Thursday, June 11, 2015

Make your own mayonnaise!

Not only can you use mayonnaise on salads and in pasta salads or potato salad, it also is a necessary ingredient for ranch dressing, which you can make with homemade buttermilk. Mayonnaise falls into the “you can make that at home?” category because most people have never eaten homemade mayonnaise. Yes, in less than five minutes, with only four ingredients, you can make mayonnaise with either a blender or food processor.

  • 2 fresh eggs (or one egg and two egg yolks)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice or wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups oil
  • optional spices: 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 teaspoon dill weed, 1 to 3 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon paprika

I made mayonnaise for twenty years using two eggs and then learned that the yolk really does most of the work, so if you are using egg whites for something else (like quiche), you can use one whole egg and two yolks. Put the eggs in a food processor or blender and blend for 30 seconds. Add the salt and lemon juice or vinegar and blend until mixed, maybe another 15 seconds, and then slowly add the oil in a little dribble with the blender still on high.

Most traditional mayonnaise recipes include the dry mustard as a standard ingredient, but I often don’t use it, and I don’t see much difference in flavor. If you are planning to use the mayonnaise in a pasta salad or potato salad, you can add the spices from your recipe while the mix is still in the blender. About once a year for variety, I’ll make a Cajun mayonnaise by adding 1 tablespoon of chili powder and 1 teaspoon of paprika.

The is an excerpt from Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living by Deborah Niemann.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Excerpt from Heal Local: 20 Essential Herbs

The Importance of Local

I believe we should all have the ability to walk into our backyard and pick what is needed for any minor home emergency. Western medicine and natural therapies have become polarized un-necessarily. It can be inappropriate to give away our power entirely in either direction. In the case of our current society’s infatuation with Western medicine, many have let go of their personal power and lost their herbal birthright. This has led to a situation where every health decision — along with our personal and financial security — is given over to someone in a white coat. It can be frightening to assert our independence and take back our decision-making ability in this area.

As a new mother, it was my intention to exercise this independence, but it meant I took on responsibility of the health and safety of my child in ways that I wouldn’t have needed to otherwise. We maintain a balance in our home that is the central theme of the book I would like to share with you. We take care of most of our health crises at home with herbs and other natural methods. In each situation we weigh what Western medicine has available to us against the severity of the situation and what we can do ourselves. Western medicine is very good at quickly addressing symptoms and averting disaster in very dangerous and serious situations. If one of us has a broken bone, we will head to a hospital. Natural first aid does not need to set one method of healing against another; instead it should incorporate the best of all worlds. If we can take care of something here at home, simply and without subjecting ourselves to waiting room bacteria, we will do so. Couldn’t everyone have these basic skills? As health care systems come under pressure, we can find ways to allow citizens to take responsibility once again for their health. This will relieve both overburdened staff in clinics and hospitals and overburdened family budgets.

Who gets to be self-sufficient? Is it only the “crunchy” families who have some land and the desire to homestead in the current sense of the word? I don’t believe so. Self-sufficiency does not have to be an all-or-nothing prospect. Instead it should be scalable. Self-sufficiency in home health is attainable for the apartment dweller as well as the farmer living on 100 acres.

Sustainability is a hot button topic right now. Very simply, the way we practice health through the Western medical paradigm is not sustainable. As we continue to chase the next symptom, our bodies become more and more structurally unsound. We need to get back to fixing the foundational issues we have in our lives rather than only seeking a quick fix.

As patients of the Western medical system have become accustomed to demanding an instant result, we have created a self-perpetuating cycle within our communities. We expect doctors to be godlike, holding them accountable in a legal manner for that which they should never have been responsible. In defense, Western medical practice and education has tried to act godlike, dispensing from on high and brooking no questions. In an effort to provide the patient with what he/she wanted rather than what they needed, our medical establishment has overreached itself. Both sides must change in order for healing to begin. We cannot demand that someone else inappropriately take responsibility for our personal health and then chastise them for damage that is created when they do so.

