17 10 2011

I know my last post was all about venting and feeling sorry for myself. I don’t deny that I go through periods of depression always being so broke here on our little corner of land. But getting it out of my head allows me to look at my “problems” from multiple angles and ruminate on what I wrote and why I felt that way.

This morning I was making myself some breakfast, and while washing down my daily dose of cod liver oil, I had an epiphany. I realized that despite all of our financial woes, the Mr. and I are actually doing pretty well for ourselves. Yes, we don’t have extra money to go shopping, some days we barely have enough gas in the car to get him to school and back. We have no savings and walk a tight rope every day, hoping we aren’t hit with some problem that will cost a lot of money to fix.

But thanks to the fact that we are willing to live simply, and in fact have found quite a bit of joy in living simply, things aren’t all that bad when I really think about it. Sure, almost all of our food comes from WIC and food stamps, but we qualify for those services for a reason: we both paid into the system through years of hard work so that if we ever needed them, they would be there for us.

And here’s another great thing. Because we have food stamps and WIC, we are able to make what little bit of income we do have go so much further. It actually allows us to survive. Most of the time I have to choose to buy animal food over treating myself or the Mr. to something nice, and we have to budget our shopping trips to the thrift store. But we have become so much more resourceful at finding what we need and what we want while maintaining a pretty nice quality of life. We live Occupy Wall Street everyday. We live within our means. We don’t ever use credit. If we can’t afford cash, we choose to do without. Mr. already has a credit union account, and I am going to try to get one this week. It will be more of a challenge for me as I have bad credit from years of poor decision making in my early 20’s.

But back to eating, I really feel like my quality of life revolves around the quality of food I can feed my family and myself. $50 a week for groceries for each of us was hard to adjust to at the beginning. Back in the day when I was a stripper and bringing home hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of dollars a week, I ate pretty darn well. Most of my shopping happened at the local organic co-op or at Whole Paycheck. We drank a lot of beer. We ate… well, actually, we ate pretty much the same. Probably a lot more take-out then we do now, but our cooking style wasn’t much different. We bought more expensive “packaged” and “convenience” food products, which add up quickly.

These days, I usually stick to the perimeter of the grocery store when I do my shopping. We hit the local ethnic grocery store (I freaking LOVE LOVE LOVE 99 Ranch Market) for our meats, as the meat from Safeway or QFC is often rancid within 2 days of bringing it home, and quite overpriced. At the ethnic market, we get fresher animal products (organs, meat and seafood) at a much more reasonable price. We STILL go for the cheaper, tougher cuts of meat unless I am craving steak because we have found that the slower it has to cook, the better it tastes when it is done. I learned how to slow cook chicken so it always comes out tender, juicy and delicious.

We cook from the ground up. Most of the things we eat take time to prepare, so we cook in larger batches and then reheat for a few days. Sunday we made a huge breakfast. We made lacto-fermented blackberry pancakes, with enough batter to sit in the fridge until next week. These come out so delicious! The fermentation process gives them a kind of sourdough flavor that you just don’t get from bisquick. And we made so many extra pancakes that we can just pull some out of the freezer and pop them under the broiler for a couple minutes, and voila! instant hot homemade breakfast.

As I washed my morning dishes, I looked at what I had cooking, and what I had just cooked, and I felt really good about myself. Because we eat so simply and make almost everything from scratch we can afford “luxury” items like cod liver oil so my baby is healthy, organic produce so we aren’t riddled with pesticide residue, and chicken and goat feed so we can have fresh eggs and fresh milk (when the season is right). We stay away from packaged foods, especially anything containing sugar, corn, corn syrup, or high fructose corn syrup. Those things never fill us up, and they cost more than you realize.

We eat a lot of fats, produce and soaked beans and grains, and have meat on the table several nights a week. We never feel like we are going hungry, or have to go without. Because we cook for ourselves, our taste buds aren’t burnt out on too much salt and sugar, so we can actually taste what we are eating.

The next thing we have to do is build up our garden with the fertilizer our animals so graciously provide us with so we can produce our own organic produce and rely on store-bought food even less.

I sincerely hope that all of this good nutrition will mean that my future child will avoid the dental problems that plagued me as a child, such as needing braces due to a malformed jaw, and the dental problems that continue to plague my nieces.

So yeah, some days are hard to cope with mentally. Some days I get caught up in the consumerist woes. But honestly, it isn’t all that bad. And I can take this opportunity of lack of money to retrain myself and develop better spending habits for the days when we won’t be so broke.

Thanks for reading!

Oh, and by the way. I am 41 weeks pregnant as of today. I will post about the birth as soon as it happens and I am able.


Tasting Goats Milk

20 09 2011

I saw this post today at The Prairie Homestead, and it got me thinking about my first experiences with goat milk.

When I first got the goats, I had no plan on ever drinking the milk. Strange, right? Why on earth did I agree to get a herd of DAIRY goats, and not plan on drinking the milk?

