Tuesday, 10 December 2013

New arrivals

So it’s probably about time that we introduced a couple of new residents- Lady & Tramp.

Lady is a little girl (if you hadn’t guessed) named after her mother. As the farm we bought her from, the owner kept referring to her as ‘Lady’s kid’, and I felt she was rather ‘lady’ like looking (she's the all white one with petite features). And so we had to have ‘Tramp’. Both are ‘meat’ cross breeds. Tramp is more obviously a ‘Boer’ (by the colouring etc.) They had hoped to breed from him, however as he developed they realised he had an under developed ear (actually this is true of much of the one side of his face). Therefore they castrated him, so Tramp is a ‘wether’.    

I have been asked a few times in the last week, whether we intend to milk our goats. Personally the idea of have homemade goats cheese is very appealing. To milk any mammal that animal has to produce young. So (at this stage) we are not intending to milk our goats; as we will not be breeding them.

Our goats are intended for meat, as with most farmed animals some breeds are better suited for either produce or consumption. (Poultry there are egg production verses meat varieties, cows would be dairy or beef etc.)  But just because they are more suited to one source does not mean they cannot provide the other, just in this instance we have a female and a wether (castrated male).  We purchased a wether over a whole billy/buck for a few reasons.

Firstly we want to see how our goats progress here. In terms of space, feed and interaction with our other animals- dogs, bird etc. Feed is a big issue, as whilst we are a smallholding, it is not a very large property. And as with all our livestock we have to factor in their health and wellbeing, as well as costs for supplementary feed, should our plot not provide a sufficient amount. So whilst they were purchased for ‘fattening up’ over the wetter months- so glorified lawnmowers whilst the foliage is abundant. Goats are (surprisingly) not natural grazers. And our research has found they are far happier foraging, than eating grass (or pellets for that matter). So at the moment we are utilising them to manage a few unruly areas.

Another issue that we intend to monitor is smell and noise. So far they have been rather quiet, quieter than expected. As for smell, so far we haven’t noticed any unpleasant odours; goats have a bad rap for being smelly. Some of our neighbours keep goats and this does not appear to be an issue. Although it does mostly appear to be a male thing- one of the reasons for starting with a wether. Particularly during their mating season; intact billies/bucks urinate upon their selves, amongst other things. I have also read that it’s not advisable to keep males and females together full time and that they are capable of mating from 2 months old. So require separation from a young age and the males then require companions too. So if we did decide to breed our girl (or possible future stock) then it maybe a case of hiring/visiting a stud.  

So for now we are just experimenting with what they will eat and attempting to gradually get them used to us and our other animals. So far they have knocked over the grass in the cattle yard- where we have had them penned for the past week. They have made short work of the hay bale and some tree and vine clippings, bread, molasses meal all of which they seem to prefer to goat pellets! So on Sunday we transferred them to a smaller temporary pen, that we intend to move around the vine garden to begin with and later the house garden in general. Eventually we hope to tether them to a house of their own, but this will depend on how they interact with the dogs.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Making the most of a glut before its gone

The wet season does appear to have begun earlier this year. Well earlier than the last few years at least; having recorded over 200mm of rain throughout November.
And whilst the early rain has been a welcome reprieve for our paddocks, as well as our own water supplies (tanks are brimming already) it does mean our wet season preparations have to begin sooner too.
In terms of gardening, some plants will thrive in the summer humidity, but not many will survive the rains… or more to the point the moulds and rot that comes with it.
So whilst the plants are flourishing from the early rain, we have begun to harvest. And as such we will need to store/preserve to maximise the gut.

So as the herbs begin to thicken and bolt I am drying the leaves in the dehydrator (along with a few cherry tomatoes).
I plan to continue to do this for the next few weeks. Then let the chickens turn over the various beds in turn and then cover an put them to rest.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Christmas dinner preparations have begun

I know we’re only at the beginning of November, and many will consider it too early to use the ‘C word’. However we officially begun our Christmas preparations; in that our turkey has now been processed and is in the freezer.

