Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Has Sprung - at last

Spring has finally sprung here in Interior Alaska and about time too. We were all pretty sick of the sub zero temperatures lasting until just a few days ago. The last few days have been sunny and drippy. On top of that we are watching two very pregnant does closely, waiting for them to kid any time now. We have a security camera mounted in the kidding stall. So I have the luxury to be sitting here at the table writing and I can glance at the t.v. screen and see the does laying down, fidgeting, munching, shifting, trying to get comfortable and so forth. Last night I thought Zinnia was going to kid for sure. She didn't touch her grain yesterday nor any Alfalfa. I hardly saw her eat a bite all day. Laying down more than usual. I couldn't feel her ligaments on either side of her tail, but then I'm always a bit rusty with the first does of the season. I ended up going down to the barn at three a.m. then five a.m., and finally sleeping on the couch where I could glance up and see her on the t.v. I had constant nightmares that I was waking up to three kids already on the ground.

That being said, this is the most confident I've been heading into kidding season. My first couple years I was just excited and determined to be there when it happened. After a couple emergencies and losing a couple kids one year, I got trigger happy, or interfere happy and began "going in" and helping get kids out whenever I was worried they were taking too long, or not in the ideal position. The last couple years I've been pretty worried about having kids tangled up or with their heads turned back. Maybe I'll change my tune if we have any trouble, but right now, headed into our fifth kidding season, I'm feeling optimistic. This is the first year that I can get away with attending a birth at home without needing another adult here. In the past I was always panicked when D was at work and I was frantically calling around to find someone to watch my kids while I played midwife. Now they can come along or watch a movie. 

Last year I lost two doelings. The first one, was already out when I got to the barn and was weak and never recovered - well her dam gave up on her and stomped her before I was ready to bring her into the house. Then our second doeling escaped through a six inch slit in the gate and got stomped by another doe. Totally lame. This year, all slats are covered and I am determined not to let sleepiness get in the way of my duty, which is to be there for the does and their kids. We have two does due this week followed by another in May. Then for some crazy reason, I had two does come into heat this week, that I was planning on milking through (Xoe) and keeping dry (Rose) - and of course I ended up walking them up to the bucks cause I just can't resist - possibly a fault in my husbandry practices. Anyhoo, Rose and Xoe may be kidding in August- not my favorite time as going into winter with new kids is just going to be crowded. However, I had a lady put a deposit on Xoe today, so one plus less goat for next winter. I also sold two yearlings this week, Bramble and Bella (my favorite doelings from last spring). I am proud to point out that this moment we are down to eleven total goats- and getting rid of a buck soon. 
 Kidding advice for any of you newbies:
  1. Be there!! Start watching them before they are due so you can notice odd behavior. Seriously, when you start staring at goats all day they do all kinds of things you may not have observed before.
  2. Have your supplies ready whatever you are using; large towels,  J lube and latex gloves pretty much make up my kidding kit. Ok, I also keep a clean lidded tub ready for warm water for the lubricant and or for molasses water for dam after. I also keep scissors and dental floss for the umbilicle cord. I have used Iodine but I'm switching to just goldenseal powder - some sort of antibacterial. I also know where my drenching syringe and back up nipples are just in case, along with garbage bags. 
  3. Study normal and abnormal kidding presentations ahead of time and know what to do for each.  
  4. Look up other kidding related illnesses for dam and kids and know what course of action you are going to take. For exampe, weak kid have cayenne tincture or dried cayenne. Ketosis, have corn syrup or other thick sweetener or hand, etc. 
  5. Have a vet's number on hand and a second set of willing hands in case you've got to go in. Although it is possible to tie the doe so that she'll stand while you go in, but depends on the doe and can be pretty tricky if she is difficult.
I'm not going to name the obvious such as knowing when your goats are due, separating them from the herd, and properly feeding them through their pregnancy. Although I am planning on writing a post on feeding supplements to your pregnant or lactating does here soon. I may have a long night ahead of me, so that is all for now. Best wishes.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Make Thick Yogurt

