In Focus #8—Birds in the Hood

Catching photos of birds has always been a joy and pain at the same time. It seems my camera is always not on me when I see a great photo. Forget about running into the house to fetch it!

Bird watching has been a wonderful pastime for years, learned from my dear Aunt from many a walks in the woods. I started keeping a ‘life list’ of the species in my 30’s. I only have about 130 species checked off so far. The last, very exciting species I saw (and have only once) was the Bobolink!

Our feeder is filled daily with sunflower seeds. The bird bath is next to the feeder. Watching a bird take a bath will make one laugh! One day I’ll catch a photo of it. BTW, sunflower seeds attract Goldfinches as well (some folks insist thistle seed is the only feed to attract goldfinches). Truly, life is not the same without the beautiful, cheerful Goldfinch in it.

Another fun discovery for us with sunflower seed is how easily they grow all around the house and garden! We have beautiful sunflowers from the seeds the birds drop all around the house. We leave them on the stem and enjoy watching the birds, especially the Goldfinches, eat on them all through the fall and winter. Bonus! If your zinnias are left to dry out in your garden, you will see the birds eating them as well, plus they will re-seed themselves next spring. Double bonus!

There are many other birds around here on the farm than posted on this blog. These are the few that just happened to turn out rather nicely. Thought it would brighten the day to share a few of these lovely, happy neighbors that are all around us.

Thank God for birds. A friend of mine recently told me where she read “of another service rendered as the birds sing their praises in the morning…that somehow the vibrations of their voices actually affect and aid in the awakening of God’s creation for the day.”

Isn’t that a beautiful thought?

The Time Warp

Shirley is a granny.

She has been a granny for ten years. She says she has grown pretty used to it by now. In the beginning it took a lot of heavy thinking and re-arranging of herself to grab onto the thought of grannyhood. Gettin’ old was for everyone else. Shirley just knew she would not have that issue. Ha! Sometimes things have a way of sneaking up on a person. Age, for Shirley, was one of those sneaky little things.

Used to be when she talked about her life twenty years ago, she was a young momma with little babies running all over the place. Not so anymore. Twenty years ago she was a middle-aged momma, with a bunch of teenagers on the loose! How did that happen? Don’t ask Shirley. Time seems like a mystery to her. An enigma. Shirley remembers her momma telling her that the 30’s and 40’s were the busiest times of ones life. What she did not realize was that those years would vaporize into a vague misty memory. Her momma never told her that.

Caught in a time warp somewhere along the way. Sorta like flowers coming up in springtime. They seem to be so slow in bursting forth to color the dull winter earth. But are they? Eyes were just taken off the emerging plants. Had there been a more careful watch, the growth may have been noticed. More times than not they actually start growing before one thinks they should. Shirley finds herself gingerly stepping all around the bird feeder as they make their tiny, magical entrance. Then suddenly blooms are dancing in the breeze!

Maybe that is what happened in the middle of lifehood for Shirley. She got so busy and tied up with daily going ons that she missed that whole transition from young momma to grannyhood. Poof! It just seemed to appear!

A real strange thing happened to her the other day. Her husband, Snoot, was looking through old photos. He came upon an old family photo of them. Shirley just looked and looked at that young woman (that was she). After a few moments she quietly remarked, “I knew her once.”

Surprised by her own words, and the feeling of the vapor of time, she was caught again in the mysteriousness of it all. How can something, dear reader, seem so long ago, and yet like only yesterday at the same time?

Not that she would want to go back. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Pushing ahead into a new day has always brought joy and excitement to her. Today is a day that has never been she thinks with anticipation to herself, wonder what’s in store for this fine, new day.

She plans her days to be sure, but there is a question to everyday that no one but God Himself knows. Life happens. Shirley would say that far more than we think is out of our hands. Just try not putting make-up on a day because it is Saturday and it simply does not seem necessary. Or putting on that ugly old shirt that should have been thrown out months ago. Well, there is the ‘invitation’. Nine times out of ten somebody will decide to drop by that very day for an unexpected visit.

There are, of course, very serious events in lives that completely re-arrange one’s whole life in a moment. Those are beyond the scope of this little blog. Shirley’s thoughts are centered around the normal, daily passage of time. Those daily moments that fill a day, consume a year, and turn into decades often without even being noticed. How many full moons do you see, dear reader? How many stars do you gaze at regularly? Do you ever watch anymore the sparks of a fire as they rise up to Heaven? Have you listened to the Mourning Dove’s early morning song? Do you even know it? Are these the things that fill the time warp?

