Sunday, February 28, 2010

a sad thing

On Saturday morning, one of our little does (named Imelda)-- from the group born last spring, so they are not quite yearlings yet-- aborted her kids, premature and stillborn. She had been having some problems with a gassy belly on Friday, which Cathy treated by giving her a bit of baking soda solution, and later in the day her bloating had gone down and she was eating and moving about normally, although bleating a lot, and loudly, every time we came into the barn. The young does should be due to kid at the beginning of April, so this is a full month early. I have never seen a fetus of any animal before-- they were strange and perfect and incomplete. A boy and a girl.

Imelda is still pretty distressed-- she has been bleating a lot, licking, and looking for her babies. She was licking at the little bodies in the straw before we took them out.

But she seems okay health-wise, so that's good, and hopefully this is the only trouble we'll have this kidding season. Chalk it up to the bad magic of February, perhaps. On the mend.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

snip, stop, stare. repeat.

or, someday, I'll know a little bit more about apple tree pruning in the orchard, which I spent some time doing today.

important objectives of pruning (which is usually done in late winter while trees are still dormant, but late enough to avoid winter injury of the tree):
*promote lateral growth of shoots/branches that can bear the weight of fruit without breaking.
*open the canopy to sunlight and airflow-- for proper ripening of fruit and disease prevention. this means eliminating crossing/tangled branches, and branches growing in towards the tree vs. outward.
*remove dead/diseased branches.
and in this case, making sure there are no branches overhanging in the aisles/alleys to obstruct the tractor.

there's the big picture, and the details, and the balance between. definitely takes some imagination (what will this look like in blossom time? with lots of leaves? with ripe fruit pulling down?) and intuition (let that branch go and see what it does this year...)

you get a little snow-blind out in the orchard, and after a while it gets difficult to assess the needs of each tree-- sometimes my cutting felt a little arbitrary... and it's hard to remember all the little bits of information I've just read when I'm out there in the cold and snow and wind-- laterals, leaders, spurs, terminal buds, shoots... shoot!
many uncertainties-- am I cutting too much, too little, the wrong parts? and is it taking me too long? all part of the learning process, I suppose-- continuing to observe the trees through the seasons will help with getting some perspective.

I can't wait for spring to see all the trees in full bloom! if I'm not becoming a broken record by now :)

by the way, flashback to yesterday's thoughts on training-- the word also applies to tree fruit production. and another new event in my life: puppy adoption. more on that to come :)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

equinox approaches, the sap begins to flow, and thoughts of spring training...

hello hello!

took a little break... still continuing in the slow & steady pace of winter here. Feeding animals, lots of washing and cleaning in the creamery pre- and post-cheesemaking projects, and a little bit of greenhouse work-- I got inspired by the sunny, warm-er days of last week with a bit of spring frenzy-- spring is on the way and I need to get moving with starting seeds!

Goat kidding will begin on March 5 if everybody's on schedule-- then things will get new and different again for me, and busier. Goat babies and milking and goat cheese!

In the spirit of the upcoming maple syrup season, I too have been feeling my sap starting to flow when the sun comes out-- I want more movement and work and stretching in my limbs, want to take the light into my core.

And stall cleaning-- let's not forget that-- we finally embarked on this project-- renewal in preparation for spring and the messy process of birth and tiny tender new life. Cathy and I did three of the smaller stalls-- two last week, one today. Two more to go, but they're less built up with packed manure bedding than the ones thus far. It's good sweaty work for your back and arms. I missed out on cleaning the big stall, which Cathy said took 4.5 hours of 2 people working... whew. I was off watching a bout of roller derby in Grand Rapids with Kristen-- it was pretty rad-- speedy tough ladies and full contact on wheels! Kristen is just beginning roller derby training with the GR league-- lots of practicing and many skills to master before you can try out for a team, but it sounds super exciting! and I am pretty proud and impressed by her.

I need to learn how to skate before I contemplate roller derby, but it seems like such an awesome sport and really amazing & intensive training process-- it's cool to think about trying something new that requires you to learn how to do so many new things with your body-- it's like a dance and a race with all the body checks of a hockey game and a really interesting team dynamic-- this kind of melding definitely appeals to me.
But at any rate, Kristen's fledgling RD career has got me thinking about practice and training for something in general... I'm interested in other people's thoughts on the idea of training. Experiences of training are even better.

Anyway, that's where I'll leave it for now.
maple syrup and melting snow and much love!

p.s. above are more goat pictures, just for fun-- snapped these in january: goat stretch/scratch (Leonidis), goats at rest (Hedy is the brown one and I think that's Haley?), and goats in profile (Tribute and Dottie).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

of curds and whey, poetry and chemistry...

half of cheese-making is washing dishes. and it's all about timing and temperature (and milk and mould and bacteria and...)

okay, cheese lesson! for all of you who want to try this at home. There is so much to learn and I am just getting my feet wet, but I wanted to share a few of the basic things from my notes on The Cheesemaker's Manual by Margaret P. Morris, an awesome reference and full of recipes. A very good place to start. A friend of mine recently asked me in a letter, "How long does it take to make cheese?" and I realized this question has a lengthy answer, dependent upon the type of cheese and the stage in the process-- all cheese is a process of transformation. It begins to be cheese when the curds set up, and you may eat a cheese when it's still quite young, or age a cheese for many years. I guess that's why someone said that cheese is milk's leap towards immortality.
To make cheese, you need milk! Milk is mostly water, but also composed of important fats, proteins, sugars, enzymes, vitamins and minerals! It is pretty much the perfect food, as far as baby mammals are concerned, anyway. So simple yet mysterious. The basic cheese-making ingredients which are added to the milk are:

1. Lactic starters-- these are friendly lactic bacteria that digest lactose to produce lactic acid. They are naturally present in raw milk, but because we must pasteurize for commercial production of cheeses aged less than 60 days (according to the State Department of Health), we add these starters. They can be homofermenters, which means they only metabolize lactic acid, or they can be heterofermenters, which means they produce other compounds that add different aromas and flavors to the final product. They can also be mesophilic or thermophilic, which means the bacteria have different ranges of optimum temperatures for growth-- the thermophiles like it hotter, so they are used for cheeses that have to be cooked at higher temperatures (above 102 degrees F).

