Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Girls Have Arrived!

But first, let me address the names of the cows. I've had some guesses and so far, Kathy is the closest to being right. Somehow that doesn't surprise me. She suggested it was "Choice Grade Beef". I was thinking of naming them "Hamburger and Steak", as Rae suggested, but that was too in-your-face for my taste. Then I thought about "Choice" and "Grade A". Still a little harsh. That's when "Joyce" and "Grady" came to me. I'll always remember their ultimate purpose while also being able to refer to them specifically over the next couple years.

So anyone who knows me knows I love love love LOVE chickens. I've missed having my own flock. I've enjoyed Val's free-ranging birds whenever I'm over there. And as of this afternoon, we now have chickens again. We weren't entirely ready for them but there was a "Chicken Yard Sale" today in Pierpont, OH, and we went. There are eight 9-month old hens and one rooster. He's huge and impressive.

We had a hunch we might find some we liked so we took cardboard boxes with us to transport them home. Being a warm day, though, we wanted to get them out of the boxes right away. That's where the dog kennel came in. We turned the boxes on their sides and let the chickens into the kennel.

That's when I discovered that they were already working at earning their keep. Someone had laid an egg on the way home. It was pretty funny and we had a good laugh and a bit of amazement over that.

Kent pulled out some of our fencing and made a temporary yard enclosure for them. They will eventually be free-ranging but you first have to get the acclimated to their new surroundings and base of operations. Things were going smoothly. We'd pull them, one by one, from the kennel and then gently lob them into their bigger enclosure. When we were down to two, the rooster and a pretty little hen, the trouble started. I caught the rooster and the hen at the same time, one in each hand. I couldn't lift them both that way so I let her go and carried the rooster to the enclosure. I turned around to see her darting out of the kennel and into the yard.

Kent and I tried to close her in between us and make a grab for her but she was tooooo quick. She headed for the undergrowth and I knew we were in real trouble. The woods along our house are thick with undergrowth of weeds, flowers, vines, blackberry brambles and other things that sometimes make it impossible to get through. That was the case with this girl. She was too fast and too easily slipped in through brambles for us to follow. I worried that we might have lost her for good. I don't know what all hunts in our woods at night but I didn't think she'd have much of a chance alone in the dark out there.

After much crashing through brush, imitating clucking noises and tossing of scratch, we gave up and headed in for some lunch and to come up with a better plan. In the meantime, I left a box on its side near the enclosure and Kent set a "chicken trap" using the kennel, some rope and some scratch.

Sure enough, after lunch we looked out the window to see her trying to figure out how to get into the fence with the rest of the chickens. With a combination of patience and creeping about, we were able to catch her and reunite her with the small flock. What a relief!

Now we'll be very busy building a chicken tractor, version 7.2.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

New Faces on the Homestead

First livestock on the farm(ette) - Meet Joyce and Grady. They are half Holstein, half Brahma, all cow. We will be raising these beauties for beef. In the meantime, they will enjoy a couple of good years being treated well here at The Sanctuary.

The electric fence is a bit of an enigma to them at this time. They will be in our yard overnight while Kent erects a regular fence to help them transition to life in the pasture.

Grady - look at those huge ears!


We bought these guys (a bull and a heifer) from our good friends, the Zilhaver's. We hear they are mighty fine eating. Big shiny stars to anyone who can guess why we've named them as we have.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Dairy Good Day

Yesterday I went to our Amish friends' farm and got three gallons of milk. To say the milk was fresh would nearly be an understatement. They milked the goats and filled the containers while we waited. They also gave us a gallon of cream from the new very old separater they bought at an auction we went to together. I knew I was going to be making butter as well as cheese.

Making butter with modern conveniences is almost too easy. To culture your cream you leave it to sit out for 8-12 hours. I skipped that step since I only had today to work on things.

Pour the cream into a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Important note, do not fill the bowl any higher than the center stem or your cream will leak back out. Not that I have personal experience with this type of catastrophe.

You turn on the processor and let it run continuously until the solids separate from the liquids. This will take several minutes but not near the time it would take in a churn. The best way to watch for this is not to watch but to listen. You will hear a distinct change in the sounds from the processor when the separation occurs. What you will see is "crumbs" of fat floating in milk.

Pour this through a strainer. I just use a stainless fine mesh strainer. It's sufficient for the task and cleans up quickly and thoroughly. It should look something like this:

Allow it to drain and then you will turn it out into a bowl. I like to use a wide, shallow bowl for the final step. This bowl is about 14 inches across and 3 or so inches deep. I also roll up a few towels to place under one edge so that the liquids drain away from my work.

Then I get to it with a silicone spatula. At this point you can press it into a lump but it will be filled with holes that are filled with liquid. You need to press these out to create the butter texture and to make it keep well. The butter itself is very stable for a fairly lengthy time under refrigeration, the liquids, though, will cause your butter to spoil if not removed.

So I begin patting and slapping the butter and letting it drain to the other side of the bowl. Occasionally I'll pour out the accumulated liquids and keep going. As you work you'll find that the lump wants to slide in the bowl due to the liquids that come out between your "lump" and the bowl. As you finally get it worked out the butter will begin to stick to the side of the bowl. I work it kind of like kneading dough. Folding and working it, folding again and working it.

When you think you've got the liquids out, pat it some more. It always takes longer than you think. Eventually you'll have butter. At the end, I like to work in a tiny sprinkling of salt. This is some of the best butter I've ever had.

