Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Beef and Pork

Still snowing. Every ding-dong day!  Night, actually.  It snows every night, and I wake to 2-3 inches of heavy wet snow.  The days warm enough to clear most of it away.

I go for a load of firewood in the afternoons.  I'm trying not to panic.  We still need three more rows in the basement.  Three more rows and it's already snowing!  The forecast claims I still have some better weather coming.  I don't know whether to believe it or not.

My chainsaw broke.  It won't switch gears, so it's in for repairs.  I started using #1's saw.  He forgot to tighten the nuts after tightening the chain.  One went flying.  Now I'm using #2's saw.  It's much heavier than mine.  Oh crappy week.

Things in the butcher shop are coming together.

***  Graphic Images will follow! ***

Inside the smoker- we filled both racks with seasoned strips of beef.
So far we've got about 8 pounds of jerky on the go.  Both the oven and the smoker.  Husband set the smoker up on top of the woodstove in the garage.  We aren't burning (smoking) it, just using it as an oven with the heat from the wood stove.  It works pretty well.  We're using the first recipe from the two I made last year.  I have another 6 pounds or so cut for the next batch.  I think I'll try something new, rather than the second recipe- they didn't like it as well.

Ground beef is coming along nicely.  30 pounds so far.  Husband had to fiddle with the grinder again.  Did I mention last year what a crappy design this meat saw is?  Dad spent a whole day fixing it last year, and Husband still had to make adjustments again this year.  It's just so flimsy!

I was just starting the last quarter yesterday when Husband and the boys went out to dispatch the pigs.

For the first time ever we were actually sad to do the deed.  These were the sweetest pigs we've ever had, so friendly.  More like puppies that piglets.  When we got our first pigs years ago, I thought I might fall in love with 'Wilbur'.  Charlotte's web was my favourite book as a child.  Those pigs were wild and nasty.Mean!  Just mean!  No love lost there.  But this year, our fourth round of pigs, we were all sad to see them go.  They didn't do a great job ripping out the raspberry bushes, but were doing well in the garden.  I opened the gate between the garden and the turkey pen through the day, to let them dig and explore.  The chickens were always hopping in with them, following them around, stealing their food- and they didn't care.
Husband and #2 each dispatched one.  The female would get a little antsy when she lost sight of the male, and we didn't want to stress them out.  Two guns, two shooters, and both were out at the same time.

#2 did the teaching this time, as #1 gutted for the first time by himself.  They brought them back to the garage, hung them up, and skinned them.

According to the weight formula I found online...
heart girth X heart girth X length /400

...they were both under 100 pounds.  I find that hard to believe, especially since they were supposedly 90 pounds when we bought them.  I wonder though, if I'm supposed to include the head in the length.  That would put them over 100.  I think I'll weigh the meat as I butcher.

We're supposed to stay below freezing for a couple of days before it starts to warm up again.  I have a bit of trimming left to do on the beef, and then I'll be starting on the pigs right away.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hydro Free, But Not By Choice

First snow was Saturday, October 19th.  Husband was out all night plowing/salting/sanding.  He came home at 7am.  We woke to three inches of heavy packing snow, but sunny and reasonably warm.  The snow was already melting, and mostly gone by Sunday night.

I had three loads of laundry done- one had been on the line a couple of days already but kept getting rained on, and two more to hang out.  I bought better rubber gloves this year- last year's cheap latex didn't help much.  The new gloves fit much better and don't get stuck in the clothespins, and keeping my fingers dry while hanging out laundry goes a long way toward keeping me motivated in using the clothesline in the winter.

We did chores and a few odd jobs and were planning to get a load of firewood before returning to the butcher shop, when the hydro went out.

This was not a planned hydro free weekend.  Actually, we've already quit 'hydro free weekends' for the time being.  We've played with it enough to know that our battery bank is too small to use if the sun isn't shining.  On sunny days we can run the stereo/satellite all day, and still have enough storage to run the tv/satellite for 3-4 hours at night- so that's what we do.  We have one extension cord running around the edge of the sunroom/kitchen/livingroom that we plug the tv power bar into.  I don't know if it's saving us much money at this point, but it makes me feel better.  At least we're doing something.  Something, which could be very important if the predictions are true about what is going to happen to our hydro bills in the next few years!

So the power went out.  Not too big of a deal.  I kind of figured a tree had hit a line with the extra weight of the snow.  Mom called to make sure it wasn't just out at her place. 

We went and got our load of firewood.  No hydro required.  Back home a couple of hours later- still no hydro.  I decided to call it in- occasionally nobody bothers to let them know that the power is out, so they don't bother to fix it.  I get this guy on the phone and he informs me it was a "planned power outage" for repairs.  Well, gee, thanks for letting us know!  He claims hydro's automated messaging system told everyone last week.  Funny how neither us nor Mom got this message, eh? 