Shirley and Snoot live on a farm. Life is very much the same day in and day out. Routine is important to the well being of livestock. Truth is routine is important to humans too. Shirley says don’t mess with Snoots feeding times unless you want trouble. Routine can become boring though. Shirley has ways of shaking things up. It is funny watching her chase the horses around the fields with an empty trash bag snapping in the breeze to get ’em going. Getting the dogs and cats all excited and watching them run around like mad makes everyone laugh.

One word Shirley really loathes, and has all her life—‘bored.’ She would not allow herself to say it as a young girl, neither were her children, nor will she hear it out of her grandbabies. Life is simply too short to ever be bored.

Intentional. That is Shirley’s word. She has determined in herself that life is magical. Every day, moment, season of life, with nothing to be taken for granted. The following song is a favorite of Shirleys. It says it all so beautifully. “Don’t let me miss the Glory”, by Gordon Mote.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBfgDR8dYWI

Who is going to Feed the Pigs?

Our discussion revolved around pigs. A family member that is vegetarian expressed an interest in ‘saving’ all animals from slaughter. It sounds very noble to not want to kill farm animals for food. It is a hard, dirty business to be sure. The problem is it is not practical.

Twice a day, everyday of the year regardless of weather or personal inclination, livestock needs tending to. These are the realities of having animals be them house pets or farm animals.

But consider these ideas. Our society is transient. How many of us live in the same home our parents lived in, or even the one we grew up in ourselves? How many hours are you away from home everyday? How often do you travel? How long are you gone when you do travel? Do you have a summer home separate from your winter home? How about a summer cabin? Summer vacation?

So, who is going to feed the pigs? Day after day, year after year for all their long lives? And that is just pigs.

Yes, it is hard sending our cattle off to slaughter. I was thanked by a man recently for raising cattle for beef. He said that because he recognizes the fact that if cattle are not used for beef, they would be extinct! Because—who is going to feed the ‘pigs’?

In Focus?

Sometimes it is hard to tell. Most especially through the tiny viewfinder on the camera. I have taken photographs all my life. Which is now turning into a long time. I thought getting old would take longer.

The camera has no opinion of my age, though it does have a way of telling me my eyes are not what they used to be. Lighting can be manipulated, color, tone, etc as well. But not focus. On days I am feeling especially smarty, I tell folks I meant for that photo to be out of focus!

I took a photography class not long ago. The instructor said if our photos are not shared, but most especially not printed, our photography is incomplete. So I have decided to regularly post some of the photos that folks seem to like.

It would be a great joy if you would comment and share some of your photos as well. Include stories associated with photograph, if you like. Which one do you like, and why? I appreciate the feedback.

This one was meant to be out-of-focus. Seriously.

#chickensmakeuschuckle

‘A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones’, so advises The Book of all books. This comes from the book of Proverbs 17:22, which happens to be one of my favorite books of the Bible. It has been said that this book of Proverbs is our guide for person-to-person relationships.

This timely advise forms the foundation of why I created this hashtag #chickensmakeuschuckle. I like to laugh, and it is even greater fun when others join in! So, this is my mission, to spread lots of chuckles to all that love the good medicine of a joyful heart.

Chickens, it seems to me, are some of the most industrious, busy, noisy, funny, sweet and beautiful of all farm animals. They are never ‘off-duty’. How could they be? When one is literally everyones potential lunch? Even when in the coop at night, they all have something to say before finally getting quiet! They fill this farm with laughter every single day. There is not a chicken owner alive that I have met that does not have a funny chicken story and/or photograph.

#chickensmakeuschuckle is THE hashtag to spread the fun, joy and chuckles of life with chickens intertwined with we all-too-serious-humans. Since starting the hashtag last fall, we have nearly 500 delightful chicken photos shared. It was SO difficult picking out these ten. So to have a real fun time follow #chickensmakeuschuckle to be sure to get a daily dose of laughter. Remember, it is good medicine!

Top Row L-R: @poultry’nmotion; @whimsyofwillowsfarm; @lakefronthomestead

Bottom Row: @chickenchikita; @melton_homestead

Top row L-R: @honeycreek_farm; @farmgirllizzy; @my_backyard_paradise

Bottom two: @shortgirlfarm; @glaistighomestead

These accounts are on Instagram. I am very grateful for everyone that shares their chicken fun with us. Go check them out and follow them. They are full of lots of chicken chuckles. You too are welcome to join the fun and laughs. On your Instagram account tag me @primaryfarmoperator, or better yet ‘follow’ #chickensmakeuschuckle. The winning photo is posted every Monday morning. The best way to start the week is with a good laugh, so join the fun with #chickensmakeuschuckle.

Because I cannot Paint It!

“Are you a photographer?”  Dreaded question.

