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!

Sunday Homestead Update – Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  We hope you all have a wonderful week of celebrating with those close to you.

This last week has been more laid-back for us than the previous very full weeks.  But still pretty full.

Shower Remodel

Mtn Man has been working hard to get the shower remodel done for us before Christmas.  He is very close, just need to grout and seal it, and then install the door.  I will share pics when it is done.

Heritage Arts

I am scrambling to finish my last Christmas present – socks for Braveheart.  Hopefully I will get them off the needles in time.

The girls finished their hat order – ten hats and one baby blanket completed and sent off.  They all turned out so great, we are going to copy some of them for our own use because we liked them so much.

Cheesemaking

Little Miss and I tried another aged cheese this week – Stirred-Curd Cheddar.  So now there are 3 cheeses in the cheese cave.  One of these days I will get around to doing a full post on what we have learned so far with our aged cheesemaking adventure.

Chickens

The chickens have all settled well since the butchering and switch around.  Everyone is happy and they have figured out their pecking order, so that is nice.

We will be starting the incubation on Christmas Eve so that the hatch will line up with our chicks arriving in January so we can brood them together.  We have collected eggs from 3 specific hens by trap nesting them.  One is our 4-year-old that we hatched here at WCF.  She is still laying 4 eggs a week, in winter, at age 4.  So we definitely want some of her genetics (plus she is blue, which is my fave color of chicken).  We are also collecting from our other blue hen, who is laying very well right now, and from our two green egg-laying hens – because they are laying well through winter and to add more color to our egg cartons and more blue feather genetics to our flock.  We currently have 20 eggs to set, there should be a few more before Tuesday.

Sheep

We are still waiting for Maggie to come into heat.  We had planned to pull the ram out Christmas Eve so that we didn’t have later lambs because Young Man is graduating this spring and we didn’t want lambing to interfere with that.  But we would really like to leave the ram with them to confirm that Daisy and Blue are pregnant. If they are in  the same pen with him we will be able to tell if they go back into heat.  If they don’t go back into heat then they are pregnant.  It will save us having to blood test, ultrasound, or not know if they took.  So we are trying to decide how we want to manage this situation.  I think we will probably just leave him with them, and if Maggie lines up with graduation then we will just close her in the jug and let her lamb on her own.  We like to be there when our lambs are born, in case they need any help (we have had to rearrange lambs and kids in-utero during labor before because they were stuck).  But a lot of sheep lamb on their own just fine and we are probably a little too involved anyway and need to relax about this some more.

Jerry and Hazel

Jerry has decided that Hazel’s crate is his new favorite place to be in the mornings.  Hazel is not too sure about this new plan.  But I fully expect, based on their previous behavior, that they will be cuddling in there together in no time.

Sunday Homestead Update

Its snowing again here in the Rockies!  But not terribly cold, so that is nice.

The homestead has been very productive the last couple of weeks despite the ram issues.  Since all I shared about last week was the ram rollercoaster, I have a lot of other things to get caught up on this week.

Busy in the Farm Kitchen

We spent so much time in the kitchen this week.  In fact, I barely left it at all from Monday through Thursday.

We made turkey stock from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass and froze it.  We ended up with about 8 Qts of stock.  We also made mutton stock from half of the long bones from butchering Fergus.  The other half of the bones we froze to make more stock in the future.  We used some of the stock plus some meat to make a delicious mutton stew.  Then, I made chicken stock with the rooster carcass.  So we have a lot of stock put up now.

We have quite a bit of experience making all different soft cheeses, but we have never tried our hand at aged cheeses.  Since we will hopefully have an abundance of sheep and goat milk this spring, Little Miss and I decided to practice some aged cheeses with store-bought milk this winter so we kind of had the hang of it before we start working with our own raw milk.  We started that adventure this week.

We made two rounds of the same recipe of colby cheese.  We made several learning mistakes the first try, so we wanted to try again right away and fix the mistakes to help us learn more and cement it better in our brains.  Plus, if the first one didn’t turn out well, we are hopeful the second did.  We will know in about 6 weeks.

