Friday, May 27, 2011

Raw milk yoghurt attempts and failures

Since we got Bella last weekend, we have litres and litres of fresh cow's milk, so I tried to make some yoghurt.  I used my usual method of mixing a spoonful of the previous batch into some fresh milk (except before we got Bella, I used milk powder instead) and put the container in my Easiyo thermos to set.  Most recipes to say to pasturise (heat) the milk before making yoghurt, but I have also read that making the yoghurt from raw (unheated) milk allows more beneficial bacteria to grow, so I wanted to try that instead.

Bella is producing about 6 L of milk a day for us
 and still feeding her calf
Unfortunately the result was very disappointing, the whey separated and the yoghurt was thin and very sour.  It wasn't at all appetising, so I fed it to the dogs, they loved it, and tried again.  Same result.  Time to do some reading.  I read every cheese/yoghurt making book we own (4 now!) and everything I could find on the internet (see this one in particular).


It seems there are many many options and conflicting advice when it comes to making yoghurt!
  • Start with raw milk or pasturised milk
  • Warm milk (30degC) or leave it at room temperature
  • Thermos or heating pad to keep it at incubation temp
  • Inoculation by previous batch of yoghurt or by freeze-dried bacteria
By the end of it, all I knew was that raw milk at room temp, in a thermos of boiling water, using yoghurt didn't work, even though it works for other people, so I was doing SOMETHING wrong, but no idea what.

My goal is to work out how to make nice yoghurt with raw milk, but I suspect that might have been my problem, as you don't know what else is in the milk that's conflicting with the yoghurt bacteria.  Last night I heated the milk to 90degC and then cooled to 40degC.  I added my previous yoghurt (1 teaspoon) and incubated in the thermos.

This morning, to my great relief, I had perfect yoghurt in the jar.  But I'm not impressed about the heat treatment - both the time involved and the fact that heating it is killing all the goodness in the raw milk, I may as well just use milk powder!  At least I still have yoghurt to eat while I figure out my next move and the dogs don't mind eating my failures!

So I will continue in my quest to perfect raw milk yoghurt, any advice would be much appreciated!

eight acres: trying to make raw milk yoghurt
The yoghurt worked, but only with heat treated milk,
I want to make it with raw milk!
For the latest on my yoghurt making techniques, see here.

You might also be interested in my series on getting started with homestead dairy

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Frogs in the toilet - the realities of living in the bush

One of the unfortunate realities of "living in the bush" is finding frogs in your toilet.  Our last house was an old Queenslander, which was obviously built prior to the invention of indoor toilets.  A toilet had been added in the 80s when the house was moved, it must have been a cheap option to put the toilet out on the porch, which was not pleasant on cold nights, a quick dash through the back door and into the loo, brrrr!  Anyway, being an outside toilet, with the door frequently left open, it was not surprising to find a frog or two peering up at you when you lifted the lid. My husband didn't mind just weeing on them, however I didn't fancy the idea of sitting down with the frog underneath me and likely to jump up at any time.  I ended up fishing them out of the bowl more often than not.  I didn't mind the inconvenience because the frogs are so lovely.  How could you be angry with such a beautiful creature? Apart from being completely harmless, they also eat the bugs that swarm around our windows in summer.

Our new house in Nanango has an inside toilet (among other luxuries, such as a bath and fly screens on every window!).  You would think that would have been the end of the frogs in the toilet, but strangely we also found them in that toilet too!  I hate to think where they were coming from, most likely from the spetic tank.  Again, my husband was happy to wee on them, so I was left to fish them out and run through the house, out the door and chuck them over the verandah (due to the fly screens, I couldn't just put them out the window).  I had to run because frogs tend to wee on you when you pick them up, possibly revenge, but I've read somewhere that this is to counter the acid on our skin.  Anyway, if the toilet lid was left up, we would often find them hopping around the bathroom, and then the chase was on.  Luckily the frogs seem to have given up on their plot to infiltrate our house and we haven't had any in the toilet for ages.

A beautiful big green frog that was living in our laundry sink.
After rain, all you can hear around our house is frogs.  They are surprisingly loud, especially if one or two find their way into a pipe and create an echo.  I love the noise because it means that they eating bugs for me.  In summer I find them everywhere in the garden, they peep out from any cool dark spot.  There was even one in my gumboot the other day!  Apart from the beautiful green frogs, we also have some exquisite tiny brown frogs, some with an almost bronze sheen.  There are a couple living in my compost and some that live on the manure floating in my weed/manure tea drum.  I guess they are eating the bugs there too, so they're welcome to live there and I love to see them when I open the lid.  I wish I had a better camera to share the brown frogs with you as well.

Have you ever found anything strange in your toilet?  Do you just love green frogs too?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Meet Bella and Molly - our house cow and calf

Yesterday morning we brought home our dairy cow, Bella, and her calf, Molly, and we milked her for the first time this morning.  Bella and Molly are both pure bred jersey cows.  Bella gave us about 6 L of milk, so I've already skimmed off the cream, and made some yoghurt and we've drank a few litres and given some to the dogs.  We have all the gear to make some cheese when we have accumulated enough milk, so that will be a new challenge!  I'll tell you more in the near future....

