Thursday, 22 September 2016

We have been away... How can you holiday with a smallholding?

Welcome to spring!
It's been a few weeks (well probably months) since my last post, but for good reason. We have been overseas; few weeks visiting the motherland (Wales) with our little bear, so she could meet the family (or they could meet her) and spend her second birthday there… yes it’s been 2 years already!

So not only have we been away, but the few weeks leading up to our departure we spent time preparing and streamlining as much as possible. I didn't really want to discuss our trip, or more so our absence from the farm publicly (just in case), even though we had someone looking after the place.
Taking an extended trip, well even a short trip takes planning and preparation when you have a smallholding. I think anyone who has any animal or plant, could relate. The key is having someone you trust and being organised.  
This wasn't our first trip since living at Maes-y-Delyn so we knew what to expect. We were lucky to have a young and enthusiastic young man to care take of the place. After all trusting someone with your home, livestock and pets takes a lot of faith, so selecting the right person is crucial.
But once you have someone arranged the key is to make it as easy as possible for them and to achieve this streamline as much as possible. By this I mean

-Minimise your stock
For us this meant not incubating/hatching any chicks. Fortunately the pigs had their litters just in time (so we didn’t need to worry about any other arrivals whilst we were not there). And these were sold before we departed. For me this also meant upgrading my worms from my composter to the eco tank; they would have been happy and this meant one less thing to consider (particularly as they don’t really protest or are visible to remember). We expanded our bee hive by a box; meaning they could expand and not become overcrowded (and hopefully not swarm). And as for the veg patch, the pumpkin vines were left to occupy the one side, with the grower pigs to occupy the other.

 









-Secure your fences
Fence maintenance is a full time job on larger properties. But even on a small scale they can take regular upkeep. Particularly as we have a number of species close to each other, as well as the house/garden and road and other properties. So checking, tightening and rewiring electric fences are key to peace of mind.

-Ensure ease of water supply
By this I mean ease of access for the animals and the caretaker. We generally add additional storage, so this doesn’t have to be done as frequently and ensure the access to water sources is immediate and simple as possible. An extra kiddies paddling pool here and there make excellent drinking and bathing/lounging supplies for dogs and even extra drinking facilities for birds. 
I can not stress how import water is. Especially in the tropics, as it does get hot and dehydration or overheating will kill livestock and pets. Pigs need access to clean water, as they will wallow to stay cool but will not drink from a wallow or "dirty water". Many people do not realise this and underestimate its importance.

-Prepare any additional grazing/feed
We label the feed and leave very straight forward instructions. In the past we have even prefilled and labelled buckets (but only for a short trip). But it is always good to plan ahead. So we had closed off one paddock from the cows (we regularly rotate our stock and manage the grass this way). So this meant they had more than enough whilst we were away. We even did the same for the laying chickens, sectioning off part on the rear garden, this is usually rotated occupation with the dogs (it doesn’t end well when they occupy the garden simultaneously). This way there were no concerns over whether the pens were locked properly etc. We also bought a few hay bales for the pigs, as this not only provides extra grazing but provides them with bedding and entertainment.

-Clean and prepare shelters/bedding.

This is just to minimise workload for the caretaker whilst you are away; and therefore minimise concerns over your animal’s health and wellbeing whilst you are away. But this is obviously dependant on how many animals (or of each type) you have and the circumstance by which you keep them and how long you are away for. Our free range and are therefore not confined to their housing, so bedding etc. can be more than adequate for a few weeks.

-Leave clear instructions and contact details.
Not that you want to be harasses for every minor thing, but if necessary it’s good to know they can contact you. And a good caretaker will send updates or even photos if you want. But if you are going to be a fair distance away and even in a different time zone (as we were) it is handy to have a list of names (and numbers) upon which your caretaker can seek help or advice if necessary. I even leave notes with the local vet (who know us and our animals well) as to our travel intentions, just in case their services are required.

Fortunately there was very little in the way of trouble. The only incident whilst we were away involved one of our sows (fortunately the more docile one) “visiting” the cows on the odd occasion during the last week of our trip. This was most likely due to the weeds that had grown (following some unseasonal rain) between the barb and electric fencing; causing the “belt” to be insignificant… this has since been fixed. But as for the sow, she was very eager to return to the pig paddock once food was on offer! Even following our caretaker to and from the shed, whilst he got some more for her! That’s one good thing about pigs, they are VERY food orientated!
We did lose our sussex rooster, but he had been “off colour” in the days prior to our trip. We possibly should have euthanised him, however he had appeared to improve in the days immediately before our departure. This improvement was short lived.

One thing you do learn to accept when smallholding is that somethings are beyond our control and losses are part of this lifestyle (even if we don’t like it). And this would have likely happened had we been there or not. But now we’re back on board it’s getting back to business as usual.

