Friday, January 27, 2012

Hear the Story Here...

Our latest farm drama happened the other day. You can listen to the story if you download this podcast and cue to minute 45:50.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lots of Changes

A few months ago we were talking with Mary, a good friend of ours from Church who is a few years older than we are. Chicken Mama and I were remarking on how life just seems so much faster than it used to be. Time passes so quickly you can hardly believe it. She kind of laughed and said, "It keeps speeding up as you get older." Yikes.

This has been an exciting week on the farm. I really wish I'd managed to get a quick post in earlier this week. On Wednesday... our tractor arrived! A nice, used 37 horsepower Kubota tractor. This is going to allow us to do a lot of things!

As big of an investment as that was, it is not even the biggest event of the week. Our friend Tyler has been working for us the past few days with his backhoe and lets just say things look a bit different around the property. Unfortunately, a torrential downpour late this morning prevented us from getting holes dug for fruit trees and grape vines, but we're still pretty happy with all of the changes. It will be even better once things dry out - I'll take pictures then. Right now things are a big sloppy mess!

Even with all of the mess, though, it is fun to see some of what we have pictured starting to take shape. It is like a puzzle: the more pieces that are in-place the easier it is to see if/how/where future pieces will fit.

If time just keeps speeding up that means the pieces fall in-place even quicker, right?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Something New

And now for something completely different!

For most of a year now I have been eager to try making cheddar cheese. We have made mozzarella cheese several times over the last few years - ever since I did cheese-making as a special project in the biology class I taught at Tri-County Early College High School. Last week I finally picked up a few gallons of milk and set an evening aside.

Let me tell you, cheddar is a lot more involved than mozzarella!

For those of you who are newer to this than I am, mozzarella falls into the "soft cheese" category. Essentially, you warm the milk, add your starter(s), warm some more, cut the curd and then alternate warming and kneading the curd to get the whey out. The whole process takes less than an hour.

Cheddar is in the family of "hard cheeses". The key difference between hard and soft cheeses is that hard cheeses have to spend some time under pressure. Back in September I built my cheese press based on pictures I found online. It then sat in the basement for the next three months.

Through the course of my Night of Cheddar, I discovered that making cheddar is pretty easy - it just takes a long time. I started at about 7 P.M. and thought I'd be done around 11 P.M. Right...

The recipe I followed was for a Farmhouse Cheddar (from Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll). Most of making hard cheeses is simply waiting: at two different stages I had to wait 45 minutes; another step requires 30 minutes of slowly raising the temperature of the curd; another one hour of straining.

My main difficulty was that my thermometer was not calibrated. As a result, the milk/curd got too hot and a skin developed during the straining. This resulted in the curd not actually draining! I eventually figured this out after an hour of waiting - I broke the skin and whey magically started draining! So much for a sort of normal bedtime.

Finally, the curds were drained enough to go into the cheese press. I wrapped the curd in cheesecloth, pressed it for 10-20 minutes in the cheese press. At this point it actually started looking like a block of cheese! Hard cheeses have to be flipped, re-wrapped, and pressed several times. The last pressing for this recipe is 12 hours. Official bedtime: 1:30 A.M.

Once out of the press, the cheese lived on a board on the dining room table for several days. I diligently flipped the cheese a few times a day to allow it to dry out. Last night, I finally was able to wax the cheese! I read somewhere that it was okay to use beeswax.

Last two steps in making cheddar: (1) let the block age for one a month and (2) enjoy!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Preview of Coming Attractions

No new crises in the last week. Ah!

