Friday, September 28, 2012

Just the ducks nuts?

“Just the duck’s nuts” is a common slang term in Australia and New Zealand, meaning “the best”, for example, “that hotel was just the ducks nuts, it had everything we needed within walking distance”.  In Australia there is also the child-friendly version “just the duck’s GUTS”.  Until recently I thought that the meaning of this saying was the irony of ducks not having nuts, similar to “the bees knees”, and the guts version didn’t make sense because duck obviously do have guts.

And then I was reading my chicken book and realised that chickens and ducks do have nuts.  Oops.  Turns out the large white bits that I thought were lungs are actually testicles (see my post on homekill chicken)!  They are huge compared to the size of the rooster, and they are tucked up inside the cavity, so I had no idea, I just pull out all the bits and don't really know where they come from.  (And I have been leaving the lungs in the cavity, not sure if it really matters, they are the dark pink spongy bits that are difficult to get out).

Chicken nuts (lower organ in photo), for example,
which I assume are similar to duck's nuts

So now I’m really not sure what that saying means.  The duck has both nuts and guts, and I’d probably not want to be compared to either of them!  Maybe the originator of this saying was not aware of avian physiology and assumed that the lack of external nuts meant that the duck had none....

And just to gross this post up a level, apparently people EAT the chicken nuts! 

Any ideas what this saying really means?  Does anyone have a slang dictionary and can look it up?  I can’t find anything on the net and now its really bugging me….and does anyone eat these?

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}

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, September 26, 2012

Weaning calves - different approaches for small farms

About three months before Bella was due to calf we decided it was time to wean Molly.  Actually Molly kind of decided herself, as she came on heat and was too busy moo-ing and pacing up and down to worry about having a drink, so we moved Bella into another paddock and I don't think Molly even noticed.

The ideal time to wean depends on what you're doing.  Large scale dairy farms typically separate calves from cows after a couple of days (after they have had their dose of colostrum) and feed the calves on excess milk from the vat.  As this is extra labour, farmers aim to wean calves as early as possible, at around three months.  By this time the calves' rumen will have developed enough so that they are getting adequate nutrition from grass and a grain ration.  In beef cattle, the calves are left with their mothers for between six and nine months, they will be weaned early if there isn't enough feed in the paddock to support a lactating cow, and often the calves will then be sold to be fattened on another property.  In beef cattle the process is usually to remove the calves from the cows and keep them in a yard for a couple of weeks, with hay to eat, and then either sell them or keep them in another paddock, away from their mothers.

On a small farm, you can do whatever suits you, as long as a pregnant cow is dry within about two to three months of calving so that her body has a chance to prepare.  With our first bottle fed calf, we were buying milk powder for him, so we weaned at 3 months when the bag of powder ran out.  With Molly, it suited us to have her taking milk from Bella too, so that we could occasionally milk Bella when we wanted to, so we let her stay with Bella for over a year.  This hasn't done her any harm, she's grown up big and strong, with lovely straight horns.

Our main concern after weaning was that we wouldn't be able to put Bella and Molly back together in the same paddock without Molly sneaking a drink.  After Bratwurst was butchered, we decided it would be nice to have all the cattle back in one paddock again, so we thought it was worth giving it a try to see what would happen.  We let Bella and Molly into the same paddock just before feeding time.  When Molly was finished with her grain, she went over to Bella and tried to get a drink, just like she used to do after dinner, but Bella gave her a little warning kick, and we haven't seen her try again since.  The next test will be when the new calf comes, if Molly feels that she is entitled to milk again at that time.

The main thing we have learnt is not to be restricted by the production models on large farms.  They are doing what they need to do in order to make money.  We have some other aims, including having milk available when we want it and growing up a strong calf, so the way that we weaned worked for us and for our cattle.  And now we known that it is possible to put weaned animals back with their mothers, we will try it again in future.  It may not work for all cows, they have to be strong enough to not let an older calf drink, but it is worth a try.

How do you manage weaning at your place?

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

Monday, September 24, 2012

Chicken stocktake

If you are losing track of the number of chickens that we currently have running around here at Eight Acres, don't worry, I occasionally have to count them again myself!  So before we start hatching more this spring, I'll give you a quick stocktake.

