Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A white Christmas

And the most raucous caroler came calling this morning.

IMG_3546

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The ranch through time

chuck and dorothy

In honor of this snowy, winter day, here is a photo from the 1930s of young Chuck and Dorothy all saddled up on their ponies and headed to school.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Apple harvest

IMG_2415

Just a fraction of the Rome and Golden Delicious we brought in. It is a great year for apples!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Close encounters

Our last batch of chickens for the year are about three weeks old. Usually we try to finish earlier in the year so we don't have to combat poor weather, freezing waterers and predation problems but the baby's arrival put us off schedule this year. When we moved the birds from their enclosed brooder house out to open pasture pens we made the decision to set them up in our front lawn for the first few weeks until they get a little bigger. This time of year the Cooper's hawks migrate through to eat on the quail and fat, clueless chickens make for a much easier meal.

Since the birds are not yet fully feathered, we have a light inside their pasture shelter to keep them warm at night. This also means they can see around at night so they split their time between sleeping under the shelter and wandering around to eat and drink.

The other night Nathan was sitting at the computer when he heard a commotion in the chicken pen. He dashed outside and saw there was something in the shelter but couldn't quite tell what it was. He grabbed a 2x4 and gave it a big thump only to watch two huge eyes swivel around to look at him. An owl! And a big one at that. The owl hop, hop, hopped its way to the front of the shelter and flew away.

All of the chicks looked a little shook up but no worse for wear and we didn't find any casualties the next day. I honestly can't blame the owl for coming across a pen of birds aimlessly wandering around in the middle of the night. Hopefully though the encounter ended in an unpleasant enough experience for him to go find meals elsewhere from now on.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kaput!

We lost one of our freezers last week. Well it's not like it wandered off somewhere and we can't find it - the compressor finally gave out. It is only by a stroke of luck that I happened to be ratting around in all the freezers looking for some lard. I opened this freezer and realized it wasn't very cold. A peek at the thermometer and it was 27 degrees inside!

We normally keep the freezers at -10 to zero degrees. A few degrees warmer and we could have lost everything in there. The food on top, a mish mash of personal food ranging from berries to chicken stock to leftovers had a light frost and luck of luck, all the CSA meat at the bottom of the freezer was still frozen rock solid. A good thing for CSA members that enjoy the bacon, ground pork, pork chops and cut up fryers that are kept in that freezer.

We managed to clear out enough space in all the other freezers to store the homeless food. My main concern now is where I am going to store the two beef that go to the butcher in October. Time to find a new freezer.

Do you know of somebody looking to sell or donate a functional chest style freezer? If so, let me know.





Monday, August 27, 2012

Fire pictures

IMG_1127
When the smoke started. Looking north from the living room.

IMG_1131
One of the draws the fire crept down as it tried to move south. Access from our side meant crawling all the way down the cliffside from where I took the photo, down to the creek and straight up the hill on the other side all while carrying a spray pack, shovel, water and other gear. No wonder both Lloyd and Nathan are a little stiff and sore.

When fires in this country are easily accessible by truck or ATV there are swarms of locals able to help (hence why when the fire started to run east along the field, that would be to the right in the photo, they were able to get it dead out rather quickly) but rugged terrain like this limits who is able to access and fight on the lines. All the more reason why we wanted to get it out - one is only able to climb in and out of that canyon so many times.

Well after that diversion, we are back to our regularly scheduled business of finishing up the harvest.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fire is out

The fire is out. A few junipers smoldering in the black line but nothing really to worry about at this point. Of course we will keep watch on it for the next few days - you never know what is smoldering in the duff layer that shows up when the wind kicks in.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fire Update

It was a late night but Lloyd and Nathan at least got to come home to sleep. It was a little hectic when I got the message to pack a bag, get the baby, get the cash and anything else important and have everything ready to go by the door or in a car. I did just that and got sprinklers started around the house and called my mom to come pick up Thora. Luckily the wind changed so the fire was no longer headed straight towards us.
 
