Category Archives: Family

How to Make Homemade Apple Cider

Ever wonder how to make your own apple cider from apples you have picked? Well this quick 1 minute video gives you the quick run-down, but if you want more detailed instructions keep reading…

List of supplies:

Now the process:

  1. Get apples… Do I need to explain?
  2. Wash Apples (you do not need to be perfect in washing them, but that depends on what your level of “grossness” is)
  3. Cut apples, if necessary (we use small apples)
  4. Pulverize apples. We use small apples, so we just can just throw a whole pile of them in the vitamix and pulse it a couple times. However, please be careful on how hot your vitamix will get. I accidentally overheated mine, it doesn’t kill it, but it will put you back about 30 minutes until it cools down.
  5. Set up your press: make sure it has a tray as the apple cider is extracted and can flow into a pot or something that easily can catch the apple cider.
  6. Put apples through the press. If you buy the Tabletop Fruit Press 1.25 Gallon it’ll be pretty self explanatory instructions. You can go cheap if you make your own press, but you need to have access to a hydraulic press or find a way to press the apples extremely hard.
    1. Make your own press: Get a clean five gallon bucket and drill small holes all over the bucket.
    2. Put as many extra long twist ties in between each row of holes.
    3. Put a pan underneath the bucket to direct apple cider flow to your pot.
    4. Put a paint strainer in the bucket so that the apples do not plug up the holes.
    5. Put bucket in the press. We cut a circle shaped board that covers the apples so we can easily press the apples. Add wood blocks into press as it gets more compressed.
  7. Catch the apple cider! Drink right from the flow!
  8. You can either keep your cider plain or spice it up! (if you are worried about e coli or other diseases boil cider at 185 degrees. We have never had issues with sickness and it kills lots of good nutrients and bacteria so we personally do not do it, but you make that decision).
    1. If you spice your cider, put it on the stove and bring it up to a hot temperature. Place cinnamon sticks, vanilla extract and cloves in (do is based on how much you like each spice).
    2. Let it simmer for about an hour so that the flavors get fully incorporated. Stain out the spices and then drink warm or cool.
  9. Poor cider into jars and keep in refrigerator, can the apple cider or take gallon sized freezer bags and poor it in there and freeze them (that’s what we do).
  10. Enjoy all your hard work!

Natural cider has plenty of sediment in it, so make sure to leave the bottom of the cider after it is chilled.

Reuse It: Building a Root Cellar Out Of an Old Refrigerator or Freezer

Another “reuse it” episode. If you thought making a smoker out of an old freezer was neat, wait until you see this next little project. Building a root cellar out of an old refrigerator or freezer.

First off, what would you use a root cellar for? Despite modern technology, some things are just better the old fashioned way, and root cellars are one of them. By using the ground’s natural temperature (55 degrees) you can keep certain foots for long periods of time in tip-top shape. The name behind “root” cellar is because most of the products that store well are root type plants: potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions, etc. However, you are not limited to just root vegetables: winter squash, fermented vegetables and several other things store well in a root cellar. If you have a naturally cool and damp basement then you probably can make do with storing things down there, but for us, we don’t have a basement and there is no place in our house that is consistently cool enough to keep certain things from spoiling. Which brought us to building a root cellar.

The house that we live in used to have a root cellar in the backyard at one point in time and after several decades it eventually wore out and fell apart, but pretty much all the old homesteads had a root cellar at one point in time. Refrigeration was expensive and it doesn’t do the same job that a root cellar could do, so everyone had one. In fact, my father-in-law rebuilt his root cellar and I must say that I am quite jealous of it’s nice walk-in space and nice shelving. He did a nice job!Old root cellar

But when time and options are limited, you make do with what you’ve got. This is how we built our small, but handy refrigerator root cellar.

***Word of Caution*** Placing a refrigerator in the ground can be dangerous for children. It is your responsibility to make sure that there is a large and heavy top OVER the refrigerator to make sure children cannot get into the fridge.

1. Find an old or broken refrigerator or freezer.

2. Take all working parts off of the refrigerator or freezer, this includes stripping the backside of it off and removing the mechanical parts. Leaving you with just the shell of the fridge.

inside the fridge3. Once you have the shell of the fridge you need to start punching holes in the back side. We used a drill bit attachment to our drill. Worked pretty well, but don’t be too worried if the plastic breaks. The holes are absolutely crucial. This allows air flow from the ground into the root cellar. The air in the ground stays around 55 degrees which keeps your vegetables from getting frozen during the winter.

4. Place a bug netting over the holes. Even though you will be deep in the ground, you don’t know what time of creepy crawly bugs can get into your root cellar.

5. Make a hole at the top and bottom of the fridge. Once again, this is about air circulation. This allows the air from the holes on the bottom to be sucked out through to the surface. Don’t worry, this will not allow the cold air to enter if done correctly (enough circulation).
IMG_0186 IMG_0185 6. Put pipes at both ends of the fridge. The length of the pipes is going to depend on how deep your going to place your root cellar in the ground. Our pipes were about 3ft out of the ground. We also put vents on the top of the pipes so that water and dirt would not fall into the pipes, thus going down into the root cellar.

