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“The New Website”

If you’re reading this, Hello!  Welcome to the fancy new website!  Are you enjoying the shiny new blog feature?  I hope so.  I’m still trying to figure out what a blog is, so bear with me…

This is my formal acknowledgement of the changes.  I did it!  I finally did it.  I surrendered to the almighty website building technology!  

I must admit, the last time I tried to use a website builder was probably around 2008.  The technology at the time was so basic that I chose to do all my own coding on my website.  My precious little website that I’ve spent countless hours fiddling with over the last 13 years!  It’s never been much, but I’ve always taken pride in coding it myself from start to finish in basic HTML5 with a basic sprinkle of CSS.  

However, creating a ‘shopping cart’ was beyond me 🙁   I tried a few times and never succeeded.  Using Paypal’s imported cart features are archaic and cumbersome (or at least they were last time I tried).  Before switching to this fancy WordPress site builder, I relied on a .PDF catalogue where people could email me a list of what they wanted, then I sent them an invoice to pay, they paid me, then I shipped the item, and we did business that way.  But a lot of folks can’t be bothered to go through all that work.  We’ve struggled to fluidly conduct direct sales from our website.

So it was time.  At first I hated this new site builder- I still feel like it’s lacking in color and images; my ability to edit most site features is very limited.  This is when folks say “Then upgrade to Premium“, and I say “NEVER!“.  At the time of writing this, I’ve been tinkering with the new website for 4 days.  I’ve figured out enough of the customization to feel content with the changes.

Hopefully everyone else likes the new vibe of the site, too.  Maybe I’ll start slipping in more photos here and there of this and that to brighten it up.  I chose a black background because white screens are hard on my eyes, and also, we are off-grid and run on solar/battery power.  A black screen uses less energy than a white screen 😀

If you’re new here, and you sort of like what you see, keep checking back.  Hopefully I’ll remain active and keep tweaking features, adding blog posts, and most importantly, continuing to migrate my inventory into the shop.  We’re also on satellite internet and currently we’re over our data limit, so listing new items takes 5 to 10 minutes, at best, per item…  It’s rather tedious.  There’s no guarantee that a new data cycle will speed things up any.  After all, my internet has to go into orbit before coming back down to Earth, I cut it some slack for being a little bit slow.

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“How Herbal Healing Became and Interest”

People: “How did you get into herbal medicine?

Me: “I cut my achilles tendon open.

Yeah, it was horrible.  I hate that it happened.  But it did.  I should say, actually, “someone’s bicycle cut my achilles tendon open.“…

So I had this cut into the back of my foot, parallel with the bottom of my foot, making a 1″ flap of my heel, cut straight through, that could open up like a mouth.  I was at a Renaissance  Fair at the time, would you believe! I had to drive 45 minutes home (on manual transmission no less) with dog and goats in the car.  Thankfully when I got home I had a few sets of helping hands to put the goats up and help me inside for some medical attention.  I was bordering on shock by the time I got indoors and sat down.  I made it, phew!

At the time I’d never really used herbs with any competence for healing.  I was skeptical because I was ignorant.  A willing pair of hands helped me keep the wound clean, flushed, and bandaged.  She had to flush it every day to work the bicycle gear grease out of the wound.  I refused to look at it, knowing how much worse it was going to hurt if I did.

After a week of sleeping with my foot elevated, hopping around the barnyard with crutches and bucket handles clenched between my teeth, and keeping bandages changed, it was still as raw and bloody as the day it happened.  Thankfully no sign of infection or complication had set in.

A friend of mine, who is a seasoned herbalist, looked at me one day and said “This is totally ridiculous.  Sit down.

She brought me a tub of hot water steeped heavily with comfrey leaf and well salted with epsom salt.  I had to put my foot in the hot concoction and grit my teeth for 2 hours.  I asked more than once if I could be done soaking my foot.  “No.” was her answer.  By the end of the soak my toes were curled tightly and my foot was tightly clenched.  Everything felt… stuck in that position, like I couldn’t move anything in my foot.  But it didn’t really hurt.  I didn’t fight the sensation, I just bandaged up and went home.

The next day the wound was sealed shut, no more bleeding.  2 days later I was walking on it with confidence.  I was dumbstruck- after a full week my body had made 0% progress on healing.  And in a single night of comfrey soaking the wound had healed almost fully.

Thus my interest in learning more about the medicinal properties of herbs was born in earnest.  And a good thing, too!  Because a few months later I put a nail through that same foot and treated it confidently, comfortably, and successfully on my own with herbs.  But that’s another story…

Someone: “Why didn’t you go to a hospital?

Me: “What would they have done?  I didn’t sever the tendon, nothing can be stapled, it’s clean and not infected.  And I don’t want stitches.  There’s nothing else a doctor can do for this wound other than charge me money looking at it.

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“What Are You Even Doing?” 

Wow! You guys are really doing it! You’re living the way people lived back in the pioneer days!
I’ve heard that, and similar sentiments, several times over the last few years. I never know how to react.

What I want to say is “No, actually, we’re really not. We have comfy vehicles and snowmobiles with heated hand grips, we have a tele-handler, chainsaws, electricity and the internet. It’s nothing like ‘the pioneer days’”. But that would be rude.

I guess to most people, growing a bunch of food, raising animals for meat and butchering them yourself, foraging for income, and getting snowed in during the winter is rustic enough for them to simply consider it the same thing.

While the ultimate goal may actually be something like ‘the pioneer days’, it’ll be many years yet before we don’t need ‘modern conveniences’. Would we be okay if the world as we know it ended tomorrow? Yeah, probably. It’d be rough, but we’d be okay. But the goal is to be more than okay; to have an abundance not just for today, but for future years, and enough to share abundantly with others in need. Both materialistically and in the realm of knowledge.

