Monday, September 30, 2013

Using chicken drinker nipples

Until recently our “chicken watering system” was just buckets of water in each chicken tractor. One bucket for every 3-4 chickens, and 3-4 buckets of fresh water to top them up each day. We don’t have any taps in the paddock with the chickens, so this meant carrying water from the house tap to the chickens, a few hundred metres of walking for each load of buckets (welcome to the green gym). And then the chickens would regularly tip over the buckets, and the water got dirty very quickly and had to be tipped out anyway. This often meant a trip back to the garden with a bucket of dirty water (water is very precious here!). So there was a lot of water carting and water wastage.  The other annoying part is that we have to pull out all the buckets when we move the chicken tractor along every few days, and Bella the cow had a habit of trying to get to the buckets (she loves water from buckets) and tipping them over as well.

a hen using the new system
There had to be a better way! The crazy thing is that we had been given some chicken water nipples a couple of years ago and they had been rattling around in the glove box of the ute ever since and we had thought about using them, but never done anything about it. Then Pete had a flash of inspiration and motivation and collected all the bits he needed to whip up a manifold (from steel of course, but plastic is also commonly used), connected to a hose, connected to a 15 L plastic jerry can and suddenly we had a simple watering system that keeps the water clean and reduces the amount of time and water spent on the chickens.

Once you set your mind to it, this is actually quite a quick and simple project that will save you time and water. Don’t delay it like we did, just gather your materials and get building!

our new chicken-nipple watering system
(the log is there to put in the door when the chickens are free-ranging so that Bella doesn't shut them out)
What you need to do

Chicken nipples – $2-3 each, plastic or stainless steel (we used the plastic ones for the first system and then bought some steel ones for the rest, because then Pete could weld them).

Manifold material – can be any pipe, or even box section (RHS), stainless or pvc or irrigation pipe are best for water quality. Ask your local plumber for offcuts of PVC pipe or try the dump-shop.  Gavin has a good example of a plastic system over at the Greening of Gavin.

Hose and fittings – any suitably sized hose to connect the manifold to the reservoir, and all the fittings you need to make this happen.

Water reservoir – a closed container is better, but not completely sealed or the water won’t flow, we used a 15 L plastic jerry can with a tap fitting at the bottom and the lid cracked open. We paid $5 for our jerry cans from the local market, they were used previously for cordial, so ask around in places that might buy bulk cordial, you should be able to find something secondhand.  Ideally you don't want light to get to the water, or you will get algal growth, but a clear container makes it easier to see the water level.  We used a clear container and I made a cover from an old t-shirt.

The nipples can be simply pushed into a suitable sized hole drilled into the manifold, but Peter was keen and tapped the hole so that they screw in and seal well. Then set up your connection to the reservoir. Peter welded on another piece of pipe to connect the manifold to a hose, but if you’re using plastic you will have to buy the appropriate fittings to build the shape you need. Then just use the hose to connect the reservoir to the manifold. Its surprisingly easy to set up really.

Here's Roosty using the nipple, he got really excited and pecked it over and over
But will the chickens know how to use it?
I was worried that our chickens would not know how to use the new system. I thought they might all die of thirst, but I was wrong. Even the rooster figured it out within a few minutes and was excitedly tapping away at one of the nipples. When we installed the manifold, we had already filled it with water to test it, so water got spilt all down the side of the cage, and the chickens pecked all the drops of water off the mesh and then the drops off the manifold, and somehow found that pecking the nipples made more water come out. Pretty smart for bird-brains!

We haven’t tried it on the guinea fowl yet, that will be the real test!

Isn’t it expensive?
If you look around for some reclaimed items, the only things that you HAVE to buy new is the nipples and maybe some fittings and hose (so that it doesn’t leak). The total cost of our first system was $5 for the jerry can and $1 for the tap, because we had all the other bits lying around. If we’d had to buy everything I think it would still have been around $20, which is pretty cheap for the convenience of not topping up those water buckets every day!

Have you tried chicken nipples?  Any tips?  Any other suggestions for chicken water?

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 27, 2013

Whole Larder Love - book review

Have you thought about escaping from the modern food system?  Growing, foraging, hunting and cooking your own food rather than buying processed "food" from the supermarket?  I was sent a copy of Whole Larder Love by Rohan Anderson, and this is a book to help you to grow, gather, hunt and cook your way out of the modern food system.  Rohan also has a blog of the same name.

To me, the book has three aspects, the photos, the recipes and the information.  The photos are BEAUTIFUL, on every page there is an image of food, either ready to eat, or ready for harvesting.  Perfect for inspiring some hard work (gathering and then cooking the food).

The book is split into seven sections of recipes and information:
  • From the garden
  • From the wild: hunted
  • From the wild: foraged
  • From the wild: fished
  • From the paddock & pen
  • To the larder
  • Some basics
The thing that really interested me about this book was the hunting and foraging aspect.  As you know from my blog, I think I have garden and paddock sorted, but I would love to eat more wild foods.  Generally, I don't really follow recipes, so I would have liked to see more information in this book, and fewer recipes, but I realise that I'm a bit strange that way!  The few pages of information that are included, such as the page on skinning a rabbit, are really useful, but left me wanting more.  I haven't actually tested any of the recipes, but as soon as I manage to shoot a rabbit (this is pending me getting my gun licence, and then getting a gun, and then getting good enough to hit a rabbit), I am keen to try the Spanish Rabbit Legs.  Also when we eventually get our aquaponics working and grow some fish, the smoked fish instructions are great too.  And if I can find some mushrooms to forage, there are some delicious looking recipes for those (again, more foraging info would have helped).

