Friday, October 31, 2008

Fresh Fleece for spinning or felting

The fall shearing is being weighed and sorted, and I am so pleased. After all the effort to keep the hay and vm out of the fleeces and still have happy, healthy animals, these are the cleanest fleeces we've ever grown.

Our lambs and kids were on pasture all summer and Ian sheared them before we had to begin feeding hay in October.

The colour is rich, the crimp is even, and the length is between 3 and 4 inches so a handspinners delight.

All our animals are raised for their wool -- we don't sell meat at Joybilee Farm, only fiber. So we breed for length, lustre and crimp. We use a long, luster wooled ram one year and a fine fibered ram the next to keep the length, softness, lustre and crimp in the fleece.

These fleeces are perfect for handspinning and for felting, with lustre and a rich, dark chocolate colour or a glossy natural white.

Our kid fleeces are a lustrous white, with a few coloured angora kids, too, in grey, latte, and black. Those should be posted on the website by Saturday.

We bought a Pat Green Cottage Industry Carder and Electric picker in June. We haven't had a chance to use it yet, but hopefully this winter we will be able to process our own rovings, too. I can't wait to test drive it with some of these gorgeous fleeces.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Woad colours

These pictures are from the student's science fair project on woad. This experiment was to test the effects of pH on the colour obtained from the woad vat. All were dyed in a reduction vat with the dye being reduced at different pH's.
Each silk sample was dipped for 15 minutes and oxidized for 15 minutes three times. All samples, except the green were rinsed in a weak vinegar solution after dyeing. All samples have been washed in detergent and water and rinsed in water again. No light fastness tests have been done.
Yellows, pinks and peaches can also be obtained from the woad leaves, after the indigo has been extracted. Pinks are obtained from an acidic vat and yellow after washing soda is added. The different pigments are soluable at different pHs.
Everyday woad yields more amazing discoveries. Yesterday the student extracted the DNA from fresh woad leaves. The DNA was blue rather than the usual muscus clear colour. We don't have an electron microscope in the kitchen laboratory so that was the end of the experiment. But rather exciting anyway.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Riches of Homesteading

"The reader may look back over every monetary convulsion he may be able to remember, and he will find that in all of them the agricultural community came through with less disaster than any other interest. Wheat grows and corn ripens though all the banks in the world may break, for seed-time and harvest is one of the divine promises to man, never to be broken, because of its divine origin. They grew and ripened before banks were invented, and will continue to do so when banks and railroad bonds shall have become obsolete." Ten Acres Enough by Edmund Morris 1872.

True enough if the agricultural community stays out of debt and lives frugally. Not so with farms mortgaged and farmers working a full time, off farm, job to pay for the farm. Homesteading is different than agri-business farming.

What's the difference?
The homestead is a self-sufficient economic unit based on a use-economy. The Homesteader meets his own needs first and sells the surplus of production with the intent of realizing a profit over expenses. The labour of the homesteader is not a commodity to be purchased, and thus the homesteader is a freeman. The Homesteader learns to live within his means, and so he remains free.

In contrast, the agri-business farm is a mono-culture, money making venture based on a capitalist economy. It specializes on infastructure, buildings and equipment to reduce manual labour and increase productivity. It solves problems with money. Farm labour is placed on the ledger as an expense and share holders must be paid along with the bank interests, before profit is realized. The farmer's needs are met out of the surplus, if there is any. Its no wonder most farmers are working off farm jobs to pay for the farm expenses. He is enslaved to the farm.

I read a report in CBC news on Thanksgiving weekend (October in Canada), that although agricultural expenses have risen over 25% this year (grain, fuel and fertilizer), food prices were holding steady at last year's prices. Farmer's were cutting margins in order to sell their produce. The consumers wanted the cheapest food possible. With farmer's working off farm to support the farm expenses and consumers demanding food at last year's prices -- our system cannot support itself. Just like the world stock market, the farm market will eventually hit bottom.

So you shop at the store and see that the cost of rice and flour has risen dramatically in price and all food stocks are up. The increase didn't go to your local farm. It went into the coffers of agri-business, marketing boards and the mulitnational food and chemical industry.

The key to correcting the injustice is to grow an organic garden and buy local food that hasn't gone through the hands of agri-business.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Homemade Soap: The Truth about Lye

At Joybilee Farm we've been making handmade soap since 1982. We specialize in milk soap because of its moisturizing and skin nourishing benefits.