So I'm annoyed.  The power won't be back on until 6pm.  It's cold outside.  No furnace fan.  I have a batch of eggs in the incubator and their temperature is plummeting. And I really want to get back to butchering my beef.  But no power- no meat saw.

Husband got up about 2pm.  No coffee.  Not functional, lol.  Not funny at the time.  He's such a crank without coffee.  Time to try out my new stove top percolator (new to me, bought at the flea market).  The stove did not want to cooperate.  Husband spent almost two hours trying to get it burning well enough to percolate the coffee.  I went and cut another tree.

The power came on just as the coffee started percolating.  Kind of funny, really.

Not so funny- none of my eggs hatched.  I'm still debating on whether to try one more batch or leave it until February. 

The laundry didn't dry completely, but took much less time in the dryer to finish it off.  Yeah. 

No butchering got done, which led to a busy week last week and an even busier weekend this weekend.  Need more solar panels!

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Boy Gets Messy

 **Graphic images will follow.**

Plans changed again.  We will have beef this winter.  Perhaps a lot of it.
Sharlotte is making her way to the freezer.

We had initially planned to keep her for future breeding stalk.  She was, after all, the first girl born here on our farm.  However, if you recall, there was some confusion about her birth.  We really don't know who her mother was, Mindy or Dorie.

So, we had a long summer filled with fence repair after fence repair, and we nearly put Mindy in the freezer, because we just could not keep her contained.  And then she calved, buying herself a reprieve.  She still gets out from time to time, though not nearly as often as she used to.  We debated making Mugsy a bottle baby, and butchering Mindy anyway.

But here's the thing- When we got Dorie, she escaped a couple of times.  She went looking for a bull.  She got out a couple of times in the spring when the grass was still short.  We had to trailer her home from a far neighbour's place twice.  And then she calved.  And then she pretty much stayed put.  She was out once, with Majesty and the whole herd this summer, but mostly, so long as she has her calf, her bull, and plenty to eat, she's a good girl.

We bought Mindy and Maddy as yearlings.  They escaped with Dorie a couple of times.  Once they got separated in the woods and Mindy came home on her own.  Maddy went to northern neighbour's with Dorie and spent the summer there.  We ended up trading her for stud fees and summer boarding.  It turned out to be an excellent trade for us.  Dorie came home and delivered Casper the following summer.  Maddy stayed there and stopped growing, and never calved.  Northern neighbour sent her to butcher two years later.

Maddy and Mindy almost definitely came from the same farm.  We waited years for Mindy to calve, breaking fences repeatedly along the way.  If we were real farmers, she would have been out of here long ago.

So, there is a possibility that Sharlotte was Mindy's calf.  Sharlotte is small in stature.  Of course it doesn't help that her daddy (Steaks) was kind of a runt either.  Sharlotte was breaking through the fence all the time.  Our fences do not hold goats or calves- uneven ground, so many weak points- so we were playing a waiting game.  Waiting for her to get too big to squeeze through the bad spots.  However, every time she squeezed through the bad spots, she made the weak points weaker.  She made the small holes bigger.  She stretched the wire looser.  And then Mindy or Nelly would follow her out.  She never really went anywhere on her own, just around the non fenced portion of our land, and in the ditch.  But once Mindy got loose, they'd be off to southern neighbour's causing trouble.

We'd patch the fence.  She'd find a new escape route.  Then she'd be on the wrong side of the fence, calling to the rest of the herd, come out and play with me!

We have five calves this year.  Five little calves who could easily duck under the fence or through one of those bad spots and run around causing trouble.  They choose not to.  They choose to stay with their mamas, their daddy- the herd.  Even Mugsy stays put when Mindy's out gallivanting around.

But what about next spring?  What will happen when the calves are bigger, their mamas are tired of nursing, new calves are arriving, and Sharlotte is still breaking through the fence?  If they followed her, that would be half my herd running loose in the neighbourhood.

Add to that her small stature- how long do we keep her, waiting for her to get big enough to breed?  If she does get pregnant, will she survive? 

We decided that Sharlotte is not the type of cow we want to keep, and we'd rather deal with her now before she leads the new calves off into the woods.

Now if you're squeamish, you should probably stop reading here.

**Graphic images will follow.**

 Husband dispatched her.

#2 took the lead this year, while I stood back and guided him through the process.

The gutting was uneventful.  Things went rather smoothly.

Weight Formula:
heart girth X heart girth X length  / 300
67" X 67" X 61" / 300 = 912.7 pounds

She was apparently slightly heavier than Steaks (830 lbs). 

We hung her in the garage last Monday, and I worked on removing fat and making tallow through the week.  She had more fat by far than any of our previous kills.  Saturday we started butchering.  It's a bit early yet, but the weather was a bit warmer than we'd like it (dropping fast now), and we still have two pigs to butcher, so we're in a bit of a hurry.

