Category Archives: Outbuildings

Bat Removal and Relocation: Part I

We have a fairly healthy bat population in the hay loft of our barn. On summer evenings, we have stood near the barn and counted well over one hundred bats leave for their evening feed. In northern Minnesota a common bat type is the small brown bat. We have seen a few of our bats up close in the barn and they seem to be the size and description fitting the small brown bat.

Not everyone is comfortable with bats flying overhead at dusk or later sitting around the bonfire, but we have never had any problems. I think everyone is aware of how beneficial bats are for controlling mosquito and bug populations by eating as many as 5,000 bugs each night. Since our hobby farm is located along the Rum River, which has many stagnant backwater ponds, we would like to keep the bats around the farm doing their insect patrols.

While the barn has stood empty and mostly unused, we have slowly been making progress in removing calf pens and cow stanchions so that we can use the space for more garden and farm storage. The bats are mostly self-contained in the loft area of the barn, but from time to time a few of them end up in the lower area. In addition, the gaps in the floor boards of the hay loft allow bat guano to sprinkle down. So we decided that if we are going to continue to upgrade the barn, the bats needed to be relocated. Here you can see the thick layer of bat guano collecting on the hay loft floor.

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Here is the main entrance for the bats into the hayloft. You can see the heavy use around the hay-fork rail where they have worn off the paint from all the flights in and out.

entranceAlthough building a bat house is pretty straight forward and something we expected we would do ourselves based on plans in our “Country Wisdom & Know How” book from Storey Publishing, we also didn’t want to miss the opportunity to install the bat house before they began to return from migration. We found a design we liked from a bat conservatory organization in Michigan (www.batconservatory.org) that uses the proceeds from the bat houses to fund their projects. Here is a picture of the bat house we ordered that has the capacity for up to 300 bats. At the bottom there is a green landing mesh that is easy for the bats to land on when they are returning to their roost.box2In the next picture you can see the tight crawl spaces that the bats like for roosting. When they pack themselves into these tight spaces it helps to retain their body heat and keep each other warm in cold weather.insideOur Storey book article on bats recommended “seasoning” the new bat house with guano so that it has a familiar scent. The process was to collect some guano from the hay loft and mix it with some water to create a slurry that could be poured into the bat house. This seemed kind of gross to us, but if it helps to make the bats feel comfortable in their new home then, why not?
guana2Here is our new “well-seasoned” bat house, ready for installation.inside2Our research indicated that to have the best chance for relocation, the new bat house should be located as close as possible to the current bat entrance. Well, that would be high up in the peak of the barn. The extension ladder wasn’t quite long enough, so in typical farm fashion, I placed the ladder into the bucket of the tractor. This type of work isn’t for everyone. We did luck out and it was a glorious warm sunny date for February. Even warm enough to wear a short-sleeved shirt!DSC_0028In order to have hands free for climbing the ladder, we attached a rope to the bat house so that it could be lifted up once I was comfortably positioned at the top.DSC_0031Up comes the bat house to its new location.DSC_0033It was a little dicey to hold the bat house in place and manage the screws and screw gun all at the same time. Note to self: next time start the screws in pilot holes before climbing the ladder!DSC_0036Here goes nothing…..do not stand under the ladder in case I drop something!DSC_0039

The installation is now complete. It would be nice to have positioned the bat house a little higher, but when you are on the top of the ladder it apparently seems high enough.DSC_0043
The next question to answer is whether or not the bats are hibernating in the barn or if they have migrated to somewhere warmer for the winter. Since our barn has no heating or cows keeping it warm in the winter, and since there is no evidence of bat sounds on warm winter days, we believe that our bats have migrated for the winter and will return in early spring. Our research didn’t offer any definitive answers on hibernating versus migrating for small brown bats, so we will have to keep an eye out for them inside the barn. If there are bats that become trapped in the barn, then we will have to install a one-way entrance so that they can get out but cannot come back in.

Now, what are we going to do with all those other openings in the barn wall that the bats can come through? Guess we have to start plugging them all. Small brown bats can crawl through holes as small as 3/8 inch in diameter, so every hole needs to be plugged or covered.  A sunny day is perfect for finding all the openings. Where to begin?DSC_0051

We decided that it would be easiest, low-cost, and fairly unobtrusive visually to install wire mesh over the openings – especially since there were some very large openings! We had a large roll of wire screen mesh leftover from the screened porch when we built the house. I save everything!DSC_0054

Wire screen mesh can be cut easily with a sharp sheet rock knife along a straight edge. I cut strips that were 6-8 inches wide the length of the screen and then installed them over the openings using a staple hammer. I used a lot of staples to make sure that the bats couldn’t find any new ways into the barn.
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We will likely not have covered every possible entrance, but we hope that enough have been covered that the new bat house looks more attractive and they make that there new home.

