Monday, August 29, 2016

Keeping the Milk Clean

In This Post from 2014 we gave a little tutorial on how we milk our cows. Everyone that milks cows does it a little differently.  I was talking to a friend the other day who is in his mid-60's.  He grew up out in the country and he and his brothers and sisters had to wake up in the morning and milk their milk cow everyday before school.

When he saw our milking process, he exclaimed, "Wow, ya'll are clean!"  What he was talking about was our "filtering process," which is simply a clean cotton rag that we tie over the milking bucket.  It is nothing fancy at all. He told me that they didn't do that.  They just milked directly into a bucket.  If it was raining and the cows were dripping water, well, the rainwater went into the milk.  If the cow was shedding hair, the hair went into the milk bucket, too.  (Uggghh!)  Same with hay, dust, etc.  He told me that they would remove anything like bugs or straw that they could see floating before they drank it.

The rag filter is a simple thing that catches any of that prior to it getting into the delicious milk.
Milk doesn't get any fresher than this!
Lately with all of the rain and resulting mud, the filter has really been having its work cut out for it. For one thing Daisy and Rosie will come into the barn with 'muddy shoes.'  Their hooves will be covered with mud and with grass stuck between them.  During the milking process, they'll kick up their front hooves, slinging mud backward onto me and the milking bucket.  Obviously, I am not going to milk through a mud covered rag as that would put mud (and bacteria) into the milk.

The rag is bigger in diameter than the milking pail and so I simply move the mud-stained rag to the side, revealing a clean portion to milk through.  I can only think of one time since 2007 that I had to walk back to the house to get a fresh rag.  It is not just from the front end of the cow that you have to watch out for, though.  The cows love to swish their tails to swat away mosquitoes.  It just so happens when you are milking them that your head is right in the way.  They swish their tail to get a mosquito or fly and the wet tail whips across your face, getting dew (I hope it is just dew!) all over you.  We've learned to tie some hay twine around their back end that holds their tail in place.  You never want to tie their tail to anything, because if you forgot to untie it, they could pull their tail off! Ouch!!

After all of this rain, we've had a mean hatch of mosquitoes.  They are all over the place biting us and the animals alike.  It is just miserable.  It creates an opportunity for patience building as we are milking.  The mosquitoes will bite the cow (or us) and become filled with blood.  Then they are too full to fly and inevitably fly between the bucket and the stream of milk as we're milking.  The blood filled mosquito will crash land into the cloth filter covering the bucket and you have to be really careful to pick the mosquito off of the filter without bursting her and getting blood on the rag.  (I say her because only female mosquitoes bite.)  This makes milking a cow a longer job than it should in order to keep mud and blood and other impurities out of the milk.

But it is a labor of love and the fruit of our labor is worth it as we get delicious, fresh, clean milk each and every day.  Tricia even made homemade Dewberry and Blueberry ice cream this weekend with the heavy cream that we skimmed off the top.  That was a special treat!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Tilling the Garden on a Rainy Day

Today it rained yet again.  August has been one for the record books in terms of rainfall.  I am a little discouraged because I can't possibly pull up rows and plant the fall garden because the garden is muddier than its ever been.  The weeds have taken advantage of the situation and have grown tall and lush.  It may be my imagination, but as we walk to the barn to milk the cows, I think I can hear the weeds mocking me, reveling in their apparent victory over me while claiming the area reserved for edible crops.  It is a sad state of affairs.

When weeds take over
I am not one to give up easily.  Russ was in from college and I enlisted his help on an experiment.  I have no idea if this is going to work or not, but I'm going to give it a try and report back to you after a couple of weeks.  Russ and I erected two cattle panels across the weed-infested part of the garden and secured them with t-posts.

Putting up a cross fence
When I first thought of this idea, I first thought of putting the goats in there, but putting goats in the overgrown part of the garden would require moving them in and out daily since we're milking Annie (momma goat) and also sharing the milk with Darla and Jane (two of her kids).  I don't have a gate and it would be too much work to put a garden gate to the pasture right now.  Maybe later.

My idea involves chickens.  I decided to put some chickens in the garden and allow them to till it up for a couple of weeks until I could get in there and plant.  I threw some rice near the garden as you see below and as they ate, I caught 15 hens and threw them into the overgrown portion of garden. This will be their new home for a couple of weeks while they work the garden for me.  I made a couple of make-shift nesting boxes for their egg-laying out of old buckets.  Russ and I had to place some hog panels against the cattle panels since the openings were smaller and chickens were escaping through the holes into the productive part of the garden.  I don't want them scratching up our sweet potatoes and peanuts!

