October 2012


I finally did it!!  I met a goal I’ve had all year!  I made my first batch of goat milk soap!

My first bar of All-Natural Goat’s Milk Soap! It smells delicious!

My awesome, hunky farmer made me a beautiful soap mold box, with an adjustable insert to use for smaller batches.  It also has a removable front end with a cutting slot, so I can make perfect, equally sized bars.  We also researched the design, and it seemed the thickness of the wood helps hold in heat to encourage proper gelling of the soap, and then, to cool a too-hot batch, you simply removed the lid.  I love it already, and it worked beautifully!

The new soap mold. The center divider is removable and somewhat adjustable for different sized batches. The slot on the right side is a cutting guide, and the end piece on the right is removable to help remove the bars if necessary.

I used a simple goat-milk soap recipe, using coconut oil, olive pomace oil, goat milk, lye, castor oil, and vanilla fragrance oil.  My first possible mistake came when my milk/lye mixture was cooled quickly, and my oil mixture just wouldn’t cool!  I was so focused on preventing the lye from scalding the milk that I overheated the oils.  Eventually, after the book said the only problem was that it might trace too fast, I decided to go for it.  I combined the 2 mixtures, hand stirred until I thought my arm would fall off, then used the immersion blender to finish the job.

I took it to a light trace, added the castor oil, mixed it in, then added the vanilla oil, and mixed until a thick pudding consistency (too much trace, perhaps?), poured into the mold, smoothed it best I could, covered it, and waited 24 hours.

Spreading the traced soap into the saran-wrap-lined mold.

We noticed the box was REALLY warm for several hours, but by that evening, the mixture was already hard.  I waited a full 24 hours, then cut the soap block into bars.

Slicing the block into bars.

It seemed to have worked out.  I have nice, well-formed, solid bars, but one chipped a corner during cutting.  I also noticed a couple air holes in the bars, and the bottoms of most seem a little crumbly on the very corner edges.

The top bar shows the large chipped piece, the second bar shows the crumbled bottom edge and rough top, and the bottom bar shows an air hole.

I am ready to try again, but I’m wondering if you experienced soap makers see any specific areas that I should improve?

  • Is the severe chip of the top bar normal? If not, what is it indicative of?
  • Is the semi-crumbling seen at the bottom of some bars normal?  If not, what might I have done wrong?
  • Does it sound like I traced to much and should pour it thinner next time?  Notice the roughness/lumpiness of the top of the bars–it wasn’t easy to smooth out!
  • Should I try harder to make the oil and milk/lye temps match, or is that a big deal?
  • Are there any other suggestions for what I should be looking for as I go through the process?

ANY suggestions are greatly appreciated.  I just don’t know if I did it right since I don’t know what I’m looking for, and I can’t use it for at least 4 weeks!  In the mean time, I can’t wait to try a bar out in a few weeks!

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My oldest had a birthday almost a MONTH ago, and I have yet to post his photos!  It’s not as bad as one spring birthday we had, though, in which I never did get around to posting it.  Terrible, I know.  I’ll try to do better in the future.  Hopefully the old adage “better late than never” will help make this offense excusable.  Probably not.  Oh well, I’ll try anyway…..

JR turned 8 years old!  E-I-G-H-T!  I can’t believe it.  I know, I’ll probably say that every year as my oldest ages.  Things were a bit busy, so we weren’t able to have an official party for him as we’d hoped.  Thankfully, he is an awesomely easy kid to please, and is happy with about any option.  So, we decided to fit in a mini-celebration in the midst of a huge reunion S was in charge of, and allowed JR to pick a restaurant.  We had a lovely dinner, complete with deserts, then went home to open presents.

We had promised Nana and Grandpa (my parents) that they could watch, so we Skyped them when we got home, and she watched as he opened his gifts.  Here are a few photos from the evening:

Nana and Grandpa watching via Skype as JR receives his new planner for his rabbit business, which has gotten quite busy. Every kit we have is typically sold before weaning, and he keeps a waiting list of folks. I have to reserve rabbits with him if I want any for dinner!