 We trimmed some of the flanks for jerky and stewing beef.  Most was cut for ground.  Blurry pictures courtesy of #4, who I believe may have been shivering a bit.

#2 got this brilliant idea to toss a bit of flank onto the wood stove.  It smelled really good, so I tossed a piece on too.  Husband, #1, and #4 thought that was disgusting.  No pan!!  lol.  They ate mine.
 After that little snack though, we decided to toss 5 freshly cut t-bones on.  (#3 was at a friend's).  I melted some of the fat on the stove top, then put the steaks on with just a bit of salt and pepper.  Delicious- and no dishes.

Still lots to do- ribs and more steaks today.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pig Update

We moved the pigs to the turkey pen.  It was much easier than I expected.  We stretched a piece of wire fencing between the pig pen and the turkey pen gate.  Then we stood on the other side of the pig pen gate holding crazy carpets.  The pigs took more convincing to leave their pen than they did to go into the turkey pen once out. 

We had shooed all of the birds out of the turkey pen, opening the greenhouses to them for shelter, but they fly over the fence to get back in when we feed the pigs.

These two pigs are so friendly, good natured and happy I finally understand how people could attached to them.  Nothing at all like the mean pigs we've had before. 

They're slowly working up the raspberry bushes in the turkey pen now.  They've made no attempts to escape, although they did push the fence back a bit in a couple of spots.  If they get the turkey pen dug up well before butchering time, I'm a little tempted to move them into the garden next...  That might be tempting fate though.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Cluck! Cluck! Cluck!

The new coop is complete and sort of fully inhabited.
The basement shelf converted to nesting boxes.
Pen 5, with another new nesting box.

These are two of my original hatchlings- a rooster and a hen.  The roo is too little to butcher just yet, but the hen makes me so happy!

She started laying about a week ago!  Delicious little mini eggs.  Most days I now find two eggs, one from her and one from one of the old girls. 
It turned out that the hard working hen is a red, with just an occasional egg from somebody else.  So occasional that I still don't know who the layer is! 

The meat hens are five months old now, and I keep hoping to see their first egg any day now.

So far, the chickens are keeping the new coop quite warm on their own.  So warm in fact, that I open the window up every morning to let it cool off a bit.  I'll be aiming for deep bedding for the winter as well.  Right now I stir the bedding up on Monday mornings and then add a bit of fresh bedding on top. 

Then I sprinkle a bit of loose mineral and some sandy/pebbly grit in as well. 

The new coop chickens are now eating sprouts exclusively.  Mostly barley, sometimes wheat when the feed store runs out of whole barley, and occasionally wild bird seed mix.  They all seem quite content and well. 

I don't have my fodder trays set up the way all the 'cool kids' are doing it now.  They all sit flat with multiple wholes for the water to drip through- just seed starting trays.  With our dry climate it grows more evenly this way rather than setting them on an angle.  I use drain (dish) boards below the plant stands, and then my next days' seeds soak in plastic dollar store window boxes as they catch the drips throughout the day.

It is a huge money saver on feed, and I wish that I had done it all summer at this scale, rather than just sprouting seeds as an occasional treat.

What is left of the meat roos get a mix of fodder and whole grain- they fight less when I can spread the feed out more. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Hydro Free Weekends

After yet another $300 hydro (power) bill, we decided to take the plunge... and bought our first set of solar panels.It's just a little starter set/ RV kit, but it's a starting point.  Sadly, no, I did not do any research regarding brands/types, etc.  Here in the sticks we can shop at Walmart or Canadian Tire.  Canadian Tire has a wider selection of bits and pieces, and they're probably better quality, definitely higher prices, but no package deal.  I was a bit lost and confused and unsure where to start.  So I bought the Walmart kit, which included the wiring, regulator, adapters and lights.
#2 built a very simple wooden frame over the entrance way roof and mounted them up. Two panels (18 Watts each), plus the mini 'battery charger' we already had went up on the south west side.

And one panel on the south east side.  It's not ideal, as they are stationary at the moment, but we'll need more panels before we bother building a mobile frame.  The single panel catches the morning sun, while the other side doesn't get sun til around noon.

Our current battery bank is an oddball collection from various vehicles, and we're still working out which ones can be recharged and still hold a charge, many having been frozen when not in use.  The inverter is only 400 Watts- a spare I bought when Husband was still driving long haul.  Needless to say, we have a long way to go...

For our first "hydro free weekend", we flipped the main breaker to the house on Friday morning and went cold turkey.  It was a beautiful, sunny weekend, so we figured the odds were in our favour, lol.  Wow- talk about shell shock...

The first issue we had to deal with was one of the batteries was beyond dead, and while it seemed to be charging at first, it wouldn't hold it's charge and started draining off the other batteries.  Things went better after Husband took it out of the system.

