Monday, December 31, 2012

Projects and a half arsed Lantanaland year in review.

I'm a guy that needs projects. Half formed ideas swirling around in my mind, theories on how I can improve Lantanaland and make use of the land that we have. Some of these never become more than pipe dreams. Some, like my rotating chook pens, get done and then done again when you come home from the family Xmas to find the cows have eaten your vegetable patch for their Xmas dinner. But the dreaming and thinking of projects yet to be keeps you interested while you do yet another day of fencing or shovelling cow shit around fruit trees.

All in all it's been a pretty good year on the farm. I haven't killed too many fruit trees and The Boy and I have enjoyed the afternoon potter around the farm, watering and feeding. It has been a bad year for rain, almost none in spring and early summer at all and most of the big storms have passed us by. The reserve tank is still empty. Which didn't help yesterday when I needed some gravity fed water when the power went out. Despite the cows destroying the two chook pens, that system is working pretty well. The finger limes have sprouted, the first time in seven years that I haven't killed one. I am so keen to have some of these fruit, many great cooking opportunities.

The cows have had a productive year, two calves, one planned and one unplanned and both within a week, exactly what you don't want as a smallholder. They kindly helped with my fitness and The Boy's knowledge of the surrounding area when they escaped into the surrounding hills. I spent two weeks traipsing up and down hills with a loaf of bread calling fruitlessly into the lantana. I wouldn't be surprised if The Boy's first words aren't 'here girls, up you come' or 'where are you, you #%*+*% cows'. I've made a heap of cheese and kept the herd share in reasonable supply, the ones I can get to anyway. Soon I'll have to get the boy calf cut and send Laf off for a romantic retreat. I have a bit of a project planned for the yards as well now I have the welder, so that the cows can go straight through and I can milk two cows if I want. Of course the real project for the cows is the hand pumped milker, which I know exists, there are some in India, but I need to hook up with a friendly engineer who can help me build one.

The chickens have kicked back into gear, I hatched out some fertile eggs from the wonderful Kath and there are guinea fowl and duck eggs in the incubator. I have some geese coming. With the welder I can now build pens as I need them, a very handy thing. I should have some roosters to eat in the autumn. Having your own eggs and milk and cheese means that a tasty meal is not that hard to rustle up if you are too lazy to go to the shops on the way home. Just keep a chorizo and bacon on hand at all time. Or some cold smoked salmon.

It's been a bit of quiet year in the kitchen, I've done a few little things like make my own harissa and a few preserves. I really enjoyed getting a good crop of guavas, they are a weed at Lantanaland and making some jam and the most awesome relish. After five years of ignoring them I'm now eyeing off the developing fruit for some good relish this year. In preparation I've planted about ten different types of chilli which if I can keep the cows away from them should give some nice preserve options.

The less said about fencing the better.

However, for the first time Lantanaland is fully fenced and my awesome neighbour Jamie will come back in the new year and cut a road up the hill and rip out some more lantana with the dozer. If I can afford it, I might even get a bit of terracing in. The grass seed on the open ground has taken nicely and my slow pasture improvement keeps rolling on. Doubt we will have the resources to do pigs this year, that remains another one of those things that keeps you going for another year.

My project in my head, just percolating away is mulberry brandy. I've been thinking, when I get the other three mulberry trees going (cows love them, they pushed into one of the chook pens to eat one), I am going to have a lot of fruit. I already make an awesome syrup that I store and mix through yoghurt as a fantastic snack but what about some wine. Distill it, stick in a barrel and see what happens? Brandy is a really useful cooking ingredient if nothing else, but the thought of lucking out and making a really nice drink is appealing to my suck it and see ethic. Lantanaland is a bit that way, I do some planning, but I listen to the land, it tells me what works and what doesn't, when I've got a hole in the snake proof chook pen and when a fence is down. There is a few other things on the boil for next year which hopefully comes through but to all those that came down and helped or had a feed, many thanks and ill see you next year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Herd Dynamics (and The Boy turns 1 hooray)

The Boy turned one yesterday. I'm not a 'we have to have a clown, jumping castle and pony' parent but I really wanted to have a bit of a celebration for him. (Ponies are useless anyway, can't really eat them or milk them.) It was more so he could get passed round to all the folk that have a place in his life for a bit of cuddle and some love. I rate other things higher than elaborate parties obviously, space and a relationship with the food that he eats. There was a moment during the afternoon that made me think that Lantanaland should not be taken for granted.

