Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Any Day Now...

Miss Primrose is almost ready to "freshen," or so I am told by my Mennonite neighbor. In the next couple of weeks, I will play midwife to a 1,500 pound Jersey-Holstein mix mama.

I must be crazy.

We have created a new enclosure throughout our yard for mama cow to graze since the pastures are pretty well chewed down from the summer. She spends a lot of time just hanging out near the house. She is kind of like a very LARGE dog. She wants to run and play and lick your face...and believe me, you haven't experienced anything until you get a big slobbery kiss from a cow!

Monday, September 14, 2009

26 chicks in the sticks...redux

So I came really close to putting the farm on the market in August. Had a realtor come out and everything. Every time I pray about selling the place, I always get the same answer...STAY THE COURSE. Of course, this answer makes no sense to me, seeing how we bleed money out of every inch of this place! But I am trying my best to heed the Spirit and stay the course.

While in Birmingham temple last month, I prayed so hard for an answer and felt a strong impression to "use the talents I have given you." So I came home from Alabama with a renewed interest in seeing what my talents could do in the way of making this place work.

During the month of August, I had randomly started pursuing a few things, such as building my own brick oven and making cheese. I mean, I have all this raw milk from Elmer...what else can I do?

I figured I should get back to blogging and I have a lot to catch you up on....especially if you have not been following my adventures on Facebook. So stay tuned...and let the fun begin!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back from hiatus

It was a long, cold, lonely winter...

We survived the winter. After recovering from the oil spill and surgery and a really bad Christmas vacation we settled in like hibernating bears. I don't think it got above 6 degrees most of the time. Every month was torture when the utility bills arrived. We spent about $1000 a month for oil, propane, and electric each month. I used to live on that kind of money....now it just goes to heat...crazy.

We raised those meat chickens over the winter...it was the most expensive meat I ever paid for. I butchered them in January....probably a good month after they should have been killed. The meat is not really that good, so I don't think we will be attempting to raise any more animals for food. Beside, no one really had the stomach for it. Thank heavens for our neighbor Elmer who did the killing part.

Many thoughts of selling the place have been forefront in the family discussions. I think we need to stay for one more year until Nick gets out of high school.

Summer is fast approaching and lots of projects are underway. The roof will need to be scraped and painted this year. Whoever thought it was a great idea to slap a coat of house paint on galvanized steel was not very bright.

Anyway, not much else to report on....

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Some moms bake cookies with their kids...

and others slaughter chickens! Truer words have never been spoken, and these were, by a co-worker who thought it quite hysterical that we have embarked on this latest adventure.

Our first batch of baby "meat" chicks arrived last Thursday. One chick died during shipment, but with our free exotic chick, we are still at 25. The chicks spent the first couple of days in the brooder in Melanie's room. This was to protect them from all the cats that have been in the house recovering from their recent surgeries (yeah! We finally got some spayed!).

It was sad for me as I was in the hospital when the chicks came and I missed the first couple of days with them. Sunday evening, we moved them into the coop. They are so happy to have the freedom to roam. I placed some clumps of grass in with them (learned this trick from Backyard Poultry magazine) so they could start eating greens and looking for bugs.

I worried these past two nights as the weather has been blustery. The babies need to be kept at about 90 degrees because they don't have a lot to keep them warm. They seem to be doing ok with the heat lamp and are still chirping away.

I have to be honest, it will be extremely hard to do the deed. They are SO CUTE! Maybe it will be easier when they all grow up to be ROOSTERS. Heaven knows we don't need any more roosters here! I threaten chicken nugget at least once a day that he will be my test subject when it comes time to stuff the freezer!

Photos to come soon.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cage-Free vs. Factory Farming

Today, Oprah did a show on a proposition in California that would alter the living conditions for chickens, veal, and pigs that are being factory raised.

I watched the show with an open mind, and while I can see both sides of view, it is hard not to be biased because I have free range chickens. I nearly broke down watching the clip of a egg factory. The chickens are packed 6 to a crate, with about 80,000 per chicken house. They live there inside these houses for their entire lives, never seeing the sunshine or eating fresh grass and bugs.

I love my chickens. They have personalities and, as someone on Oprah said, "they have the spark of life in them just as human's do, and they deserve better treatment considering their lives are given for us."

I think it all comes down to economics. Most of the factories already in production would go under if they were required to completely overhaul their cage systems. However, if more farmers would free range, the cost of these types of eggs would go down as supply increased.

I am still soliciting thoughts on whether or not people would consume less or consider what they consume more if they had an active role in or a better understanding of where their food came from.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Circling the Wagons

Every day the news seems to bring more depressing news about the economy. One of the main reasons we decided to try out this farming experiment was to learn to be more self-sufficient. The prophet and apostles are always counseling church members to build up a year's supply of food, stay out of debt, and follow the word of wisdom.