As for our caretaker, I think we had a lasting effect- as he has since bought a few layer chicks for his own future backyard flock and eggs: So success all round!






Monday, 11 July 2016

From piglets to pork


So this week brought both a cold snap (well single figures over night- so cold for Queensland), and some ‘early’ arrivals. These events prompted the preparations and processing of more pork for the freezer.   [warning this post does include images of butchery]
Some may struggle with the idea of considering piglets and pork in the same subject area… others may even consider it perverse. We chose to view it as a true reflection of our responsibility as smallholders and meat eaters; rearing and raising happy, healthy livestock to produce the best quality food we can for our table.
The arrival of our second litter of piglets in as many weeks was not unexpected, though admittedly it did catch us off guard (again). This sow (Rosemary), didn't appear ready the last time either. Not expressing the same physical or behavioural traits as the other girls. She had 'dropped' (a little) a few days ago, but by no way an indication of impending delivery- her stomach was a little lower and enlarged, but her nipples had yet to separate (an indication of her milk coming in), which with or other girls generally occurs 2-4days before delivery. She had made no attempts to nest or 'farrow'- expectant mums tend to prepare a warm and dry area in a secure location in days prior… Again not this one!
So Tuesday evening along with the excitement of new arrivals came the hurried shuffling around of panels (in the dark, under headlights) to secure the little ones from the rest of the mob (term for a group of pigs). Just in case. Though the big fella was very good with the babies, when Mum came out to join in the feed.  The other sow seemed more interested if anything, though she may have been more interested in the placenta not the actual piglets, as she’s shown very little interest since.
And by separation we do not separate our mums from the babies; known as a farrow stalls. We just temporarily separate the mum, with her babies (what our neighbours refer to as the ‘maternity ward’) using mesh panels to an area in and around one of the sheds; to reduce the risk of any injuries to piglets and to secure them from accidentally wandering- as they could easily fit under the barbed wire fence.
One of the reasons we were so short on panels on this occasion, other than the other sow (Sage) being penned off too; Was that we had used the rest of the panels to enclose the cow shed and yards (temporarily) to house a grower for the last few weeks.  She had been happily grazing on the forest of grass and turning over the yard. However her time had come… and our arrivals escalated the scheduling of these events.
So over the weekend our grower fulfilled her purpose and her temporary enclosure was dismantled and redistributed between the two sows and their litters… for the next generation of growers.

We have covered the topic of home butchering pigs in some detail on here, so I won’t elaborate too much on this occasion. 
http://www.maes-y-delyn.com/2015/03/turning-fennel-into-pork.html
 

Set up ready to scald
However as a smallholder D-day always comes with mixed emotions (this one especially), and a pressure to ensure you do a good job; clean kill, good scald…

So Friday late afternoon- night was spent processing ready for cutting up on Saturday. We were very happy with the results, the scald went well; only requiring the shaving of some of the more stubborn hairs.
Given the cooler weather we had planned to hang her overnight in the shed. But the forecast suggested it may not be cold enough, so save ruining all our efforts we transferred her to the chest freezer. Unlike many other animals, there is no need to hang pork; though it does need time to rest and cool before you begin dividing into cuts. And you do need the room to actually store it! On this occasion our grower/porker dressed at around 95kg, resulting in over 60kg of meat- each half pictured weighed 30kg. 







Make your own produce... No farm required

As I mentioned in last weeks post we have been preserving and making a few bits and pieces at home lately... the cooler weather and abundance of produce does that to you.
But you don't need a farm, animal or even a veggie patch  to produce some of your own staples at home. 
I often get comments like "I wish I could do more like that" but the fact is you can. Not everyone can rear and butcher a pig, but anyone can grow sprouts on a kitchen counter or make yoghurt. So here are a few recipes and details about some of the make your own things we've made over the last few weeks... and I guarantee they will taste better than anything you can buy.

Dairy Products- 
Greek yoghurt
 So I first made this 2 years ago, and have never looked back! I use my own ‘starter’ which is basically an unstrained (plain) cup of yoghurt from the previous weeks batch and I use muslin (also known as cooking cloth or cheese cloth) to strain; as this can then be washed and reused.
If you want to try this you don’t need a slow cooker, you can heat the milk on a stove. I just prefer to use mine as it gradually brings the milk to the right temperature; and I know I don’t have to watch it like a hawk in case it over heats.  
Since this original post I have also tried it with both full fat flavoured yoghurt as a starter and UHT milk, both work fine.  The only real must have is your yoghurt ‘starter’ must have L.Acidophilius and S.Thermophilius in it, as these are the active cultures that curdle the milk, creating your separation of yoghurt and whey.
I would give the tip of use a yoghurt starter that you like the taste of, as it does affect the flavour and consistency of the final product. I have used a creamy vanilla yoghurt as a starter for a batch I made for our little one as it produces a milder flavour. This way I find it easier, or less harsh to flavour- only adding a small amount of honey and/or fruit and vanilla essence and she loves it!


