Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Tough World of a Dairy

I had no idea having a small dairy would be so difficult.  Really.  No idea.  It seemed like it would be all goodness and fun.  Cows are lovely, beautiful and fresh milk is tasty and good.  Deal, I'm in.
I had no idea.
It has certainly been challenging for the past four years.  Getting the cows, learning to milk them.  Getting a state Grade A raw dairy license.  Keeping my license.  Today was the topper.
A few months ago the State of Washington required all the raw dairies in the State (about 22) to test all their cows for Q fever.  The pasteurized dairies are not required.  Ever heard of Q fever?  Nope, neither had I.  Ever had a long distant cousin come down with Q fever.  Nope, neither had I.
My veterinarian came out to do my annual TB testing of all the cows and check on Bruccellosis for all the cows and now do the new Q fever testing.  He called me a couple of hours ago to inform me that Dinah was positive for Q fever.  
Dinah is the first cow I got four years ago.  The best cow I have.  She is presently carrying a calf that is four months along that took me 2 years to conceive at great time, expense and effort.  She is bred to a Scottish Highland bull from the Island.  I have kept my dairy going waiting for her to calve in April.  I would be back with ample milk and my favorite cow would be back in the cycle of milking.  All would be good in the spring.  And now she is positive for Q fever.
What the hell is Q fever?  I looked it up on the Centers for Disease Control web site.  It is the most highly infectious diseases known to man, one single bacterium can infect a human.  Weird. It is primarily a disease that is transferred to humans by air. Persons primarily at risk are people who work in barn yards, slaughterhouses, tanneries, and veterinarians.  Hmmm.  Sounds bad but what does that have to do with raw milk?  I could find no cases of humans contracting Q fever from milk.  Not sure if anyone ever has.
I was raised to believe that government is good. They work for us, help us, protect us. We should always vote, pay taxes and support the government.  I am beginning to think my Mother was wrong.  Cows with Q fever can exist in dairies that pasteurize their milk.  Infected cows can be walking around those dangerous barnyards, their hides can be sent to tanneries, they can be slaughtered, veterinarians can work on them.  Cows in raw dairies must be destroyed.
I am required to destroy my favorite cow, my expensive valuable cow.  It is difficult for me to believe anything other than the State of Washington is trying to eliminate the licensed raw dairies of the State by adding more and more regulations.  They will not make raw milk illegal here, they will just make it impossible to do business in the State of Washington.
They are doing a good job of it.  I can only think that they are pressured by the large dairy lobby of the State.  Milk is one of the largest agricultural products here. They don't want to compromise that for the sake of a few small dairies such as mine.  
On a better note, I picked a large bowl of grapes a few days ago from vines that I planted probably ten years ago and did little or nothing with. I finally took the time to prune them last winter and they produced handsomely this past summer. They are lovely, sweet and full of flavor.  I am picking them off one by one and popping them in my mouth as I rant and rage.  I will not let the fine folks in Olympia ruin my evening

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I envisioned this blog to be simply a chat about life here on this calm farm.  Stories about the cows, ramblings about the seasons, even bleak stories on a lamb.  I was inspired though today to add a recipe.  Odd, I am not much of a recipe kind of guy, but I will give it a try.  It may frustrate you more than if I hadn't written anything, but enjoy.
First off, I have no pretty, style photo to accompany this recipe.  I ate almost all of the ice cream.  Since that time I finished the last little smidge in the bottom of the pan.  I couldn't help it. I liked it.
The ice cream in question is a pear-apple caramel dessert.  I made it on Sunday for dinner.  I never even got around to tasting it till a half hour ago. And then I ate it all. Finished it down to the pan.  
The plan for the ice cream base is thus:  12 egg yolks, 4 cups of creamy-milk, one and a quarter cups of sugar.  Warm the cream on the range till it starts to steam a bit but certainly doesn't scald.  While the cream is warming, whisk the sugar and yolks in a large mix bowl.  Mix them well, not whipped till they are pale, but certainly till they are completely incorporated.
When the cream has warmed amply, gently pour it in a stream into the egg-sugar mix, whisking all the while.  A towel under the bowl will assist in keeping the whole bowl-eggs-cream-whisk-hot pan from going all over.  Again, no need to go crazy on the mixing, but get all the little bits of sugary eggs into the cream.  
Pour the whole custard back into the pan -- don't throw it into the sink just yet.  With a rubber spatula, clean the mixing bowl of its creaminess.  Pull up the heat a bit so that it is gently heating the custard. Mix constantly with the spatula.  It will be thin, thin, thin and then suddenly begin to thicken.  Lower the heat, keep it moving  until the custard has thickened; till it coats a spoon as they say.  Remove from heat.
With that rubber spatula transfer the hot thick custard back into the original bowl through a fine sieve.  All the errant bits of whites and any other nasty bits will be stopped.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and cool for quite a while.
While cooling prepare the fruity mix.  One heavy pan pour in a couple of cups of sugar or so and a bit of water -- maybe a quarter cup.  Sorry to sound so vague, but I never measure.  Too strict, too confining.  Bring to a boil and boil and boil until the sugar begins to caramelize.  Might take a while.  Be patient and be safe. Caramelized sugar is oh so hot and quiet dangerous.  When you like the color, pull of the heat and place the pan in a shallow bit of cold water.  Cools it off quickly.  Makes a lot of steam and noise too.
Pare and core and chop up a bunch of pears and the odd apple.  Comice pears I had were lovely.  Full of flavor, juicy and a bit too ugly for the table.  Once they are all chopped, throw them into the caramel pot. Place back on the range, add some water and cook.  The idea is to cook the pears and apples; to break them down, not to continue cooking the caramel, so keep a fair amount of liquid in the pot at all times.  Add water as needed, you can always boil it out.
When you like it, it is wet enough and the pears are soft enough, pull it off.  I ended up with a sauce, a fairly thin sauce of half fruit / half caramel. Add more pears if you need, add more water if you need, boil it down if it just is too thin.  When happy, chill it all down completely.
Once the custard and the fruit are cooled, chill the custard in a ice cream freezer.  Nothing too unusual here, but don't let it completely freeze.  When it is thick, not frozen, but thick enough to stand up on its own, pull it from the ice cream freezer.  Pile it into a large chilled bowl.  Pour in some of the pear sauce.  Fold it in with a large rubber spatula. Gently, deliberately, but completely.  Swirl is the goal.  Add some more sauce if it needs it, go little by little till you like the color.  When happy,pour it all into a tight freezer pan and freeze solid.
I loved this.  Luckily I have some more fruit swirl left to add to custard tomorrow.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Cows Move In To Their New Digs

