What to do on a slow day

Last Saturday was SLOW in the store. Slower than a normal weekday. It appears that with the story book perfect weather, everyone was at the fair, which makes sense.

However that left three girls on the payroll with little to do. I was busy doing farmer paperwork stuff, Miguel and Vicente were busy doing actual farmer stuff, SWMBO was busy doing yard work stuff. That left the girls to their own devices.

“Daddy, do we have a rake?”

I handed her the leaf rake and went back to work.

Later the girls tell me that they had a big pile of leaves, but Miguel came by with the tractor, scooped it all up, and hauled it off. They had their lips poked out.

“Oh well girls, he’s just cleaning up.”

Shortly thereafter.

“Daddy, can we use the wheelbarrow?”

So I turned them loose with that.

Several hours later I walked outside to find this.

The girls, building their leaf pile
The girls, building their leaf pile

It seems the girls, undaunted by the 17,000 lb backhoe’s work, took the wheelbarrow down to where Miguel dumped their leaves and loaded, by hand, several loads of leaves and hauled them back to where they had their original pile.

The Princess and Myla sweeping up
The Princess and Myla sweeping up

Then they took the brooms from the store, and starting sweeping up all the leaves they could get, making lines through the yard.

Crystal raking up a path through the yard
Crystal raking up a path through the yard

Once their work was done, it resembled something like this. 

They used the leaves to make a riding/obstacle course for their bicycles. They then spent the rest of the afternoon riding bikes around their course and making plans for expansion this coming weekend.

They were so proud of what they’d done, they even asked to borrow my phone to take pictures, which is where all these pics came from. The girls took them all, and many more I didn’t utilize for this post.

You come here and see kids working. You don’t see what they do when you aren’t here. This is a glimpse of what goes on in between customers. I couldn’t be happier with how their day went. So I’m glad everyone went to the fair and had fun. Now swing by the store and get some real food. Man does not live on fried twinkies alone.

 

Dan Moore on EmailDan Moore on FacebookDan Moore on GoogleDan Moore on Twitter
Dan is a dad, a husband, a business owner, a pilot, a sailor, a scuba diver, a machinist, a gunsmith, a welder, a woodworker, a day laborer, a teacher, a mentor and a writer. The short form of all the previous is he's a farmer.

Sometimes farming doesn’t look like farming

When I say I’m a farmer, people have this image in their head.

Dan bottle feeding a calf

Or this

Milk cow and calf in barn

Or maybe even this

Spork feeding hogs in the snow

But nobody, unless you are a farmer yourself, thinks of this. 

Yep, that’s farming.

Our dually truck that we use daily here on the farm has had some serious ills lately. It began with a set of bad injectors which to you gasoline people, sounds like maybe changing spark plugs. It’s not. On our particular engine, you have to nearly remove the engine to replace the injectors. And the injectors themselves are very costly, there is a comma in the price. So we ordered new injectors, spent weeks working on the truck, and put everything back together. The truck ran much better and everyone was happy.

Except we still had a fuel dilution problem (the reason we knew we had back injectors). That meant that somewhere in our work, there must have been a leak. So apart it came again, and everything was inspected. No signs of a leak anywhere. Maybe it’s the fuel pump? That price has a comma in it as well. Ugh.

In the process of buying fuel injectors, buying gaskets, getting a fuel pump, seals, basically the never ending stream of purchases to work on this engine, Miguel mentioned to me that the Y pipe needed to be replaced as well. What is a Y pipe?

The broken bit of the Y pipe, with an arrow showing where it was broken
The broken bit of the Y pipe, with an arrow showing where it was broken

Just a cast aluminum pipe that is part of the intake system of the truck. Basically it feeds air to the engine. Probably another few hundred dollars.

So I ask at my friendly diesel repair place. Nope. They can’t get them. Uh oh, that means going to the dealer, which just doubled the price. Now it will probably cost $500 or more. Maybe I could just weld up the broken bit. But its cast aluminum, and soaked in oil. It will be a MAJOR pain to weld. Nah, better to spend the money and just get it over with.

And then the dealer said they couldn’t be purchased. There were none available in the US, period. Ba ba BUM!! You know it’s bad when you life has a sound track.

I was left with two choices. Scour the junk yards trying to find a truck with the same pipe, take a bunch of tools to the junk yard and work 1/2 of a day to remove the pipe and bring it home. Or weld up the one we had.

Since I’m a welder, not a mechanic, I chose plan B.

Welding aluminum isn’t something I have a lot of experience with. I’ve done a bit of it, basically enough to know I don’t want to do it again. But that was back when I MIG welded aluminum, and now I have a TIG welder so it should be easier.