We can take back both our responsibility and our power. Western medicine can again be a respected profession when doctors are consultants to an informed patient who is responsible for their own actions and decisions. In the meantime, we can begin to fill the void that this disentanglement will cause. We have lost much of our traditional knowledge of home care. This has happened as a large medical system has struggled to gain more power and attempted to discredit traditional knowledge. This has also happened as our culture has attempted to pull families out of the home and into full-time professional employment while discrediting the contributions of home caretakers.

This is an excerpt from Heal Local: 20 Essential Herbs for Do-it-Yourself Home Healthcare. To read our review and enter a giveaway to win a copy, click here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Conversation with author Dawn Combs

Today we're chatting with Dawn Combs, author of Heal Local: 20 Essential Herbs for Do-it-Yourself Home Healthcare.

How did you get interested in medicinal herbs?

I have been fascinated with ethnobotany since college. I was sitting in a lecture in college about how a plant can decide from one day to the next to pull a different nutrient from the soil in response to an insect attack and it became incredibly clear to me that there was an intelligence in the plant kingdom that I had never heard about. Those same chemicals that are often used by the plant to protect it against disease or predation are often the ones we use for medicinal benefit. I was hooked. After getting my botany degree it took me another ten years to find Rosemary Gladstar with whom I could formally continue my studies in botanical medicine.

Where did you get the idea to write this particular book?

Since completing my studies and starting our herbal business we have lived in a community that is not blessed with a local medicine economy. I am passionate about helping people regain their herbal birthright and become self sufficient in their healthcare. For years I’ve stood at a farmer’s market booth watching people who are enthusiastic about knowing the farmer who grew their food but being content with no connection to who makes their medicine. That seemed like a disconnect to me and I began to think a lot about how the buy local, eat local notion could be extended to local medicine.

Why these 20 herbs? and why 20? why not 15 or 25?

The book isn’t really about THESE 20 herbs. I don’t want to suggest that these are the 20 that everyone should have. My point is that I addressed almost 100 health issues in this book with only 20 herbs. We don’t have to have a different herb for each problem and we don’t need to feel overwhelmed with natural healthcare. Everyone’s home medicine chest should be personalized for themselves or their family. If they can grow some themselves or wildcraft local herbs, so much the better. I really wanted to bring it down to 15, but I just couldn’t build complete protocols for some of the diseases that our culture struggles with in just 15 so it had to expand to 20.

Is there an herb or two that you seriously considered but it ultimately didn't make the final cut? Why?

I truly can’t live without nettles (Urtica dioica) or dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and they aren’t in the book. It’s not that I don’t value them, it’s just that they weren’t necessary to make my point. If anyone has a bit more room in their cupboard I hope they add the weeds that we can get for free… perhaps that’s another book!

Do you have any particular advice for someone who is just starting to use herbs?

Keep it simple, learn to trust your own inner knowing. Approach herbs with respect not fear. In keeping with what I’m trying to say in the book, I would say choose only one or two herbs to start and get to know them really well. Grow them, eat them and use them in your medicine. Don’t pressure yourself to learn every herb you hear about, look in your own backyard.

Are there any mistakes that you see made with herbs? and how do we avoid those mistakes?

One of the biggest mistakes I see is when people take one source about a given supplement as gospel. Even worse is when they don’t vet the source. There are many armchair health educators out there who’s authority is dubious at best. That’s not to say that these “authorities” can’t be right occasionally, but it is always good to check out your sources and look for supporting information in at least two other reference points. The other big mistake is when people give their authority away to someone else and don’t listen to their own inner knowing. Develop your own filter so that you can determine what is believable and what is right for you versus what may be more appropriate for others.

To read our review of Dawn's book and enter the giveaway to win your own copy, click here.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Book review of Heal Local: 20 Essential Herbs

New Society Publishers initially contacted me a few months ago and asked if I would be interested in reading a pre-publication galley for Heal Local: 20 Essential Herbs for Do-it-Yourself Home Healthcare, and if I liked it, write up a short blurb that could be used to promote the book. As soon as I saw the concept and the table of contents, I knew this was the book for which I'd been searching for years.

