Wood, wood, wood.

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Wood has been bumped up on the priority list for sure! The wood burner, which only a couple of weeks ago was running a bit in the morning and a bit at night, is now burning wood all day, and into the night. We are promised a week of milder weather, and it will really help us out because it means Hubby can get in the necessary posts needed to build a load out facility for the cattle in the Spring. We didn’t think it would warm up enough to allow a post to be put in, at this point, but once again we got lucky. Seems silly but this post is actually a pivotal thing. See, if we load live we can sell the meat, and if we do on farm kill with a local guy from south of here it will all be “not for sale” and with a pig that isn’t so bad but with a steer this would be way too much meat for us to eat. So this is one pivotal fence post, a lot hinges on it, all jokes aside.

I have been the soup whisperer lately. It seems I can make most any meal into a another meal the next night by souping it some how. The soups tend to evolve and what was one soup the night before gets combined with something else to make a new twist on it for a freezer meal for later or lunch the next day.

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This was a Shiitake Mushroom soup with bits of our collards, our neighbors onions and carrots, homemade beef stock, and seasonings. The next night I added some sauteed beef to it that was leftover from another meal. The other soup I made was…

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..Chicken Garlic Mushroom and Veggie. It was so delicious, I couldn’t be happier with the flavor of our Delaware Chickens!

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Last night we had bacon cheeseburgers with our bacon, on homemade buns, with the kimchi I made, and every beautiful color you see in the above picture from last summer’s harvest. It was a nice dinner with friends and family around the table. After said meal, the men folk went out to watch the football game in the barn, I loaded up the wood burner and my daughter and I had fun with the Genealogy project she is working on, which includes all sides of the family. It is so much fun to learn the connections and how they happened!

The three (not so little) pigs.

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Thank you to the pigs. We gave them the best of care and food we could offer and we are grateful for the food they are providing us with this year. The pork was picked up the other day and everyone is happy with the pork we raised. This felt great to hear.

 

In which I demystify Kimchi…

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My first attempt at Kimchi came out of the arrival of the largest Kohlrabi I’d ever seen. Grandma got it at the Farmer’s Market, and when she carried it in I assumed it was a cabbage it was so big! It made me start thinking about my stored cabbages in the neighbor’s walk in cooler, and all the wonderful carrots I picked up from my storage share a couple days before. Put all that together and Kimchi was the decision, I have wanted to try it for a long time. The more I read about diets of the past, the more it makes sense! We used to eat fermented food year around, because of the lack of refrigeration. These ferments were filled with good bacteria, something many of us, myself included don’t get enough of at all. Don’t know if I can jump on the Kombucha train yet, it still mystifies me a bit, but I’m starting with Kimchi and also making up a new batch of yogurt. Next time it is spicy fermented carrots, even hubby may like those if they don’t have the intensity of ginger and garlic that the kimchi does. I think I kinda scared him with this batch!

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I like it very much, even with it’s intense garlic and ginger, I love salty and pickled foods and so the whole thing definitely won me over. I’ve been told by someone who is more familiar with making this than I am, that it will store in the fridge for up to a year!! I expect it to be gone well before than, but it’s amazing it can last that long.

Harvesting the mini high tunnel…

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I planted 4 weeks too late and winter came 6 weeks too early. All this amounts too…a Spinach Omelet for two and some radish niblets. I am already planning for next year though. The tunnel will work great for starting plants and when it is warm enough it will be time to move the chickens out of the brooder and repurpose it as a  “hoop coop” combo for moving the roosters about till butchering time. Then it will be a cold frame again in the Fall. I’m excited to start plants in it early this Spring and have salad greens early!

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Last week we went over the river and through the woods to… well you get it. It was a wonderful holiday with family, and we even were able to sneak in a early birthday party for my Dad’s 90th, since they will be in a warmer climate on his real birthday. It was simple stuff, adorable wonderful grand kids, a big family Thanksgiving, and a Pizza Birthday party with cake for Dad the next night. There were lots of laughs, and a few tears (happy, loving, grateful tears), and now we are all home (to our 7 different states!) with new memories, renewed connections and full hearts. I love and treasure this family very much!

PS It was also very good to be back on the farm.

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Hubby and Grandson are doing a cattle check.

 

Last night we tried out our first pork of the season. It was time for a celebratory meal, couple this with the fact that we had excellent Thanksgiving leftovers it was a perfect dinner.

