Let’s Get Real

Dad Cooking Maple Syrup

                                Dad Cooking Maple Syrup

I’m going to start out by saying a huge THANK YOU to all of our loyal and wonderful customers. We couldn’t do what we do without you. We love being able to farm “our way” and have others support us and enjoy the products we create, from meat to maple syrup your purchasing our goodies is what keeps us going.

That being said…. I get frustrated with input from people who have never purchased nor ever will purchase our goods, but they want to give advice. The advice ranges from how we can raise hogs faster, how to produce more maple syrup, how to get more eggs, how to have more honey, how to grow bigger veggies, the list is really endless. Now I’m not so high and mighty that I think I know it all and no one else can teach me anything, far from it! I love going to conferences, when I can find the time, and learning how to do things better. But the key is that the conferences I go to are those of like-minded farmers. I’m not going to sit through a class that tells me to spray pesticides and herbicides all over the farm to “improve” things. Not gonna do it. I’m also not going to attend conferences with folks who are promoting feedlots or penning up animals in order to grow them faster and produce more.

Here’s the thing, we farm the way we do because we think it’s the BEST way for us to farm! Pure and simple. We do it our way, pitfalls and all, because that’s the way we agree with. Yes, I could grow and sell more pigs, and cut the prices on my pork if I produced pigs by keeping them indoors and cramming food and medicine down them 24/7. Why don’t I do that? Because I don’t think it’s the best way to grow a hog. I appreciate that there are others out there who think I’m completely and utterly insane. Trust me, I’ve been called worse.

I am one who will stick by her convictions, no matter the cost. I’ve always heard the old saying, “cut off your nose to spite your face.” Yep that’s me. Is that something to brag about, maybe, maybe not? But if you ask me a question, you are going to get my honest opinion. And let’s face it, opinions are just like buttholes, everybody’s got one….well I’ll leave the rest for another day.

So when I get an email from someone who is upset about not getting our maple syrup this harvest, I feel bad for them, because that stuff is GOOD! I hate it that everyone can’t experience it. But when I get the same style email and I am told that it’s “overpriced” and “not hard to come by,” I want to wring someone’s neck. I’m not going to tiptoe around this. First off, if you want maple syrup and you think mine is overpriced and easy to make, go tap a tree and cook your own. In doing this you will see the labor intensive work and dedication it requires. I never said I was the only person making syrup in Arkansas, I’m just the only one who sells it. So grab a drill, tap a tree and get to cooking.

My parents are 70 years old. They do the maple syrup on the farm. My mom gets up at midnight, out of her bed, goes down stairs and outside to stoke the fire and add more wood to hold the fire all night while the water is cooking down to syrup. They do it because they love it, because they’ve always done it. It’s what they do. Now they don’t get around in the woods very well, dad especially. This year I recommended running lines from the trees to one large container to gather the water. They both were appalled at this idea and quickly put me in my place.

So in closing I’m going to put a few folks in place. I’m even gonna use bullet points to make sure I don’t forget anything and to really hit this home for you- Mrs. email sender- who “has never purchased from us and probably never will.”

  1. I get all the input I need from those I respect, our real customers, similar producers and the almighty USDA.
  2. We produce only small batches of syrup because it’s hard work and the harvest is driven by the weather, something we can’t control.
  3. We produce slow-growing, pasture and forest raised pork because it tastes better than any other meat we’ve ever eaten, and if I won’t cave to my parents recommendations on how to grow hogs, I’m certainly not gonna listen to you.
  4. Our products may cost more, but I know every single thing it took to produce it. Whether it’s a bar of soap or a slab of bacon I know what’s in it. I am proud of what we produce and I don’t cut corners.
  5. We don’t have employees. We are the staff, my 70-year-old parents, who can outwork any kid I know, myself- who is no spring chicken and my husband who takes great pride in his cattle and hay. So when you recommend that we ramp up production, well all I can say is we enjoy what little sleep we get and we won’t be working a night shift for you.

I’m sure there’s more, but this is the gist of it. To the lady who sent me the email, go buy some store-bought pork and some good ole, corn syrup laden, Aunt Jemima syrup- you deserve it!

And once more to our customers, we love you and we thank you from the bottom of our tired little hearts!! We are busting our humps to produce the best for our family and your family too!