I’m guessing you have some kind of religious affliation if you’re trying to live without technology…

Well, no. Religion has absolutely nothing to do with it, and we’re not exactly trying to live without technological advancement. Perhaps the ultimate goal, aside from creating abundant provision to share, is to formally exit the cycle of consumerism. And honestly that’s not possible unless you have a dedicated die-hard community of like-minded and skilled individuals (do feel free to inquire if that applies to you!). To truly shun consumer- ism (without the convenience of dumpster diving, which is a luxury we lack on the mountain, alas), we’d need to produce everything ourselves. But that’s the irony of “self sufficiency”. One person can’t do it all. It’s impossible to provide everything you need to live (at least in our ecosystem) from the natural world around you without help.

Who will be growing vegetables, roots, and spices all season long?
Who will be preserving each year’s harvest so there is enough food available over winter for the community?
Who will be gathering the firewood?
Who will be foraging for hundreds of pounds of wild fruit and vegetables each year?
Who will be hunting and butchering?
Who will maintain hunting equipment and create needed ammunition?
Who will tan the hides and make shoes and equipment?
Who will build and run a forge for making and mending tools and fasteners?
Who will mine and refine the ore for the forge?
Who will grow and harvest all of the feed needed for the animals over winter?
Who will be milking, and turning hundreds of gallons of milk into cheese each year?
Who will set bones, mend wounds, heal lungs, and pull teeth when needed?
Who will harvest fiber and spin yarn and make and mend garments for everyone?
Who will be building and repairing infrastructure, and gathering the materials to build with?

Without a coordinated and dedicated group effort, true self suffciency is not possible. It’s enough for one person to handle procuring their own food for a year, stockpiling fuel for the winter, and maintaining their home. at right there will eat up most of your days in a year.  There are alternatives and crutches though; we buy used when at all possible, salvage and forage for food and materials when available, we opt to support small producers, crafters, and locally and independently owned businesses, and we refuse to buy direct from some of the biggest corporate giants (amazon, for example).

But other quandaries remain. Here’s one most of us can appreciate these days; if we want to live rustic and refuse consumerism, what will we do in lieu of toilet paper? For those who don’t mind a little “TMI”, we officially switched to bidets this year and haven’t looked back. But an electric pump powers that water pressure, which is delivered through manufactured hoses. Batteries and solar panels power that pump. Copper piping and plastic drums hold our water. Hardly rustic, if you ask me!

I think the best any of us can hope for, without a radical shift in our lifestyles, is to minimize our consumption, buy only what we need (and salvage what we can), buy it mindfully, and limit our modern luxuries.

You’re like a hipster… except you’re not a hipster?
I laughed when I heard that one. But really- why even do any of this in the first place? It all sounds ‘cool’, but pursuing a life relatively void of modern comforts comes down to a matter of good old fashioned passion. We’ve seen it a few times now; someone starry-eyed about living o -grid and working for their food and fuel comes to live with us and within 3 or 4 months they realize it’s not for them. I’d venture to suggest that the hurtle they stumble on is the mental work involved, not actually the physical work. Critical thinking is a make-or-break skill, and the ability and willingness to learn is paramount. Without them, it doesn’t matter how strong you are or how good your gear is, you will fail. And if you don’t love ‘roughing it’ and having to work for yourself and your own quality of life, you’re going to hate it.

Since I could articulate my first thoughts about what I wanted from life, my goals haven’t changed much. A school counselor once sat me down when I was 11 (long story) and asked “Jen, if you could have any three wishes, what would they be?” to which I replied rather quickly “Lots of animals. Enough land to support the animals. Enough money to support all of that.”. My vision has better articulated itself over the years and become vastly more elaborate, but the principles remain the same; be as close to nature as possible, submerge myself in it, and cast aside the idea of career and wealth.

You can’t take it with you when you die, so why spend life accumulating material comforts? Care for yourself, yes. Be comfortable, yes. But it doesn’t need to be the paramount focus of life. Making an impact (hopefully a positive one!) on the world and lives around you is the only thing that will out-live your mortal body. And that’s worth living for!

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“Raising the Barn, Part 1: Logging, Footings, & Posts”

It’s time I wrote out our adventure in building our barn!  I will make a video about it at some point, but for now, it shall be a series of blog posts.

We spent spring 2019 logging dead and dying trees out of our draws to use for constructing our barn.  The telehandler is a fantastic friend for logging.  We can telescope the boom out to its furthest reach and run multiple lengths of stout chain to several dropped trees at a time.  Then we can retract the boom fully, pulling them 20 feet up the draw towards the road.  I am usually on chain duty.  Running the telehandler can be dangerous, requiring cat-like reflexes and competent machine handling if things go wrong (like several tons of raw wood catch on a stump and suddenly pull the telehandler up on 2 wheels).   I’ll keep my feet on the ground, thanks.

With the boom fully retracted, after pulling the logs the first 20 feet uphill, I remove all the the chains from the boom, wrap ’em up, and get out of the way.  The boom is extended back out to it’s fullest reach.  I reattach the chains (with  20 feet of slack at this point), and we pull the logs up the hill another 20 feet.  Rinse and repeat.  Chains are shortened and/or trees are wrapped together with just one chain instead of multiple as they progress up the hill and fall into line with one another.  Once the trees are up on the roadside it’s a simple matter of dragging them with the telehandler in reverse to wherever we need them.  It’s nerve racking and dangerous, but satisfying work.  