Menu:

First Pork Chops, of the year, seared in Cast Iron and oven cooked at a high temperature, served with Thanksgiving Cranberries, (made by my Mom and my Grandson) as well as we taste tested it with the HB Cranberry Jelly I made in the Fall. We served this with broccoli from last summer, oven baked locally bartered for potatoes, leftover stuffing (made by my Mom and my daughter) and my pumpkin bread (made with box elder syrup and fresh pumpkin). Dessert was a delicious slice of pumpkin pie, for each of us, made for Thanksgiving by my sister in her condo in the heart of the city. It was a collaboration celebration!

I really feel good about the job we did with the hogs and the butcher said they were in great shape, and fed out well. Additionally we are learning to establish a small meat business and this year was a great first year. Profit will go into a new freezer which we will need when we load live and sell by the piece next year. We will have the new freezer licensed next year but for now, with a whole hog in the freezer that we have all of our veggies, fruits, chickens and two turkeys in we could definitely use the added space!

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Hubby brought in these frozen mushrooms tonight. This was unexpected for sure, they were sauteed up tonight with Asparagus pieces from last Spring and some of our garlic diced small. Wow, there is just something about sauteed mushrooms…especially when they are a surprise!

Magical High Bush Cranberry Jelly

After all the photos of the process, here is the finished product, and it tastes like nothing else I’ve tasted before, so I just call it magical. The other somewhat magical part is that I never even knew what those berries were and that they were edible, and here they were red and beautiful while everything else was brown and dry. I often regret how much I haven’t known over the years about our farm, but I guess in part that is what fills my world now with sweetness and wonder as I learn every day what this farm can provide for us. Life is good, very good, and I am grateful every day. Really.

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Our little Highland Eloise looks like a lamb, but mostly she is on the lamb! It’s been very exciting that Hubby has gotten the cattle pastures fenced, clear up into the top of the woods, and for the most part all is going smoothly. Eloise some how seems to always be where she isn’t supposed to be though, as you can see in the photo, she is resting and looking at us, and she is about 20 feet into the pasture one up from the rest of the cattle. We accidentally learned that getting her Mama to come get her, was easier than pushing her toward where she needed to move. The best learning is sometimes by mistake! Otherwise getting the cattle in the woods to manage the brush is going very well. It will go even better next year when we have nice spring and summer lush growth for them to do their work on, because at this point right now, they are out there but there isn’t a ton for them to eat, it got cold way, way too early this year. It’s 6 weeks till winter and we are snow covered and in single digits at night. We are hearing words like Polar Vortex, again.

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The pigs are loving eating our neighbors (not good enough to sell) pumpkins! They devour the insides first, then the shells. It’s my understanding that pumpkin seeds offer the pigs health benefits, and they are just plain healthy and filling food for them. Pigs to the locker day is on Thursday. Hubby has kindly been dealing with the frozen water replacing more than I have, but it will be good to be done for the season, since winter came so darn soon. The pig keeping area and set up is not designed for Winter, so it’s early arrival, makes the job of caring for them harder, very grateful for Hubby’s increased help with the pigs since it got so cold, he is out there for the cattle anyhow, so I take a bit of advantage of that.

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The kale and collards are all brought in, blanched and frozen till we have greens again in the Spring. The tiny high tunnel is not doing such an awesome job now that it is single digits at night. I learned a lot. I think this set up will be great next year in the Fall. I will plant it earlier and hope for winter not coming 6 weeks too soon, and I think it will do well. At this point we might put the chickens in there for a day to enjoy the greens that aren’t going to make it. Not enough to harvest but enough for chickens to peck at something green which they should enjoy very much!

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Found a really unique bread recipe. It involved soaking the flour in water for a couple hours before assembling the bread ingredients. Very unusual but it was the first time I ever made 100% whole wheat bread that was not only, not a brick, but was tasty! Hubby would prefer maybe a 1/3 less wheat. Not surprising, but I really liked it. It made three loafs though, so I sliced and froze some of it. I don’t usually make 3 loaves at a time so I used the pans I had. One loaf pan was non stick and the other was cast iron, as well as the big round one was cast iron. The non stick loaf did not rise nearly as much in the baking, and it stuck, how is that for irony?! By the way, it is beautiful dough, these pictures are taken before it was even cooked, just after rising!

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…And a photo of the tiny tunnel before the real cold set it in, I sure can see how it would have worked super well if it Winter hadn’t come in the Fall!

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Some cold mornings need hearty breakfasts, and no, not all those sausages were eaten at breakfast!