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How to Can Chicken Broth

I have blogged before about the process of cooking down chicken feet into broth. Here’s the link, http://wp.me/p2HBuY-bl

But it seems that broth has been in the news a LOT lately. Everyone is talking about the benefits of drinking broths. The most fabulous broth I have ever encountered is broth made from chicken feet. You can buy chicken feet at many local markets or farmers. Many small farmers are now requesting their chicken feet from their processors (if they don’t harvest their own birds). Chicken feet take up a lot of room in the freezer so I love to get them out of the way by cooking them down and canning the broth.
First make sure your chicken feet are CLEAN. You want zero dirt or debris on them. Most are already clean when you buy them. If not, an old toothbrush works wonders. I don’t bother with stripping the skin off the chicken feet, but by skipping this step I make sure the strain the broth before adding it to my jars.
Place your clean chicken feet into a very large stock pot. Cover them with water and slowly heat them. I put mine between low and medium and let them cook covered for a minimum of 24 hours. I check the water level and will add a cup of water if needed. But you don’t want to water it down too much, you want a thick hearty broth. If you are in the kitchen give it a stir, but don’t fuss over it. After your 24 hours is up strain the broth to catch any skin or toenails. Pour the hot broth into hot jars. Cap and ring them as you would anything you are canning- making sure you clean the tops of your jars!
Place the jars into the pressure canner. Lock the lid, bring to a boil over med-high heat. Vent steam for 10 minutes then close the vent. Heat until you have 10lbs of pressure and process pint jars for 20 minutes and quart jars for 25 minutes. Turn off the heat, let the pressure return to 0 on its own. Wait 5 minutes more and then open the vent. Remove the canner lid letting the jars cool down 10-15 minutes and then remove from the canner. Leave them alone, let them cool and listen for that glorious “POP” of the seals working their magic. I watch them for a day or so on the counter (to make sure they stay sealed) then remove the rings and store in the pantry.
Once the jars are cold the broth will resemble gelatin. It will jiggle and wiggle. To remove it from jars just take a spoon and scoop it out or place the jar into a pot of warm water and heat it up a bit. The broth will liquefy. You can use this in any number of ways, drink it straight, add to soups, chili, I’ve tried it just about every way imaginable. My favorite is to make homemade chicken noodle soup or just add some cayenne pepper and make a hot broth to drink.

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Canning Meats

A while back I was asked to share how I can our meats. We can venison, chicken and wild turkey. Each different meat has it’s qualities and they make a really hearty quick meal. Today I forgot to lay any meat out of the freezer. I have a lot of very nice peppers, tomatoes, herbs, squash- the usual summer time veggies. So I filled the rice cooker, sauteed the veggies and opened a quart sized jar of canned turkey meat. I used about 1/2 of the can of meat and put the rest in the fridge for tomorrow. I placed the veg, rice and turkey in a casserole dish, topped it with cheese and baked it only long enough to get the cheese melted. I don’t like to recook the canned meats, as they get a bit stringy. The result was a fast and incredibly tasty supper- with leftovers!

It’s come to my attention that not everyone cans meat. So I decided to share our method. You can find recipes for meat online, but I use my old trusty Ball Cook/Canning Book.

Deer (venison) is a staple in our house. We typically fry up the tenderloin & hams and grind the shoulder meat into ground meat we use as beef in many dishes. Never someone to waste anything from an animal, we also use the rib meat. It is usually tough and hard to extract the meat from the bones. I take the ribs in a large pot or kettle and boil them down. The meat falls off the bone and becomes very tender. That meat is added to cut up shoulder meat (there isn’t a lot of meat on the ribs, so in order to have a canner full we use the shoulder as well as the rib meat). I cut up the shoulder meat into small chunks and lightly braise them in a cast iron skillet. You want all the meat to be hot, as you will pack it into hot jars. Leave a good inch at the top of the jars. Add the hot broth from the rib meat to each jar- don’t overfill, just barely cover the meat. Adding a ½ tsp of salt is optional. Also a lot of folks add a beef bouillon cube to each jar. This is done to flavor the meat, but we prefer the venison taste & we also are gluten free-many bouillon cubes contain gluten- so we skip this step. Remove any air bubbles from the jars. Cap and ring them as you would anything you are canning- making sure you clean the tops of your jars!
Place the jars into the pressure canner. Lock the lid, bring to a boil over med-high heat. Vent steam for 10 minutes then close the vent. Heat until you have 10lbs of pressure and process pint jars for 75 minutes and quart jars for 90 minutes. Turn off the heat, let the pressure return to 0 on its own. Wait 5 minutes more and then open the vent. Remove the canner lid letting the jars cool down 10-15 minutes and then remove from the canner. Leave them alone, let them cool and listen for that glorious “POP” of the seals working their magic. I watch them for a day or so on the counter (to make sure they stay sealed) then remove the rings and store in the pantry.
I use this canned deer in fajitas mostly. It is a fast and easy recipe. Drain the liquid from the jar of canned deer. In a good seasoned cast iron skillet, toss some chopped onion & garlic with a tad of lard or your choice of oil, brown up and then add the deer meat. Don’t over-cook- you just want to get it hot. It is already cooked and over doing it will make the meat stringy. I add a homemade enchilada sauce, but you can use store bought. Build your fajitas with whatever filling you like, peppers, rice, avocado, whatever you like. I wrap mine up and pour the sauce on top, add cheese and bake them until the cheese is melted. Just 5-10 minutes on 350 degrees.
You can substitute this canned deer into any recipe calling for shredded beef. It is delicious & it helps utilize meat that is usually thrown away.

