New Chums… and How to Make Butter

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I’ve got some new family members to introduce.

Kidding Season 2013 at Elcarim Farm was quite low-fuss as far as input from the does. But their timing made things a little tricky.

On July 10, with Sienna at 147 days and lugging around a huge udder, I was in hospital for the afternoon having my pacemaker generator replaced.

Now, the generator I had was probably good for another couple of months, but I didn’t want my surgery to clash with the Royal Melbourne Show. So instead it clashed with kidding.

After a big dose of sedative for my procedure, I went home and at last check (10pm) Sienna had a bit of white goo, a sign of labour beginning. Since she had trouble with her previous kidding, I felt it best not to take my eyes off her. Kidding finally started at around 2am, with three kids born by 4am. It was 5.30am before I got to bed. A night in a freezing cold barn (and it was freezing, thank goodness for the new ceramic heat lamp!) birthing goats is probably not what the doctors had in mind for me when they sent me home that afternoon.

I re-homed Sienna’s two buck kids at a couple of days old and left her with her fabulous little spotty doe kid.

Three days later, around 6am, Meredith kidded with no fuss. A big single doe kid. She can keep doing that every year, if she likes.

Then a couple of weeks later, Rianna decided to kid at feed time one afternoon. This would have been fine, except that I was once again in hospital (see previous post) and poor Matt had to deal with this kidding on his own. For her part, Rianna kindly kidded at a time when there was someone in the barn and only had two kids (she was enormous, I was expecting triplets or quads). She happily accepted both kids, who were a good size and vigorous.

So first of all, here is Elcarim Juno (the spotty one), by Jazzy Jupiter from Elcarim Sienna. And Elcarim Maia, by Jazzy Jupiter from Elcarim Meredith. This pair are best mates and hard to photograph separately.

Juno and Maia

Juno and Maia

Juno and Maia

Juno and Maia

Juno is a chubby, boisterous little girl, much like her mother in style, but hopefully with a bit more substance.

Maia is tall, upstanding and elegant, like her own mother. It will be very interesting showing this pair, as they are 3/4 related yet still quite different.

And then we have Rianna’s twins, by Capricorn Cottage Tazzy, Elcarim Zeus (front, with the big white splash) and Elcarim Hera

Zeus and Hera

Zeus and Hera

Elcarim Hera (with Callum)

Elcarim Hera (with Callum)

These kids are full siblings to Sienna. Hera is a lovely correct little doe, very feminine and with good type. Zeus is a strong and masculine fellow, born weighing 4kg. He seems to have Tazzy’s laid-back yet confident nature, so at this stage I will run him on as a buck with the view of him taking his father’s place in the future.

This year I am herd recording, which consists of doing a series of 24hour milk tests and sending in samples to determine the milk production of my does over their lactations. I did my first 24hour test this weekend, which gave me plenty of milk to use in the kitchen. As a result, I spent last night making soft cheese, butter, soap and yogurt, as well as the regular nightly setting of the kefir. I got some photos of the butter making process and thought I might share that with you all.

You can make butter with cream from the supermarket, if you want to give it a try. You will need a good electric mixer and some patience.

How to make butter

First you will need some cream, and it will need to be cold. I used cream separated from my goat milk, so my butter turned out white.

Whip the cream on a high setting until it thickens.

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Whip your cream

Then keep whipping it.

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Whip it some more…

At a certain point my cream sticks to the edges of the bowl and the stand mixer can’t reach it, so I switch to the hand beater.

When you are starting to think that all you have done is ruin some nice cream, keep whipping. Then the cream will start to separate, I call it ‘breaking’ but I don’t know the real term for it. You will start to see the buttermilk looking watery in the bottom of the bowl.

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The cream ‘breaking’

Beat just a minute or two more. Then start to gather together the little blobs of fat. I use a spatula and pull the butter up the side of the bowl. When you have enough to pick up, squeeze it in your hand and pop it into a bowl of cold water. Squeeze it in the cold water to get as much of the buttermilk out as you can.

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Rinse the butter

Pull together as much of the fat (butter) as you can with a spatula or your hands. You won’t get it all. When you are left with just buttermilk in your bowl you can either put it into a jar to store in the fridge or pour it into a ziplock bag to freeze and use later. It makes really good pancakes or scones, or you can look up recipes that use traditional buttermilk and experiment with something new.

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Buttermilk in the bowl

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Buttermilk ready to freeze

Once I have all the buttermilk out of the bowl and as much of the butter as possible pulled together and rinsed as well as I can, I put the butter back in the bowl and add some salt. This is optional, but it helps preserve the butter and makes it taste more like the butter you will be used to. I basically squish the butter a bit flat, sprinkle the salt on, and mush it in with a spatula, picking up the butter from the sides of the bowl and expelling a little bit more buttermilk as I go. I discard this last bit of buttermilk as it has salt in it, not ideal for sweet baking.

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From 5 litres of milk…

Then just put the butter into airtight containers. I divide mine in two and keep one on the bench and the other in the fridge. You don’t want to leave it out too long.