7. Dig a big hole. Once again, all depends on the size of your fridge and how deep you want it, but it needs to be at least 3-4 ft deep to get below the freezing level. Some heavy duty machinery really helps this part go faster, Sean dug the hole with a backhoe, but not everyone has a spare backhoe laying around…

Sean in the holeIMG_01888. Make a level stack of rocks or bricks underneath the fridge. This allows better airflow.

9. Place the fridge in the ground in it’s final rest spot. Make sure to leave enough space (if you are placing it next to a building) so that you can open the door without too much trouble.

10. Start filling in the dirt.

IMG_019611. Leave a space around the fridge. As you can see here we placed a board next to the fridge and made a small box around it. This is because we didn’t want to be kicking in dirt when we opened the fridge and also we wanted to put a large and heavy cover on top of the fridge. We put a top on it for two reasons. 1. We have small children. No need to make an accident happen.

2. When it gets to the middle of winter, it gets cold! We laid insulation on top of the refrigerator and put the cover over the top. This lessens the amount of cold wind blowing over the top of the fridge causing it to freeze.

12. Make a cover to go over the fridge. As listed above it is important to make this large and heavy top. It is cumbersome but it absolutely keeps the fridge from getting extremely cold.

13. Fill the fridge with your root vegetables and winter harvest! This is the best part… Reaping the fruits of your labor.

Our experience: Everything has a learning curb. We placed a lot of potatoes, apples and winter squash in our freezer and all was well, until it started freezing extremely hard. One day I went out there and all our winter squash and some potatoes were frozen solid. Oops. The squash was done for, but the potatoes survived.

Even with the proper planning it still did freeze, but I was too lazy to simply put a temperature sensitive plug in the fridge that would turn on a light bulb when it reached freezing. A simple halogen light bulb can keep your fridge from hitting freezing and when it increases above freezing it’ll turn off. Simple solution, we’ll see how much better it does this year.

Also, this fridge has a hard time staying below 55 degrees during the summer. By May it’s best to have most of your vegetables removed, plus, they probably would be rotting at that point anyways.H

Have an experience of your own? Feel free to share!

 

Real Food, Real Cheap.

Real food is affordable. Real food is better for you. Real food will make you feel better and live a healthier life.

What is real food? Well, in my world, real food is food that has not been adulterated or processed. It’s recognizable to your great grandparents and most likely doesn’t come in fancy packaging.

Today people think that real food only comes from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but this is just another marketing hype to keep people in the grocery stores. If you want real food for your family that you can afford, you need to leave the supermarket and return to the farm.

I’m not talking about driving 3 hours outside of town every week to go get some eggs, meat and milk (though some people are willing to do it). I’m talking about finding someone who grows good quality food, close to home that you can personally trust.

CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), food clubs and drop points are a great way to get good food for your family. Local Harvest is a great website to find your local agriculture.

We are apart of a CSA. We buy a half share, which is around $300 and we get a box of veggies for 30 weeks. That’s right around $10 a week. Can you afford a box of organic vegetables for $10 a week? How much would that same box of veggies run you at the supermarket? Probably at least $50 considering it’s all organic. It’s fresh, right out of the garden and a local neighbor gets a little extra income for the hard work they are putting into a beautiful garden.

So that’s one way to get vegetables. How about beef?

Once again, there are several options for affordable, high quality beef from a trusted source. At Cunningham Ranch we sell beef in bulk quantities. This is a HUGE savings for the consumer. It’ll run you between $4.50-$6.50/ lb but that’s for all the cuts! High quality steaks, roasts, ground beef, all for the same price. We get a small premium on our beef compared to selling it at the sale yard and you get high quality beef in your freezer. (interested? Order Beef now!)

Other beef suppliers offer different methods. Some will let you buy smaller quantities of beef over a period of time (pickup point every week or month). You can go to the farmers market, but you are going to be paying more of a premium for their services of coming to you. But the biggest savings is when you buy in bulk.

To wrap up this post. The cheapest way to buy high quality real food, is to go directly to a local source.  I forgot to mention, it’s also the safest method to.

Support Local Agriculture. It’s good for the community, the farmer and for you and your budget!

How to Press Your Own Apples to Make Cider

I’m pretty sure Sean and I have to try everything at least once from scratch… This year it was apple cider. Actually, we were kinda forced into making our own cider this year. The orchard that we like to buy our cider at had a series of unfortunate events that did not allow them to make and sell their cider this year. We love apple cider, so there was no way we could get away without having apple cider so we decided when life gives you apples… Make cider.

We have a small piece of private property up on a mountain and on that property there is an apple tree that was orginally planted when the spot was homesteaded. We have no idea what type of variety it is, but it produces apples every year. They are hardly worth eating since they are small and usually full of worm holes, but it’s perfect for apple cider!

Our very old apple tree

Our very old apple tree

This is the original homestead up on the mountain. A 12x14 dry laid rock house

This is the original homestead up on the mountain. A 12×14 dry laid rock house

The small bitter apples, but great for apple cider

The small bitter apples, but great for apple cider

Our family went and picked the apples with intentions of making lots of apple sauce, but after several batches they got burned out and let us experiment with the apples by making apple cider.

