Please join me as I take you into my farmyard, kitchen, milking parlor and pasture. These are the trials, tribulations and acquired wisdom of a "green as a cucumber" farmwife.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sourdough, Gluten-Free Pancakes

This morning my pancake skills hit mastery, it was determined by the mouths at the breakfast table (so it must be true!). So I thought it is time to do a post.

The recipe I use is adapted from The Complete Idiots Guide to Fermenting Foods, by Wardeh Harmon. She uses whole-wheat flour in her recipe for Alaska Pancakes, but a few of us in our house are gluten-intolerant, so we use a gluten-free flour alternative, and to my delight, they turn out fluffy, crispy, and divine!

Here is the recipe I use:

GF, Sourdough, Alaska Pancakes
(Blueberries optional, but highly recommended)

4 TB. melted butter

lard or butter to grease the skillet
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 TB. maple syrup, plus more for serving
2 cups sourdough starter, fed within the last 12 hours * see below for instructions
2 tsp. baking soda

1. Heat a large cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-low heat, and melt lard or butter to grease.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together melted butter, egg, salt, vanilla, maple syrup, and soda. Pour in sourdough starter and whisk well. 

3. Cook until bubbly in the center and slightly liquid in the middle, about 3-4 minutes. (Halfway through cooking is a good time to add the blueberries in, I like to "chuck or fling" them in so they sink a bit down into the pancake).

4. Make sure the top oven rack is not in the top position. Turn on the oven broiler to low. Transfer the skillets to the oven to finish cooking (or put pancakes on a cookie sheet or plate in the oven), about 3 minutes or until the top is browned and pancaked are cooked throughout.Transfer to plate or cooling rack.

5. Serve with butter, maple syrup, or your favorite topping. Leftovers store very well in the refrigerator or freezer for a few weeks. These reheat beautifully in the toaster.

I usually double or triple the batch to keep a stock in the freezer, then pull them out out for a quick breakfast, or PB&J snack. I have also made little pancakes which serve as a wonderful vehicle for cream cheese or creme fraiche, smoked salmon or roe, and diced green onions- delicious!

How to Make a Gluten-Free Sourdough

First you need to find a starter. I would recommend ordering either the Rye or Spelt Starter from Cultures for Health. Follow the instructions to keep a perpetual starter, and share with friends in case your starter has a fatality and you need to start over (it happens!).

You can use a number of flour blends, or get grains to grind your own flour. This is what we do. I have a grain grinding attachment on my Kitchen Aid mixer that works beautifully (as long as my family is not in the house because it is so loud!). I grind a mixture of spelt, rye, kamut, and buckwheat. Now remember me saying I was terribly gluten-intolerant?- this blend gives me no trouble at all. Kamut and rye have small amounts of gluten in them, but as long as I ferment them for 12 hours or longer I am fine. Alternative grains and blend to use if you cannot tolerate any gluten at all, spelt, brown rice, almond, buckwheat...(you may want to look at ordering the Brown Rice Starter if you choose some of these grain blends).

I grind the grain the afternoon before cooking pancakes, then mix with water and sourdough starter, cover and let sit overnight. Then I have a nice, soured starter to use in the Alaska Pancake recipe.

Thank you to Rebekah Mocerino for turning me onto this recipe, and for Sherry Foth for (continually) sharing her sourdough starter with me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This Blog- Good Enough is Perfect

Hello Readers-

I wanted to establish an understanding about the quality, honesty, and salt-of-the-earthiness of this blog.

Allow me to lay the framework, beginning with the fact that I have a 2 year old- boy, who is now potty training! If that isn't enough said to paint the picture that life can be crazy, throw in that my husband is starting 2 businesses, we are in the process of transitioning to our first-owned home (in January, in Montana), I am getting certified as a yoga instructor, and volunteer as a co-chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation. Traditional homemaking is already a full-time job, especially with livestock chores to keep up with, and a hungry family to feed and keep reasonably well groomed.

