RTDM

As you are no doubt aware, the military has a fascination with acronyms. ASAP, TDY, BHA, it goes on and on. However, you may not be aware that those in the software industry share this particular penchant for strings of seemingly random letters. The similarities between these groups doesn’t end there. As a general rule, with a few notable exceptions (My hubby), most members of these groups tend to favor colorful language not suitable for mixed company. Thus the above acronym. Read the Dang Manual. I’ve made the necessary modifications to write it on my kid friendly blog…in fact have a kid reading over my shoulder as I type.  Point being, so many problems and misinformation could be circumvented if people would just RTDM. Keep this in mind, I’ll be coming back to it.

Last week the husband man was back in Las Vegas for work. We knew that the earliest our cow could calve would be May 20 and that would be if the bull had got right down to business the first day she was available. But there are some things that can theoretically increase the chances of early calving. We figured that the best way to get her to come early would be to have Neil leave town. It’s how life tends to roll for us. Given this possibility my handsome lumberjack built me a stanchion before he left so I could start getting Mei used to the idea.

It’s a thing of beauty. Truly. Mei is getting good at it and it has been a lifesaver for this woefully out of practice hand milker.

Well he left on Monday morning, and Thursday evening I went down to feed Mei her evening Chaffhaye.

I screamed and almost hyperventilated when I realized there were more legs than there should have been. Squeaking into the phone, I told Neil that the baby was here and that I had to run but I’d call him back oh my gosh she had her baby oh my gosh!

This was the best case scenario as it meant Mei was able to deliver a perfectly healthy baby with no outside assistance at all. Carefully we introduced ourselves, and I made sure little one had figured out nursing. It took some time before I could get up close and personal enough to ascertain gender, but we confirmed that it was a girl. Naomi (resident animal namer) christened her “Star” and since everyone promptly agreed (hallelujah) it was official. Baby cows are dreamy. Silky smooth, adorable and so feisty. We are old hands at goat kids (who have the small thing working for them) but I’m pretty sure we are sticking with cows for a while…everyone fell in love. Not that there hasn’t been a learning curve.

With in the first hour we found out the electric fence does not contain our particular baby cow. So we’ve been lucky enough to play several rounds of “find the calf” over the last 8 days. Luckily she gets tired and just hunkers down when she realizes she’s lost. We are surrounded by woods and understanding neighbors, so it’s not a terrible ordeal.

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The first few days, when I was on my own, I could bear-hug her like the above picture and just haul her back to her mama. But a few days ago she out grew my strength, making me grateful once again for this guy.

Now back to RTDM rant. Dehorning her was what we decided long ago for a lot of reasons, just like we did for our goat kids. Goat kids got disbudded with a disbudding iron  and that is probably the best option for goats. To the internets we went and after much reading, we opted to go with caustic paste. We read a ton and went to  YouTube and watched it done and it seemed like an excellent option for calves. Once we got the paste we read the instructions and we quickly realized why people hate caustic paste. It’s because they do everything the instructions say NOT to do especially with goat kids. People, a goat kid is an entirely different creature than a cow calf. RTDM!!!

Well we followed our own advice and after reading we got it done. Best way to dehorn.

One key is to do this early. She was three days old when we did it. First, shave the horn buds.

Next, apply petroleum jelly in a ring around the horn bud to contain the caustic paste. Now to back up a minute, when I say caustic paste I’m talking lye, and some other nasty highly basic chemicals. It reacts with everything and ultimately eats away everything including the horn bud. Not something you want to touch with bare hands. It will literally burn you away. Seems mean, right? Many, many people think so and naturally studies have been done to see just how mean this is. Turns out young calves (like days old) show slightly fewer signs of discomfort with this method compared to a disbudding iron where the skin and horn bud are burned off, with no anesthetic. Older calves are usually given some sort of pain treatment. It is quick and one of the most humane ways to do it.  [I can’t find the study because I found it on my phone not on the computer I’m currently on. If you absolutely need the research and links I will happily oblige, but right now a certain almost 4 year old is demanding my attention.]

Paste is applied with a Popsicle stick. We applied the amount specified in the instructions. If you apply too much it will keep reacting, eating down further into the skull. People who apply too much, naturally will have some issues. RTDM.

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I must state that at this point our calf was just cranky at being held down. She was making no sounds and was not even really struggling. Compared to our goat kids who screamed and fought through the whole disbudding process, this felt so much better. Calmer and much less dramatic. Didn’t even smell singed hair.