Nesting boxes in the garden area
I have a big tarp laid out on the ground in this weedy section, too, hoping to kill all weeds underneath it due to lack of sunshine.  You can see the imprint underneath the tarp of the old rows from the spring garden.  The furrows catch and hold rainwater and that will be the hens' water trough for a while until there's no standing water.

Water for the chickens
The chickens were very confused and nervous at first within the confines of their new garden home. They bunched together nervously near the fence, looking at their buddies in the pasture, clucking wildly.  When chickens get nervous, they stop laying eggs.  The first day we put the hens in the garden, we collected exactly ZERO eggs.  I knew this would happen.

But then, they seemed to settle down and began to do what chickens do - SCRATCH.  They first began to scratch in a big pile of composted cow manure that I throw over the fence, alternated with cardboard.  I expect this area to be really cleaned out in no time.

Additionally, I throw rice over the fence for them to eat and they scratch through the weeds, seeking for and finding the rice while scratching roots and eating bugs and grass.  Of course while they are tilling the garden, they are also pooping and this is fertilizing the garden area.  I may throw an additional 5 "tillers" into the garden, because I'm impatient.  I'll post pictures of the chicken-tilled area of the garden in a couple of weeks and we will compare the "before" and "after" shots to see if this experiment was a rousing success or a failure.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Delays in the Fall Garden

I must sorrowfully say that I am way, way behind in putting the Fall 2016 garden in.  If it was due to neglect or slothfulness, I would admit it to you.  I have tried.  I really have.  Let me show you the sad sight of the fall garden:

That is a really nice crop of weeds growing.  Embarrassing, really.  So what's going on? Well, I'll tell you like this.  I track the rainfall daily from totals in the rain gauge. From January 1 through July 31 I recorded 29.8 inches of rain.  That was for the entire year so up to that point at that amount was putting us right on target of our annual average rainfall of 60 inches for the year.

Then...  Then August happened.  From August 1 - August 25th we have received 24.1 inches of rain. Just this month!  So far!  We have almost received the amount of rainfall in one month that it took us 7 months to accumulate.  It is a muddy mess.  The ground is rotten and the mud just stinks.  We are tired of it and the animals are tired of it.

The cows' milk production has fallen way off and Tricia and I have been theorizing about why.  Tricia even asked me if the bull got loose and bred the cows.  (Once they are bred, their milk production diminishes.)  But no, the bull is within the confines of his pasture locked down.

A gentleman who formerly milked cows dropped by the house today and Tricia told him about the reduction in milk.  He said that in his experience this happened because there is so much water in the grass.  He said it is like eating watered down soup - the nutrition value is diluted.  Perhaps that is it.  I don't know.
This looks like a pond in the pasture, but we don't have a pond!
Mosquitoes are all over the place and you cannot stay outside for long without slapping, itching, and being miserable.  The pumpkins I planted on July 1 are yellow and sickly in the water-logged ground. Okay enough complaining about those things.  I'll discuss my main complaint - the delay in the Fall Garden.

I planted tomato seeds, butternut squash seeds, spaghetti squash seeds, zucchini squash seeds and several varieties of yellow squash seeds.

I also planted two different varieties of cucumbers...

And then there are trays of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and brussel sprouts.

All of this should have been in the garden by now, but the garden is a muddy, weed infested swamp, and...

The Garden
instead of having the plants in well worked beds in the garden, the plants are still in seed pots on the patio.  They are getting long and leggy and I may have to re-pot them again in bigger pots soon. Even if it was to stop raining today, it would be two weeks before it could dry up and I could even think about getting things worked up and planted.

I'm a stubborn, persistent guy, though.  (Ask my wife!)  I'm not giving up or getting discouraged.  I'll wait it out and get the fall garden in yet!  Better late than never...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A New Day Dawns…

So Monday of this week I submitted my two week notice at work.  I would like to be able to tell you that at 49 years and 10 months old, I am able to retire and live off the land on our little homestead farm.  Alas, that is not the case.  I wish I could announce that, but I cannot.  I’m going to pursue a job doing something that I don’t have any experience doing.  Sounds like an adventure, doesn’t it?  So at the beginning of September, a new day will dawn for me.

