"We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependant on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do."
—Wendell Berry

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Chemical free weed control

This will be our new kitchen garden. Currently it is an old and rather overgrown ornamental garden bed with severe drainage issues. So the first step is to get rid of the weeds. As there are a lot of stones and a cement pond-ish thing in there we decided to kill off the growth so we can see what we are dealing with first before digging it out. To do this I like to use black builders plastic to cover the area. This will prevent rain getting in and raises the temperature underneath to cook out the weeds. The plan is to raise the edges to about knee height and use it as a kitchen garden to grow herbs mostly. There are another two beds in the area that will also be used for this.
 This is a pretty little bugger but I have no idea what it is. Each year it puts on a beautiful display. It was a kind gift from a friend sometime back and hangs at the end of the kitchen gardens.
One tired little puppy all worn out after helping cover the garden bed.

A busy week.

Two days ago my mate Dave called and said "Do you want a pregnant sow?"
"Hey, who wouldn't" I replied.
Now I understand that most people would think this is a pretty weird way to begin a conversation but around here it is quite normal.

Does that make us a bit strange? It must be a northerner thing.

Anyway, It turns out he had just spoken to a lady who had two pregnant sows that had to go as soon as possible. She wanted $200 for each sow which to my way of thinking is a bargain. If she drops a fairly average litter of eight to ten piglets then we are ahead by a long way. I buy weaner piglets for $70 each. So the plan is to go halves with my mate Dave and sell the weaners to cover costs. The rest is free pork! If the mum turns out to be a good mother with a large litter we will put her back to the boar or else sell her off as a breeder. Failing that she will become sausages. So I have named her Sausage. I think it is a good name for a pig.

I borrowed a stock trailer from our most wonderful and long suffering neighbours before Dave and I drove the hours trip down the range to Mourilyan. I would not usually consider moving a pregnant sow but we were given little choice and she had to go. The drive back was through unusually thick fog and was taken slowly and carefully as possible. I arrived home well after dark and coaxed the sow into her pen, gave her a feed and left her in peace.
Two days later and she is much more relaxed, even quite friendly. I have put a big load of hay in her shed and she will make her nest up when she is ready to drop. Her previous owner was unsure exactly how long she had to go but to my eye she is only a week or so off farrowing.
I had some help shovelling the gravel into the pig pen for the new floor. He insisted on doing it the same as Dad.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Puppy in training, stand clear.

Rufus met chickens for the first time today. All part of the training for any farm dog.
A quick chase followed by a smack on the bum. Lesson learned and all good now. He did try to chase Gobbles in the background but it takes more than one small puppy to impress that turkey. Guineafowl come in flocks and don't take kindly to belligerent puppies. He has decided that guineafowl are therefore scary!
Still undecided about the cows.

Our new heifer.

Meet Bonnie.
Bonnie is a Brown Swiss. I have been wanting a cow of this breed for a long time now. Brown Swiss give milk almost as good as Jerseys but also drop quite passable beef calves. Much as I love my Jersey cow, Annabelle, her bobby calves left much to be desired when slaughter time came. So when we decided that we could not tolerate shop bought milk anymore each time Anna was off the milk before her next calf was born, we purchased Bonnie to be our second milking cow.
Now we will undergo a year or so of training before we even get a single drop of milk from Bonnie but it will be worth it to have fresh milk all year round. Not to mention the extra volume of milk for cheese making when both cows are in milk. Currently it is quite hard for me to make any sizeable cheese on the milk of one cow as the oldest milk should be for cheese making is twenty four hours or less. So with one jersey cow I am usually limited to around fifteen litres or less over this period. Two cows will give me twenty litres or more to play with on most days.
With this in mind we have purchased a twenty litre Bain-marie for use as a cheese vat. I will get my friendly local electrician to install a digital thermostat for precise temperature control and we should be on our way to some serious cheese!

Training house cows

Many people I speak to, even those on a farm, have little idea how much preparation is involved in milking a cow. Just as you train a dog to come, sit and generally obey so must a cow be trained before she can be milked. Often I speak to folks who have tried to simply drive the cow into the bales when they want to begin milking, only to find she fights like hell! They come to the conclusion that their cow is no good as a milker and that hand milking is incredibly difficult. The cow is sold and they pass their bad experience along to others as lore.

What a waste.

So, to answer questions and prevent further problems for new dairymen and women (you know who you are!) I will tell you what works for us.

