Category Archives: High Reaches

My Way of Country Living

First Spring Kids

My first spring kids have arrived. Of course, Juliette had twin bucks. Not that it matters as all of my kids will be sold.

There are all these signs to watch for to tell when a doe is due to kid. The due date arrives. The udder fills. The tail bone ligaments get too lax to feel. The sides of the legs sink in. The flanks sink in.

Juliette showed these three weeks ago. Every day I watched the temperatures and her. No kids.

Newborn Nubian buck kid one of first spring kids
Getting born is tough. After a quick drink of colostrum, it’s time for a nap. This brown with frosted ears and nose American Nubian buck kid was born March 14 to High Reaches Juliette.

The warm weather passed. Frosty nights came back. Juliette still laid around chewing her cud ignoring me. Cool weather moved in.

Each dry day Juliette followed the herd out. Every evening I counted goats as they came in wondering if I was going out searching for her and her kids.

I’d cleaned out the barn and prepared a pen for Juliette and her kids. It remained empty, coveted by others as the best place to relax and sleep.

Monday morning was a quiet morning. Even the chickens weren’t complaining very much. Out of new habit, I opened the door to check on Juliette before getting ready to do chores. She was busy cleaning up her first kid. My first spring kids were arriving.

Newborn spotted Nubian buck kid
Nubian doe High Reaches Juliette is polled and it looks like this newborn gray spotted with frosted eard and nose, white cap American Nubian buck kid is polled too. Even as a newborn this kid is alert and curious about everything.

This is not the first kidding for Juliette. She is a good mother. She was in a good spot with no one close to bother her. I did chores.

By the end of chores, Juliette had a second kid. Both were fine, big kids. Both had their heads up looking around.

The kids are now three days old. They are tired of staying in their little pen. The herd doesn’t scare them.

My first spring kids may both be bucks, but they are strong and healthy. Juliette is fine. That makes seventeen Nubians living here for now. The race is on between Spring, Valerie and Agate for next doe to kid.

Another special kid is Star whose story is found in “For Love of Goats” along with lots of tongue twisters and illustrations.

Homestead Requirement One Is Manual Labor

Most people would say homestead requirement one is land. After back to the land homesteading most of my life, I know number one is manual labor.

Everything that happens on a homestead requires manual labor. Take my garden as one example.

Every fall into winter the old plants must be pulled and carted off, weeds pulled, paths covered with cardboard, beds mulched and set up for spring. The fall/winter crops must be covered during freezes, uncovered on warmer days.

Raised Garden Bed Planted for fall takes manual labor
Homesteaders usually garden. This lets them try vegetables and varieties not commonly available. I have a raised be I plant for a fall through winter greens. Over the winter a plastic cover is pulled over on cold nights, even covered with old blankets for really cold nights. It must be weeded and watered. This takes work. Any serious gardening takes lots of manual labor.

Seeds are ordered and started in winter. Transplants and seeds are planted in spring. Weeding is a constant activity. Watering is done by hand as there is no hose.

Too much work? Livestock is popular with new homesteaders.

Since I have dairy goats, I am out in the barn twice a day, every day for milking. Chickens require the same twice a day attention. During freezing weather, the twice a day turns into three or four times a day for extra feed and water.

Add to these items putting up and maintaining fences, brush hogging and/or haying, building clean out and repairs. All of these require manual labor.

Nubian doe High Reaches Drucilla
Meet a favorite homesteading addition, a typical dairy goat, Nubian doe High Reaches Drucilla. She needs milking and feeding twice a day, every day. She needs fresh water. During the winter she requires hay. Her barn needs cleaning out regularly. All of this requires manual labor.

Lots of people are moving out to the country, but most don’t want to be country. They are city people wanting to live in the country as though they still live in the city.

Others think they want to homestead. Most don’t make it more than a year or two. The constant manual labor discourages them.

Why does this matter to me? After nearly thirty years here, we have grown old and can no longer do much of this manual labor.

We are left wondering what will become of the place. Properties near us are now hunting camps or weekend playgrounds. One new neighbor is trying to turn a section of creek into a city park.

This place is home. We’ve put a lot of time and work into the place and would like to have someone who loves it like we do homestead it in the future. But the first consideration is whether or not they realize this requires a lot of manual labor.

In Case Of Fire

When you live in a wooden house and heat with wood, fire is an ever present companion and threat. Every year families in this area lose their homes to fire. In case of fire, what do you do?

For the most part, such a question is ignored. Human nature tends to gloss over the worst case scenarios. A recent trip to town brought it out of obscurity for me.

A house I’ve driven by for years was nothing but a foundation with smoke still wafting up from the ruins.

My father lost his house to fire years ago. His was due to carelessness on his part as he knew the chimney needed fixing. Many house fires are due to carelessness of one kind or another. Even so, it’s hard to watch everything you own burn. Or worse, coming home from a family gathering to find the ruins as happened up the hill from us one Christmas.

In case of fire, what do you do?

When I was growing up, all of us knew to grab a certain metal box on the way out of the house. My father kept all of our important papers such as birth certificates, deeds etc. in that box. It was in a drawer we would have to go pass to get out of the house.

Do you know where your important papers are?

If there is a fire, do you know all of the ways you can get out of your house? Just as important, do you have a place for family to meet so you know everyone got out?

My house contains a lifetime of memories. Yes, lives are more important than possessions. But those possessions help us define who we are and losing them is hard. Which ones are most important to you? Could you grab them on the way out?

In case of fire, panic is your worst enemy. Thinking and planning ahead may not avert the panic. But it might.

My father lost a lifetime of slides and stood outside holding a stereo wondering why he picked it up.

Perhaps the most important things are to fix the little problems and never forget fire will take advantage of any opportunity to rob you of your past. That might keep you from having to answer the question: In case of fire, what did you do?

cover for Broken Promises, Hazel Whitmore #1 by Karen GoatKeeper
People have used fire for millenia for cooking and heat. It’s been used to kill. And fire is the heat of anger as it signifies rage that compels us to act and consumes us at the same time as it does Hazel whitmore in “Broken Promises”.

Deer Season

In rural areas deer season is a much anticipated event. Many hunters start with bow season, go on to black powder season and to firearms season. Most of the ones I’ve talked with are hunting primarily for meat.

That is the case for the family we allow to hunt here. We aren’t vegetarians, but eat limited amounts of meat, so we don’t hunt. This family eats a lot of meat and loves venison.

deer season doesn't bother this doe deer
Having someone standing in the open taking pictures doesn’t alarm our regular backyard deer visitors. They show up in late afternoon to graze on the lawn, much better than elsewhere and raid the persimmon tree.

Many city people hate to see hunters kill deer. I can sympathize as deer are beautiful animals. However there is a limit.

A group of six come through the back yard almost every night. Three are older does. Three are this year’s fawns. Next year those older does will have new fawns and many times these will be twins. Even if they all single, the backyard group will increase to nine. The following year it would be fifteen. And that is only those we see.

backyard deer herd visit even during deer season
Some of the deer don’t even look up for their pictures. They just keep eating the grass. Lawns are nice for that. Mowing makes the grass grow back thick and lush even in the late fall. Nothing, not even hunters in November, bother them here. Of course the cats might be dangerous, so the deer stomp their feet and move to the back of the yard.

There are rumors of a cougar in the area. And someone supposedly caught a bear on a wildlife camera. Coyotes run the hills. Even so, deer are numerous here. If the herds get too large, disease moves in.

Deer season is a chance to cull out some of the deer. The hunting family has taken four home so far.

