January 25, 2015

Crossed Off My Wish List - Cream Separator!

Manual cream separator
I honestly never thought I'd have one of these. I've looked at them from time to time, but the typical price range for a manual cream separator is $600 to $1600. Recently, I found some on eBay in the $150 to $250 range, but these are made of aluminum and plastic and I doubt their durability.

Then the cream separator featured in this blog, Riddle Family Farm came available. Debby asked if I was interested and how could I not say yes!

It was made in India and is extremely heavy, and heavy duty. The hopper (milk tank) will hold a gallon and a half of milk. The manual is written in (I assume) Hindi with an English translation. An additional detailed xeroxed handout in English came with it, which should help. I need to read through these carefully and oil properly before I give it a try.

Giving it a try will likely have to wait until spring. I'm only getting about a quart of milk a day now and most of that is going to feed my milk kefir grains and the pigs.

Once I think I halfway know what I'm doing I'll do another blog post about it. Until then, I'm just happy to have it.

January 22, 2015

A New Handle For My Old Hatchet

It's not that I'm terribly strong, perhaps the handle on my hatchet was just old, but I finally broke it. Just splintered off where it inserts into the hatchet head.

Old handle, broke clean off

I thought "oh no" but Dan said "no problem". He went to the firewood cutting pile, pulled out a stout hickory limb, and made me a new one.

This is actually the remains of the limb. Dan is not
always one to wait on me while I go get the camera.

He cut and shaped it, even woodburned a grip on it for me.

Ready to be sharpened and put to work once again. 

It feels comfortable in the hand and is heavier than the old one. This is a good thing for tools, because lightweight tools and equipment require more muscle power. He could have bought a replacement handle, but we're finding that replacement handles are becoming more lightweight as well. So nice to be able to make a sturdy one from what's on hand.

January 19, 2015

The Beauty of a Routine

In his book, Growing a Farmer, Kurt Timmermeister describes his daily chores as the bookends of his day. I love this analogy and it sticks with me as a comforting way of describing my own life too. Modern culture works so hard at getting out of work, to the point where, really, I think some folks work harder at not working than if they'd just do the job in the first place. Whenever did we decide that work was bad, anyway?

Our routine has evolved, so to speak, over the years. New critters certainly requires change, but we've adapted to our animals and their natures, learning to accommodate them, rather than trying to get them to accommodate us. When Dan is home we work as a team. When he's not, I stagger the chores a bit differently.

The girls, ready and waiting to be fed.

Chores start at the crack of dawn. We don't have electricity in our outbuildings so we try to begin as soon as we can get see outside without a flashlight. We've been up since 4 or 5, taking the time for that first cup of coffee, Bible reading, and for me, writing.

The chicken coop is opened first thing to let the chickens out. We do this mostly to keep our too-many roosters from squabbling inside the coop. The chickens are fed their scratch and then I go get the goat feed ready.

In winter time everyone is more demanding. If the girls aren't hollering for their breakfast I'll take the bucks a load of hay. The gate which separates the pigs from the billy boys is left closed until they've had their fill. If the gate is open, the pigs rush in and push the boys out of the way. However, it's not the hay they're looking to eat, it's the pile of dropped hay in front of the feeder. For some reason they love to burrow under this for an early morning nap. I figure they can have their nap later because the bucks need breakfast first.

This time of year all critters come running when they see me. Not that they
are particularly interested in me, they're just hoping I have something to eat.

Surprise and Lily are taken to be milked in the morning. I let Surprise out first, because she knows to go right to the milking room. I give her a head start before taking Lily on a lead. If I don't, Lily will take off at a gallop to try and beat Surprise to the milking stand. I let her do this a couple of times, but it created a problem after they were milked. Lily expects Surprise to be in the pasture when she gets there. She never figured out that if she gets milked before Surprise, then she goes back to the pasture before Surprise. She then starts hollering and looking frantically for her. So much easier (and quieter) to do Surprise first, so that she's already in the pasture by the time Lily gets there.

