Monday, March 10, 2014

Worship the Lord with Gladys

A few months ago, my daughter and I were riding in the car, listening to a Praise and Worship CD she received from our church.  One of the lines in the song was "Worship the Lord with gladness", but apparently my daughter heard it differently, because suddenly she blurted out, "Mom, they're saying 'Worship the Lord with Gladys!!!'".  Gladys was one of our chickens, a lovely Buff Orpington.  Of course, I burst out in laughter and started to correct her, but stopped myself and told her, "Yes, Ellie.  You're right.  We CAN worship the Lord with Gladys."

Ellie with our flock.  Gladys is the light (buff) colored chicken standing in front of her.

I've been dwelling on these words from the mouth of babes for months.  Besides the obvious (it's funny), why do I keep thinking about these words?  Perhaps it's because my 4 year old daughter managed to clearly state something I have been struggling to articulate in the past few years.

Lately, we have been reading the Chronicles of Narnia to our son.  In each book, one can't help but notice the great respect and honor C.S. Lewis gives to each one of his animal characters, even the ones that don't speak.  Did Lewis know something we don't?  Does God care just as much about animals as He does humans?  True, animals are not created in His image like man, but did He not create these creatures for His own pleasure and delight?

Which then brings me to my next thought.... can animals worship God? In my opinion, yes.  When animals engage in the specific activities that God intentionally created for them to do, that is worship.  When cows graze, they bring glory to God.  When hogs root in the earth, they bring pleasure to God.  When hens peck and scratch, they delight God.  And isn't the same with us?  When we DO what God created us to DO, it brings glory, pleasure and delight to our father. As it says in Romans 12:1 (The Message):

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you:  Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him."

What a concept - our daily living, the ordinary things we do each day can be a form a worship! Each creature that God put on this earth has a role and a purpose, as it was designed purely for God's pleasure.

I suppose this explains why I'm so deeply disturbed on a very spiritual level by the growing trend towards farm animals being enclosed in confinement operations.  On many of these farms (but certainly not all), the animals are being prevented from engaging in the activities for which God created them. Instead of being outdoors grazing, root, pecking or scratching, these activities are forbidden.  Cows live on concrete slabs.  Hogs are housed in barns with slats that allow their droppings to fall through, but they are not given any opportunity to root, which is what they were designed to do.  In their frustration, they often turn on each other.  Their tails are routinely cut off to prevent other hogs from chewing their tails off.  Chickens live in tiny crates, so small they can hardly turn around, and never see the light of day until they are carted off to the slaughterhouse.  If they happen to be lucky enough to be in a "cage-free" barn, their beaks are cut off shortly after birth to prevent them from pecking each other to death.

Peggy, digging in the dirt.  A dirt covered snout is the sign of a happy hog.

 Are the farmers to blame?  No, absolutely not.  I don't know a single farmer out there that would delight in torturing animals.  Every farmer I know goes out of his/her way to make sure their animals are comfortable and well cared for.  They run "state-of-the-art" operations, that use the latest and greatest technology to raise animals in the most efficient manner.  Technology is a GOOD thing.  Efficiency is good.  I just wish we could find a way to use this latest and greatest technology to raise animals in ways that are more respectful of their God given nature.  We are creative beings - we can make it happen.

 Think about this - if dogs are confined to small crates for extended periods of time, it's called a puppy mill.  And what do we do to puppy mills?  We cry foul.  We call them animal torturers.  We shut them down because it's cruel to confine any animal in that manner (and by the way, pigs actually have a higher intelligence level than dogs, so don't tell me that farm animals are stupid and don't understand what is going on).  So why aren't we up in arms about chickens living their whole lives in crates smaller than 1 square foot?  Why aren't we upset about sows that are confined to farrowing (birthing) crates that are so small they can't even turn around or stand up?  Why aren't we angry about dairy cows that spend almost their entire adult lifetime standing on concrete?

