February 29, 2012

Wood Cookstove Cooking: What I'm Learning

While I'll not consider myself a master yet, I've gotten quite a bit of practice on my wood cookstove since we got it installed in January. I'm definitely more comfortable with it and am starting to learn how to get good results.

This is a very versatile piece of equipment. It cooks and it warms. Some days I've kept it going nearly all day, for the warmth. Other days, milder days or days I work outside a lot, I start a fire for each meal I prepare.

Learning damper control was important, both for starting fires and adjusting heat. This is different for each cookstove. Mine is a Heartland Sweetheart, and I admit I didn't like the bell style dampers at first.

My stove has 3 bell dampers

I've gotten used to them though, and the stove has fairly good control, though not nearly as sensitive as our Woodstock wood heat stove.

Stovetop Cooking

Pancakes on the griddle

The surface actually heats up pretty quickly, though a slow start is better for the cast iron itself. Even starting from a scratch fire, I can get cooking fairly quickly by removing plates and placing a pan directly over the fire. The firebox is fairly deep, so sooty pan bottoms are not a huge problem, unless I build a large, pot licking fire. An old Girl Scout tip for that, apply liquid dishwashing liquid to pan bottoms before using, so soot washes off easily.

There are two other ways to control cooking temperature. One is by placement of the pot or pan on the cooktop. The entire cast iron top can be used. After the stove is warmed up, even the surface farthest away from the firebox will keep soup simmering.

Temperature is also controlled by the dampers, which control air flow. Open dampers mean more air and a hotter, faster fire. Closed or partially closed dampers restrict air and slow the burn rate down. This means the wood lasts longer, but the temperature is lower. The oven damper can adjust stove top temperature as well as oven temperature.

Oven damper control, here, almost all the way open

When it's open, the heat is routed directly up the chimney. When it's closed, the heat circulates under the cooktop and around the oven. So I can somewhat adjust the temperature by adjusting the oven damper. If I want to turn "up" the heat, I close it. If I want to turn it "down," I open the damper to allow the heat to escape. The stove obviously retains more heat when the dampers are closed.

If the stove is used to heat the kitchen all day, getting a meal prepared is quite quick. Everything is pre-warmed and ready to go. I keep a cast iron pan or two on the cooktop. They stay quite warm this way, and are ready to use when I'm ready to cook. It's also quicker to heat the oven.

I have successfully used my stainless steel pots as well as my cast iron. With the SS however, food wants to stick to the bottom of the pan more quickly than with the cast iron, so I need to keep a closer eye on whatever I'm cooking.

The stove can also be used like a slow cooker. If I'm going to be keeping the stove warm all day, I can start a soup or stew in the morning, keep it off to the side and tend to it from time to time to judge its progress. I've used the oven the same way, "slow cooking" baked sweet potatoes.


Hot, golden brown biscuits as they come out of the oven

Getting the oven heated to a good baking temperature takes awhile if starting with a cold stove. In that case it's a plan ahead project. If the stove is already warm, then the oven heats to baking temperature in no more time than it takes to preheat my electric oven.

The thermometer in the door only registers the temperature of the door. I use a small oven thermometer inside the oven to check it's actual temperature.

Baking requires a good coal bed and larger pieces of wood for a sustained, even temperature. This is actually not as fussy as I first feared. 12 to 14 inch long pieces of hardwood at least 3 inches in diameter are good for this purpose.

At first I lamented that my Air-Bake baking sheets didn't fit in my new oven. I love them because they help prevent burned cookie bottoms. With a wood cookstove however, the heat source is on the side, not the top and bottom of the oven. Burning cookie bottoms (or tops) is not a concern with this oven.

I'm learning to worry less about precision oven temp, by adjusting cooking time. This doesn't work as well with baked goods, but does with vegetables, meats, and casseroles. I reckon it could be called a more intuitive type of cooking, which would likely drive some folks crazy. It's a different style of cooking I suppose, but one that I actually find easier.

Pizza? Well, since my beloved pizza stone also doesn't fit in the wood cookstove oven, I still bake that in my electric oven every Friday night!

I've also not tried to bake loaves of bread in my wood cookstove oven yet (too used to the bread machine!) I am understanding however, the concept of once a week baking ("bake on Saturday" as Ma Ingalls used to say). Especially in summer, why heat up the kitchen more than necessary? Bake everything once a week and get it over with.


On milder days, I let the fire go out between meals. Also I don't worry about it if I'm working outside for most of the day. It's just easier that way because even though it has a good size firebox, I don't want to be running in and out all day just to tend the fire.

The fire can be banked however (fill firebox with large pieces of wood, turn down dampers, and cover with ashes to slow the burn). A good coal bed and pre-warmed stove make it quicker to get the next meal going. I've not tried to bank a fire all night yet.