One of The Wife's old school mates came with her beautiful son and daughter. We had moved the silkies up to the pen I use for chick raising so they could all have a pet and one of them had laid a little silkie egg. He got it out and brought it up to show me. "You can keep that mate" I told him, as I tell all the kids who come and visit the chooks. I wish I could bottle that look on his face, the sheer joy of getting a fresh egg from a chook you could actually see. I gave him an egg carton to keep it safe and I never saw him without it clutched in his hands for the rest of the afternoon.

You need moments like these to balance out the days of sheer frustration. I'm milking Dolores at the moment and she has my whole block to roam in. Laf was off in the neighbours vastly bigger paddock getting fatter after a close moment where the calf was drinking more than she could cope with. The problem with that is that Dolores doesn't like coming up to the top paddock. So if I want milk I have to go and coax her with food and halter, back up the bloody steep hill. The moment where she wrenched me back down the hill and re injured my back was just a touch irritating. I had to sit down and think it out, because this wasn't working.

I've got enough grass now to support both cows and the solution was to bring Laf back. She is a lead cow born, you call, she comes and the rest follow like, well, a herd of cows. So the last two days I've called her up, Dolores has followed and I lock them both away. In the morning I milk Laf for a few litres then turn her out and milk Dolores. The amazing thing is that milking Laf seems to make Dolores let her milk down. I would've got 7L out of her both days easy. Today I got 9L combined.

It's good to get Laf back in the habit of being milked. I can take a bit more on the mornings I want to make cheese or need a big lot for the herd share. Buggered if I know what I'll do when Laf goes on holiday to get 'in the family way'. That's a problem for another day.

We finished off the weekend with a street Xmas party. It was good to meet some of the neighbours that I hadn't met before. I drank a few beers, scored a massage, an experimental buffalo fly trap and 5 geese. The Wife is up there kicking on while I came home and put my beautiful boy to bed. I hope he grows up with the same joy that little boy had getting his tiny silkie egg.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Don't Gnocch It Till You Try It

Anyone who knows me knows that I love potatoes, love with a passion that should be reserved for first born children and The Wife. I love them in any form and it has been bugging me that I can't make gnocchi. In fact I am keen to break out my pasta skills a bit more as I have an abundance of eggs at the moment, including the holy grail of pasta makers, duck eggs.

I have the long skinny forms of fresh pasta down pat and was keen to get into some shapes. As per usual, twitter gave me some great responses, including one awesome page on a heap of different fresh pastas from @manusmenucom. As I was scrolling through and wiping drool off the iPad, I noticed the gnocchi. The recipe looked simple enough. I was determined to give it a go.

Of course I didn't follow the recipe to the letter. I just used two potatoes, boiled and skinned and mashed with a fork. I stirred in a little fine flour and then the duck egg and kept adding flour until it achieved the correct consistency. I failed miserably in using the fork to make little scroll shaped gnocchi, so I stuck to the pillows.

I just made a really simple sauce of fried speck, onion, mushrooms, red wine and sugo simmered gently for a while. The gnocchi came out beautifully, soft and pillowy, the gnocchi of my dreams. On the weekend I will have a go at some shells, my love for potato is almost matched by that of fresh pasta and if they are all as successful as tonight I'll be a happy man.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Going a little fruity. #agtalks

Back in my great grandmothers day, everybody kept chooks or knew someone that did and grew a bit of veg and had at least one fruit tree in the back yard. It wasn't because they were tree hugging greenies or new age hipsters, it was just what you did. In the hard times it was probably the best way to ensure that everyone got fed.

I realise that those days are mostly gone, not everyone has the time or the energy to keep chooks or grow veg. Hell I love home grown veg and suck at keeping them alive. But fruit trees, once established, require minimum work. They give you great pleasure and have no food miles. Yet no government encourages anyone to grow them. With all the carbon and climate change talk does anyone realise how many miles a lemon or apple does to get to your door (especially if it is from overseas).

