Tales from our River Bank: Ratty, Owl and Mole pay a visit.

It is 6:30 am. I have lit the fire and am now outside, alone in the garden, or so I think…..

I am heading towards the goats shed to do the morning milking, pail in hand, humming contentedly to myself, listening to the birdsong, breathing in the chill frosty air.

My daughter failed to rise with me this morning and is sleeping peacefully, snuggled up in bed under numerous heavy blankets and feather filled eider-downs, with the dogs at her feet.

I greet the goats with a chirpy “Good morning girls”. Then take a scoop of feed to Marigold (my pregnant goat). I then lead Tansy, my milker, to the milking stand that is set inside the warmth of the feed store.

I put her breakfast in the milking stand trough, she climbs willingly up onto it and starts to eat, noisily.

I wash her udders, talk to her soothingly and strip a little milk from each udder into the strip cup.. and then proceed to milk her properly into the pail. I listen to the rhythmic whooshing and frothing sounds of the milk as it hits the bucket. It is almost hypnotizing.

Tansy suddenly stops eating, looks up and stares out of the doorway ….and there, right in front of us, is a barn owl, swooping silently over the veg patch, then settling down to perch on the fence post that is barely ten feet from where I am sitting.

It has it’s back to us and it is seemingly unaware that we are there. I sit stock still hardly daring to breathe..and in seconds, all too soon,  it is gone. Beautiful!

I smile and carry on milking.

Tansy settles back down to the serious job of eating. She finishes her rations in super quick time and becomes fidgety. I calm her with my voice but she is determined to make it known that she wants more food and so she bleats loudly in my ear, then nuzzles and pulls my hair. I cave in and give her another handful.

Eventually milking is completed. I wash her now soft udder and massage a little udder cream into it. I give her the carrot slices that I have been hiding in my pocket and lead her back to the goat shed, where her kids are waiting to finish emptying her udder.

I top up all of the hay-racks and water buckets for the goats. Then quickly feed the hens, quail, geese and duck. All done in super quick time, I take the milk pail back to the kitchen in order to filter and cool the milk as fast as possible, but as I do so I see a small mound of earth move on the riverbank, right next to a clump of snowdrops….

Suddenly a tiny black furry head and two huge feet appear in the centre of it.. then promptly they disappear again. A Mole!! That is a first for me, as I have never seen a live mole before, only the apparently undamaged carcasses, that my old cat Rosie used to present to me occasionally.

We have ‘trouble’ with moles here at Riverside. The riverbank is dotted with their hills and the steeply sloped bank is no longer is a smooth swathe of grasses and wild-flowers, but is instead a cratered ankle breaking, obstacle course! But to see a mole, a real live mole, albeit for such a brief moment, is a delight!

Indoors again now, hands washed and time to pour the fresh, frothy milk through a filter into a large milk jug. The lid is put on tightly and the jug is submerged into a deep bowl of icy cold water. The cold tap runs into the bowl and over the jug and overflows into the sink, acting as a make shift cooling system. It works fine.

Once thoroughly chilled, the jug is put in the fridge.1.6 litres of wonderful natural goat’s milk from this morning’s milking!  Thank you Tansy!

I  top up the fire and make a cup of tea. My daughter is still sleeping and the dogs are now  fussing me for a biscuit, which of course they get.

I then sit down at the kitchen table to drink my morning cup of tea. I gaze out of the window at my bird feeder and there sitting on a hanging bird table, right in front of me, is a rat. Fat, brown and furry, with two black glossy bead-like eyes and small almost transparent rounded ears. It’s almost hairless tail is hanging over the edge of the tray. It twitches the tip of it now and then as it stuffs sunflower seeds into it’s mouth. I tap on the window. Nothing…..It simply looks at me. Haha! The cheek of it! Eventually it climbs down and picks up a few fallen seeds from the grass under the feeder and then runs off into next door’s orchard.

Now as much as I would prefer rats not to come here, and I am quite aware of the diseases they can spread, I still have to admire this little chap’s boldness and ingenuity. My bird feeder is metal and he has scaled a single, smooth metal tubular pole to get to the hanging tray at the very top. Quite a feat!

