I am excited to announce that I am now blogging for Mother Earth News.

I am looking forward to this opportunity to share some of what we learn here at Willow Creek Farm through a new platform.  I will also, of course, continue blogging here as usual.

Head on over to Mother Earth News to check out my latest post, Milk-Sharing: Milk a Dairy Animal Without Removing the Baby, where I share how we manage our dairy animals more naturally by leaving the baby with the mother, and still get milk for our own use.

Adventures in Cheese Making

Seven years ago, when we had our first dairy animal come fresh (a Jersey cow), we started to learn how to make all sorts of dairy products.  Butter, sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese, cottage cheese, and mozzarella were all made regularly in our house over the years from our fresh, raw, cow’s milk and goat’s milk.

This spring we will be embarking on our new adventure with dairy sheep coming fresh.  We are so excited to have fresh, raw sheep’s milk on the farm.  We will still have raw goat’s milk from Pansy too!  Depending on how it all goes, we could have up to 2 gallons of milk coming from the sheep and goat each day.  This is all just guessing, of course, because each animals production will be different and it will also depend on whether we leave lambs and kids on, or take them off, or bottle feed, or share with them….time will tell.  But nonetheless, we will have plenty of milk for our fresh use, quick dairy products, and soft cheeses.  So we decided it was time to try our hand at aged cheeses.

In order to get the hang of the process before spring comes with all our wonderful raw milk, we decided to practice this winter with store-bought milk.  We got a bunch of books from inter-library loan and started learning.

We ordered the ingredients and supplies we needed (we already had some of it), and made our first aged cheese, a colby recipe.

We felt like we had made several mistakes and decided to make the exact same recipe the next day to really do it right and carefully.  Then we got our “cheese cave” set up.  We wanted to get this set up the week before and get it regulated ahead of time, but life got in the way and it was set up right when the cheese needed to go in.

Over the next couple of weeks we tried different things to get the cheese cave to the right temperature and humidity.  We live in a very dry climate, so humidity can be hard.  At first I couldn’t get it above 65% (you want it to be 85-90%).  Then I found some tips online and used a cup of salt and a wet rag with its tip in a bowl of water and I was able to bring it up and keep it at 75%.  I think that might be the highest we are going to be able to get it.  But from what I have been reading, it looks like if you wax or seal your cheese, humidity is not as much of an issue.  Time will tell if 75% will work for us or not.

That is one of the difficulties in making hard cheeses – the time factor.  You have to age most cheeses for at LEAST 2 months, and many go all the way to 6 months or more, so learning can be hard.  How can you learn from your mistakes if you don’t know you made a mistake for several months?  It is a steep learning curve.

Then we decided to try our hand at cheddar, and went with the easier and faster “stirred-curd” cheddaring technique.  So we now had three cheeses under our belts and in the cave.

The cave is staying at about 46 degrees.  That is a little lower than we want, and will slow down the cheese aging process a bit.  Most books say 50-55F is what you want, although I have found two that say 45-55.  So I think we are within range of it working, though maybe not ideal.  But that is as high as the fridge will go.  So Mtn Man ordered a plug and play device that has a thermometer that goes into the fridge and then the device turns the fridge on and off to keep it at the right temp.  It arrives today in the mail, so we will see how that works out and if we can bring the temp to a more ideal range.

After making three blocks of cheese we felt like we understood the basic methods and could just wait until spring to start up again with cheese making with our own fresh milk.  But then something else came along.

I have a very old fashioned brain, so as we were learning all this and doing all this cheese making my brain kept going back to the question, “How did they do this in the old days when they couldn’t buy freeze-dried cultures?”  I know how to get rennet from a calf, kid, or lamb stomach, so that question wasn’t bothering me.  But the question of cultures was.  I was working my way through my inter-library loan cheese making books and after we finished our 3rd cheese I got around to reading this one:

This book addressed exactly what I was wondering and discusses the natural (old fashioned) ways to make cheese and how cheese has been made for thousands of years.  I was really excited about this concept.  He uses kefir grains and whey cultures to culture the milk for his cheeses.  They are sustainable and you don’t have to keep buying from the store.  I have been using kefir grains for a few years now to make us kefir to drink and add to our smoothies, so the concept that I could use it to make cheese is very intriguing to me.  But will it actually work?  I went online looking for reviews and discussions from people who were actually using this method successfully to make cheese and unfortunately, I didn’t find much.  The negative reviews I found were from people who had actually tried it and it didn’t work.  The positive reviews were people who had read the book, agreed with the concepts, but hadn’t actually tried it yet.  Not very helpful, and definitely leans towards the fact that it might be tricky to make good cheeses this way.

