Meat and Dairy
Perhaps the final step in completing a backyard homestead is the addition of animals for milk and meat. Surprisingly, it takes very little space to get started with raising your own meat. Although they’re most often thought of as pets, rabbits are the easiest and most efficient way to produce meat in a small space. An ordinary backyard can easily accommodate two pigs (provided the neighbors don’t mind and your town ordinances allow it), and with a quarter acre of open yard or pasture, your family could keep a couple of goats for milk or meat. You’ll need a bit more space (at least half an acre) if you’re interested in keeping a cow.
If you have the land and desire to keep animals, one way to start is with a short-term commitment. Try buying a young steer or a couple of pigs to raise for the spring and summer, then take to slaughter in late fall. This way, you can see how caring for an animal suits your lifestyle before you dive in to a years-long commitment with dairy goats or cows. And if, after you’ve had your steer for the summer, you decide that raising animals isn’t for you, you won’t be stuck trying to find a home for it.
Even if you don’t intend to keep livestock at all, this chapter contains plenty of information you can use when you’re buying local meat and milk. You can still play an active role in producing the food you put on your table. You can learn to make yogurt, butter, and several kinds of cheese. You can make your own beef jerky, smoked pork chops, sausage, and so much more.
Consider this chapter to be your introduction to backyard animals, but not the definitive guide. It wouldn’t be feasible for such a short book to cover in adequate detail everything you’d need to know in order to raise a dairy cow successfully, for instance, or to slaughter a chicken humanely. While a vegetable garden or a patch of grain can endure failure without any real harm, “failing” at animal husbandry can result in real harm to the animals. It pays to do your homework before setting out on the path to animal care. If you find yourself getting especially interested in keeping animals, consult the suggested reading list on page 345 for complete references.
Goats for Meat and Milk
Goats serve many purposes worldwide. They produce delicious milk, healthful low-fat meat, and fiber for spinning. They are excellent at brush control, and they may be used to carry camping supplies on hiking trips or hitched up to help with light chores around the yard. They are inexpensive to maintain, require simple housing, do not take up a lot of space, and are easy to handle and transport.
Scientifically, goats belong to the suborder Ruminantia — that is, they are ruminants, like cows, deer, elk, caribou, moose, giraffes, and antelopes. Ruminants are hoofed animals with four-part stomachs. Within the suborder Ruminantia, goats belong to the family Bovidae, which includes cattle, buffalo, and sheep. Of the six species of goat, one, Capra hircus, is domesticated.
One nice thing about goats is that they do not require elaborate housing. All they need is a shelter that is well ventilated but not drafty and provides protection from sun, wind, rain, and snow. You can easily convert an unused shed into a goat house. Each goat requires at least 15 square feet of space under shelter and 200 square feet outdoors. A miniature goat needs at least 10 square feet under shelter and 130 square feet outdoors. You’ll also need a sturdy fence — don’t underestimate the ability of a goat to escape over, under, or through an inadequate fence. Goats are social animals and like the company of other goats, so you’ll need at least two. If you will be breeding your goats, the herd will probably grow larger than you initially expect. Plan ahead by providing plenty of space.
Goats are opportunistic eaters, meaning they both graze pasture and browse woodland. Those that harvest at least some of their own food by grazing or browsing will cost less to maintain in hay and commercial goat ration. Each year the average dairy goat eats about 1,500 pounds of hay and 400 pounds of goat ration. Nondairy goats do well on hay and browse, with little or no ration.
Despite what you may have heard, being opportunistic eaters does not mean goats eat things like tin cans. A goat learns about new things by tasting them with its lips. Young goats like to carry things around in their mouths, as puppies do. If you see a goat with an empty can, it could be playing with it or eating the label, which, after all, is only paper made from wood. Although the goat may look cute carrying a can, it’s a bad idea to let her do so; the goat may cut her lips or tongue on the sharp rim.
Another myth is that goats are smelly. A goat is no smellier than a dog, unless you keep a breeding buck, which will smell pretty strong during the breeding season. But unless you plan to breed the does, you don’t need a buck. And even if you do plan to breed, you may find it more convenient and economical to use someone else’s buck if you have only a few does.
Parts of a Goat
Why Keep Goats?
So what’s your reward for keeping goats? If you raise dairy goats, each doe will give you about 90 quarts of delicious fresh milk every month for 10 months of the year. You and your family might drink the milk or use it to make yogurt, cheese, or ice cream. Surplus milk may be fed to chickens, pigs, calves, or orphaned livestock and wildlife.
From each meat wether (castrated buck), you will get 25 to 40 pounds of tasty, lean meat, which may be baked, fried, broiled, stewed, or barbecued. If you raise fiber goats, from each adult Angora you will get 5 to 7 pounds of mohair twice a year. From each cashmere goat, you will get just less than 1 pound of down per year.
Each doe you breed will produce one kid or more annually; some does kid twins year after year. Every day, each goat will drop a little more than 1 pound of manure, which makes good fertilizer for the garden.
More than 200 breeds of goat may be found worldwide. Each breed has characteristics that are useful to humans in different ways. Some are efficient at turning feed into milk or meat, others at turning feed into hair for spinning. Some breeds are small and produce less milk or meat than larger breeds but are easier to keep in small spaces. Your purpose in keeping goats will determine which breed is right for you.
A dairy goat is one that produces more milk than it needs to nurse its kids. In the United States, there are six main dairy breeds: Alpine, LaMancha, Nubian, Oberhasli, Saanen, and Toggenburg.
Alpine. An Alpine has a long neck and a two-tone coat, with the front end a different color from the back. A mature doe weighs at least 130 pounds and a mature buck weighs at least 170 pounds.
LaMancha. LaManchas come in many colors and are considered to be the calmest of the dairy breeds. A LaMancha is easy to recognize because it has only small ears or no visible ears at all. A mature doe weighs 130 pounds or more; a mature buck weighs 160 pounds or more.
Nubian. Nubians come in many colors and are the most energetic and active of the dairy breeds. You can tell a Nubian from any other goat by its rounded face (called a Roman nose) and long, floppy ears. A mature doe weighs 135 pounds or more; a mature buck weighs 170 pounds or more.
Oberhasli. The Oberhasli looks something like a refined deer. Its coat is bay (reddish brown) with black markings. A mature doe weighs at least 120 pounds and a mature buck weighs at least 150 pounds.
Saanen. A Saanen is all white or cream colored. A goat of this breed in any other color is called a Sable. A mature doe weighs 130 pounds or more; a mature buck weighs 170 pounds or more.
Toggenburg. A Toggenburg has white ears, white face stripes, and white legs, setting off a coat that may range in color from soft brown to deep chocolate. A mature doe weighs 120 pounds or more; a mature buck weighs 150 pounds or more.
Alpines, Oberhaslis, Saanens, and Toggenburgs are closely related and are similar in shape. They all originated in the Swiss Alps and are therefore referred to as the Swiss breeds or European breeds. These goats have upright ears and straight or slightly dished faces. They may or may not have wattles consisting of two long flaps of hair-covered skin dangling beneath their chin. These breeds thrive in cool climates.
LaManchas and Nubians, on the other hand, originated in warmer climates and are therefore grouped together as tropical or desert breeds. The Nubian originated in Africa, and the LaMancha comes from the west coast of the United States. As a general rule, both breeds are better suited to warm climates than the Swiss breeds.
A dairy goat may be born with horn buds that will eventually grow into horns. Kids with buds are usually disbudded, because mature dairy goats without horns are easier to manage and are less likely to injure their herdmates or their human handlers. If they are to be registered or shown, they are now allowed to have horns. Goats born without horns are called polled.
Traits of a Good Milker
If you buy a young female, or doeling, you can’t tell for sure how much milk she will give when she matures, but you can get a good idea by looking at her dam’s milk records. An average doe yields about 1,800 pounds, or 900 quarts, of milk per year. A doe’s dairy character gives you a fair idea of whether she will be a good milker. Characteristics of does that prove to be good milkers include the following:
• A soft, wide, round udder
• Teats that are the same size, hang evenly, and are high enough not to drag on the ground or get tangled in the doe’s legs when she walks
• A well-rounded rib cage, indicating that the doe has plenty of room for feed to fuel milk production
• A strong jaw that closes properly, so the doe has no trouble eating
• Strong, sturdy legs
• Soft skin with a smooth coat
If your dairy herd includes polled does, make certain your buck is disbudded rather than polled. The polled trait is linked to a gene for infertility; if you breed a polled buck to your polled does, half of their offspring will be incapable of reproducing.
In many countries, more goats are kept for meat than for any other purpose, and many people prefer goat meat to any other. Since slightly more than half of all goat kids are male and only a few mature bucks are needed for breeding, most young bucks are raised for meat. Surplus goats of any breed may be used for meat, but a breed developed specifically for meat puts on more muscle, and does so more rapidly, than other breeds. In the United States, two types of goat are kept primarily for meat.
Boer. The main meat breed today is the Boer goat. Boers originated in South Africa, where they were developed for their rapid growth, large size, high-quality meat, and uniformity of size, meat quality, and color. The Boer has a white coat, a brown or dark red head with a white blaze, and horns that curve backward and downward. A mature doe weighs 150 to 225 pounds; a mature buck weighs 175 to 325 pounds.
Spanish. Before Boer goats became popular in the United States during the latter part of the twentieth century, most meat goats were essentially those that were left to roam over brushy range- or forestland in the South and Southwest to keep the land cleared of brush and undergrowth. These goats are often called Spanish goats because the first feral herds were brought to this country by Spanish explorers and left behind to furnish meat for future expeditions. Because these goats vary greatly in shape and color, the term Spanish doesn’t really refer to a specific breed. Mature does weigh 80 to 100 pounds; bucks weigh 150 to 175 pounds.
Miniature goats are smaller than full-sized goats and therefore produce less milk or meat. Minis eat less, require less space, and have scaled-down housing needs that make them ideal for cold climates, where they spend a lot of time indoors. The two miniature breeds are African Pygmy and Nigerian Dwarf.
African Pygmy. Pygmies are blocky, deep, and wide, and their faces are dished. The most common color is agouti, meaning they have two-tone hairs that give the coat a salt-and-pepper look. The Pygmy has the muscular build of a meat breed. Mature does weigh 35 to 60 pounds, and mature bucks weigh 45 to 70 pounds.
Nigerian Dwarf. The Nigerian Dwarf is a miniature dairy breed. It is smaller and finer-boned than a Pygmy and has longer legs, a longer neck, and shorter, finer hair. Nigerian Dwarfs are lean and angular, with faces that are flat to slightly dished. Dwarfs come in all colors. Mature does weigh 30 to 50 pounds and mature bucks weigh 35 to 60 pounds.
The milk from minis tastes sweeter than other goat milk because it is higher in fat.
A Dwarf yields about 300 quarts, or 600 pounds, of milk per year, which is one-third the amount you would get from a regular-sized goat.
Despite its stockier build, a Pygmy doe produces about the same amount of milk as a Dwarf. The milk from miniature goats tastes sweeter than other goat milk because it is higher in fat.
Name That Meat
In the United States, most goat meat is marketed as chevon, a term coined by combining the French words chêvre (goat) and mouton (sheep) and used to describe the meat of older kids and adult goats. The pale, tender flesh of milk-fed kids is called cabrito (Spanish for “little goat”) or occasionally capretto (Italian for “little goat” and a term more commonly used in Europe, Great Britain, and Australia). Some buyers simply call it goat.
Milk from a doe that is properly cared for tastes exactly like milk from a cow. Although most people in the United States drink cow milk, around the world more people drink goat milk than cow milk.
Goat milk, like all milk, contains solids suspended or dissolved in water. Goat milk is made up of approximately 87 percent water and 13 percent solids:
• Lactose (milk sugar), which gives us energy
• Milk fat, which warms our body and gives milk its creamy, smooth texture
• Proteins, which help with growth and muscle development
• Minerals, for our general good health
Goats are milked in a milk room or milk parlor, which may be built into a corner of your dairy barn or in a separate building. Some people milk their goats in their garage or laundry room. Wherever your milk room is, it should be easy to clean and big enough to hold a milk stand and a few necessary supplies.
A milk stand, homemade or purchased from a dairy goat supplier, gives you a comfortable place to sit while you milk. At the head of the milk stand is a stanchion that locks the doe’s head in place so she can’t wander away while you are still milking her. Most people feed a doe her ration of concentrate to keep her from fidgeting during milking, but it’s better to train your does to be milked without eating. A doe that’s used to eating while she’s being milked tends to get restless if she finishes eating before you finish milking.
Keep your equipment scrupulously clean to ensure that the milk is healthful and good tasting. Every time you use any of your dairy equipment, rinse it in lukewarm (not hot) water to melt milk fat clinging to the sides. Then scrub everything with hot water mixed with liquid dish detergent and a splash of household chlorine bleach. Use a stiff plastic brush — not a dishcloth (which won’t get the equipment clean) or a scouring pad (which causes scratches where bacteria can hide). Rinse the equipment in clean water, then in dairy acid cleaner (which you can obtain from a farm or dairy supply store), then once more in clear water.
You will need the following equipment and supplies for milking.
Equipment. These items are a one-time purchase:
• Spray bottle (for teat dip)
• Strip cup
• Stainless-steel milk pail
• Dairy strainer or funnel
• Milk storage jars
• California Mastitis Test kit
• Milk scale
• Sturdy milking stand with feed cup
Supplies. These items must be replaced as you use them:
• Baby wipes
• Teat dip
• Bag Balm or Corn Huskers lotion
• Milk filters
• Chlorine bleach
• Dairy acid cleaner
• A handful of grain to entice the doe onto the stand
A milk stand may be used for hoof trimming as well as for milking.
Milking a Goat
When a doe gives birth, her body begins producing milk for her kids, a process called freshening. If the doe is a milking breed, she may give more milk than her kids need and continue to produce milk long after the kids are weaned. The amount of milk a doe gives increases for the first 4 weeks after she freshens, then levels off for about 15 weeks, after which production gradually decreases and eventually stops until the doe freshens again to start a new lactation cycle.
A doe’s milk is produced and stored in her udder. At the bottom of the udder are two teats, each with a hole at the end through which the milk squirts out. The two most important things to remember when you milk a goat are to keep her calm and not pull down on her teats, both of which can be tricky when you’re first learning. Keep the doe calm by singing or talking to her and by remaining calm yourself. Not pulling her teats takes practice. The doe will kick the milk pail if you pull a teat, pinch her with a fingernail, or pull a hair on her teat. To avoid pulling a doe’s hair during milking, and to keep hair and dirt out of the milk pail, use clippers to trim the long hairs from her udder, flanks, thighs, tail, and the back part of her belly.
