Winter Sunset

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Taken the day before the pond froze over and received our first snow. No more refections until Springtime. 

 

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Cheese Press

We’ve been generally dissatisfied using weights to press cheese. This works well enough for many cheeses, but it is not enough pressure for Cheddar.

First we tried using to board with a nylon web ratchet strap (motorcycle tie-down) to compress the inside-outside buckets between two boards, but we found this was uneven and provided limited pressure. I think the best way to go is to just go and buy a few things.

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These are two food grade plastic buckets which nest in each other that once contained cake icing. They were cleaned and holes were drilled into one of them to allow whey to squeeze out.

I used a 6′ 1/2-13 threaded rod that I bought a while ago (not sure what for). These are soft (grade 2) and cut easily with a hacksaw but are adequate for the job. Pick up at least four 1/2-13 hex nuts, and four 1/2-13 wing nuts and eight 1/2″ washers. This shouldn’t cost much; it’s sold by the pound ($2/lb. where I live) at our local Family Farm and Home/Tractor Supply. I sized our cheese press to allow the inside-outside buckets to slide in from at least two sides easily, so the top doesn’t need to be taken off. Also, you need to make sure that the rods are long enough for the biggest cheese you will make and that the bottom will fit inside a baking tray or something to catch the whey that runs out.

I used an odd pine 2×12″ board, which I cut into two 14″ lengths. Drill holes in the corners of the boards with a 1/2 drill bit and you’re good. We washed the boards and baked them to dry, and I treated the bottom board with Raw Linseed Oil (safe for food contact). We also washed the rods and hardware like dishes and let them dry.

It doesn’t look like much but it is completely adjustable, exerts more than adequate pressure with just thumb force (no wrench necessary). It would have been better I suppose to have used hardwood boards (like white oak) that were 3./4″ thick and some cross-wise 3/4″ hardwood strips on the end to prevent it from splitting down the middle, and if I make another cheese press someday, that is how I would do it.

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Milk tastes “weird”

Some people accustomed to drinking store bought milk that try our milk think it tastes “weird.” It was described sometimes as a “chemical” taste. I knew it wasn’t because of spoilage. Our milk is very clean and fresh, and we use no “chemicals” like bleach in our milking equipment that may impart a flavor like that. I never found the flavor offensive in milk, but when concentrated though the making of butter, I began to dislike it.

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Cow baby-bump visible here.

I suspected it may have to do with our cow’s forage preferences because it didn’t taste that way when she was eating mostly hay. I am now confident in asserting it is from eating too much clover. I’ve long been aware of our cow’s predilection and favoritism of clover…and really any clover. She plows right into Red, White, or Sweetclover eagerly. I suspect she would plow right into Alfalfa, too. Not only is eating too much clover a bloat hazard, it is also overwhelms their system with bitter compounds. All clovers have a certain bitterness to them. I’ve tasted all of them myself, so I know. Some clovers are much more bitter than others. Red and White clover are the least bitter actually. Alfalfa and Sweetclover and wild clovers are much more bitter. While clovers are definitely good food for cattle, too much of it is a bad thing.

I came to this understanding recently because the grasses and legumes in our pastures have died back differently as we are heading into winter. It seems it has been cold enough, long enough to have arrested and wilted the clover, while the ryegrass and bluegrass are still pretty much upright and palatable. Grass definitely suffers the winter better than legumes. Because of this our cow is pretty much eating ryegrass now, and only nibbling the clover. And the milk is much more neutral tasting. It is also yellower, and more like how a Jersey’s milk should look. And the butter, though it takes longer to churn, is more neutral tasting as well. Another observation is that there is almost NO undigested grain in our cow’s pies anymore. The little bit of grain-mix we feed, which contains cracked corn and whole oats, would pass through a bit, particularly the whole oats. I think that because she must cud Ryegrass more thoroughly than she did with clover, that she is managing to break down the whole grains better too. Another side benefit.

So, I think it important to keep the percentage of highly palatable grasses in a pasture high, and to keep them well mixed with the clover (no big patches of only clover). This can be somewhat difficult if you don’t use nitrogenous fertilizer, but at least an annual overseeing of grass will be an easy way to achieve this.

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Annual Blog Summary Post

It has been nearly one year now.

I hope that anyone who reads this blog regularly could provide a bit of feedback. I am considering re-focusing the blog on foodanimal husbandry/homesteading topics, gardening, and reducing the amount of focus on firearms and grass-related posts. I am considering expanding into new topics like sheep, beekeeping, and building construction, though I have little expertise to offer with these topics. I was thinking of renaming the blog A Contrarian’s Guide to Guns and Butter. Oddly this reflects on many things which may not be apparent to the casual reader.

-I really like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and my blog is meant to be a guide to assist fellow travelers in achieving pleasing outcomes. In many ways a little small holding like mine can be a great undiscovered land with a sensitive mindset.

-I really admire the body of work produced by Gene Logsdon, the contrary farmer; his death in May of 2016 prompted me to begin blogging.

