"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, September 30, 2013

Double Buck (the Craigslist Chronicles)

Sometimes it seems like I spend way too much time on Craigslist. I've toned it down since the early days, when I would spend hours scanning the farm and garden section looking for free chickens (you'd be surprised) or people who wanted to trade vegetable starts or raw alpaca fleece or something like that. I used craigslist to meet other local farmers, to set up useful bartering networks (New To Farm Life: Trade Network 2012 (Craigslist Chronicles)), and occasionally, to get rid of commodities I no longer wanted - this posting, in which I offer 25 pounds of free chicken livers, is a particular favorite of mine:

New To Farm Life: My Latest Craigslist Posting

One of my bad Craigslist habits is that I seldom remember to go back and delete a post after it has outlived it's usefulness. Usually this means nothing much beyond an annoyed e-mail once in a while, but this week, my laziness paid off. I forgot to delete the post looking for a buck to service my herd. We bought a buckling, (A Buckling Named Boob) so I wasn't in the market for a buck anymore. However, when a lady called me offering me a practically free purebred, papered, tested, and proven buck, well, I could hardly say no. Haboob, cute as he is, is still a tiny little baby and may not even be capable of mating this year. If he is, it won't be until January. I had resigned myself to not having any babies until early summer next year, and no cheese until sometime in July. When this handsome fellow popped up out of the blue, I jumped on him.

The lady, A., is simply getting out of Nubians. She is going to pure Nigerians (minis) and had no more use for Paxton. I guess she hadn't had much luck selling him at a decent price (the goat market fluctuates wildly; this is probably an off year) and decided finally she just wanted his stinky ass off the property before he went and impregnated the wrong does. She even offered to transport him, which is wonderful, because our van is broken down.

Paxton arrived on the farm at about six in the evening last friday, and fifteen seconds later, everybody was pregnant. The does must have been in heat - I can never tell - because Paxton took one look at them and did his Buckly duty before he even got all the way through the gate. So, doing the math, I ought to have a very busy week sometime in early March. Hooray!

We are keeping Haboob, of course. We will just wait and use him next year. For the rest of this breeding season, we can rent out Paxton, for cash or for trade in hay. Back to the barter section of Craigslist I go!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Butchering Season (the Breakdown)

Fall is butchering season. The grass is dying back and losing nutrition, and the meat animals are as fat as they are going to get. We've been keeping two goats alive, Polly's last kids, for quite a bit longer than we ever intended to. They are a year and a few months old, older than meat kids usually ever get.

The last time we bred the goats, I had such a hard time finding a buck that we eventually had to borrow my sister's buck. Blueberry is a beautiful animal, a terrific buck... but he's an Angora. That's a fiber goat. I have Nubians, dairy goats. So Polly's kids, all three of them, were half Angora, half Nubian. That's not a useful cross. They end up being no good for either fiber or milk, and not even really good meat goats, because they grow slowly and are small, like an Angora. They do have excellent flavor, but they take twice as long to grow a carcass only about two thirds as meaty. I only resorted to using Blueberry because I really needed the mama goat bred, so she would produce milk. I simply decided ahead of time that her offspring from that year would be meat animals.

Polly threw triplets, as a first freshener. That's good, she's a good goat. She's going to be an excellent milker, as well. She raised those triplet without losing any noticeable condition. Before we left for Oaxaca, we gave away the single buckling to a friend of ours who was similarly in need of a buck. We explained that any resulting kids would not be prime quality, but he simply wanted his does freshened, so it didn't matter to him. That buck is now living the life of Riley down in the skagit valley, lucky fellow. The two doelings stayed on the farm while we were gone. One of them was given to our neighbor, I forget exactly why. The other was traded to another neighbor for four turkeys, after we got back.