I was a little concerned by the relish instructions, only because I just did that research on how to can, and I think that more information on sterilising the jars and the pros and cons of open-kettle vs. water bath canning should have been explained, just to cover the food safety risks.  Also the discussion on beef was somewhat lacking, Rohan says that he doesn't like to eat too much beef and lamb because other countries are clearing land to farm these animals.  Sure, but in Australia, if you buy beef and lamb it will be Aussie beef and lamb, and there's no new clearing going on.  If you choose local organic grass-fed you will be supporting a farmer who has a land management plan for improving their farmland.  We need to support local farmers who are doing a good job, and I thought Rohan overstated the problems with beef and lamb, although he did explain that he bought locally farmed free-range pork.  The main thing when buying farmed meat, is to find a local organic supplier and make sure you are happy with the way they are farming.

Overall, the lifestyle advocated by this book is analogous with my own and I enjoyed reading a slightly different perspective than most other self-sufficiency books, that usually focus on growing your own, rather than gathering your own.  Early on in the book Rohan sums up the reasons for changing the way we obtain food:
"The way that food is produced, shipped, and consumed globally has a negative impact on the environment, on our personal health, on local economies and communities, on our spiritual well-being, and on the quality and flavour of the food itself."  Whole Larder Love, Rohan Anderson
Rohan goes on to say (rather bravely I thought):
"I've always said that it's a privilege for us to eat meat, and if you honestly can't bring yourself to "acquire" your own meat, then you shouldn't eat it." Whole Larder Love, Rohan Anderson
I can't agree more, only because if you won't kill an animal yourself, how can you ask someone else to do it for you?  I know that not everyone has an opportunity to grow and kill their own meat, but if you do have that opportunity, you should take it.  You will appreciate the food so much more when you have had to accept where it came from.

What do you think?  Do you eat wild foods?  Do you grow your own? 

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Getting started with the home dairy - Rose Petal and Silver Oak

Over the past few weeks I've been interviewing bloggers who keep dairy cows or goats.  This week, I have an interview with Rose Petal and Silver Oak of the blog self-suffieincy Live Ready Now.   The family lives in a tiny house on a 20 acre off-grid homestead next to cattle ranches and orange groves, where they raise chickens, milk a few goats and a jersey cow, enjoy an Arabian mare and a mini horse, two cats, two dogs, a whole slew of rabbits, and three guinneas.  Over the years, the family has become increasingly interested in learning how to live sustainably.  Today they are going to share their experience with milking goats and cows.

Farmer Liz: Tell us about how you came to own a milking cow and/or goat.

Rose Petal: We purchased our first milk goat from Silver Oak's aunt about 15 years ago. She was an older, tri-colored, spotted Nubian named Spotty. Our oldest and only child was about three, and we had switched from drinking store-bought cows milk to local raw goat milk for health reasons. Our small rental property allowed farm animals so we decided to try our own dairy goat to save money and learn more country skills.

My parents had moved to the country and got a few dairy goats, something they had wanted to do when we children were growing up, but it hadn't worked out. With them and Silver Oak's aunt, we had good mentors to get us started.

Spotty was healthy, easy to milk, mild tempered, and a great problem-free goat to learn on. Over the years we've had goats from my parent's stock or from another family we knew well. We usually keep two or three lactating does at a time. Many of them were Nubian and Saanen crosses, mixing the richness of Nubian milk with the higher producing Saanen. Our current stock is mostly from two Nubian does and their kids which we purchased from a farm several hours away.

Almost two years ago we moved to our new off-grid homestead with the goal of becoming as sustainable as possible. We added a Jersey cow to our dairy animals so we could make butter and have a larger volume of milk for making cheeses, kefir, ice cream and other things. Goats are smaller and easier to care for than cows, are much less expensive to purchase and maintain, are smarter, don't attract flies like cows, and are not as smelly unless you have a buck nearby. But it is more difficult to separate cream in goat milk and we need lots of it to make everything needed for our family of eight.

So we added Buttercup to our homestead. She is also an older cow, easy to care for, purchased from friends who sold their small dairy. We purchased her at a discount because of a non-working injured teat, meaning she gave a little less milk. But three gallons a day was still a lot, and for several months we enjoyed an abundance of fresh dairy products. Pregnant when we got her (we thought), we soon dried her up, but the calf was never born! How disappointing. She either miscarried out the woods, or had a false pregnancy.

For over a year we fed a dry cow, while trying to get her bred again. Cows eat a lot! Much more than goats. But now we’re glad we patiently waited, because in August she delivered a beautiful little bull calf. Since freshening (producing milk again when she calved) her injured teat is working, and the creamy, buttery milk is flowing!

FL: Do you use hand-milking of machine milking? Why?

RP: We have never yet used a machine for milking, but do it the old-fashioned way, by hand. With a little practice you can milk a goat in less than five minutes by hand, so setting up and cleaning milking equipment hardly seems worthwhile if only milking two goats. It takes much longer to milk a cow, and we may consider a simple machine for her some day.

FL: What is your milking routine?

RP: We milk our goats twice a day, around 7:30 in the morning and 5:30 in the evening. The kids stay with their mamas so the first few weeks we get only what's left over. This yields much healthier kids than bottle feeding with milk replacer as we did at first. At four weeks we separate them nightly so we get all the morning milk, then the kids run with their mamas in the paddocks all day. If we are gone in the evening we don't worry about milking because the kids pretty much drink it all anyway.

When the kids are weaned at nine weeks we finally get all the milk, but keep the same daily schedule throughout the year until they are bred again. When they are about three months pregnant we dry them up so all their energy will go into producing healthy kids for the last two months. That means for two months we don't get any milk unless we stagger our does to kid at different times. Sometimes we time it so they are all dry when we want to go on vacation.

Keeping a fairly consistent daily routine year round as much as possible seems to help maintain milk supply and health. This fall we plan to try something new: a once-a-day milking schedule, as outlined by Fias Co Farms. Milking only in the morning we'll get a little less milk, but gain more flexible evenings and trip schedules.
FL: Do you use a bull or AI to get your cow/goat back in calf/kid?

