Loan-a-bull

We don’t keep a bull on the farm full time. One day we will, but for now, we’ve been ‘borrowing’ one, named Dougall McBrave. Dougall comes from a Dexter breeder over near Collie.  He’s polled (naturally hornless) and is a great big boofheaded sooky softie. He loves a good scratch behind the ears. Even though he has a sweet and non threatening nature, you can never, ever, become complacent with a bull – or any animal for that matter, so we still treat him with great respect and always have an eye out when he is here.

Like all the others, Dougall loves carrots. It’s funny when he is here, to see Butterfly the alpha female having to yield to someone else, and to see young G-Zeus being an upstart and challenging Dougall, but learning very quickly who is boss. Dougall is Hotblack’s father, and also the father to this years crop of calves – Jacaranda, Jenny-any-dots, Jim-bob and John-boy.

Millview Dougall McBrave

Millview Dougall McBrave

When Dougall sees the yellow or green buckets that may contain carrots, he swaggers along, letting out low, scary sounding moaning moos. This rather scared me at first, but makes me smile now thinking about it.  It is incredible standing next to such a big solid mass of a bovine, and he’s is only a tiny wee dexter in comparison to some of the massive European breeds!

As Dougall has been twice already to service our girls, we already have a lot of his bloodline in the herd. Plus he and Dora are half brother and sister, and he is both the father and grandfather to Hotblack’s calf, John-boy. We will be looking for some new lines next year. Hopefully some nice red polled genetics!

From Left to Right, Dougall the bull, Butterfly, Dora and Hotblack. This is in January 2013, HB had just gotten pregnant.

From Left to Right, Dougall the bull, Butterfly, Dora and Hotblack. This is in January 2013, HB had just gotten pregnant.

 

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The cows – Fig

‘Ashben Valley Fig’ came to live with us the same time as Butterfly and Fizz; the first three bovines to grace us with their presence. Also known as Figgy Pop when she is good, and Figgy Matilda when she is naughty. Fig was an 8 month old heifer when we got her. She was fairly timid initially, although warmed up when fed carrots. Even though she loves her carrots, she still takes them from you very gently, almost painstakingly. And she doesn’t like them cold, room temperature for her please! She has turned into a lovely cow; she is bulky and stockily built, and has a lovely nature after bit of a precocious start. She is purebred dexter, on a murray grey foundation a few generations back.

Figgy Pop

Figgy Pop

She was a bit of a naughty teenager. She used to run away to join the crazy circus cows next door.  I think it was because she was in season, and they had a bull. We are so lucky however that she did not get pregnant to the big Hereford next door! Dexters as a small breed need a small bull, or there’ll be trouble with birthing. The fences between us and the other neighbour who has cattle are not very good, and she kept on getting through, we still don’t know where though! We’ve brought Fig back from there a few times, but now we have hot wired the rest of the boundary she has not got out again.

Fig and brother Fizz

Fig (left) and brother Fizz

It was due to these escape artist episodes that we halter trained her, in the hope that A) it would quieten her down and B)it would make it easier to get her back if she did escape.
before she had her first calf this year, she absolutely doted on the other calves, she was very definitely the Aunty to G-Zeus and Hotblack.

Fig minding Hotblack when she was a wee little thing

Fig minding Hotblack when she was a wee little thing

Her first calf, Jim-Bob, was born last year. He’s a funny looking little guy, horned, and quite light framed. Apparently a cow’s first calf is not a good indication of what their future calves will be like, and that they improve on 2nd and 3rd calves.

Fig and Jim-Bob

Fig does not mind being milked at all, and will quite happily go into the head bale. Her teats are a little small to be easily milked however. Overall, she’s a nice cow to have around, and I am interested to see how her future calves turn out.

 

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Make your own Baked Beans

Make your own beans and you will wonder how you ate that pale comparison, bought ones, for so long.  If you have a pressure canner, go ahead and can them as per the recipe. If you don’t, then freezing them is a good option. Pressure canners are brilliant, especially when you like to bulk cook like I do, but don’t have a lot of freezer space.