The White Leghorns:
In one large chicken tractor we have Boris the White Leghorn Rooster, with 3 hens from last year's hatch and 3 hens that we bought.  They are laying 1-3 eggs/day, the ones we bought are probably not quite laying yet.

The Rhode Island Reds:
In another tractor we have Wilbur the Rhode Island Red Rooster from last year, with 5 of last year's hens (and some older) and our little "Beavis Brown" cross that we hatched last spring.

The pullets:
In another tractor we have 5 Rhode Is Red and 1 White Leghorn pullet from the most recent hatch (one other RIR died of unknown causes a few weeks ago, the rest seem to be fine).  Only the eldest one is laying one eggs every couple of days, its just a matter of time though..... I already have enough excess eggs for us to eat 4 a day, and sell a few cartons a week to friends to cover the chicken feed costs.

The little roosters:
We also have a tractor full of crazy little roosters - 6 RIR and 2 White Leghorns (and its very tempting to keep one of these WLs if Boris doesn't start to grow a tail!).  They are still at an age where they can come out of the tractor without fighting each other to the death, very cute to have them running around the yard and chasing me for food :)  I think a few are going to find homes, as they are lovely roosters, and the rest will end up in the freezer.

The other roosters:
We have already killed 5 of the roosters that we hatched last spring, they are in the freezer.  See how to kill and butcher them here.  

How are your chickens laying this spring?  How many do you have?  Will you be hatching more?

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}

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

Friday, September 21, 2012

Drying spring onions

Somehow I have managed to grow some mega spring onions over winter, they are HUGE and there's no way we can eat them all, so I thought I'd try drying them.  I just washed them, sliced thinly and spread them out in the drier. I often leave things overnight in the drier to air dry before I turn on the heat, this worked well with the onions too.  In the morning I turned on the drier, and several hours later I had crispy onion flakes, ready to put in a jar and sprinkle on things later.  I'm thinking they will be useful in stuffing and in crackers in particular, but they may find their way into many different things....

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Change of plans - this time for the better!

Just to keep all my non-facebook liking blog-followers updated on happenings at the farm....

I had given up on this foster calf idea ever working and was planning to have to milk twice a day for ages and to make lots and lots of cheese.... but then on Wednesday morning, one week after Bella had her calf and it died, we milked her and only got 4 L, rather than 12 L.  We also noticed that replacement calf Romeo was happy lying down in the paddock instead of standing by the gate to wait for his milk.  We put 2 and 2 together, but we didn't believe it until we saw it later, after breakfast. first we saw Bella licking Romeo clean and then she let him have a drink.

Bella with her new calf :)
It looks like Bella has officially adopted Romeo, and all of her own accord, no trickery required (only because we didn't think Bella would fall for it).  We are very proud of her.

We are very pleased to have recruited a share-milker, a very greedy little share-milker at that!  We had to lock him up in the evening because we only got 2 L for the afternoon milking, which we gave to Benny (the Braford calf that we brought home a while ago).  The good thing is that Romeo is nearly taking all the milk by himself, so soon we will be able to milk only once a day, and then we will be able to just milk whenever we want, which means we will be able to go away for weekends and holidays afterall instead of being stuck with milking twice a day for the next few months!

The only downside is less milk for cheese, but at least there's no pressure to make cheese after work now, we'll probably just collect enough through the week to make a cheese in the weekend.  We had actually started feeding Bella less grain to help her udder swelling to reduce and avoid mastitis, but now that we want more milk, and we know that Romeo will help take the rest of the milk, she gets more grain, which I'm sure she doesn't mind.

Anyway, I'll write more later about what we learnt during this week of foster calf limbo, just wanted to let you all know that we had  happy ending.

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Why choose organic produce?

Up until recently I didn't really understand what organic meant.  I thought it had something to do with producing food without using chemicals, but I wasn't really clear on the details.  We are considering eventually going for certified organic status for our beef production at Cheslyn Rise, so I have now read the Australian Certified Organic Standard (available from BFA website here) and was surprised at the precise and complex definition of organic production.  I have read too many light magazine articles written by people who clearly have not read the standard and don't really understand organic production, but still think that they can compare organic produce to "conventional" produce and say that there is no real difference, so I think its time for me to explain that there is a huge and important difference, not just in the nutrition, but in the production system itself.