Molly (hiding in the grass) and Bella
Bruce and Rocket meet their new herd-mates (from a safe distance)
You might also be interested in my series on getting started with homestead dairy

Friday, May 20, 2011

Making yoghurt from powdered milk

I finally decided to stop being so lazy and have a go at using milk powder to make yoghurt (as described previously),  instead of relying on the EasiYo packet.  I had a large bag of powdered milk in the cupboard that I bought during the flood-crisis here over summer, so it was time to use it up.  I have now made several batches of yoghurt using only the powdered milk, so I can report that it is just as easy and convenient, as well as being ridiculously cheap.

eight acres: making yoghurt from powdered milk
yoghurt
All you have to do as soon as you finish one batch of yoghurt, is make the next one in the same jar straight away, without cleaning it, so that the remaining yoghurt will inoculate the next batch.  All I do is scrape out most of the yoghurt (for my lunch), tip in the powdered milk (1 cup to 1 L of water), mix in the cold water and pop the jar into the thermos as normal (see other post for instructions on using the thermos).  After 8-12 hours the yoghurt is ready.  You can also use freeze-dried yoghurt culture if you don't have any previous batch to start your yoghurt.

It took me a few goes to work out the right amount of powdered milk, but now I reckon just over a cup of powdered milk makes a nice yoghurt, it just depends how thick you like it.

A 1 kg bag of powdered milk costs about $6 and I made at least 10 L of yoghurt out of it.  That means that it costs about 60c a L, compared to the EasiYo packets at about $3/L each and the tubs of yoghurt at $6/L (although haven't bought one for ages, not sure on that one!).

Anyway, its very cheap and easy (I can't believe I used to waste time carefully washing out the jar!).  I'm hoping that I will have the same success with fresh milk.

Do you make yoghurt?  What's your method?

More about yoghurt:

Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on EtsyLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com to arrange delivery.  More information on my house cow ebook blog.





Reviews of "Our Experience with House Cows"





Gavin from Little Green Cheese (and The Greening of Gavin)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Menstrual cups - stop using tampons!

Here's something that my male readers, and even some of my female readers, might not want to read about, but I'm going to write about it anyway, for the benefit of those who ARE interested........

STOP HERE IF YOU THINK PERIODS/MENSTRUATION/TAMPONS ARE GROSS!!

The Keeper menstrual cup

Moon cups are a reusable cup that women can use instead of tampons.  I came across them when I was looking for an alternative to tampons.  I had always thought that tampons were very wasteful and the cost each month was getting ridiculous.  I was also concerned about the bleaches and other chemicals used in tampons that are no doubt absorbed into the body when we use them.  I read heaps of different forums and advertising and finally decided just to give it a try.  There seems to be even more information and discussion, and more products available now, so I guess they have become more popular since I bought mine about 5 years ago, which is great to see.

I wanted to write this because at the time I was looking at buying one, I didn't know if it would end up being a waste of money and it was hard to find information apart from endorsements on websites trying to sell the product.  So if anyone has been wondering about getting a moon cup, or has never heard of them before, I can completely recommend them, I have had no problems and I love not having to worry about throwing away used tampons or buying more each month.  If you want more of the (gory) details, I have read some really good explanations about similar products here and here.

I also use the reusable pads, washing them in hot water and ironing them between use, and I'm very happy with the product.

I'd be happy to answer any questions from my personal experience, but I can't say I'm an expert, I just know what has worked for me.  There's heaps of information on the sites I've linked to, so that will help you to make a decision and I hope you will seriously consider this reusable alternative.

If you'd like to buy your own, please follow this link and I get a small proportion of the sale for referring you.


I've written more about reusable menstrual cups and pads here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dog Box for the Ute

When we decided to look after Chime the Kelpie while my friend was away, we realised we would need some way to transport the two dogs.  We have a single cab ute and Cheryl usually rides on the back, except when its raining or too hot or too cold (which is most of the time in QLD!) and then she rides in the cab, on the lap of the passenger, almost squashing the passenger as she's at least 20 kg, especially when she won't sit still.  We were never going to fit TWO restless Kelpies in the cab, so my clever husband started working on a dog box.

See more information here.


The two Kelpies in their dog box on the back of the ute.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why choose heritage breeds of chickens and vegetables?

We have decided to keep Rhode Island Red and White Leghorn chickens, even though they don't produce as many eggs as some commercial layer breeds.  There are some very good reasons for keeping alive heritage chicken breeds (see this website for a very good explanation):
  • Maintain diversity in the available chicken genetics
  • Stop multinational companies from owning chicken genetics
  • Heritage breeds are more hardy and lay well for longer
  • Some heritage breeds are good for both eggs and meat
  • We can breed them with predictable results (compared to hybrids)
  • They look beautiful! 
eight acres: why choose heritage breeds of chickens and vegetables?
Ivan - our beautiful White Leghorn Rooster
If you're considering keeping chickens, there are hundreds of breeds to choose from, each suited to different climates, chicken pens (free ranging or locked up), egg laying requirements and meat production.  It all depends what you are looking for, but don't think you're limited to the commercial laying or meat hens, just do some research and you'll find the perfect chickens for your situation.