Is it because they think food is best left to farmers and Colesworth and not for people at home? I know I get great pride every time I drive past one of my old share houses and see the beautiful lime tree in the front yard. They might only use them for their corona on a Friday night but that's better than one from the states at $1.50 a pop.

My orchard is a few years away from being productive but I look forward to the day when I will supply all my fruit needs and some of my mates and neighbours as well.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Making Cheese- Halloumi and waiting too long to make it.

It's funny how you can lose confidence in something. The last batch of halloumi I made didn't work. At the cooking stage it just melted away. Halloumi isn't a brie level of investment of time, but its still dispiriting when you spend hours, from milking the cow to all the process of cheese making just to dump the end result.

I'd been making a heap of feta and not much else though, so I really felt I should do something else with the weekend milk. Dolores had got out and scoffed a heap of pollard as well as the bit of green grass around the house, so I got an awesome 8.5L of milk to work with. I followed the recipe to the letter and was rewarded with four good sized chunks of cheese.

It was so successful I repeated the dose today. When I cooked up a sample of Saturdays effort I mentally kicked myself for waiting to have another go. Fresh halloumi has the flavour, but is softer, creamier, like super halloumi. Time to add it to the list of cheeses I can make without checking the book.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Rain and Bones

I've always loved the rain. One of our share housing criteria back in the day was a tin roof so you could lie in bed and listen to the patter of the rain. (The other ones were a deck, gas cooktop and a wooden toilet seat) I've also always had an appreciation for water usage. I grew up on tank water, particularly at The Island where you had a very finite amount to use for each stay, so the lessons of water conservation are pretty ground in to my brain.

When we moved to Lantanaland, the water situation is even more real. Waste water and you end up with a bill for a truck to come up the hill. Then we got the cows and I got a little bit obsessive. I started to feel like the soil was part of my body and as it dried out and the grass dwindled I could feel the dryness in me. The last two months as I've been wandering around chasing the cows I can feel the hardness, the dryness of the soil coming up through my boots.

Last night as the first drops hit the roof in what I hoped would be a day of rain to come, the part of me inside that is Lantanaland relaxed a little. Today I can feel the soil slowly rehydrating, the grass waking up, the tank slowly filling. It feels good.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A bit has been happening at Lantanaland, eventually.

It's been bloody dry here at Lantanaland this spring. Anecdotally I think it's the driest since we moved here. The year we came here it was like this, not a hint of green in the verges and the house lawns brittle and crackling. Of course this means that means that cows find the grass on the other side of the fences much more attractive than no grass or hay. The star pickets loosen in the dry ground and fences develop weak points. We decided to have a week off to recharge the batteries and I'd get the two jobs done that really needed attention, fencing the rest of our boundary and doing two day pens for the chooks. It didn't work out exactly as planned.

The week before I ran into my fantastic neighbour at the produce store. I mentioned that I was going to be slashing a fence line and did he want me to go inside the gate so that his cows could still get through to the hill. He thought I was insane to do the clearing with the brush cutter and by pure chance had his excavator down that side of the hill on the Monday. On Sunday he came round for a beer and told me to go and see the bloke driving it and let him know where the fence should go. Once I heard him start up on the Monday morning I took Tally for a walk down the hill to have a chat.

He asked me to chop down a few branches that would get in the road of the cab so off I ran to get the chainsaw and by the time I'd cleared a path he had begun. I've never seen an excavator work up close clearing land and it is just amazing. Thinking of how much effort it would be for me to do with the brush cutter, watching it work was just mind blowing. In fifteen minutes he'd cleared the corner near the gate. Rather than just pushing up the fence line he was pushing back the lantana. By morning tea he was up at the house and had cleared all the lantana on the slope just in front of the retaining wall. Then he went and cleared a twenty meter zone around the high side of the dam. By the time he had finished I had maybe a fifth of all the lantana on the property scraped into big piles.

The first order of business was to get some grass seed down in case of rain. I went for a cow pea, rhodes grass and pigeon pea mix. I would like to sow native grasses but have not yet won the lottery. About six kilos gave a good coverage and now I just want about three days of nice gentle soaking rain to get things started.

