Saturday, December 24, 2011

Solstice celebration and Christmas preparations

Decorating cookies.

 Candlemaking, beeswax tapers.

 Compiling various homemade gifts, soap, candles, lotion, lip balm and felted purses and other creations.

I have never worked much with wool until this winter. The easiest quickest things to make ended up being purses. I wet felted sheets during the day and after the kids went to bed, I would needle felt, sew the sides and add a clasp or button. 

We celebrated solstice with a bonfire, marshmallows,  a few fireworks, glow rings and night sledding.

Happy late Solstice, Merry Christmas and best wishes for your Holiday Season!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Morning goat milking routine

Our goat milking routine and our milking area have evolved dramatically over the past four years. Prior to milking my own goats, I had never milked a goat or seen anyone milk a goat. I learned by trial and error, after reading online about how to milk a goat. Thankfully I have a local goat expert I was able to consult when I had challenges such as what to do when the new milkers were putting on a rodeo while I tried to milk them.

My first summer milking the does, I milked on any level place I could find in the garden, that was in the sun, as the mosquitoes are not as bad away from the shade. I moved the milk stand into the greenhouse, in between the tomatoes and winter squash when it rained. In the winter, I milked outside their pen, in as cold of weather as thirty below zero. I tried milking in their stall, but it was too much work to move the stand in and out. When I tried to leave it in their stall, they ate it.

My second summer, I milked inside a large tent that had a roof with mesh walls. It kept the rain and mosquitoes out. The doe stall and milking tent were above the garden which is about a hundred steep yards above the house. I would walk up with Avery on my back, either carrying the totes, pail and teat dip, and Noah walking along beside, or I'd pull behind a wagon. Either way, it was a tremendous amount of work just to get up the hill. When I look back on it, I think I was absolutely crazy - maybe I still am. I did have friend's coming up a couple days out of the week to help with milking, so I think I usually was just up there three to four days a week with both kids. I kept a play and pack in the tent in which I'd put nine month Avery in when she'd let me. Otherwise she was on my back. I would bob up and down singing to pacify her. Two year old Noah was often a big help shaking rattles for her and such. That winter we moved the does into a barn below our house. I was able to milk in an unheated, uninsulated, door-less structure, that at least kept the wind and snow out.

This last year has been more of the same. Until this fall when the structure-(the downstairs to our new addition on to our current house - he calls it "the man cave") now boasts windows, a door, slate floor and most impressively; a large efficient wood stove.

Our milking area is going to continue to change and improve for some time, as I imagine will our milking and feeding regime. But this is where we are at now. The above picture is what our current grain mixture looks like on morning three after soaking and almost sprouting the grains.

  1. Morning 1, Soak 3pts whole barley, 2 pts whole oats, 2 pts black oil sunflower seeds, 1 pt hard red winter wheat berries. Stir in 1/2 cup home brewed kombucha vinegar. (about 32 cups grain, guessing about nine pounds?)
  2. Night 1, drain grains into five gallon bucket with holes, inside a hole less five gallon bucket.
  3. Morning 2, rinse grains and leave sit till the following morning.
  4. Morning 3 stir in 1/4 cup molasses, 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup Diamond V Nutritional yeast supplement. I feed each milker 8-10 cups of grain mixture, about 2 - 21/2 pounds 
Note, as the grain soak and swell, the weight of the grain increases. I usually have several cups leftover of soaked grain mix. I take it up to the bucks when I'm done milking, who each get between two and three cups. The chickens also get a couple scoops most mornings. Usually the sunflower seeds are sprouted. If I wait another morning the oats and barley sprout, but by then the grains are starting to get a bit funky, which the does do not like. In the future I may play around with drying the rinsed grains in a shallower wider tub that allows for better air circulation. I recently added the vinegar to help combat funky grains - and I figured it could only help improve digestion and nutritional value.

 I have two does that look like they could use some extra calories, and I often give them extra grain. I recently bought a bag of beet pulp that I've been introducing slowly. When the goats are done with their grain I put a cup of beet pulp in their dish. Some of them eat it and some don't, but they seem to be growing more fond of it. I have heard that it should help keep the weight on. The main concern seems to be that all beet pulp is made from genetically modified beets. Right now, I'm more concerned with providing food that meets their nutritional needs.

In addition to the grain, the goats receive Brome hay, free choice, twice daily, Alfalfa nightly, about a couple pounds per head. They have mineral feeders with Sweetlix dairy goat mineral supplement, baking soda and kelp granules.