How to make a cider press and harvest apple juice from apples:

You can make cider with an type of apple you want… Free is always good 🙂

First clean your apples and slice out the bad parts of the apple to the best of your ability and patients...

First clean your apples and slice out the bad parts of the apple to the best of your ability and patients…

Sean sorting and slicing apples

Sean sorting and slicing apples

We then ran the apples through my KitchenAid slicer attachment. This will help the juice be expelled easier.

We then ran the apples through my KitchenAid slicer attachment. This will help the juice be expelled easier.

Freshly cut up apples

Freshly cut up apples

We used a 5 gallon bucket, drilled holes in it, wrapped it with ties (this doesn't allow it to expand under pressure) and we put a paint strainer bag in to easily remove the apples and keep them from getting stuck in the holes.

We used a 5 gallon bucket, drilled holes in it, wrapped it with ties (this doesn’t allow it to expand under pressure) and we put a paint strainer bag in to easily remove the apples and keep them from getting stuck in the holes.

It's always nice to have a helper.

It’s always nice to have a helper.

Once ready, put a wooden circle that fits the hole on top and start pressing!

Once ready, put a wooden circle that fits the hole on top and start pressing!

Ok, so we are pretty lucky, we have a hand jack that we borrowed from a neighbor, so you might have to build your own or put lots of weight on top of your bucket with bricks or find some way to put an extremely large amount of pressure to press the apples.

Ok, so we are pretty lucky, we have a hand jack that we borrowed from a neighbor, so you might have to build your own or put lots of weight on top of your bucket with bricks or find some way to put an extremely large amount of pressure to press the apples.

You can see the apple juice seeping out the sides! Beautiful!

You can see the apple juice seeping out the sides! Beautiful!

If you don’t have the luxury of owning a press, then you will have to make one, click this link on how to make a cider press. Kudos to him for helping us know how to do this in the first place.

It takes a lot of apples to make apple juice, so be prepared to be disappointed if you don’t use a lot. We used 5, 5gallon bucket full of small apples and got about 3-4 gallons of apple juice.

From here there are a couple things you can do with the juice… You can leave it as apple juice, make apple cider, or make hard cider. Our first batch, Sean made into hard apple cider, so it’ll be several months before we know the outcome of that.

Bubbling hard apple cider in the making

Bubbling hard apple cider in the making

How to make hot apple cider is your next step! Follow the link!

Life on the High Desert: Fire Season

Coming from Missouri it was almost impossible to wrap my mind around this natural disaster called “range fires.” Everything is so wet in Missouri and grass growth is just enormous all summer long, but it doesn’t take much to understand how the range can catch on fire when you come out to the desert and walk through the sagebrush and bunch grass and see what can catch on fire. Everything is dry and it can take very little to start a fire.

Two of our friends came to visit us and we took them for a hike.

Two of our friends came to visit us and we took them for a hike.

What causes fires?: This is a loaded question. The majority of range fires are started by dry lightening storms that form over the desert. There is typically little to no rain to speak of and lots of lightening that just strikes dry ground and can easily cause a fire to ignite. Another cause is human stupidity or error. Since almost all the fires are on federal land, people are allowed to camp, use ATV’s, shoot guns, smoke cigarettes, etc. We don’t have a problem with people doing these things, but it is a problem when their stupidity or error causes a fire to start. This can land them with major fines or jail time if the person is caught.

Ecology: The one major thing that causes fire to become catastrophic is overgrowth of brush and grass. We are talking about federal land that is owned by the government. Local ranchers in the area lease the land from the government and their cows graze the lands. However, since it is the government we are talking about, the land (in our opinion) is not managed as well as it could be. There is a lot more grass on the rangeland than cows can eat and due to better management over the last 50 years there is more forage, but never an increase in cow numbers (in most cases there is a decrease in cow numbers). Unlike states that get lots of rain, the grass on the high desert grows and stands, there is not enough moisture to knock the grass down and allow it to decompose, so it must be grazed for the grass to continue to grow healthily every year. In areas that grazing of cattle have been completely removed the grass is dying because it is trying to grow through dead growth every year and eventually it gets choked to death.  All that standing dry grass is an inferno waiting to happen.

As ranchers we see fire as a good thing in certain cases, but the fires today are not like the fire 50-100 years ago. Yes, in the past there were poorer grazing practices and the land was grazed very heavily, making it difficult for grass to grow, due to non-stop grazing, but the range fires were not nearly as intense, because it didn’t have the same fuel as the range lands today provide. When you have an overgrowth of brush and grass spread over hundreds of thousands of acres in very secluded areas it becomes extremely difficult to put these fires out. Hot temperatures and winds fuel the fires and even with the best fire fighting equipment and trained firefighters  cannot fight against a fire that has all the elements and fuel to take over.

The ranchers have a vested interest in preserving the range lands and are typically the first and last people on the fire, because if the range land that you run your cattle on burns, it can be up to 3 years before you can bring your cattle back to the range again, making it a tough couple years. We believe we are stewards of the land and that the land was designed for hoofed ruminants.

