Never enough of it I’m thinking…..this is a long long read…..
Stretching the mozzarella…….
My last post – I promised to do a series related to farming/livestock/ etc, using questions I get asked often. I tried. I have a long winded first instalment in my drafts that I’ll likely pitch in the dust bin. I don’t like it. To me….it comes across as preachy. Or uppity. Which is not what I’m aiming for. So bye bye to that effort with no regrets. Might take a stab at it another time.
This summer has been incredibly hectic – it seems I’ve almost managed to nail down the fine art of multi-tasking (at the moment I’m making cheese, blanching and freezing beans, trying to write a post without things going haywire – but hey – I love a challenge 😂). Those of you who have faithfully followed my blog know that I made an effort over the last year or so to slooowww down. Two problems. One, things don’t get done. Two, I simply can’t function at that pace. For whatever reason – I need to be busy – so – busy I am. 🙃
The little white things in the middle – eggs
There is something to be said for being at home – this year has been pretty successful on the farm – it has been in the past, but not without a lot of reactive scrambling. I have had the opportunity to stay on top of the work load. The freezers are filling up, the garden is thriving, the canning shelves aren’t looking so bare. But to be honest- I’ve simply traded one workload for another – I easily spend a solid eight or more hours a day ‘farming’ instead of working for a paycheck. Does it financially balance out? Yes and no. Our off farm expenditures are extremely low, but there are some nonetheless. I don’t necessarily have to go back to work – but if I’m being realistic- I probably should – find something part time. Yes. I’m going to be picky.
Sometimes I have spare time!
This year the planets seemed to align in better than usual fashion. We raised two weaner pigs at the same time both cows were milking – result? Grain bill cut by easily a third or more because of the gallons of whey from my cheesemaking (and a few failed attempt cheeses – more on that later). Other result? They were slaughter weight a month early. This wasn’t necessarily a good thing – where we live, there is a very limited choice in slaughter facilities. When we get our weaners – the second their feet hit the pen floor we are on the phone scheduling a date for them to be processed – they are that busy. Why does it matter when they’re ready? For one, there comes a point where your pigs are gaining more fat than meat. Two – there comes a point where the pigs are too large for the scalder – which means they have to be skinned – which means I lose out on the fat, the skin on the ham….etc. Very fortunately for us – because we’ve been loyal to the same facility, and because that planetary alignment thing was going on – they gave us a new date a month early. Note for next year – if cows are milking, schedule an earlier date. Yes – we can do our own pigs, and have – but that old familiar time crunch dictated they get trailered to the slaughterhouse.
This year, we bought no new laying hens. Our closest hatchery that sells to small scale farmers – was bought out by another years ago. Changes continue to be made. They won’t ship less than 25 birds (warmth issue) which is fine, we’ve alway ordered 25, but split 15/10 meat birds to layers. This year, the hatch dates weren’t the same. We could have 25 of one or 25 of the other. We settled on 25 meat birds….My daughter generously offered to take time off work, help process and happily take more home than the usual few I pop into a cooler when she visits.
Now any of you who have processed chicken – will likely agree – there’s a definite ‘eewww’ factor involved. My daughter, not having a chance to be here for processing prior to this year – was forewarned – “you’re gonna taste raw chicken” I said “- it’s absorbed through your hands”. She came through with flying colours til near the end – when she could ‘taste raw chicken’ 🤢. I suggested to her – to do what I do every year. Cook a chicken the minute you have a chance and you’ll get past the ‘eewww’ factor. I always yank one out of the ice water the following morning and smack it into a pan, truss it up and stuff it into the oven…..as many chickens as I’ve processed – it’s how I get past the ‘ick’ 🤔. The smallest of the bunch – five pounds. The largest – eleven pounds (larger than I like). Weeks before slaughter date some of the roosters were actually crowing. Considering we do them between 12 and 16 weeks old – you gotta know how genetically messed with those birds are. We have tried raising ‘dual purpose’ birds – laying breeds that will theoretically give you a decent amount of meat in several months instead of several weeks. I have had no luck with those breeds – always end up with a ‘tired and tough stewing’ bird. Genetically messed with birds it is.