DSC_0097We should know in a few weeks whether we have been successful!

Jesse

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Cold-Smoking: Almonds and Cheese

Time has gotten away from me and I have not posted anything for a while.  I had started this post shortly after my last post on the cold-smoked pork chops and am finally getting around to finishing it up.

So, anyhow, along with those garlic sage pork chops that we smoked a few weeks ago, we also threw some almonds and a block of sharp cheddar cheese in the smokehouse.  We have tried smoking both in the past, but were disappointed with the overpowering smoke flavor.


This time around we smoked the cheese for about 1.5 hours and the almonds for about 2.5 hours.  Once again, the cheese was still too smokey and overwhelming for my taste.  I think we will cut back to an hour next time and see if that does the trick.

The almonds, however, turned out just perfect!  Unlike commercially “smoked” nuts that are commonly flavored with liquid smoke, the smokey flavor of these almonds was fresh and subtle.  You can see in the picture that we put them in a wire strainer basket to allow the smoke to circulate around the almonds.

After cold-smoking, we followed the recipe below to finish the flavoring process.

Spicy Smoked Almonds

  • 1 pound unblanched raw smoked almonds
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1/4 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder
  • 1 T. kosher salt finely ground (coarse salt doesn’t stick to the almonds very well)
  • 2 t. chili powder
  • 1 t. fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 deg F.

Combine the olive oil and seasonings, then mix in the almonds until they are well coated. Spread them evenly on a cookie sheet (one with sides works best).

Bake the coated almonds for 15 minutes stirring them a couple of times to roast them evenly. Remove them from the oven and let them cool on the cookie sheet.

When cool they should look dry and coated with the seasonings, and they are ready to serve with no chemical smoke flavoring!

We enjoyed snacking on them while sipping a robust red wine. Give them a try some time and enjoy!

Lynell

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Cold-Smoking: Garlic and Sage Pork Chops

Cold temperatures and some much-needed spare time over the holidays provided the perfect opportunity to fire up the smokehouse and do some cold-smoking.  We decided to do some pork chops and turned to our favorite smoking resource for a brine recipe:  Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

Roughly following the recipe for the Garlic-Sage-Brined Pork Chops, we mixed up the following brine:

  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 c. kosher salt
  • 3/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 T. fresh sage leaves (we used ground sage and only about 3 T.)
  • 2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
  • 1 T. fresh ground black pepper

After mixing up the brine to dissolve all the ingredients, we placed 6 thick bone-in pork chops in a gallon Ziploc bag and put them in a cooler in the garage to soak overnight.

In the morning, we put the brined pork chops on the steel rack in the smokehouse and let them sit for a few hours to dry.

Jesse eventually fired up the firebox and smoked the chops for about 5 hours with apple wood. The smell was mouth-watering.

The chops were grilled on New Year’s Eve in 15 deg F weather. As usual with a finely cold-smoked meat product, the meat was pink all the way through the chop from the smoking, the brining kept the chops moist and flavorful, and a side dish of sauerkraut or applesauce were great complements. A cold Blue Moon beer was the finishing touch to a great meal. If only Jesse’s little brother would have sent us a nice hand-crafted box of chocolate truffles (www.intriguechocolates.com) for Christmas, the meal would have been perfect!

Happy New Year!

Lynell

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More on Building a Smokehouse

As it turns out, my original post on building our smokehouse has been the number one hit that brings people to my blog.  Based on the level of interest and/or lack of information out there on the web, I thought I would try to post some more information for people interested in constructing their own smokehouse.

The most helpful resource we found when researching how to build a smokehouse was a little publication by Storey Publishing appropriately titled, Build a Smokehouse.  It is available on Amazon for $3.95, a real bargain, or visit their website at www.storey.com and search for “smokehouse.”

This great little book goes through some basic information on smoking food, explains the differences between hot-smoking and cold-smoking, and provides a helpful description of how smokers and smokehouses work. There are also detailed instructions for building a block smokehouse similar to the design that we used, and some smaller smoker projects if you don’t want such a large structure. The “hot smoke pit” is cheap and easy to build anywhere. In addition, the “barrel smoker” and the “box smoker” are also very good alternatives for cold-smoking smaller quantities at a much lower cost.

