Wednesday, March 31, 2010

the secret life of boots

I am deeply devoted to my work boots. As you can see from the pair on the left, they've seen quite a bit of action. That's about a year's worth...maybe. What you really can't see in the picture is that my beloved dogs found something extra tasty on the bottom of my beloved boots and decided to eat the soles. I mean that literally - there are large areas where the soles are just...gone. They each took a boot and went to work. When I made this discovery, they informed me that they were simply cleaning them for me ("Yes, that's it! Cleaning them!").


After searching everywhere within a reasonable distance of my house, I finally had to order new boots, because apparently women around here don't do any actual, real work. ??? Not one store had any ladies' steel toe work boots. Not one. Ahem...FIX THIS, retailers. At any rate, a new pair of beloved boots arrived yesterday. I've been limping along with the old ones and figured I'd have them resoled when the new ones showed up. I was thrilled when the box arrived!

And then I wasn't. Make no mistake, I'm still happy to have new boots, but now I'm deeply conflicted. I suddenly feel a strong allegiance to the old pair. They're the same exact boots, and yet, this old pair knows their way around. They know the route I like to take to feed the animals, and the holes I don't want to step in. If they could carry a bucket, they could probably go out and do chores by themselves. They never complain when they get wet or dirty or scuffed. I know the new boots will be just as faithful, but to put them on now almost feels like betrayal - like remarrying when the corpse is still warm.

I have to go do chores now, and I already know in my heart that those ratty old boots will be the ones on my feet. I may let the new ones make occasional trips to town, but I think mostly I'll keep them waiting in the wings...waiting for the old guard to finally kick off...waiting for their turn in the power position. Where I'm sure they'll do just fine.

* Believe me, in the moment, I said things far more colorful and varied than "harumph".

Thursday, March 25, 2010

graduation day

The broilers got moved to their outdoor shelter on Monday! I think everyone is a lot happier now. They outgrew the brooder much more quickly than we anticipated, and it was becoming quite cramped and dirty in there. But now they have nice fresh grass, which they seem to enjoy.

They're still pretty small, but check out the size of the breasts on these guys!

I love them when they're this size. They're just starting to learn how to use their wings. Lots of uncontrolled flapping = comedy.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


We have so much goat's milk, that I'm having to find new ways to preserve it (in the form of other things). I'm making quite a bit of cheese, but I don't have a cheese press built yet and there's only so much soft cheese we can eat. I also plan to use some of it for soap, but the volume of milk that goes into a batch of soap is actually quite small. Today, because I had a really huge excess to deal with, I tried my hand at a batch of cajeta.

Cajeta is a traditional Mexican caramel made with goat's milk. It can be cooked down to a sauce, a bit longer for a spread or even longer for a candy. I chose to cook mine to a sauce to be used on ice cream, cakes or as a dip for apples or cookies. I will pack it into half pint jars to store, and will probably give a few away to friends and family too. If you find yourself with a lot of milk, give this a try! (I understand you can also make this with cow's milk, if that's what's available to you.)


3 quarts of fresh goat's milk
3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
optional flavoring - I used 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. Some people use vanilla beans, some use cinnamon, or you can use what you like. Or leave it out altogether

Mix baking soda and cornstarch into one cup of the milk, whisking well to break up any lumps. Combine this mixture with the rest of the milk and the sugar in a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring very frequently to prevent scorching. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook mixture at a constant simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking/scorching (you don't have to stir constantly at this stage, but keep a pretty close eye on it). This will cook for a rather long time. Mine took about three hours from start to finish. Nothing will happen for a long time, and then eventually the volume will reduce, the mixture will start to darken into a golden color, and it will gradually thicken. Continue cooking until it reaches the consistency you want, keeping in mind that it will thicken further after cooling. If after cooling it is too thick, you can add hot water a tablespoon or so at a time until it reaches the proper thickness. If it is still too thin, simply put it back on the heat and cook it some more. The picture above is what mine looked like when finished.

