Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Additions to the Ranch

Sheep #1 and Sheep #2 Mom and Daughter
The latest additions to the ranch are four Barbados Sheep, all ewes. The oldest is almost 2 years, next is 2 1/2 months and the babies are 5 weeks old. We bought them in Rio Rico, Arizona from a man who raised animals as a hobby. Only, he had to work that day and his wife took us to see them. The catch is that these sheep are NOT in any way, shape, or form, TAME.

So, we had to wrangle sheep. With lassos. On jagged, rocky terrain. Did I mention a Barbados ewe can jump six feet in the air? Really. She cleared my head. It was insane. I stood there holding a lasso in one hand and wondering just how in the world we were going to get them in the truck. They were fast. We contemplated returning when the man didn't have to work. Being my usual optimisitic self, I suggested we give it a few more tries...

Sheep #3 and # 4 the 5 week lambs
After about an hour of chasing sheep and tossing rope at them, the wily critters began to tire. The wife caught the first one. We hauled the sheep to the kennel. She roped the second one by the back hoof. I helped, lassoing the ewe around the neck. Sheep #2 was safely carted to the kennel to join Sheep #1.

The lambs were easier. I attempted to lasso one and ended up just grabbing her when she leaped in the air. Once I had a hold of her she went all docile and cute on me. Tricky beast! The fourth lamb was captured mid-air by the wife. Hubs was there to chase the sheep whichever way we needed them to go, and he did try his hand at roping, but in the end the women-folk were the real wranglers.

The children wrangled up the sheep just fine the following day after school, making us adults look a little silly.
Farmer K and a lamb
Farmers C and K with the other lamb

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Milking 101

Vanilla: "Did someone say free grain?"
Greek Easter was spent with family and friends mainly at our Swan location restaurant. We closed to the public that day and feasted. After dinner, we invited all the kids and any interested adults to come out to the ranch for an Easter egg hunt. This was my excuse for having to go milk Matilda-Cow in the evening.

That morning I had prepared by hiding 72 plastic eggs and setting out 15 pails for the kids to use. There was even a golden egg that had some money inside as an incentive to search. (Not that the kids needed much incentive!)

First the kids went in to meet the goats and give them grain. That was a huge hit with the kids and the goats. While the snacks were being passed around, I fed all the animals and started getting ready to milk.

A designated adult took over the egg hunt and led the children away to seek out candy hidden in colored plastic. That was my chance to con someone else into milking my goat, um I mean teach others the fine art of extracting milk from teats.

Milking 101

For those of you who have never milked a goat, it's not that difficult.

Prepare by getting your goat comfy. Alfalfa and grain in a feed bucket on a stanchion works well for me. If your goat is naughty like mine, put the Velcro goat hobbles on to keep her from cleverly kicking your bucket over to spill out all your hard work. She likes to do this and then look at you with this expression that says, ha!

Wash your goat's teats off and rinse them. Pat them dry. Hubs thought I was crazy for doing this because they didn't in Greece. But once you wash them and see the filth there from the goat rolling in the dirt, you'll understand why it doesn't hurt to clean off the milkmakers.

Seat yourself comfortably by the goat, on the side, from behind, or straddle her if that suits you. Tip: Don't pull her teats. Imagine someone doing that to you--ouch! Make your thumb and index finger into a C shape. Place your C around a teat. Push up into the udder with a gentle nudge. Close your thumb and forefinger together. This traps milk in the teat. Use your middle and ring fingers (closing them in that order) to push the milk down toward the end of the teat. If you do it correctly, a stream of milk will shoot out!

My first victim erm student...
I held Matilda-Cow's leg just in case.
She's figured out she can't kick but can jump up and still smack the bucket.

Vicki had it on the first try!

My new milkmaids.
Maybe I can go on vacation someday...

Duck, Duck, Goose!

The ducks and geese waiting for their water to be refilled.
When I was a little girl growing up in Phoenix, I used to beg my parents to take me to the "Duck Park". I can't recall the actual name of it; all I knew is that there were ducks, real, live ducks and geese there that I could feed right from my hand. I used to spend a lot of time on the bank patiently waiting for them to swim up to me.

After I moved to Tucson, there was Reid Park with its two lakes and gaggles of geese and various ducks in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors. Even after I grew up and moved out of the house, I still loved to visit the ducks and geese. One goose in particluar was my favorite. She had something very wrong with her wings and she was the meanest bird I've ever met, attacking anyone that came close enough to offer a nasty beak bite to. Whenever I had a lunch break and stopped in at the park I'd look for that goose and be sure to feed her. I always thought she must have had a rough life to end up that way. She'd take my peace offering and bite my hand when I ran out of goodies, but it didn't really hurt. They don't have teeth after all.

