Monday, May 30, 2011

In honor of fallen heroes...

American Bald Eagle Pictures, Images and Photos
On this Memorial Day, I'm so very thankful for those brave men & women (and their families) who have and continue to protect our freedoms and make sacrifices most of us don't want to. May we always honor and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country. It is one of my greatest hopes that our troops overseas will be brought home safely & soon to be with their loved ones and that we can eventually live in a world of peace.

Busy, busy, busy...

Despite my best intentions, I seem to keep neglecting this blog. Oh well, I figure most of you reading probably have a lot of homesteading related things keeping them busy these days too, so you'll understand.
Things have been really busy here on the little homestead. I've finally managed to get some seedlings started indoors (various peppers & tomatoes which its probably too late for but I'm going to try, lavender & 3 types of cucumber). I planted 10 rows worth of seeds in the garden (lettuce variety, romaine, arugula, spinach, kale, collard greens, swiss chard, radish, three types of squash, and carrots). Still lots of planting ahead, but it feels good to at least (finally) start. The garden area isn't completely fenced yet though, so I opted to cover my rows with agribon fabric to protect the seeds from our curious chickens as well as those pesky rabbits, quail, and wild birds that love to go investigate everytime one of us has been working in the garden. In other planting news, the bare root fruit trees we planted a few months ago are doing great, all have or are blossoming, so we're already planning to purchase a lot more next year. The large almond trees are looking beautiful, so I'm hoping we can manage to get a good harvest out of them (before the squirls get them all). Also I'm starting to see some green leaves popping up on some of the near death strawberry plants we received from a friend (I've been spoiling them with lots of whey leftover from my cheese making which is supposed to be a great fertilizer).
In other news, we purchased some more laying hens from a family that is moving to help replace those that were killed by the dogs (we had 2 more just completely vanish after the dog incident). The freedom ranger chicks are growing, though not at the rate of some stats I've seen reported by others (most likely because the organic feed we are using is soy free). Despite their "slower" (still faster than typical chicks) rate of growth, a few of us that ordered chicks together have had one or two develop leg issues...very dissapointing since we were hoping to avoid that by not raising cornish cross, but we actually think its related to the first feed we were all using which most likely was deficient in an area or two. Regardless, I think most of us have decided that we'll stick to dual purpose breeds from now on...I can see a lot of advantages with that method of meat production since you can breed them youself with your own stock (including experimenting with cross breeding), keeping hens for eggs & cockerels for meat, butchering on a more relaxed timetable according to your needs, rather than having to process huge numbers at once & take up so much freezer space. Another advantage is having chicks raised by mother hens rather than having all the work (and smell) of raising them in brooders. Despite the fact that I'm already feeling "chicked out", I picked up 8 turkeys (I must say turkeys take stink to the next level!) the other day (4 royal palm, 1 blue slate, 3 bronze breasted)...I'd really like to end up with a breeding pair of the royal palm, so we'll see. Thankfully we moved all those babies outside to a coop with a light & covered run attached which has helped improve my attitude & work load in regards to them. The last of the chicks I ordered arrived & are in the garage, but since its only 10 they are much easier keepers!
Still trying to manage all the milk our goats have been providing (at least 14 gallons/week!). I tried adding fresh chopped cilantro & diced (pickled) jalapenos to the farmer's cheese previously posted about. It tastes great & is a favorite here now (even among the kids!). I also made my first attempt at mozzarella earlier this week & it was a success which I'm thrilled about since that's one of the cheeses we buy regularly, and its a cheese that I can freeze. I've made it a couple times since. After consulting with some other goat owners who make yogurt, I decided to order a yogurt maker & am anxious for its arrival since we eat a lot of yogurt around here. Made my first batch yesterday & it tastes good, just not as think as I'd like so I'll be working on that a bit. I've also had my eye on the ice cream maker attachment for my kitchen aid the idea of not having to deal with ice, rock salt, an additional appliance, etc...and while we don't generally keep ice cream on hand, its a treat we indulge in here & there, so what could be better than homemade? Thankfully, my mom generously ordered that for me as a thank you for dog sitting during their recent nearly month long vacation...can't wait to try it out!
In other news, I'd been looking for a couple female kittens and was hoping to find some with a bit of siamese in them. I stumbled upon an add in a nearby city for two free female purebred seal point siamese, what luck! Picked them up just over a week ago & they are adorable as you can see...though I must admit that I'm already tiring of the litter box duties & the naughty scratching issues so I'm looking forward to getting their shots & spaying done so they can be moved out to the shop & have access to the outdoors where I'm hoping they'll take to the job of gopher & mice catcher because we could really use some help in those areas!
You know, there have been times when I start to feel a bit disappointed that we haven't gotten to this or that (things we'd planned to have accomplished around the little homestead by now), but after planting today I paused for a moment to drink some fresh brewed ice tea and reflected on the changes that have happened around here since purchasing the house last August, then moving in finally in October. Sure our list of things to do & learn is neverending, but we're making progress and I gotta say, it feels good! And since we have no plans to go anywhere, we've got lots of time to keep checking off that list...

Monday, May 9, 2011

A good problem to have...need your ideas & recipes!

So, our two milkers are producing nicely (well really Raindrop is the big producer, but still they are both producing). I tried making soft cheese the other day & happy to report it was a success...
First I added 2 gallons of milk to the stainless steel pot...

Then, when it reached 185 degrees, my son helped by adding 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar...

it immediately started to curd, so I let it do its thing for 10 minutes...

then strained it & eventually pressed out all the extra whey...

and finally added salt before forming it into a nice shape on a trivet & enjoyed!