I think it is impossible to get on top of the rat population here. There have always been rats along riverbanks.  It is the perfect habitat for them, and although I do set traps and we do get owls hunting them here, there will always be rats where there is water. It is something I have learned to live with.

But I do not encourage them to come near the cottage or in the animals housing. All animal feed is locked away in metal bins. No food is left out.

But it seems that they have now learned to climb my bird table !  So what to do about that? More traps maybe?

It is now 8:30 am.Time to wake my daughter. I have Tales of the River Bank to tell her …..Ratty and Mole and Owl came to visit today  🙂

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Have a great day!

Milk maid

Milk maid

My daughter milking Tansy. March 2013

Another self sufficiency landmark reached …

Today was day 1 of milking one of my very own goats.

You may have read a previous post about how my mother kept a small dairy herd many years ago. I have yearned to own my own herd since I was about 20.

Now aged 45, divorced, bringing up and educating my youngest child on my own, in a teeny tiny rented cottage in East Lincs UK, with some rented land and a lot of enthusiasm, I have finally fulfilled a dream.

My two female goats, Marigold and Tansy, were put to a billy in Autumn/Winter 2012.

One was covered back in Oct and one in January and low and behold one has kidded already and is therefore producing milk!

The other female, Marigold, isn’t due to kid until June.

I allow kids to have the first 7 days of their mum’s milk 24/7 and now that they are over a week old I am simply separating them overnight (within sight and smell of one an other) to enable me to milk Tansy early each morning before the kids feed and then I simply put them all back together again.

Tansy doesn’t seem the least bit upset by being in a separate space to the babies overnight.  She settles down to chew the cud and rest.

The babies seem quite happy and content too. They have a molasses lick, fresh water and hay to nibble at, if they need it. But to be honest they tend to sleep, snuggled up in the deep straw til morning.

Tansy is far more interested in getting her morning concentrate ration/hay and chopped veggies when I arrive at 6.30 am than she is about getting to her kids.

Whilst she is eating her breakfast I wipe her udders with disposable udder wipes and add a little udder cream to my hands and rub them together to try to warm them up a bit. It is jolly cold at 6:30am and we are experiencing record low temperatures for March here in Lincs UK atm with thick ice/ constant sprinkles of snow and Siberian winds! So my warm hands make the whole process far less of a shock to her warm, full udders.

I talk to her soothingly, pop my little wooden milking stool between my legs and rest my head on her flank and gently start milking. Talking to her all the while” Steady Tansy, good girl, stand still, There’s a clever girl” and so on….

The first few squirts are sent into a special cup called a strip cup, it has a black shelf part way down, with holes to allow milk to pass through and it allows you to check for any problems like flakes, blood, lumps in the milk etc.

As it all looks OK I swap to my stainless steel milking pail.

When milking you must try to keep a regular gentle rhythm going. No pulling on the teats. Just  gently close off the milk supply with the gap between thumb and forefinger at the very top of the teat, then gradually close the other fingers as they go down against the teat, one after the other, all in order, pressing the milk lower and lower into the teat until it squirts out into the bucket with a whoosh.

It is a gentle motion, it doesn’t need to be hard work at all but it does use muscles in your hands that you don’t usually use, so can make your hand ache at first until you get used to it.

Tansy has never ever had her udders milked by human hands before, so obviously it takes some getting used to for her too, but gentle but firm handling and a confident attitude worked wonders (plus food of course) and she soon settled down.

I quietly sang a song as I milked her to help her relax and to help me keep a rhythm going 🙂

Today I only milked one udder at a time but once she is more settled and used to the routine I will start milking both udders together in alternate squirts, to save time.

Once I had two soft empty udders in front of me and a half full bucket of frothing fresh milk, I wiped her over again and let the kids in.

They stripped her right out and with the extra demand for milk that my morning milking causes Tansy will very soon make more to meet demand.

