Wednesday 31 July 2013

The Countryfile effect

Typical Ixworths
There's no doubting the power of TV.  Normally the page on Ixworth poultry and hatching eggs has a few reads a month but in the last two weeks there have been over fifty. I can only put this down to Ixworths featuring on Countryfile two weeks ago in a piece on rare breeds.  During the programme one of the exhibitors of rare breed poultry said that there were only 750 Ixworths left.

One of the problems with rare breeds is the small breeding population and the resulting lack of genetic variation which tens to lower fertility, like inbreeding in the aristocracy. This has happened with mine so in 2012 I got hatching eggs from four other breeders spread out around the country and I now have nine birds including a superb cockerel and two very good pullets that are not related to him. This winter I'll put the three together to produce a new generation with more genetic variation but at the same time all of the characteristics of the breed.

Monday 29 July 2013

Home made butter (Part 2)

Goat's butter is white because there isn't carotene in the milk
I did get butter, less than I expected, 80g  from 12.5L of milk. Probably because I did not have the separator set for maximum cream extraction. Then I used the 5L churn to make the butter and for such a small amount of cream (400ml) I should just have used my food mixer and less cream would have been lost. Anyway the result with added Hebridean sea salt tastes really good. The 80g block of butter above will be used during the lunchtime cheese tasting when my guests will have, "Kilchoan Crofter" our world class semi-hard cheese, ricotta made fro the whey and Jacquie Chapple's curd cheese with chives and garlic.

It would be nice to produce these artisan cheeses and butter for sale, but the milk and dairies regulations, the cheese marketing regulations and the capital cost mean its out of the question. Of course if I was a French peasant I could ignore the regulations completely and make wonderful cheese from raw milk in a shack in the mountains then sell it direct to appreciative tourists..

If there is re-incarnation I want to state a preference to come back as a French peasant who is also a ski instructor,  my second choice is for a life of ease, luxury and indolence as Dormouse's cat.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Here's one we made earlier...."Kilchoan Crofter Cheese"

Kilchoan Crofter
If you have been paying attention you'll remember that back in March we made the first,"Kilchoan Crofter" semi-hard goats cheese. Today we tested it, on Stockan's Orkney oatcakes. thin slivers have gone to known cheese lovers in the village for there reaction. Michelle, who is French and therefore an authority on all foods but especially cheese, declared it excellent. I had to agree. It tastes more like ewe's than goat's cheese, its mild flavoured even after four months with a texture like Tomme de Savoie.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Alien pods!

They appear overnight in fields all over the UK, rows and stacks of them, incubating according to the Dormouse, throughout the summer and Autumn.

Then! ..... in late winter  they disappear just as quickly. The aliens have hatched and integrated themselves into the community.They think we don't know who they are .... but we do!

It'll be interesting to see how many "hits" a title with aliens in it gets compared with, "butter making at home".

Home made butter (Part 1)

Don't do this if you hate a cluttered kitchen
Goats milk contains about 3.7 - 4.0% butterfat. So you are only going to get 40g butterfat from a litre of milk at best. The first step with butter making is to separate the cream from the milk. The milk used to be set in shallow dishes and the cream skimmed off when it had risen to the surface, Progress brought the cram separator, a clunking contraption of steel, gears and pulleys. The separator is does its job well but its so complex that its a nightmare to clean.

My separator is designed for domestic use, 50L/hr, much of made of plastic and costing less than £50 plus postage from Ukraine.  It is brilliant and less than ten percent of the cost of a British or other European machine.  The downside is that the instructions are in Russian or maybe Ukrainian but there's a link to a YouTube video that show what to do.

Once set up I processed 15L milk in about ten minutes. A word of warning....... if you are going to do this remove the carpets, have plenty of cloths and a mop at hand and big bowls for the skimmed milk.
"Scalding" the cream in a double boiler

I extracted 400ml cream from 15 litres of milk, 3.75% I think. The cream was then scalded at 77C, cooled quickly and stored in the fridge until tomorrow and part 2

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Wool in the bag

Wool sheet
Its not really a bag its called the, "wool sheet", the fleeces are packed as tightly as we can get them then its sewn up along the top and stored in the barn until collection.

