Thursday, October 28, 2010

She's a Layin'

Sweet Pea is laying eggs again! And just in time to make Pan de Muerto for the Day of the Dead (we'd hate to disappoint the ancestors). She's survived Marek's, having her toe torn off (by moi), being squished under a chicken run and still she comes through her molt faster than any of the others. She's my rock star chicken.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Petting Zoo

Lucy, Ethel, Fred, and Ginger helped bring in some bucks for my daughter's elementary school at the annual Fall Festival fundraiser this past weekend. Boy, were the critters ever popular! All afternoon we had a line of costumed, doing-their-best-to-be-patient children waiting to run their hands through fuzzy fur. We charged each person a dollar and came out with $133 at the end of the day. Not bad for an afternoon of apple treats and scratches behind the ears.

The herd did a great job with only a couple incidents. Fred nibbled on a kid's fingers a little too exuberantly and pulled down another tyke who didn't want to let go of the leash when Fred thought to scamper off for a nice game of chase with Ethel. No one was injured, thank goodness, so I think we will be able to come back next year.

Everyone was exhausted by the time things were winding down, including me. The entire afternoon I fielded loads of excellent questions from the children. Farm animals, in particular, seem to inspire queries pertaining to the facts of life with the young 'uns . Conversations usually went as such:

"Which one is the mommy and which one is the daddy?"

They are both girls. One is the mommy and the other is the auntie.

"Well then how did you get the babies?"

I had to send one to another farm to get pregnant.

"How did she get pregnant?"

You should probably ask your mom and dad about that one.

Kids, you gotta love 'em for their unbridled curiosity. It didn't help that Fred was trying to hump his sister all afternoon. More on that topic later.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Get 'Em While They're Hot

I've finally put the "Cluckin' Good Eggs" t-shirts up in my Etsy shop. You can show off your urban chicken pride with a clean conscience as they are made from recycled tees. They'd make a great Christmas gift for your favorite homesteader.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Don't Forget to Wear Gloves

This past week has been all about tomatoes. Last year we finished up with the front porch tomatoes by the end of September. This season we are just reaching our tom zenith in mid-October! Some of the plants are even still flowering. Crazy.

The container maters, being a touch on the small side, kept us in a steady stream of fresh salsa and tomato salads, however they didn't leave much for preserving. I did get a batch of incredibly tasty tomato jam out of the little guys, recipe courtesy of one of my favorite blogs, Food in Jars. As for the rest of my tomato needs, I had to look to the farmers market.

Adriana at Tomatero set me up with 60 plus pounds of San Marzanos. It took me over three days to slog through the boxes and get them all canned up, but it was well worth it. I preserved a good number of jars of sauce, salsa, and catsup. Yes, I'm totally crazy for bothering to make my own ketchup, but it's so much better than the stuff at the store. Really. Truly. I'm totally not lying. I used this recipe, just in case you want to be a nutter like me.

With my vintage Wedgewood and its eternal heat from the pilot light, I dried four trays of tomatoes. They never even made it to the fridge. I soaked them in some Bariani olive oil (Best. Olive oil. Ever.) and gobbled them up in less than a day. I call it tomato candy.

Salsa has been a struggle. I can't eat things that are too spicy due to a delicate stomach and it seems that everyone who bothers to can salsa goes for the butt burning kind. So for a few years now, I've been looking for a yummy mild salsa suitable for canning. This one seemed like it might do the trick, but I was worried about the 2.5 cups of hot peppers. A commenter noted that they had reduced the hot peppers by half, which made the salsa "too" mild. I wanted a bit of kick, but didn't have enough peppers for the full 2.5 cups so I thought I would add one of the habeneros that my brother grew in his garden. I cut into the tiny, seemingly harmless yellow pod and didn't notice any of the eye burning that can accompany such an act. Since peppers of the same variety can often vary in BTU heat units, I thought I should do taste test in order to determine how many I would need. Oh shit, was that thing hot! After I sputtered and choked my way to the sink to spit the damn thing out, I washed my hands at least five times and removed the pepper from the rest of them. Too late. The juice had already leaked onto its neighbors. The end product tastes like a spicy Pace salsa. It's alright, but not exactly what I was going for.

