Monday, February 25, 2013

More Soap Experiments

A nice citrus aroma is hard to get, naturally, in soap.  Apparently, the essential oils for orange, lemon, grapefruit and lime do not stand up well to the heat produced during the cold process soap making.  I'd made one small batch in the fall with Sweet Orange essential oil and got almost no hint of fragrance in the finished soap.  Essential oils are expensive, and I'd really like a citrus soap (without resorting to the faux fragrance oils), so I thought I'd try infusing some of the olive oil that I use to make my soap.

Around Christmas, we had a lot of Mandarin oranges around, so it seemed like the perfect time to try an infusion.  I have infused vinegar with the flavor of fresh herbs, a great result and really quite easy.  I was reading about infusing vinegar with orange peels for homemade cleanser and thought I could do the same with oil.  So, I started saving the peels of oranges and air-drying them on the counter.  More moisture in the peels means more possibility of mold/bacteria in the infusion, so I let them all get very dry and crispy.  Shortly after New Years, I packed a jar with the peels and covered them with olive oil.  I had a bag of dried rose buds and tried one with those, as well, because rose essential oil is outrageously expensive!

Six weeks later, they are suppose to be finished.  I can note a colour change in the oils and, sure enough, once I strained out the peels, the orange/olive oil has a light citrus scent.  Now, in our goats milk soap process, we keep everything as cool as possible - to avoid scorching the milk and keeping all the 'good stuff' that milk offers to the skin.  I think that I will keep the infused oil to add at the very end of the process: if the recipe calls for 900 grams of olive oil I will make the soap with 3/4 of that in regular oil and then add 1/4 of the infused oil at the very end of the process, when I add the essential oil.  I think I'll grind up the peels, once they dry, and add them for fragrance and exfoliation.  I have purchased a '5 Fold' lemon essential oil, which is suppose to be much stronger, so I'll make a citrus soap with not just an orange essential oil but the lemon, as well.  Maybe I should acquire some grapefruit essential oil before I do this.

I'm just about to strain the olive oil/rosebud concoction.  It has a nice rose fragrance, but the rose buds seem very soft - I may not be able to grind them to use in the soap, but I can use more of the plain, dried buds.  Should make for some interesting experiments in the kitchen!  What's your favorite fragrance for a soap?  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fresh Snow is Revealing....

Fresh trail, just after chasing the weasel out of the barn!
We've had a nice, fresh layer of snow over night, probably about 5 - 6 cm or a couple of inches.  Everything looks so clean and pristine!  It's covered the bit of a mess we made cleaning the chicken coop, covered all the little places the doggies have lifted a leg.  The fresh snow has also revealed a few new things: tracks around the chicken coop and off over to the barn!

The tracks are not my dogs, not barn cats and not the neighbors' big dogs.  It's more of a little tunnel through the top layer of the snow - with a deeper impression every two feet or so.  Like some little critter was jumping from place to place but not getting high enough to actually clear the snow.  Seeing these odd tracks, I did not open the chickens' hatch, even though the temperature has risen to quite an acceptable -12 C (about 8 F) over night.  Finished with morning chores in the chicken coop, I headed into the barn to give the goats their morning grain ration, re-fill waters and feed the barn cats.  I heard an odd squeaky 'meow' from beside the big sliding door, behind some equipment.  I went over, thinking perhaps a barn kitty was hurt or stuck.  I moved a feed bag, which was on top of the grinder and out from behind the welder popped a little brown head with bright, brown eyes.  It looked very much like a ferret a friend owns.

I'm not much of a screamer, thankfully.  I actually calmly said 'hello' to the little weasel.  Then I reached over and opened the sliding door a ways with my right hand, reached for a nearby broom with my left hand and started whacked the welder.  The little critter leaped out the door and streaked along the side of the barn, disappearing around the north corner of the barn.  The tracks went under the shed that sits on the north side of the barn.  So, Farmer Man definitely called it: a weasel is our predator!  A very strong, musky odor remains behind the welder - I didn't realize weasels had such a forceful fragrance!  So, a trap is absolutely in our future; in the meantime I probably won't be able to help myself and I'll be trekking through the snow to the barn every half hour or so today doing guard duty!  I've got to think twice about letting the dogs come with me when I go because, in my reading, weasels can be vicious fighters especially when cornered!  I certainly don't want one tangling with Blaze or Grizzly Bear - my usual companions!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Winter Chores!

Farmer Man shovelling the....
What a difference a couple of days makes!  Sunday: temperature close to the freezing mark - quite balmy for February in Manitoba.  Two days later we wake up to -30 Celsius with a windchill of -38 C! Good thing we got some chores done!

Number one priority for us was cleaning the chicken coop.  Not a wash down/scrub down kind of clean; it's still way too cold to be using water that would freeze too quickly.  It was time for hauling out the existing bedding and refreshing it with new.  We'd been waiting for a warm enough day when we were both around - not an easy thing to co-ordinate with Farmer Man working off the farm!  We'd tried a 'deep litter' method whereas you don't haul out the bedding, you top it up.  Theory is that the mix of bedding and manure composts in place, providing some warmth.  We've decided it's not our favorite method; the depth built up quickly and it was kind of slippery.  Plus, the chickens' feet seemed dirtier all the time so the eggs were dirtier!

Watching the weather forecast we knew Sunday would be the day!  High forecast to be around the freezing mark and both of us free.  The endeavor starts with kicking the chickens out of the coop - one of the reasons we want a nice day.  With their hatch open and a number of them already outside, we lured the rest out by throwing scratch grains out in the pasture.  The flurry of activity from the outside chickens always draws the others out - if there is even a rumour of tasty treats, chickens hustle over to see what's going on!  Once they chickens were largely all out, the open door to the coop covers the hatch so no one can get back inside.  A few hens didn't make it out and Rocky the Rooster chose to stay with them, so we had to work around a few bodies!