After collection it goes to a Wool Marketing Board regional centre then down to Bradford for sorting and grading. Our price depends on the fineness of the fibres. There's a schedule of prices for more or less every breed in the UK. Blackface and Cheviot wool is among the poorest quality so it's used for mattress stuffing in Italy and organic home insulation. The really dirty wool  that we pull off the tail makes excellent compost.

The ewes are much more comfortable without their 2 - 3 kg sweaters, they are fit and lively and grazing the silage aftermath, the best time of year for them with minimal stress and plenty to eat.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Testing strawberries for taste

Mara des bois declared outright winner
This year we've grown two varieties of strawberry both have done well in the hot summer but there's a big difference in taste. Outdoors the variety Symphony specially bred for the W. coast of Scotland  has had a tremendous yield of big red fruits. In the poly tunnel  Mara des Bois a perpetual fruiting cultivar of the alpine strawberry has done exceptionally well too.

Taste is more important than yield so we recruited an expert to decide which variety tastes best. My six month old grand daughter.

Gracie is already a strawberry expert. She sucks them through a net feeder with a plastic handle, a messy business but it does the job. Her vote was resoundingly in favour of  Mara des Bois and not just because she is a French speaking Francophile the taste is unbeatable.

Registration of crofts

1:2500 plan Craigard
Its hard to believe but, there is no definitive map based register of crofts in Scotland. The Crofters Commission, more famed for omission than commission didn't get round to organising it in the last century. But now "Registers of Scotland" and the "Crofting Commission" are preparing a map based register. We Crofters have to do the leg work and of course pay for it. Individual Crofters can do it themselves or groups of Crofters can do a community mapping exercise.

If we can sort out the boundaries together there will be less scope for dispute, it will be cheaper and faster because we pay £70 each for registration if we get it done by November 30th instead of £90. Here in Ormsaigbeg the Grazing Committee are planning to invite all of the Crofters in the township to a one day mapping exercise in September. If you are an Ormsaigbeg Crofter you'll get an invitation in the next fortnight.

We all have maps of our crofts I'm sure and there are some members of the community even older than me who have a clear memory of every croft boundary so perhaps we can get a preliminary map done in a day.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Fencing lessons

John Chapple and I, have almost finished fencing the hay park, John does the skilled bit. I dig the strainer holes and put in the posts.  you can always learn new and better ways to do things and this last fortnight I've learned some tricks of the trade from John who was a fencing contractor in the past.

This new fence in 1.5m in from the old drystone wall and derelict fence so that we can plant two avenues of trees, one down the side of the green lane to the shore and one down the east boundary. One of the best features of the village is the avenue of mature sycamores down to the road from Meall mo Chride and I would like one here. As with most forestry projects the person doing the planting doesn't get much benefit. In future there will be shelter a new landscape feature and a bit more wildlife habitat. I know sycamores are not native to the UK but they are the trees that grow best here.

Hen valet service

Just last week Dormouse pointed out , in her impeccable Glaswegian, that the van was "mingin" (in need of a clean) and that I hadn't cleaned it in four years, it was growing algae around the doors and weeds in the foot well.  The hens obviously agree. Yesterday I left the doors open to "air" the interior and while I was away they did a valet service by foraging for tasty stuff on the floor.

This happens to all farm vehicles. Years ago I took the farm car, a Renault 4, for a service in Morpeth and the foreman asked if he could keep the contents of the foot well to fertilise his leeks.

Monday 15 July 2013

Giant W. Ardnamurchan Strawberries

The outbreak of the first world war was allegedly reported by the Aberdeen Press and Journal with a headline, "Giant neep (turnip) found at Turriff". Today there's no war that I'm aware of,  but there was a ,"Giant strawberry found at Kilchoan" this afternoon, bigger than a hen's egg. Big isn't always better as you'll be aware if you have ever bought a big, red, shiny but totally tasteless apple in an American supermarket.

