Category Archives: dairy goats

On life in the milk lane

P1030148My baby with the one and only bottle baby on the farm, March 2010

Many, many people find my blog because we all share an interest in gardening.  And gardening, particularly of foodstuffs, is wonderful, is fodder here for almost six years of blogging, and is of its very nature sustainable:  if I can continue to put seeds in the ground, those seeds will continue to become sustenance and seeds for next year, so repeat, repeat, repeat.

But:  gardening can be kind of boring.  (Can I admit that and still remain a member of the faith?  I often wonder.)

February has come and gone and it occurred to me that I have been a milkmatron (someone closer to 50 than 40 can hardly be called a milkmaid) for three years now.  Interestingly, I have been matron to one particular animal, one crabby doe whose parturition on 2/27/2010 elevated my status from casual animal owner to active teat-squeezer.  Yes, every day for three years, I have been milking one goat.


Actually that is skirting the issue.  In those three years, I have milked four goats, sometimes all four on the same day, sometimes even twice a day.  Today I am milking “just” two, once a day.  One goat though has been the constant.

It is a bit of luck that has caused me to milk this one animal.  The other three goats could never have been milked this long for various reasons (youth, health, and temperament factor in that calculation) and luckily those other three were not my first goat.  Not being a statistician I cannot begin to tally the hours spent or the gallons produced; all I know is milk is one of the great constants in my own life and that both tallies are “lots.”  Sure, I only go on daytrips now away from the farm.  It is a choice.  It would be an easy choice to have a different life if I had a goat-sitter.  Parents of youngsters often feel the same way, and pay someone for the honor of an evening away.  Me, well, there is nowhere I would rather be than here…though I suppose I wouldn’t turn the services of a goat-sitter away should one appear….

So yes, lots of milk becomes lots of milk products.  At this point I believe I have made 45 or so different cheeses.  I have made kefir, buttermilk, yogurt, cajeta, puddings, fudges.  Milk has found its way into any and all dishes; my very first use of it was crepes with home-grown eggs and home-grown, ground buckwheat.  I have flubbed more than a few gallons of product and somehow I do not feel bad about the time spent because the chickens, turkeys, and dog appreciate errors of this kind.

It is, boringly, a lifestyle.

But it is a good life.  I have given this one animal a good life.  We have established a solid routine, have a solid affection for each other and we do respect each other’s needs.  The other two goats here are also lucky, I think.  I have not established as strong a tie to either of them, so in the shifting sands of farm dynamics, their tenures here are not guaranteed (though I do like them both).  If this were a university, those two others better publish or perish.  Even Michigan’s rejection of collective bargaining is felt here too:  you all stand alone and are to be judged on your production.  It is a hard thing to swallow if you love your animals.  But I am neither wealthy enough nor emotionally crippled enough to become a goat-hoarder:  you must be productive to live here in my barn.

Of course I am gaming the system against the other two because 2013 is the year of No Babies!  Yes, one must need be pregnant and give birth to actually produce milk (something that surprisingly few people fully realize…where to place the blame for that?  our educational system?  or our squeamishness of mammalian processes?) so if I do not load a goat or three into the back of my now-decrepit 20-year-old hatchback, those goats will not become pregnant on their own, so…if I was not milking you constantly you will not magically lactate on your own either.  But I have calculated my needs, and my needs did not include goat kids this year.

I wonder where I will be and what I will be doing in ten years:  will my life include goats?  I read with interest a study that states that we are closer to being the same person within a range of ten years than twenty, and that, indeed, the folly of one’s youth is cringe-inducing.  So sure, twenty years hence I might laugh at the foolishness of my late forties self the way I laugh at the antics of my teen- or twenty-something self:  that person is miles away.  And she owned goats, and foolishly milked them every day.

I do not know.  But:  I know that a goat’s poo and bedding is FABULOUS for my garden.

Rinse and repeat.


On thankless tasks

Perdita and Puck joined the herd at 8:40 Friday night

They say that 95% of goat births are uneventful.  My percentages stand at 80%…Sabine’s birth was not fun at all.  Less than two weeks after that fraught event, Cricket calmed the waters by delivering these twins.  As a goat midwife, my job should simply be to wipe their faces, dry their bodies, trim their umbilici and back off to let the mother do the work.  And in so doing Friday, we stood witness to the nonevent, the simple wonderment that is animal husbandry.

2012 is the year of the white goat, apparently.  All our other goats are either chamoisee (brown w/ black legs) or sundgau (black with brown legs).

So the weekend may have started with a bang, but the rest of it felt like I was stuck in a thankless-task loop.  Another round of weeding of invasives like bindweed and bamboo grass, another grubbing with the spade to uproot the deep roots of dock, another wheelbarrowload of straw mulch to cover the potatoes and strawberries, and an assortment of other icky tasks left me feeling fairly done in come Sunday night.

I have to tell myself it’s all of a piece.  You may want to compartmentalize, but gardening, like most worthwhile things, has its fun and unfun tasks.  The overall picture is the one you’re aiming for.  A big harvest requires I grub out that bindweed, like having a baby requires I change a diaper or two (or two thousand).

But then I look around and see the fruits of my labors (the full milk pail, the delectable harvests, the funny and accomplished child) and I really don’t mind the thanklessness of it all.

On timing (not) being everything

Sabine is doing well:  the splint (not shown; she wears it at night) has helped straighten her right front leg…this pic was taken last Tuesday.  She and her mom are integrated with the herd now during the day.