RP: We use a buck or bull. My parents keep a buck, so when we don't have one we use theirs. We will eventually keep a buck in our front pasture away from our does most of the time, but the fencing is not secure enough yet. I dislike "buck" odors and don't want him near our house.

We bred Buttercup with our neighbor's bull this time in a barter agreement. Our goal has been to get the best possible stock but in simple and cost effective ways. Because of this AI has never been part of our program. Late in the summer we watch for does coming into heat and, five months from when we want them to kid, we put them with the buck for a week or two.

FL: How much pasture land do you have for your cow and how much supplement feed does she need?  What additional food do you grow for your cow?

RP: Our feeding program is still a work in progress. In looking to become completely sustainable our back eight acres will be separated into rotating paddocks for parasite control and growing forage and grasses. They are partly wooded and we will add vines and legumes for the goats, since goats are foragers. The cleared areas will contain quality grasses and legumes for Buttercup since cows are grazers, with the option of putting her in the front pasture with the buck when needed. We're also starting drought resistant fodder crops and perennials for them to supplement their foraging and grazing.
In the meantime we supplement with non-GMO and non-grain feed in addition to what they find in the paddock areas. We have found a source of non-GMO alfalfa silage fermented with molasses made from non-GMO cane, adding awesome probiotics and minerals. This product called Chaffhaye is grown in an isolated GMO-free part of Texas. The price is competitive with regular feeds and comes in 50 lb sealed bags which store for one year outside or two years inside if unopened. We are so tickled to have found Chaffhaye, and in discussing it with the company owner feel really good about feeding it to our livestock.

Here in warm Florida parasites must be fought constantly, so we worm our animals regularly. We previously used chemical wormers every two months until this year, considering it a necessary evil. But last winter we switched completely to Diatomaceous Earth. We mix DE in their feed five days a week (1/4 cup per goat per day, and nearly a cup for Buttercup) and they're coming through this long hot summer so far looking great! DE not only kills parasites but adds minerals and silica to their diet. Additionally, one of the forages we hope to add to our paddocks is a parasite-killing legume called sericea lespedeza.

Other than forage and grazing, Chaffhaye, and DE, we give our animals free-choice minerals and chemical-free well water. Our lactating does eat roughly four lbs of Chaffhaye each morning and evening, depending on their size and what they are getting in the paddocks. When not lactating we cut back so they don't get overweight. Buttercup ate an additional eight lbs of Chaffhaye twice each day till she had her calf, and now it's more than doubled till we can provide better pasture for her.

FL: What do you do with all the milk?

RP: We drink it! But four gallons a day is obviously too much to drink. We generally use the goats' milk for drinking alone, making kefir, and using with cereal since it contains less lactose and we prefer the flavor. Buttercup's milk is refrigerated about 24 hours, then the cream is scooped off the top for making butter and whipped or sour cream and ice cream. The remaining skim milk is placed in a cool, dark cupboard for a few days to clabbor and make into cottage cheese or ricotta type cheeses. We use the whey and buttermilk for soup bases, in mashed potatoes, stews, baked goods, casseroles, brown rice, or supplement for our chickens. Our dogs and cats get supplemental milk, and we sell or give extra to friends and aquaintances. Nothing is wasted. <!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]-->

FL: What do you enjoy most about having your own milking cow/goat?

RP: I love when our kiddos can drink all the sweet cold raw milk they want anytime, especially those adopted at older ages who suffered from malnutrition when younger. There is a secret to good-tasting goat milk, whether or not a buck is nearby, and when done correctly it is difficult to taste the difference between it and cows milk. A friend of ours who grew up on a dairy farm recently confirmed this when he tasted our goat milk. Our children love raw goat milk and dislike the flavor of store-bought cows milk if given occasion to drink it. 

I also love making our own butter. Nothing is more pleasing than sweet, creamy butter free from GMOs and all the other trash in store-bought butter. It is such a healthy fat, especially when coming from grass-fed dairy animals. And it's fun to watch the transformation from rich cream to a solid.

In Florida we lawfully sell raw milk as "pet food," so I like to sell several gallons a week to off-set the cost of feed. Since it is difficult to find raw milk free of GMOs, antibiotics, hormones and chemicals, it is gratifying to make it available to someone who really needs it but can't have their own dairy animals.

FL: What is currently you biggest milking cow/goat challenge?

RP: The most difficult challenge is providing them with enough quality feed without breaking the bank while we work toward our goal of being completely sustainable in this area. Organic GMO feeds available through local coops are quite expensive, and we feel it is increasingly more difficult to trust the labels anyway. It takes time to clear, plant, and grow ample pasture and forage, especially on our sandy soil, so meanwhile we are forced to depend on supplemental feeds like Chaffhaye.

The second biggest challenge is being tied down to a consistent milking schedule when we’d like to venture out a bit more for ministry or education. But we're hoping to resolve this issue by moving to a single daily milking.

FL: What is your advice to those considering getting a milking cow/goat?

RP: I think it’s wise to start small and give yourself time to learn from experience and others. Do your research and ask lots of questions from a variety of sources. There are differing ideas about raising kids or calves, feeding lactating does or cows, and how to milk them. Expose yourself to various methods and find what’s best for your family.

Cleanliness and hygiene are crucial with raw milk, but not difficult. In our fifteen years milking dairy animals none of us or our customers have gotten sick from our raw milk. Rather, consuming raw milk has no doubt protected us from sickness by boosting our immune systems and health.

I wish you the best as you consider the possibility of your own dairy animal. A family goat or cow is a
big responsibility, but definitely an awesome blessing.

FL: Thanks Rose Petal for sharing your experience with goats and cows.  Great to hear that you've had success using DE to worm your animals, we do the same.  I'm very interested in the perennial crops you're considering for your property, that is a challenge for us too.  If you have any questions or comments for Rose Petal, please head over to her blog to join the discussion.

