Instant Pot “Colder Weather” Soup

Anyone that knows me and my cooking, knows that I’m really not good at or disciplined in the area of cleaning as I go. For dealing with this, my husband must be commended, because the dishes often fall on his shoulders. For these, and many other reasons, I like to make one pot/pan meals to cut down on the mess & stress.

Since we haven’t been eating out inside of restaurants since COVID began and we only really order out for pizza, we have cooked at home A LOT and I never thought I’d say it, but… it’s getting old. I’m at the point where by 3 PM, I am wishing food would just appear for my family and that a fairy godmother would come take care of cleanup. I can’t be the only one feeling this way, right?

With the first day of winter right around the corner, I’ve been digging out some hearty soup recipes that we all love and trying to develop some new ones that we can toss into the instant pot, “set and forget”. That said, the groceries are packed with the holidays coming up and I’m finding that they are having a hard time keeping things in stock. Lots of the meats and ingredients I need for the week, when I’m meal planning, seem to disappear before I can put them in my online cart at Walmart or my husband returns home half empty-handed when I send him on a run for my specifics. That was the case this week, which I what lead me to coming up with the soup I’m sharing here today.

The weather is getting colder. A lot of days around here have been highs in the 30s and snow has shown it’s face more than once. A comforting bowl of slurp worthy goodness was just what I knew we all needed. And, if you’re feeling that way too, then this soup recipe is for you! The ingredient list is simple and the tastes are familiar; they marry together in a way that is delectable. Plus, served with 60 minute dinner rolls… midweek, supper time heaven. Disclosure: It does have a bit of heat to it. It’s delightful, but if you’re sensitive to spice, maybe omit the red pepper.

Instant Pot “Colder Weather” Soup

Ingredients:

1 Lb ground Italian sausage

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons of Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

1/2-1 cup chopped celery leaves

1 can diced tomatoes, undrained

2 cans navy beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup white wine

3 cups water

2 cups chicken broth

Salt + pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Set your instant pot to sauté and drizzle the bottom of the pot with olive oil. Cook your italian sausage and onion together until the sausage is brown & onions are mostly translucent. Add red pepper & minced garlic and cook for 5 more minutes.

2. Stop sauté and add the rest of the ingredients to the pot one by one. Pressure cook for 20 minutes.

3. Serve, topped with mozzarella cheese. And, preferably, with your choice of bread. Bon appetit!

Pandemic, Hygge Dinner Therapy

Here we are. In the midst of another rise of the never-ending Covid19 pandemic cases. As you know, if you follow my instagram, I have gone through many ups and downs when it comes to being able to find joy during these unpredictable and tiring times. My lack of being able to remain “present” and finding a sense of purpose in the recent months has reached new levels of unattainability. And, lately, I find myself leaping from idea to idea; grasping at straws trying to keep my mind busy with anything and everything that I can fit into my schedule. Painting my bathroom, trips to isolated book stores far away, amusing myself with imagining and planning journeys to the hippie towns across America, random acts of kindness to friends and strangers, painting a ridiculously hard (and still incomplete) paint by numbers… you name it, it’s probably floated across my mind.

The point is, we all want to feel a little bit of completeness during a time when so little is certain. We want to feel whole where there are voids. And if we can find anything heartwarming, we’ll latch onto it. And what warms the heart more than having a meal with friends and family? Not much.

Unfortunately, at this time, getting together with other humans is discouraged because, well… COVID. Yes, we know it travels, it’s extremely contagious, and you have to move heaven and earth to get people to wear masks… So, dinner parties? Not really much of an option, unless you want to spend time with 15 people and have 72% change of contracting the virus. Or so said an article I read online today. Yet, I have/had been dying to just GATHER. Like, we used to. And it’s brought a number of tears to flow throughout the year, knowing that it’s just not possible. So, I decided to take matters in my own hands.

In the recent years, I’ve developed this attitude like ‘I’m not gonna wait around on other people. If I want to do something, I’m going to. Even if I have to do it alone.” Apparently, dinner parties are included. So, I informed my hubby that I was going to do a faux dinner party, just because and for my family. Decor and all. Just for some kind of therapy.