I often have believed the world would run more smoothly if it ran on MY schedule.  And on MY schedule, things need to be done sooner than later.

I am not quite sure what happened (motherhood?  the onset of middle age?  moving to the country?) but my usual foot-stomping impatience has waned!  What is it, have my expectations diminished?  Have I just run headlong into that closed door called reality?  Whatever the cause, I have accepted a lot more leeway in my schedule.  “Take a deep breath and get over it” seems to be the new m.0.

The apiary.  First hive has been split; we added two more this spring; and the first hive yielded just shy of 27 pounds of honey from the first harvest

Most of the pressure that I have put on myself revolves around getting food for my CSA people.  It’s been almost two years now since I have transitioned from bartering my extras to running a year-long, once-a-week box scheme for my friends (6 full shares, one partial share).  There have been weeks where I panicked that there wouldn’t be “enough” but I have set up the shares in such a way that flexibility is a key to it all.  Yes, bread-salad-greens-milk product-eggs is standard per week, but weeks like this one (honey, chive-blossom vinegar, fresh sauerkraut, and no eggs) work for both me and for them.

I spent my Mother’s Day morning assembling the greenhouse frame.  Ah, the life of the weekend warrior-farmer.

And that’s a good thing.  I do have a life, after all, and can’t spend all my days puttering around the garden or whipping up bread and cheese in the kitchen….much as I would like to.  Sometimes, work interferes with my farm life (actually, that happens quite often); sometimes, a child must be chauffered to and fro; sometimes, I just want to get away or just sit with my book.  Having some flexibility built into the schedule is key to it all.

And with that flexibility?  I don’t do nearly as much foot-stomping.  I leave that to my crabby goats.

Willow and Sabine.  Willow is a fairly patient mother, all things considered.

On ba(aaa)d births

Welcome, Ms Sabine

To have milk, you need to have babies.  It’s an unavoidable fact.  And this milk year, because I was unable to get our doeling pregnant (our daughter was in the hospital during Ivy’s last heat of the year) we ended up buying a pregnant doeling from a local dairy.  Willow, the pregnant goat, has been an adorable addition to our herd.  It’s too bad the other goats don’t feel the way about Willow that we do, however!

Because Willow is tiny AND bullied, we’ve been having her sleep elsewhere.  Goats hate being separated; they’re herd animals, after all, and in Willow’s mind, she’d much rather be head-butted than be alone, even just at night.  Poor thing.  I took heart in the fact that she could deliver soon, and she’d at least have her kids for company.

Problem was, we didn’t know when she would kid.  Unlike my other does who have driveway dates to get pregnant (thus I hang my hat on a solid due date 155 days after their visit) I just had to wait and watch with Willow.  “Watching” basically means I felt her up and hung over her, daily…and “waiting” means I have been doing it since mid-March.  But on Saturday, all signs pointed to a Cinco de Mayo baby goat or two.

Not two baby kids, though; one kid.  Sabine made her way into the world only with our help. She’s huge; she’s nearly a quarter the size of her mother in length and height but not weight.  And her cramped quarters weren’t helpful; she was born with a badly twisted leg and foot…a splint is helping those flexible young bones to straighten out and develop normally.

The bonus, of course, is that she’s a girl, and she’s a lusty eater.  But poor Willow!

And then there were three

Baby Ivy

Cricket delivered a gigantic doeling yesterday!  Not bad work for a first-timer.

She looks a lot like her mama, but even more like her daddy Moses.  Everyone’s happy, well, except for our old goat Bell, who has to sleep alone now.

On the expanding farmstead

Every spring, the number of creatures goes up on most farms.  Ours is no exception…except, well, our numbers exploded this year, thanks to:

the bees.

We took delivery of them on Tuesday night.  I chatted with them in their box on the sideboard as we ate dinner, telling them all about the farmstead and neighborhood.  After dining, we went outside and watched Tom place them in their new home.

We’ve also got a few baby turkeys.  Not the 17 of last year’s first hatching, we’re content with four, maybe five.  Queen Ruby has successfully raised five in the past; it seems about all the girl can take.

And as usual, it’s baby chick season.  The spring has been so cold that all four of our sitting hens lost their eggs so I supplemented their mothering need by giving them meat and egg chicks from the feed store.  They don’t care.  Babies is babies.

There are also bunnies.  Ugh, bunnies.

And we’re expecting one, or maybe two, kids to be born toward the end of the month.  I’m getting a half gallon daily from Bell, but it would be great to squeak out another half gallon from Cricket…is that being greedy, counting-unhatched-chickens-wise?  Time will tell.

On the dairy calendar

The subtitle of this post could be My Dairy Year.  (Say that fast and laugh to yourself.)

Today marks my first year as a milkmaid.

Indeed:  a year ago today, T-bell gave birth to three adorable kids, little bucklings all.

Mama T-Bell, lucky thing, gets a year off of breeding this year.  I believe she’s had three sets of kids (twins, twins then triplets with us); she will be six years old in April.  I will continue to milk her as long as I want to:  I should be able to “milk through” as she’s an awesome milk goat.  I feel so fortunate to have had her as a first goat, first milker.  Why?  Because she’s a bitch, that’s why!

Yes, in my first doe, I seem to have selected a definite herd queen.  She’s not really a bitch, you see.  She’s more, well, strong-willed, more particular.  She’s very friendly (a great thing) especially to little people.  The dog is her mortal enemy, although they do love to play.  But other goats?  She lets them know where they stand.  And they stand below her, way below, so…watch out.  And:  she HATES being outside.