 The fire started in the neighbor's wheat fields and moved south towards us before the wind came up out of the west and pushed the fire east towards our other "next door" neighbors. The locals rallied over there to put out that line which they did then some of the crew headed over to our place to work on containing the other line. By then the fire had dropped down into Tub Springs Canyon and the task was to get a line around it as it headed down the slope. Fighting fire is always more successful when it is moving downhill because it kind of creeps along. Once it reaches the bottom of the canyon, if the winds picks up it will race up the other side. With those steep canyons though, if a burned off juniper rolls down the hill, it can start a new fire beyond the established lines.

By last night they had lines around the fire down in the canyon and were going to head out first thing to check it. It is in pretty rough terrain but as long as something doesn't blow up down there or a big wind come up, it should be in maintenance mode and we will watch it the next few days.

More info when the morning report comes in.

Harvest Season

While Lloyd and Nathan slave away this week getting the grain from the field to the bin, I thought a peek back at what harvest looks like over the last 110 years or so would be in order:

early combine
horse drawn field work

Harvest 2
chuck harvesting

Harvest

Auguring grain

Grain harvest
IMG_3923
IMG_3935
IMG_3930

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fire

The neighbor's wheat field caught fire about 5:00PM today. Nathan and Lloyd are headed out to start cutting fire trails. There is a canyon between our ranch and the fire but it is nervously close. Thora and I are here at home manning the phone and calling neighbors. I can see the smoke rolling but it is frustrating to feel so helpless and not know what is going on out there.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The ever persistent organics question

Are you guys organic?

We get asked this question a lot by perspective Meat CSA members as well as friends, family and other visitors to the ranch. In short the answer is that we are not certified organic but we do everything in our power to run the ranch as sustainably as possible.

Not only would getting certified create more paperwork for us and increase prices for our customers but there are some things about the organic model that don't make much sense in our circumstances. A prime example of this is feed. The family ranch has been dryland grain farming for the last 110 years or so. We raise our own wheat, barley, oats and some oddball crops each year. I know where the grains were grown and how they were grown. We also raise wheat, barley and oats for hay for winter feeding our grass fed cattle (grains are just domestic grasses and when cut before they make seed, they make excellent hay to supplement our homegrown alfalfa).

We custom mix a feed ration for our hogs and chickens that uses a mixture of our grains with safflower meal from a local farmer that presses the safflower seeds to make culinary oil (what is left after pressing is a high protein meal). We also add in a natural vitamin and mineral supplement to create a balanced feed. Being on pasture too means the critters are able to supplement their own diets beyond the provided feed.

The traditional feed store ration for livestock consists of a corn/soy mixture with a mineral supplement. For organic producers it is the same thing just organic corn, organic soy and organic minerals. Sure there are feed mills that will custom mix rations to not include those ingredients but for the most part, corn and soy is what is available. So when I read articles like this one at OPB that discusses how 20 shipping containers of organic soybeans from China destined for organic chicken feed have been detained by the Port of Portland for invasive species issues it makes me even more convinced that at least for us and our operation, I am much happier to go the local, sustainable route over organics.



Are you an invasive species nerd like I am? Learn more about the invasive species found in the soybeans at the Oregon Invasive Species blog.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wild collecting

Joey and Kira were out for a recent visit and we spent a little time wandering around collecting wild plants for use in herbal teas, medicines and products.

IMG_9994

The ranch is a pretty big place and we were happy to share some of the plants that grow like weeds (or are weeds) out here.

IMG_9993

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cleaning house

IMG_9904

We've been busily tidying the house lately. This mirror (from the old Rajneesh dance hall) got the hook and was slated to move up on the hill for long term storage. For some reason though it only made it as far as the front yard for a few days. It was quite odd to see a mirror nestled in the rosebushes outside. I did get a good view of just how dirty my shoes were every time I walked by though :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Master arborists

IMG_9894

The other day while we were planting the garden, Nathan and Brian got tired of hitting their head on a branch of this old homesteader apple tree. So what do they do? Get the chainsaw out and lop off the branches in question. Why they didn't fell the rest of the tree (which is practically dead and needs removed anyway) is really beyond me ...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Visions of of the ranch

Image courtesy Stephen Brooks

Friend of the ranch (and wonderful photographer) Stephen recently had some of his photos from the ranch published in Yale's Sage Magazine as part of a series documenting the environmental challenges facing the American West. You can browse through the entire magazine here. Additionally, there is an accompanying photo essay that features several of Stephen's images. In the "People of the West" series, check out images 1 or 6 and 6 of 6 and in Natural Landscapes take a look at image 12 of 13.