But its cast aluminum. Cast is much harder to weld because it has a lot of porosity. And it’s prone to cracking from the heating and cooling. And this particular cast is soaked in oil for 300,000 miles. The number one rule of welding aluminum is it must be CLEAN! Brand new cast isn’t clean, and this piece is far from brand new.

The broken bit of the Y pipe, with an arrow showing where it was broken
The broken bit of the Y pipe, with an arrow showing where it was broken

You can see how dark and oil soaked this piece is. It’s also brittle from corrosion, which is why it broke in the first place. Step one was to grind out all the broken bits and get down to clean(ish) metal.

Cast Y pipe, welded and ready for machining
Welded and ready to machine

You can see on the face where I cleaned up the metal. Some bits of it are even slightly shiny so there is some good metal in there. It took several days and a trip to the welding supply store to get this finally done correctly. The old guy at the store shook his head and wished me luck. Not a good sign. But I got it welded!

Well, after it cracked and broke an entire corner off. But whatever, I’ll just fix that too. I’m already here. You can see that this is sitting on a white blanket. The piece had to be preheated before welding, and then kept in this blanket during and after welding. This is how we mitigate against cracking. Slow heating and cooling.

Machining a base plate for the jig
Machining a base plate

The problem with working on something like this, is that it’s a funky, one off piece. There was no way to hold the Y pipe in the mill for machining. That meant that I needed a special jig to hold it in place, which means making an entire part, just to hold a part. It takes longer to make the jig than it does to repair to actual part, but that’s just the way it goes. I had some aluminum cut offs laying around for just such an occasion so I gathered up likely pieces and began cutting, milling, and shaping for what I needed.

Welding up the legs onto the base plate
Welding up the legs onto the base plate

Getting the angle on the cuts just right was the toughest part. Oddly I did it right the first time. Nobody was more surprised than me. Here I’m welding the two legs that the Y pipe will mount to. Time spent machining here is just wasted time so I didn’t cut out any more than I had to. The base plate was trued up, and then the mating surfaces of the legs were trued. Beyond that I didn’t remove any metal. So I have a thick leg, being welded to an even thicker base plate, sitting on my welding table which is 1″ thick aluminum. My poor welding machine was unhappy trying to put heat into this much metal but I managed to squeak by.

Drilling and tapping for mounting
Drilling and tapping for mounting

Once the pieces were welded, it was time to drill and tap for the mounting holes. They didn’t have to be pretty, just solid enough to hold the Y pipe for milling.

Finished! And ready for the actual repair.
Finished! And ready for the actual repair.

The pipe is mounted with just hardware store hardware, nothing special. You can see the pipe hanging down below the table. It’s a really funky setup to try and hold square and true.

The finished Y pipe, with the seal installed
The finished Y pipe, with the seal installed

There is some porosity in the outside of the flange, but none on the inside bit which is the part we need correct. It’s also a bit thinner than I wanted, but there was a boo boo in the machining. However it wasn’t so thin we wanted to weld it up again so we let it ride. You can also see the top left corner and hole. That was where the corner broke off. It’s built back and drilled and cleaned up.

Now Miguel is going to put the truck back together, which is the real job. This was just a little side job. All in, I have about 7 hours total in this entire project. If I had to do it again I could do it in half that but that’s the way it is when you are doing something for the first time.

Another glorious day of farming!

Dan Moore on EmailDan Moore on FacebookDan Moore on GoogleDan Moore on Twitter
Dan is a dad, a husband, a business owner, a pilot, a sailor, a scuba diver, a machinist, a gunsmith, a welder, a woodworker, a day laborer, a teacher, a mentor and a writer. The short form of all the previous is he's a farmer.

New Mamasita’s products in the store

Mamasita’s chips have been the surprise hit of the year this year. I’d heard they were good, and of course we really liked them in the sampling we did, but I had no idea how popular they would be with our customers. We’ve been continuously reordering them ever since we brought them in.

Last week we reordered them, again, and I thought to myself.

“Self, didn’t they have other products we’ve never ordered?”

Mamasita's yellow corn chips, $6.00 per bag.
$6.00 per bag for yellow or white tortilla chips

A quick check and yes, yes they did. They had yellow corn chips to compliment their white corn chips that we’ve already been carrying.

Dessert chips are $5.50 per bag. They aren't as sweet as you'd think. I like them.
Dessert chips are $5.50 per bag. They aren’t as sweet as you’d think. I like them.