First purchase your cow, but if at all possible you should purchase a heifer not yet in calf. Failing that, purchase a cow that has only just been put to the bull for the first time, and only recently at that. This is because you will need that valuable time before the birth to train your cow. She must learn to tolerate being touched, driven and bailed. She should learn to come when called and should be used to a set daily routine. Cows are most definitely an animal of routine.
So first you get your heifer (and I am assuming you follow my advice so I will refer to a heifer hereafter) used to being fed from a bucket twice daily. Feed her a few scoops of chaff with a little molasses as a treat, about six litres of chaff and one cupful of molasses but use your own common sense. (If you have no common sense and cannot work it out for yourself, please move back to the city where you are always told what to do). Feed her in the place you intend to milk her. I strongly recommend constructing a good set of milking bales and not head bales, a well trained cow should not need her head restrained but only a place to stand where she can eat her feed while being milked. next you will gently pat and touch her as she is eating, perhaps even brush her down. Your heifer should feel relaxed and secure at all times, no surprises or loud noises. This should take a month or more. Next you should sit quietly beside her in the milking position and brush her side until you can touch her udder. Expect her to shy away at first, possibly even kick. Persevere and if at all possible do not use a leg rope. Some cows never lose the kicking urge and will need the near side leg roped back, but not off the ground please as this is cruel in the extreme, just enough to prevent kicking. This step should take another one to two months.
Now what you have been doing all this time is training not only the heifer but also yourself to milking. You will end up milking twice a day, every day and this is not negotiable! You are getting a chance to back out now if the routine is not for you. You must milk at roughly twelve hour intervals, say 6am and 6pm or thereabouts. An hours leeway is not out of the question as long as it is the same each time.
When your heifer is old enough, put her to the bull. Think about the calf you want too. If you are after meat then you will want a meat breed bull. A good dairy breed heifer calf is worth a fair bit of money as a house cow as you will know having just bought one. You can cover many costs this way. A dairy breed bull calf is close to financially worthless though. Fatten him as you can, turn him into yearling beef and be done with it.
After nine months pregnancy your heifer is now a cow and she drops her calf. The first week of milk is a substance called colostrum and contains antibodies fit for the calf but not much good for us to drink so let her feed her calf. You still keep up the daily routine though. After the first week or so you will begin milking your cow once per day. The rest goes to the calf. To do this I prefer to lock up the calf overnight away from the cow. In the morning she will be full and you can milk her out before you let the calf out. Make sure you completely strip her out (remove all milk in the udder) for her health, otherwise she may contract a disease known as mastitis and this can do permanent damage or even kill the cow. After she has been milked she and the calf spend the day together and he drinks his fill. I have raised many calves this way now and they have never once had a problem. Both cow and calf will quickly become used to the routine. Make sure you put your cow to the bull when she next comes on heat or failing that the month after.
At four months or so I like to wean the calf from his mum. Place him in another paddock where he cannot get to his mother. Beware him drinking through the fence and I have often witnessed this. Two fences between mother and calf are preferred. Out of earshot is even better. Expect a couple of nights of bellowing. Now that the calf is no longer drinking half the milk you will need to milk twice daily, morning and evening. You will be milking until six weeks before she is due to drop her next calf. Then you must dry her up (stop her lactating). The easiest way to do this is to simply stop milking her and cut her feed by half. As soon as she no longer "bags up" (has milk in her udder) you can resume the usual amount of feed, in fact a pregnant cow may need extra feed if your grazing is less than good. You will continue the routine exactly the same in all seasons, milking or not. Then she will drop her next calf and the routine continues. Happy milking!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

New cheese, new dog.

Serendipity will play her role in the most unexpected ways. Having lost Max to a snakebite a while back, I was looking around for a new puppy. I was sort of thinking about a Blue heeler, I have always wanted a Bluey, they are fantastically intelligent dogs. In fact I have been trying to obtain a good blue heeler pup for years but another dog always came along first. This time was no different.
Meet Rufus. I was over at a friends place when his wife mentioned she was helping find homes for a litter of puppies. Free but only to approved people. I was initially reluctant but soon warmed to the idea, especially when I found out he was a Border collie, Kelpie cross. My very first and most beloved dog was this same cross. So I brought home this little fellow and after some discussion we named him Rufus. He is a bright little chap and learns very quickly, he is also very outgoing, friendly and loves to explore. I expect he will turn into a very good dog, but we shall see.
In other news, I pulled the Brie cheeses I had maturing out of the fridge only to discover that the humidity had been too low. Even though the cheese had a good bloom of the expected white mould it was much too firm for a Brie which should be creamy and soft. Disappointed, I examined the cheeses to see how they looked inside only to discover an almost cheddar texture and a firm crust. The taste was superb! I had unwittingly created a version of some of the rare French style hard-bloomed cheeses. I will definitely be making this mistake again.

Thursday, 2 May 2013


A while back I mentioned I was attempting to make a Stilton cheese.
This blithe comment hides the six nights of research, trawling the web for details, cross referenced against the cheese manuals I have, all in an attempt to arrive at a workable method. You see, Stilton is probably one of the most difficult of all cheeses to get right. One step slightly wrong and you can end up with a mess or at best a load of blue cheese. 
Disaster. Tasty, tasty disaster...
My first attempt produced curd that was too firm to be "rubbed up", a process whereby the cheese is rubbed all over to close off all pores and cracks on the surface. This first cheese went blue too early and so became about four kilos of rather tasty creamy blue cheese. As a simple blue cheese it was excellent, good with wine and on steak. As a stilton it was a disaster. If only all disasters were this good- I am eating some as I write.
Back to the drawing board and with a bit more research I revised the method. Try two produced a much softer curd that did all the things it should have. The curd was cut gently then "hooped" and turned for five days before being rubbed up.
Half way through the rubbing. Note the un rubbed right side.

Rubbed up and ready to be aged.
Next the cheese is aged in the cheese fridge for seven weeks before being pricked full depth all over. This will allow oxygen in to begin blueing the cheese from the centre out. At around nine weeks it will be ready to eat. I will keep you posted.
Off to do the morning milking on a fine Cloud Farm day.