Feeling Laura Ingalls

My husband Dave likes to joke that when I was a kid growing up in New York City, I read Little House on the Prairie and decided to become a farmer.
While I love tales about clever people creating new communities (whether in the past or in some distant future), the truth is I knew next to nothing about Laura until I was in my 30’s. I became acquainted with her and Ma and Pa as I read to my children in our South Minneapolis home. I was captivated by the resourcefulness and skills demanded by the times. I was drawn to the self-reliance and community inter-dependence described in those children’s books. (And yes, we made the pilgrimage to her home and bought the stiff-brimmed bonnets.)
Fast forward a whole lotta years and here I am, a baby boomer from the Bronx raising beef cattle on Bull Brook Keep, our northwestern Wisconsin farm. (A far cry from a full career in business suits and awful commuter traffic.) This morning’s chores included moving our beef cattle to new pasture, feeding and watering the chickens, exercising the dogs, and meeting with a customer to deliver cuts of beef equaling 1/4 steer.* And of course, I went through the early emails and reviewed my digital photo files for possible uploads to my website.

Cabbage fermenting to sauerkraut

Cabbage fermenting to sauerkraut

Later in the day, Dave and I enjoyed a dinner of home-grown, grass-fed beef Bourguignon. And in the evening I sliced, brined and packed cabbage into half-gallon jars. In a couple of weeks, it’ll ferment to sauerkraut.
French sourdough boules

French sourdough boules

It’s late, and I just pulled a couple of French sourdough loaves from the oven – a weekly demand and a much-anticipated ritual.

It is very, very late and I’m tired. The tomatoes, peppers and onions on the kitchen counter will have to become salsa on another day. I’m ready for this day to be done.

Yes, I’m feeling Laura Ingalls Wilder…like a bad ass Laura with Internet coverage and in-floor heating.
Sylvia

*We offer our 100% grass-fed beef in variety packages (ground beef, roasts and steaks) in a range of sizes starting at just 25-30 lb. Reserving an order is easy online. We deliver to drop sites in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN.

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Siggy – the stubborn puppy

An ongoing adventure story for children of all ages

Siggy is making progress

Siggy is making progress

Siggy is now nine weeks old. He loves running around with the big boys – Chevy, a nine-year old German Shorthair Pointer, and Parker, the five-year old English Setter. Siggy runs and jumps on them and wants to play with them all the time. Sylvia, Siggy’s master, knows playtime is important for little puppies. She also knows that Siggy must learn some basic lessons so that he will grow to be a useful, obedient and safe worker on the farm.

Chevy and Parker are also working dogs – they help David hunt for pheasants, grouse, and woodcock. David spent many, many months training Chevy and Parking to do their jobs well. Both dogs come to David when he says “here,” and they stop moving when they hear the word “whoa.” When David says “heel,” both dogs will walk close to David’s left leg. They do not run ahead of David, nor do they trail behind him. This is important because it means David can prevent the dogs from running into traffic, or from being distracted from their job – hunting.
Right now, because he is very young, Siggy has not learned to obey Sylvia’s commands. In fact, Sylvia knows Siggy is very independent and can be a very stubborn little dog! He will not always come to her when Sylvia says “here.” This is a problem because Sylvia wants to keep Siggy safe from traffic and from large animals that can hurt little dogs. He must also learn the very basic commands before he can begin to learn to be a herding dog that will work with the free-range chickens, and perhaps, the grass-fed BueLingo cows as well.
Sylvia wondered, “What can I do to train Siggy better?” She asked her friend Claire for some advise.
Claire knows all about training puppies. She told Sylvia, “Don’t put Siggy’s food in a bowl any more. Instead, feed Siggy from your hand, and only give him some food after he obeys your commands.”
Sylvia thanked Claire and began to do this several times every day. For example, early in the morning, Sylvia brings Siggy to a quiet spot and gives him a command. She says “sit,” “here,” or “stay.” When Siggy obeys her command, Sylvia feeds him some of his puppy food directly from her hand. Siggy is learning to obey!!
Sylvia knows that there are many, many months of training ahead, but now Siggy is making progress.

For all story installments, click here.

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About spring-time farming. Deep Roots Radio, May 17, 9-9:30AM Central. Calf video.

Calving began yesterday with the arrival of two red and white BueLingos. Just one day old, they’re walking around on firm legs and nursing heartily. This means spring chores have zoomed forward to include tagging and, in the case of bull calves, castrations. Yup, that’s how you get the steers that’ll graze for 24-30 months and reach 1,100-1,300 lbs.

BueLingo heifer born May 15, 2015

BueLingo heifer born May 15, 2015

Red and white BueLingo born May 15, 2015

Red and white BueLingo born May 15, 2015

We’re also brooding several dozen Freedom Ranger chicks. That means that we’re caring for them in a warm and controlled environment until they’re ready to be put on pastures. That’ll happen this week.
And, of course, there’s lots of fence to build and repair. And maybe start sketching out a larger chicken coop??
Tune in to Deep Roots Radio Saturday 9:00-9:30AM Central,as Dave Corbett and I chat about spring-time farming. We’re on WPCA Radio, 93.1FM and www.wpcaradio.org.
See you on the radio!
Sylvia

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Siggy meets the chickens

An ongoing adventure story for children of all ages.

