Living on the Edge of Rich World vol III

So a neighbor came by yesterday with 60 dozen double-yolked, fertile turkey eggs and asked me if I wanted some, I said sure.

Turns out he "knows a guy" who works at a turkey ranch and this is turkey incubating time. Turkeys, like all good "modern" CAFO organisms, can't reproduce without human help and part of the industrial process is candling the eggs and discarding the doubles.

Eggs of course are the perfect naturally packaged food capable of remaining edible for at least a couple of months with no refrigeration. With a little care and you can extend that out to 6 months or more.

Eggs with an intact shell are pretty well hermetically sealed - if you handle them carefully and don't wash them, momma hen's own tamper proof container is sealed with an airtight coating known as "bloom". The only thing you can do to improve their 'shelf life' is try to keep out air and keep in the liquids after 'the bloom is off the rose' – sorta-speak.

Anyway, quite a while ago I had purchased a gallon of Sodium Silicate, known as 'waterglass' to your great-gram. We had a bunch of new hens and way too many eggs. Turns out we gave away eggs till things settled down in the hen house and so I still have most of the waterglass concentrate. I paid about $20 for a gallon of concentrate, I think though, if you check the link at the bottom of the blog you can see why the price is $30-something now.

From The Pure Food Cook Book, 1914

WHEN eggs are their cheapest and best, in May or early June, and before the really hot weather has come, the wise householder will put away, in water glass, a liberal quantity. If possible, " put down " enough to carry the family through the months when eggs " soar." If carefully packed, and if there are not more than three or four dozen in a crock, and again if they are kept covered with the water glass, they will keep well.

I posted these directions on a message board a few years ago:

One gallon of the solution (1 pint of sodium silicate solution to 9 or 10 pints of water yielding a little more than a gallon) should preserve 75 to 100 dozen eggs (900 - 1200 eggs) according to Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living Old Fashioned Recipe Book. If you want smaller quantities just keep the ratio intact at the 1:9 ratio. ie: 1/2 cup to 4 1/2 cups or 1 cup to 9 cups or 1 pint to 9 pints of water. Here are the details of the method referred to as the Water-glass method. Pack the eggs when they are between 24 hours and 4 day old. Older eggs don't keep as well. Unfertilized eggs will keep longer than fertilized eggs. 

Start with a clean crock* or (6 gallon food grade) deep plastic pail. Boil the water and let it cool before you add it to the waterglass. Then pour the mixed solution into the crock or pail. Remember not to fill the crock or container more than about one third full of the solution because you will be adding eggs.
Add the eggs. Do not wash the eggs before preserving them because the egg shell has a natural sealer on it that will be removed. Dirty eggs can be washed and used immediately. Make certain there is an extra 2 inches of solution covering them. In hot weather it evaporates pretty fast so watch it carefully. Cover the container as tightly as you can to ensure that no insects can enter the container. Store it in a cool dark place. Don't let it freeze. 

It starts out as a clear liquid but gradually turns to a cloudy jelly. When adding additional eggs or making up for loss due to evaporation, just be sure to cover them with about 2 inches of solution mixed at a 1:9 ratio. Preserving the eggs in this manner will keep them for up to one year. Eggs should be washed thoroughly before using.
Be sure to follow any safety tips or directions on the sodium silicate container or from the pharmacist while handling the solution or Sodium Silicate itself.

Another old link,  and 'nother link with instruction for use of dry sodium silicate,   and last but best, the great egg stor-off from, of course,  Mother '77.

And a more modern use for "waterglass"but don't tell where you heard it...

I looked for an old-timey version of "turkey in the Straw" and found Liberace but decided to link this by Cousin Emmy because it's just better on it's face.


*Most any container without a toxic history should do to store your eggs but be careful when using a croc...




Just some wandering around pictures after 2 weeks of gloomy overcast.

Turns out most illustrate my poor maintenance schedule.  

The brush hog and it's enemy...


Hookin' Up in the Sticks

So a big part of getting by down on the farm is finding a way to make modern day egg money. Sure you can have a town job and still live in the sticks but then you're basically a suburbanite with a big lawn and a bigger fuel bill. I know, I once lived in the California Sierra Nevada foothills and worked in the central valley. A commute of over an hour wasn't bad when I was a mid-level toadie but once I opened my own business, the drive plus 12 or 14 hour days made me feel like I only saw home on the weekends.

