Monday, March 31, 2014

Dairy Experiments

Yeah, so our counter now looks like this:

We had to start labeling all the glass jars containing various white-colored dairy sundries.
In addition to the raw milk butter, buttermilk, yogurt, chocolate milk, and cream cheese and whey, Wife and I also started clabbering some milk last week Clabber is just curdled, slightly solidified raw milk. We set a jar on the counter, stirred it twice a day, and let it be. After several days, it started separating into the slightly solid clabbered curds (similar to the cream cheese, but less "finished") and the beige-tinted liquid whey.

We drained some off to feed the chickens and the pigs (clabber to the chickens, whey to the pigs), then topped off the jar with fresh milk.

The chickens LOVED it.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Why Do I Homestead?

Sometimes, it's good for us (humans in general, I mean) to step back and take a good look at why we're doing one particular thing or another. For some, it's asking, "Why do I continue to buy all these magazines?" For others, "Why am I working two jobs and pursuing yet another degree?" Still more, "Why do I continue to wake up early and sit in traffic for an hour to spend 70% of my life behind this desk that I hate and with these people I can't stand?"

Those three pesky letters that separate us from the animals.
For me, it's "Why do I wake up at the crack of the sun, hit ice out of a bucket with a bat in negative temperatures, shovel cow pies and lug hundreds of pounds of water in a cart twice a day, rearrange my kitchen to accommodate new dairy experiments, spend my Sundays housing swine, give chickens a weekly ride in a rickshaw, and otherwise devote the first 30 minutes of my day to squeezing liquid from a cow's underside with my bare hands?"

Simple: I'm certifiable The short answer is that it's the path to a richer, more fulfilling life. But you came to read the long answer.....

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Homemade Raw Milk Cream Cheese & Whey

Wife is a rock star. After I somehow cajoled her into getting a freaking cow we discussed our goals and our future together and added Bridget Da'Cow to the family, Wife has been busy making some delicious and nutritious raw-milk dairy treats for us all to enjoy. The latest one to finish out was this homemade cream cheese and whey:

Front, raw-milk cream cheese.
Back, a mason jar of raw-milk whey (at least, what was left after feeding some to the pigs).
It was incredibly easy to make, although getting used to handling raw milk (i.e., letting it sit out at room temperature for days at a time) is taking a significant shift in mindset. We're working on clabbering at the moment, with the goal of using the clabbered milk as a starter culture and as a chicken feed.

But for now, we celebrate the achievement of cream cheese.

LEGO David and Goliath

In our curriculum for the 2013-2014 school year, we're using Connecting with History. It's a unit-study, timelined approach to history, with a focus on salvation history. The kids just finished learning about the Davidic kingdom of Israel. They just got done studying Samuel, Saul, David, and Solomon, and are moving into the divided kingdom.

Thing #2 is such a tactile, hands-on kid that for him to really "get" a topic, he needs to touch it and feel it for it make sense to him. So, Wife and I have been trying to get him more "hands-on" assignments lately so he can become more engaged. For this past unit, we had him construct David and Goliath's battle with Legos.

David (green shirt) facing Goliath (in helmet and sword). King Saul (seated in throne) looking
on, with the assembly of Israel in the foreground. David holds a smooth stone, and Saul
is seated with his armor. The hosts look on at the battle....

His attention to detail in these dioramas in outstanding, from the "period" weaponry to the delineation of the battle lines.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Building a Portable Pig Shelter

Since adding the piggies to the movable pens, they really haven't had much shelter they've nested in a pile of hay with no roof. So, I spent some time this weekend building them a little something-somethin. It's essentially a (roughly) 45-degree sloped roof set up in a lean-to fashion. The bottom end of the roof lays on the ground, and is supported on either side by two 2x10 boards that act as "legs." Here's a shot of it set up in the pen, providing instant shade:

The portable pig panels in the piggie pen providing potent penumbra for Poomba, et. al.
Sidenote: I really like this^ picture, as it shows the pigs in one pen, the cows in the next two, and the chickens in the background. This area will become a great big garden once the animals get rotated off of it in a few weeks.

Anyway, back to the shelter.

UPDATE 3/25: We just had a freak snow storm come through. I went out to feed the pigs a bowl of kitchen goodies, and they were all snug under the shelter, dry as a bone. They came running out for the food, of course, but it's nice to know they're enjoying the shelter.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Getting the Sheep Back to Pasture

FINALLY!! The sheep are out of their winter dry lot after almost 4 months!