We also love to pull the wild turkey breasts and fry them up. We waste nothing, so we debone and cut up the meat and can the rest. I don’t cook the meat and then pull it off the bone, as that seems to overcook the turkey.

I hope this helps!

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Our Podcast

Here is our very first podcast! We were very excited to share about our farm and our farming practices. You can hear the podcast here: http://traffic.libsyn.com/heritagebreeds/10-Humane_Butchering_Day-Misty_Langdon.mp3

We hope you enjoy it!

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Butcher Day

Today was a hard day to be a farmer. It was one of those days that I knew would be difficult, but when I lived it, it was even harder than I expected. Today was butcher day. It wasn’t my first and it won’t be my last, but I was closer with this lot than the previous animals. Some people are squeamish and appalled by the act of butchering animals. Some of those people are vegetarians or vegans. However, the others, those who are squeamish and appalled at the act of butchering animals, that are not vegetarian or vegan, in my opinion are either living in the dark or hypocrites. Harsh? Maybe. Accurate? I think so.

I don’t know of anyone who treats their animals any better, more humane, or loves them more, than I do mine. Especially my pigs. I truly love my pigs. They are the highlight of my day on the farm. I am somewhat known as “the crazy pig lady”. I don’t mind that, depending on the tone in which it’s spoken.

So yesterday in preparation. I moved 4 of my best hogs, two culled breeder sows and two feeder pigs (barrows), down from their mountain pasture to the barn. I placed each in a stall and fed them extra organic corn and carried and poured each of them fresh spring water. Late last night my husband and I drove over to the barn with the trailer and we loaded them into the trailer filled with fresh hay. They all followed me into the trailer single file, the entire loading process took less than one minute. Moving and handling my pigs is the easiest job I have. Some farmers fight, cuss, gripe and pull their hair out trying to load pigs. Not me, my pigs are happy to hop on a bale of hay and into the trailer. We drove them up to the upper barn where two steers were waiting-again the steers just waltzed into the barn and were given hay and fresh spring water. The pigs camped out in the trailer and the steers were loaded this morning around 4 a.m. I was all ready to leave and as I was dragging the watering trough out of the trailer (so water wouldn’t slosh out on the pigs) I managed to dump about 5 gallons of water all over me- from the waist down. It was 20 degrees. So after everyone was loaded, we had go back down the mountain, home, so I could change jeans.

The trip to the butcher is a long one. About 14 hours all together. This includes loading, driving, unloading, processing orders, driving home, feeding cows, feeding pigs (at dusk) and trying (in vain) to get all the chickens into the barn for the night. The trip is about 150 miles one way- at least 3 hours up. It takes us about an hour to unload. The steers were happy to hop out of the trailer. Once they were out of the trailer, I got in. I waded the cow and pig crap to say my final words and farewell to my pigs. I took some marking chalk and marked each hog for identification. I took my time, as the guys were getting the steers down the alleyway and into the kill area inside the shop. I got snout marks all over my pants. I scratched each ear. I rubbed each belly. I spoke to each pig by name and thanked them for being such wonderful pigs. I thanked them for being good and I told them to be brave. They didn’t really want to get out of the trailer. So I stepped out and began calling them in a low voice. I said “here pigs, come on babies” over and over. That was their call each day of their lives after weaning. They each raised their heads, allowing them to see under those big ears. They looked at me and began walking to me. They followed me all the way out of the trailer, into the small holding area and then down the long alleyway to their larger holding pen. Thankfully my butcher allows all this to take place. Many would just push and shove and scream to move animals. They let me do it my way. They allowed a safe, non-stressful and easy end of life for the animals. That is huge for me. I raise my pigs in a very natural, primal and environmental way. To cause them distress just before butchering them would be crazy.

