Monday, April 30, 2012

How To Test Eggs For Freshness

The other day I cracked open an egg and was immediately greeted with a revolting stench and horrible, brown nasty pouring out of the egg - I couldn't get it out of the house fast enough!
EEWWW! What happened?

Chickens have "community nests" in which several hens will lay their eggs in the same nest each day - one after the other.  In bygone days, at a certain point, when the number of eggs in the nest was right - usually 8-10 as long as she can keep them all under her, one hen would begin to sit those eggs.  Unfortunately, because most chicks are hatched in incubators nowadays, hens have lost their inclination to sit on and hatch their own eggs. On our farm we rarely have a "broody hen" - one who wants to sit her eggs. It takes exactly 21 days for a chicken egg to hatch, and I have had a hen sit a nest for 18 days and then lose all interest and walk away.
I gather eggs everyday and always leave one egg on each nest - "seed eggs" I call them, because it seems to me that when I continually empty their nests of eggs day after day, they decide to find another place to lay. Remember, our chickens are "free-range" which means that they have 40 acres in which to lay their eggs! They can be quite clever in finding places to hide their eggs, and sometimes it takes us awhile to find the new nests. As a matter of fact, Bob just found a large clutch of eggs this morning under the bush hog!

And then ANOTHER under a planting container!

When we find a hidden clutch there's no way of knowing how long they have been there - so, how can I tell if these eggs are fresh?

Here's how:
When an egg is first laid it has a very small air pocket at the large end. As the egg ages, because the shell is porous, moisture escapes enlarging the size of the air pocket causing the egg to become more buoyant. The older it is, the more an egg will float.

* Fill a pot with approx 3 inches of water and place your egg(s) in the water 2 or three at a time.

*  The white egg on the left is freshest - under 1 week old. It will lay flat on the bottom of the pot.
*  An egg that is between 1 and 2 weeks old will begin to bob and float at a 45 degree angle. (the middle egg)
*  At 2 weeks old and egg will stand. (right)
All these are suitable for eating.

** If an egg completely floats carefully dispose of it!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

How To Make Mozzarella (String) Cheese

You're not going to believe how easy it is to make delicious Mozzarella cheese. All you need are THREE ingredients!

*  One gallon milk - be sure it is not UP (Ultra Pasteurized) this is a new technique of heating milk to an even higher temperature which destroys ALL bacteria and extends shelf life from 18 days to 60 days (You can imagine how devoid this milk must be of any thing good and healthy as well!) This is done because of the prevalence of disease in current commercial milk producing herds. Look careful for the UP code - it can be placed anywhere on the milk container and only has to be half the size of current pasteurization labels.
  Whole milk, 2%, 1%, skim, raw, or goat milk all can be used for making this cheese. Whole milk is your best choice if using cow's milk.

* Citric acid
*  Rennet - both of these ingredients I order from New England Cheesemaking Company .

* measure 1 1/2 tsp citric acid and dissolve in 1 cup cool water
* dissolve 1/4 tab or 1/4 tsp rennet in 1/4 cup cool water

* Pour citric acid mixture into pot. Add 1 gallon cold milk quickly to mix well with citric acid.
* Heat slowly to 90 degrees.
* Remove from heat and slowly stir in rennet mixture. Stir in an up and down motion for 30 seconds.
* Cover and let sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

* Check for curd and whey separation. The curd will look like custard and the whey will be clear. If there is not a clean break let sit a few minutes longer.

* With a knife that reaches to the bottom of the pot, carefully cut the curds into 1 inch squares.
* Return pot to stove and heat to 105 degrees while stirring slowly.

* Remove from heat and stir an additional 2-5 minutes.


* ladle into a colander and then into a bowl

* Pour off whey

* Heat in microwave for 1 minute  The cheese should be almost too hot to handle.
* Knead cheese, microwave two more times at 30 seconds each, kneading between each heating, folding it over itself. The cheese will become shiny and smooth. Pour off the whey as you go.
* Add salt if desired. I added 1 tsp cheese salt. Do not use Iodized salt. Non-Iodized sea salt or kosher salt is fine.

* Now it's time to stretch your cheese like taffy. Stretch again and again - This is what will give the string cheese it's trademark texture.

* Now form into a ball and pinch off pieces to roll into string cheese. Or grate. Or eat as is!

