Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spring Chevre!!!

It was so much fun giving out samples at the Corvallis Farmers Market yesterday, April 23.  Even folks familiar with our cheese tasted something new and special.  Spring Chevre! So FRESH!  Kind of lemony or citrusy.... The tasty spring grasses they are eating contribute to their production and the taste.  Huge bulging udders are full to bursting with the best milk of the year which is giving us the best cheese of the year, in my opinion.  I like it all, but I LOVE it in April, May and June.  Check out our website for a list of Farmers Markets where you can find us.  Opening dates for each appear there also.  Come try this cheese while it's so so so good!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rockin the muuuuuuud!

 Peaches on a new layer of crushed gravel outside the dairy:  Photo by David Lygren

The mud is drying out and we're taking advantage of the sun to bring in truckloads of crushed gravel:  almost ten tons so far (sub 1" crushed rock @ $8 per ton) and SO worth it.  The entrance road to the Alsea Quarry is about 1/4 mile away from the farm.   Old rusting dump beds and the skeletons of giant loaders line the sides of the steep one lane gravel road to the crest of the hill.  The giant scale, just up the hill from the crusher, gives us the vehicle weight.  Then we circle around and chug our big Beastly Flatbed back to where the looming black and gray pyramids of crushed rock dwarf the biggest yellow front end loader I've ever seen.  This is not my first time at the Quarry.... I know where to park so the loader can maneuver.... I'm familiar with the pantomime that lets the operator know to keep it coming... "yes, we really DO need THAT much!"  I don't think he sees many women driving up there for rock, however, the crusher and scale are "womaned" by a nice blond lady.  We drive back to the scale and get our weight slip from her.  Crinkled, damp, pink weight slips from the Quarry clipped to the visor of the Beastly Flatbed are sure signs of Spring every year.

We are about 1/2 done but it's always a temptation to stop putting down gravel once the weather turns and the ground begins to dry out.  If we do that though, we're sorry in the fall.  Do it now and keep at it till it's done.  About every other year we really go to town on it, putting gravel down in the area between the two barns, around the dairy, all the way out the driveway, around the backyard firepit and on all the paths.  In the goats area, we dig out the mud at all the gates and replace this with gravel.  The more it's walked on, the more the gravel just sinks and disappears.  Wherever a vehicle might be likely to be brought in for barn cleaning or hay delivery we both dig out the top few inches of broken down goat poop, and then top it with a few inches of rock.  In the worst weather, we only sink a few inches before our boots hit the rock underneath.  David will take the uneaten stemmy hay from the feeders and spread it into the worst of the mud so that we are walking on top of a layer of wet adobe consistency.  But since we're doing the gravel anyway, we make a path out to the field so that the kids, venturing out with the Moms, are out of the mud.  Once they are in the lush green field, they run, jump on their stumps, or curl up next to Mom for a nap in the sunshine.

Composted manure and bedding, newly piled on all the flower beds and greenhouse beds.... dark, earthy, black, full of worms.... and the new solid grey expanse of gravel.... the lush green of all the growing things.... the cheery color of the Spring flowers..... the healthy goats enjoying the Sun.....  the SUN!!!!! Oh my, the Sun makes the farm look SO good! 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Feta and Spinach Omelette

Photo by David Lygren

Our chickens are laying again after their winter break.  Some people get rid of their hens after a year or two, because production goes down as they age.  But we're only in it for family eggs and to give away to visitors so we keep our chickens for several years beyond what is recommended.  As you can see, their eggs are still lovely and we get LOTS of them.  So, eating seasonally, we eat lots of them too!  Here's one of our spring favorites.