The kids then set about bouncing from one log to another in the bench play area at the back of the goat shed. They really love to climb and prance and play.

Tansy is being fed a dairy goat ration twice a day ( morning and evening) and a midday meal of chopped fresh vegetables and fruit, plus ad lib good quality hay 24/7.

She has fresh water twice a day ( served warm with a tiny dot of molasses in) and she has access to a mineral lick and solid paddock vitamin and mineral block for goats too. Once the weather warms up she and the kids can go out into the little exercise paddock that has been rested since Oct, to graze down the grass and wild herbs that grow there.

At our very first milking session my daughter also had a go at playing milk maid for the first time and she managed quite successfully to milk a fair bit into the bucket. She was thrilled! Tansy was a very good girl for her and stood very still.

We came indoors as soon as we were done, in order to quickly filter and cool the milk. Once that was completed it was time to put the kettle on.

We celebrated our landmark event with a nice cup of tea …………….

………………..and of course we used our very own goat’s milk!  🙂

Sorry for the lack of photos but with my hands busy milking I didn’t actually take any pics.

Maybe I will take some of my daughter milking her tomorrow. So watch this space.

Thanks for popping by x

Basic Kefir cheese making (soft cheese)

Kefir soft cheese is really easy to make and can be flavoured with herbs and spices or even fruit. It can also be used to make cheese cakes and to add body to smoothies. We use it much like the well-known brand of soft cheese you can buy in the store that is rolled in herbs. Our favourite flavouring is garlic and  the addition of a little salt.

Before you start it is essential that everything is scrupulously clean. Wash your hands really well. Scrub surfaces, bowls and utensils and rinse any equipment that you will be using with boiling water. The cheese cloth will need to be scalded with boiling water (but then cooled) before use. Milk is a breeding ground for bad bacteria as well as good, so it is important to be thorough when making any dairy product.

You will need some kefir milk grains that have been left in milk (I use organic full fat milk)  for 24-48 hrs …….and the following items : A stainless steel or plastic colander, nylon sieve, cheese cloth , jugs, plastic or wooden spoon, bowls.

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KEFIR MILK GRAINS

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You start off by pouring the entire contents of your kefir milk jug, (so that’s the curds/whey and grains) into a colander set over a large bowl. This enables all the liquid to go into the bowl below and keeps the grains in the colander

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It looks pretty yukky at this point but do not worry.  Next you gently stir the contents of the colander with the plastic spoon ( avoid using metal, apart from stainless steel) to allow all the liquid to escape into the bowl and to get the grains free of most of the kefir curds/ whey.

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Next you place the colander over a spare bowl and set aside. Then pour the liquid that you collected in the first bowl, into a scalded cheesecloth or jelly bag, that is sitting over a  jug/ bowl, (to collect the clear yellow whey). You can use a nylon sieve at this point to catch any tiny kefir grains that may have passed through the colander.

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Then you hang the filled cheesecloth over the bowl ( which is now partially full of yellow whey) and allow the bag to drip for at least 8 hrs. It will  continue to become more sour if kept in a warm room, so to prevent that you can allow it to drip overnight in the fridge or in an unheated room/ pantry / kitchen.

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After 8 hrs tip the creamy and smooth contents of cheese bag into a mould or shape with a spatula. You can add salt, herbs etc before you do this and mix well.

If you put this soft cheese in a press it will form a slightly more firm cheese that is fairly solid but not as hard as cheddar.

and hey presto..

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Garlic and herb soft cheese

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Semi hard kefir cheese

There are a huge amount of things you can use kefir for: Smoothies, hard cheeses, yoghurt, drinks etc.  I sell some kefir milk grains on eBay  if anyone wants some?  Here is a link ..I only sell within the UK only..Sorry.

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Kefir-milk-grains-cultured-in-organic-cows-milk-/330889089053?pt=UK_Home_Garden_Food_SM&hash=item4d0a86d01d

For more inspiration and lots more cheese making advice check out the following links :

http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html

http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefir-faq.html

http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/Makekefir.html

http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefir_cheese.html