To achieve organic certification with BFA, primary producers must have an "organic management plan".  This plan includes details of how the farm will maintain and improve soil fertility and organic matter, water quality and biodiversity, and they even have to commit to fair treatment of employees, and they can't use any synthetic chemicals, including PVC.  Farms that raise livestock are expected to provide a decent quality of life, including access to natural foods (i.e. pasture for cattle) and animals are to be allowed to perform natural behaviours (i.e. caged chicken could not be certified organic under this system, even if they were fed organic grain).  Organic farming is not just about replacing chemical inputs with "organic inputs".  In fact, ongoing reliance on off-farm inputs is discouraged and farms are supposed to plan for self-sufficiency.  They can't just truck in loads of compost or manure, they have to plan to build the soil using the resources on the farm.

The environmental, social, animal welfare and sustainability performance of an organic farm is clearly much better than a conventional farm, but most uninformed articles, reviews and reports tend to focus on tests of the nutrition in vegetables produced by the two systems, which is completely superficial (for example).  It is possible that the mineral and vitamin content compare well, but what about pesticide and herbicide residue?  And what about taste, keeping ability, and other nutritious factors such as enzyme and flavanoid content?  Not to mention all the other positive aspects of organic production.

It really annoys me when people say they are eating less meat because its "bad for the environment".  If you buy certified organic meat, then you know it comes from a farm with an organic management plan, which tells you that it has to be working to improve the environment.  If you are genuinely worried about the impact of meat production on the environment, try to support organic producers instead of just reducing consumption of resource-intensive feed-lot meat (and do your body a favour at the same time).

Not all organic produce is "certified" and the standard was developed so that there was a consistent meaning of the term, so you know what you're paying for when you buy certified organic produce.  Now you know that if a product is marked as "certified organic" it is a good ethical choice as well as a good nutrition choice.  If the product is not certified organic, it is possible that the producer has decided not to go through the costly process of setting up an organic management plan and getting audited and certified, so its probably worth finding out more about their production system and deciding for yourself if you want to buy from them.  It is possible that they are good enough to be certified, but you need to do the work to find out for yourself, whereas if they are certified then you know that they conform to the standard already.

A producer that states they are "organic" must at least comply with the Australian Standard 6000, however there is no guarantee that they do.  The ACCC can investigate claims by producers and they can be prosecuted if they claim to be organic and are found not to comply with AS 6000.  A certified organic producer is a member of the BFA and audited annually, so that is a guarantee that the producer meets the Australian Organic Certified Standard and AS 6000.  Just to be confusing, AS 6000 also specifies that a producer must be certified and audited, so that means anyone claiming to be organic should also be certified, but unless you see the name of the certifying agency, you should be suspicious of these claims.

In a conventional farming system there is no guarantee of animal welfare, chemical use, environmental protection or soil fertility building, although some farmers may be trying very hard in one or more aspects.  I know its difficult sometimes, organic food can be expensive (due to the auditing process for certification) and sometimes you can't find a local source, but if I do have a choice, I try to buy organic (and grow organic!).  As for certification for our own farm, we are still thinking about it.... believe me, its a massive standard and process to go through and I really admire those who have achieved certification!  We might find it easier when we are living on the property and can really put some time into managing things the way we would like to.  In the meantime, I would be happy to discuss our management practices and ideas with buyers, and at the very least, we can say that the cattle are grass-fed and their health is managed using minerals and natural products where practical.

Does that help?  Or did I just confuse you?  Do you try to buy organic produce?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Food and 4WD on the Sunshine Coast

Pete and I don't get to take many holidays, we just have too many animals to organise!  Knowing that Bella was due to calve in mid-September, we had decided to take a week off work in August as there would be no trips away after the milk started flowing again.  We were planning to travel "out west" to see central QLD, but then we bought all those Braford cows the week before, so we didn't want to be too far away from home in case they misbehaved.  We spent most of the week doing odd-jobs at home and in the end we had two days and one night on the Sunshine Coast, which is about 2 hours drive from Nanango.