So we have decided to try it out and see how it goes.  More cheese making to do.  I will update you on the natural methods versus the modern methods and our experiences with it.  Until then…on with the cheese making adventure!

Changing a Doe’s (or Cow’s) Milking Schedule

How do you change a doe or cow’s milking schedule?


We recently bought Pansy, our newest milk goat.  She was being milked twice a day.  We wanted to be able to just do morning milkings since our evenings are not as routine as our mornings and we can’t always be guaranteed to be able to milk at the same time each evening.  This has happened to us several times before, when buying dairy cows or dairy goats that were not on the milking schedule that we needed for our lifestyle.  It is pretty simple to change, but it takes some patience and time to do it without hurting your gal’s milk supply.


We were milking Pansy at 7:30 am and pm.  We want to switch it to just 7:30 am.  To do this we will slowly move the evening milking later by 30 minutes each day until we get to midnight.  Yep, those late night milkings were not very fun, but we really want to maintain a good milk supply through the switch, so it is worth it.  Once we reach midnight, we do one more night where we milk at 2am, and then we are done and only do the 7:30am milkings.

Depending on your specific animal, and what you hope to attain, you could speed this schedule up and move it by an hour each time.

With Pansy, her milk production was already lower than we hoped because of the stress of moving to the farm and not having other goat friends, so we are very careful with the transition because we want to keep every ounce of production that we can.

When switching to once-a-day from twice-a-day milkings, production will be a little less for the whole day, but it shouldn’t be a full half the previous amount as long as you are careful to transition her properly.

Satisfying Dinner Conversation

As our family enjoyed a meal around the table this week we were discussing that, yet again, most of the meal had come off of our own property.  Roast chicken (meat and herbs we raised, butter we churned from raw milk we buy a share of), creamy cashew green beans (purple bush beans from our garden), brown sugar carrots (carrots from our garden), garlic potatoes (potatoes and part of the seasoning from our garden), and cheesy zucchini (zucchini from our garden).

Then the conversation turned to “How long has it been since we bought….?” and we were very pleasantly surprised by the results.

How long has it been since we bought _______ because we provide enough of it from our own homestead?

Red Meat – 17 years!  Yup, 17 years.  Mtn Man has provided all our red meat through hunting elk and deer for the last 17 years.  And last year Young Man joined in and is now also providing red meat for the family through hunting.  Plus, we raised two calves for beef when we also had a dairy cow.

Lamb – 2 years!

Eggs – 3 1/2 years!  And really it has been 7 1/2 years, with a 1 year break in the middle when we moved.  So 3 years of no egg buying, then a year of buying, then another 3 1/2 years of no buying.

Green Beans – 7 years!  I was able to store up enough for the year we took off of gardening during the move.

Carrots – 7 years!  Same as the beans.

Stewed Tomatoes – 2 years!  We have grown enough tomatoes in the last couple years for me to can enough stewed tomatoes for all our chilis, soups, and stews over the winters.

Some Herbs – 2 years! We have grown and dried all of the basil, parsley, mint, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and sage that we have used.

And….what do we only buy a small percentage of and raise the rest…?

Chicken – 90% of our white meat needs have been met by our home-raised chicken and rabbits for the last 3 years.  And about 50% of our white meat needs were provided by just the rabbits in the 4 years prior to that.  We do still buy a couple of turkeys a year but hope to someday raise them too.

Salad Greens – for about 4 months out of the year we (6 of us) eat salad at least 5 times a week and it all comes from the garden.  During the rest of the year we buy salad greens, but we eat them a lot less often.


What a very satisfying conversation.  We hadn’t thought about some of those things and it was really fun as we all listed them off and realized what we are able to provide for ourselves.  We are nowhere near self-sufficient, but it is nice to know we are providing as much food as we do.  And the fact that we are a family of 7 just adds to it because that is a lot of mouths to feed.  And the struggle that our climate and terrain gives us is another challenge that makes it even more satisfying.  It feels really good!

I know a lot of my blog readers are also homesteading, some on a smaller or larger scale than we are.  What have you not bought and for how long?  Please share in the comments!