Friday, April 27, 2012

Are Farm Fresh Eggs Really Better?

 Buff Orpingtons in the compost pile
Eggs. They have been called nature's perfect food. They are packed full of muscle building protein, B-12 which breaks down fat, B-6, folate, riboflavin, D, E, iron, phosphorus, Omega-3, and zinc. We all know they are good for you , and despite what some people say, eating eggs everyday will not increase your risk of heart disease.

store bought eggs on the left and farm fresh on the right
I used eggs of the same size for this comparison 
 But, are some eggs better than others? Recently a friend asked me if there really was a difference in the eggs you buy from the store and farm fresh eggs. "Oh, absolutely!" was my immediate reply. Of course I gave the standard reasons, "They taste better and they're fresher, not to mention my chickens aren't pumped full of antibiotics and chemical wormers."  After doing a little research on the subject I was surprised (well, not too surprised really) about how much healthier farm fresh eggs really are.

According to testing done comparing the official USDA nutrient content of commercial mass produced eggs versus free-range, pasture raised hens, the results were more than amazing.  The data revealed that free-range hens produced eggs that had 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 300% more vitamin E, 200% more Omega-3 fatty acids, 700% more beta carotene, and 4 to 6 times more vitamin D!  I'd say hands down that free-range, farm fresh eggs are the bomb! Not only are they nutritionally superior, but they are far less likely to contain harmful bacteria like salmonella. If that hasn't convinced you than do a quick search on the treatment of commercial egg producing hens and take a look at the deplorable living conditions those poor chickens are subjected too.  I know my chickens enjoy the freedom to scratch around, take dust baths and spread their wings. Happy hens lay healthy eggs!

I did a side by side egg pictorial so you could see the visible differences.

Notice the pale yellow of the store bought egg vs the bright orange of  the fresh egg.
There is a big color difference (beta carotene anyone?) and the fresh egg has a larger yolk.  Also, the yolk of the fresh egg "stood up" and was firmer. The white of the store egg was runnier, while the fresh egg "held" a shape.

cracked shells
The shells of the store eggs were much thinner and easier to break. You can see the thicker membranes in the fresh eggs. This does make it very hard to peel a hard boiled fresh egg.  When I want to make deviled eggs I keep them in the refrigerator for a week and then boil them in salted water. The membrane in the store egg has almost completely broken down and is extremely thin. There is no such thing as a fresh store bought egg, they are usually weeks old.  In commercial production of eggs they are washed and the "bloom" or "cuticle" on the outside of the egg is washed off. The bloom is responsible for keeping out bacteria and dust.

the color difference is even more visible in the pan and
you can see how the white holds it's shape 
The taste test!

once again the difference in coloring is starkly visible
while the difference in taste is amazing

If you've never had the chance to eat free-range, farm fresh eggs, you really ought to give them a try. They are wonderful and taste delicious. Once you try them you won't go back to the bland and rubbery mass produced eggs they sell as food in the stores.  You can find farm fresh eggs at your local farmer's market or even at rural produce stands. You may pay a little more but they are worth it and your body will thank you!


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Recipe For Sunshine In A Jar

make a wish
Good ole' winter is not quite ready to give up it's grip just yet. The weather turned cold, gray and windy and the temperature dropped into the 30's and 40's.  After the long run of beautiful 70 degree days this was a very unwelcome surprise.  As I milked out the does, my hands burning from the biting cold, I sat there wishing I could bottle up all that glorious warm sunshine for days like this. That's when I remembered those humble little flowers that people like to call weeds, the dandelions. Dandelions, small, bright yellow flowers that are loved and adored by children everywhere and cursed and destroyed by lawn aficionados. I think if more people knew about the beneficial qualities of the lowly dandelion they would be less likely to rid their lawns of them.
a quart of dandelions
Dandelions are wonderful companion plants for gardening, attracting pollinating insects and adding minerals and nitrogen back into the soil. They also have been widely prized for their medicinal properties and culinary uses and that is when it dawned on me. I can bottle up that wonderful's called Dandelion Jelly.  A beautiful yellow jelly made from the petals of the dandelion that has a taste reminiscent of sweet honey with an earthy green tea undertone. I decided then and there to gather up a bowl full of yellow sunshine and bottle it up!