The next big job was some day pens for the chooks. With the fertile eggs from Kath boosting my chook stocks I needed a bit more space for weekday exploration. The plan is two rotating pens. One to grow fodder and some veg, the other to be fertilized and destroyed. As many weeds and clippings as I can muster will go into the pens to make it a nice deep litter for them to scratch over. The centre piece of each side will be a fruit tree for shade and food. On the western side, a mulberry and a fig on the eastern side. The western side, the one still with grass in it, has asparagus and sweet potato under mesh. They'll hopefully get fertilized as the chooks sit on top and pick. On the eastern side I have planted out a whole heap of things. As chook fodder there is comfrey, lemongrass, arrowroot, turmeric and jerusalem artichoke. For food for us, cucumber, beans, grapes, raspberry and logan berry. I threw down some old radish seed as well and mulched well. Hopefully by the end of summer it will be chocked full of stuff for the chooks to feed off for a few months while I grow in the other side in winter.

I still haven't got the fence finished as Dolores had escaped to Jamie's again and I spent three days getting her back. But I now know the power of the excavator and will be saving for another half days work to clear another section once this one is nicely grassed. Who knows, maybe even one day we will have more grass than lantana?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Small Things

One my great failings (amongst many) is boredom. Not that I mind being bored, I can be happily bored for quite a long time. It is more that on Lantanaland, all these little jobs keep popping up. Not the little jobs that demand being done, like a hole in the fence or a cow on the road or in the front garden. No, these are little jobs that don't really matter if they aren't done this weekend, after I've had another coffee and read another chapter of this book. The big jobs are easy. Tool up, stride off with a manly purposeful air and get something done. It is fun and you get a warm glow of completing a hard task.

The thing is that not doing the little job is like little specks of grit in the machine. Take the lid of the snake proof pen. It had some dry rot in it, not enough that the baby chooks could get out, but, as it turns out, enough that a snake could slide in and eat three of my chicks. Fixed that one on Saturday.

I also made some compost jelly. This is just a jam without solids, made with all the fruit that needed using in the fruit bowl. Mandarins, apple, pear and a few mulberries got boiled up and sieved. Then mixed with sugar, 2/3 of the weight of the liquid and boiled for ten minutes. Though in keeping with all my jam making endeavors it hasn't set. I think I'll mix it through yoghurt as a snack instead. Or as a glaze for a roast. It tastes great anyway.

The other thing is waste. I am short on grass at the moment, this is the driest late winter and spring in five years so I am buying feed. The last big round bale had a lot of stemmy grass in it. The cows eat all the hay that is soft and you are left with a bunch of hard stems. I could let it rot down into the soil but to make the most of it it needed to go into the chook pen. They'll break it down into great soil that I can use elsewhere.

I also planted out a blood orange and some tomato seeds that mum had saved for me, brushed the cow, changed the water over for the animals, watered some trees and minded The Boy while The Wife worked on a presentation. What it does do is clear my mind for the next big jobs. A hard wire day enclosure for the chooks, in anticipation of the numbers in the hen house growing by 19, sorry 16. Then I'm finally going to cut the final fence line down the side and through the thick lantana at the bottom to join up to the new back fence. That will give the cows enough summer feed and start clearing out that section. And I'll enjoy doing that a lot more knowing I've no little jobs nagging at me to get finished.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A few quick notes about feta

Feta is defined in the Lantanaland big book of cheese as - a bloody easy cheese to make when you have not much time and lots of milk. Luckily we use lots of it, The Wife makes a especially good silverbeet, salami and feta pie but I have been making a slightly different one from a recipe given to me by cheese maker @highlandorganic.

The standard feta I make is very simple. Get your freshly milked milk, at cow temperature and add a dash of flora danica and 2mm of rennet and whack it in the dream pot (like a big camping thermos) for the day. That night the milk will have set into a big cylindrical curd, so I drain the whey around it off and then using a big slotted spoon, take slices out and layer into a big plastic cube with holes in it. Once all the curd is layered in I put another container with water on top to lightly press it. By the next morning it will have reduced to a quarter of the size and I cut it into big cubes and put it in a weak salt solution.