Now, at first, that was going to include lanterns and 150 paper cranes hanging from the ceiling. I was THIS close to ordering a massive amount of twinkle lights from Amazon and stringing them up. Nearly bought new dishes… Until, I realized that I might be getting a tad carried away.  I mean, we are legitimately just trying to get by in these awkward, socially distant times. So, instead, I resigned to save my really amped up ideas for when I can fill my home with more people I love. And, decided my main objective would be to just set up a budget friendly, cozy meal that would feel intimate and a little more rustic than say handmade origami ornaments at each place setting. Are you sensing a theme yet?

I’ve been craving Asian food for weeks and, specifically, missing a restaurant from our home in NC. My fave dish is served there and it’s flawless, along with their coconut cake for dessert. So I looked up some recipes on pinterest for what I wanted and found an overabundance of options. I decided to make the main course and dessert from scratch and accompany it with pre-prepped appetizers and sides. Yeah, I was going a real restaurant style dining here, and wrote up the menu on my dining room chalkboard a week in advance so I’d have something to look forward to. You could, of course, do this week any type of food.

Now let’s talk decor and place settings. I’d like to talk about this in case you are in a little bit of a slump and want to do something simple like this in order to bring yourself and family a little bit of cheer. I’ll go through what I threw together and what alternatives there are out there.

The tablescape, you’ll notice, was rather uncomplicated. I didn’t have time to get flowers or anything and my table is SO long that it’s very hard to find an inexpensive table runner or table cloth to cover it. So, I started thinking about how some restaurants cover their tables with butcher paper and thought, “HELLO, KID FRIENDLY & easy cleanup!” But, rolls of butcher paper were like 15 dollars! This craft paper, gift wrapping paper was $1 a roll at Dollar Tree. I could’ve used the underside if I had wanted it plain, but I really loved the fun polkadot playfulness it gave the table. They also have plain kraft paper available for just under $2 a roll at Dollar General.

I already owned the candle lanterns and candles, which I got from walmart at the beginning of fall from Walmart. I’m linking the candles (which smell divine!) HERE. I haven’t seen the the lanterns since, in-store or online, so HERE are some similar ones. And you could probably also look at places like Hobby Lobby or Old Time Pottery for something similar and inexpensive. As well as the candles.

I simply bought reindeer moss for $1 a bag from Dollar Tree and filled the bottom of my lantern with it, around the candle, for a more woodsy and homey look. And to avoid fingerprints on the glass, I maneuvered it around with a spatula.

I got my snowy trees on a log, tabletop decor from Walmart for like $6, but I can’t find it on their website anywhere. If you can’t find anything in your area similar, you could probably craft it pretty easily with supplies from a dollar store. Or you could purchase a set like THIS from Walmart (below) or THESE glittery gems from Target.

On either side of the trees, I places cutting boards to place appetizers on and flanked them on one side with a beaded garland I got from Amazon earlier this year. I also used four, mercury glass votive holders I found at Dollar General for $1 a piece on each corner. They are adorable and I’ll definitely be reusing them again and again. I found a similar set of 12 on Amazon HERE.

Now, let’s talk about dishes! Mine are by Magnolia (Hearth & Hand) from Target and I got them a little over a year ago as part of their fall collection. They are no longer available, but if you are in the market for new dishes, I strongly suggest checking out what they do have in stock. Such as the beautiful, red rimmed dishes they just came out with!

I used the mixed matched silverware that I already own (I’m due for a new set) and wrapped it with $1 white napkins from Dollar General & found red burlap ribbon on sale to tie it up with. Next time, I may go ahead and spring for some more expensive linen napkins like the ones I’ve found online (below). And if you are having a little fancier of an event with more extended family…etc, it would definitely be a nice touch. You could even do matching ones with your dishes like the photo above.

There are also plenty of nice biodegradable options online. Like these palm leaf plates! Which are a great, more natural, primitive choice.

That’s about it. I would’ve done placemats like these had I thought about it beforehand, so that’s also an option. I also, ordered chopsticks because of the nature of food, that only set me back $6.99. Plus, everyone loves chopsticks! Twinkle lights also came into play all over the room where I could hide the LED battery pack HAHA! Spent $5 on 5 packs of those at the dollar store and they were a nice addition to the cozy, hygge factor. And the candlesticks on the mantel + burning wood stove in my dining room didn’t hurt anything either.

Overall, I spent approximately $28 (not counting all the groceries for dinner) and repurposed a lot of things I already owned. I hope this gave you a lot of ideas of how you can easily create a comfortable, spruced up space for you and your loved ones to enjoy a special dinner despite everything going on in the world right now. You don’t have to have a lot of money to enjoy a nice, memorable evening together- even if you’ve already spent months in the same house. Take the time out to make your life extraordinary!