Here is just a random shot of what I've got thawing, soaking and sprouting the morning I was taking pictures. On the left is a gallon of Copper River Red fish eggs, thawing for the chickens. I've been feeding about a gallon a week in an attempt to meet their protein needs- they love em. In the middle are organic whole peas soaking for the chickens, another protein boost. On the right is the next day's goat grain ration.

I am slightly embarrassed to take pictures from this angle, not because of goat's hind ends, but rather for how messy the other end of the room is. But it is a work in progress. We currently do not have a garage, or very many places to store things safely, out of the rain, snow and cold etc. So at the end of the room are our back up refrigerator, two chest freezers (which will someday be outside), and lots of tools. The far side of this room will be our future milk area, with a poured concrete floor and drains, as opposed to the slate floor, which was intended for the family/game room, currently the milking area.

Zuri on the right and her ADOPTED daughter, Bali on the left. For the last six weeks or so, I've been bringing out the doelings with the milkers, to get them used to the milking stand, and get them handled frequently. We tend to handle the doelings a lot their first few months, and then slack off. They turn into wild things quickly. Last year we had three first fresheners. Zuri was amazing about behaving on the milk stand. Asia was ok. Zinnia has been horrible, but is now much improved. I take the blame for not handling her enough as a yearling. She did not want us near her kids nor herself. She would try and bite us when we first starting milking her. Most mornings with Zinnia are uneventful, but she tends to be a bit jumpy and gets nervous easily. I don't think I am ever going to make the time to work with Zinnia through her fear's, which I why I am most likely selling her this spring. Anyway, I have learned from my mistakes, and we are now handling the doelings daily in hopes that they will be more bonded with us during their first labors, and better behaved milkers from the start.
Milk pail under goat, ready for milking. I'm a huge fan of this half moon lid, keeps most debris out. Before I start to milk, I clean the does teats and udder with a warm soapy rag, (solution of tea tree oil, grape fruit seed extract and lavender Dr. Bronners hemp castille soap). I discard the first few streams of milk into an old quart yogurt tub just for that purpose, but I have plans to buy a stainless steel strip cup with the woven mesh inset soon.

Bali, who is the only doeling I am definitely not planning on breeding this year. She was born in April and the runt of triplets and is just too small.

This is how I cool the milk while I milk the rest of the does. It works very well. Cold water, ice packs. I happen to have chest freezer space close by which makes this more convenient than if I had to carry them from the house.

To any non farmer, this area looks a mess. But just about everything here is needed; medical supplies, nutritional supplements, gallon jars of dried herbs and legumes for sprouting, etc. Note my gallon jar of teat dip, left on the counter, my notebook in which I write down everyone's yield, and my clean pail and tote top right.

Bramble Rose left, and dam, Rose on right.

Above, is the notorious Zinnia. I don't mean to make her sound horrible. She can be very sweet. I think she is a very pretty doe, and her udder and teats are great for a first timer. One teat is lopsided because of an incident with her doelings nursing on only one side early on. The milk flows out easily which is one of the best parts.

Xanadu on the left, Zinnia on the right. I usually finish milking the does before they finish their grain, so I stagger them. I take the doeling out and bring the next doe in. I started with Bramble and Rose, then took Bramble out, gave Rose extra grain, brought Zinnia in, then took Rose out, gave Zinnia extra grain and brought Xan in. They don't always eat all their grain, and I don't always think they need extra, it just depends on the goat and how they are looking to me that day. 
After all the does are back in their pen, I toss hay, haul water, sometimes sweep and mop depending on how wet the floor already is, then put the ice packs back and haul the milk and used towels up to the house. I didn't always chill the milk and instead would process milk and then have to go back out and clean up, toss hay etc. The milk cools better in the cooler than it does in the fridge or sitting outside or in the snow, so I don't feel as rushed any more to get the milk processed as it is chilling already. Usually I mix and rinse grain in between milking goats, so that is done already. I take a bucket of extra grain up to the chickens and bucks.

And that is a typical morning. As always I am interested in how other goat owners go about things, so feel free to add in your two cents, or to ask any questions if I left anything out. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Darkest of Days

If I'd been listening to the news, I would know down to the minute how much light we received today. Instead I'm going to guess about five and a half hours of total daylight, which was not very light at all, but rather a dusky gray sort of day, getting dimmer before I'd hardly finished my outside chores. I haven't seen the sun in several days, but it has been very warm (for us), twenties, both are results of the overcast skies, which keep the heat in and and the sun out.

