Category Archives: dairy goats

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?