Monday, June 28, 2010

Random June Photos

First harvest picture of the summer: these were the first of the radishes, pulled and eaten a couple weeks ago  Since then we've also pulled baby beets and turnips, radish to eggs in size, I was too excited to eat them to pause and find the camera. The first turnips to bulb up were a red turnip and white globe or oasis? I'll have to check. We grew at least five different types of turnips this year, and a few types of rutabagas. Neither are our favorite vegetable, but they do well here and store well, so we are determined to like them. I sliced the first red and white turnips thinly and sprinkled them with rice vinegar, sugar and fresh mint. We had them along with some grilled halibut and corn salad.

We've been behind on leaf lettuce, biggest mistake yet this gardening season. We have plenty of beet, turnip and radish greens. I've also been harvesting spinach, swiss chard, corn salad, arugula and mustard greens. The leaf lettuce should be able to keep up soon. In the next week we should be eating the first peas, zucchini, napa cabbage and do I dare say- hope, for broccoli?

Me and the girls...the girls and I...Avalon and Asia,
photos by Noah.

We have sold four bucklings as wethers. The last two are also going as pets this week. Roses son, above, along with his brother are the last to go.

Zanzibar, one of our bucks..I just love his markings. I need to get some nice photos of the boys before they go into rut in the next couple months.

Above, Xanadu's son on the right, seemed to be the most mature as far as acting bucky with the girls. He is now a wether and has gone to a great home, (some good friends of ours) along with one of Rose's sons.

More cream, raw goat milk cream, mmm.

Breakfast Popcake, one of our favorites, think popover-dutch baby, almost custardy and melt in your mouth in the middle, light, airy and crispy on the sides. Recipe is so simple, I've shared it before but here it is again. This is for one serving, make individuals or in the case above, I multiplied by three for the three of us. Heat pan in 425 degree oven with 2-4TB of butter per serving. Whisk 1 one egg, add 1/4 C. flour, 1/4 tsp salt and whisk. Then add 1/4 C milk Scrape mixture into hot pan, once butter is melted and lightly browned. Bake till puffy and golden brown allover, 13-20 minutes or so. Serve with homemade jam or fresh fruit and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Eat immediately.

Freshly ground Azure Standard Organic Hard Red Winter Wheat. Did I mention that we have not bought a loaf of bread at the store in over three months. I've also been making most of our own hamburger and hot dog buns, along with rolls, some crackers, pizza crust, pita, naan, and all the other usual baked goods using mostly fresh ground wheat flour.

Lavender Cattleya cross blooming. This orchid bloomed the same time last year. Here are the first two blooms, now there are three. They last for a few weeks. When it blooms I set it in my kitchen window so I can feast my eyes on it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Evening walk

I took these pictures about a week before Solstice. The guys had driven south in search of hay. Avery and I enjoyed an evening stroll about the place. It was between nine and ten p.m. and you can see the sun is hours from setting. We have been having spectacular summer evenings. Even on days like today that start out rainy and overcast, it usually seems to clear up by afternoon, ending in blue sky nights. The temperatures have been in the sixties and seventies, some nights cooler with a breeze, but at least clear and sunny. Below are pictures of four Broad Breasted White Turkeys in their movable hoop-house.

On the left are shallots and peas, to the right are carrots. I'll have to take some new garden pictures, as they have grown so much in the last week. Last week we put up new supports for the peas. They've been flowering - today I spotted the first pea pod.

Avery, pretending to eat an egg. I usually keep a stack of egg cartons near the hen house, but when they run out, I often end up carrying eggs down in pockets, hats, gloves and in this case, a feed bucket. Note, Avery's goggles around her neck.

This is our Khaki Campbell pair from last year. We recently tried moving them in with the new ducks, but the male is a menace. For now they are in the outer pen without netting over the top. They sleep in the kennel, and I find an egg in there every couple days. I've been putting them in the kennel during the day for a few hours and letting the rest of the ducks out into the grassy area. There are areas where the fencing is too high and they can sneak under, so I only let them out when I'm around to gather them back up.

A couple Saxonies on the left along with a Pekin. On the right a couple runners.