This year is a particularly dry year. We didn’t get very much snow this winter and very little spring rains to speak of, so we knew that it was going to be a dangerous years for fires, but even for fire season, it started very early. The first fire we had was during Mother’s Day weekend on a small piece of federal land not too far from our house. It is believed that the fire was caused by human error/stupidity since there were no storms that day. Thankfully it was still early in the season, not extremely hot and quick thinking neighbors that were able to get to the fire quickly and get it surrounded before it took off up a canyon. That early fire was a wakeup call to the ranchers to get their fire-fighting equipment ready, because it was going to be a hot year with lots of potential fires.

On July 1st was the first major fire of the season. My husband and his brothers were out moving cows from one of our pastures that we lease from the government to another one and were coming home in the late evening. A strong thunderstorm moved through our valley and I prayed that it would bring an immense amount of rain with it and it did! It down poured in our little valley and out on certain parts of the range land, in fact it rained so hard where my husband was that they barely made it home through the quickly forming mud. That’s why I almost couldn’t believe it when my neighbor called and told me that there was a range fire about 6 miles north of our range lands. Apparently the storm had dumped lots of rain around our area, but as it traveled the rain stopped but the lighting continued.beautiful rain glorious rain

It wasn’t long before our crew was home from riding all day and they  changed clothes, gathered their supplies and out the door they went. Now for a wife it is difficult when your husband goes out to a fire. They leave very quickly, give you a kiss and you hope they remember to try to contact you at some point to let you know how things are going and if they will ever come home. The first 24 hours of fighting a fire is very critical to the outcome of how big and destructive the fire gets, so very rarely do you hear much from your fire-fighting crew in that first day. The nights are long and tireless, since most of the fires begin in the late evening and it is the coolest and best time of day to fight a ranging fire.

That creepy looking glow outside your window letting you know there's a fire close to home.

That creepy looking glow outside your window letting you know there’s a fire close to home.

However, adrenaline and gatorade will only take a rancher so far when he is fighting a fire, so at some point they must stop, rest, and take a nap. During this particular fire the local ranchers were right on the fire and fighting it as hard as they could. The BLM was behind and didn’t make much of an appearance until the next day due to lack of resources and other fires that were started in the area. Sean came home the next evening for a very short period of time. He had a shower, a good full meal and a 2 hour nap and then he was off to fight fire again during the evening. Heat makes a fire almost impossible to fight, so during the middle of the day when the fire is raging and it’s close to 100 degrees outside usually the ranchers just have to sit back an allow it to burn, because there’s almost nothing you can physically do to stop a fire in those conditions.

hazy skies because of the fire.

hazy skies because of the fire.

Fire slowly being contained

The ranchers are trained in fighting fires and know how and when are the best times to attack and when to sit back and allow nature to take it’s course. Typically if the ranchers can’t be on the actual fire line (where the fire is actually present and moving) they might be a couple hundred yards to a mile ahead of the fire making a fire break (it’s a large line plowed by a Caterpillar  to make it difficult for the fire to pass) or they might be back-firing, which is when they start fires (usually starting at the fire break) and allow the brush to burn back towards to the fire consuming the possible fuel for the fire that is approaching. Ranchers also have equipment to fight the fires such as shovels (seems old-fashioned, but they still work great), spray packs (can be worn on their back and has a sprayer that they can use), sprayers on ATV’s (this is the most used piece of equipment for those directly fighting the fire), pumper rigs (trucks with massive tanks on them), drip torches (for starting fires) and Caterpillars for making fire breaks.

Our neighbor running a CAT making a fire break

A pumper truck on the edge of the fire break

Burning through the nights

Burning through the nights

All these tactics and patience and lots of prayer eventually paid off. On July 2nd the fire was still burning pretty steadily, but that evening there were some spotty rain showers that helped slow the fire some and allow the ranchers to actually get ahead of the fire. July 3rd the fire was becoming well contained and the BLM was now fully on the fire and making their way around “containing it” completely. This allowed several of the ranchers to finally go home and get some much needed rest. The ranchers always leave one of the neighbors to watch the fire in case it gets out of control again until there is absolutely no hot spots or any way for the fire to continue moving forward. On July 4th Sean celebrated by spending the day out at the fire in his pickup with some friends watching an area that had a little bit of life left to possibly ignite, but by the end of the day he was able to officially call the fire quenched.

This fire ended up consuming 46,500 acres of federal land. We were fortunate that it did not burn too much of the federal land that we lease, thus allowing us to continue to run cattle on it next year (not on the burned section). Fires are a very scary reality of living in the west and we consider ourselves “lucky” because the brush that burns is nothing like the trees that burn in forest fires, so we are thankful for living on the desert. This is one natural disaster that you don’t want to be unprepared for and thankfully there are better tools, equipment, and practices that significantly help with fighting fires compared to the past.

The 35 Week Mark

I know this post doesn’t have much to do with ranching, but it’s about where we are in life. We are now 35 weeks pregnant! This is a huge deal for us since our last birth (our daughter Cecilia) decided to come at 35 weeks, so we are now feeling a lot more confident that this baby is going to wait a little while longer before he/she decides to come.35 week pregnant

With that said we are aiming for 37 weeks since we use a midwife service and we have to be at least 37 weeks in order to have the baby at the birthing center, so we aren’t quite in the clear yet, but everyday gives us more hope.

