Wednesday 30 October 2013

Billy goat soap

When I offer Hughie milk in his tea he asks," is it billy goat milk?".
So if I'm making goats milk soap why not call it "Billy Goat Soap", its certainly eye catching. It probably wouldn't sell too well in the Jo Malone shop, but Jacqui's craft shop is a different matter. Its worth a try.
Billy goat soap

Goats milk is so versatile you can make cheese, butter, kefir, yoghurt and now soap. The milk is a natural, soothing moisturiser. This product has been tested by Dormouse and found satisfactory although she doesn't stray far from Jo Malone stuff in the black and white boxes. These boxes, by the way, are very useful in the workshop for storing nuts, bolts and screws they last for years.

I'm told that to sell in a craft shop your product has to be tied up with raffia. I have tried but as usual my gift wrapping looks as if I was wearing chainsaw gloves when I did it.

Social behaviour of goats eating home made bread

Its one of those W. Highland days when Mull has disappeared behind a curtain of rain, the wind is howling in the chimney, ferries have been cancelled and I'm expecting the power to go off any minute. The kitchen and the goat house are the two places to be, both are warm and comfortable. the goats are inside. There's no point in turning them out; they'd just spend the day in the field shelter, not eating and looking miserable.
Pia, Acorn and Hebe

Their greatest treat is an old heel of bread baked dry in the oven and when I give it to them their social hierarchy is immediately evident. Pia the biggest and oldest has a sense of entitlement she's there first. Acorn is number two greedy and socially ambitious. Hebe hangs back, darts in, nibbles and drops the bread, she's nervous and knows her place because she's the smallest.

The implication of this behaviour for goat keepers is that the animals need plenty of room when they are feeding and a partition of some sort like the space between feeding buckets in the picture. If they were all fed at once in a long open trough Hebe wouldn't get her fair share.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Homeopathy for goats : It seems to work

Neither of them has horns I just like this silhouette
We've been waiting for Pia the British Toggenburg to come on heat for over a month. The other two were mated within a week of Raffles arriving here; their heats provoked by the season, pheromones and his seductive body odour, its a melange of rancid soap, lynx deodorant and goat urine. You have to be here to appreciate it. Despite his macho presence Pia was unmoved.....until this morning!

When she got up on the milking stand she was bleating, wagging her tail from side to side and trying to kick the milk pail over. Normally she is so easy to milk even when the shed is full of chattering visitors. After getting half the morning milk I gave up and penned her with big boy. They mated twice in as many minutes, a case of " slam bang, thank you Ma am", no finesse. She was up for it again at eleven when I went out to check on them so the performance was repeated.There's no sign of Hebe and Acorn coming on heat so hopefully they are in kid and due in early March.

Another homeopathic remedy

This time last week we were considering taking her to the Vet for an examination and perhaps a hormone induced heat. However, Kate, my daughter is a homeopath and she suggested an inducement; folliculinum. It seems to have worked, avoiding drug treatment and a Vet's bill.

Saturday 26 October 2013

Thirty tonnes of sheep feed causes major traffic jam

Most of the granulated sugar that you eat is extracted from sugar beet. The sugar beet pulp that is left behind is an excellent feed for ruminants and horses, its high in calories and soluble fibre and lowers the over all cost of the animals ration.
 Each October the Crofters of Kilchoan and W. Ardnamurchan buy a thirty tonne load of beet pulp between them for winter sheep feeding. Today the pulp arrived causing the usual traffic chaos as it was being unloaded and transferred to trailers and pick ups. At least six drivers were slightly inconvenienced.

Friday 25 October 2013

How to pluck a chicken

My Mother reckoned that when you were choosing a house you needed a place where you could pluck a goose; if you had space to do this then that covered just about all of your domestic workspace needs. From about the age of ten  I looked after the poultry and did the plucking. Not many ten year old children or adults pluck chickens these days so here's an illustrated guide.

First kill the chicken by dislocating its neck quickly and humanely. If you don't know how to do this visit the website of the Humane Slaughter Society, they have a publication, Practical Slaughter of Poultry A Guide for Small Producers 2nd Edition (pages 17-20).

Put a loop of bale twine around the legs just above the feet and hang the bird above a receptacle for the feathers.; a dustbin or plastic tub. This has a similar effect to bleeding, the blood drains into the cavity caused by the neck dislocation.

Start plucking immediately from the base of the neck towards the head. Take a small clump of feathers between your forefinger and thumb, pull firmly down towards the head.If you let the bird cool down too much plucking will be more difficult. It's easier on your fingers if you wear a pair of nitrile milking gloves, the blue ones that Vets use.

Next begin to pluck feathers from the breast starting at the neck and working towards the tail again pulling the feathers towards the head. Work upwards to include the legs right up to the start of the scales. If you take too big a clump of feathers you are likely to tear the skin.