But that’s not really what I want to talk about today.  I’m a creature of habit.  I get up at a certain time, go through the same morning rituals and glance at the clock to gauge my progress.  I know I need to be out of bed at 5:30 am and back inside the door from morning milking and feeding by 6:10 am at the latest in order to shower, shave, dress, grab my lunch and a coffee and be out the door by 6:30 am.  Most days that puts me turning off the road and pulling up on the on ramp of Interstate 10 heading west at 6:36 am and arriving in my parking lot at the office at 7:21 am.

I changed my morning routine the other day and instead of hitting the blacktop road, I made a circuitous route down some gravel roads behind the house to check out results of the recent flooding.  There was a big “Road Closed” sign up across the road as I tried to drive westward, so as I looped back, I was driving due east down the road that runs right by our little church.  The sun was just rising in the eastern sky and if I had my camera versus my old phone camera, this would’ve been a nice picture.

The day was brand new.  There was no traffic on the country road and it was quiet outside if you ignored the roosters announcing the arrival of dawn.  There was a fog rising off of the dew-drenched landscape.  The air was clean and a little cool in the shadows of the new day, as if it was holding on stubbornly before succumbing to the humid, sweltering August day that lay ahead.  A new day awaits.

Regardless of the mistakes made yesterday, we have an opportunity to wake up and try to make things better.  The goals set that we didn’t reach yesterday can be sought after again.  There is hope that the trials, pain, stress, and uncertainty we faced yesterday will be gone or reduced in this brand new day.  It is as if the slate has been wiped clean and you have a new start.  A do-over.  We have 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds to get it right this time.  Unlike in the Olympics, there are no starting blocks and no blast from the starting gun to alert you to get things underway.  There are really no markers to let us know that we are on the right course.

It is up to us individually.  Except it is not.  A new beginning awaits, but we are not alone.  We put our faith in Him to lead us and we pray that we have the good sense to follow Him.  A new day dawns…  And He is Faithful!

Lamentations 3:22-24
22 The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Some Like it Hot

I like to eat spicy stuff and I love peppers.  Although I like Tabasco Sauce, it’s a little too “vinegary” tasting to me.  For some reason Tabasco (and the strong vinegar taste) works great with rice and beans, but for other dishes, it doesn’t.  A couple of years ago, I thought, “Why not give it a go in trying to make our own hot sauce with Tabasco Peppers?”

At the end of the growing season, the local feed store that we frequent had some leftover Tabasco Pepper Plants that didn’t sell.  They ended up giving a four pack of seedlings to my wife and she brought them home.  I dutifully planted them in the garden near the already growing Criolla Sella Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers, and various bell peppers we had growing.  In 2014 we made our inaugural batch of Homemade Tabasco Pepper sauce and chronicled it here: HERE.  It was a big hit at our house.  For some reason more of the pepper flavor comes through and less of the vinegar flavor.

Each year since new tabasco pepper plants have sprouted and we’ve experienced a huge pepper harvest.  It was no different this year.  I figured we’d make some more and post once again on it.  I issue apologies in advance for the lousy photo quality.  New batteries are coming soon for my camera and the photo quality will improve marginally.

I walked out to the garden to pick the reddest of the tabasco peppers on the plants.  There was a big Dragonfly hanging out on the wire cage that keeps the pepper plant upright.  You can see the red peppers in the background of the dragonfly photo.

There were lots of peppers, but I picked only those that were the color red that almost makes your eyes hurt looking at them.  I perhaps picked a little more than a quart of them, pulling the stems and caps off of the peppers and putting them in a colander to wash off any dirt or bugs.

I used a big knife to cut the peppers into small pieces.  I didn’t wear gloves, but made a mental note to NOT put my fingers anywhere near my eyes!  This step could probably be done better and easier with a food processor, but sometimes I find it is easier to clean up a knife and cutting board rather than cleaning up the food processor and blade.

I scraped all the pepper pieces into a pot and added a cup and a half of white vinegar and s healthy smattering of kosher salt and put it on the stovetop until it boiled.  Then I turned it down to low and allowed it to simmer for 15 minutes.  Then I pulled it off the heat and allowed it to come to room temperature.

Then I got Tricia’s handy-dandy immersion blender out.  What a nifty tool this thing is!  I blended the vinegar-pepper mixture until it was an aromatic, fire-engine red slurry of spice.  It was a little thick, but pourable.

I poured the slurry through a funnel and into a vinegar bottle and placed it in the fridge.  Unlike Tabasco Sauce that is made in Avery Island, Louisiana, I don’t have oaken barrels to age the sauce in for years.  I also don’t have the patience to wait for that long.  I’ll “age” it in the fridge for a month and labeled it with some freezer tape to alert me when it is ‘done’. 