The other day my husband called me a “calving ease heifer.” Doesn’t sound like the nicest compliment in the world, so to those who don’t understand what that means… Including me at the time… It means that some cows are bred to have their calves with very little difficultly, their calves have a tendency to be lighter in weight, but are fully functional and extremely healthy and the mother’s gestation period is shorter than the average cow, meaning they grow their calves faster. Sean believes that I grow babies fast and am completely capable of having an extremely healthy baby earlier than most other women. When I had Cecilia she was born at 35 weeks was 6 lbs 3 ozs and was extremely healthy and had no complications during birth, delivery and post-natal. Maybe it was a fluke, who knows, we’ll find out with this next baby.

As I watch the days slip off the calendar and pray hard everyday for baby to just hold on a little longer I am in a peaceful state knowing that my baby is healthy and kicking me to death everyday (more like every minute). I have been experiencing pre-term contractions and have been told to “take it easy” during these last couple weeks, so I haven’t been doing as much as I like, but I know it’s better for both baby and I that I take more time off my feet and resting for the “big day” when baby decides it’s time to enter the world.

For those who have had babies, or who are about to have babies knows about the whole “nesting” instinct. I’m finding this extremely difficult to combat, even though I completely understand that being on my feet causes contractions and resting helps me not have as many contractions. The urge to clean, de-clutter and organize is strooongg. Everyday I tell myself not to do certain tasks, yet by the end of the day I have another room cleaned or my car detailed. However, baby does remind me quite frequently with either a swift kick to the ribs or a strong contraction that enough is enough, so that’s good enough for me.

I’ve been told by the midwives that they expect me to “come fast” this time around, so not to fool around when I start to have serious contractions… That’s always re-assuring since we live an hour and 15 minutes away from the midwives and I have a tendency to handle pain fairly well so I drag things out until I can’t take them anymore, but I’ve been told not to do that this time. Our neighbors did have a baby on the side of the road once, so hopefully that won’t be the case with us… If it is, at least Sean knows how to handle a newborn calf, which is practically the same thing… Right?

I’m going to try to keep up with my blog as best as possible, but if there is a long period of silence, it most likely means baby is on it’s way or that baby is here and I will try to update when I can when that happens.

Thanks for the prayers and support!

The Buckaroo’s Breakfast

Breakfast, I believe, is my husband’s favorite meal. He loves the way I cook lunch and supper, but breakfast is what gets his day going and sets his pace. So what does this buckaroo eat every morning to get his day started? Well, according to diet fanatics, it’s a meal that will terrify cardiologist and the low fat fanatics.

First off, I do not cook breakfast. In fact, since I got pregnant I hardly ever eat breakfast with my husband anymore, since he typically is out the door before I start to stir. Sean doesn’t wake up extremely early (usually about 6am) it’s just I don’t like to wake up early anymore since I’m up about 3-4 times a night having to go to the bathroom since the baby loves to punch my bladder. Either way, in Sean’s family the man always gets up and cooks breakfast. This is such a relief for me because it’s one less meal I have to worry about.

Sean cooking breakfast

Sean cooking breakfast

Sean starts off his morning by putting on a kettle of water for his morning coffee. He really loves his coffee and it is truly a sacrifice for him not to have his warm cup of goodness every morning to kick-start his day.

This face is enough to kick-start our day :)

This face is enough to kick-start our day

Next he pulls out two of our handy-dandy skillets. Our egg skillet literally never gets washed. It has an absolutely beautiful seasoning on it that has been developed over the years of cooking with it, nothing sticks and it gives the eggs a fabulous flavor. The second skillet is what he uses to cook his bacon or sausage on, which we faithfully has everyday, unless we forget to thaw it out the day before. This skillet gets washed every now and then because the bacon will get little chard pieces and cause the pan to stick. Also, I cook in this pan different things like ground beef and tomato based things and that can cause the seasoning to come off and needs to be washed… We are working on making it a better seasoned pan 🙂

When we cook our eggs, we use what most people would consider a heart attack waiting to happen… Lard or butter. We love lard. Every year when we butcher a pig for our family we take the fat off the pig and render it into useable lard for cooking. God gave us beautiful animal fat for a reason and it wasn’t to clog our arteries  despite what popular science says, but lard, butter and other animal fats used to be apart of everyone’s diet since it was what was readily available. In fact we go as far to say that we believe that vegetable oils (yes, that does include canola oil, which for some reason people think is good for you) are extremely dangerous and something we don’t even allow in the house. Just butter, lard, olive oil, coconut oil and other animal fats. That’s it.

Beautiful lard

Beautiful lard

So before I went on my tangent… Sean will take a big scoop of lard and place it on the skillet and cook his eggs in it. The eggs come from our chickens that are moved around and have plenty of bugs, non-GMO feed and grass to eat. The yolks are a deep hugh of orange, it’s unlike any other egg you have ever eaten. We typically eat our eggs over easy but sometimes Sean will make himself an omelet in the morning and use about 3-4 eggs.

You think we have enough eggs?

You think we have enough eggs?

