Welcome home girls

Convincing the girls that they do indeed want to get on the trailer

Every spring we take the momma cows, the baby cows, and the bull over to our other farm so that they can graze their summer away in peace and solitude. It isn’t that big of a deal to get them onto the trailer as we have full cattle facilities here at the main farm. Loading ramp, head gates, scales, basically anything you need to work with cattle.

At our other farm, we had nothing but fencing. We eventually figured out that what we needed was a portable corral, something the AgriSupply conveniently sells. We leave the corral setup all year long and just let the cows wander around wherever they want to go.

Come fall, we need to get the cattle back into this corral so that we can load them on the trailer and move them home. Of course, after a summer of doing just exactly what they please, they are as happy to get into a corral as a 5th grader is to go back to school.

So the trick is to start taking the cows food to our other farm. This means that someone has to load extra food, cart it over, and hand feed it out since we may not have a tractor over there when we start doing this. The cows, who are creatures of habit, start expecting food and showing up at the corral each day. After a week or so, we can take our last load of food, a loading ramp, a tractor, and a truck and trailer. With all the cows in the corral, it is just a matter of herding cows into the trailer and bringing them back one load at a time.

Of course, we always have some summer babies roaming around, so the last load of cows ends up being the elementary school bus load of kids. We don’t want one of the big cows to accidentally step on one of the calves while packed into the trailer, so the little ones ride separate. You’d think that a bunch of little calves would be easy to load but oh no. It is the old momma cows that are easy. They’ve done this 100 times and walk right onto the trailer with maybe some gentle coaxing. The kids? Dumb as rocks. They will go behind the fence, over the gate, walk backwards up the ramp. Anything that makes no sense whatsoever. Luckily they are little so they are easy enough to manage but it is always amusing watching the little calves try to figure things out.

Four trailer loads of cows brought everyone home Monday. Now the finishing herd and the brood herd are together again. There was some pushing and shoving at the pecking order was reestablished but after an afternoon of that everyone has settled down and is happily munching grass.

Before long, we’ll be feeding hay and complaining about winter. Summer is gone already?

We have seafood!

No, I didn’t convert our ponds to catfish farming. Or the funniest story I ever heard, a guy who converted to prawns. Some sort of Australian tiger prawns or something. Supposed to be big, according to the ad he saw in a magazine. They followed the instructions, threw food out in the water, and waited. When the time came, they drained the pond and had the biggest shrimp they’d ever seen. Like something out of a horror movie, wriggling and squirming in the mud. The owner, who was telling the story, looked over at his right hand man and said, “Ok, go down and collect them.”

“Uh uh, boss. You want ‘dem things. You go get ’em.”

This is the PG version of the story. I assure you, standing at the counter, having this 6’4″, 280 lb man act out the story along with the voices and and mannerisms was funny. I nearly peed my pants.

That is why I’m smart enough to instead find someone who brings the seafood in already ready for the pot. We (by we, I mean Jeanette) have worked hard to find the best seafood we could get and last week I made the first pickup. Just a small order to get started. Just peeled and ready to eat shrimp and lump crab meat.

But why seafood do you ask? I live on a beef and pork farm. We are lucky enough to have a wonderful chicken farmer (Hi Christy!) so we have beef, pork, and chicken. My life looks like this.

Monday – Chicken
Tuesday – Beef
Wednesday – Pork
Thursday – Chicken with different sauce
Friday – Beef, but this time with lettuce
Saturday – Pork, but the cuts that didn’t seal properly and were freezer burnt (you know we eat all those right?)
Sunday – Chicken, we were out of thighs? Ugh, ok, I guess breasts are sorta the same.
Monday – Beef, didn’t we have this yesterday, or the day before?
Tuesday – you get the idea.

When we go out to eat, I almost always get seafood because it is the one thing we don’t have here on the farm. Now we can mix it up and have some fresh NC caught seafood in our (and by our, I mean SWMBO’s) rotation. Our fish monger is the same supplier to NC Seafoods at the NC State Farmer’s Market so if you’ve had their seafood, you’ve had ours.

