Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dog food

Today I made a trip into town to mail off my estimated tax payments. I also stopped at the little neighborhood grocery store where I buy my dog food. This particular store has an outstanding meat department, and they are willing to order anything a person wants. For 30+ years I have fed my dogs raw, meaning raw meat and bones.

Up north there are a multitude of livestock producers located within just a few miles my place, six hog barns and several cattle producers.  The hog barns are mainly finishing barns, meaning the hogs come from a nursery and weigh around 50-70 pounds and leave when they are market weight, somewhere around 280 pounds. One barn is wean-to-finish, so the pigs come in much smaller, sometimes as small as 10-12 pounds. The wean-to-finish barns have a higher death loss, but all the big hog barns suffer losses. The producers normally call the rendering truck to haul away the deads, but after speaking with them they were fine with me picking up the deads instead of paying the rendering company. Back when I had 10 adult Great Danes, I would make the rounds to the different barns every week or two to pick up 'dog food'. In the winter it was just placed behind a building out of sight of the house and they would eat as they pleased. In the summer I froze the whole hogs in a 28' chest freezer until I needed to feed them. The Danes would eat every bit of a 280 pound hog except for the lower jawbone - hair, hide, meat, bones, brains, organs, feet, stomach contents. It's how and what canines evolved to eat.

If a neighbor with cattle lost a cow, they would often call me to see if I needed dog food before they called the rendering company, and they would normally deliver the carcass to my farm. I didn't get many cows, which is good since they were much harder for me to deal with due to their size and weight.There was also a lot more waste in the form of bones that the dogs couldn't eat.

By the time I bought the land in TN and started traveling back and forth seasonally, I was down to just 2 Danes, and there didn't appear to be much for livestock near me in the south. I was happy to find the little independent grocery store that was willing to order me 40 pound cases of chicken backs, pork necks, turkey necks, fish, and other meats and organs. I feed a varied diet of meat and bone from different animals but now days the main portion of  dog food consists of chicken instead of pork. The backs have a nearly perfect ratio of meat to bone, and the bones are small enough for the Yorkie to eat. Contrary to what many believe, raw bones, even poultry bones, will not splinter and choke a dog, only cooked bones splinter into razor-sharp shards. I would never feed any sort of cooked bone to a dog unless I've used it for making bone broth and it has been cooked to the point that I can smush it between my fingers.

The best part is the price... I pay $20 for a 40 pound box of fresh backs. That's cheaper, and it lasts longer, than 50 pounds of crap-in-a-bag dog food. It's also much higher quality protein, this is human food after all, not some animal by-product meal scraped off the rendering plant floor. The Yorkie gets one small back per day, my daughter's Shepard mix gets 2 or 3 backs a day depending on size, the Golden Retriever used to get 3 or 4 a day, and the Dane got 6 or so, again depending on size and the body condition of the individual dog. Raw fed dogs drink substantially less water since they don't have to turn the dry dog food into a slurry in their gut order to digest it, they poop a tiny amount compared to kibble fed dogs since they utilize everything instead of having to poop out all the corn and grains that they can't digest, and the poop dries up and crumbles away to powder in just a couple days so you never have to pick up the yard. And the vet has always commented on how clean my dog's teeth are, even into advanced old age they're still shiny and white.

So today I picked up the case of chicken backs. Once home I put a half dozen in them in the big stockpot along with a gallon bag of frozen veggie bits from the freezer and it's simmering away on the stove to make chicken stock that I will can later this evening. There's not a ton of meat on a back, but plenty to make a nice stock. The  remaining backs were put in gallon zip-lock bags, 6 backs per bag, and stacked in the chest freezer.  And my daughter's dog got his dinner for the day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cold, snow and freezing rain

Today was just another in the seemingly endless string of cloudy days, but instead of rain we actually got snow. Tiny little snow flakes that melted almost as soon as they hit the ground, which is fine by me. The steps and ramp iced over during the night, so the dogs were skating when they went outside this morning. They didn't seem very amused, especially the old Yorkie.
 The birdbath froze over, and there's more snow and freezing rain in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow.
With all this wintery weather it's been a perfect day for wearing the toasty warm wool slipper socks that my older daughter made me for Christmas.

