Sunday Homestead Update

We have continued to have (mostly) warm weather in the 40sF with sun, and have worked outdoors on the homestead as much as we can, but have also been busy off the homestead this week and thus could not get done as much as we hoped.

Sheep

Autumn’s stanchion training has gone great and she is ready to be milked once she lambs.

Her udder is beginning to build now.

We are about 3 weeks from her due date and the start of lambing season.  Very exciting!

Chickens

A year or two ago we decided that the lower coop would permanently be the bantam coop.  Our roosters are generally very large, and we were worried about them in their interactions with the bantam hens.  We are not keeping the bantams for breeding, they are actually for setting, they are our broody girls.  So we don’t need them to be in with the roosters.  Making the small lower coop their home worked out well.

But there was a benefit that we would get from that decision that we didn’t see until more recently.  The bantam hens are very kind and gentle with new arrivals to their coop.  We have been able to put several hens in there over the last year or so that were injured by aerial predators, or were outcasts in the upper coop being bullied and picked on and the bantam hens accepted them with open arms (…er, uh, wings?).  Additionally, we can put the young pullets in with them to grow until they are big enough to join the regular flock and they are all very nice to them.

So this week we moved over our latest bunch of young pullets.  They are about 8 weeks old now, and wont be able to join the big flock until they are at least 14 weeks of age.  The bantam hens were fine with their new roommates and accepted them without incident.  Of the 10 chicks we hatched in January, we are guessing at this point that 5 are pullets and 5 are cockerels based on feather coloring, size, and comb color.  Right around 9 weeks the males combs are much pinker than the females.  So we left the (suspected) cockerels in the grow pen in the barn, and brought the (suspected) pullets down into the bantam hen coop.

Five, 8-week-old pullets with our Bantam Cochin hen, Willow, in the front.

Garden

We got the entire compost pile moved over to the new garden last weekend.  Then we were able to purchase soil to finish filling the boxes for this year.  There will be a lot of settling and we will need to add more next year, but this is what we will work with for now.

We also got the posts up for the new garden fence, and took some branches off the tree that is hanging over the garden.  We went back and forth about whether to just remove the whole tree, or whether we should just branch it.  We decided to branch it and see if that is enough.  Hoping to get the rest of the fence up this week before the snow flies again.

Cheesemaking

It has been 3 months since our stirred-curd cheddar went into the cheese cave!  We brought it out and tried it.  It was VERY good!

How exciting to get to try our first-ever cheddar after waiting 3-months and find it to have been a success.  We put two quarters of it back into the cave (after waxing over the cut sections) to try the flavor at 5 mos, and then 7 mos.  The flavor was definitely a mild cheddar, and we are interested to see how it tastes after some more aging.

LGD

Anya has found that the new compost heap we made by cleaning out the stalls and scraping the barnyard with the tractor is a nice warm place to lay in the sun.

While I was taking the photo, one of the barn mouser cats, Midnight, was doing everything he could to get my attention.  He also got Anya’s attention, though he didn’t want it.

 

Sunday Homestead Update – Productivity and Preparations

Busy week on the homestead, a lot of things getting done.  Thankfully we had a couple of days that were warmer (40sF) before snow and cold hit again.

Stall cleaning

We got the stalls cleaned out and the barn tidied up.  It gets SO messy and dusty in the winter I feel like it is a losing battle, but I keep trying anyway.

We cleaned out all our freezers (two that are attached to refrigerators and 4 deep freezes) and inventoried so we know what we have and we can eat them out before it is time to fill them up again.  I hate cleaning out freezers, especially in the winter, it is such a cold job.  But man I love how nice they are once it is done.

Sheep

Shearing in prep for lambing has started.  Mtn Man sheared Autumn first.

She is our first-ever shearing of a dairy sheep.  Her fleece is definitely different than our wool sheep, but not necessarily bad or unusable.  Mtn Man is looking forward to getting it into the mill and seeing what we can do with it.  If it is too rough or too short for yarn, then we can make roving and try braiding rugs with it.

Next he sheared Fiona.  This will be our 7th fleece from Fiona.  She is the hardest in the flock to shear for a few reasons.  First, her fleece is a very dense fine-wool, so it gives the shearing blades a run for their money and they get stuck if he tries to go too fast.  Plus, she is very heavy on lanolin.  Also, she is very large, and usually overweight.  And lastly, she is generally not very cooperative.  This year, however, she was more cooperative than usual, which was nice.

