Live Life Farm

Enjoying the simple things everyday

Month: March 2016

The Herd Has Spring Fever | Horse pasture

We run a small horse boarding farm that has proven to be a lot of work but a great payoff. We have met some great friends and learned a lot along the way. I have been involved with horses for the past 25 years and even started a farm sitting business when in college. Having my horses at home has been fun, but more work than riding!

People think that the big grazers are cattle, but a horse is the TRUE hay burner. They will eat more than any animal I have met. Our farm has a unique structure. We have 2 small herds of horses that we rotate between pastures. Each herd has 2 pastures. They eat on 1 pasture for a week and then we rotate to the other. This helps keep worm loads down and grass levels up. Our pastures rarely are eaten down. We do mow to keep the weeds down. Horses are finicky and prefer limited forages.

The biggest problem that we have is spring grass introduction. Some horses can handle immediate forage for 24 hours, but we limit them for many reasons. Overload of spring grass can cause grass founder and colic and other issues. We have “dry lots” that contain little to no grass that they stay in once the snow has melted, letting our pastures rest and grow. Once the grass is a few inches tall we start at 1 hour per day and increase in 1/2 to hourly increments per day. During this period, we are checking to be sure we do not see evidence of overeating. Loose stool is a common indicator of overeating!

Here is a picture of “Breezy” in our pasture during our first turnout on spring grass. They are always so happy to get out in the pasture for the first time and act like a kid in a candy store.

Spring fever

Later in the spring our grass grows FAST! So fast they bury their heads in the grass.
Lucy enjoying a nice spring day.

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Fall is a time to load up for winter. We had a pretty morning last fall and I had to run out and take some pictures.

Fall follies

The big guy

Early Gardening in Michigan! | cold-frame, early gardening

If you are looking for a less expensive option to start an early garden or extend your growing season a cold frame is a great option. Greenhouses are great but take a bit of time to build and are fairly expensive. We have raised bed gardens and built a cold frame to fit right in the garden. It’s almost April and I am ready to start growing my Kale, lettuce, snap peas, and broccoli.

First, a list of supplies.

1/2 inch 4×8 treated plywood
4×8 twin panel greenhouse panel (this will be enough for 2 cold frames)
An 8 foot 2×4
(2) 8 foot 2×2’s
(2) door hinges
1-5/8 inch deck screws
2-1/2 inch deck screws for lid
1 inch box of screws for greenhouse panel (they are sold special next to greenhouse panels)
duct tape to tape sharp edges of greenhouse panel

Expect to spend around $80 to build 1 cold frame, but you will have another greenhouse panel for another cold frame.

We used the following tools: circular saw, cordless drill with #2 phillips and drill bit, utility knife, pencil, tape measure, 4′ level (for straight edge to draw cuts)

First cut the plywood, cuts should look like the below

We built ours to be 4 feet long (to maximize the plywood) and 33 inches to fit within our raised bed. 1 foot tall in front and 2 feet in the back.
Materials

Now you want to assemble the frame. Use the 2×4’s to attach the plywood. Use the 1-5/8 inch screws to attach sides. The cold frame should now start to look like something!

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Now you need to build the frame of the lid. We found the double paned greenhouse panels to resist hail and snow best. Previously, we used plastic and were replacing every year.

Measure and cut the 2×2’s so they fit on top of frame perfectly. Also, cut one of the 2×2’s to put horizontally in the middle of your lid. This will help support the lid frame. Attach the lid frame to the cold frame box with the hinges making sure the lid will be able to open and close easily. Place greenhouse panel over the lid and cut with utility knife. If you are making 2 cold frames be sure to take the size into consideration. Once cut, wrap edges with duct tape. Then fasten the panel to the lid frame with greenhouse screws.

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Now you have the finished product! Just move to the garden and start planting seeds. Later we will talk about how to use the cold frame and when to plant.

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The low-down on bone broth

I’m not sure I really believe that bone broth is the cure for everything but there is something nice about making your own from scratch. It’s not time-consuming but it does take some time to enhance the flavors. I really prefer my own chicken or beef stock, no worries of artificial flavors, colors, or MSG.

