The City Girl Farmer


Cow Shares Available Now!
February 8, 2013, 2:57 pm
Filed under: Cows, Raw milk | Tags: , , , ,
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Heifer calf born November 3rd

Well, we have decided to take the dive and do a cow share program at City Girl Farm.  I have been hesitant because we only have Tiddles, our family cow, not a herd of dairy cattle.  That makes the risk for the shareholders a little higher since if something were to go wrong and her lactation ended, there aren’t other cows there to take over.  On the other hand she produces what a herd of 5 or 6 goats produce so there is plenty of milk!  Plus, nothing beats fresh Jersey milk.  It’s the best!  But my children are getting older (one is gone half the time) and we just can’t drink enough milk, make enough cheese, butter and yogurt to keep up with what she produces after having calved in November.

I also see I owe an apology to the people who followed me for having fallen of the planet the last year.  For those of you who care, here are my (pathetic) excuses:

  • lost one farm hand to school and then to work
  • lost another farm hand to a European vacation last summer
  • attended sacred music training last summer
  • became the choir director at my church

Ah!  I fear I will always be torn between the city and the farm.  Glad to be back, though. 🙂

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Finally Got Tiddles Bred
January 30, 2012, 3:39 pm
Filed under: Cows

Tiddles

Whew!!  What an ordeal!  I’ve been trying since last summer to line up the availability of the guy who does AI with Tiddles’ ovulatory cycles.  We finally had a date, confirmed that she was in heat and ready to be bred.  When the guy got here we were all ready to go and, due to a misunderstanding (he thought I had the semen, I thought he was bringing it), it looked like it would fail again.  Another cycle would come and go and we would have to wait another six months to try again, because I didn’t want her to calve in the winter.

Bovine semen isn’t something you can just run to the store and buy, so I called my neighbors and nobody had any.  I had recently got the  name of a guy (first name only) and his number and had been told that he does AI too.  I called him, explained my predicament and it turned out that he even had Jersey semen.  He kindly trusted me with his semen tank and we got the job done and had the tank returned in a hour.  I am so relieved.  If all goes well, we should have a calf around Halloween and a refreshed milk supply.



Butter
July 28, 2011, 12:23 pm
Filed under: Cheese & Other Dairy Products, Cows | Tags: , , ,

Butter ready for the freezer

Some readers have been wondering what I’ve been up to lately.  Well, here you go!  I’ve been making cultured butter and lots of it.  Tiddles gives us about 5 gallons of milk a day and making butter is one way to use it all up.

Cultured butter can be made by adding a store-bought culture to the cream but it can also be made the old-fashioned way of using cream that has been allowed to sit at room temperature for 1-2 days.  The advantage of the store-bought culture is that you control what bacteria is predominant in flavoring the cream.  The advantage to the old-fashioned way is that it’s quick, easy and cheap.  I have been quite pleased with the results of the latter method so that is what I have been using.

Here is how I do it:

  • skim cream into a separate bowl and chill
  • add cream to food processor, and using the bread dough blade, process until the butter breaks
  • line a sieve with cheesecloth or butter muslin and dump the butter and butter milk into the sieve
  • allow the buttermilk to drain away from the butter for a few minutes
  • wash the butter under cold running water and add salt to taste (if desired)
  • form the butter using a mold or by hand and store

That’s it.  Simple as can be and really tasty!

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I Make Cows Pee – What’s Your Super Power?
May 22, 2011, 6:44 pm
Filed under: Cows | Tags: , ,

Sometimes you have to laugh if you don’t want to cry.  Tiddles, our recently freshened Jersey cow, was diagnosed with ketosis last Wednesday.  She had quit eating her grain about two weeks before that but I thought that cows knew what they needed to eat instinctively and she was still eating plenty of hay, so I dismissed it.  That was my first mistake.  A few days later, I noticed that her milk production seemed to drop and that the milk smelled funny.  I was the only one who smelled it, though, and she was producing so much milk that I was making lots of cheese just to keep up, so I dismissed it.  That was my second mistake.  Last Sunday, I noticed that her breath had the same funny smell her milk did and she wasn’t eating very well.  I made a mental note that when I wasn’t so busy I needed to look up ketosis.  I had a faint memory of reading up on it before she had her calf.  Unfortunately, I was still busy and it wasn’t until Wednesday that her condition had deteriorated to the point where I thought I had to call the vet.  While I was waiting for a call back, I went back through my book and Tiddles’ was a classic case.  When I went out to feed her and milk her, she looked like a cow from India–emaciated.  She walked with a bit of a limp, too, but I couldn’t see any injury.  She had been a bit listless and she’s usually a very curious, active cow.  She greets strangers and will follow you around the corral or out into the pasture like a big, ungainly dog.

For my readers that didn’t open the link to the official definition of ketosis, think of it as a metabolically induced anorexia.  The cow starts to suddenly use her fat reserves as her sole source of energy.  She loses her appetite for everything, not just grain.  Ironically, the thing she needs most is carbohydrates—-lots of them—-right now!  So the treatment is to inject her daily with Vitamin B Complex, force feed her a molasses brew until there is no more trace of ketones in her urine, which brings us to the part where we can laugh.