Picture on the left is 24 hours-ish afterwards. Picture on the right is about 4 days after the fact. There was no blood, so no fly problems and after about 6 hours of keeping her tied so she couldn’t rub it onto herself or her mama, she was good to go. I could touch it and she didn’t notice a thing.

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I highly recommend this method for dehorning calves if you can do it early enough that there isn’t any pain (can be within the first 2 days). Not that you can tell by Miss Sassy Pant’s expression, but she does actually like us and is settling in nicely. Now that we are separating her at night so that I can milk in the morning, our only real issue is my hand strength. It is a race to get as much as I can before Mei finishes the bucket of yumminess I bring her in the morning. My hands are doing ok, I’m just terribly inefficient. Sigh. To be fair, Meushi has been an angel and even stood patiently for me to keep milking this morning even after she had finished breakfast.

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This mornings efforts. That is a gallon jar, and the goal is to get at least one of these every morning. Hopefully, we will both get better at this game and Neil can fill in for me with his huge lumberjack hands if my forearms fall off.

 

 

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Big Apple Firsts

At the beginning of the month I whisked myself away to experience New York City. Whisking allowed me to see the city as an adult, not as a mom with 4 precious children in tow. It wasn’t better, per se, just very very different. I think I needed both to really begin to start to think about possibly maybe someday understanding such a place. It was a trip filled with firsts. Most of them were small and mundane but it was an amazing adventure. First off: first canceled flight of my life.

Me and my boots waiting and then eating and then calling my husband and kids to turn around and re-drive an hour to pick me up after my flight was canceled due to weather. First time eating Five Guys fries. All. By. Myself. I’ve had them before but its a whole new level of bliss to not have to share even one.

Me and my boots on our very first Amtrak train bound for a destination more than an hour away. I’d ridden the train with my Dad (We went to San Juan Capistrano and saw “Zorro.” Could not have been more perfect atmosphere) but this was 11 hours of pure uninterrupted reading time. I finished the two books (Homeschooling books, of course) that I’d brought. They changed my life and that right there was worth the canceled flight drama. Naomi was gracious enough to loan me her lunch box.

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Saying goodbye to Mommy, take two. For the record, I married an amazing man. He single handedly took over the farm and the homeschooling and the bathing and the hair brushing and not only merely survived, but out did himself as a dad. He’s my favorite.

The rest of the trip will be related in three parts, Food, Art, My Mom and Sisters.  Things I can not possibly love any more than I do. Ahem.

My Mom and my sisters are locals now and they knew the places to go. We did Colombian, and Mexican, and Thai. I got to ruin bacon for my sisters…store bought will never live up to my homegrown cured and smoked stuff. We hit up the commercial bakery down the street from my mom’s that has tasty and dirt cheap baked goods…chocolate swirl cheesecake with a healthy dollop of apple butter and a side of madeleines (another first). There is a bakery in Manhattan called “Magnolias.” Their chocolate banana pudding made me seriously consider licking the inside of the cup (dignity and class be danged) and I need their lemon bars in my life daily. Huzzah for good food!

Art must be seen in person. Full stop. No other way to really “get it.” For the first time I had a chance to really see these iconic masterpieces. Did you know that One: Number 31 by Jackson Pollock has places where the paint is shiny??? Did you know that there are places on the canvas where the paint was absorbed at different rates creating a whole new level of depth and complexity??? Turns out Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory is super tiny…what?! and I saw the real Starry Night. People. There are maroon strokes in that cypress tree that I have never really seen because I’ve only seen glossy reproductions. I saw the edge of the paining, where Van Gogh decided to stop painting. I saw paintings from an artist I studied in high school and loved but forgot about. Art. I loves it. I also got to experience other forms of art. Daffodils in the middle of the city, stone steps on an early morning walk by myself just because I could, and a cold frosty sunrise because spring hadn’t totally started up north. Sigh.

I love this woman and these weirdos. This was the first time we had a chance to start to get to know each other as adults. Usually I’m in full out mom mode while they are working magic in aunt mode. Doesn’t leave lots of time for deep conversation. Laughing and fun, of course, but not deep “who are you really under all that” discussion. They make me so happy. And I’m pretty sure my mom is the coolest mom out there. True story.

Mom said this kind of sister/mom trip needs to be an annual thing. Not just because I came home with my proverbial batteries fully charged and ready to turn life upside down (in a good way) but because we all need to get to know the many sides of the people we love. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there is a unique, autonomous person under all the hats we wear. Sigh. I might just learn to love New York after all.

 

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It’s alive!

That’s the great thing about spring. It’s dynamism, it’s force, it’s awake-ness. There has to be a compendium of all the trite spring clichés somewhere on the internets, but I get them now…and why there are so many. This is our second spring in this land of things that actually grow and because I’m no longer in the throes of setting up house and banishing cardboard from my life, I’ve been able to stop and look at it more. The thing about the aliveness of spring is that it’s stealthy. Lying in wait, quietly, patiently, it ambushes you and smacks you in the head with copious green on the oak tree that wasn’t there yesterday. Or the trees turning white overnight with popcorn blossoms. It’s beautiful and even more so because it’s a beauty that surprises you. Now, don’t misunderstand. Spring is still a wild animal in my opinion. Something to be marveled at and appreciated, but never, under any circumstances to be trusted or counted on. I don’t love Spring, because I’m too much “The Planner” and “The Writer of Lists” and “The Checker of Boxes.” Spring doesn’t allow for too much of that, not unless you buy white out. And lots of it.

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First Daddy Daughter Dance. Oh. My. The Cuteness. Our church put on a dance for the girls 11 and younger and their dads, and my girls were over the moon. [like that cliché? I’ve got more!] Layna was a mite perturbed that her Dad had two other ladies to dance with, but I was told that cupcakes went a long way to assuaging any lingering jealousy.

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Strawberry Season is officially open! Having four able-bodied berry pickers this year instead of two pickers plus two berry eating liabilities is a revelation. The four gallons we brought home are already spoken for and I haven’t even started thinking about jam. This will be a weekly event for the next 5 weeks. Then we might have enough. Maybe.

Cleaning out the closet that doubles as a chick brooder, I found our incubator. The husband guy said, “hey why don’t we hatch some of our eggs? They should hatch on St. Patrick’s Day!” I was sold and we got to watch two babies for the full hatching process. Lucky (on the left) was born the day before St. Pat’s and Shamrin (on the right) was born on the day itself. [Aside: Farm kids are no different that normal kids in their desire to name all the things. They also are no different in the bizarre and random names that they insist are the right names and will defend those names to the death! All kids do this. Farm kids just have more critters to christen. We needed St. Pat’s Themed unisex names since we won’t know gender for a few weeks yet. I thought Lucky and Shamrock. Naomi insisted on Shannon and so Shamrin was the compromise.]

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As you might have noticed our incubator can only hatch three eggs at a go. That complicates things if you want, say, 25 chicks. So a week prior to our eggs hatching, we went to the feed store and got 10 buff orpingtons, 5 australorps, 5 black silver laced wyandottes, and 5 cuckoo marans. We should have a beautiful and bountiful egg situation around August. Luckily, we will have pigs to help with the surplus.

They are all settled in the tractor outside, and Lucky and Shamrin are doing wonderfully despite being a week smaller. It’s a good thing too. I need the brooding closet for the 5 turkey poults that are coming home tomorrow! More on that new endeavor later.

To the untrained eye, or the imaginationally challenged these look like twigs in trash bags.  But I see bushels of apples and pears and ridiculous amounts of elder berries.

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Its a good thing that’s what I see, because a few days after we brought home our orchard (11 trees and two elderberry bushes to add to the 12 blueberries, 2 figs, 2 paw paw, and 1 lemon tree) it snowed. SEE?! This is what spring does! It’s a beast. A beautiful beast, but a beast nonetheless.

All the trees are positioned and 4 are in the ground.

Currently we are facing one of the hardest things about homesteading. All the decisions and the trade-offs they embody. When the apple trees woke up the leaves started coming in curled. Same with the lemon tree. This says a pest problem. We can spray for pests (as our nursery expert recommends) but that would mean giving up the rosy, if nebulous, ideal of “organic” and “all-natural” and “Healthier trees and fruit.” It’s the same reason people pay $50 instead of $12 for a bag of non-GMO, organic, soy and corn free chicken/pig feed. Honestly, I’m torn. With the animal feed, I’m pretty sure cutting sugar out of our diets would have way more health benefits than the super expensive feed that makes our eggs and pork (especially since a huge part of those animals’ diets are high quality kitchen scraps and greens and bugs and all the things they forage for). With the trees, I can have more fruit and much prettier fruit with much less headache and difficulty if I spray. But then I’m already looking at 20-30 bushels (thats 960-1440 lbs) of apples on a good year when they are mature, 10-20 bushels of pears. Even if I lose some to bugs and birds, I think I’ll manage (read: drown in appley, pearful goodness) And reputable sources say that non-sprayed trees can be stronger and more resilient. I need to look into natural orchard keeping methods and see if I can find a way forward that feels good to me. Sigh.

Bottom line though: Spring makes me happy. It feels good to get the garden planted, even if I messed up my timing and got things outside way too early. It feels good to be watching my cows udder bulk up with promise of butter and feta cheese. It feels good, and I don’t mind keeping my eyes on Spring, just in case.

 

 

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a secret.

Can I tell you a secret? I’m a terrible Down Syndrome mom. Stop shaking your head and formulating all the things you are thinking to make me feel better. First, let me explain why I am a terrible Down Syndrome mom. In the first few days after Layna was born I had a few people point me to this blog. Before you misunderstand, I actually love this blog and the woman who fuels it. She inspires me and I like her…I do go in and out of following her blog, but overall it’s good stuff. This, my friends, is the standard for Down Syndrome moms everywhere, and frankly I don’t measure up. There are no groups, social events, or community anything that we belong to. I haven’t raised money for anything. There was one out of six years I called attention to March 21, National Down Syndrome Awareness Day on social media. Abysmal. To be honest, most of the time I completely forget that she has a syndrome at all and sometimes that’s not a good thing. Not to say that I don’t have my moments where I hate how much I struggle to understand her because of what that extra chromosome did to her expressive speech development, or that I don’t have times where I wish desperately that she was not going have the “Down Syndrome look.” And can we just talk about stubborn streaks? Oi. Vey.

I’m a terrible Down Syndrome mom because I can’t bring myself to treat Miss Thang any different than her siblings or change our life to include something that is as basic to her makeup as her eye color (Hazel eyes of the world unite!) But Alas for her, she is mine and I am hers. While I may be a terrible Down Syndrome mom in general…I’m hoping that killer birthday cakes, daily water coloring and play-doh, and the occasional “If you don’t get back in your bed I’m going to come up there and PUT you back in bed!” will somehow help her create whatever life she decides is meant for her. Oh and rabbit water bottles. She will always be allowed to poach drinks from the rabbit water bottles.

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This year was her first friend birthday party and I was grateful she didn’t have strong opinions on the theme. Goodness knows she has strong opinions on other things (looking at you, “brushing my own hair”), but I’ve been intrigued by the giant cupcake cake pan for a long time and was excited for an excuse to buy one. That and it was cheap so absolutely no hang ups at all. Overall it creates an epic cake consumption experience, and I hope I can be creative enough to sneak it into all the birthday themes this year.

First we had a birthday dinner at my grandparents house. Once again, so grateful they up and followed us across the country. I would be missing them something fierce right now. Also, the husband and I realized that it’s a pretty unique and rare thing for our kids to be so close to their great grandparents. Neil had one set he would visit every couple of years and I only was close to one great grandma. So glad my kids have them.

On to the party! Balloons and lots of them are my favorite munchkin party game. Naomi’s 4th birthday was Rapunzel and we had balloons to be beaten with frying pans. Her 6th party (Halloween themed) had bat balloons. [I’d link to pictures but the party happened during my blogging hiatus. Sorry.] I loves them. Then we played “pin the cherry on the cupcake” which was awesome. Can I also say how grateful I am for my software architect who just picked up graphic design and made all my cupcake dreams come true? Yeah. He’s such good stuff.

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No one better than Daddy when you’ve had too much party.

Then we painted pictures of cupcakes. Through a devoted and rigorous daily practice, Layna’s style is really beginning to coalesce into a bold and well-rounded advancement of the medium. She is currently in her black period.

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Frosting and cake are a win. Full Stop. But when you let kids be the boss of those things? Magic happens.

Some for me. Some for the cake.

One of my favorite things about her is that she always says “thank you.” She doesn’t need prompting and it’s always loud and heartfelt. It also sounds like, “Wank you!” which, I think, ups the awesome quotient by at least 47%.

Even though I’m still negotiating the new dimension that this one tacked onto my Motherhood calling 6 years ago, I wouldn’t change it. The potty training fiascoes, the delays, the therapies, the everything has given me such a deeper awareness and appreciation for the silver linings that are everywhere. Layna is wonderfully forgiving and patient with me and I’m honored to be her mom. Here’s to many more happy returns for my snuggling, travel-sized-for-my-convenience, house elf!

 

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Harvesting

Because the garden currently looks like this:

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And my cow had icicles on her fur and ears:

And because I devoured The Intelligent Gardner and Teaming With Microbes in 6 days. And because I can’t stop thinking and scheming about this year’s garden and my massive garden expansion plan. I realized it would be a good idea to take this downtime (between hog butcherings, chick acquisition, indoor seed starting, etc.) to finally get out a recap of our first gardening experience on our new homestead. [As a quick meandering tangent (oxymoronic, no?)…I’ve decided that the moniker “homestead” is indeed the most fitting for what we are building. Farm is too big and we aren’t (currently) selling anything, Garden doesn’t cover what a large part animals play in this thing. Farmstead would be an option but I prefer homestead and all that it implies. We have settled on an actual name too! That will be reveled later, but for now? Glad we got that sorted.]

Rather than drone on and on about the minutiae that doesn’t really interest anyone but me (even my husband is kindly polite when I get going on all things garden), I’m just going to show you some of my favorite pictures from the season. While there was a bit of a learning curve (Fungal disease from too much moisture was not something that happened in the desert. Ever.), growing stuff here is amazing. It gave me a glimpse into a world where I really could produce superior food for my family and make a substantial dent in our food bill. My previous successes were limited to “Hey, something grew! And it almost looks normal!”  No more, friends. We can garden for reals now.

Quick note: Morning Glories are weeds here. We had to work hard to grow some for Naomi in Vegas and even then only got a few. Best. Move. Ever.

The spider’s name is Quatro.

We probably got 20 lbs of pecans from our pecan tree that we didn’t even know we had until a few months ago. And there are still about 5 pounds on the ground because holidays commandeered my pecan harvesting time. I think only homemade bacon from my own pig has rivaled the joy and pride from serving pecan pie made from my own pecans on Thanksgiving Day.

I love canning. Do you love canning? If no, Can I can for you? Because I love it. I have an entire attic space that is now an attic pantry full to bursting with everything from bread and butter pickles to wild black berry jam to chicken pot pie filling. Happiness radiates, nay…exudes, out of there from under the door. Seriously, it looks like puffs of yellow glitter.

Final counts:

  • 44.5 lbs summer squash
  • 22 cantaloupes (averaging 4 lbs each)
  • 58 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 112.5 lbs cucumbers
  • 105 cups wild blackberries from our woods
  • 157 lbs. tomatoes
  • 6 lbs. peppers
  • 25 ears of corn
  • 6 watermelons
  • 5 big pumpkins
  •  9 lbs. green beans
  • a few small cabbages and cauliflowers
  • a ridiculous amount of arugula
  • 2 large acorn squashes
  • handful of small random squashes

 

 

 

 

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how we arrived at boudin noir

So boudin noir is the French take on the German blutwurst which is the corollary of the Spanish morcilla, but in England it’s pronounced blood pudding. Kind of. Something like that. No matter the ethnic nuance you start with, it’s basically pigs’ blood mixed with some spices and some other stuff then cooked and eaten. I also think it has the greatest ick factor of all the weird things I’ve done in the past two weeks. Bottom line, though? It’s tasty. Just like head cheese and fried kidneys are tasty. It’s commonly agreed upon that Pork as a food group is good eating, but these other things that our culture has left behind take eating pork to a whole new level. The catch, of course, is that it’s kind of vital to have crazy fresh and super clean ingredients and that, well, means raising and slaughtering and butchering the pig yourself. Or trading your first born to someone who did raise the pig. As I like our son, we chose the first option. I would like to share with you one of the coolest things I’ve done thus far as a homesteader.