Baked Beans:
750 gm dried haricot beans (also known as Navy beans)
1 medium bacon hock (omit for vegetarian version)
1 medium onion diced
6 cloves garlic chopped
2 tins crushed tomatoes
500ml tomato juice (makes it richer, omit if you prefer)
1/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup maple syrup, the real stuff. If you are skimping because the real stuff costs heaps, use golden syrup instead of fake maple syrup.
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or any vinegar really)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teapoons salt
1/2 t mustard powder (optional)
1 bay leaf
big handful chopped parsley

Soak beans in water overnight.  (Or cheat, and cover them with water, bring to the boil, simmer 2 minutes then leave for an hour)

Drain the soaking water.  Chop onions and garlic, fry off in a dash of oil in a big heavy cast iron casserole, then add beans, tomato juice, enough water to cover beans, and the bacon hock. Bring to the boil and simmer 1 hour.

Add the rest of the ingredients, mix, put the lid on the pot and put it in a 180 degree Celsius oven for at least 1 hour, preferably 2.  Check periodically to see if it needs more water added.

Add more salt to taste if you like.

Remove from oven, take out the ham hock, let it cool slightly, pull the meat off it and chop it and throw the meat back in.

Enjoy, for breakfast lunch and dinner! I really like a big fat pork sausage and some buttery fried potatoes to go with it.  But also good with grainy toast or sourdough and a poached egg.

baked beans

If you are someone who pressure cans stuff, then it’s 375 mL jars for 60 minutes, or 500 mL jars for 70 minutes at 10 lb pressure. I do 250mL jars as single serves for 60minutes also. You might like to add a touch more liquid before canning, or just moisten them up when re-heating.

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The cows – Butterfly

Here’s a little intro to the bovine members of our family.

Butterfly was the first cow we got. aka “Butters” for short. Her full name is Djookorba Butterfly.

Butterfly is a pig. Well, she’s a cow, but she eats like a pig. She is the first to come running when you call them, and will headbutt anyone else to get into their bucket after she has finished her own. Carrots are her favourite food. And rockmelon. And silverbeet. And tomatoes and… well there’s not much she doesn’t eat.

Butterfly. Such a delicate name for a whopping great lumpus of a cow.

Butterfly. Such a delicate name for a whopping great lumpus of a cow.

She’s a 3rd grade dexter, and is a red.
A few generations back her dam was a Jersey. 3rd grade means she is not purebred, but her female offspring (to a dexter sire) are purebred.
Butters has retained a nice, big Jersey udder. As we want to milk our cows one day, this is a trait I am trying to maintain.

Nice udder. One day before dropping her calf.

Nice udder. One day before dropping her calf.

Butters, however, is a really cranky cow and not very amenable to being milked, and we have had several run-ins with my attempts to do this. She doesn’t seem to trust people very much. I’ll keep working on it though.

I think she had one calf before she came to us.
Her first calf since we got her (boy, who came with her) was Fizz.
Then the first calf we had born on the property was Butterfly’s, G-Zeus.
This year Butters finally had a heifer calf, who we named Jenny-any-dots.

We also call her the hippopotocow, because of her figure.

Hippopotocow. OK, so she was pretty close to calving in this photo.

Hippopotocow. OK, so she was pretty close to calving in this photo.

She is a good mother. We let all the calves wean themselves naturally. Fizz didn’t wean to he was about 18 months old. G-Zeus as you can see, stayed on the boob for a long time too! He had to learn how to get in there without annoying Mum with his horns.

Feeding G-Zeus

Feeding G-Zeus

Hello.

Hello.

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Health benefits of Garlic

An interesting article from the National Cancer Institute (USA) on garlic’s cancer prevention properties:

http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/garlic-and-cancer-prevention

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Chuck – steak that is.