Seafood freezer
Our snazzy new (to us) seafood freezer, thanks to Miguel’s awesome work on Craigslist

You regulars may have noticed we added a new freezer. This is technically the “seafood” freezer although it will likely house steaks, pork chops, and seafood. Basically the prime items. We are still sorting (and by we, I mean Jeanette, are you sensing a theme here?) out what will be where.

Lump crab meat and shrimp, all from North Carolina
Lump crab meat and shrimp, all from North Carolina

Of course, step one when we got our first shipment in was to have SWMBO take a crack at making something. All of her recipes are for anything but seafood so she started off easy and made shrimp tacos.

Shrimp tacos ready to be put together
Shrimp tacos, some assembly required
Farmer Dan with a shrimp taco
Farmer Dan with a shrimp taco

I don’t know if you folks like seafood, but I’m keeping some around. Those shrimp tacos were AWESOME!

Jeanette has been busy bringing in some other products as well. More about that stuff later. For now, know that if you want surf and turf, we can finally fulfill that need.

The calendar is fixed, mostly

I think I finally figured out the booking calendar. At least, mostly. We have the ability for you to book your own tour here at the farm. That saves a lot of back and forth trying to coordinate schedules. If we are here, come see us. If we are not, sorry. However several months back I noted that the calendar availability was almost non-existent. Since our normal calendar looks like the pic above, I kinda thought it was just we were too busy.

But then I’d find a day when we were all here, and nobody booked a tour. A look at our calendar showed it blocked. Huh!? I tried poking and prodding at the blasted thing several times and couldn’t figure out what was going on. Today I finally figured out what was happening.

You see, we link our Google calendars to the scheduling app. That way when I book something on a day, it automatically blocks the schedule for the farm. Say I need to deliver a cow to the processor on a Friday. I put that on my normal calendar for the hours it will take me, and automatically, nobody will book a tour that same Friday. Works great.

Except it doesn’t.

When I originally set up the calendar, I had a secretary who managed my calendar for me. I also had everything tied to my individual calendar. Then I added SWMBO, so I’d have her on the same calendar. Then I added Spork, and moved the Saturday bookings/calendar synch to his calendar. Then the two girls got old enough to have their own calendar. Then the Civil Air Patrol calendar for our squadron became my responsibility so that got added. Then I became part of two partnerships, and their calendars got added. And I needed to keep up with who was at my mom’s property. So now my calendar looks like this.

This isn’t even a busy week. Seriously.

So now I have some weird cross contamination between my calendar, Sporks calendar, the farm calendar, and I don’t know where the conflicts are actually coming from because it doesn’t tell you WHY it is blocked. It just blocks it.

So I went back to the original plan. Weekends are now tied to my calendar. Now I only have one source of trouble.

Then I found another problem. We normally only allow you to book an appointment two months in advance. This way if something happens in our lives we need to attend to, we don’t have farm appointments clogging the schedule 5 months out. But I couldn’t figure out why this current month was now working, but next month was still blocked. Aha! A bit of digging and I realized the setting had reverted to a one month in advance setting. By moving it back to two months, suddenly October is alive and available as it should be.

It has only taken my several months to figure this out. I do apologize to those of you who have had trouble booking an appointment. Assuming I can keep ahold of this tiger’s tail, it should all be fine now.

We lost another dog to cancer

I reported that we had lost our farm working dog, Cotton, earlier this year to cancer. Cotton was almost eight years old, and for her breed, eight is about the life expectancy. And bone cancer is apparently the first thing that comes up when you Google illnesses with her breed. And of course bone cancer is what she had.

I won’t lie, your big tough farmer had, and continues to have, a hard time with losing Cotton. She was 1000% loyal and worked every single day of her life. I never once thought, “Maybe we shouldn’t have bought that dog.” Even when she did something wrong, like biting Miguel on the butt, she was only trying to tell Miguel that he was supposed to be at the barn because that was where she was used to him. Being at the house, he was out of place. It was just a nip to get his attention. She also didn’t like meter readers, exterminators, or anyone else around her kids and her house that she didn’t deem worthy to be here. She was a great guard dog and a great dog overall.