2. Maturation and Ripening cultures-- these can be moulds, yeasts, or bacteria-- used in cheeses that are aged or "ripened," not in fresh cheese like chevre or cream cheese. (The language we use for this is so great, no? it's all poetry and chemistry... never thought I would get excited about the latter).

3. Rennet-- often comes from the stomach of a calf, it is a "complex of enzymes" that helps a young mammal digest it's mother's milk. In cheese-making, rennet is used to coagulate the proteins in the milk by cutting them up into smaller pieces-- it gets used up in this process, and a little goes a long way.

After you have added these ingredients at the appropriate time intervals and milk temperatures given by your recipe (sometimes you add cultures and rennet at the same time, sometimes there can be 8 hours between adding cultures and rennet), you will hopefully have some beautiful curd that breaks cleanly if you part it with a finger or a knife. Depending on the cheese, the curd will be cut and ladled into molds, or just ladled in layers, or in the case of a hard cheese like cheddar, cut and cooked and put into molds and pressed and probably some other things I don't remember... Cathy made some cheddar recently, but I haven't been a part of that process yet, just a couple of the "soft-ripened" cheeses such as Chaource and Camembert (yes, this is all very French).

Anyway, if we were picturing a little branching tree diagram of the cheese-making process, there are many points of diversion that arrive at different products and types of cheeses. From here, the cheeses in the molds must drain further whey for some number of hours, again specified by the recipe (usually 24-48 hours). When they are firm enough, they are salted-- to activate those ripening/maturation cultures that will produce the rind-- if these are a mold, then that growth of the mold is called "blooming." Other types of hard-rind cheeses are washed with a salt brine of the various bacteria, yeasts, and/or molds called for in the recipe to produce that particular cheese rind. So it can get complicated fast.

By the way, Cathy gets her cultures (and other cheese-making paraphernalia such as molds and utensils) from this lady in Canada (Glengarry Cheesemaking).

So that's what I know thus far-- there will be more to come for sure. Magic and mystery!

Sleep tight and sweet dreams!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

nesting for now

snowy day in fennville...

Ordered some lovely-sounding heirloom tomato seeds from Baker Creek today (including Black Oxheart, Ozark Pink, and Orange Banana!)-- such a small thing, but it felt pretty big to be ordering seeds for myself... I'm working on establishing a marketing relationship with Summertime Market, a cute little seasonal fruit and vegetable market in Douglas, for the crops I'll be growing this year in Cathy's hoophouse and garden. Eeeep! Exciting. We shall see what comes...

Today Cathy and I took care of some of the pre-kidding health items for the 18 does that will kid at the beginning of March-- Cathy gave each of them an injection of Bo-Se, which is selenium + vitamin E, to prevent white-muscle disease in the kids-- Michigan soils are deficient in selenium, which is why goats need it supplemented, but apparently selenium overdose is also toxic, so the injection must be measured carefully. I administered Ivermectin (basically squirting it into their mouths with a little plastic syringe, 1 cc per 50 pounds of body weight), which is a de-wormer for internal parasites (and lice). The does will get "wormed" again immediately after kidding-- Cathy is sending me some info soon about this, so then I can share more. I'm pretty sure that Ivermectin (and other de-wormers) is prohibited in the Organic Standards for livestock-- Cathy's not certified, but I haven't asked her yet what she thinks about this... I am still trying to understand the internal parasites issues for goats as well, I have pretty simplistic notions at the moment.

I am starting to learn the names of all the ladies... and a bit more of their distinguishing personality traits-- Tribute and Hexa are the escape artists, always looking to squeeze through the barn doors. Dottie and her daughters Gracie and Greta like to hang out together and sleep nestled together in the stalls, and they also share a keen strength and stubbornness-- none of the does really liked having something squirted down their throats, but these ladies made quite a bit show of how bad it tasted. They also walked very quickly and directly as I led them each to their exit back into the yard, while some of the other does are more meandering.
I also re-bedded a couple of the stalls today with new straw-- it's nice to feel like I'm making a warm and comfortable little nest for them, while they nibble on the seed heads in the oat straw.
Soon we'll be cleaning out the stalls entirely-- this is a chore that has been put off for a bit.

After I brought out the hay this evening, I stood watching some of the does playing-dancing-wrestling-fighting-- it's hard to give one verb to what they do, but it's fascinating-- they touch noses sometimes, wrap their necks around each other, push against each other with their bodies and heads, rise up on their hind legs and then crash! knock their skulls together. It looks like it's happening in slow motion, and maybe because of my limited knowledge of goat behavior, it's difficult to interpret-- is it a struggle for place in the herd hierarchy? is it affection? play? sometimes they push and butt each other out of the way at the hay manger, but this is different... whatever it is-- their movement, their coming apart and crashing together, their ebb and flow, tension and release of pushing on each other-- transfixes me as the sun settles down and the sky darkens.