Monday, September 14, 2009

Chickens and cheese & an update on Jack

No, this is not about making chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and rosemary.   Today I made a large batch of Gouda cheese.  So what do chickens have to do with making cheese?  Stay with me and I will explain.

Using nearly five gallons of milk leaves a lot of whey in the pan by the time the cheese is in the press. The yield for Gouda cheese, according to my cheese book, is only about 12% for whole milk. Given that our raw milk has about twice the cream that grocery store whole milk has - 3% vs. 6% - yield may be as high as 15%.   The cheese making pan was a quart shy of five gallons, which is about 40 lbs. of milk, with a yield somewhere between five and six pounds of cheese.  All the rest is whey, a milky liquid that is packed with protein.  This is what gets dehydrated and packed into little envelopes so you can pay big bucks for whey protein powder in the health food store.  That's okay - it's good stuff.  Better to make something with the leftovers than to throw them away, don't you think?  But it's good to know where your food is coming from, and now you know about whey drinks.

We lived near a cheese factory when I was a kid, and my dad had this truck that had an over-sized wooden barrel in place of the box.  He went to the cheese factory two or three times a week for whey.  The pigs loved it!  They fattened up much faster on all of that tasty protein!  Pigs thrive on concentrated protein.  They  are not ruminants, like cows, and they can't live on grass.  They are omnivores and will also eat meat, given the opportunity.

Okay, I am finally getting to the chickens.  My chickens love whey, too.  I filled a pie plate with some of it this afternoon, and soon 15 chickens were fighting for their place at the plate!  It was shiny clean when I looked in the pen a few minutes ago.  Chickens are omnivores, too.  A lot of people don't know that.  They think that chickens will thrive on grain.  Not so.  You know those store bought eggs with the pale yolks?  Those are "grain eggs."  Look for nice, deep yellow yolks, and you know that you are getting an egg that is packed with nutrition.  The chicken has had the diet that it was designed for, eating grass and weeds and many meaty bugs.  When I was growing up, I remember my mom throwing a bone from a blade roast over the fence to the chickens every now and again.  They polished it clean!  In addition to leftover roasts and bugs, they will eat each other.  Not only are chickens omnivores, they are also cannibals, which is why I removed the runt from the flock.  They are merciless!  If there is a chicken with an injury, she too needs to be moved away from the flock before she becomes the evening meal. 

When we talk about the food "chain," it implies a linear chain, with most people believing that humans are at the top of it.  I am reading a very good (and sometimes disturbing) book right now in which the author points out that it is not a chain, but a circle, and that every living thing is at one time or another the prey and the predator.  Farming - and I am referring to an integrated farm with crops and animals - brings that to our attention often.  It is hard for me to lose a chicken or a cow.  The hawks who attacked my chickens have to eat, too.  If it had not been my chickens, then it would have been ground squirrels or mice or rabbits.  When I thought Jack might die yesterday, I was very disturbed.  But he will die at some point, for some reason, and then he will be the prey of the tiny bacteria that will turn what is left into carbon, which in turn will feed the soil, which grows the crops that feed us.  And so the circle is complete and never ending.

Enough on this subject.  I will move to another and end on a happy note.  Tonight there are 15 chickens and three calves.  Those are both good numbers.  Jack is doing fine, and the vet didn't have to come out.  Based on my description of Jack's manure and his behavior, he believes it was a bit of constipation, which might have caused some intestinal cramping.  Jack got a cocktail of molasses, warm water, electrolytes, and castor oil for breakfast.  Yum!


  1. Hi, what's the book you mention reading in this post?

  2. The book is The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. She was a vegan for 20 years. I was a vegetarian for 15 years, and we share some of the same health problems brought on by such a diet. The big "aha" in her book was bringing to my attention that raising row crops is eating up our top soil. Cows are a net gain - one acre to live, manure to fertilize three, row crops just eat it up and require a whole lot of fossil fuel (for equipment and for fertilizers) that make them a net loss in terms of top soil. She rails against the stance of moral superiority that many vegetarians take, but she understands they take that stance out of ignorance, and wants to inform and educate. She feels we are at the point of no return in destroying top soil. Certainly 180 degrees from Al Gore and many others telling us to be vegetarians to save the world.

  3. Thanks. Need to get this for myself and after reading it, forward to my daughter who has gone mostly vegetarian now.

    The older I get, the more wisdom I see from the old 'family farm' traditions around the world. It just seem obvious to me that ruminants are just an exquisite way to convert ample natural grasses to something more suitable to humans and that can be "preserved" and carried-into the non growing-season of each year...

    Kinda like canning & preserving your crops @ harvest.

  4. Very good analogy, Mark. We cannot digest cellulose; cows can. How nice that they turn that cellulose into something that is good for us. I think I'll run to the kitchen for a tall glass of milk!