She also made me a new wool can cozy that fits a wide mouth pint canning jar. The new one is on the right (it matches my slippers), she also made the one in the center and gave it to me last summer. The left one is my first attempt at felting, it was supposed to fit my water bottle. For felting, you knit or crochet the item much larger than the final product will be, then shrink it. My first (and so far only) attempt resulted in a cozy that was the perfect height but way too big around for the water bottle but it turned out to fit a wide mouth quart freezer jar like it was made for it.

My older girl also was the one that turned me on to the Cuppow lid seen on the left jar, and I later found the stainless steel lid made by EcoJarz on the jar on the right. These are basically sippy-cup lids for adults (and kids). They keep the contents from sloshing out so they're great for taking in the car, and a straw will fit through the stainless steel lid. So now my feet are warm and my beverages stay cold.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Today was a bust

Well, mostly anyway. It started off nicely enough, the sun was shining, the wind was calm. I stayed up too late last night talking on the phone with my daughter, so I slept later than I wanted, getting up around 9:30. I had coffee and breakfast, then got the two 40-pound propane tanks off the camper and into the truck. I came back inside and made several phone calls looking for a place to fill them. TSC (Tractor Supply Company) is usually a good place, but the nearest one I called said they normally do fill tanks, but it was broken. ?? Ok, I called the next nearest one, they just swap tanks. So then I called the nearest RV place to see what they charged, and the gal on the phone said propane was $3.79 a gallon!!! Holy cow!!!  I paid $2.19 in mid November just before I left MN to fill them, I'll be darned if I'll bend over for that sort of  pricing. Haven't they heard that oil prices are in the toilet?  Back on the phone again, and finally discovered the TSC store 32 miles away fills tanks, no problem, and the price is $2.79.  That still seems high to me, but better than the RV place.

 I drove there and had the tanks filled, then decided to look through the Goodwill there. It was much larger than the little one locally, and I was hoping to maybe find another vintage Vitamix for $3.99 that I would actually sell. lol No such luck, I did find a couple things I can use, but I wasted a bunch of time browsing through the store.

Once I finally got back home, I mounted the tanks on the camper and turned the furnace on as low as it will go, to keep the plumbing from freezing. The water heater is under the bed, and there's a hinged area to access the storage space there, so I needed to figure out a way to prop the bed up so the warm air can get underneath. I thought this was something I could leave for later since I have lights inside in case it got dark before I got to it. Instead, I got out my thin work gloves and a pair of nitrile gloves to put over them  and climbed up the 10' ladder to the roof. I was actually on the roof yesterday, hoping to clean out the gutters. I got the south side cleaned out ok but the north side was frozen. This is the south side, before.

I left the ladder set up yesterday hoping that the 45 degrees today would melt the ice so I could clean out the north side today. The previous owner here had planted 2 oak trees, one on each corner on the north side of the mobile home. This would be ok, if he hadn't planted them literally 4 feet from the house. They're really getting to the age where they are nice shade trees, probably 20-25 years old, but they hold their leaves terribly late, in fact half the leaves are still on the trees, and they continue to drop them slowly all winter so the gutters get clogged up over and over. And the acorns! All I hear at night is Bang!  as the acorns hit the roof and roll down towards the gutters. Bang! The first time I heard them rolling down the roof I thought there was a critter up there. The weight of the wet leaves and standing water and acorns really add up, and will eventually tear the gutter right off the house if they're not cleaned out, so I really needed to do this again. 

Today the inch of ice in the gutter, along with the several inches of leaves that were frozen into the ice, had thawed and cleaning it all out only took about a half hour including putting the big ladder away. So now I move on to the main event, making sure the plumbing under the house is protected from freezing. Should be a quick trip, right?