You end up with a nice soft feta, that has flaky layers it in. I really like it and it is amazingly quick and easy to make. But I really like the even softer feta that you get in marinated feta. (the flaky one still makes great marinated feta). A chat with a cheese maker on twitter gave me another, slightly more complicated recipe to follow. Apologies to @highlandorganic if I have it completely wrong.

Take you freshly milked milk at cow temperature and add a sprinkle of flora danica. Let that sit for 30 minutes or so then add the rennet. Once you have a firm set, cut the curd into two cm cubes, gently. Let it sit and heal for a while, then remove the whey with a ladle over the next few hours. Keep doing it until the curd is about two thirds to a half of the original. Then gently place in the molds. I use bits of poly pipe with holes drilled into them. I was using plastic draining trays but they are hopeless, the pipes keep falling over, so I've just bought six wire cooling racks. Let sit for 30 minutes to settle, then turn every hour till you go to bed. You'll end up with a cheese about half the length of the poly.

The cheese then goes in a weak brine for at least a day. You can store it in there for ages, or roll it in dried herbs and place it in oil for that soft marinated feta. I have given away all the first batch but I'm keen to see if the texture is heaps creamier than my layer method. Either way, feta is the simplest, no fuss way of dealing with lots of milk. With 5L a day, feta is always on the menu.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Why I like fruit trees

I read an anecdote from Stephanie Alexander, where she had had a big day of speaking and was starving, so she wandered into Colesworth and grabbed a couple of apples to tide her over. She bit into one and was rewarded with a chalky, tasteless mass. It's not really colesworth's fault I guess, we've made it so we want stuff all year round, and cheap, so they have developed fruit that will store well for long periods of time and travel well, and look good in a pyramid. Taste just fell by the wayside.

This is why the first few mulberries make me incredibly happy. It's not really a supermarket fruit, considering it bruises from the tree to the kitchen. They taste great though and after a poor season last year this year looks like it is going to be a cracker. Buggered if I know why last year was poor. The fruit this year is already big and plump and there was about a bowlful ripe when I went scavenging at lunch time.

Mulberries make great pies and tarts but they rarely get further than a smoothie at Lantanaland. A bowlful of fruit, yoghurt, ice cream, ice and some fresh Lantanaland milk and you have a tasty nutritious lunch. I swapped out the ice cream and ice today for some strawberry sorbet I'd made the other day with a big batch of strawberries that mum had bought.

While they fruit it is pretty much my standard breakfast, with maybe a few almonds or oats thrown in for bulk. I can't wait till all my trees are in production and I have boom and bust for a whole range of fruit. Preserved lemons, marmalade, cider are all the fantastic things you can have when you are dealing with a surplus of fresh fruit.

In other news I have finally started cheese production again. I milked out 15L of milk over the weekend, all which went into a feta recipe a cheese maker on twitter put me on to. It is so satisfying to be making cheese again. I really need to get my cheese press made and have a crack at some harder cheeses.

One of my glaring weaknesses as a cheese maker is note taking and record keeping. In an attempt to rectify this I have started a very boring blog to keep track of the cheeses I make. I will label the cheese the herd share gets and they can go to that cheese and read the notes and give me feedback. I'm hoping it will keep me on the path of better record keeping. Because I want to be making a lot more cheese!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I am an idiot. No, I am a complete and utter idiot.

Sometimes on the farm, you have to suck it up and admit that the trade offs that you made were in the long run, just plain dumb. I had been letting the cows wander out into the unfenced grassy area, because my fenced paddocks were eaten down and I didn't want buy feed. I also feel like the cows eat more and are happier when they are out on the grass. It's very dry here at Lantanaland, I will have to buy water this week, there is just not much grass around.

At first, they came back every night readily enough. A few times I had to chase them down the hill but they mostly came back. The times they had to be chased was usually when they got two days out in a row and I thought I had cleverly solved that problem by locking Dolores up in the home paddock on the days where I didn't come home in the evening. It had the opposite effect, last Tuesday when I let them out they didn't come home.