A Welsh Harlequin takes a drink. We have two regular poultry waterers, this lid to a garbage can which gets emptied and filled daily. There is also a child size wading pool that we empty and fill about once a week, although we should try for twice weekly. They absolutely love the fresh water. Before getting ducks we said we'd wait until we had property with a river, creek or pond on it. Well, impatient and determined as always, we couldn't wait. We are talking about digging a five to six foot mini pond in their yard. The nice thing about the pool is I can dump and rinse it. Despite the less than ideal conditions, the ducks are thriving. I cannot believe how much hardier and faster growing they are than the chickens. I find them enchanting. They are graceful to watch, delightful to listen to and just plain beautiful!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's day updates

This morning I am feeling oh so thankful for my father, husband and brother, a new father as well. I am blessed to be surrounded by strong, thoughtful, compassionate and loving men who provide for their family, know themselves and stand up for their beliefs.

This morning we awoke to rain. One less chore for the day, won't need to water the garden. However, when I heard rain this morning I realized in the clear beauty of the night I didn't think to cover the hay pile. Good news is that there is only a couple meals worth of hay for the goats and most likely just the top couple inches are wet. Bad news, part of the pile was Alfalfa ($40./ 80lb.), good news, there were just a couple flakes left.

In the garden, the peas and squash are flowering. The tomatoes are beginning to set fruit. Everything is taking off. We'll certainly have knee high corn by the fourth of July. We are making some new beds this week to plant more greens, kale and radishes. We had a few casualties this week. A doe got into the garden and ate a dozen cauliflower plants, ate the tops of some peas and pulled some out and trampled through the carrots, all in the space of a few minutes. Fortunately, Becca caught her shortly after she'd escaped. I was pretty bummed about the Cauliflower, most of them she just ate the tops off but they are still planted. Maybe they'll grow back. Luckily I planted a few rogue Cauliflower plants in different places throughout the garden, so I've got some Graffiti growing down with the Broccoli Romanesco, and a few white or cheddar heads in with some red cabbage.

Well, I'm off to cook my husband his favorite breakfast; bacon, fried eggs, toast and coffee. I am truly blessed and thankful for the wonderful men in my life!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mid-summer Nights

Mid-summer nights are spectacular here in interior Alaska. The sun is up till near midnight. The air is warm and balmy. We are surrounded by mid-summer green. Just a few weeks ago the dominating color of the woods was a light spring green. The ground went from brown to buds and new leaves, then not a week later I saw the first bluebell, dandelion and blooming rose. Now the bluebells and wild roses are in full bloom, as are the dandelions, spirea, labrador and all kinds of little ground cover plants covered with white flowers. The fireweed will start blooming soon and by the time it is done we will be seeing fall colors. If we are lucky we will have six more weeks of bright to dark green before the first yellow leaf is spotted. By then the evenings will come upon us with growing darkness, taking us by surprise. Midsummer is fleeting.

I have no trouble sleeping to the daylight, (I have spent four of the last ten summers sleeping in a tent - and that is a lovely way to make the most of summer nights). I do however, have a hard time coming inside when it is so beautiful outside. I also have a hard time sending myself to bed. After my family is in bed for the night I feel like I should be heading back up to the garden, visiting with the goats or strolling through the woods picking rose petals. Yet after spending a day outside, walking kids up down and around, well I've been sitting on the couch working my way through the third season of Robin Hood. From our west facing couch I have been admiring our long sunsets during which the sun seems to linger for hours above the horizon.This time of year the sun shines on our property from eight in the morning till sunset, about fifteen hours of direct sun and I cannot get enough of it.

Our summers are short and our winters long. Most locals I know savor the warm weather and the long daylight hours. We spend as much time outside as possible. The weather forecast is on everyone's mind, is it going to stay this nice? Is our lovely perfect summer to be flawed by smoke from nearby forest fires? We need enough rain for the garden and to put out the fires, but then we get one rainy day and panic. We have so many hopes and expectations of our fleeting summers. I believe we are getting around twenty-one hours and twenty-four minutes of daylight - at least yesterday we did. When I think of summer time it is these perfect summer nights I recall, and yet I know in reality there are really only a handful of these perfect nights. If I could just hang on somehow, hold my breath, close my eyes, make time stand still...I would never tire of our midsummer nights.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Morning Cream

I rise in the morning, with a light heart, looking forward to the day. However, when I first come downstairs and survey the disaster zone that is my living space I am overwhelmed. It seems as though I spend most my day cooking and cleaning and yet I never arise to the clean and orderly house of my dreams. After walking circles making a vain attempt to tidy the clutter, I eventually find my way to the tea pot, an agreeable hand thrown mug, a bag of black tea and a dollop of luxurious raw goat milk heavy cream.