I will share more info about these fleece in another post this week.

Getting their fleece off helped us view their body condition better.  Autumn is a lighter than we would like, and Fiona is, per her usual, overweight.  It can be very difficult to manage feeding with Fiona because she is a very fast eater (getting more than her share in a group), she is the dominant sheep, and she is an easy keeper.  All this leads to her being overweight.  Thankfully, she is not significantly obese, just somewhat overweight.  We transitioned Autumn over to 1/2 alfalfa 1/2 grass hay now and are starting to add in some grain to improve her condition and prepare her for lambing.

Also to prepare for lambing we cleaned out, inventoried, and re-stocked our lambing and vet kits.  I will share a more detailed post about this later this week.

Spring Prep

This is looking to be a very big year on our homestead as far as production.  Hopefully our biggest yet by-far.  We are building a second vegetable garden, which will eventually double our veggie garden production.  This year it is going to be 2/3 finished, maybe more, and thus will give us quite a bit more veggies.  Additionally, we are lined up to have more babies born on the farm than ever before, as well as have 5 milking animals (2 is the most we ever had at one time before this year).  So we will be making more dairy products than ever as well.  Big year!  A lot of planning and prep is needed to help this all go smoothly and provide as hoped.  We have been ordering supplies to prepare.

First, I got our seed order in, and it has now arrived.  I still need to get some more garden supplies ordered for the new garden – mainly hoops and fabric for our season extending hoop tents.

Little Miss’ herbs have started to sprout under the lights, just teeny seedlings, but lots of hope.

Then I ordered some dairy-making supplies in prep for all the milk we are planning to have this spring.  A couple more cheese molds, cultures, and a silicone butter mold.  We have two milk pails, and a big dump pail, plus teat dip cups.  So all I needed for the barn milking was a new strip cup and I ordered that.  Looking forward to that all arriving.

Mtn Man also got our second stanchion built so we can milk two at a time.

Lastly, I got some more weaning nose rings for the lambs and kids.  We find these to be much better than separating off the babies when it is time to fully wean.  Especially since we are limited on living space and places to separate off animals.

Firewood

Last fall we didn’t quite finish up putting up firewood for the winter and we are now running very low, so we needed to put in some time this last weekend chainsawing the logs to length and then splitting them and getting them stacked.

New Homestead Books

My sweet children got me a few new books to add to my homestead library.  I am looking forward to using them!

Kefir grains

I generally make a quart of kefir at a time, but lately we haven’t been using it fast enough so I wanted to switch it to a pint jar.  My friend taught me that I can take half of my grains out and dry them on a plate and then freeze them in a bag to preserve them.  So I was able to shrink down the kefit to the pint jar and I also now have a back-up set of grains in case I need it in the future.

Sunday Homestead Update – First Taste of Aged Cheese

Chickens

The chicks are all doing well and growing so fast.  Adorable!

Sheep

I got Fergus’ fleece skirted and in the mill to be made into yarn by Mtn Man.  Looking forward to this yarn!

Maggie surprised us.  She is one of the younger ewes, the only one that hadn’t come into heat and been bred this year.  We figured it was late enough in breeding season that she would not be mature in time and not get bred this year.  We were wrong.  She got bred and is due June 10.  We have quite the spread of due dates this year, which will make for a long birthing season.  Our first one is due the first week of April, with another two in April (3 total), and then two due in May, and one in June.  I am happy for all the pregnancies, but it is going to be quite spread out.

Maggie

Cheese

Our first ever aged cheese came out of the cheese cave this week!

Speaking of the cheese cave, I forgot to update you about that.  We got a 2-stage outlet thermostat and plugged the cheese cave refrigerator into it.  We couldn’t get the fridge to hold a temperature higher than 46 before, which is a little low for a cheese cave.  It was also only holding about a 75% humidity.  Now that it is plugged into the thermostat it is holding temp around 52-55 degrees, and the temp being higher helped the humidity come up and it is sitting around 85%.  So we are happy about that little gadget.  The fridge plugs into the thermostat, and then there is a cord that hangs down into the refrigerator.

Now, back to our cheeses.  The two colby rounds that we made came out this week.  They aged for 6 weeks.  The first one we made some mistakes during the making of the cheese and thus decided to make a second the next day and compare the difference.  Surprisingly, the differences were very minimal except that the first one had a much stronger flavor, and it also had some mold, whereas the second didn’t have any mold.

