Muscovies or Satan’s Henchmen

Muscovy ducks are often promoted as well mannered and lovable, the perfect dual purpose breed for small farms and homesteads alike. They are supposed to breed like feathered rabbits while maintaining a friendly charm, if not quite warm and cuddly. So when the opportunity arose to trade some of my hens’ eggs for 6 young Muscovy ducks I jumped right on it with my usual enthusiasm. These guys and gals were great. They followed me everywhere, ate out of my hands, posed for pictures…I was smitten.

Until puberty hit. It hit hard and drew blood. My blood. I found myself perusing the internet at night, guiltily looking up recipes for duck. That came after I was bent over in the goat barn, tossing fresh hay to the ladies. Suddenly something heavy dropped off the top of the haystack and landed on the top of my head. I thought a bale had fallen until I realized whatever it was on my head was also using claws to pull out my hair. Oh- a Muscovy. Of course. It had climbed up the stack when I wasn’t looking and ambushed me. Sounds about right.

Making my rounds for last minute hay and water checks by the light of my head lamp suddenly I would hear it. The wet plodding of webbed feet coming at me- then the strike! One of the drakes would grab hold of my pant leg, using its claws it would try to climb my leg, beating its wings…some kind of weird duck mating ritual. Then plod!plod!plod! More of them would come out of the shadows, determined to get my other leg. Or one of the other drakes. It didn’t matter. I took to arming myself with a long pvc pipe to ward them off. But they were steadfast and held on.

Why didn’t I re-home them? Or eat them? Because I had a plan.  I was going to collect the eggs for eating. I was going to figure out which ones were the females…but guess what? You can’t tell the difference between males and females when it comes to Muscovies. Because they aren’t true ducks. No, they are really henchmen from satan. I’m sure of that. And I didn’t have a place to put them on lock down while keeping them separate from my well behaved poultry. So I let them roam. Like a gang of thugs.

I found myself telling visitors- “Just kind of shake him off.”  “Give him a little kick. A big kick” ” A bigger kick” then I’d go over and expertly pin his neck down to the ground with my boot, ignoring the bewildered look on my guest’s face while we chatted and he squirmed. Eventually it became evident that none of the ducks were female. They were all drakes. Except maybe that one that chased the truck in the road until the truck slowed and it attacked the tire…we’ll never know now. Definitely not the one that jumped on one of my rogue chickens and snapped its neck before I could save it.

Well mannered? Lovable? Perfect homestead duck? If you’re satan, perhaps.

thugs Satan’s Henchmen. More commonly known as Muscovy drakes.

Ghee, How I Love You


One of the perks of keeping dairy animals is that I get to stock up on all kinds of wondrous dairy products as often as I’m willing to put in the time and effort, and depending on my skill level.  The amount of milk and cream I have on hand ebbs and flows with the seasons and the schedules of my cows and goats. Right now I’m experiencing one of those peak moments where I have more milk flowing into my kitchen than space in the fridge to store it in its liquid form.  Enter Ghee.

Ghee- it takes my home made butter to an entirely different level. Golden and creamy, with a nutty full bodied flavor. If you’ve never made this at home, you are truly missing out. You can make it from any butter, I’m just fortunate right now to be able to make it from my own fresh butter, made almost daily.

Why ghee? For me it started as an issue of practicality. I already had an excess of butter in my freezers. Fully working your butter to remove all of the buttermilk is a chore that I don’t enjoy. It takes lots of time and if you don’t get it all out, the butter will taste rancid if you don’t eat it quick enough. Ghee is shelf stable, which means you don’t have to store it in the freezer, using up valuable space for meat. And I’ve found that when making ghee, it doesn’t seem to matter if you haven’t removed all of the buttermilk. The process of making ghee actually cooks off the milk solids. Win!

In the kitchen, ghee can be used in place of any other cooking oil. It has a higher smoke point which makes it great for stir frying. I used it to cook up my corn tortillas for enchiladas and it was wonderful. There is a difference between “clarified butter” and ghee. When making ghee, you cook it longer past the point of clarified butter. You need to wait for the milk solids to turn a medium brown and sink to the bottom of the pot.

Here’s a quick step by step to making your own ghee at home.

