Sourdough Starter Experiments

We are learning to create our own sourdough starter & experimenting with different “mediums” for growing the cultures.  Yesterday we started a basic batch using bleached all purpose flour and warm water.  It’s very cool in our house, gotta make that propane last don’cha know, so I have the starter in a plastic food storage container with a snap on lid (just pressed down on 2 corners so we don’t have an explosion) sitting on top of our incubator, keeping warm. 

This batch is 1/2 c. flour and just a little under 1/2 c. warm water.  As you can see, it’s already bubbling and it smells nice and tangy.


Today we will be making 2 more starters with just flour and water.  One with unbleached all purpose flour and one with whole wheat flour. 

This is such a terrific learning experience for both my children and myself!  We have learned so much about microorganisms, yeasts, lactic acid, leavening, the history of breadmaking, and food security. 

You may wonder what I mean by “food security”  – For the last couple of years I’ve noticed that, month after month, the grocery cart is a little less full and we walk out having spent a little more money.  We are frightfully reliant on foods grown hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away or produced in a factory with ingredients cooked up in a lab.  I get a little nervous when I think about the “just in time” delivery system that depends on an uninterrupted stream of petroleum from the very beginning when the seeds are planted to the very end when I haul the groceries home.  And most upsetting of all, we are hostages to the cost of that production which is influenced dramatically by the cost of that oil and the whims of investors betting on the future.

For me this all boils down to a simple truth:  We need to learn to be more responsible for our food, if not for our physical health, at least for our financial health.  And for our family this has meant hunting, raising small livestock, learning to process our own meat, growing a garden (I have a BROWN thumb – so I need a lot of work in this department), cooking from scratch, and now making our own starter to bake our own bread. 

I bake a lot of breads, but I hope I have officially purchased my last jar of commercially produced yeast!

Every little bit helps…  I’ll keep you updated on our progress.



Downs and Ups

Yesterday was a terrible day.  We had to put down one of the lambs, Belle.  Her joint inflammation was just getting worse and her quality of life was deteriorating.  She could hardly get around & certainly couldn’t run and play.  There was no way she would have made it, and I couldn’t bear to see her in pain.  It was a very sad evening here & I did not sleep well at all.

Today the sky is gray and I’ve been spending extra time with Mona Lisa, the other bottle lamb.  She survived the horrible battle with pneumonia and is absolutely thriving.  But she seems a little lost without her friend.  She’s having a nap after a nice warm bottle so I decided to come in and take a look at the eggs in the incubator.

You see, this week our Pilgrim geese started laying!!  I am always so happy when we get those huge, white eggs.  This year it’s even more thrilling because we are shipping eggs to new homes.  I am thrilled to know there will be more people raising these wonderful birds. 

SO.  In the first weeks the laying is not consistent.  An egg here & there.  But on that first day we found 2 & I decided to pop them into the incubator and see what we got.  I didn’t have high hopes for fertility, because those first eggs have a high probability of being duds.  BUT I just candled both eggs and BOTH are showing development on day 4!!

I am so thankful for these happy moments, they can really brighten a dark day.

Don’t Let it Ride!

Senator Mikulski (D-MD) tacked on a little addition to the Ag bill, which opens the way for industrial GM seed producers & growers to continue to sell and plant seed that were found to be illegally approved by the USDA as well as GM seed that hasn’t even been approved for use.

According to The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the bill “includes a legislative rider benefiting the biotech industry and undermining judicial review of biotech crops. Essentially, the rider would permit USDA to allow for the continued planting of genetically engineered crops that a court has halted.”

The voting is happening this week, so please contact your Senator ASAP & tell them you oppose this rider and urge them to support amendment #74 (The Tester Amendment) to strike the rider from the bill.

Click the link & tell your Senator you OPPOSE  the “farmer assurance provision”, Section 735, currently included in the Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill being considered by Congress.

Click the link & tell your Senator you OPPOSE the “farmer assurance provision”, Section 735, currently included in the Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill being considered by Congress.

Or, even better, after you add your voice at Food Democracy Now, give your Senators a call and let them actually HEAR you voice.   Find the contact information for your Senators here:



No, we’re not moving, but the little chicks are – inside the eggs we’re incubating!  Here’s a quick clip showing the movement.  Sorry for the quality, I tried YouTube & FB and they both made the videos look terribly pixelated.  This is the best I could do!

Just watch the right half of the egg.

Gratitude and Why They’re Called BUMMER Lambs

If a shepherd has a momma ewe who can’t or won’t raise her lamb, or a lamb who can’t nurse well enough to survive with their momma, then the baby gets to be a bottle lamb.  Also, very appropriately called, a bummer lamb.

Here’s how raising a bummer lamb goes.  You take them from the ewe because they are not doing well.  You remind yourself and your kids over (and over and over) that this lamb is a bottle lamb because it’s doing poorly and there is a good chance they won’t make it.  You feed the lamb, keep it warm & clean.  And you start to get attached.  Honestly…  how could you NOT get attached to a frail little critter like this:

Try not to fall in love...

Try not to fall in love…

They start to get stronger, days go by, they get bouncy.  Then they get pneumonia, or they start refusing the bottle, or they scour, or for no apparent reason AT ALL…  they die.  Or they miraculously get better for a few days and you begin to feel cocky then it all starts again. It truly is a bummer.