The day finally arrived.  After thinking about getting a barn nearly two years ago, to chatting with Frederic about design ideas, to the actual plans of the barn, the permitting process at County, and finally the building of the barn.  After all those many months, the cows moved in a few days ago.

I got to enjoy the barn for myself for a number of weeks.  The main structure was finished even though the lights weren't up, the gates not installed and the mangers not yet built.  I began to think of it as my barn;  a place for me to seek refuge from the world.  From the main room you can look out onto the pastures and gardens and yet be protected from three sides.  The wall that faces the road is completely solid, shielding you from anyone coming down the driveway.

I found myself often taking my laptop out to the table I set up in the middle of the barn and would write and think and be 'away'.  My wi-fi signal wouldn't reach that far, no electricity was yet installed and it was calm.  Sadly, like the parent that realizes that he has to stop playing with his kids toys late on Christmas Eve and put them under the tree, I had to hand over the barn to its intended residents.

Frederic arrived late last week with the mangers; the feeding troughs that the cows would eat their hay out of.  Beautifully designed and built, they are well crafted furniture;  cow furniture.
Pegged construction, simple yet sturdy, I think Frederic took more pride in them than in the barn itself.  I want to bring them into the house and have cushions made for them.  Odd little sofas they would be.

And so the cows marched in minutes after we unloaded the mangers.  Frederic began to giggle as they marched up and began chomping on hay that I had put out for them.  I had never heard cows chewing.  In the pasture, the sounds are lost. In a tight space, five cows crunching their teeth, eating a bale of hay makes a bit of noise.  A great noise.

And then it happened.  Minutes later the first cow added manure to the beautiful space. Oh, and a great stream of urine as well.  It was rather disturbing I must admit at first.  I quickly cleaned it up, only to have another cow follow suit.  By this morning it looks very much like a barn.  A bit of manure here and there, hay thrown around, cows feeling very comfortable.  

I will miss my private space, but now I can sneak in after dark, flip on the lights and put out some hay for the ladies.  They come and join me now, it is now our private space.  The place that is just for the cows and I, a space to find solace.  And hay.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Ugly Side of it All

I usually write nice, pretty, upbeat things here:  little cow stories, isn't the weather great? gosh, pigs do the darnedest things..  that kind of posts.  Today is a little different.

Last week we moved the sheep and their lambs from the big pasture into a couple of smaller paddocks that had more grass and a weedy spot that we wanted chewed down a bit.  It seemed like a great idea.  They would be nearer the forage plants that we had planted for  them in the spring and there was some grass for them to graze as well. 
On Friday of last week after a few days in the weedy paddock, the smallest lamb in the bunch got a bad case of scours, known in the human world as diarrhea.  The problem that I dread in lambs as it can dehydrate them in a few hours with death usually coming quickly.  I did what I could by giving him some Pepto Bismal -- it actually works great on sheep -- and taking him to the water a few times per day to drink and feeding him kale leaves one by one.  I really thought he would make it through.  By this morning, he was still alive and eating greedily, although still too weak to stand.
I left him in the field with the others and checked on him every few hours during the day since Friday.  Each morning I expected to find him dead, but was excited to see him still breathing and wanting more water and food.  This morning was the same.
A few minutes ago I went back out to the back pasture expecting him to be hungry again and was confident he was going to make it.  What I found was disturbing.

There he was where I left him, laying in the dirt, still breathing, his ears moving a bit.  As I came up to him I looked at his face and saw that his eyes had been pecked at repeatedly, blood running down his small face to the dirt beneath him.  My guess is that the crows, that are the scavengers of the farm, and the world, saw that he was too weak to move away and just sat on his body and pecked at his eyes.
I have had animals here for many years.  Not much bothers me.  This pissed me off.  I just stood there for a second and screamed 'fuck!"    
I went quickly back to the house, got the rifle, loaded it and returned to put him out of his misery.  He went into a large hole that had been dug for another project and it is all out of sight now.  
Farms are great, eating meat is just fine with me and life goes on.  I will still continue raising animals of course, but there are days when this isn't such a pretty picture.  The sweet pastoral days occasionally have a day such this one, with the image of pain on an animal stuck in my head.  
Not to worry, tomorrow I will have a pretty story.