Author Archives: Homesteader's Supply

The Dog Ate My….. Cheese?

Jerri comes by weekly and picks up five to eight gallons of milk from our Cookie cow to make cheese for both households. Our homestead works too many jobs and she doesn’t have milk cows, so the arrangement works out well. She picks up the milk, makes colby or cheddar cheese and we share the bounty, providing both homesteads with a great food source. So, a few days ago she made this amazing wheel of cheddar cheese. It was about four inches thick and about seven inches wide at the center of the wheel. She was so excited about how well it had turned out that she called bragging and explained that I could swing by and pick up some in a day or two when it was finished drying.
Well, this morning (the typical drop off cheese / pick up milk day) the phone starts ringing and I figure it was milk swap time. I answer it to hear… 
“I’m so bummed….Do you remember the old adage ‘The dog ate my homework?'”
“What?” I asked trying to follow the conversation..
“You know… the dog ate my homework…. well, I have a new one for you… the dog ate my cheese!” She says, thinking this will clarify things for me. My silence must have hinting to my ongoing confusion, so she continued, “I went into the kitchen to cut and wrap up the cheese so I could bring you some when I picked up milk and all I found was the cheese cloth on the tile floor. So, I’m looking everywhere wondering ‘where is the cheese?’… I can’t image that the dog ate an entire wheel of cheese!” She explains. 
Now lights are starting to go off… the cheddar cheese that she’d bragged about a couple of days ago. Well, I start laughing because all I hear in my head is that old lady saying ‘WHERE’S THE BEEF?’ in the Wendy’s commercials from the eighties.
Jerri continues her story over the phone, “So, I’m looking all over the house wondering where’s the cheese… looking for some sort of evidence… tiny cheese crumbles… anything. Finally, I look over to the couch and see the leg blanket crumpled up in the corner. Now I know I had folded it up on top of the couch last night. I walked over and lifted the blanket off the couch and here’s this small hidden chunk of chewed on cheese!”
Now I’m really laughing! The dog was saving it for a snack!
Jerri sighs and then continues into the phone, “So, I won’t be bringing cheese over today, but I do need more milk.”
Ah, life on a homestead. Could have been worse I suppose… she could have been thawing rib-eye steaks! Here’s the picture she sent just a few minutes ago… a recreation of the events!!! See the cheese piece by the stuffed donkey… LOL

Pseudocowpox Adventure May 2011

Early this spring I thought one of the milk cows was having an allergic reaction to fly bites. We don’t have too many horse flies out here in Arizona, but we do have flies. One day I noticed blisters up around the top of Sally cow’s front right teat. I put an ointment on the blisters and at the next milking found more on the front left teat. I also noticed little blisters around her legs down by the hoof. I thought she was having an allergic reaction to the fly bites so I ran up to the feed store the next morning and purchased a fly sheet. Sally was a good sport even though Cookie cow, my Jersey / Guernsey cross, kept laughing at her. For several days I’d put her fly sheet on during the day and take it off at night. The little blisters not only got worse, they also moved to the trunk of her body where she was covered by the fly sheet. Ok, now I was perplexed and dove into the Merck Veterinary Manual looking for symptoms and answers. The only thing that fit was pseudocowpox. My first thought was “This day and age??? Cowpoxs???” I called out the livestock vet and without telling him what I found, he looked at Sally and said.. “she has pseudocowpox, it’s a virus and will take from 3 to 6 weeks to heal up” He offered to take samples to the lab and told me to keep my hands washed well between milking Cookie and Sally so I didn’t spread it from Sally toCookie. It’s in the chickenpox family and luckily I’d already had chickenpox. He was right… within six weeks the blisters had all scabbed over and slowly healed up. I never did get blisters on my hands but apparently it was common in the old days for milk maids to get cowpox on their hands and even helped with the development of the small pox vaccine. See how great it is to have cows!!!

How Are Feed Prices in Your Area?

