July 2011


Last weekend, we hosted our first Farm Day.  We have attended similiar events at other farms, and once we moved out here and then realized how interested folks were, we decided to host our own.  We would love to make it an annual event.  We had roughly 35 people show up, and tried to have farm-related activities and educational sessions throughout the day.  The biggest challenge was the fact that there was just S and I running the thing.  We really only had 1 or 2 volunteers to help out.  We had also hoped to have a lot more activities, but since we were funding it all out of pocket, we decided to save a few things for next year.  We hope to really improve on everything next year, based on what we learned this year.  I did recruit one volunteer, who I noticed happened to have brought a camera.  I asked him to please take some photos for us, since I had no one else to do it.  I later found out that he was a professional photographer by trade–and, I must say, a good one at that!  I was quite honored when he handed me a CD of the 300 or so photos he took of the day, complete with permission to post them here!  So, all the photos below were taken by Ted Mehl (http://abetterimagephotography.com/).  Thank you very much, Ted!!

The day started with JR helping park the traffic, and M greeting folks and handing out instructional flyers.  For our extra-shy little girl, it was great practice being independent and social.  I was very proud of her for giving it a great effort! 

Next introduced our visitors to our farm day chores.  First, a check of the nest boxes for eggs, followed by the “release of the hens” and a short session on keeping laying hens. 

 

I’m not sure who was more enthralled–the children witnessing all this for the first time, or the inquisitive parents wanting to learn all they could about coops, chicken housing, and having your own egg source.

Notice in the photo directly above that we put up pink twine.  One observation we have made is that, for some reason, kids like to chase chickens.  We decided to create “safe zones” for the chickens, so we roped off their two favorite areas–the coop on one end of the yard, and their favorite set of bushes on the other end of the yard.  Except for this one time, when we invited those interested inside the ropes to help release the hens, the area was off-limits for the children.  Any chickens not in a safe zone were fair game (no, we did NOT announce that!). It actually worked surprisingly well, and I never found anyone in the roped off areas. The chickens never seemed stressed at all, and, to the contrary, the older layers were often found begging the kiddos for tidbits of food.

Next on the agenda was the morning goat milking.  Because we always have people who want to actually try milking, I decided to limit the invite to 4 adults (2 per goat), AND, they had to practice on a glove first.  I had done some experiementing, and found that a rubber glove with the fingers slightly altered, then loosely filled with water, actually required the same type of squeezing technique as milking a real udder. After discussing the ins-and-outs of milking (as I have learned them), I brought out Lilac.  One volunteer jumped at the chance to milk her.  Then, it was Sara’s turn, and I had 2 volunteers try to milk her.  I finished milking both while answering questions and talking a bit about goat housing and nutrition.

Some children got a little bored during the adult Q&A, so S had JR take them into the goat pen to play with Lilly.  They loved the hands-on, and so did Lilly! 

After the milking was complete, I invited interested parties to join me in the house to bottle-feed the baby bunnies.  I allowed a few of the most interested children to assist me with this unique chore.

Then, we moved on to making some vinegar cheese and yogurt. 

While the milk heated for the cheese and yogurt, we discussed some of the health aspects of this lifestyle, raw milk and raw milk products, food preservation, and other nutritious homemade foods.  People were so curious and full of questions, I wound up pulling out whatever I had in stock and passing around for folks to sample–raw milk, fresh yogurt, chevre’, homemade fermented granola cereal, and even freshly dehydrated herbs.  I was again very surprised at how many people eagerly tried everything! 

Finally, it was time for a short devotional that would lead us into the potluck lunch hour.  S had prepared a lesson on the story of our personal journey, and what we had learned about the Biblical principals involved in our current lifestyle choices.  He discussed how and when God had given humans permission to eat different types of food, how he expected the land to be managed, and how work is a good thing.  Some of these were principles we only recently began to understand, as we had started studying it during our own family worship times.  Most of our visitors that day seemed very interested to learn some of these facts themselves.  I can only hope it drove them to pull out their Bibles and study the principles for themselves!

