Apricot Jam and Squares

We’re full-tilt into the summer fruit harvest.

This week we’ve got organic apricots on the menu.fruit 001

Once we get them home they do best if you spread them out on several layers of newspaper, this way the apricots can continue to ripen a bit and it’s easy to pick out the ripe ones for eating and keep an eye on the situation.

Apricots are good in smoothies, so all the ripe apricots that are not being eaten fresh or made into jam will get sliced in half, pitted and put into the freezer.

One of our favorite jams is apricot jam and that’s what we’re making today.july 2017 005

You’ll need:

  • 5 c pitted apricots (chopped or pureed)
  • 1/4 c lemon or lime juice
  • 7 c sugar (I used organic, raw cane sugar, that’s why the jam turns out a bit darker)
  • 1 box of pectin
  • 4-6 pint jars with lids and rings

I prefer to put the apricots through the blender, it makes a nice smooth jam without floating fruit, but chopped apricots work fine too.

Combine apricots, juice and pectin in a large pot, stir well and bring to boil. While you’re waiting for that you can measure out your sugar in a separate bowl and get your jars ready.july 2017 002

Add the sugar once the apricots are boiling, and bring to a rolling boil. Boil hard for one minute, keep stirring! After one minute remove from heat and skim off the foam.july 2017 004

Ladle the jam into clean jars and seal. It’s best to run the jars through a water bath cycle for 5-10 minutes, this is not absolutely necessary but it’s recommended. My jam stays better if I do. While I haul my big canner out of the pantry for doing huge canning jobs, these 4 little pints can be boiled in a Dutch oven, just make sure to layer the bottom of your pan with a small towel to prevent the glass jars from sitting on the bottom of the pan. Cover with the lid, boil 5-10 minutes and you’re done.july 2017 006

Apricot jam tastes great on fresh bread, on toast, in yogurt and more (yes, even tortilla chips lol), and once in a while I’ll make jam squares. These jam squares are SO good when they’re made with apricot jam.july 2017 017

Apricot squares

For the crust you’ll need:

  • 1 c butter
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 c flour

Blend together and press into a 9 x 9 inch pan reserving 1 cup of mixture for the topping, just put this in a small bowl and set aside for later.

For the filling you’ll need:

  • 1 c apricot jam
  • 1/4 t almond extract

Mix the jam and almond extract together in a small bowl and spread this over the crust.

For the topping you’ll need:

  • 1 c reserved crust mixture
  • 1/3 – 1/2 c almond flour (or use plain flour if you don’t have almond flour)

Mix the reserved crust mixture together with the almond flour until crumbly, sprinkle this over top the jam.

Bake at 350 F for 30 -40 minutes until the crust and crumbs are brown.july 2017 018

Let cool, cut into squares. Better set some aside for yourself because these won’t last long once your family digs into these. 🙂

 

Broody Hen Update

One morning this week, Farmer Hick heard some cheeping coming from the broody hen area. He approached her to check it out and saw this….july 2017 010

The broody hen had several hatchlings!

We kept a close eye on her for the next few days, she hatched one more black chick and crushed another (so sad). Other than that mishap she’s a very good mom, scratching in the hay and calling her babies to come get some food which they peck off her beak.july 2017 026

We waited a few more days to see if more of the eggs would hatch…but no. The broody had actually removed the eggs from the nest, a pretty good indicator that either the eggs were not fertile or the babies didn’t make it. Too bad. But we got four little healthy ones. Three blacks, one white.

Once we were sure the remaining eggs were no good we moved the mama hen with her 4 chicks to their own coop. They’ll stay there for a bit until the chicks are old enough to be introduced to the flock.

The two coops are separated with chicken wire, so everyone can see each other. Some say that as long as two different groups of chickens are able to see each other for some time, yet be separated, then when they are introduced into the same area the fighting is not so bad because they’re already used to each other. We’ll see about that. Pecking order is an awful thing to watch, yet necessary chicken behavior I guess.

This is turning into quite the “chicken” summer. 56 at last count. Twenty of those are meat birds so they’re with us only a few weeks until freezer camp. By fall the remaining roosters will be culled and things (read chores) should settle down a bit.

