Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Another Breeding Season in the Books

Breeding season was somewhat chaotic this year. Having a baby in October threw me off for a few months, leaving me scrambling to find a buck in late December. Our goats go into heat seasonally, from September-January, so missing it completely was a growing possibility. Thankfully, I found a registered Nigerian Dwarf buck in the area available for a three week lease. Leasing a buck would save me from frantically driving my girls over one at a time when they went into heat (like last year), so I jumped at the offer.

Enter Totes Ma Goats. I actually failed to ask the name of the buck when I picked him up.  I could not have a nameless goat running around our farm, so I left it to my eight year old daughter to name our temporary addition. I later found out his registered name is River-Raisin Whistler's Spitfire, but I still prefer Totes. He was a cute little thing, with a mohawk and a friendly personality, and he didn't even stink that much. Or maybe my farm nose is just becoming acclimated.

Totes, mid jump, attempting to flee from Bass

Most Nigerian Dwarf goats are small, and Totes was no exception. His fuzzy mohawk reached just halfway up the shoulder on most of our full-sized does. Because of the height discrepancy, breeding required a little more involvement than I would prefer. And, that's all I will say about that.

If all goes as planned, we will have five bred does on our farm due to kid in June. I am so excited for another round of goat babies, as well as fresh milk flowing on our farm again! These long winter days have been dragging on me and planning for "farming season" is now consuming my thoughts. I am ready to get out from behind this computer and put my hands in some dirt!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Big Pig Harvest

If I could label this last weekend, it would be "The Weekend of the Pig." I saw more pig in two days than in the entire rest of my life combined. I closed my eyes at night and saw piles of bacon. Not pristine prepackaged stacks on store shelves, but massive slabs of pork belly just waiting to be brined and smoked. It was tedious. It was exhausting. It was sometimes sad, but it was incredibly rewarding.


I highly recommend this book: Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game (Amazon link)

There were ten pigs ready for slaughter. All of them were of various heritage breeds and pasture raised on organic fermented feed and raw cow’s milk. They had the happiest life possible, and they were about to die the easiest death possible for an animal. One minute they would be eating feed, a split second later they would be gone.

Seeing the cost of our food firsthand in both life and labor definitely causes one to pause before a meal. A prayer of thanksgiving for sustenance provided by God becomes so much more meaningful after witnessing the price paid. The fact that animals die in order to sustain us is a harsh reality, but it is not a cruel reality. Pig life on an industrial farm—that may be considered cruelty.

While the pigs were all raised on one farm, they were owned by various people who assisted in the harvest. On Saturday, we all assembled and the process began. First, the pigs were shot in the head and stuck (their throat was slit to allow all the blood to drain out). Following this, they were dunked in scalding water and scraped to remove their hair. Unlike deer processing, the pig’s skin is left on the body. The pig was then hung and gutted, before being moved to a pole barn to hang overnight.
Scalding and gutting
Aren't we cute?
Photo credit: Cindy Caro

I stuck a pig and scraped a few before picking up little B from the babysitter. I spent the rest of the time sitting inside nursing and downing coffee, cheering on the occasional worker who came inside to use the restroom or regain feeling in their toes. The last pig was hung about eight hours after the process began, after which we raided the local barbeque place. We showed our waiter videos from our afternoon over heaping plates of pulled pork and chatted with the owner about hog farming. We were pretty cool.

On Sunday, a chef came out to teach us an entire course on butchering. A few of us had slaughtered pigs and processed deer before, but all of us were newbies when it came to pig butchering. We cut the pigs in half, and then each half was portioned out into four large cuts. These sections were then further broken down: picnic shoulders, St Louis ribs, baby back ribs, pork belly for bacon, chops, hams, and roasts. Bones were saved for stock, and scraps were saved for grinding.

Starting at 9 am, the last of it was cut and bagged by about 6 pm. Of course, by that point I had long since checked out of the process, leaving my husband to labor over the carcass while I drank coffee by the fire with a baby on my lap. (Can you spot a trend here?)

We immediately threw some chops on the grill, and—let me tell you—the fat was like butter. You could pretty much taste the wild herbage and cow milk seeping through the muscle fibers. Or, maybe we were all delirious from a ridiculously long weekend and the effect of one beer on our tired frames. To say it was satisfying would be a drastic understatement.

On Monday and Tuesday, I redeemed myself. I spent a total of seven hours washing, repacking, cutting, and grinding meat, and there is more yet to do. Our freezer is stocked with chickens, venison, and pork to last the better part of a year. I am thankful: thankful for the pigs, for amazing friends, and for another lesson learned on this homesteading journey.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

You Might be a Redneck if...

