor she can go to until I get home, AND if I'm still not making any money to speak of as an artist, I'll get a real job.  And I'll go back to being a hobby artist.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Springtime on the farm

Yesterday was a lovely spring day here in Grays Harbor County.  I took the opportunity to replace the feeder and waterer in the chicken coop and fix the gate to their yard.  It was fun hanging out with the happy chickens, who rewarded me with three fresh eggs.

Then I finally addressed the neglected hooves of the three female goats.  I should really have someone film this process, which is just not a one-person job.  I'm lucky I have dwarf goats, because I have to chase and wrestle them to get a good hold on their forelegs, which I turn up, while pinning the goat against a fence.  I quickly scrape the caked mud out of the crevices with the blade of my clippers, cut the overgrown flaps from the edges, and snip off the flesh at the rear of the hoof, which otherwise builds up like a callus.  Often, as I'm clipping away on a rear hoof, the goat starts raising the leg higher and higher, rearing up its entire backside, then dropping onto its front knees, moaning pathetically.  I try to follow through with my task, getting into a more and more acrobatic position with the goat, a bit like Capoeira.  Then I get the goat back upright and start on the next hoof.  I usually suffer intense back pain and stiffness after the whole process is over.

Yesterday, I focused on the females because I am going to sell them.  The flyer is ready to go to the feed store, and I'm bracing myself to let go of my sweet girls.  I hope they will find new homes with more consistent care, and provide milk for someone's family.  While I'm spending time with them, I begin to backpedal on my plan.  Maybe I should breed them and milk them instead?  But, I really don't need one more daily task, and both Mike and Anouk refuse to drink goat milk.  I could make cheese and soap, but...will I?  We have the humongous garden, bees, and chickens.  I think that's plenty.  Plus, I'm keeping my two boys.

Speaking of bees, we just ordered a second hive.  The first hive was out and about yesterday, enjoying the sun.  I hope to get more competent as a beekeeper this year, and to improve the chicken coop a bit.  By fall, I want to have a light with a timer in the coop so that we don't go quite so many months without eggs.

Otherwise, we have piles of seeds on our dining room table and kitchen counter, and I'll start weeding and tilling beds this month.  Potatoes should go in the ground next week, and I have already planted beets and cauliflower under glass jars (my little experiment.)  I still have spinach, kale and parsnips in the dirt, though I have to admit, I have totally lost interest in them.

Every spring feels like a new start.  Every year we get a bit better at this.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hens a-laying

My chickens stopped laying back in October, and it has been a long winter without them.  Some recipes really need eggs, so I found myself standing in the egg isle of a grocery store last month struggling to choose a carton. I had stopped at a big-box grocery store that was conveniently located to fit in my tight schedule that day, so my options were less ideal than if I had gone to the Co-op.

They had some organic eggs, some cage-free eggs, brown eggs, and "natural" eggs.  Having read a lot about the way our food is produced, I'm aware that chickens fed organic feed are still likely to be raised in a space no larger than a standard 8" x 10" piece of paper, never stepping foot on the ground or seeing sunlight.

Some people think brown eggs are healthier, but they are no different from white eggs.

Cage-free means that the chickens are kept in large spaces without individual cages, but usually with the same equivalent amount of space.  It doesn't mean they have more room to move or that they breath fresh air.

The word "natural" means nothing.  It pretty much guarantees that it is a real egg, produced by chickens, and that's it.

Another label that baffles me is "vegetarian-fed."  Why would anyone insist that chickens be vegetarian?  They are birds.  They eat bugs, worms and grubs, along with grains and even vegetable scraps.  The protein they consume while ranging outside contributes to their overall health, and the nutrient value of their eggs.  You should see them follow me around the garden while I weed and turn over soil, just waiting to spot a moving critter that they quickly snatch up and devour with great enthusiasm.

I finally bought Wilcox Organic eggs, paying top dollar to support the practice of raising chickens "cage free, with access to outdoors, free of antibiotics and hormones."  Still, it was disheartening to crack open the first egg to find a runny, butter-yellow yolk that proved to have very little flavor.

The fact is, people who haven't had home-grown eggs don't know what they're missing.  I can't tell you how thrilled I am to finally, once again, eat eggs with a rich, almost orange, thick consistency, with flavor to match. I know my chickens live a good life (except for the constant threat of death by raccoon), with no hormones, pecking around in the dirt all day (something chickens NEED to do), taking dust baths in dry areas, basking in the sun when it's out, and NOT being forced into a vegetarian lifestyle.  Chickens are very easy to keep and fun to have around.  But, if you can't fit chickens into your life, try to buy from local farms.  Support happy chickens, local farmers, and the best tasting, most nutritious eggs you'll ever eat.

Pumpkin Pancakes!

Last weekend, we had company, and Mike made us pumpkin pancakes.  They were delicious!  They really tasted like a mix of pumpkin pie and pancake, with a rich, creamy texture.  So, I'm going to share the recipe, which he found in a Saveur magazine that he found in one of those giveaway piles at the library:

Shopsin's Pumpkin Pancakes

1 3⁄4 cups flour
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground ginger
1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄4 tsp. ground allspice
1 cup canned pumpkin purée (Mike used one of our own pumpkins)
1 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 tbsp. canola oil
Butter and maple syrup, for serving
1. In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, cloves, ginger, salt, and allspice. Add pumpkin, cream, milk, and eggs; whisk until smooth. 

2. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a 12" nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Using a 1⁄4-cup measuring cup, pour batter into skillet to make three 3" pancakes. Cook until bubbles begin to form on the edges, 1–2 minutes. Flip and cook until done, 1–2 minutes more. Repeat with remaining oil and pancake batter. Serve pancakes hot with butter and syrup.
(I had mine with vanilla yogurt, and it was yummy.)