So with that understanding you can feel warned that this blog will not have consistent posts, perfectly staged, professional photos, 100 edits/post, and a great deal of fuss and hub-bub. You can be sure to get a real honest picture of what this life is like. There will be chicken poop in the pasture, grease on the counter, blueberries stains from breakfast on my sons cheeks, and the occasional fly on the window. Let's be honest about the reality of things, us homemakers are busy and cannot keep a perfect, sparkling house all the time. I would like to look back at the end of my life and think that I loved my family, lived my best, and showed gratitude for my life and gifts it gave, not think, "I should've kept my floors cleaner"! In our house, the floors get a good sweep and vacuum twice a week, and get the mop every other week. Our windows get cleaned once a year, and the counter tops get wiped down once a day. The boy gets tossed in the bath a few times a week, and we do our best to keep the laundry pile form taking on a life of it's own.

We do however always keep up with the important things. The family never goes hungry. We always cook a nice breakfast, sit down and eat it together. We always take the time to say good morning, good night, and make sure we spend time together as a family at least one day a week. We keep up with our spiritual practice, and stay on nodding terms with God. We feed the animals well, and give them good mineral. We pet the dog, and the cats. We watch sunrises, and sunsets as often as possible. And this is our life, where good enough is perfect. There, you have been warned.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Milking The Family Cow- Part Two- Calving

This is part of "Milking The Family Cow". So you have already gotten your "equipment"-right? Now let's jump ahead and assume that :
1.) You already have a cow that produces milk
2.) She is to some degree tamed and trained to stand
3.) You either artificially inseminated or exposed her to a bull

A few of these points (like training) will be covered in later posts. So now we are onto calving. The gestation period for a cow is the same as a human, about 9 months. We generally aim to calve in late spring to take advantage of the high vitamin grasses, warmer weather which makes life easier for the calf (and for milking), and because we like to mimic the wild animal cycles like the resident elk and deer.

"Bagging Up" 
When you start to think it might be time for the cow to calve start paying attention to the cow and keep tabs on your intuition. We always get this feeling like the calving happened-but we can never be sure until we see a slick looking calf by Letty's side. When the cow is getting close to calving her udder will start to "bag up" and get full. She will be producing milk, but it is important not to milk her at this point because she has special waxy plugs in her teat orifice that need to remain intact so she doesn't get an infection. If there are other cows in the pasture they may start riding her a day or so before she calves, and she may get acting like she is in heat, the hormones are on high at that point. When she is really close she may hold her tail to the side and walk around a small area of the pasture acting like to she is going to lay down but usually will remain standing. If she does lay down in a very lethargic, sleepy manner this can be a sign of trouble. It is likely that she will refuse feed the day of calving, which is normal. The most important thing is to make sure she has good water nearby, because they will drink a lot after calving.

Picking The Calving Place
If your cow is a good mother, as ours is, and she is healthy, you won't have to pay much attention to calving. The main things to consider is the environment. Make sure she is in a pasture or paddock that is dry, has some shelter or wind block, and there are no unforeseen dangers like dogs, big wire balls, garbage, etc. One year we lost a calf to drowning in a mud puddle, it was a big tragedy so now we are much more careful.
This year we chose a pasture that has lots of willows that the cows like to get under for shade, and shelter. The only problem is the pasture is hummocky, and there were many times last spring where we couldn't find the calf! They are incredibly good at hiding, and sometimes you will about step on them before you seem them.

Wet Behind The Ears
The term "wet behind the ears" comes from calving, because behind the ears is the last place to dry on a newborn calf-in other words brand new! If the breed is strong, the calf should get up and attempt nursing within minutes to a few hours. If the calf is still laying down after 5 or so hours it is time to give a hand. Pick the calf up to it's feet and let it learn to put weight on it's feet. Then walk it over to it's mother and see if there is a natural inclination to nurse. If not, you will have to pry the mouth open and insert a teat. It is very awkward and tiring to do this, but if the calf can stand and has good vitality it will catch on after a time or two of trying. If the calf simply can't nurse, or stand you will need to milk out some colostrum and bottle feed it to the calf (but I'm not going to go into that because healthy, strong, heritage type breeds very seldom have problems).

