Monday, October 28, 2013

the weekly update

I don't know about you, but my goodness, the weeks are flying by right now. Let us not even mention 'christmas' at this stage.  It's been busy around here. Fortunately a good type of busy for the main part. I am not one to like being busy just for the sake of it, but when that busy involves the usual daily life (admittedly with all it's ups and downs), cow milking, manure hauling, new seed beds in the garden, lots of interesting reading and future projects to plan, well, then that is not so bad.

Unfortunately this little space here has been suffering a little for it, and I will try to put aside a little more time for some more frequent posts with you. So where to start?


Family : all good. Just lots of extra activities that always comes at the end of the year. Two birthdays are coming up this month.

Bessie the Jersey (and calf) : both very well. Munching through lots of hay, making a nice and creamy 4 litres every morning, and getting quite shiny with her summer coat. I'm becoming much quicker and more efficient with the milking. We did have a bucket kicked over episode last week (I wasn't paying attention and she kicked it with the untied foot), and I now know the true meaning of not crying over spilt milk. Live and learn. Did I tell you I'm really enjoying it?

The vegie garden : I am hoping for a bumper season (well, at least better than last year), with a full ute load of garden "gold" just added to the entire vegie garden. Cow manure mixed with manure and wee soaked straw from the stables. I've got radishes, peas, cabbage and lettuce in, but over the next few days I will be trying to get a lot more in. We're forecast for more rain so now is the time. It's a little too early to get the tomatoes in, as we're still getting early frosts a few times a week.

In the kitchen: I've been making my favourite new cake (though I replace the sugar with rapadura sugar)  and lots of simple meat and vegie meals. I'm still brewing kombucha and kefir, and I'm hoping to make a little more sauerkraut this week.

The block : we're looking into biting the bullet and investing in a water bore. Purely rain water is just not cutting it. We also need to paint the chook house and make some fences.

Craft : I've been doing knitting rows here and there. I'm on the final hood of Luca's jumper. As for sewing, I tried to start a dress, got halfway through and realised the sizing was way off. Not fun. Project discarded and I haven't had the time or motivation to start anything else. Goodness knows I need the motivation, as my cupboard is full of "nothing-to-wear" right now.

Reading : Folks, This Ain't Normal : A Farmers Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People and a Better World. Joel Salatin doesn't hold back, and you can't help thinking that this guy really does have it all figured out. Highly entertaining and thought provoking.

The Weed Foragers Handbook : An Australian guide to weeds that you can eat. Clear pictures make the weeds pretty easy to identify, and I recognized many of them. It feels comforting to know which weeds you can eat, should the need ever arise. I am looking forward to a little experimenting.

So what are your "updates" lately? I feel a little out of step with the blogging world right now, so please fill me in with your latest projects and doings.

Friday, October 18, 2013

our family cow update

Milking a cow, though a bumpy ride for the first few weeks, has slowly become a normal part of the morning routine. It has involved working out feed quantities, sourcing economical hay and which grains to feed at the morning milking. I have learnt to be very organized and to have everything ready before I open that stable door, because running out of feed will quickly put an end to the morning milking! For a two year old cow on her first calf I think Bessie is doing quite well to put up with our beginner milking attempts. She is pretty happy during milking as long as that feed doesn't run out.

I know I would not have been able to any of this without my hard working other half. He has fixed fences, chased up a giant roll of hay, pumped water and puts a rather cunning calf away every night. I am very grateful for his help. Although I do sometimes hear him mumbling that we should really just go and buy milk.

Share milking with the calf, by locking him up during the night, seems to be going quite well. I usually arrive home with between 3 and 4 litres. She still withholds some milk for the calf, because I know that udder is not empty, and besides not very long after milking the calf has frothy cream dripping from his mouth at his first feed of the day. But I have heard that can be the price you pay for share milking. It eases the pressure of milking, and can even mean a few days off. But you do only get half the milk, sometimes less. For now though, we are happy with that. I gave myself a day off last weekend, and actually missed milking!