GUEST POST: Fulcrum Farms’ Chicken Paprikash

I am so thankful for Instagram and the people it provides to you at the right time. Amber @ Fulcrum Farms has always been super sweet and supportive of my page so it just felt right to reach out to her and ask if she would write a post for the blog. If you talkto her, it just felt like a natural fit. She came up with such a great post and one of my fave comfort foods to write about for you. So, without further adieu…

FULCRUM FARMS, Amber:

When I was contacted by the lovely Quin, to write a post for her blog, I was kind of caught off guard. What could I possibly say that anyone would want to read? I’m new to owning land, I don’t have experience with real farming, and I’ve never officially raised an actual farm animal (aside from chickens, which most people start out with anyhow). So what could I write about that people might be interested in?

Then I decided – well, I could just share a quick recipe, something perfect for cool weather, and comforting after a long day of work. I don’t know anyone who couldn’t use a good recipe for that! Everyone that I have shared this with has enjoyed it immensely. It’s super simple, but it is also absolutely delicious. Handed down from mother’s side of the family, I make this many times through the fall/winter months to fill all our tummies when we are running on low. I hope that you like it as much as we do!
Chicken Paprikash

4 Bone in Skin on Chicken breasts (or thighs or a mix)32 oz chicken broth1 large yellow onion, chopped4 cloves garlic, crushed1/2 C flour1/4 C Hungarian PaprikaSalt and Pepper, to taste 16oz sour cream
Heat and oil a large skillet or pot with a lid. Cook chicken until browned on all sides, it will finish cooking through during braising.  Remove to a plate and cover.  Lower heat. Add onion and garlic to the skillet, pour more oil if needed.  Cook, stirring often, until fragrant and onions turn translucent.

Meanwhile, mix together flour, paprika, salt and pepper.  Once onion and garlic are soft, stir in the flour/paprika mix.  Increase heat to medium and stir, it will be VERY thick – you just want to cook the flour for 30-60 seconds to remove the raw taste. Whisk in the broth, be sure to stir it very well to remove clumps. Once the broth has been mixed into the flour, bring pot to a boil. Return chicken, submerge and lower to a simmer.  Cover with lid. 

Allow to cook several hours, I usually leave mine on low for 4-5.  Or, if your cooktop likes to burn things, put into an oven at 250* for 3-5 hours (optionally a slow cooker and/or instant pot would work wonderfully for this recipe too!). Check every so often, if you’re using an oven or cooktop, to make sure the it isn’t boiling hard – you want to braise the meat slowly in plenty of liquid. 

About 60 minutes before you plan to eat, put sour cream out on counter to come to room temp.  30 minutes before you plan to eat, use a colander and drain the chicken, onions and garlic.  Wipe out pan, then add liquid back into pot, keep off heat. Separate the onions and garlic from the chicken, discard. Debone, remove skin and shred or chop the chicken, set aside.  Whisk sour cream into pot, turn heat to medium low.  Add in chicken, stir, and keep warm until serving.

I make homemade spatzel to go along with this and serve with a side of fordhook Lima beans or baby peas. Egg noodles and rice are both good options as well. 
This makes enough to serve my family of 6 – with seconds and usually some leftover. It’s also easy to adjust to your taste – add or remove ingredients to your preference. We like a lot of paprika, so my recipe calls for a large amount. We prefer white meat, so I use bone in skin on breasts. We don’t like the onions/garlic floating around in our liquid so I strain and remove them. 
If I can give 2 recommendations –

  1. Use bone in and skin on chicken, any pieces will work or just take a whole chicken and cut it up to fry and continue with the recipe as written.
  2. Purchase Hungarian paprika. The better quality you have, the better your dish will taste. You can use the store brand paprika, but if you can splurge on a container of real Hungarian paprika – do it!

Enjoy!

Charlie’s Chocolate Bundt + Lavender Vanilla Glaze

Lately, I have been craving rich, yummy comfort foods. Especially sweet ones! I’m currently trying to break that habit because my jeans don’t really like it, but man! do I love a good slice of cake or decadent pastry. And my passion for baking has only shown itself more in the past few weeks.