JR modeling his new oilskin duster, perfect for farm work so his normal parka can stay clean for outings into town.

You can’t have a kid’s birthday without at least one cheap toy, so we got him a pogo-ball. We actually got M one also, so they can compete.

He got other gifts from the grandparents as well, but I forgot to take photos of those.  Remember I told you he was easy to please?  After the pretty decent birthday celebration we thought we had given him, his absolute, very, most long-awaited, favorite gift of all came just this week–his first loose tooth!  He has his father’s slow-to-develop genetics, and the dentist had predicted it would be sometime late this fall.  He was right on!  Not only did JR get one loose tooth, but this morning, the second one is loose as well!  He may lose both bottom fronts close together.  They are gonna go out with a bang!  We are trying to convince him to let us tie his teeth to his remote control 4-wheeler and drive them away, but so far, he hasn’t let us 😉

We have become quite adept at temporary things, thanks to all our years in the military.  I have never lived in the same house longer than 5 years, 3 being average, and 2 being most common during my married years.  Re-use, recycle, and go cheap–it’s kind of our motto in life.

I have handmade curtains that have hung on walls, windows, and door frames.

We have recycled sheets to serve as doors and customized curtains.  Last year, S prided himself on building almost every wooden structure on the farm–rabbit cages, chicken coop, goat shed, etc. with only recycled or scrap lumber.  Our most brag-worthy contraption started out as a dog agility a-frame we built and used for Will back in the day when I had only 2 kiddos.

This isn’t mine, but similiar. Mine was a bit narrower, and painted blue and yellow instead. I just never bothered to take a pic of it. I borrowed this photo from here

After the next move, it was disassembled and re-assembled into a sandbox for the kids.

When we moved again, it was disassembled and reassembled yet again to become a toy storage box/hiding place for the back deck.

Finally, when we moved out here, it was re-assigned as a recycle-storage container.  It’s still going strong, but I think it will stay here in CO when we move.  It is pretty ugly by now!

In any case, we also learned how to build a popular type of temporary, but highly functional farm structure.  We have received many comments on it by visitors, so I figured I’d post about it, in the event any of you hadn’t seen one yet.  The structure can be as complex or as simple as you want to make it, but depending on your local laws, because it is temporary, you may not need any type of permit to build it.  The basic foundation consists of posts, wire cattle or hog panels, and a covering of some sort.

First, decide your need, and whether you need side coverage to go all the way to the ground or not.  In our case, we needed it to store hay, and only needed top and partial side coverage.  We have rain and snow, but not too much wind at ground level.  The largest bale we put in was going to be 8 feet across, so, with about a 2 foot overhang on each side, we needed the shelter to be 12 feet wide.

Second, you pound posts into the ground.  We chose to use standard t-posts to make it very temporary.  Ours literally has to last one winter.  You could use wooden posts for a more stable, solid structure.  We spaced the t-posts 12 feet across from each other, and then on each side, we lined them up with spacing the same height as the panels we were using (4 foot high panels = 4 foot spacing between posts).

Third, you have to stabilize the posts.  We used an additional t-post as a diagonal brace, wired at the top and bottom for support of the main t-post.

A diagonal brace post is wired to the vertical support post.

The base of the 2 posts are also wired and tightened to increase stability.

Fourth, install the panels.  This is easier with 2-3 people.  Stand on either end of the panel, and walk toward each other, causing the panel to bow upwards as you walk.  When you reach the posts, wire the panel to the post at the desired height.  Again, for more permanent structures, you could use something more solid than wire, but this is all we needed.  Repeat this process, panel by panel.  With the exception of the corner posts, each post will have 2 panels wired to it.  To stabilize our panels, we then tied them together across the bow for a little support.  Another way to increase stability is to slightly overlap the panels, which we did a couple times.

Panels bow at the top, and we tied them together to increase stability.

Fifth, add your cover.  Many people build green houses by using clear, light filtering plastic sheeting.  We purchased a recycled billboard tarp and another heavy-duty tarp, just to try them both out.  The standard tarp was definitely easier to install thanks to the built in grommets.  We just tied it to the panels on all 4 sides.