Our little steer calf, beautiful and doe-like that he is, is sadly destined for the freezer at some stage. It is an unfortunate fact of life that few people can afford the keep of a pet steer. So we are not becoming too attached to him, while at the same time he does not seem to like us very much. At some point in the future he will be weaned and separated from his mother, and we hope to be able to provide perhaps another steer to keep him company as he fattens up. Some people may find this hard to comprehend, but as meat eaters we see this as an opportunity for taking responsibility as to where our meat comes from. Knowing that he has lived a pleasant life and hasn't had to endure the stress of being butchered elsewhere has to be better. Besides, there is not much point spending the money to buy meat, when we have it here already.

With all the decisions to make, the hard work and time involved, do I feel it is all worth it? For me the answer is yes. There is a sense of satisfaction difficult to find within other areas of life, that has to do with working with animals and providing food for the family. Watching cows eating in the paddock is strangely calming. It feels good to be both physically and emotionally connected to our food supply.

I have not added the monetary figures up yet, but I know it will be quite some time before we break even. But it's not all about the money, is it? There is so much more to it than that.

We're consuming a lot more milk now as a family. Raw milk feels very nourishing, and it makes me feel strong and energetic. The kids drink several glasses a day, and no one has had a hint of sickness since we started milking Bessie. Sadly there is not enough milk left over to make any cheese, but I do manage to make yoghurt, kefir and occasionally ricotta with any excess.

I thank you all again for your wonderfully supportive comments in my previous cow post.

Here are the books that I have found to be the most helpful :

Keeping a Family Cow : I love this one, it is like the bible of keeping a family cow, and there is a new addition out now that I am very tempted to order.

The Heathy House Cow : A little local book that is my favourite reference. Marja's love of her cows really shines through, and her Australian perspective is very handy.

The Family Cow :  The classic 1976 guide, and it is quite an entertaining read.

Natural Cattle Care : Pat Coleby's guide to healthy cows using organic methods and minerals.

The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable : A good book to have on hand for herbal treatments.

The Untold Story of Milk : This was the book that started me off on our cow journey!

Other useful links :

Keeping a Family Cow proboards
Once a Day Milking by Patrice Lewis

Inspiration from the blogging world :

Eight Acres : an Aussie blog starring a lovely Jersey cow. Highly informative.
Longest Acres : How to buy a family cow.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


With all the busyness that the school holidays brought - kid's friends over, Bessie the cow and more kid's friends over, I'm afraid it all passed by in a bit of a blur. I can't pretend that I'm not a little relieved that school went back today. A little more organization the night before and this morning, enabled the drop off and milking routines to go fairly smoothly. It was nice to arrive home to a quiet house with a full milk can. A small bowl of popcorn is sometimes what it takes to gain ten minutes of quiet with a cup of coffee with no little person jumping all over me. 

Today is set to be a cleaning catch up day. The floors need mopping and the outside of the kitchen cupboards are not their best. Washing needs hanging out and sheets need changing. School holidays tend to wreak a little havoc, and they are certainly not the time to attempt any Spring cleaning. Which makes me wonder if I will even get to any Spring cleaning this time around.

I emptied out the camera the other day. There weren't many photos from the past few weeks. I believe the battery was flat on my camera for the half the holidays while I was looking for the charger. Time was not on my side these holidays. There is nothing very eventful here, just a few pictures taken around the house last week.

 While it has warmed up, we are still having cold days. Particularly early morning milking (Violets op-shopped hand knits)

Making lard.

First pig-tails.

Tea from Pop's old tea-pot.

Luca's Deckard. Picking the needles back up after an unintended knitting break.

Quilts and reading piles.

Bessie's milk cream line.

The Home Creamery, a book I have had for some time, is proving even more useful now. Last week it was ricotta and I would like to attempt the Farmer's cheese soon.

Dishes. Not a pretty sight, but it was a constant reality during the holidays. Some days you just feel chained to the sink. At such times I almost wished I had a dishwasher.


I could not end this post without saying how supported and truly moved I felt after reading your encouraging, heartfelt comments from my last post. It has made me feel that I do want to continue in this space, after a period of time that had me questioning whether I really wanted to continue or not. Sometimes there is a bigger picture at hand here, and if my little ramblings here brighten another person's day, encourage them to try something new, or make them feel that they are not the only square peg in a round hole, then that will make it all worth it.

