May 25, 2016

The Cheese Making Book I've Been Looking For

I almost didn't buy this book. While The Art of Natural Cheesemaking: Using Traditional, Non-Industrial Methods and Raw Ingredients to Make the World's Best Cheeses by David Asher got a lot of really good reviews over at Amazon, I also took a look at the one- and two-star reviews. One of them claimed that the book read like a political manifesto. I couldn't imagine what that meant, but I can tell you that I am not all that impressed with politics. Yes, I vote and try to be a good citizen, but blind party loyalty, party bashing, and trying to turn everything into a political weapon is not my cup of tea. The last thing I wanted to read was somebody on a political rant. I took the chance and bought it anyway. Happily it contains no rants, just a straightforward logical arguments for using traditional, non-industrial methods and raw ingredients to make cheese.

It turned out to be the cheese making book I've been looking for. When I first started making cheese, I bought Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making. While I found it informative, I knew I did not want to be dependent on buying cheese cultures. That doesn't fulfill my goal of increased self-sufficiency. My first cheeses were based on the recipe in The Little House Cookbook, substituting whey for buttermilk as a starter. My cheeses have been okay, but I've been wondering how to make them better. I think I've found my answer.

David's cheesemaking utilizes raw milk, kefir, good quality salt, and calf rennet tablets. He gives very thorough explanations for his preferences and why he chooses these over other ingredients. The simplicity of these ingredients plus the variety of cheeses he makes are what is exciting to me. He teaches how to make cheese by cheese types: yogurt cheeses, paneer, chèvre, aged chèvre, basic rennet curd cheeses, pasta filata, feta, white-rinded, blue, washed-rind, alpine, gouda, cheddar, and whey cheeses.

Also included are chapters on the philosophies of the various methods of making cheese, making kefir, cultured butter, sourdough, and cultured whey starters. He discusses how to cultivate the bacterial cultures sometimes used to develop specific types of cheese. There is an excellent discussion on rennet too (similar to my "What I'm Learning About Rennet" post) including a how-to on making calf (or kid) rennet. Chapters on cheese making tools with the pros and cons of each material, homemade tools, salt as an ally, the cheese cave, and troubleshooting round out the book.

If you don't have access to raw milk, you likely will feel that the book is a waste of money. If you have your own milk-producing animals or access to raw milk, and are looking for a more traditional, low-tech way of making cheese, then you will find this book to be a good investment. My plan is to start at the beginning of the book and work my way through the various cheeses and techniques. Soon I'll be showing you what I'm learning!

May 23, 2016

A New Stump for the Kids

Goat kids love to climb, so folks often accommodate them with various toys in the goat yard: empty cable spools, ramps, forts, picnic tables, etc. We've always had a stump. The original stump had pretty much disintegrated to dirt, so the other day Dan replaced it with a new one. The trouble was, it was the adults who argued over it, not the kids.

Violet claimed it but Daphne didn't like that and challenged her for it.

Jessie was interested but didn't participate in the debate.

Violet is more agile and equally stubborn, so she maintained top position.

Everybody else just stood back and watched.

Eventually the kids got their turn.

One of Stella's girls with Luki's Daisy May

Challenger April is biggest though and a queen in the making.

Second sister was not allowed to jump up either.

April was determined

and won that round.

One of Lini's twin girls.

April restaked her claim by

pushing her off.

The victor enjoying her newly claimed territory

until Lini's other twin makes her casual appoach.

That didn't last long.

And the game continues.

Because of their coloring, I'm thinking of naming Lini's girls Elsa and Anna after the heroines in my granddaughter's favorite movie.

Lini's twin girls

Those of you with young children or grandchildren will likely know what I mean.

May 20, 2016

Homemade Beams for the Goat Barn

I've shown you how Dan is making posts for the goat barn, but beams presented a different challenge, because they need to be longer than the 9-foot logs our sawmill can handle. Here's how he's been making those.

Dan bought the mini-mill attachment for his chain saw back when we were working on the kitchen. He wanted to make his own posts and beam for a load bearing wall so we got it.

One thing we didn't do at the time, however, was to get the proper chain for it. Some folks say the regular across-the-grain cross-cut chain can simply be filed at a different angle to rip boards with the grain. That proved not to be as easy as promised. This time he bought a proper ripping chain for the job. The difference is in the angle of the cutting teeth. A regular chain is filed at a 35-degree angle, a ripping chain is filed to 10 degrees. This makes a huge difference in the ease of cutting, not to mention wear-and-tear on the saw.