Morning milking is a lovely time of day. I can catch the sunrise if it isn't overcast and enjoy the peaceful, early morning sounds. It's one of my favorite times of the day. Lily is on the lead when I take her back to the pasture. If she isn't, she'll take off running just to see if she can steal a few bites from somewhere she's not supposed to be. As I return to the milking room I open the chicken gate into the pasture. If I open it too early, the chickens rush the goats' breakfast and I don't want them to do that. Funny how goats will rarely share their food with another goat, but will allow the chickens to help themselves. This is when I try to remember to open the gate between the bucks and pigs too.

Chickens waiting for their scratch

The others does are fed in the pasture. If Dan is home he's already done that, filled water buckets, and done manure duty. If he's not, I'll do a quick check of water buckets and fill those in need, or if frozen, get hot water into them as quickly as possible. After that, I take the milk into the house to strain and refrigerate.

Mid-morning I go out to make rounds, check water buckets again, and fill the girls' hay feeder.

Early afternoon I do a hay check and, in winter, fill hay feeders if needed. I take a quart of grain to the pigs and sprinkle it over the field they're working on. This is the field in which we plan to plant in corn and cowpeas next summer. Rather than give it to them in a feeding pan I make them work for it. That may sound tough, but the pigs love to root and hunt for food. I also figure they each get a fairer share that way, plus it keeps them busy for a long while, because after that I may go foraging for still-leafy tree branches for the goats to eat. If the pigs are around they rush the branches pushing the goats out of the way. They may eat some of the leaves, but mostly they trample them down, so it's better to occupy the pigs elsewhere.

One thing I'm hoping is that grain hunting will encourage more rooting.

In the late afternoon I get ready for evening feeding. All my critters think this should be at 2 p.m., but I think it should be closer to 4 (later in summer). I chop sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, greens or herbs if available, and any fruit rinds, cores, or other scraps I've saved from our meals. The pigs and chickens also get dairy and meat scraps. The pigs each get their pans topped off with a cup or two of whey, milk, and/or cooking or canning jar water I've saved. The pigs are one reason I plan to always keep a goat or two in milk all winter. Now that the hens are laying again, I beat a couple of eggs into this mixture too.

"Feed Us! We're STAAAARRRVIIINNNG!!!"

When Dan's home he tosses the chickens their afternoon scratch while I feed the pigs. They know it's feeding time and have been squealing non-stop to let me know they're hungry (as if I could forget). By this time all the goats are bellyaching hollering to be fed too. The bucks are next, though, because they and the pigs only get pan fed once a day.

Lastly the girls. They don't think it's fair they should have to wait until last, but I remind them they get fed in the morning too. They don't care about that, but I sympathize because I know that being pregnant and making milk is work. I'm milking once a day now, so Lily and Surprise are tied outside of the pasture at their feeders, while Helen, Daphne, and Bunny get theirs in the pasture. While I'm waiting on them I check and fill the chicken feeder, also water buckets are tended to once again.

Daphne & Helen are half-sisters. Even though they try to push the
other away, they eat pretty well from the same pan. When I tried to
feed them separately, they'd both finish off one pan & then the other.

Last rounds are made at dusk after the chickens have gone to roost. The doors to the coop are shut, as are all gates. If it's going to be very cold I'll top off hay feeders, because I know that roughage is how the goats will stay warm. This is another peaceful time of day. All the critters are settling down and I can catch a glimpse of the sunset if it's not too cloudy.

The time between morning and evening chores is filled with projects. We have indoor projects and outdoor projects. We have seasonal projects. For a list of what we hope to accomplish this year, click here. 

Theoretically, that hay feeder design works well and should be able to
accommodate three goats on either side.  I say theoretically because
the Nubians tend to each take a side and chase the Kinders else away.

The beauty of a routine is that once I walk out the door, the rest is set in motion. There's no pondering what to do next, decisions to make along the way, or trying to remember if I forgot anything. I make mental notes of things that will need tending to later, but by the time I'm done, I know the essentials of the day are taken care of.

How about you? Do you have a well-established routine or are you more spontaneous in your approach? Still experimenting? What are your favorite chores? Any tips and advice for the rest of us?