In our continuing effort to live off the land, the Mastracola's have decided to try their hand at raising some meat chickens. We ordered 25 meat chickens from McMurray Hatchery that should arrive the week of October 20. We have cleaned up the coop and readied the back room for the new chicks. We had a family meeting and it was decided that we cannot name these chicks or play with them too much, as it was so easy to become attached to the flock we have producing our eggs today.

It will be an interesting task when the time comes for the chicks to make it to our freezer. No one here at the house is quite ready to be the executioner. I have repeatedly told the kids that there will come a time that they will be grateful for having learned these skills. We will all take part in the process.

I really feel that if people had to raise their own food, and slaughter it in order to get it on their table, I believe there would be a different respect towards what, and how much, we consume. I wonder how many people actually stop to think about the factory process of growing and processing meat? It has been something that has been on my mind lately. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

Monday, September 22, 2008


The corn came down this weekend. I don't know why, but it makes me sad. As it grows over the summer, it provides a protection for us from the wind and insulates us from the world. I think the only ones who are happy about the corn being cut are the chickens. I am watching them from the kitchen window as they forage for any lost treasures.

The Combine

Monday, September 8, 2008

Black gold, Texas tea

Ok, so I learned something new this week. Heating oil does not look like car oil, it looks more like gasoline. I just always had this image in my mind of a thick black liquid that cost me so much to heat my home. Heating oil is actually a thin, red liquid.

How I discovered this amazing thing was at 11:45 on Saturday night, Melanie came running into our room to tell us that she heard something pop, vibrate the floor, and then a hissing noise and a bad smell followed. We ran to the basement to discover the pipe at the base of one of our oil tanks had ruptured and was spewing oil all over our basement. My first thought was how much money was leaking all over the floor and as I watched the oil run down the floor drain, my second thought was that it was going to contaminate our well. These thoughts were immediately replaced by a more pressing one, the several hundred pounds of food being stored in the basement. Oil has a very offensive odor that will absorb into any surface that is not glass or metal. The thought of oil flavored Cheerios propelled me into action. I quickly ran through the house gathering up bodies to come help evacuate the food storage.

We cleared out the food and turned our attention to the leak. Nothing we tried could get the oil to stop spilling out. We didn't even know who to call. Who do you call when oil is spilling all over your basement floor? So we called our insurance company to find out if they ever had to deal with this type of issue before. They told us to call 911 (seems so clear in hindsight). Within 3 minutes, the first of several companies arrived on the scene. These talented men quickly stopped the leak and had contained the spill. We believe the loss was about 40-50 gallons of oil, most of which drained into the ground beneath the house.

About 2 am, the oil company arrived to pump out the remaining oil from the damaged tank. As they investigated the damage, it quickly became clear that the tank had been placed on a 2 inch piece of wood spanning an uneven portion of the floor, decades of dampness combined with the weight of 275 gallons of oil caused the wood to collapse, taking the corner of the tank with it. When the tank shifted and crashed into the second tank, the movement caused the pipe at the bottom to crack open.

We now have 5 barrels of oil sitting in the yard next to the house, awaiting the replacement of the oil tank. We had a restoration company come today to evaluate the remaining oil damage and will wait for a quote on the repair and restoration. Could be as simple as absorbing as much oil out of the concrete as possible with a 2 process coating of epoxy to seal the concrete preventing the oil fumes from affecting the house. They will most likely need to take core samples from the concrete/ground beneath the house to determine where the oil went. We will also need to test the well for contamination, but so far, so good. Worst case, they will need to jackhammer the entire basement floor and reconcrete.

As bad as all of this sounds, we are so amazingly grateful that this did not happen earlier in the day as were were in Washington and the kids were home alone. Additionally, if it had happened while we were all at work, we would have lost almost 600 gallons of oil (at 3.55 a gallon) and our entire farm would have surely been contaminated as well as killing our beloved pets because of the dangerous fumes trapped in the house. Absolute worst case, if this had happened while the furnace was running, our house would have burned down. So, if there is a bright side, this was the best possible outcome. We saved our food, prevented the loss of our entire supply of oil, and protected our family.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Beginnings and Ends

This summer has really gone by fast! I blinked and it was over. I feel like I didn't even experience the summer at all. I didn't work in the garden, spend much time with my animals, or just relax and enjoy the sunshine.

Work has been very intense for me since about April because of the size and number of implementation projects I am assigned. It has not left me much time to blog about anything! Now summer is over, school is back in session, and early morning seminary starts on Wednesday. I am getting my classroom and supplies in order today and trying to catch up on email . I thought now was a good a time as any to put out an update.

So, we are not doing very well in the cat arena. After our two momma cats each blessed us with a litter this Spring, we were set for a while with some good mousers. Our plan was to spay the mommas when they finished nursing. Well, our orange tabby had a different idea and gave birth to 6 more babies last week. Hopefully we will be more successful with the spaying this go-round because at 15, I think we have enough cats for one small farm!