As I was saying last week, 2012 will be very busy for the Chicken Mama and myself. Here are just a few things on our agenda (in no particular order):

  • Get grapes, fruits trees, and berries planted before Spring starts.
  • Double the apiary (going from four beehives up to hopefully eight hives)
  • Restore and manage lower pasture (kill multiflora rose, maybe fix drainage, etc.)
  • Raise at least 200 chickens (broilers) for meat to sell.
  • Sell all of the little birds Chicken Mama is raising to sell as laying hens.
  • Learn how to properly care for and manage these two little heifers - they need to get bred this summer.
  • Grow lots of corn - about 3.5 acres (on leased land). Most for chicken feed and some for a high-end cornmeal.
  • Its time to eat healthier - we're trying to move away from eating so much processed food.
  • Plant our own (small) garden.
  • Remain active in promoting local, sustainable agriculture.
  • Post on the blog at least twice a week.
Just seeing that whole list makes me tired. Time for me to get to bed. We'll have to be up pretty early in the morning to accomplish all of this by the end of December.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men...
(Colossians 3:23 New King James Bible)

Monday, January 2, 2012

How do we do this?

What is the chief end of man?

To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

So... how exactly do you farm to the glory of God?

That is what we get to try to figure out this year... Here we go!

Although chicken Mama and I have not been doing anything here on the blog, we have been very busy. In the Fall of 2011, we raised our first small batch of meat birds on pasture, have started raising ~200 baby chicks for Jen to sell in the Spring as started pullets (hens getting ready to begin laying), fenced our pasture for our two new heifer calves, and...

(one hour later)

Well, so much for waxing poetic. As I was typing that stuff above, I heard a small chirp from the front yard where the baby chicks are housed and glanced out the window... The heat lamps were off. It is already completely dark, cold, windy and the first snow of the winter is falling lightly. Tonight is supposed to be the coldest night of the winter so far (lows in the mid-teens). Not so good for month-old chicks to be without technological aide, for the first time, on a night like this.

The stereotype seems to be that all farmers have their horror stories and/or tall tales (depending on how they choose to tell the story) about something going completely haywire in the worst kinds of weather. A few months ago, my Mom emailed me and said that I made what we are doing out here sound so idyllic. Well, Mom, there are lots of those moments, but here is the other side of the coin.

So Chicken Mama and I pull our jackets on and get outside. Who has time for a game plan? This is the third time that the lights have shorted out in the last 28 hours. Fixing it again is obviously not really an option, but something has to be done. Why are there chickens running around outside of their shelter? Great.

We start catching the birds who have managed to get out of their "coop" into the cold and who do not know what to do now. Chicken Mama stuffs a few inside her jacket to warm them a little while she hunts for more. In just a few minutes we had all ten or so birds inside again. Straw bales. We still have a few dry bales of straw we can spread around and make little nests with. I grab a bale and toss it over the electric poultry fence so Chicken Mama can start getting to work. As I toss the bale over the poultry fence the flashlight... why are there chicks outside of the fence? Lovely!

By this time apparently the chicks had been in the cold long enough that they were slowing down - they barely even try to avoid capture. Poor little birds. They'd have been frozen to death long before morning. Thank God I saw them. That is five more returned to the nest. How many others are out here?

Before continuing the search, I have Chicken Mama unplug the light which we knew was causing the short and I reset the GFCI outlet to return half of the heat lamps to operation. After quickly grabbing the rest of the bales for nesting materials, I continue the search for missing birds. The snow falls a little more heavily as I pace the entire chicken yard fence line. Eventually I find another three or four birds and get them under the lights. At one point I am crawling on hands and knees along the entire front of the house peering under the azaleas with the flashlight. If there are any more chicks out there, they have hidden themselves well and I wont be finding them tonight.

The last touch is to grab the bales of wood shavings and place them along the outside of the tarp wall for just a little bit more wind protection.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is life on the farm. Sometimes things cannot wait and you do what you have to, no matter what, because that is what is required of you. Perhaps that is part of what Jesus was talking about when he said,

Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. (Gospel of Matthew 12:45-46 New King James Version)
I certainly do not feel faithful or wise, but we are stewards over our little wanna-be farm - even over these chickens.

Here is to farming to the glory of God!