Then, neither neighbor wanted to come get their goats. Time passed, summer passed. It started to rain. We called the turkey trade neighbor several times, and he always said the same thing: "Yeah, I'll be up there this week." Our other neighbor said he'd take the goat as soon as he got a pen built. Meanwhile, they are eating the grass and mashing down fences. The rest of our goats are older nannies; they don't jump anymore. But these little doelings were jumpers. One morning they jumped the fence and ate up half of the neighbor's fruit tree. I began badgering my husband to do something, either to the fences or to the goats.

One day my neighbor's wife was out working in the garden and we had a conversation across the fence. I told her that we'd bring over the goat anytime, or we'd be happy to do the butchering ourselves and give her the meat, but that we needed the goat gone. She told me to nevermind about the meat, her husband shouldn't have fatty goat meat anyway, he had a triple bypass just a few months ago, and that she would take the blame. So we went ahead and butchered the goats.

Or, I should say, Homero did. He is still a pretty fledgling butcher, having only once done the job entirely by himself before. It took him far too long to skin the first animal - nearly an hour. By the time he was ready to start on the second goat, the other neighbor had answered our phone calls and shown up to help. He knew what he was doing, and so the second goat went much quicker than the first. We have learned the fastest way to dispatch the goats is with a .22 bullet to the back of the head (never the front - a goat has a thick shelf of bone over the forehead and a bullet between the eyes would ricochet and be dangerous) and then immediately cut the throat. The little guys hit the ground and are dead before they know it. Then we hang them by the tendons in their hocks from the swingset and gut them into a kiddie pool that we keep around for that purpose. The kids are far too big for kiddie pools anymore.

When the goats were broken down into about eight pieces - shoulder and foreleg, haunch and back leg, ribs and belly, neck and back - the men brought them inside and I did the rest of the butchering on the kitchen table. I'm getting better. It's easy to separate the shanks from the haunch, but much harder on the front end. I need to read up on that. I had to use a heavy cleaver to cut through the bone, and it made sharp splinters that had to be carefully washed out of the meat. I cut away the loin from the spine and cut it up for stew meat. I cut the belly meat (the flank) from the ribs and packaged it separately. That will probably be marinated, pounded, and grilled as steaks. The ribs are not very meaty on these goats and probably it would take all of them to make a meal for the family, big as our family is these days. The biggest, meatiest part is of course the haunch, or the upper part of the hind leg. Each of those will make a big, fat roast.

The chart at the top of this page shows the cuts as they would be made by a professional butcher. Bully for the professional butcher - I really ought to study and practice a lot more. I wish I could make neat sections like that. But it's virtually impossible to learn how to do that from a book. You need - or at least, I need - someone to actually show me, someone to put my hand in the right place at the right angle and say "feel that?" In the absence of such hands-on mentoring, I do the best I can. I did okay, probably about as well as I did on the King salmons a few weeks ago (Fish Tale (Canning Salmon)).
Could somebody else do better? Sure. Did I do okay? Yup. I have a freezer full of neat packages wrapped in white paper and tucked into ziploc bags. As my mom always says, "good enough for government work."

I used all four shanks of our goat for the butchering day dinner. I seared them in a hot skillet and then braised them in a mixture of orange juice, chilpotle peppers, tomato, garlic, and cumin. They were very good, but they need to braise all day to reach that falling-off-the-bone consistency. I find that is the best way to cook goat. Again, according to the chart, there are fine chops and filets on a goat, but personally I haven't had much luck with cooking goat as though it were beef, fast and rare. Lamb works well that way, but not goat. Luckily, the falling-apart melt in your mouth meat was delicious, wrapped in fresh hot tortillas and dipped in the spicy sauce.

I am going to bring a package of the meat over to my neighbor, the one whose wife told me not to. Again, according to the chart, goat is actually very lean and has an excellent lipid profile.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Doing the Can-Can

Just popping up for a bit of air between canning sessions. I'm extremely pleased with my pantry, considering that we didn't get back into the house until high summer, and considering that I didn't put in a garden this year. Rowan's garden has kept us well stocked, especially with tomatoes, however. Here's what I've done so far this year in the way of canning:

10 pints king salmon (plus a few pounds smoked)

12 cups blueberry jam (a third of which is already gone)

6 cups bread and butter pickles

8 quarts applesauce

4 quarts tomato sauce

6 cups hot salsa

4 cups of lovely sweet pickled peppers, made from a mess of gorgeous bright red, yellow and green hot chiles from my neighbor's garden.