Wedges in the cut keep the saw from binding.

One problem is that Dan only has a 20-inch saw, while the logs are wider than 20 inches. That has meant two cuts per side, flipping the log to get both cuts.

The guide that came with the mini-mill isn't long enough for our logs, so Dan has to stop and move the pieces to finish the cut.

First two done.

He says the ripping chain makes all the difference in the world, but also that it would be easier to do these on the sawmill like the posts. If only it were longer. Hmmmm...

May 17, 2016

Master Plan 2016

If you've read my blog for awhile or my first book, then you know that one of our cornerstones of homesteading is our Master Plan

When we first bought our place we walked the land, dreamed out loud, and discussed what we wanted to do. To keep our proposed big picture in mind, Dan wanted to map out how it would look some day. That's what our Master Plan is, a map of where we hope we're heading; of our goals fulfilled. It serves as a reminder of what we've decided and makes it easier to discuss how new ideas fit into the big picture.

We've updated it almost every year. Now that new goat quarters are finally going to become a reality, we've been reflecting back over what we've learned over the past several years and have been discussing land usage. All of this is reflected in the new Master Plan. (To see previous plans, click here).

2016 Master Plan photo 2016_master_plan_zpsqcfeuef2.jpg
Click for enlarged image. Things in black are current, blue
designates what's planned. Gates are notated with pairs of dots.

The biggest change (besides the goat barn) is more permanent designations for pasture and field crops. I've long hung on to the idea that we could rotate field crops and pasture in a four or five year rotation plan that utilized our critters in soil preparation. The reality of doing that has proved more challenging than I anticipated. This is partly because the odd shape of our land doesn't facilitate an easy moving around of critters. The animals themselves don't like change-ups, especially if it means being driven to different areas. It's so much easier to simply open one gate or another, depending on where we want them. This doesn't mean we can't use them in various areas, but having a more permanent setting is less confusing for them.

The area we've chosen for field crops in the new plan is in a good sunny spot which has fewer weeds than "doe pasture 2" and more sun than "buck pasture 2" where I've grown them in the past. We plan to prepare it next fall for winter wheat. The placement of the new goat barn with a small fenced-in "goat corral" will make it easy to rotate between the girls' two pastures.

Rotating the bucks amongst their smaller pasture areas will require a little more fencing (as in a corridor from the shelter to buck pasture 3. We may even be able to divide their pasture 1 into two for additional rotations. I also plan to make more hedgerow garden areas along fencelines between the various pasture areas.

For permanent quarters, we think the pigs should be toward the back of the property. When they were closer to the house it was impossible to carry feed or hay to the goats without being accosted by pigs. They are pigs, after all! We can still give them access to whatever area we want them rooting in, so they can still have pasture, but a permanent home farther back gives us a little more control. As long as we feed them in the same spot, they'll be happy.

Once the barn is done we can finish the house (only three more windows plus siding to go), including adding on a small greenhouse. That front corner of the house faces south and gets good sun in winter.

The other thing we plan to do is finish fencing the rest of the property. Most of the property is fenced, except for the back "wooded, not fenced" area. There is a lot of good browse back, but the property lines are very dense with shrubs and fallen trees. It will be a big job to clear it to erect a fence.

The most amazing thing with this plan is seeing how far we've come and how "little" is left to finally have the sense of being "established." Trying to get one's homestead set up is a lot of work and there is sometimes a difficult balance amongst time, money, and our goals.

Do you have a Master Plan? I'm looking for folks who do, because I'd like "How To Make a Master Plan" to be part of my The Little Series of Homestead How Tos. If you'd be willing to be interviewed for an upcoming book and see your plan in e-print, please contact me and I'll tell you what I have in mind.

May 14, 2016

Homemade Posts for the Goat Barn

In our last goat barn episode, we ended with this photo.

Homegrown pine logs.

Here's what Dan has been doing with them.

The logs are held in place on the mill by

log dogs and

the log clamp.

After the log is secured the saw is lowered to cutting height.

A hand crank raises and lowers the sawing and engine unit.

Then the milling commences. The saw is pushed along the track to cut the log.

For the posts he's aiming for 6 inches by 6 inches.

And there you have it. Next, Homemade Beams for the Goat Barn.