By now it's nearly 4pm, but I thought all I had to do was make sure the blue board insulation was still intact around the well pressure tank and the exposed pipes where they come up from the ground, run an extension cord and plug in the small space heater, then close up the skirting. Well.... as soon as I took the first piece of skirting off I heard dripping. This is NEVER a good sign.

Visualize if you will... the main waste line for the mobile home runs almost the full length of the trailer, roughly 80 feet. It's located on the north (back) side, and there is a T where it drops down to the septic tank about 25 feet from the east end. The small drain pipe from the washing machine is about 5 feet long and joins the main waste line about 25 feet from the west end of the house. The west end of the pipe (master bath) is almost as far west as you can go and still be under the house. The whole length of waste pipe was supported by metal straps and some wire hangers. It seems that at some point in the fairly recent past these metal and wire hangers must have succumbed to rust, and from the master bath it was hanging down at a very steep angle where the water built up, adding much more weight, and I'm guessing put enough pressure on the remaining supporting wires to snap them as well, until most of the length was laying on the ground. Obviously water isn't going to run uphill to get to the T where it drops to the septic tank. And, the small 2" drainpipe from the washer into the main waste line had snapped clean off just below the elbow where it comes down from above. So, all the waste water has been building up in the mainline until it got to the level of the broken pipe (which was slightly lower than the T), then running out onto the ground under the house. AGH!!!!!

 I've lived with wells my entire adult life, and they never give you problems in the summer, only when it's below zero. It has to be that guy Murphy's fault. Either that tiny little line running to the pressure switch freezes, or the pressure tank runs out of air, or God forbid, the pump itself freezes and maybe breaks the impeller while it's at it, then you get to muck about in the water and mud and freezing temps, oh joy! This, however, is the first time I've ever had to deal with a waste water problem, let alone in the winter, so the joy factor is exponentially multiplied by mucking about in, basically, sewage. Thankfully, the land under the house is actually crowned, higher in the center and lower at the sides (unlike Tennessee roads, don't get me started on that), so there wasn't a standing pool of nastiness, but there is a good 6 inch wide strip of it right along the track that holds the bottom of the skirting, it's sort of dammed up under the trailer if you will.

This whole mess was not in the plans, and it's starting to get dark. First I dragged out the small floor jack to lift the heavy, full-of-water waste pipe and got concrete blocks under it to regain the slope I needed for the water to reach the T and the septic tank. Unfortunately a lot of that water that was sitting in the pipe came out the broken pipe as well, and the slope will have to be tweaked tomorrow so I have a proper slope downward. Realizing I needed to make a trip to town for parts, I went ahead and removed more skirting by the pressure tank and looked over the insulation for the well pump and above-ground piping that runs to and from the tank. That all looked alright, but after quite a bit of looking I could not find the small electric heater I have for that space. I know I pulled it out so it wouldn't corrode during the summer in the dampness under the house, but do you think I can find the darn thing? Heck no. Add that to the shopping list, along with some foam pipe insulation for the new pipes that were rerouted during the master bathroom remodel and are a bit exposed.

Now that it's almost dark, I get back in the truck and drive 20 miles to the town where they actually carry black ABS pipe, the nearest big box home improvement store doesn't carry it. I got a new elbow and some connectors, along with the proper glue for ABS, some foam pipe insulation, a new space heater and a new pack of D cell batteries for my Maglite flashlight since i figured I would need it under the house tonight. By the time I got home I was thoroughly sick of the whole mess, and decided one more night won't hurt anything. The skirting is propped up against the house, and it's plenty warm under there (I hope). The forecast for tomorrow says we won't get above freezing, so it will be a fun job to crawl around in the mud and try to get everything working right again. Hey, at least the black widow spiders under the house aren't active when it's this cold out!  LOL

Monday, January 5, 2015


I went grocery shopping yesterday, and came home with some things I intended to preserve. I often buy extra of something if it's on sale, and can/freeze/dry the extra. I bought an extra bag of apples and decided to dehydrate them, since they are really simple to dry and I eat them frequently as snacks. I got out my new mandolin (a Christmas present to myself, how did I live without this tool for so long?) and cored the apples.