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tips for starting vegetables from seeds

Its time to start planting for spring, and the cheapest way to grow your own vegetables is ito start from seeds (and even cheaper if you save those seeds yourself), rather than buying seedlings. Here are a few tips for starting seeds.

Plant into small pots in a dish rather than directly in the soil

For all my seedlings, I use shallow trays, and then depending on the size of the seedling, I may also put the seeds into toilet rolls and small pots for easier transplanting, or straight into the tray to be separated later. I prefer to use the shallow dishes so that there is always some water in the bottom of the dish to keep the seed-raising mix moist, otherwise a small pot may dry out too quickly. As the seedlings grow, I separate them and plant them into larger and larger pots until they are ready to go into the garden. I prefer this method to planting directly, as I find that slugs eat many of my direct planted seeds. I only plant root crops directly in the soil, as they don’t do well transplanted.

Use a decent seed-raising mix, but top it up with compost

Seed-raising mix is expensive, but it is nice and light and seedlings do so much better in seed-raising mix that in garden soil. You actually only need a thin layer of seed-raising mix around the seed, and below that you can fill up the pots with compost. This will also give the seedlings a good start and save you money (because you are of course making your own compost for free right).

Use a greenhouse so you can start seeds earlier

In my part of the world, spring is hot days and cold nights, we can still get a frost that would kill seedlings, so I keep mine in a small greenhouse. You can buy a small one pretty cheap, or make something from anything transparent, glass, fibreglass, Perspex, heavy plastic sheeting, whatever you have available. 


Plan your garden and prepare your planting area before you get the seeds out of the packet

Its much easier to handle the seeds if you have clean hands, you can put excess seeds back in the packet wihtout them getting dirty or wet, so they will last longer. I draw out a rough plan of my gardena nd what I want to plant where. Then I sort through my seeds and work out which ones I want to plant at that time. Then I have a look how many planting trays I have and I set up the trays ready to plant, with compost and seed-raising mix already filled in, and then I figure out how many seeds I can plant and get the packets out ready to go. That way I can get everything ready, then wash my hands and open the seeds. 

Leave the seeds on top of the soil until you’ve put them all out, and then cover them with seed-raising mix

I always leave th seeds sitting on top of the soil until I’ve finished the tray. Otherwise I have a habit of forgetting where I’m up to and putting seeds in the wrong place.

Make notes of what you planted where

I draw a rough diagram of each tray and note where I’m putting each variety of seed. Then if some don’t come up, I know that those seeds are no good and I won’t waste time planting them again. Also remember to put a marker in the tray, because if you turn them around in the greenhouse you will forget which end is which!

Use a spray bottle to water (and remember where the beans are)

I find that a watering can is just too splashy and can wash the seed-raising mix off your seeds. I use a spray bottle to gently mist the seeds instead. Don’t forget that beans and peas will rot if they are over watered, so they just need a good soaking when you first plant them and then leave them alone until you see spouts. It’s a good idea to keep these seeds separate, so you can water the ones that like water, and leave the beans and peas alone.

Some seeds need pre-soaking

You can improve germination of some seeds by pre-soaking them in a little water. Beets and chard (silver beet) are the main ones that I remember to soak, but apparently you can soak most large seeds and they should germinate more quickly and evenly. Honestly I often don’t do this as I plant seeds on the spur of the moment rather than having 12-24 hours to plan and pre-soak, but if I do remember, it does seem to work.

Do you start with seeds?  Any other tips to add?

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

Friday, September 20, 2013

How did I get started with real food??

I answered that and all the other questions you've always wondered in a very long interview with Nikki Fisher of Wholefood Mama

saurkraut was my first ever fermentation

Do you have a whole food story to share?

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Getting started with homestead dairy - Kim from Little Black Cow blog

Over the past few weeks I have been interviewing bloggers who keep milking cows and goats about how to get started with a homestead dairy.  This week I am so pleased to bring you an interview with Kim from the Little Black Cow blog.  Together with her husband and children, Kim runs a farm stay in the Hunter Valley, and not only does she milk goats, she also recently got a milking SHEEP!  Kim has shared so much experience in this interview, I hope you will enjoy reading as much as I did.

Kim milking her goat
FL: Tell us about how you came to own a milking goat. 

Kim: We started out with our son having intolerances to different foods. He was in Kindergarten and we were buying goats milk for him . He liked it, but the fresh goats milk from the supermarket was 30 mins drive away and the long life goats milk tasted awful.

My husband came home from work one day and was met with the question 'Can we get a milking goat?' 2 days later we had a goat. I did not have any information on milking goats, but the lady I bought her off gave me a milking lesson.

As a child myself, I had experience with having a pet goat called Casper . He was a buck (billy goat) and spent most of his time trying to chase me/butt me.I spent most of my time shampooing him with lovely perfumed things to cover his awful smell (it didn't work).

We ended up going to a farm that had black Melaans. We bought a goat called Sarah.  David made me a milking stand. We learnt then never to buy an older milking goat because you cannot be sure of their previous history.  Sarah was a sufferer of chronic mastitis, her udder had been badly damaged before we had her. Sadly we had to sell her. I was reminded of her last week when the iron bark gum tree she ring barked on arrival at the farm finally fell over.

We then purchased a goat called Lucy from a local goat dairy. Lucy was an amazing goat and provided us with beautiful milk. Lucy's daughter 'Honey' still produces milk for us to this day.

All up we have been milking for about 7 years on and off.

I looked at getting a jersey cow at one stage but we decided against it because goats are something I can handle all on my own. They are the perfect size for a woman to manage without help.

FL: Do you use hand-milking of machine milking? Why?

K: We hand milk our goat. For one or two goats we would find it too labour intensive to be using a machine. Also - from what we have read, a milking machine can damage the goats teats - I don't know how true this is though.

baby goat *CUTE*
FL: What is your milking routine?

