Saturday, October 17, 2009

New home for goats

Today we moved the does from their stall and pen of three years to a new home. Their previous home was a good hundred yards or more up a pretty steep hill from the house. May not sound very far but trudging up the hill with a babe on the back and pulling one in a sled along with a milk pail and tote....or running up and down the hill mid winter when a doe is kidding, whew! Their new home is built onto the low side of our new addition. I've forgotten the exact measurements but it is ten feet wide and about twenty feet long. However, the main room is divided in half, each room about eight by ten, and then their is a roofed outer area with three walls, but it is not completely enclosed. The floor is dirt and the ceiling is only about six to seven feet tall. The area is designed very nicely. We can get a wheelbarrow/ cart into both areas easily. The covered area will have feeders on opposite walls. We can toss hay into the feeders from outside the gate. We've really been talking realistically about how many does we want to keep maximum as we already have six, three 3 yr olds, a dry yearling and two kids. The top number is probably ten to twelve max, but that is taking into account kids and dry yearlings. As far as a comfortable number of goats to milk, four to six is a nice number. If we started selling milk shares maybe I could milk eight does or so by hand. Really for our needs a few milkers is just fine. This new structure is over twice as big as their last home and can comfortably house at least a few more goats than we currently have.

The goats are a bit antsy/ anxious tonight. By now I'll bet they are all sleeping. The coolest thing is that every time I open my front door they are right there looking up at me. Our kitchen window looks up the hill towards the garden and former doe pen. But the goats have to be running around for me to be able to just barely see them. Having the does closer to the house makes chores significantly easier. We will be storing hay on the side of our driveway just above their pen. We can pump water into their waterer from the truck year round. There is plenty of room for covered grain storage nearby. We are planning on milking in the new addition for this winter. The area is still not completely enclosed but we do have a large wood-stove with the chimney just installed.

So our two bucklings moved into the does old stall and pen. Our Senior buck is to join them soon. He is in full rut at the moment so I'm hoping to do a bit of maintenance to the pen before moving him up. The bucklings have got to be quite impressed with their upward mobility in housing conditions and Xavier doesn't know it yet but he is about to be a very content buck as well once he has company again.

Tomorrow some folks are delivering a winter's supply of brome hay, about a hundred and twenty fifty pound bales. Currently we've got a couple large nine hundred and fity pound square bales and are on the list to pick up a couple twelve hundred pound bales as well. I'm slowly learning not to put all my eggs in one basket. Variety is key.

We have been so fortunate as far as the last couple weeks of weather is concerned. We had been getting cold temperatures and snow for several days. Then we had record breaking warm temperatures in the fifties, reaching low sixties over several days time. It was fabulous. We were so appreciative as Dustin was outside working whether at work or here working on the goat stall. We still have one batch of chickens waiting on Xavier for their winter home which will have a heat lamp and heated waterer. I was transplanting some perennial shrubs, rhubarb and chives as recently as yestereday. The ground is now frozen, I think for good, luckily the holes had been dug for months, just waiting for the right moment. Over the course of time several chickens had died and had all made it into the bottoms of the holes, I have a feeling those plants are just going to take off next summer.

In other news, we are up to eight to ten eggs a day. There are many pullets that are still not laying, just the new sexlinks are laying. Dustin just got the woodstove back in place a few days ago and we've been have wood fires from morning till night. I'm not sure how I ever go without, I enjoy them so. Wood fires bring such a warm feel to an otherwise cool dark time. It almost seems as though I can notice a difference in daylight from one day to the next. We have been losing close to seven minutes of daylight a day, which is huge! The sun isn't coming up until nine-ish and going down around six thirty or so. However, this is a hard time to be on the west side of the hill, as the sun doesn't actually hit our property until noonish. Ouch.

The dehydrator has been running for the last week non stop, drying tomatoes. I've got hot water jars in my outside fridge at the moment trying to keep our carrots and beets from freezing. We are about to move the fridge in, or can a bunch of veggies, hm... And tonight I pulled in a package of ribeyes for dinner two nights from now. We got the best deal on a local beef box. We've been buying or receiving all of our beef locally for the last few years. Dustin stopped by to buy a hundred dollar box from a new slaughterhouse that just opened up. He asked them about how much the box would weigh and they said about thirty pounds. Well he brought it home and weighed it and it is about forty-five pounds of mixed cuts and hamburger. At least three packages of ribeyes and a couple packages of tenderloin. Anyways that turns out to be barely over two dollars a pound which is a great deal. The beef is not organic, but it is local, raised on pasture in the summer months, and I believe hormone/ antibiotic free. To buy "natural"( which doesn't really mean anything) hamburger, it is about five dollars a pound.