But it’s nicer in here!  Bell, eating her bon-bons and watching the world go by

Learning to milk a goat and then learning to milk THIS goat was a bit of a challenge.  She’s smart, see.  If she’s not in the mood, you better guard that bucket.  If her feed bowl (the bribe which ensures her getting onto, and staying on, the milk stand) is less than filled, you’ll hear about it.  Milking is an intimate relationship forged between she with the milk and you with the desire for it:  really, it must be so, or the let-down (milk release) won’t happen.  And indeed learning to milk with those three rambunctious kids just inches away was terribly stressful at first, especially since one of the babies was expecting the milk himself (he was a bottle baby).  But we forded that whirling river.  She’s quite happy now, our routine is well set.  And starting the thirteenth month of her lactation, I am still getting nearly three quarts of milk from her a day.

On the Sunday after Christmas Tom and I coaxed our little Alpine doeling into the back of my small hatchback.  She was off, you see, to visit her new boyfriend, a handsome, smelly fellow named Moses.

The aptly-named Cricket:  Gotta love a youngster’s airborne enthusiasm.

Cricket is an adorable creature.   Curious, hippity-skippity, not super friendly but not skittish, the one thing she is is LOUD.  I made sure I brought earplugs (seriously) for the 60-mile round trip to the goat farm east of us where she was be bred.  It does seem strange, and kind of bad-mother-ish*, but yes, you can breed goats when they’re less than a year old.  She’ll continue to grow, and I only need to watch her feed to ensure she’s eating enough for two or three or (eeps!) four.  And let’s state the obvious here:  you want milk, you need babies.

So, yes.  Cricket will have her kids at the end of May, with luck.  It’s a different kind of calendar, the dairy one.  Bell will still be milking when Cricket throws her babies.  There will be two goats using the milk stand in the morning:  whee!  Say cheese!

*Indeed, though, it’s like I am condoning teenage motherhood; I guess I should state that she’ll technically be a yearling when she delivers.  Not a teenager, then, but definitely a young mom…!

On keeping one’s feet on the ground

T-bell says “Happy December solstice:  make sure you see the lunar eclipse on the night of the 2oth/21st.”

Actually, she says, what’s with the camera?  Get me my breakfast already.

A long discussion with some girlfriends recently:

One friend had recently resigned from a board position at a worthy organization and it was really gnawing at her, guilt-wise.  “I know,” she thought, “I will invest the 6 hours a week that I had been spending on the board by doing something to help me instead:  yoga.”  So now she was in hot pursuit of finding a yoga class six days a week, no easy challenge out here in the boonies.  “I swear I am getting more stressed out in finding the classes than I was on the board,” she opined to us.  “I am thinking about wearing my F*ck Yoga t-shirt, but out here in the pre-ironic world we live in, I doubt people would see it the way it was intended,” she said.

So on and on went the oft-repeated type of conversation between first world, upwardly-mobile women.  How to alleviate stress, juggle responsibilities, yadda yadda.  And then the conversation came around to me.

Buck rags,” I said. “I worry about buck rags, and the state of estrus in my goats.  THAT is what makes me both stressed out and sanguine.”

Being so intimately involved with the reproduction cycles of one’s animals is, if nothing else, very grounding.  And humbling.

You want milk, you need your milking animal to get pregnant and give birth.  No way around it, really; and somehow, this one factoid certainly escapes most (bipedal, big-brained) milk-drinkers.  So, yes, estrus, parturition, colostrum and lactation…this is my world.   All for a refrigerator full of quart jars labeled B, K, and Y (buttermilk, kefir and yogurt, respectively) and a big water-filled tub housing refreeze-able ice packs and bobbing half-gallon jars of milk.  A basement cheese cave filled with wheels of cheddar, colby, gouda, parmesan and swiss…and another root-cellar cave filled with molding camembert and brie-type cheeses.  And another closed tub hiding elsewhere with molding blues.   And me, doing the milking dance early every morning, rain, show or shine.  Is it worth my time and effort?

Well, I am the least stressed-out person that I know.  Am I advocating a home dairy as a method of stress relief?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  But I do know something:  it beats yoga.

It’s all about what goes in the pail

On the informal economy

Our governor signed a cottage industry farm bill last week!  No longer are small food vendors required to be licensed and have commercial kitchens installed in order to produce and sell their home-baked wares:  anything that can sit on a counter, basically, like pies, breads, granola, jam, jellies, pickles, etc. can now be legally made in Michigan.  I foresee an explosion of home-baked goodness available then for those who can’t or don’t home-bake.  The restrictions are simple.  Label what’s in it, label where it came from (your home’s name and address), and sell less than $15,000 a year in goods.

Things like dried herbs, teas, and tinctures are likewise covered in this bill.  A second bill regarding honey and maple syrup are soon to be passed and signed.

These bills (and now law) make me happy.  Granted, I always have been skirting a bit shy of the law in that what baked goods I have sold I sold before this law took effect.  Likewise, I illegally sell my milk products to friends.  I have made it quite clear to my friends that we’re running afoul of the law, but… the sheer quantity and (frankly) tastiness of the cheeses and kefir and yogurt have been their own kind of advertisement.  You have it at my house, you want it, end of story.  With hope, Michigan will come around and write a law stating that raw milk products can be sold (outside a herd share agreement, that is).

