Monday, February 25, 2013

Factory Farm vs. Free Range vs. Organic vs. Vegetarian Fed

I'm going to talk chickens here.  This post has been brewing for almost a year now.  Ever since we got our own chickens and I started diving into 'that world'.  Like everything I do,  I do it with my whole heart.  I did not go into having chickens half heartedly either.  Yep, I researched this to death too.  As is my typical style.  :)

First off, lets take a look at a pic of a factory farm.

Image borrowed from -

Factory chickens are given, on average, 67 square inches of space.  That's approximately the size of your iPad.  Sad, isn't it?

Then, let's look at your typical Cage Free, or "Free Range" chickens.

Again, image courtesy of,

My bet, is that these chickens are also Certified Organic, and/or vegetarian fed.

If you visit this link, you will see a glimpse of the sadness these birds live in -

While you may think you are doing a good thing by buying free range or certified organic, the truth is, it's no better than buying factory farm.  There is just as much over crowding and inhuman treatment.  When the chicks hatch at an egg farm, the roosters are often thrown away.  Even while still alive.  The beaks are trimmed off the hens so they can't peck each other.  Which often happens when they are overcrowded and aggravated with each other.

This past spring, there was a local certified organic farm selling off some of their year old egg hens for $1 a piece.  They were advertised as stew hens.  Meaning they were too old to be plump and juicy, they had passed their egg laying prime, and wouldn't roast up well, but would be good for making stew or broth.  After the first year of laying, a hen's output is reduced to only 80%, and each year after that it will continue to decline another 20%.  For us home farmers, it's not that big of a deal.  For factory farms where eggs are their livelihood, it adds up, so they get rid of them.

So, a few friends and I decided to snag a few of these Certified Organic stew hens and take them to the Amish to be butchered.  If you look closely at the picture just above, you will notice that these chickens are missing a lot of feathers.  That's exactly how the chickens looked that we picked up.  I was appalled!  They were so skinny and scraggly looking!  There was zero meat on these birds!  As was apparent upon pick up from the Amish.  I was sincerely embarrassed to have even taken these birds to butcher.

That was my first hands on experience with the myth that Certified Organic somehow meant a better chicken.  Next, is the myth that vegetarian fed hens are somehow more superior.  Which, they are not.  What that really means, is that the chickens NEVER get a chance to live like real chickens and forage for their own food.  Chickens are birds.  What do birds eat?  Lots of things!  Leaves, sprouts, greens, grains, etc.  BUT!  They also eat bugs, worms, mice, snakes, pretty much anything they can find.  They LOVE to scratch through a compost pile and find maggots or larvae.

Real chickens are not vegetarian, my friends.  Real chickens eat meat.  So the next time you see these special key words:

Free Range
Cage Free
Certified Organic
Vegetarian Fed

Remember what you've learned here.

All these chickens are not getting the kind of nutrition needed for a high quality product.  Just like when humans are missing certain nutritional supplements, we don't feel our best and can not perform our best.  Well, neither can chickens.  If you want a chicken to produce quality meat and eggs, it has to live a life the way God intended them to!

Not depressed, stuck inside breathing their own dust and feces, and expected to perform like a robot.

I admit, allowing true free ranging does open up the possibility of dangers from vermin.  We've lost a few.  But so has the factory farm down the road.  It goes with the territory.  At least I have happy chickens living the life they are supposed to, and they are loved.

So here's my little plea to you.  Buy from a local farmer or family instead of at the grocery store.  Stop supporting big businesses practicing inhumanely.

That is all.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A-MAZ-ING healthy, healing, hand and body....cream?

Winters in Wisconsin are brutal on my skin.  I've always had dry skin, but between gardening in the summer and the subzero temps that get down to -40 with wind chills up here, which don't stop for us to haul wood and tend the chickens each day!  My hands are a mess!  A painful, split and cracking, chapped mess.

I set out to make a healing lotion.  I've done several lotions before.   In fact, I've been dappling with making lotions for about 7 years now.  The breastmilk lotion I made a year or so ago was fantastically healing!  But it didn't last long.  Within a week it was molding.  I was so embarrassed to have sent some to a friend.  Probably by the time it got to her in the mail, it was already gross.  :(

Anyway, I set out to try to find something else that would work.  This lotion that I made today is WONDERFUL!  It is so rich and creamy feeling and absolutely delightful to smell and rub all over ya!  It's just ....  well.....  it's AMAZING!

Some of the ingredients are not your typical household ingredients.  Nor is this a cheap lotion.  It is a bit pricey.  But considering the amount of money I've wasted on store bought lotions that didn't work and dermatologist appointments, I think it's very reasonable and worth it.

First of all, I used Kokum Butter, as well as Shea Butter.  Both can be purchased at Mountain Rose Herbs.