What’s a homestead without chickens anyways?

2017 Garden Update

In spite of the strange summer weather we’re having, most things in the garden are doing alright. For those of you who do not know…we’re having an extremely wet season without any real heat.

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The asparagus didn’t seem to mind.may 2017 029

The strawberries were pretty good, very plentiful in the beginning, then slowing down quickly.

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The peas were slow to start but then almost ripened all at once, made for long hours picking and shelling.013

The lettuce is loving this weather, our first planting is just finished now and we’re waiting for the second planting to grow up a little more. So far I’ve been able to sow a small double row of lettuce every 2 or 3 weeks.june 2017 006

The potatoes are so tall and leafy it made me wonder if the growth is all going into the tops, so I dug up a plant and….yup, a lot of leaf for a few potatoes, they’re supposed to grow more, sure hope they do.fruit 008

Swiss chard, kale, parsley, carrots, dill, onions, garlic and celery are all doing well.

We’ve already picked some broccoli and the cabbage plants all look beautiful.fruit 015

The tomatoes in the tomato alley are really picking up now, they too had a slow start and are looking better each day.fruit 005

The corn is catching up,fruit 010

and the pole beans are starting to climb.fruit 011

The crops I’m really worried about are the peppers, cucumbers and melons, they’re just not getting the heat they love. The plants look pathetic and I’m pretty sure they’re a total write-off.

Don’t you love the look of a few flowers sprinkled throughout the garden? Not only do they look pretty, the bees are loving the nectar and that helps with polination. Right now we have poppies, calendula, borage and it looks like the hollyhocks are just starting. In another two weeks there’ll be cosmos, zinnias and marigolds, hopefully some sunflowers as well.

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I enjoy to watch the garden progress over the span of a few weeks. Never a dull moment!

Update: the pictures above are a few days old now. Since the last warm rain on Sunday followed by 2 hot days, the growth in the garden has been incredible…and encouraging.

Pitting Cherries

When you have an abundance of cherries to deal with you’re going to want to invest in a cherry pitter. Our great-grandmothers probably all had one but today you don’t see them anymore unless you walk into a specialty store or happen to find an old one at a garage sale or auction.fruit 030

If you don’t have a cherry pitter, can’t find one or can’t afford one, stay tuned because I’ll share a simple pitting method in a minute, just using a modified eating fork.

But first the pitter…

Every July our pitter gets hauled out of the pantry, dusted off and clamped onto our table or island for a good pitting session.

The washed and stemmed cherries go in the hole on top, we put a dish underneath the pitter in which all the pitted cherries and juice will end up. Let’s not forget to put a small bowl right underneath the exit spout to catch all the unwanted pits… and crank away.

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The pitted cherries do not look very pretty anymore but taste great in yogurt, ice cream and smoothies. You can also use them in pies, muffins and more. We aim to get at least 20 medium freezer bags filled with pitted cherries to use all winter to put in those items just mentioned.

We save the juice from pitting, quite a bit of it is lost, but not a total loss as you’ll see.

The pits and left-over juice get dumped in a pot, and boiled for 20 minutes or so and then poured into a clean mason jar and you’ve got juice. (see picture at top)

When you need to preserve or use pitted cherries in a recipe, this is a very simple and fast method to get the pits out of your cherries. Like I mentioned before, the cherries don’t look very pretty anymore. If you need pretty cherries to decorate the top of a cake, muffins or pie the following method will be much better.

You take a simple fork, preferably an older one that you don’t need for eating. Using some pliers bend the outer two tines all the way in and down.

For the two middle tines you’ll just bend the uppermost 1/8th of an inch to a 90 plus degree angle, just make a nice little hook. Your fork, or newly made cherry pitter, should look like this.fruit 022

Take a washed and stemmed cherry in your hand, push the middle tines of your modified fork into the middle of the cherry until you feel the pit, “grab” the pit with the tines and roll or dig it out.fruit 027

This takes a minute to get the hang of but it works great. Of course it’s a longer procedure than the pitter but leaves your cherries looking beautiful.