In the following days the only happy campers at Lantanaland were The Boy and Tally the dog, who both got a good walk when I got home every day. Every day I explored another cow path down one side of the ridge or the other. Or both. I have a lovely criss cross pattern on my arms from the less cleared paths. Highlights included jumping full stretch into some lantana as one of my neighbours steers, with a beautiful four foot rack of horns charged back down the path at me when Tally spooked him and The Boy falling asleep as I slugged up the steepest track on the hill.

By the weekend I was getting a bit down and a bit worried. I usually really get concerned when the milk runs out. By Monday I was convinced that they were no longer in the big paddock. They'd got out somewhere and were either eating someone else's grass or had been picked up by the council or even worse, stolen. Everyone has seen those flyers out in suburbia, 'have you seen Misty the cat or Spot the dog?' Instead I posted thirty odd flyers in letter boxes in the streets either side of the hill with a picture of two cows and a phone number. Desperate times.

Of course as soon as I did this the cows came home. As I drove up the hill and automatically slowed on the bend that gave me the best view of the opposite hill I spotted the distinct black and white speckle of Dolores. I raced up the hill and coaxed them back, very slowly, with a loaf of bread. They had been on all you could eat grass smorgasbord and were not keen to go back to grassy hay. How I miss my fruit waste. The next worry was the calves. They were not with the cows, I wasn't too fazed, they often will hide themselves for a sleep, but after a week trekking after hidden cows, I would have rather had them home as well. I had to go pick up The Boy and collect his Grandma from the train and on the return trip I spotted the calves trotting along the ridge line towards home. I didn't even have to go and coax them home. The cows are now all grounded for the foreseeable future. It might cost me more in feed but it will free up time for other jobs, things that need doing. The rains will come, the grass will grow and I'll get another paddock fenced but till then I'll be keeping the girls close to home. I don't think I could face the shame of buying milk at the shops again.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A great weekend - first fathers day.

My mum is a nice lady. My folks were down for a week doing dental/optic/skin checks and she offered The Wife and I a child free lunch date. Which we gladly accepted. I put the word out for a good place to eat but quickly realised with it being Fathers Day weekend that most places would be booked or at least crowded. What we wanted was a lazy quiet feed, preferably in a dark corner so I could have a post lunch nap and no one would notice. Nowhere in SEQLD was going to fit that bill on that weekend.

What I had noticed though, on my trips up and down the hills chasing cows was a fantastic little flat area underneath a lone pine tree right at the top of the grassed paddock. It looked like a great picnic spot, all it needed was ten minutes with a shovel to remove the evedince that it was also a favourite spot for the cows to picnic. The thought of a few hours up there eating good food and drinking some bubbles seemed pretty appealing. No designated driver, no travel, just a walk up a steep hill.

That meant some good picnic food. I thought a pear and blue cheese tart would travel well, but be decadent enough to make lunch seem a bit special. Layers of filo pastry and butter, slices of pear and blue cheese and a few pistachio nuts to finish off. It certainly looked good.

There was a bit of a cool breeze walking straight up the slope but for once the lantana did something useful, providing an effective windbreak in our chosen spot. Bubbles were poured, tart demolished, much to the dogs disgust, all with this amazing vista in front of us. For atmosphere, I doubt many restaurants could match it. In Brisbane or anywhere.

A bubbles induced nap followed and we marveled that we'd lived at Lantanaland for five years and never been up here. For serenity, it was hard to match. Kid and cow chasing beckoned and Tally and I ran off down the hill to see if we could rustle up some missing cows. No luck on that side and despite being a bit puffed, the old dog came down the other side for a look. No luck there either but the folks and the family were in the spa so I joined them to soothe the stings of choosing the wrong fork in a cow track.

Sunday was my first Fathers Day. I usually push back against commercial holidays and events but I'll admit, I was looking forward to my first celebration as a dad. The Wife, being the beautiful lady that she is, made pancakes with bacon, strawberries, ice cream and the real deal maple syrup that the folks had brought home from Canada.

"Curtis" also got me a canvas of one of my favourite pictures of him, the little Buddha at sunset. The Wife takes some amazing photos, not only on the proper camera, but she really knows how to get the most out of the iPhone as a camera and uses all the software in it, as well as the little lens kit I got her to full effect.

