Category Archives: News, etc.

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.


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!

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.

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.

Making something good out of a mistake

We don’t sell whole hogs very often. 95% of what we sell is by the cut, in our store. But occasionally we sell a hog here or there. That’s not to say I don’t get calls often for people wanting a BBQ hog. Usually it’s Friday morning, and after 10 questions from them, I ask when they need the hog.

“Today. The party is tomorrow.”

Um, No.

Who plans a pig picking and then starts looking for the hog the day of? It’s not like we are talking hamburger at Food Lion here.

However a few weeks ago I received a request from our friend Mike who runs Brew ‘N Que in Cary and Apex. He had a catering job and needed a hog for the event. Mike’s been a customer and a friend for years now, and he also understands what it takes to get a hog from hoof to spit, so I jumped through some hoops and made it happen. He asked for a 150 lb (that’s hanging weight) hog. I passed along this request to Miguel and he selected and loaded a hog I thought weighed about 240-250, which would put his hanging weight about right. Then Mike updated me that he actually needed a 120 lb hog. Ugh, we already had our hog loaded. But I like to be a little heavy rather than a little light if I can so it’s all good.

When this hog hit the scales at the processor, its hanging weight was 248 lbs! 100 lbs roughly over our target weight, 130 lbs over the updated weight! And when Mike picked it up, he told me it was too big to fit on the cooker. Ugh. We’ve been processing 400+ lb hogs so long that our sense of scale must be off. This guy looked little to me and to Miguel. We pride ourselves on picking the right hog and getting as close to target as possible and usually we are pretty good at it, and now we’ve screwed up our customer and his event. I apologized profusely and Mike said no worries, it’s all good. I told him I’d only charge him for the 150 lbs he ordered so I gave away 100 lbs of premium pork. Expensive lesson.

But that isn’t the story. It’s just the setup.

I figured Mike would use the pork in his two restaurants. I mean, he does run a pork based operation and some free product would certainly help the bottom line. Then I received this a few weeks later.

First the link.

Family trying to get home after hurricane Irma.

Then a quick shot from the reporter.

Michael Markum helping out hurricane Irma victims
Michael is in the foreground with the awesome beard.

So Mike ordered a pig for an event and his farmer (me) screwed up. Most people would yell, threaten, refuse to pay, whatever. Mike says, no worries, I got it handled. He then BBQs the free meat and holds a quiet fund raiser for hurricane victims. He did all this just to try to do some good. Yes, he’s on TV. No, he didn’t know that was going to happen and he doesn’t really know how it happened. They just showed up. Kuddos to Mike for thinking beyond himself.

People wonder why I don’t worry about much. Because I’ve learned that the Lord’s plan is so much better than anything I could cook up. I was frustrated we’d let Mike down when I found out the weight, but look at the end result. Our mistake in estimating a hog’s weight, led to a customer having extra pork, which he turned into a way for a family we’ll never know to get back home. If we hadn’t screwed up, those folks might still be here struggling. You don’t think they were praying for a little help in their situation?

“Lord, please help us find a way home?”

What would we expect from that prayer? An Uber to pull up. Money to fall from the sky? How about a farmer who suddenly can’t estimate a hog’s weight.

I looked at that hog myself, after Miguel had. It’s not our first rodeo. We both know he weighed 250, maybe 260. Think maybe the Lord put his thumb on the scale when we were estimating and got us a hog big enough to make all this happen? I don’t know, but I hope so. It’s pretty cool being part of something bigger than yourself. Thanks Mike for sharing the end result.

Announcing Free Tours on Saturdays

Effective immediately, we are changing the way we handle our tours on the farm. Saturday tours, which are conducted by my son Spork, will now be free of charge. This is the same tour that we’ve given for years and charged for. The only change is that we will no longer charge for them. (We always reserve the right to change prices in the future, of course.)

Tours on Wednesdays and Fridays used to be $20 per booking, with sizes up to 20 people max. Now tours will be $20 per booking, up to 7 people. After 7, we will charge $2.50 per person (not counting babies.) This means a 10 person weekday tour will cost $27.50

All tours, regardless of price, require an appointment.

Why the difference in Saturdays and weekdays you might ask? 

I give the tours during the weekdays. Spork, my son, gives the tours on Saturdays. We run this farm by and large for the employment of our kids. As I sit here this morning, we have had about 30 minutes without any customers. We were slammed starting at 7:59 and have been till just now, but I want a steady pace for the kids to stay busy all day on Saturday. It keeps them busy, interested, and NOT BORED! Tour groups give me just that, a steady group of people coming through the store. I like tour groups on Saturdays.

Wednesday and Friday, we have tours as well. However the kids are busy home schooling so I do the tours. I enjoy giving tours, having time to meet and talk to our customers and learn about them. However I’m a farmer and I have a lot I need to accomplish each day. Routinely, I need to go pick up a part, go out of town for a day, work cattle, whatever. Invariably when I look at my calendar trying desperately to find a day when I can get X done, I have a tour on the schedule, at 2pm (basically the middle of the day).