Cotton meeting Ruby the rat for the first time

Then there was Ruby. Ruby was purchased “for the girls.” I thought we already had a dog, so I didn’t really understand having a dog “for the girls.” There was quite a bit of discussion over getting her, with it being four against one and your intrepid author being the one. She was purchased “over my dead body” as I distinctly remember it. I didn’t understand the pushed in face, the tiny dog, the lack of a job. I didn’t get it at all.

Ruby with the only thing she could take in a fair fight, barely

But the wife was not to be swayed. And the girls were ecstatic. They, for whatever reason, loved that dog like no other. Oh they’d pet Cotton, sometimes. But that wasn’t the same thing.

Ruby dressed up and in the stroller

Apparently girls have some innate need to dress things up and play pretend? I don’t know. I’ve been married going on 20 years, have three girls in my house, and I have no idea how any of them work. I told my wife this quote I read online, “The only ones who understand women are other women, and they hate each other.” She slowly nodded and said, “Yep, that’s about right.” That’s probably not true because they all go to the bathroom together. It’s just another ruse to keep us men confused. But I digress.

So apparently women need a useless dog who is dress-up-able and doesn’t bite you when you try.

This happened nearly every day. Definitely every time I turned around
Ruby helping Spork study

I’d love to say that this is a story where the mean ol’ dad softens to the cute puppy over time and it ends up being dad’s dog. I’ve certainly seen this happen, even in my own house. If you think I’m the mean dad, you never met my father. And I saw him take to a fluffy poodle like nobody’s business.

6 out of seven nights per week, this is where you found Ruby

Alas, Ruby didn’t ever quite make that transition with me. She was easily the most annoying thing I’ve ever dealt with. She had this terrible scream that sounded like a goose being strangled to death by a synthesizer while gargling. And she deployed it when she wanted out. Or in. Or up. Or down. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard combined with the sound of a jet engine. I could easily hear it from across the farm. That’s about 1/2 mile away. The wife, bless her, couldn’t hear it. The girls thought it was funny. The boy would open the door to let her in and/or out if he heard it but that was about 30% of the time.

Ruby was one of those dogs that went bonkers for spinning tires. Bicycle tires. Car tires. Gator tires. Whatever. She’d run right up to them and then under them if she could. We’ve had to pull her from in front of countless customer cars so they can arrive or leave. If she wasn’t in your arms she was chasing a car. Since I’d resigned myself to being tortured by this dog for years, I assumed she’d never get run over. And I was right.

Cotton, ever wise, didn’t think too much of Ruby either. Not long after they met, Cotton took Ruby down to Old Stage Road. A road that at one time was the deadliest road in Wake County. Cotton NEVER went to the road. She stayed on the farm. But with this new puppy jumping and yapping all around her, she decided that this day was the day she’d go “play by the road. The wife found Cotton, safely sitting just off the road, while the puppy was in and out of the road. The puppy had to be locked up after that. I gave cotton some steak for the effort.

Ruby and Wildflower

The weekend before we had to put Ruby down, I was home alone with her while everyone else was at the beach. She had calmed down considerably from the snorting, farting, bouncing thing I’d never quite gotten used to. As far as we knew, she was perfectly fine so this was just another weekend. I’d made a career over the past seven years as the grumpy dad, always complaining about “the rat dog.”. With nobody around, and Ruby actually acting almost like a normal dog, I scratched her a bit. Maybe rubbed her belly. And of course we shared some steak one night, and some pork chop another night. I mean, it was gonna go to waste. I wasn’t being nice to her, you know. Just getting rid of some garbage.