The day finished off with more cow chasing, this time I ran all the way down the hill to the back fence, Tally scrambling madly to keep up. Letting the cows out is doing wonders for my fitness. If all my fathers day weekends are as good as this one, I'll be a happy man.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A walk down some hills.

After the disappointment of Candy the Dexter giving me only a few litres of milk a day, the 5-7L that Dolores was giving up was causing me great pleasure. Feta had been made, yoghurt and brie planned and the cheese press plans back in full effect. Not all was rosy though. Laf was losing weight, very, very quickly. The calf was taking so much she was burning more energy than she could produce. Simply, she wasn't getting enough food. I upped her hay, but the fenced paddocks just didn't have enough. There was no choice but to let her out into my untended paddock and by extension the neighbours as well. Not that they mind but there is a lot of space for a cow to wander, and all hilly.

For a week things were going fine, the girls would wander down in the afternoon and be put away for the night and Laf quickly gained back the weight she had lost and was no longer looking like Skeletor's pet cow. On Wednesday night I went straight to training from work and didn't get home till nine. They hadn't wandered down the hill and the next morning I was gone before there was enough light to call them in. The next afternoon my mum and dad were here so when they didn't show up I wasn't that fazed, they were probably down the hill and I could go and get them on Friday.

On Friday some old friends from the inner city living days dropped in. They had come down my way to buy a tractor, naturally. They were keen to see a bit more of Lantanaland so we went cow searching. Every other time they have wondered off they stay down on a great bit of grass near Jamie's yards, just behind my back fence. Off we trekked, but at the end, no cows. I was a little more worried, but again was thinking that they were just up the next hill near Jamie's sheds. We didn't have time to go further so I left it for Saturday.

Saturday was double Di party day. It was my neighbours 50th and they were having a street party as well as my mother in laws birthday as well, which we celebrating at night. In between kid wrangling, beers, cake making and beers, I armed myself with the machete and some bread to coax the girls back and ran off down the hill. I went through the back gate and off up the other hill, calling for the girls, plenty of cows but none with big white patches and lots of milk. I even followed the cow path that goes along the right hand side of valley home, in case they were up on the grass there. Nada, no cows. That meant they'd gone....over the other side of the mountain. I'd never gone that way before and had no idea what I'd find. Lantana was a pretty safe bet. The plan was to gear up after breakfast and go looking.

At Di's party I'd mentioned to Cliff, the old guy who had owned our whole street originally that I'd lost the cows. Just as I was getting ready to go, protected for ten foot high lantana, he came over to tell me that they were at the back fence of a farm down the other side and he'd give us a lift down so we could walk them back. The little buggers followed me and my bread quite readily back up the steep climb to Cliffs, then round the hill to Lantanaland. I locked Dolores up for a quick afternoon milk and fed them both lots, just to remind them that they didn't need to walk quite as far for a feed next time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Lantanaland has achieved.....butter.

Ok so it's not winning an Olympic gold medal or landing a souped up Toyota Hilux on the surface on mars but in the history of Lantanaland dairying, it ranks up there with the best Brie I have made.

The book that really kicked me into thinking about living this life was 'A Year of Slow Food', by David and Gerda Foster. Brutally honest about the pros and cons of running a small holding, it nevertheless talked about butter as an annoying by product of owning a dairy cow, of having to dump it to reclaim freezer space, trawling through recipe books for butter heavy recipes and making tons of shortbread.

Now anyone who has eaten my food knows that I am a butter freak. Margarine does not cross my threshold and is viewed in the same category that Campbell Newman is at the headquarters of the public sector union. The day i made my first hollandaise is celebrated every year. So the thought of endless mountains of butter was a touch appealing. The first cow I milked was disappointing, I tried every different way possible, I consulted with dairy people on twitter, I prayed to the milk gods but I could not make butter.

The second cow I milked was not much better, as she never let me milk her out, always saving some for the calf. (for non dairy peeps, the cream is all at the end of milking, so if you just get the top bit, it is pretty much skim milk). Now however, my favorite cow, Dolores is in the milking bale. Placid and adoring, Dolores sits there quite happily till I milk her out. And cream? The first time I milked her I think there was more cream than milk! I couldn't ask for better raw product.