Happy pitting!

Glazed Cherry Pie

We’ve got a lot of cherries right now, they’re so yummy.fruit 020

This morning we had a long pitting session which I’ll blog about tomorrow.

We’ve been eating cherries, pitting cherries, freezing cherries, making cherry jam and sauce. I thought it’d be nice to have a cherry pie for dessert tonight. So we’re going to make a super easy, glazed cherry pie with a shortbread pie crust.

Here goes.

For the crust you’ll need:

  • 3/4 c butter
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 1/2 c flour

Mix together well and press into a 9 inch pie plate. Bake at 350 F for 12-15 minutes.

For the pie filling you’ll need:

  • 1/4 c plain gelatin (see note below)
  • 2/3 c cherry juice (that you’ve saved from pitting cherries)
  • 2 cups pitted cherries
  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 2 c pitted cherries

Place cherry juice in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Add the gelatin and mix until the gelatin is dissolved. Set aside.

Put the first amount of pitted cherries in a saucepan, add the sugar and bring to a boil. Mash the cherries a bit and boil for two minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the gelatin solution.fruit 031

Place the second amount of pitted cherries in your baked pie crust, pour most of the hot cherry and gelatin mixture over top (don’t overfill) and chill for at least four hours. There will probably be some extra cherry filling, this is great in yogurt or over top ice-cream. The filling is quite runny at this point but I promise you, after a spell in the fridge it’ll firm up nicely.

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Serve with whipping cream if you’re lucky enough to have it. We’ve got a shortage on the homestead at the moment, that big calf is getting most of her mom’s cream! 😦  We’ll have to drink a nice glass of fresh milk with the pie instead.003

Note: for those not familiar with plain gelatin, you can use one box of cherry jello to which you add 2/3 c boiling water. In this case omit the cherry juice.

Cherries on the Homestead

YUM!!! The cherries are ripe.fruit 020

Cherries are SO my favorite fruit.

Every year we buy several big boxes of these sweet cherries, they’re so good! They’re organically grown and that’s important!

Have you ever looked into what kind of chemicals are possibly, but more than likely on your conventionally grown cherries? Try up to 42 different pesticide residues, poisons really. Poisons such as carcinogens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, reproductive toxins and more. Do you want to eat those? I’d rather not. These horrible toxins are also impacting our environment, I’m especially thinking of the honey bees and the air we all breathe.

Anyhow, enough of this little rant, we’ll go back to talking cherries, healthy cherries, and what to do with them…other than eat them.

So, here on the homestead. We’ve planted cherry trees and cherry bushes, but as of yet they have not been productive at all.002

Our biggest tree, which has grown to a nice size, is attacked by birds every year. If the tree was loaded with cherries we’d put up some kind of netting, but as it is, it’s hardly worth the trouble.001

Our cherry bushes are 3-4 years old. At maturity they’ll reach 6-8 feet high. They too are slowly growing but are definitely not mature yet. So…we buy our cherries for now.

Many cherries here on the homestead are eaten just as they are, fresh. For several weeks every July, you’ll find a big bowl with washes cherries, plus the little “pit” bowl, right on our table or island. Such a good snack (or breakfast for some, lol).fruit 019

Cherries are rich in vitamin C, they contain vitamin A, calcium, iron, protein and potassium. They’re packed with antioxidants and offer many health benefits…AND they taste great!

St. John’s Wort

As I was rummaging through my pantry earlier this morning, for an already forgotten item, I heard the St. John’s Wort calling.july 2017 023

Strange, you say….

But it’s true.

Almost every summer I pick, or wildcraft really, a small basket of St. John’s Wort (SJW, or in Latin, Hypericum perforatum) blossoms. They make wonderful medicine and are good for a plethora of ailments which I’ll get into in a minute.

Some summers go by with me ignoring ‘the call’. I know it’s time to pick the blossoms but let my busyness get in the way of doing anything about it. Usually it’s too late by the time I do get to the SJW blossoms.