To get milk to squirt from the hole, you must squeeze the teat rather than pull it. The first time you try, chances are milk will not squirt out but will instead go back up into the udder. To force the milk downward, apply pressure at the top of the teat with your thumb and index finger. With the rest of your fingers, gently squeeze the teat to move the milk downward. If you are milking a miniature goat, her tiny teats may have room for only your thumb and two fingers.
After you get out one squirt, release the pressure on the teat to let more milk flow in. Since you will be sitting on the milk stand and facing the doe’s tail, work the right teat with your left hand and the left teat with your right hand. Get a steady rhythm going by alternating right, left, right, left. Aim the stream into your pail beneath the doe’s udder. At first the milk may squirt up the wall, down your sleeve, or into your face, while the doe dances a little jig on the milk stand. Keep at it and before long you will both handle the job like pros.
How to Milk
Apply pressure with your thumb and index finger to keep the milk from going back up into the udder.
Use your remaining fingers to move the milk downward into the milk pail.
When the flow of milk stops, gently bump and massage the udder. If more milk comes down, keep milking. When the udder is empty, the teats will become soft and flat instead of firm and swollen.
If you milk more than one doe, always milk them in the same order every day, starting with the dominant doe and working your way down to the meekest. Your goats will get used to the routine and will know whose turn is next.
As you take each doe to the milk stand, brush her to remove loose hair and wipe her udder with a fresh baby wipe to remove clinging dirt. While you clean the doe’s udder, watch for signs of trouble — wounds, lumps, or unusual warmth or coolness. Squirt the first few drops of milk from each side into a cup or small bowl, called a “strip cup” because it is used to examine the first squirt or stripping. Check the stripping to see whether it is lumpy or thick, two signs of mastitis.
When you finish milking each doe, spray the teats with teat dip so bacteria can’t enter the openings. Use a brand recommended for goats — some dips used for cows are too harsh for a doe’s tender udder. In dry or cold weather, prevent chapping by rubbing the teats and udder with Bag Balm (available from a dairy supplier) or Corn Huskers lotion (available from a drugstore).
Exactly how much milk a doe produces in each cycle depends on her age, breed, ancestry, feeding, health and general well-being, and how often you milk. The more often you milk, the more milk the doe will produce. Most goat keepers milk twice a day, as close to 12 hours apart as possible. If milking twice a day gives you more milk than you can use, milk only once a day. Do it every day at about the same time. If you don’t milk regularly, your doe’s udder will bag up, or swell with milk. Bagging up signals the doe’s body that her milk is no longer needed, and the doe dries off.
Milking a large goat
Milking a miniature goat
The more often you milk, the more milk the doe will produce. Most goat keepers milk twice a day, as close to 12 hours apart as possible.
Milk sold at the grocery store is measured by volume: 1 pint, 1 quart, or ½ gallon. Milk producers measure milk by weight: pounds and tenths of a pound. One pint of water weighs approximately 1 pound, giving rise to the old saying, “A pint’s a pound the world around.” Milk also weighs approximately 1 pound per pint, although its exact weight depends on the amount of milk fat it contains, which varies by goat and by season.
During the peak of production, a good doe in her prime should give at least 8 pounds of milk (about 1 gallon) per day. She will then gradually taper off to about 2 pounds (1 quart) per day by the end of her lactation cycle. During the entire lactation, the average doe will give you about 1,800 pounds (900 quarts). A miniature doe averages one-third as much milk as a large doe.
Weighing each doe’s output helps you manage your goats properly. A sudden decrease in production may mean a doe is unhealthy, is not getting enough to eat, or is in heat.
Weigh milk by hanging the full pail from a dairy scale. A dairy scale has two indicator arms. Set the arm on the right to zero. With the empty pail hanging from the scale, set the left arm to zero. When you hang a pail of milk on the scale, the left arm automatically deducts the weight of the pail. Use the right arm to weigh other things, such as newborn kids.
If you don’t have a scale, you can keep track of each doe’s output by volume, although this method is not as accurate as weighing because fresh milk has foam on top and it’s hard to tell where the foam stops and the milk starts.
Keep a record of each doe’s milk output, noting not only the amount of milk obtained from each milking but also anything that might affect output, such as changes you’ve made in the doe’s ration, rainy weather that has kept your herd from going out to graze, or the time of day you milked (whether earlier or later than usual). At the end of each month, add up each doe’s milk output. At the end of her lactation cycle, add up each doe’s total output.
A standard cycle lasts 10 months, or 305 days. To accurately compare the annual output from each doe, or to compare the output of one doe against another, adjust production to a 305-day cycle: Divide the total output by the actual number of days in the cycle, then multiply by 305.
Milk, especially raw milk, is highly perishable and extremely delicate. Following are some simple steps that will prevent spoilage.
• Cool milk immediately after milking.
• Don’t add fresh warm milk to cold milk.
• Never expose milk to sunlight or fluorescent light.
Cooling milk immediately after milking means that it should not be left standing while you finish chores. Ideally, milk should be cooled down to 38°F (3°C) within an hour after leaving the goat. That’s quite a rapid drop when you consider that it was over 100°F (38°C) when it left the udder. Home refrigerators aren’t cold enough to cool large quantities of milk. Small containers may be cooled in the refrigerator, but anything more than a quart will not cool rapidly enough for good results unless it’s immersed in ice water. (Remember, the bottom of the refrigerator is colder than the top is.)
Don’t add fresh warm milk to cold milk. If you’re accumulating milk for cheesemaking, develop a system for rotating it, perhaps from left to right or one shelf to another, so you know which is freshest.
If you store milk in glass jars, be sure never to leave them in the sun or fluorescent light, as this will change the flavor. But, then, don’t leave a container of milk sitting out after a meal in any event. Keep it cold.
Raw Milk vs. Pasteurized
If you want to start a dandy (and sometimes heated) discussion in goat circles, just casually bring up the topic of raw milk and stand back.
For obvious reasons, most people never worry about such trifles. They just buy their jug or bag of milk and don’t ever have to think about where it came from or how it was treated. For those of us interested in simple living, however, or even just in producing our own dairy products, it’s not nearly so simple.
Here’s the problem. Milk is the “ideal” food, for animals, for humans — and for bacteria. Milk is extremely delicate. It can attract, incubate, and pass on all sorts of nasty things such as salmonella, toxoplasmosis, Q fever, listeriosis, campylobacteriosis, and others that most of us non-medical people never even hear about. In short, nature’s most healthful food can make you very sick.
The Industrial Age answer has been pasteurization — heat-treating the milk to kill or retard most of those threatening organisms. Government regulations now demand that such treatment be performed “for the public good.”
This is no doubt a wise policy, for the masses. When you pick up a jug of milk at the store, how would you know if the dairy animals were healthy, if the milker had clean hands or a runny nose, and if proper sanitation measures were taken, without such governmental intervention?
But many goat-milk drinkers raise their glasses with a different perspective. They know everything about their animals, from age and health status to medical history and what they ate since the last milking. The home milker knows exactly how the milk was handled — how clean the milking area and utensils were, how quickly the milk was cooled and to what temperature, and how long it has been stored. (Usually, it hasn’t been stored long. Most milk from the home dairy is probably consumed before commercial milk even leaves the farm, if it’s picked up only every two or three days.)
The home milker knows exactly how the milk was handled — how clean the milking area and utensils were, how quickly the milk was cooled and to what temperature, and how long it has been stored.
Under these conditions, many people who milk goats feel it isn’t necessary to go to the bother of pasteurizing their milk. Also, many people raise goats because they want raw milk. (It’s illegal to sell raw milk, goat or cow, in most states, although goat milk is often sold as “pet food” for orphaned or sickly young animals.) Some think it tastes better. And some say it’s more nutritious.
Pasteurization does have an effect on nutritive value. But raw-milk opponents claim it’s very minor and insignificant when compared to the potential dangers of untreated milk. To them those dangers are horrific: They would just as soon drink poison.
One of the potential problems raw-milk opponents often point to is campylobacteriosis, a gastrointestinal disease caused by campylobacter — a bacterium universally present in birds, including domestic poultry. Among the symptoms, which range from mild to severe, are abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and fever. Apparently, farm families who regularly drink raw milk build up an immunity. Most of the reported cases have involved farm visitors, those unused to raw milk. Raw-milk advocates point out that the incidence is very small — might as well worry about being struck by a meteorite, they say.
More serious diseases associated with raw-milk consumption are tuberculosis and undulant, or Malta, fever (called brucellosis in animals). While cattle are susceptible to tuberculosis, goats are highly resistant: They have not been implicated in tuberculosis outbreaks. And whereas undulant fever is a goat problem in some countries, including Mexico, it hasn’t been in the United States.
So, who’s right, those who oppose raw milk or those who advocate it? Probably both, in certain situations and under certain circumstances. For example, people with impaired immune systems, such as infants and the elderly, are more at risk for some of the minor diseases that can be passed from goats to humans. In general, most people who feel strongly about this issue, one way or the other, base their decisions more on emotions than on facts. Your personal decision will very likely depend on your psychological makeup: how you regard science and medicine in general, for example, or your attitude toward natural or organic foods, or whether or not you fasten your seat belt.
If you decide to pasteurize your milk, all it involves is heating it to 165°F (74°C) for 15 seconds. Home-size pasteurizers are available. (Do not use a microwave, as some people suggest. Dairy scientists have proved that it doesn’t work.) And if you prefer raw milk but want an extra measure of safety, have your goats tested for tuberculosis, brucellosis, and campylobacter. And be sure to practice scrupulous sanitation.
Milk gets its sweet taste from the complex sugar lactose. For your body to digest lactose, it needs the enzyme lactase to break down the lactose into two simple sugars: glucose and galactose. About 75 percent of all adults are lactase deficient. They cannot digest lactose, and when they ingest it, the result is bloating, cramps, gas, nausea, and diarrhea. The problem may be resolved by taking a lactase concentrate, available at most drugstores. Fermentation reduces lactose content by as much as 50 percent, so if you have a problem drinking milk because of lactose intolerance, you may not have a problem eating yogurt.
Not all problems associated with milk are caused by lactase deficiency. About 5 percent of the population is allergic to milk protein. In children, symptoms of milk protein allergy are eczema and digestive problems, including diarrhea, vomiting, and colic. In adults, milk protein allergy causes a feeling of being bloated and gassy. Since the protein in goat milk is not the same as the protein in cow milk, someone who is sensitive to cow milk protein may have no trouble drinking goat milk. Besides having a different protein makeup, goat milk has proportionally more small fat globules, making it easier to digest than cow milk and therefore leaving less undigested residue in the stomach to cause gas and cramps.
Goat Milk vs. Cow Milk
Goat milk does not taste any different from cow milk. It doesn’t look appreciably different. It’s somewhat whiter, because it doesn’t contain the carotene that gives a yellow tinge to the fat in cow milk. (Goats convert all carotenes into vitamin A.) It is not richer. It certainly does not smell; if it does, something’s wrong.
Most goat raisers enjoy serving products of their home dairy to skeptical friends and neighbors. The reaction is invariably, “Why, it tastes just like cow’s milk!”
People who are accustomed to regular standardized milk (milk that has butterfat removed to just barely meet minimum requirements) or who drink skim milk are prone to comment on the “richness” of goat milk. They’d say the same thing about real cow milk if they had the opportunity to taste it before the cream was separated from it. As with cow milk, the percentage of butterfat — the source of the richness — varies with breed, stage of lactation, feed, and age. But generally, there is virtually no difference in taste or richness between whole, fresh cow milk and goat milk.
Whole and Skimmed Milk
After goat milk has been refrigerated for a day or two, its milk fat rises to the surface. Milk fat thinned with a little milk is cream. The milk fat content of goat milk ranges from 2 to 6 percent, depending on genetics, diet, and other factors. An average of 4 percent will give you about 5 tablespoons of milk fat per quart. The milk from Nubians and African Pygmies contains more fat than other milk, and the milk from all does varies in fat content during the lactation cycle. Milk fat content is important in making ice cream, butter, and certain kinds of cheese.
If you are trying to limit the amount of fat in your diet, you may remove the milk fat to create skimmed milk. Store fresh milk in a widemouthed container. In about two days, most of the milk fat will rise to the surface, and you can then skim it off.
Someone who is sensitive to cow milk protein may have no trouble at all drinking goat milk.
Sheep for Meat and Milk
For thousands of years, people have raised sheep for three critical reasons: milk, meat, and wool. Of course, other barnyard animals are also able to provide humankind with these items, but sheep have many advantages.
They are much easier to handle than other farm animals, such as cows, horses, and pigs. Moreover, they require little room, they’re fairly easy to care for, and they can be trained to follow, come when called, and stand quietly.
Sheep are also earth-friendly. Land that cannot be used to grow vegetables, fruits, or grains is fine for sheep. They eat weeds, grasses, brush, and other plants that grow on poor land, and their digestive system is designed to handle parts of food plants such as corn, rice, and wheat that people cannot eat. Many of the world’s most popular cheeses are made from sheep milk. Sheep wool, which can be used to make rugs, blankets, clothing, and other materials, is a renewable resource. Sheep manure fertilizes soil. The fat of a sheep raised for meat can be used to make candles and soap, and the pelt of that sheep can be used to make clothing.
Sheep rely on their owners for food, protection from predators, and regular shearing, but they require less special equipment and housing than any other livestock. One or two lambs or ewes can be raised in a backyard with simple fencing and a small shelter. No sheep should be raised alone. They have a built-in social nature and a flocking instinct and are happiest when they have companions. Bummer (orphaned) lambs, however, are often just as happy around humans as they are with other sheep. Orphaned lambs quickly become attached to the person who feeds them.
Sheep don’t need fancy food. In summer, they can live on grass; in winter, they can eat hay supplemented with small amounts of grain. Fresh water, salt, and a mineral and vitamin supplement complete their diet.
Choosing a Breed
If you want to raise sheep, you’ll need to know which breeds have the characteristics that are most important for your purposes. The climate in your region will also help you determine which is the best breed for you. If you live in an area with severe winters, choose a breed that can survive in cold weather. If you live in a wet area, look for a breed that tolerates rainy weather. If you live in a desert-like area, you will want a breed that is adapted to hot, dry climates. Look around and see what breeds of sheep are being raised locally — these breeds may also be the best ones for you.
Sheep come in so many breeds that it would take a whole book to describe them all. This section describes some of the most popular breeds, as well as a few minor ones. If you keep in mind your reasons for owning sheep, these brief descriptions will help you decide which breeds are right for you.
Columbia. Columbias are large animals that produce heavy, dense fleece and fast-growing lambs. Columbias have a calm temperament and are easy to handle. They have an open, white face and are polled.
