Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A good bloke

I've written before about my next door (sort of) neighbour, Jamie, who took Buster the bull away and was going to turn him into lovely steaks for me, in return for some of my sausage making knowledge. Sounded like a sweet deal to me and Buster was shipped off the Jamie's home farm, where he got to eat better grass than Lantanaland ever had in his final days. Then I got a call,
"hey John I haven't forgotten you but I've been thinking about that bull, I think we might kill something a bit better tasting and I'll do something else with the bull. Is that ok?"

Of course I jumped at it. Jamie being Jamie it was a few more weeks before he rang to say they'd knocked over a cow and would hang it for a while before butchering it up. Sure enough I got a call on tuesday to say I was on for that afternoon. They'd break the body in the morning and we would make snags after work. I dropped in on the way to work and checked out the quarters, lovely dark meat with a great capping of fat. Once I got in I pre soaked some natural casings and put on some stock to put in the beef snags.

When I got there in the afternoon I was pretty excited. This is four year old beef, on great grass and the snags should have fantastic flavour. I was going to do three, a plain beef snag, but unlike any you would get at a supermarket or most butchers, a smoked chorizo and a cooked salami. The area we were working in was just a farm shed, a steel table, an old mincer and cold room and some tubs. I got straight to work on the beef, hand mixing the meal and stock through the mince and running it through the fine plate again. Then the chorizo and the salami. Unfortunately I forgot to grab some chillies off the bush in the morning so it will be a mild salami.

We were all ready to go and I had had a look at the old modified water sausage filler they had bolted to the wall because they had taken the bottom and legs off for the modifications. We were just standing around waiting for Jamie to 'bring the tractor in'. Jamie had told me that he used the tractor to power the filler but I wasn't sure what he meant. I soon found out! The tractor was backed up and hooked up to the hydraulics. The filler was operated by someone lifting the hydraulics up and down in the cab. Interesting. I threaded the casings onto the nozzle, an old beaten up piece of copper water piping joined on to the filler with a modified irrigation valve. MacGyver would've had a look at this thing and exclaimed "steady on"!

A bit of fiddling around to get the o rings to fit in, not easy when your controller is sitting up in a tractor cab, we loaded the beef snags in and started off. My god, I've never had sausages come out that quickly, it was more cannon than filler. I tried to get the rhythm of it but busted the casing a heap of times. I then filled out some chorizo and some cooked mettwurst salami that I took into work the next day and smoked in the commercial smokehouse at work.

My share is a fair whack of beef. How they dealt with this in the days before refrigeration is a marvel. Jamie is a real old school farmer type bloke, just happy to help and have a go at something. We are bloody lucky to be sharing a boundary with him.

Postscript. Last night we had the first steaks out of the batch. My god they were good. Some stroganoff tomorrow I think, fresh pasta and homekill beef. Heaven.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lantanaland, the good and the not so good.

Things have been busy around Lantanaland, as you would expect with a four month old and some things on the farm have been going good and some not so good but lots being done. The good stuff of course starts with The Boy. We had a lovely mothers day, woke up at 530am, gave The Mum a cup of coffee and her present and sent her back to bed (the present she really wanted). I rugged The Boy up and went and walked the farm, said hi to the chooks and cows, told Candy I'd be back to milk her in a bit, much to her displeasure. It was fantastic.

The other thing that has been quite pleasing is the beginning of the fruit orchard. I have planted (and killed) a few trees since we got here but a while ago we decided to plant out the slope between the house and the road as a little orchard. It is too steep to mow with the ride on, I let the cows clean it up for me but it is just a wasted bit of grass really and the trees that are on it now are either dead or straggly.

This time I have actually used some of my permaculture training in the planning. The area is what would be classed as zone 1 in permaculture, close to the house. In Beeso speak, zone 1 means somewhere you walk past enough every week that you'll remember to bloody well water the fruit trees. This is important as I have killed a few by forgetting to water them after I have them established. To be fair, I've also killed some with overwatering, there is no end to my talents.

So I have started on the steepest part, closest to the road. The soil is crappy, shaley stuff, so I cut shelves in the slope and planted the trees in some car tires I had. The mix I used was out of the chook pen. I have a little prison system going in the chook pen at the moment. The pen is not massive, big enough but too small to maintain any forage so I have been pulling out great big bins of weeds and tossing them in. The last time mum came to visit the weeds were 50cm deep. They happily pick and scratch and dig at them until they have broken down into a lovely rich soil. That's what I used to plant my fruit trees in.

All around the trees I have some chip mulch that I buy from the tree lopper guys. On the high side I planted comfrey. Comfrey is like a super plant in permaculture, great for chooks and cows, accelerates the breakdown of compost and the worms love it. What I wanted it for was its taproot. Putting it on the high side it will send down a incredibly strong taproot. When it rains the water will follow the path that root has made rather than just running down the slope and over the soil. It should give the soils a much higher moisture content. Comfrey also pulls up nutrients and trace elements from deep below the root system of the fruit tree, then you just tear the leaves off and drop them under the tree to rot down and enrich the soil.

On the low side, I planted a little retaining wall of lemongrass. Once established it will create a mini terrace that keeps the mulch and water in. I will finish off my transplanting some pintos peanut there in the wet season once I have my starter patch well established.

So far I have put in a nashi pear, a ruby grapefruit and a finger lime. A mate of ours, Jess, put me onto cheap fruit trees at the Powerhouse markets, so I'll be making a trip up there once the chooks have made me some more potting mix. I'd like to establish all the fruit I know I'll eat first, so some oranges, apples, mandarins, avocado and pear will be on the list. I already had some others in in other places so fingers crossed I can keep these alive and thriving.

The not so good news is the cow and the making of cheese. I was really hopeful of largish amounts of milk out of Candy but she is too good a mum. She is keeping most of her milk up for the calf. No amount of massage, warm water or coaxing will convince her to let it down. Letting the calf on to her for a bit works, but she then bolts the bales and feeds the calf. This is where my bales are really letting me down, no head crush, and no real way to keep her still after the calf has had a suck.

When the calf is in the next paddock she is a great little milker, trots on in to her feed and stands dead still while I milk her. It's only when the calf is close she turns into a cow that lists The Great Escape as her favourite movie. I was really hoping to be cranking out the cheese for the Herdshare by now, but alas I am only getting enough for our milk, a bit of milk for the herdshare and the occasional batch of feta.

Still, it beats buying home brand milk at woolies!