Raining

Last night I contemplated posting a funny meme like this about all the rain we’ve been getting here.  Its been days of constant rain, with little hope for a break.

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Then about midnight, my phone went off with an emergency flash flood warning.  We are fortunately not in the flash flood area of our city, but we are low enough that such an alert makes us stop and check everything because we can go under quickly.

This morning I went out to see what had happened overnight because it indeed POURED all night and is continuing to rain steadily.  Since yesterday we have received over 4.59 inches of rain!

The little bridge that leads to the barn with the sheep was floating over the drainage river our pond has flooded into.  In many areas, the water is knee deep.  While all the animals have high ground for the moment, there is a very real possibility they will need to be relocated tonight.  We are lucky we are small enough to do this, I know for many larger farms there are staring down the face of a monstrous task.

Our garden is almost completely washed out and the bean field next to us is all but lost.  If you know a farmer in Michigan (and many other areas I’m sure) chances are they need, a hand, a hug, a meal or a drink today.  Their futures might be looking very washed away at the moment.

Bee-capades

Late Sunday evening my husband and I had finished a fencing project to restore a pasture that had been unusable for the last couple years.  Lucy and the donkeys were excited to be in the middle of lush grass and quickly got to work on it.  I made sure they could see where the gate was so they could get back up to the barn in the night when they were ready to come in.

In the morning I was rather concerned to see that they had not come in for the night and were in fact almost cowering in a corner behind some brush.  I went out to see what on earth was going on and quickly noticed hundreds of bees buzzing around my head, and luckily looked down before I stepped on the swarm.

I have experienced honey bees swarming or bee balls before and know that they typically move on rather quickly and to just steer clear until they do.  These guys however picked the WORST spot imaginable to me, by blocking my brand new gate.  I am fairly certian they hadn’t been there when we finished the fence, because I literally would have had to step over them in order to open the gate from the inside like I did.

It was really odd to see them swarming on the ground though, but they weren’t aggressive and I was positive they were honey bees, so I contacted a friend who is a new bee keeper, who put me in touch with an experienced bee keeper.  She was also surprised that the bees were on the ground, but it appeared that there was a hole in the ground they could have decided to make a home.

Bees swarm for two main reasons.  One, their hive has been destroyed or two, their hive has gotten very large and a new queen hatched.  One of the queens leaves the hive taking part of the colony with her.

Since the bee keeper was unable to get to my house for a few hours she instructed me to place a cardboard box over the swarm to help keep them in the spot and hopefully pull them out of the ground.

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I used all my courage throwing this box over the bees and quickly retreated to take this picture.  I had even called my Mom to stand by her phone in case I was attacked.  But, I had nothing to fear after all.

Now surrounding this, we were also trying to get our hay up out of the field, I have experienced a lot of weather and mechanical related issues that delayed haying, but this was a first for me!  Luckily these little guys were not in a location that affected us, other than the fact I was running around looking for boxes and taking pictures!

A few hours later my heroic bee keeper arrived to see what was going on and to capture the bees.  This woman is fearless in my book!  She just strolled up to those bees and started checking things out!  She and I both did wear the snazzy hats though!

The cardboard box worked really well and had collected the majority of the bees that had been previously on the ground.  It appeared that they had initially balled up on a very very small bush/tree that had either collapsed under their weight or had been stepped on by the horse.

Next the bee keeper literally banged the bees into the hive that she brought, just picked up the box and knocked them into the hive!  I was still backing up, but trying to stay close enough to get pictures!

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Fearlessly re-homing the bees.

Since it was the middle of the afternoon there were likely a lot of worker bees that were out foraging.  The hive was also very active, especially since they had just been stirred up.  The bee keeper told me that she would come back late in the evening when most of the workers should be back and things have quieted down.

It had, and there were still a few bees that hadn’t moved into the box, but it appeared that we had gotten the queen moved inside because the workers were definitely going into the hive with purpose, where as the ones that were remaining in the box were just kind of there.

She decided that enough of the bees had made it into the hive, and realistically knew we would not be able to get them all, but estimated we had captured roughly 20,000 bees to re-home!  We left the card board box overnight just in case we were missing more of the swarm than initially thought.  She stuffed a towel in the opening of the hive and took them off to their new home!