I've been promising informational posts for some time now, and alas, this is just another update of how we are surviving these dark winter days. The truth is that I've made some significant changes in our daily routine, namely reducing and almost eliminating television from the kid's day. Television is now reserved for sick days, special family movie nights, emergencies and breeding goats (D and I go up the hill to wrangle goats and the kid's get a bonus). We have replaced morning PBS t.v. with quality family time, morning songs, stories and visiting. At times the transition was rough, but now the kids are playing better than ever. The kids are spending so much time playing so well together (we are talking hours upstairs playing legos) that I am loathed but forced to interrupt them for meals and lessons. I use to write first thing in the morning while the kid's watched t.v. and I drank my tea. Now, I seem to hit the ground running, making and serving breakfast before my tea has cooled. Then out to do farm chores, which is where I find my solace.

I have been thinking that I have too much going on in my life. I spend too much time feeding and caring for animals, and not enough time with my family. I need to be a wife and mother first, and a farmer second. I am not sure what needs to go or if anything does. I do know that I must spend more time with my children. I am around them all day, but I am cleaning and cooking, while they play on their own. I am reminding myself daily to go simpler on the meals, and not get overly ambitious in the kitchen. We don't need three hot meals a day. The kids would rather have me as a playmate than have elaborate meals.

Homeschooling has been a welcome addition to our daily routine. I am really enjoying sitting down and working with Noah. I am planning lots of crafts and activities to do together with the kids. This week Noah and I learned how to finger knit. Dustin surprised me with our first Christmas tree this week. In the past we've decorated potted Norfolk pines and cut out paper trees and taped them to the wall. Never felt like we had the room for a tree. Guess we got tired of waiting to have the space so we made it happen. Today we made homemade ornaments for the Christmas tree out of play dough that we cut out with cookie cutters, baked and then painted. I also made a wreath out of the trees lower boughs for the table, and attempted to make a nativity scene out of play dough which didn't quite work out as I intended. I have bought beeswax in bulk for dipping candles, natural wool roving for felting projects and wool animals, and some small wood figurines to make nativity scene characters.

In the evenings I have been knitting gifts, reading, or indulging in movies with Dustin. I am already thinking that I should start next year's Christmas gifts this coming January. As there is so much I want to make and I am not very realistic. I have red yarn for a neck warmer for Noah. I bought some specialty buttons, in combination with the wool roving I'm planning on making a wallet for Noah and a purse for Avery. I also wanted to make them some dress up hats, masks or crowns as they spend half their days playing pirates or knights and princesses.

Here are a few pictures from our Thanksgiving and Dark days:

kid's felting coil bracelet's

Our twenty-four pound turkey hen. Brined with salt and herbs, stuffed and rubbed with herbs. It was a lovely as a turkey gets, thanks to my mom who cooked it perfectly.

The prettiest rolls I've ever made.

Avery, cousin Aiden and Noah.

Tips for anyone feeling down from the dark days: get outside if you can while it is light, light candles when you are inside, bake cookies, start a good book or a new craft, curl up with a seed catalog - I've already gotten two! Get together with friends for a meal, simmer up some mulled spiced wine or cider - add a splash of dark rum or not, if the sun doesn't hit your house, drive your car somewhere and park and let the sun shine on your face while you close your eyes and dream of lying on the beach. If all else fails; go to the tanning beds - seriously.

I almost forgot, last night we saw the Aurora for the first time this year. A long green ribbon trailing across the north sky, undulating this way and that. Hello dark winter nights.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Winter farm pictures

With our first cold snap of the season, we are hunkering down here in the Interior of Alaska. Today is thirty below zero in town. Unfortunately I didn't realize that the thermometer I bought last winter only goes down to twenty below. It has been bottomed out for the last couple days, so I can only guess. We usually have a temperature inversion which results in warmer temperatures in the hills, but sometimes the inversion is slow to kick in, as has been the case this week. Fortunately the kids and I have not had to leave for town all week. We've been keeping the wood stove going non stop and cooking and baking lots of good food.

I took the camera along on my morning chore walk the other day. Starting in the picture above is Rose on the milk stand and her doeling Bramble in the door way. This is a view from the middle of the room, with our new wood stove on the left, entrance on the right, all my goat stuff in the back right, goat stands in the middle, and on the very far right you can see a corner of my grain table, where I mix and doll out grain. This is my milk
setup for this winter. Maybe by next year I'll be in the back of the room, where we have plans for a cement floor with a drain and sinks with plumbing.