The stove does a marvelous job of keeping the back of the house warm, including our tiny bathroom off the kitchen. The ceiling fan helps push warm air out of the kitchen (we have high ceilings). The oven and warming oven doors can be left open to add even more heat to the room.

I stick my slippers or house shoes underneath anytime I have to go outside. The floor under the stove doesn't get exceptionally warm however, so these aren't as toasty to put on again, as one would imagine.

Hot Water

Hot water with the turn of the faucet (up to 5 gallons worth)

The water reservoir holds about 5 gallons of water. It is slow to heat however, so to have hot water requires that the stove be going most of the day. Still, it's wonderful to fill the dish pan without using the hot water heater! This is not potable water however, and cannot be used for cooking or tea.

When the water in the reservoir is hot, the stove retains heat longer.


When the days get warmer, I'll switch my cooking to my summer kitchen, a.k.a. the back porch. Eventually I'd like to get a solar oven for summer cooking and baking. Even farther down the road would be an outdoor kitchen. The hows and whens of that are still future tense. I'm gradually learning not to get too anxious about accomplishing anything like that. It's what the slow life is all about after all. :)

February 27, 2012

Thinking While Waiting: The Hall Bath

Waiting on the arrival of our kitchen floor seemed to go on forever. At first we occupied our time by getting caught up on all the little kitchen projects that had piled up. Then Dan got started on outdoors projects, whenever the weather was mild. Eventually though, because we were in the indoor project mode, we began to talk about another area that badly needs addressing, the hall bath.

Our hall bathroom when we first moved in.
More photos here.

We really needed to talk about this bathroom because it has been plagued with plumbing problems from the start (hot water faucet in sink doesn't work, toilet tank leaks, both drains refuse to unclog) and new (recent bathtub faucet leaks). On top of that the floor around the toilet is rotting because of water damage that happened before we bought the place. This means the toilet leans a teensy bit. The quick fix to all this was to shut the water off to this bathroom, because the plumbing requires more than fixing, it requires updating as well. And if we're going to do that, we figured we might as well decide what in the world we want to do with the room anyway. In the meantime, this bathroom is 100% nonfunctional.

This bathroom is a challenge, because it is small. Not as small as our kitchen bathroom, but at 5.5 by 7.5 feet, it is by no means large. When we sat down recently to discuss it's current plumbing problems, we agreed that we want to keep the project as simple as possible. Our kitchen has been relatively elaborate, but then it's one of the most important rooms in the house. The bathroom needs to be functional and pleasant, but we've had enough of elaborate for awhile.

Here's what we're thinking so far:

Ceiling - is tongue & groove, which Dan doesn't really like
  • Minimal updates
    • add ventilation fan
    • fresh paint
    • new crown moulding 
  • Maybe (depends on time, money, & energy)

Corner of the ceiling. The mouldings cover gaps where the T&G
doesn't meet. Paint cracks are common with T&G too. Would at
least like to replace both the crown and the corner mouldings.

Walls - also tongue & groove 
  • Minimal updates
    • paint, new color
    • new towel racks
    • shelves for extra towels
    • robe hooks
    • new corner molding (also to cover gaps)
  • Maybe 
    • something besides T&G? What?
    • new window? I like the energy star ones, they really help
Bathtub - is an old clawfoot 
  • keep but refinish
  • add shower enclosure
  • new faucet
Sink - the only thing we've done in this bathroom so far has been to add lights above the sink.

New over sink bathroom lights
Sink lights we added shortly after we bought the place

That was part of a general electrical upgrade when we first moved in. Our current thoughts:
  • keep sink lighting (of course)
  • replace sink & faucets
  • new vanity, one that extends from sink to corner
  • replace medicine cabinet (use old one from the kitchen bath)
  • replace outlet with a GFCI model
  • fix and upgrade
  • greywater recycling, at least prepare for
  • too wide for the room (32 inches)
  • replace with folding door
  • tear out vinyl & repair damaged area around toilet
  • box in toilet
  • tile? not vinyl (Dan doesn't like vinyl)
  • new baseboards
  • new register cover (old one's yucky)

Compared to the kitchen project, that doesn't seem like a very bad list at all. Still, these things have a way of turning into nightmares bigger projects than anticipated. Nothing will get done until after the kitchen is finished however. And then, only when the weather won't let us work outside. As per our 2012 homestead goal list, we still need to continue work on the outside of the house: the front porch is badly in need of structural repair and we need install the new front door so that winter winds no longer blow in through the gaps.