We attempted to make even the lunch itself a bit unique, by cooking up a batch of goat and a batch of rabbit meat for people to try.  Most of it was eagerly devoured!  After lunch, S had planned to harvest a selection of animals for anyone who was interested in learning about harvesting home-grown meat.  We had devised what we thought would be a great plan for crowd control, and set up the harvesting stations inside our back-yard brooder pen.  We thought it would be a good, private location where those not interested wouldn’t have to see what was happening, and the fence itself would keep curious youngsters away from the knives and blood.  As it turned out, though, EVERY person that came to Farm Day wanted to watch, and many wanted to experience it hands on!  S demonstrated the poultry killing, and then allowed another guy to actually do one.  Then, we allowed volunteers to come in the pen and help with the plucking.  Even some of the more squeamish ladies and teens decided to at least give it a go and take advantage of the opportunity.  

It was great fun as a parent of youngsters, watching JR and M really step up to demonstrate, instruct, supervise the plucking.  It was so rewarding to see them taking an ownership and a great amount of pride in the work being done on the “their” farm. 

Once the harvest was over, with the result of 1 turkey, 2 chickens, and a rabbit in my freezer, the Farm Day officially ended.  Most folks asked a few more questions before heading out.  With the day over, clean up began.  Exhausted as we were, though, we really felt like God had given us a real opportunity to give others a chance to learn about and experience firsthand, a part of His grand design for this beautiful land.  We all had a great time hosting, and pray that our visitors had a great time participating. 

In closing, here are a few more random pictures of Farm Day 2011:

Before I got my goats and started milking, I took a short class on how to milk and make several common cheeses.  One cheese was called “Chevre'”, which turned out to be Vinegar Cheese, one was Mozerella, and one was Ricotta.  Later, depending which book or internet site I was reading, the definition of “Chevre'” varied.  Some resources called any goat cheese Chevre’, while others said Chevre’ was saved for certain soft cheeses, and still others said Chevre’ was technically a French cheese made from a very specific culture.  I even talked with experienced goat-keeper Tonia via Facebook, who had heard similiar definitions, and made me even more determined to get to the bottom of it. Just what was the real meaning of Chevre’?

It just so happens, we are sponsoring a U.S. Air Force Academy semester exchange cadet from Canada.  He is a French-Canadian (and comes complete with the really cool French language and thick accent when he speaks English!), from the Quebec province, and his family has traveled to France often.  I figured he would be a good starting point.  So I asked him.  He said in France and Quebec, the term is used when referring to any type of cheese made from goat’s milk, though there may still be some elite French groups that use it to refer to specific cheeses. 

My next step was the dictionary, but Webster’s didn’t list the word.  Perhaps because it is French and not English?  Then I tried online, and discovered online definitions list it simply as “cheese made from goat’s milk.”  During that research, I came across a website with all sorts of info on French cheeses and goat cheeses.  It stated that Chevre’ simply means “goat” in French, and a cheese with the label “Pur Chevre'” means the cheese is made entirely from goat’s milk.  Because of the nature of goat’s milk, it generally is associated with a soft, crumbly cheese, but can get harder and tangier with age.  (FYI, here is the site I got a lot of info:  http://www.cheese-france.com/cheese/chevre.htm).

So, I think I have finally answered the question for myself.  My husband says I think way too much.  He will get a laugh out of this.  I don’t think he had any clue just how much this was bugging me!  Then again, I think he knows I have issues. 