My least favorite is when chains break.  Not only is does it cause dangerous rebound on the machine, which could cause it to tip over, but I just envision that snapped chunk of metal flying at my face.  I usually hide behind a stout tree and watch the progress carefully until I have to run chains again.  We rarely break them because we pre-plot the way we intend to pull the logs out.  But it’s happened a few times; a stump hiding in the slash or a log rolls suddenly on the slope and catches on a standing tree.

We logged several acres of all but the healthiest trees and piled our logs near the future barn.  Andy sorted them by length and girth, and by what he intended to use them for.  I was usually running to and fro with a small chainsaw working chain duty and nipping off branches  we may have missed while delimbing in on the hillside.

In July we began the first steps toward building our barn.  At some point I’ll find my original blueprints and add them to this post.  The initial work was simple ground breaking.  Andy measured out footing placements for all of the posts, we dug holes 3 feet wide and 4 feet deep for each footing, then Andy placed the rebar pins several feet long that each post would sit down on.  I dug one hole, precisely 4 feet deep, walls perfectly smooth, exactly 3 feet in diameter- a near perfect circle.  Proud, I heaved myself out of the hole to announce completion of my perfect footing hole.  “Nice hole!” says Andy, “I got the others done already.“.  
I peered into the other 8 footing holes he had just busted out; lumpy, sloppy, and definitely not perfect 3′ circles.  Some were just 3 feet deep.  “If you clarified that it didn’t actually matter that they were exactly 4′ deep and exactly 3′ wide, I would’ve been a little quicker about it.

We stuffed the bottom of the holes with hard, stout rocks, then added concrete pouring forms centered around the rebar pin.  We poured concrete over the rocks and filled the forms.

This was relatively easy work.  However, twice the curing concrete forms got bumped with a giant machine tire, which ruined the setting of the concrete.  So from the beginning of July through mid August, no more progress was made in lieu of re-pouring concrete and hoping we could go 2 weeks without running over the forms with machinery.

Once the forms were finally cured, however, we were able to begin placing the posts!    The last step just before placing posts  was adding a moisture barrier between the cement and the wooden post.  To do this, Andy cut swatches of rubber out of a blown tire.  Later on, once the barn was all framed in and I had dug out the underground portion of the barn and thus exposed the footings, Andy fortified the cement footings with additional masonry work.

Each post-tree was selected for its size and length.  We drilled a large hole in the bottom of each log where the post would sit down on the rebar pin on each footing.  This was arguably some of the most dangerous and nerve-racking work.  

To place each post, the log was chained up near the top of the post.  The telehandler lifted the log until it dangled totally upright in the air.  I had to jump in and steady it to keep it from swinging.  Our biggest posts were roughly 18 inches thick and nearly 30 feet tall.  And they were fresh, green wood.  These suckers were HEAVY.

Inch by inch the boom guided the post over the rebard pin.  I had the unpleasant job of kneeling down on the ground, face-level with the rebar pin, right underneath these behemoth trees, guiding the hole in the post directly over the rebar pin.  It was insanely tense.  Once the pin and hole were lined up, some fancy hand signals and inaudible yelling told Andy to lower the post onto the pin with me still guiding the massive log successfully down onto the pin.  Every fiber of my being was ready to bolt away at the slightest hint of trouble if the chain were to come loose from the log.

As each post was placed, it was braced with lumber to keep it plumb.  As more posts were added, each post was temporarily braced to the other posts to secure them all together as well.  For each post I had to flex my excellent plumb-eyeball from afar whilst Andy used boards to lever the upright-logs to and fro, still supported by the boom, until they were plumb.  Once in line, I gave the word, he secured them on the spot.  This had to be done from several angles, of course.  Once the post was braced and plumb on the pin, we had to drop the boom enough for me to climb up onto it (which required ladders and such since the boom was chained to the top of the post and couldn’t be dropped all the way).  Then I got lifted up to the top of the beam to unhook the chain.  

Our first post was tense, but successful.  I had to detach the chain from it.  After so much paranoia and preparedness for it to fall on me, I balanced on a fork, way up in the air, and reached out to unchain the post.  I simply touched the chain and it fell off.

AAHHHH!  Andy and I looked at each other and said.  “Woah.”  Which embodied so many mutual thoughts and feelings.  If that had happened at any point  while we were trying to place the log…  Woah.

From then on we used doubled-up twine to actually tie the chain hooks secure.  This guaranteed the hook could not slip off.  When using the boom to reach the chain and untie it, I went armed with a knife so I could simply cut the twine off and unhook the hook.

After the first set of posts were up,  Andy placed the beam (horizontal) that joins the three posts (vertical) at the height that the floor of the future hay loft would be.  This was needed now because after the other 6 posts were up, we wouldn’t be able to use the telehandler to place this beam.  Placing it also helped fortify the posts and keep them plumb (at least in 1 direction).  Permanent braces were added between the posts and beam.  Braces (triangles) help to distribute weight and load on the structure and keep it from shifting.  

We had 9 posts  to do in total.  The first 3 weren’t too bad considering they were downhill on the shortest wall of the barn, so they weren’t terribly tall. The second 3 were taller and stouter, reaching up to the floor of the top story.  The last 3 were our 28-30 foot behemoths that would constitute one solid post from the ground all the way up to the peak of the roof.  The last 3 were monsters.  Nerve-gritting monsters.  Having to crouch beneath the suspended 30 foot posts and guide them onto the pins, well, it raised my blood pressure at least.  Each of them went on clean and easy though.  Until it came time to unchain them.  

