Archive | September, 2013

Jowl Bacon!

23 Sep

You may be under the impression that we, as meat producers, eat a big rib-eye steak every night.

On the contrary, we usually get to eat the cuts that nobody else wants and the “oops” cuts from the butcher.

Case in point: Jowl.

We had the jowl cut from the last pig we butchered, but we meant to have it cured, smoked and sliced like bacon.  The message apparently didn’t get through.  The butcher gave us the whole uncured jowl (2-3lbs each).  While we would easily be able to sell cured & smoked jowl (or anything else resembling bacon for that matter) uncured jowl wasn’t exactly a hot seller.

That’s when I get to jump in and start playing around with it.


I took two of the jowls and cured them in my refrigerator for a little over a week.  I used a brine-cure with about 1c of kosher salt, 2tbsp of brown sugar, 1tbsp of Morton Tender-Quick and a bit of pepper.

After a good cure, it came out and went on the smoker with a good heap of apple wood chips.


Two hours of smoking later…


Pretty good looking stuff, if I do say so myself.

Once it had cooled a bit, I got slicing.


And frying…


And what didn’t get eaten right out of the pan ended up on this pizza.


It turned out pretty well. If I had it to do over again, I’d only let if cure 5 days. It turned out a little saltier than most bacon, but it’s also leaner, which means it’s pretty great to cut into chunks for recipes that require bacon.
It worked out really nice on the pizza, and I’ll have to try it out sometime in one of my favorite recipes: Spagetti al Carbonara which is traditionally made with Guanciale (Italians for Jowl).

Meet Bill

22 Sep

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We’ve had a few lady-pigs around the farm that are getting a mite lonely.
They’ve recently been lobbying me to get them a boyfriend.


I relented, and borrowed a boar from the fine folks at the Lake City Catholic Worker Farm. Meet Bill the boar.
The ladies have all been making his acquaintance, which apparently involves squealing at him nonstop.
Poor Bill spent the first couple days here being harassed and harangued by a bevy of young ladies that just wouldn’t leave the handsome young fella alone.


Bill is adjusting to his temporary digs quite well.  He even figured out a few places that he can go hide out from the ladies.

In a few weeks his job should be done and he’ll be returning home.  If everything goes well, we’ll be farrowing our first litter of piglets by February.

Installing the New Waterer

13 Sep

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After completely overhauling our new (old) Ritchey waterer, it was time to get it installed before the weather turns cold.

The lot fence around the old waterer was taken down, and the waterer was drained.


The old gate valve that supplies the waterer had long ago given up the ghost, so we had to shut off power to the well and drain the pressure tank. That meant that we had to work rather quickly, as the entire farm (and house) was without water until we got the valve replaced.


Fortunately, these waterers aren’t too complex, and it was all soon disconnected and ready to come off.


The new ball valve went on without a hitch, and water was restored to the rest of the farm and farm-house. Hooray for plumbing!

The new combination waterer made it’s entrance in the tractor bucket.

waterer in transit

Lets face it, the combination waterer is heavy (it has two big heavy troughs inside it), and we’re just gonna let the tractor deal with the heavy stuff.

The new waterer went down without much trouble, but it did have to move North by a foot or so. Then there was the problem with it not being anywhere near level. And all those holes in the concrete…


Luckily, a 2×4 under one edge of the waterer was all it needed to level out, and the holes could be filled in with a little bit of concrete and one new steel post.


It did not take the pigs and cows long to come see what all the commotion was about.

pig and cow check out waterer

Unfortunately, the pigs didn’t take long to figure out that it’s great fun to root around in wet concrete.


A cattle panel was quickly procured to keep the curious porcines at bay, at least until the concrete sets up.

A day later, and it seems like they’ve all got the hang of the new waterer.

Now to rebuild all that lot fence…

When the pond runs dry

8 Sep

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It’s officially getting pretty hot and dry around here.

We’ve officially got the distinction of “Moderate Drought” from the USDA drought monitor.  It’s nothing compared to last summer, but it is presenting us with a problem here on the new farm.

The pond is a bit leaky, so without any new rainfall, it just went ahead and dried up.


Unfortunately, the bull, cows and young calves are all back grazing the pasture around the pond. They’ve suddenly run out of water to drink.

Some quick fencing was in order.


A small alley was fenced off with polywire to let the cows come up to the pasture behind the barn.


We’ve got a 6′ stock tank in that pasture, fed by about 300′ of above-ground hose that’s coming from the one outdoor hydrant on the entire farm, right next to the well house.
The hose and tank aren’t exactly a permanent solution, but they’ll get us by until we can put in something a little better.


The bull certainly wasn’t complaining, just as long as he had some water for he and his ladies to drink.

Oh well, it could always be worse.

Livestock Waterer Overhaul

5 Sep

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It’s September and it’s becoming apparent that the hot weather is on it’s way out.  Now begins the furious preparation for the cold winter months.

One project that’s high up on our “before winter” list is to get our automatic waterer fixed up.


This is the Ritchey fountain that we used last year. It works (at least for the cattle) and it somehow avoided icing up last winter, even though someone replaced the heating elements and thermostat with a single 100 watt lightbulb.

Repairing this fountain was possible, but when a used Model 5 combination fountain showed up on Craigslist, the decision was easy.  A combination fountain would allow us to water both the pigs and cows all winter long without any worries.

I drove down to look at the fountain a few days later.  After removing the access panel, I quickly spotted a problem.


The fountain had been “decommissioned” as a hog waterer long ago. The float, valve and heating element had been removed from the hog water trough. Plus, there was a fair bit of corrosion all around.