I recently updated my remodeling (formerly house projects) blog page and saw that we've basically completed one indoor project per year. Some projects have taken longer than others, but our progress is steady. We work on indoor projects mostly during winter months, when it's too cold and rainy to work outside, so it's likely that we won't actually start on this bathroom until next November or so. That, of course, is assuming the kitchen is done by then!

February 25, 2012

"Good and Bad Investments for Farmers"

I found an article of that title while searching the internet for something else. I wondered if it might be of as much interest to you as it was to me.

From The Country Gentleman: A Journal For The Farm, The Garden And Fireside, Devoted to Improvement in Rural Affairs, To Elevation in Mental, Moral and Social Character, and to a Record of Science, Progress, and the Times.  Vol. VIII-No. 18; published October 30, 1856. (Italics in article is theirs.)

Good and Bad Investments for Farmers

   Some, perhaps we might say many farmers, when they find themselves in possession of a little capital, neglect to avail themselves of the safe and profitable mode of investing which is ready always on their own premises, and which is subject entirely to their own control, and too often seek an investment for their spare funds in the stock of some railroad, banking, or other company. This is turning aside farmers' profits from their natural channel, and the consequences are the loss of the profits which judicious improvements in fields or implements, or stock or buildings would certainly hjave yielded them, and sometimes the loss of principal as well as interst, by an injudicious investment in stocks.
   We have upon a late occasion, as well as upon many former ones, submitted to our readers some suggestions in reference to this subject, intended to persuade them that their safest and most porfitable mode of investment lies within the compass of their own legitimate pursuits. Our columns, also, are at all times abundant in hints as to methods in which capital may at any time be invested to good advantage, as in draining, manure-saving, composting, digging and drawing muck, and other modes of increasing the fertility of the soil; in purchasing improved and really useful and labor-saving implements; or, to name no more, in improving the quality of the stock of all kinds, and enlarging and making more conveninet the buildings of all kinds upon the farm. In these and many similar ways may a farmer at almost any time, make a better investment at home, and in his own business than he can do by the purchase of almost any kinds of stocks, or even of bonds and mortgages.
   To add confiramtion and force to what we have already said on this subject, we give the following remarks from The Ohio Farmer:
   "How many a farmer has lost the avails of ten years' prosperity by buying railroad stocks! Let him do so no more. The farmer cannot trade in stocks with success. This is a species of venture for which his training disqualifies him. Let him throw no more hard-earned gold into this greedy vortex. He will pronounce our advice good if he will notice the facts."

This is a good example of agrarian thinking, and finding it was like a pat on the back for what I've been trying to say about mindset:

I think this is important for those who seek relative self-sufficiency through their farming or homesteading. Many folks assume that investments are the only way to have financial security. That has not always been so and following that same tradition, we can consider investing instead, in our homestead for the security of our future.

For the original article, click on this link, and scroll down a bit. It's in the left hand column.

Except for the Country Gentleman article,
"Good and Bad Investments for Farmers" is © February 2012
by Leigh at http://my5acredream.blogspot.com/

February 23, 2012

Our Kitchen Floor Is Here!

9" wide yellow pine plank flooring. Shipping weight was 500 lbs.

Finally. Doesn't look like a lot, does it? That's 206 square feet of 9 inch wide yellow pine tongue & groove plank floor boards. Seemed to take forever to arrive and for awhile, we didn't think it would arrive at all. We ordered it online from Lumber Liquidators (which for some reason I always want to call "Liquid Lumberdators."). The product reviews were excellent, and so was the price; $1.99 per square foot. Plus we got free shipping by picking it up at our area store.

Wide planks like this are not usually kept in stock and must be special ordered. This means a long lead time, usually 6 to 8 weeks, though this company makes no promises. We made the order in December, and kept an eye on their online order tracking. When the status never changed from "order accepted," Dan finally called and got an expected delivery date.

That date came and went so he called again. Over the weeks we went though two more postponements, and by that time he was a tad frustrated because no one could give him any clue as to the actual status of our floor. There were always five orders ahead of us. While we waited we worked on all the little kitchen projects we could do, but eventually we got to the point where installing the floor was next.

In the end, persistence paid off. Not because they were tired of him bugging them, it just took getting the right customer service rep; someone who was willing to look into it. Thanks to one gal being willing to make a few phone calls, the situation was resolved promptly. Turns out it was in stock all along at another store. They even delivered it to our door at no extra cost!

Unfortunately, situations like this always reflect on the company. Any of the other folks we talked to could have made inquiries for us too, but for whatever reason, didn't. Sometimes a company is grossly mismanaged, but sometimes the problem exists at another level. Have you ever looked at an empty shelf in a store and asked an employee if they had any more in the back? How many times have you immediately been told no? I have, and then turned around and asked another employee the same question. That person was willing to help and went and got it! What does that tell you?