                                          To make your own Dandelion Jelly you will need:

  • 1+ quart of dandelion blossoms, no stems (you want to have about 3 or 4 cups of the yellow petals) *Note: Be sure to pick your flowers from an area that has not been sprayed with chemicals or pesticide and harvest the flowers early in the day when they are fully open. Also, if you can not pick all your flowers at once, you can freeze them and thaw them out on the counter when you have enough.
  • 3 cups of boiling water (5 with the stronger version, see * below)
  • 4 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (2 lemons)
  • zest of 2 lemons (optional, I used it)
  • 6 cups of sugar
  • 1 (1 3/4 ounce) of dry pectin 
  • yellow food coloring (optional, I did not use)  
I added the juice and zest of 2 lemons to a small glass bowl
this helps avoid seeds getting into the jelly
Gather up your canning supplies, and a word to the wise, try to use glass or stainless bowls for gathering and steeping your dandelions as they will leave yellow stains on your plastic ware (and your fingers). You will need:
  • water bath canner or large stock pot
  • canning jars, seven 1/2 pint jars 
  • canning lids and rings
  • jar lifter
  • canning funnel
  • ladle
  • bowls (preferably glass or stainless)
  • large pot
  • large spoons, stainless and wooden, the longer the better
  • towels and dish cloths
  • scissors
  • fine sieve or coffee filter
After harvesting your flowers, use scissors to snip off the base of each flower until you have only the yellow petals. You will have tiny bits of green pieces, but that is okay, just pick out any larger green pieces as they are bitter.  This part is a bit tedious, but if you have small children pass the picking job to them and they will be thrilled. Be forewarned though, there may be yellow and green flower parts all over your house and tiny yellow stained fingers to wash! Ask me how I know. :)

snip off the yellow petals
my chickens loved the "leftovers"
Next pour 3 cups of boiling water over the petals. *To make it stronger add 1 more cup of petals and add 5 cups of boiling water (I just used 3 cups of petals to 3 cups of water). I used a glass measuring cup for the steeping and it worked out well.  Wait until the dandelion tea cools to room temperature or if possible overnight, up to 24 hours ( let it steep 24 hours). If you are not using immediately, you can refrigerate for up to 24 hours after steeping.

pour boiling water over petals to make dandelion tea
I placed plastic wrap on top 
Place your clean jars on a rack in a water bath canner and fill until the water covers them 2 inches. Begin to heat the water and the jars while you make the jelly.

I used a coffee filter and a sieve, this made for easy clean-up
again, my chickens went crazy for the petals
Strain your dandelion tea through a fine sieve or a coffee filter to remove all the petals and add water to make 5 cups. 

use a large pot, it will boil up
In a large deep pot add the dandelion tea, lemon juice, lemon zest if using, and the pectin. Bring to a rolling boil (a boil that will not stir down). Add the sugar and stir to mix well.

the jelly should look thick, shiny and coat the spoon
Stir and boil hard for about 7 minutes, or until the mixture sheets from a wooden spoon, skim off any foam if necessary.

Using your jar lifter, take out your jars and pour the jelly into your hot jars with a canning funnel and ladle. Leave a 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe any jelly off the rims and place canning lids and rings onto the jars. 

Place jars back into canner and process for 10 minutes if you are below 6000 ft and 15 minutes if you are above 6000 ft elevation.  Lift out the jars and let them sit on the counter until cooled. It may take overnight for the jelly to thicken up. Check lids to be sure they have sealed. You may reprocess any that have not sealed or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Sealed jars will last up to one year in a cool, dark place.  

pretty jars of sunshine, dandelion jelly!

Enjoy your little bit of sunshine and don't forget these make lovely handmade gifts!


Sunday, April 22, 2012

How Does My Garden Grow?

Our vineyard

Spring has sprung up faster than I expected and I find that I missed planting some of the cooler weather crops (my broccoli, peas, and cabbages) but I will get them in this fall! I am now planning our warm season crops and I am going to try more new veggies this year. This will mean an expansion of my old garden plot which was about 1200 sq ft.  I plan on doubling it this year.  Below is the old garden plot, turned up and ready for planting.  I just need to get up the sod and double the size. 