When we do get to go on a holiday, it usually centres around food, our favourites being cheese, smoked sausages and beer (yes, Germany is on the wish-list!).  See our travels in NZ for another example.  This time we left early in the morning and started off at Maleny Cheese Factory.  Its just a small operation, which specialises in cheddar, feta, soft washed rind cheeses and yoghurt.  They don't run a tour, but you can taste the cheese and look down on the factory.  We bought some of the aged cheddar (I was disappointed to find that the smoked cheddar was only smoke flavoured) and double-cream brie.

Next we went down the road to the Maleny Dairies for the 10:30am tour.  Much of it was a bit wasted on us (the time spent milking the house cow and looking at the chickens reminded us of home), but we found it very interesting to check out the milking shed and the onsite processing plant.  The tour guide then told us about the evils of raw milk (in case you missed it, I'm a big fan of raw milk).  We left early, as the tour finishes with tasting of the "custom blended flavoured milks", mmm sugar and flavour ruining good milk.

Back to Maleny town for lunch, we enjoyed lamb burgers at the Upfront Club (a co-op restaurant/club), popped into the Co-op Organic Shop for some health food supplies and then got ourselves some delicious ice-creams at the Colin James deli.  We also stopped at the butcher and got some free-range bacon and pork chops for later, yum!  We should have got more cheese from Colin James, but we didn't want to go too crazy so early in the day.

We then drove to Palmwoods via Montville to pick up some mushroom compost to start my mushroom growing experiments (one giant bag was only $1, it stunk out the campervan, but SO cheap!!!).  From there we went down the highway to Palmview (I actually had these mixed up, PalmWOODS and PalmVIEW, but fortunately they aren't far apart) to pick strawberries at Strawberry Fields.  This turned out to be a little bit of a gimmick, as we paid $12/kg for what we picked, the same as their premium strawberries.  It was quite fun to pick them ourselves though, and it didn't take long to fill a punnet.  Pete picked off all the tops as well, so we didn't have to pay for them..... (we ate those ones first!).

Then back up to Maroochydore to our accommodation at the Cotton Tree Caravan Park.  Our campervan has solar panels, so we don't need a powered site and we get to stay in some nice spots, this time we were right on the beach front.  For dinner we walked into town and had some locally-brewed beers at the Sunshine Coast Brewery Bar and stopped for a gourmet pizza at a restaurant on the way home.

The next day we stopped in at Yandina to pick up a few items from Nutra-Tech Solutions, and then back to Mapleton via Cooloolabin Dam and Mapleton Forest Reserve.  This was the first 4WD adventure of the day, the road wasn't too bad, but it does get narrow!  From Mapleton we continued west to Kenilworth, and more dirt roads as we headed down the George Wyer Scenic Drive.  In Keniworth we visited Kenilworth Country Foods and tried yet more cheese, this time I came home with a blue cheese, and herbed gouda and swiss cheese.  They also make desserts and yoghurt.  Unfortunately none of the food producers we visited on the Sunshine coast were organic and many were highly processed, but it was still interesting to see what was out there.  Kenilworth also has an excellent op-shop and is a lovely small town.

Pete decided he really wanted to take the "short-cut" through Conondale National Park and back to the South Burnett.  This was another very narrow road, with lots of river crossings and steep descents and climbs in and out of valleys, it was beautiful, lots of huge trees, and we'd like to go back and do some of the bush walks another time.  When we popped out the other side at Jimna, we decided to keep going through the forestry roads and ended up back on the Burnett Highway a few kms out of Nanango.  This was actually quicker than driving home the long way, even though we had to go quite slowly in some spots, and was much nicer than the highway that we have driven so many times before.

river crossings

the dogs spent a night at home alone, Cheryl was not impressed

Chime was more relaxed
It was a lovely holiday, even if it was only two days.  When we got home all the animals were ok and we had free-range pork chops for dinner :)  and we have LOTS of cheese to eat....

