Monday, May 23, 2011

The Life and Times of a Zucchini

Zucchini plants are kind of a flash in the pan, at least for us.  I planted them by seed in late January or early February, got them in the ground a few weeks later and started harvest maybe in mid April.  And I'll probably give them another week before I rip them out.  Powdery mildew got pretty bad a couple weeks ago.  I didn't even try to do anything for it because I knew the pickleworm would be moving in and devouring all my squash.  In other years I've held them back a bit with bagging and Sevin, but this year... well, I don't think I have it in me to bag and Sevin will kill my bees.  So I'm resigned to losing my squash a bit sooner than usual.  But here's what I've done with it all:

1)  I pick the nice sized ones for a meal the day they will be eaten.

2) If they get a little bigger, I pick them for pickles and store them in the fridge for a week  or so.

3) If I miss them until they're monstrous, I shred them through the food processor and freeze them in 2 cups quantities for breads and muffins.

So I've got about 6 bags frozen, about 2 gallons of pickles canned, but the okra and beans aren't quite ready to take over daily veggie requirements just yet.  Pickleworms haven't found my cucumbers yet so maybe they'll float us for a bit longer.

If you're interested in pickling those excess zucchinis, this is my grandmother's recipe:

 I slice the zucchini somewhat thinly, but not so much that it folds easily.  And lest you think I actually have the patience and ability to do such a feat with a knife, view the handy dandy device I inherited from my grandma.
 This baby is adjustable to any thickness and makes it quite easy to slice away beautifully.  After everything is sliced, soak the zucchini in very salty water for 3-6 hours.  I use about a quarter cup of salt to a gallon of water.
 Then mix 2 cups white vinegar, 2 cups sugar, 1 Tbsp pickling spice and 1 tsp tumeric in a pot and bring to boil.  Take an empty, hot, sterilized jar and pack it tightly with zucchini slices.  Pour hot vinegar mixture over the top.  Poke the zucchini around with a butterknife or chopstick to get air bubbles out.  Leave a half inch headspace.  Cover and return to the canner for 5 minutes.  I'll use several batches of the vinegar mix to get through the amount of zucchini pictured, but you can't really know exactly how much you'll need so just make it one batch at a time.
These were my favorite pickles that my grandma would make.  She would bring down several jars just for me when she'd come visit us from Minnesota.  Except she cut her zucchini with a french fry cutter and died the brine dark green.  So the pickles were perfectly square and emerald green.  I've adapted it for both health and consumption purposes.  No one needs dies in their diet and the flat slices make them quite nice on sandwiches.

And my favorite zucchini baked goods recipes are:

Zucchini Brownies (no really, they're good):
1/2 cup coconut oil (or other vegetable oil)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups shredded zucchini
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

In a large bowl mix together the oil, sugar, and vanilla until well blended.  Combine flour, cocoa baking soda and salt; stir into the sugar mixture.  Fold in zucchini and walnuts.  Spread evenly into a greased and floured 9x13" pan.  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

Frosting: Melt together 6 Tbsp cocoa and 1/4 cup butter and allow to cool.  Blend together 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/4 cup milk and 1/2 tsp vanilla.  Stir in cocoa mixture.  Spread over cooled brownies before cutting into squares.

For Zucchini bread:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tso baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 egg
1 cup shredded zucchini
1/4 cup oil

Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg.  In another bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients.  Stir into the dry mixture.  Pour into greased bread pan and bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Button Mutton

You may remember us getting Button over a year ago.  We purchased her from a big farm where she got basically no human interaction.  She never got used to us.  Last summer we tried tethering her out to munch on fresh grass in the front yard, but she got loose twice.  Each time of trying to catch her was horrible.  So, finally, she was resigned to a life of never EVER leaving the pasture.  And I couldn't check her for worms.  When she was lambing, I had to stay a good distance away.  What if she needed help?  Well, too bad.
So when she birthed her replacement this spring, we decided to cull her as soon as Nina was old enough for weening.  And because she's at least 2 years old, likely older, we knew she'd be pretty strong on that mutton flavor.  Sausage it is.