Up until just a couple weeks ago I thought all the goats were looking really good. Rose and a couple of the other milkers are starting to look a little thin, as are my bucks. I'm feeding the does more alfalfa and the bucks are getting more grain. Maybe we'll be making some more changes in how we are feeding here soon in an attempt to get everyone looking better.

Blue, one of Zinnia's two doelings.

Avalon, our yearling, looking quite well going into winter- maybe overly plump - who will hopefully be kidding for the first time in April.

Heated duck/goose waterer.

Rosie, our friendly goose in front of her indoor shelter.

Hodgepodge of ducks, that we hatched this spring.

Some of our layers, in the front some new black sexlinks that just started laying, thankfully. The egg drought is over.

Ducks drinking warm water. This is through two fences. On my way up to the chickens I turned around and saw them all running to their water, and turned to get a shot. The heater that is in their water takes up 120 watts of electricity. I haul about three gallons of water up the hill daily for these ten ducks and two geese. Our twenty chickens, on the other hand, go through about three gallons every four days or so. This is one of my biggest complaints about the waterfowl this time of year, just too much water hauling up the hill.

Bucks up the hill.

Looking down at the poultry coop. This started out as a horse hovel. Then after dirt work the ceiling was pretty  high. After selling my horse, we decided to use the pre-existing structure and we turned it into a two story dwelling. The bottom shelter has a dirt floor, is smaller and is better insulated. We are thinking of keeping less waterfowl and instead, keeping chickens on both levels.

Every year, I get bitten with a new bug, the goat bug, chicken bug, turkey then ducks then the geese bug. Some bugs I manage to quell. For I while I was set on raising pigs and that has gone on the wayside. This year I have been looking at rabbits, Nubians, Angoras or Shetland Sheep for fiber and different breeds of chickens. I am just dreaming. I don't think I'm going to allow myself to get into any more species this year, but it is fun to dream. In reality, I'm thinking more bee hives and more chickens, less waterfowl. Keep it simple.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Meeting our meat, egg, dairy needs, and animal numbers

It is four p.m. It is fast becoming dark, and will be completely so within the hour.  All afternoon I have been enjoying looking out the windows and watching large snow flakes drift in slow motion to meet the existing snow mounded on every surface. The woods surrounding our home are the perfect picture of winter. The Birch and Spruce trees are much improved outlined in their white snowy garments.

Our winter's and summers are as different as night and day. For six months out of the year I forget the moon and stars completely. I have no clue if the moon is full or new in the summer. We are so busy during the warm light months that I scarcely spare a thought for the dark cold winter days. This time of year, the daylight we lose daily is almost discernible. Each day is shorter than the last. Our hours of true sunny light are few. Here on our north west facing hillside, the sun does not hit our property for the next few months. Most daylight hours are gray and dim. And yet, somehow it does not bother us (yet). The ambiance of the clear glass fronted wood stove and lit candles on the counters and table do much for our spirits. Each year that I live I am more aware and in tune with the natural rhythm of this world. Both the climate we live in and the lifestyle we have chosen contribute to this consciousness which I am thankful for.

In between making feta and shaping french baguettes, the kids and I fit in a home school lesson,  played princes and princesses; during which we had a ball where Noah danced with the available princesses and chose a bride,  I married Prince Noah to Princess Avery and then we all fended off an attack on the castle by pirates. If I paint a rosy picture, it is not a result of pretensions, but a reflection of my true contentment with this life. If there is one thing I will complain about, it is that there are not enough hours in the day. We are sleeping in later, going to bed earlier. I do not attempt to make this life seem easy. My kitchen and play time are fit in between outside chores, sometimes breeding, butchering or delivering animals. Dustin and I take turns, each spending at least a couple hours outside doing chores; he chops the wood and hauls the water, I milk, feed and water the animals. He builds and fixes our homes, animal shelters, fencing and feeders. He clears the snow from our 1/4 mile driveway and trail system on foot with a snow blower. We both dream of ways to improve our homestead.

This week was a busy one. We took turns cleaning out bedding from the doe barn. Now our outdoors smells worse than usual, as we couldn't get all the stinky deep pack bedding as far from the house as usual. Dustin was asking what we can do about the smell, I said soon it will be cold enough, it will freeze and no longer smell - till spring :) We bred three goats this week, Rose, Zinnia and Avalon. Everyone has been in heat. The does have been rambunctious to say the least. My brother came up and killed and butchered two male goat wethers for us. I helped cut up the meat last night, and I took lots of pictures - post coming soon. We are eating fresh goat back-strap tonight, tenderloin and goat chops in the coming days.