Kokum Butter is a white, hard butter similar to Cocoa Butter.  However Kokum butter supports your skins elasticity and natural flexibility and helps to rejuvenate tired, worn skin cells.

Shea butter is a softer butter that forms a breathable, yet water resistance film on your skin.

I also used Coconut Oil and Sesame Oil.  The benefits of coconut oil are too vast and long for me to even attempt to list them all.  Trust me, it's amazing stuff!  As far as for my choice of sesame oil, well, it was just an easy to come by, reasonably priced, carrier oil.  I didn't want to use olive oil, but I needed a good liquid oil.  I find grapeseed oil to be drying, so didn't want that.  I wanted to possibly share some of my creation with a friend who has a son with nut allergies, so I needed to skip the almond oil.  So I just picked sesame oil.  Turns out that after a little research, it's a GREAT oil for dry skin, is easily absorbed, has antioxidant properties, and even UV protection!  However, pretty much any liquid oil would work fine.

In fact, I've also incorporating Safflower Oil in place of the Sesame Oil.  It really just depends on what I have on hand at the time that I'm making it.  Safflower Oil is also a great source of Vitamin E and even has wrinkle reduction properties!  Something all of us beautiful women want, right?

For more info on the oils please check out these links:

Kokum Butter
Shea Butter
Coconut Oil
Sesame Oil
Safflower Oil

Aloe Vera.  You can either buy aloe, or do what I did initially and actually use the aloe straight from the plant.  Aloe is known to hydrate skin and accelerate repair!  Per Natural News

Lanolin.  Yes Lanolin!  The thick stuff you use when you start breastfeeding and have sore nipples!  Being a La Leche League leader, I have PLENTY of Lanolin available!  I went easy on it in this recipe because I wasn't sure how it was going to work and I didn't want this lotion to be too thick and sticky.  Info on Lanolin, if you're interested.

Emulsifying wax.  I ordered this from Mountain Rose as well.  It is used to blend oil and water so that it doesn't separate.

Purified or distilled water.

Essential oils of your choice.  You can use any oils that are good for dry skin.  I chose oils mostly for their smell.  But, Lavender, Lemon, Orange, Frankincense, Myrrh, Tea Tree Oil, Eucalyptus, Chamomile,  would all  be good.  I prefer certified organic essential oils from either Mountain Rose or Aura Cacia.

Pure Vanilla Extract.  I couldn't find my vanilla fragrance oil so just put some extract in it.  :)  Did the trick!

And lastly, some Grapefruit Seed Extract as a preservative.

In a double broiler, I warmed and melted all the butters and oils together.

When they are thoroughly melted, I added the water, wax, lanolin and aloe.  I left them on the stove for 2-3 minutes before pulling them off to blend.  I figured it couldn't hurt to warm up the other ingredients slightly to blend better.

At first, you can see the water and oils/butter separated.

I used an immersion blender.  Also known as a stick blender.  It blends up very quickly and easily.  It's still warm at this point, so will be more liquid than when it completely cools.  Then, I added my oils or fragrances at this point.  Pulsed a couple more times to blend those in.

Poured it into my containers and cleaned up!  Done!

It is amazingly rich, thick, creamy and it smells divine!


If anyone wants to purchase some from me, let me know!

You can Shop here!

If you would like to request unscented or different essential oils, or fragrance oils for scent, let me know!  As a CYA - I'm just a mom, at home, making stuff.  It may take me a few weeks to get your order to you.  Especially if you happen to order while I'm waiting for supplies to arrive.  So please be patient with me.  :)  I will do my best to be quick though!

Last update on 3/29/13

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Get your seeds in order!

It's that time again!  Can you believe it?  Time to get your seeds in order for spring planting!  If you need to still order some, now is the time!

In just 1 month, it will be time to get the indoor plants started here in Wisconsin!  For the more southern, warmer, areas, it's already time to plant!  Not sure about your area?  Just put your zip code into this handy dandy little site it will tell you the best time to get your plants started.  That link also helps you know what needs started indoors, and what doesn't.

We do some serious gardening around here.  So my list is pretty extensive for my seed needs.  Most all though, will not need to be purchased this year.  Thanks to growing heirloom plants (see my previous post about that) and participating in an heirloom seed swap.

Items we'll be planting this year that I need to get started indoors next month are:

Tomatoes - I will plant Amish Paste Tomatoes, as well as another variety, but will need to plant them FAR away from each other in order to prevent cross pollination so I can save the seeds.  Most modern breeds of tomato do not cross easily, but heirloom are old variety, not modern, so I'd rather be safe than sorry and grow some crazy hybrid the following year.

Peppers - All varieties.  Jalapeno, bell, chilies, etc.  These will cross pollinate and need to be separated by at least 500 feet to prevent that.

Celery - One of the slowest growing crops on the planet Earth.  Probably not, really, but they do take around 6 months to grow.  Even in my 6 month time frame, they still didn't go to seed.  So maybe longer is necessary in my area for that.