The final piece of the puzzle might be the blender I bought for making The Boy's meals. It hasn't been used at all for that, the stem blender has worked fine but it killed it making the butter. Yesterday I skimmed the cream off tastetrekkers milk and my bottle, placed it in a jar with a scoop of yoghurt and let it culture for a day. Then back in the fridge to chill and the into the blender. Immediately I could tell it was working, I could hear the motor working as the cream thickened then see the butterfat separate from the milk. I was left with about 300g of butter and a bottle of buttermilk, which means pancakes for breakfast Saturday.

The sense of pride was palpable. I had finally cracked the butter code. But what to celebrate with? Eggs benedict, smothered in hollandaise? Simple boiled spuds smothered in butter? Some brioche? I think I'll just make them all!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Catch up

It has been a long time since I've written anything about Lantanaland, not from lack of interesting things, more the opposite. Mostly the time has been going to The Boy. At seven and a bit months he is good fun, lots of cheeky smiles and little milestones. However the momentum for this blog came from the fantastic Mr Flinthart, who writes his as a rambling record for his kids to read one day if they want. History is important and stuff has been happening and thoughts have been percolating that need to be recorded if I am to provide even an incomplete picture of how the farm grew up around us.

Curtis has not just been sitting around playing with his toys. He is quite used to being strapped in and coming to feed the cows and the chooks, water the fruit trees and do the other many small jobs that need doing around the farm. He has even spent a few afternoons in the backpack while I have been fencing. Fencing! How it haunts my nights and causes gnashing of the teeth. More about that a bit later.

The big changes have been the addition and subtraction of the cows. I had to sell Candy, the dexter. Lovely as she was, especially in the milking bales, I could never convince her to give up all her milk without using the calf. The cows are not pets and I haven't made cheese or yoghurt for the herd share since I started milking. Feed is also scarce, and I can't warrant buying feed for a cow giving 2L a day. I also have more mouths to feed. Both Laf and Dolores have calved. Laf had a little bull calf, somewhat surprising as I didn't know she was even in calf and she did so before Dolores! Dolores eventually followed up with a little girl a week later. So I have enough cows at the moment.

Despite having two cows I could be milking I'm getting none. This is because of cash and optimism. I tried to do a day pen for the chooks in electric fencing because I can't afford the mesh for a big run at the moment. It didn't work and a side issue was in all the fiddling round I also rendered the fence I use to separate the calf off at night impotent. So I haven't milked Laf yet because the calf has beaten me to her every morning. You'd think getting up at 430am would be early enough but no, no milk for us. Dolores is in quarantine, having had a shot of antibiotic to clear up some post birth swelling.

I am looking forward to milking Dolores. She is so tame that I swears he has a bit of Golden Retriever in her, she even lets the other calves have a drink. The latest fencing is a small yard around the bales. Of course $1000 and some proper yard fence panels would solve the problem in ten minutes. Mostly I love being innovative and making something out of scarce resources, but right now I want 6L of milk a day and some cheese.

One positive is letting the chooks out to irregularly range has seen an upturn in egg production. Chooks that get a big range have better tasting eggs as well and eggs means some of my favourite foods, aolli, fresh pasta and boiled eggs. The other big sucess has been homemade harissa, using my little ornamental chillies and tomatoes semi dried in the oven then cold smoked in the washing machine smoker. Fantastic depth of tastiness and I can't wait till I have my own yoghurt again.

The next big thing is going to be a decent summer veg production. I really do suck at vegetable growing, but I want enough tomatoes this year to do some bottling and freezing and smoking. Also I'm keen to supply most of the houses fresh greens. We will see, but right now I have to go and check on an electric fence, again.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Content creation

One of the common bits of myth is that tablet computers can't do content creation. We went on holidays last week and I had a really cool picture of The Boy and one of our mates little girl. I wanted to do something with it so I busted out the app Comic Life.

At the same time I wanted to do a shirt with a picture of The Boy on it for my best mate who is going overseas for six months. He really is an uncle to The Boy, Ryno comes round twice a week for dinner and Curtis just lights up when he walks in. I had so much fun with the first comic I decided to do a comic for the shirt instead of a picture.