File:Poultry of the world.jpg
see full description here
There are also some good reasons to look for heritage breeds in vegetables (more here), including:
  • The ability to save seeds for next year (free seeds!)
  • The plants can start to adapt to local climates
  • Heritage breeds are usually more disease and pest resistant - less dependent on chemicals
  • The veges usually taste better because they've been breed for taste rather than ease of transport to market
  • You can grow some unusual vegetables that aren't available in the supermarket!
There's more info here, including a list of websites that sell heirloom seeds.  My favourite heritage plant is my crazy, unstoppable, "poor mans beans"!



By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at} gmail.com.




What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.


Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Winter Woodfires: installing a woodfire

Installing a woodfire is a complicated process!  Of course we decided to do it ourselves, why pay an expert when you can figure it out yourself?  I've already explained why we love our woodfire, so this is more detail of the installation process.

The hardest part is the weight of the woodfire.  They are made of cast iron and range from 100-300 kg.  This is not easy to move!  The first woodfire we bought (a Nectre Baker's oven) was only 120 kg, which was lucky because it had to get into the top floor of our Queenslander!  My husband borrowed a three-wheeled stair climbing trolley and he and a friend pushed and pulled the oven up our front stairs (while I watched, holding my breath, worried that the stairs would collapse).  The second stove (a Scandia Cuisine) was 248 kg!  Luckily this one only had to come into a low-set house.  My husband backed the ute up to the verandah and we wheeled the oven off the ute and onto the verandah using a set of ramps and a SCA trolley (I was still holding my breath though!).

The next challenge was making a hearth.  In the first house we were replacing an existing stove, so we just popped the oven down on the old hearth.  The second house had no stove, so we had to build a hearth ourselves.  Fortunately we had found some of the spare floor tiles under the house.  There was just enough to build a hearth to go under and behind the oven (even with tiled floors, you still need a raised hearth to protect the floor).  This meant that my husband had to build a frame from box section, to which he screwed fibro-cement board and then glued the tiles.  This was our first go at tiling anything and its not as easy as it looks!  My only advice is don't be stingy with the cement, or you will get cracked tiles, especially when you're putting 200 kg of oven on top (another one learnt the hard way!).  Anyway, we got a suitable hearth built (note that you CAN buy these, but we chose to make life hard for ourselves and tried to match the hearth to the floor tiles) and positioned the stove.

The next step was installing the flue.  In the first house, it was easy as there was already a hole in the ceiling and roof from the old stove, so my husband just had to modify that and put it all together with the help of a friend.  Again, you can pay someone to install the flue, but we thought we'd have a go ourselves!  In our current house, we had to start from scratch, so first my husband worked out where the beams in the roof were and cut a hole in the ceiling, and then the roof (after lifting the tin), then we pushed the inner flue through the ceiling.  Then I had to join my husband on the roof and help with the outer flue (scary!) and position the top hat.  We screwed and riveted it together and put heaps of silicon around the "deck tight".  In the end we had a water tight flue, so we thought it was a great success.....

The first flue was easy to fit as there was already a hole
(and I didn't have to help!)

The second flue was fitted from scratch,
but I think we did a nice job.

The flue on the inside of the house
Last winter we always had a bit of trouble with the stove.  We found it difficult to start, the draft just wouldn't get established and the smoke would come out into the room.  We thought it was a problem with the oven, so we contacted Scandia to ask their advice.  They had two suggestions:
  • The flue may be blocked, so thoroughly clean the stove and flue
  • Extend the flue, it should be 3.2 m long and ours was only about 2.8 m due to the flue kit we purchased and trimming to get the inside and outside to be the same length.  (more info on backdrafting here)
  • Use better wood (more about this here)
My husband was keen to fix the problem and started to clean the stove straight away.  Copious amounts of creosote had apparently fallen down from the flue and were stuck in the internals of the stove, this was not a good sign (plus a major fire hazard).  We decided to buy an extra section of flue (0.8 m).  It was not a simple task to add this section to the flue as the new section did not fit exactly into the old sections!  Its lucky that my husband can weld, or this would have been a disaster.  He ended up carefully welding the new section to one of the old sections.  This left us with one section of 1.6 m to put on the very top of the flue, which involved standing on things on the roof that we are definitely not allowed to do at work due to health and safety legislation!  Anyway, we now have a ridiculously long flue coming from our tiny house.

We had to extend the flue to improve the combustion performance.
Fortunately it was all worth the effort as we noticed the difference as soon as we lit the fire.  The draft was established immediately.  We had no trouble with smoke coming into the room at all.  The fire roared!  When we diverted the flue gas over the oven section, the oven heated up perfectly.  We should be doing more cooking on it this year :)  Bring on the roast potatoes!  I was amazed that 0.8m could make such a difference.

For more information about woodstoves see cooking on a woodstove, preparing firewood, and lighting the fire.
Have you ever installed a woodstove?

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