They also had a dessert chip which we already have sampled this morning. I think the entire bag lasted about 3 minutes with the girls.

Mamasita's taco shells are $5.75 per box
My new favorite, ready made taco shells at $5.75 per package.

And lastly, and the one I’m most excited about, they had taco shells.

We sell a lot of hamburger to people who are going to make tacos. And even more importantly, we eat a lot of tacos ourselves. Having some ready made, Mamasita’s style taco shells is going to be awesome. Wildflower already asked me this morning if we could have tacos tonight. Sadly no, but maybe Sunday night. I’m ready for some tacos!

We are open from 8-5 today so swing by, see the girls, and grab some chips and salsa, or hamburger meat and shells.

Dan Moore on EmailDan Moore on FacebookDan Moore on GoogleDan Moore on Twitter
Dan is a dad, a husband, a business owner, a pilot, a sailor, a scuba diver, a machinist, a gunsmith, a welder, a woodworker, a day laborer, a teacher, a mentor and a writer. The short form of all the previous is he's a farmer.

Good questions to ask your farmer, with answers for our farm

This is by far the most read post on our website. We get thousands of hits on it. This post was originally written in 2014. I’ve gone through and updated it to be current in 2017 and reposted it.

I talk to a lot of people who are overwhelmed by all they’ve learned about processed food, local food, organic food, etc.  They arrive at our farm trying to find food they are comfortable with but they aren’t even sure what questions to ask. Luckily CFSA has posted a list of questions to ask your farmer that should help you narrow down your search for real food.

In addition to posting the link, I thought I’d answer for our farm here for anyone who discovers us.

BASIC: 

1.   Why do you farm? Good Lord! That’s a doozy, and the first question too. Because I’m dumb/crazy enough to? People ask what we produce here on our farm, and my answer is, “losses.” I grew up on this farm. I moved here when I was seven. My father had grown up on the family farm in Flat River, NC, near Roxboro and he wanted to return to his roots. In researching my lineage, I found that our family has been farming in Flat River since 1793. I guess it’s in my blood.

Beyond that, I enjoy farming, especially since we don’t do it conventionally. We live on our farm, and we eat what we produce, often more than we sell. Like many of our customers who have young children and decided they wanted to have healthy food for them, we did the same. As our kids came along, we got into producing a product that we were happy feeding them. As a byproduct, we produce healthy, sustainable product that we are happy to feed to your kids too. The best thing I can say about our product is that you’re eating out of our freezer. My number one customer is still my wife.

2.   How do you decide which products to grow? We base it off of demand, and what we can grow sustainably on our farm. I’ve been offered sheep for free which I refused because we didn’t have the carrying capacity on our farm for them and the cows. I’ve been questioned about goats, which are verboten on our farm. I’ve had goats before, never again.

Currently we raise cows, because I like cows and that’s really our main product. We also raise pigs because they do well in the woods and about half of our farm is wooded. Otherwise half of our farm would go unused or we’d have to log it. Plus we can turn pigs in about 8 months, vs. 2 years for cows so it’s a quicker turn around on our investment. Lastly for pigs, I REALLY love our pork so even if we went 100% to cows, I’d still keep a few pigs on the farm for our family.

3.   What kind of fertilizers do you use? We use no commercial fertilizers, nor organic ones. Our program is all about building soil health, not about applying a band-aid to resolve a problem. If we build the soil health, we don’t need fertilizer. We are into our fifth year of building soil and have over 3″ of topsoil, which is up from the 1/8″ when we started.

Topsoil picture in pasture.
About 2″ of topsoil, from 2014, in an area that has underperformed other areas of the pasture.

We feed produce daily (from the farmers market) and much of that produce goes back into the soil either through a byproduct of ingestion by our animals (poop) or by direct contact with the soil (biodegradation). Fresh produce is the only thing we add to our farm and we bring variable amounts in every day, depending on the season. Since 2014 we’ve brought in over 19 million pounds of produce to our farm! That means we diverted from the landfill 19 million pounds of organic material where it instead goes into our soil every year.  Obviously much of it is water in the produce but we are still adding quite a bit of actual organic matter to our soil.

4.   How do you deal with your weeds? insects? diseases? We encourage insects. We do not deworm our cattle or pigs unless they are showing signs of distress. We will then do a fecal analysis and see if worming is warranted and if so, we will then deworm.

Dewormers cause cow poop to be toxic to bugs which means we have poop that stays on the ground as dried up patties rather than being turned back into the soil by the big and little critters. We rotate our cows with daily paddock moves. It takes about 30 days for the cows to make a lap of the farm. By the time they make a lap, the poop from last time is gone. When we wormed cattle, those patties would stay for months.