I take my coffee black. I take my tea straight, but when I have fresh cream available every morning I am a kid on Christmas day. I reach into the fridge, pull out a jar of yesterdays milk, grab a clean silver spoon, take off the lid and peer inside to eye the cream resting on top of the milk. After skimming a few spoonfuls of cream off the top and dropping it ever so intently into my hot cup of tea, I stir my cup, watching the swirls of cream lovingly, thinking I should grab the camera again. During this moment and those that follow as I enjoy my tea, I am elevated beyond the messy house and the endless list of to dos that await. Such a little thing really, morning cream, and yet it reminds me how blessed I am.

In the winters we eat mostly hot breakfasts,hot cereal, pancakes, waffles, bacon and eggs.  Busy cooking breakfast, my tea usually goes cold before I get around to drinking it. These summer days, with D away six mornings a week, we've been having lazy breakfasts; fruit, muffins and scones (previously homemade but frozen) and yes even cold cereal. The combination of lazy breakfasts, Sesame Street, and kids in good morning moods makes for a more pleasant cup of tea especially when I'm able to block out the mess and indulge in some computer time.

In the past two years of milking I do not recall getting this much cream off the top of the milk. Goat milk, unlike Cow milk is naturally homogenized, meaning that the cream is incorporated in and does not separate on its own. I've noticed at some times of the year the milk is fattier. I've been skimming cream off the top of quarts and half gallons of milk for the last seven weeks. Often I'm able to return to the same quart on a couple different mornings, as more cream separates over time. I'm really not getting that much quantity. Not enough to make butter or sour cream. Just enough for my tea.

I do have a cream separator that I'll be using here soon. It does work, but takes some fine tuning, takes time, makes a lot of noise and a mess. Once it is up and running smoothly I should get a cup or two of cream from each gallon and will have enough to make some cream products, ice-cream, sour cream, creme fraiche.

I forget how much work summers are. In the winters I sweep the floor once a day, mop every couple weeks.  I really just do a few loads of laundry a week in the winter. These days I sweep the floor and it is sandy and dirty as soon as the kids and dog return from playing outside. I can mop it one day, and the very next day it looks horrible. The kids are going through several sets of clothes a day. We try to pile up our outside play clothes by the door and re-wear them, but sometimes just putting them on makes a mess of dirt on the floor or they are caked with mud. I've been hanging up the muddiest clothes thinking that some rain will come along and help rinse them before I put them in the washing machine, it hasn't worked out as I'd hoped. I spend the day planning the next meal, cooking it and then trying to get the food into the kids. Then wash dishes and clean the kitchen for the next meal. And somehow, even after cleaning the kitchen and washing up after dinner, I still wake up to dirty dishes on the counter. As much as I tidy the house, I can't seem to stay on top of the piles of clothes and clutter that accumulate on the counters.

On a brighter note, the garden is looking great. Everything is growing nicely and not too many weeds -yet. We picked six radishes the other day. I sliced them and served them with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. I've been behind on greens this year, but we are about to have lettuce. We do have swiss chard, spinach, radish, turnip and beet greens large enough for picking. I've also been pinching tips and leaves off the basil, cilantro, thyme, oregano and mint plants for garnishing meals. The peas are ready for support. Potatoes up. Tomatoes are blossoming and there are a few green tomatoes forming. Everything is taking off. Birds are growing. Kids are growing. Despite the never ending chores and forever cluttered house, I'll be enjoying my morning cream and thinking of what to write next.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

From milk to Chevre

We make a simple goat cheese daily. I call it Chevre, as that is what most people know as a fresh soft goat cheese. Technically,  Chevre is poured into molds to drain, whereas I find it easier to pour the curds into cheesecloth to hang. Then I shape it into logs or pack it into jars. I find this to be the simplest and most versatile cheese to make. It does require direct set cultures and rennet which need to be special ordered from a Cheesemaking supplier. I use the Dairy Connection. I find their prices to be the most reasonable. I also order cheesecloths or butter muslin as the "cheesecloth" you'd buy at the supermarket is not the same thing and would not work for this purpose. The process is very simple. I find that the most tedious part of making cheese is packaging it and cleaning the cheesecloths. So without further adeu.... 