Author Dawn Combs covers everything you need to know to start creating your own homegrown herbal medicine cabinet. She talks about growing herbs, as well as what to do with them after they're grown, including the various methods of preparing herbs to use medicinally.

Part three of the book has an alphabetical listing of twenty herbs that can be grown and used from boneset to yarrow. Within each herbal listing, there are tips on harvesting, which type of preparation works for what types of medical conditions, and even how you can use the herb in food. While it might seem obvious what to do with an herb like cayenne, not too many people are accustomed to eating chickweed.

Part four is an alphabetical listing of first aid situations where herbs can be used, from asthma attacks to wounds. Finally, part five covers various body systems, such as respiratory, with information on conditions that may be chronic or acute. For example, under "allergies," Dawn lists the various herbs that can be used and the best ways to use them.

I especially appreciate the scope of the book. Focusing on only twenty herbs makes the task of creating your own homegrown apothecary seem possible. Even better, the author chose herbs that are useful with more than a hundred different medical conditions, meaning that when you are done reading it, you have a great deal of useful knowledge.

Heal Local is now in bookstores, but the nice people at New Society Publishers have agreed to give away a copy of the book to one of my readers in the U.S. or Canada. To enter the giveaway, just click on the appropriate links below. Be sure to use the same name when commenting as when you fill out the Rafflecopter entry so we can match them with each other.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

7 tips for keeping bucks healthy

When you raise goats, it's easy to forget that bucks have needs too. Since does are the ones producing the kids and the milk, it's obvious that they need special attention. Because bucks are only producing sperm, it seems like their needs should be less than does, but that is not the case. And because bucks are stinky, most people don't like handling them. So, it's no surprise that bucks are often ignored beyond daily feeding and watering. But, just as with does, you will have more productive bucks if you make sure they have everything they need.

Provide good hay, pasture or browse 
Although bucks don't need grain or alfalfa, they won't thrive on dried out brown grass hay, and just as does would get sick when fed moldy hay, so will bucks. But what do bucks need beyond a good grass hay or pasture and browse?

Provide loose goat minerals
They need supplemental minerals that they can't get from their environment, which means they should have a free choice, loose mineral mix available. Why can't they get it from their environment? Because goats in nature live in the desert or in mountains, not on the plains or the prairies. They are not naturally grazers. They are browsers, which means they would normally eat small bushes and woody perennials, not grass. Be sure to get a mineral mix that is specifically labeled for goats only -- not sheep and goats. If it is also labeled for sheep, it will not have enough copper in it for goats. And it should be a loose mineral, not a block, because goat tongues are not rough enough to get adequate nutrition from a block in most cases.

Check body condition
Pegasus, age 6, clipped for show,
so you can see his body condition is great!
Even if you are giving bucks the best feed and supplemental minerals, you need to check their body condition at least once a month. That means putting your hands on them! Eeeyew! But because bucks usually have long hair, looks can be deceiving. We learned the hard way a long time ago that just because a buck looks good from a distance does not mean he is in great shape. Their long hair can hide a skinny frame. So, put your hands on them and be sure that they are not too skinny, which could indicate a parasite problem, such as worms or lice. Here is a great factsheet on checking body condition in goats.

Check eyelids
In addition to checking the buck's body condition, you also need to check his eyelids every month to be sure he isn't anemic. The main cause of anemia in goats is an over-abundance of the barber pole worm, which is an intestinal parasite that sucks the goat's blood, making it anemic and eventually killing it. The eyelids should be bright pink or red. If it is light pink or white, the goat is anemic. Treating the goat for intestinal parasites generally remedies the problem. However, a copper deficiency can manifest as anemia, so if the goat does not have a heavy load of parasites, but is anemic, copper deficiency is a possibility.