Unlike some modern day so-called hunters who drive along the roads looking for something to shoot at out the windows, these people park their vehicle and walk out into the woods. They wait for an adult deer to come out into the pasture and try to drop it with a single shot. The dry weather has made that difficult as the leaves rustle at any movement.

stay at the hunter's truck for safety during deer season
The hunters arrived and parked. They took their guns and gear off to the far fields in search of deer. The smart deer moved in to graze around the now abandoned truck.

The solution for the three men here one evening was to climb up into the old shingle oak standing at the edge of the hill pasture. That tree hasn’t been climbed in at least thirty years, if ever. It worked out as deer don’t look up.

Deer season lasts two weeks. Then I can get back to work on the fences.

Hard Working Chickens

Everyone assumes hard working chickens refers to egg laying. My hens do lay their share of eggs. But that is not what I mean.

Once the summer gardens are done, they need to be cleared of dead vines and plants and weeds. This means hard work on my part. I get plenty of help.

My chickens are now allowed in two sections of the gardens. These have only tomatoes and okra in them. After killing frost, they are a treat for the chickens.

When I move in to clear a section, it is a real treat for the chickens. These hard working chickens cluster around me ready to do their share of the work.

Demanding hard working chickens
This is the head hen. She gets first dibs on any tidbit I turn up. She is presently disgusted at my taking a break and refused to look at the camera, threatened to peck it if I stooped down and resorted to pulling shoestrings to encourage me to get back to work.

At this point we have a disagreement. The purpose of this work for the chickens is to uncover earthworms and other tasty treats. The purpose for me is to pull out the grass, mallow and other weeds.

We compromise. I lift the ground with the potato fork and pull out the weeds. This breaks up the soil revealing earthworms.

Working on my own I tend to work in rows. This way I finish the entire section quickly.

The hard working chickens know nothing about organizing the work. They cluster in and start digging as soon as I loosen the soil.

one of the hard working chickens
Working with the hens is challenging. This Speckled Sussex is working on the area i was working on. She is one of four who insisted on scratching up the dirt where I was trying to dig. I moved. They moved to the new area a few minutes later. It had to be better, if I moved.

After a few passes, so many chickens are digging around my feet I have to move to another area. The process then begins again.

One of the Speckled Sussex is evidently top hen. She lays claim to wherever I am working and gets first choice of anything I turn up. Other chickens are encouraged to move over with a well placed peck.

The other hens don’t mind too much. This hen moves with me so she in on top of where I am pulling. Lower hens move in behind me and find plenty when they scratch up the loose soil.

Eventually the entire garden section is done. I think it is, but I may have missed some weeds buried by my hard working chickens. They are happy and ready to help with the next section.

Visiting My Goat Herd

Fall has definitely arrived. One cool, sunny day I walked out to take a few pictures of the hills in color and ended up visiting my goat herd.

An electric line runs through the pasture making the nicest pictures of the hills from a vantage point out by the pole. I saw the goats off in the far end of the pasture checking out the persimmon trees.

It was early afternoon, far too early to call the goats in for the night. All I wanted was a quick couple of pictures. I opened the gate and slipped out into the pasture.

The goats were busy. I was quiet and at least a hundred yards away. They saw me.

visiting my goat herd
My Nubian goats spotted me out in the pasture and came over at a run to see what I was doing. They always seem to think I am doing something or going somewhere much more interesting than whatever they were busy with.

By the time I took my couple of pictures, I was visiting my goat herd. Several wanted to be petted. A couple checked out my camera. It might be edible.

The goats checked to see if I had any persimmons or other treats. I didn’t.

The herd milled around waiting for me to take them off somewhere. I took pictures of them.

Nubian doe High Reaches Rose
Nubian doe High Reaches Rose loves attention. Having me visit the herd makes her decide between grazing or coming over for petting. Petting often wins.

Finally the goats began wandering back the way they had come. They kept looking back to see if I was going any where yet.

I considered walking up the pasture. My goats would gladly tag along. Since I didn’t have my orange vest on and it was youth weekend, I watched the herd go back up the pasture without me.

Nubian doe looks at me visiting my goat herd
Nubian doe High Reaches Spring is watching me. She is sure I will take the herd someplace great, maybe knock down a bunch of persimmons.

Working in the garden later I heard shots from across the road from the pasture. The goats came running up near where I was working. Much as I enjoy visiting my goat herd and going walking with them, such outings will have to wait until after hunting season. I will get out my orange vest to wear and not wander off too far from the house and barn.

Fall Routines

Spring and summer put rural living in high gear for me. The happenings depend on my fall routines.

There are the goat kids being born, growing up and being sold. Chicks are ordered, arrive, grow up and are sold or moved into the hen house.

goat breeding season comes in the fall
My Nubian buck High Reaches Augustus spends most of the year talking to the does and being ignored. In the fall the does decide he is a handsome beau. The Nubian doe is High Reaches Spring.

Seeds are ordered, seedlings started, garden planted. Wildlife depredations and harvesting take up the summer.

Suddenly it’s over. Fall routines take over.

planting garlic is one of fall routines
In the Ozarks one of the fall routines is planting the garlic bed. I usually plant it around the first of October through six inches of mulch. It’s up and doing well by November. The plants mature in the spring.

Spring kids don’t just happen. Goats have a five month gestation. The does are bred in the fall, preferably in October for March kids. (More goat facts and trivia are in “Goat Games“.)

Killing frost hasn’t been by yet this fall. Still, the deer eliminated so much of the garden, I’m closing it down.

greens are a fall into winter crop in a raised garden bed
The wire cages are deer deterrent. The plastic is pulled up over the plants in the raised garden bed on frosty nights after removing the wire cages. I’m still dreaming of a particular deer becoming venison. The greens will do fine all winter. It is one of the only ways to enjoy spinach in the Ozarks as it usually bolts quickly in the spring.

All of the vines and plants from summer crops must be pulled up and carted off to the compost heap. The various cages are cleaned off, stacked and stored in the chick house for the winter, after the house is cleaned out thoroughly.

I’ve been reading “The Worst Hard Times” about the Dust Bowl survivors. People want to blame the drought for the disaster. In truth, people were the cause because the stripped the land of its grass leaving it open to the drought and high winds.

My garden isn’t on that scale, but the lessons about not leaving the ground uncovered matter here too. I cover the beds with cardboard and mulch.

cleaning out summer crops is one of the fall routines
The long beans, summer squash and okra are done for the year. The plants are pulled. This gives me a chance to repair the beds, dump on compost, cover with cardboard and mulch. The cardboard is optional, but offers better weed control than plain mulch.

This serves three purposes. One is covering the dirt to prevent erosion. A second is to kill out the weeds, mostly dead nettle and chickweed, growing in the beds. The third gets back to another of the fall routines: keeping the old bedding cleaned out of the goat barn.

Goats are messy eaters. As I am now feeding grass hay, more than usual is landing on the barn floor. Every week I cart out loads of this damp manure-filled hay and move it onto the garden. It means a lot less work cleaning out the barn in the spring and good fertilizer on the garden.

Boring as these fall routines are, they are the foundation for a good spring and summer season next year.

My Orange Cat

Some years back wandering tom cats would show up, stay a few days and move on. My Orange Cat was one of them, except he liked it here and stayed.

My other cats were fixed and most indignant to have an interloper move in. Orange Cat persisted staying in the barn. Eventually the hullabaloo died down and he started visiting the house.

Orange Cat snoozing
On nice days Orange Cat finds a quiet corner to curl up in. In fall this is often a sunny spot. In summer it is a shady spot. He gets into trouble when he finds a spot in the garage or shed and forgets to come out in the evening before the door is closed.

Cats grow old too. One by one my cats have died until only four are left. Orange is one of them.