Happy sheep back on pasture after 3.5 months.
The grass is finally starting to grow, and I was running pretty low on hay, so it worked out quite well.  :)   Plus, the incessant "BAAA"-ing was driving me batty. So, Saturday afternoon, I moved them back to pasture.

Last time I moved them, back in November, I hoisted and carried them from the front pasture/hay lot to the dry lot. They were very heavy. This time, I had even farther to go, and bigger, more pregnant sheep.

The solution? Roll them.

Seed Starting Greenhouse

Seed starting has not been going very well this year. Wife started several a few weeks back, but they got leggy and tall very quickly with almost no root development. They weren't getting enough light, which is unsurprising - our only southern-exposed window is in the middle of our back door. We did our best, but ultimately starting anything but the lowest-light seeds in our house ain't gonna happen.

Enter a sale on greenhouses last weekend.

We picked up a plastic greenhouse for seed starting. It's about 5' by 5', and tall enough I can stand in it.

Our new seed-starting greenhouse, with the passive water temperature control being filled up.
That door in the back is the ONLY southern-facing window in the house.  :/

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Homemade Raw Milk Dairy Products

Whilst I am busy each day milking, shoveling manure, and tethering two cows in the back yard, Wife is busy taking the milk I bring in and making the most amazing dairy stuff EVER. We've never been huge into dairy in the past, partially because of lactose-intolerances in the family, and partially because we never really cared much for the taste of store-bought milk. The rancidity that sets in soon after opening (and often before we finished a full gallon) tended to sour us to industrial dairy (pun intended!).

But raw, grass-fed, backyard cow's milk is another substance entirely. It is rich, sweet, and causes us NO intolerance. In fact, we've consumed more milk and yogurt in the last 2 weeks than I think we did all of January and February. Wife has been a driving force for that, using her incredible talents to make some amazing stuff, like this butter and buttermilk:

Butter and buttermilk made from raw, grass-fed backyard cow milk.
The kids all say it's way more delicious than store-bought. I agree with them!
She made buttermilk pancakes for the kiddos this morning, and they LOVED them, especially with the REAL butter (made by putting cream in the food processor). They said it tasted much better than using store-bought buttermilk and butter.

So far, Wife has concocted a few homemade butters, buttermilk (both sweet cream and cultured versions), yogurt by the bucketful, and a rich paleo chocolate milk (which I'm sipping as I write this). She's also currently working on a cream cheese and whey.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

March Homestead Update

Happy Feast Day of St. Joseph!

St. Joseph is my adopted patron. I am not named after him, and chose another saint at Confirmation oh those many years ago. Since being married and working, though, I've come to appreciate how helpful St. Joseph and his holy example are. So, in celebration of his feast day, I'm dedicating this update of all of my work around the homestead to him.

First, the pigs are growing visibly larger and more comfortable with us daily. Holy moly, they are fun to watch.

BB'q saying hello. Escargo nervously watches in the background.
All them piggies hanging out. They're starting to root up the area (yay!),
and go nuts for milk and eggs. It's hilarious.
I'll likely leave them in place for at least another week, partially because the area isn't rooted to my satisfaction, and partially because I'm not ready to move the chickens into the reinforced cattle panel pens yet - I need to add the chicken wire, at the very least. And speaking of the chickens.....

Friday, March 14, 2014

Milk and Eggs for the Pigs

American Guinea Hog piglets drinking raw Jersey cow milk and eating backyard chicken eggs
The piggies drinking some excess Bridget Da'Cow milk and extra chicken eggs.
Part of the reason behind getting the pigs is their uncanny ability to not let anything foodstuff-related go to waste. Utilizing this rare talent, part of our plan and vision for the homestead is to feed the pigs the extra eggs the chickens lay and the excess milk and milk by-products (from cream skimming, butter making, cheese making, clabber experimentation, etc.).

Wife tested this yesterday with just some regular milk, and they went CRAZY slurping it all up.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

DIY Hand Milking Cow Stanchion

Hand-milking Bridget the family milk cow has been a very rewarding experience for me. Unfortunately, it's also been a bit of a trial with the fine, thought-out hand milking station T-post in a corner that I had set up. Wife and I also have been discussing getting a more comfortable sleeping arrangement for her. We're going to end up building an extension of sorts from the shed, creating a roof and a small "barn"-esque area for her right where the sheep's overwinter dry lot area is. Included in these plans was a milking stanchion.

