Consecration Acres

"If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy."

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Cheese update

So the house was quite warm and rather smoky yesterday due to the wildfire and my cheese was hanging in muslin to drain further.  It had spent several ways in a colander in the fridge prior to this–the first day it was in a bowl that did not allow for good drainage, the second two (or maybe three….new baby days…) in the shallow pan in which I usually drain it.  When I pulled it out to hang it, I noticed that the muslin and the cheese that touched it were pretty dry, but the center was still liquidy.  As I was pressed for time, I just hung it up as it was and assumed it would work itself out.  Well, yesterday afternoon I started noticing an odd smell in the kitchen, but couldn’t trace it.  Yesterday evening I went into the pantry to check on the cheese and saw that the muslin was dotted with blue mold!  After Joseph went to sleep I took it down to see if I could salvage anything in the center of the cheese and found that the outside was quite, quite firm and the center was still the consistency of yogurt.  Apparently the time in the fridge had developed somewhat of a rind.  I was reading a blog on cheesemaking and I know that some cheeses are runny in the center, but I’m just really not up for that kind of thing happening without a good, trustworthy recipe.  I ran it down the sink. It did smell interesting as it went down.  Who knows, it might have been a gourmet hit: wildfire-smoked, accidental blue cheese with a runny middle.  I have decided to call it “Au Revoir”.

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Week Two: In Which I Have A Birthday And (maybe) Invent A Cheese

I have been trying to do some online clothes shopping.  Every so often I’ll go to put on a clothing item and notice obvious signs of wear.  With a huff I’ll begin to think  grumbly thoughts along the lines of “they don’t make them like they used to” (which they assuredly don’t) and begin to do the mental math to figure out how quickly said clothing item wore out and…oh…it’s actually five, eight or more years old and, looking through my drawers, nearly everything looks like that and I start to think that perhaps it’s time for some new clothes.  But then after looking around, I almost invariably start to think that maybe my old clothes aren’t so bad after all…  Fashion makes no sense.  I have now seen it go full circle…and why?  At one time I found it at least interesting to note the cycles and the parallels between shifts in the culture and the emerging trends.  I just can’t even begin to make room in my brain for such things now.  I have three dairy goats, six children and fifty-something chickens to occupy my thoughts, how can I afford to worry about something that seems to exist merely to cause dissatisfaction, covetousness and irritation?  I have often envied boys and men the ability to go to a store armed with some basic measurements and purchase non-silly clothing that will not be “out” in 18 months.

In honor of my birthday, that was my crochety rant.  Next I would holler at someone to get off my lawn if I had a lawn…so that the goats could eat it and I wouldn’t have to buy so much hay.  🙂

Speaking of hay, I am doing research into pasture plants we could grow that just might not die or hibernate in our summer temps.  If we could mix some of those in with some semi-dormant and non-dormant alfalfa I think we could put ourselves in pretty good shape for feeding these beasties.  I don’t know if we’ll ever get to the point we were in Oregon (we had two Nigerian Dwarf goats there and we NEVER purchased hay thanks to the accommodating climate) but if we could even cut our feed bill by a third, that would be a fabulous improvement and it’s looking like a real possibility.  I am also looking into the possibility of putting up our own hay.  When you see those big rumbly machines scooping up loose hay and spitting out all those identical bales, the whole process seems mysterious and complicated, but it’s really not.  A baler is really just a box and a flake is a fork or two of hay smashed down into it.  This guy here smashes his down with a hydraulic cylinder but this design just uses a lever and body weight.  From what I’ve read, yields per acre of alfalfa run from 60-100 bales per acre per cutting and we should be able to get at least two cuttings during the rainy season.  Doing it all by hand AND not having a good place to store it yet and a herd of only three dairy goats, I don’t anticipate we’ll have the ability or the desire to max out our fields at this point.  I’m thinking perhaps of having two 1-acre pastures, leaving the goats on one to eat and fertilize while growing and cutting the  other, then switching them a couple weeks after the  cutting.  For cutting I am looking at scythes.  This side-by-side with a weed-eater is rather impressive.  We’ve tried raking and feeding what’s left after weed-eating our property, but it’s really just chopped to mulch by that point and more hassle than it’s worth.  A scythe seems to be a similar motion and speed, but less weight, no risk of engines flooding and with a more goat-friendly product in the end.  You can also use them to limb and cut back small trees.  I’ve found a couple of companies that custom-fit scythes.  Our thought is to get one to fit me and one to fit my husband and that should cover us as the kids grow.