One of the spring kittens met with tragedy this week. John Malkovich (as I liked to call him because he was a dead ringer for the famous actor) seems to have had an accident. We are not sure if it was a fall or if he got clipped by a car. He broke a tooth and seems to have peed out a little blood. He didn't have any other visible wounds, but was breathing heavy and could not walk on his back leg. We tried to comfort him as much as possible, but he crawled off into a bush and died the next afternoon. Bob is truly tired of digging holes, but death seems to be an unavoidable facet of farm life.

The horses are doing well. Melanie has been riding all three and they are becoming more familiar with her. She said that Lily has the smoothest canter that she has ever experienced. We tried selling Star over the summer, but didn't have much luck. I am so averse to sending her to the auction because I would hate for her to get sold to some slaughterhouse knowing that she would likely meet an inhumane fate.

We have been working on our food storage this summer. We were fortunate enough to be able to secure some red and white winter wheat between out kind stake food specialist and the DC cannery. Wheat orders have been backordered for months and quantities are being restricted to 100 lbs per family. I think we are up to 300 pounds stored, but this is not even a dent of what it should be. We generally have kept plenty of rice and flour along with some canned goods. We canned cherry jam, but haven't attempted any other fruit. Our cellar has been extremely hot this summer and I am not sure if it is the dehumidifier running all the time or heat being magnified by the heavy metal bilco doors. My jams keep liquefying in the heat. Any suggestions?

Another issue that has been a plague on us is mice. We have tried every possible method of eradication, but they are like nuclear super mice! We have brought the cats in, tried traps, poison, sonic deterrents, etc. Nothing has cleared this house. We can hear them in the ceilings chewing through the plaster and lathe. Our food storage is safe for the most part because we keep it in sealed plastic or glass jars, though they have made their way through some bags of tortillas and a large bag of bread flour. I went to tractor supply and bought these cool pet food containers that are tall and narrow and have wheels on the bottom and a lid that locks shut. They fit a large Costco sized sack of flour in them nicely. The wheels keep the container off the dirt floor. I keep the sugar and flour sacks in these rolling bins. I think for our other dry goods we may have to buy some plastic totes from Walmart and start storing in there.

I am so sad about the economy. We really want to put an addition on this farm house. We have the plans all drawn up and have a contractor ready to do the work. Since the basement thing is not really working out, we have designed a large walk in pantry within the new kitchen for our food storage. However, the mortgage crisis has caused banks to be less flexible with how they design mortgages these days. Even though we fully qualify to borrow the money, we cannot find a bank to construct a loan to put on the addition. Food storage and additional bathrooms were our main needs with the addition, but it seems to be a fading dream for the time being.

Today we are finishing up our only other house project, installing new fencing in our side garden. We had old ranch style wooden rails along the front, but the wood posts had rotted in the ground and we needed to pull it out. We purchased new white plastic picket fencing with the hopes to have at least one item that does not need regular maintenance! Everything else here is painted and peeling! Did I mention that Bob is tired of digging holes.....

So that is about it for summer updates. The corn out behind the house is starting to dry and yellow meaning the close of another planting season is about to come to an end. We get so very sad when the corn gets cut as we like to think of it as our cocoon from the world.

The chickens are doing well and are still my favorite part of life here on the farm!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Catch Up

Ok, it is catch up time. I am severely negligent in my blog entries these past couple of months. I have no good excuse other than just plain old being busy.

Since my last update, Bob had surgery and spent about 6 weeks recovering. Not much was getting done on the farm during his down time, although I did rip out the carpeting in the summer house and give the room a fresh coat of paint. We have completely transformed it into a nice retreat. I put in a couple of before and after. The before were actually part-way through the remodel and the after are not quite the finished product.

There is still some painting inside the fireplace and we need to move in a desk for the computer. But for the most part, we have everything set up.

Our kittens are getting to be almost full grown. They are really entertaining, but I am ready for them to go to deserving homes!

I love these chickens. We discovered that when you call them "Here chick, chick, chick" they will all come running from the barnyard to you. It is hysterical. Yesterday, Nick and I went to pick raspberries at a local farm and we made jam. I took some video, but it is too large to post. I need to find a way to get a smaller sized video so I can post it.

Our vegetable garden is struggling this year. We just have problems with weeds and a large groundhog. Someone at church lent us a trap for the groundhog, but the options once we catch it will be limited to letting it die in the sun, shooting or stabbing it. None of these options will be acceptable at the Mastracola farm. We have learned that it is illegal to trap a pest and release it somewhere else without permission. I like the idea of releasing it at the highway off ramp as I see groundhogs frequently in center of the cloverleaf!