The litter was, particularly under the roosts, about a foot deep.  We use mostly wood chips for litter, with some straw/hay mixed in because that's largely what we use in the nests and it gets kicked around. With the deep litter method, when the chips are quite soiled with manure, you put another layer of wood chips on top.  The result was something in weird, dense, plastic layers.  It was heavy and didn't break up easily: once you got a shovel under it, when you lifted, it bent rather than breaking.  It was hard work and it took three tractor buckets to clean it out!  It didn't smell all that bad, fortunately.  A quick sweep and we put down another couple of bales of wood chips and everything smells better and looks better!

A few more things got done as well.  Snow has been pushed off the roof of the house, the path up to the barn and the chicken coop has been cleared, the barn got a good sweep.  It's not exactly Spring cleaning, but it's a start! 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Murder in the Chicken Coop

Duct tape and rag ripped away!
Last week I entered the chicken coop on my usual morning routine: big bucket of food and little scoop of scratch in hand.  Entering, I was shocked to almost trip over a dead hen, a young Isa Brown from the group we bought as day-olds in June.  I turned to set down my bucket, only to discover two more in the corner, behind the door.  What an awful way to start my day!  These were beautiful young hens, just starting their journey as egg layers for Aagaard Farms.  None exhibited much damage, certainly they looked pecked around the head and neck.  We assumed that the damage had come from within the flock, because we considered the coop quite secure.  Perhaps the three young roosters born here in August were getting rough?

A few days later, another dead hen, an older Isa Brown.  Again, she looked pecked but largely intact.  I put the roosters for sale on eBrandon, our local online community.  Yesterday morning, another, but this time the head and neck were missing.  Chickens wouldn't do that: they wouldn't or couldn't eat a skull....We've got more of a problem then we thought!  We carefully checked the coop - the only way a predator could get in would be through the chicken's door, which has a little gap or through the front door.  We'd removed the lock of the door, to allow a bit more air flow, and were using a tie-down as a little extra security.  When it's well below freezing here and the chickens are confined to the coop, they release a lot of moisture and heat.  It can get very humid and stuffy in the coop, so we'd removed the lock to allow the hot air to escape a bit better, even though we'd built in air exchange.  On examining the door, there was blood around this little hole, which I don't think I transferred there in my comings-and-goings.  Was it possible that a critter was getting onto the door handle or tie-down and through that hole?  Farmer Man figured a weasel was perhaps at work.

So yesterday, we fixed everything as best we could.  We stuffed the hole in the door with a rag, well held in place by duct tape on both sides (the farmer's fix-all!).  This morning: the outside duct tape ripped off, the rag pulled out and the duct tape inside pushed aside!  And another dead chicken, one of the young roosters born here in August.  Unbelievable to me that a little critter, like a weasel, could get up on the door handle and in-and-out through that small hole! And drag a chicken head with it! So today, something is getting bolted over that hole.  I'm just sorry I didn't realize how much of a problem we had sooner, but it will be fixed today!  We're just worried the critter will get hungry and attack them during the day, when they are out in the pasture, so we'll also be looking for some kind of trap today.  Hopefully, our little flock will be safe again!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

January Doldrums, February Blahs...

I haven't posted in almost a month, which isn't like me.  Just haven't had anything to say.  Things go on at Aagaard Farms: chores of feeding and watering chickens, goats, cats and dogs, soap is still getting made, we're still cooking with foods we stored or preserved.  It just didn't seem different or interesting enough to actually blog about any of it.  Our Facebook page will get a cute picture of one of our animals and a one-liner but it's not enough to fill a blog post.

I always find January and February a little difficult.  I do not enjoy really cold weather; I worry about all the critters outside in it, I don't relish winter sports, I don't like driving on slippery, snowy roads.  I'm suppose to be working in the office getting taxes and such organized - also not something I relish.  But, the big thing about this time of year is we're suppose to be making decisions - important decisions that will affect our entire year.  What kinds of seeds to buy?  How much to grow?  Where and how to sell our stuff.

As our business slowly grows, tough decisions are on the agenda this year.  Farmer Man's Mom had started to offer the land as garden rentals.  She wanted to do less but still wanted some income.  When we arrived to take over the farm, we found we rather enjoyed the little community of gardeners.  We continued to offer the plots and, as interest in local and fresh food has grown, so has the number of gardeners.  Problem is, as our vegetable business expands, we're finding the renters are on some of our best land, with the easiest access to water and most convenient area for harvesting and transporting.  And they're using up our precious, limited water resources so that we have almost no water by September, even earlier some years.  We can see that we could easily double or triple the income per plot if we were using it for our own sales.

You'd think it would be an easy business decision....just quit offering the rentals or raise the price substantially.  But we like our renters, we like having them here,  and we don't know where else they'd go.  Community gardens in town are limited and there is always a waiting list.  And we have spare land.....

So Farmer Man got an appointment to see someone in the provincial government, to look into a little financial help in moving the renters by upgrading a sand point well, improving the drive in access to the spot we have in mind for new gardens.  At some point, Farmer Man made the joke that we'd probably be better off if we both just worked straight jobs and the bureaucrat wanted to know why we didn't just do that.... Well, there is someone who just doesn't get what we're doing!  Growing good food for our friends and neighbors is something we're passionate about!  It's like telling the up-and-coming dancer, actor or singer to just go to work in an office and quit the struggle!  And no consideration at all for all the people who want to garden and grow their own, chemical-free, healthy food!  It was kind of depressing, rather sad and kind of deflating.  We'll keep looking for help, but we still have to make that decision about the garden rentals - and soon.  A lottery win would be good right about now!