As I’ve said many times, I have a Jersey dairy cow named Cookie, a jersey calf and a gelding Quarter Horse named Dandy (he came named that way… I call him DoDa from the Yankee Doodle Dandy song) Anyway… I had two jersey cows up until a week ago when I took one, who was still in milk, into the butcher. (Another side note… I had to take her into the butcher – there was no way I could pull the trigger staring my Sally cow in the eyes)

Why did I take a pure bred Jersey cow who was still in milk to the butcher??? FEED PRICES!!! Sally had a detachment in her left rear quarter and it was a battle to milk that section. She stood statue still and was a great cow, I just had to hold up the bag and massage a lot to get the milk out. (Detachment is when the milk making part of the quarter detaches from up top and falls to the bottom of the bag) Sometimes the blood supply is cut off when this happens and the quarter dries up naturally. Unfortunately, that was not the case with Sally.

Now, back to our regular program…. So, I took Sally to the butcher, not because Cookie wouldn’t love to have her as a dry cow buddy, but because I couldn’t AFFORD to feed a dry cow buddy. You see a few years ago (2008 / 2009) when gas shot up to almost $5.00 a gallon, feed shot up. A three string bale of alfalfa (90 lbs or so) went from $8.99 to $14.99 per bale in a matter of weeks. (Remember, I live in Arizona where everything has to be trucked in) Corn, Oats and Barley also shot up as did Estrella alfalfa pellets and chicken crumble. Prices didn’t really drop too much until very late 2009 and the prices didn’t drop anywhere near where they started before gas skyrocketed… Then late 2010 gas prices started to skyrocket again… but went no where near as high as it had last time… peaked around $3.90 instead of $4.80 a gallon… FEED however went significantly higher than it had before. I am currently paying $16.99 for a light three string bale of Alfalfa, I’m paying $14.99 for a 50 # bag of corn, oats and barley with molasses and $11.99 for a 50# bag of Estralla alfalfa pellets… Before I took Sally to butcher – my feed bill was pushing $800.00 per month! I pay less than that for my house payment!

So, I’m curious, with the commodities market raking havoc on grain prices and gas prices jumping up, little down and then up more… how are you fairing with feed prices? Now you all see why I’m trying so hard to save up for land with pasture… mid west here I come!

Preserving Your Harvest

For your new homestead Mark and Tonya!!!!

With summer’s closing just around the corner, it’s time to consider what to do with all of those beautiful herbs and vegetables that you’ve grown in your garden. The tender sweet basil, ripe juicy tomatoes and the wonderful chives can be dried or preserved to enjoy through the winter months. How you preserve your food depends greatly on which type of vegetable it is and how you’d like to use it in the future.

Herbs are absolutely wonderful freshly cut from the plant. Fresh pesto made from basil or fresh rosemary sprinkled over chicken and if harvested and dried properly, you can enjoy that same taste through the winter. Dehydration can be done with low heat or simply air dried. I’ve used both and prefer the air dry method for peppers, which I thread through the stem and hang to dry in the least humid part of the house. Leafy herbs, fruit slices and even small peppers are also easily dried with air. A netted drying rack works great. This type of dehydration unit has trays with holes for air flow and the netting keeps pests out, even fruit flies. The best part, it doesn’t have to be plugged in! There are several types of electric free dehydration units, but if jerky is desired, a low heat electric unit is best.

The next type of preservation is canning. Canning can be accomplished by water bath or pressure cooking. Both methods use high temperatures to create a vacuum seal preventing air and bacteria from forming on the food. Water bath canning is for high acid foods such as tomatoes, fruits, cucumbers in salt brine, pickled beets, etc… Pressure cookers are for any foods which have a very low acid content. Meats, beans, corn and other low acid foods are pressure cooked. Canning is a very demanding chore and probably the most rewarding. There is something very warming to the spirit to see a cupboard full of jars of food. Reminds me of summers at my grandparent’s place, putting up cherries, tomatoes and green beans.
In addition to canning, many of the same vegetables can be blanched and frozen. I prefer to blanch and freeze green beans and spinach. I have also sliced up the over abundance of summer squash and once blanched, it’s ready for casserole dishes, stews or zucchini bread. Blanching is simply submerging the vegetables in boiling water for a specific time (depending on the vegetable but usually a minute or less). Once the time is up, submerge the vegetables into ice water until cool and then strain off the water. The vegetables can be placed into freezer Ziploc bags or freezer containers. Remember it’s always best to double bag when freezing any kind of food to prevent freezer burn.