Again, don't get mad at the farmers.  It's not their fault - they are simply giving the public what they want - the cheapest food possible, raised as quickly as possible. It's OUR fault. We should be angry and upset with ourselves.  Every time you buy milk, dairy products, eggs and meat from the grocery store, you are enabling this system.  So before you go off spouting about how terrible conventional animals farms are, take a long hard look at your own buying habits.  I'm not trying to make you feel guilty about your choices, I just want to raise awareness (and I will readily admit that I still do buy some of these products from the grocery store - I, too, am contributing to this problem.  However, we are doing the best we can with the resources we have at this time, and I have to be ok with that. I can't change everything at once.).  If we want to see changes in this world, then change MUST start at home.  Is buying pastured chicken from a local farm going to save the world? No.  But you're helping to change the life of a farmer who is trying to swim against the current, and that does make a difference.

Gladys, our chicken, is no longer with us.  We sold her a few months ago to a family who was thrilled to have fresh meat for their table.  She was no longer laying eggs, so she was not earning her keep on the farm.  I was sad to see her go as she was lovely, friendly bird, but felt no remorse because I know that Gladys lived a good life, roaming around our farm, rolling in the dirt, scratching and pecking... and worshiping the Lord in her own way.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Forgive me.  I know, I know, I have been silent for too long and you are full of curiosity to know what we have been up for the last 5 months.  Let me share...

Summer was good to us this year.  We had ample amounts of rain and the garden harvest was plentiful.  The canning shelves were full by autumn.  The meat chickens were butchered in late July and we filled our freezer with 24 free-range, Organic fed chickens.  The hogs were slaughtered in early October and we had over 100 pounds of pork to feed us. We harvested about 4 gallons of honey from the beehives. My husband shot a deer in November and we butchered it in the garage, adding another 50-60 pounds of meat to the freezer. We are well stocked and feel wealthy beyond measure.

After all this hard work, we were tired.  Down right exhausted.  I feel like we've simply been trying to recover our energy for the last 4-5 months.  While everyone else is complaining about winter and wishing for summer, I'm happy and content these days to burrow in my hole and hibernate.  Oh, there is still plenty to keep me busy (animals still need to be cared for in the winter, meals need to be cooked and households managed), but I am moving at a slow pace these days and deliberately making time to rest, read and spend more time with my children (but if we have one more snow day, I might go crazy - 6 snow days already this year!).

I've also been trying to limit my time on the computer.  It's so easy for me to sucked in and realize an hour later that I've completely neglected my daughter.  Yes, she's more than happy to color quietly at the table by herself, but it's finally sinking in that next year she will enter kindergarten and be gone ALL DAY, EVERY DAY (8 hours a day, 5 days a week) instead of just going to preschool for 5 hours a week.  My time at home with her is coming to an end and I'm mourning that loss already.  So the computer is being shut off more often and I'm spending extra time with her... hence my lack of time for blogging.  It's a good thing.

Here a few photos to recap our summer and fall.  Enjoy!

Freedom Ranger meat chickens, almost ready to be butchered.  We kept them in a movable coop (called a "chicken tractor"), which allowed us to keep them safe from predators, yet allowed the birds access to fresh grass and bugs to eat every day.  By the time the birds were about 8 weeks old, we were moving the coop twice a day to make sure they had clean grass.  They were butchered at about 11 weeks old.  

Here is what our pasture looked like after moving the coop.  The chickens make a mess in a hurry!  We moved them up and down the pasture all summer and they spread their manure all over the grass, fertilizing it.  A win-win situation!  We get healthy, happy birds AND a healthy, happy pasture.  

Some of the honey we harvested!  We also ended up with lots of beeswax, perfect for making lip balm, like this recipe:  Chocolate Peppermint Lotion Bar/Lip Balm

The hogs in their pasture, shortly before their slaughter date.  

Peggy the pig doing what God designed hogs to do!!  Hogs love to root around in the dirt and find worms, grubs and roots to eat.

Fluffy eating apples.  We scavenged for dropped apples to feed to the hogs, so we could have "apple-fed pork".  