These are a variety bred for W. Scotland and called "Symphony" the flavour is quite good but not as good as the little ,"Mara des bois" the French cultivar of the alpine strawberry

Sheep housing (Part 2) : How some things have changed

My outlook has changed dramatically during the last 30 years. After writing the last blog," Housing sheep and Shepherds" I had a look at what I thought 30 years ago. How did I justify bringing sheep indoors for the winter in 1983?

The ten advantages that I listed were all to do with increased output, lower costs and higher profit. there was no mention of how much nicer it would be for the Shepherd to work indoors during the worst part of the year. How do I know this?

In 1984, Farming Press published, The Sheep Housing Handbook" and I was the author; gung ho, energetic and long haired. It must have been a best seller of sorts because they sold the whole print run of 3,000 without it being remaindered but there was no second edition which is a bit suspicious.

The royalties paid for a family holiday in France and I discovered my current copy on the shelves of a secondhand bookshop on Skye.

Other things have changed. Today I hope that I wouldn't suffer from the hubris that lead me to believe I was an expert. Animal and human welfare would be much more important and I could do it on the blog anyway.

Apart from weddings and funerals I don't think I've worn a tie in recent years, the pipe was discarded that year and a crew cut is much lower maintenance.

Housing the sheep and the shepherds

Both my neighbour Alistair and I were 70 this year , we are a bit too slow, stiff and knackered for lambing outdoors on the hill so whats the solution. Housing the ewes from New Year until they lamb is a possibility. It would be more for the benefit of the shepherds than the sheep of course, we hear a lot abot animal welfare but not much about the herder's welfare.

The least cost plan is to erect a 12m x 6m monopitch sheep house using old telegraph poles for uprights, Yorkshire boarding on the walls and box section steel for the roof. A floor of compacted
stone is best for drainage. So as my neighbour Ivor was working with a digger next door and he offered to do the ground works we have started. but this is the easy bit; the Planners have said I don't need planning permission because its an agricultural building. I need a plan to BS5502 (Class2) to qualify for a grants from the Crofting Counties Agricultural Grant Scheme, two competitive quotations for the materials if we do the work ourselves and there's the application form to complete.

To complicate matters further, Jim Reid from Knapp Farm Buildings came over from Glenborrodale on Friday and proposed a much nicer alternative to the monopitch sheep shed. It'll be interesting to get his proposal but much depends on the cost!

Sunday 14 July 2013

Hot French Chicks - Hard wired hens

Simulated jungle

The ancient ancestors of our hens scratched about in the dense undergrowth of the forests of southern India, Burma and Malaysia. Although these original jungle fowl could adapt to a wide range of environments they still exhibit some of their ancestor's behaviour. On hot sunny days they seek the shade, perching on low branches or in our case on the firewood pile.

Despite five thousand years of selection for fighting,egg production and meat they are still hard wired to cope with hot weather in the jungle.

Friday 12 July 2013

High speed haylage

Mowing 2.00pm Wednesday

You need six days of good weather to be certain of making good hay, but haylage is much faster. Elaine and Gillespie started mowing after lunch on Wednesday and the haylage bales were all wrapped and placed in a neat row this afternoon Friday 48 hours later.

Baling and wrapping Friday 2.30pm

After mowing the grass is spread out to dry with the tedder and then rowed up for the baler.

All wrapped up

Shrink wrapped haylage excludes air and ferments slightly to keep it from rotting. Its all a lot easier than making and handling small conventional bales of hay.

Thursday 11 July 2013

Checking bees for varroa

Kilner jar with cardboard funnel
One of the joys of beekeeping in west Lochaber is that they aren't infested with the varroa mite. At least that was true until this week when varroa were found in a hive at Acharacle only 25 miles away. As one of my hives came  from Resipol last Autumn, only five miles from Acharacle they might have the parasites.To check the hives for varroa you need a preserving jar with a wire mesh lid, a cardboard tube, icing sugar and a white pie dish.....really!  So I set out at mid morning with all of this kit to check the hives.

Step 1 is to open the hive and to shake 300 bees (100ml) into the jar via the funnel.

bees secure in the jar with lid on

Step 2 is to put two tablespoons of icing sugar into the jar and to screw on the lid; shake the bees to mix them and coat them with icing sugar.