I wanted to share this recipe because is a refreshing take on the typical chocolate cake, but it’s also very moist and indulgent. Kudos go to my daughter, or this recipe would have never been born- so it’s named after her. She requested a chocolate butterfly cake a while back, which I obliged with this recipe. However, her cake was slathered with vanilla buttercream and then decorated with a trillion sprinkles.

After making her cake, I started thinking about ways I could make it again, but in a more sophisticated, simple, and elegant way. I have also been trying to use as many unexpected herbs in my cooking as possible, recently. While chocolate and vanilla are classic flavors (and what my daughter picked), I wanted a twist and ultimately decided to add lavender.

I also made a large batch of lavender lemonade to serve with it. YUM! Which my husband eventually turned into a cocktail with gin and ginger beer. Basically, we’ve been living in a lavender heaven!

In my opinion, this is a wonderful cake to bring to a spring or summer gathering or share with family on a special occasion. However, in my case this was just for fun, and I ended up sharing it with my sister-in-law and family. I was glad they loved it- enough to even enjoy it for breakfast! Haha! ( I apologize for not having more photos!)

If you decide to try this out, I truly hope it brings you as much happiness as I had making it.

Ingredients:

Cake:

3 cups flour

2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp baking soda

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup cooking oil (I used coconut)

1/2 cup hot water

1 Tbsp vanilla

1 pkt instant chcolate pudding

1/2 cup sour cream

Glaze:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tbsp dried lavender buds

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. For the Cake, mix all dry ingredients, by hand or in a mixer. In a separate bowl, combine pudding mix, eggs, buttermilk, water, oil and 1 tablespoon vanilla. In large mixer bowl, combine dry ingredients and wet, by slowly pour in the wet ingredients while whisking with electric mixer on low/medium speed for up to 2 minutes. Stir in sour cream. Pour into greased bundt pan.

Bake on 350° for 50-60 minutes. Cool in pan 20-30 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack or plate. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, for the glaze, Bring cream just to a simmer, stirring occasionally, in a small saucepan over medium. Remove from heat, and stir in dried lavender; let stand 10-15 minutes.

Pour lavender milk through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl, and cool completely, about 20 minutes. 

Whisk together powdered sugar, salt, 1/4-1/2 of the lavender milk, and 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice. Whisk in up to 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. (However, because I didn’t want the lemony taste to take away from the lavender I ended up adding a little bit of water instead, to thin out the glaze. Don’t add so much water, though, that you dilute the taste or make your glaze so thin it sinks into the cake.)

Sprinkle with dried lavender buds, if desired. Enjoy!

Hopefully you whip this up, post a picture, and tag me on social media @lone_birch.

Spruce Up with Amazon Home

A curated home is something a lot of us desire. It’s made to look easy in glossy magazines and on home decorating shows. But, what’s often not shared or focused on is the amount of money it generally takes to afford the appearance of a professionally designed home.

While I don’t live in a fancy house and I don’t have an unlimited budget, I do have expensive taste. My husband can attest, especially after many impulse purchases he found out about later… Oops!

That being said, my style, particularly as I’ve gotten older, has heavily gravitated towards all things bohemian farmhouse. Think, Stevie Knicks meets Joanna Gaines. Patterns and colors merge with clean black and white. When you throw in hints of mid century and my husband’s more traditional vibe, we truly have an eclectic taste! And it has taken time to find ways to make all of that mesh and look cohesive in our 1940’s Cape Cod style home. Of course, as usual with an older home that needs updating, we are not past the “work in progress” point yet.

Honestly, it’s probably a good thing I have my hubs to reign me in during the design decisions, or everything would probably end up like this…

Picture courtesy of Pinterest

…and yes, I would feed cows in that outfit. HAHA! And don’t ya think this vibe would go great with the Highland portrait I have in my dining room? Just kidding! Or am I?

In all seriousness, though, as if all of the animals and outside projects weren’t enough this summer… we decided to tack on a few indoor spruce ups as well. It began with things like finishing paint in the kids’ bedrooms and, somehow, we ended up in the area of ripping out our bedroom wall and installing a door, connecting it to an outside porch, building a swing, and screening it all in! Oy vey!

While my parents were in town, (as referenced in a previous post) Jon and my dad worked vigorously on the door and porch aspect of the plan. Maybe, one day, I’ll do a little home tour of sorts but, for now, I will just show you how far they got…

Unfortunately, since lumber is in high demand for contractors in this area right now, we weren’t able to get all of the boards needed to finish out the porch. We have a friend who works at Home Depot and promised to text us when they come back in stock! Until then, we are planning how we will finish out the inside, and I will share pics once it is done. I think it’ll be super cute.