 Handling the Calf
The calf will instinctually follow it's mother unless the mother "puts" it in hiding. So for the first contact, catch the cow, and lead her to the milking spot. (Ours happens to be the nearest fence post). You may have to help the calf along by walking behind it. In general (unless you are trying to halter break, which you won't do for the first month or two), walk behind the calf. There is a natural instinct for them to walk away from you, and you can usually steer them in the direction you would like them to go. The first few days you won't need to tie the calf up during milking, but soon it will become very frisky, and you don't want it wandering off because the cow will become upset, which will make your job harder.

The Cow- and Hormones!
Similar to us, cows experience many hormones after they calve. This can make them protective, hungry, and very loving.  For the first week or two don't have dogs around during milking, or other things that may make her sensitive. Try to keep things calm, and secure feeling for her. You may see a "wild" look in her eyes after calving, and she will be much more vocal. It is important to make sure you keep the calf right by her side to she stays nice and calm. 
Different cow's udders will look completely different after calving. The one similarity in a milk cow is the udder will be FULL! It will look like it is about to burst, and at times it is! Pay attention to this, and milk as often as necessary- up to 4 times the first 2 days. The udder will be tender and possibly sore. This is a time when kicking, dancing, and moving are common even among the sweetest cows. If you are a mother you will know how she feels. If there is any mastitis or infection the udder will be very tender-  rub colostrum on the whole udder and teat many times a day. 

First Milkings

The first week or two the cow will need to be milked twice a day in order to prevent any trouble in the udder, then you can transition to once a day. The cow will produce colostrum for one to 5 days, and this is pure gold! Be sure you give the calf as much as it needs, but don't waste a drop! This can be drunken fresh, frozen, or made into raw butter for a nutritional powerhouse. The colostrum will be a deep, beautiful gold color, and very creamy and thick. You may find it hard to strain. 

Body Condition, Mineral, and Plant Diversity
A cow that has just calved will have a good body condition but may look sunken from all the mass she lost in her cavity. Especially if you have her on good grass, and it is springtime, her condition will become very good and she may even put some meat back on her ribs and spine. Remember- unless you have a dual purpose breed- milk cows are much more dainty and thin than beef cows- some even call them skinny during certain times of the year.
Access to good mineral, and kelp will help her condition and make rich, wonderful milk. We also give sodium bicarbonate -free choice, and raw apple cider vinegar a few times a year. Giving them pasture with a diversity of plants and shrubs will allow them to self medicate when needed, and keeps them from getting bored. All plants have different properties, willow & tansy are great wormers. I have even heard of people mulching tree branches and feeding them as an additional mineral source- apparently the cows love them.

 Colostrum Butter!
With a little luck, and some TLC, you will have a beautiful, suckling calf in no time. And then you can make colostrum butter! Here is a picture of a batch I made this spring- it lasted all of 3 days in our house! The color in the pic i not enhanced at all, amazing isn't it?! I will post a recipe another time, or you can look it up online.

Please understand- these are just my experiences. If you REALLY want to start milking, calving, etc you will need a lot of help and patience with yourself, and your cow. I wholeheartedly recommend the book, Keeping a Family Cow by Joann S. Grohman.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Do's and Don't for the Red Meat Eater

This post is for those us that love eating meat, and are wondering about the best ways to prepare it.  I fall into that category, and not only do we raise beef, we have lots of it in the freezer. I am always thinking of the healthiest way to prepare beef, lamb, and venison for quick digestion and maximum health benefits.