The cores of the apples went into a quart jar and were covered with filtered water, and a small cloth tied over the top of the jar. This will sit on the counter for a few weeks and slowly turn into apple cider vinegar.

 After thinly slicing the apples I sprinkled them with the juice of half a lemon, tossing to coat, which keeps them from browning.

I spread the slices out on the dehydrator trays and sprinkle them with cinnamon. I sometimes do some of them plain as well, but I prefer the cinnamon ones.

Three pounds of apples fills the dehydrator almost perfectly. I set it for 125 degrees and they usually take about 6 or 7 hours to get to the dryness I prefer, almost crispy with just a little flexibility to them. Yes, the dehydrator is still living on top of the dryer, I haven't come up with another spot for it yet.

After the dryer was running, I froze a large bunch of kale. Nothing exciting, just rinse it, tear it up, pack it in freezer bags and throw it in the freezer. Although, this leaf had a small surprise hiding on the underside... The picture is zoomed way in, these were really pretty, laid out so orderly and symmetrical. The entire batch of eggs came off in one piece without taking any of the leaf with them. I have no idea what sort of insect laid them, but I'm glad I noticed them before freezing the kale. Just one of the benefits of eating organic I suppose, extra protein. *grin*

The apples finished drying, and I packed them into small jars. They're an odd thing to store, round things usually are, and they're never flat enough to just stack them but you can push them down and compact them then screw the lid on quick before they spring back up. Opening the full jar is sort of like those old-time snake-in-a-can toys, they spring up and out of you're not careful.

I had also purchased an extra bag of onions, so I got those into the dehydrator before I went to bed. I sliced some which filled 3 racks, and diced the rest which filled the other 2 trays fairly thickly. The racks have 1/4 inch spacing, so I use parchment paper for small items that would otherwise fall through the wire. Someday I'll have a kitchen with enough counter space that I don't have to balance things over the sink.

The onions dried beautifully overnight and today I put them in jars. The two trays of diced onions completely filled a pint jar. They can either be reconstituted in hot water or added dry to soups or stews, and the flavor really reminds me of the Durkees french fried onions my mother always put on top of green bean casserole.

The dried onion rings were placed in the old Vitamix and powdered. Despite them filling the blender container nearly to the top, once powdered they only filled a 1/2 pint jar half way. I may add some salt to make onion salt instead of leaving it as plain onion powder.

I also had a couple small cabbage to turn into sauerkraut. I'm used to making kraut in 10 gallon crocks, so making small batches is still a bit strange to me. The mandolin did a good job of thinly slicing it.

The two heads of cabbage were a bit on the small side, and the crock was not very full, so I added a half dozen large carrots that I julienned. I usually start mixing salt into the cabbage before packing it in the crock so it has a chance to start releasing juice to make the brine before I start pressing it down in the crock, and I did the same thing with the carrots. 

This brought the level in the fermenting crock up to a better level, and I packed the veggies down tightly beneath the brine and put the stone weights on top to keep the veggies submerged. I hate to wait 3 weeks for something to ferment if it's only a partial batch. A full batch will last me until the next batch is ready, so I try to keep the crock "working" all the time.

Once the weights are in place, the lid goes on and the moat around the top is filled with water to seal the crock. The gases produced by the fermentation of the veggies can escape from under the lid but stray bacteria and yeasts and such can't get in.

The sun actually was out today, for the first time in nearly 3 weeks! And it didn't rain for the first day in about that long as well! Unfortunately the high temperature was only 35 degrees, and it had dropped below freezing by 4 o'clock. Tomorrow is supposed to be 45 degrees, and then tomorrow night the wind kicks up from the north bringing an arctic blast with it. The forecast low Wednesday night is 4 degrees, and it's not supposed to get above freezing until into the weekend. Tomorrow I need to check on the insulation and cold protection for the plumbing under the house to make sure the water won't freeze, and get the small space heater plugged in under there. I also need to fill the propane tanks on the camper as I didn't winterize it this fall. The water tank is drained, but there's always some left in the lines and the water heater, so I need to keep the heat on in there to keep anything from getting damaged.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Year and Reinventing Self

