Monday, September 28, 2009

Learning to Milk Dairy Goats

The younger girls joined 4H this month. It's a new venture for us and time to learn some new skills. Our number one priority - learning to keep milk goats.

We've been drinking raw goat milk for a couple of years thanks to the kindness of a friend who shares with me. Annie is lactose intolerant (has been from birth) and while she can't tolerate regular milk, raw cow or goat's milk seems to be easy to digest. (I must post on this sometime and talk more on raw milk benefits).

Today, we joined my friend for a lesson on how to milk goats in preparation for getting our own next spring. We wanted to be sure this was something we could do and were comfortable with before we brought home some kids or a doe. Although I raised some sheep as a kid, goats are entirely different matter. They require a very regular milking schedule and so we've been considering this carefully for some time.

My friend raises Saanens which are excellent milk producers. Here's what we learned:

Clean the teats and udder first with a bleach and water mixture:

Check the milk for any problems:

Milk by squeezing the teat from top to bottom. This works best by grasping it with your thumb and first finger and slowly wrapping your other fingers around it (different from milking a cow):

Here's Annie and Moira giving it a try:

We poured the milk from the pail to a closed stainless steel container to transport it from the barn to the house:

A filter is used to strain any foreign items that could have fallen in the milk, such as a goat hair:

And finally it is stored in half gallon canning jars in the refrigerator:

I was thrilled that the girls jumped right in and took to it so well. This was one of my concerns. Milking them would not fall to just one person, but rather the family would have to be involved. Fortunately, they really seemed to like it and even asked if they could milk more!

Since we have now learned to milk a goat, the next thing we need to do is get a structure built for them. That will have to come after the Hen Hilton is finished. I hope to post some pictures of the progress on that project this week. The siding is almost done!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Food Saver

If you have ever wondered if a Food Saver is worth the money, let me put in my two cents worth...

I use my food saver every day and often several times in one day. On what, you ask? Oh, just about everything. I buy bulk cheese at Costco or gourmet cheese at Trader Joe's. Then I put it into smaller Food Saver bags, seal it, and rest assured knowing that is going to stay fresh a lot longer. Same with lunch meats. After spending that much money, you don't want it going bad on you.

This summer I froze a ton of fruit on trays and then popped them into a food saver bag. I even bagged a few vegetables this way. Nuts, grains, larger packages of meats that needed to be split. The list goes on and on. Some goes in the freezer, some in the refrigerator, but some just goes on the pantry shelf.

With each Food Saver, you need to use a special roll of bag material (no substituting - it's specially made to suction out the air). The bags must be sealed on one end first, then filled, and sealed a second time to remove the air and close it. I admit the bags seem a bit expensive, so you can be sure that I try to measure each bag correctly so I'm not wasting any. But, over all, I haven't noticed that I'm spending any more than I did on zip lock bags. And if you don't get the bag too dirty, you can wash it out and reuse it on a smaller item.

Now if that is all the Food Saver did, it would still be a pretty good buy. But it does so much more! Later, I purchased the meat marinating container. It really does the job and in so much less time! It's amazing how easy it is to use and how well it works.

This summer I purchased additional products - the Jar Sealers. These come in two sizes to fit your wide mouth and regular canning jars. Just place the Jar Sealer over your lid without the ring, hook it up to the Food Saver and suck all that air out that causes the food to spoil quickly.

You do need to know that this is not a substitute for regular canning, but it does work great for dried foods, nuts, chips, and similar foods. You can see in the photo below so of my own items packed in canning jars which were sealed with the Food Saver.

I purchased my appliance at Costco, but you can purchase it directly from the manufacturer. Both places often have a special package where you can get some additional items together with the Food Saver. However, I should tell you that I found the Food Saver Canisters a waste of money. They take up a lot of space and the lids were a pain to clean. That's why I like to Jar Savers so much.

Speaking of jars, glass, baggies, etc... I know there is a lot of concern about storing food in plastic. I take that seriously. I've ditched a lot of plastic ware when it wore out and replaced it with nice glass storage ware. But not everything can go into these containers. Especially in the freezer cause it takes up too much room. Personally, I think the cold temperatures help slow some of leeching into the food, so I feel like it is a fairly safe trade-off. Most of the room temperature stuff is stored in glass jars.

There are several other attachments available such as a wine bottle sealer which I haven't tried (I have a manual one that does the same thing just by pumping). A new item they sell is a hand held baggie sealer. If you don't want the big machine and only need it for small items, this might work well for you. Either way, their products are as good as they say. That's nice to know in this day of wild product claims!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Raising Foodies

What is a foodie?

epicure: a person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment(especially food and drink); a person with a special interest or knowledge of food, a gourmet; an informal term for a particular class of aficionado of food and drink.

