30 May 2014

Another day ...

... another three litres of milk.

And a litre of cream. (that's about 2-3 days worth of cream)

For anyone tracking Dexter milk production stats: we are 3 weeks into lactation, share milking with no separation of cow and calf as yet. Sasha gets about 4 lbs of mixed alfalfa cubes/pellets/beet pulp in the bowl as bribe/supplement during milking - no grain (ever), and obviously all the grass she can eat. I reliably get 3-4 litres of milk each day still: I had two marginally lower days, it was raining and yukky and I milked a little earlier than I normally do, which may have been the explanation, but even a lower day was a minimum 2 litres. The calf has realized he can nurse off all four quarters (though he usually leaves the left front, for which I do not blame him, that one is so huge I can't get my hand all the way around until she's nearly milked right out), so I expect I'll be separating them at least for a few hours in the afternoon in a week or so. I prefer to milk in the early evening, as I am most emphatically NOT a morning person, so separating them overnight is not on my list of things to do. 

29 May 2014

Time for Mackenzie

Time is running very short for Mackenzie the Great Pyrenees guardian dog. He has been limping, resting a lot, and licking at his paws and as we more or less expected, it's bone cancer. This is very common in older Pyrs, and Mac is 8. 

He had X-rays today at the vet that confirmed our suspicions and we have anti inflammatories and pain meds for him now. He can spend the next while enjoying the summer sunshine, and when it's time, he can go to sleep on the hill in the pasture and watch over us from there for always. 

28 May 2014

Half a pound of butter and a cheese cave

Today I made just a half pound block of butter – I wanted to use up the cream I had, even though it wasn’t going to make a full block.

It is so rich and delicious, I just love it. I had to toast a waffle just so I could use the leftover butter from the spatula!

The other awesome dairy news today is that we now have a cheese cave! My friends had a little bar fridge taking up space in the garage, and graciously delivered it here today. With the addition of the external thermostat device (which we used to use on our chest freezer fridge), there is now a thermostatically controlled cabinet in which to age cheese at about 12 C and 80-95% humidity. There’s a little thermometer/hygrometer sitting inside so I can monitor the temperature and humidity, and four jelly jars full of water in the door seem to be keeping the humidity where it needs to be. I’ll have to watch over the next few days and see what happens, but this is very exciting! Cheese needs time to age and develop good flavour, but it needs warmer temperatures and higher humidity than a regular fridge provides, and much cooler than the ambient temperature anywhere in our house, so this is just perfect.

Photo 2014-05-28, 7 49 45 PM

The latest cheese is soaking in brine right now, almost time to pull it out and let it dry off then into the cave it goes! I just opened the cave door to check things and oh, my, the smell is heavenly! It is all buttery cheesey goodness in there. Yum.

Two months then we can have our first cheese tasting. July 23, mark it on the calendar!

27 May 2014


We have milk.

Oh, do we have milk.

Sasha is giving me about 4 litres a day now – at two weeks into her lactation. Zoinks! And the calf is definitely getting all he wants … he doesn’t even touch two of the quarters. The calf measuring tape is on the way in the mail, when it gets here I’ll start tracking his growth and see how he is doing. There’s a way to figure out approximately how much milk he is getting based on his growth rates, so that’ll give a clue about Sasha’s overall production. Still, four litres per day from a Dexter cow on share milking? That’s impressive.

Sasha is a little irritable in the milking stanchion – she’s kicking, which is frustrating (and potentially risky – though she is in the stall and can’t give me a good solid boot with the hoof, she can give me a nasty swipe that will leave bruises). I’m going to have to pick up hobbles for her, I think – I used to tie her back legs, but she was even more antsy with the ropes … now I tie one foot (the near one, so she can’t swipe me with it) and that usually works, but I can tell the rope bugs her there, too. Hopefully a set of proper soft hobbles will keep her still without bugging her. I saw them at the feed store, I’ll pick them up next time I’m in.

I found a really great jar at Bed, Bath and Beyond for milk in the fridge: it holds 2 gallons (8 litres) and has a tap on the bottom so I can draw off the milk. This leaves the cream up at the top, so the milk that comes out doesn’t have that layer of cream. I don’t mind it, but some of the other people in this house are more used to 1% milk and don’t like the creamy stuff so much. The other big advantage is simplicity: I don’t have to carefully skim from jars now with a spoon and a gravy baster – just drain off the milk, then pour the cream into another jar and I’m done. I have two litres of cream sitting out on the counter to clabber overnight for butter making tomorrow.