Today’s the day, thought Sylvia. Today, Siggy, her little Corgi puppy, would meet the chickens on Bull Brook Keep.

Chickens spend the night in their safe and snug coop.

Chickens spend the night in their safe and snug coop.

The chickens live in a chicken coop not far from the farm house. David, Sylvia’s husband, built the chicken coop so that the birds would stay safe from foxes and raccoon, weasels and snakes, and wandering dogs.
The chickens on the farm are now a year old. The hens weigh about eight pounds and the rooster weighs more than 12 pounds. He’s very big indeed. And to think, they started out as tiny little yellow chicks that could fit in your hand.

Taking a look before stepping out into the new day

Taking a look before stepping out into the new day

The rooster was not only big, he was very protective of the hens. He guarded them from anyone or any animal that might come near. He would do this by jumping up and trying to scratch with his back claws, or talons. He could also peck and hurt your hand. Despite this, the chickens were very useful on the farm. They provided eggs, and meat, and they ate insects that would bother people and cattle. They would eat ticks!
Next year, if he learned his lessons well, Siggy would be in charge of the chickens. Sylvia would give him a command – “Round them up, Siggy” – and Siggy would herd the chickens into their coop area. But right now, Siggy is a little puppy with a lot to learn.
So today, Siggy took a first step.

Siggy surveys the birds

Siggy surveys the birds


Sylvia stood close by as Siggy met the chickens for the first time. Sylvia stayed near because the rooster might want to peck at the little puppy.
When Siggy got near the chickens, he did not bark. That’s good because Sylvia and David don’t want their herding dog to scare the animals they have to work with.
It was a good first meeting.
Soon, Siggy will meet the biggest animals on the farm – the BueLingo beef cows.

For earlier Siggy stories, click here.

What goes with garlic, brandy, home-made bone broth, & 3 hours?

How to start dinner!

How to start dinner!

One of the great things about being a sustainable farmer is that sometimes you’re faced with interesting challenges.
So there I was with a gallon of home-made chicken bone broth (from the roasted carcasses of our own free-range birds) and a cool spring afternoon. What to do?
I paired the rich broth with several home-grown garlic cloves, a couple of harvested chickens – including an old nasty-tempered roaster that weighed in at over 12 pounds – some good brandy, red wine and celery.
First, I browned about half a pound of bacon in a very large fry pan. I sautéed a huge chopped onion in the fat, and then distributed the fragrant mix between a couple of large enameled cast iron casseroles.
I dredged the disjointed chicken pieces in flour seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. I heated up the fry pan once again and browned all the chicken. They, too, went into the casseroles.
I swished 1.5 c of brandy in the hot fry pan, tossed in a lit match and jumped back as flames shot up. What a glorious aroma. I divided the brandy between the two casseroles, and now used the same pan to heat a quart of the broth. While it was warming, I chopped 8 celery sticks into 1.5-inch pieces and added them to the pots.
Once the broth reached a simmer, I portioned it out to the two casseroles. I brought both pots up to a low simmer, covered them, and popped them into a 250-degree oven.
It’ll take at least three hours for these old birds to become —- coq au vin!
I hope you’re having a great dinner as well.
Sylvia

A dusting of snow

Like so many in Wisconsin and Minnesota, I woke to snow this morning and quickly bundled up for morning chores. I pulled up thermals and pulled on my purple balaclava, and braced myself for the cold. What a wonderful surprise it was to open the door to a gentle daybreak. It was calm and felt absolutely balmy.
There was barely a quarter inch of snow on the ground as I headed up the short hill to the tractor. The snow was already dripping down the windshield facing into the sun, and the diesel started right up. The dogs played tug-of-war with a stick as I speared bales and slowly moved them to a distant pasture, and i could hear the rooster crowing from within the coop. I’ve already fed and watered them, but I’ll wait until a few hens have laid eggs in the nest boxes before letting the small flock range the farm for the day.
Now to bake bread.

Chickens and apples. Not a recipe.

Our free-range chickens are built to forage for themselves

Our free-range chickens are built to forage for themselves

No, this isn’t a recipe for chickens stewed with sautéed apples. (Though that does sound like something I’ll try.) It’s a very short video demonstrating just how hardy free-range chickens can be. Because our chickens are breeds that forage for themselves, and are well suited to our cold winters, they happily leave their coop in the mornings and begin searching for any blade of grass or dried fruit that might be exposed in the snow. These happy hens get lots of natural sugars and fiber from apples I pull out of storage. These are wild apples grown without any type of chemical. (When just picked in the fall, I make cauldrons of applesauce and rich apple butter.)
Our small flock get sun and exercise every day (as well as fresh grain every morning). Dave and I enjoy their antics (I had no idea chickens could be so entertaining), and lots of nutrient-rich eggs.

Sylvia