Free-range pork chop - YUM!  Can't wait to grow these ourselves!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Calendula petals for tea

Since I got my food dehydrator, I've been drying herbs for cooking, and also some for making herbal tea.  As I don't drink caffeine, I usually stick to herbal teas.  So far I have dried mint, peppermint, thyme, taragon, lemon grass and lemon myrtle leaves for tea.  I keep each one in a separate jar and then mix up a little of each to make a jar to take to work and I use a tea ball to brew my tea.
calendula flowers in my garden
On ingredient that I've been hoping to add to my tea is calendula, and it is finally flowering in my garden.  I have been picking the flowers and letting them air dry in a jar (as it is very dry here at the moment, I don't need to use the dehydrator).  When the petals are dry I pull them off and put them in another jar, ready to add to my tea.
drying the flowers

It does take a lot of flowers to make enough petals for tea as they really shrink when they dry, but they aren't hard to grow or dry, so I don't mind having a few in a jar until they dry.

dried petals ready for tea
There's lots of information about the benefits of calendula.  To be honest I don't know how much to believe, but it doesn't hurt to add something different to your tea!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bella's calf - when things don't go to plan #2

I was expecting this week to post all about the birth of Bella's calf.  I was expecting it to be a happy post, with lots of cute photos, but unfortunately I have bad news.  If you are following me on facebook (for up-to-the minute reports on farm life) you will know that we came home from work yesterday to find Bella had already had the calf, but it was dead.  We think she was born alive, and maybe suffocated due to the amniotic sac remaining over her head after birth.  When I found the calf she was in an odd position and when I rolled her head around, a lot of fluid drained out, she was already cold by then, so there was nothing we could do.  Poor Bella had already licked the calf clean and was eating the afterbirth, so we only missed the birth by maybe an hour, which is the hardest part for us, as we may have been able to help if we had been there in time.  (more here).

Bella is upset and confused.  We left the dead calf with Bella overnight to give her some time to accept that it had died, and she has been licking it and mooing softly.  This is her third calf, and she is probably just waiting for it to stand up and drink like the rest of them.  She hasn't been over-protective and has allowed up to come close and to move the calf over to the milking bales so that we could milk her.  I think she was hoping that we would help.

After milking, we called around and found a little foster calf to try with Bella.  She doesn't have to have a calf, we could just keep milking her twice a day until we got sick of it and then dry her up, but if we can get a calf to start taking the milk we will have a share-milker to take the milk when we don't want to, which will allow us to keep milking for longer (and make more cheese!).  This little calf is a Fresian-cross, so he's the wrong colour and huge compared to the calf that died.  He's one week old and his mother died shortly after his birth.  If you know what happens to boy calves on dairy farms (if not, google "what is veal?"), he didn't have much longer to live anyway, so I'm glad we could rescue him.  He has a very strong suck and loves his bottle.  He is also very tame with us, so we couldn't ask for a better foster calf if we have to try one.  (AND he has a black face with a love heart white mark over his forehead, very very cute!).

We kept him in a separate area overnight, and this morning we gave him a quick wash, and then poured some of Bella's urine over him to try to disguise his unfamiliar smell (yes we were up early and following Bella with a bucket until she pee-ed for us).  We got Bella into the milking bales and brought the little calf in behind her and got him sucking on her back teats.  She was not really impressed, but did let him get a good drink (he took a while to figure out that there was more than one teat because he's only ever had a bottle).  Now she is out in the paddock with him and not taking much notice of him, as she is looking for her calf, but we already sneaked the dead calf away so that she could meet the new calf.

Our plan is to keep letting him feed from Bella in her bales and we hope that she will eventually start to mother him.  The worst that can happen here is that Bella refuses to let him drink from her and we end up bottle feeding him until he can live on grass, and then we will be stuck milking Bella every day, but it was worth a try and we are now learning all about fostering a calf (see more good advice here and here).  Its still really sad for us and for Bella, but as I said on Facebook, when you farm you have livestock and deadstock and you have to able to deal with both of them, we don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves, we just have to get on with Plan B.  And I liked Ohio Farmgirl's comment too: the hardest truth about farming is that not everyone makes it and not everyone can stay.  That's the truth!

And if you were wondering about the poor little Braford calf that we bought home, he is too big, too weak and not keen on milk, so we didn't think he would foster, better to get a strong young calf with a good suck, so that he will persevere even when Bella kicks him off.  The Braford is doing ok, still alive, but still weak, we just keep giving him hay, calf pellet and the occasional bottle of milk and he seems to be improving slowly.

So yesterday we lost a gorgeous little heifer calf, but we gained a sweet little bull calf, and maybe everything is going to be ok in the end......  Any tips on getting a cow to take on a new calf?