I should mention that I've used these first four pictures in a previous post on milking. I thought I'd include them again for those of you who are new readers. We are getting about a gallon and a half of milk per milking from three does. We were getting more milk from these does last summer. I've been somewhat puzzled by this. It is less milk than I'd thought we'd be getting, (hay quality?). Regardless, we milk the doe, weigh the milk, jot down the weight, pour the milk into a stainless steel lidded tote and when everyone is milked the tote and pail get carried into the house.


The milk gets poured into a stainless steel funnel with a disposable cloth filter, which helps filter out any hair or fine particles that may have fallen into the milk while milking. I usually filter the milk directly into the container I plan on storing the milk in. These days we pour the first gallon into a clean glass gallon jar. The rest goes into a half gallon or wide mouth quart jar to be used for drinking, yogurt or buttermilk.

A clean surface and clean utensils are important.  My first summer I sanitized all my utensils, vessels and cheesecloth with bleach water. Then for a while I boiled the utensils to sanitize them. Now, when I make yogurt, feta, mozzarella or other labor intensive hard cheeses I would bring my cheese making pot to a boil with all the utensils inside and boil for ten minutes to sanitize. However, when I am making chevre daily I have not been sanitizing anything. I wash my utensils with soap and water, rinse with hot water and air dry. This is what I've been doing the past two years and haven't had any problems. I wipe down the counter and sink before I begin.

This recipe has originated from Molly's online Fiasco Farm Chevre recipe:
One gallon milk, about seventy to eighty degrees
1/8th tsp chevre culture, MM 100 or other
2 Tb. of rennet water (from 1 drop of rennet disolved in 5 Tb distilled water
kosher or other non-iodized salt

Add culture to milk, let dissolve while you prepare the rennet water, then stir. Add two tablespoons rennet water. Stir well and cover. Let sit twelve to twenty-four hours. Pour into two cheesecloths or cheese molds. Let drain. In cheesecloths it takes about seven to eight hours, but this does depend on house temperature and humidity. Molds usually drain for twenty-four hours.

I culture my milk as soon as we've strained it. It comes out of the goat the right temperature. Then I let it sit on on the counter all day and overnight. I pour it into cheesecloths in the morning, after it has sat for about twenty-four hours. The cultured milk is ready to hang by the evening before. However if I drain off the whey overnight the outside gets dry and rubbery. So, if you hang your cheese for too long the outside will get too dry and your finished product will have dry rubbery chunks in it.

Once the whey has stopped dripping from the cheesecloths, squeeze them briefly. Then dump the cheese into a bowl.
Add salt and stir or mash. I use a potato masher followed by a stiff rubber spatula. This is the time to add any other ingredients. Our favorite combination is fresh thyme, garlic and freshly ground pepper. We also add fresh chives and other herbs. The ideas are endless here; sundried tomatoes and basil, jalapenos, jam, honey, nuts, citrus peel...

I wrap the cheese up using plastic wrap. It makes nice logs which fit into a gallon ziploc nicely. Recently I've been packing and freezing cheese in eight ounce glass jars as well. Sometimes I weigh the cheese as I roll it up.

The cheese freezes beautifully. It keeps in the refrigerator for up to ten days. This cheese can be used as a substitute for drained cottage cheese or ricotta. We eat it with crackers, on sandwiches, in tacos, on scrambled eggs and in omelets and quiche. I make a cream sauce using chevre and goat milk for macaroni and cheese and pasta dishes. I love it crumbled on salads and pizza. Make a dip by drizzling with olive oil and warming gently. I add it to muffins, pancakes and breads. The other night instead of draining yogurt for a tzatziki sauce, I made it with chevre. The uses for this cheese are endless, which make it my favorite cheese to stock up on.

My least favorite part of the process is cleaning the cheesecloths. Boring and lots of hot water. There are always cheeecloths hanging to dry from our pots and pan rack.