White face and black face. These terms describe the color of the wool on the sheep’s head and face. Normally, the wool on the lower legs is the same color as that on the face.
Open face and closed face. These terms are used to describe how much long wool is on the sheep’s face. An open-faced sheep has only short, hairlike wool on its face. A closed-faced sheep has long wool on its face. On a closed-faced sheep, the wool may grow all the way down to the animal’s nose. Too much wool around the eyes causes the sheep to become “wool blind.” The excess wool must be clipped away so that the animal can see.
Prick ear or lop ear. Just as a German shepherd’s ears stand up and those of a cocker spaniel hang down, a sheep’s ears can stand straight up (prick ear) or hang floppily down (lop ear). Some sheep’s ears even stand out to the side.
Polled or horned. Polled sheep have no horns and horned sheep have horns.
Open and black face
Closed and white face
Corriedale. Corriedales, noted for their long, productive lives, are distributed worldwide. These large, gentle-tempered sheep have been developed as dual-purpose animals, offering both quality wool and quality meat. A strong herding instinct makes them excellent range animals, as well. They have an open, white face and are polled.
Dorset. The Dorset is considered one of the best choices for a first sheep. Dorsets are medium-sized and have a very gentle disposition. A Dorset has very little wool on its face, legs, and belly, which makes lambing easier. Its face is usually open, and it is white on both the face and the legs. Both polled and horned types are available.
Dorsets are a fine choice for both wool and meat. Their lightweight fleece is excellent for handspinning, and they have large, muscular bodies and gain weight fast. Dorset ewes are good mothers, and Dorsets are one of the few breeds that can lamb in late summer or fall.
Hampshire. The Hampshire is among the largest of the meat types, and the lambs grow fast. Its face is partially closed; the wool extends about halfway down. It has a black face and legs and is polled. Hampshires have a gentle temperament that makes them popular with children.
Common Sheep Breeds
Katahdin. This breed of sheep is an easy-to-raise meat sheep that has hair instead of wool. It does not require shearing, because it sheds its hair coat once a year. Katahdins can tolerate extremes of weather. Except for the fact that Katahdins do not produce wool, they possess all of the ideal traits for a pet or small flock: They are gentle, with a mild temperament; require no shearing; have few problems with lambing; are excellent mothers; and have a natural resistance to parasites. They have an open, white face and are polled.
Polypay. Large and gentle tempered, Polypays are a superior lamb-production breed with a high rate of twinning, a long breeding season, and good mothering ability. They are also known for having strong flocking instincts, quality meat and wool, and milking ability. They have an open, white face and are polled.
Romney. Like other gentle-tempered sheep breeds, Romneys make excellent pets. They are polled and have an open, white face; black points (noses and hooves); and a long, soft fleece that is ideal for hand-spinning. They also produce good market lambs. Romney ewes are quiet, calm mothers. Romneys are best suited to cool, wet areas.
Suffolk. Suffolks are similar to Hampshires. They, too, are large and have fast-growing lambs. They have an open, black face (unlike the Hampshire’s partially closed face) and are polled. Suffolks are usually gentle, but some can be headstrong and difficult for younger children to manage.
Tunis. Around for more than 3,000 years, the Tunis is one of the oldest sheep breeds. It is considered a minor breed because relatively few Tunis can be found in the United States. They are medium sized, hardy, docile, and very good mothers. The reddish tan hair that covers their legs and closed faces is an unusual color for sheep. They have long, broad, free-swinging lop ears and are polled. Their medium-heavy fleece is popular for hand-spinning. The Tunis thrives in a warm climate, and the rams can breed in very hot weather. The ewes often have twins, produce a good supply of milk, and breed for much of their life span.
Proper Sheep Conformation
Heritage, Rare, and Minor Breeds
The breeds that have fallen out of favor with industrialized agriculture are referred to as rare, heritage, or minor breeds. Many of these breeds were major breeds just a generation or two ago, but as agriculture has focused on maximum production regardless of an animal’s constitution, these old-fashioned breeds have begun to die out. The loss of heritage breeds can have an especially grave impact on homesteaders, who are usually interested in low-input (less work on the part of the farmer) agriculture. These breeds, although not the most productive in an industrialized system, have traits that make them well suited to low-input farming. Some are dual-purpose, able to produce both meat and fiber. Others are acclimatized to regional environments, such as hot and humid or dry and cool conditions. Many perform well on pasture with little or no supplemental feeding. Others resist disease and parasites. Some have such strong mothering skills that the farmer doesn’t have to do much work during lambing season.
Interest today in preserving heritage breeds of livestock, including sheep, is increasing. A driving force in this movement is the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). For more information about heritage breeds of sheep, contact the ALBC (see Resources, page 340).
Lamb meat is delicate and tender; the meat from older animals, called mutton, can be used like ground beef.
Culling and Butchering
If you breed sheep, eventually you’ll have to cull the flock to improve your stock. Keep the best ewe lambs to replace less productive older ewes. Butcher all ram lambs, unless you intend to raise a breeding ram for your own use or to sell. Unneeded lambs should be butchered at five to six months of age.
When evaluating older ewes for culling, consider age, productivity, and general health. Cull the following types of older ewe:
• Ewes with defective udders
• Ewes with a broken mouth (teeth missing)
• Limping sheep that do not respond to regular trimming and footbaths
• Ewes with insufficient milk and slow-growing lambs
Lamb meat is delicate and tender; the meat from older animals, called mutton, can be ground and used like ground beef. However, mutton is easier to digest than beef is, which makes it a good meat for people who have gastrointestinal difficulties.
You can either take your sheep to a custom packing plant to be slaughtered and butchered or do it yourself. If you want to do it yourself, consult a good manual (see Resources, page 340).
If you’re going to work with packers, you’ll have to give them some instructions. Consider these guidelines:
• Cut off the lower part of hind legs for soup bones.
• For mutton, have both hind legs smoked for hams.
• For lambs, the hind legs can be left whole, as in the traditional leg of lamb, or cut into sirloin roasts and leg chops.
• The loin, from either mutton or lamb, can be cut as tenderloin into boneless cutlets or as a loin roast.
• Package riblets, spare ribs, and breast meat into 2-pound packages. Rib-lets, which are sometimes referred to as short ribs, are almost inedible when prepared by most cooking methods, but when prepared in a pressure cooker for about 45 minutes, with 1 inch of water, barbecue sauce, curry sauce, or your favorite marinade in the bottom to start, they are a real delicacy. For lambs, the spareribs and breast can be barbecued or braised. For mutton, these cuts are pretty much waste products.
• For mutton, have the rest boned, trimmed of fat, and ground. Double-wrap in 1-pound packages.
• For lamb, the rack, or rib area, can be cut into lamb chops or left as rack roast. The shoulder can be cut into roasts or chops, and the neck and shank can be used as soup bones.
• If you want kabob meat, make sure to have it cut from the sirloin or loin.
Cattle for Milk and Meat
Raising cattle, a milk cow, or even just a calf or two can be a profitable and satisfying experience. Cattle are an efficient way to produce food because they can graze on land that won’t grow crops and can eat roughage that humans can’t.
They can mow the hillside behind your house that is too steep for a garden or survive on a back forty that has too much brush, rocks, or swamp to grow any crop other than grass. Cattle provide us with meat or milk while keeping weeds trimmed, which is a good measure for fire control and yields a neater landscape.
Moreover, getting set up to raise cattle often does not involve much expense, except for the initial fencing to keep them where you want them. And if you don’t want to bother with purchasing hay and grain, you can use weaned calves to harvest your grass during the growing season, then send them for butchering when the grass is gone — thus making seasonal use of pasture and creating a “harvest” of meat.
Raising cattle can also be a soul-satisfying experience. They are fascinating and entertaining animals; working with cattle is never boring. It can be physically challenging at times, as when delivering a calf in a difficult birth and trying to catch an elusive animal. But for those who enjoy raising cattle, the chores of caring for them are not really work. Their interaction with these animals is part of their enjoyment of life.
What Do I Need to Raise Cattle?
You can raise a steer in your backyard in a corral or on a small acreage, or you can raise a herd of cattle on a large pasture, on crop stubble after harvest, or on steep rocky hillsides. Cattle can be fed hay and grain or can forage for themselves. Economics and individual circumstances will dictate your methods. If you have pasture, all you’ll need is proper fencing to keep the animals in, so they won’t trample your flower beds or visit the neighbors.
You will need a reliable source of water and a pen to corral the animals when they need to be handled for vaccinations and other management procedures. If you have a milk cow, you may want a little run-in shed or at least a roof, so you can milk her out of the weather if it’s raining or snowing. Most of the time, cattle don’t need shelter; their heavy hair coat insulates them against wind, rain, and cold. In hot climates, however, shade in summer is important. A simple roof with one or two walls can provide shade in summer and protection from wind and storm in winter.
The novice cattle raiser may also need advice from time to time from a veterinarian, cattle breeder or dairyman, or the county Extension Service agent. Don’t be afraid to contact an experienced person to ask questions or to request help.
Cattle provide us with meat or milk while keeping weeds trimmed.
Choosing the Right Kind of Animal
Your choice of calf will depend on how much space you have and what your goals are. Do you want to raise a steer to butcher or sell for beef or a heifer that will grow up to be a cow? A calf can be raised in a small area, even in your backyard, if your town’s ordinances permit livestock. But if your goal is to have a cow that someday will have a calf of her own, she’ll need more room.
If you are raising a calf to sell, you should probably raise a steer. Steers weigh more than heifers of the same age and bring more money per pound when sold. However, heifers are more flexible — you can raise them as beef or keep them as dairy animals. Dairy heifers are worth more money than beef cattle when they mature. If you want to eventually raise a small herd of cattle, choose a heifer to start with. Her calves will become your herd.
Bull. When a male calf is born, he is considered a bull because he still has male reproductive organs. Most bulls are castrated and become steers. Only the best males are kept as bulls for breeding. A commercial herd may contain no bull calves. A rancher may buy all his bulls from a purebred breeder and not raise any of his own.
Steer. A bull becomes a steer when he is castrated. The steer may still have a small scrotum or his scrotum may be entirely gone, depending on the method used to castrate him. Beef calves are sold as steers.
Heifer. A heifer is a young female animal. Between her hind legs, she has an udder with teats on it that will grow as she matures. A bull or steer calf also has small teats, just as a boy has nipples, but they don’t become large. A heifer’s vulva is located under her tail, below the rectal opening. The female animal is called a heifer until she is older than two years and has had a calf. After this point, she is called a cow.
Bull (intact male)
Steer (castrated male)
Heifer (unbred female under two years old)
Cow (female over two years old that has given birth)
Choosing a Dairy Breed
Why raise dairy cattle? Perhaps you want to keep a heifer as a family milk cow or start your own dairy herd. Or maybe you want to raise a dairy heifer to sell. A good young milk cow is worth more than a beef cow; a dairy cow can make more money producing milk than a beef cow can make by producing beef calves.
You can be successful with any of the dairy breeds, but you may want to choose one that is popular in your area, especially if you want to sell your heifers.
Ayrshire. These cattle are red and white. The red can be any shade and is sometimes dark brown. The spots are usually jagged at the edges. Cows are medium sized, weighing 1,200 pounds; bulls weigh 1,800 pounds. Cows are noted for their good udders, long lives, and hardiness. They manage well without pampering, and they give rich, white milk.
A top-producing dairy cow gives enough milk in one day to supply an average family for a month. The average milk cow produces 6 gallons a day (96 glasses of milk). A world-record dairy cow can produce 60,000 pounds of milk per year — that’s 120,000 glasses of milk!
Brown Swiss. Brown Swiss are light or dark brown or gray. Cows weigh 1,400 pounds and bulls weigh 1,900. Brown Swiss are noted for their sturdy ruggedness and long lives. They give milk with high butterfat and protein content.
Guernsey. Guernseys are fawn and white, with yellow skin. The cows weigh 1,100 to 1,200 pounds; bulls weigh 1,700 pounds. Guernsey cows have a good disposition and few problems with calving. Their milk is yellow in color and rich in butter fat. Heifers mature early and breed quickly.
Holstein. Holstein cattle are black and white or red and white. They are large: Cows weigh 1,500 pounds and bulls weigh 2,000 pounds. A Holstein calf weighs about 90 pounds at birth. The cows produce large volumes of milk that is low in butterfat. Holsteins are the most numerous dairy breed in the United States.
Jersey. Jerseys are fawn colored or cream, mouse gray, brown, or black, with or without white markings. The tail, muzzle, and tongue are usually black. They are small cattle: Cows weigh 900 to 1,000 pounds and bulls weigh 1,500. Jerseys calve easily and mature quickly and are noted for their fertility. Jerseys produce more milk per pound of body weight than any other breed, and their milk is the richest in butterfat.
Milking Shorthorn. These cattle are red, red and white, white, or roan (a mix of red and white hair). Cows are large, weighing 1,400 to 1,600 pounds; bulls weigh 2,000 pounds or more. They are hardy, noted for long lives and easy calving. Their milk is richer than that of Holsteins but is not as high in butterfat as that of Jerseys or Guernseys.
Choosing a Beef Breed
Beef breeds in the United States are descendants of cattle imported from the British Isles, European countries, or India. Many modern breeds are mixes of these imported breeds. The first cattle came here from Spain, but they were soon outnumbered by British cattle.
British breeds are those that originated in England, Scotland, and Ireland.
Angus. Angus cattle are black or red and genetically polled (always born hornless). Smaller and finer boned than Herefords, Angus are known for ease in calving because they give birth to small calves. This characteristic makes them popular for crossbreeding with larger, heavily muscled cattle. Angus are noted for early maturity, marbling of meat, and motherliness. Angus cows are aggressive in protecting their calves and give more milk than Herefords.
Dexter. Dexters are probably the smallest cattle in the world and are used for milk and beef. The average cow weighs less than 750 pounds and is only 36 to 42 inches tall at the shoulder. Bulls weigh less than 1,000 pounds and are 38 to 44 inches tall. Dexter cattle are quiet and easy to handle, and the cows give rich milk.
Galloway. Galloways are hardy and have a heavy winter coat. Galloway cows live a long time and often produce calves until 15 to 20 years of age. The calves are born easily because they are small, but they grow fast. Most Galloways are black, but some are red, brown, white (with black ears, muzzle, feet, and teats), or belted (black with a white midsection). All Galloways are polled.
Parts of a Beef Animal
Hereford. The Hereford is well known for its red body and white face. The feet, belly, flanks, crest (top of neck), and tail switch are white. Other characteristics of the Hereford are large frame and good bone (heavier bones than those of many breeds). The Hereford has a mellow disposition compared with that of the Angus or some Continental breeds.
The Polled Hereford is identical to the Hereford except that it has no horns.