Richard suggested I write some blog posts about all the different cuts of meat you get with a cow. If you ever buy a half or a quarter of beef, you get a lot of cuts that are not prime, supermarket or butcher cuts. This is not so say they are no good, not at all. In fact, one of my favourite cuts of all time, the flank (and skirt – its definitely a battle for prime position there) is one you don’t often see at the shops.

Chuck is one of those less prime cuts. Cheap. Tasty.

Chuck is one of my favourite winter eating cuts of beef. It comes from the shoulder area in the front quarter, high up, between the bottom of the neck and the start of the rib cavity.

Chuck

Chuck

Chuck can be a tough cut, but, as is generally the rule with beef, I find, the tougher – the tastier.

Chuck is high in fat. This is a good thing. It also has a lot of connective tissue, hence the toughness. This connective tissue needs slow, long cooking, to melt. This adds a delicious moistness to the meat.

This tough, fatty, connective tissue filled cut often ends up as mince – and it does make good tasty mince. Makes good, juicy, tasty burgers. Mmmm.

However it is fantastic as a filling for a steak pie, or as a pot roast.

Steak and Ale pie.

I sometimes cook this one night, eat some with mash and vegies as a casserole, then the next day make the pies with the leftover cooled filling.

Filling:

  • 1.5kgs Beef chuck, in large (2 – 3cm) dice.
  • 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper, 1/4 cup of plain flour.

Toss the beef cubes in the flour and salt and pepper.

Fry off in a large saucepan in a good splash of Olive oil.

In a heavy casserole pot, fry off:

  • 2 onions, diced.
  • 1 whole garlic bulb, peeled, roughly chopped.
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • 2 cups diced carrots
  • 2 tablespoons fresh herbs (or 1 teaspoon dried) I use Thyme, Oregano, Parsely.

Fry these for a few minutes until they soften a little, then add the beef, and:

  • 1 x 600 ml bottle of dark ale or stout of your choice (I fancy Youngs Special. Guinness is of course good too)
  • 1 x 420gm tin diced tomatoes
  • enough water or beef or vegetable stock to cover.

Bring to a simmer for ten minutes.

Bung this in the oven for 2 hours or more at 160 degrees. Or leave simmering at a very low heat on the stovetop, stirring occasionally. Longer cooking time is also good, as long as you check there is enough liquid to just barely cover it all from time to time. If you have a pressure cooker, then pop it in there for 35-40 minutes.

If you want more vegies in your pie, add in a couple of diced potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, or whatever else you like, then put back in the oven for the last hour of cooking. Ensure there is still enough liquid to just cover.

For individual pastry topped pies, cut shapes of puff pastry to suit your serving pots, fill pots with pie filling, top with pastry, brush with beaten egg, and bake in a hot (190 degree) oven for ten minutes or until pastry is crisp and golden.

For a complete crust filled pie, allow the filling to cool.

Pie Pastry. This is a whole other series of blog posts, the right pastry for the right task is a complete joy to me. Lately I’ve turned to a lard based cornish pasty pastry as a pie base, with rough puff for the top. The pasty pastry is strong enough to hold all that filling, and the rough puff gives a fantastic, buttery flaky top. If you are making yourself a big batch to freeze up for quick and easy dinners or lunches, make both, for a superior result! Try Gordon Ramsay’s rough puff, and the Cornish Pasty Association recipe for pasty pastry.

Hot water pastry also makes a decent pie crust.

Variations:

  • For a red wine version, Swap out the ale or beer for a half a bottle of red.
  • Add in a couple of cups of mushrooms for the last hour of cooking for a beef and mushroom pie.
  • Another interesting flavour boost is a few chunks of pancetta, added in when you fry off the celery, carrot and onion.