Once it is to your liking, pour into clean jars and seal. Store in the refrigerator and use as desired.*

* I'm looking into whether it is possible to can this so it can be stored on the shelf. If anyone knows, please, do tell!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

limits in the time of plenty

It's early spring, and we are being hit full-force by an abundance of food. We're collecting upwards of two dozen eggs each day. We're milking over a half gallon a day from one doe, with a second doe due to kid any time. I use the excess milk to make cheese and then we have close to a gallon of whey (great for baking, can't use that much). There are thirty broiler chicks busting out of the brooder, four extra roosters who are dead men walking and a goat kid that may end up being freezer-bound (and more on the way). Two of our rabbits have buns in the oven, and both of our ducks are setting clutches - when they hatch, we'll have somewhere between twenty and thirty ducklings, all of which will grow FAST. I was finally, at long last able to join a CSA this year, and our own garden looks primed to grow like gangbusters. For a two-person household, this is A LOT of food.

This situation is wonderful. And terrifying. We abhor waste around here, so while having such a bounty feels like money in the bank, letting any of it get away from us sort of feels like throwing money on the fire. It puts us under tremendous pressure to make sure every bit gets eaten, whether by us or someone else, whether now or later. We need to stay on top of harvesting, butchering, preserving, and finding about twenty more ways to eat eggs.

In light of all this, now seems like a great time to begin an experiment I've been turning over in my head for awhile. I've come to really dislike grocery shopping. It used to be a task I rather enjoyed, but perhaps now that any trip to the store is something of a hike, I really find it tiresome to constantly have to run out for this thing or that thing. For that, and a host of other reasons, I've decided to (barring actual emergencies) only shop once every three months. I'd love to make it every six months, but frankly we don't have the capacity to store that much food, so quarterly it will have to be. Some thoughts came to my mind while hatching this half-baked plan, the first of which was, "Great! I hate grocery shopping, so now I can do it a lot less often!" Once my euphoria wore off, however, I considered the practical aspects. I considered that every time we go shopping, we invariably come home with many more things than we went after. Each trip we don't make eliminates an opportunity for impulse-buying. Furthermore, resigning not to shop for three months at a time will force us to make good use of what we already have, and to get out of the mindset of "we want this, so let's just go get it". The biggest potential obstacle here is how to keep ourselves in fresh food - we don't want to eat canned veggies all the time, and certainly don't plan to resort to powdered milk. I've concluded that, at least for now, we can shop this way and still have fresh food. We are producing all of our own milk and eggs (fresh daily!) and about half of our cheese. Between our garden and the CSA, we should always have fresh vegetables of some kind, and much of our meat is presently being stored on hoof or wing, where it will keep...more or less indefinitely! This means we will have to give up salads after mid-May, or eat zucchini every day for two weeks when we'd rather have broccoli, and sooner or later we'll run out and have to dip into the jars of homemade sauerkraut I put up in January, but that's sort of the point - re-training ourselves to eat what's available. There are a few things that are deal-breakers - things we WILL go get if we run out - medicines, hygiene items and coffee all come to mind. The plan, though, is to do our best to do without things when they're gone, and plan better for next time.

For the past few years I've observed Lent, even though I am not Catholic (or religious at all, really). I find it a worthwhile pursuit to give up something highly valued for awhile. It improves my self-discipline and teaches me to improvise, and to reconsider my needs. This feels to me like simply an expansion of that concept. Rather than doing without one thing, we'll learn to do without whatever we happen to not have, until the next quarterly shopping trip comes around. And we'll live. Meanwhile, we'll buy less overall, and I'll get to stay home more...and nothing makes me happier than that. I mean, when you live here:

Why would you ever want to leave?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


It's here in north Texas.

Monday, March 15, 2010

this job has a lousy benefit package

When you keep livestock, you don't get to call in sick.

Sunday was unbelievably gorgeous. It was sunny, warm and an altogether glorious day to be outside. At least that's what I'm told, since my husband and I spent the entire day in bed...sick. It was perhaps the sickest we've ever been in our lives, and we discovered what happens around the farm when we're both more or less incapacitated - nothing. Chores go undone, goats go un-milked, everyone goes un-fed. Things go to hell in a hurry. I finally managed to get out and make a half-assed attempt at it around midday, in between evacuations of my stomach contents. I managed this purely out of sheer force of will. The only reason I didn't pass smooth out in the yard is because somewhere deep in my brain I knew I couldn't. I've learned that when push comes to shove, your legs will continue to propel you forward long after your brain tells them to stop.

My dear husband stumbled out later, in roughly the same condition, to take second shift.

Somehow though, at the end of the day, it was alright. We eventually recovered. No animals were irreparably harmed. Farm life goes on. Some days it just goes very, very badly.