I am a member of the “Keeping a Family Cow” yahoo group and while I was waiting for the vet to call back, I was pestering my fellow group members for help.  They told me to go get ketone test strips and to test her urine twice a day to gauge when I needed to force feed her the molasses brew and when just the injection of B Complex would be sufficient.  I was already almost in tears thinking that I should have acted much sooner and here I was pondering the idea that I would have to stare at my cow all day, armed with a test strip waiting to catch her pee.  Isn’t that pitiful?  And then I read that you can actually make a cow pee on demand by rubbing her briskly just below her vulva.  So out to the barn I went, armed with ketone strips and my newly acquired knowledge to give Tiddles a massage.  I felt a little awkward.  I don’t know, call me puritanical, but rubbing around animals’ privates is a wee bit on the perverted side, isn’t it?  But I carried on and a few seconds later she went into the characteristic squat of a cow about to urinate.  I stopped the massage and stuck my test strip into the stream and voila!  Urinalysis complete!  So if I ever join the circus, I am now armed with the most amazing trick, don’t you think?

So I think I’ve learned my lesson now.  The next time she calves I’ll be watching her like a hawk.  I might just feed her some Snickers to keep her sugar up (kidding!) prophylactically.  I have been told that once they get ketosis, it is a long road back to optimum bovine health and that I am looking at weeks, not days, of giving shots until she is back to normal.  Anybody who reads this blog knows that I *hate* giving shots.  So if you’re the praying type, pray for the City Girl Farmer.  She is very unhappy at her lot right now and she will be suffering a little bit each day until Tiddles is back to her old self.



Tiddles Calved!
April 29, 2011, 6:46 pm
Filed under: Cows | Tags: , , ,

I could tell she was getting close.  I think the definitive sign is how they walk—-or more accurately, can’t walk.  That’s how you know you are less than a week away, in this case about 3 days.  Plus, we were expecting a spring snow storm and that seems to be the favorite time for livestock to give birth.    I guess if they survive the cold and wind, Old Bitch Nature (my favorite little nugget from the Contrary Farmer) figures they can survive anything! I could tell she was in labor Tuesday night at milking time so I decided to wait up with her and watch.  I was not disappointed!  A healthy bull calf was born around 12:15 a.m. Wednesday morning (April 27th).  The birth was uneventful but still a  little miracle as every birth is.

It took him a really long time to nurse which was of some concern.  That sent me in to take a look at the internet and I picked up some interesting information.  Dairy breeds have been bred to have HUGE udders and their teats are not tucked up in the natural place that calves look for the food source, high up between the mama’s back legs.  Tiddles’ teats were hanging down below her hocks so they were hard for him to find and latch on to.  Some smart agricultural expert had a little table of how low cows teats are and how long it takes on average for the calf to find them.  The lower they are, the harder it is for the calf.  Who knew?

I also discovered that the calf’s ability to absorb all the antibodies from colostrum goes down the longer it takes to nurse, so that if it doesn’t get colostrum until 48 hours after it is born, it only absorbs 5% of the antibodies.  That was enough information to get me worried.  We hadn’t got him to latch on really well by 4:00 a.m., so he has been bottle fed since then.

I am posting pictures (mostly so I can refer back) so if you are squeamish about these things, you’ll probably want to stop after this bit of text.

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Calf in the Kitchen
February 18, 2011, 5:51 pm
Filed under: Cows

The heifer calf was born on a beautiful late January day, a teaser, a taste of spring. Unfortunately, our worst winter days (so far) were right on its heels. As my son and I were struggling to milk the unmilkable cow, and had gone to pick up a milking machine loaned to us by the owner of Dallas Dome Dairy, the new calf was shivering uncontrollably in the frigid temperatures we were experiencing. So we brought her into our kitchen to stay warm while the storm passed. I’ve heard from a couple of more experienced farmers that this is not at all unusual. For some reason the mothers give birth at the worst possible weather times and I have since heard stories of calves, lambs and kids in laundry rooms, in the oven, near the stove, etc. so that their owners could rescue them from the elements.



Cheeeeese!!
February 18, 2011, 5:08 pm
Filed under: Cows | Tags: , ,

I have made soft, easy cheeses with success but for some reason I found hard cheeses more intimidating.  Reading a cheese recipe is like reading a recipe for soap or beer or wine.  It dawns on you that some really complex chemical interactions (magic for an unscientific person like me) are required for your cheese (beer or wine) to come out right.  You have to pay attention to things like acidity! *shudders as science angst grips her stomach*

I decided that I had to face the giant and all that I really had to lose was a couple of gallons of milk, some rennet and some culture (pun intended).  It had been a long time since we had chicken enchiladas and I decided to make some queso fresco for them instead of buying the cheese at the store.

A conventional cheese press and an improvised cheese press

After completing the first magic step of turning milk into queso fresco-flavored curds, it was time to press the cheese.  I used to think that pressing cheese was necessary just to turn it into that nice cylindrical shape that made it easier to store.  I learned that it, too, is another magical process.  Cheese needs to be pressed so that it chemically “knits” together.  Who knew?  I had too many curds for my press capacity, so thanks to my neighbors at Victory Ranch, I was able to improvise a press with a mold, a souffle dish and some heavy books.  I recommend the standard press.

Finished queso fresco

I discovered you don’t really need to understand how everything works in order to make cheese.  Just follow the instructions of a good recipe and all the chemistry will take care of itself.

How did it taste?  Like queso fresco, only as with all the other things that are home grown, it was somehow richer.  Like the difference between home-made brownies and brownies out of the box.  Raw milk aficionados will understand what I’m talking about.

This, my friends, is why a person would keep a dairy cow.