Feel free to ask questions in the comment section and we will do our best to answer them.

Lynell

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Making Sausage: A Family Tradition

My husband and I have hung out for a long time:  we dated for 8 years and have been married for 20 years.  Early on in our relationship, he introduced me to his family’s mostly-annual tradition of making German sausage.  I do not remember the year I was first invited to join in the tradition, but I do remember being amazed, and maybe even a little shocked by the process.  Although I too was a farm kid, I had never thought about how the sausage that I ate was actually made.

The event took place at his parent’s house and I managed to avoid participating up until it was time to weigh and package the newly ground sausage.  Someone handed me a big stainless steel bowl of fresh sausage and instructed me to start weighing and packaging the sausage in one-pound packages.  Being a teenager, and new to the family besides, I felt like I had no other choice than to roll up my sleeves, wash my hands in bleach water, and get started.

The sausage-making tradition has continued through the years, taking place in different locations and with different combinations of family members in attendance.  The equipment has been upgraded, the recipe is always being altered/improved, and the process continues to be refined.  Over the past several years, we have hosted the event at our home on the day after Thanksgiving.  We choose this weekend because people are free for the holiday weekend and the temperatures are typically cold enough that we do not have to worry about keeping the meat cold throughout the process.

Although I am unsure how far back this family tradition dates, I know it goes back at least to my husband’s childhood when they used to make sausage at his grandma and grandpa’s farm.  The recipe is of German origin, but has been changed over the years based on available ingredients and in response to discussions about possible improvements.  One thing has remained the same however, this family knows how to make good sausage.

Cleaning and Setting Up

We hosted this family event at our house again this year.  The preparation process is a long one and requires completely cleaning out our garage, mopping the floors with bleach water, hauling equipment in from various storage locations, and setting everything up.  We place clean plastic on all the tables and wipe them down with bleach water.  Cutting boards, knives and containers are also washed.  We do all this prep work on Thanksgiving evening, so it helps us work off that big turkey dinner.

Mixing the Spices

In addition to the cleaning and setting up, another important preparation that we do the night before is to mix the spices.  My mother-in-law purchases all the spices, mostly in bulk, and works with our three kids to measure them out into pint jars.  Each jar is enough spices to season 30 pounds of sausage.  The kids stand in a line and she gives them the measurement and they pass each ingredient down the line, placing the correct amount in the jars in front of them.

My mother-in-law is in charge of the recipe so I don’t know the exact ingredients, but the spices at least include various amounts of salt, black pepper, sage, coriander, summer savory, all-spice, fennel seed, cayenne pepper, sugar and clove oil.

Sectioning and Cutting

In the morning of sausage-making day, someone goes to the locker to pick up the hogs.  This year we ordered 2 whole hogs, each with a hanging weight of around 220 pounds.  Our oldest son and an uncle both got a deer during hunting season this year, so we purchased an extra 30 pounds of pork trimmings to mix with the venison to make sausage.

Once people start to arrive, the cutting begins.  The hogs are cut into sections and the people cutting are given sections from both the front and rear quarter for cutting.  The idea is to get a good blend of the different cuts of the hog, mixing together both the premium and more standard meat.  The meat is cut off the bone into cubes or chunks for grinding.  We had three tables set up for cutting.

Whole Hog Sausage

Sausage is commonly made from the scraps and least desirable cuts of the hog.  In contrast, the sausage we make is a “whole hog” sausage, which means that it includes all parts of the hog, including the premium cuts: ham, tenderloin, shoulder, etc.

Grinding

As the meat is cut off the bone, the chunks of meat from each table are moved over to the grinding area.  A few years ago, the family purchased a 1.5 horsepower commercial grinder to improve the process.  It has been a great addition to the sausage-making equipment.

The ground pork is put into a tub and weighed.  The batches of sausage we make consist of 24 pounds of ground pork mixed with 6 pounds of ground beef.  Once there are 24 pounds of ground pork ready for processing, the mixing begins.

Mixing

Each 30 pound batch of sausage is seasoned with one of those pint jars of spices mixed the night before.  A quart of ice water is also added to the mixture to add moisture and to help distribute the spices.

The mixing is done by hand, usually by two brave people.  The sausage is really, really cold and the spices make your skin itch and burn.  There are discussions about purchasing a hand-crank mixer for next year to improve this part of the process.