Monday, March 8, 2010

a few words about goats and fencing

This post is in response to a reader's questions - my answer just ended up being too long to post in the comments section, so I thought I'd flesh it out even a bit further and make it a regular post.

The fencing we use for our goats is actually not field fencing, but rigid livestock panels (sometimes called cattle panels). We've used field fencing before and greatly prefer these. They're very rigid, so they never bend or sag no matter how often the goats lean/stand on them, and that also makes them very fast and easy to put up. They come in 16-foot lengths, so you just determine how many you need, sink some posts, and wire the panels to the posts. And you're done! The rigid panels are also sturdy enough to hang feeders and such from them. They go up so quickly and easily, in fact, that it's not out of the question to pull them up from time to time and move your pens around. If you don't mind leaving sets of posts in place, that makes it even easier - simply remove the wire holding the panels on and move them to another set of posts and wire them on to those. I must admit that I have no experience keeping goats fenced with rolled field fencing. We use that for our dogs (but if I had to do that over again, I'd use panels there too). The goats like to stand on the fence, rub their flanks along it, push on it, and so forth, and I just think they'd bend it pretty badly out of shape in short order. If you must use field fence, fortifying it with a strand or two of electric would likely prevent them from doing these things.

The goats we keep are purebred Nubians. They are extremely sweet and VERY melodramatic and needy (which some people might find annoying - we don't mind). Nubians are also notorious for being very vocal - they will talk to you, cry to you, yell at you...constantly. They are highly emotional creatures and never miss an opportunity to, uh, emote. We keep them close and they get a fair amount of attention, and as such they have NEVER tested the fence - not once. The only times they've ever gotten out were times when something startled them so much that they jumped, and landed on the other side. When that happens, they want nothing more than for someone to let them back in! As with anything, though, your results may vary. I've seen other breeds of goats that are were also very sweet, but I have only ever owned Nubians, so I really can't make any reasonable comparison between breeds. I will say that we find them delightful, very loving, largely well-behaved and a joy to keep.

On the subject of horns, I strongly recommend hornless goats no matter what sort of fencing you go with. We have a doe who was improperly disbudded and now has one full horn and one short horn-nub. She's very gentle, and has never intentionally hurt us, but we'll accidentally catch the business end of that horn from time to time, and believe me, it's not something to take lightly. Once she turned her head quickly while I was sitting next to her and I caught that horn right between the eyes - it cleaned my clock, folks.

Patience, the uni-horn. She's not fat, she's really preggers.

Some people feel that letting them keep their horns gives them an extra edge against predators, but having spent time with these animals, I don't believe that it would ever amount to a real advantage. If faced with even the possibility of a threat, my goats will flee. They will run willy nilly around the yard trying to get away from whatever the Scary Thing is. If they were ever faced with a predator that wanted to have them for dinner, those horns would be very little deterrent, if any. On the contrary, they tend to get hung up in fences, tree branches and the like, and can prevent them from escaping a predator if they're stuck. What we've learned from having a horned goat is that horns aren't necessarily as scary as some people like to paint them, but it's in everybody's best interest to remove them just the same. I can't think of any good reason not to disbud.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

some time for projects

This may be one of the best weekends I've spent in a long time. We had a warm, sunny day yesterday so we took care of quite a few small projects that were nagging at us. We set up some compost bins near the garden, built two more garden beds and fenced in a new area for the goats to hang out in during the day. Here they are, not enjoying it. Goats hate change.

Just a quick word of advice - when fencing in a yard for goats, don't put it next to your dogs' yard. One or both of the parties are likely to object to this arrangement.

The rain moved in today and stayed, keeping us indoors all day. I took the opportunity to tackle some projects I've been meaning to get to. We had an excess of goat milk that needed to be dealt with*, and I've been ready to try something new, so I started my first batch of feta. The curds are draining now, and then it will be salted and left to sit for a couple of days before we get to eat it. I don't know what I'll do when I start making pressed hard cheeses that need to be aged. I adore cheese, and I don't want to wait for months to find out how it turns out - I want cheese NOW! Perhaps I will learn discipline...