It has taken me far too long to get yogurt making down. I've been making homemade yogurt for about four years now. My main complaint up until this past year is that my yogurt was never as thick as I liked it. Every once in a while I'd make a fairly thick batch, but it was sporadic. I tried different yogurt cultures, different incubation methods and heated the milk different lengths of time. I make a half gallon of yogurt every week or two. We use it in smoothies and in exchange for buttermilk in recipes. I use it to make our weekly bread. My kids eat the majority of the yogurt with homemade jam. Until recently, they usually drank it, once I'd stirred in the jam it was usually the consistency of kefir or a little thicker. I can proudly say that these days I can stir jam into the yogurt and the kids can eat it with a spoon without dripping it all over the table and their shirts. 

So what am I doing differently? Adding nonfat dried milk powder. Now I'm not necessarily recommending that everyone add milk powder to their yogurt. However, if your yogurt is always runny, and you find yourself buying store bought yogurt because you like how thick it is... well, how do you think they get the store bought yogurt so thick? Nonfat dried milk powder among other thickeners.

My yogurt process now is to stir one cup of nonfat dried milk powder in one half gallon of milk then heat it to around 160F, then I put a lid on the pot and let it sit for a while, 20-30 minutes. Not enough to kill off all the bacteria but enough that the yogurt thickens well. Then I take the lid off and let the milk cool to 120F. I use yogurt cultures from the Dairy Connection. Sometimes I use a spoonful of yogurt from the last batch. You can use store bought yogurt as well if that is what you've got. Then I place my half gallon jar into a small lunch cooler and pour in water that is about 120F. I place the lid on and set it in a warm place, near the wood stove or in the sun. I add water once or twice to the cooler to bring it back up to temperature. In six to eight hours I've got thick yogurt. Then I place it in the refrigerator where it thickens more.

In the past I tried incubating the yogurt in the oven with the pilot light on and my oven kept it too warm, as did using the crock pot. I've used my food dehydrator but that seems a waste of electricity. Initially I wanted the yogurt to be raw milk and I wanted to heat the milk as little as possible. The less the milk is heated the runnier it is. I had read that nonfat dry milk powder would help the yogurt to be thicker, but I felt like it was such a forbidden ingredient, something I not only felt ridiculous for buying when we have so much quality milk, but also  a potentially harmful ingredient. But I felt even sillier buying yogurt at the store, especially when I realized all the various thickeners in it. 

A few other tricks I tried to thicken up my yogurt were draining the whey off it after incubating it. Some folks make a yogurt cheese this way. It does work, but if you do it at room temperature over a long period of time your yogurt gets tangier. If you do it in the fridge, it takes up a lot of room. Either way it never has the same texture as store bought yogurt. I also tried using rennet to thicken the yogurt - didn't work. I've also heard of people using gelatin - not really my thing.

Molly's fiasco farm dairy site is a good source for yogurt recipes, both for raw milk or heated yogurt with or without nonfat dried milk powder. On a side note, I recall complaining to my dad about how my yogurt was never thick enough and he was saying as how he'd never had such problems. His yogurt always got nice and thick just fine. Recently I told my dad I'd started putting nonfat dried milk powder in the yogurt and it has finally been turning out consistently thick, and he was like, "Oh yeah, we always used dry milk powder to make yogurt." Go figure.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Not spring here yet

It has been a while since I've shared some pictures. Computer woes. Here are a few from the last couple months.

Sitting in the sun in front of the woodstove.

We took a family road trip to the nearest city, Anchorage, about four hundred miles south. Enjoyed being closer to the mountains.