I have my tomatoes, peppers and eggplants started so they will be ready to transplant in May.  I bought my seed from Sow True Seed in Asheville, North Carolina. They have over 400 varieties of non-treated, non-GMO, open pollinated/non-hybrid seed.  This means I can be sure that the seed has not been treated with fungicides or chemicals and I can save the seed from my own crop and it will grow true to the original plant's characteristics.  You can't do that with hybrid or GMO seed. I feel better knowing that my seed is certified organic and is of the traditional Southern Appalachia varieties so it should grow well for me.

my seed from Sow True Seed!
If you feel strongly about preserving our farming heritage and sustainable agriculture as well as ecological wisdom, Sow True Seed is an excellent resource.  I can't wait to try out all the new veggies! I've always planted the basics (tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans) but this year I'm planting everything from asparagus to watermelon (and everything in between). I hope I'm up for it!

Of course, I must mention all the plants I like to grow just for the  shear pleasure and beauty of it!

Variegated Weigela

 My Variegated Weigela attracts all those wonderful pollinating honey bees and beautiful hummingbirds!

Mountain Laurel
I have one Mountain Laurel outside the office window that is just gorgeous.  Every spring after the dreariness of winter it provides such a welcome splash of color. I'd love to plant more but they are poisonous to my goats so I dare not.

Bleeding Heart

In my shade gardens I have a few delicate Bleeding Hearts. They are such pretty little flowers and the girls just love them.  It never ceases to amaze me, all the wonders of God's hands! They fill my heart with joy.

Garnet Japanese Maple
Our little Japanese Maple packs a big punch of color that is so nice to look at from our front porch.

We planted several fruit trees. We have peaches, apples, figs and one apricot. We also have two huge pecans that give hundreds of pounds in pecans every year. 

Sweet Basil
This year I am planting my herbs a little differently.  I've always planted them in the garden with the rest of my veggies but this year I decided to plant them in the bed by our front porch.  I planted Rosemary, which is a perennial, so it should grow right through our mild winters. I also planted Sweet Basil, Curled Parsley, Cilantro, Oregano and Mint (peppermint), which I also think can survive our winters. I may plant some more     
herbs but I haven't decided what to add yet. Anyone have any ideas?


Friday, April 20, 2012

Old Macdonald...Life Around Flumgummerie

Aslan, our Great Pyrenees
This is our wonderful LGD.  He is a very big boy and he takes his job very seriously. Although he is close to 200 pounds he really is a gentle giant. He loves the kids, human and animal alike, and he doesn't seem to mind when they climb all over him.  He'll sit patiently while they jump, romp and lay all over him and only jumps up if he senses trouble elsewhere.

Aslan and Will, best buddies
Often I'll find the lamb cuddled up to him while his momma grazes out in the pasture.  In fact, it is quite common to see kids of all kinds cuddled up to him! I know some may say that LGD's shouldn't be given a lot of loving attention (just try to keep my kids away) or you could ruin their protection and gaurdian instincts, but I haven't found this to be the case at all.

Ginger and her ram lamb on pasture
We have a breeding pair of Katahdin hair sheep, Fred and Ginger.  I really like our sheep because they are such easy keepers. Unlike other sheep, Katahdin's do not have to be sheared and they are naturally polled, which means they have no horns. They also seem to be fairly disease and pest resistant which makes managing those issues fairly easy. In this way I can utilize natural methods of health care (pasture rotation, herbal wormers, free-range grazing) and avoid strong chemical wormers, medications and antibiotics.

Fred waiting for a treat
Free-ranging animals are healthier and happier as well. The Lord God wanted us to work and take care of the earth and everything in it (Gen 2:15) and I believe living in harmony with the land, as naturally as possible is one way to do this. Plus, I don't have to worry about the meat that we'll be eating being pumped full of hormones, antibiotics, chemicals or fed foods that contain these things.

Our Nubian dairy goats are very inquisitive and friendly members of the farm. They provide the most delicious and creamy milk we've ever tasted.  It is sweeter, creamier and whiter than cows milk. Of course, they are being raised naturally as well so I know our milk is safe and healthy.  Our goal is to have enough milk to drink, make butter and cheese and goat milk soap (which I just love).
Feeding time all the way around
We have been drinking raw milk (no pasteurization) but I am very stringent in the cleanliness and sterilization of my equipment.I really don't have anything against pasteurization, although I have read that raw milk is healthier.  I plan on making cheese when we start overflowing in milk (note the optimism! Jeremiah 11:5) and I have been told that raw milk is better for that.

You looking at me?
These are a couple of our Buff Orpington hens in my compost pile.  They love to dig for treasure and it's a wonderfully easy way to keep it aerated.  These little beauties give us delicious brown eggs with deep orange colored yolks! We currently have six hens but we will be getting  6 Silver Laced Wyandottes and 6 Black Australorps next month from Murray McMurray Hatchery .