I've been wanting to give a run down of all our animals that we raised this year, what we've got in the freezer and who we've got left. So, I'll try to be concise. For any new readers, we are entering our fifth year raising dairy goats and poultry. Our primary goal is to meet our own meat, milk, cheese and egg needs. This is our first year selling goat shares and supplying shareholders with milk, and so the goats are paying for a significant portion of their own food bill now; which is huge!
  • Goats
  1. Three full grown bucks. We are planning on narrowing it down to two within the next year to cut down on feed costs. 
  2. Five milking does, each giving between three and six pounds of milk each morning. I plan on breeding three of the five, and continuing to milk two until next fall without re-breeding so that we will have a continuous supply of milk.
  3. One yearling, hopefully bred now. 
  4. Four eight month old doelings, two to three of which I am planning on breeding in December or January.
  5. This year we sold one registered buckling for $375, sold one 3 mos wether for $75. Traded one 5 mos wether for rabbit meat. This week we butchered two 8 mos. wethers for a total of $65 pounds of bone in meat. We butchered one three year old female who never bred, for about forty pounds of bone in meat. We also sold one first freshener and her unregistered doeling for $500. 
  6. In summary we now have thirteen goats after selling five and butchering three.
  7. As far as changes go, dropping down to two bucks and not re-breeding every doe should help cut down on feed costs and overcrowding during the summer months. This was our first year butchering our own goats and while it is not easy, having our own red meat is fabulous - so we will continue to keep 4-6 wethers until fall each year.
  • Poultry
  1. We bought twenty-five Cornish Cross in early June (I think). As usual we butchered them late. So they range between five and nine pounds each. We put twenty-two into the freezer. Which should get us through until next year. We love the meat. I do not love feeding and butchering them. We don't have enough room for them, so I blame myself for their sub standard of living.  If I can find a local grower interested in raising and butchering meat birds for us, I would be easily persuaded to give up on doing this ourselves at this point in our lives. But don't get me wrong, I am not ever going back to store bought chicken - not that we ever bought it much anyway.
  2. We have about twenty laying hens. We have quite the odd assortment ranging from pullets to three year olds, Welsummers, Red and Black Sexlinked hens, one Cornish, four show quality Ameraucanas and some crosses that we hatched ourselves this year.  The past few weeks we've had the most serious egg drought since we begin raising layers. The new layers hadn't started yet and the older ladies are taking a break. We are back on track as the oldest newbies have begun to lay, thankfully. I have found that the number of eggs we get from the chickens pays for their whole grain feed, maybe even their electricity. If we were to have more of something, D and I agree that maybe it should be chickens, as there is quite the demand for local eggs which go for $5 - $6  a dozen. We did hatch our own chicks this year, we bought six black sexlinks because we like them so and they are a hybrid. I sold seven chicks at five dollars a piece -every bit helps.
  3. Ten Ducks. We hatched eight ducklings this year from our own stock. We have two Peking females from last year. We have a colorful assortment of Saxony Peking  and Peking Runner crosses. As much as I love having the ducks around, I really don't like the amount of water we haul in the winter, nor the poopy duck eggs. I have a hard time keeping their bedding clean enough and getting the girls to lay where I want them to. We do enjoy duck meat, although there is so little there compared to chickens.
  4. Two geese. We bought three Toulouse geese this year. We ate one male shortly after he bit me. The meat was wonderful, as was the fat of course. I saved the down as well. Our plan is to let our remaining couple lay and hatch out some eggs this spring. If the geese begin to overrun the homestead, we will have lots of goose meat next year. Although, I really enjoy having the female goose follow us around. She makes for entertaining company so hopefully we can at least keep a couple females for eggs and company, if the males become to aggressive. 
  5. We raised two turkeys which both reside in the freezer now. I do love having a couple turkeys around for their interesting behaviors and sounds they make. We bought four turkey poults and lost two. We decided just to raise the two in with the Cornish and that worked just fine. We butchered the two broad breasted white turkey hens last week. They weighed in at twenty-two and twenty-five pounds - which I have to insist was not intentional. Just one of those things which is easy to procrastinate. Towards the end they were perching on the stairs inside the chicken coop all night, and a frozen tower of turkey poop was forming. They couldn't get inside where the heated waterer was, so I had to pour water outside for them daily which would quickly freeze. So, as much as I like the idea of heritage turkeys living in our trees year round, the reality for now is that the broad breasted birds really put the weight on and fill up the freezer with tasty meat. Most likely we will get four turkey poults again next spring. Although, I do sometimes think that I would buy a couple from someone local. I could easily take a summer off meat bird butchering.
  • Honey Bees, this was our first year doing bees. We put a lot of money into a bee class, suit and veil, new hive with new frames and in return we got three quarters of a gallon of honey. I am embarrassed but not disheartened. I am already looking forward to next year's bees. D is talking of building me more hives now that he has a model. Noah is already asking for a bee suit for his April Bday. I love beekeeping. So, while this year we are using the honey sparingly, I look forward to much more bountiful honey years. I should say that the instructor I took the bee class from keeps dozens of hives and his average was 55 pounds of honey per hive, (eleven pounds of honey in a gallon). So there is certainly room for improvement.
Going into winter we are feeding thirteen goats, twenty layers, ten ducks and two geese. The bucks have their own shelter and pen about a hundred yards up hill from the house. The chickens have their own indoor and roofed outdoor coop. The ducks and geese have an indoor shelter with and outdoor pen that is below the chickens. The doe barn is below the house. We have animals to check on, feed and water at least once daily, in four different locations on our property. My dream land has one big barn close to our house with everyone divided into their own spaces - except the bucks; they will still be up or down the hill depending on how the wind tends to blow.
     In the last three months we have put twenty-two Cornish Cross chickens, two huge Broad Breasted White turkeys and fifty pounds of goat meat into the freezer to join what was left of the thirty-five Copper River Reds from this summer. We were also give a good amount of moose. We shall not lack in meat this year. Meat is one of the easier things to obtain locally. There are not as strict of laws surrounding meat as there are dairy. I never thought we would eat this quantity of meat. In an effort to eat more seasonally, locally and moreover, to eat what we can produce ourselves, meat has become a solid contributor to our diet. I do enjoy the diversity in poultry, and yet raising several different types and ages of birds complicates the summer chores. At one point I thought we would start raising pigs. Now, if there were one other meat animal I'd add, it would probably be rabbits. I have been thinking of how to simplify my summer chores and life in general, so we may be raising less poultry for a while and trying to find it locally instead.