There have been many moments in my life in which I thought I reached the pinnacle of backwoods living. However, little compares to what happened the other night. I have recounted this story to a few people around here, most of whom have nodded in assent, "Uh-huh, that's one way to do it." But the truth remains--we now eat road kill.

View from the tree stand
My husband spent a few hours in his tree stand nearly every day from October 1 to January 1. He hunted bow season, shotgun season, muzzleloader season, and late doe season--all with nothing to show for it. He shot one buck the day I came home from the hospital with our own little B.  He spent five hours tracking it to no avail, coming home tired and empty handed to a less-than-thrilled wife. After bow season, the deer patterns changed and he just wasn't seeing much of anything. After another day of frustrated attempts, he said a prayer from his stand, "Lord, I just want meat in the freezer."

BAM. Tires screeched and a reverberating thump was heard from the road directly behind his tree stand, just as my husband was descending to come inside for the night. He ran out in full camo and carrying his muzzleloader to find a massive doe lying near the asphalt, hit directly onto our own property. My husband talked to the lady who hit the deer: yes, she was alright, and no, she did not mind if we took the carcass. Did she want to pull her SUV into our driveway while she waited for a tow truck? No, thank you.

We immediately set the children in front of the TV and started processing the deer. This involved gutting, hanging, removing the head and legs, and skinning the deer. This went fairly quickly with two of us working and only became awkward when a car accidently pulled into our driveway to turn around. They were greeted with quite a sight.

After a quick break to run to the store for freezer bags, fix supper for the children, and nurse a fussy baby, we began the butchering process. While my husband quartered the deer, I stayed in the kitchen cutting the pieces of meat from the bone. The tougher pieces were saved for grinding while roasts, tenderloins, and backstraps were packaged separately. All told, everything went quickly and smoothly. The deer was in pretty good shape for being clobbered by an SUV, and we were able to get a sizeable amount of meat in the freezer. Even though the method was slightly unconventional, I am thankful for the result!

The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it.
Numbers 11:18b

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A New Addition and a Loss

When I found out I was pregnant last spring, blogging was one of the things I decided to set aside in hopes of maintaining my sanity. Few events of note happened, anyways; it was a fairly quiet and peaceful summer. Now that our precious boy is six weeks old, I will attempt to continue the narration of our little farm.

Our own baby Buck was born on October 16th. It was two days past my due date, and I was feeling it. A summer of chasing goats up and down the hills around our house had left me eager to have a normal sized torso again. Then, a few days before I went into labor, we harvested our 43 meat chickens--a lengthy process that is tiring when NOT pregnant. However, little B was pretty content in my belly and decided to stick around through all of the activity.

During the time I was laboring in the hospital, my husband and I laughed over silly goat YouTube videos while my best friend snapped pictures. My 8 year old daughter and mother were there, as well, to witness the water birth that took place just three hours after admission and after five minutes of pushing. For the past six weeks, A and S have been happily adjusting to having a little brother, and I have been happily adjusting to being a homesteading/homeschooling mother of three surviving.

Just one day after we came home from the hospital, Moon went down. After a rocky start on our farm, Moon turned out to be our best milking goat this year before battling health issues in the last few months. What started out as a copper deficiency became an immense struggle against parasites that her body just could not fight off. We had tried everything, both herbally and chemically, with little response. After spending days trying everything we could to get her back on her feet, the vet came and gave a discouraging prognosis. He said it looked like meningeal worm, a particularly devastating parasite that attacks the nervous system and is both hard to prevent and hard to treat. Moon was losing all feeling in her legs, and he gave her less than 50% chance of survival. I spent the next few days walking out to the barn every day to hand feed her and give her the medicine the vet said was our last shot at saving her. I could no longer go to her stall without crying. I would sit at her side, counting her breaths and stroking her thinning hide, encouraging her to lick molasses from my fingers. When she finally died, I was just thankful the suffering was over.

Unfortunately, death is a regular part of this lifestyle, and it is something I have dealt with many times already in our short tenure here. I have yet to become hardened towards it, and I am not sure one is supposed to be. Life is precious and something to be incredibly thankful for. There is always sorrow in death--whether it is the planned slaughter of our chickens for meat, or the unplanned suffering of one of our best goats. It is one more reminder that we live in a decaying world, and I am so thankful for the hope that we have in Jesus. One day, this will all be put right again.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Revelation 21:4

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Easy Cheesy!

With the abundance of milk that our refrigerator now holds, it is time to start making cheese again! My go-to recipe last year was a simple vinegar cheese, usually pureed with flavorful additions to make a creamy spread. This is by far one of the easiest recipes I have come across in the extensive history of my cheese-making career. OK, so I have just been making cheese for one year. However, that just proves how simple this is!