Money only seems to work with those with nothing to trade

I have been quite paranoid too about this influx of cash.  Pin money, egg money, funny money…  Yes it sits in a jar.  Yes my accountant knows about it.  I withdraw cash for things like new animals or delivery of hay or straw…and I leave a tally of what is taken out.  In general the goat has paid for herself and (at this point) 75% of her care.  Give me another two months and she’s a free animal.  The cheese/cultured milk products have paid for the capital outlay of the cheese making equipment and the cultures.  And the products of purchasing a pregnant goat: I’ve made a very even trade of three wethers (neutered baby boy goats) for one doeling…our new girl, Cricket.

Standing partially still for a change

This is a more typical picture

The egg chickens, by comparison, have never paid for themselves.  (The meat birds are not sold; we consume all of them ourselves…this is far cheaper than purchasing meat chickens of similar quality.)  I would expect the turkey I am raising for a friend to pay for himself.  And like the bunnies, the 14 surviving turkey poults were all sold or traded.

So I am now into farm barter.  I got into a heated discussion recently with the whole idea of barter with a friend of mine.  Aren’t you cheating the government?  he contended.  The sale of, say, a goat is not taxed or frankly worried about by the state of Michigan, I replied; it’s the same as if I sold an ATV or a lawn tractor that I had.  I suppose it is considered on-farm income, but then, I don’t list “farm” anywhere on my taxes.  But goodness if you think about what we’ve sunk into the living-on-a-farm project…we’re in no way being compensated by any government for living the life that we do.  I told him it’s a false way of thinking of things.  Indeed, I told him, I don’t give my architectural services away for free:  if I do volunteer, I actually fill out a form saying so.  So farming is not a professional goal of mine.  That money has entered into the equation is…not something that makes me entirely comfortable.  It helps the bottom line, surely, and helps my husband come along for the ride but…it was not a goal.

It’s odd.  I get requests from friends asking, basically, how much more work would it really be for you to bust up another half acre and supply them with vegetables year-round too?  It appears the one CSA that supplies our town friends with victuals has come waaaay down in quantity/quality (and I have seen it and agree).  They like what we do here and buy my $5/gal. bags of salad.  If I look at things THAT way, the greenhouses have paid for themselves many times over.

I am in no way saying we’re a model for a way to earn a living.  But in this post I am saying that with some little effort greater than what you already produce, you might be able to produce for other households too.   I think that without even the monetary reward you can feel good enough to grow and to make things for others:  talk about appreciation!  And even if money doesn’t change hands (it often does not with mine), you may be able to be recompensed with services.  I traded four turkeys for horseback riding lessons for the girl.  That’s so much more enjoyable than money in a quart jar.

Bell and Cricket out doing what they do as the resident Poison Ivy and Bramble Eradication Crew.  Cricket was born toward the end of April, and Bell is on the big side for an American Alpine.  Bell’s coloring is called sundgau and Cricket’s chamoisee.

On milk season

Cheese:  Milk’s leap toward immortality  –Clifton Fadiman

Post-milking, pre-gardening, wake-up-and-take-the-edge-off early breakfast:  coffee and camembert on a toasted oatmeal/flaxseed sourdough ciabatta

I have detected a pattern with every new project I take on:  I go through a period of anticipatory excitement, then of intense freak-out, then I relax somewhat, and then I wonder what I did before said project entered my life.

The most obvious project in my life that follows this pattern–and one that would be familiar to many of you–is parenthood.  Owning a milking animal is neither as hard nor as long-term, but indeed, I went through these exact same steps.  I’m happy to let you know I am in the “what did I do (with all my time, mainly) before I had a goat?”  Freak-out moments aside, it’s been a fun endeavor.

It’s true what they say about dairy folk.  We are early to bed and early to rise…the first time in my life that I have ever been so inclined.  And I get up excited and fresh and ready to start the day!  Highly annoying, it’s true; luckily, I wake up a good two hours before anyone else does so I don’t have anyone to offend.  But a part of every one of my days is devoted to milk and its management.

Lovely fluff in the strainer: our dog is the lucky recipient of the foam

Making cheese has been a huge part of the “fun” of this new project.  I make cheese about three days* a week.  I devote one day of  these three to take on one new aged and/or procedurally difficult cheese.  The other two days’ cheesemaking are usually devoted to making feta (our daughter is a Feta Fool) or to the easy-peasy kinds like a chevre, an unaged pressed cheese, or ricotta or paneer/queso fresco. Ricotta and paneer and queso fresco aren’t technically cheeses** (did you know that?) but still, that’s what I make. And I make a weekly rotation of buttermilk and yogurt and sour cream…the first two can also be used as cultures for the above cheeses and the last one is because I selfishly love sour cream. And what with all the eggs around here, ice cream, custards, puddings are happening.  Let’s just say I am not getting thinner with my new hobby.

Haloumi atop salt at left and feta at right:  time these things well, and you’ll have a new cheese per week

Most cheeses excepting the fresh kinds require a long aging process. In other words, for many of them, it will be months (months!!) before one can even taste them. Talk about slow food! Some are much slower than others. Parmesan will take a year. Blue cheese, up to a year. Cheddar, brick, and colby, six months plus. Brie and Camembert, six weeks. Feta, a month. This is not a hobby for those bent on instant gratification.  Gratification, though, why yes.