And it gets worse. I found out that no matter how many times you wash your hands, capsicum oil does not come off. Almost never cooking with hot peppers, i did not know that. Men who are sensitive about discussing women's things should stop reading now. Shortly after compulsive hand washing, I needed to use the restroom to take care of some "ladies things". I'm not sure whether or not the oil got on the toilet paper or what... well, you get the picture. I tore through the house screaming "it burns", laughing and crying at my stupidity. I had been very careful not to touch my eyes, yet didn't think about "down there". I cured my nether regions with some vinegar and witch hazel, though no matter what I did I couldn't get my hands to stop burning. Desperate for relief and not wanting to use up any of my precious dairy products to fix the issue, I soaked my hands in bleach as I had read that would work. It did. My hands reeked of bleach for two days. Now I know why folks recommend using gloves. Next time, eh?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Four of the ladies are molting, which explains why we aren't getting any eggs. Cocoa Puff is still broody. I tried putting ice packs under her, but she only attempts to hatch them. I guess I'll just let her sit in the feathery mess of a hen house and wait until she snaps out of it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, October 4, 2010

An open Letter to Mike Henry, Inventor of the Henry Milker

Dear Mike Henry,

I love you. I know these are strange words coming from someone you don't even know, but they had to be said. This morning, the first morning I have been able to successfully milk my goat, I tearfully praised your name for inventing such an ingenious, simple contraption, the Henry Milker.

I purchased your product, with trepidation I might add, after two weeks of pure milking hell. Though this was our, mine and my doe's, first freshening, it was not easy for me to come to this decision. I'm a real do-it-yourself kind of gal who comes from a long line of Swiss dairy farmers. To not be able to milk my own goat by hand would be committing high treason against my ancestral heritage. But the kind of milking protestations going on in my backyard were not normal, not even for a goat. Let's just say words like "fidgety" and "dancer" don't even begin to describe the type of behavior that my Nigerian Dwarf would display on the milking stand. My doe, Lucy, would go into full body spasms at the slightest touch to her udder, we're talking full on hee-hawing donkey bucking here. My hands and forearms are scratched and bruised from the beating I've been handed at the hooves of my little caprine "friend".

I tried everything to pacify my dear doe. During milking I'd put her in the stanchion, give her some grain and treats, brush her mottled coat, stroke her nose, and sing children's lullabies in a soft, soothing voice. I told her that she was the best goat in the world and that I loved her. She nuzzled me, returning the affection. But the moment I moved my hands towards her teats, she would squat down until her udder touched the floor of the stand. I could usually get her back up, though as I started to squeeze she would begin the three year old tantrums. You know, the kind seen in shopping malls and grocery stores everywhere. The gauntlet is thrown. The stomping of small feet begins with a chorus of "No" ad infinitum.The body is thrown to the ground, from which proceeds dolphin-like flailing accompanied by a screeching that would frighten a Banshee. The only solution is to pick the beast up, throw it over your shoulder, and march out of the store with little kicking legs leading the way and tiny fists pounding on your back picking up the rear. Don't think I didn't consider trying that with the goat. However, under closer scrutiny, I realized that milking would be impossible in this position.

I moved on to stronger measures. I added components to my stanchion, creating a small corral with only an inch in any direction for movement. Her feet were still able to move so she tromped on my hands as if they were grapes in old school wine making. I made a "humane" fabric hobble for her, which she pulled her legs out of in less than 30 seconds. I tied her collar to the fence so that she couldn't move her head around so much. I had hoped that together with the hobble this would decrease her momentum to escape. Nope. I tethered her leg to the milking stand. That lasted longer than the hobble by about... five seconds. I tethered her leg to the stand by winding a long strand of cloth from the top of her leg to the bottom as if I were putting her in a splint. I wrapped the fabric so tight that I couldn't pull out a piece of my sweatshirt that had gotten stuck, so I removed the jacket and tied up her other leg with the sleeves. I went into the house to get a clean jar - the one I had was ruined from her hoof landing in it - and when I returned both of her legs were free. Houdini was a hack compared to this goat. I even had my husband, Esteban, nicknamed "Chestaban" by co-workers for his muscly build, hold her legs while I milked. He could only hold her for about 10 minutes, after which he was completely fatigued and bruised by her forceful hind kicks. 