And since I'm already waiting anyway, I made a batch of soap too. I made a soap of beef tallow, olive oil and coconut oil and scented it with a blend of cedarwood, bergamot and grapefruit oils. It's hardening in the mold now, and it will be several weeks before we get to try that out. It looks wonderful, though. It came out exactly the way I expected it would, so that was encouraging. I'm sorry I don't have any pictures to post of the soapmaking process. It's somewhat dangerous business and requires one's full attention, so I just didn't feel like I could make the soap AND photograph it. I'd have asked hubby to take pictures, but he was graciously keeping the (needy) dogs out of my business. Plus, he has his own things to do. Perhaps next time.

The drama of the broiler chicks seems to be over - we have a final headcount (after many, many losses) of thirty-one, and the survivors are quite robust and getting LARGE. Having never raised broilers before, I'm amazed at how much bigger they were after just one week. This image illustrates it perfectly - these two chicks are one week apart in age!

The next couple of weekends should bring a full-on gardening blitz (weather permitting) so it was nice to have a little time for some pet projects. Next up - a cheese press!

* We're only milking one goat right now and already have a whopping amount of milk to find ways to use up. I don't know what we'll do when our other doe kids and we're milking two. I'd best get that cheese press together and fast!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

bogus product of the week

I'd like to take a moment to talk about something that nobody needs. Air fresheners.

This morning, while tossing the coupon pages into my fireplace, I came across countless coupons for endless varieties of air fresheners. Plug-ins, Febreeze, toilet roll holders that release know the ones. I have to know...since when do we have a nationwide epidemic of Stink House? This seems to have become a MAJOR ISSUE. Does everyone in America really live in a house that smells like a sewage treatment plant? I THINK NOT. And believe me, I should know. If anyone is going to have Stink House, it should be me. We have four dogs. And livestock. We sweat a lot, there's manure, we have skunks, we have dead animals, you name it - if it smells bad, we probably have it. And guess what? No Stink House here.

People, you have been duped. And it goes way beyond the air in your home. You've been conned into believing that everything in your life should smell pleasant! It should smell like "Spring Rain" or "Mountain Meadow" or "Morning Mist" or some such chemical absurdity. But really, it's okay for things to not smell like anything at all. If you need some fresh air in the house, open a window and let some in. Even if it's cold outside, it probably won't kill you. If you want the whole house to smell nice, bake some bread or cookies! Plant some fragrant herbs or flowers in a sunny windowsill. Sit on the porch and enjoy the real smell of spring rain. If you really DO have Stink House (and sometimes you do, I know), a little essential oil or an incense stick should take care of it. Don't be suckered.

Monday, March 1, 2010

damn the potatoes

Long-time readers of this blog may recall that we have had some rough times with potatoes in the past. It's been said that potatoes are easy to grow - quite forgiving, and willing to grow in all sorts of climates and poor soil. Harumph. All types except ours, apparently. In our quest to provide some of our own calorie crops, we're going for spuds yet again this year.

I purchased four varieties of seed potatoes - Carola, Yellow Finn and All Red from an organic potato farm, and a bag of nameless, generic red potatoes from our local feed store. We've abandoned the tire stacks this year and are trying two methods of row planting instead. The first is a 16-foot double-dug row, amended with compost and the potatoes trenched about 6 inches deep. I sincerely hope this is NOT the method that works the best, because I can tell you that it was a huge pain. It took both of us the equivalent of about a whole day to dig, fork, prep and plant this one 16-foot row. Double-digging in heavy, compacted clay = backbreaking. The second 16-foot row is surface planted and heavily mulched. I removed the top layer of sod and used a fork just to break up the surface of the soil. I added compost here as well and raked the seed bed smooth. I made this seed bed wider than the first and put in two staggered rows of seed pieces (as you would do with bed planting) right on top of the soil. The whole thing was then covered with 6 to 8 inches of old straw. This method was far easier than the first and reportedly produces good results. We shall see! I have a few seed pieces left over, so I may put a few in my raised beds just for the sake of comparison. On the other hand, I'm so tired of looking at potatoes that I may not.

I'm really thankful to have this behind me. Of all the gardening tasks we perform around here, this one seems the most odious. It's much more of an ordeal than just popping a few seeds into a raised bed. Eventually we'll experiment with other calorie crops such as corn, other grains, legumes, sweet potatoes and crops for the livestock, and I'm sure those will be just as much of an effort, at least in the beginning. My hope is that every year our soil tilth will improve and the planting will go just a bit easier, but boy the first few years are tough. Our soil is so bad that if civilization collapses and we need to provide for ourselves, we'd be better off as brick makers than farmers.

For now, though - farmers -1, potatoes - 0.