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We’ve been enjoying our chickens, and this bird is ready for the oven! We are of course trying to make them last as well, so they always feel like a treat! Soon we will have pork of our own, and I am picking up 2 turkeys from a local farm next week to put into our freezer. One will be for Christmas dinner, and one for a random thanksgiving feast during the cold days of  February/March when it would be quite welcome. Hopefully we will harvest one to two cattle in the Spring, and it will be our first beef from the farm. I am sure we will learn a lot before, during and afterwards from the experience, and that will make the next time easier in a lot of ways.

…and who knows, maybe this will be the year we get some rabbit on the dinner table!

Back on the roller coaster one last time!

So, Pigs this and Pigs that, I thought I was done talking about PIGS! Well, after coming to this great decision, designed by fate, that the pigs would be slaughtered here at the farm by a mobile unit that would transport it in halves to their USDA facility for butchering, along came another change. I got an email from one of the people we are raising the pigs for, and he had concerns. His comment was that he’d had the the bacon and hams from the originally booked  locker and he liked it very much. Will we like the new shops curing and smoking recipe? I could immediately see his point. It was very good last year, and now we were facing the unknown. What if the ham and bacon were not as good as last time? These few customers I have, are remembering last year’s goodness and expecting the same. So, I sucked it up and went back to the original locker again. When I left there, last time, they said they would do it, but I wasn’t convinced that some problem might not come up and nix the plan. My brain kept saying what if an inspector there doesn’t like the fact that they were killed on the farm? What if they randomly condemn the animal for that reason? I went back there and did it the old boys way. Hey there “Bob” (all names have been changed to protect the innocent), “can I have a few minutes with you?” He was great about it, he sat down with me, took the time with me, and we put all our cards on the table, I showed respect for his shop and the way he does things, and he respected my feelings about on farm kill, despite it not being his philosophy at all. I explained that I didn’t want to rock their boat or compromise their way of doing things. He explained that what we wanted is becoming a more and more difficult thing to do, due to imposed regulations, and he wished that wasn’t the case. Ultimately he felt he had made a commitment to us, and we shook hands on his honoring the agreement. I thanked him for his time, his understanding of our ways, and for following through on their commitment. I left feeling like I could breathe more deeply and could finally think about something other than pigs and slaughter. I believe I will be bringing some, well timed Pumpkin Scones their way. A small gift such as this goes a long way in a town like ours. It’s currency from the heart.

…And what about the FIG moment of the day before? It still pays off because now we know where we will likely take our first Steer in the Spring and if I hadn’t called the wrong locker I wouldn’t have known about them.

The final part of the story? We WILL have a complete loading out facility next year. I will not be getting back on this roller coaster. Done.

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I went home, and despite the fact that it was 4pm a celebration was in order! I poured a drink and walked up to near the ridge line, in the midst of a field, while I watched the sunset and enjoyed my cocktail Then I hightailed it back home, because after then sunset it got darn cold!

Cranberries, Pumpkins, and Soup… It must be late Fall!

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The Highbush cranberries simmered on the stove.

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Then they hung till the juice all ran out.

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Tomorrow this will be become HB Cranberry Jelly for Pork or PB and J, I think it would be good, however it is eaten, and it has a lot of vitamin C and A in it!

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While the Cranberries were simmering the Pumpkin halves were roasting in the oven. Many hours later I filled this large glass measure. Tomorrow I will puree it and freeze it in 1 cup units for baking pumpkin breads, muffins, pies, or pancakes. PS Pumpkin Scones with Cinnamon Glaze is amazing!

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I have a lot of little broccoli off shoots coming in right now with the cooler weather. They have been adding up and since I have quite a bit of broccoli in the freezer for the year I decided to make broccoli soup. Some for now and some will get frozen for a cold day.

This is what I did today, it was another day that felt like a gift. It’s been  nice having the kitchen unable to accommodate me for a few days!

I had hoped to get the Salsa Verde and dried peppers done today but that will be tomorrow, as will finishing the cranberry jelly. The next day it’s back to the granola kitchen but for now I am already looking forward to my early morning reading and coffee :-)

In a farm day (warning, graphic pig talk)

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The pigs were thrilled with some scratch and dent veggies from the neighbor, and the chickens also enjoyed a pumpkin, that is, after they freaked out and ran from it!