Next up- the inverter is just too small.  While it was sufficient to charge cell phones, rechargeable flashlights, my kindle, all four lap tops at once, and run the tv and satellite for about 3.5 hours at night...  400 Watts is far less than the average kitchen appliance.  The coffee pot requires 900W, the toaster 1500W.  Of course the stove, fridge, freezers, washing machine, hot water tank, and well pump were all out of the question.

We ran the generator for about an hour in the evenings to chill the freezers and fridge, as well as light the garage and kitchen while cooking supper.  Everything stayed frozen, despite the warm weather and the extra heat from the woodstoves.  We did lose a jug of milk in the fridge, but everything else was ok.

The third issue- extension cords.  We don't have nearly enough long, heavy duty extension cords, and had to constantly be unplugging this and plugging in that...  And we were constantly tripping over cords sprawled out every where...  Not helpful while stumbling about in the dark.

We used outdoor solar lights for the boys' rooms at night, as well as the living room and sunroom.  We could definitely use more of them, and a back up supply of batteries.  Some of my older lights wouldn't work. 

We burned candles in the kitchen, bathroom and our bedroom.  We went through far more candles than I expected, although most were fat decorative candles which left heavy pools of wax behind.  I took the opportunity to make another batch of candles, combining the leftover wax with beef tallow.  I melted the wax and fat over the fire pit and poured it into a silicone muffin tray.  Simple and functional.  I will need to try my patience with making tapered candles as well- much easier to carry from room to room.

We used the kerosene lamp in the kitchen.  It surprised me how quickly it burned the kerosene.  I was not expecting to have to refill it over three days, but we emptied it twice.  I had to wash the lamp every day- we need practice getting the wick to the right height without blackening the glass.

We used the fire pit to heat water in my 'turkey tub'.  The picture below is actually from when I was butchering chickens.  Scrap wood- long dry branches from the pasture were used for the fire, requiring much less cutting and 'man power' than using proper firewood.  Since many of them have been on the ground for a few years they're super dry and burn hot!  We had sufficient hot water for dishes, cleaning, and sponge baths.  But where did the water come from?

Well, for this experiment we cheated...  We hauled water from Mom's in the barrel we use to haul water for the critters, rather than going to the creek and then filtering it.  For drinking water we used our stored water from the basement, which was well past it's prime for storage.  While it was still 'clean'- no algae, at least, there were some little white floaties in a lot of the bottles.  I poured the water through a coffee filter before using.  I think it's from the pop bottles aging.  We didn't use all of our stored water, but came close.  I'll be adding to my storage.

We cooked on the wood stoves and fire pit.  That went pretty well, since we've cooked on them plenty in the past.  Space was an issue, so I'm pushing Husband to expand the stove top with a sheet of steel.  The pig slop and doggy stew were constantly being pushed out of the way, so took much longer to cook than expected.  I had to start the morning feeds at night to let them simmer overnight, and the evening feeds after breakfast. 

Tea was no problem on the wood stove, but coffee was out.  The glass top of my stove top percolator has gone missing...  That will need to be replaced.  Husband cheated and went to Mom's for coffee, lol.  She even brought over a couple of thermoses full.

We entertained ourselves with cards and board games, and books.  We got up early with the sun, and went to bed early as well. 

Monday after the boys left for school I flipped the main breaker back on, then shut off all of the little ones.  I turned on everything in the house, and plugged things into empty plugs.  Then I started flipping the breakers, one at a time, walking through the house to see what came on.  I only made it about halfway through the fuse panel before I called it quits...  Up the basement stairs, up the upstairs, outside to the garage, back to the basement...  That's hard on these old legs.

I found two breakers that don't appear to be connected to anything.  I left them off.  I figure they might as well stay off until someone discovers that something isn't working.  I don't know if they add to my hydro bill or not, but obviously they aren't really vital...

About the hydro bill...  Just to clarify, we aren't really hydro hogs...  We are using an average of 50 Kwh per day, which is certainly bad enough, but includes the excess water pumping for the critters, heat lamps for chicks, incubator, and power to the outbuildings- expenses that folks in town don't share.  Over a third of the bill is delivery charges, debt retirement (from the old Ontario hydro), and taxes...  Which makes me crazy.  With so few people in our area, they charge through the nose for delivery- someone has to make up the losses on the lines...

So...  the over all plan is to install a second fuse panel in the basement, run the solar power to it, and switch one breaker at a time from hydro to solar.  We'll keep expanding our system as we can afford it, and someday, get off grid.  In the mean time, we'll continue with "hydro free weekends", to improve our awareness of our electrical use, (especially with getting the boys to use one thing at a time, instead of turning on the tv and walking out of the room), to see how many watts which appliances use, and what we can live without, and to test how the solar panels do in various types of weather.  Although next time, I think we'll leave the freezers and the water on.  I know which breakers they're on now...