Grit Blogs >

Forever Wild

A Splash of Goat's Milk

Erin BaldwinSo, this little line from my last post …

We understand that this option isn’t the best for maximum milk production, but since we will probably get around a gallon a day from a single morning milking of our four does, we should have more then we need to drink with a little leftover for making cheese, yogurt and soap.

… I need to add a little footnote to it. *If I can get any milk from them.

I have been trying my best to rise around 6 o’clock to start my morning milking routine. The whole getting up part is going pretty smoothly. My little 6-month-old alarm clock is up and at it by then, so that part works out quite nicely.

Then the chaos ensues. The goats are just learning the routine, which I would like to go something like this: One goat at a time calmly walks to the milk stand, hops up into the stanchion to leisurely munch on grain while I skillfully milk. Just the sweet smell of dew, cool morning air, chirping birds and satisfying ting, ting, ting of delicious, raw goat milk hitting the side of my milking pail. 

Here’s how it’s been going …

The alarm goes off. I mix my udder wash and grab my shiny new milking equipment. At the goat pen, I crack the gate. Four full-grown Nubians push their noses through with all the muscle they can muster, as I do my best to let only one through at a time. Three escape, but I wrestle two back into the pen. Gypsy is first and it’s me versus her to the stand. She knows there is grain waiting at the finish line. I slip in goat poop, and she takes the lead. Around the stand we go.

“Come on girl, up here. Not that way. Wait. No, jump up here.”

Finally, I get her to stretch her head through the headpiece, and I quickly secure the lock. But her back legs are off the stand to the side. Maybe I can lift her the rest of the way up? “My gosh, how much do you weigh?” Now, she’s laying down on the stand. How to get her up? “Up girl, up.” I dig deep and finally get enough umph to lift her onto all fours. By this time the grain is almost gone. I grab my wipes to clean her udders. Wipe. Kick. Another wipe. Kick. Finally, I’m ready to start milking and get a squirt in the strip cup. Kick. I quickly realized that my nine-quart milking pail might have been ambitious. One teat at a time, I get a couple squirts in the pail.

Repeat. Times four.


What would take an experienced goat and milker just a few minutes has taken me an hour. And I still need to clean up. It’s time for work (my day job, which pays for my homesteading endeavors), and I’m sweaty and smell like a goat.

I get back inside, clean up, get the children ready and head off to the office to spend the next eight hours longing for the satisfaction of that morning routine. Dodging goat kicks beats a day in the office anytime. 

I figure if I keep at it, things will fall into place. Each morning brings progress. And before I know it, we will find our rhythm, and I’ll get to spend my afternoons enjoying the fruits of my labor with a side of goat milk cheese.


In the meantime, I’ll enjoy a splash of fresh, raw, delicious goat milk in my morning tea (and only in my morning tea, because a splash is all I get). 

The Mischievous Ginger and Gwen

Erin BaldwinOver two years ago, I decided to make the leap into raising goats. To be honest, what piqued my interest in diary goats was the need for an alternative to breast milk after giving up breastfeeding my first little one following several terrible bouts of mastitis. Little Farmer T was diary obsessed, and still is, so I wanted an option that I controlled to ensure that it was hormone, antibiotic and toxin free. Diary goats seemed like the perfect answer.

Our four Nubians have been wonderful to raise. They are full of personality, and their friendly and gentle dispositions make them the perfect farmyard companion for the kids. We introduced a buck into the herd last fall and after a successful breeding period, we are eagerly anticipating our first kidding season here on the homestead.

Gypsy, our first Nubian to give birth, delivered twin doelings last week. Now several days old, they are all legs, ears and spunk.

Gwen  Ginger

My sister, Amy, and I have decided that we are going to go the milk-once-a-day route. We have numerous reasons for doing this. First, we need the flexibility in our schedules. Secondly, we can raise the kids with their mothers to eliminate the need to bottle-feed and the cost associated with milk replacer. We understand that this option isn’t the best for maximum milk production, but since we will probably get around a gallon a day from a single morning milking of our four does, we should have more then we need to drink with a little leftover for making cheese, yogurt and soap. 

Kidding Season is Under Way

Erin BaldwinWinter won’t release its grip, hammering us with ten more inches of snow overnight Sunday and into Monday morning. This winter has worn us down with week after week of extremely bitter temperatures, which is not only hard on a soul longing for summer but hard on the animals around the homestead as well. It seems summer just can’t come soon enough.

