January 2014


We just traveled the long drive back to CO, but this time as a family, to celebrate S’s official retirement ceremony from the Air Force.  We stayed with friends and saw other friends, which was really neat as we’ve never really been able to travel back to a place after we’ve left.  In addition, S’s brother from South Korea flew in, S’s mother came, and my brother and parents all came for the big culmination of S’s incredible career in the AF.

S retired as a Lt. Col (0-5).  The retirement speech and certificate was presented by Full General Gene Renuart (ret), a wonderful example of a man who was and is a great leader, both in the AF and in life.  We also got to spend time with his wife, Jill, a good friend from S’s days when he volunteered with Habitat for Humanity.

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Presenting of the Colors

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The official certificate, relieving S of his military duty

The presentation of the flag and the medals and ranks S wore throughout his career.   This was actually a fun surprise that involved a lot of coordinated efforts.  S knew he was getting the flag, flown on several of "his" aircraft.  What he didn't know until it was presented was that the flag was originally flown over the nation's capital and presented to my father for his service in the Desert Shield/Desert Storm war.  My father wanted to give it to S, so he mailed it to our friend heading the whole thing up, who then got it flown on several of S's career aircraft.  Thus, this flag has quite a story to tell!

The presentation of the flag and the medals and ranks S wore throughout his career. This was actually a fun surprise that involved a lot of coordinated efforts. S knew he was getting the flag, flown on several of “his” aircraft. What he didn’t know until it was presented was that the flag was originally flown over the nation’s capital and presented to my father for his service in the Desert Shield/Desert Storm war. My father wanted to give it to S, so he mailed it to our friend heading the whole thing up, who then got it flown on several of S’s career aircraft. Thus, this flag has quite a story to tell!

A quick moment with old friends, the General and his wife.

A quick moment with old friends, the General and his wife.

My mom managed to capture a quick family photo during all the chaos of the afternoon....well, almost.  M was missing.

My mom managed to capture a quick family photo during all the chaos of the afternoon….well, almost. M was missing.

There's M!

There’s M!

Father and daughter....my dad and I.

Father and daughter….my dad and I.

Grandpa and grandsons, saluting the flag.

Grandpa and grandsons, saluting the flag.

A big hit of the event was the official retirement cake, to celebrate and symbolize S’s leaving of one career to begin another:

S's retirement cake.  Representing the Red Wattle hogs he had butchered a couple weeks prior, and his new career as a farmer.  The cake was wonderful, and when you cut into it, it was chocolate with raspberry filling.

S’s retirement cake. Representing the Red Wattle hogs he had butchered a couple weeks prior, and his new career as a farmer. The cake was wonderful, and when you cut into it, it was chocolate with raspberry filling.

BUSTED!!  (I later found out Nana had a little something to do with instigating this!)

BUSTED!! (I later found out Nana had a little something to do with instigating this!)

After the ceremony, we had a catered dinner with Roast, which is intended to roast the retiree.  There were very few embarrassing stories, though, as it was clear S was a well-loved man, friend, instructor, and professional airman.  The stories of his life, as presented by others made this fact clear.  It was a great week, spent with friends and family, celebrating S’s amazing career, and we came back home to the farm with many great memories and photos!

As usual, life keeps me from blogging right now.  There is so much going on, I just hope I can catch up on the blog one day.

In the mean time, our latest news is that we are now officially, legally, in business as “Red Gate Farm, llc.”   I have decided to divide the blog up into 2 seperate websites.  I will maintain this page for my blog, adoption info, recipes, and resources, which seem to be popular.  All business- and sale related stuff will be on our new website:

www.redgatefarmllc.com

We are excited to have just sent out our first annual newsletter complete with our 2014 order form, and look forward to seeing what this year has in store for us!

 

WARNING:  Graphic hog-killing photos below!