Bulk Sausage

After the sausage goes through the mixing process, it is ready to be packaged as bulk sausage or eaten.  We always try out the freshly made sausage for lunch.  It’s always really yummy, even though the spices have not had a chance to fully set.

The grand total for the pork sausage this year was around 300 pounds – 10 of the 30 pound batches.  Of that 300 pounds of sausage, we wrapped about 120 pounds into 1 pound packages of bulk sausage.

Link Sausage

The remaining bulk sausage is processed into links.  I find this part of the process…ummm…interesting.  Mostly because of the use of hog intestines.

The vessel for stuffing the sausage is hog casings, the intestines of the hog.  They are removed during the butchering process, rinsed and packed in salt.  We purchase the casings from the meat locker where we get the hogs.  My daughter and mother-in-law have the job each year of giving these casings another rinse before they are used.

In the first several years of my exposure to the sausage-making tradition, I truly found this part of the process disgusting.  Just the idea of it.  I had a hard time eating the link sausage because of it and would often peel off the casing.  Over time, I have gotten over it and I just try not to think about it too much.  🙂

Stuffing

After the casings are double-rinsed for good measure, they are put on the stuffer.  With one person turning the crank and the other holding the casings, the bulk sausage is stuffed into the casings.

The sausage links are then weighed for record-keeping and to help figure out the amount available for distribution to all the workers.  The total link pork sausage processed this year was 200 pounds.

Venison Sausage

Once all the pork is ground up and mixed, the crew starts cutting up any venison that we have for the year.  This year we had about 60 pounds of venison.  The venison sausage is also mixed in 30 pound batches, with 20 pounds of venison and 10 pounds of pork trimmings.  The rest of the process is the same as the pork, even the spices used.  We make all of the venison into link sausage.

Smoking

The last step in processing the link sausage is cold-smoking.  This family tradition of making sausage is the primary reason Jesse decided to build our smokehouse.  Interestingly, my post on building our smokehouse is the primary search term that brings people to my blog.  If you are interested in building a smokehouse, check out the post here.

The 300 pounds of link sausage is carried tub-by-tub out to the smokehouse and placed on racks for drying.

The sausage is hung in the smokehouse to dry overnight to form a pellicle.  The pellicle refers to the tacky surface that develops when food is dried and to which the smoke sticks, thereby adding the desired smokey flavor.


Early the next morning, Jesse fired up the smokehouse to start the cold-smoking process.  The art of cold-smoking is to keep the meat below 70 degrees F to inhibit bacteria growth and to not cook the meat.  (Refer to this post about building our smokehouse for more information on how our smokehouse works).

Wrapping

After about 5 hours of gentle cold-smoking, the link sausage is finally finished and ready for wrapping.  A work crew assembles once more to cut the links into 1 pound servings for packaging in freezer paper.

We divide the sausage between the various individuals and families according to their preference ratios of bulk versus link.

The grand totals of sausage processed for 2010:

120 pounds of bulk pork sausage

200 pounds of link pork sausage

90 pounds of venison sausage

So, after a few long days of hard work and good company we are done making sausage for the year.  In addition to the great family memories we create each year through this tradition, we get to enjoy some amazing sausage over the next 12 months.

Does anyone else make sausage as part of a family tradition?  Please share your stories in the comments!

Lynell

 

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Pesky Free-Rangers

We have put a lot of work into restoring our chicken coop from its original dilapidated condition.  The result is a very solid, safe, comfortable and cute home for our chickens.  Despite their fancy digs, our chickens love being outside any time there is not snow on the ground.

They spend hours wandering around, digging and laying in the dirt, eating grass, bugs and just doing their chicken thing.  I like the “idea” of having free-ranging chickens and I enjoy seeing them meandering around the farm.

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Township Cleanup Day

Every spring in Minnesota, townships have a spring cleanup day when residents can bring in various items to dispose of, including old appliances, electronics, mattresses, batteries, tires, scrap metal, etc.  The township charges a fee for some of the items, but allow disposal of a limited number of items free of charge.

In celebration of our township’s cleanup day this year, we decided to resume the barn project and tear out the cattle stanchions and miscellaneous piping to haul in for scrap metal disposal.

We have owned our farm for a decade now and we have never done anything with the inside of the barn, besides stash things that do not belong anywhere else.  Prior to us purchasing the place, many years had passed since any animals occupied the barn. Needless to say, it is a real disaster.

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