Posts Tagged ‘dairy’

This from a question about calculating protein in a homemade ration:

Standard laying mash is around 16 – 18% protein; that’s what they make for commercial producers and backyard chicken keepers aiming at a very high rate of lay.

This is at least in part because modern hens have been selected for maximum performance in the short run, not longevity or duration of lay.  It takes a lot of dietary protein to make an egg.  Today, the commercial goal is to get at least 300 – 330 eggs per hen in her first year of lay, then sell her to Campbells; in the typical backyard flock, same genetics, you might keep her around for a second year if you don’t mind much reduced performance.  After that, the soup pot.

In contrast, eighty years ago a hen was considered a good layer if she gave 200 eggs per year, and she was expected to lay for several years.

If what you want is an accelerated rate of lay, you’ll need to supply a lot of protein. But if you’re going to pasture or free-range — which is what it sounds like you intend to do — then you’re probably electing to go for a more natural rate of lay, which leaves more latitude in the matter of how much protein supplement you provide.

Now, if you were really setting out to determine precisely how much protein you needed to reach 18% of the birds’ diet, you’d have your work cut out for you. First, you won’t know what the birds are picking up as they forage, so you can’t know its food value. Secondly, the percent protein of those bulk foods (like corn, wheat, oats) with which you make up the majority of their ration can vary a great deal from batch to batch, depending on a lot of variables, so you’d actually have to test each batch of grain you purchased or grew to determine its composition. Only if you know all of the variables can you calculate with accuracy the amount of milk or other protein you need to raise your total ration to the 16 – 18% rate.

img_9916Fortunately, it’s not really that hard to get a satisfactory ration without all of the numbers.

You say you would like to switch to ‘grass and natural feed’ for your flock. Let’s assume that means you’re going to free-range or pasture the birds, while providing some kind of grain ration. Corn and most of the cereal grains average well below the minimum recommended percentage protein, but they’re good for some protein and for plenty of carbs. With dry grain rations, it’s generally considered that a hen of average size needs about one-quarter pound of feed per day, and somewhere around that’s not a bad place to start.  18% of 4 oz. is 0.72 oz. protein, and they’ll get more than half of that from their grain and whatever they pick up foraging, so if you offer a high-protein supplement like curds or waste meat, which are about 25% protein, an ounce of one of these per day gets your birds’ ration up in the high-protein range.  For visual reference, that’s a lump about the size of a hulled walnut, or rather smaller, per bird.

IMG_0118All that said, in the summer a free-range bird with plenty of pasture (not bare soil) to range about in is going to pick up a lot of bugs and worms, and might do very well without protein added to her grain allotment.  And since she’s free-range, she may also hide all her lovely eggs where you can’t find them.

The practice of farming has more in common with dancing than with science:  if you want it to be beautiful and enjoyable, you pay attention to your partner and respond to changes in the rhythm.


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Cheese making has many permutations.  There are enough curds in a ten-gallon cheese that we can steal some for the chickens’ daily protein ration and never miss them.  Whey goes to the pigs, except the quart we’ve reserved to backslop the next cheese.  Now the cheese cabinet is nearly full, it’s time to buy in a couple of extra calves and take the burden of milk processing off the cheese makers.

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Wednesday, March 21:

The unseasonably warm weather has us out in the garden every available minute, hauling compost, raking raised beds, and starting early lettuce and spinach.  Given the heat, I only hope it doesn’t bolt immediately.  The hoop houses are open day and night to keep them from overheating, and the low tunnels have their covers off entirely.  All the fruit trees are getting ready to blossom, which will mean disaster if we get another freeze.  The pond peepers, which usually sing only at night, are so confused that they shrill all day, a buzz almost like that of a locust, making this early heat wave even more surreal.  Only the asparagus, living as it does ‘way down where the soil is still cool, is far enough from the sun that it is still in dormancy.

