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!

The Best Tip We Can Give You For Buying Livestock

We bought our first livestock – a breeding trio of meat rabbits – 8 years ago.  Since then we have bought more rabbits, as well as cattle, sheep, and chickens.  There are many things we considered when choosing who to buy our livestock from. Obviously we were looking for good, healthy stock.  But there was one thing we worked hard to do each time we purchased livestock, and it paid off ten-fold for us: buying from breeders willing to have a continued business relationship with us.

When it is your first time with a type of livestock, having a breeder that is willing to answer your questions and help you get the hang of it is such a huge help.  Great breeders care about their stock.  They have worked long and hard to create the line that they have and they want you to be successful with their stock because that helps their success as well.  Because of this, most great breeders are willing to answer questions (whether it is via phone or email) and give you tips on how best to manage as you get started.  They can help you learn the best schedules for vaccinating and worming, tips on housing and feed, help you get through the first birth, give advice on breeding (when and to which male), and what to do when something unexpected happens.  It is absolutely worth it to select a great breeder that is willing to answer your questions long-term over one that might be more popular, or have more prize-winning stock but doesn’t want to help you once you drive away.  We also feel it is worth it to pay more for stock from a great breeder willing to have a continued relationship with us versus paying less but not getting that relationship.

Whether it is your first time with a type of livestock, or you have owned them for years, having access to resources through your breeder is super beneficial.  Most little backyard homesteads like ours don’t have the space or resources to keep breeding males.  A bull, ram, buck, or boar means higher levels of management, more space needed, and often more danger for a little farm.  By having a good continuing relationship with the breeder, you can often have access to their breeding males.  You will of course still have a stud fee, but it will be less hassle, there will be a level of trust when leaving your females since the breeder cares about your stock too, and you will more clearly know what you are getting from their stock because of your familiarity with them.  You also might have access to other resources through them: feed suppliers, suppliers of tools and such needed for that livestock, vet services, other breeders and their bloodlines, etc.  An example would be that we have been blessed by our relationship with the breeder we bought our sheep from because we have access to shearing services that we wouldn’t have otherwise.

If you are in the market to buy some livestock we absolutely suggest that you don’t just look at the animals when making your decision – look at the owner/breeder too, and make sure they are willing to continue the business relationship with you.

2014 Year-End Homestead Review

It is time for the end of year review again! It has been a great year, full of successes, failures, and plenty of learning and adventure. It was great to look back at the last year at the homestead.

First, some statistics…

Chickens:

  • We had anywhere from 26-65 chickens of all different ages on the farm this year
  • 3,548 eggs were laid
  • 164 dozen of those eggs were sold
  • 109.5 dozen of those eggs were used by us
  • 283 eggs were set to hatch
  • 122 chicks hatched successfully
  • 19 chickens were sold as layers for other people’s flocks
  • 35 chickens were butchered for meat for us
  • 66 chicks were sold right after hatch
  • 1 hen died from being egg-bound

The chicken program has done excellently this year.  Gotta love the livestock that more than earns its keep!

Rabbits:

In January we had several deaths in the rabbitry that took us back to square one as far as building our meat rabbit herd.  So we decided to stop with meat rabbits for the time being and get back into them sometime in the future.

In June we added Oliver, an English Angora, to the farm as both a pet and a fiber producing animal.  He has had 3 shearings this year that produced 2 ounces of use-able fiber.  A lot of fiber was lost to us learning how to properly manage and shear his coat.

Cows:

We sold our milk cow in January.

We butchered our 8-month-old JLow bull calf and got 102 lbs of meat (steak, roast, ground, & stew meat), 22 lbs of soup bones, and 10 lbs of dog food.  This year my dad requested organ meat, so we also had 6.6 lbs of meat organs

Sheep:

The sheep produced 4 fleece for us this year, 2 of which were first fleece and 2 adult fleece, for a total of 24 lbs of raw wool.  We also got 1 sheep hide from our ram lamb.

We butchered our first ever ram lamb (purchased as a weanling, not born on the farm).  We got 30 lbs of meat, 4 lbs of soup bones, 4 lbs of dog food, and 7 lbs of fat to render.

Garden:

The gardens did very well this year, producing about 150 lbs of produce for us.

For the specific garden statistics, read our garden review posts here, here, and here.

With the help of all the animals we continue to produce large amounts of very rich compost for use on our garden.  We have also had enough to share with friends.

Heritage Arts:

  • I knit 1 infinity scarf, 1 cowl, 3 scarves, 1 hat, 4 pairs of socks, 1 pair of mittens, 2 ear-warmer headbands, 1 sweater, 1 cell phone case, 1 skirt, and 2 neck/face warmers.
  • I sewed numerous cloth napkins for our family use, 1 gathering apron, 2 summer dresses for daughters,  6 pairs of kids’ flannel pajama pants, 4 pairs kids pajama shorts, 2 nightgowns, 1 pair of adult flannel pajama pants, numerous hen jackets, 15 napkins and 5 placemats for a gift with 3 coordinating quilted hot pads, and 1 single-sized quilt.  Plus tons of mending, mostly patching jeans.
  • I embroidered 1 gingham embroidery bread cloth.
  • I took a class in needle tatting and made one heart bookmark using that method.
  • I spun 145.5 yards of worsted weight 2-ply merino/angora yarn, a small amount of single-ply Lincoln Longwool, and I am about half-way through spinning 4 ounces of hand-dyed superfine merino.

