Monday, June 22, 2009

The 3 F's of Small Town Texas: Fairs, Family Reunions & Funerals

We have had quite a week and I apologize for not posting sooner. We had the three major F's happen - the fair, two funerals and a family reunion. All involved the big fourth F - food!

I can honestly say that many chickens (not mine) were sacrificed for these three East Texas rituals. Believe it or not, we had fried chicken at all four events. We also had plenty baked ham, fresh corn pudding, barbecue brisket, corn bread, purple hulled peas, homemade tamales, cakes, pies and lots of homemade ice cream.

All of these F's lead up to another F - Fat!!! We may need to add just one more F to the list this next week...fasting!

There is something very comforting knowing that the County Fair happens every year the third weekend in June. The fair celebrated it's 89th year in 2009. This is only my second year to attend but with every year that passes I get more involved. This year I entered some photographs in the home economics competition.

The fair always kicks off with a large parade. The parade floats are elaborate affairs that locals work on for months. Every year there is a different theme, this year was "Country Paradise". There were a lot of grass skirts and cowboy hats (now that's a combination). There were also plenty of duded up horses, tractors, motorcycles, all terrains, golf carts and antique vehicles.

Have I mentioned that my cowboy happens to be a well known art car artist? Well, he is. He has been making art cars since the 90's.

The "Yellow Rose of Texas" is a 1990 Cadillac that is covered in rhinestones and depicts famous Texas icons such as bluebonnets, longhorns, oil derricks, the Alamo and of course lots of yellow roses.He made this particular car for his mother's 60th birthday (over ten years ago). It took over 400 hours and 10,000 rhinestones to create.

This is by far, one of the most famous of all Texas art cars. It has won the Houston Art Car Parade and has been featured on shows such as CNN, Good Morning America and CBS Sunday Morning. It has graced the pages of Texas Monthly, Heritage Magazine and Texas Highways. It was on the cover of the Austin Travel Guide. The "Yellow Rose of Texas" garnered so much attention that it was chosen to be in the "It Ain't Braggin' If It's True" opening exhibit of the Bob Bullock Museum at the Austin State Capitol. It proved to be the most popular item in the museum. It was invited back twice and has a real place in Texas memorabilia.

Now it is on permanent exhibit at our local County museum (which I happen to be curator)instead of just being stored in the barn and we drove it in the parade as the museum entry. It is always a huge crowd pleaser! The kids all call it "The Bedazzled Car".

The parade winds it away around the old downtown square and courthouse, then goes straight down Highway 84 (which they close for the event) and ends at the fairground. It is amazing how many people stand in the Texas summer heat to cheer on their favorites. The sense of community really comes alive at this moment.

Many of the first settlers of the area have permanent camp sites at the fairgrounds and spend the preceding week decorating them with different themes. There is anything from feed sack, horseshoe and chili pepper motifs to patriotic themes that represent Texas. There are even a few confederate flags that fly, after all this is Texas, and the fair grounds are actually the Confederate Reunion Grounds.

Usually, we spend the entire week enjoying the animal judging events, concerts (Country, Bluegrass & Gospel), rides, food booths, cow patty bingo and the rodeo. Our camp has one of the best locations, it's right across from the concert pavilion, and at the gateway to the food booths and the Midway. All of my cowboy's friends, family and town characters stop by. We end the weekend with a family reunion and a late night at the camp telling tall tales and sharing a bit of days gone by.

This year was a little different as two members of my cowboy's family passed away during the festivities. It was a blessing for both. His grandmother was 93 and had been in a nursing home for many years, his eldest cousin had been ill for several years and her quality of life had been greatly diminished.
Both funerals were a celebration of life with lots of family, food and friends who gathered to pay their respects.

His grandmother (Memaw) was the best beautician in town and owned her salon for over 40 years. Everybody knew her, including the young funeral director who handled the arrangements. He added a photo to her photo montage of him as a baby, getting his first hair cut and Memaw was giving it. He was sitting on a two by four across the barbers chair because he was so tiny. My cowboy said , he too, remembered that two by four well. It was a touching moment and made me think how wonderful it is to live in a place where your life and death can touch so many. She was buried beside her husband in the family cemetery that was started by his family in the early 1800's.

Memaw's favorite treat was homemade ice cream. Even in the nursing home, we always gave her a bit of soft serve ice cream after her meal. Before her body faltered and her memory faded, Memaw made homemade ice cream all the time for her three daughters and her grandkids. Grandad and Memaw would make them homemade peppermint ice cream and they would have a good old ice cream social.

My parents and grandparents would make hand cranked ice cream for us every summer too. I can still remember the old wooden ice cream maker with the ice and bags of rock salt, later on they got an electric one but it still had the wooden barrel. It was a White Mountain brand, which has been around for over a hundred years (although I think Rival owns them now). I may be adding one to my farm wish list for future fair use.

Both my mom and grandma were awesome Southern cooks and they would make us homemade custard ice cream, this process involves fresh eggs and cooking the cream mixture to a very soft custard stage before freezing it. It adds a depth and richness that uncooked ice cream just cannot duplicate. My mom always adds in different fruits like peach, blueberry, blackberry or even fresh coconut but I like those but my favorite is just pure vanilla bean.