Last Saturday, Husbandman and I (mostly him) ended her life and readied the meat for grinding.

A couple days later a neighbor woefully said, "I could NEVER do that.  I don't know how you kill something with eyes."

My response... "Oh, I didn't know you were a vegan."

Lest anyone say I'm heartless, I really did not CARE for Button.  She was a pain in the butt.  Because of her I had to do more work.  Because of her, Daisy (who's actually Esperanza's lamb) is also skiddish and tends to run from me.  Yet even still, I couldn't take her life without pause.  It's HARD to look at something with the miraculous breath of life and know that in a few short moments, by my hand, that life will be gone. 

But if you insist you "could NEVER" do anything but outsource your unpleasantness, you have no right to eat animal products.

Don't tell me you're an animal lover while conventionally raised meat stocks your freezer... and you likely eat it daily.  Don't tell me what a horrible person I am for taking responsibility for my family's food while the animals that feed you and your's live sick, miserable lives.  Don't act like not seeing those animals suffering as they do, its suddenly a different piece of meat on your plate.  Like if you didn't kill the animal, then the meat must have been harvested humanely with no loss of life.  Afterall, hasn't the food industry genetically modified cows to regenerate their own steaks yet?

I digress.  Anyway, Husbandman then took chunks of deboned meat to a friend with an electric grinder.  We found a recipe from a book in the library titled The Venison Sausage Cookbook.  It called for various spices, onions and garlic.  Nothing unnatural.  And thus he turned that meat into some of the best sausage we've ever eaten.  There's not a ton of it.  Maybe about 20 pounds worth.  But its good and will feed us for almost 6 months.  While processing the meat, our friend (an avid hunter) said he'd never seen venison as stringy as Button's meat.  We're guessing she could have been pretty old.  I'm very glad all that sausage spice is able to make it all taste good though.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mona's PPD

Post-partum depression can be ferocious.

So bad that you eat your children.  Well, if you're a rabbit at least. 

On May 5th, one day remained of Mona's "window of opportunity" for birthing her kits.  She had done no nesting, pulled out no hair and had nothing of any note for teats.  I told the girl child that Mona was probably just too old to have babies in her tummy.

And then, Friday, May 6th, there were 5 little balls of skin wiggling around.  The nest box I created for her had a feed bag on the bottom, a piece of lattice over that (to prevent her from shredding and eating the feed bag) and hay on top of that.  She ate most of the hay before she birthed.  The babies nestled in the holes of the lattice.  3 babies in one hole, and 2 more in their own holes, but spread out away from the rest.  I didn't like the looks of it, but I knew if I went in there poking around, they'd all be done for.  Through out the day that day, she kept moving those babies, but they were never covered unless covered by another baby.  By Saturday morning 1 baby was missing, 3 were in 1 hole (with the bottom baby dead) and 1 more in its own hole.  By Saturday evening, the rest were dead or missing.

So, lessons learned... no lattice.  If she shreds the paper, oh well.  Secondly, use actual bedding and not hay so she's less inclined to eat it.  Thirdly, be prepared for cooler temps.  Nights were a bit chilly and there was a chance of rain.  I covered the top and sides of her pen with a tarp to keep the drafts out, but I could tell she didn't like it.  It scared her to have something different going on, even as "different" as a tarp.

From here... well, we don't know.  We'd heard the first round of babies can be hard.  We need to breed Brownie quickly because she's over 2 years old.  But we've also heard not to breed them in hot weather because its too hard on the does.  But we've also heard to just give Mona a rest and try again in a month.  The jury's still out on which route we'll take.  The bunny stud who lives down the street certainly doesn't mind offering his services as much as we may need.

The Little Dobers

As I alluded in another post, Doby kidded about midnight on April 21st.  She didn't make a peep.  I knew something was up because Angel started making this excited, confused whimper noise.  I went out and there was a sweet little blue-eyed buckling, pictured with Farmer Girl.  I let them stay together until morning.

Doby's done really well on the stand.  She gives a little over half a gallon a day.  While that's not stellar, she's still quite small.  But even still, we made a decision to move her on.