We are all planning our gardens. Noah is excited about growing Watermelon, potatoes, carrots, thyme and flowers. Avery is planning on growing Watermelon, beets, broccoli, carrots and also lots of flowers. So far I have herbs and celery germinating. It is almost time to sow tomato and pepper seed along with some flowers. If you start your tomatoes too early they get leggy and root bound and don't take off as quickly when planted out. I think one of the biggest mistakes Alaskan gardeners make is not knowing when to start what. I was over at someones house the other day and they had cucumbers and squash already sown in six pack holders. That won't do folks! If you are a new gardener or don't have experience gardening here, pick up the Alaskan Growers Guide, or a seed starting schedule from your local Nursery. Also, visit your local Cooperative Extension and pick up a wealth of information for your area.

Doesn't feel like Spring here, but none the less, Happy Spring Everyone!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

March Sun, March pantry and cream separator

One morning the kids were upstairs playing. Avery started to fret. I hear her yell, "Mom!, Noah says there's an Alien spaceship landing!" Oddly enough I immediately suspected the sun and so I called up asking the kids if it was the sun shining in the south windows. I paused as I heard their surprised exclamations as they realized that it was indeed the sun coming through their windows for the first time in a very long while. Daylight is waking us up around seven a.m., which is early for us after a long winter of sleepy dark mornings. Each day when the sun first starts shining in the house, Avery exclaims again and again, "The sun is here! The sun is here! Mom, I'm sitting in the sun!"

Our February and March weather got reversed somehow. February was much warmer than usual and now we've gone backwards with a couple weeks of colder than they should be temperatures. So, while the sun beckons us out, the cold air sends us back in before long, content to enjoy the sun while sitting at the table doing lessons or reading at the couch. We got a bunch of snow this week, around six inches one night and then another four or five the next, which makes for so much work on top of all the snow we already had. D snow blowed the driveway two days in a row, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to make it out. The snow is high enough on the sides of our trails that I can no longer haul five gallon jugs of water without having to lift the jugs above the snowbanks - in other words I can no longer be lazy and let my shoulders and back do the work.

I combined two chest freezers into one this week - another sign it must be spring. We still have lots of frozen chickens, a huge turkey and a significant amount of goat and moose left, along with some salmon that needs to be smoked. We still have five gallons of frozen blueberries and several bags of rhubarb, cranberries. raspberries, broccoli, zucchini and kale. I pulled in the last two gallon bag of garden carrots this week. They aren't looking to pretty this time of year. I shredded several pounds last week and have been feeding them to the goats - mostly our purple carrots as they don't taste too good. We are also on our last bag of potatoes and I'm going to have to buy garlic by the end of the month. We still have lots of crunchy refrigerator dill pickles, sauerkraut and pickled veggies.

As far as the pantry goes, canned applesauce, berry syrups, salmon, blueberry jams and preserves are still in abundance. Much to the kids dismay we ran out of raspberry jam last week - but thanks to the freezer stash, we were able to make some more -catastrophe diverted. I had a productive week in the kitchen, in an attempt to start using up some of the frozen goods. I made zucchini bread, something I need to do weekly from here on out if I want to put a dent in the frozen shredded zucchini stash before summer. I dehydrated a batch of moose jerky following a new recipe and it turned out ok. I need to make another batch while I can remember what to do differently.

The most exciting kitchen event this week was Dustin getting my cream separator back up and working. We separated a few cups of cream yesterday and a couple more today. I am hoping to play around with making butter this spring. I have had a Novo cream separator for three/four years now and mostly it has given me nothing but grief. I have spent so much time and made so many messes trying to get the right setting and the right consistency of cream. There have been some successes, and then just when I think we've got it figured out it doesn't work as well. The main problem I've had is the cream is always too thick. Thick as in turns solid once refrigerated. And no matter what I do I can never seem to get it thin enough. I've called customer service several times and they've had me playing around with milk temperature and the cream regulation screw and the speed to not much avail. Needless to say I've been thinking of sending it back, buying a better one, or just buying a cow! :)  However, D spent a few hours pouring over the manual and running the separator. Turns out, we were sent more cones than we needed and I've always been so focused on making sure that they were in the right order that I've never counted them and was using too many. So hopefully, this was the problem and it continues to work for me. I have high hopes of not having to buy any cream products and very little butter.