This tom cat is now fixed. He stays around the house and barn terrorizing the local chipmunk population. He no longer wants to be held, but loves petting and being around.

Orange Cat Goes on a Hike
Orange Cat may not like being picked up or curling up on a lap, but he loves to keep us company. He looks forward to going on hikes down the road or across the pastures. It can be difficult to get away without having him a short way behind you.

A highlight of this cat’s day is when someone goes for a walk. He tags along. He spent the evening out in the pasture with us waiting for the crescent moon. That was boring from his point of view. Other days he walks a quarter mile down the road and back. This is much further than he normally ventures on his own.

At the house Orange Cat has a rival. Cream was a later arrival and, in Orange’s view, should leave or at least be subservient. They argue over this with first one then the other being top cat for a few days.

Orange Cat deciding what to do next
The day is nice. Orange Cat is back from a morning hike. He is ready to do something else, but what? He can play with Mira, my special grey cat, or he can check out the garden or find a good napping place.

Now and then Orange doesn’t come in for the night. In the morning his plaintive, becoming indignant, meows come from the shed or garage where he has been stuck all night. This is our fault even though he ignored calls for him to come out in the evening.

Rainy or cold days are times to stay in the house. Orange stakes out a chair and sleeps through the day. It is his chair and we are to sit somewhere else.

The attitude remains as Orange sprawls out in the middle of the floors expecting us to walk around him. He may have arrived a refugee. He remains as an owner.

Hazel Whitmore acquires two cats, Mittens and Mischief, in “Old Promises“.

Black Walnut Bonanza

Black walnut trees love bottomlands growing large with a great ball shape. Those in more open areas produce crops of nuts.

Never confuse these nuts with the pale English walnuts found commonly in stores. These nuts hide inside almost impregnable shells requiring special nutcrackers or heavy hammers to break them open. The nut meats have a pungent, dusky taste perfect for pumpkin recipes.

The trees are among the last to leaf out in the spring. Their leaves begin turning yellow and falling in late August. The nuts fall in September and October.

Five black walnut trees grow around the barn and workshop. Four have the usual big nut surrounded by thick hulls. The other produces bumper crops of slightly smaller nuts with thinner hulls.

Black Walnut nuts hanging on tree
Under that green husk is a black walnut. The husk turns black and a wasp lays eggs in it so larvae fill the husk. A dark brown dye comes from the husks and soon permanently stains hands and clothes. The nut has a strong shell. The company buying the walnuts does sell the nut meats, but makes most of its money from the shells which make a sanding compound used for smoothing precision machine parts. It hurts when a nut drops on your head or back.

A Missouri company buys the walnuts every October. People used to vie with each other over the choicest trees with the largest crops. The line waiting to have the nuts hulled and sold stretched a block and more.

This year the price was the highest I’ve ever seen, $20 a hundred weight. My five trees had big crops and were paving the ground making walking dangerous.

But, between my back and my age, I had to pick up only our normal pathways leaving the others hoping enough squirrels had moved back to collect the rest.

In town I watched for trucks with bags of walnuts. I saw none. No one was picking up walnuts along our road.

collecting black walnuts
At one time I put together a serious truckload of bags of walnuts. There were about 24 bags of nuts in a load. They hulled out to between 400 and 500 pounds. I never made a thousand pounds, but did top 900.

My stash of walnuts grew one bag a day. That old drive to go for a thousand pounds began to gnaw at me. My head told me I was crazy. The temptation grew when a day of high winds brought down even more black walnuts making walking almost impossible.

A truck pulled up while I was milking. A middle aged couple asked if they could pick up my black walnuts. The temptation grabbed at me and slid away into relief.

The black walnuts around the workshop and barn are gone now. There was a big truck load. My temptation is gone with the sacks of nuts.

Find out more about black walnuts in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Country Dogs

Lots of people move to or live in the country and tend to do two things right away. One is to have their new property logged. The other is to get some dogs. But country dogs can bring problems.

I’ve been told the logging helps to pay off the debt on the property. Understandable. But the people haven’t even had a chance to assess their new place and are making a choice to make major changes on the hopes it won’t backfire on them. Then again, many people never even go anywhere on their property other than the house and yard before or after they buy the place.

Dogs are another matter.

Nubian doe High Reaches Isabelle
Nubian doe High Reaches Isabelle didn’t come in with the herd one night. I found her where two dogs had pulled her down and killed her. Searching for the dogs I heard they had pulled down deer a couple of miles away on another occasion. They lived a mile away from me. The owner couldn’t believe his dogs would do such a thing. They were always there when he came home from work and left for work in the morning. They ran loose all day and all night.

There seems to be an opinion that country dogs stay around the house. And it’s so nice to let them have room to run.

Dogs like coyotes and wolves are made to run long distances. They have an instinct to chase and grab anything running away from them.

This morning two dogs arrived on the property. They proceeded to make themselves at home. They were a mile from home as I found out after visiting the neighbors.

The dogs belong to a single man who loves his dogs, has a fenced yard, but has many problems with the dogs escaping. They visit the immediate neighbors most often. Today they decided to get some exercise and came to visit me. And my cats. And my chickens. And my goats.

chickens are tempting for country dogs
Chickens run, flap and squawk when they are chased. I’ve had cats who pounce toward them to hear this reaction. Dogs grab the chickens often with fatal results for the chicken. My flock enjoys the goat gym when the goats are out to pasture.

No one was thrilled.

In the city a phone call brings animal control out to cart the dogs away. In the country the sheriff tells you there is no animal control. If the dogs are destroying livestock or property, you can shoot them. Otherwise you are to contact the owner and hope this person will do something about the dogs.

These are nice, friendly dogs. They are well cared for. They are not welcome here. The owner isn’t very concerned.

As a livestock owner, I am responsible for my animals and what they do. I do not understand why dog owners so often take no responsibility for their dogs.

This time the dogs were scared off.

Garden Disaster

I suppose this isn’t a total garden disaster. It just feels like it.

There are several crops growing in my garden. The Jerusalem artichokes are presently a nuisance as the twelve foot plus stalks blew over even with a support around them.

The winter squash vines have run all over their allotted areas and invaded elsewhere. This year they are being stingy with the squash too.

The okra plants are now taller than I am and producing well. The long beans are the same. Even the peppers are big, bushy plants busy producing lots of peppers.

My fall crops are finally started. Rows of spinach, turnips, winter radishes, napa cabbage and bok choi look good.

Overshadowing all of this is the devastation of the tomatoes. This is a garden disaster.

garden disaster deer ate paste tomatoes
Every year I grow paste tomatoes and put whole tomatoes and sauce in the freezer to use over the winter. The deer evidently likes Speckled Roman paste tomatoes too as it ate the red ones, the pink ones and tried all the green ones. The vine tips were then nipped off.

More than any other crop, tomatoes are prized as a summer treat. I have rows of tomatoes, paste, eating, cherry. My kitchen has tomatoes piled on the counters. Frozen tomatoes will be winter eating. My chickens are eating those we can’t seem to get to fast enough.

Yet, the devastation of the tomato vines is a garden disaster.

Usually the day before killing frost I go through the tomato vines and collect all the tomatoes. This includes those getting ripe and those still green. They ripen in the pantry giving us garden tomatoes sometimes up until December.

Not this year. This year the tomatoes are lying on the ground with bite marks in them. The vines are eaten off in many places.

garden disaster deer found these tomatoes tempting too
I’ve been growing Abe Lincoln tomatoes for a couple of years. They are a nice medium size usually. Three are left on the vines only because the deer hasn’t found a way to reach them yet. The large pineapple tomatoes were hard to reach too, but it managed.