Aside from canning, I've also done a good bit of other preserving, mostly freezing. There are about twenty gallons of assorted frozen berries in the chest freezer, and an even dozen loaves of zucchini bread from the crate of zucchini that an unknown neighbor left on my porch (Anonymous Squash (Must be August)).

In the fridge I have a half-gallon of sauerkraut that we will probably never eat, and three quarts of kosher fermented dill pickles that we must eat soon, as they are getting inedibly sour. Next month we are getting a quarter of beef. More later - it's time to make dinner!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Buckling Named Boob

It looks like breeding season will be delayed this year. This adorable little guy just won't be ready for a few months yet. Breeding season is always a major pain in the butt, or at least, it has been ever since I sold Storm Cloud, my beautiful herdsire. Last year, of course, we didn't breed any goats at all, being in Oaxaca. The year before that, we had a very difficult time finding a buck and ended up with a less-than-satisfactory arrangement (Unwelcome Drama in the Goat Breeding Business).

This year, I thought I had everything all sewn up ahead of time. A woman I know slightly has a black and white spotted buck and we made arrangements for her to bring him over for a few weeks and I would pay her $100. That sounds expensive, but it actually represents a bit of a discount, as I had three does to breed, and the going rate for a proven, purebred, tested buck is about $50 per doe. I wasn't thrilled about the timing, because she was in hurry to get him off of her property while she had houseguests (STINKY) and I wanted to wait until a little later in the season so that babies would not be born in January. However, a buck in the hand is worth two on the internet, so I said to bring him on over.

A week went by, and I hadn't heard from her. When I called her, she said "Oh, I sold him already. I tried to call you..." I was disappointed, but it wasn't really a surprise. It's never easy to find a buck to rent. Something always goes wrong. So I went back to Craigslist in search of another solution. I found bucklings for sale galore, but none to rent. As regular readers have surely gathered, I have a lot on my plate right now and wanted to get this goat thing taken care of as soon as possible, so I can get back to worrying about other stuff, like my high-need nieces. So after consulting with Homero, we decided to go look at a couple of low-priced bucklings.

Unfortunately, they were all quite young. The fellow we picked, this handsome tan and white moon-spotted buckling, is just over two months old. Bucks can usually breed at about four and a half months, so we are looking at... um.... babies at the beginning of May. Hopefully. Right now, he is rediculously tiny and the does are beating him up mercilessly. It seems unlikely he will dominate them anytime soon.

My kids don't like the name I gave him, Sandstorm. Our last herdsire was named Storm Cloud, and intact bucklings have taken on weather-related names. We had Cirrus and Nimbus, for example. The kids were ready to mutiny over Sandstorm, until I told them that in Arabic a sandstorm is called a Haboob. Now we have a goat named Boob, for short.  Courtesy of Hope, my nine year old.

For my general thoughts on goat breeding, see The King Must Die (Goat Breeding and Divine Kingship)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Busy as a Bee

The first week of school is over and we are all still alive. My own children were chomping at the bit to get back to school after a year of homeschooling, and I was equally eager to see them go, so everybody was happy. My two nieces however, the Tamagochis, were not so thrilled.

The Tamagochis are staying with us for a year, to learn English and have the experience of living in another culture, and to become closer to their cousins. Their English is extremely limited - they cannot have even a simple conversation - and so they were understandably frightened about going off the middle and high school. I've been making the rounds of principles, counselors, and teachers, trying to get a little understanding of how the school plans to help them adjust. So far, the answer seems to be "sink or swim." They are both bright, hardworking girls, and so I am certain they will both be swimmers - but for now, they are scared swimmers. I can't blame them. In fact, I am filled with admiration for their bravery and guts.