[This post contains images of butchery]

We often get asked why we still insist on having turkey and all the trimmings on Christmas day. Especially given that its summer here and many Australians opt for cold meats and salad, or sea food … not so many have roast turkey (or goose; we may try a goose one year).

I guess there’s no real reason other than its one of our favourite parts of Christmas, and a tradition that we have maintained so far and we hope to continue to improve upon. Especially with our own produce. So I suppose you could say our Christmas dinner preparations back in March, as that was when we bought our young turkey.

This year’s turkey was a Bronze that we bought back in March, around 2-3 months old. Last year we raised a few, but bought later in the year and killed them around 26 weeks. Still a fair size, but that was why we decided that this year we would get our bird earlier. Next years will probably be from the 5 or 6 we have running around the garden now. 
So you may wonder why we killed our bird 7 weeks out. Well to be honest he was already a fair size. An had begun to challenge our Tom, and had been visiting the neighbour more frequently (as he was coming off second best). So we had a few issues- it was only a matter of time before one of the turkeys became more aggressive and the other (or both) got hurt.  Second his visits to our neighbour’s garden, whilst not upsetting to the neighbour, increased the likelihood of it being lost to dogs (or even our own dogs if it jumped the wrong fence). And thirdly we were a little concerned as to whether he would even fit in the oven.

So Saturday was D-day. So here’s how we did ours.

One tip I give anyone is preparation saves time and stress.

The first thing we did was set up some hot water to scald the bird; as this make plucking far easier. [Something we recently tested when we processed our last few roosters]

We have adapted a keg (fitting a lid) and built a stand; this allows us to fill and open the keg and heat from underneath using gas. 

Once the water was on a rolling boil, we took the heat away and went to get the bird.

I must admit whenever I fetch the bird for the chop I question whether they are ‘ready’, by that I mean large enough to kill/eat. Not that we would waste a bird we had killed… guess I always have doubts at this point.

However due to the size(ironic given my previous concerns) and shape of a turkey our usual ‘killing cones’ (used for processing ducks and chickens) were of little use. So for an effective kill and bleed we held the bird by its legs; only turning him upside down at the last minute and immediately cutting the throat.

Once the initial flapping and twitching finished we hung the bird whilst we set up the table. It was at this point that my concerns regarding the bird’s coverage (and weight) were put to rest… as we had to tie the bird up, as my arms were really feeling it!

So when the blood was drained we immediately transferred the bird to the keg to be scalded. Please be careful doing this as when you place the bird in, the water level will rise! So do not fill your container to the top.  Also I wouldn’t advise wearing wellies (or gum boots as they are known here in Qld at least). As if hot water gets inside, it cannot go anywhere (i.e. seep away). On that note I do advise wearing closed shoes, as hot water on skin is not good either.

When you submerge your bird (with the exception of the feet that you are holding onto) swirl and/or gently bounce the bird- to agitate it; ensures the hot water makes contact for the skin. You should do this for around 30-45 seconds. Any longer and you risk cooking the bird/skin.

From here transfer to the table and begin plucking- beware the feathers will be hot, but you want to get this done before it cools and the pours contract. As this is what speeds up the plucking process.

From here we begin by removing the head and then the feet, well the lower legs from the knuckle of the knee (scaley bit).  You may want to leave the feet (we didn’t) only because many chose to hang their turkey before freezing- this maybe easier with the feet on.

Either way you still need to be aware for when you remove the feet that there is a rather thick tendon at the back of the leg of the turkey which is rather undesirable when cooked. Not that it would hurt or unpleasant, it is just very stringy and preferably not there. So to remove the leg, it is best to begin by locating the knee joint with the knife. Run it along the front and begin to work our way back with the blade, flexing the joint backwards in the process. This will release the joint and avoid you cutting all the way through (and cutting through the tendon). Now you can (hopefully) pull the tendon out. I say hopefully as we did this successfully on the one leg, but not the second.

Once the legs are off (if you were removing them now) we remove the ‘parsons nose’. Some leave this on, or remove as part of the anus. We prefer to do it at this stage. By cutting behind the parsons nose and bringing the blade up and away from the anus, through the joint of the bone- avoiding any contamination of the meat.