Personally I think it has to do with a work ethic that has long been lost. Or perhaps people just don't know how to take the initiative anymore. These are things that have to be taught, they aren't caught. We taught our kids a work ethic. They had chores and responsibilities because this is how the family functions; everyone helps out according to ability. That meant that as they got older, work load and responsibilities increased. They got an allowance as well, but this was not payment for their chores. We did this because I did not want them to grow up thinking that they should get something in return for everything they did. Helping others was a character trait I wanted to develop. We help others because it is the right thing to do, not in expectation of getting something in return. If they shirked on their chores, their allowance wasn't cut, but there were other consequences (more work and loss of privileges.)

They got an allowance because they were members of the family and because families share resources. They were however, expected to tithe from it, and put some in savings. With the remainder, they could do as they pleased. While we never cut their allowance as punishment, it did increase as they got older and willingly took on more responsibility. In looking at the kind of adults my kids are now, I have no regrets about how we raised them. They are willing, responsible, hard working adults who handle their money well.

Good grief. How in the world did I get here from there.

Anyway, yellow pine is actually classified as a hardwood, which is good for my kitchen, considering what a klutz I am. The next step will be to find a place inside for it, so it can acclimatize to the house. Then we can get to work putting it down.

Next: problems preparing the old floor

February 21, 2012

February Garden Projects

Winter made another brief appearance the other day, dipping our night time temperature down to 18° F. Mostly it's just been wet this year, with over 19 inches of rain since October. If that had been snow it would have been over 15 feet! However, we usually only get a couple of inches of snow each winter, rain being the norm. We've had no snow so far, but with February being so cold and dismal, we may get some yet.

Still, my winter garden is holding up admirably. I've regularly harvested turnips, radishes, lettuce, beets, kale, cabbage collards, an occasional sprinkling of broccoli, and mangels and collards for the goats. My garlic and multiplier onions are doing well, though the Egyptian Walkers appear to have gone dormant (do Egyptian Walking Onions go dormant in winter?) The parsnips and carrots are hanging in there, though since so few came up I haven't harvested them yet.

In spite of all the rain and mud, I've still been able to work on a couple of garden projects, more terrace borders for the beds, and mulch.

For the terraces, I'm using downed logs from our woods. These we have aplenty, and while they don't make neat, tidy, suburban looking beds, they do satisfy my frugal, make it do, waste-not-want-not sense of homesteading. The mulch is leaves, which also are abundant.

Terracing the garden, one bed at a time

As you can see I still have a ways to go. I would also love to get a thick layer of mulch on every bed before the winter weeds go to seed. The beds at the bottom of the garden actually need more than a terrace log, they need to be raised. Our first winter here we learned that this part of the garden floods if we have a deluge.

Because of the rain, the going is slow. Some days we have kitchen projects going on and I don't get outside at all. My outdoor time is divided too, with other things needing to be done. One thing I've come to appreciate about permanent beds, is that even though the ground isn't drying out, I can still walk in the garden without worrying about compacting the soil.

I have nothing planted yet, no early indoor starts. Things are so topsy-turvy with our kitchen remodel, that I figured I don't need anything else to try and keep up with. My seed orders have arrived however, and pretty soon I can plant peas! Come to think of it, I may try to get a few tomatoes planted indoors anyway. Surely I can find at least one window sill with some sun.

February 17, 2012

2 Unexpected Awards (& 2 Thank-yous)

OK, I've put this off long enough. I have two awards that I need to say thank you for, and what better time than now!

The first one I don't really qualify for, but was honored to be thought of. It is the Liebster Blog Award from Stephanie at Caffeinated Homestead. To accept, a blogger has to have less than 200 followers. For some amazing reason, I now have over 500 amazing followers! I never dreamed anyone would be interested in what we do on our little five acre homestead, but I'm blessed by each and every one who clicked on that "Join This Site" button.

I think everybody needs a blog. It's a wonderful way to keep a record of a particular area in one's life, to learn, to share, and to make friends. So, even though I can't claim this award, I would still like to award it to some of my favorite blogs that do qualify:

Worms-a-crawling farm

Click on Stephanie's name above for a copy of the award and the rules.

The second is the Versatile Blogger Award, which I received from Clint at The Redeemed Gardener. Thank you Clint! Here are the rules:

1. Add the award to your blog.
2. Thank the blogger who gave it to you.
3. Mention seven random things about yourself.
4. List the rules.
5. Award to 15 bloggers.
6. Inform each of those 15 by leaving a comment on their blog.