It was very interesting experience and I learned a lot!  One of the neatest things was seeing the new honey combs they were starting to build.  Did you know bees wax when it is brand new is white?

 

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Bees wax when it is first made is white!  This swarm was trying to set up shop on this tiny branch

 

The best part (next to rescuing the bees) was being rewarded with some gorgeous local honey!

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I strongly encourage you to contact a bee keeper should you ever find yourself in a similar situation.  Honey bees are not aggressive, and do the world such a large service.  Not only are we able to harvest delicious honey to eat, but they are also responsible for the pollination the occurs that makes the rest of our food possible!  Honey bees are in extreme danger of becoming extinct, which would put the world in jeopardy.  Bee keepers,  honey farmers, hivers, apiarists,  whatever you like to call them, are all more than willing to come rescue you from a stray swarm of bees!

 

Post Script:  When I checked on the box this morning there were only a few more bees than were left from the night before.  Unfortunately these bees will not survive long without their queen, but there are not enough to risk moving a queen and her hive and having them swarm again.

Buckle up Buttercup!

If you follow agriculture at all, especially local farm blogs (Hi Michigan Farm Girl!) you know that the time between the start of spring and the heat of summer is go time for farmers of all sizes.  From small homestead type farms like us to large family farms, all the way up to big time harvesters, everyone right now is scrambling in one way or another.

I have read about farmers cussing at trying to get their hay balers unhitched (the struggle is real), trying to get the hay in before the rain, husbands are gone for seemingly days at a time getting crops in, and babies crying in the barn.  Currently, our hay mower is in pieces and my husband is spending another long night repairing broken parts on the old girl.

With such a short working season, there is a lot to be done.  Anything that involves counting on mother nature here is not for the faint of heart.  There are a lot of long hours to be put in (so I guess it’s handy that the sun is visible from about 5 AM to 11 PM where I am at, even if the kiddos use it as a scapegoat from bedtime), and a lot of projects to get scratched off.

The bonus to these long days being at home with the kids, is they really get a chance to fully experience the farm.  My two-year-old is already trying to help milk the cow (she is the official fly shoo-er while I milk) and the one-year-old enjoys taking in all the sights and sampling all the dirt areas for the best texture… But they love saying ” Hi” to all the animals.

The other thing that happens to many young farmers this time of year, sports start.  I am not immune to this, my oldest daughter has been rather successful in showing in the Hunter ring with horses the last few years.  While the Olympics are many years away for her, she has them in her crosshairs (can you hear my wallet weeping?)

And what is the point of blogging if I don’t get to brag about my kiddos every once in a while?  But balancing everything is difficult, my husband doesn’t do the milking so I have to be home morning and night to do it, now that the calf is weaned off.  I know dairies that have multiple cows and are milking for their income have this struggle year-round.  It’s hard to find a farm sitter, even harder to find one that will milk a cow!

This time of year brings a lot of half-dones and hurry-ups, it brings a lot of exhaustion and frustration until everyone settles into a new routine, or crops are settled in to do their thing until harvest time.  It brings a lot of speculation, anticipation, promise, hope, and fear.  When everything you hold dear depends on the next few months to last the rest of the year there is a lot of emotion. But I think, for farm families, hope is the strongest one because without it there would be no way we could continue year after year.

 

Hello & Goodbye

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Last week Sugar Dot and Merida came back to the farm after going to visit a bull for a couple months (Merida went to keep Sugar Dot in milk while she was away).  I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing them out the back window!  Although I have to admit, being able to do chores in less than 15 minutes while she was away spoiled me a bit.  The sparkling jars of fresh milk once again filling my fridge make the extra time (in the pouring rain and knee-deep mud, way to go Michigan) well worth it.

Lucy our horse also came home from winter camp where she was helping give lessons.  She too is enjoying nice open pastures, but not so much the rain.

