Saturday, April 3, 2010

I have cheese!

Well, sort of.

So the curds took a wee bit longer than I expected to firm up. I finally got a clean break, and then I discovered that I hadn't thought through the whole "how the heck am I going to drain the whey off" piece quite enough. Finally figured out that I had cut my cheesecloth too short and had made it too fine, so I salted and seasoned the cheese, then got a new piece of cheesecloth, and figured out that a deep and NARROW container was what I was really looking for (like oh...a pitcher) and hung the cheese in the fridge.

It appears to be cheese, like a nice neufchatel at the moment. We'll see though, when the whey drains off, just what it really is.

Kinda fun, I wish I had more milk to work with. Mom said I could reuse this cheesecloth, but I have no idea how. The curds that are inside it are pretty well plastered to the sides....right now the whole mess is sitting in my sink, waiting for me to decide to either pitch it, or try to figure out how the heck to reuse it.

Got my onions planted, and my shallots are next.


Finally alive again...Spring!

Still froggy and slightly stuffy, but way better than I've been. Not sure quite what took me so long.

Today, I woke up early, and after taking the dogs out, went down to the barn to milk Pineapple. I was so surprised that she gave about 3/4 of a quart of milk. While this is nothing compared to a fancy milk-goat, that would end up being more than 1/2 gallon a day if the babies weren't taking the rest of it. The good news is, they are a month old on the 5th, so it's just one more month before we wean them and the milk is mine...all mine.

We're struggling a bit with the milking stand. It's made for full size goats, and Pineapple is a Nigerian Dwarf/Alpine cross, so she's not full size. Even with the top bungied tighter (yea, I'm fancy here) she can manage to pull her head down to the bottom and squeeze it out. Luckily she does it when I'm close to the end of milking, so there's just a bit of a hassle with me trying to continue to milk while simultaneously trying to offer her more grain behind my back so that she stays there, happy. Oh, and then I have to fend off the cats who would like to be petted *now* and are wondering why I'm sitting at their level but continuing to ignore them, and also keep Pineapple from sticking her foot in the bucket while the whole thing is going on.

Milking is not yet a zen time for me.

It will be, soon. Pineapple will get used to the routine, the cats will learn to leave me alone (the squirt gun is coming out soon) and the babies will be weaned so they'll stop screaming for mom. And then milking time will be peaceful, and zen-like, and happy. Right now it's kind of frenetic, and aggravating, and difficult.

That's the funny thing that you learn when attempting enterprises like this one. When you start, it's difficult. It's hard, it's a pain, it's not working, it's...

And then, little by little you correct one thing and then the other and learn. Then the whole system starts to move smoothly. At least, that's been my experience thus far.

Today, I'm attempting to make cheese. Which is why I'm sitting here in the house on a beautiful sunny day instead of being outside getting my onion sets in (which will happen today I am convinced). I've never made cheese before, and my last attempt failed miserably, so here we go.

I didn't have quite enough goats milk to make the batch entirely goats milk, but it's 3/4 goats milk, 1/4 whole cows milk from the grocery store. We'll see if that affects the taste or the curd at all. But since today was the day I needed to make cheese and I only had 3/4 gallon of milk saved up...well...such is life.

I've heated the milk up in a stainless pot to 88 degrees, and then added rennet. I then try to keep the milk at 88 degrees (which is proving to be the biggest challenge thus far) until the curds form. This is the stage I'm at right now, waiting for those curds (can I hear a chant? go curds, go curds, go curds). Once the curds form, I need to cut them, and then firm them up by keeping the heat up for another hour.

After that, I pour the curds and whey into some cheesecloth and strain a bit, then add my herbs (which consist of some garlic and onion grass from the back yard), and then put it in the fridge to strain some more. Once it's strained, then we'll have a nice soft cheese to put on our crackers for tonight.

At least, that's my hope.

What could possibly happen is that it won't curd up, and I'll end up with a pot of...stuff. Last time I was able to pour it into some soup that I had made, and it made it really good, but I'm not making soup today. *sigh*

The Reluctant Farmhusband has just made brooder box #3 for me, because my chickens are getting big! My plan is today to take them out to the garden, cover it with some netting, and let them enjoy the sunniest part of the day. I have to keep an eye on them though, and can't do that while I'm making cheese, so maybe they'll have to wait.

26 chickens are a lot of chickens by the way when they get to be this old. They are all still alive. I hadn't really counted on that, I really did think we'd lose some. They are now old enough I think to be called pullets rather than chicks. They are developing these beautiful yellow feathers on top of their black background. They are Purdue colored chickens...oh that's kind of funny now that I think about it...they are Boilermakers (okay, that's really sad pathetic sick humor...sorry).

Okay, checking on the cheese again...will post whether I'm successful or need to make another pot of soup.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Feeling terrible tonight...

I was going to go outside today and try to take pictures of all of the lovely spring flowers that are coming up. I was going to take pictures of the lettuce as it pushes up out of the ground, or the strawberries as they start to flower. I was going to take some more video of the goat kids as they play on their jungle gym. And I was going to take some pictures of the chickens as they continue to grow.