So, the last several days, I worked on getting that done. Here's Bridget in the (nearly) final product:

Bridget Da'Cow munchin' some hay in her shiny new stanchion. The yellow stool is for me.
The rope is there in case I need to cinch her whilst kicking. I built on side wall to keep her
from shifting around too much. the chain link fence is part of the sheep lot. The remaining area
to the left, and behind me from this angle, will become her "barn."
It was super easy, aside from my drill continually running out of batteries. Using some 3" exterior wood screws and some scrap lumber, I put it together over 2 days (pausing only to recharge my drill).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

It's Pig Time

Last night, I brought home four new pigs.

American Guinea Hog piglets
From left, clockwise: Poomba, Escargo, Porkie, and BB'q.
Our new American Guinea Hog piglets will provide tilling services,
waste management, and delicious meat.
The pigs are purebred, unregistered American Guinea Hogs. The breed is a thick-framed, small-sized, docile breed known for their excellent meat, friendly demeanor, and their lard.

Friday, March 7, 2014

5 Reasons to Keep Backyard Chickens

As keeping flocks of backyard chickens is growing in popularity, people are also starting to realize the many benefits of raising a backyard flock. Different people may have different reasons, to be sure, but the cumulative benefits cannot be understated. From insect control to fresh eggs, from fertilizer to entertainment, backyard chickens are a great move.

Keeping your own chickens is more than just cheap entertainment!
I have 16 grown chickens (15 egg layers and a rooster), and another 16 chickens in the chick-u-bator. Wife and I have discussed getting another 20-30 meat birds this summer. So, we'll be up to our necks in chickens before long.

But that's a good thing.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Cow for the Whole Family

Bridget Da'Cow is truly a family cow for us.

Family milk cow and kids.
Bridget Da'Cow with Thing #3 (left), Thing #1 (middle), and Thing #2 (right).
I tethered her near the family while we worked on reinforcing the paddock fences.
She is extremely docile, has already mastered halter leading, and even stays perfectly still when the kids are nearby petting her. I think they petted her like this^ for a good 30 minutes. Bridget didn't budge.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Seeds are Sprouting!

Wife started some seeds last week, and they're sprouting!

Indoor seed sprouts in a tray.
Emerging broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and celery. Yay!
They're just poking up. In addition to the tray here, Wife also started some pepper and tomato plants for Round 1 of this year's plantings. We've only ever done a single planting, but starting early and expanding the gardens this year should allow for 2, maybe 3, plantings.

It's almost spring! Woo hoo!

Monday, March 3, 2014

First NFP Class in the Books

First CCL class: taught!
Wife and I taught our very first NFP class yesterday! It went really, really well. We met the couple in their homes since the husband travels for work. Their schedule did not exactly line up with our planned course offering, so went ahead and met at a more convenient time for everyone.

It worked out very well. It was nice to sit a more relaxed environment as we get used to being teachers. I think it helped us calm our anxiousness and first-time jitters. Plus, all of the kids all played together, so we didn't even have to worry about babysitting.

All in all, it was a great class, and a great experience for us as first-time NFP teachers.

Reinforcing Combo Panels

As part of out big plans for 2014, I bought sixteen 16'-long by 52"-inch tall combo panels. They are a very thick gauge wire, and the horizontal wires are spaced progressively closer as you go toward the ground. The reason for these specific panels will become clear in a few weeks. Stay tuned.

But in the meantime, the cows have been hanging out in here while we wait for the grass to start growing so we can tether them out. Despite the wire gauge thickness, the panels are very flexible. After a few days, they all started bowing outward as the cows gently nudged them to bite off a few more lingering blades of grass. With the expectation of progressively more and more, uh, wear and tear, I had to upgrade them. So we made a Saturday family project out of it.

Finished product from the weekend's labor. Chicken coop in the distance.
This picture shows the reinforced edge of the corral at the moment. I only got halfway done on Saturday (8 out of 16 panels). I'll have to finish another weekend. But, let's step through how I made the combo panels stronger.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Is Pot Pie Preggo?

Pot Pie is looking a little more round than before, and more than the others.

Pregnant sheep
Pot Pie, middle, looking plump and carrying.
Wife noticed her abdomen move slightly on Friday. Like there was a little lamb wiggling about in there. That's really exciting for us. The sheep have been very good lawnmowers, and I love being welcomed home with a "Baaa!" But we really got them for, ya know, the lambs.