It is somewhat surreal to be taken in by these images: you get so wrapped up in the blood, sweat and toil of those fighting for what they care about in the West, then all the sudden I realize that is my home, my family and it is inspiring to be a part in the documentation of these issues.

The above image of Nathan standing at the canyon's edge is from one of our first years out here at the ranch. I can't help but laugh to myself as I know first-hand how invested Nathan is in this place simply through the clothes he is wearing. In the photo you can see how dirty his jacket is but I smile when I think of how every single item he is wearing came across my lap for mending dozens of times. I patched and patched but eventually each piece disintegrated; the pants became so threadbare there was nothing for me to stitch a patch to, the hat wore through in so many spots his head would get sunburned and the soles of the boots (still the favorite boots he's ever owned) got so thin, cracked and worn through, that he would come home with feet as dusty, wet and dirty as if he'd gone barefoot all day. To me, the sheer destruction of his clothes shows just how hard he works and how much he cares about this land. It is our labor of love. How blessed we are, through Stephen's photos, to be able to share that passion for the land with others.

Check out more of Stephen's amazing photography on his Flickr stream or his photoblog where he documented his work and travels through SE Asia.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ranch recipes: Easy freezy quinoa chili

When we had a big group of friends out in April, one of the dishes Lauren made was a spicy black beans and quinoa (we called it quin-wow because it packed a little cayenne punch!). I already make a beanless quinoa chili and wanted to merge the protein power of the quinoa, beans and corn with some ground beef since Nathan is a believer in "meat makes the meal" especially when there is hundreds of pounds of burger in the freezers.

Anyway, what I came up with was a super simple recipe that is infinitely adaptable to what you have on hand in the fridge and is a very versatile dish that can be served up in a variety of ways to make a quick meal. Make a big batch and stick some in the freezer for later.

Here's the basic recipe:  

High protein quinoa chili

Ingredients
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1 lb ground beef (or whatever meat is available)
- 1 Tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup of quinoa (sometimes I also add a cup of lentils too, if you do so, be sure to add more stock, at least 1-1.5 cups)
- 2 cups chicken stock (or water)
- 2 pints of salsa (that's about 4 cups but add as much as you like)
- 1 cup of water
- 2 cups of black beans (one can, optional if you prefer a no-bean chili)
- 1 cup of frozen or canned corn
- salt, pepper, cayenne to taste

Steps
1. In a large stock pot, cook onions and garlic in a little oil over medium heat until translucent. Add ground beef and spices (chili powder, cumin, oregano, and whatever else looks good) and cook until crumbly, about 10 minutes.
2. Add quinoa, chicken stock and bay leaves. Stir well to combine. Bring pot to a boil then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is cooked.
3. Add salsa and water then add black beans and corn. Bring mixture to a simmer for 10 minutes or until desired consistency is reached. Season to taste with additional salt, pepper and cayenne (a pinch to a 1/4 teaspoon is a good place to start, don't go overboard too early though, you can always add more and the flavor will develop over time).
4. Serve warm with a dollop of sour cream, green onions and a side of cornbread muffins.