Before the invention of modern day canning or ice cold freezers, vegetables were preserved by fermentation. Typically, you think of sauerkraut when you think of fermented vegetables, but most any vegetable can be fermented. When you ferment or culture foods, you make them a healthier food!

Lacto-Fermented foods are those that have been cultured by beneficial organisms. In the right conditions, beneficial organisms feast on the food, producing beneficial acids, and transforming the food into something better, containing all the original vitamins, enzymes, and now active cultures — conveying benefits to your gut, your immune system, and your digestion. This culturing develops complex flavors and pleasing textures, while the food becomes more nutritious than it was before. And the acids preserve and protect the food from spoiling. It is really a miraculous process!

Fermenting foods covers a lot more than sauerkraut! Did you know you can ferment fruits, vegetables, beans, meats, dairy, and grains? You can even ferment condiments like mayonnaise. And there are many ways to start the culture for your fermenting process… salt brine, whey, dairy cultures, water kefir and more. I made a batch of fresh organic beets in a salt brine and was so surprised that there was NO salty taste in the beets, just very sweet, crunchy, delicious, and healthy. At Homesteader’s Supply we were so intrigued with this process we started producing our Pickle-Pro! It comes with a free recipe for 5-Spice Apple Chutney. The principle is similar to the old fashioned fermenting crock process, except not only is there a water seal to keep air from getting in, but also allows for the escape of the gases produced. I’m guessing that this is why we don’t get the mold on the top which is common with using jars and crocks. It is also so much less expensive, which means you can have multiples always going at the same time. The process only takes about 3 days of fermentation on your kitchen counter. And the best part is that you don’t have to ferment everything from your garden right away. You can preserve in other ways, like freezing, canning, and then ferment just the amount you want when you want.

Eager For Some Homesteading Conversation

I’ve been checking the blog often, eager to see comments, swap stories and share questions and answers. If any of you out there have thoughts (articles of sorts) you’d like to share, feel free to email me at njsparks@homesteadersupply.com and I’ll see about getting your work on the blog, with credit of course. If you want to ask a question, share experiences or offer information – please use the comments field.. I’m eager to see it all come together and have a little homesteading community on these pages.

So, I’ll start with some questions…

What do you think of the blog?
Are the articles / stories helpful?
Are there topics you’d like to see discussed?
Does it tie in well enough with www.homesteadersupply.com and our products?
Are you able to find what you’re looking for in the web store?

Please feel free to answer and let’s enjoy a conversation!

Happy Homesteading,

Nance

Who are ‘the folks at Homesteader’s Supply’?

Good Sunday Evening All….

I thought I’d share a bit with you about who we are and how Homesteader’s Supply came to be. My name is Nance Sparks and I’m the web / geek / homesteading side of Homesteader’s Supply. I have a B.S. degree in Computer Information Systems and work for a local private college by day. In addition to my forty hour a week job, I take care of the web presence of Homesteader’s Supply. It may sound like a small task, but I keep the web store up to date, design and write for our blogs, keep Google+ current, tweet, Facebook as well as design and send out all of the newsletters. I’m sure there is more geeky stuff that I do, but I enjoy it and love all of the questions and conversations I get to take part in with our readers and customers.