I did take some pictures of the goats in their new home today, so I'll try and get those up for the next post. These final days before the imminent and lasting snow fall is so precious, we are scampering around in a frenzy. Our winter vacation is timed just about right. I think we will leave just as all our outside projects are completed and the snow is here to stay. We have a fabulous house-sitter who has gotten to know our house and animals over the last six years or so. Our biggest worry is exposing our kids to all the crazy illnesses while on vacation, not that I'm worried about colds or flus, but it would suck to get sick on vacation. Goodnight and happy fall days.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tomatoes Galore

Twelve o'clock and clockwise: Black Pear, Pink Accordian, Green Zebra, Black Krim, center Ida Gold, Sungold and assorted reds.

I am beginning to feel just a tad bit overwhelmed with tomatoes. We picked seventy pounds of green tomatoes a few weeks ago and they've gradually been ripening. Every few days I sort through the boxes and put the ripe ones in what has become the tomato bowl. Well then there was the bowl and a small box of ripe tomatoes, and then two boxes. I tried making sauce last week. It was the first time I've ever dunked tomatoes in boiling water and skinned them before chopping them up. It was a lot of work and I'm not sure the results were worth it or not. I had some paste tomatoes but a majority of red slicing and beefsteak tomatoes. For the last few days most of the tomatoes are heirloom and cherry tomatoes. We've got a small box of sungold cherry tomatoes. We've also got a couple nice looking Black Krim which I'm saving along with a Pink Accordian for a special tomato tart recipe. Other varieties in the bowl include Green Zebra, Ida Gold, Black Pear, Orange Russian and numerous red tomatoes of all shapes and sizes.

I've been chopping up tomatoes and serving them with garlic and olive oil (add cilantro and lime for salsa) with almost every meal, on top of salads and pasta, in tacos, with chips... I had been meaning to make and can some green tomato jam but it just hasn't been high on the list. In the past I've canned pickled green tomatoes but I still have some in the pantry. I've been holding out to begin dehydrating tomatoes. I figure that there are still a lot of tomatoes to ripen and the later ones won't be as good so I'll dry those. I'd like to have at least a gallon of dried tomatoes going into winter. There are a lot of plain red tomatoes ripening so I'll either be doing a lot of drying or some more sauce making. If it were warmer out I'd be making gazpacho or chilled tomato soup, but they've lost their appeal with the fall weather.

I'm almost burned out on our favorite easy fresh tomato pasta recipe which goes something like this:
1. Chop up a bunch of tomatoes, two to three pounds.
2. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and salt and pepper to taste
3. Chop up a mix of herbs, basil and parsley, maybe some oregano
4. Let the tomato mixture sit as you bring water to a boil for pasta
5. Boil pasta according to instructions, we usually use spaghetti or angel hair for this recipe.
6. While pasta is boiling grate parmesan, sometimes I pull out some capers or kalamatta olives
to add some extra kick, but certainly not essential to the recipe.

Last of all toss it all together and taste for salt once more. I usually stir some parmesan in and top with some as well. Serve alone or with buttered toast or salad. A light to medium red wine is nice, nothing so bold that it overpowers the meal. This recipe is quick, easy and fresh. We make it several times over the course of the summer. The tomato juice and olive oil combines to make a very nice sauce.

Well, it is October and we finally have a plethora of tomatoes. It has been a long wait. We no longer have our own fresh cilantro or basil so I just broke down and bought some cilantro from the store. We go on vacation in a few weeks so we'll be eating as many tomatoes as we can stand for the next couple weeks and then I'll dehydrate the rest. If anyone has any great tomato recipes that are not too time consuming and use up lots of tomatoes let me know. Tonight we are having navajo tacos with refried beans, cilantro coleslaw and tomatoes. Tomorrow I'm thinking pizza with the cooked tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes on top. We have a favorite tomato tart recipe that I'll be making soon. It has a rich parmesan crust filled with tomatoes, fresh basil. capers and kalamatta olives, mmm.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hermaphrodite Chicken

Hermaphrodite Welsummer Pullet

It appears as though we have a hermaphrodite chicken. The Welsummer chicks can be sexed at a day old and we were certain this chick was a pullet (female chicken under a year old). As she grew it was obvious that she was definitely a pullet. About a month ago we had a friend over who is our local chicken expert and she noticed immediately. The first sign was the rooster feathers and upon closer inspection she is growing a comb and is getting the head feathers of a rooster as well. I was bummed because we were down to two Welsummer pullets, and I am more excited about the eggs out of this breed than any of the others.

another view

Fortunately, my chicken expert friend has several Welsummer Pullets and I was able to buy two more from her. So, once again I am up to three, and hoping I don't lose any more. I looked up a bit about hermaphrodite chickens. I believe that this one started life as a pullet. In the last couple months she injured one of her ovaries and her body began producing more testosterone. I don't think she will ever lay any eggs. Should be interesting to see how closely she resembles our other Welsummer rooster.