We often receive inquiries about the chemicals that we use in our hand made goat's milk soap. There are a lot of misconceptions about what makes soap mild and moisturizing, as well as the role of sodium hydroxide (lye) and other chemical sounding things -- in soap making.

Only ingredients actually present in the finished soap need to be listed as ingredients on the label. So with most homemade soap, you won't find any "lye" or "sodium hydroxide" on the ingredient list. That's because properly made soap doesn't contain lye.

However, all soap – 100% -- must use sodium or potassium hydroxide in order to transform the fats and oils into soap. Soap is made by a chemical reaction called saponification, through the reaction of lye with fats and oils. Once the saponification is complete and the aging process has been fulfilled – 4 to 6 weeks in our case – there is no sodium hydroxide left in the soap. It has all been transformed into natural soap.

The goat’s milk that we use superfats our soap so that it is moisturizing as well as cleansing. Our soaps also contain all the naturally occurring glycerin, which protects your skin from drying out.

Our most mild soap is our Milk and Honey soap which contains no essential oils. This is the one we recommend for infants and those with sensitive skin. It is more mild than commercial detergent – which denatures DNA and cause your cells to collapse.

There are two kinds of lye that may be used to make soap. Potassium hydroxide is used to make liquid soap and Sodium hydroxide is used to make solid soap – both are “lye”. Sodium hydroxide is the product of the electrolysis of salt (aka sodium chloride) and water (aka dihydrogen oxide – H2O) – the other product is bleach (aka chlorine). Potassium hydroxide comes from water and wood ashes. Most commercial “soap” sold in stores today is actually formed from detergents and has had all the natural glycerin removed – glycerin is more valuable than the bar of “soap”.

We do not use citric acid in our soap. When it is used its role is to neutralize the pH of the soap. It comes from citrus fruit. Natural soap has a pH of 8 or 9 which helps it to cleanse. When citric acid is used it brings the pH to a neutral 7. Our skin is naturally acidic, so our skin to some extent neutralizes the soap as we lather with it.

The choice of oils that are used to make the soap are what determines if a soap is mild or drying. Any soap that is heavy on coconut oil is a very drying soap. When you are shopping for soap for yourself, you would want to avoid a soap that lists coconut oil as the first ingredient. The coconut oil adds lathering, sudsing properties and the best homemade soap will contain some, but mild soap should have no more than 1/3 to ½ coconut oil. You should look for a soap that has a liquid oil as the first ingredient – olive oil, canola oil, caster oil, jojoba oil, hemp seed oil, flax seed oil, for example – there are many options. Then there will be at least one solid oil mentioned either coconut oil, palm oil, or tallow. These are added to increase lathering properties and to make the bar of soap last longer. A person with sensitive skin should read the ingredients and ensure that one of these oils are not the first ingredient on the bar. If it’s the second or third ingredient, the soap should be mild enough.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Our environmental footprint and willows

We heat with wood.

Now, before you run right over and hug the trees there's some things you should understand. First, we have a modern, wood stove with catalytic converter, designed to burn wood fuel at peak efficiency.

Second, trees have a life span. "Weed" species trees -- the term given to native trees with no apparent commercial value -- colonize bare ground quickly and grow fast. These tree species -- poplar, cottonwood, willow, aspen -- grow so fast that they absorb huge amounts of carbon and nitrogen out of the air, giving off oxygen with their transpiration. They shelter the slower growing native trees in their shade. Their lifespan is a mere 30 to 50 years, if they are in a sheltered area.

When they drop their leaves in the autumn, this carbon is then put into the soil, acting as a carbon sink. When the tree is burned for fuel it releases less carbon than it absorbed in its lifetime, giving it a negative carbon balance.

These are the first trees to fall in a wind storm. By getting out of the way, they make room for other slower growing native species like pine, spruce, cedar and birch. We use these fallen or standing dead trees for our winter fuel. If they are left on the forest floor to decompose, they quickly build up the fuel for potential forest fires, so its important to clean them up -- especially close to the house.

Our acreage is about 70% forested, with the rest in creek bed, or natural grass pasture. As with most Canadian homesteads, our home, animal shelters and fenced gardens occupy less than 1 acre of our 1/4 section, insuring a low environmental impact. That's responsible stewardship of the land -- God's land.