Before this last storm rolled in, we did have a fleeting burst of fair weather, perfectly timed for the arrival of our third kid this season. Our mixed breed goat, Helen, came to our herd this past summer and this is her first kidding. A little buckling whom we named Heinz presented perfectly and was born mid-day Saturday.


Three days later he’s strong and romping around his pen.

Amy Heinza 


In just 10 days, the main herd, consisting of our five Nubians, is due. The anticipation is building and soon the homestead will be bustling with new life. Until then we will keep doing our best to will the thermometer to rise. 

Making Homemade Vanilla Extract

Erin BaldwinLast summer, we purchased a small bottle of locally made vanilla extract from a friend of my sister’s who was selling her products at our local Farmers' Market. I popped it open as soon as I got home and the aroma was intoxicating; after the first time I cooked with it, I vowed never to use store-bought extract again.

After doing some research, I learned how simple it is to make extract at home and this past weekend that’s just what I did.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Ingredients: Vanilla beans (any variety) and vodka (or bourbon, rum or brandy)

Ratio: 5 beans to 1-cup vodka


CUT the vanilla beans lengthwise in half and put them into a glass container.

POUR in the vodka, close the jar, and store in a cool, dry place.

SHAKE the jar every week or so.

WAIT eight weeks or more, and then your extract will be ready to use. 

I purchased vodka from a local distillery, Smooth Ambler Spirits, near Lewisburg, West Virginia, and ordered Madagascar vanilla beans from Beanilla.

In about eight weeks or more, once the vanilla is done extracting you can strain it into another bottle or simply leave in the beans and the extract will continue to age and evolve. As you use the extract, you can continually add alcohol and, if the extract begins to thin over time, add more beans to keep your extract going for years.

Vanilla Extract

For my first time making extract I decided to use the standard recipe with Madagascar vanilla beans and vodka, but you can get as creative as you like, experimenting with other types of vanilla beans and spirits. Pair up your extract with a decorative glass bottle, and you have the perfect homemade gift.

Once your extract is done, hold on to those beans. Try making vanilla sugar or homemade Kahlua with your used beans.

Anyone else making your own vanilla extract? What are your favorite varieties and flavors?


Smooth Ambler Spirits: 


Beanilla Homemade Vanilla Extract:

Two New Kids on the Block

Erin BaldwinHere at Cooper Run we survived the deep freeze, and the thaw … and the deep freeze again. Winters can be long around these parts, and we are used to the snow; but this winter has seemed exceptionally harsh. While the snowfall has been below average, the temperatures have remained brutally cold week after week, with the occasionally warm-up thrown in. Just a few weeks ago we saw the temperatures dip as low as minus 25 (with a minus 50 degree wind chill), followed by temperatures in the 50s and downpours.


The extreme temperatures forced us to take extra precautions with the goats; making sure everyone had plenty of fluffy bedding, checking for drafts in the barns and even running heat lamps when necessary. We expected most of our goats to kid in early spring, but our newest addition, Jill, was bred before she moved into the herd and delivered two baby goats on January 22 as the thermometer read minus 4 degrees.


Between night checks the propane heat lamp we lit in the barn went out. Once we found the kids, they were still wet and extremely cold. We rushed them inside to a warm bath and were able to get them warmed up and dried off. Almost three weeks later, the pair is doing well. The girl has been lovingly name Janus (after the nasty, cold winter storm she was born in) and the boy we call Joplin. Again, we couldn’t help ourselves. As a result of their time in the frigid temperatures, both suffered some frostbite on the tips of their pendulous ears and despite our efforts to treat it, it appears they are going to lose the very tips. Joplin is also having some weakness in the joints of his back legs, but seems to be improving day after day. Both are quiet entertaining and spunky.



While the weather most certainly didn’t cooperate, I couldn’t be more excited about entering our first kidding season on the homestead. Janus and Joplin are great first additions and we are anticipating early April when the rest of herd begins to kid. 

Winter Updates and a New Year

Erin BaldwinThe last couple of months have been a wonderful fog as we welcomed our daughter into the world in early November. She is an absolute delight and completes our small family.

As winter hits full steam, things around the homestead have quieted, but nonetheless, many of us are busy with our day jobs working in the local ski tourism industry. Mother Nature has brought a weird mix of weather, from blinding snow and unrelenting wind to several balmy days in the high 50s.