Scotch Highland. These cattle are small, with long, shaggy hair and impressive horns. These hardy cattle do well in cold weather. Their shaggy coats provide protection from insects, and their long forelocks protect their eyes from flies.
Shorthorn. Shorthorn cows have good udders and give a lot of milk. They have few problems with calving. Even though the calves are born small, they grow big quickly. Shorthorn cattle can be red, roan, white, or red-and-white spotted.
Continental (European) Breeds
Many European beef breeds are raised in the United States. They have become especially popular over the past few decades, adding size and muscle (and sometimes more milk) to crossbred herds in this country.
Charolais. Charolais are white, thick-muscled cattle. Cattlemen in the United States like Charolais for crossbreeding because they are larger than the British breeds.
British Beef Breeds
Chianina. Chianina are the largest cattle in the world. They are white in color. Due to their size and color, they make impressive oxen.
Gelbvieh. Gelbvieh cattle are light tan to golden in color. The calves grow fast, and the heifers mature more quickly than heifers of most other Continental breeds.
Limousin. The Limousin is a red, well-muscled breed. Cattlemen like the Limousin’s moderate size and abundance of lean muscle. The small calves are born easily and grow fast.
Continental Beef Breeds
Salers. Salers cattle are horned and dark red. They are popular in the United States for cross-breeding because of their good milking ability, fertility, ease of calving, and hardiness.
Simmental. Simmentals are yellow-brown cattle with white markings. They are known for rapid growth and good milk production.
Tarentaise. The Tarentaise is a breed of red cattle with dark ears, nose, and feet. They are moderate-sized animals that are used for milk and meat. They reach maturity early and have good fertility.
Other Continental Breeds. Many other Continental breeds are available in the United States today, such as Maine Anjou, Pinz gauer, Piedmontese, Braun-vieh, Normandy, and Romagnola. In general, Continental cattle are larger, leaner, and slower to mature than the British breeds.
Breeds from Near and Far
Some of the beef cattle breeds in the United States originated in places other than the British Isles and Europe.
Brahman. Brahman cattle, which originated in India, are easily recognized by the large hump over the neck and shoulders, loose floppy skin on the dewlap and under the belly, large droopy ears, and horns that curve up and back. They come in a variety of colors. Brahmans do well in the southern part of North America because they can withstand heat and are resistant to ticks and other hot-climate insects. They are large cattle, but the calves are small at birth and grow rapidly because the cows give lots of rich milk.
Murray Grey. The Murray Grey is a silver-gray breed from Australia. Murray Greys are gaining popularity in the United States because of their moderate size, gentle disposition, and fast-growing calves. The calves are small at birth but often grow to 700 pounds by weaning.
Texas Longhorn. The Texas Longhorn is descended from wild cattle left by early Spanish settlers in the Southwest. Long-horns are moderately sized and are well known for ease of calving, hardiness, long life, and good fertility.
Brahmans do well in the South because they can withstand hot temperatures.
Beef Breeds from Near and Far
Beef cattle can graze on land that won’t grow crops. More than 90 percent of the 810 million acres of cow pasture in the United States is too rough and steep, too dry, too wet, or too high to grow food crops. Raising beef cattle is a good way to use these lands to create food.
Crossbreeding is a useful tool for the beef producer. There are nearly 100 cattle breeds in the United States. Cattle men often cross them to create unique cow herds with the traits they want. For example, cattle are raised in a wide variety of environments, from lush green pastures to dry deserts and steep mountains. Each farmer or rancher tries to create a type of cow that will do well and raise good calves in his or her situation. No single breed offers all the traits that are important to beef production.
The most effective genetic advantage in cattle breeding is hybrid vigor, which results when two animals that are different mate. Hybrid vigor — displayed by the offspring of such parents — increases the fertility, milk production, and life span of cows and the robustness and health of young calves. With careful crossbreeding, the rancher can develop crossbred cows that will do better than the parent breeds. Good crossbred females make the best beef cows.
Well-marbled meat comes from cattle that have reached puberty.
Composite cattle are created from different breeds that have been blended into a uniform type of crossbreed. Several composites have been created in the past few decades, and new ones are being formed all the time. Nearly every breed registered today began as a composite. Brangus, Santa Gertrudis, and Beefmaster are examples of successful composites. More recent blends are the Hays Converter (a Canadian breed made up of several beef breeds combined with Holstein, a dairy breed) and the RX3 (a blend of Hereford, Red Angus, and Holstein).
Butchering a Beef
If you’re raising a calf to butcher, you will probably want to let it grow to good size. Some folks like baby beef (from a calf at weaning age), but if you have enough pasture to raise your calf through its second summer, you will get a lot more meat for your money by letting it grow bigger. The ideal age at which to butcher a steer or a heifer is 1½ to 2 years. At that age, the animal is young enough to be tender and is nearly as large as it will get. Butchering at the end of summer or in the fall, before you have to feed hay again during winter, makes the grass-fed beef animal economical to raise.
The breed of the animal can be a factor in determining when it is ready to butcher. Beef animals generally do not marble until they reach puberty (or in the case of a steer, the age at which he would have reached puberty if he had been a bull). Different breeds mature at different ages. Angus and Angus-cross cattle often reach puberty at a younger age (and a smaller weight) than do larger-framed cattle, such as Simmental, Charolais, and Limousin.
An Angus-type beef calf may finish faster and be ready to butcher when it is a yearling or a little older. If you feed it longer, it may not get much bigger, just fatter. A Simmental calf, in contrast, may still be growing and not fill out (carry enough flesh to be in good butchering condition) until it is at least two years old.
Thus, the ideal age at which to butcher your beef animal depends on its breed and on whether it is grass fed or grain fed. Cattle will grow faster and finish more quickly on grain, but at greater cost. Whether you feed grain depends on personal preference (some people prefer grain-fed beef to grass-finished beef, and vice versa) and your situation. If you have lots of pasture, raising grass-fed beef is usually most economical.
You can take cattle to a custom packing plant to be slaughtered and butchered or you can do the butchering yourself. (See Resources, page 340, for recommended reading.)
Most folks start thinking about hog ownership as a way to provide quality meat for the family table at moderate cost. When you raise your own hogs, you select them, feed them to an exact slaughter weight, and direct the processing.
Feeding out a hog for slaughter is finishing a hog. This gives you an assurance of quality and wholesomeness that you can have in no other way. And along with quality control, there is much that you as a home finisher can do to contain costs. Granted, a pig is not all chops, but when it is raised and processed to order, you can expect to maximize the cuts and quality you and your family prefer in meat and meat products.
So where do you begin? Chances are you’ll start with one or two feeder pigs — young pigs between 40 and 70 pounds — which you’ll feed out to market weight. A 40- to 50-pound feeder pig should reach a harvest weight of 240 to 260 pounds in 120 days or so. If you’re getting started in cold or wet weather, look for a pig that’s closer to 70 pounds; a larger pig will be better able to cope with harsh conditions. Like many other herd animals, pigs are much more content when they’re raised in groups, so you might consider raising two pigs instead of one.
Although they’re often portrayed as living garbage disposals, pigs are healthier and produce better meat when they’re fed a balanced ration and are given food scraps only as a supplement. Amazingly, a healthy young pig will eat roughly 3 percent of its body weight in food every day, amounting to 10 to 12 bushels of corn and 125 to 150 pounds of protein supplement.
Thinking about Space
One of the first things to consider is where you’ll raise the pigs. Some small-scale hog producers finish their pigs in small “finishing units.” These buildings are made up of two parts: a small house and a slatted, floored pen fronting it (the “pig patio” or “sunporch”). The house provides shelter in inclement weather and keeps hogs off the ground, which eliminates or reduces mud and, in the process, keeps parasites in check. The slatted pen allows wastes to work through the floor and away from the hogs.
Other pig owners prefer to keep their hogs on the ground. If this is your choice, you’ll need to provide at least 150 square feet of pen space per pig to keep mud problems from developing. In very wet, low areas, that space amount may have to be tripled. Hog lots become muddy not from the rooting activity of the pigs, which can be controlled with the use of humane nose rings, but from excessive foot traffic and those sharp, pointed hooves. You’ll still need a house for shelter (since it will be the animals’ only dry retreat in wet or raw weather), not to mention fencing made of hog panels or electric wire.
Hogs in the Garden
Letting pigs into the garden may sound like a recipe for disaster, but not if they’re put there with a plan. Where space permits, many pig owners will maintain two separate (often adjacent) garden plots; one will be used for a season and the other will be left fallow. In the fallow plot will go a small hut and one or two growing shoats (young pigs). Their rooting activities will improve soil tilth and help turn under any crop residues, and their wastes will enrich the soil. Spent bedding from the hut can be thrown out for them to work into the garden soil, also. A pig patio can be set up adjacent to the garden, so that spoiled vegetables, spent plants, and other garden wastes can be thrown into the pen as a boost to the pigs’ ration.
Tips for Buying Feeder Pigs
• The greatest variety and highest quality of pigs is available in the 40- to 60-pound weight range.
• Crossbred pigs are generally more vigorous and faster growing than purebreds.
• Male pigs should be castrated and healed.
• Buy pigs that have been treated for internal and external parasites.
• Buy pigs that are well past the stress and strain of weaning.
• Bear in mind that while females (gilts) may grow more slowly than barrows (males), they will generally produce leaner carcasses and can be pushed harder with more nutrient-dense rations.
Pig raising is simplest and most efficient in climates without great extremes in temperature or precipitation. The grow-out period will normally be between 90 and 120 days, depending on the starting weight of the pig or pigs, and can usually be fit into the spring or fall season to avoid the weather extremes of a Missouri summer or a Maine winter. Small producers with simple facilities following a seasonal plan of production can realize two litters per sow per year without taxing their time or resources. And it is reasonable to expect those litters to have a weaning average of eight or nine good pigs.
Traits of Popular Breeds
Modern Swine Breeds
The three most popular breeds of swine in the United States now are the Duroc, Hampshire, and Yorkshire. They and their crosses are the backbone of the pork industry. Their development and preservation was the loving work of generations of small and midsize family farmers.
A distinction of sorts is now made between colored and white breeds of swine. The colored breeds are noted for their vigor, faster yet leaner growth, and meatier carcasses. The white breeds, on the other hand, are strong in the traits needed for successful pig raising. They milk better than do colored breeds and, as a group, tend to farrow larger litters. They also have the docile nature you need when you are raising and weaning large litters.
Other swine breeds found in the United States are termed minor breeds, and sad to say, some of them have to be considered truly endangered. They are a valuable group because they include some of the hardiest of all swine genetics and are often among the leanest of the purebreds. Some of these are the Tamworth, a light red breed of English origin with erect ears; the Wessex, a hardy black-and-white breed with drooping ears; and the Hereford, a red-and-white-patterned breed (like the Hereford breed of cattle) with drooping ears and a slightly smaller frame.
Breeds of Pig
Today’s hog breeds can be fed out to as much as 260 pounds and still have quite lean and high-yielding carcasses. A hog will normally yield about 70 percent of its liveweight in pork and pork products. A family of four people may find that feeding out two hogs a year will fit their needs: one pig for slaughter in late winter and another for the fall.
With your hog fed out to the desired weight, the next step is the harvest, or slaughtering process. As with any large animal, this is a process that requires a certain level of skill to be accomplished quickly, cleanly, and humanely. For backyard hog raisers, perhaps the best solution is to find a nearby slaughter house (consider how the hog will be transported) or an experienced local butcher.
Primal cuts are large cuts that are often transported to butcher shops for further butchering and sale. There are seven primal cuts in the halved hog carcass:
1. The leg, which is comparable to the round in beef and produces boneless leg, ham, and ham steaks
2. The loin, which can produce blade chops, loin chops, butterfly chops, country-style ribs, back ribs, Canadian-style bacon, loin roasts, and tenderloin
3. The side pork, which yields the bacon
4. The spareribs, which yield both ribs and salt pork
5. The Boston shoulder, from which can come pork cubes, Boston roasts, and shoulder rolls
6. The picnic shoulder, which yields roasts and steaks, ground pork, and sausage
7. The jowl, which can be cured for seasoning meat or sliced like bacon
No single carcass can produce all of the above meats, but the beauty of home processing is that you can give over as much of the carcass as possible to your family’s favorite cuts.
In the United States, rabbits are mostly raised as pets or for show. However, the culinary traditions of many other countries often include rabbit as a mainstay, and raising rabbits is a strong backyard industry. If you’re interested in raising animals for meat on a small property, rabbits may be one of your best options.
First of all, they take up less space than any other kind of meat-producing animal and are relatively inexpensive to feed. Rabbit meat is tender and mild, not to mention higher in protein and lower in fat than chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, or pork. Because they reproduce . . . well, like rabbits . . . it’s possible to raise as many as 16 kits (baby rabbits) to harvest weight each year after starting from just one pair.
Rabbits have other uses on the backyard homestead in addition to producing meat. Fur is another product that can be used or sold for profit after the rabbit is butchered. Rabbit droppings are an excellent fertilizer for the vegetable garden; try situating the rabbit hutches nearby to making transporting waste a bit easier.
Choosing a Breed
Worldwide, there are 25 species of rabbits. Wild rabbits native to North America include the eastern cotton-tail, the desert cottontail, and the marsh rabbit. Tame rabbits that are raised in North America as pets and for fur and meat are descended from wild European rabbits.
Selecting a breed is probably the most important decision you will make. Your choice of breed affects many things, such as the size of the cage you will need and when you should first breed young rabbits. Research each of the breeds you’re considering so you can choose the one that best suits you.
Crossbred rabbits, which are rabbits that have more than one breed in their family background, are appealing and readily available. However, it’s best to begin with purebred rabbits. Pure-bred rabbits may cost more than crossbred rabbits, but they have many advantages that soon make up for the difference in price:
• A crossbred rabbit costs just as much to house and feed as a purebred.
• If you plan to breed and sell rabbits, purebred young bring a better sale price. You can therefore soon make up the difference in the initial cost of your parent stock (the mother and father).
• If you want to show your rabbits — and showing is fun! — purebred rabbits will qualify to exhibit at more shows.
If you are interested in raising rabbits for meat production, consider the large breeds, which weigh from 9 to 11 pounds when mature. Large breeds generally convert feed to meat at a profitable rate, and they yield an ideal fryer — 4 or more pounds — at eight weeks of age, the preferred age for culling. Although not all large breeds are ideal for meat production, the following popular breeds are worth looking into.
Californian. The Californian is an outstanding meat breed. It is white with black coloring on the feet, tail, ears, and nose.
Champagne D’Argent. One of the oldest rabbit breeds, this silver-colored rabbit is born completely black and gradually turns silver as it matures. The breed is well regarded for both its meat and its fur.