It takes me approximately forever to complete a post (something to do with constant interruptions, I think) and this is no exception.  Since I stopped writing last night we had a wildfire start and very rapidly progress to 1300 acres just a few miles from us.  Fortunately, Isaiah completed our 72-hour kits earlier this year and I have been keeping important documents, photo albums and family histories together, so I felt we were in pretty good shape to evacuate the family if that became necessary.  The one glaring gap is a lack of provisions for our animals.  Trying to move the chickens would probably be beyond ridiculous at this point, but it would be simply shameful husbandry to leave behind the goats just because we didn’t have a trailer for them.  This needs to work its way to the top of the list.  We also need to drill with the kids.  Sending them up to collect a few things in a backpack last night did not go very smoothly.  Anyhow, complete containment is not expected till mid-week and we have gobs of smoke, but all-in-all the prospects for beating it are good and our chances of evacuation are slim.  We are grateful for the protection of God, the hard work of the firefighters and for occasional tests of our preparations.

Yogurt-making has been weird this week.  When I was working with my original starter everything went smoothly and I had not had a single fail or even a now-that’s-a-little-odd. I usually divide up and freeze the yogurt from the store (1st generation starter) and then freeze some of the new batch (2nd generation starter) each time I use the original.  As every generation seems to pick up additional strains of something-or-other (until the results become too sour to eat!) this allows me to get substantial bang for my buck while maintaining a high degree of purity.  I had planned to do so this time around, but with a tired body and a needy baby I just kept stirring the original starter in and sticking the carton back in the fridge.  When I was down to the last bit of now six-week-old starter I cultured a batch and froze some of it as 2nd generation starter.  I used it to start a batch early this week and when I opened it in the morning (I use this method) it looked odd and smelled like…cheese.  I stepped back through my process and couldn’t come up with anything I could have done that would result in a dangerous foodstuff and it did not smell moldy or rotten, so we drained it and ate it as cheese.  (The guy who wrote my fermentation book says that the difference between food that is spoiled and food that is perfectly fermented is largely a matter of opinion.  I am trying to be less easily freaked-out by natural variations.)  It was delicious and the kids begged me to keep and try to keep cultivating the starter so we could continue to eat batches of it.  So, I inoculated another batch with it, let it culture, opened it up and it smelled like…nothing.  It was thick and creamy, but not cheesy-smelling.  Go figure!  I am draining it nonetheless, but it’s going to need salt in order to taste like anything.  Even the whey was remarkably bland.  I’ll keep trying. Perhaps I need to use riper (older) milk or perhaps I should have let it culture longer?  Back when I was reasonably confident that I had invented a  cheese I had decided to name it “Imprevu”, meaning unexpected or fortuitous.  Now perhaps I shall have to go with Coup de Chance (fluke).

The chicks are hanging in there okay, but the last mauled one died and one other is not looking too swell.  They really need more space.  We are going to go ahead and tarp up the grazing pen and put a roof on one end so the chicks can be moved out of the tank.  The biggest thing is to have a nice, draft-free enclosure where they will be safe from predators and I think this should do it.  I was looking for some 24-mil woven polyethylene to cover it (Harvey Ussery says it’s insanely tough and recommends it for shelters).  My searches keep turning up the clear stuff for greenhouses or pond liners.  As I neither want to cook our chicks nor cover a 30’x30′ area, I will have to keep searching.  In the meantime, regular tarps will do.  I am also ordering electric poultry net TODAY.  I’ll feel much better with that added layer of protection around them.

I forgot to record that the orchard and berries got mulched and sprayed last week.   The combo of the liquid fish and garlic-scented (why?) neem oil was delightful, but the blueberries look a bit better.  Next year we will do this earlier and consistently.  We should also be able to produce our own wood-chip mulch.  We have gobs of willow sprouts over by the pond that are just begging to be put to a good use.