Here's a recipe in honor of Memaw (1915-2009) and my Grandma (1915-1996), I know there are plenty of ice cream scoops in the great beyond! Their ice cream socials live on in our hearts!

Homemade Vanilla Bean Custard Ice Cream

This is a picture of our County Fair Campsite, the fair has been going on since the late 1800's in one way or another. My cowboy's sister & mom love to decorate the campsite every year in a patriotic Texas theme. The family has had a permanent campsite for over 80 years at the fairgrounds. The fairgrounds were organized originally as a Confederate Reunion Camp Ground and it still bears that name today.
My cowboy's ancestors had a campsite then too! We like to make our own ice cream but usually only make it for one night and the fair actually lasts for an entire week. Our county is famous for its peaches, so we buy home made peach ice cream from one of the food booths. The booth is run by a local family and they sell out every night, it is one of the most popular items at the fair. I like to think that many generations have sat down to eat a bowl of homemade ice cream a time or two in this wonderful campsite under the old oak trees.

Homemade Vanilla Bean Custard Ice Cream:

3 farm fresh eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups of organic sugar
4 cups whipping cream
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon real vanilla
sprinkle of sea salt (tiny pinch)

1)Beat eggs in a medium size bowl and set aside
2)Combine sugar, cream and milk in large sauce pan
3)Add the entire vanilla bean whole and a tiny pinch of sea salt
4)Heat the cream mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved, be sure the mixture is on very low heat and never boils. It is necessary to stir almost constantly.
5)Remove one cup of the warm cream mixture and the whole vanilla bean.
6)Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the tiny beans back into the cream mixture. discard the bean pod.
7)**This is the most crucial step, be very careful that the mixture has cooled slightly before mixing it in with the eggs or it will scramble or curdle and ruin the texture**Begin stirring the eggs constantly, slowly pour in the cream mixture
8)Slowly add back in the egg & cream mixture to the rest of the cream mixture in the sauce pan. Add a half teaspoon of vanilla. Stir constantly.
9)Allow the egg & cream mixture to cook on very low heat until it coats the back of a wooden spoon (the temperature should reach about 170 and can be tested with a candy thermometer)
10)Remove mixture from heat and place in large Pyrex bowl, allow to cool at least 4 hours in refrigerator. For best results allow to cool overnight.
11) Skim off any pudding like skin and place the rest in your ice cream maker. Follow your ice cream freezer instructions

This mixture makes a wonderful base for fresh fruit ice cream too. Seasonal fruit such as peaches, blackberries, fresh coconut or strawberries can be added during the making for a wonderful summer treat.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Clicking My Heels For Joy! or How To Train a Baby Donkey

I am clicking my heels and my training "clicker" with joy of the birth of my first miniature Mediterranean donkey here at Feed Me Farms. I fell in love with these energetic little creatures while visiting Sicily in 2003. I had encountered them in a little mountain side village named Floresta near the Mt. Etna volcano. I only saw them from a far but it was love at first sight for me.

Donkeys have been domesticated for over 5000 years and come in all shapes and sizes. With the help of modern day DNA testing it is now widely accepted that almost all donkeys are descendants of the African Wild Ass. Some of the first evidence of domestication was found in an Egyptian tomb where 10 donkeys were buried with full regalia along with a long forgotten king.

It is believed that ancient Egyptian merchants sold or traded asses to other ancient cultures thus populating the Middle East and Mediterranean with this wise and revered pack animal. Damascus, was once known as "The City of Asses", obviously because of one of it's most famous commodities.

Mediterranean or Sicilian donkeys are famous for their distinctive markings. Most have a prominent cross like marking across their back and shoulder. It is said they were given this mark for having been so faithful and loyal to Jesus. They are always featured in the traditional manger scene.

Closer to home, we had been waiting since early Spring for this little bundle of fur to arrive here on our Texas farm. We acquired 3 little Sicilian donkeys at the beginning of the year to keep our first bottle fed calf, ZZ Topinha, company. We bought an adult Jack, Jenny and their one year old Jack offspring (it was a package deal, donkeys are notoriously lonely without companions). We named them Billy, Frank and Dusty in homage to the band ZZ Top. When they were delivered we noticed Dusty was either really, really well fed or pregnant. Well, pregnant she was and getting bigger and bigger day by day.

We waited and waited and WAITED...I had no idea that a Jenny can be pregnant for 360 to 375 days!!!! Can you imagine if a human had to carry a baby for over a year! All of our friends and family would ask "Have you had that baby donkey yet?". My standard response became "Not yet, but I swear it has to be any day now".

One afternoon a little over a week ago, I walked out to the side pasture to visit and to my surprise, there was an extra set of ears slowly making their way through the tall grass. I started yelling for my cowboy, I was so excited I tripped and fell in cow manure but did not even notice (until later when I tracked it all over my hardwood floors).

We named her Pearl, again a little reference to ZZ Top...just think, the next one will have to be named "Tush" !