Today was a great day. I woke up early and read more of Cold Antler Farm, with coffee, and that is a great way to start the day even if it was 6am. I’ve written endlessly about the pigs and processing them, and today I had another FIG moment. I’ve written about FIG moments before. Fate Is Great. This is how it played out this time…I called the locker this morning to discuss coming out to tour their facility today. This is the one I already (or I thought) was on the books for, all I had to do was go see it, and of course we had to build the loading out facility, because we could not find anyone to do it any other way then loading live. Well, here’s the part about FIG. I did not know there were two lockers with nearly identical names. When I called them they didn’t have me on the books and in fact said, we don’t even have a kill floor here, we do strictly on farm kill. Now to say that is music to my ears, might sound very strange to most people, it does even a little bit to me, but this is what we want and I had all but thrown in the towel that this was even possible to find. They have no problem with us having raised pigs for others, and none of us have problems with “not for sale meat” because…we are not selling it. There will be some differences. They will not only come out and kill the hogs but they will have them in two halves each by the time they pull away. We will be left with (I warned you) the hide, the head, and the offal (term for organs and entrails). They will leave us with the organ meats we want, but it is up to us to package those, they only package what they take with and they take the hogs already in halves. This will be a learning experience and Holy Homesteading, Robin, this is as close as it gets to doing it ourselves. I am glad to have resolution to all this and to know it can be done on the farm the way we think is kindest to the animal.

So, that was my morning, getting this all figured out over the phone and drafting a letter to those we are raising pigs for, and then finally I went out to check the animal waters and I decided I deserved a bit of playtime on on the farm after finally getting this whole thing done. So… I plinked a bit with my new air rifle. Got it sited in quite nicely, actually.

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Yep it was fun.

The kitchen where I bake, is closed for a run of days this week, and so I planned ahead and filled all locations up prior to the closing. This leaves me with a window of three days this week to myself, with no baking and nothing needing to be delivered. I spent some of today emailing new venues to see if they would be interested in carrying really granola and heard back from a couple already with good potential, and one yes. Then time for more outdoor time… taking the tarps off the cold season veggies (frost warnings), opening up the mini greenhouse, fed the pigs some ears of corn and walnuts, watered in the green house, and went and delivered a last minute ordered bulk bag of granola to my neighbor who kindly delivers it to his clients with his produce. He sent me home with loads of squash and pumpkins for us and of course for the pigs and chickens.

Afternoon coffee was accompanied by reading website after website explaining the 3 varieties of Highbush Cranberries and finding out they are quite edible, and found especially in Alaska and parts of the pacific coast natively. We were both pretty sure that was what they were,  it was a random shrub ordered with a tree order, we think… turns out these make a delicious jelly that would be wonderful with what else, pork! (I am reminded of eating mint jelly with lamb as a child, about half a jar at a meal!)

Back at the granola desk, I ordered all my ingredients and solved a few sourcing problems and answered a few emails.  This was followed by shoveling up the pile of garden debris I left piled by the small garden and and putting away finally the last of the tomato cages. Then feeding the cattle for hubby and then the pigs and chickens. Hubby is working on rehabbing a house that was damaged in a tornado. The hope is to sell it in the Spring, it’s an exciting project for him and today was “truss day” and it was a long one. There were a few problems but all that said, the trusses are up!

The last part of my day was going to pick the cranberries. Here they are below.

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It was a beautiful night to be picking them…

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Very grateful for this farm day today, and already grateful for my farm day tomorrow. Not sure how I got so lucky.

Most colorful Fall on the farm ever!

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It has been an amazing Fall. We are used to more subtle colors since we do not have Maples, but this year it’s been incredible. It was awesome that family came to visit right when the colors were best!

What’s going on at this point is all about transitions from Fall to Winter. It’s that time of year when there is a lot of clean up. Clean out all the gardens and put them to bed, clean out all the coops, clean out the old tomato cages wrapped in knotted tomato vines and clean through the last of the veggies, storing what can be, dried, frozen, canned or eaten. Oh and of course what goes to the pigs and chickens.

Hubby has been working very hard on fencing, trying to get every last bit done before the snow flies this year, actually not every last bit but everything he hoped for his goal this year. The cattle are systematically eating through every pasture we have and so it’s supplement with hay time. The pigs also are getting down to their last bits of pasture but they will be going to the locker soon and so we will just make it, pasture wise.