The greenhouse, I need hardly say, is hot as Tophet.  On Monday we started the tomatoes and peppers in four inch pots and a sterile mix of vermiculite, perlite, and peat moss.  They will like the heat, but the six pots of onion seedlings may find it too warm.  We don’t want the squash and melons to get root-bound, so we usually don’t start them until the end of March, but it we knew the weather was going to stay warm we would get them in, too.

Baby Belle should be calving soon, exactly how soon we don’t know.  We fidget and twiddle our thumbs.  We sigh and turn over out-of-date magazines in the waiting room.  We want to get on with it.  For one thing, when Belle calves we will go fetch some baby bulls, and Mom will be done with cheese making for a while, because when there are calves to feed, what’s left is only just enough milk for the table.  There’s not the glut we have right now with the warm weather increasing Isabel’s production, so that Mom has four and a half gallons a day to find a use for.

In addition to the usual eight-to-ten pounds of butter, two gallons of yogurt, four or so pounds of mozzarella, and all the cream you can think of a use for, this time of year we make two or three four-pound hard cheeses a week, and the dairy refrigerator is getting crowded.  I think there are eight cheeses in there right now – paisano, Appalachia, Belle, and the gouda we are testing – and there’s another Appalachia in the press.  These will last us a couple of months, beginning around the end of April, as they ripen; then in June, when the grass is abundant and the calves are weaned (and, incidentally, the garden is in, the first hay cut, and there will be some breathing space), we will start another round of cheese-making to provide our fall and winter cheeses.

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Tuesday, January 24:

Four inches of wet snow on Friday night gave the children a chance to go snowboarding on the south hill; lying in a heavy blanket over the low tunnel where the carrots are growing, it weighed the six-mil plastic covering right down to the ground.  Constrained by many loads of laundry, the necessity of churning two-and-a-half gallons of cream, and a disinclination to venture out into the soaking rain, we did not get out yesterday to drain the slush off the tunnel cover and straighten the hoops of PVC.  Then last night the wind got up, gusting hard enough to be felt as a force even down in our protected valley.  It shuddered under the eaves, shifted the wicker furniture on the front porch and, as was apparent this morning, lifted the cover right off the low tunnel, pulling up one of the stakes with which it was fastened down at the ends, and working it out from under the sandbags which weighed it down along the sides.

This afternoon conscience drove us out in boots and scarves and thick coats to pull a colander of carrots and mend the tunnel.

It is one of the perfections of the low-tunnel that it is so easy to build, and to restore.  Counting the five minutes we spent pulling and topping the carrots, the job took about ten minutes.  Lifting the plastic sheeting to drain it, drawing the cover back over the hoops, taking up the slack and driving in the displaced stake with which the whole thing is pegged down, then replacing the sandbags, is a fast and simple job for a single man – or woman.  It carries with it a satisfaction not always to be met with in farming, or keeping house:  once done, it tends to stay done for a while.

The carrots are of excellent quality, crisp, tender, and sweet.   Our little burrowing friend had been under again, and one fat carrot was reduced to just a shell, completely eaten out from beneath.  Smart little guy, he must be glad God sent him his own solar-heated greengrocery for the winter.

In the kitchen a four-pound Paysano – our house Colby cheese – is draining in the wall press under thirty pounds of leverage.  The wall press was made by S-1 before he departed for Minnesota, and is a very clever and convenient arrangement, consisting of a bracket on the wall over the counter, an adjustable pin in the bracket, and an oak lever five feet long, marked with grooves at one-foot intervals, which hangs when not in use inside the basement door.  Our cheese ring is set beneath the bracket on a tray with a drain in the side, under which we place a pie dish to catch the expressed whey.  We fill the ring with curds and a chessit, position a follower on top, wedge the lever under the bracket pin and over the follower, and add weight at intervals along the lever.  The grooves on the top side of the lever let us know how far out to place our weights; the further they hang from the follower, the greater the pressure placed on the curds.

We have used this press for years, and find it the most convenient way of applying a steady, unvarying pressure to our cheeses.  With as many opportunities to make mistakes as there are in cheesemaking, it’s nice to feel that some aspects of the process, at least, are consistent.