Florida White. Although the Florida White weighs only 4 to 6 pounds, it is a good meat rabbit. The Florida White was created in the United States.
New Zealand. This breed has long been a top-quality meat producer. Although the breed comes in three color varieties — red, white, and black — the white variety has proved most popular for serious rabbit-meat-producing businesses. New Zealands are known for their full, well-muscled bodies and their ability to become market-ready fryers (4 to 5 pounds liveweight) by eight weeks of age. The New Zealand White is also an excellent fur breed.
High-Protein, Low-Calorie Rabbit
Palomino. The Palomino combines an attractive color with a body type that is well suited for meat production. Like the Florida White, the Palomino was developed in the United States. The breed is available in two colors: golden and lynx.
Processing and Preserving Meat
This section covers general procedures for freezing and gives basic methods for curing, smoking, and sausage making. The directions are only examples of techniques. Collect as many recipes for preserving and sausage making as you can, and vary the basic ones given here to suit your taste.
Freezing is a method of preserving or storing food in a frozen state during which the growth activity of bacteria, molds, yeasts, and enzymes is slowed down or stopped. During freezing, water in meat is transformed into ice crystals.
Contrary to popular belief, freezing does not kill all bacteria; bacteria will begin growing again after meat is thawed. Also contrary to general opinion, freezing does not improve the quality of meat; it may temporarily (for up to four to eight
weeks of freezing) improve its tenderness, however.
Certain requirements must be met if meat is to be frozen properly; any attempts to ignore them only court failure. Meat must be wrapped in airtight containers — ones that are moisture-, odor-, and vapor-proof. Here’s why:
• Moisture (ice crystals) in meat that is allowed to dry out will result in freezer burn.
• Vapors from outside sources must not be allowed to enter the meat and add to moisture already in it.
• Natural meat odors must not be allowed to enter other products in the freezer, and odors from other products should not be allowed to enter the meat.
Getting Started with Freezing Meat
Freezing quantities of meat for storage requires basic equipment and supplies. Here’s a list of what you’ll find useful:
• Home freezer or access to a community food locker
• “Can or freeze” jars made especially for freezing, glazed pottery, plastic boxes, aluminum containers, or tin and tin-enameled containers (for packing meat)
• Freezer tape (to seal containers)
• Aluminum freezer foil or freezer paper coated with cellophane or polyethylene; polyethylene plastic also works
• Wax paper, not as wrapping, but to separate chops and cuts
• Moisture- and vapor-resistant bags (for wrapping fowl and small pieces of meat)
• Marking pencils (to label packages) and rubber bands
How to Wrap Meat for Freezing
Freezers tend to dry meat out. This tendency is a main reason for sealing it in proper wrappings or containers. Wrap meat tightly, also, to squeeze out all possible air, for normal air contains bacteria and other enemies of food. If you pack meat in rigid containers, pack it tightly for the same reason.
So that moisture does not escape through the wrappings and vapor and odors do not penetrate the meat, the proper wrap must be moisture-vapor-resistant paper. If you pack meat in rigid containers, they, too, should be moisture-vapor-resistant. If you’re wrapping meat in paper, either the drugstore fold or the butcher’s wrap will work (see illustrations, page 294). Packages should be sealed with regular freezer tape to cover the seams completely. Unless rigid containers have screw tops or other means of sealing them airtight, their tops, too, should be sealed with freezer tape. When using ziplock freezer bags, be careful to eliminate excess air and close them securely.
Maximum Recommended Freezing Times for Meat
Your freezer may occasionally lose power because of a break down or a power outage. Short power failures will not affect meats. But if the power is off for a day or more, be prepared to take some action.
Place about 25 pounds of dry ice on a sheet of cardboard over the top of the frozen packages in your freezer. Close the freezer tightly. If the freezer is half full, this should keep foods frozen for two or three days. However, check every 24 hours to see if more dry ice is required. If the freezer is practically full, food should remain frozen for three or four days.
Making the Drugstore Fold
1. Place food on the shiny side of the freezer paper in the center of the sheet.
2. Bring two sides over food, keeping edges even. Fold together 1 inch of freezer paper and crease.
3. Continue making narrow folds until the freezer paper is snug against the food.
4. Fold ends toward food in narrow folds, squeezing out air until the package is tight, and tape to secure. The seam is sealed with the fold.
5. Seal with tape. Write the date and contents on the dull side of the freezer paper.
Making the Butcher’s Wrap
1. With the meat at one corner of the paper, roll the paper tightly toward the opposite corner.
2. Tuck in the sides of the paper and roll to opposite corner.
3. Seal the open edges with freezer tape.
Three methods will safely defrost food. The best way is to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing of meat in the refrigerator in its original wrappings; this prevents evaporation of its natural juices. Meat may also be thawed in cold water or in a microwave. Meat may be thawed as it cooks, too. However, unthawed meat requires more time to cook than does meat that has thawed, and partially frozen meat is apt to cook unevenly. Other than that, it should be treated like fresh meat when being cooked. But cook it quickly following removal from the refrigerator, or dormant bacteria will go into action and start spoilage.
In general, small items may defrost overnight, while most foods require a day or two. Large items such as turkeys may take longer: one day for every 5 pounds. For faster defrosting, place food in a leakproof plastic bag and immerse it in cold water. Be careful not to allow leaks, as tissues can absorb water like a sponge, which results in watery food. Check the water often to be sure it stays cold, and change it every 30 minutes. When the food is thawed, refrigerate it until it is ready to be cooked.
Of course, the defrost feature on microwave ovens has greatly simplified and quickened this process. After defrosting in a microwave, you must complete the cooking process immediately, because some areas of the meat become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. In partially cooked food, bacteria might not be destroyed.
It is safe to refreeze meat that has started to thaw, provided ice crystals remain in it. But under no circumstances should meat be refrozen if an off color or off odor is noticed; destroy it at once without tasting by man or beast! In general, refreezing reduces the quality of meat somewhat, so the refreezing should be noted on the label and the refrozen meat used first. Meat that has been completely thawed should not be refrozen.
Temperatures for Preserving Meats
The smell of sausage sizzling on the grill is enough to whet even the mildest appetites, but somehow, when the sausage is fresh and homemade, it’s even more enticing. And making sausage is easy.
These country-style sausage links are a good place to start in sausage making. Once you have mastered this basic technique, you will be able to try the variations that follow and create your own recipes.
4 feet small (1½-inch diameter) hog or sheep casings
2½ pounds lean pork butt, chilled
½ pound pork fat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1½ teaspoons dried sage
1½ teaspoons coarse salt
¾ teaspoon finely ground white or black pepper
¾ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried summer savory
Preparing the casing. Rinse the casing under cool running water to remove any salt clinging to it. Place in a bowl of cool water; soak for 30 minutes. While you’re waiting for the casing to soak, begin preparing the meat (next step).
After soaking, rinse the casing under cool running water. Slip one end of the casing over the faucet nozzle. Hold the casing firmly on the nozzle and then turn on the cold water, gently at first and then more forcefully. This procedure will flush out any salt in the casing and pinpoint any breaks. Should you find a break, simply snip out that small section of the casing.
Place the casing in a bowl of water and add a splash of vinegar — 1 tablespoon of vinegar per cup of water is sufficient. The vinegar will soften the casing and make it more transparent, which in turn will make your sausage more pleasing to the eye. Leave the casing in the vinegar solution until you are ready to use it. Rinse well and drain before stuffing.
Preparing the meat. Chip pork butt into 1-inch cubes. Refrigerate the meat cubes and fat for 30 minutes to firm them up before grinding.
• If you are using a food processor, process the meat and fat to a very fine dice and mix in the seasonings after all of the meat and the fat have been processed.
• If you are using a hand grinder, run the meat and fat through the fine disk (¼ inch or smaller) twice. Mix in the sage, salt, white or black pepper, sugar, red pepper, thyme, and savory with your hands between the first and second grindings.
About Sausage Safety
When making sausage, you must be responsible for providing food that is safe to eat. Here are some rules to follow:
1. Use hot water and dish detergent to scrub all surfaces that will be in contact with the meat. In particular, clean your cutting board very well. Rinse everything thoroughly. When you are finished, wash and sanitize the cutting board (use a mixture of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach and 1 quart of water as a sanitizing solution).
2. Assemble your utensils and equipment: grinder, sausage funnel, knives, mixing spoons, and a large pan for mixing. Pour boiling water over the grinder and the utensils that will come into contact with the meat. Allow everything to cool completely before proceeding, so as not to raise the temperature of the meat and thus encourage the growth of bacteria.
3. Take off any rings you are wearing and wash your hands carefully. Wash them again if you are called away from your work, such as for a phone call.
• If you are using an electric grinder with a sausage-stuffing attachment, sprinkle the seasonings over the meat and fat and mix with your hands before grinding, because the grinding and stuffing will be one continuous operation.
Stuffing the sausage. Slide a bit of the prepared casing over the sausage funnel or over the attachment of the electric grinder. Push it along until the entire piece of casing is on the funnel and the end of the casing is even with the funnel opening.
• If you are using an electric stuffer, turn it on and feed the seasoned cubes of meat into the hopper. When the ground meat mixture is flush with the opening of the tube, turn off the grinder. Pull about 2 inches of casing off the tube and tie it into a knot; this will prevent air bubbles from getting into the sausage.
• If you are using a sausage funnel, push the ground meat mixture through with your fingers until it reaches the lip of the opening. Tie off the casing.
Continue stuffing the casing until all the meat has been used. Feed small amounts of meat through the funnel at a time, packing the casing firmly but not to the bursting point. If the casings are packed too firmly, you will be unable to twist off the links without rupturing the casings. Try to maintain an even thickness throughout the length of the casing, and avoid trapping air in it. When all the meat has been used, remove any leftover casing from the funnel.
With one or two exceptions, you probably already have the equipment in your kitchen that you will need to make sausage. Here’s a list of the basic tools.
• Grinder. An old-fashioned, cast-iron hand grinder like the one in your grandmother’s kitchen is still available and is still a bargain, even at today’s inflated prices.
• Power grinder. If you don’t want to grind meat by hand, purchase an electric food grinder with at least two cutting disks.
• Sausage funnel. If your grinder doesn’t have a sausage-stuffing attachment or if you use a food processor to grind the meat, you will need a sausage funnel to stuff the meat into casings.
• Knives. The knife is the most important tool you’ll use to make sausage, because so much of the job involves cutting, boning, and trimming the meat. A boning knife aids the cook in removing as much meat as possible from the bone. For slicing, use an 8- to 10-inch chef’s knife.
• Butcher’s steel. This steel or ceramic rod with a handle is used to finely hone a knife blade.
Forming the links. Beginning at the tied end of the stuffed casing, grasp about 3 inches of sausage and give it two or three twists in the same direction to form a link. Continue twisting off links until the entire length of casing is done. With a very sharp knife, cut apart the links and cut off any empty casing at the end. The casing will fit the mixture like a glove, and the mixture won’t squeeze out. Cooking will firm up the links, so the meat will not pour out even though the ends of the links are open.
Aging. Sausage tastes better if it ages, a process that enables the herbs and spices to penetrate the meat more completely.
Arrange the links in a single layer on a platter and refrigerate them for at least a couple of hours.
Cooking. Fresh sausage should be cooked slowly and thoroughly because it contains raw pork. (See Cooking Fresh Sausage, opposite.)
Storing. If you are not going to eat the sausage within two days, wrap the links or patties individually in plastic wrap, pack them into a plastic freezer bag, and freeze. Frozen sausages will retain their flavor for about three months. Thaw them completely in the refrigerator before cooking.
Yield: About 3 pounds
Sicilian-Style Hot or Sweet Sausage
This recipe provides enough that you can please everybody by making hot and sweet sausages at the same time. Just add crushed red pepper to only half of the sausage mixture.
5 feet medium (2-inch diameter) hog casing
4½ pounds lean pork butt, cubed and chilled
½ pound pork fat, cubed and chilled
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 tablespoon freshly coarse-ground black pepper
2½ teaspoons salt, or to taste Crushed red pepper: (½ teaspoon for sweet sausage, to taste for hot sausage)
You don’t have to stuff sausage into links; you can use it as bulk sausage and crumble it or shape it into patties for cooking. Stack patties between squares of wax paper and seal in heavy plastic bags for freezing.
Ingredients for Version 1, plus:
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon anise seed
1. Prepare the casings (see page 296).
2. Using the coarse disk of a food grinder, grind the meat and fat together.
3. Mix the fennel seed, black pepper, salt, and red pepper together with the meat and fat.
4. Stuff the mixture into the casing. Twist off into 3-to 4-inch links.
5. Refrigerate and use within three days, or freeze.
Yield: 5 pounds
Cooking Fresh Sausage
The best way to cook fresh sausage is in a covered, cold skillet with about ½ inch of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer; cook until juices run clear. Then drain and fry or grill over medium-high heat, turning frequently, until it’s well browned. This technique keeps the casing from bursting. Sausage patties should be cooked over medium-low heat until the juices run clear. Turn the patties once during the cooking time.
In Spain and Mexico, spicy chorizo is used alone or to add flavor to many dishes. Smoked or fresh pork can be used. The wine and brandy in the mixture give extra savor to the meat and help extract the flavors of the herbs and spices.
5 feet medium (2-inch diameter) hog casings
3½ pounds lean pork butt, cubed
½ pound pork fat, cubed
¼ cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons brandy
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons freshly coarse-ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1. Prepare the casings (see page 296).
2. Using the coarse disk of a food grinder, grind the meat and fat together.
3. Mix the wine, brandy, garlic, vinegar, black pepper, salt, fennel seed, and red pepper with the meat.
4. Place the mixture in a large, covered pan. Let sit in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours, so the wine and brandy have time to extract the flavors from the herbs and spices and the meat can absorb some of the liquid.
5. Stuff the mixture into the casings. Twist off into 3- to 4-inch links.
6. Refrigerate and use within three days, or freeze.
Yield: 4 pounds
Country Chicken Sausage
Chicken makes a light sausage that is very low in fat. Be sure that the chicken is well chilled to begin with, and work quickly, so that it will not get warm during processing. This recipe calls for a traditional “country sausage” combination of ginger, sage, savory, and thyme.
2 feet small (1½-inch diameter) hog or sheep casings
2 pounds chicken meat, chilled
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground sage
½ teaspoon summer savory
½ teaspoon ground thyme
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1. Prepare the casings (see page 296).