Speaking of pigs here is the the whole pig story…

Last year, as mentioned, we had loading issues with our pigs. The issue? We couldn’t load them, due to not having a proper enough loading out facility. Instead they were shot on farm by the local locker who came out and did it, then we loaded them with the loader into his truck and off he went to the locker where they were butchered in a USDA facility. We liked the “on farm kill” method so much we wanted to do it again this year, but it is like swimming upstream. We can not get anyone to do it so far, well, not true exactly. The locker from last year said they would but this is the “last year”, however, they don’t seem pleased about the arrangement, and I feel like they really would rather wash their hands of the whole thing. This means Monday I will be going for a field trip  to see a new facility. They also won’t do on farm kill, but they do have a facility and a way to do it where it will be lower stress on the pigs, lower stress means better meat. See, they prefer to load them the afternoon before and then bed them down overnight, so they relax. Then in the morning they only have to walk 20 feet. I would rather go somewhere that understands our feelings about low stress and although the people at the first market are very nice folks, both we and they have a different philosophy on the process. We don’t want to compromise their philosophy any more than we want to compromise ours. Updates to follow on how things go, at this point I have an appointment at both lockers and will cancel one after the field trip. The consequence of this is that we (hubby) WILL have to build a loading out facility since they will end up being loaded live. Since there are consequences to everything, here is another. If we do have a loading facility we could in the future, if we wanted to sell meat by the piece, and get full price for pastured bacon and the expensive cuts like roasts and chops. This will be something to revisit next year.

Pigs for profit or food for us? Cattle for land management or beef?

All of this said, it created another bigger conversation, we are not surprised anymore when this happens. Where are we going with the pigs and the cattle? What is our goal, both short, and long term? Are we raising cattle for a beef business or for cleaning out the woods (land management) and feeding ourselves? My feeling about the animals is that they have to earn their keep on the farm.  The pigs earn their keep in 7 months on the farm. Next year with proper licensing one pig will provide us with meat and the other two will be sold in halves or wholes and cover the cost of raising the pigs as well as our own pig specifically. It’s a win-win, in 7 months! My opinion is that it’s remarkably easy to raise good pork. Healthy balanced organic food in, healthy rotated pastures, low stress life, the edge of the woods where they have access to acorns, and walnuts, add in wild apples and garden scraps, pumpkins etc. This is all very easy to do. Good in, good product out. Raising grass fed, grass finished cattle, in my opinion, is far more complicated! Learning about grasses alone is a whole education and the type of grasses, the availability of them, the time of year, the weather, the breed of cattle, the environment and many other things play into how that meat will taste. Grass fed cattle also take twice as long to get to market (one of the reasons grass fed beef is so expensive) and are very hard on our weakest link which is pasture space. This all weighs in when asking if they are earning their keep?  Is  their presence here financially sensible? These are some of the scenarios that we talked through… If we continue breeding we will be harder on our pastures. Do we take the bull to market and have our first beef, and not replace him? This would put us to 8 head of cattle. We also have another steer that could go in at the same time putting us at 7. Then the next year we will have two steer ready to go in leaving us at 5 which would be far more appropriate for our pasture, additionally at this point we should have substantially more pasture and could consider getting a bull then. The following year we still would have one more steer to go in and then we would be down to 4 cows, possibly with a new bull, of course, then there is the potential of 4 more calves, but maybe we would be ready by then. What this plan would do is keep us in beef through the end of 2017. This plan proves the cattle can earn their keep in beef, as well as by restoring our wooded areas, also known as land management, which they are great at doing. A question that popped up out of this discussion was, “can you let a cow go two years without breeding”, and so the research continues…and the greenhorns keep reading.

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This was our chicken hoop that we were moving the chickens in all summer long. Now that the chickens have been butchered, here it is transformed into a…

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…mini high tunnel, or “tiny tunnel”.  We removed the green tarp over the old hoop coop and put on clear plastic so we can use it to extend the season. I planted: scallions, spinach, lettuce, radishes, peas (for the pea shoots), and transplanted a small kale plant into it. So far everything is coming up and the little green sprouts showing up are beautiful. I hope this experiment works!!

This is what it looked like before we lowered the hoop on top of the bales…

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and now it looks like this in there…

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Now for some picture fun…

How pretty is this amazing red cabbage?

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The Delawares are starting to lay, not consistently but we are getting there!

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This picture just looks like cattle on the side of the driveway. Ahhhh but it is so much more than that! This is a scene I marvel at each time, because it took years of fencing, on hubby’s part, to get them across the driveway! It’s a beautiful thing. Check out the fencing techniques below…our posts are all Black Locust, which had to be cut down, retrieved, and de-barked before they were ready for the project. Now that is a project all by itself!

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The picture above is from chicken butchering day… look at all the eggs that were in the butchered hens?! You may ask why did we butcher such seemingly great laying hens? Answer….because the hatchery gave us more females than we wanted. The picture below had to go next to the the one above because they are the peas and carrots of breakfast, they just go together…

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JOWL bacon. Nothing else needs to be said…

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This was taken the night we picked the last of the pears and apples. It’s been a wonderful Fall season!