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Tuesday, December 13:

   In the Roman calender this day is the feast of Sta. Lucia, an early Christian martyr.  The young Franciscan priest who said mass at seven fifteen was vested in red, and we broke meditation to whisper anticipation of our morning cinnamon rolls, which turned into afternoon ones because the morning was so full.  Normal things, mostly:  laundry and dishes and the daily chore of lighting a fire under the big copper kettle outside and cooking ten gallons of swill for the pigs and chickens.  A trip to the recycle bins, a stop at the library, another to post Christmas cards, and it was almost eleven, and just time enough to roll out the dough, spread it with soft butter, cover that with a thick layer of brown sugar and cinnamon, roll it, slice it, and set it to rise, before the wolves were howling for their lunches. 

   In Europe there is a traditional sweet roll called, we believe, a luciakattern — ? – prepared for the breakfast of this day.  Twenty-some years ago we found a recipe for it, along with a description of the ceremony for its distribution, which includes girls with wreaths of lighted candles on their heads.  Having no girls at the time, we did not have to make up our minds whether to risk burning their hair off, and by the time we had daughters we had already come up with our own traditions.  We are not by nature adventurous about foreign foods, so it was easy to substitute cinnamon rolls for the luciakattern, and we keep the candles on the table, where we can enjoy them without risk to the girls’ coiffures.  Our traditions, festive though we find them, have to fit into the rhythm of seasonal work and the comfort zone of a mother who sees her children taking enough risks to life and limb in the course of our daily farm work without absolutely tempting fate.

   Demands of the university are beginning to wind down and the men were outside for several hours today making room in the big garage for two of the three deep freezers presently lodged in the basement.  Lumber and scrap metal were shifted down the hill, and equipment shoved around.  Electrical bills have been outrageous, and, always slow to respond to stimulous, we are, after hosting furnace/freezer duels in the basement every winter for twenty years, taking advantage of the low temperatures to help ice down the masses of beef and pork we are putting up.  The second of three steers is hanging in Barry’s barn, almost ready to cut and wrap, and if Nature can help freeze it, more power to Her.

   The buck S-4 brought down a week ago is now marinating in a witches’ brew of every spice and sauce in the kitchen, and will go into the dehydrator in small batches over the next few days.  We sorted the winter squash and pumpkins, sadly few because of last summer’s plague of squash bugs, and brought up one that was compromised to cook for dinner.  A single pumpkin, deceptively round and bright orange, was found to be in an advanced stage of decomposition, and the boys launched it off the back of the hill as a sort of wet pinata for the chickens’ pleasure.  Large-scale, long-term food storage requires regular quality checks to prevent spoilage from spreading. 

   The spring tank on the back of the barn is running at a good rate, and the floating thermometer reads just at forty degrees.  S-3 and 4 plumbed the new pig nipple through the back barn wall, only to find that the instructions for theuse of the three-foot length of pipe heater we bought to keep it from freezing warn against flexing the element or wrapping it around the pipe.  As the extension for the nipple is only eight inches long, this leaves us with almost two and a half feet of element we have to find something to do with.  We have had no experience with electric pipe heaters, but are pretty sure that if we don’t use one on the galvanized metal extender it will freeze.  We are also thinking of floating a stock tank de-icer in the spring tank if it looks like freezing in January or February.  The use of these gadgets will be worth the compromise with technology if they help keep running water in the pig pen for the bulk of the winter.

   The moon is past full, standing out brightly against a slate-blue early morning sky and setting two hours after sunrise when no one is looking any more.  At five o’clock this morning it poured over our frosted fields in a silver wash like snow.  Isabel steps painfully over the barnyard where the pocked mud is frozen hard as iron, and we could use a few inches of snow to cushion her footing.  The sliding manger, really just a roofed hay-rack on skis, is pushed around the pasture to ensure even distribution of waste hay and manure; it too will be much easier to move once we have a base layer of snow on the ground.  The hens don’t like snow, and put themselves to bed early in this cold weather; eggs are getting scarcer.  It’s about time to eliminate the remaining three-year-olds, and put up some canned chicken and broth for hot soup on cold days.