Chuck Pot Roast

Chuck suits pot roasting. Pot roasting is done in a heavy casserole, lid on, with liquid, in a warm steamy bath kind of method. Its a good stick in the oven just after lunch time and eat on Sunday evening kind of roast. Pot roasting leaves you with a juicy, tender, moist, melt in the mouth textured roast and a lovely rich gravy to go with it. I use a cast iron casserole dish. If you don’t have a casserole dish that is suitable for stovetop cooking as well as oven, then fry all your stuff off in a frypan, then place into the casserole dish ready for the oven. If you don’t have a casserole dish that has a tight fitting lid, then just cover it well with foil.

  • 1 – 2kg piece of chuck roast.
  • 1 large onion diced,
  • a few cloves of garlic, roughly chopped,
  • 4 sticks celery, diced,
  • 2 carrots, roughly diced.
  • 2 cups red wine, 2 cups stock (or all stock if you prefer to jut drink the wine).

Rub your hunk of beef generously with salt and pepper, pour a little oil into your casserole dish, and heat on the cooktop. Place in the meat, turning it to brown for a couple of minutes on all sides. Remove the meat. Add in the vegies and fry for about 5 minutes. Make a pile with the fried vegies in the middle of the pot, place the meat on top, and pour in the wine and stock. Add herbs if you choose, bayleaf, peppercorns, thyme are good.

Place in a preheated oven at 160 degrees for 1.5 – 2 hours. Check the liquid level occasionally – don’t let it dry out, add more water if needed. If there is too much liquid, remove the lid for the last half hour of cooking.

For a delicious gravy: After 2 hours, remove the meat and set aside in a warm spot, and strain the rest of the juices out of the cooking pot. Add enough water to make into 1.5 cups of liquid. In a small saucepan, whisk 2 tablespoons of cornflour with 1/4 cup of water, add in the liquid, and whisk/stir over heat until it comes to a low boil. Simmer for 3 minutes, then set aside to pour over your roast.

Slice your tender juicy roast and enjoy with the luscious gravy!

Note: left over roast slices frozen with gravy makes for a really good quick filling for hot roast beef and gravy rolls for lunches. Left over roast, shredded, and gravy, even with leftover chopped up roast vegies, also makes a great pie filling!

This is a great roasting method for any tougher cut of beef, such as brisket, blade, knuckle, shank. Or lamb shoulder. (add Rosemary)

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Why Garlic?

We are trying to grow garlic on the farm. We are still expanding our planting stock at the moment, this year focusing on quality and bulb size, and continuing growing trials.

My dream is to not just grow garlic, but to grow several named varieties of gourmet garlic, to sell at local farmers markets, with great wooden crates and beautiful garlic presented for the world to see and try. Well, for everyone who shops at the farmers markets or online anyway. I would love to introduce more consumers to the idea that there are many many types of garlic, and that there are types suited better to some cooking purposes over others, as well as different flavours and strengths with different types. I am thrilled that people have become increasingly interested in recent years in buying local produce, particularly garlic, instead of cheap imports. Good on you all! This is the spirit that will keep Australian farmers farming, and keep our land owned by Australian families and allow new generations of farmers a future on the land.

Market stall. One day this will be a LOT bigger.

Market stall. One day this will be a LOT bigger.

Why Garlic?

For the vampires of course. Just kidding.

A few years back I put some Australian garlic that was sprouting in my cupboard into the ground. It grew really well. There was only about 80 bulbs. I saved most of it to re-plant.
The following year, I prepared three 15 metre long beds on the farm, and planted all of this garlic plus some more bought locally, and a few online from Diggers.

Overall this grew reasonably well, some better than others and some an abject failure (the Diggers garlic) It became obvious even from the garlic bought locally from one box that we had several different varieties. Some did better than others, one lot that was bought direct from a grower in the south west had a high incidence of nematodes.

Garlic hanging to dry

Garlic hanging to dry

One variety appeared to be ready earlier than the rest – a lot earlier in fact, I had it harvested and cured before I even saw any Australian garlic in the shops.

Early variety

Early variety

Weeds proved to be the biggest challenge. I learned that mulching with meadow hay is a Very Bad Idea.

Hay for mulch. Don't do this!

Hay for mulch. Don’t do this!