K: We started out milking Lucy every afternoon without a kid (she was bought on her own).  This was convenient from a daily sense, but proved difficult as time went on because we couldn't go away anywhere unless we could get someone to come and milk her. Lucy milked for nearly 2 years without having additional kids. We were exhausted trying to keep her milking routine going and 'con' friends /family into milking for us so we could have a holiday.

Our milking routine now:

*Generally goats have twins .We keep the doe kid (easier to sell later or keep to milk later) and sell the buck kid as a pet . We are yet to face the problem of having 2 buck kids but I am sure it will happen.

This means we can choose when we start to milk Honey (ie. when the kid is 2 weeks old, up to 2 months old).

Each afternoon at 4.30 - we feed Honey and separate the kid in a small yard where she can see mum but can't have a drink. Honey has always looked quite relieved to have a rest and the kid is placed with another animal to interact with. Presently little Lucy is best friends with Harry the lamb.

At about 6am in Summer/7am in the cooler months (and 9am for farm stay visitors!), we milk Honey on the milking stand and reunite mother and daughter. Honey always holds back some milk for Lucy's breakfast- I don't know how she manages to do that!

We make a point of having a 'milking break' when Honey is pregnant to catch up with other farm things. This gives Honey's body a break and us a break. This time of year we buy local cows milk.  After the next pregnancy we will be giving Honey a break from having kids and will milk a second goat. She will have to be away from Stewart for this time.  It is important to us that we allow our animals to have a breather and respect their needs.

FL: Do you use a bull or AI to get your goat back in kid? 

K: Our first goat got pregnant due to a buck just appearing at the farm one day…he just followed the scent to our farm . We don't know where he came from and we don't know where he went. Honey was a result of that romantic liason.

We now have a buck called Stewart. It was a risk for me - I knew that buck goats could smell terrible and be difficult to handle. All my expectations were turned on their head though when I found Stewart at 6 months old . He was a bottled raised buck and just had a gentle nature. He also didn't smell 'terrible' - I found out later this may because Stewart is allowed to be with his girls all the time. Many bucks are locked away in a paddock away from everything and feel they need to 'perfume' themselves to make their scent strong enough to reach a do.  As Stewart is interacted with constantly and is with the does most of the time, this might mean he doesn't feel the need to perfume himself up (they do this by urinating on themselves). He is a great goat. We can even put him with a sheep and he is happy to just have a companion if the does are being tethered.

We don't allow families to go in the paddock with Stewart on farm stay visits now as he is so big and strong. During tethering at times along the creek, I have had the displeasure of being dragged along by him while we find somewhere nice …. he is much stronger than I am.

Also, to this stage, Honey has never fallen pregnant whilst she has been feeding a baby. So we stagger weaning her baby with when we want her to start cycling again. I am sure this is not a proven thing, but it just seems to work with these particular goats. Stewart gets a severe beating up from Honey if he attempts to do anything earlier.

Honey on her tether (temporary, so she can grass along the river)
FL: How much pasture land do you have for your goats and how much supplement feed does she need?

K: At present we have 4 small paddocks we rotate over as well as tethering when we are home and I can check on the goats constantly. Tethering is a great way to 'whippersnip' and also give the goats the opportunity to access woody weeds. We now know that if we don't pick branches for them to eat or take them to the creek to tether, the result will be ring barked trees in our paddocks as the goats seek the nutrients they need. We feed the goats lucerne hay, they allow the goats to forage themselves. We also give them goat pellets. There are many sources of pellets that we can buy that suit all ruminants, but we buy goat pellets specifically made for goats as they have specific vitamins and minerals that our paddocks can't always provide.  A goat that is nutritionally looked after will rarely suffer from an illness and be less prone to things like mastitis.

Good nutrition is essential for any animal producing milk. We can tell when we need to provide more access to greener feed etc. simply by the quality and quantity of the milk.  We have to be very careful that the sheep don't eat the goat pellets as they are higher in copper, which can be toxic to sheep.

Fresh goat's milk
FL: What do you do with all the milk? 

K: We used to use the milk mainly for cooking. Then I learnt to make goats milk soap.

Now we freeze excess milk for the soap making. This is a great way to ensure nothing ever goes to waste. We always drink our milk at its freshest - generally it tastes so good that it doesn't last longer than the day in the fridge without being drunk up by hungry teenagers.

During goat milking time, we get 1.5 -2 litres daily. This season things are looking pretty dry and not as green, so I know the quantity will be affected until the Spring growth happens in our paddocks.

Milking time is a time for lots of custards and milk based recipes! 1.5 litres doesn't sound like much but, having that much milk each day adds up!

FL: What do you enjoy most about having your own milking goat? 

K: I love putting my head on a warm goat as I milk and the steam rises out of the milking bowl. When I am milking in the early hours of the morning, the sun is just peaking over the hills and there is a gentle light over everything. It is like the purest kind of meditation as you settle into the rhythm of milking, left /right /left right. It is a time when all is right with the world .

There is also something so empowering by being able to supply such an essential food into your family home without driving to the shops to buy it.

We drink the milk raw and fresh ,which is a personal decision-my belief is that we shouldn't interfere with the way nature made it. There is nothing like the taste of fresh goats milk, so creamy and good for you…also much easier to digest than cows milk.

FL: What is currently you biggest milking cow/goat challenge?

K: The first challenge we faced was fencing! There was a point there we nearly threw the towel in as the goats are incredibly clever at escaping and eating your most prized plants or the neighbours plants. We now have weldmesh fences buried in the ground, and a wooden rail or electric fencing along the top. Since we established these fences, it has been great!

My current challenge is that this is an extremely difficult task to do well if you are working on a job off the farm. I retire from teaching at the end of the year and look forward to the freedom to do this part of simple living as simply and as unrushed as I can.  Any milking animal requires time and care.

FL: What is your advice to those considering getting a milking goat? 

