A day on the farm and some reading material

Boss cow - Always the first into the dairy shed

Back to blogging after a couple of weeks of running the farm while dad took a much needed break. The farm is pretty busy at this time of the year, especially when there is only one person working. To give you an idea, a day on the farm during summer usually includes: milking 75 cows twice a day, shifting and maintaining pasture irrigation, checking Springers (pregnant cows/heifers) and sometimes assisting during difficult labours, feeding young heifers and springers, shifting electric fences (part of our strip grazing pasture management strategy – ensures the pasture receives a break from grazing pressure, which aids in pasture growth, reduces disease risk, reduces the risk of compaction, etc), checking cattle in the hill country, grinding grain (mixed with essential minerals and fed during milking to ensure the cows remain healthy), washing milk vats, a quick swim in the river 🙂 and finally feeding the working dogs. The days are long but also very rewarding and every day seems to bring something new.

After arriving home I thought I would share with you some of the Agricultural reading material that I have read and referred to for different farming ideas, strategies and inspiration.

Some of my helpful resources

1. Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan) – An interesting read based around three food systems. Factory farming, Pasture/community based agriculture and hunter gathering. Think, Food inc. the movie.

2. In My Experience, Malabar Farm, Pleasant Valley, Out of the Earth (not seen) (Louis Bromfield) – Written in the 40’s & 50’s these books are still very relevant and describe agriculture, nature, communities and farming with passion, intelligence and optimism. The style they are written in makes them easy to read and I cannot recommend them highly enough. (Pleasant Valley is a good book to start on).

3. Home Cheese Making (Ricki Carroll), The Home Creamery (Kathy Farrell-Kingsley), Home Dairy (Ashley English) – These three books are great guides for making dairy products. The home creamery is a really simple book, while Ricki Carroll’s book is a good start for cheese making, Ashley English’ has produced a nice in-between book that is great for simple dairy products and cheeses. (Remember, these are American books including Imperial US measurements. For any Australian’s interested, I would go for Home cheese making by Neil & Carole Willman. Tip: If you live in Australia try this site for your cheese making ingredients, I have found it to be very price competitive and the postage is quick).

4. The Biological Farmer, Advancing Biological Farming (Gary Zimmer) – Modern day, in depth and very informative books, great for those interested in a practical view about managing soils and animals in a way that is sustainable, high yielding and efficient. Highly recommended for those involved in dairy/cropping or higher intensity/input type farming.

5. Agriculture in transition, From The Soil Up (Donald Schriefer) – Great books for understanding more about the soil and its elements. I would probably just purchase From The Soil Up. Note: This is probably more suited to farmers/gardeners who use tillage as a tool.

6. Eco-Farm (Charles Walters) – A great book covering just about everything to do with farm management, from animal health to insects, crops, the lie of the land, soils, nutrients etc.

7. The Weather Makers, Here On Earth (Tim Flannery) – Two very good books, which discuss climate change, envirnomental history and the science behind the situation we find ourselves in today. Written by a renown Australian Scientist these two books are easy to read and provide compelling information about why our climate is changing.

8. Agroecosystem Sustainability (Steven Gliessman) – A book based heavily on ecological Agricultural case studies from around the globe. This was a book prescribed for one of my university subjects, however it is very interesting to see how different communities and farmers, especially in third world areas have adapted and created sustainable food systems with the little resources they have access to.

9. Family Friendly Farming (not seen), You Can Farm, Pastured Poultry Profits (Joel Salatin) – Brilliant books to read. If you have never seen Joel Salatin speak about their farm “Polyface” in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley I strongly suggest that you check out Food inc the movie or YouTube some clips. This food production system makes sense, especially if you only have a small amount of land. For all those young or old farmers out there with a wealth of Agricultural experience don’t let the title “You Can Farm” put you off, as there are many good chapters in the book about economically introducing enterprises into your farm business, while increasing your return per acre/hectare, improving your soil health and increasing the viability of farming on small acreage.

10. The Farmstead Creamery Advisor (Gianaclis Caldwell) – A relatively new book (2010) that leads your through creating a successful home dairy/cheese business. A great read if you are considering starting your own dairy business or simply looking to  add value onto your existing operation. Again, this is an American book so some things such as, legislation, regulations and sizing will be different from your country if reading from outside the US.

11. Assorted gardening and self sufficiency books – Always handy to have on the shelf for quick reference on what/when to grow, how to make/preserve various products or quick guides for identifying fruit/veg pests.