West Virginia Winter

We have made progress on many of our smaller endeavors over the last few months. After curing for weeks, we are now enjoying our first batch of handmade lye soap. The idea of making soap from scratch was a bit daunting, but once Amy and I dove into the project it was as simple as following a recipe. The result was a delightful smelling batch of gardener’s soap with an exceptional lather and fresh citrus and patchouli fragrance.

Lye Soap

Our homemade apple cider vinegar has completed its fermentation, leaving a pungent vinegar with a sharp taste and lovely deep caramel color. Bottled in recycled glass apple cider jugs, it now adorns the larder waiting to be used.

We recently purchased a young purebred, registered buck with good bloodlines named Rufus Moose. He is a beautiful chocolate-brown buck with a wonderfully contrasting black dorsal strip, partial white band and frosted ears. He has a friendly disposition and has been a great addition the herd. Our herd is bred, and we are anxiously anticipated kids in early spring. 

Rufus Moose

Rufus was not the only addition the goat yard, as we were able to take in a nanny from a neighbor who was having issues with it being aggressive towards her other small goat. Named Jill, she is more at home in our herd. Already bred when we got her, we are expecting her to kid any day now.

I am already looking ahead to spring. I get a tinge of excitement every time I see the seed catalog setting on my desk and can almost smell the scent of rain on the soil and taste the first bite from a freshly picked heirloom tomato. Packaged bees have been ordered, as we plan to rebuild our hives after last season’s winter losses. And we have a delightful mix of chickens set to ship this spring to complement our current flock of seven Australorps.

It has been a wonderful 2013, and I cannot wait to kick off a fresh, new year. From our homestead to yours, I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and wish you a wonderful New Year!

Time to Fire Up the Pellet Stove and KOZI Up

Erin BaldwinWe are on our third winter season with our KOZI pellet stove. In my search for heat self-sufficiency, I looked into various options such as wood and pellet stoves. Before purchasing a pellet stove, I relied on a propane furnace and electric baseboards. While wood seemed like a great way to go, being home by myself with little ones during the winter means handling firewood and tending to a fire would require a lot of work on my part.

Pellet stoves burn pellets made of compressed wood byproducts. I am sourcing pellets locally from Hammer Pellet Fuel Co. located in Kenova, West Virginia. The pellets are made from clean sawdust, a byproduct from their lumber operations. Typically, purchasing pellets is slightly more expensive compared to purchasing firewood, but having a source so close makes the price fairly comparable. The pellets are compact and easier than firewood to store and I keep two tons stacked in our basement adjacent to the stove.


Pellet stoves provide the convenience and easy of use comparable to a gas or electric system, but are a little more hands-on. While pellet stoves do require daily tending, in my situation it is much more manageable as I can simply fill the hopper in the morning and leave it virtually unattended. Getting a pellet stove to burn and feed properly does take a little touch, but I have found that once I get it fired up at the beginning of winter it operates smoothly for the season. One tip that I would pass on to those looking to purchase a pellet stove is to burn quality pellets; this has helped our stove burn more effectively and efficiently. At around 40,000 Btu/hr, the addition of this pellet stove to our walk-in basement keeps it warm and helps heat our first story. This has greatly reduced our reliance on propane.

Pellet stoves do require regular cleaning. My cleaning routine includes emptying the burn pot and ash drawer out about once a week, and I do this by letting the fire burn out, the stove cool and then simply vacuuming it out. Other parts of the stove such as the hopper, auger, heat exchanger and glass need to be maintained less often, and I tend to tackle those projects at the beginning of the season and then again a couple of months in.

One downside to pellet stoves is that they require electricity to run properly. I currently have a generator and also hope to soon purchase the battery backup system specific to the stove.

Total cost to install our stove was around $2,500, which included installation and a skid (a ton) of pellets. Set on low, which produces an adequate amount of heat, the stove is burning just under a bag of pellets a day. During the summer, we purchased two tons of pellets for around $200 per ton and these should last us beyond the winter. While our pellet stove doesn’t provide us with the complete self-sufficiently that cutting and burning firewood could, I am very happy with our choice.


Anyone else have experience with pellet stoves? What do you think?

The pellet stove referred to in this post is a KOZI Shop Heater Pellet Burner Model KSH-120. For more information:

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters