Barn Momma/Cow Granny

Everyone knows how much I love my animals. I consider myself "momma" to all of them. Want to know what is sweeter than being a barn momma? It's being a barn granny.

About a year ago, I sold a couple of young, open heifers (heifers that have not been bred) to a wonderful family in West Virginia. I was blessed to not only find these girls a great home, but also make some great friends! Last night, via the internet and telephone calls, I was able to "witness" the birth of Scarlette's first calf, a heifer sired by an Angus bull. Joelle and Cassandra faithfully called me and kept me informed of the progress while baby was being born.

Oh what a happy day and I can truly say that I am very proud of them and the rest of the family! They had never owned cattle before and took a tame but untrained heifer and have successfully turned her into a wonderful family milk cow! Couldn't be more proud of Miss Scarlette or of this wonderful family!

(Here you can see a picture of Scarlette when she was about six months old. She is the red heifer.)

Photos courtesy of Joelle.


He Puts Up With My Crap

The proof of my dear husband's undying love lies not in the gorgeous engagement ring he bought me five years ago. Neither do flowers, dining out, or expensive gifts prove his devotion. The real proof is the extent to which he goes to put up with my crap!

Well, it's not actually "my" crap but since they are "my" cows, that means I also own the crap. I have been faithfully doing my part to "shovel" said crap every morning and evening so that the stalls are clean for the Jerseys. However, due to the weather and not being able to remove those "crap piles", we are now owners of small mountains of the stuff! (Ok, not so small mountains of the stuff!)

The chickens like to climb up the mountains and scratch around. The Corgi, Spencer, loves to climb them as well. (What dog doesn't like to be "top dog" and what dog doesn't like crap?) In fact, I don't think anyone is particularly concerned about these huge piles except for Mike and I.

In past years, we have had fewer bovines and thus less crap. In the summer, there is not really an issue because the cows are out grazing in the field and distributing their crap on the pastures and thus fertilizing the grass. We don't ever deny our girls access to the pasture, but they have just not been interested in going far from the shelters with the exceptionally hard winter that we have had. In the past, we really have had no need for a manure spreader except maybe twice a year. Mike would just borrow one from a farmer friend. This year, Mike decided that he was tired of putting up with my crap and was going to do something about it!

So, Monday, we became the proud owners of a used manure spreader. I told you my husband loves me! I mean how many husbands would let their wives continue to collect Jersey cows, put up with their crap (and mine too), AND go to the expense of buying such an expensive piece of equipment all in the name of love?

I know all you ladies are jealous! Sorry friends, he's taken! ;-)

Breakfast Burrito

Yummy, yellow eggs from our free range hens scrambled in butter from our Jersey cows and topped with Mozzarella cheese made from said cows. Garnish with garden salsa and sour cream (or soft chevre & chives if you like)! All of this on homemade burrito shells. Life doesn't get any better!

Another Act of Kindness

Sometimes it's easy to focus on all the negativity in the world. However, there are so many good people who make the world a better place. We are so blessed to have a number of these wonderful folks in our lives. One such person is a dear, sweet lady who began buying produce from us several years ago. Quickly she went from "produce customer" to "friend".

I was quite surprised when she dropped by the house not long before Christmas and asked for some photos of Hope, my little dachshund momma that passed away last June. She said she was working on a surprise for me. It turns out, that her son is an artist and yesterday I received a painting that he made for me. He pulled the original photo of the old car off my blog and added Hope to the picture.

What a delightful gift! I feel so blessed to know such kind and caring people.

Painting by Brian Demory


Miniature Livestock: Think Small

Miniature Livestock: Think Small
2/24/2010 3:15:52 PM
by Sue Weaver

Tags: Miniature livestock, Like many little girls, I loved horses. I galloped and whinnied, doodled ponies on my homework and scorned Barbie (give me Breyer horses instead!). At 12 I bought my first horse and financed his keep through babysitting and peddling wild blackberries door to door. As life progressed I bred horses, trained them, gave lessons, wrote about them as a freelance writer and studied them in depth. They were my life.

Then we moved from East Central Minnesota (bringing along 12 horses, mostly decrepit rescues) to the southern Ozarks, where one day I spied a business card on a café bulletin board. A nearby breeder had miniature horses for sale. We’d bred miniature donkeys in Minnesota and really liked them, so we decided to take a look.

The die was cast. Before the month was out I owned a cob-type miniature stallion and two mares. Eight years later we have a few surviving full-size horses that will stay until departing for horse heaven, but now I like the little ones better.

So in 2003, when I decided to fulfill a dream and own sheep, I opted for a pint-size breed. Dumb luck led me to a woman dispersing her flock of arguably the best Miniature Cheviots in America. I started with her foundation ewe and a gorgeous ram lamb. Now I raise them, I’m a co-founder of the American Classic Cheviot Sheep Association and have 24 of these great little sheep.

Why miniature livestock? For starters, they require less housing space, pasture and feed than full-size counterparts. Less elaborate (thus less costly) fencing often suffices. Minis like pet pigs or Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats are sometimes acceptable where zoning laws prohibit full-size livestock. They are easier to handle and less intimidating than everyday livestock, especially for beginners, children, old folks and the physically challenged, not only due to their size but because many types of miniatures are specifically bred for calm disposition and tractability. Chores such as hoof trimming, shearing or clipping, giving shots and administering wormer are easier, as is training smaller animals for show or fun. Breeders on one side of America ship miniature lambs, kids and piglets via air, two to a standard large-size dog crate and most species are locally transportable in a van or SUV.

But minis aren’t simply window dressing. Consider, for example, Lowline cattle, a naturally pint-size Angus breed developed in at the New South Wales Department of Agriculture’s Trangie Agricultural Research Centre in Australia and widely disseminated throughout North America. The average Lowline cow is only 40 inches tall and weighs 800 pounds, while bulls are 42 to 44 inches tall and weigh about 1200 pounds, making Lowlines 50 to 60 percent the size of most beef cattle. They require approximately one-third the feed of their full-size peers yet according to Trangie Agricultural Research Centre figures they produce five percent more marbling than other breeds, half the backfat of full-size Angus, 30 percent more rib eye per hundredweight than any other breed, and they dress out at up to an amazing 76 percent live weight. At the 2009 National Western Stock Show’s National Lowline Sale a two year old cow named MCR Everlasting topped the sale at $13,250 while two more cows brought $10,000 each. Bred fullblood Lowline cows averaged $6986 and bulls, $3650. What’s not to like about Lowline cattle!

Miniature Herefords, Miniature Jerseys, Guinea Hogs, Babydoll Southdown sheep, Miniature Llamas and Nigerian Dwarf goats to name just a few – buyers want them and are willing to pay. The time for raising miniature livestock is now. That’s why I wrote Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock.


Great Grandma Armstrong's Baked Custard

Baked Custard (Serves 6)

4 eggs slightly beaten
1/3 cup sugar (I use honey. Experiment and see how much you like. You can always drizzle more honey over the custard after it's baked if it's not sweet enough.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups warm milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Nutmeg as desired

Combine eggs, sugar and salt. Stir milk in gradually. Add vanilla. Pour into custard cups or quart casserole dish. Set in larger pyrex dish and surround with water. Bake at 325 degrees 30-40 minutes or until the tip of inserted knife comes out clean.

Eating this simple but delicious dish takes me back to my childhood.


Life Among the 'Yakkity Yaks'

Link to Article


'Who do you think made the first stone spear?" asks Temple Grandin. "That wasn't the yakkity yaks sitting around the campfire. It was some Aspberger sitting in the back of a cave figuring out how to chip rocks into spearheads. Without some autistic traits you wouldn't even have a recording device to record this conversation on."

As many as one in 110 American children are affected by autism spectrum disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. But what causes this developmental disorder, characterized by severe social disconnection and communication impairment, remains a mystery.

Nevertheless, with aggressive early intervention and tremendous discipline many people with autism can lead productive, even remarkable, lives. And Ms. Grandin—doctor of animal science, ground-breaking cattle expert, easily the most famous autistic woman in the world—is one of them.

Earlier this month, HBO released a film about her to critical acclaim. Claire Danes captures her with such precision that Ms. Grandin tells me watching the movie feels like "a weird time machine" to the 1960s and '70s and that it shows "exactly how my mind works."

At the Manhattan screening I attended, Ms. Grandin was dressed in her trademark look—an embroidered cowboy shirt, in this case brown with a red neck kerchief—and was holding forth confidently, cracking self-deprecating jokes. Parents of children with autism thanked Ms Grandin for her books; she's the reason they can relate to their children. Teachers asked for specific recommendations: How can they capitalize on their autistic students' obsession with dinosaurs? A boy, perhaps 10 or 11, sought Ms. Grandin's advice on how to deal with the bullies that pick on his nonverbal brother.

Her cadence is unusual, staccato-like, and her pale blue eyes sometimes drift off into the distance. But she seems a different person from the young woman in the film, for whom being hugged, let alone schmoozing at a cocktail party, seemed physically painful. What's changed?

"The thing about being autistic is that you gradually get less and less autistic," she says, "because you keep learning, you keep learning how to behave. It's like being in a play; I'm always in a play."

Her rehearsal began early and in earnest. Born in 1947, she did not speak until the age of four. All of the doctors recommended permanent institutionalization; her father agreed.

But her mother refused and hired a speech therapist and a nanny who spent many hours a week taking turns playing games with her daughter. She insisted that Temple practice proper etiquette, go to church, interact with adults at parties. "I'd be in an institution if it wasn't for her," Ms. Grandin says.

She has always thought socializing was boring, and she famously described herself as "an anthropologist on Mars" to neurologist Oliver Sacks when explaining her interactions with typical people. As a teenager, while her peers fixated on boys and pop culture, Ms. Grandin was consumed with scientific experiments.

Her first major invention, at 16, was a "squeeze machine"—a device she modeled on the squeeze chutes used to restrain cattle that she first saw on her aunt's ranch in Arizona. "I noticed that when the cattle got into the squeeze chutes they got calmer," she says, "so I built a plywood device I could get into that was similar, because I had these horrible, horrible anxiety attacks." The physical pressure calmed her tremendously.

These days, Ms. Grandin is known as much for her professional work—she revolutionized livestock handling equipment—as for her expertise on autism. "I've always thought of myself as a cattle handling specialist, a college professor first; autism is secondary," she says. But she does credit her autism for her unique ability to relate to cattle.

Ms. Grandin wondered what made the animals moo and balk. Kneeling down to see things from a cow's eye view, she took pictures from within the chutes.

She found cattle were highly sensitive to the same sensory stimulants that might set off a person with autism, but were inconsequential to the average handler. They were shockingly simple revelations: light and shadow would stress the animals, as would grated metal drains. Prodding and hollering from cowboys, intended to move cattle along, only alarmed them further.

Her designs reflected these insights. A curved, single-file chute mimicked the cattle's natural tendency to follow each other. She replaced slated walls with solid ones to prevent cattle from seeing the handlers and cut down on light and shadow.

Today, half of the cattle in this country pass through the slaughter systems that Ms. Grandin invented. She's a consultant to companies like McDonalds and Burger King. Yet—and she might well be the only person with these two associations—she's also been honored as a "visionary" by PETA for making slaughterhouses more humane.

When Ms. Grandin isn't teaching at Colorado State University, she's traveling the world lecturing or promoting her (10) books. Whether discussing animals or autism, though, she always comes back to the defining feature of her mind, the characteristic that allowed her to create such accurate equipment designs: she literally thinks in pictures.

Nancy Minshew, a professor of neurology at the University of Pittsburgh, conducted tests on her brain that showed a "gigantic, huge trunkline going back into the primary visual cortex," Ms. Grandin says. Translation for the layperson: "I basically have a gigantic graphics card."

So when Ms. Grandin says "Google me," as we sit down for a more intimate conversation after the film, she's not suggesting I look up the half-million references to her on the Web. She's challenging me to test her photo-realistic brain. "And don't pick something easy like house or car," she instructs.

Ok, how about love? "Herbie the Lovebug. My mother." God? "I've got this Hubble Space telescope poster of 100 galaxies." What about something even more abstract, like responsibility? "I see people that have done bad things with terrible consequences: Michael Vick. Tiger Woods. Bill Clinton."

People on the "spectrum" tend to be just as obsessed with things and the way things work as they are uninterested in social relationships. And, as Ms. Grandin observed, people interested in things make important advancements—particularly in engineering, science and technology.

Which is not to say she romanticizes this disorder. The politics around autism are fraught with landmines, and Ms. Grandin follows the issues very closely. She approaches them like the scientist she is: exacting, realistic, pragmatic. What sets Ms. Grandin apart is that she knows what autism feels like, and, unlike so many others with the disorder, she can articulate it.

Last week, the American Psychiatric Association unveiled its proposed revisions to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the bible of the field. Up for revision are Aspergers and autism. The association recommends scrapping both and replacing them with the umbrella label of "autism spectrum disorders."

"From a scientific standpoint, Aspergers and autism are one syndrome," Ms. Grandin says, reflecting the scholarly consensus. "Aspergers is part of the autism spectrum, not a separate disorder." But "the problem is you have a whole lot of people that have labels and identify with the label."

Perhaps more significantly, earlier this month Britain's esteemed medical journal, The Lancet, formally retracted its 1998 paper that linked vaccinations to autism. That paper, whose primary author was Dr. Andrew Wakefield, studied 12 children who exhibited autistic behaviors. The authors suggested they were caused by the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. The paper set off a firestorm, fueling the antivaccine movement perhaps best associated with the actress Jenny McCarthy, whose son is autistic.

"Scientifically, there's still some things to be done," Ms. Grandin says. Scientists need to study "the kids where they seem to have language and then they lose it at 18 months to two years of age." She adds: "I've talked to too many parents that have talked to me about regressions that I can't just pooh-pooh that off."

But, she adds emphatically, this does not mean parents should stop vaccinating. "We can't stop vaccinating because we're going to end up with all these childhood diseases. I mean, I grew up with iron lungs. . . . That was horrible, dreadful . . . We can't go back to that."

So what does she recommend? "If you have autism in the family history," or other auto-immune problems, "you still vaccinate. Delay it a bit, space them out." There is, she says, a "strong genetic basis" for autism, and she has a "very typical family history" that includes anxiety and depression on both sides of the family, intellectual giftedness, lots of food allergies and engineers ("my grandfather was an engineer who invented the automatic pilot for airplanes"). This is why, she says, "there tends to be a lot of autism around the tech centers . . . when you concentrate the geeks, you're concentrating the autism genetics."

Many talk of an autism epidemic—has there been a spike in autism lately? "You know the geeks have always been here. They used to call them geeks, nerds and dorks. Now they're getting labeled Aspbergers—there's just a point where it's just normal personality variation."

But, Ms. Grandin adds, "some of the severe autism has increased." As to what is causing it, she mentions the possibility of environmental toxins interacting with "susceptible genetics." A study released last week by researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that women over the age of 40 who give birth are twice as likely to have a child with autism as those under 25.

While she's adamant that there is no magic cure for this disorder, Ms. Grandin says she has seen some "very big improvements" with special diets, like wheat-free and diary-free. She says the low doses of antidepressants she's been on for over 30 years are "magic," and have saved her from constant panic attacks and anxiety.

Mostly, though, her advice is simple: It's about hard work. Young children need 20 or 30 hours a week of one-on-one time with a committed teacher or mentor. Money, Ms. Grandin says, should not be an obstacle. If you can't afford a professional teacher, find volunteers through your church or synagogue, she says. Parents need to teach 1950s-style social rules "like please and thank you, basic table manners, how to shop."

There have to be high expectations. She's worried about the "handicapped mentality" that she thinks is increasing. "When I see these kids with 150 IQ and their parents want to put them on Social Security [disability], it drives me nuts." These kids "will come up to the book table and start talking about 'my Aspergers.' Why don't you talk about becoming a chemist, or a computer programmer, or a botanist?"

She continues: "It's important to get these autistic kids out and exposed to stuff. You've got to fill up the database." Silicon Valley and the tech companies are like "heaven on earth for the geeks and the nerds. And I want to see more and more of these smart kids going into the tech industry and inventing things—that's what makes America great."

Ms. Grandin lives in a simple apartment in Fort Collins, Colo., and has used the profits from her books to put students through school. "Four PhDs I've already done, I'm working on my fifth right now. I have graduate students at Colorado State—some of them I let in the back door, like me: older, nontraditional students. And I've gotten them good jobs."

"You know what working at the slaughterhouses does to you? It makes you look at your own mortality."

"When I was younger I was looking for this magic meaning of life. It's very simple now," she says. Making the lives of others better, doing "something of lasting value, that's the meaning of life, it's that simple."

How about meaning, I ask. What's the picture for that word? "Ok, now I'm seeing a mother saying your book helped my kid go to college—that's meaning. Or my kid got a job because of one of your lectures—that's meaning. Or a rancher comes up and says that piece of equipment works really well—that's meaning. Concrete, real stuff. On. The. Ground."

Picture by Zina Saunders taken from article link.

Note: I believe Ms. Grandin is an expert on raising bulls and attempt to raise my young bulls in the manner she describes in her article "Preventing Bull Accidents" that you can read here.


Always Been a Farmer but Have Not Always Farmed

I have always been a farmer but I have not always farmed. From the time I was a child I don't think I ever even gave a second thought to the fact that I wanted to live a sustainable life close to the land growing and preserving my own garden and raising animals. My earliest memories are of chickens laying eggs, pigs being fattened for slaughter, rabbits being raised for meat, gardens being grown for vegetables and fruit being picked for long term preservation. Then when I was seven, my family moved to a farm. We didn't own the farm, but rather were caretakers on that farm and worked side by side with the farmer and his family. We lived there for seven years. I can't say that I have wonderful memories of every thing that transpired on that farm because living there turned me off completely to commercial poultry houses. At eleven years of age I worked two shifts (my own choice) in the poultry house making 1/2 penny per chicken for everyone I caught. My dad tried (insisted) that I quit because the pay was not enough, but I begged to be allowed to continue. I hated the stench, the filth and the living conditions of those poor birds, but I loved the paycheck that came in when the job was finished. I also loved being able to do something physical rather than being stuck in the house or behind a desk studying! I learned that hard work is rewarded (although maybe not as much as it should have been) and I learned that I would rather be "farming" than anything else.

During the seven years we lived on the farm, I was able to roam the woods and hills and learn about nature on a personal level. I spent many hours alone in the woods and meadows or wading in the creek. Sometimes my little brother joined me and sometimes the farmer's kids. I have always been one of those people that needs equal time of solitude and social interaction.

I also learned to drive an old Farmall tractor while living on that farm, feed orphaned calves, help with hog butchering and lard rendering, butcher the roosters to fill the freezer, gather the eggs and learn the basics of a small family farm. When the rains came and the creeks rose, we couldn't get out and had to stay home from school. The secretary at school did not believe me when I told her that I couldn't get to school because the creek was too high and called my parents to verify that I had not been skipping!

I was sad to leave the farm as a 14 year old but my dad bought property in a rural setting and we still had a huge garden and access to the neighbor's woods to gather firewood for the winter. I remember my dad taking me out and teaching me the names of the trees as we indentified them by their bark and leaves.

As an adult I tried living a sustainable life in Alaska, at times living more sustainably than others. Then I spent some years in some places that I would not have chosen for myself including a stint in Chicago and San Jose.

After a tumultuous 15 years with my ex husband, finding myself divorced and ready to date again, there was no doubt in my mind what kind of man I was looking for. Fortunately for me, God allowed me to find my soul mate and farmer husband at a time when I needed him and the farming life the most. I am finally centered and able to focus on the things that are so important to me. For this, I am very thankful.

Bran Muffins

Original recipe with my changes in parenthesis. My philosophy is that a good recipe is "begging" to be owned. We own it when we make changes that suit our individual tastes or nutritional guidelines. So, don't be afraid to experiment!

Start with a small box of either All Bran cereal or Raisin Bran cereal.

In a large bowl combine 2 cups of boiling water and two cups of the Bran cereal. Let soak. (Reduce to 1 3/4 cups of boiling water if you use honey in the recipe.)

In another large bowl, combine 1 quart buttermilk (or clabber) and the rest of the bran cereal. Let soak.

In third bowl add the following:

3 cups flour
2 cups whole wheat flour (I use half whole wheat and half white for a total of five cups of flour)
1 tsp cinnamon (I have included up to a Tablespoon. Depends on individual taste.)
1/2 cup Wheat Germ
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon salt

In mixing bowl combine 1 1/2 cups shortening (I use 1 1/2 cups of butter)
2 1/4 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar (I eliminate both brown and white sugar and use 2 cups of honey instead.)
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Add buttermilk bowl to contents, then flour mixture and finally the bran soaked in water.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. This makes a very large batch but will keep in the refrigerator for up to six weeks. You may add fruit of choice to small batches before baking (ie: blueberries, bananas, raisins, etc.)

Note about using honey: Sugar to honey conversion is 1/2 cup honey equals 1 cup of sugar in a recipe. When using honey, you must reduce liquid ingredients by 1/4 cup.

Pie Crust

Single Crust

1 1/4 cups flour (Do not use self-rising!)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup shortening (lard)
4-5 Tablespoons cold water

Double Crust

2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening (lard)
8-10 Tablespoons cold water

Sift together flour and salt. Cut in shortening until pieces are pea size. Sprinkle one Tablespoon of water over part of the flour mixture. Gently toss with fork. Push moistened dough to the side of the bowl. Repeat moistening using one tablespoon of cold water at a time until all the flour is moistened. (You may have to use more than the recommended amount but you don't want your mixture too become too wet or sticky.) Form dough into a ball.

On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to flatten dough. Roll dough from center to edges into a circle about 12 inches in diameter.

Fold crust in half and place in center of pie plate. Unfold. Trim edges and crimp or press down with a fork along edges of pie crust.

For pre-baked shell: prick bottom and sides of pastry with a fork. Cover with foil and bake for eight minutes. Remove foil and bake for five more minutes (or until golden) at 450 degrees.

Note: I am not an expert at making pie crusts, but it has been my experience from knowledge passed down to me from my grandmother that the less the crust is handled, the more light and flakey it will be. The goal is to roll the dough out once. Using lard instead of shortening also makes a flakier pie crust.

Peach Pie and Ham/Spinach Quiche

1 single pie crust
4 beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups cream, half and half, or milk
1/4 cup onions
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 - 3/4 cup chopped ham
3 cups fresh spinach (I used blanched that I had in the freezer)
1 1/2 cups Cheese (I used Mozzarella)
1 Tablespoon flour

Prepare single pie crust. (I actually had enough of the quiche that I could have filled two crusts!)

Stir together eggs, milk, onions (I sauteed mine first), slat, and pepper. Stir in ham and spinach. In a small bowl toss together cheese and flour. Add to egg mixture; mix well.

Pour egg mixture into hot, baked pastry shell. Bake in 325 oven for 45-50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Cowgirl Up

This has been a tough week for me on a personal and an occupational level. It's one of those weeks where I have questioned everything including my chosen occupation.

I will always be a "farmer's wife" and support my wonderful farmer husband, but this week I questioned whether I was cut out to be a farmer myself?

Monday, Edy calved, and I knew when the calf was born that he was weak and that the likelihood of his survival was not good. We struggled with him but lost him on Tuesday. I was not prepared for the loss I felt. I have never lost a calf personally with my Jersey herd, although we have lost a few over the years in the beef herd. I am just so bonded to my Jerseys and anything that affects them also affects me deeply. Even a call to my wonderful vet who assured me that I was doing everything right and that it was not my fault was not enough to make me feel better.

"What am I doing?" "Why am I opening myself up to this pain of losing animals?" "Am I doing something wrong?" Is God trying to teach me something and I'm just too stupid to get it?" "Why am I so emotional about my animals?" "Why can't I be more detached?" Why is it the things that bring me the most joy also cause me so much pain?"

The questions have battered my weary brain all week and struggle as I might I can't seem to find the answers. I know how strange it must sound to those who are not emotionally involved with their farm animals, but I have actually lost sleep over it this week.

I guess those are answers we will never know. We live in an imperfect world and bad stuff happens. It's just a fact of life. And no matter how much it hurts to lose some of them, farming is so much a part of me that I don't think I could ever go back to just being a farmer's wife.

Guess it's time to "Cowgirl Up".

Should You Eat Like an Icelander?

Should You Eat Like an Icelander?

Icelanders are among the planet's healthiest, happiest people. Their incredibly pure diet could be the secret.

By Jen Murphy

For centuries, hunting, fishing and foraging sustained Iceland. The island, just south of the Arctic Circle, is so remote, and its growing season so short, that people would take whatever they could from the land and the sea, surviving on puffin jerky and (ammonia-reeking) fermented shark. Today, Iceland's geographic isolation—plus strict government environmental regulations—helps it produce some of the purest foods on the planet. Grass-fed cows with a lineage that goes back to the Norwegian herds brought by the Vikings in 874 AD make milk that's high in beta carotene, creating exceptional butter and cheese as well as the yogurt-like skyr. Family farms sell tender meat from lambs that have grazed in the mountains all summer on moss, scrub and wildflowers. Fish farmers raise arctic char without chemicals or antibiotics in eco-friendly saltwater tanks.

"Our food doesn't come from industrial farms, it comes from family farms," says Icelandic chef Siggi Hall, an outspoken promoter of his country's ingredients. Now that those ingredients are coming to the U.S.—Whole Foods is the exclusive importer of many of them—it's become easier for Americans to eat more like Icelanders. And there are compelling reasons to do so: The Icelandic diet may be the secret to its citizens' impressive health and happiness. Icelanders' average life span (81) is among the longest in the world. And, despite its recent economic collapse, Iceland was ranked number one on the most recent European Happy Planet Index—factoring in everything from carbon footprint to depression.

"Iceland is the only place in the world where I'd drink water from a stream," says Jeff Tunks, chef-owner of PassionFish in Reston, Virginia. Protected by environmental regulations, those pure waters are full of exceptional seafood. Tiny fishing villages are the heart of Iceland's seafood business. Fishermen take small boats into the Atlantic to catch haddock, herring and cod using traditional hook-and-line methods. Iceland has banned the fishing of North Atlantic salmon in its oceans. Today wild salmon, prized for its high fat content, comes from Iceland's rivers. One of Iceland's biggest seafood exports is arctic char, a milder cousin of salmon and trout with a sweet, delicate flavor. "This is a fish loaded with omega-3s," says Ed Brown, chef-owner of Eighty One in New York City. "The high fat content lends itself to cooking. You can confit it in olive oil or sear it to get crispy skin. I've even smoked it."

"Icelandic lamb is the best I've ever tasted," says Robert Wiedmaier, chef-owner of Marcel's and Brasserie Beck in Washington, DC. "It's a very pure, nonfatty meat." Farmers save the hay they make during the short summers to get sheep through the long, cold winters; then, in the spring, the sheep graze freely in the mountains. "We keep tabs on them daily," says Sindri Sigurgeirsson, a 35-year-old farmer who tends a flock of 750. "We know they are eating a pure, organic diet." Because Iceland gets 24 hours of sunlight a day in summer, the lambs eat more than they would elsewhere and grow to market weight—about 30 pounds—on pasture alone. Slaughtered at six months instead of the typical 11, they produce lean, mild, fine-grained meat.

Every September, groups of farmers get together to herd the lambs down from the mountains. "It's real old-school," says Wiedmaier, who participated in the ritual on one of his seven visits to Iceland. "Everyone rides up the mountains on Iceland's pony-size horses and brings the lambs back down to the farms. And of course they don't call it 'slaughter'; it's 'roundup,' and it's a bit of a party." Icelanders probably get their largest dose of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids during slaughter season, when they embrace nose-to-tail eating and feast on nutrient-rich lamb offal like svid (boiled brains). Because roundup happens only once a year, home cooks and U.S. chefs have about a 12-week window, usually September through early December, to purchase fresh meat.

Icelandic Cuisine
On his last trip to Iceland, Tunks got a taste of Icelandic cuisine at Reykjavík's 3 Frakkar, which serves indigenous dishes like lamb smoked over dried sheep-dung and the delicacy hákarl, or fermented shark. "That's the only food I've ever put in my mouth that was rejected instantly," Tunks says. He also sampled chef Úlfar Eysteinsson's traditional and updated takes on whale, a hugely controversial ingredient (Iceland is one of the few countries that still allows commercial whaling). "The minke whale sashimi served with wasabi and soy tasted like steak carpaccio," says Tunks. "But the whale blubber looked like a block of Crisco and was a tasteless, greasy mess."

On the other end of the spectrum is avant-garde Reykjavík chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason, who cooks at his year-old restaurant, Dill. A pioneer of New Nordic cooking, Gíslason creates weekly changing, seven-course tasting menus featuring experimental interpretations of local ingredients, like herring that he turns into ice cream or puffin that he serves with potatoes and truffles.

Last spring, Hall, Iceland's Walter Matthau look-alike chef, helped open Restaurant Nord in the Leifur Eiríksson Air Terminal at Keflavík International airport. The casual menu, a greatest hits of Iceland's healthiest ingredients, includes salted cod, soup with wild Icelandic herbs and smoothies made from skyr. "I wanted people to leave Iceland with a healthy final meal," he says.

"I can tell you what pasture a cow grazed on just by eating cheese made from its milk," Hall says. His claim may be hyperbolic, but his point—that there's a correlation between a cow's diet and the quality of its milk—is clearly true. The beta-carotene-rich grass that an Icelandic cow eats, for instance, makes the butter churned from its milk a distinctive buttercup yellow. "It has the most unusual, deep hue and a phenomenal flavor," says Tunks, who occasionally serves the butter with bread at his restaurant.

© Martin Morrell
The small family farms that comprise Iceland's dairy "industry" are certainly kinder to the environment than the factory operations that dominate much of the rest of the world. They are run by people like Olafur Kristjansson, a sixth-generation farmer who tends 34 milking cows at Geirakot, a dairy launched by his father in 1929 in southwest Iceland. The milk's high fat content produces cheeses like Hofdingi, which is mild and Camembert-like, and Stori Dimon, a slow-ripened, blue-veined triple-cream that resembles an ultrarich Brie.

Most intriguing is the fresh cheese skyr. It was created more than 1,000 years ago by farmers who poured skim milk over meat stored in wooden barrels, hoping it would act as a preservative. After six to eight weeks, a thick, tangy white substance coated the inside of the barrels, and the intrepid (and hungry) farmers ate it. "The creation of skyr in Iceland is similar to mozzarella in Naples or yogurt in Kazakhstan," Hall says. "People in ancient times needed these foods to survive the winters."

Articles are posted for informational purposes. Each individual must decide what is right for them.


Soda Crackers from Scratch

Inspired by my blogging friend Jo over at 14 Acres Blog Spot when she posted a recipe for homemade crackers, I determined that when I got the time I was going to try as well. I forgot about it for a few days and then was looking through an old book I own and found a recipe for Soda Crackers using clabbered milk. Awesome! Now I was sure that making homemade crackers must be my fate. I have posted Ms. Firth's recipe below and since I can never make a recipe without "tweaking" it, I have put my own thoughts and changes in parenthesis.)

Soda Crackers from the book Stillroom Cookery by Grace Firth

Preparation time about one hour. Makes about one pound.

Mix 3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon oil (I used one Tablespoon of melted butter)
1 cup clabber (The flour was still to thick and would not mix, so I added a little milk to get the flour to a kneadable consistency.)

Mix thoroughly. Divide into two parts. Roll out thin on a floured surface. Transfer to a greased cookie tin. Salt if desired by brushing with milk and salting with a shaker. (I brushed with butter and then salted.) Prick all over with a fork. Cut with a pizza cutter into desired size. Bake at 350 degrees for eight minutes or until done. (It took my crackers longer than eight minutes to bake. I am sure it depends on how thin you make them.)

I divided my dough into three different groups and made plain salted crackers, Parmesan crackers (by sprinkling the Parmesan directly on the crackers before baking, and garlic/onion crackers. I just sprinkled garlic and onion powder on the crackers before baking but I think it would have been better if I had put the garlic and onion powder in the butter and then brushed them. All three flavors turned out delicious. I think this recipe could be so versatile. One could make whole wheat crackers and crackers with a wide range of different flavors depending on what herbs and spices are used.

One final observation: I cooked two pans of crackers at the same time. The pan on the top rack of the oven got very crispy and have the texture of a store bought cracker. The crackers on the bottom rack are softer and "chewy" instead of "crunchy". Both textures are very good, depending on one's individual taste and preference.

We're Not Eating What We Should

‘We're Not Eating What We Should Eat’

By Agnes Blum
Friday, February 12, 2010

Eat fat, be healthy.
It’s not nutritional advice that one hears every day, but it was the message at the Northern Virginia Whole Food Nutrition Meetup on Saturday Jan. 30. About 40 people braved the impending snowstorm and met at the restaurant Food Matters in Cameron Station to discuss how food can affect mood and health.

Paula Bass, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, spoke to the crowd as they ate a breakfast of local foods. Bass, who has been practicing in Northern Virginia for 30 years, fuses a traditional psychotherapeutic approach with nutritional wisdom.

Drawing on experiences with her patients and her own battles with health problems, she told the audience how a change in diet could dramatically alter health. One theme emerged over and over: we need saturated fat, the kind you get from animals.

"When you take the fat out, you're taking out all the good nutrients," Bass said, explaining how saturated fat helps keep the brain chemically balanced. "Without it, symptoms can mimic a psychiatric illness and then you do have a psychiatric illness, because that's the way you're feeling every day."

One little girl, for example, had always excelled in school but had begun having breakdowns and lashing out at friends and family. It turned out this second-grader had, up until recently, been eating a whole-foods breakfast with plenty of fat — pancakes, eggs, bacon — and was now eating sugar-cereal and skim milk because of the morning rush at home. Bass recommended to her parents that they ensure she eat a breakfast full of protein and animal fats. They did, and her problems disappeared.

"Food can directly influence a child's brain," Bass said. Many people who suffer from mood disorders today — everything from depression to ADD — can trace their problems to a diet lacking in nutrients and fats, she said.

“The only vegetable I saw growing up was canned string beans,” Bass joked. She traced her own turnaround in health to when she began to follow the principles of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which uses education, research and activism to promote healthy living. Their guidelines are: eat pastured meat, probiotics such as yogurt, organic fruits and vegetables and strictly avoid sugar, vegetable oils, white flour, soy and additives such as MSG. "We're not eating what we should eat,” Bass said. “And what we are eating damages the manufacture of healthy cells.”

Articles I post on my blog are for informational purposes. Each individual must decide what is right for them.


The Untold Story Of Butter

The Untold Story of BUTTER

by Sarah Pope, Guest Blogger, The Healthy Home Economist Blog

Fifty years ago, a sea change began to occur in the perception of nutrition in America, and hence, the entire Western World. It started shortly after World War II when butter and other saturated fats became public enemy #1 through the apparent link between their consumption and heart disease. Cholesterol rich foods such as egg yolks and liver joined the list of vilified foods during the 1970’s as the public was told by doctors, nutritionists, and the limited media outlets at the time (network TV and radio) that these foods were clearly linked to the epidemic of heart disease.
The discovery that artery clogging plaques – the main cause of heart attacks – were found to primarily contain cholesterol sealed the deal. Never mind that the oxidized cholesterol found in processed foods (particularly skim milk) was the real culprit in the heart disease war. Common sense seemed to dictate that avoiding all cholesterol rich foods such as butter, liver, and egg yolks would somehow reduce one’s chance of a heart attack. Foods rich in saturated fat and cholesterol, oxidized or not, became inextricably linked to bad health, clogged arteries, and heart attacks in the psyche of most Westerners.

Flawed Science Discovered by Fats Researcher
About the same time the war against eggs heated up, a young scientist named Mary Enig discovered during her research that a serious mistake had occurred with regard to the studies linking saturated fat to heart disease. She discovered that the analysis had incorrectly grouped saturated fat along with trans fat (partially hydrogenated fats). How had this happened? The mistake evidently occurred because factory synthesized trans fats are very similar in chemical structure to saturated fats. So similar in fact, that researchers had grouped them together for analytical purposes.

Problem is, the seemingly insignificant, minor chemical difference between saturated fat and factory fat (trans fats) made all the difference in the world to the conclusion of the research. Dr. Enig found that when saturated fats and trans fats are separated into different groups, saturated fats were found to have NO LINK to heart disease while trans fats were found to have a very strong link!

Mortified, Dr. Enig tried her best to rectify this mistake by notifying her superiors and others in the industry, but found that the freight train against saturated fat had already left the station. Dr. Enig eventually paid for her forthrightness with her career. Blackballed by the edible oil industry who aggressively opposed her findings as a threat to their profits and bottom line, she found herself unable to get grants, funding, or even a job within the industry to continue her work on the effect of fats on the human body.

Food Industry Won’t Let Hypothesis Die
The highly successful campaign to demonize butter as a food loaded with saturated fat and therefore, a contributor to the heart disease epidemic, paved the way for the edible oil industry to create an entirely new line of products: margarine and other fake butter spreads. These “not butter” products began to line the supermarket shelves and Americans scooped them up in the name of better health. Butter substitutes are very cheap to produce – much cheaper than real butter. Replacing butter with margarine in the American diet proved to be a very smart marketing move for the edible oil industry and they rode this wave of profits for many years all the while falsely touting the certain improvements in public health that would result.

Butter is Shunned, While Heart Disease Skyrockets
Problem is, even with the abandonment of butter in the modern diet, Americans continued to get fatter and fatter and the epidemic of heart disease showed no signs of abating. Ironically, the very margarines the public so willingly purchased instead of butter are loaded with trans fats, the very fats that ARE strongly linked with heart disease. How the edible oil industry managed to successfully demonize butter and all saturated fats all the while slowly and purposefully integrating trans fats into every nook and cranny of the entire processed foods industry is certainly an amazing marketing feat! Pepperidge Farms changed its wonderful line of cookies from using coconut oil to trans fats. McDonald’s changed the oil it used for making french fries from beef tallow to trans fats. It seemed the entire world had bought into the story that all saturated fats are bad for you.

Well, not everyone. Dr. Enig had quietly continued her pioneering work on fats and was now on the board of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) which was founded in 1999. Even after the dangers of trans fats to health finally started to be exposed in the late 1990’s through the work of the WAPF and others (reaching a crescendo with the addition of trans fats to product labels just a few years ago), the edible oil industry refused to stop the campaign against butter.

New “Not Butter” Products May Be Worse For Your Health
A new line of products was introduced which have gradually, though not completely, replaced trans fat laden margarines. These products boast a so called “heart healthy” blend of vegetable oils which, though not hydrogenated, are still unsafe to consume. The new process used to produce these vegetable oil spreads is called “interesterification” which is arguably even more dangerous to health than trans fats. Read about this deadly form of processing at this link: Know your Fats: Interesterification

In 1999, Sally Fallon, President of the Weston A. Price Foundation and friend of Dr. Enig, produced a series of lectures on “Why Butter is Better” and the “Oiling of America” to start getting the word out about the duping of an entire generation against butter and saturated fats. The fact that the media is no longer monopoly controlled and the rise of the Internet have allowed the public to actively participate in the spreading of the real truths about fats and health. Companies are beginning to switch to palm oil from partially hydrogenated oils, in the production of their cookies and crackers. Butter is again a growth industry and even eggs, long demonized for their abundance of saturated fat and cholesterol, have finally received acknowledgment as a perfectly healthy food, one that should be consumed often if not daily.

If you are still unconvinced about the necessity of full fat butter in your diet to achieve your best health, I would recommend that you contact the Weston A. Price Foundation to get your copy of Ms. Fallon’s lectures on the subject.

This unbelievable saga would make a great movie, don’t you agree? Maybe big time director James Cameron would be interested.

Making Sour Cream

Sour cream is simply...............soured cream. Not rocket science to make, it can be made either from thick cream or from milk.

First you need to clabber your milk. I do this by taking my raw milk either directly from the cow (after straining to remove any impurities) or from milk that has been refrigerated. You can use milk with or without the cream. I pour the milk into stainless steel bowls and then cover loosely and allow to sit until it clabbers. Sometimes this takes 24 hours and sometimes, if the weather is cooler, it takes up to three days. You can view pictures of "clabbered milk" here.

After your milk has clabbered, take the curds and place them in a cheese cloth. Tie up the ends of the cheese cloth and hang somewhere to drain until the whey has separated from the clabber. When the whey as separated after several hours what remains is the sour cream. (The longer you let the cream drip, the thicker the sour cream will become. You can do this in the refrigerator is you do not want your sour cream to become as tart.)

Take the sour cream and mix in salt to taste whisking with a wire whisk until smooth.


Love Is In the Air

It's Valentine's Weekend and love is in the air.

Friday it became apparent that one of the open cows was in heat. Since we do not have a bull old enough to service the cows at this time, that meant that I needed to call and get the girl a date! First of all, I had to determine which cow was in heat which is not always an easy task when all three bovines in that particular pasture were going through the antics of mounting each other. It also was made more difficult because It had been not quite three weeks since we artificially inseminated Butter. My first thought was that Butter was coming back in heat. After watching the girls and their antics for most of the afternoon, it finally became apparent that Maya was in standing heat.

I got on the phone to call the match maker. The match maker is my niece's wonderful husband who knows how to AI cattle and was gracious enough to volunteer to help us out. The last time he came to AI Butter, it was pouring down rain and there was mud up to our knees! This time when I called there was snow up to our knees in the barnyard and although he had a long list of things he needed to do, Matt was gracious enough to arrange his schedule so that he could come by and help out.

The actual Romeo chosen for the occasion was 7JE1044 Schultz Jevon Chili-P. Chili's dam is pictured at the top of this post. I chose him because he is a polled bull and I am really trying to get to the point where my entire herd is polled. He is a standard size bull and Maya is also a standard registered Jersey.

I am not sure if Maya enjoyed her romantic encounter or not. She calmly ate her hay while Matt played match maker. I guess that was her dinner before the romancing started!

The cows were not the only one's getting in on all the romance this weekend. This morning my wonderful husband rolled out of bed, went to the barn and began milking the cows. When I got down there in my lovely Carhartts with my mud boots and winter hat he gave me a big smile and said, "Happy Valentine's Day! I love you!"

Ah...........nothing sweeter than my farmer expressing his love while sitting on a bucket and milking my cows. Love is in the air!


End of the Line Casserole

You can use a few simple ingredients to make a simple casserole that always receives compliments.

Slice enough potatoes to cover the bottom of a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish.

Chop one onion and sprinkle on top of the potatoes.

Chop up between one and two cups of ham and place on top of onions and potatoes.

Cover all of this with a can of cream of mushroom soup mixed with 1/2 can of milk.

Salt and Pepper to taste.

Place in preheated 400 degree oven and bake for one hour. Make sure dish is covered with a piece of aluminium foil for the first hour.

After potatoes have cooked for an hour and are close to being done, take the aluminum foil off the casserole and top the casserole with grated cheese. I usually just turn off the oven at this point and let the casserole sit in the hot oven for an additional thirty minutes to thicken and to melt the cheese.

This casserole tastes even better the next day and recipe can be adapted for use in a slow cooker.

I have also made the recipe without the ham.

Ben's newest photo


Chevre is French for "goat" and is also a generic term for cheese made from goats milk.

It will be a while before I have any goats milk so that I can try to make traditional Chevre, but I decided to get some practice in by making it from my Jersey milk. If I had realized how easy it is to make, I would have tried the recipe a lot sooner!


Heat two gallons milk to 86 degrees F.
Add 1/4 tsp. direct set Chevre starter.
Stir well to combine.

Cover and let set at room temp (Not less than 72 degrees) for 12 hours.

Line a colander with cheese cloth and pour curds into colander. Tie the corners of the cloth and hang curds to drain over the sink for 6 - 12 hours. A shorter draining time gives the chevre a spread type consistency. A longer draining time gives the cheese the consistency of cream cheese.

Chevre can be used in place of cream cheese or ricotta cheese in recipes.

Cheese yields 1 1/2 pounds and keeps for about 1 week in the refrigerator.

(Pictured: Soft Chevre made with Jersey milk. Use in place of sour cream or make a great spread for crackers using herbs of your choice. I really like mixing a few chives in and let set for 24-48 hours. Yummy!)


The Morning the Milking Was Finished

The Morning the Milking Was Finished

Published: February 3, 2010

In this town, tipping downhill since before the old movie theater burned down in 1990, almost as many businesses, it seems, are vacant as are open. The bulletin board by the antique clock and modest war memorial in the small traffic circle features one pressing item. “Help Decide the Future of Copake!!” it reads. The meeting date was Nov. 7.

Still, a long, cold winter, a farm village fallen on hard times, is the backdrop, not the explanation, for what happened to Dean Pierson on Jan. 21. Sometime after finishing the morning milking, Mr. Pierson, 59, a dairy farmer who grew up on High Low Farm on Weed Mine Road in Columbia County, which his father bought when he was an infant, did something no one will ever entirely explain. He took a small-caliber rifle and went through the barn he built about a decade ago methodically shooting all 51 of his milking cows in the head.

He left a note on the front door that warned the reader not to go inside but to call the police. Then he sat down in a chair and killed himself with a single rifle shot to the chest. He left behind a short suicide note scrawled on scratch paper that made reference to his depression over personal and financial issues. He expressed his love for his family but said he was “overwhelmed.”

Farmers live and die mostly in private, doing grueling, sometimes hazardous work, for long hours. But if there’s a face and a place for the quiet catastrophe facing many farmers, particularly dairy farmers still reeling from last year’s disastrous drop in prices, it’s hard to imagine one bleaker than the John Deere tractor pulling Mr. Pierson’s coffin atop a flat-bed truck, the death of one farmer but perhaps a requiem for a way of life as well.

Every suicide has its own mysteries, and no one will ever know how much of what drove Dean Pierson was personal, financial, spiritual, chemical, existential or otherwise. But given the continuing depression for dairy farmers, neighbors and farmers in this town 110 miles north of Manhattan saw more than one family’s tragedy.

“I’ve been in agriculture my whole life, and this is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Dave Tetor, an extension agent for 28 years in Dutchess County, who broadcasts agricultural news in the area. Like others, he found it hard to divorce Mr. Pierson’s death from the financial vise of falling prices and rising costs that made last year the worst in at least 30 years for dairymen.

“They lost money on every cow every day of every month last year,” he said. “These are resilient people, but right now a lot of dairy farm folks are in despair.”

NO doubt for Mr. Pierson large issues and personal ones intersected. He sometimes told people he wished he were more like his gregarious father, Helmer Thor Pierson, a Swedish immigrant. But he wasn’t. A friend from college remembers Dean Pierson as taciturn, barely speaking. And while Helmer had his bowling buddies and life off the farm, Dean had little besides a tough work schedule and a fierce determination to operate smarter and cheaper in an environment that demanded it.

“And that helps too,” he’d say grimly about the small sawmill he operated, a summer crop he’d put in, anything to keep his head above water. He did virtually all the work himself, the morning milking before sunrise, the afternoon one 12 hours later and all the work in between. Fifty cows is pushing the limit of a one-man operation, but he pushed on, machines breaking down around him until he did, too. And surely, other farmers say, he shot the cows because they needed to be milked and without him there, who could have done it? For him, perhaps, death seemed the only answer.

George Beneke, the family vet for 40 years, said Dean Pierson was a good farmer, just as his father was. But being a good farmer gave Helmer Pierson a successful farm to pass down to his son and being a good farmer gave Dean Pierson a life where you worked a 15-hour day and at the end of it handed someone a $100 bill for the privilege.

“I talked to him a lot, the way I talk to a lot of my farmers,” he said. “You try to reason with them, tell them it’s not their fault, that there are economic issues beyond their control, but sometimes it’s hard to hear.”


And more snow pictures................

Still Waiting on Edy...............

Edy looks like a blimp. Her udder is starting to fill in but is not to the "full" stage they get to right before calving. This newest storm dumped about 24 inches of snow on top of what we already have. In this picture Edy has found "higher ground" out of the snow but when she gets around back of those buildings where the snow has drifted, it is up to her belly and I can't even see her udder! The lastest forecast says we will get another snow storm on Tuesday and then maybe another one next weekend.

Monday Journals

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