Add caption

Step3 the jar containing bees and sugar is inverted and shaken vigorously over the white based pie dish. Any varroa should arrive in the dish with loads of sugar so visibility is improved by adding water. Check for mites.

We didn't find any!

Kilchoan appears to be still varroa free.

The sugar coated bees were returned to the hive unharmed.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Things to do with surplus milk : Kefir

Russians have an impressive tolerance for alcohol probably because they are fed on fermented milk, kefir or kvass from an early age. Its a refreshing and a healthy drink; if you believe the spin it cures everything from piles to plague and its easy to make.
Wash grains in a plastic sieve

You can buy the "grains" online, they are a culture of bacteria and yeast that have been used for thousands of years to ferment a whole range of milks, kvass is fermented mare's milk. The shelf life is up to thirty days, its good on breakfast cereals and as a drink. Just don't expect to get inebriated the alcohol content is only 1 - 2%.

If you buy online your grains, a very small amount, will arrive in a plastic bag. Tip them into a plastic sieve, never metal, and wash with cold water.

After washing put the grains in a jar and add milk, cover with a cloth and place in a dark cupboard for 24 hours. Taste varies with the length of fermentation, you will have to experiment.
Add milk and put in a dark cupboard

Pass the fermented mixture through the sieve again, store or drink the liquid and keep the grains for your next batch.......simples!

If you happen to have a bag made from a goat's stomach you can put the milk in that and hang it by the door where it will be agitated from time to time by people coming in and out as they do in the Caucasus.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Clean milk

If you buy your milk from a supermarket you can take it for granted that it is clean and pretty much free of pathogens after it has been pasteurised. In Scotland you cannot sell unpasteurised milk. But we produce a small amount of goat's milk each day, about 3.5 litres for domestic consumption and it isn't pasteurised so is there a health risk?

Three quantitative microbial risk assessments (QMRAs), the gold standard of microbial risk assessment, recently published in the Journal of Food Protection have shown that unpasteurised milk is a low risk food, contrary to previous claims that it has a high risk profile and contrary to a long held scientific view that raw milk is high risk. So where does that leave us?

The test samples were probably from commercial dairy herds where the milk travels in a closed system from the cow to a filter and then a refrigerated bulk tank. Then to a milk processing plant where it is filtered again, pasteurised and kept at less than 4C until you buy it.

Our milk goes through the air from goat to bucket, hair and other stuff can fall into the bucket, the milk is then filtered and rapidly cooled in a chest freezer. To get clean milk we first make sure that the goat's udder is clean and dry, that or hands are clean and dry and any long hairs on the udder have been brushed or trimmed off.

So far no problems...... I have milk on my breakfast cereals and in my coffee, we've made cheese, yoghurt and kefir with no ill effects. Oh yes..... and it doesn't taste "goaty". I also have to admit I didn't read the Journal of Food Protection, there was a summary in the Wall Street Journal on June 11th.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Shepherd's Hut

 Long ago, in the 60s, when I was a "Farm Student" in deepest Aberdeenshire the Shepherd and I had a hut on big iron shod wheels to use during the lambing. The hut was towed into the lambing field with tractor it had two bunks, a table and a gas ring.  This wasn't an , "off grid, romantic holiday venue." It was "minging" (unsavoury) because of the stuff that we brought in on our boots, the stuff that lambs left behind and the smell of calor gas.

The "Shepherd's Hut" that recently arrived in the little park just above high water mark will be quite different. Although "off grid" it will have electric light, cooking facilities, log burning stove, double bed and composting loo. For birdwatchers there's a tidal lagoon and the whole place is corncrake habitat in May and June. It should be ready from this space.

Swallows in the byre

Swallow fledglings            Photo: Jon Haylett
There are four swallow fledglings peering over the edge of their nest above our heads at milking time. They are creeping closer and closer to the rim, so close that one fell out a few days ago and had to be put back. After a month of twice daily disturbance; clattering goats, tinkling goat bells and rattling milk cans the parents have almost completed their job. Its the perfect site, secure, weatherproof and proved reliable by a wren last year.