Before all this work was done, like an idiot, I went ahead and painted my bedroom. I guess I was on some sort of manic spree and couldn’t be stopped. Nevertheless, one of my lovely walls got completely destroyed right when I thought I had everything looking the way I wanted. (Minus, the little detail of the wallpaper still not being done… I swear I’ll get around to it one of these days.)

Side note: Like a couple of other areas in our home, the color used in our master is called Silos White by Magnolia. I had previously ordered a sample of this color from Magnolia, had Home Depot color match it, and painted my youngest daughter’s nursery in it. Now that we are living in Ohio and my daughters share a room upstairs, I stole a little design style from my original game plan for her room. I’ve included a photo below, and you can see her entire room on HERE on Project Nursery and get a better idea of where I’m coming from. (Wallpaper used here will also be what goes in our room.)

Tulip’s finished nursery before she was born.

Anyway… the point of today’s post (finally getting there guys) is that I have gotten some really affordable small items from Amazon that I felt were very stylish, yet affordable. Nothing crazy; just a few things that gave it a more “lived in” feel. Because, being honest with you, our dressers have either been bare or covered with a combo of clothes, random screws and measuring tapes, decor items that never got hung up/that we didn’t want anymore. It was time to get a little more streamlined and attractive in there.

Like, I said before, I will share photos of the entire room once it’s completed. For now, I’m gonna share a brief list of recent purchases I love and link a few from the past; just finishing touches really. I also just wanna preface this by saying that Amazon home decor is my go-to when I see pieces that I love but can’t afford or I don’t can’t find what I’m looking for anywhere else.

  1. RISEON Plant Hanger

I have gotten other plant holders from Amazon. In the past when I needed something quick, because I normally buy plants without thinking where I’m going to put them first, I went online immediately and had something cute in a couple days. Being a plant mama, like a lot of you, I always want to get the perfect home for specific plants.

I own this cool geometric one, this cute mid-century planter, and these macrame hangers are great too– I have ivory and black. But, I think this awesome, black metal one by RISEON is my fave.

It’s very lightweight, but sturdy. It fits my new blue star fern perfectly, and it gives a nice pop of character in a rather boring corner near my closet. It’s not huge or overkill; just a very simple statement for a small, otherwise meaningless, area of your home. And now, it looks like a plant has always been hanging right in front of the window/closet corner in my room! Also, it comes in an oval shape as well as a gold finish so, OPTIONS!

2. Nearly Natural Dracaena Decorative Silk Plant- 48 inch

So, while I’m on the subject of plants… I am a FIRM believer that, if you can, and you love plants, you should have as many real ones as possible. It’s something that I feel like you will never grow to regret (no pun intended). However, fake plants have come a LONG way and people my age are now getting a little obsessed with them. Read more about that via Refinery29.

I chose to go the route of mixing real and fake plants in my room because (even with a new, huge door and two windows) the lighting is funky and that end of the house faces North, which is typically best for climbing plants, ferns (which I mentioned I have, above), and various, low growing/flowering plants. So, in places like the corner by my dresser, a non-artificial plant would do poorly.

Problem solved, by Nearly Natural via Amazon! I was extremely skeptical about having a silk plant, but the reviews were so good on this four-foot beauty that I decided to give it a try and… I’m SO glad I did! It’s perfect and no one would ever know it’s not real, unless I brought it up. It’s so detailed that it even has “new shoots” coming out of it! I bought this belly basket for it to live in and it’s a match made in heaven.

3. Afloral Set of 3 Multi Matte Glazed Bud Vases

I probably saved these vases on my wishlist and then deleted them three times. But, I don’t know why, because they are absolutely the right ones for my room. But, I searched and searched- scrolling past them- and looking for some unknown idea. In, the end I decided on these because A) they don’t have a glossy finish and B) they match the tones in my bedroom rug perfectly.

Turns out, my hesitation was for nothing and I would legit recommend these to EVERYONE. They’re gorgeous with the perfect amount of boho flair. But, they don’t look a bit out of place sitting on my very mid-century, second-hand dresser. The earthy tones are beautiful and the varying heights make it far more visually pleasing than say, one large vase, which I had considered instead.