The beginning of school is always a busy time, of course, with the endless papers to fill out, the parent-teacher association meetings, the volunteer sign up sheets, the ice-cream socials and the carpool organizations. And it happens smack-dab in the middle of the preserving season, when my kitchen looks like a small produce department threw up all over it.

Last week, I helped Rowan can some of the tomatoes from her garden. We tried something new - raw-pack diced tomatoes. You just dice up the raw tomatoes, pack into sterilized pint jars, add a little lemon juice and salt (and garlic, if desired - we always desire) and then process in a water bath for 80 minutes. I'm not sure what to think of the results. The tomatoes shrink up so much, there is a lot of empty space in the top of the jar. The seals are all good, so I assume the tomatoes will store well, but it looks weird.

The pears are falling all over the ground. The small funky ones go to the goats and chickens, but there are enough good sized ones to keep us in fresh eating pears. The plum tree finally produced a fair number of plums, too. Apparently the weird mushy ones I picked (Tree Trouble (What the Hell is Wrong With These Plums?)) were an anomaly. Thank goodness. Finally we have a nice big bowl of lovely italian plums on the kitchen table, looking all picturesque. And yesterday, Homero fixed the car of a guy who had an apple tree, and he brought home three shopping bags full of apples. Not near enough to press, so I guess I'm canning more applesauce.

And making a pie. Those girls come home hungry from school. Apple pie for an after school snack is what gets moms into heaven.

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Daughter's Garden

While we were gone in Oaxaca last year, my daughter Rowan and her boyfriend Phil decided to use the greenhouse and enlarge the garden area and put in a serious garden. They wanted to have a booth at the farmer's market, and while that turned to out to be bit beyond the capabilities of first year gardeners, they did in fact create a serious garden. Besides eating out of the garden all year, they have provided enough to give to friends and, just recently, to do some preserving. 

Above, you can see the greenhouse is full of weeds - but it is also full of lemon cucumbers, herbs, hot peppers, and tomatoes. Below, the two clawfoot tubs make lovely herb beds. Behind them, the remains of the kale is visible. 

 The sunflower patch went crazy, and the bright pink and magenta colored sunflowers look beautiful in the evening sun. I love sunflowers, although I always planted the mammoth yellow ones that produce edible seeds. If I was too lazy to gather all those seeds - and I usually was - at least they provided food for local fauna. Rowan, however, likes choosing unusually colored and rare varieties of all her plants. In addition to the pink sunflowers, she planted purple brussels sprouts and peacock broccoli, cheddar cheese cauliflower and deep red corn.

Today, we gathered quite a harvest. The tomatoes are finally ripening, and Rowan and I went out this morning and picked about twenty of them. A few of those and the last jalapeños went into a fresh salsa.  There were four eggs today - not much but better than usual - and six new ripe plums. I can only gather the plums as they fall from the tree, because the tree is home to approximately seventeen million big fat garden spiders, and I am a weenie. 

There are also lots of pears. We have several pear trees, and the ones I gathered today were Comice pears, my favorite. Ten of them are resting in a box on the kitchen altar for ripening. Hope they ripen up nicely; sometimes they do and sometimes they don't and I'm not always sure why. There are also lots of pears on the old Bartlett tree, but they are suffering from severe scab, as you can see in the picture below. I can peel them and use them for sauce, or I can throw the badly deformed ones to the goats. I may have to spray next year.

That's it for the farm's harvest, but we also have a lot of produce from the neighbors that I have to do something with. The other day, when the little girl who lives next door came over the play, I gave her a jar of blueberry jam to take to her mother. She did, but about ten minutes came back across the fields, staggering under the weight of a tote bag full of produce. The bag contained six ears of corn, a fat cucumber, three enormous zucchini, and a few pounds of sweet cherry tomatoes. We made short work of the cherry tomatoes, but the rest of it is still covering the kitchen table. 

Ah, August!