First, using a heavy bottomed pot, melt at least a pound of butter on low heat.

gheestep1I used my dutch oven and melted two pounds of my home made butter.

Keep the heat on low, be patient. Pretty soon the butter will begin to foam. This is what you want. Keep your eye on it, but let it foam away.

gheestep2Eventually, the foam will begin to clear and you will see bits of milk solids floating on the surface. You can use your spoon to move the foam around and see if the solids are beginning to sink. Just let it continue cook, keeping the heat on low.

gheestep3Finally there will be little to no foam on the top of the butter. Almost all of the milk solids will have sunk to the bottom. At this point you can turn off the heat. While all of this was happening, I ran several canning jars through the high temp setting on my dishwasher. I won’t actually can the ghee, but I do want very clean jars for storage.

gheestep4I filtered mine through a very fine mesh strainer into my jars. You have to be careful that you don’t contaminate the ghee with water or any kind of kitchen debris during daily use. Doing so will make the ghee turn bad. Put a lid on it and date it.


I just recently learned of a clever trick from one of my favorite forums to keep the ghee from getting a grainy texture. After you have filtered it, put it in your fridge to cool. Letting it cool at room temp is what prevents a creamy texture. I wish I had known that before I made my last batch. Truly it doesn’t matter if  the texture is grainy if you are just using it for cooking. But if you are using it as a spread on toast you will want it less grainy.

I like to keep a smaller jar of ghee for general use next to my stove. My other jars go in the back of my pantry, out of light and kept cool. Ghee should last kept this way for a year- unless you eat it first.


Hostage in My Kitchen

Late last night I realized what had happened. I had become a hostage in my own kitchen. And like most things around here, it all started with a cow.

For months I had been waiting for Daisy to have her calf. She had been tricky and dated our bull after our backs were turned. Which meant after her first due date passed and no calf had appeared we had to keep adding 3 weeks. That’s the typical cycle of a cow, every 19-21 days they can come into heat.

So for months we went without her milk. No extra cream, no ice cream or yogurt. We just waited and watched and wished. Then finally it happened. Almost 3 weeks ago Daisy delivered her handsome bull calf. And we had milk, too.  Gradually Daisy upped her milk production from 3 gallons, to almost 4 gallons. Then she jumped to 6.5 gallons and held steady for a few days. Until yesterday. My dainty Jersey cow outdid herself and blessed me with 8 gallons of milk. And a cup. I was floored. This was twice as much milk as she’d ever produced and twice as much milk as I was used to handling.

Never one to complain about an unexpected bounty I rolled up my sleeves and got busy. I knew there would come a time when I wouldn’t have all this fresh milk on hand. Just like preserving fruits and vegetables during the harvest season you have to preserve your milk when it’s flowing. And around here, it flows twice a day- once at morning milking and again in the evening.

What can you do with 8 gallons of fresh milk?

First I skimmed cream off of 3 gallons. That yielded a tad over 1 gallon of cream. Then I took the 3 gallons of skimmed milk,  which had now become 2 gallons and turned it into 2 pounds of ricotta. The left over whey went out to the barn cats and chickens. I froze the ricotta to use later in stuffed shells. Some people like to use whey from cheese making for other kitchen activities, but this wasn’t a sweet whey and I needed the counter and fridge space.

5 gallons of whole milk and a gallon of cream waiting for me to “Do Something”.

I took the gallon of cream, and made 2lbs of butter. But my freezers were already groaning with butter, so I turned the 2lbs of butter into (4) 8 ounce jars of Ghee, plus an extra 4 ounces. Shelf stable and will last for a year or so.

Back to the 5 gallons of milk. More ricotta, 7 quarts of Greek yogurt, more cream that will be used for ice cream and either fudge or caramel candy… At some point it was time to go back outside for evening milking. Remember, this isn’t a one time deal. It’s twice a day every day.

Did I mention I also milk Snow & Peaches?

By the end of the night I had frozen 10lbs of ricotta, made ghee, butter, greek yogurt. Fed the farm critters so much whey that they ran when they saw me coming with a pail. Well, not really “ran”. More like turned their backs and tried to roll away. And, every shelf in my milk fridge is full and waiting for me to “Do Something”.

I spent the entire day under my cows’ udders or in the milk kitchen. I had become a hostage in my own kitchen. And I loved every single minute of it!