Our goat, however:  Having triplets and then producing all this wonderful white stuff has taken quite a lot out of her.  I do remember this with my own breast-feeding days:  I could eat for three, and often did, yet the pounds kept coming off…let’s just say that’s not a good thing if you’re a skinny goat.  So I am slowly stepping back the milking to once a day.  This is a win-win:  she’s not stressed and can put the weight back on, I am not stressed and I’ve got more time to weed those gardens.  The milk quantity should reduce further too.  At the top, I was getting almost two gallons a day.  I would be quite happy with 3/4 of a gallon.  Considering that she potentially can be milked for a year and a half or longer, that’s still a lot of milk.  Lucky us.

*Not all day obviously.  The process starts with the morning’s milk and usually ends around dinnertime, say, for a chevre.  They’re pressed or hung to dry.  Some are heated somewhere in there; some are inoculated with other molds and good beasties, some require lots more of your time and some require nearly none.  It’s a big world, cheese.

**Cheese snobs tend to categorize according to technique. It’s a cheese if the milk has been subjected to an enzymatic action and/or lactic acid fermentation; it’s not if it’s made by simply acidifying (via vinegar or lemon juice) the milk as these three are. The most common enzymatic action used to make cheese is by using rennet, a derivative found in one of the four stomachs of nursing ruminants (calves, kids or lambs) which contains the enzyme protease that helps a nursling break down and digest milk solids.  There are other non-stomach rennets out there, some derived from plants or molds with coagulant properties.  There’s even a genetically engineered rennet available.  Me, I use both vegetative and stomach-based rennets, both work, but there’s a taste difference in some cheesses.  And lactic acid fermentation:  quickly, this is the aging process all milk and milk products and even pickles and kimchi and sauerkraut undergo with time.

Blue cheese, molding up nicely

On leaving the nest

It’s a somewhat sad day around here because the goat kids are going to their new home.  The family who is taking all three are also taking all the turkey poults that we’re not keeping.  Lots, lots of babies going away, flying the nest…it’s freeing but still slightly heartbreaking, especially regarding the kids.

I/we fed Chip, the bottle baby, four bottles a day then three bottles a day then two bottles a day then one bottle a day until just this morning.  Mama goat has mostly weaned the other two but sometimes they ambush her at night.  Considering they’re all the size of your average Dalmatian, it’s hard for her to constantly fight them off.  They’re all old enough and big enough to be completely weaned, so this move will only be a physical shift for them to make.

Of course for me this means my chore list has shortened and all that creamy white milk is mineminemine.  And I have been a cheesemaking fool, going a bit nutty with my (no kidding) 6 gallons of milk a week.  What’s another gallon or two now that I don’t have to feed Chip, or that T-bell’s not feeding the other kids?  I’ll tell you what:  two more gallons means 1.5 more pounds of cheese, added to the other 4 or so pounds.  Yum cheese yum.

I will miss my bottle baby though.  He was ONE creature in the extended farm family who was always glad to eat what I brought him.

On this week’s goat milk adventure

I bring you fudge!

Of the two books I have on using the products of one’s home dairy, I have teed off fairly roundly on the one, but I haven’t said anything about the other.  “The other” would be a slim spiral-bound book called, crazily, Goats Produce Too:  The Udder Real Thing, Cheese Making And More Volume II by Mary Jane Toth.  Once I got beyond the utter church-ladies-recipe-book style of  the thing in both format, tone and (frankly) badly written instructions, I have decided that the late Mary Jane Toth is my hero in all things dairy.  (Deep bow.)

The fudge was a start.

Don’t judge a book by its cover says the nag in my head.  Surely, there’s plenty of appeal to Ricki Carroll’s book: it’s glossy, there are 75 recipes in it, plenty of pictures and how-to’s and it’s gone through the hands of an editor and a graphic designer but goodness you get to a recipe, get all excited to make it and realize DUH you don’t have the one thing needed to make the cheese happen:  and in 74 of 75 cases that one thing is something she’s glad to sell you.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this.  It just means 1.  I should really read the recipe closely and 2.  I should continue the idea that my cheese will continue to cost me money in terms of ordering the stuff to make it.

But Ms Toth’s book is refreshing, despite its lack of panache.  It’s totally commonsensical.  And:  you don’t need to pay her a dime to make cheese, or anything else dairy-related.  In point of fact, you can get many of her recipes for free on the internet, and most of the needed ingredients right out of your refrigerator (yogurt as thermophilic starter, buttermilk as mesophilic).

Incidentally, I have never made fudge before.  It was tasty, and chewy…or I should say “is” because I am sure it will take us weeks to eat it all!

On growing goats

Number 3, 1, and 2, or, Chip, Skip and Kip

Our goat kids are two months old today!  And they’re growing like weeds.

Two up,  one down, and Mama looking for an exit

Do you know how hard it is to take photos of them?  It’s nearly impossible.  Please make do with these; they’re rather fast moving targets.

Wow: they’re standing still

They’re rambunctious for sure, and ready to go to their new home.  The family who is taking them will also take some of our turkey poults when they hatch (Ruby is sitting on 19 eggs at last count…hopefully I will have a few to spare), so the babies will be with us for another week or two.

And:  we met their replacement this weekend!  Yes, we’re actually trading three boys for a girl, such is the value of dairy doelings in the world.  I am sorry I didn’t take photos, she’s adorable, having just been born on the 21st.  You’ll see plenty of pictures of her soon enough, though.

On first cheeses

Well, my first cheesemaking experiment with home-grown milk was successful.