Food is such an issue for Americans. We love it; and that's a huge understatement. I haven't researched it, but I bet 1/4 of our commercials are about some food item, no matter what the source - tv, magazines, billboards, etc. And we are critical and demanding because Americans are relatively wealthy. In societies where food is scarce, no one is selective. They are grateful to have a meal of any kind.

A friend of mine who grew up on the mission field in New Guinea tells of the times his father would go to the refrigerator at the end of the day, open the door, and say, "Would you look at this. We are filthy rich!" He could only say that because they actually had a refrigerator and it actually had something in it. Obviously, most natives of New Guinea did not.

Most of my generation remembers growing up hearing phrases like, "You need to eat everything on your plate. Don't you know there are starving children in ___________?" No longer. Today you might here,"Oh, you don't want ___________? How about some _____________? I could make you a ______________." We are rich, picky, and obviously, not very hungry.

I want my children to enjoy food as a gift from the Lord. God is the one who creatively designed all the plants and animals that we eat (unless you are a vegetarian). And he in turn, having made us in his own image, made us to create wonderful things - including great food from those very same resources. One way to instill this in children is to let them cook with you in the kitchen. Children have an incredible imagination. Even if they are using a recipe, they are still able to create and have a sense of satisfaction! Sadly, we have become such a "busy" society, few have time to stop and spend and extra half hour in the kitchen to allow their children to be a part of the process. The goal is just to get it done and on the table. (I know, I've been guilty of this myself!)

Another way we like to cultivate this attitude is by making meals a big deal. Not necessarily a big event, but special. A time where the family is together and shares their day. Kind of like a meeting place for the whole clan. When we do, we try to partake not only of physical food, but spiritual food by spending some time doing a family devotion. It certainly isn't always perfect, and we have seasons in life that come woefully short of this goal, but we keep going back to this concept.

I want my children to be grateful for whatever God provides at each meal. Food is plentiful now. But what if America experiences an economic collapse? What if a severe drought or natural disaster causes a crop failure that is massive enough to affect the entire harvest of a particular item? What if my spouse should loose his job or have a cut in income? Suddenly, our food budget or shopping ability is compromised.

Since our family started purchasing a box of produce from the farmers, we get lovely, organic vegetables and fruit, but we don't get to choose what we get. At first, I heard a lot of complaints at the pick-up site from customers. Someone didn't like broccoli - could they trade it for more carrots? Another had never eaten bok choy - what were they suppose to do with that? One felt that there was too many potatoes and not enough apples.

The farmers don't really get to choose either. They work hard for days on end, braving the elements, fighting the destructive bugs, trying to stay afloat when market prices plummet, and then they wait to see what makes it in from the harvest - whatever God provides. That is what gets passed on to the consumer. Their prospective is much different since they live close to the land and have first hand knowledge of how this all works. My girls still didn't quite get it though until we had our own garden and got lots of tomatoes over a two week period. Suddenly we were up to our ears in them. Their comments began to turn toward the familiar "Tomatoes again?!" My reply was quick and yet patient. This is what God provided this week. (I did try to be creative and I put some up as well lest you think I was drowning them in these red gems. And obviously we ate other things as well!) Finally, I think it is beginning to sink in a bit. Even if they don't "like it", I think they at least understand better.

I want my children to be willing to share their food if necessary. I don't think I need to say too much more on this subject if you've been reading here during the week, but for those who haven't, read my post Sharing the Bounty. Allowing them to make cookies or another treat and take some to a friend or neighbor is one way we like to cultivate this principle. My oldest has begun to have sleepovers where she and a friend cook something fun together and then share it with both families. We benefited from this last week - cinnamon rolls from scratch! Whether it's sending home an extra plate with someone who stops by to making a meal for a family where there has been a surgery or death, allowing children to be part of the process helps them to appreciate the effort and love that goes into sharing a meal as well as the joy in being the giver.

I want my children to be willing to try new things. Some children are introduced to a new food so seldom, they are thrown into total shock when it is presented in front of them. If new foods or meals prepared in new ways are closer to the norm rather than the exception, their willingness to at least try an item is met with much less resistance. We began introducing "adult" foods to our children at a very young age, so at our home, mac and cheese, pizza, fish sticks, and such are the exception and considered a real treat. (I admit it. All those calories, carbs, and fats are tasty, just not super healthy.) And, I don't make a different meal for the kids. Eventually, they will get hungry and eat it. If you think that is cruel, well... think of what some kids are eating in third world countries.