I found a Dazey butter churn on Kijiji for $20 … it was a little weary and needs the wooden paddle rebuilt, but for the price, why not? I cleaned it up with the Dremel and a whappity brush thing, so the rust is all gone. Now to ponder the paddle part. Tomorrow’s milk will be made the old shake-it-in-a-jar way!

So that’s our dairy animal update for today … I think I’ll go have a glass of milk!

25 May 2014


The cream was overflowing the fridge, so I decided it was time to make butter.

I tried using the blender, as I’d read about online, but the butter didn’t form up as well as with the shaker jar and the noise was irritating, so I went back to the old strategy of just shaking the cream. I use one of The Reluctant Farmer’s protein shake jars – I take out the little spiral siphon thing that comes with it and instead drop in a small plastic ball from the toy room (well washed, believe me) because the butter sticks to all the little arms of the shaker’s insert and is too hard to get off, whereas I can just scrape the surface of the plastic ball with the spatula. Yes, I know you can get paddle churns, and I’d love one, but they are pretty expensive and the shaker jar was free.

I left the cream on the counter overnight to sour a smidgen, as the butter has a richer taste with slightly aged cream. Then, in batches, I shook it in the jar and poured off the buttermilk, scraped the butter into a bowl that went into the fridge while I did the next batch, and repeated. When I had all the cream made into butter, I added ice cubes to the bowl and smushed the butter back and forth with the spatula, working the buttermilk out, rinsing with water until it was clear. Sprinkled the whole thing with salt, worked it a bit more, then packed the butter into my grandfather’s antique butter press.

Clearly I didn’t pack it quite tight enough, as there’s a bit of a hole on the finished block, but this is really, really cool. I’ve never made enough butter before to fill the press – that’s nearly a pound of butter right there! From about a week’s worth of cream. Oh yes, I am a happy person. I will be making a lot of butter over the next few months I think! Butter stores well in the freezer, so it’s a good way to preserve the bounty of Sasha’s peak lactation.

The leftover buttermilk is going into the next batch of cheese – I am experimenting with that, as Carla Emery says you can use the buttermilk in cheesemaking, so hey, it’s worth a try! I’m also culturing with yogourt this time, just to see what happens … almost time to go add the rennet. Hopefully I do a better job cooking the curds on this cheese, my last one was a bit too moist when I was finished, I think.

Off to stir the milk!

Post script: My dad and my aunt have clarified the history of that butter mold. My great grandfather ran a creamery in Harrow, Ontario ... It burned down at one point but the churns and molds were at the house, not the creamery and so were spared. I found a record of the creamery in the archives ... from 1913. 

That makes this piece of butter making equipment a century old. 

I am carrying on a family tradition. How cool is that, eh?

24 May 2014

Med Report: Month Four

It’s been four months since I started on medication for my PTSD, and I have to say, it was a really good choice for me.

I coped for three years with therapy and herbal supplements alone – but by the end of that time, I was needing four or five times the recommended dose of herbal sedatives to get me under at night, and still not staying asleep, plus I was drinking too much alcohol in an effort to take the edge off. I have a somewhat unusual response to the trauma in that I very rarely feel any subjective sense of anxiety: it’s like my fear is walled off in an abscess somewhere deep inside. I don’t recognize that I feel scared, I just have chest pain, can’t keep still, can’t concentrate, sometimes I can’t speak … all symptoms of fear and adrenaline overload, but subjectively, I have no awareness that I feel scared of anything. This makes it very hard to handle: I have good coping skills for things that scare me, but when I’m just all wound up for no apparent reason, I cannot get myself unwound. I pray, I do guided imagery meditations, I distract myself … but it just isn’t enough. So then I dose myself with all the sedatives I can get my hands on, and I still don’t relax.

Enter Prazosin. Prazosin works by interfering with the function of adrenalin in the brain, and with this stuff in my system … I sleep. I actually sleep. All night. Most nights I don’t even have to get up to use the loo, I just go to sleep and stay asleep. It’s wonderful. Everything is better when you get a decent night’s sleep. I’ve been taking this drug steadily now for the past four months, and the nights are vastly improved, though the daytime mellowness I noticed at first wore off after awhile. A couple of weeks ago, I woke up at 2 am, brain racing, unable to relax, and I realized “oh, I forgot my drugs.” It was very interesting (and validating) to see that when I don’t take them, my troubles come back. It’s not just me being silly, or whining, or thinking I need the drugs when in reality I don’t. I need them. They work. Not taking them means I don’t sleep. Interesting, that.