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The little turkeys have outgrown their small brooding area and have been relocated to a much larger coop.  They are actively enjoying the ample space and nice warm heat lamp.  It made me laugh the first morning I went to check on them, the second I walked in they all immediately started chirping and ran to the food dishes.  Since I had more space I was able to put out extra dishes so they should never run out, but the acted like they couldn’t have breakfast until I walked in.  They are now cured of waiting for me to eat but give me a cheerful greeting none the less.

Today also is the day the steers are leaving us to go to the butcher (ironically it is the first day of National Beef Month).  Drizzly rain seems fitting for the occasion, but I really wish they had nicer weather to travel in.  Their leaving also frees up some pasture space for re-arranging our herds, which means it is time for all the babies to be weaned from their mothers.  It is well past time for them to be separated, so it is a good thing for sure!

I also noticed a flower on one of the strawberry plants today, so spring and summer are at least trying to break through on our little farm!

 

Wildlife Preserve

One of the things I love about our property is that wildlife seems drawn to it.  It is not terribly uncommon for an unusual species to saunter onto our property for a brief visit.  Last year we had quite a few surprising visitors.  We have had a history of Bald Eagles visiting ever since I was little.  We are about two miles from a place where they like to next.   This big fella was in our field for a couple days!

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Immature Bald Eagle about 200 yards away from our house

We also had an unusual number of Great Egrets that graced our pond last year.  I was surprised to see one pair that seems to be hanging around, you can imagine my shock when I woke up one morning to find EIGHT of these huge birds in the back yard!  We often have one or two Great Blue Herons, but the egrets are newer.

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Great Egrets just chill’n in the pond

We also have a couple deer that frequently watch me do chores, especially in the fall because they know our field is a relatively safe haven.  My family never hunted growing up and with the livestock around I don’t allow people to hunt our property and my husband gets long lectures from me whenever he thinks he’s going to.  During a drought this poor little creature risked everything to walk across our back yard in the middle of the day just to drink from the sadly low pond.

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A fawn seeking relief from the crazy hot dry weather we had last year.

And this year, we so far have had two of the cutest little ducks I have ever seen!  I believe them to be female Bufflehead ducks.  One was hanging around for about a week before I could finally capture a close enough picture to see what on Earth was swimming in our pond.  Such a tiny little thing!  A second joined her the day after I took the picture.  We also have a regular attendance of Canada geese, which are not uncommon but our Khaki duck seems to be right at home with them! I am also pretty sure they have a nest somewhere nearby.

While most of these wild visitors delight me with their company, we also get our fair share of critters that are well, a nuisance.    The coyotes chill me to the bone when I hear them yapping in the middle of the night.  The woodchucks and muskrats tunnel and burrow and cause all sorts of cave-ins.  Raccoons and opossums torment the birds, stealing their eggs and sometimes attacking the birds too!  And we neighboring skunk that likes to dig for grubs in the yard… he’s never sprayed but we usually know when he is around and he sure leaves a mess!

Sometimes critter control is required to protect our farm, but on the whole, I am glad that we seem trust worthy to animals that are by nature wary of where they eat and rest.

Oh!and let’s not forget!  The elusive blonde 2-year-old farm girl!  She is the rarest and wildest beast I have ever laid eyes on!  Also one of the most beautiful, but I may be biased.

New Happenings

It has been a very busy time here on the farm!  The fact that we are eight inches deep in mud, due to the constant rain-snow-rain routine we have been having during our spring thaw.  Living on clay has a lot of perks during droughts… when there is ample water however it is a major pain!

In spite of Michigan’s wild weather this April, we have lots of new things going on.  I have a few stores locally that have taken an interest in my soaps (YAY!!), we have some new arrivals on the farm and I have been busy trying to convince my thumbs to be green.

 

This week we had 10 new little turkeys arrive on the farm!  The two-year-old was so excited, she has been waiting for weeks, asking when the birds were coming.

She was even more excited when one of them got a little wet and was brought into the house to dry out for a couple hours.  Unfortunately, it was only like 40 degrees the day they arrived, and sadly most of them did not survive past 24 hours of their arrival.  Turkey chicks are very sensitive and I have a feeling they got too cold during shipping.  Very sad to see them fade. Happily, the ones that are still alive with us are doing very well and have visibly grown, one of them I have a feeling is going to be a trouble maker, likes to peck already!  A new shipment of replacements will be arriving this next week, and since the weather is supposed to be beautiful will hopefully do better.