Yep, it's a new year, and virtually all the bloggers I follow have had posts with wrap-ups or reflections on 2014, and/or goals/resolutions/plans for 2015. I suppose I could follow suit in an extremely abbreviated manner: in 2014 I got out of the south far too late but I did score a year's worth of wonderful organic blueberries, I managed to accumulate yet another vintage camper, I lost my last Great Dane and my youngest daughter's Golden Retriever, I got rid of a whole lot of "stuff" up north and got the shop cleaned out to a point that a person can actually walk through it. Goals for 2015? Get rid of more "stuff", actually get started on restoring at least one of the old campers, continue paying off debt, and take more time for visiting family and friends. Oh, and reinvent myself, for what seems like the 20th time. 

I've always been a back-to-the-land sort of person, growing my own food, cutting and splitting my own firewood, etc. Then I decided to become a snowbird because after 50+ years of living in the northern plains I was seriously tired of dealing with the snow and cold. Especially after I broke my ankle. Turns out having 3 plates and 20+ screws with virtually no tissue covering them is miserable when it's -20 outside and you have to spend a few days digging out the 1/4 mile long driveway. So, ok, then I was a snowbird. Turns out that's not terribly compatible with growing your own food. Or having any sort of livestock. And if the place you buy in the south is in bad condition and needs to be gutted and rebuilt it's not good for paying down debt. At least the land in TN is paid for, as are the repairs, but many other things got pushed aside while the rebuilding was going on. Then I decided to should be a full-time RVer. I love to travel, I love to see new places, I already owned a camper and what better way to travel and explore than to take your house with you? 

This is all well and good, I became a South Dakota resident (SD has no state income tax, and I grew up there and have strong ties to the state so it was a no-brainer) but I still mainly travel between SD and TN, with a good part of the summer spent on the land in MN. I'm a homesteader at heart though, and can't really grow a big garden, or even a small one, can't can/freeze the produce or raise any livestock because how do I haul it all with me in the camper? And I'm up north for such a short time, shorter than most garden produce requires to mature. At the same time it drives me crazy to have to buy organic food when I've always grown my own.

So, I sit here and debate what I want to do with my life. In a perfect world, I would have a solid homestead, and travel frequently and for extended periods with the camper. Oh, and there would be a magic livestock genie that would pop in and take care of any critters along with weeding the garden while I was gone.  lol

If I decided to build a home base, where would it be? I've got 6 acres in TN, very little of the land is flat or even remotely level, just the bit right along the road where the house and sheds are located.  The single wide mobile home is comfortable, new roof, new subfloor, new water heater, all new fixtures etc, and it's all paid for. Taxes are pretty low. There's a lot of trees/firewood IF you can somehow drag it up the 45 degree slope from the holler, everything is electric and it would be expensive to convert to propane. One small 8x12 shed that was here and currently used for storage, and another 10 x 20 shed that I built for a shop. There is a small creek at the bottom of the holler, at least it trickles in the winter, I've never tried to get down there in the summer due to snakes. It's got a deep, 150+ foot  well that runs out from time to time, and it's located 15 miles from Arnold Air Force which is a Superfund site so who knows what's lurking in the ground water, I won't drink it or use it for cooking without filtering it. The weather isn't too bad in fall, winter and spring, but summers are a hot humid mess complete with subtropical plants and vines that can grow at a rate of something like 4-6 feet per day, poison ivy and poison oak, millions of biting bugs, poisonous spiders and snakes, and carpenter bees that destroy wooden buildings. It's on a dead end road, but there are still way too many people located way too close for my taste. Roughly 115 people per square mile in this county, 93 percent white, median income for the county is $34,900. Nothing owed other than annual property taxes, could sell it for double what I paid for it in 2011.