Well, today I heard their call, loud and clear and didn’t waste another moment. I grabbed a basket, hopped on my bike and peddled over to where the blossoms grow in abundance.july 2017 029

You know what? I heard right. There were lots of beautiful blossoms, and what’s even more impressive was that their season had just started. That means two harvests. One for just the blossoms, and a later harvest for blossoms plus aerial parts, which is the leaves and part of the stem.

On approaching the blossoms I noticed the environment around the SJW, not very pretty or lush, but that’s what it seems to like, poor and disturbed areas. Abandoned railway tracks especially!

july 2017 024

While picking the blossoms I was reminded that the little stamen at the tip of the blossoms give off a purply, red stain, this would be the oil rich in medicinal properties. SJW picking always leaves your hands a little stained, some of it will wash off, the rest your body will absorb. It’s good for you so don’t worry about this.

During real hot and dry summers the oil content in these blossoms is much higher and will result in a gorgeous red oil.

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last year’s batch of beautiful SJW oil

Since this summer has been mostly cool and very wet I don’t think I can expect such a gorgeous product this year….but I’ll still have good medicine, probably better than what you can buy.

What do you do with SJW blossoms you might ask.july 2017 026

Once I return with such a harvest I usually leave the blossoms alone for a couple of hours, this will do two things. It gives little bugs the time to escape plus the blossoms will wilt a little which is good when you want to make salve.

After a couple of hours, this doesn’t have to be exact, I pour some oil in a small mason jar. The oil can be olive, avocado, sesame, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s safe to eat. I love using coconut oil as well because of it’s healing properties alone, but if you want to infuse anything in coconut oil you’d do better to use a crock pot. This method will also speed up the extraction period to only a few hours instead of weeks.july 2017 032

Today I’m using a jar and olive oil. You put the blossoms in said container and cover it with the oil of your choice. Do not put a lid on this jar, the concoction needs to breath. So fit a piece of cloth or paper towel over top and secure with an elastic. Now put the jar in your window sill and let sit for at least two weeks. The sun will keep the oil warm and will help draw the medicinal properties out of the blossoms. After two weeks you can strain this off, bottle, label and seal. The oil is now ready to store, or can be made into salve immediately. I usually do both, some goes on the pantry shelf for later, and I’ll make a small batch of salve to have on hand….just in case.

The salve is easily made by warming up the oil and adding some beeswax, the ratio is 1/4 cup beeswax to each cup of oil. If you like hard salve add more beeswax, if you prefer soft salve, use less beeswax.

Now that you have your oil (or salve) you’ll want to know what it can be used for.

SJW oil has amazing skin healing remedies. It’s the first thing to reach for when you cut yourself, get a bad rash, have serious bruising or need pain management. It’s excellent for burns because it lowers the temperature of the skin. Yes, it can be used as sunscreen for those who need or worry about such things.

While Arnica cannot be used on open or broken skin, SJW is safe to use in those cases.

Taken internally, SJW is good for mild depression, it strengthens the nervous system. In this case you’d make a tincture. If you’re interested in this remedy for depression I feel you should do your own research. The tincture is easily made, but do educate yourself first. A tea made from SJW eases menstrual cramps.

Because the herb helps to eliminate waste materials from the body it may also be used for treating arthritis and bronchitis.

To sum up:

Use SJW externally for:

  • nerve damage
  • pain
  • swelling
  • burns
  • rash
  • bruising
  • sciatica

internally for:

  • depression
  • menstrual pain
  • arthritis
  • bronchitisjuly 2017 027

These little blossoms remind me of pure sunshine….what’s not to love?

Trouble on the Homestead

There’s nothing like trouble on the homestead that gives me writer’s block.

The news I’ll be sharing with you next is already a few days old now. And while it is important for me to write about what happened it is also difficult to do, difficult enough that I’ve been “sitting” on it for a few days.

You’ve all read about our little heifer Ebony.July 2017 008

She was Ava’s 2016 calf, born on May 15th, 2016. A beautiful, friendly and gentle, little cow.

Well, now I can add the words strong, courageous, tough and remarkable to describe her.

You are wondering why and here’s where, once again, I dive back in time to explain.