* Drop finished pieces or ball into ice water to cool
* Refrigerate
* Enjoy!

Be sure to visit New England Cheesemaking Company for everything you ever wanted to know about making cheese: facts, recipes, supplies, help and much more.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Weekly Random Thoughts and Updates

Lots of exciting happenings around the homestead this week!

*  Baby chicks hatched in the incubator this week. A total of 9. About a 50% hatching rate. That's ok, I only put them in because the incubator was on to hatch something else...Stay tuned!
The cool thing about home hatched chicks is that they are absolutely silent. Not a peep. They haven't gone through the trauma of shipping and travel so they are content and quiet. I literally have to remind myself to check on them throughout the day - typically store bought chicks make alot of noise!

*  Second swarm of the season successfully captured. It was dark by the time Bob got home from work and I was busy milking goats so I didn't document the process this time. Just the results.

*  I'm still transplanting tomatoes (I have about 10 more to go), and ginger.
*  We're still spinning honey. Yes, the kitchen is crowded with a centrifuge and 9 honey boxes waiting to be spun. Did you ever read the book Rascal? One of the few things that I remembered about that story was that the dad was building a canoe in the living room. Reminds me of us!

*  Wormed all the goats  

*  On Sunday the Boy Scouts helped us bring all the pineapple plants out of the greenhouse. Our plan is now to begin working on an aquaponics system using the fish water from the tilapia pool.
At 5:00 am Tuesday morning the temperature was 36 degrees! Not Happy Pineapples!
Several years ago I did the same thing and brought the plants out of the greenhouse way past the last freeze date of March 24, and then we had two nights of temps in the teens! All my pineapples froze (about 15) and I swore I'd never take them out of the greenhouse again until May.

See what happens?! (But how could I pass up help from the scouts?!)
No worries - they made it and it's warm again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Choosing Chickens

OK, so I can understand that not everyone is crazy about skinning rabbits... But who among you can resist THIS!?

Right out of the incubator. Yesterday.

We bought our first chickens in New Mexico in 1999, back when you could buy a bag of feed at the feed store and get a chick for a penny - surely it was a one weekend special. We bought a bunch!
                   We bought Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons and Barred Rocks.

                                       To this day they are still my favorite breeds.

I believe that everyone, especially children, should have the opportunity and experience of raising chickens, and if you are fortunate enough to live in an area where it is permissible to raise them, and if you've decided that this is something you'd like to do, here are some things you should know:

There are typically three ways to acquire chicks
* a feed or farm store
* mail order (yes, they come in a box in the mail - we did this once)
* hatch them yourself in an incubator

I believe most people will buy their newly hatched chicks at a local farm store. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing your chicks:

* the colder it is outdoors when you purchase baby chicks, the longer you'll have to raise them inside. Chicks need a very warm, clean environment (90-100 degrees and the bedding must be changed regularly. Don't worry, you will - they begin to stink very quickly!)
* You can purchase either "Straight Run" or "Pullets"
    *Straight Run means that the chicks have not been checked for gender. They are generally cheaper and you get what you get. We've found that you get too many roosters with this choice.
    * Pullets are female - worth the additional expense if you want eggs.
* You only need ONE rooster! Chickens do not need a rooster to lay eggs - they just won't be fertile. I believe a good ratio is one rooster for every 30 chickens.

Determine your needs: There are basically four different types of chickens:
  * Egg layers
  * Meat Birds
  * General purpose
  * Fancy chickens

The best egg layers are Leghorns. They are a white, light breed that matures quickly and produces approx 280 eggs per year. Because of their light body weight they are typically not used as a meat bird. They lay white eggs and are the breed used for grocery store production.

Cornish Cross or "Broilers" are the standard meat production bird. They grow much faster than egg laying breeds and can reach a weight of 5-7 pounds in 6 weeks.

Cornish cross are the white birds you see in the picture above.
Personally, I think they're kind of gross. All they do is eat. They belly up to the feeder and will lay there and eat all day if given unlimited feed.

General Purpose Chickens are used for both meat and eggs.  These include breeds such as: Rhode Island Red, Barred Plymouth Rock, Sex Link, Buff Orpington, New Hampshire and Ameraucana.  There are other breeds that I'm less familiar with, but these, with the exception of the Ameraucana, are generally the brown egg laying chickens that can also be used for Sunday supper.