In other farm news, we are only getting a couple eggs a day. Somehow we are down to a dozen layers, among those we have one four year old, a three year old and a couple two year olds - not holding their own. The Ameraucanas just aren't laying well either. We could have twice as many chickens in the coop as we have now. I'm not sure what happened, well we had a few extra roosters and then lost a hen here and there... I am looking forward to our first goose eggs! We have two very pregnant does and one doe due later one.

Our doe Rose miscarried but seems to be doing better. I knew something was wrong but couldn't figure out what. So the vet came out and ultra-sounded her and at some point her kids had stopped living. So Rose is getting all kinds of extra goodies right now, dried comfrey, dried raspberry leaves and shredded carrots. We have six adult does and four yearlings, and I really did not want to breed everyone and have that many kids this spring. So the plan was to keep two milkers in milk and not breed them, and breed the remaining four does along with two or three doelings. As it turns out the doelings didn't take in January when I bred them the first time. When they came back into heat it was thirty below and we were sick. So, we may not have any more milk than we had last year, which wouldn't be an emergency. I should have enough milk for our current goat shareholders, but I probably won't have enough milk for more than that.

It is almost time for the goat kid count down. Time to divide up the goat barn into four pens. Time to re-mount the security camera in the barn. Time to sort through kidding supplies. Past time to order any. Not quite time to separate goats at night. Time to read the section in my new herbal on goat kid care. Take care and best wishes wherever you are in your spring planning.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Starting seeds and poultry decisions

I set up the seedling rack yesterday. Wiped and scrubbed the racks and shop lights. Moved shelves to the appropriate level. Hung lights. Moved into south facing windows. I was planning on digging through the snow for old plastic trays, domes and six pack holders - you'd think by now I'd store them in a more accessible location...I know they're around somewhere and I'll end up recycling most of them yet this spring. D surprised me with some shiny new trays, packs, domes and a large bag of seed starting mix last night. Perfect timing. So, if the day goes smoothly, I'm hoping to sow the first seedlings of the season today. I will be starting celery (Utah red heirloom if I remember correctly), summer and winter thyme, lavender, oregano and maybe some basil. It is early for the basil, but I love to start a few and transplant them into roomy pots and snip basil throughout the spring. I'll succession start it at least two more times before planting out. Next I'll start any other slow growing (ten week) flowers/herbs. Then peppers, tomatoes and eggplant the last week of March/first week of April - about eight weeks before I plan on planting in the ground.

I started tackling our hallway yesterday, making room for a small incubator and a chick brooder. I've been making some poultry decisions with the idea to keep things simple. As much as I love having turkeys around and in the freezer, I'm planning on abstaining from turkey poults this year. The plan is to trade a friend some of our laying ducks for a heritage turkey come fall. We will be eliminating the ducks as we need room. We are going to hatch some goslings for the summer but we are either just going to have our current goose pair, or maybe just two females next winter... Furthermore, we are going to raise less Cornish Cross, 15-20. We are going to get more strict about not keeping older layers around. So we will be butchering or selling the two year old hens to make room for the more productive ladies. 

Living on a steep hillside and having a small amount of flat land, makes it difficult to have large animal pens. Thus we have ended up with a few movable chicken tractors of various sizes. We have two (three in the summer) protected chicken coop/pens. When chicks and turkeys are overcrowded there are more losses. In addition, Cornish cross grow faster than layers. Ducks and turkeys all grow at different paces. So, while I have read about people raising all various species in the same pen with success - I find that the layers do better on their own as do the ducks and turkeys. There is less crowding, less stress, less bullying and fighting. As a result we have ended up raising four turkeys in one moveable coop, pullets or ducklings in another tractor, adult layers in the top coop, and ducks or growing pullets in the other two. This makes for lots of juggling of birds, multiple feed/water stops to make each day =more labor and time. 

