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.