My favorite thing about this recipe is that I can do so much more with it than just serving a bowl of chili - it acts as the all-in-one, main player in a variety of mexican-style dishes. Here's just a few of the ways to serve it:

IMG_9848

- as regular chili with a side of cornbread
- cooked into slumgullion
- as a taco or burrito filling topped with lettuce, tomato and shredded cheese
- on a bun as a sloppy joe filling with extra salsa
- as a nacho topping paired with shredded cheese, olives, salsa, guacamole and sour cream
- as a topping for a taco salad
- poured over macaroni and cheese for a high-protein chili mac (pictured above)
- baked into a mexican lasagna, layered between tortilla strips with salsa, cheese, olives and green onions
- heated on the stove with a brick of cream cheese to make a chili dip
- top a hotdog to make chili dogs or homemade oven fries to make chili fries

The possibilities are endless. Make a big pot, put it in the freezer and save it for a rainy day or busy evening. I'm sure you will find some delicious way to incorporate it into your meals.

Cheers!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

An unexpected lesson

While tending to some of the chicken pens the other day, I t noticed a waterer was clogged up. We use a type of bucket waterer that feeds a little red dish for the birds to drink from. Much easier than fount-style waterers that must be leveled to not pour all the water over the ground.

IMG_9910

Anyway, I didn't have the tools to fix it at the time so I took one of the random feeding pans we have, dumped the feed, filled it with water and went off to find Nathan. The particular pan in question is a little high-sided and the birds tend to flip it over by trying to perch on the edge but since Nathan would be by shortly to fix the bucket waterer, no big problem if they spilled the pan of water - they won't thirst to death.

IMG_9907

Nathan comes by and fixes the waterer. Of course they had flipped over the pan and were happy to have their drinker back in service. We feed and water again at evening chores and the next morning, after feeding all the pens, Nathan comes inside and tells me that he flipped the pan back over to put feed in it this morning and trapped underneath was a very wet, very cold, very unhappy chicken! After a few disgruntled feather fluffs and some time sunning, she was just fine.

Seems she tried to stand on the pan edge and flipped it over, soaking her in water and trapping her underneath overnight. I felt so bad! We fill pans with water like that constantly but I've never trapped anyone under one before. So lesson learned, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, always check under upturned containers - you never know, there might be a chicken under there!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Planting the garden

The greatest danger of frost has passed (knock on wood!), the soil is tilled and the rows carefully dug to accommodate watering... It is time to plant the garden!

IMG_9866

We planted all the staples: corn, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, squashes and so forth. I transplanted all my little seedlings from the sunroom and the egg carton system worked great! Frequent waterings had weakened the cardboard and all the little roots were growing right through. No need to tease the seedlings from their little cups, I just tore off individual cells and plunked them into the dirt, making sure they had good contact with the garden soil. With such little disturbance to the roots I noticed these transplants didn't seem to wilt nearly as bad as with other systems I've used. I'm sold on the egg carton system and will continue using it through the summer for replacement starts and in years to come.

IMG_9869

I can't wait for that first big garden salad!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

All curled up

IMG_9822

Went to tip over an old composting straw bale in the garden expecting a big nest of baby mice or pocket gophers and found this guy curled up inside. Organic pest control at it's finest!

For the record this is a non-poisonous bull snake, not a rattler.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The perving bird

We have a skylight in our bathroom and for the last two weeks when I go in to take a pee this blackbird flies over to the skylight and peers down to watch me. It is a little unnerving. I thought it was a fluke at first but it is a pretty regular thing now. Nathan didn't believe me but came sprinting out of the bathroom excitedly exclaiming the he too had seen the perving bird! So far bird is too elusive for photos but I will keep you all posted on this incredibly important event.

Restringing the clothesline!

IMG_9827

After this debacle, we finally got around to giving our poor little clothesline some TLC. Nathan fixed the droopy arm and we replaced the broken, over-stretched clothesline. The ole gal is now back in service and ready for oodles of laundry this summer.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ranch recipes: Chutney roast

I love this recipe. It is so simple and easy and delicious. There's no complicated ingredients, no browning or searing, no turning some super hot roast without splashing yourself, it can marinade in the fridge a few days if you don't get to it right away, heck if you have good coordination, you don't even have to touch raw meat. And it is always a welcome change from the plain ole pot roast with potatoes and carrots. Normally I am not a huge chutney person - it is too acidic and has to have the perfect application to really shine - but this is the perfect recipe for it.