This year I am hoping to swing into the feed store and pick up thirty to forty sexed laying chicks at one time. I'll pick up meat birds a few weeks later. The laying pullets should all fit into the bottom chicken coop/pen for the summer. The Cornish will go into our largest moveable tractor. I've yet to figure out what to do with the geese. I think they'll go into another moveable tractor, but be let out to roam if they can behave themselves. So, we still end up having birds in four locations. However the Cornish are short lived. The geese possibly temporary. Leaving us with two pens and lots of productive layers going into winter.

I am interested in dual purpose breeds. Breeds that handle confinement well. Gentle, docile, friendly breeds. They also need to lay fairly well. And I want the hens to be big enough to be worth butchering, five to six pounds. Cold hardy and laying well in winter are other obvious considerations. I do like pretty birds, colorful feathers, kind faces. I am also drawn to heritage breeds. I am in love with the idea of raising hens that were common one or two hundred years ago. 

In the past I've ordered birds through various hatcheries. It tends to be more expensive and risky. This year I decided to go through our feed store exclusively and let them take the risk for me. They have a special order list that peaked my interest but when I looked up the specific breeds at the hatchery, all the birds I was interested in are already sold out. I'll remember to order in December next year! So, working with what our feed store will be bringing in, This is what I plan on getting and what I've read about them;
  1. Silver Wyandottes,  four eggs/wk, 200 eggs a year. Handle confinement well. Hardy. Dual purpose, easy going temperament, good winter layers. Pretty.
  2. Delawares, four eggs/wk, large brown eggs. Heavy breed, matures quickly, good broiler. Quiet, friendly, adapts well to confinement. 
  3. Welsummers, decent layers of lovely dark brown eggs. Gentle, sweet, handles confinement well. Lovely plumage. 6lb. females.  (although shorter laying season).
  4. Ameraucanas, lay beautiful blue and green eggs. I find these birds to be a bit flighty, small in carcass size and to have a shorter laying season and to mature slowly. However, their lovely eggs make up for their shortcomings. 
  5. Black Sex Links, these are not heritage. However, these have been our best layers over the last four years. They are gentle, mellow, friendly birds who mature quickly and lay large brown eggs through the winter.
If I were to special order some birds, I would be getting some Sussex hens which are a heritage dual purpose breed, decent table fowl and very productive, nice disposition. I would also get at least a few Leghorns. Our feed store is carrying Chanteclers which I am not planning on getting because although they are good hardy winter layers that may not even need supplemental light, I've read they do not handle winter confinement well. These birds have a hawkish aggressive look to them. I would be interested in hearing from people who have experience with Chanteclers. We have raised Brahmas who are a large hardy bird. They are also very gentle and handle confinement well. They just didn't lay real well. I felt like we got a couple eggs from each hen their first year. They were by far the hardiest birds who would be outside in the cold when everyone else was huddled inside. A quick word on foraging. With the exception of the Cornish Cross, I have yet to see a chicken who was not an active forager. So, I think good foragers is a given regardless of the breed you choose.

On side notes, our friends who raised a pig for us two years ago in exchange for buck service for their does, have decided to do so again for us. So, yeah pig and not having to keep one ourselves - yet. I think I've finally figured out a better location for my bees, our unused greenhouse in the trees. We have a greenhouse that was built above our buck stall (once upon a time prospective Sauna). My plan is to take out a south facing window and set the hive up against the opening. That way the bees flight path will be above our heads, but they will be in a prime sunny warm location. We have two very pregnant does due the first week of April. I am getting excited. Thinking of C names, Clary, Calla Lilly, Calypso, Camelot, Cleopatra... I've been reading an awesome book - must have for all goat owners; The Accessible Pet, Equine and Livestock Herbal, by Katherine Drovdahl )Fir Meadow. I'm planning on sharing some of what I've been reading soon. Happy Spring everyone!