We start out with freezing our carcasses and once we are low on stock I start cooking! The real trick is to try and use those neck bones and even feet (if you are daring)!

Remember to fit as many bones as possible into the pot and just cover with enough water to slightly cover the bones. The more bones the better flavor! I also add in frozen necks. We have our own meat chickens (more on that later) so we ask to have every part sent back to us for stock/bone broth. I have a hard time getting every tiny piece of chicken off my bones but know it will just enhance the flavor of the broth.

Before cooking be sure to add a nice glob of Braggs apple cider vinegar to draw out the collagen from the bones. Let that sit for about 30 minutes and then crank the heat up baby! Get a nice boil rolling to get things cooking. Once we have a boil I turn down and let the magic happen. I let everything simmer for about 24 hours. My poor husband thinks that the smell is so strong he dreams of soup all night. Added bonus is when you are cooking stock on a cold winter night, it just seems right!

I like my bone broth to be extra-virgin so I don’t add veggies….but if you choose to you can add celery, onions, carrots….don’t save the good stuff for the broth, just throw in some celery ends with the leaves…whatever is leftover or you won’t consume. Let the broth cook for 1-10 hours with veggies if you like a combined broth or added flavor.

Bone broth in process!
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Once your broth has simmered for 24 hours it’s time to strain! I still use my ball jars and lids.
This is the best way I found to strain my broth.
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Once your jars are filled, let them cool for an hour before putting lids on and popping them in the freezer.
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So easy to make and enjoy! I even add some leftover broth into ice cube trays to freeze to pop in recipes that need just a small amount.

Making Maple Syrup in fresh spring weather

The weather in Michigan is prime now for making maple syrup. This past week we had some beautiful days and I can’t think of anything better to do in nice weather than to cook over a campfire. It’s bringing me back to last summer with all of our campfires.

The easy part of making maple syrup is tapping the trees. Then you soon find out that buckets are FULL of sap that will yield a wee bit of liquid gold. Now, we admit this is our first venture and we are, by no means, experts but it was fun and tasty.  Once we drilled the tree it was easy to tap the trees and lightly hammer the taps into the tree.

These taps are our favorite.

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going out to collect sap

The kids loved participating in collecting sap. And we still had snow on the ground….but not for long!

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our first tap in

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all of the taps in place

We have puny sugar maples. They are not yet ready to tap…..maybe in, ohhhhh, 30 years. But we do have these 3 silver maples. The sugar is not as plentiful in silver maples but it still tastes good. We checked the trees about every 12 hours and the buckets were fulllllllll of sap! Lots of sap that even the kids enjoyed drinking.

Now, don’t be like us and try this venture over a gas grill stovetop, it won’t boil and you will sit around stirring sap until the cows come home (and we don’t have cows, so that tells you a lot).

Next we got smart, or smarter, and built a fire. Added a little more work but it does pay off….that sucker was boiling as long as I fed it all day long.

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Lots of steam, lots of evaporation

The important thing is to keep that pot boiling and skim the foam. The fire can add a funny taste but I just kept skimming the foam off. I didn’t notice any undesirable taste with the syrup. One reason to make your maple syrup outside is that it takes around 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup….unless you have silver maples, then maybe even less. I wasn’t sure I really needed 39 gallons of steam (sugary steam) in my house so it’s best to cook outside. Once you see the below color and it has reduced significantly you should get a temperature gauge ready.  Once the temperature is at about 210 I bring the syrup inside to strain and finish. It took us about 12-14 hours outside to boil. Inside, about an hour to get up to the ideal temperature of 219.1.

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maple syrup getting close!

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strain before last boil

We are still playing around with the straining process. I used a coffee filter but will probably use a cheesecloth next year. I found it was really hard to strain once it was the finished product at 219 degrees. After straining boil again until you reach 219. Then you can put in HOT prepared jars and hot lids. I get everything ready while doing the last boil and made SURE the jars were hot. Maple syrup is really easy to can! You can fill (leaving 1/2 inch headspace), apply lids, and tighten. Then just flip upside down for about 2 minutes, flip back and listen to the “pop” of the lids. Super easy!

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The finished product, the light enhanced the ones in back

We maybe made a gallon this year but stay tuned for next years adventure!

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