Like most sane and rational human beings, I have a thing with heights.  Being 10 feet up on the boom was fine.  Being 15 feet up with the boom was fine.  Being 25 feet up with the boom was NOT FINE.  I tried my darndest to steel myself for the job, but I swear once I passed that 20 foot mark my brain said “Nope.  Now you get your butt back on the ground or we’re passing out.”  For 2 of the last 3 posts I resigned to work the machine and raise Andy up to do the cutting.  The first huge post was unique because it’s next to our grain shed, so I just climbed up the grain shed to get on the boom and then only scaled a small distance further upward.  It wasn’t the same as balancing on a giant steel fork 25 feet off the unforgiving ground.

We did it though!  Posts up! 

As the posts went up, beams and braces also began to appear.  The work was incremental and Andy went to great lengths to ensure everything was plumb, square, or otherwise right where it needed to be.

 

PS – I have tried everything to get the images to fall into line properly to no avail on my viewing end, but the flow shouldn’t be too bad.

 

 

 

 

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“A Post About Today: February 23rd, 2021”

The upper greenhouse just before the big melt and shed. Here Andy is movings some snow around below it whilst I standby listening for any indication that the snow may break loose and come down.

With daytime high’s in the upper 30’s and 40’s, brisk winds, and bright sunshine, it’s hard to deny spring is here.  Yesterday the upper greenhouse was 51º!   Our 20 inches of fluffy white powder has melted into a semi-crusty “snowball-quality” snow.  I marvel that our language only has a few different words to describe snow, when it can take on so many different consistencies.  

In anticipation of the warming weather, and the potential for more snow on the horizon, it was high time to work on removing snow from roof tops.  While this is a constant job during the snowy season.  For the last 10 days or so, we’ve been accumulating 4 to 6 inches of snow almost every day- so all that hard work removing snow disappears overnight!

 

 

The upper greenhouse after it shed a massive layer of snow, throwing it all the way down to the road and nearly taking out some solar panels with it!

Removing snow from the massive upper greenhouse is the most dangerous affair.  The goal really isn’t to bring the snow down, because that would probably kill you, but to move the snow below it around to make more room for more snow.  Thankfully with heavy snow loads, once several tons of snow starts moving downhill it gains substantial speed, which launches the snow through the air and away from the building.  Unfortunately, one set of solar panels is just downhill from it!  We’ll have to move these panels this summer now that we know just how far that snow will fly!

But snow is old news, right?  When you’re hibernating, hovering on the cusp of spring though, there’s little else to talk about.  When will the road open?  How much more will it snow? What will the weather be like tomorrow?  These things consume a lot of conversation time.

 

The barnyard has been quiet, aside from a rash of dove murdering at the beak and talons of a crafty hawk.  That’s pigeon gore all over its face.  For awhile I couldn’t figure out how it was getting into my aviaries.  Thankfully it’s decided it’s tired of being picked up and moved by humans and has resigned to eating chickens in the open barnyard…  Hawks gotta eat, too!  What can you do?
We are also  now 2 weeks or so away from baby goats, which is always exciting! Ruma looks like she’s got triplets or quads in her, but last time this happened to one of my does, she just had two massive kids, so I don’t have my hopes up.  We’re mostly looking forward to the fresh milk for fresh cheese again!  
Impending goaters aside, the sows are pregnant but we’re still at least 1 month away from more piglets. Dotty’s piglets from October are proving to be true to their papa’s Julianna genetics, weighing in at only 30-40lbs each.  Her last litter from our Kune Kune boar weighed in at nearly 100lbs by this age!  Juliannas really are a fascinating little pig.  The barrows will make excellent spit-roasting sized butcher hogs.  And of course I am intensely curious about those tiny little pig skulls…  Considering she had 10 boys- 10 boys!– we’ll have plenty of barrows to butcher in the spring.  We’ll keep her daughter and play with these tiny-pig genetics a little bit.

 

Otherwise, as you may have noticed, I’ve closed shop for a bit.  Having to hike a mile out to the car 3 times a week through powder up to my knees was getting old.  I don’t like dreading shipping days.  So until we get a little more spring melt (or until the next stimulus check comes out- because sales always spike when things like that happen) I’ll be enjoying a spot of true hibernation; no where to go, nothing pressing to do, no need to even know what day of the week is!  Ahhh.

 

 – Jen

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“Elk X-ing: a short animated comic”

I made this little comic because this particular story is a funny, expressive tale I enjoy telling, but it just doesn’t quite fit into text.  Text alone can’t capture the emotions of the event.  To some the humor in this story may seem a bit morbid, but it all depends on your perspective.  We take it lightheartedly- thus is life living in an area loaded with wildlife.  And no, we didn’t go back to look, but we considered it!

The comic is about 70 seconds long and 10 megabytes in size.   It contains no graphic or explicit content.

I don’t make little animations like these to create masterpieces.  I put just enough time in to convey the story effectively.  Please pardon any funny little quirks in the graphics 🙂  I only spent a few hours on it.  

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“Home-Made Liquid Detergent Soap”

I thought I would share a recipe I’ve been using for some time now to make our home-made 4-ingredient grease-cutting dish and laundry soap.  Really, it’s our everything soap.  But some folks prefer to have a different soap for each application.  So for those folks, consider this a dish and/or laundry soap.

I initially made the recipe out of desperation.  We had just butchered Bill, the 1,000 pound boar, and we rendered hundreds of pounds of fat into lard.  If you’ve ever processed large quantities of lard in many small-ish pots and pans, you’ll understand the gravity of the dish mess we were left with.  