To take further advantage of the benefits offered by willows, Joybilee Farm grows 15 varieties of willows that we manage as an annual or biannual coppice planting. These willows are mostly imported basket willow varieties, with a few ornamental types, that offer a banquet of colours and textures throughout the growing season. They are easy to care for and give us ample materials for basket weaving, garden poles, furniture making and animal fodder or wood, as well as floral bouquets.

A willow coppice managed on a 5 year rotation can be used for wood fuel, offering fast growth, carbon sequestering, and a renewable fuel. As well as ornamental bark colours and leaf shapes, willows offer early bee fodder, summer shade, and habitat for song birds and wildlife. A willow planting can also renew land that has toxic soil and can be used as a pollution and sound buffer in industrial areas. Some species of willow are used in stream bank stabilization and marsh reclamation. There are willows for every climate zone.

Then there are the medicinal benefits of "weed" trees -- Balm of Gilead from the sticky cottonwood buds, salycilic acid from willow bark -- both are anti inflammatory, anti viral, and anti fever. Willow also contains a natural rooting hormone -- more efficient and environmentally safe than commercial chemical preparations that contain toxic fungicides.

Willows are a gift, that helps us steward the land and live a healthy, vigorous life.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What to do with the Whey?

Recipe: Ricotta Cheese
Time: 1 to 2 hours

1 pot of fresh whey, leftover from cheese making
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt

Heat pot of whey on the stove over medium heat until whey reaches a temperature of 90C. Add 1/4 c. lemon juice. Fine curds will form and rise to the top of the whey. Continue heating for 10 minutes, stirring so that curds do not burn.

Line colander with cheese cloth (I use gauze diapers purchased for cheese making). Pour whey through cheese cloth and allow to drain over night. Reserve this liquid. It can be added to soup stock. It is a nourishing animal feed or it can be added to your compost pile. When curds have cooled and drained mix in salt and refrigerate.

This can be used in cheese cake recipes, or as a filling for pasta, or in any recipe that calls for cottage cheese or ricotta cheese.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Making Goat Cheese: Mozerella

I've been making cheese from our goat's milk for 8 years. I make it when milk is abundant and keep it in the freezer for the winter, along with lots of frozen milk. We eat all the cheese I make. Yummy!

Here's the easiest cheese recipe in the world. No need to culture it as the citric acid does the work. Don't forget the salt, like I sometimes do.

Joybilee Farm Mozerella Cheese
Total time 1 to 1 1/2 hours

2 tsp. citric acid crystals
2 gallons (8 litres) of fresh goat's milk, strained and still warm (85'F)
1/2 tsp. liquid rennet mixed in 1/4 c. water
1/2 to 1 tsp. of sea salt

Mix citric acid into 1/4 c. warm water and stir until fully dissolved. Stir into goat's milk. Allow to sit for 15 minutes. Stir in rennet solution and stir for 30 seconds to fully mix. Allow to sit undisturbed for 45 min. to 1 hour. Cover bucket to keep out dust, insects, etc. Curd will solidify.

Cut curd by stirring with a spoon or cutting with a knife. Allow to sit for 15 minutes until curd sinks to the bottom of the bucket and whey separates.

Strain out whey into a microwavable dish -- I use a glass bread pan. Stir up curd and remove as much whey as possible. Add salt to taste usually 1/2 to 1 tsp. It is the salt that gives this cheese its flavour.

Microwave on high for 30 seconds. This will partially melt the cheese and allow you to begin the stretching.

If the cheese is too hot to touch, do the next step with two spoons until you can handle the cheese safely. Begin by kneading the cheese within the glass dish, as you would bread. Drain off any whey that seeps out. Once the texture changes and becomes more stretchy, you can pull the cheese into a rope and fold it back on itself, several times.

To finish fold into a loaf and allow to cool at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Slice or grate. It melts well. Use for pizza.

Introducing 747

747 is a coloured ewe living at Joybilee Farm. She was one of a pair of triplet ewes that were born on a farm in Alberta and came to us as a ewe lambs. She earned her name and reputation on her first shearing day as a hogget. When Ian tried to grab her to shear her, she leaped into the air and flew across the barn floor, upsetting Ian and Sarah in the dash.

In 2007, 747, then 3 years old and moorit in colouring, stole her sister's lamb. What an unusual behavior! We took the lamb away and gave it back to her sister. A few hours later she had the lamb again. This went on for a few days.