***Graphic pictures ahead, because…well…the pig had to die to make a transition. He went from pushy, greedy garbage disposal (who also enjoyed basking in the sun, letting me scratch his ears, and snooting up the ground with his snout) into food for my family. I liked him and knew his personality. There is loss but it’s loss with a purpose, so there you go. Blood and cutting is part of that transition. You’ve been warned***

I’d love to write a whole post just on our experience at a Pig to Plate workshop we attended two weeks ago in Ohio. Realistically, with Christmas in 3 days I’m impressed I’m getting this post done. To condense: best money we’ve spent on educating ourselves and regaining a connection with our most complicated dietary aspect…meat. Quinn and Bill Veon of Reformation Acres hosted, Andy and Doug from Hand Hewn Farm taught. It was truly life changing and I’ll be forever grateful for that change. They will be hosting more workshops and if you are ever remotely interested in home hog production…get thee to a workshop!

It really doesn’t matter if someone warns you about leaving the hose out the night before you need it. Most likely it will be left out and you will be grateful that as the guys at the workshop related their personal experiences with such an oversight…they also joked about a solution. Hence we ended up with about 120 feet of garden hose in our bathtub at 9 am. Stranger things have happened.

I got back from dropping off kids to hang out with grandma for the afternoon. This wasn’t because I was worried about them seeing the process, but because I knew I needed to be able to work hard without chasing munchkins. Eventually (probably next year) they will stick around. Anyways, we went into the yard and the pig stood still and just stared at Neil. Big Man (you can’t feed something twice a day for 7 months and not give them some sort of name) was shot and down and bleeding out…and it went crazy fast. It’s weird how the mind messes with time perception in high adrenaline situations. We realized later that we didn’t get a great bleed, but even with that, the shot was good and our boy died quickly and peacefully. Well. To an outside observer it wouldn’t actually look peaceful. When an animal dies their body has an awful lot of energy still running through it and so most will thrash around for a bit and with a big animal it can seem pretty violent. (Although the first rooster we killed, scared us so much with how much he thrashed, we nearly second guessed this whole farm thing all together) Death Throes are a real thing.

We had some guys from church come to help and we got the pig on a tarp to carry a few yards to our set up for scalding and scraping.

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Getting an accurate weight was important to me so I can keep track year to year, and also to know our dress-out ratios.

Ok here’s what happens once you get the hog hooked onto the gambrel (back legs in the barrel first so you only have to flip once): it is dunked into warm water, 149ish degrees to be precise. This temperature allows the outermost layer of skin to loosen and the hair to start to loosen as well. It only takes a few minutes. Longer time or hotter temperature can actually set the hair, making scraping nearly impossible. I have it on good authority that shaving the whole carcass takes about 11 years.

After the proper dunk time you grab some back hair and see if it comes out easily. If it does, you hoist the pig out and start scraping. On our way home from Ohio we stopped at  Lehmans, a store that actually carries tools for this scraping. They are called Bell Scrapers or Hog Scrapers.  Unfortunately, they serve a large Amish community and it’s that time of year…they were out. We improvised with a coconut shell-er thing and a thing that was once a part of a lamp (I think) and it actually went really well. One advantage to our warmer southern winter…the dense winter hair hadn’t come in yet. The head and front trotters didn’t scald well so we didn’t use the trotters and Neil, being awesome, later poured boiling water over the head and cleaned it so that I could still use it. He is good stuff. Once the hair is scraped, you shave what ever is left, then blowtorch anything after that. Yeah, a working blowtorch would have been great…last minute Christmas gift to my husband?

Next is evisceration. Things to save and use/eat: small intestines (and large if you are feeling brave and masochistic), heart, liver, lungs, spleen, kidneys, and caul fat. Wait! What’s that? All that sounded familiar except the caul fat?

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This, my friends, is caul fat and it’s culinary potential is nigh unlimited.

After you save the good bits and bury the bad bits, you remove the head and split the carcass with a bone saw so it can thoroughly chill. The weather could not have been more perfect for us. It took us about 3 hours from shot to getting ready to split so I had to run and rescue grandma. The kids were equal parts fascinated and disgusted. They were so disappointed that while I did save the bladder to blow up like a ball…I didn’t put it in its own container and it ended up covered in bile. Ain’t nobody touching nothing that smells that weird! And there we called it a night.

Day #2: Break it down now. Leaf lard came out first (top left). This is the stuff pie crust dreams are made out of and so it is treated with respect. Then we cut one half into primals outside. A hog is divided into 4 quarters or primal cuts. Then each of these is broken down further. At the workshop we got to practice this process on someone else’s pig, which made doing it on our own sooooooo much easier. Not saying we couldn’t have YouTube-ed it…it just would have been a horrific mess if we had. We brought in one quarter at a time. Our babies helped for a while and then peacefully destroyed the house while the adults kept at it. This day was long, but we managed…and it feels so great to have a freezer full of beautiful white packages.