After a month has passed, I’ll taste it and assess the consistency.  If it is a little thick, I’ll add a smidgeon of water.  It is a tricky thing.  You want it thin enough to pour out drops, but thick enough so that it doesn’t run freely. Our 2014 batch was perfect – both in flavor and in consistency.

The Homemade Tabasco Pepper sauce next to the raw milk is an interesting contrast.  Although both are fresh and come from our little homestead farm, one is hot.  One is cold.  One is red.  One is white.  One starts a fire in your mouth and one puts it out!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Kids Grow Up So Quickly!

Kids grow up so quickly!  It seems like you just blink your eyes and they go from being babies to grown ups.  At some point you wish you could make time stand still so you can enjoy and cherish them just as they are.  But you can't.  You have to let them grow up, to go out and achieve all that is before them.

As I've discussed, our eldest daughter, Laura Lee began her first teaching job at a charter school in Baton Rouge.  They didn't have school all last week due to flooding.  Today was their first day back. Russ, our middle child and oldest son, began his senior year at LSU today.  He's a Horticulture major and is looking forward to football season.  Benjamin, our youngest, and the only child still at home is a sophomore at a small rural school near us - attending a public school since his freshman year.  He enjoys his social life.

Yes, the kids aren't babies anymore.  They are all grown up!

They aren't the only kids that are growing up.  Speaking of the other kids, Darla is growing up quickly, too!

Darlin' Darla (as Tricia calls her)
And so is Jane!

In his song, "Jack and Diane," John Cougar Mellancamp sang,:

"Hold onto 16 as long as you can. Changes come around real soon make us women and men."

Yeah, changes come around real soon, alright.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Can a Chicken Get Hypothermia?

Saturday morning before milking, I went about the normal chores, feeding all the other animals, switching the cows from one paddock to a fresh one.  Then I went about checking water troughs, ensuring that they were all filled with water.  We have one main 150 gallon water trough and have two 'makeshift' 30 gallon water troughs made with old molasses/mineral tubs.

As I walk by one, I noticed that it was about 3/4 full, but then stopped suddenly. There was a chicken floating in it!  At first I thought she was dead, but once I removed her from the water, I could tell that she was still barely alive, although her eyes weren't opened.  She was shaking and barely able to stand.  I sat her in the sunshine while we milked the cows, hoping to warm her up.  Chickens aren't too smart.  They fly up ungracefully to the edge of the water trough to get a drink, lean over to drink and some inevitably fall in and die if you don't get to them quickly enough.

I'm no veterinarian, but I would assume that the barred rock hen was suffering from hypothermia. Hypothermia is the condition of having an abnormally low body temperature, typically one that is dangerously low.  This can happen even in warm weather.  Trouble is, about twenty minutes later, once we finished milking, she was not any better.  I knew we must get her some medical attention to save her life.  Fortunately, the doctor was in.  I put the pitiful creature into an empty molasses tub and brought her into the garage.

"Give me your huddled masses..."
I positioned a heat lamp approximately 18 inches above the hen.  I didn't want it to be too close to her as it would burn her and warm her up too fast.  I didn't want it to be too far away though or it wouldn't warm her up.  Up to this point, I wasn't sure if Sally HennyPenny was going to make it.  I had another project going in the garage as we were painting the walls, so I kept a close eye on her.  In about 10 minutes, I checked in and the old gal was looking a little more perky than before.  Still a little wet, but I knew she'd make it.

Heatin' up some chicken
In ten more minutes, she wasn't hunched over shivering anymore and her eyes were wide open.

In about ten more minutes, I heard a big commotion and the hen flew up out of the tub with the heat lamp and was scurrying around the garage.  I caught the old girl and walked her back outside toward the pasture fence.  I set her down on the bridge to make sure she was good to go and yes, she was.

Her buddies were in the muddy waiting room across the fence waiting for her and they were happy she had recovered from her close call.
Birds of a feather flock together
Hopefully, old gal will have learned a lesson and won't fall in the water trough again. We've just had 21 inches of rain in a week's time.  There's plenty of water still on the ground.  She doesn't need to even go to the water trough to drink.  I can't figure out her thinking there, but... she's a chicken. Fortunately the lifeguard got to her in time and performed emergency medical services promptly so that she'll live to see another day and lay more eggs.
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