Good thing there are folks in our town who sell Ritchey waterer parts…

So after talking the guy down to $160, I loaded up my new waterer and headed back home.

The first order of business was to completely disassemble the waterer.


The old 1/2″ fiberglass(?) batt insulation had long ago rotted away. We want the waterer to be as insulated as possible. This keeps the water liquid and our power bills down.


It took just over a half sheet of 1″ pink-board insulation and 2 tubes of liquid-nails to get most of the cabinet covered. At R 5.0, it’s a good bit better than the R 1.5 that the old fiberglass insulation would have been.


Both the water troughs were painted with Rusty-Metal Primer then top-coated with Leak-Seal. Hopefully that will keep the corrosion under control for the foreseeable future.

On the bottom, there was a bit of a problem with the old rusted-out drain pipe.


The newer Ritchey fountains use a plastic drain pipe. This old pipe was so corroded that I just cut it off.


Fortunately, the drain pipe is about the same size as a 1.5″ tailpiece for a sink. With a 1.25″ rubber pipe clamp, it all went together pretty nicely.


A new heating element, valve and float were procured, putting the hog waterer portion of the fountain back in business.

And, of course, no project is complete here at Green Machine Farm without the judicious use of expanding foam insulation.


Every nook and cranny was filled with foam, creating a nice easy-to-heat space inside.


It’s all back together and ready to be installed.


Not bad for about $250. It was a bit of work, but it saved us from having to pony up $1300 for a brand new one.

Repurposed Smidley Feeder

4 Sep

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This old Smidley calf feeder has been in the barn for quite some time.  Long enough that a raised concrete floor has been poured directly behind it, partially using the feeder as a form. It can basically be considered a permanent fixture.


The farms previous owner must have used when he raised performance-tested Charolais bulls. It’s not very useful to us.  Our calves are out on pasture with their moms for the first year, and out on pasture with the other weaned calves for their second year. There’s not a lot of calf feeding going on.
But I do have some pigs…

We’ve transitioned off of the “sour corn” that we’ve been feeding the pigs. It’s fine for a few head, but next year we might just be up to our eyeballs (relatively speaking) in pigs, so it was time to switch to an easier feed.

We’re still using a mix of corn and roasted soybeans, but we just get it “rough rolled” from the feed mill, no soaking required. It works quite well in the old Smidley feeder with just one little problem.

The pigs are lower to the ground than calves, so they can’t get their heads into the feeder very easily.

Removing the big 4×6 runners from the bottom of the feeder helped a lot, but this big 2×7 lip on the front was still making it hard for the pigs.


Measure, snap a line, and make a quick cut with the sawzall.


Then smooth out the rough edge with a jack plane.


Add a few pallets in front of the feeder, and it’s dinnertime.


Nom nom nom.

That didn’t take long!

3 Sep

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I was just passing by the barn on my way inside tonight, when I heard some squeaking coming from the new bat house.

Sure enough, there appeared to be a few critters in there just waiting for me to leave.


After snapping a few pictures, I left them alone to go eat bugs.

Barn Plans

3 Sep

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When I was younger, I always loved cracking open the old books my parents had.

Their copy of “Back To Basics” always had some cool diagrams for how to layout a farm or homestead. I must have been a dorky kid, because I loved looking through those diagrams and imagining the myriad concerns that necessitated their placement.


But now that I’m older, I find those kind of diagrams laughable.

Sure, it all looks great on paper, but where on earth do those exact conditions converge?

Certainly not on our farm.

We’ve got a plethora of buildings that are already here. They may be built for a different use, they may be in disrepair, they may be poorly sited, but they’re what we have to work with.

There doesn’t seem to be anything about that in the old books.

So it’s time to start my own farm layout, starting with the barn.

The barn is a bit of a problem.  It’s an old dairy barn that was re-purposed as a horse barn.


The result is a bit of a mess, not particularly useful for anything.

We don’t have dairy cattle (or horses), so we don’t really need the stalls.  We don’t really need much room inside the barn to keep our large livestock, they tend to stay outside most of the time, because the pasture is more interesting to them.

Many farmers use their old barns to store equipment, but that’s not really an option for us (at least on the ground level of the barn).  The doors are all too small to get equipment in, and the floor is too uneven to move equipment around easily.

So I know what I don’t need from the barn, what about what I do need?

I need a place to brood chicks.

I need a few pens to feed and contain winter-farrowing sows, bottle calves and various other sick or needy livestock.

I need some basic cattle working facilities (head-gate, chute, sorting pens, etc.)

I need a good loading ramp/chute for pigs and cattle.


I’ve been spending plenty of spare time with a pen and paper, sketching out potential solutions to the barn dilemma. It’s gone through a few drafts, but I think I’m closing in on a pretty good layout.

Barn Shelf

1 Sep

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Sometimes I get very excited about the little things.

Little things like finally having a place to store some stuff in the barn.

Up until today we have had a huge barn, but no good place to store anything inside; most of the barn has been filled with junk (manure and scrap lumber) for years. It looked an awful lot like this:


Over the past 10 months we’ve shoveled a lot of manure and torn out a lot of old lumber.
It looked a lot better, but there was a lot of spare equipment piled up in various corners.

Until today.
Today, the tide has turned on clutter.


We have our first barn shelf.
The poultry founts, heated dog bowls (why do we have 3?), chick feeders and heat-lamps now have a place to stay.


And underneath, a nice covered spot for our ubiquitous 55 gallon drums to reside.
In a perfect world, the scrap lumber I used to build the shelf would have been longer, allowing me to fit 4 barrels underneath.
Oh well, this ought to work out a lot better than piling stuff in the corner.