It was summer and our solar hot water system had imploded the previous fall (oops, better install a breather pipe next time).  This meant our only hot water came from the wood burning stove.  And in the middle of summer we’re not using the wood burning stove.  Thus, in lieu of boiling water on a propane stove, we had no hot water.  

Now imagine trying to wash pots and pans caked in lard with “eco friendly” dish soap (meaning no harsh detergents, meaning it doesn’t cut grease well) in ice cold spring water.  Not happening, right?  We eventually evicted a heap of dishes to the front porch, hoping dog and cat tongues would remove most of the grease.  They helped, but not enough.

THE INGREDIENTS
After Andy joked about throwing all the grease-bomb dishes away, I got serious about making soap.  I scoured the internet and compared recipes, used a fancy soap calculator and with the help of some liquid detergent recipes, I came up with this one:

7.5 pounds oil
1.1 pounds lye
8 cups of borax (detergent)
3.5 gallons of water

4 simple ingredients.  Some folks are against lye.  Yes, it’s caustic.  But when derived from ash it is a natural chemical that can be made at home.  So that’s saying something for the self-sufficient mind set.  Do we make our own? No.  Someday we will, but for now we buy sodium hydroxide crystals.   Borax is also a relatively straight-forward powder.  As far as I can tell, it’s a naturally occurring resource that is mined and sold.  I have no  doubt that industrial production of these two items is absolutely terrible.  Are they any less terrible than the coconut industry, or the mass industrial mining of clays used in many ‘alternative’ soaps?  Probably not.  And so I resign to being satisfied with these ingredients here.

So we have our 4 ingredients.  Now I’m going to explain what I did the FIRST time I made this soap.  I’ve made it many times since and it never turns out “totally the same” twice.  I also never follow recipes with any level of precision (how else would awesome accidents happen?!), so best to stick with my original notes.  

For the record, the soap ratios are:
10 parts oil by weight
1.5 parts lye by weight
30 parts water by weight
14.5 parts borax by weight
Borax allegedly weighs 1 ounce per cubic inch, and 1 US cup has 14.45 cubic inches in it, so says the internet since I’ve never weighed borax but wanted to know how much it weighed.  Also, these numbers are rounded no more than .5 to make easier parts for ratios.  Now you can also see why I never make a recipe exactly the same twice.  I also did this because I wanted to know what percentage the lye was of the recipe.  And the answer is 2.68%.

MAKING THE SOAP
Virtually all of this happens in a 5 gallon bucket.  The entire recipe fills 1 bucket to 1 inch below the brim.  A 5 gallon bucket of this soap lasts us about 6 months.  We could definitely water it down and stretch it further, but we’re not hurting for lard, so we don’t get ultra conservative with it.

First things first, the oil (we use lard) must be melted over low or medium heat, and brought to around 120-130ºF.  It’s easy to get it too hot and it takes forever to cool it off, so best to watch the temp closely.  When the oil is at its prime heat (5-10º over is okay), add 1/2 gallon of warm (100º~) water to the bucket.  Then sprinkle in the lye.  So little lye in so much water won’t cause a fantastic chemical eruption, but it’s still best to sprinkle it in nice and easy.  Stir continuously to dissolve the lye.  Let the lye mixture sit for 5 minutes or so and watch its temperature.  Your lye solution will increase in temperature.  How much depends on how hot your water was and what the environmental temperatures is (you should probably be doing this outside so you’re not huffing lye fumes).  When the lye solution comes DOWN to 120-130ºF (it may very likely go over that for a few minutes), assuming your oil is still 120-130º, you may now add the 2 together.  I try to get their temperatures as precise as possible.  Why?  I don’t know how much it matters, so I figure better to be thorough than have a ruined batch of soap (which has happened twice, I’ll mention that later).

Pour the oil into the lye solution and mix thoroughly.  Continue to mix thoroughly for 30-60 minutes.  We’ve found that the longer we stir, the quicker and more reliably the soap sets up.  It should be ready to use within 24 hours and set up within 3 days if done right.  When we try and cheat with a 5-10 minute stir, it can take 7-10 days for the soap to set up.

Once adequately incorporated and the lye solution has been thoroughly mixed with the fat, you can add your 8 cups of borax and top the bucket off with roughly 3.5 gallons of water.  If you want fragrance, add essential oils now.  I like to add about 20 drops of lavender and 20 drops of eucalyptus essential oils, for some reason it comes out smelling oh-so-subtley like juniper.  It’s not a smell that sticks to anything, it just sort of smells ambiently nice when working with it.  The soap will not expand or increase in size as it sets up.  Constant, thorough mixing is needed over the next several days.  We keep a paint mixer attached to a cordless drill in the soap and give it a buzz every time we walk by or think about it.  The soap should be stirred throughout the day.  The most time and attention you give it, the better it’s going to turn out, simply put. If it is not adequately stirred in this time period, your borax may not incorporate properly.  And as we learned, that means gritty soap.    It still functions the same, but with crystalized borax chunks in it it feels kinda gross, like someone dumped sand in it.  That only happened once and we learned our lesson.

THE SETTING OF THE SOAP
I recall reading one recipe that said “Just when you thought it would never set up, it’ll start to set up“.  We’ve found that to be consistently true.  At first it will want to separate.  Each time you stir you’ll be mixing a creamy top into a liquidy bottom.  When stirred, it’ll look a bit like whole milk. It’s technically usable at this stage, but to the sensitive skin the lye may still be too harsh (it needs time to mellow).  If your hands don’t mind the heat, it will cut grease no problem in its liquid stage, thanks to all that borax.  
At some point that “whole milk” transitions into a “thick kefir” consistency.  That’s my favorite.  Given a few more days of stirring, the entire bucket will set up into a thick “Greek yoghurt” consistency.  It’s a very satisfying consistency, if I do say so myself. You can scoop it out with a measuring cup or grab a handful out with your fist.  