So. 7 random things:
1. I rarely wear jewelry but when I do, I like silver better than gold
2. I don't like flying
3. I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up
4. I like salsa on scrambled eggs
5. I wear a size 9 shoe
6. I have a sweet tooth
7. I don't necessarily do a good job following directions ;)

And to pass it on:

Parting Shot:

Well, if they aren't pregnant, at least they're not starving to death. :)

February 15, 2012

The Leftover Tin Ceiling Panels

One of the tin ceiling panels in my dining alcove

When I ordered the tin panels for the dining alcove ceiling, the online manufacturer's calculator, determined that we'd need 12 panels and 2 extra. That seemed like too many so with graph paper, I calculated we'd need 10 panels. I ordered one extra. Dan, managed it with 9 panels! That left us 2 full tin ceiling panels plus about half of a third. I was delighted because there are a lot of things that can be done with these. Here's what we decided to do....

Sink cabinet, note the framed doors

Cutting out a door's center panel with a dremel tool

Oak panel removed 

Tin panel inserted

The little hole in the upper left is for a door knob. Next I need to sand, prime, and paint the frame. We may do the same thing to the door of a corner wall cabinet as well. It's a nice way to not waste the tin panels, as well as coordinate the look of my kitchen, don't you think?

February 13, 2012

I'm Not A Dog Person, But.....

[CLARIFICATION: The post title is in no way meant to convey that we do not like dogs. It simply means that for pets, we prefer cats. :) ]

A few days ago, I happened out onto the back porch and my attention was immediately drawn to a chicken fuss. I looked, and saw a brown animal running behind the bushes. Thinking it must be Billy, our wether, I wondered why he was running around like that. Then I saw it run the other direction. Of course I had to investigate and quickly realized it was in fact a big brown dog. It was in the buck area, chasing chickens. The boys were trying to hide in the undergrowth of trees.

I took off running, wondering what I could grab to fend it off, throw at it, or use to clobber the living daylights out of it. Dan keeps a rifle and a handgun in the house, but I've only had lessons once and and at that moment, regretted not insisting on regular practice. I definitely would have shot that dog. As it was, I grabbed an old bed rail that was in use to hold down tarps.

I was fighting mad by the time I got there. When the dog saw me, it ran to the opposite corner of the fence. The goats came to me when I called and I let them out the back gate. As I stomped toward the front, hefting my mighty bed rail, the dog watched from his corner. At the front gate I called the chickens, who came running too. I shooed them out the front gate, and the dog was trapped in the buck pasture by himself.

I looked at him. He looked at me. He looked just like my next door neighbor's dog, except they keep their dog collared and on a chain when he's outside. This dog had no collar. I decided my best course of action was to call animal control. As I scanned the area to reassure myself that the dog was fenced in alone, he turned, hooked his front paws over the top of the fence, and hoisted himself up and over to the other side. This is a 4 foot fence, and I've never seen a dog do that. I watched it run around the trees and into the next door neighbor's yard and onto their porch. It was mid morning and no one was at home.

I went to do a check on the goats and count beaks. The boys (especially Billy) were upset but fine. Of the chickens I could only account for 11. I went back to the buck pasture for another look, and saw that the dog had come back and was standing on the other side of the fence. He took off when I yelled. Next I walked the perimeter of the front pasture. My neighbor from across the street came over to tell me he had seen the whole thing, if I needed a witness.

I found a couple scatterings of feathers on the ground, but couldn't find the missing chicken. I spent the rest of the day outside, keeping watch. The dog paced his own yard and ran around in the luxury of his freedom. Dan got home about the same time the dog's owners did, and he went to talk to them. Fortunately they were apologetic rather than defensive. They have been responsible with this dog and we realize it was an accident. Still, accidents can result in dead livestock, because unless a dog is bred for working with livestock, it will (no matter how nice, well trained, or sweet) chase down small livestock to the death. It's not necessarily malicious, but instinctive, because dogs are after all, predators by heredity.

Dan and I had a long talk that night, which resulted in taking a course of action we had discussed previously, but not pursued until now. Meet Kris ...

This is the photo that was linked to the ad.

He's a 7 week old Bernese, Pyrenees, Anatolian mix. His father is a registered Bernese Mountain Dog, and his mama is a 50/50 mix of Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherd. All three of these breeds are classified as working dogs, the Pyrenees and Anatolians bred specifically as livestock guardian dogs (LGDs). Bernese Mountain Dogs are used extensively in Europe and some places in the US as general purpose farm dogs.

We've been thinking about getting a dog for a long time, ever since Charlie (my llama) died. We've been told that at one time, there were coyotes, bobcats, and black bears in the area, but no one has seen any of these in over a decade. Our current predatory problems are stray dogs and hawks, deer too, if one considers how well they prey on the garden. Since our acreage is small, I don't necessarily need a guardian to stick to the goats like glue, but we do need a dog that we can trust with our livestock, will live with the goats, and has strong guarding instincts for the property in general.