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Week One with a Lot of Chicks

One down, eleven-ish to go.

They are beginning to grow their wing feathers and they are definitely bigger.  This is the fourth batch of chicks we’ve raised, but by far the largest.  I am looking at the tank they are in and wondering if they will be able to hold out for even the minimum three in-brooder weeks.  They are already in much tighter quarters than I prefer and I know that they grow like weeds in these early days–nearly tripling in size by 3-4 weeks.  I am already trying to come up with ways to turn the grazing pen into a giant brooder…

We had them out in the grazing pen for about an hour yesterday–with supervision, of course.  After Penny was milked one of the boys checked on the chicks and found another Delaware hen had died and two of the roosters were not doing well.  I had seen wet bedding and smelled ammonia when I checked on them the night before, but had hoped that they’d be ok until the boys could get them cleaned up in the morning.  I feared that the fumes and damp was what had gotten them.  I went out to supervise the clean-up.  Isaiah was holding one of the unwell roos in his hand and had just given it some honey and water (it should have had some vinegar in it as well to make a proper homemade chick electrolyte solution).  It died as Elijah was loading the chicks into a bucket to move them to the grazing pen.  The other roo seems to have recovered.  Bethel babysat the chicks in the grazing pen while Isaiah milked (after washing well, I assure you) and Elijah dumped out the wet shavings and replaced them with dirt and a layer of straw.  (All the books say not to brood chicks in the dirt, but ours have always done much better once we switch them over.  Wood shavings get into their food and water, hold moisture and will not give them grit for their gizzards, dust for their baths or anything to scratch in, and momma hens don’t keep their babies away from dirt for the first few weeks.  I rest my case.) Joseph was asleep so the little girls played on the deck while I hung up a couple loads of laundry.  It was a lovely moment: the temperature was mid 70s, a little breeze, baby sleeping, kids working, Momma working (hurrah!!), hens clucking, chicks cheeping, rooster crowing (one of the mystery birds appears to be a Rhode Island Red male.  That means we can get these, not quite as productive as Golden Comets, but still not bad), goat being milked…all is well.

Isaiah finished up milking and counted the chicks as he brought them in (smart one, he) and discovered that we were down to forty-two roosters, leaving seven unaccounted for!  Well, remember that unsecured brooder top?  It was still unsecured and we, apparently had had some predation.  Before bed last night Isaiah drilled holes all along the top edge of the tank and wired the whole thing shut.  This morning all were well and secure.   We were thinking, initially, that we had a raccoon, but think now that it would not have been able to get out after getting into the tank as the sides are smooth and about three feet high.  We now believe that this was an inside job.  The jump into and out of the tank past the chicken wire and the rather mauled appearance of the two sick roos point to our barn cats as the likeliest culprits.  Rotten, but at least it was early in the game.  I’d feel even worse losing seven just before butchering.

We are trying to decide between this plucker and this.  My husband wanted to know where we could get a cd of chicken plucking music (as per the first) to make it all the more fun and enjoyable.  He leans toward the second plucker as it would save a good deal of time, I worry about the 10x price difference.  Does anyone want to split ownership of a chicken plucker?

The sauerkraut is good.  We’ve had a little every day for the past four.  Every day we eat some, think maybe it could use a little more time and stick it back in the cupboard.  At this rate we will end up with about 1/4 cup of perfectly fermented sauerkraut as we have already gone through half a gallon of the stuff.  It’s making me itchy to start sourdough again, but I really don’t want to be starting in the middle of summer’s heat–a warm house can wreak havoc with even a well-established starter.

We have our first baby eggplants!  If we get a bunch and we are getting tired of eating them matured, I will try my hand at makdous.

Next week it will be a year since I found out I was pregnant.  It has been a challenging and not very fun year, but I sure love this little boy and would do it all over again.

May-June 2014 144

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Picking up chicks and unloading goats

They have arrived!