I started simple.  At my first tasting of it (a chevre, which is a fresh “farmhouse” style cheese) I was so very surprised how normal it tasted.  Hey, this tastes like goat cheese!  I guess I can say I was surprised at my reaction, as, well, it was a goat I got the milk from and everything.  But home gardeners know well this shift in expectation that I was anticipating:  the homegrown is so much different than the stuff you buy at the store, shipped from who knows where.  Vive la difference! I anticipated this cheese to taste wildly different, too.

Granted, my benchmark wasn’t the carageenan-thickened grocery store gunk but a local cheese purveyor’s chevre:  her stuff is awesome.  When the timing is right, she tops her cheese with fennel pollen and some lavender buds, ya-yum.

chevre with finely minced chives, marjoram, parsley and thyme; I also made straight ricotta from the whey and my cider vinegar

But of course the engineer in me wants to fiddle with the process.  Okay, cheesemakers out there:  let’s come up with edible cheesecloth.  My goodness how much of that good cheese gets stuck to the cloth!  I used butter muslin and then a synthetic muslin on the ricotta, both stuck after dripping dry for nearly 24 hours.  Sigh.  Any takers?

The pots are out! Is it canning season already?

Actually, no.  What’s begun?  Cheesemaking Season!

bubble hiss bubble hiss

But what Cheesemaking Season requires of me first is a whole bunch of culture-making.  Thus, Monday night saw many pots on the boil, some to make buttermilk, some to make fresh starter, some to make thermophilic starter*. Oh, and one held the milk for the week’s yogurt, too.  I wonder how I thought those two gallons of milk would be all for me?  They’re not!  It’s all for The Greater Cheesemaking Cause.

I am really glad the girl decided that tonight, of all nights, she’d go to bed early.  I love having her around but multitasking isn’t something I do well if I am attempting something new.  And new-to-me things like a whole mess of cheese prep means I am all tense between the shoulderblades, fussing around, clucking like a mother hen as to is this right?  did I do this right? when my normal modus operandi is a lot more…chill.  I hate that tight feeling!  Luckily, the gods of yeast clued our ancestors in to create a cure:  it’s called a glass of wine.  I honor their creation by taking a sip and I think, well, centuries of cheesemakers’ kitchens weren’t as clean as mine, what’s my worry?

With luck this process will go more smoothly than my fussing around tonight.

I do have a lot of dairy goodness ahead of me, though.  Getting used to the new routine will be interesting.  And then there’s goat’s milk soap, kefir, etc. etc. to make…

*why bother with all the starters?  Well, it bugs me to no end, the idea that I have to be beholden to some company or another to supply me the goods to actually make something.  Can’t I d.i.y.?  And what would Ma Ingalls do?  Indeed.  It just takes planning and prep work, like tonight.  And buying someone’s starters, then multiplying them for future use.  Considering this is all a grand experiment, I would rather go through the process and THEN tell you how successful it all is.  That’s only fair; no sense your repeating my mistakes, no?

On home-grown milk

Our first quart JUST FOR US

So, T-bell birthed three babies on 27 February.  I have consumed exactly two cups of the milk since then.

This is not unusual.  There are two big reasons for this:  one, triplets, and two, one rejected baby.  So I have been milking her since the 27th, two times a day…and saving all the milk to give to the little mostly white baby, Number Three.  The other two have all the milk they want from Mama.  Even though Alpines are the Holsteins of the goat world (super milkers in other words) she’s only recently been able to exceed demand.

Any mammal has what’s called a “lactation curve.”  If you plot the actual production on a chart, the top of the curve happens when the nursing babies are the biggest.  This top of the bell in goats should happen when the kids are about two months old.  Kids left with their mamas all the time will milk for many more months, beyond their “need” for the milk.  Their true “need” kind of ends when they’re able to tolerate eating what mama does (and thus get their caloric needs met):  browse (weeds, branches) and pasture-grazing, dried mixed hay, garden stuff, and grains in the form of goat chow.  As of the first week of life, they’re already experimenting with hay.  By week two, they were eating greenhouse goodies with T-bell.  Now, at nearly five weeks, they’re out on the pastures for most of the day with her, eating, playing, pooping and sleeping in the sun.

And Number Three rejected part of the bottle last night.  (Hooray!)

One should wean the babies by weight, not the calendar…especially with triplets.  However, these guys are getting quite big.  They should be able to move to their new home when they’re a little over two months old.  Then, ALL the milk is mine! (rubs hands together greedily).  There’s no telling how much it will be, but it should be somewhere around a gallon a day.  At this two month mark, I will be tricking her lactation hormones that there are two month old babies that still need to be fed, so…she should stay at that top of the bell for a while. Eventually, her production will wane, but by next 27 February, she’ll still be producing.

On spring busy-ness

Entirely too busy to post, so…thought I would show you the kids:  all four of them!

Are you kidding? or, The babies are coming!

The girl giving half-hour old #2 a bit of a hug.  That’s #3 to the left and #1 behind her.

Our goat girl’s due date was 26 Feb., but they can be born five days either side of that date.  I wouldn’t say I was a terribly nervous goat midwife*:  there are signs, I kept telling myself, and she’s done this before. So I knew we’d just have to watch and wait.

And wait.  After a while, I felt like a goat stalker!  Every two hours I would come through the door.  Every two hours she would just be as she always is, standing there looking out her window at the garden, chewing her cud, and looking quizzically at me:  “You, again?  What, is it snack time already?”