Big hoof prints revealed the culprit. A deer has been visiting. It ate the hollyhock leaves, the chicory leaves, the Jerusalem artichoke leaves.

The deer likes tomatoes, ripe tomatoes, but can’t seem to tell the difference between a green tomato and a ripe tomato without taking a bite. So it grabs any large tomato eating the ripe ones and dropping the green ones onto the ground.

The only comfort in this garden disaster is that the deer seems to ignore the cherry tomatoes for some reason. Perhaps we will have those to nibble on this fall. Or the deer may discover them.

Woodchucks aka Groundhogs or Whistle Pigs

Woodchucks aka groundhogs or whistle pigs are big rodents. They are vegetarians spending their days devouring plants.

When these eating machines live out in the pastures, this is not a problem. They do dig extensive burrows, but usually up against a hill or big rock.

Woodchucks aka Groundhogs or Whistle Pigs are wary creatures
Why these creatures are called woodchucks, I don’t know. They earn the groundhog name as they root along and burrow their way under fences somewhat like hogs do. When alarmed woodchucks emit a piercing whistle that will stop you in your tracks giving them the name whistle pig.

Armadillos dig their burrows anywhere, even out in the middle of the pastures. That is dangerous for any animal or person walking along without looking at the ground.

Problems arise when woodchucks aka groundhogs or whistle pigs get into a garden. A family moved next to mine and started devouring the tomatoes and had to be eliminated. Their idea or sharing is: them all, you none.

I hate to shoot a so-called varmint animal as it doesn’t know it’s being a problem. It’s hungry and you are providing food, so it eats. It’s that dislike of sharing on their part.

Woodchucks aka Groundhogs or Whistle Pigs are vegetarians
Woodchucks are diurnal, coming out during the day, to eat plants. Grass, preferably clover which is common in our yard, is fine. The problems begin when a woodchuck starts eating fruit and other plants. They hibernate in their extensive burrows all winter so they are voracious eaters in late summer.

The populations of raccoons, opossums and woodchucks aka groundhogs or whistle pigs are going up in my area. Even in town these animals seem to occupy places near homes and businesses. Relocating these animals is not an option.

So I wasn’t particularly surprised to see a woodchuck out grazing in the back yard. It is a big woodchuck. It was mowing the grass.

The grass does need mowing. We do get the mower out when it gets about six inches long and a nuisance to walk through early in the morning when it’s wet with dew.

Sunny Cat notices groundhog
My Sunny cat spends much of the day sleeping outside. This day he sits up for petting then notices the woodchuck out on the grass. He checks this out as the woodchuck is bigger than he is.

As long as this woodchuck only mows the grass, we will live in peace. We are a bit uneasy about it though. Something has been sampling the figs on trees we grow in large tubs.

The woodchuck may be innocent. Raccoons, opossums and foxes like figs too. The culprit is an expert at getting marshmallows out of the livetrap, triggering it, but not getting trapped.

Woodchucks aka groundhogs or whistle pigs remain the main suspects.

Homestead Repairs

Goats love to climb up on things. We built them the goat gym many years ago. It was totally rebuilt once with improvements. Now it’s back on the list for homestead repairs.

Oak is a tough, durable wood, but all wood eventually rots. When the gym was rebuilt, the posts were placed in concrete footers so they wouldn’t rot as quickly.

Nubian buck and kids playing on the goat gym
When the herd comes up to the pasture gate in the afternoon, the goat kids are small enough to crawl under. They race onto the gym to play. Nubian buck Augustus enjoys having company. This is the gym shortly after the first time it was rebuilt.

This worked. Instead the step planks have fallen apart.

I am not a carpenter. My attempts to do carpentry make those who know how cringe. I kept putting off this item on the homestead repairs list.

Nubian goat kid basking in the sun on the goat gym
All summer the sun hits the steps on the goat gym shortly after dawn. The Nubian goat kids demand milk from the does, then come out to lie around on the goat gym steps soaking up sun. Later in the day the top and other side are the favored places for basking. The kids curl up and sleep on the gym all night in warm weather often joined by their mothers.

My goats are older too. They don’t use the gym as much. Augustus is the exception. He stands on the top looking out and calling to the herd especially during breeding season.

At 200 pounds Augustus is a big goat. The thought of him crashing through a rotten step board was enough to make me move the gym to the top of the homestead repairs list.

Most of the damage was on one side and the top. I tackled the two rotten steps first to bolster my confidence.

homestead repairs to the ramp are needed next so goats can play on it again
At 200 pounds Nubian buck Augustus could easily toss this upstart off the ramp or hurt him. Instead the two have a friendly shoving match. The ramp alternates thick inch oak boards with oak two by fours to give the goats traction.

Ten years ago this would be an easy hour’s job. It took me an hour to pull the nails to take what was left of the boards off. They will make good kindling this winter.

We cut our own oak boards for years using a band saw mill. Age made it impossible to use the mill so it was sold. The piles of lumber are still waiting to be used. I sorted through the boards and replaced the steps.

The top was next. I don’t do well with heights. I really don’t do well with loose boards and open spaces six to seven feet up.

Nubian buck approves homestead repairs of goat gym
Nubian buck High Reaches Silk’s Augustus loves standing up on top of the goat gym to watch for the herd out in the pastures. He stopped using the gym while I was working on it. He is back on top now.

After a long afternoon, the gym top was again complete and solid enough to support Augustus. He was having none of it. Several lamb’s quarters plants lured him up on top.

The ramp needs replacing. It is on the homestead repairs list.

Young goats love to play which was important for Harriet in “Capri Capers“.

Put Up Summer Vegetables

August is a time of plenty in the garden. Tomatoes, peppers and okra fill the refrigerator. But I want to savor summer in December so I put up summer vegetables now.

This is not my favorite task when the weather is beautiful outside. Already cooler days and nights signal fall is here with winter close behind. I want outside to enjoy the last of the warm times.

That is part of homesteading. You can’t always do what you want to do. Usually you can’t. You do what needs to be done so I take a few days to put up summer vegetables.

My canning days are over. Now I freeze the vegetables. How much I put by changes from year to year because we eat less and I cook less. Recipes matter too.

put up summer vegetables like okra
Okra likes hot temperatures as long as the plants are watered regularly. Regular watering keeps the pods soft even when they get bigger. This year the plants started bearing at about three feet tall and are now about five feet tall, branched, with okra on every branch. I use pruners to cut the pods off.

Okra tastes great, at least the varieties I grow do. The first year I put some up, I washed, cut, bagged and tossed in the freezer. It was awful.

My mother gave me a “Joy of Cooking” cookbook when I moved into my first apartment. The recipes are largely ignored. The About sections are well used. Okra needs to be blanched before being frozen.

My okra prep now includes a stock pot of boiling water, okra in a wire basket, immersion for about two minutes, cold water rinse, bag and freeze. The okra tastes okay, not like fresh, but makes good chicken gumbo.

put up summer vegetables like peppers
Recipes call for green peppers which are bitter. I much prefer colored bell peppers without the bitterness. Every color (I’ve grown eight.) has a slightly different taste. They can be frozen stuffed. I prefer chopping them and freezing them as that suits my cooking better. The plants like it on the hot side of warm and regular watering.

Cooking for two means much smaller amounts are needed. I put one meal’s worth in a fold lock top sandwich bag, stack several in a quart freezer bag and freeze. The same method works for chopped peppers.

Tomatoes are different. I hate skinning tomatoes. I’m clumsy. The skin shreds. Tomato juice drips all over.