Pluck between the legs then starting at the tail pull feathers upwards, when the tail area is done work your way up the back towards the tail. Now only the wing feathers are left.

Pull out the quills by grasping each one and tugging them as before pluck the feathers on both side of the wing and the edges. finally go all over the bird taking out any stubs or feathers that have been missed.


Twenty minutes from start to finish

I didn't realise until Hanno told me this morning that its OK to kill a bird then pluck it and give it to a friend but it is illegal for you to eviscerate it. Sounds a bit daft so it must be true .

Wednesday 23 October 2013

How to make "Chevre" - soft goat's milk cheese

Homemade and bought moulds
 This is a longer post than usual because its a, "how to do it" piece for my cousin Helen who has been trying to make cheese since the summer.

Make it with supermarket milk if you don't have a goat.

Improvise, don't buy specialist equipment at this stage your kitchen probably contains all you need.

Moulds are expensive so use plastic drinks cups, yoghurt pots of various sizes or even old  baked bean tins. Make holes all the way to the top because you are going to completely fill the mould and the cheese shrinks to about 20% of the original volume of curd. If you abhor wast feed the whey to your pigs or make ricotta with it.

                         5L Goat's milk pasteurised
                          Calcium chloride
                          Mesophillic cheese culture

                         The cheese culture, rennet and the calcium chloride you can get in small quantities on Ebay.

                        Large jam pan
                        Smaller pot or can to go inside the big one
                        Dairy thermometer or a jam thermometer
                        Slotted spoon
                        Roasting tin and wire cooling rack
                        Cheese moulds


1.  Pour the milk into a stainless steel pail or pan, place the smaller milk container in the water filled jam pan and heat to 31C. Add 1/4 teaspoon of calcium chloride diluted in 1/4 cup of water. The calcium chloride replaces the calcium lost in pasteurisation and helps with curdling.
2.  Warm the milk to 31 c and remove from the heat.
3.  Sprinkle the culture grains 1/8  teaspoon over the top of the milk, stir gently to mix well. Stand at room temperature 21C for 35 - 40mins.
4. Add 1/8 teaspoon rennet dissolved in 1/4 cup of non chlorinated water. Mix for 1 minute with your clean hand and arm from the bottom of the pan.
5.  After 25 mins test for coagulation of the milk. Stick your middle finger into the curd and then bring it up horizontally, if the curd is ready there will be a clean break in the surface. If it looks like yoghurt and doesn't break leave it for another 5 - 10 mins.
6.  Cut the curd with a long bladed knife. Hold the knife vertically and cut from one side of the pan to the other about 12cms apart, repeat at right angles then at an angle to the surface to produce walnut size pieces.
7.  Let the curds rest for 10 mins, then fill the moulds to the top, scooping the curds out gently with the slotted spoon. Stand the moulds on a cake cooling rack over a bowl or roasting tin because the whey will start to flow from the moulds and the cheese will start to shrink.
8.  Leave the moulds to drain for 4hrs then flip the cheese. Invert the mould over your hand, the cheese will fall into your palm then put the cheese back upside down, Leave the cheese to sit in the mould over the rack for 12 hours at room temperature.
9.  Unmould the cheese by turning upside down on your palm, place cheese on draining rack for two hours.
10.  Place a good pinch of salt on a sheet on waxed paper or a flat pale. Sprinkle or rub salt over the cheese surfaces and then return to the drying rack for 4 - 6 hours.
11. Refrigerate and use within 15 days.

The almost finished product drying before refrigeration

How to get a Croft : Matrimony, patrimony and parsimony

The SCF "Crofting Induction Course" was held in Kilchoan last weekend and the question most people wanted answered was, "how do I get a Croft?" I have heard it said that there are three ways on getting into farming, this probably applies to crofting too:

Matrimony -   Marry a Farmer's (Crofter's) son or daughter.
Patrimony   -  Get Daddy to buy one for you
Parsimony  -   Don't spend, spend, spend!  SAVE, SAVE, SAVE!

This presupposes that there is a market and that there are crofts for sale but they rarely come on to the market. Many unused crofts still belong to absentees who have a range of motives for hanging on; it was Granny's home, they might go back some day, they have forgotten about it or there has been the possibility of decrofting some of the land and selling it for building.

Things are changing. The new Crofters Commission is committed to dealing with absenteeism and to ending speculation in crofting land.  This could eventually bring more crofts on to the market for young people with energy, ideas and commitment to the way of life and the highlands and islands.

Bringing crofts held by absentees back into use is a slow process. Last year, according to the Crofters Commission Annual Report only seven crofts in Argyll and Bute we re brought back into crofting use and throughout the Crofting Counties a total of 22 crofts or 172 ha.

