Barn Progress Update

Over the past several weeks we’ve slowly but surely been working to prepare the building site. We started by running mason’s line to determine where to build the forms. We then built the forms using leftover lumber from our sawmill, which involved cutting and driving LOTS of stakes. Once the forms were constructed, we leveled the ground beneath and added fill to make the pad a uniform 4”.

Brandon and his helper securing the form boards to the stakes.

To reinforce the concrete, we laid a grid of remesh, which is similar to panel fencing used for livestock. We set the remesh on 2” patio pavers, so that it would be in the middle of the 4” thick pad. Our barn is 30’x50’, however, we decided that it would be easier to pour the concrete in two sections. We drilled holes in the form boards that divide the two sections, and inserted short pieces of rebar every few feet to tie the two slabs together along the joint.

Before pouring.

Finally, on Saturday morning, we had a truck come and pour 10.5 yards of cement. It took our four man crew just under an hour to get it all poured and screeded. We ended up with some extra cement, so we used it to make an apron where the barn doors will be.

Spreading the cement as it comes off the truck.

Before we can pour the other half, we need to finish the installation of our driven point well (more on that later). We plan to house the well pump in a small, heated room inside the barn where we will also have a slop sink for washing eggs. We are really looking forward to having a water source in the barn, as we have been lugging buckets from the house for the past three winters.

The finished product! (Half of it, anyway.)

Our Milk Testing Protocols

First thing’s first: I need to apologize for the delay in making this post. Earlier this year I wrote about the importance of sanitation and testing when it comes to raw milk, and then I never got around to writing about what we do on our farm.

Let’s talk about sanitation!

  • We use a closed milking system to prevent dirt, hair, feces, and insects from contaminating our milk. 
  • During milking, we wear gloves, use teat dip, and use a clean towel to wipe each goat’s teats.
  • After milking, we bottle and chill milk immediately. Milk is poured in our clean kitchen, into glass bottles that have been sanitized with diluted bleach.
  • We wash all of our milking equipment with soap and hot water, followed by an acid rinse, after every use.
  • We soak all of the critical components of our milking system in diluted bleach after every use.
  • We regularly clean our goat’s pens so that they’re always laying on clean bedding. This helps to prevent mastitis as well as fecal contamination from dirty animals.

I’ve spent the past few months brainstorming the best ways to aggregate and present all of our milk test data. We run standard plate counts and Coliform/E. coli tests on a bi-weekly basis. I decided that, for simplicity’s sake, I am going to make available the averages for each test that we run. The numbers for the current year are a rolling average, updated in real time: Milk Test Averages

So what do these numbers mean?

The standard plate count (or aerobic plate count) is a quantifies the amount of bacteria in our milk. This test counts both beneficial and potentially harmful bacteria. Although the state limit is 30,000/mL, we aim to keep the overall bacteria level of our milk under 1,000 cfu/mL to reduce the likelihood that harmful bacteria may be present.

A Coliform count lower than 10 cfu/mL is indicative of excellent sanitation. While we always strive for excellence, our average may not fall below 10 this year, as we had a few slightly elevated Coliform counts at the beginning of the milking season. We’ve since made adjustments to our sanitation procedures to meet our goal. 2020 is our first year testing and selling milk, so we are still learning!

We also use a weekly CMT (California Mastitis Test) to monitor the SCC (somatic cell count) of each of our does throughout her lactation. An elevated SCC indicates the presence of mastitis (an infection of the mammary glands). If one of our goats tests positive, we can immediately begin milking her separately and discarding her milk until we are certain that the infection has cleared.

It is possible to test for specific pathogens, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria. However, doing so is usually unnecessary so long as the APC and Coliform counts are consistently low.

The First Steps of Our Barn Construction

Our DuroSpan steel building kit was delivered this past week! We opted for a classic Quonset hut style building, which is constructed of a series of arches that bolt to one another. Pictured above are the pieces that make up the arches. I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit daunting to see multiple buckets of 600 bolts, knowing that my husband and I are the ones that have to put this whole thing together.

Over the weekend we began working on building forms so that we can have a concrete slab poured. The slab is arguably the most important part of the whole project, as the building draws its strength from being bolted to it. It’s crucial that the concrete is level and that the corners are square, so we are double (and triple) checking every move we make, using line levels and mason string. Once the forms have been completed, we’ll use our tractor to level the ground beneath so that the pad is exactly 4” thick.