To gut the bird you need to make a careful incision below the rib cage, being careful not to pierce any internal organs. Once you have an opening prize the skin (and fat) back, following the bone line toward the anus. Then carefully cutting around, so that when the guts are removed it may be cut way in one. Unfortunately this is where I stopped taking photos, as the cavity of the bird was rather tightly packed and I needed to gut the bird (as I have smaller hands). To effectively remove as much of the guts in one go (and limit and breaking and contaminating the carcus) use the top of your fingers/hand and run it along the underside of the birds ribcage. This will guide you, reaching as far in as possible, until you feel your hand drop back down (touching the internal organs), then scoop back toward the cavity. I will point out that sharp nails or jewellery are not desirable for this part of the process.

Once the guts are on the outside of the bird, carefully cut the anus away and remove it and the adjoining intestines away from the bird. Now you may pick out any useful parts (i.e. heart, liver, kidneys etc). It is likely that the lungs (if not a few other parts- testis in males, oesophagus ) will still remain inside. To remove the lungs follow the ribs with your fingers to scoop out.

Then when your happy rinse out the carcass. It is at this point you may choose to hang your bird for at least 12- 24 hours in a cold room (or cool place). We rested ours in the fridge.

Our turkey was then weighed and wrapped ready for the freezer, to be thawed (in the fridge) a few days before Christmas.

In case you were wondering my concerns regarding the birds weight were unwarranted- dressed out (i.e. in shop bought condition) 4.43kg (9lb 12.25oz)… more than enough for two!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Should you name your livestock?

This is an interesting question. And one that comes up all the time.

When we first bought this place, and began buying livestock (as til then we’d only had a few egg laying chooks, that were more like pets and a small container garden). We were told many stories and warned “never name an animal you intend to eat”. In most cases the person explained how they had named their rooster, turkey, lamb, cow etc. and had then either been too attached to it to kill it. Or it had been killed but then they just couldn’t eat it and it had gone to the dog or neighbour. [I personally believe that if you have taken the life you have to do it justice, or it was just a waste]

But then on the other hand, almost everyone who visits asks “What are their names?” or “What’s this one called?” And funnily enough usually they have one!

Initially we adhered to the warnings and didn’t name anything unless it was staying such as our breeding stock- roosters, hens, our breeding pair of pigs etc. Anything that was destined for the post/freezer didn’t have a name… But you end up referring to them as something anyway, even if it’s just ‘black cow’ and ‘brown cow’. So really these become names.

So here we began a practice that our animals should have food related names. A theory we put into practice with our first porker ‘Roast Beef’; bought for the purpose of meat and to keep our young breeding pair company and a little safer (as they were only a few weeks old at this stage).

The idea of this was that whilst it was a name, it wasn’t humanising and still implies its purpose.  So all our animals have had food or animal related names since: Smokey, Streaky, Sage, Christmas ham, with the exception of our cows. Our first girls, initially referred to as ‘Black cow’ and ‘Brown cow’ were renamed by my nephew when he came to visit, as he felt they deserved ‘proper names’; instantly deciding upon ‘Betty’ and ‘Susie’. Names they have been known by since. Susie fulfilled her purpose earlier this year; however ‘Black Betty’ (as she is now known) accompanies ‘Bart’ & ‘Ruby’, our poddy calves… Guess now we have progressed to actual names there’s no going back.

Oddly enough we recently had an impromptu bbq and friend’s o fours have progressed from asking “Is this ‘one of yours’?” to “And who is this?” As surreal as it sounds.  Something I guess that is only really possible to answer with our larger animals, as we only really have one cow in the freezer and one, or (maybe) two pigs at any one time.

We actually have two in the freezer now. Berky [named as he was the only one from the Berkshire cross litter to actually look like a Berkshire] was always destined for this purpose- and tensions (or increased frequency of incidents where he annoyed our bore) meant his time was limited. We also took the decision to cull and process Christmas Ham at the same time. [She was originally intended to be Christmas Ham, hence the name] Well if you’re going to process one, a second is little more work- besides half a pig usually gets divided up between friends as a thank you for their help… so at least when you do two there plenty to go around!