This trio is also the perfect size for a small, accent flower or green stem. In one of these photos you’ll see that I currently have baby blue eucalyptus in mine. They are fairly lightweight, but not so much that I question the quality. And a whole set of stoneware vases for under $40 is a steal!

I’m also loving this large and small face floral vases by Afloral.

4. Vosarea Rattan Storage Basket

I got this adorable little rattan basket (more like a box) on a whim when I realized that for months I have been skimping on using my essential oils because they have been in a moving box, shoved under my side of the bed. I’ve only really reached for them when I was really feeling desperate. But, when I started rearranging my room and found a better spot for my diffuser, I realized that I needed to get a better storage option so that I could keep my oils more accessible.

This has fit them all with room to spare and is quite handsome looking, sitting out in the room. I’m actually considering getting a few more of them for a large shelf of cubbies in my room which may need further organization depending on what things end up needing to be hoarded over there. Or possible even my bathroom since this is described as a makeup organizer and I own enough makeup for like seven people. Haha!

Either way this is a durable little basket as far as I can tell and I love that it could be used with all types of decor from bohemian to coastal to farmhouse to minimalist. Run and get this if you need stashing options!

5. Primitives by Kathy Wall Hanging

First of all, this is described as “Gypsy Home Decor”. If that phrase alone hasn’t sold it to you, I don’t know how! I have three wall hangings from Primitives by Kathy via Amazon and there is no stopping me now!

I currently also own:
This one for my living room- Woven Wall Hanging, Pink and Grey

This one from my daughter’s bathroom & now needs a new home- Cotton and Metal Woven Wall Hanging

The designs and quality that Kathy’s company puts out there, accompanied with the affordability of product, makes me stand by the goods that are created by Primitives. This particular hanging is a nice pop of color and texture on the wall when you walk into our room. (I fudged the pic by moving furniture and accessories around for visual interest lol. But, honestly, it looks so good on it’s own!)

BONUS

I have gotten TONS of pillow covers in the time span of my marriage and decorating our homes. My husband is probably appalled by the amount. I learned early on though, that getting them from Amazon is an inexpensive and smart decision. My kids are SO hard on throw pillows in the living room and, even ones in other rooms, I like to have the ability to take them off and wash them. While we were giving our porch a little bit of a cleaning this summer I realized that our seating could look a bit more cozy.

(Yeah, I know this doesn’t have anything to do with my bedroom…) We have a great second hand bench, and hubby found a $10 seat cushion for it! I got some awesome pillows at Marshall’s, too. But, our rocking chairs were looking left out. So I got these embroidered pillow covers from Amazon and I am THRILLED with how amazing they look!

Truthfully, they are even better in person! I was looking at similar ones on another site that were $60 per pillow! These covers + the inserts only cost me about half that! Now, technically, they aren’t “outdoor” fabric so I try to keep them under the porch roof or inside a trunk out there whenever it’s gonna be a rainy day/at night.

I wasn’t home the other day and they caught in a rainstorm. But, I tossed them in the dryer and everything was a-ok! Check out this brand if you’re looking for some funky fresh ideas for a big bang when it comes to your exterior [or interior] design.

That’s it from me today! Hoping you guys had an amazing weekend! Let me know if you did anything fun 🙂

Bottle Babies, Growing Up

This weekend on the farm was pretty relaxing. My parents are in town. Pretty much the only people we’ve hung out with since covid… we haven’t seen them in almost 8 months! The weather has been fantastic and, even with the threat of rain, the breezes and mild temps have been something to be thankful for. Making s’mores with the kids and spending the majority of the time outside was just what the doctor ordered.

Here are some very candid iPhone pics 😂

Otherwise, we were very excited and nostalgic because we have weaned our bottle calves!! Seems like only yesterday that we picked them up and brought them home, even though it was mid-April. Back then, we were still wearing toboggans and Carhartts; trudging out to the barn in the cold and [sometimes] snow.

Today is actually the first day that they have been completely off bottles and [so far] it seems like they don’t even notice that we haven’t made the journey out to the barn with their regular milk bar + have only supplied them with feed and hay. They have been doing well during the transition the last couple of weeks but, of course, we have been keeping a close eye on their progress. A part of me will miss playing the part of mama to these babies and seeing the bond that the kids got from caring so intimately for them.