I am hoping that this will be a good genetic mix for us.  Genetic instincts seem to be key, and cannot be trained into or out of an animal. Purebreds are way out of our price range, so breed mix was something I considered carefully. It was also important that both this puppy's parents worked with livestock. Personality is a factor too, but this would be harder (for me at least) to discern with a puppy.

Neither Dan nor I have had dogs around since we were kids. Still, this seems to be a necessary addition to our homestead.

What, is that

Introductions were supervised

The chickens kept their distance

Cattle panels make a great puppy yard, both for their sake & his.

My missing chicken eventually showed up at the coop, Billy remained skittish for several days, and we haven't seen the neighbor's dog since.

February 10, 2012

Worried About Our Winter Wheat

Our winter wheat has gradually been turning yellow...

Having had only one small experimental patch of wheat in the past, this is neither my area of expertise nor experience. After numerous hours of internet research (links to resources below) I decided it was likely nitrogen deficiency. This self diagnosis was via photos and descriptions, and isn't something I feel entirely confident about. Considering that this is where we planted the field corn last summer, and that corn is what's considered to be a "heavy feeder" (i.e. requires lots of nitrogen), it seemed the most logical conclusion.

My first treatment was to scatter leftover chemical nitrogen we purchased two years ago, after a soil test as we prepared the big garden for the first time. Chemicals are not my first choice, but it was what I had. How much was my biggest concern, because too much nitrogen isn't good either. In the end I didn't have a whole lot. I noted some greening up here and there about two weeks later, but not enough.

Last weekend I bought a sprayer attachment for my garden hose, and sprayed the wheat with fish emulsion (5-1-1). I'm still waiting to see if it will make a difference, wondering how long it will take, and hoping I'm not too late. In my uncertainty about things, I tend to be cautious in my conclusions and actions. We know this field needs a lot of work (as does everything else around here), so this problem isn't a tremendous surprise. I did plant pole beans with the corn last summer, and scattered as much compost as I had when I planted the wheat, but it obviously wasn't enough. Next summer I will plant my cowpeas in this same spot, and plant the corn in the back, where I tried to grow sunflowers last year. Hopefully that will help.

My philosophy about gardening and homesteading has always been that doing something is better than doing nothing. Not only because I think that every little bit helps, but because I realize that even if it doesn't turn out the way I hope, I'll learn something. Experiential knowledge is the best, I think. In this case getting even some wheat would be better than getting none, but I really don't want to lose any. What happens to the wheat may test how well I really believe what I say.


February 8, 2012

Calculating Protein With The Pearson Square

When I read the comments on my "More Thoughts On Growing Animal Feeds" post, I realized that there are quite a few of you researching and pondering the same thing, and coming up with a similar conclusion, that it's a complicated and often discouraging topic. Methods and opinions often contradict one another, as does the research. For goats though, most agree that forage (grass, browse, hay) should be the mainstay of their diet, supplemented with grain as needed, free choice minerals tailored for one's particular location, and plenty of fresh water.

Here is something though, that is useful for those of us wanting to make our own grain mixes, whether homegrown or purchased. It's the Pearson Square, a tool that can be used to calculate the amounts of two components needed in a particular mix. It was originally developed to standardize the fat and protein contents in commercially produced milk. Since then, it has been used for wine making, juice mixing, cheese making, baking, and of course, feed formulation. I read about it awhile back but didn't undertand it until Karen sent me a couple of links, this one at Colorado State, and this one from the Virginia Cooperative Extension. The first article helped especially, and in an attempt to master it myself, I'm going to try to explain it to you!

It can be used for any animal and any nutrient, but since I've been pondering protein, that's what I'll use in my examples. I'll start with whole wheat and cowpeas, things I've grown successfully here.

Problem: Determine the amounts of whole wheat and cowpeas needed to mix a goat feed of 16% crude protein (CP).

1. Target amount goes in the middle of the square. 

Example: I'm working on crude protein for goats, 16%

2. Values for the feed stuffs are placed at left hand corners

Rule: The number in the middle must be 
intermediary between the numbers at the corners

Example: 16 is between 13 and 23

3. Find the differences across the diagonal

Rule: subtract the lower number from the higher. 
Number order doesn't matter, just the difference. 
Write these in the right hand corners across the diagonal

16 - 13 = 3
23 - 16 = 7

4. Look across the horizontal legs of the square for the parts needed for the ration

Example: Going from left to right, I would need 7 parts whole wheat
and 3 parts cowpeas to get a 16% crude protein ration

The parts are translated as weights, so for example, I could mix 70 pounds of whole wheat and 30 pounds of cowpeas to achieve a 100 pound dairy goat ration of 16%.