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I tell folks I like to take photographs.  That is about as far as I dare myself to go.  To call myself a photographer is just too big.  To be a photographer one must know what one is doing, know their camera inside and out (not!), and  how to get just the right image.

It is a big title—a photographer.  Same as calling oneself a painter—oh my!  It is true some of my photos have won prizes, in small shows.  I do sell note cards with images I thought would look pretty on cards, and a couple photos hang in the homes of kind folks.

So the main reason I take photographs is because I cannot paint it!  This post is to share with you photos I have taken.    It will be a joy should they bring a smile to your face or recall a pleasant memory.  Please let me know the ones you like!  It is always fun seeing which ones ‘speak’ to folks.  They all tell a story of some sort, yes?  Share your thoughts with this amateur you-know-what.

Happy Friday to you! 

Cowboy Stew

Who would not enjoy a big, steamy bowl of this fun-sounding stew?

Most of the ingredients are canned. 



Ingredients:

1 lb hamburger

1  medium onion chopped (or 2 onions if you like lots of them!  They are great for fighting colds!)

4-6 medium potatoes

Can of:  green beans, corn, and beans  (your favorite type of bean, any type will work).

Large can of diced tomatoes (if all you have is tomatoe sauce, that is fine).

Slice onion, not too thin.
Chop potatoes in a good-size bite!
Brown onion and potatoes while browning hamburger.

It saves time, and makes for great taste to brown onion, potatoes, and hamburger together.  Should they get sticky in the bottom of your dutch oven, add a small amount of water to loosen the goodness.  Also, turn your burner temperature down.  We tend to cook too hot!  Do not know what a dutch oven is?  Check out blog:  https://bluerockhorses.com/2018/10/05/the-million-dollar-question/

You must know your tools and how to make them work for you!

After the meat is browned, add the tomatoes, corn, beans, and green beans.  Season with 1 tsp salt and pepper.  If more broth is needed, add 1-2 cups of tepid water.  For extra fullness in flavor, stir in a teaspoon of beef bouillon into the water.  Better Than Beef is the bouillon of choice for me.

Remember, this is a stew, not a soup.  Which means it should not have as much broth as a soup.

  

Mix everything gently. 

Please do not boil your stew! It only needs to simmer gently.  There will surely be left-overs, and the best part?  They will taste even better the second and third night (or in a lunchbox!).

  This recipe will serve 4-6 with leftovers, which we always strive for! It can easily be doubled as well.  Simply double everything.

Kitchen Tips

Keep your pantry in a good supply of canned green beans, corn, diced (or crushed) tomatoes.  There are usually 5-6 cans of each in my pantry. 

Onion and potatoes should also have a permanent place in your pantry.  Take them out of the plastic bags (this causes them to rot faster), put them in pretty baskets!  Should the potatoes start growing ‘eyes’, break them off and toss out in your flower bed.  This will extent their shelf life (if you do not, the ‘eyes’ will cause potatoes to shrivel up). 

Enjoy!  

Thoughts and ideas are always welcome!

Homemade is healthiest and best!

Calming the Grass-Fed Steers?

The steers have gone to a cool place.  Any reader  familiar with this blog knows what that means.  It is the hardest day for this PFO.  There is little hope this day will ever get easy.  They have been processed and delivered to the buyers.  Buyers who have an interest in the quality of food they eat.  They know the farmer.  They know the farm.

 

“Are they grass-fed only?”  The most asked question heard from interested buyers.  “No, they are not.”

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Are they grass-fed only?

What many folks do not realize is that cattle have a natural fear of man.  Unlike dogs, cats, and other household pets, cattle have to be taught to feel comfortable around humans.  The way this works for us is with feed.  As I heard a cattleman say once, “Feed keeps the cattle humble.”

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Cattle have to learn to feel comfortable around humans.

What does that mean?  Here it means getting close to the cattle.  This is of utmost importance to this PFO.  They are visually checked daily for injuries, pests, and vital signs.  Is their breathing normal, eyes bright, coat healthy looking and coming on nicely for cold weather?  Do they have a good appetite?  Are they interested in their surroundings?

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Feed allows us to get close to them.

When they are trained to come to the feed call and beating of the feed bucket, they are willing to hang around we humans.  If these steers were totally grass fed, I suppose we would need re-training on how to properly care for them.  Until our steers are comfortable with us, they spend all their time in the woods and graze at the farthest points in the pasture.  They bolt away should we get too close.

 

After learning to come in when called for feeding time there is a peacefulness to the day here with all the animals.  They will hang around with the horses and chickens and feel far more at ease.  This is the goal for us.  Is there a more bucolic scene than cattle resting in grass chewing their cud?  Well, do not answer that.  Suppose we are cattle folks at heart!