2. Using the fine disk of a food grinder, grind the chicken.
3. Mix the pepper, salt, ginger, sage, savory, thyme, and cayenne, if desired, with the chicken.
4. Using the fine disk of a food grinder, grind the mixture.
5. Stuff the mixture into the casings. Twist off into 2- to 3-inch links.
Yield: 2 pounds
Smoking: Bringing Out Flavor
Smoking is another activity through which one may experiment and bring forth tantalizing flavors that can become hallmarks of a good smoker, and experimentation may help you develop a perfect recipe that is truly “yours.”
The main advantages of smoking are to impart flavor, to drive out any remaining moisture, and to give a favorable color to the meat’s exterior. The amount of smoking, the kinds of chips used for fuel, and the type of cure preceding smoking (such as sugar, honey, or maple) will bring forth that particular flavor you want.
Cold smoking refers to a slow, smoldering smoke that seldom gets above 90°F (32°C). This is the kind of smoke one uses when hams and bacon are smoked. Meat is never cooked during cold smoking, because the smoke never becomes hot enough.
Hot smoking is nothing more than cooking with a very hot smoke. Of course, if anything is cooked, it has to be consumed, canned, or frozen immediately afterward: Meat that has been hot-smoked cannot be wrapped and stored as it can if it has been smoked with a slow, smoldering smoke.
Types of Smokers
Vertical water smokers similar to the one on the left use charcoal briquettes; look for a good heat-regulation system. An electric smoker, center, is temperature-controlled and may require less attention during smoking. Wood-burning smokers such as the one at right allow smoking of larger quantities of meat.
Smokehouses and Smokers
An efficient smokehouse is very simple and inexpensive to build. It may be constructed from so many different materials that one’s imagination is the only limiting factor. Some smoke-houses are available from retail stores and mail-order outlets; for the most part, these are too small to smoke large pieces of meat. If you want to prepare hot-smoked food in small batches for individual meals or for parties, commercially available smokers may meet your needs. Most of these products rely on hot smoking, so the food must be consumed immediately.
For cold smoking, you’ll need to provide for the following when building a smoke-house: a fire pit, a smoke chamber where the meat is actually smoked, and a smoke tunnel to direct the smoke from the fire pit to the smoke chamber. With these three units in mind, it takes but little imagination to find material around the house that can be used to build a successful smokehouse.
Meat is never cooked during cold smoking, because the smoke never becomes hot enough.
Basic Components of a Good Electric Smokehouse
A Simple Homemade Smokehouse
Jerky is made by cutting meat into strips and drying them. Often the meat is marinated before it is dried. Meat from most large game animals, such as deer, antelope, elk, and moose, may be used. Beef and poultry jerky are also delicious. Lean meat keeps well when dried, but fat portions of meat soon turn rancid. For that reason, pork is not often made into jerky. To avoid having your jerky turn rancid, use only the leanest meat for drying, and carefully trim all possible fat before you dry.
In addition, meat to be made into jerky should be cooked by baking or simmering before being dried. Just using the oven or a dehydrator will inactivate microorganisms but will not kill them. The right conditions of heat and moisture may enable the microorganisms to become active, causing a potentially dangerous situation.
To cook the meat, steam, braise, or simmer it in a small amount of water or marinade. For beef, fish, and game, the meat must reach an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) on a meat thermometer. For poultry, the internal temperature should be 180°F (82°C). Drain and cool the meat, then cut it with the grain into strips that are about ⅛ to ¼ inch thick; slightly frozen meat is easier to slice thinly and uniformly. Jerky made from meat cut across the grain (as you would carve a roast) will be crumbly and will lack the chewiness desired in jerky. You may find it easier to cut the meat first and then cook the strips. Alternatively, you could simmer the meat in a marinade until the desired internal temperature is reached. Use a meat thermometer in the liquid to measure the temperature.
When done, the strips will be dry throughout but should be pliable enough to bend without snapping.
To dry the meat, preheat the oven to 170°F (77°C). Spread the meat sparingly on trays. Dry the meat in the oven for 5 to 6 hours with the oven door ajar. The meat will shrivel and turn almost black. You may also dry meat in an electric dehydrator. Set it at 140 to 170°F (60 to 77°C); follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
When done, the strips will be dry throughout but should be pliable enough to bend without snapping. Cool and pat off any beads of fat. Separate the strips and store in quantities that will be used at one time. Larger quantities may become moist with repeated opening of the storage container.
Store jerky in airtight containers in a cool (38 to 40°F [3 to 4°C]), dry place. Check the jerky within 24 to 48 hours; if moisture appears on the inside of the container, repeat the drying procedure in the oven. If properly dried, jerky will last for one to two months. If too much moisture is left in the meat, it will become moldy. You may also freeze the jerky, sealed tightly in plastic bags, for up to one year.
Marinades and seasonings — especially salt — are welcome additions to jerky. Before drying, you can brush on sauces or marinate the strips in soy or Worcestershire sauce. Be sure to marinate meat in the refrigerator. You can also brush on spices, such as seasoned salt, freshly ground pepper, and chili powder (use 1 teaspoon of spices per 3 pounds of meat). A mixture of 1 part brown sugar to 3 parts salt can also be used.
2 pounds very lean beef (chuck or round)
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon tomato sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon chopped dried garlic
1. Trim all traces of fat from the meat. Freeze until firm and solid enough to slice easily. Cut with the grain into very thin (1/8-inch) slices, and then cut the slices into strips 1 inch wide.
2. Arrange the strips in rows in a shallow baking pan.
3. In a blender or shaker jar, combine the soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce, vinegar, salt, sugar, and garlic. Pour over the meat, and then refrigerate overnight.
4. Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C). Remove the meat strips from the pan and dry with a clean paper towel. Place the jerky on racks set over baking sheets. Allow the edges to touch but not overlap. Bake until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 160°F (71°C) on a meat thermometer. Alternatively, you could simmer the meat in the marinade before drying until a meat thermometer in the liquid reaches 160°F (71°C).
5. Reduce oven heat to 140°F (60°C).
6. Drain the meat strips and lay them in rows over baking sheets, being careful not to overlap them. Dry in the oven (or an electric dehydrator according to manufacturer’s instructions) until strips splinter on the edges when bent in half, about 18 to 24 hours.
Few families, even those with several milk drinkers, can keep up with the output of a good cow, and most goats will average a gallon of milk a day during the summer months. The best solution to a surplus of milk is cheese — the most delicious, nutritious method of preserving milk yet devised.
Even if you do not have a cow or goat of your own, you can probably find fresh raw milk, without chemicals, from a farm or a dairy. You can often buy milk at a lower price during the summer.
Not only is homemade cheese cheaper than supermarket cheese; it is also better tasting and better for you, because it contains no preservatives. If you are a vegetarian, you can make your own cheese with an all-vegetable rennet. Making cheese is a simple procedure that is easily adapted to the kitchen. Few ingredients are involved, and most of the necessary equipment is already on hand.
The instructions for making cheese sound complicated, but the process is really much simpler than baking a cake. For each cheese recipe, review the basic cheesemaking directions first, then read the specific recipe. With only a little practice, you can become an expert at making cheese.
As you gain confidence, you will learn the variables of cheesemaking — the degree of ripening of the milk and its effect on flavor; the length of time the curd is heated and how that affects the texture; the amount of salt, the number of bricks used in pressing, and the effect on moisture content; and how long the cheese is cured for sharpness of taste. The more you learn about it, the more fascinating cheesemaking will become.
Clabber. To curdle or sour; milk that has curdled
Culture. The live bacteria used to develop or sour milk for sour cream and yogurt
Curd. The white, solid portion of milk
Rennet. A product, usually made from the stomach lining of animals, that causes milk to curdle quickly
Whey. The clear, watery, liquid component of milk
The Three Basic Kinds of Cheese
Hard cheese is the curd of milk (the white, solid portion) separated from the whey (the watery, clear liquid). Once separated, the curd is pressed into a solid cake and aged for flavor. Most hard cheeses are better flavored if they are aged. The longer the aging period, the sharper the flavor. The heavier the pressing weight, the harder the texture. Hard cheese is best when made with whole milk.
Soft cheese is made the same way as hard cheese, but it is pressed just briefly. It is not coated, and it is aged a short time or not at all. Most soft cheeses can be eaten immediately and are best when eaten within a few weeks. Soft cheese can be made with whole or skim milk.
Cottage cheese is a soft cheese prepared from a high-moisture curd that is not allowed to cure. Commercially, it is usually made of skim milk, but it can also be made of whole milk.
Ingredients for Cheesemaking
• Milk. Raw whole milk from goats, cows, or sheep makes the richest cheese, but partially skimmed milk can also be used.
• Starter. Starter is necessary for good cheese flavor. You can buy buttermilk, yogurt, or a commercial powdered cheese starter, or you can make your own tart starter by holding 2 cups of fresh raw milk at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, until it curdles. If you can’t get raw milk, buy starter-culture kits (in freeze-dried packets) from a cheese supply catalog.
• Flake salt. Flake salt is absorbed faster than table salt.
Yogurt Herb Cheese
Drain 3 cups of very fresh yogurt for 6 to 8 hours, or overnight, in the refrigerator. Scrape into a bowl and add 2 cloves of crushed garlic, ½ teaspoon of crushed pepper (about 20 turns on the pepper mill), 1 teaspoon each of crushed dried herbs — thyme, basil, and oregano — and ¼ cup of chopped chives or parsley.
If this seems a little too tart for your taste, whip ½ cup of heavy cream to a thick, but not fluffy, consistency and beat it into the yogurt cheese. Refrigerate so that the flavors can blend.
Making Soft Cheese
The simplest soft cheese is fresh curds. Your great-grandmother might have made it by setting fresh warm milk in the sun until the curds separated from the whey. The most familiar soft cheese is cream cheese, which is made by draining curds for a few minutes in a cloth bag. If you gather from this that making soft cheese is not nearly as complicated as making hard cheese, you are right. Here are some of the simplest recipes.
The classic spread for date nut bread, cream cheese is wonderful on its own or in any number of recipes.
• Add 1 cup starter to 2 cups warm cream and let it sit for 24 hours. Add 2 quarts warm cream, and let it clabber for another 24 hours. Warm over hot water for 30 minutes, and then pour into a cloth bag to drain. Let it sit 1 hour. Salt to taste, and wrap in wax paper. It is now ready to use. Refrigerate to store.
• Another method of making cream cheese is to add 1 tablespoon salt to 1 quart thick sour cream. Pour into a drain bag and hang in a cool place for three days.
The original French cheese, Neufchâtel, is from the town of that name in the Normandy region of France. Because it’s made from milk, it’s lighter than cream cheese.
• To make it at home, cool 1 gallon of freshly drawn milk or heat refrigerated milk to 75°F (24°C). Add 1/3 cup of sour milk or starter. Stir for 1 minute, then add half of a rennet tablet dissolved in ¼ cup of cool water. Stir for 1 minute longer. Let it sit, undisturbed, in a warm place (about 75°F [24°C]) for 18 hours.
• At the end of that time, pour off the whey on the surface of the curd. Then put the curd into a cheesecloth bag and hang it in a cool place to drain. When the curd appears dry, place it in a bowl and add salt to taste. Mix in the salt thoroughly.
• Ladle the salted curd into a cheesecloth-lined cheese form, press it smooth with a spoon, and top with a layer of cheesecloth. Insert the wooden follower and apply pressure (six bricks). The length of time required to press the cheese into a cake suitable for slicing varies according to the temperature, the amount of moisture, and the weight applied, but it is usually from 45 minutes to 1½ hours. When the cheese is firm enough to cut, it is ready to eat. It is best fresh but will keep a week or more in the refrigerator.
Soft cheeses may be rolled in finely chopped herbs, cracked peppercorns, chopped nuts, or toasted sunflower or sesame seeds. Wrap in plastic wrap after rolling, and use within a day or two.
Soft Goat Cheese
This is a delicious, soft goat milk cheese. The milk is ripened for a lengthy period with goat cheese starter culture.
A very small amount of rennet is also added to the milk. After 18 hours, the milk coagulates. It is placed in small goat cheese molds to drain and in two days small and delicious 1½- to 2-ounce cheeses are ready for eating. These are firm yet spreadable cheeses that will keep under refrigeration for up to two weeks.
½ gallon whole goat milk
1 ounce mesophilic goat cheese starter culture
4 tablespoons cool water Liquid rennet
Make a sensational spiced cheese for bagels, sandwiches, and hors d’oeuvres. Into 8 ounces of fresh cream cheese, mash 3 cloves garlic; 1 tablespoon each dried basil, chives, caraway seeds, and dillweed; 2 teaspoons dried parsley; and freshly ground black pepper to taste. If you use minced fresh herbs, triple the quantities.
1. Ripening and renneting. Warm goat milk to 72°F (22°C). Stir in 1 ounce of mesophilic goat cheese starter culture. Put the water in a measuring cup. Add 1 drop of rennet and stir. Add 1 tablespoon of this diluted rennet to the milk. Stir thoroughly. Cover and allow the milk to sit at 72°F (22°C) for 18 hours, until it coagulates.
2. Molding and draining. Scoop the curd into individual goat cheese molds. These molds are made of food-grade plastic and measure 3¼ inches in height. When the molds are full, they should be placed to drain in a convenient spot at 72°F (22°C).
3. Finishing. After two days of draining, the cheese will have sunk to about 1 inch in height and will maintain a firm shape. The cheese can now be eaten fresh or can be wrapped in cellophane (better) or plastic wrap and stored for up to two weeks in the refrigerator. If desired, the cheese may be lightly salted on its surface, immediately after being taken from the mold.
Yield: Almost 1 pound
Drain the whey from soft cheese by hanging the curds in a cloth bag.
Mozzarella was first made by the monks of San Lorenzo di Capua, Italy, from sheep milk. In the sixteenth century, when water buffalo were introduced to Naples, the rich milk of those animals started to be used. The following recipe from Ricki Carroll, author of Home Cheesemaking, is a quick and easy way to make fresh mozzarella at home in less than 30 minutes! (Make sure the milk you use for this cheese is not ultrapasteurized. The protein is damaged in the process and will leave you with ricotta rather than mozzarella.)
For a party treat, slice the mozzarella and arrange it alternately with ripe tomato slices. Then drizzle with fresh pesto, scatter with sun-dried tomatoes, and top with a smattering of pine nuts. Serve with crusty bread and wine.
1½ level teaspoons citric acid dissolved in 1 cup cool water
1 gallon pasteurized whole milk (see Note in step 1)
1/8–¼ teaspoon lipase powder (optional) (see Note in step 1) dissolved in ¼ cup cool water and allowed to sit for 20 minutes (for a stronger flavor
¼ teaspoon liquid rennet (or ¼ rennet tablet) diluted in ¼ cup cool, unchlorinated water
1 teaspoon cheese salt (optional)
1. Pour the milk into your pot and stir vigorously while adding the citric acid solution. (If using lipase, add it now.)
Note: You may use skim milk, but the yield will be lower and the cheese drier. If you add lipase, you may have to use a bit more rennet, as lipase makes the cheese softer. Try the recipe without it first and experiment later.