With Sean’s arrival at Red Gate, the time had come to say “goodbye” to our first hogs.  Here is their “goodbye” photo (unbeknownst to them):

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It was quite simple and stress free.  I opened their gate in the far end of the pasture, rattled their feed bucket, and called them.  Maple and Honey came running and grunting.  We jogged all the way across the main pasture, down the hill to the barn together (with me praying I wouldn’t stumble on the way, lest those hogs think I was for dinner!).  We got them to follow us into one of the barn stalls, where we awaited a career professional butcher who was coming to show S a new way to do the hogs.  S has slaughtered a couple hogs before, but he loves learning new techniques.  As soon as the hogs were in the stall, they immediately began rooting around in the bedding to find the now-fermented corn I had tossed in several months prior.  The butcher arrived while S was setting up the equipment.  I ran inside to get the kiddos situated and grab the camera, and before I could get back, they had shot the hogs with a rifle and were dragging them to the eviscerating cradles.  I LOVE knowing that our hogs never stressed through this process.  They were literally rooting around when he shot them.  In fact, he even used special, quieter, sub-sonic bullets to reduce the noise level.  That way, the shot for the first hog did not frighten the second hog.  She simply looked up, then went back to rooting.  That’s the last thing she remembered.  No worry, no fear, no stress.  Just the way we like it!

They quickly bled the hogs and cut off the heads, then drug them out to the cradle.  For the record, in the past, S hung the hogs to eviscerate, but this teacher preferred “cradles” to make it easier.  S is now a huge fan of the cradles.  Apparently it made the task much simpler, since it prevents the guts from falling out before you are ready.

A headless hog on the cradle

A headless hog on the cradle

Also, in the past, S learned to scald and scrape the hide, but this time, he learned to skin.  He says it was significantly more difficult that any other animal he has ever skinned–except for maybe the old rooster a couple years ago.  It was still a faster method than the scald and scrape, though.  Obviously, both have their place.

After eviscerating, they hung the hogs on gambrels to skin them.

After eviscerating, they hung the hogs on gambrels to skin them.

Skinning the hog

Skinning the hog

Ready to split and hang.  Notice the lack of back fat.

Ready to split and hang. Notice the lack of back fat.

Another new technique he learned this time was to hang the sides for a couple of days to equalize the temperatures of the meat.  Temperatures were perfect in our garage, where we hung them and, by opening or closing the garage doors, we maintained pretty consistent temps around 38* F  for 48 hours.  Then, the butcher returned to show S some professional ways to cut the meat.

Cutting the sides up

Cutting the sides up

Bacon to the left, ribs in the center, and chops on the right.

Bacon to the left, ribs in the center, and chops on the right.

My job was to collect the cuts and wrap them in the freezer paper, weigh and record them, and get them into the freezer in single, spaced layers so they could freeze as fast as possible.

Me wrapping with R supervising the whole process.

Me wrapping with R supervising the whole process.

Just for the record, my last live weight calculation of each hog was 220 lbs, give or take a few.  We weren’t able to get a hanging weight on the sides, but the final in-the-freezer weight of everything was 154 lbs. (about 78 lbs per hog).  This included about 46 lbs of hams, 2 of which we tried brining and the other 2 we cut into ham roasts, an assortment of chops, steaks, ribs, tenderloins, and misc. other cuts, and 28 lbs of ground pork for making into sausage.  Not to shabby for our first forest hogs, I’d say.  It supports the theory that the average hog hanging weight is about 60% of the live weight, and the average take home weight is about 60% of the hanging weight.  In addition, we got a week’s worth of meaty bones and organ meats for the livestock guardian dogs’ dinners, a couple pounds of lard, and we boiled up several of the back ribs for shredded BBQ pork the first evening.  It was delicious!

Some of the ground pork, ready for seasoning.

Some of the ground pork, ready for seasoning.

Dinner time!

Dinner time!

We learned a lot from the experience.  First, the pigs absolutely thrive out in the forest glen environment, rooting, rolling, nesting, whatever.  They are quite hardy, even in cold temperatures as long as they have shelter and wind breaks in the winter and shade and water to cool them in the summer.  They do so well rooting and foraging for their food, in fact, that even though winter had thoroughly killed off all the forage as far as we could tell, despite the fact that we did not feed them any dinner or breakfast (S likes empty bellies for harvest time!), their stomachs and intestines were quite full of whatever they found out there.  It surprised everyone.  Secondly, we learned that heritage pigs on forage will not gain weight like other pigs.  In fact, at 8 months of age, ours had only about 1/2-3/4 inch of back fat, as compared to 2-3 inches on a 6 month old commercial hog.