We had made attempts to find her an alternative home, as we felt she had earned her keep. Only the little interest we had would have placed her less than desirable conditions. Something neither of us could do in good conscience. This might seem strange given the alternative, but as this had been her intended purpose here (although postponed), she had had a good life with us. 

In fairness considering neither Berky nor Christmas Ham were pure Berkshires the meat still had that ‘marbled’ quality and variety of colour. Something you would never see on a supermarket shelf!



Monday, 4 November 2013

October- Garden Share Collective

I admit that garden related posts can be a little lacking, but form a vital part of our lifestyle. So I am making a concerted effort to make a monthly post as part of The Garden Share Collective.

Least someone enjoyed the rain
The Garden Share Collective was instigated by another Liz of www.strayedtable.com/grow/garden-share

This group is of bloggers who share their growing adventures- from veggies patches, allotments, herb and container gardens. These blogs are from all over the world, creating a monthly community, navigating garden troubles, highs and lows.

I stumbled upon this community as other bloggers that I follow, became members. So I in turn have joined. If you are interested in joining or know of a blogger that maybe email liz@strayedtable.com

 Well it’s the end of the month and we welcomed the first decent rain we have had in months.  Though we registered a decent 135mm, some places only had around 30-50mm. So whilst my weeding was postponed for a few days, I was not complaining as it was rain that we desperately needed. For the tanks and the gardens, as despite our efforts the garden beds and lawn were looking as brown and dry, as does everywhere here really. I guess when it comes to gardening there is just no substitute for actual  rain. It’s amazing how green the lawn and the paddock are looking just from that one day’s rain.

You’re probably wondering why I’m banging on about 1 day of rain. But here in the tropical climate almost everything is governed by the weather; everything from sporting or social events, construction and obviously smallholding/gardening. As such we are coming to the last few weeks of the ‘dry season’. Unlike the Mediterranean climate (or Welsh/British weather) we were brought up with. The tropics do not really have the traditional four seasons, in fact they are generally described as two- Wet & Dry. The Wet season traditionally runs from December til March and the Dry April-November. So rather than growing the bulk of our produce in the spring and summer months for an autumn harvest we make preparations in the ‘autumn’ for winter and ‘spring’, tending to wrap things up for the summer months.

So as a general my planting has slowed now, reduced to produce fast growing varieties and those that cope with the humidity, such as tomatoes, pumpkins aubergine/eggplant, capsicum/peppers, plenty of lettuce, bunching onions, rashes, beetroot and Asian veggies- Chinese cabbages, bok choi etc.

We have also planted our a few more sweet potatoes following the success of our first batch- nearly 10kg of sweet potatoes from just 2 little spuds!

I have also sown a few new seeds (as the rain should actually do them good), coriander, dark basil (love this variety), to accompany my other basil and lemon basil.

My main aim for this month is to secure my garden fences, as the chooks have breached the perimeter, but I’m afraid they are not the only ones, as the pigs have done rather well out of our harvest recently… given something had had a good feed on it first!

Elsewhere in the garden our trees are looking a little healthier. We’ve planted a ‘dwarf’ mango tree and a few cumquats and Brazilian cherries to accompany the existing orange, lemon and lime trees surrounding the bio system- hopefully one day this will make a nice ‘little’ orchard (as their all dwarf varieties, given their proximity to the house).  Along the fence line the rosella plants, carobs, mulberry trees and macadamia appear to be doing well. And recently we planted a few more- finger limes and mangoes. The mangoes were originally planned for the cows paddock. However these proved too tempting for our big girl. So a salvage plan meant they were relocated beyond her reach.

Basil, fennel and carrot seeds- Not sure any class this as harvesting- but am happy to swap seeds with anyone. We are in QLD. So I know there would be issues sending to WA and Tasmania, but other Australian areas should be OK (I think?)