And I spent quite a bit of time sitting on the porch while she sat out on the sun and snoozed in the grass. I didn’t mind. The weather was nice and I enjoyed sitting out there anyway. I certainly wasn’t being nice to that dog. I was just enjoying a bit of a sit myself, maybe near the dog. And certainly not scratching behind her ears as she snoozed. If you say different, I’ll deny it.

We found that Ruby had cancer. Bad cancer. She’d just had a full workup in June and by all indications she was perfectly fine. I assumed, with my luck, that I’d die before the dog did. But Sunday night the wife was at the emergency vet and the prognosis was she needed to be put down, pretty much immediately. With a big dose of morphine, she was able to come home one last time and everyone was able to say goodbye. We went from having 7 more years with a dog to she was gone in a matter of hours. We went from two dogs at the beginning of the year to none by August. It was quite a shock and there were a good number of tears.

Ruby and Spork on the porch

We fully expected Ruby to last another 7-8 years based on her breed. Now we have zero dogs in the house. You can guess what the conversation has been around the house. I’m fine being dogless as I’m not going to get another working dog. And despite all evidence to the contrary, I don’t understand needing this.

However the noise has already started. It sounds something like a freight train running over a car. And I’m driving the car. Ugh.

We are a Nextdoor.com neighborhood favorite, again!

Last year Nextdoor.com put our a notice that they were having a contest in each category for neighborhood favorites. Thinking it would be good marketing for us, I put out a request to all of you to please vote for us. I had low expectations because we were up against the Raleigh Farmers Market, the biggest farmers market in North Carolina. But hey, you gotta try.

To my great honor, we won! We got a little sticker and a little letter from Nextdoor and we were listed on a page on their website that I could only find with the link they sent me. But hey, we won and now I can make some hay with that. I can do some marketing, maybe make a sign. Who knows what?

And then I got busy. The letter is on my desk. I need to make a sign, still. All these things were on the “to do” list but I never could get around to them. Marketing is being proactive, and I’m always working on the reactive stuff, like paying taxes, doing payroll, getting a cow to the processor, etc.

So fast forward a few weeks ago. Spork and I are working frantically to try to get the plane finished and I get a note from Nextdoor.

“Hey, great news, we are having our neighborhood favorite contest again. Make sure you do everything you can to get promoted.”

Ugh. I’ve barely eaten or slept. I don’t have time to even put the word out. I guess we’ll just have to miss the contest this year and I’ll try again next year.

Imagine my surprise when I received this in my email.

“It’s official – you’re a winner and neighbors love you! Only 1% of all businesses are voted as a Nextdoor Neighborhood Favorite, and Ninja Cow Farms is one of them!”

Last year I felt like I’d stuffed the ballot box and had my mom vote for me several times. Yes I only communicated it out to our normal mail list but we have a lot of folks on our mail list and they are all very kind to us.

This year, you guys pulled through for us WITHOUT me stuffing the box. That is so cool. AND somebody took our dinky little road sign so now I HAVE to get a new sign. Plus I have a NC voluntary ag district sign I need to put up. Plus they are holding something for me already at the sign shop. And lastly, I need to put Nextdoor.com neighborhood favorite 2018 AND 2019 on a sign! Looks like I need to get my but over to the sign shop and get something ordered.

Thank you everyone for voting for us. It means a lot.

Welcome back to your actual job

Today was back to farming. Finally.

In March of 2018, Spork and I started a project to build an airplane together. As in, go fly around in it, airplane. This was a mom induced idea, something I give her the credit, and the blame for.

We worked on and off on it most months since March, but when Spork finished school in May, we started the final push to get the airplane done. By final push, I mean “playtime is over, we are working every minute of every day from now till we finish.” That averaged out to about 80 hours per week, each, for two months. Yes, that means I took the fun out of it. Sorry, sometimes things just need to get done.

What that has meant for the farm is that I’ve barely been here. And that usually was to run payroll, sleep, or eat. And eating was optional.