You see, we have friends who wanted to get into dairying.  It's difficult to find dairy goats around here.  We figured out that if we let them have Doby, it would open up a space in our pasture for a different goat- one we could get pregnant now and make sure to have us in milk through the winter.  And Doby's a good beginner goat.  She doesn't have a testy attitude.  She's sweet and lovable and totally people-friendly.  And not giving a ton of milk means the hands can those unused muscles good and strong before having to milk out a gallon at a sitting.  My first few days of milking after a dry spell always leaves me with cramping, sore hands.

So our friends prepared their milking stand and got their milking supplies and we delivered Doby to them last weekend.  Their Alpha-goat, a bossy female pygmy, did not much care for the addition at first, but it sounds like everyone is starting to settle in and find their groove... though Doby will not be able to lounge in empty hay baskets anymore.

And we found our replacement already!  She's a 1 yr old pure Nubian.  She spent most of her days at a school before going home with a student.  That student's mom is now looking to decrease the number of mouths she's feeding.  We're getting her tested for CAE (a contagious disease similar to Johnnes in cows) and the results of that test will be available Friday.  If she comes back negative, Sunday afternoon we'll drive out to pick her up.  She'll immediately go in with Copper meaning she'll kid in October or November.  That's about the time Dulci will get pregnant, kidding in March or April.  And we'll get Helen pregnant in March or April for kidding in August or September.   And thus never have a day without fresh milk! 

And also never have a day without milking!  But that's another reason we were so keen on helping our friends get a good start in dairying... we can milk for each other!  Either family can now go away for a few days and the others are fully equipped to cover those missed milkings.  Its a huge relief to know we won't have to dry off our goats just to go to a family reunion.  Instead we'll just truck those goats to their house and they get an abundance of milk for cheese-making!  We haven't been  away from home more than 14 hours in well over a year.  Not that we're going to run off on vacation... but its nice to know we could!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Let me remember...

... this morning 20 years from now.  And may I laugh heartily.  Until then, let me blog and vent my utter frustrations before going back out to make our little world right again.