And then there's the cheese. I might point out that my super clever and fearless niece turned me on to the rennet I can get locally. While I can mail order cheese making supplies - for everyday, economical cheeses, there is a product called Junket. It is a rennet used for custards and such. Now I don't know what kind of mental gyrations I might have put myself through trying to figure out how to use this in place of the rennet called for in the goat milk recipe book. Val figured it out. I use the amount of Junket according to the amount of milk in a recipe from the Junket booklet for the recipes in the goat milk book. So far it's working great. In the case of the chevre, Val pointed out that the consistency would be similar to that of the Neufchatel. She's so smart!

This box of junket is enough for 6 batches of chevre at ~2 pounds each. So that's about 30 cents per batch.

Now you warm the milk to 80 degrees for chevre, 90 for cottage cheese. Then stir in buttermilk and rennet. Then let it sit for 4-12 hours depending on the recipe. I'll pick back up when my cultures have sat long enough.

Here on the homestead, we had a couple of excitements today. The first of our seeds is coming up. So far the garden growth has all been from the seedlings and bulbs. As of today, the chard is officially sprouting up. The onions continue to go nuts and I counted at least 9 little peppers on the hot pepper plants.

And as I was sitting here typing, Kent could see lights outside the window. Investigation showed these to be fireflies! They are busy all over the yard tonight. A welcome and enjoyable sight.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Garden Update

We are diligently planting in the garden. We have frequently heard the comment that we are "ambitious" in our garden plans and planting. I guess it's a combination of wanting to grow not only to eat fresh but to preserve and the effect of so many years in Colorado with so many garden disappointments. We are, perhaps, overplanting but I'm pretty confident that if there is more than we can use, can or dry - we'll find someone who would like the produce.

Here's Kent by the pepper beds. We've got about 70 plants, including jalapeno, hot Hungarian and two kinds of sweet.

And there are celery, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and eggplant

And over 70 tomato plants, some yellow, some beefy, some for canning, and so on. Whatever we don't eat fresh will be canned up as diced, sauces, salsa and stewed.

Today we planted 30 sf of chard, 50 potatoes, and about 270 corn. I'll need to get out there and string up bird deterents before the corn sprouts. I'm thinking streaming ribbons and bits of foil. I'm hoping it will look downright scary.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Rescue and A Disappearance

The excitement, the drama, the daring around here never ends. Remember mama Robin on her nest? Well, here was the scene yesterday as one of the babies took to standing outside the nest as they clearly overflowed their little home. And today? Nothing. Empty nest syndrome has hit. I hope she finds something to do with herself.

And then, while Kent was forking soil in the garden one last time as we planted, he turned up a nest. Now, we don't know whose nest this is. It could be a turtle. It could be a snake. Only time will tell. But we didn't feel like destroying those amazing eggs that people rarely get to see. We surmise they were laid since the tilling since we don't see how they would have survived multiple passes by the tiller.

Kent dug a new hole, outside the garden perimeter.

And we deposited the eggs where, hopefully, they can continue their incubation. Now, personally, I can tell you that I'm hoping these are turtles and not snakes.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Beauty All Around

Here are many photos from around our property. Some with brief descriptions.

One of several raspberry patches in the back yard area

Lilac first breaking out in blooms

I love this big apple tree. It's really striking and it's my view from the kitchen sink.

More, smaller apple trees

That unusual red bush, close up

I don't know what these crazy flowers are. I've never seen anything quite like them

And this weeping tree is a mystery still. I thought perhaps wisteria but it turns out I wouldn't know a wisteria if it ran into me

We were very excited to see this tree with fruit on it - Peaches!!

There is an abundance of blackberry bushes - surely enough for fresh eating, jam and pie fillings to can.

We are completely smitten with our new home!

Random Happenings

As I'm just trying to get caught up, I'm not going to worry too much about staying on subject here.

Sam spent a Sunday afternoon and evening with us. Here he and Kent are hanging out. Kent taught him that. Sometimes it involves leaning nonchalantly on a chair back.

When Sam first saw the rocking horse, which obviously didn't even get dusted before he mounted, his little lips formed an "O" and his eyes got huge. He's in a big horse phase. He counts the horses on the quilt his nana sent him, he's had horse rides with his Amish neighbor friends, and he has a hobby horse at home. He was pretty thrilled with this horse, too. And I said "Woohoo" when he mounted so now each time he gets on the horse he shouts "Woohoo!"

Some morning the grass is just so wet from the dew. I'm glad I've got the barn boots.

A robin built her nest in the rafters of our carport. We've enjoyed taking a peek from time to time. The babes have hatched now and they look like they're ready to overflow their little home.

Steph surprised me one day with this pretty sculpture of a mother and daughter called "Close to Me". I love it! And it made me cry.

Not pictured here is our family. It was so great to see them over the Memorial Day weekend. And in anticipation and because we liked it so much, we purchased some adirondack yard furniture. Now to get it painted before the carpenter bees find it. They've been prowling and drilling of late.

And what do you do when you have access to a tasty and economical supply of fresh goat's milk? Why, besides drink it, silly, you make chevre! Here is my improvised hanging set up for draining the whey. It is really, really good cheese. I will be making it on a regular basis.

And I think Bear feels like a wild savannah dog in the back acreage. The grass is hip high now and sometimes we lose him in it. He'll be sleeping under a tree and we just can't see him. You can probably find him in this picture, though.