This is what happens when you mulch with hay.

This is what happens when you mulch with hay.

After weeding

After weeding

We selected the healthiest bulbs for planting the following year. I started buying and reading every book I could find about growing garlic, as well as online resources from around the world.

Bundled ready for drying

Bundled ready for drying

Last year we greatly expanded the planting area, this time, 10 beds 25 metres long, watered with bore water via wobbler type sprinklers. We made a little frame to push into the soil and make planting holes at nice even spacings of 250mm between the rows and 150mm between plants.

2013 prep

Planting out last year

Planting out last year

Weeds continued to be a problem, this time I learned that turning an area of paddock where the cows get fed hay is a Very Bad Idea, almost as bad as mulching with the hay. At one point the weeds got so out of control we hired a couple of backpackers for two days to help. Although this was necessary at the time, as we both had full time off farm jobs, it is not going to be ideal to rely on hired labour for weeding in the future.

Once again I had planted more varieties of Australian garlic to try and grow, and we noticed that the original garlic that we had planted back that first year was performing the best, getting better every year as it localises to our climate.

The nematodes continued to be a problem in the garlic obtained from a local grower, and we made the decision to abandon that variety. We did some trials with mulching materials, and lucerne silage bought from a local farm has proven to be the best. Lucerne is a nitrogen rich material (C:N ratio of 30:1) and as it is silaged, it is weed free.

This year we have reduced the planting area somewhat, and have 10 beds 20 metres long.  We have changed the spacing to 300mm between the rows, and 120mm between the plants, in order to facilitate the use of a good old fashioned wheel hoe, and because three rows seems to fit the width of the beds better. We have selected and planted only the best bulbs from last year’s harvest, and the rest were sold at the local Donnybrook Railway Market. I’ve also sourced some mare varieties again from east, as the quarantine seems to have been relaxed a little on garlic, so more varieties were available to buy into WA.  We hope to harvest 200- 250 kgs from this year’s planting. About 80% of it is to be saved for planting out the BIG area next year, with the intention of growing over a tonne of garlic for sale from there on. The patch that is being prepared is 100 metre long beds! Need to get that weed management sorted!

Planting out garlic this year

Planting out garlic this year

planting out

planting out

The areas where the garlic has been growing to date is away from what will be the actual growing field in the future. The advantage of this is it means if any pests or diseases are introduced with our planting stock, they will be isolated away from the main growing area. Any new varieties in the future will be introduced via these nursery beds to keep them isolated.  Although I accept that there are pests and diseases with garlic, I don’t want to go bringing in one that we do not already have.

This years growth so far!

This years growth so far!

Signs for the patch

Signs for the patch

The Western Australian Ag Department guide to growing garlic states that it is a difficult crop that takes some getting used to, and recommends to start small and gradually increase the area grown each year. It would be terribly expensive to buy a few hundred kilos of garlic for planting in one year, and to then have that crop not do well. Originally we intended to expand a lot quicker than we have, other constraints with both of us still working off farm had prevented this; in hindsight it has been great to slow this down and gradually do a little more each year. Things tend to work out the way they do for a reason.

We have been learning more as we go, figuring out what varieties do well, and allowing the varieties to localise to our specific climate, coming up with better weed management strategies, handling strategies for harvest, planting and drying stages, and more research on planting weights and yields. Significantly also, this time taken has allowed a much better preparation of the soil where the big patch will be in the future. This area is a total of 1.5 acres, but as garlic needs to be rotated, not planted in the same spot year after year, we are dividing this into three sections of half an acre each, as rotational beds. Although we are preparing the entire area, we will only be planting out the one section to garlic next year while we continue to improve the soil across the remainder, then follow the garlic with other vegetable crops as we gradually expand (I’ve been doing more an more trials to see what grows well in our climate, with less interference from us). Then hey presto, we will have a market garden!

Here’s hoping to see us pulling a tonne of the stinking rose out of the ground next year.

Last years harvest

Last years harvest

Close up

Close up

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