Pay attention to the buck's coat
Pegasus, age 3, under weight,
with a coat showing signs of copper deficiency
Why would you care about a buck's coat if you aren't showing your goats? Because it's a great indicator of nutritional problems. If a red goat starts turning tan, a cream goat starts to look white, or a black goat looks red (pictured at right), it could be due to a copper deficiency. Now you're probably wondering how a goat could be copper deficient if you're giving them a supplemental mineral. If you have well water with high sulfur or iron, those minerals bind with the copper and make it unavailable to the goat, so you will need to supplement with copper oxide wire particles. Another sign of copper deficiency is a forked tail, which some people call a fish tail, as well as a goat that is slow to shed its winter coat in the spring. Don't be fooled into thinking this is just a cosmetic problem! Ultimately a buck that is copper deficient will have fertility problems, so he won't be able to do the one job he needs to do.

Trim hooves
Finally, it's important to check your buck's hooves regularly and trim them as needed. This will mean every two to three months for most bucks, but some will need it monthly, and others may only need it once or twice a year. Again, this is not just a cosmetic issue. If hooves get overgrown, they can wind up with hoof rot or other problems, making it difficult for a buck to mount does and get them pregnant.

Every three to four months, we have a buck spa day, which started as simply pedicure day. The goats didn't seem too excited about having their hooves trimmed, so I thought they might like it more if we referred to it as a pedicure. Who doesn't love a pedicure? For the record, it did not appear to change their opinion of the whole thing. Over the years, we realized this was also the perfect time to check eyelids and body condition, as well as give them the supplemental COWP while they're on the milk stand. They eat grain and alfalfa pellets top-dressed with copper while we trim their hooves give them a pedicure. Once the hoof trimming pedicure is done, we check eyelids and body condition, and give a dewormer, if necessary.

What about parasite control?
You may be surprised that routine deworming is not on this list. Regular use of a dewormer was common practice during the 1990s and early 2000s, but recent research has shown that it's a bad idea because it ultimately leads to dewormer resistance, which means that at some point, you are likely to find yourself in a situation where dewormers no longer work. For more information on dewormer resistance, check out this post.

So, if you don't regularly deworm the bucks, what do you do? Check eyelids and body condition, and if a goat is anemic and under-weight, it is advisable to use a dewormer on that goat. For more information on preventing parasite problems, check out this post.

Now, if you're thinking that this seems like a lot of work, don't despair. It really isn't, especially when you consider the fact that a healthy buck can produce dozens of kids in a single year. Wise breeders for decades have known that your bucks are half your herd, even if you only have a few. Be smart, and protect that investment in your herd's future!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Is my goat kid fat?

A lot of people new to goats think a kid is "fat" when it has a big belly. However, a big belly -- sometimes called "hay belly" -- is a sign of malnutrition, either from a parasite overload or not getting enough milk. And not enough milk leads to parasite problems because the kids are not getting enough of mom's antibodies to fight them. Malnourished kids get a big belly because they are eating as much solid food as they can stuff into themselves, but it doesn't have the nutrients they need for growth. If they have a parasite overload, they are overeating because, depending upon which type of parasite it is, the parasites are either sucking their blood or consuming the  food in their digestive system, either of which leaves the kid malnourished and possibly anemic.

So, how do you know if your kid is fat or getting too much milk?

Goats put fat on their spine, ribs, and brisket, not on their bellies. There are lots of goats with big bellies that are actually underweight. Here is a great PDF on body condition scoring in goats.  I have seen many kids that people thought were "fat" when they actually had a body condition score of 2, which is underweight.

When kids get too much milk, they get diarrhea. This usually only happens when bottle-feeding because some people try to get the kids down to only two bottles a day, which means large amounts of milk in each bottle.