Additionally, in preparation for spring, myself and the littles started more seeds for our garden today.  Including potatoes in a 5-gallon-pail!  I have been doing a little research about growing plants indoors.  There are two reasons for this, number one, I would like to have year-round fresh produce and doing that is not an option outside and number two in the case of potatoes I don’t want potato bugs invading the rest of my garden.  The method I am trying here is only using a few inches of dirt for the sprouting potato eyes (I simply cut up a potato that had begun to grow in my pantry) and then filling the pail with straw at the plant grows.  Exciting stuff!

And following suit of regrowing produce that has gotten away from me, I have also started several onions from ones that had started to sprout before I used them.  I planted a few outside before our weird April winter storm, and they seem to be unaffected by the cold weather and slushy precipitation.  My second set I started in a large pot inside.

The procedure for these was simple enough, take sprouted onions, peel away the flesh and separate the new bulbs.  Insert in soil and water occasionally.

 

In non-gardening news, Sugar Dot and Merida should be coming back to the farm soon.  Just as soon as we can get the trailer into their pasture without getting stuck in the mud.  Fred and Zack will be leaving the farm soon.  And the new lambs are growing like crazy!

Mucky blessings

Sometimes the biggest blessings in life are the goofy things. The strange things that maybe only you get excited about, given to you by that mommy friend who just feels you deserve something nice for yourself…. even if you are just going to clean poop in them!IMG_5694

I was so excited when I opened my surprise box today I had to snap a quick picture while they are still shiny and new!

Zack’s Story

Most of the animals on our farm service a food purpose.  We like to know where our food comes from and how it was treated before it became food.  It is very important to me that my children grow up knowing that even though an animal is intended for food it still deserves a decent life and respect as a living being.  “Zack,” one of the steers is nearing the end of his time with us and I feel that his story is unique and should be shared.

The end of April 2016, about six weeks after my last daughter was born.  This is significant in the fact that I had major complications delivering her, resulting in extensive abdominal surgery (please see the link to that story at the bottom of the page).  At this time I was really just starting to function again.  Just days before I had been cleared to drive again and allowed to lift my baby, but our fair deadline was approaching and my daughter was in need of her dairy project for the year.

Now, there is little cuter than a brand new Jersey calf, and Zack was no exception.  Roughly the size of a small Labrador retriever, my husband carried him from the trailer to his new pen, complete with a heat lamp, fluffy straw, and some hay to nibble on, he even had a sweater vest!

 

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Zack’s arrival on our farm

 

The first night went ok for us, he drank a little milk from his bucket and was comfortable in his new home.  The next morning things started to go south.  Zack didn’t want his bucket for breakfast.  I could only coax him to drink a little a few hours later while the babies napped in the house and only a little more at dinner.  Zack was obviously growing weaker.  Later that evening my husband went to check on him for the night and called me from the barn (gotta love cell phones!), Zack had gotten much worse and asked what he should do.  The only logical response my sleep deprived brain could come up with was to bring him in the house, we did it with lambs when I was growing up, why not a calf?

It is important to note here that:

#1- He is only the size of a large dog

#2- We have a completely tiled bathroom separate from the rest of our house that was specifically designed to handle barn-yuck.

#3- I am a Licensed Veterinary Technician and have been trained to deal with contagious and zoonotic disease.

I knew that I would not be able to go out to the barn to care for him with the two babies in the house during the day, and it really wasn’t warm enough to haul a newborn out to the barn.  I also wasn’t strong enough to take my babies out to the barn with me, the walk itself was exhausting.  I also knew he would die if someone wasn’t keeping a constant eye on him.  So, my husband carried that sick little calf into the house and put him in the designated area.  I was able to get a few more cups of milk into him and let him rest.  That was all I could do for the moment.