Training does not take too long.  A couple weeks going out into the field to bring them in quickly gives way to them coming when they hear our voices calling.

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Our steers get plenty of fresh air and all the grass they can eat.

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It does not take them long to learn the sound of the feed bucket.

 

Our goal here at the farm with our hand-raised steers is to give them plenty of fresh air, a place to run, and all the green grass they can eat, along with a little feed to keep them near us for the best of the best care for them.  Right now, as I write this, the steers are out lying in the wet, wet grass peacefully chewing their cud…

 

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Feed allows us to give the steers the best of best care.

 

 

Know the farmer.   Know the farm.

Homemade is best.

Run Between the Raindrops!

We Virginians that live here in the northern Shenandoah Valley should all be a little lighter in body weight this summer.  The spring rains have yet to end in our part of the world.  Looks like rain again today as well.

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Looks like rain again today.

Our summer has been spent running between the raindrops, mowing and weeding the gardens between storms.  And storms they have been!  Torrential rains, thunder, magnificent lighting all across the skies.  Flash floods, roads washed out, downed trees, broken fences from fallen limbs, and piles of cut grass have kept us occupied all summer.  One would think a few pounds would surely be lost in the busyness of this yard work!

 

A few of we hardy gardeners have thrown in the towel on our gardens.  Tomatoes are plentiful—just green, green.  The crabgrass seems to be the main item happily taking over every space not even previously known to us,  where does it come from?  Though the field corn has faired well.  There may be some fall planting, though no commitments as yet.  Given the choice though, this wet weather seems better than drought.  Sure wish we could give some to California.

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We have had rain all summer.

We Shenandoah Valley folk take what we get as far as weather goes.  Try to see the best in it, and smile at the start of another fine day, rain or not.  There is always something worthy of our attention and good to do everyday.

 

There have been few summers that have stayed this wet with grass so lush and beautiful into August.  Well, this too shall pass, as the old adage says.  So, in the meantime, keep your mower blades sharp, fuel tanks full and good humor running full blast.  Oh, and do not forget a good, tall glass of lemonade!

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The field corn has faired well.

The old-timers say, “Make hay while the sun shines!”  Well, guess what?  The sun is shining right now.  Time for this PFO to get out there with the weed eater!

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As we old-timers say, “Make hay while the sun shines.”

Know the farmer.  Know the farm.

Homemade is best.

 

 

You are a What? A PFO? What is That?

PFO, Primary Farm Operator. That is what I am, and is what I do. This title was given to me by my twin sister several years ago. Actually, she is a PFO as well. Are you?

We are the main care personal or Primary Farm Operator on our farms, or ranches as my twinster, who lives in Colorado says. It is a growing movement in the rural parts of our country. Where woman are the mainstay, while husbands have full-time, away-from-the-farm jobs.  Indeed, we have a small farm because our husbands do work an outside job.

Making ‘livable’ money from farming alone is pretty much non-existent. Most especially for small farms. Father Harry (aka my husband, Bill) has worked away from home for all our married years.  This PFO has considered the home and farm her business. It is true we have had our little farm for only thirteen years, and we have been married nearly forty years!  Those years before our farm, I considered myself the PHO, or Primary Home Operator.

I have always looked at our home as my ‘business’.  The way I saw and still do is;  no one–NO ONE has the interest in the prosperity and success of this business as I do.  The work has been lonely and long, as Father Harry travels far, wide, and often.  It has been a choice, an agreed upon choice by the two of us, and it has worked well.

Thirty years ago, the house was full of five active children and pets.  Now it is full both inside and outside of pets and animals.  Some would say the animals are better than the children.  Some would say children are better because “they grow up and go to college!”

I say they are similar in many ways.  For instance:  to leave the farm for any amount of time requires finding farm hands to do the work;  having healthy kids or animals is the product of attentive care and attention;  the work is never-ending;  the rewards are far greater than the back-breaking labor;  they all are more fun than television; they keep me young-at-heart;  they all make me smile.

Different tools and skills are required, of course, between home and farm.  There are excellent books on small-scale farming.  A good place to find them is Tractor Supply stores.  Tractor Supply also has great tools you will need.

Enjoy our blogs on something every PFO needs: A Tool Purse.  A Chain Saw.  A Tractor.  Click on links to read blog posts on these important farm tools.

Happy farming gals!

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Read about tools you will be sure to need in our link below:  The Tool Purse

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This tool is necessary.  A small one is very manageable for a PFO.

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Every PFO needs to be able to operate one of these wonderful tools!

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