Preferably paste tomato types are checked for flaws and ripeness. They are spread out in the freezer to freeze then piled into a gallon freezer bag. When these thaw, the skins slide off.

paste tomatoes for sauce and soup broth
Indeterminate tomato vines get big and overrun the neighboring plants. They bear continuously once they get started. Regular tomatoes have a higher water content than watermelon! Paste varieties have less water and make good sauce, salsa, broth and more. My usual variety is Speckled Roman. This is a gift plant to try. It has worked out well. The label said Hungarian Italian.

Other tomatoes are diced, boiled, cooled and bagged in two cup amounts in quart freezer bags. I can add onions, peppers, garlic etc. later. Adding it before freezing blends the flavors better and I’ve done it that way many times. Getting older has made me a little lazy.

Much as I hate doing these tasks now, I know, if I put up summer vegetables now, I will enjoy summer until the garden again overflows the kitchen next year.

Summer produce competes in county fairs as in “Mistaken Promises“.

Garlic Chives Hum

People wonder why I have such a large patch of garlic chives. It’s about six by ten feet. The answer comes when the garlic chives hum.

Unlike regular chives with found leaves and oniony taste, garlic chives have flat leaves and a peppery taste. They are great in scrambled eggs, stir fries, cheese sauce, salads and more.

wasps make garlic chives hum
Several kinds of wasps visit the garlic chives. These have two white bands. Another has a red abdomen. Another has a red band. They climb over one umbel and move to the next one.

Still, I do have a much larger patch than I really need. Even with the goats helping, I have more than I can use.

So why not shrink the patch?

In mid August my garlic chives hum. I can hear them as soon as I enter the garden.

moths on garlic chives
Moths usually come out at night. These thought the garlic chives too good to miss. The usual butterfly crowd includes buckeyes, 8 spot grape, dusky skipper, skippers, occasional monarchs, fritillaries and swallowtails.

All right, plants can’t really hum. The patch can.

The patch is a field of white flowers. Bees, wasps, beetles, bumblebees, butterflies, moths add the hum. The flowers seem to shimmer with movement as the insects move from umbel to umbel.

The types of insects stays much the same from year to year. The numbers of each type changes. Their single minded activity remains the same as I can walk beside the patch touching flowers and not disturb them at all.

honeybees make the garlic chives hum
Almost 30 years ago a beekeeper abandoned two hives. The bees moved out into the wild. They still live somewhere in the area. The garlic chives were a magnet for them this year.

Although the garlic chive flowers are the focus of the activity, the insects do spread out across the garden. The tomatoes, okra, peppers and squash appreciate being pollinated too.

My garlic chives hum with frantic activity for about two weeks. Then the flowers are slowly replaced with seed heads.

My patch is large enough. These plants spread aggressively both by seeds and by shoots.

bumblebees make garlic chives hum
At least three different kinds of bumblebees live in the area. All come to gather nectar at the garlic chives.

When the seed heads make up most of the umbels, it is time to slow down the inexorable spread. The pruners cut down the seed heads as far into the patch as I can reach. These are tossed into the middle where new plants can muscle in.

New leaves grow up for use in the kitchen until killing frost puts the plants to bed for the winter. But next year I will hear my garlic chives hum once again.

Trapping Raccoons

When I was young, I thought raccoons were so cute. They still are on cards. In real life trapping raccoons happens every year.

Raccoons are vandals. They get into a stand of corn tearing open every ear, taking a few bites and moving on ruining the entire patch. They rip open feed sacks even if they don’t want the feed.

trapping raccoons by accident
There was no escape once the doors were closed and locked. The young raccoon spent the night trying to leave. Morning came and it hid behind the feed containers. Then a monster opened the doors. The raccoon sat in the corner hoping not to be noticed, convinced it would never see another night.

These masked bandits spent last spring digging up my potatoes. This year it was the tomato seedlings. They don’t want the plants, only any possible worm or grub under the plants.

Populations have soared. Every place has raccoon surpluses. All are hungry and putting on fat for the winter. Newly on their own young want to survive.

I set live traps. At various times I’ve caught skunks (difficult to remove), opossums, cats, chickens, woodchucks and raccoons. Some I release. Some I don’t.

trapping raccoons and letting one go
Any self respecting raccoon is sleeping in some safe place at noon. Except this one didn’t get home. It crept to the door and stood looking for the monsters coming to get it.

Someone other than me is eating my tomatoes. I’m not greedy. The garden resident chipmunk (evidently not a ground squirrel as previously thought) is welcome to a few. Any stray turtle is welcome to a few. I even don’t grudge raccoons taking a few.

However, raccoons are vandals. They go through every vine taking a bite out of a tomato here, a tomato there eventually ruining the entire crop. Trapping raccoons becomes necessity.

However, setting the live trap won’t work well now. The culprits are young raccoons. One will not trigger the trap. Two arguing over the bait might.

I did manage to trap a young raccoon last night. By accident.

I moved my pullets into the hen house. There is still feed scattered on the floor of the chick house so I open it during the day.

raccoon making a great escape
Sink down to weed level and scurry off. Climbing the fence which is the way it got to the chick house is too exposed. Race for the corner of the workshop and up the black walnut tree. Maybe the squirrel isn’t home and a young, frightened raccoon can hide for the day.

Last night I closed the doors up late, after dark, without a flashlight. Around noon today I wandered over to open the doors. Everything was knocked over. A young raccoon was backed up into a far corner.

It will be back tonight to dig up the bricks in front of the chick house for the umpteenth time.

Another garden pest is the hornworm. Fortunately chickens like them. Unfortunately raccoons like chicken dinner.

Chickens Love Tomato Hornworms

When chickens are mentioned, people think about eggs. There’s much more to chickens. Chickens love tomato hornworms and other delicacies people would rather weren’t around.

Tomato hornworms are the caterpillars of a large sphinx moth. These show up around dark to visit night blooming flowers like Datura and mullein. They lay their eggs on tomato leaves.

tomato hornworm
This is actually a tobacco hornworm as it has that little red tail. They avidly consume tomato and pepper plants. They work quietly under cover of foliage until the foliage is gone and they have no place to hide. That doesn’t matter much at the end of September with killing frost a week away. It does in August when big crops of tomatoes are beginning to ripen. The hornworms eat tomatoes too.

By the time I usually notice tomato hornworms, they are four to six inch monsters. Only experienced chickens love tomato hornworms this large.

Younger chickens need tempting with the two inch and under worms. Once they get a taste for these treats, they will tackle bigger ones.

Size does matter to chickens. Mine love mice. Any mouse that dares to appear in the hen house or yard becomes dinner.

Speckled Sussex chickens love tomato hornworms
Speckled Sussex hens are a bit small and lay a medium tan egg, but there is nothing small about their hustle. Tomato hornworms are grabbed and beaten on the ground until tenderized before being consumed. Another favorite is large horseflies.

The other day one of my standard cochins caught a mole. The flock knew it was good to eat. It was too big for them to tear apart.

Another delicacy for chickens is a Japanese beetle. They will leap up to snag the beetles off leaves of the wild grape vine on their fence. Wild grapes are a catch crop for the beetles. The chickens are the disposal end.

At times it’s tempting to let the chickens find the hornworms themselves. That notion stops as soon as a spoiled tomato is dropped into the chicken yard.

Chickens love tomato hornworms, true. They love tomatoes even more.

These birds also love earthworms, grubs and other soil denizens. In the garden mulch and dirt fly as they scratch their way along looking for edibles.

My garden fence doesn’t deter woodchucks, raccoons or opossums. It does keep the chickens out. That leaves me searching for the tomato hornworms.

Since I am the one who delivers hornworms, grubs and spoiled tomatoes, the chickens keep an eye on me. Yes, chickens love tomato hornworms, but they love food offerings of many kinds. They cluster in my vicinity waiting.