Whole milk
Vinegar (white or apple cider)
Additives (optional): roasted or raw garlic, rosemary, red pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, honey, berries, etc. Get creative!

1. Heat milk in stainless steel pot to 195 degrees, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon

2. Once milk reaches 195 degrees, add a glug* of vinegar. Milk will separate into curds and whey.

3. Strain out the curds and salt to desired taste. Save some of the whey if you will be making a cheese spread.

If you want, you can stop the process right here! Crumble this cheese over salads in place of feta, or use on tacos as queso blanco. You can also press this cheese and slice for use on sandwiches. However, if you are feeling more adventurous, continue to step four.

4. Throw your additives and salted curds into a food processor and blend until creamy. You can add a splash or two of the saved whey to make it more creamy, if needed.

5. Slather the resulting spread on a slice of toasted artisan bread, serve with some cut raw veggies, or add a scoop to finish off your favorite cooking recipe.

*glug is my highly technical term for about an 1/8 cup. I hate measuring, though, and this recipe is pretty forgiving. Just add a little bit of vinegar until the milk separates.

I will warn that the residue from this recipe clings fiercely to everything it touches. Make sure to douse every pot and utensil in warm water immediately after use.

This summer, I hope to conquer mozzerella. There is an easy mozzerella recipe on the Pioneer Woman's blog that I have used exactly one time with moderate success. It uses a microwave to streamline the process, which is not my favorite kitchen aid, but I find myself a little more willing to cut corners this year.

I have a friend who uses this recipe regularly, and she recommended adding a full two teaspoons of salt just prior to the third microwaving and also cautioned against overworking the cheese.

Happy cheesemaking!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Milking Does and Chasing Kids

Well, we are well past Nibbles' due date and have come to terms with the fact that she was never pregnant. Fortunately, Cupcake and Moon are producing a combined 3/4 gallon per milking, which is plenty to keep my refrigerator fully stocked. Meanwhile, Nibbles is rather joyous to be free of my prodding hands on her belly, checking for signs of a kicking baby or filling udder. She frolics with the growing kids and continues to be our most comical and complacent goat.

The kids are getting fairly large now and are always creating mischief.  We finally blocked all escape routes from the pasture, much to the delight of my orchard, herbs, and vegetable garden. Previously, the babies could squeeze through the gates and found intense satisfaction in keeping my yard nicely pruned. We secured them just in time, as my body has recently decided it is quite tired of chasing goats up and down these hills.  The twin boys are up for sale, so hopefully we will be down to a herd of five in the near future.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Kids, Kids, and more Kids!

The farm has burst into spring with a sudden flurry of activity. After months of silent plodding through the final throes of the harshest winter in recorded history, life is blossoming once again. Goats have given birth to frolicking bundles of curiosity, mallards grace the corner of our pond, and early spring flowers accent a virescent landscape. It is time to shake off the dust of winter and get outside!

Just Kidding!

Our goats gave birth to two sets of twins earlier this month, a process which is referred to as "kidding" in the goat world. With a high level of fear and excitement, Husband and I ran through darkness on a chilly April night. We opened to barn door to discover that during the few minutes it took for us to arrive, Cupcake already delivered two precious little doelings. We were thrilled with a quick birth and healthy kids! After making sure both babies were dry and nursing, we stumbled happily back to the house and fell into bed well after midnight.

Precisely 24 hours later, Moon went into labor. Moon was the only goat I bred to another full-size goat, and I was very excited about the prospect of a large doeling to add to our herd. When we arrived at the barn, I could tell she was struggling and needed some minor assistance. After a few minutes of pulling, the first kid arrived and a second followed minutes later. Moon delivered two beautiful, healthy.... bucklings! However, I was happy that everything went as well as it did; I had been pretty worried during those first few minutes.

Another Kid on the Way

We have one more goat yet to give birth, but this is a kid of another kind. We are excited to announce that we are expecting child #3 in October! I am thankful that the nausea is lifting just in time for the increase in farm activity, and I think my husband is fairly relieved, as well. He has been such a help these past few months--patiently enduring my many complaints and getting up early to do chores every morning before work while I lay sprawled on the couch. I am finally functional again, and we couldn't be happier! I blame the aforementioned nausea for my complete negligence in updating this blog, which also forced me to temporarily give up my blog with Mother Earth News. I have high hopes of rejoining their team in the future, but I have to admit that I am enjoying the break. Pregnancy brain does not encourage the flow of creative energy!!

I hope all of you are enjoying the (rather overdue) arrival of spring. Let's dig our hands into some dirt, soak in the tentative rays of sunshine, and rejoice in the flowers brought forth by rain.