We have found a new ‘firewood guy’ – they’re getting harder to come by – guys that bring decent sized wood and bring an actual cord. I’m more than happy to be paying for wood this year. It’s all about the ‘time’ factor again. We do have our saws ready, and have done some brief scouting in the mountains- this weekend we’re going to check on a new logging road being pushed through that we discovered a few weeks ago. It’s muddy, and it’s narrow – I’m hoping they’ve bulldozed a few spots where you can get off the road and park. At last check, as much standing dead trees as we could see to knock down – there simply isn’t a place to be off the road to fall and cut. We do not want to be parked on an active logging road – it’s a quick way to be dead should a logging truck be sliding down the mountain with a full load of logs. In the meantime – wood guy is doing the same – while managing to bring a couple of cords a week and still get some to his other customers.
The gardens – after a slow cold and wet start this year….are producing like mad. In an effort to ‘work smarter not harder’ I have again changed what I’m growing. This year we tore down the old small greenhouse and I kaiboshed the salad greens, the peppers, and the few tomatoes I bothered with. The herbs got stuffed into a small bed outside to sink or swim, the cukes got jammed into pots and are oddly enough, producing. In place of the greenhouse, we built a large calf shelter – we will be over wintering both steers born on the farm, and as the girls are still milking and will be for some time – we needed to keep them separated from mommas – who think any time is a good time to feed a calf, whether he be 500 pounds or not 🙄.
I don’t miss the greenhouse – aside from my dry beans (which will not survive frosts outside) I never considered it very productive. I can foresee a much bigger greenhouse at some point in the future, but some planning needs to be done. If I have a greenhouse, I need one with enough room to produce produce produce. Things around here need to make sense, give me a return. Outside, I stuck with broccoli, beans, carrots, onions, potatoes for the rest of it. In other words – things I know will grow, and things we eat. Tons of kale – but that’s for the layers – I can’t make kale taste good in my house for no amount of effort.
Bees bees 🐝 into my second season now….I’m more comfortable making decisions and living with the consequences than I was last year. I decided not to purchase a second package of bees – rather I figured I would split the colony I have and let them raise their own queen. Because I’m more inclined to be proactive rather than reactive, I waited only long enough to see eight frames of brood before splitting. No, the actual population wasn’t in danger of swarming – but we have a short season and I figured sooner rather than later.
I’ve never seen my queen (and yes I’ve looked carefully and I’ve taken pictures and stared at them frame by frame). I know I have a queen because I see eggs. Simple. Now when I split – I simply split, walked back out there in four days – the split with the eggs told me where the queen was. Then things kind of run amok – ish. The queenless hive seemed disinclined to make a queen (they had eggs) – they made a half hearted effort, built some cells, took them down – until there were no eggs left to work with. Of course a queenless hive is a shrinking hive – still, the bees remained industrious and continued to pack in the nectar until had they made a queen they’d have had to move a lot of honey (or I would have had to give her some frames). I had concerns I’d end up with drone laying workers, but the girls stayed the course and simply foraged. I finally swiped a frame of brood from the queenright hive and hoped they’d have another try. They did – I found a beautiful capped cell July 12, left things alone until August 7 and voila! Eggs and capped brood. Late, I know- but happy camper I am. I really didn’t want to recombine – though I would have had the second try at a queen failed. I think they will be populous enough to make the winter, and I’m leaving the honey behind. I’m happy with the results – I belong to the local bee club and some Beekeepers had queen failures this year, some had swarms…..I probably am in possession of some beginners luck. Next year I hope to split again.
I’ve no intention of selling any honey, rather I am approaching this bee project as just that – a project I expect to take a few years before I’m satisfied with the results. Everything here is considered a long term effort….the milk cows, the bees, same thing to me. Put in the time, do your homework and you’ll see a good result. It’s funny, I did not get bees to ‘save the bees’ as is popular these days. I got bees because I don’t want to buy honey – yet I’ve quite unexpectedly found myself absolutely fascinated with them.
Cows and cheese and butter and milk and cows and cheese……
I never posted about this – the reason we have two cows. After our Daisy had her last calf (late 2017), she lost weight. As in a tremendous amount of weight. Did not bounce back no matter how many groceries we poured into her. Of course we called the vet out. We weaned the calf off. We quit milking. The vet did tests, more tests – finally called with some results. Anemic. Uber high fibrinogen levels. Chronic infection of some sort. Long and short – she was pretty certain Daisy had cancer – but that was as close as she could come to a diagnosis.