If you want to know more about house cows, my eBook is available for purchase on Scribd.  Its only $4.99, and it includes lots of information about keeping a house cow in Australia.  There's more details about the eBook on my house cow eBook blog.  If you don't want to go through all the Scribd/paypal effort, just send me an email on eight.acres.liz at and I can arrange to email it to you instead.

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Homekill butchering

The other week we had a butcher come out to Eight Acres to kill Bratwurst the Limousine-Fresian cross steer.   We had to use a different butcher because our last one had sold up and gone to work in the mines!  Fortunately we found another good one, he was punctual, clean, hard-working and friendly.  Last time I wrote some tips about preparing for a homekill, this is just a few notes that I thought of this time.

Pete had the Tuesday off work for day one of the butchering.  The butcher turned up around midday and Pete had Brat ready in a separate paddock so that the butcher could shoot the steer and then work on skinning, quartering and then hanging him in the mobile cool room.  I left the camera for him, but in the rush he forgot to take photos, the butcher uses a giant tripod to lift up the carcass, which is really quite clever, so I'm sorry I can't show it to you.  Maybe next time!

The butcher at work in our car port
more butchering
On the Thursday we both had the day off work and the butcher arrived back around 7am to begin the work of butchering.  The butcher set up in our carport next to the house, with access to water and electricity.  Pete stayed outside to help and observe the process, while I was inside bagging up the meat.

I had a bit more of a system this time, being our 4th beast, I've finally worked it out!  The butcher cuts up one quarter at a time, so I used freezer bags for all the cuts off one front and one back quarter, and then vacuum bags for the other front and back quarter, this way its about half half in freezer bags and half in vacuum bags (which of course make the meat last a big longer).  I had Pete write the labels, which sped things up, and he came in and helped when there was a glut of meat to bag.  We sealed all the good cuts (rib fillet and eye fillet) in vacuum bags and "wet aged" them in the fridge for over a week, as we had such a short hanging time.

freezer bagging some of the meat

vacuum sealing some of the meat

This time I asked the butcher to keep the liver and kidney, he sliced them up and we have small bags of the slices in the freezer.  The organ meats are supposed to be really healthy (see my posts on nourishing traditions), but I haven't worked out what to do with them yet!  I also asked the butcher to keep the big chunks of fat for me so I can render tallow.  All the bones were cut up to dog size as well, we have a separate freezer full of bones!  And we spread out the skin in the shed on the Tuesday and covered in salt, we will tan the hide (as we have done before) in a few months.  It doesn't smell at all if you put enough salt on it (and it seems to work better the longer you leave it like that).

We have already tried the Y-bone, T-bone and tenderised BBQ steaks, mince and a rolled roast, all have been very nice.  Not as tough as Murray, not as tasty as Trevor, but very nice beef.  We are looking forward to eating the rest of the 240 kg in our freezer!

Monday, September 10, 2012

A herd of Brafords for Cheslyn Rise

I wrote recently about how we were intending to raise steers on Cheslyn Rise with a long term plan to buy a herd of cows to breed cattle, so that we weren't tied to buying and selling through the sale yards.  We were on the look out for a suitable herd, but never expected to find them so quickly!  We are quite picky, we wanted to buy an established herd of about 20 cows that had been together for a few years, they had to be all one breed, and a breed that was suitable for our property, and they were preferably from a cattle tick-free area, so that we didn't have to pay to have them inspected for ticks.

Farmer Pete had been looking on farmstock for cattle, just to keep an eye on prices, when he found a herd of about 20 Braford cows and calves for sale near Wondai, which is tick-free.  So off we went to have a look at the herd.  The owner wasn't actually sure how many cows were there (and they are very difficult to count, as they don't stand still).  Eventually we made an offer which the owner accepted and so began the work to organise for the herd to come to Cheslyn Rise.  This involved transferring the money, booking a transport company, preparing our yards with food and water and then finally, helping to load them on the truck.  In truth we're still trying to figure out how many cows we have!  We have 52 animals in total, and some of the heifers have turned out to be cows, so we think its now 25 cows, 23 small calves and 4 larger steers and heifers.  We are still trying to watch them in the yards to work out which calf belongs to which cow, they don't stay together for long, the calves tend to run around and play together.  We have a friend with a Braford Bull for sale, so he will be coming to the property when we are sure that all the cows have finished calving (so that we can have them all in calf at the same time).