I tried lecturing my little lady. When "stop it", "calm down", and "get over it" were rebuffed, I moved on to not so vague threats. "Do you know what they call goats like you in Mexico? Birria. Do you really want to go there?" I tried reasoning. "Suck it up goat lady! This is a woman's lot. You have babies; you get milked. I've been milked. You're going to be milked. That's life!" I know she was listening to me because she would turn her head in my direction with pleading eyes that said "Please stop doing this to me!"

Day in, day out, this was our routine. Get up. Attempt to milk goat using above strategies. Get ass kicked. None of this was helped by the fact that my doe has very small teats, one of which, a double teat, the vet made more problematic by attempting to cut one side off. What to do? I looked forward to milking like I would an appointment for a root canal. Wracked with guilt about the obvious torture that I was putting my doe through and unable to use my hands anymore due to pulled muscles and bruising, I considered giving up. Dreams of fresh cream, butter, ice creams, and cheeses dissolved into nightmares of getting a hoof planted in my face. Then I remembered what it is that separates us from the animals: our higher reasoning abilities.

Clearly, I was not going to be able to muscle or talk my way through this one. So I spent some time on the Interwebz doing a little research on how to milk a stubborn goat. Milking machines looked promising, but at a $1-2 grand price tag that was completely out of the question for one goat. Didn't they have a hand pump for goats like the one I had used while breastfeeding? Yes! I found a couple of your competitors' products, however one had too many parts, used plastic bottles, and was still a bit cost prohibitive. The other, though less expensive, had a tendency to break, or so I had read. I loved that your milker had a pressure gauge and was compatible with wide mouth glass canning jars as they are easy to find and a breeze to store. But it was your 30 day money back guarantee that sealed the deal for me. I'm a cheap skate and hate financial risks. I know I could have saved a couple bucks and built my own hand pump, but frankly after getting my butt kicked on a daily basis, I was ready to pay for someone else to have worked out the kinks on this build.

The day the Henry Milker arrived I ran to the goat enclosure to give it a whirl. It was my last hope at salvation and I needed to know immediately if there was any reason to hold on. The kids had been nursing on their mama all day so I knew I wouldn't get much milk. She fussed about having the teat cup put on and the pre-pump hand milking, but she didn't seem so rattled by the actual suction. This was working, but the 1/3 cup I extracted was underwhelming. The next day I gave Lucy a break from all the udder fondling and put her kids away for the night in separate housing. First thing in the morning, I went out, Henry Milker in hand, nervous that things might go south. She was so full I could hardly wring any milk out into the strip cup, but I did get it flowing. Once I hooked the pump up to her teat, Holy Mary, Mother of God, the milk she was a flowing! By the end, I had gathered nearly a quart, which is excellent production for a dwarf in a single milking. And even then she was only half emptied! Plenty left for the kids.

To be sure, she still kicked and bucked and I even got a hoof in the nose, but all that gorgeous sweet sweet milk was safe in the jar, unable to be touched by her manure coated hooves that landed into the bucket at every previous milking attempt. No more throwing out the precious few drops, barely enough to cream a coffee, due to contamination. The only recommendation that I would add is that you give folks the option of having longer tubing. My goat's udder hangs at the same height as the top of a quart jar, which makes it awkward to keep the jar on the stand as the stiff tubes have a tendency to knock it over. I would really like to set the jar on the ground so that it wouldn't be repeatedly kicked over, but it won't reach. It's not really a biggie since of course I can buy some longer tubing for cheap. Just a small suggestion.

Words cannot adequately express my gratitude to you. You have saved my very milky doe from becoming dinner, rekindled my excitement for producing my own dairy products, and prevented GPS (Goat Protection Services) from being called out to my little urban farm. I promise to name my first cheese after you.

In all sincerity, thank you from the bottom of my udders,

Heidi Kooy, proud goat milker

That's More Like It