The kids have been begging for oatmeal lately.  So I soaked some last night.  Did they eat it this morning?  No.  Farmer Boy 2 (FB2) dumped his on the floor.  No matter.  Its a common occurance.  We let in the dog to clean up the majority as I tell the older 2 to put on their swim suits.  I rinse out the 2 day old pool water from their kiddie pool and set it refilling.  A fight breaks out over what swimsuit Farmer Boy 1 wants to wear because he's scared of the one with orcas all over it.  Meanwhile FB2 has gotten into Farmer Girl's oatmeal, covers himself in cinnamon and leaves her crying because she wanted to eat it later.  I finally get them outside.  I pull the waterers from the chicken pens so FG and FB1 can get started on their chores.  I get Doby on the stand (oh yeah, she kidded... a while ago... I'm behind, I know).  I milk her into ZigZag (her buckling)'s bottle.  FG and FB1 start fighting over how much (or how little) FB1 is helping.  I give FB1 the bottle and he happily runs off to feed.  I just finish milking her and discover that FB2 has taken to "feeding" everything dog food.  There's dog food dumped all over the porch floor.  I scold him and get him cleaning up his mess (keeping in mind he's about 19 months old) when the Solar-Fit guy shows up for me to sign the contract on our solar hot water heater.  FB1 starts helping FB2 clean up so I assume that will go relatively smoothly.  Doby takes forever to eat so I assume she's fine being left on the stand.  I always let her eat her fill and do other chores after I've milked her out.  I ask FG to unclip her from the stand so she's free to get down and graze when she wants but fully expecting her to stay at the stand the few minutes I'd be away.  I go inside to sign papers and less than a minute later hear FG in the kiddie pool.  I scold her for playing before chores are finished and I peak at the stand to see it empty.  I run out and Doby's completely MIA.  I run around the whole property, call the dog, call for FG, summoning the troops to find our little escapee (who no doubt would return, but how much of our gardens would she eat while I don't know where she is?).  Mr. Solar-Fit is left inside.  I finally see her against the side of the pasture fence (on the wrong side of it, mind you), way in the back happily munching scrub so I leave her again.  Come in to find that the boys decided to dump the dog food all into the bag of game bird starter I'm trying to sell on Craig's List (another long story).  I start to really flip then decide I can finish my flip out after Mr. Solar-Fit is on the road again.  I sign my papers.  He leaves.  I find FG playing again.  FB2 is back at the dog food.  I scoop him up and plop him screaming in the crib.  I retreive Doby and scratch my legs up on palmetto scrub while doing it.  Then its Dulci's turn for milking.  I tell FG and FB1 that I'm going to be the "faster" (FG's made up noun for her and her brother when they finish their chores before I finish mine).  That usually sparks my little dilly dally-er into motion.  Keep in mind, all she does is fill 3 chicken waterers, 2 goat waterers, pick leaves for the baby goat and collect the hay baskets in the garage.  She's got a single chicken waterer filled at this point.  I milk Dulci, give her first round of chemical dewormer and let her finish her breakfast while I prod the young ones from a closer proximity.  Helen's up next and she's late so she's jumpy.  The sheep are getting really noisy and I have to force Valentino back into the pasture because I'm not ready for him yet.  FG grabs the bucket for leaves and goes to the front yard.  I'm half way done with Helen and FG SCREAMS.  I drop everything and run... to discover she caught a butterfly in her butterfly net.  I've told her many times about not screaming in excitement because I can't tell if she's in serious trouble or not.  I haven't had the heart to discipline her for it.  After all, she comes by it honestly.  Her father squeals with delight with just seeing colorful lichen on a tree.  I get back to Helen who's very agitated.  She's the only goat who HATES being left alone on the stand.  She lets me know she's mad too.  I spill about a pint of milk trying to finish getting her milked out.  I get Helen back to the pasture and I go back to FG and help her move the butterfly from the net to their bug observatory.  It's a white southern butterfly, one that's unique to central FL, so I'm thinking we'll have to do a special lesson about it and don't punish her neglect with chores by releasing it.  Meanwhile, she still has leaves to pick for ZigZag, 1 more chicken waterer to fill and both the goat water buckets.  When I go to let myself into the pasture, the sheep are done waiting for me.  Valentino, Esperanza and Nina (those that graze the front yard) were ganged up and bull-dozed out.  I let them go, afterall, they just eat grass.  I fill the pasture water buckets.  FG runs crying because she's supposed to take care of Nina.  She's hoping to show Nina in a fair this year and she's practicing by leading her to her graze station each morning.  I get her calmed down by showing that Nina's not tethered yet.  I get the collar on her and hand her to FG who does a great job... except that the leaf bucket is still mostly empty.   I water the gardens while she FINALLY gets some leaves for ZigZag.  She fills his water bucket and takes that to him too.  Then I see a black snake slowly exploring the garden I'm in.  So this time I interrupt the flow of chores to call them over.  FG tends to freak out at the sight of a snake so I wanted her to see this good one and emphasize that if it doesn't look like THIS snake, she needs to get away and tell an adult.  So we stand and watch the snake for a while.  Which gets them in the garden and picking unripe tomatoes while I'm not looking.  More scolding.  I kick them out of the garden back to filling water buckets and now, also cleaning up all their toys they've scattered around while they were supposed to be doing chores.  FB1 finally just gives up and puts himself in his room (his option if he's not going to be outside working/playing with us... he's my little inside boy).  FG is the one responsible for chores anyway.  We just encourage FB1 to "help" which is as good as "just stand beside someone working outside".  Then it dawns on me that I haven't yet filtered the milk.  I get that going and go outside to pick squash, 3 HUGE zucchini that I must have missed for 3 days.  I'm in and out, adding more milk to the filter with a bit too much on the brain... and discover that I caused the milk to overflow and leave a flood on the counter.  FG is still working on that last goat bucket and collecting hay baskets.  I start cleaning my own mess when FB1 comes to me with FB2's diaper... which FB2 apparently took off by himself and threw at FB1.  FB1 himself is also naked and crying because he can't find his "Diego go go go" underwear.  I leave them naked, move Copper's finally-full water bucket to the bachelor pad, finish watering the herb gardens, and powow with FG over her lack of diligence.  Its now 3 hours after we started chores, and she's just now finished.  I had filled the pool for them to play in this morning, but she doesn't get to now because she dilly dallied for 3 hours.  Tears flow.  I'm over tears.  I'm about to shed them myself.  I tell her if she cleans up the mess FB2 made in the porch she can have pool time while the boys are napping today.  She decides its not worth it and she'd rather just go inside.  Me too.  I'd rather go inside and do puzzles and play piano and eat bananas.  But instead I get to fill out complaint forms over legal malpractice all afternoon.

