Monday, October 31, 2016

"Harvesting" the Lambs

You might recall this past spring, we got a couple lambs to raise for butcher.
We wanted them to be grass fed so knew we were in for a chore.
My mom commented how she always enjoyed fattening out critters.
I explained that we weren't graining them so they weren't just kept nice and tidy in one little spot.
We began saving our grass clippings for haylage before we even got the lambs.  Since sugars are what gets stored as fat (marbling in the meat,) we wanted a natural way for them to have those sugars without grains.
Making the haylage was easy enough.
We put grass clippings of moderate moisture content in a black garbage bag and sat on it to get as much air out as possible.
(Sorry, no pix of that:)
Then we wrapped it in 2 more bags making it triple wrapped.
And yes, it is necessary to triple wrap them.
Then let it sit to ferment for 6-8 weeks.
Doing this does require one to plan ahead.
The lambs started out in a 12 X 12 pen that we shuffled around the yard twice per day.
Once they began eating well, the area of the pen was not enough to feed them.  We began tethering them while we were home.
We used a cork-screw anchor so they would be less likely to get hung up on anything.
We just had to make sure we sank it far enough away from anything they weren't supposed to eat.
At night we put them up in their pen which we had expanded.
We tied the dog near them at night for protection - 
or at least as an alarm system since we have bear, mountain lions, wolves, etc. in our neck of the woods.
They got loose only twice:
once during our ice-cream social (they wanted to join the party) and 
once when we were gone and they proceeded to completely destroy our garden.
By the last month, they were eating the haylage heartily and enjoyed our abundance of apples as well (more natural sugars.)
When it was nearing time to butcher, Mr. LB began asking me if I was going to  miss them (nope,) asking if I would be okay when we butchered (yep,) if I would be able to eat them (double yep,) etc.
I finally asked him if he was just trying to make me feel bad.
He said I just didn't scratch them under their chins enough.
I asked him if he would be okay.  He assured me he would be.
(He's a big softy, but don't tell him I told you;)
My folks came up to help butcher.
Mom picked plums for making jelly.  I got hanging bags, vinegar water, and towels, etc. ready.  I also set up the wringer washer out in the yard. 
I kept the fleeces to tan, but first ran each one through a couple of rinses to clean them and to cool them faster.
I then spread them on a tarp, salted and rolled each one.
Those are now in the freezer awaiting further processing.
Dad and Mr. LB got their part done, cleaned, and bagged.
Then, later that week, we began cutting and wrapping.
The great thing about doing our own cutting and wrapping is that we can be picky and package it according to how we will be cooking it rather than how it fits in a box.
The remaining bones and scraps went to the dog and the chickens (chickens are meat-eaters too) so there was very little overall waste.

(both good and bad)

Haylage: This is fabulous though does require planning ahead.  The only change I would make is to do it in large zip-locks then in the 2 extra bags.  Once the large bags were opened, it only took a couple days to begin to mold.  Feeding only 2 lambs, a large part of each bag was wasted (well composted.)

Yard: We did not mow this summer.  The lambs fed.  They do not mow evenly so overall appearance of the place was sub-par.  We have an acre and they ate it all!  So figure about 1/2 acre per lamb.  (They also ate garden, flowers in pots, any landscaping they could get to. . . )

Time: This was time consuming!  We moved them at least twice per day.  We did not take any vacations together.  We made sure one of us was home.  Though they tethered well, they weren't really "leash trained" so moving them could be a challenge.  Each move involved re-sinking the anchor and toting their water bucket. 

Meat: We have 2 grass fed lambs in the freezer (minus one tasty leg o' lamb) for relatively little monetary cost per pound.  I am one of those who likes having the peace of mind that if something happens, we can still eat, so it's a bonus in that department.

Fleeces: We will also have two lamb skin "rugs" whenever I get around to pelting them.  They will be a lot! of work so hope they turn out nicely.

Do it Again?: Probably not next summer.  We have the trailer restored so will be taking a couple trips and wouldn't dream of asking someone else to take on such a chore.  After that, we'll see.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Keeping an Old Skill Alive

Isn't it strange how sometimes when you least expect it,
something strikes you or takes you by surprise?
A week or so ago, I ran across an add in one of our semi-local publications.
It was from a woman who wanted to learn how to sew by hand
with the specification of "without a machine" as if "by hand"
meant in addition to a machine.

I read and re-read the little plea for help.
It struck me for some reason~
weather it was shock that she hadn't been taught such a thing as a child,
or wasn't able to work it out,
or self-reflection that perhaps I should be more grateful
that I know how to hand stitch (and actually enjoy it,)
or actually a bit of sadness that she hadn't been able to find someone near her
to show her such a basic skill.
Perhaps it was a combination of all the above.

I did respond via email but also hoped that mine was one of many
and that perhaps a neighbor a few doors down would walk over
to her house and say plainly, "Here, let me show you. . ."

With that, I would like to show you folks the most basic method
of hand stitching for general purpose.
Please keep in mind, there are many ways to hold a needle
and just as many variances as to preferences for this method or that.
This is just one of those many ways.
This is a regular running stitch.
This stitch is the most basic stitch for holding two pieces of fabric together~
Keep in mind your "fabric" can be anything from a silk scarf to canvas tarps.
I used two different colors so you can see it better, 
and two strands of dark thread to stand out even more.
Also, you would usually have your edges even, 
I staggered them so you could see.
The physics of it is that the needle goes up and back down through the fabric
spanning the length of your seam.