I think the first aged faster, thus the flavor difference.  I think it might have had to do with a mistake we made during waxing (and the mold would be explained by that mistake too).  While holding it over the double boiler to wax it we didn’t realize that the steam was hitting one side of the cheese, thus moisturizing that side thoroughly.  We waxed it anyway and I think that is what caused the mold and potentially made it age faster – because it was wetter.

Both cheeses had a softer inner texture than we expected.  The outer texture was solid and seemed right.  Not sure what would cause that.

Overall, we are very happy with the results and are very much looking forward to seeing how the cheddar we made turns out too.  But that still has several more weeks to age.

 

Sunday Homestead Update – Happy New Year!

Hard to believe, but the start of a new year has arrived.  It has been cold here, but mostly dry, just a little dusting of snow here and there.  The cold has been very steady at about 20s at night and 30s during the day.  This is strange for our area, we usually have more ups and downs.  We have been down to 0 a few times, but for the most part it has been very steady the last month.  The snow from Thanksgiving still has not fully melted because we have had so few days warm enough to deal with it.  Also, the sun has been hiding more lately.  Anya takes advantage of every minute of sun she can soak up – they are few and far between lately.

Most every Saturday is homestead project day.  Sometimes it is big projects and sometimes it is a long list of a lot of small things.  This week it was the long-list-of-small-things Homestead Saturday.  We cleaned out the coops, added bedding to the jugs, cleaned out the back of the truck from transporting Pansy, fixed the back yard fence, started building the last section of barnyard fence with wood and wire (to replace the panels), did some mechanic work on two of the vehicles, and measured the new garden and graphed it out for garden planning.

Chickens

The incubation is coming along nicely.  We started with 23 eggs in there.  There was 1 infertile, and 2 early deaths.  We now have 20 eggs in there and we are 12 days into the 21 day incubation.

Goat

Pansy came home!

She is pregnant and due in April.  It is nice to have her back.

Sheep

Neither Blue, nor Daisy, came back into heat when they could have.  So we have two more confirmed pregnancies.  That makes 4 ewes pregnant of the 5.

Maggie still hasn’t had her first heat, and we are guessing she wont this year.  But you never know, we could have a surprise June baby.

Remi is staying in with the girls for ease of management and so he doesn’t have to be alone.  He will come out once they get close to lambing.

Cheesemaking

We tried out two new recipes from the Natural Cheesemaking book.  One was mozzarella.  I already have a good recipe for mozz, but decided to try his out.  It did not go very well, but I think that my rennet was the issue.

Then we used his recipe with a kefir culture to make Chevre.  It was a huge disaster and we ended up with a stinky, hole-filled floating mass of “cheese” that smelled terribly strong of yeast.  I don’t know what happened.  My kefir was too strong?  The mass of cheese curds were supposed to sink and they were not supposed to be filled with air pockets.  Hmmmm.  Rethinking this whole natural cheesemaking – going back to the drawing board and trying to figure out what to do.

Heritage Arts

I finished Braveheart’s socks in time for Christmas.  I used the Seeded Rib Socks pattern by Ann Bud and Knitpicks Hawthorne Fingering Kettle Dye yarn in the colorway Fawn.

I am now overwhelmed with knitting work.  I can’t show them to you yet, though, because they are all gifts except the poncho knit-a-long I am doing and falling terribly behind on.

And hoping to get the loom warped again for another weaving project soon.

Photo Books

I used to scrapbook the old-fashioned way, and loved it.  But life with a bunch of kids and little time makes that type of scrapbooking not work for me at this stage.  So I use Shutterfly to make photo books.  I like to make 12×12 size books of our family for each year.  Then I also like to do 8x8s for each child for each year, and for any vacations/trips we take too.  I generally stay pretty well caught up (like within a year or two), but I am falling more and more behind, so I have dedicated January to working on catching those up.

Shower Remodel

We finished our shower remodel and we are both so happy with how it turned out!  It is beautiful, and functional, and bigger than it used to be.  This project has needed to be done since the first day we moved in 7.5 years ago.  It is so nice to have it completed.

Jerry and Hazel

A couple weeks ago Jerry decided he liked to lay in Hazel’s crate each morning, and as predicted, Hazel has decided that it is ok to share it.

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!