 Studly McMahon, our Silver Laced Wyndotte rooster.  He almost ended up in the stew pot after attacking the children and I a few times, but we finally tamed him (which means we cornered him at night when he couldn't see and we cuddled with him.  At first, he hated it, but he grew to like it and now he's a perfect gentleman).  He is a good rooster, wooing the ladies and keeping a protective eye on them., unlike our previous roosters that harassed the hens to no end, chasing them around all day (some of the hens would actually play dead, in hopes the roosters would leave them alone!).  The ladies adore this rooster and I can see why.  He's quite the looker!!!

Our new additions to the farm!  In late November, we purchase 3 new goats, all of them does (females).  Gloria, the mother goat is mostly Boer, which is a meat goat breed (just like cows, goats are divided into breeds that excel in either meat production or milk production).  Her twin daughters, Ruthie and Margie, are Boer/Nubian mixes.  We purchased these gals because we enjoy having goats on the farm and would like to continue to keep selling them for meat, but purchasing goat kids to raise is expensive and negates any profits we could make.  So we decided to buy does to breed and raise our own kids.  Weathers (casterated males) will be sold for meat and does will either be kept for breeding or sold to someone else who wants breeding does.  We bought the gals too late in the season to breed them (and the twin daughter were not old enough anyway), so we will breed them in the fall of 2014 and have kids in the spring of 2015.  Someday, we might  try our hand at milking goats, but not until my children are old enough to reliably help me with the milking.

Gloria, the mama goat.  She is extremely gentle and docile.  

We still have these 4 wethers that will sell for meat late winter or early spring.  They were supposed to be ready to go by late fall, but they were not big enough (our buyers like the goats to be about 70 pounds).  They are finally reached slaughter weight, so as soon as we get a break in this cold weather, we'll sell them.

Despite the 2-3 feet of snow outside my door, I know it will be spring soon.  Seed catalogs have been arriving in the mail and my heart leaps with excitement when I look though those glossy pages full of promise and opportunity.  Come March, I will be busy in my basement, starting seeds under the grow lights and plotting my crop rotations for the 2014 garden.  In the meantime, I think I might just keep hibernating...  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

No-Knead Artisan Bread

You, yes you, can make this bread.  I promise.  Doesn't it look just like something you would pay $8 for from an upscale artisan bakery?  I don't know about you, but I would be willing to pay $8 for this bread.  It's that good.  What if I told you that you could make this bread, all by yourself, for less than $1?  You will totally impress your friends and family with this beautiful bread and they will refuse to believe how easy it is!

It's true, my friends.  It can be done.  And guess what?  You don't even have to good at baking.  And you don't have to know how to knead bread.  And you don't need fancy mixers.  The recipe simply calls for 4 ingredients and a secret weapon - the humble Dutch Oven.  

What is a Dutch Oven?  Well, it's basically a big oven-proof dish with a lid.  Most are made from cast iron, but some are ceramic.  When I'm making this bread, I use my enameled cast iron Dutch Oven, but I've also used the Pyrex casserole dishes with lids.  If using the small Pyrex dishes, I divide the dough in half to make two loaves, instead of the one large loaf I make in the cast iron Dutch Oven.  Whatever you choose to use, make sure it can handle high heat (450 degrees) and that the lid fits well.  

Now, let me be perfectly honest here.  I hate it when I see recipes that say "So easy! So fast!" and then I read the instructions only to realize it's NOT easy or fast.  This recipe only requires about 5 minutes of hands-on time and is VERY easy, but there is a lot of planning ahead, waiting and setting timers.  This is a bread to bake while you are home for a good chunk of the day, at least 3 hours.   Also, the dough needs to be mixed/prepared at least 12 hours ahead of the baking time (24 hours is even better), so you'll have to do some planning ahead... which is not my strong suit.