One day I really will laugh at all this.  And before that time comes, I'll have another day just like this, only maybe with twice as many kids involved.  One day I'll know exactly what the result would be if game birds eat a little dog food.  Or rabbit food.  Or if rabbits eat chicken and dog food mixed in with their own.  And throw the dog's garlic tablets into everything too.  Yeah, one day stories like this will make me rich. 

Even if only rich in heart.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dairy Goats- you need one

When someone finds something that works and is enjoyable, they tend to evangelize their methods or discovery with the world.  Such is this post where in I tell everyone precisely why they simply must have their own dairy goats.

I'll start with our journey which began in the fall of '07 with 2 Nigerian Dwarf does.  We planned to tether them to trees in the would-be pasture during the day, enclose them in step-in electric fencing at night or when we weren't home and let them clear their own living space.  That didn't work as well as planned... ok, it didn't work at all.  They got repeatedly tangled around trees and brush and didn't eat the palmetto scrub that filled our land.  We ended up keeping them in the front yard for a year while we cleared (with heavy equipment) the back half of our property and fenced it.  Then came fencing... we planned to do barb/electric fencing in a high tensile fashion because that was cheapest.  But we didn't rent a stretcher and didn't know a lick about getting proper insulators for the posts.  And posts at proper 8' intervals would have broke the bank so we actually marked and saved trees and danced our pasture fencing around to use them as posts instead.  Husbandman gave me the fence for Christmas of '08... and the first goat we put inside immediately turned and walked out, straight through our barbwire/electric fence.  And no, we didn't electrify the barb wire, but we had plain wire in between that was supposed to be electrified.  With that disaster behind us, we then saved up and bought enough 3' woven wire fencing to go around the perimeter.  That kept them in.  We started milking Christmas of '07, traded up to full-sized goats in the spring of '10 and have learned a LOT along the way.  On to discussing all that learning:

Fencing- While I don't advise anyone to go quite as redneck as we poor, living-on-love honeymooning parents did, there are some things I do advise to anyone keeping goats. They aren't as hard to contain as people make them out to be.  If you do a fence right, they'll stay in.  Our suggestion is to use sturdy trees and fence posts every 8 feet.  Use cement on corners at least.  4-5' welded wire with 2"x4" openings (or no climb fence) is best.  Using a stretcher is good too, but not imperative.  Also add 1 or 2 strands of barbed wire inside right at goat body height.  This prevents them from using posts as scratchers and pushing your posts over.  3' fencing with 1 or 2 strands of barb wire over it work fine too.

Breeds- There's more variation between the goats and their personalities than between the breeds.  If you want meat, boer is the breed of choice.  Pygmies would be the smaller version.  Milking goats are basically everything else.  Nigerian dwarfs we found to not give enough milk.  We had heard nubians were the hardest to contain.  Our nubian has only once ever gotten out and that was when a storm took down a portion of fencing and everyone got out before we knew what was going on.  The buck has been the hardest to contain... but again, that's been with using unstretched chainlink we found on the side of the road and bendable aluminum posts.  Do a real fence... ya know, like spend at least SOME money on it, and they'll respect it.  We kept our nigerian buck even when we upsized because he's sweet tempered and if he does get ornery (which all bucks do some), he's small enough for me to take down.  We're in it for the milk, not the babies (who we sell anyway) so them being mutts really doesn't matter.  Besides, mini-nubians and mini-manchas are gaining in popularity now anyway.  If you want a dairy goat, its best to get a goat from someone who milks them.  Goat kids drink about a quart a day, but if a full-sized goat only gave that in a day, they'd be considered a rather poor milker.  But keep in mind that the cast-off's from someone who's really serious about milkers may be a great find for a decent price.  Helen came from a lady who had a huge spread.  She gave lots of milk but once turned out on that big spread where she had to forage for herself, she dropped.  Her conformation is terrible (sshhhhh, don't tell her I said that!) and being on her feet that long... well, she'd rather starve.  Our set-up suits her fine.  She can lay down and stick her head in the hay basket and then give her gallon a day.  And another thing when looking for stock, we've learned "bottle babies" are the way to go.  If they're bottle fed at birth, they will always be easy to handle for milking.