For me the perfect solution is to telecommute.

You need a couple things to "earn-by-wire". First you need the gig, that's something you'll have to figure out on your own but secondly you need the wire - or wireless. I'm no expert on internet connectivity except for in my own office so let me tell you about my experience.

After spending several months shopping for a farm online we decided on our general area and flew out to see the chosen few places. The picking was easy, in 10 midwest and southern plains states we only had a handful of prospects and after a quick trip we found we had lucked into one place fitting our criteria almost to a tee.

We had already reviewed about everything we could about SW MO generally but the internet connection required us to settle on a place first. I do commercial print graphics and routinely transfer fairly large files both upload and download so a good connection was a pretty big priority. I knew cable obviously was out and DSL was probably out as well since The Place is around 5 or 6 miles from a town of only 4k but I checked anyway.

Sure enough, no DSL. So right away I was down to satellite or wireless or - gulp, dial-up. I was concerned about weather interference problems with satellite and cell service was spotty. Though we're only talking 6 years ago the cell networks here really weren't made for quick data transfer waaay back then and anyway we had very bad cell reception.

I just happened to stumble on a local company who had a wireless network just for internet conection! I arranged for them to do a site survey and they said we were golden so we pulled the trigger and signed the contract on the farm.

Skip ahead a couple of months and we are unloading the trailers and wondering where the guys are to install the antenna that was supposed to have been up by the time we arrived - welcome to the Ozarks bub, cool yer jets.

We get a dial-up account established and boy is it slow, I mean so slow that sometimes my machine just gives up trying, this is definitely not good. Several calls and here comes Mutt and Jeff and a ladder.

So we get the antenna up and boy it works fine, it ain't DSL but it ain't bad.

A couple of months go by and overnight the speed goes to pot, a few calls and a few excuses from Mutt about how Jeff is working on the problem and all of a sudden no connection whatsoever. By this time I have an unrelated computer virus on the PC and a Mac with no modem. Let me tell you, I love the Ozarks and wouldn't leave for the world but that weekend driving around Springfield Missouri trying to find an external Macintosh modem while a good client's big job is on deadline is one for the books!

In the end the job goes out because I got lucky and found a Mac modem and am now back to rejoicing over a dial up connection that barely connects. The calls and visits from Jeff and Mutt go on for months, replacing the modem, re-tuning the antenna, ducking my calls.

Finally I'm talking to a new not-Mutt/Jeff guy. This guy bought the franchise from the first guy who really only wanted to sell the service, not necessarily keep it working. Turns out the big antenna that my little antenna was trying to talk to had been moved lower on the tower to make room for the new fangled, faster type antenna at the top! Not surprisingly the old-fangled antenna was moved lower at the same time my reception went to pot.

But what is surprising is nobody told me my connection would never work without upgrading to the new flavor antenna or asked me the many times we talked if I wanted to spend some more money to get a better connection.

Of course when they told me what was going on I paid the $300 to get the new antenna installed on my roof and new modem-receiver-electronic-gizmo and have had pretty good service since, not counting a few outages after ice storms, tornadoes that sort of thing. I get about 1mb down and 500k up for $49/mo. and out in the toolies that ain't bad until they get fibre that last mile.

Finally, I have three pieces of advice about country connections for the telecommuter:

Make sure the people you are talking to understand you need the connection to make money to pay their bill – you are not just surfing for porn or cake recipes.

Have a back up dial up or a friend with a good connection.

Know where the fedEx drop box is.

P.S. Neither Mutt nor Jeff were bad guys, just in over their heads, I never did pay for the first antenna installation or any service till the new antenna was up.


Little Mucker Survives!

Here is yesterday's little mucker all dry and happy, notice the milk mustache, actually he may not be so happy, he looks like he's thinking he should have a THREE qt. bottle!

Just a little more on raising calves, we bring them home and bed 'em in little hutches for the first 3 weeks or so. By that time if they are going to get sick they usually have and we can treat them in isolation so we know just what's happening. By that time they are starting to eat some grain and are rambunctious enough to keep up with their cousins or we leave them in the hutch a little longer.

When they are ready we put them in groups of 5 in a larger pen and feed them replacer from a bucket with 5 nipples for a few more weeks before we start weaning. At 6 weeks or so they are on just one bottle for one last week, high protein feed and good grass hay. We try not to let them out on grass till they are about 3 months, if they start grazing too soon it retards the ability of the rumen to absorb nutrients, remember that back in olden wild cow days before dairies, dairymen and Ben and Jerry's, calves stayed with mom and nursed pretty well till mom said enough – certainly longer than 6 or 8 weeks.