If you care about the airplane build, you can see it at FarmerFlier. If you don’t, what I can tell you is that I’m back. The plane has had its FAA inspection, and flown off the 40 hours of test flying. Yes I still have stuff to do to the plane, but at least it is a flyable contraption and I can work on it like a normal person. Say, 20 hours per week. As it concerns the farm, the end game is to operate it off of our pastures, allowing us to hopefully be able to give rides occasionally. Depending on a bunch of factors still to be determined. That is a topic for later.

Spork and I after our completed FAA inspection.

Anyway, today was back to the good old farming routine. On Tuesdays I make my run to meet my other farmers and restock the store. This is a normal weekly trip that I maintained even during the crazy build schedule. Product has to get into the store somehow. Today was a relatively normal day. I had to meet two farmers, pick up 400 pounds of pork from the processor, and high tail it back for a lunch meeting prior to then unloading all the goodies from the trailer. All in all just a normal day with a few hundred miles of driving, except for the need to be back to Raleigh at a set time, no sweat.

We’d just fixed a bad wheel bearing on my truck, and rotated the tires, so I was looking forward to the truck finally driving correctly. It had been driving pretty badly for the past month or so. But there had been no time to work on it. I’d noted that the bad front tire was now the bad back tire, and on the way back from dropping off a hog yesterday at the processor, it was hopping a bit. This morning, it seemed to be hopping even more than I recalled so I stopped in for a quick splash of gas before I left town to check it one more time. The tire looked fine, and it had been giving me fits for months on the front end, so “Meh, must be ok.”

When I made it to the processor, I found that the tire was not, in fact, ok. It was, um, shredded. Actually, there were wisps of smoke coming off of it. Something about doing 75 mph on a tire in this condition. Oops.

Truck tire with blown tread
Oopsie. Looks like that bad tire went REALLY bad.

Uh oh. Only 100 miles to go or so and I’m in Bailey, NC. I remember there being a tire shop of some variety. Maybe I can get a quick swap of a tire.

Nope. They weren’t open. And it appeared the building would fall in on itself at any minute, so not so much.

I met my farmer and picked up my pork, both events that added more weight to the tire pictured above. Not exactly optimal. Then I asked my contact at Bailey (Hi Brooke!) if she knew of a tire shop. Turns out she did, and she was my hero for the day. Pedro’s Tire Emporium or something like that. All I knew was I knew enough Spanish and had enough cash to get a tire swapped, if I could just make it there.

10 miles with the flashers on later, I pulled up and met Pedro. Turns out they had a bunch of used tires that were my size. I’d just wanted someone to swap for the spare I was carrying because that was faster than doing it myself. But they could swap a used tire faster than they could get the spare, and the price was right. So on went the used tire. I have to say, it was the first time I’ve ever bought a used tire but the situation dictated it and it got me on the road in about 20 minutes. With a quick run to my last stop, and pulling in as quickly as I could at my lunch meeting, I was able to still be there 8 minutes before I was scheduled to be.

On goes the “new” tire

Whew!

Welcome back to farming.

Now what else will go wrong tomorrow?

Duck eggs! Do they taste like chicken eggs?

Free ranging ancona ducks

Since I started working in the store, I have been bringing in duck eggs from my flock of Anconas. We fortunately have a dedicated following of customers looking for free-range duck eggs at a reasonable price ($8 dozen). The most frequent question is “what do they taste like?”

Short answer is ….like a chicken egg. Seriously though duck eggs are bigger, heavier and taste like an intense chicken egg. Duck eggs have a bigger yolk so they are higher both in fat and cholesterol. Ducks are typically foragers therefore their eggs are higher in protein as they eat all the bugs, snails, minnows, slugs they can find in my creeks/yard/garden beds. I’ve even seen them chasing each other on my property with a coveted frog or lizard. Nothing is funnier then seeing the winner waddle all over the property trying to keep their prize by swallowing it quickly. Secret though…..it’s usually a hen in the lead. If you are looking for a natural food with a higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, then stop by and pick up a dozen.