We have already reserved 4 pigs for this spring, but as a result of what we learned, we are going to try to do things a little differently this time.  We are getting them in early April’ish for starters, so they can take advantage of the lush spring vegetation.  Shortly thereafter, we will hopefully have a tremendous abundance of milk from 1, maybe 2 cows, and 4 goats, most of which will go to supplement the pigs forage diet.  We also hope to have an abundance of eggs to supplement their diet with, and I may cook them up this time, as I’ve learned that cooking eggs doubles the amount of digestible protein available.  Protein builds muscle (meat), while starch builds fat (marbling).  Eggs are good protein, while milk contains plenty of both.  We are still going to raise them until 8 months of age, but that will only take us to October this year, meaning they should have plenty of vegetation for their entire growth period this go around.  It will be interesting to compare the results with this year.

S's cousin holding a trophy (which later went to the dogs).

S’s cousin holding a trophy (which later went to the dogs).

As you may know, we began our first experience with cattle this past summer.  After years of research, we had it all planned out.  I bought 2 registered Lowline cow/calf pairs, and included in the price was the opportunity to breed back to a registered bull at my preferred time.  Thanks to our research, we decided to allow the calves to nurse as long as the cows would let them, and see if the cows would wean naturally.  Then, we had them bred in July and August so that 2014 calves would be born in the spring.  This meant there was a better chance of survival (no snow or frigid temps to worry about), and if the yearling calves didn’t wean naturally, my barn paddock would be available to separate them out when the new calves were close to being delivered.  We thought it was a beautiful plan.

Everything ran according to plan–sort of.  You see, I have this problem with making assumptions.  It’s a weakness that tends to get me into trouble quite frequently.  Although I didn’t see our black Lowline, Holly, actually get bred, I assumed she had in the first week since the bull was close to her side for the first week he was here.  I mean, hey, I did have better things to do around here than stand around to see bulls breed cows.  First mistake.  Then, thanks to a drought, we began haying early and the cows had free-choice hay access since late summer.  It was no surprise that Holly gained weight so quickly.  I assumed with her being the dominant boss cow and all, it made since that she would fatten up with all that hay.  Second mistake.

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Sean moved home in December and took over my chores.  Literally, for almost a week, I didn’t set foot outside in the cold.  It was WONDERFUL!  No milking on frigid mornings, no ice to deal with, nothing.  It was almost 2 more weeks before I finally decided it was time I go give everyone a good check up before the next winter storm moved in.  I am so glad I did.  That 3 weeks away gave me an outsider’s perspective.  I got out to the cow pen, took one look at Holly, and said, “Oh.My.Stars!  That is no “fat” belly!”  That girl was so clearly VERY pregnant, it looked like she would pop any second.  She reminded me of a ball walking around on stump legs.  I immediately ran in and called the seller to ask “What on earth?!”  Apparently, when I bought her, he had a suspicion an “oops” may have happened shortly after she calved last year, but hoped it hadn’t.  Therefore, he didn’t say anything.  Seeing as how that prize bull of his has so far had a 100% success rate at settling cows, looks like that oops was a big one!

Check out that wide load.  I think she was offended and decided she'd rather hide in her shelter than let me take photos of her wide self.

“Does this make me look fat?” I think she was offended and decided she’d rather hide in her shelter than let me take photos of her wide self.

So the bad news is that Holly is due to calve anytime between now and the end of February.  By the looks of her, it will be sooner than later.  So much for our plan of a spring calf.  Seeing as how we have below zero temperatures and 8 inches of snow on the ground right now, I have to keep a close eye on her.   The good news, however, is that the particular bull who took advantage of her is a very valuable Lowline bull, whose heifer calves never sell for less than $3500!  Sight, unseen, the seller (a big whig with the Lowline organization) has already suggested a trade for 3 steer calves if it’s a heifer.  I’ll have to figure out what to do (as much as I like the seller, I have a feeling he will come out waaaay ahead on that deal!).  Even if it’s a bull calf, he wants to take a look at it for possible trade.  The other possible good news is that, if I can get Holly to let me milk her, she could potentially get us through our dry spell we are expecting in the spring, when the goats dry up in preparation for kidding, and until Abbigail, the jersey cow, delivers.  That would be a tremendous blessing to not have 6 weeks of no milk!

In the mean time, Abbigail is having to unexpectedly share her stall space with Holly’s 10 month old calf for weaning.  No one is too thrilled about that.  Except Holly, who seems somewhat relieved to have him no longer begging for more milk.

Every year, goat breeding season rolls around, and every year, I miss my beloved buck, Stallion (we had to sell him, which you can read about here).  Every year, I consider buying another good buck so I don’t have to worry about finding and depending on some outside buck.  Then, God always blesses us with a good outside buck who visits for a while, and every year, I suddenly find myself reminded of the fact that I do NOT, in fact, care to own a buck, nor do I even want one on the property a day longer than necessary to get the deed done.