Tarp with grommets tied to the panels.

The billboard tarp has more flexibility, which allows more options.  If you are so inclinced, you could put grommets on one.  Again, since ours is temporary, we just used some of S’s hardware clamps and brackets to hold it down.   Then, after a wind storm blew our tarp off and up into a tree, we added tension straps over the top, about every 10 feet to help keep it down.  It seems to be working great now.

A few steps we DIDN’T do, but you could, would be to create an animal-shelter by installing plywood along the inside length of the base of each side, and going up the same height as the animal.  This prevents animals ripping through the tarp or messing with the posts. I have seen others who custom designed a wall for each end to make it fully enclosed.  Just be cautious that some type ventilation is allowed, lest you wind up with condensation dripping all over you, your hay, or your animals.  Only your imagination will limit you.  However, with our basic and simple design, we can tear the whole thing down in about 30-45 minutes, and it will cover sufficiently for our needs.  You can see in the next photo that the sun and dry air here fades the hay around the edges, but just 1/2″ inside, the hay is still dry and bright green.  We like the ventitilation this shelter design allows.

It isn’t really pretty, but it’s cheap and practical.  With the purchase of the used t-posts and billboard tarp, some scrap wire, and a new tarp and panels, I think we built the whole 10×24′ structure for around $200.

You may have heard the “Does’ Secret Code of Honor.”  I know this is dealing with kidding, but I have decided they have a seperate, as-yet-unknown code of honor for breeding season as well!  You see, last year, in hopes of avoiding the crazy stories I’d heard about, I did an even crazier thing and bought a buck (go ahead, hold your nose and say “EEEEWWWW!” now).  Except for the putrid aroma that drifted throughout the neighborhood and caused all the neighbors within 1/2 mile radius to hate us, life was so easy when it came time for breeding.  The buck would stand on his side of the fence, while the does paced up and down their side of the fence, wagging their tails, crying for love.  Because of the double row of electric wire, no breeding could happen until I brought the doe over to the bucks pen for servicing.  It was the picture of controlled-breeding perfection.  I witnessed every breeding, every heat cycle, and was left with two satisfied goats when it was over, one of which went on to produce adorable babies 5 months later.

 

Then, the crazy buck ran out of does to breed at my house, and lost his mind trying to get to the does across the street.  He began jumping every fence and gate and overcoming every strand of hotwire we had on the place.  Thus, his last day here was spent literally tied to a tree to keep him away from the neighbors screaming girls, until the new owner could come and pick him up.  You can read more about our last few weeks here and here.

This year, I decided to do it the more common way.  First, I brought a cute little descendent of Elvis (the goat, not the singer) to stay for about 2 weeks, to fully cover Latte’s cycle window, and to hopefully figure out Faith and Joy’s cycle as they flirted through the fence.  Well, I made the not-so bright decision to house Latte with the buck, mainly so I didn’t have to worry about him pulling any of Stallion’s fence-jumping antics, risking my other does from getting bred by him.  Of course, this meant I never saw Latte get bred.  I can only hope for now.

Faith, on the other hand, was considered a success, as I no doubt witnessed her in full-on heat while he was visiting.  I marked the date, then, as her next cycle approached I watched her like a hawk.  On day 18, I took her to Stallion’s new home to be boarded for a few days.  (Wouldn’t you know, he is now comfortably housed behind a puny, little 3.5 foot fence, and stays put!  Blasted buck!)  Though the breeding wasn’t witnessed, all signs pointed to her having been bred the next morning.  Stallion was all over her, and then by that afternoon, he had lost interest completely.  And she smelled to high heaven like he had been all over her.  We left her for a total of 5 days, ensuring full-coverage of the expected cycle, then brought her home.