So, now I'm looking for ideas on what herbs or other flavorings to add. And also looking for more recipes to use up all this goat milk. Our does are generously providing us with about 2 gallons/day & its starting to pile up. Those of you familiar with goat milk know that after about 3-4 days it gets a bit too goaty, so it goes to the animals or fruit trees. One thing I'm going to work on is finding a family or two to barter with, but until then, I've got to start trying out new recipes, so please share!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Good, Bad, & Ugly

Better late than never I suppose for this Homestead Barn Hop post. Sorry again about the lack of the weather gets better I'm afraid that may be a running theme around much to do in good weather on a homestead. We haven't even had the chance to do more than till the garden space, so needless to say I doubt our garden will be as grand this year as we had envisioned. We went away for a few days around Easter, then came back to a very busy time here on the little homestead. In the last week, we've added 5 goats & 26 Freedom Ranger meat chicks , then traded out one of the goats & lost 8 laying hens and 2 of the FR chicks. Anyway, I'll start with the good stuff and my favorite, our LaMancha goats! I'm still trying to adjust & get used to a new routine...seems like a lot of things are getting ignored/pushed further down the list these last several days. I'll say one thing, I've never appreciated a glass of milk like I do now and I'm gearing up to start making cheese & hopefully yogurt. I actually did make a batch of soft cheese which wasn't too bad and then a few days ago I went to a friend's house to learn to make mozzarella & farmer's cheeses.
So, here are our milkers...Raindrop is the black one (isn't she beautiful!...just love her markings) & Dreamer is the white one. As you can probably see by the difference in their udders, Raindrop is an incredible producer (was giving the breeder nearly 2 gallons a day) while Dreamer is just ok (2-3 qts/day), though she is capable of much better as our breeder suspects that the lady who had her didn't start milking her when she sold her buck so production naturally fell since she was only nursing her little doe.

We actually had an older doe (Dark Rain) for the first few days prior to getting Raindrop, but she became depressed & was getting battered by Dreamer which caused her milk production to plummet, so we took her back to the breeder who was nice enough (though reluctant since she is favorite or hers) to give us Raindrop instead. Raindrop is a bit feisty so she is a good match for Dreamer in that way. She's a bit of a challenge to milk but is slowly improving in that department so I think once she gets used to her new home & us that will be better as well. Her milk production has gone down a little as she adjusts, but its still great so we're no complaining!
Other members of our little herd are two young does & a young buck. We're decided to call this one Sweetheart because that's exactly what she is...she rode the 1 1/2 hour drive home from the breeder on my lap & is just as sweet as can be...loves following me around as I do chores. And of course she loves her 2 bottles/day.

Our other kid doe is Dreamer's. She was extremely skittish & wanted nothing to do with me or any other human for that matter. She was never bottlefed which wouldn't be such a bad thing except that she was obviously never handled either. So, almost immediately I separated her from her mom & started bottlefeeding her (she's old enough to be on just one bottle/day). It was a bit of a challenge to get her to take a bottle the first time but it has become much easier & I don't have to chase her down & hold her anymore. She's still cautious but seems to be warming up to me. We've decided to call her Star Gazer (Star for short) because she black with little bits of white here & there that remind me of stars in the night sky.
Finally, our buck, Jack Frost (though I'm considering calling him Pig because he's such an eater & his belly is always round). Yes, we're those crazy new goat people who choose to ignore the advice about owning a buck when you're just starting out. Actually we'll likely have two bucks since he'll need a companion & one of our local friends wants to keep one of her buck kids (wisely, just not at her place, haha). We may only keep the bucks through next season's breeding, but we'll see (can you tell I'm not looking forward the the rut stage!).

I'll do a more detailed goat post soon, but wanted to introduce them for now.
Other additions were the arrival of our Freedom Ranger chicks which will be our first try at raising meat birds. I went in on an order with some other local homesteaders so we ended up with a total of 102 chicks. We're talking about getting together to butcher them assembly line fashion and looking into building a chicken plucker together which would certainly save some time/effort. We started with 26 chicks, but unfortunately one died from being squeezed a bit too hard by the kids then a second ended up getting a bloody butt that the other chicks kept picking at. I separated it when I discovered it, but it still died. Since then though all remaining 24 are thriving & growing, so I'm hoping we won't lose anymore. I originally had them in what will be our homeschooling room which is nice & sunny, but as evidenced by the first chick's death, it was too easily accessible to the kids. So, I moved them upstairs into a locked bedroom. After 4 days the smell was more than we cared to have in the house, so yesterday they found a new home in the garage. They made it through the night just fine & we're certainly happy to be rid of the smell!
So, we've covered the good and a little bad, now onto more bad & ugly. About a week ago our 2 dogs escaped their enclosure & went on a chicken killing spree. Most days we just let our chickens from both coops free range together on the property since that saves us on feed costs, reduces bugs, fertilizes the ground, & makes for healthier eggs. Unfortunately that meant they were easier prey for the dogs. I wouldn't have been so upset if they had just eaten a couple of chickens completely, but its extra upsetting when they just kill for sport...I was also upset because among the dead were a few of our best layers & also 3 young hens that had just started laying. What's worse is that because I was alone with the kids (seems that is always the case when bad things happen around here) and because we had somewhere to be, I couldn't get the 8 dead chickens processed & into our freezer...instead they just went to waste in the garbage bin (though some were not salvageable anyways because the meat had been bit into which made me concerned about bacteria)...I certainly could have processed them later & fed them to the dogs, but that just seemed like rewarding them for their bad behavior, so I opted not to do it. Two other chickens were hurt pretty badly, but they seem to have recovered ok. Interestingly, despite the fact that the chickens were free ranging from 2 different coops, the dogs killed 4 & wounded 1 from each of the coops. Unfortunately, they've spent much of the last several days either locked in the house or tied up until we can get a new enclosure made escape proof. Here are the naughty culprets, our standard schnauzers...