Her udder CAN’T get bigger, I said, when it hit bowling-ball size.  Then it got to be basketball-sized.  Then bigger.

Labor took about six hours.  Of course the first one was born when I had dashed into the house for yet another towel.  Our daughter was on duty, though: “Hi baby!  What a cute little thing!  Mama, I saw it come out!” and she had.

Birth is a messy business, but this was not nearly as messy as I had been led to believe.  And quick.  Exciting, and fun.   Miraculous, and so very mundane.

“Mama, I want to be a vet,” she said, as she gave #1 a bit of a bottle last night

*My duties were simply to wipe the babies off when they arrived, and get them pointed in the direction of dinner.  And call the vet if something went awry.

Happy Birthday!

Our goat girl had three healthy babies today, Sat., 27 Feb., at 8:30 p.m.

And they’re all break-your-heart cute!

On appropriate technology

New milk stand with recycled materials:  reused 1x4s, old metal base from the basement’s concrete washtubs, and our daughter’s old table’s top.  It is wider than it needs to be:  I intend to sit on it to milk her.  “Scootch over, sister!”

I got an interesting technology request the other day from a reader.

She’s trying to do more things herself, whether it’s growing or preserving or just looking at lifestyle choices.  Considering that many people reading this blog are on a similar path, I must mention that where she is making this quest is a little different:  it’s in a now-peaceful, war-ravaged country, and she’s not completely at home in the language.  She doesn’t have the liberty of being able to choose which big-box store to shop in for her greenhouse plastic or her canning jars or gardening equipment.  She can’t just go to the local library to read up on these things.  And simply ordering goods over the internet is not exactly something one can do in a not-fully-operational state.  Even considering her circumstances, though, there are many parallels we can draw to our own quests:  sometimes it’s money that’s the limit, sometimes it’s time, sometimes, it’s know-how.  But always, we should consider what’s appropriate.

The great equalizer, thankfully, is the internet!  So much information found “out there,” some of dubious value certainly, but if you have your own bullsh*t-o-meter pretty highly tuned, you can find some gems.  What I recommended to her is that she’s got the great good fortune to be living in an area that’s not as cold as Michigan (!) so there is a lot open to her, greenery-wise.  You don’t need a lot of technology to grow your own food:  a hoe, a shovel, maybe a garden fork and a decent hand tool can be found in any corner of the globe.  Seeds are cheap.  And compost happens everywhere….even north of the arctic circle.

So grow more of your own, and try to grow it year-round.  Build your own cold frame or greenhouse to extend the season.  Use scraps!  There’s no shame at all in recycling; you’re making a better environmental choice by reusing what you can find.  My first cold frame was a transparent plastic sweater box, frankly, the first winter I lived here:  that’s where I sprouted my first salads and hardened off my tomato plants.  And you don’t need to can things if you can try to figure out a way of growing year-round.  Swear off tomatoes for half a year if you have no way of preserving them, but…drying the small ones is something most people can do in their ovens or on the roofs of their buildings in the summer sun.  Pickling, lacto-fermenting, and salt-curing are other methods of preserving one’s harvest.  As is a root cellar:  that could simply be a box in your basement or garage, it doesn’t need to be a proper cellar.

I think so much of this…whatever it is I am doing (homesteading? DIY?) is simply a mindshift.  I could not duplicate what I was eating before, so I switched our diet.  (I can no longer walk to get sushi, for example, or a cappuccino, or that delivered-to-my-door CSA, or get Thai food delivered; but I can get fresh eggs and fruit and garden produce.)  It’s not the same; it’s different.  And it takes longer, and I have less time.  (I am a parent now too so I’m dividing that time pie into pretty thin slices, come to think of it.)  But I am far happier for learning these new skills, for choosing to live this life, financial challenges, failed harvests, blisters and all.

Here’s a few sources of decent information:

The only thing I had to buy was the hook and eye to keep the head gate locked.  This was her maiden voyage so I hadn’t set the eye yet.  Appropriate technology:  no milking machine, just me and a bucket and a milk stand.  Oh and a goat!

Goat coat!

Farmyard fashion.  Caprine couture.  Goat glam.  Dairy duds.  Ruminators’ raiment.  You get it.

On getting one’s (pregnant) goat

Forever, it seems, I have wanted to own a couple of goats.  I have always considered them singular creatures, intelligent and goofy at the same time, regal and clown-ish.  Dairy goats figure in quite well with small farms like ours, too.  Their needs are few yet their byproducts are many (bedding for the compost, milk for us, and kids to sell or to add to the herd).  Unlike sheep, goats don’t think you’re always going to kill them; unlike cows, you don’t need acres of pasture for their sustenance; unlike non-draft horses, goats are actively contributing members of the small farmstead.  T-bell is a friendly, happy soul, and I feel terribly lucky to have her.

I found her on Craigslist, if you can believe it.

Our goat girl is a sundgau-colored French Alpine.  She’s kidded before, twice; both times unassisted…in point of fact, she kidded before the family could get there in time to assist her: her kids were there in the straw!  She is in every way very much what they call “an easy keeper.”  I found a housecall-making vet who specializes in goats and sheep and she has confirmed that T-bell is in great shape, AND pregnant (yay!).  And, the vet confirmed she’s free of a certain disease that is fairly common in dairy goats…this was a big concern of mine, as it would require that I sterilize the kids’ milk (it seems convoluted, but I will milk her to bottle-feed her kids).  Heating colostrum (first milk) is tricky because it wants to turn into caramel!  (No disease = no need to pasteurize the milk.)