Even good farmers lose livestock. Predation. Illness. Freak accidents. Didn’t make us feel any better about it…..I stood leaning on the fence watching Daisy do what Daisy always does….slowly march across the field hoovering up grass, head down. Content. Just painfully thin.
“Let’s” I said to Bruce “just let her be a cow for the summer. As long as food and water are going in one end, and ultimately coming out the other, as long as her personality stays the same, she’s not showing signs of being painful….if any of that changes, we’ll do what we have to do – and let’s hope she gains some weight’.
So. We bought another pregnant jersey heifer. She came to us at fourteen months old, off of community pasture – Bruce set about the long road of training her to be a friendly well mannered milk cow.
Come fall, Daisy – unbelievably, looked like a million dollar cow. We sent her off to be bred – you can’t have a cow as a pet only. It’s the reality of it.
cheddar in various stages of drying
That’s why we have two milk cows. They have both had healthy calves, they both are in prime physical condition, both healthy….we have no clue what the problem with Daisy was. Maybe burn out. Maybe calories in calories out weren’t balancing properly that year. I suppose it would make sense to sell one – two of us don’t need eight plus gallons of milk a day. But the thing is – you get attached to these animals, and you can’t imagine sending them off with a stranger for no amount of money.
Trying to put a positive spin on things….I have discovered there is an advantage to having that much milk on hand. For as long as we only had one cow, I was much disinclined to experiment with my cheese making. When the milk coming in the door is finite – you really don’t want to have a batch end up in the bin. Therefore I’ve always stuck with the quick simple can’t mess it up cheeses. Cream cheese, a quick pressed farm cheese that slices, shreds, melts but has little in flavour, ricotta…..mozzarella. This year, first calf on the ground – I started much the same way. Second calf on the ground I realized that I was going to have to jump in with both feet – small batch cheese making is an exercise in futility when you have that much milk coming in the door every day.
Bruce, quite rightly understood that no amount of ‘I love you honey’s’ was going to get him any cheese with that kind of volume coming in the door if I had to stand in front of a wood cook stove all summer to make it. We now have a nice propane stove in the kitchen. I went to a commercial kitchen supply store and bought a stainless pot that holds six gallons of milk (yes it’s bloody heavy when full) and some commercial utensils that actually reach the bottom of the pot.
So without putting everybody to sleep (I hope), I have – I think – finally hit my stride. Things I have learned? All cheese recipes are designed for pasteurized milk – I have raw milk – yes there are differences. All cheese recipes are written for two or less gallons of milk – I want to use a minimum of six (couldn’t find a bigger pot 😆, nor could I probably lift a bigger pot). None of my cheese starter/culture/rennet suppliers have a standardized system of use or labelling. Some sell premeasured packets, some sell large vat inoculations with instructions you have to calculate down to six gallon batches. They all have different names for the stuff. All cheese recipes call for single strength rennet – I can only buy double strength …. you get the picture. As an example – to ‘ripen’ six gallons, I can use a quart and a half of buttermilk or 1/4 teaspoon of choozit4001 or three packages of C101 and accomplish the same thing. Or – I could use none of it – raw milk will naturally ripen – but because lactation curves/available forage/time of year……its easier to simply add the culture and level the playing field. In a nod to the fact I’m using raw milk, I leave three gallons out overnight to ripen, and add three gallons from the fridge the next day – but still use the culture.
Some waxed, some coated with an anti-microbial coating, some drying
None of these things are all that critical when you’re only making a couple of pounds of cream cheese say, or ten batches of ricotta (for which you only need household vinegar). But when you finally get the nerve to get on the cheddar train – all bets are off.
The first attempt – I used an online recipe for ‘cheese making in the 1800’s’ or something like that. I don’t have a ‘cheese cave’ or anything close to a controlled environment for aging. This recipe promised a shelf aged Cheddar like grate-able cheese that could simply live on a salted shelf. Well I suppose it could have…..but after a week it was more of a door stop than anything resembling cheese – I would have had to use an axe to break through it. That effort got marched out to the dogs – I mean their canines can crush bones right?