The morning brought us explosive watery diarrhea and a calf that could not stand up.  Poor Zack was so dehydrated from diarrhea that he could barely move.  This is called scours in the cattle world and can be brought on by many things, including stress.  Like so many in the medical fields, I take sickness and death in situations like this as a personal insult, and I absolutely refused to let this calf die.  I rotated him every couple hours and I cleaned him up the best I could and got a little water into him, packed my kids up to take the oldest to school and then hurried to the local farm supply store.  I bought every single thing on the shelf related to dehydration, diarrhea, and infection I could get my hands on.  I was calling local farmers and any large animal veterinarian that would answer the phone.  I also called in a favor to a local small animal veterinarian for some IV fluids.

Armed with my supplies and advice from the large animal veterinarian, I deposited my babies with my parents who had come over to offer some assistance and did my best to re-hydrate, re-electrolyte and re-PH balance that little calf.  He also got a dose of penicillin to ward off pneumonia and shipping fever and an anti-parasitic medication in case he had a common parasite that causes diarrhea, knowing that he had been moved around a couple times before reaching our home.

Within two long, anxious hours, sneaking away from the babies as often as I could to check on him, and turn him over so he wouldn’t get sores,  Zack was standing on his own, and even more exciting he was hungry!  He was still quite weak and spent one more night in the bathroom, and the next morning my husband kicked him out because he was really starting to make a mess. And it was getting tiresome having to put on coveralls to go in and take them off and bleach our shoes to go out of his room.

That evening he started to get weak again since it was cold and it took more energy just to stay warm (Did I mention this was like the weirdest weather ever in Michigan? And April was the only cold we had had in weeks???).  I gave him another round of IV fluids and continued with his other treatments.  He was right as rain after by the next morning.

 

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Zack eating on his own after treatments!

 

Zack went on to be a great 4-H project, even if he was a little stubborn, and maybe flopped over on his side during showmanship…. But he was a sweetheart for my daughter and still is to this day.  I have to admit, I personally am a little attached to him after our experience together, and I did my level best to sell him as a bull to someone else.  Alas, that is not the way the cards fell and he will soon become nourishment for our family.

 

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My girl and her calf at the fair!

 

I know there were gasps of horror that I gave an animal intended for food medication.  But the fact is he would have died a horrible death without them and all of these medications have well left his body now a year later.  If you ran tests of his muscle tissues, you wouldn’t find a trace of the medications he had been given.  With drawl, periods are on every medication, and it is the law to follow them.  Most withdraw periods are less than two months.

I also don’t expect and totally understand that not every farmer can do (or should) what I did for Zack.  It was a big gamble that took a lot of connections, education, cursing and prayer, lots of prayers, to make it work.  The truth is, though; most farmers will do whatever they can to save an animal on their farm, even one intended for food.  I have seen many pictures of calves, or lambs or goat, you name in garages or snuggled up with their farmers in the barn trying to make sure they pull through.  And when the time comes to take those animals to their final destination, you might hear us joke about how good they will taste, or you might hear us say a good riddance.  But quietly, we whisper a small goodbye and maybe wipe a small tear of thanks away as we turn to go.

 

Curious why getting Zack 6-weeks after My Last Baby?  Click the link to read that story!

The butter process, according to me!

 

I have been making homemade butter from our farm fresh cream at least once a week for around five months now, so clearly this makes me an expert. OK, so maybe not an expert, but I definitely have made some observations that I wish someone would have pointed out to me when I started making butter.
You see, that prized cream will pass through many stages on its way to becoming glorious butter. Some of those stages make you swoon and others will make you cringe in horror. I have documented each of these stages for you and will provide my own running commentary on the process.

 

Stage 1: Selecting your cream. In my case, I am choosing to use farm fresh, home pasteurized heavy cream. In my experience, you must wait at overnight after pasteurizing your cream in order for it to turn into butter. The colder it is the better, but even after just 12 hours, I have failed to make butter and ended up with some strange hybrid of butter and whipped cream that never deflates. It’s interesting to be sure, but not what we are going for here. Raw cream works just fine if that is your preference and store bought cream should work well too if farm fresh isn’t available to you.