I also have a small farm on four acres in Chino Valley, Arizona. I have had a Jersey cow named Cookie for about six years now, she’s an angel and is currently in milk. I also have an old retired roping horse who isn’t ridden, but enjoys hanging out with his cows and is the sweetest gelding. A fourteen month old jersey calf shares the pasture as well and is getting ready for spring butchering. They are all protected by a breeding pair of Emu, Junior and Babycakes who share late fall eggs with me for amazing quiche. In the side yard is the chicken coop which is opened up every morning so the many varieties of chicken, turkey and ducks can roam the four acres freely, enjoying bugs, grass and seeds (I also keep a bucket of crumble out there for all of them).

Jerri Bedell is the nuts and bolts of Homesteader’s Supply. She lines up the vendors and manufacturers for all of the amazing products we carry. Her goal is to find products that are made with quality and will handle life on a homestead. Whenever possible, she strives to find products made in the U.S.A. She handles all of the sales, book keeping, corporation papers, pays the bills and yet still finds time to offer amazing customer service. She answers the phone personally, no automated menu of options and if she’s isn’t available when called, she’s known to get right back to her customers. Jerri also packs and ships out the products since Homesteader’s Supply is her main focus. Jerri has five acres in Chino Valley, Arizona and loves making fresh colby and cheddar cheese. She’s a pro at home made ice cream and butter as well. Jerri designed the Pickle Pro that we offer on our site and chose to make her model out of glass instead of the many plastic ferment containers on the market. Her reasoning, you can’t really sterilize plastic. It holds odors and bacteria, eventually altering the foods you ferment in them. The Pickle Pro is one neat item and most of Jerri’s vegetables end up fermented.

So, why on earth would two people who have yards to mow, bills to pay, cows to milk and all that want to get into business? The biggest push for us was the inability to find quality homesteading products. I ordered some milk pails and they were HORRIBLE!!! They were so thin that if the cow hit the side of the pail with her hoof it would dent the pail. They were made in China and eventually I threw it away and bought another one. The next pail was made in India and wasn’t much better. The lip on the pail was sharp and cut me more than once. The tabs that held the handle were welded poorly and snapped off in just a few months. My frustration grew as I sought out more and more homesteading products. Udder balms full of perfumes that stung the cow’s udders because the vendor wanted it to smell pretty like lotion. Muck boots that were made out stiff plastic and cracked after a few uses. The list can really go on and on and on.

Jerri was running into similar issues. Cheese rennet that was inconsistent in setting up a good curd or cultures that were inconsistent made for many very frustrating cheese making days. Items she’d purchase for her homestead were of poor quality and broke often or weren’t really designed for the practical uses on a working farm.

So, we got to talking and quickly realized that what was needed for not just our two farms, but all small family farms, was a place to purchase QUALITY homesteading products for a reasonable price. I got busy lining up a hosting company and began designing the store while Jerri dug into products. The first product she found was an amazing milking pail made from food grade stainless steel and completely created with American materials and labor. The pail is by my best guess at least ten times as thick as the cheap pails I’d struggled with! I’ve had my ‘made in Pennsylvania’ pail for over four years now and it still looks brand new! Next item she found was a perfume free udder balm… made in Iowa with all natural ingredients! We were on a roll. I kept plugging away at code getting everything linked up for the store and she continued to find quality products to order in and test. I guess what I’m saying is that much of what you see on the site, one of us has ordered and is using it in one or both of our homes. If it was crappy and didn’t work, it was returned and was not included in our store. We were on a mission and that mission carries on to this day. Quality products at an affordable price with great customer service!

All of that began in August of 2008 and here we are today. I share all of this with you so you’ll understand that we’re not some corporate office in the middle of a big city trying to tell you what you need on a farm, but instead… we’re farmers sharing with you what has worked great for us! We’re right there with you, working full time jobs and staring at half finished projects. We have livestock bellowing out in the back pasture to be milked and trying to keep the crows from stealing our eggs out of the coop. We’re just homesteaders eager for self sufficient living and rather than hoard the information we find… we share every bit of it, eager for all who embark on this adventure to be successful!

Happy Homesteading…. From the ‘folks at Homesteader’s Supply!’