2. Heat the milk to 90°F (32°C) over medium-low heat, while stirring gently.
3. Remove the pot from the burner and gently stir in the diluted rennet solution with an up-and-down motion for approximately 30 seconds.
4. Cover the pot and leave it undisturbed for 5 minutes.
5. Check the curd. It will look like custard and will have a bit of shine, with a clear separation between the curds and whey. If the curd is too soft or the whey is milky white, wait a few more minutes.
6. Cut the curd with a knife that reaches to the bottom of your pot. (See page 310.)
7. Place the pot back on the stove and heat to 105°F while slowly moving the curds around with your spoon. (Note: If you will be stretching the curds with the water bath method instead of the microwave (see box at right), heat the curds to 110°F in this step.)
8. Take the pot off the burner and continue stirring slowly for 2–5 minutes. (More time will make a firmer cheese.)
9. Pour off the floating whey and ladle the curds into a large microwavable bowl. Drain off as much whey as you can without pressing the curds too much.
10. Microwave the curds on high for 1 minute (see box at right). Drain off all excess whey. Gently fold the curds over and over (as in kneading bread) with your hand or a spoon. This distributes the heat evenly throughout the cheese, which will not stretch until it is almost too hot to touch (135°F [63°C] inside the curd).
11. Microwave for another 30 seconds. Drain again and stretch the curd. If it is not hot enough, microwave for another 30 seconds.
12. Add salt to taste after the second time (optional). Knead and stretch the cheese quickly until it is smooth and elastic. When it stretches like taffy, it is done. If the curds break instead of stretching, they are too cool and need to be reheated.
Stretch the cheese until it is the consistency of taffy.
13. When the cheese is smooth and shiny, roll it into small balls and eat while warm. Or place them in a bowl of ice water for ½ hour to bring the inside temperature down rapidly; this will produce a consistent, smooth texture throughout the cheese. Although itís best eaten fresh, if you must wait, cover and store in the refrigerator.
Yield: ¾ to 1 pound
If you don’t have a microwave, you may want to put on heavy rubber gloves at this point. Heat the reserved whey to at least 175°F (79°C). Add ¼ cup of cheese salt to the whey. Shape the curd into one or more balls, put them in a ladle or strainer, and dip them into the hot whey for several seconds. Knead the curd with spoons between each dip and repeat this process several times, until the curd is smooth and pliable.
Troubleshooting: If the curds turn into the consistency of ricotta cheese and will not come together, change the brand of milk: It may have been pasteurized at the factory to too high a temperature (over 172°F).
Alternative: If all the store has is ultrapasteurized milk, a very delicious option is to use dry milk powder and cream. Reconstitute enough nonfat instant milk powder overnight to make 1 gallon of milk. When making mozzarella, use 7 pints of this mixture with 1 pint of light cream or half and half. (Because of the ratio, the cream may be ultrapasteurized.)
Making Hard Cheese
Here are general directions for making hard cheeses. You will find many variations in specific recipes, particularly for processing temperatures and pressing times.
2–3 gallons milk
2 cups cheese starter
½ teaspoon liquid rennet or
1 tablet rennet dissolved in
½ cup cool water (optional)
1–2 tablespoons flake salt
½ pound USDA-approved cheese coating
1. Ripen the milk. Warm the milk to 86°F (30°C) and add starter. Stir thoroughly for 2 minutes. Cover and let sit in a warm place overnight. In the morning, taste the milk. If it has a slightly acidic taste, it is ready for the next step. If you are not using rennet, skip the next step and let the milk sit 18 to 24 hours longer, until the curd has formed and the whey is separating.
2. Add the rennet. With the milk at room temperature, add the rennet; stir for 2 minutes to mix it in thoroughly. Cover the container and let it remain undisturbed until the milk has coagulated, 30 to 45 minutes.
3. Cut the curd. When the curd is firm and a small amount of whey appears on the surface, it is ready to cut. With a clean knife, slice the curd into ½-inch cubes. Stir the curd carefully with a wooden spoon; cut any cubes that do not conform to size.
4. Heat the curd. Place a small container into a larger one filled with warm water, double-boiler style. Heat the curds and whey slowly at the rate of 2 degrees F (1 degrees C) every 5 minutes. Heat to a temperature of 100°F (38°C) over 30 to 40 minutes, then hold this temperature until the curd has developed the desired firmness. Keep stirring gently to prevent the cubes of curd from sticking together and forming lumps. Test the curd for firmness by squeezing a small handful gently, then releasing it quickly. If it shows little tendency to stick together, it is ready. When the curd is firm, remove the container.
5. Remove the whey. Pour the curds and whey into a large container lined with cheesecloth. Lift the cheesecloth with the curd inside and let it drain in a colander or large strainer. Reserve the whey for optional use. When most of the whey has drained off, remove the curd from the cheesecloth, put it into a container, and tilt it several times to remove whey. Stir the curd or work it with your hands to keep the curds separated. When it has cooled to 90°F (32°C) and has a rubbery texture, it is ready to be salted.
6. Salt the curd. Sprinkle the flake salt over the curd and mix well. Once the salt has dissolved and the curd has cooled to 85°F (29°C), spoon the curd into a cheese form whose sides and bottom have been lined with cheesecloth.
7. Press the curd. Place a circle of cheesecloth on top of the curd. Insert the wooden follower and put the cheese form into the cheese press. Start with a weight of three or four bricks for 10 minutes, remove the follower, and drain off any whey that has collected. Replace the follower and add a brick at a time until you have six to eight bricks. After an hour under this much pressure, the cheese should be ready to dress.
8. Dress the cheese. Remove the weights and the follower and turn the cheese form upside down so the cheese will drop out. Remove the cheesecloth and dip the cheese into warm water to remove fat from the surface. Smooth over any small holes with your fingers to make an even surface. Wipe dry. Cut a piece of cheesecloth 2 inches wider than the cheese is thick and long enough to wrap around it with a slight overlap. Roll the cheese tightly, using two circles of cheesecloth to cover the ends. Replace the cheese in the cheese form, insert the follower, and press with six to eight bricks for 18 to 24 hours longer.
9. Dry the cheese. Remove the cheese, take off the cheesecloth, and wipe the cheese with a clean, dry cloth. Check for any openings or cracks. Wash the cheese in hot water or whey for a firm rind. Seal holes by dipping the cheese into warm water and smoothing with your fingers or a table knife. Put the cheese on a shelf in a cool, dry place. Turn and wipe it daily until the surface feels dry and the rind has started to form. This takes three to five days.
Sheep Milk Cheese
You’ve probably eaten sheep cheese, even if you didn’t know it. Many European gourmet cheeses, such as Roquefort, Romano, and pecorino, are most often made from sheep milk. Sheep milk is ideally suited for cheesemaking because it contains almost double the solids of cow milk and is high in proteins and minerals; you can produce more cheese with less milk. It also contains a higher percentage of butterfat than cow milk.
Collecting enough sheep milk to make cheese takes quite some time for one person with just a few sheep. You can collect, chill, and freeze the milk until you have enough to make cheese.
This recipe yields a versatile, low-fat cream cheese that makes a great dip or spread when seasoned with parsley, chopped onion, pressed garlic, pepper, or other herbs. When sweetened, it makes a delicious filling for cake.
1 gallon pasteurized whole sheep milk
¼ cup cold water
½ rennet tablet
½ cup fresh commercial buttermilk
1–1½ teaspoons salt
1. Pasteurize the sheep milk by heating it in a 6-quart, stainless-steel kettle to 155°F (68°C) and keeping it at that temperature for 30 minutes.
2. Cool the milk to 85°F (29°C).
3. Pour the water into a small bowl. Dissolve the rennet tablet in the water.
4. Add the rennet mixture and the buttermilk to the cooled sheep milk. Stir gently for 10 minutes or longer. Stop stirring when you notice a slight thickening or setting. If you stir too long, you will get a mushy product instead of a firm curd.
5. Keep the mixture at 80 to 85°F (27 to 29°C). Don’t let it get any hotter, or the rennet will be destroyed. The best way to hold this temperature is to set the cheese kettle in a large pan of warm water in which you can add hot water from time to time as it cools. Let the mixture stand until whey, the watery-looking liquid, covers the surface and the curd breaks clean from the sides of the kettle (like gelatin) when it is tipped.
6. Cut the curd into 1-inch cubes by running a long, thin knife through it in both directions, right to the bottom of the pot. Cut the strips horizontally by inserting the cheese knife and drawing it across the kettle.
7. Place a bowl underneath a clean muslin bag or fine colander lined with cheesecloth. Pour or ladle the mixture into the bag or colander. Allow it to drain until nearly all of the whey has been caught in the bowl. Use a cheese press to squeeze out the rest of the whey. If you don’t have a cheese press, place a dish on top of the bag and weight it down with a jar filled with water.
8. Keep the whey in the refrigerator until the cream rises and becomes firm enough to skim off. The cream will have a butterlike consistency. Work it back into the cheese, mixing thoroughly. (Save the thin whey to use as the liquid in bread baking, or feed it back to the sheep.)
9. Once the cheese feels firm, work in the salt.
10. Coat the cheese. Follow the package directions on the USDA-approved coating; coatings are available from catalogs that offer cheesemaking supplies.
11. Cure the cheese. Put the cheese back onto the shelf to cure. Turn it daily. Wash the shelf once a week and dry it in the sun. After about six weeks of curing at a temperature between 40 and 60°F (4 and 16°C), the cheese will have a firm body and a mild flavor. Cheese with a sharp flavor requires at least three months of curing. Curing time depends on individual taste.
With a little effort in the spring, you can have perfectly ripened cheddar in time for fall apple pies.
To make cheddar cheese, follow the basic directions for hard cheese through step 5, removing the whey. Then place the cubes of heated curd in a colander and heat to 100°F (38°C) in a double-boiler arrangement or in the oven. After 20 to 30 minutes, the curd will form a solid mass. Slice it into 1-inch strips, which must be turned with a wooden spoon every 15 minutes for even drying. Bake or cook these strips at 100°F (38°C) for 1 hour. Remove from heat and continue with the basic directions, beginning at step 6. Cure the cheese for six months.
To make flavored cheddars, you can use 1 to 3 tablespoons of fresh chopped or dried sage, ½ to 2 tablespoons of caraway seeds, or ½ to 4 tablespoons of chopped jalapeño peppers to flavor 2 pounds of cheese. The amount depends on the degree of flavor you want in the final cheese. Place the desired seasoning in ½ cup water and boil for 15 minutes, adding water as needed, so that it does not all boil away. Strain the flavored water into the milk to be used for cheesemaking. Follow directions for cheddar cheese. Add the sage, seeds, or peppers during the salting process.
Colby is similar to cheddar but is softer and milder, and it’s ready to eat without a long curing time.
To make a small Colby cheese, add 3 tablespoons of starter to 1 gallon of lukewarm milk. Let it stand overnight to clabber, and then proceed with the basic directions for hard cheese through step 4, heating the curd.
When the curd is heated to the point where it no longer shows a tendency to stick together, remove the container from the heat and let it stand 1 hour; stir every 5 minutes.
Now continue with step 5, removing the whey. After pressing the curd for 18 hours, the cheese can be dried for a day or so and used as a soft cheese spread or ripened for 30 days.
Romano is a hard, granular Italian cheese often used for grating. In this recipe, skim milk can be used.
Follow the basic directions to step 4, heating the curd. At this point, heat the cut curd slowly to 118°F (48°C) and hold it at that temperature, stirring occasionally until the curd is quite firm (you can tell by touch or by tasting).
Then proceed with the basic directions to step 7, pressing the curd. Follow the directions, pressing the cheese for 18 hours. Then remove the cheese from the form and immerse the cheese in salt brine (¼ cup salt dissolved in 1 quart warm water). Let it stand 2 to 3 hours. During the first stages of the curing process, salt is rubbed onto the surface.
For a real Italian Romano appearance, color the coating black and rub the surface of the cheese with olive oil at the end of the curing period. Romano is cured for five to eight months for slicing and one to two years for grating.
Make Your Own Cheese Press
To make a cheese press, you’ll need scrap wood, a wooden broomstick, bricks, and a 2-pound coffee can. Take a 36-inch piece of ¾-inch plywood or a 36- by 12-inch board and cut the wood to make two pieces about 11½ by 18 inches each. Drill a hole about 1 inch in diameter in the center of one of the boards. Whey will drain through this hole.
Drill two holes in the other board, each 1 inch in diameter, 2 inches from each end of the board. The holes should be just big enough so the broomstick moves through them easily.
Cut the broomstick into three lengths: two pieces 18 inches long and one piece 15 inches long. Nail each 18-inch piece 2 inches from the ends of the bottom board, matching the holes in the top board. Nail the other length to the center of the top board and nail round cheese follower (a circle of ½-inch plywood cut to a diameter slightly smaller than that of the coffee can) to the broomstick at the other end. Nail two blocks of wood to the bottom or set the press on two bricks or blocks so you can slide a container under the drainage hole to catch the whey.
The process for making yogurt is essentially the same as for making cheese starter. The milk is warmed to 100 to 110°F (38 to 43°C), the culture is added, and the mixture is kept at the desired temperature for several hours. At about 100°F (38°C), you can make yogurt in 5 to 6 hours, but you can leave it 10 to 12 hours if you like a tarter flavor.
It is important to keep the mixture at the proper temperature for the necessary length of time to let the culture develop. If you have a yogurt maker, simply follow the manufacturer’s directions. If you don’t, use one of the ingenious methods described below.
Basic Yogurt Recipe
Homemade yogurt has a delicate, creamy body that is hard to find in the multitude of supermarket concoctions, full of additives and flavorings. Making it at home is a simple matter of adding culture to milk and keeping it warm for several hours.
1 quart whole milk
1/3 cup instant nonfat dry milk (optional; it produces a thicker texture and increases the protein content by 2 grams per cup)
3 rounded tablespoons plain yogurt or recommended quantity of powdered culture, also called a starter
Making Yogurt without a Yogurt Maker
With a thermos. Almost fill a thermos bottle (preferably widemouthed) with milk heated to 100°F (38°C). Add 3 tablespoons of plain yogurt and mix thoroughly. Put on the lid and wrap the thermos in two or three terry towels. Set it in a warm, draft-free place overnight.
In an oven. Pour 1 quart of milk into a casserole dish and add 3 tablespoons of plain yogurt. Stir well and cover the casserole. Place in a warm (100°F [38°C]) oven with the heat off. Let it sit overnight.