I've got 18 acres in southwest Minnesota, 10 acres in pasture that's rented out every year to a neighbor, a good but aging grove on the north and west side so again lots of firewood and it's fairly level to haul it. The driveway is 1/4 mile long, and my nearest neighbor is 1 mile away in any direction on a seldom traveled gravel road. If 3 vehicles a day go past it's rush hour, and they're likely trucks or tractors either planting or harvesting. Also a deep 100' well, nasty iron and manganese which requires more filtering to make it remotely clear. The surrounding ag land is heavily treated with artificial fertilizer, insecticide and pesticide, and the aerial spray drifts tremendously making gardening a crap-shoot, some years it does fair and some years it dies completely after the crop dusters have flown over and around it. There is a 3 acre pond, not belonging to me but butting right up to my property and the water coming out of the dam runs across my pasture. Has a good south facing hill, an excellent 30x50' insulated steel pole barn with lights, heat and fans computer controlled along with a water hydrant inside,it was built as a hog farrowing house by the previous owners. There's also a concrete floored hog building, another small shed, a concrete floored milk house and a concrete floored granary which is basically a giant wind tunnel. The 120+ year old farmhouse is not habitable, but I really love this piece of land other than the horrible water. 29 people per square mile, the largest city in the county is 12,000 and 62% white, median income is $35,700. I still have a mortgage on this land but could sell it for 4 times what I owe and triple what I paid for it in 1999.

There is 6 acres also in southwest MN, the house burned down 15 years ago, and there is the remains of an old granary still standing. One concrete slab where a chicken house used to be before I bought the property and the slab from the attached 3 car garage that also burned. Mostly level land on a paved road, the nearest neighbors are 1/2 mile north and south, the one to the north is totally off-grid and I keep meaning to meet him but I haven't gotten around to it. Virtually no trees left, they were mostly elm and died of Dutch Elm disease, so not much for firewood other than the few ash and black walnut I planted there along with a couple fruit trees, if the rabbits haven't killed them. Very light sandy soil that grows watermelon like crazy. This has a 25 foot well with incredibly sweet water, with a large casing so a person could bucket the water up if need be. Located on a paved road, 1 mile north from a tiny village of maybe 50 people, the main traffic pattern is south from the town. There's a bit of an emotional attachment, as this is the first piece of property I ever owned. Population in the county is 20 people per square mile, 97 percent white, median income $36,200. Nothing owed other than annual property taxes, could sell it for 3 times what I paid for it in 1989.

There is 1 acre + in northern South Dakota in what used to be the town of James, bare land other than a bit of garbage the next door neighbor hasn't cleared off yet and I think he's got a couple large trailers also parked on my land. This is the parcel I acquired this past summer from my brother, it's been in our family for 140 years, so there's an emotional attachment there as well. Located on a gravel road about a mile off a paved highway, nearest town of 26,000 is 10 miles away. 4 other households in what's left of the town. No poisonous snakes or insects, but the mosquitoes will carry you away. (Prairie potholes and glacial lakes)  One struggling little tree growing along the fence line on the north side. 21 people per square mile in the county, 95 percent white, median income $35,000. Nothing owed other than annual property taxes, not considering selling it at this point. 

 Since I don't plan to become a year-round resident of TN, any other place I decide to settle will require building a house. One other option is the West Texas desert, where there are virtually no building restrictions, but I the land and climate are totally outside my experience. Land there is cheap cheap cheap, no water, no trees, lots of rocks and rattlesnakes and who knows what for insects. 1 person per square mile, 81 percent white, median income in the county $27,400.

I don't really want to become a Minnesotan again, taxes are too high. Don't want to become a permanent Tennessee resident, there's just too many people here for my taste. That leaves SD and TX. Both are rather unknowns, SD is a very small parcel of land, but there's nothing owed on it. Who knows what/if the county will allow me to build there. Winter in northern SD... UGH! TX would mean having to purchase the land, could buy a larger (40-80acres) parcel, probably build whatever I want. Summers in southwest TX... UGH!

Whatever I decide to do I need to do it fairly soon. I'm not getting any younger, and this old body has  been beat up pretty good by the decades. Who knows how much longer I will be capable of attempting anything like this?