In closing, let me give you what has become my favorite Chevre’ recipe, commonly known as Vinegar cheese.  It’s my current favorite, due to it’s versatility, ease and speed of making, and the compliments I often receive:

Basic Chevre:

  • 1/2 gallon of raw goat’s milk
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar

Heat the milk to 180′ F, stirring occasionally.  Turn off heat, and add vinegar, pouring in a swirl pattern to help incorporate it.  Gently mix justa  few times with a spoon, using a slow up-and-down action, to fully incorporate the vinegar.  Do not stir!  You should see the milk curds and whey begin to seperate almost immediately.  Wait 1-2 minutes.  Line a large bowl with a flour cloth.  Pour milk mixture into the cloth-lined bowl.  Tie the flour cloth at diagonal corners, and lift out of bowl.  The whey should immediately start draining out into the bowl, leaving only the curds in the cloth.  Wait until cloth stops dripping (usually about 20-30 minutes).  For a drier, harder cheese, wait a bit longer, occasionally checking the cheese until the desired firmness. 

Once desired firmness is reached, use a spatula to scrape cheese off cloth and into a seperate bowl.  Use your hands to mix desired seasonings into the cheese.  Serve immediately or chill.  FYI, my favorite seasoning so far is 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and 1 tsp Italian seasoning herbs.  There is no limit as to what you can use though–fruits, nuts, sauces, herbs, etc.  Enjoy!

3 year old A is turning into quite the little boy.  He is also forming his own opinions now, rather than simply agreeing with everyone else.  This morning for snack time, I gave the children some smoothie popsicles I made and froze yesterday.  A took a lick of his and said, “Ooooh, Mommy, this is freezing!  We need to put it in the microwave!”

After we returned from Red Gate Farm, I decided it was time to fully wean Lilly from Sara, and really focus on improving Sara’s health.  (You can read about her original issues when we first got her, here, and about her improvements a couple months later, here.)  Because she tends to be very nervous when away from other goats and I wanted to minimize her stress level, I built a new pen that was attached to the original.  Then, I seperated Lilly at night as usual, and put Sara and Lilac in with her in the daytime.  I gradually began taking Sara out earlier and earlier in the day, leaving Lilly and Lilac together.  After about 3 weeks, I stopped putting Sara in with them at all.  Now that they are semi-permanentaly seperated, I have been able to learn a bit more about Sara.

I just assumed the Lilac was being something of a bully and not letting Sara eat as much as I would like.  Once seperated though, I realized that Sara acts as though she has no appetite!  She refused to eat more than an occasional nibble.  So, I tried to examine all aspects of her health and what I have done with her so far.  The following are some conclusions I came up with:

When I got her, she had:

  • bent leg
  • solid, dog-like poop
  • rough, long hair coat
  • extra thin, despite being obviously pregnant
  • overgrown and misshapen hooves

My treatment plan, introduced gradually over 2 months, due to her pregnancy:

  • adding diatomaceous earth to her feed to act as a de-wormer
  • adding raw, organic, apple cider vinegar to her water weekly to aid in nutrient absorbancy
  • trimming her hooves on a 1-2 week basis
  • ensuring the goats had free-choice alfalfa pellets, grass hay, baking soda, and loose minerals at all times

3 months later:

  • legs totally straightened out
  • hooves drastically improved
  • hair coat shiny, but still long in most areas
  • poop increasingly normal goat-berries

At this point, Sara is acting like a normal, if timid and laid-back, goat.  She is alert, expressive, and is developing personality, which tells me she is likely free of common diseases (like “wasting” illnesses).  Her improved legs, hooves, and shinier coat, in addition to her approx. 3/4 gallon a day milk production tell me she is obviously getting SOME nutrition.  Her improved stools tell me that her digestive system is finally beginning to function more normally.  So, I feel safe ruling out major internal parasites and most nutrient deficiencies at this point.  That leaves me with the theory that she is just not a big eater.  How do you get a goat to eat when it doesn’t want to?

You can see she lacks the distinctive "wedge" shape of a healthy goat, and her hip and back bones are more apparent than they should be. But don't those front legs look great?!