At her previous home, she spent much of her time indoors, so her coat is not as thick as those hardy Michigan goats kept outdoors.  Like people, they’ll avoid going out into the snow if they can help it…wouldn’t you?  Anyway, my vet and I were concerned.  Her new home is draft-free, but it’s an unheated, concrete-floored shed.  She’s in deep bedding in her pen but we figured a little goat coat wouldn’t hurt.  And my mother-in-law loves to sew.  (Oh:  and the kids will need coats for their first week or so…depending upon the weather.)

Look at the header to see how much plumper she’s getting

She’s due Feb. 26th.

All my dabbling in cheesemaking will soon find some purpose.  And the gardens can’t wait, frankly, for the additions of this great bedding…just think how I’ve doubled my compost quantity by adding one animal.  And I keep having dreams, too, about the birth.  My daughter thinks she’ll have four kids.  Two is more like it, but, well…let’s hope for at least one little doeling!

It’s all about the poop you know

On the other reason to get a greenhouse

World events can rock you pretty hard, but surprisingly so can little things like crummy weather.  I’m telling you:  weeks of snow and no sunshine can mess with even stalwart seasonal affective disorder naysayers like me.  All that bright snow outdoors, which otherwise perks up the darkest day, can wear you down!

Enter, sunshine.  Time to run out to the old greenhouse for some personal light therapy.

Doesn’t look very bright and cheery, but it was 75 degrees in there.  Can you find Penny?

May as well throw back the covers to see what’s growing.  Here, mache has self-seeded and is crowding out the resident lettuces.

Here’s a closeup of the mache.  I couldn’t help but nibble.

And speaking of nibbling, I might as well bring some of the greenhouse’s celery to the bunnies.  I wonder if our heretofore picky goat T-bell might like to try some.

Hmm:  what do you have here?  Hey, that’s rather tasty…

Burp!  (Excuse me!)

Looks like the bunnies will need another bundle.  And:  I feel a lot better.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and be sure to support The International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent or find out how else you can help through The Center for International Disaster Information.

On making do with what’s available

Had we moved to a “regular” farm (you know, the one in your imagination:  turn-of-the-last-century farmhouse with big red barn, tall silo, chicken shack, smokehouse, big fenced pastures, etc.), owning many kinds of farm animals would have been a natural thing.  But we moved to a fruit farm.  Fruit farms aren’t all that heavy on outbuildings.  In fact, all that remains in your mind’s eye about our place is the big old farmhouse.  What few outbuildings there are here were specifically used for fruit processing and storing tools…and now house cars and the lawn tractor just fine, thank you.  Housing chickens, pigs, the family milk cow were secondary concerns to the original owners.

Luckily, our chosen animals aren’t terribly picky.  Goats, in particular, just want a dry place to flop down.

Wait:  Did she just say “goats?”

Doesn’t everyone have a goat in the back seat of their old hatchback?  Yes, we were humming the themes of Green Acres and Beverly Hillbillies as we drove down the highway.

Meet our newest critter, an Alpine doe.  She’s a 4 year old family milker.  And:  she’s due to have kids on Feb. 21st.  And:  she’s living, with the rabbits, in my potting shed!  Whee!

On getting one’s goat


Or not.

We’ve decided to put off becoming dairy goat owners for a year.  The reason?  The economy.

Yea, verily:  Who’d have thought that goat-owning would be a casualty of the economic downturn, but frankly we cannot make the numbers work for this year.  Like many other people, we’re in the unenviable position of [freaking out] about what 2009 holds for us.  We’ve decided to invest, instead, in some needed and unavoidable farm repairs.  Yes, for this year, things like Roof For Garage trump Cute Nubian Goats.  Totally unfun, but then again, we already own the garage, etc., so it makes sense to take care of one’s current investments.

_dsc0977Where’s The Child?  Here she is, playing with 18 pregnant Nubian does

In a sense, it’s a bit of a relief that we’ve made this decision.  There is a lot of work to be done before we get one (shed, fencing), and now we’ve got the time to check these things off our list.

I’m a bit disappointed, I will admit.  We are, however, doing all we’re doing with the long view in mind:  I will instead be very excited this time next year.  Hopefully.

_dsc0942Aren’t they the cutest things?

On soft cheeses

img_9342Newly-kneaded mozzarella

One of my biggest problems, and one which I will probably never rectify, is a certain…chutzpah borne of the oft-repeated statement/question below:

“Well, how hard can THAT be?”

I utter it so often (aloud and otherwise) that it’s become something of a life statement.  I’ll tell you something, though:  certain cheesemaking is hard to do.  And then I recall my first rock-hard loaves of bread baked some 25 years ago and think, well, getting good at breadmaking was hard to do too.  Practice, practice, practice.  That, and ignore your inner naysayer.

img_9354Lemon juice ricotta

Cheesemaking from fresh milk yields surprisingly little cheese.  Whey is the bigger byproduct, but whey is some mighty good stuff.  I use the whey, generally, in three ways:  in breadmaking, in animal feed, and in lacto-fermented things like pickles, kimchee and krauts.  It’d be kind of a pity to throw this gold liquid down the drain, or even into the compost.  The farmyard poultry get their grains soaked in it overnight before eating it.

img_9351No way:  wheeey

But yeah, I’ve been making lots of dairy goodies here lately.  I’ve been practicing to become a milkmaid.  Having a home-based dairy:  well, how hard can that be?