Forty per cent of us (Crofters) are over 60 and of those five per cent are over 80. But don't hold your breath we are tough and hardy and will hang in there.

Here's a strategy for getting into crofting
  • Learn all you can about crofting, keep up to date by reading the Crofters Commission website from time to time, join the Scottish Crofters Federation they have a register of  aspirant Crofters.
  • Acquire skills in; livestock husbandry, growing food, building, fencing, walling.
  • Be realistic, it rains a lot, winter days are very short, you need 365 day a year commitment when you keep livestock you need another source of income become multi-skilled or have a readily transportable skill such as IT, or guiding tourists in the Antarctic summer like my neighbor Trevor.
  • You need a partner, its even tougher on your own
  • Give up consumerism, you need capital, parsimony is still a necessary condition for a crofting way of life.
  •  Search solicitor's, estate agents and auction mart websites, when crofts come on the market they will be advertising them.
  • Find out about woodland crofts 
  • Be single minded, determined and lucky.
         This should provoke some comment. I haven't had any for a while.

Monday 21 October 2013

Is drinking raw milk safe?

There are few drinks more refreshing than a glass of cold milk straight from the fridge. We drink it raw and unpasteurised. but is this safe? The official public health line is that its not safe but a recent paper in the Journal of food protection says it is safe.

Cool, clean, refreshing and raw
I suspect that the answer is, "yes and no".

YES.... because the milk you buy in the supermarket  has never been cleaner or safer.Milk passes from the cow, through a clean closed system with  micro filters straight into a refrigerated bulk tank. We've come a long way since the 1940s when our milk was carried to customers in churns on a horse drawn milk float then ladled out into the customer's jug. That's when pasteurisation (heat treatment to kill bacteria) became universal and was probably one of the most effective public health measures ever.

NO....because we hand milk into an open container placed directly underneath the goat and its exposed to a highly contaminated environment. We do keep the goats clean, clean the udder with an antiseptic wipe, sterilise the milking pails, filters, containers etc., then its into the freezer for a couple of hours to get the temperature down as quickly as possible.As an Irish colleague of mine once said of a different problem,        " that's all very well in practice Tom, but does it work in theory?"  

No.... it doesn't work in theory for young children and soft cheese making. So on these occasions I heat the milk in a bain marie to 72C, hold it at that temperature for 15 seconds then cool it rapidly to 4C to kill the bugs.

To read a summary of the original paper go to; New Studies Confirm Milk A Low Risk Food -

Tree surgery and energy saving

There was a time before tumble driers.  Then everyone, including the kindly condescending Toffs of Downton Abbey, ( I know, they had servants to do it!) dried their laundry on lines in the wind and sun. The energy cost was zero.

After the recent hike in energy prices, +10% here in the W.Highlands (Boondocks to our American readers) we will be paying 12p/Kw h. So that means my 700 watt tumble drier will cost 84p ($1.36) an hour to run. Its wasted money and adding to global warming.

Outdoor drying needs sun and wind but the drying green has become increasingly shaded by the sycamores along the boundary, they also reduce the wind speed. Amputation was called for to get more sun and moving air. Matt the tree surgeon had it done in less than an hour.

As a by product there is also a quantity of hardwood to go on the woodpile plus leaves and sycamore keys for
Eats shoots and leaves
the goats and fresher laundry..... a wind wind situation perhaps?

Saturday 19 October 2013

Eggs get to Turkey intact but don't count your chickens until they've hatched

Last week I had a request from a blog reader in Turkey; could he buy some hatching eggs? I explained how difficult it is to ensure that the eggs arrive intact and still fertile. Rough handling can break the eggs, changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure and  delays in the post all reduce the fertility and hatchability of eggs. Despite this he insisted that he wanted six eggs. So I packed them as usual in an egg box, surrounded with packing chips inside a strong cardboard box and took it down to the Post Office.

Today I had an email with these pictures to say that they arrived yesterday, intact. So in three weeks time we'll know if they were still fertile.

I have all but given up selling hatching eggs because although they leave here at around 70 -80% fertile they can be nothing like this when they arrive, customers are very disappointed and I have to reimburse them. this did not happen in the past and I wonder if the Royal Mail is doing something different. Are the packages being X-rayed and transported in the unpressurised holds of cargo aircraft even when going to the home counties?

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Crofter's day out : Buying a Charollais tup

He has some growing to do but there's a really good tup in there
Its nearly time to put the tups (rams) in with the ewes, the 15th November and we don't have one. If we had kept the Charollais x Texel that we've been using for the past two years he'd be mating with his daughters. What to buy? and where to go?