On a heating pad. Mix 1 quart of milk and 3 tablespoons of plain yogurt. Set an electric heating pad at medium temperature and place it in the bottom of a cardboard box with a lid. (A large shoebox works well.) Fill small plastic containers with the milk-yogurt mixture; put on the lids. Wrap a heating pad around the containers and then cover them with towels to fill the box. Put the cover onto the box and let it sit, undisturbed, for 5 to 6 hours.
In the sun. Pour 1 quart of warmed milk into a glass-lidded bowl or casserole. Add 3 tablespoons plain yogurt and cover with the glass lid or a clear-glass pie pan. Place in the sun on a warm (not too hot) summer day and let it sit for 4 to 5 hours. Watch it to make sure it is not shaded as the sun moves.
An insulated cooler is yet another way to keep yogurt mixture warm while it’s incubating.
On the back of a woodstove. Many grandmothers made clabber by setting a bowl of freshly drawn milk on the back of the stove after supper. Make yogurt this way by adding 1 cup starter to 2 quarts milk and letting it sit, loosely covered with a dish towel, on the back of the cooling woodstove overnight.
In a Crock-Pot. Preheat a Crock-Pot on low for about 15 minutes, until it feels very warm to the fingertips. Put covered containers of milk and yogurt into the Crock-Pot, cover it, and turn off the Crock-Pot. Let mixture sit overnight.
It’s fun to enhance yogurt with different flavorings, preserves, and sweeteners. Treat your family to nutritious flavored yogurts for snacks and dessert.
• Scald 1 quart of milk and stir in ¼ to 1/3 cup of sugar, honey, maple syrup, chocolate syrup, malt, molasses, or artificial sweetener. If other flavors are desired, after dissolving the sugar or honey, stir in 1 tablespoon of extract, such as vanilla, lemon, almond, or peppermint, or instant coffee. Another time, try adding 1 teaspoon of ground spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, ginger, or your own special combination. Add the instant nonfat dry milk, cool the mixture to 110°F (43°C), and stir in the culture. Pour into warm containers, cover, and incubate.
Equipment for Making Yogurt
Not much is required for making yogurt. You can buy yogurt-making machines that will keep your yogurt at the steady warm temperature that is best for incubating, but you can easily improvise. Here are the supplies you will need:
• Candy thermometer (or yogurt spoon thermometer supplied with yogurt makers)
• 1½- to 2-quart saucepan
• Measuring spoons
• Large jug or bowl (for mixing)
• Wire whisk
• Various containers with lids: glass or porcelain jars; stainless-steel, enamel, or porcelain bowls
Unless your equipment is sterilized, some undesirable bacteria may be present, which can destroy your yogurt culture. To eliminate them, run your utensils through a dishwasher cycle (if they are clean, the rinse cycle is adequate) just before you begin to heat the milk. That way, the utensils are prewarmed, and you’ll know that your equipment is absolutely clean. An alternative is to immerse the utensils in a pot of boiling water for 1 minute. Various-sized canning jars with screw-on or snap-on lids make excellent yogurt containers.
• For jam, preserve, and peanut butter flavors, put 1 tablespoon of the flavoring into the bottom of 1-cup containers and pour the warm milk-yogurt mixture over. Cover and incubate as usual.
• If fresh, canned, or dried fruit is desired, it is best to make such additions to the yogurt after it has incubated. The acid content of some fruits can curdle the milk-yogurt mixture and prevent proper fermentation.
• Whenever you are flavoring yogurt, always remember to leave 1 cup plain, so that you will have fresh starter for the next batch.
What Went Wrong?
Butter can be made from sweet or sour cream. Sweet-cream butter is sometimes preferred for its mellow, bland flavor. Sour-cream butter has a richer taste. Sweet-cream butter takes longer to churn than sour-cream butter, especially if the cream is very fresh. Both sweet and sour cream churn more quickly if they have been aged two to three days in the refrigerator.
If you make butter weekly from cream accumulated during the week, it will give the cream time to ripen a little, which improves the taste and makes it easier to whip. Or leave the cream a day or so at room temperature, until it begins to clabber. One quart of well-separated heavy cream makes about 1 pound of butter and ½ quart of buttermilk.
1. Pour the cold, heavy cream into a chilled mixing bowl. Turn the mixer slowly up to high speed and let the cream go through the stages of whipped cream, stiff whipped cream, and finally, two separate products — butter and buttermilk. As the butter begins to separate from the buttermilk, turn the speed to low.
To make butter in a food processor, chill the processor bowl and metal blade in the freezer for 15 minutes. Process, scraping down the sides of the bowl at least once, until the solids separate from the liquids.
2. When the separation has taken place, pour off the buttermilk and save it for making biscuits or pancakes.
3. Knead the soft butter with a wet wooden spoon or a rubber scraper to force out the milk, pouring off the milk as you knead. When it seems that all of the milk is out, refill the bowl with ice water and continue kneading to wash out any remaining milk. Any milk left in with the butter will cause the butter to spoil. Pour off the water again and repeat the process until the water is clear.
4. You now have sweet butter. If you want it salted, mix in a teaspoon of flake salt. If you want it bright yellow instead of white, add butter coloring.
Sour-cream butter was probably invented by lucky accident when lack of refrigeration made it difficult to keep milk fresh. Souring the cream first yields a butter that churns more rapidly and has a distinctive, rich flavor.
Butter in a Jar
This very simple way to make butter at home uses just a canning jar and a marble. Pour 1 pint of well-chilled heavy cream into a clean quart-sized or larger canning jar. Add a glass marble and close the jar. Shake the jar vigorously until the cream begins to thicken, then more gently until suddenly you have a lump of butter in the jar. (The shaking process will take 30 to 40 minutes; you can do it while you listen to music, or pass the jar around while you chat with friends!) Reserve the buttermilk for another purpose. Rinse the butter, kneading gently with a rubber spatula, in several changes of cold water. Knead in a pinch of salt, if you like.
1. Ripen cream by adding ¼ cup of starter (see page 310) to each quart of heavy cream. Let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Chill the ripened cream for 2 to 3 hours before churning.
2. Pour the cream into a wooden barrel or glass-jar churn. If desired, add butter coloring at this point. Keep the cream and the churn cool and turn the mechanism with a moderately fast, uniform motion. About 30 minutes of churning will usually produce butter, but the age of the cream, the temperature, and whether the cream is from a morning or night milking will affect the length of time required.
3. When the butter forms grainy lumps, draw off the buttermilk and add very cold water. Churn slowly for 1 minute, then draw off the water.
4. Move the butter to a wooden bowl and sprinkle it with 2 tablespoons of flake salt for each pound of butter. Let it stand for a few minutes and then press it with a wooden paddle to work out any remaining buttermilk or water and to mix in the salt. Taste. If the butter is too salty, wash with cold water. If it’s not salty enough, add a bit more salt. Keep the butter cold while you’re working.
Making Ice Cream at Home
Homemade ice cream first became a staple of country living in 1846, when a woman named Nancy Johnson invented an ice-cream churn, complete with dasher, hand crank, two tubs, and space for ice and salt. By 1851, ice cream was produced commercially.
With the widespread use of refrigeration, electricity, supermarkets, and convenience foods in the early twentieth century, homemade ice cream became a delicacy for special occasions because we came to accept commercially made ice creams and other frozen desserts as food.
Over time, what was once a simple mixture of milk, sweetener, flavoring, and possibly eggs became a frozen chemical soup of more than 60 additives with almost 50 percent more air than in homemade ice cream.
For many, making ice cream at home has a great deal of mystique. Recipe books warn that the proportion of salt and ice has to be just right for the mixture to freeze correctly. Use too much sugar and the mixture won’t freeze; too little, and it will freeze as hard as a brick. Many cooks encourage the use of perfectly good ingredients such as gelatin and flour, but somehow these seem alien to such a simple delight.
Making ice cream and other frozen desserts yourself makes good sense and is a lot of fun. The flavors you can create are limitless, and the ingredients are readily available. Your ice cream will cost less than the premium brands and will be vastly superior to the cheaper brands. Most important, you can control what goes into your ice cream, making it as sinfully rich or as austerely slimming as you want, with no unnecessary ingredients.
For the best smooth texture and a minimum of ice crystals, ice cream needs to be constantly agitated throughout the freezing process; this is easily achieved with a modern ice cream maker with a freezer unit or with an old-fashioned ice cream maker, ice, and rock salt. Ice cream made with this process is called “churned” ice cream, because the dasher in the machine constantly churns the mixture to aerate it and scrapes the freezer container’s sides, breaking up any ice clusters that have formed.
How to Make Fresh-Churned Ice Cream
Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for your particular equipment.
The Scoop on Scooping
Our favorite kind of scoop is the solid aluminum, rounded type without a lever. Running the scoop along in smooth, long lines helps get perfect scoops. Don’t wet the scoop: The water will freeze to a thin layer of ice and add ice crystals to your otherwise perfectly textured ice cream.
1. Prepare ice cream, pour into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for several hours.
2. Wash the dasher, lid, and can of the ice-cream churn, then rinse and dry. Refrigerate to chill.
3. Pour the chilled mixture into the chilled can, making sure it is no more than two-thirds full to allow for expansion. Put on the lid.
4. Put the can into the freezer tub and attach the crank-and-gear assembly.
5. Fill the tub one-third full of ice. Sprinkle an even layer of salt, about 1/8 inch deep, on the top. Continue adding layers of ice and salt until the tub is filled to the top of the can.
6. If using ice cubes, add 1 cup of cold water to the ice and salt mixture to help the ice melt and settle. If using crushed ice, let the ice-packed tub sit for 5 minutes before beginning to churn. While churning, add more ice and salt in the same proportions, so the ice remains up to the top of the can.
7. For hand-cranked churns, crank slowly at first — slightly less than one revolution per second. When the mixture begins to pull, churn as quickly and steadily as possible for 5 minutes. Churn at a slightly slower pace for a few minutes longer, or until the mixture is reasonably hard.
8. For electrically powered churns, fill the can with the mix and plug in the unit. Allow it to churn until it stops (15 to 20 minutes). To restart if necessary, turn the can with your hands.
9. When the ice cream is ready, remove the crank-and-gear assembly. Wipe all ice and salt from the top, so that none can fall into the cream when you uncover it. Remove the lid and lift out the beater. The ice cream should be the texture of mush.
Ice Cream Ingredients
• Dairy products. Heavy cream, light cream, half-and-half, whole milk, low-fat milk, buttermilk, evaporated milk, sour cream
• Sweeteners. Granulated white sugar, brown sugar, honey, unsulfured molasses, maple syrup, light corn syrup, dark corn syrup, fructose, maltose, sorghum
• Flavorings. Vanilla extract, chocolate, carob, fruits, nuts, coffee, liqueurs
10. Scrape the cream from the beater. Add chopped nuts and fruit or sauce for ripple, if desired. Pack down the cream with a spoon. Cover with several layers of wax paper and replace the lid, putting a cork in the cover hole.
11. Eat the ice cream in its soft state, or ripen and harden the ice cream by placing it in a deep freezer or refrigerator freezer, or repack it in the tub with layers of ice and salt until the can and lid are covered. Use more salt than you previously used, making each layer about ¼ inch deep. Cover the freezer tub with a blanket and set it in a cool place until ready to serve, about 1 hour.
Basic Vanilla Ice Cream
There’s nothing like rich, high-butterfat ice cream, but in this basic recipe, there’s an option of making the ice cream lower in calories.
1 quart heavy or light cream or half-and-half or 2 cups each heavy and light cream
1 cup sugar or ½ cup honey
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1. Scald the cream. Although the ingredients can be mixed and used as is, scalding concentrates the milk solids and improves the flavor. To scald, slowly heat cream in a saucepan until just below the boiling point. Small bubbles will begin to appear around the edges. Stir for several minutes, then remove from the heat.
2. Stir in the sugar. Pour into a bowl, cover, and chill. When completely cooled, add the vanilla.
3. When the mixture is thoroughly chilled, follow directions for churned ice cream.
Yield: 1 quart
Whipping or heavy cream has 36 percent butterfat and produces the richest ice cream, but with the most calories. Most kinds available in grocery stores are ultrapasteurized and contain emulsifiers and stabilizers.
Light or coffee cream contains 20 percent butterfat and makes relatively rich ice cream.
Half-and-half is a mixture of milk and cream with 12 percent butterfat; it makes a satisfactory ice cream with a hint of richness.
Whole milk has 3½ percent butterfat. It’s the basic ingredient in most ice creams and sherbets.
Low-fat milks, with 2 percent butterfat, 99 percent fat-free, and skim (less than ½ percent butterfat), are useful when you want to limit calories, but you will get a coarser texture in the ice cream.
Once you’ve mastered basic vanilla ice cream, the variations are limited only by your ingredients. Here’s a sampling:
Banana ice cream. Use the basic recipe, but add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1½ cups mashed banana to the cream mixture just before freezing.
Butter pecan ice cream. Use the basic recipe, but add to the mushy ice cream 2/3 cup chopped pecans that have been sautéed in 3 tablespoons butter until lightly browned.
Chocolate chip ice cream. Use the basic recipe, but add 1 cup finely chopped chocolate chips to the cream mixture just before freezing.
Chocolate ice cream. Use the basic recipe, but melt two to six (1-ounce) squares of bitter or semisweet chocolate in a small pan over low heat and add to the scalded milk. Increase the sugar to taste, usually doubling the standard quantity.
Coffee ice cream. Use the basic recipe, but dissolve 3 tablespoons instant coffee, espresso, or grain beverage in 4 tablespoons hot water or ¾ cup brewed coffee. Add to the cream mixture just before freezing.
Fruit ice cream. Use the basic recipe, but before freezing add 1½ cups fruit puree stirred with 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice and 2 tablespoons sugar or 1 tablespoon honey. Use fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit. If you use pineapple, use canned, not fresh. Strain fruits with seeds, such as raspberries and blackberries, after pureeing.
Ice milk. Use the basic recipe, but substitute whole, low-fat, or skim milk for the cream.
Mint ice cream. Use the basic recipe, but reduce vanilla extract to 1 teaspoon and add 2 teaspoons peppermint extract to the chilled cream mixture.
Pistachio ice cream. Use the basic recipe, but add 1 teaspoon almond extract with the vanilla. Add 1 cup finely chopped pistachio nuts when the ice cream is mushy. If desired, add green food coloring with the extracts.
Super-creamy vanilla ice cream. Use the basic vanilla recipe, but soften 1½ teaspoons unflavored gelatin in ¼ cup water and add with the sugar to the scalded milk. Continue cooking over low heat until the gelatin is dissolved. Or substitute 1½ tablespoons agar for the gelatin.