 I bribed her with everything I could think of.  In addition to her free-choice grass hay, alfalfa pellets, baking soda, and minerals, I bribed with sweet molasses feed, dairy feed, sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and more.  If I was lucky, she would eat her 50/50 mix of organic dairy pellets and sweet feed at milking time, but over the weeks, she has gotten to where she only nibbles at it.  On a good day, she will eat most of her alfalfa pellets, but that’s about it.  Ideally, I would allow a goat in this situation to dry up, but Lilac is only producing around a quart a day now, so Sara is our main family milker.  I am, however, happy with the amount she is producing.  While I feel like she may be capable of a good bit more, I am not pushing for increased production until I get her health straightened out.  I do need to keep her current production though, in addition to getting some weight on her.

So, I decided to step it up a notch.  I decided I was going to make her an irresistable diet from scratch!  I consulted my books, and came up with a mixture of whole grains, rolled grains, seeds, and whole feed corn, with a bit of molasses to top it off.  I offered it to the other 2 goats, who promptly devoured it, giving me terrific ratings.  Sara, on the other hand, took one nibble and promptly spit it out!  She then turned her tail to me and walked off, leaving me baffled!  Next, I tried eliminating the whole grains and using only rolled grains, cracking the corn, and adding more molasses.  Again, I let Lilly and Lilac have a go, and they strongly approved.  Sara, took one sniff, and wanted nothing to do with it!  I decided to dump it into her feeder and see if she would eventually nibble at it.  A daylater, there it sat, along with whatever alfalfa pellets had gotten mixed in with it.  This wasn’t working! 

I consulted my books once again to see if I could find any symptom I was overlooking.  The ONLY thing I could even REMOTELY come up with was a possible iron deficiency–symptom often being a simple lack of appetite.  An easy herbal solution was parsley.  Then, today, I had an epiphany.  I remembered that when she did eat her grain, she seemed to have a preference for the non-sweet dairy pellets over the sweet feed.  So, I got a big cupful of my organic 9-grain rolled grains, didn’t add any molasses this time, but added a large handful of freshly-dried parsley, and took it out to the goat pen.  Sara took one sniff, and couldn’t get enough of it!!  YIPEE!  You can imagine how I would have jumped for joy had it not been for the baby Ergo-ed to my back.  I feared it might be a fluke, so I returned to the house, got about a pound of the grains, threw on a couple of handfuls of the dried parsley, and returned to Sara.  I let her have one nibble, then proceeded to mix it into the grain and alfalfa concoction she already had in her feeder.  She immediately started chowing down. 

I am so excited that I finally seem to have found something she will eat!  I am hoping maybe her appetite will be related to something as simple as another nutrient deficiency, and that it can be corrected shortly.  I like low-maintence animals, and so far, Sara is hardly that!  She has, however, been a tremendous learning experience so far, and I have a few other things I plan to add to her diet over the next couple weeks, so we’ll see how it all goes.

I’ve noticed that the more homemaking skills I have gained, and the longer I have done them, the more people seem to have this notion that my cooking is perfect, my house is spotless, and I just know how to do everything that we do.  HA!  If anything, my skills (and occasional lack thereof) have made for some very entertaining conversations once the crowds have cleared.  Don’t believe me?  Maybe this will convince you….

This weekend, we hosted a Farm Day, where a crowd of about 40 folks showed up to learn about what we do out here.  One of the events involved me teaching them how to make vinegar cheese–a very simple, can’t go wrong, soft goat cheese. I have been making this cheese for months, and have NEVER failed or made a bad batch.  Until Saturday, of course, when 25 people were gathered around my counter to watch!  I had a volunteer actually making the cheese, and after pouring in the vinegar,  I forgot to mention that she was only to gently swirl the vinegar into the cheese, NOT vigorously stir it.  Before I knew it, she was stirring away, and, of course, the cheese completely flopped.  After trying everything I could think of to save my full gallon of milk, I still had something that looked like yogurt.  At least the chickens enjoyed it!