DISHES
When using this soap on dishes, it’s not like using a commercial liquid/gel dish soap.    It will not lather or froth if you used pure lard.  I like to take a dollop of the soap and work it into the grease.  No need to pre-rinse.  I work the soap into the dry grease with my fingers or with a brush or cloth, then I rinse it away.  I always test a new batch of soap on the worst dishes and I test them in ice cold water to make sure my soap came out right.  It’s very satisfying to watch the soap and grease slide away, leaving sparkling clean dishes behind.  In hot water you’ll probably need less of the soap, but if you don’t have hot water, that’s okay too!

This isn’t really a soap you can treat like you would commercial dish soap.  Making a big soapy container of water and soaking your dishes in them won’t produce the same pre-degreasing result.  But I’ve also found that you don’t really need to soak your dishes with this soap.  It’s hot and powerful.  Granted, if you burnt rice onto the bottom of the stainless steel pot, yes, you still need to soak that for a good long while.  But ‘normal’ dirty dishes won’t require extra soaking.

The soap leaves no smell or residue on the dishes if washed off completely.  It willhowever, leave white crusty stuff on a surface if you allow the soap to dry out there.  It’s not impossible to get out, but it’s annoying and stubborn.  Best to avoid leaving droplets of soap on the counter.  

We have found, interestingly, that this soap prolongs the life of any dish cleaning utensil we use.  Be it a sponge (ew, microplastic), a washrag, or a bristled brush, they seem to never get grimy, stinky, or gross.  We’ve since stopped using sponges, but back when we did, the sponge would stay fresh and clean until it literally disintegrated (which inspired us to stop using them, since they were disintegrating into our grey water instead of getting thrown away when they got gross).  A single sponge would last months with no dedicated cleaning of said sponge.  Washrags last abnormally long as well before needing washed.  The soap leaves nothing behind to fester and funk-up your cleaning implements.  Our bristled dish brush looks virtually brand new after years of cleaning with it.  This soap cleans.

LAUNDRY
In terms of laundry use, we add a generous 1/4 cup of soap to a miniature washing machine load of laundry.  Our machine at the time held 6 to 10 pounds of clothing.  1/4 cup was more than enough for the dirtiest of farm clothing.  We just drop the soap right in on the clothes and turn the thing on, no need to use special compartments for soap dispensing.  
Nowadays we’re hand washing all laundry.  I’ll add that same 1/4 cup to a 5 gallon bucket of clothes-and-water.  If we need to wash a huge blanket or something in a large tote, I’ll add about 1/2 cup to the water.  If there are acute stains or soilings on the fabric, I rub a dollop of soap directly into the stain, work it really good, and rinse it really well.  Works like a charm on the grossest of laundry items and leaves no smell behind.  

I recently used our latest batch of soap on a nearly-hopeless hot pad.  I had spilled grease on the cook-top stove and had to quickly mop it all up with the hot pad.  The hot pad, normally tan and red with an apple on it, turned black, impregnated with scorched grease and stove-top grime. It was stiff and felt super gross.  I worked and agitated my soap into the hot pad, rinsed in warm water, and repeated 3 or 4 times.  The hot pad came out looking, well frankly, cleaner than it has in the last 5 years.  Its contrast, details, and vibrant colors popped out once more.  Yay!  

HOW ECO-FRIENDLY IS IT?
We use our grey water to water our greenhouse plants.  This means that about a gallon per month of this soap is going into our grow beds.  We haven’t had a single plant complain about what it’s getting, and the worms don’t seem to mind either.  That’s the best answer I’ve got, sorry!   Also, if you let them, the pigs will try and eat this soap.  Not sure how that ranks in ‘eco-friendliness’, but it was comical to have discovered.

MAINTAINING AND HYDRATING THE SOAP
If the soap is left exposed without a lid it will slowly dry out and thicken.  It’s perfectly acceptable to add more water and dilute/thin the soap as needed.  I’m sure if the recipe produces a soap more powerful than you really need, you could dilute it considerably and double your soap supply.  Otherwise it doesn’t spoil or go bad, at least up to about 6 months, because that’s the longest we’ve ever had soap sit around.  But at the 6 month mark it’s about as good as the day we made it.

GOOD OIL VS. BAD OIL
We have used food-quality lard as well as rancid, nauseatingly disgusting lard for this soap.  They all come out the same.  The chemical reaction with the lye neutralizes any aroma the oil has.  Which is a little bit of a bummer; once we used pure bacon grease, hoping we’d have bacon-scented lard.  It too was neutralized into a simple “clean” smell.   As far as I can tell, there’s no need to refrain from using spoiled oil for this soap.

What else can I say?  We love this stuff!  Oh yeah, I was going to describe our 2 failed batches.

SOAP FAILURES
My first failed 5 gallon bucket of soap was my ultra-lazy attempt to make it.  I was lazy because it was cold outside and I didn’t want to stand out there and stir it.  I paid no attention to the temperature of the oil and I added lye in with cold water (meaning it didn’t get as hot as it normally does).  I basically added oil of unknown hot temperature to slightly cold lye solution.  I stirred it for all of 5 minutes before dumping everything else in (including more cold water).  I was being stupid.  It quickly became apparent that the chemical reaction between the lye and oil had failed.  A slightly-altered oil-like mass rose to the top of the liquid and separated from it.  It refused to reincorporate into the liquid.  It was essentially still fat, just slightly modified in some way unknown to me.  I kept this failed attempt around for far too long, always intending to see if I could re-melt the fat and salvage that 7.5 pounds of oil for a new batch of soap.  Did I get to it?  No.  Did it mysteriously disappear?  Yes, Andy wanted to us the bucket for something else.  
So that was failure #1.  I learned to mind my temps, use warm water, and don’t try to rush it.