Deep orange yolks

Deep orange yolks

While he is preparing his eggs he will either make sausage patties or bacon. Once again, we raise our own pigs for our family once a year and have started learning how to render our own ham, bacon and sausage. The sausage is just ground sausage (we would love to learn how to make sausage links) which is basically all the trimmings from the pig, lard and seasonings all thrown together through a grinder, it’s a mastery of flavors in your mouth. The bacon was Sean speciality this last year. After using a wet-brine to cure the bacon he then made a smokehouse out of an old freezer and cut up some applewood and smoked the bacon for several hours. Most of our bacon is homemade, applewood smoked bacon and it is a quite the treat to eat.

The well-seasoned skillet

The well-seasoned skillet

 

Essentially Sean’s buckaroo breakfast is fairly simple. Just 3-4 eggs, 2-3 slices of bacon and a big cup of coffee. However, it would’ve been boring to have just said it like that 😉

The "families breakfast"

The “families breakfast”

On days that we forget to thaw out the bacon or sausage ahead of time we revert back to Sean’s childhood meal, which is oatmeal. If I remember or know that we are going to have oatmeal in the morning I try to soak it overnight in water and either yogurt or lemon juice. This helps break the oatmeal down and allows it to be digested easier, especially for me because I get a really bubbly stomach if I just eat oatmeal without soaking it prior to eating. Sean just cooks the oatmeal then adds milk, molasses or sucrant and raisins and he is happy as he takes a stroll down comfort food lane.

Sundays is our big breakfast day. I’m glad we don’t do a big breakfast everyday, because it’s just a lot of work, and having a big Sunday breakfast always makes the day so special. What we eat for Sunday breakfast is totally determined by what’s available around the house. If I have left-over bread from the week we will probably have french toast, if I made butter the day before and I have buttermilk left over it’s buttermilk pancakes and if their sour cream that needs to be used, it’s sour cream pancakes. Then we have our typical eggs and sausage or bacon, coffee and some fruit if we have any. We try to all work together to make it a big happy family meal as we celebrate the start of the Lord’s day.

I love my breakfast!

I love my breakfast!

Breakfast is the cornerstone of our day on the ranch, without a good breakfast it’s hard to get started on the right foot. Sean burns several thousand calories a day just doing basic ranch work so it is important that he has something that is going to stick and give him plenty of energy to get through… till lunch 🙂

The Helping Hands of a Young Farm Child

Being a parent is amazing.

The beauty of watching your child grow from a  helpless infant to a crazy toddler is a pretty dramatic event. Our daughter Cecilia is only 19 months old and astounds us everyday. I think the most amazing thing that we see is what a big help she is (and is trying to be) despite how young she is at this point. Every moment of the day I feel like she is at my side wanting to help whether it’s clean dishes, sweep the floor, feed the chickens, she always wants to help. The thing I didn’t realize when I became a parent is how quickly this stage happens, from a suckling infant to the “helping” toddler.

Back in the old days people had larger families, especially those who lived on farms or ranches. Even though children can be difficult to train sometimes they end up being very helpful on the family farm. This is not to say that people deliberately had children so they would have help around the farm, but the family as a whole could work together to make a living and a sustainable lifestyle. This is something we hope to strive for with our family. It is so neat watching my husband working side-by-side with his father and his two younger brothers. His family has worked hard at making work fun and enjoyable and fostering an atmosphere of respect and learning as they all work together to make the ranch a better place.Sean with his dad and brothers

At this point Cecilia is quite the little helper. I’m coming up on my last couple weeks of pregnancy and Cecilia is helping me with one of the biggest things… Picking stuff up off the floor. Seems simple, but any other woman out there who has been pregnant knows what it’s like in those last couple weeks of pregnancy that if you drop something on the floor you either: A. Avoid it and have your husband pick it up later. or B. Painfully suck it up and do one of those squats that takes you about a minute to get up and recover from. So picking stuff up off the floor is huge. She is also the laundry queen. When laundry needs to be moved from the washer to the drier I simply throw the clothes on the ground next to the drier and she picks them up and throws them in. Then when the buzzer goes off she runs to the drier and pulls all the clothes out and picks up little handfuls and brings them to the room where we sort it all. If the floor needs swept she follows behind with the dust pan and holds the dust pan for me, then attempts to go to the trash can and throw it away… It typically makes it in there but sometimes I have to sweep again. Cecilia with the dust pan

Children want to learn. I feel like she is just like a sponge watching every move and action I make, sure makes me feel like I have to watch what I’m doing/saying all the time! But it’s a beautiful thing! Kids were meant to learn from their parents how to cook, clean, how to be kind, help others, etc. But this doesn’t always come in all rosy colors. Sometimes… A lot of the time, learning can be messy and hard on the emotional tank. Just like yesterday… I was putting together a big plate of lasagna for lunch when Cecilia got up on a chair and wanted to “help”. I allowed her to eat some cottage cheese while I assembled the lasagna, within a couple seconds I heard a big crash and spagetti sauce everywhere (don’t worry it’s was chilled). Who knew sauce could end up on places 10 feet away. The next picture is another example of Cecilia “helping”.Cecilia helping with eggs

Despite the troubles of toddler helping hands, its still worth every moment to teach them about how life works. Sean and I look forward to working side-by-side with our children and passing down knowledge about farming and ranching that only can be learned through hands-on experiences.