Ducks in the mud
So after all those love bites years ago, when I was getting my second round of test chickens at the feedstore last week, and had been doubly lured by the cuteness of the ducks and geese, I caved and bought two of each. The ducks are Pekin and the geese are most likely Chinese Brown Geese although the guy at the feed store said they were too young to tell for sure. They might be African Something or Others. I guess I'll have to wait and see when their feathers come in to be sure.

Ducks are often raised for their eggs. Geese well, they lay eggs as well...but they're also great guard animals. They know their size is intimidating and aren't too proud to rush a stranger and honk loudly at them...and bite of course. One of my geese bites my hair when I hold her, a guard goose in the making.

Chicken Food

Here is an example of what the chickens scarf up each day. Piles of end cuts and veggie scraps that would have been otherwise thrown in the garbage. From just the main restaurant this is an average of 1 to 3 grocery bags daily. Add in the University location and we're talking smorgasbord.

The end result is all in the shell. Today our chickens surprised us by increasing the size of their eggs from small to extra large. See the difference?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Appreciating Kids

I always feel like somebody's watching me...
There is no greater joy than being around the little ones in our lives. They can be frustrating because they're not all grown up and acting proper. They're messy, often rude, go off on all sorts of strange tangents, but they do the funniest things. They have such an endearing appreciation for life and the everyday miracles we all so often overlook.

Kids make us remember that we can still have fun and be silly, that life isn't too short to take some time out to smell the roses or blow the fluff off the dandelions or follow chickens around because they're fluffy looking..

So, the next time life gets you a little down, worn out, or throws you too many punches, do something childish and let yourself be happy. Remember, the kids are watching you...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cow and Chicken

Cow and Chicken
Okay so I have been resistant to adding chickens to the ranch because of the predator potential. I love my chickens and it would break my heart to have any one of them get offed by a coyote or some other foul, hungry beast. But when we visited the family we got Vi from, we saw that they had no extraordinary protection for their chickens. They let their hens free range through the goat area and hadn't had problems with them getting assassinated.

So, we're giving it a try. Yes, that's right. Test chickens. I got 6 today. 3 Rhode Island Reds, 2 Leghorns, and an Australop. The feedstore guy said his chicken used to groom his dog all the time and was betting these chickens would fit well in the goat grooming business. We shall see.

Vanilla, Nest Box Quality Control Inspector
Right now, they fit well in the goat entertainment business because the goats are quite taken with them. The babies especially, love to follow the chickens all around and observe their fascinating chicken antics. The chickens, on the other hand, seem bewildered about where they are and what their job is. I think their job should be flycatching. I know my chickens at home go nuts when a fly appears. Do flies really taste that good? *gag*

Meet Violette

Yesterday after school, we went for a little trip to Hereford, Arizona to meet a goat. We found her from an online sale listing. It was a bit of a drive and the kids took a nap on the way, but when we reached the family's house and rushed out back to meet their goats we were not disappointed. They were selling their pregnant doe named Violette.

She looked a lot like Booger to me, but so much smaller. In fact, she's smaller than Princess. She was obviously well loved because she let us pet her and has been trained to jump up on the milkstand already. Vi is almost a year old and she's due to kid May 29. We bought her, of course. Who could resist such a sweet little lady?

Alfalfa for breakfast.
She wasn't too keen on being alone on the way home, standing most of the time and calling out for her family. When she arrived at the ranch, it was already getting dark. The first goat she met was Mojo, and unlike the other ladies, she liked him. They both sniffed each other through the fence for a while.

Then we took her in with the other does. We kept Tsica separated since her nickname is Ms. Bossy and she likes to throw her weight around and prove to all the other goats that she's the biggest, strongest, most food eating-est goat around and that no human is allowed to pet anyone but her because she's the cutest--she is--she is! *goat hoof stomps in background*.

Vi hung out with the babies, Vanilla and Canella for a while. Before we headed home, we switched her out and let her be with the other Nigerian Dwarfs. She's still a tad out of place today, but has no qualms about throwing her (little) weight and horns around if anyone gets too close for comfort.

Queen of the Cube
She likes the playhouse and the climbing cube best, but unlike the other goats, she really enjoys the shade in the manger area. Vi has her corner all picked out. I'll have to toss in some more straw for her to rest in when I go back in the evening.