Though you can do this by poking your needle down and pulling your thread through then poking the needle back up and pulling the needle through for each and every stitch, the easier and usually more efficient way to accomplish this is to "stack your needle" or "stack your stitches" (I've heard it said both ways.)
To do this hold the needle kinda at a slant and move it up and down through the fabric maybe 3-4 times then pull the thread through the fabric.
You will figure out what is comfortable for you depending upon the size of your needle and the thickness of your fabric.
I also used a large needle to demonstrate.
I would recommend a thimble or even a piece of duct tape 
on your "pushing finger."
The goal is for your stitches to be as even as possible.  
Also, the smaller your stitches, the stronger your seam will be.
This stitch can be done in a straight line or around curves.
If you get a little "off straight," either pull it out or
make a very small stitch to get it back in line.

Once you reach the end of your seam, to create a knot,
take a very small stitch in the seam allowance, then before pulling the thread tight, pass your needle under the loop,

pull your thread, then go under your next "loop" with the needle,
pull your thread, then do it one more time.

I typically go through the loop at least 3 times but often 4.
Snip close to knot leaving a very small tail to ensure it doesn't unravel.
With that, you have just hand stitched your seam.
At this point, you would open your two pieces of fabric
and iron or press open.
Typically, if using two different colors, you would press toward the darker color.
Sorry I took the picture before I made my knot.
This is indeed slower than using a sewing machine,
but it requires no expensive devise, no electric to operate,
no maintenance, oils, or up-keep, and very little space to store.
The only supplies needed are needle and thread, scissors (or sharp teeth,)
and the item which you are stitching.
This should get you started.  Warning, it's addictive:)

I will also apologize if a few of the pictures are a little less than perfect.
It's a challenge to show stitching while hugging a tripod with a camera
beeping and ready to snap a picture:)


Sunday, October 2, 2016

Bear Tag Filled

We have bear in the freezer!
Oops - not that bear!
(Sorry, I have a warped since of humor.)

Got her within a mile of the house last weekend.
She was a 2-3 year old sow.
That was Sunday evening, and yep, you guessed it,
we had to be to work Monday morning:)
That part actually wasn't too bad.
It is beginning to get dark early enough that we
finished up just about bed time.
By we on that part of course I mean Mr. LB.
He actually likes skinning/dressing them out.
I am in charge of getting and having everything ready.
Hanging bag, vinegar water, wash bowl and rag, wheelbarrow (for guts) etc.
Once it's all cleaned, we go over it with a mild vinegar water
just to make sure it's actually "clean."
We let her hang two full days before we started working on her.
If it had been a little cooler, we might have waited another day.
So Wednesday night we began the process.
Bear is a lot of work to clean and process.
It took us (both) 3 evenings, and I finished rendering the last of the lard 
Saturday morning.
I've heard of quite a few folks who hunt avidly who don't like to eat bear.
There are some unique features to processing bear
that make me wonder if they had ill-processed meat.
First, bear is a member of the pork family so cook it thoroughly.
We find the lard superior to pork lard.
Our cast iron hasn't looked better since beginning to use it several years ago.
The other thing about it is that it doesn't have that "pork smell" 
when frying an egg and potatoes or whatever we happen to be cooking.
It just seems cleaner that way.
A little caveat here on how I render bear lard:
I send it through the grinder first. 
(I should share: we have an unfinished kitchen. We finally picked out countertops this past week so hopefully within a month or so 
we will have a 'real' kitchen:)

Then heat it on the barbecuer burner outside.
This is just beginning to turn and look at all that lard already.
It will kinda resemble lightly-browned burger when ready.
Grinding it first makes the heating/rendering part go really quickly.
I then pour it through a lose-weave cotton cloth 
(looser weave than a sheet, but tighter than cheese cloth.)
It is a yellow color until it cools then should be a soft white.
I got just shy of a gallon and a half of lard from this one bear!
We do store it in the refrigerator for good measure.
The clincher is that bear fat (not rendered) can go rancid even in the freezer.
If folks try to cut up a bear like they would a deer or elk,
it would taste foul by the time they pulled it out of the freezer.
We didn't always know this either, but knew we didn't like bear fat on the meat.
In fact, last year, we had a bear given to us by a neighbor.
(He shot a bear right behind his house and was expecting company about a half an hour later.  We all have bear tags up here since they can be a nuisance.)
I didn't have time to get all the fat rendered into lard so threw a bag of the unprocessed fat into the freezer.
I took it out and rendered it later when I had more time.
Here is how it set up using the same process as above.
Yes, it was still in the fridge - please don't judge:)
I want to save the jar and hadn't had time to dispose of it.
In addition, if the un-rendered fat is unknowingly used in the burger
and proceeds to go rancid, the whole package will carry that flavor.
This is definitely one of the advantages to doing our own cutting and wrapping.
We cut and wrap the meat according to the ways 
we prefer to cook it for our meals.
Our favorites are to include it with elk meat and beef fat in sausage,
in Mediterranean like we sometimes do venison (recipe here) 
or barbecued bear kabobs. 
Recipe: I use Sweet Baby Ray's as a base.
Mr. LB likes it, but I don't really care for it.
To this base I add Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, garlic, onion, parsley, and a little ground savory.  Let it marinate at least over night but up to 2 days.
Then barbecue slowly.
Sorry, I don't have a picture of after they were cooked.
It was getting late, and we were hungry. 

We have tried roasts before, but because we remove the fat, 
it cooks up to be a bit on the dry side.
It is now deer season so we might be burning the candle at both ends of the day for another week or so.
Please forgive me if posts are a bit sporadic.
More "how to" or at least "how we do it" posts coming.
In the past few weeks, we butchered lambs, cut and hauled 4 cords of wood,
processed about 70 lbs. of tomatoes, and have Mrs. Calabash back in service
so there's plenty to share.