Watermelon - In most areas, this can be started outside in the ground.  But for us, I start them indoors to try to get them done a little sooner.

Potatoes - (Aprilish) I won't actually plant these indoors and transfer, but I will go through my cellar stash and choose which ones I want to use for new potatoes and cut them to plant.  You want to allow at least an inch or two portion with an eye, or sprout, on it.  Allow it a few days to heal where you've cut it before planting.  I've cut them and left them for a month before and they grew fine.  Even with huge foot long sprouts.  When you plant, just put the eyes to the sky, about 6 inches deep.  If the sprout is too big to go underground, not a big deal.  They'll still grow fine.

Sweet Potatoes - Around April 1st I'll go through my stash and choose a couple of sweet potatoes to cut into 2 inch cubes to start slips.  It takes approximately 6 weeks to prepare a sweet potato into planting outdoors.  For more info on how to do this, you can go here - Start sweet potatoes

If you are going to start your onions from seed, you may want to start those now too.  I haven't had much luck with seed onion so last year I bought small bulbs from a local farm store and planted white and red onion.  I'll do the same this year.  It was cheap enough and the onions are very good.  Nice sized, good harvest, stored well.

Peas can be started outdoors in April as well.  They are cold tolerant and don't do well in heat so you want them to be done before the hot weather hits.

Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Cabbage.

In May, we'll start the rest of our items in the ground.

Green Beans
Dry beans, such as kidney, black turtle beans, pinto, navy beans

And anything else we can think of that we want to try.

So, get your seeds ordered!  :)  The time is coming up fast!

My two favorite places to shop for seeds :

Seed Savers Heirloom Seeds
Baker Creek Seed Company

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Heirloom vs. Organic for your garden

I am definitely no expert when it comes to this.  In fact, I'm only a couple of years into this journey.  Although I've been gardening for many years (about 8), I never really thought too much about where my seeds came from.  I was only concerned with growing organically.  Until a couple of years ago when we moved to the country and started getting really serious about it.  While organic is good, it needs to go much deeper than that.

Many of you have probably heard of Monsanto.  Or Genetically Modified Organisms.  I haven't done a whole lot of research on them cause I'd rather spend my time researching what I DO want to learn, not what I want to stay away from.  I have instead invested my time into learning how to grow heirloom organically, and how to harvest my own seeds.  All I really  know about Monsanto and GMO, is that it's bad news and I don't want anything to do with it.  So, THIS is not that kind of post.  I DO want to help you understand WHY heirloom is more important than organic when you pick out your seeds to start your next growing project.

Short and sweet answer is that Organic can sometimes still be a hybrid.  Or a cross.  If you plant a hybrid, the seeds that you will get from it are unstable.  Meaning, you won't necessarily get the same thing that you got the seed from.  I like to use the reference of people and babies.  Two people can have multiple babies, but they are not exact replicas of each other.  Each child will have a unique personality and appearance.  Well, a hybrid plant will produce multiple kinds of seeds, or no seeds at all (seedless grapes, watermelons, cucumbers, etc) in which are unpredictable and unstable.   If you only intend on planting and not collecting seeds for future use, then it's not too much of an issue.  Just know that you will have to repurchase your seeds the next time you plant (as is the case with GMO or Monsanto seeds).  This is not a self sustainable way of gardening.

Heirloom will produce seeds that you can harvest to plant future gardens with, indefinitely.  However, you will need to take precautions to make sure that similar plants don't cross, or become a hybrid.  You'll want to learn what plants self pollinate and rarely cross, and which plants are pollinated by bugs and bees and sometimes get crossed, as well as how to prevent crossing.  Some plants are even biennial.  Meaning they don't go to seed until the 2nd year.  For those, you'll want to learn to properly store over winter so that you can plant them back out and gather seeds the following year.  This IS a self sustainable way of gardening, and one that is becoming lost.  ( For more information on how to collect seeds and prevent crossing of species, please see this link at Seed Savers.)

Most people just go to the store and buy seeds, or to a greenhouse and buy plants.  But what if that were not available?  Would you know how to grow, harvest, and store in order to feed your family?  While gardening can be great fun and a very enjoyable hobby, it is also a very important way of life.  It is your backup plan in case it's ever needed!  And truly, it is becoming a lost art.  If it seems so unusual for US, how do you think it will be for our children and grandchildren to be able to feed themselves?

Even if you only plant a couple of pots of something, or some herbs, I encourage you to learn about heirlooms and seed harvest.  Just in case it could ever be useful!  :)  We are less than a hundred years since this was THE way of life!  No grocery stores existed!  How quickly we forget!

So, this year when you start planning your garden, please consider incorporating some heirloom varieties.  Two of my favorite companies are Seed Savers, and Baker Creek Seed Company although there are several more as well.  Just look for the key word of Heirloom.

Happy gardening!