Instead, I woke up this morning feeling terrible. My throat sore, my voice gone, aches and fever, yuck. I managed to do the barn chores (and got 3/4 of a quart of milk from Pineapple), but once the dizziness hit I realized that I should not probably go to work.

So, today was a bit of a bust...I hate feeling ill. I think the worst part for me is the feeling of being "not able". I'm big on doing things myself, and I hate feeling like I need others to do things for me. I should be gracious about it, but I hate hate hate it.


So, I didn't get any pictures, or really get to enjoy the day after it ceased to rain and got sunny. Instead I spent it holed up with my laptop and a book, napping and trying to recover. Fun fun.

Is it true that it has been this long?

For some reason some of my images are missing. I suppose that has something to do with the fact that it's been about a year since I posted. If you know me well you'll know hat me saying "it's been about a year since..." is not an unusual thing. Time flies for everyone, I suppose, but for just seems to zing by. This is not a GOOD thing, as my children are getting older, I'm also getting older...and people who like to read blogs like to read updates more than once a year.

Well, I'll try to get better...I promise.

The farmette here has expanded. Though the two goats I mentioned earlier were decidedly not pregnant (and we've been feeding them for a year, I might add), about a month ago, while scouring the classifieds (for what, I'm not sure) I noticed some goats that needed homes. For a *really* good price. So, I loaded up the Reluctant Farmhusband, who by now wants to accompany me on any trips that might involve "just looking" at animals, and we went to see these goats. When I spoke to the woman on the phone, she mentioned that she also had some ducks. I've wanted ducks for awhile to control ticks on the property since my middle son seems to be a tick magnet. Ducks and guinea hens are apparently really good for that. At least, that's what they tell me. I'm hoping that they might also make a dent in the horrendous horseflies that plague our property. I know I've spoken of them before.

I'm hoping.

So, we put a small dog crate in the car "just in case" and head out to meet the lady and her animals. We found the property no problem and the nice lady has goats and ponies *everywhere*. But she tells me that "this" goat was the one she was thinking of selling. Her name happens to be Pineapple and she is a 1 year old Alpine.

Pineapple is a small Alpine, possibly a Nigerian Dwarf/Alpine cross, but she's a darling Alpine, so we said that we'd take her, plus two Rouen ducks, who look just like Mallards, which are my favorites (I also want Muscovys, but we'll get there soon enough). Pineapple was NOT supposed to be pregnant. But as we loaded her into the Pilot, we noticed that she was quite bagged up. She's a first freshener (e.g. as a 1 year old, she wouldn't have had kids before), so she wouldn't have had a residual bag, but...yea.

4 days later, Pineapple had her kids, a darling little buckling that we named Banana (because he has these light yellow spots) and a darling little doeling named Apple.

Yea, she was pregnant. That picture is of Banana and Apple at several hours old. They are just the cutest darned things you've ever seen.

This is a video of them at about a week old. Aren't they just the cutest thing you've ever seen?

This excited me greatly because *now* I can milk. And I have been. I'm using Fiasco Farm's technique of milking once a day. So at night, the babies go into the crate, and during the day they drink as much as they want. This little goat is providing us with 3/4 of a quart of milk per day and it's SO sweet - doesn't taste goaty at all.

We also, this year, got chickens. If you've never "gotten chickens", you'll find the process a bit strange, so I'll explain it. There are a few ways to "get chickens". If you already *have* chickens, and you also *have* a rooster, one of your hens will invariably decide to sit on her eggs, and you will have baby chicks.

I did not have chickens previously, so this method was out for me.

You can also get fertilized eggs, put them in an incubator and turn them often until they hatch. This method is time consuming and requires things like an, there's not a very good rate necessarily of hatching (e.g. you get some duds). So...this was out for me as well.

You can buy chicks from a farmer, but the problem with chickens in general is that until maturity it is VERY difficult to tell which ones are male and which are female. Since I didn't want to futz with a rooster (unless I chose him) and wanted all females...this method was out for me. Plus, they wanted WAY too much money locally.

So, the last option is to order chicks from a hatchery. The process goes like this - you decide what type of chicks you want (we picked Black Sexlinks - which are a special hybrid between a Rhode Island Red and a Barred Rock - the special thing about these is that you can tell by looking at them which ones are hens and which are roos), you specify how many you want, and they hatch them and mail them to you.

That's right, through the post office.

I ordered from Mt. Healthy Hatchery, because I had read really good reviews on their hatchery. This is important, because you want to make sure you get healthy chicks. Plenty of things can go wrong with chickens, you want to start them out right.

The post office called me at 5:30 in the morning once they arrived. I'm not sure what I said to the lady, and I hope I didn't tell her I loved her or anything goofy like that. So, before school I packed up the kids, we ran to the post office, and picked up the chicks.

I ordered 25, because I was a bit worried about attrition. I figured we needed about 15, to supply our families' needs well. So you know, figuring that chickens are delicate creatures...

I got 26.

It's 4 weeks later...I still have 26.

Each hen will lay 1 egg per day, approximately. Which means I'll have more than 2 dozen eggs per day. Which means that I'd better start spreading the word about having eggs for sale. Because I'm going to have a horrible lot of them.

Here are the chicks at 1 day old:

More on all of this later...