Consecration Acres

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

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

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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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