Here on our Homestead we have what we call "Mutts". Once upon a time we had the farm store, purebred breeds, but because our chickens are free range and our roosters breed indiscriminately, we now have quite the colorful mixture! It doesn't help that we incubate our eggs as well, further mixing the various traits. That's ok though, as long as they lay eggs and taste good!

These are a few of the chickens roaming our farm - they are not always the easiest to photograph - they don't stay still very long! I did try to find close examples of what each breed should look like, but they do have minor traits from other breeds as well.


One of the most popular breeds because of it's abundant egg laying -approx 200 eggs per year. They lay brown eggs, are hardy, docile and weigh about 6-8 pounds as an adult.


A hardy breed and quite friendly, the Barred Rock is a prolific egg-layer and weighs between 6 and 8 pounds. She lays brown eggs.


This bird is produced for her egg-laying capabilities. She can lay between 280-320 eggs per year. Her eggs are white and are found on the grocery store shelves. They are less docile and tend to be somewhat nervous in behavior. They weigh between 4-6 pounds full grown.


This is a hybrid chicken that is produced by crossing a Rhode Island Red with a Barred Rock. They can lay as many as 300 brown eggs a year


 Characteristically these chickens have full tails, muffs, beards and black or slate colored legs. They typically weigh between 5 and 6 pounds and they lay blue eggs.

This chicken is often confused with the Araucana and the Easter Egger. All three lay blue eggs.


This is the predominant rooster at our farm. I have no idea what breed he is. After each major hatching, once we can determine the roosters, we choose ONE to continue to live on the homestead. He is usually chosen for his good looks and gentle demeanor.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How To Skin a Rabbit

                            This is my friend Debbie

She raises the most beautiful rabbits I've ever seen

Boomer - Mini Rex (Velveteen Rabbit)
Cassidy - Lion Head
Jasmine - Black Otter
Popsicle - Flemish Giant/New Zealand White cross
Lilac - Mini Rex
Bear - Black Otter
Peaches - White Mini Rex
Orange Julius - English Lop
All her bunnies were sweet, gentle and OH SO SOFT!

On a homestead, each homesteader develops criteria that the animals must meet in order to remain on the farm. Some work, ie horses - for transportation and labor, some provide food - meat goats, rabbits, cows, chickens.. some bring in an income, and some are personal pets.

When an animal does not meet any of these personal criteria then it must be culled.

When it got close to time for Siann to have her litter of babies she became very aggressive. This was undesirable but tolerable, but when she later killed 8 of the 9 babies she was raising, Debbie decided that these genetics would not be passed on so she invited me to come learn how to skin a rabbit.

* rabbit
* kitchen scissors
* string (approx 3 ft)
* utility knife
* plastic bag
* bucket (2)
* clean water
* salt

Sian was put down instantly and mercifully.

STEP 1: Tie loop in string. wrap both feet behind hock to hang
STEP 2: Hang at eye level
Step 3: To remove tail - twist and pull

Step 4: shave to see skin - make hole in               Step 5: Cut V from legs to genitals
skin and cut around both feet
Step 6: Punch finger through 1st membrane below genitals at the top of thighs 

Step 7: Keeping inside membrane intact, gently sever connecting membrane between skin and meat

If you accidentally puncture inner membrane (above), pinch shut and gently pull skin down away from tear

 Step 8: Place garbage bag behind work area to keep meat clean. Using kitchen scissors cut around tail area keeping tail fur intact.

Fur keeps anus and fecal bacteria away from meat

Step 9: Gather fur and pull down. Punch finger through membrane at front legs

Step 10: Pull fur to the end of wrist-bone. Cut at wrists

Step 11: Pull the fur to the head - Place hand in rabbit fur like a glove and stretch gently
Step 12: Carefully cut skin around head until head is clear
Step 13: Cut hide down the middle and turn the feet out
Finally - Place hide in a bucket of clean water and gently squish to get the air bubbles out - DO NOT WRING FUR!

Now you have two options:
* You can leave the hide soaking in the bucket while you deal with your rabbit meat- which will be another blog post or
*You can salt and dry your rabbit fur - which will also be another post

 This whole process was quick and efficient. It is obvious Debby is experienced and her system is fine-tuned. With practice this technique would work for anyone.