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Our work was not finished with all the fresh cuts being done…oh no.

Stock was made, lard was rendered, small intestines were turned into sausage casings which were in turn made into blood sausage (which i love, by the way).

During the next few days the madness continued.

Scrapple, Headcheese, Christmas Eve Ham put into brine, fried kidneys. And it all tastes so delicious.  Offal is my new favorite ingredient…I must have some sort of mineral imbalance. 20161219_090648

Nearly 40 lbs. of bacon is a strong argument for raising your own pork. We finished packing the ground pork today, it still will be turned into various typed of stuffed sausages. 20161221_081603

I’ll be happily  nibbling headcheese and rillettes for the next two weeks while we celebrate the holidays.

Final counts and thoughts:

  • Live weight – 365 lbs.
  • Hung weight – 281 lbs.
  • 124 lbs. fresh cuts including ribs
  • 38 lbs. bacon
  • 45 lbs. ground pork
  • 9.5 quarts lard
  • 4 gallons stock
  • 11 lbs. scrapple
  • 4-5 lbs. head cheese
  • 5 half pints rillettes
  • lots of lbs. of liver, kidneys, heart, and spleen. (all of which have been used)
  • 60 feet of sausage casings and caul fat (going to become Crepinettes on Christmas Eve and roast rabbit once I have rabbits in the freezer)
  • skin (not finished with this so don’t have a total. Doesn’t matter, we have enough to make cinnamon sugar pork rinds and change the world one mouth at a time)

It was an incredible experience and I wish I could write more. Oh wait I can! We are doing this whole thing again in a few months when we process our girl! There are big plans for her given our success this time round and I will probably write all about how my life and the life of my family has been changed forever by doing this. That sounds melodramatic, I know. But seriously, now that I’ve started to take more control over what I eat and had a taste of the satisfaction it brings…I’m not sure I could ever not being doing this. Don’t know that I have a choice anymore and that makes me happier than I can say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Huzzah!

Renaissance Faires are some of my favorite places ever to visit. Mostly its just great to have a time outside of Halloween to wear a fun costume and go see a ton of other geeky adults getting together to celebrate geekiness. (Quick aside: When did Halloween become “National dress like a hooker day”? It really bothers me. Oi.) Plus, I can call it school for the day, so winning all over the place. The Renaissance Faire in Las Vegas is a fairly respectable affair with all the jousting, turkey legs, and  craftiness one would expect. The one here in Charlotte is even better as it has a permanent location. That means buildings and a glass blowing kiln (I bought the coolest hand blown ornament for our Christmas tree!), and a set jousting arena. Open every weekend in October and November it also has the advantage of crowds spread over more than just 3 days. However, we choose to go on one of their “Education Days.” We went on a set Tuesday specifically geared towards elementary and middle school aged kids. Oh. My. Field Trips. Any crowd advantage was lost and next year we might just go on a weekend and maybe avoid some of the madness. But who knows? Maybe weekends are worse. We shall see next year, and in the mean time, even with hordes of munchkins running amok, it was still awesome.

He didn’t dress up but he happily came with us and that, as you know, makes every aspect of the outing infinitely better. Daddy is the favorite, after all.

Friends were made and pictures taken!

img_2394Low key Costume, but fun none the less. I made this bodice when I was in high school for my very first Ren Faire and I’m happy I can still sport it on occasion.

Lunch on the bleachers while we waited for jousting was simple: apples, cheese and meat, homemade bread and cookies (maybe I should call it “Authentic”) and it started to fill up with people right as we finished eating. Yelling and cheering and booing, it was cool to see the armor and horses and the competition…all my kids were fans of the whole thing.

The Falconry show was one of our favorite things that we watched. The birds were loose to fly to various perches around the audience and they mostly came back when called. Owls, falcons and Kookaburras, oh my! Before the birds, though, there was a super cool juggling show that we caught the tail end of.

This is definitely going to be new a fall tradition for our family. Especially since Garyn had the great fortune to win a Merkel. The girls are all hoping for one next year.

img_2478

That, my friend, is a Merkel. His name is Devin.

 

 

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