This summer, I sold the best buckling I’ve ever had born on my farm (in fact, Pride was the only buck I’ve ever kept in tact).  Unfortunately, he was too closely related to most of my girls this year, so I sold him with breeding rights, which included use of another buck owned by the buyer.  This new buck, Fearless, has a very impressive pedigree, is probably even friendlier than Stallion was, and I can’t deny he is a gorgeous Alpine boy with an impressive beard!

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What I also cannot deny is the the smell he exuded, which hit me before I was within 50 feet of that trailer.  A week after his delivery, I do believe his bucky aroma had permeated every nook, cranny, and crevice of my barn, was my constant companion during milking, had altered the flavor of my normally-delicious goat milk (in a bucky sort of way–not good!), and occasionally made its presence known even in the house after someone accidentally let him rub his disgusting beard on their clothing.

I was originally planning to hang onto him for about 8 weeks, to make sure all girls were covered, and give me time to preg-check them.  The smell was just more than I could handle though, so as soon as I saw all girls bred, I hauled the beast home!

Other than the stink, though, he was a gentlemen for the most part.  He did what we needed him to do, and never asked for more than a hug in return.

I hope your Christmas and New Year holiday was as great as ours.  In fact, ours was quite wonderful.  S came home to stay!  So, here is the story I never felt comfortable stating online during his absence.

We knew we were looking at S’s retirement from the military soon, and we had a house out in CO to sell.  After some prayer and discussion, we decided we wanted to take advantage of the spring and summer selling season, as that is when the majority of the military are moving.  We also decided that since we were moving about 30 animals, we wanted to do it in a way that would cause the least amount of stress for them.  Thus, it was decided we would offer our house for sale early in the year.  If it sold, great, if not, S would continue to stay there.  Either way, the kids and I would move the animals in May so they wouldn’t be transferred in the heat and humidity of summer nor would we be risking a treacherous drive in the winter.  There are hours of backroads and 2-lane highways on our route.

Sean was able to take about a month off to help us get moved and settled a bit, and then he had to return to CO in late June for the summer term.  At that point, he visited when he could, which was once or twice a month.  He would usually fly in for the weekend, and then leave a day or two later.  Quick, but refreshing visits for us all.  I went out to see him once during one of his longer periods away.  Except for the brief visits, we were apart for 7 surprisingly fast months.  We both stayed so incredibly busy that the time rather flew by.  Since we did wind up selling our house before I left, he stayed busy bouncing from house to house in exchange for helping the home-owners with random projects around their homes and farms.  I stayed busy with the kids and running Red Gate.

S finally made it home to stay 3 days before Christmas.  The youngest children are just now beginning to understand that he doesn’t have to leave again.  Technically, he isn’t retired yet.  We saved up a lot of leave time, so all that is added together and he is now on “terminal leave,” where he uses up all that paid leave prior to the actual separation from the Air Force.  His official date of retirement is March 1.  In the mean time, we are on an extended vacation here at Red Gate Farm. We will be heading back to CO as a family for a few days in order to celebrate his retirement with a ceremony and special dinner, and we are looking forward to that.  It will give the kids and I an opportunity to see our friends again one more time.  We also have an appointment scheduled with the boys’ therapist to re-evaluate their development.  In addition to having S home, my parents drove in for Christmas, and S’s mom and brother joined us on Christmas day.  It was the biggest family Christmas we’ve ever had.  VERY cool for our first Christmas truly “home.”

Now, we are working through the rather lengthy project list we created.  S has blessed me by taking over all my farm and outdoor duties, including milking, for a while so I can focus on being wife and mom, and getting my blood sugar levels back under control.  I kinda lost control there for a while due to all the chaos of my life this past year.  I have my own list of projects–mostly paperwork related–that I am working on indoors.   We are hoping to have most of the critical projects completed by spring, so the farm can be up and running the way we’ve dreamed of.  We are actually planning to “go live” as a more formal farm business this year, and will be taking orders for the meat we are raising this year.  That means I have to get permits and proper licenses, which I am working on as well.

So now you know why I’ve been blogging so infrequently lately.  When I said things were a little hectic and crazy, I meant it! Now we are looking forward to getting back into a normal routine.  Whatever that is.