However, even with the Prazosin in my system, I still have issues. The daytime chest pain is fairly steady, and the brain fog can be overwhelming at times. And then there’s the … full collapses, I guess, for lack of a better description. I had one of those about a month ago. Even in hindsight, I am not at all clear what triggered it … all I know is that I went from totally fine to right off the deep end in very short order. I don’t want to talk about what happened – which should tell you just how bad it was, as I am usually quite open about these things – but it was the darkest place I have ever been in. I was overwhelmed by despair and fear, old ghosts that seemed ever so real. The Reluctant Farmer and The Boy pulled me out of that deep hole … which was, I believe, a form of trauma re-enactment, but it scared the living daylights out of all of us.

I realized then that I really have to take PTSD a lot more seriously. I’ve been working my way closer to embracing the idea that this is a chronic condition, that I’m going to have to make peace with my life the way it is now, to understand and accept that it’s not all going to just go away because I’ve done good work in therapy … PTSD is a big deal, it’s got to be managed, and I have got to treat this with the respect it is due. Because if I don’t, it could do me some serious harm.

So after that full collapse, I talked to my psychiatrist about starting additional medication. I am now on sertraline (Zoloft), 50 mg daily. It definitely comes with some side effects, and the early adjustment was awful. I was so tired I had to go back to bed in the afternoon, could only lie on the couch and read a book, couldn’t think at all, and basically felt like someone who had been in bed with pneumonia for four weeks and was just now able to get up and lie on the couch. I was dizzy all the time – still am, if I’m not careful – and food just seemed unappealing. Now, after three weeks at the higher dose (you start with one week at 25 mg/day, and I had almost no side effects at all then, it didn’t get rough until the dose went up), the dizziness is improving and I have more energy. I’m still not racing around being all productive or anything, but I don’t have to spend the whole day lying down, which is a vast improvement.

The other big benefit is that I’m not needing the daytime Prazosin as much now. Occasionally I still need a bump up dose midafternoon, but as often as not, I feel fine and just take the stuff at bedtime to ensure I sleep. My brain is still pretty foggy, but it seems to be clearing, at least intermittently. I’ve been able to get some things done outside, though I’ve given up on the idea of gardening (even container gardening) this year, as I just haven’t got what it takes. I’m milking Sasha daily, though, working on the new book, and mostly keeping up with other things, though I am definitely not on top of the paperwork or the housework.

I should know how this is working in another couple of weeks, but the fact that I am not feeling as wound up during the day is probably a good sign that this medication is going to be helpful. It comes at a price, certainly, but the fatigue may also be the necessary rest I have been unable to get while my body was so wound up for all these years. The doctor said I’ve been stuck in first gear, that’s true, but the whole time I was still attempting to go 120 km/h so it’s no wonder I feel a bit wrung out. Time to actually slow down, really take the time to recover, and slowly build up a bit more strength.

I’ll probably never have the strength and energy I had before. It wasn’t real energy, anyway, it was life hopped up on adrenalin. Time to find my real strength now.

Hmm. Lots to think about.

18 May 2014


Sasha and her baby Jerky are doing really well! 

The calf was pretty wobbly for the first few days but he is happily running around the pasture now and being adorable. 
Sasha is reliably giving me three litres of milk per day, and I know for sure the calf is getting his fill ... He only drinks from one side of Sasha's udder, the other side swells up so big he can't get a decent mouthful ... Which is why I help out with milking. I know what that fullness feels like, having once been a dairy provider myself!

Sasha gets about four pounds of alfalfa and beet pulp in a bowl when she is being milked: the supplement to her diet helps her keep production up without the potential negative effects (and added cost) of grain feeding. Four pounds is two scoops each of beet pulp and alfalfa pellets and three of alfalfa cubes, roughly, and costs about a dollar. Alfalfa and beet pulp are high in calcium and protein, and especially this time of year, when the hay is older and weathered and the grass really hasn't picked up yet growth wise, it's good to be sure Sasha has plenty of solid nutrition to support regaining her body condition after calving plus milk production. I'm trying to track how much I feed her and how much milk we get as well as how quickly the calf grows in order to get a clear idea of what her nutritional requirements are during lactation. She will get a little less once the grass comes in to better growth, as she will provide herself with enough nutrition out in the pasture, but there'll always be something in the dish ... Keeps her happy while I milk, and it's good for her. 

Lots of people keep Dexters, but not too many do the house cow share milking thing, so I'm trying to do my bit for the collective pool of knowledge by tracking and sharing what we do. 

All but two of the sheep have found new homes, so I've been giving lots of thought to our best options going forward. My present plan is to buy the new milk progesterone test (which helps identify when a cow is in heat as well as confirming a pregnancy) and then have Sasha bred with sex-selected Jersey semen: this gives us a 90% chance of having a heifer calf, which we can then raise as our second milk cow. If all goes well, we will do this again (and again) and raise Dexter/Jersey cross house cows for sale to other small holders: halter broke and trained, they will be a good addition to the farm revenues, but not be a whole lot of work, and we have the advantage of being able to keep our little herd closed, improving bio security. 