The Braford breed is a consistent cross between Brahman and Hereford cattle, first developed in Australia in the 1940s.  Brahman cattle are originally from India, they are from the Bos Indicus species of cattle, and coming from hotter areas they are better adapted to a hot climate and more resistant to parasites than the European Bos Taurus species.  Brahman typically have a hump on their back, floppy skin around their necks, droopy ears and can be grey or red in colour.  Hereford cattle are a traditional meat breed originating from England.  They were bred on pasture and are known for high efficiency of feed conversion, high fertility, docility and moderate size.  The gives the Braford the following characteristics:
  • Temperament - docile and active, good foragers on pasture
  • Calving ease - small calves at birth, with good weight gain
  • Fertility & heat tolerance  - high calving rate, even in hot weather
  • Resistant to Eye Cancer, bloat & parasites - while these can be problems for Herefords, the addition of the Bos Indicus genes is reported to improve these conditions in Brafords.
  •  Taste - apparently they taste really good, we will find out for ourselves soon enough!
I've written more about the Braford Bull here, and the Braford breed in general here.

What do you think of our new cows?

Friday, September 7, 2012

One pot chocolate cake

Even though we don't eat much sugar, chocolate cake is still an occasional treat.  The thing I hate about baking is cleaning up, so this "one pot" cake is my favourite recipe!  If I could take the handle off the pot and put the entire thing in the oven I would....

Rather than "creaming" the butter and sugar, in this recipe you dissolve the sugar, cocoa powder and butter in milk by heating it in a pot.  I then stir in the 2 eggs and the flour and scoop the batter into a cake tin.  The only thing to remember is to let the mixture cool enough before adding the eggs, so that they don't cook :)

Heat in a pot until combined (keep heat as low as possible, otherwise you have to wait for ages for it to all cool down, the butter will melt just above body temperature, so it doesn't need much heat):

1 cup milk
1 1/4 cups sugar (I use whatever I have, this time brown sugar, when that's used up I'm on to the rapadura)
125g butter
1/2 cup cocoa powder (using up the normal stuff, then have a stash of organic powder)
1 tsp bicarb soda

When the mixture is cool enough, beat in:

2 eggs

And then:

1 1/2 cup wheat flour (I used 1 of white and 1/2 of wholemeal)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Transfer to a cake tin and cook for 40 min in your woodstove or in a normal oven at 180 degC

What do you think?  Do you have a one pot cake recipe?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Making use of microbes in the soil

Another paradigm shift….
I began the first summary page (Understanding Soil Minerals for Plant Nutrition) with a paradigm shift – adding several more mineral requirements to the traditional NPK in agricultural fertilisers. This post also requires a shift in thinking, this time we need to change the idea that all microbes, bugs and germs are bad guys. Actually there are an amazing range of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and even nematodes that can help us to grow healthy, resilient and nutritious plants, and release minerals from the soil so that we don’t have to pay for them. We need to support these helpers so that our job is easier, if we try to kill any that are perceived as bad, it can disrupt the balance and start to make life difficult for us.

eight acres: making use of microbes in the soil

The importance of humus
Organic matter in the soil is classified as either raw organic matter, active humus (consumed in about 6 months) and stable humus. The stable humus is most important for several reasons:
  • Retains moisture in the soil
  • Buffers pH
  • Retains and stabilises minerals (natural and added to the soil)
  • Detoxifies the soil by immobilising toxic heavy metals and sodium
  • Provides chelation complexes at the root zone
  • Promotes plant growth by storing beneficial plant chemicals
  • Humates, or humic acid, found in brown coal, can also be used to increase the humus content of soil.
The microbe connection
Microbes in the soil are the mechanism by which plants receive the minerals they need from the soil, as plants cannot produce enzymes, they rely on microbes, however plants also feed the microbes that help them. Failure to recognise the importance of microbes to plant health has resulted in increasing use of chemicals to treat plant nutritional problems (diseases), which results in plants that are both deficient in human nutrition needs and laced with toxic chemicals. The use of chemical fertilisers can prevent plants from supporting the microbes that would normally provide these minerals in the soil, and so they gradually die off. Salt fertilisers (most chemical fertilisers) test to create unpleasant conditions for microbe growth.