As often as not, it’s a mommies group (or school group, or whatever) with 15 kids under 5. I don’t have another tour the rest of the afternoon but because of one tour at 2pm I can’t go where I need to, get done what I need to, get back for this tour, and have enough time for everything. It’s routine that I have to look two weeks or more out to find a weekday where I can schedule an entire day. Work backs up, trips can’t be taken. You get the idea.

So in the best example of capitalism at work I can think of, we are going down on our Saturday tour price to free, and up on our weekday tour prices (if you have a larger group). If folks want to come to the farm, there is a strong incentive to do so on Saturday which is when I have the boy giving tours and the girls working the store. Exactly when I need people here.

If your schedule says it has to be during the week for a family, no problem, it’s our normal $20 fee. If it is a large group, we’ve taken the 20 person maximum limit off and added a per person charge for over 7 people. If you have a 35 person group, bring ’em on. We’ll do one big walking tour with your entire group and you’ll be in and out.

Pushing more folks to visit on Saturday will allow your farmer to farm more, which I think everyone wants.

Cooking Matters – Print Version

Nobody has cooked, or eaten, as much of our product as we have. We’ve grilled, baked, broiled, sautéed, and crock potted our meats. Heck, we’ve even eaten it raw (steak tartare anyone?) Having had our products every way that you can, I can say that the cooking method definitely matters. I usually try and catch new customers before they leave and explain how they should cook their new purchase, especially the beef. Since I can’t catch everyone, I thought I’d type up my suggestions.

The first thing to know is what kind of meat are you buying. With only so many ribeyes to go around, odds are you’ll be buying a cut of meat you don’t normally get. You need to understand that “eating high on the hog” means that you’re getting the more tender cuts of meat. It also means they are less flavorful. That’s why tenderloin, an expensive and almost flavorless cut of tender meat, is always wrapped in bacon, or marinated in Italian dressing. Recipes are trying to add flavor to the flavorless, tender meat. On the other side of the tenderness scale, the French have perfected the art of taking the cheap cuts of meat and turning them into delicacies. And finding, along of the way, that these less expensive cuts of meat hold the best potential for amazing flavor. Shanks, jowls, brisket. These are all cuts that many American cooks fear but as any Texan will tell you about brisket, they are often the best part of the animal.

Basically, the higher up the animal, the more expensive and the more tender the cut. That’s because the less the animal uses the muscle, the more tender and the more bland. That’s part of the reason that feedlot beef is more tender. The animals sit around and eat and do little else. By knowing where on the animal your cut comes from, you can have an idea of how to cook it. Tough cuts need a braise (like a crock pot) or some other method of preserving tenderness.

For steaks, I recommend hot and fast, just like our pork chop recipe. Just delete the sauce at the end of the recipe for beef. Or another way to cook them is Alton Brown’s method, which he uses for skirt steak. Notice he only cooks the entire steak 30-45 seconds per side TOTAL. I cook every steak, from ribeyes to chuck steaks the same way, hot and fast. They all come out awesome.

I don’t actually cook on coals like Alton. I very rarely grill anything. However, for our bratwurst and kielbasa sausage, the grill is the best place. You actually “cook” the sausages on the cooktop, in a pan filled with water for kielbasa or beer for bratwurst. All you are doing on the grill is browning them and adding flavor via the mallaird reaction. You can brown them on the stove if you want, but it’s not as good as when they are grilled.

For roasts, generally the crock pot is my friend. SWMBO does most of the cooking and she uses our various roasts interchangeably from one recipe to the next. If it’s a big four pound roast, she has no qualms about trimming it down or cutting it up to make it into what she wants. For roasts, just follow your usual recipe. If you are cooking them in the oven, remember that grass fed, grass finished beef is going to cook faster than you expect.

Osso Bucco is one of my favorite cuts. Technically it’s beef shank, sliced into 1″ thick slices. It costs the same as hamburger per pound and it’s wonderful in the crock pot. All that connective tissue breaks down and makes beef broth, which your vegetables soak up as it percolates all day in the crock pot. Just sear the osso bucco on both sides before you start. The meat shreds after cooking easily because of the way the cut is made. You pop out the one bone for Fido and serve. A $10 meal including vegetables that feeds the entire family.

For hamburger, I have to give a nod to our customer Drew. His hamburger recipe makes for a stellar hamburger. If you don’t want to do all that he suggests, make patties with room temperature burger meat. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic and grill. Simple burgers that taste awesome.

For Boston Butt, I again turn to Drew’s recipe. If you are in our store, you can also pick up SWMBO’s crock pot recipe to accomplish the same thing. Her BBQ is no muss, no fuss, and tastes awesome.

Lastly, I need to tell you about sous vide cooking. Drew turned me onto it. After one meal, I had one on order from Amazon. It’s pretty much impossible to overcook using sous vide and I can really dial in the doneness that I want, down to the single degree.

After a swim in our meat aquarium (what we call it) I simply sear the meat (mallaird again) and serve. Cook times can vary by hours with no change in doneness which really makes this more like crock pot cooking. This means that I can still get my work done and pop into the kitchen at the end of the day to finish up and serve a great meal, looking every bit the hero that I am.