Serves 2-4
  • 1 bunch spinach, washed and chopped
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • any seasonal veggies you want to add (including leftovers)
  • 5 - 10 eggs
  • milk as needed, added to eggs
  •  6 oz crumbled Feta
  • 1 tablespoon good quality oil
  • salt and pepper (very little or no salt needed, the feta is salty)
  • 4 oz water
  • In large, flat pan, saute spinach, onion, seasonal veggies in oil. Medium heat. Remove from pan and set aside. (Keep a bit of fresh chopped spinach aside to use as a garnish).  
     Pour egg/milk mixture into same pan, turning heat to lowest setting.  As eggs begin to cook, gently lift edges and drizzle water so that it goes under the cooking egg.  Do this around entire perimeter of the omelette.  It will bubble and lift eggs a bit, keeping the surface of the eggs from browning.  
     Add cooked veggies and 3 oz crumbled Feta down the middle of the cooking eggs. Gently fold sides of omelette over the veggies and cheese.  Advanced skills:  turn the entire thing over for an additional 30 seconds before dividing and sliding servings onto serving plates.  
    Garnish with finely chopped fresh spinach and remaining crumbled Feta.   
    Enjoy with toasted fresh bread and jam.  Since we don't go to town to shop when we don't have to, we have homemade bread alot topped with a variety of jams that we make and preserve.  This is simple but different each time you make it and oh so good.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pooties Get FIXED!!!!

Photos by David Lygren

As long as we've had this farm, we've had litters of kittens magically appear in our hay lofts.  All the houses up and down the road have feral cats and our barns are the biggest kitty magnets on the entire road.  It's where I would want to have my secret litter of pooties in privacy and safety so I can see why they choose it, but still, it's always made me feel very guilty.  We try to catch the ones we can, give them a home or find them a home, get them used to humans and get them fixed.  David moved a ton of hay this winter to find one crying Pootie.  It was totally black.  We had fun with it in the house for a month and then gave it to David's Mother for Christmas.  It's name is Diablo and he's fixed.

But sometimes the moms will move them and we never see them again.  We suspect that owls get many of the babies and that coyotes get many of the juveniles.  The survivors will sometimes become the next generation of feral cats.  Left behind tiny kitties will sometimes sense that we are their lifeline and will make their way over to the milking parlor, attracted by hunger, the smell of milk and the hum of activity.  Abandoned kitties do really well on goats milk and we've saved and found homes for quite a few that way.

When we can catch them, we get them fixed.  We were on top of it for awhile, but we missed one.  And it was a she.  And so on... now David was feeding four of them every day and only two could be handled and only one of those was fixed.  The wild female was one of the four. 

The County Animal Control Officer drove out to Alsea to post a notice last week.  The Humane Society was having a Snip and Spay clinic.  I drove into town, spoke with them and rented a trap.  I wasn't sure at all that I could catch the wild ones and was pretty sure I would catch the tame ones over and over again.  However, the one that's fixed and tame hasn't been seen in a week or so.  The other tame one (in the photo above with Peaches the dog) let me scoop him up and take him to the house for a day.  And with the help of some very lovely sardines, I caught both the other two within minutes of setting out the trap.  In anticipation of this event, David hadn't fed them in a few days and the sardines were irresistable!

Getting the wild cats from the live trap into a large pet crate was fun.  They did not like ME at all!  We kept them in the crate with food, water and a litter pan, signed up all three online and for good measure, signed up last years loft kitty that my son had living with him.  It came from our barn after all, so we felt responsible.

Now they are all done. DONE DONE DONE!  No fertile cats living in our barn!  None!  WooHoo!!!  Thank you Humane Society.  Thank you Animal Control Officer.  Thank you David for helping me with all the really hard parts of this adventure.  The vets did say these were some of the healthiest feral cats they had seen.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"What do you do with the baby goats?" and the start of milking chores

One of the FAQ at the markets:  "What do you do with the baby goats?"

Well, we raise most of the females as replacement milkers.  This is David's pet project.  He's so watchful of them and so proud of how nice they look as they grow and mature.  He spends time inventing and perfecting feeders, mineral stations, accessible clean water containers.  When they are all thriving he takes so much pleasure in it.  Hes the source of their grain too so it's so funny to look out the window at skinny, 6'4" David, decked out in his Carharts and boots, getting their grain pans ready and walking out with them raised over his head, swiftly dropping them in multiple locations so that they don't mob the first pan and trample the smaller, weaker kids.  In David's universe, they ALL get grain, even the little ones.  In THEIR world, he's the source of their bliss and they stand in a group at the fence, all intently watching his every move.  Often, when they are eating grain, he'll sit close by on an upturned bucket and rub them, scratch them, stroke their necks and backs, getting them used to touch.  A little goat massage and they LOVE it. 

