I actually got home on Thursday afternoon, but I had to work on Friday, so there isn't much to report about last week. Both goats and all the chickens are doing fine. Starting last weekend (while I was gone), my H started saving the milk once again. By the time I returned home, the fridge was full again! Good thing too...since we received our cream separator last week. That was Sunday's adventure.
But, first things first. On Saturday, we had a nice long to do list (as usual). We started with free-ranging the chickens. This allowed us to do some updating to the coop. We moved it to a new location. I cleaned out all the poop on the inside and raised the perches up a few inches (the birds are getting big!). My H set about enlarging their door. He made the opening wider and taller, and he redesigned the door so that it works better and is more secure than it was before. When we put the chickens back in the coop, we put Seven in there with them. After a few squabbles, they all settled down well enough. She's now been in there with them all for a few days, and everything seems to be fine. Phew! We were worried that we were going to have to find her a new home and since she's the only chicken who lets us pick her up, we didn't want to! It's funny to watch them use the new door...some of the chickens still squat down to go through it like they had to when it was small! I think that they'll eventually realize that squatting is no longer necessary! The next projects will be to weather-proof the outside and to add the nesting boxes.
We also cleaned out the goat shed. We used the soiled hay to cover the row garden area where the coop has already been. This way, the chicken poop and hay (and leaves, which we also added) can work into the soil and enrich it for next year. I then covered this area with cardboard and weighted it down with big rocks. I used cardboard to retard the growth of the weeds by not allowing them light. We think that cardboard is better than plastic in this application because it'll still let moisture to get into the soil. When it comes time to plant in the spring, we'll just remove the cardboard and we should have good rich soil in which to plant.
I spent a good part of the day working on the garden boxes as well. I weeded them all, cut off the dead plants, mulched the two plants that are still growing (cauliflower and swiss chard) and put the trellises away for the winter. Next weekend I'll mulch over the boxes to discourage weeds until spring. I also added a few more clips to the greenhouse to better secure it. My plan is to use some leftover hardware cloth to cover both of the open ends to discourage the cats from using it as a litter box. I found a few cat prints and a few little 'surprises' left for me from the week I was in China. I also caught our cat starting to use one of the other boxes while I was standing there, so I threw a clip at him. I doubt that will discourage him for long...but we'll figure something out come spring!
On Sunday we tried the cream separator for the first time. It's much heavier and 'beefier' than I thought it would be. We bought the hand-crank one sold at Hoegger Goat Supply and I think it was priced fairly. Apparently, milk should be goat temperature when you separate it, so while my H milked Sass that morning, I heated another 5 quarts on the stove (it holds 6 quarts) up to 100F. We ran 4 quarts of hot water through the separator to warm up all the parts. Then we ran the milk through it. It was definitely a team effort - while my H cranked it and tried to keep the rpm constant, I emptied the skimmed milk container into cleaned jars (spilling milk everywhere as you can see in the photo!). We skimmed all 6 quarts and got about 1.5 cups of cream. I then quickly chilled the skimmed milk back down (using an ice water bath) and my H put the cream into a jar in order to make butter. While I cleaned up, he shook the butter jar. After everything was washed (we ran another 4 quarts of hot water through the separator to flush it before washing all the parts), I joined him and we took turns shaking the jar. About an hour later, we had our first butter! My H removed the butter milk and rinsed the butter well. We later tasted it on fresh baked spicy gingerbread and it was very good!
And the best part? Skimmed milk!! I'm not a big fan of full fat milk. In fact, I can't even drink full fat cow's milk at all (without gagging). I've been able to adjust to the goat's milk which is lower in fat (about 3%), but even then, just drinking it was difficult and I could only really handle a small glass. The past two days, I've been using the skimmed milk (which I am going to guess is about a 1% level) and it's wonderful! I'd forgotten that I actually LIKE milk when it's not all thick and creamy. My cereal is better, my coffee is better...and drinking it out of a glass is truly enjoyable! Yay! As soon as this skimmed milk is used up, I'm going to suggest that we skim another 6 quarts from the milk in the freezer. Besides, I want to make more butter and eventually ICE CREAM with the skimmed cream. I think the biggest barrier to skimming a ton of milk at once is our lack of containers in which to put it. I need to make a plan so that next time, we can do more than just 6 quarts at once.