So thank you, those that come back time and again, even waiting patiently when the posts are few and far between. I am afraid I am terribly slack and time poor as regards to replying to questions and emails, but please be assured that I value each and every comment and email that someone has taken the time to reach out with. I am truly thankful that your voices have helped make this space what it is.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

our family cow

Apologies for my long absence here. You, see we've been pretty busy around these parts. We bought ourselves a cow. Yes, a Jersey milking cow!

So I think the whole raw milk thing, and searching out this elusive product, led me to the thought of getting our own family cow. So I read up on it. I watched videos. Lot's of books. Lot's of You Tube and lots of Keeping a Family Cow forum (now that is one helpful sight).

In this house we tend to go through our dairy products like you wouldn't believe. Think of two litres plus a day, plus cream, plus cheese. Not to mention the homemade yoghurt, ice-cream and kefir.

So I got this crazy idea in my head, and in typical Tania fashion, buying our own cow became a bit of an obsession! I searched classifieds for weeks, and we decided to use an empty stable just five minutes down the road (owned by family) which is attached to a six acre or so paddock. The grass has been eaten down by kangaroos and it is not the best grass. We certainly don't live in a typical dairy area. Lush green grass is hard to find. But we had factored in the costs of bringing in feed.

Pat Coleby minerals (animals naturally take what they are lacking) in a Daniel-made feed trough

It wasn't too long before I found a 2 year old Jersey with a 4 week old steer calf only a few hours from here. The owner was willing to deliver as part of the price (as he was also delivering another heifer that day on the way here). So we had our deadline of fences to fix, an electric fence to connect and a four room stable to clean out. I am so very grateful to my hard working, supportive husband who put his every spare minute into getting it all done. I did try to help when I could, but he did the brunt of the work.

Bessie arrived on Saturday with her little calf. She was rather nervous and it took a few days for her to warm to us. She was huge to me, and as someone who has not really been around cattle before, her sheer size has taken some getting used to. Since she wasn't milked daily she had been fine with just the calf to milk her. Which was just as well because it took the good part of a week to build the milking bails in the stable. I had spent several days morning and evening training her to follow the bucket to what would be the milking room in the stable. Now she is waiting for me at the gate.  I've been giving her a good brush daily so I think she is warming to me.

We had decided on once a day milking, which means leaving the calf with mum during the day and then separating the two at night. Then milking in the morning. A little more do-able with a busy family life than twice day milking. I was a little nervous about this whole separating procedure, as the calf is very shy, and cows can be protective. But I need not have worried, as Daniel has proved to be quite the expert calf herder.

Once the milk bails were in we started the milking. First time was as bad I had expected it to be. Bessie was not in a good mood after being separated from her calf. She didn't want to go in the bails until her appetite got the better of her. She fought a little at the beginning and end to get her head out, and tried to kick several times, fortunately we had a leg tie on her, but I do think some of the kicking was actually because of the leg rope.

We'd never milked before, but with plenty of you tube videos under our belt it did not take too long to pick up. Oh, but the sore hands! And short teats. Not to mention how daunting it is sitting under a large animal.

We alternated milking those first few days,with one taking over when the other got too sore. I was so scared of being kicked at first, that I sat as far back as possible. Apparently that is actually more dangerous! So I get right in now, despite my natural apprehension. We've been consistently getting about 3 litres each milking, ending either because Bessie has finished her food and wants to get out, or because our hands are too sore. Usually both. It's been 4 days now, and each day has been easier. It is just a matter of learning the new routine, getting Bessie into that routine and building up those hand muscles. Thankfully the kicking has stopped. But I do suspect that Bessie is withholding a lot of that cream for the calf.

So it has been a bit of a wild ride, but it is something I am glad that we have done. There is an enormous sense of satisfaction in straining out that raw milk ever morning. I never knew a cow could make your life feel more complete, but it really does. They are not only gentle, beautiful animals, but they are also very useful in a practical sense. Years ago I would never have thought in a million years that I would be milking a cow every morning. But here we are.

Life is short. Get a cow.
(Just a little quote I stumbled upon)