Look at your fencing first. Tethering is great if done safely but it shouldn't be the only way the goat can access food. Having a paddock that your goats can roam around freely in is very important.  Also don't get too attached to your plants (I am having a flash back to the 'great vege raid' this year when someone left a gate open and my entire crop of broccolli was eaten.)

Always get at least 2 goats - they are a herd animal and crave company. You can get one goat though if you are home all day and it will bond with you as a member of its herd.

Read Pat Coleby's book on Goat Care before you buy a goat , they are a very different animal to a cow or horse and research is important to fulfill their needs.

Keep one kid to enable you to have a life. Self sufficiency shouldn't be about exhausting yourself. I work on a Wednesday off farm - on this day Lucy the kid is left with mum and she gets extra milk that day …rather than me trying to milk a goat before I go to work and prepare lessons for the day.

Goats milk does not taste 'goaty' in our experience - we have saanen and nubian blood stock in our goats and the milk is far nicer than any cows milk we buy.  But - always taste the milk of the animal you are going to buy or an animal related to it - some swiss breeds have a very strong tasting milk.

Don't buy the first goat you see, visit different farms and be sure of exactly what you want before purchasing.  Most goat owners with a herd are very widely read and can answer most questions. Our vet told us that of any animal owner, goat owners often know more about goat health than the vets do because they do so much reading.

Goats are an incredibly smart animal (I imagine from our experiences about the intelligence of your average 3 year old human child without being able to talk). They are always up to something but this is the charm of them -they are just so funny and amazing to be with. If you want to have a funny story every day to tell your family, interact with an animal that interacts back, have fresh milk for your family and have weeds whippersnipped and turned into milk …then goats are for you.  Even having the brocolli eaten was worth the charm of having them.

Gretchen the milking sheep
FL: How does your milking sheep compare to the goats? (Tell us all about the sheep so far, I love the idea of a milking sheep!)

K: I have this lovely quiet milking sheep. Her name is Gretchen. She is gentle and used to being handled.

Sheeps milk is even more digestable than goats milk. The reason I looked into doing this was partly because I wanted to open people's eyes to the fact that milk comes from all sorts of different animals (you should see farm stay kids' eyes open wide when they discover you can get milk out of a goat … every picture book that they have ever read says it comes from a cow!).  I am interested in making sheep milk cheeses (the milk is very high in butter fat) for our own use. I am also interested in using the milk for soap making - an item that goes towards establishing the farm as our main source of income.

There is one problem though - it would seem that sheep don't like jumping up for you. They are not as smart as a goat, so if you show them something , they don't remember a thing about it the next day.  So Gretchen has been in 'milking training ' for the past few week, but each day is the same ' 'Mmmm- I can see the food at the end but gosh, I can't work out how to get to it. What is it you want me to do again? '.

We never force an animal …so the next stage is building a ramp to go up to the milking stand ….or maybe cutting the legs off the milking stand ….or maybe getting David to build a 'sheep milking stand'. We are learning along with Gretchen. But the point is, we keep changing and adapting until we get it right.

-In this instance I have flash backs to what it was like when I first started milking goats. Nothing is easy the first time and nor should it be. We learn so much each time we try something new and we should never give up - the rewards we get at the end are well worth striving for.

FL: Wow Kim, thank you so much for putting together all this information.  I hope that Gretchen can work out the routine soon!  And I'm glad you learnt to keep a kid, the milking routine can be relentless and its nice to be able to take a break occasionally.  I loved reading about Stewart too.  If you have any comments or questions for Kim, please head over to her blog and let her know what you think about milking goats (and sheep).  

Interview with myself
Interview with Mark and Kate from Purple Pear Permaculture
Interview with Kim from the Little Black Cow
Interview with Rose Petal
Interview with Marie from Go Milk the Cow
Interview with Ohio Farmgirl

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.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Following a knitting pattern - first steps

Now that I have mastered socks, I decided it was time to start on the vest that I have been wanting to make since I started knitting a few years ago.  I have been collecting vest patterns from the op shop, this booklet was 20c.

cheap knitting pattern booklet
There's a few things to look for before starting a new pattern.  First look at the sizes and figure out which size you will be knitting.  I then go through and underline the stitches for the size I'm making.  Next check that you have everything you need.  This pattern specifies 8 ply yarn (the ply is the thickness).  The ply should be written on the wrapper, if you buy yarn from the market like I do, and it doesn't have a wrapper, you can work it out roughly by wrapping the yarn around a needle and measuring the width of a set number of loops, for example here.  This pattern also uses 4mm and 3.25mm needles, you can check your needle sizes with a ruler.  The most important part though is the gauge or tension.  This is the number of stitches per cm, on the specified needles, for example this pattern has a tension of 22.5 stitches per 10cm in stockenette stitch.  I stitched up a nice size 22 stitch swatch just to be sure.  Mine was just over 10cm, which means that my vest will turn out a little bigger than the pattern, so I chose a slightly smaller size that normal.

reading the pattern
Finally, check that you have enough yarn.  The pattern will list the yarn requirements for each size pattern.  For this one I need 6 50g balls of 8 ply, and as the yarn I want to use is in 100g balls, and I have 4 of them, I think I'm pretty safe.  Nothing worse than running short on yarn, especially if its from the markets and you probably can't get any more the same!

Its also a good idea to read through the pattern and make sure you can follow most of the steps.  I tend to read each step in detail as I come to it, otherwise I get confused by steps that I'm not up to yet, but it does help to have a rough idea of what is coming up next.  Then just focus on completing each step as accurately as possible.

checking the tension
Having done all that, its finally time to start casting on 105 stitches!  Wish me luck!  Any tips for starting a knitting pattern?