I walked into the office and gave all the cut sheets to the very helpful staff and left. I left knowing that the pigs would be killed very soon after all the cattle. I made it to the end of the driveway and began to sob. I cried for about a mile or two. My husband asked if I was ready to talk and I started crying again. I told him I was a hypocrite for crying over pigs when I am a happy meat-eater. I LOVE meat. I know where meat comes from for crying out loud. I know exactly what sacrifice is due.

We stopped for lunch and both had steak. Yep, the sadness was mostly gone, I was back to normal. So here are my thoughts. For all those consumers who go to the grocery store and pick up a clear plastic covered pack of meat, whether chicken, pork, beef, fish, whatever- an animal died to produce that. The quality of the animal- well I won’t get into that in depth. Those poor sad confinement, feedlot raised animals live a sad life, for many death is a mercy. But for animals whose farmers are wonderful, determined souls who work hard and worry about their animals and their welfare, the end is not the end. They provide healthy, quality food for families. They provide income for the farmers who raised them.

So every time I eat meat, I think of the animal. I think of how it lived and died. I think of how DELICIOUS it is. And how now, after farming the way I do, I appreciate the sacrifice, I appreciate the life and death of that animal who is providing for us. No meat ever goes to waste at my house. Whether by huge family dinner, then followed by broth, soup or stew, the meat is happily eaten and enjoyed. We gather to catch up, to grieve, to commune, to laugh and to eat. So to those who know where you food comes from- I salute you. To those who think that meat is just a cut under clear packaging- educate yourselves. And to all who eat meat, come on over, we’re cookin up pancakes, maple syrup, bacon and sausage. It’s to die for.

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Snowday (12)

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Maple Syrup Season Is Here!

We are beginning to think about maple syrup season. Also, Edible Ozarkansas just published their latest Fall/Winter edition which includes a story on our family maple syrup harvest for 2014. So I thought I would dig out this old post and re-share it. Hope you enjoy it!

Our Green Acre Blog

There’s a few things I remember about making maple syrup as a child. Most of the adults were cranky and I couldn’t imagine why.  Who could be cranky with that sweet goodness in a huge kettle?  There was always a fire to play in, which resulted in the adults getting really cranky.  But afterwards everyone was happy & smiling and ready for pancakes.  Now that I’m the one working it, I get it.  It’s a hard job.  It’s time-consuming.  The weather doesn’t always cooperate.   Stoking (or playing) in the fire makes ashes fly up which will fall into the amber-colored “liquid gold.”  But the payoff, ahh, the payoff!  THE BEST SYRUP EVER!

My family has always made syrup from the maple trees on our property.  It doesn’t take a maple tree born & raised in Vermont.  Many of the “locals” haven’t made or even tried the real stuff.  It amazes…

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Here Piggy Piggy

Yesterday I made a new batch of our “bacon” soap. It is made with Large Black hog lard, rape seed oil, lye and two essential oils for scent. It is a really cute soap, the silicon molds make it all possible. Here is the finished product. We are also adding a pet soap to our line up. Here you can see the puppy feet soaps too. We are really excited for these.

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Chicken Feet Soup

I had to stay inside today as we had someone coming to the house to pick up a bed that did not work out. The guys were from Tulsa, so I knew I would need to be at the ready with directions and in the house while pickup was taking place. Never one to waste a moment, I decided to finish cooking down some chicken feet and can the broth. I began the cook down yesterday and strained the lovely broth from the skin, toe nails and bone (bahahaha), I then placed it into jars and into the canner. Of course mid job the movers arrived. I was able to educate one of the guys on the art of cooking chicken feet down into broth. He was intrigued. I invited him into the kitchen to check things out. He was surprised to see the fresh batch of feet submerged in water. He said he had never eaten anything like that before. Hmmmm. Really? I asked if he had ever had chicken noodle soup, he replied yes, and I told him he had probably eaten a lot more than the feet! He was great about it, laughing and joking, but truly curious. I told him how I am prepping to make another batch of our homemade chicken noodle soup and the broth was a key ingredient. “That’s really really cool” was his reply.

