An Expert Helps

Y’all know we are all for self-reliance and personal resourcefulness …

HOWEVER, sometimes it helps to have an expert.

Watch Blake maneuver the excavator in the video below. Pay close attention to the tracks on the excavator as it goes by the tree, and after. I would not try this. Blake E. is the operator … he can do anything with machines big and small — he prefers Caterpillar, but in this situation, that was too much machine.

Update: Cow, Dog, Calf, Ditch

These days, we think of the fire as the “gift” that keeps giving. The scope and magnitude of the unexpected and unplanned-for work is formidable.

Anyway, things move along and here are some quick updates:

  • Lucy: we think she is 1 month pregnant. If so, due date is January 2023
  • Ayi now weighs 100 lbs. She has dental issues and will need her lower canines cut down and capped.
  • I call the new bottle-calf “Junior”. He’s doing very well.
  • The 170-year-old water ditch, the all-important conveyance of water with senior water rights, has been aged another 100 years by the fire. Our current focus is related to getting that working again for another year.
Milk cow Lucy grazing away, we think eating for two now!

Ditch cleaning

Burn-scar run-off, debris, invasive species and silt have forced us to deal aggressively with about 1/4 mile of ditch (it’s about 1.6 miles long, overall). We are literally digging it out, by-hand and with machine. Yeah, that old guy with poor posture in the above picture is me. We’ve been doing this for a number of days now. David is following-up with a shovel to get what the machine can’t. We are deeply indebted to the ingenuity and availability of machinery and diesel fuel!

In the above photo, David estimates that we removed three dump-trucks worth of debris and sediment from this 300 ft of ditch alone.

While we are doing this, two other ditch members are raking out grass and vines trimmed by the CCC crew. Two members have weed trimmed some areas of the ditch the CCC crew didn’t get to. Another member is helping with machine transport and refueling. And today we have more help: 1) one of the guys that excavated last year for us will help us today with the machine in some dicey areas, and 2) a couple other members will help out with the digging today.

We have some other repairs to complete but hope to have water flowing by next week sometime.

Tiny Excavator Operator

Even in retirement, I keep adding to my resume …

This time, it’s as an excavator operator. Granted, it’s a tiny one, only 4,000 lbs (not the 20,000 lb one we had last year for the water ditch pipeline project).

Since the fire, we have invasive grasses and blackberries filling our community’s water irrigation ditch. In order to conserve water and the proper operation of the ditch, we are removing these invasive things. The grasses are really bad because they slow the water, catch sediment, and fill the ditch so that it can’t carry water properly.

I’ve never operated an excavator until today, but so far, so good. I moved tons of silt and invasive grass roots this afternoon. Much more to do. We don’t want to use chemical pesticides or herbicides on this system. Last year we tried to dig some by-hand and it just wasn’t doable.

Cleaning sediment and invasive grasses out of the ditch
After I’m finished, the ditch is about 4′ wider and 1′ deeper.

Our New Milk Disposal Method

… David needs a break from cheesemaking

SOoooooo …..

A two-week-old bottle calf has come to the ranch to drink spare milk

Dairies sometimes cross their milk cows with beef breeds, such as Angus. The bull calves are typically sold to be raised as beef steers. We haven’t raised beef on this ranch (though we both raised bucket calves for beef steers when we were growing up). Anyway, young calves can consume a lot of milk, so for now, all Lucy’s spare milk goes to him. We just hope Lucy doesn’t adopt him … then we’ll have a problem. The plan is to milk Lucy as always, and give the calf what we don’t need.

We haven’t named this little guy yet … Brownie and Chocolate are obvious go-to names for him, but we already have a Chocolate. Brownie just doesn’t sound right for a beef steer.

Also, a side benefit for us with today’s trip to get the calf was that we drove right by the ranch of some friends we haven’t seen in a long time. We stopped in just as they were coming home from errands and chatted up a storm over some farm-brewed iced tea. It was great to see Nelia and Warren!

Meet One of the Crews from the California Conservation Corps (CCC)

We worked closely with this crew for the last three days.

Below, you should see an entire Facebook post about this. However, if you can’t see it, click this link (Facebook) or search “Berry Creek Water Users” in Facebook).

David has Aced Cheddar

He’s done consistently well with feta, mozzarella, cream cheese, and chèvre for some time now.

But cheddar has been a challenge … not so much the initial stage of cheddaring curds, but pressing, preservation and storage for aging.

A fresh, solid block of aged cheddar newly liberated from its storage rind

In the above picture, you can see I’ve shaved off a nice, thin rind to reveal a solid beautiful chunk of aged cheddar cheese.

We finally perfected pressing by making a wider, wooden disk for the press (so we could press all the cheese much more firmly). Check.

Then he had to get the moisture content right before wrapping (drier rather than wetter). Check.

Then he had to get the best method for wrapping (cheesecloth with a layer of butter and then freezer paper). Check.

Then he had to master humidity and temperature in a standard home refrigerator for multi-month storage (aging). Check.

He had some pretty nasty muck a few times, but those days are now a humorous part of the story! The chickens disposed of the muck with no problem, so we got it back in eggs.

Well done, David!

Rain is to Goats as Pavlov’s Bell is to His Dog

We have a phenomenon in our stable that I call “goat heads”. The goats that expect to be fed with hay in the morning stand on their pen walls with their front feet and bleat incessantly. It’s noisy. It’s funny. All I see at first on approach to the stable are bunches of noisy goat heads in the air.

I haven’t taken a video of that — it’s dark in there in the morning — but you’ll have to take my word for it. It’s a cacophony of funny.

Our goats typically expect hay if they are mothers giving milk. David feeds them a little hay morning and night, so they expect it. After they quit giving milk, David weans them off the hay and eventually, goat head mornings go away. A normal, non-goat-head morning at the stable is a bunch of goats sleeping peacefully in their pens, usually with their heads laying on one another in their family groups on the ground.

There is one other time when our goats get hay … that is when it rains. Goats don’t like to go out in the rain (at least ours don’t). So we usually put some hay out in the communal part of the arena and they run over there after we let them out of their pens in the morning when it’s raining. We get really good alfalfa hay — it’s like crack for goats (at $18 / bale). (Our goat crack dealer is an alfalfa farmer near Butte City … his product is in high demand, especially first cutting, so we are on him like flies on stink when it’s hay season so we get the good stuff).

Anyway, funny thing about rain is that it makes a lot of noise on a metal roof.

So guess what has developed pretty quickly?

Rain-induced goat heads!

On mornings when rain is loudly hitting the tin roof, when we approach the stable … all the goats (not just the old does and their kids that got hay when they were milking) are standing on their fences bleating like crazies. They have quickly come to know they are going to get hay because … it is raining!

So, just like a bell triggered Pavlov’s dog’s salivation, rain on the roof triggers goat-head frenzy here at the ranch.

It was not raining this morning, so no frenzy, just a bunch of sleeping goats — UNLIKE yesterday morning!

Chocolate being a “Goat Head”

Goat Guardian Training

This morning, I worked with Ayi and the goats … just a peaceful four hours on the hill watching over them all.

She does like being with the goats. Our spending time with her and them like this allows her instincts to come forward.

I animated this one for fun
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