My second attempt using an online ‘home recipe’ turned into a rather sad thick rined effort that was obviously not going to turn into anything decently edible. That – got marched out to the pigs ‘heeerre piggy piggies!’
Third batch from ‘New England Cheesemaking’ – I carefully wrote down every convoluted detailed step. I’m now on a mission – I get to the ‘break the curd mass into walnut sized pieces and salt at a rate of….’ and found myself trying to tear up something with the remarkable consistency of a tire. Goodyear should have stopped by – I would have shared the invention. I gamely plowed on and got it into the press – knowing it would likely not knit together. It didn’t. ‘Heeerre piggy piggies!’
You now know the advantage to having two cows. In three days I have pitched out the door – eighteen gallons of milk. The pigs are happy, me – not so much. But no worries – I’ll have six more gallons to throw out tomorrow! 🤪
I’ve always said – cheesemaking is a carefully calculated series of serious food safety violations that result in a pretty tasty end product. But I’m starting to doubt that.
Try number four – Rodales Food Center – Stocking Up book (gifted to me at least thirty years ago by a good friend). A recipe called ‘Dave’s Cheese’ presumably created by a guy named Dave…..
Okay jackpot. It works. It works the same every single time I make it. Every. Single. Time. Now I can make one of these a day – but I don’t – sometimes I stand at the stove and make batch after batch of ricotta because I’m tired of standing at the stove and making batch after batch of cheddar. Mostly I get tired of standing at the sink washing up the jars and the pots and the churn and and….but it’s nice to be able to waltz past the dairy section in the grocery store and not have to buy any dairy.
Five days in on a blue cheese
Of course now that I’ve cracked the cheddar code – I’m moving along – blue cheese. I can see many of you cringing 😖 and some of you wondering exactly where I live so you can come try it. I happen to love the stuff – and well, it’s another way to use up six gallons of milk. I’ve managed to create a mini aging/high humidity setup by using a large plastic tote and changing out bowls of warm water twice a day. Blue cheese needs 95% humidity. Oddly – this has turned out to be easier than cheddar. Next up? Probably Parmesan – I’ll let you know. 😊
Well – butter 😊
Butter – butter is easy. Until you decide you’re tired of scooping two cows worth of cream a day off of the milk with a spoon and finally cave in a score a really well priced solid old cream separator. And then remember you have Jersey cows – who happily produce cream you can almost spread with a butter knife. It is suggested that for Jersey milk, you remove one of the cones from the separator. I did. The cream stays liquid (ish) until you refrigerate it. I put cream in cream bottles for my coffee – to get it into my coffee I now have to stand there smacking the bottom of the bottle like its ketchup. First world problem I know….
When I make butter, I simply toss the cream in the churn, plug it in and walk away. It’s done when the churn grinds to a halt – Jersey cream. When I churn cream from the milk I’ve run through the separator- the churn grinds to a halt in half the time – and I’m left with a mass of butter coated with cream it can’t incorporate.
It’s like mixing up a batch of concrete with the right ratios – then at the last minute pitching in an extra bag of Portland. Or trying to add four extra cups of flour to a batch of bread (trying to create a visual here 😉).
I suppose I could add some milk to the cream….but that kind of negates the purpose of the cream separator….or I could go back to scooping the cream off with a spoon. Which I’ve done. I need to think on it some more.
Technically, I only traded one job for another….scoop cream or dismantle and wash the separator. Bruce has done the same by scoring a used surge milker that only needed a small repair. He is not in from the barn any sooner – by the time he’s run the sanitizer through the equipment after milking, he’s used up the same amount of time as he would have spent hand milking. Still – what exactly would we do with our time if we didn’t have cows?
Now some of you are wondering – what in the ever loving hell do you need all that cheese and butter for?
Commercial dairy cows are bred back within a few months (or sooner) after calving. They get a two month ‘dry up’ before they drop another calf and start putting into the system again. Many commercial dairy cows are ‘out of the system’ in less than three cycles. Our cows are not machines….we might have them bred this October for a June calf (they will be dried up come December/January, or we might wait until next March and have them bred. So come December/January the milk train stops. All I can stock up until then will get us through until they milk again 😊.
So there you have it – from the files of ‘what have I been up to…
I’ll touch base again when I have something new to report 😊