I was telling my mom about this (who had never in her 67 years cooked down the feet, but her grandmother Viola had). She laughed and said, “he should be glad he only came to visit on chicken feet day!”  I agreed. But it got me to thinking how everyday people have no idea what they eat. In one package of ground beef from the grocery, there can be hundreds, if not thousands, of different cows in that one package of meat! Consumers have no idea where there food comes from. This makes me sad, though not to long ago, I was in that group. I had no idea where most of my food came from and I didn’t care. Now I won’t even waste the feet from our processed chickens! How things change!

Here are some photos of the process.

Here is the final product! Wonderful gelatony goodness!!  http://youtu.be/WiRg8EvoTk0

 

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Foxy

Turk, the largely useless, but very handsome LGD, treed a fox this morning. Foxes are huge predators to our chickens and piglets (very young). I did not have a gun with me, by the time I raced home and retrieved one, he was out of the tree and gone. I didn’t know foxes could climb trees I guess, because as it was going up I kept saying “that fox is climbing a tree!!!” So Turk is now tied up at the barn guarding the chickens. He is not thrilled, he tolerates the chickens well, but doesn’t seem to enjoy their company. This means I will be going to the barn multiple times today to check on Turk and let him off the leash to stretch his legs and go potty. In the meantime I am cooking down chicken feet into stock and canning it. The house smells fantastic. It’s a great day to be a farmer.

Smiling Turk

Smiling Turk

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A Farmer’s Frustration

I try to post happy thoughts here in Blog Land. I update our Facebook page with the highs and lows of day-to-day farm life. When it comes to pet peeves, irritations and just down right fits, I try to keep those quiet & to myself. Not sure if my family would agree, but I try. Farming is hard work. Under the best conditions farming is hard. Add a bad economy to the mix, you better brace yourself for the hardships. We have had many ups and downs, many, many learning experiences and I have to say we are better for it.

There are times at our smaller local market, that after traveling over 100 miles to the market, I didn’t even cover my expenses for actually going to market. We are preparing to send two of our lovely momma hogs to the butcher due to a narrow pelvis with one and poor mothering skills for the second. Each of our breeder hogs possess qualities and genetics that we need and require for our breeding program, so anytime we lose one, it hurts. Farming is hard y’all. I work very hard to keep this farm running. I work every day. There are no days off, no holidays. I don’t get time and half for overtime. Each day is planned around farm duties.

So when someone wants to haggle on prices with me about our meat or products, it hurts. I have had someone tell me our “grass-fed beef should be cheaper than the grocery store beef because grass is free.”  Really?? I have organic fertilizer shipped from way up north. It is a hassle to broadcast on the fields. It is roughly 5 times the cost of conventional fertilizer. We have to purchase our grass seeds, making sure that all are non-GMO. The land the grass grows on was not free, nor is that land tax free. Grass is not free.

We travel 3.5 hours one way to the butcher, by the time we deliver and/or pickup animals/meat it is easily a 10 hour day. 10 hours off the farm is a LONG time. Each feeding/welfare check takes around 1-2 hours. So those days are full of miles and feeding in the dark-twice.

Day-to-day work has it’s challenges as well. Hauling hot water to animals twice a day in freezing temps, rain and snow is no picnic either. Summertime brings sweltering heat that forces us to routinely check on spring water levels. Making sure the hogs have a wallow to cool in is a must. Spring and fall bring rain, lots of rain- flooding, muddy barn lots (for me to slip in). Each season has it’s challenges. Our products are made with natural, free-trade components or harvested from our animals (tallow & lard) or our bees (beeswax).

Nothing about the way we farm is as easy as conventional farming. Any deviation from the “conventional farm plan” requires more planning, more work, more time, and especially more MONEY.

So why do I do it? I ask this myself from time to time.

I refuse to purchase food that comes from animals who have been medicated, caged, mistreated or living in squalor. I am providing MY family with real food. And in doing so, I am giving each of our customers the ability to purchase the same quality of food for their families. Step back in time 100 years, that is how I’m farming. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. My animals are happy & healthy and I am thankful each day to be blessed with this adventure.

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