Friday morning started with an early morning call from the Post Office advising us that we had a box-full of hungry and noisy babies anxiously awaiting our arrival.  The boys needed to get the milking done first so the girls and I had breakfast and made a first trip to the feed store for chick starter, layer pellets, lactating goat grain and fencing.  (My husband wanted to divide the huge deer-fenced orchard/garden area and set up the lower half for goat grazing to try to cut our feed bill.  More on this later.)  A couple in a pick-up truck were leaving just as we got everyone out to pay.  The wife looked at the girls and then at Joseph in my arms and asked, “So this is your boy?”  I smiled sweetly, “Yes.”  I knew she was implying “first and only” as well, but sometimes it’s easier not to start in on that in quick, casual exchanges.  “You have beautiful girls.” she said and they drove away.  I always feel like I’m going out in disguise when I don’t have everyone with me…nobody knows I’m actually a mother of six…

Back to the house to nurse Joseph while Elijah unloaded the car and Isaiah strained the milk.  The post office called again at 10:30, just as we were getting ready to  leave.  Isaiah talked to the woman and told me that they would be closed from 11:30-12 for lunch, so we needed to hurry.  I went out to find that Elijah had unloaded the 150’x6′ roll of deer fencing by himself instead of waiting for help!  I am rather enjoying having a couple of strong farm boys around the place.  Anyhow, off to the feed store again for hay and then on to the Post Office by 11:05…which we found was actually closed from 11:00-11:30 for lunch.  So we sat on the bench outside while the PO workers enjoyed their elevenses.  As soon as we saw movement and lights inside, we pushed the buzzer and found that they were happy to let us in a little early to end the cheeping!  The woman who was waiting on us went into the back (likely so she could clap her hands over her ears in private) while we checked for in-transit losses.  We lost one female Delaware (we bought five each Delaware and Golden Comet females to replenish our laying flock), but all the rest looked fine.  We got them home, dipped their beaks in electrolyte water to get them started, put a zip-tie on the ankle of each Delaware female and tossed them all into a couple pie tins of gro-gel.  Since discovering their digestive systems, they pretty much guzzle and gorge the day away with occasional snoozing.  The brooder is still less secure than I’d like–a determined raccoon could fairly easily get in–but the heat lamps seem to be adequate even down  into the high 50’s that first night.  Aside from that initial loss and a little bit of pasting up, everything is going smoothly.  We’ll have our first really hot day tomorrow so we will see how they weather that.  And so we have begun Meat Bird School.

This is a Delaware chick.

This is a Delaware chick.

These are Golden Comets, a sex-link breed.  The light-colored chicks are male and the darker are female.  Nifty, eh?

These are Golden Comets, a sex-link breed. The light-colored chicks are male and the darker are female. Nifty, eh?

On Saturday my husband was planning on getting up early with the boys and putting up that fencing.  He sent them out to get started on post holes, but after we talked and I reminded him about wanting to put rows of berries and grapes NOT inside the new pasture (as much as the goats might like that), he said they’d have to re-plan and -position the whole thing.  He’s been having some health issues and the day was not looking awfully promising at this point so he called up someone who had said he’d be willing buy them from us and sold the two wethers.  I am incredibly relieved.  Again, if we had adequate, well-managed pastures and/or alternate feed arrangements in place it would be a good thing to go to Meat Goat School, but the tuition costs are just too high this year.  As it is we may just break even.  Elijah named the boys Nickel and Dime to go along with mom Penny.  Their names were eerily prescient.

I dove in and tasted the sauerkraut this afternoon.  It tastes and smells very yogurty right now.  After reading up a bit, I discovered that the recipe I had was a very low-salt version so I added some more salt to the brine before I repacked it.  It appears that low-salt sauerkraut cultures faster (hence the 4 day culture rather than the 2 week culture) but that it also spoils faster.  The book I am consulting recommends adding more salt in the summer and less in the winter and our regular flirts with triple-digits certainly count as summer.  Fermenting is really so fascinating.  I remember doing sourdough last year–finally achieving that perfect yeasty smell, learning to adjust my summer starter to a drier (slower) mix in order to avoid 4x daily feedings, having bread that was always a little different batch to batch, and how wonderful and miraculous it all was.  I look forward to many years of sauerkraut-making and learning all of its particular ins and outs.

