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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cattle Feeding, Fixing Things, Bitter Melon, Bulk Meat & Home Kills, Home Brew Beer

Cattle Feeding

Companion Steer
Today we moved the cattle (all three) into our best grazing paddock. This is the one in which we have grown tomatoes and melons in different patches over the last 15 or 16 years. The small section allocated as the Tomato and Melon bed this year is protected by an electric fence. Part of the paddock was slashed nearly three months ago and with the ample rain, has grown a solid cover of various grasses. The animals ran into the grass and the sound of ripping grass and munching was evident. This is probably one of the most pleasing sounds.

Fixing Things

Rechargeable Torch
Over the years we have collected a few expired, rechargeable torches. They were kept for spare parts as we always purchased the same make and model. While scavenging for a spare part, the realisation dawned that with a simple modification some standard rechargeable AA batteries could be utilised to replace the originals. It is a shame it took so long for this to become apparent. Now we have a bank of working rechargeable torches to choose from.
Just to boost our stockpile in this area we found an almost new waterproof torch washed up on the beach during a recent walk with the dogs. The battery was one of those large 6 volt non rechargeable models. After carefully prising open the black battery box and removing old batteries it was a matter of fitting an alternative. There were two spare 3 volt batteries from an old non digital camera that provided the immediate solution. When these die they will be replaced with an assembly of rechargeable batteries.
Having been spurred on by the success with torches, when our very expensive can opener ceased operation it was dismantled and the broken component replaced. It was just a matter of finding a piece of scrap metal to serve as a handle. This can opener removes the lid by cutting inside the rolled lip without leaving any sharp edges. The task took less than an hour. The dollar saving was substantial.
Unfortunately, we live in a throw away world where repairs are more expensive than replacement. This never takes into account real cost on the environment of replacement nor disposal of the expired item. There is an image in our minds of large amounts of raw material being dug out of a giant pit. An enormous factory is built and fed by electricity generated by a power station belching smoke. At some point, a pristine cardboard box exits from a door to be loaded onto a container ship and delivered to our house. Very shortly afterwards this $10 item stops functioning and goes into landfill nearby. Maybe we could skip a few steps and save all that hassle. Just on principle, we are prepared to expend a little time and attempt to patch and repair.

Bitter Melon

Bitter Melon Vine
The Bitter Melon seeds we planted had a bit of a chequered start. Something managed to nibble away at the seeds as they poked their heads above the ground. Nonetheless, these things are pretty hardy. They struggled on through this early adversity and are now thriving. Seems they must be a very hardy plant.
Once the fruit is available they become an addition to any stir fries. The bitterness when cook is apparent but not abhorrent. This provides a nice little dimension in flavour. Wikipedia provides a substantial amount of detail on its medicinal and culinary values. 

Bulk Meat – Home Kills

Although one of us is a vegetarian, meat still plays a part in our food requirements especially with cats who love their mince and dogs who love some meaty bones. Often it is possible to pick up scraps of meat and bone from the supermarket where they are packaged and labelled as pet pieces. We are fortunate to have access to a number of small farmers who happily sell an entire beast as a home kill. The price per kilogram is the equivalent to the pet pieces but is much more than the farmer producer would expect to obtain through the normal commercial sale.
The animal is sent to the abattoir and the carcase forwarded to our local butcher. The butcher is most helpful organising the cuts to suite our needs ie no corned beef or sausages and more mince and pieces for the dogs. There is an option to pay a little extra and have everything pre-packaged in small packs and individually labelled. We choose to collect the cuts in bulk, package and label ourselves.

Frozen Home Kill

The usual arrangement is for our solitary human omnivore to start with the best cuts while the dogs and cats start at the other end. All seem to be happy with this arrangement.
Our only lament is for the arrangement we had on our previous property where a skilled neighbour would attend the property and dispatch the animal in question while it quietly grazed, eliminating any stress. The body would then be hung for the appropriate time in a cool room and then cut to suite by this home butcher.
The last comment we have on home kills is on the feeding regime. If you must eat meat, a grass fed animal is the best for you. Grain feeding is an unnatural diet for cattle, sheep and pigs. This overloads their system with Omega 6 fatty acids which find their way into your diet. So unnatural is the grain diet that in order to prevent ketosis and other issues, the grain is supplemented with a low level antibiotic and other additives. More importantly, a grass diet usually means that the animal has lived a natural existence.

Home Brew Beer

Home Brew Fermenter
There are some very tasty beers available on the market and some of these are expensive. Alongside them is a swag of mediocre brews at varying prices. Although we like to try some of these quality items from time to time it is a practical and enjoyable measure to brew the bulk of our requirements ourselves.
Some people have superb palates and every nuance of the flavour profile stands out for them. We are not in that category but we can discern rubbish when it enters a glass. Hence, we don’t go to outrageous lengths to make the ultimate beer. Our makings are perfectly acceptable to the average set of taste buds.
The perfectionist home brewer will start with grains, hops, yeast and water and with considerable skill produce a superb beer to be savoured by the experts.
The next level down is to buy a high quality (and price) kit beer with some additional bits and pieces such as hops and/or special grains to enhance the kit and bring it closer to its suggested style. Some home brew shops have developed these recipes from arduous and selfless testing as well as input from their customers. Home brewers are a generous crowd who are willing not only to share their secret recipes, but also the outcomes.
Moving down the scale, the next level and probably the most utilised is the standard beer kit from the supermarket or home brew shop. Extremely inexpensive and able to pass muster as a good beer assuming the various hygiene processes are followed.
Lastly, there is the old family recipe handed down from first born to first born involving the basic of all ingredients: brown sugar, water, golden syrup and hops with a little molasses for flavour. A robust ale not to everyone’s taste, more for a memory of leaner times.
After trying the family recipe for a time we moved onto the basic supermarket kit some of which were pretty reasonable and of late some are very good. For such specialist items as homemade Guinness we use a local brew shop’s fully tested combination of extras and output a brew which in blind tastings gives the real stuff a run for its money.
Hygiene is a critical factor in producing a good quality result. Sterilising the fermentation vessel and the bottles is mandatory. A little aging (6-18 months) adds a lot of flavour, particularly with the heavier beers such as stout. Wheat beer though doesn’t improve with age, best drunk within a couple of weeks, after that it doesn’t change.
The best time to brew is in the cooler months when the fermentation naturally takes a little longer. Put down a few batches initially to provide a buffer that has some bottles receiving that needed bottle aging. Bottles, both full and half size, suite us best although some enthusiasts skip this tedious step and use CO2 to gas up their kegs which are kept on tap in their own refrigerator. For the enthusiast this takes out a number of additional steps but may create difficulty in tracking consumption.

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