Raising bull calves is a fine balance, obviously you want them to be happy and healthy and the longer they are on a bottle the better but milk replacer doesn't come cheap, figure $15 a week, good sweet starter grain is maybe $3 a week when they get going, plus straw and hay and vaccines and meds and miscellaneous supplies and the occasional and sometimes more than occasional failure and pretty soon it's a hobby because you aren't even breaking even.

Then you always need to figure in the cost of pilferage...


Orphans of Industrial Ag.

It's kind of hard not to feel sorry for dairy bull calves.

From the standpoint of the dairyman they are at best a byproduct of the process, at worst a nuisance and cow killer. When a heifer calf hits the ground, you can bet she is swept up and fawned over from the first moment, little bulls like this not so much. The little dairy where I trade a couple hours worth of chores a day for bull calves is a mom and pop outfit. They care for each cow like no thousand cow dairy could, they know each girl by sight, who her mom was and who her girls are.

Still when lots of things are going on, like today, a little guy like this can get forgotten. Today 3 cows calved, one cow went down with milk fever (calcium deficiency) then died in the hay barn right in the way of the feed wagon. The vet had to be called because I thought one of the dry cows had been acting funny and this morning she was pushing like labor though she wasn't due for weeks - turned out she had a dead calf in her - not a pretty situation.

I sometimes call modern Holsteins "Frankenstein Milk Monsters" because they are bred for just one thing: to provide your double chocolate chocolate chip ice cream as cheaply as possible. To that end they are selected for - what else, giving milk in the largest amount with the least input until they fall over dead, which isn't but a few years nowdays. They are big, they have a hard time standing on slick concrete holding pens and sometimes fall and "Split out" ruining their ligaments I suppose and though they get hand fed, watered, lifted with a tractor and sling for exercise they usually expire.

Though sires are also selected for small birth weights at least somewhat, many times the dam is a huge bruiser (a good thing) and she throws a huge bruiser calf and if it's her first or second calf it can kill her. There are two first time moms in the hay barn over there, due to birth paralysis they have hobbles on their back legs to keep them from falling and splitting out.

One thing they are never selected for is being good moms because they don't usually see that calf but just for a few hours. That's what happened to this guy, they were in a nice lean too shed up out of the muck but mom would have nothing to do with him. A good mom starts licking a calf right away and soon cleans him dry, it stimulates the calfs circulation and makes it want to get up and suck which in turn helps the mom "clean" – expel the placenta. But of course none of that matters because people take care of all that stuff, mom goes on the milk string and calf goes in a hutch.

This guy is gonna have a hard time, he got pretty cold before I got him home and rubbed down. He went right after the bottle though and it warmed him up enough to start shivering, a good sign. He's wearing the red poncho to help warm up (and my belt because I couldn't find the velcro). His hutch is nice and warm and I shoved him in and hope he'll stay inside, it's misty and kind of windy though only about 40*.

Dairy calves as opposed to beef calves are quite helpless, many are so large as to not be able to stand on their own, especially bull calves which are larger than heifers. Many times the reflex to nurse seems to be missing as well, I was feeling pretty good so far, we have 5 babies (out of 20-25 in the next couple months) and I haven't had to use a stomach tube on one - till this morning... and the same calf this evening. It is imperative for a calf to get a gallon of colostrum (first milk) in the first 24 hours. It contains moms antibodies and the calf's a ability to absorb them decreases by 50% every 10 hours from birth. Without those antibodies that kid is gonna have a hard time surviving without lots of meds.

Don't get me wrong, I don't bring home the little muckers because I feel sorry for them, I bring them home because it's one way to make some cash money in the country on the edge of modern farming. It's hard to not like the little shits when they are little and frisky out kicking and bucking when we move them from the hutches to group pens at a couple weeks. And though I cuss at 'em when they are daring me to keep them alive it makes me feel good when they do good. 

Still, I hope to buy some old line dual purpose heifers this year, maybe old line milking shorthorns, red polls or Devons. Some old "family cow" line that was abandoned when the transition to concentrate feeding began in the 40's and 50's. Some line whose moms don't need chains and butt jacks to calve, remember how to mother a calf and haven't been bred to be walking udders.