Hopefully the cement work will be done soon so that we can get started assembling and erecting the arches!

The Farmstand Is Open!

Over the weekend we opened our brand new farmstand, conveniently located at 189 Ragged Lake Rd, Owls Head, NY 12969. The stand is stocked with our raw goat’s milk (for animal consumption, sold by the half gallon in returnable glass bottles), fresh eggs, and a variety of our handmade goat’s milk soaps. We will be adding seasonal produce and baked goods as the summer gets underway. We are big believers in the importance of local food, therefore, we will be partnering with other North Country farms to make it easier to eat locally in Owls Head. Our partner farms and their products will be listed on the Farmstand page of our website; be looking for updates on what we will carry.

DIY Dishwasher Pods

Happy Monday! I figured I would share this recipe while everyone is stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for something to do.

I’m a big fan of dishwasher pods. To be honest, I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t use dishwasher pods. Unfortunately, though, they’re fairly expensive, and of course full of chemicals that I don’t necessarily want to use on things that I eat off of. My solution? DIY! (Seriously, when isn’t DIY my solution?) I found a super simple recipe on Pinterest, that only requires 4 ingredients: salt, baking soda, white vinegar, and dish soap.

  1. Start by combining 1/4 cup of salt with 1 cup of baking soda in a medium bowl.
  2. Mix in 2 teaspoons of a dish soap of your choice. I use my own, all natural dish soap, the recipe for which can be found here.
  3. Add white vinegar until the ingredients form a thick paste. The instructions in the original recipe say to start with 2 tablespoons, adding more as needed. I always use about 3 tablespoons.
  4. Spoon the paste into a silicone ice cube tray (or in our case, a silicone soap mold). Once each chamber has been filled with roughly the same amount of paste, use a spatula, spoon, or a finger to pack it tightly.
  5. Allow the pods to harden for a few days, then pop them out of the silicone, and store them in a jar or other container.
The silicone soap mold that we use to make dishwasher pods and miniature bar soaps for guests.

My only complaint about these dishwasher pods is that they sometimes leave our son’s bottles looking a bit cloudy. After doing some reading, I found that our dishwasher doesn’t rinse the dishes as well as it should, because we have very hard water. To overcome this, I started using diluted vinegar as a natural rinse aid, and problem solved! Adding straight vinegar to the rinse aid dispenser isn’t recommended, as vinegar can cause the rubber seals to deteriorate.

Here’s a link to the original recipe: https://www.superhealthykids.com/healthy-home/how-to-make-all-natural-dishwasher-pods/

Progress On Our Farmstand

Today we put the roof on our farmstand, despite getting caught in the rain. We are so excited to be bringing fresh, local food to our little community. Hopefully we will have things up and running in just a few weeks!

We received a generous grant from the Food Animal Concerns Trust to help cover the cost of having a utility pole installed at the new property to power our farmstand, and eventually, our barn. We are very grateful for these funds, and we hope to share the wealth with other local farmers by marketing their products through our farmstand. We already have several partnerships in the works, but we’d love to hear what you’d like to see! Goat’s milk lotion, maple syrup, honey, beef, pork, chicken, and a greater variety of produce are all possibilities.

The Facts On Raw Milk

The sale and consumption of raw milk is a bit of a hot topic. Like it or not, the laws prohibiting the consumption of raw milk were put in place to keep people safe. In my home state of New Hampshire, they take the motto “Live Free or Die!” quite literally. There, the sale of raw milk is legal and almost entirely unregulated. Here in New York it’s a different story. While raw milk sales are legal, it is exceedingly difficult to become a licensed raw milk dairy. We’ve found the licensing process to be cost prohibitive for small farms like ours, so we decided to go in a different direction and sell our raw goat’s milk for pets. There is a thriving market of dog and cat owners who purchase raw milk as a probiotic for their furry companions, however, we recognize that there is probably a percentage of that customer base who aren’t buying milk for the intended purpose. We definitely don’t encourage it, but since there isn’t much we can do to stop it, we want to do our part to educate people so that they can make safe choices regarding raw dairy products.

If you are choosing to partake in the consumption of raw milk, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Sanitation is everything!