When we brought Ebony home she was just 9 months old. She was small but weaned, eating hay and learning cow behavior from her mom.feb-2017-007

One month later I was alerted to the fact that Ebony was making a small udder. Usually cows develop an udder when they are 5 months or so into their first pregnancy.

I contacted the breeder to ask whether it was possible that Ebony was accidentally exposed to their bull. The answer was “Noooo!” I was told that Ebony was approaching her first birthday and that this was normal development.

As things go on a busy homestead, other projects soon captured my attention and Ebony continued to grow.

Both Farmer Hick and I were surprised by how rapidly she grew in the next few months. She had a very round appearance and quite a belly on her.

It was last week, when in the barn cleaning the cow pen I noticed Ebony’s back side.

Holy cow! From having watched Ava closely throughout her recent pregnancy and birth I could tell right away that Ebony was within days from calving.

All of a sudden, our little yearling was about to have a baby. Talk about teenage pregnancy. This poor little cow isn’t even old enough to breed today…..let alone 9 months ago!

But she did.

On Wednesday afternoon, just as I was about to take the kids to the beach to hang out with their friends Ebony started her labor.

We knew it would be a very difficult thing for the poor thing. While she’s still growing herself she’d been helping something else grow too.

She reached the active stage of labor within an hour or two and while it was very difficult on her she delivered a beautiful, small calf within an hour.

It was quite tiny…… and unfortunately, not alive. Heart break. What a sob story. All that work the poor girl did, was it for nothing?

This story does not end here.

As soon as we’d given the new born calf a quick look-over we discovered another tiny hoof pushing out of Ebony’s behind.

Twins!

This one might be alive and live!

Talk about an emotional roller coaster.

We made sure Ebony was as comfortable as possible and waited for her to continue calving.

And waited….

After some time it was obvious she was not making any progress so Farmer Hick and I made the decision to call the vet. Well, find a vet…because we’ve never had the need for a vet before.

What followed was about 5 phone calls to different veterinary offices to see if someone was willing to come out. Finally with the 5th office we scored, there was a vet close-by and he’d be on his way.

Turned out this was all for the best. This vet was kind, good and had lots of experience.

The second calf was positioned correctly but had it’s head tipped backwards so much that the vet had to correct the position and only then was he able to pull this second calf out.

It was also dead.

This is common for twin calves not to survive, you just never expect it to happen on your homestead, much less to a little cow that’s not even of breeding age.

Ebony just laid there for a good hour and a half, didn’t want to move, drink or eat. We were pretty worried even though the vet thought she did quite remarkable and did not expect her to have any damage.

Slowly but surely Ebony came around and seems like her normal self again today.

NO!!! I’m not milking her, we’re giving her some time to grow, catch up if that’s possible. This is of course the wrong thing to do if you’re pushing for milk and production, but milking her in this condition just feels all wrong to me. Twice before I’ve had intuitions about my cows, then taken some “expert’s” advice and been sorry for it. Not this time.

I’m so glad this post is written, it felt to me like it was holding back a flood gate….but we’ll see about that.

Lemon Balm Pesto

Herbs are generally easy to look after. They don’t need much care other than some compost in the spring and fall, some pruning and of course some harvesting at the right time.

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Of all the herbs growing in my garden, none is so prolific as the humble lemon balm. Lemon balm is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the mint family. When you rub the leaves a delicious lemon scent is released. During the growing season its leaves are always green, lush and abundant. It starts growing as soon as the weather permits and if you trim it once or twice during summer the plant will continue to send forth its lemony scented leaves right up until the first heavy frost.july 2017 003

Did I mention it grows abundantly? One plant easily doubles in size its first year or two and will then continue to grow but at a slower pace.

If you let the plant go to seed, don’t be surprised to find tiny little lemon balm plants (seedlings really) all over your garden.

I’ve already shared the simple method of using lemon balm by putting it in your water. Today I’d like to share another lemon balm idea.

Who likes pesto? We’re probably all familiar with the yummy basil pesto that tastes so good over pasta or a chunk of bread, but have you wondered what pesto would taste like using different herbs?