I have a special place in my heart for my hens because they were what we started our farm with.  I am reminded of the bible verse in Matthew 23:37, when Jesus grieves over Jerusalem and longs to gather her children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.  Oh how sweet to be gathered by Jesus and placed in his loving care and protection!

Rhett, enjoying conversation with Hannah and Sarah
Speaking of protection, I believe I must mention our loyal red Doberman, Rhett (yes, as in "frankly, my dear").  He protects our property tirelessly against all manner of danger, from the furry varmints that would eat our chickens or steal our eggs, to the loud and booming peals of thunder that roll down out of the mountains. He is on the job!  He patrols the perimeter while, Aslan keeps watch in the pastures and I have no worries when my children play outside.

Petunia and Porky
We have one breeding pair of American Guinea Hogs, not to be confused with Guinea Pigs. These are a heritage breed that arrived aboard slave ships from the west coast of Africa. In about 1804, Thomas Jefferson acquired some of these pigs and they became important to the small American subsistence farmers because of their desirable traits of foraging for themselves and the habit of eating snakes and keeping the farmyard safe for children and livestock. They almost became extinct and are now considered rare.

As far as pigs are concerned they are on the small size, about 200 pounds, and they have docile and even temperaments that make them perfect for small farms. They are perfect little bulldozers and can plow up a garden plot for you in no time, not to mention that no food scraps ever go to waste between my piggies and my chickens!

McFlurFlur in the clover
Of course no farm would be complete without a resident ratter and that job belongs to our other big boy, McFlurFlur.  He is close to 20 pounds and he looks like he's swallowed a watermelon but he can catch some rats (and mice, snakes, bugs, birds and rabbits)!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Here We Grow Again!

We have a girl! Shiloh kidded yesterday and gave us a beautiful little doe. Unlike Ruth, she took almost no time at all and I actually had to catch her baby because she decided that she preferred to stand up during the big event. Now we have to decide on a name for this little one and the exciting part is we get to give her our farm name!  She has a unique marking on her side that kinda looks like a dragon. What do you think?

The doe with the dragon tattoo?

She's a very strong and active 1 day old and she weighs just at 10 pounds! She may be pushing the boys around soon (just like her momma).  We are looking forward to watching how she develops and may take her to a show in June. She'd be a little young but it will be good experience for our first show.

Now the real fun begins! :)


Monday, April 16, 2012

Here We Grow!

Well, things have been very busy since my last post! We have been crazy busy getting things ready for our newest arrivals.  We built a new pen for our heritage hogs, a maternity ward for our Nubians and a milking room for me! During that time our Katahdin ewe had a little ram lamb and he has since been castrated. I'm not sure who it was more traumatic for, Bill or the lamb. 

Ruth kidded last Wednesday with twin bucklings.  It was really amazing to watch since this was the first time any of us witnessed a live birth.  There were a few "Eeewww, that's disgusting" comments from the kids, but they really were fascinated by the whole process.  It was completely amazing to see the kids up and walking just moments after they were born. Everything went without a hitch and Ruth turned out to be any excellent mother. 

The kids are strong and healthy and they will make excellent herd sires as they come from some wonderful milking lines. Malachi, our herd sire comes from some great bloodlines. His dam and grandam have both been listed as having superior genetics and are  2*M and 1*M milkers and champions in the show ring to boot.  They come from Sunrise Farm and they are just beautiful white Nubian does!  Ruth carries the Kastdemur bloodline as well as Keeverlands Thorn-Crop Gertie and The Thorne-Crop Gus.

Shiloh is due to deliver this week and we are hoping for does out of her. Not only will the kids have those wonderful Sunrising and Hoanbu genetics but she has a pretty impressive pedigree as well. Her sire is Champion Royal Blue Nevada Joe *B out of  Kastdemur's Nevada City *B and Grand Champion Sweet-Spring PBC Berimargarita 1*M . Shiloh's dam is Frog Flat Ava Two out of Saada Wicked Wine Radar *B and Frog Flat Farm Cheri Cheezcake . 

These little boys will be disbudded, vaccinated and placed on a natural worming program from Molly's Herbals and they will be ready to go to their new homes soon. We are taking deposits for them now, please contact me for any more information or questions. I'll post more pictures and hopefully a video soon.