  • You should NEVER buy milk from someone who doesn’t use a closed milking system. Dirt, hair, feces and insects can easily fall into a milking pail. Even though these things can usually be strained out, the milk has been tainted and should not be consumed.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your farmer questions! He or she should be able to walk you through all of their sanitation protocols step by step. Some things to listen for are:
    • Washing all of the milking equipment with soap and hot water.
    • Rinsing all of the milking equipment with some sort of acid. This prevents solids from being redeposited after the initial wash.
    • Using teat dip before and after milking.
    • Wearing gloves during milking.
    • Using a clean towel to wipe each goat’s teats.
    • Chilling milk immediately after milking. When the milk comes out of the udder, it is around 100 degrees (the body temperature of the cow or doe). Milk will spoil quickly if it is left sitting in the barn at this temperature.
  • The living conditions of the animals play a big role in milk safety, as well as in the health and welfare of the animals. Pens should be kept clean to prevent the cows or does from contracting mastitis (an infection of the mammary glands). Dirty pens lead to dirty animals, which leads to an increased chance of fecal contamination during milking.
  • Milk should be tested regularly. There are several different tests that can be used to assure the safety of raw milk. Which tests are run and how often isn’t of particular importance, what matters is that your farmer is monitoring their bacterial counts and taking measures to keep them low. I will share more about the different types of tests and how to interpret them in a later post. Testing can be expensive, but if someone says that they can’t afford to test their milk, you should be extremely wary, as this indicates poor management, which may extend to their herd management as well.

I will be making another post soon that will spell out our farm’s sanitation and testing protocols. We believe in total transparency; that’s why we will be making our milk test results available to the public. Our hope is that one day, consumers will become so well educated about agriculture that they’ll be able to make decisions about food safety themselves, and the current ultra stringent regulations will no longer be necessary.

5 Minute DIY Dish Soap

At our house, we love DIY solutions, especially when they’re all natural and save us money. We also love finding creative ways to use our handmade goat’s milk soaps besides just washing our hands and bodies. We’ve been making our own laundry soap for quite a while by grating our end bars, and combining the shredded soap with washing soda, borax, and baking soda. When I stumbled upon a super simple dish soap recipe, I couldn’t resist trying it out!

This recipe only calls for three ingredients: shredded soap, baking soda, and water. The first time I made it, I used our own peppermint goat’s milk soap (of course). In hindsight, I should have opted for a bar that didn’t contain dried herbs, because the little bits of leaf stick to the dishes. The next time I used a bar of balsam instead, and I was much happier with the result.

This recipe couldn’t be simpler to make:

  1. Set a small bowl on a kitchen scale. Grate a bar of soap over the bowl until you have 35-40 grams. (You can use any natural soap that you like!)
  2. Place the grated soap in a pot, and add 2.5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until the soap flakes are completely dissolved.
  3. Remove from heat. Allow the liquid to cool until it is warm, but not hot. Stir in 2 teaspoons of baking soda.
  4. Allow the mixture to stand overnight. Transfer to a bottle or jar for use.

This recipe is based on one I found on https://wastelandrebel.com/. I made a few changes to make it work better with our soap. I also omitted the essential oil because I felt that the essential oils in our soap provided enough of a scent. The result is much thinner than a commercial dish soap, most likely because it lacks glycerin, however, I’ve found it to be equally as effective at cutting through grease. Just give this dish soap a little shake every now and then to keep it from separating, and enjoy washing your dishes with something all natural!

Looking for an alternative to plastic sponges that you have to throw away? My mother-in-law crochets these adorable dish scrubbies out of 100% cotton yarn.

My Plastic-Free Shampoo Obsession

You may have read my last post, about the greasy, stringy DISASTER that was my homemade shampoo experience. After spending two months looking like I hadn’t showered, I was ready to give up on my mission to find a plastic-free shampoo solution. It just didn’t seem possible. I knew that I couldn’t pull off making my own shampoo, but I also had read quite a bit about how shampoo bars don’t really work, so what other options did I have? As it turns out, I had two other options: shampoo in returnable aluminum bottles (Plaine Products was the one I kept coming across) or Beauty Kubes. I decided to test out the least expensive option first, and ordered a box of the Beauty Kubes Shampoo for Oily Hair, and the Beauty Kubes Conditioner.

Photo comes from the Beauty Kubes website: https://beautykubes.co.uk/

What are Beauty Kubes? They’re the greatest thing since sliced bread! They’re little cubes of shampoo (like sugar cubes) that you crumble in the palm of your hand and rehydrate in the shower. From the first time I used one, I was hooked. So what do I love about them?