For weeds, when we have an area that is growing something we don’t like (thistle, bitter weed, etc.) we make sure that is the area where we drop off our produce for the day. This causes a few things. One, the soil is disturbed by the high impact of cattle as they feed. As the cattle do their thing, they poop, pee, and spill a lot of produce which is then trampled into the ground. The end result is a bare patch that has high concentrations of manure, urine, and organic matter. We’ve just changed the soil biology in that spot, which will result in a more favorable plant growing there.

We do not seed an area like that, we let nature decide what is optimized to grow there. Most often, it’s the grass that we want. If it’s not, then we wash, rinse, repeat till it is. If weeds are what comes back up, then we needed more soil health in that patch of soil. Not better grass seed.

For diseases, you can look at what we did with Benjamin when he was sick. There are multiple posts about what we did to treat him, including showing what drugs we gave him. If our animals are sick, we will treat them with whatever medical science says can make them better. If they survive their illness, we will most likely cull them from our herd and not use them for future needs. Not because we have an issue with medications, but because we don’t want their genetics in our herd. Had Benjamin lived, we would have sold him to someone else.

5.   Do you grow all the products that you sell? I’m proud to say that we do not.

Many small farms try to be all things in the beginning. You get some chickens (the gateway drug to farming), then add a farm dog to ride in the farm truck of course. Then a miniature milk cow, or milking goats. Then a couple of pigs, then meat goats. Then a donkey because somebody heard a coyote, then some alpaca, or turkeys, or geese, or ducks. You get the idea. When I go to a farm and see that there are two of everything, I see a farmer who is running a zoo, not a farm. There’s nothing wrong with that but as time passes, most farmers will find the animals they work best with and focus on that.

We’ve had goats, different breeds of cattle, meat chickens, etc. We’ve returned to our roots with our current cattle and we’ve added pigs. Everything else is gone or going away.

We can focus like this because we’ve instead partnered with over 40 other small family farms (as of 2017) like us who are really good at what they do. For our poultry and rabbit, we work with Brittany Ridge Farm (who supplies The Chef and the Farmer and has been on the show). Buck Naked Farm handles our bees on our farm. They provide our honey, candles, soaps, jams, lotions, and whatever else they craft up. She’s always tinkering with a new product. Jennifer from Buck Naked is also my master marketer and helps me set up our store so it looks presentable.  We also have lamb farmers, dairy farmers, goat farmers, etc. Most of the products we sell are detailed on the links at our product page. However some of the stuff comes and goes so fast it doesn’t make it to the page, so stopping in the store to browse is the best idea.

We are always looking to add new farms to our store because it gives our customers more choice, and more reason to come see us. The requirements are that they be sustainable, small family farms, and something that compliments our existing products and farmers.

6.   Do you have any recipe recommendations/suggestions? We have an entire recipe page full of recipes. My favorite to share is our recipe for cooking steaks. 

LIVESTOCK: 

1.   What type of livestock do you manage? Cattle, pigs, chickens, and bees. The cattle are baldy Angus. The pigs are various heritage breeds, mostly Large Black and Chester Whites. We do have Berkshire as well. The bees are Italian honey bees.

2.   How do you feed them? What do you feed them? Do you use organic feed? We feed everyone except the chickens grass, produce, sunshine, and water. The bees pretty much feed themselves. We do give them honey/supplement in the winter.

3.   Do you use hormones? antibiotics? Nope! Unless we have a sick animal, but that was addressed previously.

4.   Do you provide them with access to the outdoors? Are they pasture based, free range, or confined? The real question is do we allow them indoors? For the chickens, yes we do. They have a coop where they come and go as they please. Everybody else spends all their time outdoors. Our barns don’t have areas for animals, everyone stays on pasture or in the woods.

5.   How do you process your animals? Do you do it or does someone else? We process some pigs for our own use and we did process a cow once. If you are buying from us, your product was processed in a USDA inspected facility. If it’s beef, it will be Chaudhry’s in Siler City. If it’s pork it will be Dean Street Processing in Bailey.

 

Dan Moore on EmailDan Moore on FacebookDan Moore on GoogleDan Moore on Twitter
Dan is a dad, a husband, a business owner, a pilot, a sailor, a scuba diver, a machinist, a gunsmith, a welder, a woodworker, a day laborer, a teacher, a mentor and a writer. The short form of all the previous is he's a farmer.