So far, we have been fairly fortunate.  At 6 days old, after eating well and starting to get really playful and active, the smallest lamb started not wanting to eat & having respiratory distress.  Her temperature went up to 103.5 and she became extremely listless.  So we gave her a big dose of penicillin G (3cc) and in a few hours she started perking up and being more willing to eat, with assistance.

I always add buttermilk to their bottle, because I feel that it helps keep their gut working better (we have less problem with scours on formula by using a ratio of 2:1 replacer to whole milk & a squirt of buttermilk).  But I know how quick antibiotics will destroy the good gut bacteria along with the bad pneumonia bacteria.  So I break open a capsule of lactobacillus and add a pinch to each bottle to try to help re-populate the gut.

Still, the little lamb started scouring & we’re putting her on 1cc pepto 2-3x per day until things firm up.  Our veterinarian advised us to continue treating with 1cc PenG daily for the next 4 days.  And we absolutely will be.

Now, we have tiny lamb (who I call Mona Lisa) stabilized & BOOM, my daughter’s lamb – Belle – starts going downhill.  Listless, no appetite, rapid breathing, fever.  Hit her with the 3cc PenG (IM injection BTW) and she starts doing better.  She’s a bigger lamb, always eats more, but wouldn’t you know it, she just isn’t bouncing back like Mona.  Why does it have to be the child’s favorite that seems most willing to throw in the towel?  You must understand that I insisted that she raise the larger lamb because I thought the little one wouldn’t make it more than a day or two.  We remain cautiously optimistic.

So here we are, a week into raising bummers & I’ve got gray hairs multiplying like chickens in the shed, two sad little lambs and a worn out little girl.  But I still love baby time & I wonder if the stress is something I thrive on.  Maybe not at a two AM when I’m checking to make sure everyone is still breathing, but afterwards… when all is well for a little while.  It makes those happy bounces of the little babies even more precious.

Magnifying gratitude for the moment.

Don’t Worry Baby

It is very hard to maintain a peaceful state of mind at baby time.  Brilliant highs can topple into dramatic lows in less time than it takes you to blink.  The wonderful possibilities of a long future can be cut painfully short.  Baby time is a time of love and a time when loss can be waiting around any turn.

So when things are going well…  one must revel in it!!

Remember that egg shipment I was biting my nails about a few days ago?  Well the eggs arrived Monday, unbroken, unfrozen, and with 4 extras!  Today I candled, under the pretense of checking the air cells (but really because I couldn’t resist) and I discovered that 10 out of the 16 eggs are developing.

Day 4 in the incubator & we can distinctly see the veins!

Day 4 in the incubator & we can distinctly see the veins!

I enjoy posting on the Backyard Chickens forum & have started a diary of our first shipped egg incubation adventure.  If you are interested in following along & learning from my mistakes, check it out:

BrownFoxFarm’s Incubation Diary on BYC


Tuesday we picked up a couple of bummers from a fellow who raises Suffolk X Hampshire club lambs. Both were born on Monday (2/4) and both are tiny, one more than the other. The smallest lamb was a twin, but just didn’t have the gumption to get up and get going. He tube fed her Tuesday morning & was worried she just wasn’t going to make it. The other was the littlest lamb of a set of triplets & he thought she wasn’t getting enough milk.

He said he was hoping we could give them enough TLC to bring ’em around. We are certainly giving it our best shot! It really helps that the shepherd was very knowledgeable about sheep, he’s been raising them for a long time & was a retired ag teacher. He made certain the dams were all vaccinated, the lambs got their colostrum, & the lambing jugs were draft free & warmed with heat lamps.

So, here we are… the girls are 3 days old & doing well, but if you’ve ever raised lambs you know that can change in a split second. My daughter is bottle raising the larger of the two & I’m taking care of the teeny one (figured the bigger one had a better chance of not breaking my little girl’s heart).

My daughter's ewe lamb - Belle

My daughter’s ewe lamb – Belle.  She may be able to fly in a stiff breeze.

Sawyer watching over the smallest ewe lamb... As yet unnamed.

Sawyer watching over the smallest ewe lamb… As yet unnamed.


We’re down to the last month of waiting on Eva’s lambing date.  On Saturday night (2/2/13) I actually felt her baby (or babies) kick!  She’s had her selenium shot and her CD&T vaccine, so we’re pretty much all ready.  Just waiting for March 5th.

I’m also very anxiously waiting for a call from the Post Office.  I have a shipment of Silkie eggs coming from Tennessee.  The incubator is all set up & has been since Friday.  Unfortunately they did not arrive on Saturday, as we’d hoped, and have been waiting in the cold.  I am so happy that the seller put in a heatpack.  Maybe they won’t be frozen.

I am frustrated with the USPS tracking system.  The package had no update on it’s movement since Friday, when it was in Knoxville, until this morning, when it says it departed Champaign Illinois….  at 4:49AM on Feb. 3.  I sure hope they manage to make it today!

I do have to say that the Alexis, IL, Post Office is fantastic.  They always call me right away to let me know when chicks or goslings or eggs have arrived.  They also make sure to call me and let me know if nothing has come, if they know I’m expecting a delicate package.  I really love our local postal workers…  I wish all towns had such great people taking care of their precious parcels.