When kids get more milk than they need but not too much, they will grow very fast. When our best milker had triplets at her prime, one of her bucklings was 30 pounds at two months, which is huge for a Nigerian. My daughter referred to him as "the draft horse." We have lots of kids that are sold at 3 months, and people exclaim that they're the same size as their 5-6 month old kids at home. It's because we don't limit the amount of milk they get from mom for the first two months. That also means that we rarely have any of the problems that people think are normal, such as coccidiosis and parasites in kids. We have many goats here now that have never had a coccidiostat or a dewormer in their entire lives -- because they didn't need it. If they need it, I will certainly give it to them. It all starts with a solid foundation of good nutrition provided by mom's milk, coupled with good management, which I discussed last month in this post.

Dam-raising and separating kids from mom

Many people who are new to goats think that they can start separating the doe from the kids within a couple of weeks of birth. If a doe has only a single kid, then you can actually start milking her the day she kids, but if she has two or more, it's probably not a good idea to start separating the kids regularly until the kids are two months old.

It is definitely a bad idea to separate kids from their dam if the doe is a first freshener because she is unproven as a milker, so you have no idea what her production will be like. With first fresheners it is a great idea to put them on the milk stand twice a day and try to milk them -- but NOT separating her from the kids beforehand. I say "try" because you may or may not get any milk, depending upon when the kids last nursed. That's fine if you don't get any milk because she's producing just enough for the kids. If she has produced a little extra, you can take it. But separating her from the kids regularly is setting her up for producing less milk than if you left them together. Research has shown that nursing kids cause the doe to release oxytocin, which results in better production than when a doe is milked by a person or machine.

The idea that you can separate babies from their mother overnight from birth comes from the dairy cow world. For the past century, milk production in cows has been driven so high that most dairy cows produce far more than a single calf could possibly consume, so separating them overnight is usually not a problem. However, goats have not been bred to produce such astronomically high volumes of milk, so most of them only produce enough to feed their kids for the first couple of months when the kids need the most milk because they are growing the fastest.

Dam-raising multiples

I often see sale ads where people say that a goat is "small because she was one of quads" or an even larger litter. Being a multiple is not an excuse for being small by two to three months of age. There are three reasons for a kid that age to be small: parasites, not enough milk, or genetics. Even though a kid may be born small, if it receives adequate nutrition, it should catch up in size to other kids its age within a couple of weeks.

Far too many people think that a doe will make enough milk to feed whatever number of kids she has, even if it's five or six. This is simply wrong, and it can result in small or dead kids within a few days or a few months. If a kid is getting as much milk as its siblings, it would be growing as much as its siblings. When we had our first set of quads 11 years ago, one almost died at two weeks of age because everyone in the Yahoo goat group was saying that a doe could feed quads with no problem. A year later, another doe had quads, and one died at only two days of age because it wasn't able to get enough milk. Today I don't normally let a doe try to raise four unless she has a track record of exceptional production. Click here for more info on How many kids can a doe feed?

Milk vs. solid food

Some people think that once a kid is eating solid food, it doesn't need milk any longer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dam-raised kids are usually eating solid food within a few days of birth. However, nothing else can provide the high levels of nutrients, as well as the antibodies, of fresh milk. Baby goats are born with very immature immune systems, and without all the antibodies of their mother's milk, they usually have problems with coccidiosis, which is why many people who bottle-feed kids will start them on a coccidiostat or medicated milk replacer at three weeks of age.

Be a hands-on goat breeder!

It's not enough to look at kids from across the barn and assume that they're healthy. You need to pick them up every day or two so that you know how their weight compares to the other kids. You also need to run your fingers down their spine and under their chest. Is there plenty of meat along the spine? Or does the spine feel sharp? The body condition guide linked above is not just for adults. Kids should have the same scoring done on them even more often than adults. It's not that hard to turn around an adult that has a problem with parasites, but if a kid is not growing adequately, it can be impossible to turn around if you don't catch it soon enough. That means you could have an animal that never reaches its genetic potential. In the case of does, they won't be big enough to breed until closer to two years, and in severe cases, their growth can be permanently affected, and they'll never be big enough to breed. Or in the worst cases, you'll wind up fighting parasite overloads for a few months, and the kids will ultimately die.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Time-Honored Tradition of Bone Broth