Before committing to the task of raising calves, we (aka hubby) joined a lot of Facebook groups, read books, and did a whole bunch of online research. One of the most important things we learned, starting out, is how valuable it is to get your calves from a reliable source. So, if you get your calves from an auction, you have no idea usually if they have had colostrum from their mother, what bacteria’s they have been exposed to, if they have scours…etc. However, if you get them from a local farm, they will be able to provide you with information regarding their health and wellness.

So, we got in touch will some farms in our area and, fortunately, found one (dairy) that was basically willing to give us as many calves as we wanted for a price that is so low it’s not even worth mentioning. Their bull calves were, obviously, not useful for their field, so we gladly accepted- at first- one. Being that they were about 5 minutes away, it was good for the calf and us because of the low transport time and easy transfer. Within one day, we knew we were going to get more.

Cows are social animals and I couldn’t bare the thought of having one lonely calf. Especially, since we haven’t yet expanded our pasture enough to have other larger animals, like horses…etc. Also, we are still contemplating what species we would like to include here and can reasonably care for. That being said, we knew that several bull calves would be available within the week. And within that time, we acquired two more. Now, I have to insert that, in our livestock vet’s opinion, it is wise to get all of your calves from the same place/herd because each farm/group of cows has its own strain of bacteria and germs that it carries with it. If you calves are all from the same homestead, they are less likely to get ill and contract viruses.

Every person/family decides to do things differently with their calves. If there is anything I’ve learned from reading online feeds it’s that hardly any person does the exact same thing to care for their animals. So, you have to find what works for you.

We started out giving ours two bottles a day; one in the morning and one in the evening. The formula we used was DuMOR milk replacer from our local Tractor Supply, and we accompanied the morning bottles with DuMOR probiotics. We did struggle with a little bit of diarrhea at the beginning, sometimes tinged with blood, and, being newbies, we didn’t really know how to handle it or if it would truly be considered scours. So, we began giving the calves Theracaf electrolytes but, when that didn’t work, we reached out to the farming community to find out what other solutions may be better. An overwhelming amount of people came back with the response to use Spectogard Scour-Chek. That made a HUGE difference, and our calves recovered [almost] overnight. We never noticed them suffering from loose bowels again.

They started gaining weight quickly, although one of ours is a runt. And they are still fattening up pretty nicely. I guess I should’ve mentioned before now, but we have Jersey calves. If any of you have Jerseys, perhaps you have had others comment on our “skinny” or “sickly” they look. If you’re new to bottle calves, like we were/are, don’t let that get to you. If you’re concerned about your calves being too slim or their rate of growth, my best advice is to find a livestock vet you feel comfortable with (ours was recommended by the farm where we got our calves) and have them give the calves a once over. We had some comment on the fact that our calves seemed to be very bony, but the vet had told us already that they were doing 100% perfectly. Also, TRUST YOUR GUT. Just because you might have not done this before doesn’t mean your a dummy. A first time mom still intuitively knows what her baby needs, and shouldn’t listen to unsolicited advice. Neither should you when it comes to your calves!

Whiskey (left), Reuben (middle), Hiccup (right)

Early on we started leaving sweet feed and hay/alfalfa out for them to munch on, to get used to the idea of more solid food. They took to it pretty regularly around month two. As well as chomping on pasture grass. Now, these babies are ready to be eating more substantial food full time. We will definitely, however, be providing them with treats. I don’t think the girls could stop feeding them dandelions, if they tried. These calves would wait all day at the fence for just one of those.

Of course, baby cows are mischievous. We’ve had one get caught in the fence and turned upside down, we’ve had them break out of the fence, and they have certainly tried to drag the elderberry bush into the pasture to devour. But, all in all, raising these babes from just days old to, now, three months has been a rewarding experience. Especially for the kids. They have learned a lot of responsibility, a lot of compassion, and a lot about how the ‘circle of life’ works.

Our intention is to take three to the butcher when they are somewhere between 18 + 24 months. I never used to think that I would be able to accept that fact. I always just wanted to have a cow as a pet. But, the longer we have them, the more I realize that to have a sustainable lifestyle on a homestead, it’s just not practical to have three cows chillin’ out on your land for their whole life; 18-22 years! (Now, if I ever get my Highland, that’s another story! haha)

For now, we are just enjoying the process and acquiring a lot of knowledge along the way. If you all have any tips for us starting out this ‘adolescent’ phase with the calves, I’d love to hear them! As well as anything you would do differently at the start. We will definitely be getting more calves after these ones so I’d really appreciate any opinions or ideas.
Happy Monday!