How to "clicker" train a donkey:

1) Clicker training can be used with any animal. An inexpensive clicker can be picked up at any big pet store for less than $5. It can be one of your best investments on the farm. I use it for training the calves, chickens, Guineas and the donkeys.

2) Use the clicker in conjunction with treats or food. Animals of any kind are always more motivated when there is a little bribe of food involved. I use carrot or apple baked biscuits for the donkeys and calves. They love both.

3) Stand at the gate entrance or barn entrance and call out to the young donkey. Click as loudly as possible with the clicker. As the donkey approaches kneel down and continue to click until the baby comes up to you. Reward with a treat and plenty of petting.

4) If you want to teach them to follow you anywhere, make the clicking, treat reward, clicking into a game. Click a few times, get them to follow. Once they begin to follow you, reward with a treat or a pat on the head. Pretty soon, the clicker may no longer be needed but sure comes in handy if they are far off in the pasture!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

When It Rains It Pours..Calves! How To Save an Orphaned Calf

So, we had been camping out at the primitive property on Memorial weekend with a group of our friends until an intense short lived storm took out several tents and put a damper on staying out in the wilderness. We opted to move the camp out to our farm house and have a nice roof and dry bedding for everyone to enjoy.

Memorial Day itself could not have been prettier, the sun was shining, the breeze was blowing and several newborn calves were about to take a very different path (that inevitably leads straight to the misfit corral).

We took a couple of our friends and their 2 children (ages 6 & 3) for a farm tour. First up, a visit to the chicken coop. I knew it was a bad omen when my broken beak hen had passed away in the night (she had a broken beak since day 3 of her life and I guess it caught up to her). The kids took it much better than I did, so we carried on (no time to mourn my chickens untimely demise). We fed treats to some of the donkeys and calves and even had one of our 2000 pound Brahma mommas stick her head in the SUV window to lick the toddler. Not sure if she was amused but all the adults sure were!

A trip to the back pasture proved even more interesting as we encountered two things happening at once. One of our cows was in the throws of labor and another cow had extremely swollen udders and could not feed her newborn.

Life lessons for our little city slickers - as we watched one being born the other had to be lured to the corral area with her calf so we could take control of the situation. We left the other cow in labor alone, as everything looked like it was going along fine. Which, I have now learned, never assume things are going along fine on a farm.

After our friends had the eventful tour, they headed back to the city and we headed back to the pasture. By this time we had called in back-up, my cowboy's momma and sister had come to help too. The first piece of business was to get old cross bred momma into the corral with her calf. Easier said than done, but let's just say we are good truck wranglers.

As we returned to the pasture we were shocked at what we saw next. The purebred registered Brahma had died while giving birth (prolapsed uterus)and there was no calf on the ground. Everyone assumed the worst but as we drove off, I noticed something happening in the cow herd.

To my surprise, far off in the distance I could see a newborn calf trying to suck on every cow it went up to. I knew this was the orphan. We raced over and snatched up this little blue eyed bull, brand new umbilical cord and all and made our way back to the corral. Not before I got a pretty good hoof to the chin.

We named the heifer baby Pink Olive and the little bull King Nandi (in honor of our farm guests that day). They are now almost two weeks old and alive and well.

All in a days work....another circle of life, death & everything in between on the farm.

How to Save an Orphaned Calf:

1) It is important for the calf to receive Colostrum within the first few hours of birth. It's chances for survival increase drastically. If there is another heifer who has just given birth in the same pasture, corral her and her offspring and place her in the shoot where she can be milked or can be still so the orphan can drink.

2) Place the orphaned newborn on her udder and see if it will begin sucking. Be patient, this could take several attempts. Be sure the surrogate heifer is restrained because her instinct will not be to allow this orphaned calf to suck. Meanwhile, collect enough colostrum in a large baby calf bottle for back up and to scent the calf (more about this in a minute).

3) If you do not have a surrogate heifer available, you should keep an emergency kit on hand that includes a bag of instant colostrum, use this if no other colostrum is available. Even better, fresh colostrum freezes very well and can keep in your freezer for up to a year. Harvest fresh colostrum from one of your cows every year and place it in a ziplock gallon freezer bag. If you end up with an orphaned newborn or some other situation, just gently unfreeze the colostrum in some warm water and feed it via baby bottle or large oral syringe.

4) Once the newborn is fed, the next step is to get the surrogate to except him/her as her own along with her other calf. I had always heard that you can "scent" the calf and fool the surrogate. We rubbed down the real calf real well with our hands and then rubbed the orphan down with the real calf's scent. We also dowsed the orphan with a lot of the surrogate's colostrum/milk. This trick worked. She had no trouble accepting the orphan.

5) If all else fails, ALWAYS have electrolyte gel packs on hand to give the newborn and a bottle full of milk replacer. Tractor Supply has all of these things and if you live far from one like we do, it is always better to have all of this on hand. We learned the hard way.

Epilogue: In the end, the surrogate cow had plenty of milk for both calves but had a serious case of mastitis. Her milk was bad because of this. Both calves are being fed with milk replacer by bottle. I am proud to report that both are fine and now think we're their momma!

happy hour @ FMF

happy hour @ FMF
party till the cows come home