For some time I have admired the lambs produced by Charollais  males, they have  well muscled rear ends, long backs, they grow quickly and are easy lambing, but where to find one. Charollais are still a minority breed and apart form big national sales like that at Kelso in August they aren't easy to find in your local market. There is a breed society with
Home in the gloaming
a website and a list of breeders with stock for sale. This is how I tracked down the tup we bought today.

Alistair and I set off for Doune at seven we had the choice of ten shearlings, not easy because they all looked good but we came away with the one in the picture. After some lovely homemade soup and an hour of farming craik. This type of conversation is what Dormouse calls a "4 x 2 moment" i.e. largely, but not exclusively male and technical.

Home in the early evening with crepuscular lighting effects on Ben Hiant. After a four hour ride in the trailer we thought it best to let him settle down for the night in the trailer with a bucket of water and some leafy hay. Tomorrow we'll give him a couple of wether lambs as company until he starts work.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Humble designs Day 3 : Sheep house finished!

A sheep house with proportions of a Palladian villa and possibly the Aegean behind
I'm a bit late with this, its now Friday, day 4 , but I had to visit the dentist an all day, 120 mile round trip to Fort William. "Its a solid wee shed", I've been told, 12m x 6m with enough space for at least 20 ewes, storage of hay and straw and a bit over.  The ventilation should be fine too with two open bays and a volume of 250 cu m. All that's left to do is to put a couple of 10' steel gates on the open bays and to make up the floor level.

Friday 11 October 2013

Humble designs Day 2 : The sheep house roof goes on

This is all happening remarkably quickly. Today , Wednesday, the framework was competed and most the roof sheets went on. They've obviously done it before and they don't hang about. Should be finished by Friday evening.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Humble designs : The sheep house goes up

Of the 175 posts that I've done by far the most viewed is on the renovation of the old byre. So here is the next and last of our, "Humble Designs"..... the new sheep house.

Its day 1 and its going up quickly Jim and his team had all four corner posts in place within an hour of arriving. Must have been the good post hole digging! They are well equipped with the ultimate builder's toy. Their Unimog crane  handles the 4m poles easily, it has its own generator for power tool operation and of course its highly mobile and maneuverable.

There are three things that people love to watch; fires, running water and other people working so its a really nice day for me leaning on the fence spectating.

Monday 7 October 2013

A weather proof hay feeder for goats

Even here at the end of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula there's occasional; "fly tipping" and the nearer you are to an urban area the more likely it is. When we lived in Kent there was a kind of ecological succession to it starting with a mattress, then a TV or defunct fridge and finally a supermarket trolley.If you are lucky, like me you might find an abandoned wheelie bin miles from its original home in a ditch or bit of woodland.

Cut a 25cm diameter hole about 40cm from the bottom on the front face and you have a weatherproof hay feeder that takes exactly one whole bale of hay.  Pop the bale in, cut the strings, tie the lid down with a bungee cord then tie the bin to a fence or strainer post. Its definitely weatherproof but nothing is really waste proof where goats are concerned.

The bin I found was 150 miles from home, I checked on AA Route-planner so the local authority were unlikely to come and pick it up.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Mating rituals again : Hebe gets the hots!

The result of on-line dating for goats
When I went up to the hill to collect the girls at milking time there was a lot of bleating going on. Hebe was obviously in heat, bleating, wagging her tail from side to side and in a big hurry to get somewhere. Where? was pretty obvious, Mr Raffles smell must have reached Skye by now, she wanted to get to him. Shameless!

There's nothing romantic about goat mating, lots of sniffing then, "wham, bang.. thank you ma'am" and its over.

I hope it is. If she hasn't been fertilised then she'll be back in heat in about 20 days. If she has mated successfully the kid or kids will turn up on 6th March 2014 +/- 5 days.

The Sheep House phase 1 : Digging the post holes

I've undertaken to dig all of the holes for the sheep house uprights, ex-hydro poles about 25cm in diameter and 4m long. they need to be at least 1m deep in a tight straight sided hole like a fence strainer. The ground is packed quarry waste with limestone rock underneath when you get down to about 750mm. Its hard going but luckily Phillipo an Italian stonemason living in the village offered to do it he must be 40 years younger than me so so he got the job, ten holes a metre deep.

The last one was hard rock, limestone, all the way down. It was luckily the last one. Had it been the first we might have given up, but a totally blunted drill bit and three hours late it was done. so its all ready for Jim Reid and his builders on Tuesday.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Egg packaging disaster

Nice orange yolk!
One of my hatching egg customers had seven broken eggs out of twelve yesterday luckily she was understanding about it and I'll send replacements on Thursday. She  sent this photograph.

The new packaging needs a rethink to counter the rough handling in the postal system. When there are 12 eggs in the box. they'll need to be better separated better so will try an egg tray inside the box with packing chips all round .

Its not easy trying to be Eco-friendly, "it seemed like a good idea at the time!"....... should be my epitaph.