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Awaiting Chicks!

I got a ship notice this morning!

My husband started to get nervous a few weeks ago and it looked like maybe we would end up cancelling the order and waiting until next year, but we figured that the worst that could happen wasn’t really all that horrible and so, for better or worse, we have 60 chicks en route.  Elijah and Isaiah have been working to get the brooder set up.  We are using a big 150 gallon stock tank, setting it up on the porch well and securely covered to protect out tasty little birds from raccoons, and monitoring their temperature using a remote sensor on a weather station to try to keep our heating lamp costs as low as possible.  Isaiah has built this feeder and a waterer using two five-gallon buckets, a length of pvc pipe and these.  It’s always interesting reaching this point when all the reading and sketching and planning is about to shift from the theoretical to the actual.  Do we succeed or fail?

A couple of other things.

Those bucklings…er, wether-lings are eating us out of house and home.  I realize that the other goats are eating as well, but I don’t resent it when they do.  It’s looking like about 2 bales/week!  At these prices!  I wish we had the whole pasture system worked out already, or that we’d made some of our own hay this winter, or figured out alternate summer forage but it just all takes time, brainpower and work and there’s only so much to go around.  I just got a notice about a livestock swap this Saturday.  Do you think anyone would trade 8 mystery chickens (four of them died in the miserable heat wave last week  😦  ) and a couple of hay-guzzlers for….hmmmm….something we might want….an already fattened beef or hog?  Boy, I’d trade them all for a bale of hay right now!

I started a batch of sauerkraut today!  Sauerkraut was the last thing I attempted before I got pregnant last year, so it feels monumental and full-circle-ish to be doing it again.  This is a quick recipe that is inoculated with OTC probiotics and only takes 3-5 days rather than a couple of weeks like the other one I tried.  I am supposed to watch for it to “rise” and then “fall”.  After it falls then it is done and needs to be refrigerated to prevent it rotting like the batch I made and then got nervous about eating last year.  Vegetable fermentation is fascinating and I love the end-products, but the first time I try a new food-making process I am always pretty certain it is going to kill me.  I remember feeling the same way about canning back when I started that, about the first eggs from our chickens, the first milk from our goats, the first yogurt, buttermilk, cheese….it’s grocery store syndrome I am sure.   I imagine I will get over this as well …and probably not die.

I have descended to making vats of custard again.  I’ve also kept up with yogurt-making, we have frozen a few gallons and I’m skimming cream a little at a time to play at some buttermaking soon, but we are not going to be able to provide all our dairy needs for the year at this rate.  Oh well.  Next Spring I won’t have a newborn and a postpartum body and can try for it then.

The orchard needs to be sprayed and fed.  From what I can tell, we have a nitrogen deficiency and spider mites.  Oh, and the blueberries’ soil is too alkaline even though I used an acidic blend to fill the pots and mulched them with pine bark!  I assume it’s our water.  I have three really heavy books on growing fruit that I wish I could just read off my laptop screen while I am taking care of Joseph instead of trying to juggle baby and book together.  I need to understand this all better!

In trying to maintain my sanity, I’ve not done much “real” canning but have limited myself to fruit butters thus far.  The fruit gets washed, trimmed and pitted, pureed in the blender and then cooked down to a spreadable consistency (usually to half its original volume) in the slow cooker.   It’s easy enough that Bethel has started a couple of batches for me.  Notes on this year’s fruit butters:

  • Grocery store strawberries are not worth it.  I cooked three gallons down to less than a quart before I could spread it!  They appear to be mostly water.   Oh, how I miss Oregon strawberries…
  • I love apricots dried and fresh, but not canned (the stringiness becomes much more apparent) or “buttered” (the flavor is far too strong–even pureed with some leftover watery strawberries it was too much).  I need to learn to use pectin and come up with a preserves recipe that I can eat.
  • I am making some peach/nectarine/mango butter right now.  If the initial taste and smell tests are anything to go on, it promises to be a winner.

The next time I write we will be drowning in chicks!