Without further ado, here is the recipe, with instructions:

  • 4 cups of flour (I suggest you start with unbleached white flour.  Once you have made the loaf a few times, you can start replacing some white flour with whole wheat flour, if desired)
  • 2 cups of cold water
  • 2 tsp of kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp of yeast

1.  Mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon in a large lidded container.  Dough will be wet.  A big glass bowl with a plate as a lid works great too.  The lid does not have to be air tight (in fact, it should not be - the gases need to escape during fermentation).  Leave the loosely covered container/bowl of dough on the counter (not the fridge!) for 12-24 hours.  Go on with your business of living while the dough works it's magic.

2.  After 12-24 hours, pick a time when you'll be around the house for about 3 hours.  Got it?  Ok, now sprinkle some flour on a work surface.  I just use my counter as my work surface.

3.  Dump the dough out of the bowl onto the floured surface.  It will be a wet, sticky mess.  Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour and attempt to fold the dough in half a couple times, working the dough no more than about 10 seconds.  I like to use this plastic scraper I got at the dollar store to help me turn it over and get the sticky bits off the counter.  After folding it, cover the dough with a tea towel or flour sack towel and let it rest for 15 minutes.  Go putter around for a while.

4.  When the 15 minutes is up, take off the towel and lay it on the counter. Coat the same tea towel with flour or cornmeal (my preferred choice) to keep the dough from sticking.  Use more than you think you should.  Now gently gather up the dough in your hands and try to shape it into a ball.  Sprinkle with more flour if needed.  This should take no more than 10 seconds or so.  Don't overwork the dough. You'll end up with a ball with a smooth top, but wrinkly seam on the bottom.  Perfect.

5.   Now place the ball seam side down on the cornmeal coated towel.  Sprinkle more cornmeal or flour on top of the dough.

6.  Gently cover the dough and let it take a nap for 2 hours.  Maybe you could take a nap too...

7.  About 30 minutes before the 2 hour "nap" is over, you'll need to start preheating your oven to 450 degrees with the Dutch Oven inside it!  It is very important that both the oven and the Dutch Oven are hot.  When the 2 hour rest time is over, put on your oven mitts and pull out the extremely hot Dutch Oven and remove the lid.  Now comes the hardest part.  You will need to open the towel, carefully pick up the dough, still in the towel and flip it into the steaming hot Dutch Oven so the seam side is now facing up.  Do it quickly and confidently (even if you don't feel confident).  Even if it looks like a mess when you dump it it, it will still turn out delicious.  This one went in totally lopsided and still looked pretty good when it was done.

8.  Place the lid back on (with you oven mitts on!!!) and slide the Dutch Oven back into the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.  After the 30 minutes is up, remove the lid and continue baking for 15 minutes.

9.  Ta-da!  Your bread is done.  Pull the Dutch Oven out and remove the loaf.  Allow the loaf to cool on a wire rack before slicing (yeah right...  I can never resist cutting off a little piece and slathering it with butter while it's still piping hot). Note:  This photo is not the same loaf as the photo above.  I made them on different days, in case you're wondering why they don't look the same!

10.  Admire your lovely loaf of bread and be amazed that you, yes YOU!, baked such a wonder.  Now go share it with your friends and teach THEM how to bake this bread!  Spread the love.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Summer Memories

I'm baaack!  Please forgive me for the nearly two month long blogging hiatus.  I know ya'll have been dying to know what I'm up to ;)

Turns out August and September were pretty busy months on the farm.  There were chickens to butcher for meat, tomatoes to can, cucumbers to be pickled, produce to process and freeze, eggs to be gathered (we have about 25 laying hens now), gardens to be weeded, berries to be picked, jam to be made, hogs to be fed, bee hives to be maintained... and then of course, children to care for, 3 meals a day to be cooked, laundry to be done, bills to be paid, paperwork to be filed, and houses to be cleaned (ummmm, may have slacked on that BIG time - I have the whole winter to clean my house, right?!?).  