There are many other great authors and publications out there on sustainable Agriculture (Sir Albert Howard, Rudolf Steiner, Wendell Berry, Merck Vet Manual, Acres Australia Newspaper, etc, etc) many of which I have skipped. However, I hope to have given you a look into some of whats out there, as I feel that reading different publications about farming can greatly improve the way in which we think and act on our own farm business. Often there will be ideas or systems that we don’t agree with or simply cant implement due to the climate, region or country that we live in. However, without a broad knowledge of what other people are doing out there it is all too easy to become stuck in old ways or taken along with the ‘newest’ quick fix product. Old, tried and true ways handed down through the generations are often very important, especially in farming, but I think it is also important that we progress and work towards more efficient farming methods. This does not necessarily mean buying the latest machinery item or upgrading the dairy but rather thinking more about how and why we do things on the farm. Either way, many of these books have motivated and inspired me to approach farming and Agriculture in positive ways rather than with pessimism. I think that modern day Agriculture is all too often pessimistic, which gives consumers a negative outlook on farming and sends the sons and daughters of farmers towards a life in the city. Lets start thinking positively and sensibly about how we can encourage young farmers and feed a growing world population.

Sunset on the farm

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Dairy – Yoghurt & Quark

Heavy based pots help with heat distribution

Many of the soft, un-aged cheeses and dairy products are very easy to make. Yoghurt is one that is particularly easy. Yoghurt is produced by adding a yoghurt culture to milk, which can come in either a packet form or you can use store bought, living culture yoghurt. The introduction of yoghurt culture leads to the bacterial fermentation of the lactose in milk, which then reacts and leads to the production of lactic acid. Lactic acid is what gives the final product its tangy flavour and lumpy characteristics. Buying a commercial yoghurt maker is a good idea if you are going to make a lot of yoghurt as it regulates the yoghurt to the correct temperature throughout the incubation period, however I will explain another option.

Yoghurt

1. I used 1L of whole store-bought milk and 1/4 cup of store bought yoghurt which contained living cultures for my first batch and it turned out well. It is a very cost effective way to make yoghurt as you only need a small amount of bought yoghurt to culture milk.

Adding yoghurt culture using store bought yoghurt

2. Firstly heat and stir your milk to 85°C (185°F). A heavy bottomed pot is ideal for this purpose as it will reduce the risk of scalding your milk.

3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to about 45°C (113°F) before adding 1/4 Cup of yoghurt (containing live cultures), this will ensure the bacteria have ideal conditions to function.

4. Place the mixture into your yoghurt maker or an insulated cooler with a few jars of hot water and leave for roughly 8-12 hrs (depending on how tart you would like the yoghurt) I found that 10hrs in a commercial maker produced good results.

5. Turn the yoghurt maker off and allow the yoghurt to cool a little before refrigerating.

Breakfast time tastes so much better 🙂

Quark

Quark is an unripened German cheese that is similar in consistency to sour cream. The Quark I made contains nothing but buttermilk and has quite a bland, and at the same time refreshing taste. Quark is hard to find in Australia therefore it usually has to be home-made, which is very easy as it requires no additional ingredients (rennet, etc). Some dairy producers, mainly in eastern Europe, do add a small amount of rennet to make a firmer quark, however the German Quark is usually smoother and creamier. Note: to make Quark from store bought pasteurised milk you must add a live buttermilk culture to your buttermilk or see my earlier post on making your own buttermilk.

The process

Fresh Quark can be a nice substitute for sour cream

1. Start with 2 L (2 Quartz) of buttermilk from the butter making process or homemade buttermilk (I used 1L for my first batch and it only made a small amount of Quark so I suggest that if you can, use 2L).

2. Pour the buttermilk into a ceramic, oven-safe pot and place in an oven for 24 hours. The oven will not be turned on, however if you can keep the pilot light on it will help to maintain an ideal temperature for the Quark. Because I don’t have a pilot light on my oven I placed the Quark into my yoghurt maker for about 12 hours, which produced good results.

3. Strain off the liquid through a double layer of butter muslin lining a colander. Wrap the sides over the Quark to cover the top and let drain for over 2 hours and under 6. Place a small plate on top of the Quark to encourage drainage of the whey.

4. The whey can be used for cooking, watering your plants or feeding the cat :). Refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Sniffing out the whey

Dairy – Butter and Buttermilk

We took a drive to the farm a few days ago and picked up about 7 Litres of creamy milk straight from the dairy vat. The milk was carted home in an icebox (simple insulated cool box) with the milk bottles surrounded by ice and the temperature measured on arrival. This was crucial to ensure that the temperature would not rise above 5°C (41°F), which would allow harmful bacteria to develop. I wanted to start with a couple of simple products at first, with the eventual aim at making hard cheese in the future. I chose Kefir (see earlier post), Buttermilk, Quark, Buttermilk pot cheese, Yoghurt and Butter for the first recipes. I must give credit to the author Kathy Farrell-Kingsley and her book ‘The Home Creamery’ as I got many great ideas from her recipes, some of which I heavily relied on.