  1. They make my hair look amazing! In one wash, my hair went from being sad and greasy to being better than it ever has been! I swear, the Beauty Kubes have taken my natural waves to a whole new level.
  2. They smell amazing. I can’t put my finger on exactly what I’m smelling, but they smell of essential oils, which I like.
  3. The ingredients are listed on their website. Many beauty companies don’t disclose all of the ingredients that are in their products for whatever reason. We’re big fans of transparency. We list all of the ingredients that go into our soaps right on the tag, and expect other companies to do the same.
  4. They are sulphate and silicone free. If you aren’t using a sulphate free shampoo already, make the switch! Your hair will thank you.
  5. They are perfect for traveling. No more funneling shampoo into TSA approved bottles, no more using low quality hotel shampoo. Just toss a few cubes into a container and you can have goddess hair no matter where your journey takes you.

I honestly don’t have enough good things to say about them. The only thing that I don’t LOVE about them is the price. It costs $15.00 for a box of 27 cubes, which is a little bit more expensive than the grocery store shampoo brand I had been buying, but isn’t nearly as much as some of the salon quality shampoos out there. I use one cube per wash, and wash my hair every other day (in part to cut down on the cost, but also because I’m lazy). You may be able to get by with a half a cube, or you may need to use two, depending on the length and thickness of your hair.

Beauty Kubes are made by a British company, so the prices on their website are listed in pounds. I ordered through Oregon-based distributor Well Earth Goods. If you are interested in living the plastic-free lifestyle, check them out! They have all sorts of products, from tote bags, to bamboo toothbrushes to reusable coffee filters: https://wellearthgoods.com/

DIY Shampoo Fail (And Why We Don’t Make a Shampoo Bar)

Since we made the commitment to eliminate single-use plastics from our life, we’ve been experimenting with a lot of new products, some good, some bad. Today, I’m going to tell you about the really bad. I mean REALLY bad; my hair still looked wet 24 hours after showering and my husband kept calling me “greaseball”. From what I’ve read, there is a transition period when switching from a chemical-laden commercial shampoo to a natural shampoo, but for me, the transition period lasted for a month and a half AKA it didn’t end.

We’re often asked whether our goat’s milk soap can be used as a shampoo, and we usually say yes, but not for the long term. (I’ve tried it, and I wasn’t pleased with the results.) Soaps, and many of the shampoo bars on the market, have an alkaline pH, which makes them a poor choice for maintaining healthy hair. If I’ve learned one thing from all of my research on natural shampoo, it’s that it’s all about pH. Hair is happiest and healthiest when its pH is somewhere between 4.5 and 5.5. This acidity helps to protect the scalp from fungi and bacteria growth. Using an alkaline shampoo will disrupt the pH balance of the scalp. Some people claim that this doesn’t matter, as long as you rinse with something acidic, such as apple cider vinegar, but I did not find this to help much.

I knew I wanted a pH balanced natural shampoo, so I scoured the internet for a recipe that I could make with the ingredients I already had at home. I found one that used coconut milk, castor oil, honey, apple cider vinegar, and essential oils. What was odd about this recipe was that it wasn’t stable at room temperature, which makes sense, since the coconut milk and the honey would require the use of an artificial preservative. Following the recipe, I made shampoo cubes that I stored in the freezer. I thawed one cube every other shower, and kept the thawed shampoo in a Mason jar in the refrigerator when I wasn’t using it. The shampoo had a pleasant smell and a creamy consistency, but it didn’t seem to lather well (which can be normal for natural shampoos). I knew before I began using this recipe that the first few days (or even weeks) would be rough as my scalp adjusted to produce less oil. What I didn’t know is that my hair would turn into a sad, greasy mess for the entire month and I half that I stuck with this recipe, or that it would become progressively more greasy. IT WAS BAD. 

I’m a firm believer in learning from our mistakes, and what I learned is that pH balanced hair care products are best left to the professionals! This doesn’t mean I’m giving up on my quest to find a sustainable alternative to buying shampoo in plastic bottles. I’ve found a few companies that sell natural shampoo in recyclable aluminum bottles (and will even provide shipping labels to return the empty bottles to be reused). I am currently testing a product called Beauty Kubes, which are basically dehydrated cubes of shampoo and conditioner that are crumbled and rehydrated in the shower. I haven’t been using them for long enough to draw any conclusions as to whether they work or not, but I will be sure to share the results (good, bad, or ugly) here on the blog!