Friday, May 31, 2013

A Vegetarian's Adventure Making Tallow

Last weekend a friend brought me a huge bag of  beef fat to render into tallow.  I have never done this before with beef fat.  Actually beef fat is something I would normally avoid at all costs so I felt a little intimidated.  But this homesteading experience is changing me, I also felt intrigued and up for the challenge.  The fat was primarily from around the kidneys which means it did not have much meat attached.  Everything I read online about the rendering process says you must cut the fat into tiny pieces or put it through a grinder before you cook it down.  Well, I did not do either.  I just cut it all up into chunks, put it in a stock pot, poured in a little water, and set it on a burner on medium low.  I set up an electric burner outside my living space for this project as to not subject my non-beef eating family to the lingering unpleasant smell of cooking fat.  

I then went about my day, making sure to check on the project and stir occasionally, being conscious not to let it burn.  After several hours all the fat was melted and bits of cooked meat were floating on the top. 

It was then time to strain the hot tallow carefully through a cloth and pour into jars.  What I was left with was a clear benign liquid.  When I returned to the kitchen the next morning the tallow had cooled and turned pure white, looking very much like coconut oil.  

I was surprised at how satisfied I felt with the end product.  Perhaps it's just me, but I get happy when I find value in things that others would just throw away.  I really like the qualities of beef tallow and would describe it as a sort of animal shea butter.  For all the meat eaters out there, I have read that you can make the best of french fries with tallow.  Personally, I am more excited to use it as the main ingredient in my next batch of soap.  Or it might be interesting to use some in an herbal salve.  Definitely a fun experiment!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The First Week

 "Freedom is not something that anybody can be given.  
Freedom is something people take, 
and people are as free as they want to be.  
-James Baldwin

Well, we made it through the first week of milking.  Those initial three days were pretty treacherous.  Ginger was so engorged in the beginning that her udder was stretched tight.  It was extremely difficult to milk her but we knew that we had to relieve her to prevent mastitis.  Sweet, sweet Ginger must have been in so much pain she was constantly kicking us if we even thought of touching her teats.  Many a tear was shed that weekend but after milking several times a day for those first three days, we prevailed.  We now have a good rhythm!  Bringing Cocoa up into the milking parlor with Ginger has made all the difference.  We tie him next to his mom and he usually just lies down to take a little nap.  Cocoa is a hungry guy and has no problems finding the delicious milk.  He is growing so fast!  I think he has doubled in size in a week.  While he is gaining weight Ginger is thinning out, losing some of her pregnancy reserves.  The big question is what to do with the abundance of milk?  We have been experimenting with lots of cheese making, including our first Soul Flower Farm cheddar, as well as making whip cream, super yellow butter, and today some honey ice cream.  The cream at the top of the milk is amazing, I have never tasted anything like it.  Life is so full of adventure.  Sometimes I get perspective and think we must be absolutely bonkers to be doing all this.  But then I am swept back up in the wild ride which is so often full of joy, ecstasy, and that feeling that keeps us persevering...freedom.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Long Awaited Arrival

Adopt the pace of nature.  Her secret is patience.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

After a very long year of adventures with our family cow, we finally have a beautiful little calve.  Ginger's birth could not have gone smoother, especially as a first time Mama.  Her labor and delivery lasted about four hours, taking place at the perfect time of day, late afternoon.  From the start, Ginger is a wonderful mother and her little one is strong and healthy.  After all these pictures I know you are's a boy!  We named him Cocoa for his soft brown coloring.  Mama's udder is massive and so full it's tight to the touch.  We have our work in store for us the next week or so relieving her engorgement and making sure she stays healthy.  Baby Cocoa has no problem finding the teat so hopefully he will keep the milk flowing. 

And oh the milk...from the look of her udder I think there will be a whole lot of it.  It's pretty unbelievable that we actually made it this far, that we actually pulled this off.  Does having your own milk cow make you a real farmer?  This amazing experience today sure does make me feel like our jobs are official, although when I see that udder I do feel a bit intimidated.  We are praying for the best with all of this milking business and can't wait to see what Cocoa's personality is like and what role he will fit into on our little farm.  I have to say that learning the art of animal husbandry has been a blessing beyond belief, so many healing experiences.  We are, once again, humbled and overflowing with gratitude!