In the Kitchen:

We canned the equivalent of 172 quarts of food this year (some were pints, some half-pints, etc but we added it up to how many quarts of food it was).  They included: whole peaches in honey syrup, peach jam, salsa, sliced dill pickles, dill spears, sweet spears, mixed berry jam, blueberry pie filling, plum jelly, crabapple jelly, apples in honey syrup, strawberry jam, cherry jelly, chicken stock, turkey stock, beef stock, and lamb stock.

We also froze 30 lbs (72 cups) of carrots and 30 lbs (77 cups) of green beans from the garden.

 

 

And now for some highlights from the homestead in 2014:

In January our life was dominated by the huge kitchen remodel project.  On the farm we had our first incubation of the year and had our first-ever broody hen successfully set and hatch eggs for us.  I learned how to knit socks two-at-a-time on 2 circular needles.  And we made the difficult decisions to end our rabbitry for the time being as well as sell our JLow milk cow, Violet.

February brought record-breaking cold weather.  On one of our last days with our milk cow in early February the milk froze on the side of the pail. We butchered our beef calf, continued with the kitchen remodel, and collected eggs for our 2nd incubation.  I focused on knitting and spinning quite a bit.

March added two new sheep to the farm; weanling lambs Daphne and Duncan.  We did all our garden planning and the second incubation of the year hatched.  Our second broody hen, Eve, began setting her first hatch.

In April we began work on building the last garden terrace and we started many seeds indoors.  Eve hatched her first brood of chicks and we incubated our largest incubation ever and sold all the chicks to a friend.  We also remodeled my little craft room.

In May we celebrated our second year anniversary on the farm.  We installed our garden drip system and planted six berry bushes.  I resorted to putting clothing on livestock when I figured out the pattern for chicken jackets and used them to protect my hens’ backs from the rooster’s claws.  We had a deep wet spring snow mid-month that stopped our spring productivity for several days.  Banana hatched her second brood of chicks for the year, and Ruth began setting for the first time.  We moved seedlings out into the garden in wall-o-waters for protection.  Lastly, I tried my hand at making my own body products.

June was a full month!  We battled aphids and flea beetles in the garden.  We made the hard decision to butcher our favorite roo, Boaz, since his foot injury (frostbite from the winter) made it so he couldn’t successfully breed anymore.  We added Oliver, our English Angora rabbit, to the farm.  Our ewe lamb, Daphne, gave us a big scare when she had an anyphalactic reaction to a vaccine, but thankfully she survived it with an epinephrine shot.  Mid-month we had a terrible hail storm that caused a lot of damage in the gardens.  We installed more permanent fencing around the barnyard and expanded its size.  At the end of the month Ruth hatched her first clutch of the year and Eve hatched her second.  That ended the hatching season for our breeding program.

In July we did Oliver’s first shearing.  Eve and Ruth were the first hens to share our “Mama Hen Pen” and raise their chicks together.  We enjoyed harvesting strawberries, peas, and greens from the gardens.  Our farm dog, Tundra, struggled with flies eating his ear and we tried everything possible to stop them and heal the wound.  We also started our canning season with cucumbers made into pickles in July.

August was spent harvesting, canning, harvesting, canning, and more harvesting and canning.  It was a wonderfully productive month of “puttin’ up.”  We also agreed to run an incubation to sell chicks again for someone.  Lastly, I started knitting my first-ever sweater.

In September we finished the last incubation of the year and sold all the chicks right after hatch.  We continued harvesting and canning.  We were very sad at the loss of our barn cat, Mattie.  The one-year anniversary of the flood and evacuation occurred and we were able to see the progress and acknowledge the blessings that occurred despite the disaster.  We butchered our first ever ram-lamb and enjoyed the meat it provided for our family.

We took a break from technology in October and didn’t blog.  During that month we finished up our canning and butchering season, filling the shelves and the freezer.  We started work on all the home-made Christmas presents.  And we added a new farm dog in-training to the farm – our Old-Time Scotch Collie pup, Finley.

In November we took the sheep to the breeder and left them there for 40 days with hopes for a spring full of lambs.  We harvested the last of the greens out of our screened planting box that we had put frost fabric over.  We had a bear attempt to get into our chicken coops 5 different times – thankfully he was unsuccessful and eventually went into hibernation.  We continued work on homemade gifts for Christmas.  And for Thanksgiving we had our first ever naturally raised turkey that we bought from a friend’s farm.

December brought a lot of treat making, and more working on Christmas gifts.  We had a big scare when our Silkie hen, Eve, almost drown in the new water trough.  Thankfully, she survived.  We were so excited for the opportunity to have the sheep ultra-sounded when we went to pick them up from the breeder.  We found out that Stella and Fiona are both pregnant and Daphne is most likely as well.  And even more exciting than the addition of lambs this spring is the addition of a new little someone to our family through adoption in 2015.

It has been such an amazing year full of blessings and adventures – and we are so excited for all the blessings and adventures to come in 2015!

Happy New Year!