    I love that if we wanted to we could really do without going to the supermarket weekly. We mostly go for the extras, the few processed food extras that make the days easier; nuts, cheddar cheese, tortillas, crackers and noodles (sometimes I make my own). We also rely heavily on sugars, oils and spices. We buy our beans and grains from Azure Standard, and I grind our own grain for bread. I am not a hard core locavore. Eating enjoyable food is more important to me than local. Of course, the more local and seasonal food we eat the better, but I'm not willing to go without lemons, apples and scallions during the winter months. My kids (and myself) prefer fresh vegetables, so their health and the fact that they eat more vegetables if we buy _______(fill in the blank) in January, is more important to me than trying to eat canned or frozen veggies out of our garden, if they are things we don't enjoy.

    We are meeting our meat, egg and dairy needs year round. If we were content with more frozen or canned vegetables, or had a root cellar, I could almost say the same thing about vegetables. We are eating from the garden almost exclusively for about seven months out of the year. From  late February to May are the months where the last of things are sprouting, going soft, beginning to grow or rot, and where we are once more purchasing everything again. However, if I were more resourceful, we would be better at eating all of our odds and ends that I put away and don't use. I've got frozen kale and broccoli in the freezer from 09, one, two and three year old gallon jars of sun dried tomatoes, and quarts of dried onions, carrots and beets from last year.

    This is where we are at. Working towards growing, harvesting and butchering more of our own food each year. Learning what works and what doesn't. Each year, each season brings new lessons and surprises. I view this year as successful. There will be more time this winter for math. I know that to an extent our money just goes to one store instead of another, instead of spending money on processed meat, we are spending money on grain from the feed store. Self Sufficiency is still a long ways off. We continue to look forward to the next step; real farm land, land for growing the food we need to feed the animals which in turn feed us; that is the next step.