-The name change would allude to the Guns and Butter paradox as well as be two important topics on the blog.

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Pumpkin Moon

Sometimes the moon looks like a big pumpkin to me. Unfortunately it is very difficult to photograph it, especially without a decent tripod (I used a tree to steady the camera).

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Stockpiling forage

One of the happy things about stockpiling is that it works very well with innate human laziness. Stockpiling is basically letting a pasture or hayfield grow up to maturity or near maturity in the fall before growth greatly slows after winter frosts and leaving it there to be eaten by animals later. It is basically like making hay, except you leave it in the field, and the animals collect it themselves. No mowing, raking, gathering, baling, stacking, etc. All you have to do is move the critters around with a little electric fence. Takes a few minutes instead of days.

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My Perennial Ryegrass-White Clover pastures are still holding up, and I think the grass is still growing a little bit. We’ve had about a dozen hard frosts and it is still quite palatable and nutritious.

In many parts of the country (the mid-South) stockpiling can bring beef cattle clear through the winter with little difficulty. In the deep South grass grows pretty much all year, so you can basically graze all year. We aren’t quite like the mid-South here in Southern Indiana. Though our winters are pretty mild overall, about 10-20% of the days are as brutally cold as Northern winter days, and so cold enough to completely stop grass growth, require shelter for most animals, and require the making of hay. However, in my observation WAY too much (low-quality) hay is made. Our winters really aren’t all that bad, and so far we’ve only fed our Jersey a couple days worth of hay so far (and that is more than usual for this time of year). About 80% of the time you can have your animals out there feeding themselves.

Through the months of November and usually most of December grazing can continue on stockpiled pasture, and I think this the best time to do it around here. By January and certainly by February winter storms have worked over the standing forage so thoroughly that digestibility and nutritive quality have declined significantly, yet this is the time that many people like to use stockpiled pasture. I think this is a mistake because it has lost so much quality. These are the months for feeding that hay you made back in May, June, and July when the grass was growing too fast for your animals to eat anyway. March is the month for feeding winter grain greens if you have any. March is muddy, and tearing up annuals doesn’t matter; tearing up a perennial pasture can become tragic.

I am a firm believer in utilizing feedstuffs when they are at the maximum level of quality. I arrange the reproductive cycles of the animals around when feedstuff is viable, not the other way around, which ends up fighting the weather and nature. Fortunately the natural pattern reflects my preference. Wild grazing animals drop their offspring in Spring, they grow all summer and fall, and go through the lean winter with fat reserves and snuffle through the “stockpiled” meadow grasses when they can. I mimic this pattern by scheduling it so my cow is not lactating heavily in January, February, and March when it is most difficult for me to feed her. I have her drop the calf in late March or April when pastures are coming into full swing.

Some people seem to agonize over what are the best plants for stockpiling. The sad truth is that none of the clovers or Alfalfa hold up well to frost, though they do retain some palatability and digestibility. A legume that does better seems to be Austrian Winter Peas that are improved for cold-hardiness (Lynx, Windham, Frostmaster), though these are winter annuals. I’ve never tried these, but they seem promising. Grasses do much better. Even grasses that aren’t considered to stockpile well seem to do alright by me. Tall Fescue is reputed to be the most durable. I have feral Tall Fescue growing all around my farm’s periphery and it seems to hold up better than Ryegrass and Timothy, but since its palatability is lower to begin with, I think the Ryegrass and Timothy are basically as good. Timothy is a much more winter-hardy grass than either Tall-Fescue or Ryegrass, too, owing to it’s origins in colder climates. Kentucky Bluegrass is very winter hardy, but doesn’t seem to stockpile well. Many of the forbs seem to loose all palatability. While our cow LOVES Chickory and Dandelions and will eat every bit of she can get normally, after it’s been frosted a few times she loses interest. The exceptions are the Brassicas! Many Brassicas (which are annuals or bi-annuals) even to continue to grow through cold weather. Turnips and Swedes both do a good job, and their roots are edible. But Kale really stands above the others to me. It is very leafy, and it keeps growing during the winter when temperatures rise above freezing it seems. A mixture of Oats, which do not grow in cold weather, but hold up to it, and Brassicas is a very effective mixture of annuals to feed animals in the late fall and early winter. Maybe Austrian Winter Peas could be added to that mix, too.

 

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Laundry Day

If you are like us and abandoned the use of a clothes dryer, then you do sometimes get “behind” with the laundry, particularly in weeks when it is too cold to put them on the line but too warm to really fire up the wood stove (which is what really makes the drying rack work quickly).

Though it seems that in God’s great providence every year a few of these perfect “laundry days” arrive during what would be the indoor drying season. Today it reached 65 degrees with a strong and dryish wind from the South. It dries clothes in minutes, and in one day all the laundry can be done, including difficult items like bedsheets and bath towels. In fact, the limiting factors are daylight and the duration of the washing machine’s cycle.

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