Failure #2 was part of a 2-bucket batch of soap.  Both buckets were done exactly the same.  One came out fine.  The other did not.  The oil we used for the bad bucket was smoked.  It was bacon grease collected inside the smoker and had a strong yellow hue to it.  The batch turned into… like… 85% soap, but still acted slightly like lard.  It kinda degreases the dishes, but it also kinda leaves oil on everything it touches.  It’s very strange.  It’s like the fat didn’t fully change.  It set up just the same and has the same consistency as our soap normally does, albeit a yellowish hue.  I’m assuming the chemicals from the smoke somehow impeded the lye’s chemical reaction with the oil.  That’s my best guess.  We won’t be trying it again with pure smoked lard.  Maybe we can cut the smoked lard with regular lard in the future and still get good results.

So there you have it!  Go make some grease-eating cold-water-loving apparently-garden-friendly soap!  The photos below are from the first ever batch of soap I made, putting it to the test on our evicted lard dishes.  
If we ever see the day when we have excess soap, we intend to sell it and share it with the world.  But until that day, you’ll have to make your own.  Good luck!

 

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“Broken Chicken Feet”

If you live on a farm with chickens and any other livestock over 200lbs, chances are sooner or later you’ll see a limping chicken with a munched foot.  Pigs, mules, horses, and even very large goats can easily crush a chicken’s foot with one step.  Most of the time they are oblivious to the chicken’s thrashing screams and might not lift their foot right away.  When the large livestock is being grained, and thus the chickens want to be right in the trough with it eating, the chances of chicken-foot-pudding being created are even higher.

So what do you do when your chicken’s foot has been pancaked into oblivion by a giant hoof?

So far I’ve only lost 1 bird to this injury.  I’ve had it happen a few times, and I’ve heard it happen to  a few folks I know as well.  The first time our 500lb boar munched a chicken foot was one of my black copper marans hens.  The first day I saw her, it looked like she was dust bathing on the ground.  She was hunkered down in a little chicken dust-bath-bowl with one leg sticking out funny like she was sun bathing.  She let me walk right up to her.  I thought “Wow!  You tamed up nicely over night!”  I patted her on the head and continued on my way.  But the next day she was still there. Okay something was definitely wrong now.

I shooed her out of her dirt-bowl it was obvious she wasn’t using one of her feet.  She wouldn’t open the foot or set it on the ground, so her hobble was desperately slow.   I scooped her back up and inspected her foot.  The ankle joint where the toes meet the leg was mush.  Just total mush.  Poor girl!

I isolated her in a special, specious run I normally put broody hens in.  It’s quiet, secluded, and has feed and water and fluffy soft bedding.  I know chickens heal fast.  All birds do.  This kind of break was not something that could be splinted, either.  So I gave her a no-stress environment with food and water within reach and let her rest for a few days.  She began to limp gently on the ankle and move about in her pen after several days of R&R.

But then I noticed her ankle was exaggeratedly swollen.  I would think the swelling would go down, not up, as she got better…  So I picked her up again and inspected her ankle.  It was blown up with pus.  Dang!  We all know what that means…  Time to get a razor blade…

I drained her ankle abscess with a single 1/4″ incision and milked the pus out.  A little touch of usnea tea plunged through the pocket helps to keep infection at bay.  Chickens are particularly resistant to infection though.  They have to be!  They’ve been raised for hundreds of generations in poop-infested barnyards.  The smallest cut or puncture on a chicken is bound to get poop in it in the average barnyard.  They’re out scratching through feces for seeds, crapping on their own feet, and mucking about in filthy mud.  

Anyway, this hen was right as rain within 2 weeks, and she promptly when broody.  Woohoo!  She’s still with me to this day, I can tell her because one of her ankles is more bulbous than the other from the healed break, but her mobility is totally normal.

Another time I had a buff orpington get her femur snapped.  Her foot probably got stepped on and she probably thrashed around so hard she broke her own leg.  Femur breaks on chickens aren’t common.  The Mangalitsa sows were around 600lbs at the time and they loved ‘bowling for chickens’.  The chickens choose to hang out with the rowdy pigs, there’s not much we can do to avoid the occasional injury unless we wanna lock the whole flock up, which is a huge drop in their quality life and prevents them from feeding themselves as they rummage around the barn.

To check for a break, you have to very gently test for unnatural flexing of the bone.  Hold the joint stiff and very, very gently move/wiggle the bone.  Nothing should move if you’ve incapacitated the joint.  If the limb flexes or shifts anywhere but at the joint, the bone is broken clean through.  I have to stress that precious little pressure or movement is required to diagnose this, don’t go wrenching a broken leg to a 30º angle before deciding it’s broken!