    Sunday, October 30, 2011

    Settling In to Winter

    Onions from the garden. (Much bigger than last years)

    We are settling into winter here in Interior Alaska. I feel as though folks everywhere are letting out a sigh of relief and acceptance. If there were still a few things to do before the snow came, toys and tools to clean up, we are past that now. The ground is frozen and covered with a light layer of snow. For us, there are still daily farm chores, complicated by snow and cold temperatures. It is too cold for the kids to be outside for long. We are getting into a winter routine. I get out for an hour and a half for morning chores. Then spend most the day indoors cooking, cleaning, reading, doing home-school lessons and crafts with the kids. Dustin is spending time prepping firewood each day and working on our house addition.

    Until this week we have not purchased vegetables (with the exception of the occasional avocado or bag of corn) since early summer. We've got enough vegetables stored to last us into early spring. We've been eating carrots daily, potatoes,celery, beets, onions and garlic. We've got frozen blanched greens I've been putting in soups, jars of sauerkraut and around a dozen heads of cabbage stored. I felt like I was indulging by buying herb salad greens, a bag of snap peas, a bag of colored peppers and some fresh broccoli at the store. Everything looked fine, but upon eating we discovered the peas were overripe and a little rubbery, the peppers were tasteless and under ripe, the broccoli bland and a different texture. The greens made for a nice salad. Oh, how fortunate are we who know and enjoy vegetables directly from our own gardens.

     Decorating the house with dried flowers from the garden.

    Beet soup swirled with carrot ginger soup and creme fraiche.

     We've been enjoying harvest dinners with family and friends. At each feast, I think to document it with notes and pictures, but I'm too busy savoring the food and company. Most meals begin with our mold ripened chevre and crackers. A friend made a tomato tart with homemade puff pastry and her own heirloom tomatoes. We have been enjoying grilled Dall sheep, Caribou and Moose, courtesy of my brother; the mighty hunter of the family. At the last meal, I made the above soup. To finish the meal, I brought an applesauce goat cheesecake with a gingersnap crust and cranberry honey topping. Made with Nancy's crabapples, our own cheese, cranberries and honey - of course. 

    I've been thinking that the key to being as excited about winter as I am, is to either spend your summer farming. Or at least, have an outdoor job where you spend as much time enjoying and loving each warm day that spring, summer and fall bring us. I am overjoyed to be entering into winter. I think I have enough to do this winter, that I won't be bored until February, and by then it will be time to start seeds and prepare for goat kidding season. 

    This morning is special because it is the first day I have a heated milking parlor to milk goats in. Yesterday Dustin installed our wood stove in our new addition/ milk parlor. I have to mention that Dustin calls the area his "man cave". The goats are forever taking over. "Milk parlor" I say, hah! For the last four years I have milked outside, in the goat stall and in unheated shelters. Milking outside isn't really so bad. Even when it is twenty below zero, I find it rather thrilling- just don't touch the stainless steel pail with wet hands! However, now that I have a heated area, I'm sure I'm going to love it. This morning the temperature is in the single digits outdoors. As I milk in a warm room, I have the ambiance of a beautiful new wood stove, with a glass front so I can watch the flames flicker. Everyone say "ooooh".  Now the molasses and olive oil are going to pour much easier too and I won't have to carry the bucket of soaked grains indoors so they won't freeze and be crunchy cold in the morning.

    Best wishes to you wherever you are in your fall or winter preparations.

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    First Snow days

    Our world is white once more. It started snowing last Sunday, and it is still here. Here stay for a long while I'm sure. We are getting accustomed to watching our step as we navigate the paths carrying water jugs and armloads of hay to the animals. The temperatures have been mostly in the twenties. Goat water tanks and chicken and duck water heaters are all plugged in so that their water containers won't freeze solid. At first the kids were pretty excited about the snow. Noah tried sledding the first night it started to snow. He tried out three sleds on the hill, but was disappointed that none of them would work on the half inch of snow that lay on the driveway. The first day the snow was moist enough we could roll snowballs and have snowball fights. Now it is too dry as is typical for snow here in our arctic desert.

    Now that Dustin is home for a while and done with summer work, I'm getting out on my own in the morning for milking and chores, which take about an hour and a half. Then we are getting the kids outside in the afternoon to play till they get cold. Otherwise, we are all thrilled to be spending the day indoors. We've been keeping the woodstove going, so there is the pleasant glow of the fire in our living area- and it is toasty warm. I've been baking bread, pita, cornbread and biscuits to go with all the different soups; chicken noodle, white bean with pancetta and vegetables, goat curry and many more. I've made two meat pot pies in the last couple weeks. I should say, they were the best pot pies I've ever made, phenomenal actually. One was with goose and the other with ribeye steak leftovers.