I started this batch by separating five litres of milk, yielding about 200ml of cream. This made, as you can see, 84g of butter (I put the containers on, zeroed the scales, then put the butter in). I used up all the skim milk and I will use the buttermilk down the track, so nothing is wasted. It is a lot of work for a little bit of butter, but it is yum – great on toast – and easy to make.

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The Great Kefir Slaughter of 2013, or Four Days in a Strange Universe.

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This guy. The ugly dude, the one singing. I hate him.

He had me fearing for my life in hospital for three days. He is bacteria, a ‘poo bug’ if you like.

I woke up early on Sunday morning needing to pee but unwilling to do so because I didn’t want to feel cold.

Not the regular ‘ooh, that seat is chilly on my bum’ kind of thing, but a bone-deep revulsion at the idea of coldness on my skin. The beginning of a fever.

That set off alarm bells. With an artificial heart valve, blood-borne bacteria collecting on your valve, or on a pacemaker lead, or on the pacemaker itself, is a constantly lurking demon. Any infection must be swiftly defeated, any breach to the protective barrier of skin must be carefully treated. And I was 18 days post-op from my pacemaker replacement surgery.

Nobody I had been in contact with had been sick recently, so no reason to suspect a virus. And I had a normal appetite as of the previous evening. Endocarditis had to be considered, and then ruled out, before I would feel safe. Off to the Emergency Department for me.

Now, being a heart patient is a fast-track pass through triage, but nothing happens fast in the ED. I was seen by a few doctors, had lots of blood taken, was finally given some paracetamol and eventually started on antibiotics. Eight hours later I was admitted to a general ward. I was feverish, miserable and terrified.

The next morning I knew all the kefirs in my tummy were dead. I knew this because they began to leave my body through the ‘tradesman’s entrance’ and myself and my IV infuser took several unpleasant trips to the bathroom.

I have been taking kefir (a fermented milk drink) daily for nearly a month now. It usually makes me feel as though my digestive bits resemble the fairy nightclub in True Blood. Everyone is happy and cheerful and fabulously good-looking. But antibiotics don’t discriminate. Everyone dies, even the good bacteria. All of them.

So after the antibiotics my guts felt more like the landscape of Mars. Pretty damn desolate.

And here is where things get weird. In a place where they are supposedly trying to get you well, they gave me the most puzzling ‘foods’. White bread. Ice cream and jelly. Lovely sweet and acidic fruit juices. Corn Flakes. All I wanted was a banana and some wholemeal bread. And some good probiotic yogurt. Not the bizarre sugar-filled and gelatinised stuff they had available. Some green tea would have been nice, too.

Trying not to sound like a whiny food snob, because some of the food was probably fairly nutritious even if it was completely inedible, let me ask about jelly. What is the obsession with hospitals and their jelly? I was relieved to see it served in single-use containers, rather than as bricks of slightly wobbly stuff in re-usable bowls that could be cut with a knife and stand up on its own. But even so, there is nothing of any value in coloured and flavoured water with a bit of gelatine in it. Ice cream is another strange hospital staple, loaded with fat and sugar. It might be good for sore throats and easy for people with false teeth to eat, but does it help them get well?

What I saw, on the whole, was people stuck in beds on bad food with pills shoved down their throats and IV drugs drip-fed into them. Some of these helped, some did not, some were reasonable precautions and some seemed to be just ‘oh well, let’s try this and see what happens’. I saw people asked the same questions, day after day, by different (and sometimes the same) doctors and nurses.

I was four days without a diagnosis, despite pretty much every type of stuff that my body contained being tested, in some cases several times. Four days to find one of the most common bacteria and prove that a blood-borne bacteria was not threatening my heart.

Now, admittedly for most of that time I was as crook as a dog. When the fevers finally stopped, my stomach took over. I had agonising pains roughly every 20 minutes for the best part of 18 hours. They made my heart race and took my breath away. It was eerily reminiscent of being in labour.

What made my case a little obscure is that most people with this bug will present with nausea and vomiting, whereas I had eaten my dinner the night before with no problem and not had the slightest urge to spew. This is not unusual for me. My immune system never seems to be content with ‘let’s get everyone out of here and hope the trouble-maker goes with them’. Its preferred approach is ‘kill it with fire’. Hence the other common symptom, diarrhoea, doesn’t begin until after the bugs have died in a hail of fever. Thanks for your discretion, immune system.

So there I was, stuck in a room with a 90yo, both of us isolated due to our possible gastroenteritis, away from all the tools I use at home to help keep me well, and deprived of decent nutrition and sleep. In this environment, I was presumably expected to get well. By the time I was well enough to appreciate the situation, it all seemed slightly demented. And once I knew my heart was not at risk, I refused to stay a moment longer.

It was an eye-opening and educational experience. It taught me how important it is to look after myself. It taught me how seriously doctors will take any threat of endocarditis in a fairly young patient with risk factors. It showed me how well I feed my family already, but that there is room for improvement. It helped me realise what a caring, capable and determined partner I have. And it made me a little sad for the state of our public health system.