Chickens are great first homesteading livestock as Hazel finds out in “Mistaken Promises“.

Growing Tomatoes

Tomatoes are for sale in grocery stores and at farmer’s markets. Yet growing tomatoes is very popular. It is with me.

There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes. They range from white to green to pink to yellow to orange to striped to red. They come in small, medium, large and extra large sizes.

I allocate a large area of my garden to growing tomatoes every year, far more than I need or use. The space is never big enough.

Getting Tomatoes Off the Ground

Tomato plants are somewhere between a vine and a bush. Left to their own devices the vines sprawl across the ground. The tomatoes on the ground rot. They are hard to reach without stepping on the plants.

There are lots of ways to get the plants off the ground. I use two.

growing tomatoes on cattle panels
Tomato plants sprawl for several feet. They do not twine or have tendrils. Baling twine works to keep the vines in place. I start at one end and go around one plant, hook on the cattle panel, go over the next plant and so on to the end. The lines need to be eighteen inches apart and are placed as the vines get long enough.

One end of my garden is too hot for most plants during a hot Ozark summer. I bent two cattle panels over it to form what I call a shade house. I plant tomatoes along the cattle panels and encourage the vines to sprawl up and over the shade house.

This has three advantages. First, it gets the vines off the ground. Second, the tomatoes are easy to spot and pick from both sides of the panels. Third, the shade allows me to grow greens that otherwise would bolt.

My other method is a kind of cage. My tomato beds have a piece of cattle panel down the center and posts on both sides. I use baling twine to build cages. The spaces are about eighteen inches square and five feet tall.

When my number of tomato plants exceeds my planned capacity, which it does every year, I use wire circles. These were originally used around fruit trees and are out of cement support wire. Field fence does not work. Welded wire works, but harvesting through the small holes is frustrating.

growing tomatoes using twine cages
Anyone feeding hay to livestock ends up with baling twine. It is very useful stuff. It makes good tomato cages as it is slightly flexible and tough enough to keep tomato vines in place. I use six inch spacing, but this is variable. The twine lasts the season and is easy to remove.

Preventing Sunscald

Healthy leafy tomato plants tuck most of their tomatoes under leaves. This protects them from the sun and sunscald.

Since I raise dairy goats, good manure is not a problem. The beds have compost added every year. Compost is much better than commercial fertilizer pellets at producing big, leafy tomato plants.

The downside of growing tomatoes this way is how big the vines get. Some of mine are pushing eight feet this year and still growing.

growing tomatoes in wire circles
Cement reinforcing wire has large holes and lasts for years. It makes great emergency tomato cages. The one problem is when the vines grow over the top and threaten to topple the wire. A metal post usually stops that.

Preventing Cracking

Regular watering is the way to prevent cracking. I am lucky as I have a live creek to pump water from every other day. Otherwise I have to carry water in a watering can or pray for rain.

There are some varieties very prone to cracking. After one try, these are not on my list any more.

Speckled Roman tomatoes
These Speckled Roman paste tomatoes hang through the cattle panel of my shade house which will make picking them easy once they are ripe.

The Biggest Problem

Growing tomatoes is challenging work and very satisfying. Picking those first ripe tomatoes is special. The flavor puts purchased tomatoes to shame.

Then the crop pours in. My biggest problem is what to do with the boxes of tomatoes. There are only two old people here and we can’t eat them all.

My chickens are glad to dine on any damaged or spoiled tomatoes.

Growing tomatoes is competitive in the Ozarks with the results shown at the county fairs as in “Mistaken Promises” in the Hazel Whitmore series.

Making Goat Milk Cuajada Cheese

Quick, simple, fresh cheeses are often easy to make and flavorful. They don’t require the special starters or conditions the aged cheese do. Along with fresh milk ricotta, feta and mozzarella, goat milk Cuajada cheese is an easy cheese.

Cuajada uses fresh milk and rennet. It is not real fussy about setting temperature.

The standard equipment of stainless steel pot, whisk, colander, spatula and thermometer is needed. The cheese is lightly pressed which can be done by hand in the colander or by using a small cheese press. My press was a PVC tube, wood follower and metal weights, five pounds worth.

goat milk cuajada cheese
Cuajada cheese is crumbly. It does not melt well as the curds were not reheated. It crumbles into Greek salad giving a less salty cheese addition. It also works in scrambled eggs.

Goat milk Cuajada cheese is very bland. It is perfect for adding flavoring to. I use a little canning salt along with minced onions and garlic chives. When I planned to make spaghetti, I used an herb mix of tarragon, basil, oregano and parsley with the salt. A couple of people I knew added jalapeno peppers.

I experimented with raisins and cinnamon. This had to be eaten immediately or it would spoil.

Making Cuajada

I bring in fresh goat milk and strain it directly into the pot. If this isn’t enough, I add some from the previous milking out of the refrigerator. My preferred amount was one and a half to two gallons of milk.

Check the temperature. It needs to me somewhere from eighty-four to eighty-eight degrees. Ninety is pushing it. Under these lets it set up too slowly.

When the milk is within the temperature range, either by heating or cooling, stir in the rennet to set it up in half an hour. Put the lid on and spend some time getting your preferred flavorings together.

Once the curd is set, cut the curd and let it rest five minutes. Set the colander up in the sink or on a bowl to catch the whey.

goat milk cuajada cheese curds
After rolling the goat milk cuajada cheese curds around in the colander, the free whey disappears. The curd block will break open to release more. I usually stop at this point and press the curd to get out a little more before dumping the curds into a bowl to add the flavorings.

Gently stir the curds for five to ten minutes. Pour the curds and whey into the colander. You may have to stir the curds to make room for all of them.

Drain the whey out of the curds. I do this by rolling the colander in my hands so the curds move releasing the whey. You can set the colander on the bowl and let it drain, although this takes some time and contamination can occur. You cannot refrigerate the curds at this point.

Turn the curds into a bowl. Add salt to taste. This is tricky as a little salt goes a long way. I use about half a teaspoon.

garlic chives and onions to add to goat milk cuajada cheese
Although cuajada cheese can be salted and eaten that way, it is a bland cheese begging for things to be added. Minced garlic chives and onions are my favorite. Add plenty.

Add your flavorings and mix them into the cheese curds. You can use a spoon. I generally use my hands.

Dump the mixture into the press or back into the colander and press out all the whey possible. The goat milk Cuajada cheese should now be a solid chunk.

Put it in a container and refrigerate.

Using Cuajada

Use this cheese in any recipe calling for goat cheese.

The cheese can be sliced. It’s great on a sandwich with fresh garden tomato.

Crumbling the cheese into tomato salad is delicious. Or crumble the herbal mix into spaghetti.

Goat milk Cuajada cheese makes a good snacking cheese too.

Making Goat Milk Feta Cheese

There are lots of cheeses made from goat milk. Yet a recipe calling for goat cheese almost always means goat milk feta cheese.

This is not a difficult cheese to make. It does take time, most of it waiting time.

Begin with milk either fresh or cold. I prefer to use at least a gallon and a half to two gallons of milk straight from the milk room.

My version of goat milk feta cheese uses two extra ingredients: buttermilk and brine. The brine can be made up days in advance in a gallon jar using up to 2 cups salt and filling it with water, stirring to dissolve the salt.

goat milk feta cheese curds
Some recipes call for hanging the cheese curds in a cheesecloth bag for the whey to drain. First, netting works better and is easier to clean than cheesecloth. Second, hanging the curd out exposes it to contamination from the air. Third, hanging the curd is slow. Pressing the whey out either by hand in the colander or using a cheese press is much better. I prefer pressing by hand. More whey is released when I cut the curd into cubes.