I loved milk, I still do. I loved the flavor of whole milk, the rich creamy flavor, how it clung to my palate. I liked cream, I would add heavy cream to my whole milk some days just so it was creamier. I was addicted to store bought cow’s milk. Most of the time, I went out of my way and budget to buy organic milk. I thought it tasted better. Once in a blue moon, I would treat myself to the milk that came in the glass bottles. It wasn’t homogenized, but it was still pasteurized. I felt that being able to poor the cream off into my cup and drink it all at once was decadent. And as a very special, rare treat, I would fork over the cash for some raw cow’s milk, when I could find it.

I hated goat’s milk. I had bought some of the stuff that comes in the 1 quart cardboard containers before, and felt it fell flat in flavor to the rich creamy goodness of cow’s milk. Oh, I just didn’t know any difference. The store bought goat’s milk was awful. It tasted so old, so flat, so cardboardy. How could anyone be willing to drink this? And don’t even get me started on the price of store bought goat’s milk products: cheese, milk, yogurt. Those prices are outrageous.

So knowing how I felt about all of this, I still went ahead and took possession of that herd of goats. M and I milked them together the first couple of weeks. It was a terrible experience. The goats didn’t know us, we didn’t know them. They were in a new and strange place with new, strange people and a new, strange routine.

They came to us with everything the previous owner had been feeding them: 1 musty bale of hay that I thought for sure was straw until they started eating it, and 2 bags of C.O.B. mix.(COB is Corn, Oats, and Barley, with a heavy coat of molasses on it. The corn makes the milk taste funky, which we soon found out.) The previous owner would just catch the goats in no particular order, tie them up one at a time to a fence, and start milking.

The goats were so poorly behaved, most of the milk from that first week M and I were milking them ended up on the ground or down the drain.

The precious little we managed to get from the goats that didn’t get stepped in, kicked, or knocked over had an unforgettable “grassy” flavor. It was repulsive. It tasted like a mouthful of grass from the lawnmower bag. It confirmed everything I had previously though about goat milk: it tasted like shit.

So I started making plans to use the milk to make soap, began down sizing my herd, used up that crappy feed the lady had given us and switched all the goats over to ultra-premium hay and grain. It took me a while to realize I didn’t have to control the goats with grain, but I had to get knocked over and stepped on a few times for that lesson to sink in.

But a miraculous thing started to happen. As the goats got better nutrition and started looking, acting and feeling healthier, as we settled into some semblance of routine and order, as we all got more comfortable with each other, the flavor of that milk began to change. It kept getting sweeter, richer and creamier. It became downright delicious, and pretty soon I realized we hadn’t bought cow’s milk in quite a while. When I realized that, I went right out to the store and bought some cow milk. I needed a side by side flavor comparison. What I realized was that the flavor of whole cow’s milk was flat and watery and stale tasting compared to this fresh, raw goat milk. My skin had cleared up, my teeth were whiter and felt stronger, milk no longer left me with stale breath after I drank a glass.

I was drinking more milk than ever, I couldn’t get enough goat milk. I can no longer drink cow milk unless it is a dire emergency. It’s been long enough that my gut gets upset when I drink pasteurized, homogenized cow milk.

My milk is probably more expensive now that it ever was. I spend many hours a day making sure the goats have access to fresh pasture and browse (weeds!) I spend time thinking about them, worrying about them, planning for a future with them. I spend time cleaning their pen and sleeping areas, making sure they have water, and that they are warm and dry when the weather gets bad. I keep my chickens in with the goats so we can keep the bugs down, which adds a whole new level of complexity to caring for the goats. My partner spends several hours a week working to make sure we have money to buy hay for them, and that we have a buck for kids and milk next year. This all takes a great deal of time, energy, and effort. Much more so than going to the store and picking up a gallon when we are low. But all that work makes this milk taste better than anything I could buy from a store.

I love sharing this with other people. I love watching the look of disbelief come over a non-believers face when I force that first sip of fresh milk on them. I love talking to people who remember what real milk used to taste like, and want to get on a mailing list for a goat share next year. I love that there is enough interest in a goat share for me to go ahead and start doing the research this Winter. Next year is going to be amazing, and I am going to have so many people to share it with.

Brownie Out, Buttercup In

19 09 2011

Well, on SUnday we said goodbye to Brownie, our Oberhasli herd queen and producer of fine milk. We’ve been waiting to find her a home until the end of milking season, as her loss cuts our daily milk production by half. Brownie was a good goat, but because I am trying to breed smaller goats, her size and flightyness made her more of a problem than an asset. Once she started giving less milk, and it became clear that she was physically healthy, it was time to bid her farewell. I am sure she will be quite happy in her new home, with two does similar in size to her that have their horns as well.