This is however, not the most photogenic recipe and by the time it comes out of the oven after taunting me with smells for hours on end, I'm not in the mood for food styling. So please enjoy my photo of a brown roast in a browned pan with brown juice. I know it doesn't look very good but trust me, it is so worth it!

IMG_9829


Chutney Roast

Ingredients
- one 2.5 to 3 lb roast (I used a beef chuck roast here but any type of roast would be good. I've yet to try it with a pork roast but I am sure it would be divine!)
- one pint (about 2 cups or 16 oz) of thick chutney (I used home-canned "harvest chutney". I don't even remember what went into the jar at the time, mostly just garden leftovers. I do recall some peaches in there and I could identify some raisins)
- 1-2 cups water, as needed

Steps
1. The afternoon or evening before cooking, take frozen roast from freezer. Remove wrapping and place roast in a large zipper bag ( I used a 2 gallon size but 1 gallon should work). Pour chutney over roast. Close bag and make sure roast is covered with the chutney. Put in refrigerator to defrost completely.
2. The next day when roast is thawed, preheat oven to 275/300 degrees.
3. Dump roast and chutney sauce into heavy dutch oven pan (with lid). Cover pan leaving a slight gap for steam to escape.
4. Cook for 5-6 hours, adding water as needed to keep the sauce saucy and the roast moist. If the roast is starting to look a little dry in spots, spoon some of the sauce over it.
5. When the roast easily shreds with a fork, it is done.
6. Serve over mashed potatoes with a drizzle of the meat-infused chutney sauce (since this roast was grass-fed, there was not a big oil slick on the sauce. If using a grain-finished roast, just spoon off the top layer of oil first before serving up some sauce).
7. Enjoy!

IMG_9835

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Happy cows out on pasture

IMG_9764

The herd enjoying a fresh green pasture. Living in the desert means this lush grass won't be around for long but the cows sure relish it before it is gone.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Just look at this marvellous moth!

IMG_9821

Isn't this a sight to behold? I've never seen these nocturnal moths before in my time here at the ranch but this is the third one I have seen this year. Lovely red wings, fuzzy feeler antenna and a fat little striped body. These moths are huge and very docile, which makes them excellent subjects for the camera.

IMG_9817

A type of silk moth, these lovely Cecropia moths are America's largest, native moth and are not commonly found on the west coast. What a treat to get to enjoy their presence!

Every day is a science lesson here at the ranch - full of wonderful things to explore. What else will we see?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Grilling Grass-fed Beef

Double F Ranch Meat CSA member Kathy was kind enough to share the following article from this week's Oregonian:


With Memorial Day officially marking the start of grilling season, now is a "grate" time to brush up your skills and grills. This article works to dispel the common warning that high heat (like on a grill) is bad for grass-fed beef. It is not so much that the heat itself is bad but that cooking in such a manner requires special attention to limit the loss of the precious meat juices.

By following the included tips for "Grilling the Grass-fed way" you are sure to enjoy a delicious, grass-fed steak (complete with grill marks!) hot off the grill.

CSA members - does reading the article inspire you to try any of the cuts listed as "new steaks, bistro steaks or novelties"? If so, let me know and I will gladly work with the butcher to request these less than traditional cuts for future deliveries.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The ranch from above

IMG_9803

Some of the fields in all their spring glory. The green parts on the left is where the CRP burned in the very early spring. The fire really did wonders for the grass. The dark box is one of the areas we will be replanting with a wildlife mix. The green on the right part of the shot is a portion of "The Flat" where we have assorted fields of wheat, barley and alfalfa among other things. The area in the foreground with all the sagebrush was at one point a horse paddock from back in the day when they used teams of horses in the early part of the 1900s.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Seedlings in the sunroom

It seems like just yesterday that Lauren and I were tucking tiny seeds into tiny pockets of dirt. Now these little seedlings are about ready to leave the nest and head out into the garden.