Clever Chicks Blog Hop
Simple Saturdays Blog Hop
From the Farm Blog Hop
Homestead Barn Hop
The HomeAcre Hop 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cooking and eating beans

When I was growing up, my family never ate many dried beans, they just weren't something that was used much in NZ cuisine.  If I did eat beans, it was always from a can (and most likely baked beans).  And until recently I was still using beans from a can, but it can be difficult to get organic beans, and to find cans not lined with BPA.  Then I had an opportunity to buy some organic dry goods in bulk, so I bought 5kg of kidney beans, 5kg of adzuki beans and 5kg of chickpea (garbanzo beans).  I know, that is a lot of beans.  And then I didn't really know what to do with them!  Not just what dishes to put them in, but how to prepare them, I just didn't know what method to use. So I decided it was time to learn how to use all these beans that I bought, here's what I found out.

I started with an excellent ebook called The Everything Beans Book, from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship, which has lots of bean recipes, but more importantly, an explanation of how to prepare the beans.  I had previously tried to cook adzuki beans and ended up with a mess, as they seemed to just dissolve in the water, and from that experience I had been put off cooking the beans and I had a vague idea that I might sprout them instead.  I'm so glad I did some research first because it is definitely not safe to sprout kidney beans, due to a nasty chemical that they contain when raw called a lectin, which is extremely irritating to the intestines.  Fortunately lectin is destroyed by heating to boiling temperature, so cooked or canned beans are safe to eat.  

Interestingly, all legumes and grains contain some amount of lectin, but kidney beans are particularly bad, so they must not be eaten raw.  I tried to find out more about other sprouted legumes, as I do enjoy my raw sprouted chickpea hummus, but I couldn't find anything for sure, although eating large amounts of raw sprouts is not recommended by Nourishing Traditions (everything in moderation), but sprouting and then cooking the sprouted beans is still beneficial (various nutrients are released, and phytates are reduced) and they don't need to be cooked as long if they are pre-sprouted.  

How to prepare kidney beans
As kidney beans have a high lectin content, to be on the safe side, its best to make sure that they are cooked properly.  I prepared kidney beans by soaking overnight in a large pot of water.  In the morning, I discarded the soaking water and then added fresh water and boiled the beans for 10 minutes (lectin should be destroyed by the boiling, the soaking is for the phytates).  Then I cooked the beans in the slow cooker all day.  They came out perfect, not mushy at all.  I could have skipped the boiling step, but there is some concern that the slow cooker doesn't get to a high enough temperature.  I checked mine with a thermometer and it was up to 96degC, which is that close to boiling, you'd think it would still work, but as I'd just read about the nasty effects of lectin, I preferred to boil the beans just to be sure (and I couldn't find any references with the exact temperature at which the lectin is destroyed).  I also made quite a large batch of beans, so I could put some in the freezer for later, so it really wasn't too much trouble to add that step.  Now I can add beans to the long list of things I like to make in my slow cooker, and keep handy in the freezer!

How to prepare adzuki beans
As I said above, I have previously tried to prepare adzuki beans using the same method as the kidney beans and all I ended up with was MUSHY beans, they possibly don't need to be cooked for so long.  This time I decided to try sprouting the beans first and then steaming them quickly.  They take a few days to sprout and this should reduce the lectin content, so they could be eaten raw at this stage (depending on the amount of other raw legumes you've eaten recently).  This also prepares the sprouts for cooking, so instead of the soaking and long cooking process, the sprouted beans can be steamed for about 10 minutes to remove all lectin, and then used as normal.

What to do with the beans
Most people use beans as a cheap form of protein to reduce the amount they have to spend on meat.  We have 300 kg of beef in the freezer, so it doesn't really need extending!  For me the attraction of beans is that they can be stored for long periods without refrigeration.  I also planned to make more baked beans for breakfast, but then the chickens started laying through winter, so I didn't need them.  For me, cooking beans was something I wanted to know how to do "just in case" we need to use them, more than thinking that we need to rely on them to provide us with protein at this present time.  I think I will add them to meals occasionally, for example, any Aus-Mexican food I make.

nachos with kidney and adzuki beans
Do you eat beans?  Do you use dried beans?  Any tips?  Did I miss anything?

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre    monday's homestead barn hop

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Getting started with homestead dairy - Purple Pear Permaculture

Last week I began a series of interviews with bloggers who milk cows, goat (and sheep), and who make cheese, all about getting started with homestead dairy, by interviewing myself. This week I have an interview with Mark and Kate from Purple Pear Farm, which is a permaculture enterprise based near Maitland in NSW Australia.

Founded in 1998 by Kate Beveridge with the intention of developing a peri urban small farm that, one day, would also be a working, abundant permaculture system. Today, Purple Pear Farm is a flourishing, productive farm and eduction centre with mandala gardens, forest foods and established permaculture, biodynamic and organic farming practices (which I hope to visit at some stage).

The goal of Purple Pear Farm is to produce food in a peri urban environment, reduce food miles (food miles are the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it gets eaten), practice permaculture, organic farming and biodynamics. To create opportunities to share knowledge through teaching whoever wants to learn.  And as part of that system, they keep a couple of dairy cows.

Farmer Liz: Tell us about how you came to own a milking cow. 

Mark and Kate: Shirley was a Jersey cow and came to us many years ago, pregnant with Bella, from a small dairy in the upper Hunter in the middle of a drought. We were asked by friends of the owners if we would take the cow due to pasture shortage when we had spoken of getting a cow.

FL: Do you use hand-milking of machine milking? Why?

M&K: We have a small milking machine which I sometimes use when two cows are milking at the same time. My rhumy old hands get sore after a while but prefer to milk by hand and usually do. I love the contact with the cow and the relationship it engenders.

FL: What is your milking routine?

M&K: I milk in the mornings. The calf stays with the cow except for a stay in a pen overnight. The cow has contact with the calf and seems to like the security the pen gives the calf while she grazes. This allows us to be away sometimes by leaving the calf with the cow.

FL: Do you use a bull or AI to get your cow/goat back in calf/kid?

M&K: We always use a bull and the trips to the end of the road are looked forward to by the cows. We feel it is important for the health of the cow to be joined naturally.