Milking- The process of milking is really quite simple.  Squeeze the teats in different ways until you get something out, then repeat what you just did.  Refine as you go.  We don't have a fancy stanchion.  We have 1/2" plywood on four 4"x4"s about 12" high.  We built it low to make it easy for dwarf goats to get on.  Build it higher for bigger goats.  We built a hobo bucket holder (call it an after market addition) because they kept knocking the feed bucket off.  We have an eye screw in just before the bucket holder with a chain and clip which we use to keep them on the table. (Right by the milk jug... which is just another redneck remedy for something else). It does hold them if they really want down (these goats are big enough to simply knock the table over and drag it with them), but it deters them enough from moving to milk them out.  We also have an eye hook by each back foot.  I cut up an old dog leash and re-sewed it to be a loop of fabric with a clip on it.  We wrap the loop around an ankle, slip the clip end through and lock to the eye hook.  They hate it, but it keeps their feet still while they're learning to be milked or while shaving udders and such.  We don't do that for each milking because they're just calmer without it once they know the drill.  You can see Husbandman teaching a friend the milking procedure.  Milk into a small stainless steel bowl (we set it on another bucket to get it close to the udder making aiming much easier) then frequently dump into a bigger container (which is a stainless steel pot with a lid just barely visible under the table.  The white and green thing was our old small bucket holder and still serves an occasional purpose.)  This means that if they kick the bowl or junk falls in, you only loose a little and not your whole milking.  After milking, we use a dairy filter that fits in a special strainer that flows into a mason jar.  We put a plastic lid on the jar and label it for the day and morning or evening.

  Why not cows?-  We don't know why everyone is so cow happy.  Goats are family sized.  Lets look at the economy of scale for a cow:  The heifer calf if born.  2 years later its bred.  9 months later it "freshens" or gives birth.  You milk an insane amount of milk for7-9 months where you may not be able to use it all.  The time to make all that cheese, butter and yogurt doesn't increase with the quantity.  The cow can still get testy, only its 1200-1800 lbs of testy.  To breed her you need a bull... those aren't fun.  So you either bring on an expensive artificial inseminater or you buy a bull or you haul your cow to the nearest bull in town.  And you better have a LOT of land if you're going to keep 2 cows so you have 1 giving milk while the other is dry.  So basically after 3 years and a bunch of money, you have more milk than you can use followed by a long stretch with nothing.

Now let's look at a goat.  You buy a young kid, raise it 18 months and get it bred.  If you don't want a buck, you put it in a dog crate, toss her in the truck and bring her to a buck.  5 months later you get a gallon a day.  A usable but abundant amount of milk.  For the space of a cow you can keep 3-4 goats meaning you can easily always have 1 or 2 in milk.  If a goat gets testy, its 100-150 pounds of testy.  They don't want to stand to be milked, you're strong enough to force them.  If its a cow... well have fun.  And goats have personality.  And no, I'm not saying that as a nice way to say they're quirky.  They really are fun creatures.  But the biggest difference is just the safety of smaller size.  I don't worry about my kids being around them.  The worst that could happen is they get knocked down.  With a cow, they could get knocked down and stepped on resulting in major bone breakage and worse.  Big scale production means big scale problems. 

So there's my 2 cents worth.  Now go find yourself a goat!