How we cook our steaks in the Ninja Cow Farm kitchen

One thing is for sure. We’ve cooked more grass fed, grass finished steaks than pretty much anyone you’ve ever known. We’ve tried all the different ways of cooking them. Grilled, sous vide, etc. After years of experimenting and comparing the effort with the result, I can say that this recipe is our 100% go to recipe for steaks, and with one small addition, pork chops and Boston Butt steaks.

Dan Moore on EmailDan Moore on FacebookDan Moore on GoogleDan Moore on Twitter
Dan is a dad, a husband, a business owner, a pilot, a sailor, a scuba diver, a machinist, a gunsmith, a welder, a woodworker, a day laborer, a teacher, a mentor and a writer. The short form of all the previous is he's a farmer.

Mimi’s Ham & Cheese Beer Soft Pretzel Bites

Need a Saturday pick me up to chase away boring weekend food? Come out to the farm visit the cows and pick up the ingredients for a fabulous snack. Let’s make some Mimi’s Ham & Cheese Beer Soft Pretzel Bites. This recipe is straight from Lin Johnson-Carlson founder of Mimi’s Mountain Mixes.

This is one dish I saw disappear quickly. I changed up the ingredients a bit to incorporate what I could find in the NCF store. The change  worked great and  my oh my what a snack.   The Redneck Romano was subbed for swiss cheese . It was the perfect substitute.  Redneck Romano has just a bit more flavor than you traditional Swiss. I think I’ll be using it more from here on out. The Lusty Monk was exchanged for Beer Mustard. Once again more flavor. The heat of baking mellowed the spicy punch. Rutabaga was hesitant to try one but was quickly hooked & ate 4. Lasty I used our Deli Ham made with our pigs by Weeping Radish. The thickness of the ham gave a more filling bite.

 

“Your purchase of MIMI’S MOUNTAIN MIXES helps Mimi support women and children’s shelters and provide internships for some AWESOME LADIES that are referred to Mimi by those same awesome organizations.”


Store Manager and resident chef at Ninja Cow Farm LLC
Lucy lives and works on Ninja Cow Farm. Most days you'll find her tending to the garden or working in the store. She's cooked in restaurants and as a Personal Chef.

A reminder about milk rationing

We announced a few weeks ago that we were going to begin rationing milk. This is because one of our milk cows had dried off and were therefore limited on milk production.

Since then we’ve been able to make do and most people who wanted milk have been able to get it. Maybe not today, but the next day. Definitely not as much as everyone would like, but at least a gallon. All in all it’s gone fairly well. Except for one thing. We are getting a lot of people who are continually asking us to hold milk for them. As we said in the initial post, we will not hold milk for anyone. It is first come, first serve. It’s also limited to one gallon per family. We have folks showing up with the daughter, nephew, hamster, whatever and claiming one gallon for each.

Let me explain something to everyone. The very first families to get completely cut off from milk is all three families here on the farm. As soon as we knew we’d dried off a cow everyone here switched to Simply Natural milk or went without. We do that so that our customers have maximum availability. When you are telling us hardship stories about needing two gallons, or asking to buy five gallons so you can freeze it because we are running low (therefore keeping four other family’s pets from getting any) you are telling these stories to people who aren’t getting any milk. This means we are a bit jaded. It’s one gallon, per family. First come, first serve.

On another note, I also made mention of prioritizing our regular customers over milk only customers. We haven’t implemented that yet but rest assured we are planing on it. We have customers who get two pounds of hamburger, pork chops, some mustard, and a gallon of milk. We also have customers who are here 5 minutes before we open, who buy 4 gallons of milk and nothing else, ever.

Folks, we love and appreciate all of our customers but we are not in the pet milk business. We are in the farm business. As some point we are going to prioritize our full customers over our milk only customers. Nothing against anyone but if we are limited in our supply we are going to take care of those who fully support us first. I know the four gallon customer is buying food somewhere, and they are choosing not to buy it here. That’s absolutely their choice but that means they only care about getting pet milk, not about supporting our farm. It’s nothing personal, but with limited supply that’s part of how we’ll make the decision of who we have milk for. At some point you may be told to “put your milk back, I’m sorry.” And I am, but when you are shocked I’ll point to this post and tell you that I already told you prior.

Dan Moore on EmailDan Moore on FacebookDan Moore on GoogleDan Moore on Twitter
Dan is a dad, a husband, a business owner, a pilot, a sailor, a scuba diver, a machinist, a gunsmith, a welder, a woodworker, a day laborer, a teacher, a mentor and a writer. The short form of all the previous is he's a farmer.

7125 Old Stage Road Raleigh NC