The family that had her kept their chickens with their goats--and hubs thought that was a very good idea indeed. I was given clearance to get more chickens...which of course, I promptly did.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Halloumi Cheese

We have a close friend, Koulis, who loves to make all kinds of things. He cooks, hunts, fishes, camps, makes homemade sausage (in mass quantities), is building a huge outdoor brick oven in his yard, and would fit well in a bygone era when we had to live off the land and hard work outdoors. There's something rewarding in making things from scratch and knowing where all the ingredients came from, a certain pride in a job well done that certainly could be done easier and with less effort due to today's modern gadgets, but is just better when done the old-fashioned way. Koulis wanted to make halloumi cheese. He's from Cyprus where Halloumi is very popular.

I am not allowed to share the recipe yet as Hubs and Koulis felt this first batch wasn't quite perfect. But it included two gallons of goat milk and rennet in a small amount, I believe it was a half a teaspoon, but check online for other recipes to be sure. At the end of the cooking you'll need salt.

Cheesemaking is an interesting process that reminds me of a science experiment. I came over after my husband and Koulis had been working on the brick oven one day and I brought 2 gallons of frozen goat milk with me. Koulis defrosted the milk to prepare for the expermint, um I mean, process.

After the milk was defrosted, it was added to the pot.

The milk was heated to 88 degrees F.

After the addition of rennet, the milk began to curdle.

See the curds and whey?

The curds are gathered up to be placed in molds to drain.

The curds are packed into molds.

Not one to waste anything, Koulis re-boiled the whey to skim
off another bit of curds which we used to make a dessert cheese.
That second cheese was similair to cottage cheese, only drier.
Koulis topped it with honey and walnuts.
It didn't last long!

Still draining.
After the whey drained (apx 45 minutes) the cheese was boiled in the molds back in the whey.
Once boiled, the cheese was removed, flattened like a thick pancake and dusted with salt.
It was placed in the fridge and ready to eat the following day.
Some people also add mint to the cheese.

Halloumi is often grilled and sprinkled with lemon juice.

Koulis saved the remaining whey in the fridge and the following evening we boiled spaghetti in it for dinner.
Waste not, want not...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Increase in Milk Production

The morning quart of milk.
Either I'm getting better at milking Matilda-Cow or she's just making more milk. She was averaging a quart a day at first but has gone up to a quart and a half (sometimes a little more) each day. I did get some handy goat hobbles, Velcro straps that tie her back ankles together, to keep her from kicking my bucket when she gets low on grain.

I still haven't mastered milking with both hands. Grr. My left hand doesn't cooperate. She seems to know it's not working right and makes a fuss about it. My right index finger is becoming rough. Hubbie says I'm getting farmer hands. Apparently I'm only getting a farmer finger. Weird.

"Farmer G, I need more grain, a bite of banana, and
a handful of alfalfa leaves, pleeeeeeeeeeeease?"
Matilda-Cow is a sneaky girl, kicking or snorting when she wants some more attention during the whole process. She acts up most often when Farmer G is in there to help. He's a sucker for her cute, begging goat eyes and gives her whatever she wants. He tried to milk her this morning but was so gentle he only got out a drop--not even a dribble. I pointed out to him later on how rough her babies are with her to assure him that his gentle nudges weren't hurting her at all.

I also changed my milking stratgey so that I'm seated by her as soon as she begins to eat. That way she's very busy when I get my hands on the milk makers. I milk her as much as I can and then give her the grain ration which seems to make her relax and drop a second round of milk.

Full udder and extra side teats.
This morning her udder was quite large and full. You can see her additional teats on the outer edges. They're not functional and considered a defect in dairy goats. As she's not a purebred, it doesn't matter much to us. It even makes her name 'Cow' more appropriate.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Peanut Butter Fudge

It's no fun to do all the work of milking if the "goods" don't get used for anything, so I was excited to try my first recipe using goat milk. I have never been able to do fudge properly, having tried a few times before around the holidays. I figured I wasn't being patient enough for the "soft ball" stage, and with added patience and a thermometer, it happened!

Peanut Butter Fudge
1 Cup Goat Milk (This recipe can be made with cow milk as well.)
2 Cups Sugar
2 TBSP Butter
2/3 Cup Peanut Butter
1 TSP Vanilla

In a pan (large enough to allow for the crazy heated sugar reaction), place the sugar and milk. Heat this at medium-high and stir to help dissolve the sugar into the milk. Cook to a slow boil, constantly stirring until it reaches 234 degrees F. Be patient. Test for the "soft ball" stage. That's when a drop of the mix placed in cold water will form a soft ball.

When soft ball magic happens, remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the butter, peanut butter, and vanilla. Beat it by hand until it's thick and smooth, then pour the fudge into a greased 8X8 pan.

Let cool and slice into bite size squares. Feed to family and friends.