In order for this post to flow nicely I need to make two assumptions, figuring that if you are reading this blog you are already aware of these two recently historical myths;
1) that red meat (beef, lamb, wild game) is a major contributing factor to heart disease and cancer
2) that red meat is dangerous

Modern science, as well as surveying the diets of traditional societies in radiant health, gives us relief from fear that we are one step closer to death from cancer after each bite of steak. We now know that red meat- if naturally raised, on highly mineralized soils, and eating a pasture-based diet - contains fat soluble vitamins, macro and trace minerals, difficult to obtain vitamins like B12, essential fatty acids like long-chain omega3's, CLA (an anti-cancerous acid), as well as the potential to obtain gelatin, glucosamine, chondroitin, cholesterol, and saturated fats (which help protect our heart, and further the functioning of our organs, nervous system, hormone and glandular system). There are many reasons to include red meat in the diet, but only recently did I fully recognize how important it is to take proper care in preparing this amazing food. When proper care is not given, red meats are difficult to digest, staying in the intestinal tract for long periods. This becomes a prime environment for pathogens and viruses to grow. Also yogis believe that when meat stays in the body for more than 24 hours it releases an acid which blocks the function of the pineal and pituitary gland. When we eat meats we want our digestion to be vigorous and quick, and proper preparation before we eat them is the key.

from Sally Fallon Morell's book, Nourishing Traditions

In lamb, beef, and venison let's assume there are two "cuts", tender and tough. (this is excluding organ meats, bones, etc)

1) The more tender cuts of meat should be eaten rare. This will maintain the most enzyme content, allowing for better digestion.

2) Tougher cuts can be either:
         A) Braised in stock containing gelatin (which contains hydrophilic colloids to facilitate protein      digestion). This method the internal temperature of the meat should not exceed 212 degrees F, as to limit the denaturing of proteins. "(In this case) the enzyme content will be destroyed, but any minerals and amino acids that come out of the meat will be contained in the sauce".
         B) Marinated for 24-48 hours in wine, yogurt, or buttermilk. "This process tenderizes and predigests the meat".

1) Deep frying, or cooking methods that raise the internal temperature above 212 degrees F. "Research indicates that meats subjected to high heats are harder to digest and may even foster the growth of pathogens and viruses in the colon".

2) Grilling (I know this is hard to hear)... "Meat and meat fat that come in contact with open flames synthesize certain highly carcinogenic hydrocarbons. Meat that has been cooked in a pan or in liquid contains very few hydrocarbons in comparison with meat that has been grilled. Your body can deal with these hydrocarbons if it is healthy and not overloaded".
   -If you are inclined to occasionally grill your meats, it is encouraged to eat them with more cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli or Brussels sprouts, and/or lacto-fermented vegetable or relishes (to help neutralize carcinogens in the intestinal tract and provide enzymes for digestion).

Meats that have been "predigested" through long marinating periods in acid mediums give wonderful energy. My favorite way to cook beef liver is after it has marinated in lemon juice for a day or two. Other cured, fermented, or otherwise "predigested" dishes include: Lutefisk (popular for Norwegian holidays), spekemat (brine marinated leg of lamb), corned beef, and of course all of the cured meats like salami, prosciutto, bolognas, and the stranger ones like: sviðasulta (sheeps-head jelly), hrútspungar (pickled ram testicles in loaf form), hákarl (fermented shark meat in little cubes), súr hvalur (fermented whale meat). 

Hope this helps :) Cheers to tender, marinated chuck roast!

Monday, May 7, 2012

More Piggies

Two sows out of three have farrowed, and a total of 8 piglets. How blessed we are! These are wonderful mothers, and love their piggies so much. Looking forward to a fun summer of grazing hogs :)

If you are interested in a breeding pair of Red-Tail Farm Guinea Hogs please email us: kkiesel@gmail.com

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Latest Addition

Here is the latest addition: one little American Guinea Hog piglet! This is our first sow to farrow this Spring. Her name is Easter, and this is her first litter. She had two piglets, and one mysteriously died. Hopefully Easter can keep this piglet, but she sure is in love with it! More sows to farrow, stand by.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Milking the Family Cow - Part One - The Equipment

So you're ready to get yourself a family milk cow? This is so exciting! She will become a part of the family. I am here to share my experiences with you. We love our milk cow more with each passing day, and certainly love the creamy milk she gives us. There is no greater reward from an animal on the farm than with the milk cow. It is a true pleasure and security to have a sweet mama cow in the yard. Our cow, Letty is a Jersey, Guernsey, Angus cross. She is the sweetest cow that ever lived.