Cleanliness is the key to success

Cleanliness

It is always important to be extremely clean when working with hazardous foods, such as raw meat or dairy. All utensils should ideally be sterilized and if this is not possible they should at least be washed in very hot, soapy water, rinsed with hot water and air dried on a clean surface. A quick note on equipment: Try to avoid using aluminium cooking equipment as it can taint the cheeses/dairy products. You will need a milk thermometer, assorted bowls, strainers and general kitchen wear. I have found that a kitchen food processor is extremely efficient in churning cream into butter, however you can hand churn or use a food mixer with spinning beaters. The NSW food authority here in Australia has guidelines for using the 4 hour/ 2 hour rule for food temperature control, which is a very useful resource.

Separating cream from milk

5L 'separator' container

The great thing about raw, unhomogenized milk is that you can do so much with it. You can make butter and buttermilk from the separated cream, which in turn makes various cheeses and cultured dairy products, you can drink, make yoghurt, Kefir and other low fat dairy products from the separated milk and all without destroying beneficial bacteria, which is often removed during commercial milk processing procedures. With a little effort and attention to food hygiene the benefits are numerous.

The first thing for me to do in making my dairy products was to separate the milk from the cream. I ended up finding a really simple 5L (a little over 1 Gallon) plastic, food grade container with one screw on tap and one sealed cap. This container was cheap and allowed me to collect 5L of milk, which would sit in the fridge for roughly 12 hrs, allowing the cream to rise to the top of the milk. Because I collected 5L of creamy milk from the top of the still vat (not stirred) I only ended up with about 3cm of milk in the bottom of the container, allowing me to make lots of butter for freezing.

Caution: If you are lucky enough to have access to raw milk you must be particularly vigilant with handling it to ensure that bacteria such as E. Coli and Salmonella are not given an environment in which they can function. Having said this it is quite easy to do, as long you are 110% sure that the livestock you are receiving the milk from are healthy and the farmer has adequate dairy wash-up procedures in place. HOWEVER, I am not condoning the sale or use of raw milk because I don’t want to be held responsible for any issues surrounding this product, I am simply showing you why I use and like it. I grew up drinking raw cows milk right up until leaving home, when it was no longer practical to go back and collect some and I never once got sick from it. For more information about raw milk Raw-milk-facts is a great website that states the facts without all the extreme opinions which often surround this simple product.

Butter

Unhomogenized milk and cream contains very small globules within its structure. These globules have membranes, which contain proteins and fatty acid emulsifiers (phospholipids). These membranes prevent the fats in milk from sticking together. When we churn the cream, the membranes are damaged or destroyed and the fats are able to stick together and separate from other parts of the cream, hence producing butter and buttermilk.

Modern day household butter churn

1. Pour the cream off the milk from the tapped container, the cream can then be placed in a sturdy container and left on a benchtop or surrounded by warm water until it reaches 15°C (60°F), this will ensure that the cream will churn into butter. At this point you can simply place the cream into the food processor (750ml into a 2L food processor bowl) and whir on low speed for 5-6 minute or until the buttermilk has separated from the butter. It is really that simple, but wait there’s more.

2. Strain the butter from the buttermilk (you may want to save the buttermilk for drinking, cooking, making pot cheese, culturing).

Working the butter

3. Place the butter in a bowl and massage with a very clean spoon until more of the buttermilk drains out. You may like to wash the butter multiple times with some clean water and keep kneading until all water has become clear and completely removed from the butter.

Freshly churned butter

4. I like to scoop the butter into a small container lined with plastic cling film, which molds it into a rectangle, I then wrap the butter and freeze it for later use.

Buttermilk

Buttermilk is traditionally the liquid remains after cream has been churned into butter. However if you need more (as I did) or would like to make buttermilk without churning cream and without buying it from the supermarket you can mix 1 tablespoon of lemon juice OR white vinegar with 1 cup of whole milk, which makes a bit over 1 cup of buttermilk. More on the practical uses of buttermilk later.


A visit to the farm.

'Raelands' Farm

Yesterday Lauren and I drove up to the farm for the day to say hello and to grab some milk. We ended up bringing home nearly 7 Litres of raw milk straight from the dairy vat to make some dairy products. While we were there I had a quick look around for some timber offcuts so that I can soon make a basic cheese press for hard-cheese making. I also had another look at our old hand driven corn cobber that I might use to crack Pecan nuts. We have a great row of Pecans trees that dad planted years ago to shade the cows through summer and they have been bearing well for many seasons now. This season I am going to try and make some honey roasted pecans, maple syrup roasted pecans and maybe some pecan pies before the white cockatoos eat them all.