Welsummer cockeral and pullet

I've shared this photo before but here it is again. You can click on the pictures to see a close up. This is a regular Welsummer cockeral and pullet. You can see how the chicken in the top photos looks like the pullet but is beginning to look like the cockeral.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Falling into winter

These photos are a couple weeks old. At the time we were so busy harvesting I didn't have time to write. Noah and I had a lovely afternoon harvesting carrots together. I tried not to harvest more than I could clean and bag in a day or two. Digging the carrots was much quicker, easier and more satisfying than standing at the kitchen sink cleaning them one by one. I still haven't weighed the two gallon bags of carrots, I'm pretty sure that they are about fifteen pound bags and I've got eight of them in our back up fridge. So many that I really need to bust out the juicer and start juicing some. These are Early Sugarsnax. I also grew a mix of colorful carrots in a different row, they didn't get as big or yield much but they sure liven up soups and salads with their white, yellow, red and purple colors.
As we dug and pulled carrots the chickens and ducks provided us with entertainment. The ducks and a group of adolescent laying birds have been living near the garden while the older layers are in a coop further down the hill. Most of the summer the birds don't get to free range much as they are more vulnerable to predators when they are smaller, and the early garden is more vulnerable to chickens. Over the last several weeks I've been letting everyone out of their pens to get some greens while they still can. The birds are becoming bolder and roaming further from their coops each day. On this particular afternoon we watched the lower group of adult chickens venture up into the garden where the ducks and younger chickens were residing. It was not a stretch to imagine what the adult Brahma rooster was thinking as he encountered all the new young female hens. How many chickens do you see?

Dustin and Noah are building the new goat barn. When it is finished I will take a bunch of pictures as the goats explore their new home. Currently the walls and roof are up with vapor barrier and insulation in place. We have yet to build the doors, gates and put the fence up. Hopefully the goats will be moved in within the week.

We have low bush cranberries all over our property. They are similar to store bought cranberries only smaller. We use them mostly in muffins and breads. I usually make at least one batch each of cranberry salad, relish and chutney around Thanksgiving. Last year I had frozen all the berries and ended up buying some fresh cranberries at the store last November and felt pretty silly. This year I've got a gallon bag full in the fridge that I'm saving for the holidays. I've noticed that they last for at least six months in the fridge. I kept some up to a year once, they just started to dehydrate. Cranberries are full of vitamins and have anti bacterial characteristics. A local herbalist I know uses the plants and berries to make medicinal tinctures. I wish we had more berries that are this prolific growing in the wild on our land. We have some raspberries, blueberries, currents and high bush cranberries, but just enough for daily snacking and not enough to get us by for the winter. Cranberries on the other hand are prolific and I am going to start putting much more effort into using them more creatively.

Last year I dried some cranberries and they were fine, but nothing like the craisins I buy at the store. So this year I dunked the berries in a honey dip before drying them and they turned out more plump, glossy and vibrant. They are small and intensely flavorful. About a gallon of fresh cranberries turned into one quart of dried craisins. Next year I'd like to have a gallon of dried berrries going into winter. This year I've got between two and three gallons between the fridge and freezer and won't be drying anymore.

It is hard to believe that these two pictures were taken just a few days apart. Fortunately I made it down to the cranberry patch nightly for a few days right before our first snowfall. This patch is on a cliff looking over the road and valley below. It gets the evening sunset, so heading down just before dinner time is a sunny time for picking. The cranberries are super hardy and are still there even under all the snow all winter. Last spring Noah was picking dehydrated cranberries that were still on the plants. I'm usually not in a hurry to pick cranberries until I think the snow is about to cover them up. I often see the berries early at the Farmer's market before they are really ripe yet. When they are ripe they turn from a dull solid red to a more transluscent glossy red.

It truly is a lovely time of year. While outside I can almost imagine that it is spring time with the brown muddy leaf covered ground and the cool crisp air. But then I see the occasional tree still holding onto it's golden leaves, and the fireweed is still covered in cotton candy like seed tufts. I don't leave the house much but as I was driving today I was struck by the beauty of the hillsides. There aren't many leaves left but the hillsides are a collage of cranberry, copper, lavender and burnt sienna. For a few days the snow fell and coated the trees and ground. The contrast of green grass along the highways with the white crusty snow on the colorful shrubs and trees was phenomenal. I forget how lovely this time of year is, falling into winter.