Bone broth is made from bones with a little bit of meat on them, which you cook for longer than you would a meat stock. You can introduce bone broths into your diet once you’re through the Intro Diet and following Full GAPS. It’s a good idea to prepare a large quantity of broth at a time; use it to make healthy soups, stews, and casseroles or simply to drink throughout the day as a beverage, complete with probiotic juice, good fat, and mineral-rich salt. What a wonder drug! Occasionally, when I say to a person who is sick, “You need some homemade bone broth,” they look at me as if I’m crazy—like it’s some foreign, exotic food. Yet this humble staple is perhaps the most traditional, nourishing, and nutrient-dense food available. It’s also dirt-cheap to make. It does take a little time and effort, but once you get the hang of it, you will be movin’ and groovin’.

Be sure to source your bones carefully. The best bones are from 100 percent grass-fed and -finished cows, pastured chickens, and wild-caught fish. Of course, you can make bone broth with lamb, turkey, bison, and venison bones, too. Just be sure that the livestock was raised to your standards. The best way to ensure excellent quality is to seek out a local, sustainable farmer, or to find a reputable resource online.

It took me a few years to work up the courage to order chicken feet from our co-op, and another year after that to order chicken heads. These are not ingre- dients we are used to seeing in the average American grocery store! Nonetheless, they are star players in making a fine bone broth. Often people are reluctant about these ingredients, unless they grew up in a different country, in which case I sometimes hear, “Yes, that’s how we did it when I was growing up.” Or even, “We used to eat the feet right off the bone; they are so delicious!” Even in many parts of Europe they still make use of every last animal part. It is now more important than ever for us to get back to traditional food preparation and honor the wisdom of our past. These inexpensive super foods are a must for the GAPS Diet.

Place the bones in a pot, add the apple cider vinegar and water, and let the mixture sit for 1 hour so the vinegar can leach the minerals out of the bones. (Add more water if needed to cover the bones.) Add the vegetables, bring to a boil, and skim the scum from the top and discard. Reduce to a low simmer, cover, and cook for 24 to 72 hours. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, throw in a handful of fresh parsley for added flavor and minerals. Let the broth cool and strain it, making sure all the marrow is knocked out of the marrow bones and into the broth. Add sea salt to taste and drink the broth as is or store it in the fridge (up to 5 to 7 days) or freezer (up to 6 months) for use in soups and stews.

Homemade Chicken Broth

Makes about 4 quarts

When we make chicken broth we make it in one of three ways: using a whole stewing hen or layer; with the carcasses from a roasted chicken or two; or with 3 to 4 pounds of necks, backs, and wings (or a combination). With a roasted chicken, we often save the carcass in the freezer until we have enough to make broth.

1 3- to 4-pound stewing hen, 1–2 chicken carcasses, or 3–4 pounds chicken necks, backs, and wings
4 quarts filtered water
2–4 chicken feet (optional)
1–2 chicken heads (optional)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 onion, quartered
Handful of fresh parsley
Sea salt

Put the chicken or carcasses in a pot with 4 quarts of water; add the chicken feet and heads (if you’re using them) and the vinegar. Let sit for 30 minutes, to give the vinegar time to leach the minerals out of the bones. Add the vegetables and turn on the heat. Bring to a boil and skim the scum. Reduce to barely a simmer, cover, and cook for 6 to 24 hours. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, throw in a handful of fresh parsley for added flavor and minerals. Let the broth cool, strain it, and take any remaining meat off the bones to use in future cooking. Add sea salt to taste and drink the broth as is or store it in the fridge (up to 5 to 7 days), or freezer (up to 6 months), for use in soups and stews.

This excerpt has been adapted from Hilary Boynton and Mary G. Brackett's The Heal Your Gut Cookbook: Nutrient-Dense Recipes for Intestinal Health Using the GAPS Diet (September 2014) and printed with permission from Chelsea Green Publishing.

If you'd like a chance to win a copy, check out our giveaway that started on Monday!
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