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Stage 2: Preparing to whip. I typically whip a quarts worth of cream at a time, this produces around eight ounces of delicious butter. Because this is a rather large amount of cream to work with I use my Kitchen Aid mixer to do the work for me. My preference is the paddle attachment, but the whisk attachment also works. Your bowl and paddle need to be as clean, dry and cool as possible.
Stage 3: The slow mix: Pour the heavy cream into your bowl and begin to mix/whip at a slow speed. You are dealing with a liquid here and it will splash everywhere if you turn your speed on too high right away. Don’t worry this stage takes forever when making a quart of cream, have a cup of coffee or unload the dishwasher.
Stage 4: Bubbles: After about 5-10 minutes or so of mixing at a slower speed you will notice some bubbles starting to foam up around the edges of the bowl and an ever so faint thickening of the cream, feel free to start gradually increasing the speed of the mixer.

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Stage 5: Thicker slop: Now you have what appears to be a sloppy thick mess of cream, it moves together like a semi-solid but is still clearly a liquid… does it really take this long to make whipped cream?

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Stage 6: Soft Whipped Cream: Aha! A change! Maybe it will work after all! This looks familiar, sort of like whipped cream left sitting on top of hot fudge sauce a little too long. Progress.


Stage 7: Heaven: You will want to stop here. Your bowl is now full of soft pillowy clouds of whipped cream goodness. You will want to run for the nearest strawberry to swipe through this beautiful fluff. But alas, to make butter we must keep going.

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Stage 8: GAH! This will be the sound you make moments after you check on that gorgeous whipping cream you saw only a minute ago. Now a lumpy mess there is no turning back.

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Stage 9: It’s hideous: That lumpy mess now looks like curdled milk, you know the stuff that has been floating around in a sippy cup for the last week under the couch? That’s where we are, don’t worry you haven’t messed anything up. Press on.

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Stage 10: Starting to show promise: Now that we have passed through the truly awful stages, and if you’re like me, you cranked up the mixer to speed through the nightmare, we are entering a stage that maybe looks a little like butter. We aren’t quite there yet, but the cream if definitely thick and more yellow and buttery looking, although not quite right. Stay close, it’s going to get intense.

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Stage 11: Coming together: Now you will see that not quite butter that was crumbled all over the bowl start to stick together and form into a mass. Don’t stop now, but you might want to slow things down…

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Stage 12: Is my butter bleeding?: Ok, so it’s most certainly not blood but you will start seeing milk appear in the bottom of your bowl. TURN THE MIXER WAY DOWN! Or else it will splash several feet across your counter top. The mass will start to form a nice solid lump in just a few more turns.

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Stage 13: I did it!: Congratulations, you have made butter! And as a by-product, you have also made fresh buttermilk! Which once poured off from the butter lump is delicious to drink on its own or culture into buttermilk or use for cooking. Whatever you do, don’t waste it! Find an old farmer and give it to them as a gift, they will love you and shower you with stories of turning butter with a churn by hand.


Stage 14: The washing: In order for your butter to stay rich and delicious for more than a day or two you need to wash all of the excess milk out of it. This is done by pouring off the buttermilk, and dousing the butter with clean cold water, then mashing it around with a spatula. Rinse and repeat until the water is clear. I personally take a second to dry my bowl out, add the butter back into it and give it a spin to make sure I get all the water off my butter.


Stage 15: Salting: Should you desire salted butter, I have found it easiest to add a little bit (about ¼ tsp give or take to your taste) into the mixer with my washed butter and let it spin for a few seconds.

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Stage 16: Store or eat!: You have successfully made homemade butter. You have conquered the kitchen and taken the dairy world by storm. Enjoy your reward on some fresh homemade bread, biscuits or mashed potatoes (and if you eat it right off the paddle I won’t judge). If you are storing your butter pack it into an airtight container and keep in the fridge for the longest shelf life (about 1-2 weeks). You can also freeze it if you have more than you can use quickly… That is never a problem in my house!

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Good Morning

IMG_4016.JPGWe got quite a bit of snow last night and more appears to be on its way. Right here in this moment it is beautiful (even with the babies loudly filing their complaints in the sled behind me was we work out way through morning chores).