Ricotta cheese 
This was a new one for us, I found the recipe on a Facebook post- and now I have made it successfully once I will never buy ricotta again!

Ingredients
2 litres whole milk
½ lemon (juice only)

Similar process to that of the yoghurt in that you need to heat the milk to 82°, but then you remove from the heat and simply squeeze and whisk in ½ a lemon, or similar quantity of edible acidic material (vinegar or other citrus fruit; remembering whatever you use will affect the taste of the outcome) and set aside and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Then strain using muslin or cheese cloth.

I used full cream milk for this recipe, though I have seen some add 1/4cup cream per litre of milk. I didn’t think ours needed it, as the result was creamy enough, though I would definitely not advise using lite milk for this process.

Meat Products- 
Bacon
No you don't need to breed your own pigs, or even a cold room to make bacon. Just belly pork,  space in a refrigerator and a few household condiments and spices... and a little time.




 

 






















Preserves

Passionfruit Butter or Passionfruit & Vanilla Curd
Ingredients
100g passionfruit pulp
½ tsp vanilla essence
tbsp. lemon/lime juice
50g sugar
80g butter
2 eggs
This is one I ‘cheat’ and use my 'thermo-cheap' , though this recipe should be easily adaptable to a conventional stove top method.
1.         Place all ingredients into bowl.
2.         Cook on 80 degrees for 9 mins on speed 3.
3.         It should coat the back of a spoon nicely once done.
             If it doesn't, cook for a further 4-5 mins

Passionfruit jam
I have always made Passionfruit butter, but as it contains dairy it doesn’t last that long, so making large quantities with a glut of fruit is not practical. So with a little research I found a jam recipe… And it is yummy! (Though I maybe biased) A little more technical (well messy, not technical)

Ingredients
Passionfruit
Water
Sugar

The quantity of sugar required depends on the amount of fruit pulp you have. I used 10, but depending on the size of your fruit or quantity you wish to make you may prefer to use more or less.

Firstly before separating the pulp and husk you need to have a large stock pot ready and a fine sieve and muslin cloth. As you will be separating the fruit, but saving and using each part.

Scoup out the pulp (fruit and seeds) from the husk and strain. I use a fine sieve over a mixing bowl.
Then place the husk/shells in a large pan. Once the juice is strained from the seeds (you may need to assist this process using the back of a spoon and possibly a splash (smallest amount possible) of water. Then place seeds into the muslin cloth and secure. Place bag into the pot along with husks and cover with water.
Place this on a medium heat and allow to boil until the shells become soft and translucent.  Then remove both the husks and the bag from the water (saving the water).
Decant the water into a jug or other measuring device.
Now scoup out any remaining soft flesh from the husk and return to the pan, you may now discard the remaining husk/shell.
Measure and add you fruit juice to the pan. Then add the same amount of saved water and sugar.
Simmer for 20 minutes.
Place in (sterile) jars.
As a test to see whether my jams or marmalades etc. are ready (will set). I generally allow them to cool slightly in the pan. If they begin to develop a ‘skin’ then they will set. If they remain runny I add more sugar (or pectin if necessary) and reheat carefully.
I have tried the ‘spoon’ method, though have been caught out, particularly with soft (low pectin) fruit such as strawberry and mango.
So I prefer to let the batch cool. You can either re-apply heat to spoon into jars. Though I generally find simply stirring the cooler (skin) into the hotter contents below liquefies the jam enough to decant into sterile jars.

 Marmalade
Our fruit trees have been working overtime (since the arrival of our bees). So I decided to use some of the mandarin/oranges and limes to make marmalade.
I have made marmalade plenty of times, however I have always juiced the fruit and then sliced the rind first. However I keep seeing recipes where the fruit is boiled whole. So I thought I would try it, as I have read it improves the taste of the rind within the marmalade. Besides the pith and the seeds hold the pectin, so they have to be in the pot one way or another. 
This method actually worked out a little less messy and seemed to be quicker.

So I halved/ quartered the fruit (depending on the size and placed in a pot and covered with water.   
Place on a rolling boil until the fruit is soft. 
Once soft I used a potato masher to separate as much of the juice and flesh as possible. Then remove as much of the rind from the mix as I could to slice ready to return to the pot. 
 
Strain the remaining juice and pectin water to remove any pips; measure this strained liquid, as you will need equal parts liquid and sugar.

Return liquid to the pot with an equal quantity of sugar and the sliced rind. Simmering for approx 20minutes. Decant into sterile jars.