Oh, and then there’s the bread.  I have been making our bread from scratch for about 3 years now.  I have used many different recipes, re-learned the skill each time we moved to a different altitude, and certainly had my fair share of useless bricks.  Yesterday, however, due to an unexpected series of circumstances, I made what turned out to be the 3 ugliest loaves of bread in my bread-making history! 

At least the bread was edible, even if very crumbly and dense.  I’ll at least get some bread crumbs to freeze out of it.  I’m not always so lucky in other areas:

  • I have never in my life prepared a full batch of pancakes without blackening at least 30% of them!
  • I can’t make a moist roast if my life depends on it!
  • I have yet to make a pot of porridge without scorching the bottom.

OK, I think I’ll stop before I insult myself too much and become afraid to make dinner for my family and our guest. 

In any case, my whole point to this post is to hopefully enourage you.  If you think cooking from scratch is too intimidating, know that perfection may well be impossible without years of schooling and practice.  Add in a few children and normal home distractions, and I can probably guarantee you that EVERYTHING you cook will NOT come out perfect!  However, if you are willing to accept a few not-so-great meals in the learning process (and even after), you CAN learn to cook wholesome, healthy, and nutritious foods, and you can bet that eventually, MOST of them will turn out pretty good ( we call it “guest-worthy” around here).  So, if there’s something you have been wanting to learn, but have been putting off, just go for it!  If nothing else, at least you can know you tried!

Speaking of trying, I’ll end on a good note, with a photo of our first, home-grown, home-dressed, and home-cooked, fresh turkey.  It turned out absolutely DELICIOUS!

At roughly 20 lbs, he almost didn't fit in my casserole dish. I think it's time to invest in a good roasting pan!

I have a number of local readers, so I thought I would let you know:

Instead of trying to find room in our freezer for our last turkey, we thought we’d offer him for sale first.  Now is your chance to share our delicious, homegrown meat for a lower-than-retail price.  Here is my Craigslist sales pitch about the turkey:

“We have an extra Broad Breasted Bronze tom turkey available.  Our others dressed out around 20 pounds 2 weeks ago, so he is likely to be slightly bigger than that.  He is right at 4 months old, and has been raised as naturally as we could manage.  Since we got him at 4 days old, he has not been exposed to any antibiotics, hormones, or medications.  We used a regular course of diatomaceous earth to deworm (safe and completely natural) and a periodic treat of fresh, raw, goat yogurt as a digestive probiotic.  He has been housed often free-ranging our farm during the day, eating the bugs and plants God designed him to love, and penned in a clean, safe, extra large pen at night.  He has had lots of room to run around, flap those beautiful bronze wings, and could choose whether to bed down at night inside a large shelter with a deep layer of straw, or roosting on the shelter roof outside (usually his preference).  This turkey has had a great life.  He is being sold alive and well, and you can take him home like that, or we can help/show you how to dress him.  If you’ve never had fresh, healthy, naturally raised turkey, you are missing out!  They are packed with natural, rich flavor, and I can offer tips on cooking if desired.  Lots of people settle for organic, but this is far beyond organic!” 

Ok, I’m done.  I confess, I’m a little tired of plucking birds, so we are trying to sell this one.  If you are used to Wal-Mart $.69/lb Butterballs, then you don’t know what you are missing!  These naturally grown, flavor-packed,”beyond organic” guys can sell for upwards of $100 in the retail world, so we are offering him for a steal (we are new at this, after all).  Best of all, rather than having been raised in a polluted-air, medicated-feed, sunless CAFO environment, then destroyed and frozen for long periods of time prior to your purchase, you can see first hand where he was raised, and, if you know us personally, then you know how we value and treat each of our animals in such a way that they are happy and thriving until the very end. 

If you are interested, you can e-mail me directly at crmemory2 (at) yahoo.com

I have finally gotten the page of resources and links done, that I had promised you months ago!  (You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?)  Be sure to check it out, and if I need to add anything, let me know so I can check it out!

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