Sunday, March 29, 2009

In Search of a Centrifuge

Many people think you can't make butter from goat milk, because you don't get much cream rising to the surface. In fact, both goat and cow milk have a fat content of 3.8-3.9%. It's just that the fat globules are smaller in size and lack an enzyme found in cow milk that allows the quick separation of cream from the milk. The smaller globules in goat milk make a smaller curd which is easily digestible.

So I turned to my dairy goat books for suggestions on how to separate the cream. One of the best reference books I own was originally published in 1947, and has this completely sexist statement that had be howling with laughter the first time I read it:

"Installing a separator, however, is no easy job for a woman unless she has a flair for the mechanical. It has many tricky little pieces - set screws, discs, etc, and must be set in place with the guidance of a spirit level, but the instructions for putting it together are simple in man's language, and almost any man can cope with them successfully."

Egads!! I love it. It's so terribly wrong. And written by a women to boot. What happened to all the Riveting Rosies of the war effort just five years earlier?

Anyway, you can buy table top models that provide a separate spigot for the cream and skim milk to run out for a measly $350-500!! The current models are easy to install; they're like many other kitchen appliances that just require removal from the box and plug into the wall. With that kind of price tag they'd better be that easy.

So I've searched the internet for plans or designs for providing some kind of easily powered turning mechanism to provide the requisite centrifugal power needed to make separation happen, which is only about 60rpm. I was thinking of hand cranking a lazy susan, modifying a yarn winder, maybe a modified stationary bike set up, when I came across this gem. Engineering efforts are underway, but in the meantime, enjoy the video!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Goats Revisited

When we first moved to the foothills, we decided to get some goats to help us with brush control. My husband's family used goats to reduce the fire load on the property when he was growing up, so I thought this would be easy. Maybe it would have been, except that we got two escape artist ninja goats from hell. These kinders (pygmy x nubian) performed feats of escape that I would not have believed if I hadn't been secretly watching to see how they were getting out. And did I mention the screaming? Nubians have a propensity for screaming. Ad nauseum. Needless to say, they didn't last long on our property. After several threats of being whole roasted in the front yard we found them a new home.

Now, better educated about goat breeds and having better fencing, we're trying goats again. Nice goats who respect fencing, eat brush AND produce milk. No, I've never milked before, and bets have been placed for how long it'll take for my husband to have to milk. However, today has been day three of the great milking adventure and we're all improving - technique and speed on my part, and patience and calm on the part of the goat.

We got two goats, Maharani (brown) and Pi (black). You always want more than one goat as they are herd animals and need the companionship. Maharani is a two year old mini mancha doe, purchased from a breeder in Redwood Valley. My friend got Maharani's son, a two-month old buck.
The same friend has loaned me Pi, also a mini mancha, to be friends with Maharani. Pi is a one-year old doeling who will be bred in the fall when she comes into heat. This is perfect, as Maharani will probably be drying up about the time Pi begins to produce milk.

Mini Manchas are a smaller variety of La Manchas, created by breeding Dwarf Nigerians to La Manchas, producing an awesome smaller dairy goat. I'm getting a pint each time I milk Maharani, which is twice each day. The milk is sweet and beautifully white. The next step will be trying to produce yogurt and maybe some soft cheese. Mmm, chevré...

Vegetation Sampling at McKenzie Preserve

I had the opportunity to participate in a vegetation sampling workshop held last week in Prather (outside of Fresno). It was cohosted by California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and Sierra Cascade Land Trust Council (SCLTC), of which Nevada County Land Trust (NCLT) is a member, and was held at a preserve owned by the Sierra Foothill Conservancy (SFC). Whew, that's a lot of acronyms!

The preserve was amazingly beautiful. Here's an excerpt from SFC's website:

The main body of the McKenzie Preserve consists of grassland and oak woodland sloping upward toward the basalt lava table lands which give the preserve its name. The preserve includes a significant portion of one of the flat-topped tables that are visible from the road. In the spring, rain water collects in the table’s low spots, forming vernal pools. Since the basalt is impermeable, these pools hold water for several weeks or months until it eventually evaporates. The pools provide habitat for rare plants and rare crustaceans which “come to life” in the presence of the water. When the pools dry up in late spring, these interesting organisms take on new forms (such as seeds or cysts) in order to survive the rest of the year.

The first day was spent partially in a classroom, learning about Rapid and Relevé assessment methods, and then outside in a field of popcorn flower (Plegiobothrys spp.), practicing the Relevé method. In my years of living around Fresno, I've never seen the popcorn flower so profuse. It looked like snow on the ground, intermixed with the dark gold color of fiddleneck amongst the blue oak savanna.

The second day we hiked to the summit of the table top. This was less than a mile, but it was all uphill (both ways!) with an elevation change of 1100 feet! You can see from the pictures the increase in elevation as we climbed and our eventual destination on the table top.

The table top was a rioting mass of wildflowers in bloom, including lupines (Brewer's and Pixie), California poppies, California goldfields, and gold carpet. We did a relevé on a stand of pixie lupine (Lupinus bicolor). We also did a rapid assessment on the band of meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglassii) surrounding the vernal pool.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

There and back again - a knitters tale

Last weekend was the annual Stitches West convention in Santa Clara. Haven't been to a stitches? Picture thousands of knitters and fiber enthusiasts taking over a large hotel and convention center for 4 days. Just imagine. The hotel was overbooked, knitters were rearranging furniture and the baristing machine was out of milk. Not a one lost their temper. They just pulled out their knitting and in the words of Elizabeth Zimmerman, knit on through any crises.

Yes, four days with my people. We practiced the knitters handshake (petting of sweater, "Oh, did you make that?") without fear of reprisal. We exulted over beautiful, one-of-a-kind hand dyed skeins, and almost lost our dignity when we stuck our hands in the yak/silk roving. So soft! And we shopped.

Most importantly we knit. Everywhere.
We knit at the table waiting for food, in the lounge with an alcoholic beverage, in our rooms. I'm sure some of us knit in the bathroom. I cast on a sock the first day during lunch and finished it at the Small Farm Conference on Monday.

I bargained shopped and hunted high and low for the special splurge yarn, which turned out to be Tactile's merino/silk laceweight in pomegranite. The picture doesn't do this color justice. The score turned out to be a mill end of lightweight Sock That Rock in an unknown colorway. Great bargains were also at Webs, where I scored sweater amounts of yarn to do two sweaters from the new book French Girl Knits.

Webs is also the source of my newest project, the Trumpet Flower Cardigan, which uses yarn I purchased last year. Nice, brainless knitting.

And then I made a tactical error. I went to the spinning guild's drop spindle demo. This would have been a good time for an intervention, because I think it's too late now. For just a $5 donation I acquired a starter drop spindle and some roving. I'm hooked. I've already spun the ounce I started with and had to get more at the Tin Thimble. And a friend is loaning me a better quality drop spindle. I can already see where this is headed...