That's the current thinking, anyway. It might change ... But I think we will give it a try and see how things go. Sasha is such a great dual purpose cow, I'd love to share her legacy with others. :)

14 May 2014

Milk! Cream!

Sasha's baby is doing really well ... Up and about and eating. We are getting 2-3 litres of milk daily, with plenty for the calf, so I'm happy about that. Sasha is getting beet pulp, alfalfa cubes and alfalfa pellets as supplemental feed, and some time out on the grass most days ... The remaining hay is quite weary looking and there isn't much grass yet, so the extra boost from the pelleted feed is a big plus. 

Yesterday's milk had a whole lot of cream on top ... Butter is on the horizon! Today's milk is in the fridge separating: it generally takes overnight for the cream to all separate out, with Dexter milk anyway. I had a couple of glasses of whole fresh cold milk today and it was fabulous!
See all that cream on top? 


09 May 2014

And we have a baby bull calf!

The Reluctant Farmer told me this morning that Sasha seemed really uncomfortable, moving around a lot and she was bellowing a little. I thought perhaps she wanted her hay topped up, or let out to eat, but then I thought … no, that doesn’t sound like the “give me food” bellow. That sounds like the “I’m pissed off” bellow.

I was still in bed (I have to sleep extra these days) an hour or two later and realized that the sounds outside had changed. I got up and looked out the window and … yup! Baby calf! She had *just* delivered and was licking him dry.

It’s a boy – I had hoped for a girl, so we could have a second house cow, but this is a half mini-Hereford calf, and I think that we probably wouldn’t have gotten a lot of milk from a Hereford/Dexter cross – though I was willing to try it out. I have other options … and this baby (it’s a “J” year, should we call him Jerky? I think we’ll have to discuss this one a bit) will have two summers and a winter to enjoy life in our pastures.

For those looking for the “signs of calving” pictures – here is her udder this morning … super shiny and hugely full:

Photo 2014-05-09, 10 29 16 AM

I’ll need to help her get some of that milk out and massage her udder to help ease the edema … but that can wait until everyone has had some time to settle.

So yeah, yesterday’s images of a full udder and a slightly sloppy hind end – that’s what Sasha looks like the day before calving. Of course every cow is a bit different … I know dairy cows tend to bag up even more staggeringly (I’ve seen pictures, good heavens, I can’t imagine how those cows cope with such a huge udder swinging under them!) often leaking milk out of their udder just before they calve, and most cows get even looser in the hind end. Sasha had only minimal goopiness, too – so I had actually thought we might be a few more days yet. Guess this is what it looks like for her! I’m glad I got the pictures, so I’ll know for next time.

Time to head back out and see if the calf has found the calfeteria yet. :)

08 May 2014

Calf Watch

It’s nearly time! For those, like me, who scour the internet for clues about “when will she calve” and “signs of calving in a Dexter”, I’ll post some photos and contribute what I can to the General Pool of Knowledge.

Sasha’s udder is filling up…

And she’s awfully loose in the hind end…

But she hasn’t tried to kill me yet (she just about gored me the night before George the Calf was born, I was trying to get her into the barn and she was NOT interested in cooperating with me), so it must be a little while yet.

I had thought we’d see a calf last week … but obviously not. She’s lying down more often (I saw the calf kick through her side the other day, which was really cool) but still eating and chewing her cud. She will most likely go off her feed and get pissy about having me near her, and then we’ll know it’s time. Her udder will likely get even more full (poor girl) and shiny, and there will likely be a lot of slimy discharge from her backside – that’s your “get ready it’s time” warning, if you notice it. If I see her down on her side, I’ll know she’s well into the process, though the first calf she delivered here simply slid out as she stood in the pasture. She was on her side labouring with George though, until I tried to convince her to move up to the barnyard … at which point she got extremely annoyed and actually ran at me with her head lowered (I moved and said “okay, okay, you do your thing, I understand, really, I do”). And in the morning, there was a calf in the field!

I have her in the barnyard this year, so I can keep a much closer eye on things as they progress. In the past, she wasn’t as tame, and she was further out (two calves ago she actually gave birth back in the trees and hid the baby for at least three or four days before we saw it). This year I’m taking some pictures and keeping a much closer eye on her – I want to document what her particular indications of calving are, so I know for next time. Every cow is a little different, so it’s important to pay close attention and keep track.

Anyone wanna guess when the baby will show up?