The role of microbes in the soil includes
  • Decomposition of organic matter in active and stable humus
  • Retention of nutrients, especially nitrogen
  • Releasing minerals from the soil
  • Producing CO2 close to the plant’s leaves for photosynthesis
  • Improving soil water retention by producing compounds that absorb water
  • Enhancing soil structure by producing compounds that aggregate soil particles
  • Producing plant growth hormones
  • Suppress diseases with a balanced population of different microbes with different prey
  • Encourage insect resistance through production of hormones

I also have a summary table explaining the different life in the soil, it didn't transfer to this post, so see the full document.

Increasing microbe populations
Microbe populations have been damaged by the use of chemical fertilisers, other chemicals (herbicides, pesticides etc), cultivation, growing monocultures and poor mineral balances.

Healthy microbe populations can be encouraged by:
  • Balancing minerals 
  • Improving soil structure and aeration 
  • Building organic carbon content of the soil – e.g. green manure crops 
  • Using specific soil foods such as kelp, molasses, humic and fulvic acids 
Microbes can also be introduced to the soil by seed inoculation and by spraying or direct injection of microbe brews (often called compost teas). Either a pure inoculum or a mixture of good microbes, such as compost, can be brewed in aerobic conditions to produce a concentrated mixture to be added to the soil, see the compost tea brewing manual. Different crops can benefit from different microbe balances, e.g. trees need more fungi, annual crops need more bacteria.  More on compost tea here and  here.

A simple test for microbe activity
Simply bury a strip of cotton fabric and inspect after a few weeks. The more decay, the more microbe activity in the soil.

How do you encourage microbes in your soil?

Monday, September 3, 2012

September 2012 - farm update

August is always a depressing month here, the weather is usually windy, frosty and dry (no rain this month).  The grass is dead and brown.  Towards the end though you do start to see the promise of spring, the hens start to lay more eggs, the grass starts to look greener, the soil warms and you can start to think about spring planting.  All going well we will have a new calf in mid-September, and plenty of milk again.  So there is mush to look forward to!  

Bella has "bagged up" already

For us August was very busy because we bought a herd of 52 Braford cows and calves for Cheslyn Rise, which I will write more about soon.

Brafords at Cheslyn Rise
We also let the steers up into the oats paddock to start eating, they are putting on some good weight even though the oats didn't grow as much as we'd hoped they would (more to come on that one too).

steers in the oat paddock
 We have been overstocked at Eight Acres for a while, and this has resulted in feeding out round bales all winter, at least we have plenty from Cheslyn Rise, so we're not buying them.

enjoying the round bales

Molly is always ready for a scratch

Donald poses for a photo too
We are finally getting some decent egg numbers again, its lovely to see the fridge full of eggs and to not feel restricted in using them.  We are having eggs for breakfast and I'm using them in baking.  Soon there will be excess to sell again.

Boris still hasn't grown his tail back
The Rhode Island Reds are laying well, especially our homemade hybrid!
 The garden is still going well, even without rain, I water with grey water, and at times have had to put the sprinkler on the lawn instead, as the garden was getting too water logged.  I continue to be amazed at how much I have been able to produce over winter this year.  In previous years I didn't plan for frost and have been very disappointed when everything died.  This year I planted things that I knew would do ok through frost and we have been able to harvest various asian greens, carrots, turnips, swedes and bits of broccoli throughout winter.  For some reason I never get big broccoli heads, but we are able to keep harvesting the little bits that do grow.  This month the peas have finally started to grow (they might not have long, as they get mildew as soon as the humidity hit again) and I can see the baby broad beans forming.  My biggest problem is planning where to start for spring, trying to clear out the beds to make room, while still having veges to eat and allowing some things to finish bearing.

root veges

peas growing up the baling twine

a few broccoli

The beans/tomato combo didn't make it through the frost after all

broad beans and more broccoli

Tat soi gone to seed, lots of leeks and mustard

lemon in a pot is flowering

mini broadbeans

the pineapples are looking surprisingly healthy, will I get fruit this year?

Mizuna just keeps going

the broccoli bits

cabbages, not sure if they will get to a decent size
Finally here's chime helping on a walk around CR (Chez got worn out)

and I like the sky in this photo, shame its a field of weeds!

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