And as I mentioned, the part I dislike the most is packaging it and cleaning the cheesecloths. It takes lots of hot water to get the cloths clean. There are always cheesecloths hanging from our pots and pan rack.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bucks and wethers

I forgot to mention a few things in my previous post about bucklings and wethers. I wanted to point out the obvious but often overlooked fact that the does love their kids very much. They love their sons just as much as their daughters. I am sure that they are heartbroken when their sons are taken away from them forever. We decided early on that we would allow each doe to keep her first daughter, so that at least she would always have one of her offspring to keep her company. Xoe has had her first daughter Yin, and this year we are keeping Asia as well. Rose has her daughter Zinnia. She will lose all three of her sons this year, so hopefully Zinnia will be a comfort to her. Xanadu had her first doeling this year, one of the main reasons we decided to keep the two doelings this year.

The doelings do much better if they have one other companion their age. We've decided to keep either two doelings a year, or none, but never one. Of course keeping eight does is getting close to maxing out on numbers. If we want to keep doelings next year, we may be selling a couple does. We will try to sell a doe with her daughter, or a couple does that are close to eachother. We are trying to keep a couple does out of each buck, so that as they are bred we can see the differences between half sisters. We have three does out of Lew that are all ready to be bred this year. This years doelings are the first out of Xavier. This coming breeding season we have two bucks that we've never bred yet, Zanzibar and Zoro. We will have six does we can breed, although I think we will chose one to milk through and not re-breed so as to have a constant yearsupply of milk. My girlfriend has four Lamancha does to breed to our bucks this year. So we'll be having fun deciding who to breed to who. Zanzibar, pictured below, is getting much attention with his striking markings.

Xavier is three years old and full size. Zoro and Zanzibar are a little over a year and about half the size as Xavier. The bucks are very friendly and lovable. They are also large and don't realize their size or strength. I am cautious around them, but not afraid. We tie the bucks up every morning to eat their grain. This is to make sure we handle them and they are use to being guided by their colars. They also get use to waiting patiently while chained to a tree, so we can clean up their coral, fill waters etc. 

The bucklings are just as cute as the doelings. They run and play. They are curious and enjoy attention. Unlike the doelings we do not name them. I tend to handle them less in an attempt not to grow too attached. We find that the doelings tend to be more suspicious and aloof than their brothers. This year I have been working harder at handling the doelings from the beginning. In past years, I thought that they would come around to trusting me as they got use to my presence. This spring I've been picking the girls up and petting them daily, since they were born, and as a result they relax into my arms as soon as I pick them up. It's not easy selling the boys and not knowing for sure if they will be well cared for. We can give them a good start with their families and then look for responsible owners and hope for the best.

What to do with the Boys? Wethered Male Goats

Mamas lounging with their kids. In this picture the kids are spread out a bit, whereas often the kids will be in piles with their sister or brothers all pressed up against mom.

The sad reality is that we don't need or want the boys as much as the girls. Does give us milk. They do need to be bred every year, or three, to keep in milk, but one buck goes a long way. It is rather ridiculous of us to be keeping three bucks with such a small herd. We most likely wouldn't keep any bucks if there were healthy and local Lamancha bucks available for buck service. 

Our goal in keeping goats is to provide all the milk and cheese that we can use. We also have the numbers that if dairy legislation became more lax we could easily have surplus milk in the next year or two. We do love not needing to rely on outside goats to breed to every year. When the time comes to walk my does up the hill for a date, I rejoice that I am not packing her into the truck and driving an hour or more to breed her to a stranger buck that regardless of what someone says, I couldn't ever know how healthy their buck is like I know the health of my own goats.

We have no need for extra males. We have brush clearers aplenty, we just need more fencing. We don't need any more pets or companion wethers. When we first got into goats I thought we would always try and sell our bucklings as pets as opposed to being raised for meat. I have changed my mind on this matter. I believe that it is better to live a short quality life with a dignified death, than live a long life of neglect. There are folks who are interested in full sized dairy goat males as pets who will take good care of them, and I am more than happy to sell to them. However, good owners can be hard to find. Rather than sell wethers to people I'm not confident about, I will sell them to responsible individuals who intend to provide them with pasture or browse for the summer, followed by a quick and respectful death come fall, winter or the following spring. 