Turns out that lemon balm pesto is wonderful! Sure, you can use it over pasta, it is delicious that way, but if you like fish use this for basting broiled or grilled fish. It’s also excellent with chicken. A nice lemony taste, light and refreshing. Or if you’re just hankering for a salty snack, get the crackers or chips out and dip away.july 2017 004

For the Lemon Balm Pesto you’ll need:

  • 1 cup fresh lemon balm leaves, rinsed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup almonds, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 squirt of lemon or lime juice
  • pepper, optional

Start by putting the lemon balm leaves in your blender. Next add the garlic, salt and almonds and chop this up a bit. Once the leaves are cut up a bit, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, then add the Parmesan and juice. Do a taste test. Does it need more salt? Pepper?

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For those of you who’d like to make a double (or triple) batch of pesto, you can freeze the extra pesto in an ice-cube tray. Once the cubes are frozen pop them in a freezer safe container and you’ll have pesto all winter.

If you want, you can even preserve the pesto. Fill a small canning jar with the pesto, just leave a good inch head space at the top and fill this with olive oil. Set the covered jar in the fridge and it’ll stay good for a long time. When you’re ready to use the pesto just mix in the extra olive oil.

This batch I made today is for eating right away. When the fresh crop of garlic is harvested in a few weeks I’ll make a bigger batch of lemon balm pesto for the freezer.

We’re having this with grilled chicken tonight. YUM!!!

Cow Cookies

Some time ago I mentioned that I give my cows “cow cookies”, or more specifically…I spoil them with cow cookies. LOL We are not a commercial dairy, therefore we treat our cows as pets. So yes, I do spoil them.001 (5)

But…the cookies are actually good for them.

They’re also good for me or for anyone needing to train cows, because if you have some of these cookies in your pocket, you can get your cow to do almost anything. They’re a huge training incentive.

Trust me, these cookies don’t come out of a box or bag, you can’t buy them anywhere, you have to make them.

I can’t claim the recipe as mine, but found the idea for it in one of my cow books. As with most recipes go here on the homestead, this recipe got tweaked a bit.

You’ll need:

  • alfalfa (cubes or pellets) 1-2 cups
  • oats 1-2 cups
  • water 1 cup or more
  • diatomacious earth (DE) 1 cup
  • dry vitamin and mineral mix 1 cup
  • kelp 1/4 cup
  • molasses 1/4 cup

First I grind up a cup or two of alfalfa cubes in the food processor, plus a cup or two of oats. Shoot for a generous 3 cups combined. Some times I use more oats, other times I use more alfalfa, it doesn’t matter.

Now add all the other ingredients. Sometimes I need to adjust the amount of water. Accurate measurements have not helped me one bit, the cookies turn out different each time. I think it depends on the humidity in the alfalfa but also in the air. So you’ll have to play around with it until the “dough” holds together when pressed or squeezed.july 2017 002

Roll the cookie mix in golf size balls and flatten them a bit. Put them in your dehydrator at 120 degrees F. for about 6 hours.july 2017 001

Once they’re dry, store them in your “cow” cookie bin. 🙂

Let’s talk about the health benefits of DE and kelp.

All our animals are fed food-grade DE. Fed internally it guards against worms. DE also kills fleas, ticks, flies, aphids, earwigs etc, so I sprinkle it regularly on the bedding in the cow pen, chicken coop and the nesting boxes. I like to think that the DE is doing it’s job because our homestead has not had parasites or other such issues so far.

Kelp is a sea weed, it is rich in minerals and gives the animals that little extra nutrition (humans too). My dairy cows get a sprinkle every day because it reduces the chance of mastitis and abortion, it improves milk production and weight gain and it strengthens the immune response. It’s good for all animals but use sparingly for horses, they tend to develop iodine toxicity.

I’m sure this recipe could stand further tweaking….you could add some herbs if you like. I’ll probably experiment with this at some point. Dandelion greens come to mind, so does comfrey.

Each dairy cow gets 2 cookies a day, the calf hasn’t started on treats yet, but I will introduce her soon, probably with just half a cookie. I break the cookies up in quarters and feed it to the cows.002 (3)

See how crazy the cows are about these treats?july 2017 012