IMG_9720


The egg carton system worked wonderfully! I had to water every day because our sunroom gets so hot but it worked out well. It is easy to tell when the plants need water and how much by touching the carton to see how dry it is. I'd heard many recommendations to poke holes at the bottom of each cell to let extra water escape but I never did that and liked the results I ended up with. There was some slight issues with the cartons molding a little bit but I experienced no issues with dampening off (likely because they dried down each day so the roots did not stay wet).

Another thing I love about the egg carton system is that after several weeks of watering, the cardboard weakens a bit and the little roots just grow right through. I'm not planning on removing the plants from the carton at all, just tearing off individual cells and plunking them right into good contact with the dirt. I'll be certain to share my results.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ranch recipes: Dutch babies!

It's time for brunch!

IMG_9749

How I had never heard of this wonderful, eggy deliciousness before is beyond me but luckily some of our awesome friends shared the recipe when out for a visit recently (thanks Ian and Lauren, thanks Ian and Dara). A dutch baby is an egg-based dish that is similar to Yorkshire pudding, it puffs up real big like a souffle in the oven and looks pretty darn fancy. Since then it has been determined that Dutch babies or "German style" pancakes are the perfect ranch food for several reasons:

1) It uses a scalable amount of eggs - perfect for summertime at the ranch.
2) It uses a cast iron skillet - one of my favorite cooking utensils
3) It never sticks to the pan - cast iron is wonderful
4) It cooks up quickly - just 20 minutes or so in the oven and it is table-ready
5) Since the batter contains no sugar, I've yet to burn one up
6) The presentation when it comes out of the oven, all puffy and golden, is quite the sight to behold
7) Any type of topping is delicious

On to the recipe!

Blueberry Dutch Baby

Ingredients
- 3-6 eggs (I used six to make a thicker, dense pancake, but three would make a thinner, crispier treat)
- 1 cup of milk
- 1 cup of flour (I used AP here but will experiment with whole wheat soon)
- 2-3 T butter
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup blueberries (depending on how many you snack on first)

Steps
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the empty cast iron skillet in the oven to preheat (This dish can also be made in glass casseroles or even muffin tins if you don't have a skillet but perhaps don't leave these in the oven as long to preheat - just long enough to warm the dish and melt the butter).
2. Combine flour, milk and eggs. Whisk thoroughly to create a thin batter.
3. Remove skillet from oven and add butter to pan. Tilt the pan around as the butter melts to get a good coating on the sides.
4. Add batter to pan. Some of the butter will float to the top, that is fine.
5. Return pan to preheated oven for 3-5 minutes, just enough to set the edges of the Dutch baby but not enough to start to form a crust on top. Toss blueberries into batter.
6. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes until pancake is golden brown and puffy around the edges (the weight of the blueberries might limit puffing in the middle part).
7. Remove from oven and "Ooh" and "Aah" about how pretty and fancy it looks. Transfer to a platter and slice into wedges.
8. Serve warm with the traditional topping of a squeeze of lemon juice and a dusting of powdered sugar. Or top with a jam, jelly or syrup of your choice. Do note though that Dutch babies do not have as much flour in the batter as a traditional pancake to help soak up toppings, especially syrup. A little drizzle goes a long way.

Cheers!

IMG_9752

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Little pigs!

IMG_9665

Joey and Kira came out for a visit recently and helped us pick up a load of wiggly pigglys. They were a little skeptical of people at first but tamed right down and are growing like crazy. In seems a little silly when they are this size to have them in such a huge pasture pen but they sure are happy little pigs.

Friday, April 13, 2012

New chicks!

IMG_9623

A much anticipated (and feared lost or forgotten) box of chicks showed up today.

IMG_9628
A quick dip of their beaks to make sure everyone knows how to drink properly and the chickies were all settled in and zooming around in their brooder trough.

IMG_9629
They passed inspection by Ian

IMG_9631
And cuteness test by Lauren

These little fuzzballs are layer-type birds that will eventually join our free-range layer flock. For the next few weeks though, their home is in the brooder trough in the sunroom adjacent to my bedroom. Nothing like trying to sleep at night with a background orchestra of little peeps!