Obviously the Pearson Square is very useful if only two things are involved. But what if I have more? What if one year I harvested 100 pounds of wheat (13% CP), 50 pounds of grain sorghum (10% CP), 90 pounds of cowpeas (23% CP), and 45 pounds of black oil sunflower seeds (16% CP). How would I know what amounts to mix to get my 16%? This gets trickier. I would have to make two mixes first, figure out the crude protein in each mix, and then use the Pearson Square to calculate how much I'd need of each. Wheat and grain sorghum could be combined as my grain mix, while the cowpeas and BOSS would be my protein supplement. This means math!

Problem: Determine the amounts needed to make a 16% crude protein feed mix with more than two ingredients.

Step 1: Find the percentage of each component in the mix.

Using the grain mix as an example, I'd first need to find out what percent of wheat I have, and what percent of sorghum. The easiest way would be with an online percentage calculator like (click here) this one. In that case you can skip to Step 2. If you're having to do this out in the barn by hand, or just want to understand the process, the formula is

Formula to determine the percentage of the parts

Example: to find the percentage of each ingredient in my grain mix, I first need to know the total (whole) weight.

100 lb wheat + 50 lb sorghum = 150 lb total
100 lb of wheat is what % of 150 lb?

Plugged into the formula...

Calculating the percentage of wheat in my grain mix

100 divided by 150 is .6666666 parts of 100. Rounded up, it equals 67%. 100 lb of wheat would be 67% of my 150 pound grain mix.

For the grain sorghum, 50 lb of sorghum is what % of 150 lb?

Calculating the percentage of grain sorghum

50 divided by 150 is .3333333 parts of 100. Rounded down, it's 33%
50 lb of grain sorghum would be 33% of my mix.
CHECK: 67% wheat + 33% sorghum = 100% grain mix

Step 2: Find the protein in the grain mixture

The formula is:

So for my grain mix, I'd plug in the percentages I calculated, and the crude protein for each:

I would follow the same steps for my supplement of cow peas and BOSS. I'll spare you the calculations, but the answer would be a mix of 20% crude protein.

Step 3: Plug these numbers into my Pearson Square

Calculating the parts needed for a homegrown dairy goat grain mix

The equal number of parts in my final mix means I have a 50/50 blend of the two mixtures.

There is website to help you figure this out too, the online Pearson Square calculator at prechel.net. You need to know the percent of each mixture plus a target percentage, also the weights. The calculator will give you the weights of each component needed to achieve the goal. That goal could be any nutrient: protein, fat, calcium, etc.

When I researched crude protein in various grains and seeds, I discovered quite a variation in estimates. Soil condition plays a huge factor in this, the more deficient the soil, the lower the protein and other nutrients will be. For now, I thought it best to stick the lower percentages. As we improve soil fertility, I know the nutritive value of our grains, hay, vegetables, and forage will improve as well.

I don't know if that makes any sense to you dear readers, but writing it out like this has helped me tremendously. If it's still confusing please let me know. I had to work through my own examples to get a grasp on it and will have to refer back to this post when I actually start doing it. I'm just thankful to have another tool tucked under my homesteading belt.

For those of you interested in keeping a copy of this information handy, I've put it and more together in a little eBook entitled How To Mix Feed Rations With The Pearson Square: grains, protein, calcium, phosphorous, balance, & more. It includes the steps covered here plus information on commercial feed ingredients, choosing the right feeds for various farm animals, crude protein, nitrogen, phosphorous, feeding to prevent hypocalcemia, ketosis, and urinary calculi. Also contains charts of nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorous content of common feedstuffs. Click here for chapter listings and where to buy.

February 6, 2012

Mrs. Mean (And Other Chicken News)

Mrs. Mean, formerly Lady B
I have renamed my original Barred Holland hen. Not that I actually name any of my chickens; when addressing them I call everybody "Mrs. Chicken." Except of course our rooster. This gal though, had always been referred to as "Lady B." Until recently that is. She is now known as "Mrs. Mean".

In our original flock, she was at the very bottom of the pecking order. She was constantly being picked on and chased away by the others. She had so many feathers pulled out that she was forever half naked. Fortunately these grew back, but when the new chicks arrived she made sure that she was no longer on the bottom.

While very sweet and friendly toward the humans, she is definitely not so toward the Buff Orpingtons. Most of the time she just chases away whichever one is handy. Or gives them a peck, or a yanks out a feather, just to remind them what's what. On occasion though, she gets her ornery on. For example, one day I heard panicked squawking and a frantic flurry of wings in the hen house. Fearing some critter was after the chickens, I took off running. Turns out Mrs. Mean had decided to occupy and defend all of the nest boxes, and was chasing all the pullets out of the hen house. I removed her to the goat shed and egg laying resumed after that.