Taking her place as my herd queen is Buttercup. Buttercup is a smaller LaMancha with a wonderful, sweet temperament and a passion for staying in one place. She loves to eat, and is already doing a great job keeping the herd eating right alongside her. She prefers browse, pasture and foraging over eating hay, so I am pleased that she wants to stay out and eat the free food for as long as possible. Not only is this easier on the feed budget, but it produces healthier animals and better tasting milk.

The first thing I did yesterday at milking time was take the bell off Brownie’s collar, and adorn Buttercup with her very own collar and bell, signifying to the household (and maybe to the goats) that she is the queen now.

I think that even my goat-herd helpers C and P are pleased that Brownie is gone and that Buttercup has replaced her. Brownie had no problem with forcing the other goats back to the pen before they were ready, mainly because she prefers the easy life of eating hay and not having to work for her food. Hopefully she will get plenty of that in her new home.

Now all I need is that mobile goat pen so I can take them out in the morning and leave them to forage all day. It will free up a lot of time that Bean will be demanding from me in the upcoming weeks.

One final note for this post. Our new little buck is taking his job quite seriously. Navin has been courting Nelly and Buttercup, both of whom have gone into heat this week. Here’s hoping that they both kid in February! We’ll know by Christmas or so if they are pregnant for sure. So next year, we may be adding chevon to our freezer and availability with the chicken eggs and goat milk, cheese and soap. I daresay this herd share thing is going to be downright spiffy.

The New Goat Buck is Here, The New Goat Buck is Here!

14 09 2011

On Monday we brought home our newest herd member: Navin R. Johnson. He is a yearling mini La Mancha buck, and will hopefully be the proud papa of several newer herd members next Spring.

We’ve never had a buck before, so once again we are jumping in with both feet. We are taking a crash course right now in buck nutrition, and goat courting and mating behavior. He is “unproven” which means he has never bred before. Here’s hoping we get lots of adorable, stocky, colorful little goats in 5 months.

Navin is a sweet little guy that is happy to follow the girls around and court them, day and night. He seems to have set his sights on Buttercup, our full-size La Mancha doe, mother to Gigi, our mini La Mancha yearling doe. If Navin is out of sight chances are he is on the other side of Buttercup, out of view. It is so funny watching him run around chortling at her. It’s like he is trying his hardest to convince her to grow shorter so he can reach!

So with Navin here I think the plan is to finish the goat pen addition, the barn and quite possibly the chicken coop this weekend so we can take down our little goat shack. And next week we are finally picking up our round bales of hay after more than a couple set-backs. This upcoming winter we are also planning on putting up a 24-hour live farm cam aimed at the goat pen.

We have lots of big things coming down the pike in the next year, including a new business name for the farm with an attatched Etsy shop and website, broiler chickens, meat rabbits, a small CSA and a goat share for those of you interested in obtaining farm fresh eggs, milk, meat and vegetables!

Stay tuned, there is lots coming!

Goat Update

23 05 2011

Sorry I haven’t been around lately. My life has been completely taken over by a bunch of goats. Seriously. If you don’t remember, earlier this month I put an add up on Craigslist stating that I would be happy to take any unwanted livestock since Mr. Ewe and I are trying to start building a little farm. Well, I asked and then received. An entire herd of 15 goats. Delivered to my doorstep. Things have been pretty crazy ever since then.

Having a new herd of goats is a lot like having a new baby in the house. They require near constant attention while they settle in. Life will never be the same again. No more sleeping in, and I am so exhausted by the end of the night there are no more late nights either. We started building a small barn before the goats even got here, but thanks to a supply of free (wet) wood, and a constant supply of free rain, construction has slowed down a lot until our wood dries out, and then we will have ourselves a barn raisin’.

I’ve been milking the goats twice a day, and trying to find all sorts of creative uses for all this milk we now have. I for one can’t seem to drink enough of it. Can you imagine having all the fresh, unprocessed milk you could ever want? It is so rich and creamy and thick. It is by far the richest milk I’ve ever had in my life, and puts goats milk that you buy in the grocery store to shame. So is the yogurt we’ve made (2 batches so far: strawberry-banana, and maple-lingonberry) and the chevre, oh my god the chevre. I had to buy crackers at the store yesterday so I have a way to eat this amazing cheese. Our first batch of chevre turned into three different flavors: chive, rosemary, and roasted poblano pepper.

Not last week but the week before, we managed to find a home for all four of our boy bucklings that came with the herd, and I think today our herd queen and one of my other does is going to a new home in exchange for hoof trimmings for the herd from a professional hoof trimmer. She is going to give us hoof trimmings and supplements for the next 6 months in exchange for 2 goats that I can’t even keep, how cool is that?

All of the goats have such different personalities! I swear I will put up pictures with descriptions, once I get pictures of each girl.

All this goat care has gotten me onto a wonderful schedule. It keeps me busy, and once I get the herd down to a manageable size, it shouldn’t be too demanding on me later in the pregnancy. I firmly believe I will be in the best shape I’ve ever been in by the time Bean is born.

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