FL: How much pasture land do you have for your cow and how much supplement feed does she need? 

M&K: Cow pasture is around ten acres and in good seasons this is adequate for two cows without supplementation other than usual mineral supplements.

FL: What do you do with all the milk?

M&K: The milk generally goes to making cheese and yoghurt and ice-cream.

FL: What do you enjoy most about having your own milking cow?

M&K: The total package from manure for the market garden to the cheese and yoghurt and including the presence of the cow with peace and contentment on the farm.

FL: What is currently you biggest milking cow/goat challenge?

M&K: The biggest challenge is to control the birthing of the cows so we get a consistent supply of milk. A couple of phantom pregnancies has disrupted supply, not to mention cows dying. Shirley died of a cancer we think when she went from prime condition to dead in a very short time. Her granddaughter had to be put down after not getting up recently.

FL: What is your advice to those considering getting a milking cow/goat?

M&K: Be prepared for the commitment. It is not possible to just go away when you wish without consideration for the cows' needs.

FL: How does your cow form part of your permaculture system?

M&K: The farm as an organism is as much a part of the biodynamics we practice as it is permaculture. Closing the loop in production relies on best use of resources. On farm animal manure as fine as cow gives us fantastic compost as well as recycling excess produce from the garden.

Thanks so much for the interview Mark and Kate.  If you have any comments and questions, please head over to Kate's blog.  Also check out all the permaculture info, we really want to go for a farm tour as soon as we get an opportunity to travel.

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

Permaculture - use small and slow solutions

This year I have been taking time each month to consider a permaculture principle from David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability. This month I am up to “Use Small and Slow Solutions”.

Nancy is small and it looks like halter training will be a slow process....
(OK I couldn't think of a photo to use and Nancy is cute)
Thank you to everyone who comments and follows along with these posts. I have to admit (and I’m sure that its obvious) that I’m learning as I go along too, and part of that is forcing myself to write these posts. In order to write something sensible I have to read the chapter several times and think about each principle and what I think it really means in practice. I appreciate all the comments as it helps me (and everyone else) to think about the meaning and application of each principle. My interpretation is not necessarily right, or complete, so I welcome other suggestions and thoughts on each principle.

The other principles that I've reviewed have been:
Observe and Interact
Catch and Store Energy
Obtain a Yield
Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
Use and value renewable resources
Produce no Waste
Design from Patterns to Details
Integrate, rather than segregate

Small and slow solutions are important in an energy-constrained future. Generally large, fast solutions use more energy and are more expensive, which makes them accessible only to people with the appropriate resources. For most things there is an optimal size that is achievable with the resources available. On a small farm or backyard, this is usually the human scale and speed, things that can be lifted or moved or operated by one or several humans. As the scale and speed increases, more machines are required and more energy to operate the system. I think its important to distinguish between setting up a system and maintaining a system.  It may be appropriate to use considerable energy to set up a system, but the system itself is ideally small, slow and self-sustaining.  For example, we couldn't have possibly built our driveway without the help of several earth-moving machines, but we hope that its now been redirected and shaped to reduce future maintenance requirements.  Another example would be using earth-moving equipment to set up irrigation networks, that can then be operated by opening a hand valve.

In considering examples of this principle I am struggling to find something that is both small and slow! I can think of plenty of examples of small scale solutions, or slow speed solutions, but small and slow? Anyone?

Examples of small scale vs large scale:
  • It takes far less energy to produce food on a small scale, no need for tractors and trucks if you grow a little to feed just you and your family in a vegetable garden.
  • Also milking one cow requires less infrastructure and equipment, and less transport again, compared to milking hundreds of cows in one place and then processing and distributing the milk.
  • Smaller houses require less heating and cooling, less cleaning and maintenance, less furnishings and building materials compared to large houses.
  • Several smaller cells can be more efficient than one large system, for example we have two small chest freezers rather than one large one, so we can turn one off when it gets empty. Also if one freezer stops working, we only lose half the food. This concept applies to numerous other examples, in particular, David mentions the complex food distribution system, which can easily be disrupted, as we saw in QLD when Brisbane, the hub, was flooded, and the food couldn't be distributed.
Examples of slow vs fast solutions:
  • If we associate slow with quality of production, things that are made slowly, such as homemade clothing or homemade bread are slower compared to buying the same article, but better quality and generally “fit for purpose” as they are custom-made for the application.
  • Eating with the seasons can be slow too, but the first egg of spring or the first tomato of summer is tastier because we had to wait.
  • Soaking and fermenting food takes a few days to be ready, but less effort than heating and cooking the same thing. For example, making fermented pickles takes a few minutes to put the ingredients in the jars and then three days to ferment, which is slower, but less effort compared to cooking and preparing vinegar pickles.
  • My hybrid hugelkultur works by slowy decaying logs gradually building soil. We could have achieved the same result very quickly with earthmoving equipment and a truckload of soil. But all that work might have washed away in the next storm. This hugelkultur solution is being formed slowly by nature and will be more permanent.
  • Cycling or walking around our property takes longer than driving, but gives an opportunity to observe changes in vegetation, soil, erosion, animal tracks, fences etc that would not be noticed when travelling by car. This is a form of multi-tasking, using the slower speed of the journey to achieve necessary observations as well as the purpose at the end of the journey. 
  • Mustering cattle on foot or horseback is slower than on motorbike, but the cattle are less stressed when they move at cow speed (which is naturally slow unless they are panicked).
  • Perennial plants grow slowly and take longer to produce a yield, but when they do start to produce, they will yield annually with minimal maintenance requirements, compared to annual crops that produce quickly but require more care. This is a good example where a mixture of fast and slow solutions is useful.
  • Using our milking machine is faster than hand-milking, but requires a connection to mains electricity. Hand-milking would be a slower, but simpler solution.
What do you think about this principle? How do you apply small and slow solutions at your place?

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