January 17, 2015

Garden UnReport

The garden is boot sinking muddy these days so the only garden activity going on is drooling over seed catalogs and planning. I have made an observation, however, that I'd like to share. Regular readers of my blog might remember that last November, we let the pigs and goats have the remains of the summer garden.  In early December Dan leveled out the ruts, but then it started to rain so we've left the ground alone since then.

The pigs spent all their time rooting in the upper part of the garden where the vegetables were growing. It now looks like this ...


They ignored the lower part, where the amaranth stalks remained (although the goats enjoyed those). It now looks like this ...


It catches my eye that nothing is growing where the pigs had been rooting. In the lower part all kinds of things are beginning to sprout thanks to our bouts of mild temperatures.

Coincidence? I don't know! I'd like to think that the pigs have done a superlative job in clearing out weeds and their seeds. Or is that wishful thinking? I suppose we'll just have to wait and see.

I know "nature abhors a vacuum" and things will start to grow there eventually. I'm curious to observe what and when. I even have a slight hope that I'll beat everything to it and get my spring garden in before that happens. Unlikely, but a gardener can hope!

January 15, 2015

Learning the Land by Observing the Weather

January started off with two and a half inches of rain over two days. We'd had a beautifully mild December with a little under four inches of rain, so the ground was pretty saturated by the time that January rain hit. As it finally began to let up I noticed the puddles seemed larger than usual. I was curious as to where the water was collecting, so I set off to take a look.

Our land is a series of ridges.


The house sits on the highest elevation which is on the base of our triangle shaped property. This is good because it means the house has excellent drainage. It also means that our collected rainwater can be gravity fed where ever we need it, another plus. Going toward the back of the property means going downhill through the woods. Last year we fenced an area of the woods to let our goats do some clearing there. It was loaded with poison ivy, kudzu, saw briars, and blackberry brambles. One year later, the goats have done a good enough job so that we can better see the lay of the land.

Randy getting ready to jump over a ridge long puddle of rainwater.

The same puddle continues along the ridge on the other side of the fence .

The next ridge had collected more water in a wider dip in the terrain, but ...

The water drains from the ridge by running down the path on which
  you can see Waldo and Polly (our pigs) scampering down the hill. 

The water continues to drain down the hill toward the back of the property, where it seems to disappear into some sort of indentation in the ground. I got to thinking that the ridges are almost natural swales. What I need to do is to stop the water from running down the hill.

The ridges are clearly defined with a short, steep drop.

Not a terribly good showing of the ridge. Randy is on the top of it.

I've also been thinking that the downside of the ridges would be a good place to start placing all our tree debris, in hugelkulture fashion. We had to do some clearing for the fence, but most of the debris has been fallen pine trees. These are mature, end-of-life trees that have done their job in forest succession. The pines were the fast growing, light loving pioneer species which gave shade tolerant hardwoods an opportunity to establish themselves. Now more hardwoods are establishing themselves, but the pines are tall and spindly, like light starved tomato seedlings. Because of that their trunks are weak, and it's amazing to watch them bend and sway like tall grasses in strong winds. And a little bit scary. It seems that after every major storm we can find new pine trees falling over. We've tried to clean the area up a bit.

The wood piles are all pine from wind-downed trees

What to do with them has been a concern, but I think lining them up parallel to and below the ridges might be a good plan. Perhaps in the future we could even plant something there. After Dan read Sepp Holzer'z Permaculture he envisioned a orchard on our downward sloping property, if we could ever get it somewhat cleared. It seemed impossible then, but now it looks as though it might actually be a possibility someday.

Two other natural swales are in the front pasture. A small one sits along the ridge where we are planning to plant a forest garden hedgerow.

Surprise & Lily. The fenced area contains our
blueberry bush and is downhill of the ridge.

The other collects at the top of this same pasture.

A puddle collects here anytime we get a good rain, but this was the largest
I've ever seen it. There is another ridge just to the left of the puddle.

I know from experience that these are not a year-round solution to water conservation. But if we can stop the runoff where it exists and build up the soil on the downside of the ridges, we can certainly help.