Cheese companies have special feta starters. I’ve never made much of this cheese as I find it too salty for my taste. When I came across a recipe using buttermilk as the starter, I tried it. It makes an excellent cheese.

Warm the milk to 88 degrees and stir in a quarter cup of buttermilk. Put the lid on and do something else for an hour.

When the hour is up, stir in rennet to set the curd in half an hour. Go do something else.

Once the curd is set, you will be working with the cheese for a time. Cut the curd and let it set for five minutes. Then gently stir the curd for fifteen minutes.

goat milk feta cheese in brine
I kept a gallon plastic jug to make the brine in. I put a cup of canning salt in, added water and stirred. The brine can be made stronger or weaker. I poured out however much I needed into an enameled bowl. It works out best to have brine in the bowl and adding the curd. Pouring the brine onto the curd breaks the curd up. Soaking the curd in the brine makes it salty and adds to the shelf life of the cheese.

While you stir the curd, the whey begins to separate out. At the end of the time, let the curd settle for five minutes while you set up the colander.

Pour the whey and curds into the colander until it is full. Shift the curds to drain more whey out and add more curds until all the curds are in the colander.

Use a spoon to move the curds around to drain as much whey out as you can. Then press the curd to get more whey out.

Turn the pressed curd out onto a plate. Take out a bowl and half fill it with brine.

The bowl can be glass, stainless steel, enamel, just not aluminum. I prefer not to use plastic.

When I do goat milk feta cheese, I cut the lump of curd into roughly half inch cubes and slip them into the brine. Be sure all the curd is covered with brine. Put a cover on the bowl and set it in the refrigerator for a few hours.

goat milk feta cheese
The feta cheese curd is much firmer after soaking in the brine for a few hours. Still, as I rinse the curd off under the cold water faucet, I use my hand to soften the flow. It takes several turns around and rinsing to get the brine off. Leaving the curd in the colander and letting it drain overnight keeps moisture out of the cheese container and slows spoiling. The feta can be frozen for use in a couple of months.

When you wander back into the kitchen, take the cheese out of the refrigerator. Drain the cheese in the colander. Rinse the cheese with cold water.

Set the colander onto the bowl, cover it and put it back in the refrigerator for several hours, even overnight. The brine, whey and water will drain off.

The cheese cubes tend to stick together in the colander. I break them up as I put the cheese into containers. Your goat milk feta cheese is now ready to use. It keeps nearly two weeks due to the salt. It mixes into scrambled eggs, on salads, melts onto tomato halves and crumbles into a delicious Greek salad.

You can find how to make fresh milk ricotta or mozzarella in previous posts and find out more about using goat meat and milk in “Goat Games“.

Making Goat Milk Mozzarella Cheese

Don’t think my goat milk mozzarella cheese tastes like it came from a store. It doesn’t. Nor does every batch come out exactly the same. But I like it and I’m told it’s delicious.

Like all cheese, my goat milk mozzarella cheese begins with milk. I put up a gallon a day for two days before my normal cheese making day as this cheese begins with cold, older milk.

chilling goat milk
Glass jars are best for chilling goat milk in the refrigerator. Plastic absorbs bacteria and leaches chemicals. Glass is easy to clean.

Making mozzarella requires a few new pieces of equipment and ingredients. In addition to the stainless steel pot, whisk, thermometer and colander, I add a spatula, large slotted spoon, large glass loaf pan and bowl to set the colander in. Citric acid and canning salt from the canning section at the market and rennet ordered by mail are the ingredients.

goat milk mozzarella cheese equipment set up
These are set up when I start heating the curd. The colander is slid over as close to the pot as possible. It can be set over the loaf pan so the whey can be poured out of the bowl. It is put back to continue working with the curd.

A gallon of cold milk is poured into the pot. I add three quarters of a teaspoon citric acid, then pour in the other gallon. A few quick rounds with the whisk mixes the citric acid in. Extra milk from the morning’s milking adds a half gallon.

cheese making utensils
The spatula is for cutting the curd. It is long enough for two gallongs of milk. Four gallons require a long knife. The slotted spoon is from canning supplies, I think. I’ve had it a long time. It is stainless steel and works well for stirring the curd. It does take clumps of mozzarella curds out, but a strainer is needed to get the last curds out. The one I use has a long wood handle. I stir the whey then catch the curd in the strainer.

The stove is set on low to warm the milk to eighty-six degrees. This can take up to half an hour, but keep checking as cooling the milk down is hard. I whisk in the rennet mixed into a quarter cup water), turn off the heat, put on the lid and do other things for half an hour while the curd sets up.

Using the spatula, I cut the curd. The process is to slice the curd every quarter to half inch one way, repeat across to make columns. Holding the spatula at an angle I slice the columns into pieces both ways. Give it five minutes rest.

goat milk mozzarella cheese cut curd
As soon as the curd is cut, whey starts coming out of the curd. When first cut, the cheese curd has a soft, white look. A piece smashes easily in the fingers.

Goat milk mozzarella cheese is not really salted. Instead a tablespoon per half gallon of milk is sprinkled on top of the curds. Turn the heat on low. Use the big spoon to stir the curd and mix the salt into the whey.

The curds will need stirring every five minutes or so as the mixture heats to around one hundred twenty degrees to set the curd. I sit and read a magazine or book. The curd will change from soft lumps into firm, rubbery smaller lumps.

goat milk mozzarella cheese cooked curds
As the cheese curd is heated in the salted whey, it shrinks. Once the temperature is over a hundred degrees, the curd starts looking rubbery, a little melted. It will cling together. Most of it sinks.

Goat milk mozzarella cheese is stretched. That means the hot curds when lifted up, will droop down like those pictures of people eating pizza. The curds must be hot enough so the whey is left in the pan in case the curds need more heating.

I ladle out the curds into the colander with first the slotted spoon and then a strainer. The curds are turned and pushed into one large lump. Be sure to dump the whey out of the bowl a few times. I lift the lump up and let it stretch down toward the colander, fold it over and repeat. The stretching gets slower as the curds cool. (If the lump does not stretch, slide it back into the hot whey and heat it on one side, then the other for a few minutes before trying again.)

goat milk mozzarella cheese
I’ve found Pyrex loaf pans make great forms for my goat milk mozzarella cheese. I press the cheese into the pan, pour off any whey, put in a plastic bag and chill. It’s easy to take the whole thing out or cut it into pieces first.

I shape the lump into a cylinder and press it into the loaf pan pouring off extra whey. The goat milk mozzarella cheese is ready to chill in the refrigerator. It’s great on pizza, but hard to grate. This cheese melts in cooking as the curds were heated.

Find this recipe and others in “Goat Games“.

Vinegar Set Fresh Milk Ricotta Cheese

A very easy cheese to begin with is vinegar set fresh milk ricotta. It takes no rennet or starters or press, but does take some care and practice.

Equipment is essential in making good cheese. First is a stainless steel pot with lid. As with choosing a milk pail and tote, quality is worth the price as it can last for years. one of mine is thirty years old. As to size, one holding two gallons is a good place to start.

set fresh milk ricotta cheese
When the vinegar is whisked in, the curd is scattered in the whey. Once the pan is set aside to cool, the curd settles down to the bottom leaving a layer of whey on top. This whey can be used in cooking, if it is fresh. One cheese maker I met poured the whey out in a trough for her goats. They loved it.

Other equipment for vinegar set fresh milk ricotta includes a dairy thermometer, stainless steel colander, cloth (Most recipes call for cheesecloth. I prefer bridal veil netting as the weave is set and it is easy to wash.) and whisk. The other ingredients are fresh milk and white vinegar.