A Trip to the Lavy Dairy Farm

Last week Sean, Cecilia and I went to St. Louis to visit my side of the family. After living on the ranch for three years I can safely consider myself a “country folk” and consequently I  really don’t enjoy the suburbs, tv and small manicured lawns that could be grazed by animals. With that said, after being at my parents house for two days we were itching to get back the country and see what an active agriculture life Missouri has.

On Tuesday we visited some friends that we went to college with and throughly enjoyed visiting with them. It was just our luck that they subscribe to the “natural” lifestyle and are apart of a milk CSA (community supported agriculture) where they get fresh raw cows milk once a week from a local dairy that delivers to a nearby country store. Since they were headed out of town the next day they offered us to take their milk share for the week so Cecilia would have her normal raw milk (we don’t drink pasteurized milk). We gladly accepted and picked up the milk at the country store that day.

The next day we made a trip out to this dairy farm to see the farm and milk operation. We drove about an hour north of my parents house to Silex, Missouri to find a small family dairy at the end of a dirt road, surrounded by beautifully growing hay meadows (I wish I would’ve taken pictures). When we pulled up to the farm we were greeted by an older gentleman by the name of Hubert. Hubert was delighted to bring us down to the barn and put us right in the heart of action; he brought us into the milking parlor where his son (the owner of the dairy) was busy hooking up his dairy cows to milk machines. Tim (Hubert’s son) greeted us happily and invited us to join him on the milking floor as he continued to hook up milking machines to his cows and move cows out of the barn as they finished being milked.

We watched Tim as each cow filed into place into the milking parlor and stood uneventfully waiting to be milked. Tim then walked down the line of cows and cleaned each tit with a fresh cloth and dipped the tits in iodine to make sure they were sanitized prior to being attached to the milking machine. Once the machines were attached to the cows tits, immediately the milk started to flow through a series of pipes into a cooling unit which lead to their large milk vat. Once the machine detected no more milk flow the suction would stop and the milk machine would drop from the cow. Tim then would go down the line again and clean off their tits and out the barn they went back to pasture.  The most enjoyable part of the whole experience was how laid back Tim was as he cleaned each cow and stopped to talk in between. He wasn’t in a rush and was just enjoying the company, despite the fact that he still had about 30 more cows to milk.

Tim’s dairy is not your typical dairy. It’s more like the old fashioned dairies that used to exist before high operating costs, extreme government regulations and mega-dairies pushing the small dairies out of business. It was fun to see the colorful arrangement of cows since he has several different breeds mixed together: Jersey, Brown Swiss and Holstein are his mix of breeds. Not too long ago Tim had 200 Holstein cows and was running a certified organic dairy. Despite having that niche market of the organic industry he was still considered a “small dairy”, lived far off the trucking route and was losing money rapidly as his milk was being sold off to different states and trucked thousands of miles before people received it. He decided that was not the way he wanted to run his dairy, so Tim sold off almost his entire certified organic herd and started a new journey into the raw milk industry.

Missouri’s regulations are less restrictive than in Idaho or Oregon which allows the producers to actually make money while running a raw milk dairy (crazy thought). Tim now only milks 50 cows a day and sells his milk raw and cheese locally. On 50 cows he is able to make more money and spend less time stressing out since his dairy is a much more manageable size. Everyday people come to his farm and pick up milk and on Tuesday’s he delivers milk to the Lake St. Louis area as apart of their CSA program. People can feel good knowing that their milk only came from a couple miles up the road, the cows are fed fresh grass and not stuffed into holding quarters until their next milking, and the milk is never pasteurized, which kills essential enzymes, vitamins and minerals.

Lavy Dairy Farms is also known for being resourceful with their left over milk before they clean their milk holding tank. All leftover milk is tubed into their new cheese making room. From there Tim will turn 50 gallons of milk into 50 lbs of cheese. This is a new enterprise for their family and is going really well, there is still trial and error with new cheeses like how much caraway seed to put into caraway cheese but it is helping them use all their resources effectively. All milk that is spoiled, becomes warm and the remaining whey left over from cheese making is given to the couple pigs they raise. This was very fun to hear because we have been soaking the grain we give our pigs in water/whatever milk we have left over for the last couple years. Pigs do great on dairy!

Tim’s sons were running around the farm helping with odd things and were just being boys! It was such a refreshing sight to see young children involved in the day-to-day work of the farm and smiling the entire time. The Lavy family enjoy their vocation as farmers and do everything with a smile, which was obviously rubbing off on the kids, because they were sure happy as well! There are not too many farms that you can visit and have 3 generations all happily working together.

After a couple hours of visiting and sampling some cheeses we said goodbye to the Lavy family and thanked them for such a great time. We highly encourage anyone in the Missouri/ St. Louis area to consider going to their dairy farm to see their operations and understand where milk comes from. They are an extremely welcoming family and are more than happy to show people how their operations work.