   Some chores are full of satisfaction.  The Rube Goldberg chicken house door closer — sixty foot of string through a series of staples and eyebolts, with a  wooden handle at the end on the woodshed — gives a most satisfying thump when you yank it.  This, we consider, is an appropriate application of technology.

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Sunday, November 6:

   You can find videos on Youtube demonstrating how to palpate a cow, and some of them are very helpful.  Some are just mildly humorous.  Actually palpating the cow is pretty simple, but kind of like working a problem in calculus; when you’re done, you wonder if you got the answer right.  Before we undertook the operation, we asked a friendly farmer for tips.  “It’s pretty simple,” he told us.  “I hire it out.” 

   Our local farm supply store sells obstetric gloves, which come all the way up to the shoulder; finding these for sale reassured us that ordinary people actually do palpate cows, despite how unlikely such a thing seems.  The gloves come in packs of ten, and we hope the one we bought will last at least thirty years.  There is just something about putting your arm in a cow’s rectum that makes you hope it will be some time before you have to do it again. The evening we picked to do the deed was one when we had visitors, family who are themselves interested in cottage farming; we could think of no fitter introduction to the lifestyle.

   We won’t go into the details of the process, already ably set forth in the instructional videos on the internet, but we will say here that it isn’t as simple as you might think.  Imagine trying to find by feel a pair of socks in a very full army kit bag, and you will have a general idea of the problem.  We’ll leave it that Beth felt around for some time, and thinks the thing she settled upon as the uterus contained a small, firm mass about the size of a rat, the approximate the size of a cow’s fetus at around three months.  Feeling what you can through the rectal wall of a cow is like feeling something with your hand in an innertube:  details are fuzzy.  An empty uterus might have been approximately the same size and shape, but should have two horns, or fallopian tubes; and repeated sweeps over the floor of the rectum failed to bring these into evidence.  So, we hope this pregnancy test was positive.

   The refrigerator is groaning with all the cream that has backed up since Friday, when our trusty Sears Roebuck butter churn went on strike.  It is we don’t know how many years old, having been purchased by us at a yard sale in our pre-Isabel days and put away until we had a use for it.  It remained in storage all the years of our goat dairy.  Goat milk contains very fine fat particles which tend to remain suspended in the milk, rather than rising to the top where you can skim them off with a dipper.  One can, we understand, separate the goat’s milk with a centrifugal separator, but we never tried.  One reason is that we don’t have a centrifugal separator; another is that if we did have one, we wouldn’t want the job of cleaning it every day.  So we drank our goat milk, and cooked with it, and made chevre with it, but never tried to make butter with it.  Then we got Isabel, and when she freshened with her first calving, out came our long-stored butter churn, and we were in business.

   We have been making butter at the rate of six to ten pounds per week, for about six years, and our feelings when on Friday the act of plugging in the churn brought no results, were like those of a crew of sailors in finding water rising in thebilge and the bilge pump out of order.  Death by drowning seems the next item on the order of business.  A day’s skimming produces about three quarts of cream, and it doesn’t take very many days for an alarming amount of cream to back up.

   The churn had given us fair warning that it had internal problems.  When in storage, it has the cord wrapped around the churn, and years of flexing gradually broke the wires where the cord entered the housing.  For the last few months the churn has only operated if the cord was carefully draped over the spoon jar and held in place by the knife block.  A couple of times one of our family mechanics assayed to fix it, but the housing is not easy to get into.  On Friday the issue went from academic to critical.  Some fairly cayenne argument then took place about whether it could be fixed, and what, in the event that it could not, we were going to do about it.  Mom was all for building a new one out of a drill and the kind of drill attatchment used for stirring paint, but was shouted down.  Curious.  In the end, S-3 and a pair of vice grips got the motor housing open.  An evening with the parts spread out on the kitchen table and we have a better-than-ever butter churn, and we are stretching the Sabbath to include getting two gallons of cream out of the refrigerator so there will be room for other things.

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