Although this cheese is called vinegar set, it is actually acid set. Instead of white vinegar, apple cider vinegar will work, but can color the cheese slightly. Lemon juice works, but gives a lower yield. It’s great for lemon cheesecake.

After milking, bring in the milk and strain it directly into the pot. I like using a wire strainer lined with a paper towel for this. Milk from the refrigerator can be used as long as it isn’t more than a day old.

fresh milk ricotta cheese
Once the layer of whey is poured off, the layer of fresh milk ricotta cheese is left. Pouring off the whey must be down carefully or the cheese will break and pour out too. Usually I pour the whey out through the colander so it catches the cheese. There is additional whey in the cheese. It will drain out on its own. I put the colander back on the pan, put a plate over it and set it in the refrigerator for a few hours. The whey can be pressed or squeezed out also.

Slowly heat the milk. This cheese has a wide temperature tolerance. Most cheeses need a precise temperature. The final temperature can be 175 degrees to 185 degrees. Do not allow the milk to boil. Occasional stirring with the whisk helps heat the milk evenly.

I prefer the lower temperature as the milk sets slightly slower allowing stirring with the whisk to keep the curd smaller.

The amount of vinegar used is not precise either. I generally use 1/2 cup per gallon. This sets the milk quickly and gives a minimal vinegar taste.

When the milk reaches the desired temperature, whisk in the vinegar. You will see the curd form. Turn off the heat or move the pot off the heat. Cover it and leave it until the cheese cools down.

Line the colander with the cloth. Pour the curds and whey into the colander. Work the cheese to remove the whey.

draining fresh milk ricotta cheese
This was a small batch of fresh milk ricotta cheese from a half gallon of milk. It was set at around 170 degrees with the vinegar whisked in briskly and gave a fine curd. Larger curd is easier to drain. This is a good cheese to use instead of tomato sauce on pizza with vegetable slices, meat etc. spread on top along with mozzarella cheese.

Since my colander has small holes, I don’t bother with a cloth unless the curd is very fine. I pour the liquid in, let it drain, pick up the colander and roll it so the curds begin to coalesce removing more of the whey. Press out more whey with a spoon or your hands.

Put the curds into a storage container and refrigerate. Your vinegar set fresh milk ricotta is ready to use.

There are some milk, cheese and meat recipes in “Goat Games“.

Cheese Begins As Milk

When I started raising goats, it was for the milk. I liked drinking milk and had problems drinking cow’s milk, but not goat milk. Except the amount of milk in the refrigerator kept mounting. Well, cheese begins as milk.

The simplest cheese is set with vinegar. The milk is heated enough to kill off most bacteria in the milk.

cheese begins as milk safely produced
Goat milk absorbs odors and can get dirty left open in the milk room making a stainless steel tote a must. Warm milk breeds bacteria. A simple ice bottle can cool milk in the tote during hot weather.

For most cheeses the milk is not heated to those temperatures. The milk can be pasteurized before making the cheese, but then various starters must be added or the cheese doesn’t make well.

I prefer to use unpasteurized milk to make cheese. That makes the remark cheese begins as milk take on great significance. Bacteria laden milk will spoil the cheese.

Clean milk begins with good milking equipment. I started with a quality stainless steel milk bucket and tote. These are expensive, but good care keeps them in good shape for decades.

Nubian doe on milk stand
Dairy goats do have long legs, but they are still close to the ground. The solution is a milk stand. This is a simple, sturdy one used now for over thirty years. The legs are braced. The front has two 2 x 4’s, one rigged with a bolt to act as a stanchion. The latch is a long nail on a chain pushed through a hole. The metal mesh on the stand does collect dirt, but provides good footing for the goat. The stand restrains the goat for giving shots and trimming hooves as well as for milking. the Nubian doe is High Reaches Pamela.

Warm milk is a great place to live in the opinion of bacteria. Winter cold takes care of this problem for months. As soon as temperatures stay above sixty other measures are needed. My solution is a pint plastic juice bottle of ice placed in the tote to cool the milk as soon as it is added. If you do this, remember water expands ten percent when it freezes (Investigation found in “The City Water Project”) so leave head space.

Both the milking equipment and the ice bottle are cleaned as soon as the milk is poured out. Scratching stainless steel ruins it. A soft scouring pad cleans without scratching.

cheese begins as milk from an udder
Some books say to wash the goat’s udder. Others say not to. For me, I wash a muddy udder. Otherwise I brush it off. A circular, hard rubber horse curry comb works really well even for dirt. A stainless steel bucket is best and I had one for years. At a time I thought I was quitting milking, I sold my bucket. The Tupperware pitcher works well, but must be thoroughly cleaned. If my milk stays fresh in the refrigerator for over seven days, my procedure is working. Otherwise I check for sloppiness.

Goat milk needs to be strained into clean glass jars and refrigerated as soon as possible. Some cheeses use milk fresh from the barn. The vinegar cheese does. Feta and Cuata can be fresh or cold. Mozzarella milk must be cold.

Don’t fall into this trap: ‘the milk looks clean, why bother to strain it?’ It’s amazing what you don’t see. Taking a sip of milk and getting a mouthful of hair is really icky. You can use special filters. I’ve used Viva paper towels for years with good results.

Cheese begins as milk. Now that good, clean milk is waiting in the kitchen, it’s time to make some cheese. I make  few simple cheeses and will go through them one a week for a few weeks.

Harriet buys her dream Nubian dairy goats and must learn to milk in “Capri Capers“.

Cowbird Entrepreneurs

Brown headed cowbirds are not a favorite of birders. I see their points. However, the cowbird entrepreneurs living here have my thanks.

Unlike most birds, cow birds do not build nests. They sneak into other birds’ nests and lay their eggs leaving those birds to raise baby cowbirds that often get rid of the competition.

At the bird feeder cowbirds move in as a flock running out most other birds. They inhale the sunflower seeds and leave the other more desirable birds to go hungry.

The first objection to cowbirds has become a big problem due to people. We cut down and split up forests so susceptible birds are left within reach for the grassland loving cowbirds.

cowbird entrepreneurs gather in trees
The brown headed cowbirds gather in the trees as the herd of goats approaches. Goats tend to race out to an area jostling each other. The birds are waiting for the herd to settle down and graze.

The second hasn’t proved out on our feeder. Our first feeder mob is morning doves. They literally cover the entire feeder floor leaving no room for other birds. Even cowbirds and blue jays give way. The cowbirds move in next, eat their fill and leave. There is still plenty of sunflower seeds, scratch feed and suet for the other birds.

All day I see cowbirds around the barn lot. They clean up dropped feed, ticks and other unwanted insects. I wish they ate flies.

Over spring lone star ticks are a big problem on the goats. By early summer the biggest nuisances, according to the goats, are the horseflies and deerflies.

This brings in the cowbird entrepreneurs.

In Africa rhinos, antelopes and elephants have tick birds sitting on them eating ticks and other bothersome insects. There are no tick birds in the Ozarks.

cowbird entrepreneurs sit on the goats
The brown headed cowbirds fly down from the trees and land on the goats. The goats ignore their passengers. The birds hop up and down the backbone checking for insects and ticks on the goat or flying up out of the grass.

This year especially I have noticed the cowbirds sitting on the goats. Mostly they seem to dive off after insects the goats scare up in the grass.

However, the cowbirds also hop up and down on the backs of the goats. A big, juicy horsefly must be a tasty cowbird treat.

The goats don’t seem to mind their riders. Any help eliminating horseflies is welcome.

Thanks, cowbird entrepreneurs.

Find more about our bird feeding experiences in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.