I knew this orpington wasn’t going to be walking any time soon, so I stuck her in a small space with a broody hen.  Feed and water were close at hand.  She got up once every day or two to stretch but otherwise stayed put.  I didn’t splint her.  Frankly she was destined for butcher.   Every time I get orpingtons I am reminded that I don’t like orpingtons.  They eat huge sums of food, lay tiny eggs, and have always been among my worst layers  and broodies.
 By the end of her healing she had actually decided to go broody with the broody I put her with.  Yay!  I gave her her own clutch of eggs and let her raise her chicks.  So her healing R&R time was extensive, sitting on the nest for 21 days.    That was the first time I’ve ever had an orpington go broody (which is crazy because they’re notoriously broody), and will probably be the last.  She was a terrible mother and lost all of her chicks within the first week.  This hen is still with me today, nearly a year later.  She has a pronounced peg-leg style limp and doesn’t roam as far as other birds, but she’s otherwise fine. If I ever get around to reducing the hen population, she and the other remaining orpingtons will be on the list.  I think I’m pushing 80 hens, I really do need to downsize…

I’m digressing though.

The majority of the time, birds recover from munched feet and broken legs just fine.  Care should be taken to ensure they don’t abscess.  Severely broken legs should be splinted to avoid undue risk of it healing in a crippling manner.  I wrote a little bit about bird leg-breaks in my post “Aspen’s Story: Broken Turkey Legs”.   Antibiotic herbs can be given as tea-water or the whole herbs can be cut up and added to their feed.  If an abscess is noticed, it should be drained quickly and the pocket should be kept clean, ideally flushed with an antiseptic, vinegar, or salt tea to help kill bacteria.

I did lose 1 bird to a mashed foot.  It was a young lavender Ameraucana, maybe 2-3 months old.  Her foot was pudding from a pig stomp.  The break was really bad.  It was deep winter and it was frigid out.  If it had happened in the summer I’m confident she would have survived.  But within a week of getting stomped she faded and died.  Her body could not effectively heal the chronic damage and fight the cold at the same time.  We have no heated outbuildings or way to isolate an animal in the heat.  That’s part of the nature of the beast when living in a remote, high-elevation location without most conveniences.  To some degree it becomes survival of the fittest on the farm.  But for the average chicken keeper, helping a bird through a major injury like this is a reasonable and successful task.

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“A Post About Today: February 6th, 2021”

I’m going to make my first attempt at adding some fun photos to the blog post.  Does that make it a… plog?!  :B  
Edit/update: since it seems to have worked and looks nice, I’ll work on adding photos to more of my previous posts. 

We recently got about 12″ of snow, and there’s still plenty more on the forecast.  At last, the snow has come! We’ve hardly had 3 feet of cumulative snow up to this point, which is very unusual.  

To celebrate, it was time to clean 12″ of fresh powder and 12″ of crusty old melted snow off of some roofs.   

One of the rigorous winter chores is cleaning off vehicle and building roofs.  It’s hard to say how much snow would collapse any given structure or vehicle.  It’s also hard to say how much it might snow over night!  So best not to leave anything to chance.  It’s best to just clean the roofs off when the snow gets 15″ to 20″ deep.  

The dogs break excellent trails through the knee-deep powder.  Windy drift areas along the unpacked trails are sometimes waist deep.  Neoma the Dog took the trail-packing lead with with the help of her abundant puppy energy, albeit her trails zig-zagged from tree to tree in ever-hopeful pursuit of squirrels…

Spring is fast approaching, but it’s not here yet.  As I mentioned in my post about the 2020 Harvest, we still have a few loose ends in the realm of the barnyard.  Today concluded the rooster round-up from the 2020-season.  7 more roosters to butcher and we’ll be done… almost…!  There’s still a few cockerels from late-fall/early-witner hatches that are too young to butcher yet.  But these are the last of the un-needed crowers.

We raise a few different bird breeds.  One is the Marans, a breed that, to my knowledge, originated in France.  I’ve been raising a few different ‘lineages’ of marans for about 8 years.  The breed was developed, I assume intentionally as they are a meat bird, to produce 70-80% male offspring. The boys are much larger than the girls in this breed, so more boys means more chicken meat each year.  This is one reason you don’t commonly find marans available from big-box hatcheries.  Hatcheries always have too many boys to begin with, and trying to reproduce and sell a breed that produces mostly male chicks doesn’t make for good business.  As a hatchery, what would you do with thousands of extra boys?!  They’re already giving their boys away and still have too many!  
Most of my butcher boys each year are pure marans or half-marans crosses.   These last 7 roosters on the whack-list are lavender Ameraucanas crossed with black copper marans.  A handsome group, but alas, “more roosters” is not what the world needs, as is evident by the surplus of “free rooster” ads that have been circulating in our area for months to no avail.  And “more roosters” is certainly not what my barnyard needs- the poor hens are now finally getting a break from the harassment that’s been going on far too long!  I usually keep 3 breeding roosters and a few replacements roos in case something like predation happens in the flock.  That’s enough roosters!

I also raise ayam cemani crosses.  The I have been raising ayam cemani for about 6 years.  I’ve never heard it advertised about the breed, but I’ve bred 2 lineages of cemani and each one has produces the opposite of marans; 70-80% females.  If not more! 

As I have a particular interest in breeding fibro birds with funny colored meat, I love throwing fibromelanosis genes into my meat birds.  Why eat a pink chicken, when you can eat blue, black, purple, and green chickens?!  As it so happens, most of my fibro-crosses end up being girls, alas.  So I don’t get many blue eating birds unless they’re half-marans roosters.  
In 2020 we hatched out about 120 chicks.  Roughly 20 were cockerels, and all but 2 of those were marans-crosses.  This is the usual story each year.  Most of my laying hens are now 50% or more cemani as a result!  I don’t mind, they’re absolutely beautiful birds, they lay wonderfully, and they’ve been excellent broodies.  Which is odd, considering cemani are not known for going broody.

Hope that’s an interesting tidbit!   I intended to talk about the snow, but hey, chickens work, too!