Despite the busyness, I can truly say I'm having SO. MUCH. FUN.  There is nothing more satisfying and rewarding than a day of hard labor, which results in filling your pantry and freezer with nourishing foods for your family.  The morning chores of caring for the animals are a delight, watching content chickens peck and scratch, listening to hogs grunting out their greetings, goats calling out in delight when they see you and adorable kittens purring as they rub up against your feet. Walking through the garden glistening with dew in the morning light fills my heart with gratitude. I feel so blessed to start my day in this manner, feeling in tune with God's natural rhythms, savoring the quiet moments before the work begins.  So, yes, I'm busy and sometimes feel utterly overwhelmed by the tasks on my "To-Do List", but it is the best kind of "busy" possible.  

So let me give you a little tour of what we have been up to lately.  And lest you think we live a perfect carefree life, I want you to be reminded of what I didn't include in the photos - kids throwing fits, piles of dirty dishes and clothes, filthy rooms, piles of bills to paid and papers to be filed... you know, all those things that make life real.  But I figure, in the end, we usually remember the good times the best, so here are some photos of our "good times".   Enjoy!

Goats grazing in the pasture.  Yes, sometimes they kneel while they eat.  Yes, it looks funny.

My son hanging with the goats.  They are so gentle with the children.  

Maaahhhh!  The goats run up to the gate for attention every time they see us.  See all the trucks in the background?  We're getting new neighbors!

I like hogs.  They are delightful creatures.


Beehives facing the squash fields planted by our neighbor.

Kids helping us paint the beehives.

Freedom Ranger meat birds, ready to be butchered.  We butchered them in late July and filled our freezer with 25 delicious pastured chicken, supplemented with Organic feed.  We kept them in a movable chicken tractor (cage on wheels that is moved to fresh grass each day), to keep them safe from predators.

Blackberry harvest from the nearby woods.

Lucy the barn cat

"Tristar" Ever-bearing strawberries (they set fruit all summer, instead of one harvest, like the June-bearing strawberries).  We harvest a bowl of strawberries every few days, all summer long.   We're still picking berries in late September!

Veggies fresh from our garden!  We have veggie platters like this for dinner most nights.

Just had to share this one.  Our kids were introduced to the "Star Wars" movies and then their uncle sent them some "light sabers", which led to many days of playing "Jedi Warriors".  So cute!

Tomatoes.  Lots and lots of tomatoes.  I planted about 60 tomato plants and had to figure out what to do with all that fruit!

Lovely "Purple of Sicily" cauliflower.  I also planted lots of white cauliflower, but not a single plant formed a head.  Every one of the purple plants did great!  Next year, I'll only plant "Purple of Sicily".

Calico Beauty (my son wanted to name her Calico and my daughter wanted to name her Beauty) might quite possibly be the sweetest kitten ever.  I have a feeling we may turn her into our resident house cat...

The young laying hens are finally starting to lay eggs.  Ummm.... sometimes they are a little small at first....

My daughter with Lucy.

Peppers from the garden.  I chop and freeze them on a cookie sheet.  Then they are thrown into a container in the freezer, so I can pull out a handful as needed over the winter.  I love all the bright colors - looks like confetti!  

When I'm overwhelmed with tomatoes, I cut out the core, freeze the tomatoes on cookie sheets and then place them in freezer bags when they are frozen solid.  When I have more time in the winter, I can turn these tomatoes into soup or sauce.

Canning tomatoes.  Peeling skins off tomatoes is the perfect job for a 4 year old.

We plant LOTS of flowers in the vegetable garden each year, for two reasons: 1.  To feed the honeybees, and attract pollinators and beneficial insects to the garden.  2.  My daughter loves picking flowers and making fresh bouquets for the house.

Lest you think we are "all work and no play"....  We took a vacation with my parents at a cottage on Lake Michigan in August.   Nothing like waking up to the water each morning....

Loving the lake

Tubing is awesome!

Celebrating our Dutch heritage at Dutch Village in Holland, MI.

More fun at Dutch Village!

That's it for now, folks!  I'll try to hard to not be such a stranger...