Peanut Butter Fudge

Green Eggs

Green and White Eggs
Yesterday, Farmer C went out to inspect the chickens and finally found two colored eggs--green ones from two of the three Ameraucanas. Now we can really have green eggs and ham...

This means that four of the eight chickens are laying. We're definately going to have a surplus of eggs when all the ladies are at work.

Our first dozen.
We ate the first dozen eggs for dinner one night in sandwiches. They were the best eggs ever, very tasty and fresh. We already have eight more in the fridge and collect 1-3 a day now.

The yolks are so orange compared to store bought eggs. It's obvious our hens are getting a good variety of food. They eat everything green they can get to. I wish we could free range them in the backyard, but there are simply too many predators to do so safely. I may build a chicken tractor for them so they can literally be weed-eaters and do the dirty work for me.

If you've never heard of a chicken tractor, check out this link: Chicken Tractor. It's a nifty device that keeps the hens protected while letting them "clean" up the yard and prep it for planting. It's generally mobile so once they finish an area, they can be moved on to the next spot in need of a feathered gardener.
Orange Yolks

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Update from the Gigantic Garden

This morning the mini-farmers and I rode out to the ranch to feed and milk. After that chore, they helped me till and row an area near the goat pen where we planted pumpkin seeds. It's a bit early yet for pumpkins, but I always felt like there was something magical about them, and sometimes it's nice to have the magic sooner rather than later. I'm due for a little magic, I think. Pumpkins vine all over the place and make massive fruits that are unbelievable. Each kid planted a row. I planted two so no one would fight. We had saved seeds from last year's jack-o-lanterns.

Apple Blossom
I still need to decide where to place the packs of bareroot dormant strawberry plants I found at Home Depot. I was hoping to build a nice raised bed from pallet wood, but somehow I keep forgetting to get a new spark plug for my generator. Too many things to do and not enough time.

While we were working away, our northern neighbor was busy clearing out some land on his property. He pointed out a gate he'd left for me if I wanted it--a 6 foot antique that had, at one time, come from Sears. Pretty cool. I asked if he wanted to get rid of the old metal t-stakes that went along with the gate, and he drove those over as well. I had needed some more to reinforce my pallet-picket fence and hadn't gotten around to buying some. I couldn't thank him enough. Whatever will I do with a new gate? Hmm. I'll have to think on it. I don't think it's strong enough to use for a pig. Everything I've read about them leads me to believe they're rough on wire. It's a nice gate though and it came with the hardware. I had an extra chain link pole too, just laying around...

Bell Pepper
 In the meantime, the Gigantic Garden is flourishing. There are little bell peppers hanging down, mini zucchini attached to the bold golden flowers, and today Farmer G pointed out that indeed, the DILL has sprouted up from the ground! I was about to give up on it but there it was all over the row just like the weed it is.

Further inspection proved that basil will sprout in Tucson. I hope it will thrive out there since I dumped two packets of the seeds in a row. I saved a couple more packets to reseed when these get about halfway grown.

Traipsing along in the rows I found that the beets too had started to come up. I love beets. Can't wait to dig them out and feast.

I had little faith in the okra coming out, but had planted two rows of it since my grandfather always grew the stuff in Oklahoma and I love it. It too, has snuck up with fat leaves and promise.  I was ecstatic.
Zucchini Flower

All the trees seem to be doing well. The apples keep blooming and are starting to look less like dead sticks and more like trees. The blueberries are still green and alive. The apricots, plum, and nectarines are getting little green leaves. And my favorite, the figs are even bearing some fruit.

The avocado trees look a little freaked out by their new surroundings, but I'm still hopeful they'll make it. They've dropped a few leaves and I think that could have been due to the strong winds we recently had.

Last night it got pretty cold and it rained, but nothing looked the worse for it. In fact, I think the rain helped.

The First Fig

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tomatoes are Coming!

Green Tomatoes in the Test Garden
After today's chores of milking, hoof trimming, feeding treats, and watering, I inspected the garden's green inhabitants and found that most of the larger tomato plants have little green tomatoes started. The ones in the test garden are loaded. I have a feeling I need some chicken wire in case any bunnies decide they're hungry. My neighbor mentioned she saw a cottontail headed my way. I plan to fasten the chicken wire around the inside of the picket fence. It'll keep smaller critters out and help reinforce the fence as well.

My other neighbor asked me if I had seen any deer or had some get in the garden yet. Deer? Oh dear, that four foot picket fence won't keep them out. (It was intended as a child barrier.) I'll need to get some higher wire fence for the outer edge of the property, or keep the neighbor's mastiff on double guard duty.