When she came close to deliverying her own lamb we realized something was wrong. She went past her due date and didn't go into labour. About two days later we found her by herself pushing, but no lamb. On checking inside her we realized her lamb had died and was turned sideways with her back presenting to the birth canal. We had to help her deliver her dead lamb.

She was so sad. She wanted to have a baby but her baby was gone. She licked it off and then laid down with her face to the wall, refusing food and water. There was not to be done but to retrieve her sister's lamb and let her have it.

Her behavior toward this adopted lamb was interesting. She never sniffed its tail, a common behair of ewes, who remember their lambs by smell. But she suckled the lamb. After 2 days, she rejoined the flock and for the full season shared her sister's twin lambs. She was a wonderful mom and was happy to feed any other lamb that wanted extra milk, never sniffing a tail or rejecting a lamb.

This Spring (2008) 747 had a male lamb, delivered without problems. I hadn't been into the barn for a few days, since our flock manages most births without assistance. Robin kept me informed of the progress of our flock.

About 4 days later, a black angora buckling was born and I went out to see our new boy. We are always thrilled when a coloured angora is born and he was a huge single kid worthy of our oohs and aaahs.

747 came into the barn when I arrived and let out a deep, "Baaaaaaah, Baaaah". My attention was fully on the new buckling and I ignored her. She repeated her "Baaaah, Baaaah" and stomped her foot.

I looked up. "Hi, 747. What's up?" I asked.

She took a step to the left and revealed her white ram lamb at her side. "Oh, what a beautiful boy! You've outdone yourself, " I said.

She nodded, "Baaa!" And walked out of the barn, leaving me with thoughts of the misunderstood intelligence of sheep and the symbiotic relationship between shepherdess and sheep.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Surviving Hard Times

We’ve been farming our eco-fiber farm for 6 years now and derive 100% of our income from our fiber farm and fiber arts business (supplemented by our savings in slow months). Our business has been fine tuned over time – beginning with a lot of test products and narrowing down to fewer products that seem to sell. We have been buying less and less wholesale products for resale – instead focusing on our own ethically raised fiber. Selling the farm story has been increasingly important, as our local market is necessary to our success.

Two things that have improved our bottom line this season – with a lower tourist turnout, and high energy costs – offering farm tours that emphasize the fiber farm aspects, telling the farm story, which includes entering the conversation on local sustainable food, emphasizing that it isn’t just food but textiles as well that must be local and sustainable, for the well being of our communities, and our local farms.

The second thing was opening the fiber studio to the public via the ARTISAN signage on the road. We had quite a few people drive in on a whim when they drove past the sign. These two things required that we upgrade our public liability insurance, which increased our insurance cost by $1,000 this season. But when we looked at the bottom line – this expense was well covered by the increase in sales that resulted in these two changes.

Some management principles that have helped us weather the storm – we avoid debt – both business and personal and so are able to curtail spending when the money is tight and purchase things when the money is flowing. We do use credit cards but pay them off at the end of each month. We purchased our farm without debt and saved enough before quitting the day job to sustain us for 5 years, while the business got off the ground. The current stock market melt down may cause a problem for us but we aren’t seeing it yet.

We do things ourselves rather than pay a professional – Robin is a CGA and does all our bookkeeping, taxes and financial statements for our farm business. We learned to build our own website – it isn’t perfect, doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of other websites – but it allows us to make weekly or even daily changes, which keeps us high in the search engines. Rather than pay a professional for labels, we use a graphics program and design and print our own labels, business cards, etc. This allows us to change the format on a whim and fine tune our marketing materials, as necessary.

Things I'm working on this season:

We need to improve our road signage and are in process of building a larger, more targeted sign that emphasizes the fiber farm aspect of our business. Our original sign was stolen in July and a temporary fabric banner sign was put up to get us through the summer tourist season.

I also need to spend some time writing up my knitting designs into proper patterns. Kits are selling well for us – whereas last year it was the finished goods that sold better.

Finally, when I begin to worry about finances or the current economic crisis in the world, I look around me at all the blessings that God has poured out on my family and remember to be grateful for the clean air I breath every day, and the sparkling clean spring water I drink, and the acres of green trees, mountains and land that I walk on – and the intimate relationship I have with the sheep and goats I shepherd. While others are watching their stocks loose value at the whim of speculators, my stocks stand up, kiss me and eat from my hands.