Hand Milking v. Machine Milking
You may be asking the question, is it better when keeping a family cow to milk by hand or have a convenient bucket milking machine? It is a good question, and the answer only you can find out from your own preference. My opinion is it is just as much trouble to milk on or two cows by hand as it is to use a machine (washing, connecting, ect), and you will end up with beautiful, strong hands in the process. Also, as you will find out in my next post, if you plan to keep the calf with cow, as I suggest, then it is more convenient to milk by hand.

There are a few essentials that if you are serious about hand milking a cow (or goat or sheep) are very nice investments. Yes, we have all heard the stories from our grandparents, uncles, or whomever, about using an ice cream pail or utility bucket to milk into. I'm hear to tell you, that gets old quick, and is a sure fire way to get dirty or spilt milk, or both.

Milking Bucket
The first item of equipment is a good quality milking bucket, it will become a good friend. There is a large variety available when it comes to quality. My hubby and I started off with a lower quality one (thin steel, rolled edge, handle welded to the sides), and quickly realized we should have opted to the higher shelf version. It's a good idea to stay away from Amazon or eBay for this purchase. Below is a link to a wonderful bucket- easy to clean, and very high quality. This bucket will last a lifetime, or longer. The handle at the bottom is a nice addition, but not necessary. The lid, also nice if you are traveling a long distance from your washing station to the cow (there have been days where we drive to the cow and milk in the pasture tied up to a fence post, or carry the milking buckets in a cart. For these times the lid is good to keep dirt and dust out). If your milking parlor and washing station are near each other the lid is not necessary. Click these links to find buckets from Hamby Dairy Supply:

13 inch bucket w/ handle:

10 inch bucket w/o handle

Storage Tote
It is really nice to have another bucket to pour milk into from the milking bucket. This way, if the cow kicks the milking bucket over, not all is lost. This requires taking several trips between the cow milking and storage bucket as to not get the bucket too full. This particular tote is very nice to pour out of due to the handle at the bottom, and has a strong handle to transport the milk. It comes with a lid that fits tight over the top, which prevents milk from sloshing out in transport, and dust, ect from getting in. This storage bucket holds 5 gallons, but will work for a lot less than that too. You can find this bucket at Caprine Supply, click here.

 Milk Strainer and Filters
This strainer will fit inside the storage tote (not during transport, as the lid won't fit on), and milk can be poured through the strainer into the tote. A corresponding filter will fit under the removable disk to catch any hair or dust that happens to fall into the milking bucket. This can be discarded after each milking. This strainer can be found at Hoegger Supply Co., click here. It is nice to order a few boxes of filters together to get a better deal on shipping. The filters that fit this strainer can be found here.

Washing Bucket, Soap, Wash Cloths
We have a very simple procedure of washing the udder before milking. You will find all sorts of teat dips, teat wipes, spray sanitizers, and doo-dads for cleaning the udder on the dairy websites. Warm, sudsy water and a wash cloth works wonders. We often bring out two wash cloths. We first get off big dirt with a dull curry comb, then dry wipe with a wash cloth to get dust off. Next we use a wet (not sopping) washcloth to wipe teats and udder down. Let the teats dry before applying a salve sparingly to the teats (home-made-type coconut oil based works amazingly, no need for petroleum-based Bag Balm). Do a few squirts into the floor before putting the bucket under the cow. This will clear out the teat orifice of any unwanted debris. And now you can get to business. Follow up on the blog for "Milking the Family Cow - Part Two - Getting 'er Done" to learn how to proceed, and more tips. I may attempt a video as well.

For more information about Milking Sanitation, Milk Cow stuff, and

If you have any intention of keeping a cow I recommend the wonderful book : Keeping A Family Cow by Joanne Grohman

Click here for a great link for those keeping milk cows

Small Dairy is another wonderful resource