On the way home we dropped in to say hi to my grandmother who, at 90 years of age is still very sharp with her memory. We ended up having an interesting conversation about how they used to preserve all of their fruit for the year (mostly peaces, plums and citrus) either whole, halved or as a syrup for re-mixing with water to make refreshing summer drinks.

Green green grass

My grandfather apparently grew some amazing peach trees, with huge fruit that would ripen prior to the fruit fly season, which meant that Granny would peel and preserve peaches until she “felt like one”, as she put it. Its funny because when I was a kid I remember granny would often offer peaches and ice cream for desert, even after the days of canning had long gone. Growing food seemed to be very diverse in those days. Every household had a canning/preserving kit and would grow many different fruits and vegetables, and a variety of different animals. Long rows of peas were often grown down on the river flats and my ancestors would walk down on dusk with the children and pick peas with some of the other neighboring farmers. This would of course result in shelling peas “until you felt like one”. Some of this connectedness with our food has seemingly been lost, even to farmers, who grow things for a living. Maybe this is because it was done more out of necessity back then. Maybe it was done because you couldn’t buy as many items in the supermarket, whereas now you can. What ever the reason I think it needs to start shifting back the other way because relying on a single or a couple of bulk commodities leaves the farmer at the mercy of the market, whether driven by fluctuations in market demand or just greedy price givers determining how much profit they should make.

'Tubby'

Another result of this loss in diversity may be the subsequent reduction in small farms due to the industrialization of food production. It no longer seems as viable for the small farm, whereas many years ago the small farm was the back-bone of a community (in our case). Since a de-regulated dairy production system was put in place in the year 2000 we now have 2 dairy farms along our road. In 1995 there were 14. Some may say this was necessary, however, it has had a profound effect on our dairy farming community, which now seems driven by economies of scale and a few large producers. This in itself leads to environmental and animal welfare issues, where maximum production is a primary goal for many diary farms. This is not because the farmer is greedy or wants to push animals to the limit but rather the demand by price givers and a growing population wanting milk year round and lots of it. We have forgotten to eat seasonally. Cows produce less milk during winter, fruits and vegetables grow in the seasons they are suited to, chickens lay fewer and smaller eggs during winter and somehow we feel the need to alter this for the purpose of everyone wanting all foods year round. I think the growing popularity of farmers markets here in Australia will see more and more seasonal produce offered to consumers and there is a real connection and education with growers and consumers alike. Change is happening.

Dusk

Dairy – Kefir

Kefir (pronounced Ke-fear) Ingredients. The green stick is an airlock for the culture sachet.

Kefir is a probiotic, fermented milk drink. Sounds kind of gross doesn’t it, but it is supposedly one of the healthiest cultured dairy products that we can make in our kitchen. Kefir originated in the Caucasus mountains in Russia where shepherds carrying fresh milk in their leather pouches would occasionally find a fermented beverage after their days work. It is prepared by inoculating milk with Kefir grains (small tapioca like grains that grow and produce additional grains during fermentation). Traditional Kefir was made in skin bags, hung over a door way and purposely knocked by passers-by to help with the fermentation process.

Let sit at room temp, in a dark place/dark containers for 24-36 hrs

The Process

I decided to start making Kefir with a Kefir culture rather than Kefir grains. The culture also reproduces and can be used up to 3 times per packet/half packet, etc.  I plan to use Kefir grains in the future to give the traditional way a go.

Note: All utensils should be very clean before use. That means either sterilized or washed in hot water with detergent before air drying.

1. Obtain Kefir grains or Kefir culture sachets.

2. Stir in the culture to the recommended rate or 1/4 cup of Kefir grains to 2 cups of milk.

3. Leave covered in a dark spot or a dark jar for 24-36 hrs at room temp depending on how strong you would like your Kefir. At the end of this time your drink should be thick and some whey may be present on the surface (just stir it back in).

Straining the thicker Kefir off for re-culturing.

4. I strained the kefir through a fine strainer to catch about 1/3 cup of thicker Kefir culture to re-culture the next batch.

5. Pour your Kefir into a clean/sterilized container and refrigerate for 12hrs before consuming. I used some old spice bottles (see photo) so we can have a small Kefir ‘shot’ each day. Mmmmm 🙂

Half a litre of Kefir was made for the first batch, but I found that 1 litre would have been better so I just used the thick Kefir that I collected and added it to another 1/2 litre of milk. It ended up re-culturing well (I kind of wasn’t expecting it to work) and it should be ok to use once more.

Re-using spice bottles for Kefir 'shots'.