Starting out with 20 doe kids, we might lose a few at various stages, we might decide to reduce the numbers (cull) at various stages, selling the least thrifty, one or two might not breed or might have temperaments not suited to milking, and even the ones that breed don't give much the first season... so starting out with 20 doe kids, we might end up with three or four really good 2nd fresheners that are great producers by the time they are two, and a few more by the time they are three.  That's a lot of time to put into them before we know how good they are...

If we have an abundance of doe kids, we sell a few of them in the spring, mostly because at that point we REALLY need the cash.  This year we had mostly buck kids so we are keeping every girl.  We always sell the boys..... neutered.... within a few weeks of birth.  People buy them and bottle raise them.  They become pets, or pack goats, or grazers for hire, or meat animals.  We could keep them for several months and raise them to be meat goats but that's not our prime focus.  Besides, by the time they were big enough to eat, they'd have drunk enough milk to make a thousand dollars worth of cheese.  We do keep the doe kids on the Moms until they are weaned and don't get much milk from any but the biggest producers during that time.  All the work of milking and feeding but not much reward except for beautiful kids.

Even though we raise healthy kids for sale, and even though buyers are screened to make sure they possess the knowledge, facilities and temperaments to raise them with care... the day we sell the goats is one of the worst on the farm.  I feel like Cruella DeVille..... the moms walk around for about a day, looking for their kids, bleating, looking at us with this "Where are they?" look.  That's what's happening this week.  We sold 20 little fixed males to one buyer and gave another eight to families with children wanting to raise pets and learn about goats.  All the buyers are thrilled with the quality and health of the kids and we always include a bottle, a little milk, lots of advice and a phone number to call if they have any questions.  I know we're a dairy/cheese business, not a boy goat business.... still.... my heart breaks for the mamas.  Goats love routines and within two days the routine of twice daily milking and the intake of grain that goes with that, and the chance to graze all day on the best pasture of the year takes over and they seem to be perfectly happy again.

The exodus of the kids means we have lots of new moms with very full udders.  We fired up the milking equipment today and did our first full on milking of thirty six does.  Our milking crew is three great women who divvy up 14 shifts a week and who have all worked here for years and who all LOVE the goats.  Michelle worked for hours the other day scrubbing the mud out of the open sided milk area, knowing that for the next few weeks we will all continue to trudge in MORE mud until things dry out.  Linda, Michelle and I all cleaned and organized, cleaning the winter crud and cobwebs out of the milk room and the cheese kitchen while we got the goats milked on the pipeline for the first time this year.  Rose has been cleaning and scrubbing dormant coolers in prep for starting cheese production and rejuvenating market coolers, tables and plastic trays that have been stored all winter in advance of the start of the markets.  During market season, Rose, Linda and Michelle all work in the kitchen too, getting cheese flavored, packed and labeled for the markets.  Rose is learning to sell cheese at markets too and really likes the interaction.  Linda and Michelle prefer to stay in the Valley, closer to home so they focus on the farm.  I make the cheese and develop the flavors.  I sell at markets, manage all the markets, manage sales to chefs and retail accounts and make sure everyone else has all the supplies they need to do their jobs.  I also do the banking, pay the bills and arrange for repairs.

I'm so tired but it feels so good to get it all going again and so fun to work with these women again.  This morning we were all cooing to the mamas as they came in to be milked.  Thankfully the milking system ran great after the winter repairs.  Another reason there were three of us there instead of the usual one person is that if the milking system HADN'T worked, we would have had to milk all those does by hand.  I was supposed to help Rose with the evening milking but she had it all handled and I fell asleep instead... I had been up and going since 5 am so I guess that's allowed...