A few days later, she started becoming unusually talkative.  Over the next 2 days, she started talking with increasing decibels and frequency, until last night, she literally SCREAMED, frantically pacing her pen for a solid 30 minutes.  I went out to milk and feed as usual, and she was flagging her tail like crazy and literally threatening to mount me as I milked (thank goodness her head was nicely captured in the stand!).  She was acting like she was clearly in heat and looking for a buck.  Yet, it made no sense.  I double checked my calendar, and everything seemed right for her to have already been bred.  Then, I remember what happened last year.  SAME thing!!  She cycled every 3 weeks like clock-work until being accidentally bred when Stallion jumped that fence.  Then, EXACTLY 7 days later, she seemed to come back in heat, and allowed herself to be bred again.  Of course, she delivered a single, large doeling smack dab between the two due dates, so I don’t know which breeding caused her to conceive.  Now, this year, she seemed to be cycling in 3-week intervals, I am fairly certain she got bred, and exactly 7 days later, she acts in heat again.  Naturally this time, I didn’t have a vehicle to get her back to Stallion.  I am HOPING with severe intensity that, since the same thing happened both years, it is just early-pregnancy hormones throwing her for a loop, and maybe this will be her way of telling me she conceived.

Don’t be fooled by that innocent face–the little stinker!

UUUGGHH!  These goats can certainly drive a person crazy!!  They have human insanity down to a science!!  It only makes it worse this year that I am in such a rush to get them bred, so all babies are on the ground with enough time for me to get them registered before we move (required for tattoo and ID regulations for transporting interstate).  So, in order to attempt to bring some closure to the situation, I am going to pregnancy-test my goats this year.  Yup, you heard right.  I don’t have time to play this year.  I considered milking through, but with so many variables next year, I decided against it. Latte has hit her 30-day post-breeding mark, required for the test, and I have seen no signs of heat.  We will be drawing blood this weekend to submit for the test.  I will watch Faith 3 weeks from now, make arrangements if need be for her to return to Stallion, and preg-test her as soon as we pass the 30 day window for the suspected breeding.  Then, sometime in the middle of all that, I will be shipping Joy off to a buck to get bred.  I haven’t yet decided which one I want to use for her.  I also haven’t seen any signs of heat out of her yet, so I don’t have a clue when she’ll be ready.  Then, I have pretty much decided, I am buying a spring buckling to take back to the farm with us.  It will complicate things a little, trying to keep him seperated, though I plan to also keep most of kids/wethers next spring to help us clear land back at the farm.  Thus, he will have plenty of company.  Then, I will use him for breeding next fall, and then figure out what I want to do with him the following year.  I will pray that his smell will not be too intense come fall, and I will try to buy my neighbor’s affections with lots of eggs and whatever other farm surplus we can come up with.  Boy, come breeding season, you really have to pick your battles–with the main choice being between stinky bucks or crazy does!

Last year, we had to learn to work around a menace of a fox, who had a taste for our free-range chickens.  We lost a few, but between Athena, the donkeys, the kids playing, Will being outside, and other steps we took, we found a compromise that mostly protected our chickens.  At the same time, we always worried about our uncaged,”Hare-pen” rabbits, so we also took precautions there.  We installed fencing on the bottom of their pen as much to keep them from digging out as to keep a predator from digging in.  We also used the highest scrap fencing we had–about 5 feet high to be exact–as the perimeter fence.  Originally, we also hot-wired the outside of the fence at dog-nose height.  Over time, though, we never had any trouble with the fox getting rabbits, the wire shocked more visitors than predators, and it eventually came down.  Then, last spring, when the fox began acting suspiciously and approaching the children in broad daylight around the same time a rabies alert was sent out, we had to shoot it.  Problem solved, albeit temporarily.

Happy Hare-pen bunnies

Well, you can imagine our surprise late last night, when S stepped outside on the back deck (which hangs over the rabbit pen) to check on something unrelated and heard a noise in the pen.  He shined his flashlight down there, just in time to see a fox leap straight up and out, over the top of the fence, sort of using his paws to climb the upper portion of wire as he went.  Fearing my son would find his colony dead the next morning, I took the light, and went to inspect for casualties.  I couldn’t find any trace of blood or rabbit fur.  So, I began opening all the boxes.  I couldn’t help but smile as I found small groups of rabbits huddling safely together in about half of the underground nest boxes and in the community feeder box.  When they saw me, it was like they knew they were safe now, breathed a sigh of relief, and poked their little heads up for a pet or two.  I did what I could to re-enforce their lids and entrances (so they could get in and out, but hopefully a fox couldn’t), added some extra food and water in hopes they would have what they needed to remain sheltered for the night, and went on to bed.  This morning, I got up and re-installed hot wire, but this time, I put it along the outside of the TOP of the fence.  Since we now know the fox JUMPS, he would easily clear anything lower, but if his paw or tail so much as bump a fence wire at the same time he bumps the hot wire (I THINK it would be impossible not to do so), then he will get a zap he will never forget, which will hopefully cause him to forget about rabbit for dinner!