We converted a little fridge into a “cheese cave” – although we can’t get it to hold exactly the temp we are going for, but it is closer than any other option at this point.  We are researching ways to get it closer to the temp and humidity we want and I will share what we learn.

We have been making our own ketchup and BBQ sauce for a few years now.  We make huge batches and can it so it lasts about 6-9 months before we use it all up and need to make more.  We made both of these this week.  We ended up with 11 Qts of ketchup, plus the ketchup needed to make the BBQ sauce (12 cups!).  We made 11 pts of BBQ sauce.  It feels good to have that stocked back up – and it tastes great too!

I also tried two new dinner recipes this week.  One was a tuna noodle casserole that was a hit with everyone.  The second was me trying to copy the creamy artichoke Parmesan soup that Mtn Man and I had at a fancy restaurant on our romantic getaway last week.  It turned out just as good as the restaurant and everyone loved it too!  Two for two with new recipes!

Sensory Play Bins

I made some sensory play bins for Mr. Smiles.  He loves them and they are great for neurological development, and motor development, and help with sensory issues.  Braveheart and Little Miss have been enjoying playing in them too.  Currently, I have been working with Mr. Smiles with the rice bin.  I take his foam bath letters and bury them and he digs them out and says their sound and then re-buries them.  It can definitely be messy, but we are working on “keep the rice in the bin” and he is doing very well with it.

Chickens

We are closing in on the last chicken butchering of the year.  Eve’s 6 chicks are coming up on 16 weeks old and at least 3 of them are roosters that need to be butchered.  In addition, since we have had a very low number of eggs compared to our numbers of hens, we decided to trap nest this week to figure out who is laying and who is not.

We shared our trap nest design in this post back in 2013.  Over the years the system has worn out and and isn’t working as well, so we re-vamped it to use dowel props to hold the doors open for entry.  As the chicken pushes in the dowel falls and the door falls behind them.  Our smallest hen doesn’t get trapped by this system, but the rest do, so we are happy with it.  After trapping for a week we found out who was not laying and made decisions.  We ended up butchering 7 hens (in addition to the roo who was being aggressive last week, see below).  Then we moved the other roo and the group of 6 young birds, plus 3 hens that had been put in the lower coop last summer because of bullying all in with the main flock up in the upper coop.  We find that the shuffling goes better if we do it all at once, so pulling out those 7 hens for butcher, and then adding in the roo plus 6 young ones and 3 other hens, causes a big enough stir to keep the bullying to a minimum during the transition.

We also placed a layer chick order this week.  We will have some laying hen chicks coming our way in January to re-stock the flock.  We are also planning an incubation to line up with the order arriving so we will be brooding both groups at the same time.

It was a week for aggressive males I guess, as one of our roosters, Boaz, decided to get aggressive this week too (in addition to the ram).  So he was butchered, brined, and put in the freezer.  Ben continues to be a docile rooster – I hope it stays that way – we have had enough male aggression to last a good long time.

Sheep

Fiona did not come into heat again, so we now have two ewes confirmed pregnant (Autumn and Fiona).  Daisy has been bred but it hasn’t been long enough yet to confirm it.  Blue was bred this week by Remi, so in three weeks we will know if she settled.  Maggie still has not come into her first heat and thus has not been bred.  The flock is so very peaceful now that Fergus is gone.  It is sad, but it sure is nice to go back out to a peaceful barnyard again.  We haven’t had that in over a month now and we didn’t realize how much stress it was causing until the stress was gone.  Everyone is a lot happier now.

Hazel and Jerry

It seems that I end every post lately with a picture of these two, but I just can’t help it, their cuddling is getting cuter and cuter each week.  They started out weeks ago laying in proximity of each other, then next to each other, then touching backs or legs, then spooning, then Jerry draped over Hazel’s legs, and now this:

They are so adorable with each other!