Check out their website at: www.lavydairyfarm.com

The Art of Passing on Knowledge

Last night, I was upset. I was frustrated when I realized I spend a lot of time on the internet. I got rid of facebook a couple months ago and thought I would have freedom from internet by finally sacrificing the most time consuming element of my life… I was wrong. It seems that I enjoy being on the internet in general, facebook didn’t help my time consumption by any means but I’m still glad that I finally bit the bullet and signed off, but I still spend the equivalent amount of time clicking on new pages and shopping.

As my husband and I delved into the problem I saw a trend of the things I like to look at. I love to learn new things. Since my lifestyle is much more different than it used to be I have so many things to learn, plus I enjoy trying old-fashioned things, like making cheese, butter and using a team of horses. The internet has a plethora of information at any given moment. I’ll be walking around the house and think about something and immediately jump on the computer to research how to do it or how it works. The days before internet you would have to look at a book or more importantly… ask someone wiser than you.

This is when it dawned on me. The art of passing on knowledge. What used to be taught by elders or people skilled in a particular field is almost gone in the physical world; The internet has taken the place of what used to be a humbling experience of going to someone and asking to be taught. Let me rack your brain for a minute. When was the last time you went to your grandmother to learn how to sew? Or who taught you to cook? Was it an internet tutorial or a class that you paid money for to be taught by someone you didn’t know? I’m not saying these things are bad, but this was not how things were traditionally taught. Today’s skills are not typically taught by parents, elders or skilled people, but in a classroom setting. If you don’t have a degree from some school it seems like you can’t get a job anywhere! Some people overlook skills that they have been taught over a decade compared to a piece of paper they earned in 4.

Since I’ve sufficiently gotten off track, let me regroup and explain where I was taking this.

The type of skills that Sean and I have acquired over the last 2 years have mostly been through serious trial and error. Example: Broiler chickens. The first spring we were married we bought a bunch of chicks for meat chickens. After a couple weeks of raising them we thought they were doing great, until our dog got into the room we were keeping them and killed them all. When we went to the store to buy more chicks there were “dual purpose breed” rooster chicks that were only $.10 a chick. That totally blew out of the water our $1.75 chicks that were just all obliterated by our dog. We quickly bought 60 of these little chicks and thought we had it all figured out, they were cheaper, and were supposed to fatten up in the same amount of time as the other chicks did. Boy did we get gipped. We lost several of chicks quickly due to poor health and once they were big enough for our moveable chicken coop we lost a couple to them by getting out of the coop and when they got older they started killing each other! Most meat birds finish out in 6-8 weeks and weigh about 4-5 lbs… These chickens went on 14-16 weeks and only weighed 2-3 lbs, they were lean and hard to eat, almost tasting like game birds. It would’ve been nice if someone could have told us from the beginning that those chicks were laying hen roosters and they are not bred to fatten up quickly and they get very agressive as they get older, it would’ve saved us a lot of time and feed.

Now this is an example of when we got help from an experienced person in their field. When we first got the Belgian Mare Horses this year we were really excited. The guy who sold them to us didn’t give too much instruction on how to harness them, but we figured we could figure it out. My husband put it all together and hooked them up to a cart and was able to drive them around with little trouble (they kept banging their heads together, but he figured they were just acting funny). Well, a couple weeks later we invited our friends out who have had draft horses for years and have done everything with draft horses. When Sean started to put the harnesses on the horses again the older gentleman kept correcting him all along the way. For what seemed correct to Sean was actually wrong and thankfully we happened to buy some really well trained horses that knew what they were doing, despite our mistakes. After a couple hours of harnessing, hitching and learning how to roll out a bail of hay with the horses Sean felt pretty confident about feeding hay with the horses for the winter. It was such a good experience for him.Not to mention it was just a fun afternoon visiting and learning.  It would’ve taken him quite a while to figure out how to work these horses without the help of our experienced friends who weren’t afraid to tell Sean when he was doing something wrong that could hurt him or the horses.

Sean’s got some old cowboys that’ll teach him when he needs to be taught, but for me at home, it’s a little different. Even though there are still a few people that know how to drive a team of horses, it’s difficult to find people that still make their own butter or yogurt. There’s a plethora of information on the internet on how to do these things, but I would’ve really liked to learn from someone who actively still makes these things from scratch or for that matter make anything from scratch (when I say “from scratch” I truly mean from scratch without any boxed or canned anything). I  even struggled to find out how to make dried beans into cooking beans, since most people just use already pre-cooked beans from a can.  Supermarkets have completely taken away the skill of making food from scratch and raising food in general. I’m guilty as everyone else is, but guess what, that’s the way  I was raised and learned that food came from the store.

This is a trend I’m trying to reverse in my life and my family. I want my kids to know that eggs come from chickens, milk comes from the cow, meat comes from the animals we raise and harvest and vegetables come from the garden. I do not believe that we should go back in time and erase all technology, because I absolutely believe that technology enhances our lives, but it can also hinder us. I want my kids to learn from experienced people in their fields of expertise.

The art of passing on knowledge must be kept alive. The learning curve on how to farm, raise livestock, raise kids, etc. is way too steep to just depend on the internet and some people’s opinions that you have never met. It’s time to find an elder or an experienced person in a certain field to help you learn the things you’ve always wanted to learn. I would like to obtain information in this order: go to someone experienced first, then if all else fails go to a book or the internet.