 
Chutney
 I have made many variations of this over time, though I have to admit if you can get green tomatoes they do produce the best chutney. This time I had a glut of squash- similar to marrows, part of the squash/pumpkin/courgette (zucchini) family. Not exactly sure what variety they are… the vines have either sprouted from where we had the grower pig on the veg patch, or they are finally producing from seeds I sowed last year..??
Either way, they are large and lots of them, so I decided to make some chutney to use them use (along with roasting them, they also make great chips!)

For this recipe you will want;
1kg tomatoes
1 very large zucchini/marrow/squash, peeled and diced
1 large onion, diced

½ cup of mixed fruit
¾ cup brown/raw sugar
200ml of vinegar (I mix both malt and apple cider, but its personal choice)
tsp ground cumin seeds
tsp ground ginger
½ tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch salt
Remove any hard ends or eyes (by chopping end off) then simply drop them into a pan of boiling water for a few minutes; til you see the skins begin to come away from the fruit
First job is to peel your tomatoes- Then remove from the heat and carefully scoop them out (use a slotted spoon) and carefully peel the skin away- You may want to do this over your intended chutney pot… as they can fall apart
Once finished chop all the other ingredients- all to a similar size and add to the pan. (Personally I skin my zucchinis first).
Stir and place on medium heat and bring to boil, and then simmer usually for an hour, stirring regularly.

Remove from heat and place in sterile jars. 

It tastes better after a couple of days, but then it should keep for a few months in cool, dark place.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Winter is coming… well it's here!



Winter is coming… well it's here! Sort of; this is Queensland after all.

What a week!

We decided to pen off Sage (our oldest sow) on Sunday, as her milk had ‘come in’. As although we were unsure of her due date (have to admit I have not been quite so on the ball, in noting dates since the arrival of our own ‘cub’); Which turned out to be good timing, given Monday morning we awoke to the pitter-patter of little trotters. Well more the squeaks and grunts, as they were all nicely nestled in the hay, when a very hungry Mum greeted me for her breakfast; following what was obviously a very busy night for her.

This week is also our local ‘show’- an agricultural show accompanied by a traveling fair. This meant we enjoy a public holiday for ‘people day’ to attend. Generally we enter some produce and/or livestock/poultry in the competitions. This year however, I left it too to enter; although I had been cooking up a storm with the preserves over the last week- this just slipped my mind.
The day off however, did allow for a few extra jobs to be done around the farm. 
Matt constructed, secured and cladded a new shelter upon the original permanent pig housing site; taking full advantage of the concrete base. And built the frames for two temporary sheds, that we intend to use in the second paddock (when we get around to fencing it) and any temporary areas for keeping and moving growers.

Winter though traditionally a quiet time garden wise in our native Wales, is actually prime garden and harvest time in Queensland, as the temperatures and humidity are a little less fierce. Oddly due to the opposite seasons some produce we would have associated as ‘summer’ items are ready around the same time- like strawberries.
So the extra day also meant we finally did some gardening. And by gardening I mean I was weeding whilst the ‘cub’ supervised from a camp chair whilst drinking her milk and occasionally descending from her perch to ‘assist’… Though she did find the carrots we harvested quite intriguing.
This job was definitely overdue, as the garden was getting a little ‘wild’; my grandfather would have been most disappointed with me. But we were pleased to see how much was actually thriving; without our assistance… my type of gardening. The majority of the ‘weeds’ were actually lemonbalm, which in itself is not a weed and is an edible and useful plant; that the bees love. But in the veg patch it is rampant and we have a small crop in the herb patch already. The advantage of this ‘weed’ being it is easy to pull out and seems to allow the veg to continue to thrive underneath.  Another non- weed that needed our attention was the squash vine; this very healthy and productive vine was increasingly sprawling along the fence and into the garden itself. An attempt to tame this has minimal success. But we did get the just before it took over the fennel and strawberry planting areas. As these would not have likely survived, as the melon vine hadn’t.
The greens are doing surprisingly well. I don’t want to speak too soon, but the cauliflower and broccoli plants are doing better than any other year I have attempted to grow them. So either these are a more appropriate variety for our conditions. Or our lack of intervention has been beneficial.

Preserves and Making your own.

It is that time of year again… not only does the cooler weather allow for us to undertake a few things we wouldn’t during the heat or humidity. As well as the produce available at this time of year. So this past week we have attempted a few new home processes, along with a few established/practiced ones.
Greek yoghurt-
Ricotta cheese-
Passionfruit butter-
Passionfruit jam-
Bacon-
Chutney-
In coming weeks we will be undertaking a few more, probably another batch of bacon… as this one is already being devoured at a rate of knots, some ginger beer and lemon curd are on the cards (as a work colleague kindly shared some lemons), possibly some cordials and marmalade; given the large amount of limes and mandarins we have at the moment. And another attempt at sour dough; given its cool enough to attempt it- most people struggle to keep them warm, we struggle to keep our from going mouldy or sweating.