Notice the strand of hot wire across the top.

There are a few things I don’t really like about our current Hare-pen design, but last night, it proved it’s worth, that’s for sure.  There are some very friendly rabbits in that pen, including our only mature breeding buck and doe, and our last litter of weaned kits.  And we didn’t lose a single one!  Thank the Lord!!  Their shelters and underground tunnels proved (surprisingly) impenetrable to the fox, and I am hoping the failure to find a meal will deter him from trying again.  In the mean time, I am now considering other ways to improve our design at Red Gate.

A very relaxed Hope, with not a care in the world, just lounging in the Hare-pen, apparently having totally forgotten about her near-death experience less than 12 hours earlier.

So I have figured out a big part of my posting problem.  When I first started blogging, I did it at night after the kiddos were in bed.  Seems like a great idea, but these days, I am too tired to think that hard at that time of day.  I will probably start doing it again soon enough, but I have other things I going at the moment–folding laundry while watching a little Netflix being a big one.  On the other hand, I am finding I am totally in the mood for blogging in the morning, just after breakfast and morning chores are finished.  If I blogged in the mornings, I used to do it while the kids were doing their school seatwork pages. The problem now is that M uses the computer for her school videos.   So, I am trying to find a way to work around her schedule.

That random, useless info being said, if I get a chance to blog, I would prefer to blog about something that might actually be useful to you readers.  So, I have so many topics and photos from all different genres, what would you prefer seeing until I really get going again?  Farm stuff?  Animals?  Frugality tips? Organic, made-from-scratch recipes? Organizing tips? Kiddos and family adventures? Biblical related topics?  Or should I stick with the hodge-podge of a little of all the above? Something else?

Hopefully a few inputs will help me kick this brain in gear again.  Thanks in advance!!

When you are parents of 5 kiddos, getting away is not an easy thing to do.  We have been tremendously blessed by some friends who have started baby-sitting one night each week so S and I can have a date night.  After our night adventures a couple weeks ago, S decided he wanted me to learn to use our guns, in the event I was home alone if something like that happened again, or even if I did need to go out in the middle of the night with all the large predators we have around here.  So, he arranged with a friend of ours who is a member of a private shooting range to take us out and let me get some practice.

I look a little goofy shooting, but I was pretty good at hitting the target. I am going to work on my stance a bit though.

I got to compare a number of different weapons, which the friend brought along, in addition to my own.  I shot a Glock, a .380, a revolver, a .32, and a .22 semi-automatic pistol.  It was great getting a feel for the different guns, practicing loading and unloading, and we had a few jams I had to work through.  The Glock was great in terms of sheer power, the .22 was nice, light, and easy to load, I hated the revolver in general, the .380 was easy to hold but had a surprising amount of kick, but my overall favorite was my old faithful Browning 1910 semi-automatic .32.  It’s a little difficult for me to load, and was one of the most difficult to site, but I eventually got the hang of it.

Not bad for a house-wife who hasn’t used a pistol in quite a few years!

S got a little practice in as well…

S was the first to actually hit the bullseye on the target.

My hubby can shoot! I feel safe if he ever needs to actually defend us!

After just one evening on the range, I feel sooooo much more comfortable using my gun.  We are going to practice a bit more, as I’d like to get a lot smoother in the loading and handling of it, and get a little more consistent in aiming.  I would also like to work on shooting at a bit more distance.  I was proud of myself, though, and very appreciative for the opportunity.  I think we will be doing more of that!

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