Old and new all grazing & bug hunting together

Other than that, I am pleased to report that our chicken situation has evolved into a happier place. My two flocks, old and new, have finally blended together and everybody seems fairly happy!

Calling a chicken conference at the buck gate

I do have to say that this rooster is not as romantic with the ladies as Lord B was. Lord B used to sidle up to his intended and dance when he was in the mood. While she stood there, mesmerized by his fancy footwork, he would hop on and do the deed. From our observations however, his aim didn't appear to be too good. It wasn't surprising then, that only 3 of the 9 eggs I gave Mama Welsummer hatched.

This guy announces his intentions by puffing out his wings and chest, charging his victim like a raging bull, and grabbing on at a gallop like a rodeo rider. Consequently he has earned himself the nickname of "Cowboy." He is hitting the mark however, so perhaps we'll have a brood of Buff Orpington chicks one of these days.

The junior Barred Holland pullet, one of
the "Mrs. Chickens," & Cowboy

Another interesting observation is that my original hens expect said rooster to find tidbits for them and turn them over. Like Lord B did. Cowboy however, had no clue he was supposed to do this. They're getting him trained however. Now when he finds something, he may start pecking away but they all run over, push him aside, and help themselves. At that point he starts making the "look what I found" cluck, so perhaps he'll eventually catch on to his duties.

And that's the chicken news for February, 2012.

Parting shot: Mrs. Mean, hopeful for some tidbit

February 4, 2012

Why I Love Canned Green Beans

With a quart jar of canned green beans, this is a super easy throw-together-at-the-last-minute vegetable; total time less than 30 minutes. The perfect side dish for any Italian entree.

Green Bean Caesar

Mix together in a 1.5 or 2 quart casserole dish:
     1 quart canned green beans (can use 1.5 lb cooked or frozen)
     1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or any vinegar, lemon juice, or pickle juice)
     2 tbsp olive oil
     1 tbsp minced onions (fresh or dehydrated)
     1 clove minced garlic (can use 1/8 tsp. garlic powder)
     1/4 tsp. salt
     1/8 tsp black pepper

Topping, mix until crumbly and sprinkle over beans:
     1 tbsp olive oil or melted butter
     2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
     2 tbsp bread crumbs

Bake uncovered at 350º F, 15 to 20 minutes or until topping is browned.

February 2, 2012

Goat Update: PG? Or Not

The question of the year is, are Jasmine and Surprise pregnant?

I admit that I've been very doubtful that this is an affirmative. They certainly don't look like it when they're just standing around....

Our goal is to raise Kinder goats, and this year we attempted to breed the girls (both Nubians), to Gruffy, our Pygmy buck. We even built a Pygmy buck assist to compensate for the size difference. The problem was, that neither doe would cooperate when it came to being put in front of it. No matter how amorous their behavior toward their suitor, when it came to that, they side stepped, bucked, bolted, and wiggled every whichaway. Since it took both of us to hold her in place, we never actually witnessed whether Gruffy was being successful or not. On top of that, both girls both seemed to go in heat at the same time, dividing Gruffy's attention and giving him, and us, double duty.

After two months of uncooperative nonsense, I finally threw my hands up, propped open the buck gate and said, "fine, you figure it out". I let all the goats run together for the next several months. I realize that's not a very professional approach to breeding, but 6 or 10 attempts a day to "help," didn't seem to be doing any good.

I know it supposedly isn't possible to tell if a goat is pregnant simply by looking at her; only a sonogram is considered definitive, and I'm not doing that. There are signs that she's settled (goat folk lingo for pregnant), such as not going into heat again, but even that is difficult. Last year, Surprise was still quite flirty with Petey every three weeks or so. Looking back, I know she was already pregnant, despite her behavior.

It could still be a bit early, but every now and then I look at them and think they're starting to look a little bulgier than usual. Like when they lay down to runimate...

Jasmine, bulging on the left? Or is it rumen?

Surprise, bulging on the right? Or is it the light?

Maybe it's just that I'm wishing so hard for it to be true, that I think they look bulgier. Being half Pygmy, the kids would be smaller, or at least that's what I keep telling myself.

If it's so, our first potential due date wouldn't be until toward the end of the month, though I'm pretty sure neither doe settled her first heat. The next potential due date would be around the middle of March,  but it's entirely conceivable that it could be later than that. That gives me all the longer to hope for bigger bulges. No matter what, I give them the care of pregnant does and will be prepared for the dates circled on my calendar.

I do know that both are exceedingly happy these days, though perhaps it's the pretty weather. They run, and leap, and play. They run up with their "pet me" faces whenever they see me. At the very least, that's something to be thankful for.