You may be wondering why we don't just raise them and eat them ourselves. The main reason is that we don't want to. Neither D or I, want to take on killing and slaughtering one of our own goat kids. Nor do we want to load them up, drop them off at a slaughterhouse and pay forty-five cents a pound for someone else to process the meat for us. We don't have enough land fenced in. We don't have enough land period. We would have to feed hay as a majority of their diet, which adds to the end cost of the meat. 

Having said this, I feel that it is not practical or sensible to care for these goat kids, disbud them, wether them, feed them, and then at eight weeks of age give them away because we don't want to be feeding them anymore, (and they can technically breed at ten- twelve weeks or so, so they'd have to have their own stall and pen). I have never tasted goat meat, but I would like to. I know that around the world it is more common that beef. I think that learning how to properly butcher a goat would be a worthwhile thing to know. Afterall, at some point we may lose goats that would be just fine for eating, and we could bury them in a deep hole, take them to the dump (seriously people do this and it is legal), or we could butcher the animal and have our own fresh goat meat. What is more respectful? To let an animal rot in the ground, or to use all of it and not let it go to waste? I know I am on touchy ground here, but I have given this topic much thought lately. When we help butcher pigs this fall, I have a feeling that a lot of parts could easily go to waste. I am hoping to not be overwhelmed at the time, to have a plan for each part of the animal and see it through, including the head, hooves, and yes tail and ears too. 

Raising animals for meat is not easy. Giving them happy and healthy lives is our first obligation. Second is killing them as quickly as possible, without making a stressful situation for the animal. Last would be using all of the animal, not letting meat and other edible parts waste, and then I suppose saying a little thanks and acknowledging the animal when you are preparing and eating it. 

At this time we are not meeting our own standards for raising our animals as healthy as we'd like, and the main reason is space. Since first getting into goats, I've realized that they would be much healthier if they had several acres to browse year round. With the chickens we would like to have them on pasture and move them daily so they are not sitting in their own filth. The layers aren't as bad. We clean out their coop fairly regularly and they do get chances to get out depending on the time of year. I notice it the most with the Cornish, especially if it is muddy out that they just eat and poop a lot more and spend more time laying around. We have a couple small poultry tractors built. We are hoping to build two more this summer that move around easier on our hillsides and rough terrain.

Getting back to what to do with male goats. Here is my ideal scenario. I would like to work out an arrangement where I give/sell the wethered males to someone who has at least some experience raising and butchering animals for meat. This person would take at least two goats (so they'd have each-other for company). The goats would be on fenced pasture or woods with some sort of shelter that they could get out of the rain and wind. They could be killed going into winter or housed in more durable warmer housing for the winter and killed in the spring or following fall. As far as keeping costs down, it would make the most sense for someone to butcher the goats themselves as opposed to taking them to a slaughterhouse. If they had to feed the goats hay, over the course of the winter, the cost would also go up. However, the goats will probably be in the eighty pound range come fall, whereas they'll be twice that size a year later. Ideally I'd be interested in working out a deal where I get some meat in return for waiving the initial purchase cost of the animals. I will be talking to interested folks in depth, possibly even visiting the farms where the animals are going. I need to make sure that they will be well taken care of, and if they are truly on pasture or browse, well that is about as happy as a goat can be.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

First Pictures of Summer Kids

Noah and Avery snacking on one of our very favorites, steamed Edamame with soy sauce. I was hoping to grow some this summer, but I lost the seeds, dangit!

Noah has been known to take off up the trail wearing nothing, underwear and boots or just a t-shirt. As long as the mosquitos aren't out I don't mind. Usually I try to push the shoes and shorts. We've got wild roses and raspberries everywhere. This picture is from a couple weeks ago. Now the banks are lush with growth. Noah's legs are black and blue with scrapes, scratches and bug bites.

Oh my, did mom really just set the ice cream maker down for us to scrape out right before dinner time? Kids in heaven. Goat milk ice-cream - infused with vanilla beans and wild blueberry jam stirred in.

Ducks. Saxony front left, Peking front middle, Welsh Harlequin Right, black runner in center back. Duck post coming soon.

                                                                        In the garden.