It would be nice if there were a market out there for just a good sturdy family milk and meat cow that gives a good amount of milk and calves that grow meat instead of just hair and were raised on grass by their moms instead of being orphaned in the muck.


Greenhouse Heating

I need to have heat in the greenhouse to get a good enough start to sell starts! This last February was 6* colder than average, and the average is around 20* at night with many below 10* (we'll just ignore the record of 29* below).

I don't have a lot of bucks to invest so let me tell you how my system came about: The first piece fell into my lap back in the summer when I saw a 60 gallon water heater sitting in front of my neighbor's milk barn. Being the curious junker I am I ask what was going on and the story went "the bigger chiller unit we installed caused the main breaker to keep tripping so we replaced the electric water heater with a propane unit"


So after I did him a favor and took the WH home, I stuck it in the shop thinking I would do something with it one day. Well one day came a few weeks ago when it dawned on me I could make that water heater into a radiant hydronic heater for my greenhouse benches. Here is a shot of 2 benches, each with it's own "curcuit" of tubing for hot water to cycle through:

I attached coils of PEX tubing to the underside of the bench tops and sealed the bottom with 1/2" rigid foam insulation - foil side up. The pex is plumbed to 3/4" pvc pipe, a supply and a return, and ran around to this work of engineering mastery:

Here you have your basic washing machine motor and pump assembly protected by a preciscion fitted plastic pot. Affixed to the top of the pump is the fully programable control unit (in the Folgers can). The control unit contains all the guts of the washing machine wiring because I couldn't figure out which of the 9 wires coming out of the motor would make it run. I just left them and the timer all connected and after a slight adjustment to the timer clock rendered it not a timer at all everything basically became an on/off switch.

If you look back at the pics of the seed cabinet, I think you can see behind it a sheetrock wall - you can see a bit of it behind the heater in this shot too. This building was a garage built sometime early last century and so it has a stemwall foundation. I'm building walls inside the old north wall and insulating them as I scrounge the materials, I'll do the north half of the roof as well. Here is a section through the wall so you can see I have about R-30 insulation with the part at the floor being rigid styrofoam.

Yet to be accomplished is connecting the pump to a line voltage t-stat I had hooked up to heat lamps for the previous incarnation of the greenhouse and completing the tubing installation on the last 2 benches. The washing machine pump setup is overkill since the motor is way overpowered for this job, if things work out I'll replace it with something more appropriate – when something turns up more appropriate that is...

My costs:
Benches, water heater motor/pump, wiring, breaker box - $0
200 ft PEX - $50
"Gator" fittings 10 @$6 = $60 Ouch!
PVC $40 +/-
40A 220 breaker - $20
 $170 total

I could have bought a Blue Flame propane heater and installed it for about the same but I'm thinking this will be much more efficient since I'm heating the underside of the trays with radiant heat and not the air of the entire greenhouse. Placing a cover over the benches using a cage structure (you can see the fence wire I'm experimenting with in the top photo and previous post) I can trap the heat right at the bench. Also in the back of my brain is plumbing the black water barrels as a solar collector / heat sink during the day.

The added benefit is that when starting seed or propagating from cuttings the soil temperature is what's important – which is why the seed mat in the starting cabinet, but with this setup we could theoretically start seed right on the benches.


Greenhouse Improvements

I'm having a hard time keeping up with my blogifying but here is some of what Susan and I have been doing in the greenhouse.

I am slowly getting the seed cabinet where I want, here is the new shelf and grow lights.

Right now we have some 72 cell flats on the shelf for germinating larger seeds like peas and what have you that are too big for the 3/4" soil blocks. The shelf is going to work out good when we get to the stage we are really starting a lot of seeds in soil blocks, 3-5 days on the mat till everything germinates then move that group up on the shelf for another week under the bright lights to get some true leaves going while another group goes directly on the heat mat to germinate.

You could start a crazy amount of seedlings in a little box like this - +/- 1800 a week every week!

 Here are what we have out in the sun, those are all 72 cell "plug" flats; everything from tomatoes to beans - 850 plants would have been 300 or so more if I hadn't accidentally left the heating mat in the seed cabinet unplugged on a 14* night – Doh!

BTW, I made the benches and parts of the seed cabinet from an old deck I tore down and the slats are the recycled lath from plaster we took down in the house.