“What can I do with duck eggs?” Short answer is…everything you can with a chicken egg. Pastry chefs love duck eggs when making cream or custard fillings. Bakers love duck eggs because the higher fat content in the yolks and higher protein in the whites make cakes, muffins, quick breads and other baked goods richer and fluffier. I use the eggs for all the bread baking, waffles, pancakes and even just scrambled. Using them in an omelette or egg salad is great, too!

I don’t really enjoy hard boiled egg yolks, so I won’t use them for pickled eggs or a plain hard boiled egg. But you must try smoked hard boiled eggs and salt cured yolks. The salt cured yolks are then shaved onto pasta dishes, salads are any place you would use a shredded cheese for added flavor. Delicious!

The picture above is my flock being herded by my sweet Teddy who’s a farm dog (English Shepherd). My standard flock consists of 9 hens and one drake. I currently have 16 duck eggs incubating as we will be butchering the extra drakes in a couple weeks. Cooked duck sounds like another post for another day.

We are open today from 2-6 and fully stocked with your beef, chicken and pork needs for the extended holiday. Come visit and check out some of our new products and as always we have raw cow and goat milk available.

Hope everyone has a great 4th of July Celebration and stay safe!

New homemade product by the wee one

Wildflower in the kitchen
Wildflower in her natural element

My youngest daughter is our kitchen queen. She loves baking and making things. This of course started by helping mom stir the pot, licking the spoon, etc. But over the past few years she’s progressed from mommies helper to a bit of a force in the kitchen.

Fourth of July cake the Wildflower made by herself
The fourth of July cake, she made by herself.

She is very happy in the kitchen, happily working away, singing a song to herself. The only kid like whining you’ll hear from her is about the need to go get ingredients, and of course when it is time to clean up. She is only 10.

Wildflower with her final cake at baking camp
Wildflower at baking camp, with her final project.

Of course, SWMBO has encouraged all this baking, sending her to baking camp as you see above. But also buying her ingredients and even going so far as to make her the defacto party prepper for most anything that we attend. Need cookies for a get together, cake for a special event? Yeah, throw some flour and sugar at the wee one and see what she comes up with.

Wildflower with cupcakes she made for a party
Wildflower with cupcakes she made for a party

Not everything is a masterpiece, she’s still learning. But with Youtube and online recipes as her guide, she’s producing some pretty awesome stuff.

Gingerbread house
This one has as much fun as technique. We still encourage fun

So with these successes, I’ve gotten used to some sort of baking project ongoing at any point and time. They are as varied as whatever is on the internet and in the pantry. However some months ago, a new product started coming out of the kitchen. Slime.

You can’t do that on television – Nickelodeon

I don’t mean the kind of slime we grew up with on TV. I mean more like a stress ball, silly puddy kind of slime.

“Daddy, do you wanna see my slime?”

“Uh, ok honey. That’s really nice.”

The first few times she was making it, I really didn’t pay much attention. It was just the project of the week. But she really enjoyed playing with it. And she kept making more. And more. And more.

And then her sister knocked over a 1 gallon bottle of glue ( a main ingredient in slime) in the bedroom. After the cleanup, mom declared, “That’s it! No more slime.”

So much for slime.

Then I walked into this.

A sudden slime display in the store

Slime? Do people buy slime? Is it a thing? Does it have anything to do with farming? The work was already done, and this wasn’t leftover slime. She’d perfected her technique and had started making production slime for the store.

“It is ok to sell it daddy?” Big smile. Doe eyes.

“Uh, sure honey. Go for it.”

I figured it would collect some dust and that would be that. Then a mom with a little kid came in. The size kid that definitely couldn’t read. Did he want ice cream? Loco pops? Popcorn? Maybe just play in the kid’s corner? Nope, he had a crying fit because he wanted slime. Maybe she knows something I don’t.

All colors and consistencies

So stop by and get your kids some slime. They do seem to love it and there is nothing in the product that will hurt them. Plus, it will make my daughter amazingly proud that something she made on her own has sold.