I want my children to grow up eating closer to the land. Mmmm. Now that's different you say. Well, only in the last 50 years or so. Before that, most people had family gardens, raised a few chickens, did a bit of canning, went on an hunting trip or two when necessary. Some even raised a pig or turkey for slaughter. (Ohhh, I hope Cass Sunstein didn't read this paragraph!).

About ten years ago, I started making changes in the way we ate. It's been a long road, but how we shop, prepare, and eat is drastically different than the way many of us grew up. I'm hoping to teach my daughters how to make meals so that this is natural to them, not a whole paradigm shift.

So, do I want my children to be foodies? Sure, but somehow I think it is a whole different mindset.

Friday, September 11, 2009

In Search of the Perfect Apron

The more I wear aprons, the more I realize how useful they are. The more I find they are useful, the more I look at aprons to find the perfect one. The more I look for the perfect apron, the more I realize I'm going to have to make it myself.

I've been toying with the idea of pulling my sewing machine out of the store room for a while. Years ago I sewed all the time, but when the girls came along, some things got set aside. Sewing was one of them. Now that they are a bit older and wanting to learn to sew themselves, I think the season has arrived to give it a try again.

While searching for ideas for "the" apron, I've found lots of wonderful possibilities on Etsy. Check out some of my favorites. All of these are for sale; that is if you get there before I decide one of them is "practically perfect in every way"!

I love the vintage style, ric-rac, and fabrics on this apron:

I like how this one is reversible. If you spill something on one side, just flip it over for extended wear before you have to wash it:

This "earthy", yet fashionable apron is fresh and funky. Click on the picture for a close up of that cute decorative rosette:

This one is the most like me. I love the colors and the style:
The oilcloth fabric of this apron is very practical. Just wipe it off if you get something on it:
The fabric choice of this item makes it perfect for splatters, spills, etc. Plus it just looks darling:

I love the button on the side of this apron. Just add a buttonhole to your dish towel and it is with you wherever you turn. Now that is practical:
I noticed none of them had a bunch of little pockets for collecting eggs or a fold out flap for extra produce from the garden. And what about a cell phone pocket? I could really use that. My current apron only has one large pocket on top and every time I bend over my cell phone falls out! I did see an apron somewhere with a hook for your keys. That would be helpful, too.

So what would your perfect apron be like?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Coop Update

School started this week and summer is mostly over. We got a lot done during the last three months and I feel very blessed. There is still so much more to do - as always, but I know that we are making progress. This is exciting. We've lived in this house six years as we finished a lot of inside finish work and outside landscaping and construction. 

I am saving pictures of the inside of the coop for when it is completely finished, but I thought I'd give you an update on the outside of the coop as of today. 

The front door is in, some windows cut out but without the actual windows installed. We have purchased the siding and roofing material and will begin working on all that this weekend. We added two temporary runs (one of which we already had), so that the chickens could actual use the hen house while we finish it and still be safe. These will come off soon and large walk in runs will be added to each side. These will be much longer, taller, and wider. 

I'm calling this the Hen Hilton because so much money has gone into it!! We could have built something much cheaper, but my husband is a woodworker from years ago and a perfectionist. There will be no issue of cold chickens or something falling down in a year or two. For that, I'm very grateful. My husband is always saying that he is building it so that it could be used for another purpose if I ever grow tired of chickens! Really? I can't fathom how that is possible. Ah, well. Let him build. My "girls" will be happy to reside in the Hen Hilton.

A reclaimed nesting box with an offering...

More pictures of Penny...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Choosing Chicken Breeds

I like raising a variety of different chickens. It makes things so much more interesting. Right now I have Rhode Island Reds, Wyndottes, Ameraucanas, Golden Sexlinks, Buff Orpingtons, and French Marans. They range in color from a light butter to dark black. Some are multicolored and others solid. And their eggs come in tan, blue, and chocolate colored! I love it!

When choosing breeds, I usually refer to Henderson's Breed Chart . It is easy to read, informative, and extremely helpful. It's help me select layers based on temperment, hardiness in cold weather, and how prolific they are at laying. By clicking on links, you can find out additional information regarding each breed.

Since I was going to have my young girls involved in raising the hens, I wanted it to be a good experience. Therefore, I opted not to raise Leghorns even though they are extremely good layers, because their temperament is... well, let's just say, they aren't typically very nice. 

I hope you find this chart as helpful as I have. Raising chickens is easy, but careful selection of breeds will make it much more pleasant.

Some of the girls in their "teenage" stage:

Penny, who is at the top of the pecking order ("Queen of the Roost" you might say):


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