    I'm thoroughly enjoying beginning every meal with our own onions, garlic, celery and carrots. Then all of our own meat of course. We are having an egg shortage around here. First egg drought since we got chickens. I think some of our old layers are taking a longer break than in past years and the new layers haven't started yet. We've bought eggs twice in the last couple weeks, gasp! (And even the organic, cage free hen eggs are nothing compared to our lovely orange yolk eggs).

    In other random news, we've got a local lynx paying us regular visits. Handsome young guy. Not too timid. The first time I saw him, he was about twenty feet away, and he sat down and watched me, watching him, till we were bored of inspecting eachother. The second time I saw him, I was putting free range pullets away, of which he had already gotten three of. They had taken shelter in the buck pen, under their ramp. So I had to scoop them out in the presence of three excited bucks while the lynx watched from the edge of the garden licking his lips.

    I sold Asia and Brie this weekend. I would have liked to keep another milker going into winter. For a first timer Asia was doing pretty good, producing well. I loved milking her tiny teats. She has a nice udder, and in most areas seems improved upon her dam. Our doe barn is overcrowded and I've been trying to sell a couple goats, and these were the two that sold. I felt really good about the buyer. She seems like a very nice lady who has a few goats already, and takes good care of them. So, thanks Brenda, if you are reading this! This was the first time I've sold any of our does. I've got a few more I'm ready to sell, but it looks like I've got a couple interested buyers lined up for late winter/ spring. So, looks like the barn is going to stay on the crowded side. As a result, I'm going to keep milking the milkers, and breed them later than usual.

    I am turning my mind away from harvesting and preparing for winter, to winter crafts and holiday preparations. I've been playing around with felting. I'm beginning some knitting projects. I have big plans for homemade holiday gifts, so I'm starting now. We are homeschooling Noah, and I've been behind with everything else going on. Now I'm ready to commit to more of a planned schedule. I am looking forward to doing lots of crafts with the kids. So far we've been painting together with the Waldorf approach. We've also been playing with wool and beads, and working with colored beeswax and bake-able play doughs.

    Here are a few final pictures of fall. These are from the last time the kids and I were in the garden, letting the goats nibble on the few remaining pea vines and sunflowers.

     I've plans to start writing more here. I'll be writing more on milk, cheese making, goat feeding and how meat butchering has been going for us. Happy fall/first snow days to you!

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    Final Autumn Days

    We are trying to make the most of these final days. I took these pictures about a week ago. We've been letting the geese, ducks, turkeys and chickens out when we are home all day and planning on being outside. The two turkeys are huge, they don't look it but they feel like it. They need to be butchered and it is just a matter of finding time. Meanwhile they are eating a lot and rapidly growing heavier. Last year none of the turkeys would fit in our oven. I grilled one, chopped and ground one, and then we cut one in half and cooked the two halves in each of my mom's large ovens. The largest one weighed in around thirty four pounds. We are not going for such large birds, it just kind of happens around here.

    My husband is still working away from home between sixty and seventy some hours a week, until the ground freezes solid they say. We appreciate the income but we are behind on winter preparations, namely; firewood. I don't write much about my husband. He prefers to fly under the radar. However; this time of year I am ever so grateful to him for working such long days, outside in the cold from dawn to dusk, so that we can live this lifestyle we've chosen. I am hoping that we have at least another week or two before the snow settles in. It is just so much easier to move wheelbarrows and move about the property now, before we are walking on narrow trails, dealing with snow drifts and slippery stairs.

    Rosie the goose who is the only nice goose right now, hopefully she stays that way. She enjoys following us around and is very curious. She genuinely seems to enjoy our company. We enjoy her's as well.

    Noah, riding down from the garden, leaning on a bag of kale.
    In other news, we have added on some new shareholders. We are up to seven and there are two more families interested. So nine is a nice number and close to the ten I was going for. Now we will just have to see how long we can provide milk for. I am currently milking six does and putting a seventh junior doe on the stand as well. I am getting about three and half gallons of milk. Everyone's milk is tasting good. Up until last week I was carrying a bucket of milk up to the birds two to three times a week, but I think I'll be able to reduce that and at least carry up smaller quantities and not the entire morning's milking. I am looking forward to having time to make cheese. I'm hoping D will have time to look at my cream separator and use his genius to fix it soon, as it has quite working completely. And now I've dallied long enough and it is time to get out and milk. Happy autumn days to you and yours!